New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: February, 2016

Music Before 1800 Gets Radical

One of the great things about Music Before 1800‘s programming is that it’s not just standard repertoire. Sure, a lot of baroque and early chamber music sounds quaint to us today since it wasn’t written to be anything more than a backdrop for courtly dancing or whatever else the dictators or petty dictators who commissioned it were up to. But a lot of it has as much resonance now as it did then. Last night at the Kosciusko Foundation, violinist Lina Tur Bonet and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss took paradigm shifts from the early 1700s and brought them to life with equal parts adrenaline and meticulousness.

The program was titled “La Petite Merveille and the Red Priest.,” the latter referring to Vivaldi, two of whose dynamic, so-called Graz Sonatas moved seamlessly through graceful, balletesque leaps to gritty, rapidfire riffage, Weiss providing a steady, purposeful safety net beneath Bonet’s charges through volleys of sixteenth notes and biting minor-key cadenzas.

As exciting as all that was, the pieces de resistance were two similarly dynamic works by pioneering French composer Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, who was given her marvelous little nickname by Louis XIV. Beyond the challenge of being a woman composer of concert music in a field that was a a thousand times more of a boys’ club then than it is today, she singlehandedly introduced the Italian sonata form and its virtuoso playing to French court music, and in the process transformed it. That it took such an outsider to pull off that feat has many implications for royalty of the era.

The duo first played her Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, possibly dating from as early as 1695. From its plaintive, moody adagio introduction, throgh fascinatingly fugal, waltzing counterpoint, a handful of strikingly rapidfire passages for Bonet to relish, and a bitingly edgy coda, it was a radical piece of music for its era. There was somewhat less bite but no less innovation in the alternatively wistful, pensive and eventually triumphant variations in Jacquet’s Sonata No. 4 in G Major, which the two performed after a voluptuous yet precisely considered Weiss interpretation of Louis Marchand’s Suite in D Minor for solo harpsichord.

Weiss also put a close spotlight on the intricacies and playful japes in a quartet of solo harpsichord sonatas by Scarlatti. It’s one thing to multitask with this kind of music in the background: up close in concert, it was impossible not to be surprised and tickled by the composer’s occasional use of modern-sounding close harmonies, or the irrepressible humor that bubbled throughout Sonata K. 56. The duo encored with a brief Bach piece that sent the crowd downstairs to the after-show reception with a pre-party nocturnal glimmer.

In addition to their pretty-much-monthly series of concerts by top-tier choral ensembles, Music Before 1800 sometimes features rare treasures and familiar favorites from the chamber repertoire. Their next concert at the Kosciusko Foundation is on March 3 at 7 PM, featuring rising star Beiliang Zhu playing all six Bach Suites for Solo Cello.

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Erudite, Cleverly Catchy Rockers Regular Einstein Open a Great Bill at Cake Shop on the 24th

Regular Einstein are the kind of band whose albums you listen to for the lyrics. Frontwoman Paula Carino can’t resist a double entendre or a hilariously snarky pun, as you might expect from a band with such a sarcastic name: these people aren’t dummies. You can’t help but wonder how many fans of, say, the Joy Formidable or for that matter the Pretenders or the Distillers would put Regular Einstein in rotation if they knew the band existed. And as good as their lyrics are, they’re the kind of act you go see live because of the tunes…and for Carino’s coolly modulated, plush vocals. They’re opening an excellent night of music on February 20 at 8 PM at Cake Shop, with the amazingly eclectic, kinetically psychedelic, occasionally haunting Sometime Boys headlining at 10.

The last time this blog caught Regular Einstein in action, they were at Rock Shop the last time the Mets won a game, opening for another brilliantly lyrical band, Lazy Lions. Onstage, they have an enigmatically scruffy look that goes back to their late 90s origins. Drummer Nancy Polstein, probably the most eclectic of the bunch, can play anything and has: Britfolk, garage rock and Americana, among other styles. Likewise, lead guitarist Dave Benjoya, whose credits span from punk to Middle Eastern and Balkan-influenced sounds. Bassist Andy Mattina comes out of a jamband background, while Carino, the youngest of the bunch, draws on punk and new wave but also indie rock.

This time out was a loud, hard-hitting show, Carino stage left rather than front and center, projecting with more vocal power and bite than usual. Benjoya had centerstage and made the most of it, with a gritty roar and lead lines that wove and dipped between no wave skronk, slashing bluesy licks and ominous chromatics over Polstein’s elegant tumble and drive and Mattina’s growling, gravel-toned riffage, like a second lead guitarist rising from the lower depths.

One of the highlights of the show was a steady, stalking version of Robots Helping Robots. What becomes clear in this Twilight Zone rock tale is that these helpful beings or quasi-beings might have a slightly different agenda. The best song of the night was The Good Times, which the band elevated from a brooding 6/8 anthem into an angst-fueled Romany-rock waltz, Carino singing low and wounded, looking back on a long-gone era when “All we wanted was love.” As the set went on, briskly pulsing major-key verses hit uneasy minor-key choruses, or vice versa, Benjoya sometimes skeletal, sometimes roaring, Mattina keeping the cinders burning underneath. All this is just part of what the band will bring to the stage next week.

It wouldn’t be fair to mention Regular Einstein’s set without including the headliner at that October show, new wave rockers Lazy Lions, who managed to lure most of the Mets crowd back downstairs for an edgy, lyrically-driven set of their own. Frontman/keyboardist Jim Allen sang with a mattter-of-fact, Graham Parker-esque blue-eyed soul delivery and played slinky, tersely tuneful organ over bassist Anne-Marie Stehn’s pulsing new wave, Motown and reggae-inflected grooves. Guitarist Robert Sorkin gave the group a burning, blues-infused backdrop, often taking a handoff from Allen for all-too-brief, incisive solos.

He brought to mind Keith Richards’ uneasy chord-chopping on Rock in a Hard Place on the opening number. A little later, he and Allen hit an more forceful update on an Elvis Costello Watching the Detectives style interlude midway through the vengeful kiss-off anthem Susannah Rachel. .From there they deftly blended hints of XTC, Antmusic, oldschool soul and Let It Be era Beatles into their brisk, scampering new wave tunes, suspenseful minor-key verses rising to catchy, anthemic choruses and turnarounds. The slowest, most wistful song of the night was the most soul-inflected, a new one titled Liverpool Is Leaving You Behind. The catchiest grew out of hints of dub to a snarling chorus fueled by Sorkin’s phaser guitar. They closed with a characteristically sardonic, self-effacing one, Magellan in Reverse. Lazy Lions don’t play a lot of shows, but when they do, they always pick a good bill to play on and this was no exception.

Seraphic Fire Deliver Thrills and Transcendence at Trinity Church

That the Mozart Requiem wasn’t the centerpiece of the program last night at Trinity Church speaks to the ambition of conductor Patrick Dupre Quigley and the transformative brilliance of his choir, Seraphic Fire. The sixteen-piece ensemble put on a virtuosic display of vocal prowess and daunting extended technique, not for the sake of show but for emotional impact. The sold-out crowd – comprising all ages and pretty much every demographic that exists in this multicultural city – rewarded them with a series of standing ovations.

Quigley programmed the Mozart as a coda, including new material by Gregory Spears, replacing the three next-to-last segments originally cobbled together by Franz Sussmayr in the wake of Mozart’s death. On one hand, this was as much of stretch for the audience as it was for the emsemble. Sure, singers on as elite a level as this crew are expected to shift on a dime between very diverse idioms, but there was definitely some gearshifting going on as the group – backed elegantly by chamber ensemble the Sebastians – voiced Spears’ minimalistic and frequently challenging variations on comfortably post-baroque Mozart riffs. Spears didn’t follow Mozart’s eighteenth century tonalities for long, but he did stay true to the original thematically, moving between stately waltz time, lustrous washes of sound and plaintively prayerful interludes. Since the Requiem is an incomplete work – if you include all the repetition, only about twenty percent of it is original Mozart – lots of composers have taken up the challenge of wrapping it up. Quigley encouraged the crowd to see this new version as a requiem in the broad sense of the word, a memorial service open to those who need to contribute and share

Interestingly, Quigley didn’t direct the Mozart portions of the work as a mighty, all-stops-out tour de force as choirs tend to do. Instead, he led the group on a matter-of-fact build through sorrow and wistfulness to the fullscale angst of where Mozart realizes that this is finally it.

The rest of the program was sublime. The choir opened with Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, its enveloping, misty textures and endless washes of sustain showcasing the singers’ seemingly effortless command of circular breathing. Baroque composer Heinrich Schutz’s Selig, Sind die Toten, with its striking balance of celestial highs and pillowy lows, made an apt segue with Mendelssohn’s Richte Mich, Gott, considering how much its early Romantic composer drew on Schutz’s forward-thinking orchestration. The group channeled the same kind of confident ebullience and optimism that characterize Mendelssohn’s organ works.

Throughout the terse, nebulously minimalist variations on simple, baroque motives in a new arrangement of Ingram Marshall’s Hymnodic Delays – originally written for vocal quartet and loops rather than a full sixteen-piece ensemble – the group foreshadowed what they’d do with Spears’ work a little later. And soprano Molly Quinn made the most of her flickering and then soaringly riveting appearances in front of the choir, in and out of Dominick DiOrio’s I Am, a prayerfully-tinged, bittersweet launching pad for her literally spine-tingling flights to the upper registers as it wound up on an optimistic note. Seraphic Fire return to Trinity Church on April 20 at 7:30 PM with a performance of Brahms’ German Requiem.

Villa Delirium Play Creepy Music on a Creepy Night

Villa Delirium hit the stage with a little Appalachian gothic and a lot of noir cabaret early on Valentine’s evening. It was an aptly creepy show on a day that always threatens to get creepy the later you stay out, if you end up secondguessing your better judgment. Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday this year was probably a plus. And the show was at Barbes, as good a choice as any when it comes to getting away from creeps in Brooklyn these days.

Villa Delirium don’t play live very much, maybe because bandleader/multi-instrumentalist John Kruth is busy with kitchen-sink Middle Eastern/Central Asian jamband Tribecastan. Or because he’s also a writer: his next project chronicles the recording of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. So this was a rare opportunity to catch the group’s sardonically sinister sound. Singing saw player Tine Kindermann channeled shivery, sepulchraly keeningl textures and sang with a nonchalantly crystalline intensity.

One of her most interesting numbers was Marie, a dramatically waltzing cabaret number chronicling the colorful, globe-trotting life of Mme. Marie Tussaud, whose adventures ran far afield of the wax kind. A grisly tribute to the original Paris Grand Guignol (which Kindermann mispronounced) was even more dramatic. She teamed with Kruth for a Berthold Brecht uumber set to the tune of old English ballad. Later they did a song based on the first half of a Grimms’ fairy tale – “Class warfare between the sexes,” as Kruth put it, in this case a woodsman who draws the line when the mistress of the house demands special favors.

Percussionist Steve Bear – whose kit was built from pots and pans – got up and sang a sarcastic faux doo-wop number based on the Sisyphus myth. Asked by someone in the crowd if it would be a happy song, the drummer replied, “This song’s about life in hell.” Nobody questioned if The Simpsons’ mainman Matt Groening was an inspiration. Bass clarinetist Doug Wieselman played slinky basslines for the most part while keyboardist Kenny Margolis switched with split-second precision between accordion, luridly tremoloing funeral organ and piano. Meanwhile, Kruth alternahed between banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar.

The funniest song of the night was an older one he’d written about Donald Trump, reminding that the old blowhard hasn’t changed much since his developer dad hooked him up with tax breaks for his architectural ego-stroking. Another funny one was Kindermanns’s Nyet Is All You’ll Ever Get, a Russian folksong parody with plenty of political resonance. Eventually, they went completely over the top with a boisterous barrelhouse piano number, Turning up the Burners in Satan’s Steakhouse. Villa Delirium don’t seem to have any upcoming gigs at the moment; when they play, they’re usually either here or at Joe’s Pub.

Two Shows in a Week From One of New York’s Most Individualistic, Entertaining Bands

It’s hard to think of a New York band with a more original, distinctive sound than the Sometime Boys. They can do straight-up funk, or country, or elegant chamber pop or wildly guitar-fueled psychedelia, but they’re more likely to combine all those styles. With her full-throttle, brassy alto voice and sardonic sense of humor, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho is a charismatic presence in front of the band, but the whole group – lead guitarist Kurt Leege, bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit – have sizzling chops as well. They’ve got a couple of shows coming up, the first at 9:30 PM on Friday the 19th at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, then they’re headlining at 10 PM at Cake Shop on an excellent billwith Paula Carino’s similarly lyrical, intensely catchy Regular Einstein opening the night at 8.

This blog most recently caught the Sometime Boys at Freddy’s on a Friday night right around Thanksgiving. They opened on an Americana soul tip with a funky beat, Leege flicking off some warm vintage Memphis licks as the song wound up. The next number’s playful hook brought to mind the Grateful Dead circa 1969; the band hit a more straightforward dance-rock pulse as Mucho’s voice soared to the rafters, Leege taking an all-too-brief, bluesy solo that suddenly veered off in a much darker direction before Mucho came back in to brightened things up. Later in the set, they again brought to mind the Dead, this time at that band’a early 80s peak.

Cowit drove the band’s cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a jaunty New Orleans second-line bounce, O’Connell taking a solo over Leege’s ragtime-flavored licks, the violinist from the Philly bluegrass band who opened the show (and were excellent) invited up to add a lively one of her own. From there the band went in a more enigmatically dynamic direction with the title track to their latest album, Riverbed and then a scratchy no wave funk number, Leege building an echoey vortex of reverb that he finally pulled out of with a shriek at the top of the fretboard.

Mucho and Cowit duetted on a droll bluegrass-flavored take of the big crowd favorite Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies and then really got the crowd going with their version of Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad. Not even counting the covers, this band has a lot more material than what’s on their three albums, and they brought back an enigmatically resonant dancefloor vibe with the set’s next song.

The night’s most intense number was also the quietest one. The Great Escape. Cowit built gentle clouds of mist with his cymbals as Mucho pulled back and let her haunting lyrics speak for themselves throughout this elegantly gospel-tinged chronicle of a late-night suicide. One of the closing tunes was an epic take of the Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post that went on for at least ten minutes, Leege finally hitting his distortion pedal for his most volcanically angst-fueled solo of the night. These are just some of the flavors the band might bring to the stage in Bushwick and on their old turf on the Lower East.

A Monstrously Intense, Reverb-Drenched Album and a Greenpoint Show by Twin Guns

Twin Guns play some of the most deliciously menacing music of any band in New York. Their third album The Last Picture Show is streaming at Bandcamp. They’ve got a show coming up on February 24 at 8 PM at the Good Room, 98 Meserole St. (Manhattan/Lorimer), cattycorner from the Greenpoint YMCA. The closest train is the G to Nassau; you can also walk from the L at Bedford. Cover is $6

Frontman Andrea Sicco plays with as much or maybe more reverb than any other New York guitarist. The eleven tracks here range from horror surf, to stomping Cramps garage punk, to the occasional departure into 60s biker rock and snatches of film noir themes. The opening track, Temperature Rise has a pummeling monsterwalk groove – supplied by drummer “Jungle Jim” Chandler, whose credits include playing with the Cramps – over which Sicco layers chainsaw fuzztone riffage, a handful of spare, neat trumpet voicings and bloody, teardrop blue notes.

Fugitive cascades from a mean pickslide into a fuzzed-out attack, the early MC5 stampeding across the Great Plains, with a couple of savagely tasty horror surf interludes. Much as that band would frequently do, The First Time builds out of a vintage funk riff and makes a Frankenstein stomp out of it with tinges of ghoulabilly.

Over steady macabre sway with hints of Syd Barrett and twelve-string Laurel Canyon psychedelia, Johnny’s Dead tells the sad tale of a really popular guy who still managed to end up cold and blue in the back of a car. You might think that a song titled Maniac would be a fullscale rampage, but this one has a slow menace in the same vein as the Stooges’ Gimme Danger.

Twin Guns’ cover of Harlem Nocturne, the Duke Ellington classic reinvented as a surf tune by the Champs and the Ventures, moves like a trickle of blood down a slope, slowly congealing amid Sicco’s measured chordal blasts and shivery surf lines. The wall of reverb-tank noise that opens Trigger Jack hints that it’s going to go in a bludgeoning Link Wray direction, but instead Sicco takes it into creepy border rock, like Radio Birdman covering Calexico, up to a long, murderously sunbaked guitar solo. It’s arguably the album’s best song.

Living in a Dream has a chugging riff-rock pulse and echoingly sinister, lingering Coffin Daggers sonics. With its briskly hypnotic new wave groove, the wickedly catchy Now I Understand sounds like a mashup of Brian Jonestown Massacre and the MC5. The final cut is the title track, a slow, sad, Lynchian doo-wop ballad spun through a million doomed layers of reverb…and then it morphs into a lurid ba-bump noir cabaret-tinted sway. Compared to the band’s previous work, this is somewhat more bulked up – the addition of bassist Kristin Fayne-Mulroy was a subtle but important one for their sound. This would qualify as one of the best albums of 2016 except that it came out last year…and ended up on the best of 2015 page.

A Gorgeously Jangly Paisley Underground Rock Masterpiece from Girls on Grass

The first thing that hits you right off the bat about Girls on Grass‘ debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – is the guitars. Two Telecasters, one in the left channel, one in the right, with multitracks in various places. Barbara Endes and Sean Eden’s playing is judicious, wickedly smart, purist and catchy as hell. There’s fifty years of Americana and tasteful, jangly rock in those matter-of-factly measured changes, and long crescendos, and solos that could go on for twice as long and you’d still want more. Girls on Grass know to always leave you wanting something else.

Girls on Grass play what was called “paisley underground” back in the 80s. Blending the twang of Bakersfield country, the insistent chordal pulse of the Velvet Underground and the electric blaze of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, bands like Steve Wynn‘s Dream Syndicate, True West and Green on Red earned a devoted fan base on college radio and in sweaty clubs across the country, and, soon after, around the world. Girls on Grass work that turf with a tightness and tersely imaginative ferocity that would have made them stars in that demimonde. Who knows, if we’re lucky other bands will hear them and we’ll get a paisley underground revival. They’re playing February 19 at Matchless in Williamsburg at 10 PM; cover is $10

The album’s opening track, Father Says Why is a plainspoken young rocker’s escape anthem with a spiraling, hair-raising solo filled with eerie bends over a a tight rhythm section. Too Pretty bounces along on an altered Bo Diddley beat before it straightens out at the chorus, Endes’ narrator broke and brooding over a girl she’s got a crush on…but that girl’s from New York, and gorgeous, and probably out of reach.

What They Wrought looks at the sheer force it takes to build a city…and that the talent and energy that went into building this one will probably never be repeated. The clanging, spiraling solos and contrast between the guitars in each channel has a similar craft and majesty. The band slows it down a little with Fair, a swaying C&W ballad: “I’ll take what comfort I can get, real or imagined,” the sad girl in the story admits.

Drowning in Ego opens and closes with a scampering Tex-Mex flair over drummer Nancy Polstein’s hard-hitting 2/4 stomp and another searing guitar solo midway through. The vindictive When the Pleasure Ends is a dead ringer for the Dream Syndicate (with a woman out front); the way the unhinged lead line slowly pulls away from the center is nothing short of delicious. The twin solo after that’s as tasty as it is intricate, too.

Pissin’ Down a Road starts off as a chain gang song and then hits a gorgeously hypnotic post-Velvets groove, spiced with lingering guitar flickers; it doesn’t even change chords til the turnaround into the second chorus. The way the second guitar echoes the first is an especially neat trick. The nonchalantly savage Return to Earth is another Dream Syndicate soundalike with its multi-channeled jangle and clang, Dave Mandl’s bass finally bubbling over the roar and crash as the song winds up to a mighty peak.

Karen Waltuch’s spare viola enhances the country sway of How Does It Feel. Dave We Love You sends a brisk electric bluegrass shout-out to a guy who “carries twenty film critic books under his arm….someday you’ll teach at NYU.” The final track, with its hints of Hendrix and gospel, is the 6/8 ballad One of the Guys, a fond nod back at someone who was a needed, steadying influence on a rugged individualist during her confused adolescence. There hasn’t been an album in this style of music this good since another band with girls in their name, Girls Guns & Glory, put out theirs in 2014. Like that one a couple of years ago, this is an early contender for best rock record of 2016.

Sometimes You Can’t Catch a Break, Sometimes You Can

The man in the long black coat stood alone, or so he thought, over the kitchen table, chomping on a plate of spicy Russian beet salad. He took a pull from a plastic cup of beaujolais nouveau. This year’s wasn’t anything special, nothing like the 2003, for that matter not even up to the level of 2008, at least this particular bottle. But enough of it still did the trick, just as it did in better years. In the living room, a pretty young mother played a Bach cello sonata, calmly and comfortably, to the small crowd of guests who remained at that late hour: her parents, a yoga girl and her dreadlocked white boyfriend, a petite, bookish brunette from Park Slope and her intense-faced, solidly built, bearded companion.

In the kitchen, the man in the long black coat turned around to see the woman’s reedy, bespectacled ten-year-old son staring at him. “Come here, there’s something I want to show you,” the boy urged him, the hint of a smile at the corners of his thin lips. He was small for his age, especially in profile against the fat, freckled, autistic girl who lingered in the doorway behind him.

The man in the long black coat took another pull from the cup and followed the children into an adjacent bedroom. Paint chips fell from the far wall, behind a leather reclining chair, a dartboard overhead. “Sit down,” encouraged the boy. “Everybody I do this to likes it.’

The man in the long black coat sat down slowly and leaned back. His head was driven further into the headrest when struck from behind, in the center of his forehead, with a sharp object. The man in the long black coat gasped and was just starting to pull himself out of the chair when struck a second time. This time the boy drew blood: for someone his size, he was strong, and on a mission to inflict pain. In the corner, the autistic girl began howling with laughter. The man in the long black coat pulled himself to his feet, but not in time to avoid being hit again, a glancing blow to the side of the head. That, too, drew blood.

Jarred from a red wine haze, the man in the long black coat moved out of the bedroom quickly, not looking back. The girl in the corner was still laughing, and by now the boy was giggling as well. The man in the long black coat saw a bathroom to his right and closed the door behind him. Droplets of blood trickled down the worn but now adrenalized face in the mirror. He reached for a piece of toilet paper, then thought better of it and pulled a napkin from his coat pocket. Gingerly, he blotted at his wounds.

He walked out into the hallway. The mother’s parents were there, glanced up and said nothing. The mother, behind them, did the same. No reaction, no offer of a band-aid, peroxide, even a simple “Are you ok?”

The man in the long black coat walked past them, toward the door, then stepped out into the cold Brighton Beach air. It was best to be out of this house of no empathy. Was this a ritual from the old country? A game to initiate outsiders? What would happen if he returned? Would he be skewered, eaten with beets and horseradish? Questions best left unanswered. He looked up, blinking the blood from his eyes as a B train rumbled into the station overhead.

The following night, the man in the long black coat reached the exit at the top of the stairs to the IRT local train at Broadway and 66th, the affectingly bittersweet, minor-key strains of what could have been an old Ukrainian Jewish song but was probably an original drifting from a couple of blocks south. Carefully, he adjusted the old black Mets hat over the wounds under the bandage.

A crowd of Jews were gathered in front of a Christmas tree near the point of the park where Columbus and Broadway cross at 63rd. The band onstage in front of them was fantastic: Alicia Svigals out front on violin, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Aaron Alexander on drums. The man in the long black coat didn’t recognize the bass player. Was this a comfortably typical New York moment or a subtle bit of subversion? What does it say about how far we’ve come that such a sight could be subversive in a city that at least on the surface seems to embrace so many cultures?

The man in the long black coat paused. This music was beautiful, and soul-stirring, a moment of comfort and warmth on an early winter night. But that’s not what he was there for. Halfheartedly, he moved ahead, south and west. Inside the Lincoln Center atrium space, with its desk for cheap day-of-show tickets and sandwich stand emanating smells of burnt cheese and sandwich meat, Fela cover band Chop & Quench were amassed onstage, ready to launch into a slinking, galloping set of Nigerian stoner dance grooves from the 1970s. An altogether different vibe from what was being played outside, notwithstanding that Afrobeat and Ukrainian Jewish music share a defiance and resilience.

Chop & Quench were the pit band for the Broadway musical Fela, arguably the most relevant production to appear on the Great White Way. The man in the long black coat was aware of this, but this show was all about the music. He leaned against the atrium wall, watching frontman Sahr Ngaujah, who starred as the Nigerian agitator bandleader in the theatrical run, spun and pounced across the stage, a trio of brightly skirted women to his right undulating along with the grooves spinning from Tim Allen’s bass and Greg Gonzalez’s drums. Guitarists Ricardo Quinones and Bryan Vargas clinked and jangled and mingled, trumpeter Jeff Pierce and tenor saxophonist Morgan Price taking the occasional long crescendo upward with a rapidfire solo.

Although the long rectangular room was pretty full, there weren’t many people dancing. After awhile, it was as if the band was playing a single, long song. After about forty minutes, they finally hit a snarling minor-key riff and launched into Water No Get Enemy, an aptly relevant number for this era. That was enough for the man in the long black coat, who exited back onto Broadway. Were the Jewish bands still playing? Yes!

Onstage now were trumpeter Frank London, accordionist Lorin Sklamberg and pianist Uri Caine, two thirds of the original New York punk klezmer band, the Klezmatics. “We may be in Manhattan, but this show is all about Brooklyn,” London grinned, explaining how much of their repertoire they’d discovered hanging with a Hasidic crowd there. Together they followed the rises and falls of a set of dances, a stately, cantorially-flavored hymn for peace and finally a droll, jazzed-up version of the dreydl song – it was Hanukkah season, after all. Violist Ljova Zhurbin came up onstage and added an acerbic edge for a couple of numbers; London encouraged him to stay for more, but he obviously had other places to be.

The man in the long black coat spotted Zhurbin’s wife, the great Yiddish singer Inna Barmash, in the audience. She smiled and waved; the man in the long black coat waved back. He looked up at the big evergreen behind the stage, festooned with ornaments, then at the lights twinkling down the avenue. In the austere washes of the accordion, London’s balmy trumpet and Caine’s careful, focused, sometimes darkly bluesy phrases, it was easy to call this home, good to be alone in the crowd.

Bridget Kibbey and the Amphion String Quartet Battle the Elements and Come Up with a Win

A gusty, unexpectedly chilly February night in a boomy, barewalled basement-level public space hardly makes for optimum conditions for an up-and-coming string quartet to debut their new collaboration with a similarly irrepressible, cutting-edge concert harpist. But Bridget Kibbey and the Amphion String Quartet – violinists Katie Hyun and David Southorn, violist Wei-Yang Andy Lin and cellist Mihai Marica – defied the elements and made a strong impression Tuesday night, notwithstanding the gusts of wind, ganja smoke and a hi-tech coffeemaker working hard in the background during quieter moments. Kibbey took it all in stride, no surprise considering that she made her way up with shows in rock clubs and loft spaces, and the quartet were just as game. Watching them pull everything together made the prospect of seeing them in more comfortable surroundings all the more enticing.

Hyun wore knitted armwarmers for the first number, Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in F Minor, BWV 1036. She took them off afterward – playing first-chair violin, you work up a sweat even if it’s cold. Meanwhile, Kibbey negotiated the composer’s rapidfire runs with a harpsichord’s precise, even articulation, hardly an easy task. The group followed with a nimble execution of Debussy’s Danses Sacree et Profane with a dynamic performance from stately gamelan-inspired phrasing to more kinetic, traditionally western ballet territory.

For whatever reason, the one piece that seemed the hardest to tackle under the circumstances was its least challenging one, Haydn’s String Quartet, Op. 77, No. 1. As Hyun told the crowd, she was happy it “made the cut” for the program, maybe just under the wire, because the group had to battle their way into the graceful opening movement before coming together with an energetically friendly chemistry as the piece rose and fell, spiced with bits of humor and drollery in the same vein as early Beethoven. As Hyun explained, this made sense considering that the quartet was published just a year after Beethoven’s first, a point where there was about to be a changing of the guard…but Haydn wasn’t going to let it happen, at least not yet.

It would seem that the stoners in the house, or outside of the house would have been most entranced by the circling riffage of the Bach or the elegant maze of counterpoint in the Haydn, but instead it was the murderously acidic danse macabre of Andre Caplet’s Conte Fantastique that got them huffing and puffing. The piece follows the narrative of Edgar Allen Poe’s Mask of the Red Death, a cruelly populist parable that in the age of ebola scares seems especially relevant. Southorn took over first violin part as the group lept and bounded while Death skulked in the background and then tiptoed in over the castle walls. After the bloodbath subsided, the ensemble took it out on an aptly sepulchral note.

This concert was staged by the Concert Artists Guild, whose raison d’etre is to springboard the careers of up-and-coming artists. One especially enticing upcoming CAG-sponsored bill is at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall on March 22 at 7:30 PM, where trumpeter Brandon Ridenour, pianist Rachel Kudo and the ensemble Useful Chamber perform works by Gershwin, Ravel, Debussy, Paganini, Bartok, Saint-Saens and Vivaldi.

Playful, Purist Romantic Charm from Sarah King & the Smoke Rings

To what degree are Sunday and Monday the new Friday and Saturday night? To the extent that those first two days are when the spoiled children of the rich and larcenous are too tuckered out – poor things! – to party like it’s 1929, that’s as close as it gets to New York being trust fund kid-free. And if you’re one of the increasing number who’ve taken shelter behind locked doors on the weekend, by the time Monday rolls around, you’re ready to step out. One ongoing Monday night option you might consider, if you’re in an adventurous mood and willing to step into a world where you’d most likely never go otherwise, is charming swing quartet Sarah King & the Smoke Rings‘ weekly 7 PM Monday night residency at the 18th floor bar at the Standard Hotel at 848 Washington St just south of 13th.

The band’s debut album is streaming at Spotify. Most of the songs are standards, done very low-key and purposefully without a lot of gratuitous…anything. Everything counts, even the solos, and King pays a lot of attention to the content of the lyrics when it counts, employing an expressive, sometimes quirky high soprano. The opening track, Tea for Two is one part Lady Day, two parts Blossom Dearie, and the piano matches (and drolly foreshadows) King’s low-key playfulness. The frontwoman adds a touch of sardonic brassiness to the propulsively shuffling Jersey Bounce: intentional or not, its entreaty to party across the Hudson is all too tempting given what’s happened to Manhattan and Brooklyn. Bassist Scott Ritchie’s strolling solo keeps the tongue-in-cheek vibe on the straight and narrow.

I Won’t Dance pairs King’s chirpy vocals against pianist Alex Levin’s stride-influenced lines as Ritchie walks insistently over drummer Ben Cliness’ precisely circling brushwork. Smoke Rings offers an aptly misty nod to the Billie Holiday version of I Cover the Waterfront, matched by King’s most wistfully impressionistic vocals here.

The tiptoeing vocal take of Caravan here looks back less to an Ellington band version than, maybe, the Ventures, considering the tightly wound, nimble tom-tom intro. Some Other Spring gets a purposeful, optimistic interpretation; it has an Ain’t Misbehaving feel to it until Levin takes over with his judiciously considered solo, shifting the song into more enigmatic territory.

King gets unexpectedly blue and then sunny in a flash when the band leaps in halfway through the first verse of Our Love Is Here to Say, Levin adding a no-nonsese, bluesy solo. I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do) follows the same pattern but without the a-cappella intro. The album winds up with a gently swaying take of Up a Lazy River that the band suddenly takes warpspeed. It’s good advertising for the residency. The quartet plays facing the oval bar in the middle of the room, amplified but not too loud. There are a couple of banks of tables and a banquette around the corner from the little stage if you’d rather be less conspicuous, drift back to a New York that time forgot and cast your gaze across the river to pretty much the same thing that Jersey sees when they look back.