Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The JD Allen Trio Wins Big at le Poisson Rouge

A video about the JD Allen Trio and their new album VICTORY! was screened before their cd release show Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge. “I like feeling tense, so I can let it out,” the tenor saxophonist/composer revealed, and after the video was was over, proceeded to let it all out through a riveting, often white-knuckle intense show with his longtime bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. Watching this unit evolve over the last four years or so has been most rewarding, not to mention entertaining – they put on a hell of a show. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal described Allen’s compositions as “postmodern,” which is ridiculous. What Allen does is a throwback to the 1950s, in the sense that he writes incredibly terse, gemlike, melodic riffs that he then expands judiciously, usually over the span of no more than four minutes, sometimes considerably less. He calls it “jukebox jazz.” And that’s what they brought onstage, driving home one hook after another with a restless, relentless power that would not let up: Allen’s jukebox is a pretty dark one.

“For me to claim victory takes a lot of balls,” Allen says in the video, but that’s simply not true. Long sought after as a sideman, Allen’s writing took on a stunning focus in 2007 with the release of his first album leading this trio, I Am I Am. A hard-hitting, bitter, chromatically charged suite that deserves to be called a classic, Allen followed it up in the summer of 2009 with the richly melodic and considerably more sunny Shine!. Like I Am I Am, VICTORY! was written as a suite – a sonata – but live, the trio made it a symphony. It’s amazing how much sound this band gets out of just three instruments, Royston’s machine-gun attack and barrage of counterintuitive, offbeat accents often more the focal point of the show than Allen himself (and a huge hit with the crowd: continuing the Elvin Jones tradition, Royston is this era’s preeminent extrovert drummer). This seems to be a deliberate choice: there were places where Allen would leave the rhythm section to themselves for a minute or two before nimbly swinging back into the fray. August’s role in this band has expanded from bad cop – he carries many of the juiciest, darkest sections of I Am I Am – to super-utility player, sometimes the center of rhythm, other times the melody, only walking frantically on a couple of occasions as Allen led them through brief but memorable, blues-infused, late 50s postbop passages.

Allen has a laserlike sense of melody, and sense of purpose, maybe one reason why the segments were so short: smartly, he segued from one to another with barely a break in between save for two occasions. Right off the bat, the band reinvented the album’s nonchalantly majestic opening track as a resolute swing piece. On a couple of occasions, Allen held down his spot indomitably, halfspeed, as the rhythm section pummeled behind him. Playing with his signature crystalline tone, he tossed off one single trill all night, took one mighty leap up the scale early in the set, but that was it for pyrotechnics: instead, he drove the tunes home methodically, one by one. And those tunes were mighty: an unexpectedly carefree, gospel-tinged swing passage about midway through, an angry, insistent series of chromatic, Middle Eastern-tinged passages later on, a wary call to arms, a brief, unexpected turn into funk, a chilling, growling bowed solo by August and finally, at the end, they seemed to snatch victory from the jaws of despair. As emcee Stanley Crouch – a big fan – pointed out before the show, ultimately this was all a victory for the music. And for those lucky enough to witness it. The JD Allen Trio’s next stand at the Vanguard kicks off August 23.

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May 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The JD Allen Trio’s Landmark VICTORY! Out May 17

The JD Allen Trio’s new album VICTORY!, out on May 17, is one of those rare albums that stands to influence an entire generation of players. But that’s not the reason why it’s worth hearing: it’s because it’s such a good listen. Emotionally impactful and surprisingly diverse, it’s the most eclectic release so far by this extraordinary tenor sax-bass-drums unit who’ve been making potent albums since 2007. The group play the cd release show on May 18 at 7:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge.

The JD Allen Trio’s 2007 debut I AM I AM didn’t just explode out of nowhere – the tenor saxophonist and bandleader had been a sought-after sideman since the 90s. But it was an explosion, and four years later validates the fact that we called it a classic at the time. The new album seems to be the third and possibly climactic chapter of a triptych that began with I AM I AM and continued with 2009’s Shine! Allen disarmingly calls his compositions “jukebox jazz,” continuing the tradition of guys like Monk and Brubeck, whose compositions were as catchy as they were cerebral, and who sold hundreds of thousands of them as 45 RPM singles. Taking the form of a classical sonata – a theme and variations which end conclusively – the new album offers twelve succinct, interwoven compositions. With its direct, unflinchingly intense central theme which itself refers back to I AM I AM, this album takes the intensity of that album’s breakthrough suite to the next level, and on to its logical conclusion. Yet while all the rigor of I AM I AM is also in full effect here, this new album explores considerably more emotionally and musically diverse terrain. And it ends optimistically.

The title track sets the tone for much of the album, dark enigmatic minor-key gospel beauty played out against the stately insistence of the rhythm section, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. Royston’s aggressive introduction offers no hint of the balmy swing that emerges on the second track, The Pilot’s Compass, Allen interjecting commentary as August pulses and Royston supplies his signature, muscular rumble. They follow with the darkly biting, minor bluesy The Thirsty Ear and then the broodingly potent, ominously modal Sura Hinda, Allen’s solemn vibrato adding extra gravitas. As on I AM I AM, August gets an enviable role to play throughout the album, notably on The Learned Tongue as he shadows Allen while the drums go rubato, or on Philippe Petit – a homage to the World Trade Center wirewalker – where his serious, bowed lines, equal part triumph and terror, balance against Royston’s playful intricacies and Allen’s calm, steely optimism.

The simply titled Motif allows Allen and Royston to take the theme further outside as August sits out. Fatima allows a playful element to creep in over Royston’s nimble shuffle; Mr. Steepy enters with unexpectedly blithe swing blues, Allen running eighth notes a la Ben Webster, Royston eventually cutting loose with a grin and crowding everyone out of the picture. The album winds up with three unexpected shifts: a Harold Arlen-esque ballad; The Hungry Eye, centered around a vividly off-center bass solo; and the final track, reprising The Pilot’s Compass and elevating it to a rare sense of joy, ending suddenly with a bit of a wink. It could be the high point in a career of a group whose trajectory is still on the upswing.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival 2010: Day Two

When this year’s Charlie Parker Jazz Festival was first announced, the JD Allen Trio was listed for day two. The game plan here was to get back from vacation in time to catch Sunday’s concert at Tompkins Square Park: however, by the time the lineup was finalized, Allen had been moved to Saturday, with Little Jimmy Scott taking his place (more about him later: from the NY Times’ account, Allen turned in a characteristically gripping set).

Torchy singer (and NPR fave) Catherine Russell opened. Her band is capable of transcendence in pretty much any situation. In a set of familiar standards, this time out they didn’t, but considering the crushing heat and humidity, not to mention the early hour, that was almost to be expected. That they played as well as they did was an achievement. Maybe the festival’s producers should take that into account and schedule performers from Mali or Jamaica, or from anywhere this kind of climactic torture is an everyday thing, for the first part of the show.

The Cookers have a new album, Warriors, just out. Billy Harper and Craig Handy on tenor, Eddie Henderson and David Weiss on trumpet, George Cables on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums have about a millennium of jazz experience among them and turned in a joyously expansive, mid 60s-flavored set that gave each performer a chance to pitch a tent front and center and pull the crew in his own preferred direction. It wasn’t just solos around the horn: there was push and pull, and conversations, roles and personalities all exerting themselves vividly. Handy answered Harper’s exuberance sauvely, even pensively, while Henderson pushed Weiss to fan the blaze even higher. They opened with a gorgeously murky, modal excursion with rich melodic overlays. Cables led the band through a beautifully lyrical, Brubeck-tinged jazz waltz featuring his own methodically crescendoing, eventually cloudbursting solo. They wound up their set with a number based on an emphatic, bouncy chromatic riff featuring a terse Hart drum solo contrasting with some meandering horn work.

What else could be said about Vijay Iyer that hasn’t been said already? That his originals are better than his covers, maybe. The pianist has gotten accolades here before and is as good as you would expect, live. But the heat was unrelenting, and comfortable, cool Lakeside Lounge around the corner was beckoning. See you somewhere down the line, Vijay.

By the time Little Jimmy Scott rode his little electric scooter onto the stage, it had cooled down a bit. He’s every bit as vital as he was fifty years ago, in fact, probably more so: it’s as if he was born to be 84 years old. He’s always had an otherworldly voice, years older than he was, so it only makes sense that his career would peak so late in life. Word on the street is that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, and the crowd adored him. Like Siouxsie Sioux, someone he’s probably never heard of, he works his own scale when he’s off in the blue notes, which is a lot, and which is so successful because he’s perfectly in tune with himself. He didn’t exhibit his wide-open, Leslie speaker-style vibrato until the middle of his set but when he did, it was every bit as jaw-dropping as it’s ever been. David Lynch knew what he was doing when he put Scott on the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Scott opened with a Summertime-inspired version of Nothing But Blue Skies, saxophonist TK Blue and pianist Alex Minasian shadowing him with finely attuned phrasing; on Your Turn to Cry, sirens from around the corner joined in with the music almost on cue during the first few bars of the intro, and Scott seized the moment with characteristic, gentle intensity: nobody gets so much out of so little as this guy. The showstopper was an absolutely devastating version of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Blue’s anguished soprano sax interlude on the way out a perfectly appropriate touch, but as good as it was it was no match for what Scott had just done, silky but raw, nuanced but with a sledgehammer effect. He’s at the Blue Note tomorrow night and worth pretty much whatever they’re charging at the door.

And two big, fat, upraised middle fingers to the NYPD brass who embarrassed the beat cops at the local precinct by instructing them to kick out anyone who dared sit down at the tables with the chessboard markings at the park’s southwest corner if they then didn’t immediately break out a chess or checkers set. This has all the markings of a concession to the neighborhood’s yuppie newcomers who don’t like to be reminded that they live in a world where homeless people actually exist. The rookie cop assigned to do the honors couldn’t hide his boredom or embarrassment, mumbling to tired concertgoers to get up and leave after they’d found what looked like lucky seats in the midst of a sea of people. Police work is hard enough without subjecting members of the force to humiliation like this.

August 31, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/27/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #886:

The JD Allen Trio – I Am I Am

A landmark album in modern jazz. A theme and variations with a few playful, sometimes wildly furious diversions, this tenor sax trio session was sort of the zeros counterpart to late 1950s Sonny Rollins – but better. Released at the end of 2008, Allen deftly skirts the edges of eerie, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged modal intensity, turning over the darkest shades to bassist Gregg August, who welcomes them like a vampire welcomes the night. Rudy Royston, the greatest of this era’s jazz drummers and heir to Elvin Jones’ throne, is a ferociously hard hitter, building the shape of these strikingly melodic, barely four-minute segments every bit as much as Allen does. They quote the Godfather theme and Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond and even hint at a surf music vamp when they’re not working the terse, brooding central motif from fiery riffage to understated elegiac drama. Allen’s previous and subsequent studio work is every bit as memorable and melodic but not as intense, but his live performances – especially with this rhythm section – are among the most exhilarating of any band in recent years.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/9/10

Here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. This time we’re cheating a little: a whole concert along with the funniest, most vengefully satisfying youtube clip we’ve seen in awhile. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Rick Barry – Atlantis

Nightmare apocalyptic scenario set to artsy folk-rock, kinda like the Strawbs, from this Asbury Park songwriter.

2. Norden Bombsight – Help Desk

Cool video (a mini-movie, actually) set during the Depression: a woman suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder searches for her missing husband. Great song, too, from these darkly ornate Brooklyn art-rockers.

3. JD Allen live at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival

Has anybody besides us noticed how many unbelievable live shows are archived up on NPR’s site? You can get lost in this one: practically a whole hour of this era’s preeminent tenor sax player/composer and his ferocious, mind-melting trio with Gregg August on bass and the phenomenal Rudy Royston on drums. If you have the equipment, you’ll want to hook up your machine to a recording device of some kind because you’ll want to hear the whole thing again.

4. Kreptatka Bar Band – Kreptashaqula

Amazing Balkan punk rock.

5. El Pueblo – Legalize It

Latin-tinged rocksteady version of the Peter Tosh classic. It’s not on their new cd Isla, one of the best reggae albums to come out in a long time.

6. The Builders and the Butchers – Down in the Hole

Creepy Waits-ish noir.

7. Fyrepyle – The Age of Unlightenment

Woozy hypnotic Mogwai dirge as done in somebody’s bedroom on protools. Hang with it, it grows on you.

8. Robin McKelle – Everybody Knows

Aretha-style soul version of the Leonard Cohen classic – not as good as Penelope Houston’s version but still cool.

9. Grace – Wonderful

JP Jones’ band before he met Chrissie Hynde – snarling lyric, good post-Radiohead anthem.

10. Justin Bieber gets hit by a water bottle

You’ve probably seen this. At least he doesn’t cry – on camera at least.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/17/09

We usually do this on Tuesday but this week we’re doing it on Friday. Just to see if you’re paying attention. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Daniel Bernstein – Joyless Now

He wrote this spot-on, manic-depressive account of madness and alienation with his old band the Larval Organs but he still plays it at shows. Unrecorded as a solo work – you’ll have to experience it live. He’s at Goodbye Blue Monday in Bushwick on 9/14 at 9.

 

2. The JD Allen Trio – Live at the Village Vanguard.

Did you know that NPR archives a ton of its live shows? This is a complete concert from the Village Vanguard (the 9 PM set on 8/12/09) and it’s transcendent, the band in particularly focused mode. There’s also a link to Neko Case at the Newport Folk Festival on the same page.

 

3. The French Exit – Your God

Joy Division recast as sultry trip-hop by this amazing, dark New York band.

 

4. Norden Bombsight – Help Desk

Majestic, anthemic, haunting art-rock dirge. They’re at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/7.

 

5. TV Smith – Together Alone

“We love our life and we love our leaders, sound bites from the bottom feeders.” Anthemic postpunk brillliance from the legendary Adverts frontman – just randomly wandered onto his myspace to be reminded what a great songwriter he is.

 

6. Schaffer the Darklord – Night of the Living Christ

The Biblical rapture rewritted as a zombie movie. An undead messiah? Beyond funny. He’s at Bar on A at 9 on 8/30.

 

7. Witches in Bikinis – Witches in Bikinis

The horror-rock supergroup’s cool, funny signature song

 

8. Kariné Poghosyan – Excerpt from Manuel De Falla’s Fantasia Baetica

The pyrotechnic pianist shows off her spectacular chops live at Steinway Hall, NYC. You want adrenaline? Wow!

 

9. El Radio Fantastique – Tiptoe Suicide

Characteristically spooky noir New Orleans blues from this imaginative crew.

 

10. Lunch During Wartime – Rubulad

A New York moment. “Strange thoughts fill my head…”

August 21, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The JD Allen Trio at Puppets Jazz Bar, Brooklyn NY 6/25/09

Seemingly a low-key warmup gig for the JD Allen Trio’s upcoming weeklong stand at the Vanguard this coming August 11-16, they were practically jumping out of their shoes to be playing together again after a break of almost a month. Tenor saxophonist JD Allen’s compositions and sense of melody are so strong that he doesn’t have to be ostentatious, and he wasn’t. Allen has concretized his style: he’s exactly the same as a bandleader and composer as he is a sideman, always finding the melody, always finding the most elegant, terse way to make his point – and his songs all make one, often very vividly. This group works perfectly as a trio because there isn’t room for anybody else, the rhythm section being as ferocious as it is. Allen’s articulacy as a player matches his writing. He spent the duration of the set tossing off crystalline eighth-note runs and edgily precise, minor-key motifs loaded with implied melody while the rhythm section ran amok. Rudy Royston has to be the most exciting drummer in jazz right now (no disrespect to any of the other good ones, you know who you are, we’ll be reviewing one of you next week). Puppets is a small room, and Royston felt it, leaving the intensity  just a notch below pain level. Where Allen speaks in phrases, Royston speaks in chapters – but they’re meaningful chapters, and bassist Gregg August seemed only too glad to jump in and go along for what became a wild ride from the first few rolls across the toms. August is also a first-rate composer with an ear for a memorable narrative, which makes him a particularly good fit for Allen, but this time out it didn’t take long before he went unhinged in tandem with Royston while Allen struck a striking stance in the unlikely role as melodic leader also charged with carrying the rhythm and organizing the songs’ architecture. Backwards, no doubt, but that’s part of what made the show so fascinating to watch.

The trio mixed songs from their two brilliant albums, last year’s I Am I Am and the just-released, equally melodic Shine! On the records, most of them are brief, barely four minutes long, but the group elongated  their shadows so they almost disappeared and then spun back in a split second, looming large and ominous. I Am I Am is a theme and variations, and Allen worked its impatient, angry insistence for all it was worth, using the central hook as an anchor to keep the low-register rumble from lurching and destroying everything in its path. Royston didn’t steal the show – he was the show, introducing not one but two unexpected, instant crescendos with press rolls. He worked his snare not with a snap but a boom, at one point during a solo building a defiant nine-note phrase artfully as a horn line. August has a great feel for latin rhythms, which in tandem with Royston’s reckless yet judicious rides across the cymbal heads added luminosity to some of the growlier I Am I Am passages. At the end, they swung, August running scales madly while Royston careened through the underbrush, Allen to the side, surgically incisive – and then bringing his cohorts back up and onto the road with similar precision. If jazz is your thing, you’re out of your mind if you’re in town and you don’t catch these guys while they’re at the Vanguard this August.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

There is no other composer in any other genre who is so completely on top of his game as tenor sax player JD Allen is right now, and thankfully he had the foresight to get back into the studio while he’s hot. This new one proves that last year’s release, the darkly majestic I Am I Am – a bonafide modern day jazz classic – was no fluke. “The music told me that it wanted to be called Shine,” he recently told WBGO’s Josh Jackson with a wink. “I feel very shiny when I wake up in the morning…a nice quarter that I might find, a nickel or two. Shine is good.” In a sense, the new album is an extension of the terse, four-minute “jukebox jazz” style the group mined so richly as a suite on the previous cd, here adding a somewhat more vintage, exploratory Pharaoh Sanders edge. The trio feel remains the same, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston an integral part of the compositions rather than merely supplementary pieces (in a spectacular moment of triumph for Royston, drums very frequently serve as the lead instrument here). As before, melody remains absolutely front and center – if anything, the songs here may be even catchier, if not as dark. Allen’s stock in trade as a sideman has always been an ironclad, logically terse no-nonsense attack and that’s in full effect here. This is jazz for humming to yourself coming up out of the subway to the street where it’s a lot cooler.

The cd opens with Esre, echoes of the central theme from I Am I Am, Royston kicking it off with a flurry of drums, Allen entering minimalistically yet with a surprising amount of squall. Sonhouse takes an opentuned delta blues guitar riff and soars with it over an understated funk bassline and Royston’s Niagara Falls cascades. On Conjuration of Angles, Allen serves as the the anchor, calm and assured whether gentle and stately or, later on, playfully breezy as Royston colors it wildly with a little help from a bitterly brief hint of a solo by August.

Marco has something of a signature sound for Allen, variations on an apprehensively circular theme.The title track is a surprisingly gentle, reassuring ballad, almost a lullaby, Royston rattling around with heightened expectations, threatening to spontaneously combust, but he never does. The rhythm section remains on the prowl on The Laughing Bell while Allen provides buoyant contrast: as with so many of the tracks on I Am I Am, it’s a masterpiece of matching timbre to emotion. East Boogie follows, Allen morphing an old Ornette Coleman theme into a gorgeously warm piano voicing over a comfortably syncopated stomp. A cleverly echoey rumble, Ephraim has August playing off Allen and then Royston. There’s also a cozy, trad swing blues with a terse bass solo, both Allen and Royston jumping out of their shoes on Teo, and a boisterously wary final tune simple titled Variations. And the next-to-last track, Se’Lah has the rapturous, spiritual-infused feel of a jazz classic.

The trio have some low-key shows coming up: in Brooklyn at Puppets Jazz Bar on 6/25 at 9 and at the Stone on 7/21 at 8 followed by a big six-night stand at the Vanguard starting on 8/11. If you wish you’d been around back in the day when Bird and Trane were kicking up dust, remember this era has its own great ones too: you might want to catch more than one of these shows.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Gregg August Large Ensemble at the Jazz Gallery, NYC 4/10/09

This year the Jazz Gallery has been commissioning big band projects. More musicians should do what bassist/composer Gregg August (whose powerfully melodic contributions appear on the latest JD Allen Trio cd, reviewed here recently) did with his. Leading a ten-piece all-star ensemble on Friday night, August proved every bit as potent a composer as an instrumentalist, playing a thematic series of pieces inspired by and frequently including poems that explore race relations. Interpreting the texts both literally and thematically, August’s richly melodic, aptly relevant compositions created a program that screams out to be recorded.

 

August’s arrangements maximized the ensemble’s diverse talents: Jaleel Shaw’s ecstatically fiery alto sax flights, Sam Newsome’s rapidfire fluidity on soprano, JD Allen’s darkly direct terseness on tenor and pianist Luis Perdomo’s vividly bittersweet, concise chordal work along with his own straightforwardly melodic, sometimes latin-inflected lines, many of them echoing horn voicings. Drummer Donald Edwards’ strategy shaded toward darkness with innumerable well-placed cymbal accents and flourishes. The night opened on an auspicious note with an interpretation of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Shaw building his final solo to screaming, gritty overtones illustrating the exasperation of confinement over the rhythm section’s staggered beat. Sweet Words, based on a sacastic Langston Hughes poem about (what else) bigotry proved to be a pretty straightforward, tuneful ensemble piece highlighted by a relentlessly intense, expansive Perdomo solo.

 

A New Orleans tableau, Sky, based on poet Richard Katrovas’s encounter with a possibly homeless young black man painted a stark picture of a balmy morning tinged with misunderstanding and regret, Allen’s lyrical tenor opening against pensively crescendoing piano and bowed bass, the group pulsing through a funereal arrangement colored by rubato drums. Perhaps the high point of the night was Your Only Child, a literal illustration of Marilyn Nelson’s poem A Wreath for Emmett Till, a recording of Till’s mother describing her murdered son’s mutilated body playing over the ominous atmosphere of the intro, singer Miles Griffith echoing the song’s theme and ending with a fervent evocation of sobbing agony.

 

The second set maintained the captivating intensity of the first, opening with the slinky, insistent I Rise (a musical translation of the famous Maya Angelou poem) highlighted by a joyous solo from Shaw followed by a characteristically thoughtful, matter-of-fact one from Allen. The lushly orchestrated, Mingus-inflected I Sang in the Sun (from the Carolyn Kizer poem) brought back the vocals, lowlit by some marvelously succinct shading by Thomas. A Cornelius Eady poem about an encounter with a racist in an ice cream parlor provided a solid platform for a slyly bluesy trombone solo and some funky work by August. The night wound up with Letter to America (on a Francisco Alarcon poem), impassioned vocals echoed by John Bailey’s blazing, bluesy trumpet and yet another uncompromisingly confrontational solo by Allen building to a casually intense coda. In a year of some extraordinary live jazz, a packed house got to witness what has to be one of the highlights of the year so far.

 

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 2/9/09

Here’s this week’s hit parade. All of the links here lead to the individual song except for #9 which you’ll have to see live since the band hasn’t recorded it yet. But it was so good we had to include it anyway.

 

1. The Brooklyn What – We Are the Only Ones

Yet another smash from the Brooklyn What’s sprawling, multistylistic, funny and furious debut cd. This one’s absolutely right for the here and now: a call to the cool kids to overthrow everything that’s keeping everybody down and start something new. What’s this make, six #1 hits from the album, by our reckoning? If this was 1978, that would be the case. They’re at Red Star on 2/20 at 11.

 

2. Botanica – Who You Are

Absolutely gorgeous, majestic, wickedly sardonic art-rock anthem from this era’s greatest art-rock band. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 3/21 at 7, early, after getting back from a whirlwind European tour.

 

3. Edison Woods – Finding the Lions

Warm, reassuring, hypnotic art-rock ballad with gorgeous harmonies from one of New York’s most unique and captivating groups, equal part classical and rock. They’re at Galapagos on 2/19.

 

4. King Khan & the Shrines – Live Fast Die Strong

This band is completely insane but they’re a lot of fun. Bizarre, completely over-the-top funny garage rock, like Emmett Kelly sharing the stage with Jesse Bates’ Flying Guitars, recorded live at a record store. 

 

5. Pearl & the Beard – Vessel

Disquieting, dark, slow and artsy with melodica, cello and guitar. They’re at Union Hall on 2/18.

 

6. The JD Allen Trio – iD

Is it id or ID or…? Typical of this guy. He makes you think. From his latest, magnificent jazz trio album I Am I Am (reviewed here recently), this is as catchy as it is haunting.

 

7. The Latin Giants of Jazz – Trip to Mamboland

This is serious oldschool stuff, essentially what’s left of Tito Puente’s band playing a sizzling, upbeat salsa gem that sounds like something Machito could have done but with better production values.

 

8. The Dirt Luck Outlaws – Whiskey Song

Punkabilly, cowpunk, country punk, whatever you call it, it’s a lot of fun. This is one of those songs that every band is tempted to write and it’s a good thing these guys did. 

 

9. The Disclaimers – The Damage Is Done

Typical Disclaimers song: killer tune, killer hooks, sardonically brooding lyric and a gorgeously jangly two-guitar tune by rhythm player Dylan Keeler.

 

10. Jerry Teel & the Big City Stompers– Sugarbaby

Hypnotic Howlin Wolf style blues as done by one of the legends of Lower East Side noir glam rock. It always brings down the house when they play it live. They’re at the Mercury on 2/20.

February 10, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment