A titan of the new music community, Kathleen Supové has been a go-to pianist for important, innovative composers since the 80s. Her latest album The Exploding Piano – her first since 2004’s stunningly virtuosic Infusion – is characteristically eclectic and cerebral. Where much of Infusion weaves a dizzying lattice of textures, this one – except for the final, practically 25-minute cut – is more direct and more of a showcase for Supové’s legendary chops. Except for that final cut, the electronics here are pretty much limited to lightly processed sound and the occasional loop.
Missy Mazzoli’s Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos is the opening track, replete with Mazzoli’s signature traits: terse, richly interlocking melodies, counterrythms, and hypnotically circular motifs. It’s a tribute to the great adventurer, imagining her riding across her adopted Sahara Desert on horseback, reflecting on the comfort of her early life inVienna high society as bits and pieces of Schubert’s A Major Sonata float to the surface. And then the melody spreads away from the tonic, insistent forte chords create a Radiohead-inflected swirl against a repetitive loop, and the flood that will kill her at age 27 is upon her. It’s as poignant as it is intense.
Michael Gatonska’s A Shaking of the Pumpkin is meant to illustrate activity in the insect kingdom, alternating low rumble with judicious righthand melody and a lot of sustain that finally reaches a roar – and then goes on and on, A Day in the Life style. The placement of a bass drum under the piano lid enhances the boomy sustain of the low tonalities. It ends with a series of muted thumps – a pedal springing back into place? Shots? A salute?
Anna Clyne’s On Track is a launching pad for Supové’s trademark deadpan wit. Inspired by a spoken-word quote from Queen Elizabeth about how quickly circumstances change (which recurs as a sample here), it walks resolutely until the Mission Impossible theme appears for an instant, insistently in the left hand. Eventually Mission Impossible will casually interrupt the busy, rippling melody again and again until it finally shuts it off cold. Dan Becker’s circular Revolution illustrates a Martin Luther King speech (sampled here) using the story of Rip Van Winkle as a parable for how America is sleeping through a revolution. It’s a duet between Supové and a prepared Disklavier (a sort of digital player piano with strings modified to produce what amounts to a percussion track here). After running a series of widening circles, Supové finally breaks free of the rhythmic stranglehold – a hint, it seems – and then lets the melody fall away gracefully as it winds down to just a few repetitive, increasingly simple chords.
Supové’s husband Randall Woolf’s intense, bristling, bluesily magisterial suite Adrenaline Revival was the highlight of Infusion. Here, he’s represented by Sutra Sutra, a long work punctuated by many spoken word passages which reach to string theory as an explanation for both life and matter: as expressed here, vibration is everything (which for a musician it pretty much is). But in less than a couple of minutes, the genuine plaintiveness of the melody is subsumed by all the psychedelic effects and a whispery crash course in subatomic physics. It would be a treat to hear just the piano all the way through. Supove has been busy this year – her performance at the new music series at Brooklyn’s First Presbyterian Church was a 2010 highlight – and her Music with a View series coming next spring at the Flea Theatre is always chock-full of surprises.
A couple of weeks ago we invented a drink. We call it Drano. It’s very simple, Tropical Fantasy Blue Raspberry soda and vodka (hey, when there’s torrential rain outside, sometimes you have to make do with what you have in the fridge). It’s the perfect drink, both visually and tastewise, for the new Comic Wow album Music for Mysteries of Mind Space and Time. Playful, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes silly, often ridiculously psychedelic, it’s 1960s-flavored, cinematic rock instrumentals in the same vein as the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack or XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear project. And it’s pure genuius: it could be a stoner soundtrack to a long-lost low-budget 1968 Cypriot detective film. With an absurd collection of every rock effect from the era – wah-wah, reverb, echo, melodies sputttering up dubwise into the mix only to retreat seconds later, or panning across the speakers and then back – it works equally well as satire and homage to psychedelic excess, especially because the tunes are so catchy. With a museum’s worth of vintage keyboard patches, banjo (?!), guitar, bass and drums, it has the same kind of WTF, out-of-the-box creative quality as the Peruvian chicha music from the 70s we love so much.
The first track is typical: a distantly Pink Floyd-style melody but with honkytonk instrumentation that telegraphs the ornate art-rock majesty that will appear soon. The second track is also basically a country melody, starting out with banjo and then morphing into an oscillating electro keyb song and again. The unselfconsciously amusing, swinging Jazz Computer assembles an impossible series of electric piano layers, blippy, bouncy and reverberating – and is that an Omnichord? Another track sets woozily oscillating Dr. Dre synth over Penny Lane piano – it’s ridiculously catchy and ought to go on longer than it does.
The next one takes what you can do with a clavinova to its logical extreme and then suddenly morphs into a trippy late 90s style interlude – with a vocoder. After that, a spy theme emerges gradually from a clubby techno vamp with fake horns and Spike Jones effects, switches to a brief, off-kilter Beefheart guitar-and-drums interlude followed by an Alan Parsons Project sequencer-and-synth segment. A march titled Encore Electronics Flute Fax starts out just plain hilarious and then gets ominous and dramatic, then goes for even more laughs with a flute-driven early 70s style chase scene. Chimp on a Pew reaches for trippy menace a la the Electric Prunes, a feel they take to the next level on Minor Hexagons. The longest number is Water Music Treadmill, a one-chord jam that mines dark, thumping, hypnotic Black Angels ambience. The album closes with Meet the Vampeatles which is just plain sick, a tv theme as written by Jeff Lynne and done by the Bonzo Dog Band, maybe. It’s out now on Asthmatic Kitty.
A marriage made in heaven. Songwriter Ward White’s decision to hook up with keyboard polymath Joe McGinty is a smashing success, an update on the classic late 60s psychedelic chamber pop sound mined by Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb and others. And lest you take the first few words here, or the deadpan cd cover photo, a “Great American Songbook” style parody of the artist and his young protege, on face value, McGinty & White are neither an item nor are they gay. The chemistry here is strictly musical, but it’s strong: White’s purist, richly historically aware, ferociously literate songwriting is a perfect match for former Psychedelic Fur McGinty’s seemingly limitless yet equally purist imagination. As a song stylist, this is White’s finest hour, exhibiting the kind of subtle inflection that Elvis Costello was going for circa All This Useless Beauty but never could nail. “You can’t outrun me, I’ll beat you home,” he almost whispers on the cd’s opening track, Everything Is Fine, the tension so thick you need a knife to cut through – and the unnamed antagonist won’t admit to herself that there possibly could be any trouble brewing. Then on McGinty’s Big Baby, a sort of Jimmy Webb homage, White gives the allusive seduction scene a steamy, downright sensual feel. And his exhausted, bled-white interpretation of I’m So Tired (a McGinty/White co-write) is equally visceral.
But the rest of the album is a snarling contrast, and that’s where it really takes off. One of the most adventurously literary lyricists out there, White smashes through the fourth wall and goes meta-ballistic with Rewrite, ruthlessly contemplating the shards of a relationship smashed completely to hell:
You can talk all you want,
I’ll just busy myself with revisions
God these things used to write themselves
You’re not wise to the wisdom of piss-poor decisions
The kiss that precedes the tell
We had it all worked out
Now it sounds so formulaic
What man would want it now
The menacingly organ-driven Knees is just as savage, perhaps the only song to ever memorialize CB’s Gallery as White snidely recalls an encounter with a younger woman:
Oddly nostalgic for a place I always hated…
When Blondie came over the box
First time I heard it in ’78 it was this record
That was before I was born she said…
You take it all you don’t negotiate
You take it all by inches and degrees
You can keep my heart, you bitch
Just give me back my knees
The Roxy Music quote at the end of the song is priceless and spot-on.
Break a Rule, a McGinty composition welds an odd and eerie early 80s synth feel to a haunting, George Harrisonesque ballad complete with watery, period-perfect Leslie speaker guitar. Stay In Love, by White gently and methodically uses the West Coast trip from (or to) hell as a metaphor for disollution over an unabashedly beautiful, sad Claudia Chopek string arrangement. The cd closes with a cover of Wichita Lineman, just White on vocals and McGinty on celeste, a characteristically out-of-the-box way to wrap up one of the smartest, most memorable albums of the past several months: look for this high on the list of the year’s best here in December. McGinty & White play the cd release for this one at Bowery Electric (the old Remote Lounge space) on May 21 at 11 PM.
Three things you can count on in this town: there will always be roaches under your stove, the train will be rerouted at the least opportune moment and the Reid Paley Trio will entertain you. Paley’s stock in trade, like so many other artists who play Thursday’s weekly Small Beast extravaganza at the Delancey, is menace. He understands absurdity, usually doesn’t like it very much and makes no secret of it, sometimes fending it off with a good joke. Characteristically charismatic in his black suitcoat and backed by his usual rhythm section of onetime Heroin Sheik Eric Eble on upright bass and James Murray on drums, Paley pretty much let the songs speak for themselves this time out. Much of the material was from his latest, excellent album Approximate Hellhound. With just a hint of natural distortion on his battered archtop guitar, Paley’s sound is part ghoulabilly without the schlock, part noir blues without the cliches, with a little vintage country or gypsy feel thrown in to shake things up. Live, he’s actually more of a singer than a rasper, sort of the opposite of what he is on album. “Gimme a chance, I’ll fuck it up,” went the refrain on his opening, slightly Cramps-ish number. Better Days, with its dread-filled “hangover sunrise Sunday morning, half dead on Bedford Avenue” was surprisingly subtle; a couple of the more countryish tunes from the cd got a bluesier, rawer treatment. Chanteuse Peg Simone eventually joined him for a slightly coy, seductive cameo on vocals; on the last song of the set, he ended it chopping at his strings as if he wanted to break them, then sticking his guitar into his amp where it started feeding back. Somebody cut the sound. Host Paul Wallfisch (who’d opened the evening) wanted it back: “That’s beautiful,” he leered. Meanwhile, the world’s #1 surf music impresario, Unsteady Freddie, wandered about, camera at hand. Who knew he was a fan.
Mattison frontwoman/keyboardist Kate Mattison brought down the lights, obscured behind the Small Beast (the 88 key spinet for which the night’s named), shadowy in the light of the candles above the keys and the disco ball’s twinkling swirls across the walls. And then played a show that made a perfect match with the ambience, soulful, smart retro pop, frequently over a live trip-hop beat pushed along by an excellent, terse rhythm section. The vocals started out somewhat disembodied and warmed up quickly, Mattison expertly shading her lyrics with a vintage soul feel, the occasional subtle blue note and just the hint of a rasp in places. Some of her songs had a pensive, almost minimalist sensibility in the same vein as Bee & Flower; others evoked modern artsy pop bands like For Feather or the Secret History, or that one great live album by Portishead. One began stately and beautiful in 6/8 time before morphing into a fast 4/4 hit; another built fetchingly and cajolingly into a “ringalingaling” chorus. Still another catchy pop number segued into a big, anthemic ballad with jazz-tinged vocals and gospel piano inflections. It was almost one in the morning by the time they wrapped up their too-brief, barely 40-minute set. They’re at Coco 66 at 8 on May 20.
By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, Lucid Culture reviews pretty much every Small Beast show. Pretty much a no-brainer, considering how it’s become simply the most vital, important music scene in town. So we’ve created a new category, Small Beast where we’ve archived all the other performers we’ve chronicled since the night first kicked off this past winter: click here or look toward top right here to that “A” right over the ARCHIVES section, click and scroll down to Small Beast to see what you’ve been missing.
Hans ‘n Franz electrokraut cachet notwithstanding (the two brother menbers of the new-music trio Whitetree are in German ambient electronic group To Rococo Rot), this is the kind of album you can give your parents for background music. After, of course, burning the tracks to your ipod. Don’t let the awkward, sudden fades in and out that comprise its first fifteen seconds give you the impression that the cd is defective, or that it will sound like that the rest of the way through. Ambient and atmospheric, more warmly melodic than icily minimalist, this collaboration between contemporary composer/pianist Ludovico Einaudi and the aforementioned Lippok brothers is a suite of ten pleasantly accessible soundscapes. While inspired by and named after a characteristically bizarre place of repose in Amos Tutuola’s legendary magic-realist novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard, there’s nothing remotely African about it. Most of the cuts here are spaciously cinematic piano instrumentals, segueing from one into another, motifs recurring, rising and falling, occasionally augmented by drums and electronics which are for the most part consigned to the background. The Radiohead influence is everywhere.
The cd’s opening track Slow Ocean builds with sparse piano chords over an echoey background, backward-masked tapes kicking in eventually. The tableau becomes more complex with reverberating synthesizer echoes, drum machine and a repetitive piano hook that morphs into a dancefloor instrumental, shades of New Order. Other Nature is poignantly Satie-esque; the next track, Koepenik, takes a rock ballad piano hook and runs it over and over again as the volume comes up. With its pretty piano arpeggios over a drum machine and echoey loops, Mercury Sands takes the ambience down with a graceful fade. The following cut, Light on Light fades up darkly, Einaudi’s phrasing artfully echoing itself as the suspense builds, again with an Erik Satie feel. The biggest production here is titled Tangerine, opening with a sustained synth organ patch cleverly manipulated to resemble an electric guitar. Then the piano and drums take over, climbing to a majestic crescendo with cymbals crashing, then back down the slope. Derek’s Garden reverts to a plaintive, after-the-rain minimalism, piano backed by distant echoes – rocks falling? Gunshots?
The irony here is that while the association with the dubious world of electronic music will probably be the album’s strongest selling point, this effort would have been far stronger without any electronics at all. Einaudi’s piano and Ronald Lippok’s drums, freed from the shackles of the drum machine, could take a chance on a swing and a nuance that this recording only hints at. You might even be able to call it jazz. Whitetree are at le Poisson Rouge on June 2.
Expat Australian keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s imagination knows no bounds. Tonight she ran amok, trampling every convention, leaving no good idea unexplored. She’s a shapeshifter: the first album she recorded was orchestrated rock, the second a richly layered pop record, and her latest, Edible Restaurant blends art-rock and ragtime (see our very favorable review). Tonight saw her doing completely rearranged versions of some of her pop gems, including Martin’s Big Night Out (“They danced to this in Australia,” she told the audience encouragingly, but the impressively good Monday night crowd was rapt and stayed put), and Everyone Wants to Adore You. Radiant in a shimmery blue dress, she mined the depths of her Nord Electro keyboard for some of her favorite, 70s-inflected settings: echoey Fender Rhodes, Arp synthesizer with a watery flange effect, and the classic, slightly trebly Yamaha electric piano tone that seemingly every band from Supertramp to the Boomtown Rats were using late in the decade. She’s a fine player, but what really comes across live is the strength of her writing and how counterintuitive it is: just when you think she’s going to settle into a standard verse/chorus/verse progression, she goes off on some wild tangent that sounds like something from early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, or Shostakovich, or some bizarre English dancehall song from the 1920s.
Her backing band, including Beaver Bausch on drums, Hazmat Modine guitar sharpshooter Michael Gomez and the reliably high-energy J. Walter Hawkes alternating between muted trombone and ukelele, stayed with her and held up their end. Gomez is a fiery, bluesy cat: after he took a particularly evil, tersely minor-key solo toward the end of Veselka, Gertler’s tribute to the East Village kasha-and-pierogies institution, she followed his lead, closing the song with an ostentatiously eerie, monster-movie run down the scale into a cold, echoey pool of noise. They also played a new one about the komodo dragon in a zoo who recently experienced spontaneous oogenesis (or immaculate conception, if you prefer), as well as a slightly abbreviated take of the new album’s bustling title track, and the strangely captivating If Bob Was God, which does double duty as Dylan tribute and sultry tale of longing and determination to bring it to a crescendo, if you follow my drift. They closed with a deadpan, oompah version of the AC/DC karaoke standard It’s a Long Way to the Top If You Wanna Rock N Roll – deadpan until Hawkes took a long, completely silly, completely over the top heavy metal ukelele solo. By the time he finally got to the top of his tiny little fretboard, everybody in the house, the band included, couldn’t stop chuckling. All in all, this was pretty typical of what you can expect from a bandleader – and band – with a boundless sense of fun. What a great night!