Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Brooding Live Film Score and New York’s Most Relevant Gospel Choir at Prospect Park

It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the wickedly amusing, entertaining score that Sexmob played to the 1925 Italian silent film Maciste All’Inferno at Prospect Park Bandshell a couple of weeks ago. Another A-list jazz talent, pianist Jason Moran, teams up with the Wordless Music Orchestra there tonight, August 10 to play a live score to another more famous film. Selma. The Brooklyn United Marching Band opens the night at 7:30 PM, and if you’re going, you should get there on time.

It’s amazing what an epic sound trumpeter/bandleader Steven Bernstein manages to evince from the four voices in his long-running quartet, which also includes alto sax player Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Part of the equation is long, desolate sustained tones; part is echo effects and the rest of it is the reverb on Wollesen’s drums, gongs and assorted percussive implements. On one hand, much of this score seemed like a remake of the band’s 2015 cult classic album Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sexmob Plays Nino Rota, especially the brooding opening sequence. With a very close resemblance to Bernstein’s reinvention of the Amarcord main title theme, the band went slinking along on the moody but trebly pulse of Scherr’s incisive bass and Wollesen’s ominously muted and-four-and tom-tom hits.

Yet as much as the rest of this new score followed the same sonic formula (or tried to – as usual this year, the sound mix here was atrocious, bass and drums way too high in the mix), the themes were more playful than that album’s relentless noir ambience. At the same time, Bernstein’s uneasy but earthily rooted dynamics added a welcome gravitas to the movie’s vaudevillian charm. In brief (you can get the whole thing at IMDB): strongman Maciste, stalked by the devil, ends up in hell, fends off all sorts of cartoonish human/orc types and ends up having a potentially deadly flirtation. All the while, he’s missing his true love and family topside. Will he finally vanquish the hordes of tortured souls hell-bent into making him one of their own?

Wollesen built one of his typical, mystical temple-garden-in-the-mist tableaux with his gongs, and cymbals, and finally his toms, to open the score. It’s a catchy one, and the hooks were as hummable as the two main themes were expansive. In addition to the many variations on the title one, there was also a funky bass octave riff that subtly pushed the music into a similarly hummable uh-oh interlude and then back, spiced here and there with screaming unison riffs from the horns and one achingly menacing spot where Krauss mimicked guitar feedback. But the scrambling and scampering ultimately took a backseat to gloom. For this band, hell is more of a lake of ice than fire.

“Is this forest a Walmart now?” fearless ecological crusader Rev. Billy Talen asked midway through his incendiary opening set with his titanic, practically fifty-piece group the Stop Shopping Choir. That was his response to a security guard who’d told him the other night that the park was closed. For this Park Slope resident, not being able to connect with the nature he loves so much and has dedicated his life to protecting is an issue.

When he isn’t getting arrested for protesting against fracking, or clearcutting, or the use of the lethal herbicide Roundup in New York City parks, Rev. Billy makes albums of insightful, grimly funny faux-gospel music…and then goes up to the public park on the tenth floor of the Trump Tower to write more. And tells funny stories about all of that. He was in typically sardonic form, playing emcee as a rotating cast of impassioned singers from the choir took turns out front, through a lot of new material.

Pending apocalypse was a recurrent theme right from the pouncing, minor-key anthem that opened the set: “How can we tell the creatures it’s the end of the world?” was the recurrent question. Relax: they saw this coming a lot sooner than we did and they’ve all come south from the pole for one last feast on our polluted corpses. In between towering, angst-fueled contemplations of that eventuality, Rev. Billy and his crew took Devil Monsanto to task for its frankenseed assault on farmers, the environment, and ultimately the food chain. In the night’s most harrowing moment, they interrupted a towering, rising-and-falling anti-police brutality broadside with a long reading of names of young black and latino men murdered by police: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo and many, many more.

Miking a choir is a tough job, no doubt, but the inept sound crew here didn’t help much making Talen and his singers audible over the sinewy piano/bass/drums trio behind them. And it wasn’t possible to get close to the stage to listen since all the front seats, almost all of them left empty, are all reserved for paying customers here now. Ever feel like you’re being pushed out of your own city?

August 10, 2017 Posted by | concert, gospel music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rob Garcia’s Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet Captures the State of the World in Jazz, 2016

Forget for a minute how few drummer composers have as much of a gift for melody as Rob Garcia. Or for that matter what an acerbic, smart lyricist he is. It’s impossible to imagine an album that more accurately captures the state of the world in 2016 better than his new release Finding Love in an Oligarchy on a Dying Planet. Isn’t that the challenge that pretty much everybody, other than the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons of the world, faces right now? Garcia’s critique is crushingly vivid, catchy as hell and just as erudite. He offers a nod back to the fearlessly political Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln civil rights-era collaborations, and has an aptitude for bustling Mingus-esque 50s noir. His first-class band includes Noah Preminger, a frequent collaborator (who has a killer new album of his own just out) on tenor sax, along with Gary Versace on piano and Masa Kamaguchi on bass, with Joe Lovano and Kate McGarry guesting on a couple of tracks each.

A cover of Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer opens the album, pulsing on an uneasy triplet beat until Preminger’s crafty lead-in to Versace’s spirals sends it into genunely surreal doublespeed territory, a time-warping nocturne. People Are Everything, a similarly uneasy jazz waltz, has Kate McGarry’s austere, Britfolk-tinged vocals channeling a similar angst and a hope against hope. Time and time again, Garcia’s message is that we’re all in this together, that it’s our choice to either sink or swim isn’t one that future generations will have.

Preminger’s tightly unwinding spirals sax over Versace’s insistent, acerbic piano deliver a vivid update on 50s noir postbop in the almost cruelly catchy Terror, Fear and Media: Garcia’s own artully terse propulsion so tight with the rest of the rhythm section, ramping up a practically punishing, conspiratorial ambience. Those guys are just hell-bent on scaring the bejeezus out of us, aren’t they?

Joe Lovano guests on the languidly aching ballad Precious Lives with a wide-angle vibrato, Versace following with masterfully subtle, blues-infused variations before handing back to the sax. Actor Brendan Burke narrates Garcia’s rapidfire, spot-on critique Mac N Cheese (Bank Fees, Dead Bees, Killing Trees, Shooting Sprees, War Thieves, Mac N Cheese) ) over a broodingly tight Angelo Badalamenti noir beatnik swing groove, a crushingly cynical, spot-on Twin Peaks jazz broadside.. Garcia follows this with the first of two tightly wound solo breaks, Act Local #1

The album’s title track makes plaintively shifting postbop out of a simple, direct Afro-Cuban piano rifff, then takes the whole architecture skyward, a showcase for both Preminger and Versace to sizzle and spin; it has the epic ominousness of a recent Darcy James Argue work, Versace adding a carnivalesque menace. The Journey Is the Destination makes a return to furtively stalking straight-up swing with Lovano again, McGarry rising with a determination that stops short of triumphant: where this will all end up is far from clear.

Guns Make Killing Easy opens as a surrealistically creepy, upper-register piano-bass duet and the swings morosely as Versace leaps with a clenched-teeth, macabre intensity balanced on the low end by Garcia’s coldly inevitable groove, Preminger adding nebulous suspense as the whole thing starts to go haywire and then turns into a requiem.

A tight, enigmatic two-sax chart opens Greenland Is Turning Green, both Lovano and Preminger judiciously prowling around over the hard-charging rumble underneath. The second pastorale here, Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier is reinvented as pensive mood piece, while Whatever Gets You By seems to offer a degree of hope with its flashy piano, bittersweet Preminger lines and tropical heat. The album winds up with a second solo Garcia piece, Act Local #2

Throughout the suiite, Garcia’s own impactful, tersely majestic riffs and rolls color the music with an often mutedly brooding thud, as coloristic as it is propulsive. You would hardly expect the best jazz album of 2016 to be written by a drummer, and it’s awfully early in the year to make that kind of choice. On the other hand, nobody’s going to release a more relevant or important – or tuneful – jazz album this year.

And at the album release show at Smalls this past at Smalls, Leo Genovese filled in for Versace, raising the tropical heat, yet with a more lighthanded approach, while Preminger shifted in and out of feral volleys of blues. And Garcia, whose signature sound is both one of the brightest and boomiest around – he uses every inch of the available sonic spectrum – reasserted himself as one of this era’s most colorful and uncompromising players, even taking a detour into a two-handed African talking drum conversation at one point. His next gig as a bandleader is on August 5 at 7:30 PM at Prospect Range, 1226 Prospect Ave. in Ditmas Park; take the F or G to Ft. Hamilton Parkway.

July 5, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii Debuts Her Harrowingly Relevant Fukushima Suite in Brooklyn Last Night

Last night in Gowanus, I-Beam was packed to the point where it was impossible to get in the door for the debut performance of Satoko Fujii’s harrowing Fukushima suite. The iconic Japanese-born pianist/conductor explained beforehand that she wrote it not as a historical narrative but as an evocation of her own reactions to the March 11, 2011 nuclear catastrophe – and that it had taken her five years to process. After the show, she added that it was also an indictment of greed. Were all the recurring, chattering saxes and trombones of her Orchestra New York an evocation of conspiratorial Tepco boardroom conversations? Possibly. Fujii and her large ensemble – one of the most distinctive and memorable New York big band jazz units of the past couple decades – are recording this haggardly wrenching, angry, aggressively haunting four-part work today. Considering how much improvisation is Fujii’s stock in trade, even in a big band setting, it will be fascinating to compare the album with last night’s white-knuckle intensity.

The group opened not with a bang but with a whisper. A mist of white noise through reeds and valves becamed labored, suddenly anguished, then back again. up to a long, shrieking, terrified crescendo. As discernable melodies emerged, a handful of themes – a faux fanfare of sorts, a wistful Japanese folk tune and a couple of rather sardonic marches – recurred with variations, in between solo passages and a handful of artful pairings of instruments a la Darcy James Argue. Individual spots from saxes, trumpets and trombones were often tormented, sometimes frantic, juxtaposed with intermittent flashes of warmth and calm – and a couple of macabre Japanese heavy metal interludes fueled by Stomu Takeishi’s looming bass and Nels Cline’s savagely graceful, kinetically looped guitar riffage. In a couple of early moments, Ches Smith’s tersely slinking groove gave way to light electroacoustic percussive touches that seemed as sarcastic as they were comic relief.

The plaintive clarinet melody at the end seemed to offer closure, and a degree of hope. Asked afterward if this was meant to portray relief at seeing that the initial phase of the crisis, with its nightmarish plumes of smoke, was over, Fujii’s eyes widened. “Over?” she asked incredulously. “It’s NOT over!” Like the rest of the Japanese intelligentsia, she’s kept a close watch on what reliable information has leaked out about Fukushima – and she’s since relocated to Berlin. The official line about Fukushima is that the disaster is over and the lethal by-products have been more or less contained. The reality is that the containment vessel in reactor three – the most toxic, plutonium-fueled one – continues to leak cooling water and what’s left of the reactor core into the Pacific. The same may be true of the others, but either way, there’s been no definitive answer forthcoming, something that might be expected when a nuclear disaster is privatized.

Meanwhile, across the ocean, San Diego County in California is now getting its drinking water supply from desalinated Pacific seawater – which, in turns, goes back into the continental US water table. Suddenly Americans and Japanese alike face an identical, deadly nuclear contamination crisis. Can anybody other than the courageous Satoko Fujii say “global extinction event?”

May 18, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sympathy for the Devil?

Abdel Hamed Mowhoush fell for a lie, and it cost him his life: being a major general in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein in 2003 didn’t help. According to Human Rights First, Mowhoush’s four sons were taken prisoner by US forces. Assured that he and his children would be released if he turned himself in, Mowhoush did so. But rather than being let go, he was brutally tortured and subsequently murdered by an interrogator, Lewis Welshofer, who was courtmartialed and along with a few of his fellow soldiers, given a slap on the wrist for his role in the events. This killing raises all sorts of questions, from why the murder was committed – or sanctioned – in the first place, to whether or not such acts are ever justifiable. Seattle saxophonist Neil Welch addresses the incident with a chillingly and rather brilliantly orchestrated tone poem of sorts, Sleeper, out now on Seattle’s Table and Chairs Music.

Welch’s point of view here is clear. “May the darkest, most difficult moments of our lives be met with love instead of hate, compassion instead of rage,” reads the epigram on the album sleeve. As you would expect, this is a somber and intense piece of music, played sensitively but acerbically by Welch along with Ivan Arteaga on alto and soprano saxes, Jesse Canterbury on bass clarinet, Vincent LaBelle on trombone and David Balatero and Natalie Hall on cellos. It begins ambient and elegaic in the manner of a salute delivered by slowly shifting sheets of sound from which harmonies slowly begin to develop, as if in a flashback. Martial allusions bustle and reach anguished peaks, then recede: much of this has echoes of Stravinsky. Fullscale horror is kept under restraint here, to crushingly powerful effect. A menacing harangue, a possible good cop/bad cop interlude and furtively official-sounding scurrying eventually cede to atmospheric horror bleeding with microtones. When a more cohesive martial theme appears, it quickly takes on a cold blitheness. Figures dart around like extras shuffling around the set of an early black-and-white film. Ending on much the same note as it began, it makes a potent follow-up to Welch’s Bad Luck collaboration with drummer Chris Icasiano. That one rated in the top 25 jazz albums of the year here last year: this could easily do as well.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #533:

Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

Ex-Hangdogs frontman Grimm’s second album with this fiery, Social Distortion-esque Iowa highway rock band is what the Dead Kennedys might have sounded like, had they survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf music for Americana. This 2009 release mixes snidely, sometimes viciously humorous cuts like Hang Up and Drive (a hilarious chronicle of idiots calling and texting behind the wheel), Cinderella (the self-centered girl who wants it all) and My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me (a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot chick, and who just can’t seem to complete his collection) with more savage, politically fueled songs. The centerpiece is the cold-blooded, murderous 1/20/09, celebrating the end of the Bush regime and looking forward the day when the “cloistered and dull trust-fund kid” might have to face up to his crimes in The Hague. There’s also the amusing Wrath of God, a sendup of doomsday Christians; White, an irresistibly funny, spot-on parody of white hip-hop; the triumphant and quite possibly prophetic singalong One Big Union, and the LMFAO Ayn Rand Sucks, which bitchslaps the memory of the “Nazi skank.” Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby. The band’s first album, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, is just about as entertaining too.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/8/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #632:

Gil Scott-Heron – From South Africa to South Carolina

OK, for those of you who’ve been paying real close attention, this held down the #1000 spot on this list for a few months. But it’s time for us to give the great revolutionary jazz poet and his Fender Rhodes colleague Brian Jackson their due. Choosing one of their politically-fueled psychedelic funk/jazz albums over another is a judgment call; for better or worse, we’re going with this 1975 release, the second with their legendary Midnight Band. It’s got Johannesburg, the first rock song to call attention to the horrors of apartheid, and the chilling cautionary tale South Carolina, about nuclear waste being dumped on unsuspecting rural communities. A Toast to the People is an optimistic shout-out to freedom fighters around the world; it’s also got the warm, captivating Summer of ’42, Essex and Fell Together, the hypnotic Beginnings and the unexpectedly summery Lovely Day. It doesn’t have the casually terrifying We Almost Lost Detroit, which at this point in history may be the most important song ever recorded, a cautionary tale which cruelly came true when Fukushima blew. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of Flabbergasted Vibes.

May 7, 2011 Posted by | funk music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/2/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #638:

Linton Kwesi Johnson – More Time

Conventional wisdom is that the great Jamaican-British dub poet’s incendiary work from the late 70s and early 80s is his best. To be counterintuitive, we’re going with this 1998 album, whose subject matter has a more diverse, international focus than the community-based broadsides that springboarded his career fronting a band. With bass genius Dennis Bovell and the Dub Band behind him, Johnson stoically intones his way through a couple of of elegies – Reggae Fi Bernard, Reggae Fi May Ayim – and reflections on the impact of art on politics, with the tongue-in-cheek If I Was a Top Notch Poet and Poems of Shape and Motion. The aphoristically explosive title track ponders what society would be like if leisure and family time were accorded as much status as material possessions; the even more explosive License Fi Kill namechecks pretty much everybody in John Major’s cabinet as complicit in the murder of innocent black people in British police custody. The album wraps up with the eerily prophetic New World Order. Here’s a random torrent.

May 2, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads: One of the Year’s Best Albums

A blackly hilarious, cerebral portrayal of malfeasance, mismanagement and suffering in the wake of the Bush regime’s failure to react to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads evokes the surrealist political performance art of the 1960s. Released on the fifth anniversary of the disaster at the end of August, it balances the cruel cynicism of the Bushites, oblivious in their own comfortable version of reality, with the horrific experiences of the natives who for the most part probably did not vote for them. A mix of cinematic soundscapes and intricate art-rock with operatic vocals, its lyrics are taken entirely from news reports during the early days of the crisis. It’s like the Dead Kennedys for chamber orchestra.

Soprano Abby Fischer channels her inner soul diva on the opening track, stagy yet completely deadpan: “N’awlins is sinking.” She goes on to inform that in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a New Orleans disaster as likely as a San Francisco earthquake or a terrorist attack on New York, over a backdrop that morphs from artsy indie classical rock to a hypnotic overlay of voices: “To some extent I think we’ve been lulled to sleep,” a quote from the head of the LSU hurricane center. The second track is a suspenseful instrumental that builds to matter-of-factly ominous art-rock. The deadpan operatics recur with the third track, a sadly terse account of a Biloxi resident whose wife was swept from the roof of their home, and with Isaiah Robinson’s recreation of Bush sympathizer Dennis Hastert’s assertion that “a lot of that place could be bulldozed.”

Bridge to Gretna vividly evokes the incident where white racists opened fire on unarmed black residents fleeing the destruction, a dialogue between Eileen Mack’s hopeful bass clarinet and Taylor Levine’s electric guitar slapping her away. The humor returns with CNN personality Anderson Cooper interviewing Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, done with a wickedly understated, satirical edge by Fischer and Anthony Turner: he’s all faux rage and she’s a robot, their carefully scripted vocal lines enhancing the fakeness. The funniest moment here is Hearne himself doing a sort of lo-fi hip-hop remix of “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Anybody remember MC Rove?

Finally, a jazz-flavored piece appears – a salute at a funeral? – with murky David Hanlon piano, followed by more brutal levity, in this case the casual countrypolitan golf-club sway of a piece that quotes Barbara Bush: “Almost everyone I talk to says we’re moving to Houston…what I’m hearing which is sort of scary is that they want to stay in Texas. ” The album concludes with a long, elegiac chamber piece quoting New Orleans resident Ashley Nelson, whose feeling of abandonment is visceral, although she tragically fails to make the connection between 9/11 and the Katrina fiasco. It’s as valuable a piece of history as it is entertaining: look for this on our upcoming Best Albums of 2010 list next week.

December 24, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/23/10

The weeklong “let’s finish the year with a bang” project is underway and would be further along if an impromptu indoor cookout fortified with lots of B&B hadn’t interrupted us: even here in the wilderness, where we’ll be for the next few days, everybody wants to party. No complaints: it’s nice to feel wanted. To get the day started, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues as it does every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #768:

Spearhead – Chocolate Supa Highway

Smartly aware, low-key stoner funk from 1997. Brilliant lyricist that he is, Michael Franti can be maddeningly erratic, but this one’s solid pretty much all the way through, as cynically insightful as his cult-classic Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy project from five years earlier. The title track isn’t just a stoner jam: “I can’t stand the pain outside my window/Why you think so many smoking indo?” It’s a feeling echoed on much of the rest of the album: Madness in tha Hood (Free Ride) and Food for tha Masses (“Geronimo Pratt done as many years as Mandela”) hit just as hard now as they did in the last century, along with the workingman/woman’s anthem Tha Payroll. The acoustic Americana trip-hop of Wayfaring Stranger (with a surprisingly effective Joan Osborne cameo) and Water Pistol Man are more surreal; Rebel Music interpolates hits by Bob Marley and Jacob Miller; Gas Gauge assesses the future after peak oil. Keep Me Lifted and Ganja Babe are more lighthearted without losing sight of the grimness through the haze of blunt smoke. The only miss here, predictably, is the love song. Most of this is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rap music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Album of the Day 12/14/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #777:

The Goats – Tricks of the Shade

Long out of print, this golden-age 1993 hip hop classic is a mix of songs and politically charged skits that remain as relevant now as they were in the age of Bush I’s first gulf war. Frontman Oatie Kato and his cohorts Madd (a.k.a. “the M-A-the-double-D”, a.k.a. Maxx), and Swayzack wander through a twisted, surreal carnival featuring attractions like Columbus’ Boat Ride, Noriega’s Coke Stand, Indian activist Leonard Peltier in a cage, Rovie Wade the Sword Swallower (“Hey Rovie, that’s not a sword, that’s a coat hanger”), the Drive By Bumper Cars and at the end, the ominous Uncle Scam’s Shooting Gallery. Along the way, they skewer Reaganomics and Fox TV (the viciously satirical TV Cops), smoke a lot of herb (the big hit Got Kinda High), and then dig in against the fascists with Not Not Bad and then Burn the Flag. Their follow-up album, No Goats No Glory, had another sizeable hit, Wake and Bake, plenty of pot references, but no more politics. And that was that. But we still have this classic. Here’s a random torrent.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment