Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dark Psychedelic Romance with Miramar at Barbes

Saturday night at Barbes Miramar put on what had to be the most romantic show of the year, and one of the most haunting ones too. Like a Puerto Rican Las Rubias del Norte, they add swirling tremolo organ to classic boleros from the 1950s and 60s along with some choice originals that fit in perfectly with the old classics. Singers Rei Alvarez (also of Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonized with a sometimes sultry, sometimes chilling chemistry over organist Marlysse Simmons-Argandona’s psychedelic swirl, anchored by an excellent rhythm section with baby bass, drums and bongos plus an acoustic guitarist. Their version of the famous Por Siempre had Simmmons-Argandona following a thoughtful, soulful guitar solo with one of her own that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Electric Prunes song. She switched to piano for a slow, swaying tune where the male singer tries to tell the girl he’s with that he’s not heartbroken – it’s just the hot food. Maybe, a Greek psychedelic rock ballad from the 1960s with bolero tinges, was the eeriest moment of the night, with some nice tremolo picking from the guitarist, maybe to mimic the oud on the original? It sounded like a Greek Chicha Libre.

The rest of the set was just as eclectic: the unexpectedly dark Amorada Madre Mia, with its guy/girl tradeoffs and intense, distorted organ solo; Insatiable, with more of a dramatic tango feel; a romantic island tableau done as a piano nocturne; the stately waltz Estatua, an Alvarez original; and a conversation between a man and woman, again reaching for a tango atmosphere with incisive organ and crescendoing Spanish guitar. They closed with an elegant duet version of Sylvia Rexach’s iconic En Mis Suenos, full of restrained longing, and a number that once again brought to mind Chicha Libre, echoey electric piano vamping hypnotically, with searching, soaring harmonies and a long, spiraling guitar solo. They didn’t play their devastating version of Rexach’s signature song, Di Corazon (they were saving that for the second set), which is available on their pretty amazing new album at their bandcamp site.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/6/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #695:

The Fania All-Stars – Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 2

Conceived as a branding mechanism for the label, the Fania All-Stars were supposed to be the greatest salsa band of their era – a goal that wasn’t all that hard to achieve because virtually everybody in the band was a bandleader. The lineup reads like a latin music hall of fame: Larry Harlow, Justo Betancourt, Yomo Toro, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Baretto, Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and literally dozens of others. From 1967 to the early 80s, they put out one ecstatic, danceable album after another, which makes this a particularly hard choice. The four-cd box set Ponte Duro: The Fania All-Stars Story was awfully tempting, but since this group was first and foremost a live orchestra, that’s where they did their best work. This scorching 1976 set, most of it actually recorded in Puerto Rico (the sound mix there was better than what they had in the Bronx), captures them at the peak of their brass-heavy power. These are long, psychedelic jams: Hermandad Fania, which gets things cooking right off the bat; the eleven-minute Celia Cruz epic Bemba Colora; Ismael Quintana’s first big, soulful hit, Mi Debilidad; as well as Echate Pa ‘lla and the fourteen-minute stomp Congo Bongo. Here’s a random torrent via sogoodmusic.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/2/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #727:

Patato y Totico

Raw, primal and hypnotic (some would say magical) but also cutting-edge, this landmark 1967 Afro-Cuban session came together when Cuban-American singer/conguero Eugenio “Totico” Arango joined forces with his fellow conguero Carlos “Patato” Valdes on a high-energy mix of classic rhumba tunes and originals, adding extra spice to the concoction with legendary tres guitarist Arsenio Rodriguez and brilliant latin bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. Essentially, this is the kind of streetcorner latin music played by gaggles of older guys throughout New York neighborhoods, taken to the next level. They give Jorge Ben’s Mas Que Nada a thorough workout, take a jaunt through the hood with Nuestro Barrio, get the passersby dancing with Ya Yo and offer a memorable dis with Ingrato Corazon. The rest of the ten tracks here include the santero chant Agua Que Va Caer (the recently deceased Totico was a highly sought-after santeria shaman); the hilarious En El Callejon and the big dancefloor hit Dilo Como Yo, covered by a million bands including Antibalas. Here’s a random torrent.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yorgis Goiricelaya Looks Forward and Back with Afro-Cuban Music

Cuban-American bassist Yorgis Goiricelaya’s new album Elegance lives up to its title. Yet it’s just as gritty in places, setting cerebral improvisations on both classic and original songs alongside joyously rustic streetcorner soul vamps, immersed in the rich history of Afro-Cuban music yet pushing the envelope at the same time. Behind him is a hall of fame lineup of latin jazz players, among them Hilario Bell on drums and percussion, Orlando Guanche on piano (and harmonica on one tune), Aldo Salvent on tenor sax, Eddie Trujillo on guitar, Carlos Puig and Omar Peralta on trumpet, William Paredes on trombone, Reinier Guerra on drums, Eduardo Rodriguez on congas, along with with cameos by rustic Afro-Cuban group Los Herederos, pianist Osmany Paredes, Cuban sax legend Paquito D’Rivera, pianist Tony Perez and singer Issac Delgado. Such a heavyweight lineup doesn’t usually come out all at once for a single project, testament to the imagination and quality of the compositions. Latin bassists tend to be an especially melodic bunch, and Goiricelaya continues that tradition: he doesn’t waste notes, his melodic hooks are consistently strong, and it’s obvious that he was able to clearly communicate his ideas to the rest of the cast here.

Los Herederos open the album with some old-time streetcorner rhumba soul, drums and vocals hypnotizing with their tricky polyrythms. Then the full band takes Aniceto Diaz’ Rompiendo la Rutina in an unexpected and richly complex direction highlighted by D’Rivera’s expansive, carefree solo. With its bossa pulse, Annalis Elisa Suarez’ Delirios is a richly melodic song without words, Salvent’s swirling tenor delivering one of several tasty solo spots. Blue, a Goiricelaya original, is a blustery cha-cha elevated by shimmering piano from Guanche, who emerges as the MVP of this session. He quotes Chopin on a lengthy, intense version of El Manicero and adds an incisiveness that’s sometimes austere, sometimes downright aggressive throughout the rest of his tracks, notably a version of Echale Salsita where he plays against some period-perfect muted trumpet from Peralta.

Bell’s Juego de Tiempo is done as vintage 70s funk, with a playfully trippy electric guitar solo by Trujillo. The band turns Jaco Pastorius’ Teen Town into a gleefully purist big band bossa romp and rips through a bubbly, hypnotic version of Bell’s Se Acabo. After the last of Los Herederos’ call-and-response interludes, the album closes with a terse, genuinely beautiful piano-and-bass arrangement of Tony Perez’ ballad My Love. The cd comes with a DVD (subtitled in English) which chronicles the recording process, including an endless series of rap video-style cameos from the musicians which occasionally provide some insight into the music. The most interesting of these are when Goiricelaya explains how he came across Los Herideros – and when D’Rivera shows off a considerable sense of humor. Goiricelaya is currently based in Miami; this album should go a long way toward getting him the broader audience he deserves.

January 26, 2011 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Peña Album Explores Afro-Peruvian Flavors

Guitarist Cory J. Wong and producer Eric Foss wanted to capture the spirit of Afro-Peruvian music at the source, so they caught a flight to Lima and made the Peña Album. Wong has a bright, thoughtfully spare acoustic style, accompanied occasionally by bassist Jorge Roeder and singer Sofia Rei Koutsovitis and a rotating cast of percussionists including Chico Chavez, Hugo Alcazar and one simply credited as “Larry.” Recorded on the fly in various locations around the city, often with local musicians, it has the spontaneous feel of a field recording. Peruvians, along with the African slaves imported by the conquistadors, suffered as badly under imperialism as the rest of the world’s indigenous peoples: musical instruments were banned, the result being the invention of all sorts of clever instruments, the most famous being the cajon (which in its first incarnation was simply an inverted wooden crate). This album has a remarkable similarity to Jordi Savall’s recent excavation of baroque-era latin music, El Nuevo Mundo: Folias Criollas, in that it reminds what a melting pot the “new world” was for everyone involved. The African blues progression is everywhere, but so is the flamenco guitar, and the huaynos and criollo songs that predated both of them here.

The album alternates instrumentals with vocal numbers: Wong’s carefree picking lights up several flamencoish numbers along with the acerbic, plaintive Mi Corazon Roto and a surprisingly big crescendo on the stately yet slinky San Miguel de Piura. Others follow tricky, intricate dance themes. A couple of songs here foreshadow what would happen when this music came in contact with rock and the amazing, surfy sound of chicha was born. Roeder makes the most of his presence here, including a couple of somewhat devious, percussive solos. Koutsovitis adds jazz nuance; Paloma Godoy offers a more traditional, stately lead vocal on a waltz tune. The best song here is the somewhat wry, stop-and-start Huaqueno Viejo, Alberto Gil’s guitar and vocals reminding that essentially, almost all of this was meant to be played as party music. Because of the nature of the recording, the sound is a little boomy, although listeners who prefer mp3 sound won’t notice. The album comes with an accompanying DVD (not viewed here) in a delightful wood gatefold case on the aptly named Secret Stash Records.

January 22, 2011 Posted by | folk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Album of the Day 12/19/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #772:

Machito y Su Orquesta – Esta Es Graciela

By the time the legendary Cuban-American bandleader and his sultry chanteuse sister released this album in 1964, he was in his fifties and she was getting close. But neither show their age. Only the arrangements are more lush and sensual, by comparison to the animated intensity of the band’s work in previous decades. Machito may or may not have invented salsa, but his orchestra was the one that everybody imitated, right through the end of the 60s and even beyond: the Fania era never would have happened without him. Likewise, Graciela Gutierrez-Perez, who died earlier this year at 94, set the standard for salsa divas. She could be brassy or coy and she could work a song’s innuendo the same way she worked a crowd. This one shows off both her sides: El Albanico, a slinky, sly duet with Machito; the crafty, sexy Mi Querido Santi Clo; the fast, bubbly mambo Estoy A Mil; the downright seductive Ay Jose; the lavishly orchestrated son montuno of El Gato Tiene Tres Patas; the sad, brooding Ya Tu No Estas; the characteristically tongue-in-cheek, risque Celos Negros, and the balmy tropicalia ballad Si No Eres Tu, and four others ranging from lavishly lush to swinging dance numbers. Frequently reissued and often bootlegged, later versions constantly turn up in used record stores that sell latin music. Otherwise, Fania has the cd; here’s a random torrent.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Vastly Different New Spins on Afro-Cuban Music

For those of you in el barrio – or your own private barrio – the Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s latest album Viva La Tradicion is old news (it came out in September). If you missed it, it’s a treat for anyone with fond memories of the Fania era. Rather than looking forward, it looks back, sometimes as far back as the Pedro Flores classic Linda, represented here with a fast slinky bounce. It’s sort of a collection of new and vintage salsa with a conscious theme: pride of ownership. The Orchestra do not take their name, or the historical weight it carries, in vain, something you would expect from a cast of some of the best latin players in the business, many of them Tito Puente vets. None other than Paul Simon served as co-executive producer. As exemplified by the opening track, written by Cuban bandleader Manuel Simonet, this is salsa dura with modern production values. The blazing brass of trombonists Jimmy Bosch and Dan Reagan and trumpeters Hector Colon and John Walsh sends the conscious dance tune Mi Herencia Latina off into a fiery Cuban sunset. Mitch Frohman’s baritone sax spirals out of an expansive piano solo by bandleader Oscar Hernandez on the jazziest cut here, Rumba Urbana. Salsa vet Gil Lopez, who arranged much of this, has a lush, lyrical version of his ballad Nuestra Cancion here; there are also a couple of slow cha-cha’s, the bolero-flavored, suspenseful La Fiesta Empezo and the aptly swinging El Negro Tiene Tumbao that closes the album, with guest vocals from Isaac Delgado. The percussion trio of Luisito Quintero on timbales, George Delgado on congas and Jorge Gonzalez on bongos rumble, clatter and groove behind the snaky, melodic bass pulse of Gerardo Madera.

Straight from Cuba comes alto saxophone phenom and bandleader Michel Herrera, with a far more modern sound. Although rooted in Afro-Cuban rhythms, especially clave, he and his band – the core includes Roger Riso on keys, Julio Cesar Gonzales on bass, Hector Quintana on guitar, Ismel Witnall on percussion, Yissi Garcia on drums and Eduardo Sandoval on trombone – shoot for a sound that’s jazzier and more deliberately cerebral. His compositions shift shape, sometimes on a dime, go doublespeed, go back in time eighty years (once with a beautifully rustic percussion-and-piano interlude) and give his band – especially trumpeter Julio Regal, whose work with a mute packs a thoughtfully crescendoing punch – a wide playing field. Pequena Historia, the first full-length track on his new album En La Espera, sets buoyant horns over a funky rhythm section, Herrera’s sax moving from balminess to bluster, followed by an eerily fluid, portamento-ish electric organ solo. The slinky clave groove Estaciones surprisingly serves as a launching pad for the most boisterous, bop-tinged playing here; with its sizzling piano cascades, soul-flavored electric guitar and tricky polyrhythms, the title track attests to Herrera’s wide-ranging eclecticism. Sometimes he gets carried away: the electric instruments lend an unwanted fusiony feel on occasion, and the one “R&B” flavored vocal number here is a bad joke. Still in his twenties, Herrera is a winner (and now a judge) of the Cuban Joven Jazz competition: he caught the eye of Wynton Marsalis, who’s become a sort of mentor. As the US hopefully moves toward normalizing relations with Cuba, Herrera and his colleagues deserve more of a presence here: this is an auspicious look at a scene that’s been percolating too far under the radar.

Finally, just in time for the Festival of Lights, there’s Celebrations, by Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble: latinized versions of familiar and not-so-familiar themes for Chanukah and Purim. Hybrids like this are actually more common than you might think – we gave the thumbs-up to the latest album by Kat Parra & the Sephardic Music Experience early this year – and Jews have long played an important role in latin music, especially jazz (Larry Harlow springs to mind). Here pianist Marlow is joined by legendary latin bandleader Bobby Sanabria on drums, Frank Wagner on bass, Cristian Rivera on percussion and Michael Hashim on alto and soprano sax, with pianist Nada Loutfi guesting on a brooding, expansively swinging Marlow original.

Hashim, in particular, gives these rearrangements a sly, genial bounce. Chanukah, O Chanukah gets a funky pulse and then it swings, down to just baroque-tinged piano rivulets. The famous dreidel theme is reinvented as a feisty rhumba with honking sax and inspired contributions from everyone. A Purim melody becomes a Brubeck-esque ballad, goes psychedelic with Rhodes piano and then hits a disco groove. An old Talmudic melody gets a warily nocturnal art-rock piano arrangement; the final number, seemingly a reprise of the opening theme, has a swinging Slaughter on Tenth Avenue vibe. The band are obviously having great fun playing hide and seek with the melodies to the point where they’re completely unrecognizable: all this is as fun as it is creative. Although professionally produced, Marlow’s five-minute spoken-word “explanation” of the band on the last track gives the cd the feel of a demo, an audio press kit for those who might be interested in hiring the band for a simcha. It would have been more effective – not to mention less expensive – to include this in, say, a press release, or the cd booklet.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/10/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #811:

The Joe Cuba Sextet – Push Push Push

Iconic in latin music circles, the Joe Cuba Sextet were the most popular of the bugalu bands that sprang up in Spanish Harlem in the 1960s, blending the most danceable elements of soul music with catchy horn-and-piano-driven salsa. The famous crossover hit is Bang Bang, covered by thousands of acts in the decades since it topped the charts in 1966. Another crossover smash here is the James Brown-influenced Sock It To Me. The rest of the album is a mix of latin soul and ridiculously catchy, slinky straight-up salsa (Asi Soy and Mujer Divina, for example) with a thicket of percussion (bandleader Cuba was a conguero) and resonantly catchy hooks along with some cool innovative touches like the eerie vibraphone on La Malanga Brava. Alafia was a mambo hit; the final track, Cocinando (i.e. “cooking the sauce”) is a long jam where the band push each other to take it higher and higher. Although as the decades wore on, Joe Cuba moved away from this toward a more mainstream salsa sound, pretty much everything he did is worth hearing if you’re into this sort of thing. Auspiciously, there’s been a bugalu resurgence, with new bands like Spanglish Fly and the Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout continuing the tradicion. Fania has the digital reissue; otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

November 10, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/18/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #834:

Willie Colon – La Gran Fuga

That two trombones, a piano, bass and three percussionists could create a sound this big is stunning. This one was literally Colon’s big break, and forty years later, it’s taken on iconic status. As bandleader and trombonist, he gets top billing even though his equally gifted collaborator, Héctor Lavoé took all the vocals (and if you search for these songs you’ll find them much more easily if you’re looking for El Canario). It’s also a major moment in salsa history because it’s such a melting pot (that could be said about latin music in general, but especially New York salsa). Surprisingly, the big hit off the album is a catchy reworking of a Guyanese nursery rhyme, Ghana’E. The mini-suite Panameña is a bomba track, a joyous shout-out to Puerto Rican culture – remember, salsa began in Cuba, so the implication here is that the time has come for el barrio. There’s also the swaying dance hit Barrunto; the hypnotically slinky, beautifully brooding No Cambiaré; the gentle, lovingly mocking Abuelita (poking fun at an old lady’s crazy vernacular); and the not-so-gentle faux Mexican dance Cancion por Me Suegra. Both Colon and Lavoé would go on to bigger and more popular projects, but this captures that beautiful moment where Afro-Cuban-based music was just starting to morph into the big, orchestral Fania sound that would become just as iconic five or six years later. Here’s a random torrent.

October 18, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment