Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Roger Davidson Claims Rio As His Own

Friday night at Zinc Bar, pianist/composer Roger Davidson led a first-class New York-based Brazilian jazz band in a romp through tunes from his lavish new double cd, Jounrey to Rio, just out from Soundbrush. Davidson has had a lifelong affair with Brazilian music, culminating with a two-week jaunt there where this album was recorded with an all-star cast including saxophonist Marcelo Martins, trombonist Gilmar Ferreira, guitarist Leonardo Amuedo and a multitude of percussion. Davidson alluded that the cast onstage – including David Finck on bass, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Paul Meyers on guitar, plus Ivan Renta on tenor and soprano saxophones, Adriano Santos on drums and Marivaldo doe Santos on percussion.n – would be equally at home playing the compositions, and they were.

At the keys, Davidson favors big block chords, stairstepping chromatics and insistent octaves to anchor the sound, filling a role much like a rhythm guitarist in a rock band. He plays that role strongly and nonchalantly and is generous with solos, allowing plenty of space for contributions from individual members. Bonilla’s rippling, minutely glistening, jeweled attack, rapidfire glissandos and ever-present good humor kept the crowd on the edge of their seats. Renta alternated between balmy tenor lines and jauntily spiraling soprano work over the hypnotic, clave-powered river from the corner with the percussion. Meyers’ nimble, spikily crescendoing solos were as sympatico as his strong, resonant chordal propulsion: he made a smooth but powerful engine to the percussion’s unstoppable wheels.

The funniest moment of the night was Davidson’s one-note samba, where the horns played that note in perfect almost-deadpan unison while Davidson worked equally tongue-in-cheek permutations on a single chord before introducing variations on the theme, such that it was. A couple of duets by Meyers and Davidson provided a summery, sometimes wistful contrast. Bonilla fired off a long shower of sparks that elevated a showy cha-cha above the level of parade-ground theme, while Davidson’s own gleaming, noctnnal work lit up an unexpectedly saturnine, anthemic bossa number, soprano sax trading off with Bonilla’s plaintive resonance. Much as most of the song titles were love songs, an upbeat pulse and warm sixth chords dominated the show, Davidson switched up the moods, somsetimes almost imperceptibly, from song to song. And there was delicious, celebratory cake at the end of the concert, baked for the occasion by Finck’s daughter Olivia. She may have music in her bloodlines but she has a bright future as a pastry chef if she feels like it.

Davidson has also enjoyed great success with klezmer and Balkan music, notably on his previous album On the Road of Life, a collection of originals in those styles. Ultimately, considering how effortlessly he moves between seemingly dissimilar styles, his future may be in writing for film. Somewhere there’s a mystern/adventure narrative set somewhere in the tropics that would benefit magnificently from what Davidson’s been up to lately.

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June 16, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eclectic Tropical Moods from Pianist Danny Green

Pianist Danny Green’s compositions approach Brazilian and latin jazz with the the same kind of attractive but sometimes apprehensive tunefulness that groups like Brian & the Aardvarks, Jeremy Udden’s Plainville and Bill Frisell’s ensembles bring to the Americana side of the equation. A Thousand Ways Home, Green’s second album as a bandleader, captures him in a variety of settings, taking considerable inspiration from south-of-the-border sounds. Upbeat as much of this music is, it’s not shallow.

As expected, the standout tracks here are the darkest ones. The real stunner is Over Too Soon, a steady, unselfconsciously gorgeous, Lynchian song without words, lit up by Eva Scow’s flickering, tremolo-picked mandolin lines. Likewise, the diptych Dusty Road, shifting from Green’s bitingly cinematic, solo neoromanticism to a wary bossa nova bounce. Tranquil Days rises from a murky rubato intro to a vividly overcast tropical ambience, Tripp Sprague’s nonchalant tenor sax contrasting with Green’s brooding sostenuto. The aptly titled, understatedly potent Under Night’s Cover takes refuge in Green’s bright, bittersweet nocturnal gleam, drummer Julien Cantelm’s artfully camouflaged clave groove in tandem with Justin Grinnell’s judiciously funky bass. Nighttime Disturbance has both Green and Sprague percolating a moody, modally-charged tune that shifts to a carefree, funky sway. A diptych, Dusty Road, picks up with a jolt out of Green’s bitingly cinematic neoromanticism.

The title track, a jazz waltz, couples tersely bluesy bustle to warmly reflective melodicism that moves in a jauntily latin direction on the wings of  Sprague’s soprano sax. A matter-of-fact bluesiness from both Green and Peter Sprague’s guitar drives the funky, steadily insistent Soggy Shoes, while Back to Work bounces along on a catchy catchy bossa tune. There are also a quartet of sambas: the blithe but laid-back vamp Flight of the Stumble Bee and its wry Monk allusions; Unwind, the mandolin adding guitar-like timbres in tandem with the piano as well as a bubbling, unexpectedly blues-infused solo; the incisively syncopated Running Out of Time; and Quintal de Solidao, with cheerily nuanced vocals by Claudia Villela and lithe guitar from Chico Pinheiro.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Erik Charlston’s JazzBrasil Pays Joyously Complex Homage to a Great Composer

Bright and carnavalesque but also hypnotic and constantly shapeshifting, vibraphonist Erik Charlston’s new album Essentially Hermeto more than does justice to legendary Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. Pascoal’s work is incredibly lively and kinetic, but it’s also deep, and Charlston absolutely gets that. But it’s more than just a tribute: this is a mostly brisk, fascinating ride through a whole bunch of diverse Brazilian styles. The band here behind Charlston is choice: multi-reedman Ted Nash; Mark Soskin on piano; Jay Anderson on bass; Rogerio Boccato on drums and Cafe (Edson da Silva) on percussion. They’re at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday night, Nov 7 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM, and if Brazilian sounds are your thing, you should go see them.

The album kicks off kinetically with Vale de Ribiera. Inspired by a rainforest sunrise, it’s an apt musical portrayal of what the world stands to lose if the tropics get deforested. Boccato cleverly disguises a disco beat and the vibes scurry while the reeds play hide and seek. The second track is a jazzed-up choro tune, Charlston masterfully working every single tonality available, especially the low, moody ones, taking it up at the end with a surreal edge. It’s a fitting theme for the land of magic realism.

The summery San Antonio is meant to evoke a family at a Saint Anthony festival, but it seems much more than that: there’s an obvious elegaic aspect, and Charlston plays that up to the fullest, walking a wire between suspense and balminess, Nash’s alto sax contrasting intensely with a waltz theme that disappears quickly in favor of Soskin bringing it into vivid focus – and then it ends ethereally.

Cafe opens the following tune with more suspense, a scrapy berimbau solo that introduces a stately but cheery midtempo maracatu slink. Between joyous “beep beep”crescendos, Charlston defiantly avoids resolution with a pensive solo that Anderson follows tersely and intensely. Charlston wavers between pointillism and echoey mysterioso ambience on the next track, a fascinating diptych, Nash adding a wary bossa edge over the lush tropicality of the melody, Soskin and then Charlston taking it to an understatedly insistent, intense crescendo out. The album winds with a vocal tune that’s sort of a dixieland/soca hybrid and another partita, a richly dark frevo composition that the ensemble shifts effortlessly between lively swing, apprehensively clustering crescendos and finally an irresistibly wry series of birdcalls that the band becomes finds just as hard to put away. Like his inspiration, Charlston has a clear passion for Brazilian themes, and the band rises to to the occasion: count this among the best jazz albums to come over the transom here this year.

November 4, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thunderball Gives You a 12 Mile High

With a nod and a wink to Isaac Hayes, Gamble and Huff, Manfred Hubler (the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrackmeister) and Herbie Hancock circa 1971, Thunderball’s latest album 12 Mile High is blissfully over-the-top psychedelic chillout music. A lot of it, especially toward the end of the album, is trip-hop; if you like it slow and slinky, you can dance to this. There’s some bhangra, plenty of funk, a little disco, some spacey dub and a lot of cinematics. Each of the dozen instrumentals here is a mini-movie, many of them basically bedroom scenes through a thick ganja haze.

The party starts with a gorgeous sitar melody ringing out over a layered tabla groove. The title track keeps the sitar, adding bass and blippy synth over a midtempo disco beat. Make Your Move climbs from an ambient, suspenseful intro to a soul/funk trip-hop song with falsetto vocals: Sylvester on the DL. A couple of reggae tunes shift from sly dub and a repetitive refrain of “herb, sinsemilla” to an ominous one-chord jam driven by swooshy organ, with a wary vocal that sounds a lot like Luciano.

There are latin interludes here as well. Low Down Weather is a slinky latin funk vamp with casually animated blues guitar pairing off against echoey Rhodes electric piano, and a hilarious sample on the way out in case you didn’t see it coming. Ritco Ritmo, with its Brazilian-tinged guitar, sounds like Os Mutantes one generation removed; Rio Mescalito is a jaunty acoustic blues guitar shuffle that grows woozier as whatever they’re smoking starts to kick in. There are also a couple of boudoir themes with laid-back sax and girlie vocals (which get old fast), a funky one that could be Sly Stone on good acid, the trippy mystery tableau To Catch a Vixen, and the lush, blues-toned one-chord jam Penthouse Soul that takes the album out on an especially hypnotic note. There are so many layers oscillating and moving up and through the mix and out and back again that it’s impossible to keep up: which is why these tracks are so successful. Always leave them wanting more, or so they say.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Relatively Rare Brazilian Music from Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda

You’ve done this before. You log on, go to your music, or your itunes, or your limewire and ask yourself, “When on earth did I download this and why?” And ever notice, if you trust your instincts, that the mystery tunes turn out to be really good? A little digging through the email box revealed that this band actually came to us via a publicist who was working their North American debut this past spring: for one reason or another we missed it. Too bad! Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live. They’re from Pernambuco, Brazil; their speciality is frevo, the region’s blazing brass band sound. But like so many Brazilian groups (or groups from the whole of El Sur, for that matter), they reflect the continent’s amazing melting-pot esthetic. For example, the first track here, a violin-driven instrumental, is basically a calypso tune, but with maracatu percussion and hints of rustic forro music. The next one is a wry, tricky, labyrinthine, psychedelic guitar song with keening horns in the background: Love Camp 7 in Portuguese? And after that they do a soaring, horn-driven roots reggae number. Beyond their geographical location, their multistylistic excellence undoubtedly stems from the fact that they began as the house band at the local music conservatory, Grêmio Musical Henrique Dias, a remarkably community-oriented organization. As faculty meetings go, this one is unusually fun.

The rest of the album is all over the map as well. Duranteo Carnaval sways gently over a hypnotic flute-and-guitar pop vamp; Jogado Peito shifts artfully from octave guitar over a Ramones beat to samba to ska and back again. Ladeira – “Hill” – is a salfsafied samba replete with suspenseful crescendos. The sarcastically titled Nao Interessa Nao – “Not Interested” – is the best song on the album, a blistering ska/Afrobeat instrumental like something the Superpowers might do, fueled by some paint-peeling wah guitar and blazing horns. Suade is a luscious funk/samba song, which they then redo as tingly organ-and-guitar dub. The album wraps up with a fiery samba-rock song, spacy atmospherics and a flute flourish. It’s hard to find stateside, but it’s worth checking with their Brazilian distributor.

And as it turned out, the NY Times covered their show. So we don’t have to feel bad that we missed it.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Dave Campbell

Dave Campbell, who pushed the limits of what a drummer could do, died Wednesday in New York after emergency surgery following a battle with a long illness. He was 50. One of the best-loved and most strikingly individualistic players in the New York music scene, Campbell’s outgoing, generous presence as a musician and bandmate is irreplaceable.

Like the other great drummers of his generation, he was involved in many projects, from rock to jazz. A disciple of Elvin Jones, Campbell propelled psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7’s labyrinthine songs with equal parts subtlety and exuberance, contributing harmony and occasional lead vocals as well. While Campbell was instrumental in shaping Love Camp 7’s knottily cerebral creations into more accessible, straight-ahead rock, he took Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams in the opposite direction, from Americana-tinged jangle-rock to jazz complexity. He was also the drummer in upbeat, high-energy New York rockers the K’s.

Originally from Minnesota, Campbell attended the University of Chicago and came to New York in the 1980s, where he joined Love Camp 7 as a replacement and then remained in the band over twenty years, touring Europe and recording several albums. He also handled drum and harmony vocal duties on Erica Smith’s two most recent studio albums, Friend or Foe and Snowblind. He leaves behind a considerable amount of unreleased studio work with both bands.

As a player, Campbell had an encyclopedic knowledge of rhythms and grooves and a special love for Brazilian music. His occasional solos often took the shape of a narrative, imbued with wry humor and unexpected colors. A great raconteur, Campbell’s stream-of-consciousness, machine-gun wit was informed by a curiosity that knew no bounds, combined with an ironclad logic that never failed to find the incongruity in a situation. He reveled in small, clever displays of defiance against authority, yet approached his playing and singing with a perfectionist rigor.

He is survived by his family and the love of his life, the artist and photographer Annie Sommers.

May 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Genre-Smashing New Guitar Albums from Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins

Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins are both gifted acoustic guitarists with individual voices, each with an innovative, flamenco-inspired approach and a new album out. Jacome imaginatively blends both rock and Middle Eastern melodies within a traditional gypsy flamenco framework, while Rollins brings a biting flamenco edge to his groove-oriented world jazz instrumentals. If flamenco or gypsy guitar is your thing, both of these guys should be on your radar, particularly since each has his best days ahead of him.

Jacome is a feel-good story: as a teenager, he wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, but was happily disabused of that fantasy when he discovered flamenco. He immersed himself in it the old-fashioned way, learning from the source from Roma in Spain. His new album Levanto is a fullscale ballet, a theme and variations complete with dancing – as a purist, he’s continuing a centuries-old tradition that blends music with dance, legend and storytelling. Dynamics are his strong suit: he’s the rare guitarist you actually want to hear more of (lots more of, actually – as with Rollins, he’s sometimes conspicuously absent on his own album). Backed by the vivid, incisive violin of Jennifer Mayer, Adrian Goldenthal on bass, Kristofer Hill on percussion and a trio of brassy vocalists (Chayito Champion, Olivia Rojas and Vanessa Lopez), the group alternate between fiery dance instrumentals, dramatic ballads, poignantly fingerpicked passages and a lot of tap-dancing. Jacome makes artful use of the Arabic hijaz scale as well as interpolating catchy rock passages within the compositions’ stately architecture. The problem is that as an album, the segues are jarring – just when a song seems about to sail joyously over the edge, here come those dancers again. It’s easily solved once you upload the tracks and sequence them yourself (it should be emphasized that fans of oldschool flamenco will have no problem with this; however, a lot of momentum gets lost if you just leave the tracks in their original order). What this really should have been is a DVD – it leaves the impression that there’s a whole side to the spectacle that doesn’t translate if the audio is all you have.

Rollins comes at flamenco as a jazz player with blazing speed and a wealth of original ideas: by the time the fifth track begins, he’s delved into rhumba, samba, Cuban son and back again. Like Jacome, he has an inspired cast of characters behind him including Charlie Bisharat on violin, Dave Bryant on percussion, the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor guesting on kamancheh on one track and Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and their daughter Diana Booker contributing backing vocals. Rollins tosses off one lightning phrase after another, sometimes handing them off to Bisharat, other times to the wryly muted trumpet of Jeff Elliott. He imaginatively works the traditional descending scale of flamenco music in all kinds of new ways, even adding some tersely textural electric guitar beauty to the title track. The highlight of the cd is the triptych at the end, the Migration Suite, upping the ante with biting, Middle Eastern flavored arrangements and motifs. The problem here is the production: when there are horns here, they’re so compressed that they sound like a synthesizer, an effect that compromises all the playing here, even Rollins’. Where the Brazilian vocalists might have been able to contribute something memorable, they’re as buried in the mix as the Jordanaires on an old Elvis record. Even Kalhor gets flattened out. There may be a reason behind this: one of the cuts here was a “most added” track on easy-listening radio earlier in the year. Which on one level is fine, Rollins deserves to be heard – but in a context that does justice to the fire and imagination of his playing, his compositions and the peers he plays with. More than anything, this reminds of the work of another quality guitarist, Peter White, whose series of world music-inspired acoustic instrumental albums about 20 years ago typecast him as an easy-listening, smooth jazz guy rather than the world class player he is.

Lucky Arizonans can see Chris Burton Jacome play the cd release show for this one at the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N Arizona Ave. in Chandler on May 2.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dadi – Bem Aqui

Who’s your Dadi? If you’re Brazilian, it’s probably Eduardo Magalhaes de Carvalho. Over the course of a long and eclectic career as a sideman, he’s worked with everybody from Marisa Monte to Caetano Veloso to Mick Jagger. This new album, his second as a bandleader is recently out on Sunnyside, and unlike what you might expect from that label it’s not a jazz release but instead a tersely arranged, irrepressibly sunny, indelibly Beatlesque collection of sixties-flavored three-minute pop songs. For those who were smitten by Os Mutantes, whether the first time around or later, this is considerably more direct yet equally cheery and captivating. Carvalho sings in Portuguese with a casual, thoughtful understatement.

The album kicks off with a Stax/Volt style shuffle transported to even balmier surroundings, followed by a fetching duet with Monte over swaying, vintage 70s style janglepop  driven by tasteful electric guitar and organ. The title track is sparse nocturnal bossa-pop with acoustic guitar, piano and cello; likewise, Passando echoes hypnotically with distant piano in a Jenifer Jackson vein. Nao Tente Comprender (You Don’t Get It) nicks the chords from the Beatles’ You Won’t See Me; the strikingly minimalist, swaying 6/8 rock ballad Quando Voce Me Abraca (When You Embrace Me) blends tropicalia with deliciously glimmering layers of guitars and piano.

There’s also an ominously swinging, 6/8 Os Mutantes-inflected psychedelic number capped by fat blues guitar solo; another Beatlesque tune that could have been a Brazilian version of a top 40 hit from Let It Be, right down to the watery, George Harrison-esque chorus box guitar; and another Harrison-inflected song, the gorgeous, slowly crescendoing  jazz-pop anthem Por Que Nao (Why Not). The album ends on a surprisingly dark note with a fiery, bluesy, early Santana-esque one-chord rock jam, hinting that this guy may rock harder than he lets on here. If Dadi’s lyrics were in English, he’d be huge with the American indie pop crowd, the Shins et al. As it is, it’s a breezy, fun album, the kind you find yourself humming and wonder what that tune could have come from.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Paul Meyers – I’ve Got the World on a String

Smartly tasteful, purist Brazilian-style jazz from a first-rate cast of players: bandleader Paul Meyers on guitar, Helio Alves on piano, Donny McCaslin on saxes and flutes, Leo Traversa on bass and Vanderlei Pereira on drums and percussion. The songs are spacious and expansive, generous in that there’s always plenty of room for individual contributions. The chemistry between band members is obvious, creating strong and memorable interplay, nobody overplays, and the swells and ebbs of the songs are magnificently timed. You can dance to a lot of this: in the summer, ideally under the stars. It picks up as it goes along.

The title track opens with subtle samba inflections, then they burst out brightly, Alves leading the pack, bringing in a little blues but not darkening the mood, Meyers stepping out warmly on acoustic, McCaslin’s sax following comfortably in its wake, bobbing on the waves. Eyes That Smile is the prototypical song here. It’s more of a salsa groove, electric guitar and piano locked in, Meyers’ fast, scurrying, brightly melodic guitar solo down to a balmy flute interlude. And then picks up again, sax taking over, the rest of the band returning gently, this time with acoustic guitar and an Alves solo with some neat Cuban spice.

Plum begins somewhat bittersweet but grows warmer with a devious guitar-driven groove, Traversa playing with a trebly Jaco tone when it’s his turn to solo: again, dynamics come to the front here. Stars has more of a cuban beat with fluttery flute, and some particularly neat interplay between piano, guitar and flute as they each carry a part of an arpeggio. Gary Burton’s Panama, a tune originally recorded with Pat Metheny, is bouncier, the group playing against a steady guanguanco groove, guitar running through a marimba patch to enhance the tropical ambience. McCaslin gets to soar higher here than he has on any of the earlier tracks, as does Alves. Because, a strikingly somber nocturne, also serves as a showcase for McCaslin to add some darker inflections

River opens with some African inflections from Meyers, then the piano comes crashing in. Alves finally gets the chance to fire off some cascades and makes the most of them. And then McCaslin floats a balmy breeze over the rhythm section’s scurrying intricacies. The album wraps up on a high note with the buoyantly swinging, aptly titled North Meets South. If there’s anything to nitpick about here, it’s that the impeccable good taste that Meyers and crew exhibit here is both blessing and curse. They really have a lock on a mood and keep it going. The trouble is, they tease you: just when you think they might just explode and go crazy for once, they bring it back down. It would be interesting to hear this crew live and see how many more chances they might take.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Federico Aubele – Amatoria

Buenos Aires-born songwriter/guitarist Federico Aubele’s going for a rico suave thing here, sort of like a downtempo Gipsy Kings. At a distance this may sound like generic latin lounge music – it’s kind of formulaic, but it’s a formula that works. This cd offers layers of acoustic and electric guitars with hushed lounge lizard vocals (in Spanish) over a trip-hop beat. Aubele could use a lyricist, and there are places where the drum machine becomes completely claustrophobia-inducing (the album is just out on the well-intentioned but sonically numbing Thievery Corporation’s label). Now for some good things about the cd. Aubele is an excellent, terse guitarist: there aren’t any wasted notes here. And the songs are pretty, most of them in moody minor keys. Plus, he’s dubwise. His reggae touches typically linger and reverberate in the background, lithe guitar accents cleverly and judiciously kicking in at unexpected moments.

Suena Mi Guitarra sways and bounces, trip-hop meets tango with a jangly reggae guitar feel. Te Quiero a Ti is upbeat and evocative of Mexican groups like the Reggae Cowboys. Del Ayer layers phased backward-masked guitars in the background; there’s also a duet with the unlikely choice of Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto, who quite surprisingly acquits herself so well that she really ought to have been given a turn out front. The most bizarre cut here – tropicalia is just full of them, isn’t it? – is the samba-inflected El Sabor with its layers of artificial, bubbling synth, early 80s ELO goes to Brazil. The cd ends with an acoustic guitar instrumental that offers more than a hint of a more stark, purist sensibility lurking here. Piazzolla it’s not, but it’s something you can put on at a party and nobody will complain – in fact, you’ll probably have people asking you who this is – and it’s a good late-night sleepytime cd.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments