New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: May, 2022

Punk-Soul Legend Jon Spencer Bursts Out of Lockdown With a Funny New Album

If Jon Spencer never made another record, his place in New York rock history would be secure. The genius of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was that they were able to carve out a distinctive niche in the gutter blues scene here by adding a more colorful, focused soul and garage rock-influenced sound. Where, say, the Chrome Cranks pursued an unhinged, doomed junkie fixation, JSBX played party music. And (along with their more lyrically inclined colleagues White Hassle) they beat the White Stripes to the bassless shtick by several years.

Fast forward to 2022: Spencer has a new band, the HITmakers, and a new album Spencer Gets It Lit streaming at Bandcamp. This isn’t the first time Spencer has worked without a guitar sparring partner: his foil on the record is keyboardist Sam Coomes. M. Sord plays drums; former Sonic Youth Bob Bert is credited with “trash.” His bangable metallic objects punch through the surface from time to time, but the effect is more organic than industrial. All of this you can dance to.

They open the record with Junk Man, a fuzztone Stooges take on roller-rink soul. Then they pull back on the fuzz and ramp up the catchy 60s psych-pop riffs in Get It Right Now.

There are a grand total of fifteen tracks on this album: Spencer does not cheat his fans. Among them, there’s a skeletal, hypnotic one-chord stomp punctuated by a couple of creepy surf interludes. Spencer cleverly pokes the TV Eye riff out over clouds of buzzy synth. He mashes up Roky Erikson clang with a 90s loopiness, then does the same a little later on with late 70s Rockpile twang and woozy new wave.

Sometimes he harmonizes his riffs with the keys, sometimes he lets the synth weave around: he’s never played more minimalistically than he does here. He often throws in some surreal, sometimes sinister spoken word that draws a straight line back to Iggy through the Eels’ Mark E. Beyond sheer craftsmanship, this isn’t particularly serious music, but there are lots of good jokes if you listen closely.

Slashing Twin-Guitar Intensity on Jane Lee Hooker’s New Album

Jane Lee Hooker play a snarling, distinctive mix of gutter blues, retro soul music, psychedelia and 70s acid rock. Their latest album Rollin’ – streaming at Spotify – is their most ambitious, soul-oriented and strongest release yet.

They open with Lucky. a heavy soul anthem. Frontwoman Dana Athens’ raw, impassioned vocals ring out in between stomps from the guitars of Tracy Hightop and Tina T-Bone Gorin. As bassist Hail Mary Zadroga and drummer Lightnin’ Ron Salvo lay down a lithe, incisive 6/8 groove, the two guitarists diverge into separate channels, flinging bits of blues at each other and an exchange of solos from simmering to savage.

That slashing, conversational dynamic recurs memorably throughout the rest of the record. Athens punches in on both piano and organ on the second track, Drive, a seething retro 60s-style soul tune. They follow a twisting trajectory in Jericho, from a brisk anthem down to a lull, only to explode out at the end.

The band bring a restless, relentless energy to a well-worn gospel-tinged soul jamband sound in Weary Bones: if only the thousands of other groups who play this kind of stuff could steer clear of cliches as well as this crew do.

They hit a roaring, catchy early 80s-style powerpop drive in All Good Things, then slow down a little for the organ soul tune Mercy Mercy Mercy, a vehicle for Athens’ powerful pipes. Then the band’s two guitarslingers switch out their electrics for an acoustic and a National steel model in White Gold, a delta blues stomp.

The rampaging boogie Runaway Train comes across as a more jagged, female-fronted take on peak-era 70s Blue Oyster Cult. They close the album with Mean Town Blues, a deliciously unhinged, stampeding gutter blues tune with the album’s longest guitar duel.

Jane Lee Hooker are on European tour right now. Their next restriction-free show is on June 7 at 8 PM at Samlingsstuen, Andresens Købmandsgård 4 in Kerteminde, Denmark; cover is 250 kr.

Sonny Singh Reinvents Ancient Sikh Themes As Catchy, Slinky Dance Tunes

Sonny Singh is best known as the soaring trumpeter in New York’s well-loved, ecstatically brassy bhangra dance group Red Baraat. But he’s also a composer and bandleader. His debut album Chardi Kala – streaming at Bandcamp – resembles his main band in that the music draws on ancient traditions from the Hindustani subcontinent, but it’s less thunderously percussive and more enveloping. Tantalizing hints of the Middle East and Afrobeat filter in and out of the music as well. For lyrics. Singh draws on medieval Sikh chants which celebrate subversion and defiance in the face of repression: spot-on choices for this moment in history.

To open the record, Singh and ensemble make a ringing, resounding guitar rock anthem out of an old Punjabi melody. Red Baraat are a large band, and there’s a small army playing on this album. Singh sings, plays trumpet and harmonium, joined by the core crew on most of the rest of the tunes: Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Wil Abers on bass and Dave Sharma on drums, plus Ernest Stuart on trombone.

The title track is a balmy, lilting tune with brightly sailing trumpet. Track three, Ghadar is a darkly gorgeous bhangra-rock number with Andalucian-tinged chromatics and flaring Goldberger guitar. Singh makes a swaying, starry anthem out of a kirtan theme in the album’s fourth cut, followed by an undulating melody with bright horn counterpoint, swirly harmonium and stinging guitar from Nadav Peled.

After that, we get psychedelic trip-hop with swooshy keys; a bright Punjabi soul song; a chugging bhangra brass anthem that sounds like a Punjabi Burning Spear song; an ecstatic, dub-tinged ghazal; a revolutionary-themed Bollywood spy theme; and an airy coda. All of this you can dance to.

Singh’s next restriction-free New York show is July 10 at 5 PM in the parking lot at Culture Lab in Long Island City.

A Gorgeously Anthemic New Album From Cellist Erik Friedlander

Cellist Erik Friedlander‘s new album A Queens’ Firefly – streaming at youtube – is one of the most tuneful and anthemic releases in a long and eclectic career. It’s his most energetic album in a long time: could it be that he and his bandmates were jumping out of their shoes just to be able to record again after more than a year in lockdown hell? Whatever the case, Friedlander’s quartet with pianist Uri Caine, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Ches Smith simmer and glimmer with an often darkly kinetic majesty.

They open with the title track, a warmly vamping nocturne set to an altered waltz beat. The bandleader’s airy midrange lines float over a tiptoeing Helias solo, Caine adding a spacious, lyrical solo.

Track two, Match Strikes has a funky sway, Caine’s incisive chords holding the center along with Helias’ pulse, then the bassist joins harmonies with the cello’s terse blues phrasing. Chandelier is a bouncy, edgily driving klezmer-jazz tune, Caine and Friedlander joining in tandem on the melody line, up to a terse cello solo

The album’s most expansive track is Glimmer, whose somber intro is a false alarm: Caine fuels a vampily anthemic, funky, triumphant 6/8 drive, the bandleader digging in hard for an incisive solo, up to some juicy spirals. The ballad Little Daily Miracles has a gorgeously twilit, glimmering sway, Caine’s neoromantic attack anchoring Friedlander’s emphatic, anthemic lines.

The group coalesce out of separate corners into a tightly syncopated interweave in Aurora: it’s the album’s hardest-hitting track. Friedlander plucks out a sunny oldschool soul riff and variations to open A Simple Radiance; Caine’s bittersweetly glittering, gospel-tinged solo is arguably the album’s high point.

The final cut is the aptly titled, bustling The Fire in You: imagine peak-era Dave Brubeck in a particularly Russian, trickily rhythmic moment, with strings. Fans of peak-era Jean-Luc Ponty, the early Turtle Island Quartet and 70s art-rock bands will love this stuff.

Friedlander’s gig page doesn’t list any upcoming shows, but Smith is playing Downtown Music Gallery on May 31 at around 7:30 PM with trumpeter Darren Johnston. The potentially combustible trio of guitarist Jessica Ackerley with saxophonist Erin Rogers and drummer Henry Mermer open the evening at 6:30; it’s a pass-the-tip-bucket situation.

A Pensive, Evocative Album by Jessica Ackerley and Daniel Carter

Guitarist Jessica Ackerley and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter‘s duo album Friendship: Lucid Shared Dreams and Time Travel is testament to fearlessness under duress. While music venues were shuttered in the 2020 totalitarian takeover, these two fixtures of the New York improvisational scene were keeping hope alive and playing outdoor shows. Convening in a Williamsburg studio late that summer, they recorded eight thoughtful rainy-day improvisations, streaming at Bandcamp.

Ackerley plays acoustic guitar here, with Carter on his usual mix of saxes, trumpet, flute, clarinet and occasional percussion. On the record, Ackerley is typically the acerbic one, stubbornly resisting any distinct major or minor resolutions while Carter generally serves as calm voice of reason.

To open, Ackerley plays opaquely lingering, trebly chords as Carter’s sax wafts gently overhead. Track two begins more spare and wintry, Carter maintaining a balmy presence punctuated by a few wary trills until Ackerley shifts into more emphatic territory.

The third track begins sparsely, Ackerley’s strumming rising with hints of flamenco. She backs away, then returns with a spikier, more precise attack in the aptly titled Dream State: Carter’s sax descends from the clouds to goose his bandmate’s phrasing and pull her toward more frenetic and then immersive territory

Lucid Dreamer features spaciously strolling guitar underpinning wafting flute, then grows with waves of energy and descends to lullaby ambience. Hidden Truths is another aptly titled number, Carter picking up with an occcasionaly microtone-fueled edge as Ackerley runs an insistent, mysterious percussive riff, then follows a squirrelly, somewhat furtive trail. A hazy thicket of sound ensues, as does the persistent comforting/disquieting dichotomy that permeates the album.

Carter develops a fond sax ballad as Ackerley scrambles to find her footing in Foreknowledge, He switches to clarinet for a woodsy intro to the final number, Awakening, Ackerley building quickly to a hypnotic, hammering pulse. It ends decidedly unresolved.

There’s no telling where Carter could be next – maybe several places on a single evening. Ackerley’s next gig is on May 31 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery as part of an intriguing, potentially pyrotechnic trio with saxophonist Erin Rogers and drummer Henry Mermer, followed by the duo of trumpeter Darren Johnston and drummer Ches Smith.

Drummer Kresten Osgood Airs Out His Funky Chops on Hammond Organ

Here in the west we emphasize musical specialization to the point of absurdity. In the Middle East and Africa, pretty much everybody is expected to be a competent drummer: after that. you find your own axe or axes. In that context, it’s less surprising that Kresten Osgood, the popular Danish drummer, would also turn out to be a very inspired organist. His new album, Kresten Osgood Plays the Organ for You is due to hit his Bandcamp page on June 3.

After playing behind the kit for organists including Dr. Lonnie Smith and Billy Preston, Osgood decided to take matters into his own hands and leave the organ envy behind. The result is a purposeful, thoughtful party record.

The opening number. Play it Back features Osgood’s steady, catchy, vampy riffage over a loose-limbed groove with Fridolin Nordsø on chicken-scratch wah-wah guitar, Ludomir Dietl on drums and Arto Eriksen on percussion. Exactly what you would expect from a drummer: everybody is in on the beats!

Osgood really chooses his spots from there, spacing his clusters, spirals and a logical, playful counterpoint in the second track, Poinciana. The group make their way through the slowly swaying thicket of percussion in Wildfire, a catchy Booker T-style theme with an incisive, psychedelic wah solo from Nordsø

Når lyset Bryder Frem – “when the lights go on,” roughly translated – is a warmly major-key retro 60s soul-funk tune. Osgood wraps his hands around some big chords in his longest, most undulating tune here, Baby Let Me Take You in My Arms, Nordsø taking off into space and spinning back down to earth before the jungle of beats takes centerstage.

The band pick up with a harder edge in Onsaya Joy, then Osgood launches into the catchiest, but also most complex number on the album, Dansevise, with its shifts between major and minor, jazz and 60s psychedelic soul.

The quartet wind up the record with a bouncy midtempo funk cover of By The Time I Get to Phoenix Osgood artfully edging his way into the melody. His next New York gig is behind the kit on May 28 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery, in an interesting improvisational trio with trumpeter Herb Robertson and tuba player Marcus Rojas.

Lyrical Jazz Piano Icon Bill Mays Plays a Rare Small-Room Stand in Manhattan

Pianist Bill Mays was playing catchy tunes decades before “translucent” became the latest word for a melody that sticks in your head. It’s hard to believe that last year marked a half century since he made his first record – backing Sarah Vaughan, no less. Mays did not let the lockdown get in the way of his vast creative output: he has a bunch of new tunes and a rare small-room Manhattan gig coming up this May 27 and 28 at Mezzrow, with bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Ron Vincent. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door. If you’re going you might want to get there early.

For all his melodicism, Mays also has a dark side, epitomized by his work on the Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks classic Moving Through Time. Might there be an album in the extensive Mays catalog that captures that sensibility and can be heard without falling back on evil, censorious Spotify? Fortuitously, yes! In 2018, Vancouver saxophonist PJ Perry and Mays did an unhurried, unselfconsciously gorgeous duo album, This Quiet Room, which is still up at Bandcamp.

They open with Parisian Thoroughfare. a cheery, Gershwinian stroll where they follow through variations on a stubborn riff down into resolution, with some nimbly articulated clusters from Mays. They reinvent In My Life as a slow waltz. Perry’s airy sax contrasting with Mays’ sober, terse piano. When he takes an unexpected detour into the noir, the effect is quietly breathtaking.

Perry’s muscular spirals take centerstage over Mays’ incisive chords as the two pick up the pace in Laird Baird. After that, Mays delivers a bright, thoughtfully paced, glittering solo take of The Folks Who Live on the Hill that segues into Two For The Road, the latter with some balmy work from Perry.

The two balance Perry’s fond resonance with Mays’ occasional hints of disquiet in the slow, warmly methodical, waltzing ballad Alice Blue Gown, a dichotomy that’s even more striking in their take of There’s a Small Hotel, right through Mays’ emphatic stride as the two wind it up.

Brooding modalities permeate the simmering bossa nova Beija Flor, then they romp through a determined, resonant version of East of the Sun. Perry saves his most fondly lyrical work on the record for the title track, bobbing and weaving over Mays’ tersely assembled, spacious backdrop.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Mays gig, it was January, 2018 at the now-abandoned weekly series at St. Peter’s Church at Lexington and 54th, where the crowd just walked in without a care and filled up the benches even though it was the peak of cold and flu season. There was a veteran singer on the bill and she had pitch trouble, which brought the energy down. But it was rewarding to see Mays get a chance to parse the showtune side of the jazz repertoire with his usual sagacity and funefulness.

New Bojaira Bring Flamenco Jazz Drama and Mystery to Alphabet City

In Spain, a bojaira is an irrigation canal which originated in Moorish antiquity. New Bojaira play a kinetic, distinctively Spanish style of music which draws equally on flamenco and American jazz, with several latin sounds mixed in. Bandleader/pianist Jesus Hernández blends a resonant chordal attack with a keen sense of the blues. They’re bringing their dynamic show to Drom on May 26 at 7:30 PM; you can get in for $20 in advance. As a bonus, the arguably even fierier, Balkan-tinged New York Gypsy All-Stars play afterward at 9:30.

Like most New York bands, New Bojaira haven’t recorded an album since before the 2020 lockdown. Their most recent release Zorongo Blu came out in 2017 and is streaming at their music page.

How demonic is the opening number. El Demonio Llama a Mi Puerta (Soleá Blues)? Not particularly. Hernández shifts elegantly through a series of rhythms in tandem with bassist Tim Ferguson and drummer Mark Holen, guest Randy Brecker contributing a couple of spacious, thoughtful trumpet solos. In his impassioned, melismatic voice, singer Alfonso Cid pays tribute to the pleasures of the night.

Jaleos del Celoso Extremeño (hard to translate – “jealousy is a bitch,” more or less) is more rhythmically tricky and bustling, Peter Brainin contributing a couple of fanged, acidic solos on soprano sax. La Africana (Guajira) begins on the slow and intense side, Cid’s flute intertwining with Brainin’s smoky tenor sax for suspenseful, rather otherworldly harmonies, echoed by Hernández’s tantalizingly glittery lines a little later.

Ferguson opens Green Room with a slinky solo, Hernández swinging it with a catchy chordal punch: it’s a cabaret anthem without words. Farruca de Argel features flamenco star Sergio Gómez el Colorao weaving wintrily above the the artfully syncopated sway as Hernández edges further outside.

Brainin trills and sails through the group’s cover of Round Midnight, reinvented as a boomy bossa with an understatedly simmering piano solo and an incisive one from the bass. Cid offers a fervent invocation to open the album’s title track, Hernández fanning the flames with a spiraling, glistening solo.

Holen ices the atmosphere with his cymbals to open Ese Meneo (That Wiggle), the group working a tightly circling triplet groove over Hernández’s lingering chords as the song grows more wryly anthemic, in a Fats Waller vein.

No Encuentro Tu Pasión (meaning essentially “I can’t get to you”) is a rumba with loose-limbed bass and piano solos, and tastily chromatic, blustery flute. The album’s final cut is Vente Pa’ Broadway, Hernández’s immersive Rhodes piano contrasting with the ecstatic buleria rhythm. Global travel may be problematic right now but this band can transport you to a moonlit Granada of the mind.

Guitarslinger Stew Cutler Brings Purist Oldschool Flavor to His New Blues Record

The trouble with jazz guitarists who venture into the blues is that most of them are not very good at it. Too many notes! Marvin Sewell and Andre Matos are rare exceptions – and so is Stew Cutler. His new album The Blues From Another Angle is streaming at Spotify. And it’s not all blues: Cutler tackles oldschool 60s soul and Booker T & the MGs-style soul-funk grooves as well.

Bobby Harden sings the opening track, a cover of Tyrone Davis’ Can I Change My Mind, pianist Tom Wilson taking a gorgeously bittersweet, stiletto solo over the low-key pulse of bassist Booker King and drummer Bill McClellan. Cutler modestly limits himself to spare, muted, purist chordal work.

On the album’s first instrumental, Blews, Cutler plays through a chorus effect for an early Albert Collins evocation, setting up a terse Wilson piano solo. As goofy as parts of that one are, Cutler completely flips the script with Can I Say It Again, a sleek, sophisticated minor-key groove, Wilson’s organ beneath the bandleader’s alternately mournful and fiery lines.

Cutler breaks out his slide for some searing swoops in Get It While You Can, with his wife Mary Jean on the mic. He mashes up some bright Wes Montgomery octaves into a vintage soul theme in Janque, with a blippy Wilson organ solo. Harden takes over the vocals on Plane to a Train over a Booker T-style backdrop, Steve Elson adding jubilant sax.

Cutler follows the vampy Please Mr. Vibration with the wry slide-driven soul tune Say What You Mean. He shifts from brisk to pensive in the vintage George Benson-esque The Passing of RR Moore – a tribute to the great Rudy Ray Moore, a.k.a. Dolomite – Wilson kicking in a long, crescendoing organ solo.

Nightshift Blues, a boomy concert recording, is a slowly unwinding vehicle for Cutler’s frenetically clustering phrases. He goes back to a George Benson vibe to close the record with Shine or Rain, with Wilson – who is the not-so-secret weapon here – adding yet another incisive organ break. Fans of purist soul and blues have a lot to sink their ears into here.

An Inspired, Dynamic Live Debut Album by the Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band

Drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s debut album with his big band, Soul Conversations – streaming at Spotify – sounds like one of those exuberant field recordings that jazz clubs love to play before shows. They get everybody drinking and they’re full of juicy solos. And it’s all but impossible to hear them ever again. This one you can.

Recorded at Lincoln Center before that venue was weaponized for totalitarian divide-and-conquer and lethal injection schemes, it’s on the trebly, boomy side: it sounds like a monitor mix. The group, comprised largely of up-and-coming New York players, open with a brassy. hard-swinging take of Dizzy Gillespie’s Two Bass Hit. Trumpeter Wyatt Forhan’s wildly spinning solo and baritone saxophonist Andy Gatauskas’s droll break before a similarly devious false ending are the highlights.

The tropically lustrous London Town, by trumpeter Benny Benack III features balmy work from the composer and guest vibraphonist Stefon Harris. Beardom X, a terse Owens swing tune, has a punchy bass solo from Yasushi Nakamura, pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi piercing the lustre before tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera adds bluesy gravitas and shivery intensity.

Red Chair is a wickedly catchy jazz waltz, trombonist Eric Miller choosing his spots up to a fleetingly bright crescendo, Ohbayashi’s bright chords and judicious glimmer fueling the next one. It’s the high point of the album.

Owens propels the group through a briskly shuffling take of Giant Steps, Rivera and fellow tenorist Daniel Dickinson conversing energetically. On alto sax, Alexa Tarantino dances sagely in an immersive, lushly lyrical Language of Flowers.

Human Nature, the cheesy Michael Jackson ballad, is a less than ideal vehicle for this group, even with Harris’ vividly twinkly vibes. But Owens’ decision to make a deadpan 12/8 ballad out of Neal Hefti’s Girl Talk is irresistibly funny and validates anyone who ever suffered through another band’s florid take.

Charles Turner III sings his swing blues Harlem Harlem Harlem, through a long series of intros to a spine-tingling, cascading Erena Terakubo alto solo, soulfully energy from trombonist Michael Dease and a ridiculously comedic cameo from trumpeter Summer Camargo. They close the record with the title track, Tarantino spiraling amid the contentedly New Orleans-flavored nocturnal ambience.

And what about the leader? He often plays with a very oldschool 50s flair here: lots of offbeat shuffles and vaudevillian cymbal flourishes. Close your eyes and this could be Max Roach with a careeningly energetic crew in front of him. It’s become a familiar refrain here, but more artists and particularly large ensembles like this should make live albums. Owens’ gig page doesn’t have any shows listed; among the band members here in New York, Tarantino is playing Ellington and Nat Cole tunes tonight and tomorrow night, May 23 and 24 at Bryant Park at 5:30 PM with members of the American Symphony Orchestra.