Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Edgy String Band Eclecticism from the Real Vocal String Quartet

Former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, a pioneer of string-band improvisation, founded the all-female Real Vocal String Quartet. You could characterize them as a less caustic. considerably more eclectic alternative to Rasputina. They’re playing Barbes on Oct 13 at midnight – and then they’re at Passim in Cambridge, MA the next day at 4:30 PM! That same sense of adventure pervades their music, drawing on genres from around the world to create an enchanting, original, sometimes gypsy-tinged blend.

The best song on their 2010 self-titled debut was a radical reworking of a Paul Simon song, of all things. This time around, they open their new album Four Little Sisters by radically reworking Regina Spektor’s Machines, first giving it a slyly satirical, robotic bounce and then roaring through an outro that’s the furthest thing from detached and coldly mechanical. Everybody in the band – Sazer, violinist Alisa Rose (also of Quartet San Francisco), violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry – contributes vocals as well, therefore the band name.

Sazer’s instrumental Homage to Oumou follows, a swinging minor-key gypsy/klezmer romp capped by a blazing violin solo, held down by Ivry’s alternately stark, bowed washes and swinging pizzicato basslines. Elephant Dreams, by Rose, has a fresh, distantly West African tinge, swinging counterpoint and an edgy series of bluesy exchanges.

They begin Gilberto Gil’s Copo Vazio with an insistent staccato pulse, growing to pensive, lush chamber pop with a tersely thoughtful Sazer solo. Likewise, Maccabee’s arrangement of the cajun dance Allons a Lafayette gives it plenty of oomph – and some neat four-part vocal harmonies.

Duke Perarson’s Sweet Honey Bee is transformed by a Sazer arrangement into a tioptoeing but acerbic blues ballad with a long, intricately intertwining jam at the end – it makes a good segue with Vasen guitarist Roger Tallroth’s Falling Polska, a moody mix of the baroque and the Balkans. Durang’s Hornpipe, dating from the American Revolution, gets a rousing cajun treatment, and then a long jam, a vein they return to with the album’s more nocturnal concluding track, Grand Mamou Waltz. There’s also a bright, blue-sky cover of the Dirty Projectors’ Knotty Pine. It’s hard to think of another recent album that so entertainingly connects jazz, indie classical, jamband rock and so many other worlds as this one does.

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October 9, 2012 Posted by | folk music, jazz, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jayme Stone’s Banjo Travels Around the World

Jayme Stone’s new Room of Wonders is his dance album. Taking a page out of Bach’s French Dance Suite (which he plays here as an energetic, practically punk duo with bowed bass), the virtuoso banjo player and an inspired cast of characters romp through some imaginative new arrangements of traditional dances from around the world. Stone wanted to get jazz-quality players and put them together, but not as soloists, to see what kind of sparks would fly. The main group here consists of Casey Driessen of Abigail Washburn’s quartet on violin, Grant Gordy from Dave Grisman’s band on acoustic guitar and Greg Garrison on bass.

They open with the surprisingly pensive Krasavaska Ruchenitsr, a tricky Bulgarian tune in 7/8 time. Ever wonder what a banjo sounds like playing a horn line? You can find out here. Driessen follows Stone and counterintuitively takes it down rather than hitting a crescendo. Next they tackle a couple of Irish dances, the first darkly bristling, the next one more cheery. Vinicius, a shout-out to Vincius Cantuaria, mines the same kind of suspenseful restraint, with a tasty, buoyant trumpet solo from Kevin Turcotte, drummer  Nick Fraser holding down a samba beat when the song isn’t going off into the clouds for an extended, atmospheric break.

Moresca Nuziale, an original wedding theme, keeps the wary, apprehensive vibe going – it’s the last thing most people would want at a wedding, which might make sense since the couple whose wedding the song debuted at broke up six months later. They follow that with Andrea Berget, a stately, wistful Norwegian tune that’s ostensibly a polka, then the Bach, then Stone’s captivating, Tunisian-inspired title track, lit up with some understatedly dramatic cymbal work from Fraser and a jazzy guitar solo. The rest of the album includes a spirited take on Bill Monroe’s Ways of the World, another Bulgarian tune with Driessen contributing cello-like tones on low octave fiddle, and the upbeat Troll King Dom Polska, featuring Vasen’s Olov Johansson on the autoharp-like nyckelharpa. Eclectic? Yeah, you could call it that. Stone will be at le Poisson Rouge on 3/16 at 7 PM opening for the reliably awesome, frequently haunting Las Rubias del Norte.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | classical music, country music, folk music, gypsy music, irish music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vasen – Vasen Street

Much of this is a happy Indian summer album – and with the turn the summer has taken here, we’re going to need something to keep our spirits up if this August steambath continues into September. Whatever the case, this is a mostly cheery, meticulously interwoven, smartly playful album of original Swedish string band instrumentals along with some imaginative reworkings of traditional material. Vasen‘s guitarist Roger Tallroth uses an open tuning to maximize the incidence of ringing overtones, much in the same vein as Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa (a Nordic autoharp with a set of reverberating sympathetic strings). The trio’s lead instrumentalist is viola player Mikael Marin, whose dynamically-charged playing ranges from pensively rustic to completely ecstatic.

A trio of dance numbers open the album, the third being Botanisten, a tribute to some Bay Area pals. It’s appealingly verdant and has some psychedelic tempo shifts if that means anything to you. Garageschottis is clever and shapeshifting as it builds tension. The title track, a tribute to a bunch of Indiana fans who campaigned to name a street in their hometown after the band, starts striking and minor-key before morphing into a dance. The best single cut on the cd is Absolutely Swedish, fast with eerie textures, sounding like there’s a wild mandolin solo going on. But it’s not! It’s Tallroth on the guitar, way up at the top of the fretboard, having fun as the nyckelharpa plinks in the background and the viola feels around for its footing.

Mordar Cajsas Polska (Killer Cajsa’s’Polka) takes its name from a friend of the band, fiddler Cajsa Ekstav who attacked some windows with her beer mug to to kill a swarm of wasps who’d invaded her studio. Ostensibly the results were not pretty. This isn’t nearly as murderous as the title implies, but it sways and spins and you can dance to it, as you can most of the album. Which wraps up with another series of upbeat dance numbers and finally the pensive Yoko, written about a Japanese manager (theirs?). It turns out somewhat pensive, reflective and ultimately very interesting. Happily, it’s not exasperated. Fans of JPP, Frigg and the rest of the A-list of Nordic string bands will love this; bluegrass fans ought to give this a test drive too, it’s a lot of fun. They’ll be on US tour starting September 18 in Boulder at the Boulder Theatre.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment