Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/14/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #838:

The Friends of Dean Martinez – The Shadow of Your Smile

Dilemma of the day: what’s these guys’ best album? Or is everything equal in the shadows off the desert highway where their cinematic, spaghetti western-flavored instrumentals all seem to take place? Literally everything the Friends of Dean Martinez have recorded is worth owning. We picked this one, their 1995 Sub Pop debut, because it has a typical first-album excitement, because of the diversity of the songs and because it’s as good as any example of their richly evocative, often exhilarating catalog. Joey Burns of Calexico gets credit or co-credit for writing six of these and his bandmate John Convertino gets another, which gives them instant southwestern gothic cred; pedal steel genius Bill Elm, their lead instrumentalist, would take a more prominent role in the songwriting as their career went on. The opening track, All the Pretty Horses signals that immediately; I Wish You Love is done with a Bob Wills western swing flair. The drummer’s contribution is the amusingly off-kilter House of Pies, followed by the noir highway theme Chunder, foreshadowing Big Lazy but with steel guitar. These songs all evoke a specific milieu, notably the distant suburban unease of Armory Park/Dwell and the blithe bossa nova instrumental Swamp Cooler which goes deep into the shadows of the favela before you can tell what hit you. The best song here is Burns’ gorgeously noir El Tiradito, Roy Orbison gone to Buenos Aires. There’s also another tango-flavored one, a countrypolitan ballad, a straight-up vibraphone jazz tune, the orchestrated title track and Convertino’s Per Siempre, done as a careening Balkan dirge. Here’s a random torrent.

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October 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creepy and Dreamy with Mojo Mancini

New York noir doesn’t get any better than this. With Big Lazy on the shelf, Mojo Mancini has moved in to take over the role of New York’s most deliciously creepy instrumental group. With allusions to the Doors and Henry Mancini, they’re aptly named, blending a stylish dark rock vibe with equally dark Hollywood atmospherics. Their album is sort of an accident: tenor sax player Rick DePofi, Rosanne Cash bandleader/guitarist John Leventhal, drummer Shawn Pelton, Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Conrad Korsch would get together and jam just for fun, or to blow off steam between gigs and/or recording dates. Happily, they had the good sense to record these jams, realizing that they had genuine magic on their hands. The arduous task of sifting through the tapes fell to DePofi, a professional recording engineer. This is the result. At one point or another, all the songs here sway to a trip-hop beat – and as dark as a lot of them are, there are also several which are irresistibly funny.

The album opens with a characteristically eerie, David Lynch style wee-hours scenario, Leventhal playing terse, tense jazz lines against Mitchell’s organ swells. Gansevoort, named after the street just off the Westside Highway where the album was recorded (and where bodies were once dumped with regularity) is an echoey trip-hop organ funk groove, part early 70s Herbie Hancock score, part sleek stainless steel club music, part Jimmy McGriff. Just Sit, featuring a sample of poet/activist Jack Hirschman, welds watery 1970-era David Gilmour chorus-box guitar to balmy sax over a laid-back funk groove.

Leventhal turns an expansive, sunbaked guitar solo over to DePofi’s tenor on the pensive Clear Fluids, which then winds it up to a big crescendo. The dub-inflected Peace Plan moves from spacy Rhodes piano to a sparse, Steve Ulrich-style guitar hook. The most Steve Ulrich-inflected number here is Let Us Pray, with its Twilight Zone organ, David Gilmour noir guitar lines and a couple of playfully sacrilegious Lawrence Ferlinghetti samples. There’s also a big sky theme, its disquieting undercurrent evoking Bill Frisell; a cinematic mini-suite with smoky sax that evokes mid-90s REM side project Tuatara; the banjo trip-hop of Long Neck, and the echoey, dubwise Slipper Room with its maze of keyboards and a rousing organ crescendo that segues into the next tune. Play loud, play after dark for best results.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Andrew Green – Narrow Margin

Taking its title from the 1952 Richard Fleischer noir film, this often astonishingly memorable cd was written by guitarist Andrew Green while recuperating from a broken wrist. It’s simply one of the best jazz albums of the year. Talk about putting downtime to good use! It’s both a loving homage to noir soundtrack music as well as an intriguing update on the style. This is all about tension and mystery, and in keeping with the genre, JC Sanford‘s trombone, John Hebert‘s bass and Mark Ferber‘s drums establish an ominous backdrop for Bill McHenry‘s tenor sax and Russ Johnson‘s trumpet while composer Green’s guitar plays the P.I. role, working every angle. The songs here – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word – can evoke a sense of dread, but often deviously: they’re stylized but not formulaic. As with a good noir movie, very little is as it seems.

Right from the first few notes of the opening track, .45 Auto, the scene is set: a breathless horn hook, guitar spins off it and then a vivid Johnson solo over a murky rhythm section, who, sensing they’ve been discovered, then go scurrying off. Then McHenry goes honking cheerily to a big swell with echoes of Mingus. The second track, Midnight Novelette works a sinister theme with trombone and then the full band over a latin-tinged beat with playful muted trumpet and a tasteful, incisive Joe Pass style solo by Green. Both the third and sixth tracks, Miro and Short Cut have a vintage 50s Miles Davis feel – they could be classics from that era and may someday be acknowledged as such. The first is basically a swinging four-chord song that runs its gorgeously bracing chorus three times at the end to drive its point home; the other builds from a ridiculously catchy head to a Green solo that sputters and finally goes over the edge screaming over the distorted, reverberating roar of a rhythm guitar track. McHenry assumes his frequent role as the voice of reason while Green battles with the demons on the fretboard as the band rises out of the melee.

The title track cleverly interpolates Bernard Herrmann’s theme from Taxi Driver within the framework of a contrasting, more contemplative but equally suspenseful original, reinforcing the tension of the film piece. Other tracks here – pretty much all of them are standouts – include Black Roses, a calmly inscrutable exercise in how to build intensity, the golden-age 50s style Totally Joe, with a killer solo by Green peeking around the central chords rather than totally skirting them, and the least noir of all the tracks here, the concluding cut Honeymoon in Ipswich. Yet it also evokes a shadowy atmosphere, impatient, angry guitar pitted against a bustling, circular rhythm section that eventually goes way, way down for Sanford’s blissfully oblivious trombone to add an even further unbalanced feel: something is just waiting to go dreadfully wrong here. And then it’s over. As with a great suspense film, it screams out for a sequel.

The group celebrate the album’s release with a full-band show at 8 PM on Sept 20 at the Cornelia St. Cafe. Early arrival is very highly recommended.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jim Campilongo Electric Trio Live at Barbes 1/5/08

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Jim Campilongo is one of the world’s most exciting guitarists, with a completely unique, instantly recognizable sound. He gets great reviews from the guitar magazines, is revered by his peers, yadda yadda yadda, and in case the hype scared you off, you missed a great show Saturday night. He comes across as something of the missing link between Bill Frisell and Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich. Like Ulrich, he loves his dark, macabre chromatics and plays with a ton of reverb and tremolo. Campilongo gets the latter effect by bending the neck of his vintage Telecaster ever so slightly, rather than using a whammy bar. Stylistically, he covers a lot of ground, from one end of Route 66 to the other, encompassing surf, country, western swing, jazz and plain old down-and-dirty distorted rock. Tonight he mixed material from his latest album Heaven Is Creepy along with a cover or two, and some new material from what will be his eighth album, possibly titled Finger Puppet. As the title implies, the new stuff is predictably as ominous and captivating as the rest of his recent work.

He played the central hook to a new one – titled Helen Keller, perhaps? – by turning the tuning peg on the low E string down a half-step and then back again in time with the music, and with perfect pitch. On another recent number, the eerie Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, he backed off a little, delivering it very calculatedly as the rhythm section cranked it up. He awed the crowd with his technique, quickly raising and lowering his tone controls for volume while delaying his attack on the strings just a fraction of a second to create a backward-masked effect. Campilongo’s rhythm section was superb, the drummer alternated between sticks and brushes, feeling the room and varying his dynamics so he didn’t drown anyone out. The upright bassist contributed fluid excursions up the scale when he wasn’t holding down a snaky groove. At Campilongo’s most heavenly creepy, backed by those two, there were moments when, if you closed your eyes, this could have been Tonic, ten years ago, with Big Lazy onstage.

Campilongo is casual and down-to-earth as a frontman, apologizing for his guitar volume in Barbes’ cozy confines (though it’s hard to imagine anyone in the standing-room-only crowd who would have complained if he turned up even louder). Fellow guitarists who haven’t reached Campilongo’s level of popularity will be reassured to know that the last time he played here, it was to an empty room: nobody came. As musicians all know, there’s no way to tell who’s going to turn out, or if anyone will at all, whether you’re an unknown or one of the greatest fret-burners of your generation. Obvious the Barbes owners’ knew the crowd would be out in full force the next time around, and they were right: latecomers found the room too packed to squeeze inside. Campilongo has played Monday nights at the Living Room, off and on, for what seems forever, so it was a nice change to see him venture out to play a New York-area club that doesn’t treat its customers like shit.

January 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments