New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: October, 2014

Alexandra Joan Sings Through Her Fingers at Bargemusic

“Just about every piece of music that we can play is a song,” pianist Alexandra Joan nonchalantly told the audience at her luminous performance Thursday night at Bargemusic. That pretty much explains everything you need to know about her. Matter-of-factly and meticulously, she built a dynamically rich program with lyrical, cantabile, highly individualistic interpretations of a diverse program. from Bach to early Modernism, most of the works taken from her new album Dances and Songs.

She explained to the crowd that while not everything on the album is a dance per se, the material on it shares a kinetic character. She began the evening with a suite of Chopin mazurkas that aren’t on the album, but they turned out to make an apt opening salvo, Joan giving the audience a sort of guided tour via ample but judicious amounts of rubato, as if to say, “Watch this, here comes a really good one!”

Her take of Bach’s English Suite in G Minor, BWV 808 was especially gripping, not only because it’s an interesting piece of music, but because of how she accented the work’s rigorous and challenging ornamentation, awash in grace notes and trills. That made Bach’s tight rhythm all the more of a suspenseful contrast – and the plaintiveness of the second movement all the more affecting. Likewise, the high point of the night was Liszt’s solo piano arrangement from Schubert’s Der Doppelganger, vividly giving voice to a guy who can’t figure out if he’s himself or someone else and is completely lost as a result.

The program lightened from there, but just a little, with an edgy, acerbic run through Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, drawing a straight line back to the Schubert suite that inspired them even if the tonalities were from a completely different idiom (and radical enough in Ravel’s day to get him slammed by the critics). Joan ended the night on a celebratory note with the “champagne bubbles” of a couple of lighthearted if cruelly challenging Liszt pieces, the Valse Impromptu and then his whirling arrangement of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Which in turn made her careful, plaintive Debussy encore all the more astringently gripping. Joan is also an impresario, so the idea of going from Bach to Romantic to Modern and linking it all together is less unlikely (and less ostentatious) for her than it would be for a lot of other pianists. She’s appearing next with the fantastic Grneta Ensemble performing Gerald Cohen’s Sea of Reeds at le Poisson Rouge on Nov 11 at 6 PM; advance tix are $15 and very highly recommended.

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The Week’s Creepiest Halloween Show Is Thursday at Merkin Concert Hall

There are some ominously intriguing Halloween shows coming up toward the end of the week. On Halloween, there’s a doublebill with doom-obsessed, gale-force singer Jessi Robertson and murder ballad purveyor Kelley Swindall at the American Folk Art Museum at 5. Trumpeter Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band are doing their creepy big band jazz at a street fair in Ft. Greene starting around 6; pianist Michael Riesman is playing Philip Glass’ score to the remake of Dracula to accompany a screening of the original 1931 film at the Morgan Library at 7; and the Jalopy is putting on an all-murder ballad night at 8 with a cast of familiar Americana faces. But the creepiest show of the week might well be the night before, Oct 30 at 8 PM at Merkin Concert Hall where the American Modern Ensemble, with guest conductor David Alan Miller, play George Crumb’s disquieting Music for a Summer Evening, David Del Tredici’s Dracula and a trio of macabre Robert Paterson pieces about dead soldiers, poltergeists and a full-blown nightmare. And the concert is free, but you need to rsvp to info@chambermusicny.org

Paterson, the world-class marimbist who directs the AME, has great talent for creepy cinematics. His most recent album, Winter Songs – streaming at Spotify – has a somewhat more subtle, muted unease. Although the album has impassioned performances by a crew of well-known singers, the star here turns out to be pianist Blair McMillen, who anchors the songs with a gravitas and a nimbly insistent attack to counterbalance the surrealism of several of the pieces. For example, baritone Jesse Blumberg sings a brief cycle of songs with lyrics taken completely from captchas: he and McMillen manage to keep everything dead serious even as the text gets stranger and sillier.

Wispy winter winds from the strings and woodwind section filter through McMillen’s icicle piano and Paterson’s own marimba in a theme and variations utilizing six texts by Wallace Stevens and others, sung by with an apt austerity by bass-baritone David Neal. Baritone Robert Gardner sings the viciously hilarious Eating Variations, a parody of food fixations and fads, with lyrics by Ron Singer. Like the captcha cycle, it’s all the more funny for the completely deadpan vocals even as the music grows more cartoonish.

The comedy hits a peak as soprano Nancy Allan Lundy gives voice to voicemail messages with varying degrees of absurdity and mischegas. The album winds up with tenor Dimitri Pittas singing Paterson’s cycle Batter’s Box, which imagines a rather trying day on the ballfield as experienced by former Mets allstar catcher Mike Piazza. Try and guess the pitcher and batter – one can’t find the plate with his breaking ball and the other can’t hit it – that Paterson alludes to!

Singles for 10/25 – Going to the Back of the Garage

No comic relief today, just dark-ish garagey sounds – Halloween is coming after all. Here’s Majestico revisiting a gutter blues sound that was all the rage on the Lower East Side twenty years ago (youtube).

The High Learys’ Clear My Mind is the Doors circa 1967 mashed up with the Kinks – cool stuff with vintage organ (soundcloud). And Seattle band Mega Bog’s Year of Patience reminds of British revivalists Comet Gain a couple of decades ago, scampering dreampop-tinged female-fronted janglerock with a little bit of Brill Building la-la’s and some real nice alto sax drenched in reverb (soundcloud).

A Sneak Peek at the New Thurston Moore Record

What does covering the new Thurston Moore instrumental album say about a music blog? That the blog is not located on Mars, or somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan where music was illegal for many years, and where there was and probably still is no wifi? That this particular blog had scheduled a piece on it in advance of Moore’s Rough Trade show on Oct 26, which ended up selling out, although not instantaneously like it was expected to? Considering that tickets to the show are long gone, and that you can’t hear the album online, does it make any sense at all to relate what it sounds like? Consider this a distant early warning.

The good news is that Northern Spy is going to release it on vinyl next February, and it’s definitely worth owning if richly harsh, assaultive sonics captured in the best possible audio format are your thing. Titled Full Bleed, it’s the third recording by the duo of Moore and Sunburned Hand of the Man drummer John Moloney, this time under the monicker Caught on Tape.

Compared to the two’s previous collaborations, it’s less spazz-jazz freakout and more sludgily cohesive, if spiced with plenty of the expected tasty/abrasive out-of-focus buzz and screech. The opening track, Age Limit is skronk versus swoosh, falling brickwork sonics and a surprisingly tight scramble up to a jet-engine roar out. Nothing Glamorous is exactly as advertised, a guitar nor’easter finally blowing in a plate-glass door. The title track is a dirge centered around a buzzy blown-speaker drone, finally exploding in a shower of sparks.

An echo study, Self-Rule finally gives Moloney centerstage. Arguing with a Balloon pairs Moore’s U2/Edge pointillisms with Moloney’s matter-of-factly careening rumble and a predictable (see title) sonic joke. Dispute veers between something of a parody (Moore’s distaste for extreme metal is well known) and unexpectedly epic gravitas. The two raise some seriously Hendrixian guitar-on-fire blisters with Reverse Funeral, Moloney cast as the voice of reason as he generally is here. The album’s closest approximation of Sonic Youth is Unsupervised, with its romping rhythm balanced by echoey/creepy guitar pings. Likewise, the closing track, Robber Grandma hints at an anthemic sensibility before going off the rails. Fans of serious noise are going to have a field day with this.

A Trifecta of Singles for 10/24

Rass Kass has been one of the world’s elite hip-hop lyricists since the 90s. Here’s How to Kill God – his succinctly poetic distillation of two thousand years of religion perverted by tyrants and psychotics – from the upcoming joint album Blasphemy with the Ugly Heroes‘ Apollo Brown. No one is spared: “Motherfuck Donnie & Marie!” check it out via bandcamp.

Unpaid Internship, by Onwe – say it without a French accent and you’ll get the joke – is a LMFAO phony shoegaze parody of Bushwick poser bands (bandcamp).

And since baseball is still going on – go Royals! – here’s Steve Wynn‘s Baseball Project immortalizing not the time that Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis took a hit of acid and threw a no-hitter, but the day in the spring of 1974 when he decided to hit every batter in the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup. His manager pulled him from the game five batters in, and the Bucs ended up losing, but a message had been sent loud and clear. And Ellis was out there pitching again the next time his turn came around – no suspension, no fine. How times have changed (youtube).

Singles and Good Jokes 10/23

The single that Jay Brown has bees pushing most lately is Beginner Mind, a wickedly catchy Americana pop tune, but the best song on his soundcloud page is Jesus Save Me (From Fox News & Friends). Self-explanatory and funny as hell.

Check out western Connecticut all-girl punk band the Damn Broads’ Pay to Play (at Reverbnation). Here they tackle a scam that hasn’t really caught on in New York because there are so many places to play, but it’s a problem all over the country. “You’re just another punk rock fool,” they sing as the evil chromatic tune gives way to garagey riffage and then a very funny quote from the Sex Pistols catalog.

And much as this blog doesn’t typically reprint news releases verbatim, this one was too good to resist: “It’s happening all around the world: train stations, shopping malls, and local governments have found themselves forced to turn to classical music in their efforts to keep loiterers at bay. As the Los Angeles Times reports, ‘Whether it’s Handel piped into New York’s Port Authority or Tchaikovsky at a public library in London, the sound of classical music is apparently so repellent to teenagers that it sends them scurrying away like frightened mice.’ When violin virtuoso Gil Shaham heard the news, he combed the catalog of his recording label, Canary Classics, to create Music to Drive Away Loiterers, the perfect compilation to deter anyone, an album which came out this past spring. The concerned Avery Fisher Prize-winner explains:“As a violinist dedicated to his art, I have always looked for ways to help the Greater Good. When I heard that classical music was being used to drive loiterers away, I knew I had finally found my calling. I hope people enjoy this album…or not. Whatever.”

A Rare Live Gig in August Spawns Two Auspicious October Shows

Was drummer/impresario John Sharples‘ excellent, rare gig as a bandleader back in August responsible for two of this weekend’s most enticing shows? Maybe yes, maybe no. In the case of the show tomorrow night, Oct 24 at Freddy’s, definitely yes, since he’s booked it. It’s an eclectic lineup starting at 9 with a similarly rare performance by the jangly, edgy band that songwriter Paula Carino made a name for herself with back in the late 90s, Regular Einstein. After that there’ll be short sets by Psychic Lines and guitarist Tim Simmonds’ Ex Extract project followed at 11 by Calm King, which is members of Beefheart cover band Admiral Porkbrain playing “improvisational postpunk chamber pop.”

And an artist Sharples drew on for her nuanced but powerful, torchy voice at that August show, Americana songwriter Robin Aigner, plays the album release show for her long-awaited new album of historically-infused oldtimey songs and chamber pop at Barbes this Saturday, Oct 26 at 8 on a great bill (this one not booked by Sharples) that starts with oldtime blues guitar monster Mamie Minch at 6 and continues at 10 with harmony-driven noir cumbia and bolero band Las Rubias Del Norte at 10.

What was the August show like? Drummers have deep address books since the good ones play with a ton of people, and Sharples is no exception. This particular night started with crystalline-voiced songwriter Rebecca Turner opening solo with a wryly epic, brooding contemplation of family tensions. Then she brought up her band – including John Pinamonti on lead guitar and studio mastering legend Scott Anthony on bass – for terse, quietly bristling versions of older material like The Way She Is now and newer songs including the metaphorical Cassandra and The Cat That Can Be Alone. She and the band closed with Brooklyn Is So Big, which ten years ago was a triumphant shout-out to the borough’s musical riches and now seems more like an obituary.

Sharples played both six and twelve-string guitar out in front of a band that included Ross Bonadonna on guitar and Tom Pope on drums, mixing up material from the cult classic 2004 I Can Explain Everything album along with unexpected treats like the tongue-in-cheek, metrically Carino favorite Robots Helping Robots and a blistering take of Brooklyn, by Celtic punk band Box of Crayons.

But the best song of the night was a straight-up janglerock version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the lushness and overtones of the twelve-string providing some of the original’s angst-fueled grandeur. Or it might have been the ominously swaying version of Tom Warnick’s noir blues anthem The Impostor. Or for that matter, Dylan’s Positively 4th Street reinvented as tightly wound janglerock. Or the lusciously jangling Matt Keating cover, Mind’s Eye, with Aigner adding her plaintive harmonies. It was one of those kind of shows.

The night wound up with a catchy solo set by guitarist/frontman Tim Reedy, of indie rockers Electric Engine. Nobody evokes the mid-90s anthemic REM sound like that band, and it was cool to hear Reedy’s witty lyrics and frequent baseball references without the ring of the amps behind him.

2014’s Best Reinvention of a Classic Album: Wounded Buffalo Theory and Others Play Genesis at Rock Shop

It’s been a good past few weeks for intriguing cover band projects. Austin psych-funk rockers Brownout reinvented Black Sabbath, when they weren’t channeling that band at their mid-70s peak, at Brooklyn Bowl last month. William Maselli‘s clever orchestral mashup of Sabbath themes got a workout at Merkin Concert Hall about a week after that. Then there was Grey McMurray and band recasting Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as lush, string-driven art-rock, a performance that will air on Q2 shortly. But the best of all of these shows was masterminded by Sometimes Boys and Wounded Buffalo Theory drummer Jay Cowit, who brought members of those two bands plus Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls together to perform Genesis’ classic 1974 double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Other bands have done it over the years, and there’s a Genesis cover band, the Musical Box, who regularly perform it along with an elaborate set and projections for astronomical prices . But it’s hard to imagine anybody other than the original band doing it as energetically yet surrealistically hauntingly as this one-off pickup band. Best of all, the entire concert was recorded and has been immortalized on youtube, disc one streaming here and disc two here.

Keyboardist Eric Lipper did a spectacular approximation of Tony Banks at the top of his Terry Reid-like, rippling game while Vince Fairchild added more ambient textures, using a studio’s worth of vintage and near-vintage synth and organ patches. As the set went on, the keyboardists moved around and exchanged roles, notably when Matt Iselin joined the festivities as both third keyboardist and singer. Considering how long ago the album was recorded, with instruments – especially keys – that are now museum pieces, it was amazing how closely the timbres and overall sonics matched up with Genesis’ original. What was even more astonishing was how closely Cowit channeled the young Peter Gabriel’s antagonized bark. But the inclusion of other singers – Iselin doing Anyway with a nonchalant menace, the Trouble Dolls’ Cheri Leone delivering The Lamia with a wounded Marianne Faithfull restraint, and the Sometime Boys’ Sarah Mucho holding Counting Out Time together as the guitars roared and squeaked – added all kinds of unexpected dynamics.

Another playful deviation from the script was the inclusion of John Hockenberry of WNYC’s The Takeaway reading Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between several of the songs. But otherwise, the attention to detail was meticulous: with its endlessly shapeshifting, kaleidoscopic, trippy pastiche of themes, this album is awfully hard to play. Bassist Rob Christiansen cycled through Mike Rutherford’s dizzying lines with a Bach-like precision and a biting, trebly attack amid the bluster, in tandem with nimble drummer Jason Isaac.

Just as the keyboard lines were divided up among a trio of players, Sometime Boys lead guitarist Kurt Leege and his fellow axemen Joe Scatassa and Alan Black shared duties and exchanged roles. Leege played with his signature, instantly recognizable, icily resonant blend of delay and reverb, handling the more resonant parts while Scatassa and Black took turns and occasionally traded off when Steve Hackett’s original lines would hit a snarling, bluesy peak. Meanwhile, Cowit’s vocals were amped well up in the mix so that his take of Gabriel’s frequent lyrical jabs and slashes could resonate. And ultimately, this band literally brought the album to life, revealing it not only as a trip through the underworld and finally out, but one with a vital, rather snide antiwar and antiauthoritarian message. They careened to a close through the incessant flood and drowning metaphors of side four, then kept the triumphant vibe going with a coy encore of I Know What It’s Like (In Your Wardrobe), from the Selling England by the Pound album.

The other bands don’t seem to have any upcoming NYC shows at the moment, but the Sometime Boys are at the Way Station this Friday, Oct 24 at 10, playing two sets. It’s not likely that they’ll cover any of this stuff, but they’re a killer jamband in their own right.

Two Killer Singles and Some Comic Relief

Parsing the torrents of singles and videos that have come over the transom here in search of the very best ones: you’ll see some here every day until the tank is finally empty. Today’s first gem is a ten-minute art-rock epic, Call It Whatever by London band Santa Semeli & the Monks. It starts out like it might be just another moody Radiohead wannabe number, but hang with it as it hits a punk-inspired noir cabaret peak. Lots of eclectic stuff on this same soundcloud page, from quirky postpunk to more ornate material like this.

Joanne Weaver’s Golden Earrings is a luridly Lynchian three-minute masterpiece, torchy Vega noir pop with unexpected sonic flourishes like an eerie guitar track running through a watery Leslie speaker (youtube).

And for some comic relief, what would you think of a reggae song by Oasis? The Jackals offer one possible answer (soundcloud).

Saxophonist Kenny Shanker Nails an Edgy NYC Vibe, With an October 29 Hell’s Kitchen Show

Lots of vivid, frequently edgy, tuneful straight-up New York portraiture on alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker‘s new Posi-Tone album Action City – streaming at Spotify – with Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 29 at 8 PM at the brand new Room 53, 314 W 53rd St. between 8th and 9th Aves.

Everything here centers around a tight piano/sax/bass/drums pulse. The first tune, Times Square is an interesting one – it seems to offer some shelter from the bustling rush hour crowd outside, Eckroth spinning an intricately enticing web away from the driving latin groove until Shanker brings it back with a similarly swirling but more angst-fueled intensity. It paints a good picture, albeit without the sketchy life-size Hello Kittys.

Another Morning is all about urbane chillout swing, Shanker’s carefree vibrato sailing over Eckroth’s precise, purposeful chords and spacious tradeoffs with the drums. This seems to portray the kind of stainless steel counter place where they break out the martinis starting at around noon.

Summer Siesta is a deliciously catchy, biting cha-cha, and not the least bit sleepy. The title track is a brisk stroll, everybody in the band occasionally stepping out of time as we do from time to time on a busy sidewalk: Eckroth’s bluesy, stride-inspired solo is especially choice. Punch isn’t the smackdown you might expect, but a very attractive slow soul groove, Eckroth firing off some tasty blues/gospel licks. Donald Fagen would kill to have written this.

Eckroth stays in the spotlight through the spacious, stately, neoromantically marching Prelude, which gives way to Shadow Dance, a cool jazz waltz where the sax does exactly that to the piano. The most striking track here is Midnight, crescendoing on the wings of some blue-flame eights from Shanker until Eckroth takes it back into the back of the bar where everybody’s still hanging after closing time. Marble Hill offers a no-nonsense but warmly congenial, nocturnal North Bronx tableau – it would have made a good nostalgic tv theme back in the 70s. Tortoise & the Hare scampers along as Shanker and Abe flurry and bob, a contrast with the balmy boudoir ballad Riverbank at Dawn: hey, outdoors is cooler in the summer. Interestingly, Shanker winds up the album with a catchy, dynamically-charged Philly soul groove titled Snow Paws. You don’t have to be a New Yorker (Shanker’s not) to appreciate this. But it helps.