New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: September, 2019

Middle Eastern-Tinged Jazz Intensity and an Upper West Side Album Release Show From Brilliant Bassist Petros Klampanis

Petros Klampanis is a highly sought after bassist in the New York jazz, Middle Eastern and Greek music scenes. He’s also a fantastic composer, combining elements of all those styles and more. His darkly intense latest album Irrationalities, a trio recording with pianist Kristjan Randalu and drummer Bodek Janke, is streaming at Spotify. He’s playing the release show on Oct 9 at 8:30 PM at Symphony Space; advance tix are $27.

The opening track, Easy Come Easy Go, has a sprightly, shuffling groove, Randalu’s glittering lines over fluttery percussion that subtly shifts toward clave as the piano grows more wary and modal: this mix of moody Middle Eastern and salsa-jazz is more than a little bittersweet. Klampanis’ use of eerie close harmonies and allusively levantine melody throughout the record raises the intensity several notches.

Seeing You Behind My Eyes follows the rises and falls between a similarly brooding tone poem and lithely dancing, judiciously spacious variations that finally peak out with Randalu’s spiraling, tumbling solo before coming full circle. The album’s title track makes gritttily majestic jazz out of a tricky Indian carnatic vocal theme, artfully melding uneasy chromatics with warmer hints of trad balladry and a masterfully intertwining piano solo. The false ending is a cool trick as well.

LIkewise, the polyrhythms between bass and piano as Thalassia Platia gets underway: what seems to be a wistful waltz turns out to be far more conflicted, with its aching lushness and a biting, upper-register bass solo. No Becomes Yes goes in the opposite direction, a rather stern, sometimes eerie melody expanding as the group let some sun burst through the clouds, although that’s not as simple as that might seem. Lots of persuasion going on here, apparently.

Klampanis winds up the album with its most epic number, the Nat Cole ballad Blame It On My Youth, cleverly triangulating the rhythm and adding a delicious surprise at the end. There are also a couple of coy miniatures, Temporary Secrets 2 and 3, blending urban found sounds with glockenspiel and a catchy bass riff. Purposeful, relentlessly tuneful and distinctively original, this is a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of the year

A Bracing, Slashing New Album and an October Release Show by Violin/Viola Duo andPlay

Maya Bennardo is one of the violinists in the perennially ambitious Mivos Quartet. Hannah Levinson is the violist of indie classical chamber group the Talea Ensemble. Together, the two musicians call themselves andPlay. With a similar ambition and, yeah, playfulness, they’re advocates for exciting new repertoire for their two instruments. Their debut album Playlist is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the release show at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s intimate second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. on Oct 4 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $15; the entrance is a few steps past the southeast corner of Rivington and Bowery

The new record features four new compositions which explore the many ways that string players can employ sharp, fleeting figures: most of it is the opposite of atmospheric music. Frequent, it seems that there are more than two instruments playing.

There are two David Bird works: the first, Bezier has brief scrapes, coyly stairstepping riffs, chirpy microtones and grimly intertwining tritones contrasting with wanly sepulchral washes. It brings to mind Messiaen’s experiments in evoking birdsong. The epic Apochrypha, which closes the album, has flitting electronic bits that blend with and then fight the alternately still and agitatedly flickering strings.

Ashkan Behzadi’s Crescita Plastica, the opening track,, begins with a slithery downward swipe followed by suspensefully spaced, shivery phrases and troubled call-and-response. As the two instruments shriek and scrape fitfully, it strongly evokes the work of Michael Hersch. Clara Ionatta‘s Limun comes across as a couple of friendly ghosts in a game of peek-a-boo and then gives way to drifting horizontality. For the most part, this isn’t easy listening, but it’s an awful lot of fun for people who gravitate toward stark, edgy harmonies and textures.

Sleeping with Bob Dylan

Mary Lee Kortes has had many dreams about Bob Dylan. The funniest one involves the lute he was playing in a rehearsal for a Loser’s Lounge gig at Joe’s Pub.

Some things you just can’t make up.

Kortes has included that dream, and many others from a globally-sourced, vastly diverse crowd, in her irresistibly playful new book, Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob. It’s available at or through your neighborhood bookstore, if one still exists, and also at the usual online spots.

