Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Deep African Blues Roots in Cutting-Edge Jazz in the West Village This Week

“When I first heard gnawa music, I heard the blues, and jazz, and the Black church,” Randy Weston explained to the sold-out crowd at the New School Tuesday night. The ageless piano sage has made a career of taking jazz back to its ancient African roots and then reinventing them, first inspired by his father and later while living in Morocco, where he immersed himself in innumerable North African folk and classical music styles. Currently artist-in-residence at the university, he brought along his pal Abdellah El Gourd along with a trio of energetic, impressively athletic dancer-percussionists from his group Dar Gnawa of Tanger for an insightful, sometimes trance-inducing, sometimes raptly transcendent performance of both traditional material and some of Weston’s best-loved compositions.

The percussionists supplied a hypnotically polyrhythmic clickety-clack backdrop with their pairs of cast-metal qraqab castanets while El Gourd grounded the music in low, circling, propulsive phrases on his three-string gimbri lute – one of the earliest ancestors of the funk bass. While Weston didn’t mention that particular lineage, he took care to explain that the qraqabs are a descendant of something considerably more disturbing: handcuffs. Centuries ago, in the Berber lands, prisoners in chains would use them to communicate in code.

Since gnawa music continues to serve several roles in the community – as rhythmic backdrop for mass celebration, spiritual ritual and physical healing, among other things – it’s no surprise that the vocals, delivered robustly by El Gourd an the rest of the group, have a mantra-like quality. In conversation with El Gourd along with a younger countryman and New School student, Weston revealed that the music also has a synesthetic connection – different individuals, different songs and even riffs are associated with different colors. Weston took some obvious relish in being someone whose color, predictably, turned out to be blue.

And the blues, along with their ancient, more lingering and slowly unwinding roots, were everywhere in Weston’s solo pieces, which he played in between numbers by the Moroccans. Night in Medina, he told the crowd, was inspired by a trip to the bustling Tangiers marketplace he frequented during the day but hesitated to visit after dark: “You know, bring from Bed-Stuy!” he joked. Awash in hushed, low-register, moonlit resonance, saturnine modes and allusive Middle Eastern phases, Weston slowly pulled good-natured postbop out of it. Likewise, he closed the performance with a regal, judiciously crescendoing take of Blue Moses, joined slowly and then joyously by the rest of the group as it unwound out of a gently rhythmic trance groove.

Speaking of the blues, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger has a connection with them that goes deeper than most. His brand-new live album, Pivot, comprises two lengthy explorations of Bukka White classics. Last night at Smalls, he made another live recording with his quartet, Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass and Ian Froman on drums. After Preminger and the group had stayed pretty much within themselves, playing their cards close to the vest, very puristically as they do on Pivot, it was a real rush to watch them finally jump and spiral out of control with a pretty wild free interlude late in the set. They went back to dusky and evocative and tersely melodic with their closing number, Mississippi John Hurt’s I Shall Not Be Moved, Palmer anchoring the sound as Froman built toward a steady hailstorm, Preminger finally cutting loose and wailing to the rafters, making the song’s title all the more ironic. Let’s hope this one makes it onto the record as a pure, unedited thrill.

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October 15, 2015 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brilliant, Intense Solo Improvisation from Arturo O’Farrill

On a cold, windy evening in October of last year, pianist Arturo O’Farrill went into the Noguchi Museum in Queens, where, amidst the sculptures, he was inspired to record an album of solo piano improvisations, “the scariest thing a pianist can do,” as he puts it. O’Farrill feels an outsider’s cameraderie with Isamu Noguchi’s work: the two artists have similarly polyglot backgrounds and affinities for destroying boundaries. To call this recording, titled The Noguchi Sessions, a vigorous blend of third-stream jazz with latin inflections, would be accurate in a very broad sense but does not remotely do it justice. To call it a major work, one of the most important and brilliant albums released this year runs the risk of overhyping it. Yet gravitas is one of O’Farrill’s defining traits, along with a polymath’s ravenousness for ideas. O’Farrill is a big-picture guy: time and time again, he gets it. Ernesto Lecuona wrote Siboney in memory of a people originally indigenous to Cuba: O’Farrill reaches into it deeply and pulls out a requiem. Yet O’Farrill’s take also eventually hits a triumphant swell, and goes out with a flourish: he wants these people to be remembered for their humanity. His take on Mingus’ Jelly Roll is a lot more wry than it is sly: Mingus knew the tragedy in Jelly Roll Morton’s life, and O’Farrill knows that too, his bitingly precise righthand runs adding irony over the ragtime exuberance. This humanity is perhaps most vivid here on the sardonic Alisonia, juxtaposing O’Farrill as manic bad cop versus his wife’s steady resilience. She’s portrayed as the calm center of the storm here, and she wins in the end: much as he blusters and muddies the waters (with a pummeling low lefthand drive here), she’s obviously the rock in his life. A take of Obsesion, the salsa jazz classic, is obsessive to the extreme, up so close and personal and frantic that it’s worrisome! And Mi Vida, dedicated to O’Farrill’s beloved aunt and uncle, portrays the couple very much together through thick and thin, even as a wary modal melody is introduced via the lefthand again – O’Farrill isn’t afraid to plunge into those depths, here or anywhere else.

It’s especially interesting to hear him play solo in light of his best-known work as leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. His approach is steady, businesslike, relentlessly intense, as it pretty much always it. He takes his time getting into the opening track, The Sun at Midnight, distantly Asian-tinged clusters evoking an in-the-moment theme; otherwise, the album is pretty straight-ahead. He doesn’t employ much rubato, instead finding the occasional opportunity to add space and distance. And when he hits a cadenza, or a rare, brutal explosion of raw noise, the effect packs a wallop. It’s exactly what you would expect from a first-rate big band guy: he picks his spots and makes them count. As usual, O’Farrill isn’t afraid to take a stand, represented here by The Delusion of the Greedy, juxtaposing squirrelly, mechanical, conspiratorially lockstep righthand runs against a serioso bluesiness that gains traction just as the 99% are gaining traction against the robber barons among us – whose days are numbered, as this piece makes ineluctably clear. His take on Oh Susannah reaches to reclaim the melody from its repugnant minstrel origins: unlike the Dave Brubeck version, O’Farrill interpolates snatches of the tune amidst variations that run from blithe to practically macabre. And In Whom, dedicated to O’Farrill’s talented drummer son Zachary, incorporates both distantly anxious, Debussy-tinged ripples as well as a wry bittersweetness that evokes Donald Fagen at his peak.

There’s also a matter-of-factly crescendoing improvisation on I Had a Secret Love; a nimbly spun version of Danny Boy that works its way out expansively and nostalgically, dedicated to the heroes of 9/11; and an alternately tender and energetic take of Randy Weston’s Little Niles. This is not light music by any stretch of the imagination: it’s something to go deeply into and spend some time with because it will move you profoundly if you let it. A lock for one of 2012’s best albums.

July 13, 2012 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2009 – The Top Shows or At Least a Few of Them

As with last year, the arduous task of keeping track of who’s playing where has become a debacle since Time Out NY’s music section is a one-person operation – and to be fair to Time Out, some of the acts playing outdoors somewhere in the five boroughs on the 21st may not have alerted the magazine. For lack of manpower (why don’t the organizers do it themselves? Is Time Out’s sponsorship money really THAT crucial, especially considering the puny amount of resources they contribute?), approximately 90% of the acts playing Make Music NY are NOT listed on Time Out’s master calendar (although if you search venue by venue, you’ll find hundreds more). So if you’re wondering if your favorite band’s doing anything that day, you ought to check their site or their myspace. On the basis of a look through what limited information Time Out actually has as well as some random sleuthing of our own, here’s a guide to some of the day’s most enticing shows, at least as many as we could find:

 

10 AM (yawn): How do you reassure Manhattan yuppies that they’ll be safe from the terrifying phenomenon known as punk music? Exile all the punk bands to Governors Island, where the festivities are supposed to start around ten in the morning (those must be all the Minor Threat types who don’t drink or get high) and ending at 5 PM sharp. The free ferry leaves on the half-hour from the slip at 11 South St., early arrival highly advised. Note that security will be fierce, and alcohol will be confiscated. Acts include Reagan Youth, the Blame, Blanks 77, countless others. On one level, it makes sense to separate by style i.e. the skate punk stage, ska-punk stage, hardcore stage, etc, but why separate all the female-fronted bands?

 

11:30 AM: dark, Siouxsie-esque rockers Her Vanished Grace at 187 Sackett St. between Hicks and Henry, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

 

Noon: Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra Outside Symphony Space, 95th and Broadway

 

Half past noon: captivatingly atmospheric chanteuse Lulla at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens.

 

1 PM: Sami Abu Shumays of Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat has organized a Umm Kulthum singalong to take place in front of Rashid Sales in Brooklyn (155 Court Street, Brooklyn, corner of Pacific, 2/4 to Borough Hall or F to Bergen) starting at 1PM, open to all musicians, singers, and anyone who knows and loves the music of Umm Kulthum (the iconic Arab chanteuse and courageous activist) and can sing or play along! It will be somewhat informal, in the sense there’s no set list, no curfew. You can count on classics that everybody throughout the Middle East knows like Ghannili Shwayya, Alf Leyla, and Ana Fintizarek.

 

1 PM: ferocious, gypsy-inflected, fun rock/ska/punk en Espanol band Escarioka at Think Coffee, Bleecker and Bowery

 

2 PM: haunting, wrenchingly soulful noir rock trio the French Exit at Goodbye Blue Monday

 

2 PM: the hilarious, inspiring, carnivalesque and absolutely fearless noir songwriter/keyboardist/showman Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at Athens Square Park, 29th St and 30th Ave., Astoria, Queens

 

3 PM  a jazz showcase in tribute to the late Ghanaian percussionist Kofi Ghanaba (one of the first African-born musicians to find popularity in American jazz circles), starting with with Kwaku Martin Obeng, then at 4 PM Obo Addy and piano vet Randy Weston & African Rhythms and others at Dominick and Hudson Streets outside the Jazz Gallery.

 

Starting 3ish at Rose Bar in Williamsburg Mama Digdown’s Brass Band and then oldschool soul harmony sirens the Sweet Divines at around 5:30 or 6

 

3 PM New York’s original Balkan brass punks, Hungry March Band at the playground at Spring and Mulberry

 

3 PM Num & Nu Afrika play jazzy reggae at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St, Harlem

 

3 PM sprawling oldtimey blues/country/roots juggernaut the Woes outside Spikehill

 

4 PM dark indie rock siren Randi Russo at Passout Records on Grand between Bedford and Berry in Williamsburg. If you’re planning on seeing the French Exit you should see her and vice versa.

 

4 PM the fascinating and hypnotic Electric Junkyard Gamelan in the community garden on the north side of Houston between B and C. They’re also at South St. Seaport on 6/22 and 6/29 at 3.  

 

4 PM the fiery, fun, jangly Any Day Parade – oldschool country meets paisley underground –  at Think Coffee, Bleecker at Bowery

 

5 PM Meta & the Cornerstones playing oldschool roots reggae with a Senegalese flavor at Trader Joe’s Wine Shop, 138 E 14th St, between Third Ave and Irving Pl. – be aware that heavy bus traffic including the odious M9 means the alarms that shriek as the doors open may drown out the music.

 

5 PM at the Old Stone House in Park Slope Bob Goldberg and the Accordion Forest premiering a new work by the Famous Accordion Orchestra.

 

5:30 PM the reliably surprising, edgy accordionist/chanteuse Cassis & the Sympathies outside Tavern on the Green, Central Park West and W 67th St,

 

6 PM smartly lyrical, blue-collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer at the park at First Ave and E 42nd St,

 

6 PM latin jazz flutist Carlos Jimenez and his Quartet at La Perla Garden, 78 W 105th St,

 

6:30 PM funk band the Pimps of Joytime at Washington Square Park

 

7:30 PM cabaret-pop chanteuse Jeanne Marie Boes outside Tavern on the Green Central Park West and W 67th St.

 

8:15 PM Gogol Bordello gypsy punk soundalikes Panonian Wave at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment