Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Winter Jazzfest 2012: Good Times at Day Two

Winter Jazzfest, the annual festival where some of the cheesy Bleecker Street clubs turn into an astonishingly eclectic jazz mecca for a couple of nights, has come to dovetail with the annual booking agents’ convention otherwise known as APAP. That’s a great thing for the artists, who get a chance to turn their shows into auditions for at least potentially lucrative gigs; it’s a less auspicious development for the general public. More on that later. Friday’s lineup actually looked at first glance to be more enticing than Saturday’s, but Friday night there was an even better concert at Alwan for the Arts.

Once Jazzfest day two began, it was clear that the night had the potential to be an embarrassment of riches. From this particular perspective, the evening began and ended with familiar sounds – the pleasantly melodic, creatively orchestrated, occasionally modal postbop of pianist Laurence Hobgood and his sextet at le Poisson Rouge to kick things off – and ended with the high-energy, solo-centric psychedelic funk-bop of trumpeter Wallace Roney and his group at Sullivan Hall. In between, there were seemingly unlimited choices, many of them Hobson’s Choices: the best way to approach this festival is to bring a friend, see a completely different series of shows, record everything and then exchange recordings afterward. There’s literally something for every taste here, from the most mainstream to the most exciting.

As Hobgood’s set was winding down, bassist Jason Ajemian’s Highlife were launching into their possibly satirical, assaultive no wave funk at Kenny’s Castaways. Down the block at the Bitter End, bassist Stephan Crump led his Rosetta Trio with guitarists Liberty Ellman on acoustic and Jamie Fox on electric, through a series of jazzed-up Grateful Dead-style vamps and big-sky themes. Then, back at Kenny’s Castaways, the pyrotechnics began with Herculaneum: what a great find that Chicago band is. With a blazing four-horn frontline, hypnotically catchy, repetitive bass and a remarkably terse, creative drummer in Dylan Ryan, they groove with a ferocity seldom seen in this part of town. Where in New York do they typically play? For starters, Zebulon and Cake Shop. They opened with their best number, the horns agitatedly but smoothly trading off in lushly interwoven counterpoint, tenor saxophonist Nate Lepine – who seems to be one of the ringleaders of this crew – sailing intensely yet tunefully through a couple of long solos before handing it over to trombonist Nick Broste, who brought in an unexpectedly suspenseful noir vibe before the towering, vivid chart that ended it on a high note. Wow! The rest of the set included syncopated, Ethiopian-tinged funk that wouldn’t be out of place in the recent Either/Orchestra catalog; a wryly catchy, swaying midtempo number that reminded a little of Moisturizer, with Lepine wandering warily into noir territory before David McDonnell’s alto sax swirled in to save everything; an Indian-inflected flute tune; a delicious 11/4 clave piece with some tricky, microtonal playing by Lepine; and a memorably psychedelic shuffle that sounded like a beefed-up version of Moon Hooch. Fans of more traditional jazz might be wondering who the hell those bands are, but to a younger generation of New Yorkers, they’re very popular, even iconic. It was good to see Herculaneum get the chance to represent the future of jazz so auspiciously here.

And it was an unexpected treat to be able to get a seat to see their set; by ten PM, that was no longer in the cards. For that matter, neither was seeing Vijay Iyer and his trio, or for that matter Matt Wilson with his quartet and a string section, unless you were already in the club, because both le Poisson Rouge and the Bitter End were sold out, lines reaching halfway down the block. It was nice to see a young, scruffy crowd that doesn’t usually spend much time in the pricier jazz clubs come out and testify to the fact that Matt Wilson is worth standing in line for; it would have been nicer to have actually seen him play.

But there was still space over at Sullivan Hall to see pianist Fabian Almazan and his rhythm section, with bassist Linda Oh playing terrifically vivid, horn-inflected lines as he showed off his dazzling technique. Then he brought up an all-star string section of violinists Megan Gould (who’d just stunned the crowd the night before at Maqamfest with Maeandros) and Jenny Scheinman, the Roulette Sisters’ Karen Waltuch on viola and Noah Hoffeld (who has a great new album of Jewish music with pianist Lee Feldman) playing his cello with a vibrato you could drive a truck through, tackling a jazz arrangement of a Shostakovich string quartet and making it look easy without losing any of the original’s haunting quality. Which was especially good for Almazan, because it made him slow down, focus and make his notes count: it’s a no-brainer that he can do it, but it’s good to see that he actually enjoys doing it. Then they followed with an equally captivating, brooding third-stream arrangement of a Cuban folk ballad.

Back at Kenny’s Castaways again, “bebop terrorists” Mostly Other People Do the Killing had just wrapped up their set (this club seems to be where the festival hid all the edgiest acts). Bassist Shahzad Ismaily was next, leading a trio with Mat Maneri on violin and Ches Smith on drums. This was the most radically improvisational set of the night and was every bit as fun as Herculaneum had been. Ismaily quickly became a human loop machine, running hypnotic riff after hypnotic riff for minutes on end as Smith colored them with every timbre he could coax from the kit, whether rubbing the drum heads til they hummed or expertly flicking at every piece of metal within reach while Maneri alternated between hammering staccato, ghostly atmospherics and bluesy wails much in the same vein as the late, great Billy Bang. As deliciously atonal and often abrasive as much of the music was, the warm camaraderie between the musicians was obvious, violin and bass at one point involved in an animated conversation fueled by the sheets of feedback screaming from Ismaily’s amp, after which point they kept going at each other but as if from behind a wall, jabbing playfully at each others’ phrases.

By midnight, Sullivan Hall was about to reach critical mass, crowdwise if not exactly musically. Would it make sense to stick around for the 2 AM grooves of Soul Cycle followed by Marc Cary, or to see if there might be any room at the festival’s smallest venue, Zinc Bar, to check out Sharel Cassity’s set with Xavier Davis on piano at one in the morning? After more than five hours worth of music, and not having gotten home until four the previous morning, it was time to call it a night – and then get up and do it all over again one final time at Globalfest on Sunday evening.

And while it’s heartwarming to see such a good turnout of passionate jazz fans, not everyone who was packing the clubs was there for the music. What quickly became obvious as the night wore on is that many of the people there, most noticeably the drunks bellowing at each other over the music, were tourists from the suburbs who make this part of “Green Witch Village” their home on Saturday nights. Initially baffled when they discovered that they couldn’t get inside their usual haunts without a pass, they simply went around the corner to the ticket window at the Theatre for the New City space, pulled out their moms’ credit cards, and you know the rest. A word to the wise for next year: if you really must see one of the ten PM acts, get where they’re playing by nine or risk missing them. And you might want to hang there for the rest of the night as well.

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January 11, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lee Feldman and Noah Hoffeld Go Deep into Classic Jewish Themes

Thursday night pianist Lee Feldman and cellist Noah Hoffeld made their public performance debut together in the welcoming second-floor space at Chabad of North Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue. Their new album Sacred Time is out today – they’re playing Something Jazz  (formerly Miles Cafe) tonight at 5:30 if you’re in the mood for something intense. This music is deep, both deeply Jewish and deeply universal. Feldman’s signature style is defined by wit, sometimes exuberant, but more often very subtle. This was a chance to hear him evoke gravitas, which he does just as vividly. Likewise, Hoffeld can be eclectic (he plays in the psychedelic Middle Eastern band Pharaoh’s Daughter); this was a chance for him to go deep into the most mystic tonalities. The two make a great team. Credit Rabbi Shmuly Lein for having the foresight to realize that he had a couple of musicians in the shul who would not only pair up well together, but would be a source of good music for the congregation!

So it made sense that they began the show with a pristine, austere take on three old Hasidic ngunim, the two musicians interweaving and sometimes trading off on the rather haunting, wary minor-key melodies and the intensity of their Middle Eastern allusions. The two got more complex with a cinematic mini-suite by a contemporary Israeli composer, Feldman building toward the crescendo with jazzy block chords. Feldman closed his eyes and played with unselfconscious rapture throughout a hypnotic Naftule Brandwein tune that Hoffeld aptly described as healing – it’s the kind of music that if you hear it or play it long enough, it’s impossible not to start to feel good. Another song without words had an almost bluesy vibe, in the same vein as an African-American spiritual – could this have been an example of cross-pollination, one way or the other? After a brief pause, Feldman played an understatedly triumphant solo piano piece based on a folk tune about a guy who rather than breaking his Yom Kippur fast, starts singing and ends up going all night. The duo ended with a powerfully evocative epic by Hoffeld on Jewish melodic themes, addressing issues of diaspora, adaptation and musical syncretism, which were fascinating to watch unfold as the procession of motifs made its way from the Middle East to Russia and then became less scattered than richly diverse. What a treat it was to hear this in such an intimate space – no doubt there will be other shows like this.

December 10, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rosler’s Recording Booth: A Trip Back and Forth in Time

Darkly surreal and often quirkily charming, Rosler’s Recording Booth is one of the most original album concepts in recent months. Rosler’s narratives, sung by a diverse cast from the worlds of both music and theatre, trace what could be a day in the life of an Audiola or Voice-o-Graph, the lo-fi coin-operated recording booths of the 1940s and 50s where for as little as a quarter, you could make your own five-minute single. Rosler’s eclectic career has spanned the world of film music, choral music and jazz, including a 2010 collaboration with Bobby McFerrin, so it’s no surprise that the songs here bridge several styles. In keeping with the vintage concept, many of the tunes have an oldtimey feel: Lee Feldman’s similarly eclectic work comes to mind.

You’ve probably at least heard of the hit single, Doris From Rego Park, sung by Rosler himself – it’s a youtube sensation. For several years the late Doris Bauer was a frequent caller to Steve Somers’ postgame show on the New York Mets flagship station, WFAN. While there have been more articulate baseball fans, like all Mets fans in recent years, she suffered, her suffering made all the more obvious since she had respiratory problems that made it difficult for her to complete a sentence, and seem to have curtailed much of any hope for a social life. Rosler sings to her gently over a hypnotic, new wave pop-tinged keyboard lullaby, almost as one would to a child. As sympathetic a portrait as Rosler paints, it evokes a crushing loneliness.

The rest of the album ranges from upbeat to downright haunting. Spottiswoode lends his rich, single-malt baritone to two cuts: a garrulous, ragtime-flavored number sung by a construction worker to his absent girlfriend in a New York of the mind, decades ago, and another considerably more angst-driven, also vividly depicting an old New York milieu. Tam Lin sings a pensive 6/8 ballad, a childhood reminiscence with Irish tinges. Terry Radigan takes over the mic on a jauntily creepy circus tune, an understatedly chilling account of homelessness through a little girl’s eyes, and a quietly optimistic wartime message home from a young woman to her family – it’s never clear what exactly she’s doing or where she is, which makes the song even more intriguing. Kathena Bryant brings a towering, soulful presence to the September song Where I’ve Been, What I’ve Done, Jeremy Sisto sings a broodingly psychedelic criminal’s tale, and Rosler himself leads the choir through a deftly orchestrated reminiscence…of singing in a choir. Behind the singers, a rotating cast of musicians includes Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on keys, Deoro’s Dave Eggar on cello and Mojo Mancini’s Shawn Pelton on drums.

In the leaps from the past to the present and then back – not to mention between styles and singers – the unifying concept of the recording booth sometimes disappears. And a few of the songs are duds: quality songwriters typically have a hard time dumbing themselves down enough to write easy-listening radio pop, and Rosler is no exception. But that’s where the ipod playlist comes in: all together, this makes a really entertaining one.

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/23/10

Amy Allison is all business tonight. She usually has a running conversation going with the audience by the second song of the show, but this time it’s all about those songs. That there’s as much talent in the crowd (a cellist, pianist and chanteuse all arriving within the span of about a minute) as there is onstage says a lot about the quality of the music: Allison’s biggest fans are her peers. Behind her are Lee Feldman on piano and Jon Graboff on acoustic guitar. Both are making up most of what they’re playing as they go along – jazz musicians do this all the time, but to see Allison’s wry, gemlike country and Americana-pop songs serve as a launching pad for this kind of interplay is pretty special. The two guys watch each other: Feldman hints at honkytonk but doesn’t really go there, landing instead on a richly chorded, somewhat noir early 60s pop style (what Roy Orbison would have done with that guy in the band, one can only wonder). Graboff has done stretches in Allison’s band and has some parts worked out – when he doesn’t, he’s adding a bassline as a countermelody when she goes up the scale, or weaves in between piano chords. With Allison playing rhythm guitar, it’s a textural feast.

The sound is great: she can relax and use every nuance, pull back a little and say a lot. And she does. The best song of the night is Dream World, beautiful, bittersweet and awfully dark. In the crowd, the cellist leans over and whispers to the adjacent bass player: “Half of her songs are about sleep!” Those songs are actually about escaping – and that’s what Allison is offering tonight, lots of solace, some knowing vocals and songs that the crowd can sing to themselves on the way home.

Craig Chesler has assembled seemingly half the talent on the Lower East Side to play his new album all the way through afterward. But we’ve already reviewed it – it’s good – and as claustrophobia sets in with every new arrival, it’s time to head west toward Lakeside.

January 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/31/09

An understated clinic in expert songcraft, double entendres, metaphors and just good fun. Tonight Amy Allison was all business (aside from reciting a scatalogical jumprope rhyme from her childhood that just crossed her mind, she said). Backed by Madison Square Gardeners guitarist Rich Hinman on Telecaster and the redoubtable Lee Feldman adding marvelously incisive, smart piano, the cult artist ran through a brisk, thirteen-song set comprising mostly new material. Of the older stuff, the tongue-in-cheek Garden State Mall was the biggest hit with the absolutely packed house (it was practically impossible to enter the bar), Feldman adding some beautifully authentic oldschool honkytonk licks (on the out-of-tune piano) to Allison’s big enchilada The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter. A quiet, subdued version of the as-yet unreleased Anywhere You Are Is Where I Am hinted that it has all the makings of a classic vocal jazz song – what Allison could do with that one backed by her dad (Mose Allison) and his band!

 

The most striking of the new ones was a remarkably optimistic, even triumphant song, a starkly celebratory nocturne called Come, Sweet Evening. “I can’t wait to see the dying of the light, a deeper blue,” she implored with characteristic mystery and restraint. She got almost all the way through the catalog of names in Sheffield Streets, the wry tribute to her onetime UK home, without forgetting a handful (“I’ve never gotten all the names right,” she laughed). The crowd implored her for an encore, so she indulged them with one of her very best (a request, naturally), the suicide anthem Turn Out the Lights. A vividly direct, unsparing portrayal of clinical depression, it must not be an easy song to sing, but Allison made her way through it methodically just as she does with her lighter fare. It would have been nice to be able to stick around for brilliant Americana rock guitarist Tom Clark and his band the High Action Boys, but the crowd proved even more overwhelming than the cold outside.

February 1, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Lee Feldman – I’ve Forgotten Everything

Lee Feldman is a keyboard player who excels at seemingly all styles of pop music, from ragtime to slightly Steely Dan-inflected jazz-rock. He’s perhaps best known for his musical Starboy, the rare adult entertainment which is actually suitable for children of all ages. It’s a marvelously lo-fi, heart-tugging yet completely schlock-free production about an alien who lives in the ocean and has all sorts of adventures, set to astonishingly imaginative piano-pop. As a vocalist, Feldman often takes on the character of a naïf, a plainspoken persona which on this cd allows him to be disarming, yet also gives him a truly sinister edge. If Jonathan Richman took his shtick to the logical extreme, he’d be Lee Feldman. This somewhat fragmentary concept album about the life of a man teetering on the edge of sanity, told in the first person, is very disquieting. At first listen, it’s awfully pretty, but the vocals and particularly the lyrics reveal something else entirely. It’s packed with allusions, defined more by what isn’t here than what is, ultimately revealing itself as a very subtle but extremely potent satire of American conformist culture.

The title track has the optimism of an amnesiac, piano and rhythm section until a nice organ flourish and strings on the outro: “We’ve got a lot of dreaming to do.” The following cut, My Sad Life pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the album, a not-so-fond look back at the protagonist’s early years, set to a deceptively bouncy melody punctuated by ba-ba-ba backup vocals and horn flourishes:

I’ve got a car and I’ve got a wife
She likes to be alone
So after dark I go for a drive

He’s stuck out in suburbia with just his wife, so he ends up smoking a lot of weed. We later learn on the upbeat, bracing blues Morning Train that the ride makes him feel optimistic, or so he says, “But I’m no magic when the evening comes.” Joel Frahm’s tenor sax takes a breezy solo, then Feldman comes in with some slightly eerie upper register piano at the end. The next song, titled Lee Feldman, takes an unexpectedly dark detour, the narrator reciting two Social Security numbers – both of which he claims are his – over piano that comes just thisclose to macabre but doesn’t completely go there.

On the next cut, Mrs. Green, it turns out he’s her limo driver. As we discover in the final verse, he has a very specific destination in mind and it’s clearly not somewhere she’s planning on going. Pete Galub supplies appropriately buoyant, supple, incisive lead guitar. After that, on the slow, pretty ballad Of All the Things, the guy applauds a woman who for some reason didn’t see the sign that everyone else saw up above. As usual, Feldman doesn’t say what it was. After the troubling piano/bass/drums instrumental Bowling Accident in Lane 3, there’s a slow 6/8 number, Give Me My Money with nice textures from Brock Mumford accordionist Will Holshouser and backing vocals from Greta Gertler. “You don’t need to worry, the baby is sleeping,” Feldman sings in his completely affect-free voice: suddenly the guy is old and misses his footsteps. “It’s not just athletes who hate to come last.”

On Big Woman on the Shelves, Holshouser and Feldman play together on a sweet Gallic run down the scale that punctuates the chorus. The proprietor of a store with big women on the shelf is trying to kick the guy out. In Paris. He ends up taking one of the women with him. Feldman finally gets to take a piano solo and really makes this one count. He follows with the self-explanatory instrumental Waltz for a Sad Girl and then the slinky, jazz-inflected organ-driven Diagonal S’s at the Motel 6. It turns out that the protagonist’s daughter is waiting there for some guy to pump her for information. And then it really gets disturbing:

Magic Shop is open
But everything inside is broken
How did we get so clumsy?
Clumsy with our fingers
I took a little piece of my own action
And let myself evaporate
In your swimming pool

Then the scene jumps to Little While, a sad solo piano number that seems to be when his Sara leaves him:

I would be walking into the snow
Watching the penguins play

Next we’re told that something bad happened in the basement of the Hippy Store and that’s why the guy’s afraid of it. Of course, the song doesn’t say what, maybe because he could spend his life with the people who did whatever they did there. At the end of the song, Feldman and band mimic the sound of a vinyl record slowing down. Then the lights go down, and then out completely on Cave, where he lights fires with his glasses and drinks from the falls:

Now that you’re living in a corporate nightmare
You look so sad
But you don’t have to feel bad

Feldman reminds, having reverted to mankind’s original, natural state. The horns go crazy for a long time at the end, falling away one by one until only Steven Bernstein’s slide trumpet is left. The next track, Mr. Feldman, has the protagonist talking to himself in a nuthouse. The cd comes to a close with See You Again, “in the shadows of time. Again.” Impeccably and tersely produced, this album has cult classic written all over it. Shame on us for taking so long to review it. Five bagels. With whitefish. Because it’s full of mercury and makes you forget everything.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment