New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Party People in the House in Flushing Tonight

If you’re in a party mood, grab the 7 train and head to Flushing Town Hall tonight, Oct 21 where Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo are throwing a wild Afro-Venezuelan bash at 7:30 PM. There will be all kinds of ecstatic call-and-response, booming drums and dancing: Flushing Town Hall always keeps the front section close to the stage open for the dance crowd. Cover is $16, $10 for seniors, and if you’re a kid between 13-19, you get in free, as you can at all the shows here.

Machado recreates a Venezuelan hill country party vibe, a high-voltage tradition passed down through the centuries and maintained by the descendants of the first African slaves kidnapped and brought to the Venezuelan coast. But not all those slaves remained in chains: just as the Maroons in Jamaica did, some managed to escape and set up self-sustaining communities where the the old African traditions survived more or less intact. Machado and her village band trace their ancestry to those days: with just a choir and many drums handmade from local lumber, they are as oldschool as you can get. Parranda musicians don’t stand still – they typically make a procession. The soaring voices and stomping rhythms of Machado’s band are similar to Carolina Oliveros’ Afro-Colombian bullerengue crew Bulla En El Barrio.

Machado’s new album Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree is streaming at Spotify. It’s amazing how catchy these songs are: a brass band or a salsa orchestra could have a great time filling in the harmonies between the singers and the beats. Which are all over the place: sometimes a straight-up dancefloor thump but more likely to be a swaying triplet groove, a funky dance pulse or tricky, intricate polyrhythms. What’s consistent throughout the album, and the music in general, is the contrast between the hypnotically booming drums and the energy of the vocals. The songs celebrate good times, dancing, console the lonely or the bereaved and invoke the ancient spirits, recast as Christian saints. You can sing along; it helps if you know Spanish.

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Avenida B Turn Lincoln Center Into a Lower East Side Salsa Hideaway

Emcee and NYU professor Carlos Chirinos grinningly told the crowded dancefloor at Lincoln Center this past evening that salsa dura revivalists Avenida B’s show was “Designed to get you to come back every month.” And it looks like pretty much everybody here does. The couples didn’t wait to get their twirl on while oldschool salsa hits resounded through the atrium space just south of 63rd Sreet. The monthly dance party series there is called Vaya 63 – get it?

This was a real throwback show – it wasn’t hard to imagine frontman/crooner David Frankel and his octet grinding it out in some tightly packed Lower East Side social club forty years ago. With twin trombones, congas, bongos and cowbell, piano, bass and coros, the group mirrors the multicultural lineups of the great bands of the Fania years. Frankel explained that as the son of a popular Lower East Side bandleader in the 80s, he “Basically grew up with a salsa band underneath me, from birth.”

The band opened with a couple of dark, undulating originals, minor-key piano tumbling elegantly over the waves of beats and the trombones’ nocturnal lustre. Frankel kept a close eye on the dancefloor: “That’s the way to do it!” he announced, inspired by a veteran couple close to the stage. 

Did Lluvia de Nieve hang overhead, gloomy and cold? Not really: as the band broke it down to punchy brass riffs, with a litle suspense from the piano in between verses, it fit in with a day that forty years ago would have been called unseasonably balmy. There were hints of vintage James Brown and glittering Fender Rhodes psychedelia in their take of Cañonazos. They wound up the first set with a stormy new one, Paradoja, driven by an ominous, lingering bass riff, the band getting into it with Frankel who by now was showing off some dance moves of his own.

They picked right up where they left off, starting the second set with Que Humanidad, a blustery stomp centered around a ridiculously catchy four-chord riff. The next number was Guaguanco, “But you’re gonna hear a lot of different styles,” cautioned Frankel, and he wasn’t joking, in this Cuban-Loisaida mashup of rhumba, mambo and gritty Nuyorican flavor. They contrasted the fire of Timbalame with a balmier original inspired by Frankel’s teenage dreams of Latin America and the Caribbean, then made coy salsa out of the jazz standard All of Me and wound up the show on the slinky tip, alternating between classics and originals.

Avenida B’s next gig is at Taj II, 48 W 21st on Nov. 6 at 9 PM. And fans of edgy music from south of the border ought to check out witchy singer Edna Vazquez and her band, who are at the atrium on Nov 2 at 7:30 PM. The concert is free, the earlier you get there the better.

Ampersan Play Dreamy, Cinematic Tropical Psychedelia in Their New York Debut at Lincoln Center

There were some ecstatic moments in Ampersan’s New York debut at Lincoln Center last night, part of the ongoing Celebrate Mexico Now festival. The high point might have been where the punteador and jarana of the five-piece Mexico City band’s founders Kevin Garcia and frontwoman Zindu Cano intertwined with a rippling, slinky intensity. But more often than not, throughout their roughly hourlong set,  the music was simply something to get lost in, reflecting the band’s long background scoring for film.

Ampersan make hypnotic, psychedelic sounds with instruments typically associated with far more boisterous styles. The show came together slowly. Was this going to be just another evening of vampy trip-hop-influenced tropicalia with the occasional psychedelic flourish? The lilting, harmony-infused opening number and the stately candombe ballad afterward suggested that, bassist Sergio Medrano’s terse pulse in tandem with cajon player Héctor Aguilar Chaire and his fellow percussionist Nirl Cano.

Then the group took a detour into reggaeton and Cano switched to violin, raising the energy with his stark, rustic resonance. Garcia played mostly electric guitar and the small, uke-like punteador. Rocking a slinky, gothic black dress, the group’s lead singer began the set on jarana and then switched to guitar; she also had a couple of mics set up for her vocals, one which she ran through a mixer for subtle atmospheric effects.

Then Garcia went up to the board, twiddled with it as it hiccupped and burped…and just when it seemed that the electronics were about to clear the room, they simmered down and the group followed with what could have been the best song of the night, a lush, dreamy, slowly crescendoing tropical psychedelic anthem. The quintet would make their way through more of these while animated videos of Adriana Ronquillo and Mónica González’s mystical deep-forest narratives and imagery played on the screen above the stage.

Likewise, the band’s Spanish-language lyrics have a mysterious, allusive quality: themes of escape, and unease, and occasional heartbreak floated to the surface over the music’s graceful pulse. They like to use poetry from across the ages and hit another peak when they brought up son jarocho champion and poet Zenen Zeferino to deliver a defiant, characteristically eloquent freestyle. As they romped their way through some snazzy Veracruz party polyrhythms, he alluded to how Mexico is just as much or even more of a melting pot than the United States. The implication was that this intelligence ought to trump the demagoguery seeping from the bowels of the White House.

The group brought the show full circle at the end, Zula’s voice receding from a fullscale wail to a tender balminess. The concluding concert of this year’s Celebrate Mexico Now festival is a free show this Sunday, Oct 22 at 3 PM at the Queens Museum in Crotona Park with cinematic music by violinist Carlo Nicolau along with post-industrial projections by video artist Vanessa Garcia Lembo. And the next show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. is tonight, Oct 20 at 7:30 with oldschool salsa dura band Avenida B.

Innov Gnawa Bring Rare Moroccan Jewish Ritual Healing Trance Grooves to Baltimore

It’s not clear if Innov Gnawa are the first American band to play the slinky, trance-inducing ritual healing grooves of Moroccan percussion-and-bass gnawa music. But there’s no question that they’re the only band in this hemisphere currently playing it. True to their name, they’re taking an ancient sound rarely heard outside of Morocco to new places, whether with their own mesmerizing improvisations, or with repertoire never before heard outside of North Africa.

What’s clear is that their April West Village performance of extremely rare Jewish gnawa repertoire was the first time that’s ever been heard on this continent. Even by Innov Gnawa’s standards, this was a pretty wild show: Moroccan Jews know how to party! Lucky Baltimoreans can hear these otherworldly sounds for the first time when Innov Gnawa play this Saturday night, Oct 21 at 8:15 PM at Temple B’Nai Israel at 27 Lloyd St. Cover is $15, and you don’t have to speak Hebrew, Arabic or Bambara to get lost in this music.

Innov percussionist David Lizmi – one of New York’s most in-demand bass players, and a Karla Rose collaborator – opened the evening with a benediction in Hebrew and added a hopeful 1940s rabbinical poem mid-set. Beyond that, the group meshed their hypnotic cast-iron qraqab castanets behind bandleader Hassan Ben Jaafer’s resonant low-register sintir lute for a revealing facsimile of a traditional Moroccan lila healing ceremony, but one played in the Jewish tradition.

Jewish communities have been a vital and formative part of Moroccan culture for centuries; this show celebrated both the earliest Jewish traditions there as well as those dating from the wave of immigrants who found safe ground there from the terror of the Spanish Inquisition in the 1400s. Gnawa music is pre-Judaic, and was brought to Morocco mainly by slaves captured south of the Sahara, but Jews were an important cultural force beyond the music’s expatriate origins to embrace it before it essentially became the Moroccan national sound in the 80s and 90s.

A gnawa ceremony typically begins with an evocation of the saints, and Ben Jaafer led the group through a hypnotic call-and-response of the Jewish pantheon in his gritty, impassioned voice, playing variations on a leaping, catchy bass riff as the qraqabs built a trancey, metallic mesh behind him. From there the rhythms shifted into an almost disco groove, to a circling triplet beat, to a brisk, insistent four-on-the-floor pulse as the passion of the vocals rose toward fever pitch. A shuffling train-track ambience built to a couple of rapidfire interludes that contrasted with stark, snaky, suspenseful sintir passages.

The sintir riffs were catchy to the extreme; there’s a persuasive argument among musicologists that this three-string lute is the forerunner of the funk bass. Sometimes Ben Jaafer would climb an octave or more, other times he’d stay close to the ground with a catchy hook, hanging within the blues scale. How does this repertoire differentiate itself from the many hundreds of non-Jewish songs, sung mainly in Arabic in praise of pre-Islamic Central African deities? Mainly with the lyrics. Either way, one lasting gnawa tradition is that it’s employed for the sake of healing whoever might be in need of psychic or physical repair. Bring your dancing shoes and get ready to banish any mischegas you might have at this one.

Haunting Reverbtoned Psychedelia From Galanos

“Loneliest of men at the bottom of the world,” Galanos’ Netochka Nezvanova and Gregory D. Jaw intone, low and hushed over his lingering, reverb-iced guitar, building to a stomping, echoing buzzsaw attack on the opening track of their debut album Deceiver Receiver. It’s streaming at Bandcamp and it’s today’s luscious installment in this month’s series of Halloweenish daily treats for you.

Let’s cut to the chase: this is one of the best albums of the year. There’s a gutter blues influence, some Thee Oh Sees dark garage-psych and some Black Angels ambience here as well, but they evoke more menace than either of those groups. With the guy/girl vocals, they’re sort of the X of dark 21st century rock.

Nezvanova’s voice rises calm and elegaic over a catchy clangrock melody anchored by Joe Puglsey’s fuzz bass in the second track, Padre Song, a poison underground spring of a guitar solo at the center. Flashbomb mashes up a hailstorm of noisy PiL reverb over steady new wave bass and John Steele’s Atrocity Exhiibition drums beneath Jaw’s alienated beat-poet recitation.

“Recognize it’s transitory, life is fleeting,” Nezvanova intones as Mariana Trench vamps along, a Lynchian roadhouse boogie. Eerie Syd Barrett chords ring over carpetbombing reverb-tank pings and echoes in the brief instrumental dirge Letters From Home. Then the band pick it up again with Stunner, a mashup of growling new wave and chimey surf rock, and do the same with Mr. Friend, but with more of a minimalist Joy Division feel.

The album’s catchiest track, Dead Leaves has an ominous retro Laurel Canyon psych feel, like the Allah-La’s with the amps turned up all the way. Bleak, stygian atmospherics punctuated by the occasional ghost of a surf riff filter through the final cut, Feel Good, the album’s druggiest, most macabre track. Dare you to make this the last thing you listen to tonight.

Starkly Beautiful, Weird Americana and New Classical Sounds in Williamsburg Last Night

Last night at the beautifully renovated San Damiano Mission in Williamsburg, Anna & Elizabeth joined their distinctive voices in a very colorful patchwork quilt of songs from across the centuries. Cleek Schrey, a connoisseur of little-known vintage fiddle tunes, played lilting solo pieces in odd tempos when he wasn’t sitting at the organ or the piano. Timo Andres unveiled a hypnotic new solo piano diptych awash in both Glassine echo effects and mystical Messiaenic close harmonies. And at the end, Anna Roberts-Gevalt led a packed house in a haunting, rapturously rising and falling singalong of the blues-infused African-American Virginia spiritual, Oh Lord Don’t Let Me Die in the Storm.

It was a night of envelopingly beautiful, weird Americana. On the surface, pairing oldtime folk tunes and some pre-Americana with indie classical could have opened a Pandora’s box of ridiculous segues. That this bill actually worked testifies to how much outside-the-box creativity went into it. Part of the explanation is simply how some things eventually get so old that they become new again. There’s a lot of centuries-old music that sounds absolutely avant garde, and there was some of that on this bill. For example, while there was no obvious cross-pollination between the subtly shifting cells of Andres’ piano piece and the cleverly rhythmic permutations of Schrey’s solo numbers, it was a reminder how musicians from every time period use a lot of the same devices.

There were also a handful of country gospel and Appalachian folik tunes on the bill. You could have heard a pin drop when Elizabeth LaPrelle reached for the rafters with her signature plaintive, rustic, high-midrange-lonesome wail in a solo a-cappella number. Standing in between the front pews, Roberts-Gevalt clog-danced a swinging beat and sang in perfect time, accompanied by Schrey and viola da gamba player Liam Byrne, who anchored much of the night’s material with a low, ambered, lushly bowed resonance.

Joined by a guest baritone singer, Anna & Elizabeth sang a fetchingly waltzing take of the hymn I Hear a Voice Calling. The night began with a hypnotic take of what sounded like an old Virginia reel played solo on bagpipe, a gentle reminder for the faithful to take their seats. And Anna & Elizabeth brought crankies! Each singer slowly cranked a big wooden box to unscroll a colorfully detailed portrait of the events in the other’s song. LaPrelle delivered a long, extremely detailed, ultimately pretty grim 18th century account of a shipwreck, and Roberts-Gevalt intoned a hazy nocturnal Nova Scotia lament that morphed into droning spectral string music. Anna & Elizabeth are off on European tour momentarily: lucky Lithuanians can catch them at the Keistuoliy Theatre in Vilnius on Oct 21 at 7:30 PM.

A Shadowy Presence at a Dead Zombie Band Show

It’s prime time for trick-of-treaters, Halloween night 2014. On this cool, crisp, clear evening, the Man in the Long Black Coat stands to the left of Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band, who may be making their live debut – or at least their Brooklyn debut. Nibbling morosely on a dollar bag of fiesta mix, the Man in the Long Black Coat doesn’t know this. Nor has he heard the band’s colorful album. Is that why he’s hardly in a fiesta mood?

Is it that that the friend he was supposed to meet at this Fort Greene block party hasn’t materialized? Men in long black coats are very frightening to some people, but they’re not friendless.

Maybe it’s that he’s missing the Halloween parade in Manhattan…or maybe that he’s not. All his friends who used to watch it, and march in it sometimes, are gone now, whether by way of pills, the syringe, or the U-Haul out of town.

Meanwhile, the band is cooking. They’re ostensibly a jazz outfit but they have a deep roots reggae groove going, no surprise considering that Fleming did a long stint as the trumpeter in Burning Spear’s all-female Burning Brass. They’re a pretty big group, with brass, and reeds, and electronic keys, and a fat low end. Fleming banters with the kids and their weary parents, signals a couple of ghostly, nebulous between-song interludes, narrates a brief spooky story or two while the band tinkles and whirs behind her. Eventually she takes a turn out front on lead vocals and it’s clear that she’s having a ball.

But the Man in the Long Black Coat can’t be placated. Is it having to constantly duck away from the two long lines snaking their way down the block in both directions, or that there’s too much sonic competition from the adjacent science fair tent to get a decent field recording? The Man in the Long Black Coat will not remember much about this evening other than that it was one of the first of several events that foreshadowed a long spiral down…

TO BE CONTINUED!

You too can witness the annual tradition where the Dead Zombie Band play their signature Halloween jazz, starting at about 6 PM this coming Halloween at the street fair on Waverly Ave, between Willoughby and DeKalb. Take the C or the G to Clinton-Washington.

Don’t bother looking for a man wearing anything long and black. You won’t see him. But he might see you…

Dori Freeman Brings Her Eclectic, Tasteful Americana to the Lower East Side

The big news about Dori Freeman’s second album, Letters Never Read – streaming at NPR – is that Richard Thompson plays on it. The song where he makes a cameo bristling with his signature, shivery, incisive Strat lines, is actually pretty slight, if tastefully assembled by Thompson’s son Teddy.

Much as it takes nerve to ask Richard Thompson to play on your album, it takes even more to cover the iconic Richard & Linda Thompson anthem I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. OK, it’s not the original, but Freeman’s version does it justice, with some clever psychedelic touches. The rest of the album is more trad, and mines the same diverse Americana styles she explored in her debut album last year. And for what it’s worth, it’s somewhat less gloomy.. She’s playing the big room at the Rockwood this Thursday, Oct 19 at 8:15 PM; cover is $12.

Freeman gets a lot of props for her voice, and she’s earned that: it wouldn’t be overhype to compare her subtle, curlicuing blue notes in the second track, Just Say It Now, to Laura Cantrell. The pulsing country soul of Lovers on the Run brings to mind early 70s Melba Montgomery – Freeman gives it a more wintry delivery over Nick Falk’s almost martial drumbeat and Roy Williams’ steady piano chords:

I’ve looked into another’s eyes
When all the world was still
And just as I began to fall
They went in for the kill

From there Freeman mixes it up. With Alex Hargreaves and Duncan Wickel on austere fiddles, Cold Waves has a hazy, slowly vamping 70s Britfolk ambience, perhaps due to the Thompsons’ presence here. Freeman sings the bouncy Roger Miller-ish bluegrass tune Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog a-cappella; Falk switches to banjo for the similarly retro, trickily syncopated take of the country gospel tune Over There.

Is that tubular bells, or one of those portable organs that Thompson likes to use, on the spare singalong Turtle Dove? Both, maybe? Likewise, the kiss-off anthem That’s All Right has a similar, muted nocturnal atmosphere, blending Jon Graboff’s spare steel guitar with piano and layers of guitar. It’s not clear who’s playing what: Neal Casal and Kacy & Clayton also contribute to the album. It winds up with a wry vocal-and-drums cover of Jim Reeves’ Yonder Comes a Sucker. If you go for eclectic Americana tunesmithing, purist playing, an unselfconsciously nuanced voice and lyrics that jump out and bite you when least expected, Dori Freeman is for you.

Colin Stetson Hauntingly Reinvents an Iconic Eulogy For the Victims of Genocide

What’s more Halloweenish than the arguably most evil event in human history? Friday night at the World Financial Center, saxophonist Colin Stetson led a twelve-piece jazz orchestra through his inventive, intensely immersive original arrangement of Henryk Gorecki’s third Symphony, better known as the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” The Polish composer dedicated it to victims of the Holocaust and World War II; the 1992 recording by the London Sinfonietta with soprano Dawn Upshaw remains one of the very last classical recordings to sell a million copies worldwide.

Stetson pointedly remarked before the show that he’d remained true Gorecki’s original melodies, beyond extending or sustaining certain climactic passages, “Amplified for these times.” That ominousness rang especially true right from the start. The main themes are a solemn processional and a round of sorts, both of which rose to several mighty crescendos that were far louder than anything Gorecki ever could have imagined.

Spinning his axes – first a rumbling contrabass clarinet, then his signature bass sax and finally an alto – through a pedalboard along with his looming vocalese, Stetson anchored the dense sonic cloud. Bolstering the low end on multi-saxes and clarinets were Matt Bauder (of darkly brilliant, psychedelic surf rockers Hearing Things) and Dan Bennett, along with cellist Rebecca Foon and synth players Justin Walter and Shahzad Ismaily. Violinists Amanda Lo and Caleb Burhans were charged with Gorecki’s most ethereal tonalities, while guitarists Grey Mcmurray and Ryan Ferreira got a serious workout, tirelessly chopping at their strings with endless volleys of tremolo-picking. It’s amazing that everybody got through this without breaking strings.

The addition of Greg Fox on drums resulted in an unexpected, sometimes Shostakovian satirical feel, adding a twisted faux-vaudevillian edge to a section of the second movement. Stetson’s sister Megan ably took charge of the Upshaw role with her dramatic but nuanced arioso vocal stylings. After the smoke had risen and fallen and risen again across the battlefield, the air finally cleared, an apt return to the stillness and meditative quality of the original score, matching the guarded optimism of the ending as much as the group had channeled the grief and muted anguish of the rest of the work. One suspects the composer – who toiled under a repressive Iron Curtain regime for much of his life – would have approved.

You’ll be able to hear this when the performance airs on John Schaefer’s New Sounds Live on WNYC, most likely early in November.

The Academy Blues Project: Great Psychedelic Band in Need of a New Name

Saturday night at Shrine, the Academy Blues Project put on a kaleidoscopically psychedelic, boisterously entertaining and sometimes LMFAO funny display of killer chops and deliciously unpredictable songwriting that spun through pretty much every good style of music from the 1970s, other than punk. The bandname is a misnomer: there’s absolutely nothing academic about them, nor are they particularly bluesy. If you’re into psychedelic rock and you’re in New York right now, they should be at the top of your bucket list along with Greek Judas.

Throughout two long sets, intros and outros constantly shifted away from whatever the song in between was. It was like Baskin-Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s combined – although it was straight-up Coffee Ice Cream that might have been the night’s best song, a biting, glittering, rhythmically tricky art-rock instrumental that recalled Nektar at their most epic, The band have a Big Lebowski fixation, and are playing a tribute to The Dude on Oct 28 at 10 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

A raven-haired beauty at one of the front tables confided that she’d spent a good portion of her freshman year at NYU watching Gentle Giant videos with the core of the band. Which made sense – there was plenty of that band’s epically matter-of-fact, crescendoing sensibility in the songs. Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was another obvious influence, particularly in keyboardist Ben Easton’s carnivalesque neoromantic cascades, along with plenty of sly funk, eerie noir soul, balmy tropicalia and the occasional menacingly tidal organ interlude.

Guitarist/frontman Mark Levy has chops to match, shifting effortlessly through deep-sky spirals, leering Steely Dan funk, roaring four-on-the-floor Stonesy rock, a little chicken-fried southern boogie, and a gritty, hard-hitting oldschool New Orleans soul tribute to Allen Toussaint that suddenly shifted gears in midstream into a tantalizing, rhythmically tricky maze. He led the band out of a Keith Richards stadium rock stomp into a similar acid Lego passage, made latin soul and then a hammering, almost motorik drive out of a popular Disney film theme and then swung the band through Dylan’s The Man in Me, from the Big Lebowski soundtrack.

The funniest song of the night was Little Bird, Levy talking his way through a surreal encounter with a peace-loving feathered friend who hates the “human stink” of plastic and burning trash and bombs: it’s hard to think of a more gently apropos antiviolence anthem for this  year.

The night’s most epic number flowed in and out of a tongue-in-cheek, mariachi-tinged surf theme that the band sped up until they’d practically brought it full circle, when doublespeed was regular speed again. It was that kind of night. Drummer Jim Bloom and bassist Trevor Brown kept a tight pulse in sync with all the crazy changes; Brown finally danced some suspenseful octaves on an intro to one of the later numbers. All of the great psychedelic bands – the Dead with Phil Lesh, Nektar with Mo Moore, the Move with Ace Kefford and then Rick Price – put the bass out front a lot, and it wouldn’t hurt for this crew to keep that tradition going.