Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/19/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #469:

Tommy McCook & the Supersonics – Pleasure Dub

After Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond murdered his girlfriend, tenor sax player McCook broke up the band and went to work playing his soulful, spacious style on innumerable late 60s rocksteady hits for Jamaican producer Duke Reid. This 2009 compilation collects mostly instrumental versions of a whole bunch of them, sans the sometimes cloying lyrics or vocals. As dub, it’s pretty primitive: as grooves, most of this is unsurpassed. The chirpy organ behind John Holt comes front and center on Tracking Dub; another John Holt cut, Love Dub is much the same. There’s the surprisingly lush Dub with Strings; Prince Francis’ Side Walk Doctor; the punchy Ride De Dub; the big hit Bond Street Rock; the cinematic 7-11; and the scurrying Twilight Rock and Many Questions among the 18 slinky one-drop vamps here. Here’s a random torrent via Sixties Fever.

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October 20, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Montreal Jazz Festival 2011, Day One

The world’s most unpretentious jazz festival got off to an auspicious start yesterday. As with jazz festivals around the globe, the Montreal Jazz Festival encompasses many other styles of music as well. The local media raved about flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia’s performance last night, while word on the street was that tickets for the singer from that famous 70s metal band, and that has-been 80s funk guy, were hot. But as usual, the real action was in the smaller rooms. New York was well-represented: David Binney, pianist Dan Tepfer playing a duo with Lee Konitz, and Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog numbered among the literally hundreds of acts on the festival bill, which continues through July 4. And the habitants‘ groups proved just as interesting as the innumerable acts from out of town.

Our Saturday got off to an early start at one of the many makeshift beer tents with a smoking, genre-busting set by Montreal sextet Hot Pepper Dixieland (a spinoff of Le Dixieband, with a different drummer and clarinetist). Playing a mix of the well-known and the lesser-known, not just blissed-out dancefloor shuffles (although they did some of those too), they mixed in a hot 20s early swing vibe along with elements of ragtime. And they started out as brooding and minor-key as this kind of stuff gets before picking up the pace with a spiky, vividly rustic St. James Infirmary, a balmy My Blue Heaven and finally a surprisingly bracing, ominously minor-key tinged When the Saints Go Marching In.

Later in the afternoon, there was a “battle of the bands” on the esplanade, pairing off two marching units: Swing Tonique Jazz Band on the west side versus Streetnix on the east. Ostensibly a contest to see who could drown out the other, each entertained a separate crowd: volume-wise, the more New Orleans-flavored Swing Tonique had the upper hand versus Streetnix, who mined a more European vibe (including a bouncy, amped-up version of La Vie en Rose). Eventually, Streetnix launched into Caravan and resolutely stomped their way up to the middle of the plaza where Swing Tonique joined them, and then graciously gave their quieter compatriots a chance to cut loose. The entire crew closed with an energetic blues, with solos all around: by then, the crowd had completely encircled them, pretty much everyone sticking around despite the intermittent torrents of rain that would continue into the night.

Our original game plan was to catch jazz pianist John Roney next, but that was derailed by a pitcher of beer and some enormous mounds of fries over on Rue St.-Denis. Having watched Lorraine Muller a.k.a. the Fabulous Lolo – former frontwoman of popular Canadian ska bands the Kingpins and Lo & the Magnetics – play a tantalizing soundcheck earlier in the day, it was great to catch a full set of her band’s totally retro 60s ska and rocksteady. Two of our crew immediately suffered intense drummer envy: this guy had the one-drop down cold, and had a sneaky, rattling fill ready for wherever it was least expected. For that matter, the whole rhythm section, including bass, guitar, organ and piano, was pretty mighty, a solid launching pad for the band’s killer three-piece horn section, which Lolo joined a few times, playing baritone sax. They reinvented Hawaii 5-0 as a syncopated noir rocksteady theme and later on took a stab at the Steven Stills moldie oldie Love the One You’re With (did Ken Boothe or somebody from that era cover it, maybe?). Montreal reggae crooner Danny Rebel, a big hit with the crowd, duetted with Lolo on a straight-up ska tune and a balmy rocksteady ballad lowlit by the guitarist’s reverb-drenched twang. The rest of the set switched cleverly back and forth between bouncy and slinky. A band this good deserves a global following.

Last stop of the night was the Balmoral, a shi-shi bar around the corner where bassist Jean-Felix Mailloux was playing an intriguing set of original compositions in a duo with Guillaume Bourque on clarinet and bass clarinet. Mailloux’ background in gypsy jazz was obvious, but his influences extend to both klezmer and third stream sounds. One of the bass/bass clarinet numbers was a clinic in the kind of interesting things that can be done with a minor mode and a simple three-note descending progression; another paced along with moody tango ambience; another plaintively alluded to Erik Satie. Mailloux alternated between melody, pulse and pure rhythm, tapping out the beat on the body of the bass as Bourque circled with an intensity that ranged from murky to acerbic.

And despite the rain, the festival atmosphere was shockingly convivial (at least from a New Yorker’s perspective). A high school girl working security sheepishly asked one of us to open up a purse (cans, bottles and dogs are verboten) instead of giving us New York Central Park rent-a-pig attitude; beer vendors wandered throughout the crowd, as if at a hockey game. Although there was a tourist element, the occasional gaggle of fratboys or douchettes in tiaras and heels lingering on the fringes, this was overwhelmingly a laid-back, polyglot local crowd, not a lot of English being spoken other than the occasional song lyric. It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off a vacation than this.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, ska music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/26/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #734:

The Scofflaws – Live Vol. 1

With jazz chops and punk attitude, Long Island, New York’s Scofflaws were one of the most entertaining of the third-wave ska bands of the 90s – and fifteen years later, still are. On this 1997 live set (conceived as the first of a series of live albums) frontmen Sammy Brooks – vocals and tenor sax – and Buford O’Sullivan – vox and trombone – work the crowd into a frenzy as the rest of the eight-piece band cooks behind them, through a mix of oldschool ska classics, boisterous originals and a characteristically amusing, pretty punked-out cover of These Boots Are Made for Walking. The instrumentals here are killer: alto saxophonist Paul Gebhardt’s Skagroovie sounds like a Skatalites classic; they rip through Tommy McCook’s Ska-La Parisian, Jackie Opel’s Til the End of Time and do a neat original arrangement of Gerry Mulligan’s Bernie’s Tune. The briskly shuffling Groovin’ Up is a launching pad for blistering solos around the horn, while the baritone sax-driven reggae-rap Nude Beach echoes the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire. The surreal Paul Getty offers a raised middle finger to the boss – the outro singalong, “Work sucks!” is classic. There’s also the bouncy seduction anthem After the Lights, the comedic Back Door Open, the even funnier Ska-La-Carte, the horror movie sonics of Spider on My Bed and a homage to William Shatner, the “sexiest fucking skinhead in outer space.” Here’s a random torrent.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, ska music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/27/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #825:

Gregory Isaacs – Reggae Greats Live

The Cool Ruler has left Babylon: we’ve lost one of the great voices in reggae music. Gregory Isaacs died on Monday, at 59, leaving a legacy of literally hundreds of albums and many broken hearts. In the last few years, if you wanted to meet Jamaican women of a certain age, you could find them swaying to Night Nurse at a Gregory Isaacs show. This live album from 1983, probably recorded about a year earlier, doesn’t have that one but it does have a bunch of hits from the late 70s/early 80s when he was one of the biggest stars in Jamaica. As with the rest of his catalog, it’s a mix of sly come-ons (Isaacs was sort of the Jamaican Jimmy Reed) and righteous Rasta anthems. His biggest hit before Night Nurse was Number One (as in, “If you wanna be my number one…) and he opens with that, backed by a terrific oldschool roots band with lead guitar, electric piano and percussion. Stylistically, the songs run the gamut from oldschool rocksteady like Tune In (check out the vintage video from Rockers TV), Substitute or Mr. Brown to straight-up pop (Ooh What a Feeling). Other big Jamaican hits in the set include Soon Forward, Sunday Morning (not the Lou Reed song), Top Ten and Front Door. The politically-charged immigrant’s tale The Border closes the album on an epic note, a throwback to his early days as Rasta rebel. As reggae went more digital, so did Isaacs’ recordings, with predictable results, although pretty much anything he did before, say, this album, is usually worth a listen. And there’s a lot of it. Here’s a random torrent.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thousands of One Hypnotize the Crowd at Nublu

You gotta love a band whose first gig was at a maximum security prison. Thousands of One weren’t inmates at the time, and what they do is legal – at least while Obama is in office. Last night at Nublu the reaction of the people in the crowd pretty much said it all – half of them were bobbing their heads, completely lost in the music. The rest were dancing. The band’s sound echoes and reverberates, bringing a hypnotic, psychedelic dub sensibility to funk, downtempo grooves and hip-hop, with tinges of roots reggae and Afrobeat. A couple of their early jams worked an oldschool 70s disco groove, drummer Joel Blizzard riding the snare and hi-hat behind the echoes of keyboardist Chad Lieberman’s Rhodes piano and Jake Roberts’ hypnotic, reverb-toned guitar vamps. A couple of others kicked off with darkly majestic, cinematic intros, like Dr. Dre or Busta Rhymes would do fifteen years ago – except that these were played on real instruments. Frontman Jhakeem Haltom delivered rapidfire but smoothly fluid, rhythmically dazzling, conscious and defiant hip-hop lyrics when he wasn’t singing, taking a long, trance-inducing conga solo or even playing flute on one long 70s-style soul jam that evoked Gil Scott-Heron’s Midnight Band at their most expansively mesmerizing. The band also brought along an extra alto sax player who doubled on vocals or percussion.

Bassist Brent Eva played a five-string bass with a low B string, delivering an extra cushion for the spine or the booty on the low end, a couple of times slamming out a series of fat, boomy chords as the band’s ten-minute-plus jams finally wound their way to a big crescendoing conclusion; other times, they’d fade down gracefully, a couple of times to trick endings that Lieberman or sax player Mark Wienand would pick up in a split-second and build to another big swell. Wienand’s soprano sax solo on a fast, rocksteady-tinged jam toward the end of their first set added a genuinely riveting undercurrent of unease. Building from a suspenseful Rhodes intro to a murky but catchy funk groove, the best song of the night was Ancestors, Roberts finally kicking out a brief, blistering funk-metal solo right before they finally wrapped it up. Hip-hop with a good live band is always inspiring to see; in this case, the band was as good or even better than the lyrics. Watch this space for future NYC dates.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Congos and Toots and the Maytals at Tramps, NYC 6/12/97

[Editor’s note – when we first started this blog, we weren’t overwhelmed with album submissions and invitations to seemingly every show in town. Since we’d inherited a book of literally over a thousand reviews of New York concerts from over the years, most of them previously unpublished, from our predecessor e-zine, we’d put one up when we didn’t have anything new to report. With apologies to all the artists – over three dozen of you – whose excellent albums remain in the queue waiting for some attention, we return to a feature we hope to revisit now and again in the future. For those of you who’ve been pushing us to continue to put these up, thanks for sticking to your guns: the squeaky wheel always gets the grease]

Seems all the yuppie pupppies who didn’t make it uptown to the Matt Murphy show at Manny’s all showed up here tonight: I was finally edged out of my shaft of AC by a pack of drunken amateurs who acted as if I didn’t exist. A leering posse of fratboys persuaded a couple of shy but increasingly drunk girls to indulge them in body shots (how you drink tequila out of a girl’s bellybutton when she’s standing upright is a new frontier that physics hasn’t figured out yet). That aside, the somewhat reformed Congos (frontman Cedric Myton, minus the two original harmony singers) gave a powerful performance that was, as it turned out, impossible to follow. Myton was joined this time out by two women singing backup, creating some hauntingly delicious harmonies that faithfully replicated the sound the legendary roots reggae group achieved on their cult classic album Heart of the Congos. Although the synth player’s horn setting went out of tune on one song, this wasn’t a problem for the rest of the show. Most of the material drew from that legendary album, including Ark of the Covenant, At the Feast (a showcase for Myton’s soaring falsetto, which is as vital as it was twenty years ago) and the last song (an encore which they went into again after Rockers TV host “Rootsman” Earl Chin got the audience to howl for them), Fisherman. Which, surprisingly, actually wasn’t as good as the rest of their stuff  – although the part about the dealer with “the best collie weed in town” went over well.

Toots and the Maytals followed, playing to the crowd, or so they thought. Toots: “Are there any people from Jamaica out there?”

Silence.

But the fratboys had come to party, and Toots delivered. It’s been thirty years since 54-46 Was My Number, since Toots Hibbert – the Jamaican James Brown – did jail time for weed possession, and it’s amazing how he keeps his set as fresh as he does, considering how they play the same songs night after night to (in this country at least) a mostly white audience that has no concept of the circumstances under which they were created.  With horn section, keys, lead guitar and their irrepressible frontman, they made their way through actually inspired, sometimes ten-minute jams on classics like the joyous Pressure Drop, the bouncy Time Tough and Get Up, Stand Up, a brooding epic on record but an endless minor-key dance vamp here. As good as most of the band was, the weak link was the lead guitarist, whose garish metal solos only detracted from the songs’ hypnotic energy (Toots really needs to deep-six that guy). Meanwhile, Toots gyrated, spun and exhorted the crowd to sing along, and they complied (fratboys are a subservient lot). Take Me Home Country Roads was better than the execrable John Denver original, but when they followed that with Louie Louie, after an hour’s worth of bouncing, it was time to concede the battle for the shaft of air conditioning, head out into the heat and hit Twin Donut for an after-show snack.

June 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over forty years since the Maytals cut their first 45 in a little studio in Jamaica. Since then, Toots & the Maytals have become one of the world’s best-loved reggae bands, filling clubs around the world with good vibes and their unique blend of classic, funky, gospel-inspired roots reggae, rocksteady and ska all summer long. With a perpetual smile on his face and that inimitable, gruff patwa-infused voice, legendary frontman Toots Hibbert was generous to take some time out from his grueling schedule to do some talking with Lucid Culture:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You’ve been on tour for over two weeks now. How much time do you spend on the road every year?

Toots Hibbert: It varies per year. Sometime I travel doing benefit shows, sometimes other shows. I would say about three months.

LCC: You had a day off yesterday, tonight you play Salt Lake City. How do they like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: We played Minneapolis the night before. It’s good all the time!

LCC: You’re playing B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM, a place you’ve played several times…

TH: They always request me back all the time, they always want me at B.B. King’s. I remember leaving Jamaica to do a show there, a special show, a benefit. They have a lot of artists, five different artists, some of us from Jamaica…a great memory, when I go there I feel it all the time.

LCC: As anyone who has ever seen you knows, you are one of the most energetic performers in any style of music – it’s hard to imagine that you’re in your sixties now. How did you refine your style over the years?

TH: Well, you know it is, they see me come up and start to do my thing, like no artist from Jamaica did with respect to the audience. I can’t sing without dancing first – and let the audience go from there. It’s about one person. He or she will go away feeling the feeling, you know they love it every time.

LCC: Is getting up on stage your daily workout routine, or do you have another secret to staying in shape?

TH: I just exercise, and make my psalm in my vocal chord…I do everything that’s good!

LCC: Who are some of your influences, as far as your performance onstage? I see a little James Brown in you up there…

TH: Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson – people before you were born! I’m a performer; I’m a jazz player, and I still do this way. I don’t copy anyone. I’m just my kind of style.

LCC: Your new album Flip and Twist is on your own D&F music label, it’s out now digitally at all the usual places and it’ll be in stores on May 18. Is this the first time you’ve released an album yourself?

TH: D&F is a Jamaican music label. I have a contract through William Morris, they are the ones who are going to distribute and everything like that.

LCC: How does it feel to see so many of the younger generation being influenced by classic ska and roots reggae, to see so many inspiring new bands with real horns, real keyboards, real vocals, no computerized stuff, who sound a lot like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: Yeah, they fill the place! I saw them in Europe, in the UK, all over, in America, all over! I feel good about it – people try to be real again, positive, work in themselves, mostly white groups and white youths and a few black ones in Jamaica too: you have Chinese and Japanese! Their songs are good, so I leave with a good feeling, they can follow in my footsteps. Other people, Marley, other good people from Jamaica too. Some of them are negative – but I listen to the positive ones!

LCC: Can you tell us about the DVD you’re making for the BBC on your life story?

TH: The BBC documentary’s not done yet. We’ve started on it already, we’ve just finished this album now, and across the country is the next step!

Toots & the Maytals play B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM. The rest of the US tour schedule is below:

05/12: Flagstaff, AZ @ Orpheum Theater

05/13: San Diego, CA @ SoundWave

05/14: Las Vegas, NV @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – Outdoor Pool

05/15: Hermosa Beach, CA @ Saint Rocke

05/16: West Hollywood, CA @ Key Club

05/18: San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom

05/19: Eugene, OR @ McDonald Theatre

05/20: Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater

05/21: Seattle, WA @ Showbox At The Market

05/22: Missoula, MT @ Wilma Theater

05/23: Billings, MT @

05/25: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue

05/26: Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom

05/27: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/28: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/29: Niagara Falls, NY @ Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel – The Bear’s Den

05/30: Boston, MA @ House of Blues

05/31: South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground – Ballroom

06/02: New York, NY @ B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

06/03: Amagansett, NY @ The Stephen Talkhouse

06/04: Hunter Mountain, NY @ Hunter Mountain

06/05: Hyannis, MA @ Cape Cod Melody Tent

May 11, 2010 Posted by | interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Very Be Careful – Escape Room

Los Angeles band Very Be Careful have built a well-deserved reputation as sort of the Gogol Bordello of Colombian music, both for their delirious, hypnotic live shows and the snotty yet absolutely authentic attitude of their albums. No disrespect to Carlos Vives, but Very Be Careful take vallenato back to its roots in the north, to back when, just like roots reggae, it was the party music of the drug underworld – it doesn’t sound anything like him. Which makes sense: Very Be Careful’s slinky cumbia pulse has a lot in common with late 60s Jamaican rocksteady, the otherworldly swirl of the accordion is nothing if not psychedelic and so is the eerie insectile scrape of the guacharaca, the beat of the caja vallenata and clatter of the cowbell. Although if you asked this band for more cowbell, you’d probably get one upside the head – they bring a menacing, hallucinatory party vibe a lot like the Pogues back in the day when Shane MacGowan was drinking at peak capacity but still lucid. That considered, their new album Escape Room works equally well for the drinkers, dancers and stoners in the crowd. It’s all originals along with three rustic, boisterous covers, with the same resilient-bordering-on-aggressive feel of their 2009 live album, the deliciously titled Horrible Club.

The opening track, La Furgoneta (The Van) is a cumbia, its catchy descending progression carried by Ricardo Guzman’s accordion as his brother Arturo swings low with broken chords on the bass, way behind the beat in a style similar to great reggae bassists like Family Man Barrett. It segues into a hypnotic, two-chord number, La Abeja (The Bee), followed by the fast, bouncy, wickedly catchy La Alergia (Allergies), accordion playing major on minor, vividly evoking a horror-movie summer haze.

The first of the covers by legendary vallenato composer Calixto Ochoa, Playas Marinas (Sandy Beaches) is a party song, a staggering series of flourishes as the bass runs a catchy octave riff over and over. The other, Manantial del Alma (Springtime of the Soul) makes a sly attempt at seduction, the guy just wanting the girl to let him play for her. Another oldschool number, by Abel Antonio Villa, evokes a guy’s heartbreak, vocals on the verse trading off with accordion on the chorus – although it’s a party song without any real heartbroken vibe, at least musically.

The rest of the album is originals, and they’re great. El Hospital sounds like something the Clash might have done on Sandinista, wry and cynical. La Broma (The Joke) has the accordion playing minor on major this time, to equally ominous effect. The metaphorically charged La Gata Perdida (Lost Cat) has the poor critter going round in circles: “I think this killed me.” They end it with the upbeat La Sorpresa (Surprise) and then the aptly titled, psychedelic El Viajero del Tiempo (Time Traveler), bass playing three on four beneath insistent, trance-inducing minor-key accordion. You don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy this, although you won’t get the clever, often snide, pun-laden lyrics. But as dance music, it doesn’t get any better than this – it’s out now on Barbes Records. Another reviewer had problems with this cd, calling it unsubtle and complaining about being blasted by the accordion, to which the only conceivable response is, who wouldn’t want to be blasted by an accordion? Very Be Careful play Highline Ballroom on May 23 – also keep an eye out for their annual Brooklyn 4th of July rooftop party (they got their start here, playing in the subway).

April 28, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band – Sweet Sweet Jamaica

Two words: YEAH MON! This new cd does double duty as valuable cultural artifact and strangely delightful party album. With acoustic guitar, a primitive “rhumba box” for a bass and an impressively energetic octogenarian banjo player, Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band play what Jamaicans were playing and dancing to before calypso, decades before reggae. Mento is sort of like Jamaican bluegrass, with similar chord changes but a different rhythm. It’s not reggae, but as this album goes on you can hear several elements that survived the transformation: for example, the way the percussion rolls when the song reaches a turnaround, and the guitar accent on the downbeat. Sung in old-fashioned Jamaican patwa, the lyrics reflect an earlier era, sometimes sly, sometimes silly, laden with puns and innuendo. Authenticity these days may be a dubious concept, but this album has an strikingly roughhewn, rustic vibe. The ramshackle quality of the performances, the dodgy harmonies and the slightly out-of-tune instruments only enhance the vintage feel. Although mento is an indelible part of Jamaican culture – island jazz still abounds with mento themes and references – it’s been a long time since it was in style. So this album is overdue, and particularly welcome for preserving these songs pretty much the way they were played seventy and eighty years ago.

The group kicks it off with a stripped-down, acoustic version of Crying, an international hit for Katie Kissoon in the 70s. The second track has a rousing, careening bluegrass feel with bracing, sometimes abrupt banjo accents. Gungu Walk, which follows, is a playful narrative told from the point of view of a peeping tom. The work song Hill & Gully is a long (some might say interminable) call-and-response vamp with a vintage Cuban feel – being an island nation, Jamaica has long been a melting pot for a stupefyingly large variety of styles. Ole Im Joe (Hold Him, Joe) is similarly rousing, in this case the metaphorically loaded tale of a donkey who can’t get enough to drink, alcoholic or otherwise. And Wata Yu Garden needs no explanation. The last of the fifteen tracks is a somewhat breakneck, out-of-tune version of the Toots & the Maytals classic Sweet & Dandy with vocals by Toots himself.

The backstory here is classically Jamaican. Gilzene has two other incarnations, one as Culture George, a reggae artist whose orthodox Rasta roots album was produced by the Twinkle Brothers’ Norman Grant back in the 70s, and the other as a gospel singer. Backup singer/percussionist Donnett Leslie moonlights as the keyboardist in his reggae band.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mafrika Festival Review: The Superpowers, Pink Noise, the Brown Rice Family, Devi, Konny and Funkface at Marcus Garvey Park, NYC 6/1/08

It’s hard to recall a better outdoor music festival in New York in recent years than this one was. Forget Central Park Summerstage: not that the rent-a-pigs there would ever let you in anyway, in 2008. That Coney Island thing that the Village Voice does every summer? Snooze. Today’s all-day outdoor show at the bandshell in the northwest corner of Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem harkened back to the days of the old First Street festival about ten years ago, where you could sit on the sidewalk, surreptitiously drink beer and see one good band after another. For one reason or another, this one started late, with sets getting shorter as the day went on, the promoters obviously wanting to get everyone onstage and then off for the following band. This year, they really outdid themselves: six good, frequently brilliant bands in just under five hours, from time to time augmented by random rappers, dancers and even a fashion designer who paraded two of her models around the stage to considerable applause.

The Superpowers, an eight-piece reggae-jazz band with a four-piece horn section opened, auspiciously. They don’t sound much like Antibalas but they’re just as good. Best song title of the afternoon belonged to them: American Exceptionalism, the Reason Behind All Good Songwriting, or something to that effect (they were kidding, obviously). Often led by their organist or one of the sax players, they’d go off on a long exploring mission and then come back to a catchy, anthemic roots reggae chorus evocative of greats like Burning Spear. They could have gone on for twice as long as they did and nobody in the audience would have complained.

Next up were Israeli/American indie rock quartet Pink Noise. Like all the other half-million or so sons and daughters of Sonic Youth, they’re all about the guitars, and when they’d gotten both of them roaring and ringing with all kinds of eerie overtones, the effect was very captivating. When they’d go off on some dorky, herky-jerky math-rock tangent, it was vastly less so. They also could have done without any vocals or lyrics and been considerably better off for it. Memo to the frontwoman: when you sing “I’m so unattractive,” over and over again, that’s what you become.

The following act, a Coachella-style, sunny, cheery, Asian roots reggae band went by the name of the Brown Rice Family. Basmati, yes; jasmine, yes yes; Canadian wild rice, yes yes YES. But that awful glutinous stuff served in health food restaurants? Maybe where these guys come from, brown rice means something different than what it is over here. The world’s only reggae band with a ukulele (played by one of the two lead singers) likes happy uptempo tunes so fast that they’re almost ska. Otherwise, they don’t break any new ground. But that’s ok. It dread in a Babylon, music is the universal language, let’s all get up and dance, ad infinitum, we all know that. It never hurts to be reminded.

Psychedelic guitar-driven power trio Devi (whom both of the emcees onstage introduced incorrectly as “Devirock”) had their second chance in as many days to wrestle with an inadequate sound system. This time around they didn’t even get a linecheck, let alone a soundcheck: when they hit the stage, it was plug in and play. But frontwoman Debra DeSalvo knows a thing or two about DIY from her punk rock days with the False Prophets, and the rest of the crew followed her lead. And she finally got the lethargic crowd out of the shadows and paying attention. If the previous night’s set was the band’s attempt at being quiet, this was the party set: a searing, almost ten-minute When It Comes Down, an equally boisterous cover of Dell Shannon’s Runaway and eventually, after DeSalvo had to put up something of a fight to keep the band onstage for a final number, the potently catchy powerpop hit Howl at the Moon. Many of these songs will appear on the band’s debut cd due out this year, something to look forward to.

The festival’s organizers billed the next act, expat Burkina Faso roots reggae singer Koony as someone on the same level as Tiken Jah Fakoly or Alpha Blondy, a claim that seemed laughable. Believe the hype. Koony is that good, and so is his sensational band, his organist inducing more than a few smiles with some amusingly over-the-top Dr. Dre-style synth fills, his superb guitarist, rhythm section and percussionists laying down a groove that was a bulletproof as it was rubbery. Singing in French in a somewhat thin, raspy voice, he also proved to be an excellent lyricist. The high point of his set was the determined, defiant Sept Fois (a pun – it means both “seven times” and “this time” in French). If reggae is your thing, get to know this guy before it costs you $100 to see him at Madison Square Garden.

Funky uptown heavy metal band Funkface got all of three songs but made the most of them: it would have been nice to have heard more from them, which is a compliment. Their first song was totally riff-metal, but their two guitarists share a remarkable self-awareness and sense of humor (in metal, humor is often 99% of it). Their next one revealed them equally good at ska-punk; the last saw them bringing up a couple of enthusiastic gradeschool girls from the audience (someone in the band’s kids?) to get the crowd going on a call-and-response, and this finally got the massive to respond, massively. Their album is titled Your Politics Suck: no doubt the crowd would have been into it.

By now, the clouds that had obscured the sun for most of the afternoon were gone, and both sides of the bleachers, in the shade, were full. A trio of trendoids took the stage and took forever to set up, the guitarist apparently too effete to figure out how to work his guitar. And when the band, the Octagon, finally got going, it was with an attempt at a surf instrumental. For about five seconds, this seemed like a good thing but quickly proved that A) they have an excellent drummer and B) the guitarist doesn’t have a clue. After that, their silly, off-key falsetto vocals and clueless attempts at songwriting gave them away for what they are, imitators of some lame-ass, popular indie band or another: the Flaming Lips, maybe? It’s bands like this that drive the audience out of the house. It would have been nice to be able to stick around to hear the always entertaining, self-described “sonic slayers” Apollo Heights, but they’re on some label, they’re well-known and they’re playing Central Park in July. You probably know them already. Or maybe you will, someday.

June 1, 2008 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment