Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jazz Passengers and Deborah Harry Party Like It’s 1989

The Jazz Passengers are defined by their sense of humor. Even their name is sardonic, as if to imply that they’re just along for the ride, which of course they aren’t. It’s a deadpan, surreal kind of humor that strikes some people as ineffably hip when it’s actually just a shared cultural response common to most oldschool New Yorkers, and the Jazz Passengers are nothing if not oldschool New York. Last night at the Jazz Standard they brought bundles of that humor, and that’s what energized the crowd – that and special guest Deborah Harry. Yet for all the jokes and satire, they also showed off a vividly perceptive, sometimes plaintive, understatedly sympathetic social awareness: they’re not just a funny jazz/R&B band. Alto saxist/bandleader Roy Nathanson, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and drummer E.J. Rodriguez did time in a late-period version of the Lounge Lizards, so they got an early immersion in jazz spoofery; violinist Sam Bardfeld, vibraphonist Bill Ware and bassist Brad Jones reminded that they were just as in on what was happening half of the time. Sub guitarist Kenny Russell played it pretty straight, alternating between terse wah-wah funk and bright, slightly distortion-tinged sustained passages. Much of their set was taken from their superb, forthcoming album Reunited, their first in over ten years.

Their opening number shifted from ebullient straight-up swing to suspenseful, noirish interludes, Ware nimbly sidestepping Jones’ gritty chordal attack when they brought the lights down low. Fowlkes sang the jaunty early 70s style funk number Button Up with a casually thought-out determination, Bardfeld doing a spot-on imitation of the wah-wah of the guitar when Russell took a solo. Seven, another song from the new cd, held tight to a similar Headhunters/Quincy Jones vibe, Nathanson and Fowlkes moving judiciously from agitation to something approximating atmospherics. Then they brought up “The Baronness.” Deborah Harry has been in finer voice than ever on recent Blondie tours: the Jazz Standard’s crystalline PA system revealed a little more huskiness, a little more grit than typically comes across with a rock band behind her, not to mention a completely natural, slightly sepulchral swing phrasing. The band serenaded her with a creepy, carnivalesque intro that she shouted down. “Blasé was never a strength of mine,” she sang without a hint of irony on her understatedly torchy opening number – it was one of the funniest moments of the night, one that would recur a bit later.

Little Jimmy Scott’s Imitation of a Kiss saw her shift from torch-song angst to a sultry purr: although she wasn’t exactly wearing her heart on her sleeve, she made it clear that this was a welcome return to the good times she’d had with this band in the years between Blondie’s top 40 heyday and their revival on the nostalgia circuit. The opening cut on the forthcoming album, Thought I Saw the Wind, is sung by Elvis Costello with a detached buoyancy; Harry made its down-and-out cinematography austere and poignant, and the band matched her phrase for phrase, sometimes chillingly: “A dime’s not enough, can you spare a quarter?” Up to this point, Nathanson had repeatedly made fun of a pretentious review the band had just received in an Austrian jazz magazine, to which Harry eventually responded, “Does it mean anything?” The answer came in their final song, a shambling cover of the Peaches and Herb elevator-pop cheeseball Reunited, which pretty much brought the house down, and just when it was getting completely out of hand, Harry took it upon herself to sing straight from the review. They encored with an unselfconsciously intense, hypnotically evocative, swirling version of When the Fog Lifts, Bardfeld’s deft accents punching through the mist rising around him. The new album is out in October: watch this space.

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September 29, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 9/8/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #874:

Dorothy Donegan – Live at the 1990 Floating Jazz Festival

Early in her career, pianist Dorothy Donegan was dismissed by critics because she was pretty, she wore what were considered racy outfits for the time and she played everything – and drove her band members nuts onstage, segueing from jazz to R&B to classical, often within the span of a single song. She particularly enjoyed playing Rachmaninoff and excelled at it. Twelve years after her death, she’s gained recognition as one of the most extraordinary jazz pianists ever. By the time she recorded this album, she was as likely to be playing on a boat as at a club and this is one of those gigs. Yet it reveals her to be as blissfully intense and occasionally chaotic as she was at her peak in the 1950s and 60s, matching sizzling chops to frequent repartee with the audience (who seem at times to have no idea what just hit them). And the irony is that she does it with more than just her usual Blackbird Boogie and variations on a million themes. It’s a pretty generic set list for someone so adventurous, at least until you hear it. Most of these songs are standards, but she makes nonstandards out of them, blasting out of Someday My Prince Will Come into Tiger Rag, a bit later leaping from Misty to a rousing version of Ellington’s Caravan. There are also boisterous saloon jazz versions of The Lady Is a Tramp, After Hours and Round Midnight. A lot of her studio albums from the 50s are out of print and worth keeping an eye out for if you’re the kind of person to troll used record stores and the Salvation Army for abandoned treasures. Chiaroscuro still has this one in their catalog; if you’re looking for a torrent, good luck with this.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great New Soul Single Out on Vinyl from the One & Nines

Jersey City oldschool R&B revivalists the One & Nines have released the first single off their debut cd (very favorably reviewed here earlier this year) – but the single is on 45 RPM vinyl. Of course you can download it from the usual places, but the sonics are sweet and one of the reasons – beyond the fact that both of the songs are bonafide A-sides – is that the album was recorded on analog tape, therefore, a pure, gorgeous analog sound.

Walked Alone is the upbeat number. A good 1960s comparison would be Bettye Swan, or Tammi Terrell backed by a Memphis band – it’s a catchy, fast shuffle anchored by fat baritone sax. An educated guess is that the fetching ballad Something on Your Mind is probably the B-side, with a tasty horn chart, organ and frontwoman Vera Sousa’s achingly beautiful vocal. Both songs were penned by the band’s guitarist Jeff Marino, a player who’s obviously immersed himself in oldschool soul of the Stax/Volt variety. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are the obvious comparison, but the One & Nines go for a smoother, more romantic, less funky vibe. A recent show at Spike Hill in Williamsburg unsurprisingly revealed the band to be a killer live act: when she sings, Sousa closes her eyes and goes off to an alternate universe called Soul Land, a place where she isn’t about to take any grief from anyone, guitar and keys pulsing behind her, organ and horns rising out of the mix to drive the songs home. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Teddy Pendergrass

Iconic R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, frontman of seventies soul hitmakers Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and one of the greatest voices of the twentieth century, died of cancer Wednesday night in a hospital outside Philadelphia. According to his publicist, he was 59.

Originally a drummer, Pendergrass joined Melvin’s group in 1969. Producer Leon Huff, of Gamble and Huff – inventors of the Philly soul sound – takes credit for moving him out from behind the kit and in front of the mic, having ostensibly heard him singing along during a break in the studio. Beginning in 1973, Pendergrass would lead the band on numerous Gamble and Huff-produced, lushly symphonic hits including Wake Up Everybody, The Love I Lost and If You Don’t Know Me By Now. With his fervent, world-weary rasp, Pendergrass conveyed a wisdom and a depth well beyond his years and became a magnet for women fans around the world.

In 1982, Pendergrass was injured in a near-fatal car accident which rendered him a paraplegic. Nonetheless, he continued to record and release numerous urban radio hits and solo albums, many of which reached gold record status, although his voice was never the same. As the years went by, he earned similar acclaim as an advocate for the disabled.

January 15, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment