Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ryan Keberle Releases His Potent, Relevant New Protest Jazz Album at the Jazz Standard

A moody Fender Rhodes melody echoes as the title track to trombonist/keyboardist Ryan Keberle’s new protest jazz album, Find the Common Shine a Light – streaming at Bandcamp – begins. Guitarist Camila Meza sings poet Mantsa Miro’s lyrics.with an understated, insistent clarity:

Our weakest link is fear of losing races
Get home before the curtain falls…
We are here to elevate the greater
Find the common, shine a light
Become the water
Put up a fight

Trumpet and trombone spar as Meza’s one-woman choir soars in the background, all the way down to a stadium-worthy singalong at the end. In times like these we need more music like this. Keberle and his band are playing the album release show on July 5 at the Jazz Standard, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $20.

As one of the world’s electrifying jazz trombonists (longstanding member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Mingus bands, yadda yadda yadda), Keberle has few peers. This album is his quantum leap, a fearless, eclectic, politically charged collection that ought to go a long way in reaffirming his status as an elite bandleader as well. The theme connecting this mix of vocal and instrumental numbers is that struggle has been a constant through American history, and throughout the world: the Trump era may have its own unique and twisted challenges, but ultimately, we’ve triumphed over worse.

The album’s second track is Uruguayan songwriter Jorge Drexler’s Al Otro Lado del Rio (On the Other Side of the River), Meza’s voice and spare, lingering guitar channeling a poignant unease, a bittersweet and troubled immigrant’s narrative set to similarly moody trumpet/trombone harmonies over drummer Eric Doob’s elegant, low-key pulse. A trick ending drives the point home, hard.

That same distant angst echoes through the pensive trumpet-trombone conversation that opens Empathy, a tone poem of sorts, Meza’s gentle vocalese adding lustre; its steady, tectonic sheets slowly winding out. The rhythmic riffage and matter-of-fact stairstepping of Ancient Theory draws a straight line back to Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time period, all the way through the bass solo, Keberle’s melodica airy overhead. Michael Rodriguez’s judicious trumpet sets up Keberle’s towering crescendo.

Their cover of Fool on the Hill outdoes the Beatles: credit to Meza for getting McCartney’s cynicism, and props to the bandleader for grounding the song in enigmatic trumpet/trombone exchanges instead of taking it off into flurries of bop like so many others would do. The group follows a triumphant trajectory as Mindfulness rises from hopeful trumpet over a murky backdrop, seguieng into a portentously atmospheric cover of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, Meza playing funereal guitar belltones behind her vocals. The Nobel Prize laureate’s lyrics have aged well:

Senators, Congressmen, please head the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he that gets stalled
There’s a battle outside raging
Who’ll shake your windows and rattle your walls…

The way Keberle triangulates trumpet, trombone and Meza’s voice, a common trope throughout the record, is especially impactful here.

The miniature Strength is the album’s scruffiest interlude, trombone and trumpet brothers in arms over the bass/drums rumble. Bassist Jorge Roeder’s stark bowing opens the concluding cut, I Am a Stranger, Meza’s wary vocals set to similarly, tensely energized exchanges between Keberle and Rodriguez. “What i desire I can’t obtain from what I hate,” Meza laments. More artists across all genres, not just jazz, should be making music this relevant.

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July 2, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, 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 11/19/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Today’s album is #802:

Phil Kline – Unsilent Night

You’re on this album. That’s right. You’re part of it. Arguably the first interactive album ever made, avant garde composer Kline’s eerie, gamelanesque 1992 electronic “boombox symphony” began as a protest of the first Gulf War and grew into an annual event that millions have participated in over the years. If you haven’t, now’s your chance. Go to http://www.unsilentnight.com. There you can find out where and where the event is happening in your part of the world. Every year during the holiday season, there are processions of people carring boomboxes, laptops, ipod decks and amplified walkmans, all blasting Unsilent Night in semi-unison to show their support for world peace. The longer the procession, the greater the doppler effect, and the cooler it sounds. For maximum eeriness, if you have the technology, record this onto a cassette instead of burning a cd: if your boombox has a cassette player, it’s probably pretty old, and if the motor flutters, so much the better. You may only hear this album once, but you’ll always have happy memories of it. This year’s New York area Unsilent Night procession takes place on December 18, leaving at 7 PM from the arch at Washington Square Park and marching to Tompkins Square Park. Arrival by about 6:40 PM is advised. Here’s a random torrent.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rev. Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/18/10

Residents of Iceland aren’t the only people in the western world waking up to see their hometowns drenched in a sinister coat of dust: go to West Virginia, where Massey Energy blasts the tops off mountains to get the coal inside (it’s cheaper than going undergound to get it). Having led the fight against the Disneyfication of New York and pushed back a Walmart invasion of Gotham, Rev. Billy has turned his focus on the fight to preserve the mountaintop ecosystem of Appalachia, currently threatened by stripmining. The Reverend, his titanic 25-piece gospel choir and first-rate band make their point with a mixture of old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone preaching, a lot of good jokes and a mammoth sound. Sunday afternoon at Highline Ballroom choir director James Solomon Benn led the group onto the stage as pianist Rick Ulfik, bassist Nathan Stevens and drummer Eric Johnson pulsed along on an expertly ecstatic, shuffling gospel groove and then launched into a hymn to the joys of New York neighborhood life. “My imagination is not for sale! My neighborhood is not for sale!” went part of the refrain, a triumphant tribute to the successful fight to keep Walmart from moving in and destroying every small business in New York as it has everywhere else.

Like the Clash, their songs are catchy, and they all have a message. “Standing up for public space!” a soaring, funky, in-your-face minor-key number declared. “There’s a mountain in my lobby, at JP Morgan Chase!” a bearded member of the choir announced (it’s their current theme song – where most of the other big banks bailed out of financing stripmining after the 2008 stock market crash, JP Morgan Chase jumped right in). The group’s polyphony is imaginative and exciting, to say the least – when you have 25 voices shifting in sections, it’s impossible not to pay attention, and this group works that to the fullest extent possible. A latin gospel number featuring the potent, powerful voices of Sr. Laura Newman and another member of the choir, Jessica, was “dedicated to raising a child right – I mean left,” winked Rev. Billy, a swipe at conspicuously consumptive yuppie parenting. A trio came out of the choir and led the voices in a sad, plaintive country waltz spiced with banjo and ukelele: “There’s a cancer in the promised land.”

Newman took center stage again with a joyous, rousingly optimistic original gospel number she’d written: “Your children will climb back to the sky,” the chorus declared with a defiant optimism. Rev. Billy and guest speaker Bo Webb also provided plenty of information on the nefarious deeds of Massey Energy (they clearcut and then burn tons of valuable West Virginia hardwood rather than recycling or even trying to sell it!), energizing the crowd with a Christian existentialist activist message as grounded in philosophy as it is in real life (Rev. Billy AKA Bill Talen has a deep resume in serious theatre, in addition to being “jailed over 50 times” as his website gleefully proclaims). “The reason why Earth First scares people is that we always think of Earth as the Other,” he explained. But it was here first – and will be here long after we will if we can’t put a stop to the processes feeding global warming (the band did a song about that too and it was as arresting as the rest of the set). At the end, after two solid hours of insight and amazing harmonies, the choir left the way they came in, through the audience, singing as they went. Rev. Billy makes the Highline his home when he’s not building little mountains in the lobbies of Chase banks – watch this space for future concerts.

April 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Sarah Cahill Premieres Antiwar and Peace Music by Rzewski, Kline, Terry Riley and Others at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC 3/12/09

As WNYC host John Schaefer noted, this concert had been given many names by many people: Composers Against the War, Notes on the War, and, eventually, pianist Sarah Cahill’s choice, A Sweeter Music (a MLK quote referring to the sonics of peace). Cahill has become the go-to pianist for adventurous composers of new music; in this case, these were works that she had commissioned during the waning phases of the Bush regime. Virtually all of these were either world premieres or at least being played in this city for the first time, some of them absolutely transcendent, others less so.

 

The most rewarding composition was Phil Kline’s new piano sonata The Long Winter. While far from the only antiwar piece he’s written, it ranks with his best. Originally begun as a collection of fragments, it coalesced right after 9/11, an extremely personal event for Kline, having been jolted from sleep by as the first plane hit Tower Two. The first part set a horrified, repetitive, upper-register staccato motif against crashing, chaotic bass chords, a viscerally intense evocation of the attack, working its way down into a quiet, insistent anguish. In the program notes, Kline explained that in the weeks afterward, he’d realized that he was now living in a city under siege, illustrated by the sonata’s second part, paring the central theme to its most morbid, dread-filled essence. For anyone who breathed the air here during those hellacious first few months, this is essential listening (you’ll be able to hear it on Schaefer’s next New Sounds Live program on March 26).

 

Frederic Rzewski filled Cahill’s request with a series of eight Peace Dances, a marvelously diverse mix of alternately minimalist and melodically rich vignettes. Through the icy call-and-response of the first, the playful yet reflective tone of the third, the Asian-inflected cascades of the seventh and the bouncy, glissando-spiced final piece, Cahill was given the opportunity to use the entirety of her dynamic range and met the challenge with a seeming effortlessness.

 

Another powerfully satisfying work was Kyle Gann’s War Is Just a Racket (whose first working title was George Bush Is an Asshole), Cahill narrating text by 1920s Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and corporate coup whistleblower hero General Smedley Butler against a jarringly percussive, frequently rubato piece with a deliciously sly humor in places, folksy ragtime or deceptive blues coming out nowhere to underscore the text’s most ironic moments. We’ve reprinted the full text below, something of an early version of what John Perkins would confirm in his bestselling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in 2004.

 

The rest of the bill included pieces by young composer Preben Antonsen, the Residents, a particularly sadistic work by Jerome Kitzke and a fascinating, rather biting ragtime suite by Terry Riley replete with all kinds of strikingly counterintuitive accents and dissonances making unexpected appearances within its comfortable architecture.

 

And now over to Gen. Butler:

 

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense of the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

 

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalist-Capitalism. It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulnesss compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile miltary force, the Marine Corps. I served in all comissioned ranks from Second Lieutanant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a ganster for capitalism.

 

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service. I helped make Mexico, expecially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeeing is long. I heped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers [later Brown Brothers Harriman, where Prescott Bush, George Bush Senior’s father, would become Adolf Hitler’s #1 fundraiser in the United States prior to World War II] in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

 

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

March 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Song of the Day 2/21/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Today’s song is #522:

Bob Dylan – Masters of War.

As with the Beatles (see #526), when we inherited the embryonic version of the list from our predecessor e-zine, it contained a whole slew of Dylan that we deleted to make room for more obscure acts that you’d probably never discover anywhere else but here. But this one we had to keep: “And I’ll stand over your grave til I’m sure that you’re dead.” For Dick Cheney and all of his collaborators. MP3s are everywhere too. If you want a cover, see if you can track down a bootleg of the jazz version done by Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams (it’s in 5/4 time!).

February 21, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment