Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Marc Ribot Brings Noir Heat and Chills at the New School

Without Shahzad Ismaily, this review would not have happened. Not knowing that reservations were required for Marc Ribot’s concert Saturday night at the New School, we showed up without them, and the door crew, expecting a sellout, turned us away (which actually wasn’t unreasonable: by showtime, there were still a few open seats, but the auditorium was pretty close to capacity). Overhearing us kvetching outside and plotting our next move, Ismaily came to the rescue (he doesn’t know us; we’d never met before) and comped us in. So now we know that Shahzad Ismaily is as good a guy as he is a musician. His bass work was as inspiring as always, an effortless mix of fat, slinky, swingingly tuneful riffs and vamps while Ribot and his nine-piece noir orchestra prowled and snarled seductively overhead.

Marc Ribot may be famous for being able to play in any style ever invented, but the chameleonic guitarist has found his niche. He’s never sounded more articulate, or been able to interpolate all the things he does best – menacingly twangy atmospherics, frenetic noise and tersely slashing blues – as entertainingly and irresistibly as he does with his noir soundtrack stuff. Among the material on this cinematic-themed bill were pieces of the soundtrack to the noir films Scene of the Crime and Touch of Evil along with a selection of noir (and noir-influenced) instrumentals by the Lounge Lizards, John Zorn and Ribot himself. It was creepy, and sexy, and intense to the point that by the end, pretty much everybody including the band seemed pretty exhausted. The best New York concert so far this year? Arguably, yes.

One of the night’s high points was a John Barry scene titled Kill for Pussy, from the Body Heat soundtrack, tinkly piano and sultry/deadly Doug Wieselman alto sax over a relentless, brooding pulse that took on a slightly less menacing, more lurid tinge as it progressed. The other was an insistent, galloping Ribot chase scene, the slasher going in for the jugular, spinal cord, skull and everything else within reach in a frenzy of horns and atonal tremolo-picking. His Strat drenched in reverb, Ribot turned a noir cabaret Andre Previn tableau from Scene of the Crime into chilling southwestern gothic, later leading a tongue-in-cheek parade through a reggae version of a Henry Mancini piece lit up by Curtis Fowlkes’ triumphant trombone. The Lynchian midsummer night scene that opened the show vamped on a couple of chords as it shifted almost imperceptibly from suburban gothic twang to a mutant Stax/Volt blues and back again lushly with the strings going full tilt. A John Zorn piece from the 80s burned through an explosion of horns, a chase scene, some Chuck Berry and then reggae, all in three minutes. The rest of the show mixed twisted striptease themes with an evil marionettes’ dance, a cover of the Get Carter theme done as Herbie Hancock might have circa 1971, and a couple of Lounge Lizards tunes: an early one that saw Ismaily walking crazy scales as the band squawked, screamed and shuddered, and a later, much quieter piece that marvelously built suspense, from apprehension to something more like sheer terror. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we see of this amazing band, which also included John Mettam on drums, vibraphone and bongos; Christina Courtin on viola; Christopher Hoffman on cello; Rob Burger on acoustic and electric piano and organ, and a violinist whose name we didn’t catch.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Tivoli Trio

This is exquisitely creepy, surreal stuff. It’s as good a jazz album as has come over the turnstile here so far this year. Jazz pianist Frank Carlberg grew up in Helsinki, fascinated by carnivals and the circus – his neighborhood amusement park featured a small combo, the Tivoli Trio, with the unlikely combination of trumpet, organ and drums. As a composer, Carlberg particularly excels at big band arrangements; this time out, he endeavored to recreate what he’d heard as a child, if only in spirit rather than actual memory. It’s a deliciously twisted, disquieting ride, worth it for the rhythm section alone – John Hebert’s bass and Gerald Cleaver’s drums jump right in on the fun, each taking on a gleefully sinister, gnomish persona.

An off-center fanfare opens the album; bass and drums mimic a restless crowd, and then they’re off with Tricks, a scurrying, phantasmagorically creepy, repetitive music box themed tune. A chase sequence follows with suspenseful variations on the previous theme, Carlberg utilizing a marvelously eerie, repetitive series of horn voicings. On Rumble Mumble, drums take centerstage, Carlberg playing deftly diabolical tritone-flavored accents off them. They follow with a strange little vignette, circular piano riff against bass screeching and squealing like the ghost of a decapitated ape.

Bill’s Hat is sad, tired, possibly murderous little march that morphs into a swinging shuffle, the backstage crew at the sideshow having a little laugh at someone’s expense – Hebert gets to throw some knives at his bandmates’ feet as they dance around. On the next track, Two for Tea, the rhythm section bounces around playfully as Carlberg gets to throw knives this time. This is where the truth comes out: they’re a team of gremlins, everybody off on his own yet completely with the same mind when it comes to trouble. Next is another strange miniature with brief horror-movie, cello-like arco work by Hebert against methodical, glimmering block chords from Carlberg.

Devious and high-spirited, Potholes has Hebert providing atmospherics as the drums creep around disorientingly – then Carlberg comes sailing in, oblivious to the trouble the other two have just been up to. The most straight-up jazz number here, Spit (The Game) works from atonal punches on the piano to block chord work driven by judicious bass chords or scrapy bowing, Cleaver’s ever-present cymbal boom just a mallet’s-length away. Tumbles is evocatively if completely uneasily acrobatic with sizeable breaks for devious bass and drums; the cd winds up with the less-than-subtly menacing, expansive yet poignantly lyrical Harlequin and then a brief reprise for the crowd, Sgt. Pepper style. Put this on and then kill the lights – you’ll see it in December on our best albums of the year list.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez and Mojo Mancini at the Canal Room, NYC 4/7/10

Rachelle Garniez was all business this time out. New York’s most individualist steampunk siren usually engages the audience much more than she did last night in a brief duo show, playing accordion with her longtime partner in crime Matt Munisteri on acoustic guitar and banjo. This was the greatest-hits set. She dedicated a swinging, metaphorically-charged version of Tourmaline (from her Melusine Years album, which topped our Best Albums of 2007 list) to an ancestor, Mary Delaney, who had sailed to New Orleans from Ireland in “one of those cast iron bathtubs.” The offhandedly menacing stream-of-consciousness polka punk of Pearls and Swine, said Garniez, sounds Mexican to Germans and vice versa. After a coy, brief take of the innuendo-laden, bluesy Medicine Man and a rather sweet version of Grasshopper, creatively reinterpreting an old Aesop theme, Munisteri got to take the best solo of the night, expansively and incisively through a whole verse and chorus of the torchy Swimming Pool Blue. The crowd wanted more; they didn’t get it.

Mojo Mancini played about an hour’s worth of deliciously creepy, mostly downtempo, cinematic groove instrumentals. Like a twisted hybrid of the Crusaders or early 70s Herbie Hancock and Tuatara, they’d find a haunting chromatic riff and linger on it for minutes on end, with judicious yet playful solos from everyone. Guitarist John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash’s husband and longtime musical director, seems to be in charge of keeping track of the changes in this unit as well. Drummer Sean Pelton and bassist Conrad Korsch locked into a groove which moved gracefully from slinky trip-hop to pounding funk and pretty much all points in between, anchored by either fluid Hammond organ or eerily reverberating Rhodes piano from Dylan sideman Brian Mitchell and spiced with both tenor and baritone sax from Rick DePofi. Mitchell used a vocoder to reach for the furthest level of hell on an unabashedly silly, funkified cover of the David Essex K-tel hit Rock On; other times, he’d mess with his portamento, sometimes in tandem with Leventhal for an out-of-focus, watery menace. They brought Garniez up for a purposeful, straight-up cover of the old jazz standard Comes Love – she chose her spots, alternating between a wondrous Blossom Dearie soprano and a brassy, brazen belt, feeling her way between one kind of over-the-top and another and whichever she’d switch into, it worked like a charm. The band also accompanied a sword swallower, who was impressive with all his super-long balloons and giant screwdriver, yet ultimately his presence onstage stole the spotlight during one of Mojo Mancini’s most interesting numbers, a quietly intense, suspenseful minor-key excursion.

The only drawback was the incessant drum machine. These guys are topnotch players: during a quiet intro, Leventhal and DePofi both had trouble connecting with the click, but when the volume picked up to the point where it was all but inaudible, they swung like crazy. Musicians this good don’t need a click track – why they had one is a mystery. Mojo Mancini’s new album is very much worth your time – watch this space for a review in the next couple of weeks.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at the New York Guitar Festival 2/4/10

Last night’s theme was film scores. The New York Guitar Festival is more avant garde than rock (WNYC’s John Schaefer emceed) – this particular Merkin Hall bill started out intensely and virtuosically with a rare artist who’s every bit as good as his famous father (Gyan Riley is the son of avant titan Terry Riley), then got more mainstream with an emotionally rich, frequently very amusing pair of Chaplin soundtracks just completed by Chicha Libre.

Composers have been doing new scores for old silent films for decades (some of the most intriguing recent ones include Phillip Johnston’s improvisations for Page of Madness, and the Trakwerx soundtracks for Tarzan and a delicious DVD of Melies shorts). Riley chose to add sound to a series of brief paint-on-celluloid creations by Harry Smith (yup, the anthology guy), which came across as primitive if technically innovative stoner psychedelia. Ostensibly Smith’s soundtrack of choice had been Dizzie Gillespie; later, his wife suggested the Beatles. Playing solo, Riley opened with his best piece of the night, an unabashedly anguished, reverb-drenched tableau built on vivid Steve Ulrich-esque chromatics. From there, Riley impressed with a diverse mix of ambient Frippertronic-style sonics along with some searing bluesy rock crescendos evoking both Jeff Beck aggression and towering David Gilmour angst. Most of the time, Riley would be looping his licks with split-second precision so they’d echo somewhere in the background while he’d be adding yet another texture or harmony, often bending notes Jim Campilongo style with his fretboard rather than with his fingers or a whammy bar.

With their psychedelic Peruvian cumbias, Chicha Libre might seem the least likely fit for a Chaplin film. But like its closest relative, surf music, chicha (the intoxicating early 70s Peruvian blend of latin, surf and 60s American psychedelia) can be silly one moment, poignant and even haunting the next. Olivier Conan, the band’s frontman and cuatro player remarked pointedly before the show how much Chaplin’s populism echoed in their music, a point that resonated powerfully throughout the two fascinating suites they’d written for Payday (1922) and The Idle Class (1921). The Payday score was the more diverse of the two, a series of reverberating, infectiously catchy miniatures in the same vein as Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack as well as the woozily careening Electric Prunes classic Mass in F Minor. While Chicha Libre’s lead instrument is Josh Camp’s eerie, vintage Hohner Electrovox organ, as befits a guitar festival, Telecaster player Vincent Douglas got several extended solo passages to show off his command of just about every twangy noir guitar style ever invented, from spaghetti western to New York soundtrack noir to southwestern gothic. When the time came, Camp was there with his typical swirling attack, often using a wah pedal for even more of a psychedelic effect. The band followed the film to a split-second with the occasional crash from the percussionists, right through the triumphant conclusion where Chaplin manages to sidestep his suspicious wife with her ever-present rolling pin and escape with at least a little of what he’d earned on a hilariously slapstick construction site.

The Idle Class, a similarly redemptive film, was given two alternating themes, the first being the most traditionally cinematic of the night, the second eerily bouncing from minor to major and back again with echoes of the Simpsons theme (which the show’s producers just hired Chicha Libre to record last month for the cartoon’s 25th anniversary episode). Chaplin plays the roles of both the rich guy (happy movie theme) and the tramp (spooky minor) in the film, and since there’s less bouncing from set to set in this one the band got the chance to vamp out and judiciously add or subtract an idea or texture or two for a few minutes at a clip and the result was mesmerizing. It was also very funny when it had to be. Bits and pieces of vaguely familiar tunes flashed across the screen: a schlocky pop song from the 80s; a classical theme (Ravel?); finally, an earlier Chicha Libre original (a reworking of a Vivaldi theme, actually), Primavera en la Selva. They built it up triumphantly at the end to wind up in a blaze of shimmering, clanging psychedelic glory where Chaplin’s tramp finally gets to give the rich guy’s sinisterly hulking father a swift kick in the pants. The crowd of what seemed older, jaded new-music types roared their approval: the buzz was still in the air as they exited. Chicha may be dance music (and stoner music), but Chicha Libre definitely have a future in film scores if they want it.

February 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Film, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Andrew Green’s Narrow Margin CD Release Show at the Cornelia St. Cafe, NYC 9/20/09

Sometimes knowing a jazz group’s latest album before seeing them play from it is a complete waste of time. This time, it was like being handed a key to the secret back room where the party is always happening. A few years ago, guitarist Andrew Green spent some time on the disabled list with a busted wrist and he put the downtime to good use: he watched a lot of vintage film noir and wrote a lot of killer horn charts. The result was the album Narrow Margin (very favorably reviewed here recently), which is more of a homage to noir jazz from the 50s than it is an attempt to completely replicate the style. It’s full of mysterious twists and turns and catchy phrases, the kind of jazz album you find yourself humming as you walk down the street. And if you’re in the shadows, and it’s 4 AM and misty way over on the west side, all the better. Sunday night Green assembled most of the supporting cast who played on the album for a magical run through most of it.

Joining Green were his albummates Russ Johnson on trumpet and JC Sanford on trombone plus Noah Preminger subbing on tenor for Bill McHenry, with an inspired rhythm section of Kermit Driscoll on bass and Mike Sarin on drums. A lot of the songs slunk along with a latin pulse, and they nailed it. Watching the songs – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word –  take shape was an apt reminder how cleverly and ingeniously Green composed them. Trumpet and trombone would weave and bob around each other while Green worked variations on the theme, often with a bracing tinge of natural distortion. Preminger got the chance to establish plenty of contrast against the suspense and occasional outright menace of the rest of the band and did it with a stunningly nuanced attack and an unassailable calm: as good as McHenry sounded on the cd, Preminger took it to the next level.

One of the oldest compositions, Miro, featured Driscoll working a finely honed, minimalist solo fleshed out with similar judiciousness by Green, sounding like an unconstrained, ballsier Joe Pass. Short Cut, with its wickedly catchy, four-note central riff was a clinic in the use of echo between horn players, Johnson’s trumpet perfectly evoking a blithe obliviousness as Green sputtered and threw off big dirty sparks underneath. Best song of the show was Midnight Novelette, a cinematic number if there ever was one, Green letting loose with a stinging volley of sixteenth notes after Johnson and then Sanford had built an indelibly nocturnal tableau. It was as if Bogart had been overheard at the bar, murmuring, “Play it again, guys.”

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