Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nation Beat Plays Every Fun Style of Music Ever Invented

Nation Beat’s new album Growing Stone is a potent reminder why New York has, despite all attempts to whitewash it, remained such a great cauldron for new music. This band is absolutely impossible to categorize – there is no other group who sound remotely like Nation Beat. Willie Nelson is a fan (he booked them at Farm Aid). With the improvisational flair of a jam band, the danceable vibe of a Brazilian maracatu drumline and the soul of a country band, what they play is first and foremost dance music. If you took Poi Dog Pondering – a good jam band from another generation – subtracted the bluegrass and replaced it with Brazilian flavor, you’d have a fair if not completely accurate approximation of what Nation Beat sound like. They’re sunny and upbeat but also pretty intense.

With its hip-hop beat and Mark Marshall’s wah guitar harmonizing with the violin, the opening track sets the stage for the rest of this incredibly eclectic record. The second track, Bicu de Lambu sets sunbaked slide guitar over Rob Curto’s accordion for a zydeco/country feel with blippy bass and bandleader Scott Kettner’s rolling surf drums. Meu Girassol is the Duke Ellington classic Caravan redone as eerily off-kilter, guitar-driven Afrobeat bubbling over guest Cyro Baptista’s percussion, followed by a briskly cheery horn-driven forro-ska number.

With its soaring fiddles and Memphis soul guitar, the bouncy, swaying title track is a showcase for frontwoman Liliana Araujo’s laid-back but raw, down-to-earth vocals – and is that a Dixie quote? Forro for Salu has a rustic Brazilian string band vibe with the twin fiddles of Skye Steele and Dennis Lichtman over Kettner’s rumbling, hypnotic percussion. They follow that with a summery soca-flavored tune and then a reggae song that goes sprinting into ska. The rest of the album blends bouncy forro, ecstatic New Orleans second-line sounds, retro 20s blues, rocksteady, vintage 60s funk and swaying oldschool C&W and and makes it all seem effortless. It’s out now on similarly eclectic Brooklyn label Barbes Records.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | country music, funk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, ska music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The People’s Champs Get the Party Started

The People’s Champs are a New York supergroup composed of members of some of the best and/or funkiest bands in town: Blitz the Ambassador and Larkin Grimm’s bands, Slavic Soul Party, Meta and the Cornerstones, the Superpowers, Nation Beat and Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Together they create a unique, individual sound that mixes psychedelic funk with Afrobeat. With the songs’ intricate arrangements, unexpected changes and edgy melodies, their new ep works just as well over headphones as it probably does on the dance floor.

These tunes are a trip. The first one, Angihambe is the most traditional, Fela-style vamp here, with the horns, accordion and then guitar kicking in over a warmly circling, syncopated midtempo pulse. Guitarist David Bailis hits his repeater box and then slyly shadows the band, panning almost imperceptibly across the mix and then back as the horns break free joyously and swirly keyboards join the frenzy. They manage to do all this in about four minutes. The next track, Family (a free download at the band’s bandcamp site) is pretty straight-up funk punctuated by powerful blasts from guitar and keys together. A woman sings nonchalantly about the “daily struggle” against the grit of the tune. They take it down to a staggered beat, Josiah Woodson’s trumpet gently playing against Mitchell Yoshida’s reverberating Rhodes piano, then they take it back up again.

The best and most psychedelic song here is Keep on Coming Back. Starting atmospherically with dub elements that echo in and out of the mix all the way through, darkly bluesy guitar flings glowing shards of reverb against the murky backdrop. As the swirl rises and falls, the horns play off the guitar, followed by a rumbling dub interlude. The last song is Truth Assumption, a hard-hitting yet amusing tune blending Afrobeat with funk, with a blippy synthesizer up in the mix to raise the smile factor. Distorted, staccato keys and guitar fire punch against the warmth of the horn section, followed by a big, satisfying swell that fades out, dirty and distorted. It’s a good ride all the way through.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Dec. 10, a Global Dance Party with Real Live Music – Who Knew?

A lot of people know about this, actually – but there’s always room for more. Scott Kettner and Mehmet Dede are the brain trust behind the frequent Is America Part of the World? global dance parties around New York. For awhile they did them at the Brooklyn Yard; this time out they’re at Littlefield. Scott plays drums in the excellent, absurdly eclectic Brazilian-flavored Nation Beat; Mehmet holds down a corner of the Drom nightclub empire and produces music festivals including the NY Gypsy Festival. Here’s their take on their next show, Friday, December 10:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: The club’s going to keep the floor open, people will be dancing just as they usually do at your shows, right?

Mehmet Dede: Yes, absolutely. Our series is about the heart and mind as well as the feet – it’s a global party. Dancing and having fun is an important element for us.

LCC: All this is happening Friday, December 10 at Littlefield, showtime says 8 PM, is that actually the time the bands start?

MD: Doors are at 8 PM; the first band, Tall Tall Trees, will go on at 9. After midnight we’ll continue with DJ Turnmix, who is an excellent dj from Barcelona. Did I say this is a global dance party?

LCC: What’s the deal with tickets? Thirteen bucks, that’s about four dollars a band…

MD: Yes, we wanted to keep the ticket prices down to give people more for their money. In this economy, I think people will appreciate it.

LCC: Let’s see if I got this right, first band is Tall Tall Trees, who are a very funny, wry sort of acoustic Americana jam band with banjo and guitars and upright bass. True?

MD: That’s a pretty good description. Scott?

Scott Kettner: Yes, they’ll be the first band. They are a really high energy band that take Americana and rockabilly to a whole new level. I think they are using electric bass now.

LCC: The second act is Brooklyn Qawwali Party, at ten, right? I’m personally not a fan of qawwali music so I was very surprised to see that these guys are a funk band, from what I’ve seen on youtube they’ve got about 50 people in the band and they really rock the party. Do they also do the hypnotic sufi chanting stuff?

MD: It’s not exactly 50 people, but yes they are a crowded band, and they love to jam onstage. Some songs can easily top 10 minutes. They’re both hypnotic and transcendental, but also groovy and danceable. They are a party band with a spiritual vibe. It’s a joy to see them on stage.

LCC: Scott, I have a bit of an inside track on your band Nation Beat because I’ve seen you a bunch of times – with Liliana Araujo your Brazilian chanteuse, and with Jesse Lenat the country crooner for example. You play country, and Brazilian styles, and funk, and soul, and I’ve even seen you go into a surf groove. Do you have a favorite of all these styles, and what is it?

SK: My favorite is when all of this music blends and there is not a “style.” That’s what really gets me off about drumming and music…when it can’t be defined. I love hearing a band play and walking out wondering what the hell it was. That’s partly the purpose of this festival, to bring together groups who are blurring the lines of genre and just pulling together the music they love to create a sound that isn’t contrived. When I was in high school I played in a surf punk band called Liquid Image and also played in some local funk and blues bands. Then I moved to NYC to study jazz and developed a passion for Brazilian music. So when I sit behind the drums or compose a song I’m always searching for a way to bring all of these musical experiences together.

LCC: A surf drummer: I knew it. Very very cool, as you probably know we are huge surf music fans here. Now out of all those Brazilian genres you play, what would you say is your specialty? Forro? Frevo? What does Nation Beat bring to it that’s original, that makes it all yours?

SK: I really love maracatu and forró. I moved to Brazil specifically to study maracatu back in 2000 and have developed a very deep relationship with the music and culture of this rhythm. Nation Beat is a collaboration between Brazil and the US. We’re a band that seeks the similarities between the music and culture of the northeast of Brazil and the southern United States. We play a lot of rhythms from the northeast of Brazil; maracatu, forró, coco, cirando and frevo, all music that Liliana Araujo grew up listening to. When her and I get together we bring our musical backgrounds to the table and the result is Nation Beat. This is what makes it OUR music, the fact that we’re not trying to imitate a style but rather bring our musical backgrounds together to create OUR own music.

LCC: Is it ok if I ask some hard questions now? For example, how effectively do you think “Is America Part of the World?” comes across? What I mean is that the idea is pretty funny if you think about it – obviously, America is part of the world, we’ve got just as much a right to make “world music” as anybody else. But is it good branding? Something people are going to remember?

SK: I think it’s a great name…thanks for the idea! [grin]

LCC: At this point in history, is Brooklyn really part of the world? You’re playing a club in Gowanus where there are all these hideous gentrifier condo buildings sprouting up amidst the warehouses, rents are rising, destroying the neighborhood. How would you respond to a cynic who might say something like, “These guys are just a bunch of rich white kids ripping off styles from around the world, if they really cared about the world they’d bring in a real qawwali band?”

SK: First I’d say I’m not rich and not even close to it and I think I can speak for all of the musicians on the event. Second I’d say if all you really want to hear a “real” qawwali band you probably won’t come to our festival and probably shouldn’t. The whole point of this festival is to bring together bands who are interpreting the music that they have a passion for. We’re searching for the point of convergence where our musical backgrounds meet with our musical passions. That’s it. If you think about the history of all music in the new world; jazz, blues, salsa, merengue, samba, maracatu, rock and roll, etcetera, you will not be able to define this music without realizing the fact that it took many cultures, many people coming together and mixing their musical and cultural backgrounds. None of this music would exist if it weren’t for Europeans, indigenous and African people being thrown into a turbulent culture where they had to find common ground to communicate together with music. So what’s the difference if we choose to do the same thing today?

LCC: I’m always impressed with how diverse the crowds are at your shows: at least they’re part of the world. Beyond the usual Bushwick blogs, how do you get the word out about them? Or is it a word of mouth thing, either you know or you don’t?

SK: I send out a big newsletter every month announcing our gigs and we also do the social networking song and dance. There’s a community of people who are really interested in what we’re doing so they just keep tuned in to what we’re up to.

LCC: How’d you end up at Littlefield this time? I like the place a lot – the sound is good and there’s none of the disrespect you get on the Lower East Side for example…

SK: My partner Mehmet and I checked out the club and really liked the vibe of the people and the room. It also has a great sound.

LCC: After this, when’s the next show and who’s on it?

SK: This will be Nation Beat’s last show in town until 2011. I have a brass band playing forró music on December 14th at Barbes.

Is America Part of the World starts at 9 on Friday, December 10 with Tall Tall Trees, Brooklyn Qawwali Party at 10 and Nation Beat at 11 at Littlefield, 622 Degraw St. (3rd/4th Aves.) in Gowanus, Brooklyn, easy to get to from the F or R trains. Tickets are $13 at the door and will probably sell out: early arrival is advised.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rupa & the April Fishes at the Bell House, Brooklyn NY 11/13/09

Bay area band Rupa & the April Fishes had just played a couple of other New York City gigs in the previous week, yet nevertheless managed to bring an impressively energized crowd out to pack the Bell House in remote Gowanus, Brooklyn. In a cold drizzle, even. Rupa Marya, the band’s frontwoman goes for breathy, sensual atmospherics on the band’s new album Este Mundo (very favorably reviewed here on November 9) but in concert she showed off a bright effervescence to go along with it and the band roared along. These folks really pulled out all the stops – they know that people don’t just want to hear the album note for note, they want a party, a jolt of energy and they got every bit they could have hoped for. And Rupa Marya is all too aware of her charisma and makes the most of it. The upright bassist didn’t get to step out a lot – it’s usually a good thing when the band keeps the bass locked up tight with the drums – but when he got a solo, he made it a soaring, terse jazz horn line. Drummer Aaron Kierbel was a dynamo full of surprises, completely schooling opening act Nation Beat (a hard thing to do, by the way) when it came to soloing, blasting through a cheery yet ominous surf passage, otherwise maneuvering expertly through the ska and gypsy-rock numbers bringing the beat down to reggae as the songs went halfspeed, then leaping into doubletime again with unabashed relish.

Accordionist Isabel Douglass alternated between lush ambience and a whirlwind attack that showed off her blistering chops while the cellist would frequently carry the songs’ hooks, getting a surprising warmth out of his characteristically austere instrument. Marcus Cohen on trumpet contributed soulful blues, sly ska and full-throttle Balkan riffs over his frontwoman’s incisive rhythm (she started on acoustic before moving to a beautiful hollowbody electric).

Most of the songs were from the new cd, notably the shapeshifting Elephant, part stomping Parisian waltz, part Balkan reel steaming along on the pulse of the bass (well up in the mix, a pleasant change for a bull fiddle in a loud band). The gypsy inflections took center stage, but the band put their own indelible spin on them, twisting them into just about every dance beat you can find south of the border (including cumbia on one particularly soulful, swaying number, and their portentous tango they used to open the show on a note that was as mysterious as it was sensual). But the single best song of the night might have been a track from their first album, its ridiculously catchy, upbeat chorus pulling in several in the audience, then bursting into flame on the sparks flying from Cohen’s trumpet. As many other amazing concerts as New York has seen this year, this had to be one of the best: you’ll see it on our 20 Best Shows of the Year list when we put it up in December.

Nation Beat may have realized that they were never going to beat the headliner at the minor-key game, so they stuck to their happiest, most blissfully upbeat Brazilian songs along with a break for several innovatively rearranged covers of classic country numbers delivered with a cool yet heartfelt understatement by crooner Jesse Lenat. It wasn’t a bad set. Violinist Skye Steele – whose own stylistically uncategorizable quintet is 180 degrees from what he plays in this band, and is sensationally good – led the charge with a barrage of lightning-fast climbs and charges. But they didn’t deliver the transcendence they’re capable of (see our review of their show last summer on Roosevelt Island, featuring Brazilian singer Liliana Araujo – absent from this gig – leading the band through a much more stylistically diverse mix of ska, reggae and even a New Orleans-style march along with the Brazilian stuff). This wound up with a long, well-intentioned but ultimately pointless percussion jam where the band went down into the crowd in front of the stage – fun if you felt like joining in, but for those who didn’t it was more Tompkins Square than Rio.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

It’s hard to imagine a sexier album – or a smarter one – released this year. Over the course of fifteen first-class tracks – there’s not a single substandard song on this cd – Rupa & the April Fishes come off like a better-traveled Eleni Mandell backed by an acoustic Gogol Bordello. Alternating between wild gypsy dances, ska, noir cabaret, Mexican border ballads, Colombian folk, tango, klezmer and reggae, this is without question the most triumphantly multistylistic tour de force of 2009.

Frontwoman/guitarist/physician Rupa Marya is a Franco-American globetrotter of Indian ancestry. Whether singing in English, French or Spanish, her lyrics are as evocative as they are provocative (the album is a tribute to and defense of immigrants risking their lives around the world). Her breathy vocals are equally nuanced, as capable of conjuring a sultry late-night ambience as much as nonplussed outrage, backed by an acoustic rhythm section along with cello, trumpet, and accordion as well as horns and flute on several tracks. They stay in moody minor keys until the next-to-last track, a surprisingly breezy number combining a Mexican folk feel with reggae, a lament that could be told from an immigrant’s viewpoint…or just a woman missing a lover.

Before that, there’s a brief, haunting violin theme; a swinging noir tango with an incisive trumpet solo at the end; a playful, fun gypsy dance that goes out on a boomy bass solo; a dark, violin-driven reggae number; a gypsy-inflected, slinky ska tune; a defiant gypsy waltz with echoes of New York vintage latin revivalists las Rubias del Norte; a sad, mariachiesque trumpet tune; a dark Mexican shuffle; a scary, Middle-Eastern-inflected gypsy dance that builds from a stately hora-style intro; a jaunty, bluesy ragtime song with a big dixieland raveup at the end; and a bouncy cumbia featuring a characteristically intense rap interlude by the greatest English-language lyricist of our time, Boots Riley of Oakland hip-hop legends the Coup (who has an intriguing new collaboration with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Street Sweeper Social Club).

Part of this album is a great dance mix; what’s not danceable makes great makeout music. Socially aware, sometimes surreal and invariably inspired, this is one of the best albums of the year, yet another reason why we’re not going to finalize our Best Albums of 2009 list until the end of December. Rupa & the April Fishes play the Bell House along with another excellent, multistylistic, danceable band, Nation Beat on November 13 at 8 PM.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Nation Beat on Roosevelt Island, NYC 7/18/09

Nation Beat play what could be characterized as Brazilian country music, which might sound completely incongruous until you realize that from the 1950s through the 70s, musicians everywhere throughout northern Latin America and the Caribbean were influenced by American country sounds beamed from powerful Florida stations. This particular crew includes a Brazilian frontwoman and a bunch of Brooklynites in command of just about every style of fun party music from south of the Mason-Dixon line: the beat of nations. Willie Nelson is ostensibly a big fan, which makes sense since the country legend is actually a very diverse, jazzy player with a reggae album to his credit awhile back. The keening whine of the pedal steel enhances the country flavor; the trombone, drums and percussion play up the latin vibe. Saturday afternoon at Roosevelt Island, the band got a mostly neighborhood crowd of families, kids and wheelchair riders swaying in their seats.

The best of the straight-up country songs was an evocatively swaying number possibly titled Midnight Moon. A country waltz took Amazing Grace into salsa and sped it up. A Brazilian carnival tune began as reggae and then sped up to lickety-split, bracingly minor-key ska lit up by a blistering phaser guitar solo from the steel player, who’d been tossing off neat horn voicings from his strings for the previous half-hour. Toward the end of the set, they did a rousing cajun dance tune. The only time the cross-pollination got completely ridiculous was on a happy, bouncy treatment of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – not even the bracing Balkan violin solo that came out of nowhere and disappeared just as fast could save that one from “you have got to be kidding” territory. Still, this was a whole lot of fun. Nation Beat’s next gig, believe it or not, is at the Blue Note at 11 PM on 7/31.

A word about the surroundings: every Saturday at around four PM this summer there’s a free show here just around the corner from the Roosevelt Island F train stop – you can’t miss it. Situated between a couple of precariously cheap, hastily thrown up condo projects, there’s a sizeable lawn for sitting, a few benches and a delicious breeze off the water. So far it doesn’t look like anybody other than the locals know it exists. The incomparably fun Chicha Libre are here on 8/22.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment