Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Rapturously Enigmatic Soundscapes and a National Sawdust Performance by Lesley Flanigan

Lesley Flanigan is sort of this decade’s counterpart to Laurie Anderson. Like Anderson, Flanigan has a background in sculpture, which informs her dynamic, sometimes disarmingly intimate, sometimes toweringly lush soundscapes. Where Anderson leads an ensemble on violin or keys, Flanigan creates her aural sculptures with layers of vocals and custom-made speakers, which she builds herself and utilizes for subtle layers of feedback. She has a characteristially enveloping, hypnotic new album, Hedera – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show on April 1 (no joke) at 7 PM at National Sawdust, sharing a bill with similarly adventurous vocalists C Spencer Yeh, Daisy Press & Nick Hallet, and Maria Chavez. Cover is $20

The album comprises two epic tracks. The title cut, set to the looping, trance-inducing rhythm of a broken tape deck, subtly builds variations on an otherworldly, strangely disquieting two-chord vamp. Without effects, Flanigan sings in a strong yet ethereal voice that takes on an even more otherworldly quality as she subtly adds layers and layers of to the mix, with subtle changes in reverb, rhythm and timbre. As the piece rise to the level of a fullscale choir, Flanigan caps it with  a lead line that soars overhead with uncharacteristic angst. The dynamic underneath – cold mechanical loop versus reassuringly immersive human voices – underscores that unease. But as the voices reach a long peak at the end, there’s a sense of triumph in the sonic cathedral.

The second track – the b-side, if you want – is Can Barely Feel My Feet. Flanigan’s minute shifts in pitch add an enigmatic edge to the lustrous resonance, raised sevefal notches when oscillations from the speakers come into play. While Flanigan’s music is typically dreamy and peaceful, she gives herself a real workout in live performance. There’s practically a dance component to her stage work, lithe and agile as she tirelessly glides and scooches between her mixing board and speakers, even more impressive considering that all the while she doesn’t miss a beat and her voice continues to resonate, unwaveringly.

March 27, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Winter Garden’s Dreamy Atmospherics

In most cases, music that’s billed as relaxing is better described as soporific. Which isn’t always a bad thing: sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep! The true test of sleepy music is how well it holds up during waking hours. Winter Garden, a collaboration between poet/pianist Harold Budd, Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie and producer Eraldo Bernocchi is a rare example of an album that successfully works both sides of the line between dreams and reality. Although there are a couple of tracks that Guthrie propels with a steady bassline, there isn’t much rhythm here: as with Budd’s previous work with Brian Eno, textures fade in and fade out of the mix, with gentle tectonic shifts, cloudy banks of atmospherics and a minimalist melodic sensibility that orchestrates gently echoing piano and guitar motifs with a watery iciness. It’s tempting to say that this is simply music to get lost in, to escape into after a hard day without trying to make sense of what the musicians are doing. And while it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what, or whether it might be the guitar or the piano that just hit a particular, endlessly echoing note, it’s also a lot of fun to listen to closely (although if you are fatigued, it might send you straight to dreamland).

Guthrie’s signature moody, sostenuto guitar is instantly identifiable, although it’s not obvious what else he does here. Nor is Bernocchi’s role clear – but maybe that’s the point of all this. Budd’s simple, elegant piano lines occasionally offer a nod to Erik Satie or even Bernard Albrecht. The opening track, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You is hypnotic to the extreme, simple piano processed to add the effect of a succession of cloudy waves. Losing My Breath features Guthrie’s trademark major sixth chords and simple, thoughtful motifs processed with chilly, cloudy ambience alongside minimal processed piano. As many of these tracks do, it segues into the title cut, which alludes to an anthemic theme.

With its steady bass pulse, Entangled offers pensive echoes of The Eternal by Joy Division, which come to the forefront on the next track, Harmony and the Play of Light, so much that you may find yourself expecting Ian Curtis’ doomed voice to appear over the starkly echoing, trebly-toned midrange electric piano licks. Heavy Heart Some More completes the trilogy, intermingling spacious, minimalist bass chords and piano with Guthrie’s atmospheric guitar for what sounds like a halfspeed (or quarterspeed or even slower) variation on the theme. They follow that with White Ceramic, a miniature juxtaposing echoey piano waves with drony textures underneath.

The rest of the album manages to be eclectic without breaking the spell. Stay with Me builds from low drones to a Lynchian (and unexpectedly funky) suspense theme, while the most epic track here, South of Heaven contrasts rapt, shimmery ambience with gently incisive piano and more of Guthrie’s trademark pensive swooshes. The final cut, Dream On is not an Aerosmith cover but a minimalist piano lullaby. Youarefallingasleepyouarefallingasleepyouarefallingasleep…just kidding. Turn on, tune in, you know the rest. It’s out now on Rare Noise Records.

April 6, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pensive Rustic Cinematics from Sagapool

Sagapool hail from Montreal. They play tunefully esoteric, mostly minor-key instrumentals that would make a good soundtrack to a David Cronenberg film somewhere in the woods north of Quebec City. Their new album features Luizio Altobelli’s accordion, Guillaume Bourque’s clarinet, Alexis Dumais’ piano, Zoe Dumais’ violin, Dany Nicolas’ acoustic guitar and Marton Maderspach’s lithe, subtle drums as the main instruments, although they also use banjo, bass, alto sax, mandolin, electric piano, sandpaper and “whispering.” Gypsy music is an obvious influence, and there’s a little of that here, but they also touch on classical, jazz and various folk styles. Some of their stuff reminds of eclectic San Francisco group Pickpocket Ensemble. Although not a theme and variations per se, the album works best taken as a single integral work, as if actually intended to be a movie soundtrack. The tunes are catchy and will linger in your head long after the sun goes down for good.

The opening cut is set in a Montreal park, a slightly aching accordion melody that builds to a motorway anthem as the drums rumble along, muffled against swooshing ambience. They follow that with Coeur D’Aiguille (Eye of the Needle), a wistful clarinet waltz with glockenspiel and ambient accordion. Le Vent Des Iles (Island Breeze) is another waltz, this one more pensive and featuring the piano. It rises to a sailing clarinet solo and then a romp through a majestic swirl of arpeggios in the style of 70s art-rock bands like Genesis. From its staccato piano intro to its tense violin/accordion melody, Le Fil Boreal (Edge of the Northern Lights) sounds like it’s about to explode into a big anthem but never quite gets there. La Tristesse De L’Ampleur (Sad Expanse) is a rather plaintive folk/jazz guitar tune that shifts between tricky and funky, and another moody waltz, clarinet soaring brightly upward.

The two tracks here where the grey-sky atmosphere lifts are Marcel, a jaunty, carefree dixieland-flavored number, and the amusing closing cut, Mon Cousin Joue Du Synthe (My Cousin Plays Synth), a dark minor-key theme bookending some unexpectedly silly, campy 80s new wave tropes. There’s also a brooding neoromantic piano waltz with Erik Satie echoes; another violin tune that shifts between waltz time and trickier rhythms; and the vividly crescendoing De Cordes et De Bois (Strings and Wood), which matter-of-factly builds until it lifts off and becomes an action movie theme – and then reprises an earlier melody. Who is the audience for this? Montreal bartenders on the day shift; northern New England shopkeepers who aspire to be classier than Walmart; people whose days begin late and end early or wish that was the case.

March 8, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Energetic Trance Music at le Poisson Rouge

The idea of a low-key guitar-and-violin duo putting on a charismatic, totally psychedelic show might seem improbable, but that’s exactly what Grey McMurray and Caleb Burhans did last night at le Poisson Rouge. It was hypnotic in the purest sense of the word. As the musicians launched into a lingering, gently sustained two-guitar phrase that slowly took on one permutation after another as it made its way through a maze of effects pedals, the crowd slowly assembled around the stage, as if a trance. By now, the lights had completely gone out: the only illumination in the club came from the sconces at the bar and the speakers overhead. The blend of ringing, bell-like tones and dreamily atmospheric washes grew more complex, and then pulled back a bit, Burhans working feverishly over a mixing board. When he introduced a sudden, swooping phrase that slyly panned the speakers, heads turned, virtually in unison. A little later, he broke the spell as he reached for the mic and let out a restrained, tense howl. At that point, a handful of people quickly moved to the bar for a drink. Had the intensity been too much to take?

Burhans’ and McMurray’s new double cd Everybody’s Pain Is Magnificent – released on the New Amsterdam label under the name itsnotyouitsme – is an unselfconsciously beautiful chillout record. This show assembled several of its ethereally ringing, lingering segments as two roughly 25-minute suites. After the first had ended, Burhans encouraged the crowd to sit on the floor and take in the rest of the show, and pretty much everyone complied. If Burhans had suggested that everybody take the L train to Morgan Avenue and then lie down on the subway tracks, would the crowd have done that too? In the age of color-coded terrorist alerts and satellite tracking via foursquare and innumerable other marketing schemes, is this what audiences have become? Or, was this simply the power of the music revealing itself in all its glistening, trippy splendor? Was the experience something akin to what it must have been like to watch Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead circa 1967?

Maybe. As Burhans lay down one judicious wash after another from his violin, McMurray adding one stately sequence of notes after another, there were tinges of Philip Glass and Gerard Grisey as well: both musicians come from a classical background. In order to maintain the quietly mesmerizing ambience, the two practically danced on their pedals as they added and then subtracted one texture after another from the flow of sound as it looped around. In order to avoid the kind of mechanical monotony that often characterizes this kind of music, they built several polyrhythms into the mix. With split-second timing, they made the effect seamlessly ethereal rather than chaotic. And not everything they played was quiet and soothing, either. For what seemed minutes at a time, McMurray would wail up and down on his strings, add the passage to the mix, then add and subtract minutely measured amounts of distortion, or reverb, or sustain, or a combination of several effects at once. By the time the second suite was over, they’d almost imperceptibly taken the sonic trajectory to wary, somewhat icy terrain much like the best stuff on Radiohead’s Kid A.

Is this meant to be stoner music? From the look of the crowd, quite possibly. Or maybe it was just the heat. Burhans and McMurray were working hard onstage and deserved some air conditioning, and like the crowd, they didn’t seem to be getting any. It’s one thing for the bartender at some dingy Williamsburg bar to show up late and forget to put on the AC, but it’s hard to understand how not a single person out of the Poisson Rouge’s entire nattily uniformed staff couldn’t have flipped a switch and given their customers a respite from a grimly unpleasant global warming-era evening.

September 27, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carlo Costa’s Crepuscular Activity – Play This with the Lights Out

Whether you might consider Carlo Costa’s Crepuscular Activity to be free jazz, minimalism, horizontal music, indie classical or just plain creepy, it’s a GREAT late-night album, a must-own for devotees of dark sounds. It’s short, 27 minutes and 54 seconds of Costa on drums and glockenspiel and Yukari on flute and alto flute along with a little ambient noise courtesy of the “city of Brooklyn.” Their slowly shifting soundscapes balance suspenseful stillness with slightly more animated passages, best experienced as a whole with the lights out.

The first of the three tracks, Sea Breezes begins with what appears to be random background noise – traffic? – Costa’s drums a distant wash, mysterious flute atmospherics floating in and out of the mix. A slow, skeletal alto flute tune begins to emerge over Costa’s distantly sepulchral timbres. The darkness lightens a little, like a clearing in a drizzle as Costa begins coloring it with gentle reverberating fills. The second track, Black Pond is a fourteen-minute suite, a series of slowly divergent motifs on glockenspiel and alto flute. Both instruments grow increasingly rubato – it’s an utterly eerie, hallucinatory effect. The glockenspiel eventually takes on what could be a water droplet pattern, and later a wind chime effect, flute holding it together, steady and wary.

The final piece, Snow on Trees is somewhat more energetic. Costa’s funereal, insistent, boomy rhythm anchors an only slightly less somber flute, then the two go off on an unexpectedly scraping and scratching tangent, Costa eventually rising to meet the flute’s agitation; and then the two switch roles. That’s the play-by-play version of this album. If you have no fear of losing control of your dreams, put this on as you settle in for the night.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hypnotic, Wary Sax Soundscapes from Andy Haas

Andy Haas, formerly with new wave rock legends Martha & the Muffins (that’s his sax break on the classic Echo Beach), is a fascinating and extremely eclectic alto saxophonist capable of leaping from blues to ballads to punk to the Middle East in the span of seconds and somehow making it all work. Most recently he’s been a part of hypnotic, tuneful groove unit Radio I Ching. His new solo album Paradise of Ashes is a characteristically diverse collection of memorable, brief (usually around three-minute) songs without words, beautifully and often apprehensively lyrical. Haas favors a clear tone, a comfortable legato attack and hits the tunes straight-on – he doesn’t blow crazy clusters or waste notes. If you want to be really stuffy about his this, you could call it “electroacoustic.” Some of the stuff here has a trip-hop feel; the rest is basically a bedroom album, Haas’ sax backed by various acoustic and electronic rhythms. It’s sort of a higher-register counterpart to Paula Henderson’s cinematic baritone sax-and-laptop project Secretary.

The strongest tracks here are his originals. New Maladies of the Soul, which opens the disc, is a gorgeous, darkly memorable tango of sorts – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Paul Desmond songbook. A bit later, the title track shifts cleverly from lyrical warmth to latin-tinged noirisms. Haas tackles Americana with a warm bucolic sway in the same vein as Jeremy Udden’s recent work, via George Jones’ Cup of Loneliness and the traditional number The Devil Is Loose in the World, the latter with backward masked vocals (too bad this isn’t vinyl – you could spin it backwards and find out what the devil has to say!).

Haas mines the classical Arabic songbook for Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s Enta Omri and later Said Darwish’s Khalliha Alallah, in both cases taking the lead melody somewhat out of context and placing it atop a percussion track, the Darwish piece utilizing hypnotic goblet drum and tambourine for a sort of Indian ambience. The last three tracks here – Every Time We Say Goodbye, Bonjour Tristesse and It’s Only a Paper Moon – contrast terse, gently affecting melody lines against disquieting, clattering, occasionally exploding mechanical beats, the last one an evil drone straight out of the David Lynch soundtrack manual. The whole thing makes a great late-night headphone album. Echo Beach, far, faraway in time!

March 13, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thomas Simon Brings His Kaleidoscopic, Psychedelic Sounds to the Gershwin Hotel

 Thursday night Thomas Simon brought his swirling, psychedelic, cinematic sounds to the lowlit stage at the Gershwin Hotel. What he really needs for his live show is a big stadium and a bank of smoke machines. Although most of his compositions segued from one into the other, this was as close to a set of separate, clearly defined songs as Simon has done lately. Typically, he’ll lay down a series of simple, catchy guitar loops, or a hypnotic drone and then add layers on top of it, sometimes going on for half an hour or more. It’s virtually impossible to tell how much of this is actually composed, and how much he’s making up on the spot, but either way, it’s hypnotic and often mesmerizing. Backed only by a terrific percussionist who ran his djembe through a series of trance-inducing echo effects, Simon opened with Up Against the Wall, the centerpiece from most recent album Moncao (ranked in the top twenty on our Best Albums of 2010 list). Building with stately, ominous guitar fragments that evoked peak-era Syd Barrett, it grew to a percussive gallop. “Stop this bloody war,” Simon whispered at one point: his lyrics have an improvisatory feel that seems to follow the mood of the music, or vice versa. Toward the end, they took the song down to an echoey thicket of fingertapping on the djembe before picking it up again: “There’s no more time,” Simon intoned against the distant, desolate grandeur of the atmospherics behind him. Although there were only two musicians onstage, they sounded like an entire guitar orchestra.

Much of the rest of the set evoked Bauhaus at their peak in the mid-80s, simple ascending progressions on the guitar, or brief series of chords that finally took on the shape of a distinct verse/chorus pattern on the evening’s last song. At one point, the djembe player – who was using a wireless mic – took an extended walk through the audience, one of the concertgoers responding with some wildly ecstatic dance moves, adding some unexpected but welcome drama. Occasionally, Thomas would augment the ringing, reverb-drenched overtones with some rapidfire lead guitar flourishes that moved rapidly through the mix. A trip-hop beat slowly made its way into a couple of later songs before oscillating out with a rapidfire “whoosh;” on one occasion, the djembe was processed to the point of sounding almost like a wood flute. Ringing tritones dominated torward the end. “It’s dark down here,” Thomas announced at one point with a half-snarled, half-spoken murmur, which pretty much summed up the night.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Adrift Off the Islets of Langerhans with Cousin Silas

This is a quiet, magical album – and its composer is generously giving it away as a free download. In his Yorkshire studio, ambient composer Cousin Silas has methodically been creating one fascinating series of soundscapes after another, a mix of desolate, chilly, Ballardian instrumentals and gently hovering, trance-inducing themes. Ironically, although his work is high-tech and heavily produced, the effect it creates is completely organic: he creates a vivid milieu and then sets you down there. His previous album Canaveral Dreams ranked high on our list of the best albums of 2010; this one drifts closer to pure ambience rather than the eerie keyboard themes that dominated that one. Although there is rhythm in his music, it tends to be glacial: the pace shifts so slowly that the changes creep up on you, an effect which is often psychedelic and sometimes…well, creepy.

The opening track sets the tone, a subtly shifting, echoey soundscape – in academic circles, this is known as horizontal music, whose changes occur in timbre and shading rather than with a melody that moves from one note to another and so forth. The one after that sets echoey, staccato, minimalist U2-style guitar rhythm (or what sounds like a guitar, anyway) against a drone. The Beauty of Loathing adds shifting ambience against more Edge guitar, which eventually builds to a catchy, galloping lick that runs over and over again.

The Lower Field on Ebbetts Farm and Tarnscape are studies on light/dark contrasts, the latter with tongue-in-cheek bird calls that pop in when least expected. The most ethereal composition here is the appropriately titled Empty Coastline, waves hitting the beach through a glass, darkly and distantly. Likewise, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral creates an eerie, windswept atmosphere with distant mechanical allusions. Building from a murky drone to Pink Floyd-influenced loops, Upstream is the closest thing here to an actual rock-style melody. The album ends with The Loathing of Beauty, an actually quite pretty tone poem that sounds like a lute and harmonium in outer space, and the hypnotically repetitive title track – whales and a mellotron, maybe? As with everything he’s ever done, nothing is exactly as it seems with Cousin Silas. Download it while it lasts.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smart, Eclectic Themes and Tunes from Steve Hudson

We usually don’t do pleasant and pretty. That’s not to imply that pleasant, attractive music is necessarily any less entertaining or intelligent than the troubled, melancholic stuff we gravitate toward, both as a matter of personal taste and because of this site’s ultimate agenda. Since it’s a lot easier to get exposure for pleasant, accessible music than for darker material that tends to scare people off, that’s where we come in. But once in awhile something comes over the transom here that’s so disarmingly fun that it’s impossible to resist: the Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble’s new Galactic Diamonds album is a prime example. It’s a good-naturedly eclectic mix of third-stream jazz with a catchy, quirky pop edge, similar to the more western side of Skye Steele’s adventurous solo work. Hudson plays piano, joined by fellow multistylists Zach Brock on violin, Jody Redhage on cello and vocals and Martin Urbach on drums and percussion.

The opening track sets the tone for the rest of the album, a playful hybrid tango/jazz waltz with inspired, conversational interplay between the instruments, the highlight being a jaunty, ragtimey, Stuff Smith-style violin solo. Redhage is basically the bass player here, delivering an undulating groove most notable on the circular Afrobeat-tinged Speak Out and the vivacious, Jean Luc Ponty-esque title track, where she supplies soulful vocalese as well. Often the piano and violin join on rustic, wistful Americana themes, whether the aptly titled Keep It Simple, the gently expansive ballad PG which eventually morphs into a tricky, moody Brubeck-style theme, or Wanderin’, a memorable, nocturnal waltz. Hudson intersperses clever allusions and quotes from the Fab Four on the lyrical Song for John Lennon, joined by a soaring Brock toward the end. He also plays melodica on the tricky bolero Para, and Wurlitzer on the self-explanatory, Herbie Hancock-ish Funky Hobbit. The album winds up with its most ambitious piece, Mingus Moon, a long, shapeshifting, latin-inflected piece with a rich web of intermingled contributions from all the instruments. Hudson gets around: he’ll be at Chamber Music America in New York next month, then in Alaska where in May, with saxophonist Claire Daly, he’ll be premiering a work dedicated to explorer Mary Joyce.

December 26, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chilling Soundscapes by Cousin Silas Evoke J.G. Ballard and David Lynch

A sonic suspense film, UK ambient music artist Cousin Silas’ twelfth album Canaveral Dreams (on the innovative and intriguing Acustronica label) is tremendously captivating and often absolutely creepy. It works best on good headphones, yet it’s equally good as a late-night passout album. The record label calls this stuff “dark Ballardian soundscapes,” a terrific way to describe these minimalist, nebulously cinematic pieces. Lynchian would be another way to characterize the way these soundscapes build and maintain suspense, vividly finding the menace in the mundane. Some of them center around piano melodies, like the viscerally haunting, apprehensive Concrete Towers, the wistful Through Glittering Trees or the reverberating, noirish A Passing, with the occasionally chilly gust in the background. Arriving Home works off a hypnotic two-chord theme with similarly chilly breezes, comfort beckoning just out of reach.

A couple of others utilize synthesizer tones, like the casually comfortable Crane at Train Station – a rare deviation from the general bleakness here – and the blithe Whitefield Pits, Moog melody set against a swirling backdrop. What Cousin Silas is most adept here is ambient, allusive tone poems loaded with suspense and dread, melody hinted at but never delivered. The mini-suite From a Lighthouse offers the whisper of a distant ragtime band over the waves, familiarity and companionship again well out of reach. The Decay of Concrete and Sawney Hill are marvelously subtle tone poems, every grim shade of grey you could possibly imagine. Sudden, insectoid spectral shifts add a dizzying touch to the viscerally disturbing Black Mold, similar to the junglescape that appears midway through the Art of Noise-style Last Night. A choir (or a clever electronic approximation) plays call-and-response with the shifting shades on To the Other Side; a muffled series of doppler effects, truck horns and sirens allude to an unseen tragedy on Time Lapse Crash, Scene 7, a trick that works even more disturbingly well on the title cut, seemingly a reference to the space shuttle disaster. The album ends with what could be an underwater scene complete with doors crashing above it: Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright would devour this.

Cousin Silas works fast: in the brief two months since this album’s come out, he’s released another, Adrift off the Islets of Langerhans available for free download at his bandcamp site.

November 10, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment