Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trouble in Tribeca, 2011 Style: Sanda Weigl, Razia and Very Be Careful in Concert

It’s about fifteen minutes on foot from Tribeca to the West Village. After the first few times, those fifteen minutes turn into twenty. At which point it’s probably time to call it a night. We made the hike between the 92YTribeca and Bleecker Street more than a few times Friday night and still managed to catch a lot of the first night of Winter Jazzfest as well as the high points of booking agency Trouble Worldwide’s annual showcase further downtown. This marks our third consecutive year at their annual shindig. Why? Because their acts are so consistently good. The most entertaining one of the night, surprisingly, turned out to be the first. Seeing Romanian gypsy singer Sanda Weigl backed by an all-Japanese band might seem incongruous, but until the last artists and musicians here are displaced by hedge fund traders and their “luxury” condos, sights like that will still resonate as New York moments. Weigl is tiny, Edith Piaf-sized, with a similar contralto that if anything is just as subtle: she worked the corners of the songs, holding back until she really needed to hammer a point home, and then she’d cut loose. Her band was phenomenal. Whether prowling the upper registers of the piano with a menacing gleam, hammering out perfect, lightning-fast Balkan horn lines on the keys or supplying eerie washes of accordion, Shoko Nagai stole the show. Five-string acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi played fluid, melodic lines in the style of a great lead guitarist when he wasn’t gently but forcefully hammering out a rhythm of his own, while percussionist Satoshi Takeishi pulled a surprising amount of rattle and whoosh out of the woodblocks and single, big crash cymbal he’d set up on the floor.

With a wink in her eye, Weigl would begin each song with a brief explanation of what the Romanian lyrics meant. “You liked me when I was young, but now I’m old, I’m a pain in the neck,” she explained over Nagai’s horror-movie cascades. The madness of the music made a delicious contrast with the steely, often stoic intensity of Weigl’s vocals. One of the early numbers in the set sounded like a cocek dance; a lost-love lament (one of several, it seems) had more of a Weimar blues/noir cabaret feel. The rest of the set included another Balkan dance, the tale of a woman who loves her children so much that she leaves her Prince Charming and returns to an abusive husband, and a song whose protagonist thinks that the ideal death would be during sex. After less than forty minutes, the band was yanked offstage: the crowd wanted more but didn’t get it.

Malagasy-American chanteuse Razia was as subtle as Weigl and her band were dramatic, and was every bit as compelling. Backed by an incisive, terse acoustic guitarist and a tight rhythm section, drawing deeply from her excellent new album Zebu Nation (just out on Cumbancha), she ran through a similarly abbreviated set. Her voice has a gentle, reassuring resilience, perhaps unsurprising coming from a woman whose musical journey led her from her native Madagascar, to Paris, and ultimately to New York where she assembled this band. A couple of the songs circled with trancelike polyrhythms that lent an Afrobeat feel. Another built to surprising intensity, anchored by a series of increasingly busy bass riffs. An attempt to start an audience clapalong with those polyrhythms met with mixed results: her own crowd was game, but the rest of the room was rhythmically challenged. They wound up the set with an undulating dance tune based on a hypnotic two-chord vamp.

After a break for jazz a few blocks north and then back, it was time for Very Be Careful, who are sort of the Colombian Gogol Bordello. When they were based in Brooklyn, they were notorious for raucous rooftop parties, so seeing them in such genteel surroundings was a bit of a shock, albeit a sort of heartwarming one, especially for a band whose crazed live album is titled Horrible Club. This set featured a lot of material from their latest one Escape Room, among them a couple of hypnotic classics from the 1960s along with the bouncy cumbia La Abeja (The Bee) and the acidically swirling La Alergia (Allergies, a song written by the band along with Deicy Guzman, mom to accordionist Ricardo Guzman and his brother Arturo, who got a tastily booming, slinky pulse out of his shortscale Danelectro reissue bass all night long). It would be nice to be able to say that they got the whole crowd swaying, but the truth is that they basically separated the kids from the oldsters. The younger people, for whom cumbia is what reggae was to the generation before them, moved toward the stage; the older crowd hung back, seemingly oblivious.

Sharply dressed bell player Dante Ruiz took a couple of stabs at seeing how much energy he could wring out of a room which by now had been on their feet for several hours and seemed to be feeling it, then backed away and concentrated on the band’s hypnotic sway and clatter. In a sense, it was as surreal as watching the Pogues on the BBC: if there was any time to be randomly making out with someone, this was it, but nobody went for it.

January 13, 2011 Posted by | concert, folk music, gypsy music, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jordi Savall Discovers the New World

Virtuoso viola da gamba player and early music maven Jordi Savall needs no introduction to fans of classical music: as a bandleader, soloist, researcher and all-around time traveler, he’s unearthed all sorts of fascinating medieval treasures from Spain to the Middle East. Now, he turns his sights on Latin America with his pioneering new album El Nuevo Mundo: Folias Criollas, a collaboration with Mexican early music adventurers Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, his choir La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Swiss-based ensemble Hesperion XXI and Catalan soprano and early music specialist Montserrat Figueras. Utilizing a museum’s worth of baroque-era guitars and ancient guitar-like instruments along with a chamber orchestra and lush vocal harmonies, Savall and his fellow travelers run through an eye-opening mix of recently rediscovered, little-known early music from Mexico and the Americas dating back as far as the seventeenth century.

As Savall somberly avers in the fascinating, extensive liner notes, all of this music was the soundtrack to genocide: the music of the conquistadors always took precedence over the sounds of the embattled indigenous peoples. Yet cross-pollination is everywhere, even on the earliest works here. Ironically, many of those who worked alongside the conquistadors were outcasts from Spanish society: Jews, heretics and also an element that was considered criminal (but whose only crime may have been running afoul of the Spanish crown). It is therefore unsurprising that they would be more likely to mingle with the locals and become familiar with their music. The conquistadors, predictably, disliked it to the extent they banned it, including at least one and maybe more of the pieces here. All of these are taken from ancient manuscripts, subject to improvisation as was the custom then, with occasional, additional lyrics by Patricio Hidalgo and Enrique Barona of Tembembe Ensamble.

The one-four-five chord progression is everywhere, particularly on the early Mexican son jarocho numbers. Other pieces are folk songs arranged with the ornate harmonies of 1700s Spanish pop opera. The two oldest pieces are a traditional Mexican waltz from around 1650, and an operatically-tinged, bouncy antiphon for chamber ensemble and guitars that may date back as far as 1732. There’s a risque Mexican folk song about “cuckolding the priest,” a metaphorically charged tribute to the joys of green chiles that got a 24-year-old woman tried and probably executed for singing it, and a strikingly complex, contrapuntal Mexican slave song celebrating a fiesta where “we will all be white people tonight.” A couple of seafaring ballads, an operatic lullaby, a richly textured, guitar-orchestra number from Colombia, a bouncy operatic Mexican hymn and pair of Peruvian songs which predate the cumbia revolution by about two hundred years round out the album. It’s a long, strange trip, and absolutely essential for latin music fans. It’s out now on Alia Vox  (distributed by Harmonia Mundi here in the US).

August 19, 2010 Posted by | classical music, folk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Very Be Careful – Escape Room

Los Angeles band Very Be Careful have built a well-deserved reputation as sort of the Gogol Bordello of Colombian music, both for their delirious, hypnotic live shows and the snotty yet absolutely authentic attitude of their albums. No disrespect to Carlos Vives, but Very Be Careful take vallenato back to its roots in the north, to back when, just like roots reggae, it was the party music of the drug underworld – it doesn’t sound anything like him. Which makes sense: Very Be Careful’s slinky cumbia pulse has a lot in common with late 60s Jamaican rocksteady, the otherworldly swirl of the accordion is nothing if not psychedelic and so is the eerie insectile scrape of the guacharaca, the beat of the caja vallenata and clatter of the cowbell. Although if you asked this band for more cowbell, you’d probably get one upside the head – they bring a menacing, hallucinatory party vibe a lot like the Pogues back in the day when Shane MacGowan was drinking at peak capacity but still lucid. That considered, their new album Escape Room works equally well for the drinkers, dancers and stoners in the crowd. It’s all originals along with three rustic, boisterous covers, with the same resilient-bordering-on-aggressive feel of their 2009 live album, the deliciously titled Horrible Club.

The opening track, La Furgoneta (The Van) is a cumbia, its catchy descending progression carried by Ricardo Guzman’s accordion as his brother Arturo swings low with broken chords on the bass, way behind the beat in a style similar to great reggae bassists like Family Man Barrett. It segues into a hypnotic, two-chord number, La Abeja (The Bee), followed by the fast, bouncy, wickedly catchy La Alergia (Allergies), accordion playing major on minor, vividly evoking a horror-movie summer haze.

The first of the covers by legendary vallenato composer Calixto Ochoa, Playas Marinas (Sandy Beaches) is a party song, a staggering series of flourishes as the bass runs a catchy octave riff over and over. The other, Manantial del Alma (Springtime of the Soul) makes a sly attempt at seduction, the guy just wanting the girl to let him play for her. Another oldschool number, by Abel Antonio Villa, evokes a guy’s heartbreak, vocals on the verse trading off with accordion on the chorus – although it’s a party song without any real heartbroken vibe, at least musically.

The rest of the album is originals, and they’re great. El Hospital sounds like something the Clash might have done on Sandinista, wry and cynical. La Broma (The Joke) has the accordion playing minor on major this time, to equally ominous effect. The metaphorically charged La Gata Perdida (Lost Cat) has the poor critter going round in circles: “I think this killed me.” They end it with the upbeat La Sorpresa (Surprise) and then the aptly titled, psychedelic El Viajero del Tiempo (Time Traveler), bass playing three on four beneath insistent, trance-inducing minor-key accordion. You don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy this, although you won’t get the clever, often snide, pun-laden lyrics. But as dance music, it doesn’t get any better than this – it’s out now on Barbes Records. Another reviewer had problems with this cd, calling it unsubtle and complaining about being blasted by the accordion, to which the only conceivable response is, who wouldn’t want to be blasted by an accordion? Very Be Careful play Highline Ballroom on May 23 – also keep an eye out for their annual Brooklyn 4th of July rooftop party (they got their start here, playing in the subway).

April 28, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Marta Topferova – Trova

Czech-born, New York-based chanteuse/songwriter Marta Topferova has carved herself out a niche as a first-class avatar of latin music. Her new cd Trova (a Cuban style, though she explores considerably more terrain here) is quite a change from the pensive melancholy that runs throughout much of her previous work. It’s a mix of oldschool latin styles with a Caribbean tinge, like something out of San Juan, 1955, recorded with her band at an old farmhouse outside Prague fresh off a European tour. The album features Topferova on guitar and cuatro along with big band leader Pedro Giraudo on bass, Aaron Halva on tres and accordion, Roland Satterwhite on violin and Neil Ochoa on percussion. It’s got a quiet joy that simmers and bubbles over once in awhile for extra flavor. Frequently, the star of the show here is Satterwhite (formerly with Jenifer Jackson and also Howard Fishman), whose imaginative, casually intense phrasing adds an unexpectedly biting edge to some of the quieter material. As is typical throughout the cd, its unexpected moments are subtle but compelling, as in the case of the infectious opening bomba, Juligan, a nocturnal street scene whose central character, a bum, turns out to be something completely different. And yet the same.

She follows that with an effervescent, percussion-driven dance tune, a stately, delicately pensive tango and a symbolically charged midtempo number rich with chordal jangle and gorgeous acoustic textures. Largo el Camino (The Long Road) winds along on a catchy, swaying four-bar hook and a couple of nice introspective tres solos, the latter closing the song on an optimistic note.

Descarga de la Esperanza (The Hope Jam) is hypnotic, like the Dead gone latin and acoustic. Madrugada (Dawn) is a pretty, sad waltz with a buoyant Satterwhite solo, one of those kind of songs that, thirty years ago, would have had record executives scheming over the prospect of a crossover international hit. Topferova saves her grittiest vocal for the tricky Argentinean changes of Entre a Mi Pago Sin Golpear (Come On Over and Don’t Knock), Satterwhite’s jovial fiddle adding contrast.

The cd winds up with the vividly lyrical La Amapola, inspired by a poppy native to Czech Republic, showcasing Topferova’s seemingly effortless ability to shift between styles; the dusky las Luciernagas (Fireflies) and an old bolero cover usually sung by a male vocalist. Topferova puts her own spin on it, a woman in an arranged marriage displaying quiet defiance. This album has the same kind of rustic quality that spurred the Bachata Roja Legends’ surprise crossover success and could just as easily resonate with anglo as well as latin audiences. Not bad for Czech expat for whom Spanish was a second language. She’s at Barbes on Jan 22 at 10.

January 3, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment