New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

CC Carana Opens a Killer Twinbill Sunday Night at the Treehouse at 2A

Noir songwriter CC Carana opens an excellent twinbill at the Treehouse upstairs at 2A with a rare live performance this Sunday, October 4 at around 9 PM. Reliably charismatic, intense ghoulabilly/Americaa/blues crooner/personality Reid Paley headlines at around 10.

Carana has an intriguing, elegant ep, Maybe Because, streaming at Bandcamp. The opening track, Thank You For Breaking Up With Me sets the stage, a slow, slinky, saloon blues-tinged piano ballad with aching strings, Parker Kindred’s brushy drums and Carana’s sarcastic lyrics. It’s something akin to Tom Waits covering Harry Nilsson.

The second cut, I’m Tired is a gorgeously Lynchian, swaying Nashville noir pop number, Carana’s volume-knob guitar fading up and around Tyler Wood’s eerily twinkly piano. With its eerie slapback guitar and spare drum thud, See You Again goes deep into noir blues shadows, Carana’s melismatic, distantly soul-inspired voice flitting elusively through the melody. Nobody Wants to Die blends the best of the two styles, part Twin Peaks ballad, part doomed blues, a tersely vivid look at a “broken man’s dreams.” The final cut is Still a Clown, a sad, soaring oldschool soul anthem in the 6/8 time signature that Carana likes so much. If dark rock is your thing, this is a show worth coming out for on a Sunday night.

Jenifer Jackson Treats an Intimate New York Crowd to a Rare House Concert

Artists who for better or worse get pigeonholed as singer-songwriters usually don’t have much in the way of instrumental chops. And bands with sizzling instrumentation often don’t have much in the way of lyrics or vocal alchemy. But that’s what Jenifer Jackson brought to a hushed, rapt house concert in comfortable, congenial Upper West Side digs last night. Not that Jackson should be, or for that matter, is somebody who necessarily gets tagged as a singer-songwriter. It makes more sense to call her a magically protean bandleader, whether the band behind her is playing psychedelic rock, bossa jazz-tinged songcraft or newschool honkytonk – or oldschool honkytonk. She also happens to be one of the pioneers of the house concert circuit. This one was a typically eclectic duo performance with Kullen Fuchs, who didn’t bring what might be his best instrument, the vibraphone. But he did bring his guitar, accordion, trumpet, percussion and ukulele and showed off elegantly virtuoso chops on all of them. Is there any instrument this guy can’t play?

Since her cult classic 2000 debut, Slowly Bright, Jackson has been through a million incarnations and these days, rather than settling on Americana, Beatlesque bossa-pop, pastoral psychedelia or C&W, is likely to bust out all of those styles in concert and this was no exception. Her voice was plush and airy, and stronger than ever in the low registers, like Rosanne Cash with a wider sonic palette. These house concerts, she explained, have forced her to come out of her shell onstage, to be the raconteuse and generally hilarious presence that she is once she’s out of the spotlight. So there were a lot of explanations on where and how songs came together, Jackson reminding that nothing in her catalog is what it seems; there are always umpteen levels of meaning. So it was interesting to discover that the windswept, poignantly desolate anthem All Around was not a Gulf Coast tableau but a wintry New England beach scene inspired by a momentary break on Cape Cod during a recent tour, observing a giant predatory bird from just inches away.

The duo did that one on guitar and uke, Jackson artfully shifting the harmonies around: she never plays a song the same way twice. The ballad Heart with a Mind of Its Own, with Fuchs on accordion, became a blend of Kitty Wells C&W seasoned with Tex-Mex flavor – and an unexpected trumpet solo from Fuchs midway through. Likewise, Fuchs matched Jackson’s brooding vocals with his washes of accordion on the bolero-tinged southwestern gothic waltz A Picture of May. They reinvented an old favorite, the Beatlesque, ornate When You Looked At Me, arguably the best cut on Jackson’s full-length debut, as a big twin-guitar anthem. Later the two entertained the crowd with a droll country duet from Jackson’s forthcoming thirteenth (!) album. Guest violinist Claudia Chopek came up to add lush, dynamic textures and vivid solos on a handful of numbers, all the more impressive considering she’d never played with the group. Likewise, a guest flutist added aptly ethereal textures in tandem with Fuchs’ soaring horn on Whole Wide World, a tropical soul number.

As entertaining as the rest of the set was, arguably the best song of the night was a hypnotically dreamy, understatedly plaintive Americana waltz, After the Fall, from Jackson’s 2002 Birds album:

Love is an ocean
Love is a stone
Love is a wish that you make on your own
If all of these ghosts would just leave me alone
I know that I would be free

Can a song get any more universal than that?

Jackson’s current US tour continues; dates are here, with a return hometown show on Oct 21 at 8 PM at Hole in Wall, 2538 Guadalupe in Austin.

A Towering, Exhilarating World Premiere and a Rare Symphonic Gem at This Fall’s First Queensboro Symphony Orchestra Concert

If there was any proof that ordinary New Yorkers, especially those who might not be found at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall that often, are hungry for new orchestral music, Sunday night’s concert on an otherwise ordinary residential block in Flushing was living proof. The Queensboro Symphony Orchestra‘s previous concert, a benefit for Nepal earthquake relief, drew a crowd of at least five hundred people. This particular evening, the orchestra picked up where they left off with a robust, brass-fueled take of Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture. But the two pieces de resistance were both by contemporary composers.

A rarely performed version of James Cohn’s Symphony No. 4 was the first. Conductor Dong-hyun Kim led the ensemble seamlessly through its diverse and erudite blend of idioms, its broodingly nebulous first movement and angst-driven, blustering finale, an evocation of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call this Cohn’s 1812 Overture, although it ends on a somber and distinctly unresolved note. Allusive, wounded, grey-sky cinematics gave way to anxiously tricky metrics and a burst of sudden certainty when all of a sudden the inevitable conclusion presented itself. Cohn is a new discovery for this blog, perhaps better known in Europe than he is here (the Slovak Radio Symphony recently recorded three of his symphonies). His music would enrich a much greater audience.

The concert hit a towering, exhilarating, majestic peak with the world premiere of the symphonic version of Paul Joseph‘s King of the Mask. Originally a piano suite for ballet, the composer takes his inspiration and the work’s title from the series of paintings by visual artist Roman Valdes. Perhaps due to Valdex’ background in puppetmaking, there’s a carnivalesque quality to his work, drawing on 60s psychedelia as much as impressionism, Joseph’s music reflecting the latter a lot more than the former. This magnum opus turned out to be both Joseph’s Pictures at an Exhibition and his Scheherezade, a major work in the neoromantic repertoire that will be performed widely once conductors discover it. It’s a twenty-part series of variations on several cinematic themes. Among them: a heroic overture worthy of Tschaikovsky or Cesar Franck, both crushing and poignant; a balmy, summery pastorale; bitterly moody, Ravel-esque rainscapes; monster-on-the-prowl menace; neblous cloudscapes that grew stormy and ominous; and a lushly swirling climactic theme that will probably get plenty of movie soundtrack action in the years to come. Joseph’s orchestration filled the hall from the murkiest registers of the basses to the very top end of the violins and winds. Joseph accompanied the orchestra on electric keyboard, essentially performing the role of a glockenspiel.

And the spectacle didn’t stop with the music; surprises from dancers and a cameo for singers lept from the far corners of the hall when least expected, to max out the mystery. Joseph, who is the orchestra’s composer in residence, implored the crowd to be still until the suite was over – this ensemble being a rapidly emerging borough institution, this audience knows Joseph’s work and likes it. They finally rewarded the performance with an explosive series of standing ovations. This enterprising and exciting new orchestra’s next performance is on October 25 at 7 PM with a program TBA at at Mary’s Nativity Church, 46-02 Parsons Blvd. (at Holly Ave.) in Flushing. Take the 7 train to Main St. (the last stop) and transfer to the Q27 bus or take a leisurely ten-minute walk to the church through a quiet residential neighborhood. Suggestion donation is $20.