Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Smoothe Moose Summer 09 Mixtape

We’re a little – ok, a lot – behind the eightball with this one, considering that adventurous, innovative Tortoise-esque Brooklyn dub/jazz/new music collective Smoothe Moose are celebrating the release of their latest mixtape (one assumes the Fall 09 edition) tonight at Public Assembly. But this is worth checking out A) because it’s free and B) because their unique blend of chillout instrumentals and jazz-inflected dub is a lot of fun. And also because it’s a cover album that doesn’t suck. It opens with an instrumental of Chopped & Screwed, the T-Pain song, woozy and dubwise. Sax creeps in along with some cello, both of which get expansive and playful. This is about as far from T-Pain as Grover Washington Jr. or Mad Professor – both of who it resembles – and it makes a good psychedelic groove. Timbaland would approve.

The second track reworks Electric Feel by MGMT as fuzzy dub after a rote first verse, synthy layers oscillating into and out of the mix. And as an added bonus it doesn’t have the original’s awful, pretentious off-key vocals. Track three, Bam Bam Bam is the Sister Nancy dancehall hit, tastily beefed up and hypnotic with fluttery sax, pinging guitar and then some stark cello. It’s the closest thing to classic dub here  – at least before the sax goes nuts – and it would be the best except for the last track, a dub instro version of Sabbath’s War Pigs. Circuits bubbling like they’re about to short and start a fire, fuzz bass nimbly nailing Tony Iommi’s guitar hooks, it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. What a pleasant surprise –  a group that utilizes electronics that don’t suck the soul out of the music. Technology doesn’t always have to be the enemy. Download the individual tracks or the whole thing here for free here – and if you’re around tonight and in the mood to feed your brain, go see Smoothe Moose at Public Assembly at 9.

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September 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Couple Bars’ Worth of Sunday’s Bang on a Can Marathon

This year’s Bang on a Can Marathon promised to be one of the best ever, in terms of sheer talent if not ambience. Lately this sprawling festival has lacked the freewheeling, anarchic spirit of earlier years, but the performers on the bill just get better and better. The deck is typically stacked with the biggest name acts playing later, this year’s being a criminally good list of performers: Ars Nova Copenhagen playing one composer after another, pipa innovator Wu Man, Missy Mazzoli’s haunting ensemble Victoire, the astonishing string quartet Brooklyn Rider, Tortoise and of course the Bang on a Can All-Stars. But the afternoon’s acts were just as good. To those who might rail against the boomy acoustics and sterile ambience of the World Financial Center Winter Garden, it’s at least a lot easier to negotiate than some of the other spaces BOAC has used.

Cognoscenti who were there at the opening bell raved about Andy Akiho’s psychedelic piece, Alloy, played by the Foundry Steel Pan Ensemble. BOAC co-founder Michael Gordon’s Trance, played by the jazz orchestra SIGNAL, went on for almost an hour. Some said for too long, but to these ears the tension of the band in lockstep with a series of looped vocal fragments and drum machine served well to illustrate a struggle for freedom. They went up, then down, running the same phrase much as the loop they kept in step with, finally crescendoing as the loop faded and disappeared, the band adding a sense of triumph while maintaining the tense, metronomic feel of the first 45 minutes or so. It was very redemptive: man vs. machine, man finally winning out.

Guitar quartet DITHER, augmented by seven ringers on a mix of Fenders and Gibsons did one of Eric km Clark’s deprivation pieces, each guitarist given earplugs and headphones so as to deliberately throw off their timing (doesn’t work: we’re used to bad monitor mixes, being unable to hear a thing onstage, feeling for the drums and playing what’s in our fingers!). Echoes swirling around underneath the big skylight, the effect was akin to a church organ piece, maybe something especially weird from the Jehan Alain songbook with a lot of echo. It ended cold with a single guitarist tossing off a playfully tongue-in-cheek, random metal phrase.

The Todd Reynolds Quartet followed with Meredith Monk’s lone string quartet, Stringsongs, in four bracingly captivating sections. The first, Cliff Light was a hypnotically polyrhythmic, astringent dance, introducing a stillness at the end that carried over to the second part, Tendrils, austere and plaintive but growing warmer and prettier, brief phrases flowing in and out of the arrangement, often repeating. Part three, Obsidian was more dawn than darkness; Phantom Strings, the final segment was practically a live loop, its circular motifs growing more insistent and percussive, the group seizing every dynamic inch the score would allow them.

The daylight hours’ highlight was, of course, Bill Frisell. The preeminent jazz guitarist of our time turned in a characteristically thoughtful, deliberately paced, absolutely brilliantly constructed series of three solo pieces, the first one of his typical western themes spiced with harmonics and drenched in reverb, a welcoming, friendly, comfortable way to ease into what would quickly become more difficult terrain. The clouds came in quickly with his second instrumental, eerie and minimalistically noir. Finally, Frisell hit his distortion pedal and upped the ante, bending and twisting the notes, adding glissandos and hitting his loop pedal in places where he’d found one that would resonate beneath the methodically Gilmouresque menace. One of those loops made a sturdy underpinning for a brief segue into a bright, optimistic, latin-tinged theme that quickly morphed into a common 4-chord soul motif and it was then that Frisell pulled out a little shimmery vibrato to wind it up on a warmly optimistic note.

One of the maddening things about Bang on a Can is that somebody like Frisell will give you chills, and then the next act will leave you scowling and wondering why anyone on earth thinks they belong onstage. This time the culprits were Your Bad Self playing a trio of Ted Hearne compositions, the first a straight-up noir rock ballad in 6/8, the singer setting off a crazy, screaming crescendo on the second verse that lingered after they’d brought it down again. Too bad the best he could do was scream, because he was off-key and positively lame on the next two numbers, a fractured, frantic musette with a jazzy trumpet fanfare and a moodier tune. This is what happens when classically trained people who don’t know rock but think they do anyway try to incorporate it in their music. Or maybe they do, but they don’t know soul from affectation, at least when it comes to vocals. At least the band was good. After that, the UK’s Smith Quartet launched into a Kevin Volans piece with which they’re supposedly associated – too bad, because it didn’t leave a mark. Then it was time to go uptown. But all that was a small price to pay for a free set by Frisell, not to mention the early afternoon’s program.

Only one complaint: where were the kids? Most of the crowd was older than the performers. New music is for young people! Maybe because we don’t have money, we don’t get invited these days? For those missing out on the evening’s festivities, Feast of Music was there to provide some insight.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Makoto Nakura Plays Bach, Osada and Bunch at Trinity Church, NYC 2/21/08

Interpretation has never been more fresh than it was this afternoon, as Japanese expat marimba player Makoto Nakura played a fascinatingly imaginative, spectacularly virtuosic program of classical and modern works. Although Nakura didn’t seem to even break a sweat, the passion of his performance matched his precision. He began with his own arrangements of two etudes and then two preludes by Villa-Lobos. Playing the marimba or vibraphone requires equal amounts of athleticism and meticulous skill, and Nakura nailed it all, both during the baroque-inflected studies that seemingly served as a warmup, and the more complicated, lyrical two works that he followed with.

Next, he tackled a piece written for him by Japanese composer Moto Osada, entitled Sylvan Lay and Pastoral Air. From traditional Japanese mythology, it’s a narrative of confrontation and forgiveness involving a couple of medieval warriors, although there was absolutely nothing remotely antique about this difficult, tonally challenging, intensely cerebral work. There were some striking passages, including an ominously percussive series of tritones early on, and one particularly impressive, rapid run down the scale midway through, but this is a piece that requires repeated listening.

After that, Nakura played his own arrangement of Bach’s popular Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. This is one of those NPR Bach pieces, a well-known composition frequently heard around Christmastime during pledge drives, but Nakura made it all his own, from the sad tonalities of the adagio that opens the piece, to the interesting, Vivaldiesque “Siciliana” that serves as a third movement, to the rousing Presto that wraps it up. Following this with the Fugue from one of Bartok’s final compositions, the Solo Violin Sonata, was ambitious, but the move fell flat: as can happen in Bartok’s work from time to time, the piece is fussy and overworked, and the new arrangement did nothing to compensate for the lack of emotional compass.

To close the show, Nakura invited composer Kenji Bunch up to the mic to introduce his recent composition Triple Jump, also written for Nakura. Written specifically for the marimba, it’s an intriguing, smartly arranged three-part suite, the first evoking Chicago lounge-psychedelia instrumentalists Tortoise, the second being a thoughtful, somewhat pastoral evocation of stones skipping across a placid pond, the final being an impressively upbeat portrayal of muscle and sinew in action. A program like this might at first glance seem far better suited to something like the Next Wave Festival or an outsider jazz club like the Stone, but Trinity Church has incredible acoustics, the tones of the marimba bouncing around gorgeously, creating something of an organ effect especially when Nakura was using his soft mallets. Adventurous listeners got a real treat this afternoon. Three cheers for whoever booked this winter’s series here. And there wasn’t a single bus alarm blasting in from outside and disturbing the concert, either!

February 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, experimental music, Music, music, concert, New York City, NYC Live Music Calendar, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment