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.

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

Concert Review: Spanglish Fly and Sonia’s Party and the Everyone’s Invited Band at R Bar, NYC 3/31/10

The only bad thing about this party was that it couldn’t go all night. Both Sonia’s Party and the Everyone’s Invited Band and New York’s only current bugalu dance band, Spanglish Fly, came across as the kind of acts who do best when they have the whole evening, when they can ride the grooves for all they’re worth, taking the energy as high as it can go. But their show Wednesday night on lower Bowery was still a good one, even if it was a little tantalizing, each band getting a tad short of an hour onstage. It was almost as if just as when the party started to really cook, somebody raided the fridge and stole all the forties. Spanglish Fly did a song about something similar to that: getting busted by lazy NYPD cops who make their monthly quota of arrests with the least possible effort or imagination. “Open container!” the band chanted sarcastically; “Put out that J!” frontwoman Erica Ramos warned her baritone sax player.

With piano, congas, bongos, timbales, bass and a blazing horn section, Spanglish Fly are bringing back the bugalu beat, equal parts salsa and soul, that was everywhere in New York thirty-five years ago, and putting their own spin on it. Because this is dance music, they really get the percussion going, their bongo player getting a serious workout this time around, especially on their opening number, an inspired version of the Ray Barreto classic New York Soul, available on their excellent new cd. Ramos took advantage of the next number’s vamp to introduce the instruments Sly Stone style, trumpet and trombone delivering sizzling solos. They brought Sonia from Sonia’s Party up for a duet on I Heard It Through the Grapevine (a typical bugalu move, latinizing a 60s pop song), Ramos’ sultry alto contrasting with her counterpart’s brassy, sassy wail. Their last song, Pensamiento, took it to the next level, a fiery minor-key hook winding up the chorus, evoking a Spanish Harlem of the mind around 1965 where you’d be able to see a teenage Willie Colon lurking around the back of the club, doing some politics, strategizing a career – and El Canario might have stopped in too.

Sonia’s Party put their own imaginative, danceable spin on catchy 60s soul and Motown. Their frontwoman is a big belter. She’s got all the gospel vocal moves going on, but not in a showoff, American Idol way – what she does just seems natural. The band is killer: fat rhythm section, a terse guitarist who knows his vintage Stax/Volt, a smart and frequently haunting Rhodes pianist and three-piece horn section. They opened with an instrumental featuring a nice growling guitar solo, then brought Sonia up. A lot of her songs start with a long, passionate vocal intro and then warp into a bouncy three-minute soul-pop number. The cautionary dancefloor tale Bad Man was full of tense, unexpected major/minor shifts in the tune; the one before that, maybe titled Can’t Tear My Heart from You could have been a Memphis hit around 1967. But as retro as the tunes are, their sound is uniquely their own. They brought up Erica Ramos and a guy named Jermaine to take turns on the vocals on an actually inspired version of the Ike and Tina arrangement of Proud Mary. A little later, they did a jazzy one where after Sonia had sung her heart out, they brought up a rapper who gave a rapidfire account of his side of a love affair gone wrong. They closed with an obvious crowd-pleaser, a hip-hop duet about checking out people on the subway set to an early 70s-style funk tune. They probably would have gone twice as long if they’d had the chance – and it would have been nice to have been able to stick around for the next band, but it was time to go check out people on the subway before it turned into a pumpkin. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Transit Authority realized that some people have to get home before 4 AM? And in case you were wondering, these multiethnic bands drew a beautifully multiethnic, quintessentially New York crowd – there wasn’t a single bedhead or lumberjack beard in sight.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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