Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Compared to Bee vs. Moth’s Acronyms, Most Other Bands Sound FUBAR

Part 27 of our ongoing, never-ending process of playing catch-up: Austin instrumentalists Bee vs. Moth’s album Acronyms came out last year. The fun factor is off the hook – they pin the needle in the red. They’re part jazz, part noise-rock, and part movie theme music. Their compositions are very clever, but there’s just as much improvisation going on and that’s just as clever. Yet any good jazz band has that: what sets these folks apart is their sense of humor and out-of-the-box mashup-style songwriting. For a point of comparison, it could be said that what Tribecastan is to the Red Sea, Bee vs. Moth is to Americana. Some of this you can even dance to. To give you an idea of how much is going on here, these are the notes our reviewer took while trying to get a basic idea of how to explain just the first song on the album: “Drum hammers out the ‘one’ – guitar comes in against the beat – a blast of fuzzy guitar feedback – down to just bass holding the beat, backward masking and glockenspiel, up with it then horns and the whole band, becomes an actual anthem – then it falls apart with disembodied voices, comes back with a distorted guitar rock interlude – simple fast 2/4 changes a la Joy Division – down to glockenspiel and trumpet again.” Something for just about everyone in 3 minutes, 50 seconds.

Interplay is everywhere throughout this album: instruments converse, argue, twirl each other across the floor, blow up in each others’ faces and then make up. Now More than Ever, whose focal point is a warped spaghetti western theme, has the trumpet, guitar and bass doing a neat call-and-response. Peter Benko, a blend of Chronic Town-era REM, Tuatara jazz nocturne and reggae, has the bass taking over for the guitar – which in this song plays a role usually reserved for a drummer. The fiery, hypnotic Afrobeat song Pennies from Hell (these guys are good at titles) has trumpet and baritone sax riffing off each other. And Ugly Is the New Black welds crazed noise-rock guitar to a vintage doo-wop theme.

The rest of the album is more cinematic. Tuesday in Tuskegee shifts from mournful gospel to joyous noise, with some intense guitar tremolo-picking, and then back down again. The Sky and the Dirt Earth is southwestern gothic teleported to Bali; Mexican Noise Soda warps out of horn-spiced metal to a nasty, satirical trumpet waltz. They prove especially amusing with marches. All Hail Freedom is scathingly sarcastic and bombastic, the band taking their time machinegunning the propagandistic theme to bits, while ICP on Parade has gleeful fun mocking a parade theme and I Listen to Coffee All Day add hayseed banjo and cowbell to raise the eyebrow factor. The most straight-up number here – straight-up being a relative term – is Gor’s Apparatus, a joyously crescendoing, noisy jaunt featuring a couple of tongue-in-cheek bass solos and some particularly satisfying drum work. Bee vs. Moth’s next gig appears to be on March 19 at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Theatre, where they’ll be doing their live original score for Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman as part of the Austin Film Festival.

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February 12, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/19/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #741:

Tuatara – Trading with the Enemy

Best known for their 1997 debut Breaking the Ethers, postrock instrumentalists Tuatara take their name from a lizard native to New Zealand, but their sound blends Indonesian gamelan textures with rock and outsider jazz. This one from the following year is their loudest and most diverse album. With vibraphone, bells, sax and guitar from REM’s Peter Buck, they blend hypnotically ringing, shimmering nocturnes like The Streets of New Delhi, Smugglers Cove and the rustic Japanese folk feel of the Koto Song with more upbeat jazz-oriented stuff that sometimes takes on a cinematic feel, as with Night in the Emerald City. Fela the Conqueror introduces a Afrobeat rhythm; L’Espionnage de Pomme de Terre is as psychedelic as they get here. The best track is the long ska vamp that closes the album, PCH/Afterburner, a live showstopper. Here’s a random torrent via frekenblog – thanks for this!

January 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rahim AlHaj’s Little Earth Breaks Down Barriers

A protege of legendary Iraqi oud player Munir Bashir, Rahim AlHaj was persecuted and jailed during the Saddam Hussein regime for writing a protest song questioning the Iraq/Iran war. Following his release, he was driven into exile, first in Syria and then eventually the United States, where his sponsoring agency, thinking he would prefer a desert climate, set him up in New Mexico. It wasn’t exactly what AlHaj was hoping for, but in retrospect it seems fortuitous. One of the world’s foremost oud players and composers in his own right, AlHaj’s latest album Little Earth is a cutting-edge collaboration with some unlikely but supremely well-suited suspects, several of whom he met in his new surroundings. To call what he does “world music” is accurate in the purest sense of the word – on this massive two-cd set, AlHaj mixes Iraqi oud styles with American Indian, Greek, Appalachian, West African, Australian aboriginal and Chinese chamber music, bringing out the best in a spirited crew of like-minded boundary-defying adventurers: a famous jazz guitarist, a world-renowned chanteuse, the scion of a prominent Malian musical family and one of the guys in REM. Yet despite the broad stylistic reach, AlHaj’s signature, steely intensity remains front-and-center: this is one of the most fascinating and gripping albums in any style of music in recent months.

All the compositions here are instrumentals with the exception of an Iraqi lullaby turned into an oud/flute duet with a brief vocal from Pueblo Indian flutist and craftsman Robert Mirabal, and a collaboration with Maria De Barros, a Cape Verde morna teleported to the Middle East. The pieces closest to AlHaj’s home turf wield the most power: the funereal Sama’i Baghdad, its haunting string chart played by the Little Earth Orchestra; the absolutely sizzling Dance of the Palms, and Qaasim, a requiem for his cousin, killed in Bush’s Iraq War, Stephen Kent’s oscillating djeridu lines meant to evoke the tears of the survivors. The others are somewhat more upbeat: to call them inventive would be an understatement. The Searching uses djeridu as a bass, holding down the low registers while accordionist Guy Klucevsek swirls over the incisive attack of the oud. Morning in Hyattsville, a duet with Americana jazz guitar legend Bill Frisell, evokes John Fahey or Leo Kottke at their brightest, with a wickedly unexpected shift into Middle Eastern territory from the guitar. Athens to Baghdad, with Peter Buck on twelve-string acoustic guitar, is gentle Tuatara/Tribecastan esoterica.

AlHaj also includes some richly intertwined pieces for oud and accompanying instruments, twisting and shifting shape until it’s hard to tell who’s playing what. The Other Time mingles oud with the West African kora harp of Yacouba Sissoko; River (the Passage) does the same, with some wildly interesting pipa work by Liu Fang. Other pieces set the oud against an unorthodox backdrop, whether a baroque-tinged piece featuring the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet, or the Andalusian-flavored Rocio, with oud over hypnotic sitar by Rosman Jamal Bhartiya. A listen to this ought to expand a listener’s brain at least as much as it did for the musicians involved. Talk about thinking outside the box! And what might be most impressive here is who’s not included on this album: no celebrity dj’s, no bedheaded indie rock dilettantes, no techno remixes. With all the amazing cross-pollination going on here, who needs any of that?

January 12, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, folk music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment