Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Somber Joe Maneri Tribute

It seems that more and more frequently these days, there’s a time lapse between when jazz albums are recorded and when they’re released. The Noah Kaplan Quartet’s Joe Maneri homage, Descendants, was recorded in 2008 and is out now on the estimable German label Hat Hut. As you would expect, it’s a series of free improvisations by a crew with considerable chemistry and collaborative sensitivity: alongside Kaplan, a Maneri acolyte who plays tenor and soprano sax, there’s perennially interesting individualist Joe Morris on guitar, Kaplan’s Dollshot bandmate Giacomo Merega on bass guitar and Jason Nazary on drums. The album begins with a ballad in disguise and ends with a tone poem. Melodic resolution is defiantly resisted whenever it’s hinted at, which is infrequently: an austere, sometimes acidic, frequently elegaic quality persists throughout the album’s six tracks.

The side of Kaplan that isn’t represented here is his wit: Dollshot, his improvisational chamber-rock project with his singer sister Rosalie, delightfully and often cruelly reinvents early 20th century art-song. Instead, his microtonal inflections here evoke more somber emotions, crying, quietly wailing or sirening, sliding gracefully up and down between semiquavers, often straining against the pull of a central tone that appears only by implication. And the band is doing a whole lot of thinking on their feet here along with Kaplan: there’s more pitch-and-follow than there is intricate interplay. Often it’s Merega who holds down the center or establishes a rhythm for the other group members to pull into focus and then back away from. Morris’ casually biting jangle and stinging, trebly tone are perfect for this unit, whether he’s alluding to a big expansive arpeggio, spinning out raindrops for the rest of the unit to run between, or adding incisive accents. Nazary’s presence is affectingly ghostly more often than not, often confined to ominously looming or echoing atmospherics than actual propulsion: as the album cover image (crow on a dead tree limb, stormclouds in the background) indicates, this is dark music. And it’s more or less quiet music: only one of the segments features the kind of atonal bluster commonly associated with this style of  jazz. For those who play this kind of music, there’s plenty of inspiration here: the way Nazary casually punches in to fill out Merega’s insistent pulse on the twelve-minute title track; Morris circling Kaplan, and then the two switching roles, in the cold late-afternoon drizzle atmosphere of the following cut; and the mysterioso rise and fall of the waves of the band together on the final segment. People who need a catchy beat and a singalong melody will have to look elsewhere, but for those who can’t resist an album of strange, sometimes harsh, sometimes hypnotic tonalities, this is an inspiring listen. Joe Maneri, who knew a little something about that stuff, would approve.

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February 17, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dollshot Has Creepy Fun with Classical Art-Song

This is a Halloween album. New York ensemble Dollshot’s M.O. is to take hundred-year-old classical “art songs,” do a verse or a chorus absolutely straight-up and then matter-of-factly and methodically mangle them – which might explain the “shot” in “Dollshot.” Usually the effect is menacing, sometimes downright macabre, but just as often they’re very funny: this group has a great sense of humor. Pigeonholing them as “punk classical” works in a sense because that’s what they’re doing to the songs, but they also venture into free jazz. And all this works as stunningly well as it does because they’re so good at doing the songs as written before they get all sarcastic. Frontwoman Rosalie Kaplan’s otherworldly beautiful, crystalline high soprano, which she colors with a rapidfire vibrato in places, makes a perfectly deadpan vehicle for this material. Pianist Wes Matthews circles and stabs with a coroner’s precision in the upper registers for a chilly, frequently chilling moonlit ambience. In the band’s most punk moments, tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan is the ringleader: when he goes off key and starts mocking the melodies, it’s LOL funny. Bassist Giacomo Merega alternates between precise accents and booming atmospherics that rise apprehensively from the depths below.

The three strongest tracks are all originals. The Trees, written by Matthews, sets nonchalantly ominous, quiet vocals over a hypnotic, circular melody with bass and off-kilter prepared piano that hints at a resolution before finally turning into a catchy rock song at the end. “The trees are falling…the trees are choking…the pail is falling…” Surreal, and strange, and also possibly funny – it perfectly capsulizes the appeal of this band. Noah Kaplan’s Fear of Clouds is the most stunningly eerie piece here, ghost girl vocalese over starlit piano and then an agitated crescendo with bass pairing off against quavery saxophone terror – it would make a great horror movie theme. And the closing cut, Postlude, layers sepulchral sax overtones over a damaged yet catchy hook that refuses to die.

The covers are more lighthearted. Woozy sax pokes holes in an otherwise dead-serious and absolutely spot-on version of Arnold Schoenberg’s Galathea and his twisted little waltz, Der Genugsame Liebhaber, which by itself already seems something of a parody. Poulenc gets off a little easier: the band adds add murky apprehension to La Reine de Coeur and leaves the gorgeously ominous Lune d’Avril pretty much alone other than adding some sepulchral atmospherics at the end. Bouncing gently on some completely off-center, synthy prepared piano tones, Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here Comes That Rainy Day is reinvented as art-song with a comic wink, yet while bringing the lyrics into sharper focus than most jazz acts do. And a Charles Ives medley of The Cage, Maple Leaves and Evening makes a launching pad for the unexpected power in Rosalie Kaplan’s stratospheric upper registers, as well as Matthews’ mountains-of-the-moon piano and an unexpected minimalist, ambient interlude that only enhances the nocturnal vibe. You’ll see this high on our list of the best albums of 2011 at the end of the year.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Dollshot at Caffe Vivaldi, NYC 2/3/10

Creepy fun in the West Village. Dollshot’s shtick is that they take art songs from the classical and 20th century canon, jam out the intros and outros and a lot of times in between. The effect is inevitably some shade of macabre. Dollshot’s chosen genre may be classical but their vibe is pure punk rock, fearless and iconoclastic. When she wasn’t projecting with a seemingly effortless, obviously classically trained clarity, frontwoman Rosalie Kaplan stood motionless and deadpan in front of the band like a recently undead girl from the Twilight movies. Tenor saxophonist/bandleader Noah Kaplan alternated between slightly restrained bop – this was a small room show, after all – and long, somewhat sinister overtone passages. Pianist Wes Matthews’ precise articulation enhanced the horror-movie music box feel, as did electric bassist Giacomo Merega, supplying slithery cascades when he wasn’t providing a funereal pulse.

Galatea by Arnold Schoenberg was the first recipent of a macabre sax and piano interlude. A couple of Poulenc songs contrasted pretty, impressionistic, almost pop piano with menace from all sides. A Wes Matthews original, The Trees began as a twisted pop song with bass rumbles that the sax would cleverly echo later. The mantra “The trees are falling” gave way to “I can’t reach you with the burning of a thousand hearts,” Merega adding gently elegiac, staccato bass chords on the outro. After a mini-set of Charles Ives songs, they played an instrumental that vividly paired off Rosalie Kaplan’s warm, soaring vocalese with sax that started out grumpy and got angrier quickly. They closed with another Poulenc composition, the overtones of the sax oscillating hypnotically over bell-like, martial bass.

Watch this space for upcoming gigs; like most Brooklyn jazz guys, Noah Kaplan gets around: his next gig is a trio show with Benjy Fox-Rosen (of Luminescent Orchestrii) on bass and Matt Rousseau on drums at Unnameable Books in Ft. Greene on Feb 6.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment