Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Renaissance at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/23/10

Some will find this hubristic, but this is the best edition of Renaissance yet – including the original 1969 lineup. Unlike a lot of their art-rock contemporaries during their seventies heyday, Renaissance opted for drama and majesty over any overwhelming sense of angst or wrenching intensity. Downtown tonight under a starless sky and a welcome sea breeze, they made every one of their fifty power-packed minutes count. Annie Haslam wasn’t even in the original band – she replaced the late, great Keith Relf – but throughout her time in the group she’s made a lot of people forget that. And she’s still got that awe-inspiring five-octave range. Other singers use all kinds of technology to disguise their flaws – not Haslam, and that made itself known not because she backed off from the demanding arrangements of the original recordings, but from the occasional slight imperfection. That she can still deliver those stratospheric notes, even if sometimes more gently than she did 35 years ago, is extraordinary. Not that Haslam would ever subject herself to the indignity of Eurovision or American Idol, but at age 63, she’d still win either one in a heartbeat.

The rest of the band played with passion and precision. Haslam’s longtime collaborator Michael Dunford’s acoustic guitar was too low in the mix most of the time, but when he was audible he was jangly and inspiring, while the two keyboardists, Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin matched piano to sweeping synthesizer orchestration. New bassist David J. Keyes was nothing short of brilliant, firing his way nimbly through a thorny series of changes, using a bristly, trebly tone much like Mo Moore would do with Nektar. Drummer Frank Pagano, a guy with a solid, four-on-the-floor rep from his work with Willie Nile and the Fab Faux, really opened some eyes with his spot-on, boomy and joyously orchestral attack on a big kit. From the first few notes of vocalese on the ornate, Romantically-imbued instrumental Prologue, Haslam held the surprisingly young (that word is relative) audience rapt – one can only wonder how many, relaxing on the lawn, were only now getting to see the band for the first time. Carpet of the Sun was a pleasant, artsy pop hit on record: live, the band emphasized its sweeps and swells, particularly the occasional Middle Eastern allusion (a device that would recur several times, to welcome effect). Strikingly, the best song of the night was a new one, a marvelously suspenseful epic, The Mystic and the Muse (to be released on a forthcoming ep of all-new material), a feast of spine-tingling vocals, a series of distantly Blue Oyster Cult-ish galloping crescendos and a perfectly powerful ending from Haslam.

Like the rest of the first crop of art-rockers, Renaissance were not opposed to pilfering a classical motif or two, most obviously on Running Hard, which makes a rock song out of the theme from the great French composer Jehan Alain’s Litanies. It’s hard enough to do on the organ and must be even more so on piano, but Renaissance’s keyboardist nailed it with staccato abandon. They went out on a high note with the epic Mother Russia, a seamless suite of themes closer to Tschaikovsky than Shostakovich, ending with Haslam belting out a long, low note (low for her at least – D next to middle C?), fearless and unwavering. What’s impossible for most of us still seems easy for her. The rest of the North American tour schedule is here.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Norden Bombsight – Pinto

One of the challenges of writing about music is to be quick enough to spot a genuine classic when it appears. This is one of them. Raw yet ornate, ferocious yet intricate, Norden Bombsight’s debut album Pinto hails back to the early 70s but adds a snarling, desperate punk edge that’s uniquely their own. It’s sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and Joy Division. It’s art-rock, but it’s not prog; it boils over with anguished intensity, but it’s not goth. The current band they most closely resemble is New York gypsy-punk-art-rockers Botanica. Guitarist David Marshall plays with a raw, vintage 70s tone that enhances his unhinged, fiery attack on the strings over the nimble, melodic, shapeshifting rhythm section of Jonathan Gundel on bass, Julian Morello on drums and Derrick Barnicoat on percussion, loops and processing. Frontwoman Rachael Bell holds down centerstage with a savagely beautiful, wounded wail, adding starkly eerie keyboard textures as well as incisive mandolin. Norden Bombsight’s lyrics match their music, fragmented, ominous and disquieting. This is an after-dark album, one that resonates best by the light of a distant streetlight, or no light at all.

Like a vinyl record, it has a side one and a side two, each of them a suite. Side one opens with a dark, stately three-chord progression, the backup alarm on a garbage truck screeching evil, mechanical and assaultive in the distance, building to a desperate gallop and eventually back again, evoking late 70s noir art-rock cult favorites the Doctors of Madness. The song segues into Four on the Lawn, a feedback loop fading up to Bell’s accusative, Siouxsie-esque vocals over a reverberating, swaying march, burning David Gilmour-esque guitar chords against upper-register piano. Another segue takes them to Help Desk, noir cabaret as Procol Harum might have done it, Bell’s organ and then electric piano holding gentle but firm against the stately punch of the guitars, which finally cut loose in a forest of wild tremolo picking at the end.

Side two begins with a pretty lullaby for solo electric guitar, followed by the towering, 6/8 anthem The Raven. “You won’t have my yellow hair/Lay me down to rest/You left me there,” Bell laments. “I’ll never get you back to the town of West Haven” –  whatever that means. Marshall’s reverb-drenched tremolo guitar climbs with an unleashed fury, and then back down again into Snakes, which with its staggered, tango-ish beat and southwestern gothic ambience reminds of the Walkabouts. The band brings it up, then down again, into the scorching Nektar-style stomp of Altercation, shifting time signatures unexpectedly into a wild, circular organ-and-guitar-fueled jam straight out of Remember the Future, and an unexpectedly funky outro. Catchy and resolutely swaying, Virgil evokes the Grateful Dead, but not so grateful now that they’re in Hades: “Virgil, you’re out of your jurisdiction, now you’re just another man with a gun,” snarls Marshall. The album ends with its most overtly Pink Floyd-influenced number, slide guitar blasting like an August sunset over blacktop. And then it stops cold.

As intense as this album is, Norden Bombsight are even better live. They play Matchless tonight at eleven; watch this space for future shows.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 3/9/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #142:

Nektar – It’s All Over

Art-rock at its most epic and majestic from the remarkably forward-looking Recycled album, 1976 – when guest keyboardist Larry Fast’s layers of string synth rise up swirling against the stately clang of frontman Roye Albrighton’s guitar, it’s beautiful – and haunting – beyond words.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment