Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Zem Audu Makes a Dynamic Blue Note Debut

In his Blue Note debut as a bandleader Saturday night, tenor saxophonist Zem Audu showed off a terse, purposeful sensibility, a smokily nuanced tone and compositional fluency in styles ranging from Monty Alexander-style Jamdown jazz, to colorful postbop, funk and more. Much as this guy is used to working a crowd, as a touring and recording member of what’s left of the iconic Skatalites, he saves the sizzle for when he really needs it. Along for the ride and dazzling the crowd with his signature blend of vivid, lushly lyrical neoromantic glimmer, erudite blues and the occasional triumphant detour into Afro-Cuban sounds was powerhouse pianist Benito Gonzalez, anchored by drummer Corey Rawls and six-string bassist Teymur Phell.

The band eased their way into the opening number, Biologique, a vampy, Bahian-tinged thing, Gonzalez elevating it in a split-second with a long, sabretoothed solo, part glistening river of angst, part blues. Rawls opened Posi-Vibes with a hypnotically insistent Nyabinghi drum solo: as the band took it deeper into straight-up reggae, Gonzalez pushed at the edges with disarmingly clever close harmonic variations. Layers began as a strut, then the group shifted it almost imperceptibly toward an implied clave groove.

The night’s showstopper was Shining. Audu opened it as slinky, airconditioned LA boudoir noir, something straight out of the Bob Belden post-Miles catalog. But then the bandleader pushed it on the wings of a little feral valve-torturing and a swirling series of lickety-split Coltrane-esque spirals into more jaunty postbop, teaming with Gonzalez to end it on a triumphant note. After that, the funky intro of Flow didn’t exactly telegraph excitement…until Rawls hit a second line-tinged groove and then everybody got on the gospel bus to New Orleans. The night’s final number was also the most trad, a catchy Frank Foster-ish riff-driven tune bookended by some unexpectedly gentle, sepulchral work from Audu and Gonzalez. Audu and his quartet are at Club Bonafide (the old Something Jazz Club), 212 E 52nd St. on April 22 at 7 PM. Cover is $15.

March 15, 2016 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/19/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #469:

Tommy McCook & the Supersonics – Pleasure Dub

After Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond murdered his girlfriend, tenor sax player McCook broke up the band and went to work playing his soulful, spacious style on innumerable late 60s rocksteady hits for Jamaican producer Duke Reid. This 2009 compilation collects mostly instrumental versions of a whole bunch of them, sans the sometimes cloying lyrics or vocals. As dub, it’s pretty primitive: as grooves, most of this is unsurpassed. The chirpy organ behind John Holt comes front and center on Tracking Dub; another John Holt cut, Love Dub is much the same. There’s the surprisingly lush Dub with Strings; Prince Francis’ Side Walk Doctor; the punchy Ride De Dub; the big hit Bond Street Rock; the cinematic 7-11; and the scurrying Twilight Rock and Many Questions among the 18 slinky one-drop vamps here. Here’s a random torrent via Sixties Fever.

October 20, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/7/11

Still wrapping up the July/August NYC Live Music Calendar, shooting for getting it done tonight. Upcoming: crazy good times in Halifax; jaw-dropping virtuosity in Madison Square Park; a jealousy-inducing photo exhibit at the Instituto Cervantes. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #572:

Don Drummond – 100 Years After

Classic ska instrumentals from the legendary Skatalites trombonist, 1965. Not only did the Skatalites record an enormous amount of material as a band, they also did numerous solo albums, most of them billed to individual group members Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso – a model that both George Clinton and the Wu-tang Clan would follow with similar success. Drummond was arguably the most talented of all of them, but also the most erratic. This whole thing has the feel of a late-night session fueled by ceiling fans and lots of collie weed. A handful of the dozen danceable cuts here have made it to youtube: the evocative Last Call; the energetic Heaven and Earth; a signature song of sorts, Roll On Sweet Don; a lively ska version of Vienna Woods; and a surprisingly subtle version of the Dick Tracy theme popularized by the Ventures. Drummond would shortly thereafter murder his girlfriend; he died behind bars in 1969. Here’s a random torrent via You and Me on a Jamboree.

July 7, 2011 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, ska music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alma Afrobeat Ensemble’s New Toubab Soul Gets the Party Started

The album title is sardonic – “toubab” is slang for “caucasian” in several African dialects. But Alma Afrobeat Ensemble are yet another illustration of how good musicians can rise the challenge of playing a style of music they didn’t grow up with just as joyously and danceably as those who’ve been immersed in it since day one. This new cd, Toubab Soul, is an expansive, hypnotic blend of funk, Afrobeat and Ethiopian grooves with the occasional hip-hop or reggaeton interlude. There are all kinds of shifts in dynamics and tempos from song to song: some of the tracks here spin energetically; others have a gentler sway. And it isn’t just secondhand Fela, either: as much as the group obviously admire him, they’re taking Afrobeat to some exciting new places. This is the second edition of the band, founded after frontman/guitarist Aaron Feder picked up and left his native Chicago for Barcelona, now featuring Joseph Adzraku and Tato Sassone on percussion, Fernando Redondo on bass, Audn Waage on trumpet, Gonzalo Levin on saxes, Octavio Hernandez on guitars and Oscar Bayester on keys.

The opening track, Taskmaster, is a command to get out on the dancefloor, a fluid Ethiopian/funk fusion with blippy horns, propulsive bass and swirling, somewhat sinister organ. They follow that with the bubbly Live Na Yeye with its muted wah guitar, crescendoing tenor sax and then a reggaeton interlude. The next track, Mali, is Pink Floyd’s Money in a very clever red, gold and green disguise, right down to its David Gilmour-inflected bluesfunk guitar followed by a delightfully balmy tenor solo that casually blows the original to smithereens.

New School starts out biting and funky and then goes hypnotic with Rhodes electric piano, growling sax and a brief rap segment, in French. Swaying with catchy call-and-response horns, Kudja switches up midway through, taking the vibe low and mellow. They pick up the pace again with the most overtly Fela-influenced number here, Yoruba, fast and insistently shuffling, then follow it with Own World which starts out with eerily echoey Rhodes piano over a Peter Tosh flavored groove but grows warmer with long, upbeat sax and trumpet solos. Shameless spins a potently dark minor-key horn riff over a scurrying bounce; this is the track you’ll be humming to yourself all the way home if you see them live. They close with the gorgeous South Africa, evoking the Skatalites with its rocksteady pulse and vividly soulful trumpet/sax interplay, followed by a surprisingly laid-back, thoughtful cover of Wallias Band’s iconic, brooding Ethiopian dance classic Muziqawi Silt. Plainly and simply, this is one of the best world music albums – and one of the best dance albums – released this year.

December 3, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/10/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #903:

Ernest Ranglin – Wranglin’

The preeminent Jamaican guitarist, Ernest Ranglin had led probably hundreds if not thousands of calypso and ska sessions by the time he recorded this album, only the second where he’d been credited as a bandleader. The original 1964 Island Records lp did not sell well and has been out of print for decades, but is happily still available as a bootleg, if a somewhat dodgy sounding one. Ranglin’s career began almost fifty years, during the age of calypso yard sessions (and the birth of what would become hip-hop twenty-five years later). He was probably in the studio, maybe playing, when Lloyd Knibb of the Skatalites invented the one-drop, which would transform ska into rocksteady and then into reggae. Ranglin served as Jimmy Cliff’s musical director throughout his 70s heyday, then mined a frequently transcendent reggae-jazz collaboration with pianist Monty Alexander in the 80s and 90s. Now almost eighty, he retains the vigor and vitality of a player fifty years younger. This album shows how developed his jazzy, Les Paul-influenced style had become by the early sixties, replete with whispery, lightning-fast filigrees that switch in a split-second into frenetic tremolo chords and then back again. Here he sticks with a straight-up 4/4 beat, taking British bassist Malcolm Cecil and drummer Alan Ganley into the Caribbean sun for a characteristically warm, expansive jaunt through a mix of originals and old mento standards like Linstead Market and Angelina. You can download it here.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Pueblo Take You to the Islands

The cover image of El Pueblo’s new cd, a map of the Caribbean, pretty much says it all: they play just about every style of reggae ever invented, including some they can take credit for coming up with themselves. And they do it well: if their new album, Isla, is any indication, they could stretch pretty much all of these tracks out into mind-warping psychedelic dub. It’s a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers in both Spanish and English, featuring Robert Julian’s skanking reverb guitar, Lucas Leto’s shuffling drums, Kevin Sherman’s tasteful bass and Jeremy Danneman’s warmly balmy alto sax along with guest Danny LoPresti’s bubbling organ on two tracks. For the instrumentals, the obvious comparison is the Augustus Pablo classic East of the River Nile, if you substitute sax for the melodica and take the energy level up about a hundred degrees. The songs are a strikingly original blend of roots reggae with edgy rock en Español tinges, frontman Chino Sing’s casual, laid-back presence a perfect match with the band.

The album opens with its most dub-flavored track, Babylon Is a Chain Gang, textures rising and falling out of the mix Lee “Scratch” Perry style – and then they suddenly come out of the smoky cloud with sunny sax. They follow it with the first of two chorus box-driven reggae-pop tunes and then Dejate Llevar, which is catchy and Marleyesque, like something off the Kaya album, with a sly wah-wah guitar solo. Cabarete sounds like a vintage Skatalites instrumental gone halfspeed, with Danneman’s low, sultry clarinet taking the lead. One of the best songs here is the workingman’s anthem Babylon System Slave: “Don’t talk to me about freedom,” Sing asserts, not with 40 hours of misery looming in the week ahead. The other is the absolutely gorgeous El Capata, a swinging, hypnotic, Americana-tinged ballad rich with jangly, clinking acoustic guitar textures. There’s also the title cut, a big, guitar-fueled reggae anthem, a couple of playful, fun dub-tinged instrumentals, the lively ska jam Tatica’s Town and the closing track, The Ocean, a thoughtful reggae-rock ballad with gentle waves of reverb guitar. What a fun summertime album. El Pueblo play Shrine uptown on 8/27 at 9 PM.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/14/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #560:

The Skatalites – You’re Wondering Now

Iconic ska ballad from the early days, 1964, Doreen Shaffer’s stoic, subtly haunting vocals over a sweetly bitter oldschool R&B melody. Covered by everybody but the original is the best, available wherever files are shared. Amy Winehouse, eat your heart out (might do you some good: you could stand a little extra weight).  

January 14, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Very Devious News: The Microscopic Septet Is Back in Print!

There has never been a more devious band than the Microscopic Septet. You may consider yourself a bon vivant, but until you have danced – or at least wiggled in your chair – to the Micros at 2 in the morning, you are only a pretender. These two double cds comprise their complete recorded work through 2007: reportedly, there is also an album of all-new material on the way. You may know these guys from the theme to NPR’s Fresh Air, which their pianist Joel Forrester wrote in the early 90s. As purveyors of good times, exuberant wit and extremely subtle satire, their only real competition is genre-blending baritone sax-driven instrumentalists Moisturizer. Like that band, many of the Micros’ songs – and they are songs, in the purest sense of the word – have a narrative feel. They could have been the Spinal Tap of jazz – and in a sense they are – but they’re so much more. A typical number could start out as a slow blues, go doublespeed with a swing beat, morph into dixieland for a minute or two, build to a latin breakdown and then go out on a suspense film motif. When they first appeared on the New York scene in 1980, audiences didn’t know what to make of them. Were they fake jazz? A spoof? A straight-up swing band that couldn’t resist a good joke? All of the above is more like it. By comparison, the early Lounge Lizards were conservative.

In a terrific stroke of good fortune, Cuneiform Records has reissued the Micros’ complete recorded works on two double cd’s, Seven Men in Neckties and Surrealistic Swing. The first comprises their first album, 1983’s Take the Z Train, along with their lone ep, Let’s Flip! from 1986, in addition to with several outtakes from that session. The second includes their 1986 album Offbeat Glory and their lone cd, 1988’s Beauty Based on Science (The Visit) plus several bonus tracks.

Take the Z Train was recorded live in analog to two-track tape in a Chinatown studio chosen because it housed a piano that reputedly once belonged to Eubie Blake. The digital remastering here is brilliant: it sounds pretty much like the collectible album that the original has become. It’s the band’s defining statement. Influenced by Ellington and Fletcher Henderson’s ornate arrangements, founder and sax player Phillip Johnston added megadoses of his signature wit, and the band followed along, Forrester (who also writes a lot of their material) on piano, Dave Hofstra on bass, Richard Dworkin on drums (both of whom served as Rachelle Garniez’ rhythm section back in 90s), Dave Sewelson (later of the Sewelsonics) on baritone sax, Don Davis on alto and John Hagen on tenor. The album has what’s possibly their prototypical song, Chinese Twilight Zone; the spy theme Mr. Bradley, Mr. Martin; the fast, bustling Pack the Ermines, Mary; the latin swing number Kelly Grows Up and the absolutely brilliant True, a previously unreleased outtake that sounds something akin to Sun Ra covering a horror movie theme.

Let’s Flip! and the outtakes that follow it were recorded in concert in Europe. It’s the Micros at their most serious, although their energy is undiminished. In addition to Offbeat Glory, Surrealistic Swing includes two bonus tracks featuring John Zorn, who was their original alto player. Beauty Based on Science (The Visit) was originally released on Stash Records, who also did the Reefer Madness album; noted jazz critic Will Friedwald hooked them up with the label. Forrester’s latin and tango inflections come to the forefront here, particularly on the delightful Waltz of the Recently Punished Catholic Schoolboys, Dill Pickle Tango and Fool’s Errand. Over the course of these four cds, the band steals licks from the Mission Impossible, Peter Gunn and Summer Place themes, rearranges the Ellington classic Harlem Nocturne as a tango, and quotes from everyone from Louis Jordan to the Skatalites to George Michael. In all seriousness, as amusing as all this is, it’s also virtuosic and absolutely brilliant. Although the Micros didn’t go unnoticed by the mainstream jazz world during their 80s heyday, these two rediscoveries ought to vault them to the prominence they so richly deserve.

February 2, 2008 Posted by | jazz, Music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment