New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: October, 2016

La Femme Bring Le Noir to Williamsburg on the 19th

There’s no French equivalent to Halloween, but French band La Femme play as if they grew up with the American holiday. The core of the group comprises frontman/keyboardist Marlon Magnée, chanteuse/keyboardist Clémence Quélenneche, guitarist Sacha Got and bassist Sam Lefevre. Their June Summerstage show was tantalizingly eclectic, neither as dark nor as trippy as their previous studio output. While their latest album Mystere – streaming at Spotify  – is arguably their most diverse to date, there’s enough menace on it to entice you in and then keep you there with all its catchy hooks, both light and dark. The songs’ French lyrics range from surreal humor, to broodingly cinematic narratives, to punk hostility. La Femme are back in New York this Oct 19 at 7 PM at Warsaw in Williamsburg. Cover is $18.

The opening track, Sphynx, lives up to its inscrutable title – at heart, it’s a ba-bump noir cabaret number, but lit up with a swirly, circling synth hook and a big, ominously blustery string synth arrangement. La Vide Est Ton Nouveau Prenom (Empty Is Your New Name) follows a moody psych-folk sway, sparse acoustic guitar blending with mournful keys. Ou Va le Monde (Where’s the World Going?) sets Magnée’s apprehensive rap over the brooding surf rock that’s been the group’s signature sound, more or less, since the beginning. with a weird, achingly warped keyboard solo out.

The band takes an unexpectedly sunny detour with Septembre. notwithstanding the clever outro where they reintroduce a Jesus & Mary Chain theme to its Velvets roots. Tatiana sounds like the Black Angels on whippits (with a little Plastic Bertrand thrown in), while both SSD and Elle Ne T’Aime Pas (She Doesn’t Like You) come across as a Gallic take on Pulp during the British band’s snide pseudo-disco days.

Exorciseur (a pun on “exorcist”) nicks the changes from the national anthem of grunge and makes swaying psychedelia out of it. Mycose is a sardonically lyrical mashup of surf music, motorik disco and Planet Clare new wave. Tueur Des Fleurs (Flower Killer), with its low, looming string synth and Lychian tremolo guitar, is the album’s darkest and arguably best track. The dubby, ethereal, late Beatlesque Al Warda is ominously enticing; and the loping, surfy Psyzook, with Quélenneche’s stratospheric, airy vocals, is arguably even more mysterious.

Le Chemin (The Road) could be a dangerous early Dream Syndicate track if that group had been more keyboard-oriented. The album winds up with Vagues (Clouds), the epic that Julee Cruise never tackled. About 40% of this makes a first-class Halloween playlist; the rest you can sprinkle around your party mixes.

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Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson Mesmerize a Financial District Crowd

It wouldn’t be fair to let the week go by without a mention of the deliciously enveloping duo set that violinist Sarah Neufeld and multi-saxophonist Colin Stetson played this past evening at the World Financial Center atrium. If you missed it, good news: it’ll be rebroadcast on a date TBA on John Schaefer’s New Sounds Live program on WNYC.

Neufeld and Stetson did a memorable duo album, Never Were the Way She Was, last year; since then, she’s released another solo effort, The Ridge. This show revisited both recordings: it was a performance to lean back and take in with eyes closed and get absoutely, completely lost in.

Neufeld opened solo with some assistance from her trusty loop pedal, building steady rhythmic variations on a stately three-note descending riff. Her second number rose out of canon-like, fluttery flurrying, a call-and-response of extended phrases. It was hard to tell what was in the pedal and what Neufeld was playing herself, but she was working up a sweat. Brisk broken chords and allusions to Romanticism appeared and were subsumed by sirening banks of sound.

Stetson joined her and supplied a rippling, almost subsonic idling-diesel drone, then introduced minutely stygian shifts as Neufeld played terse, wary, minimalistic washes overhead. Together they built a microtonal mist heavy at both ends of the register, Neufeld’s swipes and swoops against Stetson’s digeridoo-like rumble. The two slowly wound the epic down at the end with what could have beeen whale song translated to the two instruments: a deep, endangered ocean.

It was here that it became obvious that the two musicians had figured out the timing of the sonic decay in the boomy atrium space: in their hands, it became an integral part of the instrumentation as the echoes bounced off the walls. Memo to musicians looking to capitalize on that: it’s a fast echo, only about a half a second.

Stetson’s work on tenor sax was just as hypnotic, and expertly rhythmic, as his rumbling bass sax attack, the kind of masterfully metronomic series of live loops that he does with his live techno. A warmly nocturnal vamp and all sorts of otherworldly warping textures – including some ethereal vocalese from Neufeld filteried through the mix. They lost the crowd for a bit with a dancing, flitting number with a lot of pizzicato violin but pulled them back in, ending on as anthemic a note as such vast, spacious music can conjure. As the show wound up, Neufeld stomped her foot for a trancey percussive loop and pushed Stetson to his murkiest depths. What a refreshing, revitalizing experience in the middle of a week that really screamed out for one.

Meanwhile, throughout the show, a jungly loop of birdsong fluttered behind the mix, audible in the quietest moments. At first it was cute, but the shtick wore thin. Juan Garcia Esquivel would have faded it out thirty seconds in.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra Celebrate 30 Years with Their Most Ambitious Season Ever

The premise of the Greenwich Village Orchestra, along with the other community orchestras throughout the five boroughs of New York, is that there isn’t enough room in the New York Philharmonic for all the first-rate classical players in town. This year marks the GVO’s thirtieth anniversary, half of that under the direction of maestro Barbara Yahr. And it’s their most ambitious season ever, in fact, arguably the most ambitious season of any orchestra in New York this year For example, their next concert, on Nov 6 at 3 PM includes the hauntingly immortal “Rach 2,” the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 with Imri Talgam as soloist, along with some highlights from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet as well as his Lieutenant Kijé Suite. Further down the road, they’re doing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, along with a more playful Broadway-themed program that will probably be heavy on Leonard Bernstein.

The opening concert of the orchestra’s 2016-17 season was similarly ambitious: an all-Dvorak bill that began with a tightly focused romp through the first of his Symphonic Dances. On one hand, it was a signal that the orchestra wasn’t going to waste auy time bringing the energy to redline. Yet, Yahr’s calmly unassailable direction gave the piece a balletesque precision in the same vein as Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, a more elegant take on a centuries-old folk tradition.

They followed with Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, with soloist Adele Anthony. As the program notes alluded, this piece has a funny backstory. The composer wrote it for Joseph Joachim, one of the 19th century’s greatest violinsts…who refused to play it, probably because it isn’t flashy enough! And flash is the last thing in mind Dvorak had in mind for it: at its ravishing heart (to quote one particularly astute, veteran GVO supporter), it’s a love story. And it’s noteworthy for how contiguous and integral the solo violin is within the context of the whole lush picture. For what it’s worth, Anthony played her cards close to the vest, an appropriate choice considering how intricately her part is woven into the work’s lavish and lively exchanges.

The orchestra closed with the most dynamic performance of the New World Symphony ever witnessed by this blog – and if you stick around the New York classical scene long enough, you see a bunch of them. One thing that made this special was that Dvorak very likely wrote part of the symphony on the very spot – 17th Street and Irving Place – where the orchestra performed it. Dvorak taught for a couple of years at the conservatory which remained there until it was razed in the early 1920s. What was equally special was how Yahr and her ensemble pulled it off. She is passionate and meticulous about details, particularly the most minute ones that a composer will hide away just to see if anybody gets them. In this case, it was the momentary, surreal dream-state rondo of an interlude that flashes by in maybe forty seconds in the symphony’s final movement, a secret key that seems to resolve every previous theme if you listen closely. After going deep into the score, Yahr had it sussed out: “I think this is about memory,” she asserted. “ And maybe Dvorak remembering his life in Bohemia, and being homesick.”

And the orchestra responded. It would be facile to explain the vast expanse they tackled, and conquered, by saying that Yahr started everything out hushed and sotto voce to give the musicians as much headroom as possible later on. What came into clearest focus – another point that Yahr emphasized – was that as much as Dvorak seized on African-American blues and spiritual themes, this is an indelibly European piece of music. Everybody who had to be on his or her game was. Horns, first and foremost, scouts surveying the terrain and foreshadowing the bellicosity in their path, were absolutely flawless, along with percussion and the tight-as-a-barrel string section. Other NewYork orchestras release every performance: a grab bag, to say the least, including the Philharmonic’s own performances. For the GVO, this was one for the ages. .

While we’re at it, here’s an alternate interpretation, one that Yahr might or might not agree with. Dvorak was definitely in memory mode – memory of conflict, and fear, and maybe war. Repression was a fact of daily life in the Hapsburg Empire, something that might well have factored into the volleys and frantic retreats that provide an understatedly chilling contrast with the earthy themes that recall Swing Low Sweet Chariot – and which both George Gershwin and Paul Simon would rip off years and decades later. Dvorak might well have had an ulterior motive to take up a New York society matron’s offer of residency here: to stay out of harm’s way for a bit.

A Deliciously Catchy, Rewarding Quadruplebill at Berlin Last Night

It’s usually too much to ask someone to stick around through four bands in a row. But the quadruplebill last night at Berlin was worth it, four short sets and good segues between them.

Lily Virginia opened, solo. Her moody, mostly minor-key songs came across as a more organic take on corporate urban pop. It was cool that she played electric guitar rather than acoustic, with a dirty tone that gave her songs extra bite. She’s a solid player with a good sense of melody, even venturing into jazz chords in places. Her signature sound is that she runs her vocals through a pitch pedal for harmonies, and octaves, and all kinds of effects that ran the gamut from surreal to comedic. She’s playing the album release show for her new one at SoHo House, 29 9th Ave. in the meatpacking district on Nov 16, time TBA. Let’s hope that the songs on it are as richly textured and soulful as her set was: it’s easy to imagine a producer taking them and running hogwild with cheesy effects like drum machines and autotune.

Is there a style of music that Maya Lazaro can’t write in? Apparently not. The former Mariachi Flor de Toloache guitarist and singer led her tight, inspired band through a consistently catchy, dazzlingly eclectic mix of songs. When she wasn’t weilding her Telecaster, she was dancing, showing off some serious moves. Decked out in what looked like a pashmina over a casual studio outfit, she crouched and pounced and spun like a young Annabella Lwin (if you have a soft spot for the kind of new wave sounds that Lazaro has so much fun with, you get the reference). Matching power with dynamics and some misty mystery, she opened with Premonition, which sounded like it could have been from Madonna’s first album but with a biting reggae guitar edge. The second number, Cave Diving, was straight-up roots reggae in a John Brown’s Body vein, with a wry wah-wah organ solo at the end

From there the band – guitarist JR Atkins, keyboardist Michael Hesselin, bassist Nate Allen and drummer Kyle Olson – wound through Fever in My Mind, a tightly scampering Elvis Costello-esque new wave tune complete with a swirly Steve Nieve-style organ solo out as the bandleader swayed and twirled. Her latest single, No. 89 opened with watery chorus-box guitar over a laid-back clave beat – oldschool soul drifting gently through the prism of new wave –  slide guitar contrasting with uneasily twinkly keys.

Love on the Street could have been the great hit single that Cindy Lauper never wrote. Next, the group launched into August Night, a straight-up backbeat highway rock tune that could have been vintage Springsteen, or the BoDeans with an alluring voice out front. The slide guitar solo out completed the picture. They saved the catchiest and most unexpected number, Stranger- a song that could be the great lost anthem on side 2 of Purple Rain – for last, Lazaro wailing, “Don’t wanna be a stranger anymore” on the way to a cold ending. She and the band play next on Nov 13 at around 10 at Footlight Bar, 465 Seneca Ave. (at Hamman) in Ridgewood; the excellent, more inscrutable and mistier Ivy Meissner precedes her at around 9. Take the L to DeKalb Ave.

The City and Horses played the night’s longest set, lots of funky, swinging mashups of new wave and 70s soul music as Elvis Costello or the Style Council used to do it – or as Lazy Lions do it now. They’re fantastic musicians. The two guitarists – frontman Marc Cantone and Shane Connerty – exchanged neat exchanges of furious tremolo-picking, when the latter wasn’t adding judicious resonance or biting funk-tinged riffs. They opened with a neo-mod romp and then a swaying soul-tinged anthem, Cantone looking back fondly on a teenage stoner girlfriend – or would-be girlfriend. This band’s songs are packed with funny lyrics, wry metaphors and self-effacing humor. The rhythm section – bassist Matt Manhire and drumme Chris Mirtalla – distinguished themselves with a couple of spot-on 70s disco interludes.

Most of their songs had one-word titles, the funniest of these being Space (as in, “I’ll give you space,” along with every planet in the solar system), winding up with a long, nebulous outro from keyboardist/alto saxophonist Nikki D’Agostino. Another number had a really funny verse where Cantone considered every member of the Rolling Stones’ lineup before he finally tells the girl, “I’ll be your Charlie Watts.” They wound up the set with the bitterly but bouncy We’ll Never Be Discovered and its rapidfire, noir-jazz spoken-word verses – on the surface, it’s about a tryst, but there’s a whole other level of meaning. Discovering a random band this good, late on a work night, makes all this running around town worthwhile.

And the Cabana Kids – guitarist/singer Joseph Lee and singer/percussionist Kiki Karamintzas – sent the crowd home on a rapturous note with their gorgeously bittersweet 60s flavored pop tunes. Lee played a Rickenbacker for extra jangle and clang, opening with the heartbreakingly beautiful ballad I Don’t Know Where You Are Now . It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to put the duo’s woundedly soaring harmonies in the same class with the Everly Brothers. From there the two moved back and forth between romping, vampy, upbeat janglepop and austere, lowlit laments, closing with a lascivious pop number. The night was over around half past midnight but could have gone on for another hour or more and nobody would have complained. Further proof that in the East Village these days, Sunday and Monday really are the new Friday and Saturday night.

Eljuri’s Mighty, Fearless Revolutionary Debut Album: One of 2016’s Best

Eljuri play edgy, minor-key, fearlessly political south-of-the-border rock. Their songs are catchy and as fiery as they are eclectic. Frontwoman Cecilia Villar Eljuri punctuates her clever, metaphorically-charged Spanish-language lyrics with intense, dynamic, often exhilarating  lead guitar work – she’s sort of this era’s David Gilmour of rock en Español. Their debut album La Lucha (“The Struggle”) is streaming at Storyamp. They’re playing the album release show this Wednesday, Oct 12 at 7 PM at Drom; advance tix are $15

The album’s opening title track, a punk-funk number, is disarmingly straightforward: “With my guitar and my lyrics, I speak for the struggle,” the bandleader explains. The production is artful: lingering reverb-toned ambience behind the scratchy rhythm guitar. The band switches to an upbeat reggae groove for the brassy anti-violence anthem Bang Bang, ending with an exhaustive litany of cities which have been the scene of notorious mass shootings and murders by police: it’s long enough to go on for a whole verse and chorus and finally ends with New York City.

Jangly guitars balance against stately piano on the mournful but propulsive bolero El Viento (“The Wind”): musically, it’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, sung with unexpecteldy misty nuance. By contrast, Nunca Volvere (“Never Coming Back”) pounces along with a flurrying, chromatically-fueled, Andalucian-tinged menace, like legendary Mexican art-rockers Jaguares at their most savage.

The band brings back a swaying, funk-tinged drive on Injusticia, then, finally six tracks in, they do a happy tune in a major key: the bouncy, Blondie-esque Right Now. Then they go back to the menace with Indiferencia, a towering, majestic cumbia-flavored lament, resonant twelve-string guitar against lush string synth. Quiero Saber (“I Wanna Know”) takes a turn back into classic-style roots reggae, with a tantalizingly brief, psychedelic wah guitar solo midway through.

Likewise, the artsy psychedelia of Luz Roja (“Red Light”) brings to mind peak-era Bob Marley, until the band picks up the pace with a scampering chorus. Salvame (“Save Me”), with Eljuri’s lyrics switching between English and Spanish, takes a turn back toward straight-up backbeat 70s rock with salsa-tinged piano and Satana-esque guitar. The final cut, Sed (Thirst) slowly builds toward a towering, angst-fueled peak, a defiant, ultimatley hopeful revolutionary anthem. Listening to this album all the way through, it hits you: every single one of these tracks is strong. The lyrics are smart and relevant, Eljuris’s vocals are just as dynamic and the band is killer. Who would have thought that what might be the best rock record of the year would be sung mostly in Spanish. La Reconquista might be closer than we think!

Band of Skulls Entertain Hell’s Kitchen With a Surprisingly Diverse, Hard Set

It’s about 9:30 when Band of Skulls hit the stage in Hell’s Kitchen, right at the river’s edge Thursday night. Terminal 5 smells like the inside of a bong. There are lots of couples, both kids and oldsters from across the river: it’s stoner date night. There’s a healthy crowd in the house, although the turnout wouldn’t have been enough to sell out Bowery Ballroom. Getting halfway to the stage, even with a sturdy laptop case slung over the shoulder, is no problem. This audience is mellow, courteous, considerate: hostility is not a stoner value. And there’s not a single stinky, annoying Bushwick trendoid to be seen anywhere.

The four-piece band open with a song that sounds like one of those rap-rock acts from the 90s – Limp Bizkit, maybe? – if that group had actually taken the time to listen to RZA’s murky, sinister Wu-Tang productions. A cynic would say that Band of Skulls have the metal for the guys and the phony “R&B” for the girls, but that doesn’t do the band justice: they’re a whole lot more than that, as their unfailingly catchy, roughly 90-minute set proved. It’s easy to see why people like this band. They’re all solid musicians, and constant touring has made them tight as a drum.

What’s most obvious is that this crew is happiest at their heaviest, and so is the crowd. There’s a point toward the end of the show where guitarist Russell Marsden, bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward hit a tricky, stomping, tumbling passage straight out of The Ocean, by Led Zep. Marsden adds some over-the-edge, vintage Jimmy Page noise to his precise, slithery, Robin Trower vibrato while Richardson pounces on the changes. A muddy sound mix doesn’t do much to reveal what a nimble bassist she is, at one point flying up to the 14th fret or so while she’s singing, firing off a lick just as tricky, and not missing a beat. This is where the band’s chops are put to the test, and they pass that test flawlessly. It’s a fair bet that if they stick it out, beyond the last dying embers of what’s left of the radio-and-records era, they’ll be a hell of a metal band.

Throughout the rest of the show, they show off how eclectic they are. Early on, there’s an acid funk-tinged number that draws a straight line back to the MC5. There’s a heavy but dancey anthem that draws a line back to 80s goth. One of the numbers midway through sounds like a mashup of peak-era Oasis and, say, The Streets. Hayward proves to be a capable acoustic guitarist on the unexpectedly psych-folk ballad on which he plays both kickdrum and hi-hat simultaneously while not missing a guitar chord: neat trick. Keyboardist Milo Fitzpatrick stays out of the way but is a welcome presence when needed, whether providing twinkly psychedelic ambience or apprehensive organ, particularly during segues or suspenseful bridges. The high point of the set turns out to be a propulsive, Gemma Ray-style Euro-ghoulabilly number with a macabre metal chorus grafted on. That’s when the bullshit detector shut down and pure bliss sets in.

Lyrics don’t factor into what they do: we’re all brothers and sisters, and if you wanna find yourself, you gotta roam. Whatev. But the music so often kicks ass – and leaves you wishing they’d kick more. At the end of the show, Marsden – who has mastered the art of getting just enough feedback out of his stack of Fenders without shutting down the PA – balances high on one of the wedges, then raises his beautiful vintage Fender Jazzmaster, headstock up, balanced in his palm…and then flings it sideways into the stacks and leaves it feeding as he saunters offstage.

 

Deep Cuts and Reinvented Art-Rock Classics on Justin Hayward’s New Concert DVD

Let’s say you’re an art-rock icon, one of the most influential songwriters of the 60s and 70s, and one of the great underrated lead guitarists in the history of rock. You’ve also got a solo side project that you’d like to document on DVD. Do you take an easy run through the hits? Not if you’re Justin Hayward. His new concert DVD Live in Concert At the Capitol Theatre, captured in tasteful, three-camera rock-doc style focus by filmmaker David Minasian, has plenty of Moody Blues material. And there are enough hits in the set to keep any oldies radio listener happy: Nights in White Satin, a surprisingly energetic Tuesday Afternoon, and the strummy Question, the Pete Townshend-esque folk-pop  hit that you would expect Hayward to break out in a semi-acoustic set.

But this is mostly deep tracks. Interestingly, Hayward plays mostly acoustic rhythm guitar here, lead player Mike Dawes adeptly taking over on the solos from the recordings and adding his own purist, bititingly bluesy edge. Julie Ragins, who’s been the Moody Blues’ de facto keyboardist for the past decade. adds lustre and sweep via a vast swath of textures, and sings high harmonies. Hayward’s voice at this show, at a Florida theatre in late 2014, has weathered a bit, but he still hits the high notes when he has to, and looks every bit the veteran cosmic rocker.

The other Moody Blues numbers are unexpected and very welcome. From the peak of the band’s psychedelic era, there’s the lively psych-pop diptych of It’s Up To You and Lovely To See You Again My Friend. From the mellotron-rich orchestrated era, there’s a stripped-down but unexpectedly bristling take of You Can Never Go Home, with a fiery Dawes Telecaster solo. They also take a surprisingly animated romp through Watching and Waiting. And I Know You’re Out There Somewhere – a gorgeous anthem that the Moody Blues never really got right on record, even on the epic Live at Red Rocks album – finally gets its due here.

Hayward’s own solo material from across the decades is just as inspired. He switches to twelve-string and hits In Your Blue Eyes with a frenetic strum. The Western Sky sounds like a throwback to the Moodies circa Long Distance Voyager. I Dreamed Last Night – the brilliant opening track on Hayward’s Blue Jays album with his Moody Blues bandmate John Lodge – gets an absolutely majestic, organ-fueled treatment. Hayward brings out all the underlying angst and longing in One Day, Someday, has fun with the bluegrassy What You Resist Persists and saves the bittersweet Forever Autumn for a towering coda. There are also three bonus tracks including the haunting 1975 UK hit Blue Guitar, the hypnotic Who Are You Now and the understatedly phantasmagorical The Wind of Heaven.

Ifrikya Spirit Debuts with a Wild Dance Party at Lincoln Center

Why is it that the music that gets the most people dancing at a concert is invariably the most rustic-sounding? You can crank a drum machine to concrete-crushing levels, but what people who like to cut a rug really want to hear is acoustic sounds. In their Lincoln Center debut last night, Algerian band Ifrikya Spirit ignited a raucous dance party. What was it that sent a posse of a couple dozen middle-school kids spinning in a line amid the rest of the dancers gathered in the center of the atrium space? A slinky, hypnotically circling gnawa number, frontman Chakib Bouzidi playing gimbri – the three-string North African bass lute – and intertwining riffs with his bandmate Rafik Kettani, who’d switched from percussion to sousanne, a slightly more trebly two-string model.

Ifrikya Spirit are hybridizers rather than stylistic chameleons. Instead of switching from one African genre to the next, they blend elements of them into a distinctive Algerian psychedelic funk. Although the band’s percussively hypnotic sound definitely has a trance element, their rhythms are more dynamic and diverse than a straight-up, funky 4/4 beat. There was a little bit of that in their roughly 90-minute set, which keyboardist Reda Mourah used as a launching pad for his expansive blues and jazz-inflected riffage. Drummer Hafid Abdelaziz and terse bassist Samy Guebouba also propelled the band through some spot-on, shuffling 70s disco interludes and a couple of dizzyingly circling, Afrobeat-influenced jams.

Singer Meziane Amiche took centerstage on a mashup of Egyptian habibi pop and North African rai. As the energy reached fever pitch, guitarist Nazim Bakour got to more opportunities to flex, particularly during a long, loping, seemingly qawwali-influenced number that brought to mind the Brent Mydland-era Grateful Dead (one suspects that Mourah knows who that was). And the whole band built to a sprint on what sounded like Malian duskcore icons Tinariwen on steroids. They rocked the gnawa hard at the end. Seemingly sensing that on a night where air conditioning might be overkill but ventilation would be a good idea, the Lincoln Center staff threw open the doors on the Broadway side of the stage, and in seconds there was a refreshing breeze wafting in. Genius.

Ifrikys Spirit are the 21st band from outside the country brought in by global music advocates  Center Stage. They’re currently on US tour; their next stop is the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on Oct 11 and 12. And for any dancers who might regret missing this show, jazz pianist Marc Cary does his funky Fender Rhodes thing here at the atrium space tonight at 7; early arrival is always a good idea. Enter on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd.

Kamikaze Ground Crew Revisit Their Playfully Carnivalesque, Distinctively Erudite Downtown Sound at Roulette

Kamikaze Ground Crew played a somewhat under-the-radar but nonetheless historic reunion show at Roulette last week. Those in attendance might not have completely packed Barbes, where co-founder Gina Leishman played most recently, but they would have sold out the Stone and would have thrilled the tourists at Jazz at Lincoln Center, whether or not that crowd would have recognized them. And many of them would have. This downtown supergroup dates back to the early 80s, when they were a real circus band. There’s been some turnover in the lineup over the years: this was the 90s edition, Leishman more or less out in front and joined by Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax, Doug Wieselman on multi-reeds, Marcus Rojas on tuba, Art Baron on trombone and Kenny Wollesen on drums and gongs Together they delivered a cinematic program that shifted elegantly from amusement to suspense, making tango out of Stravinsky, a wary stroll out of Stockhausen, kaleidescopically disasssembling noir cabaret and taking several detours in a sideshow direction.v

The funniest part of the evening, and the one that harked back most vividly to the band’s punk-jazz roots, was when everybody put down his or her horn and picked up a beer bottle. Bernstein had meticulously adjusted the level in each of them to deliver a specific pitch. Then the whole group blew a surprisingly tight horn chart on their bottles. All that extra beer didn’t seem to affect the trumpeter – although Leishman grinningly recounted how the whole band had to do a lot of drinking in rehearsal to get the part right.

She opened on piano, leading the band through a moody, carefully orchestrated, slowly pulsing new number, switching to alto sax and then back to piano. By the time the show finally wrapped up, almost two hours later, she’d also played baritone sax, ukulele and accordion. Apfelbaum provided judicious resonance and one of the night’s most mysterioualy captivating moments, a long, almost imperceptibly crescendoing solo while Wieselman spiraled artfully through the mix, Wollesen coloring the songs with his rims and hardware and finally the deep-space boom of the gongs. The brass alternated between looming, portentous swells and unleashed exuberance, Rojas opening one number with a solo that veered from comedic to a completely unexpected, frantic chase riff.

They made an early Ellingtonian strut out of Robert Johnson’s Rolling and Tumbling, coalescing slowly out of a flutter of individual voices. A new diptych by Wieselman began as variations on a deceptively simple circular phrase and finally rose out of its slow, whirlpooling chart to more animated terrain. The night’s most overtly noir moments came during a Piazzolla number that shifted back and forth between bustling 50s noir jazz, dixieland flair and a murky interlude midway through. A couple of slow, altered swing numbers souned like the long buildups to the circus acts they probably were written for. And Leishman entreated the audience to listen closely to the Bach-like beauty in a Brecht-Weill number that she’d sliced and diced to bring out every bit of longing its central, canon-like melody before pulling it all together and singing the wistful song pretty much straight up.

Bernstein and Baron got to cut loose the most on a trio of boisterous New Orleans shuffles in the same vein as the former’s recent work with his band the Hot 9, with pianist Henry Butler. Since each band member is involved in so many other projects, there’s no telling if and when this group will reconvene. If there was any band who were before their time, this is them.

Beyond the indie classical and the avant garde stuff that Roulette programs – Glenn Branca is bringing his guitar orchestra here on Oct 8, which should raise the roof – the venue books a lot of jazz as well, no surprise since the space’s original Tribeca incarnation was a jazz loft. On Oct 16, veteran alto saxophonist Oliver Lake begins a contrasting two-night stand. The first night, trumpeter Josh Evans’ Quintet opens for Lake’s Big Band. The second night, Oct 18 pairs two especially interesting postbop trios: trombonist/crooner Frank Lacy with a rhythm section of Kevin Ray and Andrew Drury followed by Lake with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille. Showtime is 8 PM; $20 adv tix are highly rcommended.

Purist Americana Banjo Player and Songwriter Kaia Kater Hits New York for a Couple of Shows

Kaia Kater is sort of a Great White North counterpart to Sarah Jarosz. Both are relatively young (early 20s) and esteemed in Americana circles. Kater’s axe is the banjo; like multi-instrumentalist Jarosz (who has since fallen in with the dadrock crowd), her repertoire draws heavily on high lonesome Appalachian traditoinal sounds. More impressively, Kater is also a talented, tuneful songwriter whose originals stand out in the crowded newgrass/string band world for their vivid, often brooding rusticity. Her debut album, Sorrow Bound, is streaming at her webpage. She’s playing the Jalopy tonight, Oct 5 sometime after 9 as part of Feral Foster‘s weekly Roots & Ruckus multi-act extravaganza; haunting flamenco/Sicilian song reinterpreter Julia Patinella and blues duo Miss Jubilee & Ethan Leinwand are also on the bill. Then tomorrow, Oct 6 Kater is at the small room at the Rockwood at 10 PM.

Kater opens the album by reinterpreting the old standard When Sorrows Encompass Me Round as an ominously allusive southern gothic narrative, her spare, syncopated banjo encompasssed by low cumulo-nimbus piano ambience and the occasional steel guitar whine or roar. Kater’s gentle, honeyed voice rises a little in the jaunty, moonshine-fueled seduction tale Southern Girl, punctuated by dancing fiddle. By contrast, the field holler Sun to Sun evokes the most brooding, terminally depressed chain gang song you could imagine.

Kater switches to French for the spare but lively Acadian dance tune En Filant Ma Quenouille. Then she multitracks her voice for the understatedly funny, surreal, a-cappella Moonshiner. The instrumental Rose on the Mountain gives Kater the chance to flex her chops in tandem with the fiddle, eerie steel lingering underneath. A little later, the trio – Kater again joined by fiddle and steel – swing though another instrumental, the considerably more animated Valley Forge.

The one-chord, minor-key cautionary tales Oh Darlin’ and West Virginia Boys are dead ringers for mid-1800s Bible Belt folk tunes.The album’s longest instrumental, Salt River, is also its most hypotic and modern-sounding. Kater winds up with the understatedly eerie Come and Rest and its enticing Blair Witch ambience.

That Kater happens to be Canadian-born, of Afro-Caribbean descent, is really beside the point. Does anybody make a big deal of the fact that Hank Williams was white and sang a lot of blues? If anything, Kater’s writing reminds just how much cultural cross-pollination there was back when songs first soared over mountain valleys that hadn’t yet been clearcut, stripmined or dotted with cellphone towers disguised as pines.