Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Reverend Screaming Fingers’ Music for Driving and Film Is Exactly That

The Brooklyn-based composer/guitarist who goes by the name of Reverend Screaming Fingers writes movies for the ears. He’s got a collection of elegant, memorable instrumentals, simply titled Music for Driving and Film up at his site for free download. Smart move – it’s going to get him some film work. Like a good demo reel, it showcases his diversity as a tunesmith, yet the quality of the pieces here is vastly better than most demos. As a whole, it makes a great late-night album. The twangy reverb guitar gives many of these tunes a noir feel; others reach for a distantly menacing spaghetti western ambience. Most of them have a straight-up guitar/bass/drums setup, often with organ. Many of these works stem from the composer’s work with the west coast film/music group the Overdub Club.

The opening track, Highway Song sets the stage with baritone guitar and organ – it’s like Booker T. gone to Kansas. The most haunting cut here, Sort It Out has a slow, sunbaked menace, sort of a spaghetti western set in Riyadh. The guitar meanders ominously and then hits a chilly, bone-rattling tremolo-picked interlude – it’s as psychedelic as it is creepy. Repeat Performance is a two-chord vamp that rises and falls hypnotically, followed by East Meets West, an atmospheric tone poem a la Friends of Dean Martinez, building to a motoring beat that contrasts with the hazy sonics. OD Loop continues in a similarly southwestern gothic vein: it’s the scene where the band of thugs make their way across the desert. Suki O’Kane on drums does a marvelous job of hanging back and not letting the whole gang break loose.

Taking its name from an adopted manatee, Boomer’s Groove has a twangy, nocturnal Jim Campilongo/Mojo Mancini vibe, following a deliciously suspenseful trajectory that hits a sweetly apprehensive peak as the bass shifts just a little higher and the guitars all follow. Caterina begins as a simple two-chord vamp dedicated to a little girl who died young, building to a tense grandeur with casual tremolo-picked melody sailing beneath the roar and crash, finally reaching a scream with umpteen layers of guitar roaring in their separate corners. There’s also a couple of brief vignettes: one with Jonathan Segel on violin pairing off against Laurie Amat’s stately Middle Eastern inflected vocalese, and Through the Portal, a surreal party scene employing Rebecca Seeman’s eerie, upper-register swirls on her own invention, the wine glass organ. The album ends with a static, hypnotic piece that sounds like Stereolab doing an extended version of the intro to Blue Jay Way. Recommended for fans of Giant Sand, Big Lazy, Mogwai and Black Heart Procession.

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June 9, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Carol Lipnik’s M.O.T.H. Brings up the Lights

Gorgeously orchestrated, warm and often sultry, shapeshifting chanteuse Carol Lipnik’s latest album M.O.T.H. (meaning Matters of the Heart) is an unexpected treat from someone who’s made her name as a purveyor of brilliantly surreal, carnivalesque songs. As you would expect, those songs frequently create an atmosphere of menace; here, that menace still looms in places, but from a considerable distance. Love or hope are always portrayed as part of a dialectic with pain on the other end, especially on a handful of settings of Rumi poems. Behind Lipnik, this version of Spookarama includes her longtime collaborator, dark jazz piano genius Dred Scott (who also contributes other keys, bass, drums and guitar on one track) along with Jacob Lawson on violin, Tim Luntzel on bass and Jim Campilongo guesting on guitar on one track.

It opens on a bouncy, playfully seductive note with Firefly: “In my dream world, you’re my temple.” It goes from playful to dark and back again and then ends cold. With its dark tango pulse, Undine Unwitted is characteristically surreal – “When I was a mermaid, I tried to pull you underwater, but you became the water” – and grows to a lush grandeur. The following track, told from the point of view of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, offers a perspective that’s genuinely poignant rather than camp, an outsider anthem if there ever was one and a showcase for the upper registers of Lipnik’s breathtaking four-octave range.

With the first of the Rumi lyrics, Poison Flower sets uneasily psychedelic layers of vocals over a wary violin waltz, a vivid portrayal of temptation and desire. The long, psychedelic title track alternates hypnotic ambience with a big, stomping, hard-rocking chorus; the following Rumi-themed number sways with echoes of 60s psychedelic folk-rock. Based on a Laura Gilpin poem, The Two Headed Calf presents another sympathetic view of a freak: he may be facing imminent death and then possibly several posthumous lifetimes in a museum, but for now he’s looking at the stars, and he sees twice as many as we do. Michael Hurley’s Werewolf (famously covered by Cat Power) sticks closer to the original, done with a menacing sway and some deliciously noir, twangy Campilongo guitar. Spirits Be Kind to Me, written by Tom Ward, is darkly bouncing and stagy: Lipnik keeps the drama understated, making it more of an invocation than a plea. The album winds up on a gracefully majestic note with Love Dogs, based on yet another Rumi poem: “Your pure sadness that longs for love is the secret cup.” Count this among the most stunning releases of 2011. Lipnik plays a weeklong stand at PS 122 from April 15 through the 22nd with another extraordinary singer, John Kelly: their new collaboration explores the visions of a critically injured trapeze artist who in order to escape his pain imagines himself entering the world of Caravaggio’s paintings.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/16/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #775:

Jim Campilongo – Heaven Is Creepy

Let’s stick with the dark instrumental rock for a bit, ok? Campilongo is a virtuoso guitarist, a favorite of the Guitar World crowd, equally at home with jazz, spaghetti western, surf music, western swing, skronky funk and straight-up rock. He gets a lot of work as a lead player with artists as diverse as Norah Jones, Jo Williamson, Marika Hughes and Teddy Thompson. The obvious comparison is to Bill Frisell, but Campilongo’s more terse and song-oriented, and unlike Frisell he doesn’t rely on loops, or for that matter much of any kind of electronic effects: it’s amazing what this guy can can do with just an amp. His signature trick is a subtly eerie tremolo effect that he achieves by bending the neck of his Telecaster ever so slightly. And every album he’s ever done is worth owning. Why this one? It’s probably his darkest, notably for the title track and the self-explanatory, film noir-ish, Big Lazy-esque Menace. The Prettiest Girl In New York reaches for more of a bittersweet vibe; Mr. & Mrs. Mouse is a feast of clever dynamics and tricks like mimicking the sound of backward masking; Monkey in a Movie cinematically blends surf, funk, skronk and trip-hop. His version of Cry Me a River rivals Erica Smith’s for brooding angst. Despite its popularity, this one doesn’t seem to have made it to the usual share sites, although copies are available from Campilongo’s homepage.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Explosive Surfy Jazz from the Best-Dressed Guy in Holland

Jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s stuff is a big hit in his native Holland because it’s very accessible and a lot of fun. Seeing as his compariot, debonair alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman’s mission is to “bring jazz back to the dance floor,” it made a lot of sense for Herman to do a Mengelberg album, which turned out to be a big hit there in 2009. Herman – a genuine star not only in his native land, but throughout Europe – is now on US tour, trying to move bodies (the schedule is here) while promoting a stunningly deluxe new edition of that cd, Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg). The title may sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, but the studio album is a mix of upbeat, dancefloor-ready jazz (when was the last time you heard that, huh?), just now reissued with a bonus ecstatic live cd mining a sly, devious vibe that’s pure punk rock. The band behind him – bassist Ernst Glerum, drummer Joost Patocka (of Euro-jazz doyenne Rita Reys’ band), keyboardist Willem Friede and guitar cult hero Anton Goudsmit – straddle the line between precision and abandon (more the latter than the former), with predictably entertaining results. The point of all this seems to be how far outside they can take Mengelberg’s often stunningly memorable, melodic compositions.

Much of the studio album is a trio performance with sax, bass and drums, bass walking blithely while Herman jumps playfully in and out of focus, skirting the melody. There are a lot of creatively disquieting touches here: a disarmingly pretty pop melody against the doppler effect of freeway traffic; the eerie children’s choir that introduces an offhandedly intense, chromatic number, and a distantly noir ballad with nebulous sax over a mellotron string section. There’s also a bright calypso tune and a couple of irresistibly surf-tinged songs, one with a Memphis go-go feel, the other a bouncy bolero (aptly titled A Little Nervous, in Dutch) with busy drums and bowed bass.

But the hourlong live disc from last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival is the piece de resistance. Herman plays his ass off; Goudsmit steals the show on the darker numbers. The most exhilarating number is called Do the Roach, Jim Campilongo surf/jazz taken to a blistering extreme, Goudsmit echoing Bill Frisell at his wildest, throwing off a blast of reverb-drenched metal fragments. The vigorous version of A Bit Nervous has Patocka doing a spot-on Mel Taylor impersonation; it sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with a good sax player. And Herman matches Goudsmit’s unhinged exuberance as they transform the Memphis go-go of Brozziman into crazed surf jazz, working their way out of the previous tone poem’s gritty, scrapy ambience. By itself it would be one of the year’s best jazz albums; alongside the studio disc, it makes a great introduction to a player and a group who deserve to be as well known in the US as they are at home.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jennifer Niceley Live at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/7/08

Move over, Eleni Mandell. Make some room, Rachelle Garniez. Neko Case, scooch. Meet the next great noir chanteuse: Jennifer Niceley. Tonight the Tennessee singer/guitarist held the crowd at the Rockwood spellbound throughout her all-too-brief, barely half-hour set. Singing with a smoky, slightly breathy contralto rich with jazz and soul inflections and playing a hollowbody Danelectro Les Paul copy with just a hint of distortion, she proved as adept at sunny soul music as the eerily glimmering, reverb-drenched, slowly swaying minor-key ballads that she clearly loves so well. Her best song of the evening, possibly titled Shadows & Mountains, describes a woman taking a long, David Lynch-esque drive through the night. At the end of the song, after she’s finally gotten past them, she ends up at the edge of a lake praying in the dark that everything will be all right. Niceley followed this with two more slow, torchy minor-key numbers from her new album, Luminous, that were equally chilling.

Growing up in the country in East Tennessee, she explained, her father was a huge Jimmy Rodgers fan, so she played a slightly jazzed-up version of one of his songs. She also treated the audience to her own rearrangement of the Bobby Bland/Little Milton blues classic Blind Man (which she retitled Blind Woman), a showcase not only for her vocals but also for her lead guitarist, who played the most riveting solo we’ve heard all year long. Using a slide, he swooped around, pushing the beat as if to mimic the sound of backward masking (sounds like somebody in this band’s been listening to Jim Campilongo!). At the end, he abandoned the effect and flew up the fretboard to the highest registers, throwing in a couple of lickety-split, Ravi Shankar-ish licks to seal the deal. The crowd was awestruck. It’s early in the year, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this turned out to be the best show of 2008. If the aforementioned Mme. Case, Garniez or Mandell are your cup of tea, or if you love Snorah Jones’ voice but wish the girl would grow up and learn how to write a damn song, don’t miss the chance to get to know Jennifer Niceley.

February 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Jim Campilongo Electric Trio Live at Barbes 1/5/08

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Jim Campilongo is one of the world’s most exciting guitarists, with a completely unique, instantly recognizable sound. He gets great reviews from the guitar magazines, is revered by his peers, yadda yadda yadda, and in case the hype scared you off, you missed a great show Saturday night. He comes across as something of the missing link between Bill Frisell and Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich. Like Ulrich, he loves his dark, macabre chromatics and plays with a ton of reverb and tremolo. Campilongo gets the latter effect by bending the neck of his vintage Telecaster ever so slightly, rather than using a whammy bar. Stylistically, he covers a lot of ground, from one end of Route 66 to the other, encompassing surf, country, western swing, jazz and plain old down-and-dirty distorted rock. Tonight he mixed material from his latest album Heaven Is Creepy along with a cover or two, and some new material from what will be his eighth album, possibly titled Finger Puppet. As the title implies, the new stuff is predictably as ominous and captivating as the rest of his recent work.

He played the central hook to a new one – titled Helen Keller, perhaps? – by turning the tuning peg on the low E string down a half-step and then back again in time with the music, and with perfect pitch. On another recent number, the eerie Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, he backed off a little, delivering it very calculatedly as the rhythm section cranked it up. He awed the crowd with his technique, quickly raising and lowering his tone controls for volume while delaying his attack on the strings just a fraction of a second to create a backward-masked effect. Campilongo’s rhythm section was superb, the drummer alternated between sticks and brushes, feeling the room and varying his dynamics so he didn’t drown anyone out. The upright bassist contributed fluid excursions up the scale when he wasn’t holding down a snaky groove. At Campilongo’s most heavenly creepy, backed by those two, there were moments when, if you closed your eyes, this could have been Tonic, ten years ago, with Big Lazy onstage.

Campilongo is casual and down-to-earth as a frontman, apologizing for his guitar volume in Barbes’ cozy confines (though it’s hard to imagine anyone in the standing-room-only crowd who would have complained if he turned up even louder). Fellow guitarists who haven’t reached Campilongo’s level of popularity will be reassured to know that the last time he played here, it was to an empty room: nobody came. As musicians all know, there’s no way to tell who’s going to turn out, or if anyone will at all, whether you’re an unknown or one of the greatest fret-burners of your generation. Obvious the Barbes owners’ knew the crowd would be out in full force the next time around, and they were right: latecomers found the room too packed to squeeze inside. Campilongo has played Monday nights at the Living Room, off and on, for what seems forever, so it was a nice change to see him venture out to play a New York-area club that doesn’t treat its customers like shit.

January 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments