Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Guitarist Kurt Leege Reinvents Jazz Classics As Envelopingly Ambient, Richly Psychedelic Soundscapes

There’s considerable irony in that Kurt Leege, one of the most interesting guitarists in all of ambient music, first made his mark as a feral lead player, beginning with Curdlefur, then Noxes Pond and finally System Noise, New York’s best art-rock band of the zeros. Leege’s new album Sleepytime Jazz – streaming at Bandcamp – is his second solo release, a similarly celestial follow-up to his 2018 record Sleepytime Guitar, where he reinvented old folk tunes and spirituals as lullabies.

This one is calm, elegant, drifty music with a subtle, soulful edge, a mix of jazz classics from John Coltrane, to Miles Davis, to Herbie Hancock and Louis Armstrong. Leege layers these tracks meticulously, typically using his ebow to build a deep-space wash and then adding terse, thoughtful, often strikingly dynamic multitracks overhead. This may be on the quiet side, but it’s also incredibly psychedelic. Play it at low volume if you feel like drifting off; crank it and discover the beast lurking deep within.

Blue in Green has spiky, starry chords and resonant David Gilmour-like phrases fading deep into spacious, hypnotically echoing ebow vastness. Leege has always been a connoisseur of the blues, and that cuts through – literally – in At Last, his spare, gentle but incisive single-note lines over the starry resonance behind him. And Coltrane’s Spiritual is much the same, and even more starkly bluesy: shine on you distant diamond.

Georgia on My Mind comes across as opiated Wes Montgomery with distant Memphis soul echoes. Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be a particularly immersive, atmospheric interlude by 70s art-rock cult favorites Nektar.

Leege reinvents My Funny Valentine, artfully shifting up the metrics with equal parts Pink Floyd grandeur and Bill Frisell tenderness. He hits waltz time even more head-on in his version of Naima, the fastest and most hauntingly direct of all these slow numbers.

Neferititi, appropriately, is the album’s most delicate and hypnotic piece. The echoes come in waves most noticeably throughout Tenderly, tersely layered from top to bottom. And Leege’s take of What a Wonderful World is as anthemic as it is warmly enveloping. What a gorgeous record. It’s a real find for fans of jazz, ambient music, psychedelic rock, or for that matter anyone who just wants to escape to a comforting sonic cocoon

December 22, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sometime Boys’ Debut: Excellent All the Way Through

With its layers of great guitar and smart Americana roots songwriting, the Sometime Boys’ album Any Day Now makes a good segue with the Hendrix box set reviewed here yesterday. It’s a lot more rustic and low-key but just as intense as frontwoman Sarah Mucho and guitarist Kurt Leege’s main project, the wildly powerful, cerebral art/funk/noiserock band System Noise. Mucho is a legitimate star in the New York cabaret world (she won a MAC award), best known for her unearthly, powerful wail. Here, she offers frequently chilling proof that she’s every bit as potent a stylist when she brings down the lights. Likewise, Leege’s electric playing is equal parts passion and virtuosity: here, his nimble, funky, soulful acoustic work is just as gripping if somewhat quieter than his usual unhinged, wailing tremolo-bar howl. The band here is rounded out by Pete O’Connell on bass, David Tuss on violin and eclectic drummer/percussionist Andy Blanco.

The album opens with Pretty Town, a slinky, smoldering acoustic version of a funk song by System Noise’s predecessor band Noxes Pond, Blanco’s lush cymbal washes mingling atmospherically with its understated angst and tersely edgy guitar solo. The bitter, backbeat-driven bluegrass number Master Misery is a gem, Mucho delivering its torrents of lyrics with a wounded grace: “There are no answers, just suggestions, and most folks don’t bother with the truth,” she posits. There’s a deft, ELO-style handoff as the solo moves from guitar to violin; in the end, Mucho’s tortured soul chooses solitude. The catchy Non Believers is a clinic in vocal subtlety and lyrical depth, Mucho gently railing at those who cluelessly accept the world around them at face value; Painted Bones, with its hypnotic verse building matter-of-factly to its big chorus hook, has more of a gothic, Siouxsie-esque undercurrent. With its rich layers of acoustic guitar, the title track manages to be both brisk and lush. The album winds up with a gorgeously allusive, understatedly suspenseful 6/8 Tom Waits country number about a house that may or may not be haunted, in every possible sense of the word; the band also reinvents Aimee Mann’s Wise Up as edgy funk. What a treat this is, all the way through: you’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2010 page when we finally put it up in the next week or so.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | country music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Grace McLean and Sarah Mucho and Kurt Leege at the Delancey, NYC 8/18/09

Grace McLean really opened some eyes: as a keyboardist and bassist, she’s still taking baby steps, in stark contrast to the richness of her songwriting and her sophistication as a jazzy song stylist. From the sultry soul number that she opened with, a-capella, it seemed obvious that she’s spent some time out in front of a jazz band – the nuances, the effortless leaps and the out-of-the-box playfulness of her vocals are dead giveaways. Likewise, her songwriting is packed with devious tempo shifts, rhythmic devices, wickedly clever wordplay and a laugh-out-loud sense of humor, sort of a Rachelle Garniez Junior. Her number about being in love with her friend’s roommate had the room in hysterics and was something of an indelible New York moment. Likewise, a smartly swaying breakup number worked both as triumph over heartbreak and savage dis. The funniest song of the set was a breathless, rapidfire cabaret number about being jerked around by a clueless guy, done like Streisand with a graduate degree. Give this woman a piano player or a band behind her and there won’t be a cabaret room in town that she can’t rock.

The brain trust of ferocious, artsy rockers System Noise wound up the evening with a fascinating, virtuosic, low-key acoustic show, the kind that VH1 tries to get to work and inevitably fails with. This was a triumph. With guitarist Kurt Leege on acoustic and frontwoman/all-purpose siren Sarah Mucho alternating between percussion, harmonica and guitar and backed by excellent upright bassist, they revisited a trio of slinky, acerbic numbers from their early zeros band Noxes Pond. One of them was reinvented as a something of a dirge with stark bowed bass taking the lead part. They found the inner pop gem in Jimi Hendrix’ Angel, added a sly Talking Heads-style funkiness to Aimee Mann’s Wise Up and recast the Kinks’ Death of a Clown as a raucous barroom singalong. But their best song of the night was a brand new one,  a original fingerstyle Piedmont blues with a particularly chilling, anthemic lyric by Mucho, a reluctant embrace of angst and solitude to rival anything Ian Curtis ever wrote. It sounded nothing like anything System Noise ever did, and it’s a particularly promising new direction for them.

Opening act Kathleen Mock sang affectingly and often hauntingly in an Americana vein; Vanessa Boyd, who played after McLean also showed off some soaring vocal chops.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment