New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: February, 2023

A Compelling, Translucent New Album and a Smalls Gig From Simon Moullier

Vibraphonist Simon Moullier burst on the New York jazz scene with an individualistic and sometimes breathtakingly articulate sound. He’s made a name for himself with his distinctive interpretations of standards but is now staking out fertile new terrain as a composer on his latest album Isla, streaming at Bandcamp. And he’s leading his quartet at Smalls on March 5, with sets at 7:30 and 9ish; cover is $25 at the door.

On the opening number, Empress of the Sea, bassist Alexander Claffy and drummer Jongkuk Kim lay down a lithe 12/8 groove beneath a distantly eerie modal vamp and similar harmonies between Moullier and pianist Lex Korten. The piano warms the atmosphere after the bandleader’s enigmatic solo, but the unease remains. It’s a strong opener.

The second cut is the title track, which could be vintage Bobby Hutcherson in an especially gritty but also slinky mood: the band really swing this hard as they move along. Kim’s hushed clave gives extra suppleness and mystery to You Go to My Head, Moullier’s tight clustering approach in contrast to Korten’s legato, with an electrifying vibraphone solo out.

The band reach for a more relaxed, syncopated shuffle rhythm in Enchantment, Korten’s loose-limbed solo at the center: Moullier’s incisive upper register riffs come across as guitar voicings, a cool touch. He builds the aptly titled Moon Mist around a spring-loaded, hypnotic vamp, Claffy stepping out for a stroll as Korten collects a dream nebula overhead which the bandleader then gives an extra jolt of voltage.

The band go back to early 60s Prestige Records terrain for This Dream, Kim loping along with a spring-loaded syncopation as Moullier riffs at high velocity over Korten’s steady insistence. Phoenix Eye is the album’s punchiest, most biting and allusively bluesy track, Korten scrambling, Moullier choosing his spots. They bring the record full circle with the simply titled Heart, a wary ballad: it’s the most allusively Lynchian and defiantly enigmatic track here. Moullier has really been on a creative roll lately: let’s hope that continues.


Candles, Penlights and a Caroline Shaw Chorale Downtown

This isn’t a blog about religion, but as Paul Wallfisch has said – and he was a diehard atheist the last time anybody here checked – religion has given us a lot of beauty. While a lot of that beauty was snuffed out when houses of worship were summarily shuttered in the 2020 lockdown, a handful of venerable New York institutions have brought live music back to their services. One of many long-running traditions in this city that died that year was at St. Paul’s Chapel downtown, where their house ensemble had been performing Bach chorales and hymns at a lunchtime service and later shifted that to an early evening compline series.

Last night, Stephen Sands conducted the Downtown Voices in a welcome, warmly crepscular setting. Lit only by candles and the penlights of the choir and string section, they delivered a quietly electric, dynamic take of Caroline Shaw’s To the Hands.

Before the lockdown, Shaw’s music was ubiquitous in New York: this piece was especially robust early on, but then the voices held back with a stark, minimalist intensity. The chorale has Shaw’s trademark circular motives, but also a guarded optimism whose distant folksiness is more somber than wistful. The composer wrote it as a response to a Buxtehude piece whose central theme is “What are these wounds in the midst of your hands?” Obviously, the great Dane was referring to Christ; these days, it could be anyone.

That might have been reflected in the abundant use of space and frequent sense of abandonment, the women and then men of the choir opting to sync very closely with the work’s overall wary atmosphere and theme of global displacement. Shaw’s text quickly diverges from the original latin to Emma Lazarus and her huddled masses “yearning to breathe free” – if only she knew what crushing irony that phrase would resonate with now!

The choir’s emergence from a desolate, sparsely populated valley into an insistent march was unexpected but seamless. The strings returned with wispy, flitting harmonics in contrast to the increasing lushness of the voices. A hypnotic, enveloping ambience wafted behind an expressive soprano’s elegantly plaintive solo. Swells contrasted with sober lulls as the choir and instruments made their way into in the unexpectedly surreal and disjointed conclusion, bits and pieces of the baroque mingled within strangely circling violins behind the calm solidity of the voices.

Shaw has graciously made the entire score available for anyone who wants to sing or play it: hit her dropbox for the parts.

The next free concert at St. Paul’s Chapel is March 12 at 8 PM with the Trinity Youth Chorus and Trinity Baroque Orchestra performing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. This is not one of New York’s larger churches, so early arrival would be a good idea.

A Look Back at Amy Klein’s Icy, Anthemic Pre-Lockdown Dreampop Gem

Amy Klein is a rarity, a guitarist with a distinctive style in the icy wetlands of dreampop. She grew up in public as a sidewoman in a forgettable indie project, but really blossomed when she went solo. She had the good fortune to release her latest album Winter/Time – streaming at Bandcamp – about five months before the 2020 global coup d’etat. If your taste in rock runs toward music that delivers a tingle and chill, this is your shot of aquavit.

The opening track is titled Nothing, with buzzsaw guitar and imploring early Siouxsie-esque vocals, Will Chang’s bass rising and intertwining amid the increasingly dense swirl.

Snappy bass octaves and slow, resonant, Lushlike chords introduce Winter, then drummer Colin Brooks flurries and picks up the pace, leading to a real stomp underneath Klein’s enveloping, quasar textures. Klein and guitarist David Andreana leads the band elegantly through rustic resonator guitar chords to a stately spacerock sway in Daisy, a reference to the Gatsby character.

Her spare, soaring lines shine out over the layers of reverb crash and clang in White Wind, the album’s most angst-fueled anthem. The chorus-box shimmer of the guitars grows more emphatic in Daisy II (Days), Klein’s voice reaching toward the top of her formidable range, up to a raging guitar solo out. It’s the most Kate Bush-oriented song on the record.

A drifting intro leads to an explosive, punching forward drive in Come to You: imagine the Church circa the Remote Luxury album with a woman out front. Klein closes the album with One More Time, a burning minor-key charger with unexpectedly reflective interludes. The last gig listed on Klein’s gig page is a 2019 Bushwick album release show; let’s hope there will be more.

A Brave, Haunting Reflection on Lockdown-Era Alienation and Angst From Lily Desmond

Lily Desmond released her latest album Beast – streaming at Bandcamp – on Halloween in the dead of the 2020 lockdown. As a portrait of that year’s alienation and atomization, it packs a wallop. Desmond is a dynamic and versatile singer, rising form a wisp to a wail in a succession of intriguing, subtly detailed songs with elements of ambient music, indie rock and dark folk. With the exception of “noise guitar” played by a nameless person called “Distancing,” Desmond handles all the instruments, including acoustic and electric guitars, drums, keys and a web of violin. She’s playing the downstairs room at the Rockwood on March 4 at 10 PM; cover is $10.

“Put on your shoes and get in bed,” Desmond intones, querulously, in the opening track, Burner. “Been doing hard time under my sheets, no one wants to hear anything about it….it’s all the same, the echoes roll in from last year, trying to get back where they came.” Simple downstroke acoustic guitar and an increasingly dense haze of violin and guitar completes this troubled picture.

Desmond shifts to an acerbic clarity in track two, Giulia, a surreal, allusive bedroom trip-hop tune: violence is only a half-step away in this fragmented world. She rises from gloomy folk noir to scruffy, opaque electric rock over a tumbling beat in Haunt: Elisa Flynn‘s darkest songs come to mind.

Desmond captures a claustrophobic, relentless solitude in Mess, with its staggered blend of guitar and violin loops and fleeting, jaunty bluegrass references: triumph remains behind an impenetrable and constantly shifting wall.

First is a twisted vaudevillian narrative: the party may be next door, but Desmond wishes it would stay there instead of seeping through the wall: she grips the edge of the sink and considers suicide. The album’s final and most straight-up cut is Red: over steady, emphatic rainy-day acoustic guitar, Desmond poignantly chronicles “years of struggling under streetlights, bled me dry…” Yet somehow she finds the strength to keep going. This will resonate with anyone who suffered through what New York became three years ago. Let’s hope Desmond can give us more where this came from.

Sit & Die at Otto’s on March 2

Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. aren’t just the Spinal Tap of pre-rockabilly Americana. They saved this blog’s publicity stunt.

They probably would have volunteered for the job if they hadn’t already been chosen for it…as a plan B.

Whether you get the trio’s innumerable inside jokes – many of them references to impossibly obscure artists or cultural memes from the 1950s and before – they’re as deadpan hilarious as they were when this blog reviewed their show at Otto’s back in September of 2011. That’s where they’ll be this March 2 at 8 PM.

Sit & Die’s shtick goes way deeper than cornpone humor. Much of what they do is a parody of artists who indulged in it, both lyrically and musically. And they’re as much of a Fringe Festival theatre act as they are a band. They wear matching vintage outfits complete with bowties that would make Dr. David Martin proud. Frontman/lead guitarist Michael McMahon (brother of the brilliant Amy Rigby) will typically launch into a joke, bat the dialogue to guitarist Mike or bassist Garth, and as the night goes on and everybody gets more liquored up there they’ll start to go off script. If they’re doing multiple sets, the last one is the one to catch.

Considering how long they’ve been together – this blog’s owner first saw them at Union Pool around the turn of the century, when they were a shockingly serious, straight-ahead oldtime C&W act – they’re tight as a drum (which they don’t have). Like a lot of acts from the cd-and-myspace era, their studio work isn’t well represented on the web, but as you would expect from such an amusing crew, there’s a ton of stuff up at youtube, including their mid-teens ep At the Brooklyn Beefsteak.

This one opens with Song of the Beefsteak, a vaguely Italian ditty whose main joke is the backing vocals – no spoilers. The musical joke in Say Mister Is That Your Cow, a western swing tune, is a pedal steel (again, no spoilers). The innuendos are a little more obvious and less outright cruel in Bop-A-Betty. The last track is Eat Drink & Be Merry My Friend, where McMahon shows off his flashy 1954-style fretwork.

And their Reverbnation page has Dig That Cazy Monkey, which is sort of a Bill Haley spoof but also an anti-imperialist broadside.

Over the years, New York Music Daily has crossed paths with Sit & Die – as their fans call them – many other times, under many different circumstances. Most importantly, there was that 2011 Otto’s show which enabled this blog to maintain a streak of writing up 23 concerts in 23 days, which ended nine days later with a new record of 32 consecutive days of concert coverage.

There was another very welcome Sit & Die show at Otto’s a couple of years later during a particularly lean period, where the band basically brought dinner. Tthey’ve been known to hand out bags of salty snacks along with period-perfect 1950s style stage props and unusual dollar-store finds.

Another Gorgeously Cinematic New Mix of Accordion and Piano Jazz From Ben Rosenblum

Ben Rosenblum is one of the most electrifyingly eclectic voices in jazz. He’s as adrenalizing an accordionist as he is a pianist, but his strongest suit ultimately is his compositions. His earlier ones can be hard to find, but one place you can find him is at Smalls on March 2 where he’s playing the album release show for his new one A Thousand Pebbles – streaming at Spotify – with his brilliant Nebula Project septet. Sets are at 7:30 and around 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

The opening tune, Catamaran, takes awhile to get going, but when it does, it’s breathtaking. Trumpeter Wayne Tucker hits a tantalizingly fleeting chromatic passage, with the bandleader, bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Ben Zweig build a bustling high-seas tableau. Rosenblum switches to accordion for a spiritedly goofy Irish jig of an outro.

He sticks with that instrument over guitarist Rafael Rosa’s pulse in Bulgares while the band build an increasingly complex web of gorgeous Balkan tonalities, the wicked spirals of the accordion in contrast with the blistering conversation between Rosa and Tucker. It’s one of the best track released in 2023 so far.

The album’s title suite begins with a sentimental chorale between Tucker and saxophonists Jasper Dutz and Xavier Del Castillo. The second movement, Road to Recollection, is a genial, brassy swing tune where the ensemble sounds twice as large as they are behind Rosenblum’s piano rivulets, punches and pointillisms. Backward masked patches signal the segue to The Gathering, a spacious, increasingly acidic, moody accordion jazz tune that strongly evokes the Claudia Quintet, a calmly biting sax solo at the center and another electrifying Tucker solo on the way out.

Rosenblum opens the conclusion, Living Streams, with spare, wary gospel piano, Rosa and the horns enhancing the hymnal ambience as they bring the suite full circle.

Bookended with Jaffe’s somber, bowed bass, The Bell from Europe – a post WWII reflection on the legacy of violence – couldn’t be more relevant. Tucker’s solemn solo rises in tandem with the horns over a funereal pulse as the music brightens, Rosa channeling a sobering angst along with melancholy, chugging bass to remind that too little has changed since 1945.

The band pick up the pace with The Village Steps, Rosenblum’s pensive, pastoral accordion sailing over a churning, altered samba groove. The turn into shadowy noir with Lilian, a portrait of a femme fatale, is deliciously, understatedly lurid, with eerie reverb guitar, smoky horns, suspiciously genial bass clarinet from Dutz, a slithery bass solo, and enigmatically circling piano worthy of a classic Johnny Mandel theme from the 50s.

They reinvent Jobim’s Song of the Sabia as jaunty forro jazz with Rosenblum’s accordion at the center over the horns’ lustre: imagine Forro in the Dark at their most lithe and animated. Rosenblum closes with Implicit Attitude, a supple swing tune that looks back to Gil Evans-era Miles with simmering solos from Del Castillo’s tenor sax, Tucker’s muted trumpet and Dutz’s dynamically leaping bass clarinet. This rich and vastly diverse album deserves consideration for best jazz record of 2023.

Best Ever Playlist on this Page?

It’s been a month since there’s been a playlist of singles on this page, and this might be the best of them all. As usual, click on artist names for their webpages, click on titles for audio, video or just a good visual joke (if there’s no title link, just click on the artist).

Here’s something beautiful and brilliant to inspire you: a 12-year-old British girl absolutely destroys the WEF’s 15-minute city prison concept. Scroll down to the last video, via Tessa Lena‘s must-read investigative and philosophical Substack.

Tessa is also a brilliant and haunting singer, and she’s finally released a new single, Hovin Mernem, an old Armenian folk song on a familiar theme of missing someone who’s gone over the mountains, maybe never to be seen again (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

It’s amazing how much good music you find in random moments on the web. This nameless Australian choir turns in a heartwarming version of the Staples Singers’ Just Another Soldier in the Army of Love.

Strong early contender for best song of 2023: Balcony, by moody, jangly, coldly new wave-flavored Brooklyn band Nostranders.

You have to watch Pussy Riot‘s new single Putin’s Ashes closely to appreciate this stately chorale. Rough translation: “Sharpening a knife for Putin, I will not forgive your evil.”

The Oracle Sisters’ Tramp Like You is surreal Lynchian glam-soul; if Bowie did a song for Blue Velvet, it might have sounded like this

Ladytron‘s new single City of Angels features chill robotic vocals over a surprisingly warmly orchestrated backdrop

A clear voice searching for more clarity in a hypnotic, slide guitar-driven Americana anthem: Megan Brickwood‘s Trinity River Blues

Novelist and mighty memestress Amy Sukwan shares California license plate 3JOH22A (scroll midway down the page)

This video by Japanese folk-punk duo Ki & Ki has been around awhile, but it’s a good segue, an otherworldly and rather stern march played in perfect sync on twin shamisen lutes.

Now, because music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, things are going to get dark, but everything ends on a positive note. First, Texas Lindsay shows how Japanese excess mortality correlates to Covid injection uptake, over a shamanic taiko drum rhythm. 1 minute 15 second video via freedom fighter Super Sally in the Philippines (scroll down to middle of the page)

Here’s an eerily prophetic hip-hop joint from 2012: Dr. Creep‘s Pandemic (via Lioness of Judah‘s excellent daily news feed)

Begin life in a lab in the first war of vaccines
Million die in the first week in the pandemic dreams…
Flu-shot propaganda for all population and troops
Avoid the plague; it might have seeped into the room….
This isn’t past tense or the plague of Athens
Couldn’t be eradicated like smallpox in action
Avian influenza in the jetstream is how it happens
2020 combined with coronavirus, bodies stacking

Scott Ralley gives us Freedom, his latest reggae-rap protest song via novelist Margaret Anna Alice‘s brilliant piece on fence-riders

Speaking of riding the fence and jersey-switching, cartoonist Anne Gibbons asks “How do we get you back onboard,” via Dr. Meryl Nass (who is doing a hilariously acerbic liveblog of this week’s ACIP meetings)

Let’s end this on a redemptive and unselfconsciously funny note with Naomi Wolf’s venomous response to the recent New York Times attempt to slowly backwalk their longtime and ludicrous Covid fearmongering. Anyone who was banned from a bar or any other venue, or lost their job because of lockdown restrictions will relish this. Start this video excerpt from her latest book The Bodies of Others at 3:49:

“Closing restaurants and bars was strategic. The goal of these oligarchs who wanted to make war on humanity especially want to make war on community. People can communicate and share and compare their truths and experiences when they’re in a bar or a restaurant….and learn for themselves that there was a life to be had outside of lockdowns and outside of Covid hysteria, which turned out to be predicated on pretty much no solid evidence, as this book demonstrates. The New York Times killed people, they were driven to lives of despair…they crushed the dreams of a hundred thousand restaurant owners…They killed cultures, they killed neighborhoods, and all on the basis of a lie.”

The Dracu-Las Sink Their Fangs Into a Catchy, Reverb-Drenched New Album

One of the most refreshingly original albums to fly across the radar here in the last couple of months is the Dracu-Las‘ debut cassette, Fever Dream, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s part surf, part janglerock, part powerpop, with a wistful early 60s Orbison-pop undercurrent.

They open with a tantalizingly brief surf instrumental, Highway, a skittish mashup of Link Wray and Messer Chups (minus the scream samples). Track two, Tell You the News is a punchy sort-of go-go tune lit up by lead guitarist Babak Khodabandeh’s soul riffage

Girls is part spare Ventures space-surf, part Black Angels at their most slinky and Velvetsy. “Giving up on girls like me,” one of the band’s two frontwomen muses. Hard to tell if that’s guitarist Kyna Damewood or bassist Courtney Eddington.

The album’s title track has a bouncy bassline and a soaring, chiming chorus: imagine an early 20s version of Liza & the WonderWheels. Then drummer Mitch Cady hits a classic powerpop drive and the guitarists stomp their distortion boxes for Fire , the hardest-rocking track here.

They close the record with Burning Heart, rising out of a syncopated ballad to scruffy psychedelia and back. Now where is this excellent group playing next, you might ask? They’re on a dubious battle-of-the-bands lineup in a couple of days at a Brooklyn club which enjoyed a massive resurgence in the spring of 2022 but wasn’t able to keep that momentum going (therefore dumb desperation moves like a battle-of-the-bands contest?). There will hopefully be other shows where you can see a full set of the Dracu-Las without having to suffer through three nothingburger bands and pony up a $15 cover charge as well.

A Colorful, Entertaining Solo Bass Album and a Chinatown Gig From Kyle Motl

At the risk of esotericizing this blog out of existence, there’s an especially intriguing free jazz lineup on the 28th at Downtown Music Gallery. At 6:30 PM Gutbucket’s sometimes acerbic, sometimes way-out-there klezmer-influenced guitarist Ty Citerman teams up with Jen Baker on trombone and Shayna Dunkelman on bass. At 7:30 bassist Kyle Motl plays solo and then at 8:30 the Harmolodics with Ben Green on trumpet, Ben Wood on bass and David Ward on drums. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

Motl is one of the real draws on this bill (well, on a night that might pull two or three dozen people if the weather holds up). Not only does he play solo, he records solo. His latest solo album Hydra Nightingale – streaming at his music page – is a lot of fun if you’re open to strange and frequently amusing sounds, and pushes the envelope as far as solo bass can go. It’s a very diverse mix of solo compositions by a similarly eclectic lineup of composers.

First up is the title track, a Caroline Louise Miller composition that won the 2018 International Society of Bassists David Walter Solo Composition Competition. Motl opens it a shriek and a little coy bow-bouncing before setting up a conversation which in places is ridiculously funny. Using one extended-technique device after another, Motl gets his cartoon characters to scowl and flit around and peek out from around corners, and more. Yet, it’s more of a vintage New Yorker cartoon than Sunday morning Nickelodeon rerun.

Anqi Liu‘s Light Beams Through Dusts, Through a Mist of Moistures is the big epic here and could be described as more vigorous than the title would imply. These shafts of light filter down steadily on the wings of Motl’s gritty harmonics, a march of drones into the shadows lightened with dust-devil flickers until the truck engine turns over and then rumbles away. It’s a treat for fans of low-register sounds.

Motl’s one composition here is Phosphene (the phosphorus illumination one sees with eyes closed after looking at a very bright object). At first it’s wispy and whispery but then Motl goes on a jagged tear with his bow, building a roman candle of harmonics and then coming up with a tastily haphazard arrangement for them.

Nachklang, by Jessie Cox, is the album’s most evocative, poltergeist-ish piece, with the creaking doors and pregnant pauses you would expect from the title. The final work is Asher Tobin Chodos‘ Trickle Town, referencing to the dubious Reagan-era back-of-the-napkin economic theory via samples of that decade’s senile chief executive, plus shivers, slides and more fingerwork than on the rest of the record. It’s an irresistibly funny way to bring everything full circle.

The Mysterious and Sudden Death of Pianist and Musicologist Stefan Mikisch

Controversial pianist and classical music media figure Stefan Mikisch died this past February 17 at his home in Schwandorf, Germany. He was 58. To date, there doesn’t seem to be an obituary that lists a cause of death.

Mikisch was a fixture at Bayreuth, the ancestral Richard Wagner home and performance center. His witty blend of keen musical analysis and original piano transcriptions of Wagner opera themes won him rockstar status in the opera world. His concert-lectures routinely sold out, and his recordings of both solo piano works and readings also achieved considerable popularity. From the early 1990s until 2020, he was a frequent guest on European radio and tv.

More recently, Mikisch ran afoul of the German musical establishment and was pilloried in German state and corporate media when he warned of surveillance technology in the Covid injections, and spoke out in favor of mass noncompliance with lockdown restrictions. But it was his Facebook post, where he compared anti-lockdown freedom fighters to the World War II German resistance against the Nazis (with a rather oblique quote from White Rose activist Hans Scholl) that got him banned from Bayreuth – not only from the concert hall, but also the archives where he had conducted research for almost three decades.

Most recently, Mikisch had taken a similar position at the Sibelius Academy Helsinki. He leaves behind his wife of two years, Carla Hernandez.

Was this popular and influential figure suicided, like Andreas Noack, the German chemist who discovered graphene in the Covid shots? With a new appointment and a relatively recent marriage, it certainly doesn’t seem that Mikisch would have killed himself, as has been hinted on social media.