Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Great New Soul Single Out on Vinyl from the One & Nines

Jersey City oldschool R&B revivalists the One & Nines have released the first single off their debut cd (very favorably reviewed here earlier this year) – but the single is on 45 RPM vinyl. Of course you can download it from the usual places, but the sonics are sweet and one of the reasons – beyond the fact that both of the songs are bonafide A-sides – is that the album was recorded on analog tape, therefore, a pure, gorgeous analog sound.

Walked Alone is the upbeat number. A good 1960s comparison would be Bettye Swan, or Tammi Terrell backed by a Memphis band – it’s a catchy, fast shuffle anchored by fat baritone sax. An educated guess is that the fetching ballad Something on Your Mind is probably the B-side, with a tasty horn chart, organ and frontwoman Vera Sousa’s achingly beautiful vocal. Both songs were penned by the band’s guitarist Jeff Marino, a player who’s obviously immersed himself in oldschool soul of the Stax/Volt variety. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are the obvious comparison, but the One & Nines go for a smoother, more romantic, less funky vibe. A recent show at Spike Hill in Williamsburg unsurprisingly revealed the band to be a killer live act: when she sings, Sousa closes her eyes and goes off to an alternate universe called Soul Land, a place where she isn’t about to take any grief from anyone, guitar and keys pulsing behind her, organ and horns rising out of the mix to drive the songs home. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

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

CD Review: Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú

This is what Spanish Harlem was rocking to forty years ago. What Sharon Jones did for oldschool soul, what Antibalas did for Afrobeat and what Chicha Libre is doing for chicha, Spanglish Fly is doing for bugalu. It’s what happened when Cuban son melodies collided with Stax/Volt and Motown, with fiery horns and a fat midtempo groove over a latin beat. It was a Nuyorican phenomenon and very popular back in the day. If you know Bang Bang by Joe Cuba, this is the same kind of thing. It’s about time somebody brought this stuff back and it’s a good thing it’s this band because they have authentic sabor with a 5-piece horn section, three percussionists, piano and a rhythm section plus Erica Ramos’ casually alluring, soulful voice soaring over it when there’s room. As dance music, it’s irresistible (at a live show, the group will often offer a free dance lesson for anglos or newschoolers who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this).

The cd’s opening track, Think (Pensamiento) is typical of what the old bugalú bands would do, a brand-new latin version of the old James Brown hit with fat low end, tight horns and a suspenseful intensity where the band theatens to completely rip it apart at the end but just manage to keep it together. An original, Latin Soul Stew was obviously made to be played live, with soaring trumpet over an ominous piano groove, the horns coming back in full force after a little vocal break. Another original, by one of the band’s trumpeters Jonny Semi-Colón a/k/a Jonathan Goldman sounds like ska but with a slinkier groove. Like a lot of bugalu hits, it’s a series of trick endings where the intensity builds every time the song comes back, with a gospel-inspired break toward the end. There’s also a joyously rattling cover of the big Ray Barretto crossover hit New York Soul. 

The band is an inspired collection of veteran New York jazzcats: besides Ramos and Goldman, they have Martin Wallace on piano, Mick Santurio on congas, Charly Rodriguez on timbales, Gabo Tomasini on bongos, Atsushi Tsumura on trumpet, Dimitri Moderbacher on bass, Rose Imperato on tenor sax, Jonathan Flothow on bari sax and Sebastian Isler on trombone. Spanglish Fly’s next dance party is April 2 at Camaradas El Barrio, First Ave. and 115th St. at 10 PM; the cd release show is on April 23 at Rose Bar.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

CD Review: The One and Nines

If you love oldschool soul music, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings or Eli “Paperboy” Reed, you will love the One and Nines – they are the real deal. With piano, organ, horns, understatedly gorgeous guitar, a slinky rhythm section and the warmly irresistible, heartfelt vocals of frontwoman Vera Sousa, the vibe is totally mid-60s. If the band had existed when John Waters did Hairspray, this album would have been the logical choice for the movie soundtrack.

The album kicks off with Walked Alone, a gorgeously catchy, upbeat tune straight out of Memphis, 1968 with big honking baritone sax. Sousa shows off an effortlessly bright, soaring, unselfconscious style in the vein of 1960s soul icon Bettye Swann while the guitar and bass soar just in the right places. The second track, Wait is a longing, insistent 6/8 ballad like Sharon Jones in a particularly vulnerable moment – horns rise out of the end of the verse, then it’s just tremolo organ and Sousa’s sweet voice.

“You say I look like I’m always bored, but are you just speaking for yourself?” Sousa asserts gently but insistently in Something on Your Mind, backed by gently incisive guitar and a Willie Mitchell-inspired horn chart. Just Your Fool is a duet, one of the guys joining with Sousa’s fetching harmonies for a pre-Motown vibe, from right around the time doo-wop started to morph into something more interesting. The band follows Sousa as she builds intensity on Anything You Got, a psychedelic soul groove with organ and then Steve Cropper-esque guitar, finally fading out with soulful muted trumpet over the band’s shuffling rhythm. Guitar finally takes centerstage, if only for a few moments on the bright, bouncy horn-driven Tears Fall. The secret bonus track, an alternate take of Just Your Fool, might have the best vocals on the whole album. All of these songs would have been hits in the 60s – or some hardcore soul fan would be rediscovering them right about now and trying to get the surviving members of the band back together, that’s how good this is. Mixed by Hugh Pool at Excello and mastered by Fred Kevorkian, the production has the feel of an old vinyl record, vocals up front, drums back where they need to be. Even better news is that the band’s got a 7″ vinyl single coming out hot on the heels of the album – get your 45 adapters ready. Watch this space for NY-area live dates.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Jump Back Jake – Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle

Damn, this is a good album. With their first release in decades, Ardent Music, the newly reactivated Memphis label that launched Big Star has definitely got back on the good foot. On their debut cd, retro funky soul band Jump Back Jake will win fans from the camp that discovered soul music from people like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Eli “Paperboy” Reed or Robert Cray as well as anybody lucky (or old) enough to have discovered this stuff the first time around. Fans of the Bar-Kays, Howard Tate, James Brown and Isaac Hayes’  Hot Buttered Soul album are in for a treat here. These guys really know their stuff, moving effortlessly from slinky Booker T organ groove to jangly Curtis Mayfield balladry to straight-up 60s funk, with a more aggressive, early 70s style blues guitar edge. The horn arrangements are gorgeously, sparingly retro, bringing out every bit of longing or bravado in a sax or trombone line. Frontman/guitarist Jake Rabinbach (who also mystifyingly moonlights as a sideman in one of the suckiest bands on the planet, 80s top 40 imitators Francis & the Lights) plays with soul and swing, unafraid to light up a song with a big incisive crescendo but never sinking into whiteboy wankiness.

The cd’s first track works a vintage Steve Cropper style guitar vamp with a nasty blues touch, setting the tone for the rest of the cd. The single best cut on the album is the second cut, The Flood, a slow, slinky organ groove that jumps to doublespeed and then brings it down to a sweetly dark horn chart, adding voices at the end before gracefully taking it down to just the trombone. Attempts at a beautiful, jangly, midtempo Curtis Mayfield soul ballad and a late 60s Charlie Rich country shuffle are rousingly successful. The big 6/8 kiss-off ballad teleports Blonde on Blonde to 1974 with more aggressive blues guitar: “You can be queen of the ice and snow,” Rabinach snarls. With its rapidfire, aphoristic vocal line and clever lyrics, the upbeat Pay Out on the Front End beautifully mines a late 60s vein. There’s also a ballad that builds to a big gospel vamp, another one that sounds like a rewrite of She Caught the Katy and a big, rousing number wherein Rabinach mysteriously goes on and on how he wants to be like Samson, “And I would give everything to the ladies like Delilah downtown.” The album ends on a radically different note, proving the band equally adept at early 70s Badfinger-style powerpop, right down to a neat George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The only miss here is aptly titled Terrible Mistakes, proof positive – as if you really need it – that vintage soul and the Jonas Bros. don’t mix.

It seems there are two Jakes in the band, Rabinbach recently off on the road with the other band, although all indications are that this will be a brief hiatus. In the meantime, the band continues to tour as a trio. They have all sorts of goodies available including free live mp3s from a recent Minglewood Hall show. Watch for this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Booker T & the MG’s with Sharon Jones at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 6/14/07

Daytime shows tend to be lacklustre because they’re a bitch to play. Musicians are by nature nocturnal creatures, and these guys were forced to take the stage a few minutes after noon. Meaning that they’d had to soundcheck at some ridiculously early hour of the morning, as if they’d had to get up for a dayjob.

Now imagine doing that if you’re in your sixties and you’ve been on tour for awhile. That’s the task legendary soul instrumentalists Booker T & the MG’s were facing. Yet not only did they manage to acquit themselves decently, they turned in an inspired performance that built slowly and finished on an ecstatic note. Sadly, the one most important person in the band was missing (and has been missing for a long time): drummer Al Jackson Jr., who died in 1975. Booker T & the MG’s without Al Jackson Jr. is kind of like the Stooges without Iggy, Sabbath without Ozzie or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs without that trust fund kid (which one, you ask? The girl in the raggedy dress). Jackson more than anyone defined their sound: simple, always in the groove, a minimalist who could make your hips move one way or the other with just a flick at the cymbals.

Instead, they had Anton Fig, who plays in the house band on one of those network tv gabfests. To his credit, he stayed in the background and other than a solo early on, didn’t clutter the songs. Instead, organist/bandleader Booker T. Jones, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and guitarist Steve Cropper held down the fort. They opened with a slowly shuffling, psychedelic groove version of Dylan’s You Gotta Serve Somebody, which was basically unrecognizable (which is probably why Jones told the crowd what it was). They continued in this vein for awhile. On the Gershwin standard Summertime, Cropper took an admirably lean, meaningful solo, like Albert King without all the long, sustained bends. By the time they got to their big 60s hit Hip-Hug Her, they’d picked up the pace. Soon after that, they played Green Onions and basically phoned it in, a tad fast. Essentially, it became the basis for another Cropper solo. It’s a silly little ditty, probably not what the band envisioned would become their signature song, and they played it as if they just wanted to get it out of the way and get on with the show.

The high point of their instrumentals was the classic Time Is Tight, which started out all churchified, just Jones’ organ and Dunn’s bass, sounded like Georgia on My Mind. Then Cropper’s guitar came in and they went into Theme from a Summer place for a couple of bars, which was delectably funny. Then Dunn started into his famous bassline, and they played a long, 10-minute version. Dunn has incredible touch: his melodic phrasing can change the meaning of a whole verse with just a subtle adjustment of how his fingers attack the strings, and this was fascinating to watch.

In their 60s heyday Booker T & the MG’s backed a whole pantheon of great soul and blues artists at various times, most notably Albert King, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, so it was only natural that this era’s greatest soul singer, New York’s own Sharon Jones, would be invited up to front the band for the latter half of the show. Though her own band the Dap-Kings are a mighty, authentic funk/soul group, today’s show was pretty close to a marriage made in heaven. Like Tina Turner, Jones uses her lower register most of the time (although her voice is considerably higher and clearer), exuding an earthy sensuality. Yet she exhibited equal amounts of subtlety, intelligence and taste in her phrasing. She only really kicks it into overdrive when she needs to: she’s a universe removed from the melismaddicts of corporate, so-called “R&B” who dream of becoming Beyonce’s replacement in the reunited Destiny’s Child.

Sharon Jones did a matter-of-fact take of the Wilson Pickett classic In the Midnight Hour, then Dunn launched into the most famous bass hammer-on in the history of rock, and the audience picked up on it right away. After the first couple of verses, the frontwoman brought Sitting on the Dock of the Bay way down and tried to get the audience to whistle along with the solo. Nobody, even the band, could do it. It was just as well: whistling is annoying, anyway, especially if it’s amplified. Then she took it even further down, sat down at the edge of the stage, then went into the audience for a bit. She took another Otis Redding standard, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, even further down and ended on a whisper after a trick ending that was so quiet the audience missed it. The sky looked ominous and a sprinkle of rain could be felt through the trees, so they closed the show with Knock on Wood. Again, Dunn stole the show with this one, leaving the blues scale and reaching up to the high sixth note on the verses’ central hook. Jones got the obligatory solo from each band member as she introduced them.

This is a weekly Thursday noontime summer series booked by the Brooklyn Academy of Music featuring mostly older Black artists, and once in awhile they get someone really good. Props to whoever was responsible for scoring Booker T. There are additional shows worth seeing here on July 26 with Muddy Waters’ harp player James Cotton and his band, and on August 9 with roots reggae vets the Itals. And Sharon Jones plays a free show with her own band at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, also on July 26, with two free tickets per person being given away at the table in front of the fort starting at 5 PM.

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