Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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

The Debutante Hour Cover Up For Once

Musicians know that if you really want to keep an audience’s attention with a cover song, you have to find a way to make it different from the original. Usually the more you change it, the funnier it gets. The Debutante Hour’s new album Follow Me is all cover songs: hip-hop, new wave pop, bluegrass, Phil Spector and indie rock done oldtimey style with accordion, cello and percussion. Is the band being silly? Sarcastic? Serious? With the Debutante Hour, you never know. Accordionist Maria Sonevytsky, cellist Mia Pixley and multi-instrumentalist Susan Hwang’s stagewear may not leave much to the imagination, but their songs do the opposite: their deadpan surrealism isn’t always easy to figure out. Which is what makes them so appealing – aside from their perfectly charming three-part harmonies. And the outfits of course. They definitely were serious about putting the album together, with crystalline production from World Inferno’s Franz Nicolay.

The first song is No Scrubs, originally done by TLC, recast here as a ukelele shuffle. The original was mildly funny and this is funnier (live, it’s absolutely hilarious). When it comes time for the bridge, Baltimore hip-hop diva TK Wonder reminds that girl in the song isn’t a gold digger, she’s just sick of getting hit on by scuzzy guys – beeyatch!

Just What I Needed by the Cars is a horrible song, one cliche after another, absolutely unredeemable unless maybe as death metal or industrial. Here it’s reinvented as a tongue-in-cheek accordion tune, as the Main Squeeze Orchestra might have done it. When Nicolay comes in with his banjo, that’s when it gets really funny.

The third track is an acoustic hip-hop hit by popular Ukrainian duo 5’Nizza (whose name is a Russian pun, meaning “Friday”). It seems to be a come-on (the hook seems to mean something along the lines of “I’m not like that”). To a non-Ukrainian speaker, it comes across as catchy, innocuous trip-hop. The first serious song here is an unselfconsciously beautiful version of the Stanley Bros.’ If That’s the Way You Feel, evocative of the Roulette Sisters. Another serious one is Be My Baby, where they take the generic white doo-wop hit burned out by oldies radio decades ago and make it downright sultry. They close with the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize. If you missed the original, it’s Brian Jonestown Massacre-style nouveau psychedelia, in this case a third-rate John Lennon imitation with really awful (and kind of morbid) lyrics. The Debutante Hour’s version plays down the death fixation and plays up the pretty tune. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 3/25 at 7 PM.

Since now we know that the Debutante Hour’s covers are as fun and interesting as their originals, here’s some other cover ideas: John Sheppard or Thomas Tallis’ death-fixated sixteenth-century plainchant with intricate harmonies that scream out gothically for a reinterpretation by the Debutante Hour! How about Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, which is so idiotic that it wouldn’t be hard to have a little fun with – maybe bring back TK Wonder for that one? Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple, which pretty much everybody knows, and could use some harmonies? Camay by Ghostface Killah? The Girl’s Guide to the Modern Diva by Black Box Recorder? Vladimir Vysotksky’s acoustic gypsy-punk revolutionary anthem Okhata Na Volkov (The Wolf Hunt)? Just brainstorming here…

March 13, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #708:

Ghostface Killah – Ironman

The genius of the Wu-Tang Clan, as a business concept, is that they rippped off George Clinton’s concept of Parliament/Funkadelic: for the better part of a decade, they hoodwinked a big record label into releasing everything they ever breathed on. The irony is that the Wu and their affiliated members basically kept the label in business over that time. Genius all around? Ghostface’s 1996 solo debut is just as much a group effort as Raekwon’s, or the RZA’s, or anyone else in the group. The RZA produced this one; Ghost typically takes a verse, leaving his bandmates to fill out the rest, a luxury most hip-hop groups could only dream of. Ghost doesn’t even appear on the intense centerpiece here, Assassination Day, but he does on the silly, predictable but absolutely spot-on faux “R&B” hit Camay.  Poisonous Darts is an East Coast hardcore free-throw contest; Daytona 500 is an irresistibly nimble series of racecar riffs, Chuck Berry updated for the hip-hop age.  There’s also a poignant narrative based on the jazz classic Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, an extrapolation on the 70s soul hit Wildflower and an attempt at controversy, Black Jesus, among the thirteen craftily composed tracks here.  Here’s a random torrent.

February 20, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment