Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pensive, Original Guitar Jazz from Ryan Blotnick

Ryan Blotnick has an original and distinctive voice on the guitar. His Americana-tinged jazz has some of the opacity of indie rock, but not the peevishness, along with occasional detours toward the baroque. He’s all the more noteworthy for not wasting notes, maintaining a pensive, grey-sky atmosphere for the most part through his new album Solo, Volume 1, streaming in its entirety at his Bandcamp page. His choice of guitar – a rare 1959 Martin 00-18 electric, indistinguishable from its acoustic sister except for the pickup haphazardly built in without any other design modifications – has a lot to do with the sound he gets here. For one, the album’s extreme closemiking raises the intimacy by leaps and bounds – listening to this, it’s almost as if you’re inside the body of the guitar. Being a hollowbody, it gets an unusually interesting, lo-fi resonance that Blotnick mines for a richly subtle sonic pallette by varying his attack and shifting dynamics within the eight compositions here.

His only cover here, Monk’s Mood, is spacious to the point of suspense – as he often does here, Blotnick offers not the slightest hint of where he’s going to go with this, precise and judicious but also restless, sometimes crossing the line into visceral unease. The most intense track here, Dreams of Chloe is a bit of an anomaly, Lynchian and luridly droning, Blotnick fingerpicking both low and high registers for a raw, wailing, desolate ambience.

The Ballad of Josh Barton is a less stylized, more original take on Bill Frisell-style Americana jazz that makes its way to an unexpectedly scampering interlude, Blotnick winding his way out as he alternates oldtime folk lines and variations on slow, watery, strummed motifs. A stubborn absence of resolution pervades this song, as it does many of the other tracks, most notably the next one, Salt Waltz, with its muted Spanish allusions.

Hymn for Steph brings to mind John Fahey, although it’s more expansive, a ghostly tremolo insinuating itself as Blotnick builds to variations on a stately yet nebulous descending riff. The longest track here, Lenny’s Ghost evokes Jorma Kaukonen in inspired early acoustic Hot Tuna mode, working permutations on a dark two-chord folk riff, hinting at flamenco and then spreading its wings and gently sailing aloft with elegant wide-angle arpeggios. Blotnick employs a backward-masking effect for the strangely attractive miniature Intermellen, and closes with the lyrical, allusive Michelle Says, alternating suspenseful crescendos with the album’s most classically-tinged interlude. It’s a great late-night album and a goldmine of inspiration for guitarists in a wide range of styles.

February 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/3/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #667:

Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing at Baxter’s

The bass player owns this album. Jack Casady’s growling, spiraling climbs, slinking funky rhythm and burning chords defined the Airplane at peak altitude, 1968. Add to that Paul Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s crazed, jagged twelve-string leads, Spencer Dryden’s jazz-influenced drumming and Grace Slick’s presence (on the wane at this point) and you have a psychedelic rock classic. Kaukonen’s anxious ballad The Last Wall of the Castle, Slick’s darkly hypnotic James Joyce homage, Rejoyce and Kantner’s ferociously incisive Young Girl Sunday Blues are all great cuts. So is Two Heads, pulsing along on Casady’s bass chords. Watch Her Ride and Wild Tyme are slamming upbeat numbers; The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil a big crowd-pleaser and Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon a reversion to the folk-rock of Surrealistic Pillow. There’s also the woozy instrumental Spare Chaynge, which sounds like Jorma and Jack jamming out after way too much ganja, forgetting that the tape was rolling. It was also the last good studio album the band did. Here’s a random torrent.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mary Flower Brings Her Fast Fingers to Town

On April 1 at 7:30 (no joke), Portland, Oregon acoustic guitar goddess Mary Flower plays the Good Coffeehouse series at the Ethical Culture Society at 53 Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. If guitar is your thing, she’s inspiring. Her latest album Bridges is a mix of characteristically fluid yet precise Piedmont style blues playing as well as some delicious ragtime and lap slide work. First and foremost, this is a guitar album – Flower keeps her vocals unaffected and nonchalant and lets her fingers do most of the talking. They’ve got a lot to say and say it memorably.

The best songs here are her original instrumentals – while everything here draws on different Americana roots styles, Flower isn’t afraid to add her own more complex, modern melody lines. Temptation Rag is absolutely gorgeous, Flower’s twin ascending lines against Robin Kessinger’s flatpicking and Spud Siegel’s mandolin shifting to a gypsy jazz vibe. Slow Lane to Glory imaginatively takes a gospel tune and makes midtempo swing blues out of it, played richly and tunefully on lap slide guitar. The bittersweet Piedmont blues number Daughter of Contortion eventually works in a playful circus motif, and the concluding track Blue Waltz artfully intertwines her guitar lines with Tim O’Brien’s mandolin and accordion from Courtney Von Drehle of 3 Leg Torso.

A couple of the vocal numbers have a jaunty Roulette Sisters feel, most memorably the darkly simmering Big Bill Blues, lit up by some edgy, incisive piano from Janice Scroggins (whose contributions throughout this album are consistently excellent). The opening track, featuring Tony Furtado’s bottleneck in tandem with Flower’s densely intricate fingerpicking, evokes Jorma Kaukonen’s early 70s work. There’s also a version of Bessie Smith’s Backwater Blues that builds from hypnotic to steady and swinging; another first-rate ragtime song, Columbia River Rag, and explorations of country gospel, New Orleans blues and a cover of There Ain’t No Man Worth the Salt of My Tears with more biting blues piano from Scroggins. In addition to her April 1 gig, Flower is teaching a workshop on Piedmont style guitar at noon at the Jalopy on April 2.

March 25, 2011 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/2/10

OK, we’re in catch-up mode today. More news and reviews coming in a few hours. In the meantime, every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #850:

Hot Tuna’s First Album

As Jefferson Airplane inched closer toward a Jefferson Starship sound, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were obviously restless: Hot Tuna began simply as a side project where the band’s guitar/bass brain trust could explore the delta blues that Kaukonen loved so much. This is one of those accidental albums, an audience recording of a 1969 show at a San Francisco folk club that the band decided to release despite all the crowd noise – because it’s so casually brilliant. Kaukonen was a great rock player but here he shows that he was already a formidable blues guy, and Casady’s thick, intertwining melodic leads make a perfect match. Along with some occasional, innocuous harmonica, the duo wind their way through a mix of upbeat, adrenalizing stuff like Hesitation Blues, I Know You Rider and Rev. Gary Davis’ Death Don’t Have No Mercy along with a gorgeously laid-back version of Leroy Carr’s How Long Blues. But the highlight is the five-and-a-half-minute original instrumental Mann’s Fate, as much a showcase for Casady as Kaukonen, which over the years has become iconic in acoustic guitar circles. The rest of Hot Tuna’s albums from the 70s are mostly electric and while they have their moments, they never reach the ecstatic heights of this one. In the 80s and 90s, however, Kaukonen would rightfully gain recognition as one of the greatest blues players to pick up a guitar: pretty much everything he’s done since then is worth hearing. Here’s a random torrent.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/27/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #457:

Hot Tuna – Mann’s Fate

Recorded live to two-track in a crowded San Francisco coffeehouse in 1969, this instrumental captures ex-Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady at the peak of their fiery improvisational powers. From the duo’s debut lp; as you’d imagine, there are innumerable versions floating around and they’re all excellent. The link above is a vintage youtube clip from around the time the album came out (although the visuals don’t sync).  

April 27, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/13/08

Today’s is #591:

The Jefferson Airplane: Young Girl Sunday Blues

Another cut from our growing Top 666 Songs of Alltime list (click at top right): post-Summer of Love madness, the Airplane at their most focused and intense, Jorma Kaukonen’s twelve-string sailing over Jack Casady’s crescendoing, growling bass. From After Bathing at Baxter’s, 1968; mp3s are at all the usual sites, but look for a smaller file; much of what’s out there is live and very dodgy-sounding.

More new posts on the way (technical difficulties keeping us from putting links up, so lots of stuff on hold): reviews for Dub Colossus, Zikrayat, Aimee Mann, Victrola Victrola, Redhooker all coming soon along with our end-of-the-year Top 20 NY-Area Concerts, Top 100 Songs and Top 50 CDs lists, check back in a couple of days…

December 13, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment