Saluting One of New York’s Most Consistently Entertaining Weekly Residencies
Just about every Monday starting at around 7 PM, Brain Cloud play Barbes. While they take their name from a Bob Wills song, western swing is just one of the styles they play, along with jump blues, hot 20s swing and dixieland. The core of the band got their start in the busker scene in the mid-zeros as the Cangelosi Cards, and then at Banjo Jim’s began one of New York’s longest-running residencies. When that venue closed, they moved their weekly Monday night gig to Barbes and haven’t looked back. They’ll be back there on Nov 12 at 7, playing two sets and followed at around 10 by the NYC Gaita Club – a Bulla en el Barrio spinoff – who do rustically pounding Afro-Colombian trance-dance jams with a rotating cast of reed flute players.
In addition to his work with Brain Cloud, multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman can often be found with other jazz acts. His most recent album under his own name is Just Cross the River, a joyously conversational tribute to the jazz roots of Queens, streaming at Bandcamp. Much as almost all the tracks are originals, everything here fits a late 20s/early 30s swing milieu.
The group here call themselves the Queensboro Six, opening the record with a boisterously shuffling shout-out to the 7 train that follows all sorts of clever modulations. With Brain Cloud, Lichtman plays clarinet, violin and mandolin; here, he sticks to the licorice, with a plaintively melismatic solo to kick off For Bix, a tribute to the jazz great who died in his Queens apartment in 1931. Trumpeter Gordon Au and trombonist J. Walter Hawkes harmonize with their mutes over a sotto-voce strut from bassist Nathan Peck.
Midnight at the Piers is not a seedy Chelsea tableau but a celebration of Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, portrayed here as latin noir with Arabic allusions and a slinky bolero groove from drummer Rob Garcia that shifts into contented wee-hours swing.
Mazz Swift’s jaunty violin livens Road Street Court Place Avenue Drive, a jump blues wryly referencing the borough’s crazy street address system – if you can call it a system. Swift also plays and contributes a low-key, knowing vocal on Someday You’ll Be Sorry.
Pianist Dalton Ridenhour gives Waltz for Camila a lowlit pulse and a saturnine lyricism as Lichtman gets balmy and Peck takes a moody stroll. The horns triangulate dixieland-style in LIC Strut, Lichtman taking one of his most expansively spiraling solos as the music darkens momentarily.
Guest Jerron Paxton sings and plays guitar on the album’s title track, a sunny, shuffling duet with Lichtman. Terry Wilson gets torchy on the mic for the aphoristic Fats Waller hit Blue Turning Grey Over You and returns a bit later for a sultry version of another of the Queens resident’s iconic tunes, Squeeze Me.
23rd Between 23rd and 23rd – an address that could mean several different Queens blocks – is immortalized as a jump blues with a coyly tiptoeing piano solo and flurrying guitar from guest Nick Russo.
The album’s most lickety-split and most sort-of-modern-sounding – i.e. 1940 – number is The Power of Not Then, with Russo on guitar again. Likewise, the steady, strolling, somewhat bittersweet I’d Remember Having Met You is a period-perfect, bittersweet late 30s/early 40s ballad. They close with a scampering take of Cake Walking Babies From Home, an early number by another Queens guy, Louis Armstrong, with Paxton on vocals.