Who’s the funniest person in jazz? Wycliffe always knows when to go for the punchline. Jon Irabagon probably plays more musical jokes than anybody else, and Moppa Elliott is right there with him. Put those two together in Mostly Other People Do the Killing – who have a typically killer new album – and look out. Mary Halvorson can be devastatingly funny when she wants; ditto Brian Charette. Another guy with an endless supply of pretty hilarious ideas is Boston-based reedman Daniel Bennett, who has a characteristically devious new album, Sinking Houseboat Confusion streaming at Spotify. He and his long-running four-piece group with guitarist Nat Janoff, bassist Eddy Khaimovich and drummer Matthew Feick have a St. Paddy’s Day gig coming up at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood. Cover is $10, the club wasn’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum the last time this blog was in the house there, and if you must be out on March 17, this show should be amateur-free.
The album’s first track is a steady, motoring guitar theme, John Lizard Comes Home: Janoff’s deadpan purposefulness brings to mind Jon Lundbom in sardonically carefree mode. Bennett plays his usual alto sax and also flute on the second number, Andrew Variations, an upbeat, pastorally-tinged tune with a serpentine lattice of voices (and amusing electronic patches) akin to Tom Csatari’s most humorous work.
Bobby Brick Sent Me Daniel Bennett has a purposefully vamping, modal groove and a no-nonsense alto attack from the bandleader, in the same vein as JD Allen’s “jukebox jazz.” The title cut brings back the album’s opening motorik beat, endless success of growling, distorted rock guitar changes and some wry alto/flute multitracks. Bennett sticks with the flute on Paint the Fence, with its woozy guitar sonics and surrealistic Jethro Tull jazz vibe: fans of Prague jamband weirdos Jull Dajen will love this.
Doctor Duck Builds a Patio – gotta love those titles, huh? – is a sort of syncopated take on the opening number: again, it’s like Csatari, but even more surreal and a lot more shreddy. We Are OK! opens ominously, Bennett playing eerily rippling cimbalom-like lines on piano as the tune comes together, a series of echoey long-tone phrases over a steady rhythm and then a stampeding free-for-all.
Poet Michele Herman recites her wry Little Disappointments of Modern Life over Bennett’s solo alto waves and echoes. Then he switches to clarinet for Animals Discussing Life Changes, a waltz, the most cartoonish number here. The album winds up with a spacy, vertiginous, suspiciously blithe reprise of the title theme, Bennett back on alto and joined by Mark Cocheo on guitar.
Although this is fun, colorful music, Bennett has a serious side. He came down strongly on the side of the good guys in that recent social media kerfluffle where Robert Glasper alleged that women jazz fans (“Fine European women,” to be specific) hear with their lower extremities and don’t have the brains to understand solos.
Subtle Wit, Purposeful Mess, Enigmatic Tunefulness, Epic Stagger and a Barbes Show by Guitarist Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized
The cover photo of Tom Csatari‘s new vinyl album Melted Candy shows a golden retriever sitting on the curb, looking wistfully to the side. Straight ahead, across the street, urban folk art. Somebody’s taken the time to paint “ONE DAY we will PART” on what appears to be a jerry-rigged fence surrounding a construction site. Is this all-too-familiar tableau a commentary on the seemingly endless destruction of (relatively) affordable living spaces in this city? Or is it more grimly universal? From the music, played by the guitarist’s individualistic, genre-warping large ensemble, Uncivilized, it’s more complicated than that: all four tracks are instrumentals. You might get a better idea when the group brings their uneasy, distinctively tuneful, often purposefully messy yet psychedelically intricate sound – call it heavy pastoral jazz, maybe?- to Barbes on Dec 29 at 10 PM. Their most recent show there was back in August, the guitar-and-reed-fueled group slayed and the room was packed, so you might want to get there a little early.
The purpose of the ep – streaming at Tiny Montgomery Records – was to capture both large and small configurations of the group. The sarcastically opening miniature, Stupid Gurus takes its inspiration from an exasperated Paul Mann rant about the failure of underground art and any attempt to raise awareness about it. Mann’s primary argument concerns the incompatibility of art and commerce, echoed in the cloying, mealymouthed main melody as the instruments flutter and pull away.
Escarpments coalesces slowly out of jangly, rainy-day folk-tinged guitar as drummer Rachel Housle builds enigmatic ambience with her cymbals and hardware; from there, reeds and rhythm hover and huddle against an insistent post-Velvets vamp. Csatari is a master of implied melody, teasing you to think he’s playing more notes than he actually is, and this is a killer example, his slide guitar and Levon Henry’s bass clarinet leading a steady slide down into the murk. Is this a reference to edifices nobody wants?.
ScoJaVel® is supposed to be a mashup of John Scofield, Skip James and Maurice Ravel. It has more of a lingering 80s punk jazz feel, or like Mary Halvorson in offhandedly snide mode, the reeds flickering against Csatari’s reverbtoned swipes as drummer Coleman Bartels highfives him. Nick Jozwiak’s brisk, staccato cello pairs against Tristan Cooley’s brooding flute as the band strolls purposefully behind them on the final cut, BrandCore™, a tune they could have stretched out for five times as long as they did if they’d really wanted to. But then it wouldn’t have fit onto 7” vinyl. Just as they do onstage, these players build the sonic equivalent of a stone wall that looks like it could collapse any minute despite all outward appearances but never does, because everything is too tight. But demolition is always just as much of a possibility, which is as much fun live as you could possibly imagine. Other players on these songs include Michael Sachs on sax and clarinet, Casey Berman on sax and bass clarinet, Ben Katz on bass clarinet, Nick Jost on bass, Julian Cubillos and Sean Schuster-Craig on guitars and Dominic Mekky on organ, If you’re in town over the holidays and the F train is running, Barbes would be an awfully fun place to be on the 29th.
Guitarist Tom Csatari writes some of the most distinctive and thoughtfully compelling music of any composer in New York right now. With epic film soundtrack sweep, the improvisational flair of jazz and grey-sky postrock atmosphere, his work for both large and small groups transcends genre. It’s just good, and it can get dark when the band veers away from pastoral colors. Csatari is bringing his Uncivilized large ensemble to Barbes on March 16 at 8 PM. What they do is well capsulized by the epic track Escarpments (up at Soundcloud), hypnotic post-Velvets meets 70s blaxploitation soundtrack meets chamber noir.
Csatari’s most recent album is with that ensemble and shares its name with them; there are a few numbers from it up at Bandcamp. His most recent release to come over the transom here is Outro Waltz, streaming at his music page. It’s an ambitious double album, the first comprising original compositions, the second a live set of originals and covers recorded at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint. Csatari’s lineup on this one is only slightly less ornate: along with fellow guitarist Cam Kapoor, there’s Levon Henry on tenor sax and clarinets, Adriel Williams on violin, Ross Gallagher on bass and R.J. Miller on drums. Csatari distinguished himself from the legions of hipper-than-thou jazz guitarists out there in that he’s not afraid of melody and doesn’t feel constrained to play stereotypical jazz voicings or use complicated harmony where a simple major or minor, or a spare, gently emphatic phrase would make more of a point. Bill Frisell seems the most obvious influence, although Jimmy Giuffre and the Claudia Quintet also seems like reference points.
Guitars and percussion open the album with a gamelan-tinged, atmospheric miniature. The group follows that with New Boots, a gorgeously plaintive, trippily jangly pastorale, then Nolan, a purposeful wistful, swaying tone poem with tender sax and violin.
The epic Uncivilized playfully hints at bluegrass; Csatari’s slide guitar and the band’s tricky syncopation give it a desert rock feel transposed to the Eastern Seaboard that eventually decays into a surrealistic improvisation. The warily hazy El Morrisony opens with swirling guitars and bass clarinet over a steady pulsing shuffle spiced with stark violin.
Rawlings II veers between twinkling deep space pulsar sonics and a wistful folk theme, deconstructed. Blues for Robbie mashes up enigmatic 80s indie jangle, pensive Americana and an artfully disguised, Doorsy roadhouse groove. After Plastic shifts elegantly between a loping C&W-inspired theme and a loosely pulsing cinematic vamp. Likewise, Wharfs & Drifts, between angst-fueled guitars and jauntily shuffling violin in tandem with the rhythm section.
With Legion, the band builds fluttery unease over a slow spacerock vamp that the guitars eventually take waltzing. The last of the studio tracks is Sisters, slowly coalescing to a clustering, tensely bubbling interlude and then up toward rock anthemics before descending gracefully.
The live album opens with the band making a long, gospel-infused intro of sorts out of Lee Morgan’s Search for the New Land, gently decaying into lingering atmospherics. Thelonious Monk’s Light Blue shuffles coyly between swing and offcenter deconstruction, while Elliott Smith’s Speed Trials reverts to a wistful, swaying nocturnal vein, with an indian summer tenor sax solo by Kyle Wilson at the center. The first original here, Curationisms segues out of it with a return to jangly but purposefully strolling contemplation.
Kingsnoth blends lush sweep and amiably ambling interplay that hints at dixieland but doesn’t go there. Chris Weisman’s The Winning Blues again looks back toward Frisell, in lingering anthemic mode: by the end, it’s a straight-up rock song. Miller, who’s been giving all this a gently swaying groove, finally gets to cut loose as Water Park Rodeo slowly comes together out of starlit guitars to an ominously shivery theme and then an unexpected detour toward 70s psychedelic soul. Call this what you want – jazz, rock, film score – it’s music to get lost in.