New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Guitarist Aram Bajakian and Singer Julia Ulehla Play Riveting Balkan Psychedelia at the Stone

Guitarist Aram Bajakian is in the midst of a weeklong stand at the Stone, with a revolving door of downtown jazz and rock talent. His late set last night was a rare performance with his wife, singer Julia Ulehla, playng what could be characterized as Balkan psychedelia from their magical Dalava album from late last year. Although both artists are respected in their individual fields – Bajakian was Lou Reed’s lead guitarist, did a turn in Diana Krall’s band and is one of John Zorn’s first-call guys, and Ulehla is in demand as a classical and indie classical singer – they haven’t worked together a lot, at least in public. And they should – this set was transcendent. They’re doing it again tonight, May 23 at 8 with a full band; at 10, Bajakian leads a “punk Armenian folk” group playing songs off his fantastic 2011 Kef album.

Bajakian wryly explained to the crowd that they shouldn’t expect note-for-note versions of the songs on the album, considering that the Stone is a place for improvisation, and that the two were dead set on playing without a net. They opened on a feral note, establishing a recurrent dynamic, Bajakian’s savage tunefulness counterbalanced by Ulehla’s precisely modulated, alternately wailing and misterioso delivery. All the material save for one song, if memory serves right, was taken from the Dalava album, based on a collection of folk songs passed down from Ulehla’s Moravian great-grandfather. Ulehla sang in perfectly unaccented Czech, providing English translations before pretty much every number.

And these songs are crazy, and fun, and had a sardonic humor worthy of the best American C&W. In more than one instance, Ulehla voiced both the clueless guy and the unattainable girl who puts him down. Together they played everything you could possibly want: fire-and-brimstone Slavic gospel; an airily skeletal horizontal mood piece; and a clanging, roaring, angst-fueled, Lynchian post-Velvets guitar number to open the show, Ulehla matching her husband for breathtaking intensity, if a little more low-key. Bajakian alternated between Telecaster and a hollowbody model that he played with a muted attack, but with the reverb turned up all the way to max out the ghostly factor.

Ulehla’s great-grandfather Vladimir believed that songs were like living beings (ask any musician – they are!) and that they could be reanimated at any future date, with whatever new life musicians could breathe into them. Bajakian turned an early number into a careening blues, and later shifted with deadpan aplomb between searing, cliffhanger noiserock and a tiptoeing waltz, drawing plenty of chuckles from the crowd. Meanwhile, Ulehla held her plaintive ground, whether with a soul-infused grit, an enigmatic resonance or operatic flair.

There’s an aasumption – grounded in decades of pretty irrefutable evidence – that people who play edgy music tend to be difficult and troubled. You certainly don’t expect them to be warm. But that’s how Bajakian and Ulehla came across, exchanging glances, as if to say to each other, “Isn’t this cool? I know you give everybody else goosebumps, but tonight the two of us can double that and then some!” Believe it or not, last night’s show wasn’t sold out. Tonight’s your chance to catch magic in a bottle.

In Memoriam: Bob Belden

Visionary saxophonist, composer, Miles Davis scholar and videographer Bob Belden died suddenly on Tuesday night after suffering a heart attack in his Upper West Side apartment. He was 58.

Belden’s often turbulent career encompassed just about everything an individual can do in music. He was a distinctive composer, a talented saxophonist, arranger, conductor, producer and music executive. His brief tenure as head of A&R at Blue Note Records in the late 90s ended after less than a year in a disagreement over the direction of the label: Belden wanted to promote new music while his corporate colleagues wanted to focus on easy-listening and more retro styles. Since then, he had led the cinematic instrumental band Animation, with whom he had just played earlier this year in Iran, the first American musician to perform there since the 1970s.

Born in Illinois, raised in South Carolina and educated in Texas, Belden came to New York in the late 70s and quickly found a home on the Upper West Side. The diverse, multi-ethnic character of the neighborhood – and the dangers lurking there after dark – had a profound impact on his worldview and his music. Belden’s vividly cinematic compositions are rich with history and political overtones, global in scope, often imbued with a noir sensibility. Much of his work draws heavily on classical and Indian music. While his best-known album is the 2001 orchestral jazz suite The Black Dahlia – a moody, 1950s style crime jazz score inspired by the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short – his most powerful album was his final one, Animation’s sweeping, anguished 2012 release Transparent Heart, a bitter look back at the aftermath of 9/11 in New York

Belden was also one of the world’s foremost Miles Davis scholars. He found considerable irony in winning three Grammies, but not for his music: those were for liner notes and post-production work on Miles Davis compilations and reissues. An acerbic writer with a sardonic sense of humor, Belden didn’t suffer fools gladly. As he saw it, other musicians failed to address contemporary concerns and were unable to put their work in the context of our times, something that Belden himself never failed to do.

His progressive politics mirrored the qualities in his music. He was always looking to draw attention to injustice, especially as it affected his adopted New York home. Although he could be cynical and blunt to the point of confrontation – something he relished – he tempered that with a self-effacing sense of humor. And he dedicated himself to passing his legacy to the next generation of musicians: his bandmates in the final edition of Animation were all about half his age.

Beyond music, Belden had considerable talent as a photographer and videographer, inspired by the film noir that he loved so much. This blog reviewed Belden’s final New York concert – at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center last month, he and Animation reinvented a suite of Miles Davis songs to the point of unrecognizability, giving them a persistent, propulsive, restlessly enveloping sweep reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s 1970s film scores. The concert was performed to projections of Belden’s own symbolically-charged, Sam Fuller-inspired black-and-white video, which he’d taken on a blustery night last summer, from Times Square to the lower reaches of Harlem.

In an interview onstage before the show, Belden reveled in reliving his experiences in Iran and was looking forward to returning there: he leaves a wealth of plans unfinished along with a deep body of work. Sincerest sympathies to his family and many, many friends.

The Sideshow Tragedy Bring Their Visionary Apocalyptic Blues to the Rockwood

The last time this blog caught up with the Sideshow Tragedy, it was a couple of years ago late on a Friday night in the red neon backroom at Zirzamin, and the Austin noir blues band was killing it. Really killing it. Guitarist Nathan Singleton was airing out his bottomless bag of jagged minor-key licks, drummer Jeremy Harrell had a murderous stomp going and there were some special guests, if memory serves right – it had been a crazy night up to that point. Fast forward to 2015: Zirzamin is sadly gone, but the Austin band has a new album, Capital, streaming at Continental Record Services‘ site, and a similar small-room, Friday night show, in this case at the Rockwood on May 22 at 11 PM. This usually sedate space is in for a serious jolt of adrenaline, tempered slightly by the fact that the new album is somewhat more spare and haunting than the band’s previous, often unhinged gutter blues attack. It’s a concept album, a sinister, brilliantly metaphorical portrait of a nation gone off the rails in an orgy of greed and mass desperation. Fans of Humanwine will love this.

“Summer’s here, and the tramps are on the move, ten to a trailerbed from Chicago to LA…you can taste the decay,” Singleton broods in Number One, a corrosively relevant, cynical portrait of haves versus have-nots over a riff-rock groove that other bands would have turned into metal, but these guys do as a shuffle. Likewise, Blacked Out Windows, with some harmonically offcenter multitracks, could be Sonic Youth, but instead Singleton runs the riff over and over for an ominously hypnotic vibe: “Smoke and mirrors closing in…his carnival calm is easy to believe,” Singleton warns. “The palms of the priest are easy to grease.”

Singleton more or less talks the apocalyptic lyrics to Keys to the Kingdom as Harrell beats a frantic, funereal pulse on his tom-toms. The Winning Side, a similarly frantic, scampering anthem, sounds like Dylan’s It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding at doublespeed: “It’s not the thought that counts,” Singleton muses grimly. The title track works a dusky midtempo slide guitar groove, a caustically aphoristic parable of the 21 st century going back into the dark ages in a hurry. “You listen to the police scanner as your write your report, better fill your quota while you got time…you can’t see the horizon ’cause it don’t matter right now, so rob the beggars blind,” Singleton taunts. It’s arguably the best and most relevant song anybody’s released this year.

Two Guns pairs Harrell’s shuffling, misty cymbals against Singleton’s uneasily precise slide guitar and menacing stream of metaphors: “The rockets’ eternal red glare, the shooting off of lights and flares, it’s getting dark out there.” So when Singleton finally reaches the point where he works a song around a major-key hook – with the only slightly less troubled Animal Song, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcellus Hall catalog – there’s a sense of relief, however temporary.

Let the Love Go Down returns to a death-obsessed theme with a series of fire-and-brimstone metaphors over a relentlessly rolling and tumbling drive.The album ends with Plow Song, a spiky resonator guitar-fueled trip through a postapocalyptic landscape where you’re bound to end up with “a gun for all seasons and a bit in your mouth.” Powerful words from a Texas band. Best album of the year? One of the top handful, no question.

The Ghost Train Orchestra Bring the Roaring 20s and the Not-So-Roaring 20s to the Jalopy

The Ghost Train Orchestra differentiate themselves from most of the oldtime swing bands out there in that they don’t play standards. They specialize in rescuing lost treasures from the 20s and 30s, songs that were typically unknown outside of small, regional scenes. Part living archive, part tight, explosive dance band, it’s no wonder that their albums routinely top the jazz charts. They’re playing the cd release show for their latest one Hot Town this May 22 at 10 PM at the Jalopy. Because the venue is expecting a sellout, they’re selling advance tix for $10. Opening the show at 9, GTO clarinetist Dennis Lichtman does double duty and switches to his fiddle and maybe his mandolin out in front of his western swing band Brain Cloud.

The new album is a mix of songs that didn’t make it onto the orchestra’s 2011 breakthrough album Hothouse Stomp, along some even more obscure rediscoveries and a couple that might be slightly better known – go figure! The title track is actually a reinvention rather than a straight-up cover -and it was actually a big hit for Harlem’s Fess Williams and his orchestra in 1929 as a vamping novelty tune. This version has guest bass saxophonist Colin Stetson providing eerie diesel-train overtones before the clickety-clack groove gets underway. A second track originally done by Williams, You Can’t Go Wrong has more of a 19th century plantation-folk feel than the rest of the material here.

This album marks the debut release of Mo’Lasses, the second track, recorded by Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, also in 1929, but never released. As rapidfire doom blues (is that a genre?) go, it’s got a striking early Ellingtonian sophistication; bandleader Brian Carpenter’s trumpet, Petr Cancura’s clarinet and Curtis Hasselbring’s trombone all get brisk solos.

Hot jazz cult bandleader Charlie Johnson is represented by You Ain’t the One, with its jaunty, staccato brass and low-key but determined Mazz Swift vocals – and Charleston Is the Best Dance After All, which winds up the album. Benny Waters’ Harlem Drag strongly suggests that the Rolling Stones nicked it, hook and all, for Spider & the Fly. There are two numbers from the catalog of late 20s Harlem composer/bandleader Cecil Scott & His Bright Boys: Bright Boy Blues, with its slowly swaying, luminously morose chart, and the more upbeat but similarly indigo-toned Springfield Stomp.

Fats Waller’s Alligator Crawl alternates droll mmm-hmmm backing vocals with spritely dixieland clarinet and vaudevillian muted trombone. Chicago bandleader Tiny Parham – celebrated along with Williams on Hothouse Stomp -has three numbers here. Skag-a-Lag sets a rapidfire series of cameos against an oldtimey levee camp hook; Down Yonder features a call-and-response chart and sudden, klezmer-tinged minor-key detours; the lickety-split stroll Friction calls on Hasselbring’s trombone, Swift’s violin and the rest of the band to be on tiptoe all the way through, and they are.

This one will get both the Gatsby wannabes and the rest of us out on the floor – or at least wishing we could afford to be there. This may be dance music, but it’s also rooted, sometimes front and center, sometimes less distinctly, in the blues, and the blues isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky stuff. Times weren’t easy, before or after the Crash of 1929 and the persistent undercurrent that runs throughout much of this material reflects that. The album’s not out yet, therefore not streaming link, but you can get a sense of the kind of fun this band generates at their Soundcloud page. And they always bring merch to shows.

Another Sizzling Balkan Party Album from Tipsy Oxcart

In terms of pure fun, there aren’t many bands in New York who can compete with Tipsy Oxcart. Saturday night at Barbes, as part of a WFMU radio broadcast, they played a tantalizingly brief set of music rooted in Balkan sounds, with bits of reggae, and dub, and cumbia and styles from across the Middle East soaring over a fat groove. That bouncing low end is one thing that distinguishes them from most other bands who jam out on dark Eastern European folk melodies. Another distinguishing characteristic is Maya Shanker’s violin tone: she uses an effects pedal, at one point managing to pretty much replicate the sound of a steel pan as she plucked her strings. The band has an excellent second album, Upside Down, streaming at their Bandcamp page and a show on Matchless in Williamsburg at 9 PM on May 20, where they’re followed at 10 by Brooklyn pioneers Hungry March Band, who play brass styles from New Orleans to Belgrade and pretty much all points in between.

Back in 2013, this blog said that Tipsy Oxcart’s debut, Meet Tipsy Oxcart, was better than the Beatles’ first album. And it was! Meet the Beatles may be a perfectly enjoyable janglerock record, but it’s not Tipsy Oxcart. Jury’s out on how the band’s career will compare to the Fab Four in five years’ time, but so far so good. The new album’s opening cut, Honey Dripper hints at Ethiopiques and then hits a reggae groove, Shanker in tandem with accordionist Jeremy Bloom and alto saxophonist Connell Thompson over the deep pulse of bassist Ayal Tsubery and drummer Dani Danor.

Yalla Yalla pairs eerily spiraling, wickedly microtonal Thompson clarinet with acerbic responses from Shanker over a trickily rhythmic beat, Bloom driving the dance to a raucous peak. Me First, a rather epic Shanker composition that also appeared on the debut album, features starkly incisive, rapidfire violin, a moody, Turkish-flavored clarinet break, and then after another pretty feral Shanker solo, hands off to Bloom’s machinegunning accordion. The Sheikh may sound as Arabic as a Hungarian freylach, but it’s a supremely tasty minor-key romp, Bloom and Thompson raising the energy to redline as Tsubery takes a familiar ba-bump groove and walks it briskly.

Bone Dance has an unexpectedly pensive sweep flavored with Shanker and Thompson’s twin harmonies over a backdrop that ranges from straight-up reggae to dizzying polyrhythms. You might think that the elegant fingerpicking that opens and then recurs in Homecoming over Bloom’s spare, wistful lines is a guitar, but it’s not – it’s Tsubery playing his bass way up the fretboard. Thompson and Bloom’s trilling lines are as catchy as they are bracing. Fax Mission, a salute to outdated technology, is the most westernly jazzy of the tracks here – at least until a completely unexpected dub interlude and then a searing Thompson alto solo. Then they go back to straight-up Serbian flavor with Tutti Frutti, Thompson and Shanker’s wildly careening lines over a tight strut. It’s about as far as you can get from a cheesy 50s pop hit

Sevdah One Eight has a bittersweet edge, Shanker and Thompson’s uneasy harmonies over Bloom’s lush backdrop. Tipska brings back the Balkan reggae – or is that ska? – up to a blistering outro fueled by Tsubery’s fuzztone attack. The album winds up with The Storm, a surreallistically vivid, shapeshiftingly cinematic tableau with more of a Balkan brass feel than the rest of the material. Look for this on the best albums of 2015 page here in December if we’re all still here.

Aram Bajakian and Julia Ulehla Bring Their Magic Reinventions of Ancient Moravian Songs to the Stone

Aram Bajakian is one of the world’s elite guitarists. Of all the lead players, good and not-so-good, who filtered through Lou Reed’s band, the only two who rate with Bajakian are iconic and sadly no longer with us: Mick Ronson and Robert Quine. But as you would expect from a member of John Zorn’s circle, Bajakian plays a lot more than just rock lead guitar: he’s just as adept at enigmatic, cinematic instrumentals, reinvented Armenian folk themes and surf music. He’s got a weeklong stand at the Stone this week, with sets at 8 and 10 PM starting on May 19 and running through the 24th with an intriguing cast of characters. Cover is $15; there are too many good sets to list. The late show on opening night, a Yusuf Lateef tribute with Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Mat Maneri on viola, is tempting. But the best one of all might be the late set Friday night, May 22 at 10 PM where Bajakian and his singer wife Julia Ulehla reinvent ancient Moravian folk songs from their recent collaboration, Dalava.

The duo project – streaming at Bandcamp – has a really cool backstory. Bajakian and Ulehla first discovered those songs in a hundred-year-old book passed down through her family, meticulously transcribed by her great-grandfather Vladimir. But rather than trying to recreate an ambience to match the era the book dates from, the two decided to do their own versions. The results run the gamut from plaintive to jaunty to richly otherworldly: it’s an unselfconsciously magical album. The opening track takes a stark, rather mystical melody, infused with longing, and adds echoey harmonies and creepily tinkling glockenspiel, sparsely and then lushly orchestrated with violin from Tom Swafford and Skye Steele. By contrast, the second number is darkly bouncy, the violins’ acidic lines underpinned by Shanir Blumenkrantz’s spiky gimbri.

They follow that with a wistful waltz, Bajakian’s mutedly dancing reverbtoned incisions and surrealistic blues lines anchoring Ulehla’s dramatic, knifes-edge Czech vocals. From there the guitar and strings hit a minimalistic, otherworldly pulse that Ulehla eventually risees over with a pensive elegance. Mamičky (Mother) mines a similarly hypnotic ambience, but with a swaying, feral groove with guitars and violins wailing in tandem.

Originally a big, rousing hymn, Nech Je Pán Lebo Kraál gets reinvented as an airy, poignantly atmsopheric mood piece, Ulehla’s gently melismatic lines awash in Bajakian’s ebow guitar. Then they have fun with an old mountain melody, Bajakian’s burning, fuzztone metal attack contrasting with Ulehla’s delicately precise vocals. On Litala, she rises to wary, otherworldly levels over fluttery, misterioso ambience before the band picks up with a similarly uneasy, dancing pulse.

The love song after that reverts to gentle minimalism, just vocals echoed artfully by violin. The band does Vyšla Devcina as a creepy circus rock waltz, Bajakian’s icepick guitar paired against nebulous strings and Ulehla’s calmly enigmatic voice. The album winds up with Hájíčku Zeleny, its most gently anthemic, woundedly epic track. The audience for this is vast: fans of Balkan music, obviously, but also dreampop, cinematic soundscapes, indie classical, psychedelia and folk music as well. Follow these two to a land that time forgot.

High-Voltage Bagpiper Cristina Pato Brings Her Explosive Spanish Sounds to Subculture

Even in an age when the mainstream is full of all kinds of esoterica, Cristina Pato has a particularly individualistic choice of axe: the Galician bagpipe. Her sound is wild, feral yet virtuosic and breathtakingly fast. She leads a similarly explosive band with accordion and a rhythm section. Fresh off a residency at Harvard, theYo-Yo Ma collaborator and member of the Silk Road Ensemble is bringing her deliriously fun, hard-hitting flamenco and Romany-tinged instrumentals to New York at Subculture tonight, May 17 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $25 and worth it: if you really want to wind up the weekend on a high note, this is how to do it.

Pato has a new album, Latina, a mix of shapeshifting numbers in a vast range of traditional Spanish rhythm, written by her bassist Edward Perez. The opening track, Prueba de Fuego – a fandango – is definitely a trial by fire. Jazz drummer Eric Doob pushes it with a brisk triplet rhythm until Pato goes spiraling into the stratosphere, then Perez takes a dancing solo, accordionist Victor Prieto adding some neat call-and-response lines. Maria Lando, a lando dance, has a slower groove like a staggered clave beat, the accordion adding a lushly wistful edge that Pato picks up with a raw, plaintive tone.

Pato plays precise, tensely suspenseful, hard-hitting, jazz-inflected piano on The High Seas, a dramatic tanguillo number: the mesh of textures between the piano and accordion is downright delicious. Muiñeira de Chantada, a simple, rustic oropo-festejo tune, gives Pato a long launching pad for wailing bends and machinegunning, trilling riffage. Pato goes back to piano for Currulao de Crisis, a vamping number that hints at reggae, then flamenco, then hits nn unexpectedly balmy interlude that’s pure jazz and picks up once again from there. Then she picks up her pipes again and bounces her way through the Spanish counterpart to a tarantella – lots of cross-pollination in that part of the world and on this album.

The lone cover here, Llegará, llegará, llegará, by Emilio Solla (who also has an excellent new album out) is a real epic. Prieto’s tango-tinged pulse anchors Pato’s lustrous upper-register flights over a galloping groove, up to a bustling piano pasage, then a lively, expansive accordion solo that hits a peak when Pato wails on the pipes again. The final cut is the joyously if somewhat acidally shuffling Let’s Festa, the closest thing to Romany jazz here. There’s also a bonus track, a take of the tarantella without Pato’s breathless explanation of how closely interrelated Italian and Spanish folk traditions are. Sanitized yuppie exotica this is not: Gipsy Kings, eat your hearts out.

The album’s jsut out, so it hasn’t hit the usual spots yet, but three of the tracks are up at Sunnyside Records‘ site.

The Bright Smoke Earn Comparisons to Joy Division

Lots of groups draw comparisons to Joy Division. Inevitably, all of them fall short. None of them can match that iconic band’s shatttering gothic art-rock grandeur…and nobody goes as far into the abyss as Ian Curtis. The Bright Smoke are a rare exception to that rule. In a way, their new album, Terrible Towns – streaming at Bandcamp – could be the great lost Joy Division album between Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Except that frontwoman/guitarist Mia Wilson doesn’t sound anything like Ian Curtis. However, she does have a powerful, angst-fueled low register, something akin to Cat Power without the affectations (ok, hard to imagine, but just try). She’s as strong a tunesmith and lyricist as she is a singer, and an inventive guitarist. Her songwriting is equally informed by oldtime acoustic blues and dark rock: other than the guys from Manchester, the new album occasionally brings to mind the live Portishead album. The Bright Smoke are playing the Cameo Gallery on May 19 at 9 PM; cover is $8.

As you would expect from such a relentlesly dark outfit, their songs are on the slow side, and usually in ninor keys. Beyond having a woman out front, the Bright Smoke distinguish themselves from Joy Division in that they’re considerably more swirly and psychedelic. Live, drummer Karl Thomas colors the songs with a terse, almost minimalist precision and the occasional jazzy flourish. Lead guitarist Quincy Ledbetter is a monster player, a master of texture and timbre, who although he has blazing speed doesn’t waste notes: if Bernard Sumner had started playing earlier than he did, he might have ended up sounding something like Ledbetter. Lately, for atmospherics, onstage the Bright Smoke have been including an electroacoustic element.

The album’s opening track, Hard Pander, could be Sade covering Joy Division. Wilson’s lyrics are enigmatic, sardonic, often imbued with gallows humor and this number is typical:

I don’t have to fake my inclinations
I don’t have to draw on my scars
You’re in over your head, girl
Pander right and pander hard

The way the bass rises, a low harmony with the wary, wounded guitar overhead in Like Video is a recurrent, artful touch throughout the album: this band really works every dark corner of the sonic spectrum. And Wilson’s cynicism is crushing:

I hear the Midwest stretches on for miles
And calls you back and it’s always on time
I hear it don’t have a past like mine
I hear the Midwest don’t have a voice to raise
Just settles down on her knees and prays
And makes you feel big in your small way
Baby, I’m in town today

On Ten also works a recurrent trope, Wilson’s elegant fingerpicking against layers and layers of lingering ambience, a savage dissection of Notbrooklyn ennui:

Join, join, join the ranks
Of the pretty, white, and jobless
And pray your daddy’s money away
At St. Sebastian’s School for the Godless

August/September is a diptych, the first part a plaintive piano waltz evoking Joy Division’s The Eternal, the second fueled by a menacing, echoing pulse that ends in crushing defeat: its quiet, sudden ending is one of the album’s most powerful moments. “There’s a bloody side to this, I don’t share your sunny disposition,” Wilson warns in Exit Door, with its wickedly catchy “You wanna know where the money comes from” mantra. Shakedown, a creepy roadhouse boogie in Lynchian disguise, brings to mind Randi Russo. “If there’s a game of losing friends…you and I would be Olympians,” Wilson broods.

Howl builds nonchalantly to an unexpectedly catchy, yet unpredictable chorus that would be the envy of any stadium rock band, a sardonic look at self-absorption lit up by a nimble tremolo-picked Ledbetter solo. City on an Island, with its watery chorus-box bass and 80s production values evokes early New Order and might be the album’s catchiest song. It might also be its most searing one, a kiss-off to a fauxhemian:

Good luck with your pylons
With your city on an island
And good luck with the small false hints
That you live the way I live

The album’s final track, simply titled Or, is a Mississippi hill country blues vamp, T-Model Ford spun through the prism of psychedelia and trip-hop, closer to the band’s stark, spare previous output than anything else here. Look for this around the top of the best albums of 2015 page in December if we make it that far.

In Memoriam: B.B. King

B.B. King, the beloved “King of the Blues” and worldwide ambassador for the music he played through parts of nine decades, died last night at his Las Vegas home. He was 89. Born into near-slavery in Mississippi, abandoned by his parents at age four to spend a winter alone in a plantation shotgun shack, Riley B. King rose to become the world’s best-known electric bluesman, and arguably the greatest singer and guitarist the style has ever known.

King got his start in music walking miles into town from the plantation on Saturday nights to busk. Bulding a repertoire of originals and covers that would reach over one thousand songs, King managed to connect with the second Sonny Bon Williamson, Rice Miller, who doubled as a Memphis radio disc jockey when not on the road. King earned his nicknane – it stands for Blues Boy – as Miler’s dj protege. Using the radio gig as a springboard for his own career, King started with a small band and by the mid-50s was touring in his own custom-made bus with a full orchestra, playing upwards of 300 shows a year, a pace he maintained for most of his life. In his career, he played well over ten thousand concerts.

King described his vocals as “raw,” and although his gritty baritone could be plaintive and anguished, his singing was nuanced, sophisticated and eclectic. He could sing gospel fervently or raptly, or croon a ballad, as evocatively as he could rasp and wail his way through a bitter blues lament. He credited not fast fingers but fast wrists for enabling him to deveop fearsome guitar technique, his blazing speed on the fretboard coupled with a remarkably economical approach. And King was just as versatile a blues guitarist as he was a singer: in concert, he could bounce his way through a two-minute, thirty-second hit and then follow that with a ten-minute epic full of guitar pyrotechnics and not waste a note: his mind was as fast as his fingers. And he could channel any emotion he wanted: mystical rapture, buffoonish exuberance, fullscale angst or, when he was feeling it, unreptentant rage.

A scholar of the blues, King built a massive record collection that he ended up donating to Stony Brook University. Largely self-educated, King was a humble but proud man, pollitically aware but diplomatic to the point where Presidents from everywhere on the spectrum felt comfortable inviting him to the White House. As a result, King was the first American blues artist to tour behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet regime.

Virtually every rock lead guitarist from the 60s through the 80s cited King as an inspiration, or their main inspiration. Many imitated him; none could quite match his tersely incisive attack, which he’d sometimes cap off with a joyous little slide from the highest strings.

By his own count, King officially released just under a hundred albums, hundreds of singles and two rather enigmatic autobiographies. Hundreds, maybe thousands of his shows were also recorded: there’s enough live B.B. King on the web to keep a listener in new material for possibly years. Conventional wisdom is that King’s most defining album is Live at the Regal, a 1964 recording that King disavowed, citing that he’d played thousands of shows better than that one. And he was right: of all the official releases, perhaps the most essential one is Live in Cook County Jail, from 1971. Like his fellow Americana icon Johnny Cash, King was populist to the core and frequently performed behind bars: this particular set features a particularly scorching, dynamically intesne version of How Blue Can You Get as well as versions of many of his biggest hits, including 3 O’Clock Blues, The Thrill Is Gone and Please Accept My Love.

In recent years, as King’s fingers slowed, he went for depth rather than adrenaline. Onstage, his lines became more spare, resonant and mystical, Although the big, robust frame that had shouted and sweated and fired off dizzying volleys of notes for so long was now confined to a chair, King had lost none of his ability to tease and cajole and entertain a crowd. At his last large-scale New York show, outdoors on the water behind the World Financial Center in July of 2013, he transcended a dodgy sound system to deliver a brief set of familiar hits that still found him searching, and exploring, and finding ways to make old material that he’d played hundreds of times sound fresh. Which wss no surprise: transcendence defined B.B. King.

The TarantinosNYC Surf the Silver Screen

The TarantinosNYC use that name to distinguish themselves from the Tarantinos, a UK band who play a diverse mix of songs from Quentin Tarantino films. The TarantinosNYC do some of that, but they also write originals. They’re best known as a surf band, but as you would hope from a group with a film fixation, they have a cinematic side. Their music is catchy, and fun, and sometimes pretty creepy, much more unpredictable and occasionally epic than what most straight-up surf outfits typically play. Between them, lead guitarist Paulie Tarantino, bassist Tricia Tarantino, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Brian Tarantino and drummer Joey Tarantino make up one of New York’s most consistently interesting, original, entertaining bands. They have a new album, Surfin’ the Silver Screen coming out and a release show this Friday, May 15 at 11 PM at Lucille’s Bar, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Cover is $10.

Shindig – one of the six first-class originals here – makes a good opener: purist reverb surf guitar hitched to swirly organ, the rhythm section holding a classic Ventures beat. The organ and digital production give it a more current feel, yet also enable the band to put their own stamp on it. Bullwinkle Pt. 2 is the first cover, lowlit with Paulie’s lingering, noir, reverb-drenched tremolo-bar chords. Then they reinvent You Only Live Twice as a glittery showstopper, Brian’s organ front and center. It’s almost like ELO doing a surf song – and if you don’t think ELO could play surf music, you haven’t heard their version of a well-worn Grieg theme.

Dust-Up, another original, mashes up hints of monster surf and a Dell Shannon standard: it’s hard to imagine any band other than this one that would have come up with something this improbably successful. Their cover of Son of a Preacher Man brings to mind the Ventures’ psychedelic period – yikes! But then they get serious again with Our Man Flint/Dr. Evil, first doing an old hymn as surf, then channeling pretty much every dance rock style from the 60s in under three minutes

Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova is a bizarre hybrid of roller-rink theme, garage psychedelia, a vintage soul strut and artsy late 70s Britpop. With its vamping repeaterbox guitar and some dancing tremolo-picking from Paulie, Spanish Steps sounds like Link Wray in a hurry to get a Lee Hazlewood desert rock groove on tape. There are two versions of another instrumental, Our Man in Amsterdam, the second harder and more garage-rock oriented – it’s hard to figure where the Amsterdam connection comes in.

The theme from Django – Tarantino’s best film by a mile – gets a richly watery, jangly, psychedelic arrangement with layers of acoustic and electric guitar and keys that elevates it above the cartoonish original. Pushed along by Tricia’s dancing, period-perfect early 70s soul bassline, Lo Chiamavano King comes across as a more artsy take on what could pass for a big Roy Ayers title theme.

Elena Barakhovski contributes soaring vocalese on Korla’s Theme, an artfully nebulous, ominously crescendoing Dick Dale-style Red Sea stomp with all kinds of cool variations – it might be the album’s best song. Then they slow things down to a misterioso swing with an impressively lush cover of Shake Some Evil by 90s cult heroes Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Positraction, another original, manages to blend Booker T, 60s go-go music, surf and swing without anybody in the band stepping on anybody else. Then they do Les Baxter’s Hell’s Belles as blazing psychedelic soul. The album ends with Man from Nowhere, a rare spy-surf gem first recorded by Shadows bassist Jet Harris on the soundtrack to the obscure British film Live It Up, pairing a brooding baritone guitar hook against uneasily airy keys. Surf bands typically live for rarities, but this is an especially sweet find. For that matter, so is the whole record. While it  hasn’t hit the usual spots yet, cds are available, and there are a handful of tracks up at the band’s Soundcloud page.

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