Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 8/28/09

Looks like where we’re going tomorrow there won’t be any internet access. So here’s Friday’s song, a day in advance, as our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1:

334. Boris Grebenshikov – Real Slow Today

The legendary frontman of Aquarium – the courageous, pre-glasnost Russian Jethro Tull – released one English-language album, Radio Silence, in 1989. This lush janglefest is its centerpiece, a thoughtful reflection on how revolutions begin, from someone who knows a little something about that firsthand. The link above is a torrent of the whole album.

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August 27, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

A million producers have tried to technify world music; most have failed spectacularly.  This is a welcome change, an extraordinarily successful hybrid of old and new, acoustic and electronic. Like the cd cover, the music on famed “throat singers” Huun Huur Tu‘s new album Eternal effectively evokes the windswept steppes of their native Tuva in the west of what was the Soviet Union. Like a warped Asian version of Radiohead, this cd sets folk songs impressively bulked up and energized with big-room studio production alongside austere soundscapes that conjure up hauntingly barren badlands vistas. Producer Carmen Rizzo’s most notable achievement here is that he keeps the compositions intact. He’s not trying to make third-rate hip-hop or techno out of it with a cheesy subsonic bass pulse, instead using the songs as a foundation and then layering subtle shades of orchestration around them, always keeping the melodies front and center.

The cd’s opening cut is a ballad in the Asian scale set to a hypnotically repeating, minimalist keyboard sample. Throughout the cd, Rizzo uses the group’s trademark swirling vocal harmonies (the singers hold a low note and let the resulting overtones circle around) as just another instrument in the orchestra rather than making them the sonic center. The second track is another Asian-flavored vocal number with tabla-like percussion, building to a swirl of oscillating vocals and then segueing into the next cut with a trip-hop beat. After a brief, suspensefully static tone poem, there’s the best track on the album, the murky, atmospheric Dogee Mountain (Interlude), blending layer upon layer of sound over a haunting, minimalist two-chord progression.

The stark intensity remains with In Search of a Lost Past, an austere, Radiohead/Alan Parsons soundtrack piece where the singers’ overtones become so distorted as the high frequencies build that it’s almost as if they’re having some devious fun with a vocoder. The album concludes with a hypnotic march set to reverberating electric piano and yet more dense, echoey layers of vocalese, and then a brief chant which for once sets those otherworldly harmonies centerstage. This works on just about every level it could: as psychedelic rock, as straight-up world music composition and chillout album. One of the year’s best so far. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo will be at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 23 with a sellout expected, advance tickets highly recommended.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Russian Carnival Ensemble at Trinity Church, NYC 4/24/08

From the first two folksongs on the bill, it seemed that this show was going to turn out like something you’d see on a Sunday afternoon at some suburban “arts center” in central New Jersey, most of the $60 seats taken up by squirming gradeschool kids dragged out for a shot of “culture” by their yuppie parents. The Russian Carnival Ensemble once appeared on Good Morning America (or its equivalent – they’re all the same, anyway), and the schmaltz they played early in the program could well have been on the audition dvd that got them the gig. But the show got better from there. Despite the fact that this seemingly sexagenarian Russian-American folk ensemble is probably best seen on their own turf, playing to an expatriate crowd who would object if the program was dumbed down, the remainder of the show gave them myriad opportunities to show off their sensational chops and interesting arrangements. Led by Tamara Volskaya, a spectacularly fast, virtuosic player whose axe is the domra (a small Russian stringed instrument that looks like a cross between a mandolin and a balalaika), the group ripped through a mix of their own arrangements of both classical and traditional pieces. The bassist played a large, hollowbodied, triangular instrument whose sides looked to be at least six feet long, definitely the largest bass on this side of the Hudson and maybe on the other as well. In addition to an excellent accordionist who sat impassively while casually spinning off lightning-fast trills, the group – wearing matching traditional costumes – had two other string players alternating between guitar, domra, balalaika and occasional percussion.

Other than a blistering, barely minute-long version of the Flight of the Bumblebee, the classical pieces weren’t all that interesting (in case you’re guessing, yes, they did the Lone Ranger theme). Traditional Russian dances, however, are their strong suit, and listening to them blaze through a handful of freilachs reminded of how much of a Russian influence there is in klezmer and gypsy music, and vice versa. In case you haven’t noticed, Lucid Culture has been off on a serious gypsy music tangent lately, and the pieces the group played this afternoon hit the spot perfectly, especially the encore on which what Volskaya wailed furiously, its melody a lickety-split series of sixteenth notes. The group also played a piece introduced by Volskaya as a world premiere, its quiet, eerie ambience quite a contrast with the ebullience of the rest of the program, hinting that this ensemble is capable of vastly more than they showed playing to an audience obviously unfamiliar with the material.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | concert, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments