Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Thunderball Gives You a 12 Mile High

With a nod and a wink to Isaac Hayes, Gamble and Huff, Manfred Hubler (the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrackmeister) and Herbie Hancock circa 1971, Thunderball’s latest album 12 Mile High is blissfully over-the-top psychedelic chillout music. A lot of it, especially toward the end of the album, is trip-hop; if you like it slow and slinky, you can dance to this. There’s some bhangra, plenty of funk, a little disco, some spacey dub and a lot of cinematics. Each of the dozen instrumentals here is a mini-movie, many of them basically bedroom scenes through a thick ganja haze.

The party starts with a gorgeous sitar melody ringing out over a layered tabla groove. The title track keeps the sitar, adding bass and blippy synth over a midtempo disco beat. Make Your Move climbs from an ambient, suspenseful intro to a soul/funk trip-hop song with falsetto vocals: Sylvester on the DL. A couple of reggae tunes shift from sly dub and a repetitive refrain of “herb, sinsemilla” to an ominous one-chord jam driven by swooshy organ, with a wary vocal that sounds a lot like Luciano.

There are latin interludes here as well. Low Down Weather is a slinky latin funk vamp with casually animated blues guitar pairing off against echoey Rhodes electric piano, and a hilarious sample on the way out in case you didn’t see it coming. Ritco Ritmo, with its Brazilian-tinged guitar, sounds like Os Mutantes one generation removed; Rio Mescalito is a jaunty acoustic blues guitar shuffle that grows woozier as whatever they’re smoking starts to kick in. There are also a couple of boudoir themes with laid-back sax and girlie vocals (which get old fast), a funky one that could be Sly Stone on good acid, the trippy mystery tableau To Catch a Vixen, and the lush, blues-toned one-chord jam Penthouse Soul that takes the album out on an especially hypnotic note. There are so many layers oscillating and moving up and through the mix and out and back again that it’s impossible to keep up: which is why these tracks are so successful. Always leave them wanting more, or so they say.

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November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/3/10

Every day, we count down the best albums of all time all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #910:

Jenifer Jackson – The Outskirts of a Giant Town

Quietly and methodically, Austin songwriter Jenifer Jackson has built an eclectic and pantheonic catalog of songs. She started out as a teenager in Boston playing loud guitar rock, moved to New York and released the classic 1999 album Slowly Bright, a masterpiece of bossa nova tinged, Beatlesque psychedelia. Birds, in 2001 followed, stark and Americana-inflected, followed by a prized limited edition album of Brazilian and latin covers, the psychedelic pop of 2004’s So High and then her greatest one so far, The Outskirts of a Giant Town (reviewed here in 2007). Jackson’s gentle yet worldly, wounded voice, her gemlike lyrics and an even broader mix of styles take centerstage here: the wrenching Beatlesque ballad Saturday, the jaunty tropicalia of Suddenly Unexpectedly, the Philly-style soul of I Want to Start Something, the bitter noir Americana of Dreamland and the shapeshifting garage rock of For You. And from the look of  the material she’s been working up live over the past year, the follow-up to this one promises to be every bit as diverse and enchanting.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Dende & Hahahaes at Lincoln Center 4/15/10

Dende & Hahahaes have a stylistically diverse new album out that highlights their ability to shift energetically between samba, roots reggae and a whole lot of other tropical styles. Thursday night the crowd at the Atrium at Lincoln Center didn’t start dancing until the band’s first salsa groove, but most of them stayed on their feet for the rest of the show.

A big man with a megawatt grin, percussionist/singer Dende led the band from behind his congas – and played acoustic guitar on one song, a bracingly catchy minor-key vamp lit up by a long wah-wah solo by their electric guitarist. The rest of the vocals were supplied by a soulfully brassy singer who played boomy pan percussion when she wasn’t on the mic. With the relentless beat coming from band’s front line, their drummer got the chance to add some nimble counterrhythms when he wasn’t putting up with Dende’s playful showboating (there was a point where Dende demonstrably decided to adjust the drum volume, which drew plenty of laughs). Their keyboardist swayed in her seat, alternating between hypnotic latin vamps and bouncy samba lines in addition to some slyly woozy synthesizer settings – one of their several catchy Bahian numbers saw her playing through a fluttery flute patch, another with a reverberating Rhodes sound.

A trio of songs worked a hypnotic midtempo afrobeat groove; a couple others had an amped-up jangly, guitar-driven forro feel. The singers would take turns running a simple, insistent lyrical line, in Portuguese, many of them becoming singalongs with the large and exuberant expat crowd. Bassist Ze Grey hung back and provided fat, catchy hooks all night, waiting til the end where he’d finally cut loose with a blast of chords and fiery, melodic riffage. And when they finally closed the set with a catchy, irresistibly bouncing minor-key disco number – the Gap Band gone to Bahia – Grey played delicious variations off the central hook while the keyboardist turned her synth all the way up for a crazy, distorted texture. They encored with a cut off the new album that sounds like a Brazilian adaptation of Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean, Dende working the crowd in the front and on both sides of the stage (one woman he enticed up onstage was clearly out of her element, but another seized the moment and wowed the crowd with her moves). The free Thursday concerts here continue on April 22 at 8:30 with intriguing Chinese-American avant jazz chanteuse Jen Shyu.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dende & Hahahaes – Bahia de Todos os Santos

This is a really good, oldschool style, mostly roots reggae album from a bunch of A-list New York Brazilian musicians. Dende fronts the band and plays percussion, maybe the reason why there’s so much of it and why it’s so high in the the mix. It’s sort of a trebly alternative to the bottom-heavy, rustically and hypnotically drum-flavored sound popularized by Ras Michael back in the 70s, giving the songs a boost of energy and some cool textures you don’t often hear in classic reggae. Behind Dende there’s Gustavo Dantas on guitar, Ze Grey on bass, Adriano Santos on drums and zabumba, Ze Luis on flute and sax, Carlos Darci on trombone, Takuya Nakamura on trumpet and guests Vinicius Cantuaria on guitar and Amayo from Antibalas supplying vocals on one track. Lyrics are in Portuguese.

The album kicks off with a catchy, upbeat roots reggae number, followed by one that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bob Marley catalog. They follow that with a couple of latin grooves, growing more and more hypnotic. Then they pick up the pace with a fast disco beat, and then a ska number with a Message to You Rudie feel followed by a psychedelic, Santana-style organ interlude. There’s also a smoky, vamping, soul-inspired number, a tricky yet hypnotic tropicalia tune with flute and a backward-masked intro, a fast piano-driven number in 11/4 time, a slinky soca-flavored dance song with tinkly piano and festive horns, a majestic yet catchy roots reggae number with echoes of vintage-era Burning Spear and then a jungly, gamelanesque percussion interlude to close it out. Like a summertime vendor selling ices from his cart at Delancey and Clinton, whatever tropical flavor you like, this album has pretty much everything. Dende & Hahahaes’ next New York show is at the Atrium at Lincoln Center on April 15.

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala

The new cd by las Rubias del Norte would make a great Bunuel soundtrack. Otherworldly, surreal and frequently haunting bordering on macabre, it’s a characteristically eclectic, syncretic mix of old songs from around the world done as Veracruz’s best musicians might have imagined them circa 1964. Most of the melodies are in minor keys, the perfect backdrop for the sepulchrally soaring harmonies of the band’s two frontwomen, Allyssa Lamb (who’s also the band’s keyboardist) and Emily Hurst. Lamb and Hurst are a lot closer to Stile Antico than Shakira (or Jeanette, who sang the 1976 latin pop classic Porque Te Vas that the band turn into ghostly, organ-driven reggae to open the album). Which the two ought to be, considering that they met as members of the New York Choral Society. As the band’s website aptly points out, the album is more psychedelic rock than latin, “the opposite of Rock en Espanol,” even though most of the lyrics are in perfectly enunciated Spanish.

The title track is a Greek rembetika song with a bluesy, oldtimey gospel verse that gives way to a latinized chorus, followed by a clip-clop clave number a la Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, shuffling along with the muted strokes of Olivier Conan’s cuatro. A slyly levantine-inflected S.D. Burman Bollywood number lights up with Lamb’s eerily twinkling piano and the lushly brisk atmospherics of the Parker String Quartet, while a Brecht-Weill song gets an oversize margarita, a big sombrero and a balmy, slightly Jerry Garcia-ish electric guitar solo from Giancarlo Vulcano.

The rest of the album alternates psychedelia with stately, period-perfect angst and longing. A couple of the songs are dead ringers for Chicha Libre (with whom this band shares two members, Conan and percussionist Timothy Quigley). Navidad Negra turns a Caribbean big band number into cumbia noir, Lamb’s sultry organ passing the torch to Vulcano, who takes a surprisingly biting turn, while the traditional Viva La Fiesta becomes the theme to the saddest party ever. They close with hypnotic, classically inflected tropicalia that throws some welcome shade on the pitch-perfect brightness of the vocals, a Bizet cover bubbling with Lamb and Hurst’s contrapuntal sorcery and a downcast ballad, restrained melancholy over funeral-parlor organ. It’s gentle, scary and beautiful like just about everything else here. Look for this one high on our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. Las Rubias del Norte play the cd release show for the album this Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub followed by a midwest tour.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dadi – Bem Aqui

Who’s your Dadi? If you’re Brazilian, it’s probably Eduardo Magalhaes de Carvalho. Over the course of a long and eclectic career as a sideman, he’s worked with everybody from Marisa Monte to Caetano Veloso to Mick Jagger. This new album, his second as a bandleader is recently out on Sunnyside, and unlike what you might expect from that label it’s not a jazz release but instead a tersely arranged, irrepressibly sunny, indelibly Beatlesque collection of sixties-flavored three-minute pop songs. For those who were smitten by Os Mutantes, whether the first time around or later, this is considerably more direct yet equally cheery and captivating. Carvalho sings in Portuguese with a casual, thoughtful understatement.

The album kicks off with a Stax/Volt style shuffle transported to even balmier surroundings, followed by a fetching duet with Monte over swaying, vintage 70s style janglepop  driven by tasteful electric guitar and organ. The title track is sparse nocturnal bossa-pop with acoustic guitar, piano and cello; likewise, Passando echoes hypnotically with distant piano in a Jenifer Jackson vein. Nao Tente Comprender (You Don’t Get It) nicks the chords from the Beatles’ You Won’t See Me; the strikingly minimalist, swaying 6/8 rock ballad Quando Voce Me Abraca (When You Embrace Me) blends tropicalia with deliciously glimmering layers of guitars and piano.

There’s also an ominously swinging, 6/8 Os Mutantes-inflected psychedelic number capped by fat blues guitar solo; another Beatlesque tune that could have been a Brazilian version of a top 40 hit from Let It Be, right down to the watery, George Harrison-esque chorus box guitar; and another Harrison-inflected song, the gorgeous, slowly crescendoing  jazz-pop anthem Por Que Nao (Why Not). The album ends on a surprisingly dark note with a fiery, bluesy, early Santana-esque one-chord rock jam, hinting that this guy may rock harder than he lets on here. If Dadi’s lyrics were in English, he’d be huge with the American indie pop crowd, the Shins et al. As it is, it’s a breezy, fun album, the kind you find yourself humming and wonder what that tune could have come from.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 10/11/09

Jenifer Jackson is back. Not that she ever stopped playing or writing songs – the good news is that her self-imposed exile in Austin is over and she’s returned to Gotham. Sunday evening’s set mixed quiet triumph with some aptly chosen late-summer mood pieces along with some of the tremendously impactful new songs she’s been working up over the last few months. If you haven’t seen Jackson in awhile and you think you know her, the answer is that you really don’t – whether she’s working harmonies off the melodies of audience favorites like Summer’s Over or End of August, or emphasizing  the tropical feel (or the rock feel) of an older number, she’s grown to the point where it’s always a crapshoot where she’ll end up. The only given is that it’ll be a good place.

As much a triumphant homecoming as this may have been, pianist Matt Kanelos underscored everything with a gritty chordal tension, completely in sync with the restlessness, unease and occasional outright angst of Jackson’s songwriting. His gentle honkytonk work on the rather sweet country ballad The Beauty in the Emptying (on Jackson’s forthcoming album) contrasted with the clenched-teeth insistence of the somewhat ironically titled Let the Times Roll (another unreleased, hypnotic gem), the ominously minimalist Groundward and the menacing Blair Witch imagery of Maybe, which was definitely the most intense song of the set.

To end the show, Jackson put down her guitar and over Kanelos’ crisp and incisive chords, put her own spin on I Say a Little Prayer for You. She may have learned it from the very first album she ever owned, Aretha Now – “For the longest time I thought that was her name,” Jackson revealed – but her interpretation was a whole lot more bossa than brass and played up its nuances for all they were worth. She’s back at the Rockwood in November and you ought to see her there.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Federico Aubele – Amatoria

Buenos Aires-born songwriter/guitarist Federico Aubele’s going for a rico suave thing here, sort of like a downtempo Gipsy Kings. At a distance this may sound like generic latin lounge music – it’s kind of formulaic, but it’s a formula that works. This cd offers layers of acoustic and electric guitars with hushed lounge lizard vocals (in Spanish) over a trip-hop beat. Aubele could use a lyricist, and there are places where the drum machine becomes completely claustrophobia-inducing (the album is just out on the well-intentioned but sonically numbing Thievery Corporation’s label). Now for some good things about the cd. Aubele is an excellent, terse guitarist: there aren’t any wasted notes here. And the songs are pretty, most of them in moody minor keys. Plus, he’s dubwise. His reggae touches typically linger and reverberate in the background, lithe guitar accents cleverly and judiciously kicking in at unexpected moments.

Suena Mi Guitarra sways and bounces, trip-hop meets tango with a jangly reggae guitar feel. Te Quiero a Ti is upbeat and evocative of Mexican groups like the Reggae Cowboys. Del Ayer layers phased backward-masked guitars in the background; there’s also a duet with the unlikely choice of Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto, who quite surprisingly acquits herself so well that she really ought to have been given a turn out front. The most bizarre cut here – tropicalia is just full of them, isn’t it? – is the samba-inflected El Sabor with its layers of artificial, bubbling synth, early 80s ELO goes to Brazil. The cd ends with an acoustic guitar instrumental that offers more than a hint of a more stark, purist sensibility lurking here. Piazzolla it’s not, but it’s something you can put on at a party and nobody will complain – in fact, you’ll probably have people asking you who this is – and it’s a good late-night sleepytime cd.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rapt, Wrenching Beauty: Jenifer Jackson at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/28/08

In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s been a recent crop of songwriters who seem to have decided to write in every single worthwhile style of pop music ever invented – with great success. For one reason or another, maybe having to do with vocals, most of these songwriters are women: Neko Case, Rachelle Garniez and Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette, to name a few. New York expat Jenifer Jackson is another.

“Now I know how to get people to come to my shows,” she knowingly told the crowd at Joe’s Pub Friday night. “Leave New York. I’ve figured it out!” Jackson wasn’t exactly a little fish in the pond here, either. Respected by her peers and revered by a fan base for whom she seemingly can do no wrong (if she made an album of Monkees covers, they’d probably buy it), she nonetheless ran into the same brick wall affecting seemingly every New York artist, no matter how well-regarded they might be. Building a following here is tough, with literally scores of live shows competing against each other every night, a hometown media that’s essentially oblivious to hometown acts, and an ongoing process of suburbanization where artistically-inclined New Yorkers are being priced out of their neighborhoods and being replaced by corporate executives and their children from the suburbs. In other words, not exactly the kind of crowd you’d expect to come out to see anything more sophisticated than, say, Justin Timberlake. So Jackson packed up and moved to Austin.

Even more than her show at the Rockwood late last year, this was the emotional homecoming she eventually had to make, and she gave the standing-room-only crowd what they wanted. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by just violinist Roland Satterwhite, she ran through a mix of mostly more recent material, including several songs from her most recent (and best) cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town. She also debuted three excellent new songs: a hopeful, midtempo country tune, Spring, that wouldn’t have been out of place on her 2001 album Birds; a pensively catchy, upbeat number possibly titled Tired; and the best of the bunch, a gorgeous, sad country waltz called The Beauty of the Emptying, with one of Jackson’s signature imagistic lyrics. Jackson gets accolades for her songwriting, but tonight was a vivid reminder of what a brilliant song stylist she is, alternating between a nuanced lower register and the soaring, airy delivery that has been her trademark throughout her career. There’s great passion and intensity in her songs and in her voice, but it’s generally very subtle, tonight’s stripped-down arrangements giving her vocals the perfect opportunity to cut through.

“This is a song that earned me two thousand dollars,” she told the crowd with considerable irony before launching into a boisterous version of one of her earliest songs, Mercury, the Sun and Moon, a somewhat eerie tribute to the joys and pleasure of being a bon vivant. When she and Satterwhite reached the bridge, she slammed out the song’s tango rhythm as he went into a frenzied gypsy-inflected solo. They encored with a fetching duet on the standard Every Time We Say Goodbye, Satterwhite switching to guitar. He’s an excellent singer, with a smooth, Chet Baker style delivery, making a good foil for Jackson’s warm, wistful vocals. She ended the song with gentle vocalese, going down the scale with a jazzy seventh chord. More than anything, tonight’s show was a reminder of everything we stand to lose if this city continues the decline that the Bloomberg administration and its developer cronies are dead set on bringing to its logical conclusion.

March 31, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments