New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: February, 2017

Relevant Mexican Sounds, and the Hip-Hop Elite Salute a Chinatown Legend

Fearless Mexican-American folk-rockers Las Cafeteras have a cool free download today just in time for President’s Day. If I Was President is off their forthcoming Tastes Like LA album. “We’ve got a different kind of party in the White House tonight.” For real!

And even if rap or stoner Chinese food isn’t your thing, and you’re a New Yorker, check out Narcotechs‘ great new video for their joint Chicken Lo Mein. They filmed it at Wo Hop. If you’re OG NYC, at one time or another you’ve indulged at the legendary Mott Street spot. This was filmed in the basement space – duh – not the street-level room, which draws the tourists in for more ducats. The production draws on a Wu-tang classic from back in the day. Relive your lost youth in this one if you can remember it.

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Stile Antico Bring Rare, Epic Medieval Grandeur to the Upper West Side

Self-directed British choir Stile Antico might well be the world’s best-loved Renaissance vocal group. They work at a daunting pace, always on tour, always changing their repertoire and always recording it when they do. They have a passion for the obscure, the titanic – if you haven’t heard them sing John Sheppard’s Media Vita, you haven’t lived – as well as the pensive and poignant. Their latest album Divine Theatre: Sacred Motets by Giaches De Wert – is streaming at Spotify. They’re bringing their signature lustre and dynamics to the auditorium at 150 W 83rd St., between Amsterdam and Columbus Ave. on Feb 25 at 8 PM. Tix are available via the Miller Theatre at Columbia; the box office at 116th and Broadway is open M-F noon-6. You can get in for $30 if you’re willing to settle for a seat that’s not on top of the stage.

This concert promises material from familiar composers including Thomas Tallis, Clemens Non Papa, Orlando Gibbons, Robert Ramsey and others. Why would Stile Antico want to go to bat for De Wert, five hundred years after his heyday? Maybe because his liturgical works are undeservedly obscure, as opposed to his pioneering madrigals. Born near Antwerp, he spent most of his life in Italy working for local tyrants, primarily in Mantua. His main boss interceded with the Vatican to allow a more liberal mass that gave De Wert room to be his innovative self. And none other than Claudio Monteverdi cited him as an influence. Some people would consider this analogy farfetched, but if Monteverdi is proto-Bach,  maybe De Wert is proto-Buxtehude.

The new album opens with waves of vocals, a brief rondo and then a steadily pulsing magic carpet of counterpoint, a series of currents, low, midrange and high – in constant and fascinating flux. Not all of these works have constant six-part harmony, which makes the effect all the more thrilling when it occurs.

Polyphony that would make the most ambitious art-rock band insanely jealous; jauntily insistent echo effects; a steadily creeping gothic sweep; a rather stern processional; unexpected rhythmic and thematic shifts, in keeping with whatever fire-and-brimstone narratives there are to illustrate. and eventually, holiday carol-like cheer all make an appearance. It’s no wonder Monteverdi held this composer in such high regard.

The standouts in choirs are inevitably easiest to pick up on at opposite extremes: resolute bass Will Dawes, spellbinding soprano Helen Ashby and her colleague Rebecca Hickey, with her diamond-cutting presence, are the most instantly recognizable. As much fun as this is to listen to in the dim light of a laptop late at night after a few drinks, nothing beats hearing this group in concert.

A Rare New York Show and a Killer Album from Paris Combo

Long before the Squirrel Nut Zippers were a gleam in anybody’s eye, or there was such a band as the Flying Neutrinos – remember them? – Paris Combo were swinging the hell out of a sound that was part 20s, part 30s and part 80s, at least when they started. Since then, they’ve maintained a devoted fan base on their side of the pond, but they make it over here too infrequently. Their French lyrics are sardonic, playful and funny; likewise, their music has a lot more edge and bite than your typical goodtimey swing band, which makes sense considering that they got their start when punk rock was still current. These irrepressible, ever-more-eclectic Parisians are making a rare New York stop at City Winery on Feb 21 at 8 PM; $25 admission is available, meaning that you can stand somewhere within shouting distance of the bar and not feel stressed about buying expensive drinks.

Paris Combo’s latest album Tako Tsubo – a Japanese term for the very real cardiological effects of heartbreak – is streaming at youtube. The opening number, Bonne Nouvelle (Good News) is a real stunner, part tarantella rock, part Romany swing. Frontwoman/accordionist Belle du Berry understates the narrative’s ominous undercurrent: it’s about playing with fire, more or less.

Pianist David Lewis opens Je Suis Partie (I’m Out of Here) with an uneasy minor-key glimmer, du Berry channeling moody angst as the band leaps into a bouncy groove from bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac and drummer François Jeannin. Then Lewis supplies balmy trumpet over guitarist Potzi’s breezy, cosmopolitan swing shuffle in the album’s title track, with a droll, tongue-in-cheek hip-hop interlude.

Anemiques Maracas is one of the album’s funniest numbers, part Morricone soundtrack spoof, part yuppie satire. Profil does double duty as balmy, vampy retro 60s ye-ye pop and snide commentary on internet dating. Notre Vie Comme un Western (Our Life As a Western) opens as a surprisingly uneasy waltz and then takes on a cynical bolero-tinged atmosphere, Europeans equally mesmerized and mystified by American cultural imperialism.

Part Django swing, part tongue-in-cheek spy theme, D’Heidi has a wide-eyed sarcasm that recalls the group’s Dutch 80s/90s contemporaries Gruppo Sportivo. The slashing wordplay of Specimen comes across as a French counterpart to New York murder ballad duo Charming Disaster. Just title of Mon Anatomie Cherche un Ami – part Doors, part Chicha Libre – takes that cleverness to to the next level,

Vaille Que Vaille (Somehow) follows a pretty savage faux-Spanish waltz sway: it’s an oldschool existentialist cautionary tale. The faux-reggae Cuir Interieur (Leather Seats) is just plain hilarious: if the Tubes had been good French speakere, they might have sounded something like this. The album winds up with Orageuse (Stormy), which is funny because it’s hardly that – it’s a balmy before-the-rain scenario, at best. Every time you listen to this, you discover something new and amusing, which might well be poking fun at you too. Count this as one of the best albums to come over the transom here in the past several months.

Fearless Populist Lyrical Insight From Hip-Hop Artist Decora at Lincoln Center

In his Lincoln Center debut last night, rapper Decora tackled one controversial issue after another with eloquence, and mind-expanding flow, and crushingly spot-on insight. He takes the everyday issues that we all struggle with and makes them poetic – if you need validation, Decora’s there for you. Honestly and succinctly, he tackled topics as far-reaching as the sociological roots of police brutality, the challenges of being one of five black or latino guys in a redneck white upstate town, the trials of raising a multicultural kid under Donald Trump white supremacy, and the toll racism takes on a relationship. He’s something akin to a young Nas without the gangbanger backdrop, or Guru without the brag, or a more New York State-centric Immortal Technique.

Those guys are all icons – that Decora deserves mention alongside them speaks to his fearlessness and political relevance, never mind the verbal pyrotechnics. In terms of pure lyrical skill, this guy’s technique reaches for the immortal: his genius is that he writes to keep the party going, but to keep you thinking nonstop. Lyrical insight aside, what was coolest about the show was Decora’s eight-piece live band: musical director and multi-keyboardist Neil Alexander; guitarist Dylan Doyle; six-string bassist Sam Smith; drummer Lee Falco; turntablists DJH20 and DJ Trumastr and a couple of backing vocalists.

Together they played Decora’s new album Beyond Belief all the way through, opening with an epic grey-sky ambience evoking classic 90s RZA productions, then switched to backdrops ranging from psychedelic Laurel Canyon boudoir soul, to grittily metallic funk lit up by Doyle’s tersely bluesy guitar, to New Orleans-flavored grooves carried by a tight two-piece horn section. Overhead, Decora’s rhymes ranged from rapidfire to sniper shots.

The opening number, Perfect Division, was a withering portrait of inequality, followed by the epic, disarmingly revealing Beyond My Doorstep, tracing the story of a guy facing the daily struggles of any minority in this country. Decora’s persona seems to be pretty much what he is, an unselfconsciously down-to-earth 99-percenter, eschewing gangsta cliches or prefab made-for-American-Idol shtick dumbed down for the element who would buy what they could download if they actually used their brains.

Decora riffed on fairweather friends in the cynical Changed Lanes and the perils of being a wannabe star in White Vans, but the best joint in this relentless set was What’s Up, a coldly logical assessment of the psychology that makes a white cop kill an innocent black victiim, tracing its historical roots back to Jim Crow and slavery. He followed that with another cynical, torrentially lyrical number, Confirmation.

They closed with an original hip-hop reimagining of the iconic Pete Seeger folk hit Where Have All the Flowers Gone and encored with a more urban anthem. After an hour onstage, the crowd – from the audience response, half deep Brooklyn, half upstate, many of them making the trip all the way down here on the bus – screamed for a second encore. The new album hasn’t made it to Decora’s Genius page yet, but you can bookmark it if lyrics are your thing: there’s plenty of inspiration there. Decora plays BSP Lounge, 323 Wall St. in Kingston on March 2 at 9 PM.

A Playful Change of Pace for New Orleans Chanteuse Carsie Blanton

On one hand, for Carsie Blanton to put out a record of Lynchian retro rock is kind of like the Squirrel Nut Zippers making a heavy metal album. But the Zippers are great musicians – who knows, maybe they’d pull it off. Turns out Blanton is just as adept at allusive, nocturnal early 60s Nashville pop as the oldtimey swing she made her mark in. Her latest album, So Ferocious, is streaming at her webpage and available as a name-your-price download, the best advertising she could possibly want for her upcoming show at 7 PM on Feb 21 at the Mercury. Cover is $10.

Although it’s a switch for her, Blanton is just as badass and funny as she is out in front of a swing band. She sings and plays uke here, backed by guitarist Pete Donnelly, keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Jano Rix. One of the funniest tracks is Fat and Happy, a return to Blanton’s oldtimey days: the theme is “just wait and see,” and the way it turns out is too LMAO to give away.

Fever Dream builds a surreal New Orleans after-the-storm scenario, darkly spare bass paired against sepulchral toy piano. Hot Night offers a bouncy, energetic contrast, spiced with a distant brass chart; if Springsteen really wanted to write an oldschool soul song, he would have done it like this. Another nocturnal soul ballad, Lovin Is Easy pairs a spare string section against similarly low-key electric piano and Blanton’s unselfconsciously matter-of-fact, tender vocals.

Ravenous, a chirpy look back at adolescent friskiness, has a roller-rink charm that brings to mind both the Kinks and the Cucumbers, a mashup that Blanton revisits on the understatedly biting title track.. She turns the clock back anothe twenty years in Scoundrel, a coy Phil Spector pop tale about a couple of troublemakers.

Musically speaking, the album’s best track is probably The Animal I Am, a defiant individualist’s anthem set to artsy Jeff Lynne-style Nashville gothic pop. The album’s darkest track is To Be Known, part brooding Jimmy Webb chamber pop, part early BeeeGees existentialist lament. “Isn’t it al you ever wanted, to be alone?” Blanton ponders. Or is it “To be known?”. There’s also Vim and Vigor, a funnier take on what Amy Winehouse was up to before she self-destructed. Download this irrepressibly fun, dynamic mix and get to know one of the real genuine individualists in retro rock and many other styles as well.

Twisted Valentine Fun with Genghis Barbie

Is there any logic at all to be willing to take a bullet for Dolly Parton, or to at least give Madonna a push out of harm’s way…or to offer that level of allegiance to Lady Gag, or Mariah Carey instead?  Is that just a matter of personal taste? Or a matter of growing up while Ed Meese was assembling the world’s largest porn collection at taxpayer expense…or in an era remembered best for the radiation poisoning known as Gulf War Syndrome …or during the Obama years, when drones were blowing up Islamic wedding parties in the desert?

Or is this just scraping the bottom of the barrel, any way you look at it?

Obviously, you can tell whose side this blog is on. Early Tuesday evening, before any of us were called home for Valentine duty, all-female french horn quartet Genghis Barbie packed the Miller Theatre uptown for a goodnaturedly amusing display of fierce chops and wicked new reinventions of otherwise pretty cheesy material.

Back when your parents or grandparents were kids, they used to call shows like this “pops concerts.” Orchestral musicians would catch a break playing easy charts for instrumental versions of the radio hits of the day. This usually happened at places like the Brooklyn Prom or Coney Island. What differentiated this concert from that kind of schlock wasn’t so much the material as the arrangements and the musicianship.

Genghis Barbie played with an intuitive chemistry and a boisterously contagious camaraderie. Somebody to Love, by Queen – Freddie Mercury’s mashup of doo-wop and opera buffo – got a neat baroque arrangement and an even funnier singalong round at the end led by Leelanee Sterrett, a.k.a. Cosmic Barbie, and then Rachel Drehmann, a.k.a. Attila the Horn. Likewise, the deadpan, steady exchange of voices in Without You – written by Badfinger’s Peter Ham, turned into a hit by another doomed Brit, Harry Nilsson and then tepidly reprised by Carey about a quarter century ago. The quartet – who also include the similarly sardonic, talented Danielle Kuhlmann, a.k.a. Velvet Barbie, and Alana Vegter, a.k.a. Freedom Barbie, went deep into Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach to reveal its inner oldschool disco goddess. A little later, the group took a Lady Gag number to the Balkans and made a quasi-cocek out of it. They took a detour into the opera world, then jumped forward a century and a half to the Disney autotune era once again. Colorfully yet effortlessly, they switched between bubbly Balkan phrasing and orchestral lustre.

The highlight of the show, at least from this perspective, was a vivid Spanish-tinged instrumental take of the Dolly Parton classic Jolene. The low point was a cover from the catalog of a saccharine California pop group from the 60s who got their start ripping off Chuck Berry and then did the same to the Beatles. For much of that time, one of that extended family band was hanging out with another family – the Mansons. You can read about it in the Vince Bugliosi classic Helter Skelter.

The next concert at the Miller Theatre features the work of hauntingly atmospheric, sometimes shamanic Japanese composer Misato Mochizuki played by amazingly eclectic indie classical ensemble Yarn/Wire on March 2 at 8 PM; $25 tix are available. 

Microtonal Merrymaking at the Mayflower

It was a treat to get to hear Concetta Abbate on Sunday at Mayflower Bar in Fort Greene. Abbate is best known as a violinist and composer of beguiling chamber-pop miniatures, but she’s also a magically nuanced, expressive singer. Lately she’s been working on finishing up her Master’s at Columbia, so she hasn’t been playing out a lot.

This time was a rapturous, mostly improvised duo set with Kyle Farrell, who played a marimba-like instrument invented by Skip Laplante. Its series of eighteen evenly tuned metal pipes covered the span of an octave, laid flat atop a styrofoam box doing double duty as resonator and carrying case. Guitar maven Bob Bannister, who was in the house, called it a styrophone, and the name stuck.

Abbate began the show by improvising gracefully strolling melodies. singing and then riffing on a series of Rumi poems from an older and almost surrealistically literal English translation. Meanwhile, Farrell kept the otherworldly, microtonal ripples and pings going, occasionally using a daf frame drum for extra texture or rhythm. Later in the set, he removed a handful of pipes to pare down the available tones for what ended up sounding both more western and more Asian, depending on how close the harmonies were.

Singing in Spanish, Abbate also treated the crowd to a couple of Peruvian tonadas, one a plaintive traditional number and the other an original inspired by a training ritual employed by shamanic healers. After the set was over, impresario Rose Thomas Bannister – who has one of the deepest address books in New York and runs the weekly music series here – took a playful turn on the mallets. The show this coming Sunday, Feb 19 stats at around 2 PM and features excellent cellist/composer Leah Coloff, who’s best known for her Lou Reed collaboration but has an impressively eclectic solo catalog as well.

Cocooning in Soho with Bing and Ruth

It took until about the halfway point in Bing and Ruth’s album release show last night at the Greene Space before the brunette in the front row finally rested her head on the shoulder of the adjacent sweaterboy. New Yorkers have been cocooning a lot lately: it’s hard to think of a more apt, or possibly more hopeful soundtrack for quiet reflection than the ensemble’s new record No Home of the Mind – available on vinyl and streaming at WNYC – which they played from start to finish.

Pianist David Moore has scaled down the original scope of the band from almost a dozen members to the current five, in the process further concretizing his signature blend of minimalism, indie classical and electroacoustic trance music. As the group’s instrumentals segued from one into another, they brought to mind acts as diverse as Anton BagatovDawn of Midi without the thump, George Winston without the sentimentality, or even Bruce Hornsby if he’d gone into minimalism after his time with the Grateful Dead.

What was most impressive was how little the group relies on electronics. Other acts would take Moore’s looping phrases and have a pedal do all the heavy lifting. Not Moore: it’s one thing to play his gnomic clusters, and elegant arpeggios, and Philip Glass-ine phrases once with perfect timing; Moore did it over and over, with unwavering intonation and touch and rhythm and made it seem easy. Much of the time, he had his eyes closed. Clarinetist Jeremy Viner, who supplied subtly shifting shades enhanced by a pedalboard, might have opened his once during about 45 minutes onstage. The two bassists – Greg Chudzik and Jeff Ratner – took different roles, one anchoring the music with a series of low drones, the other playing higher up the fingerboard and adding the occasional, understatedly emphatic slow glissando. Mike Effenberger sat stage left, running the sound through a series of mixers, sometimes for minute timbral shirts or oscillations, occasionally for dramatic low-versus-high effect. Moore began with his most energetic phrasing, segued down toward enigmatic ambience, took a turn into minor keys for the night’s most acerbic moments and ended on a warmly nocturnal note. 

Considering that Bing and Ruth usually play much larger spaces, it was something of a shock to see that the intimate Greene Space – a former deli about the same size as Hifi Bar – wasn’t sold out. Then again, everyone’s cocooning these days. Bing and Ruth’s next New York show is on April 10 at the San Damiano Mission, 85 N 15th St in Williamsburg, time/price TBA.

Just for the record, there is nobody with either the name Bing or Ruth in Bing and Ruth. There’ve been thousands of illustrious Ruths over the centuries; beyond a crooner of cheesy 1930s pop hits, a baseball executive, and the world’s most useless search engine, there haven’t been too many Bings. Here’s to this group for redeeming the name.

A Rare Chance to See Fearless, Intense African Rock Trailblazer Noura Mint Seymali

The second track on Noura Mnt Seymali’s latest album Arbina – streaming at Bandcamp – is a psychedelic Islamic gospel song. It’s an incredible piece of music. Seymali’s husband and lead guitarist Jeiche Ould Chigaly plays warpedly blues-infused lines through a wah pedal in an offcenter scale that’s somewhere between American rock and an uneasy Middle Eastern mode, Seymali supplying elegant rhythm on her ardine, a kora-like, smallscale harp. The scion of a famed Mauritanian musical family. Seymali is a fearlessly feminist trailblazer from a part of the world where that kind of stance can earn you a death sentence, family ties or not.

Now imagine if a reality tv bully and failed casino owner tried banning Muslims from entering the US in order to placate his political party’s Christian supremacist lunatic fringe. If that happened, we’d never get to see Seymali and her wildly psychedelic band, who are playing the album release show at Littlefield on March 2 at 7 PM. $20 advance tix are available, and considering the political climate, this may be your last chance to see her here for the next four years. The World Music Institute get credit for booking this show as part of their ongoing desert blues series. 

The material on the rest of the album is just as strong as that second cut. The title track opens it, part swaying funk, part Malian-style desert rock jam, Chigaly’s alternately punchy and slinky microtonal lines over a tight groove from bassist Ousmane Toure and drummer Matthew Tinari. Seymali’s indomitable mezzo-soprano voice channels a guarded triumph, at one point opaquely encouraging the women around her to “get a injection” in the event they get sick. Baby steps today, giant steps tomorrow.

The third track might be the most high-voltage lullaby ever recorded, rippling with intertwining ardine and guitar. Suedi Koum is slower and more resolute, a rather tender shout-out from one musician to another, Seymali reassuring the star who’s left the stage that she’s got his back no matter what dangers might be lurking in the crowd.

A cover of a defiantly triumphant anti-imperialist hit by Seymali’s father,  Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, shifts back and forth between a catchy singalong chorus and shapeshifting desert rock. Ghiana is as hypnotic as it it anthemic: Chigaly’s dulcimer-like lines bring to mind Richard Thompson in extreme folk-rock mode. Seymali shifts toward more wary ambience with Ghizlane, an understatedly desperate escape anthem.

Ya Demb is a spiky, undulating electric update of a funny, traditional Moorish wedding song, a sort of emperor-has-no-clothes scenario. After a misterioso improv intro, Soub Hanak – the most straight-up rock number on the album – speaks starkly to the solace of music amid the ravages of war. The final cut, Tia, a prayer, slinks along Tinariwen style amid Chigaly’s alternately staccato and resonant guitar multitracks.

A shout to No Grave Like the Sea’s Tony Maimone, whose masterful mastering job captured the growliest lows of Toure’s downtuned bass without throwing the rest of the mix off wack.

Who Wouldn’t Go to Staten Island for Shostakovich?

Sitting at the bar yesterday afternoon, a new musician friend’s eyes widened. “You went to Staten Island last night to see the 8th Shostakovich? I’d go to Staten Island to see that!”

An intimate crowd of Staten Islanders, a cool couple from New Jersey and at least one Manhattanite made it out to the Staten Island Art Museum Saturday night to see a string quartet subset of the Musical Chairs Chamber Ensemble deliver a meticulous, absolutely chilling, transcendent performance of that harrowing piece of music along with two eye-opening world premieres, plus a similar work from the 70s, a smashingly intuitive bit of programming.

Dmitri Shostakovich reputedly wrote his eighth string quartet over a three-day span in 1959. As he put it, it was a self-penned obituary. The story goes that he was under the assumption that the KGB – who’d murdered so many of his friends and colleagues  – were about to come for him. He’d been asked to formally join the Soviet Communist Party, a choice he’d dodged for decades.

Composer Andrew Rosciszewski – whose two premieres would follow on the bill – counted 158 moments when Shostakovich musically referenced his own initials throughout the piece: tracked, and followed, and as he saw it, ultimately dead in those tracks.

The group – violinists Izabella Liss Cohen and Mikhail Kuchuk, violist Lucy Corwin and cellist Timothy Leonard – channeled every frantic moment, every steady upward trajectory toward horror. The relentlessness they brought to the introductory chase scene, then the crushing irony in the merciless kangaroo court references afterward were a a cautionary tale to the extreme. One can only imagine how much more easily a death squad could have targeted dissident composers if Facebook had existed in 1959.

That the rest of the program wasn’t anticlimactic speaks to both the quality of the material and the performance. The group closed with Henryk Gorecki’s String Quartet No. 2, which like the Shostakovich was written behind the Iron Curtain and, while less grim, builds a coldly immutable atmosphere and also contains sarcastic faux-pageantry. It’s also much harder to play. Leonard is a beast of a cellist: pedaling the same note resolutely for what seemed like twenty minutes, with perfectly unflinching inflection is a recipe for muscle cramps, among other pain, and he didn’t let up. Corwin shared many such moments, often in tandem with him, and was equal to the challenge. This endless conflict between relentlessness and restlessness brought to mind the question, which came first, this, or Louis Andriessen’s similarly mechanical if much louder Worker’s Union?

In between, the world premiere of Rosciszewski’s String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 made not only a perfect segue but helped complete the circle; they’re essentially the missing links between the two other works on the bill, a homage to Shostakovich and Gorecki as well as a prime example of how a 21st century composer can springboard off their respective styles. The ensemble played No. 2 first, uneasily conversational, emphatically minimal phrases juxtaposed with subtly shifting permutations on a theme, with a twisted, wickedly difficult microtonal klezmer dance of sorts as a scherzo in the middle. Which was extremely demanding, especially for Cohen, but she sprinted between the raindrops and slid through pools of microtones and made it look easy, as did Kuchuk when his turn came up. Rosciszewski’s First String Quartet was much shorter and came across as something of a study for the second, beginning with a bracing minor-key polka. Like Shostakovich, Rosciszewski’s work is distinguished by considerable humor and an omnipresent sense of irony. These pieces instantly put him on the map as someone worth watching: he deserves to be vastly better known

The Musical Chairs Chamber Ensemble are artists-in-residence at the Staten Island Museum. The theme of their current season there is revolution, an apt choice this year; their next concert is March 4 at 8 PM featuring a program of vocal music TBA. Cover is $15/$5 for students.