New York Music Daily

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Tag: instrumental music

Arifa Opens This Year’s New York Gypsy Festival on a Haunting, Eclectic Note

Arifa take austere, often haunting Turkish folk themes and build them into sweeping instrumentals with elements of classical and film music and jazz as well. They open this year’s New York Gypsy Festival auspiciously at around 7:30 PM on Sept 19 at Drom. If their new ep Anatolian Alchemy is any indication, this individualistic acoustic instrumental ensemble threatens to upstage the reliably exhilarating New York Gypsy All-Stars, who follow them on the bill. Cover is just $10; it’s an inexpensive and potentially spine-tingling way to kick off one of New York’s most reliably eclectic and exciting annual music festivals.

The ep opens auspiciously with Maktub, rising out of ominously lingering clarinet to a thicket of polyrhythms and then alternates with droning, murky atmospherics lowlit with eerily glimmering piano. Red Ink is the catchiest and most cinematic piece here, a hauntingly bittersweet melody that rises to a sweeping, enigmatic theme that winds down to plaintive piano and oud solos. The title track has an epic sweep, the piano rippling behind a spacious oud theme to open it, followed by a gorgeously brooding clarinet melody that alternates with pulsing, dancing interludes and a sizzling, spiraling piano solo to bring it to a peak right before the end. If this is any indication, the concert should be amazing.

A Psychedelic Vortex from Thomas Simon

“WARNING: All songs are extended jams,” the cd sleeve page of guitarist Thomas Simon‘s new album Vortex cautions the listener. Simon’s extensive body of work spans the worlds of film music as well as artsy rock. A track from the debut album by his band Musiciens Sans Frontieres was a winner at the 2011 Toronto Marijuana Music Awards, which explains a lot. But as digressive as Simon can be, his music can be amazingly catchy. This album is a clinic in implied melody: you will walk away humming tunes that Simon is only sort of playing, leaving plenty of space for your mind to fill in the missing notes. The photo on the cd case shows Simon’s guitar rig spread out around the spot on the floor where he’d be standing, the expanse of equipment including but not limited to reverb and distortion pedals, a wah, laptop and set of reissue Moog pedals. Simon’s endlessly circling loops and washes of textures filtering through the sonic picture are bolstered by Frank Saitta’s drums and Lior Shulman’s percussion plus drum samples from the Escola de Olodum and “various Salvadoran street jams.”

The first track, Haze, opens with an eerie chromatic riff that alludes to Simon’s work on his previous solo album Moncao (ranked among the ten best albums of 2010 at this blog’s predecessor). Lingering waves of guitar over a slowly pulsing drum loop and menacing fragments of lyrics complete the picture and set the scene for the rest of the album. The Truth sounds like Lee “Scratch” Perry doing art-rock, guitar and melodica conversing over a hypnotic clickety-clack rhythm. The version of the third track here, In the Middle of Nowhere, on the Moncao album has an echoey Syd Barrett menace; here, it’s considerably stripped down, in the same vein as Pink Floyd’s One of These Days. The funky, echoey Dub the Toad segues into Don’t Worry, which is closer to the anthemic rock of Musiciens Sans Frontieres.

Strange Love alternates between an echoey Bela Lugosi’s Dead ambience and a mechanical dancefloor thud, followed by the nebulous washes of the aptly titled Secret Winds of Sound. Altered Planet, the most cohesive track on the Moncao album, is reinvented here as a snarling, guitar-fueled trip-hop tune that grows more swirling and vertiginous. Dead Hero works a galloping Run Like Hell groove with layers and layers of lingering, sustained, ringing, echoing guitar: it’s both the most trance-inducing and hardest-rocking track here. The album ends with Condor Jam, growing gingerly from a muted drum loop to a growling, jangly swirl, up and down through a darkly biting theme. Fans of all the aforementioned bands as well as the artsy side of stoner rock will eat this up: spin this at night, alone on the floor, in the right mood, with headphones on and you’ll be in good position to figure out what it’s all about.

Lush, Pulsing Atmospherics from Eluvium

The recently released Nightmare Ending by Eluvium, a.k.a. Matthew Robert Cooper is completely mistitled – unless it means either “nightmare, ending,” or he’s being sarcastic. Built with a sometimes ornately intricate, sometimes disarmingly simple series of concentric loops, this lavishly atmospheric album creates a warmly enveloping ambience that reminds of Brian Eno, and Philip Glass at his catchiest. Alexander Berne’s magnificently nocturnal Echoes of Mime, Death of Memes also comes to mind.

A slow, pulsing echo prevades most of the fourteen tracks here, most of them clocking in at six minutes or more. All but the final cut are instrumentals. Segues and fades in both directions, up and down, abound. Tempos are slow to glacial. With the exception of the album’s single upbeat interlude, the central rhythm is like waves on a tide, implied rather than centered on a beat, sometimes surrounded by a thicket of gentle alternate rhythms, sometimes simply drifting. Thick, nebulous sheets of sound contrast with tersely emphatic phrases played on piano, tinkling electric piano, austerely swelling organ, an endless series of synthesizer patches and possibly guitar. The complete sonic picture is so densely processed that it’s hard to figure out what’s what. The hypnotic effect is so strong that it creates an audio vortex that, depending on your attention span, either has you raptly watching the slideshow as it glides by, or sends you blissfully lost out into the swirl.

There’s some hide-and-seek going on here, too: Cooper has a dry sense of humor, hiding several new wave pop melodies in the slowly revolving cloud. Stately baroque phrases get methodically disassembled and are also sent into space to slowly spin and refract glints and shadows of themselves back into the mix. With an oceanic majesty, several of the tracks rise to an epically orchestral peak and then gracefully descend to peaceful lullaby ambience. There are also a small handful of simple, disarmingly direct piano miniatures here, two of them gentle, stately waltzes, a third which introduces an unexpected plaintiveness. Their childlike simplicity only enhances the contrast with the kaleidoscope around them.

Catchy Eclectic Grooves from CSC Funk Band

We’ve come full circle when American bands in the teens are stealing from Nigerian bands from the 70s who were stealing from Americans back then. CSC Funk Band takes the Nigerians’ hypnotic pulse and biting horns, then beefs up the mix with a beat that’s a little heavier, then adds a bluesy/funky guitar edge and woozy, liquid organ and synth for a sound that’s uniquely their own. All their songs are instrumental jams. Is what they do stoner music? Well, their latest album, Funkincense was released by the Electric Cowbell folks on 4/20…but you don’t have to be high to enjoy it. It’s good party music, good on the train, wakes you up without giving you a headache and then keeps you up. You can stream it at Flea Market Funk.

The album is divided up into A and B sides. Side one begins with Catcher’s Mitt, which takes a loping Afrobeat groove, a catchy minor-key horn riff, adds bluesy guitar cadenzas and some woozy stoner synth. The title track has oscillating synth under Wes Buckly’s catchy alto sax riffage and bandleader Colin Langenus’ gritty guitar. Make Your Mind Up, by bassist Jesse Lent, has a goodnatured bounce, slinky clustering bass, blue-sky alto sax, upper-register organ and then a mutlitracked slide guitar break.  Choom Gang – a tribute to President Obama’s teenage stoner years, complete with talk-show banter that sounds much more stoned than the actual song – is a muscular Afrobeat jam, its web of guitars and sax rising to a series of triumphant crescendos, followed by an echoey dub interlude. Total absorption achieved!

Side two starts with the hard-hitting, wickedly catchy minor-key dancefloor groove You Say. Ticket to Cabo, by trombonist Elizabeth Arce, warps back and forth between an airy 80s groove and an edgier 70s guitar-driven sound. Built around a wry, loopy synth riff, Klip Winger reminds of Moisturizer with its moody baritone sax. The album winds up with keyboardist Matt Mottel’s Versace Nachos, vamping on a famous early 80s riff with an ear-to-ear grin.  Goes to show how much fun you can have when you take an eclectic bunch of musicians with backgrounds in noiserock, jazz improvisation, ska and funk, smoke them up and see what comes out.

Noir Cinematics, Briefly Interrupted, by Ludovico Einaudi at the Town Hall

Last night at the Town Hall looked like date night. Lots of couples, on the older side, which was logical since Ludovico Einaudi was playing. The Italian composer/keyboardist’s cinematic new album In a Time Lapse is a dark but lullingly hypnotic, minimalistic orchestral suite inspired by the nature writing of Henry David Thoreau. Playing piano, Einaudi and his excellent twelve-piece ensemble – a string section with a couple of members who doubled on acoustic guitar, bass or percussion, plus two percussionists, a second keyboardist who frequently added boomy, almost subsonic bass via a syndrum patch, and an onstage mixing engineer whom Einaudi credits as being part of the band – brought the album to life with unexpected vigor and an often haunting intensity.

The concert began with the slow, reverberating beat of a gong, the house lights all the way down, the stage in darkness except for the lights on the music stands, the string section opening with a slow, pulsing, nocturnal theme. About two hours later, the show ended with a delirious audience clapalong on what could be termed a minimalist art-rock dancefloor vamp. This was definitely not foreshadowed, either by the latest album, or by anything that preceded it on the bill – but the crowd responded with a lusty standing ovation.

The show followed a slow upward trajectory interrupted by two unexpectedly fiery, clenched-teeth interludes, the orchestra going full steam and absolutely explosive on the second one. Einaudi’s brilliance is in how he shifts moods, sometimes drastically, with very subtle melodic changes. The influence of Philip Glass was evident from the first notes; Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch soundtracks also came to mind. Einaudi’s orchestration is packed with neat textural touches like having one of the percussionists harmonize with the piano using a mbira, or by rubbing the inside of a steel pan for a lingering, keening sustain. From moody, dusky late summer apprehension – the date night part of the show, which went on for quite a while – the strings finally rose with an agitatedly shivery isnistence. From there they backed away while Einaudi took his time working back into the shadows, the orchestra again rising with a vintage ELO swirl as one of the cellists added wispy overtones run through a reverb patch for extra ghostliness. This would recur to even more potently eerie effect late rin the show. For his part, Einaudi rigs his piano with several reverb effects, from an fast echo similar to what U2’s The Edge uses on his guitar, to a subtle tremolo, to a practically never-ending sustain.

From there Einaudi went into a solo interlude and latched onto a theme that reminded of [what is that awful, cloying 1986 album by the Cure that all the indie bands rip off?], and wouldn’t let it go. Was he setting up a contrast? Actually, yes, but there wasn’t enough substance in the tune – a simple, seemingly random series of rigthhand variations around a central note – to make anything interesting out of it. He finally let it go, and the music rose mightily, to an anthemic romp that evoked breezy mid-70s ELO and then a theme that reminded a lot of the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. By this point, it was a rock show. Pretty cool, considering how raptly and carefully the group had been playing for most of the night. Einaudi brought back the menace with a rippling, chromatically spiky vamp that he finally took over the top with a gleeful glissando: gotcha! Einaudi’s current US tour continues, winding up in San Francisco in early June, then he’s on the road in Europe this summer.

House of Waters Bring Their Gorgeous Psychedelic Textures to the Rockwood

House of Waters are one of New York’s most interesting and unique bands. Part funky jamband, part Afrobeat and part pan-Asian, there is no other group in the world who sound remotely like them. In a casually expert way, frontman Max ZT is the Hendrix of the hammered dulcimer, an instrument on which he is a former American national champion. Yet while American folk music informs his songwriting, his rippling, hypnotic, warmly psychedelic instrumentals draw on styles from around the globe. As one would assume from a disciple of Shivkumar Sharma, India’s greatest master of the santoor – an ancestor of the hammered dulcimer – he’s taking his instrument to places it’s never gone before. The lush, dreamy quality of many of these songs disguises the fact that there are only three instruments in the band: the dulcimer, Moto Fukushima’s eight-string bass and Luke Notary’s cajon. They’re playing the small room at the Rockwood at 11 PM on May 17; if global sounds with a psychedelic edge are your thing, you’ll love this band.

Their album is titled Revolution: their kind of revolution is a good-natured, upbeat one. It’s a generous fifteen-track mix, the resonant ring of the dulcimer blending with the undulating bass and a thicket of percussion. Sometimes the dulcimer and bass double each others’ lines; other times they play off each other, or trade places, dulcimer anchoring a trancey groove as the bass sails overhead. There’s often a layer of dirt in the tone of the bass, and Fukushima uses all eight strings, especially if he takes a rapidfire guitar lead. Sometimes the beats are straight-up, other times they’re more tricky. That it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what speaks to the intricacy of the arrangements and the chemistry in the band.

A couple of the numbers work variations around a central tone as in indie rock, one of them rising to a big, insistent, anthemic stadium-rock crescendo, the other going into unexpectedly moody, ominous territory. Another track has a swaying triplet rhythm and a warm Mediterranean feel. Sound of Impermanence works around spiraling upper-register licks on the highest strings of the bass, while Sabula rises to a majestic, spacious atmosphere, Max ZT choosing his spots. The album’s most energetic cut, Agnolim, has the dulcimer machinegunning over a nonchalantly catchy, low-key groove – and then the bass goodnaturedly takes over. The closing track, Ball in Cage sets spacious Asian riffs over interwoven loops in both the lows and the highs from the bass. There’s also a terse rainy-day theme and a brief interlude that sounds like a resonator guitar solo but clearly isn’t.

Another Brilliant Noir Instrumental Album from Beninghove’s Hangmen

Bandleader Bryan Beninghove is a jazz saxophonist with a busy schedule around the New York area, and writes a lot for film and tv. He has a distinctive, individual voice on the soprano sax; he also plays tenor, and melodica as well. Back in 2011, he and his band Beninghove’s Hangmen put out a richly creepy, eclectically cinematic debut album of noir theme music which was one of that year’s best. They’ve got a new one, Rattlesnake Chopper just out, streaming at their Bandcamp page, and it’s every bit as murderously intense. They’re playing the album release show this Friday, May 17 at Nublu at 10 PM.

The Hangmen’s lineup this time out is pretty much the same: guitarists and John Zorn alums Eyal Maoz and Dane Johnson, trombonist Rick Parker (of similarly dark Bartok jazz project Little Worlds and a million other bands), Shawn Baltazor on drums, and Kellen Harrison on bass (dub maven and Super Hi-Fi leader Ezra Gale takes over on bass for the show).

Where the debut album was more of a jazz record, this one is horror surf rock along with a couple of lively departures into gypsy jazz (Beninghove also plays that style of music in the memorably named Jersey City group Manouche Bag) and noiserock. The darker material here brings to mind another great New York band, the Coffin Daggers; Maoz’ presence here adds a Middle Eastern edge similar to his own high-voltage instrumental rock band, Edom. The title track, which opens the album, could be the Hells’ Angels’ theme, a slowly marauding, minor-key biker rock groove with lurid neon horn harmonies, an absolutely sick Maoz solo followed by…a theremin solo. Hangmen’s Manouche has a jaunty swing, Beninghove’s carefree melodica and tenor sax contrasting with Parker’s brooding trombone and Johnson’s surreallistically warped Jeff Lynne guitar. One of Beninghove’s best songs, Surf n’ Turk works a menacing Anatolian guitar riff that everyone who plays an instrument will be trying to figure out: it’s absurdly catchy, but it’s tricky and it’s the darkest thing here.

Choro Clock D’Lite begins as aa bubbly soca theme, adds a weird undercurrent with Johnson’s outer-space EFX, then heads to New Orleans. The album’s other horror surf masterpiece, Surfin’ Satie builds variations on a macabre, reverb-drenched chromatic theme, a shivery tenor sax solo handing off to a jagged guitar duel. The final track, Powerstine, slows things down to a sludgy Macedonian-flavored grind and then picks up, gypsy-tinged soprano sax leading the way. Best album of 2013? One of them, no question.

A Gateway Drug to the Surreal World of Chicha Music

Most people north of Peru still have no idea who Los Destellos are. Credit Chicha Libre, New York’s funnest live band and America’s finest chicha group, for opening the floodgates for a generation worth of trippy, echoey, clangy Peruvian psychedelic rock by bands who from the late 60s through the early 80s played a surreal blend of surf music and rhythms from across Latin America. With their two Roots of Chicha compilations, Chicha Libre’s label Barbes Records were the first to release anything by Los Destellos outside of their native Peru. Los Destellos were the first to use the term chicha (a corn beverage that’s essentially the Peruvian equivalent of malt liquor; its slang meaning is “ghetto”) to describe their music. In that genre, they are what the Ventures are to American surf music, generally acknowledged as its finest and most prolific practitioners.

On the brand-new Rough Guide to Latin Psychedelia compilation, they appear once on the first disc and get an entire bonus disc devoted to them. While what’s here may not be definitive – for example, there’s only one track, the woozy fuzztone bossa groove Onsta La Yerbita, from their stunningly ornate 1971 classic Constelacion album – it’s still off the hook. El Boogaloo Del Perro morphs unexpectedly from a latin soul vamp into balmy Hugh Masekela territory and just as unexpectedly back again. Volando Con Los Destellos reinvents Oye Como Va as a blazing fuzztone jam, a showcase for lead guitarist Enrique Delgado to show off the chops that made him an icon in his native country. They take Flash & the Dynamics’ broodingly shuffling Guajira Sicodelica (which also appears on the compilation) and remake it as Byrdsy twelve-string rock, Delgado having fun with his echo pedal and a handful of stolen Ventures licks. Recycling that same Byrds hook for all it’s worth, Boogaloo De Los Destellos proves for all time how much the California band’s sound would have been enhanced by timbales. Among the rest of the thirteen Destellos tracks here, Noche de Garua has a Lullaby of the Leaves feel; La Cumbia Del Sol works a lo-fi take on early Santana; Soy Un Campesino rocks out a Peruvian folk tune; while the rest have a spiky, wickedly catchy, reverb-toned drive and intensity. Considering how tinny so much of chicha music sounds, the remastered sound quality is tremendously good. The rest of the compilation concentrates on soul grooves fused with many different south-of-the-border sounds, from the obvious (Joe Cuba) to the deliciously unexpected (Los Pakines’ stoner anthem Tomalo O Dejalo).

Chicha Libre are also represented, by an unexpected choice, keyboardist Josh Camp’s Number 17, a tribute to Fermat primes. The whole thing is streaming at World Music Network, a place you can get just as lost as at youtube except that there are no annoying commercials. Let the main page for the Rough Guides send you down the rabbit hole – if esoterica is your thing, you can check in any time you like and basically never leave. Salsa Dura NYC? Check. Music of the Sahara? Doublecheck. Desert blues, Russian gypsy music, the list goes on and on.

Big Lazy Returns with a Vengeance

With a big echoing crash and then a swipe of toxically reverb-drenched guitar, Big Lazy were back like they’d never left. If memory serves right, the world’s darkest noir instrumental band’s last gig had been a record release show in June of 2007 at Luna Lounge in what would soon afterward become the Knitting Factory space. It was the loss of a drummer (Tamir Muskat leaving to join Gogol Bordello and then lead Balkan Beat Box) that did them in. In the wake of the breakup, guitarist Steve Ulrich composed for film and tv, and joined forces with Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler, with whom he eventually put out the best album of 2012, the luridly menacing if prosaically titled Ulrich Ziegler. Friday the 12th at Barbes, the back room was packed, a mix of neighborhood folks along with what’s left of the band’s cult following from when they were a regular weekend attraction at Tonic.

Second and third versions of bands are usually pale imitations, but this lineup might be Big Lazy’s best ever  – and they had the brilliant Willie Martinez, the band’s original drummer, guesting on bongos on several songs. The new guys seemed to be jumping out of their shoes to be playing Ulrich’s material. Who knew that drummer Yuval Lion (another Pink Noise alum) could swing as hard as he did? And it figures that Ulrich would have to go outside the rock world, in this case, to the Greenwich Village Orchestra, for their first-chair bassist Andew Hall. Amped as high in the mix as Ulrich’s guitars, Hall anchored the songs in a murky yet precise pulse, adding an occasionally wrathful, pitchblende wash when he played with a bow. Meanwhile, Lion was having a ball with his hardware, pinging and rattling away when he wasn’t swinging a country backbeat or a nonchalant funk groove.

In practically two hours onstage, the band began with the brand-new Bernard Herrmann-style 6/8 blues Swampesque and ended with a typically out-of-breath, desperate Princess Nicotine. In between, they played mostly new material: Ulrich may not have been doing many shows lately, but he’s hardly been idle. Don’t Cross Myrtle blended monster movie improvabilly and purposeful Mingus swing, Lion riding the traps. Lunch Lady chugged along, shedding jagged chromatic sparks, followed by the Lynchian highway anthem Minor Problem, Ulrich’s lapsteel swerving eerily like Eraserhead behind the wheel.

Another new grey-sky highway theme, The Low Way unwound apprehensively, paving the way for a murderously spacious take of Skinless Boneless, a standout track from the band’s second album. Ulrich never stops reinventing his songs – no disrespect to Bill Frisell or Marc Ribot, but there is no more intense guitarist in the world right now. Martinez came up to join them and underscore the murderous tiptoe insistence of Gone, from the band’s third album, and then the rapidfire chase scene Just Plain Scared. The highlight of the second set was Uneasy Street, a morose classic from the band’s first album, Hall unleashing a river of ultraviolet ambience when Ulrich let his lurid, tremoloing lines fade out and handed over the melody. Big Lazy are at the Gutter bowling alley in Williamsburg on May 3 at atound 10 with Sexmob’s Steven Bernstein guesting on trumpet: if dark sounds are your thing, this is a show not to miss

Moody, Lynchian Instrumentals from Ludovico Einaudi

Italian pianist/composer Ludovico Einaudi has a beautifully Lynchian new album, In a Time Lapse, just out and a North American tour in the works. The music is Lynchian in the sense that it builds a series of frequently apprehensive movements out of terse variations on a simple four-note theme, just as Angelo Badalamenti did with the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The shadow of Philip Glass also towers over this album; his 1995 suite In the Summer House springs to mind. And in its more brooding moments, Einaudi reminds of Erik Satie. Einaudi likes a lot of reverb on his piano, to the extent that he generously credits the recording engineer as part of the ensemble. Elegant, sometimes sweeping strings and surprisingly hard-hitting percussion are provided in places by Orchestra I Virtuosi Italiani .

After a pensive, balmy string introduction, Einaudi wastes no time going deep into the noir with the sweepingly orchestrated, creepily surreal, hypnotic central theme, setting a suspenseful tone that persist throughout the rest of the album. While the rest of the suite is seldom this dark, there’s a recurring disquiet throughout the series of hypnotic, artfully ornamented piano preludes. Einaudi plays gracefully and gently; he lets his ideas linger and build suspense, or resonate with a nocturnal, late-summer calm.

A moody hypnotically baroque-tinged waltz brings back the strings, building to a stormy insistence. Einaudi follows a pulsing, Glass-like circular piece with an increasingly haunting interlude, lush strings over a repetitive four-note piano riff. Spaciously airy piano variations give way to more Glass-like circularity and then build to a minimalistically pulsing variations over almost subsonic electronics. The unease rises as the variations move along, electronic loops and then strings carrying the recurrent underlying theme to a rather elegaic payoff at the end. Who is the audience for this? The Sequenza 21 crowd, obviously; fans of Badalamenti, Glass, film music, and the noir pantheon. It sounds best with the lights out.


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