Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Turkish Woodstock

As concerts in New York go, this was something of a landmark, representing both the vanguard and the old guard of cutting-edge Turkish music, something that according to people involved with the project would have been far less likely to have taken place on Turkish soil. Istanbulive AKA the Turkish Woodstock was a quick sellout (or the equivalent – the Summerstage arena was filled to capacity minutes after the opening act, the NY Gypsy All-Stars took the stage). This time around, acclaimed Turkish clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici stood in for the mostly instrumental group’s usual reed man Ismail Lumanovski, taking the music in a surprisingly but effectively murky, pensive direction. In Turkey, the clarinet carries the same connotation as the sax does here, frequently the instrument of choice for bandleaders and for party music in general. Where Lumanovski is a ferociously intense player, someone who typically goes straight for the jugular, Senlendirici took a characteristically more spacious and contemplative approach, an apt fit for several of the ballads in the set. With a rhythm section including electronic keyboards along with guitar and kanun, they alternated between tricky, rousing dances and quieter fare, some simply instrumental versions of Turkish pop hits which became mass karaoke for the high-spirited audience. One of them sounded like the old Burt Bacharach standard Never Gonna Fall in Love Again set to a more complex rhythm. Their best number featured a guest chanteuse doing a wistful, homesick Armenian folk song backed by just keys and clarinet.

The unannounced Brooklyn Funk Essentials followed with a brief, entertaining mini-set with Senlendirici out front (their 1998 album with him is a major moment in American/Middle Eastern fusion), working a dark reggaeish vibe on the first tune, following with a straight-up funk number that lept doublespeed into ska. They then did a funny ska version of the Mozart Rondo a la Turk, and were out of there – a quick rehearsal for their show later at City Winery maybe?

Painted on Water maintained the cutting-edge vibe, delivering the afternoon’s most electrifying moments. Frontwoman Sertab Erener is a star in her home country, and this mostly English-language project – her vocals and accent are flawless – ought to expand her audience exponentially. Kicking off the set with a long, passionate, intense vocalese intro, it was clear that she had come to conquer. Like Siouxsie Sioux without the microtones, she showed off a forceful, defiant wail that on the next-to-last song of the set she unleashed with unrestrained fury, a stunning crescendo that seemed to defy the laws of physics. That such a relatively small, lithe frame could cut loose such a powerful blast of sound was a wonder to behold. Then she did it again.

They built up to that with an intriguingly cross-pollinated blend of tastefully jazzy, guitar-driven, blues and Turkish-inflected rock songs. Guitarist Demir Demirkan came across as something of a warmer Andy Summers, casually tossing off artfully precise flourishes in a multitude of styles, sticking with a clean, trebly tone. The anthemic 1000 Faced Man, from the group’s brand-new debut cd packed a funereal, Doorsy wallop, courtesy of some totally Manzarek-esque organ from the keyboardist. On the next number Demirkan matched Erener note for note, his lines thick with vibrato and apprehension, as she went off with more vocalese. The catchy, swaying, syncopated Shut up and Dance brought back the psychedelic vibe with another long, haunting organ solo. On one of the tables in the seating area to the right of the stage, a little girl methodically built an impressive pyramid out of the plastic wine goblets they were using back there, which stood resolute until blown over by a gust of wind. It made a good visual counterpart to the steadfastly wary, purist intensity of Demirkan’s playing.

Legendary Turkish rockers Mazhar Fuat Ozkan turned the vibe back to haunting, at least for awhile. Because of their three-part harmonies, the comparison they always get is CSNY and that’s completely wrong because they’re far darker – their closest western counterpart would probably be early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, or perhaps Barclay James Harvest before they turned into the poor man’s Moody Blues, with more than a few echoes of Pink Floyd. Their mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems mixed lush, sometimes elegaic layers of guitar over stately descending progressions that owe more to western classical music than to either rock or traditional Turkish melodies, and these were potently effective. As with many of their contemporaries who date back to the early 70s, their attempts to incorporate slicker, funkier, more commercial sounds were less successful (artistically, at least, though the crowd loved them), taking on a derivative feel that the lead player’s metalish guitar licks only aggravated. As Kerouac said, first thought, best thought – stick to what you do best and you can’t go wrong.

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June 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Zlatne Uste and Raya Brass Band at Drom, NYC 6/13/09

Big party at Dracula’s castle last night, were you there? Alone in a darkened room, The Count? Not exactly. While not quite the mobscene that the NY Gypsy Festival’s show at le Poisson Rouge was last month, the big Balkan brass band concert last night was well-attended and deliriously fun. It was something of a juxtaposition of the old guard and the young lions of the thriving but still largely under-the-radar New York Balkan underground. The dancing started before the bands did, the dj spinning an auspiciously diverse, pan-global mix of Mehanata-style stuff while a line formed and circled the room, growing longer by the minute. Then Zlatne Uste took the stage. The nine-piece Balkan brass juggernaut – four horns, trumpet, tuba, drum and two saxes – were the first of the New York Balkan brass bands, dating from way back in 1983. Their name means “golden lips,” definitely a boast, but they back it up. “Most of us are older than you are,” their trumpeter somewhat proudly told the crowd. A guy in the crowd kept yelling for them to play his favorite song, the Goran Bregovic hit Kalasjnikov. “Not now!” a fellow partyer grinningly advised. “They always do that later.”

They opened with their darkest number of the night, basically a murky two-chord chromatic dance vamp and then another that was even simpler, serving as a chassis for some darkly intense soloing from the trumpet and sax. Most of the songs were instrumentals, although several band members sang on the vocal numbers, sometimes sharing a line or trading off.  A few were marked by a noticeable shift, opening somewhat wary, the staccato pulse of the horns then growing bouncier and more carefree. As their long, exuberant set went on, the sea of dancers grew, through a bouncy, happy number in 4/4, a bracingly soulful cocek dance and several with far trickier, syncopated rhythms that didn’t phase the dancers a bit. One of the guys in the band sang a drinking song (rakia, the potent Balkan apple brandy featured prominently). The crowd – a diverse mix of expats and Americans – was clearly psyched to hear what were obviously some old favorites. As predicted, they finally did Kalasjnikov, a lickety-split vocal number, one of the horn players leading the crowd in an exuberant “one, two, three, OPA!” to wind up the chorus.

After a lengthy break, Raya Brass Band came out of the back room and secured a spot on the floor, quickly encircled by not one but two lines of dancers. There’s been a buzz about this band lately and it’s well-deserved. Where Zlatne Uste got the party going, these guys took it up a notch. Their sound is looser, far darker and they threaten to fly off the hinges at any second: this band is all about adrenaline, taking the intensity as high as it can go and then adding something on top of that. Clarinetist and sax player Greg Squared – also of the equally intense, somewhat more diverse Ansambl Mastika – is a pyrotechnic player in the Ivo Papasov mold, delivering an endless series of long, careening, wildly flurrying clarinet solos packed with lightning-fast melismas. On the sax, he backed off only a little. Yet it was his achingly terse, minimalist clarinet solo toward the end of the set that was the most intense of all. Trumpeter Ben Syversen is a kindred spirit, blazing through the songs’ eerie Middle Eastern scales while accordionist Matthew Fass (also of Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar) held things together as much as he could, ominously and atmospherically. Sometimes the band would all blast through the same repetitive riff as an ensemble, otherwise barrelling along with the fat, undulating groove of the tuba and drum as trumpet, sax or clarinet cut loose, the songs going on for minutes on end without respite. Eventually, two of the women from the Brooklyn Balkan a-capella quartet Black Sea Hotel (who have a sensationally good debut album just out) joined in and belted a few choruses

By 2 AM, the drunk munchies were kicking in, and the kitchen was still serving food. By the way, these NY Gypsy Festival events are a surefire way to get away from tourists and trendoids. Tourists, if they knew this stuff existed, would think it’s weird and scary (a lot of it is); trendoids, if they knew anything about it, would ridicule it as declasse. There’s nothing more populist than when the band is on the dancefloor and either you’re in the band or you’re unable to escape being drawn into the joyous vortex of dancers around them.

Raya Brass Band is at Mehanata on 6/25 at 9; the 6/27 Turkish Woodstock at Central Park Summerstage at 3 featuring Mazhar-Fuat-Özkan, Painted on Water with Sertab Erener & Demir Demirkan plus the NY Gypsy All-Stars with iconic clarinetist Hüsnü Senlendirici is not to be missed, and afterward the organizers have kept things going with an afterparty at City Winery, Senlendirici playing with the Brooklyn Funk Essentials and more from the Gypsy All-Stars. Is this turning out to be a good summer or what?

June 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment