New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: October, 2016

Morricone Youth Slay Zombies in Williamsburg

It’s hard to imagine a better way to cap off Halloween month than watching Morricone Youth play a live score to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Backs to the crowd, gamelan style, so they could follow every split-second cue onscreen, the band’s performance this past evening at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg was a lot more entertaining than the movie. From the applause afterward, one suspects that the sold-out audience agreed.

The score is just out and available on limited edition neon green vinyl, the inaugural release in an ambitious series of fifteen soundtracks to the midnight movies the band’s played live to in the past five years. This one is a very cleverly intertwined series of three themes and variations, comprising both original soundtrack pieces and newly composed material. Although keyboardist Dan Kessler used his synclavier to trigger the occasional motorik loop, and guitarist/bandleader Devon E. Levins seemed to have an atmospheric wash or two stashed away in a pedal, everything else was completely live. Bassist John Castro matched a looming, booming presence to poinpoint precision in tandem with drummer Shaun Lowecki, who impressed with his tightness and subtlety despite having been pressed into service with just two rehearsals.

Kessler took centerstage most of the time with an endlessly shifting series of texures: eerily twinkling electric piano, sardonic wah-wah chromatics, ghostly music-box glockenspiel and warpy, rasping 60s synth tones. Levins lurked in the corner, stage left and alternated expertly between stilletto tremolo-picking, a little spaghetti western twang, elegantly menacing ripples and lingering, murderous ambience.

And like the movie, the score was absolutely hilarious in places. With an almost simultaneous flash of grins throughout the band, the group gently worked their way through a twinkling, sotto-voce love theme while a bizarre hint of romance between humans beseiged by zombies flickered onscreen. And the sudden, emphatic jolts in a couple of segments of the increasingly macabre main theme turned out not to mirror gunshots, or zombie deathblows. Timed to the split second, those sudden hits drove home the nails that the film’s protagonist was lackadaisically hammering in order to bar the doors and windows of the house that serves as the set for almost the entire film.

About the movie: for those who haven’t seen it, it’s like an Ed Wood production. Eighty percent of the budget gets saved for the vehicles and extras at the end. Watching how Romero pads the film to stretch it out to full-feature length – here’s the Pontiac going up the hill! Now here it is going down that same hill! – is funny at first and then leaves you wondering whether it’s time to take a break for a snack, or for the bathroom. Both of which would have been an option, had the band not been playing: the venue is primarily a bar/restaurant that just happens to show movies. The only real mystery here was where the box office was. “Upstairs!” hollered the guy behind the downtstairs bar. But the only office up there didn’t open until right before the performance.

Advertisements

Catchy, Impactful Acoustic Americana at Bowery Ballroom Tonight

Here’s a great way to get away from all the Halloween tourists from out ot state descending like a swarm of poisonous roaches on this city this weekend: go see popular North Carolina newgrass/Americana road warriors Mandolin Orange at Bowery Ballroom tonight at 9. Cover is $20.

Their new album Blindfaller is streaming at Spotify. While it draws on the same purist Appalachian sounds as their previous releases, it’s also more fleshed out, a full-band production. The band’s lyrics look back to an oldtime vernacular without being cheesy or cliched. And as with the best folk music, there’s a lot of subtext and symbolism here, a welcome, politically relevant, populist sensibility.

Fiddler/frontwoman Emily Frantz’s strong, crystalline vocals soar over a spiky backdrop of acoustic guitar and the band’s signature mando sound on the pensive, midtempo opening track, Hey Stranger, a cautionary tale. That’s co-leader Andrew Marlin on the four strings and Josh Oliver on the six. Marlin’s reflective vocals channel the slowly swaying, moody post Reconstruction-era ambience ofWildfire: it wouldn’t be out of place on a Richard Buckner album from twenty years ago. Likewise, pedal steel player Allyn Love teams with Frantz for a lustrous veneer for the sad honkytonk waltz Picking Up Pieces.

Building a scenario where there’s “a redbird in the corn, a blackbird at the door,” Lonesome Whistle is a gorgeously bittersweet Nashville gothic lament, with purposeful, biting solos from both fiddle and mando while bassist Clint Mullican pushes things along. “I saw it in a dream, monuments of trees, as the air we breathe turned our lungs to dust,” Marlin intones on the even more ominous, apocalyptic Echo, which maybe ironically is the album’s most retro number.

Kyle Keegan’s drums build to a quick peak as Cold Lover’s Waltz gets underway: it’s a more acoustic, Laura Cantrell-ish take on plaintive early 60s countrypolitan and arguably the album’s strongest, most anthemic cut. Oliver plugs in and plays with a raw electric tone on the steady, bittersweet, distantly Hank Williams-tinged My Blinded Heart, which is just as tuneful.

Ther album’s loudest track is Hard Travelin’, a straight-up hard honkytonk shuffle. The band follows that with the low-key, front-porch folk-flavored Gospel Shoes. a witheringly cynical, vividly aphoristic antiwar anthem. The album winds up with the spare, restless nocturne Take This Heart of Gold.

One particularly refreshing thing about this collection is what’s NOT on it. No simpering phony Beach Boys indie pop disguised as bluegrass, no autotune (even some of the Nashville crew are using it now), no product placements. Just an organic sound that’s just as new as it is old-fashioned.

A Ghostly Soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto

What could be more Halloweenish than a ghost story set in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust? Today’s piece of Halloween music is Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s score to Yogi Yamada’s 2015 drama Nagasaki: Memories of My Son, streaming at Spotify. The suite first began to take shape when the composer played solo piano behind actor Sayuri Yoshinaga’s performances of poetry by civilian survivors of the mass slaughter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. True to the film’s surreal, sepulchral atmosphere, this soundtrack is a quiet, solemn, minimalist series of themes and variations, often evoking a dream state. It explores mourning and remembrance far more than outright horror.

Skeletal, wistful piano alternates with gently melancholy strings that bring to mind Angelo Badalamenti‘s calmest, most bittersweet themes from the Twin Peaks soundtracks, as well as the stately plaintiveness typical of Japanese film music from sixty years ago and earlier. Beyond a single, lush art-song chorale late in the sequence, the once and future Yellow Magic Orchestra leader and anti-nuclear activist eschews Asian scales for lingering, minimalist neoromantic tonalities. The terror of the atom bomb attack itself is brief, understated and all the more macabre for it: a hint of unease, the whistle of a bomb dropping and then a distant roar of flames giving way to a low drone. The interlude is over in less than a minute. The B-29 bomber that carried it appears from the point of view of both the American attackers and the Japanese.

As the narrative unwinds, Sakamoto introduces a couple of ringing electric piano patches. Comfortable post-Poulenc melodicism gives way to tense, restless close harmony. The score’s most memorable segment pairs brooding strings with delicately tremolo-picked reverb guitar. Its most poignant has moody oboe rising over a low-key march by the strings. Its scariest is a brief and considerably louder reprise of the B-29 sonics. Its most unexpected is an Argentine-flavored tango complete with bandoneon.

It makes an apt companion piece to Sakamoto’s well-received and somewhat brighter if considerably icier 1983 Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence soundtrack, which has just been reissued and is up at Spotify as well.

An Otherworldly, Mesmerizing Performance by Georgian Choir Ensemble Basiani

Inside the Town Hall last night, the atmosphere was not quite as dark and stormy as the unseasonable torrents pelting the midtown streets. Out of the rain, a robust, enthusiastic, mostly Russian-speaking crowd were engaged by some of the most otherworldly sounds resonating on any New York stage this year. Music from the Republic of Georgia is instantly recognizable – there’s nothing like it anywhere in the world. While the twelve men of the eclectic and often electrifying choir Ensemble Basiani sometimes echoed the solemn, brooding quality of the Russian tradition, as well as a couple of interludes of lustrous polyphony in the same vein as Palestrina or Monteverdi, most of their music was strikingly and unmistakably distinctive.

Singing completely from memory, the choir seamlessly aligned an endlessly shifting series of uneasy close harmonies, when they weren’t firing on twelve individual cylinders’ worth of wry, sometimes droll call-and-response. Much of the material in their repertoirs dates back hundreds, maybe thousands of years, yet those harmonies are so strangely sophisticated that they’re avant garde: music that old suddenly becomes new again. Stravinsky took melodies like those from further north on the Russian continent and turned them into the Rite of Spring – nobody knew at the time how much he was simply appropriating ancient village themes.

There wasn’t a lot of the ornamentation found in Ukrainian, Baltic and Balkan music in this set, but when there was, the choir worked those effects for all the deadpan humor they were worth. One number pulsed along with an emphatic “huh” refrain worthy of James Brown. The opening and closing pieces featured one of the tenor voices leaping around, utilizing a device that came across as half yodel, half chirp. And he was very good at it!

Likewise, the group worked the dynamics up and down, from insistent, rhythmic agrarian chants, to rapt hymns, to a handful of slowly crescendoing, hypnotic themes which a couple of guys in the ensemble accompanied with bandura lutes. Another number featured a larger-body lute to match the heft of the music. One of those songs, possibly the biggest hit with the audience, was recognizable as a larger-scale arrangement of an ancient folk tune memorably recorded by the duo of acclaimed American singers Eva Salina and Aurelia Shrenker on their classic AE album. The audience finally came out of their trance and began a spontaneous clapalong; at the end of the concert, they wouldn’t let the group go and after several standing ovations were treated to three encores. Ensemble Basiani’s next stop on their American tour is November 1 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S Goodwin Ave in Urbana, IL; tix are $33.

New York’s Best 2016 Halloween Concert? At Barbes Last Month

As far as New York concerts this year go, the most irresistibly yet understatedly macabre Halloween music played on any stage in this city was Ben Holmes and Patrick Farrell‘s duo performance of their Conqueror Worm Suite at Barbes on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s lurid 1843 poem, it’s a disturbing, grimly picturesque, many-segmented work – just like Poe’s flesh-eating insect. For a tantalizing taste, some of the suite has made it to youtube, featuring the similarly uneasy, Gorey-esque projections of Natalie C. Sousa.

A catchy, low-key trumpet figure with allusions to oldtime African-American gospel matched by moody, suspenseful low-register accordion opened the suite before Holmes picked up the pace, pensively and optimstically. The trumpeter narrated the first verse as Farrell’s accordion shifted into a morosely staggered waltz rhythm, Holmes’ brooding lines overhead echoing the Balkan music he’s been immersed in over the years, especially at this venue.

The poem follows the same plotline as Poe’s better-known short story The Masque of the Red Death. a high-society party turned into a nightmare – in 2016 political terms, there might be some symbolism here. Holmes put his mute in for a plaintive, rustically bluesy minor-key theme as Farrell held down a brooding, resonant anchoring ambience. From there the duo shifted unexpectedly from a momentary interlude of sheer, rapt horror to a bouncy Balkan dance, the trumpet soaring over Farrell’s rat-a-tat pulse; then the two switched roles and intertwined like..well, a giant worm and its prey.

After a briefly scampering detour, Farrell took centerstage with his big, evil, Messiaeneaque chords as Holmes did a Frankenstein sway several octaves higher. Since we know how the poem ends, it’s probably fair to give away the ending: only here did Holmes let terror flutter through his valves. The duo wound it up with a morose march. According to esteemed photographer and Barbes music room honcho Kate Attardo, this was the second time the work had been performed in its entirety here. Attardo knows a thing or two about good Balkan and brass music, and strongly affirmed that as good as the debut was, this performance was even better. There’ll be a “best concerts of 2016” page here at the end of the year, and this one will be on it.

Holmes’ next gig is on Nov 5 at 10 at Barbes with mighty, exhilarating Sinaloa-style ranchera brass orchestra Banda De Los Muertos. Farrell’s next New York show is on Nov 28 at 6 PM with klezmer fiddler Alicia Svigals‘ sizzling band outdoors at the triangle at 63rd St. and Broadway on the upper west side.

Morricone Youth Launch Their Marathon Film Score Recording Project with a Zombie Classic

It’s hard to think of a band more committed to darkly cinematic themes over the past almost twenty years than Morricone Youth. They started out covering the great Italian film composer’s work and quickly branched out into their own music. Their latest album, available on limited edition green vinyl, is a soundtrack to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a mix of pieces from the original score plus creepy new instrumentals, streaming at youtube. It’s the debut release in a planned series of fifteen (15!?!?!) albums of material the band has scored for midnight movies and silent films over the past five years. Their Halloween night show at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg – where they’ll be playing the album to accompany the film – is sold out, but they’ll also be at the annual Rubulad Halloween party on Oct 29, guessing at around 11 PM. As usual, the event promises to be a Burning Man style extravaganza featuring sets by Brooklyn’s original punk Balkan horn group Hungry March Band, haphazard gutter blues/garage rockers the YeahTones and Afrobeat funk dancefloor faves Emefe, plus “cabaret Scary-Go-Round, Jessica Delfino as Lucrezia Borgia, Kostume Karaoke Lounge by Alex Pearguson, and Dark Circus Extraordinaire by Abnorm Freakoeur.” Your best deal is to show up before 9 when cover is $15, otherwise it’s an extra ten bucks. Email for location and directions. 

The new album opens with the film’s original title theme, Driveway to the Cemetery: the band does it as macabre tritone art-rock with bandleader Devon E. Levins’ tiptoeing, eerily tremoloing guitar and Dan Kessler’s surreal wah synth. Barbra, the next track, circles slowly over a motorik synth theme for well over six minutes, Levins elegantly ominous tremolo-picking over the hard-hitting rhythm section of bassist John Castro – who also contributes a dead boys’ choir of wordless vocals – and drummer Kenny Shaw.

Traumatized is a lot more dynamic, and more typical of a horror film score: hammering guitars, moments of sheet terror and chaos juxtaposed with that shivery tremolo-picked theme. The spooky, barely minute-long miniature At the Gravesite reverts to the guitar-and-synth arrangement of the title theme, followed by the album’s centerpiece, the macabre art-rock anthem Beat ‘Em or Burn ‘Em, with its tricky metrics and horrified stomp-em-out interludes. The end title is the dirge Another One For the Fire, awash in tinkly glockenspiel, echo effects and evil chromatics. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2016 page here at the end of the year if we don’t run into a zombie apocalypse in the meantime.

And if you’re feeling sad that you missed out on the band’s Halloween night show, cheer up. You can catch their enigmatic, haunting, intriguingly lyrical former frontwoman Karla Rose & the Thorns playing her similarly cinematic originals at Berlin at around 8:30; LA punk legends the Dickies headline at around 10. Cover is $10.

The Ultimate Halloween Song in Pretty Much the Ultimate Space

Ask any dedicated Halloween fan what they think of for a soundtrack for their favorite holiday, and a lot of them will scream, “Organ music!” Thankfully, here in New York we have Patrick Allen to supply that soundtrack a little in advance.

Allen is the tireless organist of Grace Church on Broadway just south of 11th Street. In addition to his extensive work with church services and the choir, Allen plays Bach Tuesday through Friday at twenty minutes past noon, sharp. These “organ meditations,” as he calls them, are free of charge, although you are encouraged to bring canned goods for the church’s food pantry.

Allen is a connoisseur of Bach. Not only does he perform the standard repertoire of preludes and fugues, and passacaglias, and hymns, but he also uncovers all sorts of obscure treasures like pastorales and folk dance themes in liturgical disguise. Playing expertly on the mighty 2013 Taylor and Boody organ, enhanced by the historic 1846 edifice’s magnificent natural reverb, his four-times-a-week performances are a gothic treat that every New Yorker should play hooky from work or school at least once in a lifetime to enjoy.

Beyond the general association, what do Allen’s performances have to do with Halloween? Right around this time of year, he breaks out Bach’s Toccata in D. It’s arguably the greatest piece of music ever written, it’s been a staple of horror film for almost a century, and Allen always lets his phrases linger with just a little extra grand guignol menace right about now. Stop by the church today or tomorrow if you’re in the neighborhood because you may be in for a real treat. The trick is to get here on time or you might miss it.

Thrills and Transcendence at Tar Lute Virtuoso Sahba Motallebi’s New York Debut

Sahba Motallebi hit a sharp staccato chord on her Iranian tar lute. Then she paused, Then she hit another one. Then another pause, then another stilletto swipe. Then she lit into a seemingly endless flurry of righthand chord-chopping that made Dick Dale’s pick-melting intensity seem wimpy by comparison. A series of minutely nuanced harmonics, meticulously precise pull-offs and hammer-ons followed that. The crowd was silent, completely mesmerized. There is no rock guitarist, no oud player, possibly no musician anywhere in the world with such subtle yet fearsome chops on a fretted instrument.

That was the just intro to the fiery, ecstatically crescendoing birth narrative by the Teheran-born virtuoso at her sold-out New York debut at Symphony Space Friday night. She reprised that opening theme as a lively, peek-a-boo shout-out to her two young daughters at the end of roughly ninety minutes onstage, a duo set with another Iranian expat woman, percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand. It’s impossible to imagine a more exhilarating, transcendent performance by another artist in this city this year. Back in the 90s in her native Iran, Motallebi generated a controversy that wouldn’t exist here by winning the Iranian setar showdown three years in a row – as a woman. Beyond sheer adrenaline, this was a raised middle finger at the Islamofascists who won’t let women perform unaccompanied by a man.

The set was a suite, more or less, the duo shifting dynamically through suspenseful, starlit intros to fiery peaks and then back down to spacious resonance with hardly any interruption. Other than a coy, B.B. King-style “if you like what you hear, we might play some more,” Motallebi barely talked to the crowd. She didn’t need to. On record, her compositions are ornate and meticulously, lushly orchestrated. Yet these more spare arrangements maintained that vast, epic sweep and majesty.

Motallebi is not shy about showing off her extended technique, yet made it part and parcel of the music without being ostentatious about it. Slowly sirening glissandos, hushed harmonic pings and whispers, and seemingly every microtone she could evince from the strings contrasted with her tireless tremolo-picking attack, every bit the more breathtaking for her precise command of it, a stunning combination of power and control.

Throughout the set, Motallebi juxtaposed pensively crescendoing improvisations with her originals, running the gamut of the emotional spectrum. An ecstatically edgy anthem celebrated Nowooz, the Persian new year. The woundedly apprehensive Chaharmezrab e Esfahan built to a guardedly triumphant coda, a salute to Mottallebi’s fellow female musicians from across the centuries. Meanwhile, Farahmand employed both tombak (goblet drum) and daf (frame drum), shifting with what appeared to be effortless good cheer through some tricky time signatures more common to Levantine or Indian music than the centuries-old Persian tradition. Much as the two’s performance was steeped in ages-old gusheh riffs and dastgah modes, these women left no question about their commitment to take this music into the 21st century and make it their own. There will be a “best New York concerts” page here at the end of the year and this one will be high on the list.

New York’s Ultimate Jamband, the Brooklyn Raga Massive Make a Historic Lincoln Center Debut

There was a point during the Brooklyn Raga Massive‘s Lincoln Center debut last Thursday where violinist Arun Ramamurthy built a solo out of a long, uneasily crescendoing, shivery volley of notes, up to a big crescendo – where he stopped cold, midway through a measure. And then glanced around and smiled for a split second, as if to say, “Good luck following THAT!”

There was another moment earlier on where the entire eight-piece ensemble onstage was basically playing a round, everybody in the band hitting on a different beat, a mesmerizing lattice of kaleidoscopic Indian counterpoint. The group followed an increasingly dark trajectory out of lithely circling improvisation on ancient themes, through a pensive and purposeful Ravi Shankar piece anchored by sitarist Neel Murgai, to an absolutely haunting original by bassist Michael Gam cappped off by an achingly plaintive Aakash Mittal sax solo.

Then there was the longest piece of the night, a trickily rhythmic, vamping, psychedelic epic that evoked the Grateful Dead far more than any Indian classical music. Which was the point of the program. Lincoln Center’s irrepressible, charismatic impresario Meera Dugal had booked members of the group last year for a panel discussion on the future of raga music in America, so this was a chance for the multicultural ensemble to bring that future to life in all its psychedelic glory.

They started slowly and gently, as if to ease the sold-out audience into the concept. Singer Roopa Mahadevan – who may be the most electrifying voice in all of New York – worked her subtle side for all it was worth, with her minutely melismatic take of a raga dedicated to the goddess of knowledge and the arts, Saraswati. Kane Mathis played kora on a blithely dancing number and then switched to oud for the night’s most ominously Middle Eastern-tinged piece, lowlit by Max ZT’s hammered dulcimer, a more trebly cousin to the iconic Indian santoor. After almost two hours onstage, the group closed with a wickedly catchy yet tight-as-a-drum jam on a raga that drummer/tabla player Sameer Gupta told the crowd that they’d recognize instantly. And he was right.

The Brooklyn Raga Massive’s raison d’etre is to use Indian classical music as a stepping-off point for improvisation, be it psychedelically inclined or jazzwise. Here, they shifted through a simmering, atmospherically sunset take of John Coltrane’s India; the week before last, they ably raga-ized jazz material as diverse as McCoy Tyner’s African Village and Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight at Bric Arts in downtown Brooklyn.

The contingent onstage at Lincoln Center also featured the intricate and energetically eclectic talents of bansuri flutist Jay Gandhi, Karavika bandleader and violinist Trina Basu, acoustic guitarist Camila Celin, handpan percussionist Adam Maalouf and tabla player Ehren Hanson. The collective, with its rotating cast of members and leaders, play every Wednesday at 8 PM at Art Cafe, 884 Pacific St. in the Atlantic Yards area. Cover is $15; take the 2 to Bergen St.

The Lincoln Center Atrium continues to offer all sorts of similarly deep fun. The next show there is tomorrow, Oct 27 at 7:30 PM with Cuatro Sukiyaki Minimal, who play hypnotically circling, pensive Asian and Latin-influenced themes with thumb piano, traditional Japanese instruments and Korean percussion. The multimedia performance is free, so early arrival is always a good idea here.

Murderously Funny Rockabilly and Retro Sounds From Las Vegas Band the Royal Hounds

The Royal Hounds claim to be Las Vegas’ premier rockabilly band. For that matter, they’d be the best rockabilly band in plenty of towns, maybe this one too. They’re more retro than Rev. Horton Heat but have a similarly explosive guitar-fuled intensity. A couple of years ago, they would have swung through Rodeo Bar if their tour extended this far east. This time around, they’re playing Skinny Dennis on 9 PM on Oct 25. Their latest album, Poker All Night Long (they’re a Vegas band, get it, haha?) is streaming at Soundcloud.

The album is a mix of noir-tinged and more lighthearted fare: when it’s really good, rockabilly in general can be pretty creepy stuff. The centerpiece here is Psycho, the creepy cult classic C&W murder ballad that’s been covered by lots of folks over the years. This one’s a little more propulsive than the Elvis Costello take, and frontman/bassist Scott Hinds’ dead-cool vocals are spot-on. Mema Wants to Dance is a twistedly menacing, scampering cha-cha. The band works a pounding monster surf groove on the instrumental Long Reef; and the cynical Apocalypse Boogie, with its blend of noir surf and Glenn McCallum’s period-perfect, jazz-tinged early 50s guitar, wouldn’t be out of place in the Simon Chardiet catalog.

The rest of the album isn’t as morbid. Elvis Is Haunting My Bathroom is a Stray Cats kind of strut, and it’s irresistibly funny. Bacon Time, with its soaring C&W pedal steel and a killer trick ending, is even more hilarious. The opening track, On the Verge, draws on the roadhouse rockabilly John Fogarty looked back to for swamp-rock hits like Green River. Make It Hail has a defiant My Girl Is Red Hot-style pulse from drummer Scott Billingsley, a snidely funny outlaw ballad spoof with a sizzling, spiraling guitar solo midway through.

Tune in Tokyo has a brassy mariachi bounce: it’s probably the only song ever to rhyme “sake” with “Old Milwaukee.” The instrumental Sneaky Tiki is a choogling mashup of Chuck Berry and Link Way. “We’ll say things we’ll never say,” Hinds sings on the oldtimey swing parody Gin Day: “Have a Gibson!” The album winds up with a cowpunk take of Johnny Burnette’s Train Kept A-Rollin’ Fire up the DeSoto, press “drive” and put some wind on those big tailfins.