Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/17/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #471:

Sielun Veljet – Live

Sielun Veljet (Finnish for “Soul Brothers”) are iconic in their native land. Their earliest songs set eardrum-peeling, trebly PiL-style noise guitar over catchy, growling, snappy bass and roaring punk vocals. The Finnish lyrics are surreal and assaultive as well. This scorching 1983 concert recording takes most of the songs off their first album and rips them to shreds. The best of these is Turvaa (Saved), with its ominous, chromatics and catchy, burning bassline. There’s also Emil Zatopek, a hoarse, breathless tribute to the long-distance runner; the primal, tribal Haisa Vittu; the surprisingly ornate Karjalan Kunnaila; the spooky epic Yö Erottaa Pojasta Miehen; Politikkaa, a macabre, reverb-drenched chromatic noise-funk tune; and the most traditionally punk number, Huda Huda (basically Finnish for “Yay, yay” – the sarcasm transcends any language barrier). Because of the album title (not to mention that it was never released outside Finland), it’s awfully hard to find online; in lieu of this, here’s a random torrent for their first album.

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October 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting Instrumental Brilliance from Lou Reed’s Lead Guitarist

Aram Bajakian plays lead guitar in Lou Reed’s band (here’s a clip of him playing Waves of Fear – it’s hard to imagine a better showcase for his chops). Bajakian’s own project Kef has just put out a fascinatingly eclectic, completely original, often hauntingly beautiful album of guitar/violin/bass instrumentals, many of which imaginatively reinvent traditional Armenian melodies. There’s a raw, spontaneous feel here – for the most part, Bajakian doesn’t go for extensive multi-tracking. The album makes a good segue with cutting-edge Balkan and Middle Eastern-flavored bands like Ansambl Mastika or A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Here Bajakian joins forces with Tom Swafford on violin and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass.

They open with a warmly fingerpicked acoustic vignette and then launch into some pyrotechnics: over a circular bass motif, Bajakian’s Neil Young-ish psychedelic sunspots give way to gritty no wave funk and some understatedly searing tremolo-picking. It’s the high point of the album, volume-wise. Laz Bar is a gypsy dance on the waves of the Mediterranean until the guitar gets funkier and bites down hard with a Ribot-ish blues solo as the violin swirls in and envelopes everything. The felicitously titled Sumlinian (Hubert Sumlin being one of the godfathers of funk) again works a circular melody, first carried by pizzicato violin before being turned over to the bass, guitar and then violin slashing their way through a Chicago southside of the mind.

Wroclaw, a Balkan-flavored rock tune comes together stately and wary out of a tricky intro, and eventually they swing it with a nice, matter-of-factly crescendoing violin solo, Bajakian following with some sweet Balkan blues – it’s the best song on the album. An upbeat Greek-flavored dance gets followed by a more pensive one, Swafford wailing over a brooding minor-key progression, Bajakian adding some teeth-gnashing yet terse Jeff Beck-style fills. From there they segue to some variations on the theme that eventually go absolutely haywire, back into a chorus that they hammer again and again, 80s no wave style. The album closes with a pensive, flamenco-tinted acoustic taqsim, a bass-and-guitar duet that sounds like a jam that worked out well enough to throw on the album, a wonderfully minimalist, mournful dirge and an equally captivating psychedelic piece that contrasts watery and spiky textures for a creepy vibe similar to the darkest stuff on Country Joe & the Fish’s first album. It’s out today on Tzadik.

July 26, 2011 Posted by | folk music, gypsy music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Love Halifax

What’s the likelihood of arriving in a city where you’ve never been before, then going out to three completely random shows and seeing four excellent acts? That’s what happened to us in Halifax. It’s easy to do in New York, if you know where you’re going. But Halifax, unlike New York, doesn’t hide its best music at the fringes. When we left Montreal a week ago Monday, we thought we might get a bit of a respite from the crazy party that had been the Jazz Festival there: no such luck. Halifax may be laid-back, but it’s a party town. The party restarted less than 24 hours after we got there, at Nova Scotia’s oldest pub, the Seahorse Tavern, with Zulkamoon, a skaragga band with sax and keyboards along with the usual guitar, bass and percussion. It may have been a Tuesday night, but they got a bunch of dancers bouncing in front of the stage within minutes. Charismatic singer/percussionist nti TZT delivered defiant, rapidfire lyrics in Spanish as the band blasted through grooves that ranged from frantic ska to fast cumbia to slinky reggae. Pianist Pat Storer lit up one song with some evocative wee-hour jazz phrasing while guitarist Michael Nahirnak switched effortlessly from precise shuffles to twangy surf, alto saxophonist Matthew Reiner adding a wary intensity. They’re sort of the Halifax version of Escarioka: the two ought to do a doublebill somewhere in Chile.

Next on the bill were three-woman rock powerhouse Like a Motorcycle. Like the band before them they’re a breath of fresh air – or make that a blast of fresh air. There’s no other band out there who sound like them. Part punk, part no wave, part noiserock, they evoke an assaultive, early 80s vibe, their guitarist getting some gorgeously evil distorted tones out of her overdriven Gibson SG while bassist Michelle played simple, catchy lead lines over fast, cymbal-drenched shuffle beats. Michelle sang most of the songs, then the drummer took over on the mic: while bits and pieces of lyrics filtered through the mix, the roar and stomp made it hard to hear them – the energy was through the roof. With its insanely catchy, simple hook, their signature song – the second one of the set – sounded like X but more hypnotic and assaultive. Then they flipped the script with a balmy intro to the next one, like Live Skull doing Walk on the Wild Side, complete with tasty bass chords. The rest of their ten-song set switched from straight-up, four-on-the-floor punk rock, to a couple of defiant Avengers-ish tunes, to a couple like the Bush Tetras on steroids, equal parts catchy and abrasive, the guitarist slashing her way out of a thicket of overtones as she reached for the hooks and then swung on them with a gleeful wrath.

Wednesday we went out to the Foggy Goggle (Canadians like funny names) to check out the weekly bluegrass jam. While these are inevitably intended less as spectacle than as a way for musicians to keep up their chops – as they should be – this made for good spectacle, especially since the crew onstage – adventurous, jam-oriented mandolinist bandleader, banjo, fiddle, bass and a flatpicking guitarist whose lickety-split leads were breathtakingly good – didn’t limit themselves to old standards that everybody knows. By the time they got to Little Maggie, they’d been through plenty of surprises, including some tasty blues.

By the time we’d made it to Thursday night, it was time to chill. All the nightcrawling and running around to historic sites – the original city graveyard,with its creepy, over-the-top 18th century tombstones; another about an hour on foot from the city center, where numerous Titanic victims, many of them still unidentified, are buried at a central memorial; a whalewatching cruise that made for good seal-watching but didn’t turn up any bigger cetaceans; and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, with the world’s most extensive collection of Titanic artifacts – had taken its toll. At this point, we figured we’d wind up the trip quietly with a jazz show at Stayner’s Wharf, a comfortable seafood-and-beer joint on the water downtown. The Martin Davidson Trio launched into their set as we walked in, but even though this was clearly a “restaurant gig,” more of an exercise in ambience than scorching solos, they didn’t phone it in: instead, they threw off many hints that what they had in reserve was much more adventurous than what they were limited to in this particular setting. In a mix of mostly standards, Davidson played mostly tenor sax, switching to alto to wind up the set, sticking with a clear tone through an hour’s worth of purist, expansive solos. Occasionally it was just sax and bass as the Rhodes piano player backed away from his majestic block chords. On a couple of tunes, the bassist threw in some clever “is there anbody listening” swoops (yup, somebody was listening!); toward the end, a bossa number finally served as a launching pad for gritty bass and ringing piano textures: Davidson, playing alto, finally fired off some sharp bop-flavored salvos at the upper registers to close on a high note. From an audience perspective, it’s hard to imagine a better way to wind up the week: since Montreal, we’d literally come full circle.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/26/11

As we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #614:

Live Skull – Snuffer

The best New York band of the 80s wasn’t Sonic Youth. It was Live Skull. They shared a producer, Martin Bisi, whose ears for the most delicious sonics in a guitar’s high midrange did far more to refine both bands’ sound than he ever got credit for. As noisy as this band was, they also had an ear for hooks: noise-rock has never been more listenable. By the time they recorded this one, guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C., fretless bassist Marnie Greenholz and drummer Rich Hutchins had brought in future Come frontwoman Thalia Zedek, but on vocals rather than guitar. It’s a ferociously abrasive yet surprisingly catchy six-song suite of sorts, Zedek’s assaultive rants mostly buried beneath the volcanic swirl of the guitars and the pummeling rhythm section. By the time they get to Step, the first song of side two, they’ve hit a groove that winds up with furious majesty on the final cut, Straw. Like Sonic Youth, their lyrics are neither-here-nor-there; unlike that band, they had the good sense to bury them in the mix most of the time. Very influential in their time, it’s hard to imagine Yo La Tengo and many others without them. Here’s a random torrent via Rare Punk.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/5/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #847:

The Electric Eels – The Eyeball of Hell

These guys invented no wave. In Cleveland. In 1972. Contemporaries of Rocket from the Tombs as well as the Raspberries (sounds absurd, but it’s true), in their brief three-year career they played three shows and released one album, reputedly because nobody in the band got along. Which makes sense once you hear it. This 1998 compilation contains pretty much everything from that along with almost another album’s worth of outtakes and rehearsal material. Frontman Dave E channels some seriously strung-out vibes over John Morton’s fingers-down-the-blackboard guitar, through a completely unhinged, screeching, feedback-enhanced, sometimes early 70s metal-flaked attack on songs with titles like Agitated, Cyclotron, You’re Full of Shit, Sewercide, and a hilarious spoof of free jazz, Jazz Is. They were also responsible for one of the alltime great punk covers (as a description, punk might be a little tame), a version of Dead Man’s Curve that beats Jan and Dean at the drag race of death. Not exactly easy listening, but as ugly, confrontational, uncompromising and in its own twisted way, disarmingly honest music, it has few equals. Here’s a random torrent.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/12/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time, all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #901:

The Lounge Lizards’ first album

Corrosive punk jazz from 1981. Bracingly assaultive for a few minutes, viscerally painful to listen to for much longer, especially at high volume, it’s the high moment in the history of the brief No Wave movement in New York. Other than a more-or-less steady beat and bassist Steve Piccolo walking a new scale with every measure, loud and growling, the tracks here don’t have much structure. Alto saxophonist John Lurie, his brother Evan on keys and the actually quite talented Anton Fier on drums blast away, with former DNA guitarist Arto Lindsay adding an ominous undercurrent of distorted, atonal chicken-scratch skronk. Other than the originals, there’s a warped version of Harlem Nocturne and even less recognizable ones of a couple of Monk tunes. Easy listening? Hardly, but great fun for fans of angry, noisy music. One suspects that the Luries were more talented than they let on here, especially considering how diversely melodic later incarnations of the Lizards would be. Many of their other albums are worth owning: the ROIR collection of live takes from 1979 through 1981 has a similar gritty savagery; their Live in Tokyo album, from 1986 mines a vastly more suave, somewhat noir vibe, albeit with an almost completely different cast of players. Out of print for years, the debut album is extremely hard to find – most recently, there was a torrent for several dozen Tzadik albums that doesn’t seem to be working anymore. If you find one let us know!

August 12, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Brooklyn What – Gentrification Rock

The second release by New York’s most exciting band right now has all the fun, fury and intelligence of the Brooklyn What’s debut The Brooklyn What for Borough President (which remains at the top of our list for best album of 2009). Frontman Jamie Frey is possibly even more charismatically and ferociously amusing than ever here, and the band careens along behind him, flailing at everything in their way. When these guys have the three electric guitars going, live, the resulting pandemonium is completely out-of-control, giving their catchy punk songs a crazy, noisy, occasionally no-wave edge. This is a concept album of sorts, proceeds being donated to the esteemed grassroots organization Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn who continue to lead the community resistance to the well-documented Atlantic Yards luxury condo/basketball arena scam. Remember the days when Brooklyn musicians fought against the destruction of New York by suburban invasion rather than being part of it? The Brooklyn What do, even though most of them weren’t even born yet when New Jersey developers began tearing down perfectly good brick brownstones and replacing them with cheap plastic-and-sheetrock future crackhouses back in the 80s. This is a powerful contribution to that battle.

This ep has two versions of the title track, in the studio and live, one as intense as the other, the band’s caustic dismissal of the suburbanites who “wanna make the world one big mistake.” Another new recording, Movin to Philly has more of an over-the-edge anthemic feel than the countryish way they usually play it live. This one’s not an anti-trendoid diatribe but the anguished tale of a guy who’s been priced out of the city where he grew up and dreads every minute of the move and what lies ahead after that. “All my dreams are over there…take one last walk through Tompkins Square,” he muses. There’s also a characteristically snarling, defiant live version of the Kinks’ classic I’m Not Like Everybody Else and another original, I Want You on a Saturday Night, a self-explanatory, Ramones-ish punked out doo-wop tune. Get the album and contribute what you can if you can (DDDB’s funds are perennially in short supply, unsurprising since they’re not bankrolled by developers), and count this among the year’s best albums along with the Brooklyn What’s first one. The Brooklyn What play Trash Bar this Friday August 7 on what might be the best straight-up rock bill of the year with the Warm Hats, Palmyra Delran and Escarioka: the Brooklyn What hit the stage at 11.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 1/31/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s is #543:

No Trend – Teen Love. Classic obscure no-wave punk epic from this one-hit wonder Washington, DC band. Listen close and you’ll realize that this isn’t just a very smartly rewritten version of the Shangri-la’s Leader of the Pack, it’s a parody of lifestyle capitalism, i.e. the various conformist personas packaged by corporations for high school kids to “choose” from. As funny now as it was when first released in 1982. Available at the usual mp3 sites; if you find the original twelve-inch 45 RPM ep, grab it, it’s rare. And don’t believe the blogosphere: this is NOT proto-emo. It’s black humor.

January 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , | Leave a comment