Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The City Champs Set Up a Vintage Classic

If the City Champs’ new album The Set Up had been recorded in 1965, it would be hailed today as a great rediscovery. This Memphis instrumental band is absolutely period-perfect, right down to Joe Restivo’s vintage guitar tone, the subtly shifting waves of Al Gamble’s Hammond organ and George Sluppick’s funky, shuffling drums. Yet they don’t sound like imitators: they come across like any other good, imaginative, versatile southern soul organ-and-guitar combo from that era and locale. Their previous album The Safecracker was more of a collection of vintage dance grooves; this is an album of nocturnes. Considering the setup of the band (couldn’t resist the pun), much of this sounds a lot like Booker T. & the MGs. The more dramatic, cinematic tracks bring to mind Quincy Jones’ soundtrack to In the Heat of the Night.

The title track opens – it’s a theme that sets the tone for the rest of the album, perfectly evoked by the vintage typography and red-tinged chain-link fence on the cd cover. The second cut, Drippy is the most obviously Booker T-influenced cut with Restivo’s restless, staccato riffage building up to a big crescendo – and then they start over. Ricky’s Rant is arguably the best cut here, a beautifully murky, memorable theme. It’s basically a surf song gone funk, like a Booker T cover of a Lee Hazelwood song. The cinematic Crump St. begins as a slow, dusky summer soul groove lit up by Jim Spake’s tenor sax and then jumps to a jittery shuffle, Sluppick switching up the rhythm artfully. Chinatown evokes neither the film, the song by the Move or any specific Asian locale: instead, it builds suspensefully with intricate, Hendrix-ish guitar over slow burning organ.

With its playful beat and frenetic jazz-tinged guitar, Rigamarole sounds like Rock the Casbah done oldschool Memphis style. Local Jones, the next track, is a gorgeous, hypnotic, slowly swaying Stax/Volt ballad without words. They pick up the pace with Break It Up, a chase scene of sorts with a “batman” crescendo, and follow that with a cover of the Mad Men theme: with Restivo’s quietly menacing hammer-ons, it’s a portrait of a crime family, if only a white-collar one. The album winds up on a towering, anthemic, even majestic note with another original, Comanche, a Lynchian take on a Link Wray-style groove that roars with gospel intensity until a quick, unexpected fade. The City Champs spend a lot of time on the road: as with their previous album, they sound like they’d be a lot of fun live. Watch this space.

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

Gecko Turner Puts Su Alma into Soul Music

What Manu Chao is to gypsy music, Spanish songwriter Gecko Turner is to oldschool American soul. His melodies are sweet but not cloying, and have a hip-hop feel in places, for a vibe that’s retro yet completely new and original. Whichever era they happen to recall – the 60s, the 70s or the here-and-now – they’re laid-back, summery, tersely and imaginatively arranged, and pretty psychedelic in places. His new album Gone Down South begins with a Smokey Robinson-style soul piano song with some nice call-and-response between the trumpet and the horn section. Cuanta Suerte has sleigh bells on the intro (!?!) – it’s vintage Joe Cuba-style latin soul with richly chordal jazz piano that winds down to a hypnotic bass pulse and the catchy chorus hook. So Sweet is aptly titled, an acoustic southern-flavored number with watery wah-wah guitar accents.

He follows that with a funky jam that blends oldschool latin soul with reggaeton; a slow, swaying, hypnotic piano-and harmonica vamp with a lazy rap; an upbeat, Marleyesque reggae song; a circular African mbira song; a James Brown-style funk number with steel pan for a calypso tinge; a catchy wah-wah soul song that slinks along on a latin groove; an early 70s, Sly Stone-style funk tune and a brief, stripped-down stab at oldtimey swing. The only miss here is a throwaway Paul’s Boutique-style mix of loops and samples. Is there anything this guy can’t write? As with American gypsy bands, Argentinian surf rockers and Japanese salseros, musicians specializing in a style considered exotic in their native land face extra pressure to excel. Turner comes through with flying colors here.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lee Fields & the Expressions Bring Oldschool Soul to Williamsburg

The trendoid band who opened at the Williamsburg Waterfront Sunday afternoon were as pathetic as expected: uptight, fearful beats, inept guitar, vocals (you couldn’t call it singing) that sounded like a drawl learned from tv rather than in a part of the world where people actually speak with a drawl, and a girl on sax who made Poly Styrene sound like John Coltrane. But wait – this was indie rock. Indie rock isn’t supposed to be good, in fact it’s not even meant to be listened to at all. It’s something you’re supposed to know and take blurry iphone photos of when you see it so you can prove you’re as much of a conformist as the next bedheaded boy. Still, it’s sad that a band like the Highway Gimps were limited to tearing up the back room at Tommy’s Tavern the previous night when they or plenty of other good Brooklyn bands could have torn up a much bigger stage on Sunday, giving Lee Fields a real run for his money.

Fields is a rediscovery, one of the more recent, obscure black performers resurrected by white kids who’ve discovered the magic of oldschool soul music. He started out in the late 60s, reputedly doing a pretty solid James Brown imitation, expanding into other styles as the years went on. He never put out an album til 1979, recording sporadically in the years that followed while plying his trade up and down the eastern seaboard and in the south. Fields’ output is actually more diverse, and has changed with the times, more than was evident during his roughly fifty-minute set. This was the 60s show, and he and the absolutely killer band behind him excelled at it. They all looked sharp – the drummer even wore a tie, and didn’t take it off despite the humidity – and played as if it was Memphis, 1968, the pint-sized Fields resplendent in a white suit that probably dates from that era: stagewear is expensive, you know. The bass played sinuously melodic, fluid grooves while the guitar channeled Steve Cropper at times, augmented by a terrific, understated latin percussionist and an organist who also kept it simple and in the pocket. A lot of the faces up there looked familiar: an Antibalas ringer or two, maybe?

The set mixed long, hypnotic, JB-style one-chord funk grooves with a handful of disarmingly pretty ballads lit up with vividly incisive, jangly guitar. The band opened with a couple of tasty midtempo grooves, then brought up Fields, whose voice has taken on more of a gravelly tinge, but he still worked the crowd as if he was on his home turf – and seemed genuinely grateful for the support from an unusually diverse audience (at least in conservative, whitewashed Bloomberg-era Williamsburg). They did the bitterly defiant kiss-off anthem Gone for Good, a dead ringer for the Godfather of Soul in his classic 60s period, early on. Money Is King, a long vamp that slowly slunk along to a quick couple of chord changes on the turnaround, came across as unselfconsciously hungry and probably resonated with crowds in the 60s and 70s as much as Fitty does these days. On Ladies, an even more simple, direct groove, Fields tried engaging some of the girls in the front row, but they didn’t respond. Quickly, he made a joke out of it, reminding them how lucky their guys must be. The end of the set featured more of the slower and midtempo material, including the evocatively retro My World, the title track to his new album, which wouldn’t have been out of place in the late 60s Smokey Robinson catalog. Fields doesn’t break any new ground and doesn’t really have a signature style of his own, but he knows his history and he should because he was there – and the band sounded like they were too.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 8/14/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #899:

Bettye Swann – self-titled anthology

Bettye Swann is one of the great voices in soul music, blending the upbeat warmth of a mature Diana Ross with a raw, wounded undercurrent. This 2004 anthology released in the UK by EMI doesn’t have her signature song, the 1967 #1 R&B hit Make Me Yours, but it does have her best one, the understatedly wrenching My Heart Is Closed for the Season. Her first producer, Arthur Wright, who recorded her for California indie label Money Records had a terrific ear for detail: the arrangements on her early songs are among the era’s most sophisticated and startlingly beautiful, with Memphis-style horn charts and strings that punch in counterintiuitively. Several of the tracks here were originally released on her 1968 Capitol album The Soul View Now, including a sparse, tender version of Little Things Mean a Lot, and the orchestrated, gospel-tinged Don’t Touch Me. There are plenty of other gems among the 22 tracks here, including the telling Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me, the ridiculously catchy No Faith No Love, an absolutely brilliant reworking of the standard Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, the gorgeously apprehensive Don’t Let It Happen to Us and the intense, crescendoing These Arms Are Mine. It fades toward the end, with a trio of ridiculously ill-advised rock covers, but the rest is some of the most fetchingly captivating music ever recorded. If you see her 1967 debut Make Me Yours on vinyl for cheap, grab it – it’s worth a fortune. There are lots of torrents for this stuff out there including this random one.

August 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment