Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Little Worlds Have More Creepy Fun with Bartok Etudes

It seems that the trio of Little Worlds – trombonist Rick Parker, guitarist Ryan Mackstaller and drummer Tim Kuhl – had so much fun reinventing Bartok etudes on their first album that they decided to do another one. This one, simply titled Book 2, picks up with even more menace than their debut, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering Parker’s membership in film noir jazz monsters Beninghove’s Hangmen. There are some genuinely breathtaking moments here. Both the new album and the first one are streaming at Little Worlds’ Bandcamp page.

Etude No. 79 opens as creepy baroque, with what sounds like an Omnichord synth (one assumes that Mackstaller is the one playing it with a surgical menace), anxious foghorn  trombone and jangly guitar methodically harmonizing a richly noir theme over Kuhl’s hypnotically tumbling vamp. It could be the Hangmen in particularly hypnotic mode. They reimagine Etude No. 113 as tricky, hypnotic mathrock with a brooding trombone lead and build to a dreampop swirl evocative of postrock bands like My Education or Mogwai, then bring it down to Kuhl’s lengthy outer-space rumble.

No. 84 is very catchy – it sounds like Wire or early XTC taking a stab at a surf groove before it falls apart.  On No. 45, desolate halfspeed Pipeline guitar, reverberating rattle and misterioso drums set the stage for Parker’s methodical, angst-fueled lines, leading up to long, echoey, morosely hypnotic interlude. They segue out of it with No. 59, Parker sarcastic and muted over its a steady, sardonically waltzing pace, Mackstaller’s plaintive minimialism building to an offcenter, haphazardly slashing anthem. The final Etude, No. 69 is the quietest and most pensive, trombone resonating over a terse guitar vamp accented by creepy rattle and then a fluttering, suspenseful crescendo from the drums.

Bartok wrote some of the creepiest music ever: these guys totally get it.  So what is this? Classical music? Not exactly. Jazz? You could call it that. Postrock? Same deal. Soundtrack music? Very possibly. Whatever you want to call it, it’s great fun. Fire up Bandcamp and give it a spin if you’re in a dark mood.

February 8, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Underground NYC Jazz Trio Reinvents Bartok

“Beyond category” definitely applies to the new album Book One by Little Worlds, the trio of trombonist Rick Parker (also of noir jazz sensation Beninghove’s Hangmen), guitarist Ryan Mackstaller and eclectic composer/drummer Tim Kuhl. Essentially, this is groove music, not what you might expect from genre-busting new arrangements of Bela Bartok etudes. At their Bandcamp site, where the album is streaming in its entirety, the trio dedicate it to “innovative reinterpretations of the Mikrokosmos collection,” the series of study pieces that Bartok finished in 1939. Others – notably Angela and Jennifer Chun a couple of years ago – have put their own individual spin on the collection, none as radically and bravely as Little Worlds.

The album tracks are as Bartok numbered them. No. 61 is basically a one-chord jam: Mackstaller’s guitar runs a riff that sounds straight out of indie rock as Parker carries the wistful tune over Kuhl’s trip-hop groove and it rises to an intricate web of melody. No. 81 is a brief two-minute exercise in precise counterpoint, Kuhl holding it to the straight and narrow as guitar and trombone diverge just a wee bit, Parker relaxing and somewhat amusingly telegraphing the ending. No. 35 is a triptych of sorts, twin drones morphing into stately harmonies and then a blend of atmospherics and warm melodicism. Beginning as a tone poem of squalling, psychedelically bluesy guitar in tandem with cumulo-nimbus trombone swirls as Kuhl ominously roams the perimeter, No. 48 is the most fascinating track here, Parker’s long, serioso lead eventually giving way and then weaving amidst Mackstaller’s distorted punk-classical lines. The trio close with the triumphant grand guignol of No. 80, done as a blustery march, both guitar and trombone blasting through an increasingly gritty haze of effects and then back with a vengeance. Who knew that etudes could be this much fun!

Would Bartok have approved of this? Without a doubt. Cross-pollination was his game, beginning with his immersion in folk and gypsy music a hundred years ago: if he was alive today, who knows, maybe he’d be writing for these guys. Or playing with them.

January 2, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tim Kuhl’s Doomsayer – A Real Change of Pace

As a bandleader, Brooklyn drummer Tim Kuhl has made a name for himself for accessible, free-spirited, guitar-based melodic jazz with some neat and unexpectedly extemporaneous twists and turns. His new album Doomsayer – streaming in its entirety at Kuhl’s bandcamp – is a radical departure for him, at least as far as recordings are concerned. It’s like what Kid A was for Radiohead – except that Kuhl’s previous albums as a bandleader, 2009’s Ghost, and King from the year before, are both good. Is this burp-and-fart music, as Maria Schneider derisively calls some free jazz? No. It’s not very accessible, but it’s full of interesting ideas and melody that pops out, sometimes at the last possible minute. Kuhl’s committed and remarkably cohesive supporting cast consists of mostly New York-based free jazz names including Michael Formanek on bass, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Frantz Loriot on viola and Jonathan Moritz on saxes.

It’s not clear why the tracks are color-coded – Red, Green, Gold, etc. A spaciously thumping drum solo kicks it off. Later on there are a couple of extremely cool tone poems of sorts, the group peeling back a bit from a central drone for a doppler effect of sorts. Except for a skronky-tinged solo on the next-to-last track and some gingerly ominous foreshadowing on the final number, Goldberger’s guitar is limited to providing oscillating loops or drones. Kuhl is the bad cop here and he has a great time with the role, particularly on the second cut, Gold, an almost sixteen-minute suite that hints at blues – it’s like a blues on Pluto, verrrrry slow – before a lull accented with creepy, creaky input from various bandmates, followed by a fox-in-the-henhouse routine that eventually works its way into a bracingly atonal swing shuffle.

Kuhl’s smoke-signal accents contrast potently with a wary shout or two from the sax or trombone, and Loriot’s suspensefully rustling viola, on the next track, titled Green. Formanek gets a couple of chances to play tersely yet rather majestically a bit later on. An eleven-minute excursion features some thoughtful conversing between Gerstein and Moritz followed eventually by an artfully layered, classically-tinged shift of textures from one voice to the next before they collapse in a crazed tumble. And the disembodied, ghostly voices against a guitar drone, in White, are a real treat. The album ends with what sounds like a long study in how to hint at coalescing with a circular rhythm: where it goes is the surprise. There’s also a vividly plaintive hidden track that recalls Kuhl’s earlier work, if a lot more rubato. Easy listening? Hardly. Good listening? Absolutely: it’ll get you from Bushwick to midtown and back again, literally if not figuratively, and it’ll keep you awake the whole time.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tim Kuhl – King

Drummers don’t usually get credit as bandleader even though in the purest sense of the word they are – the good ones anyway. So maybe for that reason drummer-led ensembles tend to be especially good. This one is no exception. Tim Kuhl’s second album takes the warm accessibility of his first cd Ghost and raises it a notch: as melodic, interesting jazz cds go, this is one of 2009’s more memorable efforts. Quite possibly this is enhanced by the presence of Jon Irabagon (winner of the most recent Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition) on tenor. He’s unpredictable in the best possible ways, often very deviously (especially in his work with Mostly Other People Do the Killing) – here, he alternates between straightforward, buoyant melody and frequent cloudbursts of bop. Guitarist Nir Felder‘s thoughtful, deliberately paced, contemplative phrasing is equally interesting and often generates some striking contrasts. Kuhl and bassist Aidan Carroll keep things moving forward tersely while trombonist Rick Parker layers alternately bright and murky shades.

The first couple of tracks segue into each other, Irabagon taking it toward bop, the guitars then creating what is in effect a horn chart with some deliciously interesting textures. Track three features Felder in characteristically expansive mood, Carroll echoing him aptly, followed by a stately, vintage 50s horn passage. Track four is darker, more pensive, guitar thick with sustain and reverb with an early 70s feel, Parker leading the procession as tension builds, hinting at rage but never going there.

Irabagon squeaks and shimmies over a low rumble, then the intriguing sixth track kicks in. Much of it is essentially two simultaneous pieces going in opposite directions, brought back together brightly by Irabagon. And then a lull, a sprightly Felder solo, into and then out of focus. The cd’s concluding cuts have Parker contributing both nebulous and bracing ambience, Felder chasing a Carroll rumble, some Bill Frisell-isms, a low, expressive Irabagon solo that literally jumps out of nowhere, a big, sunbaked blues guitar interlude and a surprisingly off-kilter ending. It would be wishful thinking to hope that someday jazz might reclaim its place as the western world’s default pop and dance music (which it was for decades), but this is the kind of jazz that could make a fan out of  just about everyone: it’s catchy, it’s mostly upbeat and the groove doesn’t quit. And you can see it live: the Tim Kuhl Group are at Zebulon on 9/15 at around 10.

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tim Kuhl – Ghost

If you’re familiar with the popular bar band the Izzys (who’ve been playing Saturday nights at Lakeside off and on for the better part of two years now) and wonder where they get that swinging Charlie Watts groove, that’s Tim Kuhl behind the drums. Kuhl also leads a first-class jazz sextet. This cd, Ghost, is their auspicious debut. It’s an impressively diverse collection of melodically and rhythmically captivating songs without words. Kuhl’s compositions are remarkably tuneful, and the crew he’s assembled: Mark Aanderud on piano; Nir Felder on electric guitar; JC Kuhl on saxes; Rick Parker on trombone and Jeff Reed on bass sink their teeth into them with gusto.

Predictably, the cd’s upbeat opening track Versus kicks off with a brief drum figure, anchored by soaring, tandem horns over vividly incisive piano and frenetic guitar runs. The title track is a beautiful song, even if it’s not particularly sepulchral, starting slowly with pensive electric guitar chords, in fact an indie rock chord progression, followed by buoyant horns. Eventually the piano comes in, comfortable and loungey, running down from the tinkling upper registers and back again. Then the trombone kicks in and the pace picks up before reverting to the original theme, the horns holding everything together. Dr. Doom builds over a spy theme in 9/4 on the piano as the guitar and horns mix and match and intermingle crazily. Nemesis reverts to a darkly thoughtful vibe, Aanderud’s coloristic piano matched by JC Kuhl’s balmy, ambient lines.

The tongue-in-cheek Eye of the Beholder begins with a drum solo, a strikingly terse fanfare on mostly the snare and the toms, the kind of thing you’d play if you were in a brick-lined room so as not to damage your ears or drive out the crowd with all the high frequencies bouncing off the walls. Likewise, Boogie Monsters of Swing is neither a boogie nor straight-up swing; instead, the rhythm section and piano get busy while the horns announce an action theme before jumping into the pandemonium. The cd concludes with a brief guitar fragment that might have fallen out onto the cutting room floor. Rating: four smacks upside the head with a drumstick – it’s not everyday that you hear original jazz as melodic or interesting as this. Kuhl’s next jazz gig is August 17 at 8 at the Lucky Cat with a new crew: stay tuned.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment