Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Swing the Witches

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord recorded a live album at Brooklyn Fireproof in Bushwick last night. It’s going to be a good one. It’s surprising that more artists, even in jazz, don’t record more concert albums, considering how much more energy there almost inevitably is performing in front of an audience. Much as the band seemed well-rehearsed, as it turns out, they weren’t: their confidence and lively, electric interplay stem from years of playing together. That, and a shared esthetic. Lundbom is an eclectic guitarist and composer who can play perfectly straightforward postbop but more often than not brings sardonic humor or downright viciousness to the music. This time out, Lundbom alternated between restless unease and a more relaxed, legato attack, setting the tone for a night of goodnatured jousting and moments of pure ecstatic bliss. Joining him were  Bryan Murray on the small and unexpectedly low-register “balto” and tenor sax, intertwining and conversing with Jon Irabagon‘s alto sax, Matt Kanelos’ electric piano, Moppa Elliott’s bass and Dan Monaghan’s drums.

The first set was swing shuffles. It was practically comedic to watch Elliott (ringleader of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, arguably New York’s most entertaining live band) walking the bass tirelessly: it was obvious that he couldn’t wait to leave the rails. When he did, it was usually to run permutations on clenched-teeth, percussively circular riffage. While there ws a sextet onstage, the moments when the whole unit was playing were mostly limited to intros and outros, much of the soloing supported simply by bass and drums, Kanelos holding back to a spare, spacious, sostenuto suspense. As Murray swayed and built from a sputter of sparks to a fullscale wail, Elliott’s fingers became a blur of roaring, tremoloing chords, enhanced by the room’s natural reverb. When the song came back to Lundbom – playing a Telecaster through a Fender amp – he took his time, letting the sonics echo for all they were worth.

Kanelos shadowed Lundbom’s murky, enigmatically insistent single-note runs over swirling snowstorm cymbals as the opening number went on, Irabagon taking over the center, nonchalantly holding it together as the rhythm loosened. Lundbom has a kinetic, spring-loaded stage presence, opening the second number with a long solo, working tensely against a central tone, Kanelos echoing that device a little later on with an aching intensity before leaping into unexpectedly purist blues, the band joining him in a split second. Good jokes abounded: Irabagon falling into a deadpan bup-bup-bup until Lundbom finally stepped all over it and wiped the slate clean; Murray and Irabagon playing good cop vs. bad cop on the second of three Lundbom arrangements of old wiccan songs until both horns decided to make a mockery of the blues. The last of the wiccan songs was the only one that the band allowed to go on long enough to reveal its origins as a sad folk tune in waltz time. Ultimately, they made their own sorcery out of it. If the second set was anything like the first, it’s a good thing they got this whole thing in the can.

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April 16, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snide, Smart, Amusing Stuff from Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord

Guitarist Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord come out of the irreverent Hot Cup Records camp. In their world, nothing is off limits. Humor is always either front and center or lurking around the corner; anger is wholeheartedly embraced; tradition calls for mockery. Punk jazz? Esthetically yes, chopswise no: these guys – bassist Moppa Elliott, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray and drummer Dan Monaghan – can flat-out play. Lundbom’s previous album Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! mined a savagely satirical vein. His new one, sarcastically titled No New Tunes is considerably subtler. It’s not particularly easy listening. Nothing ends with any kind of resolution. Tonalities lean toward harsh veering on abrasive; structures fall apart on a moment’s notice, but more elegantly than you would expect in this band’s kind of music, considering that the group shares members with Mostly Other People Do the Killing and twisted Merle Haggard cover band Bryan & the Haggards.

A Steve Coleman sample and pummeling, assaultive drums kick off the opening track, The Bad! Thing, leading into a wandering, uneasy guitar solo in 6/4 time, working its way through jagged jousting, rumbling chaos and a sideways, walking swing that ends unresolved. Lundbom plays without effects through what sounds like a vintage Fender Twin amp with plenty of natural reverb and just a tinge of distortion that fits his sometimes offhandedly dismissive lines well. The album’s closing track, an almost shockingly straight-up bop swing tune, is a case in point, its centerpiece being a long, amusing interlude where Lundbom simply will not go off task, holding the center even though nobody else is, refusing to cave to peer pressure until he’s made his point.

Titles are giveaways here. Talent for Surrender is an example of how bandmates can keep just enough distance from each other without completely losing track, shifting through airy convergent harmonies to skronky bop, squiggling Sonny Rollins-influenced sax contrasting with unexpectedly terse rhythm. And Be Made Visible takes at stab at a ballad: not to spoil a good joke, but Murray’s faux romanticisms after an unfulfilled, searching Lundbom solo are…well, what you would expect from this band.

The Other Third One pulses briskly through agitated, spinning bop, sarcastic skronk and a tasty, shivery, casually assaultive Lundbom solo over a rather tongue-in-cheek, too-terse-to-be-true rhythm section. And Follow the Swallow plays unexpectedly low-key, offcenter variations on a bouncy swing ditty, Irabagon refusing to cede centerstage even when Lundbom makes it clear he’s no longer welcome there. That’s the kind of moment that defines this band, and there are lots more of those here: it’s cool to see how these guys have such confidence in what they’re doing that they refuse to take each other seriously. Like many of their scenemates, the band is making this album available on vinyl as well as a download: if you’re looking for a cd, you’ll have to burn one. Although the sound quality of the vinyl (not reviewed here) is bound to be superior to any digital format.

October 25, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bryan and the Haggards – Pretend It’s the End of the World

Bryan and the Haggards play twisted, jazz-tinged instrumental covers of Merle Haggard songs. Which if you know something about either style of music shouldn’t exactly come as a shock (Willie Nelson, anybody?). But this being New York, the indie stench wafts across the river from Williamsburg when there isn’t much of a breeze. Is this album yet another case of a bunch of spoiled brats thumbing their snotty noses at music they associate with the working classes? Happily, no. Bryan and the Haggards are actually a jazz group, Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, a take-no-prisoners combo equally adept at melody and squall. This album might have been jumpstarted when Big Five Chord recorded a satirical cover of the Louvin Bros.’ The Christian Life for their previous album Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Accomplish Jazz (very favorably reviewed here last year). Considering the name of this project, it would seem that tenor sax player Bryan Murray is the ringleader this time around, his accomplices being guitarist Lundbom, high-profile alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Matthew “Moppa” Elliott and drummer Danny Fischer. What does it sound like? At its most coherent, like Uncle Tupelo on mushrooms. Occasionally, it takes on an exuberant New Orleans second line vibe. Beyond that, coherence ceases to be an issue. This may be jazz, but the underlying esthetic is pure punk rock. Which is nothing new for these players – this crew will basically rip anything to shreds, especially their own compositions, so the question of whether or not they have any affinity, or distaste, for Haggard, or for country music in general, is really beside the point. For their shenanigans, any source is sufficient. It’s how they do it that makes it so much fun.

Silver Wings sways stiff and heavyhanded, Fischer pulling away from anything approximating a groove. Eventually, the saxes fall apart and for literally a second so does the rhythm section, and everything is chaos but then they’re back together again like nothing ever happened. A spitball? Me? What spitball? So when they follow that with an actually quite pretty instrumental of Swinging Doors, it’s strictly a diversion: a minute into Workingman’s Blues and Murray is quoting liberally from his fakebook while Elliott runs scales and eventually settles into one of his typical confrontational low-register rumbles, Lundbom eventually lumberjacking his way through some spot-on Sister Ray-style chord-chopping.

The original version of Miss the Mississippi and You has a countrypolitan vibe, so it makes sense that this crew would be able to turn it into as lovely a ballad as they do until the saxes start making little faces at each other, followed by a very, very good joke about intra-band communication. Lonesome Fugitive is a launching pad for some loud, lazy and eventually very funny commentary from Lundbom; All of Me Belongs to You is just plain sick, in a Ween kind of way. The last cut, Trouble in Mind is ironically the most traditional of all the cuts here, a New Orleans style raveup anchored by distorted guitar, sax overtones whistling overhead with the glee of a mosquito who’s figured out how to evade the swatter.

Who is the audience for this album? Stoners, most definitely; also fans of the Ween country album, Uncle Leon & the Alibis, David Allan Coe and the like. Jazz fans ought to like this although most of them won’t. Country fans probably won’t like this much either on account of it being iconoclastic. So, could this maybe be a bunch of working-class musicians making fun of alt-country, a style they associate with the ruling classes? Hmmm…peep the cheesy-beyond-belief, perfectly retro 70s cd cover design and decide for yourself.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | country music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Accomplish Jazz

The title of Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord’s new album is sarcastic, quite possibly a slap at critics who might think that they haven’t been quite “jazz enough”  in the past. The press materials for the album quote one reviewer who classifies them as fusion, which completely misses the point. With Lundbom on electric guitar, the irrepressible Moppa Elliott on bass, Thelonious Monk competition winner Jon Irabagon on alto, Bryan Murray on tenor and Danny Fischer on drums, this is a group for whom thinking outside the box is second nature. They have about as much in common with, say, Chick Corea as they do with Grizzly Bear. They’re not quite as vitriolic as their PR says they are, but there’s plenty of bite here. The cd cover features a couple of passengers’-eye snapshots taken on what looks like the Bear Mountain Highway in upstate New York – will they go over the cliff, or won’t they? – which speak volumes for what’s inside. Interestingly, Lundbom plays it pretty clean here – he goes straight through his amp, without effects, showing a preference for sinuous horn voicings. Elliott, by contrast, is his gritty, growling self, in particularly snarling mode here, although he does contribute the same kind of sly, snide humor of his own band Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Irabagon and Murray add clever and often unanticipated color.

Lundbom takes his time getting started, but eventually starts wailing and tremolo-picking and goes off the hinges as the rhythm section rumbles on the opening track, Truncheon, Irabagon firing off a whole series of rapidfire blues licks straight out of the Ron Asheton playbook. Elliott moves the next cut, Phoenetics along methodically with funeral march and then bell motifs, a study in contrasts between the prettiness of the sax-driven head and the uneasy permutations that follow. The third track is a cover of the Louvin Bros.’ The Christian Life, which they play straight up with just a bit of tongue-in-cheek uptightness until Murray tosses off a casually dismissive little trill, and within seconds Elliott is in on the fun, punching the beat sarcastically. Murray then tries a high-spirited “woops, I forgot we’re in church” solo, but it’s too late, the genie is out of the bottle and when the band stomps all over Elliott’s silly guitar voicings at the end, it’s hilarious.

Lundbom bends and sways, Bill Frisell style, to open the next cut, Tick-Dog, a Cedar Walton adaptation, shifting from unease to swing to a big squalling Murray solo and then a puckish ending from Elliott. The final cut, Baluba, Baluba is a funky stomp, horns accenting Lundbom’s big, early 70s-style blues/funk solo, Irabagon then adding an unleashed Jimmy Page feel way up the scale. When the band finally smashes the thing to pieces after about eight minutes worth of this, the chaos is deliciously rewarding: after keeping it together for the whole album, they’ve earned it . Great headphone music for anyone who’s just closed down the bar but needs more of the night.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment