Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Geri Allen’s Grand River Crossing: A Vivid Homage to Her Detroit Hometown

It’s always risky to read subtext into a work of art. But pianist Geri Allen‘s new Grand River Crossing – a tribute to the Motown music of her Detroit childhood – has a persistent unease, a plaintive and often poignant quality, in stark contrast with the upbeat material on which most of it is based. To what extent is the album – Allen’s final installment in her mostly-solo trilogy – a reflection on how her hometown has seen a sad transformation from auto capitol of the world to bankrupt Murder City?

Allen’s m.o. here is less to reharmonize a bunch of catchy pop tunes than it is to use their changes as a springboard for improvisation. She opens with a briskly dancing, unrecognizable take on the Michael Jackson hit Wanna Be Starting Something. Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown is reinvented as a haunting, carnivalesque, absolutely brilliant portrait that’s far more true to the title than the original. Stevie Wonder’s That Girl follows some insistently moody variations to a lively, off-the-beaten-path, syncopated romp. Then Allen imbues Ray Brooks’ The Smart Set  with a darkly biting, elegaic edge,Marcus Belgrave adding bluesy trumpet. Allen’s solo version of the Beatles’ Let It Be is bitter and jaggedly wounded, as far from the calm resignation of the original as you could possibly imagine.

Belgrave’s Space Odyssey, another duet, builds a broodingly syncopated march around a surreal, microtonal trumpet intro and a brief free interlude. The first Holland/Dozier’Holland tune here, Baby I Need Your Lovin’ plays hide-and-seek with the hook, followed by the second, Itching in My Heart – with David McMurray on alto – done as a pulsing oldschool soul vamp.

Frank Wilson’s Stoned Love is a wary, precise early 60s soul groove – it doesn’t have much of anything to do with jazz, yet it might be the best song on the album. Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues has Allen running the riff in the lefthand against variations in the right; his Save the Children is moody and enigmatic, more question than answer. Allen winds up the album with another duet with Belgrave, Gerald Wilson’s Nancy Joe, finally emerging jauntily from the pervasive darkness that preceded it. There are also three Allen solo miniatures here which for the most part maintain that mood.

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October 24, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú

This is what Spanish Harlem was rocking to forty years ago. What Sharon Jones did for oldschool soul, what Antibalas did for Afrobeat and what Chicha Libre is doing for chicha, Spanglish Fly is doing for bugalu. It’s what happened when Cuban son melodies collided with Stax/Volt and Motown, with fiery horns and a fat midtempo groove over a latin beat. It was a Nuyorican phenomenon and very popular back in the day. If you know Bang Bang by Joe Cuba, this is the same kind of thing. It’s about time somebody brought this stuff back and it’s a good thing it’s this band because they have authentic sabor with a 5-piece horn section, three percussionists, piano and a rhythm section plus Erica Ramos’ casually alluring, soulful voice soaring over it when there’s room. As dance music, it’s irresistible (at a live show, the group will often offer a free dance lesson for anglos or newschoolers who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this).

The cd’s opening track, Think (Pensamiento) is typical of what the old bugalú bands would do, a brand-new latin version of the old James Brown hit with fat low end, tight horns and a suspenseful intensity where the band theatens to completely rip it apart at the end but just manage to keep it together. An original, Latin Soul Stew was obviously made to be played live, with soaring trumpet over an ominous piano groove, the horns coming back in full force after a little vocal break. Another original, by one of the band’s trumpeters Jonny Semi-Colón a/k/a Jonathan Goldman sounds like ska but with a slinkier groove. Like a lot of bugalu hits, it’s a series of trick endings where the intensity builds every time the song comes back, with a gospel-inspired break toward the end. There’s also a joyously rattling cover of the big Ray Barretto crossover hit New York Soul. 

The band is an inspired collection of veteran New York jazzcats: besides Ramos and Goldman, they have Martin Wallace on piano, Mick Santurio on congas, Charly Rodriguez on timbales, Gabo Tomasini on bongos, Atsushi Tsumura on trumpet, Dimitri Moderbacher on bass, Rose Imperato on tenor sax, Jonathan Flothow on bari sax and Sebastian Isler on trombone. Spanglish Fly’s next dance party is April 2 at Camaradas El Barrio, First Ave. and 115th St. at 10 PM; the cd release show is on April 23 at Rose Bar.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

CD Review: The One and Nines

If you love oldschool soul music, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings or Eli “Paperboy” Reed, you will love the One and Nines – they are the real deal. With piano, organ, horns, understatedly gorgeous guitar, a slinky rhythm section and the warmly irresistible, heartfelt vocals of frontwoman Vera Sousa, the vibe is totally mid-60s. If the band had existed when John Waters did Hairspray, this album would have been the logical choice for the movie soundtrack.

The album kicks off with Walked Alone, a gorgeously catchy, upbeat tune straight out of Memphis, 1968 with big honking baritone sax. Sousa shows off an effortlessly bright, soaring, unselfconscious style in the vein of 1960s soul icon Bettye Swann while the guitar and bass soar just in the right places. The second track, Wait is a longing, insistent 6/8 ballad like Sharon Jones in a particularly vulnerable moment – horns rise out of the end of the verse, then it’s just tremolo organ and Sousa’s sweet voice.

“You say I look like I’m always bored, but are you just speaking for yourself?” Sousa asserts gently but insistently in Something on Your Mind, backed by gently incisive guitar and a Willie Mitchell-inspired horn chart. Just Your Fool is a duet, one of the guys joining with Sousa’s fetching harmonies for a pre-Motown vibe, from right around the time doo-wop started to morph into something more interesting. The band follows Sousa as she builds intensity on Anything You Got, a psychedelic soul groove with organ and then Steve Cropper-esque guitar, finally fading out with soulful muted trumpet over the band’s shuffling rhythm. Guitar finally takes centerstage, if only for a few moments on the bright, bouncy horn-driven Tears Fall. The secret bonus track, an alternate take of Just Your Fool, might have the best vocals on the whole album. All of these songs would have been hits in the 60s – or some hardcore soul fan would be rediscovering them right about now and trying to get the surviving members of the band back together, that’s how good this is. Mixed by Hugh Pool at Excello and mastered by Fred Kevorkian, the production has the feel of an old vinyl record, vocals up front, drums back where they need to be. Even better news is that the band’s got a 7″ vinyl single coming out hot on the heels of the album – get your 45 adapters ready. Watch this space for NY-area live dates.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Nicholas Howard – God Is in the City

Unlike what the title might have you believe, this isn’t a gospel album although there is a gospel influence in a lot of the songs. With his raspy tenor voice, Jackson Heights, New York’s own Nicholas Howard delivers a whole lot of hooks and a feel for soul music that blends a vintage Detroit and Philly sound, circa 1970. It’s definitely retro yet infused with new ideas and fresh energy – this guy is putting his own stamp on it rather than just being derivative. Refreshingly, he’s got a real band behind him rather instead of the ubiquitous synth, drum machine and maybe a handful of samples in what’s left of “R&B.” This could be what John Legend might dream of making if he didn’t have the corporate overseer standing over him, whip in hand, ready to crack it the second he does anything original or interesting. No autotune here either: God was definitely in the studio when this was recorded.

The title track is a big gospel-fueled anthem yet is extremely simple and terse. It would make a good theme for a show like The Wire. In the middle, it goes doublespeed and then suddenly back to the main theme, an ambitious move that doesn’t really work.  So Much Left to Say is a slinky organ groove with a turn-of-the-decade sound, just around the time soul was getting orchestrated but before it lost that delicious trebly tube amp guitar feel. Horns come in and juice up the end of the chorus, then the song ends cold.

With bit of a reggae feel, My Hands Are Rough – “I need a drink, a dance or two, I am jonesing” would have been a big dancefloor hit in the 70s. Life Is a Mystery is quite a change, opening with a little quote from the James Bond theme and then getting carnivalesque, even noir. If Tom Waits was a soul singer he might do something like this. Howard maintains the mysterious vibe with Scotch on Her Lips, a slow jam where he’s fallen under the spell of a boozy witch, electric piano dripping eerily.

Blood from a Stone kicks off with a staccato piano riff, eventually building to an insistent, New Orleans-tinged “stay out of my life” anthem. Then it goes doublespeed as the organ swirls and the rubber meets the road. The gentle, Memphis-style 6/8 ballad Mother features some vivid Steve Cropper style guitar – it would be perfectly at home on a Robert Cray album. Different View takes a lazy Bill Withers-style groove and makes trip-hop out of it.

The cd winds up with the strikingly dark psychedelic Weimar blues of Carnival and the upbeat, horn-driven What If I’ve Shown You It All. You’re going to see this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Watch this space for live dates.

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 2/15/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1.  Today’s song is #528:

The Supremes – You Keep Me Hanging On

Holland-Dozier-Holland – the black Beatles – were just as good at writing haunting, classically-inflected minor key songs as they were at R&B and this one’s proof. Forget the gazillions of covers – didn’t Bananarama do one at some point in the 80s? – the 1966 hit is the classic. James Jamerson – jazz bassist playing rock – what else is there to say.

February 15, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment