Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Truth About Bio Ritmo

Bio Ritmo’s new album La Verdad uses oldschool, classic Fania era salsa as its stepping-off point and blends in trippy, hypnotic, sometimes fiery elements of Ethiopian jazz, Afrobeat and dub for a sound that’s absolutely unique, and absolutely psychedelic. Keyboardist Marlysse Simmons-Argandona is their secret weapon. Sometimes she anchors the music with darkly reverberating Fender Rhodes lines; other times she goes way up for a glimmering, pointillistic, starlit vibe; then she’ll swoop in with the organ or shift to swinging Afro-Cuban salsa piano riffs. The horns move from bright, incisive bursts, to big, lushly jazzy swells, with frequent breaks for individual solos, as the timbales rattle, the congas hold the tunes close to the ground and the bass rises with a body-tugging groove. Singer Rei Alvarez is a mercurial, slyly surreal presence: when there are lyrics here, they work on several different levels.

As you would expect from a great oldschool album, there’s a distinct Side One and Side Two side here. The opening cut features unexpected touches like wah-wah keys and a blippy bass solo along with some tasty brass parts. A couple of the jazzier tracks, like the title number and Caravana del Vejicante (Clown Parade) often resemble the excellent, shapeshifting latin-influenced jazz group Either/Orchestra, with their cleverly shifting brass segments and smirking keyboard interludes. The third track, Dina’s Mambo, contrasts psychedelic slinky, conspiratorially swinging, psychedelic keys with hi-beam horns; the fourth, Carnaval, builds nonchalantly to a punked-out Afrobeat feel. There’s also the deliciously noir Verguenza (Shame); the bouncy, surprisingly carefree, sarcastic Majadero (The Noodge); the even creepier, Thelonious Monk-ish Lola’s Dilemma with its subtle dub echoes spicing up a tiptoeing son montuno melody; and the hidden track, an absolutely killer dub version of the second cut. If you wish you’d lived through the classic salsa era of the 70s – or if you did – this one’s for you. Bio Ritmo play the album release show for this one tonight at 10 at Southpaw; those who prefer the superior sonics at SOB’s should check out their Manhattan release show there at 8 PM on Nov 18. Also recommended: Bio Ritmo’s sister band Miramar, who recreate classic Puerto Rican boleros from the 1950s (and create some of their own) with a similarly dark psychedelic edge.

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October 28, 2011 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/11/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album was #477:

Orquesta Harlow – La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite

This is Fania Records’ All-Star pianist Larry Harlow’s 1977 attempt to capsulize the entire history of latin music in a six-part suite. As history, there are secret corners it misses – lots of them; as music, it’s a titanic, slinky blast of horns, percussion and orchestra. Nestor Sanchez sings the classic salsa of the title track, followed by the percussion-centric Africa; the Afro-Cuban Caribbean and Caribbean Pt. 2, which blends in soca and Puerto Rican sabor; the deliciously gritty New York 1950s and 1960s and the whirlwind Futuro which blends Mingus bustle with late 70s latin disco! Too surreal to imagine, you just have to hear it…and dance to it. Here’s a random torrent.

October 13, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/5/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #543:

Ruben Blades y Seis Del Solar – Escenas

One of the most socially aware artists of the classic salsa era, Ruben Blades gets extra props for introducing Hector Lavoe to Willie Colon while working in the Fania Records mailroom and writing songs on the side. The rest is history. While he bridges several eras, Blades’ songwriting has never wavered. The production on this 1984 release isn’t as ballsy as it would have been ten years previously, but the songs are consistently excellent, even Silencios, which is badly miscast as a pop ballad. Otherwise, there’s the starkly scurrying widow’s lament Cuentas Del Alma; the scathing Tierra Dura, which addresses famine in Ethiopia; the blackly humorous La Cancion Del Final Del Mundo; Sorpresas, which continues the story of the struggling blue-collar Pedro Navaja, star of Blades’ signature song; Caina, a gritty look at the not-so-glamorous side of the cocaine trade (“Why would you want to do coke/It makes you edgy and obnoxious”) and an update on the Los Van Van hit Muevete. Here’s a random torrent.

August 5, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/29/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #550:

Machito – Kenya

A landmark of latin big band jazz. Hard to believe, but this stuff was actually mainstream in 1957 when the album came out (one of Machito’s most popular albums was marketed as being recorded at the Catskills resort where he held an annual summer residency for years). On one hand, this doesn’t have the raw bite of his stuff from the 30s and 40s, but the songs and the charts are killer. All of these are originals save for percussionist Chano Pozo’s noir classic Tin Tin Deo. Lots of flavors here: the brisk, blazing guaguanco of Wild Jungle; the slinky, suspenseful Congo Mulence; the lush, majestic title track; the stop-and-start intenstiy of Oyeme; Holiday, with its surgically precise Cannonball Adderley solo; Cannonology, a sideways Charlie Parker tribute; the sinister-tinged Frenzy; proto-ska Conversation; bustling Minot Rama; hypnotically soulful Tururato, and Blues A La Machito, which is more Machito than blues. Here’s a random torrent via Hasta Luego Baby.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/23/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #556 – on a day like this, we figured this one would be especially appropriate:

Arsenio Rodriguez y Su Conjunto – Sabroso y Caliente

Rustic yet cutting-edge for its time, this is an update on classic Cuban son. Bandleader Rodriguez, blinded in a childhood accident, played the Cuban acoustic guitar known as the tres. Highly sought after in his later years as a sideman, he was a major influence on the great salsa bands of the 70s. This flavorful, hot 1957 session carves out a niche halfway between the blazing big band sounds of Tito Puente or Perez Prado, and the Cuban country music that Rodriguez grew up with. Some may find the vocals a little over the top, but the band is cooking. The dozen tracks here include the soaring, upbeat Carraguao Alante; the lush, minor key Hay Fuego En el 23; Buenavista en Guaguancó, an old song from Rodriguez’s small-combo period in the 40s; the slinky Blanca Paloma; the sly mambo Mami Me Gusto, the hypnotically insistent La Fonda de Bienvenido, and Adorenla Como a Marti, which evades the censors by allusively referencing the notorious 1912 massacres of Afro-Cubans on the island. Here’s a random torrent via Global Groovers.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pistolera’s New Album: Catchy Yet Deep

Simple and catchy yet often profoundly poetic, New York janglerock-en-Español band Pistolera’s new album El Desierto y La Ciudad is divided up into an A-side and B-side. Without being polemical, frontwoman/guitarist Sandra Lilia Velasquez contemplates the situation facing immigrants in America, first literally tracing their steps in the desert, then their struggles (and their joy) in New York. Her viewpoint may be Mexican-American, but her songs are universal. The terse, edgy band alongside her includes Maria Elena on accordion and piano, Inca B. Satz on bass and Sebastian Guerrero on drums, with Cordero’s Ani Cordero taking over behind the kit on the hardest-rocking songs.

An often unspoken irony abounds here. It’s front and center on the album’s most confrontational number, the catchy reggaeton-influenced singalong Escucha (Listen). Who’s illegal, Velasquez wants to know. You, me and everybody else, it seems. “Who takes care of your kids? Who cooks your food?…The hypocrisy is killing me,” she sings, in Spanish. The fieriest song here, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) alludes to the 2008 economic collapse and the current depression; it’s a cautionary tale to seize the moment, hold onto what you have as the foundations are shaking. The bustling subway anthem Laberinto (Labyrinth) projects an unspoken unease – “welcome to the underground life” – but also celebrates a city where there are parks and beaches everywhere, and a train to take you there. And the swaying, reggae-tinged Ponle Frenos (Put on the Brakes) ponders when a hardworking woman, or man, can get some time alone – with an incessant “beep beep beep” chorus.

The “desert side” of the album sets up all this drama artfully: the pensive, syncopated ranchera-rock of Polvo, apprehensively evoking the vastness of the desert and all that it represents; the imaginatively dub-flavored title track, and the mournful diptych that winds up memorably with David Bailis’ potently elegaic, ringing lead guitar, the immigrant knowing that it’s time to leave, that everything good comes to an end. The albums ends with Floating, a pretty, ethereal acoustic anthem and the only English-language track here. With a hallucinatory, dusky vibe, it echoes the Julee Cruise song : “I could walk a hundred miles and still not get there,” Velasquez muses. Not only is this a great listen, this album ought to be mandatory in Spanish classes in American schools. Velasquez’s crystalline, subtly nuanced vocals are easy to understand, the tunes are fun to sing along to – and her lyrics pack a wallop. No doubt you’ll be seeing this on a lot of “best albums of the year” lists by the end of 2011. Pistolera plays the cd release show for this one on July 29 at around 9 at Drom, with excellent country/Brazilian band Nation Beat opening the night at 8. Tickets are ridiculously cheap at $10.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Love Halifax

What’s the likelihood of arriving in a city where you’ve never been before, then going out to three completely random shows and seeing four excellent acts? That’s what happened to us in Halifax. It’s easy to do in New York, if you know where you’re going. But Halifax, unlike New York, doesn’t hide its best music at the fringes. When we left Montreal a week ago Monday, we thought we might get a bit of a respite from the crazy party that had been the Jazz Festival there: no such luck. Halifax may be laid-back, but it’s a party town. The party restarted less than 24 hours after we got there, at Nova Scotia’s oldest pub, the Seahorse Tavern, with Zulkamoon, a skaragga band with sax and keyboards along with the usual guitar, bass and percussion. It may have been a Tuesday night, but they got a bunch of dancers bouncing in front of the stage within minutes. Charismatic singer/percussionist nti TZT delivered defiant, rapidfire lyrics in Spanish as the band blasted through grooves that ranged from frantic ska to fast cumbia to slinky reggae. Pianist Pat Storer lit up one song with some evocative wee-hour jazz phrasing while guitarist Michael Nahirnak switched effortlessly from precise shuffles to twangy surf, alto saxophonist Matthew Reiner adding a wary intensity. They’re sort of the Halifax version of Escarioka: the two ought to do a doublebill somewhere in Chile.

Next on the bill were three-woman rock powerhouse Like a Motorcycle. Like the band before them they’re a breath of fresh air – or make that a blast of fresh air. There’s no other band out there who sound like them. Part punk, part no wave, part noiserock, they evoke an assaultive, early 80s vibe, their guitarist getting some gorgeously evil distorted tones out of her overdriven Gibson SG while bassist Michelle played simple, catchy lead lines over fast, cymbal-drenched shuffle beats. Michelle sang most of the songs, then the drummer took over on the mic: while bits and pieces of lyrics filtered through the mix, the roar and stomp made it hard to hear them – the energy was through the roof. With its insanely catchy, simple hook, their signature song – the second one of the set – sounded like X but more hypnotic and assaultive. Then they flipped the script with a balmy intro to the next one, like Live Skull doing Walk on the Wild Side, complete with tasty bass chords. The rest of their ten-song set switched from straight-up, four-on-the-floor punk rock, to a couple of defiant Avengers-ish tunes, to a couple like the Bush Tetras on steroids, equal parts catchy and abrasive, the guitarist slashing her way out of a thicket of overtones as she reached for the hooks and then swung on them with a gleeful wrath.

Wednesday we went out to the Foggy Goggle (Canadians like funny names) to check out the weekly bluegrass jam. While these are inevitably intended less as spectacle than as a way for musicians to keep up their chops – as they should be – this made for good spectacle, especially since the crew onstage – adventurous, jam-oriented mandolinist bandleader, banjo, fiddle, bass and a flatpicking guitarist whose lickety-split leads were breathtakingly good – didn’t limit themselves to old standards that everybody knows. By the time they got to Little Maggie, they’d been through plenty of surprises, including some tasty blues.

By the time we’d made it to Thursday night, it was time to chill. All the nightcrawling and running around to historic sites – the original city graveyard,with its creepy, over-the-top 18th century tombstones; another about an hour on foot from the city center, where numerous Titanic victims, many of them still unidentified, are buried at a central memorial; a whalewatching cruise that made for good seal-watching but didn’t turn up any bigger cetaceans; and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, with the world’s most extensive collection of Titanic artifacts – had taken its toll. At this point, we figured we’d wind up the trip quietly with a jazz show at Stayner’s Wharf, a comfortable seafood-and-beer joint on the water downtown. The Martin Davidson Trio launched into their set as we walked in, but even though this was clearly a “restaurant gig,” more of an exercise in ambience than scorching solos, they didn’t phone it in: instead, they threw off many hints that what they had in reserve was much more adventurous than what they were limited to in this particular setting. In a mix of mostly standards, Davidson played mostly tenor sax, switching to alto to wind up the set, sticking with a clear tone through an hour’s worth of purist, expansive solos. Occasionally it was just sax and bass as the Rhodes piano player backed away from his majestic block chords. On a couple of tunes, the bassist threw in some clever “is there anbody listening” swoops (yup, somebody was listening!); toward the end, a bossa number finally served as a launching pad for gritty bass and ringing piano textures: Davidson, playing alto, finally fired off some sharp bop-flavored salvos at the upper registers to close on a high note. From an audience perspective, it’s hard to imagine a better way to wind up the week: since Montreal, we’d literally come full circle.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/1/11

Every day (pretty much, anyway), our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #578:

Hector Lavoe – 15 Exitos

This is a decent if incomplete representation of the career of El Cantante, regarded by many as the greatest classic salsa singer of the golden age back in the 70s. His life, recounted in the 2003 biopic of the same name, was as uncertain as the angst and passion he channeled in his songs was direct. He died young, in 1993. This compilation, which covers pretty much his entire career, has his signature songs, El Cantante and Mi Gente; the tongue-in-cheek El Rey de la Puntualidad; the rough-and-ready Hacha y Machete, from 1970; the scorching Mentira, from 1976; the much slicker Noche de Farra, from 1980, and Cancer, from 1985. While the brass wails behind him, he’s never at ease: it seems that Fama was the last thing he wanted. Here’s a random torrent via Principiante Salsero.

July 2, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miramar’s Para Siempre – Get It While It Lasts

Miramar’s Para Siempre stands out as the most noir album of recent months. The vintage Puerto Rican bolero band’s main instrument is keyboardist Marlysse Simmons-Argandoña’s tremoloing, funereal Farfisa organ, over which singers Rei Alvarez (Simmons-Argandoña’s bandmate in retro salsa powerhouse Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonize lushly, against a backdrop of acoustic guitar, baby bass and drums – and that organ. The result is both completely retro and original at once, a Sam Fuller film set in San Juan, 1955. These “songs about love and anti-love” are up at the band’s bandcamp site as a name-your-price download (that means free if you’re broke).

Interestingly, the most iconic song here, Silvia Rexach’s Di Corazon is done with piano rather than organ, a stately, spacious version with spare guitar that lets the lyrics’ understated anguish speak for themselves. Rexach was reputedly about 15 or 16 when she wrote this; Alvarez and Singh vividly evoke the pain of a girl alone at night wondering whether anyone will ever care about her. The slinky Farfisa rivulets kick in on another Rexach classic, En Mis Sueños, darkly dreamy but more so musically than lyrically. They follow a brief, gorgeous organ solo by a gently spiky one from the acoustic guitar. Tomate Una Copa has a bouncy insistent “gimme a chance” vibe, with the piano and guitar carrying it, Alvarez handling the lead vocal.

Nuestro Juramento is a creepy organ waltz that evokes another retro latin band, Las Rubias Del Norte – the wounded duet vocals are viscerally intense. The best of the organ tunes is the lusciously, luridly spiraling Alma, with its wary, somewhat surreal guy-vs.girl call-and-response and tango nuevo-tinged melody. They follow that with two piano ballads, the expansive Y Etonces and the brooding, bitterly crescendoing intense title track. They close with Estatua (Te Creo), rich with restrained longing. Get this while it’s still online.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Afrobeat Orchestra Chopteeth Makes an Amazing Live Album

More bands should make live albums. They sound better than protools bedroom recordings, it’s infinitely cheaper to make one onstage than in the studio, and for the kinds of bands whose energy level jumps when they hit the stage, it’s ideal. That’s what Washington DC-based 14-piece Afrofunk orchestra Chopteeth did, and they couldn’t have made a better choice. They’re huge in their hometown, having won a Wammie (Washington Music Award) for the last two years; this should suss the rest of the world to the head-bopping power of their dancefloor grooves. What makes their sound unique is that they spice their hypnotic Afrobeat vamps with  latin sounds along with the occasional detour into soca or hip-hop.

The opening track, JJD (meaning Johnny Just Dropped – worn out from dancing maybe?) is typical. Basically, it’s a bracing, minor-key two-chord jam that builds up with catchy baritone sax, some wild trombone and then a mind-warping acid-rock guitar solo, drenched in reverb, kicking in the dance vibe with the wah-wah until the vocals finally come in about five minutes in. They keep the bounce going with another long vamp, Festival, with breaks for intense alto sax, thoughtful trumpet and a hypnotically echoing, blippy guitar solo. Didjeridoo does not include that particular instrument: it’s a slinky, swaying Afrobeat take on early 70s stoner funk with an absolutely delicious, psychedelic distorted reverb organ solo followed by sultry bari sax.

With its snaky guaguanco beat and salsa-jazz vibe, Jiin Ma Jiin Ma goes straight to the roots of Afro-Cuban music. There’s also what’s essentially a warm, upbeat reggae tune set to an Afrobeat rhythm; a long funk vamp that reminds of the Doors’ Peace Frog, of all things (it’s great!); a tasty Puerto Rican plena dance; a fiery Fela cover with crazed blustery trumpet matched to growling sax; and the closing number, Traitors of Africa, which hits a peak with a wildly distorted electric piano solo that some bands might have edited out, but these guys kept because the energy is so high. If you can’t dance to this then you need to check your pulse. Chopteeth are on tour later this year, hopefully coming to a town near you.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment