Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Skye Steele Quintet – Late Bloomer

A strange, sometimes unearthly and utterly beautiful album by innovative violinist/composer Skye Steele and his superb backing unit, guitar, reeds and rhythm section. Like a lot of the current New York vanguard, Steele’s compositions blur the line between jazz, world music and classical. Call it Barbes music – cutting-edge New York listeners will get the reference. Much of it is atmospheric, often stark and rustic but imbued equally with a playful, surrealist wit. Clarinetist Harel Shachal (who also leads also the excellent Orientalist ensemble Anistar) kicks off the cd’s opening cut, a plaintive version of the old Scottish folk song Black Is the Color with a gentle, cool breeze, the rest of the band entering leisurely. Drummer Satoshi Takeishi adds the subtlest of shades with his cymbals beneath Steele’s rainy-afternoon washes. They follow that with the funky Monkey See, a hypnotic riff for Steele that serves as a chassis for Steele’s contrasting ambience.  Evelynn, a big ballad, builds to a powerful, whirling crescendo of strings. Shine begins stark and choppy before lighting up with a warm, soulful Shachal solo where Steele joins him and then they pass the baton back and forth; Echo Park continues in the same vein, but more upbeat.

 

The title of the bizarrely named Pepperoni Pizza is a simple rhythic reference: it shares the number of beats in the song’s opening riff, and it’s definitely a party til the middle section, guitar carrying the rhythm as it gets all quiet. And then everybody’s off and running again, popping funk bass and sheets of violin leading the charge. Similarly, Rubber Ducky riffs on a playground rhyme, hints at a syncopated Irish reel and then goes straight for the jugular before winding up with a bizarre singalong.

 

Freedom Impressionism is, appropriately enough, an inspired free improvisation riffing on Coltrane and one of the Satie Gymnopedies. The cover of Scarborough Fair takes the stately old tune on the thrill ride of its life, highlighted by a big foghorn Shachal solo.There’s also the circular Afropop-inflected Years Later with its wistful ending, the pensive The Fall and the cd’s fiery, late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty-esque concluding cut, Pretty Girls. Taken as a whole, the album makes for great late-night ipod listening. The group are very captivating, often haunting live. Skye Steele has LA, Mexico and London dates coming up, watch this space for NYC shows.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment