Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine at City Winery, NYC 9/18/09

The New York Gypsy Festival‘s decision to scatter shows throughout the year, beginning in the spring, was an ambitious choice but ultimately a successful one. Although the past ten days or so were especially gypsy, with the Gypsy Tabor Festival out in Brooklyn and a whole bunch of similar bands playing the rock clubs, there was a full and enthusiastic house at City Winery Friday night for Hazmat Modine and Hungarian sensations Little Cow. The Hazmats opened and pandemonium reigned, no great surprise: there are few other acts in town who bring as much intensity and pure unadulterated fun to the stage. Frontman/harmonica player Wade Schuman wasn’t as completely gonzo as he can get, but the band was. This is a wild, extroverted crew: Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on electric guitars, Pam Fleming (back from the disabled list) on trumpet, Reut Regev on trombone and other horns, Steve Elson on tenor sax and other reeds, Rich Huntley on drums, Joseph Daley on tuba and Erik Della Penna of Kill Henry Sugar guesting on vocals on a couple of numbers.

The set list was characteristically eclectic. The blues standard Something You Got, an uncharacteristically major-key tune for this band, was elevated to the level of an ecstatic New Orleans second-line march. Irving Berlin’s tongue-in-cheek Walking Stick became a racewalk and got the crowd in front of the stage twirling just as crowds of the thirties must have done in the old vaudeville theatres. Gomez used it as a launching pad for a particularly ferocious, offhandedly raging solo, Fleming further cementing her reputation as the Human Crescendo – in this case, it was the flying lead-in to her solo, out of one by Schuman, that was the high point, but it sent the intensity level to redline in a split second as Huntley led the charge with a relentless volley of rimshots.

A new one sounded like a hypnotic early twenties delta blues number as R.L. Burnside might have done it, casually careening with more blazing fretwork from Gomez. Best song of the night was a surprisingly low-key and extremely effective Schuman instrumental, Grade A Grey Day, with Fleming bringing in the cumulo-nimbus and Elson on sax fluttering through them. After that, they flipped the script with another original that started out with Little Feat exuberance, building joyously to a 60s soul vamp with the horns blazing. They closed with Bahamut, the surreal, calypso-inflected title track to their most recent album, a somewhat surprising choice considering the long, mysterious spoken-word passage in the middle of the song. And when Schuman got there, no surprise, the dancers took a break. But they all got back into it when the song picked up again, Smith fanning the flames with a potently percussive, chord-chopping solo.

And what of the headliner, Little Cow? There were technical difficulties, no fault of the band or the club. And by a quarter to one in the morning, an hour and a half past their stage time, it was sadly time to call it a night – a strategy that paid off the following day throughout a successful, marathon sixteen-hour attempt to help some New York friends pack up and become ex-New Yorkers. Watch this space the next time Little Cow comes to town: they’re reputedly amazing in concert.

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September 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Laci Kollar-Klemencz of Little Cow

Little Cow are arguably the hottest band in the former Eastern Bloc. The Hungarian sensation’s mix of gypsy music, punk, ska and even indie rock scored them a platinum album on their home turf and a fanatical European following. Now they’re taking their high-energy stage act to the US, with a NYC date on Sept 18 at City Winery. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the band’s self-described “lead vocal, composer, songwriter, at home film director, and writer” Laci Kollar-Klemencz took some time out of Little Cow’s whirlwind tour schedule to chase the devil out of the details with Lucid Culture’s somewhat confused interviewer:

Lucid Culture: How does your set list for a show here differ from what you play in Romania. Woops, I mean Hungary?

Laci Kollar-Klemencz:  OK, why a question about Romania? We are from Hungary. Set list is the same, exactly, just we’re singing the songs which have been translated from Hungarian to English.

LC: Do you find that audiences around the world prefer different songs?

LKK: No. Their reaction is sometimes different – short people in Spain jump higher, and tall people in Holland keep just one hand up, but Little Cow is the same.

LC: Are your songs that are big hits at home just as popular on the road?

LKK: Yes, but the most popular at home is Cyber Kid, and we are sick of it and if it’s possible we do not play it here [in the US] – it’s topical song which is very famous in Hungary, but nobody else understands it.

LC: What other countries have you toured? What kind of reaction do you get? It seems to me that for example anyone who likes Gogol Bordello would like you…

LKK: In Hungary people and magazines talk about us something like that. This kind of punk rock based on Balkan rhythm is very famous now in Europe, and if anybody sounds a little bit like that, it’s easy to say GOGOL BORDELLO, but there are lot of thin differences. And you know the devil always hides between the little things. And I think Little Cow talks about much more  – philosophy, personal behavior, attitude – than only a style.

LC: I see that you have a smaller acoustic version of the band. Which version of the band is on this tour?

LKK: Both. In theaters we will play the “Melancholic” acoustic program, but in rock clubs and festivals we will do the electric dance songs.

LC: How much of your set list on this tour is in English?

LKK:  Half and half, maybe more.

LC: Your songs are often very funny. Are you aware that in the indie rock scene here in New York, people aren’t supposed to laugh or make jokes? Does that seem as weird to you as it is to me?

LKK: Yes, it is interesting, the  underground scene never was about laughing – from the 80’s dark feeling till today people think underground, or indie band, that they are cool, sad, depressed, or untouchable mad, sick, but some artists  – for me Warhol, and many dadaists, and musicians, like David Byrne, Pere Ubu – were pretty funny. And the sadness and the fun are big brothers as we know from Buddhism for example. And I hope people, who see some dark story one night from Grizzly Bear, or Tom Waits, they will go home and will laugh all night, and people who come to see Little Cow, and laugh a lot through the concert, they will commit suicide after the concert. It’s just a good joke, sorry.

LC: How did the band start? I see that you did the soundtrack for a very popular children’s cartoon, the Little Yellow Cow.  Is that cartoon something that adults would also enjoy, like the Simpsons?

LKK: Yes you can see it on our myspace... it’s a short film for kids and parents and grandparents, doesn’t matter,  it has been on screen in many Hungarian cinemas as the opening film for a Woody Allen film in 2002.

LC: I hear some punk, gypsy music, new wave, even ska in what you play. I know you get this question all the time, but what bands have influenced your sound?

LKK: It’s not only the bands, it’s many things. Mostly not one music, much more one girl, or one sickness, or a trip, or a bad relationship. I’m always thinking about a feeling, and never about a style, band etc. How I feel, myself, now, and how can I balance it if it is too wrong or too good? Otherwise I’m always looking for that kind of artist who can open one new window in this dark depth blind cultural level, where humans exist now. And there are many artists, and musicians. Last year my favorite was Sigur Ros, MGMT, Beirut, now Grizzly Bear, the Decemberists… From indie music, but  BACK…it could be an artist who can be one of my musical influences as well.

LC: Your last album went platinum in Romania, I mean Hungary. How many albums do you have to sell there to go platinum?

LKK: In Hungary? Twenty thousand.

LC: Tell us about your huge hit Cyber Boy, which set a record for most downloads and most ringtones in Hungary. What’s it about?

LKK: It’s kind of Hungarian punk wedding music… typical Hungarian tone, with danceable rhythm, and crazy lyrics about a cyber generation who want to forget real life and hide in cyberspace.

LC: You’re playing pretty late, I’m guessing about one in the morning on Friday night in New York. Do your concerts always start that late? How long can we expect you to play?

LKK: My information was we will play at 10 PM. We will see, but I don’t like to play too late, it’s not good for our health.

Little Cow play as part of this year’s predictably excellent New York Gypsy Festival at City Winery on Sept. 18 with the incomparable Hazmat Modine; $15 advance tickets are still available as of this writing (Sept. 15) but going fast. It’s not clear who’s playing first but it really doesn’t matter since both bands are good.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Zlatne Uste and Raya Brass Band at Drom, NYC 6/13/09

Big party at Dracula’s castle last night, were you there? Alone in a darkened room, The Count? Not exactly. While not quite the mobscene that the NY Gypsy Festival’s show at le Poisson Rouge was last month, the big Balkan brass band concert last night was well-attended and deliriously fun. It was something of a juxtaposition of the old guard and the young lions of the thriving but still largely under-the-radar New York Balkan underground. The dancing started before the bands did, the dj spinning an auspiciously diverse, pan-global mix of Mehanata-style stuff while a line formed and circled the room, growing longer by the minute. Then Zlatne Uste took the stage. The nine-piece Balkan brass juggernaut – four horns, trumpet, tuba, drum and two saxes – were the first of the New York Balkan brass bands, dating from way back in 1983. Their name means “golden lips,” definitely a boast, but they back it up. “Most of us are older than you are,” their trumpeter somewhat proudly told the crowd. A guy in the crowd kept yelling for them to play his favorite song, the Goran Bregovic hit Kalasjnikov. “Not now!” a fellow partyer grinningly advised. “They always do that later.”

They opened with their darkest number of the night, basically a murky two-chord chromatic dance vamp and then another that was even simpler, serving as a chassis for some darkly intense soloing from the trumpet and sax. Most of the songs were instrumentals, although several band members sang on the vocal numbers, sometimes sharing a line or trading off.  A few were marked by a noticeable shift, opening somewhat wary, the staccato pulse of the horns then growing bouncier and more carefree. As their long, exuberant set went on, the sea of dancers grew, through a bouncy, happy number in 4/4, a bracingly soulful cocek dance and several with far trickier, syncopated rhythms that didn’t phase the dancers a bit. One of the guys in the band sang a drinking song (rakia, the potent Balkan apple brandy featured prominently). The crowd – a diverse mix of expats and Americans – was clearly psyched to hear what were obviously some old favorites. As predicted, they finally did Kalasjnikov, a lickety-split vocal number, one of the horn players leading the crowd in an exuberant “one, two, three, OPA!” to wind up the chorus.

After a lengthy break, Raya Brass Band came out of the back room and secured a spot on the floor, quickly encircled by not one but two lines of dancers. There’s been a buzz about this band lately and it’s well-deserved. Where Zlatne Uste got the party going, these guys took it up a notch. Their sound is looser, far darker and they threaten to fly off the hinges at any second: this band is all about adrenaline, taking the intensity as high as it can go and then adding something on top of that. Clarinetist and sax player Greg Squared – also of the equally intense, somewhat more diverse Ansambl Mastika – is a pyrotechnic player in the Ivo Papasov mold, delivering an endless series of long, careening, wildly flurrying clarinet solos packed with lightning-fast melismas. On the sax, he backed off only a little. Yet it was his achingly terse, minimalist clarinet solo toward the end of the set that was the most intense of all. Trumpeter Ben Syversen is a kindred spirit, blazing through the songs’ eerie Middle Eastern scales while accordionist Matthew Fass (also of Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar) held things together as much as he could, ominously and atmospherically. Sometimes the band would all blast through the same repetitive riff as an ensemble, otherwise barrelling along with the fat, undulating groove of the tuba and drum as trumpet, sax or clarinet cut loose, the songs going on for minutes on end without respite. Eventually, two of the women from the Brooklyn Balkan a-capella quartet Black Sea Hotel (who have a sensationally good debut album just out) joined in and belted a few choruses

By 2 AM, the drunk munchies were kicking in, and the kitchen was still serving food. By the way, these NY Gypsy Festival events are a surefire way to get away from tourists and trendoids. Tourists, if they knew this stuff existed, would think it’s weird and scary (a lot of it is); trendoids, if they knew anything about it, would ridicule it as declasse. There’s nothing more populist than when the band is on the dancefloor and either you’re in the band or you’re unable to escape being drawn into the joyous vortex of dancers around them.

Raya Brass Band is at Mehanata on 6/25 at 9; the 6/27 Turkish Woodstock at Central Park Summerstage at 3 featuring Mazhar-Fuat-Özkan, Painted on Water with Sertab Erener & Demir Demirkan plus the NY Gypsy All-Stars with iconic clarinetist Hüsnü Senlendirici is not to be missed, and afterward the organizers have kept things going with an afterparty at City Winery, Senlendirici playing with the Brooklyn Funk Essentials and more from the Gypsy All-Stars. Is this turning out to be a good summer or what?

June 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Romashka and the New York Gypsy All-Stars at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/11/09

This was kickoff night for the New York Gypsy Festival, 2009, taking last fall’s week of delirious fun at Drom to the next level. While this year’s festival will also take place sometime in the fall, the promoters will be putting together monthly shows in preparation for the big event and this was the first. And it was a mobscene, but a comfortable one, a sold-out room full of unpretentious, multi-ethnic twentysomethings, a throwback to Saturday nights at Mehanata ten years ago with not a single $500 bedhead haircut or pair of Elton John-sized glasses anywhere in sight. These people just came from all over to party. Nobody was disappointed.

 

Among New York gypsy bands, Romashka are second in popularity only to Gogol Bordello. They took the stage minutes after eleven, opening their too-brief, barely forty-minute set with a dark, lushly beautiful version of the Roma anthem Djelem Djelem highlighted by the haunting strings of violinist Jake Shulman-Ment and Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s viola, trumpeter Ben Holmes adding a plaintive solo after the second verse. Frontwoman Inna Barmash – recently reviewed here in a rare duo show with Zhurbin, her husband, at Small Beast at the Delancey – once again teased and then riveted the audience with her voice. Like all the best dramatic singers, she only goes for the kill when absolutely necessary. In this case, she waited until the band’s last song, an alternately hushed and frenetic, noir cabaret-tinged number before cutting loose with an astonishingly powerful blast of vocalese.

 

Otherwise, the band alternated between bouncy, upbeat dances, a tricky Balkan trumpet tune and a torchy Russian tango as well as some even darker material which proved to be the most captivating. Barmash told the crowd that one of those tunes was their “Russian nightmare song,” as the band added tongue-in-cheek horror-movie flourishes during its slow introduction, then going up and down and finally ending with a big burst of sound from the tuba. Their big, enthusiastic crowd wanted an encore but didn’t get one.

 

Which was ok because the New York Gypsy All-Stars were on next. This time out the Drom house band brought their A-game, not only because they had a full house but also because the iconic Selim Sesler – billed as “the Coltrane of the clarinet” – was scheduled to play with them. Their frontman, clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski is an extraordinary player in his own right, leading the group through a blistering series of haunting dance numbers and a couple of one or two-chord jams that the players used to show off their sizzling chops. This time around bassist Panagiotis Andreou stayed within himself, then playing a fiery horn line when the time came to introduce the next number. Kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi added a dark, spiky and spicy intensity. Then they brought up Sesler and the crowd went wild – how refreshing to see a bunch of American kids screaming for a balding, middleaged Turkish guy. It was a summit meeting, absolutely fascinating to witness, especially listening to the contrasting timbres of the two clarinetists when they doubled each others’ lines. Sesler has dazzling speed but maintains a confident, round tone that made a vivid contrast with Lumanovski’s restless, burning style. The effect was even more striking when the two alternated solos. Coltrane he may not be (Miles Davis is the more obvious comparison), but he is unquestionably a talent who should be far better known here than he is.

 

The “legendary trumpeter of the klezmer underground,” as the promoters aptly billed Frank London, may have played earlier, or later (it was pretty much pandemonium upstairs, with the line all the way around the block); it was impossible to tell. It would come as a shock to find out that his set had been anything short of outstanding as well. By two in the morning, the crowd hadn’t thinned, still bopping to the pan-Balkan Mehanata-style mix that the dj was spinning, but for those who’d been running around to concerts and galleries all day, it was time to call it a night.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment