Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 1/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Monday’s is #750:

Blotto – Collected Works

It makes sense that we’d follow Blue Oyster Cult with these Albany, New York pranksters, frequent tourmates in the early 80s and one of the funniest bands ever to go into the studio. Like a louder Weird Al Yankovic, their parodies extended beyond radio pop. Their early MTV hit was I Wanna Be a Lifeguard, a Beach Boys spoof, and the flip side of the single was appropriately titled The B-Side: the single has the hit, but the poor b-side “ain’t got nothing.” Goodbye Mr. Bond is an epic satire of James Bond movies, and Henry Mancini; She’s Got a Big Boyfriend and Gimme the Girl are more straight-up comedy with a beat. The classic moments here are We Are the Nowtones, a brutal sendup of bar bands (someone in the crowd hollers “Play something good!”); Metalhead (a live tour de force that bludgeons every heavy metal cliche ever invented) and My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie, a spoof of death-on-the-highway pop: after the accident, the dead girl’s boyfriend wants everybody to remember that her underwear was clean. During their heyday, the band put out just a single album and a few ep’s; this independent reissue from the early zeros includes pretty much everything. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is up on cdbaby. The surviving band members reunite frequently for live dates in upstate New York and are as amusing as ever.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boston Band Unearths Long-Lost Esquivel Big Band Charts: Why?

Now we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Back in Mexico in the 1950s, Juan Garcia Esquivel must have been smoking some seriously generalissimo-grade pot. Like him or not, there’s no denying the psychedelic aspect of his music. The question is, was it any good? Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – an Either/Orchestra spinoff – offers one possible answer. On their new, period-perfect The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, a collection of newly rediscovered big-band arrangements by the crazed, vaudevillian Mad Men era bandleader, they’re obviously having a great time. Which on one level is understandable: from a musician’s point of view, any time you get to use a bass marimba, or punctuate a big band chart with a pedal steel cadenza, it’s nothing if not a jolt to the senses. But some of this is so cheesy that it calls into question whether or not Esquivel actually liked these songs – or if he even liked jazz, or music, at all.

It’s important not to confuse an artist or their work with their fan base. It makes no more sense to associate Esquivel with the first-wave trendoids who fueled his blip of a resurgence in the early 90s than it does to blame Radiohead for the pitchfork/stereogum contingent who worship them. Yet it makes sense that trendoids would fall in love with Esquivel’s “bachelor pad” stylings. Much as Esquivel’s production was cutting-edge, with all those crazy sound effects, all too often it’s style over substance, something that dovetails perfectly with a trendoid esthetic (if you buy the argument that the words “trendoid” and “esthetic” belong in the same sentence). There are moments here that are painfully kitschy – again, the hallmark of a trendoid being an embrace of all things shallow and stupid. But lurking beneath these songs’ whizbang, Keystone Kops vibe is a snotty cynicism that borders on punk. Esquivel’s arrangements are such complete bastardizations that they’re practically hostile. Would Esquivel have preferred ranchera ballads, or norteno accordion music? Or anything other than popular 50s jazz themes? At times, it would seem so. Taken as satire, much of this is irresistibly funny.

Andalucia barrels along at a breakneck pace with snarky little piano glissandos and a kettledrum roll out. Night and Day features a brief fugue between blazing brass and the steel guitar of Tim Obetz, with random bits of lyrics that predate Lee “Scratch” Perry and dub by twenty years. The barely two-minute version of Take the A Train, like much else here, owes a debt to Spike Jones with its tribal percussion and barking horns that winds down into jungly ambience fueled by Rusty Scott’s organ. Boulevard of Broken Dreams is reinvented as a cartoonish cha-cha, slinking along with the scrape of a guacharaca, doot-doot-doot vocals and finally an exuberant Yaure Muniz trumpet solo followed by a surprisingly subdued one on piano by Mr. Ho himself. With its absurdly garish horn chart, Music Makers has gruff baritone sax trading riffs impishly with the steel. And the girlie chorus on Frenesi are clearly unable to keep a straight face as they doot-doot-doot amidst the crazed doublestops of the high brass.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. Sentimental Journey is simply unlistenable, and Mini Skirt, a familiar theme for surf music fans, hasn’t aged well – in the Cee-Lo Green era, those wolf-whistles are annoyingly cutesy. The three remaining tracks, Let’s Dance, Dancing in the Dark and the surprisingly straight-up, genially bluesy Street Scene are more good-naturedly amusing: lose the steel guitar, the funeral parlor organ and those ridiculous, blaring brass crescendos and what you’d be left with is just plain good big band jazz. Whether the rest of this is jazz, or what it is, is up to you to figure out. Maybe it’s best not to: like Sartre said, once you name something, you kill it.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/6/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #815:

Weird Al Yankovic – Weird Al in 3-D

Some of you will think we’re insane for including a Weird Al album on this list. But Weird Al is awesome! Even if he isn’t as absolutely essential as he must have been 25 years ago, when there was actually an audience over 12 years old who were familiar with the top 40 hits he parodied so ruthlessly. That’s why we chose this 1984 album, his second: Weird Al doesn’t really make sense unless you know the source material, and a lot of these songs are still in heavy rotation on a lot of stations, all these years after they came out. This one has the crazy accordionist’s biggest 80s hit, Eat It (a spot-on spoof of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, right down to guest guitarist Rich Derringer’s shredding solo that absolutely blows away the Eddie Van Halen original). A lot of these songs are new wave parodies: The Brady Bunch makes fun of Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance; Mr. Popeil does the same with the B-52s, and King of Suede goofs on the Police. The funniest one here is the Eye of the Tiger satire The Rye or the Kaiser, a sad tale of an ex-boxer deli owner who’s only got enough left in him to punch out a sausage or two. There’s also the reggae sendup Buy Me a Condo (insinuating that holier-than-thou Rasta reggae artists are all just sellouts at heart), and the reliably amusing Polkas on 45, a joke version of the hit medley Stars on 45. Weird Al is such a funny guy that he could take a completely boring album like Bad by Michael Jackson and make it interesting. The trouble with what he does is that as the audience for top 40 has eroded, so has his fan base: he could spoof Lady Gaga all he wants, but who over age ten knows any of her songs? Maybe it’s time for Weird Al to do a Broken Social Scene record. Here’s a random torrent.

November 6, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 10/29/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #823:

The Best of Spike Jones

The genius of Spike Jones is that his topical jokes from seventy years ago are as funny today as they were then. It helps if you know the source material, but it’s not necessary: after all these years, four-year-olds of all ages still laugh at all the bells and whistles and bumps and crashes in the drummer/bandleader’s crazed vaudevillian catalog. According to amazon, there are 55 Spike Jones albums currently in print; this one has only twelve tracks, but it’s the most solid singles collection we could find (in the early 40s, when the guy was at his peak, everybody was a singles artist). The classic of classics here is Der Fuehrer’s Face, a quintessentially and hilariously American response to Hitler’s WWII propaganda machine. But Jones lampooned the pop music of the era with only slightly less venom, with the horror-movie version of My Old Flame; the drunken, over-the-top Chloe; the Peter Lorre-inspired Laura and The Glow Worm (which surprisingly we couldn’t find streaming anywhere); and the very literal You Always Hurt the One You Love. None but the Lonely Heart is no less amusing a parody of soap operas than it was seven decades ago, and Hawaiian War Chant gives the then-current Hawaiian music craze a thorough stomping. Since classical music was broadcast nationwide on a daily basis during Jones’ heyday, he also lampooned that as well – this collection only has the surprisingly subtle (for him) Dance of the Hours and the arguably funniest moment in an album full of many, the gargling solo on the William Tell Overture, followed by the immortal horse race where the last-place Beetlebomb finally emerges triumphant. Absent here, and probably for the best, are less politically correct numbers like Chinese Mule Train and The Sheik of Araby, which have aged badly. But the album does have Jones’ biggest hit Cocktails for Two, innocuous pop song transformed into one of the great drinking anthems. Here’s a random torrent.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bryan and the Haggards Pull Some Laughs in Park Slope

Bryan and the Haggards’ debut album Pretend It’s the End of the World is a collection of twisted instrumental covers of Merle Haggard songs, and it’s as funny as anything Ween ever did. Because its satirical bite sometimes goes completely over the top, it wasn’t clear how the band – a bunch of free jazz types – would approach the songs live. At Bar 4 in Park Slope on Monday night, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Bryan Murray wore a faded red Hag baseball hat; Jon Irabagon, the “heavyweight of the alto sax,” as Murray sardonically called him, sported a rare Bryan and the Haggards t-shirt. From the first few bars of the first song, what was most obvious, and unexpected, was that they’re a genuinely good straight-up country band if they want to be – for a few bars, until they start messing with the songs. Country music isn’t everybody’s thing, but it’s a lot of fun to play, and that fun comes intuitively to this crew. Guitarist Jon Lundbom would go deep off the jazz end at times, but he’s got a bag of C&W licks; bassist Moppa Elliott looked like he was having more fun than anybody else in the band even though he was mostly playing the simplest lines possible, one-five, one-five, and drummer Danny Fischer, whose leaden pulse is responsible for a lot of the humor on the album, gave the songs a jaunty swing when he wasn’t acting out. Which he did, a lot, and cracked everybody up, especially his bandmates. He began his first solo by stopping cold, followed by a pregnant pause: Elliott tried easing him in, but Fischer wouldn’t budge, finally doing a neanderthal Fred Flintstone impression all the way around his kit.

On Lonesome Fugitive, Elliott joined him in disfiguring the time signature while Lundbom took a long, incisive jazz solo, holding steady to the 4/4 even as he ran long, snaky passages, deadpan and seemingly oblivious to the joke. A slow, swaying 6/8 number with countrypolitan tinges – Miss the Mississippi and You, maybe? – featured a warmly melodic solo excursion from Murray that finally took on an insistent postbop intensity as he went for the upper registers. Likewise, it was nothing short of exhilarating to watch Irabagon – whose new album Foxy is due out this month – make short work of an endless series of razorwire glissandos. And maybe predictably, it was one of his solos, a mealymouthed, weepily retarded, off-key stumble during their opening number, that was the funniest moment in a night full of many.

Fischer had assembled some pint glasses behind his drums, a primitive marimba that he’d plink on or even use to add a little melody. When he took another lengthy pause during a solo, Lundbom asked him if he wanted another beer. The answer was no: for whatever reason, he didn’t need it. A crowd trickled in as the band played: patrons looked around quizzically, then smiled when they realized what was happening. There would have been a lot more of those looks, and a lot more audible laughter, had it been later in the evening. But that was just the first set.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Uncle Leon and the Alibis Raise the Roof at Rodeo Bar

“I love you, Leon!” a girl hollered from the back of the bar. Uncle Leon, frontman of Uncle Leon and the Alibis is not your typical babe magnet – he could be Joba Chamberlain’s wiser, older brother (they have a similar midwestern blue-collar look). But he pulls demographics that your average bunch of Strokes wannabes would kill for. Back in the early-to-mid zeros these guys put on some of the funnest, funniest shows in town…and then they broke up. It didn’t really matter that they weren’t particularly tight, because Leon’s David Allan Coe-style songs were so funny. The first thing that hits you is what a good band this new version of the group is – they don’t need to be funny all the time to be interesting. Lead guitarist Charlie Aceto plays the stuff Leon can’t, and has a good handle on Bakersfield guitar – and he can do Social Distortion roots-punk and blues too. Maria on the drums is missed – she was always at least half of why the original band was so irresistible – but the guy who replaced her is solid and and can really swing, teaming up with bassist Neil Magnuson.

The thing that separates these guys from the rest of the funny country bands out there is that their jokes are usually pretty smart and edgy: they don’t just rely on cornball cornpone humor. Leon’s specialty is the battle of the sexes: the good guys always lose, badly. That’s how he comes across – that, and his resonant baritone probably explain the presence of all the women at his shows. Sure, he’s having fun up there, but the guy can flat-out sing. That this particular set was successful without either of his big hits, I Hate My Job or Drugstore Roses (or his cover of Baby Got Back), speaks for how good the rest of the material was. They opened with a blackly funny faux murder ballad based on a real-life encounter between Leon and a bounty hunter in a Dairy Queen parking lot somewhere in Kansas. My Love Is Like a Monster Truck was what you’d think it was: monster trucks use up a lot of rubber (that might not have actually been one of the lyrics, but it could have been). A slowly swaying, mournful ballad turned into a kiss-off anthem: “When you said ‘I love you,’ I thought that meant just me,” Leon explained. They blasted through a truck-driving number, Blue Sky and Asphalt and then a boisterous version of Hot Rod Mamas, where he skewered “catalog girls” with their perfect everything and their selfcenteredness – he likes a girl with a little junk in the trunk but with brains too.

They did three covers: an understatedly vicious version of Hank Williams’ My Love For You Has Turned to Hate, the Merle Haggard classic Swingin’ Doors and a practically halfspeed, swinging, straight-up country take of the Stones’ Dead Flowers – that song’s retirement date may have come and gone a long time ago, but damned if these guys didn’t make it sound fresh. They wrapped up their first set with a cowpunk number – Good Time Woman? Two Time Woman? Two Ton Woman? It could have been any of them, maybe more than one.

Uncle Leon is not only a singer, he’s a co-founder of Brooklyn Country, who maintain an excellent site dedicated to country and roots music in New York, with a concert calendar, interviews and the occasional album review. Kind of like us, but more specialized. Uncle Leon and the Alibis’ next gig is at midnight on 9/11 at Southpaw as part of the excellent three-day Brooklyn Country Music Festival.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sick Free Jazz Guys Cover the White Light/White Heat Album

This is better than the original – although that’s really not saying much. It’s way funnier too, like what Rawles Balls might have done with it if they were a horn band. Lou Reed used up all his best songs on the Velvets’ first album; White Light/White Heat is basically just a crappy garage band taking a stab at psychedelia. The members of Puttin’ on the Ritz, whose song-for-song if not exactly note-for-note cover of White Light/White Heat is just out on Hot Cup Records, seem to share that view. The group is BJ Rubin on vocals, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums (half of irrepressible, iconoclastic free jazz crew Mostly Other People Do the Killing), Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxes, Sam Kulik on trombones and Talibam’s Matt Mottel on “Turkish organ” on Sister Ray.

Rubin is not much of a singer, although he enunciates well enough so you can understand the lyrics – which is half the fun. They’re awful. Lady Godiva’s Operation? He does both the lead and the overdubs in one take. Bastardizing its inner artsy pop song might have felt revolutionary for Lou and crew in 1967; these guys expose it as amateurish and overdone.

Likewise, on The Gift, Rubin’s deadpan, nasal delivery is an improvement on John Cale’s half-buried mumble, although the sad tale of Waldo Jeffers mailing himself to his beloved Marsha has not aged well either. I Heard Her Call My Name, as it goes completely over the top, Gossip-style, reveals the original to be a parody of soul music. Sister Ray, all seventeen minutes and sixteen seconds of it, sounds like a bad jam Lou came up with on the spot when Verve’s people realized he was out of material. It’s there that Rubin’s enunciation really kicks in: counting how many times the word “ding-dong” appears in the song would make a great drinking game. The band – a formidable mix of A-list talent – basically slum it, playing the changes pretty straight with a minimum of the kind of mayhem they’re capable of. Which seems intentional.

If you like this one, you should check out Bryan and the Haggards’ equally sick album of Merle Haggard covers, Pretend It’s the End of the World. The likelihood of this crew putting out another album isn’t all that good, but here are some other overrated albums that definitely deserve this kind of treatment: Bitches Brew (guys, you would have the time of your life with this); Harvest, by Neil Young (super easy changes!); Evol, by Sonic Youth. Think about it.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Inbreeds at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/9/07

The evening started an hour earlier across the street at Esperanto, where a forro band was playing unamplified in the window. Forro is Brazilian rainforest dance music, under ideal circumstances with acoustic stringed instruments like cuatro and guitar, and accordion. At its best, forro is the South American equivalent of Balkan gypsy music, as haunting as it is rousing. “What’s this band’s name? Mike’s band,” their leader, percussionist Nanny Assis joked. He’s been playing SOB’s for a long time: this is his weekly Sunday early-evening project, just two percussionists and accordion. They sound best at the bar where you can hear them over the yuppies chowing down on overpriced Spanish food. It was nice to be able to get out of the rain and hear this for an hour before splashing across the street. And it’s always fun to go out on a rainy night: you can always get a seat.

The Inbreeds played an absolutely hilarious set of country song parodies. It’s as if somebody in the band heard Tammy Faye Starlite’s Used Country Female album and said, hey, we can do this too. This show was that good. They’re very theatrical, and their act is very visual: imagine the best thing you’ve ever seen at Fringe Festival, only better. It wouldn’t be fair to give away their jokes, but over the course of an hour, they did spot-on spoofs of the country eulogy song, the American Idol ditzy country girl song, the dead dog song, the religious song, the Charlie Daniels clan-versus-clan epic, the sentimental those-were-the-days ballad, the one-night-stand song, the faux-country stadium rock song and finally the right-wing political song that closed the set, in which it was revealed at the end that the continued health of the American consumer economy is completely dependent on the availability of Chinese slave labor. Topics covered in the process include masturbation, teenage homosexuality, abortion, masturbation again, sexism, racist bigotry, religious intolerance and musicians’ inability to resist the urge to ham it up (one song featured banjo played with a bow like Jimmy Page used to play guitar). The material may frequently be sophomoric but the songs are very thoughtfully composed – whoever writes them obviously has the source material down cold. The humor extends to the music as well: even when nobody’s singing, the band is still trying to pull laughs and for the most part succeeded, even if the sound was as awful as it usually is here. Why the club can’t make it work in such a cozy, comfortable space is hard to understand.

The musicians in the Inbreeds are excellent. Haunting accordionist Annette Kudrak predictably steals the show, even if just she’s sitting in the back playing and contributing the occasional vocal harmony. There are two frontmen, one alternating between guitar and banjo, the other playing a standup drum kit. Both are a little stagy and very funny. The unit also has bass, violin (which was pretty inaudible throughout the show) and a woman on backup vocals who took a couple of breathtakingly good, twangy turns on lead vocals.

Where this really ought to be is Broadway: not off-Broadway, but in one of the big Broadway theatres, where wide-eyed tourists from the heartland can pay a hundred bucks a head so this talented crew can earn union scale and maybe teach the out-of-town crowd a thing or two. The ultimate irony here, of course, is that most country musicians go into music for the same reason that nonconformists in the Middle Ages did: to find a safe haven within an oppressive society. Just like five hundred years ago, most musicians, wherever they are, still swing hard to the left. Nashville included. The Inbreeds play Hank’s in Brooklyn on January 17 at 9 PM.

December 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment