Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Electric Jazz Before It Got Cheesy – Surprise Reissues from the CTI Vaults

2010 being the fortieth anniversary of 1970s cult jazz label CTI Records, it’s no surprise that there’d be reissues from those vaults coming out right about now. For fans who might be put off by the label’s association with the dreaded f-word, the good news is that the reissued stuff far more closely evokes the Miles Davis of, say, In a Silent Way, than it does fusion. The first one in the series is Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, which often beautifully capsulizes the late 60s/early 70s moment when jazz had gone pretty much completely electric with psychedelic rock overtones, but hadn’t yet been infiltrated by stiff drumming and paint-by-numbers electric guitar solos. Herbie Hancock, who maybe more than any other artist excelled the most during that brief period, plays electric piano and organ here, most stunningly during an absolutely chilling Rhodes solo on an eerily fluttering cover of John Lennon’s Cold Turkey. And he really chooses his spots on a slowly crescendoing version of Suite Sioux. Joe Henderson sets the mood that Hancock will take to its logical extreme on Cold Turkey, but the tenor player is completely tongue-in-cheek to the point of inducing good-natured laughs for his playful insistence on Suite Sioux and the brighty cinematic Intrepid Fox. The atmospheric ballad Delphia has aged well, as has the title track. It’s present here in two versions: the studio take, with its whirling intro building to blazingly catchy jazz-funk, and a far slinkier live take with a sizzling, spiraling George Benson guitar solo. Drummer Lenny White never played more judiciously than he does here, and forty years later, hearing Ron Carter on Fender bass is a trip: he doesn’t waste a note, with a touch that pulls overtones out of the air. It’s up at itunes and all the usual spots.

As is the digital reissue of the 1972 California Concert double album from the Hollywood Palladium, a showcase for CTI’s frontline stable at the time: Hubbard on flugelhorn, Carter on bass, Hank Crawford on alto, George Benson on guitar, Johnny Hammond (the former Johnny “Hammond” Smith) on Rhodes and organ, Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Hubert Laws on flute, Billy Cobham on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. Benson absolutely owns this record: his unhinged atonal flights and circles of biting blues have absolutely nothing in common with the smooth grooves of Breezin’. He pulls Hammond up and pushes him to find the hardcore funk in a long, characteristically loose version of Carole King’s It’s Too Late. An over twenty-minute take of Impressions takes the vibe back ten years prior, fueled by the guitar and the organ, Laws taking it up eerily and stratospherically, Carter doing the limbo with equal parts amusement and grace. Fire and Rain is happy unrecognizable, reinvented as a woozily hypnotic one-chord jam that could be War during their Eric Burdon period. Straight Life starts out as rocksteady and ends as funk; So What gets taken apart and reassembled, at doublespeed the first time around. The high point here, unsurprisingly, is Red Clay, with its blistering flugelhorn and guitar passages…and then Carter casually detuning his bass when the band leaves him all by himself onstage. The recording is far from perfect: Airto is inaudible much of the time, and supporting horn accents fade in and out of the mix during solos. And these grooves are long: do we really need five minutes of band intros by an announcer who’s obviously half in the bag? Still, it really captures an era, one that sadly didn’t last very long.

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

Curt Gunther’s Rare Beatles Photos Are a Hit

In 1964, German photographer Curt Gunther was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor’s lucky choice as official lensman for the band’s first American tour. On public view for the first time at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the late Gunther’s black-and-white shots capture the Fab Four as just another hardworking band, albeit one with a rabid following. It’s a predictably revealing look at the group right as their popularity was exploding, but before they had iconic status thrust on them. George looks anxious and pissed most of the time; John bears a remarkable resemblance to a young David Crosby, twenty pounds heavier than he was by the time Rubber Soul came out; Paul is something of a goof, and Ringo tunes it all out. From a musician’s perspective, the most fascinating shot offers a side view of Ringo behind his kit, high on his riser, during what appears to be a rehearsal somewhere. He faces a wall covered with graffiti: squeezed into the barely eighteen-inch space below between the wall and riser are John and George. Are they even able to see their bandmate?

Another photo captures John, Paul and George walking down a tunnel, guitars in hand, possible in the bowels of a stadium. A sixtysomething security guard glances at them as they pass, warily, but obviously without a clue as to the historical significance of the moment. Several sweet outdoor shots show the band onstage, Paul sharing a mic either with George or John: take away the moptops, and the conservatively suited quartet could have been Buddy Holly and the Crickets at just another Texas football field. In the back of a limo, Paul goofs off while Ringo zones out, John hides behind his shades and George can’t wait for the end of the ride. The most playful of all of these shows Paul hiding his right eye behind the neck of his bass, George walking ahead of him with impatient unease.

There’s also a shot of the group on horseback (Central Park?); a group pose at a slot machine (nobody is playing); John in bed (still in his shades), smoking; several variously fatigued backstage scenes, a typically surreal 1960s pose with mirrors, and a few photos of fans. Only two of these really strike a nerve: one captures a cop trying to restrain a girl of about eleven who’s trying to sprint past his barricade, and there’s another of a middleaged female fan striking a “Home Alone” pose, hands upside her cheap drugstore eyeglasses and discount beehive hairdo, that wouldn’t be out of place in the Diane Arbus catalog. A must-see for all Beatles fans; prints are on sale at the gallery, and if there’s any justice in the world there will eventually be a coffee table book. The exhibit runs through July 15 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery’s SoHo space at 116 Prince St. between Wooster and Greene.; viewing hours are not listed on the gallery’s website, although they’re typically open during the day Monday through Saturday.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

On the cover of his third solo album, Mark Sinnis, frontman of dark rockers Ninth House stands with his back to the camera, staring into a glaring New York sunset from a rooftop somewhere in Queens. The picture captures the subtext here far less subtly than Sinnis’ songs do: this is a requiem for lost time, lost hopes and by implication a lost time and place. It is a classic of gothic Americana. Richly and masterfully produced, electric guitars, strings, keyboards, lapsteel and accordion weave their way tersely into and out of the mix behind Sinnis’ remarkably nuanced baritone. Sinnis has been a good singer for a long time – he is an extraordinary one here, going down low for Leonard Cohen murk or reaching for Johnny Cash irony. If Ian Curtis had been an American, and he’d lived, he might sound like Sinnis does on this album.

The title track sets the tone for what’s to come, a slow, swaying, sad requiem, Sara Landeau’s sparse tremolo guitar mingling with Lenny Molotov’s lapsteel and Annette Kudrak’s plaintive accordion. It’s utterly hypnotic. The centerpiece of the album, or one of them anyway, is 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, classic country done chamber goth style:

Fifteen miles to Hell’s Gate
And I’m a thousand miles from home
From New York City

The one that dragged me into a hole
I’m in my own purgatory
Where I pay for my sins each day
And I pay dearly
While my youth slowly slips away

He picks it up a little on the second verse. It’s gently and masterfully orchestrated.

Originally released on Ninth House’s 2000 album Swim in the Silence, the version of Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me [#290 on our 666 Best Songs of Alltime list – Ed.] recasts the song as slow, Leonard Cohen-esque country sway, Sinnis’ pitchblende vocals quite a change from his usual roar when Ninth House plays it live. Fallible Friend, a catalog of failure and deceit, goes for a dusky southwestern feel capped by Ninth House guitarist Keith Otten’s perfecly minimalist fills. An understatedly desperate account of a drunk driver just trying to get home in one piece, Follow the Line takes on a hallucinatory, wee hours feel with Kudrak’s swirling accordion front and center – when Sinnis finally cuts loose and belts on the second verse, she’s there to calm him down. The Fever (not the Peggy Lee standard) could be a John Lennon song, a bitter metaphorically charged tale of alienation and rebellion.

Of the other originals here, wobbling funeral parlor organ makes the perfect final touch on the brooding Skeletons. Scars is gospel as the Velvet Underground might have done it, Out of Reach transformed from its original electric menace to haunting death-chamber pop with Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas’ piano and stark cello from star New York string multistylist Susan Mitchell. There’s also the ghoulish country shuffle In Harmony, the uncharacteristically sunny Quiet Change, and the album’s last song, a death-fixated, quite possibly sarcastic gospel clapalong. The covers are also terrifically inventive: Nine While Nine captures the song’s grim grey tube train platform ambience far better than Sisters of Mercy ever did, Otten perfectly nailing the menace of the song’s simple hook; St. James Infirmary rips the deathmask off the song’s inner goth, lapsteel pairing off warily against tense piano; and Gloomy Sunday gets a new final verse from Sinnis, who leaves not the slightest doubt as to what that one’s about.

Sinnis’ first solo album Into an Unhidden Future was a treat for Ninth House fans, a diverse, often radically rearranged acoustic mix of hits and rarities. His second, A Southern Tale was more country-oriented and surprisingly more upbeat. This is the best of them, in fact arguably the best thing that Sinnis has ever recorded. Mark Sinnis plays Otto’s on May 16 at 11, with a date at Small Beast at the Delancey coming up in July.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 4/27/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #93:

John Lennon – Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out

“Everybody loves you when you’re six feet under the ground.” From Walls and Bridges, 1973.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/28/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #151:

John Lennon – Scared

“Hatred and jealousy gonna be the death of me.” This was 1973, the Walls & Bridges album, could Lennon have seen it coming? Probably.

February 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/17/09

Tuesday’s is #526: The Beatles – Blue Jay Way

Full disclosure: when we inherited our alltime top 666 songs list in its embryonic form from our predecessor e-zine, there were a lot more Beatles songs on it then than there are now. In tweaking and updating the list, the ultimate consensus was  to give as much space as possible to lesser-known artists who might pique your interest far more than hearing for the umpteenth time how great the Fab Four were. In fact, in order to keep the list at a total of 666, we jettisoned pretty much every well-known, overplayed oldies radio song we could find. But we couldn’t get rid of this one, George’s hypnotic, psychedelic one-chord salute to nonconformity. “Please don’t be long, please don’t belong.” Best song on the vastly underrated 1968 Magical Mystery Tour album, whose cd sales earn the remaining Beatles zero royalties and therefore without exception should be downloaded for free rather than purchased.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/21/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s is #553:

John Lennon – Working Class Hero

You probably know this one, Lennon at his most tersely visionary: a stinging, minor-key acoustic broadside from a guy who always had an uneasy relationship with his blue-collar roots: “You’re all just fucking peasants as far as I can see.”

Available wherever mp3s are traded.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , | 1 Comment