New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

High-Voltage, Picturesque, Purposeful New Jazz Epics From the Alchemy Sound Project

The Alchemy Sound Project’s new album Afrika Love – streaming at youtube – comes across as one of those recordings which under less duress would have been a 2020 release, and maybe a bit longer. It’s fantastic as it is, with picturesque, edgy compositions from each of the band’s core members and an acerbic, often combustible blend of very distinct, individual voices. There’s a lot happening in these songs. Pianist Sumi Tonooka, multi-reed players Salim Washington and Erica Lindsay, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack and bassist David Arend are joined by trombonist Michael Ventoso and drummer Chad Taylor.

The album kicks off with The Fountain, a biting clave tune by Arend, featuring bubbly horn riffage, a marvelously elusive Washington tenor sax solo winding around and behind a bracing rise. Tonooka’s careeningly rhythmic solo backs away for a tense tenor duel between Washington and Lindsay as Taylor builds the perfect storm. One doesn’t expect a composer collective to be this unhinged, or have this much fun.

Dark Blue Residue, a Tonooka tune has a similarly assertive but more syncopated rhythmic drive, Taylor just slightly more restrained through ambered horn passages, Arend’s elastic leaps anchoring a terse, considered piano solo. It’s an aptly conflicted portrait of the memory of friendship: play this for someone whose friends were brain-drained out of a place like New York in the months following March 16 of last year.

Washington begins Afrika Love – a dramatic, suspenseful shout-out to his South African countryman, pianist Afrika Mkhize – with a moody oboe solo based on Zulu modes. Arend’s stinging riff signals a fondly soaring Boshnack solo, Taylor’s relentless turbulence enhanced by ominous harmonies from Ventoso and Lindsay. Bracing, rapidfire solos from Lindsay and Washington bookend Tonooka’s decisive move to part the clouds and introduce a subtle shift to waltz time.

Boshnack is a devoted fan of the outdoors, reflected in The Cadillac of Mountains. A regally shuffling theme hints at New Orleans and then subsides for a gorgeously lyrical clarinet duet between Washington (on bass clarinet) and Lindsay, the latter shifting to tenor and soaring skyward. Taylor – who kills on this album, again and again – gets a secret cha-cha going, Arend a spring-loaded wild card against the horns’ cohesive comfort.

With its wry Ellington allusions, stately rhythms and wistfully lyrical horn lines punctuated by the rhythm section’s incisions, the album’s concluding cut, Kesii is Lindsay’s shout-out to a friend who died recently at 107. Clearly, this was a life well lived. Count this tantalizingly short album as one of the best of 2021 so far.

A Poignant, Broodingly Gorgeous Greek Psychedelic Album From Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis

You could make the argument that Greece has had a psychedelic music scene since the 1920s, when waves of refugees and exiles from Smyrna and Turkey brought their Middle Eastern-flavored hash-smoking songs with them. So it’s no surprise that psychedelic rock became a big thing there forty years later. Singer Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis’ 2016 album NYN – streaming at Spotify – looks back to that era, with tastefully bulked-up 21st century production values.

The opening track, Ethertai Haimonas (Winter Is Coming) has a muted, wistful As Tears Go By vibe, set to a 90s trip-hop beat with layers of keys. The second track, Ouden Oida (I Know Nothing) is a gorgeously bristling, minor-key blend of brooding 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk and chiming bouzouki janglerock.

The hypnotically droning, chromatically biting, syncopated Strati Strati (Step by Step) vividly echoes the dusky rembetiko sound from a hundred years ago, complete with a moody sax solo. Stassinopoulou’s poignantly misty mezzo-soprano takes centerstage in Gia Mia Stigmi (For a Moment), an unselfconsciously beautiful, swaying ballad with layers of clanging, ringing guitar and bouzouki.

They interrupt the pervasive melancholy for Mystic Rap, a whispery trip-hop number and then pick up the pace with Par Me Agea (Take Me, Wind), a starkly dancing, distantly Egyptian-tinged piano tune awash in trippy samples. The album’s most straight-up rock tune is the steady, darkly insistent Ah Athanate (Oh, You Century), bagpipes and backward-masked snippets fluttering in the background.

Nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and swooping electric slide work contrast in the pensive Allarokania (Change in the Weather). Stassinopoulou sings the haunting rembetiko-tinged Sabah Tuo Erota, a love song, with an understated, melismatic, microtonal angst. While it’s understandable that the band would want to do something to beef up the hypnotic one-chord jam Kyma To Kyma (Wave After Wave), loopy trip-hop is definitely not the answer.

Thela Na Mouna Nero (I Wish I Was Water) is the album’s sparest number, just gongs, chimes, vocals and clattering percussion. The title track is a mashup of loops, a minor-key bouzouki riff and swoopy P-Funk keyboards. They break out the distorted electric guitar to close the record with the trickily dancing Ola Pane Ki Erhondai (Everything Comes and Goes). What a delicious rediscovery.