Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Cellar & Point Bring Their Intriguingly Kinetic Postrock Sounds to Glasslands

A project originated by guitarist Chris Botta and drummer Joe Branciforte, the Cellar & Point are sort of Claudia Quintet meets Sleepmakeswaves meets Wounded Buffalo Theory. Mantra Percussion‘s Joe Bergen plays vibraphone, immediately drawing the Claudia Quintet comparison, which is further fueled by the nimble string work of violinist Chistopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland, who comprise one-half of the adventurous Jack Quartet. Guitarist Terrence McManus and bassist Rufus Philpot round out the band. The backstory – Botta and Branciforte as teenage buds in New Jersey, hanging out and blasting Rage Against the Machine – makes sense in context. Their debut long-player, Ambit, is just out from the folks at Cuneiform who have it up along with the rest of their vast catalog on bandcamp. The Cellar & Point are playing the album release show on a killer triplebill at Glasslands on Nov 19 starting around 9 with epically sweeping art-rock chorale the Knells and the alternately hypnotic and kinetic Empyrean Atlas. Cover is ten bucks; it’s not clear what the order of bands is but they’re all worth seeing.

The album’s opening track, 0852 is characteristic: tricky prog-rock metrics drive lush ambience with lingering vibraphone, slide guitar (and maybe ebow) and some artfully processsed pizzicato from the string section that adds almost banjo-like textures. Arc builds out of swirly atmospherics to a matter-of-fact march and then an animatedly cyclical dance with tinges of both west African folk music and King Crimson.

There are two Tabletops here, A and B. The first juxtaposes and mingles lingering vibes, stadium guitar bombast and lithely dancing strings. The second layers rainy-day vibes and strings with terse Andy Summers-ish guitar. There are also two White Cylinders: number one being a seemingly tongue-in-cheek mashup of brash jazz guitar, vividly prickly mystery movie textures and Reichian circularity, number two tracing a knottier, somewhat fusiony Olympic film theme of sorts.

If Ruminant is meant to illustrate an animal, it’s a minotaur stewing down in the labyrinth, awaiting an unsuspecting victim – one assumes that’s Bergen playing that gorgeously creepy piano in tandem with the eerily resonant guitars and stark strings. By contrast, Purple Octagon shuffles along with a more motorik take on what John Hollenbeck might have done with its vamping dynamic shifts – or the Alan Parsons Project with jazz chords. The somewhat dirgey, gamelan-tinged title track’s final mix is actually a recording of a playback of the song’s original studio mix made in an old rotunda in the Bronx in order to pick up vast amounts of natural reverb.

There are also a couple of reinvented pieces from the chamber music repertoire: a stately, wary Radiohead-like interpretation of an Anton Webern canon and a György Ligeti piano etude recast as a hypnotically pulsing nocturne. Is all this jazz? Not really. It’s not really rock, either. Indie classical, maybe? Sure, why not? Postrock? That too. Ultimately it boils down to what Duke Ellington said, that there are two kinds of music, the good kind, like this, and the other kind.

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November 14, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spine-Tingling, Epic Noir Surrealism from Monika Roscher’s Big Band

The new Monika Roscher Big Band album, Failure in Wonderland is a wildly fearless, uncategorizable thrill ride. What is this? Noir cabaret? Psychedelic rock? Big band swing? Horror movie music? All of the above and more. As she tells it, guitarist/singer/composer Roscher spent a year in Illinois as a German exchange student. While her peers were watching tv, she was practicing, soaking up musical scores and learning Frank Zappa licks. Her young band has been together a bit over a year and already has this monstrous masterpiece to show for it. It’s sort of like the missing link between Mucca Pazza and Sexmob (who have a phenomenal new album of Nino Rota film pieces due out soon).Like the latter group’s leader Steve Bernstein, Roscher likes long, crescendoing vamps and seems to be noir to the core. If you like the idea of a Jeff Lynne-esque vocoder trip-hop intro into a creepy noir cabaret piano loop that builds to a stomping, surreal menace with marching Zappaesque guitar line as the brass pulses behind it, that’s just the first half of the first track. From there, the circus rock menace rises with Josef Ressle’s biting piano and squalling, smoky bari sax from Heiko Geiring – and it only gets better from there.

Deadpan, fractured English lyrics move in over another trip-hop intro on the second track, Future3, followed by pillowy reeds, Roscher shredding the scenery with some wild tremolo-picking punctuated by big incisions from the band as the arrangement grows more stately. The catchy yet utterly dissociative Irrlicht works big Gil Evans-ish swells into a carnivalesque pulse, up to a scorching crescendo that hands off to Matthias Lindrmayr’s rapidfire muted trumpet and then a slowly spinning, pitchblende vortical sway.

Wuste works a creepy minor-key come-hither Blonde Redhead-ish intro and then takes on a brooding, low-key gypsy rock feel that grows more and more macabre, spiced by Roscher’s surealistic, processed vocals, Ressle’s sepulcural wee-hours piano and Jan Kiesewetter’s lonesome soprano sax. Die Parade is a twisted funeral march, as plaintive as it is blackly amusing. As with the rest of the tracks here, the voicings are imaginative and often pack a wallop, here with Andreas Unterreiner’s trumpet nonchalantly pairing off with Peter Palmer’s even more morose trombone. The way the procession disintegrates is too clever and amusing to give away here; the trick ending is typical of the sheer unpredictability and gleeful menace of Roscher’s compositional style.

Human Machines establishes a torchy Lynchian atmosphere, a sardonic commentary on the human tendency toward conformity, fueled by Roscher’s noir tremolo lines and torchy vocals – she’s the rare bandleader who’s also a first-class singer – and Ressle’s incisive piano. Unlike the other tracks here, this one ends optimistically: humans win! By contrast, Schnee Aus Venedig is a defiantly macabre, tiptoeing sideshow theme that eventually follows a breathless trajectory up to a wry Beatles allusion. It foreshadows the Montenegrin cabaret gloom of When I Fall in Love, Kiesewetter’s Jon Irabagon-esque japes, Geiring’s baritone squall and Roscher’s wah-infused, funky menace taking it in a vintage P-Funk direction. The album ends, appropriately enough, with Nacht, rising from skeletal tango to a noir flamenco overture, reaching peak altitude on Roscher’s rippling, weirdly processed arpeggios.

Fans of dark ornate acts as diverse as Botanica, Gil Evans, and  Sexmob will eat this up. Best jazz album of the year? Maybe. Best rock record of the year? Probably. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a lot of fun. And in case you’re wondering what the title refers to, here’s Roscher: “The blemished beauty of Alice…the tension between harmony and disharmony that I can only vaguely approach with my lyrics. To me words cannot nail it the way music does.” It’s out now from Enja Records.

April 15, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intense Paradigm-Shifting Sounds from Salim Ghazi Saeedi

One important rising composer who’s doing genuinely visionary work in microtonal music, helping to integrate sounds from the Middle East into jazz and rock, is Tehran-based multi-instrumentalist Salim Ghazi Saeedi. His latest album namoWoman is an often otherworldly creation. It’s considerably more raw and roughhewn than, say, recent albums by David Fiuczynski and Hafez Modirzadeh, both artists to which he compares favorably. Aside from the fact that Saeedi plays all the instruments on the album – guitars, keys, basses and drums – what’s most amazing about it is how through-composed it is. Thematic variations recur frequently but always change shape, melodically and dynamically. It’s a dark, bracing, uneasy roller-coaster ride.

Saeedi’s main axe is the guitar, which he multitracks using two basic tones: a ringing, watery timbre that he typically uses to deliver plaintive, judiciously picked microtonal phrases and ringing sustained lines, along with a gritty, crunchy, distorted tone that often takes centerstage with a sneering, occasionally comedic flair. That tone, and its bombastic allusions and head-on assaults, poses the question of whether this is heavy metal, or jazz, or Persian art-rock. Ultimately, the answer is all of the above.

Saeedi’s unorthodox use of both piano and bass is also extremely clever. Saeedi leans heavily on the piano’s lowest keys, whether to anchor the music in a murky, overtone-spiced ambience, or for basslines. By contrast, Saeedi utilizes the bass’s entire sonic spectrum, frequently bowing eerily elegant viola melodies in the upper registers. A few of the tracks have trebly-toned, judiciously played electric bass along with the occasional electronic keyboard motif. All this contrasts with the savage, distorted guitar lines: whether or not that dichotomy is deliberate or not (two sides of the same coin, maybe, one profound and the other profane?), it’s inescapable.

Throughout the nine-part suite, Saeedi establishes individual voices within the arrangements, with all kinds of melodic interweaving and conversations: piano ripples respond to bass bubbles, cello-flavored lines hand off to the guitar, or to the drums. Without knowing it, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that guitar is Saeedi’s primary axe, considering how graceful, dexterous and propulsive his bass work is; his piano lines are terse, imaginative and serve an important part of the musical backbone. If there’s any criticism of this, it’s that Saeedi swings on the guitar and especially the bass but not the drums: a percussionist with a proficiency equal to Saeedi’s on those two instruments could have been useful here. Then again, percussionists capable of playing such eclectic compositions are hard to find anywhere, let alone in traditional Persian music.

Bluesy allusions give way to suspenseful not-quite-minor, not-exactly major Persian intervals; rhythms tend to be straight-up but not always, one interlude bouncing along on a tricky groove that would be perfectly at home in Macedonia or Greece. Pensive, moody guitar echoes until it’s bludgeoned out of the picture as the distorted roar takes over, and then recedes, a constant game of good cop vs. bad cop with an occasional exchange of roles. There’s simple, insistent staccato guitar riffage straight out of the Pantera playbook, and also spacious, distantly anguished David Gilmour-inflected phrasing. The High Romantic, the gothic, the gypsy and the jazz – think Cecil Taylor in extreme deep space mode – mingle and echo and at their most cohesive, haunt the hell out of you. Little flourishes like a jaunty melodica vamp, hints of surf rock and Mediterranean psychedelia lighten the darkness while enhancing the surrealism of it all. Who is the audience for this? Middle Eastern metalheads; fans of Persian music who need a jolt of energy, and any fan of loud, dark sounds laced with fearless humor. There is no one in the world who sounds anything like Salim Ghazi Saeedi: where he takes these ideas in the future promises to be a pretty wild place.

January 10, 2013 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/22/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #466:

Message – From Books and Dreams

A cynic would call this 1973 album a Nektar ripoff – and with the galloping tempos, trippy orchestration and soaring, growling, melodic bass, that influence is definitely there. But this German stoner art-rock/metal band with a Scottish singer is a lot more diverse than that here. And a lot darker too: the skull on the cover pretty much gives it away. Some of this is sludgy and Sabbath-y; other times it goes in a jazz direction, with alto sax far more interesting than you’d typically hear from bands like this. It’s a suite, if not a fully realized concept album, beginning ambient and creepy like ELO’s Eldorado Overture, then blasting into the first multi-part segment, Dreams, followed by the sax/metal guitar instrumental Turn Over (which has a hilarious ending). Side two is a quieter but just as macabre continuation titled Sigh, followed by the long, ominously crescendoing Nightmares and its absolutely chilling ending. Now that youtube allows for long tracks, there’s a stream of the whole album here; here’s a random torrent via Fantasy 0807.

October 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/14/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #474:

The New Trolls – Concerto Grosso

The New Trolls are sort of the Italian Genesis. This 1971 suite is something of a Mediterranean counterpart to Peter Gabriel’s playful, dramatic early Genesis, juxtaposing classical themes with catchy, surreal, Beatlesque art-rock that foreshadowed what ELO would be doing by the end of the decade. They kick it off with a lively, baroque tinged theme, rip off their fellow countryman Albinoni on the stately, stoic Adagio, go into potently chilling Vivaldi territory with the Cadenza – Andante and then the real classic, the darkly pensive Shadows. Side two is ostensibly a jam, although its endlessly shifting permutations, from Grateful Dead-style garage-rock vamps, to Blues Magoos stomps, to spacy drum-circle ambience, leads you to believe that it was all planned in advance. The band has been through a million different incarnations but are still around and still playing fascinatingly elaborate music. Here’s a random torrent via Prog Possession.

October 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/9/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #479:

Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori

This one’s for the smoking section. By the time these Japanese stoners came out with this sludgy, creepy 1971 five-part suite, they were arguably heavier than Sabbath. Some of you may find this ugly and heavyhanded; the band alternates between bludgeoning blues and morbid, funereal dirges. The lyrics are in Japanese. Part one of the suite sets the stage for the slightly more Hendrix-inspired part two. Part three might be the high point, doom rock with Asian motifs; part four blends funk and even jazz touches into the murk; the concluding movement foreshadows where King Crimson would be in five years. Call it metal, or art-rock, or proto-goth, either way it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a random torrent via Lysergia.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Empty Space Orchestra Rock The Amps, Not the Mic

From Bend, Oregon comes Empty Space Orchestra: part spacy post-rock, part shapeshifting, Mars Volta inspired math-rock, with a frequently dramatic, cinematic edge and an unexpected sense of humor. Fun may not be something you equate with the Mars Volta, but it’s definitely part of the blueprint for Empty Space Orchestra. The songs on their new, self-titled, all-instrumental album often have a mocking, satirical bite that’s completely out of character in this genre. How cool is it to finally find a proggy-sounding band that doesn’t take itself seriously?

The ornateness of the arrangements attests to the band’s classical background. Guitarist Shane Thomas and bassist Patrick Pearsall are riffmeisters, often working in tandem. Keyboardist Keith O’Dell brings the drama with stately classical flourishes; multi-instrumentalist Graham Jacobs (reeds and keys) seems to be in charge of atmospherics. Drummer Lindsey Elias propels the behemoth with a power and precision worthy of Bill Bruford. The most comedic song here is Get Some, a stomping faux-Vegas stripper theme that opens with a cheesy faux-brass keyboard patch and then brings in creepy yet funky funeral organ. Eventually, the guitar takes over, with a metal edge, sax alternating between robotic and robust. The rest of it is a characteristic mix of wit and wrath: a silly synth solo followed by a tersely dramatic, emphatic guitar solo that eventually smolders and bursts into flame as the whole band heats up.

The single best song here might be Tiger Puss, a slowly stomping, hypnotic tableau that hints at dub, with some truly bizarre, slurpy noises in the background. Up with ringing reverb guitar, it goes warpspeed a la the Bad Brains for a bit and then hits a pounding metal interlude. From there it slowly grinds to a halt, switching from sarcasm to genuine plaintiveness as it winds out. El Viento builds slowly to a psychedelic southwestern gothic melody and without warning morphs into a bright, wide-eyed adventure theme (in 10/4 time for those of you who like to count), that finally starts coming apart at the seams as the guitar hisses and sputters. And Intergalactic Battle Cruiser offers an update on the Ventures for the 21st century, with twin riffage from bass and guitar and a vividly intense, tremolo-picked guitar solo while the drums manage to simultaneously blend pure insanity and perfect precision.

There are a couple of short ones here that are also a lot of fun. Tennessee Red offes less than two minutes of searing, chromatic metal, with a potently simple slide guitar solo; The Hangar is an Allen Lanier-style piano interlude that grows epic for a second before gracefully returning home. The rest of the album mixes the comical with the cerebral. Exit Strategy sounds like Rush as done by Queen, with a chorus by Loverboy. The opening track, Brainjar, moves artfully from 80s style adventure movie calisthenics to an ominous Peter Hook bass figure and then back again; the closing track does the same but with a Beatlesque interlude. There’s a lot going on here and it’s a lot of fun.

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/20/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #681:

Pink Floyd – The Final Cut

While the rest of the world watches the events at Fukushima unfold, we’re going to sneak another Pink Floyd album onto this list. Where armageddon right now looks like a water table saturated with plutonium, Roger Waters – and pretty much everyone else in 1983 – saw the world ending in a deluge of atom bombs. Part murderous response to the fascism of Thatcher and Reagan, part continuation of The Wall to its logical extreme, this was once rated one of the ten most depressing albums of all time by a fashion magazine – reason alone to make it worth owning. The raging hiss of vignettes like The Post War Dream, One of the Few and Get Your Hands Off My Filthy Desert put everything in historical context. It’s hard to imagine a more poignant requiem for lost time than Your Possible Pasts, nor a more plaintive war widow-to-be’s lament than Southhampton Dock. The Hero’s Return is beyond sarcastic; The Gunner’s Dream floats cruelly down to end in a fatal plane crash. And The Fletcher Memorial Home is a musical death warrant for some of the era’s evillest despots, among them Thatcher, Brezhnev and Begin. The gorgeously quiet, completely apt piano ballad Paranoid Eyes and the sweeping, epic grandeur of the title track complete the picture along with the sludgy metal anthem Not Now John (a big FM radio hit) and the rhythmically tricky, pensive end-of-the-world tableau Two Suns in the Sunset. Antiwar songs have seldom been more powerful. Here’s a random torrent.

March 20, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

17 Pygmies’ Follow-up to Their Classic Celestina Album Defies the Odds

Trying to follow up a classic is inevitably a thankless task. What do you do after you’ve recorded your Dark Side of the Moon, written your Foundation trilogy or painted your Starry Night? Conventional wisdom is that it’s time to move on, completely shift gears, flip the script and defy comparisons with your masterpiece, even if it might need a concluding chapter. Veteran California art-rock band 17 Pygmies have taken the hard road with their new album CII: Second Son, a sequel to their 2008 tour de force Celestina. That album, based on a short story about love and betrayal in outer space by guitarist/bandleader Jackson Del Rey, is a lavish, majestic, cruelly beautiful song cycle (we picked it as one of the 1000 best albums of all time). This one is similar, right down to the elegant silver packaging, but it’s more of an instrumental suite, sort of like Twin Peaks in outer space. Again, it’s based on a Del Rey short story, a twisted, Rod Serling-style cliffhanger included in the cd booklet. If the plot is to be taken on face value, heaven is autotuned: which makes it…what? You figure it out.

The opening instrumental sets the stage. It’s a retro 50s noir pop theme done as lushly orchestrated space rock, Angelo Badalamenti meets ELO at their eeriest circa 1980. With layers of guitar synthesizer, electric piano and string synth, it’s a lush, hypnotic wash of sound. They follow it with the first of only two vocal numbers, a 6/8 ballad sung with quietly menacing relish by keyboardist Meg Maryatt (who thankfully is not autotuned) which illustrates the story, that she’s landed in a place that’s too good to be true. Richly interwoven themes and textures follow: creepy music box electric piano, an ominous March of the Robots, backward masking, mellotron, pulsing waves of sound and a mantra of “shut down this process” that repeats again and again.

A variation on the ballad emerges from a long, hypnotic vamp: “There’s a hole in the sky,” Maryatt intones, spellbound, and then the strings go totally Hitchcock, fluttering with horror. “The sky, cold to the sight…” White noise echoes; an offcenter piano waltz, disjointedly disquieting synthy interlude and something of an operatic crescendo with a spooky choir give way to distant, starlit piano that morphs unexpectedly into a methodical, slightly funky Atomheart Mother-style art-rock vamp with distorted guitar and organ. They leave it there on an unfinished note. On one level, it’s a pity all this grandeur and suspense has such a hard act to follow. On the other hand, as lush, unselfconsciously beautiful psychedelia, it stands on its own. And as Del Rey has made pretty clear, this story isn’t over yet: if this is Foundation and Empire, we have what will hopefully be his Second Foundation to look forward to at some future time. It’s out now on Trakwerx.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Album of the Day 1/9/11

OK, mini-vacation is over, we’re firing up the engines again. To get things started, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #751:

Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation

The artsiest and most ornate metal band, at least until the new wave of British metal of the late 70s/early 80s, Blue Oyster Cult blended elegant classical flourishes and epic grandeur into their riff-rocking roar and stomp. Sarcastic, vicious and sometimes satirical, they collaborated with Patti Smith and were a considerable influence on punk, new wave and goth music, covered both by Radio Birdman and the Minutemen. This is their best studio album, from 1973. It kicks off with the split-second precise tripletracked riffage of The Red and the Black, followed by the gorgeously crescendoing O.D.’d on Life Itself. Hot Rails to Hell, Baby Ice Dog and Teen Archer are the heavy tracks here; 7 Screaming Diz-Busters is something of an epic, with a deliciously evil siren of an outro. Mistress of the Salmon Salt is catchy and matter-of-factly macabre; the best song here is the ghoulishly watery Wings Wetted Down, punctuated by a beautifully dark chorus-pedal solo by lead guitarist Buck Dharma. Everything the band released  through the live On Your Feet or On Your Knees album is worth hearing; forty years after they started, they’re still touring with a slightly revamped lineup and can still put on a good show. Here’s a random torrent.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment