Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Matt Kanelos at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/29/09

A particularly well-conceived art-rock doublebill. Both performers are people whose music lives between the lines, thriving on subtlety, understatement and ellipses rather than grand gestures. Serena Jost, when she’s not dabbling in modeling or getting work as a sidewoman (she’s a classically trained cellist who did time in Rasputina), leads a semi-rotating cast of characters through a vast landscape that spans the world of classical balladry, artsy pop, surf music, no-wave funk and straight-up rock. Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge she had the benefit of keeping things fairly austere and low-key since she had a great sound system at her disposal. This time out she had the melodic Rob Jost on electric bass, multi-instrumentalist Rob DiPietro playfully and artfully handling the drums and in place of her regular axeman Julian Maile she had Pete Galub (just reviewed here leading his own band) handling lead guitar duties while she alternated between cello, piano and acoustic guitar.

Galub transformed the group, bringing the melodies front and center while adding an artsy, early 70s tinged bluesy feel that ran the gamut from plaintive to towering and majestic. The most dramatic moment came on the bridge during the long partita I Wait where Galub took Maile’s Dick Dale-ish lines deep into the Middle East, tossing the baton to Jost with a flourish where she grabbed it, held on for dear life and kept the revelry going. Then he took the usually stark Almost Nothing and added a vivid solo, part fiery blues and part big ornate ballad, that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Ian Bairnson playbook. Jost had been singing with her usual full, round and inscrutable clarity – she’s so direct that it would be impossible for there to be no subtext – but picked an insistent new ballad to cut loose and wail, as she did on another new one which she played on cello. Cellists don’t usually let their hair down to this extent, but Jost did.

By the time frequent Jenifer Jackson collaborator Matt Kanelos and his band the Smooth Maria hit the stage, the tables had all filled up, depression or no depression, a heartwarming sight. Nice to hear him cut loose on vocals, too, unadorned, casual and unaffected, much like the opening act. Backed by an excellent lead guitarist with a noisy edge as well as a subtle, swinging rhythm section, he alternated between acoustic guitar and piano, playing mostly new songs from the band’s brand-new cd Silent Show. While Americana is his fallback space, many of his songs have an undercurrent alternating between tastefully jazzy complexity and an almost minimalist, purist classical sensibility. The influences combine to create a dreamy yet focused, frequently poignant late summer atmosphere, replete with longing for something that doesn’t always overtly make itself known. Like Jost, Kanelos can be hard to read, all the more reason to listen closely. 

The big 6/8 piano ballad Rain evoked early 70s Pink Floyd (circa Obscured by Clouds), hypnotic and eerily edgy, Kanelos going completely rubato as it built to a big crescendo and then subsided to the point where he could step back in without any altercations. The night’s opening number, Abandoned Town reminded of middle-period Wilco with its “we won’t go back, we won’t go” insistence and noisily ringing crescendo of guitar chords. Another number felt like Chet Baker doing southwestern gothic, Kanelos and his lead player taking turns playing off and then on the beat as it wound down at the end. The crowd, quietly attentive to the end, went crazy for an encore and after a wait that didn’t bode well, were rewarded with a nostalgic ballad that Kanelos played solo on piano.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment