New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: August, 2016

Erudite Piano Luminary Fred Hersch Winds Up His Stand at an Iconic Spot Tonight

August in New York: what a beautiful time to be here, isn’t it? Sure, it’s hot, but the hordes of recent invaders have all gone off to the Hamptons, or wherever they stash their inheritances – or simply back to mom and dad in Bloomfield Hills or Lake Oswego. It didn’t used to be this way; then again, it didn’t used to be this hot. Let’s enjoy it while we can, shall we? For those of us in the mood to revel in a cosmopolitan Old New York experience, pianist Fred Hersch is winding up his stand at the Village Vanguard tonight, August 21 with his long-running trio, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Sets are at 8:30 and 10:30 PM; cover is $30 and includes a drink; today being Sunday, there won’t be the usual crowds of tourists making their pilgrimage here

Hersch’s aptly titled latest album is Sunday Night at the Vanguard (due out momentarily and therefore not yet at Spotify). It’s a similarly lyrical follow-up to his lavish 2012 Alive at the Vanguard double album. This one is as perennially fresh, and bursting with joie de vivre, and spontaneity, and erudition as anything the guy’s ever recorded. Even in the most rigorous, uppermost echelons of jazz, Hersch’s craftsmanship stands out. Is he a NEA Jazz Master yet? OK, he’s still a little young for that.

That this album is a typical Hersch performance, not just in terms of the track-by-track, speaks to that. Hersch’s trio has a rare chemistry that reflects years of long nights on the road as well as its interweave of personalities, Hersch both sage and wit, Hebert the freewheeling groovemeister and McPherson the king of subtlety. The three ease their way in with a midtempo take of a rare Rodgers and Hammerstein number, A Cockeyed Optimist; McPherson’s almost impreceptibly crescendoing shuffle drive is fascinating to hear unfolding. Likewise, his misterioso cymbal bell intro, in tandem with Hersch’s minimalist misterioso approach, ramps up the suspense on the evening’s first original, Serpentine, an intricately interwoven portrait of an enigmatic Ornette Coleman associate, part Monk, part baroque, with a ghostly bass-and-drums interlude at the center..

The Optimum Thing also echoes Monk, Hersch putting an uneasily playful spin on a series of Irving Berlin changes, an acerbically swinging blend of quaint and off-center; how well the pianist manages to disguise what his bandmates are up to is pricelessly funny. Calligram (for Benoit Delbecq), a shout-out to his individualistic French colleague pairs the steady, starlit anchor of the bass and drums against Herseh’s occasionally wry, deep-space explorations. Then the three pick up the pace again with the tersely catchy, allusively latin-tinged postbop of Blackwing Palomino.

Hersch slows down the Beatles’ For No One to reveal its inner cavatina, then makes an eerily stairstepping music-box theme out of it. The three do Kenny Wheeler’s Everybody’s Song But My Own as a jaunty, pointillistic, altered cha-cha, then give Jimmy Rowles’ gothic jazz favorite The Peacocks an epic, dynamically shifting intensity, from the bandleader’s moody solo intro to a white-knuckle intensity over Hebert’s stern pulse. The trio close the set by swinging through the almost cruel, knowing ironies of Monk’s We See. The encore is a solo take of Hersch’s favorite closing. bemedictine ballad, Valentine. If there’s anybody who can be canonized as the rightful heir to Thelonious Monk – in terms of purposefulness, shadowy tunefulness and just plain fun – Hersch is as good a choice as any.

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A Smoldering Acoustic Set and an Electric Williamsburg Gig by Lizzie & the Makers

The blues can be primeval, and otherworldly, and sometimes just plain chilling. Lizzie Edwards, frontwoman of Lizzie & the Makers, doesn’t limit her songs to a simple 1-4-5. And her subject matter extends a lot further beyond your usual soul/blues turf . Last week, her band’s flickering, blue-flame, semi-acoustic set at Pete’s Candy Store featured a song about a breakdown on the highway and all its ominous implications, along with a handful of angst-fueled oldschool soul ballads. But there was also a number drawing on the Orpheus/Euridyce myth, another inspired by the Rachmaninoff C Sharp Minor Prelude, and a sardonically moody, psychedelically enveloping one about getting fired from a well-known Brooklyn music venue. Lizzie & the Makers are plugging all of their amps in for their next show on August 26 at 9 PM at Black Bear Bar on North Sixth Street in Williamsburg (the old Galapagos/Public Assembly space), where you can expect the band to deliver their usual mix of thrills and chills. But in its own quiet way, last week’s show was every bit as intense.

Most high-voltage bands are completely out of their element in an acoustic setting. This band is all about dynamics, which explains why they didn’t lose any edge even if the volume was way down. And it gave Edwards and her harmony singers this time out- Mary Spencer Knapp and Sarah Wise – a chance to bring extra nuance and mystery to the songs’ darkest corners. Lonely Soul, with its eerie three-part harmonies, took on a Halloweenish tinge, bassist Tony Tino supplying a brooding pulse for this doomed exploration of abandonment in Greek mythology. Guitarists Greg McMullen and James Winwood exchanged solos, moving from elegant spirals to deep-sky psychedelia in Far from Home, the late-night breakdown scenario

In front of the band crammed onto the stage behind her, Edwards rocked a fire-engine-red vintage sundress. By halfway through the set, she was into her second glass of straight whiskey, but even in the evening’s tropical heat, it didn’t visibly affect her. The dusky ambience extended from the band to the crowd and held everybody in its grip. A darkly rustic oilcan slide guitar solo from McMullen lit up Hopeless, an uneasy nighttime street scene. You might not think that an acoustic version of a big barnburner would play up its underlying southern boogie feel, but that’s what the band did with Free. The most psychedelic of all the songs was the brooding, distantly Beatlesque anthem Sleep It Off, as woundedly imagistic as it was bleary-eyed in its allusive account of the aftermath of getting fired from the old Trash Bar. Edwards, who also worked at Pete’s for a time, knows her turf. They wrapped up the set with a soaringly crescendoing take of the full-tilt boogie The Bear and its tense wee-hours tale of averting disaster at the last second, something Edwards also seems to know something about.

The Mehmet Polat Trio Play a Rapturous, Paradigm-Shifting Lincoln Center Debut

Watching the Mehmet Polat Trio in their Lincoln Center debut last night, what became formidably clear was that these are three of the best musicians in the world on their respective instruments. But not only do oudist and bandleader Polat, ngoni player Victor Sams and ney flutist Pelin Başar push the envelope as far as Middle Eastern and African music go, they do it with gravitas, and virtuosity, and soul, and made good on Polat’s promise to draw the audience into their magical interchanges and improvisations, holding what appeared to be a full house in a near dream-state for over an hour.

Polat’s erudition, drawing on years of study of not only Middle Eastern but also Balkan, Mediterranean, Indian and African traditions, expressed itself strikingly in terms of breathtaking technique as well as his vast and searching expanse of melodic ideas. Now based in Amsterdam, Polat hails originally from the Turkish city of Urfa, located close to the Syrian border, legendary as a pilgrimage spot for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Much mysticism is associated with the region, and that came across in the more rapturous, enveloping, carefully crafted numbers that Polat played, particularly a couple of slowly crescendoing duo pieces with Sams that blended the hypnotic, circular quality of West African folk music with the brooding, contemplative side of the Middle East.

Bantering gently with the crowd between songs, Polat’s stage presence was humble yet proud. His chops on the oud are spectacular, and his fellow oudists had come to check him out, something Polat was quick to pick up on. His often dazzling speed and ability to evoke the most minute timbral shifts out of his custom-made instrument may have something to do with genetic good fortune- he appears to be doublejointed. And he loves the lows: his axe features a couple of extra low bass strings, which he sprinted down to early in the set to drive that feature home. But ultimately, the additional low end enables Polat to employ the standard low strings  for melodic spirals and flurries that most of his peers typically play further up the scale.

Sams made a strong and similarly individualistic sparring partner, taking his spiky calabash harp to places it’s never gone before, shifting into as many somber, stately Levantine-tinged interludes, tersely minimalst riffs that edged toward Steve Reich territory, and sprightly coy high harmonic accents, as he did the cyclical, trancey patterns typical of the instrument’s usual repertoire. Başar played even more judiciously, and arguably even more hauntingly, mostly in her lower ranges, spiced with minutely intoned melismas and precise patterns that mirrored Polat’s picking.

Together, the three moved seamlessly through slinky, moody, dusky grooves as the beat shifted from a camelwalking sway toward the mystical spirals of qawwali music. Polat showed off as much affinity for the highs as the lows, particularly during a couple of numbers where he built ecstatic crescendos using riffs straight out of the classical Indian sitar playbook. Polat and his trio return to New York for an unlikely gig at Club Bonafide on September 11; cover is $20.

And the Atrium at Lincoln Center continues its eclectic series of concerts. As Jordana Phokompe, its programming director, smilingly asserted before the concert, there’s literally something for everyone here. Fans of Prince can see Burnt Sugar play the Purple Rain songbook on August 25 at 7:30 PM. And high-voltage, socially relevant psychedelic cumbia band MAKU Soundsystem are here at the same time on September 22. Seats get take quickly for these free shows, so early arrival is always a good idea.

Bent Knee Bring Their Intense, Unpredictable, Explosive Art-Rock to Bed-Stuy

Imagine a female-fronted Radiohead. Boston art-rockers Bent Knee don’t sound much like Radiohead, but their esthetic is the same, catchy hooks within arrangements that are endlessly surprising and often epic. Unease and anger pervade their enigmatic  lyrics. Frontwoman/keyboardist Courtney Swain sings with an arresting, sometimes angst-fueled voice that trails off with a brittle vibrato. They’ve got a new album, Say So – streaming at Bandcamp – and a 10 PM show on August 24 at C’Mon Everybody. Cover is $10.

This band never bores you. Most of the tracks seem completely through-composed. Very little if anything ever repeats; the hooks come at you fast and frantic, kaleidoscopically. The amount of memorization this material requires for live performance is staggering. The album opens with Black Tar Water – as in “dumping out the black tar water,” be it bongwater, asphalt, drug residue, or strictly a metaphor. Catchy and shapeshifting at the same time, it sets the tone for the rest of the record. Swain’s dramatic flights to the upper registers contrast with chilly, techy keyboard timbres over tricky meters, negotiated nimbly by bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth.

Guitarist Ben Levin nicks a droll Beatles trope as Leak Water opens, Swain lamenting that “I try to speak, but I only leak water.” A brief mininalist intro  hardly foreshadows the punchy, ornate neoromantic crescendos in store: Wounded Buffalo Theory comes to mind. Counselor is a dramatic mashup of creepy circus rock, funk, roaring arena rock and hints of horror film cinematics. “Give me kisses, something squishy,” Swain entreats – yikes!

Eve begins as a Kate Bush-style tone poem of sorts, awash in tongue-in-cheek echo phrases until the crushing guitars kick in along with violinist Chris Baum’s crazed swipes and spirals. Stomping peaks alternate with Pink Floyd lushness and lustre as it goes on; an ominous spacerock interlude that haphazardly balances guitar and strings ends this ten-minute monstrosity. From there, an early Bill Frisell-tinged miniature segues into The Things You Love, Swain musing caustically on the emptiness of materialistic excess, over still, starlit ambience that eventually gives way to more horror film textures, pouncing King Crimson-esque ornateness and eventually a funny, faux-dramatic outro.

Nakami hints at tinkly lounge jazz, then moves toward dissociative Peter Gabriel-era Genesis intricacy, with a long, explosively sweeping Japanese-language outro. From there they segue into the sarcastically bustling Commercial, Levin’s bombastic guitars matching Swain’s fake-cheery vocals and keyboard sarcasm.

Hands Up comes across as a case where the satire cuts so close to the bone that it’s hard to tell whether this is a spoof of American Idol cliche-pop, or a halfhearted stab at a genuine Radio Disney hit – although the band seem far too smart to believe they’d ever get corporate radio airplay. The album winds up with Good Girl, rising out of Levin’s darkly spacious solo guitar intro to Swain’s most caustic lyric here:

Don’t be a hassle
Don’t be a rascal
Great minds think too much
But you’re not a scholar
Nor a philosopher
Turn that little light of yours off
Sing with me
And count to three
Soon it will be
Over

A dis at a wet-behind-the-ears limousine liberal, or feminist empowerment anthem? Swain leaves that trapdoor open. Count this beguiling, unpredictable, wickedly smart album among the very best of 2016.

Sharq Attack Bring Their Rapturously Haunting, Virtuosic Middle Eastern Jams Back to Barbes

“Raqs sharqi” is the Arabic term for bellydance. Sharq Attack, get it? Violinist Marandi Hostetter seems to be the ringleader of this merry, slinky, intoxicatingly good band who jam out decades-old (and maybe centuries-old) Middle Eastern themes. They’ve got a gig coming up on August 23 at 8 PM at Barbes, opening for Slavic Soul Party, who blend Duke Ellington, hip-hop and funk into their blazing Balkan brass sounds.

Sharq Attack’s show there last month was an awful lot of fun. Along with Hostetter, the rhythm section – percussionist Philip Mayer and bassist John Murchison – seemed to be particularly psyched to be playing with the great Palestinian-born oudist Zafer Tawil. They opened with an elegant, moody clip-clop theme, the oud in tandem with the violin, playing variations on a biting chromatic riff. Hinting at a trick ending, they brought the song down to a couple of bristling, rising and falling tremolo-picked oud interludes that Tawil artfully shifted in and out of the shadows. Murchison’s misterioso, tiptoeing bass solo over Hostetter’s otherworldly drone was the icing on this epic sonic confection.

From there they segued into a bouncy. catchy minor-key road theme of sorts, sped it up, slowed it down and ramped up the microtonally-fueled suspense, ending it unresolved. Tawil gave the next number a flurrying oud-and-vocal intro into a similarly anthemic, swaying drive over a catchy, Andalucian-tinged descending riff, his impassioned baritone rising as the song peaked out. They returned to a dusky, austerely bucolic, enigmatically strolling groove after that, utilizing something approaching a western whole-tone scale, then reached for more dramatic levels. Considering that this band has a semi-rotating cast of characters, you never know what other deliciously unexpected tangents the group might go off in next week.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Manhattan’s Most Vital Americana Roots Music Scene

“When you think about it, how many real listening rooms are left in New York?” Lara Ewen, folk noir singer and impresario of the pretty-much-weekly Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum, mused the other night. She’s on to something. Outside of the jazz and classical worlds, it’s hard to find a space in Manhattan that caters to an audience for less loudly amplified or acoustic sounds like the Americana roots music, and its descendents, that her series promotes.

Sure, people come to listen at Barbes, and the Jalopy, and the Owl, and sometimes Pete’s Candy Store when there isn’t a din at the bar. But all those places are in Brooklyn. In Manhattan, there’s hardly anything left. Rockwood Music Hall is a Jersey tourist trap, the Bleecker Street dives have been a joke since the 60s ended, and Sidewalk, while noticeably improved lately, still draws heavily on the autistic types who play the open mic there. And autistic people aren’t known for their social graces.

Which leaves Free Music Fridays. The series went on hiatus for a few weeks to accommodate an exhibition, then returned with a vengeance in early July with a simmeringly low-key performance by darkly lyrical former Madder Rose frontwoman Mary Lorson, who played an intimate, acoustic duo set with percussionist John Sharples. Since then, the series has been on a roll, requiring extra rows of seats since the audience continues to grow.

The highlight of last week’s installment was the opening set by aphoristic newschool country blues songwriter Nathan Xander, in a stark duo performance with a similarly purposeful fiddler. Since the series returned, other than Lorson, the most dynamic, exciting show was an impressively eclectic, smartly lyrical, historically-informed couple of sets by a roughly five-piece subset of mighty acoustic Americana powerhouse M Shanghai String Band. Ewen called them one of New York’s best bands, and once again she was on the money.

Frontman Austin Hughes distinguished himself with his clever wordplay, poignant and relevant historical references and plaintive harmonies, sung by everyone in this edition of the band (which can number more than ten people onstage). This version also featured Philippa Thompson on – take a deep breath – fiddle, bass, lead vocals, singing saw, washboard and spoons – plus Glendon Jones on mandolin, Patty Hughes on bass and a couple of family members taking an animated cameo or two on harmony vocals.

One of the band’s biggest audience hits, the broodingly lilting Sea Monster, turned out to be a contemplation of how instant internet access to information can stifle the imagination. At a distance at least, it’s more fun to ponder the existence of apocryphal creatures than to dismiss them. The similarly uneasy, harmony-driven Two Thousand Pennies resonated even more as an anthem for the New Depression. Aptly, toward the end of their second set, the band played Vivian Girls, an even moodier look at the inner life of disturbed outsider artist Henry Darger, whose work was first featured in a career retrospective at this museum.

M Shanghai String Band’s next show is back at their home base, the Jalopy on September 3 at 9 PM; cover is $10.. And the highlight of this Friday’s free music, this August 19 at around 6:30 PM at the museum, is Moji Abiola, whose eclectic sound blends oldschool soul into their paisley underground psychedelia.

Sandcatchers Play a Magical Mix of Psychedelia, the Middle East and Pastoral Jazz

Guitarist Yoshie Fruchter has been involved with a ton of great projects, from John Zorn’s Abraxas to Frank London’s big band, but his most intriguing one may be his own. Fruchter plays oud in Sandcatchers, who could be described as a Middle Eastern pastoral Americana jamband. Their hypnotic, intricately intertwining, psychedelic instrumental mini-epics are unlike anything else in New York. The only group they bear any resemblance to, and that’s because of Myk Freedman’s resonant lapsteel, is the much louder if similarly psychedelic metal band Greek Judas (who have a gig coming up at Barbes on August 25 at 10). Sandcatchers have a weekly residency at Cheryl’s Restaurant, 236 Underhill Ave. in Ft. Greene on Wednesdays starting at around 8, which is where they’ll be tomorrow, August 17. There’s no cover charge; the closest train is actually the 2/3 to Brooklyn Museum.

Their show at Barbes a week ago was packed with all sorts of fun. They opened with a spiky, misterioso oud intro over drummer Yonadav Halevy’s misty cymbals and washes of pedal steel. From there they hit an understatedly somber minor-key groove with some wry tradeoffs between the oud and Michael Bates’ bass, with a trick ending and then a moodily scampering outro lit up with lonesome trainwhistle steel. After that they did what could have been a Macedonian highway theme, Fruchter’s purposefully strolling oud over vast, deep-sky atmospherics.

The next number was a slow, summery theme that slowly and deliberately moved into the shadows, much in the same vein as Big Lazy‘s big-sky cinematic mood pieces, with an enigmatically tiptoeing bass solo over sotto-voce clip-clop percussion. Halevy had brought a dinner bell, which he used for chuckles on more than one occasion.

The sternly pulsing chromatic anthem after that, with its blasts of steel and then a searing solo, was the closest thing they played to Greek Judas’ rembetiko metal. After that, Bates hinted at a classic Geezer Butler riff throughout a long bass intro that kicked off a slowly majestic, swaying Middle Eastern number, again shifting dramatically but seamlessly to the Great Midwest and then back with a big crescendo. With the steel going full blast over Fruchter’s elegant, purposeful oud, they were like a Middle Eastern Friends of Dean Martinez.

Halevy had tuned his kit like a series of goblet drums, ramping up the boomy, mysterious ambience to introduce the number after that, a mashup of blazing southern rock and what could have been a Greek hill country dance. After that they contrasted with a gentle, backbeat-driven nocturne. Then they got a little funky, winding up their set with their most eclectically expansive tune. These and many other flavors may appear in the mix tomorrow night.

The Sway Machinery and Hydra Stage a Magical, Otherworldly, Psychedelic Collaboration at Joe’s Pub

While a whole lot of New Yorkers were up at Lincoln Center Out of Doors to hear Lucinda Williams, an audience of cognoscenti filled Joe’s Pub to witness this city’s most auspicious musical collaboration this year, between the magically Balkan-influenced all-female trio Hydra and the Sway Machinery, who could be described as a cantorially-influenced psychedelic desert rock band. Hearing frontman/guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood’s impassioned, melismatic baritone amidst the pulsing, distantly gospel-inflected harmonies of Luminescent Orchestrii’s Rima Fand, Nanuchka’s Yula Beeri and Black Sea Hotel‘s Sarah Small was viscerally spine-tingling. Lockwood might be the strongest male singer in New York, and stood out even more when bolstered by the three women’s uneasy, deep-sky close harmonies.

It wasn’t until late in the set that Fand persuaded Lockwood to explain the origins of his band’s songs. He related modestly that they drew on Jewish liturgical melodies that vary widely, depending on where in the Jewish diaspora you come from, to the point of being very individual, from family to family. What he didn’t add is that he’s the scion of a famous cantorial legacy, and that the Sway Machinery’s songs take those millennia-old themes into the present day via a host of influences every bit as global.

Lockwood’s guitar playing draws equally on his mentor, the late country bluesman Carolina Slim, as well as loping, hypnotic Saharan Tuareg rock and Afrobeat: it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Sway Machinery the American Tinariwen. When his voice wasn’t reaching for the rafters with a soaring, sometimes imploring intensity, he drove the band with his slinky, snaky, incisively spiraling Telecaster riffs and a handful of snarling, tightly coiled solos. In one of the night’s most dynamic numbers, there were two basslines going, Nikhil P.Yerawadekar on the low end and Lockwood slightly higher up the scale, holding down his low E with his thumb while fingerpicking out a snaky lead at the same time. Strat player Tim Allen alternated between airy, astringent textures, jangly interplay with Lockwood and a couple of blue-flame solos. Drummer John Bollinger kept a tricky, rolling beat going, punctuated by Matt Bauder’s tenor sax and Jordan McLean’s trumpet.

Midway through the set, the Sway Machinery left the stage to Hydra to sing a brief and tantalizingly dazzling, eclectic set. The interplay between the three personalities was as interesting to witness as their harmonies. This may seem overly reductionistic, and it probably is, but Fand the mystic, Beeri the Secretary of Entertainment and Small the badass, tall and resolutely swaying to the beat, brought a dynamism and nuance that was every bit the sum of its formidable parts.

Their first number without the band behind them evoked Small’s innovatively intimate arrangements of Bulgarian choral music. While that’s what she’s made a name for herself with in the popular trio Black Sea Hotel, Beeri and Fand proved just as much at home in those eerie close harmonies and microtones. From there they ventured into a diptych of flamenco and Ladino-tinged Spanish folk tunes, then a starlit, mandolin-driven lullaby by Fand, a stark Russian Romany tune, then the Sway Machinery returned for the night’s most intricately orchestrated, ornately thrilling mini-epic. Between everyone onstage, they sang in Hebrew, Spanish, Ukrainian and English. Let’s hope this isn’t the only time this otherworldly, entrancing collaboration gets staged in this city.

Sari Kessler Breathes New Life into Old Songs Uptown

If you’re a jazz singer, why on earth would you want to cover a bunch of songs that have been done to death by thousands of others over the years? New York singer Sari Kessler took a bunch of them – along with a few choice obscurities – reinvented them and made them her own, a rare and distinctive achievement. Kessler is a very attentive and nuanced interpreter, working these numbers line by line. Depending on the lyric, she can be disarmingly direct, even biting one second, then misty and melancholy, or coy and sultry the next. Much if not all of her latest album Do Right is streaming at her music page (it hasn’t hit Spotify yet). She’s playing Minton’s uptown on August 21 at 7:30 PM; there’s no cover but there is a two-item (food/drink) minimum which if YOU do right shouldn’t run you more than twenty bucks, maybe a lot less. Remember, coffee and seltzer are drinks.

The album opens auspiciously with a take of Burt Bacharach’s Walk on By that does justice to the Dionne Warwick (e) original but also puts an artsier spin on it. Elvis Costello’s Bacharach collaborations have a lot to recommend them, but this outdoes them in the purist jazz ballad department. Then Kessler reinvents the old Bessie Smith hit After You’ve Gone as a jaunty, defiant bossa, fueled by John di Martino’s dancing piano and Houston Person’s tenor sax, the bandleader taking a coolly triumphant little scat solo as the song winds out.

Kessler subtly builds the Depression-era swing lament Why Don’t You Do Right – the album’s title track, more or less – to a gritty exasperation, echoing the classic Rasputina version emotionally if not musically. The album’s most shattering track is The Gal from Joe’s. Di Martino’s rainy-day piano in tandem with Willard Dyson’s brushy grey-sky drums make it a real haunter, on par with Jeanne Lee’s iconic collaborations with noir pianist Ran Blake.

Kessler and band go a long way toward redeeming Bobby Hebb’s Sunny – reputedly the most-covered song ever – adding a similarly dark, clave-fueled undercurrent. Tackling It’s a Wonderful World may a recipe for disaster, but Kessler reinvents it by duetting with Steve Whipple’s bass, Sarah Vaughan-style, with a hint of klezmer acerbity. Then di Martino comes in and the band swings it, spacious and dancing.

Kessler gives I Thought About You a tender, wistful, gentle clave groove, the balmy horn chart and Nadje Noordhuis’ judicious flugelhorn solo matching guitarist Ron Affif’s purist, low-key bossa approach. The old novelty hit The Frim Fram Sauce, and its Dr. Seuss menu, has new relevance in this era of trendy new spots slinging organic locavore artisanal curated bespoke cuisine in the furthest ghetto corners of Brooklyn; Kessler’s totally deadpan delivery drives the satire home.

Feeling Good follows a steady upward trajectory, Affif’s cautious-then-exuberant solo at the center. The slow drag My Empty Bed Blues has equal parts bittersweetness and retro charm. Kessler imbues Too Close for Comfort with a Sinatra-like knowingness and precision, matched by di Martino’s clenched-teeth solo.. The two wrap up the album with a piano-vocal lullaby take of Moonglow. If you’re sick to death of restaurant singers phoning in stuff like All of Me, Kessler and her first-class band are a breath of fresh air.

Keeping Tabs on Gringo Star

Gringo Star‘s previous album Floating Out to See put a wry, lo-fi newschool stamp on classic 60s psychedelia and garage rock. This time out, their new album The Sides and In Between – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp  – goes deeper into the past and has a welcome gravitas. While several of the songs are darker, the rest are funnier than the more upbeat stuff on the band’s previous effort, spiced with plenty of woozy 60s guitar and keyboard effects. They’ve got a couple of New York dates coming up; on August 19 at around 9, they’re at Shea Stadium for $12. The following night at 9 they’re at Cake Shop for two bucks less. Ever think you’d live to see the day when a Bushwick show was more expensive than one in Manhattan?

The new album’s opening track, Rotten blends tongue-in-cheek psychedelic soul in the same vein as Clear Plastic Masks or White Denim with tinny, organ-fueled Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles. It’s a dis at a spoiled rich brat. Track two, Magic is true to its name: imagine ELO covering a mid-60s Hollies hit that’s one part Byrds and one part doo-wop. That might sound misguided to the extreme, but somehow the band makes it work, seamlessly. .

Frontman/guitarist Nick Furgiuele’s sardonically exuberant vocals in Get Closer come across as a cross between White Hassle’s Marcellus Hall and that guy from NOFX, punctuated by a starry tremolo-picked guitar solo. Still Alive sounds like a skiffle band taking a stab at the Everly Brothers, with blippy organ tacked on for extra surrealism..

Going Home is a droll doo-wop pop number that if not for the annoying whistling would be a dead ringer for something from the Simon Chardiet catalog. Knee Deep uses acoustic country blues as a stepping-off point for a hypnotically uneasy, mellotron-infused sway, a study in hi/lo frequency contrasts. Likewise, the irrepressible oldtimey swing-flavored Heading South, which might well be a spoof.

Undone takes a turn into carnivalesquely waltzing territory (would somebody in the band please put a muzzle on that whistler?), pushed along by bassist Josh Longino and drummer Jonathan Bragg. It’s You is sort of a three-quarter-time rewrite of Runaway. The album winds up with The Last Trace, a strange mashup of downstroke indie pop and Tex-Mex rock. Two chances to get a dose of this Friday and Saturday night.