[republished from New York Music Daily]
Torchy New Orleans chanteuse Carsie Blanton is doing a different kind of American tour this year, inspired as much by her wildly popular blog as well as her music. She’s playing clubs, but she’s also appearing at sex toy shops. Here in New York, her first stop is at Babeland at 43 Mercer St. on July 12 from 3 to 5 PM. Then she’s playing the third stage at the Rockwood at 8 PM on July 13 for $10 plus a $10 drink minimum. Her aptly titled new album, Not Old, Not New is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download: you should grab it.
Is the album about sex? It’s more about innuendo. Blanton’s pillowy voice may be seductive, but in a genuine rather than campy or over-the-top way. She’s got a great, purist jazz combo behind her: Neal Caine on bass, Joe Dyson on drums, Rex Gregory on sax and clarinets, Kevin Louis on trumpet, Shane Theriot on guitar and David Torkanowsky on piano. The opening track, Azaleas sets the mood immediately, Blanton musing how “nothing evil can assail ya” against a sunmery backdrop of resonant piano, terse bass, brushed drums and balmy, muted trumpet. Blanton matches sly wit with southern charm on the slow, slinky Laziest Gal in Town, enhanced by a gently smoky bass clarinet solo. Then she and the band pick up the pace with the ragtime-flavored Heavenly Thing, a vibe they maintain on Two Sleepy People, a portrait of two lovers in the wee hours who’ve run out of gas yet can’t bear to part. It’s more coy than Daria Grace‘s unforgettably endorphin-infused version.
Blanton’s slow, wounded take of You Don’t Know What Love Is has a vividly stripped-down arrangement that contrasts brooding piano against fluttery tenor sax. Then she romps through a brisk take of What Is This Thing Called Love, spiced with a spiky Jason Marsalis vibraphone solo.
They go back to slow, low-key ballad mode for the picturesque Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans. Blanton offers Sweet Lorraine from the perspective of a woman who’s getting gaymarried, with a slow, soulful piano-based arrangement that mirrors the album’s first song.
The funniest, most innuendo-fueled track here is the swinging hokum blues tune Don’t Come Too Soon. Blanton brings down the lights again with a slow, warmly wistful version of I’ll Be Seeing You and winds up the album with the title track, a miniature for just solo voice and acoustic guitar. Fans of oldtime Americana and swing jazz are in for a treat with this one.
[republished, more or less, from Lucid Culture’s more rock-oriented sister blog New York Music Daily]
Catherine Russell is the kind of jazz luminary you might discover at three in the morning, belting her heart out with an obscure funk band who later change their name and style and become a huge draw on the indie rock circuit. In the fourteen years since that initial sighting – true story -she’s become one of the biggest names in oldtime swing jazz. Her previous album, Strictly Romancin’, was a Louis Armstrong tribute (Russell’s multi-instrumentalist dad Luis played in Armstrong’s band: the apple didn’t fall far). Her latest album, Bring It Back, goes deeper into the blues, in a Duke Ellington way.Harmonia Mundi gets credit for releasing the album, which is up at Spotify.
The band lineup is pretty much the same as the previous album: musical director Matt Munisteri on guitar and other fretted instruments; Mark Shane on piano; Lee Hudson on bass; Mark McClean on drums; Glenn Patscha on organ; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Mark Lopeman on baritone sax; John Allred on trombone; and Dan Block and Andy Farber on reeds. Other than just the pure chops they bring to the songs, the way the both Russell and the band shift direction depending on the underlying emotional content is what distinguishes them from the legions of shi-shi restaurant bands and cruise ship combos who try to make a go of this oldtime stuff. The arrangements may be refined to the nth degree, but the group’s approach to the songs’ heartbreak and intensity (and sometimes just plain good fun) is disarmingly direct.
The album opens with the catchy midtempo title track, Russell’s urbane sophistication balanced way out on a limb by Munisteri’s unexpectedly feral, wildly string-bending guitar, confronting the angst that the vocals refuse to give in to. “High” is the operative word in Shooting High, with its elegant handoffs from one instrument to the next. The steady, shady I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart matches muted trumpet and somewhat furtive sax to the wistfulness and resignation in Russell’s understatedly torchy delivery. Then they pick up the pace with the jaunty, dixieland-flavored You Got to Swing and Sway.
The band does Aged and Mellow as an oldschool soul ballad in the same vein as Willie Nelson’s Night Life – Russell doesn’t let on how the story’s actually being told by a gold-digger. They keep the high spirits going with the nonchalantly triumphant, shuffling Darktown Strutters’ Ball and then hit a peak with a big, brassy arrangement of Lucille (not the B.B. King song but a previously unreleased, exuberant number by Russell’s dad).
Russell’s most pillowy vocal here is You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb, set to a ragtime-tinged piano-and-guitar backdrop. After the Lights Go Down, a gorgeous blend of oldschool soul and blues, sets Russell’s confidently conspiratorial vocals against wickedly shivery guitar and organ. I’m Sticking With You Baby, a litany of prewar aphorisms, has more invigorating, bluesy organ, Russell trading bars with the band as they take it all the way up at the end.
The minor-key, irony-drenched, ragtime-inflected Strange As It Seems makes a stark contrast. The jump blues Public Melody Number One picks up the pace again, with an absolutely surreal lyric:
Frankenstein, a bundle of joy
Jesse James is a teacher’s pet
A gatling gun compared to
Shots from a hot corvette
The album ends with an absolutely riveting, unexpectedly energetic version of the old Billie Holiday standard I Cover the Waterfront, rising and falling with an angst that dignifies the neighborhood hooker and her ache for the guy who’s gone away across the ocean, no doubt for good. On one level, this is a trip back in time; on another, a lot of the playing here is more eclectic than what your typical studio band would try to pull off in, say, 1934.
A little over a year ago, Posi-Tone put out Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen’s Upper West Side, a duo set of standards with a comfortably sleek, old New York sophistication. Now the pianist and tenor saxophonist have taken their act downtown with Lower East Side. Does this new album evoke superannuated wannabe prom queens stuffed into tacky dresses, passed out and pissing themselves on the sidewalk while their stretch limos block the crosswalks? No. This is a LES of the mind, one that goes back close to a hundred years. Asherie’s specialty is stride piano, a strength he downplayed on the previous album; here, he cuts loose with a mix of meticulousness and high spirits. Allen’s smoky charm is pretty much the same as it was before, although he gets more boisterous as he goes along. That the album swings as hard as it does despite the absence of bass and drums testifies to the inspiration of the playing: much of this is like stumbling into a club at four in the morning and slurring, “Can you play this or that?” and the band indulges you hetter than you could imagine.
Andy Razaf’s S’posin sets the tone with its jaunty combination of ragtime and torch. With its almost furtive, scampering groove, Vincent Youmans’ Hallelujah throws the church doors wide to let in some street flavor. Jobim’s Portrait in Black and White changes the mood with a potent turn into noir, Asherie hovering uneasily behind Allen’s overcast lines.
They go back to coy and a little devious with their take of the old Rosemary Clooney chestnut Hey There, then give Richard Rogers’ Thou Swell a blithely scampering jump blues treatment. The up/down tangent continues with a breathy, allusively lurid take of Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time folllowed by the hazy yet perfectly precise happy hour version of Thanks a Million, a vibe they maintain on Loads of Love. Irving Berlin’s Always gets reinvented as a lush jazz waltz – who knew how much sheer fun this song could be? The album winds up with the easygoing, casual sway of When I Grow Too Old to Dream, Allen building from boudoir smolder to understated triumph over Asherie’s steady, carefree strolling pace. This one’s going to get a lot of play in bars and bistros: it should come with a parental advisory sticker because it makes you want a drink.
Most club owners who play music usually suck at it. The reason many of them open a venue is to have a place to play since nobody else will give them a gig. But once in awhile, you find a club owner who not only isn’t an atrocity exhibition, but actually has talent. Case in point: pianist Spike Wilner, impresario of Smalls, the well-loved downtown New York jazz institution. Wilner has a vivid, impressionistic third-stream style that draws as deeply on ragtime as it does on classic jazz, and on his latest album La Tendresse – out now from Posi-Tone - there are some genuinely breathtaking moments. He’s got a fast, liquid legato that can keep up with pretty much anybody in either jazz or classical, something he proved beyond reproach on his previous solo album, recorded live at the club. Here, his ragtime roots are in equally full effect: he covers Solace, and while he doesn’t try to put an original stamp on Scott Joplin, he also doesn’t embarrass himself. And the album gets even better from there.
He opens the title track, one of three original compositions here, with a rather stern passage featuring a lot of block chords that slowly develop outward into shuffling ripples that grow unexpectedly chilly and chromatic: if this is tenderness, then tenderness is scary. The second original, Silver Cord, also works a neoromantic vibe, slowly unwinding from tensely rhythmic to more cantabile, with a bit of wry Donald Fagen in the chords toward the end. Wilner reinvents Leonard Cohen’s – woops, Irving Berlin’s Always as a jazz waltz, building intensity with a delightfully vivid, ringing series of raga-like chords. He puts his own mark on Lullaby of the Leaves slowly and methodically, solo, from an expansive rubato intro, to a casual ragtime-fueled stroll and a playful classic rock quote at the end. Then he, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Joey Saylor – who stay within themselves as supporting players throughout the album – scurry their way through a lickety-split take of After You’ve Gone, a showcase for sizzling, precise chops.
A couple of other tracks are far more pensive, notably purist takes on Ellington’s Le Sucrier Velours and Monk’s Crepuscule with Nellie, along with a nocturnally bluesy, wee-hours version of Richard Rodgers’ Little Girl Blue. I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together gets a skeletal, practically minimalist interpretation that’s over all too soon in well under three minutes. There are a couple of short tracks here that could have been left on the cutting room floor and the album wouldn’t be any worse for it, especially a song from the Wizard of Oz, that – it’s awfully hard to resist a bad pun here – if they’d only had a clue, would have given up trying to redeem as ragtime. Speaking of the Wiz, there are several other quotes here from that soundtrack that are as mystifying as the inclusion of that particular cut. Otherwise, this is something that ought to bring together fans of ragtime, jazz and the Romantic repertoire, who will probably unanimously enjoy a collection by a musician who probably doesn’t need any more fans (club owners always draw hugely at their gigs, if only because the artists they book make sure to come out and be seen there) but deserves them anyway.
Darkly surreal and often quirkily charming, Rosler’s Recording Booth is one of the most original album concepts in recent months. Rosler’s narratives, sung by a diverse cast from the worlds of both music and theatre, trace what could be a day in the life of an Audiola or Voice-o-Graph, the lo-fi coin-operated recording booths of the 1940s and 50s where for as little as a quarter, you could make your own five-minute single. Rosler’s eclectic career has spanned the world of film music, choral music and jazz, including a 2010 collaboration with Bobby McFerrin, so it’s no surprise that the songs here bridge several styles. In keeping with the vintage concept, many of the tunes have an oldtimey feel: Lee Feldman’s similarly eclectic work comes to mind.
You’ve probably at least heard of the hit single, Doris From Rego Park, sung by Rosler himself – it’s a youtube sensation. For several years the late Doris Bauer was a frequent caller to Steve Somers’ postgame show on the New York Mets flagship station, WFAN. While there have been more articulate baseball fans, like all Mets fans in recent years, she suffered, her suffering made all the more obvious since she had respiratory problems that made it difficult for her to complete a sentence, and seem to have curtailed much of any hope for a social life. Rosler sings to her gently over a hypnotic, new wave pop-tinged keyboard lullaby, almost as one would to a child. As sympathetic a portrait as Rosler paints, it evokes a crushing loneliness.
The rest of the album ranges from upbeat to downright haunting. Spottiswoode lends his rich, single-malt baritone to two cuts: a garrulous, ragtime-flavored number sung by a construction worker to his absent girlfriend in a New York of the mind, decades ago, and another considerably more angst-driven, also vividly depicting an old New York milieu. Tam Lin sings a pensive 6/8 ballad, a childhood reminiscence with Irish tinges. Terry Radigan takes over the mic on a jauntily creepy circus tune, an understatedly chilling account of homelessness through a little girl’s eyes, and a quietly optimistic wartime message home from a young woman to her family – it’s never clear what exactly she’s doing or where she is, which makes the song even more intriguing. Kathena Bryant brings a towering, soulful presence to the September song Where I’ve Been, What I’ve Done, Jeremy Sisto sings a broodingly psychedelic criminal’s tale, and Rosler himself leads the choir through a deftly orchestrated reminiscence…of singing in a choir. Behind the singers, a rotating cast of musicians includes Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on keys, Deoro’s Dave Eggar on cello and Mojo Mancini’s Shawn Pelton on drums.
In the leaps from the past to the present and then back – not to mention between styles and singers – the unifying concept of the recording booth sometimes disappears. And a few of the songs are duds: quality songwriters typically have a hard time dumbing themselves down enough to write easy-listening radio pop, and Rosler is no exception. But that’s where the ipod playlist comes in: all together, this makes a really entertaining one.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #588:
Art Tatum – The Chronological Classics 1932-34
If Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite pianist did a lot of composing, the historical record doesn’t reflect it: his favorite pastime was shredding his way through the hits of the day. Which he did with equal amounts precision and power: don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart. Most of his recordings are solo, no wonder since there were few players out there who could keep up with him. The genius of all this is that Tatum wasn’t all cold and mathematical: this digitized singles collection is a Depression-era party album. The number that raises the bar for every historically aware hotshot keyboardist is Tiger Rag; the purist favorites here are St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But Tatum also ratchets up the adrenaline with ballads like Strange As It Seems, I’ll Never Be the Same, a surprisingly visceral Tea for Two, Emaline and I Would Do Anything for You among the 25 brief, barely three-minute tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Paging Mr. Volstead.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #618:
Blind Blake – Ragtime Guitar’s Foremost Fingerpicker
The album title doesn’t do justice to this kick-ass guitarist who pushed the envelope and mixed blues, country, ragtime and early swing into a catchy, tuneful, inimitably original style. This album collects many of his best 78 RPM singles from 1926 through his last dates in 1932. A lot of the British blues guys from the 1960s took a stab at Diddie Wa Diddie, but the original still beats all of them; the one that Albert King, Jimmy Reed and a lot of their contemporaries picked up was Early Morning Blues (which actually isn’t on this album). The rest of this is as ghetto as ghetto gets: songs about raising hell, going on the lam, police brutality, an execution, illegal gambling, domestic violence, drugs, unfaithful girlfriends, and lots and lots of sex among the 23 tracks. Their rustic charm and defiant energy still resonates eighty years later. Here’s a random torrent.
On April 1 at 7:30 (no joke), Portland, Oregon acoustic guitar goddess Mary Flower plays the Good Coffeehouse series at the Ethical Culture Society at 53 Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. If guitar is your thing, she’s inspiring. Her latest album Bridges is a mix of characteristically fluid yet precise Piedmont style blues playing as well as some delicious ragtime and lap slide work. First and foremost, this is a guitar album – Flower keeps her vocals unaffected and nonchalant and lets her fingers do most of the talking. They’ve got a lot to say and say it memorably.
The best songs here are her original instrumentals – while everything here draws on different Americana roots styles, Flower isn’t afraid to add her own more complex, modern melody lines. Temptation Rag is absolutely gorgeous, Flower’s twin ascending lines against Robin Kessinger’s flatpicking and Spud Siegel’s mandolin shifting to a gypsy jazz vibe. Slow Lane to Glory imaginatively takes a gospel tune and makes midtempo swing blues out of it, played richly and tunefully on lap slide guitar. The bittersweet Piedmont blues number Daughter of Contortion eventually works in a playful circus motif, and the concluding track Blue Waltz artfully intertwines her guitar lines with Tim O’Brien’s mandolin and accordion from Courtney Von Drehle of 3 Leg Torso.
A couple of the vocal numbers have a jaunty Roulette Sisters feel, most memorably the darkly simmering Big Bill Blues, lit up by some edgy, incisive piano from Janice Scroggins (whose contributions throughout this album are consistently excellent). The opening track, featuring Tony Furtado’s bottleneck in tandem with Flower’s densely intricate fingerpicking, evokes Jorma Kaukonen’s early 70s work. There’s also a version of Bessie Smith’s Backwater Blues that builds from hypnotic to steady and swinging; another first-rate ragtime song, Columbia River Rag, and explorations of country gospel, New Orleans blues and a cover of There Ain’t No Man Worth the Salt of My Tears with more biting blues piano from Scroggins. In addition to her April 1 gig, Flower is teaching a workshop on Piedmont style guitar at noon at the Jalopy on April 2.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #702:
Steve Nieve – Playboy
This is a hard one to find. Originally issued on vinyl in 1987 and out of print since not much later, Elvis Costello’s keyboardist’s second solo album is a characteristically droll, witty, sometimes hypnotic series of miniatures. Nieve likes to improvise silent film scores, and his originals here, including Pictures From A Confiscated Camera, A Walk In Monet’s Back Garden, the 9.4 Rag and Once Upon A Time In South America share a cinematic feel. He quotes liberally from Debussy, Morricone, Satie, Chopin and probably dozens of others, then covers the Specials’ Ghost Town with the same matter-of-fact, deadpan intensity as his genuinely moving version of Bowie’s Life on Mars. He finds the plaintiveness inside George Michael’s Careless Whisper and turns White Girl by X (dedicated to Exene’s dead sister Mirielle Cervenka) into a downcast mood piece. An extensive search didn’t turn up any torrents: we’d upload our own except that ours is the vinyl version. If we find a digital one, we’ll give you a link.
On his new solo album Second Childhood, Minnesota pianist Matthew McCright (who’s at Merkin Hall on 9/25) plays with nuance, fluidity and counterintuitivity on a diverse and eye-opening collection of new works by midwestern composers. He gives these pieces plenty of breathing room: it’s an album of melody and subtleties rather than overt technical prowess (although McCright has plenty of that). His presence is unobtrusive except when it needs to be more aggressive, and then it is, sometimes when least expected yet very welcome. Bruce Stark’s Five Preludes for Piano opens it: moody echoes of Satie with occasional jarring upper register atonal accents; an austere (one is tempted to say stark) moonlit miniature; a rippling, circular work that straddles calm and apprehension; a not quite heroic theme and a rapidfire passacaglia of sorts.
Evening Air, by Gregory Hutter is an insistent nocturne: McCright’s extra-precise articulation and deft sense of dynamics downplay its occasional ragtime flavor. The real gem here is Constellations, by Kirsten Broberg. This delightfully evocative partita artfully introduces icy, nebulously related clusters and after some otherworldly upper-register explorations watches the universe expand and cool down even further. John Halle is represented by two pieces, a ragtime-flavored lullaby and a straight-up rag that cleverly interpolates other, darker styles. Daniel Nass’s Dance Preludes expand, often eerily, on tango, ragtime and a heavily camouflaged waltz. The most playful material here is by Laura Caviani: her jazz etudes include an inventive series of variations on a saloon blues theme; an understatedly intense, chromatically charged tango and a boogie-woogie number, the only one of this vast range of styles that seems to be unfamiliar terrain for McCright. In its own subtle and emotionally attuned way, it’s a real tour de force. It’s out now on Innova.