Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Creepy and Dreamy with Mojo Mancini

New York noir doesn’t get any better than this. With Big Lazy on the shelf, Mojo Mancini has moved in to take over the role of New York’s most deliciously creepy instrumental group. With allusions to the Doors and Henry Mancini, they’re aptly named, blending a stylish dark rock vibe with equally dark Hollywood atmospherics. Their album is sort of an accident: tenor sax player Rick DePofi, Rosanne Cash bandleader/guitarist John Leventhal, drummer Shawn Pelton, Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Conrad Korsch would get together and jam just for fun, or to blow off steam between gigs and/or recording dates. Happily, they had the good sense to record these jams, realizing that they had genuine magic on their hands. The arduous task of sifting through the tapes fell to DePofi, a professional recording engineer. This is the result. At one point or another, all the songs here sway to a trip-hop beat – and as dark as a lot of them are, there are also several which are irresistibly funny.

The album opens with a characteristically eerie, David Lynch style wee-hours scenario, Leventhal playing terse, tense jazz lines against Mitchell’s organ swells. Gansevoort, named after the street just off the Westside Highway where the album was recorded (and where bodies were once dumped with regularity) is an echoey trip-hop organ funk groove, part early 70s Herbie Hancock score, part sleek stainless steel club music, part Jimmy McGriff. Just Sit, featuring a sample of poet/activist Jack Hirschman, welds watery 1970-era David Gilmour chorus-box guitar to balmy sax over a laid-back funk groove.

Leventhal turns an expansive, sunbaked guitar solo over to DePofi’s tenor on the pensive Clear Fluids, which then winds it up to a big crescendo. The dub-inflected Peace Plan moves from spacy Rhodes piano to a sparse, Steve Ulrich-style guitar hook. The most Steve Ulrich-inflected number here is Let Us Pray, with its Twilight Zone organ, David Gilmour noir guitar lines and a couple of playfully sacrilegious Lawrence Ferlinghetti samples. There’s also a big sky theme, its disquieting undercurrent evoking Bill Frisell; a cinematic mini-suite with smoky sax that evokes mid-90s REM side project Tuatara; the banjo trip-hop of Long Neck, and the echoey, dubwise Slipper Room with its maze of keyboards and a rousing organ crescendo that segues into the next tune. Play loud, play after dark for best results.

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May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez and Mojo Mancini at the Canal Room, NYC 4/7/10

Rachelle Garniez was all business this time out. New York’s most individualist steampunk siren usually engages the audience much more than she did last night in a brief duo show, playing accordion with her longtime partner in crime Matt Munisteri on acoustic guitar and banjo. This was the greatest-hits set. She dedicated a swinging, metaphorically-charged version of Tourmaline (from her Melusine Years album, which topped our Best Albums of 2007 list) to an ancestor, Mary Delaney, who had sailed to New Orleans from Ireland in “one of those cast iron bathtubs.” The offhandedly menacing stream-of-consciousness polka punk of Pearls and Swine, said Garniez, sounds Mexican to Germans and vice versa. After a coy, brief take of the innuendo-laden, bluesy Medicine Man and a rather sweet version of Grasshopper, creatively reinterpreting an old Aesop theme, Munisteri got to take the best solo of the night, expansively and incisively through a whole verse and chorus of the torchy Swimming Pool Blue. The crowd wanted more; they didn’t get it.

Mojo Mancini played about an hour’s worth of deliciously creepy, mostly downtempo, cinematic groove instrumentals. Like a twisted hybrid of the Crusaders or early 70s Herbie Hancock and Tuatara, they’d find a haunting chromatic riff and linger on it for minutes on end, with judicious yet playful solos from everyone. Guitarist John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash’s husband and longtime musical director, seems to be in charge of keeping track of the changes in this unit as well. Drummer Sean Pelton and bassist Conrad Korsch locked into a groove which moved gracefully from slinky trip-hop to pounding funk and pretty much all points in between, anchored by either fluid Hammond organ or eerily reverberating Rhodes piano from Dylan sideman Brian Mitchell and spiced with both tenor and baritone sax from Rick DePofi. Mitchell used a vocoder to reach for the furthest level of hell on an unabashedly silly, funkified cover of the David Essex K-tel hit Rock On; other times, he’d mess with his portamento, sometimes in tandem with Leventhal for an out-of-focus, watery menace. They brought Garniez up for a purposeful, straight-up cover of the old jazz standard Comes Love – she chose her spots, alternating between a wondrous Blossom Dearie soprano and a brassy, brazen belt, feeling her way between one kind of over-the-top and another and whichever she’d switch into, it worked like a charm. The band also accompanied a sword swallower, who was impressive with all his super-long balloons and giant screwdriver, yet ultimately his presence onstage stole the spotlight during one of Mojo Mancini’s most interesting numbers, a quietly intense, suspenseful minor-key excursion.

The only drawback was the incessant drum machine. These guys are topnotch players: during a quiet intro, Leventhal and DePofi both had trouble connecting with the click, but when the volume picked up to the point where it was all but inaudible, they swung like crazy. Musicians this good don’t need a click track – why they had one is a mystery. Mojo Mancini’s new album is very much worth your time – watch this space for a review in the next couple of weeks.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rosanne Cash at the Greene Space, NYC 9/23/09

The great thing about shows at the Greene Space is that many of them are broadcast live on WNYC and then archived at the station’s site, where you can find this particular one. That’s right, you don’t have to take our word for it, go right to WNYC and hear the amazing little set Rosanne Cash played this afternoon on Soundcheck with John Schaefer. She has a new album coming out titled The List, based on a hundred-song list her dad gave her when she was eighteen. “This was a guy who listened to everything, metal included,” Johnny Cash’s daughter took care to point out, but her dad’s compilation was basically Americana, a “musical genealogy,” she explained, a not-so-subtle hint for a teenager who up to that point had gravitated closer to the Beatles than to classic country. She’s done plenty of covers, but this will be her first all-covers album – and since there’ll still be ninety or so more songs on her dad’s list that she won’t have on this cd, a second volume seems likely as well.

Backed by a five-piece, electric two-guitar band who played the songs with unabashed relish, Cash soared wounded and sultry over her husband John Leventhal’s smartly counterintuitive countrypolitan arrangements. In the studio, she’s finely nuanced – live, there are few others (Jenifer Jackson is one) who can find so much emotional subtlety yet still pack such a wallop – if she’s been injured, you can tell from just a minute inflection of her voice where she’s been hit and what caliber the shell was. Yet her stage presence is casual and amusing, not bad for someone carrying a legacy that would crush plenty of other artists (in addition to her own: Black Cadillac is every bit as good as anything her dad ever did)

The Hank Snow standard Movin’ On swung casually but incisively, as did Jimmie Rodgers’ Miss the Mississippi. Sea of Heartbreak (a duet with Bruce Springsteen on the album) was understated in the tradition of the 1961 Don Gibson original. They wrapped up the set with Long Black Veil, Cash not bothering to change the lyrics to fit traditional gender roles – when she got to the end of the chorus, “nobody knows,” the intensity was something considerably beyond wrenching.

You can hear the complete show at WNYC, including some commentary by Bebel Gilberto (who has a new album out as well) and NPR critic Tom Moon – who seems to be a decently aware classical/jazz guy whose knowledge of rock ends right about 1976, the end of the boomer era – about music as a legacy for future generations.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment