New York Music Daily

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How to Do Winter Jazzfest 2015

Winter Jazzfest turns the cheesy Bleecker Street strip into a jazz mecca on Friday night, Jan 9 and then Saturday, Jan 10. Tickets are not cheap, but considering what you get, it’s still a considerable bargain. The best deal is the $55 two-day pass for Friday and Saturday, which if you choose wisely, will get you in to see $200 or more worth of talent, at jazz club prices anyway. Getting tickets in advance at the Poisson Rouge box office is your best bet; otherwise you can pick them up starting at 5 at Judson Church on Washington Square Park South, each day.

Your second-best deal is the one-night $35 pass. At the top end, there’s a $145 package available that gets you Friday and Saturday plus an all-star show to benefit organist Mike LeDonne’s disability charity on Jan 8 at 7 PM at the Quaker Friends Meeting Hall, 15 Rutherford Pl. north of 15th St., across the park from 3rd Ave., with LeDonne joining a hall of fame lineup including Ron Carter, Renee Rosnes, Russell Malone, Brad Mehldau, George Coleman, Benny Golson, Jimmy Cobb, Peter Bernstein, Buster Williams, Harold Mabern, Bill Charlap, Kenny Washington and others.

Usually this annual festival is backloaded with a killer Saturday night lineup, but this year, Friday’s is stronger. Keep in mind that your pass does not guarantee entry if a venue is filled to capacity, so if there’s an act you really must see, it’s worth getting there early – maybe a couple of hours early at the smaller clubs. The Friday crowds tend to be smaller than the Saturday mobscene.

On Friday night the Poisson Rouge lineup is especially choice and will be very popular with a younger crowd, since Kneebody is headlining at 9. Donald Byrd kicks off the night at 6:30 followed by a rare US appearance by fearless and often surrealistically comedic Dutch big band the ICP Orchestra. Obviously, it’s tempting to stick around for Kneebody, but their set may be on the short side since the club will want to clear the room to accommodate the Jersey tourists lined up to see the Miley Cyrus cover band playing afterward.

Which gives you a perfect opportunity to beat the crowds and hightail it around the corner to the Minettta Lane Theatre, where David Murray is playing two sets starting at 7:30: a “clarinet summit” and then fronting a trio with Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington. Oliver Lake leads a sax trio with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille there at 10 followed by Marc Ribot with a string section (!!!) at around 11:15 and then sometime after midnight there’s a tribute to John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards with what will undoubtedly be a big Tonic crowd.

Saturday‘s early sets offer plenty to choose from. You might want to start at Subculture at 6 PM with trombonist Ryan Keberele’s reliably adventurous Catharsis, then head west to the Poisson Rouge to catch spectacular Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda at 6:45. Meanwhile, luminous pianist Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret are at Zinc Bar at 6:30, while intriguing, Indian-inspired chanteuse Kavita Shah sings at 6:15 followed by Amina Claudine Myers’ trio, then sizzling postbop supergroup the Cookers, followed at around 10 by Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Charlie Parker project at the Minetta Lane Theatre. And percussionist Jaimeo Brown’s hauntingly atmospheric Transcendence,  who reinvent old spirituals, will be at Bowery Electric at 6:30. Just be aware that if you want to catch Rudresh’s set, or JD Allen’s explosive trio at half past midnight or so at Subculture, you are very strongly advised to get there early: a couple of hours early wouldn’t be too soon.

Last year’s festival featured several non-jazz acts at the end of the night at some venues. This year, they’re scattered throughout the evening at a few spots, and they’re not nearly as good. Other than postrock instrumentalists the Cellar & Point (at the Players Theatre, 1:30 AM-ish on Saturday), soul chanteuse Mavis Swan Poole and her band (the Bitter End, 8:45 on Saturday) and guitarist Stephane Wrembel (who’s gone further into Pink Floyd territory lately, also 8:45 on Saturday, way over on Barrow Street at Greenwich House Music School), that’s the only stuff beyond the jazz that’s worth seeing.

The complete lineup is below: be sure to check the schedule for updates, as there’ve been new venues added in the past week.

FRIDAY JANUARY 9th 2015

LE POISSON ROUGE 158 Bleecker Street NY NY 10012
6:30pm Donald Byrd Acoustic Electric Sessions
7:45pm ICP Orchestra
9:00pm Kneebody + Daedelus

MINETTA LANE THEATRE 18-22 Minetta Lane New York, NY 10003
6:15pm TBA
7:30pm David Murray Clarinet Summit w/ Don Byron, David Krakauer, and Hamiet Bluiett
8:45pm David Murray w/ Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington
10:00pm TRIO 3 w/ Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille and special guest TBA
11:15pm Marc Ribot & The Young Philadelphians with Strings
12:30am Strange and Beautiful: The Music of John Lurie and The Lounge Lizards

JUDSON CHURCH 55 Washington Square Park South
6:45pm Jason Miles & Ingrid Jensen “Kind Of New”
8:00pm Russ Johnson’s Still Out To Lunch (Music of Eric Dolphy)
9:15pm Dave Douglas Quintet
10:30pm Travis Laplante’s Battle Trance
11:45pm So Percussion feat. Man Forever
1:00am Improvised Round Robin Duets

SUBCULTURE 45 Bleecker Street NYC
6:00pm Arturo O’Farrill’s “Boss Level” Septet
7:15pm Linda Oh’s Sun Pictures
8:30pm Taylor Eigsti’s Free Agency
9:45pm Tyshawn Sorey Piano Trio
11:00pm Kris Davis Infrasound
12:15am Uri Caine / Han Bennink
1:30am Aaron Parks Little/Big

THE BITTER END 147 Bleecker Street NYC (Revive Music Stage)
6:15pm Wallace Roney Quintet
7:30pm The Baylor Project feat. Jean Baylor and Marcus Baylor
8:45pm AFRO HARPING: Brandee Younger’s Tribute to Dorothy Ashby feat. Mark Whitfield
10:00pm Igmar Thomas and The Cypher
11:15pm Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life feat. Jean Baylor
12:30am Raymond Angry – Celebration of Life Suite
1:45am Nate Smith + KINFOLK

THE PLAYERS THEATER 115 MacDougal Street NYC
7:00pm Joe Locke ‘Love Is A Pendulum’
8:15pm Oran Etkin ‘Reimagining Benny Goodman
9:30pm Mike Pride’s From Bacteria To Boys
10:45pm Jen Shyu’s ‘Solo Rites: Seven Breaths’
12:00am Marquis Hill Blackout
1:15am Michael Bates Northern Spy

ZINC BAR 82 West 3rd Street NYC
6:30pm TBA
7:45pm Alicia Olatuja
9:00pm Allan Harris
10:15pm Dafnis Prieto Sextet
11:30pm Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom
12:45am Bria Skonberg
2:00am TBA

BOWERY ELECTRIC 327 Bowery NYC
6:30pm TBA
7:45pm The MazzMuse Breakdown
9:00pm Jungle Funk
10:15pm Zongo Junction

CARROLL PLACE 157 Bleecker Street NYC
6:00pm Jovan Alexandre & Collective Consciousness
7:15pm Chris Washburne SYOTOS plays Acid Mambo
8:30pm Anthony Pirog
9:45pm Jay Rodriguez SEVEN
11:00pm Todd Clouser A Love Electric
12:15am Silver with Eddie Henderson
1:30am Frank Catalano

SATURDAY JANUARY 10th 2015

LE POISSON ROUGE 158 Bleecker Street NY NY 10012
6:30pm Edmar Castaneda Trio w/ Andrea Tierra
7:45pm TBA
9:00pm David Murray Infinity Quartet with Saul Williams

MINETTA LANE THEATRE 18-22 Minetta Lane New York, NY 10003
6:15pm Kavita Shah
7:30pm Amina Claudine Myers Trio
8:45pm The Cookers
10:00pm Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls (The Charlie Parker Project)
11:15pm TBA
12:30am Nicholas Payton Trio

JUDSON CHURCH 55 Washington Square Park South
6:45pm Theo Bleckman Quartet w/ Ambrose Akinmusire
8:00pm Ken Vandermark – Nate Wooley Duo
9:15pm Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet
10:30pm The Campbell Brothers – A Sacred Steel Love Supreme
11:45pm TBA

SUBCULTURE 45 Bleecker Street NYC
6:00pm TBA
7:15pm Alfredo Rodríguez Trio
8:30pm Lionel Loueke Trio
9:45pm SFJAZZ Collective: Originals and the Music of Michael Jackson
11:00pm Harriet Tubman
12:15am JD Allen Trio w/ Gregg August & Rudy Royston
1:30am TBA

THE BITTER END 147 Bleecker Street NYC (Revive Music Stage)
6:15pm Oliver Lake Organ Quartet
7:30pm Matthew Stevens
8:45pm Soul Understated feat. Mavis Swan Poole
10:00pm Mad Satta
11:15pm Butcher Brown
12:30am Taylor McFerrin
1:45am Walter Smith III

THE PLAYERS THEATER 115 MacDougal Street NYC
7:00pm Dan Weiss Large Ensemble
8:15pm Darius Jones Quartet
9:30pm Tomas Fujiwara & The Hookup
10:45pm Ryan Keberle & Catharsis
12:00am Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas
1:15am The Cellar and Point

ZINC BAR 82 West 3rd Street NYC
6:30pm Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret
7:45pm Mark Turner Quartet
9:00pm Hadar Noiberg Trio
10:15pm Kellylee Evans
11:30pm Mino Cinelu World Jazz Ensemble
12:45am Nasheet Waits Equality Quartet
2:00am Loston Harris Trio

BOWERY ELECTRIC 327 Bowery NYC
6:30pm Jaimeo Brown Transcendence: Work Songs
7:45pm Dana Leong Trio
9:00pm Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions
10:15pm Troker

CARROLL PLACE 157 Bleecker Street NYC (Hot Jazz Festival Night)
6:15pm Martina DaSilva’s Ladybugs with Kate Davis
7:30pm Dan Levinson’s Gotham SophistiCats
8:45pm Stephane Wrembel Band
10:00pm Catherine Russell
11:15pm David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band
12:30am Frank Vignola and Friends
1:45am Cynthia Sayer & Her Joyride Band

GREENWICH HOUSE MUSIC SCHOOL 46 Barrow Street
6:15pm Martina DaSilva’s Ladybugs with Kate Davis
7:30pm Dan Levinson’s Gotham SophistiCats with Blind Boy Paxton
8:45pm Stephane Wrembel Band
10:00pm Catherine Russell
11:15pm David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band

Robin Aigner’s Con Tender Punches and Teases on All Kinds of Levels

There are plenty of sirens with torchy voices out there. Most of them front oldtimey swing jazz bands. The most gifted of them tend to drift either further into jazz, or into straight-ahead rock, a la Neko Case, where the most intriguing wiggles and secret corners of their voices are guaranteed centerstage.

Robin Aigner is one of those sirens, but even in that crowded field, she stands out. As exceptional and in-demand a vocal stylist as she is, her greatest strength is her songwriting. She has a laser sense for the mot juste. Obsessed with history, she writes in a vernacular straight from whatever era she’s channeling, packed with devious puns and double and triple entendres. As a tunesmith, she’s a connoisseur of Americana, from Appalachian folk, to early jazz, to blues and torch song from throughout the ages. Her latest album, Con Tender, with her band Parlour Game, is streaming at Bandcamp.

The album title alone gives you a good idea of where Aigner’s coming from. It could be Spanglish, a battle-of-the-sexes boxing metaphor, or caretaker to the duplicitous – or, most likely, all three. The opening track, Kiss Him When He’s Down sets Aigner’s wry prescription for how to keep a guy’s head in, um, the game to a bittersweet swing blues lit up by the interweave of Rima Fand’s violin and Michael Joviala’s clarinet over the slinky pulse of bassist Larry Cook and Gutbucket/Universal Thump drummer Adam D. Gold. Strings moves forward in time toward late 30s Ink Spots territory, a wistfully swinging tale from the point of view of a girl who thinks she’s made a break for good…but she’s left the door open just a crack.

Crazy works a charming early hillbilly swing shuffle with a sideways reference to the Patsy Cline song, Aigner admitting to a weakness for

Charmers who disarm the masses
Glasses-wearing antifascists
Romeos with garden hoes
Throw me deep into the throes

A plaintively elegant waltz with a verse in subtly sarcastic Franglais, Français Salé pairs Aigner’s ukulele against Fand’s stark violin, all the way up to an unexpectedly crushing if completely understated final verse. Likewise, Aigner pairs her terse acoustic guitar with Joviala’s spacious piano over a bolero-tinged groove on Shoegazer: it’s a surprisingly sympathetic if amusing account of a guy with a fetish.

Aigner sails gently through her imperiled airplane metaphors for all they’re worth in Velocity, a gorgeous country waltz that draws comparisons to Laura Cantrell. El Paraiso draws a vivid, Marissa Nadler-esque Victorian heartbreak tableau with string band music to match its milieu. The album hits a peak with Greener, its Gatsby-era setting the exact opposite of what it seems to be, Fand’s violin and Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet flying over a tensely flurrying, flamenco-tinged beat.

A 21st century update on classic hokum blues, Your Candy’s No Good for Me, with its endless sequence of innuendos, is just plain hilarious:

Your honey’s quite the bee’s kneex
Even when I’m stung
I give your honey bear an extra little squeeze

The album comes full circle with a stark, gospel-tinged take of Wayfaring Stranger. Pulitzer Prize-winning violinist Caroline Shaw, bassist Julian Smith, harmonica player Jim Etkin, banjo player Noah Harley, guitarist David Wechsler and drummer Alice Bierhorst also contribute to this richly purist collection: look for it in a few days on the list of the year’s best here.

Big Lazy’s Don’t Cross Myrtle – Best Album of 2014

Film composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich has been on some kind of roll lately. He scored the Academy Award-shortlisted documentary Art and Craft with characteristically vivid noir unease. His one-off album with his cinematic instrumental project Ulrich Ziegler, with ex-Pink Noise guitarist Itamar Ziegler, was rated best album of 2012 here. Most recently, Ulrich has regrouped his legendary noir instrumental trio Big Lazy, who set the bar as far as menacing reverbtone guitar cinematics are concerned. The title of their latest album, Don’t Cross Myrtle – streaming at Spotify – is a creepy deep-Brooklyn reference, and it’s apt. Pound for pound, it’s the best album of 2014.

Some backstory: the group broke up in 2007. Meanwhile, Ulrich continued on with a semi-rotating cast of characters including drummer Yuval Lion, who ended up sticking around for this project along with prominently ubiquitous bassist Andrew Hall, who’s never played with more stygian intensity than he does here. The new album covers all the desolate, shadowy, knifes-edge territory that previous incarnations of the band have evoked since their iconic 1996 debut, Amnesia, released under the name Lazy Boy (the reason for the name change is a sick and hilarious indictment of American corporate fascism). And this unit turns out to be the best version of the band, ever, surpassing even the slinky menace of Ulrich’s original trio with Paul Dugan on bass and Willie Martinez on drums.

The opening track, Minor Problem, is a a twisted tango, Ulrich tracing a sleaze-infested trail with his guitar and then his lapsteel over a misterioso clatter from Lion as Hall holds it all together. The slowly undulating Unswerving blends Charlie Giordano’s accordion into Ulrich’s spaciously eerie chromatics for a tinge of Peter Lorre-era musette. The Low Way opens as a jauntily swinging, Bill Frisell-esque highway theme, but Ulrich wastes no time edging it toward the shadows: it’s sort of the reverse image of Junction City, the one relatively easygoing track on the band’s debut.

Human Sacrifice makes horror surf out of a flamenco theme – with its savage clusters and sudden dips and swells, it’s one of the most suspenseful tracks here, and a real showstopper live. Black Sheep brings back the pastoral flavor with a muted, psychedelic sarcasm – Lion’s snorting barnyard flurries on the drums are irresistibly funny. Avenue X – another Brooklyn reference and a popular title in the horror surf demimonde – revisits the murky, dubby depths that Ulrich explored for awhile about ten years ago, with a snide, faux-blithe trumpet cameo from Sexmob‘s Steven Bernstein.

Night Must Fall motors along on an ominously sketchy ghoulabilly shuffle groove in the same vein as classic late 90s Big Lazy tracks like Princess Nicotine and Just Plain Scared, hitting a similarly explosive, jagged peak. The single best cut here is the funereal waltz Swampesque, Lion and Hall shadowing Ulrich’s alternately lingering and icepicking lines. Bring Me the Head of Lee Marvin pairs crime-scene guitar with guest Peter Hess’s brooding baritone sax over an almost imperceptibly shapeshifting groove.

The album’s title track is also its funniest, a ba-BUMP stripper theme that the band, and Bernstein again, fire poison darts at with considerable relish. Whereabouts takes a balmy jazz ballad deep into Twin Peaks territory; the album winds up with a bonus track, Lunch Lady, a narrative that turns on a dime from bouncy and bluesy to murderous. Throughout the album, Ulrich and the rhythm section pepper the shadowy cinematics with bits of black humor and the occasional devious quote – Hendrix, the Mission Impossible theme and allusions to Nino Rota’s Fellini soundtracks, a well that Ulrich has drawn deeply from over the years. Obviously, picking this album over similarly brilliant if stylistically unrelated releases by Jennifer Niceley, Robin Aigner, Paul Wallfisch’s Ministry of Wolves and Arborea (all of whom you may see on this page in the near future, hint hint) is completely subjective. It’s like choosing Sergeant Pepper over Are You Experienced in 1967, or Public Enemy over Sonic Youth in 1987. If you buy the idea that somebody has to make that call, this album makes it a no-brainer.

Singles for 12/18

These things accumulate like dust bunnies around here. Imagine if dust bunnies could talk. What would they say?

Birmingham, Alabama trio Wray’s Bad Heart is Jesus & Mary Chain x Lost Patrol with a little dreampop swirl mixed in with the postpunk growl and the reverb-iced surf catchiness (via youtube).

Black Light White Light’s Running sounds like peak-era 90s Wilco doing paisley underground, with an echoey Rickenbacker jangle, a little glam and a LONG stoner outro (via last.fm - don’t worry, this is their free page, you don’t have to pay to hear it).

Tori Vasquez will bring you back into focus with the uneasy southwestern gothic folk of Wear You Thin (youtube). And here’s Pale Green Stars doing Lesson 27 (via Reverbnation): slide guitar swamp rock straight out of the Gun Club songbook circa 1985, an unrepentant reflection on a stoner past complete with a sweetly sarcastic verse from a famous hymn.

A Long Overdue Look at the Brooklyn What’s Latest Incendiary Release

The Brooklyn What exploded out of the Freddy’s Bar scene in the late zeros. That was right before the building that housed the first incarnation of that beloved Brooklyn venue was bulldozed, in the wake of the illegal land grab that resulted in the construction of the notorious Barclays Center. So it’s no wonder that the band’s music has been so relevant, and so hard-hitting. Yours probably would be, too, if your home turf was seized in the name of eminent domain and then turned into a basketball stadium, to further enrich an already mega-wealthy out-of-state developer.

Since then, the band’s musicianship has grown exponentially, over the course of two full-length albums and a bunch of singles, without losing touch with their punk roots. Watching them develop has been akin to seeing how the Clash rose from their early three-chord stomps to the epic stylistic mashups of Sandinista. The Brooklyn What’s latest, characteristically intense ep, streaming at Bandcamp, is titled Minor Problem. Their next show, starting around 9 this coming January 17 at the Gutter in Williamsburg, is a Lou Reed/VU tribute and benefit for the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri with a whole slew of bands including Jeff Lewis, psychedelic folk legend Peter Stampfel, No One and the Somebodys, Ghospal, the Planes, Electric People, Old Table and possibly others.

The new record’s opening track, Sledgehammer Night, gives you a good idea of where the band is coming from these days: it’s amazing how much they can pack into a single song, even in just a couple of minutes. This one’s got an intro like an early Wire outtake and a catchy twin guitar hook from Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo. It’s alternately skronky and propulsive – and kind of creepy in places. “I’m sick and tired of staring at screens,” frontman Jamie Frey intones, “I need a reaction, I need a release.” His voice has grown deeper, more world-weary since the early days, no surprise considering how much this city, and the world, has changed since then.

The intro to Blowin’ Up hints at the Dead Boys; the verse is hardcore, the missing link between Black Flag and Guided by Voices. Then the band swings the hell out of it, with a searing, unhinged guitar solo (guessing that’s O’Donnell putting blisters on his fingers). By contrast, Metropolitan Avenue is a four-on-the-floor backbeat anthem held together by bassist Matt Gevaza and drummer Jesse Katz as Frey makes his best pitch to a standoffish Bushwick girl while the guitarists trade jagged incisions and fullscale roar.

As good as those songs are, the masterpiece here is Too Much Worry, almost nine minutes of white-knuckle intensity, relentless angst and psychedelic guitar fury. Napolillo’s homage to early Joy Division extends to the rapidfire rhymes of No Love Lost (and echoes of Warsaw), and as the song careens forward, there’s an interlude where it evokes a tighter take on that band doing the Velvets’ Sister Ray, at least musically speaking. The guitars rise and fall and after a brief passage with Frey’s eerily distant piano rippling overhead, heat up with a volcanic duel worthy of the Dream Syndicate. That’s O’Donnell with the icepick attack in the left channel, Napolillo’s scorched-earth stampede on the right. As four-song ep’s go, there’s been nothing released in 2014 that comes close to this: watch for it on the best albums of the year page here in about a week.

Frey’s prowess as a prose writer matches his songwriting: his blog is LMFAO and just as insightful, in terms of what’s happening to this city.

Dark Country Crooner Mark Sinnis Puts Out His Most Haunting Album

Purists complain when their favorite style of music changes. Sometimes they have a point – drum machines and bling-bling hip-hop product placements in country music? Barf.

But consider: if a style doesn’t change, that means it’s dead. Mark Sinnis personifies the cutting edge in this era’s country music, aware of tradition and immersed in it yet taking it to genuinely exciting new places. While his new album It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter (streaming at Spotify) is his deepest immersion in hard honkytonk, he also sounds like no other artist in country music anywhere. It’s what you get from a guy who grew up on the classics – Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, most obviously – but as a musician, cut his teeth playing new wave and gothic rock. Doktor John of the Aquarian called his music”cemetery and western,” and the term stuck. It’s an apt way to describe Sinnis’s doomed vision and individualistic blend of classic C&W and Nashville gothic.

It’s a long album, well over an hour’s worth of music, almost unthinkable in today’s world. Themes of drinking to kill the pain, death and life beyond the grave recur throughout it. Sinnis’ resonant baritone, always a strength, has never been more soulful or expressive, or more highly nuanced. He was good fifteen years ago fronting ferocious dark rockers Ninth House – who’ve been through a million lineup changes, and are still more or less active – but he’s great now.

Lee Compton’s trumpet and Brian Aspinwall’s pedal steel team up to give the album’s Texas shuffle of a title track an ominous southwestern gothic touch. Sinnis sings Wine and Whiskey and the Devil Makes Three with George Jones inflections without making it blatantly derivative. Interestingly, Aspinwall’s mellow steel work gives a cover of the Ernest Tubb honkytonk hit Driving Nails in My Coffin an almost Hawaiian feel.

Six Feet from Eternity opens with the story of Mary Ann Slouson, who died at age thirty on August 25, 1854 – Sinnis’ birthday. A World with No Tomorrow, unlike what the title would suggest, is optimistic – with its slow Memphis soul groove, jaunty trumpet and unexpectedly biting garage rock guitar from virtuoso Smokey Chipotle (who colors the rest of the album with classic honkytonk licks straight out of 1962), it seems Sinnis got the visitation from his pal on the other side that he was hoping for.

Sitting at the Heartbreak Saloon has a Tex-Mex sway and the feel of a Conway Twitty hit fromthe 70s with better production values and a more boozy milieu. Sunday Mourning Train works a period-perfect grim 1968-style Johnny Cash chunk-ka-chunk shuffle. Cemeteries and Centuries broodinglyand hypnotically contemplates “Sobering realities,” as Sinnis puts it, “Like waiting for a train, one by one we go.” A lingering, slow cover of the George Jones classic He Stopped Loving Her Today revisits that ambience a little later on, fueled by Zach Ingram’s funeral parlor organ.

On a Cold Night in December sets a haunting overnight train narrative to a loping southwestern gothic beat. Open Road of Memories has a bittersweet, nocturnal bounce, a mid 60’s-style Nashville September song. Down Old Route Number Nine makes a dirge out of Merle Travis Sixteen Tons-style country blues, swaying along with Stephen Gara’s resolute banjo. And Sinnis puts an update on Johnny Cash spoken-word pieces from the 60s with The Angel of Death. The album winds up with another Cash soundalike, In Harmony, a catchy if utterly morbid coda that makes uneasy peace with the inevitability of the grave. There are also a couple of remakes of older Sinnis songs here: a surprisingly gentle take of the corrosive kiss-off anthem Mistaken for Love, and a lustrous version of the Ninth House classic Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me. You’ll see this here again in a few days on the Best Albums of 2014 page.

A Historically Vital, Epically Sweeping Film Music Album from Daniel Hope

Violinist Daniel Hope‘s latest release, Escape to Paradise: The Hollywood Album (streaming at Spotify), isn’t just a fascinating and rewarding listen: it’s a important historical document. Film preservationists race against the ravages of time to salvage rare celluloid; likewise, Hope’s new recordings of film music by Jewish expatriates, mostly from pre-and post-WWII Hollywood, have historical value for that reason alone. What’s just as important is how vividly Hope underscores how Jewish composers’ contributions were as vital in defining an era in filmmaking as their colleagues on the theatrical side were. What’s more, this new recording, made with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under the baton of Alexander Shelley, is much cleaner and higher quality than any old, mono celluloid version could possibly be. Many of these pieces are not heard all the way through in the films, and while there were stand-alone soundtrack albums for some of the movies whose music is featured here, others had none, all the more reason to savor this.

As you would imagine from the filmography chronicled here, it’s a lavish, Romantic ride. The album opens with Miklós Rózsa’s ripe, vibrato-fueled 1959 love theme from William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Hope leading the way with a crystalline, guardedly hopeful, soaring tone. Likewise, his highwire lines light up Rózsa’s lush, flamenco-inflected 1961 Love Theme from El Cid. And yet another romantic theme – this one from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, from sixteen years earlier – shows that Hungarian-born composer had his ecstatically crescendoing formula well-refined by then.

Taken out of context, Thomas Newman’s interlude from the immortal plastic bag scene in American Beauty is remarkably plaintive, a quality enhanced by this performance. The swing-era standard As Time Goes By, popularized in Casablanca, wasn’t written by Max Steiner, the composer of that film’s score, but by Tin Pan Alley song merchant Herman Hupfeld: Hope chooses it to end the album, in a stark solo rendition. A sad Henry Waxman waltz from the 1962 weepie Come Back, Little Sheba foreshadows it

The source material here reaches beyond mainstrean Hollywood. There’s also a majestic, string-driven version of a Walter Jurmann Weimar ragtime piece; Eric Zeisl’s striking overture Menuhim’s Song; and a surprisingly Celtic-tinged instrumental ballad by Werner Richard Heymann.

Not all the composers here are Jewish, either. John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List adds context, along with an achingly lush 1988 Ennio Morricone set piece from Cinema Paradiso that draws a straight line back to his predecessors here.

And the album isn’t just film scores. German crooner Max Raabe sings a marvelously deadpan version of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his work with Andres Segovia, gets a shout via a rippling take of Sea Murmurs, from his Shakespeare Songs suite. Erich Korngold – whose Hollywood success springboarded a career in serious concert music – is represented first by a dynamic version of his Violin Concerto in D. Hope dances and weaves over an alternately sweeping and gusty backdrop as a dramatic melody with all the hallmarks of a movie title theme rise to the forefront. The Serenade from his ballet suite Der Schneeman (The Snowman) is more low key, with a similarly heart-on-sleeve ambience. Virtually everything here will sweep you away to a land that time happily hasn’t forgotten – if you tend to find yourself immersed in something on Turner Classics at three in the morning, do yourself a favor and get this album.

Kristin Hoffmann Plays an Intimate West Village New Year’s Eve Show

If you like art-rock with elegant, baroque-tinged melodies, precisely nuanced piano, hypnotic rhythms and out-of-this-world gorgeous, dynamic vocals, Kristin Hoffmann is playing a New Year’s Eve show starting at around quarter to midnight at her longtime West Village haunt, Caffe Vivaldi at 32 Jones St. just off Bleecker. There are two dinner seatings (VERY EXPENSIVE) before then. The club calendar says “open house 1-3 AM” which can be interpreted any number of ways: assuming open bar might not be the safest bet.

In addition to her sweeping, often achingly intense work as a solo artist, Hoffmann is the singer in NASA’s Bella Gaia multimedia extravaganza, with whom she tours the globe. The Juilliard-trained singer is also in demand in the contemporary classical world: her latest album in that field is her Unfolding Secrets collaboration with cinematic Italian composer Marco Missinato. At her most recent Saturday night Caffe Vivaldi gig, Hoffmann sang one of those warmly neoromantic, colorful themes with a soaring, operatically-tinged intensity, adding just a hint of vibrato at the end of phrase when the music called for a little extra voltage. A little later, she brought the crowd to their feet with an even more high-octane, arioso rendition of Ave Maria.

But it’s her originals that people come out for here, and she played to the crowd. As precise and catchy as Hoffmann’s hooks are, there’s an angst-ridden undercurrent throughout her music. Hoffmann is a Libra: balance is a major theme with her, something she seems to grapple with and manages to achieve through her music’s gusty swells and majestic tectonic shifts. This was an electroacoustic performance, Hoffmann at the piano playing along to orchestration and beats on her tablet, Premik Russell Tubbs serving as a one-man band behnd her on – take a deep breath – lapsteel, alto sax, bass flute and wind synth.

The lingering, resonant washes from his lapsteel grounded several of the songs, notably the suspensefully brooding art-trip-hop of the opening number, The Magic and a later anthem, Falling, about jumping off a cliff – metaphorically speaking. On another song, Hoffmann worked an insistent piano riff that brought to mind Carol Lipnik‘s more minimalist work. As the show went on, Hoffmann aired out her many voices : an impassioned, confident alto, a stratospheric, spine-tingling soprano as many of the songs would hit a peak, and a no-nonsense soul approach on a rousing Aretha Franklin-influenced ballad. She kept that vibe going with a plaintive, similarly soulful take of Joni Mitchell’s River. Meanwhile, Tubbs, who’d been adding judicious textures via his many wind instruments – and a jaunty sax solo on River – went back to lapsteel for his most adrenalizing, crescendoing solo of the night on another big anthem. Hoffmann wound up her first set with a stately lullaby of sorts, a spaciously syncopated mood piece and a similarly nocturnal number that brought to mind the old Cindy Lauper hit Time After Time.

A Dynamic, Tuneful, Mysterious New Album and Two NYC Shows by the Yiddish Art Trio

At their most somber, the Yiddish Art Trio take otherworldly cantorial and Jewish folk themes and add a jolt of 21st century energy. Their quieter songs come across as sort of a less deliberately obscure take on the kind of material on the legendary Darkcho album. Their more upbeat repertoire reaches toward Ichka‘s energetic klezmer jazz, although this trio stick more closely to the songs’ folk roots. And unlike the mystery crew on the Darkcho album, you can actually see the members of the Yiddish Art Trio on tour this coming January. The three – clarinetist Michael Winograd, bassist/frontman Benjy Fox-Rosen and accordionist Patrick Farrell – rank among the world’s elite players in the thriving Jewish music demimonde, and also have a pair of NYC shows coming up. For those who’d prefer a lively small club atmosphere, they’re at Cornelia St. Cafe on Dec 17 at 6 (six) PM; cover is $8 and includes a drink! For those who prefer a more rapturous sonic experience, the group are playing the album release show for their new one – streaming at Bandcamp – at the gorgeously restored Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum (just north of Division; B/D to Grand St.) on Dec 21 at 7 PM; cover is $20/$15 stud/srs.

The album’s opening track is a diptych, Fox-Rosen’s spacious bass and low-key, heartfelt vocals giving way to Farrell’s balmy, lingering atmospherics, then it morphs into a wistful ballad. Farrell’s long, trilling crescendo fuels the second track’s upward flight, followed by another Farrell original, a brisky, bouncy sher dance with a long, sailing Winograd solo.

Track four reverts to pensive, spacious, distantly angst-fueled ballad mode; the group follows that with a lively, catchy, jazz-infused waltz by Winograd, Zhok’s on Me. Guilt, another Winograd composition, pairs his wary, airy lines with dark, full-throttle washes from Farrell’s accordion, evoking the majesty of a classical organ prelude. Fox-Rosen follows that with another terse, uneasy, suspensefully paced vocal number.

The triptych Seven Months Away from My Home begins as a lushly moody waltz, transforms into a deliciously vertiginous, swaying terkisher dance with a rippling Winograd solo and winds out as a biting freylekh romp written by Farrell. The album’s most epic track, Aza Freyd begins with atmospheric washes over Fox-Rosen’s minimalistically plucked bass and rises to a joyous waltz theme on the wings of Winograd’s elegantly trilling clarinet. The album winds up with a slow, bucolic number that grows unexpectedly somber, and then a whimsical hasidic tune. You don’t have to speak Yiddish, or for that matter, to be Jewish to enjoy these colorful and intriguing songs – although it helps.

Southern Gothic Tourmates Play Two Killer Shows on December 19

Folk noir songwriters Lorraine Leckie and Kelley Swindall wound up their third annual Southern Gothic Tour, making their way back from New Orleans to their home turf with a sold-out gig at the Mercury on the thirteenth of the month, an appropriate date for the two haunting, haunted, relentlessly intense bandleaders. The crowd squeezed around the video tripod set up in the middle of the floor: if the crew who were meticulously working it got their levels right, both performers got a great live album out of it. Swindall is playing what’s rumored to be her farewell NYC gig on Dec 19 at 9 at the Bitter End, of all places, for $10; Leckie plays two hours later that same night at 11 at Sidewalk for free, so if you’re adventurous, you can catch what crowds south of the Mason-Dixon line got to enjoy on a doublebill this past fall.

It’s impossible to imagine a better straight-up rock band than Leckie’s group the Demons (Huffington Post has a funny, insightful piece on them here). Lead guitar monster Hugh Pool channeled Hendrix in sideswiping, lighter-fluid-on-the-frets mode over the deep, in-the-pocket groove of bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff. Pool unleashed a sunbaked, blistering Stoogoid attack on the album’s title track Rebel Devil Devil Rebel, a surrealistically joyous shout-out to New Orleans. At the end of the show, the band cut loose with a viciously ecstatic version of Ontario, a wickedly catchy Crazy Horse style stomp, Leckie’s explosive yet bittersweet shout-out to her Canadian roots. In between, the band snarled their way through the Warren-Zevon-on-acid glam of Rainbow, the distant menace of Watch Your Step and a lingering version of The Everywhere Man, a serial killer narrative fueled by Pool’s vertigo-inducing, echoing slide work. Out in front of the band, playing Telecaster (and keys on one plaintively brief number), Leckie’s steely vocals were undiminished over the maelstrom.

Swindall cut her teeth playing music with a long-running residency at Stefan Lutak’s legendary East Village dive bar the Holiday Lounge. If you could play there, you could play anywhere, so Swindall took the stage at the Mercury like she owned the place. She’s sort of a musical counterpart to Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers, a southern gothic intellectual giving voice to the restless and the outcasts among us, with an indelible wistfulness. This time out, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and backed by a three-piece band, she opened with a brooding, Waits-ish blues set in a vivid Lower East side milieu. She revisited that hauntingly later in the set with a creepy, noir tableau where “every high becomes its low” and then a cheating song set to an oldtimey shuffle groove.

Bassist Stephanie Allen (also of the Third Wheel Band) propelled a brisk mashup of an oldtime talking blues and a country patter song, followed by a triumphant version of the weed-smuggling anthem California and a little later, Swindall’s own original, full-throttle version of Minglewood Blues. She wound up her set with the kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems, I Never Loved You Anyway, and then the Murder Song, a vindictive ending for a clueless chick who spends her nights getting trashed at honkytonk karaoke. If New York ends up losing Swindall, it’ll be our loss and someone else’s gain.

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