Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Plays a Rare Big Band Show of Ludicrously Fun Esquivel Tunes

Forget for a minute that Juan Garcia Esquivel wasn’t the world’s most memorable composer, or that a lot of his stuff sounds like Lawrence Welk on acid. This evening at Pace University downtown, polymath percussionist Brian O’Neill’s big band version of his sometime Esquivel tribute project Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica played an irresistibly fun show that emphasized Esquivel the satirist, one of only a small handful of occasions that Esquivel’s big band music has been presented in concert in this country by a large ensemble. Along with the vaudevillian cartoonishness in Esquivel’s music, there’s a sense that everything is fair game for a spoof, especially American standards from the 30s through the 50s. Over-the-top as Esquivel generally is, there’s a subtly defiant reconquista going on if you listen closely.

Which O’Neill has done, to an extreme: virtually everything the 22-piece ensemble played, he’d transcribed by hand from the original albums. O’Neill has had a ball with this group, and his enthusiasm turned out to be contagious, boiling over into the band and the audience, who gave him a standing ovation. Recreating charts by ear for instruments as seemingly ill-paired as pedal steel, chimes, pandeiro, Hammond organ and a vintage synthesizer that basically doesn’t exist anymore might seem like a thankless task, but O’Neill loves his job: having to figure out, for example, whether a phrase buried in the mix is either the Hammond, or four alto saxes in harmony.

Esquivel’s main shtick became a familiar trope after just a few songs. The juxtaposition of extreme lows versus extreme highs, bass trombone and vibraphone, gong and flute, served as a comedic device as much as it showcased the wide-angle stereo sound he helped pioneer at RCA Studios back in the mid-50s. It’s also psychedelic to the extreme. Watching this show without being stoned was a trip: it’s hard to envision Esquivel in the studio without a haze of Acapulco Gold or whatever primo bud Mexicans were smoking back then drifting from the control room. The version of Take the A Train that the band played evoked a scene where one guy passes the joint to Esquivel and then suggests, “Why don’t make it sound like a real train?” Many giggles later, the choo-choo theme, complete with steam-valve vocalizations from the four vocalists onstage, made its way around the room.

As conductor, O’Neill took advantage of the chance to show off his chops on piano, vibraphone and various percussion instruments, including a LMAO two-monkeys-faking-each-other-out duel on cajon with bongo player Wilson Torres. The leader of the three-piece trumpet section, Bryan Davis, had been chosen for his ability to hit Esquivel’s cruelly difficult high notes, and he made it look easy. Bass trombonist Chris Beaudry got plenty of punch lines early on; as the concert went on, steel player Tim Obetz, organist/pianist Rusty Scott and then the vocalists got momentary cameos to swoop and dive and get impossibly surreal. Yolanda Scott’s stratospheric, crystalline wail paired against murky percussion on the intro to Esquivel’s version of Harlem Nocturne was wickedly adrenalizing…and then the song turned into a red-eyed grin of a cha-cha. The same vibe appeared in Boulevard of Broken Dreams, as if to say, “You Americans can’t really take this gloomy stuff seriously, can you?”

The rest of the show wavered between biting and ticklish. A slinky bolero from the 70s fueled by unexpectedly moody guitar from Tev Stevig evoked the dark side of Chicha Libre, and the closing cha-cha, Ye-Yo, got a drive from drummer Gary Seligson that the group picked up on in a split-second, as if everybody was hell-bent on getting some of that stuff. By contrast, Esquivel’s most famous song, Mucha Muchacha spun off sparks around the ensemble as they grinningly vamped it up to a surreal linguistic exchange between the vocalists. There were too many other bright and amusing moments to count from the rest of the crew, including trumpeters Paul Perfetti and Mark Sanchez, trombonist Dan Linden, horn player Ken Pope, flutist/saxists Sean Berry, Marenglem Skendo, Alec Spiegelman and Russ Gershon (of the mighty Either/Orchestra), singers Jennifer O’Neill, Kristina Vaskys and Paul Pampinella, bassist Jason Davis, and percussionist Jeremy Lang.

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September 20, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #591:

Black Box Recorder – Passionoia

Possibly the most witheringly cynical album ever recorded. Bandleader Luke Haines (also of the Auteurs – see #744 on this list) has said innocuously that this 1999 release was his adventure in exploring keyboard textures, but it sounds suspiciously like a parody of 90s British dance-pop, albeit with better tunes and artsy flourishes. Frontwoman Sarah Nixey delivers Haines’ corrosive lyrics in an ice-goddess whisper over the glossy sheen. The School Song does double duty as Eurovision satire (a moment that will return again with a vengeance on When Britain Refused to Sing) and knowing chronicle of the kind of torture schoolkids have to endure. GSOH QED is an early satire of internet dating; British Racing Green quietly and cruelly alludes to Britain’s fall from first world power to third world irrelevance. Although much of this is a period piece, the songs stand the test of time – The New Diana mocks the Princess Diana cult, but it’s a brutally insightful look at the cult of celebrity, as is Andrew Ridgeley, the funniest song here, a reference to the guy in Wham who wasn’t George Michael. Being Number One, These Are the Things and Girls Guide for the Modern Diva are savage sendups of yuppie narcissism. The album ends on a surprisingly poignant, haunting note with I Ran All the Way Home, a gorgeously apprehensive omnichord-driven art-pop song straight out of the ELO catalog, told from the point of view of an abused little girl. All the songs are streamable at myspace, but wait fifteen seconds before you put your earphones on, AND refresh the page after each listen or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. Won’t it be a good day when myspace finally dies? Otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

June 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/21/11

If you think we’ve slacked off here this week, the reality is just the opposite. We’ve just been going out every night. Coming up: great shows from Caithlin De Marrais, Randi Russo, the Oxygen Ponies, Ward White, John Kelly, John Brown’s Body and the Easy Star All-Stars. Is that eclectic or what? In the meantime, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #649:

Serge Gainsbourg – Aux Armes Etcaetera

We probably should have picked this one for 4/20. It’s a counterintuitive one: the poete maudit of French hippie rock rapping in his Gauloise rasp over a deadpan groove supplied by Bob Marley’s band circa 1979. The lyrics only make sense if you understand uncouth 70s French slang, but the imperturbable bounce of the band is irresistible. The famous one here is the title cut, Gainsbourg doing the Marseillaise in a faux dancehall style. Lola Rastaquouere is a French pun (“rastaquouere” ironically means “vagabond,” with an immigrant connotation); Relax Baby Be Cool is fake R&B done almost ska style. Hostility gets out of hand with Brigade Des Stups, the bitter account of a stoner harrassed by the cops, as well as on Des Laids Des Laids (Ugly, Ugly) and Vieille Canaille (Old Bitch). Les Locataires (The Tenants) and Pas Long Feu (Real Soon) are more subtle. The cd reissue comes with an additional disc of outtakes and dub versions: all together, a twisted, weird idea that worked out better than anyone probably could have imagined. Here’s a random torrent.

April 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Monday’s is #750:

Blotto – Collected Works

It makes sense that we’d follow Blue Oyster Cult with these Albany, New York pranksters, frequent tourmates in the early 80s and one of the funniest bands ever to go into the studio. Like a louder Weird Al Yankovic, their parodies extended beyond radio pop. Their early MTV hit was I Wanna Be a Lifeguard, a Beach Boys spoof, and the flip side of the single was appropriately titled The B-Side: the single has the hit, but the poor b-side “ain’t got nothing.” Goodbye Mr. Bond is an epic satire of James Bond movies, and Henry Mancini; She’s Got a Big Boyfriend and Gimme the Girl are more straight-up comedy with a beat. The classic moments here are We Are the Nowtones, a brutal sendup of bar bands (someone in the crowd hollers “Play something good!”); Metalhead (a live tour de force that bludgeons every heavy metal cliche ever invented) and My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie, a spoof of death-on-the-highway pop: after the accident, the dead girl’s boyfriend wants everybody to remember that her underwear was clean. During their heyday, the band put out just a single album and a few ep’s; this independent reissue from the early zeros includes pretty much everything. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is up on cdbaby. The surviving band members reunite frequently for live dates in upstate New York and are as amusing as ever.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 12/26/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues as it does every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #765:

Songs by Tom Lehrer

“What I like to do is to take some of the songs that we know and presumably love [pause for audience snickering] and get them when they’re down, and kick them.” From the time he debuted with this 1953 independently released, lo-fi solo piano album, Tom Lehrer understood that 90% of humor is based on cruelty. The prototypical funny guy with the piano was still at Harvard when he pressed a few dozen copies for his friends and classmates who’d seen his shtick in the student lounge. If he came out with this kind of stuff today, no doubt he’d have billions of youtube hits. Hostile, sarcastic and fearless, his satire is spot-on and strikingly timeless, despite the fact that it relies exclusively on innuendo and is therefore G-rated. One by one, he skewers dumb college football songs (Fight Fiercely, Harvard); hillbilly music (I Wanna Go Back to Dixie); cowboy songs (The Wild West Is Where I Want to Be); ghoulish Irish ballads; Stephen Foster-style schmaltz (My Home Town); and Strauss waltzes (The Weiner Schnitzel Waltz). He also includes an early stoner anthem (The Old Dope Peddler), a klezmer parody (Lobachevsky) that does double duty as a satire of academia, I Hold Your Hand in Mine (which predates the Addams Family) and When You Are Old and Grey, a snide and equally ghoulish sendup of old people. While it doesn’t have the Vatican Rag, I Got It from Agnes, Pollution or Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, it’s the most consistently excellent Lehrer collection out there. If you like this stuff you’ll also probably like his 1959 live album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. He retired from music early in the 1960s and went on to a slightly less acclaimed but ostensibly just as rewarding career as a Harvard math professor. Here’s a random torrent.

December 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 11/6/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #815:

Weird Al Yankovic – Weird Al in 3-D

Some of you will think we’re insane for including a Weird Al album on this list. But Weird Al is awesome! Even if he isn’t as absolutely essential as he must have been 25 years ago, when there was actually an audience over 12 years old who were familiar with the top 40 hits he parodied so ruthlessly. That’s why we chose this 1984 album, his second: Weird Al doesn’t really make sense unless you know the source material, and a lot of these songs are still in heavy rotation on a lot of stations, all these years after they came out. This one has the crazy accordionist’s biggest 80s hit, Eat It (a spot-on spoof of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, right down to guest guitarist Rich Derringer’s shredding solo that absolutely blows away the Eddie Van Halen original). A lot of these songs are new wave parodies: The Brady Bunch makes fun of Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance; Mr. Popeil does the same with the B-52s, and King of Suede goofs on the Police. The funniest one here is the Eye of the Tiger satire The Rye or the Kaiser, a sad tale of an ex-boxer deli owner who’s only got enough left in him to punch out a sausage or two. There’s also the reggae sendup Buy Me a Condo (insinuating that holier-than-thou Rasta reggae artists are all just sellouts at heart), and the reliably amusing Polkas on 45, a joke version of the hit medley Stars on 45. Weird Al is such a funny guy that he could take a completely boring album like Bad by Michael Jackson and make it interesting. The trouble with what he does is that as the audience for top 40 has eroded, so has his fan base: he could spoof Lady Gaga all he wants, but who over age ten knows any of her songs? Maybe it’s time for Weird Al to do a Broken Social Scene record. Here’s a random torrent.

November 6, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 10/29/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #823:

The Best of Spike Jones

The genius of Spike Jones is that his topical jokes from seventy years ago are as funny today as they were then. It helps if you know the source material, but it’s not necessary: after all these years, four-year-olds of all ages still laugh at all the bells and whistles and bumps and crashes in the drummer/bandleader’s crazed vaudevillian catalog. According to amazon, there are 55 Spike Jones albums currently in print; this one has only twelve tracks, but it’s the most solid singles collection we could find (in the early 40s, when the guy was at his peak, everybody was a singles artist). The classic of classics here is Der Fuehrer’s Face, a quintessentially and hilariously American response to Hitler’s WWII propaganda machine. But Jones lampooned the pop music of the era with only slightly less venom, with the horror-movie version of My Old Flame; the drunken, over-the-top Chloe; the Peter Lorre-inspired Laura and The Glow Worm (which surprisingly we couldn’t find streaming anywhere); and the very literal You Always Hurt the One You Love. None but the Lonely Heart is no less amusing a parody of soap operas than it was seven decades ago, and Hawaiian War Chant gives the then-current Hawaiian music craze a thorough stomping. Since classical music was broadcast nationwide on a daily basis during Jones’ heyday, he also lampooned that as well – this collection only has the surprisingly subtle (for him) Dance of the Hours and the arguably funniest moment in an album full of many, the gargling solo on the William Tell Overture, followed by the immortal horse race where the last-place Beetlebomb finally emerges triumphant. Absent here, and probably for the best, are less politically correct numbers like Chinese Mule Train and The Sheik of Araby, which have aged badly. But the album does have Jones’ biggest hit Cocktails for Two, innocuous pop song transformed into one of the great drinking anthems. Here’s a random torrent.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 8/9/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #904:

The Bonzo Dog Band – The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse

Verrrrrry British stoner humor from 1968. This album gets the nod over the others in the Bonzos’ frequently hilarious catalog, as it’s more song-oriented than skit-oriented – which ironically means that there are more jokes here. They’re also especially biting, even for these guys, right down to the album title (“granny’s greenhouse” is 60s-era British slang for “outhouse”). It doesn’t have anything as hysterically funny as The Intro and the Outro (that one’s on their first album, Gorilla, from 1967), but it’s solid all the way through. It’s also their hardest-rocking album: Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and the rest of the crew are quick to lampoon anything and everything, especially 60s psychedelic rock excess, with the distorto organ rocker We Are Normal (which nicks an Arthur Lee trope), Beautiful Zelda and 11 Mustachioed Daughters. The snide Can Blue Men Sing the Whites? throws a jab in the direction of Cream; Rockaliser Baby mixes woozy, smoky one-liners into what sounds like a parody of the Move. The satire turns absolutely caustic on Trouser Press, a spoof of dance-craze songs introduced by a creepy Misterogers-type emcee. The jokes run the gamut from completely over-the-top – Stanshall mixing a drink and then slurping it on the intro to the phony ragtime ballad Hello Mabel – to clever and deadpan, best exemplified by the status-grubbing neighbors of My Pink Half of the Drainpipe. Pretty much everything the Bonzos did is worth owning, and it’s all up in the cloud online.

August 9, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seven Sick Inches of Mighty High and Stone Axe

“Brooklyn’s #1 regressive rockers,” Mighty High have a brand-new split 7″ with fellow 70s metalheads Stone Axe and it’s a blast of skunky hydroponic smoke, perfect for dropping on what’s left of your brain. It’s impossible not to crack an illegal smile when you hear this. Metal Damage by Stone Axe sets Drew Brinkerhoff’s woozy/silly David Lee Roth-ish vocals over your basic mid-70s riffage: Kiss might have sounded this good if they’d ever learned how to play their instruments. A smoldering cherry of a guitar solo turns into a twin solo – Hotel California, here we come! Stone Axe are actually a much more diverse band than this would indicate, in fact one of the best retro metal acts around, with a new album due out sometime in the fall.

Mighty High’s Don’t Panic, It’s Organic is classic – there’s nobody better at making fun of wretched metal excess. This is a fast number, Aerosmith’s Mama Kin as Motorhead might have done it. When the lead guitar blurts out of the break before the last verse like a belch that couldn’t be contained, it’s priceless. And of course you gotta have a pickslide! Sweetest thing about this is that it’s on vinyl, with all the low end and sonic yumminess you can’t get from a cd or mp3. Scheduled for release in July at independent stores who have the good taste (well, sort of) to carry music like this, it’ll also be available from Mighty High, Stone Axe (currently on west coast tour, where the single is already onsale) and from Ripple Music, who are already taking pre-orders.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Neil Innes at B.B. King’s, NYC 4/20/10

It’s a vaudeville device as old as vaudeville itself: get the crowd to repeat a series of phrases that begin innocuously and gradually become more and more ridiculous until the entire audience are making complete fools of themselves. Neil Innes got the house to affirm, in pretty perfect unison, that they’d never repeat anything that anyone purporting to being an authority figure wanted them to repeat – and they kept going, through a couple rounds of “Help me, Rhonda,” and would have gone on longer had the legendary Monty Python funnyman not grown sick of it. He did it again at the end of the show, getting everybody to do a big, fat raspberry, and spit all over each other. What was it that W.C. Fields said you could never underestimate?

Not every joke that Innes made was this broad or unsubtle, in fact just the opposite. The genius of Monty Python is in the casual absurdities, the little asides that you might miss if you’re not paying attention, or not on the same wavelength. There was a lot of that kind of humor, and a lot of music too – this was every bit the concert it was billed as, Innes showing off an impressive proficiency on acoustic guitar, piano and an oversized mandolin and a wryly tuneful, new wave soul songwriting style more than a little evocative of Graham Parker. And not all of it was funny, particularly a rather morbid, chordally complex number toward the end of the set, and the final encore, titled Old Age Becomes Me, a recent song that Innes had written to commemorate his 65th birthday. And old age does become him, resolutely absurdist after all these years, as quick to pick up on any incongruity or hypocrisy that crosses his radar as he ever was.

It was a mix of material from throughout Innes’ career. He briefly revisited his Bonzo Dog Band days, then ran through some silly old 1920s British music hall pieces, getting a boisterous call-and-response going with the crowd. The recent stuff riffed on an old guy trying to come to grips with the internet, a faux Mexican folk song about the seemingly impossible but very real decline of television to even greater lows – “I was the toilet bowl germ with the wicked grin,” the perplexed narrator dreams – and a send-up of French chanson delivered in the person of “Jean-Paul Satire.” The audience responded warmly to a couple of bits from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the pieces de resistance were the Rutles songs, both from the movie and the even more hilarious 1997 Archaeology album, a phony Beatles Anthology that remains the gold standard for musical parody. The musical riffs were only half the fun – hearing the songs live, the gems hidden in the nooks and crannies jumped out when least expected. The curmudgeonly Irish cop in Doubleback Alley (i.e. Penny Lane) may drive the local kids crazy, but he’s looking out for them: “Stay away from the man in the ice cream van whose face was queer.” Innes proved equally adept at parodying Elton John, donning a pair of Williamsburg trendoid glasses, pounding the piano and slurring his lyrics through an absolutely ridiculous, absolutely spot-on ballad titled Godfrey Daniel. Considering that Monty Python after all this time remains a phenomenon that a new generation discovers every year, it wasn’t surprising to see how young most of the crowd was. Now if they can only put their slavish devotion to the man behind them and take his words of wisdom literally…

April 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment