Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Exciting NYC Debut by Bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder’s Latest Project

Last night bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder’s Lukas im Dorf quartet made their powerful, darkly tuneful New York debut at the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown. With a hard-hitting, frequently noir sensibility, they blend terse Steven Bernstein-esque cinematics with slinky latin rhythms and out-of-the-box improvisation and turn that into a style that you might not think would be unique but that this group makes indelibly their own. Kranzelbinder is the melodic and often rhythmic anchor of this project, holding the center, often tirelessly looping his motifs while tenor saxophonist Jure Pukl, trombonist Phil Yaeger and drummer Max Andrzejewski colored and warped the themes with verve and biting elegance. Anyone who might offhandedly dismiss European jazz should be tied to a bank of Marshall stacks and forced to listen to this group for twelve hours straight.

They manage to work a familiar formula – catchy hook followed by long, methodical solos that push the melodic boundaries, hard – to produce unexpected results. Except in the case that a piece is particularly dark, which at this concert it frequently was, and in that case they maintained a brooding focus.

Over a hypnotic bass notif, the night’s first song – from the band’s Very Live! album from last year – built to a bustling, distantly Mingus-esque intensity, Pukl’s fiery bop runs contrasting withi Yaeger’s more spacious, blues-infused solo. It brought to mind some of Tomasz Stanko’s more direct, melodic work from the 60s. Their second number juxtaposed intense horn harmonies and tightly resonant, pedaled bass chords against a woozy, swirly interlude lit up by a nimble, rather wry Andrzejewski solo, mainly on hardware and rims. The drummer also has a background in surf rock, which served him extremely well in this instance. At other times, his clattery, occasionally vaudevillian approach evoked Ches Smith in his most focused moments: what a pleasant surprise to discover a drummer so interesting and yet with such a viselike grip on the songs’ swing.

The best material came after a brief, airily bucolic interlude inspired by an Austrian big-sky theme of sorts, when they took it deep into the noir. Pukl built a blue-flame menace with his creepily modal solo in the tune that followed, while the best song of the night blended sustained Sex Mob minimalism with macabre cinematics evocative of Beninghove’s Hangmen. They encored with a tight, hypnotically Lynchian clave groove lit up by Pukl’s jaggedly spiraling tenor lines and a warmer, more terse Yaeger solo with a wry Gershwin quote: much as this music is in the here and now, you can also follow a straight line from this band all the way back to Mingus – or to Bernard Herrmann in places. Let’s hope they make it back to Manhattan sometime sooner than later.

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November 29, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

CD Review: Hot Club of Detroit – It’s About That Time

Why do people love gypsy jazz? Because it’s fun. Musicians get into this stuff A) because they can (it’s not easy to play) and B) because somewhere there’s always a gig waiting to happen. Club owners who know that gypsy jazz exists know that it keeps the crowd in the house. But what differentiates the Hot Club of Detroit from the legions of other talented players who’ve memorized every Django Reinhardt lick? This band pushes the envelope. What’s coolest about Hot Club of Detroit, and especially this new album is that what they do is just as jazz as it is gypsy. And they vary the mood a lot more than most of their compatriots – this isn’t all lickety-split toe-tappin’ music. You can hear it in the joyous reed riffage that kicks off the opening track, On the Steps; in the deviousness of the tempo shift halfway through their vigorous version of Mingus’ Nostalgia in Times Square (that they’d choose a Mingus song to cover pretty much says it all); and throughout reed player Carl Cafagna’s shuffle Restless Twilight. That one could be a Jimmy Smith song, substituting Paul Brady’s staccato acoustic rhythm guitar and Andrew Kratzat’s bass for the organ.

For Stephane, by lead guitarist Evan Perri, imagines a Grappelli line shifting between the instruments (and then Cafagna throws an absurdly hilarious quote in toward the end). The summery, expansive Papillon, by accordionist Julien Labro gives Kratzat one of several opportunities to darken the mood with a stark, bowed solo. And they put their own stamp on the classics here: Django’s Duke and Dukie (those were his cats) swings with a visceral recklessness; an aptly brooding cover of the famous Chopin E Major Etude vividly contrasts spiky acoustic guitar with pensive clarinet. There’s plenty to enjoy for purist fans of Reinhardt and Grappelli, but the real joy in this album is when the band takes it to unexpected places. It’s just out on Mack Avenue.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble – Eternal Interlude

These big-band arrangements of mostly earlier commissions – never before recorded – make the perfect vehicle for drummer/composer John Hollenbeck‘s big ideas.  Hollenbeck is one of the most successful composers to bridge the gap between jazz and new music. This new album, just out on Sunnyside, is the rousing result of that refusal to be pigeonholed. Hollenbeck’s hooks are direct and energetic: he’s got a way with a memorable tune and a fondness for even bigger, comfortable, lushly orchestrated arrangements. Dynamics are everything here – the twenty-piece ensemble will move from a big, blazing chart to skeletal tenor and piano, or bass and drums, in seconds flat and then slowly bring it back up again. The quieter passages here have a cinematic feel evocative of Elvis Costello’s collaborations with Richard Harvey; the more bustling ones evoke Mingus, or Monk, notably on the opening track, Foreign One (a pun and a loving reinvention of Monk’s Four in One), bulking up its catchy descending hook with a muscular chart capped with bright back-to-back tenor solos.

Tension builds on the mostly ambient, almost twenty-minute title track, the brass developing a slow, stately crescendo out of an effectively mysterious Gary Versace piano intro. A circular, somewhat hypnotic hook gets a slow, steady workout before it falls apart into a hazy flutter of call-and-response horns strangely evocative of Pink Floyd’s Atomheart Mother Suite. Another rise and a fall and then they’re out. Many of these patterns recur in the following track, Guarana, moving from atmospheric tone poem to a chase sequence to fluttery chaos, trombone serving as the voice of reason who will eventually prevail. The aptly titled The Cloud is a clinic in swells and ebbs.

The standout track here is also aptly titled, almost eighteen delicious minutes of Perseverance. This time the ensemble gives a funk-inflected melody a full-orchestra workout that eventually winds its way down to just the sax, the rest of the horns taking brief, crazed cameos against the stark ambience before Hollenbeck turns the mood darker with some solo tom-tom work. It builds to a fullscale stampede, its ferocious pummel an almost shocking contrast with the rest of the album. When they take it down and then bring it back, it becomes a reverse image, a happy Sunday sprint through a poppy field. The cd closes with on a hushed note with a brief, still tableau. This is one of those albums where repeated listening reveals something new and interesting every time. The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble play a marathon cd release show for this one on Nov 30 at 8 PM at le Poisson Rouge: first, violinist Todd Reynolds plays music from Hollenbeck’s recent Rainbow Jimmies cd, followed by Hollenbeck and Theo Bleckmann’s Future Quest group – Hollenbeck, Bleckmann, Gary Versace, Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby – playing Meredith Monk, and then the Large Ensemble.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jeff “Tain” Watts 4 + 1 at the Jazz Standard, NYC 6/30/09

Longtime Marsalis brothers associate Jeff “Tain” Watts’ stand with his 4+1 group featuring Nicholas Payton on trumpet continues through this coming July 3 at the Jazz Standard. The fabled drummer – some would say the heir to Elvin Jones’ throne – is playing bandleader this time around, which other than the compositions doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Watts pretty much runs the show whether it’s his group or not, and this was a characteristically intense night: what took it to the next level is that he got to do his own stuff, which is uniformly excellent. As fiery a composer as he is a player, he’s never shied away from controversy or apt social commentary. The high point of this set was The Devil’s Ringtone, Watts’ update on the Mingus classic Fables of Faubus (named after notorious segregationist Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus) transformed into a commentary on the Bush regime’s failure with (or deliberate neglect of) what happened in New Orleans. The band left off the conversation between a certain Mr.  W and “Devlin” that’s on the landmark Watts cd but the sarcastic second line march that ended it was every bit as biting. On the way there, pianist Lawrence Fields and bassist Chris Smith built murky ambience over a crime movie motif for some blazing work from tenor saxist Marcus Strickland and trumpeter Payton, flying over Watts’ booming crescendoing apprehension – cymbals to this guy are more or less the icing on the cake. It’s hard to think of another drummer (Rudy Royston, maybe) who gets the boom going as powerfully and propulsively as Watts.

The requiem theme was recurrent. Katrina James mourned both the loss of James Brown and New Orleans, beginning as eerie chromatic funk, Strickland bringing in the rage with an offhandedly vicious swipe at the end of a Payton solo, Fields’ persistently chordal attack against a Watts solo growing hypnotic against the impatient, anguished flail of the drums. The soulful, bluesy swing of A Wreath for John T. Smith – an especially poignant new number – gave Strickland and Fields the opportunity to contribute vividly bitter remorse in memory of a fellow Berklee student and drummer of Watts’ acquaintance who died young.

Watts is especially adept with latin beats, moving in and out of them, starting the first song of the set, Mr. JJ (a tribute to his dead canine friend) with a salsa feel that Fields eventually came around to. Mr. JJ must have been one crazy dog, considering how much everything had been chewed up by the time the group scampered off on the final chorus, Smith getting quite the workout climbing scales for the better part of ten frenetic minutes. The whole show only reinforced the relevance, fearless intensity and emotional depth of both Watts’ writing and his playing, and the new levels to which a first-class drummer can elevate a talented ensemble. You have several chances to see this crew through Friday, after which Watts is off to Europe again.

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment