Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 2/27/11

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.

February 27, 2011 Posted by | classical music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew McCright Elevates New Work from Midwestern Composers

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.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer’s new album Le Pop is pretty amazing, a strong contender for best of 2010. With their gorgeous harmonies, old-fashioned instrumentation and frequently lush production, the accordion-driven all-female Oslo quartet sound like the Dresden Dolls but better (more energetic, less cutesy and a whole lot darker as well). The self-styled “queens of sultry sound” balance an eerily rustic noir edge with tongue-in-cheek humor, and lyrics in English. On the new cd, multi-instrumentalist Solveig Heilo, accordionists Anne Marit Bergheim and Marianne Sveen and bassist Turid Jørgensen – who plays the largest four-string instrument in all of rock – bounce, scamper and blast their way through a mix of tempos and styles that evoke such diverse acts as the B-52s, Gruppo Sportivo and Gogol Bordello.

The album opens on a surprisingly pensive note with an instrumental “overture,” followed by the scurrying Keystone Kops vibe of A Bar in Amsterdam, which amusingly morphs into a Pat Benetar-style power ballad on the chorus. With its jaunty gypsy swing, Demon Kitty Rag evokes satirical New York trio the Debutante Hour. Tea with Cinnamon is an absolute delight, a vintage Toots and the Maytals-style rocksteady number with accordion and a surprisingly wistful lyric. The title track, a snidely exuberant Gruppo Sportivo-style satire of American corporate music is great fun, and the outro is absolutely priceless.

The darker material here is just as captivating. Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back sets charming harmonies and barrelhouse piano to a Nashville gothic arrangement with a funny but disquieting edge, and a series of trick endings. The big, anguished crescendo on the lushly orchestrated suicide anthem Wading in Deeper packs a visceral punch; the violin-driven To the Sea showcases the band’s harmonies at their most otherworldly, with an off-center, Icelandic vibe. There’s also the sternly tongue-in-cheek Mother Superior, with its eerie carnival organ; Der Kapitan, a macabre-tinged surf instrumental done oompah style; the coy country bounce of Play, My Darling; Ain’t No Thang, an oldtimey banjo tune; and Virginia Clemm, a sad, eerily atmospheric waltz. The depth and intelligence of the songs matches their good-time appeal: it’s been a long time since we discovered a band who could do that as consistently as Katzenjammer do. The group are currently on US tour (at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on July 3 and 4, opening for Elvis Costello), with a date at the Mercury Lounge on July 6.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

CD Review: Mark Growden – Saint Judas

File this one under “new noir songwriters” alongside Mark Steiner, the Oxygen Ponies and Mark Sinnis. Fans of those guys as well as the two who started it all, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, will enjoy Mark Growden’s new cd Saint Judas. Like Waits, Growden blends blues with a smoky noir cabaret feel; as with Cave, Growden projects a downtrodden yet randy gutter-poet facade. The Bay Area songwriter/accordionist/banjoist has a fantastic steampunk band behind him – recorded live in the studio, they turn in a passionate, rustically intense performance. Fiery blues guitarist/lapsteel player Myles Boisen, cellist Alex Kelly, horn player Chris Grady, bassist/organist Seth Ford-Young and drummer Jenya Chernoff all deserve mention here.

Most of this stuff, predictably, is in minor keys. The album’s second track, Delilah (no relation to Tom Jones) gets the benefit of a balmy trumpet solo from Grady that lights up the pitch blackness underneath. The title track is the best song here, an uncharacteristically jaunty, cynical, funny number which recasts Judas as a patron saint of the insolvent and dissolute: “Bottoms up to you, buddy, ’cause somebody has to take the blame.” They take it down after that with a slow country ballad as Nick Cave would do it: “If the stars could sing they would surely sing of you,” Growden intones.

They pick it up again after that with a swaying, stomping minor blues, Boisen’s electric slide guitar wailing against one of many tight, inspired horn charts here. Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man gets a slow, Tom Waits-ish blues treatment, followed eventually by a sizzling number that mingles fiery electric slide with Growden’s banjo, a mournful elegy told from the point of view of a coyote who lost his mate to a trap, and an extremely cool, thoughtful, Asian-tinged solo horn taqsim that gives Grady a chance to show off his mastery with overtones – it sounds like he’s playing a shakuhachi. They close with an ersatz gypsy waltz and a lullaby.

This album won’t be to everyone’s taste. As great as so many noir artists are, it’s a stylized genre. For vocals and lyrics, Growden doesn’t go outside the box – some will find his exaggerated drawl affected and his lyrics derivative and contrived. But the quality of the musicianship and the richness of the arrangements – the songs wouldn’t suffer a bit if they were simply instrumentals – offer considerable compensation. LA-area fans have the chance to see Growden play the cd release show for this one on March 16 at 8 PM at the Hotel Cafe, 1623 1/2 North Cahuenga in Hollywood.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Robin Aigner – Bandito

“I can sing a song about any damn thing,” boasts Robin Aigner on her new cd Bandito. The song also asserts that she cooks a good dinner. If she’s as good in the kitchen as she is on the mic, she ought to open a restaurant – it would be a four-star affair. This album, Aigner’s second solo effort, is well titled. Aigner is mysterious: she has a thing about mistresses and even more of a thing for innuendo. Like the artist she’s most likely to be compared to, Laura Cantrell, Aigner is known best for her voice: highly sought after as a singer on the oldtimey/Americana circuit, she toured with the Crooked Jades and seems at this point to be a charter member of Pinataland. Her knockout punch is nuance – she can wrench an album’s worth of intensity out of a split-second’s hesitation or a typically understated, seductive melisma to wrap up a phrase. Yet it’s her songwriting that takes centerstage on this album, her second, a feast of historically-imbued, out-of-the-box steampunk imagination. Aigner switches between acoustic guitar and banjo, judiciously accompanied by Flanks bassist Tom Mayer, Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on spinet, Charles Burst on Rhodes and Dean Sharenow of Kill Henry Sugar on percussion.

The cd opens with the jaunty Pearl Polly Adler, a tribute to FDR’s [possible, unconfirmed, hee hee] mistress who “knows where he parks his car,” and makes sure to cover herself in case trouble ever comes her way. Delores from Florence tells the surreal tale of a globetrotting flapper who had to come up with an innovative solution to the problem of having “too many lovers.”And Annie and Irving imagines an anxious romance between Annie Moore (first immigrant to make it through customs on Ellis Island) and Irving Berlin, creeping around the shadows out in the Catskills.

The rest of the cd alternates hilarity with pensive intensity. A poignantly perplexed lament, See You Around features Aigner at her most haunting, over a sad tango melody. Mediocre Busker is one of those songs that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing Aigner was the one to do it: this guy turns out to be bad at everything else too. Aigner uses the equally tongue-in-cheek Found to do justice to both the crazy packrats and the lucky rest of us who have a thing for stuff others have left behind. Wrong Turn memorializes a couple of clueless northerners getting lost in the Bible Belt, while Get Me Home – a duet – amps up the seductive vibe with characteristic allusive charm. The album ends with Great Molasses Disaster, a vividly somber requiem for the day in January, 1919 when a giant industrial tank of molasses in Boston’s North End burst and unleashed a literal tsunami on the neighborhood, demolishing buildings, pitching a locomotive into Boston Harbor, leaving hundreds injured and 21 dead. Steampunks and Americana fans alike will be salivating over this (the album, not the molasses) for a long time. Aigner’s next gig is on Feb 26 at 7 PM at the cafe at the 92YTribeca with Brady Jenkins on piano.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Asylum Street Spankers – God’s Favorite Band

Things like this happen with bands who’ve been around awhile and have the good sense to record themselves in fortuitous circumstances. Back in 2006, the Asylum Street Spankers – the world’s smartest, most deliriously fun oldtimey Americana band – recorded some live performances at the Saxon Pub in their hometown of Austin. Among the songs were several traditional gospel tunes along with a handful of originals that wouldn’t be drastically out of place, musically at least, in a straight-up gospel set. It isn’t implausible to imagine the band hanging around the dressing room one night after a show after someone put these songs on a boombox, while a  joint made its way around the room. Suddenly percussionist/singer Wammo has an epiphany and turns in amazement to multi-instrumentalist/siren Christina Marrs: “Holy shit, we have a gospel album here!”

As improbable as it might seem at first thought for the Spankers to be doing a gospel album, it actually makes perfect sense when you consider how deep their knowledge of American roots music is. As sacriligeous as the band is, Marrs has an amazing set of pipes and pulls out all the stops here. Likewise, the band’s vocal harmonies are tight and inventive when they’re not being tight and absolutely period-perfect, as with their minstrel-esque version of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

An ancient-sounding  instrumental version of the Blind Willie Johnson blues Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground opens the cd and sets a rustic tone. The standards Each Day, Down by the Riverside, By and By and Wade in the Water each get a fervent, ecstatic treatment which rather than being camp reaffirms the band’s seemingly innate feel for these songs as universal expression of the human spirit that transcend any doctrinaire limitations. Then they do the same thing with a contemporary Christian song (yes, that’s what it is), the Violent Femmes’ Gordan Gano’s Jesus Walking on the Water.

But as expected it’s the originals that bring down the house. Wammo’s somewhat snide Right and Wrong has an ironclad Iraq War-era logic to go along with the stoner humor: “I ain’t got no problem with Buddha, ’cause he’s a huge Nirvana fan.” And his other song here, Volkswagen Thing reclaims a Nazi-era relic as vehicle for the divine. In case you don’t remember it, the Thing during its brief revival in the 70s was  one of the most unsafe cars ever built, a car so rear-heavy that it could pop a wheelie despite being ridiculously underpowered. Satan, on the other hand, drives his Mercedes like the pig he is – and he’s got a Hummer, too. The band closes out this raucous collection with a defiant version of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, a vivid reminder of where they’re really coming from for anyone who might not have been paying attention. Steampunks everywhere, not to mention fans of both traditional and secular gospel alike (the Lost Crusaders and Rev. Vince Anderson especially come to mind) will love this album. The Spankers made it to NYC a couple of times this year and they will doubtlessly be back (they recorded their sensational What? And Give Up Show Business? live cd here), watch this space for details.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Wiyos – Broken Land Bell

Their best album. It’s amazing how much energy the Wiyos get out of a couple of acoustic guitars, harmonica and upright bass – and to their further credit, the quality of the songs and the playing here transcends the presence of a human beatbox. Cross-pollination is usually a good thing, but this time it is not, and happily the hip-hop effects are mostly buried in the mix on all but a couple of the songs. Which represent the Wiyos’ inimitable blend of rousing 1920s-style hokum blues, ragtime, guitar swing and oldtimey hillbilly songs – everything here sound live, which is especially fortuitous since their concerts are reliably high-intensity affairs. This one kicks off with a rustic traveling song, followed by another equally jaunty number, then a starkly minor-key banjo tune. There are also a couple of hobo songs here, one a cautionary tale to stay one step ahead of the law, the other a soaring tribute to the excitement of riding the rails. Singer/guitarist Parrish Ellis’ Angeline has a Hank Williams-gone-cajun feel; guitarist Teddy Weber’s Green Bottle #6 is jazzy and swinging with a sweet lapsteel solo. By contrast, Drum, by frontman/harmonica player Michael Farkas is a dark and aptly aphoristic antiwar number with train-whistle steel guitar. The album wraps up with a deliriously fun country drinking song, a ballad that starts out hypnotic with an early Grateful Dead feel before picking up steam, and the vividly lyrical, wary Valentina, a thoughtful evocation of a girl stuck in a city that once made a great place to hide but has now swallowed her whole. “The kings can’t grow up to be kings,” Farkas muses – it’s an anthem of sorts for the new depression. Steampunks everywhere will be salivating for this. The Wiyos got their start here and make frequent return trips – these guys live on the road, watch this space for future NYC dates.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/21/09

We’ve been doing this every Tuesday – to cut down on the workload here while we attend to some infrastructure things, we meant to suspend the feature for awhile. Before we do, here’s this week’s top ten. As always, you’ll see this week’s #1 song on our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to each individual song.

1. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Never Looking Back

So far this is the best single song we’ve heard this year, a defiant look back on a checkered past. Suits us just fine. From the new cd.

2. The Joel Plaskett EmergencyDrunk Teenagers

We’re late in picking up on this snide classic by the Canadian powerpop rocker. He’s at  Union Hall on 10/15.

3. Karine Poghosyan with the Kokolo String Ensemble – Haydn F Maj. Piano Concerto

The fiery pianist with an equally inspired chamber orchestra behind her.

4. Sarah Lov – Tell Me How

“It is all I ever feel, like nothing good is ever real,” she laments over a catchy Aimee Mann-esque midtempo anthem. She’s at Union Hall on 10/16 at 8.

5. Izzy and the Kesstronics – Hanging Death Waves

Izzy from Uncle Fucker on guitar plus a sax and rhythm section playing weird funny surf/garage/roots stuff. They’re at Beauty Bar in Bushwick on 9/27 at 9ish.

6. String Driven Thing – Suicide

Every now and then we run across a classic like this. This is from a reunion concert by the 70s art-rock cult favorites sometime in the 90s, a bitter, somewhat brutal graveside scene for a dead rocker:

The T in contract

The I in empire

The M in muzak

The E in Ex-Lax

The S in suicide

7. Erin Hill – Girl Inventor

Classical harpist who sounds absolutely nothing like Joanna Newsom playing psychedelic pop.  More like Kate Bush actually.

8. The MK Groove Orchestra – MCP

Woozy, inventive groove-driven big band jazz. They’re at Spikehill on 9/26 at 10.

9. Kulu Kulu GardenTaking the Tray Away

Danceable Japanese noise-rock with a real screamer on vocals, cool stuff.

10. Don’t Give Small Money Chance Brass Band – It Is Raining

Brooklyn big band playing horn music from Ghana! Pretty wild.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine at City Winery, NYC 9/18/09

The New York Gypsy Festival‘s decision to scatter shows throughout the year, beginning in the spring, was an ambitious choice but ultimately a successful one. Although the past ten days or so were especially gypsy, with the Gypsy Tabor Festival out in Brooklyn and a whole bunch of similar bands playing the rock clubs, there was a full and enthusiastic house at City Winery Friday night for Hazmat Modine and Hungarian sensations Little Cow. The Hazmats opened and pandemonium reigned, no great surprise: there are few other acts in town who bring as much intensity and pure unadulterated fun to the stage. Frontman/harmonica player Wade Schuman wasn’t as completely gonzo as he can get, but the band was. This is a wild, extroverted crew: Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on electric guitars, Pam Fleming (back from the disabled list) on trumpet, Reut Regev on trombone and other horns, Steve Elson on tenor sax and other reeds, Rich Huntley on drums, Joseph Daley on tuba and Erik Della Penna of Kill Henry Sugar guesting on vocals on a couple of numbers.

The set list was characteristically eclectic. The blues standard Something You Got, an uncharacteristically major-key tune for this band, was elevated to the level of an ecstatic New Orleans second-line march. Irving Berlin’s tongue-in-cheek Walking Stick became a racewalk and got the crowd in front of the stage twirling just as crowds of the thirties must have done in the old vaudeville theatres. Gomez used it as a launching pad for a particularly ferocious, offhandedly raging solo, Fleming further cementing her reputation as the Human Crescendo – in this case, it was the flying lead-in to her solo, out of one by Schuman, that was the high point, but it sent the intensity level to redline in a split second as Huntley led the charge with a relentless volley of rimshots.

A new one sounded like a hypnotic early twenties delta blues number as R.L. Burnside might have done it, casually careening with more blazing fretwork from Gomez. Best song of the night was a surprisingly low-key and extremely effective Schuman instrumental, Grade A Grey Day, with Fleming bringing in the cumulo-nimbus and Elson on sax fluttering through them. After that, they flipped the script with another original that started out with Little Feat exuberance, building joyously to a 60s soul vamp with the horns blazing. They closed with Bahamut, the surreal, calypso-inflected title track to their most recent album, a somewhat surprising choice considering the long, mysterious spoken-word passage in the middle of the song. And when Schuman got there, no surprise, the dancers took a break. But they all got back into it when the song picked up again, Smith fanning the flames with a potently percussive, chord-chopping solo.

And what of the headliner, Little Cow? There were technical difficulties, no fault of the band or the club. And by a quarter to one in the morning, an hour and a half past their stage time, it was sadly time to call it a night – a strategy that paid off the following day throughout a successful, marathon sixteen-hour attempt to help some New York friends pack up and become ex-New Yorkers. Watch this space the next time Little Cow comes to town: they’re reputedly amazing in concert.

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment