Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gypsy Treasures Unearth Some Buried Goods

Gypsy Treasures’ new album Buried Goods is one of those name-your-price deals up at bandcamp. It’s minutely layered, eerily reverberating psychedelic vamps that wouldn’t be out of place on an Electric Prunes album, or the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack, and they’re absolutely hypnotic. Aria Jalali, otherwise known as Railcars, accidentally rediscovered the album’s basic tracks stashed away in his loop pedal on a recent European tour, and realizing how good they were, decided to finish the project, which he’d begun six or seven years ago. He gets extra props for tagging this as “sample-free” – looks like he knows that the audience for this is serious purist stoner music fans.

Because these instrumentals are all built from loops, the catchy, vaguely Indian hooks run over and over again as bizarrely oscillating washes of sound move into and then out of the mix. The first track, Stray Dogs of Wroclaw, sets surfy Chicha Libre guitar over a simple bass hook and a million swirling feedback and reverb effects – the Ventures as done by Scratch Perry, maybe?

The second track, Four Horsemen was ostensibly recorded live: its distant, minimalistic Middle Eastern tinged menace reminds of Savage Republic. Tadpole Walks Home, true to its name, is a slippery, slinky groove pulsing along on a swooping fuzz bass lick and creepy, tinny pitch-bending guitar sonics. The last cut, Of Moorish Towns blends watery chorus-box guitars and gamelanesque effects over an echoey Godspeed You Black Emperor style dirgey backdrop. Good to see that along with the digital download, an analog version of the original 4-track recording is also available on cassette from Not Not Fun.

Advertisements

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Amazing “Neo Middle Eastern” Triplebill at Drom

That opening act Zikrayat – celebrating the release of their new album Cinematic – didn’t steal the show from the other bands on the “neo Middle Eastern dance party” bill Thursday night at Drom attests to how good they were. There are plenty of terrific Middle Eastern musicians in New York, including the New York Arabic Orchestra and the crew who make Alwan for the Arts their home base. Zikrayat (Arabic for “memories”) mine the haunting, plaintive, lushly beautiful world of golden-age Egyptian and Lebanese film music from the 40s to the 60s. It was hard to tell bandleader/violinist Sami Abu Shumays’ originals from the classics: the band sent a poignant, mysteriously slinky mood and maintained it all the way through their hourlong set. Alongside Shumays this time out were Apostolis Sideris on bass, Bridget Robbins on ney flute, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq and a first-class dumbek (goblet drum) player who used his one solo to mess with his bandmates, and then the crowd, and got the whole house laughing at themselves.

After a couple of undulating, hypnotic dance numbers with all kinds of interplay – between violin and buzuq, or violin and ney – they launched into “one of those quirky Abdel Wahab operatic pieces,” as Shumays called it, moving majestically from an ominous buzuq taqsim against stark bowed bass, to a dramatic theme that went doublespeed and then back again. Another Abdel Wahab piece swayed with a sensual bounce, a launching pad for a stinging buzuq solo and some soaring crescendos from Robbins’ flute. The Lights of Lebanon, said Shumays, was “unbelievably tricky,” which was an understatement: it was sort of a Middle Eastern Abbey Road, a mini-suite of good ideas that could have been fleshed out even more than they were, the best among them a low, intense violin solo delivered with brooding poignancy. They closed with a couple of mysterious numbers, artfully mixing up the time signature. They’re at Galapagos on 11/21 playing classic Mohammed Abdel Wahab belly dance pieces at 7 PM sharp.

Raquy and the Cavemen had a new cd of their own, Release the Green Lover, to celebrate; the crowd reacted vigorously to the long drum solos that they used to consume the early part of the show and then closed with. Raquy Danziger, when she’s not playing whirlwind tabla rhythms, excels at the kamancheh (the Iranian spike fiddle popularized by Kayhan Kalhor), which she played in tandem with eleven-string guitarist Liron Peled. His custom-made axe adds layers of lushness to the incisive sting of a Turkish saz. A handful of the violin/guitar pieces, accompanied by a percussionist on Peled’s “dumset” (a full drum kit made out of dumbeks for extra low oomph), were toweringly intense, blending the ornate feel of 70s art-rock with Middle Eastern tonalities, all sorts of overtones floating from the strings. The Mad Marionettes was aptly titled, and absolutely creepy, with brooding, astringent kamancheh and all kinds of dynamic shifts. The album’s title cut was surprisingly playful, almost goth, with a 5/4 dance interlude two steps from Stonehenge.

Copal, the headliners, also had the release of their hypnotically captivating new cd Into the Shadow Garden to celebrate. Violinist/composer Hannah Thiem, backed by an incisive cellist plus a terse five-string electric bassist and drummer who used a syndrum for a snare, quickly established an irresistible groove that finally succeeded in gettting the dance floor in motion, and kept it bouncing for the rest of the night. Even the group’s dancer, who looked at least six months pregnant, moved with a pulsing grace. Thiem’s darkly catchy melodies are deceptively simple, giving band the chance to ease in and out of the mix, dub style, trade off riffs or bring the groove down to just the violin or cello and drums. Ungaro, an upbeat, tarantella-flavored number gave Thiem the first of many incisive, crescendoing solo spots; the aptly titled Shadows took on a surprising variety of shades, compared to the dusky mystery of the album version, including a hypnotically reverberating dumbek-and-drums interlude. A brand-new, as-yet untitled number shifted into brighter tonalities until the cellist went off on a chilling, trill-laden solo. They also explored klezmer-tinged and then atmospheric territory, with the plaintive Ether (whose German lyrics depict a bereaved woman searching for her dead lover, whose presence she can feel but not see), before going back to long, snaky, slowly crescendoing jams.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Copal Creates a Haunting Global Dance Mix

Hypnotic string band Copal’s brand-new second album Into the Shadow Garden is for dancing in the dark. Alternately lush and stark, vibrant and mysterious, bouncy and sultry, their violin-fueled grooves mix elements of Middle Eastern, Celtic, Nordic and Mediterranean styles. Violinist Hannah Thiem leads the group alongside cellists Isabel Castellvi and Robin Ryczek, bassist Chris Brown, drummer Karl Grohmann and percussionist Engin Gunaydin (of the NY Gypsy All-Stars). Right off the bat, it starts hypnotically with a drone that gradually fades up – then the drums come in, then a plaintive, Middle Eastern-tinged violin melody and the first of Thiem’s many gripping, suspense-building solos that will recur throughout the album. About halfway through, it becomes clear that this is a one-chord jam. Eventually, a second violin voice is introduced; some terse harmonies follow over the slinky beat, then it fades down to just an oscillating drone, the dumbek drum and violin, and out gracefully from there. In a way, it reduces the essence of this band to its purest form. It’s music that sets a mood, gets your body moving and keeps it going – it’s awfully easy to get lost in this.

There are a couple of vocal tracks. Ether is a slow, dirgelike piece with a spoken-word lyric – in German – that builds to a fullscale string orchestra groove over almost a trip-hop beat and a trance-inducing bass pulse, and then fades down like the first number. Velvet begins with an austere fugue between the violin and cello and then begins to sway on the waves of a catchy descending progression. It builds intensely with dramatic cymbal crashes and a cello bassline, then ends cold when you’d least expect it.

There are three other long pieces here, all of them instrumentals. Ungaro is a playful, bouncy tarantella dance. Cuetara gets a brooding minor-key vamp going over a slinky Levantine-tinged groove, Thiem soaring over a lush bed of strings and stark, staccato cello accents. The album ends as it began with a majestic one-chord jam, the aptly titled Shadows, Thiem’s long Middle Eastern opening taqsim building slowly, picking up other textures along the way, taking a bit of a lull for another long solo and ending on a surprisingly jaunty note. Although pegged as electroacoustic, there isn’t much going on here that’s electro other than the occasional atmospheric keyboard part. Copal are a deliriously fun live band – they play the cd release for this album on Nov 4 at Drom, headlining at 10 PM on a killer triplebill with haunting Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat opening at 8 followed by Middle Eastern-flavored rockers Raquy & the Cavemen at 9.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thousands of One Hypnotize the Crowd at Nublu

You gotta love a band whose first gig was at a maximum security prison. Thousands of One weren’t inmates at the time, and what they do is legal – at least while Obama is in office. Last night at Nublu the reaction of the people in the crowd pretty much said it all – half of them were bobbing their heads, completely lost in the music. The rest were dancing. The band’s sound echoes and reverberates, bringing a hypnotic, psychedelic dub sensibility to funk, downtempo grooves and hip-hop, with tinges of roots reggae and Afrobeat. A couple of their early jams worked an oldschool 70s disco groove, drummer Joel Blizzard riding the snare and hi-hat behind the echoes of keyboardist Chad Lieberman’s Rhodes piano and Jake Roberts’ hypnotic, reverb-toned guitar vamps. A couple of others kicked off with darkly majestic, cinematic intros, like Dr. Dre or Busta Rhymes would do fifteen years ago – except that these were played on real instruments. Frontman Jhakeem Haltom delivered rapidfire but smoothly fluid, rhythmically dazzling, conscious and defiant hip-hop lyrics when he wasn’t singing, taking a long, trance-inducing conga solo or even playing flute on one long 70s-style soul jam that evoked Gil Scott-Heron’s Midnight Band at their most expansively mesmerizing. The band also brought along an extra alto sax player who doubled on vocals or percussion.

Bassist Brent Eva played a five-string bass with a low B string, delivering an extra cushion for the spine or the booty on the low end, a couple of times slamming out a series of fat, boomy chords as the band’s ten-minute-plus jams finally wound their way to a big crescendoing conclusion; other times, they’d fade down gracefully, a couple of times to trick endings that Lieberman or sax player Mark Wienand would pick up in a split-second and build to another big swell. Wienand’s soprano sax solo on a fast, rocksteady-tinged jam toward the end of their first set added a genuinely riveting undercurrent of unease. Building from a suspenseful Rhodes intro to a murky but catchy funk groove, the best song of the night was Ancestors, Roberts finally kicking out a brief, blistering funk-metal solo right before they finally wrapped it up. Hip-hop with a good live band is always inspiring to see; in this case, the band was as good or even better than the lyrics. Watch this space for future NYC dates.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mission: On Mars Mesmerizes the Gantries

Tuesday night at Gantry Plaza Park in Long Island City, Mission: On Mars transcended the crushing heat, playing a set that was as innovative as it was absolutely psychedelic, outlasting the sunset blazing down on the crowd gathered at the waterfront. Essentially, what they played could be described as live drum ‘n bass improvisations on classical Indian themes. Bandleader Neel Murgai plays sitar, which in this group serves as a sort of rhythm guitar instead of a prominent lead instrument (although he did take a handful of brief, tersely jangling solos). Alongside him was a terrific electric guitarist, a bassist who artfully managed to embellish the band’s extended one-chord vamps, propelled by a funky drummer. Several of their methodically, hypnotically swaying instrumentalists featured incisive solos by a guest mandolinist. Singer Kristin Hoffmann also joined them on a few numbers, belting with a sometimes bluesy intensity that contrasted strikingly with the more pensive, nuanced delivery she typically uses on her own material. Like Man or Astroman, they kicked off several of the numbers with tinny, prerecorded samples from what sounded like old sci-fi films, establishing the otherworldly vibe that would last the entire evening

Because of the presence of the sitar, the band rarely if ever change keys, which gives their jams an even more hypnotic feel. Some of them had a straight-up, slinky, trip-hop beat; others shifted between more tricky time signatures, a couple of them starting out funky and then morphing into a smoother, more sustained ambience, or vice versa. The guitarist moved from a jangle to a joyous roar on his thoughtfully paced solos, while the bass played very cool, minimalist passing tones against the central key. The best song of the night was one of the vocal numbers, Hoffmann wailing over an ominous, percussive, artsy new wave rock vamp that could have been a Siouxsie and the Banshees song circa 1983. Some of the lyrics were in English, some weren’t – as is the case at most outdoor shows like these, the vocals tended to get lost when the band picked up steam. Which wouldn’t have been the case if they’d been working the dance floor inside a club. There’s no band in town who sound remotely like these guys.

August 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Turkish Woodstock II, 7/3/10

Last year’s “Turkish Woodstock” was sold out practically before the show started: if you include the thousands who couldn’t get inside New York’s Central Park Summerstage arena, a safe guess is that there were about 20,000 people milling about. This year’s “Turkish Woodstock II” a.k.a. Istanbulive didn’t appear to reach peak capacity until well after 4 PM. Both 2009 and 2010 shows blended east and west, although the segues last year (the NY Gypsy All-Stars, clarinet legend Husnu Senlendirici, Painted on Water and MFO, with a cameo from the Brooklyn Funk Essentials) were more seamless. But this year’s still made for a good, eclectic bill. The concert began with a single foreboding, somewhat funereal traditional song by Emrah Kanisicak, backed by oud, percussion, bass, drums and accordion. Chanteuse Sukriye Tutkun then took over centerstage. She has a lovely voice, exemplary range and a completely casual, warmly familiar stage presence. It was as if she was singing in her living room (ok, not her living room, but maybe from her fire escape – it was a brutally hot afternoon). Calmly and methodically, she ran through a selection of understated, Middle Eastern-tinged ballads and a slinky pop song that evoked Henry Mancini. The songs were all seemingly Mancini-era: the crowd knew most of them; a few sang along.

Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions – Ersahin on tenor sax, Alp Ersonmez on electric bass, Turgut Bekoglu on drums and Izzet Kizil on percussion were next, a short, rewarding day’s journey into night. Ersahin, impresario of well-loved East Village jazz oasis Nublu – is at his best when he mines a nocturnal vibe, and he worked his way down. He’s all about melody – it wasn’t til the third song of his set that he worked any kind of ornamentation, in this case an evil little trill, into his playing. Ersonmez matched him, sometimes pedaling a note or, occasionally, a chord, for what felt like minutes on end while the percussion clattered hypnotically and Ersahin scoped out the territory. Chipper and cheery, he worked permutations on a series of catchy hooks much like JD Allen will do, keeping each piece to a comfortable four minutes or so. They got better and better as they went along, Ersahin introducing a sly, late-night, understatedly simple bluesy tinge. Ersonmez introduced one with a fast percussive line that mimicked an oud while Ersahin ran circles around a bouncy spy theme, followed by a trance-inducing percussion solo. They went out on a joyous note with the reggae-tinged Freedom, pulsing along with a wickedly catchy three-chord chorus. Anyone who misses the late, great Moisturizer should discover Ersahin: he has the same irrepressible, irresistibly playful sensibility.

By the time moody rock quartet Duman – Turkish for “smoke” – took the stage, the arena looked close to capacity. They got a lot more singalongs than Tutkun – the young crowd, restless to this point, were suddenly one with the music. Turkish lyrics aside, Duman have the same memorable jangly and sometimes chromatically tinged sound that’s been all the rage in Latin America since the days of popular Mexican rockers Caifanes. Add some terse Johnny Marr cross-string guitar work, with just a hint of surf, or sometimes riff-driven garage rock, and that’s their terrain. What was most impressive was that despite their monochrome sound, all the songs didn’t sound the same: Duman are not boring. One anthem began almost ghostly before its chorus exploded out of nowhere; another sounded like the Smiths’ What Difference Does It Make, through a glass darkly. Brooding verses gave way to upbeat, hook-driven choruses, and vice versa. The band’s two guitarists traded a few solos, including one that they might have learned back in the day when they might have been playing Hotel California for their friends. There was another act scheduled to play afterward, but with a completely different demographic and a pop feel as different from this as Ersahin, and Tutkun before him, had been.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Paban Das Baul – Music of the Honey Gatherers

South Indian singer Paban Das Baul has collaborated extensively with a number of western musicians and disco producers. This new album is a return to his roots, a collection of both original and centuries-old Baul music, a tradition he was initiated into at age fourteen. The Bauls are wandering minstrels with a mystical streak. Traveling the Ganges plains, they perform a spiritual purification ritual known as “honey gathering:” they play, the villagers’ spirits are raised, the musicians are given rice and beans. “Baul” is Bengali for “crazy” or “possessed,” but from the music, it’s clear that if there any spirits at work here, they are gentle and benign ones. As befits a tribe given to heavy ganja smoking, these songs go on for minutes on end. Western songwriters from Nick Drake to Devendra Banhart have drawn on elements of this stuff – you could say that it’s the original freak-folk. Paban Das Baul sings with a kindly, reflective delivery, more introspective than ecstatic, which makes sense in that he’s often encouraging the listener to look within.

The songs share a languid, swaying rhythm, the melody carried by the vocals, dotara (a five-string lute) and sometimes jews harp; often the lute doubles the vocal line. The lute playing is repetitive and ruminative with subtle changes, occasionally picking up with an incisive phrase: late 60s Jerry Garcia in paticularly pensive mode comes to mind. When the melody goes into the upper registers, the instrument resembles a mandolin. There are subtle modal shifts, but no chord changes per se. The percussion rattles along, sometimes minimalistically, once in awhile insistent. The music doesn’t seem to make any attempt to mirror the lyrics, in the case of either sadness (a breakup song), weariness (a traveler’s tale) or joy (a tribute to wanderlust and all its metaphorical implications). It’s pretty much what you would expect in late summer on the outskirts of Calcutta, heavy-lidded and absolutely hypnotic. It’s out now from World Music Network.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Rare Elements – Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Either you’re going to like this album or you’re going to hate it. If you’ve been a fan of Middle Eastern pop from the last 25 years, you may not notice or care that the drum machine is such a prominent feature here. If, however, you are a purist when it comes to rhythm, you are advised to seek out the great Turkish-American composer Omar Faruk Tekbilek‘s back catalog, a vast and frequently fertile repertoire of hypnotic, otherworldly, virtuosic sufi-influenced songs and instrumentals. The title of this new cd is somewhat confusing: it’s the second in the Rare Elements series of disco remixes of world music artists (the first was sarangi player/singer Ustad Sultan Khan). On one level, setting Tekbilek’s compositions to a monotonous computerized thump makes about as much sense as a disco remix of Muddy Waters or Mingus. Yet you could also consider this a sneak attack on the dancefloor (and maybe Tekbilek’s attempt to connect with a broader audience on his home turf). So if this album succeeds at scoring a few hits in the Levant or turning a few club kids here toward the East, it will have been worth the effort. What’s lost, of course, is the hip-tugging swing and groove of the real drums and percussion you’ll find on Tekbilek’s more upbeat songs from previous albums. To his infinite credit, the compositions and his soulful, passionate playing on a grand total of twelve instruments here including ney flute, baglama lute, oud and zurna oboe are so strong that they transcend most every attempt to commercialize them (sadly, as expected, the remixers here get top billing over the composer).

The album’s second cut sets a nicely hypnotic, slinky snakecharmer riff to a mechanically swaying trip-hop beat. The third track has a late 80s Lebanese habibi pop feel, layers of synth taking the place of the acoustic unstruments.  The next cut injects a pounding trip-hop beat beneath starkly beautiful, spiky baglama and expressive flute; after that, more trip-hop, this time in the vein of a tv spy show theme, ominous baglama reprocessed eerily with swooshy synth. Tekbilek doesn’t even come in til five minutes into the seventh track, but it’s worth the wait. Finally, on the next cut, the music gets centerstage over the computer and it is absolutely luscious, a classic Levantine dance motif with swirling flute and darkly clanking baglama – and then it morphs into trip-hop.

There are a couple of numbers that are so heavily computerized that it’s impossible to tell if there’s any Tekbilek on them. And there’s one LOL-funny spot where the remixer cut and pasted some fast sixteenth notes in the same way that hip-hop dj’s mimic the sound of a skipping record – they could have plugged Tekbilek in and he could have simply played the riff in probably half the time it took to do it on the computer, and with soul. But can we do that? No. We have to be effete about it. We have to make it sound fake and cheesy instead. But even with that, Tekbilek still rises clear and ecstatic above the din. This also makes a good late-night wind-down cd: the beauty in the samples of Tekbilek’s music will soothe you as the drum machine puts you to sleep.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Sruti Ram & Ishwari at Jivamukti Yoga School, NYC 1/28/09

Sruti Ram sings, plays harmonium and percussion; Ishwari plays acoustic guitar and sings, the two taking turns with what were essentially lead vocals throughout their long, practically two-hour show. Sruti Ram & Ishwari’s new cd Fire of Devotion features a wide, assorted cast of musicians; at this show, the duo were augmented by two percussionists and the audience. Many seated in the spacious upstairs room knew the words (a lyric sheet handed out by school staff helped), clapping and singing along. What Sruti Ram & Ishwari play is a new spin on kirtan music, in this case ancient Hindu yoga chants set to catchy pop melodies. Like Christian gospel music or qawwali,  kirtan (the word is Sanskrit for “repeat” and translates as “worship service”) is an integral, functional part of the service, in this case a yoga ceremony; unsurprisingly, this show was much a workshop in how to sing along to this stuff as it was a concert.

 

The songs were as catchy as they were hypnotic, going on for at least ten minutes at a clip, rising and falling, often using a verse/chorus pattern to establish the dynamics, the singers’ beautiful harmonies frequently aided by the audience. A couple of the melodies evoked rustic 70s British folk-rock in the vein of Fairport Convention. Another song took a happy, catchy garage rock chord progression, running it over and over again until it was practically trance-inducing. Yet another one, dedicated to an earth mother figure, had a strikingly dark, austere melody that would have been completely at home on a folk-rock record from the 60s. The overall effect ranged from rousing and inspired to inescapably soothing. Testament to the healing power of some types of music, at least one person (guess who) arrived with a barking lower back but left the performance pain-free. If the show is any indication, the new cd could be enjoyed not only by experienced yoga practitioners but also by anyone who likes pleasant, melodically attractive, late-night sleepy-time music. Sruti Ram & Ishwari are back at Jivamukti on 2/25; if the reaction of the audience at this show is any indication, you can expect an experience that could range from peaceful and relaxing to completely blissed-out, depending on your frame of mind.    

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment