New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: concert

Mari Kalkun Sings a Rare Program of New and Ancient Estonian Music

Tuesday night at Scandinavia House, Mari Kalkun treated a packed auditorium to a very rare program of pensively bucolic, often hypnotic Estonian songs. But Kalkum is no ordinary folk singer: she writes her own material, often utilizing texts by both contemporary and historic Estonian poets. She sang in Estonian, Finnish and Voro a south Estonianl language that has only about seventy thousand remaining speakers, as she explained.

Her main axe is the kannel, a semi-oval-shaped stringed instrument that resembles a dulcimer but which she plucked like a harp slung around her shoulders. Since she uses traditional open tunings, the melodies didn’t move around much beyond the center,, further enhancing the dream state effect. Even when she switched to piano, she played similarly intricate, intertwining, subtly shifting upper-register voicings, anchored by an insistent, rhythmic lefthand. She did much the same on a Finnish box lute. The result was stately, often rapt and spacious: she let those starry plucks and chimes linger.

Engaging the audience at length between songs, she explained almost every one of them. Nature was a common theme, as was the ongoing population shift from rural areas to the cities;. Kalkun also sang a couple of love ballads that gave her a chance to air out a surprisingly powerufl low register, considering how airy and lilting most of the rest of the music on the bill was.

Her most energetic song was a sardonic post World War II tune about the Forest Brothers, the freedom fighters who’d managed to escape the Nazis by building underground bunkers deep in the woods – and then had to remain there to escape being captured by the next bunch of invaders, the Soviets. An impressive number of Estonian speakers in the crowd recognized the traditional numbers on the bill and sang along.

Toward the end of the show, Kalkun broke out her loop pedal and became a one-woman choir, interpolating an increasingly complex, rhythmically challenging series of layers. She sang the last of her encores a-cappella, walking through the auditorium and getting the audience to join her.

Kalkun’s next show, a duo set with Aleksandra Kremenetski, is back in her home country at the Writers House Festival in Talinn on May 25 at 9 PM. Scandinavia House, less than five blocks south of Grand Central on Park Avenue, has very diverse programming, with music, film and exhibits representing artists from across the Nordic countries. The next concert there is June 20 at 7:30 PM with Icelandic  jazz bassist Sigmar Matthíasson and Arora – cover is $15

Brooklyn Rider and Kinan Azmeh Play a Transcendent Coda to a Popular Upper West Side Concert Series

Over the last few years, the mostly-monthly Music Mondays concert series has become an Upper West Side institution. The level of classical talent they’ve been able to lure up to the corner of 93rd and Broadway rivals the programming at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. The final night of this season on May 6, with paradigm-shifting string quartet Brooklyn Rider and haunting clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, was as transcendent as any in recent memory here. And that includes two separate, equally shattering occasions where the East Coast Chamber Orchestra played their towering arrangement of Shostakovich’s harrowing anti-fascist masterpiece, the String Quartet No. 8.

As they’re likely to do , Brooklyn Rider opened the night with a New York premiere, in this case Caroline Shaw‘s Schisma. With equal parts meticulousness and unbridled joy, the quartet – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Michael Nicolas – stood in a semicircle as they played. Maybe that configuration gave them a jolt of extra energy as they parsed the composer’s development of a series of cell-like phrases, spiced with fleetingly jaunty cadenzas and passages with an unselfconscious, neoromantic attractivness.

The world premiere of Jacobsen’s Starlighter, bolstered by Azmeh’s emphatic drive, was even more fun. The violinist explained to the sold-out crowd that it’s about photosynthesis, which came across as a genuinely miraculous, verdantly triumphant phenomenon. Its deft metamorphosis of riffs within a very traditional sonata architecture made a good pairing with Shaw’s work.

That the concert’s high point was not its centerpiece, a stunningly seamless perrformance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 speaks to the power of the entire program. Brooklyn Rider’s recorded version has a legato and a stamina that’s remarkable even in the rarified world of those who can play it on that level. But seeing it live drove home just how much of a thrill, and a challenge, it is to play. The contrasts between all the interchanging leaps and bounds and the rapt atmospherics of the adagio third movement, became all the more dramatic.

The highlight of the night was the world premiere of The Fence, the Rooftop and the Distant Sea, Azmeh’s duo piece for clarinet and cello. The composert told the crowd how he’d been inspired to write it from the rooftop of a Beirut building after fleeing his native Syria with his wife. It’s about memory, how it can fade and be reinvented, how tricky those reimagining can be – and how they haunt. Azmeh would look out over the ocean and convince himself that he could see his home turf in the far distance. As most exiles would, he clearly misses it terribly. The introduction had plaintively fluttering echoes of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time;. Later passages, for both the duo and each solo instrument, followed a plaintive trajectory that dipped with a murky, almost macabre cello interlude laced with sepulchral harmonics and ended as a poignant Arabic ballad.

All five musicians closed the show with a deliroius romp through Kayhan Kalhor‘s Ascending Bird. On album, with Kalhor playing kamancheh and joined by Brooklyn Rider, it’s a bittersweet, furiously kinetic escape anthem. Here, Azmeh taking Kahor’s place, it was more stark and resonant, even as the piece’s bounding echo effects and sudden, warily intense riffage coalesced.

Music Mondays’ fall season of free concerts typically begins in late September or early October; watch this space. Brooklyn Rider’s next concert is on May 31 at the Oranjewoud Festival in the Netherlands with legendary singer Anne Sofie von Otter. Azmeh’s next show is May 19 at 2 PM at First Presbyterian Church,,201 S  21st Street at Walnut St in Philadelphia with pianist Jean Schneider.

 

A Rare City Park Show and a Mighty, Harrowing New Suite From Stephanie Chou

For the last couple of years, Barnard College has staged an amazingly eclectic, entertaining annual concert under the trees in the crabapple grove in Riverside Park just north of 91st Street. This years’s festival is this Satruday night, May 18, starting at 5 PM with one of New York’s most socially relevant and ambitious jazz talents, alto saxophonist/singer Stephanie Chou. This time out she’ll be leading a trio with pianist Jason Yeager and drummer Ronen Itzik Other acts on the bill include the Bacchantae, Barnard College’s all-female a cappella group, ferociously dynamic, tuneful, female-fronted power trio Castle Black, and the Educadorian-flavored Luz Pinos Band

Chou’s latest larger-scale project is titled Comfort Girl. It’s a harrowing, phanstasmagorical song cycle based on the terrors faced by the over two hundred thousand women who were forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of China during World War II. Some of those women were raped thousands of times. To add insult to injury, when those who survived were able to return home after the Japanese retreat, many of them were shunned. Chou debuted it at Joe’s Pub at the end of March. What was most striking about the show was not only Chou’s ability to shift between musical styles, but her prowess as a lyricist.

A flurry from Kenny Wollesen’s drums signaled the intro to the jaunty march Manchurian Girl, a late 30s Chinese pop hit. The lyrics are innocuous: a young woman waiting for her boo to return home so she can tie the knot. Chou sang it with more than a hint of foreshadowing, the music rising to a shivery tightness, Andy Lin’s vibrato-tinged violin over his sister Kelly Lin’s emphatic piano.

Narrator Peregrine Heard continued the story; girl meets boy and everything seems rosy in the countryside, echoed by a sax-violin duet that began coyly and then took on a swirling, triumphantly pulsing tone which turned wary and enigmatic as the two diverged harmonically.

The violinist switched to the even more shivery, plaintive-toned erhu fiddle for a Chinese parlor-pop ballad of sorts, Forever I Will Sing Your Song, crooner Orville Mendoza’s anticipatory drama contasting with Chou’s more demure delivery. The music grew suddenly chaotic as Japanese soldiers crushed the wedding ceremony, knocking out the groom and tearing his bride away.

Surrealistic piano glimmer over Wollesen’s noir percussion ambience supplied the backdrop for Chou’s wounded vocals in Shattered. Mendoze sang the pretty straight-up, determined piano rock ballad after that, the groom determined to get his beloved back. Meanwhile, she’s being paraded through one of the Japanese rape camps – the euphemistically named “Jade Star Hotel” – along with a group of captives. The piece’s simple military chorus was as chilling as any moment through the show, as was the haunting, phamtasmagorical waltz after that; “No name,, no hope: No life”

The young woman was thrown into a a cell, got a new Japanese name, and with a portentous crescendo and diabolical flickers from the violin, the music became a horror film score, It would have been historically accurate for the music to remain a morass of atonalities and cruel slashes punctuated by brief, mournful stillness, but Chou went deeper, with an aptly aching, Chinese-language ballad, her narravor terrified that her husband-to-be will reject her after all she’s had to suffer.

A coldly circling interlude captured the soldiers in line waiting for their turn with the “military provisions,” as the women were called. “We can do whatever we want to do,” Mendoza’s narrator sniffeed. A haunting, Pink Floyd-tinged interlude depicted her fiance giving up his search, miles away; Chou’s heroine remained defiant through a vindictive, venomous English-language anthem.

A spare, bucolic folk song – the kind the women would sing to remind each other of home – was next on the bil, followed by an anxious but undeterred ballad sung by Mendoza. Kelly Lin’s plaintive Debussy-esque crescendos lit up the number after that.

Flourishes from violin and sax underscored the young woman’s determination to beat the odds and survive, via a variation on the earlier, soul-tnnged revenge anthem. Unlike most of her fellow captives, this woman was able to escape, the piano driving a deliciously redemptive theme. And although her future husband realizes at the end that as she makes is back to her old village, “There’s still someone in there,”most of these women were not so lucky. Good news: Chou plans to release the suite as a studio recording.

Bewitching Singer Na-rae Lee Reverses the Curse in an Iconic Pansori Epic at Lincoln Center

Ong-nyeo lost her first husband when she was fifteen.

That’s how the story goes, anyway. In the ancient Korean pansori epic Byeongangsoe-ga, she’s a cursed woman in a cautionary tale about hubris and its consequences. In the American premiere of Na-rae Lee’s withering remake Thursday night at Lincoln Center, Ong-nyeo was transformed into a tragic heroine whose bravery in defying patriarchal norms leads to a grisly fate. Exactly what that fate was, star pansori singer Lee left to the audience to figure out. But the message was clear: in a misogynistic society, the perils a woman faces when she gains power over men can be treacherous to the extreme.

Considering how male-centric pansori narratives typically are, Lee acknowledges that there’s considerable irony in her choice of career, especially given her advocacy for women’s rights. So she decided to reinvent the tale of Byeongangsoe from his long-suffering wife’s point of view.

Lee sang that role and several others in Korean with a feral intensity, meticulously modulating a torrential vibrato that took on more power the further down the scale she went. English supertitles helped immensely. She was backed by an excellent, eclectic band – Hwayoung Lee on gayageum zither, Gina Hwang on geomungo bass zither, and Simun Lee on acoustic guitar – who began the show with unexpectedly subtle variations on an ominous chromatic riff that they would eventually turn into slightly muted doom metal when the guitarist kicked in with a primitive distortion effect.

The traditional version of the fable casts Ong-nyeo as a tragic character cursed to watch a succession of husbands die, often very gruesomely, since she’s too beautful for her own good. Na-rae Lee has recast her as defiant and fearless as she goes through man after man, curse be damned. Likewise, the one dude she thinks will help her reverse the curse, Byeongangsoe, is traditionally cast as a cartoonish, Falstaffian type. Here, the bandleader tore off the clown mask to reveal him as a smalltime thug who beats up on his wife since he’s not very good at picking on anyone his own size.

Throughout the show, there seemed to be a great deal of improvisation, often hectic, sometimes frantic or sepulchrally sinister, the music matching the narrative. Pensive, bossa-tinged folk-pop set the stage for the meeting between the two lovers; the ensuing marathon sex scene (sans disrobing) got plenty of droll bed-shaking effects. A lament for what Ong-nyeo ‘s scrub of a husband could have been – after the gods’ verdict took its grisly toll on him – brought to mind the Grateful Dead at their most vampy, with a biting gayageum solo. Byeongangsoe’s main theme, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a loopy march.

In her bright red dress, the singer held the crowd rapt. From a plaintive, understated, wordless lament, to throaty, shamanistic interludes where she turned loose a wide vibrato that approached diesel engine power and rumble, Lee spanned a range that even pansori singers seldom tackle. As the drama grew more grisly and the bodies piled up – this is a horror story of Gogolian proportions – the lighting went completely red several times, Lee scurrying furtively, then horrified, from one end of the stage to the other. A last-gasp attempt at an exorcism backfired spectacularly as the band played quasi trip-hop and then finally a dejected waltz. The audience sat stunned as the group let the music die away.

The performance was co-sponsored by the tireless folks at the Korean Cultural Service, who bring some amazing talent to this country: if only the US government advocated for American artists with a fraction of the Koreans’ tenacity! The next performance at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd Street is tomorrow night, May 16 at 7:30 PM. an entertaining annual multimedia event featuring an allstar cast from film and tv reading provocative selections from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Kayhan Kalhor and Kiya Tabassian Play a Historic Concert at CUNY

About half an hour before their show last night, Kayhan Kalhor and Kiya Tabassian were chilling in the shade of a scaffold just north of 34th Street. Nobody seemed to recognize them. They may not be household names in this city, but they are elesewhere – and they should be

Kalhor is best known as this era’s great virtuoso of the kamancheh, the Iranian stringed instrument (he plays a custom-made model with the range of both a violin and a cello, called the Shah Kaman). He’s also one of the foremost composers of the past couple of decades. Whiile he also plays the setar lute, he’s very rarely played it onstage until recently. In fact, until yesterday evening’s engagement at CUNY’s Elebash Hall, he’d never played a full concert on the instrument in New York. A sold-out crowd gave him and his protege Tabassian a standing ovation before the show began – they knew they’d be witness to history.

Rather than a duel, the two setarists’ ninety or so uninterrupted minutes onstage turned out to be a clinic in how to build something transcendent. Although the show didn’t come across as a conversation between teacher and student, Tabassian’s ideas, in general, were more directly poignant, while Kalhor took his time.

The musicians’ individual styles complemented each other. For most of the show, Tabassian stuck to stinging, often heartbreakingly beautiful riffs which contrasted with rain-washed, lingering chords and deftly interpolated countermelodies: he has an amazing sense of harmony.Yet when he finally cut loose, toward the end of the show, he displayed blazing speed to match that poignancy

Kalhor’s atttack on the strings is more feathery than incisive, but that’s probably a good thing, considering how fast his fingers were flurrying on the strings. Consider: if you tried tremolo-picking a guitar, fingerstyle as these two were doing, your fingers would be a bloody mess in seconds flat.

Throughout the show, the duo exchanged riffs, often echoing each other, other times developing subtle variations on a slowly shifting series of themes. Each player gave the other plenty of room to raise the electricity or shift into more shadowy emotional terrain. Taking a brooding, initial downward theme in an Iranian dastgah mode approximating the western minor scale, the two embellisehd it with a groove that grew to just short of a gallop. They then backed away and for a little while, midway through, they edged into a more resonantly chordal, sunnier tableau.

But that didn’t last, and Tabassian was the first to reintroduce a subtle variation on the plaintive initial theme. Kalhor took a turn on the mic, singing a practically imploring couple of verses in his resonant baritone, at one point putting down his setar and letting Tabassian play the changes. Finally, Kalhor let an enigmatic open chord linger, then looked at Tabassian, as if to say, ‘What if we’re both wrong?” They gently made their way out of that enigma and ended the show with an unexpectedly muted if angst-fueled minimalism.

The Elebash Hall concert series – programmed by Isabel Soffer of Live Sounds – is more or less monthly and features a lot of music like this that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else, watch this space.

Bittersweetly Soulful, Eclectic Portuguese Ballads at This Year’s Fado Festival

Saturday night just north of Battery Park City, the Manhattan portion of this year’s annual fado festival closed with a performance by two very different singers, who in many ways represent both the music’s romantic past and newly reinvigorated future. For those who haven’t been drawn into it yet, fado is to Portugal what tango is to Argentina, or what reggae is to Jamaica. Like swing jazz in this country in recent decades, new generations have reclaimed fado’s emotionally fraught balladry for their own, partly as a source of Portuguese national pride, partly in response to English-language corporate musical imperialism.

The Spanish have duende; the Portuguese have suadade. They’re essentially the same thing: the soulful maturity that comes with having your heart ripped out at the roots. Although as singer Maria Emilia took care to explain, even though heartbreak is still the most common thene in fado, it’s hardly all sad songs. She and her fantastic all-acoustic band put that issue to rest with a lilting, bouncy singalong that energized the Portuguese speakers in the house.

Which relates to experiencing this music on only a surface level. The Portuguese take their lyrics very seriously, and fado often utilizes texts by famous poets. Throughout the show, the band were fantastic and the vocals were individualistic and often transcended linguistic limitatations.

André Dias played sharp cadenzas, triumphantly spiky flourishes and elegant broken chords on a small, ringing Portuguese guitar, which looks like a small mandola but sounds like an American Rickenbacker twelve-string acoustic model. Classical guitarist André Ramos showed off chops that drew equally on Romany swing, flamenco and straight-up four-on-the-floor rock: being a coastal nation, Portugal has always had sounds from all over the world coming in from across the waves. And Rodrigo Serrão, on acoustic bass guitar, was subtle but brilliant. Somehow he found space in between his steady, rhythmic accents to spice the music with all sorts of glissandos, some slow and dramatic, others coy and puckish, indulging in as many deft downward spirals as climbs to the far reaches of his axe’s G string.

Now in her mid-twenties, the Brazilian-born Maria Emília represents the new generation of fadistas, with a nuanced, subtly emotive delivery that looks back to iconic mid-20th century singer Amalia Rodrigues without being derivative. Sticking mostly in the lower midrange of her clear, expressive mezzo-soprano, she channeled lovestruck awe, righteous anger and wounded vulnerability along with a sense of humor that had the guys in the band cracking up from time to time.

While fado is traditionally sung by women, guys sing it too. Hélder Moutinho, the younger brother of famous fado crooner Camané, represented for the men. His vocals were more heavily ornamented, to the point where his melismas and throaty blue notes took on an Andalucian tinge, almost like a muezzin. He also took care to explain several of the numbers. Fado can be very self-referential, and several of his songs followed those themes: what makes a person sing fado, what the fado makes you do, even famous places where fado is or was made – even Lisbon has been infested with gentrifcation – figured in the narrative.

Impresario Isabel Soffer of Live Sounds gets credit for staging the festival, and has also done an impressively eclectic job booking CUNY’s Elebash Hall at 365 Fifth Ave. just north of 34th St., where the transcendent Kurdish kamancheh fiddle virtuoso and composer Kayhan Kalhor is playing a sold-out show tomorrow night.

The Minguet Quartet Play Beethoven and More with Vigor and Sensitivity at Lincoln Center

Thursday night, there was fundamental logic for the Minguet Quartet’s concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space. The string quartet take their name from Pablo Minguet, an 18th century Spanish philosopher dedicated to making the arts accessible to everyone. That’s the agenda at Lincoln Center’s “playground,” as Jordana Leigh, who’d booked this show in conjunction with the ongoing Great Performers series, calls it. Its raison d’etre is transparent: give the public a marathon slate of first-class programming from literally all over the map, and create a brand new supporter base in the process. Considering that these shows routinely sell out, it seems to be working.

The quartet opened with Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131. They gathered steam slowly with the stately nocturnal intro to the first movement ; its cleverly shifting voicings brought to mind Vivaldi at quarterspeed. The group – violinists Ulrich Isfort and Annette Reisinger, violist Aroa Sorin and cellist Matthias Diener – dug in harder, but with a striking consistency, as the composer’s rhythm shifted and the exchanges grew more suited to a dancefloor at some European baron’s estate.

But this is a Rubik’s Cube of a piece: there’s symmetry, but it’s always changing. A hypnotically pulsing calm set in as the violins rose further up the scale, until Diener got to puncture it, gently. Beethoven doesn’t let an initial country dance theme cut loose, but he does with a second, which the group attacked with relish. There was puckish joy in fleeting pizzicato moments, but also sotto-voce suspense as the music dipped. And a cruel instant where Beethoven suddenly has the whole quartet shift to high harmonics for a couple of bars didn’t phase them in the least.

Sharp martial motives stood out alongside twilit lustre and dancing rivulets; the innumerable false endings were absolutely conspiratorial. Whoever might think the string quartet repertoire might be stodgy hasn’t heard this group play this piece.

The group closed with a stripped-down arrangement of Mahler’s song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I Am Lost to the World), a morosely defiant artist’s kiss-off to a cruel world.

There will also be several hours’ worth of free events to celebrate Lincoln Center’s fiftieth anniversary taking place all over campus today, May 4 starting at around quarter to eleven in the morning: a thunderous all-female troupe playing Brazilian samba reggae, and a couple of Haitian ensembles, kick off the festivities on the plaza

Up Close at Legendary Cuban Singer Omara Portuondo’s Farewelll Tour

At this point in her career, Omara Portunondo can do whatever she wants. The legendary Buena Vista Social Club singer has roots in Afro-Cuban music as deep as pretty much anyone ever has. Being Cuban, she hasn’t had the chance to spend as much time playing in this country as other artists of similar stature from elsewhere around the globe. That’s downright tragic, especially since her current tour is billed as a farewell.

But she doesn’t sing like she’s on her way out. Sure, she’s in her eighties now  and there’s more flint in her voice than there was ten years or so ago. And she gets an escort onstage, sits when she sings and takes a break midway through the show. But she still has power in the lows and brightness in the highs.

Portuondo distinguished herself as one of the most elegant singers to come out of latin music, and salsa in particular, a long time ago. Her delivery is as articulate and nuanced as ever: even if Spanish is not your first language, she’s very easy to understand. If you manage to catch her on this “Ultimo Beso” tour,, there will be people in the crowd singing along: if you don’t know the words, just wait for the chorus, you’ll get it.

If Friday night’s show at a swanky, semi-new sub-basement boite in the Times Square area is the blueprint, expect pianist Roberto Fonseca to open the show and then lead the band – Andres Coayo on percussion, Ruly Herrera on drums and Yandy Martinez  on bass- through what could be a long, very eclectic ,mostly instrumental interlude midway through. These guys are equally skilled at guajira, rhumba, cha-cha and boleros, and  like their leader can shift effortlessly between those styles.

Although she stays in her seat for most of the set, Portuondo may practically do the limbo from her chair when she’s not setting off singalongs with the audience. Beyond what the band are playing, the musical backdrop may include synthy orchestration and samples emanating from a loop pedal or a sequencer in Fonseca’s collection of keyboards. Martinez will switch between electric and acoustic bass and really dig in on the lows when he bows. Coayo will be as subtle as the singer, since most of the material is on the slow and melancholy side, as he switches from bongos to chekere, but he’ll really energize the crowd and draw them into a fiery timbale solo.

Portuondo will engage the crowd more if she senses that most of them know the material. Friday evening, the bttersweet Adios Felicidad was a highlight: holler for it if the band doesn’t play it early on. They don’t make singers like Portuondo anymore: this is a fleeting chance to be glad that the two of you are alive at the same time when she can sing your disappointments away.

A Rare South Slope Gig By One of This Era’s Great Soul Songwriters

You wouldn’t expect one of this era’s great soul singers to play Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground on a dobro. But that’s what Alice Lee did at Pete’s Candy Store late last month. She’d picked up the old 1930s model in Alaska last year and decided to put it to use, if not the way anybody would expect her to. Not to say that Stevie Wonder did a bad job with the original, but she gave it extra bite, and extra 21st century flavor: we’ve really got to keep on reaching now, even more than we did in the 70s.

Other than the occasional Nina Simone tune, Lee isn’t even known for playing covers, but she did another to close the set. “If I ever start a cover band, we’re going to do Sade,” she grinned, then sang an energetically plaintive version of King of Sorrow that brought to mind the Nigerian-British chanteuse’s live energy a lot more than the misty boudoir soul she made in the studio. Lee played that one on her big hollow-body electric rather than the dobro. And she did a stark take of Love Is a Thief straight out of Twin Peaks.

But her own songs hit the hardest. The best was Last Night on Earth. The version on her Lovers and Losers album is a hypnotic, starry, lushly arranged nocturne: this one was much more stark and hauntingly apocalyptic. Likewise, Letter to No One was a lot more strikingly direct and alienated than the bittersweetly, seductively bouncing album version.

Your Blues, a slinky, catchy, defiant shuffle from her latest album The Wheel, was another really good one: “An unrevised history in an unsteady world…can’t look me in the eye as you take your shot, the blood on your hands will come out in the wash,” she railed. Not bad for someone nursing a sore ribcage, having played for hours the previous night. “Never bring an accordion to a bluegrasss jam,” she cautioned the crowd.

She also did a bunch of new material, no surprise since she’s back here, at least for a time, after spending the last few years in Guatemala. In the few years since she first left New York, the singer-songwriter scene has evaporated along with the venues that supported it. Lee can play the oldtimey stuff if she wants, but her own music is too much in the here and now for the Jalopy scene. And it’s way too edgy for the corporate bland-fest that the Rockwood has slowly morphed into. But you can catch her this Sunday night, April 28 at 9 PM at Freddy’s, where she’ll be leading a band with the great Tony Maimone from Pere Ubu, a frequent collaborator, on bass. Just be aware that because there is no R train to Prospect Ave, the closest station, you’ll have to take the F to 7th Ave and walk.

Darkly Catchy, Intense Kreyol Psychedelic Rock at Moonlight Benjamin’s US Debut at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center impresario Jordana Leigh saw Moonlight Benjamin a couple of months ago and was “completely blown away.” So she teamed up teamed up with the World Music Institute to stage the Haitian-born “voodoo blues” singer’s sold-oud American debut this past evening.

Totally gothed out in a slinky black-and-amber lace outfit, Benjamin belted in a powerful, vibrato-infused alto voice, first over a minimalist gutter blues stomp from guitarist Matthis Pascaud – of acerbic postrock band Square One – and drummer Bertrand Noel. The rest of the band then joined them for an eclectic, hard-hitting mix of songs that transcended any kind of blues or Haitian label. If anything, the closest comparison was the early Patti Smith band, at their most psychedelic. This show was at least as much about the guitars as the vocals, maybe more.

Benjamin punctuated a few numbers with a handful of otherworldly whoops, so high that for a second it seemed that the PA was feeding back. With both guitarists playing Fender Jaguar models, using plenty of reverb, they blended eerie, tone-bending spaghetti western sonics with brooding French stadium rock on one of the earlier numbers. Then they went from a pounding hard-funk groove to a scampering outro with more than a hint of Malian duskcore. the petite, muscular Benjamin running in place onstage behind the twin axemen when the guys went down into the crowd.

Her insistent, defiant deliery contrasted with Pascaud’s lingering, sunbaked slide work throughout a long intro that the band finally picked up with a menacing gallop. The guitar duel afterward was like ZZ Top underwater: a surf boogie, maybe

As th show went on, guitar synth effects paired off with lingering, Lynchian clang over a punchy, circling bass riff. Benjamin;s voice took on a fierce, imploring tone as the slow, garagey riff-rock tune afterward built to a guitar inferno. She often takes her Kreyol lyrics from Haitian poetry and literature, known for its allusiveness: when the censors can shut down a lot more than just your career, sometimes you need to signify

She sent most of the band away for a slow, spacy, emotive guitar-and-vocal duet with Pascaud, then Noel enegized the crowd with a surf drum solo. From there they took a pouncing minor-key detour toward Marc Ribot Cubanos Postizos latin-punk territory, A minimalist take on Misssissippi hill country blues was followed by the most lyrically torrential, Patti Smith-like anthem of the night. They clanged and stomped their way out as anthemically as they came in and encored with a diptych that began with slow, Brian Jonestown Massacre-like psychedelia and then picked up with a French Caribbean bonce.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St is on May 2 at 7:30 PM with the Minguett String Quartet playing Beethoven. The classical concerts here are very popular with a neighborhood crowd, as much if not more than the rock shows, so if you’re going, get there early