Kortes may be known as one of the most brilliantly lyrical songwriters and powerful singers of the past couple of decades, but she’s also an entertaining prose writer. As a young Michigan kid straight out of college in New York, she took a dayjob as an editor in academic and scientific publishing. That helped her get her band Mary Lee’s Corvette off the ground.

This blog’s precedessor e-zine (blogs didn’t exist in 2002) picked Mary Lee’s Corvette’s live recording of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks as the #1 album of that year, and her version of Idiot Wind as the #1 song. Her immersion in Dylan’s work – plus the fact that he’s been such a frequent visitor in her dreams – makes her the obvious candidate to pull this book together.

There’s more than a little irony in that Dylan – the consummate wordsmith – tends to be very laconic throughout almost all of his otherworldly appearances here. A handful of them are obviously wish dreams, but most of them are just randomly hilarious. Dylan wears many hats – he’s a cop, President of the United States, Presidential candidate, prom date, boating instructor, airline pilot, guitar store customer, diehard baseball fan, and in a couple of dreams, a woman. Jim Morrison, Keith Richards, Charles Bukowski, Tom Petty, rightwing extremist George Will, several Dylan sidemen and a talking cow, among others, make cameo appearances.

The funniest dream of all might be the one from drummer Will Rigby, who shows up at a festival to play his first-ever show as a member of Dylan’s band. But the people in charge are incompetent. Rigby doesn’t specify exactly how, but it’s the gig from hell: the door guy is probably AWOL, the sound guy’s already drunk, the promoter’s unreachable, the outdoor tent where they’re playing is a wreck, and there’s not much of a crowd. So Dylan shows up, takes a quick look around, says, “I’m not playing this awful place,” and leaves. Rigby’s regret, of course, is that this wretched gig was his one chance to get to play with Dylan.

Contributor Patti Smith also includes one of her dreams, as well as the lyrics it inspired. Among the many wryly clever illustrations are photos from Mitch Blank’s vast collection of Dylan memorabilia. This book is a rabbit hole waiting for you to take the plunge: it’s impossible to resist reading in a single sitting.

What brings the book full circle is that one of Kortes’ Dylan dreams actually came true. In the dream, he wordlessly told her he liked her work; over a decade later, he put one of the songs from her Blood on the Tracks album on the front page of his website and kept it there for months. And Mary Lee’s Corvette also got to open for him at Madison Square Garden.

Amir ElSaffar Brings Middle Eastern, Slavic and Jazz Sounds to Otherworldly New Places at Lincoln Center

The annual Jazztopad Festival in Poland is one of Europe’s major jazz events. They advocate fiercely for Polish artists worldwide and commission scores of new works, focusing on blending jazz and contemporary classical sounds. They’ve also been staging events here in New York for the past several years, ostensibly to entice Americans to make the trip over. It’s smart marketing

To open this year’s Manhattan edition at Lincoln Center last night, multi-instrumentalist Amir ElSaffar led a group including Wacław Zimpel on bass clarinet, Ksawery Wójciński on bass and the strings of the Lutosławski Quartet through the Amerrican premiere of his raptly enveloping Awhaal for String Quartet. Seated at the santoor, ElSaffar opened the piece with a bright, enticing riff and slowly unwinding, rippling variations, much like a muezzin’s call or a phrase on his primary instrument, the trumpet.

ElSaffar – one of the most distinctive and unselfconsciously brilliant composers in jazz or anywhere else these days – has made a career blending maqam music from across the Arabic-speaking world with both large and smallscale improvisation, and this performance was typically celestial. Slowly and majestically, the music rose, fluttering violins over portentous, low modalities from the cello and bass: the work of Kurdish compoer Kayhan Kalhor came strongly to mind.

Zimpel added a simple, emphatic fanfare; the strings descended uneasily, micrtonally, ElSaffar singing soulful vocalese in his resonant, melismatic baritone. With the santoor just a hair off, tonally, from the strings, this was where the otherworldly magic really started to kick in. The strings fueled a lilting dance that grew more somber as the volume rose and Wójciński’s off-kilter yet hypnotic rhythm dug in, Zimpel wailing on his clarinet.

The second movement was much more kinetic, with ElSaffar on trumpet, spiky, circular pizzicato from the violins blending with an austere, Egyptian-tinged phrase which became more lush and enveloping over a swaying 6/8 groove. Together the group developed a series of lively echo phrases, part Afrobeat, part Philip Glass.

Using his mute, the bandleader drew the music into a deliciously suspenseful, hypnotically pulsing snakecharmer theme, capped off by a shivery, spine-tingling microtonal cadenza. The group opened the third movement with a bubbling, Appalachian-tinged theme and shifted toward acidic, insistent, blustery Moroccan jajouka, drawing a raucous round of applause from what had been a silent, rapt crowd.

The tension grew toward breaking point as the fourth movement and its overlays from the strings gathered steam, the drifting tonalities taking on more of an Indian edge. A hazy pastoral recede and rise evoked the tone poems of Rachmaninoff as much as Hindustani ghazals, ending hushed and prayerful. Obviously, with the amount of improvisation going on, one can only wonder what the piece will sound like next time out.

ElSaffar’s next gig playing this material is a free performance tomorrow, Saturday, Sept 28 at 11 PM at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in his hometown Chicago. In Poland, festivities begin at the Jazztopad Festival on Nov 15. And the next free show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is Thurs, Oct 3 at 7:30 PM with Chadian electronic group Afrotronix and electrifying Palestinian hip-hop/reggae/habibi pop band 47soul. If you’re going, get there as early as you can becuuse this one will sell out fast

A Starry, Starry Night with Svetlana at Joe’s Pub

Saturday night at the sold-out album release show for her latest cd Night at the Movies at Joe’s Pub, singer Svetlana further crystallized the lush sound she’s been gravitating further and further toward with each successive record. The erstwhile leader of longtime New York swing jazz favorites the Delancey 5 has never sounded more lustrous, or more dynamic than with this particular project. Working with producer Matt Pierson, she took a deep bucket list of well over a hundred songs associated with movies and whittled them down to a somewhat less epic fourteen. She played most of them at this show. What was most striking, at this show, was how serpentine and latin-inflected they’d become.

Drummer Henry Conerway was having a great time with the clave, whether implied or straight ahead, further enhanced by the variety of percussion textures and polyrhythms from Rogerio Boccato. It’s a new groove for Svetlana, and it serves her well. Likewise, there was more interplay among band members than ever before. Svetlana is a connoisseur of charts, and she likes to hand out assignments. Bassist Endea Owens, who’s sometimes the princess of darkness in this band, was appointed Secretary of Entertainment for this gig, spinning out boisterously chugging lows.

Likewise, alto saxophonist Christopher McBride got plenty of coy exchanges early on with trumpeter Noah Galpern and trombonist Corey Wilcox: echo effects and triplets were playfully recurrent tropes. Pianist Willerm Delisfort took charge of trick endings and what were almost false starts, while guitarist Jocelyn Gould played her cards close to the vest with expansive postbop chords and terse bluesiness.

In front of the band, Svetlana celebrated the great contributions that immigrants bring to this country. As a kid, she’d escape the repressive atmosphere around her by going to the movies, and eventually made it out for real at age 18. Dreams, literal and otherwise are another of the album’s major themes, She celebrated them with a starry arrangement of In the Moonlight – from the 1995 movie Sabrina – along with a crescedoing, shapeshifting version of Pure Imagination, a druggy ballad from the Willy Wonka movie. And Moon River, which began as a bittersweet, bucolic duet for guitar and voice, was arguably the most unexpectedly poignant of all of them: huckleberriness be damned!

The most epic number was the elegaic Remember Me – from the 2017 animated film Coco. The group marched defiantly, second-line style through Almost There – from the 2009 Princess and the Frog soundtrack – and an unannounced considerably more enigmatic ballad. Svetlana returns from US tour to a show at the Django on Oct 18; it’s reasonable to expect her to keep this new direction going.

Above the Moon Steals the Show at Marcus Garvey Park

Sunday afternoon at Marcus Garvey Park, it was validating to watch Above the Moon take over the big stage like they owned the place. The last time this blog was in the house at one of their shows, it was a weeknight at a hideous little Chinatown mob joint where frontwoman/Telecaster player Kate Griffin’s vocals weren’t even in the mix. Which was a crime, because her voice will give you chills. Still, good things started happening: all of a sudden, the band were headlining Arlene’s on Friday nights, and they’ve released a series of excellent ep’s. The data-mining dorks at the big corporate venue chains don’t get it, but Above the Moon are proof that there’s still a massive market for smart, fiercely tuneful rock.

Their sound these days is tighter and harder than it’s ever been, a lot less jangly. Griffin played her usual uneasy mix of roaring, distorted major and minor chords punctuated by Shawn Murphy’s gritty, new wave-ish bass and Strat player James Harrison’s terse, incisive upper-register chordlets and simple, jagged blues leads. Drummer John Gramuglia provided a relentless, colorful stomp, using his whole kit, not just the kick and the snare like a lot of bands with this kind of sound.

Likewise, Griffin uses every inch of her mighty voice’s register, from ominous lows to wailing highs, leaping and bounding effortlessly. The high point of the show was when the music came to a sudden stop after a chorus, but Griffin kept wailing for a couple of seconds of raw adrenaline until the band jumped back in again. There’s always been a restlessness in her songwriting, and the new, angrier edge is a welcome development. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. The band are about to record yet another ep, and the new material is more punk and new wave-influenced than ever. Songs ended sudden and cold, and the final, slowly crescendoing anthem brought to mind a Buzzcocks epic from the 80s.

The rest of the bill was a mixed bag. The last band opened with what sounded like a loud guitar version of a Madonna hit from the 90s and got really cheesy from there, with a goofy ha-ha presence and lazy, inept Pearl Jam-style open chords. After Above the Moon, Mojo & the Mayhem were as lame as their name, which was sad because they have really good songs, and a strong frontwoman who has the timing and the flair to go deep into the group’s attempt to work an oldschool soul vibe. It’s rare to see a band with such purist, catchy material looking so lost onstage. Maybe they’d get somewhere with a different lineup (and a different name – ouch). The horns were ragged, and the guys in the group should know better than to try to upstage a good lead singer on the mic – or, for that matter, to take a halfhearted stab at fake ebonics at a Harlem show. That was shameful. And the bassist and guitarist looked like mercenaries, bored out of their minds, phoning it in and then overplaying when they finally got to take centerstage.

Cosmonaut Radio, on the other hand, do one thing and one thing spectacularly well: psychedelic funk, with a little oldschool 70s disco in places. They were literally as tight as their drummer. And they have a sense of humor; “We’ve got one more for ya. That’s the name of the song: ‘One More For Ya,’” one of the group’s two Telecaster players explained to the crowd – and then treated them to at least another half-hour of groove. With chicken-scratch rhythm, wah-wah lead guitar, smoky organ, a fiery two-man horn section, wryly processed bass and a high-voltage soul chanteuse out in front, they did their best to get a sleepy indian summer crowd on their feet. But it was a hot day; people seemed more interested in sipping Hennessy and smoking weed than moving around much.

A Classic Reissue and a Rare Williamsburg Gig from Heavy Psychedelic Legends Acid King

More about that killer triplebill on Sept 30 starting at 8 PM at the Knitting Factory. The New York music scene is in serious trouble if the best available venue for pummeling horror punkmetal band Warish, the epic Wizard Rifle and heavy psych legends Acid King is this undersized if sonically excellent Williamsburg bar. OK, maybe the show was a last-minue addition to the tour, but it’s safe to say – or at least it used to be safe to say – that there are more fans of heavy stoner sounds in New York than can fit into that space. Cover is $20; because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll either have to take the G to Lorimer St., or take the J/M to Marcy and take a ten-minute walk up Havemeyer to the venue. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Over the past two decades, headliners Acid King have validated that hubristic name, to the point where Riding Easy Records is banking on the hope that there’s money in a vinyl reissue of their classic 1999 debut album Busse Woods, streaming at Bandcamp. And why not? Who ever would have thought that we’d come to the point where we could replace those cold, digital cds with good quality vinyl?

The album is a suite, more or less, centered around Brian Hill’s spare, menacing minor-key basslines. The first track is Electric Machine, with its slow, sludgy, fuzztone chromatics, singer/guitarist Lori S’s voice floating ethereally over the crawling dirge underneath. Ozzy had the voice to do this with Sabbath but was apparently too wasted to figure it out until after the fact. Hill rumbles around the gravel in tandem with drummer Joey Osbourne as Lori finally goes up the scale. How rare is it to find a metal band who play so few notes and make all of them count?

That relentlessness serves them well throughout the rest of the record. They build Silent Circle around a familiar descending blues riff. Likewise, the icy solo bass intro to Drive Fast, Take Chances – the slowest song ever written about drunk driving – is the cornerstone for some unexpectedly subtle variations.

Hypnotic funeral-bell bass chords introduce 39 Lashes, a sick, macabre countdown to a mutedly twisted peak you can see comimg a mile away – although the outro is a surprise. The band move in tight, glacially slow formation in Carve the 5, disembodied vocals eventually giving way to a cleverly doubletracked bassline and uneasy fuzztone guitar. They close with the menacingly atmospheric instrumental title track. On the album cover, they still look like the alienated, angry kids who would escape to the outskirts of Chicago to get high, crank their car stereos and get away from the ugliness around them. It’s only gotten uglier since.

Rapturous, Eclectic Creative Music This Fall in an Unexpected Chinatown Space

One of this year’s most fascinating and eclectic ongoing free concert series is happening right now at the James Cohan Gallery at 48 Walker St, west of Broadway, in Chinatown. Through mid-October, a parade of improvisers, from Middle Eastern and Indian music to postbop and the furthest reaches of free jazz, are playing solo shows in the midst of Josiah McElheny’s futuristic, outer space-themed exhibit Observations at Night. There’s not much seating but there is plenty of standing room.

Last week’s performance by pedal steel legend Susan Alcorn was rapturous, and haunting, and revealingly intimate. Although she used plenty of extended technique – plucking out flickers of harmonics up by the bridge, generating smudgy whirs by rubbing the strings and, for a couple of crescendos, getting the whole rig resonating like at the end of A Day in the Life – she didn’t use a lot of effects, just a touch of reverb from her amp.

She opened the show like a sitar player, building subtle shades off a dark blues phrase, finally flitting and pinging across the strings to contrast with the stygian buildup. Throughout the night, she talked to the crowd more than usual. She explained that the first of many epiphanies that drew her from her original style, country music, to more harmonically complex styles was when, on the way to a gig, she heard Messiaen’s requiem for war victims and was so blown away that she had to pull off the road to listen to it. She was late to that gig, and it took her over a year to tackle the mail-ordered sheet music for the piece, but it was a life-changing event.

Then she played her own original, which she’d written as a requiem in a more general sense for victims of fascism. The Messiaen influence was striking, right from the stern, chillingly chromatic series of opening chords, but from there she went from eerie close-harmonied minimalism to sudden, horrified leaps and bounds, back to mournful stillness.

She explained that she’d always tried to keep music and politics separate, but that the current climate has made that impossible. From there, she shared her horror at how the ugliness of past decades has returned, on a global scale, particularly in Trumpie xenophobia and anti-refugee hostility here at home. With that, she segued from an austere, unexpectedly rhythmic take of Victor Jara song made famous by Violeta Parra, to a brief, longing coda of Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom.

On a similarly outside-the-box if less harrowing note, she made her way methodically from the old countrypolitan ballad I’m Your Toy – which Elvis Costello covered on his Almost Blue album – and then couldn’t resist a verse or two of Almost Blue itself. The man himself couldn’t have been more clever. From there she built reflecting-pool Monk echoes, reveling in the lingering tritones. She closed with an austere, guardedly hopeful take of Song  of the Birds, the moody Catalon folk tune that Pablo Casals would close his infrequent concerts with after he’d gone into exile.

The next show at the gallery is on Sept 25 at 6:30 PM with intense free jazz alto saxophonist Makoto Kawashima.

Riveting New Sounds and Old Crowd-Pleasers From the Claremont Trio

If the Claremont Trio’s forthcoming album is anything like their concert last week to open this year’s Music Mondays series on the Upper West Side, it’s going to be amazing.

The program was typical of this venue, a mix of rapturously interesting 21st century works along with a couple of old warhorses. The three musicians – violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin and pianist Andea Lam – offered some gleefully phantastmagorical Halloween foreshadowing with four folk song variations by Gabriela Lena Frank. Careful, wary long-tone overlays between the musicians quickly gave way to a devious, ghostly game of peek-a-boo, carnivalesque pirouettes and wary, lingering, Messiaenic chords.

Helen Grime‘s Three Whistler Miniatures – inspired by an exhibit at the Gardner Museum in Boston – were more austere and ominously resonant: rich washes of cello, mordantly assertive piano and slithery violin all figured into the mini-suite’s striking dynamic shifts and desolate reflecting-pool chill at the end.

The two warhorses were Dvorak’s Dumky Trio and Brahms’ final trio, No. 3 in C Minor. The former was a Slavic soul party, fueled as much by the violin’s elegantly leaping Romany-flavored cadenzas as much as by Lam’s alternately romping and unexpectedly muted attack. The three women played up the music’s pensive side, leaving a lot of headroom for the composer’s series of triumphant codas.

Where they pulled back on the Dvorak for the sake of emotional attunement and contrast, they did the opposite with the Brahms, Lam in particular adding extra vigor, which paid off particularly well in the andante third movement as she added a degree of gravitas. Otherwise, there wasn’t much the Trio could enhance: the music was lovely, and predictable, party music for the thieving dukes and abbots and the gentry of 19th century Germany. As proto-ELO, it wasn’t up to Jeff Lynne level.

Music Mondays continues on October 7 at 7:30 PM at Advent Church at the corner of 93rd St. and Broadway with the Aizuri String Quarte playing works by Haydn, Hildegard von Bingen, Brahms and Caroline Shaw. Admission is free, but you’ll have to get there at least least fifteen minutes early if you really want a seat at what has become one of Manhattan’s favorite classical spots.

 

Warish Bring Their Hard, Fast Attack to the Knitting Factory

Warish play hard, fast, heavy music that sounds a lot like Queens of the Stone Age: metal chord changes at punk speed. They’re not big on guitar solos but they are big on hooks and evil chromatics. They like their textures fuzzy and dry, Pantera-style. Their new album Down in Flames – which doesn’t seem to be a Dead Boys reference – is streaming at Bandcamp. On the record, they tend to pair similar-sounding songs together, maybe because the tunes here are on the short side: no wasted notes. Warish are playing the Knitting Factory on Sept 30 at 8 PM followed by the epic Wizard Rifle and then psychedelic doom legends Acid King; cover is $20. Because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll need to find a way to take the G train – which doesn’t have any scheduled delays that night, at least as far as we know – to connect with whichever subway you’re taking home.

The album’s first track, Healter Skelter doesn’t sound anything like the Beatles, but it does sound exactly like QOTSA: fast, gritty, simple riffage, mostly a one-chord jam. You’ll Abide has the same kind of hammering QOTSA drive, but the changes are just as fast and furious and a lot catchier.

Big Time Spender has gleefully evil doomy hammer-ons from frontman/guitarist Riley Hawk in between the bludgeoning riffs; Bleed Me Free follows the same pattern. With its catchy 3-2-1 minor-key hook, the desperate wartime trench tune In a Hole is the album’s punkest tune. Then they follow with Bones, which is much the same.

Voices has an especially tasty chromatic menace and hints of horror garage rock. They go back toward punk with Fight and its slithery raga-rock intro. Then, in Shivers, they shift from wide-angle psychedelic chords to straight-ahead punk and a little halfspeed Sabbath.

Running Scared could be surf punk legends Agent Orange at their heaviest. The album closes with the cynical, QOTSA-style blues-tinged Their Disguise – finally, a shreddy guitar solo, and it’s unhingedly good! Their Disguise. Not a single weak song on this record: these guys have really figured out their sound. If you like speed and power, this is for you