Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album of the Day 10/17/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #471:

Sielun Veljet – Live

Sielun Veljet (Finnish for “Soul Brothers”) are iconic in their native land. Their earliest songs set eardrum-peeling, trebly PiL-style noise guitar over catchy, growling, snappy bass and roaring punk vocals. The Finnish lyrics are surreal and assaultive as well. This scorching 1983 concert recording takes most of the songs off their first album and rips them to shreds. The best of these is Turvaa (Saved), with its ominous, chromatics and catchy, burning bassline. There’s also Emil Zatopek, a hoarse, breathless tribute to the long-distance runner; the primal, tribal Haisa Vittu; the surprisingly ornate Karjalan Kunnaila; the spooky epic Yö Erottaa Pojasta Miehen; Politikkaa, a macabre, reverb-drenched chromatic noise-funk tune; and the most traditionally punk number, Huda Huda (basically Finnish for “Yay, yay” – the sarcasm transcends any language barrier). Because of the album title (not to mention that it was never released outside Finland), it’s awfully hard to find online; in lieu of this, here’s a random torrent for their first album.

October 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/3/11

This coming weekend is our last blowout of the year. We realize that all the time we’ve spent on the road this year, coupled with starting a brand-new blog to catch some of the spillover from this one, would take its toll on our daily coverage for awhile, and we apologize. More of the usual reviews and concerts coming next week. Til then, every day, pretty much that is, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #514:

Motorhead – No Sleep Til Hammersmith

How does Motorhead manage to sound so titanic with only one guitarist? Lemmy’s wall-of-sound bass chords. He plays bass like a guitarist, which enables whoever’s on guitar – in this case, Fast Eddie Clarke, in his last stint in the classic original lineup – to take off and go way, way out into the bluesmetal ionosphere as much as he wants. This raw, cheaply produced but intensely adrenalinized 1981 live set – which went to #1 on the British charts – includes the longer anthems like Capricorn and Bomber that the band was beginning to introduce alongside their more punk numbers like their signature song, Stay Clean (what a joke that title is), The Hammer, Overkill and of course Ace of Spades. The best track is actually a mammoth version of We Are the Road Crew, the irresistibly catchy tribute to the guys who lug all the gear and never get any credit; the band also tackle a cover of Born to Lose and actually avoid embarrassing themselves. Why’d we choose this one? Only because everybody else seems to choose Ace of Spades. Here’s a random torrent.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/29/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #519:

The Angelic Upstarts – Live

A high point of the classic punk era. Over the course of a long career and innumerable lineup changes, this captures the original 1981 edition of the band playing most of their best early songs. It’s a long album, 15 songs: the alienation anthems Never Had Nothing and Leave Me Alone; the kids-against-the-world broadsides Teenage Warning, Kids on the Street, 2,000,000 Voices and their signature song, I’m an Upstart; and the antiwar Last Night Another Soldier. Aware of what was going on in the outside world, they sided with the people of Poland in Solidarity; with the Afghans against the Soviets in the ironic-to-the-extreme Guns for the Afghan Rebels (which had absolutely nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden or the CIA); sided with the outlaws and the kids against the cops with Machine Gun Kelly, Police Oppression, Who Killed Liddle Towers (a West Indian immigrant who died suspiciously in police custody) and a version of the Clash’s White Riot that beats the original. Here’s a random torrent via Mirotvorce.

August 29, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catching Up on the Albums of the Day

Since the entire east coast of the United States has been shut down in anticipation of the apocalypse, it’s likely that millions of people are hanging out at home, nursing their supplies of bottled water and dehydrated tofu, bored silly and surfing the web wondering how just a little sprinkle of rain could portend such a momentous event. Meanwhile, the entire populations of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican, Cuba, Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are snickering as they watch the crisis unfold – or as it doesn’t unfold.

Hidden in an old building at the edge of one of the designated evacuation zones here in New York, we’re scrambling to play catchup. We knew that once our daily 1000 best albums of all time countdown started to fall behind, we’d have to get back on the horse quickly. Today is that day! Here’s albums #523 through #521 to bring us up to date through Saturday:

523. Woody Guthrie – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

This isn’t all of them, but it was in 1940 when Alan Lomax recorded Woody solo, and as you would expect from Lomax, there’s an awful lot of traditional stuff – Rye Whiskey, Foggy Mountain Top and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – along with the originals. While Guthrie was just as much an archivist as activist and performer, it’s his own songs that everybody wants, and this has most of the early classics. The 3-cd box set intersperses dust bowl ballads – Talking Dust Bowl Blues and Dust Bowl Refugee, to name just two – with less contemporaneous populist anthems like I Don’t Want Your Greenback Dollar, Hard Times and Pretty Boy Floyd along with modern day folk classics like So Long and a handful of instrumentals (Guthrie never would have been so popular if he hadn’t been such a great tunesmith, and a surprisingly good picker). The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via 0 Earth.

522. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night: Original Soundtrack

This 1967 psychedelic soul classic is more of a collection of songs, some of them without words, than it is atmospheric mood pieces. Twenty tracks in all, many of them clocking in at barely two minutes apiece: detective Tibbs’ confrontation with the cops; a tense jail scene; and edgy, noirishly funky chase scenes galore. Ray Charles sings the title theme and Mama Caleba’s Blues. There’s also jaw-droppingly silly, satirical C&W from Glen Campbell and Boomer & Travis and Gil Bernal’s It Sure Is Groovy, which sounds like one of the Vampyros Lesbos tracks. Reissued in the 80s as a twofer with Jones’ soundtrack to the long-forgotten 1970 followup flick They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, here’s a random torrent via Banana Spliff.

521. The Violent Femmes’ first album

When Chrissie Hynde discovered these snotty acoustic punks in Milwaukee in 1983, little did anybody know that they’d be able to base an entire thirty-year career on this one album. The catchy intros to Blister in the Sun and Add It Up blare over sports stadium PA systems these days, which is especially amusing since the lyrics that always get faded out quickly are so filthy. Brilliant acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie plays the leads behind Gordon Gano’s petulant, smirky whine as they move from post-Velvets angst (Please Do Not Go, Prove My Love and Good Feeling) to belligerence (Kiss Off) to bluesy pop (Gone Daddy Gone) to more menacing stuff like Promise, The Kill and Confessions that could be the real deal, or just a spoof. Still a great party record after all these years. Here’s a random torrent.

August 27, 2011 Posted by | folk music, funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Radio Birdman’s Live in Texas Goes Out on a High Note

Albums like this just warm your heart…and make it beat a lot faster. Most of the guys in this particular edition of iconic Australian garage-punk band Radio Birdman were in their fifties when their Live in Texas album was recorded on their final tour in 2006, but they play with the rampaging intensity of musicians half their age. This isn’t the original band – this regrouped version has frontman Rob Younger plus guitarists Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak, with Jim Dickson of the New Christs burning through Warwick Gilbert’s melodic basslines (and adding a furious, propulsive edge of his own), and Russell Hopkinson – who played on the band’s final studio album, Zeno Beach – doing an only slightly more restrained take on Ron Keeley’s machine-gun work behind the drum kit. This sounds like a soundboard recording – there’s plenty of room for quibbling about the balance of the instruments, but who cares. It’s a good thing somebody had the sense to make a decent-quality live recording from this often transcendent tour (the band’s NYC debut at Irving Plaza on September 8 of that year was beyond amazing: do a little youtube surfing and see for youself). This one’s streaming in its entirety at Spotify, and it’s available from the kick-ass Australian Citadel label via mailorder.

The tracks are full of surprises. Our predecessor e-zine picked Radio Birdman’s final studio album, Zeno Beach, as the best album of 2006, and several of those tracks are represented here. The triumphantly menacing We’ve Come So Far to Be Here Today is a little faster than the album version, and it’s interesting to hear Masuak tackle the brief solo breaks with an off-kilter Ron Asheton bluesmetal attack. Likewise, Locked Up – the last song before the encores – is the only cut here with any kind of extended ending, and it’s very rewarding. Die Like April sets Masuak’s phased washes and ornate McCartneyesque lead lines against Tek’s sputtering distored chords and chordlets, Hopkinsons’s unhinged volleys completing the picture. The riff-rockers You Just Make It Worse and Subterfuge are surprisingly stripped down, arguably mellower than the studio versions, the latter holding its own despite the absence of Pip Hoyle’s catchy piano leads.

But it’s the old classics here that resonate the most. Murder City Nights, with bandleader Tek’s blistering, chromatic solo; the similar Anglo Girl Desire, with Masuak and Tek taking the solo together until Tek goes off bending notes and searing his way through the passing tones; and tantalizing, supersonic versions of the catchy punk-pop hits Burned My Eye and What Gives. The single best track here might be Smith & Wesson Blues, Dickson nailing that killer bassline against the twin guitar assault, Tek soloing out into the ionosphere by the second verse, Hopkinson murdering his snare. Or it could be I-94, one of the most savagely catchy songs ever written, Younger comparing late 70s American beer brands in an Australian accent. The six-minute, dynamically charged version of Hand of Law, a platform for some of Tek’s wildest playing here, is pretty exhilarating too.

There are also some unexpected covers. The version of Circles by the Who improves on the original; Til the End of the Day, which the Kinks absolutely ripped to shreds on their last couple of tours, gets a similarly punked-out fury; and the band do a spot-on impersonation of Blue Oyster Cult on Hot Rails to Hell, right down to the backing vocals. The album was released last fall – do we count this as one of our “best of 2011” when we put up that page at the end of this year? Stay tuned.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 7/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #557:

The Jam – Setting Sons

Maybe someday in 2013 when this list is finally finished, we’ll move this 1979 punk rock classic a little higher…or maybe into the alltime top 10, where it probably deserves to be. This might be the best rock bass record ever made, Bruce Foxton growling and punching his way through one fiery, melodic riff after another. The best of all of them might be the one in Private Hell, frontman/guitarist Paul Weller’s searing, sarcastic account of a day in the life of a yuppie shopper. There’s also the ripping, mod-punk Girl on the Phone; the rueful, metaphorically-charged Thick As Thieves; the scorching, anti-imperialist Little Boy Soldiers and The Eton Rifles; the alienation anthems Burning Sky and Wasteland; the populist Saturday’s Kids; the best version of Smithers-Jones, done with a string quartet here; and a punked-out cover of the old Motown hit Heat Wave. Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler still tour, with a new guitarist; Weller sadly and unexpectedly lost his touch as a songwriter when the band broke up in 1984 and never got it back. Here’s a random torrent via Mod 64.

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

Album of the Day 7/19/11

Off our home turf again, back on the road: but this time it’s all business. Lots of new stuff coming tomorrow. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #560:

Siouxsie & the Banshees – Join Hands

Over the course of their long career, Siouxsie & the Banshees have pushed the envelope with punk rock, goth, psychedelia and gamelan-inspired experimental sounds. This 1979 album, their second, is where Siouxsie Sioux crystallized her inimitable microtonal vocal style, along with her outraged-witness persona. Side one of this album follows a loosely thematic World War I theme, beginning with the acidic, atonal Poppy Day (sort of a punk version of the famous antiwar poem In Flanders Field). Guitarist John McKay hits his chords like he’s swinging a machete, through the scorching Regal Zone and Placebo Effect, while bassist Steven Severin’s minimalist chords fuel the fires in the savagely menacing Icon (which kicks off with the distant rumble of cannon fire). Premature Burial is as morbidly memorable as the band ever got; Playground Twist a vivid look at the cruelty children inflict on each other; Mother, a horror-movie music-box theme. The album ends with the eleven-minute, dadaist sacrilege of The Lord’s Prayer, originally done by Sid Vicious’ first band the Flowers of Romance. It’s most likely the only instance ever where anyone called Muhammad Ali a “fucking dick” on vinyl. Here’s a random torrent.

July 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #563:

Firewater – The Ponzi Scheme

A pre-millennial concept album about the deadly consequences of capitalist excess: the personal as political taken to a stunningly prophetic extreme. Fiery art-punks Firewater get extra props for spawning both Balkan Beat Box and Botanica, groups they heavily influenced. This 1998 release is intense and brilliantly lyrical all the way through, along with a couple of evilly cartoonish Balkan brass instrumental romps. The gypsy barroom rock of Green Light comments on the perils of chasing the almighty dollar, “going down like a pederast in a boys school;” Dropping Like Flies sounds like the Damned on a literate gypsy rampage. Caroline cruelly chronicles a girl who “starved herself of everything that money couldn’t buy,” while the noir piano boogie Whistling in the Dark reminds that you can only live on borrowed time for so long. There’s also Isle of Dogs, a snarling, spot-on hypocrite’s tale fueled by Oren Kaplan’s reverb guitar; the twisted tango Another Perfect Catastrophe; the savagely mocking So Long Superman, essentially a punk rock remake of Tainted Love; I Still Love You Judas, proof positive that there really is no honor among thieves; Knock Em Down, a savagely sarcastic noir cabaret tune, and the potent concluding song, Drunkard’s Lament, a searing look at the psychology of spectacles like reality tv a few years before it existed: “Misery loves company, that’s why everybody loves me.” Firewater frontman Tod A. has kept the band alive over the years with a shifting cast of characters, slowly moving further away from rock toward the East, with excellent results. The whole album is streaming at Spotify (you haven’t signed up for Spotify yet? You must – you get six months of unlimited streaming before the service turns into last.fm and becomes just another useless pay-radio site); here’s a random torrent via Cosmo Zebra.

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

A Taste of the Mafrika Festival

Year after year, the Mafrika Festival just gets better and better. The annual daylong, outdoor world music concert takes place at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Today’s surprisingly oldschool weather (low heat and humidity – who would have thought?) made it even easier to stick around for a bunch of excellent, eclectic bands.

The first real band to take the stage after one in the afternoon was Super Hi-Fi, led by Aphrodesia bassist Ezra Gale. With two trombones, guitar, bass and drums, they moved from edgy, minor-key roots reggae to hypnotic, rhythmically tricky Afrobeat to a little straight-up rock and then back again. The early part of the set was the reggae section, the trombones creating a terse, incisive live dub ambience, guitar going off on a surprising noiserock tangent in places. Later on they picked up the pace: one of the later songs went deep into jazzy territory as the trombones diverged, shadowed each other just a fraction of a beat apart and finally converged as they pulled it back into a reggae groove. Then they did a bouncy tribute to minivans, the most popular way to get around in West Africa.

Three-piece punk band the Band Droidz followed: “Harlem born and raised,” the frontman/guitarist proudly told the rapidly expanding crowd. They were excellent. The early part of the set was straight-up, catchy punk rock, the guitarist’s soulful voice too low in the mix for the lyrics to cut through: a band whose tunes and playing are this smart usually has good lyrics, and it was obvious from their interaction with the audience that they’re on the conscious tip. They proved just as good at roots reggae as they are at punk, then midway through the set, they went for more of an indie metal feel. One of the songs sounding like an update on 19th Nervous Breakdown; another used a tune much like the Velvets’ Lady Godiva’s Operation as the launching pad for a long, psychedelic, bone-bleaching guitar solo. The Band Droidz are at SOB’s on the 12th at around 9, and then playing a free in-studio show at Ultrasound, 251 W 30th St. on the 7th floor on 7/16 at 9.

Ivoirien roots reggae star Sekouba a.k.a. Sekouba Diakite and his eleven-piece backing band were next, and were the biggest crowd-pleasers of the afternoon. Delivering his songs in his native land’s dialects, he and the band – two guitars, two percussionists, keyboards, bass, drums and backup singers – stretched the songs out into epics, with frequent hypnotic percussion breaks. He’s a charismatic performer with a genuine social awareness: he doesn’t just give lip service to issues like immigrant rights and world peace. Midway through the set, he did a couple of love songs, one with a catchy yet ornate Marleyesque vibe, another as a duet with one of the women singing harmonies. When the keyboards finally came up in the mix, the anthemic sweep of the songs really took off, as towering as anything Tiken Jah Fakoly or Alpha Blondy ever did.

Psychedelic funk/Afrobeat band the People’s Champs have an excellent new album out (recently reviewed here): onstage, they proved even more eclectic, switching from one groove to another throughout their long, slinky songs. With Super Hi-Fi’s brass section (one of the trombonists switching to trumpet) out in front of bass, drums and keys and their frontwoman’s gritty, edgy vocals, they started out with Afrobeat, then took it down with a mysterious, broodingly psychedelic mini-epic, then brought it back up again with a jaunty vintage 70s soul/funk feel. By now, the space in front of the stage had become a multigenerational dancefloor, a couple of little kids climbing up on the stage to show off their moves (something that would never be allowed at, say, Central Park Summerstage).

Next on the bill was kora (West African harp) virtuoso Yacouba Diabate. How well would his spikily hypnotic, methodically crescendoing one-chord vamps go over with this party crowd? Everybody listened. And as the songs went on, the volume picked up. Backed by bass, drums, djembe and a bongo player who added echoey machine-gun sonics, Diabate methodically brought the volume up and then dipped down again. The best song of the set, in fact one of the best of the afternoon, was a plaintive minor-key number with Middle Eastern allusions, the percussion backing away and letting Diabate’s haunting melodies ring out. By the time they’d finished, it was after five, and the sun had finally come out of hiding from behind the clouds. As tempting as the rest of the bill looked, this meant for us that it was time to grab some some spicy, homemade lamb stew from one of the vendors and then find out what kind of torture the subway had in store.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment