Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Menacing Masterpiece and an Annual Halloween Celebration from Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band

Trumpeter Pam Fleming‘s Dead Zombie Band are the inventors and possible sole practitioners of a relatively new and incredibly fun style of music: Halloween jazz. Fleming, who’s played with everybody from Natalie Merchant to roots reggae legend Burning Spear, brings her signature eclecticism to the band’s album Rise and Dance, streaming at cdbaby. Leading an all-star cast of New York talent, she’s playing the band’s annual Fort Greene Halloween dance party starting at around 6 PM this Saturday on Waverly Avenue between between Willoughby and DeKalb Avenues. Take the C train to Clinton-Washington.

The band slowly rises, as if from the grave, as the album gets underway, Fleming’s somber trumpet leading the funeral procession. And then they’re off on a wry reggae pulse, Tine Kindemann’s singing saw flickering in the background. Fleming’s fiendishly fun vocals are the icing on this orange-and-black cake. Fleming’s trumpet, Karen Waltuch’s viola, Jenny Hill’s tenor sax and Buford O’Sullivan’s trombone all have chromatically delicious fun. It’s a lot more Black Ark noir than it is Scooby Doo.

Zombie Drag is a slow, muted, misterioso carnival theme: the way Fleming slowly marches the horn chart out of the mist, then back and forth, is Gil Evans-class inventive. Pianist Rachelle Garniez goes for icy Ran Blake noir on The Bell behind Fleming’s whispery, ghoulish recitation. Then Garniez – who’s also playing Barbes at 8 on Nov 5 – takes over on the similarly crepuscular Two Lovers and winds it up with a gorgously ghostly improvisation that dies on the vine far to soon.

The narrative gets very, very ghostly for a bit, Fleming’s ominous intonement backed by Ursel Schlicht brushing the piano strings, a “cackle cocktail party” and then the band goes up into Satan Is Waitin’, a mashup of saloon blues, Danny Elfman soundttrack shenanigans, jajouka (dig Jessica Lurie’s alto sax solo!), Jimmy Smith (that’s Adam Klipple on organ) and oldschool soul. After that, there’s some storytelling – imagine a Dr. Seuss Halloween tale set to Hollywood Hills noir boudoir soul.

Klipple’s droll roller-rink organ anchors some pretty joyous solos from tenor saxophonist Lily White, Hill (on baritone now), and Martha Hyde on alto throughout the reggae-soul number Rise and Dance – hey, if you were a zombie, you’d be pretty psyched to be getting out of the cold ground at last. Forget anything you’ve heard before: this is the real Monster Mash.

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October 29, 2015 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brian Landrus Does It Again

Low-register reedman Brian Landrus is on some kind of roll right now. His Traverse album from this spring is one of 2011’s finest; the one before that, Forward, from the previous year, is also superb. His latest effort, Capsule, credited to the Landrus Kaleidoscope (with Michael Cain on keys, Nir Felder on guitar, Matthew Parish on bass and Rudy Royston on drums) goes in a considerably different, mostly low-key direction while retaining every bit of Landrus’ originality. It’s an inventive blend of the 70s and the teens: spacy Fender Rhodes and electric guitar alongside rhythmically inventive bass and drums and Landrus’ signature use of the totality of his instruments’ sonic range. Here he supplements his usual baritone sax with bass clarinet and also bass flute.

Ironically, the album’s high point isn’t much like the rest of the material here. Inspired by a veteran drummer’s sardonic view of being a lifer, 71 & On the Road is a long, gritty, bitter, minor key soul groove in an Isaac Hayes or early Lou Rawls vein. Parish’s bass solo on the second verse adds plaintiveness over Royston’s tension, and when Felder finally bursts out of his tightly wound bluesy wailing with some unhinged tremolo-picking as the band vamps on the song’s brooding hook, it’s one of this year’s most transcendent moments in jazz.

The rest of the album is much more inviting and not nearly as dark. Landrus sets the tone right off the bat with the simple, direct warmth of Striped Phase, which sounds a little like what the Crusaders might have been like if they’d had Royston – who’s his usual counterintuitive, extrovert self here – in place of Stix Hooper. The second track, Like the Wind is a reggae tune – how Royston handles the riddim is too good a surprise to give away here. The band leaves it nice and minimalist, letting Felder go edgy and wary up to Landrus’ urgently whispery, lushly tropical bass flute solo. A staggered shuffle tune, Beauty gives Landrus a launching pad that he takes all the way up, as high as his bass clarinet will go, Cain and Parish teaming up for some Return to Forever outer-space atmospherics.

They go back to reggae for I Promise, lit up by Felder’s vivid rainy-night-in-Soho work – it reminds a lot of Pam Fleming’s reggae-jazz. The title track reverts to the warm, memorable simplicity of the earlier songs as Landrus artfully spaces his motifs, pulling some memorable overtones out of his bari sax as he reaches for the sky. Wide Sky hints at straight-up swing again, and again, and again, almost to the point where it’s comedic; the band comes full circle to close the album with an expansive ballad. When uploading this, you might want to pull out 71 & On the Road and stick that on your favorite haunting/intense playlist; the rest of the album then works tremendously well as chillout mix.

By the way, just to give you some insight into Landrus the individual, here are his brief liner notes: “I dedicate this record to all the animals in our world. I encourage you to find ways to support animal welfare, and I hope you realize how easy it is to help our environmental situation by becoming vegetarian. The amount of waste, pollution and suffering created by the meat industry is unnecessary.” That’s from a big, energetic guy who stands six foot seven.

December 3, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hazmat Modine’s Cicada: Rustic Oldtimey Psychedelia

Hazmat Modine are such an amazing live band that it’s almost impossible trying to imagine how they might be able to bottle that magic. Their new album Cicada is a good approximation. Live in concert, their rustic, blues-infused, minor-key jams can go on for ten or twenty minutes at a clip – here, they keep pretty much everything in the five-to-ten range, sometimes even less. While what they do definitely qualifies as psychedelic, otherwise they defy description: there is no other band in the world who sound remotely like them. They’re part delta blues shouters, part New Orleans brass band, part reggae, part klezmer, and all party. As you would expect from a psychedelic band, they put their surreal side front and center – it’s safe to say that nobody has more fun with sad minor keys than these guys. Not only is frontman/blues harpist/guitarist Wade Schuman a potently charismatic presence, he’s also a great wit, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of humor, both lyrical and musical, throughout this album.

The opening cut, Mocking Bird, is a bucolic blues, driven by the oldtimey bounce of Joe Daley’s tuba and the brass section of Reut Regev on trombone, Steve Elson on tenor sax and Pam Fleming on trumpet. They build it up to the point where the two guitars take over, Michael Gomez  jabbing and weaving while Pete Smith blasts out distorted rhythm. All the intricate interplay and call-and-response sets the tone for the rest of the album. Natalie Merchant’s airily sultry vocals contrast with the surrealism of the lyrics over a swaying, slink groove on Child of a Blindman, with lapsteel, layers of guitars and horns punching out the hook in tandem with some welcome guest stars, Benin’s high-energy Gangbe Brass Band. The brisk, bluesy Two Forty Seven shifts from an artful series of tradeoffs between instruments to a hypnotic outro where everybody seems to be soloing at once – yet it works, magically. The title track sets a sly spoken-word tribute to the high-volume insect over ecstatic Afro-funk, sort of like a more rustic, acoustic Steely Dan. They follow that with a surprisingly snarling version of Buddy, the innuendo-packed tale of a real backstabber, Schuman in rare form as sly bluesman. The crazed, searing Gomez guitar solo is pure adrenaline.

The instrumental vignette In Two Years has trumbone sailing wistfully over a gamelanesque loop; I’ve Been Lonely for So Long is Memphis soul taken back and forth in time with doo-wop vocals and a New Orleans feel, with the tuba instead of a bass, a blithe harmonica solo, and Elson picking up the pace later on. The Tide, a mini-epic, switches from slowly unwinding delta blues, to a shuffle, to an unexpected Afrobeat interlude with more tasty, growling guitar from Smith. Walking Stick, which may be the most risque song that Irving Berlin ever wrote, gives Schuman and Fleming a launching pad for some genuinely exhilarating solos. A live showstopper, So Glad is a reggae/blues hybrid with some irresistibly amusing blues harp. The album winds up with Cotonou Stomp, an all-too-brief showcase for Gangbe Brass Band, and Dead Crow, an utterly bizarre, hypnotic number that sounds like Love Camp 7 covering Crosby, Stills and Nash and features the Kronos Quartet. Yet another triumph for insurgent Brooklyn label Barbes Records. Count this one high on the list of the year’s most entertaining albums.

June 6, 2011 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NYC’s Best Jazz Show Last Night Was at Barbes

The best jazz show in New York last night wasn’t at the Vanguard, or Lincoln Center, or the Blue Note: it was out in Park Slope at little Barbes. To say that it was fortuitous for those who crowded into the back room to see Terry Dame’s Monkey on a Rail is a bit of an understatement. In addition to leading the ridiculously psychedelic homemade-instrument collective Electric Junkyard Gamelan, Dame plays tenor sax in this all-female sextet. This was an all-star lineup: Jessica Lurie and Tina Richerson from the Tiptons Saxophone Quartet on alto and baritone, respectively, plus eclectic five-string bass guitarist Mary Feaster, Pam Fleming (of Fearless Dreamer, Hazmat Modine and the Ayn Sof Orchestra) on trumpet plus Dame’s drummer cohort Lee Frisari from the gamelan band. The group recorded an album sometime in the early zeros – 2002 maybe? – and since then have played about two shows, this being one of them. Which might explain the unselfconscious energy and joy that drove the set.

Dame’s compositions for this group proved just as playfully witty and packed with surprise as her gamelan pieces. They opened with a drolly expansive, trad yet funky number with the tongue-in-cheek title I, Frank Sinatra – the only thing missing was a crime movie motif. That idea they took care of – sort of – with the next one, Watching Margaret, which as Dame explained took its inspiration from observing her dog at the run in the park. But it’s a stalker theme – those dogs sure keep an eye on each other! Feaster’s bass held to a hypnotic groove as Lurie added wary, bop-tinged flourishes. Roscoe Cairo, with its tightly catchy klezmer clusters gave the the rhythm section a workout. Then the slinkiness returned with Miss E. Grooves, moving from sultry to soaring. Stupid Things Lovers Say was full of unexpected twists and turns, and a launching pad for one of Richerson’s long, mysterious, almost imperceptibly crescendoing solos: she made it absolutely impossible to figure out where it was going to end up, in the process driving the tension almost to breaking point.

Feaster had a feast with Tragic Italian Love Machine (don’t you love these titles?), its sexy/sinister solo intro and low-register countermelodies. They closed with their eponymous anthem, another funky, shapeshifting mini-suite, Dame smartly handing the closing solo to Fleming who rather than going for the obvious crescendo, restrained herself to a triumphant majesty while Frisari slammed her hi-hat as if she was trying to shatter it. Let’s hope this underexposed unit gets together for another show in less time than it took for this one to happen.

December 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hottest New Big Band in NYC

The Ayn Sof Orchestra and Bigger Band are the most exciting new development in big band jazz in New York. To call them the “Jewish big band” is to say that they play large ensemble jazz works liberally sprinkled with themes and motifs from Jewish music. Some of the compositions are jazz arrangements of folk songs; their originals, contributed by several members of the ensemble, draw sometimes deeply, sometimes loosely on klezmer or Middle Eastern melodies. The group, a mix of some of the most highly sought-after jazz talents in the city, has been playing together for about a year, with a monthly residency at bandleader/tenor sax player Greg Wall’s Sixth Street Synagogue. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Cell Theatre in the West Village was a revelation.

They opened with a lush, sweeping, bracingly layered number by former Lou Reed tenor player Marty Fogel, a showcase for a slinky, klezmer-tinged solo from trumpeter Frank London and a bit later a no-nonsense one from trombonist Reut Regev. A composition by guitarist Eyal Maoz was a characteristically surfy sprint, complete with his own joyously showy, increasingly unhinged solo and some effect-laden, shuffling B3 organ groove work from Uri Sharlin (who’d switched from piano, and would later move to accordion). Wall sardonically announced that someone in the crowd had promised their grandmother some klezmer, so they blasted through a towering, majestic Fogel arrangement of the traditional Kiever Bulgar dance, more jazz than klezmer, with long, expressive trombone and accordion solos and a tricky false ending. A tune by alto player Paul Shapiro worked a bouncy soul organ groove that took on a latin vibe as it motored along. Another Fogel original introduced the night’s most darkly bracing tonalities, a 6/4 stomp featuring a blazing Balkan solo by trumpeter Jordan Hirsch; trumpeter Pam Fleming’s Intrigue in the Night Market was downright sexy, her own slyly cosmopolitan solo growing more rootless, the band restlessly and suspensefully rising to a big crescendo out of it.

The second half of the concert began with jazz poetry on Talmudic themes, Wall or London offering energetic accompaniment for a series of animated spoken-word interludes, sometimes playing in tandem. The whole band joined in as they went along; some were wryly humorous, but ultimately they preached to the choir, if as heatedly as that hardcore punk band who celebrate the virtues of learning Torah. The band eventually wound up the show on a blissfully carnivalesque note with a humor-laden latin soul groove featuring an uninhibitedly buffoonish Maoz solo, a similarly amusing, blippy one from Sharlin on organ and a typical monster crescendo from London, who’d been doing them all night whenever the moment appeared. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Ellen Rowe Quartet – Wishing Well

The most recent jazz album we reviewed was stylistically all over the place; the one before that maintained a very consistent mood. The Ellen Rowe Quartet’s new one falls somewhere in the middle – this is jazz songwriting. Elegant, richly melodic, often poignant, pianist/composer Rowe’s tunes get the chance to speak for themselves. A brief, hammering staccato passage during a characteristically understated yet heartfelt take of the old standard Alone Together (the only cover on the album) is as loud as she gets. Andrew Bishop, who absolutely gets this music, supplies similarly melodic, frequently pensive lines on tenor and soprano sax. Ingrid Jensen, another terrific choice, guests with characteristic sostenuto soul on flugelhorn; bassist Kurt Krahnke also makes his contributions count, particularly with his solos, and drummer Pete Siers provides terse yet incisive rhythm.

Rowe explores three styles here – ballads, swing and requiems – and makes all of them memorable. The opening cut, inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and dedicated to all the species who’ve been driven to extinction, has a vivid plaintiveness that evokes New York trumpet goddess Pam Fleming. Krahnke follows Jensen’s solo with a series of seamlessly moody horn voicings, all the way up to an evocatively bitter crescendo. Night Sounds, written in memory of Rowe’s brother, glimmers with distant latin allusions. The best song on the album – and it is a song in the purest sense of the word – is the genuinely haunting, modally tinged, thematic title track. But close behind is the swaying, funky Sanity Clause (a Chico Marx reference), written as an attempt to mine a more “modern idiom,” shifting almost imperceptibly from a carefree sway to an insistence that tugs on the listener and will absolutely not let go, courtesy of some gripping Bishop tenor work. It wouldn’t be out of place in the JD Allen songbook.

But all is not so gloomy here. Rowe proves just as adept at jaunty swing with the shuffle Lewisburg Bluesy-oo, an Ellington tribute of sorts driven by some casually expert Siers cymbal accents and named after the Pennsylvania town where the band used to do a stand every year. The ridiculously catchy Tick Tock mines a smoky, 4/4, early Jazz Messengers vibe, Krahnke’s devious bowed bass solo one of several highlights. And Seven Steps to My Yard melds elements of 7 Steps to Heaven and the Yardbird Suite as a showcase for some rhythmic shapeshifting. There’s also the title track, a beautiful ballad with more thoughtful buoyancy from Jensen, and an allusively wistful homage to Donald Walden, a mentor to scores of musicians including Rowe, featuring spot-on, emotionally candid solos from Krahnke and guest Andy Haefner on tenor. Count this among our favorites of 2010.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine at City Winery, NYC 9/18/09

The New York Gypsy Festival‘s decision to scatter shows throughout the year, beginning in the spring, was an ambitious choice but ultimately a successful one. Although the past ten days or so were especially gypsy, with the Gypsy Tabor Festival out in Brooklyn and a whole bunch of similar bands playing the rock clubs, there was a full and enthusiastic house at City Winery Friday night for Hazmat Modine and Hungarian sensations Little Cow. The Hazmats opened and pandemonium reigned, no great surprise: there are few other acts in town who bring as much intensity and pure unadulterated fun to the stage. Frontman/harmonica player Wade Schuman wasn’t as completely gonzo as he can get, but the band was. This is a wild, extroverted crew: Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on electric guitars, Pam Fleming (back from the disabled list) on trumpet, Reut Regev on trombone and other horns, Steve Elson on tenor sax and other reeds, Rich Huntley on drums, Joseph Daley on tuba and Erik Della Penna of Kill Henry Sugar guesting on vocals on a couple of numbers.

The set list was characteristically eclectic. The blues standard Something You Got, an uncharacteristically major-key tune for this band, was elevated to the level of an ecstatic New Orleans second-line march. Irving Berlin’s tongue-in-cheek Walking Stick became a racewalk and got the crowd in front of the stage twirling just as crowds of the thirties must have done in the old vaudeville theatres. Gomez used it as a launching pad for a particularly ferocious, offhandedly raging solo, Fleming further cementing her reputation as the Human Crescendo – in this case, it was the flying lead-in to her solo, out of one by Schuman, that was the high point, but it sent the intensity level to redline in a split second as Huntley led the charge with a relentless volley of rimshots.

A new one sounded like a hypnotic early twenties delta blues number as R.L. Burnside might have done it, casually careening with more blazing fretwork from Gomez. Best song of the night was a surprisingly low-key and extremely effective Schuman instrumental, Grade A Grey Day, with Fleming bringing in the cumulo-nimbus and Elson on sax fluttering through them. After that, they flipped the script with another original that started out with Little Feat exuberance, building joyously to a 60s soul vamp with the horns blazing. They closed with Bahamut, the surreal, calypso-inflected title track to their most recent album, a somewhat surprising choice considering the long, mysterious spoken-word passage in the middle of the song. And when Schuman got there, no surprise, the dancers took a break. But they all got back into it when the song picked up again, Smith fanning the flames with a potently percussive, chord-chopping solo.

And what of the headliner, Little Cow? There were technical difficulties, no fault of the band or the club. And by a quarter to one in the morning, an hour and a half past their stage time, it was sadly time to call it a night – a strategy that paid off the following day throughout a successful, marathon sixteen-hour attempt to help some New York friends pack up and become ex-New Yorkers. Watch this space the next time Little Cow comes to town: they’re reputedly amazing in concert.

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

CD Review: The Dave Rivello Ensemble – Facing the Mirror

This cd is something of a feel-good story. Jazz composer/conductor Dave Rivello is a Bob Brookmeyer protege and the influence is clearly audible here. Recorded in 2002 but just recently released, this cd features Rivello leading his Rochester, New York-based twelve-piece jazz orchestra through an inspired set of eight mostly robust originals. Like his colleagues Jim McNeely, JC Sanford and Maria Schneider, Rivello is pushing the envelope with big band jazz  – this cd only raises the intrigue of what he may have been up to in the intervening years. As with the best big bands, there’s plenty of grandeur and majesty on this album but also an impressive out-of-the-box imagination. Rivello is especially adept at dynamics, frequently interspersing brief, incisive solo drum passages as a segue or to take a crescendo down a notch. His tradeoffs and thematic variations can be rhythmic as well as melodic. He likes a pulse – the piano here is an integral part of the rhythm section. Rivello is clever and often devious – he can’t resist a trick ending, or three, and there’s maybe just as much interplay between the orchestra and the soloists as there is between the individual players. Throughout, the compositions show off a strong sense of melody and an equally strong sense of purpose. As long as they go on – frequently more than ten minutes at a clip – these songs take a definable trajectory. They go somewhere. This is your chance to get to know this guy before he’s famous.

The opening track, One by One by One works a reggaeish vamp into a soul shuffle, Red Wierenga‘s piano taking a deliberate solo against the horn riffs to a big bright crescendo and the first of what will be an innumerable series of trick endings throughout the cd. There’s a defiant satisfaction to how Rivello lets the darkly tinged latin vamp breathe as the second track, Of Time and Time Past, unwinds with the warm effect of a good chianti. As the orchestra rises and falls, the plaintiveness remains,very evocative of Pam Fleming‘s work, particularly when Mike Kaupa‘s trumpet is flying overhead. Stealing Space builds a tense, noir-tinged intro to a quick crescendo, pits balmy tenor against the casual, ambient swell of the horns, then starts to scurry and bounce all the way into a deliciously mysterioso passage by the rhythm section. The rhythmic tradeoffs between piano, bass and drums are exquisite, and the way the rhythm section intermingles between the swells and blasts as the piece winds up are very captivating as well. The drum/orchestra tension recurs on the next track.

The standout cut here is Beyond the Fall, towering, resonant and powerful as the trombones take the central phrase to a roaring, dramatic, low-register swell. Matt Pivec‘s soprano sax solo plays off Wierenga’s Donald Fagen-esque, murkily minimalist chordal work to a big squalling crescendo as the horns circle overhead in menacing anticipation. And then it’s back to the ferocity of the intro. The Path of Innocence begins atmospherically and features a beautiful, Middle Eastern-inflected tenor solo by Jose Encarnacion and then some memorably fugal work by Wierenga, righthand echoing the left. The concluding cut is a brief, comfortable nocturne that would work perfectly as a tv theme. Now the operative question: when can we expect something more from Rivello? If this is any indication, it should be exciting to say the least.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

This is the third classic album playfully covered by the all-star New York-based roots reggae crew the Easy Star All-Stars, after Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread. Basically, what they discovered is you can take pretty much anything and make reggae out of it and it’ll sound good. Consider: Shinehead took the odious Seals & Crofts hit Summer Breeze, changed the lyrics, retitled it Collie Weed and…a classic! Thankfully, this album demonstrates far more craftsmanship and subtlety. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s actually better than the original. The band is vastly tighter and the production is far more focused yet brimming with little touches that are often laugh-out-loud funny, much in the same vein as Brian Jonestown Massacre or XTC’s lovingly spot-on parodies of 60s psychedelia, issued under the Dukes of Stratosphear pseudonym a little over 20 years ago.

 

At the end of the opening theme, in lieu of McCartney’s satirical voiceover, a toaster delivers a brief Rasta benediction. From there, the producers have completely mixed up the tracks, but it’s still a fun ride. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has bright, melismatic Frankie Paul loverman vocals with ringing guitar that pays homage to the original. Getting Better features the Mighty Diamonds on vocals, sounding as good as ever, slowing it down from the original’s farcical stomp. The only drawback is that the original’s silliness was its selling point: rearranged this way, it’s a nice poppy reggae song, nothing more.

 

Fixing a Hole features none other than Max Romeo on vocals, a hilariously apt choice considering his notoriously disingenuous claim that his big hit Wet Dream was actually about a leaky roof! This one gets deliciously spacy echoes of vintage Scratch Perry. She’s Leaving Home gets a soulful, rather sultry vocal treatment by a newcomer, Kirsty Rock over a fast rocksteady beat. Without missing a beat, the bass drops out and the reverb kicks in when you least expect it. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite has the English Beat’s Ranking Roger on lead vocals, bringing it up doublespeed from the spacy dub first verse and then back again just as fast.

 

Within You Without You has a sitar and Matisyahu doing his best cantorial impression, and he actually doesn’t embarrass himself, with a vivid string section playing much of the original sitar part. When I’m Sixty-Four begins with a trombone call and goes on for over five minutes, Sugar Minott on vox, a showcase for the excellent horn section featuring the nucleus of the Burning Brass, baritone sax virtuoso Jenny Hill and trumpet goddess Pam Fleming, with an understatedly woozy dub breakdown.

 

Lovely Rita has Bunny Rugs and U-Roy, the latter taking it back to 1972 or so with his best Dread in a Babylon-style off-the-cuff nonsense. Good Morning Good Morning is the weakest track here, Steel Pulse sounding slick and uninspired like they were on their studio albums from the 80s rather than mining the classic, dark, heavy sound they’ve recently rediscovered with a vengeance. Surprisingly, the Sgt. Pepper reprise is next, followed by A Day in the Life. Done with an insistent Ras Michael style riddim, it has Michael Rose of Black Uhuru and Menny More sharing vocals, the band holding perfectly steady as the orchestra rises to a crescendo, the final piano note oscillating dubwise for just as long as George Martin’s fist-on-the-strings. A Little Help from My Friends has Luciano on lead vocals, and it might be the best song he’s ever done, thanks to the band’s inspired performance. Right now the whole album is available for streaming at imeem. Caveat: after the first song, don’t forget to refresh the page, otherwise you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. And make sure your popup blocker is working.

 

Since this crew seem to have dedicated themselves to covering one iconic artist after another, we’d like to suggest a few ideas. Dread at the Apollo would be James Brown covers, preferably recorded live, uptown at the same place – hey, it would be a short train ride for most of the musicians. The Man in Red, Gold and Green would be Johnny Cash songs. And to give the lady performers a chance to flex, how about Fox Confessor Bring de Herb? That would be Neko Case, yeah mon!  

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Las Rubias Del Norte, Cordero, Hazmat Modine, Karsh Kale and Slavic Soul Party at 92YTribeca, NYC 1/9/09

In a nice diversion from the blizzardy conditions outside, this was a whole summer festival compressed into an evening featuring relatively brief sets from some of the creme de la creme of the New York scene, put together for the booking agents’ convention by upstart Brooklyn label Barbes Records and adventurous San Francisco booking agency Trouble Worldwide.

 

With the angelic, effortlessly graceful harmonies of frontwomen Allyssa Lamb and Emily Hurst, las Rubias del Norte’s all-too-brief set was uncommonly dark and haunting, playing most of their material in minor keys. The band has been characterized here before as the latin Moonlighters, which is true both in the sense that both groups share an effervescent, romantic sensibility defined by their harmonies and a love of diverse styles from earlier eras. Las Rubias used what time they had onstage to explore several of them: bouncy cumbias from Colombia, romantic Mexican baladas and an eerie number that made frequent use of the Asian scale, propelled by Hurst’s agile work on bells. They closed the set with a fast, scurrying Mexican traditional number in 6/8 time.

 

Cordero frontwoman Ani Cordero has an impressively diverse resume, ranging from surf music to the dark atmospherics of Bee & Flower, the ranchera rock of Pistolera and this, her main project, a warmly melodic, catchy rock en Espanol quartet. She’s also become a terrifically compelling singer: the strength and sultry insistence of her low register was particularly striking in contrast with her characteristically warm, airy high notes. Playing her Strat without any effects and just a hint of natural distortion, she led the group through an eight-song set of terse, smartly crafted, upbeat, major-key janglerock with an incisive, thoughtful lyricism. On a couple of tunes she put down her guitar and played tom-tom while the group’s organist provided a minimalist dance groove, which actually got some bodies in the crowd twirling.

 

With so many bands scheduled to fill a relatively brief block of time, it was perhaps inevitable that one of the bands would get shafted and that band turned out to be Hazmat Modine. Which was too bad: in three songs and less than 25 minutes, they actually managed to energize the crowd. Frontman Wade Schuman – one of the most charismatic bandleaders around – began the show with a harmonica solo, then stopped cold. “You came here to hear music, didn’t you,” he reminded the chatty, restless audience, and suddenly got everyone’s attention. Schuman then resumed his solo, using an effects pedal for an organ tone, perhaps as a nod to the great blues harpist Carey Bell who typically played through a Leslie speaker from a Hammond organ. Then the band – this time including Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on guitars along with Fearless Dreamer’s Pam Fleming on trumpet plus sax, tuba and drums – launched into the fat reggae groove of So Glad, Fleming taking the intensity to redline in a matter of seconds with one of her trademark instant crescendos.

 

Their second song was a hypnotic one-chord oldtimey-style blues that they’d recorded with Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, a showcase for interplay between the wind instruments and then the guitars, Gomez and Smith interlocking like the gears in some infernal machine, gnashing and grinding everything in their path. The band closed with a surprisingly fast take of the title track to their most recent cd Bahamut, a surreal, calypso-flavored epic featuring a lot of agile baton-passing as the band members each took a brief solo turn. World music personality Karsh Kale’s set was also brief, and happily so: his qawwali-rock hybrid started snoozy, then became oppressive with pointlessly garish heavy metal guitar.

 

Slavic Soul Party’s upcoming Carnegie Hall gig has been sold out for quite awhile, and the nine-piece brass band left no doubt as to why, opening their wild, intense set with a march through the audience, pounding the drums and blasting out a fiery Balkan melody. Their first song onstage was a blistering instrumental romp through a two-chord, chromatically-fueled jam, accordion and then trumpet each taking deftly jazzy solos. The next number started suspensefully, building on a single chord to a march, and then a dance beat, the best solo of the entire evening delivered with unleashed, murderous fury by sax player Greg Squared (who also fronts the terrific pan-Balkan group Ansambl Mastika). They then brought up guest singer Eva Salina Primack, who added dramatic, contralto lead vocals along with plenty of ominous, wailing vocalese. They wrapped up the evening with the title track to their cd Teknochek Collision, an amusing spoof of computerized dance music that bore more than a little resemblance to similarly devious instrumentalists Brooklyn instrumentalists Moisturizer, tuba and horns working in lockstep staccato to mimic the cliched, broken-cd effect so widely used in electronica. Since time was up, the band played their encore the way they’d come in, marching off the stage and back through the crowd with plenty of stops along the way to make sure the party wasn’t over until they were really through. They’ve been playing Barbes every Tuesday at around 9 since god knows when; now’s the time to catch them while they’re still there.

January 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment