Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Charles Evans and Neil Shah in the Bronx 2/28/10

It’s hard to get any more oldschool cool than the duo show by Charles Evans and Neil Shah last night. It was sort of the Bronx equivalent of a house concert, the cutting-edge jazz duo playing in essentially what was the banquet hall of one of New York’s first coop apartment complexes, tucked into a world-that-time-forgot enclave just off 181st St.

Evans struck almost a batter’s stance with his baritone sax, tensed, swaying and ready to hit one out of the park (which he did, over and over again) while pianist Shah calmly delivered a seemingly nonstop series of eerie, otherworldly tonalities, some of the mostly gorgeously creepy sounds heard in any of the five boroughs recently, many of them from their new cd Live at St. Stephens. Some of the crowd, seemingly spooked by the duo’s flickering pitchblende sonics, left during the intermission: the brave souls who remained were rewarded with a far jauntier second half.

Evans’ instantly identifiable sound makes masterfully macabre use of chromatics when he’s not being polychordal, i.e. using majors, minors and every conceivable variant in rapid, often hair-raisingly intense juxtaposition with each other. Possibly for that reason, the opening segment seeemed like an endless series of miniatures, a soundtrack to a midnight spelunking expedition that tantalizingly offered the occasional distant glimmer amidst the blackness that would reappear in a split second, only to disappear for what seemed minutes on end. In places Shah would play minimally, pedaling a single staccato bass note, other times throwing off murkily fluid chromatics while Evans used the entirety of his instrument: nebulous, breathy, atonal passages; strange, acidic harmonics; then hammering out alternately impatient or playful percussion on the valves. Evans is an unsurpassed master of textures, giving most of the choicest, darkest melody to the piano but picking it up at the least expected moments. Shah’s lone composition of the night, What Is It Not, combined the otherworldly spirit of much of the rest of the material while adding a boisterous post-bop edge, Evans going off on a rapidfire solo over a long, hypnotically circling Shah motif that they gracefully faded out.

Their version of Mono Monk (a decidedly stereo composition having nothing to do with Thelonious Monk) saw Evans playing breathy, swaying and thisclose-to-completely-unhinged over Shah’s diabolically terse chromatics. By contrast, a cover of the Jan Roth composition Die Fliegenden Fisch (The Flying Fish) offered up expansive, late-night bluesiness underscored with what by now had become an expected sense of menace. It was a welcome display of fearlessness and refusal to compromise, to do it their way.

The concert series is a neighborhood thing- they don’t have a website, and the program didn’t include an email to sign up for a mailing list. Their next concert features cellist Leigh Stuart and others playing baroque to modern (Bach, Beethoven and Brian Coughlan) at 6 PM on March 28 at the Lounge at Hudson View Gardens, 116 Pinehurst Ave. off 183rd St., two blocks from the north exit at the 181st St. A train station.

March 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Dollshot at Caffe Vivaldi, NYC 2/3/10

Creepy fun in the West Village. Dollshot’s shtick is that they take art songs from the classical and 20th century canon, jam out the intros and outros and a lot of times in between. The effect is inevitably some shade of macabre. Dollshot’s chosen genre may be classical but their vibe is pure punk rock, fearless and iconoclastic. When she wasn’t projecting with a seemingly effortless, obviously classically trained clarity, frontwoman Rosalie Kaplan stood motionless and deadpan in front of the band like a recently undead girl from the Twilight movies. Tenor saxophonist/bandleader Noah Kaplan alternated between slightly restrained bop – this was a small room show, after all – and long, somewhat sinister overtone passages. Pianist Wes Matthews’ precise articulation enhanced the horror-movie music box feel, as did electric bassist Giacomo Merega, supplying slithery cascades when he wasn’t providing a funereal pulse.

Galatea by Arnold Schoenberg was the first recipent of a macabre sax and piano interlude. A couple of Poulenc songs contrasted pretty, impressionistic, almost pop piano with menace from all sides. A Wes Matthews original, The Trees began as a twisted pop song with bass rumbles that the sax would cleverly echo later. The mantra “The trees are falling” gave way to “I can’t reach you with the burning of a thousand hearts,” Merega adding gently elegiac, staccato bass chords on the outro. After a mini-set of Charles Ives songs, they played an instrumental that vividly paired off Rosalie Kaplan’s warm, soaring vocalese with sax that started out grumpy and got angrier quickly. They closed with another Poulenc composition, the overtones of the sax oscillating hypnotically over bell-like, martial bass.

Watch this space for upcoming gigs; like most Brooklyn jazz guys, Noah Kaplan gets around: his next gig is a trio show with Benjy Fox-Rosen (of Luminescent Orchestrii) on bass and Matt Rousseau on drums at Unnameable Books in Ft. Greene on Feb 6.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The JD Allen Trio at Puppets Jazz Bar, Brooklyn NY 6/25/09

Seemingly a low-key warmup gig for the JD Allen Trio’s upcoming weeklong stand at the Vanguard this coming August 11-16, they were practically jumping out of their shoes to be playing together again after a break of almost a month. Tenor saxophonist JD Allen’s compositions and sense of melody are so strong that he doesn’t have to be ostentatious, and he wasn’t. Allen has concretized his style: he’s exactly the same as a bandleader and composer as he is a sideman, always finding the melody, always finding the most elegant, terse way to make his point – and his songs all make one, often very vividly. This group works perfectly as a trio because there isn’t room for anybody else, the rhythm section being as ferocious as it is. Allen’s articulacy as a player matches his writing. He spent the duration of the set tossing off crystalline eighth-note runs and edgily precise, minor-key motifs loaded with implied melody while the rhythm section ran amok. Rudy Royston has to be the most exciting drummer in jazz right now (no disrespect to any of the other good ones, you know who you are, we’ll be reviewing one of you next week). Puppets is a small room, and Royston felt it, leaving the intensity  just a notch below pain level. Where Allen speaks in phrases, Royston speaks in chapters – but they’re meaningful chapters, and bassist Gregg August seemed only too glad to jump in and go along for what became a wild ride from the first few rolls across the toms. August is also a first-rate composer with an ear for a memorable narrative, which makes him a particularly good fit for Allen, but this time out it didn’t take long before he went unhinged in tandem with Royston while Allen struck a striking stance in the unlikely role as melodic leader also charged with carrying the rhythm and organizing the songs’ architecture. Backwards, no doubt, but that’s part of what made the show so fascinating to watch.

The trio mixed songs from their two brilliant albums, last year’s I Am I Am and the just-released, equally melodic Shine! On the records, most of them are brief, barely four minutes long, but the group elongated  their shadows so they almost disappeared and then spun back in a split second, looming large and ominous. I Am I Am is a theme and variations, and Allen worked its impatient, angry insistence for all it was worth, using the central hook as an anchor to keep the low-register rumble from lurching and destroying everything in its path. Royston didn’t steal the show – he was the show, introducing not one but two unexpected, instant crescendos with press rolls. He worked his snare not with a snap but a boom, at one point during a solo building a defiant nine-note phrase artfully as a horn line. August has a great feel for latin rhythms, which in tandem with Royston’s reckless yet judicious rides across the cymbal heads added luminosity to some of the growlier I Am I Am passages. At the end, they swung, August running scales madly while Royston careened through the underbrush, Allen to the side, surgically incisive – and then bringing his cohorts back up and onto the road with similar precision. If jazz is your thing, you’re out of your mind if you’re in town and you don’t catch these guys while they’re at the Vanguard this August.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Raining Moisturizer: Moisturizer Live at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 10/10/07

Three reviews of Moisturizer and a side project in two weeks here: isn’t that sort of overkill? Consider this: critics said a lot about Miles Davis at Birdland in 1957. The media went ga-ga over the Ramones at CBGB twenty years later. Ten years after that, it was Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s that everybody was talking about. Similarly, this is a band at the absolute peak of their career so far. Moisturizer has come to the point where they’ve become a band you absolutely have to see. And it’s not because of their anger or earsplitting volume, nor does Moisturizer have anything to do with a trend, a fashion or a fad. Moisturizer is pure, unadulterated fun.

 

Tonight they played two delirious, sweaty sets, all original instrumentals except for a very cleverly rearranged cover of the Burt Bacharach latin-pop classic The Look of Love. Special guest David Smith joined with the band to play ebullient, ecstatic trombone on the sultry, swinging, newly rearranged Unhaveable Blues, and joined with baritone saxist/frontwoman Moist Paula to bring the house down with a wild, clattering, practically heavy metal outro on one of the last songs of the night. Otherwise, the night belonged to Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Yoshio. The latter is the most compelling evidence for Moisturizer’s ascendancy from merely good to absolutely transcendent: he swings, has command of what seems to be any time signature and can play anything from punk to funk to swing with an effortless, uncluttered grace. He’s given the rest of the trio the groove they always were going for but never had the drummer behind them to hit until now.

 

Moist Gina’s basslines are potently percussive, richly melodic and very hard to play. She makes it seem effortless even though she probably lost five percent of the weight on her strong, slender frame by the time the show was over. Her voicings are often completely unorthodox: watching her fingers swoop and slide up and down the fretboard was a clinic in how to play bass with an idiosyncratic, uniquely personal yet musically brilliant approach. To drive a point home, she’d slam on the occasional chord, slide with split-second timing up to a high note and punctuated a charming, catchy new one with gentle octaves and arpeggios. If there were Moisturizer action figures – in a more perfect world, every little kid would have their little plastic Moist people – Gina would be the one who packs the heat.

 

Moist Paula would be the one with the magic sax, whose keys she presses in order to create a secret Moist universe where the party is everywhere and everyone is invited. It’s her crafty sense of humor and surreal wit that makes Moisturizer’s songs as fun as they are, from the tricky time stop-and-start time changes of Actually I’m So Busy to the triumphantly buoyant Moisturizer Takes Mars. Yet it was their more serious songs that impressed most tonight. Their second set was the best series of segues I’ve seen this year: the sad tango Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, then a haunting, swinging, relatively new number about a baby lost in the Indonesian tsunami, and an irresistibly propulsive song called I Will Unmagic Your [something – the title is a long, complicated Salman Rushdie quote] with a crescendo capped by a wild, flying Moist Gina solo. It was after one in the morning when they finally closed the show with a boisterous take on their big audience hit Mission: Moisturizer.

 

The crowd wasn’t dancing this time, probably because of the nature of the crowd itself (the venue itself is charmingly laid-back and unpretentious, in stark contrast to trendoids who hang out here), and because a breakdancer had taken over the small space in front of the stage, frenetically flipping and twirling, effectively creating a barrier between band and audience. Yet there was a lot of chair-dancing: as hard as some of the crowd may have been trying to sit still, they didn’t exactly pull it off. How the audience reacts with their bodies is a reliably indicator of a band’s performance: the more people move, generally speaking, the better the music is and tonight’s show validated that theory. Miss seeing this band live and risk your health. 95% of all doctors recommend Moisturizer to cure any uptightness you may have. The other 5% are uptight themselves.

October 14, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Secretary Feat. Big Boss/Nina Nastasia & Jim White at Mercury Lounge, NYC 10/3/07

Secretary is Moisturizer frontwoman and baritone sax player Paula Henderson’s Hollywood soundtrack side project. Or at least that’s what it sounded like tonight, like Angelo Badalamenti covering Moisturizer. Hollywood would do well to seek her out. As she made a point of reminding the audience, everything she writes is a true story. The resulting compositions, whether the utterly unique dance-rock that she plays with Moisturizer or the quieter, more atmospheric works she played tonight, all have a narrative feel, and it’s often very compelling. Or very funny. Or both simultaneously.

 

Although for Secretary gigs she hides behind a pair of spectacles and a vintage secretary suit, Henderson didn’t bother trying to shed the slightly coy, deviously witty Moist Paula persona that she assumes at Moisturizer shows. Maybe that’s just who she really is. Big Boss is a new addition, a sharp-dressed man busily multitasking on a laptop and mixer, occasionally contributing trombone, keyboards and even turntable scratching on one song. Although Moisturizer is defined by playfulness and fun, and that sensibility isn’t lost here, the quieter, more downtempo tunes Henderson does in this project afford her a chance to explore more thoughtful, pensive terrain. Tonight she played lead lines on her bari sax as Big Boss ran the tracks, most of which are on the excellent debut Secretary album. They opened with a sultry, jazzy, unreleased number perhaps titled 37 Again, Henderson’s achingly torchy, jazzy melody playing against a dense mix of textures created by playing sax through a bunch of garageband patches and then mixing everything. Later she did the balmy, ambient South Carolina Holiday, the long, playful Mouse (which is actually about chasing a mouse around the apartment), the catchy Latin dance tune Mofongo Raincheck and a somewhat classically-inflected fanfare, live sax playing call-and-response with harmonies using several different textures. Toward the end of the set, she did a lively new number called Mushrooms with Strangers that wouldn’t be out of place at a Moisturizer show. The evening’s most amusing moment was another new one called The Perfect Boss. Henderson played repetitive, staccato riffs while the computer run a shrieking, metallic wash of noise that sounded like Suicide or something from Metal Machine Music. If that’s the perfect boss, one can only wonder what the boss from hell sounds like.

 

Nina Nastasia sold out the room. It had been ten years since she’d played here, she said, “When I was…18.”

 

“Not,” she said under her breath, barely audible. She may wield an acoustic guitar but she hardly fits the singer-songwriter mold. You’ll never hear a Nina Nastasia song in a credit card commercial. Tonight she played mostly new material from her album with Dirty Three bandleader/drummer Jim White, her only backing musician. He was amazing: no wonder everyone wants to work with him. Using a flurry of rimshots, cymbal splashes and boomy tom-tom cascades, he orchestrated her often grimly minimalistic songs with both precision and abandon. Often he’d leave Nastasia to hold the rhythm as he’d accelerate or slow down, or play deftly off the beat. There are only a few drummers in rock who are in his league, perhaps Dave Campbell of Love Camp 7/Erica Smith renown or Linda Pitmon from Smack Dab and Steve Wynn’s band.

 

In the years since she first played here, Nastasia has developed a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style on the guitar. Hearing the new songs stripped down to just the guitar and drums was a revelation: it was instantly clear where the melodies for all the layers of strings and keyboards on her albums come from. I found myself playing orchestrator, imagining violin, viola and cello parts. One of the great keyboardists of our time was in the audience and was overheard raving about how good the piano on the new album is.

 

Nastasia has also become an excellent singer. That creepy little voice she had when she put out her landmark 1999 debut, Dogs (whose title track she played tonight, to much applause) is still there when it needs to be, but in the intervening years she’s learned how to belt. And project, with an anguished wail that serves her songs, particularly the new ones, spectacularly well. Her earlier material was typically noir urban tableaux; now, she’s taking on more abstract, universal emotional territory, though her vision remains the same, as bleak, angst-driven, desperate and sometimes exasperated as it’s always been. The dark glimmer has become a gleam. If this show is any indication, the new album is a must-own.

 

The only problem tonight (one hopes uncharacteristically) was the sound. The sound guy was playing annoying, effeminate computer-disco over the PA before Secretary went on, and predictably mixed the backing tracks from the laptop louder than Henderson’s sax. Bad mistake. Then Nastasia’s guitar started to generate a lot of low feedback, perhaps because it needed to be amped high in the mix and she didn’t have one of those little rubber thingys that fits into the sound hole. Where was Freddie Katz when we needed him.

October 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Moisturizer at BAM Cafe, Brooklyn NY 9/28/07

A deliriously good show. The all-instrumental trio – baritone sax, bass and drums – swung like crazy. This band doesn’t just “bang out a good time,” as one New York periodical sarcastically put it a couple of years ago: they flat-out groove. Tonight virtuoso baritone sax player Moist Paula, inimitably imaginative bassist Moist Gina and the newest addition to the band, drummer Moist Yoshio laid down the sexiest groove heard anywhere in New York. It was clear that everybody in the band was especially amped for this show.

Moisturizer proved without a doubt that they are the funnest and maybe even – gasp – the best live band in New York. Moist Paula jokingly told the crowd before launching into the catchy, bouncy Cash Incentive that “that’s why we’re here tonight.” But afterward she admitted that she was just kidding. Cash is great, but these two girls and a guy are clearly in it for the love of it just as much as for the moola. The songs that Moist Paula and Moist Gina write are meticulously composed, effortlessly memorable and danceable as hell; it was incongruous to see the tables here full of people just sitting there. People usually get up and move around at Moisturizer shows. If there’s one criticism of this band, it’s that Moist Paula doesn’t always announce the songs’ sly, Satie-esque titles, and tonight she remedied that, making sure to let the crowd know whether they were about to play the gleefully busy Dimestore Aphrodisiac, the big audience hit Actually I’m So Busy, the haunting tango Girl in the Goldfish Bowl and a dynamite new funk number – perhaps titled Restaurant Delivery? – pulsing along on an absolutely luscious, Larry Graham-inflected Moist Gina bassline. They closed the set with guest trombonist David Smith invited up to join the band on a sexy, bluesy reworking of one of their usually more percussive numbers.

Moist Paula has jazz chops, but tonight was a reminder that she’s all about the melody, first and foremost. Moist Gina is a hard hitter, a melodic powerhouse herself, but she’s also become a master of textures, adjusting her effects pedals between every song to change her tone from boomy to watery to springy and back again. For some reason, her amp was producing a ton of interesting overtones in the big, cavernous space, resulting in some high octaves bouncing around the room, almost as if there was a vibraphone in the band. Moist Yoshio has impeccable timing and swings with the best of them, one of the reasons why this band has been able to take it to the next level in recent months.

Moisturizer’s songs are catchy, but they’re deceptively complex. Verses and choruses don’t repeat often: the melodies often seem to have a narrative, and as Moist Paula was quick to let everyone know, all their songs are true stories. Frequently the melody would switch between the sax and the bass, back and forth; other times the two instruments played off each other. The effect of all those low frequencies was as hypnotic and soothing as it should have been dance-inducing (although this venue doesn’t exactly seem like the place for that). The songs embody elements of jazz, funk, surf music, 60s go-go instrumentals, punk rock and even hip-hop. But ultimately Moisturizer plays something completely unique. Call it moist music.

Moisturizer also happens to have perhaps the most diverse fan base of any New York band, bringing an impressively polyglot following out tonight that seemed to embrace just about every ethnicity and age group in town. They were scheduled to do another set accompanied by a heavy metal guitarist from the 80s – this band seems like they’ll try anything once – but we had places to go and things to do.

September 29, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments