New York Music Daily

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Tag: cinematic music

Noir Big Band Music from Clazz Ensemble and Frank Carlberg

Nobody writes more viscerally creepy, carnivalesque music than jazz pianist Frank Carlberg. Dutch new music group Clazz Ensemble has a new live album with Carlberg just out, titled Federico on Broadway. It’s more Lynchian than Felliniesque, and features Carlberg conducting the 12-piece band as well as leading them from the piano on the album’s final three tracks. This isn’t quite as phantasmagorically chilling as his 2010 Tivoli Trio album, but it’s close.

One of the main themes here is a Simpsons-style carnivalesque motif: if this was a Simpsons episode, it would be the one where the tsunami comes upriver and knocks out Homer’s nuke plant while everybody’s at the circus. Individual voices in the band converse in an wryly animated “what are we doing here?” vein as the group shifts from one surreal, often disquieting interlude to another. Variations on an eerie march appear in several places, strange music box themes take centerstage and then disappear, most vividly on a surreal marionette dance titled Tricks. They evoke a frenetic, urban Mingus bustle on the aptly titled Rat Race and maintain the out-of-breath tension with The Chase, Carlberg’s glittering cascades setting up alto saxophonist Paul van der Feen’s almost crushingly morose lines.

As dark as this music is, it’s not without its amusing moments: the moment where bandleader/tenor saxophonist Dick de Graaf tells trumpeter Gerard Kleijn to shut up midway through the shapeshifting title track is priceless. The twisted circus theme also serves as a launching pad for several deadpan cameos by individual members. As modern big band jazz, it’s artfully arranged and played with a smart balance of classical precision and unhinged ferocity from saxophonists Arno Bornkamp and Nils van Haften, trumpeters Frank Anepool and Charlie Biggs, trombonist Vincent Veneman and Koen Kaptijn, pianist Kris Goessens, bassist Guus Bakker and drummer Joost Kesselaar. As vivid, cinematic music, it packs a wallop, just as you would expect from this composer with a band this size.

Ghostly Civil War Cinematics by Goldmund

Yesterday was very loud here. Today it’s very quiet but still intense, because today’s album is All Will Prosper by Goldmund (with a name like that, you know he’s not narcissistic), which is out tomorrow on Western Vinyl. Goldmund is actually film composer Keith Kenniff, who’s done several previous albums of ambient electroacoustic stuff under the name Helios. This new release is quite a change, a Civil War concept album featuring instrumental versions of American folk songs from that era. For quiet music, this has enormously rich presence, the guitar close-miked with tons of reverb, the piano clearly sustained despite the fact that the keys here are typically limited to doubling or providing simple harmonies with the guitar line. Most of the tracks here clock in at not much more than two minutes, sometimes less. And in case anybody’s wondering: this is not new age music (although fans of that stuff probably wouldn’t tune this out – it’s extremely accessible and makes a great chillout mix).

It’s a mix of songs both well-known (Amazing Grace reinvented as murky, loping campfire song) and extremely obscure (the Union ballad The Flag of Columbia Shall Float O’er Us Still done as echoey, hypnotic postminimalist piano waltz). The opening couple of tracks, The Death of General Wolfe and Ashoken Farewell are both memorably wary elegies, a feeling that recurs later with the vivid simplicity of the gospel-tinged version of Just Before the Battle Mother. All Quiet on the Potomac has a classical stateliness, while Barbara Allen is closer to Kenniff’s Helios work, echoey and lightly spacious. With its somewhat icy, minimalist piano intro, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier builds to an even greater ominousness as the guitar comes in – has this been used in a foreshadowing scene in some movie? If not, it ought to be.

Shenandoah – available as a free download – is the most surreally psychedelic track here, a fluttery piano loop behind Kenniff’s pensive, almost rubato fretwork. The Battle Cry of Freedom is done not as an anthem but a pretty folk tune; The Yellow Rose of Texas not as a dance, but a stately anthem; When Johnny Comes Marching Home, not as a triumphant parade piece, but a dirge (although good as it is, nothing beats the remake by the Clash). And Kenniff avoids setting off a powderkeg with Dixie by giving it a proto-ragtime feel, ironic to the extreme considering the song’s racist connotations. A couple of solo piano pieces here don’t make the cut: Kenniff is a considerably better guitarist than pianist. But the strongest tracks here invite the ghosts of the Civil War to flutter outside your window in the mist on a cold damp night.

Delicious Noir Sounds from Beninghove’s Hangmen

If Marc Ribot’s noir stuff is your kind of thing,  Beninghove’s Hangmen are heaven. They call their music “creeptastic grinder jazz for the masses,” which is an understatement. Creepy, chromatic B&W movie tunes; a shot of gypsy punk; a hit of klezmer hash; a blast of surf music; a bite of punk jazz; a dash of ska…and the chase is on! Is the bad guy gonna get away? Hell yeah! Unsurprisingly, some of their music has made it to tv and film: with Big Lazy in mothballs, Steve Ulrich expanding a long way beyond his signature noir style and Mojo Mancini only playing infrequently, Beninghove’s Hangmen take over centerstage as New York’s most cinematic noir band. Alongside bandleader/saxophonist Bryan Beninghove, Rick Parker plays trombone, with Eyal Maoz and Dane Johnson on guitars, Kellen Harrison on bass and Shawn Baltazor on drums. Their album came out this past spring and it’s killer, streaming in its entirety at bandcamp.

Much as this has all the standard issue noirisms – reverb on the guitar, minor keys, devils’ chords, suspenseful press rolls on the drums – it’s not cartoonish. The angst and the menace are visceral. They leap into it with the first track, simply titled Jack Miller, a twistedly swinging chromatic theme, the guitars plowing through every garbage bag in the gutter, trombone shadowing Beninghove’s gritty tenor sax. Then they slow it down to a sway with distorted wah guitars, sax intermingling to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. It’s pure evil and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Interestingly, there are three waltzes here, and they’re all excellent. Reve Melodique is a pretty musette that goes creepy as the guitars kick in, then dreamy and ghostly and finally macabre as the trombone takes over. Reject’s Lament is the most haunting of the three, Beninghove’s smoky alto sax over reverb-drenched, jangling guitars, crescendoing to an agitated horror as the guitars pick up with a blistering, tremolo-picked bluesmetal solo from Maoz as Johnson grimes it up a la Ribot. Hangmen’s Waltz reaches back for a murderously Lynchian ambience, just trombone, drums and guitars setting an ominous backdrop until the rest of the band finally comes in about halfway.

The rest of the album is eclectic to the extreme. There’s Tarantino (A Tarantella), a scurrying surf/ska song that morphs into skronky no wave, and The Puppetmaster, a cruelly satirical stripper theme featuring an absolutely twisted, meandering solo by Parker. Sushi Tango jarringly alternates between a slow, resolute tango and a surprisingly bubbly dixieland theme, while H Bomb, arguably the best song on the album, is a Balkan brass tune done as horror surf, like the Coffin Daggers might have ten years ago, solos around the horn growing increasingly unhinged. There’s also Quatro Loko, a punk salsa tune with a memorably pensive Parker solo that Beninghove uses as a launching pad to take the song completely psychotic; a noisy, grimy boogie blues titled Roadhouse; and the suspenseful, shapeshifting tone poem that closes the album. It’s hard to keep track of all the great albums that have come out this year, but this has to be one of the ten best. Big shout-out to Jeff Marino of amazing oldschool soul band the One and Nines for the heads-up about these guys.


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