New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Spot-On, Slinky Retro 70s Turkish Psychedelia From Umut Adan

Today’s album is Bahar (meaning “spring”), by Turkish psychedelic rocker Umut Adan., streaming at Spotify. He looks back to classic 70s Turkish psychedelic acts like Cem Karaca, Fikret Kızılok and Erkin Koray, both musically and lyrically, with slightly more digital 21st century production values. It’s hard to think of a catchier record released over the past year or so.

Authoritarian regimes have a history of crushing artists who make people think (USA, 2020, right?) and many of the acts Adan draws on paid a heavy price for their innovations and political fearlessness, even if they often cached their messages in metaphors, or allusions to classic poetry and mythology. Adan salutes that while remaining true to their distinctive sound: minor-key fuzztone guitar, trebly bass and keys, and scurrying drums, perfectly capsulized by the album’s allusively funky opening track, Bembeyaz Cananim.

The fuzztone goes way down, further than the bass in the swaying, dirgey Seytanin Aklini Celdim. Ortasindan Gel is a brisk. bouncy folk-rock song, a Turkish take on Rubber Soul era Beatles. Gunes has plinky sax lute behind the muted ba-bump rhythm and warpy fuzztone sway.

The album’s starkest track is the broodingly anthemic Zaman Zaman, just acoustic rhythm guitar, vocals and an ominous flange guitar riff. Dunyalardan Sen Bahar could be a low-key track from London Calling, a cheery tropically-tinged riff kicking off the verses. Sevdigimi Sectim gallops along with a dusky desert rock-style groove, while the lithely dancing, midtempo Bandirma Baskent Oldu could be a 21st century act like the Mystic Braves or Allah-Las with Turkish lyrics.

The mutedly pulsing Arabam Kaldi is the most musically stripped-down, and in that sense poppiest, tune here. Heavy drums and bass anchor Kadikoylu Kadikoylu, lo-fi synth oscillating way back in the mix. Adan closes the record with Ana Baba Baci Gardas, a darkly bristling, rhythmically tricky psych-folk tune, running his vocals through a watery Leslie speaker.

Inspired Roots Reggae From the Zebulonites 

In a world where roots reggae has been digitized to the point of extinction, it’s a good thing we have bands like the Zebulonites. The Long Island band’s debut ep is streaming at Spotify.

The first song is Do You Love Me, a classic minor-key echoey vamp with a woozy dubwise synth interlude midway through. Track two, Let Judah In has warmly breezy horns and a punchy  Memphis soul guitar solo. The band get intense and relevant with the fiery brass-charged Race War, a scathingly insightful look at of how the robber barons play the divide-and-conquer game. Good to see a band playing oldschool Jamaican-style roots music with organic sounds instead of the cheesy techiness that’s come to pervade what’s left of the style these days.

Plunge Into the Depths With Lucie Vítková and James Ilgenfritz

Lucie Vítková and James Ilgenfritz’s new album Aging – streaming at Bandcamp – is a series of dronescapes. As relentlessly bleak music, it could just as easily be a portrait of the past fourteen months as much as an exploration of what a drag it is to watch the years pile up. Just remember that getting old is a state of mind no matter how many trips you make around the sun.

This is microtonal music. With one exception close to the end of the record, none of these seven long interludes move very far from a sonic center, and it’s frequently impossible to distinguish Ilgenfritz’s bowed bass, abrasively keening harmonics and extended-technique slashes from Vítková’s electronics.

Slowly rising and falling pitchblende resonance is flecked with crumbling fragments of grey noise, clunking loops and ghostly flickers – a deep-space icebreaker clearing the junk from what’s left of the Death Star, maybe. Oscillating scrapes, buzz and boom, achingly unresolved close harmonies, sirening bends and dopplers all filter through the mix. The funereal, tolling chords and darkly contrasting textures of the almost fifteen-minute fifth track are the high point of the album, such that it is. The one after that, a study in high harmonics, more or less, is the most animated.

On one hand, someone with no experience on stringed instruments could probably play this whole thing, or an approximation thereof, after a few tips on bowing. On the other, it really maintains a mood. If you like the lows and the low midrange, this is very enjoyably immersive.

A Provocatively Philosophical, Deeply Articulate New Album From Alexa Tarantino

Alexa Tarantino’s new album Firefly – streaming at Bandcamp – could be interpreted as a protest jazz record. It came together during the lockdown, and the tech oligarchs’ relentless quest to destroy the arts and reduce all surviving humanity to cogs in a soulless machine has without a doubt impacted much of the material on it.

But it’s more of a philosophical than political statement, and ultimately an optimistic one. In her liner notes, Tarantino provides context to the album’s central suite, A Moment in Time: “It’s a raw and personal snapshot of a day in a creative’s life, and the responsibilities that come with this lifestyle which, to most of society, appears ethereal, idyllic, novel, and curious. Today’s fast-paced world of technology and instant gratification has centered the human priority on money, material items, flashy success, and social media following. Essentially, it’s ‘How can I get, produce, or be the next best thing, right now?’ While we’ve seen how this has skyrocketed us forward in the realms of technology and science, it has undoubtedly impacted human thought, attention, and connection, forever.”

Tarantino obviously has her eye on the sinister implications. It begins with Daybreak, a moody latin soul groove anchored by drummer Rudy Royston’s spare, loose-limbed boom and bassist Boris Kozlov’s lithe pulse, pianist Art Hirahara and vibraphonist Behn Gillece providing a spare gleam behind Tarantino’s airy, wary alto sax. Essentially, it’s the cradle of the day’s artistic inspiration.

Tarantino switches to alto flute for Surge Fughetta, a warmly baroque-tinged miniature by Kozlov. She goes back to sax and chooses her spots to soar and spiral in Surge Capacity, a bustling, anthemic, purist minor-key romp that explores the magic moment when creative inspiration strikes, with briskly prowling solos by Hirahara and Royston. Then she picks up the alto flute again for Le Donna Nel Giardino, a balmy, verdantly swaying portrait of a playful female garden spirit, Hirahara’s sparse, allusive lines offering subtle contrast to the calm cheer overhead.

Next is Rootless Ruthlessness, a gritty, tightly clustering picture of inner turmoil, self-doubt and self-sabotage, and the struggle for an artist to get their inner critic to shut up. Hirahara switches to Rhodes as Royston charges onward, the bandleader leading a morose, tormented descent where everything falls apart before pulling it back to a triumphant drive out.

She takes a break from the suite with an unhurried, expansive take of Wayne Shorter’s Lady Day, Kozlov bowing a soulful solo to echo Tarantino’s expressiveness. The suite returns as she switches to soprano for Violet Sky, a seaside sunset bossa groove with some very cleverly orchestrated echoes between Hirahara’s Rhodes and Gillece’s vibes, Royston adding the occasional wry flicker or turnaround.

The finale, The Firefly Code challenges us to find our souls amidst this awful mess, basically. Tarantino articulates her thought: “Our individual lights perhaps are not shining as bright as they were a year ago. But the bottom line is that we shine brighter together than we do apart. We, especially artists and creatives, are resilient. My hope is that after a time of ‘darkness,’ we as a society will re-emerge brighter than ever – with a renewed appreciation for the little things – an extended embrace with someone we love, the sound of the birds chirping while sipping our morning latte, or the way that staring at a painting, listening to a composition, or reading a poem makes us pause, think, and feel…in a way that no amount of Instagram likes or followers ever could.”

She opens it on alto flute, the band shifting from a brooding, allusively Ellingtonian sway to more of a bounce as she picks up steam and spins around, matched by Gillece’s pirouetting solo. Royston’s emphatic drum break signals a very unsettled return: the choice is up to us, Tarantino seems to say.

There’s more: the suite doesn’t begin until five tracks in. To kick off the album, we get Spider’s Dance, a low-key, catchy Hirahara tune meant to illustrate an arachnid mating ritual: in this particular universe, these creatures are more romantic than sinister.

Tarantino’s alto flute wafts purposefully but enigmatically in Mindful Moments, a clave tune by by Gillece where Royston has all kinds of subtle fun with on his rims and toms.

Move of the Spirit, an acerbically upbeat Royston swing anthem has a deviously amusing Tarantino quote and rippling solos from Gillece and Hirahara. A second Shorter number, Iris is a long platform for a thoughtfully constructed alto sax solo. This is one of the best and most important jazz albums of the year.

Slinky Lynchian Hustles in Central Park

The Dark Sky Hustlers got the short end of the stick here, competing for sonic space with an amazing jazz quartet who earned a rave review for their show in Central Park a few weeks back. But the Hustlers hustle for their space: they’re an excellent band, and you should see them if you’re in the park anytime soon.

They’re a duo: a ponytailed guitarist with a bottomless bag of classic funk riffs, and a drummer. Their webpage doesn’t identify either by name. They like to play the mall, south of the 72nd St. entrance on the west side. Thursday evening they were at the statue at the southernmost end where the mall deadends into an east-west roadway.

You should have heard the applause springing up from pretty much everywhere within earshot after they’d finished a haunting, practically 25-minute long, often outright Lynchian jam, the high point of who knows how many sets they’d played that day. Their shtick is loopmusic. The guitarist will lay down a rhythm track over the drummer’s steady beat, then he’ll play a long, crescendoing series of leads over it. Sometimes there will be more than one rhythm track, or lead track. This particular one was built around a a bunch of minor seventh chords, more complex than the hypnotic two-chord jams the two often fall back on. And it was a lot slinkier, and more unexpectedly low-key and sometimes sinister, than anything else they played during about an hour worth of music. Who knew they had it in them? Maybe everybody who’d seen them before here.

The other instrumentals were good too. They ventured from pretty straight-up, strutting hard funk to more undulating, soul-infused, Booker T-inspired vamps and then back. They will probably be back there the next time you’re in the area, Saturday afternoon is pretty much a guarantee unless it’s raining. .

Who knew that in the spring of 2021, Central Park would turn into the Village Vanguard, Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall combined? Such is the state of live music in this city at the moment. The arts, and the economy in general are booming in states from Florida to Idaho and many points in between, but here in what used to be the intellectual capitol of North America, they’re on life support. We will need an impeachment of Andrew Cuomo, or some other end to his regime of terror and dictatorial whim, in order to find a way back to this city’s former glory as a magical musical melting pot. Thanks to the bravery of bands like this, and the passersby who support them, live music is still theoretically alive here.

Playfully Conversational Improvisation From an Allstar New York Crew

The new Playfield Vol. 3: After Life album – streaming at Bandcamp – is just out. The eight-piece improvisational band’s single, drifting, roughly half-hour track here is a tantalizing snapshot of the kind of multi-generational alchemy that was ubiquitous in this city before the lockdown.

Hearing Luisa Muhr launch the record all by herself with her lustrous vocalese is a trip: the irrepressible multimedia artist’s dance improvisations often turn archetypes inside out and can be spellbinding. A playful bit of an exchange with sax player Daniel Carter lures in Eric Plaks’ drifting electric piano, followed by Ayumi Ishito’s similarly resonant sax and the stark textures of guitarists Aron Namenwirth and Yutaka Takahashi. Bassist Zach Swanson maintains a steadily looming, terse presence, drummer Jon Panikkar taking his time on the way in.

Wah-wah and skronk spice the cloud, Carter in erudite bluesy mode. A decay to austere, wary chromatics gets pulled back up gingerly by chucka-chucka from one of the guitars while the other lingers. The saxes waft as the guitars veer from icy ambience to more jagged incisions, Swanson strolling contentedly by himself, occasionally with a triumphant leap.

Muhr returns briefly to set up a deep-space interlude, Carter shadowing Ishito’s balmy lines, which take on a desolate late-night streetcorner melancholy. The guitars build an increasingly spiky thicket, Muhr chilling back in the mix and then suddenly picking up with a bit of achingly frenetic scatting.

Plaks wryly introduces a familiar New York theme at just after the 25-minute mark, and the whole crew can’t resist messing around with it: obvious as it may be, the joke is too good to give away. Swanson tries to drag the whole crew into swing while Muhr spaces out her distant arioso riffs and the group flutter their way out. The group play the album release show outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg today, May 16 at 3 PM.

Looking Back at Olcay Bayir’s Plaintive Reinventions of Silk Road Songs

Turkish singer Olcay Bayir put out her poignantly energetic album Neva/Harmony – streaming at Spotify  in 2014. It’s songs of the silk road, essentially. Much of the music is from Anatolia, the country’s easternmost region, alongside traditional material from across the surrounding area. Improvisation is such a big part of music from this part of the world that every interpretation is bound to be different; Bayir’s own style is informed by her training as a western classical singer. Her band is just as multicultural as the music; it’s less rustic than you might expect.

The opening number, Jarnana is an Albanian love song with an upbeat sway and a catchy, vamping minor-key tune, Aurel Qirjo’s incisive violin over a pretty straight-up rock groove from bassist George Tsiaousidis and percussionist Elizabeth Nott. Bayir’s plaintive vocals soar over tricky Greek rhythms with biting harmonies from the violin and Nicki Maher’s clarinet in the second track, Mia Smyrnia Sto Parathiri.

Bayir’s vocals on Mer Dan, a slowly waltzing Aremenian dirge, are much the same, clarinet and violin wafting broodingly through the mix, Erdal Yapıcı supplying an elegantly rippling solo on his ten-string kopuz lute. Maher’s low, melismatic, Arabic-tinged clarinet in the bouncy, Romany-flavored Benim Yarim is breathtaking, Likewise, Min Bêriya Te Kiriye has a brisk, almost reggae groove lit up with Meg Hamilton’s stark violin and a spiky web of textures from Yapıcı and classical guitarist Charlie Cawood.

Durme, a moody Sephardic lullaby, has rippling classical guitar, Yapıcı’s eerie fretless guitar and an aptly tender vocal by Bayir: in this part of the world, moms sing to their kids in minor keys and it’s not considered scary. The album’s big, hypnotic, nocturnal epic is Melamet Hırkas. Clarinet and violin loom over a starry, loopy backdrop from the kopuz, guitar and Erdogan Bayir’s baglama, minging with the frontwoman’s gentle, resonant delivery.

Qirjo’s somber taqsim to open Penceresi Yola Karşı doesn’t hint at the scampering energy this Balkan dance tune will hit just a few seconds later, lit up with Maher’s joyous klezmer inflections, They close the record with Lay Lay, a somber Kurdish waltz with more of those gorgeously tremoloing clarinet-violin lines that permeate this gorgeous record.

Ride the Cyclone: Funniest Album of the Year So Far

If Weird Al Yankovic, Boots Riley and Mel Brooks got together to write a musical, it might sound something like Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond’s Ride the Cyclone. In the original soundtrack’s twenty-two tracks, streaming at Spotify, no style of music is off limits to this duo’s merciless satire. American and foreign hip-hop, circus rock, corny G-rated Lawrence Welk church-parlor pop, macho Russian crooner balladry, cabaret, emo and EDM all get a good thrashing at the hands of an eclectically talented cast of singers and players.

In one typical number, the amazingly versatile band here chew up ELO, Zapp and Roger, Huey Lewis bar-band rock, 1970s top 40 ersatz soul music and then spit them out, hard. Another song starts by spoofing phony-sensitive Conor Oberst sweaterboy sounds and ends making fun of the Osmonds. The jokes are too good to give away and are not limited to lyrics. This is the rare comedy record that stands up to repeated listening because the snark and savagery comes at you so fast that if you try to multitask, you’ll miss the best parts.

The musical’s Greek chorus is Coney Island character The Amazing Karmack, whose job it is to predict the hour of a person’s death. Adding an amusing level of meta, he gets to deliver some of the most corrosively hilarious punchlines. The story begins as the St. Cassian Chamber Choir, of Uranium City, Saskatchewan arrive at the end of the train line for a roller coaster ride. As you might imagine, considering Karmack’s involvement, things are not going to be quite so carefree as the cheery Canadians expect. A headless body is involved.

The characters are straight out of central casting, with several twists: this is also a parody of musicals in general. The dorky boy dreaming of louche life in the big city; a whiny Veruca Salt type; an operatic piano-thumping wannabe Sylvia Plath; and an oligarch’s kid posing as hip-hop star all get what they deserve, right down to the minute details. Where does Misha Bachinsky, “the best Ukrainian rapper in northeast Saskatchewan,” take his entourage to drink Cristal and roll blunts? No spoilers.

If Bill Withers and Jeff Lynne had teamed up to write the worst song of their lives, it would be It’s Not a Game, It’s Just a Ride. One of the soundtrack’s funniest interludes, Be Safe, Be Good, has sobering resonance in an era of 24/7 fearmongering from the corporate media. The cruel punchline at the end comes in the form of an American Idol-style New Nashville singalong. In a year of relentless gloom and a likely holocaust looming on the horizon, we desperately need albums like this.

A Gorgeously Dark Album of Adventurous, Psychedelic Afghani Rubab Music From Quais Essar

Today’s album is on the shortlist of the best this blog has received over the past couple of years that were patiently waiting their turn on the hard drive here. Qais Essar, whose axe is the Afghani rubab lute, may not be a household word, but he’s attracted the attention of a whole slew of western musicians. His latest album The Ghost You Love Most is streaming at Bandcamp. On one hand, it’s pretty exotic compared to the bands whose artists play on it. On the other, it’s not that far removed from the Turkish psychedelia or, for that matter, some of the rock-ish sounds that came out of Iran in the 1960s and early 70s.

He opens it with The Culmination of a Sorrowful Life, a spare, slow, haunting anthem that’s practically a Nashville gothic ballad. Christopher Votek’s cello and Arc Iris keyboardist Zach Tenorio–Miller’s organ add elegaic lustre behind the stately rhythm section of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Thierry Amar on bass and Ray Belli on drums. The ending is even more surreal: they take it doublespeed, making quasi-bluegrass out of a lick seemingly ripped straight from lite-jazz guy Grover Washington Jr.

Essar’s rubab ripples, weaves and flurries frantically throughout the album’s swaying title track, spiced by delicate textures from Kamaljeet Alhuwalia on santoor and Cenk Erodgan on fretless guitar.

Journey to Qaf begins as a chilling, Lynchian dirge, Sheela Bringi’s harp contrasting with the resonance of the cello and Essar’s spare, broodingly emphatic phrasing. They eventually pick up the pace, but never so much that they manage to leave the shadows behind.  Rhitom Sarkar contributes a lingering alap (improvisation) on Indian slide guitar to open Sohini Surf, then Essar takes over and they motor along with a muted surf beat.

The group slow down again for The Simurgh, Essar’s steady, banjo-like lines, echoed by Erodgan’s shivery melismatics over Justin Gray’s stately, rising bass veena. They end the album with a gorgeously bittersweet, pastorally-tinged wordless ballad. It’s music to get completely lost in.

Haunting Music From Happier Times

While the past year has seen a lot of artists desperately mining their archives for concert recordings in order to maintain some semblance of a performing career, violinist Meg Okura’s Live at the Stone album with her NPO Trio is not one of those releases. This 2016 concert was one of the last at the iconic venue’s original Alphabet City digs before it moved to the New School, only to be shuttered in the lockdown. This particular set – released a couple of years ago and still streaming at Bandcamp – is expansive, klezmer-centric, and despite the energetic interplay between Okura, pianist Jean-Michel Pilc and soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, is rather dark.

As the initial 38-minute improvisation – divided up into six separate sections here – gets underway, Okura and Pilc are at their most orchestral. The violinist plays through a series of effects including delay, loops and massive amounts of reverb. The pianist, for the most part, maintains a glittering High Romantic gravitas.

Pilc echoes Okura’s cascades as she runs them through reverb turned up to the point of slapback. Building a series of builds variations, she’s joined by Newsome, who takes centerstage achingly as Pilc and Okura rustle and rumble underneath.

About three minutes in, Okura introduces the stark, central 19th century klezmer theme, Mark Warshawsky’s Oyfn Pripetchik. Newsome searches longingly with his microtonal washes until Pilc and Okura bring a steady rhythm back, the piano taking over scurrying, pointillistic variations. Then the violin moves to the foreground, leading the music from plaintive and insistent to spare and starry. Newsome’s stark clarinet-like tone, especially in the most somber moment here, fits this music perfectly.

Somber chromatics come front and center and remain there the longest in the fourth segment. Newsome leads the group down into minimalism, Pilc raising the energy with his jackhammer pedalpoint, a bit of a klezmer reel and a brief minor-key ballad without words. Newsome drives the band to a chilling, shivery coda.

There are two other improvisations here. The first, Unkind Gestures, is based on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, is vastly more carefree and jauntily conversational, Pilc’s rumbles and basslines contrasting with Newsome’s keening, harmonically-laced duotones. Okura opens the almost nineteen-minute closing number, Yiddish Mama No Tsuki, with a sizzling klezmer solo, Pilc following with eerie belltones down to what sounds like an altered version of the old standard Mein Yiddishe Mama. Revelry and wry quotes interchange with airy acidity, disorienting clusters, a brooding Newsome solo and surreal blues from Okura and Pilc.

One quibble: not one but two tracks cut off right in the middle of gorgeously melismatic Newsome solos, a real faux pas. People who listen to this kind of music have long attention spans and don’t care how long a track is.