Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hot Jazz on a Hot Summer’s Day

The party at Saturday’s slate of hot jazz bands at Central Park Summerstage was out back, on the lawn behind the arena. The picknickers and snuggling couples who’d made that spot their destination were on to something. There are no sightlines back there, unless you sit on somebody’s shoulders, maybe, but the grass has grown in since the hurricane, making a comfortable return to a time that for awhile seemed gone for good.

Inside, a mostly white, monied, youngish crowd slowly grew, milling around aimlessly, lethargic as the sun beat down oppressively on the astroturf. The bleachers to the left and right were packed, especially in the shade of the trees. The tented spaces directly behind the sound booth – which these days is situated at the back of a wide, fenced-off path to the stage – are paid seats reserved for ticketholders who fork over thousands of dollars to sit there, according to one of the many, many ushers working the show. But those seats remained empty for the duration of a concert that went on for over four hours. Then again, hedge funders are not known for their fondness for dancing, or their taste in music, or for any kind of fun in general. What would have been fun would have been to organize a posse to occupy those seats since all that space was going to waste. Needless to say, plenty of people would have jumped at a chance to do that in, say, 1988, when the arena was funded by taxpayer money rather than hedge funders trying to dodge the IRS. Then again, that was also before antidepressants and post-9/11 security paranoia.

On one hand, this concert was a bunch of familiar faces playing familiar material. Then again, that’s a spoiled New Yorker’s view. Many of the creme de la creme of the New York oldtimey swing jazz scene made their way up to the bandstand as the sun made its way slowly across the sky. Trumpter Bria Skonberg served as emcee for the New York Hot Jazz All-Stars, an aptly named pickup band featuring – in no particular order – Anat Cohen on clarinet, Wycliffe Gordon (who’d just played a raptly fun set with Svetlana and the Delancey Five the previous night) on trombone and vocals, Jerron “Blnd Boy” Paxton on banjo, Dalton Ridenhour on piano, Vince Giordano on bass, vocals and bass sax and Joe Saylor on drums. With dixieland flair and expertly bluesy chops, they made their way through a New Orleans-heavy set, Gordon channeling Louis Jordan with similar erudite, unselfconscious verve.

Hot Sardines frontwoman Elizabeth Bougerol, decked out in a dazzling orange pantssuit, sang the most apt song of the afternoon. The wistfully swinging title track to the band’s new album French Fries and Champagne may speak to those on a beer budget with a taste for bubbly, but it’s as much of a guardedly hopeful anthem for those who’ve weathered the past several years’ blitzkrieg of gentrification. Bougerol didn’t mention the UK’s secession from the European Union – Svetlana did that the previous night, with relish – but that’s the first domino. The real estate bubble can’t last much longer. Meanwhile, the band – musical director Evan Palazzo on piano, Jason Prover on trombone, Mike Sailor on trumpet, plus sax, rhythm section and a full string quartet – partied like it was 1929. Bougerol toyed with the beat in a brassy, sometimes languid, sometimes come-hither mezzo-soprano, through a set composed mostly of original, period-perfect continental 1930s style swing numbers. The best of the standards was Bougerol’s insightful bilingual rendition of an old chestnut, titled Comes Love in English, but whose French chorus translates loosely as “Love Is Fucked Up.” They also took a rather farfetched stab at horn-driven countrypolitan along with a misguided remake of a wretched 1980s cheeseball pop hit. Then again, that song was huge in France, and that’s where Bougerol hails from.

Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9 headlined. By then, the turf had really soaked up the heat and was throwing it back up, and the band onstage reflected that. This is basically trumpeter Steven Bernstein’s return to his roots playing the lively New Orleans-centric swing and pre-swing repertoire he cut his teeth on in Berkeley and then New York before making his own indelible mark as an avatar of noir, and film music, and Jewish jazz. So it was no surprise to hear him leap and snort and fire off one explosive burst after another as pianist Henry Butler boogied and rumbled and barrelhoused, guitarist Matt Munisteri jangling and clanging through every hip voicing in the book as the horns and strings wove an endlessly joyous lattice of southern-fried revelry. Inside, the crowd’s energy level had picked up to the point where it was hard to find a space out of the sun that wasn’t forbidden. Out back on the lawn, there was plenty of space, and relaxation, a good place for starting over when the time comes. And it will. Bring it on.

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June 27, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catherine Russell Brings Back the Blues and Jazz Roots of Classic Soul

[republished, more or less, from Lucid Culture’s more rock-oriented sister blog New York Music Daily]

Catherine Russell is the kind of jazz luminary you might discover at three in the morning,  belting her heart out with an obscure funk band who later change their name and style and become a huge draw on the indie rock circuit. In the fourteen years since that initial sighting – true story -she’s become one of the biggest names in oldtime swing jazz. Her previous album, Strictly Romancin’, was a Louis Armstrong tribute (Russell’s multi-instrumentalist dad Luis played in Armstrong’s band: the apple didn’t fall far). Her latest album, Bring It Back, goes deeper into the blues, in a Duke Ellington way.Harmonia Mundi gets credit for releasing the album, which is up at Spotify.

The band lineup is pretty much the same as the previous album: musical director Matt Munisteri on guitar and other fretted instruments; Mark Shane on piano; Lee Hudson on bass; Mark McClean on drums; Glenn Patscha on organ; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Mark Lopeman on baritone sax; John Allred on trombone; and Dan Block and Andy Farber on reeds. Other than just the pure chops they bring to the songs, the way the both Russell and the band shift direction depending on the underlying emotional content is what distinguishes them from the legions of shi-shi restaurant bands and cruise ship combos who try to make a go of this oldtime stuff. The arrangements may be refined to the nth degree, but the group’s approach to the songs’ heartbreak and intensity (and sometimes just plain good fun) is disarmingly direct.

The album opens with the catchy midtempo title track, Russell’s urbane sophistication balanced way out on a limb by Munisteri’s unexpectedly feral, wildly string-bending guitar, confronting the angst that the vocals refuse to give in to. “High” is the operative word in Shooting High, with its elegant handoffs from one instrument to the next. The steady, shady I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart matches muted trumpet and somewhat furtive sax to the wistfulness and resignation in Russell’s understatedly torchy delivery. Then they pick up the pace with the jaunty, dixieland-flavored You Got to Swing and Sway.

The band does Aged and Mellow as an oldschool soul ballad in the same vein as Willie Nelson’s Night Life – Russell doesn’t let on how the story’s actually being told by a gold-digger. They keep the high spirits going with the nonchalantly triumphant, shuffling Darktown Strutters’ Ball and then hit a peak with a big, brassy arrangement of Lucille (not the B.B. King song but a previously unreleased, exuberant number by Russell’s dad).

Russell’s most pillowy vocal here is You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb, set to a ragtime-tinged piano-and-guitar backdrop. After the Lights Go Down, a gorgeous blend of oldschool soul and blues, sets Russell’s confidently conspiratorial vocals against wickedly shivery guitar and organ. I’m Sticking With You Baby, a litany of prewar aphorisms, has more invigorating, bluesy organ, Russell trading bars with the band as they take it all the way up at the end.

The minor-key, irony-drenched, ragtime-inflected Strange As It Seems makes a stark contrast. The jump blues Public Melody Number One picks up the pace again, with an absolutely surreal lyric:

Frankenstein, a bundle of joy
Jesse James is a teacher’s pet
A gatling gun compared to
Shots from a hot corvette

The album ends with an absolutely riveting, unexpectedly energetic version of the old Billie Holiday standard I Cover the Waterfront, rising and falling with an angst that dignifies the neighborhood hooker and her ache for the guy who’s gone away across the ocean, no doubt for good. On one level, this is a trip back in time; on another, a lot of the playing here is more eclectic than what your typical studio band would try to pull off in, say, 1934.

May 14, 2014 Posted by | blues music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Low-Key Soulful Swing from Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires

From their name, you’d think that Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires’ ambitions would be modest, and in a sense you’d be right: they’re there to serenade you casually rather than indulge in anything decadent. Frontman/tenor saxophonist Hefko sings with a deadpan, laconic, sometimes hangdog drawl over a generally laid-back, soulful backdrop provided by trumpeter Satoru Ohashi, guitarist Luca Benedetti, bassist Scott Ritchie and drummer Moses Patrou. Stylistically, they walk the line between blues, vintage 60s soul, country and jazz, often all at once, Hefko working the same kind of wryly clever, subtext-fueled lyrical vibe as Dan Hicks, or the Squirrel Nut Zippers in a mellow moment. Their album If I Walked on Water makes a welcome break from the legions of hot jazz combos blasting their way through one upbeat number after another: it draws you in rather than hitting you over the head.

They open as jaunty as they get, but with a wary minor-key cha-cha groove lit up by a stinging Benedetti guitar solo and a similarly apprehensive clarinet solo from Hefko. The second track, It’s Cold In Here is a jump blues, but a midtempo one, slinking along on Patron’s warmly tuneful piano. “The idea of lonely is getting lost in the crowd,” Hefko intones on the oldschool soul/funk number You’ve Gotta Take Steps. An electrified country blues done early 50s style with a clanging, period-perfect Benedetti solo, Color Me Blue has Hefko punning his way through; “Purple heart for bravery, red badge of courage makes you green with envy.”

The standout track here is Greyhound Coach, a gorgeously bittersweet countrypolitan swing tune, Hefko adding an absolutely morose solo over guest Neil Thomas’ accordion. But it ends well: “Picking up the pieces when this winter ceases,” Hefko insists, going out with a flourish from the sax. Likewise, Trust My Gut – a long life-on-the-road narrative – blends vintage soul with a sophisticated Willie Nelson-ish country vibe. This Song Won’t Sound the Same shuffles along with a downcast matter-of-factness, picking up with a soulful muted solo from Ohashi and then Hefko taking it out with a crescendo. The last song here, Get on the Train and Ride is typical of the songs here in that Hefko chooses his spots and makes them count: there’s the LIRR, and the Harlem line, and the Path…and the dreaded 3 AM trash train crawling through the subway. “You wanna get on and ride,” Hefko adds: no snarl, no sneer, just the basic facts, and he lets them speak for themselves. The album winds up with a pensive instrumental, You Took Away the Best Part, featuring some clever allusions to a couple of standards and a memorably misty Hefko tenor solo. Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires play a lot of gigs around town: this Sunday the 19th they play the jazz brunch at half past noon at the Antique Garage at 41 Mercer St.; on the 29th they’re at LIC Bar at 10.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | blues music, country music, jazz, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Max Raabe Charms the Crowd at the Met

Last night German crooner Max Raabe and his meticulously inspired 15-piece Palast Orchester put on a characteristically devious, slyly entertaining show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fluent English, with a clipped, deadpan accent that he might have played up for added effect, Raabe led the group through an endlessly playful mix of Weimar and American hot jazz numbers from about 1926 through 1938. While they blended a few slapstick theatre songs into the set, they’re a jazz band first and foremost, and to the immense credit of the Met’s sound crew, the balance of the instruments in the auditorium was perfect, from guitar and banjo to brass to Cecilia Crisafulli’s graceful, understated violin to percussionist Vincent Riewe, whose sly implementation of cymbal and bells was timed to a split second. Raabe maintained his signature deadpan facade throughout the group’s roughly 90 minutes onstage: he didn’t smile once, nor did it look like he broke a sweat either. His M.O. is that he lets the songs, and the tunes, speak for themselves: and in period-perfect vaudeville style, he dished out clever cameo after cameo to the orchestra members, who lept in and out, sometimes in less than a single bar of music, with considerable relish. The four saxophonists came out from behind their matching black-and-white podiums (this is a German band after all) for a faux-Ink Spots interlude where Raabe eventually joined them on high harmonies, and didn’t have to go into head voice (pretty impressive, ja?). Alto saxophonist Johannes Ernst got to deliver a lusciously spiraling outro; baritone saxophonist Rainer Fox took charge of a couple of comedically gruff intros; and guitarist Ulrich Hoffmeier doubled ably on violin along with one of the trombonists on a theatrical number about a girl who goes off to China with a guy who can’t stay faithful. “But that doesn’t matter,” Raabe explained beforehand: it turned out that the girl was just using the guy for his money.

Raabe’s operatic background makes itself evident in his round, precisely modulated tone: that he stops just thisclose to overdoing it is what makes him so amusing – and sometimes genuinely plaintive as well, especially on a wary, knowing version of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. The way he swooped effortlessly upward to the root note as the band kicked into the old Cuban standard Siboney was spot-on (and so was the conga solo that Riewe managed to pull off while somehow holding the center with his woodblock). They redeemed Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf by showing its klezmer roots – that the orchestra could risk a potential Pink Martini moment and instead give it a big grin testifies to their subtlety and originality. In between songs, Raabe amused the audience with deadpan repartee. The evening’s brisk opening number, one of the handful of German-language songs in the set, was about moviegoers wishing their lives could be as glamorous as the movies. “The last time I left a movie theatre, I was glad my life wasn’t so horrible,” Raabe explained. He riffed on American anti-smoking laws and how those who haven’t kicked the habit have to contend with being made into a zoo-like spectacle in airports and outside office buildings. He even sang an original, One Cannot Kiss Alone (the title track to his forthcoming album), nimbly negotiating its torrents of puns over an unexpectedly doo-wop flavored melody.

Raabe told the crowd that a staggered German waltz would not be “elegant like they have in Vienna – but louder.” They closed the set with a German dancehall number about a clumsy dancing girl, the band interpolating a handbell choir into the arrangement to max out the vaudevillian factor. But for all the nonstop good cheer, this group is all too aware that what they play is escapist music: beneath the lushness of the arrangements, there’s an inescapable unease that  they occasionally cede centerstage to, most strikingly on the encore, an anxiously brisk Dream a Little Dream of Me. Rather than evoking the jaunty Mama Cass ragtime version, it was a hasty lullaby for someone who’s not about to fall asleep afterward (and a not-so-subtle hint to come see the band the next time they pass through town). Considering the standing ovation the crowd gave them, no doubt many of those people will.

March 4, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1.

Sunday’s album was #527:

Curtis Eller – Wirewalkers and Assassins

2009 was a particularly good year for music – if you’ve been following this space, you’ll see we’ve been mining it quite a bit lately. This is Curtis Eller’s latest and best album – he plays banjo and happens to be one of the finest lyrical songwriters of our time. His specialty is fiery, minor-key, bluesy songs full of historical references and punk energy. This one has his very best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails; the New York-centric Sugar for the Horses; the grim party anthem Sweatshop Fire; the chillingly summery, hallucinatory Hartford Circus Fire; the sardonic Firing Squad; the gentle, blackly humorous country sway of the Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife, and the wrenchingly haunting, whispery Save Me Joe Louis, its title taken from what were reputedly the last words of the first man (who was probably wrongfully convicted) to be executed in the gas chamber. It hasn’t made it to the filesharing sites yet but it’s still available from Eller’s bandcamp, where you can hear the whole thing.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ebony Hillbillies: Historically Aware Fun at Lincoln Center

To say that the Ebony Hillbillies played a fun set at Lincoln Center out of Doors last night might be a little bit obvious: by definition, bluegrass is fun. The Ebony Hillbillies’ version is a little more raw, and rustic, and when you think about it, authentic than a lot of bands playing that style of music. That’s because New York’s only black bluegrass band draws on a tradition that started before Emancipation, when part of a slave’s job was also to entertain the slavemasters. The band doesn’t belabor that point, but they also know their history: “There was a lot of music to learn,” violinist Henrique Prince explained to the crowd, elaborating on how slave musicians suddenly found themselves immersed in German or Irish music. One thing he didn’t say is that it’s more than a little ironic that bluegrass, commonly known as music played by caucasians, is performed entirely on instruments which originated in Africa.

Prince is the lead player in this band, with a briskly exuberant, fluid style, backed by the steady, clanking chords of clawhammer style banjo player Norris Bennett. Bassist Bill Salter (co-author of Grover Washington Jr.’s biggest hit, Just the Two of Us) slipped and slid gracefully, adding a little funk to the last song, a singalong/clapalong dance number called the Broke Leg Chicken. A rattling dance beat was delivered by Newman Taylor Baker, who played washboard with metal strikers on his fingers rather than with a metal brush, along with singer Gloria Thomas Gassaway, who added to her “reputation of working the audience [as the band’s website states]”  while playing bones and then leading the crowd in a couple of singalongs. In that crowd was jazz piano legend Barry Harris, who interrupted Gassaway briefly during the funny blues tune Big Fat Daddy to remind that skinny guys (who happen to like big women) have also got it going on.

And the crowd ate it up. A woman with a video camera began trailing a little redheaded girl (who appeared to be her granddaughter) and then persisted in filming individual members of the band in close-up for almost the entire duration of the show. But they didn’t let it phase them. Everyone listened attentively as Prince sang a desperate but ultimately triumphant tune told from the point of view of a slave running off to Georgia to get away from a speculator who planned to auction him off; then they danced and swayed as Prince led the group through an Irish reel and more traditional, Appalachian-flavored stuff. At the end, after the Broke Leg Chicken, they wanted an encore, and the band would clearly have played it if the promoters had let them.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rosler’s Recording Booth: A Trip Back and Forth in Time

Darkly surreal and often quirkily charming, Rosler’s Recording Booth is one of the most original album concepts in recent months. Rosler’s narratives, sung by a diverse cast from the worlds of both music and theatre, trace what could be a day in the life of an Audiola or Voice-o-Graph, the lo-fi coin-operated recording booths of the 1940s and 50s where for as little as a quarter, you could make your own five-minute single. Rosler’s eclectic career has spanned the world of film music, choral music and jazz, including a 2010 collaboration with Bobby McFerrin, so it’s no surprise that the songs here bridge several styles. In keeping with the vintage concept, many of the tunes have an oldtimey feel: Lee Feldman’s similarly eclectic work comes to mind.

You’ve probably at least heard of the hit single, Doris From Rego Park, sung by Rosler himself – it’s a youtube sensation. For several years the late Doris Bauer was a frequent caller to Steve Somers’ postgame show on the New York Mets flagship station, WFAN. While there have been more articulate baseball fans, like all Mets fans in recent years, she suffered, her suffering made all the more obvious since she had respiratory problems that made it difficult for her to complete a sentence, and seem to have curtailed much of any hope for a social life. Rosler sings to her gently over a hypnotic, new wave pop-tinged keyboard lullaby, almost as one would to a child. As sympathetic a portrait as Rosler paints, it evokes a crushing loneliness.

The rest of the album ranges from upbeat to downright haunting. Spottiswoode lends his rich, single-malt baritone to two cuts: a garrulous, ragtime-flavored number sung by a construction worker to his absent girlfriend in a New York of the mind, decades ago, and another considerably more angst-driven, also vividly depicting an old New York milieu. Tam Lin sings a pensive 6/8 ballad, a childhood reminiscence with Irish tinges. Terry Radigan takes over the mic on a jauntily creepy circus tune, an understatedly chilling account of homelessness through a little girl’s eyes, and a quietly optimistic wartime message home from a young woman to her family – it’s never clear what exactly she’s doing or where she is, which makes the song even more intriguing. Kathena Bryant brings a towering, soulful presence to the September song Where I’ve Been, What I’ve Done, Jeremy Sisto sings a broodingly psychedelic criminal’s tale, and Rosler himself leads the choir through a deftly orchestrated reminiscence…of singing in a choir. Behind the singers, a rotating cast of musicians includes Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on keys, Deoro’s Dave Eggar on cello and Mojo Mancini’s Shawn Pelton on drums.

In the leaps from the past to the present and then back – not to mention between styles and singers – the unifying concept of the recording booth sometimes disappears. And a few of the songs are duds: quality songwriters typically have a hard time dumbing themselves down enough to write easy-listening radio pop, and Rosler is no exception. But that’s where the ipod playlist comes in: all together, this makes a really entertaining one.

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #569:

Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

A virtuoso guitarist equally adept at delta blues, vintage Appalachian folk, early jazz and rock, Lenny Molotov is also an acerbic, brutally perceptive songwriter and lyricist. This is his latest album, from 2010, an eclectic mix of all of those styles: if the Dead Kennedys had tried their hand at oldtimey music, it might have sounded something like this. Here he’s backed by a rustic, inspired string band including bass, drums, fiddle and blues harp. The early Dylanesque Wilderness Bound chronicles a symbolically-charged journey its narrator never wanted to make; Book of Splendor and the eerily hypnotic Ill Moon hark back to the delta, while Glorious evokes Woody Guthrie. The classic here is Freedom Tower, dating from the early days of the Bush regime, a witheringly sarcastic sendup of fascist architectural iconography (he says it much more simply and poetically than that). David Reddin’s Blues follows a similar tangent, a sardonic modern-day outlaw ballad, its killer on the run caught in an Orwellian snare. There’s also the swinging Faded Label Blues, a wryly bitter Jelly Roll Morton homage; the quietly defiant Devil’s Empire, and the bucolic waltz New Every Morning, which leaves no doubt where Molotov stands: “There’s just two kinds of music under the law/The real live blues, and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” This one’s real hard to find, but still available at shows – or check the blues bin at your local used record store, if you have one.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2011: Saved by Heavy Metal

When La Fête de la Musique (the annual French busk-a-thon that spurred a worldwide day of outdoor music) originated, global warming was still in its early stages. Even now, France is more temperate than New York in late June. In the weeks leading up to this year’s Make Music NY festival, what was most obvious was that most of the performers who played it last time around were not doing it this year. And most of those who played in previous years have not done it since. This is true for both acoustic acts along with performers who require electricity and bear the additional responsibility of generating or acquiring it.

At this point, in the wake of the fifth annual MMNY, it’s become obvious that June is simply not a viable month for the festival. Consider: Central Park on Make Music NY day. It should be a beehive of activity. Yet within view of the 72nd St. path, from the east side to the west side, there was one single performance going on in mid-afternoon. In Tompkins Square Park a little later, absolutely nothing. McCarren Park in Williamsburg? Ditto. Clearly, New York musicians have had enough of sweating it out on June 21. So let’s move Make Music NY to a Saturday in late October. The actual date can change year by year, so both performers and concertgoers won’t have to miss a day of work. It’ll make performing less physically taxing, it’ll boost participation, and losing the solstice aspect will have the added benefit of losing the “namaste” crowd.

If you’re immune to heat, or feel like braving the sauna like we did, how do you best experience MMNY? Not by trying to track down the music: you have to let it come to you. That means just walking around, or even just walking to the train and then home, leaving open the possibility of a great random discovery. This time around, for us, there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but that rainbow took forever to get past. Our most successful tour of MMNY was 2008, simply because there happened to be an excellent afternoon’s worth of shows all within walking distance. This time around, the game plan was to start out uptown and then work our way down, which turned out to be much easier said than done. The reggae band on the calendar for noon was nowhere in sight – although out in front of the beauty parlor at 128th and Lenox, doing gospel karaoke, was Pastor Murthlene Sampson. And she’s good! She growls, she purrs, she wails, she knows what she’s doing and she gets around: she was scheduled for two other performances yesterday. She’s leading a gospel choir of over fifty voices on June 25th at Miracle Temple Ministries, 965 Boyland St. in Bed-Stuy at 6 PM for $20 and if they’re anything like she is, it’ll be worth it.

Next stop was Naumburg Bandshell, where classical pianist Taka Kigawa was scheduled. But there was no pianist, and for that matter, no piano. What happened in many cases this year is that performers would reserve space for a block of time, some of them hoping to find like-minded musicians to fill the early hours, others simply waiting til later in the day to play. And that’s fine – MMNY is all about freedom to play, rather than having to adhere to a venue’s strict schedule for load in, soundcheck and then stage time. Our first discovery was on the way from the deserted bandshell to the train, where toward the edge of the park the Dirty Urchins were playing beautifully low-key, all-acoustic Americana, party country, part jazz, part low-key rock. The quartet – two acoustic guitars, tenor sax, upright bass and girl/guy vocals – did two excellent songs before they took an obviously well-deserved break. Bandleader Julia Haltigan sang the first, Homesick for the Moon, with a casual, warmly jazzy lilt. Ever see a band, play along with them in your head and then witness one of the musicians play the exact same lick you’d been imagining? The sax player did that, bluesy and laid-back – it was a beautifully validating moment in a day that had been full of disappoinments up to this point. Guitarist Freddie Stevenson sang the second song, Spare Me, a gorgeous shuffle tune. They’ve got three albums out, and play with the authority, tightness and chemistry that comes with working up a lot of material together.

Running around downtown turned out to be a fiasco, so we made a quick trip back to the office, then over to Williamsburg, where the reggae band scheduled for 4 PM was just starting to unpack the truck. At this point, worn out, dehydrated, we figured that we’d make one last stop on the hunch that it would save the day, and it did. The concept was heavy metal under the BQE. Pure genius. It was cool down there, with a breeze! And all but one of the bands were so loud that they drowned out a recurrent car alarm, which is not nearly as easy as it seems. The first group we caught was Krystaleen. They have two wickedly fast, eclectically skilled lead guitarists and a tight and pummeling rhythm section with a bassist whose rapidfire fingerpicking was straight out of the Steve Harris school of intensity. Their songs were anthemic, ornate, smartly put together and had some surprising dynamics, the guy who took most of the solos wailing with an unexpectedly gentle, mournful unease during a quieter interlude. It was impossible to hear the vocals, although their frontman was clearly doing everything he could under the circumstances.

Exemption were next, a three-piece with an even more eclectic style that frequently took flight into jazz territory, through thickets of tricky rhythms and several moments with a genuinely funky slink. The nimble, melodic bassist played his Hofner with a pick and sang. Their guitarist’s deep bag of tricks includes noiserock and bluesmetal among other things – it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that he’s had conservatory training. The last band of the night, at least for us, was the SOS, a furious, unstoppable beast with a UK Subs/Motorhead punk/metal edge. Several times, the guitarist would sneak around the corner, get his strings humming and then suddenly turn up all the way as he reappeared with an otherworldly meteor storm of overtones. In two solid hours with barely a minute’s worth of changeover between bands, they didn’t play a single bad song. Pretty amazing for a random day when you never know what you’ll run into.

A far as Make Music NY is concerned, at least in terms of covering it as a daylong event, we’re done with it. Next year, we might pick a single show that we know for absolutely certain is happening, and we’ll be there. Or maybe we’ll go somewhere else that night – or we won’t go out at all. Unless there’s more metal under the BQE: in that case you may find us there.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 6/20/11

Upcoming: James McMurtry at the Bell House, and a whole day’s worth of the crazy, annual Bang on a Can Marathon. Stay tuned. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #589:

Jolie Holland – Springtime Can Kill You

From 2006, this is the Texas Americana roots songwriter/chanteuse’s masterpiece so far. “My sullen songs have taken me far down this darkened road,” she drawls in the characteristically brooding Stubborn Beast, an insight that pretty much capsulizes her career. Setting wryly gloomy, often death-obsessed imagery to rustic, terse arrangements with resonator guitar, piano and sometimes strings, she evokes a way, way after-hours speakeasy of the mind. Crush in the Ghetto reminds that the boondocks are also ghettos; the jazzy title track’s offhandedness only raises the menace factor. There’s also the defiant waltz You’re Not Satisfied; C.R. Avery’s surreal, tormented Crazy Dreams; the austere Mehitibell’s Blues; the creepy piano waltz Don’t Tell’ Em; Moonshiner, a sultry, seductive blues; the whispery, nuanced Ghostly Girl; and the pensive nocturne Mexican Blue among the twelve tracks. Lately Holland has joined forces with similarly talented oldtimey siren Mamie Minch in the harmony trio Midnight Hours. Here’s a random torrent.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | blues music, country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment