Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

One of Brooklyn’s Best Jazz Acts Returns to Playing Live with a Vengeance

One of the first bands at the very front of the pack getting busy on the live circuit again is fronted by the guy who might be the best guitarist in Brooklyn. From the mid to late teens, Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized played a careening, highly improvisational but also wickedly tuneful blend of pastoral jazz and psychedelia, with frequent detours into the noir. Their distinctively drifting live album of Twin Peaks themes is an obscure treasure from the peak era of the Barbes scene. The group survived their bandleader’s brush with death (this was long before any so-called pandemic) and have emerged seemingly more energized than ever. Csatari didn’t let all the downtime during the past fifteen months’ lockdown go to waste: he wrote three albums worth of songs. He calls it the Placebo Trilogy, and it’s streaming at Bandcamp.

Their next show is June 26 at 8 PM at the new San Pedro Inn, 320 Van Brunt St. (corner of Pioneer) in Red Hook. You could take the B61 bus but if you’re up for getting some exercise, take the F to Carroll, get off at the front of the Brooklyn-bound train and walk it. Nobody at this blog has been to the venue yet but it gets high marks from those who have.

All three records are Csatari solo acoustic, often played through a tremolo effect. The first one, Placedo-Niche has a couple of numbers with a distantly Elliott Smith-tinged, hazily bucolic feel, the first steadier, the second more spare and starry. Csatari packs more jaunty flash and enigmatic strum into D’art in less than a minute thirty than most artists can in twice as much time: one suspects that this miniature, like everything else here, was conceived as a stepping-off point for soloing.

Morton Swing is an increasingly modernized take on a charmingly oldtimey melody. And Extra could be a great lost Grateful Dead theme – who cares if this singalong doesn’t have lyrics.

The second record, Placebo-ish begins with Fresh Scrabble, Csatari’s gritty, nebulous chords around a long, catchy, descending blues riff. As it unwinds, he mingles the same kind of finger-crunching chords into a southern soul-tinged pattern, explores a moody Synchronicity-era Police-style anthem, then sends a similarly brooding variation through a funhouse mirror. The most John Fahey-influenced number here is titled Sad-Joy, both emotions on the muted side.

The last album is Placebo-Transcendence. The gentle, summery ambience of the opening track, Valentino, suddenly grows frenetic. Sugar Baby vamps along, warm and hypnotic. The wryly titled Civilized is…well…exactly that: it sounds like Wilco. The funniest song title (Csatari is full of them) is Silicone Transcendence (Tryin’ to Transcend), the closest thing to Twin Peaks here.

There isn’t a jazz guitarist alive who gets as much mileage out of a chord-based approach than Csatari, and there aren’t many people writing tunes as hummable as these in any style of music. Yet they tease the ears at the same time. If you want to learn how to write using implied melody, there isn’t a better place to start than these records.

June 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Long Overdue New Album From Tom Csatari’s Drifting, Haunting, Maddening, Defiantly Individualistic Uncivilized Big Band

Back in 2016, this blog characterized guitarist Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized as a “tectonically shifting ten-piece ‘drone-jazz orchestra.’“ They earned a glowing New York Times review for a show at a short-lived Bushwick strip club. That gig also earned them a listing here on what was then a monthly concert calendar. Nobody from this blog ended up going.

The prolific bandleader’s compositions fall into a netherworld of film noir themes, bittersweet Bill Frisell pastoral jazz, the Grateful Dead at their dark early 80s peak and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. During the band’s long, mostly-monthly Barbes residency, they played several cover nights. Chico Hamilton night was shockingly trad and tight. It would have been fun to see what they did with John Fahey. The best of them all was Twin Peaks night in October 2017, where they played Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch film scores. The group’s transcendently haphazard take on that iconic noir repertoire was captured on the live album Uncivilized Plays Peaks.

They also released another, considerably shorter record as a salute to five separate music venues which were shuttered during the pandemic of gentrification that devastated this city right up until the lockdown. Their latest live album, Garden, is streaming at Bandcamp.

The title seems to stem (sorry, awful pun) from the fact that the tracklist matches the setlist they played at another killer show, outdoors at Pioneer Works in late summer 2018 with guest Jaimie Branch being her usual extrovert self on trumpet. There’s some of that show here along with material captured at various venues, including the Barbes residency.

Csatari’s arrangements span the sonic spectrum in a vast Gil Evans vein, Tristan Cooley’s upwardsly fluttering flute often engaged on the low end by Nick Jozwiak’s slinky bass and Casey Berman’s solid bass clarinet. A series of fleeting modal interludes separate the individual themes here, many of which are barely a minute long: fades and splices are usually subtle but inevitably obvious. Colorful, imperturbable drummer Rachel Housle is the Casey Jones who manages to keep this ramshackle train on the rails – barely.

Levon Henry’s alto sax bubbles and sails alongside Luther Wong’s trumpet, Dominick Mekky’s transistor organ ranging from spacy ambience to ripples and washes. Csatari tends to fling low-key but persistently uneasy chordlets and jangly riffs into the ether, Julian Cubillos typically carrying the harder-edged guitar lines, although the two sometimes switch roles.

Henry provides shivery ambience in a brief portion of Pink Room, from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. They segue into a starry, pulsing take of Csatari’s Melted Candy and soon edge their way to a slowly coalescing, genuinely joyous crescendo in the Twin Peaks title theme. You might think that joy would be completely out of place in that context but it isn’t.

Csatari’s Rowlings – in several parts – makes an optimistic, soul-infused segue. Likewise, the take of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock rises from a brief, broodingly sway to a triumphant country-soul anthem. The coda is Evil, deviously quoting at length from Paul McCartney: if we ever get out of here!

If this is the last album the band ever release – and it could be, since the lockdowners are hell-bent on destroying music and the arts – they went out with a bang. On the other hand, if we destroy the lockdowners, music like this will flourish. It’s a no-brainer: Microsoft, or Tom Csatari’s Unciviiized. At this point in history, we can’t have both.

Be aware that you need to make a playlist out of this to enjoy it as a full-length album. Otherwise, constantly having to reach for the play button in between these often very short tracks is like driving a loaded tractor-trailer along a steep mountain road, distracted by the need to double-clutch and downshift.

November 30, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epic Lynchian Jazz at Barbes Last Night

Covering music as iconic as the Twin Peaks soundtrack is playing with fire. Last night at Barbes, it was as if guitarist Tom Csatari said, “Fire walk with me!” and his nine-piece band Uncivilized could’t wait to follow him into the flames. It was less an inferno than the slowly gathering menace of a prairie burn – Angelo Badalementi’s David Lynch film scores are all about suspense and distant dread. And it was an awful lot of fun to find out just where this unpredictable crew would take those themes.

They opened with the Twin Peaks title theme. From the first few lingering notes of Csatari’s guitar, it was obvious that they weren’t going to play it completely straight-up, considering that he was already staking out territory around the famous, ominous, two-note opening riff. The genius of Badalaenti’s score is that he uses very simple ideas for his variations for all the femme fatales, wolves in sheeps’ clothing and resolute boy scout detectives. If only for a second, any of them could be pure evil. In that sense, the music perfectly matches Lynch’s esthetic.

Yet as much further out as Csatari and the band took this material, they also stuck pretty closely to the melody and the changes. This was hardly generic postbop jazz with halfhearted alllusions to the tunes and solos around the horn.

And Uncivilized are the least generic jazz group in New York. One of Csatari’s favorite devices is to swing and sway his way up to a big crescendo where the four-horn frontline can shiver and flurry, more or less – sometimes a lot less – in unison. They did that here a lot, as well as messing up the rhythm a little with a couple of what sounded like momentary free interludes over drummer Rachel Housle’s floating swing.

There are some great players in this band, but she was the biggest hit with the crowd, as dynamic as she was subtle – and she’s very subtle. Starting out with a suspenseful, muted thud with her mallets, she muted her snare with a scarf, went to sticks and then brushes, using the trebliest parts of the kit for rat-a-tat riffs and hits in all the least expected places. Can anybody say “DownBeat Critics’ Poll Rising Star, 2017?”

Bassist Nick Jozwiak bobbed and bounced like a human slinky behind his upright, playing terse, rubbery rock riffs bolstered by the occasional looming chord. Guitarist Julian Cubillos shadowed Csatari with a subtlety to rival Housle, particularly when the bandleader was playing with a slide for a hint of extra deep-woods menace. Keyboardist Dominic Mekky sent starry electric piano wafting through the mist in lieu of Badalamenti’s big-sky string synth orchestration, while the horns – flutist Tristan Cooley, alto saxophonist Levon Henry, tenor saxophonist Kyle Wilson and bass clarinetist Casey Berman – built a fluttery, gauzy sheen.

They reached toward the macabre stripper tune inside The Bookhouse Boys, played a tantalizing, single haphazardly uneasy verse of Laura  Palmer’s theme and then found unexpected grit – and a Pink Panther – in Audrey Horne’s theme.

Singer Ivy Meissner joined the band to deliver Julee Cruise’s Nightingale as well as Questions in a World of Blue, opting for soul-infused plaintiveness rather than trying to be the girl at the very bottom of the well. Meissner also sang Shelby, a noir-tinged soul ballad from her excellent debut album from last year. In between, she suddenly disappeared: it turned out that she’d taken a seat on the floor amidst the band.

Additionally, Csatari led the group through a handful of his own enigmatically careening pastoral jazz numbers, including a couple of somewhat restrained “stomps.” Most of what this band plays sounds as if it’s completely improvised, but it’s likely that most of it is actually composed, testament to how fresh Csatari’s charts are. No voicing is ever in constant, traditional harmony with the rest of the group, which enhances the suspense as much as it it opens up the floor for more interesting conversations than most bands dream of starting.

Csatari’s next gig is with Meissner on Nov 13 at 7 PM at Footlight Bar in Ridgewood. And fans of Twin Peaks and deep noir should also check out Big Lazy, who play their monthly Friday night show at Barbes on Nov 3 at 10 PM.

October 30, 2017 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment