Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Plays a Rare Big Band Show of Ludicrously Fun Esquivel Tunes

Forget for a minute that Juan Garcia Esquivel wasn’t the world’s most memorable composer, or that a lot of his stuff sounds like Lawrence Welk on acid. This evening at Pace University downtown, polymath percussionist Brian O’Neill’s big band version of his sometime Esquivel tribute project Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica played an irresistibly fun show that emphasized Esquivel the satirist, one of only a small handful of occasions that Esquivel’s big band music has been presented in concert in this country by a large ensemble. Along with the vaudevillian cartoonishness in Esquivel’s music, there’s a sense that everything is fair game for a spoof, especially American standards from the 30s through the 50s. Over-the-top as Esquivel generally is, there’s a subtly defiant reconquista going on if you listen closely.

Which O’Neill has done, to an extreme: virtually everything the 22-piece ensemble played, he’d transcribed by hand from the original albums. O’Neill has had a ball with this group, and his enthusiasm turned out to be contagious, boiling over into the band and the audience, who gave him a standing ovation. Recreating charts by ear for instruments as seemingly ill-paired as pedal steel, chimes, pandeiro, Hammond organ and a vintage synthesizer that basically doesn’t exist anymore might seem like a thankless task, but O’Neill loves his job: having to figure out, for example, whether a phrase buried in the mix is either the Hammond, or four alto saxes in harmony.

Esquivel’s main shtick became a familiar trope after just a few songs. The juxtaposition of extreme lows versus extreme highs, bass trombone and vibraphone, gong and flute, served as a comedic device as much as it showcased the wide-angle stereo sound he helped pioneer at RCA Studios back in the mid-50s. It’s also psychedelic to the extreme. Watching this show without being stoned was a trip: it’s hard to envision Esquivel in the studio without a haze of Acapulco Gold or whatever primo bud Mexicans were smoking back then drifting from the control room. The version of Take the A Train that the band played evoked a scene where one guy passes the joint to Esquivel and then suggests, “Why don’t make it sound like a real train?” Many giggles later, the choo-choo theme, complete with steam-valve vocalizations from the four vocalists onstage, made its way around the room.

As conductor, O’Neill took advantage of the chance to show off his chops on piano, vibraphone and various percussion instruments, including a LMAO two-monkeys-faking-each-other-out duel on cajon with bongo player Wilson Torres. The leader of the three-piece trumpet section, Bryan Davis, had been chosen for his ability to hit Esquivel’s cruelly difficult high notes, and he made it look easy. Bass trombonist Chris Beaudry got plenty of punch lines early on; as the concert went on, steel player Tim Obetz, organist/pianist Rusty Scott and then the vocalists got momentary cameos to swoop and dive and get impossibly surreal. Yolanda Scott’s stratospheric, crystalline wail paired against murky percussion on the intro to Esquivel’s version of Harlem Nocturne was wickedly adrenalizing…and then the song turned into a red-eyed grin of a cha-cha. The same vibe appeared in Boulevard of Broken Dreams, as if to say, “You Americans can’t really take this gloomy stuff seriously, can you?”

The rest of the show wavered between biting and ticklish. A slinky bolero from the 70s fueled by unexpectedly moody guitar from Tev Stevig evoked the dark side of Chicha Libre, and the closing cha-cha, Ye-Yo, got a drive from drummer Gary Seligson that the group picked up on in a split-second, as if everybody was hell-bent on getting some of that stuff. By contrast, Esquivel’s most famous song, Mucha Muchacha spun off sparks around the ensemble as they grinningly vamped it up to a surreal linguistic exchange between the vocalists. There were too many other bright and amusing moments to count from the rest of the crew, including trumpeters Paul Perfetti and Mark Sanchez, trombonist Dan Linden, horn player Ken Pope, flutist/saxists Sean Berry, Marenglem Skendo, Alec Spiegelman and Russ Gershon (of the mighty Either/Orchestra), singers Jennifer O’Neill, Kristina Vaskys and Paul Pampinella, bassist Jason Davis, and percussionist Jeremy Lang.

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September 20, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz Punks Smash It Up

LA band Jazz Punks’ new album, Smashups is due out early next week: it’s one of the most entertainingly original efforts to come over the transom this year. Their claim to fame is something they may not have invented, but that they take to new extremes: the jazz mashup. Musicians have been spicing up songs with brief quotes and sometimes longer passages from other songs for a long time, but this band makes that device their signature shtick. Perfect example: Clash-Up, the second track. It starts out perfectly straight-up with the intro to Should I Stay or Should I Go, then Robby Elfman’s tenor sax comes in with the riff from Take Five. But they don’t just milk the joke for all it’s worth: they drop the heavy guitar and drums and swing it, take it halfspeed, give guitarist Sal Polcino a blithe solo which signals a detour into minor-key blues territory, and then they bring it back up again with a very good joke. To be fair, the band name is a little misleading: these guys are first and foremost a jazz band, albeit one looking forward to “busting out of the postbop ghetto,” in the words of drummer Hugh Elliott, who does an artful job switching in a split second between swing and four-on-the-floor stomp.

Another sly and very smart reinvention is Creep Train, which sets the riff to Take the A Train over two Radiohead vamps, from Creep and Paranoid Android: the way Elfman’s tongue-in-cheek microtonalities induce laughs and then goosebumps is an unexpected treat. Likewise, Heavyfoot slowly and cleverly morphs from a slow stoner soul take on Wayne Shorter’s Footprints to the Beatles’ She’s So Heavy, Mike Polcino’s bass arpeggios setting up the punchline from the guitar and drums. More than any song here, the final track, Led Gillespie, manages to keep A Night in Tunisia and Led Zep’s Misty Mountain Hop together for almost the entirety of the cut, distant heavy metal thunder underpinning Danny Kastner’s swinging piano solo. You wouldn’t expect this to work but somehow the band pulls it off.

Foleo – a hodgepodge of Sonny Rollins’ Oleo and Purple Haze – swings a lot more than it rocks. And not everything here is a jazz/rock hybrid. 12 Steps to Hell – now there’s a title to raise a glass to!!! – gently but cruelly savages 7 Steps to Heaven. There are also serious compositions here. Mind Over Matter, by Kastner, takes a familiar Miles Davis riff, adds a little salsa, a lot of rhythmic shifts and a solo from Elfman that almost imperceptibly builds to a biting, vividly agitated crescendo. Little Chickens, a soulful shuffle by the Polcinos, juxtaposes a raw, funky guitar solo with a jape from Kastner which might be the single most amusing moment out of many here. The least successful track is Bo-So, which mingles Body and Soul with Coltraine’s Naima – with its constant rhythmic tug-of-war, it’s perfectly enjoyable, but the comedy factor doesn’t rate since Body and Soul has been mangled and butchered and had other things done to it so many times before.

There’s an element of jazz fans who are going to hate this album: “You guys swing, just drop the dumb rock stuff!” There are also rock fans who will hate it just as much: “Just play the song, don’t ruin it with all that weird jazz stuff!” But put this on at a party: heads will turn. And every musician in the room will secretly be thinking, “This is great, why didn’t I come up with that idea?”

May 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun Stuff from Steve Horowitz’s New Monsters

Funny jazz – there just isn’t enough of it. Happily, there’s bass guitarist Steve Horowitz’s recent New Monsters album, which follows an often comedic trajectory into the future of where melodic jazz is going. It seems to be Posi-Tone’s entry in the youngish eclectic kitchen-sink combo sweepstakes, and it is a winner. Hijinks aside, it’s an elegant blend of purist postbop, irreverently wry Microscopic Septet-ish narratives and funky Ethiopian-tinged excursions that would be at home in the Either/Orchestra catalog. While the album is credited to Horowitz, the composer here is tenor saxophonist Dan Plonsey, a brilliantly eclectic, witty and consistently surprising talent, playing alongside Steve Adams on alto and soprano saxes and also flute, with Scott Looney on piano and Jim Bove on drums.

The humor here runs the gamut, from subtle – the opening track, Imperfect Life, a casually insistent study in jauntily biting un-resolutions – to vaudevillian, culminating in the closing cut, Cylinder, a swinging Looney Tunes march punctuated by the most amusing drum break in recent memory. Not everything here is comedic, either. For example, there’s Mirror Earth, a swinging Micros-in-Ethiopia groove bookending a glittery free interlude for piano and alto sax. There’s also Journey to the East, a distantly south Asian-inflected, echoey, swirling microtonal overture that sets up a jauntily delicious romp through Coltrane and Dolphy’s India/The Red Planet with vividly biting, jagged saxes and spot-on modal piano. The title track artfully switches its galloping Ethiopiques bounce from bass to piano, after an unexpected swing interlude capped off by swirling tenor sax over machinegunning drums. And Miracle Melancholy juxtaposes bittersweet Dave Valentin-inflected flute against wary Ethiopian modalities, with a twinkly, minimalist piano interlude that rises as an unexpected joke.

The rest of the record is a lot of fun. There are a couple of sly strolling numbers: Vision Pyramid Collapse, with prepared piano mimicking a violin’s pizzicato, and the faux New Orleans march Dragon of Roses, featuring satirically conspiratorial, increasingly off-center twin saxes. There’s also New Boots for Bigfoot, a reggae tune with scurrying, Monty Alexander-style piano and what seems to be an interminable bass solo that turns out to have multiple levels of meaning – intentionally or not, it works. And Herald of Zombies marches up to where Plonsey and Looney threaten to raid the horror film cliche cupboard. This Bay Area crew sounds like they’d be a ton of fun live.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Irreverent Funny Dutch Jazz

Jazz from Holland – isn’t that kind of like surf music from Peru or gypsy music from America? Actually, yes. Gogol Bordello are from Brooklyn (applause please), and for years Peru made the world’s best surf music (back then they called it chicha). One of the more entertaining groups in the vital Dutch jazz scene is the irreverent and frequently comedic quartet Talking Cows, whose series of droll videos has made them a youtube sensation. Tenor saxophonist Frans Vermeersen gets credit for the more serious songs on their latest album Almost Human (just out on Dutch label Morvin Records); pianist Robert Vermeulen seems to be the cutup in the group. Bassist Dion Nijland has a remarkably melodic, terse style, while eclectic drummer Yonga Sun is equally at home with latin grooves, complex polyrhythms utilizing every square inch of the drum kit, or sraight-up in-the-pocket swing.

The opening track, Hurdles in Threes is something of a false start, a triplet tune that refuses to resolve, hanging out just a bit under the tonic with postbop sax swirls, loungey piano, dancing bass and latin-flavored drumming. It doesn’t give much of a hint of the levity lying in store. The second track, sarcastically titled A Serious Lack of Humour does that, though, through a deadpan solo bass intro, variations on a riff that echoes Ellington’s Caravan, a squalling sax crescendo and all of a sudden a noir loungey interlude that rises again on Vermeersen’s steely lines. A Stroll for Gonso is sort of their warped version of Harlem Nocturne, slowly bubbling with smoky sax, wry mallets on the drums and finally a long, thoughtful Vermeersen solo that straightens things out. They evoke the Microscopic Septet with the blippy, occasionally vaudevillian, Monk-tinged Dinner Is Served, full of fake turnarounds, rhythmic tricks, a ridiculously repetitive righthand piano riff and finally an Epistrophy quote. It’s one of two live recordings here, the second being the dizzyingly polyrhythmic, latin-inflected closing track Hop On, Hop Off which works its way from sly funk to relaxed, lyrical bliss.

The funky/bluesy Not Yet juxtaposes gleefully eerie upper-register piano flourishes with sly sax and a long, genial crescendo that really starts to cook as Sun takes it up huffing and puffing with a shuffle. Mos Def! returns to having fun with latin and Monk, Vermeulen throwing one jape after another into the mix shamelessly as the group veers from relaxed, bluesy charts to the point of pandemonium and then back again. A free piece titled Hang Glider lets an anthemic theme evolve slowly out of carefree, rubato, cool-breeze interplay between sax, bass and piano, while Mooing Around turns a jump blues tune into refusenik postbop much like the opening track. There’s also Two Guys and a Beer (the band doesn’t say what kind, or how many), a jovial, period-perfect 1950s clave jukebox jazz stroll that Vermeulen takes completely off plan. We need more bands like this.

March 8, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #591:

Black Box Recorder – Passionoia

Possibly the most witheringly cynical album ever recorded. Bandleader Luke Haines (also of the Auteurs – see #744 on this list) has said innocuously that this 1999 release was his adventure in exploring keyboard textures, but it sounds suspiciously like a parody of 90s British dance-pop, albeit with better tunes and artsy flourishes. Frontwoman Sarah Nixey delivers Haines’ corrosive lyrics in an ice-goddess whisper over the glossy sheen. The School Song does double duty as Eurovision satire (a moment that will return again with a vengeance on When Britain Refused to Sing) and knowing chronicle of the kind of torture schoolkids have to endure. GSOH QED is an early satire of internet dating; British Racing Green quietly and cruelly alludes to Britain’s fall from first world power to third world irrelevance. Although much of this is a period piece, the songs stand the test of time – The New Diana mocks the Princess Diana cult, but it’s a brutally insightful look at the cult of celebrity, as is Andrew Ridgeley, the funniest song here, a reference to the guy in Wham who wasn’t George Michael. Being Number One, These Are the Things and Girls Guide for the Modern Diva are savage sendups of yuppie narcissism. The album ends on a surprisingly poignant, haunting note with I Ran All the Way Home, a gorgeously apprehensive omnichord-driven art-pop song straight out of the ELO catalog, told from the point of view of an abused little girl. All the songs are streamable at myspace, but wait fifteen seconds before you put your earphones on, AND refresh the page after each listen or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. Won’t it be a good day when myspace finally dies? Otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

June 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. In honor of the doomsday that never was, we celebrate with a funny album. Saturday’s is #619:

Richard Cheese – Lounge Against the Machine

What Weird Al was to the 80s, Richard Cheese was around the turn of the century – and he’s still going strong, making fun of the suckiest songs you’ve ever heard. And he’s more than just a one-trick pony – his parodies make fun of lounge music just as much as they skewer the lamest corporate rock songs of the last 20 years. Caveat: if you weren’t tortured by a younger sibling (or, even worse, an older sibling) with bad taste in music back in the 90s, you may not know a lot of these songs. Ironically, the most popular track on his 2000 debut is the best one, the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia, which when you think about it is even more punk than the original. Creep, by Radiohead, another good song, is also better – and creepier – than the original. Otherwise, the satire is  brutal: with his cover of Guerrilla Radio, the lounge lizard exposes Rage Against the Machine for the limousine liberals they were. He gets gleefully cruel with the fratboy standards Closer (“I wanna fuck you like an animal”) by Nine Inch Nails, the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up and the ultimate frathouse atrocity, the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right to Party. Anybody remember Papa Roach? They get turned into noir cabaret here. And Fatboy Slim – remember him? – is transformed into more of a spoof of lounge music than of whatever he was (if you missed him, you don’t want to know). Here’s a random torrent.

May 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jolly Boys Surpass Expectations

The Jolly Boys’ new album Great Expectations – their first in possibly decades – might be the year’s funniest release. The octogenarian Jamaican band – who used to serenade Errol Flynn back in the 50s – plays mento, the folk music that gave birth to calypso, ska and eventually reggae. Where the Easy Star All-Stars have fun doing reggae versions of Pink Floyd and Radiohead, the Jolly Boys have just released an album of rock songs – most of them standards, with a few obscurities – done with vocals, banjo, acoustic guitar and stompbox. It’s hilarious and it’s totally punk rock even if it’s 100% acoustic – and the music is pretty good, too. The lead singer can’t hit the high notes, but that’s part of the fun – and it’s not as if he isn’t trying his best. Is this exploitation? No, it’s satire.

One of the funniest things about it is that you get to hear the lyrics clearly. The most brutal version here is Blue Monday, a synth-disco hit for New Order in 1986. Stark, rustic and the most punk track here, what’s obvious from the first few nonsensical lines is what a truly moronic song this is. It’s the one point on the album where you can sense that the band can’t wait to get this over with. Strangely, Golden Brown, a slick 1985 British pop hit by the Stranglers, isn’t funny – it’s as boring as the original. The rest is a long series of WTF moments. “Just a perfect day, drinking Bailey’s in the park,” rasps frontman/guitarist Albert Minott as the upbeat, bouncy version of the Lou Reed song gets underway – is that the actual lyric? Riders on the Storm is hilarious: “From the top to the very last drop,” Minott announces, obviously aware of who sang it the first time around. And their version of You Can’t Always Get What You Want is every bit as interminable as the original, if not as annoying, Jagger’s fifth-rate Dylan impersonation naked and ugly in the stripped-down arrangement.

But not everything here is as cruel. There are two Iggy songs. The Passenger is just plain great, and the band responds joyously; Nightclubbing is reinvented as a banjo tune, where somebody takes a mean pickslide after Minott announces that “We learn dances like the Nuclear Bomb.” The Nerves’ (and later Blondie’s) Hanging on the Telephone is a period reference that fits the band perfectly; Steely Dan’s Do It Again is the least recognizable of all the songs; by contrast, I Fought the Law and Ring of Fire could both have been mento originals, considering how many influences it shares with oldtime American C&W. The most bizarrely amusing track here is the Amy Winehouse hit Rehab, which has to be heard to be appreciated (and has a clever video streaming at the band’s site). The album closes with three deviously aphoristic mento standards: the cautionary tale Dog War, the slyly metaphorical Night Food, and a hypnotic, harmony-driven version of Emmanuel Road. It’s safe to predict that many of these songs will end up on late-night mixes at bars and parties throughout the next few years and, who know, maybe for a long time. The Jolly Boys have been around for more than half a century and show no sign of going away.

May 3, 2011 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Brown’s Body and the Easy Star All-Stars: The Ultimate 4/20 Experience?

What happened Wednesday night? Oh yeah, it was 4/20 (google it if you don’t know already). Seriously, though, John Brown’s Body and the Easy Star All-Stars brought a potentially mind-melting bill of cutting-edge roots reggae to an enthusiastic, sold-out, smoked-out crowd at Highline Ballroom. JBB are a band everybody takes for granted: they live on the road, play pretty much every major festival and have earned themselves a rep as one of the most reliably entertaining psychedelic acts out there. They take reggae to the next level: maybe more than any other modern reggae band, they’ve been responsible for pushing its evolution while keeping the spirit of the classic 70s Jamaican sound alive. Anyone who doesn’t know them should go to the band’s site and grab the two albums – including a delicious live collection assembled from last year’s tour – plus the assorted tracks that they’re giving away for free.

They wound their way into the set casually and methodically, Nate Edgar’s catchy basslines anchoring the bounce as drummer Tommy Bennedetti artfully worked the edges with some neat fills and cymbal hits. This band has always had a feel for dub, but they’ve bred it to a sticky purity. They don’t overdo it, breaking the songs down to a vortex of space echo for maybe a chorus at a time, not much more, before circling back to an earthy groove. One of the band’s trademarks has always been to have all kinds of fun with keyboard effects: switching effortlessly through every wah setting and woozy patch within reach, keyboardist JP Petronzio was obviously entertaining himself as much as he was the crowd. A recent track, So Aware blended Ethiopian influences with a couple of neat dub interludes, as did another one, basically a one-chord jam that pulsed along on a catchy, circling hook as the guitar and keys intertwined until any attempt to figure out who was playing what was a waste of time. It was more fun just to stand and sway as the waves of sound kept coming. A fierier, minor-key track, The Gold took a swipe at the current system, offering hope for a different, less money-oriented culture. Resonant and resolute in front of the band, singer Elliott Martin had the waves of bodies swaying along with him through the majestic, more traditional echoes of Speak of the Devil. A long instrumental section followed in the same vein, with another dub interlude, a sweet organ solo and a trick ending. The set wound up with the catchy, upbeat The Grass; the towering epic Blazing Love, trumpeter Sam Dechenne at one point playing what could have been the most interesting one-note solo ever done, blipping and blasting his way into and then out of the murky sonic kaleidoscope; and Zion Triad, a suite that took it up into the rafters much like how Burning Spear would close his shows back in the 80s.

If JBB represents everything that’s good about current-day reggae, the Easy Star All-Stars are the funniest reggae band alive. The crowd that stayed for them had really come out to make it the 4/20-est night of the year, and when the band launched into Pink Floyd’s Breathe (from the band’s first adventure in classic covers, Dub Side of the Moon), they went nuts. After about a minute of oscillating On the Run synth, when Jenny Hill substituted a bubbly jazz flute interlude for one of David Gilmour’s anguished guitar solos, it was impossible not to laugh. Which is why it’s so mystifying that this band’s devious, far-reaching sense of humor is so absent from their original stuff. They opened with a number possibly titled Don’t Give up the Music, a dead ringer for Gregory Isaacs’ Soon Come, delivered fervently by an animated, dancehall-style frontman. The reggae-pop they did afterward was competent, their bassist singing one number while firing off one tricky hook after another, but it never resonated more than it did when they finally did Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band and then an irresistible singalong of A Little Help from My Friends, everybody’s glowing coals raised high in the air. Their Radiodread stuff is arguably even more imaginative and lots of fun – and for obvious reasons doesn’t sound much like the originals. But when they brought up some guy from a reality tv show to embarrass himself in front of the band, it was time to call it a night and head to the train.

And a big shout out to Winston who was playing the subway platform in the wee hours at 14th Street. This was a late one for the veteran West Indian busker with the battered keyboard and the sweet soul voice. He’s at least fifty, possibly a lot older but he’s still here entertaining tired travelers more nights than not. He might have been the best singer of the whole night. He’s sort of a live, one-man Gil Bailey Show: mention a classic rocksteady or reggae tune from the 60s or 70s and he probably knows it. He doesn’t have a website but you can take a flyer with his number on it when you throw something in his tip bucket.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Do It Again

This album is hilarious. The thing to keep in mind about Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord is that they have an alter ego, Bryan and the Haggards, who play twisted covers of Merle Haggard songs. That “other” band’s lone release (so far), Pretend It’s the End of the World was one of the funniest and best albums of the past year. This new album, credited to Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord and titled Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers!, follows in the same vein. On one hand, it’s a surprisingly straight-up groove album, but all those grooves, and most of the surprisingly memorable tunes, are ultimately nothing more than fodder for satire and destruction. As you would expect from these guys, it’s cruel and funny and kind of punk although the band has pretty awesome chops for a punk jazz band: Lundbom on electric guitar, Jon Irabagon on alto sax, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto sax, Moppa Elliott on bass and Danny Fischer on drums along with guest Matt Kanelos (leader of plaintively tuneful Americana soul band the Smooth Maria) on electric piano.

The first track is the most straight-ahead, kicking off with an animated Irabagon/Lundbom conversation over Fischer’s deadpan leaden pulse. The guitar picks up a loop, saxes converge and diverge and then Lundbom plays an absolutely stunning chorus-box solo that finally goes off into skronk at the end. That’s for the adrenaline junkies. Kanelos’ astringent, hypnotic, Herbie Hancock-tinted riffage anchors the second track, The Bravest Little Pilot No. 2. As expected, Irabagon veers quickly from lyrical to satirical; Kanelos echoes that a bit later on, steady and increasingly unsteady as it winds down with unexpected grace. Ears Like a Fox is LOL funny, a R&B satire straight out of the Mostly Other People Do the Killing school of deconstruction. Everybody eventually picks up a cheesy riff and then shoots spitballs at it while Fischer finally hits a tongue-in-cheek groove with cluelessly blustery early Ringo style cymbal work.

Taking its name from a fish delivery service, Meat Without Feet has what sounds like a hip-hop beat chopped and backward masked, except that it’s live. It’s a great song – Elliott’s insistent bass chords join in lockstep with a trudging Fischer as Murray takes a long, completely over-the-top, kazoo-like solo on his “balto” sax, Lundbom coming in gingerly and then somewhat sternly working the edges of the melody, as if to say, c’mon guys, get it together. They segue into the fifth track, New Feats of Horsemanship, a brutal slow ballad satire – the savage joy of Murray’s completely unhinged mockery has to be heard to be appreciated. They close with Faith-Based Initiative – you know from the title that it has to be a joke, and it is, a silly go get ’em horn theme and cruel variations. As Elliott runs a deadpan, percussive staccato riff, Fischer lopes across the toms and eventually decides to start hitting on the “one,” one of the funniest moments here among many, matched by Lundbom’s alternate octaves and crazed tremolo-picking and then Irabagon’s constipated elephantine grunting as the rhythm section staggers away, aghast. On one level, it hurts a little to give away all these punchlines; on the other hand, no words could really do justice to them. The album is out now on Hot Cup Records – you’ll see this here at the end of the year on our best of 2011 list if we get that far. Lundbom and his merry band play the cd release show for this one tonight at nine at Zebulon.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Formerly Whooping Crane, Now Strange Haze, Same Great Album

“You have to be stoned to listen to this” is usually an insult. We don’t ordinarily advocate for or against the use of one substance or another – that should be an individual choice, and a legal one. But if the phrase “strange haze” has any kind of special meaning for you, Strange Haze’s album Riffin’ for Rent is the kind that you really ought to hear after indulging. If your dad still gets stoned, smoke him up and then try to convince him that this band was around when he was doing it all the time. He just might believe you.

Strange Haze (formerly known as Whooping Crane) should have been the band in Almost Famous. Hilariously satirical, sometimes cruelly, sometimes fondly, the Brooklyn rockers’ stoner shtick works as well as it does because they’re such excellent musicians. When’s the last time you heard a metal band with a drummer who can swing like crazy? Everybody knows that you have to have chops to play metal really well, but these guys don’t just know their early 70s stoner music, they know soul, and Stones, and Sabbath, and Skynyrd, and probably a bunch of bands from that era who were quickly forgotten because they weren’t as good. That’s what Strange Haze sound like. They’ll riff on a single chord for what seems minutes on end, and yet there’s something fresh and unselfconsciously fun about it. They know every cliche in the book and aren’t afraid to employ them wherever they’d be the most ridiculous. Likewise, their lyrics, delivered in a deadpan, period perfect faux-bluesy drawl, are beyond hilarious.

The opening track is She’s a Knockout, which sounds like the MC5 as done by Grand Funk Railroad. It’s about a girl “who was born in the heart of the whooping crane,” with an irresistible multiple-tracked bluesmetal solo out. Track two, Tomm Tapp starts out as sludgy but swinging riff-metal in the Poobah vein and adds honking harmonica for, you know, that authentic bluesy feeling – and suddenly goes all starlit and rapt for a second before the bludgeoning begins again. “Can you see the fork in the road? Close your eyes before they explode!” They follow that with Hang Loose, six minutes of wah funk, Sabbath style with some woozy southern overtones: “Summer of love don’t tell no lies ’cause we’re underneath the firefly…smoking the kingsized ultralights, still looking kinda tight.”

One Hit Sally is a tribute to a girl convinced that her smoke-filled room is more interesting than anything that could possibly exist outside it, pulsing along on a Stax/Volt bass groove with grand guignol art-rock guitar flourishes. The perfectly titled Voomp! keeps the funky groove going (if you remember early 70s Texas “hard rock” band Bloodrock, this is that kind of thing). The funniest song on the album is Straight Dope, playfully taking a 60s soul riff, adding more of that honking harmonica and a priceless lyric:

Walked down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine
Sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child

The bonus track that you can get from their bandcamp site is That’s More Like It, working both sides of the Atlantic for a riff-loaded hash buzz, then a skunkweed heartland metal vibe: “Make you crawl like an armadillo, armageddon in an armchair!” In addition to this one, Strange Haze will be on the Soda Shop’s upcoming free compilation coming out Feb 22.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment