New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: african pop

A Long, Strange, Psychedelic New York Week

In two parts

It’s been a psychedelic week. Any week can be psychedelic if you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s just that this one had music to match the surrealism of the dream state that’s been a daily reality for Americans since the election. Over the past several days, the former’s made it a lot easier to get through the latter.

Blick Bassy’s latest album is spare and pensive, offering no hint of how trippy and magnetic his live show would be. Introducing the Cameroonian singer in his New York debut at Lincoln Center Thursday evening, impresario Jordana Phokompe was clearly stoked to have finally booked him here after seeing him play at Womex a couple of years ago. It was worth the wait.

Colorfully and loosely garbed, red goggle shades perched on his head (he never put them on), he was a much more forceful and magnetic presence than his rather gentle and austere recent work would indicate. And the performance was infinitely more psychedelic. That Bassy would sing in his native vernacular – one of more than 250 languages, many of them endangered, spoken in his country – added to the enigmatic ambience. Yet emotional content, at least at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, were distinct, especially in a wrenching lament, and the long mini-suite of love songs that ended the show, his cat-ate-the-canary croon a dead giveaway.

For most of the set, he played banjo, fingerpicking it judiciously rather than frailing the strings bluegrass-style. Toward the end, he picked up what looked like a child’s model Telecaster  and fingerpicked intricate, rippling, kora-like upper-register phrases in a spiny, open tuning

That his trio would have such unorthodox instrumentation, let alone that trombonist Johan Blanc and cellist Clément Petit would put on such a wall-bending display of extended technique, raised the surrealism factor several notches. Blanc was in charge of atmospherics with his low, looming phrases, often playing through a loop pedal or switching to a mini-keyboard and mixer. At one point, he ran Bassy’s vocals through the keyboard and built a harmony line with them as he sang. Of course, Blanc could simply have sung that harmony part himself, but the strange effect would have been lost

Petit is Bassy’s not-so-secret weapon. There were a few places where he held down somber, ambered sustained notes, or threw off a jaunty glissando or two, but mostly he plucked out basslines. As intricate as they grew, Petit never got too busy, often fattening the sound via an octave pedal which sent his cello down low into a rabbit hole where cellos usually can’t go. And he didn’t limit his lines to blues or rock. Like the bandleader, he spiraled through some kora-like phrases, and for a second even evoked the otherworldly bounce of Moroccan gnawa trance music.

Bassy is a diehard fan of plaintive, intense American blues iconoclast Skip James, so it was no surprise that the highlight of the show turned out to be after some amusing stage shtick, where Bassy looped a couple of bars from an old James record and then played variations that took the song straight back to its African roots.

The next show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center is this Thursday, July 20 at 7:30 PM with a relevance much closer to home: Brooklyn-based, Gil Scott-Heron influenced Brooklyn hip-hop duo Quincy Vidal. The show is free, so getting to the space on time is crucial. 

After the Blick Bassy show, it was great fun to catch a whole set by cinematic psychedelic trio Los Crema Paraiso across the river. You can find out what happened in part two, here. 

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Celebrate Nelson Mandela’s Birthday with a Free Concert in the Bronx Saturday Night

For anyone stuck in the Bronx this weekend because of the 2 and 5 train shutdown, there’s an intriguing free show this Saturday night, July 15 at 7 PM at the Bronx Music Heritage Center, where singer Tsidii Le Loka – star of a popular musical that became a Disney film – is doing a Nelson Mandela birthday tribute. A major Miriam Makeba collaborator, Loka will be performing her show To the Rising Sun, featuring songs by Makeba and the words of Mandela.

The BMHC is at 1303 Louis Niné Blvd in the Bronx. The show is part of the Paris New York Heritage Festival, which runs through the 21st of the month.

Blick Bassy, Cameroonian Connoisseur of Americana, Brings His Spare, Surreal Songs to Lincoln Center

Spare, mournful cello rises in the background, awash in reverb, over a stark, muted minor-key acoustic guitar riff. It’s the blues, straight from Africa but refracted back through the relentless heat of the Mississippi Delta. There’s longing in the catchy vocal hook that Blick Bassy sings in one of many of his native Cameroonian vernaculars. That’s the title track on his album Ako, streaming at Spotify. Bassy cites the otherworldly Skip James as a major influence, but that’s hardly the only one.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call Bassy a connoisseur of Americana in general. He’s bringing his eclectically dynamic, individualistic sound to the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. tomorrow night, July 13 at 7:30 PM. The show is free; getting there early is a good idea because a good crowd always shows up for these events.

Bassy switches to banjo, joined by the looming harmonies of Clément Petit’s cello and Johan Blanc’s trombone on the album’s second track, a jaunty hot 20s swing tune, sung with contrasting restraint. In the next song he takes that sound forward half a century for a surreal mashup of what sounds like Acadian folk and Nick Drake. Throughout the album, cello and trombone are frequently overdubbed for a lush, orchestral effect.

From there, rhythms vary from a balmy sway to the circling gait of Saharan Tuareg folk. Imagine a Malian guitar griot like Boubacar Traore, for example, scaling back his songs to two and a half minutes. Stylistically, the album runs the gamut from the bittersweetness of  Scots-American folk tunes,, to bouncy Appalachian string band music, to maybe Bill Monroe. Petit is similarly eclectic, sometimes a one-man orchestra, sometimes a bass player, sometimes adding spiky lower-register kora phrases

Screaming wifi isn’t exactly easy to find in Cameroon. Either Bassy was lucky enough to have internet access from a young age, or he was able to get his hands on a fantastic record collection. The Lincoln Center atrium is programmed with seemingly every culture base in the world’s most storied melting pot in mind; it’ll be interesting to see who turns out for this one.

An Awesome New Album and an East Village Release Show by Ethio-Jazz Songstress Meklit

Multi-instrumentalist singer Meklit is one of brightest lights in Ethiopian jazz  But that’s just the starting point for the ex-Brooklynite songwriter, who springboards off that  into a high-voltage mix that also draws on classic soul, funk, rock and ancient Ethiopian folk music. Her Lincoln Center show back in April was off the hook. Now she’s got a new album, When the People Move, the Music Moves Too, soon to be streaming at Bandcamp, and a release show tomorrow night, June 21 at 8 PM at the old Nublu at 62 Ave. C.. Cover is $22.

Since she absconded for the west coast, she’s assembled a killer band. Their not-so-secret weapon is tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley. The rest of the vast cast on the album also comprises but is hardly limited to drummer Colin Douglas, percussionist Marco Peris Coppola and bassist Sam Bevan. The rest of the crew spans from Ethiopian masenko fiddler Endris Hassen to the Preservation Hall Horns.

The triumphantly bouncing, swaying opening track, This Was Made Here, celebrates a DIY esthetic, but there’s also a lot of defiance in the bandleader’s “I’m not gonna wait, no more!” as Tassew Wondem’s Ethiopian wood flute leaps and bounds overhead. The brightly circlingI Want to Sing For Them All also has a defiant undercurrent – on the surface, it sends shouts out to Meklit’s influences, from Prince to a litany of Ethio-jazz stars, but it’s also a reminder that pigeonholing is a big mistake. As Hannah Arendt liked to say, stereotyping is the worst thing in the world. Andrew Bird’s violin pairs with the masenko as the dance rises to fever pitch.

Meklit breaks out her krar harp for the album’s catchiest track, Supernova. Powerful low-register brass fuels a vast, pulsingly dramatic backdrop as Wiley goes into wary Ethiopian mode. The mantra is “Where did you come from,” the point being that everything we’re made of came in with a bang: don’t we owe it to ourselves to keep that going?

Likewise, the Preservation Hall Horns supply the bluster behind Kibrome Birhane’s spare, incisive piano in the funky anthem You Are My Luck. Bird brings his violin back to the subtly polyrhythmic, mutedly moody Yerakeh Yeresal. Then the band pucks up the pace with You Got Me: hearing the New Orleans brass sink their teeth into Meklit’s gorgeously biting, emphatic Ethiopian arrangement is a trip, and a revelation.

Yesterday Is a Tizita brings back the grey-sky atmosphere, a lament that rises to the point where the sky clears and Meklit announces that “Our mistakes became the sun” –  her loping triplet melody is one of the album’s most delicious moments.

Wiley’s catchy, ominous baritone sax riffage drives Human Animal, a straight-ahead mix of hard funk and Ethio-jazz, with hints of 80s new wave. Sweet or Salty maintains that balance of 80s British pop and rustic Ethiopian themes, with acidically swirling masenko against lushly enigmatic strings and understatedly jubilant rat-at-tat percussion.

Happy Birthday starts out as a cute attempt at a replacement for an all-too-familiar ditty that could really, REALLY use a replacement, then becomes an intricate thicket of melody, winding up with a jaunty conversation between Wiley’s tenor sax and one of the trombonists. The album closes with Memories of the Future, shifting back and forth between a majestic, distantly uneasy sway and a jubilant, cantering theme fueled by the New Orleans horns. Lots going on here, plenty to sink your ears into over and over again – one of the best albums of 2017, bar none.

Ethio-Jazz Soul Singer Meklit Airs Out Her Brilliant Forthcoming Album at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center, Meklit came to conquer. Rocking a sassy kente cloth skirt and black top, the ex-Brooklynite Ethio-jazz belter bounded and whirled across the stage, singing in both English and Amharic, leading a tight six-piece band through a passionate, fiery, subtly relevant mix of mostly new songs from her forthcoming album When the People Move, the Music Moves Too. Freed from behind her acoustic guitar – at least for most of the set – she’s found new vocal power in her low register, and commands the stage like never before. It’s hard to believe that the artist formerly known as Meklit Hadero – her full name – got her start in the cautious, sedate world of singer-songwriters.

While her work has always drawn on her Ethiopian roots, her newest material goes deeper into that nation’s joyously cantering, brassy dance music from the 60s and 70s. “Ethio-jazz in 2017!” was the mantra throughout the night’s most explosively kinetic number, I Want to Sing For Them All, a shout-out to influences ranging from the golden-age hip-hop she grew up with and found kinship in, to Coltrane and Mulatu Astatke, among many others. Drummer Colin Douglas and percussionist Marco Peris Coppola negotiated the song’s twists and turns with a steely precision as bassist Sam Bevan bubbled behind the searing, thrilling, trilling chomatic harmonies of tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley and trumpeter DeAndre Schaifer. It was a visceral validation of George Clinton’s observation about how freedom begins in the lower extremities.

In between songs, there was silence, and Meklit let it linger, choosing her thoughts like she chooses her spots as a singer. “Welcome to my living room!” she beamed as the second line-tinged groove of You Are My Luck got underway, an irrepressibly shuffling shout-out to the power of love as fuel for the struggle. She bookended her roughly hourlong set with a couple of bracing Ethio-jazz numbers, the first with a trick ending and a tantalizingly brief Wiley solo, the closing number a careening, pulsing take of the first Ethiopian number Miriam Makeba learned for her initial trip to that country in the 1960s.

They reinvented an Erykah Badu pop hit as Ethiopiques, with a still, suspenseful intro that gave way to spine-tingling microtonal horn riffage. One of the new songs, Supernova was akin to the Sometime Boys tackling Ethiopian funk, with Meklit’s most powerful, dramatic vocal of the night. “In case you’re ever feeling ordinary, remember you were born in a supernova,” she mused beforehand.

Musically speaking, the high point of the evening was an insistent minor-key anthem, part Ethiopiques, part Aretha, with a long, feral, microtonal Wiley solo that began with aching sirening effects and eventually picked up with volley after volley of chromatics and microtones. Then Meklit plugged in her krar harp for a number she hoped would be as hypnotic to the crowd as it is to her, an argument that held. Then she flipped the script with her own wryly sunny happy-birthday song, a welcome alternative to what you hear blasting from the speakers in East Village Indian restaurants.

The triumphantly crescendoing, anthemic, soukous-tinged This Was Made Here peaked out with a long, riveting, trilling trumpet solo fueled by Schaifer’s circular breathing. “I’m not going to wait, and I’m not going away,” Meklit belted. Throughout the set, Bevan – switching from standup and five-string Fender, and then back – impressed with his ability to be busy but not obtrusive, playing lots of variations on bouncy octaves. Coppola, with a big Indian dhol bass drum slung over his shoulder, handled the tricky metrics in tandem with Douglas and Bevan. At one point the drummers left their posts to bang on the bass strings for a solo: this group has as much fun onstage as their bandleader. The next stop on their current US tour is tonight, April 7 at 8 PM at World Cafe, 500 N. Market St. in Wilmington, Delaware.

The atrium space at Lincoln Center is where most of the most happening shows there take place – it’s an easy place to call home away from home. The next one is on April 20 at 7:30 PM with psychedelic Colombian champeta dance band Tribu Baharu.

Batida Stirs Things Up at Lincoln Center

“Somebody asked me what I thought about Black Lives Matter,” Pedro Coquenão, a.k.a. Batida mused to the crowd gathered around the stage at Lincoln Center last night. He didn’t address the matter any further, letting his multimedia performance answer that question. Footage from a rare 1972 Angolan film by Sarah Maldoror flickered on the screen above the stage, two Africans weighing the pros and cons of societal class structure. One espoused a proto-trickle-down theory: the rich are good to be around because you can work for them. The other guy was more blase: “The rich exist to keep the poor down.”

Meanwhile, Batida’s drummer kept a brisk shuffle beat going, his two dancers, a man and a woman leaping and pouncing while the Angola-born, now Lisbon-based electronic musician/rapper/freedom fighter worked a spare, catchy, pinging melody into the mix, like a mbira through a reverb pedal. But nobody was dancing: everybody was watching the screen, apprehensively. That’s Batida’s steez, sort of George Clinton in reverse: free your mind and your lower extremities will follow.

Although the atrium space was packed, this was an unusually small crowd for Batida. He typically performs for thousands at big outdoor EDM festivals, using that platform as an opportunity for tireless advocacy for human rights worldwide, and in his war-torn native country, as documented by Amnesty International. In roughly an hour onstage, his show came across as an Afro-Portuguese take on Thievery Corporation, but minus the doctrinaire worldview, with the welcome addition of a withering sense of humor. Batida is one funny guy. He jabbed at the crowd with a torrent of cynical banter between numbers, with a plainspoken charisma akin to Iggy Pop or Rachid Taha. He was that self-aware: when he broke the fourth wall and entreated the gradeschoolers in the crowd to disbehave, or self-effacingly made fun of his own penchant for appropriating imagery, for example. And he was just as intense.

And he turned out to be a master at how to work a crowd. After he’d set the scene with with some matter-of-factly disturbing found footage from years of war in his native land, he’d run the visuals through a gel filter and pick up the pace. His samples were diverse and were absolutely fascinating, the most hypnotically entrancing one being a rare mid-70s wah-guitar-driven Angolan Afrobeat vamp that he said was noteworthy for not having drums (it did have what sounded like a djembe or two on it). Iimagine that, a dance music maven spinning the one Afrobeat tune on the planet without a drumbeat. Irony is not lost on this guy.

As scenes that weighed heavy postcolonial issues, such as the lingering effects of collaborating with enemy colonizers, shifted across the screen, the sonics and the beats grew more anthemic and the crowd surged. With a sardonic grin, Batida told them that “You’ll like this one, this one’s for the ladies, it works every time.” And then eventually painted himself into a corner while poking fun at just about every gender stereotype out there. The crowd got a kick out of that, but he also held their attention when he sent a shout-out to his compadres back home who’d been sprung by Amnesty Internation’s efforts after being jailed for a year for reading literature deemed subversive by the dictatorship.

“I’m so excited I could almost die,” confided Lincoln Center impresario Meera Dugal beforehand, who explained that it had been her dream to stage this show since discovering Batida’s music four years ago at Other Music. Then without missing a beat she scurried up to the front to join the dancers. In the back, a veteran chronicler of the New York music scene, still on the mend from a nasty injury, eventually rose from one of the press seats and began swaying back and forth. Physical therapy never felt so good.

The next show at the Lincoln Center atrium – the rectangular 62nd St. space where the most culturally diverse and happening acts perform – is Jan 5 at 7:30 PM with Burnt Sugar playing a “greatest hits” show, which might include everything from hard funk to ambient soundscapes to psychedelically danceable covers by James Brown, Prince, David Bowie and Steely Dan. As always, early arrival at these free shows is always a good idea.

A Slinky, Catchy New Album from Nubian Dance Band Alsarah & the Nubatones

Alsarah & the Nubatones call their music “East African retro pop.” That designation may be historically accurate, but it hardly does justice to the Sudanese-born singer and her band’s enchanting blend of slinky Middle Eastern sounds, starkly bluesy folk and propulsive dance grooves. They’ve got a new album, Manara – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show on Nov 30 at 7:30 PM at the Poisson Rouge. Advance tix are $12, but get ’em now – the band pretty much sold out Flushing Town Hall, a much bigger venue way out in Queens, earlier this year – and the 7 train wasn’t even running that evening.

The album’s opening track, Salaam Nubia, is basically a retro 70s disco groove with blues riffage from Brandon Terzic’s oud over clattering percussion and wickedly catchty vocal harmonies. Alsaarah’s tender but resolute vocals soar over a lush bed of strings and accordion on Alforag, a warmly propulsive love ballad. Its austere soul/blues phrasing make a stark reminder of the blues’ African origins.

Albahr follows a moody, minor-key, bluesy sway, eclectic percussionist Ramy El Aaser fueling its dancing peaks as Terzic ripples and simmers, up to a spacious oud solo. Jyan Tiban opens with Mawuena Kodjovi’s suspensefully bass and skeletal oud and builds to a trickily rhythmic, hypnotic call-and-response vamp. Terzic’s edgily dancing lines interspersed between the vocals.

The band follows the gently lilting, catchy minor-key Ya Watan and its wryly backward-masked oud with Nar, a study in dynamics with its airy psychedelic ambience bookending a scampering groove and biting oud solo. The album’s understatedly majestic, intricately orchestraed title track rides a slow pulse lit up by distant, muted trumpet contrasting with incisive, low oud and El Aaser’s misterioso tabla.

With Eroos Elnill, the group returns to catchy minor-key call-and-response, insistent syncopation and some vocal leaps from Alsarah that sound more like Bjork than anything African. Alsilah blends hints of vintage rocksteady and gospel harmony into its warmly hypnotic, undulating sway. The catchy, camelwalking bassline and interweave of voices in Fulani echo Malian desert rock, while the concluding cut, Safr Minni makes an aptly psychedelic, crescendoing coda. All of this is just as accessible as it is utterly exotic to western ears – and this band puts on a hell of a dance party live.

Beyond the love songs and the dance numbers, the Arabic lyrics often reflect on loss and longing for home. Nubian territory has had strategic value for millennia and as you would expect, has been overrun with regularity.  In the wake of mid-60s dambuilding, mass displacement followed, with thousand of migrants bringing their sounds to points further north. This music is a result of that.

Ifrikya Spirit Debuts with a Wild Dance Party at Lincoln Center

Why is it that the music that gets the most people dancing at a concert is invariably the most rustic-sounding? You can crank a drum machine to concrete-crushing levels, but what people who like to cut a rug really want to hear is acoustic sounds. In their Lincoln Center debut last night, Algerian band Ifrikya Spirit ignited a raucous dance party. What was it that sent a posse of a couple dozen middle-school kids spinning in a line amid the rest of the dancers gathered in the center of the atrium space? A slinky, hypnotically circling gnawa number, frontman Chakib Bouzidi playing gimbri – the three-string North African bass lute – and intertwining riffs with his bandmate Rafik Kettani, who’d switched from percussion to sousanne, a slightly more trebly two-string model.

Ifrikya Spirit are hybridizers rather than stylistic chameleons. Instead of switching from one African genre to the next, they blend elements of them into a distinctive Algerian psychedelic funk. Although the band’s percussively hypnotic sound definitely has a trance element, their rhythms are more dynamic and diverse than a straight-up, funky 4/4 beat. There was a little bit of that in their roughly 90-minute set, which keyboardist Reda Mourah used as a launching pad for his expansive blues and jazz-inflected riffage. Drummer Hafid Abdelaziz and terse bassist Samy Guebouba also propelled the band through some spot-on, shuffling 70s disco interludes and a couple of dizzyingly circling, Afrobeat-influenced jams.

Singer Meziane Amiche took centerstage on a mashup of Egyptian habibi pop and North African rai. As the energy reached fever pitch, guitarist Nazim Bakour got to more opportunities to flex, particularly during a long, loping, seemingly qawwali-influenced number that brought to mind the Brent Mydland-era Grateful Dead (one suspects that Mourah knows who that was). And the whole band built to a sprint on what sounded like Malian duskcore icons Tinariwen on steroids. They rocked the gnawa hard at the end. Seemingly sensing that on a night where air conditioning might be overkill but ventilation would be a good idea, the Lincoln Center staff threw open the doors on the Broadway side of the stage, and in seconds there was a refreshing breeze wafting in. Genius.

Ifrikys Spirit are the 21st band from outside the country brought in by global music advocates  Center Stage. They’re currently on US tour; their next stop is the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on Oct 11 and 12. And for any dancers who might regret missing this show, jazz pianist Marc Cary does his funky Fender Rhodes thing here at the atrium space tonight at 7; early arrival is always a good idea. Enter on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd.

Alsarah & the Nubatones Put on a Transcendent, Relevant Dance Party in Flushing

If the 7 train had been running between Queens and Manhattan Saturday night, “East African retro pop” stars Alsarah & the Nubatones would have sold out Flushing Town Hall. Even with the transit nightmare, they came awfully close. By the time the stragglers had found their way to Northern Boulevard, there were only a few balcony seats left. It was a dance party, but it was also a profoundly relevant performance, shifting between hypnotic African grooves and otherworldly, microtonally-tinged Middle Eastern-flavored tonalities.

The group opened with a lingering, suspenseful solo by oudist Brandon Terzic. A student of the late, great Haig Magnoukian, his mentor and teacher who preceded him in this band,  he delivered spiky, sometimes carefully modulated, sometimes deliriously untethered spirals of edgy Middle Eastern modal riffage. Overhead, Alsarah bullt to a powerful, wordless wail, louder than she would ever get through the rest of a spellbinding, dynamic performance. Singing mostly in Arabic, the Kartoum-born bandleader voiced the disillusion, and anguish, and resilience of the Nubian people, thousands of whom were dislocated in massive Egyptian dambuilding projects in the early 60s.

From there drummer Ramy El Aaser led the group into a slinky, catchy, uneasily shuffling number packed with split-second call-and-response between Alsarah, her strong, similarly nuanced harmony singer and the rest of the band. Five minutes into the show, and they had a clapalong going; it wouldn’t be long before people were dancing in the aisles. If there ever was a case for the universal appeal and relevance of music from Egypt, this was it.

The “Nubian national anthem,” as Alsarah put it, turned out to be a catchy, circling number. basically a two-chord jam of sorts. Terzic opened The Desert Road with a rustically flurrying solo echoing the blues; a powerful reminder of the blues’ African roots. For that matter, the same could be said for El Aaser’s hard-hitting but nimble clave groove, another African invention. And a bit later on, Alsarah speculated how an old folk tune about maidens being given to the Nile River god might have resulted in mermaid children. “We Nubians gave you civilization…and we gave you mermaids,” she laughed.

Bassist Mawuena Kodjovi methodically built a wrenchingly mournful solo during one of the night’s most haunting moments. Alsarah distinguished herself with a couple of originals which were the arguably the best songs of the night, comtemplating “How governments fail us,” as she put it. The first followed a restless pulse through a “Get up, get up!” revolutionary refrain. The most dynamically crescendoing number of the night was Land of Honey, a moody contemplation of finding a new life in exile that took on special relevance in this era of refugees pouring out of Syria. The crowd went crazy for an exuberantly witty dumbek solo from El Aasser; after almost two hours onstage, the group wound up their second set with a driving habibi pop number and encored with a similarly kinetic, hypnotic dance tune

Adventurous listeners lucky enough to make it to Flushing Town Hall for this show might be interested in May 14, 7 PM concert there by the rustic, otherworldly Ba Ban Chinese Music Society; tix are $16.

The Sway Machinery Release Their Richly Psychedelic New Album on a Killer Multi-Band Bill at the Knitting Factory

You might think that a song titled You Will Love No One But Me would be a creepy tale about a stalker. As the title track to the Sway Machinery’s new ep – streaming at Soundcloud – it’s a characteristically eclectic, warmly tuneful mashup of reggae, Afrobeat and psychedelia, frontman Jeremiah Lockwood’s enigmatic, deliciously jangly guitar solo at the center. Like most bands in this century, the Sway Machinery have recorded sporadically, if memorably: their previous album Purity and Danger, from earlier in the year, is a sparkling, psychedelic masterpiece, and this one picks up where that one left off. They’re playing smack in the middle of one of this year’s most enticing and eclectic bills on December 16 at around 9 at the Knitting Factory: country blues guitarist/songwriter Jon LaDeau opens at around 7, followed by funky psychedelic Ethiopiques band Nikhil P. Yerawadekar and Low Mentality, the Sway Machinery and then the People’s Champs, who lately have taken a hard turn from funk into Afrobeat at its most psychedelic. Advance tix at the box offfice, open on show nights, are a bargan at $10.

Beyond the title cut, the Sway Machinery ep’s other tracks are just as choice. Kith & Kin bubbles and dances on the wings of Matt Bauder’s sax and Jordan McLean’s trumpet up to Lockwood’s eerie, lingering minor-key twelve-string phrases, an uncanny approximation of a Middle Eastern kanun that works like a charm in the context of this Ethiopiques-tinged tune. Can’t Help But Stare veers from hints of garage rock, to reverb-drenched dub reggae over the steady pulse of bassist Yerawadekar and drummer John Bollinger, up to an almost stadium-rock grandeur.

This Kiss Blooms But Once a Year is the most straightforward and hard-hitting song here, Lockwood’s biting guitar and expressively melismatic baritone welded to a groove that’s part ominously foreshadowed Ethiopiques and part Marquee Moon-era Television. The final cut, My Beloved, is the most unselfconsciously gorgeous, a brass-spiced, simmeringly guitar-fueled, pouncing update on an ancient cantorial theme. As is typical with this band, there are allusions and frequently less oblique references to the Hasidic music that Lockwood came up in – his grandfather, Jacob Konigsberg, was legendary as a choir leader and soloist in that demimonde, and remains a profound influence in the group’s work as well as the guitarist’s many solo and theatrical projects.