Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hee Hawk Bring Their Haunting, Gorgeously Tuneful, Eclectic Jazz to NYC

For years and years, jazz composers from Ellington to Armstrong embraced simple major and minor-key harmony. Then the bebop crew revolutionized things, but in so doing opened the floodgates for generations of snobs who sneered at anything that might dare to reach for discernable emotional content or a tune that you could actually hum. Thankfully, the new face of jazz is 180 degrees from that. Massachusetts group Hee Hawk are a prime example of this New Tunefulness, and they’re making an auspicious stop in New York for two shows, the first on 3/19 at around 10 at Two Moon Art House & Cafe, 315 4th Ave. in Sunset Park and the next day, 3/20 at 9 PM at the Parkside. They’ve got a richly melodic new album out which is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

Bandleader Adam Lipsky’s compositions embrace Americana as well as gypsy and film music, often going off into absolutely lurid noir territory. That mood is enhanced on the album by the simple fact that the piano he’s playing is just a hair out of tune: when he rides the pedal, murky saloon piano overtones rise like smoke from the ground.

The first track, Cover That Man (Basketball) is one deadly game of hoops, late 50s cool Miles through the prism of Angelo Badalamenti, shifting from a slowly lingering noir sway to swing and back again with a tinge of dusky Ethiopian spice, Lipsky’s tersely resonant gleam punctuated by the occasional menacing guitar chord from Niko Ewing. Wake is what you might get from Bill Frisell scoring a Roman Polanski film, a dirge taken in a rustic direction by Nina Violet’s viola in tandem with Ewing’s dobro, Lipsky channeling Ran Blake in gospel mode, Mike Marcinowski’s boomy drums building the mournful mood in tandem with Steve Tully’s elegaic tenor sax.

With its slow Fever sway, brushed drums and smoky tenor, Dress Hips is lo-fi David Lynch, a torchy minimalist blues, Mary Lou Williams gone to the liquor store instead of Sunday services. The band’s signature track evokes Beninghove’s Hangmen with its bouncy blend of gypsy jazz, noir soundtrack bite and irrepressible oldtimey swing. through an unexpectedly ominous breakdown to its forceful conclusion. Likewise, the catchy song without words Singing Partner, Violet refusing to accede to any country cliches, Tully’s bright soprano sax fueling its tempo changes. The longest and most stunning of all of the tracks is Emerald, an increasingly shivery, creepy bolero, Lipsky’s otherworldly piano handing off to Violet’s mournful lines before Tully adds an unexpected optimism on baritone sax before the shadows overwhelm it. Of the countless albums that have made it over the transom here this year, this is one of the best in any style of music.

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March 11, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ibrahim Maalouf Draws Inspiration from a Miles Davis Classic

[Editor’s note – when New York Music Daily spun off from this blog, they took the rock and reggae and most of the global sounds with them….and also just about everything that falls under the rubric of noir music. So they took this one too. Once in awhile we’ll throw them something jazzy – today they’re throwing this repost back to us.]

Does it make sense to try to listen to a jazz homage out of context, or – in the case of this particular album – is it inseparable from the its legendary predecessor? Would it be fair to call this homage the best album of the year? Lebanese/French trumpeter/composer Ibrahim Maalouf’s brilliant new new score to the 1927 Rene Clair silent film La Proie Du Vent (Prey to the Wind) takes it its inspiration from Miles Davis’ immortal noir soundtrack to the 1958 Louis Malle film Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows). Maalouf follows the architecture of the Miles record, but not sequentially. As Davis did, when Maalouf gets the chance, he focuses in hard on lighter moments, both to offset and accentuate the relentless darkness of the rest of the soundtrack.

Davis recorded his album haphazardly in a couple of days in a Paris studio with a pickup band, employing the same modal system used for the improvisations on Kind of Blue, with equally powerful results. Maalouf recorded this one in a couple of days in a New York studio, but carefully chose the players – pianist Frank Woeste, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Clarence Penn – since he felt they’d be comfortable with his use of Middle Eastern scales. The Miles record is drenched in reverb, added post-production; Maalouf’s production is as airy and sometimes arid as the film would seem to suggest. Overall, the effect of both albums is the same, an unrelenting unease foreshadowing imminent doom despite all distractions to the contrary. Together and separately, both are classics of the noir pantheon.

Woeste’s icy, Ran Blake-esque flourish introducing Maalouf’s resonant lines over Grenadier’s tersely staggeried syncopation immediately establishes the claustrophobic atmosphere that will resound crushingly throughout most of the score. Clear as this recording is, it feels as if the band is playing from behind a wall, Maalouf tentatively reaching upwards just as Davis did with his title theme. Davis offered temporary reprieves with bass solos, chase scenes and convivial, conspiratorial interludes; Maalouf employs the latter but none of the former, choosing to liven his own score with reggae and clave. But while the latin groove motors along comfortably and expansively, the reggae all too soon gives way to a crypto-waltz, ushering in the somber main theme.

To call the rest of this album Lynchian would be ironic, considering that David Lynch and his frequent soundtrack collaborator Angelo Badalamenti – and others – have drawn so heavily on Miles Davis. Maalouf matches Davis’ restraint, even though he often digresses into Middle Eastern modalites, which the supporting cast let resonate from a distance, leaving plenty of room for the trumpet’s eerie microtones. Yet Maalouf’s attack doesn’t mimic Davis, as the themes build with an expansive, sometimes breathy, sometimes ironic balminess. Turner often plays good cop to Maalouf’s brooding bad one, working the dichotomy for all it’s worth on the aptly titled Excitement, soaring over the band’s uneven pulse before Maalouf takes it down into shadowy noir cabaret. The final three tableaux – chillingly tense variations on a Gallic ballad, a morose wee-hours nocturne and the suspenseful closing theme, propelled by Penn’s judicious hitman tom-tom work – drive this masterpiece home through the mist with a quietly determined wallop. It’s out now from Harmonia Mundi; and here’s an enticing clip of Suspicions, one of the score’s most chilling interludes.

February 11, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lynchian Menace and Suspense from Kallle Kalima

Today we shift from one kind of intensity to a vastly different one. Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and his group K-18 – saxophonist/reedman Mikko Innanen, adventurous quartertone accordionist Veli Kujala and veteran bassist Teppo Hauta-aho – generate plenty of it on their new suite, Out to Lynch. Much of which sounds like they’re out to lynch somebody, but it’s actually a series of compositions inspired by David Lynch films (they have a thing for movies: their previous album was a Stanley Kubrick homage). K-18 is Finnish for “rated R” – apparently the Finns’ film ratings are less alarmist than they are in the US, considering how tame an R rating is here. How Lynchian is this album? Lynchian in an Eraserhead sense, certainly. And although this is challenging and frequently abrasive music, much of it is far from ugly.

It’s important to keep in mind that the compositions here are inspired by various films or characters, rather than being representational. Interestingly, Kalima never reaches for the twangy noir of Angelo Badalamenti. The opening track, BOB – the first of a handful of Twin Peaks references – squalls and squeaks and quickly throws rhythm out the window, then goes unexpectedly sketchy and minimalist. The Elephant Man inspires a quietly skeletal interpretation, Mulholland Drive a series of casually bracing, swirling clusters – lights moving against a Hollywood hills backdrop at night, maybe?

Laura Palmer is a suspense piece, bass stepping gingerly through the darkness before the guitar provides a flashlight and then they rise in eerie, noisy sheets before returning to a tense spaciousness. The most thoroughly enjoyable track here is, perhaps predictably, Eraserhead, a deliciously creepy microtonal acccordion tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Dave Fiuczynski catalog.

A couple of cuts draw on the lovers from Wild at Heart. Lula Pace Fortune gets airy flute and accordion over distantly menacing atmospherics that rise to a grinding sostenuto blaze; a bit later on, Sailor inspires a similarly terse series of duo improvisations. Alvin Straight, who drove hundreds of miles along the side of the road on his riding mower to visit his estranged brother, serves as the impetus for a wryly methodical, minimalistically paced tone poem featuring the bass.

The Mystery Man (from Lost Highway) is the most intricate number here, a series of circular riffs interchanging over dynamic shifts, growing more ominous with squalling, shivering sax and guitar and ending with a twisted march. Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper has a fluttery tone poem to show for all his persistence, while the Man from Another Place – another Twin Peaks character – gets all of thirty seconds of flurries. On the concluding cut, Frank Booth, there’s no candy-colored clown, only a funereal rubato bass pulse lowlit by guitar that finally explodes: it’s not hard to imagine the poppers oscillating through the Blue Velvet villain’s brain as he huffs from that evil tube. Innanen contributes a devilishly tongue-in-cheek interlude along with Hauta-aho before the album’s most melodic and appropriately menacing passage.

Like all Tum Records releases, this comes beautifully packaged, including artwork by Marianna Uutinen and a magazine’s worth of liner notes: the Tum peeps are writing a lavish history of Finnish jazz in installments. It’s also worth mentioning that Innanen – who ironically leads another project called the Serenity Ensemble – has an excellent, sonically challenging album of his own, Clustrophy, out from Tum as well.

September 23, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twisted Tonalities from David Fiuczynski

An image of a person or an object which is grossly distorted is typically perceived as cartoonish. But take a portrait and distort the eyes, or the mouth, or the teeth just a little, and suddenly it becomes grotesque, even menacing. That’s exactly what guitarist David Fiuczynski does on his latest album, Planet Microjam, and that’s why it’s one of the most deliciously creepy releases of recent years. He uses familiar architecture – jazz, funk, classical and even a reggae groove or two – as a framework for slippery, quavery tonalities that refuse to resolve in any ordinary sense. The average listener might say that he sounds like he’s playing out of tune, which actually is just the opposite of what’s happening: there’s a very distinct (and fascinating, and often thrilling) harmonic language here, it’s just that he and his bandmates seem to be the only ones who speak it. The group includes Evan Marien on bass, Evgeny Lebedev on piano, David Radley on violin, Takeru Yamazaki on keyboards and a rotating cast of drummers including Kenwood Dennard, Jovol Bell, Jack DeJohnette and Club D’Elf’s Eric Kerr.

Obviously, microtonal music has been around for centuries. Every time a horn player or guitarist hits a blue note, that’s a microtone; rock bands like Public Image Ltd. and Sonic Youth built careers out of shimmery, otherworldly guitar sonics that resonate beyond the usual major and minor scales. One of Fiuczynski’s many tricks here is to do the opposite of what a blues or jazz guitarist typically does, bending a note to add an element of tension: playing a fretless or quartertone guitar, he hits a note that in the western scale would be considered flat, then bends that upward to land squarely where he’s going. There are plenty of other tricks here, some borrowed from Indian and Asian music, some uniquely his own, and he blends them artfully for an effect that ranges from chilling to comedic. Fiuczynski can be very funny: there are a couple of instances where he does a “look, ma, see how many notes there are in this scale” thing, other times doing microtonal Wes Montgomery, or a twisted fanfare, or an off-key quote or two. But most of the album is serious and disconcerting.

With the exception of a spaciously bucolic arrangement of a traditional Chinese melody, this is an upper-register album: there aren’t a lot of low notes, even from the bass and the piano. Fiuczynski will frequently wiggle around a note in the style of a Hawaiian slack key guitarist; other times, he swoops and dives like a sitarist, plays with a slide or matter-of-factly walks his way through the wobbly sonics. The album opens cleverly with Micro Emperor, an arrangement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, reinvented as a rather joyous Indian-flavored dance. Lebedev’s piano offers artful chromatic allusions to his bandmates’ murkily keening tonalities on the second track, set to a slow, sludgy reggae-tinged groove. There are two tracks based on a quartertone string quartet by Julian Carrilo: the first pensive and blues-tinted, the second a sinister, Lynchian nocturne with a delicious contrapuntal guitar interlude. Sun Ra’s Sun Song gets redone as a cross between a slide blues and a sitar piece (although it isn’t exactly either one); they follow that with Fiuczynski’s Horos Fuzitivos, a cryptic, energetic, microtonal take on current-day gypsy jazz fusion. A little later they slide into a spacious approximation of a tango, DeJohnette’s quiet rumble enhancing the otherworldly mood.

A minimalist, querulous mini-raga, Green Lament segues into the album’s most intense, memorable track, the aptly titled Apprehension. That one begins with warped washes of sound over tricky polyrhythms, stretches out with an anxious, sustained violin solo, muddles around and then winds down like a broken toy at the end. The album ends on an equally anxious, unresolved note with a dark solo guitar piece featuring samples of Fiuczynski’s dog. In a 25-plus year career distinguished by a distinctive, idiosyncratic style and prodigious chops that are equally at home in funk, metal, jazz and Middle Eastern music, most notably with his Moroccan-inspired Kif ensemble, this is the best thing Fiuczynski has ever done. No doubt there’ll more of it.

May 30, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment