Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gecko Turner Puts Su Alma into Soul Music

What Manu Chao is to gypsy music, Spanish songwriter Gecko Turner is to oldschool American soul. His melodies are sweet but not cloying, and have a hip-hop feel in places, for a vibe that’s retro yet completely new and original. Whichever era they happen to recall – the 60s, the 70s or the here-and-now – they’re laid-back, summery, tersely and imaginatively arranged, and pretty psychedelic in places. His new album Gone Down South begins with a Smokey Robinson-style soul piano song with some nice call-and-response between the trumpet and the horn section. Cuanta Suerte has sleigh bells on the intro (!?!) – it’s vintage Joe Cuba-style latin soul with richly chordal jazz piano that winds down to a hypnotic bass pulse and the catchy chorus hook. So Sweet is aptly titled, an acoustic southern-flavored number with watery wah-wah guitar accents.

He follows that with a funky jam that blends oldschool latin soul with reggaeton; a slow, swaying, hypnotic piano-and harmonica vamp with a lazy rap; an upbeat, Marleyesque reggae song; a circular African mbira song; a James Brown-style funk number with steel pan for a calypso tinge; a catchy wah-wah soul song that slinks along on a latin groove; an early 70s, Sly Stone-style funk tune and a brief, stripped-down stab at oldtimey swing. The only miss here is a throwaway Paul’s Boutique-style mix of loops and samples. Is there anything this guy can’t write? As with American gypsy bands, Argentinian surf rockers and Japanese salseros, musicians specializing in a style considered exotic in their native land face extra pressure to excel. Turner comes through with flying colors here.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lee Fields & the Expressions Bring Oldschool Soul to Williamsburg

The trendoid band who opened at the Williamsburg Waterfront Sunday afternoon were as pathetic as expected: uptight, fearful beats, inept guitar, vocals (you couldn’t call it singing) that sounded like a drawl learned from tv rather than in a part of the world where people actually speak with a drawl, and a girl on sax who made Poly Styrene sound like John Coltrane. But wait – this was indie rock. Indie rock isn’t supposed to be good, in fact it’s not even meant to be listened to at all. It’s something you’re supposed to know and take blurry iphone photos of when you see it so you can prove you’re as much of a conformist as the next bedheaded boy. Still, it’s sad that a band like the Highway Gimps were limited to tearing up the back room at Tommy’s Tavern the previous night when they or plenty of other good Brooklyn bands could have torn up a much bigger stage on Sunday, giving Lee Fields a real run for his money.

Fields is a rediscovery, one of the more recent, obscure black performers resurrected by white kids who’ve discovered the magic of oldschool soul music. He started out in the late 60s, reputedly doing a pretty solid James Brown imitation, expanding into other styles as the years went on. He never put out an album til 1979, recording sporadically in the years that followed while plying his trade up and down the eastern seaboard and in the south. Fields’ output is actually more diverse, and has changed with the times, more than was evident during his roughly fifty-minute set. This was the 60s show, and he and the absolutely killer band behind him excelled at it. They all looked sharp – the drummer even wore a tie, and didn’t take it off despite the humidity – and played as if it was Memphis, 1968, the pint-sized Fields resplendent in a white suit that probably dates from that era: stagewear is expensive, you know. The bass played sinuously melodic, fluid grooves while the guitar channeled Steve Cropper at times, augmented by a terrific, understated latin percussionist and an organist who also kept it simple and in the pocket. A lot of the faces up there looked familiar: an Antibalas ringer or two, maybe?

The set mixed long, hypnotic, JB-style one-chord funk grooves with a handful of disarmingly pretty ballads lit up with vividly incisive, jangly guitar. The band opened with a couple of tasty midtempo grooves, then brought up Fields, whose voice has taken on more of a gravelly tinge, but he still worked the crowd as if he was on his home turf – and seemed genuinely grateful for the support from an unusually diverse audience (at least in conservative, whitewashed Bloomberg-era Williamsburg). They did the bitterly defiant kiss-off anthem Gone for Good, a dead ringer for the Godfather of Soul in his classic 60s period, early on. Money Is King, a long vamp that slowly slunk along to a quick couple of chord changes on the turnaround, came across as unselfconsciously hungry and probably resonated with crowds in the 60s and 70s as much as Fitty does these days. On Ladies, an even more simple, direct groove, Fields tried engaging some of the girls in the front row, but they didn’t respond. Quickly, he made a joke out of it, reminding them how lucky their guys must be. The end of the set featured more of the slower and midtempo material, including the evocatively retro My World, the title track to his new album, which wouldn’t have been out of place in the late 60s Smokey Robinson catalog. Fields doesn’t break any new ground and doesn’t really have a signature style of his own, but he knows his history and he should because he was there – and the band sounded like they were too.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, Live Events, New York City, music, concert, concert, funk music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/4/10

It was Karen’s birthday – after the band had serenaded her with a brief New Orleans groove, she got the memo and headed straight for the dancefloor. In less than a minute her entire party had joined her. Whoever she is, Karen may be thirty now but she’s still got the energy of a kid. Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra could have kept everybody dancing for the entirety of their pretty lavish two-hour show had they not mixed in a handful of ballads. And what a show it was, an ecstatic eleven-piece New Orleans style gospel-soul band complete with horn section, rhythm section, two keyboards, guitar, two twirling backup singers, and Brother Joscephus (rhymes with Bocephus) out front with his gritty voice and acoustic guitar. Pianist The Right Reverend Dean Dawg led most of the band on a long, serpentine procession through the audience as the rhythm section grooved onstage, and after vamping around, getting the crowd going, they brought up Brother Joscephus just as James Brown’s band would have done circa 1964. Their sound, matched by their look (everybody in white, guys in hats, girls with matching parasols) is completely retro, right down to the scripted stage patter (replete with missed cues, which the band found as amusing as the crowd did). Two of the most memorable originals were straight-up tributes to the town where they get their inspiration: a joyously upbeat number where the band had invited all the little kids in the crowd up onstage to join them, soprano sax taking a delicious Dixieland-inspired solo; and the equally rousing Bon Temps Roulez, from their latest album (very favorably reviewed here).

Ironically, the best song of the afternoon, a spooky version of the absolutely noir, gravelly minor-key Midnight Move (also from the new album) didn’t resonate particularly well with the crowd. The covers were just as inspired as the originals: a blazing barrelhouse piano version of Jambalaya with a balmy tenor sax solo; a crescendoing When the Saints Go Marching In right before the band intros at the end, and an actually hilarious, completely over-the-top, perfectly modulating cover of Somebody to Love by Queen sung with carefree abandon by Seoul Sister #1 (she’s from Korea). Rev. Dean Dawg spun between his keyboard (and accordion, and glockenspiel) with pinpoint precision, signaling the changes as the women swayed and traded banter with the frontman while he worked the crowd (and laughed about it off-mic). But the choreography came off as Crescent City rather than Branson (except for that wretched Eagles excerpt during the band intros – guys, that’ll clear a New York room in seconds). For any band to play as inspired a set as this crew did is pretty impressive, all the more so when you realize that they took the stage just a few minutes after one in the afternoon – at what ungodly hour they soundchecked, we’ll never know.

Memo to the guitarist: dude, you’re too good to be going all modal and Wes Montgomery in the middle of a simple three-chord song like Jambalaya.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great New Soul Single Out on Vinyl from the One & Nines

Jersey City oldschool R&B revivalists the One & Nines have released the first single off their debut cd (very favorably reviewed here earlier this year) – but the single is on 45 RPM vinyl. Of course you can download it from the usual places, but the sonics are sweet and one of the reasons – beyond the fact that both of the songs are bonafide A-sides – is that the album was recorded on analog tape, therefore, a pure, gorgeous analog sound.

Walked Alone is the upbeat number. A good 1960s comparison would be Bettye Swan, or Tammi Terrell backed by a Memphis band – it’s a catchy, fast shuffle anchored by fat baritone sax. An educated guess is that the fetching ballad Something on Your Mind is probably the B-side, with a tasty horn chart, organ and frontwoman Vera Sousa’s achingly beautiful vocal. Both songs were penned by the band’s guitarist Jeff Marino, a player who’s obviously immersed himself in oldschool soul of the Stax/Volt variety. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are the obvious comparison, but the One & Nines go for a smoother, more romantic, less funky vibe. A recent show at Spike Hill in Williamsburg unsurprisingly revealed the band to be a killer live act: when she sings, Sousa closes her eyes and goes off to an alternate universe called Soul Land, a place where she isn’t about to take any grief from anyone, guitar and keys pulsing behind her, organ and horns rising out of the mix to drive the songs home. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dina Dean – 4 Songs

Her auspicious but all-too-brief debut. Always leave them wanting more, the saying goes and it’s never been more true here. Dina Dean is a lefthanded guitarist and in that tradition, she uses a lot of interesting, uniquely incisive licks and chordlets. She’s also a hell of a lyricist, a terrific storyteller with a fondness for weirdos and the down-and-out. And a hell of a singer with an alto delivery capable of minute yet very powerful subtleties. When she gets loud, which isn’t often, you know something’s up. These songs are all midtempo rock but draw deeply on classic 60s soul with a tinge of country here and there.

The album begins with Radio Song, a vivid late-night portrait of a neighborhood character who hangs out in the park with her radio amidst a whole lot of chaos

She’s counting down the top 10 from ‘65
When she should be counting sheep
Warming up some cold coffee
As she wonders why –
She can’t fall asleep

And then the chorus kicks in, driven by echoey Fender Rhodes piano, spiced with guitar and harmonica. The next track, Same Grace is a gospel-inflected tribute to street musicians everywhere:

Rivers rolling down your face
With an accent I could hardly trace
Singing about that Same Grace
That’s kept you here

Some of Them Days, with its swinging beat and soaring steel guitar has a warm, evocative summery feel. The cd’s final track Down in the Dust is a richly imagistic chronicle of an ancient dancer from the 1930s looking back on her trials and travails:

The queen madame of the minstrel
In my own travelin’ show
In the days of Silent Cal
And that no count Jim Crow
I was living high on the hog
In my ruby studded shoes
And went back to a hollow log
When jazz blew the fuse on the blues

Four songs, five bagels. Toasted with butter at some all-night joint. This cd is available for a ridiculously low price at shows.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments