New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

A Scorching New Rock Record and an Album Release Show at the Mercury by Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons

Lorraine Leckie is one of New York’s most eclectic and prolific songwriters. Her previous album Rudely Interrupted, a collaboration with legendary/notorious social critic Anthony Haden-Guest, was an elegant blend of chamber pop. The one before that, Martini Eyes, was an acoustic album. In the meantime, Leckie has been dividing her time onstage between the chamber pop and the ferocious electric rock of Her Demons, the name she’s bestowed on her group with lead guitar monster Hugh Pool, bassist Charles Dechants and drummer Paul Triff. And they’ve got a new album – one of the final projects to be recorded at the legendary Excello Recording, at least in the studio’s original Williamsburg space – titled Rebel Devil Devil Rebel. Leckie and the band are playing the album release show on Nov 13, appropriately enough, at 8 PM at the Mercury. Leckie’s longtime tourmate Kelley Swindall, who alternates between oldschool talking blues, murder ballads and pensive acoustic Americana, opens the night with her band at 7; advance tix are $10.

The creepy video for the album’s first single, Watch Your Step (that’s actress Celina Leroy in the role of the doomed girl) is over at No Depression. Leckie digs in with her vocals for a surprising amount of grit behind Pool’s snarling, resonant lines. The title track, a joyous shout-out to New Orleans and its temptations, is even more bristling, Pool channeling Hendrix when he’s not veering between Stones roar and classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Likewise, Always Got a Song blends Texas shuffle blues, 60s psych and vintage CBGB-era gutter rock.

Leckie wrote the uneasy Laurel Canyon ripper Paint the Towns Red while marching against the Iraq war during the peak of the past decade’s protests. Come A Dancin’, which shifts between Nashville gothic and psychedelic menace,  has quite the backstory: Leckie had a dream about a film titled Blood and Sand, starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth. The following day, she went to the video store and, on a lark, asked the clerk if such a movie existed. Not only did the film actually exist – Leckie, who’d had no idea that there was any such thing, rented it and discovered that it’s about a woman who seduces men with her guitar!

The ominously lingering Beware, with its distant early Alice Cooper vibe, was inspired by friends lost to drug overdoses. Leckie switches from guitar to piano on the lithely dancing, string-infused Blink Blink, which she was inspired to write by her late dog Killjoy: “‘The dog would go sit in the yard for hours and stare like she was saying goodbye to the world,” Leckie explains. And the delicate Fly Away Little Sparrow is a dedication to her late brother, a suicide.

By contrast, Rainbow has a jaunty, glam-infused feel, like Warren Zevon on mushrooms. There’s also a much harder-rocking, eerily psychedelic take of the serial killer tale The Everywhere Man, which originally appeared on the Rudely Interrupted album. It’s another triumph for Leckie and her bleak yet resiliently individualistic vision. The new album’s not out yet but will be at all the usual spots in the next couple of weeks along with the rest of her darkly intense catalog.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Revisit a Mysteriously High-Voltage LJ Murphy Show

Good Cop: You watch the game last night?

Bad Cop: Now what on earth would make you think that I’d be interested in two mediocre third-place clubs duking it out this late in the season?

Good Cop: It’s in character. It’s what you’d do.

Bad Cop: It’s like 1997 all over again but not quite that absurd. Do you know what the pitcher who’s starting for the Giants tonight had for a won-lost record this year? Nine wins, thirteen losses. The post-EY Junior Tim Hudson isn’t the guy he was a dozen years ago.

Good Cop: I don’t get the reference.

Bad Cop: You should. It’s a Mets reference.

Good Cop: I haven’t followed the Mets lately. Although I do remember when they won the World Series.

Bad Cop: You were alive that far back?

Good Cop: Yup, I think I was in kindergarten that year. My brother was so psyched. He was in little league. He made my dad get him a Gary Carter jersey. He wore that thing out. All the boys had them.

Bad Cop [wistfully] Kid. RIP.

Good Cop: You mean he’s dead?

Bad Cop: Yup. And he didn’t even do steroids like all the players now. At least not as far as I can tell.

Good Cop: That’s too bad. You’d think my brother would have mentioned it. Although he hasn’t followed the Mets much lately, either.

Bad Cop: I don’t think anybody has. I don’t even think LJ Murphy has.

Good Cop: Speaking of which, we’re going to go see him with his band the Accomplices this Saturday, November 1 at 8 at Sidewalk, right?

Bad Cop: If you say so. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. We saw him earlier this summer. Right?

Good Cop: You were there!

Bad Cop: I think you’re gonna have to take this one for me because I don’t remember much about that show.

Good Cop: You were already half in the bag by the time you got there. You must have started really early!

Bad Cop: Hey, the guy has a great band and puts on a helluva show. It’s a party, and I meant to take full advantage. And Sidewalk has that shot-and-a-beer special…

Good Cop: Which didn’t take you long to take advantage of…

Bad Cop: So shoot me. I had a good time. Or at least I think I did.

Good Cop: This puts the burden on me to remember what happened and I was hoping you could help out with that. It was awhile ago. Mid-July when he was here last.

Bad Cop: Let’s just talk about the songs. I think we can piece together something. He did Pretty for the Parlor, right?

Good Cop: Yeah, his Long Island serial killer narrative. What a great storyteller this guy is. “You found your sanctuary/In this living mortuary/But be careful what you bury/Underneath the house…” As sick as the guy in the song obviously is, you end up rooting for a serial killer because where he comes from is just as bad.

Bad Cop: What is it with you Long Island people, anyway, all these serial killers?

Good Cop: Bad water, overcrowding, all the good stuff in the gene pool got left back in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Bad Cop: Or Queens. That’s where LJ’s from, right?

Good Cop: Yup. He’s got it in his voice. That, and the New Orleans.

Bad Cop: Where did that come from?

Good Cop: Charles Brown, Dr. John, Lee Dorsey – a century of jazz and blues. That’s what I like about this band: rock songwriting, jazz values. He’s like a jazz guy, always somebody new in the band, always something different every time even if the songs and the lyrics are the same.

Bad Cop: And a sense of humor. And that’s part of the music too. I seem to remember the bass player, Nils Sorensen, having a lot of fun, a lot of jokey riffs.

Good Cop: Everybody has fun in this guy’s band. I mean, I would if I was in it.

Bad Cop: What would you do, play castanets?

Good Cop: Sure, why not? He had a girl in the band once. Remember?

Bad Cop: Supposedly there was more than one but I don’t go back that far with his music.

Good Cop: Neither do I, which is why [elbows Bad Cop] I was hoping you could help me out with this one, but instead you got completely trashed…

Bad Cop: Why the hell not? What this guy plays, ultimately, is party music. Sure, the lyrics are very clever, all kinds of double meanings and so forth, but he’s got sort of a jump blues band. You can dance to this stuff. Not that anybody’s gonna be dancing at Sidewalk…

Good Cop: Well, don’t be surprised if it happens. Let’s see, if I can go way back in my mind and remember what else was on the set list…I think he did Blue Silence, that’s that romping blues tune that had the trick ending. And Nowhere Now, which I can’t make any sense of, it’s sort of Chuck Berry but more stripped down. And of course Happy Hour, which is one of my favorites, that’s one everybody can relate to…

Bad Cop: A classic. And a distinctively New York song…

Good Cop: You don’t think that just about anybody who’s stuck hanging out with losers from the office after work could relate to it?

Bad Cop: Hmmm…maybe you’re right. I can’t really distance myself from it: that song completely nails what it’s like in the Financial District after five. Ugh.

Good Cop: And they also did Comfortable Cage, which is a really pretty, bittersweet soul song.

Bad Cop: Another one of his portraits of damaged women. Worthy of Almodovar, if I say so myself.

Good Cop: God, that sounds so pretentious. And LJ doesn’t just write about women…

Bad Cop: True. Although women factor into the music, at least to the extent that you would expect from a blues singer…

Good Cop: Tangentially. LJ’s songs are about trying to maintain your sanity even while you’re surrounded by idiots, it seems to me…

Bad Cop: Spoken like somebody from Long Island…

Good Cop: You mean Queens.

Bad Cop: You’re not from Queens.

Good Cop: I meant LJ…

Bad Cop: Uh, right. So I meet you at Sidewalk at 8? And six months later we revisit this same scenario when I can’t remember a thing?

Good Cop: This time I’ll get it all on my phone. See you there!

Singles for 10/29

Moving right along through the virtual stack until it’s finally done. Today is two catchy ones and one funny one.

Kin Ship’s Golden Dust is gorgeously jangly, clanging Byrdsy powerpop (soundcloud).

Sam Kogon’s Wake Up Your Kids/Sleeping Beauty has a soaring chamber pop A-side; the B-side is a trippy, waltzing Zombies-esque psych-pop tune with teens production values (bandcamp).

And Michael and Mardie’s Douchebag at the Bar is one of those songs that needed to be written: it’s a good thing these two did.

Arun Ramamurthy Radically Reinvents Ragas

Although violinist Arun Ramamurthy has extensive training in Indian carnatic music, he’s also a jazz guy. He’s got a lively, intriguing, cross-pollinating new album, Jazz Carnatica,streaming at Bandcamp. It’s an attempt to radically reinvent ragas with his trio, Perry Wortman on bass and Sameer Gupta – leader of Indian jazz band Namaskar, who reinvent old Bollywood themes – on drums. What does this music sound like? Because all but one of the tracks are based on classic ragas, it’s Indian classical music first and foremost. But the rhythms are lithe and dancing and full of pulsing energy, and far more terse than the frequently expansive, slowly unwinding themes of sitar music. If you’ve got friends who might confide something like, “Sure, I like Indian music ok, but it’s so meeeelllllllloooooowwwwww…” play this the next time you see them and they’ll have a change of heart. The trio are playing the album release show on Nov 1 at 8 PM at at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the West Village; cover is $15.

As much as Ramamurthy’s violin moves around, and it’s always in motion, even when he’s at his most energetic he doesn’t stray far from a central tone. That tension fuels a lot of understated mystery here. The opening track starts out surprisingly funky, with a catchy turnaround and a very cleverly implied two-chord (or two-mode, if you must) vamp. The elegant intro of the second number quickly gives way to a dancing but hypnotic theme, which the band vamps on – Wortman often doubles Ramamurthy’s lines, providing a staccato contrast to Ramamurthy’s lingering sustain.

Marc Cary – who also plays with Gupta in Namaskar – guests on the album’s three central tracks. The first also features another cross-pollinating violinist, Trina Basu – it’s the closest thing here to a psychedelically rustic, Ravi Shankar-style raga, but built around a riff that’s pure blues. The second has Cary adding a little calypso jazz flair and the most traditional jazz vernacular of the tracks here.

The next two tracks build out of moody atmospherics to more lively interplay. Likewise, the seventh track – the one Ramamurthy original, and the best of them all – expands outward from a broodingly chromatic tune to a bouncy bass solo. As the album goes along, Ramamurthy goes deeper into the microtones, his rather severe, intense tone contrasting with Wortman’s bubbly bass on the eight number here. The final one is the closest to the kind of modal jazz that Gupta plays in Namaskar, Ramamurthy choosing his spots. All of the tracks clock in at more than five minutes, sometimes considerably more. Onstage, they’ll probably take them out even further into more psychedelic territory. This is an album that will grab a lot of people: Indian music fans in search of a shot of adrenaline, and jazz fans who thrive on the space between the notes.

Stupidity Headlines a Smart, Purist R&R Triplebill Saturday Night at the Delancey

Would you go see a band called Stupidity? It takes some nerve to call yourselves that, doesn’t it? This particular band is from Stockholm, and they’re headlining an excellent retro rock bill this Saturday, Nov 1 at 11 PM, with catchy, jangly Merseybeat revivalists the Above opening at 9 followed by garage guitar maven Palmyra Delran – formerly of the Friggs – at 10.

The first track and single from Stupidity’s latest album – streaming at Reverbnation – is King Midas. Bassist Miss Anna holds it down with a growling groove along with drummer Tommy Boy’s soul-clap beat, guitarist PA’s distorted blue-flame chords and singer Emiz’s throaty howl. The b-side, On Fire kicks off with a dragster exhaust sample and works a Kill City-era Iggy vamp. The third number, Go, doesn’t waste anything: classic four-chord garage-punk hook, slamming tom-toms and a simple, jagged guitar solo that ends with a nasty pickslide.

By contrast, Rum & Gone has an early 70s Stones groove and a terse, smart lead break – as you would expect from the title, it’s a drinking song. Run nicks the Brand New Cadillac riff and takes it further into ghoulabilly territory. The longest track here, New York, is not the Sex Pistols classic but an original, poking fun at “big shops and wannabes, valentines and divorcees,” Emiz taking a typical stroll through the East Village.

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get is also an original, bringing to mind what the Clash did with Booker T. & the MG’s. They follow the vamping, Lou Reed-style Heartland with Baby It’s You, which welds a big anthemic chorus to a desperate, vintage Stooges riff-rock verse. The last track here is the punkest. Oldschool American rock sounds, no wasted notes, good energy, catchy tunes, what more could you want?

An Exhilarating Celebration of Ancient Yet Avant Garde Korean Sounds at Symphony Space

Saturday night’s celebration of traditional Korean music and dance staged by Sue Yeon Park of the Korean Performing Arts Center  at Symphony Space featured sounds that were as cutting-edge as they were rustic. Korean pansori singing, and much of Korean singing in general, employs microtones and trills and downwardly bent notes that would baffle an awful lot of western musicians. In her gritty, expressive contralto, like something of a Korean mountain-music counterpart to Tina Turner, iconic pansori chanteuse Shin Young-Hee made it look easy throughout a rather macabre-tinged excerpt from the 19th century love epic Chunhyung-ga. Famous Korean percussionist Lee Kwang-Soo – a gregarious and engaging guy with an edgy sense of humor – led a drum troupe through a thunderously hypnotic, subtly polyrhythmic benediction of sorts. Virtuoso Gee-Sook Baek teamed up with drummer Soung-Jae Cho, who spurred her on through a rivetingly spacious, suspenseful performance on the gayageum, a twelve-string lute that throws off otherworldly tremoloing tones and seems like it could be a predecessor of the sitar. Meanwhile, the night’s emcee, a musicologist from Seoul, reminded the crowd that all this music dated from an era when there was no distinction between performer and audience: participation is pretty much mandatory. All this did nothing to discourage the commonly held notion that Koreans are the 24-hour party people of Asia.

There was plenty of drumming, notably a skull-pounding interlude to open the second half of the concert by the Rutgers Korean Cultural Group, to rival the kind of explosively shamanistic Brazilian sounds produced by BatalaNYC. There was also dancing, lots of it. Park herself took a solo, a graceful number that saw her practically disappear into the stage, facedown, at the end, the folds of her silken costume edging closer and closer downward. It’s one thing to do the splits, Chuck Berry style – it’s another to hold that position in place. Park was doing that twenty years ago and clearly hasn’t lost any athleticism in the ensuing two decades, no small achievement.

A bevy of women swayed and gently exchanged places throughout a stately fan dance, serenaded by the band offstage. Several of the drummers wore ribbons on a swivel affixed to the rear of their uniform helmets, which they spun by moving their heads quickly, side to side – how they managed to keep their footing, keep the ribbons swirling, and keep time, without losing their balance or running headfirst into the the back wall of the stage, was impressive, to say the least. One of them finally made a circle of the stage, spinning faster and faster, leaning in toward the center in a more explosive take on what Turkish dervishes will do at the peak of a musical number. The night’s final performances brought a full musical ensemble together with the dance/drumming contingent (there was a lot of overlap among them, the night’s organizer included); tersely intense geomungo (six-string zither) player Mi Jin Park being a standout among them.

The Korean Peforming Arts Center and their house ensemble, Sounds of Korea, stage frequent outdoor concerts during the warmer months, from Lincoln Center to Little Korea just south of 34th Street and points further south as well; bookmark their webpage if sounds as sophisticated yet ancient as these are your thing.

Paul Dresher Brings Haunting New Music and New Instruments to Roulette

Paul Dresher‘s Double Duo made a stop at Roulette last night that included a shattering world premiere played by Twosense, and the New York debut of a couple of brand-new instruments. Joel Davel played the marimba lumina – a digital marimba whose library of samples includes a full symphonic percussion section, and is enabled to mix and match a vast number of timbres beyond the instrument’s typical acoustic range. Dresher and Davel aired out the epic sonic capabilities of the quadrachord, which is basically a giant (i.e. twenty-foot) bass lapsteel. The results spanned the emotional spectrum, from nerve-wracking angst to joyous musical acrobatics, It was one of the best New York concerts of the year, without a doubt.

Variations on an eerie theme circled uneasily and then gave pianist Lisa Moore the opportunity to deliver the gamelanesque loops of Dresher’s Double Ikat, Part II with a Bach-like precision, joined in tight choreography with Davel on the marimba lumina and Karen Bentley Pollick‘s alternately dancing and atmospheric violin. A pervasive Philip Glass influence became clear as the trio took it down from an insistent peak to an elegaic outro, Pollick low and affectingly austere.

Dresher’s Glimpsed from Afar paired the composer on the quadrachord with Davel’s marimba lumina. It was sort of a demo of everything the instruments can do together – swoops and dives, sustained sheets of sound, shivery dynamic shifts, ghostly lulls, sly oscillations, joyous percussion samples bursting from the marimba lumina, pointillistic loops and finally a tightly percussive yet deliriously jaunty outro with both players on the quadrachord hammering away on mallets, a cymbal and other percussion objects placed under the strings. Hypnotic yet explosive, much of it sounded like a more concise take on what Michael Gordon did with Timber, his longscale work for amplified sawhorses, a few years back.

The highlight of the concert was Moore and cellist Ashley Bathgate playing the world premiere of Dresher’s triptych Family Matters. Packed with dark chromatics and ominous passing tones, it was a study in contrasts, all of which eventually took on an aspect that ranged from funereal to downright macabre. The duo built subtly out of a dancing theme to a lively but equally agitated series of rises and falls throughout the first part. Then it fell to Moore to keep the steady, almost baroque rhythms going as the piece slowed down, Bathgate employing a viscerally aching vibrato and a chilling sense of longing and loss as its morose dance wound down. Moore took Mood Swings, a harrowing dirge, to a menacing, modal minuet at its peak, then Bathgate brought back a relentless, inconsolable angst with starkly resonant, stygian, sometimes microtonally-tinged lines that were nothing short of harrowing.

The concert wound up with Martin Bresnick’s Fantasia on a Theme of Willie Dixon, which turned out to be simply the minor third interval on which his song Spoonful is based. You know it: Howlin’ Wolf did the original; the Allman Brothers made it famous. Dresher’s hovering electric guitar lines mingles with Moore’s impressionistic piano and Pollick’s jaunty cadenzas and simmering sustain while Davel served as a one-man percussion section on the marimba lumina. It was like early ELO with more challenging tonalities, Moore delivering its most unsettlingly delicious, glimmering interludes.

Singles for 10/26

Here’s Labba doing Nice to Meet Ya featuring Illa Ghee and B Rutland – heavy-lidded, blunted ODB-inspired deep Brooklyn hip-hop. Nice vintage Ralph McDaniels-style video too (youtube).

Speaking of cool footage, here’s some from Coney Island now – for future archives, when the coastline is all deserted luxury condos turned into crackhouses – via Lorraine Leckie’s bittersweet Happy City video. She’s got a release show for her new album coming up at the Mercury on Nov 13 at 8; Nashville gothic singer Kelley Swindall opens the night at 7.

And another Canadian crew, the Rural Alberta Advantage bring to mind the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies with Terrified (soundcloud).

Alexandra Joan Sings Through Her Fingers at Bargemusic

“Just about every piece of music that we can play is a song,” pianist Alexandra Joan nonchalantly told the audience at her luminous performance Thursday night at Bargemusic. That pretty much explains everything you need to know about her. Matter-of-factly and meticulously, she built a dynamically rich program with lyrical, cantabile, highly individualistic interpretations of a diverse program. from Bach to early Modernism, most of the works taken from her new album Dances and Songs.

She explained to the crowd that while not everything on the album is a dance per se, the material on it shares a kinetic character. She began the evening with a suite of Chopin mazurkas that aren’t on the album, but they turned out to make an apt opening salvo, Joan giving the audience a sort of guided tour via ample but judicious amounts of rubato, as if to say, “Watch this, here comes a really good one!”

Her take of Bach’s English Suite in G Minor, BWV 808 was especially gripping, not only because it’s an interesting piece of music, but because of how she accented the work’s rigorous and challenging ornamentation, awash in grace notes and trills. That made Bach’s tight rhythm all the more of a suspenseful contrast – and the plaintiveness of the second movement all the more affecting. Likewise, the high point of the night was Liszt’s solo piano arrangement from Schubert’s Der Doppelganger, vividly giving voice to a guy who can’t figure out if he’s himself or someone else and is completely lost as a result.

The program lightened from there, but just a little, with an edgy, acerbic run through Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, drawing a straight line back to the Schubert suite that inspired them even if the tonalities were from a completely different idiom (and radical enough in Ravel’s day to get him slammed by the critics). Joan ended the night on a celebratory note with the “champagne bubbles” of a couple of lighthearted if cruelly challenging Liszt pieces, the Valse Impromptu and then his whirling arrangement of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Which in turn made her careful, plaintive Debussy encore all the more astringently gripping. Joan is also an impresario, so the idea of going from Bach to Romantic to Modern and linking it all together is less unlikely (and less ostentatious) for her than it would be for a lot of other pianists. She’s appearing next with the fantastic Grneta Ensemble performing Gerald Cohen’s Sea of Reeds at le Poisson Rouge on Nov 11 at 6 PM; advance tix are $15 and very highly recommended.

The Week’s Creepiest Halloween Show Is Thursday at Merkin Concert Hall

There are some ominously intriguing Halloween shows coming up toward the end of the week. On Halloween, there’s a doublebill with doom-obsessed, gale-force singer Jessi Robertson and murder ballad purveyor Kelley Swindall at the American Folk Art Museum at 5. Trumpeter Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band are doing their creepy big band jazz at a street fair in Ft. Greene starting around 6; pianist Michael Riesman is playing Philip Glass’ score to the remake of Dracula to accompany a screening of the original 1931 film at the Morgan Library at 7; and the Jalopy is putting on an all-murder ballad night at 8 with a cast of familiar Americana faces. But the creepiest show of the week might well be the night before, Oct 30 at 8 PM at Merkin Concert Hall where the American Modern Ensemble, with guest conductor David Alan Miller, play George Crumb’s disquieting Music for a Summer Evening, David Del Tredici’s Dracula and a trio of macabre Robert Paterson pieces about dead soldiers, poltergeists and a full-blown nightmare. And the concert is free, but you need to rsvp to info@chambermusicny.org

Paterson, the world-class marimbist who directs the AME, has great talent for creepy cinematics. His most recent album, Winter Songs – streaming at Spotify – has a somewhat more subtle, muted unease. Although the album has impassioned performances by a crew of well-known singers, the star here turns out to be pianist Blair McMillen, who anchors the songs with a gravitas and a nimbly insistent attack to counterbalance the surrealism of several of the pieces. For example, baritone Jesse Blumberg sings a brief cycle of songs with lyrics taken completely from captchas: he and McMillen manage to keep everything dead serious even as the text gets stranger and sillier.

Wispy winter winds from the strings and woodwind section filter through McMillen’s icicle piano and Paterson’s own marimba in a theme and variations utilizing six texts by Wallace Stevens and others, sung by with an apt austerity by bass-baritone David Neal. Baritone Robert Gardner sings the viciously hilarious Eating Variations, a parody of food fixations and fads, with lyrics by Ron Singer. Like the captcha cycle, it’s all the more funny for the completely deadpan vocals even as the music grows more cartoonish.

The comedy hits a peak as soprano Nancy Allan Lundy gives voice to voicemail messages with varying degrees of absurdity and mischegas. The album winds up with tenor Dimitri Pittas singing Paterson’s cycle Batter’s Box, which imagines a rather trying day on the ballfield as experienced by former Mets allstar catcher Mike Piazza. Try and guess the pitcher and batter – one can’t find the plate with his breaking ball and the other can’t hit it – that Paterson alludes to!

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