Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Make Music NY 2011: Saved by Heavy Metal

When La Fête de la Musique (the annual French busk-a-thon that spurred a worldwide day of outdoor music) originated, global warming was still in its early stages. Even now, France is more temperate than New York in late June. In the weeks leading up to this year’s Make Music NY festival, what was most obvious was that most of the performers who played it last time around were not doing it this year. And most of those who played in previous years have not done it since. This is true for both acoustic acts along with performers who require electricity and bear the additional responsibility of generating or acquiring it.

At this point, in the wake of the fifth annual MMNY, it’s become obvious that June is simply not a viable month for the festival. Consider: Central Park on Make Music NY day. It should be a beehive of activity. Yet within view of the 72nd St. path, from the east side to the west side, there was one single performance going on in mid-afternoon. In Tompkins Square Park a little later, absolutely nothing. McCarren Park in Williamsburg? Ditto. Clearly, New York musicians have had enough of sweating it out on June 21. So let’s move Make Music NY to a Saturday in late October. The actual date can change year by year, so both performers and concertgoers won’t have to miss a day of work. It’ll make performing less physically taxing, it’ll boost participation, and losing the solstice aspect will have the added benefit of losing the “namaste” crowd.

If you’re immune to heat, or feel like braving the sauna like we did, how do you best experience MMNY? Not by trying to track down the music: you have to let it come to you. That means just walking around, or even just walking to the train and then home, leaving open the possibility of a great random discovery. This time around, for us, there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but that rainbow took forever to get past. Our most successful tour of MMNY was 2008, simply because there happened to be an excellent afternoon’s worth of shows all within walking distance. This time around, the game plan was to start out uptown and then work our way down, which turned out to be much easier said than done. The reggae band on the calendar for noon was nowhere in sight – although out in front of the beauty parlor at 128th and Lenox, doing gospel karaoke, was Pastor Murthlene Sampson. And she’s good! She growls, she purrs, she wails, she knows what she’s doing and she gets around: she was scheduled for two other performances yesterday. She’s leading a gospel choir of over fifty voices on June 25th at Miracle Temple Ministries, 965 Boyland St. in Bed-Stuy at 6 PM for $20 and if they’re anything like she is, it’ll be worth it.

Next stop was Naumburg Bandshell, where classical pianist Taka Kigawa was scheduled. But there was no pianist, and for that matter, no piano. What happened in many cases this year is that performers would reserve space for a block of time, some of them hoping to find like-minded musicians to fill the early hours, others simply waiting til later in the day to play. And that’s fine – MMNY is all about freedom to play, rather than having to adhere to a venue’s strict schedule for load in, soundcheck and then stage time. Our first discovery was on the way from the deserted bandshell to the train, where toward the edge of the park the Dirty Urchins were playing beautifully low-key, all-acoustic Americana, party country, part jazz, part low-key rock. The quartet – two acoustic guitars, tenor sax, upright bass and girl/guy vocals – did two excellent songs before they took an obviously well-deserved break. Bandleader Julia Haltigan sang the first, Homesick for the Moon, with a casual, warmly jazzy lilt. Ever see a band, play along with them in your head and then witness one of the musicians play the exact same lick you’d been imagining? The sax player did that, bluesy and laid-back – it was a beautifully validating moment in a day that had been full of disappoinments up to this point. Guitarist Freddie Stevenson sang the second song, Spare Me, a gorgeous shuffle tune. They’ve got three albums out, and play with the authority, tightness and chemistry that comes with working up a lot of material together.

Running around downtown turned out to be a fiasco, so we made a quick trip back to the office, then over to Williamsburg, where the reggae band scheduled for 4 PM was just starting to unpack the truck. At this point, worn out, dehydrated, we figured that we’d make one last stop on the hunch that it would save the day, and it did. The concept was heavy metal under the BQE. Pure genius. It was cool down there, with a breeze! And all but one of the bands were so loud that they drowned out a recurrent car alarm, which is not nearly as easy as it seems. The first group we caught was Krystaleen. They have two wickedly fast, eclectically skilled lead guitarists and a tight and pummeling rhythm section with a bassist whose rapidfire fingerpicking was straight out of the Steve Harris school of intensity. Their songs were anthemic, ornate, smartly put together and had some surprising dynamics, the guy who took most of the solos wailing with an unexpectedly gentle, mournful unease during a quieter interlude. It was impossible to hear the vocals, although their frontman was clearly doing everything he could under the circumstances.

Exemption were next, a three-piece with an even more eclectic style that frequently took flight into jazz territory, through thickets of tricky rhythms and several moments with a genuinely funky slink. The nimble, melodic bassist played his Hofner with a pick and sang. Their guitarist’s deep bag of tricks includes noiserock and bluesmetal among other things – it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that he’s had conservatory training. The last band of the night, at least for us, was the SOS, a furious, unstoppable beast with a UK Subs/Motorhead punk/metal edge. Several times, the guitarist would sneak around the corner, get his strings humming and then suddenly turn up all the way as he reappeared with an otherworldly meteor storm of overtones. In two solid hours with barely a minute’s worth of changeover between bands, they didn’t play a single bad song. Pretty amazing for a random day when you never know what you’ll run into.

A far as Make Music NY is concerned, at least in terms of covering it as a daylong event, we’re done with it. Next year, we might pick a single show that we know for absolutely certain is happening, and we’ll be there. Or maybe we’ll go somewhere else that night – or we won’t go out at all. Unless there’s more metal under the BQE: in that case you may find us there.

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June 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Boro 6 Music Festival Coming to Montclair, NJ June 18-21

One ongoing problem here (we have many) is that being so immersed in the New York scene, it’s awfully easy to forget that there are plenty of other vital music scenes all over the country. Case in point: Montclair, New Jersey, home not to any one particular style but the focal point for a large, diverse handful of smart, impressively competent bands. The upcoming Boro 6 Music Festival runs June 18-21, with lots of bands on the bill. The McMickle Bros. serve up vaguely Neil Young-inflected clang and twang with unusual verve, at the top of their game sounding a little like the Dream Syndicate. The three women and two guys in Bern & the Brights deliver stark, passionate shoegaze-inflected minor-key anthems, while the two guys in Tip Canary offer funny, laid-back raps over lazy guitar funk grooves. Deivito play rousing acoustic Latin music fused with Mexican folk that actually sounds more like ancient Dominican bachata than anything else

Highlights of day one are the Defending Champions, who play tasty third-wave ska with clinky guitars, a horn section and a sense of humor, and gentle but funny cello/guitar indie pop band Waking Lights. Day two features New York gypsy-Japanese party band Kagero as well as the Frozen Gentlemen, who play funny, tongue-in-cheek early 80s new wave and ska-flavored pop. On the third day, there’ll be the scruffy, moody, restless indie trio the All New Cheap Moves along with blue-eyed soul/funk siren Stephanie White & the Philth Harmonic. Day four has a killer lineup with the Porchistas’ fun, country-inflected powerpop, the McMickle Bros., Bern & the Brights and Stu Klinger’s excellent Pogues cover band Streams of Whiskey. The final night includes the brilliant New York Americana chanteuse Julia Haltigan and her killer band the Hooligans along with the tuneful, anthemic, funky rock of Copesetic and perhaps the best act of the entire festival, the One & Nines who are an amazing time machine, playing the kind of slightly psychedelic late 60s soul that Smokey Robinson and the rest of the A-list were doing right before Woodstock. The entire festival calendar is here.

May 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans

by Vanessa Lee Raymond

The self-titled Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans is yet another plume in the cap for the New York chanteuse and her impressively multistylistic Americana band. Their uniquely gritty, soulful sound, established in their rigorous NYC performance schedule and 2007 release, “When the Glow Starts to Go…” only gets more grimy and more sultry on this, their latest cd.

In this album Haltigan successfully presents a wide breadth of feelings and rhythms. “Knocking at the Door” boils at a tempo propelled by the clean trumpet lines of Joe Ancowitz, then slows to the speed of a swoon at the chorus. Songs like “Hole in My Heart” and “Heavy Cream” are a molasses of moodiness; “Where the Animals Used to Play” is a delicate confection; “Missed the Day” a campfire lullaby; and “A Mermaid’s Tail” a jaunt into the as-yet-unexplored territory of nautical jazz. Each composition reveals yet another facet of Haltigan’s peculiar musical gem. And lyrically, she couldn’t be better. Haltigan turns a great phrase in almost every single song. Some favorites in both phrase-coining and delivery include “My heart floats on a little lifeboat…”, “…the big broom has swept me clean”, and the euphemism in “…when her father has taken the long way home.”

It’s good to see Haltigan expanding the part played by the Hooligans, as well as orchestrating some stellar collaborations. She’s learning the value of her counterparts, a true skill. First and most notably, in this album the Hooligans sing! I love the sound of these men’s rough voices in chorus, especially in “Things” and “Lost at Sea”. In an era where masculinity is either steroidal (Flo-Rida, Chris Brown) or completely effeminized (the Jonas Brothers, Hugh Jackman at the Oscars) it is striking and exhilarating to hear masculinity harmonized like it is here. The vocal cameos by Nathaniel Broekman, Troy Campbell, and Emmet Haltigan in “Things” are at once hilarious and endearing, I find myself listening to those few seconds over and over.

 

Haltigan’s collaborations with guest artists prove very strong indeed. The contrast between Haltigan’s low husk and S. Johanssen’s breathy heights create an expansive sense of space while bridging seamlessly to the trumpet /accordion and slide guitar lines above. John Foti’s work on piano and accordion bring nuance to Haltigan’s sound, and he approaches brilliance on prepared piano in “Things.” The jaunty, rollicking feel he brings takes the song to a better place.

 

As far as the ensemble’s performances go, percussionist Troy Campbell earns his keep on a pared-down kit in songs like “Virus”. Rumor has it he’s playing his lap here, and other songs on the album feature an ingenious range of percussive miscellanea: a Saudi Medjool date box and the pizza box from a late lunch at the studio in addition to his standard bucket and suitcase repertoire. Matthew Kloss on bass drives the songs like a long haul trucker – he’s relentless, whether switching gears or deftly working the brakes. We hope to hear his Jersey twang singing on the next album. On harmonica Emmet Haltigan howls like an alley cat and yearns like a jail bird; his mandolin work on “Where the Animals Used to Play” makes the song. Joe Ancowitz is cleaner and fiercer than we’ve heard before and his strong musicianship is a huge asset here. Lastly, we hear the recording as Nathaniel Broekman’s baby – he definitely deserves recognition for crafting this seamless beauty. His guitar work and vocal interjections are no less noteworthy, but perhaps he stands in the shadows more than he should? Even his stellar improvisation to Haltigan’s vocals on “Heavy Cream” seem like a mere hint of his full range. Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans play 11th St. Bar every Tuesday in March at 9:30 PM.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 2/16/09

As you probably already know, the old American Top 40 had about as much to do with actual popularity and record sales as…well…as much as this page does. Nothing at all, in fact. This is just another way for us to spread the word about some of the best under-the-radar stuff out there.

 

1. Jay Bennett – The Engines Are Idle

This big, vicious, 100% acoustic ballad is the centerpiece of the former Wilco multi-instrumentalist’s brilliant new cd Whatever Happened, I Apologize.

 

2. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions – Storm

Wild stuff by the Japanese inventors of the “death jazz” genre (actually the most live sound you could ever want to hear, right from the wall of horns that hits you upside the head as the song opens). From their upcoming cd Planet Pimp, scheduled for release on Koch on 2/24.

 

3. Our Vision – The Game

A big, sweeping, gorgeous janglerock anthem. Sounds a lot like the Church! They’re at Ace of Clubs on 4/3  

 

4. The Mad Dukes – Gone Gone Gone

Hauntingly rustic Steve Earle-esque murder ballad with a trick ending, a remake of the version that first appeared on Kim Simpson’s 1996 Midnight Apparitions cd.

 

5. Julia Haltigan & the Hooligans – All I Can Think of Is You

Really cool, noirish jazzy Americana. Click on this and then try tuning out. You can’t. She’s at 11th St. Bar on 2/24 at 10.

 

6. The Great Deceivers – Starless

Live cover of the epic King Crimson classic. In two parts, one here and the other here on youtube.

 

7. Ten Pound Heads – Paint Manhattan Black

A pop song as Iron Maiden or King’s X might have done it – fast new wave bassline, organ in the background. Good stuff.  

 

8. Destroy All Monsters – Party Girl

Yeah, we’ve been surfing youtube. This is a golden oldie, Ron Asheton’s late 70s band with Detroit cult vocalist Niagara. She looks great and the footage of Ron’s characteristic wailing solos is choice. Turn it up.  

 

9. The Brooklyn What – Soviet Guns

Wouldn’t be a Top Ten without a Brooklyn What song, right? And it makes a great segue with Ron Asheton. This is a characteristically snarling live take from the Brooklyn Lyceum show last year that made our Top 20 shows of 2008 list.

 

10. Rocketship Park – Birthdaydeathwish

The beautiful lushness of the string section and the soaring melody of this big ballad makes you forget about the flat, weak, stereotypical indie vocals. They’re at Monkey Town on 2/21 at 10:30 PM with the smartly amusing Balthrop Alabama.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment