Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Sun Ra Arkestra Make a Welcome Return to a Laid-Back Outdoor Williamsburg Space

As far back as the 90s, the Sun Ra Arkestra had become a fixture on the New York summer outdoor festival circuit. A Central Park twinbill with Sonic Youth earned the sprawlingly cinematic jazz ensemble a brand new audience with the indie rock crowd. In the years immediately leading up to the 2020 lockdown, they’d been scheduled to play a more intimate space than usual, the courtyard at Union Pool. As it turned out, it took a few cancellations and some rescheduling to get them there. That’s where they’ll be this August 28 at around 3 PM. Under ordinary circumstances, it would make sense to get there early. But the circumstances we face today are anything but ordinary, and in a city that by some estimates has lost a quarter of its population, there probably won’t be an overflow crowd (and if there is, you’ll be able to hear the missing link between P-Funk and the Art Ensemble of Chicago just fine from the sidewalk around the corner).

The Arkestra were DIY pioneers, releasing much of their legendarily voluminous output themselves. Today, most of those original recordings, along with limited-edition pressings on long-defunct European free jazz microlabels, command auction-level prices on the collector market. Serendipitously, the group have been digitizing and re-releasing select albums from throughout their career. The latest one to hit their regularly updated Bandcamp page is the 1983 recording The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab In Egypt, a collaboration with the Cairo Jazz Band. It’s noteworthy for being a slinky, sometimes haphazard, utterly psychedelic collection of compositions by pioneering Egyptian jazz composer, percussionist and bandleader Salah Ragab.

The first track is Egypt Strut, a surreal mashup of a New Orleans second-line groove, a chromatic Middle Eastern-tinged theme and the blues. In Dawn, the second track, the groups combine to balance a blithe flute tune against galloping percussion, followed by a cantering, hypnotically circling theme echoing sounds from the southern end of the Sahara.

Ramadan begins with a muezzin-like call-and-response, then the ensemble flesh it out with darkly dramatic vocals, horns and tumbling drums followed by a biting solo from the bandleader – who went back to Saturn to stay in 1993 – and a spirited flute outro with a nod to Take Five.

Oriental Mood is the catchiest and hardest-hitting track here, with jajouka-like brass, animated sax solos and piano. The ten-minute Farewell Theme is a more robustly orchestral series of variations on that theme, and considering the length, about twice the fun. Throughout the album, Sun Ra switches between glimmering, echoey Fender Rhodes and organ, backed by punchy massed horns, and sailing and spiraling solos. How does all this sound compared to the group’s sound now? Much the same, if you leave out the distinctive Middle Eastern and North African references.

The last time this blog was in the house at a show by the Arkestra, it was at the Union Pool courtyard, over the Labor Day weekend in 2018. The crew onstage were a mix of veterans, some of whose time in the group went back to around the time of this album or before, along with some more recent additions. The yard was crowded but wasn’t completely sold out, and the group’s long, slowly crescendoing trajectories kept everyone on their feet.

August 24, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Muom Overtone Singing Choir Explore Vast, Rapturous Sonic Expanses

Few choral groups explore such a vast expanse of sound as the Muom Overtone Singing Choir. Their extended technique is breathtaking in the purest sense of the word. Neither the sepulchrally wispy highs nor the stygian lows they often reach at the same time exist in most music for the human voice, simply because most people can’t hit those notes. The ensemble’s magical new suite Terra – streaming at Bandcamp – is the first in a planned series of four. The late Maurice White would be delighted to know that the next two are explorations of wind and fire, water being the fourth element.

The suite, performed as a contiguous whole, begins with Eter, a single D note sung in unison until some of the choir reach a couple of octaves lower for a guttural anchor. By this point, harmonics are oscillating in the background. From there the group segue into Astral, slowly coalescing into an aptly drifting theme with gentle massed glissandos and long, sustained notes moving through the sonic picture, a graceful deep-space exchange of voices. Rhythm falls away to a cocooning, enveloping, uneasy morass, then the counterpoint rises again.

The group completely flip the script with Ardhi (Swahili for “earth”), with a joyously cantering, percussive west African groove, mens’ lows and spiraling overtones against the triumphant women overhead. They whisper their way out.

There’s a return to rapt, otherworldly stillness in Akasha (Sanskrit for “ether”). The men in the choir open Sa Mantra (sa being Tibetan for “earth”) with a low, growling chant, riffing on a phrase common to carnatic music and vocal warmup exercises. From there, they build a starkly bluesy minor-key theme.

A plaintively expressive solo by one of the men, like a muezzin’s call, takes front and center over allusively chromatic phrasing in the next segment, Ancestral, before the ensemble kick into a rousing, insistently rhythmic drive. Khörzün (“earth” in the Tuvan language) is where Central Asian choral traditions resonate the most here, via echoing layers of harmonics and a galloping trans-Siberian beat.

The choir close with Gea (the Greek earth deity), a starkly circling violin solo by group member Farran Sylvan James introducing a hypnotic downward drift. There hasn’t been any album like this released in the recent past, maybe ever, reason to look forward to whatever other magic the group can conjure in the next installment.

January 4, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gorgeously Tuneful, Atmospheric Oldtime Gospel and Blues-Inspired Sounds From Trombonist Danny Lubin Laden

Trombonist Danny Lubin Laden‘s new album Through Our Time – streaming at Bandcamp – makes a great companion piece to Chris Pattishall‘s reinterpretation of Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite. Both albums are built around oldtime gospel and blues riffs, and both have trippy electronic touches. This one is even closer to psychedelia or ambient music.

Lubin Laden is a very thoughtful, purposeful player. He knows his blues inside out and has a killer lineup: Ari Chersky is the one-man orchestra, on guitar, bass, keys and endless loops, with Christopher Hoffman on cello and drummer Craig Weinrib rustling on his rims and toms for extra suspense. Chersky put out a considerably darker record of his own, Fear Sharpens the Dagger, in a similar vein a couple of years back and fans of that one should check this out as well.

The album opens with Sun Rays, an aptly warm, contemplative spiritual riff and variations over drifting electronic ambience. Track two, Depth and Distance, is anchored by a a terse, muted, altered soul bassline from Chersky as Lubin Laden plays dark blues amid the swirl. The atmosphere warms again with Smiling in a Dream, the trombone awash in twinkly synth and a synthesized haze.

Your Future, For Now darkens over a churning backdrop. Lubin Laden builds After You around a gorgeous, 19th century style pastoral theme: imagine Bryan and the Aardvarks playing a Bill Frisell tune. The atmosphere grows more nebulous with Hopes, then Chersky loops a gentle oldschool soul riff for Throwing Pennies in a Fountain of Luck, which could be a deconstructed Smokey Robinson ballad.

Now Fast Forward comes across as a long intro, Chersky’s spare, emphatic chords and Hoffman’s triumphant sustained lines back in the mix. The group go back toward wistful rusticity in A Glimpse of Faint Fir Vistas and then move to more ominous, acidic terrain with What’s At Stake.

Lubin Laden multitracks himself to expand on a stirring gospel theme laced with grim neoromanticism in Through His Eyes and closes the album with the swirly vignette Lost Bones. Whether you consider this jazz or ambient music, you will be humming it to yourself afterward.

March 23, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy, Thoughtful Rainy-Day Sounds From Modern Nature

Modern Nature play a tuneful, individualistic blend of pastoral jazz and chamber pop with tinges of vintage 70s soul music. Their new album Annual is streaming at Bandcamp. They like nature imagery and long, catchy, circling phrases over simple, muted drums.

They open the record with Dawn, a hazy miniature balancing bandleader Jack Cooper’s uneasy, lingering guitar over Arnulf Lindner’s overtone-laden bass drone. Elegantly uneasy soul guitar anchors frontwoman Kayla Cohen’s muted, half-whispered delivery as Flourish gets imderway, up to a big, anthemic chorus with Jeff Tobias’ fluttery sax and then back down. From there they segue into Mayday, which has a funkier swing but is just as hypnotically circling.

Spacious, incisive piano and balmy sax mingle with syncopated guitar jangle throughout the album’s fourth track, Halo. In Harvest, the band build very subtle variations into a staggered, loopy hook. They bring the record full circle with Wynter. “Outside the trees are groaning,” Cohen sings with an airy calm over the resonant, brooding clang of the guitar. Let’s hope the lockdown doesn’t destroy this band as it has so many others, and we get to hear more from them.

February 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guitarist Kurt Leege Reinvents Jazz Classics As Envelopingly Ambient, Richly Psychedelic Soundscapes

There’s considerable irony in that Kurt Leege, one of the most interesting guitarists in all of ambient music, first made his mark as a feral lead player, beginning with Curdlefur, then Noxes Pond and finally System Noise, New York’s best art-rock band of the zeros. Leege’s new album Sleepytime Jazz – streaming at Bandcamp – is his second solo release, a similarly celestial follow-up to his 2018 record Sleepytime Guitar, where he reinvented old folk tunes and spirituals as lullabies.

This one is calm, elegant, drifty music with a subtle, soulful edge, a mix of jazz classics from John Coltrane, to Miles Davis, to Herbie Hancock and Louis Armstrong. Leege layers these tracks meticulously, typically using his ebow to build a deep-space wash and then adding terse, thoughtful, often strikingly dynamic multitracks overhead. This may be on the quiet side, but it’s also incredibly psychedelic. Play it at low volume if you feel like drifting off; crank it and discover the beast lurking deep within.

Blue in Green has spiky, starry chords and resonant David Gilmour-like phrases fading deep into spacious, hypnotically echoing ebow vastness. Leege has always been a connoisseur of the blues, and that cuts through – literally – in At Last, his spare, gentle but incisive single-note lines over the starry resonance behind him. And Coltrane’s Spiritual is much the same, and even more starkly bluesy: shine on you distant diamond.

Georgia on My Mind comes across as opiated Wes Montgomery with distant Memphis soul echoes. Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be a particularly immersive, atmospheric interlude by 70s art-rock cult favorites Nektar.

Leege reinvents My Funny Valentine, artfully shifting up the metrics with equal parts Pink Floyd grandeur and Bill Frisell tenderness. He hits waltz time even more head-on in his version of Naima, the fastest and most hauntingly direct of all these slow numbers.

Neferititi, appropriately, is the album’s most delicate and hypnotic piece. The echoes come in waves most noticeably throughout Tenderly, tersely layered from top to bottom. And Leege’s take of What a Wonderful World is as anthemic as it is warmly enveloping. What a gorgeous record. It’s a real find for fans of jazz, ambient music, psychedelic rock, or for that matter anyone who just wants to escape to a comforting sonic cocoon

December 22, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Troubled, Intertwining Atmospherics in Trumpeter Nate Wooley’s Latest Seven Storey Mountain Installment

Trumpeter Nate Wooley’s ongoing Seven Storey Mountain project has a new sixth edition available and streaming at Bandcamp. It’s nothing like anything else in the series: haunting, often chaotic and even downright macabre in places. Although it was recorded prior to the lockdown, it uncannily seems to prefigure what the world has suffered this year.

The single 45-minute work begins with allusions to Renaissance polyphony fueled by the slightly off-key violins of C. Spencer Yeh and Samara Lubelski. Met by droning washes of harmonies from Susan Alcorn’s pedal steel, the atmosphere grows more ominous, Emily Manzo’s spare piano building funereal ambience.

Isabelle O’Connor’s similarly minimalist Rhodes piano enters the picture and suddenly a disorientingly syncopated clockwork interweave appears, with the flutters from drummers Chris Corsano, Ryan Sawyer and Ben Hall. From there it grows even loopier, circular riffs and nebulous atmospherics filtering through the mix in the vein of a contemporary, electronically-enhanced horror film score. It’s here that Wooley’s agitated, echoey lines first appear through the sonic thicket.

Sirening violins, broodingly steady Rhodes chords and a kaleidoscope of flickering noise ensue. It’s not clear where or even whether guitarists Ava Mendoza or Julien Desprez join in, or whether those scrapes which could be guitar strings are coming from the percussion section, until finally an icy, squalling patch played through an analog chorus pedal. It’s probably Mendoza but maybe not.

Drums and guitars and who knows what else reach a terrorized Brandon Seabrook-like stampede as the band hit fever pitch. The group bring it full circle with what seems to be a twisted parody of an organ prelude and a baroque chorale: the final mantra is “You can’t scare me.” This is by far the darkest, most psychedelic, and ultimately most assaultive segment in Wooley’s series yet, perhaps an inevitability considering the state of the world in 2020.

December 18, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild, Surreal, Psychedelic Keyboard Mashups From Brian Charette

The latest artist to defiy the odds and put the grim early days of the lockdown to good use is Brian Charette, arguably the most cutting-edge organist in jazz. As you will see on his new solo album, Like the Sun – streaming at his music page – he plays a whole slew of other styles. Challenging himself to compose and improvise against a wild bunch of rhythmic loops in all sorts of weird time signatures, he pulled together one of his most entertaining records. This one’s definitely the most surreal, psychedelic and playful of all of them – and he has made a lot.

Basically, this is a guy alone in his man cave mashing up sounds as diverse as twinkly Hollywood Hills boudoir soul, squiggly dancefloor jams, P-Funk stoner interludes, Alan Parsons Project sine-wave vamps and New Orleans marches, most of them ultimately under the rubric of organ jazz.

At the heart of the opening track, 15 Minutes of Fame lies a catchy gutbucket Hammond organ riff and variations…in this case surrounded by all sorts of warpy textures and strange, interwoven rhythms. Time Piece, the second track, could be a synthy late 70s ELO miniature set to a shuffly drum machine loop, with a rapidfire B3 crescendo.

Slasher is not a horror theme but a reference to a chord with an unusual bass note – as Charette says in his priceless liner notes, “If they can get along, why can’t we?” This one’s basically a soul song without words with some tricky changes.

Honeymoon Phase could be a balmy Earth Wind and Fire ballad, Charette’s layers of keys taking the place of the brass. He builds the album’s title track around an Arabic vocal sample, with all sorts of wry touches surrounding a spacy, catchy theme and variations in 5/8 time.

Mela’s Cha Cha – inspired by Charette’s wife, the electrifyingly multistylistic singer Melanie Scholtz – is what might have happened if George Clinton, Larry Young and Ruben Blades were all in the same room together circa 1983. Three Lights has a warmly exploratory groove over a catchy bassline and a hypnotic syndrum beat.

Break Tune is a rare opportunity to hear Charette play guitar, adding a little Muscle Shoals flavor to this gospel-tinged, Spike Lee-influenced mashup. You might not expect a melody ripped “from a punchy synth brass preset on the Korg Minilogue,” as Charette puts it, or changes influenced by the great Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer in an organ jazz tune, but that’s what Charette is up to in From Like to Love.

Creole is a more traditional number, with a New Orleans-inflected groove and a handful of devious Joni Mitchell quotes. 7th St. Busker, inspired by a cellist playing on the street in the West Village, follows in the same vein but with a strange vocal sample underneath the good-natured, reflective organ solo.

Robot Heart would make a solid hip-hop backing track; Charette closes the record with 57 Chevy, a funky shout-out to Dr. Lonnie Smith, who goes back to that era.

December 10, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Long Overdue New Album From Tom Csatari’s Drifting, Haunting, Maddening, Defiantly Individualistic Uncivilized Big Band

Back in 2016, this blog characterized guitarist Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized as a “tectonically shifting ten-piece ‘drone-jazz orchestra.’“ They earned a glowing New York Times review for a show at a short-lived Bushwick strip club. That gig also earned them a listing here on what was then a monthly concert calendar. Nobody from this blog ended up going.

The prolific bandleader’s compositions fall into a netherworld of film noir themes, bittersweet Bill Frisell pastoral jazz, the Grateful Dead at their dark early 80s peak and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. During the band’s long, mostly-monthly Barbes residency, they played several cover nights. Chico Hamilton night was shockingly trad and tight. It would have been fun to see what they did with John Fahey. The best of them all was Twin Peaks night in October 2017, where they played Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch film scores. The group’s transcendently haphazard take on that iconic noir repertoire was captured on the live album Uncivilized Plays Peaks.

They also released another, considerably shorter record as a salute to five separate music venues which were shuttered during the pandemic of gentrification that devastated this city right up until the lockdown. Their latest live album, Garden, is streaming at Bandcamp.

The title seems to stem (sorry, awful pun) from the fact that the tracklist matches the setlist they played at another killer show, outdoors at Pioneer Works in late summer 2018 with guest Jaimie Branch being her usual extrovert self on trumpet. There’s some of that show here along with material captured at various venues, including the Barbes residency.

Csatari’s arrangements span the sonic spectrum in a vast Gil Evans vein, Tristan Cooley’s upwardsly fluttering flute often engaged on the low end by Nick Jozwiak’s slinky bass and Casey Berman’s solid bass clarinet. A series of fleeting modal interludes separate the individual themes here, many of which are barely a minute long: fades and splices are usually subtle but inevitably obvious. Colorful, imperturbable drummer Rachel Housle is the Casey Jones who manages to keep this ramshackle train on the rails – barely.

Levon Henry’s alto sax bubbles and sails alongside Luther Wong’s trumpet, Dominick Mekky’s transistor organ ranging from spacy ambience to ripples and washes. Csatari tends to fling low-key but persistently uneasy chordlets and jangly riffs into the ether, Julian Cubillos typically carrying the harder-edged guitar lines, although the two sometimes switch roles.

Henry provides shivery ambience in a brief portion of Pink Room, from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. They segue into a starry, pulsing take of Csatari’s Melted Candy and soon edge their way to a slowly coalescing, genuinely joyous crescendo in the Twin Peaks title theme. You might think that joy would be completely out of place in that context but it isn’t.

Csatari’s Rowlings – in several parts – makes an optimistic, soul-infused segue. Likewise, the take of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock rises from a brief, broodingly sway to a triumphant country-soul anthem. The coda is Evil, deviously quoting at length from Paul McCartney: if we ever get out of here!

If this is the last album the band ever release – and it could be, since the lockdowners are hell-bent on destroying music and the arts – they went out with a bang. On the other hand, if we destroy the lockdowners, music like this will flourish. It’s a no-brainer: Microsoft, or Tom Csatari’s Unciviiized. At this point in history, we can’t have both.

Be aware that you need to make a playlist out of this to enjoy it as a full-length album. Otherwise, constantly having to reach for the play button in between these often very short tracks is like driving a loaded tractor-trailer along a steep mountain road, distracted by the need to double-clutch and downshift.

November 30, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slinky, Purposeful, Enigmatically Shifting Grooves From Trombonist Reut Regev

Trombonist Reut Regev may be best known for her work with irrepressibly exuberant New Orleans-flavored oldtime blues jamband Hazmat Modine, but she’s also a bandleader in her own right. Her own compositions span the worlds of jazz, dub, psychedelia and downtempo music. Her latest album with her group R*Time, Keep Winning, is streaming at Bandcamp.

The Bumpy Way, a tune by her husband and drummer Igal Foni has a playfully circling, undulating groove matched by bassist Mark Peterson beneath guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly’s minimalist skronk and chicken-scratch funk, the bandleader carving a way amid the potholes along the path.

The Last Show is an imaginary swan song performance, and the funniest song on the record, a Keystone Kops mashup of all the styles a trombonist is typically expected to tackle over the course of a career. Regev admits that even if she was to officially play a farewell gig, there’s no way she could quit music.

Up in the Sky, a surreal, bracing mashup of funk, uneasily percolating psychedelia and looming atmospherics, is a dedication to Regev’s brother Sharon, killed in a car accident at age six. As she reminds, the trauma of losing a sibling at a young age still resonates, no matter how much time goes by.

Moovit is a slinky, rhythmically shapeshifting number that harks back to the careening, often joyous haphazardness of her debut album, Exploring the Vibe, a milieu they stick with throughout the tightly swinging, noisily entertaining title track.

With a Smiling Voice is the most dubwise and also catchiest number here, Regev shifting from the terseness of vintage rocksteady to allusive Middle Eastern chromatics as Foni rumbles and then brings the song up to a wry trick ending.

The version of War Orphans here – a tune which Ornette Coleman composed but never ended up recording – draws on the Don Cherry version, a series of spacious, rising, increasingly acidic riffs. Inspired by Regev’s young daughter, Hard to Let Go explores the way children hold fast to the day as it winds down, a slowly unwinding experience with plenty of rough but also comedic moments…as any mom knows.

The album winds up with Foni’s quite possibly cynical, soca-tinged, turbulent Beware of Sleeping Waters, inspired by a bad experience at a gig in Paris. Lots of flavors and thoughtfully inspired playing here, as you would expect from Regev.

November 1, 2020 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magical, Otherworldly Korean Improvisation From Baum Sae

Some of the world’s most fascinating and strange music has been coming out of Korea lately. Upstart record label Mung Music are fixated on bringing some of these amazing sounds to a broader audience, not only digitally but also on limited edition cassette and 10” vinyl with original artwork. Perhaps the most individualistic and fascinating of the initial crop of releases is the new ep, Embrace, by Baum Sae (Korean for “Night Birds”), streaming at Bandcamp. Imagine Morphine at their most stark and surreal, with a woman out front singing in Korean: and that’s only a small part of the picture.

The offbeat cicada-like exchanges between pansori singer Borim Kim and geomungo bass lute player Gina Hwang in the first song, 여름 (Summer) reflect the lyric’s pastoral melancholy. The melody strongly evokes Moroccan gnawa music, at least until Kim goes up the scale toward melismatic drama.

The second number, 화 (Anger) is a duet between Kim and drummer Soojin Suh. It’s shorter but much more dramatic and closer to traditional pansori, recounting the execution of a brave individual who dared secondguess a bellicose Chinese emperor. The final cut, 가느다란 선 (Thin Line) slowly and spaciously rises from Suh’s temple bells and Hwang’s suspenseful geomungo, through rather brooding variations on a traditional work song from the Jeju Islands. For all its shadowy ambience, those basslines are catchy!

You will be hearing more here about several other artists on the label in the near future.

October 14, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, folk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment