New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Slinky Lynchian Hustles in Central Park

The Dark Sky Hustlers got the short end of the stick here, competing for sonic space with an amazing jazz quartet who earned a rave review for their show in Central Park a few weeks back. But the Hustlers hustle for their space: they’re an excellent band, and you should see them if you’re in the park anytime soon.

They’re a duo: a ponytailed guitarist with a bottomless bag of classic funk riffs, and a drummer. Their webpage doesn’t identify either by name. They like to play the mall, south of the 72nd St. entrance on the west side. Thursday evening they were at the statue at the southernmost end where the mall deadends into an east-west roadway.

You should have heard the applause springing up from pretty much everywhere within earshot after they’d finished a haunting, practically 25-minute long, often outright Lynchian jam, the high point of who knows how many sets they’d played that day. Their shtick is loopmusic. The guitarist will lay down a rhythm track over the drummer’s steady beat, then he’ll play a long, crescendoing series of leads over it. Sometimes there will be more than one rhythm track, or lead track. This particular one was built around a a bunch of minor seventh chords, more complex than the hypnotic two-chord jams the two often fall back on. And it was a lot slinkier, and more unexpectedly low-key and sometimes sinister, than anything else they played during about an hour worth of music. Who knew they had it in them? Maybe everybody who’d seen them before here.

The other instrumentals were good too. They ventured from pretty straight-up, strutting hard funk to more undulating, soul-infused, Booker T-inspired vamps and then back. They will probably be back there the next time you’re in the area, Saturday afternoon is pretty much a guarantee unless it’s raining. .

Who knew that in the spring of 2021, Central Park would turn into the Village Vanguard, Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall combined? Such is the state of live music in this city at the moment. The arts, and the economy in general are booming in states from Florida to Idaho and many points in between, but here in what used to be the intellectual capitol of North America, they’re on life support. We will need an impeachment of Andrew Cuomo, or some other end to his regime of terror and dictatorial whim, in order to find a way back to this city’s former glory as a magical musical melting pot. Thanks to the bravery of bands like this, and the passersby who support them, live music is still theoretically alive here.

Playfully Conversational Improvisation From an Allstar New York Crew

The new Playfield Vol. 3: After Life album – streaming at Bandcamp – is just out. The eight-piece improvisational band’s single, drifting, roughly half-hour track here is a tantalizing snapshot of the kind of multi-generational alchemy that was ubiquitous in this city before the lockdown.

Hearing Luisa Muhr launch the record all by herself with her lustrous vocalese is a trip: the irrepressible multimedia artist’s dance improvisations often turn archetypes inside out and can be spellbinding. A playful bit of an exchange with sax player Daniel Carter lures in Eric Plaks’ drifting electric piano, followed by Ayumi Ishito’s similarly resonant sax and the stark textures of guitarists Aron Namenwirth and Yutaka Takahashi. Bassist Zach Swanson maintains a steadily looming, terse presence, drummer Jon Panikkar taking his time on the way in.

Wah-wah and skronk spice the cloud, Carter in erudite bluesy mode. A decay to austere, wary chromatics gets pulled back up gingerly by chucka-chucka from one of the guitars while the other lingers. The saxes waft as the guitars veer from icy ambience to more jagged incisions, Swanson strolling contentedly by himself, occasionally with a triumphant leap.

Muhr returns briefly to set up a deep-space interlude, Carter shadowing Ishito’s balmy lines, which take on a desolate late-night streetcorner melancholy. The guitars build an increasingly spiky thicket, Muhr chilling back in the mix and then suddenly picking up with a bit of achingly frenetic scatting.

Plaks wryly introduces a familiar New York theme at just after the 25-minute mark, and the whole crew can’t resist messing around with it: obvious as it may be, the joke is too good to give away. Swanson tries to drag the whole crew into swing while Muhr spaces out her distant arioso riffs and the group flutter their way out. The group play the album release show outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg today, May 16 at 3 PM.

Looking Back at Olcay Bayir’s Plaintive Reinventions of Silk Road Songs

Turkish singer Olcay Bayir put out her poignantly energetic album Neva/Harmony – streaming at Spotify  in 2014. It’s songs of the silk road, essentially. Much of the music is from Anatolia, the country’s easternmost region, alongside traditional material from across the surrounding area. Improvisation is such a big part of music from this part of the world that every interpretation is bound to be different; Bayir’s own style is informed by her training as a western classical singer. Her band is just as multicultural as the music; it’s less rustic than you might expect.

The opening number, Jarnana is an Albanian love song with an upbeat sway and a catchy, vamping minor-key tune, Aurel Qirjo’s incisive violin over a pretty straight-up rock groove from bassist George Tsiaousidis and percussionist Elizabeth Nott. Bayir’s plaintive vocals soar over tricky Greek rhythms with biting harmonies from the violin and Nicki Maher’s clarinet in the second track, Mia Smyrnia Sto Parathiri.

Bayir’s vocals on Mer Dan, a slowly waltzing Aremenian dirge, are much the same, clarinet and violin wafting broodingly through the mix, Erdal Yapıcı supplying an elegantly rippling solo on his ten-string kopuz lute. Maher’s low, melismatic, Arabic-tinged clarinet in the bouncy, Romany-flavored Benim Yarim is breathtaking, Likewise, Min Bêriya Te Kiriye has a brisk, almost reggae groove lit up with Meg Hamilton’s stark violin and a spiky web of textures from Yapıcı and classical guitarist Charlie Cawood.

Durme, a moody Sephardic lullaby, has rippling classical guitar, Yapıcı’s eerie fretless guitar and an aptly tender vocal by Bayir: in this part of the world, moms sing to their kids in minor keys and it’s not considered scary. The album’s big, hypnotic, nocturnal epic is Melamet Hırkas. Clarinet and violin loom over a starry, loopy backdrop from the kopuz, guitar and Erdogan Bayir’s baglama, minging with the frontwoman’s gentle, resonant delivery.

Qirjo’s somber taqsim to open Penceresi Yola Karşı doesn’t hint at the scampering energy this Balkan dance tune will hit just a few seconds later, lit up with Maher’s joyous klezmer inflections, They close the record with Lay Lay, a somber Kurdish waltz with more of those gorgeously tremoloing clarinet-violin lines that permeate this gorgeous record.