Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Cygnus Ensemble’s Ab Nou Cor Crosses All Boundaries

Indie classical outfit Cygnus Ensemble has a fascinatingly eclectic collection of Frank Brickle chamber works titled Ab Nou Cor out recently on Innova. They call it “neo-medieval psychedelia.” That’s actually not a bad way to describe at least some of this. The best way to start is not with the original compositions but with the new arrangements of a couple of fairly well known pieces from the 13th and 18th centuries. Perotin’s famous early medieval choral work Sederunt Principes has never sounded more modern. Utilizing the whole ensemble – guitarists William Anderson and Oren Fader (who also employ period stringed instruments here), cellist Susannah Chapman, oboeist Robert Ingliss, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, violinist Calvin Wiersma and pianist Joan Forsyth – they highlight portions of the old madrigal to bring out a seemingly global range of influences, from a stately Spanish court theme (shades of Miles Davis) to a jaunty, practically Celtic dance. They also reinvent Ferrucio Busoni’s Berceuse Elegiaque as a warped Pavane for a Dead Infant with thoughtful handoffs between voices and some memorably rumbling and then eerily starlit (and probably extemporaneous) piano from Forsyth.

In addition to composition, Brickle is also an inventor whose pioneering work in software-based radio won him a government contract. Not that you need to be aware of that to see how disparate his interests are. The opening track is the first of a handful of partitas: a syncopated cello/theorbo dance, a dramatic third-stream jazz interlude with soprano Haleh Abghari soaring overhead, a return to the theme with the guitar dancing over a cello pedal note, a briefly somber interlude setting up a waltz theme with considerably more restrained vocals. Could this or some of the other works here have been composed for the theatre?

They certainly sound that way, especially The Creation, a Towneley Mystery Play. This number clocks in at around thirteen minutes of tension between dramatic consonance and airy atonality featuring high-voltage flourishes from Abghari, a couple of brief, brooding piano/strings interludes and a deliciously creepy, music box-style crescendo that leads to a concluding rondo. They explore jazz on Midnight Round, its hypnotic, elegantly fingerpicked interplay between the guitarists echoing Redhooker’s adventures in that field. Merlin I evokes Roy Wood’s explorations of moody medieval fretwork and then sees the ambience shattered by Abghari’s piercing, unnervingly atonal leaps and bounds.

As much as Brickle likes to explore multiple genres within a lengthy suite, he also likes vignettes. The title track is a rather insistent, brief work for theorbo and voice; the stately, pleasantly steady, rather skeletal Teutonic concluding cut featuring the same instrumentation. There’s also the murky piano miniature In Media Res with its striking low/high contasts, and Genius Loci, a delicately interwoven thicket of twin acoustic guitars.

Advertisements

March 21, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Powerpop Trifecta at Bowery Electric

Wednesday night at Bowery Electric, Don Piper and his group opened the evening with a richly melodic, often hypnotic set. Piper’s primary gig these days is producing great albums – the Oxygen Ponies’ lushly layered, darkly psychedelic classic Harmony Handgrenade is one of his credits – but he’s also a bandleader. This time out he alternated between slowly swirling, atmospheric, artsy rock and a vintage Memphis soul sound, backed by a large, spirited crew including keyboards, a two-piece horn section (with Ray Sapirstein from Lenny Molotov’s band on cornet), bass and the Silos’ Konrad Meissner on drums (doing double duty tonight, as would many of the other musicians). Midway through the set Briana Winter took over centerstage and held the crowd silent with her wary, austerely intense, Linda Thompson-esque voice on a couple of midtempo ballads. They closed with a long, 1960s style soul number, Piper and Winter joining in a big crescendo as the band slowly circled behind them.

Edward Rogers followed, backed by much of the same band including Piper, Meissner, Claudia Chopek on violin and Ward White playing bass. A British expat, Rogers’ wry, lyrical songs draw on pretty much every good British pop style through the mid-70s. The most modern-sounding song, a pounding, insistent number, evoked the Psychedelic Furs, White throwing in some Ventures-style tremolo-picking on his bass at a point where nobody seemed to be looking. Whatever You’ve Been Told, from Rogers’ latest album Sparkle Lane, held an impassioned, uneasy ambience that brought to mind early David Bowie. A pensive, midtempo backbeat tune with a refrain about the “seventh string on your guitar, the one you never use” reminded of the Move (like Roy Wood, Rogers hails from Birmingham), as did a bracingly dark new one, Porcelain, highlighted by some striking, acidic violin from Chopek. And a pair of Beatles homages wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rutles albums – or George’s later work with Jeff Lynne. But the best songs were the most original ones. The most stunning moment of the night came on the understatedly bitter Passing the Sunshine, a Moody Blues-inflected requiem for an edgy downtown New York destroyed by greedy developers, gentrifiers and the permanent-tourist class: “This’ll be the last time you steal with your lies,” Rogers insisted, over and over again. In its gentle, resolute way, it was as powerful as punk. They wound up the show with a surprisingly bouncy psychedelic pop tune and then the new album’s droll, swaying title track.

Seeing headliner Maura Kennedy onstage with a bright red Les Paul slung from her shoulder was a surprise, as it was to see her guitar genius husband Pete Kennedy in the back with the drums, leaving most of the solos to his wife. But as fans of their acoustic project the Kennedys know, she’s an excellent player – and also one of the most unselfconsciously soulful voices in rock, or folk, if you want to call them that. This was her powerpop set, many of the songs adding a subtly Beatlesque or Americana edge to fast new wave guitar pop. The best songs were the darker ones, including the bitterly pulsing 1960s style psych/pop hit Just the Rain. Sun Burns Gold swayed hauntingly and plaintively, leaving just a crack for the light to get in; another minor-key number, Chains was absolutely gorgeous in a jangly Dancing Barefoot garage-pop vein, and she used that as a springboard for one of several sharply staccato, chordally charged solos. “I wrap myself in melancholy comfort of the waiting game,” she sang on a brooding ballad that evoked Richard and Linda Thompson. But there were just as many upbeat moments. White, who was doing double duty despite being under the weather, took an unexpected and welcome bass solo on a funkily hypnotic number toward the end of the set; they wound it up with the first song she’d written, she said, the country-pop ballad Summer Coulda Lasted Forever. The rest of the musicians joined them for an amazingly tight, completely deadpan cover of A Day in the Life, Maura leading her little orchestra with split-second precision all the way through the two long, interminable crescendos, a wry vocal from her husband on Paul’s verse, and then up and up and up some more and then finally out. It was an apt way to end a night of similarly expert craftsmanship.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 9/18/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #864:

The Electric Light Orchestra – No Answer

OK, we concede to all you ELO fans out there. There are more of you than we ever thought – what a pleasant surprise! This one was always lurking in the wings here, and you just pushed it onto the list. The 1972 ELO debut album – and the rest of the band’s early output – differentiates itself from most of the other orchestrated rock albums out there with its rustic feel. Jeff Lynne would overdub the string section over and over again to simulate the lushness of an orchestra, a sound that he was never quite able to replicate, which actually works better here than he probably ever thought at the time. The scrapy cellos add a sinister edge to the iconic, vaguelly Orwellian British hit 10538 Overture, the hallucinatory Queen of the Hours, the chamber-metal instrumental Battle of Marston Moor and the angst-ridden Look at Me Now, which picks up where Eleanor Rigby left off and takes it to the next level. There’s also the thorny Roy Wood acoustic guitar instrumental First Movement, Lynne’s piano boogie Manhattan Rumble, the charmingly oldtimey Nellie Takes Her Bow and Mr. Radio and the wrenchingly gorgeous lament Whisper in the Night, arguably the best song Wood ever wrote. He would exit after this album to do retro 50s Americana with Wizzard, leaving Lynne at the helm free to pursue his visionary blend of rock and classical music. Although we’re trying hard to limit this list to one album per band, you just might see these guys again here somewhere down the line. Here’s a random torrent.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The NY Phil Shows Their Mettle

Last night’s concert was a tough gig. The New York Philharmonic have played tougher ones, but this was no walk in the park (pardon the awful pun). And guest conductor Andrey Boreyko pushed them about as far as he could, on a Central Park evening where the air still hung heavy and muggy, helicopters sputtering overhead and, early on, the PA backfiring a little. During the sixth segment of a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet (the section where the two lovers finally get together), the strings led a long flurry of sixteenth notes and it was only there that any trace of fatigue could be heard. That they got through it with as much aplomb as they did – and then had enough in reserve to triumphantly pull off the roaring swells of the ominous concluding march – speaks for itself. The Russian conductor’s careful attention to minutiae is matched by a robust (some might say relentless) rhythmic drive. The Phil responded just as robustly, resulting in a mutually confident performance that often reached joyous proportions.

This wasn’t your typical outdoor bill of moldy oldies with a thousand forks stuck in them, either. The ensemble opened with fairly obscure Russian Romantic composer Anatoly Lyadov’s Baba-Yaga, a witch’s tale. With a bit of a battle theme, an elven dance, suspenseful lull and something of a trick ending, it could be the Skirmish of Marston Moor (did Roy Wood know of it when he wrote that piece? It’s not inconceivable).

Branford Marsalis joined them for Glazunov’s Concerto in E Flat for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra, Op. 109. The textural contrast between his austere, oboe-like clarity against the lush, rich atmospherics of the strings was nothing short of exquisite, through the majestic ambience of the opening section, a couple of perfectly precise solo passages and the comfortable little dance that winds it up. He got the opportunity to vary that tone, shifting matter-of-factly through bluesier tinges on twentieth century Czech composer Ervin Schulhoff’s Hot Sonate. A smaller-ensemble arrangement, the suite ran from genial, Kurt Weill-inflected bounce to more complex permutations that could have easily been contemporary big band jazz (imagine an orchestrated Dred Scott piece).

The big hit of the night, unsurprisingly, was the Prokofiev. The ballet could be summed up as unease within opulence, a tone that resonated powerfully from the opening fortissimo fireball and the bitter, doomed martial theme that follows it, through its stately but apprehensive portrayal of Juliet as dancing girl, a richly dynamic take on the masked ball theme, the cantabile sweep of the two lovers parting, Friar Lawrence’s bittersweetly crescendoing scene, and the irony-charged intensity at the end. There were fireworks afterward, none of which could compare with what had just happened onstage – and which provided a welcome opportunity to beat the crowd exiting the park, and the storm that had threatened all evening but never arrived.

July 15, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/23/10

Til the next post, as we do every day the best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song was #191:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Whisper in the Night

Roy Wood’s greatest moment in the band is this towering, haunting anthem, a rustic mix of plaintive acoustic guitar and a million cello and other string overdubs. Also from No Answer, 1972.

Wednesday’s was #190

Elvis Costello – Red Shoes

Trivia question – in 1977, on My Aim Is True, Costello was backed by what future million-selling, cringeworthy 80s hitmakers? Answer: Huey Lewis & the News! To the King’s infinite credit, he gets them to do a credible Byrds imitation here.

Thursday’s was #189:

Erica Smith – Jesus’ Clown

Sean Dolan’s lyric is a clever fly-on-the-wall take on the Stations of the Cross from a nonbeliever’s perspective. Behind Smith’s understatedly haunting vocals, Love Camp 7 guitarist Dann Baker adds a forest of searing overdubs that do Neil Young one better. Unreleased but ostensibly due to see the light of day sometime early in this decade.

Friday’s was #188:

The Sex Pistols – Did You No Wrong

Musically, with all those searing layers of Steve Jones guitar, it’s arguably the Pistols’ most interesting song, an outtake from Never Mind the Bollocks first issued on Flogging a Dead Horse in 1978. Which begs the question, why was it left off Never Mind the Bollocks? Maybe because it’s a Glenn Matlock tune?

And today’s is:

187. Angelo Badalamenti – Moving Through Time

The haunting centerpiece of the 1992 Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me film soundtrack, Bill Mays’ macabre piano cascading around an eerie two-chord chromatic vamp.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Literature, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Craig Chesler’s New One

Craig Chesler’s main gig is rhythm guitarist in Tom Clark & the High Action Boys, one of the best roots-rock bands anywhere. He’s also been a fixture on the New York oldtimey scene for awhile. This cd gives him the chance to show off not only his clever, often tongue-in-cheek grasp of several Americana styles along with several richly evocative takes on 1960s British psychedelic pop: fans of second-generation bands like XTC, Love Camp 7 and Brian Jonestown Massacre ought to get the references. It reminds somewhat of a recent album by another A-list NYC sideman, Homeboy Steve Antonakis’ solo effort. In a way, this is sort of an audition reel that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that this guy knows a whole bunch of different genres inside out and plays them with taste and a good sense of humor.

The best song on the album is the brisk Nothing Out of Something, sounding like an early 70s Ray Davies country song. Likewise, the wistful This Should Be My Summertime wouldn’t have been out of place on the Kinks’ Village Green. The one cover here is an aptly rapt version of Beautiful Night by Amy Allison. The rest of the cd includes – are you ready? – a shuffle like Wilco in an especially poppy mood; an oldtimey crooner song with ukelele and a string section; a similar one with more of a hillbilly feel; some shuffling 60s Britpop like the early Move; a stagy glampop song that could have been a radio hit for Queen; a bizarre, swinging piano pop song with a long break for solo ukelele; more proto-glampop; more oldtimey crooner stuff;and the rueful ballad with harmonies straight out of ELO that closes the album on a lushly pretty note.

Chesler plays the cd release show for this one at Banjo Jim’s on Jan 23 with Amy Allison opening the show at 8; seemingly half of the good musicians in town are on the bill with Chesler afterward. Memo to the musician re: the album title – dude, what were you thinking?

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Song of the Day 1/16/10

Every day we count down the best 666 songs of alltime, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #194:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Look At Me Now

Eleanor Rigby done more lucidly and far more macabrely, from the ELO debut lp No Answer, 1972. That’s Roy Wood on all the cello overdubs – a one-man Rasputina.

January 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/24/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #369:

The Move – What

From the two menacing piano chords that open it, this is as darkly beautiful as a 70s art-rock epic could possibly be, future ELO frontman Jeff Lynne eerily musing about “how the overture is burning all the faces of the people in the churches of the land.” From the Looking On lp, 1971.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/9/09

We do this every Tuesday, in the tradition of Kasey Kasem for the acts we’ll probably never see, or didn’t get the chance to review when they were in town, or just discovered somewhere because they’re cool or they’re funny, or just reviewed and can’t stop listening to them. Enjoy. All the links below will either take you to the song or to the band’s site.

 

1. The Oxygen Ponies – Love Yr Way

 

I sold my soul for education

Every day I pay the debt

My entire generation

Better find a tourniquet…

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

Opening cut on the long-awaited Harmony Handgrenade album, coming in May.

 

2. Escarioka – La Nueva Era

Fast, furious, spooky ska en Espanol sounds like Maldita circa 1995! They’re doing a benefit on 3/21 at 7 PM at Revolution Books 146 W. 26th between 6th and 7th Ave.

 

3. Lorrie Doriza – Girl in the Basement

Noir cabaret with a touch of Kate Bush and a little gospel in the voice.

 

4. Graham Bonnet – Whisper in the Night

This histrionic bellower used to front wanky late 70s metal acts like Rainbow and the Michael Schenker Group. Believe it or not, this is a youtube clip of an actually serviceable cover of the classic, haunting Roy Wood song from ELO’s first album. Who knew he had it in him.

 

5. The War on Drugs – A Needle in Your Eye 16

Philly band. This song has an anthemic nuevo Dylan/Byrds feel – imagine if Simon Joyner could sing. They’re at Union Hall on 3/30.

 

6. Jonathan Coulton – Tom Cruise Crazy

A song that needed to be written. He’s at Symphony Space on 3/27 at 9ish. 

 

7. Mames Babaganush – Kojak Cecek

The Copenhagen klezmer rockers’ motto is “klezmer killed the radio star.” This wild Balkan instrumental has a delirious Gogol Bordello feel to it.

 

8. Wheeler’s Cloud – It’s a Fact Jack

Steely Dan ripoff – funny – right down to the percussion.

 

9. I’ll Be John Brown – Cover Song

This is sort of Golden Shower of Hits for country bands. They’re at Ace of Clubs on 3/26.

 

10. Des RoarThe Watchers

They nick the classic blues Baby Please Don’t Go and turn it into evil garage rock. And here’s a sweet live clip for their classic Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man. The band is at Vanishing Point on 5/2.

March 10, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/20/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Today’s song is #523:

The Move – No Time

Contemporaries of the Who and the Kinks, the Move’s crazed stage antics and instrument-smashing inspired Townshend & co. to follow suit. Like many of their contemporaries, the band followed a trajectory that took them from mod rock to proto-metal to toweringly beautiful orchestrated songs.  This one, written by future ELO frontman Jeff Lynne is a gorgeously wistful track with acoustic guitar and flute from their final full-length studio album, Message from the Country, from 1971. MP3s abound. 

February 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment