Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jazz Passengers Are Excited to Be Reunited, No Joke

The Jazz Passengers’ new album Reunited – their first in over ten years – is as nonchalantly cool as anything they’ve ever released. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson’s cinematic compositions are as imagistic as ever, imbued with his signature wit, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes every bit the vintage soul crooner, both on the horn and the mic and vibraphonist Bill Ware his understatedly counterintuitive self. Violinist Sam Bardfeld, bassist Brad Jones, drummer E.J. Rodriguez and guitarist Marc Ribot channel their signature out-of-the-box arrangements, melodic pulse, slinky latin groove, and eclecticism, respectively. Much of this has an early 70s psychedelic feel, from the brief period where soul music, funk and jazz got to mingle unmolested before fusion came along and busted up the party.

Elvis Costello sings the opening track, Wind Walked By, a casually strolling noir-tinged New Depression era swing tune: “Shit out of luck, the American way.” Ware’s vibes eerily anchor Nathanson’s alto sax, Ribot’s guitar supplying a distant unease, swaying from nonchalant blues to off-center skronk on the outro. Seven, an instrumental works a hypnotic circular motif like an early 70s Herbie Hancock soundtrack number, Fowlkes and Ribot’s wah guitar building suspense up to a violin/guitar swirl. Fowlkes sings Button Up, a matter-of-fact soul/jazz groove, wah guitar mingling with Ware’s expansive, deadpan, bluesy cascades. Thom Yorke’s The National Anthem trades midnight Heathrow airport corridor atmosphere for 4 AM Ninth Avenue Manhattan drama – with Ribot and then Bardfeld skronking and screeching behind the aplomb of the rest of the crew, it’s every bit as menacing as the original. The best single song on the album might be Tell Me (by Fowlkes/Nathanson, not the Glimmer Twins), dark latin soul morphing into a buoyant 6/8 ballad, the warmth of the trombone silhouetted against the plinking thicket where Ware and Bardfeld are hiding out.

They redo Spanish Harlem as laid-back organ-driven swing with an amusing Spanglish skit, Ware, Fowlkes and Rodriguez joined by a whole different crew including Russ Johnson on trumpet, Tanya Kalmanovitch on viola and Susi Hyldgaard on vocals. There are also two bonus live tracks with longtime collaborator Deborah Harry. Think of Me, a Brad Jones/David Cale composition is lusciously restrained Twin Peaks swing. And who would have thought that she’d sing this 1995 concert version of One Way or Another (redone here brilliantly as Brat Pack-era suite) better than the original – or for that matter that she’d be an even more captivating singer in 2010, as recent Blondie tours have triumphantly shown. The only miss on the album is Reunited (the Peaches and Herb elevator-pop monstrosity), which pulls plenty of laughs in concert but misses the mark here: garbage in, garbage out. You could call this cd the comeback of the year except that there’s nothing really for them to come back from other than a long absence – which is happily over now. Last month’s shows at the Jazz Standard saw them clearly psyched to be back in action again; hopefully there’ll be more of it.

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October 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Smoothe Moose Mixtape #3 – We Love Video Game Music

While you were hunched over the xbox, the mysterious Smoothe Moose crew were busy in their smoky Brooklyn lab concocting a soundtrack for your alternate-universe adventures that’s as cool as it is funny. What they’ve done is taken four video game themes, actually all of them from classics that were either arcade or Nintendo games back in the 80s, and recorded dub versions of them. What hits you right away is how good that music was, even if it was coming out of a tiny, cheesy mono gameboy speaker. Click the link above and get a free download.

A Boy and His Blob, by Smoothe Moose’s Cosmo D and Dr. Thunder, gets the avant garde treatment, with a cello. It goes all spacey when they bring in the phaser, then it’s all blips and bleeps again. Ghouls and Ghosts, by Big Words gets a funky guitar treatment with shuffling triphop drums. This is actually a great song – it would make great surf music. No surprise, considering it’s a Japanese game from 1988. Castlevania is the one here everybody knows: the version by Cosmo D’s Sauce is a sick cyborg gypsy dance with a bop jazz sax solo. The Metroid theme that wraps up the mixtape is just plain good jazz, transformed into what could be an echoey dub version of an early 70s Herbie Hancock theme from one of those 4 AM local channel movies. Amidst all the sonic mayhem, there are good solos from cello, sax and especially the guitar. It’s really funny listening to how ornate this is in contrast to the original game’s lo-fi graphics. As the crew states on the download page, “We love video game music. We hope you’ll listen and be transported back to a different time when the drinks were lemonade and the food was Dunkaroos. Enjoy!”

We’ve been late on picking up on these guys’ mixtapes in the past: we reviewed their first  just when they were getting ready to release their second one (also a free download), and by the time that one was out we were halfway into the hibernation mode that lasted until last month here. The one we missed is some serious, far-out dub, an ambitious, high-energy joint featuring the MK Groove Orchestra’s horn section plus the lush vocals of jazz chanteuse and Bjorkestra frontwoman Becca Stevens. There’s a pretty straight-up version of the Junior Byles classic Curly Locks, which is especially cool considering how crazy the guy is; a sultry Billie Holiday-dub version of We Three by Wayne “The Train” Hancock; a sort of Uptown Top Ranking version of the 80s Chaka Khan cheeseball Ain’t Nobody, and deep space dubs of a Don Carlos and a Thom Yorke song. Stoner heaven.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: My Pet Dragon at the Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn NY 2/8/10

My Pet Dragon opened their February residency at the Cameo Gallery with a fiery yet trance-inducing show including a considerable amount of new material. From their first few notes, they went for sweeping, epic grandeur, part 90s British anthem band, part shoegaze and whichever way they turned, completely psychedelic. Frontman/guitarist Todd Michaelsen’s voice functions as an instrument in the band rather than a distinct lead vocal over instrumentation. He’s got a range that would make Thom Yorke jealous, and uses the entirety of that range with an unselfconscious intensity. Harmony vocalist/dancer Reena Shah would judiciously pick her spots to echo or play off Michaelsen’s soaring wail when she wasn’t moving around her corner of the stage with a grace that was as trance-inducing as the music. Lead guitarist Anthony Rizzo layered precise, reverberating raindrops of melody when he wasn’t making a sonic Jackson Pollock behind the atmospheric washes and roars of Michaelsen’s guitar. Several of the songs would riff off a hypnotic two-chord vamp until the chorus would sail in, bright and catchy, sweeping the clouds away.

They opened with an insistent, creepy, Radiohead-inflected new one, Michaelsen running the lyric “with a minute to go,” over and over, mantra-like. There’s a remarkable social awareness to their lyrics, which really came to the forefront on New Nation, a hopeful post-apocalyptic duet between Michaelsen and Shah. Another new one, Yellow Brick Road was a study in unease, Rizzo bringing just a hint of a bluesy tinge to the pensiveness underlying the song’s sturdy, anthemic theme. A couple of other recent tunes swung and swayed, buoyed by bassist Mario Padron, taking advantage of the opportunity to emerge from his usual insistent pulse with some potently incisive runs up the scale as the verses would turn around. Another more recent one added subtle shades and shadows to a four-chord hook that wouldn’t be out of place in the Brian Jonestown Massacre catalog. Their last song – one of three brand-new ones they debuted tonight – became a mesmerizing, swirling echo chamber with the two guitars roaring full blast, the two singers rising wordlessly out of the morass, part exaltation and part scream.

The opening band were like a good ipod mix of b-sides – they have excellent taste. The end of their set included a Nashville gothic ballad, a ska-rock number like early No Doubt but with an edge, a song that sounded like Wire and another like Blur (or like bands who’ve ripped off those two groups, whose sound these guys were now recycling). My Pet Dragon are back here on the 15th and then the 27th at 10.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments