Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

NYC’s Best Jazz Show Last Night Was at Barbes

The best jazz show in New York last night wasn’t at the Vanguard, or Lincoln Center, or the Blue Note: it was out in Park Slope at little Barbes. To say that it was fortuitous for those who crowded into the back room to see Terry Dame’s Monkey on a Rail is a bit of an understatement. In addition to leading the ridiculously psychedelic homemade-instrument collective Electric Junkyard Gamelan, Dame plays tenor sax in this all-female sextet. This was an all-star lineup: Jessica Lurie and Tina Richerson from the Tiptons Saxophone Quartet on alto and baritone, respectively, plus eclectic five-string bass guitarist Mary Feaster, Pam Fleming (of Fearless Dreamer, Hazmat Modine and the Ayn Sof Orchestra) on trumpet plus Dame’s drummer cohort Lee Frisari from the gamelan band. The group recorded an album sometime in the early zeros – 2002 maybe? – and since then have played about two shows, this being one of them. Which might explain the unselfconscious energy and joy that drove the set.

Dame’s compositions for this group proved just as playfully witty and packed with surprise as her gamelan pieces. They opened with a drolly expansive, trad yet funky number with the tongue-in-cheek title I, Frank Sinatra – the only thing missing was a crime movie motif. That idea they took care of – sort of – with the next one, Watching Margaret, which as Dame explained took its inspiration from observing her dog at the run in the park. But it’s a stalker theme – those dogs sure keep an eye on each other! Feaster’s bass held to a hypnotic groove as Lurie added wary, bop-tinged flourishes. Roscoe Cairo, with its tightly catchy klezmer clusters gave the the rhythm section a workout. Then the slinkiness returned with Miss E. Grooves, moving from sultry to soaring. Stupid Things Lovers Say was full of unexpected twists and turns, and a launching pad for one of Richerson’s long, mysterious, almost imperceptibly crescendoing solos: she made it absolutely impossible to figure out where it was going to end up, in the process driving the tension almost to breaking point.

Feaster had a feast with Tragic Italian Love Machine (don’t you love these titles?), its sexy/sinister solo intro and low-register countermelodies. They closed with their eponymous anthem, another funky, shapeshifting mini-suite, Dame smartly handing the closing solo to Fleming who rather than going for the obvious crescendo, restrained herself to a triumphant majesty while Frisari slammed her hi-hat as if she was trying to shatter it. Let’s hope this underexposed unit gets together for another show in less time than it took for this one to happen.

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December 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Electric Junkyard Gamelan at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/20/10

If there’s a more original band in New York than Electric Junkyard Gamelan, we need to know about them. Their shtick is to take found objects and turn them into percussion instruments, all of them their own creations (they should patent them if they haven’t already). Among their creations tonight: the barp (a drying rack for clothing used as low-register percussion, strung with what looked like rubber bands); the terraphone (a clarinet with a regular reed mouthpiece fastened to a handmade body made from copper tubing); the clayrimba (a perfectly tuned marimba made from clay pots of various sizes) and the cachoptar, sort of a mbira (thumb piano) strung over a section of an old futon frame. The drum kit has kitchen pots in place of cymbals, a plastic pickle drum for a snare, a 20-gallon plastic trashcan for the kick, what looks like the bottoms of several aluminum Chinese takeout pans on a stand for a hi-hat…and a small cast iron skillet on a kick pedal for a cowbell. A discarded circular saw blade became a small gong; half of a school bell became another. Considering that the kit was originally assembled for and required two players, drummer Lee Frisari did a mind-bogglingly impressive job flailing around, half of what she was hitting completely out of her field of vision.

What did their show sound like? Psychedelic, hypnotic, impossible to sit still to. The back room at Barbes was packed but surprisingly, nobody was dancing, considering what a groove they laid down. True to their name, they’re gamelanesque: pointillistic, gently and incisively clattering but also crashing and bashing or slinking and swaying. Several of their songs were basically acoustic trip-hop instrumentals, almost parodies, except that in place of a cold, mechanical drum machine there were four warm bodies rotating betwen instruments. Considering that in Indonesia, gamelans are community organizations where everybody plays pretty much anything (New York’s own gamelan, Gamelan Dharma Swara, of which Electric Junkyard Gamelan’s frontwoman Terry Dame is a member, works the same way), they held true to tradition. Julian Hintz alternated between the aforementioned instruments and another with multicolored rubberbands strung between two wire hangers and rapped on their hip-hop flavored numbers, and didn’t embarrass himself – if he’s the one writing the lyrics, his worldview is smartly aware and his flow is effortlessly smooth, hardcore Brooklyn circa the here and now. One of their later numbers centered around a couple of pairs of Balinese cymbals striking up a ferocious clatter like New Years Day in Chinatown, which was borderline painful considering Barbes’ cozy confines; by contrast, the slinky Space Kitty worked permutations of a woozy bent-note melody on the cachoptar while Life on Mars (an original, not the Bowie song) was mesmerizing and impossible not to get lost in. They also did a funny, fun tribute to their touring van, Fred Beans. Even before the hip-hop lyric and the audience-response part came in, the pans and the gongs were playing off his name – another band’s vehicle should be so proud. They closed with their most Indonesian-sounding number of the night, complete with a big crashing crescendo followed by an impossible series of trick endings. The packed house screamed for an encore and got one, a fiery, conscious hip-hop tune. By now they’d been onstage for over an hour and a half and it was time for the next band – smartly, the waitress had turned on the AC, because considering how hard the four percussionists had been working, they needed it. Electric Junkyard Gamelan do a lot of live shows: watch this space for the next one.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment