Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Hot Saturday Night Date with Les Chauds Lapins

Saturday night at Barbes the room was packed. Once Les Chauds Lapins began their set, it was literally impossible to get inside to see them playing their pillowy, bittersweet original arrangements of jazzy French pop songs from the 1930s and 40s. Like Les Sans Culottes, Les Chauds Lapins (literally, “The Hot Rabbits,” 30s French slang for “hot to trot”) occupy a significant slice of the demimonde of Americans playing French music. Over the years, hotshot guitarist/singer Meg Reichardt’s French accent has gotten pretty good. Co-leader Kurt Hoffmann distinguishes himself with his meticulously witty new arrangements as well as his agile clarinet playing. But in this band, both musicians play banjo ukes on most of the songs, this time backed by a swoony string section with bass, cello and viola. So these new versions are considerably different from the original piano-and-orchestra or musette-style recordings.

Les Chauds Lapins further distinguish themselves by performing a lot of relatively obscure material, not just the best-known hits by Piaf, Charles Trenet and so forth. The chirpy sound of the two ukes enhances the songs’ droll, deadpan wit: both Hoffman and Reichardt have a thing for bouncy romantic ballads about affairs that start out looking just grand but by the second verse or so have gone straight to hell. And Hoffman had the strings punching and diving and dancing with a verve to match the songs’ lyrics.

They opened with Vous Avez L’Eclat de la Rose (a free download), about a girl who smells like jasmine but may not be so sweet after all. A little later on they did one of their big crowd-pleasers, Le Fils de la Femme Poisson (The Fishwife’s Son): he’s in love with a circus freak, but if that doesn’t work out he’s always got a gig waiting for him playing accordion at a relative’s country whorehouse. Reichardt sang another surreal number from the point of view of a girl who gets trashed beyond belief early in the evening, hooks up in the bushes with some random guy and then starts to lose her buzz, realizing that she might have made a mistake. But, what the hell: “Let’s dance,” she tells him as she straightens her dress. Hoffman’s bubbly, precise clarinet added a cheery dixieland flavor; Reichardt, who’s a mean blues player, showed off her increasingly impressive jazz chops on one of the songs midway through the set. A lot of the material this time out was relatively new, at least for them, one of the most interesting numbers being a vocal version of Django Reinhardt’s Swing 33.

And most everybody listened through all the puns, and the innuendo, and the double entendres. OK, there was one gentrifier boy, or maybe not a boy, whatev, in the back of the room, hell-bent on impressing everyone within earshot with how blithe and fey he was, and he WOULDN’T SHUT UP. But nobody paid him any mind. People like that don’t usually go to Barbes anyway. Les Chauds Lapins will be there again on Valentine’s Day at 8.

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January 19, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jennifer Niceley’s Birdlight Reveals a Unique, Captivating Southern Voice

Over the last few years, Tennessee songwriter Jennifer Niceley has distilled a distinctive blend of noir torch song, Americana, Nashville gothic, classic southern soul and blues. Her latest album, Birdlight, is streaming at Soundcloud. In recent years, the twang has dropped from Niceley’s voice, replaced by a smoky, artfully nuanced, jazzy delivery. The obvious comparison is Norah Jones, both vocally and songwise, although Niceley has more of an edge and a way with a lyrical turn of phrase. As with her previous releases, the new album features a first-class band: Jon Estes on guitars, keys and bass; Elizabeth Estes on violin; Evan Cobb on tenor sax; Steve Pardo on clarinet and Imer Santiago on trumpet, with Tommy Perkinsen and Dave Racine sharing the drum chair.

The album conjures a classy southern atmosphere: imagine yourself sipping a mint julep in the shade of a cottonwood, the sound of a muted trumpet wafting from across the creek, and you’re in the ballpark. The opening track, Nightbird, sets the stage, a nocturne with Niceley’s gently alluring delivery over a pillowy, hypnotic backdrop livened by samples of what sounds like somebody clumping around in the woods. The second number, Ghosts, is a balmy shuffle lit up by Estes’ deliciously slipsliding Memphis soul riffs, and picks up with a misty orchestral backdrop. .

Niceley sings New Orleans cult legend Bobby Charles’ Must Be in a Good Place Now with a hazy late-summer delivery over a nostalgic horn section and Estes’ keening steel guitar, and a little dixieland break over a verse. The Lynchian Julee Cruise atmospherics in Land I Love, from the swooshes and gentle booms from the drums and the lingering pedal steel, are absolutely gorgeous, Niceley brooding over her pastoral imagery and how that beauty “is never coming back.”

What Wild Is This switches gears for a lushly arranged, bossa-tinged groove; then Niceley switches up again with a gently swaying western swing cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ Hard Times. She keeps the jazzy-tinged atmosphere going with a restrained version of Tom Waits’ You Can Never Hold Back Spring.

But’s Niceley’s originals that are the real draw here, like Goodbye Kiss, a wistful lament that along with Land I Love is the most plaintive, affecting track here: “Unfinished visions keep hanging around like fog in the trees,” Niceley muses. The album’s title track is a brief inetrumental, Niceley’s elegant guitar fingerpicking against washes of violin and accordion. She winds it up with the hypnotic, surreal Strange Times, whose wary psychedelics wouldn’t be out of place on a Jenifer Jackson record. Lean back with a little bourbon and drift off to a place that time forgot with this one: what a great way to stay warm on a gloomy winter evening.

December 24, 2014 Posted by | blues music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torchy Surrealism from Rayvon Browne

Rayvon Browne is neither a rapper nor a rockabilly guy. Rayvon Browne is actually the rather charming, torchy, lo-fi duo of singers Cal Folger Day and Morgan Heringer. Heringer has the higher voice and more traditionally jazz-oriented phrasing; Day’s low soprano packs more of a wallop, with a flair for biting blue notes a la Jolie Holland. Songwise, the two are like no one else. While a lot of their album Companion flits from one style to another in the span of seconds, and it sounds like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), there’s a lot of sophistication here considering that they’re “swapping around on piano, uke, guitar, mandolin, melodica, Casio, & more.” Betty Carter is a possible influence; so is Laura Nyro. Then again, they may have never heard of either, considering how different this is.

“Having a boyfriend ain’t the Christian thing to do,” the two harmonize, deadpan, on the opening track, over swaying acoustic guitar with whispery traces of piano and Sarah Stanley’s flute. It’s a soul song, basically. The degree to which this is satirical is hard to gauge. Heringer sings the second track, Cocktease, bewildering swirly interludes juxtaposed with terse Fender Rhodes bossa nova that gets interrupted by buzzy overdriven electric guitar. She also takes the lead on a slightly less surreal number, Cat on Chest, seemingly addressed to a small friend uninterested in anything more than a warm place to sleep. You know how cats are, they run the show.

The fourth track, Queen sounds like a Joni Mitchell demo from around 1975 – again, not necessarily a bad thing. Where Is My Boyfriend begins with an out-of-tune piano playing Brill Building pop and quickly goes rubato: “Getting wasted on a Wednesday night, waking up to the cat…I lost my lover on the Long Island Railroad, now they’re burning Pennsylvania Station to the ground…where is my boyfriend, please tell me he’s coming,” Heringer sings with a pervasive, bluesy unease. Strange and bracing stuff. Day evokes another Lady Day on Having a Luv, in restrained but sultry mode over an unexpectedly shimmery backdrop of acoustic guitar, tinkly piano and Joel Kruzic’s terse bass. And Heringer’s swooping harmonies add a joyous energy to Day’s torchiness on Cocktail, over minimal guitar/bass backing. The last track on the album has a prosaic, nervous girl-writing-in-her-diary folk feel: the album would be better off without it. Otherwise, these unpredictable songs draw you in and then disarm you with their quirky charm. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp site; their next New York gig is on August 11 at 11ish at a Gathering of the Tribes, 285 E 3rd St. at around 11 PM.

July 27, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/26/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #492:

Rachelle Garniez – Crazy Blood

Garniez is unquestionably the most eclectic and quite possibly the best songwriter to emerge from the New York scene in the late 90s and early zeros. Serenade, her first album, is lushly pensive and unselfconsciously romantic, as you might expect from someone whose main axe is the accordion. This 2001 release, her second, was her quantum leap, where she established herself as a deviously witty master of every retro style ever invented, from the apocalyptic pop of Silly Me, the gorgeous Memphis soul of Odette and Mr. Lady, the sultry jazz ballad Swimming Pool Blue, the inscrutable psychedelia of Little Fish and Marie, the jaunty, tongue-in-cheek blues of New Dog, the blithe, meticulously arranged salsa of Regular Joe and the album’s chilling, intense tango centerpiece, Shadowland – which would become a tv show theme – and the anguished, Bessie Smith-tinged title track. Garniez’ multi-octave voice swoops and dips mischievously over a band of A-list downtown jazz types. She’d go on to even greater heights with 2003’s Luckyday and 2008’s Melusine Years, and has a new one coming out (the cd release show is November 11 at Dixon Place). Strangely AWOL from the usual sources of free music, it’s still available from Garniez herself as well as at cdbaby.

September 27, 2011 Posted by | blues music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magos Herrera’s Mexico Azul Reinvents Classic Film Music

Singer Magos Herrera’s latest effort Mexico Azul is a jazz (and occasionally jazz-pop) album first and foremost, using classic Mexican film themes from the 1940s through the 60s as a stepping-off point rather than trying to recapture the originals’ magically lo-fi yet towering ambience. Herrera’s unadorned, carefully modulated contralto is in full force here, yet she also shows off an impressively soaring upper register. This was obviously a labor of love for the chanteuse, who’s been outspoken about how this album is a celebration of the “Africanness” of Mexico and Mexican culture – an admirable goal, considering what a melting pot the country has been throughout history. The group behind her is first-class, with Luis Perdomo on piano, John Patitucci on bass, Alex Kautz on drums, Rogerio Boccato on percussion, Tim Hagans on trumpet and Adam Rogers (of Randy Brecker’s band) on guitars.

The opening track, Alvaro Carrillo’s Luz de Luna is much more terse than the lush ranchera original, with a spiky Rogers acoustic solo. Herrera’s version of Noche Criolla falls somewhere between the furtiveness of the original and the ecstatic Celia Cruz version, featuring more nicely slinky work from Rogers. Interestingly, Herrera’s version of Agustin Lara’s Azul is a lot more moody and expansive, Hagans’ occasional trumpet accents the only concession to the boisterousness of the original. Angelitos Negros, an orchestrated Pedro Infante bolero hit from the 1948 movie of the same name gets a smartly smoky treatment with Hagans mining that vein memorably. The airy, atmospheric intro to Alvaro Carrillo’s Seguire Mi Viaje’s leads into judiciously hushed clave jazz lowlit by Perdomo’s careful phrasing and an artfully tiptoeing Patitucci solo. It’s catchy and accessible without being the least bit cliched.

An original composition, Voz Antigua (A Mi Tierra) works an understatedly plaintive ambience and a gingerly shapeshifting piano groove. The cover of Lamento Jarocho distantly echoes the suspensefully pensive bounce of the Agustin Lara original, while another Alvaro Carrillo number, Que Sea Para Mi gets a gentle, nocturnal bossa bounce. Everybody from Javier Solis to Luis Miguel has covered Tres Palabras: Herrera and band reinvent it as a coyly understated romp, from the scatting on the intro to Hagans’ jauntily retro, bluesy muted solo. The most radical, and deliciously successful reinterpretation on the album, Puerto Rican composer Pedro Flores’ Obsesion is so slow that it’s creepy, Hagans lurking behind Perdomo and Rogers’ brooding, incisive lines. The album ends up with marvelously original take of Dos Gardenias, considerably darker and more suspenseful than the Antonio Machin tango from the 40s. This album works on a lot of levels, as jazz and also as pop music – the one thing this isn’t is nostalgia. For that you’ll have to go to youtube: many of the original versions of these songs are there.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/14/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #565:

Sade – Lovers Live

At the risk of alienating our entire base with the poppiest album on this list so far, here’s a counterinituitive pick, to the extreme. Why? Sade was the default boudoir chanteuse for an entire generation. As with Al Green fifteen years before, thousands (maybe millions) of babies born in the late 80s and 90s owe their existence to Helen Folasade Adu’s wistful, slightly smoky, come-hither vocals. This surprisingly energetic 1999 live album cements her reputation not only as an avatar of seduction, but also as a first-class singer who transcends the torch-song limitations of most of her material. As expected, this set is heavy with bedroom anthems from early in her career: Cherish the Day, Kiss of Life, The Sweetest Taboo, No Ordinary Love, By Your Side and of course Smooth Operator, which is actually pretty ragged here. There’s also Jezebel, a sad ballad for a heartbreaker; the quietly poignant Slave Song, and a swaying, blues-infused version of Is It a Crime among the thirteen tracks here. The band don’t quite make it to the level of jazz, but as trip-hop, nobody ever did it better than they did. Break out the incense, wine and candles, and this random torrent.

July 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Malika Zarra’s Berber Taxi Whisks You Away

Growing up in France, chanteuse Malika Zarra had to downplay her Moroccan Berber roots. Here she celebrates them. It’s a quiet, rapt celebration: imagine Sade’s band if they’d relied on real rhythm rather than that annoying drum machine, and you’ll have a good idea of what her new album Berber Taxi, just out on Motema, sounds like. Blending the warmth of American soul music with tricky North African rhythms, intricately yet tersely arranged, jazz-inflected melodies and lyrics in Berber, Arabic, French and English, Zarra has carved out a niche for herself which manages to be completely unique yet very accessible. She’s got an excellent, pan-global band behind her, including keyboardist Michael Cain (fresh off a potently lyrical performance on Brian Landrus’ latest album), guitarist Francis Jacob, bassist Mamadou Ba, drummer Harvey Wirht, oudist/percussionist Brahim Fribgane and violist Jasser Haj Youssef. All but two of the songs here are Zarra originals.

The quiet blockbuster here is Amnesia. Sung in French, it fires an offhandedly scathing, vindictive, triumphant salvo at a racist politician (Nicholas Sarkozy?) over a hypnotic Afrobeat pop tune as Joni Mitchell might have done it circa 1975, balmy verse followed by a more direct chorus. Your time is over, Zarra intimates: all the kids behind you are playing the djembe. Leela, by Abdel Rab Idris, is a gorgeous, sparse update on a Fairouz-style ballad with rattling oud, austere piano and gentle electric guitar – it wouldn’t be out of place in Natacha Atlas’ recent catalog. Kicking off with Zarra’s trademark resolute, nuanced vocals, Tamazight (Berber Woman) is the closest thing to North African Sade here, right down to the misty cymbals on the song’s hypnotic bridge, and the fetching call-and-response with the backing vocals on the chorus.

The title track pairs a reggaeish verse against a jaunty turnaround, Zarra throwing off some coy blue notes – it’s a vivid portrayal of the search for love in a distant place. Zarra’s casual, heartfelt vocalese – she doesn’t scat in any traditional jazz sense – carries the terse, gently imploring Houaira, and later, No Borders, an instrumental by Ba featuring some clever harmonies between bass and voice. Sung in French, Issawa’s Woman pensively recalls a woman watching her fantasy and reality diverge, Cain’s spacy, reverberating electric piano ringing behind her. Other tracks, including the knowing ballad Mossameeha and the breezy Mon Printemps, give Zarra room to cajole, seduce and show off a genuinely stunning upper register. It’s worth keeping in mind that even in the age of downloading, Sade’s Warrior album sold in the megamillions. As the word gets out, this one could resonate with much of that audience as well. Zarra plays the cd release show for the album with her band at the Jazz Standard on April 19, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

April 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/24/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #677:

Les Chauds Lapins – Parlez-Moi D’amour

One of the alltime great boudoir albums, and you don’t have to speak French to appreciate it (although that helps). This is the irresistibly charming 2007 debut by a group that began as a side project of two Americans, Roulette Sisters guitarist/chanteuse Meg Reichardt and former Ordinaires bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Hoffman. In the passing years, the band took on a life of its own, with a great new album Amourettes just out and a cd release show tomorrow at 10 at the 92YTribeca for all you New Yorkers. At the time they released this, Les Chauds Lapins (French slang for “hot to trot”) specialized in mining the witty wordplay and lushly jazzy arrangments of now-obscure French pop hits from the 1930s and 40s (the band has since broadened their palate a bit). This one’s got the coy Il M’a Vue Nue (He Saw Me Naked), the unselfconsciously romantic J’ai Dansé Avec L’Amour (I Danced with Love); the surreal Swing Troubadour; the sad shipwreck lament La Barque D’Yves (Yves’ Boat), the dreamy title track (whose original version was included in the soundtrack to the film Casablanca) and the not-quite-so-dreamy Parlez-Moi D’autre Chose (Let’s Talk About Something Else) among the thirteen sweepingly nocturnal tunes here. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available (also on vinyl!) from the band’s site.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Sons of Hercules and the Pretty Things at the Village Underground, 8/24/01

[Editor’s note: while we’re on vacation, we’ll be raiding the archives for some memorable NYC shows from the past several years: here’s a really great night from a few years back.]

The night began at the C-Note on Avenue C with the beginning of what promised to be a great Americana night: jazzy chanteuse Lynn Ann’s wickedly smart blues band, Gate 18, folllowed by Matthew Grimm, frontman of the Hangdogs, playing solo on Telecaster and showing off some particularly fiery new material, including a typically funny, anti-consumerist anthem called Memo From the Corner Office (a.k.a The Shit That We Don’t Need) and an even more scathing one, Hey Hitler, which connects the dots between the Bush regime (Bush’s grandfather was the #1 American fundraiser for the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II) and their prototypes in the Reichstadt. Wild, jam-oriented bluegrass band Brooklyn Browngrass, f.k.a. Kill Devil Hills were next on the bill, but it was time to head over to the Village Underground for what turned out to be a killer garage band night. The most adrenalizing part of the evening was San Antonio garage-punks the Sons of Hercules. They sound like a Radio Birdman cover band except that they write their own songs. They were pretty phenomenal all the way through. The Telecaster player knew every Deniz Tek lick and played them perfectly: wild hammer-ons, ferocious tremolo-picking and equally fiery chromatic riffs. The bass player didn’t do Warwick Gilbert’s crescendoing runs up the scale, but the drummer could have been Ron Keeley and the Rickenbacker guitarist threw in some tastily minimal, macabre leads from song to song. Meanwhile, the frontman did the Iggy thing, “lookit me, I’m INSAAAANE!!!” Finally, at one in the morning, the Pretty Things took the stage, not the complete original 1964 crew, but close to it. Drums were left up to the group’s manager Mark St. John, who didn’t nail every change, but these guys are lucky they have someone so good who could take over on what was obviously short notice. Lead guitarist (and original Rolling Stones bassist) Dick Taylor held it all together, with his searing blues runs. They opened with a lot of chugging, amped-up early 60s style R&B rock, Roadrunner and such, then touched base with their 70s repertoire with the drugrunning anthem Havana Bound. The best part of the night, unsurprisingly, came during a series of songs from their classic 1967 psychedelic album SF Sorrow: the ominous folk-rock of SF Sorrow Is Born, the foreshadowing of the antiwar number Private Sorrow, a surprisingly understated version of the anguished Balloon Burning and then Taylor taking over with his froggy vocals on the over-the-top metaphors of Baron Saturday (“Dick Taylor IS Baron Saturday,” keyboardist John Povey told the crowd). Later they did an early 70s song that was the obvious inspiration for Aerosmith’s Draw the Line and a fast, bluesy version of the recent Going Downhill. The long encore began with a tentative Rosalyn, a tersely vivid version of the acoustic vignette The Loneliest Person in the World, then a brief, screaming version of their banned 1964 R&B-flavored hit LSD into the galloping, psychedelic Old Man Going, Taylor going to the top of his fretboard and screaming with an intensity that threatened to peel the paint off the walls.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Introducing the Pre-War Ponies

A fixture of the New York music scene, Daria Grace got her start playing bass in recently resuscitated art-rockers Melomane, and was one of the original Moonlighters – fans of that band took to calling her replacement “the new Daria.” But with a voice like hers – a warm, clear, billowy soprano with just the slightest hint of grit that tails off sometimes with a subtle vibrato – there can be only one Daria Grace. While holding down the bass spot in her husband Jack’s terrific country band, she found her way back to oldtime steampunk swing with the Pre-War Ponies. They should be far better-known than they are – this beautifully sunny cd is completely and unselfconsciously romantic and one of the best albums of the year so far. Grace shies away from standards – she’s far more at home with obscure sheet music rescued from junk shops, a reliable source for much of her material. She plays baritone ukelele in this band just as she used to do in the Moonlighters along with rambunctious trombonist J. Walter Hawkes, former Cocktail Angst pianist Jon Dryden and Doug Largent on bass, with fellow New York retro chanteuse Sasha Dobson providing harmonies on one track.

Grace follows the Connee Boswell version of All I Do Is Dream of You, Dryden adding jaunty barrelhouse piano beneath Hawkes’ wry muted trombone accents. It’s something of a shock that at least until now, the swaying, breezy Give Me the Moon Over Brooklyn never became the borough’s official theme (once Marty Markowitz leaves office, the band can approach the new Borough President). Hawkes joins Grace here on uke to up the vintage ambience. Got the South in My Soul – a concert favorite and a Lee Wiley hit from 1932 – features a period-perfect, balmy trombone solo. Two Sleepy People (a Frank Loesser/Hoagy Carmichael hit from 1938) absolutely nails the cozy, endorphin-stoked ambience for two lovers who’ve been out all night and are out of thing to say but not to do with each other.

The band recasts Heart and Soul, the lone standard here, as a brisk 1920s style proto-swing strut. The darkly tender Under the Russian Moon, floating on the waves of Dryden’s accordion, is the most delightful obscurity of the whole bunch. The album winds up tantalizingly with The Gentleman Just Wouldn’t Say Goodnight, another junk shop find that Grace credits as “one of the most beautiful songs that nobody has ever heard of.” Grace weaves through its tasty major/minor changes with a wistful, late-night feel that is pure soul. With the Jack Grace Band’s killer new cd hot off the press, that group has been gigging up a storm lately; the Pre-War Ponies’ next scheduled gig is at Rodeo Bar on July 26.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment