Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Tuneful, Labyrinthine, Edgy New Album from the Danny Fox Trio

Danielle Spradley‘s cd cover illustration on the Danny Fox Trio‘s new album Wide Eyed is a woodcut in the style of Paul Klee. In the lower righthand corner, there’s a guy with an accordion – or is it a piano? – strapped to his back, facing a vortex. In some ways, Fox is a smart guy surrounded by idiots – but obviously not in his regular band, featuring bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman. They’re playing the album release show on May 9 at 8 PM at Subculture; cover is $15.

Much as there’s plenty of good jazz coming out of New York, the annoying affectations of indie rock have filtered into some of it. Spastic, burp-and-fart jazz has been around a long time, but there’s a Brooklyn clique who’ve taken it to new levels of awkwardness. Fox, who can conjure melody and meaning out of thin air, is a refreshing antidote to that. He has a distinctive, instantly recognizable voice on the piano, his shapeshifting, neoromantically-infused melodies with an almost ADD restlessness coupled with a wit that’s sometimes devious and sometimes gives way to exasperation and anger. The compositions here are more labyrinthine than those on Fox’s previous album, 2012′s cinematic The One Constant: it’s almost as if he decided to take everything in his tunebook and get it all in the can.

Although the idiom here is jazz, there’s an interweave of themes here that draws a straight line back to Beethoven and Haydn. The opening track, Sterling, is characteristic: impatient circular riffage gives way to rippling neoromantics and then a mathrock stroll that Fox finally leaves with an unexpectedly bluesy warmth, followed by a cleverly implied modal theme and then back to variations on the mathrock. That’s a lot to digest, but the band makes it look easy.

Bonkers circles around a rather petulant theme that Fox ends by enlisting his bandmates in a valiant attempt to make rhythmic sense of it. All Tolled takes a bell-like, Mompou-esque hook and builds to wry, sardonic, dynamically charged variations, bringing to mind the satire of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The catchy, scurrying Drone – maybe about a drone zeroing in on its target? – peaks out with a rippling, circular piano hook. The wounded but undeterred title track is the closest thing here to the moody elegance of Fox’s previous album, while Confederates brings back the sarcasm, from a judiciously spacious intro to an exuberant march that’s too exuberant by half.

Short Al in Brooklyn – a shout-out to a notorious WFAN caller – starts as laid-back summery groove that never really finds its center notwithstanding Fox’s jaunty phrasing. Could it be that Short Al is short something else maybe? Fox follows that with Patriot Daze, a contemplative neoromantic mood piece and then Punches, a rippling departure into water music fueled by Goldman’s wavelike cymbals, dancing bass and a couple of droll ascents on the piano. Funhouse Memory is a mini-suite, loopy phrasing making way for an unexpectedly otherworldly, outer-space interlude, Fox’s aggressive block chords hitting a bluesy groove and then more neoromanticisms. Tumble Quiet, which Goldman drives from moody, echoey spaciousness to a prowling, loopy vamp, ends suddenly and enigmatically, as Fox often does here. Endings can be messy and Fox isn’t afraid to hit them head-on. There’s a lot to sink your ears into here.

May 4, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gorgeously Tuneful Debut from Old Time Musketry

If you’ve been waiting patiently for the Best Jazz Albuns of 2012 page here, don’t worry, it’s coming. One of the reasons we wait til the end of the year is to catch gems like Old Time Musketry’s first album, Different Times: it’s this year’s best jazz debut by a country mile. Melodic contemporary sounds don’t get any more interesting, or downright catchy, than this.

The album ha a distinct northern New England flavor, no surprise considering that the group’s composers, multi-reedman Adam Schneit and multi-keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch grew up there. Each contributes a blend of warm and wintry, bucolic and often wistful themes interspersed with boisterous freely improvised interludes and a handful of jaunty romps. As the music blog Step Tempest was quick to observe, the obvious comparison is saxophonist Jeremy Udden’s Plainville (an album whose influence is vastly underrrated). There are echoes of Bill Frisell here as well. The group is propelled by the terse bass work of Phil Rowan and drummer Max Goldman, whose blend of New Orleans and Balkan rhythms is a breath of fresh air and adds welcome voltage to the slower material.

The opening track, Star Insignia, is akin to Udden doing the Velvets. Beginning as an accordion march and rising to a nocturnally pulsing overture, it’s the catchiest of the nine tracks. Playing alto sax, Schneit takes his time reaching from elegant legato to aching grit over Goldman’s hypnotically insistent cymbals, Schlegelmilch anchoring them with a stygian swirl. Parade sets an easygoing New Orleans piano shuffle under Schneit’s uneasy Udden-esque changes, Goldman reaching almost into tumbling vaudevillian territory in contrast to the gravitas of Rowan’s solo. The title track teases with a syncopated bounce bookending a free interlude highlighted by cleverly divergent tangents from Schlegelmilch’s piano and Schneit’s alto.

There’s a persisent if distant sadness to Cadets, another march, its autumnal Charles Ives colors possibly alluding to those kids’ ultimate destination, maybe: cannon fodder? The most stunning track here, Hope for Something More justaposes Schlegelmilch’s creepy piano lines – half Ran Blake, half Floyd Cramer – against Schneit’s morose clarinet, with keening funeral organ and echoey Omnichord building otherworldly ambience. Then they find the inner Serbian in Henry Cowell’s Anger Dance, improvising a march in the middle that’s as disquieting as it is nonchalant.

Highly Questionable reminds of the work of the great Macedonian accordionist Jordan Kostov, with its sudden shifts from bouncy to apprehensive and a nebulous, misterioso Schlegelmilch accordion solo. Likewise, Underwater Volcano mixes New Orleans and eastern European elements into a funky, echoey Rhodes piano tune. The album ends with the most Udden-influenced track here, Floating Vision, a slowly swaying ballad with hints of dub from multitracked keys.

Old Time Musketry play the album release show on Jan 27 at 8 PM at  the Firehouse Space, just around the corner from Pete’s at 246 Frost St. in Williamsburg.

December 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Danny Fox Trio Makes a Suspense Film for the Ears

Vivid, intense and often unselfconsciously dark, many of the compositions on the Danny Fox Trio’s latest album The One Constant follow a cinematic trajectory, frequently into very creepy territory. If pianist Fox ever gets tired of jazz, he has a career in film scores waiting to happen. He’s a hard hitter, yet very precise and also very rhythmic. Fond of nonstandard tempos (and jazz waltzes), he’ll frequently loop a riff and run melody over it, or variations on that riff. Bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman are essentially a supporting cast here, but Fox works their contributions in artfully, whether an off-center conversation between piano and drums on the moody, triplet-driven Sadbeard, or the cello-like bass owing on the waltz Even Tempered, a deadpan mashup of Bach Invention and Beethoven Moonlight Sonata that builds to a completely unexpected menace.

Fox also isn’t afraid to cut loose with a sarcastic sense of humor: one gets the impression that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The Icebox mocks electronic club music, from techno to trip-hop, at one point the whole group joining in a leaden thump on the beat. And then the club becomes a crime scene with another welcome digression into noir. Then there’s Drama King, somebody who’ll do just about anything for attention, whether hinting at an operatic buffoonery or hammering again and again on the same idea until it’s genuinely annoying (the punchline of the joke is too satisfying to give away here). And Bad Houseguest starts out funky before the visitor begins behaving badly – and gets shown the door with a bang.

But it’s the more serious tracks here that really pack a wallop. The opening cut, Next Chapter juxtaposes blithe loopiness with Satie-esque menace, while Easily Distracted, a syncopated, modal tango of sorts, very cleverly works in major-on-minor effects: it reminds of Michel Reis’ recent work. Trudge trudges heavily in waltz time, from an insistently macabre, Tschaikovskian slog, to a richly crescendoing, far more triumphant theme. Likewise, Fable’s End reaches for a cinematic, dynamically charged sweep, including a digression into a surprisingly salsa-flavored bass solo. And the stomp recurs with a vengeance on the methodically more apprehensive Room 120. There are also a couple of more lighthearted, funky, even danceable tunes along with the brooding, tense title track, another jazz waltz with some marvelously well-chosen echo effects from Fox. As tuneful as it is cerebral, the album makes a great introduction to a resolutely individualistic, powerful voice in third-stream jazz.

January 18, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment