New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

Uncategorizable, Deliciously Noisy Stuff from Slobber Pup

Power  trio Slobber Pup‘s new album Black Aces will clear a room fast. It’s not for people who like their music in concise, hummable, self-contained verses and choruses. This ensemble of downtown outsider-jazz types inhabits the deliciously abrasive netherland somewhere between noise-rock, postrock, metal and jazz. Their music is ugly, assaultive and long-winded, but in an intriguing way. On one hand, their album Black Aces sounds like one long jam where everybody’s soloing at once; on the other, everybody’s on the same page rhythmically, and they get out of each others’ way when a shift in the dynamics calls for it. The band’s secret weapon is frontman Jamie Saft’s organ, which swells and swirls and provides a stygian backdrop as well as a sometimes unexpectedly melodic center for banks of distorted synths, Balasz Pandi’s tumbling drums and Trevor Dunn’s growling, pitchblende bass, with noisy bluesmetal guitar that usually takes centerstage. Those hearing this for the first time might be surprised to discover that’s Joe Morris on guitar playing all those unhinged, bluesy leads: it’s quite a change from the resolute, defiantly atonal approach that defined his style for many years. Although he does revert to that style from place to place here as well.

The album is best appreciated as a whole. The practically half-hour opening “track,” Accuser, comes across as something akin to Deep Purple on speedy acid. Morris finally leaves the blues scale for some jagged noise, then veers between the two styles over the often jarring wash of liquid organ and buzzing, acidic synth, roaring, gritty bass and careening but steady drums. The organ hits a menacing tritone and leads the band into an inchoate horror movie theme about thirteen minutes in; later on, Dunn tries to take everybody in a Floydian, anthemic direction but eventually descends into the maelstrom around him. They go out sudddenly with a gentle cymbal hit. Some might find this self-indulgent to the extreme, but as a menacing, defiantly noisy mood piece, it’s hard to resist.

Morris uses a more metalish, sustained tone on Basalt, the bass trying to push it toward Slipknot territory, then everybody drops out, leaving Morris to linger by himself. His off-center, dancing single-note lines and creepy, unsteadily bending microtonal fretless guitar chords are the high point of the title track, while Suffrage, a slower, slinkier and heavier groove, features unexpectedly tuneful, bluesy organ juxtaposed with Morris’ gleeful Friday the 13th chord-chopping. The final segment, Taint of Satan maxes out the contrast between the dirgey rhythm and Morris’ frenetic axe-murderer attack on his strings. Slobber Pup are at Shapeshifter Lab on Dec 13 at around 10 for Rare Noise Records night; cover is $15.

Moody, Hypnotically Shapeshifting Soundscapes from Itsnotyouitsme

Guitarist Grey McMurray and violinist Caleb Burhans get around a lot in indie classical circles; one of their most intriguing projects is their ambient loopmusic duo itsnotyouitsme. The two play the album release show for their new one, This I, on Dec 10 at 7:30 at Subculture (Bleecker at Lafayette) on a doublebill with Brooklyn postrock band the Knells. Advance tix are $15 and highly recommended. You might not think that a band that makes such slow, quiet music would be exciting live, but they can be absolutely mesmerizing if you’re in the right mood.

Crooner Theo Bleckmann and bassist Skuli Sverisson join the murk on the new record, alhough their contributions are textural rather than solo-based, in keeping with the music’s overall mood. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page. The epic opening track, If the Ground Is Covered, Are We Still Outside? opens as a circling vortex, gently tremolo-picked guitar over low-register washes. The picture brightens, the web of textures grows and then recedes to wavelike figures that circle and echo back with an increasingly metallic, echoey pulse. It gradually coalesces into an enigmatically haunting anthem.

Things Past Are Pretty Now is a sardonic, over-the-shoulder look at nostalgia, its dirty guitar and surreal, processed, wordless vocals quickly ebbing back into gently shifting waves that take on a pointillistic glimmer as it winds out slowly. Long Tales of Short Lived Victories builds an enveloping ambience with gentle long-tone phrases from the violin, McMurray’s steady-handed tremolo-picking echoing in the distance, again shifting almost imperceptibly to a brooding, circling, anthemic loop.

The shortest track, Wrinkling Into a Beautiful and Broken World (a free download), moves from short, blippy phrases that sound like they’re being spun backwards out of a loop pedal to hypnotic ambience and then stormier sonics. The You Since Me is the most stripped-down piece, like a more warmly nocturnal, more acoustic Radiohead and one of the few places on the album where the individual voices are distinct. But even that doesn’t last, reverting to a spaceships-passing-in-the-night atmosphere. The final cut is titled Sometimes It’s Hard Being Alive Seeing Bright Stars in the Sky, a long, bittersweetly symphonic, dynamically shifting piece that gives the guitar more of a chance to cut through, plaintive and longing against wistful flickers and ominous deep-space drones.

The Sultans of String Bring Their Sweeping Sounds to Joe’s Pub

Wickedly eclectic Canadian instrumentalists the Sultans of String play a cosmopolitan, global take on acoustic string band music. Informed by the flamenco and Romany traditions but not reverential to them; they cast a wider, more diverse net than the Gipsy Kings. Fans of the more expansive side of Balkan music also ought to check them out. They’re at Joe’s Pub on Dec 6 at 9 PM; tix are $20.

Their latest album, Symphony!, finds the groupl ensemble bolstered by a massive orchestra. With such lush sonics, much of the album has a gentle, even lullaby feel to it – some people may hear this and think Pink Martini, but even if the music can be pillowy and soft around the edges in places, there’s no denying how solid and tasteful the playing and arrangements are. And the explosiveness of the louder parts makes the contrast all the more powerful. The opening track, Monti’s Revenge, has them doing with strings what Fanfare Ciocarlia does with brass – with droll breaks for horns and whistling as the bass walks frantically, all the way up to a titanic conclusion. Palmas Sinfonia makes elegant flamenco chamber-jazz out of a sweeping chart that has the guitar trading riffs with an entire string section, building slowly to a whirlwind and then some unexpected funkiness.

Josie is dreamy and lush, with Celtic tinges, incisive oboe and flute sailing over a dreamy backdrop. Emerald Swing attempts to make Romany jazz out of an Irish waltz, while Sable Island works an evocative, vividly wistful Acadian theme, with some unexpectedly Gilmouresque electric guitar and uillean pipes. They follow that with A Place to Call Home, which they manage to make both more lush and more bouncy. And just when you might think these guys are on the road to Vegas, they hit the Road to Kfamishki, a fiery, oud-fueled levantine masterpiece that’s the best track on the album – fueled by Bassam Bishara ‘s oud, it could have gone twice as long and wouldn’t be boring.

Luna brings back a clever, wryly humorous trajectory from Acadian folk to a tongue-in-cheek latin vamp. The album ends with the flamenco-folk Encuentros, a gentle knockout with its haunting changes on the turnaround out of the verse, probably the best approximation here of what this band sounds like live.

Mark Orton’s Nebraska Soundtrack Illuminates Big-Sky Sounds

Tin Hat guitarist Mark Orton‘s richly rustic instrumental soundtrack to the recently released Alexander Payne road movie Nebraska works clever, sometimes wry, often haunting varations on two main themes. The first is a gorgeous Old West big-sky waltz straight out of the Bill Frisell book; the second is more Lynchian. Blending deadpan wit (which sometimes veers thisclose to cornball) with a persistent unease, Orton creates a suspenseful narrative that stands on its own as an integral work, apart from the visuals. Auspiciously, this recording marks the first time the Tin Hat Trio, with Carla Kihlstedt on violin and Rob Burger on accordion – who sprang to fame with Orton for their soundtrack to Everything Is Illuminated – have appeared together in the studio since 2005. Mickey Raphael, of Willie Nelson’s band, joins them on harmonica here.

If the film, which only recently hit the theatres, is anything like the soundtrack, it’s down-home and bittersweet, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Alcohol seems to be involved from time to time. Orton doesn’t waste time turning the main theme into spaghetti western, Kihlstedt gamely voicing a trumpet. They take a detour into a skeletally syncopated stroll and then hit the waltz again with a lush, soaring Frisellian grandeur. Shifting strings introduce an expectant ambience and then Orton leads the band deep into the country, adding banjo and dobro against the plaintive wash of the accordion and soaring strings.

The Lynchian nocturne comes alive most ominously in an interlude with the piano and dobro; the group slowly weave and interweave their way back. Kihlstedt’s shivery whispers contrast with droll jawharp and sotto vocce dobro, leading to the score’s most wistful, epically sweeping interlude. Orton introduces a bit of Romany jazz on the pensively dancing Night of the Skeptic, which quickly diverges into ghostly, swirling noir terrain. Tragicomic accents from the guitars give way to disquiet and then a rich confluence of the two themes. The score recedes with a sepulchral, hauntedly spacious piano miniature before it comes full circle and concludes with a dobro-driven version of Green Green Grass of Home (which is not on the album but available as a single at itunes).

Best Halloween Show of 2013: Carol Lipnik, Villa Delirium, Big Lazy and Mamie Minch

Is there a style of music that John Kruth can’t play? On Halloween, he brought his witty, ghoulish circus-rock band Villa Delirium to Barbes on a triplebill that was as darkly entertaining as it promised to be. Vllla Delirium are as eclectic as Kruth’s other project, Tribecastan but more grounded in classic Americana than the Middle Eastern, Romany and Central Asian sounds that kitchen-sink instrumental unit explores. As the band name implies, there’s a gleefully dark humor to most of Villa Delirium’s songs. This time out, Kruth switched between mandolin, acoustic guitar and wood flute, alongside the band’s not-so-secret weapon, Tine Kindermann on vocals and singing saw, plus Kenny Margolis on accordion and multi-keys and Doug Wieselman on bass clarinet and mandolin.

Kruth kicked off the night with one of a handful of canivalesque waltzes, followed by the surreeal La Vie de Madame Tussaud, sung in French by Kindermann, with the first of several shivery, sepulchral saw solos. A little later on, she sang the Doors’ Crystal Ship in German, its creepy Weimar psychedelics enhanced by a minimoog solo where Margolis played through a choir patch, adding an uber-goth edge.

Kruth grinningly delivered a mash note to a flirtatious ghost who was hot in her time over Message to You Rudie riffage, followed by the first of a handful of pretty country waltzes, a klezmer-tinged tune and then Kindermann’s Russian/klezmer spoof Nyet Is All You’ll Ever Get. They went a little further west to the Balkans for a murderous tale about the Countess Bathory, who reputedly bathed in virgins’ blood as a medieval precursor to botox. Then they did their funniest song of the night, a droll waltz sung by Kruth that twisted the story of the pied piper into a cautionary tale about how you should never stiff a musician.

A wistful, Celtic-tinged accordion waltz evoked Rachelle Garniez; a little later, they got the audience singing along on the swinging blues tune Calling the Monster Back Home, then the barrelhouse Jerry Lee-style anthem Turning up the Burners in Satan’s Steakhouse with Margolis rocking the piano keys. They wound up their set with the psych-folk waltz What Is the Moon on Tonight: “What is the moon on, mescaline or blow, and where can I get some, I just wanna know,” Kruth deadpanned. He was so taken by Wieselman’s first spiky, rapidfire mandolin solo that he asked for another one and presumably got what he wanted; the crowd roared for more.

Probably because the music was so good, the amateurs didn’t show up until late in headliners Big Lazy‘s second set, and by then it was past midnight. By then, guitarist Steve Ulrich, Andrew Hall (first chair bassist of the Greenwich Village Orchestra) and drummer Yuval Lion had stalked their way through murderous back-alley crime jazz romps, a couple of western swing-tinged blue-sky themes, slasher skronk and a pitchblende lament or two. The most spine-tingling moment of the night was when Mamie Minch came up to join them for a Lynchian version of Crazy. Most women who cover the song sing it whimsically, or bittersweetly; Minch sang it as if it had happened to her and she was living the cruel aftermath, working her way up to the top of her register and then eventually taking a long slide down into her moody alto, adding the occasional, flickering, bluesy melisma as the band tiptoed through the mist behind her. And Minch’s talents aren’t limited to reinventing the Americana songbook; she’s also adept at repairing guitars. She’s recently hung out her own shingle: if you’ve dropped your vintage Martin on the peg and split it down the back, she knows how to get it back in shape.

And Carol Lipnik and Spookarama, who would have been an equally good choice of headliner, opened the night, the chanteuse wowing the crowd with her four-octave range as she sang with an otherworldly resonance through her trusty echo pedal. Pianist Dred Scott played circus blues, noir jazz and hypnotic, Asian-tinged minimalism over Tim Luntzel’s slinky bass as Lipnik ran through a mix of phantasmagorical favorites and the darkly enigmatic, hypnotic songs she’s recently been adding to her repertoire. Right before her encore, she quoted Rumi, which pretty much spoke for itself: “My shadow is only as beautiful as your candle.”

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.

Cutting Edge Balkan Acoustic Guitar Music from Tev Stevig

Tev Stevig is one of the world’s most brilliantly individualistic guitarists. His edgy, Middle Eastern-informed electric solos have been a high point of recordings and performances by Boston Romany dance band Klezwoods, psychedelically vaudevillian jazz band Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica and other projects. His latest recording, Jeni Jol (meaning “new wave,” more or less, in the Romany language), is the most individualistic thing he’s ever done. It’s a solo instrumental album of traditional Balkan and Turkish tunes played mostly on fretless acoustic nylon-string guitar using clawhammer fingerpicking. Until Earl Scruggs popularized his three-finger style, clawhammer technique was the foundation for banjo playing, and there are still thousands of banjo players who use it; guitarists who do are very rare. Stevig’s guitar is also unusual: it’s a classical model that he ripped the frets out of. He also plays regular steel-string acoustic guitar as well as gourd banjo on this quiet, often haunting collection. He’s the opening act on an absolutely killer triplebill at the Jalopy on Oct 24 at 9 PM, followed at 10 by Balkan band Tipsy Oxcart - who have a much different but equally sensational new album out – and then Klezwoods at 11. Cover is an absurdly cheap, Jalopy-esque $10.

How does the use of fretless guitar affect the tonalities? For one, it gives Stevig’s blue notes more sustain then they’d have if he simply bent strings to reach them. His clawhammer picking adds precision, often achieving an absolutely hypnotic fluidity. The album’s first three tracks are originals. Stevig opens with matter-of-factly brooding variations on a circular riff, followed by rapidfire raindroplets around a moody, nebulously Egyptian hook and then a melody that could easily be imagined on – or transposed to – a West African kora harp. Otherworldly microtones bubble to the surface on a traditional tune inspired by a version by Erkan Ogur and Ismail Hakki Demircioglu, two great current-day masters of Turkish music. Another Turkish tune, from the Ibrahim Tatlises book, maintains the overcast atmosphere while raising the hypnotic factor.

The next piece has a more ringing, resonant character; the one after that is more spiky and insistent. The similarly precise, somewhat more ornamented Bir Ah Cektim draws on versions by Canadian folksinger Brenna MacCrimmon and Turkish sax great Selim Sesler. Kalaidzjsko Oro (The Artisan Dance) brings in a tricky stop-time rhythm. The album winds up with a pensive Ogur-inspired number, then Stevig’s rippling, Leo Kottke-ish original Dinner at the Meade’s, and finally a gorgeously warped version of the well-known traditional song Cuperlika. Count this as one of the best albums in a year where some of the other great ones include releases by a Peruvian-French surf rock band, a Brooklyn Balkan brass ensemble, a nonlinear cinematic narrative by a literate powerpop maven, and the last of the recent onslaught of Guided by Voices records.

Salaam’s Train to Basra on the Express Track to Fun

Is there a musical family anywhere in the world as talented as the El Saffars? Big brother Amir, one of the great trumpeters in jazz, shifts the paradigm with his blend of Miles Davis elegance and haunting Middle Eastern themes (his other axe is the santoor, the rippling Middle Eastern dulcimer). Younger sister and brilliant violinist Dena El Saffar leads Salaam, the Indiana-based Middle Eastern instrumental ensemble. She’s bringing them to her brother’s place, Alwan for the Arts downtown, which is to the music of the Arabic diaspora what CBGB was to rock, on Sept 26 at 8 PM. $20 advance tix are still available as of today (you can try the day of the show, but this will probably sell out).

Salaam has yet another new album out, Train to Basra, their eighth and arguably their best. At least it’s their most eclectic. The opening track, Queen of  Sheba sends a shout-out to the Louisville Ethiopian restaurant (yup) where Dena El Saffar forgot her phone (and whose cool staff mailed it back to her!) with a slowly unwinding Ethiopique groove that mingles her own oud with Sam Finley’s incisive guitar and an ecstatic horn section of her brother plus tenor saxophonist Lety ElNaggar. Kashaniya works a slinky, dancing chromatic groove with a suspenseful noir edge, Finley having a great time supplying searing Middle Eastern licks. The title track memorializes her dad’s train ride as a seven-year-old going by himself to meet his family on vacation (in the days before post-9/11 paranoia, LOTS OF KIDS DID THAT ALL THE TIME AND NO ONE EVER GOT KILLED) with a joyously pulsing romp driven by ElNaggar’s ney flute

Iraqi-American Blues wryly works the Muddy Waters Mannish Boy hook into a Middle Eastern vamp fueled by more of Dena’s oud work, a more simpatico stylistic mashup than you might think. As she alludes in the liner notes, if you happen to be an American-born citizen of Iraqi ancestry, you definitely know what it means to have the blues. The most hauntingly cinematic of all the songs here, Lima Sahar commemorates the rapid rise and sudden fall of the Afghani woman who was the first to win her nation’s version of American Idol, only to be driven underground by extremist Muslim misogynists, never to be seen again.

Dena El Saffar switches to the hauntingly austere Iraqi joza fiddle on Joza Tears, a murky, echoing theme with a dubwise feel driven by John Orie Stith’s hypnotic bass. She finds the missing link that connects the Middle East and Mexico with the lushly soaring The Mariachi Stole My Heart, taking one of the album’s most intense solos midway through on violin. After that, there’s a long, celebratory vamp with a misterioso santoor solo, then a multi-percussion solo from her husband Tim Moore (whose diverse beats propel this album), followed by Awakening, an auspicous tribute to the heroes of the Arab Spring that may be the most suspensefully gripping track here, Amir’s conspiratorial trumpet ushering in a triumphantly slinky, classic Egyptian groove. The album winds up with the wryly titled, gorgeously levantine Rast Saffari, Dena multitracking herself as a stately string orchestra, and then Mesopotamia, which manages to blend a hypnotic Jamaican sleng teng riddim with a long, pensive, Iraqi violin solo that hits with an anthemic wallop. It’s still a long way til December, but this just might be the best, funnest album of the year.

Tribecastan Rocks the NY Gypsy Festival

The New York Gypsy Festival is still going on: there’s a ton of pretty wild, eclectic stuff happening through the end of the month, most of it at Drom under the loose rubric of Romany music. Tonight’s show featured kitchen-sink instrumentalists Tribecastan, who have four albums to their credit and literally span the globe, stylistically speaking. But onstage, the massive ten-piece band came across as a high-voltage circus rock act, driven more by horns than by the layers and layers of exotic stringed instruments they employ in the studio. What’s the likelihood of seeing Matt Darriau two nights in a row in two vastly different places? Not bad, if you know where to go. He was onstage here, playing clarinet and alto sax alongside a trombone, cornet, bass, drums, multi-percussion and multi-keys, with the band’s flamboyant frontman, John Kruth, firing off sizzling runs on electric mandolin when he wasn’t on mandola, banjo or flute. The other member of the band’s brain trust, Jeff Greene, stood nonchalantly in the corner, switching from a banjo-like lute that he sat and bowed, to what looked like a cajon with keys, to vibraphone (and was sadly not very high in the mix throughout the show.

They opened with a vigorously vamping soul organ groove and wound up with a couple of long, hypnotically funky, distantly Central Asian-tinged jams, the latter with a mantra delivered ecstaticaly by Kruth as he fervently egged on his bandmates to take the song completely over the edge. It took the festival’s prime mover, Serdar Ilhan, to finally give an emphatic signal that it was time for the next band. As psychedelic as all of this was, the songs in the middle of the set were the best. A similarly hypnotic, flute-driven waltz featured a rap interlude that didn’t go anywhere, but the tricky, reed-driven Macedonian-flavored dance afterward did. They followed that with an unexpectedly quiet detour and then an absolutely haunting, brooding bolero, Darriau’s alto sax hitting a big crescendo early on, Greene’s flute against fluttering, interwoven reeds as Kruth anchored it with his spiky banjo lines.

Greene open the next number with a droll jawharp solo, then the song built to an anthemic disco groove, something akin to Hazmat Modine (a band these guys often resemble) destroying a song by Chic. They took that vibe to the Balkans with a reggae-ish pulse, then hit the show’s high point with The Road to Koprivnica, another brooding but lively bolero with some sizzling clarinet from Darriau and even more sizzling, spiraling, intensely Middle Eastern electric mando from Kruth. The drummer broke his snare on the woozy but hard-rocking surf song Communist Modern – a standout track from the band’s latest album New Songs from the Old Country – then went as deep into the funk as you can go in, say, Uzbekhistan. Which is the irony of this band: if they actually were from Uzbekhistan instead of New York, all the blogs would be going nuts over how postmodern and paradigm-shifting this band is. Where this band needs to be, if they can afford it, is the jamband circuit and some summer festivals, where the hippie kids would go nuts over them as well.

Accordionist Uri Sharlin Mashes up Balkan, Brazilian and Israeli Sounds

Uri Sharlin is one of the first-call accordionists in several New York scenes, from folk to jazz to Balkan music. This evening he and his jazz-inclined Balkan/Brazilian band the DogCat Ensemble played an energetic, dynamic set of instrumentals at the Lincoln Center atrium from their forthcoming album Back to the Woods (which is available now if you go to one of their shows) . True to Balkan tradition, the Israel-born Sharlin loves rhythms that are considered exotic in the west: the group would do a couple of bars in twelve, then they’d sneak one in eleven instead. He also has a passion for south-of-the equator sounds, the most exotic of these being Monte Verde, a jungly Costa Rican rainforest tableau that the band opened and then closed on a droll note, playing birdcalls on little whistles, Sharlin leading the band into a warmly tropical theme with washes of chords from his accordion.

He has chops that can be spectacular, but in this band he leaves the pyrotechnics to the rest of the group. Matt Darriau’s sizzling, apprehensively trilling first solo on clarinet on the moodily pulsing, nuevo tango-inflected encore, Night Swim, was one of them, bassoonist Gili Sharett maintaining the suspense and tension as he took the handoff. Guitarist Kyla Sanna lit up the opening theme, another tango-inflected tune set to a trickily dancing rhythm, with a long solo that rose from edgy jangle to knife’s-edge intensity. Bassist Jordan Scannella would occasionally swoop up into a brief cloudburst of chords when he wasn’t providing a fat pulse in tandem with drummer John Hadfield and percussionist Rich Stein, who alternated between a couple of boomy clay pots (and soloed on them at one point during the lively, sunny, tropical Don Quixote), shakers and a big standup tapan bass drum.

The group took a couple of diversions into tersely playful free jazz on a version of Brazilian multi-instrumentalist composer Hermeto Pascoal’s Dia #342, then flew into darker Balkan terrain on the wings of Darriau’s bass clarinet and Sanna’s guitar on One for Frankie. They took vivid daytime and nighttime snapshots of a balmy, mellow northern Brazilian seaside town, Mundau, first with Sanna leading the way, calm and methodical on acoustic guitar, then with Sharlin switching to piano for an allusively furtive, jazzier nocturne that picked up steam as it went along. The catchiest tune of the night was The Real DogCat, a somber roots reggae tune set to yet another odd tempo with dub-like effects from the percussion toward the end. They ended the set with a joyously dancing, bubbly Brazilian tune, Baio, the drummer swinging a clave beat, bassoon paired off against the bass clarinet and guest Itai Kriss’ flute all the way up to a droll trick ending. All of these songs are on the album, which has a similarly energetic, live sound; Sharlin’s next gig is at Barbes on Oct 23 at 8 with classical mandolinist Avi Avital.


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