New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

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.

Tribecastan’s New Songs from the Old Country: Their Trippiest, Best Album

Tribecastan’s fourth album New Songs from the Old Country is their best, most focused, and darkest release, one of this year’s most amazingly eclectic and trippy collections. The whole thing is streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page. Their 2009 debut Strange Cousin introduced them as a kitchen-sink band doing genre-smashing instrumental mashups of styles from the Mediterranean to the East Indies and all points in betweeen, employing a museum’s worth of exotic stringed and wind insturments. Their 2010 release Five Star Cave moved a little closer to jazz, while 2012’s New Deli went more in a rock direction. So this is a return to their roots, spread as far across the globe as they are, like a giant magic mushroom. As usual, the band’s brain trust, John Kruth and Jeff Greene take their pick of the choicest, most obscure insturments: mandocello, octave mandolin, yayli tambor, African raft zither, baglamas, charango: the list goes on and on.

Thre’s an awful lot to like here: sixteen tracks in all. The opening number, Bwiti is a dead ringer for Tuatara with its hypnotic clip-clop percusssion and spiky lutes, a catchy blues tune with Asian tinges and a lively horn chart with Claire Daly’s baritone sax anchoring Matt Darriau’s alto. Auto Rickshaw layers a thicket of lutes over Ray Peterson’s slinky bassline and Kenny Margolis’ swirly organ, with a break for sitar and a droll jawharp boinging underneath. Their version of Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 nicks the Chicha Libre arrangement right down to the bolero rhythm, a wood flute replacing Josh Camp’s Electrovox; still, it’s a great song.

Dance of the Terrible Bear is a characteristically surreal mashup of Balkan brass, dixieland and bluegrass. Corned Beef and Sake does the same with an Irish reel, hi-de-ho jump blues and atmospheric Japanese folk. Communist Modern, fueled by Margolis’ sardonic keyboards and a lushly cinematic arrangement, is a dead ringer for surf rock legends Laika & the Cosmonauts.

Night Train to the Ukraine builds from a suspenseful, drony intro to a darkly scampering, chillingly chromatic woodwind tune. Gordana’s Dream brings back the Tuatara vibe with its gamelanesque, anxiously pointillistic ambience. Saloniki Reb marches along with a haunting Turkish melody played first on baglama (is that a baglama or another artifact from the museum?) and then clarinet, then suddenly the sun comes out and the tune picks up. The band stays on the Balkan track with the lively, pulsing, deviously catchy Road to Koprivnica

Adrian’s Leap is another mashup, this one blending bluegrass, the Balkans and the blues with a bit of an Indonesian tinge and a starkly searing solo on a fiddle of some kind. The Blue Sky of Your Eyes sets a bluegrass baglama tune to a bhangra beat, with bluesy harmonica. Natal Spring takes a bolero to the plains of South Africa, while.Kepaci Rain, the most hypnotic tune here, pairs off Gordana Evacic’s cimbalom against jaw harp and wood flute. Blame It on the Moon is not the jazz standard but a moodily strolling bolero with a lush blend of mandolin, lutes and horns. The final cut, Persian Nightingale, opens as a hypnotically clanging dirge and rises to majestically swirling heights  Among similarly inclined global jambands, only Hazmat Modine compare to these guys. Tribecastan play the album release show for this one this Fri, Sept 27 at 7:15 at Drom; advance tix are just $10.

Halloween Comes Earlier Every Year in NYC

Halloween’s on its way, and it’s gonna be hell in the East Village when every amateur from Cape May to Cape Hatteras comes into town to drink and puke. But for a taste of a more, um, tasteful Halloween, there’s a killer retro rock triplebill coming to Brooklyn Bowl on Oct 26, with ageless second-wave garage rockers the Fleshtones, the reliably entertaining Southern Culture on the Skids and the world’s most popular surf band outside of the Ventures and Dick Dale, Los Straitjackets. The three bands are pushing a new Halloween collaboration, Mondo Zombie Boogaloo, which is due out on Oct 1 on double gatefold vinyl in addition to the usual digital stuff.

It’s everything you would hope for from these three bands. Los Straitjackets get the creepy side of surf – they don’t get all cartoonish and cliched and ruin it. The Fleshtones are a party band, and they bring the party, as do Southern Culture on the Skids, and both of them steer clear of the cheese a lot more than you might think. It’s worth keeping around on vinyl, both as an annual playlist that’s got something for pretty much everyone you might want to invite over at the end of October, or just for something fun and guitarishly tasty to pick you up after a bad day at work.

As you would guess, Los Straitjackets’ songs here are the best. It’s Monster Surfing Time is a surprisingly low-key, swaying, midtempo number where the guitars finally go into machete mode a little on the third verse – in a way it’s kind of Walk Don’t Run ’13. Theme From Young Frankenstein turns out to be an elegant, slowly swinging, thinly disguised version of Harlem Nocturne. Theme From Halloween takes the coldly techy theme, amps up the menace with real instruments, then the band goes four-on-the-floor and rocks the hell out of it. Ghoul on a Hill only hints at the Beatles through a mist of reverb-tank noise, while their LMAO version of the Ghostbusters theme spoofs the original with a virtuosic sneer.

SCOTS’ songs are strong too. Rick Miller has some nonchalantly brilliant reverb guitar on a lot of their tracks, especially the ghoulabilly Tingler Blues. “I’ll take the house nobody wants,” he drawls over swaying, spaghetti western rock on The Loneliest Ghost In Town: “The violent nature of my demise has made all buyers run and hide, and here I stand confined to the scene of the crime.”  La Marcha De Los Cabarones is a ferocious Link Wray homage in 7/4 time, while their version of Goo Goo Muck is more of a straight up garage rock song than the famous Cramps version and a far cry from the feral Hasil Adkins original. And the feedback-drenched Demon Death has devious fun toying with a teen roadkill theme.

The Fleshtones’ Haunted Hipster might be the best song on the album. “Every day is Halloween for you,” Peter Zaremba sneers while Keith Streng plays Stonesy slide guitar and a droll, absolutely spot-on Beatles quote over Ken Fox’s growly fuzz bass. They also deliver (Sock It To Me Baby) In The House Of Shock, with its goodnaturedly poppy mid-60s vibe; Ghoulman Confidential, a roller rink organ soul shuffle; and Dracula A GoGo, a Flamin’ Groovies-style pub rock number. There’s also Que Monstruos Son, a very tongue-in-cheek Spanglish version of the Monster Mash featuring all three bands.

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.


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