Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Undigables Bring Back a New York That Time Forgot

Hard to believe that it’s been over a year since the Undigables played their old stomping ground, 55 Bar. Sly, irrepressible singer Ollie Boy Lester’s popular saloon jazz combo had a monthly residency at that venerable West Village watering hole for what seems like forever, for all we know since Jack Kerouac ruled the roost there. And it’s good to see them back: their next gig there is on August 13 at 7 PM for a couple of sets, and there’s no cover.

What did their gig there last time out sound like? Lester is a gregarious, perennially young guy, a character who’s impossible not to like, a proud throwback to a largely vanished New York. In an unvarnished Brooklyn accent, he regaled the crowd with tales of growing up as a cool kid in the late 50s and early 60s, smoking weed and listening to Symphony Sid play Stan Getz, Cal Tjader, Morgana King, Charles Mingus and King Pleasure on the radio. After a brief jump blues intro from the band – Stew Cutler on guitar, Jan Kjaer on piano, Roy Holland on bass and Nat Seeley on drums – Lester recalled walking to school in midtown, waving to Walter Winchell and Jack Dempsey, then launched into a shuffling, Mose Allison-inspired take of Broadway. The band gave it a characteristically droll outro as they segued into On Broadway for a second.

They did Horace Silver’s Sister Sadie as a swinging blues romp fueled by jaunty, spiraling triplets from the guitar. Then they went into the originals, which sound like classics from the 50s. Most of these were upbeat swing tunes and jump blues, spiced with Lester’s clever, torrential rhymes and hepcat puns. On You’re the One, Kjaer took a tumbling solo and then handed off to Cutler, who followed with an incisive, purist Chicago-style blues lead. Next was a a swinging take of another original, Later For Straighter, poking fun at killjoys who can’t bear to take a break from the nine to five: “Gimme a woman, some music, a little reefer, that’s all I need for my reliever,” Lester sang breezily. In a stroke of irony, Cutler shifted from surreal skronk to pretty straight-up blues

A pulsing, straight-ahead blues number, Mood You’re In kept the good-natured, altered vibe going, this one more of a drinking song with burning slide guitar at the center. One More Love Affair had an optimistic Rat Pack flair, with a purposeful Kjaer solo midway through. Then they took the energy even higher with the latin-tinged party anthem This Is Livin’, a shout-out to all the would-be Coney Island party animals in the crowd. They closed with the irrepressibly bouncy Better Days Ahead, then a hard-funk salute to the cowboy shows that Lester used to watch as a kid, and closed with the Symphony Sid theme song – and that was just the first set. So before 55 Bar turns into a Starbucks or a 7-11, go see this magical band and revisit a long-gone New York that won’t be coming back anytime soon, maybe ever.

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August 8, 2015 Posted by | blues music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/11/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #780:

Louis Jordan – Let the Good Times Roll: The Anthology 1938-1953

Like the Sonny Boy Williamson anthology on this list (see #835), this one gets the nod over the dozens of other Jordan releases out there simply because it has more songs: 46 in all over two cds. It’s as good a place to start with as any if you want to get to know the guy that many feel invented rock and roll. Actually, that was probably Link Wray – Louis Jordan was the king of 1940s jump blues who inspired guys like Bill Haley and later, Elvis. A charismatic, wildly energetic performer, bandleader and saxophonist, his boisterous, cartoonish and sometimes buffoonish songs have a tongue-in-cheek lyrical sophistication that sometimes gets forgotten as the party gets underway. Which he doesn’t seem to have minded at all: he sold a ton of records that way. All the hits are here: What’s the Use of Getting Sober; Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby; Caldonia (later appropriated by B.B. King and dozens of others); G.I Jive; Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens; Jack, You’re Dead; Five Guys Named Moe; Choo Choo Ch ‘Boogie; Open the Door, Richard; and of course the title track. It’s also got the funny sequel I’m Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts Of Town, the topical WWII home front number Ration Blues, a blues version of the old mento standard Junco Partner, Saturday Night Fish Fry (later redone by B.B. and then by Tony Bennett, as Playing with My Friends), and Ella Fitzgerald singing Stone Cold Dead in the Market. Here’s a random torrent.

December 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christabel and the Jons Heat Up The Night

Knoxville, Tennessee’s Christabel and the Jons ran through one slinky, swaying swing shuffle at Banjo Jim’s last night. “I can feel the electricity in the air,” frontwoman/guitarist Christa DeCicco observed. She didn’t mean the dancers twirling  on what passes for a dance floor in front of the stage – she meant the cool autumn night. “I can tell some broken hearts are about to be mending.” Potent observations from someone whose songs celebrate romance in all its difficult, exasperating forms. Consider: in the summer, your brain is so fried it’s impossible to make the right choices. Fall, on the other hand, is snuggle weather: that, and a whole lot more. Not that there’s anything wrong with a fling: “Give me a room full of men like you, and I’ll get closer to you,” she sang on one particularly seductive track from the band’s most recent studio album Custom Made for You. But there’s a depth, and a bittersweetness to her songs that resonates just much as her sultry vocals.

The band was tight beyond belief, drummer Jon Whitlock switching between brushes and sticks when the pace picked up, locked in with the swinging rhythm of the upright bass and DeCicco’s acoustic guitar, multi-instrumentalist Seth Hopper moving expertly from violin, to trumpet, to mandolin and back again, sometimes in the same song. DeCicco announced that for the first time in her life, she’d successfully haggled with a street vendor. “It was a crack pipe,” cracked Whitlock. The audience riffed back and forth with the band: whatever she’d scored (probably something to wear) had cost her ten bucks.

A couple of songs pulsed along on a bossa beat, including a vivid bon vivant’s lament punctuated by a soaring trumpet solo. Back to Tennesee featured the band on deadpan, jump blues-style call-and-response vocals – what were they looking forward to when they get back from their 12-hour drive? “Black cherry ice cream.” DeCicco told the crowd that their forthcoming album was going to be all brooding ballads, resulting from a “dark night of the soul.” But a couple of cuts, one of them titled You’re Gonna Miss Me, Baby were as jaunty and irrepressible as the rest of the set. Even the somewhat sarcastic Boy Crazy, with its minor-key gypsy-jazz vibe, wouldn’t concede an inch. DeCicco’s voice has a tinge of smoke and a casual allure that goes straight back to Billie Holiday, but she’s got a somewhat defiant optimism that’s uniquely her own: this band isn’t one of those Snorah Jones wannabe projects. For those who can’t wait for the new studio cd, the band has an online-only live album available at their site.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: From the Archives: S’Killit at Chicago Blues, NYC 7/4/96

Happy 4th!

The party started before noon and continued in Westchester at my girlfriend’s sister’s place. We then moved to a generic Mexican restaurant that her sister and husband were very fond of. Tequila flowed all afternoon. Somehow we made it back to the Metro North train, to the 6, to my place in Gramercy Park where homegirl promptly passed out. It was a nasty, humid, sweltering day, not a hint of breeze anywhere. But I wasn’t finished yet. By myself, I slogged down to 14th St. and 8th Ave. to Chicago Blues, which was surprisingly open, and even more surprisingly, the place was about half full, an enthusiastic crowd gathered toward the front of the club by the stage. S’Killit was in mid-set. They were a blues band fronted by an excellent piano player named Rusty Cloud, and had their full horn section.

The bars and lounges off the interstates from Maine to California abound with bad white blues bands, but S’Killit wasn’t one of them. Their main distinguishing feature was good songwriting. Cloud (who was Southside Johnny’s keyboardist for a time) wasn’t much of a singer, but he knew how to lead a band, how to work a crowd and wrote knotty, intricate, jazz-inflected songs. And when he was feeling more than he was thinking, he could play his ass off. The band used to play around town a lot during the early to mid 90’s and developed something of a following for their tunes and their impressive, jazzy improvisation, perhaps something akin to vintage Tower of Power without the Latin influences. Though it was an early show for them, on a holiday, the band was into it. I was about to leave just as they were about to begin their second set, but I heard the intro to Blue Fever (the title track to a cd they would release almost ten years later, still available at the cdbaby link above) and returned to the bar. It’s a long, slowly crescendoing, minor-key blues epic, the kind of thing they did best, so I thought it would be worth sticking around for at least this number. The only problem is that the place smelled like vomit. Which is why I’d wanted to leave in the first place. Strange: this wasn’t Doc Holliday’s. Chicago Blues pulled some pretty upscale acts sometimes, the sound was superb, and the place was always well-maintained.

After the song, I went outside (for a breath of fresh air – in those days, you could smoke in bars). But the smell lingered. All of a sudden it occured to me what the problem might be. I bent over and looked at my shoes, realizing what must have happened: someone had gotten sick in the bathroom at the Mexican place, and in the condition I was in, I was oblivious. No wonder the crowd was gathered at the front of the club: they’d seen me come in and wanted to get as far away as possible. That explains why the waitress was hanging at the end of the bar, watching the show. But I went back in anyway. An attempt to do a little cleanup in the bathroom proved pretty futile. The waitress kept bringing beers which I kept drinking, and in my condition this was not a good idea. How I managed to catch myself, pull myself together and stand up, in the split second before my face went into free-fall into my pint glass is something I’ll never know. If memory serves right, the slow stroll home was punctuated by a stop at the Twin Donut on 14th and 6th Ave.

July 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment