Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jayme Stone’s Banjo Travels Around the World

Jayme Stone’s new Room of Wonders is his dance album. Taking a page out of Bach’s French Dance Suite (which he plays here as an energetic, practically punk duo with bowed bass), the virtuoso banjo player and an inspired cast of characters romp through some imaginative new arrangements of traditional dances from around the world. Stone wanted to get jazz-quality players and put them together, but not as soloists, to see what kind of sparks would fly. The main group here consists of Casey Driessen of Abigail Washburn’s quartet on violin, Grant Gordy from Dave Grisman’s band on acoustic guitar and Greg Garrison on bass.

They open with the surprisingly pensive Krasavaska Ruchenitsr, a tricky Bulgarian tune in 7/8 time. Ever wonder what a banjo sounds like playing a horn line? You can find out here. Driessen follows Stone and counterintuitively takes it down rather than hitting a crescendo. Next they tackle a couple of Irish dances, the first darkly bristling, the next one more cheery. Vinicius, a shout-out to Vincius Cantuaria, mines the same kind of suspenseful restraint, with a tasty, buoyant trumpet solo from Kevin Turcotte, drummer  Nick Fraser holding down a samba beat when the song isn’t going off into the clouds for an extended, atmospheric break.

Moresca Nuziale, an original wedding theme, keeps the wary, apprehensive vibe going – it’s the last thing most people would want at a wedding, which might make sense since the couple whose wedding the song debuted at broke up six months later. They follow that with Andrea Berget, a stately, wistful Norwegian tune that’s ostensibly a polka, then the Bach, then Stone’s captivating, Tunisian-inspired title track, lit up with some understatedly dramatic cymbal work from Fraser and a jazzy guitar solo. The rest of the album includes a spirited take on Bill Monroe’s Ways of the World, another Bulgarian tune with Driessen contributing cello-like tones on low octave fiddle, and the upbeat Troll King Dom Polska, featuring Vasen’s Olov Johansson on the autoharp-like nyckelharpa. Eclectic? Yeah, you could call it that. Stone will be at le Poisson Rouge on 3/16 at 7 PM opening for the reliably awesome, frequently haunting Las Rubias del Norte.

Advertisements

March 12, 2011 Posted by | classical music, country music, folk music, gypsy music, irish music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Psychedelic Romance with Miramar at Barbes

Saturday night at Barbes Miramar put on what had to be the most romantic show of the year, and one of the most haunting ones too. Like a Puerto Rican Las Rubias del Norte, they add swirling tremolo organ to classic boleros from the 1950s and 60s along with some choice originals that fit in perfectly with the old classics. Singers Rei Alvarez (also of Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonized with a sometimes sultry, sometimes chilling chemistry over organist Marlysse Simmons-Argandona’s psychedelic swirl, anchored by an excellent rhythm section with baby bass, drums and bongos plus an acoustic guitarist. Their version of the famous Por Siempre had Simmmons-Argandona following a thoughtful, soulful guitar solo with one of her own that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Electric Prunes song. She switched to piano for a slow, swaying tune where the male singer tries to tell the girl he’s with that he’s not heartbroken – it’s just the hot food. Maybe, a Greek psychedelic rock ballad from the 1960s with bolero tinges, was the eeriest moment of the night, with some nice tremolo picking from the guitarist, maybe to mimic the oud on the original? It sounded like a Greek Chicha Libre.

The rest of the set was just as eclectic: the unexpectedly dark Amorada Madre Mia, with its guy/girl tradeoffs and intense, distorted organ solo; Insatiable, with more of a dramatic tango feel; a romantic island tableau done as a piano nocturne; the stately waltz Estatua, an Alvarez original; and a conversation between a man and woman, again reaching for a tango atmosphere with incisive organ and crescendoing Spanish guitar. They closed with an elegant duet version of Sylvia Rexach’s iconic En Mis Suenos, full of restrained longing, and a number that once again brought to mind Chicha Libre, echoey electric piano vamping hypnotically, with searching, soaring harmonies and a long, spiraling guitar solo. They didn’t play their devastating version of Rexach’s signature song, Di Corazon (they were saving that for the second set), which is available on their pretty amazing new album at their bandcamp site.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala

The new cd by las Rubias del Norte would make a great Bunuel soundtrack. Otherworldly, surreal and frequently haunting bordering on macabre, it’s a characteristically eclectic, syncretic mix of old songs from around the world done as Veracruz’s best musicians might have imagined them circa 1964. Most of the melodies are in minor keys, the perfect backdrop for the sepulchrally soaring harmonies of the band’s two frontwomen, Allyssa Lamb (who’s also the band’s keyboardist) and Emily Hurst. Lamb and Hurst are a lot closer to Stile Antico than Shakira (or Jeanette, who sang the 1976 latin pop classic Porque Te Vas that the band turn into ghostly, organ-driven reggae to open the album). Which the two ought to be, considering that they met as members of the New York Choral Society. As the band’s website aptly points out, the album is more psychedelic rock than latin, “the opposite of Rock en Espanol,” even though most of the lyrics are in perfectly enunciated Spanish.

The title track is a Greek rembetika song with a bluesy, oldtimey gospel verse that gives way to a latinized chorus, followed by a clip-clop clave number a la Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, shuffling along with the muted strokes of Olivier Conan’s cuatro. A slyly levantine-inflected S.D. Burman Bollywood number lights up with Lamb’s eerily twinkling piano and the lushly brisk atmospherics of the Parker String Quartet, while a Brecht-Weill song gets an oversize margarita, a big sombrero and a balmy, slightly Jerry Garcia-ish electric guitar solo from Giancarlo Vulcano.

The rest of the album alternates psychedelia with stately, period-perfect angst and longing. A couple of the songs are dead ringers for Chicha Libre (with whom this band shares two members, Conan and percussionist Timothy Quigley). Navidad Negra turns a Caribbean big band number into cumbia noir, Lamb’s sultry organ passing the torch to Vulcano, who takes a surprisingly biting turn, while the traditional Viva La Fiesta becomes the theme to the saddest party ever. They close with hypnotic, classically inflected tropicalia that throws some welcome shade on the pitch-perfect brightness of the vocals, a Bizet cover bubbling with Lamb and Hurst’s contrapuntal sorcery and a downcast ballad, restrained melancholy over funeral-parlor organ. It’s gentle, scary and beautiful like just about everything else here. Look for this one high on our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. Las Rubias del Norte play the cd release show for the album this Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub followed by a midwest tour.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

It’s hard to imagine a sexier album – or a smarter one – released this year. Over the course of fifteen first-class tracks – there’s not a single substandard song on this cd – Rupa & the April Fishes come off like a better-traveled Eleni Mandell backed by an acoustic Gogol Bordello. Alternating between wild gypsy dances, ska, noir cabaret, Mexican border ballads, Colombian folk, tango, klezmer and reggae, this is without question the most triumphantly multistylistic tour de force of 2009.

Frontwoman/guitarist/physician Rupa Marya is a Franco-American globetrotter of Indian ancestry. Whether singing in English, French or Spanish, her lyrics are as evocative as they are provocative (the album is a tribute to and defense of immigrants risking their lives around the world). Her breathy vocals are equally nuanced, as capable of conjuring a sultry late-night ambience as much as nonplussed outrage, backed by an acoustic rhythm section along with cello, trumpet, and accordion as well as horns and flute on several tracks. They stay in moody minor keys until the next-to-last track, a surprisingly breezy number combining a Mexican folk feel with reggae, a lament that could be told from an immigrant’s viewpoint…or just a woman missing a lover.

Before that, there’s a brief, haunting violin theme; a swinging noir tango with an incisive trumpet solo at the end; a playful, fun gypsy dance that goes out on a boomy bass solo; a dark, violin-driven reggae number; a gypsy-inflected, slinky ska tune; a defiant gypsy waltz with echoes of New York vintage latin revivalists las Rubias del Norte; a sad, mariachiesque trumpet tune; a dark Mexican shuffle; a scary, Middle-Eastern-inflected gypsy dance that builds from a stately hora-style intro; a jaunty, bluesy ragtime song with a big dixieland raveup at the end; and a bouncy cumbia featuring a characteristically intense rap interlude by the greatest English-language lyricist of our time, Boots Riley of Oakland hip-hop legends the Coup (who has an intriguing new collaboration with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Street Sweeper Social Club).

Part of this album is a great dance mix; what’s not danceable makes great makeout music. Socially aware, sometimes surreal and invariably inspired, this is one of the best albums of the year, yet another reason why we’re not going to finalize our Best Albums of 2009 list until the end of December. Rupa & the April Fishes play the Bell House along with another excellent, multistylistic, danceable band, Nation Beat on November 13 at 8 PM.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Las Rubias Del Norte, Cordero, Hazmat Modine, Karsh Kale and Slavic Soul Party at 92YTribeca, NYC 1/9/09

In a nice diversion from the blizzardy conditions outside, this was a whole summer festival compressed into an evening featuring relatively brief sets from some of the creme de la creme of the New York scene, put together for the booking agents’ convention by upstart Brooklyn label Barbes Records and adventurous San Francisco booking agency Trouble Worldwide.

 

With the angelic, effortlessly graceful harmonies of frontwomen Allyssa Lamb and Emily Hurst, las Rubias del Norte’s all-too-brief set was uncommonly dark and haunting, playing most of their material in minor keys. The band has been characterized here before as the latin Moonlighters, which is true both in the sense that both groups share an effervescent, romantic sensibility defined by their harmonies and a love of diverse styles from earlier eras. Las Rubias used what time they had onstage to explore several of them: bouncy cumbias from Colombia, romantic Mexican baladas and an eerie number that made frequent use of the Asian scale, propelled by Hurst’s agile work on bells. They closed the set with a fast, scurrying Mexican traditional number in 6/8 time.

 

Cordero frontwoman Ani Cordero has an impressively diverse resume, ranging from surf music to the dark atmospherics of Bee & Flower, the ranchera rock of Pistolera and this, her main project, a warmly melodic, catchy rock en Espanol quartet. She’s also become a terrifically compelling singer: the strength and sultry insistence of her low register was particularly striking in contrast with her characteristically warm, airy high notes. Playing her Strat without any effects and just a hint of natural distortion, she led the group through an eight-song set of terse, smartly crafted, upbeat, major-key janglerock with an incisive, thoughtful lyricism. On a couple of tunes she put down her guitar and played tom-tom while the group’s organist provided a minimalist dance groove, which actually got some bodies in the crowd twirling.

 

With so many bands scheduled to fill a relatively brief block of time, it was perhaps inevitable that one of the bands would get shafted and that band turned out to be Hazmat Modine. Which was too bad: in three songs and less than 25 minutes, they actually managed to energize the crowd. Frontman Wade Schuman – one of the most charismatic bandleaders around – began the show with a harmonica solo, then stopped cold. “You came here to hear music, didn’t you,” he reminded the chatty, restless audience, and suddenly got everyone’s attention. Schuman then resumed his solo, using an effects pedal for an organ tone, perhaps as a nod to the great blues harpist Carey Bell who typically played through a Leslie speaker from a Hammond organ. Then the band – this time including Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on guitars along with Fearless Dreamer’s Pam Fleming on trumpet plus sax, tuba and drums – launched into the fat reggae groove of So Glad, Fleming taking the intensity to redline in a matter of seconds with one of her trademark instant crescendos.

 

Their second song was a hypnotic one-chord oldtimey-style blues that they’d recorded with Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, a showcase for interplay between the wind instruments and then the guitars, Gomez and Smith interlocking like the gears in some infernal machine, gnashing and grinding everything in their path. The band closed with a surprisingly fast take of the title track to their most recent cd Bahamut, a surreal, calypso-flavored epic featuring a lot of agile baton-passing as the band members each took a brief solo turn. World music personality Karsh Kale’s set was also brief, and happily so: his qawwali-rock hybrid started snoozy, then became oppressive with pointlessly garish heavy metal guitar.

 

Slavic Soul Party’s upcoming Carnegie Hall gig has been sold out for quite awhile, and the nine-piece brass band left no doubt as to why, opening their wild, intense set with a march through the audience, pounding the drums and blasting out a fiery Balkan melody. Their first song onstage was a blistering instrumental romp through a two-chord, chromatically-fueled jam, accordion and then trumpet each taking deftly jazzy solos. The next number started suspensefully, building on a single chord to a march, and then a dance beat, the best solo of the entire evening delivered with unleashed, murderous fury by sax player Greg Squared (who also fronts the terrific pan-Balkan group Ansambl Mastika). They then brought up guest singer Eva Salina Primack, who added dramatic, contralto lead vocals along with plenty of ominous, wailing vocalese. They wrapped up the evening with the title track to their cd Teknochek Collision, an amusing spoof of computerized dance music that bore more than a little resemblance to similarly devious instrumentalists Brooklyn instrumentalists Moisturizer, tuba and horns working in lockstep staccato to mimic the cliched, broken-cd effect so widely used in electronica. Since time was up, the band played their encore the way they’d come in, marching off the stage and back through the crowd with plenty of stops along the way to make sure the party wasn’t over until they were really through. They’ve been playing Barbes every Tuesday at around 9 since god knows when; now’s the time to catch them while they’re still there.

January 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Grupo del Verano 2008! Chicha Libre Finally Puts Out a CD

This is the cultural artifact of the summer of 2008. It’s the one album released this year that you want to put on if you’re having a party and you want to get everyone’s attention (or impress everybody with your brilliant and eclectic taste): you’ll get plenty of “who’s that?”s. Readers of this space already know plenty about Chicha Libre’s intoxicatingly good live performances at Barbes throughout the past year: now, the party is available for takeout. On their debut cd, Sonido Amazonico, America’s best (and only) chicha band have revived the amazingly danceable, hypnotic, psychedelic sound that was popular in the slums of the Peruvian Andes thirty-five years ago, while adding their own inimitable vision and wit.

Chicha is what resulted when Peruvian bands first heard American surf and psychedelic rock and then added electric instruments, rock arrangements and Caribbean rhythms to their own sound. What Antibalas did with driving, horn-driven African groove music, what Dengue Fever is doing with deliciously psychedelic Cambodian pop, Chicha Libre is doing with chicha. When frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan first heard the style, he was hooked, to the point where he found himself traveling to South America to track down as many original recordings as he could get his hands on, as well as the elusive musicians who created it. The result was the fascinating anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year on his label, Barbes Records.

Chicha Libre’s debut mixes instrumentals and vocal numbers, originals as well as deviously crafted cover songs. While in most surf music the guitars carry the melody, in Chicha Libre’s music it’s usually keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox (a relic from the 70s which is basically an electronic organ with settings that mimic the sound of an accordion) which serves as the lead instrument. In addition to Conan, the rest of the band includes two percussionists, acoustic bass and Barbes co-owner Vincent Douglas playing reverb-drenched, surfy guitar. The result can be haunting, triumphant, celebratory or absolutely mesmerizing, often all in the same song. While just as in surf music, there’s occasional cheese in places, Chicha Libre thankfully tones it down as much as possible. The vocal numbers (in both Spanish and French) are the most overtly humorous songs on the album.

There are so many great songs here. The title track, a hypnotic yet danceable one-chord vamp that builds to a nasty Douglas solo, and Tres Pasajeros, an ominous train-ride theme written by Camp. The amusing Hungry Song plays with the macho posturing found in a lot of latin music. Their cover of the obscure El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy) has the narrator asking plaintively in Spanish, “Why are you making fun of me?”

They take the famous Ravel Pavane and chichafy it, breaking it down into dub reggae at one point, then the band starts chanting “pavane, pavane, pavane,” quiet and deadpan in the background while the guitar solos. Indian Summer tips its hat to Serge Gainsbourg in a big way, Conan and las Rubias del Norte frontwoman Allyssa Lamb doing spot-on early 70s ye-ye harmonies over a slinky spy theme. They also cover Hot Butter’s silly synth instrumental hit Popcorn with a sarcastic, punk edge: the Electrovox is out of tune on the highest registers, and there’s a silly bass solo. And then the band adds their own lyrics, a tribute to corn whiskey and weed. The album ends with its best song, a cover of what is probably composer Erik Satie’s signature work, Gnossienne #1 (you’ll recognize it from a million movie soundtracks). As simple as it is macabre, it’s also extremely difficult to play on the piano because Satie deliberately omitted the time signature, leaving the rhythm completely up to whoever’s playing it. Chicha Libre give it a slightly staggered tango pulse, making it as sexy as it is dark. What else is there to say – this is a great album, a must-own if you like psychedelia, right up there with the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack and Mass in F Minor by the Electric Prunes. Five maduros con queso. The cd is available at better record stores, online and at shows. Chicha Libre play the cd release tonight at Drom at 10; Las Rubias del Norte open the show at 9.

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment