Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

It’s the New Iggy Pop Album!

Have you heard the new Iggy Pop album? Full disclosure; Jamie Saft’s Loneliness Road – streaming at Spotify – is the closest thing to a new Iggy Pop record that you’ll hear until Iggy makes his next one.

And what could be more perfect for Halloween than Iggy’s weathered, sepulchral croon?

Saft set out to make an elegant piano trio album with the formidable rhythm section of acoustic bass guitarist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte. They sent three tracks to Iggy, who improvised lyrics and did all the lead vocals in a single take. The result is as fresh as anything the Stooges’ frontman has done in decades.

The first number is Don’t Lose Yourself, a bluesy, One for My Baby-style nocturnal ballad that strolls along with a nifty implied triplet groove. “When it’s Halloween in your mind, fight them with crime…we’re racing with death, baby…” Iggy intones.

He goes way up the scale over Saft’s slow, brooding, latin-tinged swing on the title cut. You have to wait til after Saft’s darkly blues and gospel-infused crescendos for the best part, where Swallow rises briefly for a solo and Iggy talks about being at “The corner of Desperate Avenue and Loneliness Road.”

The third track is Everyday, another moody, bluesy one that Swallow introduces with a plaintive solo; Iggy makes it a sobering ballad. “My love is not a book of jive,” he asserts.

Obviously, if you’re working with an icon, your instrumentals without him are bound to be upstaged – but Saft’s night themes are vivid and inspired. The music is less about tradeoffs or interplay than intense focus. Saft, a multi-instrumentalist and member of John Zorn’s inner circle, is better known as an organist with a torrential attack, and there are a lot of places here where his chordal approach reflects that.

The opening number, Ten Nights, features darkly, latin-inflected block chords underpinning jaunty righthand flourishes while Swallow dances and Previte takes a triumphantly stormy tangent with his cymbals. In Little Harbor, Previte hints artfully and sparely at a clave as Swallow vamps uneasily and Saft slowly expands on a starry soul theme.

Bookmaking is as darkly spacious and suspenseful as anybody taking shady bets could want, an atmosphere that Saft revisits later in Nainsook. By contrast, Henbane is the closest thing to a straight-up swing tune here, Previte having a great time chewing the scenery, Saft spicing his ripples and glissandos with the occasional eerie, lingering accent.

There’s also Pinkus, a slow, austere, Summertimey blues ballad; The Barrier, which echoes a few things famously appropriated by Coltrane; Unclouded Moon, with its gritty, percussive, rubato rumble; and Gates, a soul-jazz waltz. Beyond its jazz appeal, Iggy completists won’t want to be without this album.

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October 24, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Enigmatic, Devious Album From Mr. Ho

Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica began as an Esquivel cover project and quickly expanded to become a vehicle for multi-instrumentalist/percussionist bandleader Brian O’Neill’s erudite grooves, part exotica lounge band, part droll Raymond Scott-esque third-stream ensemble and once in awhile, expanding to become an explosive big band. With the smaller unit, it continues to amaze how big and lush a sound O’Neill gets out of a simple vibraphone/flute/bass/drums quartet. Their first album, a collection of Esquivel tunes, was a mixed bag; their second, Third River Rangoon, a richly woozy, psychedelic glide down a jungle river of the mind. Their third, Where Here Meets There is a suite, more or less: while the compositions don’t segue from one into another, O’Neill sets a mood immediately and maintains it, hypnotic and resonant yet a lot more rhythmic than their previous effort.

The opening track, Chiseling Music, introduces the nebulous, enigmatically minimalist feel that dominates most of these compositions, guest Tev Stevig’s spiky tanbur contrasting with balmy atmospherics. Beginning with echoey hand drum and then a slowly winding vibraphone solo, Sansaz dances, but as if underwater, finally emerging to come face-to-face with the cold, distant menace of that tanbur again. Maracatune for Chalco works a vamping, Esquivelic low-versus-high contrast, bass handling some of the highs, flute some of the lows as it grows more kinetic and then suddenly eerie as percussionist Shane Shanahan comes to the foreground.

Would You Like Bongos with That Fugue? is O’Neill in droll third-stream mode, a dancing Jason Davis bass solo at its center as the atmospherics recede back into the mist. Ritual Mallett Dance – inspired by paradigm-shifting percussionist Chano Pozo, with distant ecchoes of flamenco and cha-cha – mashes up de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance and Dizzy Gillespie’s Guachi Guaro. They follow that with a Gershwin triptych that makes bouncy bossa out of ragtime, finally sending Geni Skendo’s flute soaring skyward, Peggy Lee’s Siamese Cat Song making a somewhat predictably cartoonish appearance midway through. The album ends with a masterfully misterioso, brooding take of Cal Tjader’s Black Orchid, Stevig managing to fire off an oud solo that doesn’t sound Middle Eastern, looping bass and then ambient flute maintaining a suspenseful edge as O’Neill’s vibes get busy. Adding to the fact that this a fascinating and often very fun album is that there is no band on the planet that sounds remotely like Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – not even any of those long-defunct Esquivel ensembles who inspired them.

November 15, 2013 Posted by | jazz, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/3/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #545:

Cocktail Angst – Our Big Top Parade

Like Richard Cheese, New York band Cocktail Angst made fun of lounge music, but much more subtly. Frontwoman Toby Williams, keyboardist Jon Dryden, vibraphonist Tom Beckham, bassist Tim Luntzel and drummer John Mettam gave their songs period-perfect torchy 1950s latin jazz arrangements, then gently and expertly mocked them. This 2001 release is the better (or at least longer) of their two often pricelessly funny albums, much of it foreshadowing the considerably darker direction Beckham would take as a solo artist. It’s got the title track’s seedy circus milieu; the absolutely silly, over-the-top, Pineapples, a spoof of 50s “exotica;” Samba de Angst, a cynical look through the eyes of a gold-digging stripper; and Mindless, which reminds that the New York City subway was just as bad fifteen years ago as it is now. Last Tango in Vegas is actually a creepy blues lamenting the Disneyfication of the city: “Be wary of the great American dream/The Elk’s Club bids you all a good night.” With its big Henry Mancini-esque crescendos, Kama Sutra is even creepier. There’s also Bates Motel, a twisted noir vacation scenario and the blithe yet bitter Case of Cheap Goodnight along with a John Denver cover which is as hideously awful as the original, probably for a reason. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from cdbaby.

August 3, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Whitney James – The Nature of Love

West Coast jazz singer Whitney James’ debut cd is auspicious because she sings nonstandard repertoire, she’s got a great band behind her, she embraces the role of band member rather than just having the other musicians back her up, and most importantly, she knows that less is more. Her voice recalls early 70s singers like Marilyn McCoo and Valerie Simpson, who made their careers in soul music using jazz chops. Yet James also bears some resemblance, if not timbre-wise, to another very popular singer, namely Karrin Allyson. James doesn’t go for Allyson’s fox-in-the-icehouse delivery, but like Allyson, she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. When she’s at the top of her game she draws you in with her clear, vibratoless, sometimes subtly cajoling, sometimes distantly rueful style. That explains why she gets away with what she does here when she covers material that’s been done before by jazz sirens with bigger voices and bigger names. Alongsider her, pianist Joshua Wolff, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Jon Wikan work the corners for subtleties, with Ingrid Jensen adding characteristically terse, rich color, on trumpet and flugelhorn on five of the tracks.

James puts her own subtle (some might say tender) stamp on Tenderly, rather than trying to mimic the iconic Sarah Vaughan version – Jensen is there right off the bat with a smoky/steamy trumpet intro. Whisper Not was a hit for both Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day; here, James and the bass play a carefree game of tag until the swing kicks in. Then Jensen takes a sailing, breezily bluesy solo into a suspenseful spy movie-style bass/drums vamp out of which James bursts unexpectedly with a minor arpeggio. When you think about it, all the great jazz singers basically do horn lines, and that’s exactly what she’s up to here and elsewhere. Although on the intricate, expansive version of the obscure A Timeless Place (The Peacocks), she sings what’s essentially a righthand piano melody against Wolff’s expansiveness and gracefully terse, almost rubato accents by the rest of the band.

Long Ago and Far Away (Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin) was written for a man’s voice; the interpretation here is closer to Billie Holiday, James so comfortable over the bass and drums early on that when Wolff good-naturedly jumps in, the effect is startling. Abbey Lincoln’s My Love Is You hints at flying off the tarmac, suspensefully, with a neat bass solo; The Very Thought of You counterintuitively gets a dreamy ballad arrangement with romantic muted trumpet. Irving Berlin’s How Deep Is the Ocean gets a psychedelically percussive intro before it goes straight up into the air, as high and far as James and the band can take it. Then Wolff and James take it back down again with what might be the strongest song here, the vividly world-weary obscurity Be Anything. The only misstep on the album is In April, and not because the band does a bad job with Bill Evans’ tune, but because Roger Schore’s lyric has not aged well and at this point in history comes across as rather sexist. James recorded the album in Brooklyn, so a return trip shouldn’t be out of the question: watch this space.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment