Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Rage Against the Machine in the Former Belly of the Beast

In their sold-out concert at the Park Avenue  Armory Wednesday night, cutting-edge 24-member choral ensemble the Crossing delivered a breathtakingly virtuosic rebuke to anyone who might think that rage is not all the rage these days. The Armory dates back to the 19th century and is decorated throughout with high quality Civil War memorabilia. According to heraldic engravings in all sorts of precious metals, sixty-five of New York’s entitled classes died fighting to keep the Union together. It’s hardly a stretch to consider that their patriotism may have reflected less of an endorsement of civil liberties for all Americans, black and white, than the desire to keep sources of raw materials in the south safe in the grip of northern banksters.

Conductor Donald Nally’s choice to stage the group’s performance there was as daring as it was obvious. Each room utilized for the concert’s two sets is rich with natural reverb. in a proud tradition that goes back long before Laurie Anderson‘s legendary performances at the Armory, this was yet another reclamation of the space in the name of something other than killing.

Eight of the pieces on the program were New York premieres. The trio of cellists Thomas Mesa, Arlen Hlusko and Sujin Lee opened with the subtly shifting, hypnotically circling riffs of David Lang’s Depart as the crowd filed in. The singers then took their places one by one and treated the audience to a night of daunting counterpoint, playfully challenging extended technique, kaleidoscopic interplay and glistering, often achingly enveloping polyphony.

Central to the program were two breathtaking pieces by Gabriel Jackson. Our Flags Are Wafting in Hope and Grief, with its cleverly expanding cell-like phrases and dramatic cadenzas, brought to life Latvian writer Doris Koreva’s poem addressing a crucial, pivotal historical moment from which there can be no return. There’s cruel ambiguity in its flag imagery; the ensemble’s  emphatic intensity weighed in on the side of the perils of nationalism rather than potential triumphs.

The similarly circling first segment of Jackson’s Rigwreck could have been dispensed with, but the diptych’s second part was as gripping as it is relevant, connecting the dots from the question of eternal vigilance to its absence in both the BP Gulf oil spill catastrophe, and also our own relationships. The pinpoint precision of the group’s gusts underscored the grim cautionary tale in Pierre Joris’ text, a fervent wakeup call about the corporate interests and money culture that pollute individual lives as toxically as the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline were in 2010.

Kile Smith’s Conversation on the Mountain – from his suite Where Flames a Word – gave the choir a wide-open field for all sorts of deft, subtly baroque-inflected call-and-response that twinkled and sometimes burst from every corner of the stage. A brief premiere, by Louis Andriessen rose to anguished close harmonies. By contrast, the group got to let off some steam with Ted Hearne’s Animals, voicing an entire Nile riverbank bestiary with unleashed abandon and an undercurrent of Orwellian cynicism.

The choice of opening the second half of the concert with the knifes-edge close harmonies of Suzanne Giraud’s Johannisbaum instantly set the tone for the unease of the rest of the program, the cellists joined by a trio of soprano Abigail Chapman, mezzo-soprano Elisa Sutherland and a masterfully precise blonde woman whose image hasn’t yet made it to Google. Unfair as it is to single out a singer from a performance where selfless teamwork is so crucial, Sutherland’s soul-infused expressiveness and unselfconscious joie de vivre explain why she was front and center throughout much of the show.

There was also hypnotic, atmospheric rapture in Sebastian Currier’s Sanctus, from his Night Mass, and a final, wistfully precarious contemplation of our ongoing existence by Lang. Needless to say, it was a sobering idea to take home.

The Crossing’s next concert, on Sept 29 at 8 PM features indie classical chamber group International Contemporary Ensemble, with works by Hearne, Lang and Caroline Shaw at Montclair State University’s Kasser Theatre. Tix are $30; a $10 shuttle bus leaves from behind Port Authority about an hour and a half before the show. It’s about a 45-minute ride from Manhattan. 

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September 21, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome Sonic Improvements For Another Reliably Good Slate of Shows at Prospect Park Bandshell

The best news about this year’s free concert series at the bandshell in Prospect Park is that the sound is vastly improved. Last year’s booking was as good as the sound mix was awful: bass and drums, mostly. An admittedly small sample – two shows last month – revealed that somebody actually seems to care about giving the bands onstage at least baseline-level (pun intended) respect this summer.

The first of those shows opened with Combo Chimbita playing a typically ferocious scamperingly psychedelic set, followed by a lavishly augmented 22-piece version of second-wave Afrobeat pioneers Antibalas. Of all the bands here this year who could have really suffered from a bad mix, Combo Chimbita top the list because of how much of a swirling vortex of sound they can create. This time, when they finally got to that point – more than a half hour into their set – the dubwise effect was obviously intentional.

Otherwise, the clarity of Niño Lento’s vineyard lattice of guitar, Prince of Queens’ hypnotically pulsing bass and Carolina Oliveros’ powerful, emphatic vocals over Dilemastronauta’s flurry of drumbeats was as sparkling as anyone could have wanted. Toward the end of the set, Oliveros finally unleashed her inner metal animal, a truly fearsome moment. Although it wasn’t as feral to witness as the band’s most recent Barbes show, it was pretty close. The bookers here have never hesitated to draw on the vast talent base who make Brooklyn’s best fulltime music venue their home, so it was inspiring to see a whole park full of people beyond the band’s usual Colombian fanbase entranced by the show.

With all the extra firepower, Antibalas hardly limited themselves to two-chord, Fela-inspired minor-key jams. There were a handful of those, perfectly executed, bass and guitars running the same catchy riffs over and over again without a split second’s deviation while the brass punched in and out. Special guests on vocals and horns, plus a trio of women dancers, took turns taking the spotlight with solos that were sometimes resonant and floaty, or ablaze with jazz phrasing. Dynamics rose and fell with lavish abandon, often down from the full orchestra to just the rhythm section and a single soloist, then suddenly up again with a mighty sweep.

A second show last month was just as entertaining and stylistically diverse. The Kronos Quartet opened with a defiantly political set, beginning with a new arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’ take of the Star Spangled Banner that had the group keening, and leaping, and shrieking, a remarkable acoustic facsimile of guitar feedback and sonic protest iconography. From a stark, plaintive version of Strange Fruit, through mutedly bluesy takes of Summertime and House of the Rising Sun, to the spare anguish of John Coltrane’s elegaic Alabama, they kept the intensity simmering. The world premiere of Dan Becker’s No More followed an eerily circling path; then children’s artist Dan Zanes brought up his acoustic guitar and led the crew through a singalong of We Shall Overcome.

The second half of the program featured the string quartet – violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Sunny Yang – joined by Trio Da Kali, playing songs from their new collaboration, Ladilikan. It was fascinating to hear the strings playing loping, sometimes undulating Saharan riffs while Fode Lassan Diabate’s balafon rippled and pinged and Mamadou Kouyate played incisive, tricky syncopation on his bass ngoni, often adding an otherworldly, gnawa-like groove. Meanwhile, singer Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate delivered insistent, sometimes anguished lyrics addressing struggle against oppression and the omnipresent need for human rights for all people, regardless of gender, in her part of the world. The language, considering the venue, may have seemed exotic to most of the crowd, but the message was as resonant here as it would have been on her home turf in Mali.

The next free show at Prospect Park Bandshell is this Thursday, Aug 9 with noirish blue-eyed soul singer Fiona Silver and popular blues guitarslinger Gary Clark Jr. And Combo Chimbita are playing another free show, in the courtyard at Union Pool on Aug 11 at around 4 PM.

August 7, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, folk music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/20/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1 (even when we miss a day, we always catch up). Friday’s album was #620:

Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach – We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite

In 1960, folksingers weren’t the only ones doing socially conscious music: plenty of jazz people were doing it too. This fiery civil rights-era suite is as inspiring and relevant today as it was when it came out that year. The chanteuse and her brilliant, innovative drummer husband are joined by an inspired, eclectic band including Coleman Hawkins on sax and African percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. They open with the insistent minor gospel-flavored Driva’man, follow with the irrepressible indomitable Freedom Day and then the album’s epic centerpiece, Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace. It’s possible they inspired a young Gil Scott-Heron with the early anti-apartheid broadside Tears for Johannesburg. There’s also the hypnotic, percussion-driven All Africa. Here’s a random torrent.

May 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marcus Shelby’s Soul of the Movement: Best Album of the Year So Far?

Majestic, hard-hitting and intense, bassist/composer Marcus Shelby’s new civil rights-era themed big band album Soul of the Movement charges to the front of this year’s crop: it’s neck and neck for top billing with the Roulette Sisters’ new one right now. Shelby calls this a “meditation” on Martin Luther King, which makes sense in that the composer has obviously reflected deeply on King’s impact on his era, and vice versa. Shelby has strongly incorporated a Mingus influence, but also has an individual voice, vividly evoking struggle but also triumphant joy. The orchestra comprises Jeff Marrs on drums; Gabe Eaton and Marcus Stephens on alto sax; Sheldon Brown and Evan Francis on tenor; Fil Lorenz on baritone; Joel Behrman, Rob Ewing and Mike Rinta on trombones; Louis Fasman, Scott Englebright, Mike Olmos, Darren Johnston and Mark Wright on trumpets; Adam Shulman and Sista Kee on piano; Matt Clark on B3 organ and Shelby himself conducting from the bass. Contralto Faye Carol and Kenny Washington deliver passionate gospel vocals on a handful of songs as well.

They turn the gospel standard There Is a Balm in Gilead into a brief, balmy overture with vocalese and then launch into another gospel standard, Amen, ablaze with brass and call-and-response vocals. The first of Shelby’s compositions, Emmett Till, offers unexpected sweltery summer ambience in place of the expected dirge. It’s a feast of strong motifs, a tribute to the man rather than an attempt to evoke his martyrdom, imaginatively propelled and embellished by Marrs’ drums. Black Cab, a boisterous swing blues number sung by Carol, pays tribute to the car pools who drove Montgomery residents around during the 1956-57 Montgomery bus boycott, lit up by a tremendously affecting alto solo from Eaton. A cover of the Mingus classic Fables of Faubus is every bit as defiantly exhilarating as it could be, the band absolutely nailing that dark latin groove that emerges toward the end. Trouble on the Bus continues in a gorgeously brooding vein, building uneasily from Shelby’s ominous series of bass chords and taking flight on the wings of the alto sax.

The epic Birmingham (Project C) potently evokes the 1963 Birmingham marches and clashes with the police: it’s the strongest and most cinematic track here among many strong ones. Shifting from pulse-quickening suspense to frenetic chase scenes, it evokes the same kind of horror that Shostakovich portrayed in his numerous requiems for the victims of Stalin’s terror. The two-part Memphis (I Am a Man) illustrates King’s final act before his murder, in support of striking Memphis sanitation workers. Noirish atmosphere rising over a tense latin beat, Howard Wiley’s soprano sax struggles against its constrictions throughout a long, white-knuckle-intense solo; the second part bustles with ominous Mingus echoes and ends unresolved. The rest of the album includes the rousing organ riffage of the gospel funk song We’re a Winner, an inspired swing jazz version of Go Tell It on the Mountain and a tersely torchy, stripped-down version of Precious Lord, Take My Hand to close on an aptly contemplative note. For maximum impact, you may want to separate out the upbeat gospel-flavored tracks from the stormy big band stuff when uploading to your ipod. It’s out now on Porto Franco Records.

January 27, 2011 Posted by | gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kenneth Bowser’s Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune Does Justice to a Legendary Cult Songwriter

For those who haven’t already discovered him, Phil Ochs was arguably the greatest rock songwriter of the 1960s. Ochs cut his teeth in the West Village folk movement in the early part of the decade alongside Bob Dylan, a friend in their early days who would become something of a competitor. A legendary party animal, rakishly handsome and considerably talented multi-instrumentalist proficient on guitar, clarinet and piano, Ochs grew from a wryly witty singer of stinging topical songs, to become one of the most devastatingly powerful lyricists in the history of rock. But where Dylan found rock and roll, Ochs followed his muse into classical before embarking somewhat frantically on a rock career most notable for his 1969 album Rehearsals for Retirement, probably the most resonant requiem ever written for the idealism of the 60s. With its cover image of Ochs’ tombstone, it left no doubt that it was also a somewhat early suicide note. Kenneth Bowser, producer of the acclaimed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, has a poignant, insightful new documentary out, Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune, a rapidfire collage of period footage, brief snippets of live performances and interviews with colleagues and fans which traces Ochs’ career from his early coffehouse days to his 1975 suicide. It’s currently playing in New York at the IFC Center at Sixth Ave. and West Third St.

Singer Judy Henske, who comes across the most articulately of all of Ochs’ contemporaries, explains that he “made people nervous.” Ochs’ brother Michael (whose halfhearted decision to manage his brother springboarded a successful career as a music executive and archivist) and sister Sunny dredge up some cringe-inducing childhood anecdotes including a candid assessment of the mental illness that had plagued their father, and which their brother probably shared. His plunge into chronic alcoholism may have only exacerbated what seems to be a pretty clear-cut case of manic depression. Bowser follows the theory that Ochs saw himself as an archetypical everyman who took every attack on his fellow freedom fighters personally, and substantiates it well. Ochs is credited with changing Bobby Kennedy’s views on Vietnam on a flight from Washington, DC to New York by playing him his epic JFK requiem Crucifixion, and took Kennedy’s assassination, just a few months later, very hard. The police brutality against protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, followed by the Kent State murders left Ochs at a loss as to how to address them; a particularly crushing blow seems to have been the coldblooded assassination of his friend the Chilean folksinger Victor Jara by a CIA-sponsored death squad in 1972. There’s almost as much footage of Ochs toward the end of his career is there is for his early years, and it is heartbreaking. A brief recovery promoting a benefit concert for Chile, alongside Dylan – who otherwise is conspicuously absent here – is followed by some cruelly vivid homemade footage of Ochs in various inebriated states shortly before the end. While there are numerous contributions on Ochs’ legacy from the likes of Sean Penn and Billy Bragg, Bowser also smartly puts Ochs’ producers Jac Holzman and Larry Marks on screen, who along with A&M Records’ co-founder Jerry Moss offer considerable insight into Ochs’ legacy as someone who was something of an eminence grise before his time. Perhaps the most telling moment of all is when frequent Ochs collaborator and pianist Lincoln Mayorga, playing completely from memory, rips into the ragtime of Outside of a Small Circle of Friends, the uncharacteristically lighthearted 1967 song (and Dr. Demento staple) that remains, somewhat ironically, Ochs’ best-known composition. IFC showtimes are here.

January 11, 2011 Posted by | Film, folk music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

Song of the Day 5/22/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #68:

Phil Ochs – My Life

The blitheness of the song’s ragtime-pop melody contrasts savagely with Ochs’ lyric about being harrassed by the Nixon gestapo: “Take your tap from my phone, and leave my life alone.” That’s Lincoln Mayorga on piano – his 2010 album of Gershwin would raise the bar for anyone wishing to play An American in Paris. From Rehearsals for Retirement, 1968.

May 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/21/09

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Friday’s song was #69:

Alpha Blondy – Wish You Were Here

The Ivory Coast roots reggae superstar has written such incendiary songs as Les Salauds, Les Chiens, Les Imbeciles, Sales Racistes, and Ne Tirez Pas Sur l’Ambulance. But his best one might be his wrenching cover of the Pink Floyd classic, the refrain of “we’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year” returning again and again to maximum effect. From the Jah Victory album, 2008.

May 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/18/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #436:

Arlo Guthrie – Presidential Rag

What did Nixon know? In 1974, everybody wanted to know. This was back when Presidents who broke the law were impeached. How times changed over the next thirty years. Over a beautiful, minor-key shuffle tune that grows from wah-wah blues to a lush, orchestrated ballad, Woody’s kid chronicles everything that went wrong during a decade that’s now fetishized in indie rock:

 

People still are hungry

People still are poor

An honest day of work these days

Don’t feed the kids no more…

The schools are still like prisons

Where they don’t learn how to live

And everybody still wants to take

They don’t know how to give….

Hell yeah, you’ll be remembered, you’ll be remembered very well!

 

From his self-titled 1974 lp; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the song at youtube.

May 17, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Black 47 – Iraq

By turns fierce, fervent, brilliantly lyrical and subtly witty, this is an album that needed to be made and it’s a good thing Black 47 were the ones to do it. To say that this is an ambitious project is an understatement, but it works, brilliantly because frontman Larry Kirwan’s songs tell the story of the war through the eyes of those stuck over there fighting it: the songs here have a ring of desperate authenticity. Whatever the reason for anyone being over there, the inevitable refrain is “just get me out of here alive.” Being an Irish-American rock band that spends most of its time on the road in front of a heavily immigrant, sometimes right-wing audience, Black 47 have heard from both the antiwar and the pro-Bush camps (and until Cindy Sheehan took up the cause of sanity, the band caught considerable flak at live shows for their consistently strong antiwar stance). But there isn’t much editorializing going on here: this album simply recounts the often grisly day-by-day lives of the men and women inadvertently risking their lives for the benefit of the Bush family and Halliburton. The implication – a very subtle but powerful one – is that this is the cost of war profiteering. The characters in the songs on this album didn’t go to Iraq with high and mighty ideals: they either ended up there because they either saw a good payday, or simply some kind of payday, because they couldn’t find one here.

Set to bright, major-key, generally upbeat meat-and-potatoes rock melodies spiced with motifs from traditional Irish music, the songs here paint a bleak picture. Kirwan’s songwriting is typically replete with rousing, crescendoing choruses and plenty of high drama, and within these songs it all works spectacularly well. The album’s opening cut Stars & Stripes appropriates the melody from the old calypso standard Sloop John B., whose chorus – not used here – is “let me go home, please let me go home,” turning the song into a fiery backbeat rocker. “Hey President Bush, what’re you doing to us,” the narrator asks quizzically, as he encourages his dying buddy to hold on, just hold on til the helicopter comes. The big anthem Downtown Baghdad Blues begins with sound of a helicopter fluttering overhead over ebow guitar. “Me I don’t care much about Jesus and Mohammed,” sputters its protagonist, a baseball fan who’d rather be home watching the Padres. “I didn’t wanna come here, I didn’t get to choose,” he adds sarcastically. The following cut, the bluesy, sax-driven Sadr City tells the eerie tale of a GI going out for some R&R guy in all-too-familiar territory: “I’ve got one thing on my mind, I’ve gotta get out of this city alive.”

But all is not so harrowing, in at least such a predictably gruesome fashion, in Sunrise on Brooklyn. “I can’t believe it’s so peaceful…I hope I see the sunrise in your eyes again,” laments a soldier, amazed by the natural beauty of Iraq yet dreading the inevitable attack which could come at any time. The slow, heartwrenching Ballad of Cindy Sheehan paints her dead soldier son as something of a naïf, who would never have believed that the draft dodgers who led this country to war would have ever used false pretenses to do so. The pace picks up with the scorching, sarcastic The Last One to Die, the bridge punctuated by a sample of Bush declaring that “major combat operations are over in Iraq.” The album’s high point, The Battle of Fallujah is a towering 6/8 anthem, something that Black 47 does enviably well: “Don’t let em know that they used ya/ Kicking ass at the battle of Fallujah…if there’s a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again.”

The album’s requisite soldier-missing-home ballad Ramadi begins by nicking the acoustic guitar intro from Graham Parker’s Watch the Moon Come Down and builds from there. In Southside Chicago Waltz, a GI discovers to his horror that for the first time, he’s been sent to the one place where even the police and firefighters in his family are powerless to save him. The album closes with an instrumental that mimics the sound of falling bombs. Not just a great rock record, this is an essential piece of history. Every band ought to be doing what Black 47 has done here. What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace ’48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 is to 2008. A classic. Five stars, without stripes. Available in better record stores, online and at shows. Black 47 next play New York at B.B. King’s on St. Patrick’s Day.

March 7, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment