Cameron Mizell is the great pastoral jazz guitarist not named Bill Frisell. Like Frisell, he has a laser sense for a catchy hook, a spacious approach to melody, a fondness for the unconventional and a flair for the lurid that occasionally bares its fangs from deep in the shadows. Mizell’s latest album Negative Space – streaming at Destiny Records – is a trio effort with multi-keyboardist Brad Whiteley and drummer Kenneth Salters. Mizell is playing the small room at the Rockwood on March 13 at 7 PM.
The album’s opening miniature sets the stage, a brief, resonant Frisell-style tone poem of sorts, just a couple of tersely exploratory guitar tracks and a little cymbal work from Salters. Big Tree takes those hints of unbridled gorgeousness and, to paraphrase Richard Thompson, really brushes those treetops, a series of soul-infused echo phrases. The slowly swaying Yesterday’s Troubles, Mizell’s distorted riffage paired with Whiteley’s echoey Rhodes piano, sounds like Beninghove’s Hangmen covering a set piece from Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night soundtrack.
Likewise, Whiskey for Flowers hints that Mizell’s going to plunge into Marc Ribot noir, but instead hits a warmly vamping pastorale shuffle that builds to an unexpectedly sweet Jerry Garcia-ish peak (it’s inspired by couple-bonding: Mizell’s wife has come to share his appreciation for the hard stuff). By contrast, Take the Humble is a crescendoing funk shuffle that owes more to Booker T than to, say, Scofield, especially when it comes to Whiteley’s organ solo.
Mizell builds a slow burn over Whiteley’s ominously circular Philip Glassine piano phrases on the album’s cinematic centerpiece, Clearing Skies, rising to David Gilmour epic grandeur, Whiteley channeling blues through the prism of REM balladry. Don’t laugh: it works. Likewise, Get It While You Can, a punchier take on the Grateful Dead version of the old folk song Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.
Barter reaches from spare and then expansive Booker T-ish verses toward Pink Floyd grandeur. A Song About a Tree would be a standout track on any Frisell album, a luscious song without words assembled from catchy electrified bluegrass hooks, drifting matter-of-factly further into space. Unfolding has such an odd rhythm – at heart, it’s a reggae anthem – that it almost seems like the drum was a last-minute overdub. The album’s title cut has an ECM feel, Whiteley’s waves of piano building and then receding way too soon: it could have gone on for twice as long and nobody would complain. The final track is part Dark Side of the Moon majesty, part cinematic Ribot menace. Beyond the tunesmithing here, the absence of bass makes this a great practice record.
It would have been fun to see Surface to Air at Barbes last night. The trio – guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, who rarely plays acoustic, alongside bassist Jonti Siman and tabla player Rohin Khemani – also doesn’t play out much either. Their sparse, warmly tuneful, hypnotically intriguing album is available as a name-your-price download from Bandcamp.
The opening track is aptly titled Simple: built on an elegantly catchy rainy-day minor-key theme played with meticulous touch by Goldberger, it centers around a kinetic tabla rhythm. Heysatan is even more spare, Goldberger’s gentle, purposeful, catchy tune again centered around the rhythm section’s steady anchor. Siman’s similarly easygoing bass intro is a clever fake: as the briskly saturnine, Palestinian-tinged theme unwinds, it sounds like an acoustic sketch for a David Lynch soundtrack set in the most war-torn territory in Gaza. Siman’s drone anchors a suspenseful interlude that Goldberger spins and spirals out of with hints of Django Reinhardt.
The slow, somber Odalisque is sort of a bolero counterpart to a Trio Joubran-style Middle Eastern dirge. Matanzas is Goldberger’s platform for using a catchy, melancholy flamenco-inflected theme to set up a swoopy, morose bass solo. With its steady sway, Arcana follows a steadily crescendoing folk noir tangent that brightens as it goes along.
The Sleep in Your Eyes opens with a dusky, sepulchral improvisation, builds to a spare, galloping pulse and then recedes back to spacious, pensive solo guitar. The final track is the ballad Waltz for Celia, the closest thing to postbop here, spiced with the occasional levantine or south Asian riff over rather ominous low-end percussion, with a gracefully uneasy bass solo.
Is this Middle Eastern music? Sure. Indian music? Rhythmically, yes. Jazz? Why not? Download this delicious disc and decide for yourself. Thanks to Barbes for booking this fantastic band, who otherwise would have flown under the radar here. Goldberger is in constant demand in New York as a sideman and plays with a ton of groups, notably violinist Dana Lyn’s psychedelic, ecologically themed Mother Octopus outfit.
Subtle Wit, Purposeful Mess, Enigmatic Tunefulness, Epic Stagger and a Barbes Show by Guitarist Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized
The cover photo of Tom Csatari‘s new vinyl album Melted Candy shows a golden retriever sitting on the curb, looking wistfully to the side. Straight ahead, across the street, urban folk art. Somebody’s taken the time to paint “ONE DAY we will PART” on what appears to be a jerry-rigged fence surrounding a construction site. Is this all-too-familiar tableau a commentary on the seemingly endless destruction of (relatively) affordable living spaces in this city? Or is it more grimly universal? From the music, played by the guitarist’s individualistic, genre-warping large ensemble, Uncivilized, it’s more complicated than that: all four tracks are instrumentals. You might get a better idea when the group brings their uneasy, distinctively tuneful, often purposefully messy yet psychedelically intricate sound – call it heavy pastoral jazz, maybe?- to Barbes on Dec 29 at 10 PM. Their most recent show there was back in August, the guitar-and-reed-fueled group slayed and the room was packed, so you might want to get there a little early.
The purpose of the ep – streaming at Tiny Montgomery Records – was to capture both large and small configurations of the group. The sarcastically opening miniature, Stupid Gurus takes its inspiration from an exasperated Paul Mann rant about the failure of underground art and any attempt to raise awareness about it. Mann’s primary argument concerns the incompatibility of art and commerce, echoed in the cloying, mealymouthed main melody as the instruments flutter and pull away.
Escarpments coalesces slowly out of jangly, rainy-day folk-tinged guitar as drummer Rachel Housle builds enigmatic ambience with her cymbals and hardware; from there, reeds and rhythm hover and huddle against an insistent post-Velvets vamp. Csatari is a master of implied melody, teasing you to think he’s playing more notes than he actually is, and this is a killer example, his slide guitar and Levon Henry’s bass clarinet leading a steady slide down into the murk. Is this a reference to edifices nobody wants?.
ScoJaVel® is supposed to be a mashup of John Scofield, Skip James and Maurice Ravel. It has more of a lingering 80s punk jazz feel, or like Mary Halvorson in offhandedly snide mode, the reeds flickering against Csatari’s reverbtoned swipes as drummer Coleman Bartels highfives him. Nick Jozwiak’s brisk, staccato cello pairs against Tristan Cooley’s brooding flute as the band strolls purposefully behind them on the final cut, BrandCore™, a tune they could have stretched out for five times as long as they did if they’d really wanted to. But then it wouldn’t have fit onto 7” vinyl. Just as they do onstage, these players build the sonic equivalent of a stone wall that looks like it could collapse any minute despite all outward appearances but never does, because everything is too tight. But demolition is always just as much of a possibility, which is as much fun live as you could possibly imagine. Other players on these songs include Michael Sachs on sax and clarinet, Casey Berman on sax and bass clarinet, Ben Katz on bass clarinet, Nick Jost on bass, Julian Cubillos and Sean Schuster-Craig on guitars and Dominic Mekky on organ, If you’re in town over the holidays and the F train is running, Barbes would be an awfully fun place to be on the 29th.
Guitarist Tom Csatari writes some of the most distinctive and thoughtfully compelling music of any composer in New York right now. With epic film soundtrack sweep, the improvisational flair of jazz and grey-sky postrock atmosphere, his work for both large and small groups transcends genre. It’s just good, and it can get dark when the band veers away from pastoral colors. Csatari is bringing his Uncivilized large ensemble to Barbes on March 16 at 8 PM. What they do is well capsulized by the epic track Escarpments (up at Soundcloud), hypnotic post-Velvets meets 70s blaxploitation soundtrack meets chamber noir.
Csatari’s most recent album is with that ensemble and shares its name with them; there are a few numbers from it up at Bandcamp. His most recent release to come over the transom here is Outro Waltz, streaming at his music page. It’s an ambitious double album, the first comprising original compositions, the second a live set of originals and covers recorded at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint. Csatari’s lineup on this one is only slightly less ornate: along with fellow guitarist Cam Kapoor, there’s Levon Henry on tenor sax and clarinets, Adriel Williams on violin, Ross Gallagher on bass and R.J. Miller on drums. Csatari distinguished himself from the legions of hipper-than-thou jazz guitarists out there in that he’s not afraid of melody and doesn’t feel constrained to play stereotypical jazz voicings or use complicated harmony where a simple major or minor, or a spare, gently emphatic phrase would make more of a point. Bill Frisell seems the most obvious influence, although Jimmy Giuffre and the Claudia Quintet also seems like reference points.
Guitars and percussion open the album with a gamelan-tinged, atmospheric miniature. The group follows that with New Boots, a gorgeously plaintive, trippily jangly pastorale, then Nolan, a purposeful wistful, swaying tone poem with tender sax and violin.
The epic Uncivilized playfully hints at bluegrass; Csatari’s slide guitar and the band’s tricky syncopation give it a desert rock feel transposed to the Eastern Seaboard that eventually decays into a surrealistic improvisation. The warily hazy El Morrisony opens with swirling guitars and bass clarinet over a steady pulsing shuffle spiced with stark violin.
Rawlings II veers between twinkling deep space pulsar sonics and a wistful folk theme, deconstructed. Blues for Robbie mashes up enigmatic 80s indie jangle, pensive Americana and an artfully disguised, Doorsy roadhouse groove. After Plastic shifts elegantly between a loping C&W-inspired theme and a loosely pulsing cinematic vamp. Likewise, Wharfs & Drifts, between angst-fueled guitars and jauntily shuffling violin in tandem with the rhythm section.
With Legion, the band builds fluttery unease over a slow spacerock vamp that the guitars eventually take waltzing. The last of the studio tracks is Sisters, slowly coalescing to a clustering, tensely bubbling interlude and then up toward rock anthemics before descending gracefully.
The live album opens with the band making a long, gospel-infused intro of sorts out of Lee Morgan’s Search for the New Land, gently decaying into lingering atmospherics. Thelonious Monk’s Light Blue shuffles coyly between swing and offcenter deconstruction, while Elliott Smith’s Speed Trials reverts to a wistful, swaying nocturnal vein, with an indian summer tenor sax solo by Kyle Wilson at the center. The first original here, Curationisms segues out of it with a return to jangly but purposefully strolling contemplation.
Kingsnoth blends lush sweep and amiably ambling interplay that hints at dixieland but doesn’t go there. Chris Weisman’s The Winning Blues again looks back toward Frisell, in lingering anthemic mode: by the end, it’s a straight-up rock song. Miller, who’s been giving all this a gently swaying groove, finally gets to cut loose as Water Park Rodeo slowly comes together out of starlit guitars to an ominously shivery theme and then an unexpected detour toward 70s psychedelic soul. Call this what you want – jazz, rock, film score – it’s music to get lost in.
Old Time Musketry‘s 2012 album Different Times was one of that year’s most enjoyably original debuts in any style of music. The group’s second release, Drifter – streaming at Bandcamp – solidifies their presence at the front of the pack of pastoral jazz groups along with the Claudia Quintet, Hee Hawk and Jeremy Udden’s Plainville. For those who don’t have family obligations or such this Eastover (Passter?) weekend, the band are playing the album release show on April 5 at 8:30 PM at Cornelia St. Cafe; cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.
Multi-reedman Adam Schneit and accordionist/pianist JP Schlegelmilch write the songs – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word. The kinetic, purposeful, often funky rhythm section comprises bassist Phil Rowan and drummer Max Goldman (who plays with a similarly colorful, individualistic flair in pianist Danny Fox‘s long-running trio).
The album’s opening track, February March, has unexpectedly trad tinges, although the extended technique and carnivalesque flourishes that open it offer no hint to where this jaunty strut is going. From New Orleans or thereabouts, the quartet takes it outside, then back, cleverly expanding on a tight steel-driver rhythm. Meanwhile, Schneidt takes a balmy, carefree but terse flight overhead.
The album’s high point, Kept Close is sort of the Claudia Quintet with more straight-up rhythm, building out of a resonant, minimalist piano theme to moody neoromantic pastoral colors; Schneidt’s insistently straightforward, midrange alto sax solo is adrenalizing, to say the least. From there they hit some tricky, funky metrics with the quirky Odd Ray, sort of a mashup of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Guy Klucevsek, before returning to a swaying, bucolic feel with the album’s title track, accordion and alto sax interweaving as they do throughout much of the album.
They follow the twisted, Monkish miniature Weird Waltz with The Turtle Speaks, a triumphantly cinematic anthem -there’s no need to stress if you’ve got a hard shell! Guest trombonist Brian Drye builds lushly bronzed harmony in tandem with the accordion and Schneidt’s clarinet as the song rises more animatedly than you’d expect from a lowly pond reptile.
The aptly titled Pastorale is a showcase for Goldman’s majestically suspenseful rumbles and cymbal work: a brief bolero-ish interlude after a spiraling accordion solo is one of the album’s most unexpected treats. Two Painters, a partita of sorts, bookends a funkily minimalist, Steve Lacy-ish theme with wary, melancholy-tinged atmospherics. The final number, Transmitter Park captures a caffeinated Flyover America workday angst, through a shuffling, funky theme to one of the group’s signature catchy choruses; this particular day ends well. Another triumph from a group with chemistry and strikingly vivid tunes, who should be vastly better known than they are.