Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Can Iconoclasts Be Iconic?

It’s hard to believe that it’s been thirty years since Iconoclast, one of the world’s definitive noir jazz acts, put out their first album. Since then, the duo of saxophonist/violinist Julie Joslyn and drummer/pianist Leo Ciesa have built a distinctive body of work that’s part rainswept nocturnes, part edgy downtown improvisation and part punk jazz. Their brand-new thirtieth anniversary album, aptly titled Driven to Defiance, is due out momentarily, and the duo have an album release show on April 7 at 7 PM at stage 2 at Michiko Studios, 149 W 46 St on the second floor.

The album opens with the title track, rising from Ciesa’s spare, ominously crescendoing, echoey drum intro, then Joslyn’s similarly spare, bittersweet late-night streetcorner sax takes over. It’s been a pretty desolate journey, but not an unrewarding one.

Fueled by Joslyn’s violin, One Hundred Verticals builds from horizontal Americana, through a bracingly microtonal dance to gleefully marauding shred. Too Late to Worry, with its catchy, mantra-like sax hook and artfully shifting polyrhythms, comes across as a mashup of Raya Brass Band and legendary downtown punk-sax band Moisturizer. Likewise, More of Plenty is awash in biting Balkan tonalities, from a tongue-in-cheek, icily dripping Ciesa solo piano intro to Joslyn’s airy sax multitracks.

The two follow Ciesa’s judiciously strolling, Schoenbergian piano piece Thinking Thoughts with You Are So Very Touchable, his muted stalker drums eerily anchoring Joslyn’s gentle, lyrical sax. Spheres of Influence is Iconoclast at their sardonic, epically assaultive best, a cackling, chattering, often hilarious Tower of Babel that would make an apt theme for Donald Trump’s next reality tv show, assuming he’s around to do one.

The Flat Magnetic Girl is a jaunty, honking strut, and the catchiest tune on the album…with a trick ending. Although nine minutes long and awash in moody resonance, the mini-suite Part of the Hour, with its menacing jazz-poetry interlude, is no less tuneful.

Ciesa’s intricately tuned snare and toms develop a countermelody under Joslyn’s somber sax in The Customary Slip. He does the same thing throughout the neat clave-funk-punk of Luck is Relative. There’s also a bonus track, wryly titled Take 18 (Live at Funkadelic), a playfully plucky, shrieky violin-and-drums theme that sounds like it was recorded at the legendary, labarynthine rehearsal space’s old Flower District location. Perennially fresh and always with a dark undercurrent, Iconoclast have more than earned themselves iconic status.

April 4, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yet Another Great Noir Album and a Rare NYC Show from Punk Jazz Legends Iconoclast

New York punk jazz group Iconoclast’s latest album Naked Rapture is a masterpiece of noir, a sound they’ve been mining since the 80s. Much of it is a cleverly assembled theme and variations based on a brooding, utterly abandoned Julie Joslyn alto sax theme, interspersed among short pieces as diverse as a stripped-down reimagining of Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia, a jazzed-out version of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude (the only two covers among 25 tracks) and a deliciously acerbic sendup of takadimi drum language. Saxophonist/violinist Joslyn‘s evocation of the quintessential solitary busker, back up against a midtown brickwall sometime after midnight, serenading herself with a rapt, bittersweet beauty (heavier on the bitter than the sweet) is picture-perfect, unselfconsciously plaintive and worth the price of admission alone. She and her conspirator, drummer/pianist Leo Ciesa are playing a rare New York show this Friday, Oct 17 at 7 PM at Michiko Studios, 149 W 46th St.

Joslyn, for the most part, maintains a stiletto clarity on the sax, occasionally diverging to a haphazard wail, or creepily cold and techy when she hits her pedalboard. She plays violin less here than on other Iconoclast albums, using the instrument more for atmospherics or assaultiveness than for melody. Ciesa is a similarly nuanced player, even though he may be best known for his ability to summon the thunder (he also plays in long-running art/noise band Dr. Nerve). In addition, he provides alternately moody, resonant, Satie-esque or rippling, hammering Louis Andriessesn-ish piano and keyboard loops here and there.

The album is best appreciated as a suite, a single, raindrenched, wee-hours urban mood piece rather than a series of discrete tracks. Dancing, furtively stalking motives hand off to more austere, poignant passages. Ciesa leaps and bounds through the more jaunty parts, but he’s always there with a muted roll of the toms or a skull-cracking thud to signal a return to the mystery. There are also occasional moments of humor, a death-obsessed, Burroughsian jazz-poetry piece, and a hint of gamelanesque mayhem. It’s a Sam Fuller film (or Manfred Kirchheimer doc) for the ears. Now where can you hear this sonic treat? Right now, live, all the more reason to check out the show if dark cinematic sounds are your thing. There’s also plenty of audio and video documentation of the band’s career at their webpage.

Ciesa also has a solo drum album out that on face value might only be of interest to his fellow drummers – which it assuredly is, but is also a must-own for anyone who records music. Can’t afford to hire Ciesa for a record date? No problem. There are so many good, swinging beats here, from the simple and relatively four-on-the-floor to more complex and thought-provoking, perfectly suitable for innumerable projects across many genres.

October 16, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iconoclast’s Noir Jazz Vibe is Unstoppable

This is what happens when you sleep on a great album – other people review it first. All About Jazz liked New York duo Iconoclast’s latest album Dirty Jazz; we love it. It unwinds like a good noir film score, which is unsurprising considering that noir has been their signature style pretty much since they played their first gig at CBGB. There’s a lot going on in this movie for the ears: gritty cityscapes, a menacing cast of characters, pretty much relentless suspense, occasional brutal violence and sudden shifts from one to the other. It’s picture-perfect, oldschool pre-gentrification New York. Julie Joslyn alternates between eerily crystalline alto sax lines and explosive violin cadenzas, while Leo Ciesa’s drums colors and shift the suspense as much as the sax does; he also adds moody piano and keyboards.

Several of the tableaux here are very brief, clocking in at less than two minutes, sometimes contrasting balmy sax with violent drums, other times more picturesque. The Regular, with his catchy 7/4 theme, is a real heavyweight; building off an eerie Sonic Youth-style drone, Animated Flesh might be a Frankenstein scenario, and Razoresque, a violin-metal vignette, is a fight to the bloody end. When Joslyn is at her most plaintive and poignant, these pieces pack the greatest punch, whether the on the spy theme You’re in Distress – where she overdubs a whole sax section – the deliciously tense, conversational Apres Vous, or the elegaic The Forbidden, driven by some decisive, Satie-esque piano from Ciesa. The most colorful of all of these is Black Jack, a mini-movie in itself featuring a deliciously dark, modal interlude from Joslyn that rises to a scream and finally a sprint through a chase scene. And Boiled Kneepads, a cinematic funk theme with psychedelic organ, could be an early 70s Herbie Hancock piece.

There’s also The Punishment Office with its menacingly psychedelic, shapeshifting, reverberating violin-metal ambience; the pretty, pensive One Oh One with its clave beat; the clever, cruelly sarcastic Accidental Touching and Mistaken Seduction, and the punk/no wave anthem I Am So Thirsty, where Joslyn’s unhinged, screaming vocals give voice to a tree in the global warming era. And that’s not even all of the album, one of the most viscerally gripping ones to come over the transom in recent months. Watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments