Lucid Culture


A Fiery Gem From Pianist Chris McCarthy

No doubt pianist Chris McCarthy was hoping for better days when he put out his most recent album Still Time to Quit – streaming at Bandcamp – in the fall of 2020. Like so many other vinyl records from that horrible year, it didn’t get the attention it deserved and that’s too bad because this is a beast of an album. McCarthy is a hard-charging, intense, colorful player with a cynical sense of humor, a sophisticated and sometimes explosive tunesmith, and has assembled a brilliant band to interact with.

He opens with the brief, pummeling trio piece That’s All You Get, packed with crisply rapidfire McCoy Tyner-esque riffs over the scramble of bassist Sam Minaie and drummer Jongkuk Kim. The horns – trumpeter Takuya Kuroda and tenor saxophonist Michael Blake – punch in over uneasily circling, modally-charged piano in Ready Steady Here You Go, McCarthy’s phantasmagorical splashes triggering a rapidfire trumpet solo. From there, Blake leads the group through momentary, ominous lulls and victoriously bluesy trajectories.

They open Shockingly Effective with stairstepping, syncopated harmonies, McCarthy busting loose with careening quasi-ragtime around a sailing Blake solo, Kuroda playing good cop to the pianist’s fanged New Orleans spectre.

McCarthy blends lingering, gospel-flavored contentment and enigmatic, Debussyesque gleam over Kim’s judicious polyrhythms in Toasty, the horns adding hazy harmonies before diverging in a series of soulful, increasingly driving exchanges. Valedictorian Driver is an energetic, rhythmically shifting take on what would otherwise be a classic soul ballad from the 70s, McCarthy fueling an increasingly funky drive, Kuroda choosing his spots as Kim matches him flurry for flurry up to a lively horn duel out.

Wryly expectant horn riffs interchange with McCarthy’s persistently uneasy undercurrent in Happy Tired, Minaie’s spring-loaded solo triggering the album’s most warmly nocturnal piano interlude. The big epic here is The Nightmare, no surprise considering when the album came out. Dissociative flickers from the bass and Blake’s flute give way to spare, portentous resonance from McCarthy, sax and trumpet ratcheting in tandem in a Wadada Leo Smith vein. McCarthy’s regal cascades and Blake’s throaty lines evoke more muscular bustle than night terror.

The final cut is Bury Me in Times Square (Underneath the M&M Store), which sounds like a genuine nightmare. Is there such a place? Duckduckgo says it’s on Broadway. Over an implied clave, the group blend gospel, latin soul and a little New Orleans into cheery, glittery contentment but also agitation, heavier on the caffeine than the sugar.

McCarthy doesn’t have any gigs coming up, but Blake is playing a rare, auspicious chordless trio show tonight, March 16 at 7:30 PM at Smalls with Tony Scherr on bass and Allan Mednard on drums, and you know Scherr is going to dig in for this one. Smalls is back open with no restrictions; cover is $25 cash at the door. You might want to get there early.

March 16, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leif Arntzen’s Best Album – In Case You Haven’t Heard

Leif Arntzen’s latest abum Continuous Break takes a page out of the vintage Miles Davis book: throw the band a few riffs and have them create songs on the spot. That all this sounds as good as it does, and as thoroughly composed as it does, is credit both to the band’s chemistry and the hooks that Arntzen tossed into the brew. One of the most individualistic and consistently original trumpeters to emerge from the New York scene over the past 25 years or so, Arntzen may be best known for his his scarily evocative Chet Baker project, Channeling Chet, but he’s also an extremely eclectic, first-rate composer. Recorded live in the studio, this mix of purist, in-the-tradition renditions of standards and out-of-the-box originals is the best album Arntzen’s made to date, and a strong contender for best jazz album of 2013. Arntzen is joined here by regular band since 2010: guitarist Ryan Blotnick, keyboardist Landon Knoblock,  bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeff Davis. The whole thing is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Beautiful Mind starts as a tone poem and becomes a deviously mysterious, nebulously bluesy, atmospheric game of hide-and-seek, Blotnick’s resonance and bubbles eventually taking centerstage as the rhythm congeals into something of a funky shuffle. Then Arntzen comes in and takes it in a mid-60s Miles direction. Psykodelic Divide is a  bustling misterioso urban nocturne a la Taxi Driver, trumpet and Wurlitzer neon-lighting a bass groove.

The picturesque Pretending I’m a Bird works long, floating, dreamy passages gently ornamented by the bass and guitar. The best and most haunting track here might be Tired, inspired by a riff Arntzen picked up from his son Miles (drummer for Antibalas and leader of the similarly edgy Afrobeat jamband Emefe). Dark gospel trumpet rises over a haunting psychedelic rock groove over a killer Bates bassline, the band shifting in a pastoral direction before Arntzen goes machinegunning his way out. Likewise, Arntzen’s laser-surgical precision, rising over the bubbly Wurly on Vain  Insane, will give you goosebumps.

The first of the standards, My Ideal, juxtaposes Davis’ edgy brushwork against Arntzen’s trademark lyricism. The most animated and intricate number is The Call, replete with conversations, good cop/bad cop dynamics and a simmering tension as Bates holds the center. Street Dog sets a wryly blazing Blotnick slide solo over slinky funk as Bates references Albert King…and then Arntzen turns it into a beautiful ballad. Their closing take of Bye Bye Blackbird blends Blotnick’s resonantly enigmatic, judicious lines with Arntzen’s balminess, Bates once again holding it all together.

November 27, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment