Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Tantalizingly Enigmatic Trio Album From Ambitious Keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch

Multi-keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch is the not-so-secret weapon in psychedelic noir surf band Hearing Things, who are playing a welcome return gig at Barbes on March 1 at 10 PM. Previously, he distinguished himself as the only pianist to record an album of solo transcriptions of Bill Frisell works. His latest release, Visitors – streaming at Bandcamp – is an intriguingly uncategorizable trio record with guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and drummer Jim Black. The three don’t have any gigs coming up together, but Schlegelmilch is playing with psychedelic lapsteel monster Myk Freedman‘s band at Barbes on Jan 30 at 8. Goldberger will be leading one of his groups at Pete’s on Feb 2 at 5 PM followed by drummer Tim Kuhl, whose pointillistic soundscapes shift from Claudia Quintet tableaux to trippier, more hypnotic vistas.

The not-so-secret weapon in Schlegelmilch’s trio is a vintage Yamaha organ, popular with 70s bands and a favorite of Sun Ra. Here, it’s used more for atmosphere and as an anchor rather than as a lead instrument. Schlegelmilch’s eerily keening, Morricone-esque textures don’t come to the forefront of the first song, the title track, until Goldberger has done some enigmatic scenery-chewing over Black’s cascading waltz beat.

Goldberger introduces the second track, Chiseler with a gritty, syncopated pedalpoint as Schlegelmilch and Black build rhythmically shifting variations, part Sonic Youth, part Raybeats, part downtown 80s guitar skronk, up to a neat squirrelly/atmospheric contrast. The album’s most transparent track, Ether Sun has a slow, anthemic Frisellian bittersweetness, with lingering spacerock ambience. Corvus hints at mathrock and then Big Lazy noir cinematics, Goldberger finally cutting loose with some jagged tremolo-picking over the organ’s waves as Schlegelmilch builds increasingly icy textures.

Lake Oblivion is a diptych. Imagine a more rhythmically challenging, Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth with an organ: that’s the first part, decaying to a grim drone and then back. The second has an altered motorik drive, Goldberger’s lingering phrases and dying stompbox flares and flickers beneath the organ’s steady, blippy riffs until it coalesces as a postrock anthem.

The album’s most epic track, Terminal Waves has a vast windsweptness punctuated by a bell-like dirge melody, Goldberger’s resonant lines building to a frenetic, metallic scream. The closing miniature shows how versatile the Yamaha can be, in this case both a mellotron and a vibraphone. Whether you consider this jazz, postrock, psychedelia or film music, it’s all good.

January 27, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raptly Tuneful Middle Eastern-Flavored Pastorales From Surface to Air

It would have been fun to see Surface to Air at Barbes last night. The trio – guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, who rarely plays acoustic, alongside bassist Jonti Siman and tabla player Rohin Khemani – also doesn’t play out much either. Their sparse, warmly tuneful, hypnotically intriguing album is available as a name-your-price download from Bandcamp.

The opening track is aptly titled Simple: built on an elegantly catchy rainy-day minor-key theme played with meticulous touch by Goldberger, it centers around a kinetic tabla rhythm. Heysatan is even more spare, Goldberger’s gentle, purposeful, catchy tune again centered around the rhythm section’s steady anchor. Siman’s similarly easygoing bass intro is a clever fake: as the briskly saturnine, Palestinian-tinged theme unwinds, it sounds like an acoustic sketch for a David Lynch soundtrack set in the most war-torn territory in Gaza. Siman’s drone anchors a suspenseful interlude that Goldberger spins and spirals out of with hints of Django Reinhardt.

The slow, somber Odalisque is sort of a bolero counterpart to a Trio Joubran-style Middle Eastern dirge. Matanzas is Goldberger’s platform for using a catchy, melancholy flamenco-inflected theme to set up a swoopy, morose bass solo. With its steady sway, Arcana follows a steadily crescendoing folk noir tangent that brightens as it goes along.

The Sleep in Your Eyes opens with a dusky, sepulchral improvisation, builds to a spare, galloping pulse and then recedes back to spacious, pensive solo guitar. The final track is the ballad Waltz for Celia, the closest thing to postbop here, spiced with the occasional levantine or south Asian riff over rather ominous low-end percussion, with a gracefully uneasy bass solo.

Is this Middle Eastern music? Sure. Indian music? Rhythmically, yes. Jazz? Why not? Download this delicious disc and decide for yourself. Thanks to Barbes for booking this fantastic band, who otherwise would have flown under the radar here. Goldberger is in constant demand in New York as a sideman and plays with a ton of groups, notably violinist Dana Lyn’s psychedelic, ecologically themed Mother Octopus outfit.

February 8, 2017 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sarah Manning’s Quintet Airs Out a Great Album’s Worth of Tunes at I-Beam

When she was invited up to the McDowell Colony last year to compose, alto saxophonist Sarah Manning was not in a good place, she alluded between songs at her show Saturday night at I-Beam. But her time in the New Hampshire woods turned out to be exactly what she needed to reboot, and she showed off several of the kinetic, sometimes achingly intense compositions she’d come up with there, taken from her brilliant new album Harmonious Creature. Onstage, Manning’s tone is less brassy and more nuanced than it tends to be in the studio; attackwise, she went from a wail to a wisp and often back up again, precise and purposeful. For whatever reason, maybe because she has an album release show coming up at 8:30 PM on Feb 20 at Cornelia St. Cafe, this gig was more about tunes than pyrotechnics or jousting.

Bassist Rene Hart’s hypnotic, pulsing circular lines often held the center as drummer Allison Miller ornamented the songs with a misterioso, John Hollenbeck-like pointillism. What’s it like to watch Miller play quietly? Infrequent, let’s say – but she finally hit a long cyclotron rumble which was just plain classic, and worth the price of admission all by itself. Meanwhile, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and violist Fung Chern Hwei alternated between resonant atmospherics and incisive solo passages. Goldberger used his sustain pedals for almost clarinet-like tone that built with the viola to a magical, enveloping mist on the night’s elegantly waltzing opening number, Copland on Cornelia St. Then Manning led the band with a hypercaffeinated drive through the bitingly catchy Don’t Answer to the Question.

Grey Dawn Red Fox worked a similar dynamic, Miller’s insistent implied clave paired with Manning’s dancing lines against a lingering grey-sky backdrop. Tune of Cats saw Manning airing out her lower register, Miller matching her unease, throwing elbows everywhere versus the rest of the band’s resolute calm. They worked a tight push-pull on the acerbic Radish Spirit and then backed away through a considerably more acidic reworking of Neil Young’s On the Beach. The enigmatic, brooding Three Chords for Jessica was a highlight, as was the second set’s closing number, What the Blues Left Behind. Manning explained it as an illustration of the flush of contentment – hopefully without your ears ringing too hard – that you get after a good set or a good night watching somebody play one. The long series of false endings at the end wound up this eclectic and intriguing evening on an aptly reflective note.

January 25, 2014 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sarah Manning Takes a Sensationally Successful Shot at Chamber Jazz

Sarah Manning is to the alto sax what JD Allen is to the tenor: even in a world of rugged individualists, she stands out. Lots of artists doll themselves up, tone themselves down and smile sweetly for the camera for an album cover shot. Manning scowls at you from the inside of the cd booklet for her new Posi-tone album, Harmonious Creature. Her bright, defenestrating, Jackie McLean-esque tone, angst-fueled crescendos and stunningly uneasy tunesmithing also set her a step ahead of the pack. Her previous 2010 Posi-Tone release, Dandelion Clock, was that year’s underrated gem. It may be early in the year, but her new album Harmonious Creature threatens to be the best of 2014. Her chromatically-fueled edge brings to mind Kenny Garrett; her moody compositions compare with Garrett and Allen as well. This new quintet session is an ambitious and slashingly successful move into the increasingly crowded chamber jazz arena with Eyvind Kang on viola, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums. Manning is playing the album release show at I-Beam at 8 PM on Jan 25 with a slightly altered lineup featuring the reliably electrifying Alli Miller on drums.

The opening track, Copland On Cornelia Street, starts as stately waltz, brings the guitar in, lingers on the turnaround and then Manning works some morose magic over Goldberger’s brooding resonance. It picks up with a sunbaked Goldberger solo over a dancing, whirling rhythm. Did Aaron Copland find his epiphany in the West Village? He was a Queens guy – it’s not out of the question.

Tune Of Cats echoes a famous Coltrane riff before the group takes it over Jennings’ careful, tumbling pulse, Manning’s utterly casual phrasing contrasting with the relentless intensity of the melody, her tone more smoky than usual. Floating Bridge, an austerely bright jazz waltz, has Kang echoing Manning’s kinetic lines, the bandleader teasing the listener with flitting motives over Jennings’ imperturbible washes….and then sax and viola go back at it.

Reharmonized jazz versions of rock and country tunes can leave you gasping for oxygen, but Manning’s cover of Gillian Welch’s I Dream A Highway stakes out atmospheric, Frisellian big-sky territory. Goldberger’s pointillisms against gently unfolding sax and viola fill the vast expanse up to a ridiculously psychedelic, ambient outro that pans the speakers. Later in the album, they take a similar approach to Neil Young’s On the Beach, but at a glacial tempo that Manning finally cuts loose and blasts straight through once the final “get out of town” verse hits, the band following her searing lead to the point where any atttempt to get back into ballad mode would be pointless.

The naturalistic Grey Dawn, Red Fox blends allusions to the baroque and simmering exchanges of voices into a precarious narrative that grows more anthemic as it shifts course: this animal is on the lookout for something far more dangerous. If Manning is to be believed, the Radish Spirit guards its ground closely, with a tight, somewhat frosty cameraderie from the whole group, Manning and Goldberger taking it into the shadows before Hart rises to the foreground and pulls it back. The enigmatically titled Three Chords For Jessica emerges from Hart’s solo chromatics to a haunting, elegaic, gorgeously Middle Eastern-tinged grey-sky theme. Don’t Answer To The Question returns to waltz tempo with some understatedly wicked push-pull between Goldberger, Jennings and Kang. The album ends with a counterintuitively warm guitar feature, What the Blues Left Behind.

January 9, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Intriguing, Suspenseful, Ecologically Relevant String Themes from Dana Lyn

You have to love this story: it’s so 1971. A boy crossing an icy river gets knocked cold by a flying carp. He wakes to find himself in a mysterious underwater grotto, where a mother octopus gives him a magic branch that enables him to swim underwater just like the rest of the many sea creatures he will meet on his journey. An ancient white whale then transports him to the ocean floor, where he eventually discovers a volcanic vent. The vent suddenly explodes and blasts him back above the surface, where he swims back to shore amid a snowstorm. His family, worried about him, eventually track him down; he presents them with the magic branch and then falls into a troubled sleep. That’s the eco-disaster parable (you can read the original version on the cd package) that violinist Dana Lyn seeks to illustrate on her new album Aqualude.

Unlike what the title might imply – if you read it a certain way – this is not a sleepy album, although there is a definite narcotic, psychedelic quality to it. The obvious comparison is late 70s King Crimson. Jonathan Goldberger’s guitar growls and spirals, albeit with less of a grim focus than what Robert Fripp typically employed during that era, while Lyn and cellist Clara Kennedy team up for atmospheric washes when they’re not providing ghostly or flitting accents alongside Mike McGinnis’ lyrical clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperazza’s remarkably straightforward drunming.

The suite opens with a stomping, trickily rhythmic, distorted guitar theme that immediately kicks off the King Crimson comparisons. Moody cello builds to a circular, atmospheric theme, then a mysteriously tinkling, whispery miniature. The first series of variations on the opening theme dances and eventually spirals on the wings of the guitar, then goes atmospheric again. Lyn likes dynamics and uses them very counterintuitively, often suspensefully, in keeping with the storyline.

A twinkling loop rises to a sort of dance of the friendly aquatic animals, which turns more uneasy as the counterpoint between instruments grows more complex. Again, they swirl down to a nebulous miniature and then it seems they locate the volcanic vent: the jaunty guitar and drums against balmy strings build to a crescendo that’s less menacing than you might expect, followed by a slow, methodical, vividly pastoral theme. Spaciously ambient washes from the strings over echoey lows begin to pulse slowly, followed by a gentle blue-sky waltz that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bill Frisell catalog. This might be the subtlest eco-disaster album ever written, leaving plenty of room for the listener to reflect and fill in the blanks. As Lyn, a passionate advocate for the world’s oceans, says in her liner notes, we still have a long way to go towards cleaning up our act.

January 1, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment