Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Tribecastan – 5 Star Cave

Imagine if your favorite world music band made a straight-up rock record. It would probably have some interesting rhythms – American beats are not the world’s most exciting – and probably fewer chord changes, considering that changing keys doesn’t happen very often, or at all, once you get past the Gulf of Suez. Tribecastan’s new cd 5 Star Cave could easily be that album. Their first album Strange Cousin, from last year, will probably prove to be a cult classic, a dizzying range of styles from around the world (with distinct Balkan/Asian overtones) played on a museum’s worth of stringed and wind instruments. This is the instruments from that same museum being used for rock instrumentals. As before, multi-instrumentalists John Kruth and Jeff Greene are joined by a like-minded, devious cast: Mike Duclos on upright and electric bass; world beat mastermind Todd Isler on a small army of percussion instruments, with cameos by Charlie Burnham on violin, Al Kooper on organ and guitar, Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas on vocalese and Steve Turre on trombone and shells, to name a few. If there’s one band they resemble – not that such a richly diverse band could ever be approximated anywhere else – it’s similarly devious, more Balkan-and-blues-minded New York band Hazmat Modine.

If the fictional, tongue-in-cheek republic (principality?) of Tribecastan really existed, it would be the last stop on the Silk Road. As much as the crew here appropriate a ridiculous variety of traditional global styles, this is an indelibly New York album – a fearless, sometimes gruff, sometimes completely punk rock sense of humor pervades a lot of these songs, whether the silly, “surf sarod” shuffle of the Violent Femmes ripoff that opens the album, the acoustic wah funk of Ghetto Garbo, the tongue-in-cheek Afrobeat blues of From Bamako to Malibu, a showcase for Turre to jump into and be as funny as the rest of the crew, or the shamelessly psychedelic faux gamelan soundscape He Hears the Ants. There’s also a calypso number, several adventures into funk and blues, and a boogie driven by slide mandolin and a forest of acoustic fretted instruments like something Roy Wood might have done in 1970 if he’d had an even greater attention span.

Yet as with their first album, it’s the darker material that really stands out. Starry Stari Grad and Hemlock Falls are arrestingly sad waltzes with Greek/Macedonian overtones. Bachir’s Blues (a reference, no doubt, to their joujouka pal Bachir Attar) has Kruth playing saz, Greene on boomy yayli tambur lute and even some Jew’s harp – the original wah-wah instrument. And the lone cover here is a darkly rustic Afghan traditional song, Kabul Hill. Tribecastan plays the cd release for this one at Joe’s Pub on May 8 at 8:30 PM with the whole cast of characters, celebrities included. Let’s hope the Tribecastan Concert Bureau has a big WWII-surplus 6X6 truck to get all those instruments to the club and then back home across the border in one piece.

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May 7, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Peppe Merolla – Stick with Me

Jazz falls into a lot of categories: boudoir jazz, solace-after-a-rough-day jazz, late night sleepy jazz, drunk jazz, fake jazz. Drummer Peppe Merolla’s debut as a bandleader, Stick with Me, is party jazz. It’s the kind of album you can actually put on repeat and not get sick of and it’s our favorite so far this year. Tunes leap from the grooves (ok, the, um, bitmap) of this one with a joyous exuberance that occasionally mellows out into warmly expansive reflection, contentment with a job well done. Merolla is a no-nonsense player with considerable wit, and the tone he sets is contagious. They’re off with a genial rumble from the toms and a characteristically playful yet ethereal Steve Turre shell motif into a modified latin groove (a vibe they’ll bring back again and again here) with casually blazing solos from Jim Rotondi’s trumpet and Turre’s trombone, tenor player John Farnsworth offhandedly quoting Trane, Mike LeDonne (on piano here) introducing some otherworldly tones before joining in the bounce. The fun continues on Ferris Wheel (a tongue-in-cheek title for sure – Bumper Cars would be more like it) with an insistent New Orleans horn riff, a buoyant Farnsworth solo and speeds up as Lee Smith walks the bass and the trombone plays deadpan staccato. A second consecutive Farnsworth tune, Junior, swings genially with a cinematic 70s New York flair, right down to LeDonne’s judiciously summery Rhodes piano. Yet another Farnsworth track builds from pensive, Coltrane-style majesty to irrepressible swing. And the everybody’s-invited after-hours vibe of their version of Willie Nelson’s  Crazy has the melody making the rounds of the band with a joyous directness and simplicity before more contemplative turns from everybody.

There’s also the deliriously circling latin jazz of Mozzin’ (yet another tasty Farnsworth tune), the snaky Marbella with its characteristically boisterous, tuneful Turre trombone, the vividly anthemic Princess of the Mountain and the spiritedly bluesy, high-energy Bud Powell homage One for Bud, a counterintuitive showcase for horns rather than the piano. The small handful of solos Merolla takes here actually sound composed, with a definite trajectory and a punch line. Put this on when the party’s been going for a few hours and soon even your “I hate music that doesn’t have singing” crowd will be humming along. It may be only February, but this is one is likely to end up on a lot of best-of lists this year. And it’s also reason to look forward to what Farnsworth may have up his sleeve next time out.

Merolla has an interesting backstory. A drummer from the age of five, he toured with his parents, the actors Gino Morelli and Tina Barone. After opening for Sinatra at a New York City concert, Sinatra was so impressed that he re-christened the teenage Merolla as “Little Joe” and arranged a three-album record deal for him.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

CD Review: TriBeCaStan – Strange Cousin

An alternate title for this cd could be Around the World with 180 Instruments. This is definitely a strange album, also a very clever, entertaining and playful one, ostensibly showcasing the music of the tiny and fascinating nation of TriBeCaStan, landlocked by the Manhattan neighborhoods of Chinatown, SoHo and the Financial District. In one sense, this seems to be a vehicle for bandleaders John Kruth and Jeff Greene to air out what seems to be a museum’s worth of exotic and unusual instruments. Bolstered by a like-minded cast of adventurers including oud master Brahim Fribgane, gypsy jazz pioneer Matt Darriau and seashell virtuoso Steve Turre, they have a boisterously good-natured out-of-the-box sensibility much in the same vein as sprawling avant-gypsy/klezmer/reggae improvisers Hazmat Modine.

The first cut is Mopti, a Don Cherry tune redone as rustic, hundred-year-old one-chord oldtime blues. Tonko the Zookeeper maintains the rustic blues feel, featuring Kruth on the Moldavian kaval (recorder) and Greene on the dutar (a beautifully resonant Uzbek lute). The suite continues with Yusef’s Motif, a flute composition, Greene this time on the koncovka, a wooden tube of Slovakian origin used here for its otherworldy overtones.

Raphaella is a sad tango for mandolin, mandocello, six-string ukelele and guiro. The Flowers (That I Placed at My Ancerstor’s Grave Spontaneously Burst into Flame with Their Appreciation) waltzes along sadly with understatedly poignant clarinet from Darriau. Dancing Girls (of TriBeCaStan), another sad waltz credited as “traditional,” showcases yet another lute, the Middle Eastern rebab. TriBeCaStani Traffic Jam uses a whole swamp full of reed instruments  – the Chinese sheng, harmonica, krummhorn, Pakistani taxi horn and alto sax – to very vividly illustrate a street scene where nobody’s going anywhere.

Sunda Sunday is a hypnotic but not lazy vignette with Turre on shells and Greene playing both incisively minimalist steel drum and bowed tambur (a Turkish lute that resembles a banjo), followed by Lady Dez, a swinging, Balkan-inflected minor-key harmonica tune that sounds straight out of the Hazmat Modine catalog. The best song on the album is the striking Black Ice, Kruth’s kelhorn (a popular Renaissance-era wooden flute with a marvelous tremolo tone) floating darkly over Greene’s rustic nyckelharpa (a Norwegian autoharp of sorts with two sets of reverberating strings). Of the rest of the cd’s fifteen tracks, The Bottle Man takes bluegrass to Bulgaria; Otha’s Blues takes the delta to Indonesia; Princess Rahsaanica takes a soul song east to India, and there’s a gamelanesque Sonny Sharrock cover. And the title track, a blazing, blaring march sailing along on the wings of Kruth’s Andalusian shepherd flute with a Master Musicians of Jajouka feel. To say that there’s something for everybody here would be the understatement of the millennium. Suggestion to Kruth and co. – send out a few unlabeled CDRs to world music reviewers and the people who put out the Rough Guide compilations and see how many people you can dupe into believing that this is the real thing. Which in a sense it is, the triumphantly indigenous music of the fearlessly syncretic people of TriBeCaStan!

July 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment