Lucid Culture


Twin Peaks Music from WA

Think of the opening bars of Nature Boy – but try not to imagine Nat Cole singing it. Just hum the tune to yourself. Creepy, isn’t it? What the Seattle-based quartet WA – as in Washington – have done on their new album, Cross the Center, out on the enterprising Table and Chairs label, is to improvise a series of variations on that riff. Alternating between morose and menacing, it’s hard to think of a more intense thirty minutes of music that’s been released this year. The whole thing is streaming at Bandcamp (something that all jazz labels should be doing, by the way).

It takes awhile to get going. Guitarists Simon Henneman and CJ Stout open it with an uneasy clang, then drummer Gregg Keplinger lopes and rumbles purposefully as Henneman fires off elephantine blasts of noise, eventually joined a little less exuberantly by Stout. After about ten minutes of this – they call it Funfun – Nature Boy is introduced and within seconds, Henneman begins judiciously reinventing it as terse noir theme. Using a dry tone with plenty of reverb and occasional wah, he moves it a little more outside with care and concern, eventually throwing off a couple of spiraling glissandos as the menace builds. The band eventually goes quiet and atmospheric, then brings the riff back and the menace along with it. Then they bring back the shifting sheets of sound filtering in and then out of the picture, Henneman’s matter-of-factness matched by Keplinger. The final variation, titled Carcassi, has both guitarists utilizing a cleaner, tremoloing tone, subsituting more of a chordal approach than the simple, subtly vibrato-tinged single-note lines that Henneman has been employing up to this point. The effect is absolutely chilling, and Lynchian (appropriate for a Twin Peaks-area band, huh?). There’s another band member, Sean Lane, credited with “bicycle and electronics” – sonically, it’s not clear where he fits into picture, whether percussionwise or otherwise.

By the way – this is apropos of nothing other than the possible origin of the song – if you think that the opening bars of Nature Boy have a gypsy quality, be aware that the opening lick is identical to the very beginning of Dvorak’s Second Piano Quintet.


July 7, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ran Blake and Sara Serpa Make the Ultimate Noir Vocal Jazz Album

This is what David Lynch was going for with Angelo Badalementi and Julee Cruise but never quite managed to nail. Sara Serpa’s expertise is vocalese, a style at which the Portuguese-born chanteuse is ideally suited, yet it’s something she only utilizes on a couple of numbers on her new album Camera Obscura. Her English accent may not be perfect yet but her interpretation of the arrangements here, and her teamwork with her former New England Conservatory teacher, the legendary noir jazz pianist Ran Blake, is extraordinary. She approaches these songs with a devastating clarity and vulnerability: her delivery is completely unadorned, yet absolutely resolute and ultimately fearless. This is arguably the best album so far this year in jazz, or for that matter any style of music, every bit as original as Blake’s landmark 1961 collaboration with Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound Around. A cynic might say that it’s what Hilary Kole should have done on her album with Brubeck and Hank Jones and all those other legends but didn’t.

Nat King Cole’s When Sunny Gets Blue gets a characteristically understated, minimalist treatment. As she does throughout the album, Serpa brings the most minute details of the lyrics vividly to life, particularly the disquieting ones. When she sings, “She lost her smile, changed her style, somehow she’s not the same,” a subtle downturn takes on the weight of an earthquake. Janet McFadden’s playful Our Fair Cat introduces a furry friend who is a murderer in theory – and in practice as well, Blake juxtaposing a blithe bounce with a grim gleam, Serpa taking it solo all the way up to the top of her range, completely deadpan, then Blake launches into a twisted little waltz. Folhas (Leaves), an original setting of a poem by Eugenio de Andrade offers something of a respite from the brooding intensity.

The Short Life of Barbara Monk is a spellbinding noir jazz waltz by Blake. Serpa’s wounded vocalese makes a chill-inducing contrast with Blake’s sinister music-box tinges – and takes the anguish up a notch when Blake turns on a dime and shifts into a fast Mingus-esque swing groove. A second Nat Cole cover, I Should Care, clocks in at a brief minute forty-two, dedicated to Monk and as to the point as it can be considering its murky ambience. A tune by Monk himself, Nutty has Serpa carrying the rhythm over jagged incisions by Blake. Driftwood is a terrifically apt Chris Connor homage, Serpa warmly remembering the beach in summer – and suddenly Blake hits an ominous chord, then leaves her out to dry, and the result is spine-tingling. The version of Cole Porter’s Get Out of Town follows in the same vein. “I care for you much too much” is laden with regret rather than a celebration, Serpa’s voice taking on a desperate tinge as the piano picks up the pace. “Be good to me please -” she stops just short of imploring. “We touch too much,” she asserts with a knowing roll of the eyes. They end the album with April in Paris, which starts out more like the dead of winter and stays like that most of the way, a far cry from the conventionality of the Sinatra hit. Together these two have raised the bar for jazz singing – and accompaniment – to an absurdly high level.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment