New York Music Daily

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Tag: bollywood

Bombay Rickey Put Out a Hauntingly Twangy, Exhilarating Debut Album

Brooklyn band Bombay Rickey‘s new album Cinefonia – streaming at Bandcamp - has got to be the best debut release of 2014, hands down. With twangy guitars, hypnotic grooves and frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram’s shattering five-octave vocals, the band blends surf music, psychedelic cumbias, Bollywood and southwestern gothic into a lusciously tuneful, darkly bristling mix. Bollywood is usually the root source lurking somewhere in each of the album’s ten surprise-packed, shapeshifting songs, but cumbia, spaghetti western soundtracks, and the Ventures in their border-rock moments are more-or-less constant reference points as well. Imagine a more south Asian-influenced Chicha Libre fronted by one of the most exhilarating voices in any style of music, a picture that becomes clearer considering that Sankaram got the inspiration for this project the night she teamed up with Chicha Libre for one-off Yma Sumac cover show. Bombay Rickey are venturing north from their Barbes home base to play a Manhattan album release show on Sept 8 at 8 PM at Joe’s Pub; advance tix are $12, which is the closest thing to a bargain as you’ll ever get at this shi-shi venue.

Sankaram’s voice could shatter a black hole, never mind glass. Much as she’s built a very versatile career (everybody from Philip Glass, to free jazz icon Anthony Braxton, to opera companies, keep her busy), this band seems to be a defiant attempt to resist all attempts at being pigeonholed. Then again, defiance is a familiar trait with her: when she’s not fronting other groups, she’s writing and performing her own politically transgressive operas.

Guitarist/keyboardist Drew Fleming is a connoisseur of 60s surf and psychedelic sounds. Saxophonist/clarinetist Jeff Hudgins has a fondness for Mediterranean and Balkan tonalities; bassist Gil Smuskowitz shifts effortlessly between idioms, as do drummer Sam Merrick, percussionists Timothy Quigley and Brian Adler. The album opens with a Sumac tune, Taki Rari – it sounds like Los Mirlos‘ surf-cumbia classic Sonido Amazonico going down the Ganges. The interchange of accordion, strings, a sizzling sax solo and Sankaram’s electrifying shriek at the end are a visceral thrill, and do justice to the woman who sang it first.

Bombay 5-0, by Sankaram, transcends an awkward venture into takadimi drum language, Hudgins’ uneasy sax setting the stage for a big, dramatic, arioso vocal crescendo. Promontory Summit, a Fleming tune, explores dusky, hallucinatory desert rock vistas, bookended by balmy jazz-tinged ambience. The version of the Bollywood classic Dum Maro Dum (meaning “take another toke”) here is a lot more subtle and creepily suspenseful than either the boisterous, horn-fueled original or the many covers other bands have done over the years.

Pondicherry Surf Goddess, by Hudgins, starts out as an ambling shout-out to the Ventures, then winds its way through blistering newshchool Romany funk and art-rock. Another Hudgins tune, the somewhat menacing El Final Del Pachanga evokes Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Destellos, Hudgins’ sax intertwining with Sankaram’s supersonic vocal flights, Fleming following with a deliciously spiraling surf guitar solo.

Fleming sings the Johnny Horton-ish Coyote in the Land of the Dead, which sounds suspiciously like a parody. Likewise, Sankaram’s similarly deadpan rhumba-ish arrangement of a popular Mozart theme, which might have taken its cue from Chicha Libre covering Wagner. The high point among many on this album is a Sankaram composition, Pilgram, her wickedly precise, loopy accordion winding through a misterioso, lingering, surfy stroll with ominous bass and alto sax solos, the latter building to a spine-tingling coda. The album winds up with another darkly cinematic Sankaram number, Toco’s Last Stand, blending Balkan-flavored sax, dancing accordion and terse surf guitar underneath the singer’s unearthly wail. It’s a teens counterpart to the Ventures’ classic Besame Mucho Twist. This might not just be the best debut album of the year: it might be the best album of 2014, period.

Globalfest 2014: Esoterica Rules

Globalfest, the annual celebration of high-energy, danceable music from around the world, grew out of the yearly booking agents’ convention. Youtube may have made live auditions obsolete, but every year the talent buyers for cultural centers across the country, along with the agents for a seemingly nonstop onslaught of global acts, still get together for an all-expenses-paid Manhattan party on the company tab. What’s most auspicious about this past Sunday’s edition of the festival at Webster Hall was the number of kids and random New Yorkers of all ages in the crowd. The booking agents drank hard and schmoozed: none of them seemed to be the least bit interested in the music. The kids, on the other hand, packed the main room for dramatic Bollywood pop revivalist orchestra the Bombay Royale, explosive Kiev folk-punk ensemble DakhaBrakha and even more explosive Romany brass band legends Fanfare Ciocarlia before cramming the downstairs space for darkly fiery Arizona desert rockers Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta.

What’s happened is that there’s been a sea change among audiences, and among young people. Hard to believe as this may seem, thirty years ago it was considered weird for an American to like reggae – unless you were of Jamaican heritage. Forget about the kind of ridicule you might have faced if, perish the thought, a classmate discovered that you’d been sending oodles of money through the mail for limited-edition, low-budget vinyl pressings of Ukrainian folk or Romany brass music – or, if you were really lucky, you’d found a fellow weirdo who’d let you make cassette copies from his or her secret stash. People were troglodytes back then, weren’t they?

The Bombay Royale’s 2012 album You Me Bullets Love is a psychedelic blend of classic 60s-style Bollywood dance numbers spiced with surf and garage rock. This show  – the dramatic eleven-piece Melbourne, Australia band’s New York debut – found them taking their sound forward another ten years into the disco era with a lot of new material. Period-perfect as they sound, all their songs are originals. Singers Shourav Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh – decked out in snakeskin suit and sari, respectively – slunk and spun, traded coy glances and wry pouts while the four-piece horn section, led by alto saxophonist Andy Williamson, blasted behind them.

They opened with a cinematically marching blend of Bollywood and spaghetti western, with the first of pyrotechnic keyboardist Matt Vehl’s many surreal, woozy synthesizer solos. Bhattacharya and Singh duetted on a surfy minor-key number, showed off some dance moves to a swaying bhangra beat and then went deep into anthemic funk. They followed that with Bobbywood, a number that sounded a bit like an Indian disco version of the Rocky theme mingled with brooding cinematics. Trumpeter Ros Jones ended up taking the first of many of the night’s chilling, chromatic solos; a little later, Williamson animatedly traded licks with Singh’s vocals on a creepy downtempo ballad.

It’s hard to think of another band writing songs that mix chromatic Dick Dale surf with Indian-spiced go-go vamps. Their sitar player wasn’t audible for much of the show, but ended up adding a surreal, bluesy solo on one of the later songs. Bass player Bob Knob’s chords loomed ominously underneath a couple of the harder-edged, surf-oriented tunes,  guitarist Tom Martin switching in a split-second from a twangy, reverb-toned attack to scratchy funk lines. The crowd roared for an encore; they didn’t get one.

Word was that it had taken the intervention of a U.S. Senator to assure visas for all four members of DakhaBrakha (Ukraininan for “give-and-take”), but the effort was worth it. They drew the most applause of all the bands on the bill. Their percussion-heavy sound is balanced by the eerie, high, close-harmony vocals of drummer/singer Olena Tsibulska, keyboardist/percussionist Iryna Kovalenko and cellist Nina Garenetska. The band’s lone male member, Marko Halanevych, also sang and contributed on both percussion and garmoshka (a small Ukrainian accordion). Garenetska started by plucking out funky pizzicato bass but before long she was firing off long, growling, raspy, sustained lines punctuated by macabre swoops and dives. Likewise, their set followed an up-and down trajectory, beginning with a wary marching feel with apprehensively insistent vocals, then a trio of creepy dirges before growing louder and more assaultive. Their funniest moments had a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop flavor. The most intense song in their set built explosive give-and-take interludes between ominous drums, ghostly vocals and snarling cello, sinking to a rapt, sepulchral interlude before rising to a pummeling outro. They wound up with a silly but very well-received spoof of cheesy electronic dancefloor beats.

The pride of Romania, eleven-piece Fanfare Ciocarlia were tight and fast beyond belief. The world’s most exhilarating Romany brass band has a precision to match their outrageous tempos, and chops that most American jazz players can only dream of. The four-man backline of a tuba and three slightly higher-pitched trubas played a looming, ominous introduction for their clarinetist, who then launched into wild volleys of shivery chromatics before the rest of the band came on to join in the hailstorms of rat-a-tat riffage.

They’d stop and start, sometimes taking a song doublespeed and then doublespeed after that, other times switching between soloists in a split second. One of the truba players came to the front about midway through the show and added a rapidfire solo of his own. They began with a single standup drummer, then added another for extra firepower. One of the more senior of the four trumpeters sang a couple of ballads, or at least parts of them, before the rest of the orchestra blasted them into the ozone. Hurichestra, true to its name, became a launching pad for a series of abrupt accelerations that were almost exponential: that any horn player can play so fast yet so fluidly defies the laws of physics. They traded birdcalls on a relatively brief take of their signature anthem, Ciocarlia, then teased the audience with droll Balkanized versions of Duke Ellington’s Caravan (which they probably learned from the Ventures) and St. James Infirmary.

Downstairs, Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan, backed by bass, drums, keyboards and a lot of pre-recorded stuff, played simple, low-key darkwave that, she said, was influenced by Siouxsie & the Banshees as well as Egyptian pop. The night ended with the feral southwestern gothic energy of Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, who put pretty much every other desert rock band to shame. The brass-fueled Tucson group pounced on a couple of noir-tinged, ska-punk flavored songs to open the show, then Mendoza put down his acoustic guitar and played surreal, macabre organ over a funereal bolero sway. From there they hit a lively, upbeat Tex-Mex groove that took a turn in a much more menacing spaghetti western direction when least expected, followed by an early Santana-esque psychedelic rock epic with long, space-reverb interludes for both organ and slide guitar.

The lead guitarist took an even longer, more murky, echo-drenched solo later on, then lit up a couple of more familiar southwestern gothic themes with some chilling slide work as memorable as anything Friends of Dean Martinez ever recorded. A long, slinky, pitchblende cumbia groove might have been the highlight of the night, although a similarly brooding, low-key bolero that might have been Mendoza‘s version of Besame Mucho was right behind. Addressing the audience in Spanish, singer/percussionist Salvador Duran explained that out in Tucson, or Nogales, where Mendoza comes from, everything is up for grabs: banda music, rancheras, cumbia, rock, you name it. They closed the set with a rapidfire return to a darkly shuffling border rock theme. This was Mendoza’s first New York show as a bandleader, hopefully the first of many.

Titanic, Tongue-in-Cheek Pakistani Versions of Western Classics

[originally published at Lucid Culture's sister blog New York Music Daily]

The Sachal Studios Orchestra‘s latest album Jazz and All That is more all that than it is jazz – and it is all that, most definitely. The Pakistani orchestral ensemble plays Bollywood-style versions of popular Western themes with a titanic, epic Mahlerian/Spector-esque power, driven mainly by a massive string section. Their shtick is to substitute South Asian instruments like sitar, sarangi, wood flute and tabla in place of piano, sax or drum kit when it comes time for solos. They also prove perfectly competent at playing styles from around the world in their original idioms, without any distinguishable Pakistani/Indian flavor, demonstrated here via a vividly Celtic-tinged version of Morning Has Broken and a lavish, string-driven cover of Jobim’s iconic bossa nova hit, Wave. They’re at Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center at 8 PM on Nov 22 and 23, where they’ll be collaborating with Wynton Marsalis’ JALC Orchestra. It’s hard to imagine a more potentially explosive cross-cultural orchestral collaboration on any New York stage in recent memory.

The album opens with a full-throttle vamp through Stevie Wonder’s You’ve Got It Bad Girl, with sitar, flute and harmonium over a Bacharach-esque groove. The French chanson favorite If You Go Away (Si Tu Dois Partir) is as much art-rock as it is cinematic theme, a long, sweeping crescendo building as the thicket of percussion grows denser, handing off to terse vibraphone and then piano solos. Moonlight in Vermont opens with a conversation between sitar and fiddle, then a slide guitar, a hypnotically tricky, rhythmic but aptly dreamy reinterpretation that may well be the best version of this old chesnut ever recorded.

Monsoon, by Wazir Afzal, a trip-hop song, is the most hypnotic number here, flavored with moody harmonica, a long trumpet solo handing off to the sitar. The orchestra’s version of the Pink Panther theme is oldschool Bollywood as S.D. Burman would have done it; they wait til the fourth time through the verse to go completely over-the-top with the sitar. The comedy continues with Ponteio, by Edu Lobo, redone as Pakistani disco with a jawharp intro, bass flute and then harmonica adding gravitas to this otherwise airy vamp. And to the orchestra’s massive credit – pun intended – they manage not only to not butcher Eleanor Rigby, but to beef up the original’s macabre surrealism with a barrage of strings which actually push the delicately nuanced sitar line out of the sonic picture.

The worst song on the album is the weepy early 90s REM hit Everybody Hurts…but by eliminating the vocals and doing it as a stunningly simple Americana waltz, albeit with stark traditional fiddle and harmonium, it’s completely transformed into a catchy lullaby. The best and longest song on the album is the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays tune To the End of the World, which they reinvent as an uneasily glimmering Isaac Hayes-style crime-jazz theme, bluesy piano and dancing bass paired off against the sitar over a black velvet groove. The Dave Brubeck classic Blue Rondo a la Turk is the closest thing to the original here: lavish as it is, the sitar lead sticks very close to Brubeck’s piano line.  And Kafi Jazz (Five Rivers), by Baqir Abbas has the sitar leading a lush, uneasy bossa groove, the tsunami of strings again subsuming the lead instruments, nimble acoustic guitar and then a sitar/guitar exchange brightening the mist. Fans of all of the above artists will find this anything from exhilarating to maddeningly weird to LMAO funny, all of which seem to be the point of this irrepressible large ensemble.

Bombay Rickey Plays Amazing Psychedelic Bollywood Rock at Barbes

It would be reductionistic to the extreme to describe Bombay Rickey as a psychedelic, Bollywood-influenced surf rock band. Their show Saturday night at Barbes was an example of the best kind of results a band can get blending literally dozens of styles from around the world, including ideas from American rock spun through the prism of other cultures who transformed them and then blew them back at us. That was apparent from bassist Gil Smuskowitz’s first few notes: he was playing the riff from Sonido Amazonico, the Peruvian chicha classic that the Barbes house band, Chicha Libre, immortalized on their 2008 debut album. That was only the beginning. Alto saxophonist Jeff Hudgins took the song, a rock arrangement of a Bollywood theme, deep into the shadows with a sinuous, noir solo, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram adding a contrastingly boisterous, playful edge with some rapidfire, staccato vocalese over the jangle and twang. She’s probably the most powerful singer to play [fill in the name of your favorite venue - if she's been onstage there, it's most likely true]. Yet her mighty coloratura soprano is only part of the picture. When she sang off-mic, she was the loudest instrument in the band; when she went on mic to color the songs with minute, more subtle shades, the effect was no less exhilarating. Later on in the set, they did a Yma Sumac song as a psychedelic cumbia and Sankaram made hitting all those stratospherically high notes look like just another day at work.

Their most intricate number was a joint homage to Steve Reich and Ennio Morricone, intertwining a spaghetti western theme into a blithely circular indie classical accordion-and-guitar riff, Hudgins’ apprehensive, microtonal atmospherics building the suspense to breaking point. They followed a takadimi arioso surf song with a Mozart aria done as a jaunty bolero, the pinpoint precision of Sankaram’s upper-register swoops wowing the crowd. A weedhead hare krishna theme translated to English as “take another toke,” Sankaram explained with a grin. Then Hudgins sang a spaghetti western ballad driven by Drew Fleming’s ominously jangly reverb guitar, with a long, hypnotic interlude that Fleming finally took up with an off-center menace. A little later, Hudgins and Sankaram duetted on a torchy, pensive chamber-pop song that was a dead ringer for another Barbes band, the Snow: “Midnight comes when you least expect it, and spring will never come again,” Sankaram intoned with a wounded poignancy.

Another number started out as a spaghetti western theme, then went in a Beatlesque direction, then picked up with a klezmer-ish series of sax riffs and soaring, powerhouse vocalese from Sankaram. They closed with Tuco’s Last Stand, a pensive bolero galloping gently along on percussionist Timothy Quigley’s mysterioso groove. Folks, this is the future of music: every style, from every spot on the world is fair game. Bombay Rickey just happens to have more of those flavors in their fingers than just about anybody else. They’re at Branded Saloon on Ft. Greene on August 24 at 10.

Yankee Bang Bang Put Out One of 2012’s Best Rock Albums, For Free

In case you’ve been misled into thinking that all the rock coming out of Brooklyn these days is fey, affected and wimpy, you haven’t heard Yankee Bang Bang. With a savage, punkish satirical edge, their music veers between punk, powerpop and art-rock, full of catchy hooks, cool guitar/keyboard textures and the occasional Bollywood influence courtesy of guitarist and sometime frontwoman Sita Asar. Their new album Color Me is up at their Bandcamp site as a free download and you should grab it now.

The first track, Silver Bullet opens with an icy piano flourish, a cough, a flat vocal and then they’re off. It’s got a matter-of-fact garage rock sway and an offhandedly vicious, sarcastic look at the Bushwick poser-rock scene. “This sound is so great, comes with an expiration date…love songs we couldn’t swallow from musician/actor/models,” bassist Glenn Baughman snarls. The satire slashes even more amusingly on the ba-ba powerpop song Love, Or, a clever juxtaposition of the down-and-out against the phony down-and-out: the jokes are too mean and too good to spoil here. That’s Love starts out with a sardonic bounce and Sean Spada’s silly 80s outerspace new wave keyboards and then goes unexpectedly majestic and noir with an eerie twinkle from the keys and Assar’s plaintive voice soaring over the din.

The catchy powerpop anthem Let’s Dance sets guitarist Asar’s nonchalant vocals over burning distorted chords that blend with blippy Wurly keys, sort of a major-key version of Siouxsie’s Hong Kong Garden, while Leaving Town Today, sung by Baughman builds to a ferocious electric Neil Young-style crescendo. Asar’s crescendoing, stoic torrents of lyrics create a deadpan apocalyptic vibe on the big, catchy 6/8 anthem Soon – that’s either Kevin Blatchford or Champ Jones behind the drums with all those swooshy cymbal crashes. The last track, World I Made works an unexpectedly low-key but bouncy acoustic vibe with some neat, passionate Bollywood-style vocalese from Asar: the band calls this a “radio mix.” We need more bands like this; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

The Bombay Royale Takes Classic Bollywood Psychedelia to the Next Level

The heart of what the Bombay Royale plays on their new album You Me Bullets Love is surf music. But over the driving drums and ominously twanging guitars, the eleven-piece band from Melbourne, Australia has dramatic blasts of brass, lush woodwinds and strings, sitar, tabla and all sorts of vintage keyboards. Their songs are mostly original material inspired by the classic psychedelic sounds of 1960s Bollywood, along with a couple of vintage covers from that era. Some of this is such a vivid homage that it’s almost satirical how this band gets that sound down so cold; when they’re not romping through one chase scene after another, they’re slinking along on a psychedelic disco boudoir groove that appropriates American tropes from the 70s like woozy bass synth, maybe an Omnichord, an Arp or whatever the cheap pre-Casio keyboard du jour happened to be in India circa 1980. This isn’t a subtle record by a long shot but it’s an awful lot of fun.

James Bond organ and ominous low brass kick off the Henry Mancini-esque opening track, Monkey Fight Snake, which picks up steam with Bob Knob’s wicked hollowbody bass pulse, managing to boom yet also cut through like a scimitar. As with most of the tracks here, the guy/girl vocals of Shourav Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh follow a predictable Bollywood dichotomy, debonair baritone smoothness versus coy, chirpy high soprano – Singh has a truly stratospheric range and really gets to air it out here. The title track, a prime example of the two pairing off, takes a raga melody, surfs it up and finallly sends it flying out on a lush bed of strings. The first of the covers, Jaan Pehechan Ho (from the 1965 film Gumnaam) maintains the Vampyros Lesbos/Electric Prunes-via-India vibe with Matt Vehl’s noir organ and Tom Martin’s reverb guitar; by contrast, the second, Sote Sote Adhi Raat works a suspensefully nocturnal disco vibe with a series of dubious synth settings that evoke vintage video games more than they do any instrument that was ever used in rock music.

From there the band takes their own stab at Hindi disco before splashing back into the surf with the cryptically titled Bobbywood, a somewhat more stripped-down arrangement (somewhat being a relative word here) with chromatic organ, punchy brass, a delicious and all-too-brief organ-and-sitar break and a very satisfying, darkly lush outro. Mahindra Death Ride turns out not to be horror surf but instead a sort of Indian take on go-go music with some lurid spy-movie guitar welded on. Oh Sajna – one of several co-writes by saxophonist/bandleader Andy Williamson – is a bracingly minor-key, anthemic surf-pop song, while Dacoit’s Choice offers a look at what P-Funk might have sounded like had they been Indian. The album winds up with Phone Baje Ne, slowly coalescing into hypnotic reggae lit up by a sweet trumpet solo over a catchy bass hook.

Is this campy? From an English-speaking perspective, not having any idea of what the Hindi or Bengali lyrics might mean, at least a little. Kitschy? Not really – the music has too much of an underlying unease and sometimes downright menace. Other than the obvious fans of old Bollywood spy movies, who is the audience for this? Anyone who’s into surf music, or the wooziest side of 60s psychedelia, or current-day American psychedelic revivalists like Dengue Fever or Chicha Libre, who’ve resurrected esoteric styles that originated in far-flung places like Cambodia or Peru. Isn’t it funny how so often cross-pollination often improves on the original sound? In a nutshell, that’s the Bombay Royale. Lucky fans in Sydney can see them play a swanky album launch party on June 10 at 7:30 at the Basement, 7 Macquarie Place, Circular Quay, NSW 2000: advance tix are $15.

The Sambasunda Quintet Take Gamelan Music to New Places

What would gamelan music sound like if it was played on stringed instruments instead of bells? The Sambasunda Quintet, a small-group spinoff of the famous Javenese gamelan orchestra, answer that question on their brand-new album, simply titled Java. It’s absolutely gorgeous. But unlike their main project, this particular unit doesn’t use gongs. Instead, this crew substitutes lush layers of kacapi (a boat-shaped zither) along with lute, wood flute, percussion and the delicate, dreamy Javanese vocals of frontwoman Rita Tila for an effect that’s far more eclectic, ambitious and global in scope than you would likely imagine. The songs here are LONG – miniature suites that clock in at ten minutes apiece or even more. It’s music to get lost in, especially for fans of Bollywood, gamelans or, for that matter, anyone who gravitates toward lush, hypnotic sonics.

With its lush dreampop-style harmonies, the opening track makes it easy to see where the roots of Indonesian pop originated.  Elegantly arranged, it builds almost imperceptibly to an unselfconsciously intense crescendo like several of the other tracks here. Another cut morphs from a big, tensely restrained minor-key ballad into a South Sea Islands tango; a bit later on, the group sends an Irish reel reeling into Javanese territory. While the idea of segueing from a gentle march, into hypnotic, pointillistic gamelanesque ambience and then Arabic modes might sound overwhelming, this group does it with a grace that’s often quite plaintive. One of the more anthemic numbers builds from an ominous motif that wouldn’t be out of place in heavy metal; by contrast, a catchy, biting pop number grows sunnier as it goes along, ending with a joyous “wheeee!” The album’s strongest track is a wary, ten-minute epic that mingles Bollywood, Middle Eastern and north Asian tonalities; the album winds up with another catchy, swaying tango-infused track and then a sweeping, insistent overture that rises and falls, mingling gently persistent lute with fluttering flute and the bell-like tones of the kacapi. The band is currently on UK tour; the record is out now on Riverboat Records.

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