New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

A Look Back at a Catchy, Acerbically Swinging Album by Baritone Sax Star Lauren Sevian

As one of the world’s major baritone saxophonists, Lauren Sevian needs no introduction to jazz fans. What’s less known about her is that she’s also a composer and bandleader. Her most recent album under her own name, Bliss, came out in 2018 and is streaming at Spotify. Her instantly recognizable sound stems from her fondness for the instrument’s high midrange: she can get as lowdown and smoky as any other bari player, but she excels at melodies a little higher up like nobody else.

The opening track, Triple Water – a reference to Sevian’s emotionarlly fraught astrology chart – is a tightly wound, lickety-split swing tune, pianist Robert Rodriguez scrambling down to a fleeingly moody interlude that the bandleader pulls back in a flash, relying mostly on her midrange as bassist Christian McBride and drummer E.J. Strickland scurry along.

Sevian and her pal Alexa Tarantino used to have a band coyly named LSAT, and the tenor saxophonist contributes one of her own tunes, Square One, joining Sevian out front of the warmly lilting, expressive tune. McBride clusters around, The album’s title track slowly coalesces into a slow, syncopated sway, Sevian employing her marvelously brassy midrange tone for maximum impact over Rodriguez’s steady, spare backdrop.

The briskly strolling Bluesishness is a launching pad for Sevian’s souflul, “twisty” blues variations, as she calls them, McBride tossing off a deviously horn-voiced solo of his own. Goldie’s Chance is Sevian’s Lucille, a dynamically shifting, unexpectedly moody ballad dedicated to her Buffet 400 series baritone model: it’s a love song rather than a demo for everything her axe can do.

Sevian wrote the jaunty, matter-of-fact stroll Miss Lady for her cat, Astoria – even a spare, rather mysterious Strickland solo can’t get this furry friend to get uncentered. Lamb and Bunny, dating from Sevian’s LSAT days, is a lickety-split burner, the two women having a spiraling, conspiratorial good time as the rhythm section walks it frantically. The album’s most expansive track, In the Loop has a low-key, funky groove, Sevian’s gravelly solo followed by a mutedly jubilant one from McBride.

In Evergreen, Rodriguez’s gorgeously chiming lines, the bandleader’s thoughtful, resonant melody and McBride’s unabashedly romantic solo build inviting early summer ambience. Sevian winds up the album with Minimal Moves, using the changes from Coltrane’s Giant Steps for a racewalking swing. In a world where live music exists everywhere – and hopefully such a world will exist again – Sevian plays with everybody: this album is one of the reasons why she always has a gig.

An Appetizing New Album From Piroshka

Piroshka is Russian for “little dumpling.” But the sound of this British supergroup of 80s and 90s rock veterans has a lot more flavor than your average pot-sticker. Their new album Love Drips and Gathers is streaming at Spotify. Guitarists Miki Berenyi (founding member of dreampop and 90s Britrock visionaries Lush) and KJ “Moose” McKillop choose their spots to echo and clang as the ambience wafts behind them. It’s an interesting synthesis of everything Lush was, from the foundationally icy dreampop of their early career through the more straightforwardly anthemic sound they ended with.

The two guitars linger and mingle in the opening track, Hastings before bassist Mick Conroy and drummer Justin Welch raise the energy. But the hypnotic spacerock ambience remains the same, at least until Terry Edwards’ flugelhorn signals an undulating crescendo out, pure late 80s Britpop.

The Knife Thrower’s Daughter has a muted, drifting art-rock ambience and one of Berenyi’s classic, allusively menacing narratives over increasingly pulsing atmospherics. From there they segue into Scratching at the Lid, another dark Berenyi lyric and icy chorus-box guitars over a brisk new wave bassline.

Lovable is the missing link between immersively artsy early 90s Lush and a big early influence, Siouxsie & the Banshees, in nocturnal mode five years earlier. With its echoing, puffing string synth and brooding minor-key ambience, VO is also a throwback to that era and one of the strongest songs on the album.

Set to a steady backbeat with layered guitar textures and a big, stabbing keyboard crescendo, Wanderlust could be a recent, poppier song by the Church with a woman out front. The album’s high point is another backbeat tune, Echo Loco, turning an old pop formula on its head: catchy, biting verse, nebulous chorus.

The closest thing to an epic here is Familiar, a rippling spacescape. They close with We Told You, a cinematic, goth-tinged mostly instrumental theme. 

One complaint about this album: the vocals are too low in the mix, and Berenyi’s vocals are oddly processed in places, a move that backfires more often than not. This blog’s owner saw Lush live more than once back in the 90s and insists that she was as strong a singer onstage, maybe even more so, than she was in the studio, and there’s no reason to think that’s changed.

Piroshka are touring Europe this year, but until the specter of medical “passports” has been put back in its coffin for good, it’s not “safe” to buy tickets to a venue where at the moment you may not be able to enter without taking a lethal injection.

Incendiary Ethiopian Jams on the Upper West Side This Weekend

Anbessa Orchestra‘s latest single Gobez (Brave) – streaming at Bandcamp – is a condensed, slashing version of a big anthem they slayed with for over a year before the lockdown. Then the Israeli-American Ethiopian jazz jamband had to record it remotely over the web since the band members had been scattered across the world. Here, guitarist/bandleader Nadav Peled introduces the big, defiant, ominous Ethiopian modal hook, picked up by the brass and eventually a slithery solo by baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket.

This wild, incendiary outfit are back in action with a free outdoor show on Aug 1 at 7 PM at Pier One on the Hudson; take the 1/2/3 to 72nd St., walk west and take the stairs down to the river at 68th St. out behind the Trump complex. There’s plenty of room for dancing on the pier.

Their most recent album, Live at New City Brewery 11/22/19 hit their Bandcamp page about a year ago and underscores why more bands should make live albums. For a soundboard recording that the band probably never planned on releasing until the lockdown, this is pretty amazing. They are in their element through a relentlessly slinky thirteen-song set in western Massachusetts, a mix of originals and classics. Bassist Ran Livneh and drummer Eran Fink run hypnotically undulating, circular riffs as the band shift from an ominous mode to sunnier terrain on the wings of alto sax player Bill Todd’s jubilantly melismatic alto sax solo on the night’s opening number.

As they like to do, they segue straight into a searing, practically eight-minute version of their signature song Lions, organist Micha Gilad holding down turbulent river of sound behind the biting chromatics of the horns, trumpeter Billy Aukstik out in front. Peled’s supersonic hammer-ons raise the energy to redline through a tantalizingly brief solo: this band can go on twice as long and the intensity never wavers.

Assefa Abate’s Yematibela Wef ((A Bird You Can’t Eat) has a subtext as salacious as the title implies and a bouncy triplet groove. The Gize Suite, a diptych, based on Gizie Biyasayegnem by Misrak Mammo, starts out as a shivery, chromatic, trumpet-fueled clapalong shadowed by Peled’s guitar and rises to blazing, symphonic proportions. Peled brings it down to a spare, ominously jangling solo guitar interlude, then the conflagration starts again.

From there the group hit a balmy oldschool 60s soul bounce with Zemena and Abebe Mellese’s Kelkay Yelelbebet, then an original, Tch’elema (Darkness), a turbulently pulsing salute to resilience in troubled times.

Todd’s spare flute contrasts with the brooding undercurrent of Werik’i (Gold), another original. Mahmoud Ahmed’s Belomi Benna gets a cinematic, relentless drive that goes straight-up ska and then reggae, then the band go back to biting minor modes with their own stomp, Gurage

Once again, they follow a segue, from their Ethiopian reggae tune, Le’b, into Aregahegn Worash’s wickedly catchy Zelel Zelel. “Do you want more?” Peled asks the crowd. “One more set,” a guy in the crowd bellows back. Yo which the guitarist responds with a menacing, spiraling, reverb-drenched solo into, then the band launch into the angst-fueled Yeleleu Hager Lidj (Man Without a Country). They close with the bounding, strutting, Dera, with solos all around. This is as good an idea as any of what the Upper West is going to get this weekend.

Fun Brass Band Sounds in Park Slope This Weekend

If you’re in Park Slope this Saturday evening, July 31, you can catch a free outdoor show by irrepressible, all-female street band the Brass Queens at 5th Ave and 3rd St., a barely ten-minute walk from the Atlantic Ave. subway.

There are three singles up at the 7-piece group’s Bandcamp page. Casanova is in the same vein as the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble‘s hip-hop/New Orleans second-line mashups, Bad Brass Bunnies is a funny trip-hop groove with some absolutely luscious harmonies on the high end.;

The latest single is Love How You Wanna, which comes across like an oldschool 70s soul ballad with a bright, increasingly animated interweave of voices and a solid, slinky sousaphone bassline. Catchy sounds, sophisticated arrangements, and you can dance to all of this.

Haunting Klezmer Sounds and Protest Songs Outdoors in Park Slope This Week

One of the most powerful protest songs that’s been resurrected in recent years is Mir Veln Zey Iberlebn (We Will Outlive Them).

This old Jewish melody, reinvented by Brooklyn klezmer band Tsibele, is as indomitable an anthem as any freedom fighter could want. In this seven-minute live clip, the group lead a singalong in the deliciously Middle Eastern-flavored freygische mode. Midway through, they provide the grim backstory.

When the Nazis marched into Lublin, Poland in 1941 and rounded up the Jews there, they were as sadistic as usual. Driving the population out into the fields, they commanded the captives to dance. The response was this song. As we all know, those Jews did not outlive their tormentors, but they raised the bar for defiance in the face of evil about as high as it can go.

As sadistic as the lockdowner regime has been, there’s special resonance in that song for us. Inevitability theories of history are full of holes, there’s no doubt that if the world is going to survive, we will outlive them. You can buy an embroidered patch for your coat which says exactly that, in Yiddish and English, from the band.

Half of the group – violinist Zoe Aqua and accordionist Ira Temple – are teaming up for an outdoor show with trumpeter Dan Blacksberg on July 29 at 4:30 PM at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, 58 7th Ave at Lincoln Pl in Park Slope. It’s about equidistant from the Grand Army Plaza and 7th Ave. B/Q stations.

Starting in the mid-teens, Tsibele became a fixture across several scenes here, and made some waves with their album It’s Dark Outside – Indroysn iz Finster, streaming at Bandcamp. Bassist Zoë Guigueno, flutist Eléonore Weill and trumpeter Eva Boodman focus intensely on Aqua’s dark arrangements of some well-known, politically resonant old songs.

Aqua’s slashing, low-register lines pierce the brooding ambience underneath in the first tune, Dem Nayntn Yanuar/Ninth of January, a dirge commemorating the 1905 massacre of freedom fighters in St. Petersburg, The band maintain a somber atmosphere in the blue-collar lament Di Svet Shop, based on a poem by Morris Rosenfeld.

They pick up the pace with a dead-serious take of Nifty’s Eigene, violin and trumpet taking turns with the original lead written by legendary klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. The album’s big, ominously atmospheric epic is a murder ballad, Tsvelef A Zeyger/Twelve O’clock, with a looming trumpet solo at the center.

Likewise, Boodman’s moody, soulful lines intertwine with the trills of the flute in the slow, darkly methodical Rosemont Terkisher. They close the record with the lilting, wistful title track, a love song.

Fun fact: tsibele is Yiddish for “onion.” Lots of layers to peel back here.

Catchy, Bittersweet 60s Pop-Influenced Sounds and a Couple of Brooklyn Gigs From War Violet

Songwriter Jummy Aremu performs under the name War Violet. She writes catchy, anthemic, assertive songs and sings in a resonant, unpretentious voice. Her music has a strong 60s influence, both on the folk side and the pop side: Burt Bacharach-era Dionne Warwick is a good comparison. Aremu sold out the vinyl edition of her latest ep, Getaway, but it’s still streaming at Bandcamp. She’s at Our Wicked Lady on July 27 at 10 PM for $12. Then she’s at Pete’s on July 31 at 10 for the tip jar.

The first track on the record, Just For the Night is one of the most elegant songs ever written about a one-night stand, the synth orchestration sweeping over Arenmu’s spare guitar. “I’ve been to all of the parties in my day,” Aremu intones soberly in the album’s bossa-tinged second track: they must not have been much fun.

The big, exasperatedly poignant singalong here is the title track: “I don’t need this, I don’t need this,” is the mantra. With just emphatic acoustic guitar, snappy bass and a string synth, it’s simple, direct and will be wafting through your head for hours

The last track is I Hope I See You Again, a mix of sparkle and scruffiness: “Just look to the wall for answers big and small.” War Violet also has a Soundcloud page which probably predates the Bandcamp tracks and as you can imagine, the songs are rougher, but it shows she hit the ground running. Since last year’s lockdown, there’s been more attrition than ever in what you might call the rock scene here: good thing for us that War Violet stuck around.

One of the World’s Mightiest Latin Jazz Orchestras Gets Back to Business at Birdland

When a bunch of oligarchs and their puppets in politics tried to take over the world in 2020, musicians were left out in the cold. In the liner notes to his new album Virtual Birdland, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, longtime leader of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra takes care to mention how people who play music for a living are no less essential than any other workers. Empowered by that knowledge, he kept the band going through a long series of webcasts, possibly the most labor-intensive of all the innumerable online collaborations of the past sixteen months or so. The great news is that the big band’s home base, Birdland, is open again, and the group have resumed the Sunday night residency they were banished from in March of last year. Showtime these days is 7 PM. If you feel like celebrating, it couldn’t hurt to reserve a spot now since these shows are very likely to sell out. Cover is $20; your best deal is a seat at the bar.

Considering that individual parts on the record – streaming at Spotify – were recorded remotely in innumerable different sonic environments, the fact that it sounds as contiguous as it does reflects the herculean work of the engineers involved.

Big trombone fanfares interweave with lushly swirling reeds over a bubbling Punjabi-inflected groove in the cuisine-inspired opening number, Gulab Jamon. O’Farrill takes a cascading, brightly neoromantic solo with Bam Bam Rodriguez’s bass growling minimalistically behind him while the rhythm straightens into an emphatic clave. Tenor saxophonist Jasper Dutz summons a return to a web of triumphant counterpoint and a devious false ending.

Guest Malika Zarra sings her composition Pouvoir, a slinky, brassy Moroccan-flavored tune with solos from trombonist Mariel Bildstein and conguero Keisel Jimenez. This band have always slayed with Arabic and Jewish themes, underscored by their version of trombonist Rafi Malkiel’s brooding Desert, its uneasily undulating chromatics giving way to a serpentine solo by the composer and then a muted, soulful one from lead trumpeter Seneca Black.

With its nocturnal, Dizzy Gillespie-style suspense and bluster, Larry Willis’ Nightfall makes a great segue, trumpeter Rachel Therrien and tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta cutting loose hauntingly between the orchestra’s chromatic gusts. The bandleader spirals elegantly; Jimenez goes deep down the well as the storm hovers.

Guest guitarist Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi sings his methodical, bittersweet ballad Ana Mashoof, adding a starry solo in tandem with O’Farrill before Alejandro Aviles spins in on soprano sax. Alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera soars and weaves through a tightly turbulent take of his Samba For Carmen, echoed by O’Farrill’s trumpeter son Adam.

Alafia, by Letieres Leite – the Brazilian Arturo O’Farrill – gets a jubilant, percussion-fueled workout, part elegantly orchestral candomble theme, part feral frevo brass-band romp with a tantalizingly brief, smoky Larry Bustamante baritone sax solo.

O’Farrill first performed Rafael Solano’s En La Oscuridad with his big band legend father Chico O’Farrill alongside the great tenor saxophonist Mario Rivera, so playing this suave, balmy ballad again with Renta, a Rivera protege, brings the song full circle.

They close the album with a couple of salutes to transgression, something the world is rising to embrace like never before. The epic take of Papo Vazquez’s relentlessly anthemic Cimarron first features calm triumph from trombonist Abdulrahman Amer, Aviles turning up the heat on alto, then percussionist Carly Maldonado fueling a charge out. The final number is a towering, cinematic take of Tito Puente’s Para Los Rumberos: Renta, Malkiel, Maldonado, Jimenez and drummer Vince Cherico all get to cut loose. How beautiful it is that we can hear musicians of this caliber take material like this to the next level onstage again.

And if you’re around the East Village on the 29th, O’Farrill is leading a much smaller group at St. Marks Park at 2nd Ave. and 10th St. at half past noon.

A Sizzling, Cutting-Edge, Wildly Funky String Jazz Collaboration in Long Island City

It’s impossible to think of a more capsulizing moment for music in New York in 2021 than the concert in a Long Island City parking lot last Sunday. Overhead, the skies blackened, but on the ground, string quartet the Lotus Chamber Music Collective and jazz quartet Momentum joined in a wild, ecstatic collaboration that spoke to the indomitability of New York musicians creating the newest sounds around.

Lotus’ charismatic cellist, Sasha Ono, didn’t bother trying to hide how amped she was to finally be able to play her first concert since last year’s lockdown. The electricity shared by all eight players – perched on the back of a trailer and the bed of a battered 1963 Ford pickup – was pure unleashed cabin fever. This crew had obviously been playing and refining their chops during the time live music was criminalized here. And a big crowd had come out for the fireworks, defying the thunderclouds overhead.

The quartet – which also included violinists Tiffany Weiss and Emily Frederick alongside violist Gizem Yucel – opened with a mixture of lushness and groove, Ono and Momentum bassist Isaac Levien doubling up on the fat low end riffage throughout most of JJ’s Dance, by drummer Elé Howell. It was a slinky, shapeshifting number that gave the band a long launching pad to rise through a blend of Afrobeat, trip-hop and psychedelic funk that drew a straight line back to Roy Ayers. From the back of the truck bed, guitarist Quintin Zoto drove it to a searing peak with a long, feral but erudite solo, capped off with some savage tremolo-picking.

Cultural Appropriation, by Julia Chen had a coy calypso bounce fueled by Howell’s loose-limbed clave, with a similarly slinky Levien bass solo, vibraphonist Grady Tesch rippling through what the clouds overhead were foreshadowing.

Ono told the crowd that she’d been inspired to come up with her arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s La Paloma Azul as a reflection on the South American refugee crisis, the strings introducing its lustrous initial theme followed by the rest of the ensemble’s lilting, bittersweet, Mexican folk-tinged rhythms.

The most ambitiously symphonic interlude of the afternoon was when the two groups mashed up Swing, Low Sweet Chariot with themes from Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet (her Symphony No. 1 was the most-played orchestral work by any American composer in the 1930s). Ono and Tesch had come up with that idea after doing a webcast focusing on Price, whose gospel and jazz-influenced music is getting a long-overdue revival. The highlight was Yucel’s stark viola solo amid the polyrhythms and the constant dynamic shifts.

The eight musicians closed the first set with a determined, lavishly funky take of Shunzo Ohno‘s Musashi, debuting string parts which the jazz legend had written for this performance. It was akin to a particularly energetic segment on the Crusaders’ live album with B.B. King, switching out King’s string-busting bent notes for a torrentially icy guitar attack channeled through Zoto’s chorus pedal. Welcome to the future of serious concert music in New York, 2021: if this is any indication, it’s going to be a hot summer.

The more-or-less weekly outdoor series in the parking lot out behind Culture Lab, 5-25 46th Ave in Long Island City continues at 5 PM tonight, July 24 with careening, microtonally-tinged electric blues band Jane Lee Hooker. The space is just down the block from LIC Bar, further toward the water; take the 7 to Vernon Blvd.

An Otherworldly, Drifting Diptych by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green

An eclogue is a pastoral poem. How bucolic is Eclogue, the new album by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green? It’s streaming at Bandcamp – you decide. The trio create a warmly drifting sunrise ambience with subtle textures and minimalist accents, plus the occasional creak or quaver as tectonic sheets of sound make their way slowly through the frame. Overtones and harmonics rule in this comfortably enveloping universe.

Without knowing the instrumentation, you might think that the slow oscillations and echoey blips could be electronic, but they’re actually from O’Connor’s prepared piano, Green’s brushed drumheads and Carbo’s guitar.

There are two tracks here. The first is about fourteen minutes and rises to watery rivulets over a steady calm, echoing a familiar Pink Floyd dynamic originally manufactured using a vintage analog chorus pedal. Rustles from the drums and a single somber, recurrent piano note hint that the forest or faraway galaxy here is about to awaken, and it seems more of a galaxy than a bright, green naturescape as it does.

Keening highs and squirrelly, muted percussive activity contrast as the twenty-minute second half gets underway. Playful figures that could be whale song, or beavers gnawing out the raw materials for a new home, appear amid the stillness. Gentle cymbal washes and that persistent low piano note add a second dichotomy, then the two reverse roles, Erik Satie at quarterspeed. A warped quasi-gamelan ensues, then it’s back to Satie territory to close on an absolutely otherworldly note.

Tessa Lena Breaks Down the Surveillance-Industrial Complex in a Few Short Paragraphs

Before the lockdown, Tessa Lena was best known to New York audiences as a fiery singer and writer of keyboard-based art-rock, which is often scathingly funny and critical of social media, its inherent divisiveness and narcissism. Since the beginning of last year’s lockdown, she’s published some of the most insightful and genuinely poetic critiques of the tech oligarchs’ New Abnormal and quest for world domination. Others, notably Whitney Webb, have covered this crisis at great length, but nobody has been able to distill what we’re up against as concisely and articulately as Tessa Lena does in her latest piece at Substack:

I had a dream, a very strange dream about being “peacefully” enslaved by “well-intended” invading people who wanted to control my sexuality for life. It was all “peaceful” and “family-like” as long as I submitted by body to their authority, which claimed that sex was not to be had under any circumstances because it was from now on forbidden.

The dream was so vivid and so unpleasantly bizarre that I woke up with a 2019 mind, as if the past a year and a half had never happened, and I have not been bathing in the gradually warming water inside the pot.

Through the power of an intensified dream experience, an entire year and a half of abuse fell off—and as I looked around, I felt like I had gone traveling, and arrived in a bizarre sci-fi kingdom of distorted mirrors and people who had been poisoned by professional criminals, with great cruelty and precision. A kingdom ruled by cold-blooded psychopaths.

Like a fairy tale about lying villains.

As I look around, I don’t recognize this land.

What happened to us?

Force-masking little children and depriving their growing brains of oxygen?

Forcefully locking old people inside nursing homes and euthanizing some of them, in silence, with compete impunity, with zero attention from the public?

Chasing after free citizens with syringes filled with a lucrative concoction of carcinogenic nanoparticles and synthetic mRNA whose long-term effects are entirely unknown?

Silencing respected scientists and doctors who dare talk about the alarming data coming in regarding the safety of what’s in the syringe?

WTF?

Click here to read the whole piece – and check out Tessa Lena’s similarly acerbic webcast, Make Language Great Again, where she discusses music, philosophy and politics with a diverse range of guests, from visionary author and propaganda expert Mark Crispin Miller, to Armenian singer and composer Anais Tekerian of Zulal.