Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Mighty, Moody Album and a Lincoln Center Gig by the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra

The rain-slicked streetcorner tableau on the album cover of the Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra’s latest release Without a Trace – streaming at Bandcamp – Is truth in advertising. In recent years the group have taken a turn into moody, brassy latin-inspired sounds, something they excel at. They’re at Dizzy’s Club on Sept 3, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30. Cover is steep – $35 – but like most A-list large jazz ensembles not named the Maria Schneider Orchestra, you don’t get many chances to see them. This time out the lineup includes singer Carolyn Leonhart; alto saxophonists Jon Gordon and Jay Brandford; tenor saxophonists Rob Middleton and Tim Armacost; baritone saxophonist Terry Goss; trumpeters Nathan Eklund, Dave Smith, Chris Rogers, and Andy Gravish; trombonists Matt McDonald, Jason Jackson and Matt Haviland; bass trombonist Max Seigel; pianist Roberta Piket; bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Andy Watson.

They open the album with a an expansively layered, brassy cha-cha arrangement of Kurt Well’s Speak Low, a feature for Steve Wilson’s allusive, melismatic alto sax, echoed by trumpeter Chris Rogers. Watson’s stampeding drums kick off a tasty series of chromatic riffs from the brass to wind it up.

With a stunningly misty wistfulness, Leonhart gives voice to the longing and angst in Reeves’ moodily latin-inspired title track, Jim Ridl’s tightly clustering piano ceding to Armacost’s more optimistic tenor solo. Likewise, they turn toward Vegas noir in Reeves’ broodingly bouncy reinvention of All or Nothing At All, following the bandleader’s bluesy, bubbling solo up to a haggard, white-knuckle-intense crescendo.

Incandescence could be a Gil Evans tune, maintaining a grim intensity throughout Reeves’ distantly Ravel-esque portrait of starlight over the French countryside. Vibraphonist Dave Ellson moves carefully, Ridl more menacingly, Wilson’s soprano sax peeking and glissandoing with a relentless unease.

Reeves based his own vampy arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s Juju on the composer’s most recent chart for the song and beefed it up with bright banks of brass. Tenor saxophonist Rob Middleton’s solo draws closely on Shorter’s own modally-charged work on the original.

Reeves then looks to Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1 for the central hook for the album’s most epic track, Shape Shifter, with gritty close harmonies, Ridl’s Arabic-tinged piano and Reeves’ alto flugelhorn solo vividly bringing to mind the most cinematic side of early 60s Gil Evans – although a relatively free interlude with Ridl leading the randomness is a detour the song really doesn’t need. The brightly gusty closing cut, Something for Thad is a Thad Jones shout-out. Many flavors and lots to savor here.

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August 27, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #631:

Steely Dan – Katy Lied

Let’s stay in 1975 for another day, huh? This is self-mythologizing, deviously literate jazz-funk from Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and a cast of studio pros. Great band, but practically every one of their albums has a real clunker to go along with the good stuff, so that’s why we picked this one.There’s only a couple of super standouts here – Any World That I’m Welcome To, where Fagen lets down his guard and bares his fangs at the morons he grew up with, and the absolutely macabre Black Friday – but it’s solid all the way through. Bad Sneakers is a spot-on period piece, a couple of losers “with a transistor radio and a whole lot of money to spend” making their way up Sixth Avenue past Radio City. Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More works an oldschool blues vernacular better than any of the band’s contemporaries could, while Chain Lightning goes in a slow, funkier direction. Rose Darling and Everyone’s Gone to the Movies offer a leering, cynical look at romance, the surreal Dr. Wu was a pseudo-hit, and Your Gold Teeth II and the closing track, Throw Back the Little Ones reach for a distant, offhand menace. Here’s a random torrent via Walrussongs.

May 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Avi Fox-Rosen – Welcome to the Show

This one dates from the end of last year, when Lucid Culture was running at, um, less than full speed. Meanwhile, the emails were piling up and so were the albums. We could have built a Compact Disc Ranch in the desert next to the Cadillacs with most of them. Because even the good ones that remained have lost their currency as far as press and bloggage are concerned, we moved on. But this one we couldn’t leave behind. Like a more rocking, shapeshifting Steely Dan, Avi Fox-Rosen’s latest album Welcome to the Show leaps to the top of this year’s list so far. It’s funky, carnivalesque and mystifyingly multistylistic – if there’s a genre this guy can’t write in, it isn’t apparent here. Most of the songs are terse and short, clocking in at three minutes or less. With a noir undercurrent matched by vividly aphoristic black humor, guitarist Fox-Rosen sings with a cool, suave, deviously jazzy vocal delivery that’s well-suited to the lyrics – think Donald Fagen’s equally gifted, more ill-at-ease bastard stepchild.

This is a loosely thematic concept album about the current, dismal state of the world, the intro like a carnival barker’s theme, completely apropos for the Bernie Madoff era. The first full-length track, Life Is Short & Then You Die cynically sets the stage, the CIA planting a flea on a blind man as a bug (the electronic kind) – bizarrely logical creative touches like that are all over this album. Truth & Beauty follows, a slinky reggae beat with accordion and a too-sweet-to-be-true music box theme – imagine Botanica in a good mood. The album’s centerpiece, the funky, breathless narrative White Collar Crime gets Bowie-esque with its watery chorus-box guitar hook, right down to an inspired, Adrian Belew-style shredding solo.

The next track sounds like Vampire Weekend if that band had balls; Tower of Babel is the most overtly ominous, bluesy of all the tracks so far with nice evil balalaika-ish organ.The menacing vibe lingers with Two Glasses, a stripped-down soul song with creepy accordion and bells, then lifts with the subtly sardonic Rhodes piano of the jazz-rock nocturne The Grey Area and then the LOL, marimba-reggae come-on Hot Girl on a Bike. The album winds up on a pensive note with a big piano ballad that turns into a defiant drinking song, and an atmospheric accordion tune. This is first and foremost an ipod record (if that turn of phrase doesn’t have you scratching your head): there are so many fun musical japes, lyrical jabs and hooks here that you need to spend awhile with it to discover all the good stuff. Fox-Rosen’s next band gig is Feb 20 at the Workmen’s Circle Purim Bash at the Synagogue for the Arts, downtown at 49 White Street at 9 PM-ish; his new theatrical creation, a puppet cabaret satire titled The Church of Babel co-written with Ora Fruchter takes place at the New Yiddish Repertory Theater in the Workmen’s Circle, 45 E. 33rd St. at 8 PM on 2/18.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/8/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s is #535:

Steely Dan – Any World That I’m Welcome To

“…is better than the one that I come from.” Brooklyn may know the charmer under Donald Fagen, but it also knows the contemptuous outsider who obviously didn’t feel very at home there and wrote this somewhat plaintive, uncharacteristically straightforward piano ballad about it. And for good reason: this was 1975 and the borough was in many respects as provincial as rural Alabama. For that matter, parts of it still are: ask someone from Williamsburg. From the album Katy Lied; also available wherever there are mp3s.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Lee Feldman – I’ve Forgotten Everything

Lee Feldman is a keyboard player who excels at seemingly all styles of pop music, from ragtime to slightly Steely Dan-inflected jazz-rock. He’s perhaps best known for his musical Starboy, the rare adult entertainment which is actually suitable for children of all ages. It’s a marvelously lo-fi, heart-tugging yet completely schlock-free production about an alien who lives in the ocean and has all sorts of adventures, set to astonishingly imaginative piano-pop. As a vocalist, Feldman often takes on the character of a naïf, a plainspoken persona which on this cd allows him to be disarming, yet also gives him a truly sinister edge. If Jonathan Richman took his shtick to the logical extreme, he’d be Lee Feldman. This somewhat fragmentary concept album about the life of a man teetering on the edge of sanity, told in the first person, is very disquieting. At first listen, it’s awfully pretty, but the vocals and particularly the lyrics reveal something else entirely. It’s packed with allusions, defined more by what isn’t here than what is, ultimately revealing itself as a very subtle but extremely potent satire of American conformist culture.

The title track has the optimism of an amnesiac, piano and rhythm section until a nice organ flourish and strings on the outro: “We’ve got a lot of dreaming to do.” The following cut, My Sad Life pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the album, a not-so-fond look back at the protagonist’s early years, set to a deceptively bouncy melody punctuated by ba-ba-ba backup vocals and horn flourishes:

I’ve got a car and I’ve got a wife
She likes to be alone
So after dark I go for a drive

He’s stuck out in suburbia with just his wife, so he ends up smoking a lot of weed. We later learn on the upbeat, bracing blues Morning Train that the ride makes him feel optimistic, or so he says, “But I’m no magic when the evening comes.” Joel Frahm’s tenor sax takes a breezy solo, then Feldman comes in with some slightly eerie upper register piano at the end. The next song, titled Lee Feldman, takes an unexpectedly dark detour, the narrator reciting two Social Security numbers – both of which he claims are his – over piano that comes just thisclose to macabre but doesn’t completely go there.

On the next cut, Mrs. Green, it turns out he’s her limo driver. As we discover in the final verse, he has a very specific destination in mind and it’s clearly not somewhere she’s planning on going. Pete Galub supplies appropriately buoyant, supple, incisive lead guitar. After that, on the slow, pretty ballad Of All the Things, the guy applauds a woman who for some reason didn’t see the sign that everyone else saw up above. As usual, Feldman doesn’t say what it was. After the troubling piano/bass/drums instrumental Bowling Accident in Lane 3, there’s a slow 6/8 number, Give Me My Money with nice textures from Brock Mumford accordionist Will Holshouser and backing vocals from Greta Gertler. “You don’t need to worry, the baby is sleeping,” Feldman sings in his completely affect-free voice: suddenly the guy is old and misses his footsteps. “It’s not just athletes who hate to come last.”

On Big Woman on the Shelves, Holshouser and Feldman play together on a sweet Gallic run down the scale that punctuates the chorus. The proprietor of a store with big women on the shelf is trying to kick the guy out. In Paris. He ends up taking one of the women with him. Feldman finally gets to take a piano solo and really makes this one count. He follows with the self-explanatory instrumental Waltz for a Sad Girl and then the slinky, jazz-inflected organ-driven Diagonal S’s at the Motel 6. It turns out that the protagonist’s daughter is waiting there for some guy to pump her for information. And then it really gets disturbing:

Magic Shop is open
But everything inside is broken
How did we get so clumsy?
Clumsy with our fingers
I took a little piece of my own action
And let myself evaporate
In your swimming pool

Then the scene jumps to Little While, a sad solo piano number that seems to be when his Sara leaves him:

I would be walking into the snow
Watching the penguins play

Next we’re told that something bad happened in the basement of the Hippy Store and that’s why the guy’s afraid of it. Of course, the song doesn’t say what, maybe because he could spend his life with the people who did whatever they did there. At the end of the song, Feldman and band mimic the sound of a vinyl record slowing down. Then the lights go down, and then out completely on Cave, where he lights fires with his glasses and drinks from the falls:

Now that you’re living in a corporate nightmare
You look so sad
But you don’t have to feel bad

Feldman reminds, having reverted to mankind’s original, natural state. The horns go crazy for a long time at the end, falling away one by one until only Steven Bernstein’s slide trumpet is left. The next track, Mr. Feldman, has the protagonist talking to himself in a nuthouse. The cd comes to a close with See You Again, “in the shadows of time. Again.” Impeccably and tersely produced, this album has cult classic written all over it. Shame on us for taking so long to review it. Five bagels. With whitefish. Because it’s full of mercury and makes you forget everything.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment