Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Creepy and Dreamy with Mojo Mancini

New York noir doesn’t get any better than this. With Big Lazy on the shelf, Mojo Mancini has moved in to take over the role of New York’s most deliciously creepy instrumental group. With allusions to the Doors and Henry Mancini, they’re aptly named, blending a stylish dark rock vibe with equally dark Hollywood atmospherics. Their album is sort of an accident: tenor sax player Rick DePofi, Rosanne Cash bandleader/guitarist John Leventhal, drummer Shawn Pelton, Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Conrad Korsch would get together and jam just for fun, or to blow off steam between gigs and/or recording dates. Happily, they had the good sense to record these jams, realizing that they had genuine magic on their hands. The arduous task of sifting through the tapes fell to DePofi, a professional recording engineer. This is the result. At one point or another, all the songs here sway to a trip-hop beat – and as dark as a lot of them are, there are also several which are irresistibly funny.

The album opens with a characteristically eerie, David Lynch style wee-hours scenario, Leventhal playing terse, tense jazz lines against Mitchell’s organ swells. Gansevoort, named after the street just off the Westside Highway where the album was recorded (and where bodies were once dumped with regularity) is an echoey trip-hop organ funk groove, part early 70s Herbie Hancock score, part sleek stainless steel club music, part Jimmy McGriff. Just Sit, featuring a sample of poet/activist Jack Hirschman, welds watery 1970-era David Gilmour chorus-box guitar to balmy sax over a laid-back funk groove.

Leventhal turns an expansive, sunbaked guitar solo over to DePofi’s tenor on the pensive Clear Fluids, which then winds it up to a big crescendo. The dub-inflected Peace Plan moves from spacy Rhodes piano to a sparse, Steve Ulrich-style guitar hook. The most Steve Ulrich-inflected number here is Let Us Pray, with its Twilight Zone organ, David Gilmour noir guitar lines and a couple of playfully sacrilegious Lawrence Ferlinghetti samples. There’s also a big sky theme, its disquieting undercurrent evoking Bill Frisell; a cinematic mini-suite with smoky sax that evokes mid-90s REM side project Tuatara; the banjo trip-hop of Long Neck, and the echoey, dubwise Slipper Room with its maze of keyboards and a rousing organ crescendo that segues into the next tune. Play loud, play after dark for best results.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at the New York Guitar Festival 2/4/10

Last night’s theme was film scores. The New York Guitar Festival is more avant garde than rock (WNYC’s John Schaefer emceed) – this particular Merkin Hall bill started out intensely and virtuosically with a rare artist who’s every bit as good as his famous father (Gyan Riley is the son of avant titan Terry Riley), then got more mainstream with an emotionally rich, frequently very amusing pair of Chaplin soundtracks just completed by Chicha Libre.

Composers have been doing new scores for old silent films for decades (some of the most intriguing recent ones include Phillip Johnston’s improvisations for Page of Madness, and the Trakwerx soundtracks for Tarzan and a delicious DVD of Melies shorts). Riley chose to add sound to a series of brief paint-on-celluloid creations by Harry Smith (yup, the anthology guy), which came across as primitive if technically innovative stoner psychedelia. Ostensibly Smith’s soundtrack of choice had been Dizzie Gillespie; later, his wife suggested the Beatles. Playing solo, Riley opened with his best piece of the night, an unabashedly anguished, reverb-drenched tableau built on vivid Steve Ulrich-esque chromatics. From there, Riley impressed with a diverse mix of ambient Frippertronic-style sonics along with some searing bluesy rock crescendos evoking both Jeff Beck aggression and towering David Gilmour angst. Most of the time, Riley would be looping his licks with split-second precision so they’d echo somewhere in the background while he’d be adding yet another texture or harmony, often bending notes Jim Campilongo style with his fretboard rather than with his fingers or a whammy bar.

With their psychedelic Peruvian cumbias, Chicha Libre might seem the least likely fit for a Chaplin film. But like its closest relative, surf music, chicha (the intoxicating early 70s Peruvian blend of latin, surf and 60s American psychedelia) can be silly one moment, poignant and even haunting the next. Olivier Conan, the band’s frontman and cuatro player remarked pointedly before the show how much Chaplin’s populism echoed in their music, a point that resonated powerfully throughout the two fascinating suites they’d written for Payday (1922) and The Idle Class (1921). The Payday score was the more diverse of the two, a series of reverberating, infectiously catchy miniatures in the same vein as Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack as well as the woozily careening Electric Prunes classic Mass in F Minor. While Chicha Libre’s lead instrument is Josh Camp’s eerie, vintage Hohner Electrovox organ, as befits a guitar festival, Telecaster player Vincent Douglas got several extended solo passages to show off his command of just about every twangy noir guitar style ever invented, from spaghetti western to New York soundtrack noir to southwestern gothic. When the time came, Camp was there with his typical swirling attack, often using a wah pedal for even more of a psychedelic effect. The band followed the film to a split-second with the occasional crash from the percussionists, right through the triumphant conclusion where Chaplin manages to sidestep his suspicious wife with her ever-present rolling pin and escape with at least a little of what he’d earned on a hilariously slapstick construction site.

The Idle Class, a similarly redemptive film, was given two alternating themes, the first being the most traditionally cinematic of the night, the second eerily bouncing from minor to major and back again with echoes of the Simpsons theme (which the show’s producers just hired Chicha Libre to record last month for the cartoon’s 25th anniversary episode). Chaplin plays the roles of both the rich guy (happy movie theme) and the tramp (spooky minor) in the film, and since there’s less bouncing from set to set in this one the band got the chance to vamp out and judiciously add or subtract an idea or texture or two for a few minutes at a clip and the result was mesmerizing. It was also very funny when it had to be. Bits and pieces of vaguely familiar tunes flashed across the screen: a schlocky pop song from the 80s; a classical theme (Ravel?); finally, an earlier Chicha Libre original (a reworking of a Vivaldi theme, actually), Primavera en la Selva. They built it up triumphantly at the end to wind up in a blaze of shimmering, clanging psychedelic glory where Chaplin’s tramp finally gets to give the rich guy’s sinisterly hulking father a swift kick in the pants. The crowd of what seemed older, jaded new-music types roared their approval: the buzz was still in the air as they exited. Chicha may be dance music (and stoner music), but Chicha Libre definitely have a future in film scores if they want it.

February 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Film, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/3/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. The Ulrich/Ziegler Duo – Since Cincinnati

This is the alchemical guitar instrumental project of Steve Ulrich of Big Lazy plus Itamar Ziegler from Pink Noise. Unreleased – you’ll have to see this southwestern gothic masterpiece live.

2. Don Chambers & Goat – Open up the Gates

Dark garage rock with a banjo. They’re at Spikehill on 9/6.

3. Quixote – Hubris

Lo-fi noir cabaret with ornate flourishes from these edgy rockers. They’re at Trash on 8/11 at 8.

4. Mrs. Danvers – Wicked One

Slinky lesbian dance-rock with a trumpet, lots of fun. They’re at Trash on 8/11 at 10.

5. Bacchus King – Sub Prime

Math rock with a social awareness. They’re at Trash on 8/8 at 8.

6. The Warm Hats – Underground

Catchy swaying smartly defiant rock. At Trash on 8/7 at 8 withPalmyra Delran, the amazing Brooklyn What and the equally amazing Escarioka.

7. The Grendel Babies – Penelope

Eerie gothic art-rock with piano and violin. They’re at Fontana’s at 9 on 8/4.

8. The Fox Hunt – Suits Me Fine

Minor key original bluegrass – good stuff. At Caffe Vivaldi, 8 PM on 8/25, also at Arlene’s on 8/26 at 10 and at the National Underground on 8/27 at 9.

9. Glasspipe – Hands

Garage punk. They’re at Trash on 8/4.

10. Verismo – The Lorax

Dr. Seuss thrash metal. Priceless.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jentsch Group Large – Cycles Suite

Composer/guitarist Chris Jentsch specializes in modern big band jazz suites. This is his third, beginning with the 1999 Miami Suite, continuing with the riveting, haunting 2007 Brooklyn Suite – a bonafide 21st century classic – and now with the even more ambitious Cycles Suite. If the Brooklyn Suite was Jentsch’s Dark Side of the Moon, this is his Wish You Were Here. Built around a ferocious four-bar phrase that begins as a horn motif and gets more and more intense as it takes on new shapes and voicings, the Brooklyn Suite careens like a stolen taxicab barreling along a potholed Atlantic Avenue of the mind at 4 AM. It’s all tension and suspense, and the central hook is a melody that ranks with the best of them: Jumping Jack Flash, the Bach Toccata in D, Black and Tan Fantasy and any other iconic musical phrase you can imagine. Following up such an accomplishment is always difficult. This one is even longer, but it’s considerably different – where the Brooklyn Suite was savage and reckless, the Cycles Suite is thoughtful and expansive, cleverly referencing its predecessor in its darkest, most pensive moments. 

Jentsch owes a debt to both Steve Ulrich (of Big Lazy and innumerable film and tv soundtracks) and Bill Frisell. The opening cut here, Arrival is dark, skronky, distorted funk, sounding like Big Lazy with a horn section. The fifteen-minute second track, Cycle of Life is a suite in itself, shifting from languid and atmospheric into a tango, separated by a pointed tritone played by the horns. Home and Away, clocking in at almost twenty minutes has a similar architecture, opening with a jangly, pastoral Frisell-style guitar motif that melds with the band as they rise to a big, romantic crescendo, individual instruments lending their voices, fading in and out of the mix as the procession continues. Then a portentous echo of the Brooklyn Suite, Jentsch eventually taking over with an austere, round, slightly distorted guitar tone, the band working a comfortable Basie-esque riff evocative of neon, exhaust and maybe another round of drinks.

Darkness begins to fall with track four, Old Folks Song, the piano beginning it with a three-note chromatic hook straight out of Jentsch’s previous album, shifting to gritty reggae and then to wistfulness as the horns swell and fade. The delightfully titled Route 666, another mini-suite, kicks off with as much of a romping feel as an ensemble this size can muster, trumpeter Mike Kaupa pushing the revelry, such that there is. The rest alternates between quiet and skeletal and lushly ebullient, without any of the diabolical vibe alluded to by the title. The final cut, Departure brings back the suite’s two most resonant, poignant motifs and then lets them fall away somewhat abruptly yet aptly – after all, nobody gets to decide how they want to go out. In the big, lavish arrangements, the compositions’s often vividly melodic sensibility and some very inspired playing by an A-list of the New York jazz scene, there’s a lot to sink your ears into here. Headphones very highly recommended.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich/Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at the Delancey, NYC 4/23/09

Small Beast is rapidly becoming a New York institution. The kind of thing you’ll look back on and tell your kids assuming you live long enough to have them and they live long enough to understand you when you talk about how in the spring of 2009 you spent Thursday evenings upstairs at this one Lower East Side bar, in a space that by all rights shouldn’t even have music at all because it barely has a stage. But it does. And the shows just get better and better. It started midwinter when Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s desire to work up new material and collaborate with what seems an ever-expanding cast of quality players from some of music’s darker enclaves. It’s not limited to rock, either: there’ve been shows by  jazz, classical and gypsy acts here too.

 

Thursday’s was maybe the best to date. Or maybe not, there’ve been transcendent moments practically every week. Wallfisch opened as he always does, solo on piano, Chopinesque (in that his style blends the Romantics and the gypsies) and upbeat this time with almost a sprint through the Little Annie noir cabaret gem Because You’re Gone, a brand new tango and a ballad in French. His collaborator onstage this time was cellist Rubin Kodheli from the brilliant chamber rock group Edison Woods and the artsy, ambient Blues in Space. Despite a total lack of rehearsal, the two matter-of-factly made their way through a wrenchingly beautiful version of the subtly and brutally sarcastic Three Women and the stately, equally haunting Eleganza and Wines, Wallfisch as usual getting the crowd going in a clapalong in 7/8 time  – the premise seems to be that if the Arabs and the Bulgarians can do it, we should be able to follow along too. Then they brought Kerry Kennedy up onstage and did Because You’re Gone again, halfspeed, her bruised velvet vocals giving the lament special poignancy.

 

The Ulrich/Ziegler duo were next, supplying the requisite transcendence, boiling over with chilly reverb instrumental soundscapes evoking images of Tribeca alleyways in grim, rain-drenched late autumn predawn, black and silver but not in a Blue Oyster Cult way, not unless you count the two guitars. With Big Lazy on the shelf at the moment and what seems an endless series of film and tv projects going on, frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich has been lately been playing duo shows with Pink Noise guitarist Itamar Ziegler. This team is a winner, part Mingus, part Ventures and part Morricone but with a savage, often macabre wit that transcends any of those styles and at times, unsurprisingly, sounds almost exactly like Big Lazy. Ziegler was a human metronome, holding the songs together while Ulrich played sharpshooter, alternating between ominously minimal tremolo licks, ominous washes of sound, reverberating chordlets and dirty skronk. They opened with a vintage Big Lazy song, following with a plaintive waltz and a surprisingly bluesy, minor-key one loping along on a garage rock beat. A new one, Since Cincinnati proved to be Ulrich’s most haunting lapsteel song, sort of a more noir, cinematic twist on the old Big Lazy hit Junction City. They wound up the set with a swinging, chicha-esque version of Caravan lit up with a long, blacklit solo from Ulrich in place of where the Ventures would have put the drums.

 

McGinty and White were a good segue because while many of their songs have a subtle menace, there was no resemblance between them and Ulrich and Ziegler other than that they could be competing offices of obstetricians. This was ostensibly the first live show together for the former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist and the “tippling gadabout [NOT]” who’s been putting out excellent, darkly lyrical janglerock albums since before the turn of the century. Occasionally putting down his acoustic guitar, White proved equally adept as a crooner while the backing band did a picture-perfect evocation of late 60s psychedelically-inclined chamber pop. Watching them was like being in the audience at Ed Sullivan, 1968 – and putting violinist Claudia Chopek out in front of the stage, on the floor, where her warmly compelling lead lines could resonate was a smart move. The title of their new cd McGinty and White Sing the McGinty and White Songbook is characteristically tongue-in-cheek. McGinty is no slouch at sardonic humor, offering a vivid reminder with the deadpan Get a Guy and the haunting, atmospheric ballad that closed the show. They’d opened the show with the sarcastic Everything Is Fine, punctuated by a surprisingly over-the-top metal solo from their lead player, later delivering the self-effacing Big Baby, McGinty’s effortless rivulets threatening to erode the piano keys. The savage Knees, written by White finally unleashed the demons: “You can keep my heart, bitch, just give me back my knees.” There’ll be a review of the album here closer to the date of the cd release show in May.

 

Super duper orange alert: unless people start dropping like flies in the streets, Lucid Culture has no intention to stop reviewing concerts, frequenting public places or riding the train. This “flu outbreak” has all the earmarks of hysteria (remember Y2K?). Mexico City has awful sanitation and services, it’s overcrowded, polluted and the most impoverished Mexicans suffer from malnutrition. In other words, it’s a prime spot for an outbreak of something. You could say the same about New York except that as bad as things can get it’s not that bad here. Yet. Keep your eyes open this fall and see if the bug mutates into the black plague.

April 27, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Public Health, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/17/08

If you’re going out this week and wonder where our constantly updated NYC live music calendar went, it’s here. In the meantime our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #588:

Steve Ulrich and Jeremiah Lockwood – The Children Rejoice

Written by Lockwood, the multistylistic guitar genius behind Sway Machinery, this absolutely gorgeous, twangy, reverb-laden instrumental gets really eerie with just a hint of klezmer. One of the best tunes that this duo used to play during a riveting series of shows around NYC circa 2006-07, Big Lazy frontman/guitarist Ulrich adding his own trademark sinister touch. Unreleased, although there are a few bootlegs kicking around.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jim Campilongo Electric Trio Live at Barbes 1/5/08

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Jim Campilongo is one of the world’s most exciting guitarists, with a completely unique, instantly recognizable sound. He gets great reviews from the guitar magazines, is revered by his peers, yadda yadda yadda, and in case the hype scared you off, you missed a great show Saturday night. He comes across as something of the missing link between Bill Frisell and Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich. Like Ulrich, he loves his dark, macabre chromatics and plays with a ton of reverb and tremolo. Campilongo gets the latter effect by bending the neck of his vintage Telecaster ever so slightly, rather than using a whammy bar. Stylistically, he covers a lot of ground, from one end of Route 66 to the other, encompassing surf, country, western swing, jazz and plain old down-and-dirty distorted rock. Tonight he mixed material from his latest album Heaven Is Creepy along with a cover or two, and some new material from what will be his eighth album, possibly titled Finger Puppet. As the title implies, the new stuff is predictably as ominous and captivating as the rest of his recent work.

He played the central hook to a new one – titled Helen Keller, perhaps? – by turning the tuning peg on the low E string down a half-step and then back again in time with the music, and with perfect pitch. On another recent number, the eerie Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, he backed off a little, delivering it very calculatedly as the rhythm section cranked it up. He awed the crowd with his technique, quickly raising and lowering his tone controls for volume while delaying his attack on the strings just a fraction of a second to create a backward-masked effect. Campilongo’s rhythm section was superb, the drummer alternated between sticks and brushes, feeling the room and varying his dynamics so he didn’t drown anyone out. The upright bassist contributed fluid excursions up the scale when he wasn’t holding down a snaky groove. At Campilongo’s most heavenly creepy, backed by those two, there were moments when, if you closed your eyes, this could have been Tonic, ten years ago, with Big Lazy onstage.

Campilongo is casual and down-to-earth as a frontman, apologizing for his guitar volume in Barbes’ cozy confines (though it’s hard to imagine anyone in the standing-room-only crowd who would have complained if he turned up even louder). Fellow guitarists who haven’t reached Campilongo’s level of popularity will be reassured to know that the last time he played here, it was to an empty room: nobody came. As musicians all know, there’s no way to tell who’s going to turn out, or if anyone will at all, whether you’re an unknown or one of the greatest fret-burners of your generation. Obvious the Barbes owners’ knew the crowd would be out in full force the next time around, and they were right: latecomers found the room too packed to squeeze inside. Campilongo has played Monday nights at the Living Room, off and on, for what seems forever, so it was a nice change to see him venture out to play a New York-area club that doesn’t treat its customers like shit.

January 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review from the Archives: Les Sans Culottes, Satanicide and Big Lazy Live in NYC 11/22/02

[Hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving! We’re digging into the archive til we’re back from the holiday next week. Hard to believe that it’s been five long years since this particular show – ed.] 

Went to Gwynne Duncan’s art opening in the afternoon in the wilds of Fort Greene. Actually, the space was just a few blocks off DeKalb Ave., but it felt like a long ways since it was pouring rain and pretty cold out. As expected, there was hardly anybody there. Duncan is excellent, paints in a whole mess of styles with strong command of all of them: gentle pastels, trippy psychedelic oils with tendrils of plants with eyes, social realism studies imagining evening subway commutes in the 30s and a ship named Ego adrift on the ocean. Ran into a friend who promised me a copy of the Robyn Hitchcock Royal Albert Hall Dylan cover show but still hasn’t delivered – we agreed that I’d give him a copy of the Mary Lee’s Corvette Blood on the Tracks show in exchange. Looks like somebody’s getting a way better deal here and that person isn’t me.

We waited a long time for the G train back to the F, then to CBGB where the Coffin Daggers had just left the stage. Bad information, lamented one of the band members. By now my companion was drunk on wine from the opening; we grabbed seats on a bench located comfortably in front of the sound board and were pleased to see some other friends come join us for the duration of the show. Les Sans Culottes have been around forever, since the late 80s. They’re a very good garage band playing a mix of Gainsbourg covers, some other French pop from 60s and their own faux-French originals. Everybody in the band has a silly French or franglais name: Clermont Ferrand, Jean-Luc Retard, Kit Kat Le Noir, ad infinitum. Frontman Bill Carney, whatever his nom de plume is, stays in character, affecting a French accent even while addressing the audience. They did their usual stuff, bolstered by a good, loud sound mix: Ecole de Merde (French for school of hard knocks), a few covers and a disco song that might or might not have been an original. It’s a tribute to these guys that it’s sometimes hard to tell.

Satanicide were next and also got good sound: people forget just how good the sonics at CB’s are. What Spinal Tap were to 70s British metal, Satanicide is to 80s American hair metal. They absolutely nail it, and the lack of a second guitarist doesn’t hurt them. Unsurprisingly, their one spandex-clad axeman didn’t do a lot of soloing. Dale May AKA Devlin Mayhem is actually an excellent singer, with a perfect take on the completely over-the-top Motley Crue thing. Sample song title: Pussy and Ice Cream. They also did a very funny one about a NJ metalhead girl that began as a sensitive power ballad that crescendoed predictably as it went on [most likely the title track to their hilarious cd Heather –  ed.]. After the show our crew scattered in different directions, so I went next door to the gallery to hang with another friend, who was closing, so on the spur of the moment I decided to catch Big Lazy at Tonic on the way home.

Timed this one pretty perfectly, as they went on about five minutes after I got there, about half past midnight. Technical difficulties abounded with the mix and the monitors on bassist Paul Dugan’s side of the stage. Victoria Hanna was in the house, and she eventually contributed delicious vocalese on the cinematic Tel Aviv Taxi, which the band played mid-set. Otherwise, they were somewhat subdued, at least by comparison to their usually scorching live sets, benefiting greatly from some unexpected restraint on the part of drummer Tamir Muskat. Which gave guitarist Steve Ulrich a chance to back off a little bit and use some wild fills as punctuation rather than wailing nonstop all night with descending runs, slides and his trademark eerie chromatic hooks. Most of their noir instrumentals were done very tersely, including the absolutely macabre Theme from Headtrader, the multi-part spaghetti western theme Our Lady of the Highways, a cover of an Astor Piazzolla tango, the pitch-black Amnesia, the lickety-split, rockabilly-inflected Princess Nicotine and finally the hourlong set’s closing number, the hilarious heavy metal parody Starchild. What’s the likehood of seeing two drastically different bands both do killer heavy metal sendups in one night? The band didn’t encore, and by now I’d reached the point where continued alcohol consumption would have required more energy than it would have been worth to reach any state of inebriation, so I went home.

[postscript: Les Sans Culottes – who will probably be around forever , continue to do what they do best, which is play live shows. CB’s and Tonic are both sadly defunct; Satanicide, true to its metal roots, plays the occasional reunion show, while Big Lazy are on indefinite hiatus.]

November 23, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Big Lazy – Postcards from X

Their most cinematic album, on which the most mesmerizing instrumental band on the planet broaden their sonic palette from the usual charcoal and grey to include, perhaps, burnt ochre and dark olive. The album cover looks like a poster for a 60s spy film, with the shadow of a woman running with a briefcase. The case opens to show the woman’s ankle and the briefcase, but it’s not clear if she’s running alongside a wall covered with dying ivy…or if she’s lying on a path in the woods. The visuals couldn’t be more appropriate.

Big Lazy’s first two releases were all menace and suspense, conjuring up images of black-clad figures slipping in and out of the shadows in a 4 AM industrial wasteland, the pavement cold and luminous with late autumn rain. This one, their fourth, is much more diverse. Big Lazy unsurprisingly get a lot of film soundtrack work, and the songs on this album may well be destined for Sundance or Hollywood. Several of them begin menacingly and end on a sunny note, or vice versa, with innumerable twists and turns in between. The album opens with Thy Name Is Woman, virtuoso guitarist Steve Ulrich playing with distortion instead of his usual oceans of reverb. Essentially, it’s a 6/8 blues, propelled by brilliant bassist Paul Dugan’s staccato arpeggios. The next cut, by Dugan, is Walk It Off, opening with bowed bass playing the ominous melody as Ulrich plays the bassline on guitar. All of a sudden, on the second verse, Ulrich launches into some noir jazz as guest keyboardist Ed Pastorini’s Hammond organ kicks in. It’s very 60s. The following cut Glitter Gulch begins with a sexy bassline, like The Fever, with dark, quietly booming drum flourishes and eerie organ. Then it morphs into a Morricone-esque spaghetti western theme. After that, Ulrich returns with more guitar distortion on the brief, skronky Drug Czar.

The cd’s next track, France, is a very funny song, something akin to how Serge Gainsbourg’s 60s backing band might have covered Big Lazy. It’s an uncharacteristically bouncy number with just enough moments of incisive reverb guitar to give the listener pause. Drummer Tamir Muskat (ex-Gogol Bordello) spices the following cut, His Brother’s Wife, with all kinds of metallic percussive effects, with Ulrich and Dugan reverting to the dark, New York noir sound of their previous work until a country-inflected chorus with soaring lapsteel. After that, on Postcard from X, bowed bass carries the melody over plinky, ragtimish guitar. It’s an unusually wistful, pretty song, evocative of the great Southwestern gothic band Friends of Dean Martinez as the lapsteel flies in at the end of the song.

The best song on the album is the lickety-split, minor-key punkabilly theme To Hell in a Handbasket, another Dugan composition. Los Straitjackets or Rev. Horton Heat only wish they wrote something this adrenalizing. After Dugan and Ulrich play their fingers off for a couple of minutes, there’s a brief bass solo and then a gently happy ending. The lone cover on the album is an Astor Piazzolla classic, Pulsacion #4, which most closely resembles Big Lazy’s early work, all macabre chromatics and scary reverb. The cd’s next tune Naked begins with Dugan pedaling a single note over a suspenseful, steady beat, evoking a movie scene where the hero may be having second thoughts. You want to tell him (or her), don’t go back in the house, don’t get in the car with that guy and whatever you do, stay inside the tent. But they don’t, and all hell breaks loose. The album concludes with The Confidence Man, a total 60s spy movie theme, jazzy with staccato bass and tinny organ, its menace building gently at the end of the verse, then breaking through the door when the chorus kicks in.

If this album can reach the people who blast the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack at parties, that’s where it needs to be. Inevitably, it’ll be a cult classic for decades to come. Be the first person on your block or in your dorm room to turn your friends on to this amazing band. And if you think the occasional lightheartedness of this album might mean that Big Lazy has lost any of the white-knuckle intensity of their live shows, not to worry: check our reviews page for a glimpse of the best show we’ve seen this year, Big Lazy’s cd release at Luna Lounge last month. Classic album, an instant contender (along with Jenifer Jackson’s new one) for best of the year. Five bagels. Pumpernickel (because that’s the darkest kind available).

June 6, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Big Lazy at Luna 5/20/07

A luminous, mesmerizing performance. It’s impossible to imagine a more exciting band right now. The crowd was rapt. Many of the songs segued into another, but whenever the sound stopped, there was a noticeable moment of silence before the applause began. This was a particularly terse show for New York’s most exhilarating rock instrumentalists. Improvisation is usually the game plan for guitarist Steve Ulrich, upright bassist Paul Dugan and their impressively smooth new drummer. Tonight, it was all about the compositions throughout their tantalizingly brief 50-minute set: extended intros, outros and solos were kept to a minimum, which on one hand is too bad since that’s their meal ticket. No other band takes so many chances (unless maybe you count what’s left of the Grateful Dead) and flies without a net to the extent that these reverbed-out, surf and rockabilly-tinged noir soundtrack rockers do. The upside was that they got to show off a lot of new material from their brilliant new album Postcards from X along with a bunch of proven crowd-pleasers.

Ulrich and Dugan share a fondness for (some would say an inability to resist) haunting chromatics and menacing chordal work, so it was unusual for them to open with the uncharacteristically cheerful, major-key highway tune Junction City, from their first ep. A bit later, they played the opening cut on their classic, self-titled second album, Skinless Boneless, with Ulrich taking the solo of the night, an all-too-brief, screaming series of minor-key hooks, constantly shifting tones and textures by mixing up the pickups on his Gibson Les Paul and alternating between effects pedals. On a new song, Glitter Gulch, a loping spaghetti western number, Ulrich switched to baritone guitar.  Then it was Dugan’s turn to stun the audience with a sprinting, Ron Carter-ish solo on the lickety-split Princess Nicotine. As great a composer as Ulrich is, Dugan’s signature style of aggressively propulsive, melodic fingerpicking on his bass, along with a great deal of eerie, cello-style bowing is as essential to their sound as Ulrich’s trademark reverb attack.

Naked, another song from the new album, proved that they can play noise rock with anybody, although Ulrich reverted to melodic, melancholy mode at the very end. On Just Plain Scared, from the band’s second album, someone missed a cue, extending the lightning-fast drum intro and for awhile it wasn’t clear if the drummer was going to be able to make it into the song at that breakneck pace. Happily, he did. Toward the end of the set, Ulrich picked up his lapsteel and played an unreleased song, Black-Eyed Susan, on which he picked arpeggios and melody lines rather than creating washes of sound or chords, with a slide, as the instrument is typically played. He was in typically witty form between songs, telling the audience how a nasty disagreement between bandmates during a Yoko Ono performance at one of Tonic’s last shows resulted in Big Lazy not playing on the bill that particular night: “Yoko almost broke up another band,” Ulrich deadpanned. They wound up the set with a Paul Dugan composition, Hell in a Handbasket, with screechy, pizzicato bowed bass pedaling the same note and building tension while Ulrich supplied the firepower.

Happily, the sound in the club was superb, perhaps because Big Lazy’s studio engineer from the new album was on the sound board. Strangely, there was no band playing afterward, especially considering how Big Lazy seemed constricted to less than an hour onstage. Another set – or at least a longer set – would have been nice, but it was obvious that this was something the band had no control over. Even if they’d played longer, they still would have left the crowd wanting more.

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment