Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Swingadelic Reinvents and Revisits Allen Toussaint Classics

Swingadelic‘s latest album, Toussaintville mines the Allen Toussaint catalog with verve, imagination and some absolutely delicious horn charts. It has most of the expected tunes (but thankfully no Mother in Law) and ends with a homage to the iconic New Orleans tunesmith. The big band’s charts are purist without being deferential, underscoring how vivid and also deceptively counterintuitive Toussaint’s songwriting has been for so long. One would think he’d enjoy this album immensely.

The opening track, Night People, sets the stage; like most of the others here, it’s a horn tune rather than a piano tune, in this case with a funky late 60s vibe, like the Crusaders back when they actually were the Jazz Crusaders. This song’s about a pickup scene, and this version captures that energy, low and cool but slinky all the same (the presence of bandleader Dave Post’s bass rather than bass guitar enhances that).

Toussaint plays Southern Nights Toussaint as a nocturne, and Swingadelic’s version succeeds at ramping up the energy, as you would expect from a large ensemble, while maintaining the original’s balmy atmospherics. The band also stays true to Toussaint by playing What Do You Want the Girl to Do as a stroll, with a neatly crescendoing arrangement and a tasty, opaque-toned Audrey Welber alto solo, and doing Sneaking Sally Through the Alley as a matter-of-fact backbeat swing tune. And Yes We Can Can gets a funky sway, but it doesn’t go over the top; instead, the band works devious tempo shifts and solos from bright alto, bluesy trombone and rather ambiguous soprano sax from Paul Carlon.

The biting On Your Way Down gets a scaled-down treatment to let the edge of the lyrics sink in, with simmering solos for slide guitar and lowdown tenor sax. The soul ballad Ruler of My Heart, sung by Queen Esther, is done more as a seduction than an entreaty. Conversely, they eschew buffoonery for righteous anger in the understatedly funky Get Out of My Life Woman, with its burnished brass and lively riffage making its way around the ensemble.

The band brings a lively go-go bounce to Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky, spicing it up with John Bauers’ roto organ, train-whistle harmonies and jaunty volleys of call-and-response. They do much the same with Fair Child, taking it way up and then way down until Boo Reiners’ slide guitar break brings it back. Arguably, the most interesting yet traditionalist arrangement here is the one on Working in a Coal Mine, which pulses along on drummer Jason Pharr’s syncopated clave: they make it clear that this one’s about a guy who’s all worn out from a tough job!

There are also a couple of ragtime-flavored tunes: Java, with an intricate arrangement that sends pieces of the theme spinning through the ensemble, and Whipped Cream, a shuffling second-line theme capped with an ecstatic Carlon soprano solo. There’s also the pulsing, bucolic waltz Up the Creek, with Bauers’ nostalgic but purposeful ragtime piano plus dixieland-flavored clarinet and trombone that begins very droll and then straightens out. Beyond the fact that Toussaint’s songs can be so ridiculously fun to play, there’s an awful lot to like here: charts that tease the imagination and inspired playing from an eclectic cast of characters including but not limited to Jeff Hackworth on tenor and baritone sax, John DiSanto on baritone sax, Albert Leusink and Carlos Francis on trumpets, Rob Susman, Rob Edwards and Neal Pawley on trombones, Boo Reiners on guitar, and also Jimmy Coleman also on drums.

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December 19, 2013 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elliott Sharp’s Binibon Revisits a Notorious 1981 Murder

“Don’t think of this as a moral lesson, just the oldest story in the book, the latest in the series of New York murders…collect them all,” sneers writer/narrator Jack Womack’s character Ted, in the radio play version of Elliott Sharp’s musical drama Binibon, recently released on Henceforth. It’s more of an attempt to capture the surreal and seedy atmosphere of downtown New York in the 80s rather than an actual crime story. The July 18, 1981 murder of waiter Richard Adan by convicted-murderer-turned-author Jack Henry Abbott outside the lower Second Avenue restaurant from which the album takes its title consumes less than five minutes out of a total of fifty-six. Instead, the story focuses on a cast of authentically bizarre characters who may or may not have been regular customers.

Womack’s Ted is a washed-up, know-it-all, alcoholic jazz drummer with a bizarre southern twang who serves as sort of a Greek chorus here. His beatnik affectations and interminable listmaking underscore his bitterness about spending most of his life on the sidelines. Jedadiah Schultz does Abbott (a Norman Mailer protege whose brief literary ascent outside prison walls ended with this murder) with a breathy, stagy intensity, while Queen Esther portrays waitress Susie with a down-to-earth authority and perfect outer-borough accent. Ryan Quinn doubles admirably in the roles of equivocating junkie Johnny and coked-up transvestite Fabuluscious, with supporting roles played by Sonja Perryman as Contessa, a woman with a lot of anger and not a lot of ways of expressing it and Cy Fore as the evanescent murder victim Richie.

Sharp, who plays not only guitar but also bass, drums, saxophones, clarinets and various electronic components here, turns in the performance of a lifetime: it’s arguably his most diverse effort to date. Ever wonder if Sharp could pull off a spot-on imitation of early 80s style Midnight Starr or Herbie Hancock electro-disco? The answer’s here, and it’s yes. He also does ominously multi-layered, Bomb Squad-style noise; dirtily incisive Jeff Beck-ish guitar; Karsh Kale style South Asian drones; a decent facsimile of the Bad Brains in slow mode; late 50s minimalist noir jazz; and the inimitable squall for which he’s best known.

Womack effectively evokes the downtown New York era when watching one’s back was a survival tool rather just a common phrase in rap music, best exemplified by Susie as she catalogs the implements in her purse that could serve as weapons in a pinch. The major characters are all tragic in a classical sense: Abbott’s narcissism, Johnny’s self-deception, and Susie’s willingness to stay in one place til she “dies from the feet up, like a tree with pissed-on roots” will all clearly get them in the end. The minor characters – the practically incoherent Contessa, the tranny, and poor Richie, who doesn’t seem to have a clue even as he steps outside, trying to reason with the guy who will kill him seconds later – are less interesting. But the milieu is spot-on. Ted references downtown characters from crazed killer Daniel Rakowitz (who dismembered his girlfriend, boiled her and then fed her to the homeless in Tompkins Square Park), to Jean-Michel Basquiat, to scores of others mostly forgotten now. What’s perhaps most appealing, and most bittersweet, is that these characters are all oldschool New Yorkers. All but two of them (the killer and the narrator) were clearly born and bred here, and despite their flaws share a wry gallows humor that still exists in pockets in this city, and which is the antithesis of the “esthetic” – if you could call it that – of the pampered, effete, affluent white children who’ve flooded New York in the last ten years. For that alone, this is worth owning and savoring: the score makes it worth returning to many times over.

February 26, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, drama, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment