Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Hottest New Big Band in NYC

The Ayn Sof Orchestra and Bigger Band are the most exciting new development in big band jazz in New York. To call them the “Jewish big band” is to say that they play large ensemble jazz works liberally sprinkled with themes and motifs from Jewish music. Some of the compositions are jazz arrangements of folk songs; their originals, contributed by several members of the ensemble, draw sometimes deeply, sometimes loosely on klezmer or Middle Eastern melodies. The group, a mix of some of the most highly sought-after jazz talents in the city, has been playing together for about a year, with a monthly residency at bandleader/tenor sax player Greg Wall’s Sixth Street Synagogue. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Cell Theatre in the West Village was a revelation.

They opened with a lush, sweeping, bracingly layered number by former Lou Reed tenor player Marty Fogel, a showcase for a slinky, klezmer-tinged solo from trumpeter Frank London and a bit later a no-nonsense one from trombonist Reut Regev. A composition by guitarist Eyal Maoz was a characteristically surfy sprint, complete with his own joyously showy, increasingly unhinged solo and some effect-laden, shuffling B3 organ groove work from Uri Sharlin (who’d switched from piano, and would later move to accordion). Wall sardonically announced that someone in the crowd had promised their grandmother some klezmer, so they blasted through a towering, majestic Fogel arrangement of the traditional Kiever Bulgar dance, more jazz than klezmer, with long, expressive trombone and accordion solos and a tricky false ending. A tune by alto player Paul Shapiro worked a bouncy soul organ groove that took on a latin vibe as it motored along. Another Fogel original introduced the night’s most darkly bracing tonalities, a 6/4 stomp featuring a blazing Balkan solo by trumpeter Jordan Hirsch; trumpeter Pam Fleming’s Intrigue in the Night Market was downright sexy, her own slyly cosmopolitan solo growing more rootless, the band restlessly and suspensefully rising to a big crescendo out of it.

The second half of the concert began with jazz poetry on Talmudic themes, Wall or London offering energetic accompaniment for a series of animated spoken-word interludes, sometimes playing in tandem. The whole band joined in as they went along; some were wryly humorous, but ultimately they preached to the choir, if as heatedly as that hardcore punk band who celebrate the virtues of learning Torah. The band eventually wound up the show on a blissfully carnivalesque note with a humor-laden latin soul groove featuring an uninhibitedly buffoonish Maoz solo, a similarly amusing, blippy one from Sharlin on organ and a typical monster crescendo from London, who’d been doing them all night whenever the moment appeared. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

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September 29, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Eunice Poulos Sings Piaf at Merkin Concert Hall, NYC 12/7/08

An imaginative and inspired program including both iconic and obscure Piaf songs. To her credit, classical soprano Eunice Poulos didn’t try to out-Piaf Piaf. The Little Sparrow imbued most of what she did with a lot of brass and sass; Poulos’ interpretation required that she simply remain in legit mode, which she did with a pure, clear tone if not a lot of emotional variation from one song to another. But her unabashed enthusiasm for the material, and her terrific backing band, were impossible to resist. Pianist Mitchell Vines turned in a marvelously nuanced and sensitive solo reading of Poulenc’s Improvisation No. 15 in C Minor (which the composer dedicated to Piaf), along with an absolutely riveting take on the somewhat noir cabaret number Padam Padam and the other upbeat numbers that closed the show – in fact, by the time they’d reached that point, the whole band was just as caught up in the drama and emotion of the songs as the crowd. The rhythm section of Rex Benincasa on drums, percussion and bells and bassist John Loehrke was poised and subtle, with accordionist Uri Sharlin (of Pharaoh’s Daughter and others) gracefully supplying the afternoon’s most haunting tonalities.

 

Billed as “La Mome Piaf [Kid Piaf]: The Life and Work of Edith Piaf,” the vividly narrated program didn’t follow any kind of career trajectory, although related songs were frequently paired. Je T’Attends (Waiting for You), the Charles Aznavour cabaret song, stopping just short of camp, was paired with a stripped-down, almost whispery La Vie En Rose, just voice and accordion. The sarcastic come-on Milord paired off with one of Piaf’s more iconic numbers, La Foule (The Crowd), which closed the show on a rousingly dramatic note. For an encore, Poulos and Vines had selected the strikingly brief, impressionistic La Grenouilliere (The Frog Pond), a pensive ode to an island in the middle of the Seine that served as a popular date spot during the 1930s. Francophones might take exception to Poulos’ delivery – she rolls her R’s, a l’espagnole – but the performance was rich with the longing that sometimes spills over into outright anguish, which continues to earn Piaf new devotees with every passing year.

December 7, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Layali El Andalus Live at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/1/08

Tonight the standing-room crowd in the little back room at Barbes were treated to the single best concert we’ve seen so far this year. It was a passionate, fascinating show. Performances by musicians who play traditional Arab music as expertly and emotionally as this group did tonight usually cost upwards of $50 at places like Symphony Space. Led by Moroccan singer/oud player Rachid Halihal, the all-acoustic sextet played a mix of mostly traditional dance numbers spanning the Arab world, including songs from Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and, obviously, Andalusia. With its extremely sophisticated counterpoint and microtonal scales, this stuff isn’t easy to play, but Layali El Andalus made it seem effortless. Interpolating a few sunnily upbeat, happily nostalgic numbers within a set of what was otherwise long, frequently hypnotic songs based on the haunting chromatic scale, it was a rare treat to witness a performance like this in such an intimate setting.

The setup of the band – oud, quarter-tone accordion, flute, violin and two percussionists – echoes the small combos used by pioneering composers like Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Said Darwish. Many of the songs they played tonight are popular standards, often lavishly orchestrated: one doesn’t often get to hear this material stripped down to its basics. Often, the band would pick up the tempo at the end of the song, flute player Daphna Mor letting out an eerily triumphant trill as the crescendo would rise to a peak. The individual musicians, including Bruno Bruzzese on violin, Uri Sharlin on accordion, and two percussionists, all got to take extended solos, unanimously proving to be terse, incisive, thoughtful players: this group doesn’t waste notes. Halihal is something of a ham: while re-tuning his oud after each song, he’d improvise on the next song’s melody until everything was on key. His attempts to get some audience participation going met with mixed results. Though he tried strenuously to get the men and women in the crowd to sing a call-and-response with each other on one number, this fell flat – perhaps they didn’t understand, or they were simply unfamiliar with what’s actually a common device in traditional Arab music. But by the end of the show anyone with enough room on the floor to dance (or at least sway a little bit) was doing that while clapping along ecstatically. The best-received song of the night was a richly melodic version of the original Ya Rayyeh (Let’s Party), best known to today’s listeners as French-Algerian rocker Rachid Taha’s signature song. They closed with a rather sentimental song that was somewhat jarring, considering the ecstatic intensity of their other material. But no matter. Layali El Andalus’ next show is Sunday, March 9 at 8:30 PM at Drom NYC, 85 Avenue A between 5th and 6th Avenues, and world music fans would be crazy to miss it.

March 3, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment