Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Strange, Imaginative Night of Johnny Cash Covers at Symphony Space

Why – beyond Buttermilk Bar and the Jalopy, maybe – are punk bands the only people who cover Johnny Cash? Probably because it’s impossible to top the Man in Black. Plugging in and blasting Ring of Fire through a Fender Twin at least puts a fresh spin on an old chestnut. So in its own way, Symphony Space’s Saturday night Johnny Cash extravaganza was as challenging as any of their other annual, thematic, Wall to Wall marathons, from Bach, to Miles Davis, to the unforgettable Behind the Wall concert a few years back that spotlighted Jewish music from lands once locked behind the Iron Curtain.

The highlight of the first couple of hours of Wall to Wall Johnny Cash was jazz reinventions of mostly obscure songs. Some would say that making jazz out of Johnny Cash makes about as much sense as jazzing up Pearl Jam. An even more cynical view is that a jazz take of a Cash song gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card if you end up murdering it. As it turned out, not all the early stuff was jazz, and a lot of it wasn’t Johnny Cash either. Left to choose their own material, pretty much everybody gave themselves the additional leeway of picking songs covered rather than written by Cash. Badass resonator guitarist Mamie Minch did that with a Neil Diamond number and wowed the crowd with her ability to hit some serious lows, while blue-eyed soul chanteuse Morley Kamen did much the same with a similar template, several octaves higher. And banjo player/one-man band Jason Walker got all of one tune, at least early on, but made the most of it.

Representing the oldschool downtown Tonic/Stone contingent, guitarist/singer Janine Nichols lent her signature, uneasily airy delivery to There You Go and Long Black Veil, veering toward elegant countrypolitan more on the former than the latter while lead guitarist Brandon Ross matched her with spare, lingering washes of sound. Eric Mingus brought a starkly rustic, electrically bluesy guitar intensity and then a defiant gospel attack after switching to bass while tenor saxophonist Catherine Sikora made the most impactful statements of anyone during the early moments with her stark, deftly placed, eerily keening overtone-laced polytonalities. Extended technique from a jazz sax player, the last thing you’d expect to hear at a Johnny Cash cover night…but she made it work.

Word on the street is that the later part of the evening was much the same as far as talent was concerned, lots of people moving across the stage while the music went in a more bluegrass direction. And there’s a rumor that the venue will have another free night of Cash around this time a year from now.

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April 27, 2015 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/8/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #783:

Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

As the leader of dark, artsy Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House, Mark Sinnis and his ominous baritone have been a forceful presence in the New York music underground since the late 90s. Lately, he’s been devoting as much time to his solo acoustic project, most fully realized with this one, his third solo release, from early 2010. It’s an obscure treasure and it’s probably the best thing he’s ever recorded with any group. This one mixes brand new tracks with a couple of radically reworked Ninth House songs and classic covers. 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, a not-so-thinly veiled requiem for a New York lost at least for the moment to gentrifiers and class tourists, is a stampeding rockabilly number just a little quieter than the Ninth House version. Likewise, the lyrically rich Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me (which made our Alltime Best 666 Songs list) doesn’t vary much from the original, although the Cure-inflected Quiet Change is….um, quite a change. With a new last verse, Sinnis’ version of Gloomy Sunday leaves no doubt that it’s a suicide song. Likewise, the cover of St. James Infirmary is definitely an obituary, although the Sisters of Mercy’s Nine While Nine is a lot more upbeat, a vividly brooding train station vignette. The catchy, rustically swaying Skeletons and the downright morbid, Johnny Cash-inspired In Harmony wind it up. This is one of those albums that’s too obscure to have made it to the usual share sites, although it is available at shows and at cdbaby.

December 8, 2010 Posted by | lists, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Fishtank Ensemble at BAM Cafe, Brooklyn NY 1/9/10

Saturday night at BAM Cafe, Bay area gypsy music innovators Fishtank Ensemble brought the intensity to redline in seconds flat and kept it there for the duration of the show. Their cd Samurai Over Serbia (which received a rave review here and a spot on our 50 best albums of 2009 list) more than hinted that this would be the case, and the five-piece group didn’t disappoint. As expected, frontwoman Ursula Knudson seized the moment and led the charge, whether playing violin, using every octave of her vocal range or playing eerie washes of sound on her singing saw. Their first number, a fiery original titled Espagnolette saw her wind up her saw solo with some wild, stratospheric vocalese. With its tricky time signature, the Romanian gypsy song Shalaiman gave her another chance to go airborne and operatic, followed by a lightning, chromatically-fueled solo by accordionist Dan Cantrell.

A flamenco number saw guitarist Douglas Smolens introduce it with some strikingly terse, direct phrasing, which he’d return to with just a touch more firepower when it came time for him to solo as the band snapped their fingers in unison – and then Knudson went on the mic and brought the whirlwind intensity back. On the oldtimey blues staple After You’re Gone, she switched to banjo ukelele and gave it a winsome Blossom Dearie style treatment, after which upright bassist Djordje Stijepovic took an ostentatiously dexterous, amusing rockabilly solo, smacking the bass around as much as he was actually playing it. The group also scampered through a noir cabaret number featuring Knudson on violin, a gypsy dance written by Stijepovic bristling with unexpected dynamic shifts, a breezy take on the Transylvanian gypsy standard Chika Chika, and a playfully gypsified cover of Ring of Fire that Knudson sat out. It was too slow for her, she said – and then the band took it seemingly quadruplespeed at the end. The impressively diverse crowd, a mix of locals and fans from the burgeoning New York gypsy scene, were stunned. Watch this space for return NYC dates.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment