Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Robin Hoffman’s Timeless Images Capture New York’s Oldtime Music Scene

It’s funny how even though millions of bloggers and youtubers have documented live music over the past several years, there hasn’t been one particular photographer with a signature vision to emerge like Henry Diltz in the late 60s/early 70s, or Bob Gruen during the punk era. However, this era is fortunate to have Robin Hoffman, whose new coffee table book Live From the Audience: A Year of Drawing at the Jalopy Theatre vividly captures much of the magical demimonde of New York’s oldtimey and Americana music scenes. Interestingly, Hoffman is not a photographer but a painter, with a singular and instantly identifiable vision. She has an amazing eye for expressions: in a few deft strokes, she portrays banjo player Eli Smith in a characteristically sardonic moment, with a sly jack o’lantern off to the side of the stage. Her perfectly rendered portrait of Mamie Minch brings out every inch of the oldtimey siren’s torchy bluesiness, leaning back with her resonator guitar as she belts out a classic (or one of her originals that sounds like one).

Hoffman is a former ballet dancer and maybe for that reason she also has a finely honed sense of movement. A lot of these performers play sitting down and consequently don’t move around much. One particularly poignant painting shows the late Brooklyn bluesman Bob Guida jovial and comfortably nestled yet full of energy, seated with his hollow-body electric. The single most striking image here marvelously depicts the Jalopy’s Geoff and Lynette Wiley, Lynette behind the bar, warm and beaming triumphantly from the rush of a good crowd and a good show, bushy-bearded Geoff to the side up front, attentive as always, the audience ecstatically lit up in silhouette in the front of the house. Other artists vividly captured in the Jalopy’s magically wood-toned ambience include Ernie Vega, Feral Foster (being particularly Feral), the Maybelles, the Ukuladies and les Chauds Lapins.

These paintings induce synesthesia – you can literally hear the ring and the twang of the voices and the music. Hoffman has also included several equally captivating sketches and sketch collages, in the same vein as the ones she periodically posts on her excellent blog. It’s a wonderful portrayal of one of New York’s most vital music scenes, one frequently overlooked by the corporate media and the blogosphere. It’s also a valuable piece of history – although few of the artists here will ever be famous, the music they make deserves to be. The book is available online, but as Hoffman says, “It’s a lot more fun and a little bit cheaper to get one at Jalopy.”

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July 11, 2010 Posted by | blues music, country music, Literature, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Make Music NY 2010

Constructive suggestion to artists who play Make Music NY or set up all-day events on the 21st: be aware of your spot’s sonic limitations. Don’t settle for just an ordinary busking location when this is the one day of the year that you have pretty much your choice of every desirable location in the entire city. Case in point: sure, there’s a lot of foot traffic under the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo, but the trains crossing every thirty seconds or so render you absolutely inaudible – even if you’re the Bad Brains. The Threefifty Duo were there, outside the Dumbo Arts Center. Lovely stuff, fascinating interplay, a group you should see if acoustic guitar is your thing. But it was impossible to hear them except when there weren’t any trains overhead. An act this good deserves to be heard.

Balthrop, Alabama didn’t have any trouble being heard. A lot of acts were listed at the cube at Astor Place. Fortuituously, Joe’s Pub finagled the entire Astor Place block between Broadway and Lafayette and that’s where the band was along with their gas generator. The generator did double duty as power plant and extremely useful noise cancellation machine, drowning out the alarms of the buses ending their route a block away past the K-Mart. And the band was great. A lot of rock bands make great albums – Balthrop, Alabama’s deliciously macabre Subway Songs cd from last year is a genuine classic – but too few of them can replicate that kind of magic live. These guys did, and under a blistering sun (the poor drummer’s back was to the sun throughout their 45-minute set), no small achievement. They mine the same smart, retro 60s psychedelic pop territory as McGinty and White or the New Pornographers, but have the added advantage of being just as adept at 60s countrypolitan songs (think Patsy Cline with a good live band). That they have a baritone sax in the band gives them instant cred; add a soaring rhythm section, horns, sprightly electric keys, guitars, an artist drawing pictures of the crowd and the surroundings, and a frontman who does a more stagy, somewhat lower register take on what Phil Ochs was doing circa 1968, and you get the picture. They opened with the gypsy-rock smash Subway Horns, from that album, ran through a bunch of period-perfect songs from their Cowboy Songs album (simultaneously released with it) and closed with a casually plaintive, Beatlesque pop song that could easily have been a big hit for ELO in the late 70s or early 80s. Choruses mutated into strange and pleasantly unexpected passages, song structures shifted counterintuitively, and the lead guitar was terrific, in a Bakersfield, 1968 kind of way. And in the short time since 2009, frontman Pascal Balthrop has grown even better as a singer. When he cut loose with the line “What the fuck” in whitewashed yuppie puppie global warming era Bloomberg East Village New York hell, 2010, those three words made the entire trip over to the east side worthwhile.

Brooklyn’s reliably haunting, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel were next on the bill here, followed by the intriguing Pearl & the Beard, but we had ulterior motives. Namely, to find a place to lie down (our prime mover tweaked his back, badly – six hours playing outdoors over the weekend in the deathly heat on hard concrete, not moving around a lot, will do that to you), so the next stop was Dumbo. We don’t like rules around here, but we have a few of them for MMNY, one of them being that we have to limit ourselves to one single artist that we’ve seen before. After all, MMNY is all about discovering new and exciting stuff. So we went looking for Gamelan Son of Lion at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Funny how things repeat themselves – two years ago to the day, we went looking for New York’s own wonderful gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara, and found them. No such luck with these folks. If the late afternoon sun was simply too much and they decided against it, no disrespect to them. It was a miserable day, even by the water.

But in the process of trying to find out where in the hell Pier Nine in Brooklyn Bridge Park is, we discovered House of Waters. When three minutes of a band is enough to tell you that you want to hear an hour or more of them, you know they’re onto something good. Their frontman plays the hammered dulcimer like a Middle Eastern kanun, fast, furious and incisive, and the killer rhythm section behind him feeds off that energy. Add them to the list of bands we want to see again. Ditto Copal, whose lusciously hypnotic, Middle Eastern-tinged string-band instrumentals made any plan B an afterthought, drawing us to the steps of Galapagos from blocks away. Their bass player set a record for discipline: he’d hang patiently in the same key, keeping the groove pulsing along for minutes at a clip, once in awhile going up an octave and swooping down when the moment called for it. Their violinist started several songs with taqsims (improvisations), joined by their cellist (whose soulful washes are more responsible for this band’s mesmerizing vibe than anything else) on one later number. Their drummer played slinky, devious trip-hop beats with his brushes, joined by an ecstatic dumbek (goblet drum) player. The Middle Eastern vibe was sometimes matched by a dark Brazilian forro feel; at the end of their last number, they finally took it into overdrive and wailed, hard, on the outro.

By now it was six PM. Another thing you need to know about the MMNY schedule is that set times are just as fluid as locations. According to the master calendar, from which we quoted liberally here (sorry, folks), Jan Bell’s marvelous oldschool country band the Maybelles were scheduled to play at 68 Jay St. Bar. But they weren’t playing til 7:30, which was the scheduled start time for our one indulgence of the evening, LJ Murphy. So it was time to get over to Greenpoint (F to the G, crossing over to the other side after a detour to Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Ave. – best pitas in town) It was strange seeing the noir rocker in daylight outside the Brooklyn Reformed Church on Milton St., moreso without a mic, even moreso considering that he was competing with a generic white blues band barely a block and a half away – and a bus stop as well. Still, the debonair, black-suited songwriter was characteristically fun, contemplating the adjacent 1850 building, running through a solo acoustic set of hits as well as newer songs: the poignant disappearing-weekend scenario Saturday’s Down, the surreal, raucous 1930s vaudeville-house tableau Buffalo Red, the brutally depressed post-pickup scenario This Is Nothing Like Bliss and a bonafide classic, the mauvaise foi cautionary tale Geneva Conventional, a warning to anyone who “stood pat while their world was shaking.” Murphy was clearly impressed with some of the other acts on the bill, and while his imprimatur is worth a lot, a dorsal area that was edging closer and closer to David Wells territory (and which required Wells-like exercises – we looked online for some video but mystifyingly couldn’t find any) meant that it was time to head out – even though Cassis & the Sympathies, another band on our list – were playing Battery Park.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2010

Nice to see the organizers of New York’s version of La Fete de la Musique get their own site going this year. We went through it and cherrypicked the best shows we could find, just for you, if you’re feeling up for a little wandering around town during lunch, or after work – or if you’re one of the legions of the unemployed here, why not make a day out of it? As far as we can tell (last year’s master calendar only listed a fraction of the day’s actual performances), these are your best bets for all the free shows happening Monday, June 21. Note that many ambitious acts offer you more than one chance to see them. As far as locations are concerned, Monday’s best lineup is at the cube at Astor Place starting at a quarter to one with the Xylopholks, Electric Junkyard Gamelan at 1:45, Balthrop Alabama at 3:30, Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then Pearl and the Beard at 5:15. Also worth checking out later: the country/blues night at 68 Jay St. Bar, the all-day funk extravaganza at Rose Bar and the reggae night at SOB’s. Fortuitously, you can also go to the Punk Island show and not miss a thing because that’s on Sunday starting at 10 AM (early arrival advised) and going til five with DOA, Blanks 77, Hub City Stompers and all kinds of other excellent bands.

At noon fun and innovative latin soul/bugalu revivalists Spanglish Fly plays outside Rose Bar; at 6 they’re at the park at 2nd Ave. and E 10th St.

At noon French reggae/dub crew Dub. Inc. play City Winery; at 8 they’re at SOB’s

At noon powerpop guitar god Pete Galub plays Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

At noon jazz chanteuse Carolyn Leonhart and her bass player dad Jay Leonhart play the eco-houseware store at 432 Myrtle Ave. in Ft. Greene; at 1:30 they move to 350 Myrtle.

At half past noon five-string Celtic fiddler Cady Finlayson and guitarist Vita Tanga play Irish music at 40 Wall St.; they move to the NYPL branch at 112 E 96th St. at 3 PM

Starting at 1 PM avant garde composer Iannis Xenakis’ trancey, intense percussion piece Oresteia will be performed at the Swedish Marionette Cottage Theatre in Central Park, enter on the west side at 79th St and follow the signs (or the noise). His Persephassa will be performed at the lake in Central Park (enter on the west side, 72nd St.) at 3:30 and 5:30

12:45 PM furry-suited vibraphone ragtime swing outfit the Xylopholks play the cube at Astor Place.

1 PM the Famous Accordion Orchestra play Brooklyn Bridge Park, Plymouth and Main St. in Dumbo – note that this is a state park so be careful if you’re drinking alcohol.

1:45 PM Electric Junkyard Gamelan – who played one of the most amazing shows we’ve seen all year – at the cube at Astor Place.

2 PM popular synth-pop dance duo Hank and Cupcakes play at the Loving Cup Cafe, 93 N 6th St. in Williamsburg; they seem to be doublebooked with funk mob Turkuaz, who are also playing outside Rose Bar on Grand St. at 6.

2 PM Mission on Mars plays psychedelic acoustic raga/rock/jazz hybrid stuff at the great hill in Central Park, enter on the west side at 103rd St.

2 PM Sukari play reggae and ska at Hunts Point Park, Lafayette Ave. and Edgewater Road in the Bronx

3 PM torchy, no-nonsense jazz/pop pianist Jeanne Marie Boes plays at Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria; at 6 PM she’s at Brick Cafe at 30-95 33rd St. in Astoria.

3 PM literate, Springsteen-ish blue collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer plays Battery Park

3:30 PM Balthrop, Alabama plays at the cube at Astor Place followed by the wonderful, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then bracingly smart cello rockers Pearl & the Beard at 5:15

4 PM klezmer jazz crew Talat at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

4 PM Benny and the Ben-Ja-Min Band play reggae and ska at Beach 21st St. and the boardwalk in Far Rockaway; at 7 PM, they move to the Bushwick Project for the Arts, 304 Meserole St.

4 PM Chink Floyd at Tompkins Square Park – gotta love that name

4 PM violinist Karen Lee Larson and jam-oriented friends are at Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

4:30 PM Gamelan Son of Lion plays Pier One at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Columbia Heights and Cranberry St. in Dumbo

5 PM the Hsu-Nami play ferocious, Asian-tinged metal/art-rock instrumentals with guitars and a Chinese erhu fiddle at the Peach Frog Companies (?), 136 N 10th St. in Williamsburg

6 PM tuneful, smart avant garde cellist/songwriter Jody Redhage & Fire in July at the Dumbo Arts Center, 30 Washington St. in Dumbo

7 PM the Voxare String Quartet at Bargemusic in Dumbo, program TBA

7 PM blazing, dark Balkan dance music from across the centuries with Raya Brass Band at Bubby’s at 1 Main St. in Dumbo

7 PM the satirical, playful, ageless Remy de Laroque plays Roosevelt Park in Chinatown, Houston and Christie.

7 PM artsy, clever accordion pop with Cassis & the Sympathies at Battery Park, moving to the Fulton Ferry Landing in Dumbo at 9

7 PM oldschool Brooklyn rock vet John Hovorka and his band at McGoldrick Park, Driggs Ave and Russell St. in Greenpoint

7 PM Num & Nu Afrika Project play roots reggae at Drastadub Studio, 58 W. 127th St.

7 PM the Old Rugged Sauce play deviously virtuosic guitar jazz standards at Mousey Brown Salon, 732 Lorimer St. in Williamsburg

7 PM punkish rockers Diabolique play Barretto Point Park, Tiffany St. and Viele Ave. in the Bronx – we saw them a couple of years ago and thought that by now they’d be even more interesting.

7:30 PM scathingly literate noir rocker LJ Murphy (completely mischaracterized on the MMNY site as “folk”) at 136 Milton St. in Greenpoint

7:30 PM Jan Bell’s soaring, haunting Americana band the Maybelles at 68 Jay St. Bar followed at 8:15 PM by hypnotic Mississippi hill country blues guitar genius Will Scott

7:30 PM Hungry March Band play Balkan brass music at Jackson Square, Horatio St. and 8th Ave. in the west village

8 PM lyrically dazzling, fiery art-rock band Changing Modes play Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria

8 PM the phantasmagorical Carol Lipnik & Spookarama play the community garden at 346 E Houston between B and C

June 15, 2010 Posted by | blues music, classical music, concert, funk music, irish music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment