Botanica Piano Mastermind Paul Wallfisch Wraps Up a Magic Week in Lefferts Gardens Tonight

by delarue

Botanica pianist and bandleader Paul Wallfish is wrapping up his weeklong stand at the charmingly lowlit, inviting new Owl in Lefferts Gardens tonight at 8. All week long, he’s been revisiting both the darkly irrepressible spirit as well as some of the best acts who played his legendary weekly Small Beast night on the Lower East from 2009 through late 2011. Tonight’s headliner is Patti Smith lead guitar legend Lenny Kaye.

Wallfisch’s solo set last night was about as far from Botanica’s usual fanged intensity as you can possibly imagine. Instead, he treated a silent, rapt house to a gentle, low-key set of covers, other than Botanica’s quietest ballad, For Love. He opened that one with a single stygian chord,, letting it resonate from the house’s concert grand piano for what seemed like a minute or two before launching into the first verse. In its own plainspoken, knowing way, the song left no doubt that we are on the eve of a new Romantic era. When Facebook Modernism is going down with all hands on deck, too-cool-for-school is dead in the water and Bernie Sanders looks like our next President,  to “trade it all in for love” seems awfully logical.

The covers were as eclectic as you would expect from someone with as deep an address book as Wallfisch owns. The first was a radically rearranged number by one of the artists who’d played during the residency, a playful ballad built around a Freudian driving metaphor. From a tenderly graceful, elegaic take of Lou Reed’s Turning Time Around, Wallfisch tacked a distantly Asian-tinged intro onto an early 70s Jacques Brel ballad, following a little later with a rollicking ragtime version of the Kinks’ Complicated Life. The rest of the set ran the gamut from a broodingly  modal, Messiaenic Nature Boy to Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, reinvented as a jaunty strut.

From there the night took a turn into Angelo Badalamenti/David Lynch noir, Pete Simonelli supplying tersely mysterious spoken word against a surrealistic, windswept backdrop, Wallfisch’s spare piano anchored by Swans bassist Algis Kizys’ eerie harmonics and lingering washes of sound and And the Wiremen‘s Lynn Wright adding a terse menace over John Bollinger’s similarly resonant vibraphone and percussion. Then up-and-coming jazz singer Joanna Wallfisch (third cousin, twice removed, to the night’s impresario) followed with a dynamic duo set in tandem with bassist Pablo Menares. They opened with an expansive, misterioso version of Jimmy Rowles’ jazz epic The Peacocks. Then Wallfisch picked up her ukulele and led the pair through a series of lively, bittersweet originals before switching to piano and raising the dramatic intensity.

Guitarist Dan Kaufman was slated to play a rare duo set with his Barbez bandmate Bollinger afterward, as they did at BC Studios earlier this year. Sorry to miss you guys; hopefully catch you next time, possibly here. Speaking of which, the venue is welcoming and comfortable. It’s sort of a cross between Barbes and the Jalopy, New York’s two best venues. It’s smaller than the Jalopy, and a tad more brightly lit, with more pristine sonics than Barbes. And the crowd last night really came to listen. The next intriguing show here is on April 14 at 9:30 PM with Dawn of Midi’s Amino Belyamani joining forces with oudist Brahim Fribgane  for a night of North African and Middle Eastern sounds.