Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Out Now: A Killer Live Show at the Stone by Tzar Featuring Paula Henderson

Moist Paula Henderson (whose nickname stems from her longtime leadership of legendary instrumental trio Moisturizer) has been the standout baritone saxophonist in the New York downtown scene for several years. Her own work has an irrepressible joie de vivre and wry humor; her new album with her latest project, Tzar, recorded live at the Stone this past February takes a turn in a considerably different, much darker direction. Here she’s joined by Ithaca, New York musicians Brian “Willie B” Wilson on drums, electronics and bass pedals (who really gets a workout, playing everything  simultaneously, it seems) and Michael Stark on keyboards. Their intriguing multi-segmented pieces blend elements of trip-hop, downtempo, noise and the edgy jazz that Henderson has pursued more deeply in recent years. It’s a deliciously mysterious, eclectic ride. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

The first track, There’s a Prayer for That opens with a raw, bitter piano theme and variations against rumbling drums, Henderson’s stark, biting swirls enhancing the smoky ambience. Funereal organ then replaces the piano and the piece morphs into creepy trip-hop. Begin At Sunset maintains the vibe, sax mingling suspensefully with layers of uneasy synth and squiggly eleectronic EFX, then takes an unexpected turn into dub reggae. The most improvisational-sounding number is Ambient Subtraction, Henderson’s otherworldly, harmonically tingling polytonalities blending into a morass of textures as the storm builds to an ominously insectile rumble. By contrast, the cheery go-go theme Hibachi Sushi Dance sounds like a Moisturizer outtake, but even more minimalist. The album winds up with Knuckles & Milk, juxtaposing surreallistic, mechanical menace a la Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine with noisy, paint-peeling synth squalls over a martial beat, Henderson raising the tension with a marvelously terse, chromatically-charged interlude before turning it over to Wilson. Play this one with the lights out. Recommended equally for fans of jazz, psychedelia and dark rock.

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May 19, 2013 Posted by | experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reptet: The Future of Jazz?

Along with New York’s Moon Hooch, Chicago’s Herculaneum and Los Angeles ensemble Slumgum, Seattle band Reptet are at the forefront of fearless, aggressive, punk-inspired jazz. Their album At the Cabin came out last year; these self-described “horn-heavy tone bandits, injecting jazz with adrenaline and bringing it to the streets” blend influences from all over the map with a good-natured sense of humor. The whole album as well as their equally interesting previous releases are streaming at their Bandcamp. Although their instrumentation is fairly traditional, they’re more about creating a new, high-energy sound than drawing on past influences or styles. Funky hooks alternate with woozy collective improvisation, hard-hitting rhythms shift to quiet ambience, and the melodies reach far afield from the basic blues to Ethiopia, the Balkans and the baroque.

The brightly shuffling, rhythmically tricky Mayfield Safety kicks off the album. It’s a diptych with neatly arranged crescendos changing hands, from Izaak Mills’ tenor sax, to Chris Credit’s baritone sax, to Samantha Boshnack’s trumpet delivering the big payoff. The second part is considerably quieter, the trumpet’s microtonal quavers shifting to the unexpected warmth of Credit’s alto sax. Snow Leopard sends big, exuberant horn charts riding the waves from clave, to funk, to an Ethiopian triplet groove and some potent contrasts between the trumpet and Nelson Bell’s trombone working tightly with guest Mark Oi’s guitar. From there they segue into the casual, carefree intro to Milky Shakes, which turns droll and comedic in a catchy Moisturizer way, with a surprise ending.

Something Like What turns slinky soul-funk into Ethiopiques, packed with light/dark contrasts, nimble handoffs between voices and some especially choice, incisive clarinet work from Credit on klezmer-tinged clarinet. Mock Arena is an exuberantly successful clinic in full-band counterpoint and clever two-versus-two horn charts, while the bubbly Songitty Song plays variations on a latin mode. Silly outerspace efx contrast with soul/gospel joy in the practically ten-minute Agendacide, with solo euphonium kicking off a spacy jam that builds to a triumphant George Clinton-esque finish. The band’s sense of humor takes over completely on the last two tracks, the crazed, vividly breathless, jazzcore Trash Can Race, where laughter eventually overwhelms any sense of coherence, and the bouncy, sly faux-Balkan tune Pills, which they keep meticulously tight until those pills start to really kick in and at that point the same thing happens but much, much more slowly. What a great time to be alive and watch bands like Reptet creating the future of jazz in such a cutting-edge yet accessible way.

February 24, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samuel Blaser Pushes the Envelope, As Usual

Jazz trombonist Samuel Blaser has been on a creative tear lately. His absolutely gorgeous third-stream Consort in Motion album with the late, great Paul Motian on drums plus Russ Lossing on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass was one of those records which should have been on our best-of-2011 list but got cut since it had already received so much good press elsewhere. If the idea of otherworldly jazz improvisations on vivid Renaissance themes by Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Marini strikes you as intriguing, the album is that and much more, minutes of exquisite beauty matched by Lossing’s sepulchral, austerely glimmering, sometimes chillingly apprehensive piano and Motian’s suspenseful clouds of cymbals alongside Blaser’s purist melodicism and occasional good humor.

Blaser also has two other albums out which sound absolutely nothing like that. The first, issued last September (and also available on limited edition vinyl!), is Just Observing, credited to “three-piece brass band” La Fanfare du Porc, an irrepressibly comedic, often wickedly catchy live set on the Moisturizer or Ilhan Ersahin tip with Blaser alongside bass clarinetist Lucien Dubuis and drummer Luigi Galati. Blaser isn’t afraid to go for laughs, and neither is Dubuis, spiraling and skronking over a boogie, several shuffles, dixieland and funk beats, with droll Spokes-like counterpoint and tongue-in-cheek Gypsy Schaeffer-ish diversions, on songs with titles like In the Shower and The Olive with Variable Geometrics. If you ever wondered how well a trombone could mimic hip-hop-style turntable scratching, this is the album for you.

Notwithstanding the beauty and brilliance of Consort in Motion, the most fascinating of all of these albums is last October’s release of Boundless, a 2010 live recording of free improvisations with Blaser accompanied by Marc Ducret on guitar, Banz Oester on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Done as a lavish four-part suite, it’s hard to believe that virtually all of this is an expansive, thoughtfully paced one-chord jam. Cleaver methodically builds six-foot snowbanks with the swirls from his cymbals as Ducret alternates between long sustained tones, skronk and the occasional, savagely understated, distortion-toned attack, Blaser and Oester taking turns holding the center. The quartet calmly navigate their way from warm permutations on a characteristically vivid Blaser riff, through a long (seventeen-minute) suspense interlude with Ducret masterfully shadowing Blaser, through tense, agitated noir atmospherics fueled by Blaser’s chromatics, to a conclusion with murky echoes of dub reggae. The chemistry and interplay has a singleminded focus, and for free jazz, it’s remarkably tuneful. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what Blaser comes up with next – one thing’s for certain, which is that whatever it is, it’ll be fascinating to hear.

January 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Jazzfest 2012: Good Times at Day Two

Winter Jazzfest, the annual festival where some of the cheesy Bleecker Street clubs turn into an astonishingly eclectic jazz mecca for a couple of nights, has come to dovetail with the annual booking agents’ convention otherwise known as APAP. That’s a great thing for the artists, who get a chance to turn their shows into auditions for at least potentially lucrative gigs; it’s a less auspicious development for the general public. More on that later. Friday’s lineup actually looked at first glance to be more enticing than Saturday’s, but Friday night there was an even better concert at Alwan for the Arts.

Once Jazzfest day two began, it was clear that the night had the potential to be an embarrassment of riches. From this particular perspective, the evening began and ended with familiar sounds – the pleasantly melodic, creatively orchestrated, occasionally modal postbop of pianist Laurence Hobgood and his sextet at le Poisson Rouge to kick things off – and ended with the high-energy, solo-centric psychedelic funk-bop of trumpeter Wallace Roney and his group at Sullivan Hall. In between, there were seemingly unlimited choices, many of them Hobson’s Choices: the best way to approach this festival is to bring a friend, see a completely different series of shows, record everything and then exchange recordings afterward. There’s literally something for every taste here, from the most mainstream to the most exciting.

As Hobgood’s set was winding down, bassist Jason Ajemian’s Highlife were launching into their possibly satirical, assaultive no wave funk at Kenny’s Castaways. Down the block at the Bitter End, bassist Stephan Crump led his Rosetta Trio with guitarists Liberty Ellman on acoustic and Jamie Fox on electric, through a series of jazzed-up Grateful Dead-style vamps and big-sky themes. Then, back at Kenny’s Castaways, the pyrotechnics began with Herculaneum: what a great find that Chicago band is. With a blazing four-horn frontline, hypnotically catchy, repetitive bass and a remarkably terse, creative drummer in Dylan Ryan, they groove with a ferocity seldom seen in this part of town. Where in New York do they typically play? For starters, Zebulon and Cake Shop. They opened with their best number, the horns agitatedly but smoothly trading off in lushly interwoven counterpoint, tenor saxophonist Nate Lepine – who seems to be one of the ringleaders of this crew – sailing intensely yet tunefully through a couple of long solos before handing it over to trombonist Nick Broste, who brought in an unexpectedly suspenseful noir vibe before the towering, vivid chart that ended it on a high note. Wow! The rest of the set included syncopated, Ethiopian-tinged funk that wouldn’t be out of place in the recent Either/Orchestra catalog; a wryly catchy, swaying midtempo number that reminded a little of Moisturizer, with Lepine wandering warily into noir territory before David McDonnell’s alto sax swirled in to save everything; an Indian-inflected flute tune; a delicious 11/4 clave piece with some tricky, microtonal playing by Lepine; and a memorably psychedelic shuffle that sounded like a beefed-up version of Moon Hooch. Fans of more traditional jazz might be wondering who the hell those bands are, but to a younger generation of New Yorkers, they’re very popular, even iconic. It was good to see Herculaneum get the chance to represent the future of jazz so auspiciously here.

And it was an unexpected treat to be able to get a seat to see their set; by ten PM, that was no longer in the cards. For that matter, neither was seeing Vijay Iyer and his trio, or for that matter Matt Wilson with his quartet and a string section, unless you were already in the club, because both le Poisson Rouge and the Bitter End were sold out, lines reaching halfway down the block. It was nice to see a young, scruffy crowd that doesn’t usually spend much time in the pricier jazz clubs come out and testify to the fact that Matt Wilson is worth standing in line for; it would have been nicer to have actually seen him play.

But there was still space over at Sullivan Hall to see pianist Fabian Almazan and his rhythm section, with bassist Linda Oh playing terrifically vivid, horn-inflected lines as he showed off his dazzling technique. Then he brought up an all-star string section of violinists Megan Gould (who’d just stunned the crowd the night before at Maqamfest with Maeandros) and Jenny Scheinman, the Roulette Sisters’ Karen Waltuch on viola and Noah Hoffeld (who has a great new album of Jewish music with pianist Lee Feldman) playing his cello with a vibrato you could drive a truck through, tackling a jazz arrangement of a Shostakovich string quartet and making it look easy without losing any of the original’s haunting quality. Which was especially good for Almazan, because it made him slow down, focus and make his notes count: it’s a no-brainer that he can do it, but it’s good to see that he actually enjoys doing it. Then they followed with an equally captivating, brooding third-stream arrangement of a Cuban folk ballad.

Back at Kenny’s Castaways again, “bebop terrorists” Mostly Other People Do the Killing had just wrapped up their set (this club seems to be where the festival hid all the edgiest acts). Bassist Shahzad Ismaily was next, leading a trio with Mat Maneri on violin and Ches Smith on drums. This was the most radically improvisational set of the night and was every bit as fun as Herculaneum had been. Ismaily quickly became a human loop machine, running hypnotic riff after hypnotic riff for minutes on end as Smith colored them with every timbre he could coax from the kit, whether rubbing the drum heads til they hummed or expertly flicking at every piece of metal within reach while Maneri alternated between hammering staccato, ghostly atmospherics and bluesy wails much in the same vein as the late, great Billy Bang. As deliciously atonal and often abrasive as much of the music was, the warm camaraderie between the musicians was obvious, violin and bass at one point involved in an animated conversation fueled by the sheets of feedback screaming from Ismaily’s amp, after which point they kept going at each other but as if from behind a wall, jabbing playfully at each others’ phrases.

By midnight, Sullivan Hall was about to reach critical mass, crowdwise if not exactly musically. Would it make sense to stick around for the 2 AM grooves of Soul Cycle followed by Marc Cary, or to see if there might be any room at the festival’s smallest venue, Zinc Bar, to check out Sharel Cassity’s set with Xavier Davis on piano at one in the morning? After more than five hours worth of music, and not having gotten home until four the previous morning, it was time to call it a night – and then get up and do it all over again one final time at Globalfest on Sunday evening.

And while it’s heartwarming to see such a good turnout of passionate jazz fans, not everyone who was packing the clubs was there for the music. What quickly became obvious as the night wore on is that many of the people there, most noticeably the drunks bellowing at each other over the music, were tourists from the suburbs who make this part of “Green Witch Village” their home on Saturday nights. Initially baffled when they discovered that they couldn’t get inside their usual haunts without a pass, they simply went around the corner to the ticket window at the Theatre for the New City space, pulled out their moms’ credit cards, and you know the rest. A word to the wise for next year: if you really must see one of the ten PM acts, get where they’re playing by nine or risk missing them. And you might want to hang there for the rest of the night as well.

January 11, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 3/27/11

Today may be a day of rest for a lot of you but it’s a day of work for us. We’ll be back Monday with more new stuff. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #674:

Moisturizer – Moisturizer Takes Mars

The shortest album on this list, it clocks in at around nine minutes. Is this even an album? If you count ep’s, why not? And since it’s the only physical product one of the world’s most entertaining, exciting, danceable bands ever put out, it’ll have to do. For about ten years, there was no funner group in New York than this all-female instrumental trio. Blending their low-register sounds into an intoxicating, hip-shaking groove, baritone sax player Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Tomoyo literally never wrote a bad song. And they had dozens more than just the three on this album: the title track, Cash Incentive and Selfish: Not a Dirty Word. When they started right before the turn of the century, they were basically a surf band with sax instead of guitar; when they wrapped it up in 2009, they’d become one of New York’s best bands, blending funk, punk, trip-hop, soul and go-go music into a uniquely moist sound. Since then, Paula has gone on to recognition as a composer of cinematic soundscapes and plays with innumerable projects including ambient big band Burnt Sugar. Gina went on to play with the Detroit Cobras, World Inferno and continues to be sought out as a touring pro; Tomoyo left the band in 2004 and was replaced by a guy, Moist Yoshio. Tomoyo is Japanese and we hope she’s ok. This one was a very limited edition, but there’s a bunch of tracks up at the band’s myspace and all are worth owning.

March 27, 2011 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Turkish Woodstock II, 7/3/10

Last year’s “Turkish Woodstock” was sold out practically before the show started: if you include the thousands who couldn’t get inside New York’s Central Park Summerstage arena, a safe guess is that there were about 20,000 people milling about. This year’s “Turkish Woodstock II” a.k.a. Istanbulive didn’t appear to reach peak capacity until well after 4 PM. Both 2009 and 2010 shows blended east and west, although the segues last year (the NY Gypsy All-Stars, clarinet legend Husnu Senlendirici, Painted on Water and MFO, with a cameo from the Brooklyn Funk Essentials) were more seamless. But this year’s still made for a good, eclectic bill. The concert began with a single foreboding, somewhat funereal traditional song by Emrah Kanisicak, backed by oud, percussion, bass, drums and accordion. Chanteuse Sukriye Tutkun then took over centerstage. She has a lovely voice, exemplary range and a completely casual, warmly familiar stage presence. It was as if she was singing in her living room (ok, not her living room, but maybe from her fire escape – it was a brutally hot afternoon). Calmly and methodically, she ran through a selection of understated, Middle Eastern-tinged ballads and a slinky pop song that evoked Henry Mancini. The songs were all seemingly Mancini-era: the crowd knew most of them; a few sang along.

Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions – Ersahin on tenor sax, Alp Ersonmez on electric bass, Turgut Bekoglu on drums and Izzet Kizil on percussion were next, a short, rewarding day’s journey into night. Ersahin, impresario of well-loved East Village jazz oasis Nublu – is at his best when he mines a nocturnal vibe, and he worked his way down. He’s all about melody – it wasn’t til the third song of his set that he worked any kind of ornamentation, in this case an evil little trill, into his playing. Ersonmez matched him, sometimes pedaling a note or, occasionally, a chord, for what felt like minutes on end while the percussion clattered hypnotically and Ersahin scoped out the territory. Chipper and cheery, he worked permutations on a series of catchy hooks much like JD Allen will do, keeping each piece to a comfortable four minutes or so. They got better and better as they went along, Ersahin introducing a sly, late-night, understatedly simple bluesy tinge. Ersonmez introduced one with a fast percussive line that mimicked an oud while Ersahin ran circles around a bouncy spy theme, followed by a trance-inducing percussion solo. They went out on a joyous note with the reggae-tinged Freedom, pulsing along with a wickedly catchy three-chord chorus. Anyone who misses the late, great Moisturizer should discover Ersahin: he has the same irrepressible, irresistibly playful sensibility.

By the time moody rock quartet Duman – Turkish for “smoke” – took the stage, the arena looked close to capacity. They got a lot more singalongs than Tutkun – the young crowd, restless to this point, were suddenly one with the music. Turkish lyrics aside, Duman have the same memorable jangly and sometimes chromatically tinged sound that’s been all the rage in Latin America since the days of popular Mexican rockers Caifanes. Add some terse Johnny Marr cross-string guitar work, with just a hint of surf, or sometimes riff-driven garage rock, and that’s their terrain. What was most impressive was that despite their monochrome sound, all the songs didn’t sound the same: Duman are not boring. One anthem began almost ghostly before its chorus exploded out of nowhere; another sounded like the Smiths’ What Difference Does It Make, through a glass darkly. Brooding verses gave way to upbeat, hook-driven choruses, and vice versa. The band’s two guitarists traded a few solos, including one that they might have learned back in the day when they might have been playing Hotel California for their friends. There was another act scheduled to play afterward, but with a completely different demographic and a pop feel as different from this as Ersahin, and Tutkun before him, had been.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Moisturizer at Zebulon, Brooklyn NY 9/30/09

Moisturizer did their inimitable best to put a smile on it, but the inevitably sad truth is that the band is finished. After more than ten years of getting notoriously uptight New York crowds to bounce and twirl and sway, they’re packing it in. The funnest instrumental band in town probably has a final blowout up their collective sleeves, but for official club gigs, this was it. Blending 60s Memphis with clever funk, bits of jazz, film soundtrack, pop and a little punk rock (and some surf in the beginning), they ruled the Lower East Side in the early zeros and put out one classic ep, Moisturizer Takes Mars. There have been innumerable bands from these parts who never achieved the world dominance their fan base longed for, but nobody ever deserved it more than Moisturizer. Frontwoman/baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson AKA Moist Paula gets plenty of work and has her own equally devious side project, the cinematic Secretary; bassist Gina Rodriguez AKA Moist Gina, also of the Detroit Cobras, is moving to the Murder City where she will no doubt focus on that band and drummer Moist Yoshio, like all good drummers, is in at least two or three other groups. But there should have been Moisturizer action figures. They should have had their own Sunday morning cartoon. Maybe even the Moisturizer movie. With all those sly, Satie-esque song titles – Subway Flood, Mother’s Coming Over with a Bunch of Scallions, ad infinitum – and the joyous pulse of the tunes, they really should have been famous. Maybe, like ESG for example, there’ll be a Moisturizer revival.

Unsurprisingly, the set was mostly greatest hits: the fast, pogoing Cash Incentive; a similarly cute, clever cover of The Look of Love and the big crowd-pleaser Miss Psycho Jones with its unstoppable, lickety-split bassline. As Moist Paula has always been quick to remind, all their songs are true stories, none more strikingly and perhaps surprisingly haunting than the epic The Littlest Orphan, about a child lost in the Indonesian tsunami but then successfully reunited with his family. Maybe because of the circumstances the band was playing under, they gave the song a special gravitas and majesty. The brilliance of Moist Gina was never more apparent than it was on another big dramatic number, Enactuate Our Love, where she went for the furiously joyous crescendo at the end, missed her first step but then improvised a solo that was completely different yet also completely hit the spot. And it was indelibly hers. New York’s loss is Detroit’s gain. They returned to playful, upbeat mode and closed with the classic, catchy Pretend Boyfriend, Moist Gina and Moist Paula working a neat echo between them. Backing them was a guest guitarist who added color and contrast with some frequently eerie, Keith Levene-esque noise.

And the crowd, unsurprisingly, was less vibrant than usual: despite the fun onstage, it didn’t look like anybody was very psyched to see this band come to an end. The final Moisturizer show is at the new Knitting Factory in the old Luna Lounge space in Williamsburg on Oct 13.

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

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/6/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Marty Willson-Piper – Sniper

The Church guitarist has a career-best solo album just out (very favorably reviewed here) and this is its centerpiece, a towering anthem about the ethics of assassinations. Not what you might think. The Church are at Irving Plaza on 7/8, tix still available.

 

2. Moist Paula – Your Singlet

Haunting and hypnotic, something probably from the great underground composer/baritone saxist’s cinematic Secretary project.

 

3. Painted on Water – 1000 Faced Man

Eerie Doorsy art-rock by this innovative Turkish-American group.

 

4. Dagmar – Secret Agent Men

Harmony-driven dark pop with a noir cabaret feel. They’re playing the cd release show for their new one at Caffe Vivaldi on 7/15 at 8.

 

5. Heather & the Barbarians – Kiss Me or Kill Me

Slow snarling country song. They’re at Spikehill on 7/8 at 9.

 

6. Kendra Smith – Heart & Soul

Joy Division cover by the legendary ex-Dream Syndicate bassist. Most Joy Division covers suck. This one doesn’t.  

 

7. Dan Berg & the Gestalt – Minty Bembe

Real cool song – part latin jazz, a little gypsy feel over a hypnotic African groove.

 

8. Reverb Galaxy – Balkan Stomp

Self-explanatory surf rock madness. They’re playing on the Coney Island boardwalk at 4 PM on 8/15.

 

9. Lorrie Doriza – Elle, en Nuit

Magnificent piano-based art-rock. Wow – check out those high notes.

 

10. Mustard Plug – Waiting Room

Very much better-than average ska punk with horns with a little Hawaii 5-0 feel

July 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson’s Last Show at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 6/15/09

There’s a downside to running a live music blog: if the concept is to cover as much ground as as possible, to spread the word about as many scenes as there are in New York, there isn’t much time left to see old favorites. After all, nobody wants to read about the same old people over and over again. But this show was special. Rev. Vince Anderson has gotten a lot of space here by virtue of the ecstatic quality of his live shows, and this one was especially high-voltage since Black Betty, the Middle Eastern restaurant/bar where he and his band the Love Choir have played a Monday night residency since 2004 (and for awhile back in the early zeros too) is closing. Tonight was supposedly the closing party and the vibe was electric, a lot of love in the room. Anderson has always drawn a remarkably diverse crowd, a lot of segments that usually don’t mix (the trendoid exiting in a huff because the bar wouldn’t take his parents’ credit card, a bunch of blue-collar neighborhood folks, Europeans, Middle Easterners and college kids). It was impossible to get into the inner room. When Anderson moves to Union Pool next Monday, it’ll be a step up because that space is considerably larger and the PA is a lot more powerful, more headroom for him to literally take his already energetic show to another level.

It was hard to imagine him working any harder or more exaltedly than he did tonight, opening with a swinging version of the Tom Waits-inflected free beer bar tale Sweet Redemption – from his second album The 13th Apostle – a heartfelt dedication to Black Betty. Playing every week, sometimes more than that has made this band incredibly tight, with a rare chemistry between band members. The rhythm section does double duty in slinky, sly groove/funk/soul band Chin Chin; trombonist Dave Smith is a blues purist in this band but also an innovative composer in his own jazz project, The Perfect Man; likewise, baritone sax player Paula Henderson leads the uniquely devious low-register band Moisturizer and does her own cinematic solo project Secretary. You’d never know from Jaleel Bunton’s energetically psychedelic guitar that he’s also the drummer in TV on the Radio. Anderson himself has evolved from eerily Balkan-inflected barrelhouse pianist to one of this era’s most successfully groove-oriented funk/soul keyboardists.

Deep in the Water, from Anderson’s most recent album 100% Jesus was especially moist and fluid, as was a cover of Amazing Grace, reinvented as a minor-key, House of the Rising Sun-style blues featuring what could have been Bunton’s best-ever solo in this band, a wrenchingly beautiful excursion that started out somberly emphatic with his wah pedal, finally blowing wide open with some searing upper-register work. The version of Anderson’s Get Out of My Way was especially amped, but the best song of the first set was a surprise cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City, Anderson reinventing the hitman’s coldly disingenuous narrative as redemption song. “Everybody dies, that’s a fact, but maybe someday, everything comes back” – in Anderson’s world, this is a possibility. By the time he led the band through the stomping funk of Come to the River, the cops had arrived, the club finally closed the back door – which had been open for the first hour of the show since there was no room inside – and for anyone who wasn’t already in there, it was impossible to hear. No doubt the festivities after that were equally or more intense. Anderson’s next show is June 22 at 11 PM at Union Pool.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber: Making Love to the Dark Ages

Believe it or not, this is the tenth album by sprawling avant-jazz megaplex Burnt Sugar. Conceived in 1999 by former Village Voice critic and author Greg Tate as a continuation of what Miles Davis was doing circa Bitches Brew – although they’re a lot closer to the Art Ensemble of Chicago or some of Sun Ra’s deeper-space explorations – Burnt Sugar quickly earned a following both for their epic, atmospheric live performances, and because there were so many people in the band. The full contingent numbers over fifty, including bass star Jared Nickerson (a Tammy Faye Starlite alum), noted jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and baritone sax goddess Paula Henderson of Moisturizer (who also leads a miniature version of the band playfully called Moist Sugar). While the Arkestra Chamber is also a smaller version of the group, the soundscapes on this album are no less vast for the contributions of a couple dozen fewer players. Because of the band’s deliberately improvisatory nature, don’t expect to be able to hear any of the songs on the cd in concert: this is simply the group on a good night when everybody was feeling what they were. Which was good, and always seems to be the case – this cd is nothing if not fun.

With so many people in the band, how do they hold it together? Typically, by throwing chord changes out the window. In place of traditional Western melodic tropes, the band substitutes innumerable dynamic shifts, subtle variations in tempo, parts rising and slowly sinking out of a massive wash of sound. The effect is supremely psychedelic, even trance-inducing. Most of the tracks segue into each other: to go so far as giving them each a name is a bit of a stretch. The opening cut Chains and Water is a long, three-part suite, a typical one-chord jam spiced early on with sax and blues harp solos and an infrequent vocal. The production goes dubwise at the end, whistles and other various disembodied textures floating through the mix, horn charts rising and falling. Part two gets all chaotic, swirling around a repetitive syncopated single-note riff by the massive horn section, finally brought out of the morass on the wings of a nasty, darkly bluesy guitar solo and finally, the hint of a hook, a four-note descending bassline.

Thorazine/Eighty One fades up, anything but a downer layered over a dark, circular bass motif, eventually slowing way down to a long coda, then building skeletal from there with screechy sax and everybody nonchalantly floundering around. Love to Tical is a boisterous funk jam, predictably crescendoing to a searing, spacy guitar solo, then to soprano sax, a chorus of women chanting “feel, feel, feel” distant in the background. From there they segue into Dominata, which gets considerably quieter, layers of cloudy horns over tinkly piano with a bass blip or two.

But just when you think that’s all there is to this group, they hit you upside the head with the fiery title track in all its searing, violin-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected majesty. Like the rest of the tracks here, it’s an epic and it’s worth your investment as the suite morphs into raw, noir trip-hop menace and then into buoyant loungey atmospherics. A smartly chosen number to end a good late-night headphone album on a high note.

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment