Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

This Dec. 10, a Global Dance Party with Real Live Music – Who Knew?

A lot of people know about this, actually – but there’s always room for more. Scott Kettner and Mehmet Dede are the brain trust behind the frequent Is America Part of the World? global dance parties around New York. For awhile they did them at the Brooklyn Yard; this time out they’re at Littlefield. Scott plays drums in the excellent, absurdly eclectic Brazilian-flavored Nation Beat; Mehmet holds down a corner of the Drom nightclub empire and produces music festivals including the NY Gypsy Festival. Here’s their take on their next show, Friday, December 10:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: The club’s going to keep the floor open, people will be dancing just as they usually do at your shows, right?

Mehmet Dede: Yes, absolutely. Our series is about the heart and mind as well as the feet – it’s a global party. Dancing and having fun is an important element for us.

LCC: All this is happening Friday, December 10 at Littlefield, showtime says 8 PM, is that actually the time the bands start?

MD: Doors are at 8 PM; the first band, Tall Tall Trees, will go on at 9. After midnight we’ll continue with DJ Turnmix, who is an excellent dj from Barcelona. Did I say this is a global dance party?

LCC: What’s the deal with tickets? Thirteen bucks, that’s about four dollars a band…

MD: Yes, we wanted to keep the ticket prices down to give people more for their money. In this economy, I think people will appreciate it.

LCC: Let’s see if I got this right, first band is Tall Tall Trees, who are a very funny, wry sort of acoustic Americana jam band with banjo and guitars and upright bass. True?

MD: That’s a pretty good description. Scott?

Scott Kettner: Yes, they’ll be the first band. They are a really high energy band that take Americana and rockabilly to a whole new level. I think they are using electric bass now.

LCC: The second act is Brooklyn Qawwali Party, at ten, right? I’m personally not a fan of qawwali music so I was very surprised to see that these guys are a funk band, from what I’ve seen on youtube they’ve got about 50 people in the band and they really rock the party. Do they also do the hypnotic sufi chanting stuff?

MD: It’s not exactly 50 people, but yes they are a crowded band, and they love to jam onstage. Some songs can easily top 10 minutes. They’re both hypnotic and transcendental, but also groovy and danceable. They are a party band with a spiritual vibe. It’s a joy to see them on stage.

LCC: Scott, I have a bit of an inside track on your band Nation Beat because I’ve seen you a bunch of times – with Liliana Araujo your Brazilian chanteuse, and with Jesse Lenat the country crooner for example. You play country, and Brazilian styles, and funk, and soul, and I’ve even seen you go into a surf groove. Do you have a favorite of all these styles, and what is it?

SK: My favorite is when all of this music blends and there is not a “style.” That’s what really gets me off about drumming and music…when it can’t be defined. I love hearing a band play and walking out wondering what the hell it was. That’s partly the purpose of this festival, to bring together groups who are blurring the lines of genre and just pulling together the music they love to create a sound that isn’t contrived. When I was in high school I played in a surf punk band called Liquid Image and also played in some local funk and blues bands. Then I moved to NYC to study jazz and developed a passion for Brazilian music. So when I sit behind the drums or compose a song I’m always searching for a way to bring all of these musical experiences together.

LCC: A surf drummer: I knew it. Very very cool, as you probably know we are huge surf music fans here. Now out of all those Brazilian genres you play, what would you say is your specialty? Forro? Frevo? What does Nation Beat bring to it that’s original, that makes it all yours?

SK: I really love maracatu and forró. I moved to Brazil specifically to study maracatu back in 2000 and have developed a very deep relationship with the music and culture of this rhythm. Nation Beat is a collaboration between Brazil and the US. We’re a band that seeks the similarities between the music and culture of the northeast of Brazil and the southern United States. We play a lot of rhythms from the northeast of Brazil; maracatu, forró, coco, cirando and frevo, all music that Liliana Araujo grew up listening to. When her and I get together we bring our musical backgrounds to the table and the result is Nation Beat. This is what makes it OUR music, the fact that we’re not trying to imitate a style but rather bring our musical backgrounds together to create OUR own music.

LCC: Is it ok if I ask some hard questions now? For example, how effectively do you think “Is America Part of the World?” comes across? What I mean is that the idea is pretty funny if you think about it – obviously, America is part of the world, we’ve got just as much a right to make “world music” as anybody else. But is it good branding? Something people are going to remember?

SK: I think it’s a great name…thanks for the idea! [grin]

LCC: At this point in history, is Brooklyn really part of the world? You’re playing a club in Gowanus where there are all these hideous gentrifier condo buildings sprouting up amidst the warehouses, rents are rising, destroying the neighborhood. How would you respond to a cynic who might say something like, “These guys are just a bunch of rich white kids ripping off styles from around the world, if they really cared about the world they’d bring in a real qawwali band?”

SK: First I’d say I’m not rich and not even close to it and I think I can speak for all of the musicians on the event. Second I’d say if all you really want to hear a “real” qawwali band you probably won’t come to our festival and probably shouldn’t. The whole point of this festival is to bring together bands who are interpreting the music that they have a passion for. We’re searching for the point of convergence where our musical backgrounds meet with our musical passions. That’s it. If you think about the history of all music in the new world; jazz, blues, salsa, merengue, samba, maracatu, rock and roll, etcetera, you will not be able to define this music without realizing the fact that it took many cultures, many people coming together and mixing their musical and cultural backgrounds. None of this music would exist if it weren’t for Europeans, indigenous and African people being thrown into a turbulent culture where they had to find common ground to communicate together with music. So what’s the difference if we choose to do the same thing today?

LCC: I’m always impressed with how diverse the crowds are at your shows: at least they’re part of the world. Beyond the usual Bushwick blogs, how do you get the word out about them? Or is it a word of mouth thing, either you know or you don’t?

SK: I send out a big newsletter every month announcing our gigs and we also do the social networking song and dance. There’s a community of people who are really interested in what we’re doing so they just keep tuned in to what we’re up to.

LCC: How’d you end up at Littlefield this time? I like the place a lot – the sound is good and there’s none of the disrespect you get on the Lower East Side for example…

SK: My partner Mehmet and I checked out the club and really liked the vibe of the people and the room. It also has a great sound.

LCC: After this, when’s the next show and who’s on it?

SK: This will be Nation Beat’s last show in town until 2011. I have a brass band playing forró music on December 14th at Barbes.

Is America Part of the World starts at 9 on Friday, December 10 with Tall Tall Trees, Brooklyn Qawwali Party at 10 and Nation Beat at 11 at Littlefield, 622 Degraw St. (3rd/4th Aves.) in Gowanus, Brooklyn, easy to get to from the F or R trains. Tickets are $13 at the door and will probably sell out: early arrival is advised.

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December 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Tall Tall Trees at the Postcrypt Coffeehouse, NYC 1/29/10

Tall Tall Trees didn’t play shit tonight. To be more precise, they didn’t play Shit, their funniest song – and they have many. If there’s one New York band that screams out SUMMER FESTIVAL, it’s Tall Tall Trees. On the coldest night of the year so far, they brought a sly, slinky midsummer cookout vibe to the comfy stone basement spot that if rumor is to be believed is threatened with extinction (stay tuned). Beyond the fact that it would be a shame – not to mention a considerable loss to the Columbia student community – if the makeshift club closed, it was especially nice to be able to see these guys play without having to peer over the shoulders of the usual hordes who come out to see them in Manhattan locations further south.

These guys’ sound is indelibly their own, part oldtimey blues/gospel revivalists, part bluegrass and part jam band. Bassist Ben Campbell played snaky, swaying lines while Matthias Kunzli stomped and pushed the band on a multicultural mix of percussion instruments, guitarist Kyle Senna and frontman/banjo player Mike Savino artfully and amusingly trading off licks. The one big jam moment of the night came early, a bubbling cauldron between the two on a blissful version of Spaceman, one of the more psychedelic numbers on the band’s debut album (very favorably reviewed here back in August). A new number,  the ragtime-inflected Walk of Shame, shamelessly chronicles the kind of stuff we do when we’ve had too much and we forget that we’re basically still at work.

“This is a traditional one,” Savino deadpanned, then led the band through another new song, Chocolate Jesus, a thoughtful digression on the kind of candy bar that even an Almond Joy can’t compare with. After a couple of easygoing, easy-to-like oldtime-flavored numbers, they wrapped up their too-brief set with a request, a fiery, incisive version of Sallie Mae. The album version is a smartly terse minor-key gospel-flavored song; live, the tale of the woman who left the poor guy with a house he couldn’t afford and a college loan he can’t pay resonated powerfully throughout the room full of undergrads, ending with a resounding boom as Kunzli smacked at his riq and practically knocked the little hand drum off its frame.

Tall Tall Trees play another even more incongruous small-room show at Banjo Jim’s at 5 (five) PM on Feb 5 for happy hour; it would make sense to say that you should get there early, which isn’t really much of an option unless you can sneak out of work somehow.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review – Tall Tall Trees

This is a bunch of New York jazz cats playing their own original take on country and bluegrass. It’s way better than that designation might imply. Banjoist/singer Mike Savino and drummer Mathias Kunzli comprise the rhythm section in innovative pan-Balkan string band Ljova & the Kontraband; guitarist Kyle Sanna arranged Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun for chamber orchestra, among other achievements, and bassist Ben Campbell plays with the Double Down Swing Band. In addition to the expert musicianship you would expect from a crew like this, Tall Tall Trees deliver funny, rustic original songs with an up-to-the minute satirical edge: these guys have a hair-trigger bullshit detector aimed straight at posers and status-grubbers.

Their best one is a truly universal anthem that anybody who’s ever worked for a living can relate to: “You don’t need this shit!” Savino pointedly reminds us. “In the middle’s the blues, and the end is the place you will likely be screwed.” There’s also the bluesy, rustic Appalachian-tinged The Ballad of Sallie Mae: the woman who done him wrong pressured him into signing on the dotted line, and now she’s got the house. And his student loan’s ninety days overdue. But all he can think of is the good old days. Similarly, Bubble Gum is an amusingly irreverent, banjo-spiced slap at commercialism: “Let me take a ride on the bottom of your shoes!”

The Spaceman in the song here is a fish out of water who just wants to go home – but if he can’t get off this planet, he’s willing to mate with an earthling. The songs are as diverse as the band members’ projects: among the rest of the tracks are a bouncy, sarcastic slide guitar boogie; a silly faux early 80s new wave ditty; a gently swaying, hypnotically swirling Stereolab-style number, and a hilarious, minutely detailed ballad about romancing the girl working the counter at the local Chinese takeout joint. It’s all a lot of fun: play this at a party and expect to see smiles and get plenty of “who are those guys?” Tall Tall Trees play Pete’s on Fri Aug 14 at 10.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment