New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: June, 2018

This Year’s Midsummer Night Swing Festival Kicks Off on a Powerfully Relevant Note

Midsummer Night Swing is a New York rite of passage. Everybody does it at one time or another. It’s hard to think of a more romantic date night. Every year starting at the end of June, Lincoln Center rolls out a real dancefloor at the southwestern corner of the campus in Damrosch Park, where an eclectic series of bands serenade the dancers with everything from 30s big band swing to 20s hot jazz, salsa dura, and this year, even classic honkytonk. Not everybody dances; lots of folks just come out for the music, or to watch the spectacle. By Manhattan jazz club standards, admission is a real bargain at $17, and there are deals if you go to multiple shows, as many people do.

This Tuesday, June 26 at 7:30 PM is kickoff night with a monster all-female band assembled by Lincoln Center specially for this occasion. They take their inspiration from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated, all-female swing group. Trumpeter Bria Skonberg leads this multi-generational mix of allstar and rising star talent, which features Regina Carter on violin, Anat Cohen on clarinet and Champian Fulton on piano with Lakecia Benjamin, Sharel Cassity, Chloe Feoranzo, and Camille Thurman on saxes; Emily Asher on trombone; Linda Briceño and Jami Dauber also on trumpets; Endea Owens on bass and Savannah Harris on drums.

If you’re going there to listen, who among these artists should you single out? Pretty much all have them have gotten some ink here at one point or another. One of the most obvious choices is Anat Cohen, who turned in what was arguably the most riveting performance at last year’s Charlie Parker Festival with her epic, often hauntingly mysterious, klezmer-influenced tentet, testifying to her prowess in a big band setting.

On one hand, her latest album, Live in Healdsburg – streaming at Spotify and recorded in California a couple of years ago – is 180 degrees from that, a duo performance with the similarly lyrical Fred Hersch on piano. Yet in its own way, it’s just as lavish, an expansive, warmly conversational, vivid and unselfconsciously joyous collaboration.

Hersch opens the night’s first track, the aptly titled A Lark, with impressionistic, Debussy-esque belltones before Cohen gently dances in and then all of a sudden it’s a surreal update on ragtime. The push-pull between Cohen’s voice of reason and Hersch’s trickster is irresistibly fun, especially when the two switch roles and Cohen goes spiraling. Neither have ever glistened more than they do here.

Another Hersch number, Child’s Song is both more spaciously tender and tropical, giving Cohen a launching pad for her terse, crystalline, often balletesque lines, especially when Hersch mutes his insistent, pointillistic approach. Hersch begins the first Cohen tune here, The Purple Piece with a brooding austerity: it’s as far from over-the-top as you can get. Cohen maintains the bluesy bittersweetness with her aching melismas over an understated waltz rhythm, Hersch grounding it with his expressive neoromantic chords and occasional, more incisive shifts.

As they do with many of the songs here, they build from opacity to an understated swing and then playful, experimentation in a pretty radical remake of Isfahan. Then in in the last of the Hersch pieces, Lee’s Dream, they jump out of their shoes gracefully over a precise, distantly stride-influenced piano drive that bookends a flutteringly disorienting interlude.

From Hersch’s phantasmagorical intro to Cohen’s similarly canivalesque shifts between wistful blues and eerie microtones, the album’s most lavish number could be characterized as a haunting improvisation loosely based on Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks. Their approach to Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz is similar if somewhat more flitting. They encore with a similarly individualistic version of Mood Indigo, Cohen’s low, meticulously somber approach lightened somewhat by Hersch’s spare, steady, glimmering architecture. There could be plenty of moments like this from a completely different crew on Tuesday night in the park.

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Elida Almeida Brings Her Catchy, Evocative Cape Verdean Anthems and Dancefloor Grooves to Lincoln Center

Elida Almeida might be the most prominent voice in Cape Verdean music since Cesaria Evora. Her global popularity attests to her ability to transcend linguistic barriers: she can evoke any emotion she wants, from righteous rage to exquisite tenderness.

“We really want to make sure that we are representing the people who make up this city, and the world,” Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh, who booked her show there last night, reminded the crowd. “If you have an opinion, call your representative.” She didn’t elaborate any further, but no doubt Almeida was on that same wavelength.

Almeida’s lyrics, in her native vernacular, have a biting social awareness. Sometimes allusively, sometimes very forcefully, she addresses the weariness of exile, young brides’ disillusionment, tragedy and struggle in the ghetto, and themes of nostalgia and escape. Likewise, her music extends far beyond the brooding morna balladry made world-famous by Evora, to bouncy funana and percussive batuque grooves. 

Almeida and her band opened with a pulsing, darkly anthemic minor-key number, segueing in a split-second into a twinkling soukous-tinged dance interlude fueled by Hernani Almeida’s spiky electric guitar and Diego Gomes’ pointillistic electric piano. By now, a young, energized Cape Verdean massive had moved onto the dancefloor.

An achingly lilting ballad rose and fell over a waterfall of echoey keys, matched by a jagged Portuguese guitar solo that peaked out in a flurry of tremolo-picking. “Everybody loves morna,” Almeida acknowledged as she brought the lights down with a moody, expectantly melancholy piano ballad, joining voices with Gomes for some tenderly ominous harmonies. Then she picked up the pace with a catchily whirling, syncopated batuque anthem, inviting a lady in the crowd up onstage for a brief orgy of booty-shaking, then drawing the crowd into a big singalong.

An enigmatically hooky three-chord progression anchored the anthem that followed. Then Gomes switched to accordion for a propulsive cumbia, which was where the whole house really started bouncing. Maybe that’s why the band leapt into doublespeed, bassist Nelly Cruz and drummer Magik Santiago digging in hard at the end.

A slow, spacious, regretful acoustic ballad with an achingly spare guitar solo was next on the bill, followed by a raucously scampering, latin-infused accordion tune that might have been the night’s most memorable song. From there the band took a sprint through what sounded like a Mexican banda polka and then sent a soaring, wryly aphoristic shout-out to cachupa, the Cape Verdean national rice-and-beans dish. Like any other seaside nation, Cape Verde is a real melting pot, further underscored by the salsa-funk tune the band barreled through after that. They encored with a plaintively swaying ballad that brought to mind vintage Sade as much as it did Evora. 

On one hand, listening to music from cultures with unfamiliar languages always feels a little vicarious. On the other, if you want a free, early-evening global tour of what’s happening around the world, just steps from the local IRT Broadway subway, Lincoln Center is the place to be this year. Their Atrium 360 series continues next Thursday, June 28 at 7:30 PM with a NYU-sponsored allstar lineup including but not limited to Palestinian singer Amal Murkus, Italian nyckelharpa virtuoso Marco Ambrosini, Israeli oudist Yair Dalal and Ghanian fiddler Meirigah Abubakari, all mashing up styles from their similarly eclectic backgrounds. With all of those diasporas coming out for the show, get there early if you’re going.

And the following night, June 29 Almeida and band are back in town for a show at SOB’s at 11 PM; cover is $25.

Deliciously Dark Heavy Psych Sounds in Gowanus Saturday Night

This Saturday night, June 23 starting at 8ish there’s a monster heavy rock triplebill at Lucky 13 Saloon in Gowanus. Deliciously dirgey, hypnotic Brooklyn doom metal band Neither God Nor Master open the night, followed by darkly artsy boogie band Hogan’s Goat and then haunting heavy psych band Matte Black. The venue’s calendar page doesn’t list a cover charge, but it’s usually ten bucks here. 

Much as the night’s two later bands are excellent, the most intriguing act could be Brooklyn’s own Neither God Nor Master. When’s the last time you heard a doomy heavy psych band with a cello and a woman out front? Their debut release – you could call its two epic tracks either an ep or a maxi-single – is up at Bandcamp as a free download.

As the nine-minute dirge The Weedeologue gets underway, guitarist Mike Calabrese looms ominously, throws bloodsplatters of blues in between his chords a la Tony Iommi and lets the feedback grow and then recede over the slow, unstoppable wave motion of bassist Paul Atreides and drummer Angela Tornello. Singer Valerie Russo walks a steady line between echoey clarity and mystery, a somber, distant presence.

The second song is Who Placates the Fire. The rhythm section sway along, driven by Atreides’ Electric Funeral chromatics and cellist Chelsea Shugert’s creepy fuzztones, Russo’s voice slowly sliding around the midrange. Calabrese eventually hits his wah pedal and channels Ron Asheton at halfspeed. Fans of classic and newschool doom, from Sabbath and Sleep to Electric Citizen, will love this band. If they get a chance to hit the road, they have a global audience waiting for them, lighters raised, reeking of weed.

The Sideshow Tragedy Amp Up Their Uneasy, Ferocious Punk Blues

Austin duo the Sideshow Tragedy’s 2015 album Capital was “a sinister, brilliantly metaphorical portrait of a nation gone off the rails in an orgy of greed and mass desperation,” as this blog described it at the time. Since the fateful 2016 election, it’s only taken on more relevance. The band’s new album, The View From Nowhere is streaming at Bandcamp. The music is heavier and more corrosively enveloping than the band’s earlier material, while the lyrics are surprisingly more spare, hip hop-influenced and surprisingly hopeful. The duo of guitarist Nathan Singleton and drummer Jeremy Harrell are making a relatively rare New York stop tomorrow night, June 21 at 10:30 PM at the Manderley Bar at the McKittrick Hotel, 530 W 27th St. between 10th/11th Aves on the south side of the street. Watch for the little red light; admission is free.

As the duo build to an impressibly hefty Some Girls-era Rolling Stones groove in the album’s opening cut, Lost Time, Singleton sets the tone for what’s to come:

What does it mean to forgive
What would it cost live under the weight of memory
My body gives out underneath

The songs, and much of the rest of the album, strongly bring to mind Marcellus Hall’s great bassless 90s New York trio White Hassle.

Piston Blues is a showcase for Singleton’s snarling, serpentine blues hammer-ons. Trust has a funky lowrider slink that the duo build to a catchy, hypnotic riff-rock groove, with welcome, defiant optimism. Nobody, a mashup of 70s Stones and the Gun Club, has a cynical “I’ll get mine come hell or high water” message. “There’s nobody out on the road tonight, just me and my  memories looking for a fight,” Singleton intones bitterly. 

The band keep the hard funk going in Time to Taste, with a haggard, screechy sax break. Singleton’s enigmatically shifting open chords fuel Afraid to Fall: “I’m painting the future as a masterpiece, screaming my lungs out in the belly of the beast,” he rails. It’s the most darkly funny and lyrically complex tune here.

The epically shuffling Long Time Coming has a guarded optimism, Harrell’s gunshot accents under Singleton’s fire-and-brimstone imagery. For Your Love – an original, not the Yardbirds hit – is the most ornate track here, Singleton’s lingering guitar multitracks over Harrell’s steady stomp. The album winds up with pensive, mutedly Dylanesque title track: “Can’t look anybody in the eye, can’t suspend my disbelief,” Singleton muses. It’s a change of pace for the band: while the album doesn’t have the previous album’s visceral, apocalyptic impact, the guitar here is no less assaultively tasty. 

A Hilariously Irreverent, Wickedly Tuneful New Album From Irrepressible Saxophonist Elijah Shiffer

Elijah Shiffer is one of the most colorful saxophonists and composers in New York. As a member of this city’s most exhilarating, original klezmer jazz band, Klazz-Ma-Tazz, he gets plenty of opportunities to entertain with his sizzling chops and sense of humor. Shiffer also has an irresistibly fun new album of his own material, Unhinged, with his band the Robber Crabs streaming at Bandcamp, and a gig tomorrow night, June 20 at 9:30 PM at Arete Gallery in Greenpoint.

Shiffer  – limiting himself strictly to alto sax here – sprints jovially over the spring-loaded backdrop of guitarist Andrew Shillito, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Tim Rachbach (his Klazz-Ma-Tazz bandmate) in the catchy, samba-tinged opening track, Crab Dance. Likewise, Material Overture is a wryly jaunty postbop number, Shiffer swinging the blues for all it’s worth, Shillito careening and crunching, then turning it over to Kenney’s growling prowl as the band hits a Booker T groove.

The title track is crazy in an OCD way, an uptight strut where Shiffer works his way down from a squeal with one buffoonish melisma after another, landing comfortably in New Orleans for a bit before the gremlins invade again. Shillito’s R2D2 microtones add squirrelly surrealism.

Isabelline sounds suspiciously like a hot 20s swing parody as Mostly Other People Do the Killing would do it, complete with deadpan banjo from Shillito  and some snarky conversation between Schiffer and bass saxophonist Jay Rattman. The group revisit that vein later in the album with I Know What I Want to Do, which seems to be less satirical. You never know with these guys,

The album’s catchiest, hardest-charging track is a cinematic instrumental rock tune, Loosestrife, Shillito blasting through his distortion pedal. That Dada Strain is a deliciously syncopated mashup of klezmer and dixieland, with a sudden tempo shift that’s as amusing as it is predictable. The Drapes (Much of a Muchness) is definitely all that, a rather frantic number driven by Shillito’s crunchy chords until Shiffer goes dancing toward Crescent Street again.

Finally, eight tracks into the album, they hit a ballad, Mangrove, a slow, balmy, bluesy stroll. The album’s most cartoonishly amusing track is Flotsam – with its peek-a-boo phrasing juxtaposed with uneasy, acidic, noir-tinged guitar, it brings to mind the Microscopic Septet. The quintet close the album with That’s a Plenty, a ridiculously amusing hardcore punk cartoon theme. It’s hard to imagine a band having more fun onstage than these guys.

A Refreshing New Spin on Old Soul Sounds and a Bowery Ballroom Gig from the Individualistic Liz Brasher

The coolest thing about Body of Mine, the opening track on soul singer Liz Brasher’s debut ep Outcast, isn’t the vocals, which have a refreshingly understated angst. Nor is it the song’s purposeful, bluesy tune. It’s how Brasher substitutes her own fuzztone guitar for a smoky baritone sax. Ever since Amy Winehouse and then the late great Sharon Jones springboarded the oldschool soul revival, it seems that every suburban lawyer with money to burn has been getting behind one big-voiced soul woman after another in search of something like cred, and some apocryphal payday in what’s left of an industry they know nothing about. Liz Brasher does not appear to be part of that crowd, because her music doesn’t fit the mold. She’s playing Bowery Ballroom this June 22 at 9 PM; cover is $20. Just be aware that there are two bands on after her and neither one is worth knowing about.

The ep – streaming at Bandcamp – rocks harder than your typical vintage 60s soul ballad collection, and it’s darker and bluesier than any of the frantic American Idol imitators could ever be. Brasher gets that fuzztone going again in the biting minor-key second second track, Come My Way, rising to a swaying, pulsing Tammi Terrell-style crescendo on the chorus and then doubletracking her guitar for extra slash on the way out.

Distorted Nord Electro piano and swirling organ mingle over a stomping, swinging beat in Feel Something. “You copy my moves, you do what you want but everyone knows,” Brasher intones knowingly; there isn’t a single point here where she goes for phony gospel excess.

The title cut is a straight-up garage rock nugget, all catchy fuzztone vamping and tumbling drums. Brasher’s lingering, tremoloing chords underpin distant latin allusions (no surprise considering her Dominican heritage) in the bittersweetly crescendoing Remain. The ep winds up with its most retro cut, Cold Baby, Brasher channeling righteous defiance over a lushly orchestrated bed of strings and organ. She’s got a full-length album due out this summer, which is worth keeping an eye out if you’re into this stuff but don’t have the energy to look that fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliche.

That’s an Elvis Costello quote, by the way.

A Harrowing, Hauntingly Relevant, Apocalyptic Album and a North Carolina Stand by Curtis Eller’s New Psychedelic Band

Curtis Eller has been one of the great songwriters in any style of music since the early zeros. His music has a deep gothic Americana streak and an occasional resemblance to Tom Waits, with a similarly diverse Americana palette that spans from blues to bluegrass to the theatre music that’s become Eller’s latest focus. He’s also a magnetic live performer, and a killer storyteller (pun intended). His latest project features his new dark psychedelic band the Bipeds, who are playing this coming weekend at their dance company’s performance at the Fruit, 305 South Dillard St in Durham, North Carolina. Shows are June 21-23 at 8 PM, with an additional 6 PM performance on June 24. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs.

The Bipeds’ haunting, Orwellian, carnivalesque debut album, 54 Strange Words, is streaming at Bandcamp. Bristling with fire-and-brimstone metaphors, it’s an assessment of how a populace can be both lulled and beaten into submission by a police state. Musically, it’s something of a departure for Eller in that the songs are both a lot longer and louder than most of his back catalog, partially due to the presence of electric guitarist Jack Fleishman (who also takes a turn on the drums). Joseph Dejarnette plays bass and baritone guitar, with Gabriel Anderson usually behind the drumkit. Stacy Wolfson, Dana Marks, Jessi Knight and William Commander all pitch in on vocals.

Eller’s spare banjo opens the first track, awash in reverb. setting the stage for this grim whodunit as it morphs into a hypnotic, loopy groove akin to early Country Joe & the Fish in 7/8 time. “Human error and blood on my hands – you want murder, man, this is one,” Eller intones.

A Ragged Sayonara, a sad, slow country waltz, features an arresting break for Marks’ mighty, theremin-like, operatic vocalese. It seems to be directed at a ghost. “Sayonara, my poison, a shadow grows into my dreams…and mercury blossoms rise through me,” Eller matter-of-factly explains.

An ominously echoey minature, The Ransom Note segues into Great Skeleton House, a creepy, slow stomp with the women in the band on vocals, dead bones assembled as some twisted kind of metaphorical home. As with the opening number, Eller kicks off the fire-and-brimstone delta blues Dressful of Dreams with spare, brooding solo banjo, then the rhythm section hits a shuffle beat and they’re off, rising to an uneasily enveloping crescendo. A funeral pyre may be involved.

A Surgical Solution is a diptych, first an Appalachian poltergeist aria, just Marks backed by Eller’s skeletal banjo. As the band shifts into an ominous, metaphorically bristling blues, the Orwellian linguistics and implications thereof, which Eller alludes to earlier in the album, finally break the surface.

Strange Words is the key to this song cycle, a sternly apocalyptic 6/8 minor-key blues that builds to another hypnotic psych-folk vamp . “There’s a human heart beating in the silence, the only thing a human heart can do,” Eller muses in typical aphoristic fashion. As his narrative grows more macabre, it’s a reminder of how similar biblical and wartime imagery are. The final cut is Amnesiac’s Grace, imagining with withering Roger Waters-style cynicism what the world would be like once everything displeasing to the dictators has been erased. Needless to say, in times like these, we need more albums like this. And if the theatrical performance even remotely echoes Eller’s bleak, uncompromising vision, it must be pretty intense.

JD Allen Reinvents Boudoir Jazz

There used to be a NPR clip of Betty Carter playing a New Year’s Eve show where in one of the night’s closing swing ballads, a young JD Allen took a solo that was absolutely perfect for what it was: wee-hour contented bliss. Many years later, one suspects that’s not what jazz fans are counting on from him. If anybody has that clip or knows where it is, holler back: it’s relevant to this discussion.

For the last ten years or so, Allen has been the Mingus of the tenor sax, this era’s most darkly tuneful, ferociously relevant and often witheringly intense player, composer and bandleader on that instrument. Over the past couple of years, he’s deviated from his often searing, modally-infused three-minute “jukebox jazz” to embrace the blues in all its many forms, with his savagely terse 2016 release Americana. Then he completely flipped the script with his 2017 quartet album Radio Flyer, a far more expansive and improvisational excursion, adding guitarist Liberty Ellman to his long-running rhythm section of bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. This time out, Allen has flipped the script yet again with Love Stone (streaming at Spotify), a cover album of ballad standards that bring to mind that mysterious, contentedly celebratory NPR moment but hardly settle for replicating it. He and the quartet are playing the release show on June 18 at Nublu 151, with sets at 8 and 10 PM. Cover is $15.

While some of these numbers are pretty standard Netflix-and-chill, a lot of them aren’t. Many of them are among the starkest and most spacious Allen’s ever done. “Playing the melody while knowing the lyrics is like drinking champagne and laughing at yourself all night long,” Allen asserts in the coy love note in the cd booklet. He also shares specific lines culled from those lyrics as a guide to where he’s going musically.

For starters, he and the group don’t reinvent Stranger in Paradise as much as they take it out of a straitjacket, substituting a gently and loosely syncopated, thoughtful if not exactly carefree sway, Ellman’s lingering chords first foreshadowing and then switching roles with Allen’s smoky, wafting phrases. Harry Allen (no relation) is more of a comparison than you would ever think, knowing this bandleader’s back catalog.

The take of Until the Real Thing Comes Along is closer to that other Mr. Allen with a similarly oldschool swing guy like Ed Cherry on guitar, the rhythm section a sotto-voce, slinky presence. Royston, playing with greater subtlety than he’s ever been called to do on album, goes to that same well again with August in Why Was I Born. Likewise, Allen’s melismatic tendrils curlicue and entwine, introducing what’s probably been the most spacious, Barney Kessel-ish solo Ellman’s ever recorded,

Fueled by Allen’s almost grimly acidic highs, “You give me chills” is the not-so-subtext for the quartet’s skeletal take of You’re My Thrill: August’s easygoing but spring-loaded chords over Royston’s misterioso brushwork make for one of the album’s most rapturous moments. The remake of the old folk ballad Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies has a distant, rivetingly Frisellian bittersweetness – it’s the closest thing to an original here and the best song on the album.

Likewise, while Put on a Happy Face has a muted swing, Allen’s occasional flicker of a microtone or sinuous cluster offers split-second context, a place in a much bigger picture. Prisoner of Love is anything but a prisoner’s tale – with a focus that’s both prayerful and gimlet-eyed, Allen and group leave no doubt where they’d like to go with it…and suddenly Allen throws the blinds open and the sun streams in.

True to the lyric, Allen brings more than a hint of his signature defiance to Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You). The album comes full circle with the subtly shifting metrics of Gone with the Wind. The most trad thing about it is how it’s used: it’s best appreciated (and most useful, believe it) with a snifter of bourbon and your dearest one close by. If your dearest one has enough lust for life to go out on a Monday night, Allen’s album release show could be your best date of the year.

Defiance, Relevance and Transcendence With the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park

So many inspiring conclusions to take away from the New York Philharmonic’s phantasmagorically majestic performance this past evening in Prospect Park. In the year of the Metoo movement, that the orchestra would choose a centerpiece celebrating a mythic heroine who disarms a psychotic dictator using only her wits spoke volumes. 

As does the organization’s long-running Very Young Composers mentorship and advocacy program. Two of those individuals were represented on the bill, each a young African-American woman and a native Brooklynite. And in what’s been a challengingly transitional interregnum between music directors, the choice of James Gaffigan to lead the ensemble through some stunningly fresh, meticulously articulated, relevatory interpretations of material they’ve probably played dozens of times before paid mighty dividends.

At a concert pitched to pull a family audience, local city council representative Brad Lander’s commentary on the ongoing anguish of families being broken up by the ongoing extremist clampdown on immigrants was the night’s most overtly political moment. A polyglot crowd echoed their fervent, familial solidarity, then the orchestra spoke to how triumphantly this scenario could actually play out.

They foreshadowed the suspense and splendor of their romp through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade with an arguably even more carnivalesque stampede through the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ opera Samson and Delilah. Even if its creepy chromatics aren’t much more than Hollywood hijaz, those Arabic inflections were another crushingly relevant reference point.

If the program’s two brief, kinetic works by young composers Jordan Millar and Camryn Cowan are any indication, the blues are as much alive in Brooklyn as they were during the Harlem Renaissance, a most welcome meme throughout the New York City public schools this year and a vivid theme for these two gradeschoolers. Each composer’s piece put simple, emphatic blues hooks front and center in lieu of expansive harmony or flourishes, the former with a neat, cold stop midway through and some unexpected, Mozartean lustre afterward.

The orchestra made it to the concert’s midway point with three jaunty, frequently coy excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s score to On the Town. The Philharmonic’s pretty-much-annual tour of the New York City parks system, from the Bronx to Staten Island, always features a little bit of everything, including what in another century would have been called “pops” material from outside the classical canon. But as with the rest of the program, Gaffigan didn’t deviate from the game plan or phone these in, airing out the composer’s exchanges of voicings with a painterly charm.

And as much as the park programming is standard repertoire, the Philharmonic never picks tired or cheesy material. Over the last few years, we’ve been treated to plenty of Stravinsky – notably a conflagration of The Firebird in Central Park a couple years back – as well as a similarly colorful tour of Respighi’s Pines of Rome a little before then. Considering both the political subtext and the stunning attention to detail from both Gaffigan and the orchestra, this could have been the best of all of them since the turn of the decade.

Getting to witness it from the best seat in the house – about the equivalent of row L at their Lincoln Center home – no doubt colored this perception. Looking out into the wide swath of greenery in front of them, it must be tempting for everyone onstage to want to play loud, but Gaffigan mined the entirety of the sonic spectrum in keeping with the composer’s top-to-bottom orchestration. When there was suspense, it was relentless; when there was menace, it was a carnival of potentially dead souls; when there were dreamy interludes, they had a celestial vastness.

And the solos, tantalizingly brief as they were, were mesmerizing. Concertmaster Frank Huang spun joyously expert filigrees and flickers, up to an almost shocking cadenza in the final movement where he dug in so hard it seemed that he might break a violin string. Similar effects – especially bassoonist Judith LeClair’s silken, mutedly bittersweet solo – further underscored a triumphant narrative mirroring both the angst and transgressive victories in so many of the world’s ongoing struggles and rebellions.

The Philharmonic’s 2018 tour of the boroughs concludes on Sunday, June 17 indoors at 3 PM at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

A Phenomenally Tuneful, Catchy New Middle Eastern Jazz Album From Multi-Instrumentalist Gordon Grdina

There’s a consensus among many musicians that if you can play one stringed instrument, you can learn to play them all if you put in the practice time. Gordon Grdina is persuasive proof: he’s as much of a force on the guitar as he is on the oud. And these days, when he’s not on tour, he’s become a welcome addition to the New York jazz scene. He’s got a couple of very different, very enticing gigs coming up. Tonight, June 14 at 8 he’s at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery with Marrow, his oud-driven Middle Eastern jazz quartet with Hank Roberts on cello, Mark Helias on bass and Hamin Honari on Persian percussion. Then this Saturday night, June 16 at 8 Grdina leads his more western-inflected guitar band with Oscar Noriega on reeds, Russ Lossing on piano and Satoshi Takeishi on drums at Greenwich House Music School. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs.

Grdina has new albums with both bands as well. To say that one is edgier than the other is a hard call, attesting to the unhinged intensity the guitar quartet is capable of – especially live. It was pretty hair-raising to catch that latter ensemble doing what was essentially a live rehearsal in the middle of nowhere in Bed-Stuy a few weeks back. Grdina’s latest album with that group, Inroads, is streaming at Bandcamp. The latest Marrow album, Edjeha – Farsi for dragon – isn’t officially out quite yet. And it’s nothing short of extraordinary, genuinely pushing the envelope in terms of how far an artist can take both Middle Eastern maqam music and American jazz.

As Edjeha gets underway, Grdina takes a sparse, incisive approach to the misterioso opening cut, Telesm, almost imperceptibly building to a series of scrambling clusters as Honari keeps a muted, funereal frame drum beat going. Then Roberts builds a plaintive solo as Helias and Honari run a hypnotic groove that eventually hits a triumphant scamper. It’s closer to Levantine classical music than is it to postbop swing.

Helias takes a turn in deliciously suspenseful mode to introduce Idiolect, an insistent, anthemic Middle Eastern jazz epic that veers into waltz time for a bit, both the bassist and cellist having unselfsconscious fun mining the microtones for all the unsettled intensity they’re worth, up to a joyously otherworldly Roberts solo.

Grdina rises out of a broodingly exploratory taqsim to a circling, stabbing theme in the album’s title track, Roberts taking an emphatic, steady solo as the group spin the central riff behind him. The deceptively catchy Bordeaux Bender juxtaposes Grdina’s spare oud against similarly terse bowed strings, intimating at a casual stroll but never quite going there.

The wyrly titled Wayward begins with a darkly haphazard improvisatory interlude before Honari leads the band through a series of grinningly machinegunning motives; then they bustle along with a devious, marionettish pulse, Roberts again jumping at the chance to give it a coda. Grdina’s plaintive intro to Full Circle is a pretty radical contrast, echoed by Roberts; then Grdina completely flips the script with his genial ballad phrasing. The album’s final number is Boubacar, a surrealistic mashup of Mali, boogie and stark 19th century country blues, a shout-out to the great Malian guitarist Boubacar Traore.

Whether you consider all this jazz, Middle Eastern music, both, or a brand-new style that Grdina’s just invented, this is one of New York’s best bands, bar none. And this is one of the half-dozen best albums released this year so far in any style of music.