Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Mose Allison at Madison Square Park, NYC 6/30/10

What’s the likelihood of seeing someone this good in a public park, for free? This being New York, we take this kind of show for granted. We shouldn’t. Transcending what must have been an awful monitor mix early on, saloon jazz legend Mose Allison, his bassist and drummer ran through a set of both iconic and more obscure songs from throughout the Sage of Tippo, Mississippi’s career. There was a nonchalance in how the band moved methodically from one song to the next, but there was none in the playing: there was an ever-present sense of defiance in the way Allison punched at his chords, with a judicious bite. Maybe he was venting his frustration of having no piano in the monitor, slamming out a brightly aggressive wash of notes early on that sounded like Stravinsky. Although he would probably laugh at that comparison – Allison has always downplayed his brilliance.

But at 82, he remains a formidable link in a chain of classic Americana that goes back to Robert Johnson and before (the trio played a swinging number written by Johnson’s stepson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, featuring a gleaming, elegantly legato piano solo). His encore was a Willie Dixon number, he told the crowd, but one which went back to Sister Rosetta Tharp. Her version is the spiritual Bound for Glory, redone by Dixon and recorded by Little Walter as My Babe, and now turned into My Brain, which Allison said with characteristic sardonic wit “was losing power, twelve hundred neurons every hour.” Which he can get away with saying because it’s so far from reality. Allison’s voice still has the same sly breeziness that’s been his trademark since the 1950s, and while he stuck mostly to a swinging, chordal attack on the keys, his fingers haven’t lost much of anything either.

And as good as the covers were (especially an unusually stark, rainy-day version of You Are My Sunshine, which Allison took care to note was written by former Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis, and an imperturbable version of Percy Mayfield’s You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down), it was the originals that everybody came to hear and which resonated the most. Your Molecular Structure is just as good a come-on as it was ages ago; the cautionary tale In the City echoed a more dangerous time in New York before gentrification that’s on its way back with a vengeance. Your Mind Is on Vacation struck a nerve: playful as the lyrics are, it might be the first great anti-trendoid anthem. “I’m not disillusioned, but I’m getting there,” he sang wryly on a number from his new, Joe Henry-produced album The Way of the World. And Kidding on the Square is still beyond hip, Allison both mocking and embracing the exuberance of its jazzcat (or faux-jazzcat) vernacular.

There are some other worthwhile jazz shows coming up at Madison Square Park: John Ellis and Double Wide at 6 PM on 7/21, and James Carter’s Organ Trio on 8/4 at 7.


July 1, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mose Allison at the Jazz Standard, NYC 3/13/09

Mose Allison may have celebrated his eightieth birthday on the stage here last November, but he hasn’t changed a bit over the last (how many?) decades, giving new meaning to the phrase “absolutely undiminished.” Right down to his vise-grip handshake. There ought to be a PBS American Masters documentary about this guy (the BBC released Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues in 2006 – the Europeans are always a step ahead of us). The great songwriter/chanteuse Amy Allison’s dad shares his daughter’s droll wit and rich appreciation for Americana, in his case blues and jazz. It’s impossible to imagine Tom Waits – or for that matter, Dr. John – without him. Friday night’s show with his trio was typical, a clinic in tasteful, jazz-infused saloon blues piano songs infused with dry wit and occasional gallows humor.


This was a song set: when he soloed, he kept it brief and terse, seldom going for more than a verse at a time. There’s still nobody who plays like him – it’s hard to get through a set of blues without falling back on a familiar phrase or two, but Allison pulled this one off without them. Instead, it was lots of sharply percussive chords, brushing through the passing tones without making it obvious, and no wasted notes. Like his vocals, his phrasing on the keys is still the definition of cool. The band jammed their way into a particularly timely Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: “Am I just plain greedy?/Do I worry about the ozone layer?/Do I worry about my new hairspray?” he asked with the usual half-a-wink in his voice. His cynical, apocalyptic side was further represented by the casual, laid-back Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, and a bit later, Ever Since the World Ended: “Remember how we went around lying about how we felt?” he mused. His trademark sly, sophisticated side was most entertainingly on display in the slow swing blues My Backyard – “where a maven of sorts forsakes his cohorts” – as well as the old Nat King Cole Trio brush-off song No Particular Time (when “you better bring along your glasses because I’m hard to find”). And there was plenty of dark understatement in a playful version of If You Only Knew, and the psychos-on-the-street saga Monsters of the Id with its eerie 1-5# hook.


As usual, the sound in the room was crystal-clear and the audience was still, following his every move: this place draws a crowd of real music fans, not just tourists.  

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment