New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: May, 2022

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.

Martina Fiserova Brings Her Individualistic, Soulful Tunesmithing to the Lower East

From the mid-teens until the 2020 lockdown, Czech-born songwriter Martina Fiserova was a familiar presence and a distinctive voice in the New York small club scene. Her tunesmithing is sophisticated, purposeful and defies categorization, with elements of oldschool soul, chamber pop, 90s trip-hop and jazz. She plays electric rather than acoustic guitar, likes short songs and sings in strong English in an unselfconsciously direct, uncluttered voice. Since the lifting of restrictions, she’s back on the live circuit, with an early show tonight, May 22 at 5 PM at the small room at the Rockwood.

Like so many artists whose career was put on ice by the grim events of March 2020 and afterward, Fiserova hasn’t put out an album in awhile. Her most recent release, Shift, came out in 2015 and is still up at Bandcamp: it gives you a good idea of the many angles she comes from. She’s got a great band behind her: Brian Charette on organ and piano, and her fellow Czechs Tomáš Baroš on bass and Dano Šoltis on drums. In addition to guitar, Fiserova plays tone lyre, slate xylophone, bronze metallophone and keys.

She opens with Silver Streams, a slow, catchy, minimalist ballad awash in water imagery, that picks up with an unexpectedly funky pulse fueled by a cheery, blues-infused Charette piano solo. Track two, Crater is a hypnotically clustering number in 12/8: “The sleep is broken, tears are stuck in my throat… unseen forces, the pain spreads like white sheets…”

Song For Brian, a swaying, pensive number contrasts Charette’s strikingly direct piano with Fiserova’s more enigmatic guitar lines. “The sound of a breaking heart is stronger than a storm,” she muses in the intro to Cold, then the band leaps into a brisk, bracing offbeat shuffle, Charette on soul organ

She follows Misunderstanding, a slinky, low-key organ swing tune with Invisible Blood, the band slowly edging their way into waltz time as Charette adds iciness behind Fiserova’s elegant fingerpicking and more of that loaded water imagery.

An unlikely flock of pigeons serve as inspiration for the next track, And Fly!, Fiserova offering plainspoken, inspiring encouragement to leave fear behind. Little did she know when she recorded it how relevant this song would become five years later!

She keeps the fearless theme going in My Wind, with its rhythmic twists and turns. from jazz into oldschool soul and back on the wings of Charette’s organ. He blends organ and blippy Rhodes piano in Chasm, a brisk, twinkling, motorik soul tune that could be the album’s catchiest track. Then Fiserova completely flips the script with Silver Moon, rising from an understatedly dark, squirrelly free jazz intro to a big, soaring anthem. The final cut is the pensive, airily wary Closer. Since the album came out, Fiserova has pursued a more straightforward, guitar-driven sound: she is likely to take the volume up a notch at the Rockwood gig.

A Prescient, Indomitable Final Album From Jewlia Eisenberg’s Charming Hostess

“There was a doctor, there was a teacher, but the doctor didn’t care about illness, and the teacher didn’t care about teaching,” Charming Hostess frontwoman Jewlia Eisenberg sang, to open her radical circus rock band’s final album, The Ginzburg Geographies. In the context of 2022, the irony could not be more crushing.

Eisenberg died on 3/11 last year, four months after the Covid shot rollout. She’d been in precarious health for quite some time before. Nonetheless, the indomitable singer and musical polymath had continued to perform and work on a vast series of projects right up until the 2020 lockdown. It’s something of a miracle that she got as far as she did with the album, which her bandmates finished without her last year.

It’s collection of wildly original arrangements of Italian protest songs, an exploration of the territory that nurtured and eventually destroyed the marriage between World War II-era Italian antifascist activists and writers Natalia and Leone Ginzburg, Hounded and pursued by axis forces, the two managed to evade and outlive Mussolini, but Leone was murdered by the Nazis. His widow would go on to serve in the Italian parliament in the decades after the war.

If you count their college days, Charming Hostess enjoyed a career that lasted almost thirty years, on and off. They went through many incarnations, from proto Gogol Bordello punk to feminist klezmer. Here, they do a strikingly faithful evocation of an anarchic Italian street band from seventy years ago, while also putting their own spin on retro 70s Italian film music in a Tredici Bacci vein . Eisenberg took several of the couple’s texts and used them to create a playlist of brooding, accordion-fueled psychedelia, oom-pah blue-collar protest songs and skittishly subversive bedroom pop. A girl protests against household drudgery, over a swaying, accordion-fueled backdrop. “Authority has no value,” Eisenberg reminds. Guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood jangles through some heartbreakingly beautiful interludes behind Eisenberg’s delicate multitracks. Much of this is on the phantasmagorical side, which makes plenty of sense considering the context. There’s also a ramshackle, bluegrass-flavored cover of a classic Woody Guthrie antifascist song.

The best number on the album is La Situazione, a slinky, shuffling, distantly creepy psychedelic rock shuffle fueled by Dan Cantrell’s roller-rink organ. The gist of Leone’s text is that it is Italians’ duty not to give in to alarmism and instead to dig in and fight while the Nazis roll into Rome. You want prophetic?

Eisenberg was outrageously funny, earthy and sometimes combative. Yet that feisty persona was a manifestation of her deeply liberational Jewish spirituality. She wrote film and theatre music, took a plunge into Babylonian mysticism and late in her career revisited her inner soul and blues sirens: she was a lot of those. Eisenberg didn’t just think outside the box: that box existed only as a target for her surrealist wit…or to be destroyed. How cruel that we’ll never know what else she might have had up her sleeve.

A Lustrous Solo Album From Dobro Stylist Abbie Gardner

Abbie Gardner is one of the most distinctive dobro players in  Americana. She has a seemingly effortless grace and otherworldly precision on an instrument that often bedevils other acoustic guitarslingers. Despite her vaunted technique, she plays with a remarkable economy of notes. She may be best known as a member of well-loved harmony trio Red Molly. but she had fearsome chops before she joined that band. Her new solo album DobroSinger is streaming at Bandcamp

As with her other solo records, almost all the tunes are originals. The opening number, Down the Mountain is a steady coal-mining blues. Gardner’s liquid chords contrast with her stiletto-articulate fingerpicking and slithery slide lines. She sings in an expressive down-home delivery equally informed by oldschool gospel, blues and front-porch folk music.

The second track, Only All the Time is more enigmatic, a stripped-down throwback to the alt-country sounds of the 90s. Gardner slows down for See You Again, part sophisticated blues ballad, part country waltz, with a spare, suspenseful solo on the way out. Born in the City has more of Gardner’s signature, silken legato: the gist of the song is that urban people stick together just as tightly as country folks do.

Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if the next song, Three Quarter Time was in, say, 7/8? It actually isn’t: it’s in 6/8! The intimate arrangement is an artful approach to what’s essentially a vintage Memphis-style soul ballad. Gardner digs in hard for a wicked but nuanced vibrato for a starkly original, grim take of Cypress Tree Blues. Then she flips the script with the wryly aphoristic Too Many Kisses, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook.

The brisk, bouncily swinging Honky Tonk Song is the one number here where an overdubbed rhythm track would have come in handy: the absence of a band isn’t an issue anywhere else. Gardner interrupts the playful mood for the stark, understatedly harrowing memoir When We Were Kids: in a quiet way, it’s the most stunning song on the album.

Gardner closes the record with a couple of covers. The first one is a spacious, pouncing version of Those Memories of You, a minor hit for Pam Tillis in the mid-80s. And Gardner reinvents the proto-Lynchian Jo Stafford hit You Belong to Me with a distant, uneasily dreamy feel. If you play guitar, there’s plenty of inspiration here for you to take your chops to the next level. If you don’t, it’s a characteristically sharp, smart Americana record.