Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/3/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #545:

Cocktail Angst – Our Big Top Parade

Like Richard Cheese, New York band Cocktail Angst made fun of lounge music, but much more subtly. Frontwoman Toby Williams, keyboardist Jon Dryden, vibraphonist Tom Beckham, bassist Tim Luntzel and drummer John Mettam gave their songs period-perfect torchy 1950s latin jazz arrangements, then gently and expertly mocked them. This 2001 release is the better (or at least longer) of their two often pricelessly funny albums, much of it foreshadowing the considerably darker direction Beckham would take as a solo artist. It’s got the title track’s seedy circus milieu; the absolutely silly, over-the-top, Pineapples, a spoof of 50s “exotica;” Samba de Angst, a cynical look through the eyes of a gold-digging stripper; and Mindless, which reminds that the New York City subway was just as bad fifteen years ago as it is now. Last Tango in Vegas is actually a creepy blues lamenting the Disneyfication of the city: “Be wary of the great American dream/The Elk’s Club bids you all a good night.” With its big Henry Mancini-esque crescendos, Kama Sutra is even creepier. There’s also Bates Motel, a twisted noir vacation scenario and the blithe yet bitter Case of Cheap Goodnight along with a John Denver cover which is as hideously awful as the original, probably for a reason. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from cdbaby.

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August 3, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dina Rudeen’s Common Splendor is Uncommonly Splendid

Dina Rudeen is the missing link between Neko Case and Eartha Kitt. The way she slides up to a high note and then nails it triumphantly will give you shivers. Her songs draw you in, make you listen: they aren’t wordy or packed with innumerable chord changes, but they pack a wallop. With just a short verse and a catchy tune, Rudeen will paint a picture and then embellish it while the initial impact is still sinking in. Musically, she reaches back to the magical moment in the late 60s and early 70s when soul music collided with psychedelic rock; lyrically, she uses the metaphorically loaded, witty vernacular of the blues as a foundation for her own terse, literate style. Some of the songs on her new album The Common Splendor sound like what Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks could have been if he’d had a good band behind him; the rest runs the gamut from lush, nocturnal oldschool soul ballads, to jaunty, upbeat, Americana rock. Behind Rudeen’s nuanced vocals, Gary Langol plays keyboards and stringed instruments along with Tim Bright on electric guitars, Tim Luntzel on bass, Konrad Meissner on drums, Jordan MacLean on trumpet, the ubiquitously good Doug Wieselman on baritone sax and clarinet, Lawrence Zoernig on cello, bells and bowls, Smoota’s Dave Smith on trombone, Lars Jacobsen on tenor sax and Jake Engel of Lenny Molotov’s band on blues harp. The arrangements are exquisite, with tersely interwoven guitar and keyboard lines, and horn charts that punch in and then disappear, only to jump back in on a crescendo. This also happens to be the best-produced album of the year: it sounds like a vinyl record.

The opening track, Hittin’ the Town is a sly, ultimately triumphant tune about conquering inner demons, driven by a defiant horn chart over a vintage 50s Howlin Wolf shuffle beat:

I hit a dry spell
I hit a low note
I hit the deck
But missed the boat
I hit the top, cracked the jewel in my crown
When it hit me like a ton of bricks that’s when I hit the ground
But now I’m just hitting the town

The second cut, Steady the Plow slinks along on a low key gospel/blues shuffle, Rudeen’s sultry contralto contrasting with layers of reverberating lapsteel, piano and dobro moving through the mix – psychedelic Americana, 2011 style. Safe with Me, a southern soul tune, wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bettye Swann songbook circa 1967. The lush, gorgeously bittersweet, Rachelle Garniez-esque Yvette eulogizes a teenage party pal who died before her time, maybe because she pushed herself a little too hard (Rudeen doesn’t say, an example of how the ellipses here speak as loudly as the words). Hold Up the Night succinctly captures the “beautiful, unfolding sight” of a gritty wee hours street scene; Blue Bird, a bucolic tribute to the original songbird – or one of them – has more of Langol’s sweet steel work. And Prodigal One, another requiem, vividly memorializes a crazy neighborhood character who finally got on the Night Train and took it express all the way to the end.

Not everything here is quiet and pensive. There’s also some upbeat retro rock here, including the sultry Cadillac of Love and a couple of rockabilly numbers: Repeat Offender, with its Sun Records noir vibe, and Gray Pompadour, a tribute to an old guy who just won’t quit. There’s also the unselfconsciously joyous closing singalong, On My Way Back Home, namechecking a characteristically eclectic list of influences: Bowie, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, among others. Count this among one of the best releases of 2011 in any style of music. Watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Carol Lipnik’s M.O.T.H. Brings up the Lights

Gorgeously orchestrated, warm and often sultry, shapeshifting chanteuse Carol Lipnik’s latest album M.O.T.H. (meaning Matters of the Heart) is an unexpected treat from someone who’s made her name as a purveyor of brilliantly surreal, carnivalesque songs. As you would expect, those songs frequently create an atmosphere of menace; here, that menace still looms in places, but from a considerable distance. Love or hope are always portrayed as part of a dialectic with pain on the other end, especially on a handful of settings of Rumi poems. Behind Lipnik, this version of Spookarama includes her longtime collaborator, dark jazz piano genius Dred Scott (who also contributes other keys, bass, drums and guitar on one track) along with Jacob Lawson on violin, Tim Luntzel on bass and Jim Campilongo guesting on guitar on one track.

It opens on a bouncy, playfully seductive note with Firefly: “In my dream world, you’re my temple.” It goes from playful to dark and back again and then ends cold. With its dark tango pulse, Undine Unwitted is characteristically surreal – “When I was a mermaid, I tried to pull you underwater, but you became the water” – and grows to a lush grandeur. The following track, told from the point of view of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, offers a perspective that’s genuinely poignant rather than camp, an outsider anthem if there ever was one and a showcase for the upper registers of Lipnik’s breathtaking four-octave range.

With the first of the Rumi lyrics, Poison Flower sets uneasily psychedelic layers of vocals over a wary violin waltz, a vivid portrayal of temptation and desire. The long, psychedelic title track alternates hypnotic ambience with a big, stomping, hard-rocking chorus; the following Rumi-themed number sways with echoes of 60s psychedelic folk-rock. Based on a Laura Gilpin poem, The Two Headed Calf presents another sympathetic view of a freak: he may be facing imminent death and then possibly several posthumous lifetimes in a museum, but for now he’s looking at the stars, and he sees twice as many as we do. Michael Hurley’s Werewolf (famously covered by Cat Power) sticks closer to the original, done with a menacing sway and some deliciously noir, twangy Campilongo guitar. Spirits Be Kind to Me, written by Tom Ward, is darkly bouncing and stagy: Lipnik keeps the drama understated, making it more of an invocation than a plea. The album winds up on a gracefully majestic note with Love Dogs, based on yet another Rumi poem: “Your pure sadness that longs for love is the secret cup.” Count this among the most stunning releases of 2011. Lipnik plays a weeklong stand at PS 122 from April 15 through the 22nd with another extraordinary singer, John Kelly: their new collaboration explores the visions of a critically injured trapeze artist who in order to escape his pain imagines himself entering the world of Caravaggio’s paintings.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jenny Scheinman – Crossing the Field

A delightful, bracing cd for cool autumn nights when it just feels so good to be alive. Scheinman may be best known as a jazz player and composer, but this cd is a multistylistic smorgasbord of instrumentals with elements of classical, rock, film soundtracks and ragtime as well. The band here is is an all-star cast of like-minded envelope-pushing types: Ron Miles on cornet; Doug Wieselman on clarinet; a dream-team rhythm section of Tim Luntzel on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums; Jason Moran on piano; Bill Frisell on guitar and many string players including the members of the ambitious quartet Brooklyn Rider. Scheinman is a master of many moods, and she packs a bunch in here. This may be a fun album at heart, but there’s an awfully lot going on and it’s all good.

 

The album opens with Born Into This, airy and ambient with shades of Jean-Luc Ponty but stark and somewhat rustic, absent any 70s fusion clichés. It builds to a mighty crescendo at the end. I Heart Eye Patch is breezy and playful over a tongue-in-cheek vaudeville beat with a characteristically jaunty yet comfortable Frisell solo. An upbeat piano intro kicks off the aptly titled That’s Delight, eventually joined by the violin.  Ana Eco begins apprehensive and ethereal and grows simply sad and wary – it’s a beautiful song.

 

A showcase for Moran, Hard Sole Shoe bounces along on an almost martial groove spiked with guitar accents until midway through when the horns take over for the piano and the baton is passed to Wieselman…and suddenly it’s floating along comfortably among the clouds. Einsamaller could be a Shostakovich horror movie score,  atmospheric layers of strings building ominously until they’re joined by the horns. It’s a two-part piece, the second opening on a lighter note but getting dark quickly. The not-quite Awful Sad is a pensive ragtime song for violin and piano; Processional, by contrast, is very sad, a slow piano-and-guitar ballad that gets eerier as it goes along, Frisell adding his trademark, bell-like reverb guitar

 

The most cinematic of the cuts here, The Careeners is a boisterous chase sequence. Three Bits And A Horse is brief and somewhat skeletal, its cornet intro building as Frisell kicks around the melody. A Peter Tosh-inflected melody to a staggered reggae beat with some intriguing tempo shifts, Song For Sidiki sends Scheinman flying over the guitar and rhythm section. Then Frisell and the cornet take over. The cd concludes with the thoughtful, ambient Ripples In The Aquifer and the warm open-skies tune Old Brooklyn. This is foremost a treat for jazz fans, but lush with melody that will get pretty much anybody humming along. One of the best albums of 2008, no question. Scheinman’s debut vocal cd, a somewhat rustic collection of Americana songs reviewed here recently, is also worth checking out. The Jenny Scheinman Quartet (featuring Moran, Greg Cohen and Rudy Royston) begins a six-night stand at the Village Vanguard on Oct 28.

October 20, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Matt Munisteri’s Brock Mumford at Pier One, NYC 7/22/07

Nothing was going to ruin this evening. Not the horrible train ride that unexpectedly lasted almost as long as the band’s first set. Not the small committee of yuppie protozoa in training pants, running around screaming while the band played. Not the yuppie woman (or guy) upwind, drenched in asphyxiating cardamom cologne. Not the gay couple with the six-inch mutt or marsupial or whatever it was that wouldn’t stop yapping. Not the loud woman and her even louder foreign friend seated to the rear, discussing the minutiae of the new mortgage she hoped to qualify for (at that price, honey, you’re being screwed). It was 70 degrees with a steady breeze and no humidity, the sky grey, streaked with radiant pink as dusk slowly settled in. If anyone is alive to read this 20 years from now, let it be known there was such an unthinkably beautiful late afternoon in Manhattan in the dead of July, 2007. And Matt Munisteri’s Brock Mumford was playing.

Munisteri is an A-list jazz guitarist with a list of A-list credits a mile long. This unit, which criminally only gets together a couple of times a year these days, is his chance to show off his songwriting chops. Munisteri is the wickedly literate jazzcat auteur that Elvis Costello’s always wanted to be, as witty and subtle a wordsmith as a tunesmith. And Will Friedwald, author of the pretty definitive book Jazz Singing is in Munisteri’s corner as well: in his world, wit and subtlety extend to vocals as well. Tonight the supporting cast included his usual sparring partners, the amazingly inventive Will Holshouser (who took most of the solos) on accordion, and Jon Kellso on trumpet, plus excellent upright bassist Tim Luntzel.

They ended their first set with the smoothly evocative When We’re Alone: “This song was meant to be played outdoors, the kind of thing I can usually only do at a cheeseball wedding,” Munisteri told the crowd, and in this upper Westside Woody Allen world of penthouse sophistication, real or imagined, it was an apt choice.

After a short break, they began their second set with the old standard Lazybones, Munisteri solo on guitar, then rejoined by the band on Honey on the Moon, featuring a sweet, bluesy Holshouser solo. Munisteri dedicated the next song to those who’d been displaced by luxury highrises, and anyone building luxury highrises as well. He looked out at the crowd, and the apartment complex at 68th St. towering overhead: “I see Trump,” and then pointing at the rusting hulk of an elevator at the adjacent pier, “And I see dump. I don’t know which I like more…actually as a sixth-generation Brooklynite I do know which I like more and I’m not telling you…since Trump may be part of the reason we’re here tonight.” Then they launched into his original composition This Funny World: “This funny world is making fun of you,” which as Munisteri pointed out could cut any number of ways.

Next, they did the playful, amusing Picciaridu, a track from Brock Mumford’s album, about a young Italian girl on the Lower East Side just about to hit puberty and discover what hellraising is all about. On the following tune, How Can You Face Me Now Munisteri and Kellso carried on a jaunty guitar/trumpet conversation for what sounded like a whole verse before the band kicked in. Let’s Do Something Bad, which is as close to a signature song as Munisteri has, was perfect: it’s a wickedly literate, tongue-in-cheek number about cheating. Playing with a mute, Kellso took an aptly understated, smoothly seductive solo to match the lyrics.

Finally, on the next-to-last song of the night, Munisteri took an all-too-brief, soulful guitar solo: it’s ironic that his own project gives him less of a chance to show off his monster chops than the other units he plays with (notably Rachelle Garniez’ brilliant band). But this one’s all about the songwriting, which is a treat in itself. They closed with the obscure Bing Crosby song T’ain’t So: Holshouser took a long solo and built to a darkly bluesy crescendo while Munisteri shadowed him, ominously voicing the chorus chord changes low on the fretboard. It says something about this band that they could find such rich, troubling complexity in an otherwise long-forgotten old pop song.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what the band name may mean, Brock Mumford is the man widely credited for being the first jazz guitarist.

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