Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Rare Reunion from New York’s Best Underground Swing Jazz Supergroup

The Tickled Pinks almost played Club Cumming. Ostensibly, liquor license issues derailed one of the few events that could have transcended any issue concerning tourist hordes in the East Village on a Saturday night. But the irrepressible underground swing jazz supergroup did get to play two iconic Brooklyn venues, Hank’s and Pete’s last month, in one of the funnest reunions of any New York band in recent years.

Among other harmony vocal acts, only John Zorn’s Mycale chorale have the kind of individualistic power and interplay that the Pinks showed off during what was a pretty good run. They made it as far as Joe’s Pub – and got the key to the city of Olympia, Washington on their most recent tour. Whether the key works or not is unknown.

It would be overly reductionistic to say that with her spectacular range, Karla Rose Moheno handles the highs, the more misty Stephanie Layton handles the mids and Kate Sland handles the lows – all three women can span the octaves enough to take their original inspiration, the Andrews Sisters, to the next level. Although that basic formula seemed to be the strategy for night one of a reunion weekend stand that began with an Elvis cover night at Hank’s.

The idea of three women harmonizing Elvis tunes is a typical Pinks move, although one they never did before. And they weren’t the only ones who sang. Guitarist Dylan Charles took a break in between elegant expanses of jazz chords, snazzy rockabilly and some machete tremolo-picking to narrate a tongue-in-cheek version of Are You Lonesome Tonight. There were also a handful of cameos from friends of the band invited up to do their versions of the hits.

Moheno switched out her trusty Telecaster for an acoustic guitar; Sland played snappy bass and Layton held down the groove behind the drumkit. John Rogers’ ornate electric piano and organ lit up several of the songs; trumpeter Mike Maher gave a mariachi flair to several numbers as well.

The set wasn’t just familiar favorites, either. As much as hearing what this crew could do with Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock and Suspicious Minds, the best song of the night was an obscure, ominous noir number, Black Star. On one hand, it’s hard to imagine that Elvis knew what kind of an end he’d come to when he sang this in the mid-60s…but this group’s stalking, low-key version left that question hanging. From this point of view, it would have been even more fun to be able to catch the whole set, but it was impossible to walk out of Moroccan saxophonist Yacine Boulares’ absolutely haunting Lincoln Center set earlier that night.

The Pinks wound up their weekend with a serpentine set of swing at Pete’s. Since they started in the late zeros, they’ve expanded their songbook far beyond 30s girl-group material to jump blues and beyond. Case in point: an absolutely accusatory version of Straighten Out and Fly Right. They went deep inside to find the bittersweetness in the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon, then pulled out all the smoke and sultriness in Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby. And the old 20s hot swing standard Why Don’t You Do Right outdid both the Moonlighters and Rasputina’s versions in terms of both energy and righteous rage.

The Pinks are back on hiatus now while everybody in the group is busy with their own projects. Layton and Charles continue with their torch jazz band Eden Lane, with a gig on June 3 at 7 PM at Caffe Vivaldi, one of the Pinks’ old haunts. Sland continues to do unselfconsciously heroic work in hospice medicine in California. And Moheno continues with recording her next noir rock album, under the name Karla Rose – if the track listing remains as originally planned, that record would top the list of best albums of 2018 if she released it now.

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May 30, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vivid, Edgy New Loopmusic Album and a Chelsea Release Show by Innovative Violist Jessica Meyer

Violist Jessica Meyer has an intriguingly vivid new solo electroacoustic album, Sounds of Being, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s her first collection of original compositions. Its seven instrumental tracks are explorations of specific emotions, from unabashed joy to clenched-teeth angst. You could lump these pieces under the wide umbrella of indie classical, although they also have echoes of film music, ambient music and the spectral side of the avant garde. She’s playing the album release show at 8 PM on Dec 15 at the Cell Theatre, 338 W 23rd St (8th/9th Aves); cover is $20.

Although this is a loopmusic album, Meyer often creates the effect of a one-woman orchestra, with animated dynamic shifts and changing segments, rather than long, hypnotic one-chord jams in the same vein as her fellow string players Jody Redhage and Nadia Sirota have recorded in the recent past.

Meyer builds a steady theme that rises toward a shivery franticness on the opening track, Getting Home (I Must Be…), ending with a big, distinctly Indian-flavored crescendo. The second track, Hello is more of a soundscape, assembled around subtle, dancing Steve Reich-ish variations on a simple, cellular theme. She orchestrates Into the Vortex with deft swoops, washes, frenetic clusters and microtonal displays of extended technique, sort of a mashup of Rasputina and the Mivos Quartet in particularly experimental mode.

Afflicted Mantra introduces another Indian-tinged melody and variations – albeit more tense and menacing – out of a keening, enervated intro. A simple, morose spoken phrase anchors its increasing agitation. By contrast, Source of Joy builds a jauntily leaping if considerably more measured, pensive atmosphere than the title suggests. The album’s most expansive piece is Touch, again reaching for distantly Indian overtones with a gently pulsing rhythm that contrasts with its enveloping sonics. The final piece, Duende follows a troubling trajectory upward out of more of hints of the Indian music that Meyer seems to love so much, to a cruel false ending. Who is the audience for this? Fans of the more edgy, intense side of classical music, obviously, as well as anyone who enjoys any of the abovementioned artists.

December 10, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jay Vilnai’s Shakespeare Songs: Dark Otherworldly Intensity

Jay Vilnai may be best known as an eclectic, intense guitarist and connoisseur of gypsy music. He’s also a formidable composer, most recently reaffirmed by his new collection, Shakespeare Songs, a setting of six Shakespeare texts sung with counterintuitive relish by soprano Gelsey Bell over the often downright creepy strings of the Mivos String Trio. Much of this is sort of a missing link between Rasputina and Bernard Herrmann.

The Mourning Song from Cymbeline matches an austerely aching string melody to soulfully apprehensive vocals. Set to a stately, insistent rhythm, it’s a brooding reflection on mortality, with just enough bracing atonality to give the dirge a genuinely creepy otherworldliness. The second cut, To Dream Again is a vignette anchored by stark lo/hi contrast between cello and violin. Sigh No More (from Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 2), a slow waltz fueled by pizzicato cello, has Bell adding a strikingly melismatic, soul-inflected quality: she gets the max out of her occasional flights as it builds with understated counterpoint and hints at vaudeville. Rather than “converting all your sounds of woe,” as the Bard suggests, the song plays up the pain of the past, with a deliciously creepy outro.

There’s also a wry humor here, particularly in Behind the Door (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 1), its clever mimicry, ghostly ambience and ethereal overtones making a marvelously nocturnal backdrop for the ghoulish lyric:

Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide
Every one lets forth his sprite
In the church-way paths to glide

It it grows to a march with clever counterpoint and a deadpan horror-movie conclusion. Likewise, I Have Drunk and Seen the Spider, from The Winter’s Tale, Act II, Scene 1 – a Melora Creager-esque spoken-word piece – playfully looks at the power of suggestion. The final track is an operatic take on the old folk song Hey Ho the Wind and the Rain, its shifting astringencies making a marvelously menacing contrast with the blitheness of the melody. The musicianship is understated, with nuanced dynamics by the entire ensemble: Joshua Modney on violin, Victor Lowrie on viola and Isabel Castellvi (also of exhilirating worldbeat string band Copal) on cello. Throughout the songs, Vilnai’s arrangements are strikingly terse and economical, not to mention memorable – indie classical doesn’t get any better than this.

January 14, 2012 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trio Tritticali’s Issue #1 – One of 2011’s Best Albums

Brooklyn string ensemble Trio Tritticali have just released their new Issue # 1, one of the most gripping, intelligent, richly eclectic albums of recent years. Drawing on elements as diverse as Egyptian dance vamps, the baroque, bossa nova, tango and European Romantic chamber music, they blend those styles together seamlessly and imaginatively for a bracingly intricate sound that’s uniquely their own. The chemistry between violinist Helen Yee, violist Leanne Darling and cellist Loren Dempster is intuitively playful. As the songs slowly unwind, the band exchanges thematic variations, converses, intertwines and occasionally locks horns, individual voices often disappearing or reappearing when least expected: they may be a trio, but there are surprisingly many moments when it’s only two or even one of them. They love minor keys, and have a thing for chromatics, no surprise considering that Darling also jams with the Near East River Ensemble. Yee also plays yangqin dulcimer in Music from China; Dempster also performs with the avant-garde Dan Joseph Ensemble and with well-known dance ensembles.

Which makes a lot of sense: Dempster’s rhythmic, often funky edge is key to this group, right from the title track, which alternates stark, dark funk, then goes quiet and mysterious, then finally explodes in a blaze of chamber metal. It’s the most dramatic moment on the album. They follow that with a bracing tango, La Yumba, which takes a detour into early Beethoven with a cello solo that rises imperceptibly until it’s sailing over the lushness of the other strings. The dynamic shifts in this one are especially yummy.

A long, suspensefully crescendoing Middle Eastern piece, Azizah begins with a casually ominous series of taqsims (individual improvisations), shifting methodically from tone poem to processional to triumphant swing, voices constantly shifting and handing off ideas to each other. By contrast, Corcovado is a nostalgic bossa ballad that takes a turn in a more wistful direction, Dempster’s brooding solo leading to an intricate, stately thicket of violin and viola. A jazz-pop song in disguise that goes unexpectedly dark, Stolen Moments is a showcase for Dempster’s walking basslines, pensively swinging lines and bluesy accents. The sarcastically titled Ditty is actually one of the album’s most stunning compositions, another long detour into the Middle East with a funky modal edge, a memorably apprehensive Darling solo and an equally memorable lead-in from Yee, who comes in buzzing like a mosquito with an off-kilter, swoopy edge while the cello and viola lock in an intense, chordally pulsing bassline.

The seventh track, Who Knows Yet is a gorgeous, starkly wary waltz with a series of artful rhythmic shifts and a series of bitingly bluesy variations – it reminds a bit of Rasputina in an especially reflective moment. Psychedelic and very clever, Sakura is a diptych: an austere tone poem with the cello mimicking a koto, then a pensive, minor-key 5/4 funk theme with yet more deliciously unexpected tradeoffs between instruments. The concluding tone poem, Heart Lake, evokes Brooklyn Rider’s adventures in Asian music, viola and violin trading atmospherics over Dempster’s hypnotic, circular bassline – it’s like Copal at their most ambient, with distantly Asian motifs. This is one of those albums where every time you listen to it, you’ll discover something new – you can get lost in this music. With compositions like this, it won’t be long before Trio Tritticali will be playing big stages like Symphony Space; for the moment, you can catch them at low-key Brooklyn brunch spot Linger Cafe (533 Atlantic Ave. between 3rd and 4th Aves) on frequent Sundays – the next one is December 10 – starting around 1 PM.

November 24, 2011 Posted by | classical music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 10/27/11

As we usually do every day – but didn’t do over the previous very, very lost weekend – our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #461:

Rasputina – Oh Perilous World

The original cello rockers, Rasputina have been putting out great albums for almost 20 years, frontwoman Melora Creager backed by an increasingly shifting cast of characters. This is her finest hour, from 2007: she’s always been a great lyricist as well as a composer, but she really took it to the next level with these torrentially metaphorical songs that deliver a very subtle but absolutely brutal critique of the Bush regime’s reign of terror and the paranoia they spread in the wake of 9/11. All this takes place against a backdrop of global warming (1816 the Year Without a Summer), basic human rights taking a beating (Choose Me for a Champion), and anthrax scares engineered from inside the government (Incident in a Medical Clinic). Only in Draconian Crackdown does she let down her guard and blast the traitors of 9/11 for their cowardice. Otherwise, the journey from Child Soldier Rebellion to Bring Back the Egg Unbroken to Old Yellowcake (weapons of mass destruction – get it?) is a treacherous and grotesquely graphic one, and Creager leaves no stone unturned. A courageous and mighty blow for democracy whose time may not have come yet. Here’s a random torrent.

November 3, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dream Zoo Lives Up to Its Name

Dream Zoo’s new album – streaming in its entirety at bandcamp – is crazy fun. Surreal, trippy and eclectic to an extreme, frontwoman/cellist Valerie Kuehne’s stream-of-consciousness narratives leap genres in a split second. The band also includes Lucio Menegon on guitar, Jeff Young on violin and Sean Ali on bass and percussion. Much of this is similar to the work of Amy X Neuburg. For example, consider the album’s most interesting track, The Spell. In almost nine minutes, there’s a nicely apprehensive, atmospheric intro; trippy, theatrical vocals over pizzicato cello and what sounds like sandpaper on the strings; a pensive, minimalist solo cello passage that builds with layers of overtones to a quiet cacaphony, then winds down, then back up again, a chorus of voices growing more and more anguished: “Forget about geometry!” is their mantra. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Who knows.

Kuehne matches her vocals to the lyrics: it’s an acting job, and she pulls it off, especially on The Flight Crew Was Rude, the surrealistically entertaining Paris-Berlin flight narrative that opens the album. Like a lot of the compositions here, it’s mini-suite of sorts, bracing pizzicato cello switching over to jarring astringencies and then to warmly consonant atmospherics which eventually go completely nuts. The bizarre, disjointed Architecture eventually coalesces as a stately, somewhat menacing, insistent art-rock theme (with a chase scene involving a chicken in a kitchen). Likewise, Plane Crash No. 2 alludes to and then finally comes together as artsy folk-rock, with a playfully swoopy guitar outro. Kicking off with baroque echoes, The Chase could be a spoof of classical music for strings. The most “outside” piece here is The Train, a strange pastiche that suddenly becomes claustrophobic and then morphs into variations on a Rasputina-esque cello rock vamp.

In addition to her work as a musician and composer, Kuehne is also an impresario: she books the Super Coda concert series at Bushwick’s Cafe Orwell, an edgy, eclectic, improvisationally-oriented mix of indie classical, jazz, world music and styles that defy categorization.

July 25, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/13/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #566:

Rasputina – A Radical Recital

Since the 90s, cellist/songwriter Melora Creager has created an eerily surreal, twistedly lyrical, frequently hilarious, visionary body of work that ranks with any other songwriter or composer’s output during that time. Literally everything she’s ever made is worth owning. This particular edition of Rasputina, from 2005, features three cellos and drums (the drum guy sings a silly English folk song, When I Was a Young Girl, for comic relief from the relentless, dark intensity) plus Creager on vocals doing essentially a greatest hits-live set. It’s a strong if incomplete representation, with the searing chromatics of Saline the Salt Lake Queen; the ferociously sarcastic Howard Hughes; the ethereally sad Sign of the Zodiac and Watch TV; a blistering cover of the old swing tune If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love; the amusing Mama Was an Opium Smoker; the entertainingly vicious anti-Rudy Guiliani broadside The Mayor; the pensive suicide anthem A Quitter, plus tongue-in-cheek chamber rock versions of Led Zep’s Rock & Roll and Barracuda by Heart. The cd is still available at the band’s site; here’s a random torrent.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/6/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #664:

Serena Jost – Closer Than Far

If we survive this year, you’ll see a lot more like this one on this list: not a single substandard song among the eleven tracks here, and for us, that’s what defines a great album. Alternately lush and austere, often mysterious yet richly tuneful, the former Rasputina multi-instrumentalist’s 2008 solo debut is a deliciously eclectic mix of chamber pop, early 70s-style art-rock, and Americana with unexpected, playful detours into funk and even surf music. It opens with a plaintive, gorgeous version of Iris DeMent’s Our Town, followed by the somewhat stark Halfway There and then the ridiculously catchy, cleverly lyrical pop gem Vertical World. Julian Maile’s twangy Ventures guitar lights up the mini-suite I Wait, followed by the shapeshifting Almost Nothing and Reasons and Lies. Jump (not the Van Halen song) contrasts a brooding melody with a tongue-in-cheek disco beat. The most classically-influenced number here is In Time; the album closes with the poignant yet hopeful Stowaway. A search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything, but the whole thing is streaming at myspace, and it’s still up at cdbaby.

April 6, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The John Kerry Fundraiser at Sin-e, 8/26/04

[Editor’s note – we’re still on vacation and raiding the archive for some fond memories. This is a particularly bittersweet one, from the days when every New York band, outside of Williamsburg, at least, was desperate to vote the Bush regime out of office…and for awhile it looked like it really would happen in 2004]

Randi Russo had organized this fundraiser for the John Kerry campaign, unsurprisingly drawing an A-list of New York rock talent who connected electrically with the audience: they may have been preaching to the converted, but this show left no doubt that New York is still a Democratic town. Literate songwriter Erika Simonian opened. Nuance is her defining characteristic, along with a deadpan, cynical sense of humor. The highlight of her set, for that matter probably the highlight of the night – at least from the crowd’s delirious reaction – was I’ve Got a Song (as in, “I’ve got a song, it goes FUCK YOU”), a kiss-off anthem that this time out took on extra significance when she dedicated it to Bush. Her band was tight, accordionist Paul Brady was incisive and captivating as always but the muddy sound mix sometimes deadened her vocals – the sound guy was obviously trying to fix it, with minimal results.

Paul Wallfisch of Botanica did three songs solo on his trust old Wurlitzer electric piano, one of them a Jacques Brel cover, before the rest of his band joined him for a spot-on, passionate version of The Flag (“When I stand and face the flag/I see my country wrapped in rags”), from their 9/11-themed album Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. They eventually did a stripped-down, careening version of the gypsy-punk title track from that album plus some more straight-ahead, rock-oriented new material. Guitarist Pete Min ably channeled their former axeman John Andrews’ reverb-laden parts and their new drummer locked with bassist Christian Bongers’ spiraling, melodic lines.

Interestingly, Melora Creager, frontwoman and first-chair cellist of goth-tinged chamber rock band Rasputina was the big draw of the early part of the night: the goth girls shrieked when she hit the stage, then exited en masse when she was done. Seeing her play solo for over 40 minutes was even more impressive than watching her with the band. She plays most of the leads herself and didn’t miss a beat while singing in her signature deadpan, vibrato-laden, oldtimey delivery. She went into character and stayed there, cracking everybody up: too many jokes to remember. The highlight of the set was her closer, A Quitter, an uncharacteristically direct account of teen suicide.

Russo would later release her set as the Live at Sin-e album (still streaming in its entirety at deezer after all these years). Happily, that recording minimizes the boominess that plagued her set. They opened with a bouncy, funky League of the Brigands, followed with a swinging cover of Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a marauding blast through the Middle Eastern-tinged antiwar anthem Live Bait and a gently mysterious, warmly swinging version of the janglerock hit Get Me Over. A rapidfire, scurrying version of Parasitic People contrasted with the hypnotic, Smog-like ambience of Shout Like a Lady (title track to her 2006 studio album), a snarling version of the embattled workingwoman’s anthem Battle on the Periphery and a clattering take of the usually hypnotic, strikingly optimistic Ceiling Fire to close the set on a high note.

Tammy Faye Starlite headlined. Backed by just an acoustic guitarist, the fearless satirist/actress/comedienne ran through a pointed, typically hilarious mix of songs and spontaneous riffage on the Bush regime. She’s a potent voice for the Democrats this time around (if they can stomach her genuine punk rock attitude and take-no-prisoners commentary). The big showstopper this time out was I Shaved My Vagina for This, one of the most amusingly feminist numbers from her country-flavored first album. Matching the ferocity of Amy Rigby to the uninhibited, stream-of-consciousness hilariousness of Lenny Bruce, it was a girl-power anthem that anyone could sing along to if they stopped laughing long enough.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Real Vocal String Quartet

A cynic might call the Real Vocal String Quartet the happy Rasputina. But that doesn’t give the all-female new music ensemble enough credit – considering the global diversity of styles they play here, a better comparison would be genre-smashing jazz/Americana violinist/composer Jenny Scheinman. Founded by former Turtle Island String Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, the Real Vocal String Quartet blend classical, avant garde, bluegrass, Balkan and African influences; the ultimate result is completely unique. While Sazer writes most of the material, violinist Alisa Rose, violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry also contribute. Everybody sings.

The album opens with a circular arrangement of Kenyan composer and nyatiti lute player Ayub Ogada’s Kothbiro, alternating rhythmic pizzicato with lush washes of ambience in a striking call-and-response. They follow that with a traditional Appalachian dance done as hypnotic Tinariwen-style desert blues, string quartet style. The single best number on the album is the darkly crescendoing, cinematic instrumental Night Game, which nonetheless finds a way to end on a cleverly playful, upbeat note. A diptych here sounds like traditional Italian folk music,  but it’s actually a couple of covers from the catalog of early Brazilian jazz pioneer Pixinguinha. Green Bean Stand harmonizes high vocalese with the strings, morphing into a hypnotically swaying one-chord dance vamp evocative of the ensemble’s Turtle Island cousins. There’s also a hauntingly rustic country song, the violins playing a guitar chart; a hypnotic, ambient tone poem with strings and vocalese; a tricky art-rock song with rousing harmonies, and a wistful vocal tune that gives way to a stately baroque theme. There’s so much here that it ought to appeal to a lot of fanbases: neoclassical types, world music and chamber music fans, and just your average pop/rock person looking for something good for the ipod.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments