Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Long-Awaited, Auspiciously Intense, Stripped-Down New Album from Guitarist Chris Jentsch

In keeping with the current paradigm, composer/guitarist Chris Jentsch writes a lot more than he records. But damn, when he records, he makes it count. It’s been eight years since Jentsch’s lavish, epic previous large-ensemble album The Cycles Suite. The one before that, The Brooklyn Suite, is his classic. His debut, The Miami Suite was a blast of sunshine with a hard-to-believe-we’re-all-here-but-let’s-do-it vibe. His latest album, Fractured Pop – streaming at youtube – is a departure, a quartet effort also available in a lush DVD package including “alternate takes, slide show music videos, a high-resolution FLAC file of the audio CD, PDF lead sheets of the tunes, and four of the composer’s own remix/mash ups,” as the packaging explains. Jentsch and his quartet are at I-Beam tonight, June 9 at 8:30 PM; cover is $15.

Jentsch sometimes evokes the angst and resonance of David Gilmour, the fluidity of Pat Metheny or the bucolic side of Bill Frisell, but ultimately he’s  his own animal. As a big band jazz composer, Jentsch has a welcome gravitas, but also a dry and sometimes droll sense of humor. The new album, a mix of new, stripped-down arrangements of Jentsch’s big band arrangements, has both. The quartet opens with the  title track, a rock anthem of sorts reimagined with in 7/8 time with Matt Renzi’s microtonally-tinged, Joe Maneri-ish sax over the swaying rhythm section of bassist Jim Whitney and drummer John Mettam. Radio Silence takes Abbey Road Beatles to new heights of poignancy and grandeur: Jentsch intermingles Renzi’s sax and his own chordal attack for an effect that evokes a much larger unit.

Likewise, the harmonies between Jentsch’s lingering chords and Renzi’s smoky sax in the strolling Are You Bye; Whitney adds a slinky, spot-on solo that Jentsch catapult out of, into the clouds and then to a wryly gospel-tinged variation on the main theme.  The almost ten-minute take of the haunting, iconic Outside Line, the first of the Brooklyn Suite numbers here, switches out the orchestra for Jentsch’s resonant, sometimes burning chords, Whitney’s growly,, gritty solo, Renzi channeling every ounce of danger and energy . For those who know the original, it’s a revelation, sort of the musical counterpart to a sketch for a JMW Turner battle tableau.

Renzi’s bass flute over Jentsch’s careful, bittersweetly judicoiuus chords imbue the jazz waltz Old Folks Song (from the Cycles Suite) with a more distantly haunting intensity, the bandleader’s enigmatic solo raising the angst factor by a factor of ten, up to the elegaic chromatics that wind it out.

Route 666 – a title that surprisingly hasn’t been taken as much as it could be – works sax/guitar tradeoffs along with Jentsch’s sunbaked, lingering lines over a jaunty 10/4 strut up to a big, emphatic, anthemic drive. Meeting At Surratt’s follows a gorgeous, almost conspiratorial pastoral jazz groove into the reggae that Jentsch has embraced in his most psychedelic moments, Renzi switching to bluesy cello.

Imagining the Mirror, a suspenseful track from early in the Brooklyn Suite, opens as a joyously focused take on bucolic Led Zep, then Renzi’s sax takes it back to Brooklyn and Jentsch’s eerily reverberating, sparely exploratory lines. Cycle of Life, another Cycles Suite track, has a squirrelly intro, Jentsch’s spare phrases intertwining with Renzi’s sax and bass clarinet multitracks and the rhythm section’s tropical, insectile ambience, an allusively grim study in echo effects building to a steady, syncopated stroll with artful guitar/clarinet exchanges.

The album winds up with Follow That Cab, a brisk, purposeful, rather blustery segment from the Brooklyn Suite,  reinvented here as stripped-down, bustling urban postbop, engaging Mettam’s drums far more, Renzi once again slipping into microtonal unease.

June 9, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brilliant, Sometimes Haunting Lapsteel Player Brings His Genre-Smashing Instrumentals to Freddy’s

To New York audiences, lapsteel virtuoso Raphael McGregor might be best known as a key ingredient in Brain Cloud, Dennis Lichtman’s western swing band. Before that, McGregor served as the source of the vintage country flavor in Nation Beat‘s driving mashup of Brazilian maracatu and Americana sounds. But he’s also a first-rate, eclectic composer and bandleader in his own right. In addiiton to his more-or-less weekly Monday 7 PM Barbes residency with Brain Cloud, he has a monthly residency at Freddy’s, where he’ll be on Nov 20 at 8 PM.

His most recent show at Barbes leading a band was a quartet gig with with Larry Eagle on drums, Jim Whitney on bass and Rob Hecht on violin. They opened with a moody oldschool noir soul vamp and quickly built it into a brooding rainy-day theme over Eagle’s tense shuffle beat. Hecht took his time and then went spiraling and sailing upwards. Why is it that blues riffs inevitably sound so cool when played by strings? McGregor had a hard act to follow so he walked the line between Lynchian atmosphere and an express-track scurry, then handed off to Whitney who picked up his bow and took the song all the way into the shadows.

McGregor began the night’s second number with a mournful solo lapsteel intro that moved slowly toward C&W and then shifted uneasily into moody swing. It was like a more animated take on the Friends of Dean Martinez doing oldtime string band music. After that, they put a swinging southwestern gothic spin on a Django Reinhardt tune.

They also did a couple of straight-up western swing numbers, a brisk trainwhistle romp and a fetching version of Waltz Across Texas With You: much as they were a lot of fun, McGregor was pleasantly surprised to find that the crowd was more interested in hearing his originals. They opened their second set with a piece that began as an Indian-inflected one-chord jam that morphed into a bluesy duel between violin and bass, followed by a Frisellian pastoral interlude and then back to trip-hop Indian funk – all that in under ten minutes. All this is just a small sampling of what McGregor could pull off at Freddy’s.

November 15, 2014 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Good Reason for the NEC to Celebrate

The New England Conservatory – the Juilliard of Boston – is always finding reasons to celebrate. What a bunch of party animals. This year their excuse is the 40th anniversary of the school’s contemporary improvisation program, springboarding a series of New York concerts that continue tonight starting at 7 at Barbes with Matt Darriau, Frank London, Ashley Paul, Mat Maneri and many others and winding up with an extravaganza on March 23 at 8 at Symphony Space with an enticingly eclectic jazz bill including Ran Blake, Dominique Eade, John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet, Sarah Jarosz and Anthony Coleman among others.

Last night at Symphony Space, the theme was Today’s Jewish Music: From NEC to the Downtown Scene, which is very specific. For years, a thriving  klezmer/jazz community here relied heavily on the NEC for a wealth of talent, most of which is still active. Most of the NEC alumni artists on this particular program, including pianists Coleman and Hankus Netsky, multi-reedmen Darriau, Greg Wall and Marty Ehrlich, violinist Deborah Strauss, guitarist/cantor-in-training Jeff Warschauer, bassist Jim Whitney and drummer John Mettam would have packed Tonic ten years ago.  Clarinetist Michael Winograd and chanteuse Lily Henley represented for newer generations, the former most notably with a thrilling, trilling, rapidfire solo clarinet improvisation and the latter with a torchily nuanced, murky duo with Coleman on a klezmer soul ballad.

A quintet that also included Darriau, Ehrlich and Winograd opened with a long, lingering, Steven Bernstein-ish partita on an old cantorial theme fueled by Coleman’s noirisms and Mettam’s artful shifts from clave to waltz time. They closed with a moody tango that kicked off with an intricately energetic, spiraling duel between Darriau (now on bass clarinet) and Ehrlich. In the night’s wildlest improvisational moment, Ehrlich’s spine-tingling microtonal clarinet swirls paired off against Coleman’s deviously resistant staccato. The  Strauss-Warschauer Duo made elegant acoustic art-rock out of the Jewish prayer for the new month, then a little later Warschauer sang an affectingly aching, irony-drenched solo version of the Mordechai Gebirtig klezmer classic Avremi the Pickpocket. Coleman reprised it and reshaped it as a haunting Middle Eastern vamp and then jaunty hi-de-ho jazz. One suspects that many of these suspects will be back at Symphony Space in a couple of days: tickets are still available.

March 21, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Will Scott – Gnawbone

This is a roughhewn, somewhat menacing album. Vocally, Will Scott is a casual, soulful presence. He’s got a big voice that fills the space here comfortably – he knows he doesn’t have to work too hard to make his point, and he doesn’t. Likewise, his guitar playing is terse, with a bite. Scott comes out of the Mississippi hill country school of blues playing, continuing the tradition that Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside kept alive for so long. It’s a literally mesmerizing style, with long, improvisational songs that go on for minutes on end, frequently without a single chord change. Scott puts his own individual stamp on it, along with several considerably successful ventures into country. Christopher “Preacher Boy” Watkins’ production is marvelously oldschool, vocals up front, guitars and then the rest of the band a little further back in the mix like an old vinyl record. With sparse, tasteful cameos from the Be Good Tanyas’ Samantha Parton, Jolie Holland and Jan Bell along with Preacher Boy on a multitude of instruments, this was made for late-night listening.

The cd opens with the growling psychedelic Americana of Jack’s Defeat Creek, a murky, genre-blending success. The title track, a sarcastic chronicle about several big bullshitters bears Scott’s signature hill country stamp: it could go on for twice as long as it does and that wouldn’t hurt a bit. Make Her Love Me layers acoustic and electric guitars eerily in the background, with a wild, screaming, all-too-brief noise guitar solo making a particularly imaginative crescendo.

Lazy Summertime blends slow swinging 70s style outlaw country with a more rustic Tom Waits vibe. Country Soil reverts to hypnotic blues, like Wayfaring Stranger as Country Joe & the Fish might have done it if they’d been able to handle their drugs a little better With its subtle gospel inflections, Louisiana Lullaby would be perfectly at home on a vintage Waylon Jennings lp.The defiant Paper Match has some neatly intricate bluegrass-inflected twelve string work coming out of the chorus along with some fluidly potent upright bass from Jim Whitney. Of the rest of the tracks, there’s a swing blues, a fast Waits-ish number, a dark, rustic spiritual and the absolutely fascinating Long Time Since, almost a dub reggae production with its haunting and hypnotic repeater-box guitar popping in and out of the mix as the rhythm section careens along. If there’s anything to criticize here, it’s that like so many other studio albums by bluesmen, it would be awfully nice to hear [fill in the blank: B.B. King, Albert Collins…Will Scott] get a chance to cut loose more here – Scott plays a mean solo. Maybe next time. In the meantime, this will help put him on the map. He just got back from UK tour, back to his more-or-less weekly Wednesday 8:30 PM gig at 68 Jay St. Bar, something you ought to see if Americana is your thing.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Jentsch Group Quartet at Context Studios, Brooklyn NY 6/17/09

The Jentsch Group are shapeshifters in both senses of the word: sometimes jazz guitarist/composer Chris Jentsch’s project is a big band, sometimes much a smaller crew. This was a rare performance of a lean, stripped-down unit featuring Matt Renzi on saxophones, Jim Whitney of Andy Statman’s band on double bass and John Mettam on drums. Playing a captivating mix of both older and new, unreleased material from Jentsch’s forthcoming cd Fractured Pop, Jentsch revealed an uncanny ear for timbre, melodies taking on different shades and significance as they took on different permutations, passed between the band members. Jentsch likes variations on a theme and this show was full of them.

As someone influenced by Toru Takemitsu and Indian music as well as American styles, Jentsch also doesn’t let preconceived stylistic constraints get in the way. Was this rock, or was this jazz? It was both – if you can write in both idioms, why not? The first number started out pretty and jangly over some tricky changes but then straightened itself into a fairly straight-up indie rock instrumental over variants on the most basic blues riff, Renzi adding brightness before Jentsch took it into offhandedly biting David Gilmour territory with a solo of his own, then handing the reins back to the sax. Throughout the set, Jentsch used his volume pedal like an ebow, adding shades of sustain on the next number, a warm yet pensive melody in 6/8 that with its alternately stark and expressive permutations, one of them a latin guitar vamp, evoked Astor Piazzolla. A brief reggae interlude, Jentsch playing four on three, made for a playful diversion. 

Then they launched into the main theme from Jentsch’s 2007 album Brooklyn Suite, a genuine modern jazz classic. The central hook is a savagely descending four-bar theme that ranks with any other iconic melody you can imagine. It’s neither difficult to play nor to sing to yourself and hearing Renzi pick it up before Jentsch finally got its hands on it and tore it to shreds was something akin to watching B.B. King do The Thrill Is Gone…or seeing Coltrane work himself into a particularly inspired Giant Steps. It was that good. The album version is lush and sweeping: this four-piece edition gave the melody the opportunity to bare its fangs even further, unconstrained by the swells of the horns and reeds. Maybe to see if anybody was paying attention, Jentsch tossed in a familiar Eddie Van Halen quote (ok, it was Beat It) toward the end. They wrapped up the set with one of the more ambient, atmospheric parts of the Brooklyn Suite, a cut from the new Cycles Suite cd propelled with masterful subtlety by Whitney and closed with a world premiere, the apprehensive nocturne Are You Bye?, an opportunity for Mettam to add some expansive menace, which Jentsch explained afterward took not only its title but also its central chord progression from Bye Bye Blackbird. Considering that Jentsch doesn’t frequently play out, this was worth the trek to the Williamsburg waterfront and then some.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment