Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Threeds’ Oboes Make You Laugh and Give You Chills Too

The idea of a band with three oboes and not much of anything else is pretty awesome in itself. Add an irrepressible sense of humor, a penchant for rearranging familiar tunes in unfamiliar ways, and three players with chops as soulful as they are technically impressive, and you get the Threeds oboe trio. Their new album Unraveled is pure joy – except when it’s bittersweet, or sad, or even haunting, as it is much of the time. Much as Kathy Halvorson, Mark Snyder and Katie Scheele have a great time rearranging Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bjork and others, this is as about as far from a joke record as you can get. Can you say cutting-edge with a smirk?

On the opening track, Joga, they find Bjork’s plaintive inner baroque soul. Their cover of Billie Jean has Pavel Vinnitsky’s bass clarinet playing the bassline perfectly deadpan and mechanical, with the trio in perfect alignment. In the beginning, the arrangement really nails the cold, heartless precision of the original; as it goes on, it’s impossible to escape the context, and becomes just plain hilarious, especially when two of the oboes do those staccato backing vocal lines. Best yet, you can download it for free. While the version of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition also has the bass clarinet playing the bassline, it swings, and so do the oboes – it’s blissfully funky. In a pretty stark contrast, Paranoid Android gives Radiohead’s crazy cyborg some real humanity – when it segues into a restless march, it’s one of the most unaffectedly intense moments on the album.

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat begins as a duo, with Scott Anderson on acoustic guitar and Halvorson playing Mingus’ sad, bitter lead lines. It’s a potent reminder that Mingus wrote the song as an elegy for Lester Young, the bass clarinet’s sustained lines underscoring Halvorson’s understatedly wounded, blues-infused phrasing. Light My Fire has drums, percussion, and tambourine along with bass clarinet – it works as well as it does because Manzarek nicked a Chopin riff for it! The spiraling bop oboe at the point where the organ solo kicks in is pretty hilarious, and absolutely spot-on. The most intriguingly complex arrangement here is the series of lushly intricate, shifting segments in the suspenseful, nocturnal Spanish Stairs.

Dospatsko Horo is the Balkans done as baroque – it doesn’t quite turn the party into a wake but it’s definitely a radical reinvention. Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark also gets a radical reinvention, in this case as riff-driven 21st century circular music.The other tracks include the classic tango El Choclo done as a brooding yet sprightly baroque round; Piazzolla’s Oblivion, a bolero-flavored pop ballad; Little Feat’s Roll Um Easy, which surprisingly hits a mellow early 70s Allman Brothers vibe, soaring oboes enhancing the blue-sky ambience. The only track here that’s not worth uploading is not the band’s fault. This works on so many levels – as party music, as a monster ipod mix and as sophisticated 21st century stuff. Look for this one on our best-of-2011 list at the end of the year.

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November 14, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Individual Takes on Gypsy Jazz

Why does pretty much everybody agree on gypsy jazz? Because you can hum it? Because it’s so infectiously energetic? Because in order to play it, you have to be really good, and for that reason gypsy jazz bands are generally excellent? All of the above? You decide.

And it’s not an ossified genre either – there are plenty of acts who are taking it to new and exciting places. Les Doigts De L’homme are one of them. What differentiates this four-piece French band from all the other Django Reinhardt descendents out there? Les Doigts De L’homme have three guitarists, and a bass player, which gives them extra sonic depth and an opportunity for richly interwoven melody. It’s not necessarily that their sound is more lush: their latest album, titled 1910 (referring to Django’s birth year) is brisk, jumpy, danceable stuff. But the contrast between bandleader/guitarist Olivier Kikteff’s hard-hitting, incisive attack versus co-lead guitarist Benoit Convert’s lightning-fast but more effortlessly fluid style is often viscerally breathtaking. Behind them, rhythm guitarist Yannick Alcocer and bassist Tanguy Blum lock these shuffles down tight.

And the tunes aren’t just your standard shuffles, either. There’s a couple of waltzes: a Kikteff original that imaginatively mixes blues and Djangoisms, and a bitter, biting take of the great accordionist Tony Murena’s Indifference, the longest and most intense number here. The rustic title track, another Kikteff original, has the guitarist working his way in slowly and methodically before the whole band scurries off with it. Their version of St. James Infirmary Blues shifts vividly from anguish to despair, Kikteff’s almost manic depressive lead followed by a plaintive solo by Convert. The long, expansive, amusingly titled Improsture #1 for solo guitar offsets the gently meandering ambience with Kikteff amped just short of distortion. And Reinhardt’s Bolero gets a stately, spacious intro, distantly glimmering guitars and a tersely brooding Stephane Chause clarinet solo.

There’s plenty of fun, upbeat Django material too, everything you’d want from a homage to the iconic guitarist: Appel Indirect, the musicians cleverly dropping out and then back in; Blue Lou, which gets a bright, dixieland-flavored treatment and a 100-mph cruise control solo from Convert; a gracefully snarling version of Minor Swing, as well as energetic, supertight covers of Feerie, Swing 48, Blue Skies, Old Man River, I’ve Found a New Baby and Russian Melody. As you would expect from this album, Les Doigts De L’homme are a great live band: of all the acts we saw at Montreal Jazz Festival and elsewhere during our Canada trip earlier this summer, these guys were the most exciting.

If you’re into gypsy jazz, another group that might interest you is Occidental Gypsy. You might know them from their jokey cover of Thriller. What jumps out immediately is how inspired their acoustic arrangement is – and what a bad joke the lyrics are. Rather than imitating Jacko’s stagy whisper, frontman Scott Kulman goes for a breathy faux-Chet Baker approach. Otherwise, vocal tunes are not this band’s strong suit, but you can pull an excellent playlist from the instrumentals on their new album Over Here. Veneto blends salsa piano with gypsy guitar jazz, while lead guitarist Brett Feldman’s Con Pasion spirals poignantly. Occidental Stomp swings a lot more than the title implies, with a bittersweet Django edge and some deliciously precise Echae Kang violin. There’s also interestingly gypsified bossa nova, a bracingly wistful waltz, and the aptly titled Panamanian Express.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment