Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Little Worlds Have More Creepy Fun with Bartok Etudes

It seems that the trio of Little Worlds – trombonist Rick Parker, guitarist Ryan Mackstaller and drummer Tim Kuhl – had so much fun reinventing Bartok etudes on their first album that they decided to do another one. This one, simply titled Book 2, picks up with even more menace than their debut, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering Parker’s membership in film noir jazz monsters Beninghove’s Hangmen. There are some genuinely breathtaking moments here. Both the new album and the first one are streaming at Little Worlds’ Bandcamp page.

Etude No. 79 opens as creepy baroque, with what sounds like an Omnichord synth (one assumes that Mackstaller is the one playing it with a surgical menace), anxious foghorn  trombone and jangly guitar methodically harmonizing a richly noir theme over Kuhl’s hypnotically tumbling vamp. It could be the Hangmen in particularly hypnotic mode. They reimagine Etude No. 113 as tricky, hypnotic mathrock with a brooding trombone lead and build to a dreampop swirl evocative of postrock bands like My Education or Mogwai, then bring it down to Kuhl’s lengthy outer-space rumble.

No. 84 is very catchy – it sounds like Wire or early XTC taking a stab at a surf groove before it falls apart.  On No. 45, desolate halfspeed Pipeline guitar, reverberating rattle and misterioso drums set the stage for Parker’s methodical, angst-fueled lines, leading up to long, echoey, morosely hypnotic interlude. They segue out of it with No. 59, Parker sarcastic and muted over its a steady, sardonically waltzing pace, Mackstaller’s plaintive minimialism building to an offcenter, haphazardly slashing anthem. The final Etude, No. 69 is the quietest and most pensive, trombone resonating over a terse guitar vamp accented by creepy rattle and then a fluttering, suspenseful crescendo from the drums.

Bartok wrote some of the creepiest music ever: these guys totally get it.  So what is this? Classical music? Not exactly. Jazz? You could call it that. Postrock? Same deal. Soundtrack music? Very possibly. Whatever you want to call it, it’s great fun. Fire up Bandcamp and give it a spin if you’re in a dark mood.

February 8, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Underground NYC Jazz Trio Reinvents Bartok

“Beyond category” definitely applies to the new album Book One by Little Worlds, the trio of trombonist Rick Parker (also of noir jazz sensation Beninghove’s Hangmen), guitarist Ryan Mackstaller and eclectic composer/drummer Tim Kuhl. Essentially, this is groove music, not what you might expect from genre-busting new arrangements of Bela Bartok etudes. At their Bandcamp site, where the album is streaming in its entirety, the trio dedicate it to “innovative reinterpretations of the Mikrokosmos collection,” the series of study pieces that Bartok finished in 1939. Others – notably Angela and Jennifer Chun a couple of years ago – have put their own individual spin on the collection, none as radically and bravely as Little Worlds.

The album tracks are as Bartok numbered them. No. 61 is basically a one-chord jam: Mackstaller’s guitar runs a riff that sounds straight out of indie rock as Parker carries the wistful tune over Kuhl’s trip-hop groove and it rises to an intricate web of melody. No. 81 is a brief two-minute exercise in precise counterpoint, Kuhl holding it to the straight and narrow as guitar and trombone diverge just a wee bit, Parker relaxing and somewhat amusingly telegraphing the ending. No. 35 is a triptych of sorts, twin drones morphing into stately harmonies and then a blend of atmospherics and warm melodicism. Beginning as a tone poem of squalling, psychedelically bluesy guitar in tandem with cumulo-nimbus trombone swirls as Kuhl ominously roams the perimeter, No. 48 is the most fascinating track here, Parker’s long, serioso lead eventually giving way and then weaving amidst Mackstaller’s distorted punk-classical lines. The trio close with the triumphant grand guignol of No. 80, done as a blustery march, both guitar and trombone blasting through an increasingly gritty haze of effects and then back with a vengeance. Who knew that etudes could be this much fun!

Would Bartok have approved of this? Without a doubt. Cross-pollination was his game, beginning with his immersion in folk and gypsy music a hundred years ago: if he was alive today, who knows, maybe he’d be writing for these guys. Or playing with them.

January 2, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tim Kuhl – King

Drummers don’t usually get credit as bandleader even though in the purest sense of the word they are – the good ones anyway. So maybe for that reason drummer-led ensembles tend to be especially good. This one is no exception. Tim Kuhl’s second album takes the warm accessibility of his first cd Ghost and raises it a notch: as melodic, interesting jazz cds go, this is one of 2009’s more memorable efforts. Quite possibly this is enhanced by the presence of Jon Irabagon (winner of the most recent Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition) on tenor. He’s unpredictable in the best possible ways, often very deviously (especially in his work with Mostly Other People Do the Killing) – here, he alternates between straightforward, buoyant melody and frequent cloudbursts of bop. Guitarist Nir Felder‘s thoughtful, deliberately paced, contemplative phrasing is equally interesting and often generates some striking contrasts. Kuhl and bassist Aidan Carroll keep things moving forward tersely while trombonist Rick Parker layers alternately bright and murky shades.

The first couple of tracks segue into each other, Irabagon taking it toward bop, the guitars then creating what is in effect a horn chart with some deliciously interesting textures. Track three features Felder in characteristically expansive mood, Carroll echoing him aptly, followed by a stately, vintage 50s horn passage. Track four is darker, more pensive, guitar thick with sustain and reverb with an early 70s feel, Parker leading the procession as tension builds, hinting at rage but never going there.

Irabagon squeaks and shimmies over a low rumble, then the intriguing sixth track kicks in. Much of it is essentially two simultaneous pieces going in opposite directions, brought back together brightly by Irabagon. And then a lull, a sprightly Felder solo, into and then out of focus. The cd’s concluding cuts have Parker contributing both nebulous and bracing ambience, Felder chasing a Carroll rumble, some Bill Frisell-isms, a low, expressive Irabagon solo that literally jumps out of nowhere, a big, sunbaked blues guitar interlude and a surprisingly off-kilter ending. It would be wishful thinking to hope that someday jazz might reclaim its place as the western world’s default pop and dance music (which it was for decades), but this is the kind of jazz that could make a fan out of  just about everyone: it’s catchy, it’s mostly upbeat and the groove doesn’t quit. And you can see it live: the Tim Kuhl Group are at Zebulon on 9/15 at around 10.

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at the Delancey, NYC 6/4/09

An intimate gathering of cognoscenti were treated to a transcendent trifecta to wind up this season’s Thursday Small Beast shows at the Delancey (the series continues, switching to Mondays on June 22 at 8:30 PM with Paul Wallfisch, the Snow and Marni Rice). Wallfisch was gassed from some obviously rewarding mixing sessions for the latest cd by his darkly intense art-rock band Botanica, opening the set as he always does, solo at the Beast (the 88-key spinet whose nickname spawned this weekly series). This time out the great noir keyboardist (and Little Annie partner-in-crime) aired out a more Americana-inflected bag of tricks, whether the rapidfire cabaret of the Little Annie tune Because You’re Gone, the Botanica number Asia Minor (which is actually an oldschool 60s soul song at heart), the warmly vivid Three Women and then venturing north of the border for a sly, sexy take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

A stripped-down trio version of Darren Gaines & the Key Party were next and while Wallfisch is a hard act to follow, they were anything but anticlimactic. With his hollowbody guitar providing a delicious, distorted blast of sound, Gaines led the two bandmates he’d brought along – violinist/singer Sara Syms (also of excellent country/roots band Dirty Water) and “lead trombonist” Rick Parker – through a mix of darkly witty, literate songs, mostly from the band’s latest, excellent album My Blacks Don’t Match. The band may play in a very stylized genre  – think every noir style ever invented, from Tom Waits to Lou Reed – yet so much of their material is out-of-the-box imaginative. What was most striking right off the bat were Gaines’ casual, unaffected intensity and offhandedly wry sense of humor. Like Wallfisch, he’s something of a raconteur, musing on some nasty song ideas that came to mind while stuck behind a quartet of sidewalk slowpokes on the way down to the bar from 23rd St. They opened with a roaring version of the caustic The Litterati, a snarling putdown of pretension, following with a worn-down, heartfelt, Steve Wynn-inflected take of She Says She Does, also from the new album. Syms – who sadly didn’t get to contribute piano as she does on the album – matched soaring vocals with terse, edgy violin lines while Parker added a tasteful, even minimalist oldtime saloon blues feel. They wrapped up the set with a handful of bitter “significant other songs,” as Gaines called them, ending with Monday Morning, a long, depressive countryish anthem from his first album Hit Or Miss. As good as this was, one can only imagine how intense the songs would sound with a full band.

Several women have headlined Small Beast this year and have been transcendent – Carol Lipnik, Larkin Grimm, Ingrid Olava in particular. Add Alice Texas to the list. The noir siren has the same kind of petite porcelain beauty as actress Pamela Karp and comes across as something akin to a darker, East Coast Exene: on key, more direct, less free-associative. She’s a reliably good performer but this time out she was extraordinary – maybe her protracted absence from the New York stage had something to do with it. Playing acoustic guitar, she was backed by bassist Kai Eric and Peter Mavrogeorgis, frontman of the excellent Bellmer Dolls – whose show opening for Nick Cave under Madison Square Garden last fall was crazy good –  as well as Wallfisch contributing honkytonk piano on a song, and backing vocals from Liz Tormes – another first-class songwriter – on a couple of numbers including an utterly psychedelic take of Blondie’s Fade Away and Radiate. Mavrogeorgis – one part Don Wilson of the Ventures, one part Daniel Ash from Bauhaus, one part John Andrews of Botanica – simply has never played better, ornamenting the songs with graceful slides, eerie reverberating overtones and the occasional terse, fiery lead. They opened with a couple of Nashville gothic numbers, the second more percussive, featuring a scorchingly gorgeous, melodic guitar solo. Then a couple of Velvets-ish tunes and the highlight of the set, which came toward the end, an insistent anthem titled Oh, My Beautiful, haunting and sweeping with more eerie tremolo-bar guitar.

Small Beast – New York’s edgiest, most exciting weekly musical event, in case you don’t already know it – continues Monday, June 22 at the Delancey, upstairs at around 8:30 PM with Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow, free admission plus a free barbeque on the roof.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tim Kuhl – Ghost

If you’re familiar with the popular bar band the Izzys (who’ve been playing Saturday nights at Lakeside off and on for the better part of two years now) and wonder where they get that swinging Charlie Watts groove, that’s Tim Kuhl behind the drums. Kuhl also leads a first-class jazz sextet. This cd, Ghost, is their auspicious debut. It’s an impressively diverse collection of melodically and rhythmically captivating songs without words. Kuhl’s compositions are remarkably tuneful, and the crew he’s assembled: Mark Aanderud on piano; Nir Felder on electric guitar; JC Kuhl on saxes; Rick Parker on trombone and Jeff Reed on bass sink their teeth into them with gusto.

Predictably, the cd’s upbeat opening track Versus kicks off with a brief drum figure, anchored by soaring, tandem horns over vividly incisive piano and frenetic guitar runs. The title track is a beautiful song, even if it’s not particularly sepulchral, starting slowly with pensive electric guitar chords, in fact an indie rock chord progression, followed by buoyant horns. Eventually the piano comes in, comfortable and loungey, running down from the tinkling upper registers and back again. Then the trombone kicks in and the pace picks up before reverting to the original theme, the horns holding everything together. Dr. Doom builds over a spy theme in 9/4 on the piano as the guitar and horns mix and match and intermingle crazily. Nemesis reverts to a darkly thoughtful vibe, Aanderud’s coloristic piano matched by JC Kuhl’s balmy, ambient lines.

The tongue-in-cheek Eye of the Beholder begins with a drum solo, a strikingly terse fanfare on mostly the snare and the toms, the kind of thing you’d play if you were in a brick-lined room so as not to damage your ears or drive out the crowd with all the high frequencies bouncing off the walls. Likewise, Boogie Monsters of Swing is neither a boogie nor straight-up swing; instead, the rhythm section and piano get busy while the horns announce an action theme before jumping into the pandemonium. The cd concludes with a brief guitar fragment that might have fallen out onto the cutting room floor. Rating: four smacks upside the head with a drumstick – it’s not everyday that you hear original jazz as melodic or interesting as this. Kuhl’s next jazz gig is August 17 at 8 at the Lucky Cat with a new crew: stay tuned.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment