Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Winter Jazzfest 2013: A Marathon Account

The narrative for Winter Jazzfest 2013 wrote itself. “The festival began and ended with two extraordinary trumpeters from Middle Eastern backgrounds, Ibrahim Maalouf early on Friday evening and then Amir ElSaffar in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” Except that it didn’t happen like that. Maalouf – whose new album Wind is a chillingly spot-on homage to Miles Davis’ noir soundtrack to the film Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud – was conspicuously absent, with visa issues. And by quarter to one Sunday morning, the line of hopefuls outside Zinc Bar, where ElSaffar was scheduled, made a mockery of any hope of getting in to see him play. But a bitingly bluesy, full-bore cadenza earlier in the evening from another trumpeter – Hazmat Modine’s Pam Fleming – had already redeemed the night many times over. In more than fourteen hours of jazz spread across the West Village (and into the East) over two nights, moments of transcendence like that outnumbered disappointments a thousand to one.

A spinoff of the annual APAP booking agents’ convention, the festival has caught on with tourists (the French and Japanese were especially well-represented) along with a young, scruffy, overwhelmingly white crowd like what you might see at Brooklyn spots like Shapeshifter Lab or I-Beam. Those crowds came to listen. Another tourist crowd, this one from New Jersey and Long Island, ponied up the $35 cover for an all-night pass and then did their best to drink like this was any old night on the Bleecker Street strip, oblivious to the music. It was amusing to see them out of their element and clearly nervous about it.

That contingent was largely absent on Friday – and probably because of the rain, attendance was strong but not as overwhelming as it would be the following night. Over at Bowery Electric, drummer Bobby Previte led a trio with baritone saxophonist Fabian Rucker and guitarist Mike Gamble to open the festival on a richly murky, noir note, raising the bar to an impossibly high level that few other acts would be able to match, at least from this perspective (wth scores of groups on the bill, triage is necessary, often a cruel choice between several artists). Watching Rucker build his way matter-of-factly from a minimalistically smoky stripper vamp to fire-and-brimstone clusters of hard bop was like being teleported to the jazz club scene from David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

Over at le Poisson Rouge, chanteuse Catherine Russell delivered a mix of alternately jaunty, devious and poignant swing tunes, none of them from later than 1953, the most recent one a lively drinking song from the Wynonie Harris book. Guitarist and music director Matt Munisteri added his signature purist wit and an expectedly offhand intensity on both guitar and six-stirng banjo as the group – with Ehud Asherie on piano, Lee Hudson on bass and Mark McLean on drums – swung  through the early Ella Fitzgerald catalog as well as on blues by Lil Green and Bessie Smith, riding an arc that finally hit an unselfconsciously joyous note as they wound it up.

Jamaican jazz piano legend Monty Alexander followed, leading his Harlem-Kingston Express as they turned on a dime from pristine swing to a deep and dark roots reggae pulse. Alexander has been having fun with this project – utilizing what are essentially two discrete groups on a single stage, one an acoustic foursome, the other a fullscale reggae band with electric bass, keys and guitar – for a few years now. This was as entertaining as usual, mashing up Uptown and Jamdown and ending with a singalong on Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. In between, Alexander romped through jump blues and then added biting minor-key riffage to Marley classics like Slave Driver and The Heathen. Alexander was at the top of his game as master of ceremonies  – he even sang a little, making it up as he went along. It’s hard to think of a more likeable ambassador for the Irie Island.

Across the street at the Bitter End, Nels Cline and Julian Lage teamed up for a duo guitar show that was intimate to the extent that you had to watch their fingers to figure out who was playing what. Both guitarists played with clean tones and no effects, meticulous harmonies intertwining over seamless dynamic shifts as the two negotiated blue-sky themes with a distant nod to Bill Friselll…and also to Jerry Garcia, whose goodnaturedly expansive style Lage evoked throughout a handful of bluegrass-tinged explorations. On a couple of tunes, Cline switched to twelve-string and played pointillistic rhythm behind Lage, who was rather graciously given the lion’s share of lead lines and handled them with a refreshing directness – no wasted notes here. The two beefed up a Jim Hall tune and closed with a trickily rhythmic, energetic Chris Potter number.

The Culture Project Theatre, just off Lafayette Street, is where the most improvisationally-inclined, adventurous acts were hidden away – and by the time Boston free jazz legends the Fringe took the stage for a rare New York gig, the place was packed. The trio of tenor saxophonist George Garzone, drummer Bob Gullotti and bassist John Lockwood gave a clinic in friendly interplay, leaving plenty of space for the others’ contributions, each giving the other a long launching pad for adding individual ideas. Gullotti was in a shuffle mood, Lockwood a chordal one, Garzone flirting playfully with familiar themes that he’d take into the bop-osophere in a split second, the rhythm section leaving him to figure out what was happening way out there until he’d give the signal that he was coming back to earth.

Nasheet Waits’ Equality was next on the bill there and was one example of a band that could have used more than the barely forty minutes they got onstage. It wasn’t that they rushed the songs, it was simply that this band is obviously used to stretching out more than they got the oppportunity to do, shifting shape rhythmically as much as melodically, through compositions by both the drummer/bandleader and alto saxophonist Logan Richardson. Warmly lyrical sax found a murky anchor in Vijay Iyer’s insistently hypnotic pedalpoint and block chords, Mark Helias propelling their third tune with careful permutations on a tireless bass loop. They danced out on a biting, latin-tinged vibe.

Seabrook Power Plant, somewhat less lethal and toxic than their name implies, closed out Friday night with a pummelling yet often surprisingly melodic set for the diehards who’d stuck around. Brandon Seabrook – the Dick Dale of the banjo – teamed up with bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Jared Seabrook for a hard-hitting, heavily syncopated, mathrock-tinged couple of tunes, the bandleader’s right hand a blur as he tremolopicked lightning flurries of chords that were more dreampop than full frontal attack. Then he picked up the guitar, started tapping and suddenly the shadow of Yngwie Malmsteen began to materialize, signaling that it was time to get some rest and get ready for day two.

Word on the street has been that the best strategy for the Saturday portion of the festival is to pick a single venue out of the total of six and camp out there, as one of the organizers sheepishly alluded as the evening got underway. This year that turned out to be gospel truth, validating the decision to become possibly the only person not employed by the Bitter End to spend six consecutive hours there. That choice wasn’t just an easy way out. Right through the witching hour, there were no lulls: the bill was that strong.

Percussionist Pedrito Martinez opened with his group: the sensational, charismatic Araicne Trujillo on piano and vocals, Jhair Sala on cowbell and Alvaro Benavides on five-string bass. Playing congas, Martinez took on the rare role of groovemeister with a subtle sense of dynamics, through a swaying set that was as electrically suspenseful as it was fever-pitched and diverse, slinking through Cuban rhythms from across the waves and the ages. Trujillo was a force of nature, showing off a wistful, bittersweet mezzo-soprano voice in quieter moments and adding fiery harmonies as the music rose. Given a long piano solo, she quoted vigorously and meticulously from Beethoven, Chopin and West Side Story without losing the slinky beat, matching rapidfire precision to an occasionally wild, noisy edge, notably on a long, call-and-response-driven take of Que Palo.

Chilean-American chanteuse Claudia Acuna was next, leading her six-piece band through a raputurous, hypnotic set that drew equally on folk music and classic American soul as well as jazz. Her voice radiates resilience and awareness: one early number broodingly contemplated ecological disaster and other global concerns. Chords and ripples rang from the electric piano, ornamented elegantly by guitarist Mike Moreno over grooves that rose and fell. After sultry tango inflections, a moody departure anthem and a surprisingly succesful shot at jazzing up You Are My Sunshine, they closed with an understated take on Victor Jara’s Adios Mundo Indino.

Of all of these acts, saxophonist Colin Stetson was the most spectacular. Playing solo is the hardest gig of all, notwithstanding that Stetson has made a career out of being a one-man band, one that sounds like he’s using a million effects and loops even though what he’s playing is 100% live. Tapping out a groove on the keys of his bass sax, sustaining a stunning mix of lows and keening overtones via circular breathing, some of what he played might be termed live techno. Holding fast to a rhythm that managed to be motorik and swinging at once, he evoked the angst of screaming in the wilderness – metaphorically speaking. Or being the last (or first) in a line of whales whose pitch is just a hair off from being understandable to others of the species, explaining how he felt a kinship with the “Cryptowhale” recently discovered on US Navy underwater recordings. Switching to alto sax, he delivered his most haunting number, spiked with sometimes menacing, sometimes plaintive chromatics and closed with a slowly and methodically crescendoing piece that built from dusky, otherworldly ambience to a firestorm of overtones and insistent, raw explosiveness. Of all the acts witnessed at this year’s festival, he drew the most applause.

In a smart bit of programming, trumpeter Brian Carpenter’s nine-peice Ghost Train Orchestra was next on the bill. Carpenter’s previous album collected jaunty, pioneering, surprisingly modern-sounding hot 20s proto-swing from the catalogs of bandleaders like Fess Williams and Charlie Johnson, and the band played some of those tunes, adding an unexpected anachronistic edge via biting, aggressive solos from tenor saxophonist Andy Laster and Brandon Seabrook, wailing away on banjo again. As the set went on, a positively noir Cab Calloway hi-de-ho energy set in, apprehensive chromatics pushing bouncy blues to the side, Mazz Swift’s gracefully edgy violin contrasting with Curtis Hasselbring’s terse but forceful trombone lines.

In addition to innumerable jazz flavors, this year’s festival featured a trio of acts who don’t really play jazz at all and the most tantalizing of them, Hazmat Modine, happened to be next on the bill. Frontman Wade Schuman played his chromatic harmonica through a series of effects that made him sound like a hurdy-gurdy on acid…or helium, depending on the song. Lively handoffs and conversations, notably between tuba player Joseph Daly and trombonist Reut Regev but also guitarists Pete Smith and Michael Gomez, Rachelle Garniez on claviola and accordion, Steve Elson on tenor sax, Pam Fleming on trumpet, and Rich Huntley on drums burst out of everywhere. Huntley took an antique field holler rhythm and made a hypnotic mid-70s disco-soul vamp out of it, as well as romping through samba swing, Diddleybeat, calypso or reggae, as on the minor-key but ecstatic opening tune, So Glad. The French have anointed the Hazmats as a blues band (their album Bahamut was the #1 blues album of the year there) even though they interpolate so many different styles into the genre and then jam them into unrecognizability. It was just as well that this set proved to be the final one of the festival – at least from this point of view – because after they’d vamped through a wryly surreal but ecstatic take of the carnivalesque tropicalia of the album’s title track, there was nowhere to go but down.

Advertisements

January 15, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hazmat Modine’s Cicada: Rustic Oldtimey Psychedelia

Hazmat Modine are such an amazing live band that it’s almost impossible trying to imagine how they might be able to bottle that magic. Their new album Cicada is a good approximation. Live in concert, their rustic, blues-infused, minor-key jams can go on for ten or twenty minutes at a clip – here, they keep pretty much everything in the five-to-ten range, sometimes even less. While what they do definitely qualifies as psychedelic, otherwise they defy description: there is no other band in the world who sound remotely like them. They’re part delta blues shouters, part New Orleans brass band, part reggae, part klezmer, and all party. As you would expect from a psychedelic band, they put their surreal side front and center – it’s safe to say that nobody has more fun with sad minor keys than these guys. Not only is frontman/blues harpist/guitarist Wade Schuman a potently charismatic presence, he’s also a great wit, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of humor, both lyrical and musical, throughout this album.

The opening cut, Mocking Bird, is a bucolic blues, driven by the oldtimey bounce of Joe Daley’s tuba and the brass section of Reut Regev on trombone, Steve Elson on tenor sax and Pam Fleming on trumpet. They build it up to the point where the two guitars take over, Michael Gomez  jabbing and weaving while Pete Smith blasts out distorted rhythm. All the intricate interplay and call-and-response sets the tone for the rest of the album. Natalie Merchant’s airily sultry vocals contrast with the surrealism of the lyrics over a swaying, slink groove on Child of a Blindman, with lapsteel, layers of guitars and horns punching out the hook in tandem with some welcome guest stars, Benin’s high-energy Gangbe Brass Band. The brisk, bluesy Two Forty Seven shifts from an artful series of tradeoffs between instruments to a hypnotic outro where everybody seems to be soloing at once – yet it works, magically. The title track sets a sly spoken-word tribute to the high-volume insect over ecstatic Afro-funk, sort of like a more rustic, acoustic Steely Dan. They follow that with a surprisingly snarling version of Buddy, the innuendo-packed tale of a real backstabber, Schuman in rare form as sly bluesman. The crazed, searing Gomez guitar solo is pure adrenaline.

The instrumental vignette In Two Years has trumbone sailing wistfully over a gamelanesque loop; I’ve Been Lonely for So Long is Memphis soul taken back and forth in time with doo-wop vocals and a New Orleans feel, with the tuba instead of a bass, a blithe harmonica solo, and Elson picking up the pace later on. The Tide, a mini-epic, switches from slowly unwinding delta blues, to a shuffle, to an unexpected Afrobeat interlude with more tasty, growling guitar from Smith. Walking Stick, which may be the most risque song that Irving Berlin ever wrote, gives Schuman and Fleming a launching pad for some genuinely exhilarating solos. A live showstopper, So Glad is a reggae/blues hybrid with some irresistibly amusing blues harp. The album winds up with Cotonou Stomp, an all-too-brief showcase for Gangbe Brass Band, and Dead Crow, an utterly bizarre, hypnotic number that sounds like Love Camp 7 covering Crosby, Stills and Nash and features the Kronos Quartet. Yet another triumph for insurgent Brooklyn label Barbes Records. Count this one high on the list of the year’s most entertaining albums.

June 6, 2011 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine at City Winery, NYC 9/18/09

The New York Gypsy Festival‘s decision to scatter shows throughout the year, beginning in the spring, was an ambitious choice but ultimately a successful one. Although the past ten days or so were especially gypsy, with the Gypsy Tabor Festival out in Brooklyn and a whole bunch of similar bands playing the rock clubs, there was a full and enthusiastic house at City Winery Friday night for Hazmat Modine and Hungarian sensations Little Cow. The Hazmats opened and pandemonium reigned, no great surprise: there are few other acts in town who bring as much intensity and pure unadulterated fun to the stage. Frontman/harmonica player Wade Schuman wasn’t as completely gonzo as he can get, but the band was. This is a wild, extroverted crew: Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on electric guitars, Pam Fleming (back from the disabled list) on trumpet, Reut Regev on trombone and other horns, Steve Elson on tenor sax and other reeds, Rich Huntley on drums, Joseph Daley on tuba and Erik Della Penna of Kill Henry Sugar guesting on vocals on a couple of numbers.

The set list was characteristically eclectic. The blues standard Something You Got, an uncharacteristically major-key tune for this band, was elevated to the level of an ecstatic New Orleans second-line march. Irving Berlin’s tongue-in-cheek Walking Stick became a racewalk and got the crowd in front of the stage twirling just as crowds of the thirties must have done in the old vaudeville theatres. Gomez used it as a launching pad for a particularly ferocious, offhandedly raging solo, Fleming further cementing her reputation as the Human Crescendo – in this case, it was the flying lead-in to her solo, out of one by Schuman, that was the high point, but it sent the intensity level to redline in a split second as Huntley led the charge with a relentless volley of rimshots.

A new one sounded like a hypnotic early twenties delta blues number as R.L. Burnside might have done it, casually careening with more blazing fretwork from Gomez. Best song of the night was a surprisingly low-key and extremely effective Schuman instrumental, Grade A Grey Day, with Fleming bringing in the cumulo-nimbus and Elson on sax fluttering through them. After that, they flipped the script with another original that started out with Little Feat exuberance, building joyously to a 60s soul vamp with the horns blazing. They closed with Bahamut, the surreal, calypso-inflected title track to their most recent album, a somewhat surprising choice considering the long, mysterious spoken-word passage in the middle of the song. And when Schuman got there, no surprise, the dancers took a break. But they all got back into it when the song picked up again, Smith fanning the flames with a potently percussive, chord-chopping solo.

And what of the headliner, Little Cow? There were technical difficulties, no fault of the band or the club. And by a quarter to one in the morning, an hour and a half past their stage time, it was sadly time to call it a night – a strategy that paid off the following day throughout a successful, marathon sixteen-hour attempt to help some New York friends pack up and become ex-New Yorkers. Watch this space the next time Little Cow comes to town: they’re reputedly amazing in concert.

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez CD Release Show at Joe’s Pub, NYC 12/22/07

Rachelle Garniez’ dark vision never came to life so powerfully, and directly, as it did tonight. If you’ve been following this space for the last few months, you’ll notice that we’ve given her more space than we have just about anybody else. The reason is clear: the new album she was debuting tonight is fantastic, something you definitely should own, but her live shows are reliably riveting. Her previous cd release in this space was a deliriously lush, passionate affair with all kinds of orchestration and special guests. Tonight’s show was understated, driven by a very dark undercurrent: with the exception of one song, the encore, everything she played tonight was from the new album. She was accompanied on most of the songs by only guitarist Matt Munisteri and bassist Dave Hofstra (who doubled on tuba, and served as an effective reminder that if your low-end guy is good enough, you don’t need drums).

Munisteri absolutely owned the set’s first and last songs. His glimmering, jewel-like guitar arpeggios drove the opener, Mama’s Got a Brand New Baby and the charming 6/8 underdog anthem Tourmaline with an understated power. Red Red Nose, the final song on the set list, turned out not to be the love song that the album version appears to be, but a tribute to a street person who had once accosted Garniez one evening during her days busking at the corner of St. Marks and Second Avenue and presented her with a cross. Munisteri played acoustic twelve-string on that one, adding a lush, gorgeous bed of melody beneath it. He also played biting, incisive banjo on the apocalyptic, hypnotic blues Shoemaker’s Children.

Garniez likes to jam out the intros to her songs, inventing new lyrics to preface them. She didn’t do that much tonight, but she did jam out the outro to the brief time capsule Back in the Day:

That song was about the east side
And this one is about the west side
It used to be lots of fun everywhere
You could drive like a maniac and no one cared
You could knock down police barricades
At four in the morning with a giant Chevrolet
Back in the day
The glamorous and the homeless held hands together and danced all night
And everything was quite all right
Back in those days on the west side

Before everyone had a camera
You could get away with all kinds of stuff

And then she launched into After the Afterparty, which she played on piano. Tonight’s version had an unbridled anger, driven by a percussively chordal insistence missing from the version on the new cd. It’s a song about being let down and Garniez, who otherwise sang in the person of a whole grab bag of strangely compelling characters all night long, let her hair down for this one and the effect was subtle yet brutally intense. People Like You, which appears on the album as a blithely subtle swipe at the sons and daughters of suburban wealth who’ve turned much of New York into their personal VIP room, was delivered with a snarl. “I get down on my knees and thank you for letting me talk to you,” Garniez sneered. The crowd was a polyglot mix reminiscent of who you’d see in this neighborhood before any Dark Tower loomed over the Cube at Astor Place, and they loved it.

The only cameos tonight were brief but effective: clarinetist Doug Wieselman, blues harpist Wade Schuman (of Hazmat Modine fame) and trumpet/flugelhorn player Pam Fleming, the human crescendo, all added colors ranging from sweet pastel shades to spicy New Orleans red. Garniez encored with Swimming Pool Blue, ostensibly the first song she ever wrote: as she told it tonight, some old bandmates of hers asked her to write a Christmas song. What she came up with instead was a sultry, Marilyn Monroe-ish saloon blues number. “Until my dreams come true,” she sang at the end. “A thousand miles away,” she added off-mic, a comment that didn’t go unnoticed. And then, appropriately, the room went dark.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine and Dr. John at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival 5/6/07

Knowing what time the bands start at this semi-annual outdoor deepfried food festival is always a crapshoot: the schedule on the festival’s official website didn’t gybe with stagetimes the day of the show. Reportedly this is par for course. Word on the street was that Demolition String Band’s 1 PM set was excellent. Hazmat Modine took the stage at just a little after two, looking like they’d just crawled out of bed, the lot of them (and there are a lot of them: two harmonicas, trumpet, bari sax, a rhythm section with a tuba substituting for bass, and two guitarists who traded off on lapsteel and banjitar). Confined to a set that ran just over 45 minutes, there was a minimum of the expansive, frequently exhilarating soloing that they’re best known for. Instead, they worked on squeezing in as many songs as they could from their wildly psychedelic new cd Bahamut along with some road-tested crowd-pleasers. They opened with the exuberant So Glad, frontman Wade Schuman and his sparring partner, Randy Weinstein trading bluesy harmonica licks over a bouncing reggae beat. Later they did a spirited cover of the Irving Berlin novelty tune Walking Stick: while it’s easy to see this song becoming totally Sesame Street (perhaps as its creator intended it), Schuman worked the lyric’s innuendo for all it was worth. Trumpeter Pam Fleming stole the show as usual with a flamenco-flavored solo, particularly apt since the song is basically a tango. When her 12 bars were up, she paused for a second, gave a quick look to the band as if to say, “look out!” and then launched the song into the stratosphere with one of her trademark crescendos.

Though Schuman looked sleepy and wasn’t nearly as boisterous as he usually is in front of the band, he had no difficulty getting the crowd hollering, with a long, James Cotton-inflected harmonica solo that he took by himself as the band looked on, singing through the reeds as does from time to time. He also added some unusual textures by playing through a wah-wah pedal on a couple of songs. The band wound up the set with an especially terse version of the title track from the new cd, a calypso-flavored behemoth about “the largest thing that never existed,” which seems to be some kind of Borges reference. The crowd didn’t want them to leave: perhaps because Hoboken is replete with blues cover bands, this exposure to something far more authentically blues-based went over particularly well.

Afterward on the Sixth Street stage, local guitarist Karyn Kuhl and her mostly female backing band stomped through a painlessly formulaic set of punky pop with cheerleaderesque vocals and forgettable lyrics. Their best song was a minor-key blues that Kuhl said they’d never played live before.

Back to the main stage where Dr. John was headlining. He’s a hot-and-cold performer: when the mood strikes him, especially in a small club, he can be electrifying, but he’s just as likely to take the money and phone it in, especially at an outdoor festival. Happily, the Night Tripper was in a particularly dark and stormy mood, the result being a fiery, impassioned, hourlong show. Before launching into the two-part post-Katrina salute to his hometown, Sweet Home New Orleans, he berated the audience to give their money only to smallscale charities: “With the big ones, the money disappears before it gets there.” A bit later he did a bristling, impressively fresh take on the old standard St. James Infirmary Blues that he ended by pounding out the opening hook from the famous Grieg A Minor prelude.

“We call ourselves Dr. John and the Lower 9/11th,” he told the crowd. He posed the rhetorical question of why they’d continue to dwell on something the rest of the world has pretty much forgotten: we’re tough customers, he said: “We carry a grudge.” This was still a party (it’s always a party when the Doctor is in town), but a defiant celebration delivered in minor keys. No Iko Iko: we got Gris-Gris instead and it was clear that Mr. Rebennac felt like he wanted to hoodoo someone. At the end of the show they lightened up a bit, the drummer showing off his collection of funk beats before bringing Dr. John back to the stage for the encores.

Despite a degree of disorganization, the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival always has some first-rate performers on the bill: the Moonlighters, Patti Smith, Mary Lee’s Corvette and Laura Cantrell have all recently played there, and it’s safe to say that this fall’s lineup should be a good one.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment