Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Slightly More Subtle But Hardly Subdued Album From the Explosive Captain Black Big Band

Of all the projects that pianist Orrin Evans has his fingers in, his Captain Black Big Band are arguably the most exciting. They’re definitely the loudest. It’s amazing how Evans manages to find the time for them, considering that he leads smaller groups, everybody wants to play with him, and until the lockdown he had the closest thing in the jazz world to a serious money gig, taking over the piano chair in a certain popular trio and then elevating them above…where they were before.

Auspiciously, the Captain Black Big Band have a new album, The Intangible Between streaming at Spotify. The difference this time is that they aren’t quite as much of a careening beast as they’ve been in the past. Part of that’s due to the bandleader writing most of the charts, selecting very specific groups from a vast talent base to play the songs, and in general, varying the size of the orchestation more.

The album’s first track, Proclaim Liberty, opens with brassy optimism, then after a rippling bit of suspense, the band hit an anthemic drive. The tumbling pairings of piano and drums are as avant-garde as anything Evans has ever done, the solos from trumpet and sax as adrenalizing as ever.

His wide-angle swing arrangement of This Little Light of Mine rises with the horns out of a carefree piano-trio intro that offers a nod to Coltrane and telegraphs that there’s going to be plenty of room for spontaneity, notably a fiery sax-drums duel and some savagery from the bandleader himself.

The tenderness of Sean Jones’ flugelhorn throughout an understatedly majestic Todd Bashore arrangement of A Time For Love contrasts with an underlying tension, which evaporates when the rest of the horns float in. Evans dividing his hands between piano and Rhodes is an unexpected textural touch.

With its New Orleans ebullience and bright hooks, That Too comes across as a slightly stripped-down take on the completely unleashed sound the band made a name for themselves with, trombone and then soprano sax bringing in the storm.

Their loose-limbed, Sun Ra-ish take of Thelonious Monk’s Off Minor features a rhythm section bustling with four (!!!!) bassists and two drummers behind shreddy trumpet, spacy Rhodes and a rise to plenty of the group’s signature, barely controlled mass chaos.

Evans’ beefy yet spacious chart for Roy Hargrove’s Into Dawn gets lit up by spiraling alto sax, trumpet that delivers both sage blues and wild doublestops, and some serious crush from the piano. The album’s biggest epic is Evans’ arrangement of Andrew Hill’s Tough Love. In practically sixteen minutes, the group shift through fluttery stereo pairings of basses and piano, gritty dueling saxes, uneasily shifting sheets of sound, the whole ensemble helping Evans deliver an astute, politically insightful lyric by his brother, author and hip-hop artist Son of Black.

They wind up the record with I’m So Glad I Got To Know You, Evans’ elegy for his drummer friend Lawrence Leathers building from spare, stricken solo piano, to hints of calypso and a fond gospel sendoff. This is a mighty entertaining and rewardingly eclectic effort from a group also including but hardly limited to drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield Jr., saxophonists Immanuel Wilkins, Troy Roberts and Caleb Wheeler Curtis, bassist Luques Curtis, trombonist David Gibson and bassist Eric Revis.

June 30, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fiercely Relevant, Epic Grandeur From Pianist Arturo O’Farrill’s Mighty Big Band

Pianist Arturo O’Farrill has made a career out of writing witheringly insightful, relevant, politically fearlesss jazz. His brilliantly symphonic 2014 album The Offense of the Drum, with his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra addressed issues spanning from the blight of gentrification, to the arrest quotas the New York City police were using at the time to target innocent people of color, to the the slavers in the British colonies who outlawed music in an attempt to keep kidnapped Africans in submission. At a moment where band performances are illegal in New York, there’s never been a more appropriate time for a new record from this mighty crew. Their latest one, Four Questions – streaming at Spotify – Is O’Farrill’s most musically ambitious and classically-oriented album in a career full of taking chances.

The centerpiece is the title suite, featuring firebrand theorist, author and hip-hop artist Cornel West. The stairstepping brass intro is a lot closer to John Zorn than, say, Machito; the bluster and slink afterward alludes to the Middle East, among many shifting idioms, with triumphant call-and-response riffage throughout the ensemble. This isn’t just a backing track for West’s characteristically polymath broadside, which draws from W.E.B. DuBois’ thoughts on building community to combat repression from all sides. In sixteen minutes plus, West makes the connection between DuBois’ vision of a society based on compassion and Jane Austen’s concept of “constancy,” rails against Wall Street scammers who go unpunished and sends fervent shouts out to a long legacy of American artists of color whose work and philosophy in the face of murderous tyranny have never been more relevant than they are now. “Folks can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,” he reminds. Along the way, O’Farrill brings the music down to a streetcorner descarga, throws in a little jaunty ragtime, a rustic oldtime gospel trumpet interlude, and references from James P. Johnson to Geri Allen.

The album’s second suite is A Still, Small Voice, O’Farrill’s reflection on the 2008 financial collapse engineered by the Bush regime and Goldman Sachs to take the profits private and the losses public (and potentially cripple the incoming Obama administration). A forlorn trumpet solo opens the first movement, Elijah – 1 Kings 19:13. A choir of disembodied voices conducted by Jana Ballard coalesces, punctuated by orchestral swells, portentous percussion and a cantering qawaali-flavored rhythm.

Uneasy close harmonies from the choir fuel the fleeting second movement, Amidst the Fire and Whirlwind. The third, aptly titled Cacophonous has a rising, terrorized counterpoint anchored by the bandleader’s eerie boogie-woogie lefthand, interrupted by a suspiciously blithe soprano sax solo. The orchestra and choir work ethereal chromatic descents over a tense pulse in the concluding title movement, eventually ceding to a somberly catchy sway and a calm, gospel-infused outro. O’Farrill always likes to leave a window for hope to get in.

Not everything here is this heavy. The opening track, Baby Jack, is essentially a soprano sax concerto. It’s a playful, telling portrait of a very mercurial infant, complete with peevish trombones, moments of wonderous calm contrasting with unexpected, lush sagacity: this is one precocious child!

Jazz Twins has a sweeping, Darcy James Argue-ish bittersweetness and waves of counterpoint. O’Farrill takes a rippling solo, followed by gritty, clustering tenor sax and soaring trumpet over more of that Punjabi-inflected rhythm. And Clump, Unclump, a circling study in divergence, convergence and triumph over an evil system, manages to be both the album’s most avant garde and yet most traditionally postbop number.

June 7, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pascal Plantinga’s Funky Avant Angels Take a Detour

Dutch avant garde composer/songwriter/filmmaker Pascal Plantinga has earned a worldwide following for his shapeshifting, genre-blending, category-defying work. Recent additions to his eclectic musical oevre span from the Okinawan-flavored exotica of his Bashofu/Yonaguni Shonkane single – a collaboration with enigmatic chanteuse Keiko Kina – to the atmospheric soundscapes of Promises of Pleasure, to this one, Even Angels Take Detours, a wry, witty, Jim Jarmusch-esque American travelogue done as an album/dvd combination that came out last year. Recorded in the spring of 2009 at the Stone, it’s not only a showcase for Plantinga’s puckish wit, but also the final live concert recording to feature the late, great New York drummer Dave Campbell. Here, Campbell fits into the electroacoustic mix with a seamlessly subtle, shuffling approach as Plantinga’s sonic film unwinds, part hip-hop, part ambient music, with jazzy flourishes and the occasional nod to current-day noir composers like Angelo Badalamenti. As with much of Plantinga’s work, the warmly analog feel of this vinyl record transcends any attempt to digitize it: to genuinely appreciate its surreal, encircling ambience, you have to put it on a turntable, not an ipod. In addition to Plantinga – on bass and vocals – and Campbell, the lineup onstage includes SoSaLa’s Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi on tenor sax and Kurt Dahlke a.ka. Pyrolator on electronics.

Campbell kicks it off with a tongue-in-cheek military roll beat that he’ll bring back later, then the sequencer comes in along with a surreal torrent of faux hip-hop phrases punctuated by a vocoder. The shuffling, steamily funky (and funny) track two, I Don’t Even Pink features keening Dr. Dre synth tones giving way to a roaring loop – “The intervention of my shrink urges me to rethink – what does it feel like?” Plantinga muses. The group follows that with the ominous sonics of Je Ne Suis Pas Folle, the woozy but matter-of-fact existential meditation Not One Scratch and then the cadavre exquis vibe of Hit by My Mother, with its rapidfire samples and distantly menacing, allusively atmospheric chromatics underscoring its sarcastic, satirical humor.

The concert really hits a peak as the second side – the travelogue side – of the record kicks in, with the scampering Ryuichi Sakamoto-ish Learn to Speak Your Language. Bread Into Stone brings back the funk and some sardonically caustic commentary on conspicuous consumption. The unselfconsciously gorgeous, plaintive title track paints a trippy early 70s tableau fueled by Plantinga’s watery bass chords (that’s the hook from The Eton Rifles, by the Jam – intentional or not?) and a slowly crescendoing, casually poignant Ladjevardi solo. The concert winds up with the anxiously soaring Never Had a Sweater, Campbell anchoring its steady sweep as a series of sarcastic anti-rock quotes from decades past sweep through the picture. The crowd is obviously entertained; the musicians seem to be having a great time, and it’s often such a mishmash that it’s impossible to figure out who’s playing what: sit back and enjoy the show.

July 10, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/15/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album was #473:

Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black

The iconic conscious hip-hop group followed up the erratic Fear of a Black Planet with this erudite, entertaining, snarling, politically-charged 1991 lyrical masterpiece. Although many of the references here are necessarily of its Bush I/first Gulf War era time, the criticism is timeless: the anti-racist broadside A Letter to the NY Post; the haunting, murderous By the Time I Get to Arizona (directed at then-governor Fyfe Symington, who abolished the MLK holiday there), the equally ferocious How to Kill a Radio Consultant; the cynical More News at 11; the bitter, eerie outsider anthem Get the Fuck Out of Dodge; and an antidrug/antibooze rant, 1 Million Bottlebags. But there’s plenty of upbeat stuff too: anthems like Nighttrain, Can’t Truss It, Flava Flav’s unusually pissed-off I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga, the deliriously powerful Shut Em Down and an early rap-metal number, the band’s remake of the classic Bring Tha Noise, recorded with Brooklyn nu-metalheads Anthrax. Here’s a random torrent.

October 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/1/11

Almost caught up to where we should be, every day, as our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #516:

Bahamadia – Kollage

One of the tracks on this late golden-age hip-hop album is simply called Innovation, which pretty much sums up what Bahamadia is all about. She was respected in her native Philadelphia before Guru and Primo from Gang Starr discovered her and produced most of the tracks on this 1996 debut. It’s easy to see why they liked her. She’s a purist who – other than on Tru Honey Buns, where she gets off on playing a clueless guy for his money – puts lyrics and ideas out front rather than posturing for fame or namechecking luxury brands. Think a mature Roxanne Shante without the Brooklyn accent. Some of the best of the 15 tracks here: Spontaneity, a rapidfire freestyle with Razhel; the calmly erudite Wordplay; the Nas-influenced Rugged Ruff; the plaintive I Confess, ecstatic Uknowhowwedo, kick-ass Total Wreck and the single that should have been huge, 3 the Hard Way. The only dud here is a maudlin, sentimental piece that samples 70s elevator-pop band Ambrosia. Here’s a random torrent via Blazewon.

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

Album of the Day 7/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #564:

Canibus – Mic Club: The Curriculum

A rare example of a lyricist who more than lived up to the extreme hype surrounding his 1998 debut, Canibus represents the pinnacle of East Coast hardcore hip-hop wordsmithing: he’s never made a bad album. This 2002 underground classic is where he really took his game to the next level: erudite, serious as hell but also funny as hell with the mot juste when he wants to skewer someone. He’s so articulate here that he doesn’t even feel the need to use any curse words until track six. The rhymes come fast and furious with Poet Laureate; Masters Thesis; the scathing Behind Enemy Rhymes; Allied Meta-Forces, with a typically potent Kool G Rap cameo; Cenoir Studies 02; C Section; Literal Arts (featuring heavy-hitting Philly artist Jedi Mind Tricks) and Curriculum 101. As much as hip-hop has always been more about the lyrics than the backing tracks, the samples here are especially imaginative (when’s the last time you heard somebody sample Pink Floyd’s Summer ’68?). Here’s a random torrent.

July 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blitz the Ambassador’s Native Sun Blazes and Burns

This is the rare hip-hop album that’s as interesting musically as it is lyrically, in fact more so. That’s because Ghanian-American hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambasssador is also a bandleader, mixing Afrobeat with funk, the occasional slow jam and roots reggae for a completely unique sound. The hooks here are wicked: like Blitz’s lyrics, they come at you hard and fast. There are a lot of musicians on the album: the core band, with Raja Kassis on guitar, Ramon de Bruyn on bass and a soaring horn section with Jonathan Powell on trumpet, Ron Prokopez on trombone and Ezra Brown on tenor sax is killer, with a mix of real percussion and canned beats that sound organic more often than not.

The opening track sets the stage for everything that follows: snakecharmer flute kicks off a balmy, hypnotic Afrobeat instrumental, slinky guitar intermingling with the horns and Blitz’s rapidfire lyrics: he wants to leave no doubt that he’s arrived, “Top ten on itunes without a deal.” A love letter to Africa personifies the continent as a woman: “Most of the men that said they loved you robbed you blind,” Blitz snarls, the sway behind him building to a biting, staccato Afro-funk interlude. He delivers a couple of joints in his native dialect over catchy, Ethiopian-flavored, hypnotic vamps; the reggae-flavored Best I Can gives a shout-out to the American hip-hop artists who inspire their African colleagues, Blitz making it clear that all he’s interested in is rocking the mic, not striking any stereotypical, corporate faux-gangbanger pose.

The next track is a slow jam with a breezy sax solo, segueing into the album’s best cut, the absolutely gorgeous Accra City Blues. A lament for a lost girlfriend in both English and Blitz’s native tongue, it’s packed with delicious touches like a sax solo run very subtly through a phaser, and an eerily twangy, absolutely noir guitar outro. With its mighty horn hook, Free Your Mind is a call for solidarity against corruption and African tyrants that couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The brief Victory is the most traditional, American-style rap number here, which segues into the bitter, knowing title track, illuminating the struggle that African immigrants face here as the band works a richly psychedelic early 70s style wah funk groove. The album winds out with a surprisingly mellow, thoughtful acoustic guitar interlude. So many different styles of music here, so many different possible fans: this guy’s no dummy. Blitz the Ambassador plays the cd release show for this one at SOB’s on May 4 at 9.

May 2, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, rap music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mamarazzi’s Bewilderness Gets the Party Started

Brooklyn band Mamarazzi’s latest album Bewilderness has a completely original sound: a mix of funk, Afrobeat, hip-hop and a little salsa. A lot of this is totally psychedelic in an early 70s Isaac Hayes or Roy Ayers kind of way, and everything here, even the occasional slow jam, is danceable. The tunes are catchy; the hip-hop interludes are mostly party jams or guy-meets-girl scenes with the boudoir just a few feet away.

The opening track, Sobobo sets cheery sax floating over Andrew Aprile’s circular Afrobeat guitar. Boo Lynn Waltz is a deliciously suspenseful mini-suite, shifting unexpectedly from tense new wave funk to a chill organ interlude with mysterioso sax that morphs again into a vintage soul groove with sweet, jangly guitar and horns. The third track, a straight-up funk tune with a hip-hop bridge, features biting tenor sax harmonies from Tacuma Bradley and Sam Franklin. They follow that with a boudoir theme that leaps into an Afro-funk vamp – it sounds like it was written as a launching pad for audience participation. Gypsy Delight is actually a salsa song, with some joyous Cuban swing piano from Rob Cohen, with another oldschool soul interlude before the dance beat kicks in again.

The next couple of tracks are slinky psychedelic funk. Nu Dutch starts out with ominous wah guitar and timbales and builds to a lush, anthemic vibe, sax anchoring the fat, reverb-toned guitar. Seeds sets the bass against the hypnotic percussion of Tavi Fields and Sam Bathrick, with some tasty, breezy sax as it picks up. Packed with tricky, unexpected tempo and dynamic shifts, Grapefruit kicks off with a blaze of horns, slows down to a woozy sway with electric piano and guitar before it explodes. The way the trombone and sax converge over galloping Rhodes piano as it reaches boiling point is one of the high points of the album. Sunday Night Chicks could be the best song here, beginning as a pretty, summery theme with Eric Herman’s sliding bass carrying the melody in a Little Wing-style Hendrix kind of way. It gets apprehensive and then funky, hits an interlude where the sax pairs off against Jeremy Noller’s drums, followed by a blippy, trippy organ solo and then goes out the way it came in. The album winds up on a surprisingly quiet note with Gangster, a cautionary tale for a bad guy, with a trick ending and an outro that might or might not be part of the mystery. Mamarazzi are at Drom on 4/30 at 10ish on a great bill opening for ferocious gypsy bands Karikatura and Bad Buka.

April 29, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, rap music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/8/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #662:

The Luniz – Lunitik Muzik

Oakland hip-hop duo Yukmouth and Numskull, the “Highest Niggaz in the Industry” as they called themselves on their 1997 sophomore album, were a couple of West Coast guys with East Coast flow. Redman was paying attention, and collaborated with them on the rapidfire classic Hypnotize. The rest of this crazily ganja-fueled lyric session spins between assaultive, gleeful gangsta stuff, comedy rap and weedhead rhymes. In My Nature features early Dirty South pioneers Eightball and MJG; My Baby Mamma, Jus Mee & U, and the sarcastic $ad Millionaire have the same surreal sense of humor. Killaz on the Payroll, Mobb Shit and the Tupac-influenced Why Do Thugzz Die work the dirty side; Phillies and the impossibly funny 20 Bluntz a Day – featuring the whole 2 Live Crew – represent for the smokers. A high point in the history of west coast rap. Here’s a random torrent.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/7/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #663:

The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy – Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury

Michael Franti’s second entry here (Spearhead’s Chocolate Super Highway is at #768) is his prophetic, low-key, smoldering 1992 hip-hop project that he toured as an opening act for U2. The most famous – and obvious – track here is Television, the Drug of a Nation, an update on a 1989 tune by his old funk-punk band the Beatnigs. Another big crowd-pleaser is his remake of the Dead Kennedys’ California Uber Alles, with its vicious dis of Reaganite governor Pete Wilson. Famous and Dandy (Like Amos & Andy) mocks the culture of celebrity; Everyday Life Has Become a Health Risk and Financial Leprosy are self-explanatory, like mini Michael Moore movies. There’s also the Salman Rushdie shout-out Satanic Reverses, the brooding, brutal Gulf War I narrative Winter of the Long Hot Summer, the bitter anti-racist Socio Genetic Experiment, the sardonic Music and Politics and Water Pistol Man, later reprised as a Spearhead song. Here’s a random torrent via musictraveler.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment