Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Plays a Rare Big Band Show of Ludicrously Fun Esquivel Tunes

Forget for a minute that Juan Garcia Esquivel wasn’t the world’s most memorable composer, or that a lot of his stuff sounds like Lawrence Welk on acid. This evening at Pace University downtown, polymath percussionist Brian O’Neill’s big band version of his sometime Esquivel tribute project Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica played an irresistibly fun show that emphasized Esquivel the satirist, one of only a small handful of occasions that Esquivel’s big band music has been presented in concert in this country by a large ensemble. Along with the vaudevillian cartoonishness in Esquivel’s music, there’s a sense that everything is fair game for a spoof, especially American standards from the 30s through the 50s. Over-the-top as Esquivel generally is, there’s a subtly defiant reconquista going on if you listen closely.

Which O’Neill has done, to an extreme: virtually everything the 22-piece ensemble played, he’d transcribed by hand from the original albums. O’Neill has had a ball with this group, and his enthusiasm turned out to be contagious, boiling over into the band and the audience, who gave him a standing ovation. Recreating charts by ear for instruments as seemingly ill-paired as pedal steel, chimes, pandeiro, Hammond organ and a vintage synthesizer that basically doesn’t exist anymore might seem like a thankless task, but O’Neill loves his job: having to figure out, for example, whether a phrase buried in the mix is either the Hammond, or four alto saxes in harmony.

Esquivel’s main shtick became a familiar trope after just a few songs. The juxtaposition of extreme lows versus extreme highs, bass trombone and vibraphone, gong and flute, served as a comedic device as much as it showcased the wide-angle stereo sound he helped pioneer at RCA Studios back in the mid-50s. It’s also psychedelic to the extreme. Watching this show without being stoned was a trip: it’s hard to envision Esquivel in the studio without a haze of Acapulco Gold or whatever primo bud Mexicans were smoking back then drifting from the control room. The version of Take the A Train that the band played evoked a scene where one guy passes the joint to Esquivel and then suggests, “Why don’t make it sound like a real train?” Many giggles later, the choo-choo theme, complete with steam-valve vocalizations from the four vocalists onstage, made its way around the room.

As conductor, O’Neill took advantage of the chance to show off his chops on piano, vibraphone and various percussion instruments, including a LMAO two-monkeys-faking-each-other-out duel on cajon with bongo player Wilson Torres. The leader of the three-piece trumpet section, Bryan Davis, had been chosen for his ability to hit Esquivel’s cruelly difficult high notes, and he made it look easy. Bass trombonist Chris Beaudry got plenty of punch lines early on; as the concert went on, steel player Tim Obetz, organist/pianist Rusty Scott and then the vocalists got momentary cameos to swoop and dive and get impossibly surreal. Yolanda Scott’s stratospheric, crystalline wail paired against murky percussion on the intro to Esquivel’s version of Harlem Nocturne was wickedly adrenalizing…and then the song turned into a red-eyed grin of a cha-cha. The same vibe appeared in Boulevard of Broken Dreams, as if to say, “You Americans can’t really take this gloomy stuff seriously, can you?”

The rest of the show wavered between biting and ticklish. A slinky bolero from the 70s fueled by unexpectedly moody guitar from Tev Stevig evoked the dark side of Chicha Libre, and the closing cha-cha, Ye-Yo, got a drive from drummer Gary Seligson that the group picked up on in a split-second, as if everybody was hell-bent on getting some of that stuff. By contrast, Esquivel’s most famous song, Mucha Muchacha spun off sparks around the ensemble as they grinningly vamped it up to a surreal linguistic exchange between the vocalists. There were too many other bright and amusing moments to count from the rest of the crew, including trumpeters Paul Perfetti and Mark Sanchez, trombonist Dan Linden, horn player Ken Pope, flutist/saxists Sean Berry, Marenglem Skendo, Alec Spiegelman and Russ Gershon (of the mighty Either/Orchestra), singers Jennifer O’Neill, Kristina Vaskys and Paul Pampinella, bassist Jason Davis, and percussionist Jeremy Lang.

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September 20, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Cool Singles from Fun, Entertaining Brooklyn Bands

Spanking Charlene have a brand-new version of Dismissed with a Kiss – the title track to their deliciously fun album – just out on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool. How cool is that? The pay-radio conglomerate SiriusXM ran a yearlong “best unsigned band contest,” which we had no idea existed. And Spanking Charlene won! Imagine that. When is the last time a band that didn’t suck actually won some kind of contest? Maybe never? And as you can hear from the single (at the band’s reverbnation), it’s a lot of fun. We’re partial to the Eric Ambel-produced original because it’s on the album, one of the first ones we ever got in the mail back when we started the blog in 2007, but this is killer. Charlene McPherson’s wounded wail is as seductive as ever and Mo Goldner’s guitars roar and sizzle. They’ve got a new album due out this fall, titled Where Are the Freaks which is something to look forward to, ostensibly a blast from a much cooler East Village NYC past.

Strange Haze also have a new single out, Let Me Hear the Dropping Pin, available at cdbaby both as a download AND on purple vinyl, which we obviously recommend. It’s as hilarious as pretty much everything the Brooklyn stoner retro-metal band has ever come up with. It’s kind of a three-minute history of weedhead music from, say, 1964 to 1974. A fuzztone funk intro and classic garage riffage sets the stage for the woozy one-liners, which begin with “I don’t have nothing to do today, but I got all day to do it, so I got to get away.” The rest are just as good, or…at least as surreal. The band has the oldschool, rolling, kinda funky early 70s groove down cold and some musical jokes to go with the lyrical ones, and of course a guitar solo. It might sound like an insult to say the higher you are, the more fun this is, but that’s the point.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/26/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues as it does every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #765:

Songs by Tom Lehrer

“What I like to do is to take some of the songs that we know and presumably love [pause for audience snickering] and get them when they’re down, and kick them.” From the time he debuted with this 1953 independently released, lo-fi solo piano album, Tom Lehrer understood that 90% of humor is based on cruelty. The prototypical funny guy with the piano was still at Harvard when he pressed a few dozen copies for his friends and classmates who’d seen his shtick in the student lounge. If he came out with this kind of stuff today, no doubt he’d have billions of youtube hits. Hostile, sarcastic and fearless, his satire is spot-on and strikingly timeless, despite the fact that it relies exclusively on innuendo and is therefore G-rated. One by one, he skewers dumb college football songs (Fight Fiercely, Harvard); hillbilly music (I Wanna Go Back to Dixie); cowboy songs (The Wild West Is Where I Want to Be); ghoulish Irish ballads; Stephen Foster-style schmaltz (My Home Town); and Strauss waltzes (The Weiner Schnitzel Waltz). He also includes an early stoner anthem (The Old Dope Peddler), a klezmer parody (Lobachevsky) that does double duty as a satire of academia, I Hold Your Hand in Mine (which predates the Addams Family) and When You Are Old and Grey, a snide and equally ghoulish sendup of old people. While it doesn’t have the Vatican Rag, I Got It from Agnes, Pollution or Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, it’s the most consistently excellent Lehrer collection out there. If you like this stuff you’ll also probably like his 1959 live album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. He retired from music early in the 1960s and went on to a slightly less acclaimed but ostensibly just as rewarding career as a Harvard math professor. Here’s a random torrent.

December 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 8/9/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #904:

The Bonzo Dog Band – The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse

Verrrrrry British stoner humor from 1968. This album gets the nod over the others in the Bonzos’ frequently hilarious catalog, as it’s more song-oriented than skit-oriented – which ironically means that there are more jokes here. They’re also especially biting, even for these guys, right down to the album title (“granny’s greenhouse” is 60s-era British slang for “outhouse”). It doesn’t have anything as hysterically funny as The Intro and the Outro (that one’s on their first album, Gorilla, from 1967), but it’s solid all the way through. It’s also their hardest-rocking album: Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and the rest of the crew are quick to lampoon anything and everything, especially 60s psychedelic rock excess, with the distorto organ rocker We Are Normal (which nicks an Arthur Lee trope), Beautiful Zelda and 11 Mustachioed Daughters. The snide Can Blue Men Sing the Whites? throws a jab in the direction of Cream; Rockaliser Baby mixes woozy, smoky one-liners into what sounds like a parody of the Move. The satire turns absolutely caustic on Trouser Press, a spoof of dance-craze songs introduced by a creepy Misterogers-type emcee. The jokes run the gamut from completely over-the-top – Stanshall mixing a drink and then slurping it on the intro to the phony ragtime ballad Hello Mabel – to clever and deadpan, best exemplified by the status-grubbing neighbors of My Pink Half of the Drainpipe. Pretty much everything the Bonzos did is worth owning, and it’s all up in the cloud online.

August 9, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 8/5/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #908:

Ween – 12 Golden Country Greats

Making fun of the excesses of country music is even more popular than heavy metal spoofs (we’re waiting for The Rough Guide to Country Music Parody). But nobody’s ever done it funnier than Ween. Their 1996 masterpiece features Gene and Dean backed by a hall of fame cast of 1960s/70s country sidemen : Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, Charlie McCoy on a bunch of instruments and even the venerable Jordanaires when necessary, on ten period-perfect C&W songs (the album title is a joke). The lyrics range from sophomoric (Japanese Cowboy) to sick (the gay-baiting, faux-countrypolitan Mr. Richard Smoker: “You’re a chicken choker”) to the sad tale of Fluffy, the badly toilet-trained dog, to arguably the most hilarious kiss-off-song ever written, Piss Up a Rope.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sick Free Jazz Guys Cover the White Light/White Heat Album

This is better than the original – although that’s really not saying much. It’s way funnier too, like what Rawles Balls might have done with it if they were a horn band. Lou Reed used up all his best songs on the Velvets’ first album; White Light/White Heat is basically just a crappy garage band taking a stab at psychedelia. The members of Puttin’ on the Ritz, whose song-for-song if not exactly note-for-note cover of White Light/White Heat is just out on Hot Cup Records, seem to share that view. The group is BJ Rubin on vocals, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums (half of irrepressible, iconoclastic free jazz crew Mostly Other People Do the Killing), Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxes, Sam Kulik on trombones and Talibam’s Matt Mottel on “Turkish organ” on Sister Ray.

Rubin is not much of a singer, although he enunciates well enough so you can understand the lyrics – which is half the fun. They’re awful. Lady Godiva’s Operation? He does both the lead and the overdubs in one take. Bastardizing its inner artsy pop song might have felt revolutionary for Lou and crew in 1967; these guys expose it as amateurish and overdone.

Likewise, on The Gift, Rubin’s deadpan, nasal delivery is an improvement on John Cale’s half-buried mumble, although the sad tale of Waldo Jeffers mailing himself to his beloved Marsha has not aged well either. I Heard Her Call My Name, as it goes completely over the top, Gossip-style, reveals the original to be a parody of soul music. Sister Ray, all seventeen minutes and sixteen seconds of it, sounds like a bad jam Lou came up with on the spot when Verve’s people realized he was out of material. It’s there that Rubin’s enunciation really kicks in: counting how many times the word “ding-dong” appears in the song would make a great drinking game. The band – a formidable mix of A-list talent – basically slum it, playing the changes pretty straight with a minimum of the kind of mayhem they’re capable of. Which seems intentional.

If you like this one, you should check out Bryan and the Haggards’ equally sick album of Merle Haggard covers, Pretend It’s the End of the World. The likelihood of this crew putting out another album isn’t all that good, but here are some other overrated albums that definitely deserve this kind of treatment: Bitches Brew (guys, you would have the time of your life with this); Harvest, by Neil Young (super easy changes!); Evol, by Sonic Youth. Think about it.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Songs of the Week 7/5/10

It’s Tuesday which means it’s Top Ten day. It’s just another way we try to spread the word about all the good music out there. As you’ll notice, every song that reaches the #1 spot on this list will be on our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of December. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one.

1. The Larch – Tracking Tina

Sounds kinda like vintage Squeeze – a snide, tongue-in-cheek spoof of paranoid yuppie parents who have no problem snooping on their children. From the band’s latest and greatest album Larix Americana.

2. Sabrina Chap – Never Been a Bad Girl

Defiant, Rachelle Garniez-style cabaret tune – the video is killer.

3. Cumbia Villera – Pecho Frio

Slinky organ-and-guacharaca fueled punk cumbia tune.

4. The Nu-Sonics – Hello No Goodbyes

Sweet Big Star-influenced janglerock: Alex Sniderman on guitar, Scott Anthony (from Rebecca Turner’s band) on bass

5. Ivana XL – 2043

Noir minimal guitar and voice – Young Marble Giants for the 21st century.

6. Mighty High – Cable TV Eye

Brooklyn’s #1 regressive rock act have a message for all you Stooges wannabes!

7. The Black Angels – Bad Vibrations

Roky Erickson meets Syd Barrett somewhere in limbo. From their forthcoming album Phosphene Dream.

8. Just Another Folksinger – The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

That’s the name she goes by – but she’s actually pretty cool and funny.

9. James Parenti – It’s Almost Always Raining

Tinges of Elliott Smith – but not a slavish imitation – pensive and aptly titled.

10. Andy Love – Kara Cali

Funny, good-naturedly fake Middle Eastern music

July 6, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Neil Innes at B.B. King’s, NYC 4/20/10

It’s a vaudeville device as old as vaudeville itself: get the crowd to repeat a series of phrases that begin innocuously and gradually become more and more ridiculous until the entire audience are making complete fools of themselves. Neil Innes got the house to affirm, in pretty perfect unison, that they’d never repeat anything that anyone purporting to being an authority figure wanted them to repeat – and they kept going, through a couple rounds of “Help me, Rhonda,” and would have gone on longer had the legendary Monty Python funnyman not grown sick of it. He did it again at the end of the show, getting everybody to do a big, fat raspberry, and spit all over each other. What was it that W.C. Fields said you could never underestimate?

Not every joke that Innes made was this broad or unsubtle, in fact just the opposite. The genius of Monty Python is in the casual absurdities, the little asides that you might miss if you’re not paying attention, or not on the same wavelength. There was a lot of that kind of humor, and a lot of music too – this was every bit the concert it was billed as, Innes showing off an impressive proficiency on acoustic guitar, piano and an oversized mandolin and a wryly tuneful, new wave soul songwriting style more than a little evocative of Graham Parker. And not all of it was funny, particularly a rather morbid, chordally complex number toward the end of the set, and the final encore, titled Old Age Becomes Me, a recent song that Innes had written to commemorate his 65th birthday. And old age does become him, resolutely absurdist after all these years, as quick to pick up on any incongruity or hypocrisy that crosses his radar as he ever was.

It was a mix of material from throughout Innes’ career. He briefly revisited his Bonzo Dog Band days, then ran through some silly old 1920s British music hall pieces, getting a boisterous call-and-response going with the crowd. The recent stuff riffed on an old guy trying to come to grips with the internet, a faux Mexican folk song about the seemingly impossible but very real decline of television to even greater lows – “I was the toilet bowl germ with the wicked grin,” the perplexed narrator dreams – and a send-up of French chanson delivered in the person of “Jean-Paul Satire.” The audience responded warmly to a couple of bits from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the pieces de resistance were the Rutles songs, both from the movie and the even more hilarious 1997 Archaeology album, a phony Beatles Anthology that remains the gold standard for musical parody. The musical riffs were only half the fun – hearing the songs live, the gems hidden in the nooks and crannies jumped out when least expected. The curmudgeonly Irish cop in Doubleback Alley (i.e. Penny Lane) may drive the local kids crazy, but he’s looking out for them: “Stay away from the man in the ice cream van whose face was queer.” Innes proved equally adept at parodying Elton John, donning a pair of Williamsburg trendoid glasses, pounding the piano and slurring his lyrics through an absolutely ridiculous, absolutely spot-on ballad titled Godfrey Daniel. Considering that Monty Python after all this time remains a phenomenon that a new generation discovers every year, it wasn’t surprising to see how young most of the crowd was. Now if they can only put their slavish devotion to the man behind them and take his words of wisdom literally…

April 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment