New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: concert

Star Colombian Accordionist El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica Shreds at Lincoln Center

Alberto Jamaica Larrota a.k.a. El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica really is a king: he won the Leyenda Vallenato Festival in his native Colombia. He was also reputedly the big attraction at the final night of this year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival, a big event that this blog unfortunately had to miss. Trying to come up with words to describe his slinky, slashing, virtuoso performance this past evening at Lincoln Center wasn’t easy: this guy puts on a party. An all-ages Colombian massive filled the dancefloor and packed the seats at the Broadway atrium space to watch the accordionist/bandleader and an unusually small five-piece lineup – bass, guiro, tambor and vocals – run through a set of hits that even got the people in the press seats up on their feet. Good luck trying to write, or text, or do much of anything other than dancing, in the middle of that.

The former construction foreman, who sold off his wardrobe and prized cassettes to buy his first accordion, is a pretty shy guy: he doesn’t even front his own band. But he shreds, building his way to a fullscale vallenato inferno. He and the group opened with a merengue-flavored tune, the bassist puncing his way up the scale to an enveloping solo. The clever shift from a circling 6/8 beat to a pretty much straight-up clave wasn’t lost on the dancers.

Tthe percussive attack of the second number more than counterbalanced the blithe tune ,Ironically, it was on the third song of the night, a slowly swaying cumbia anthem, where El Rey got shreddier. The one after that belonged to the bass player, slamming out booming chords and swooping octaves over the bandleader’s staccato attack.

A thundering cumbia hit by the late, great Celso Pina was lit up with hypnoticlly circling upper-register accordion riffage, as the rhythm shifted again to a straight-ahead dancefloor thud. Then they went lickety-split through a vampy two-chord number where it seemed like Beto Jamaica’x axe might burst a button or three. As these guy proved earlier during the show, they can slow the show down, just as they did at this point, and still drove the energy higher, this time around with sizzling minor-key accordion riffs, bass all over the place, haunting vocal harmonies and a thorny thicket of percussion.

From there the rhythms followed a roller coaster of dynamic shifts, El Rey paying his respects to his big Mexican influences as well as several squeezebox favorites from his home turf. Anyone in the house who was hearing vallenato for the first time got as solid an introducion as anybody could want.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atirum space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. – New Yorks best place for discovering new sounds from around the or world, or just revisiting them  is next Thursday, August 29 at 7:30 PM with the Haitian funk band that started it all, Boukman Eksperyans. If you’re going, get there early.

Elegantly Riveting Intensity in Brooklyn with Luisa Muhr and C. Lavender

Last night at Spectrum dancer Luisa Muhr and sound sculptor C. Lavender improvised a literally mesmerizing, often haunting multimedia sonata of sorts, complete with variations on a series of recurrent tropes and gestures. It had all the intensity of butoh, but none of the brutality.

Muhr, dressed in a stark, loosely fitting black cotton top and pants, her hair back, typically moved in sync with Lavender’s electroacoustically-enhanced drumming –  even if that rhythm was often implied. Her timing was striking to witness. For much of the performance, Muhr swayed, turned, rose and fell at halfspeed, as if underwater. Much of her time onstage was spent contending with an invisible tether:, which seemed to encircle her, encumber her feet, hung in front of her face where she could analyze it, then became a sudden threat. But just when it seemed that it had finally sent her into a fetal position, and then a crumpled form at the very edge of the stage, she rose from the depths, slowly but ineluctably, in an understatedly steely display of athletic command.

Muhr’s green eyes are profoundly expressive: like a young Liv Ullmann, she excels at channeling very subtle or conflicted emotions. At times, Muhr’s features were undeterred yet shadowed with unease, especially toward the end of the show where she dealt with what could have been an unseen mirror, a hostile presence lurking beyond the stage, or both. Likewise, during the tether sequence, she fixed her gaze with an unwavering composure but also a profound sadness. This may have been a job she had to finish, but it was ripping her up inside. What exactly was responsible for that, we never found out, although any woman in the current political climate faces an uphill struggle with no comfortable conclusion in sight.

Lavender played a set of syndrums and also a dulcimer, which she hit gently with mallets. She ran the sometimes murky, sometimes much more pointillistic torrents of beats through a mixer for effects that diminished from turbulence to a trickle; then the river rose again. Meanwhile, even while the sound looped back through the mix, she doubled the rhythm, adding a layer of arid, blippy textures above the thump and throb. There were also moments when the sound subsided where she’d get the dulcimer quietly humming, or would build austere blocks of close harmonies and spin then them back through the vortex. Seated centerstage, there was as much elegance as restlessness in her performance, something drummers rarely get to channel: often, she was just as fascinating to watch as Muhr.

Cedric Burnside Plays His Individualistic Take on a Classic Mississippi Blues Style at Lincoln Center

Early during his show at Lincoln Center last night, guitarist Cedric Burnside related a story he’d originally heard from his grandfather, iconic hill country bluesman RL Burnside. See, there was this guy who was twenty-two years, still living with his folks. His parents strongly suggest that it’s time for him to find a wife and move out. So he meets a girl and brings her home. Dad takes one look at her and says, “You can’t marry that girl. She’s your sister. But don’t tell your mama, she doesn’t know.”

So the guy goes out and brings another girl home: same deal. At the end of the week, the guy’s mother starts giving him a hard time about not finding a girl and moving out. At this point, the guy spills the beans and tells her what his dad said. His mom’s response is “You can marry either one of those girls if you want, because he ain’t your daddy.”

Much as the younger Burnside draws on a hundred years of revelry and rustic party music, he has his own distinctive sound. Where his “big daddy,” as he called him, played with a careening sway and built a wall of sound with his guitar, this Burnside has a much funkier, incisive, rhythmic attack and a no-nonsense, direct vocal style. And he also plays acoustic, opening the show solo, utilizing an open tuning for a number that was like the source code to early 70s boogie rock, his vocals doubling the catchy bassline at the turnaround.

He followed with a spare, percussive take of RL Burnside’s snide dismissal of a backstabber, Just Like a Woman. He built the next tune by getting the guitar humming with slow hypnotic hammer-on riff, then he’d hit a driving downward progression. He put on his slide for Feel Like Going Home, a more driving, passionate update on the Muddy Waters acoustic version.

Burnside went back to hard-hitting, spare mode for Life Can Be So Easy and its chorus of “Summertime is hard, it’s hard to stay cool,” something Mississippians know a little bit about. Then he brought drummer Brett Benton up and switched to a Les Paul copy for We Made It, sticking with his usual percussive attack, bassline alternating with spare chords: where this guy comes from, this stuff is dance music.

Beyond the open tunings and hypnotic vamping, hill country blues has its own rhythms: bouncier than your typical shuffle but not quite straight-up funk either, and his next couple of numbers worked that hard-swinging style. In the ba-bump tune after that, he revealed that he doesn’t take every gig he’s offered. Going back to the RL Burnside catalog, he did Going Down South with a lot more punch and incisive riffage than the original.

After a thumping warning to “keep your hands off that girl, she don’t belong to you,” he switched to Strat for a number that on the surface was about not missing out – there was another level there, too, the kind of things you might do on a Holly Springs front porch. Meanwhile, it was strange that nobody was up dancing like crowds usually do here. Where were the kids?

The next show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is next Thursday, August 22 at 7:30 PM with whirlwind tropical accordion star El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica and his band. Get there early if you’re going because he’s a force of nature and this show will sell out fast – and it’s free!

Brooklyn’s Two Most Irrepressibly Entertaining Rock Bands Branch Out This Month

The most entertaining rock twinbill of the year so far happened on one of the summer’s most blustery, wet nights last month at cozy Prospect Lefferts Gardens boite the Nest. It began with a wail and ended with the headliner’s frontwoman skidding on her knees to the edge of the stage, drenched in blood.

As impossibly high as noir punk trio Hannah vs. the Many raised the bar, the Manimals were just as charismatic. Where Hannah Fairchild ripped through torrents of lyrics, literary references, savage puns and righteous feminist rage with her siren vocals and Telecaster roar, singer Haley Bowery and her theatrical powerpop band the Manimals were every bit as dramatic and ridiculously fun to watch. Hannah vs. the Many are back at the Nest, (504 Flatbush Ave.) on August 18 at 6 PM on a bill with lots of bands. The noiserock act on afterward, George Puke (jazz fans will get the joke) are also a lot of fun. Take the Q to Prospect Park; the venue doesn’t have a website, but cover probably isn’t more than ten bucks, if that. The Manimals are at Union Pool on August 24 at 9 as part of a pro-choice benefit show; cover is $12.

It’s never safe to say that a musician is the world’s best at any one particular thing, but there’s no better songwriter than Fairchild right now. For about the past four years, she’s stripped her material down to fit her nimble, scrambling, burning power trio with bassist Carl Limbacher and drummer Max Maples. In about an hour onstage, they ripped through one menacing number after another, a mix of songs from the group’s latest album Cinemascope as well as a couple of new tunes, calling bullshit on clueless exes on Instagram, madonna/whore dynamics in theatre, and narcissism run amok. The best of the brand-new tunes followed a long trail of phantasmagorical, Syd Barrett-esque chromatic chord changes, a familiar trope for this band.

The most savagely punk tune of the night was The Auteur, a kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems: in this group’s world, the battle of the sexes is always a death match. They closed with Kopfkino, which on one of many levels is a terse, allusive Holocaust narrative set to amped-up 60s Flamin’ Groovies janglerock: “What’s the last stop for a face on a train?” Fairchild asked pointedly.

The Manimals followed with a slightly less savagely surreal set of Bowie-esque powerpop: imagine what the Thin White Duke would have done, backed by Cheap Trick, around the time of the Alladin Sane album. Where Fairchild, tall and blonde in her slinky black strapless dress, played femme fatale, the lithe, strikingly blue-eyed Haley Bowery pulled off some neat split-second costume changes for a more chameleonic look.

The band’s set was less overtly venomous but still had an edge. Sadly, this was drummer Matt O’Koren’s last show with this crew: like so many other good New York musicians, he’s been brain-drained out of town. The twin guitars of Michael Jayne and Christopher Sayre kept the glamrock flair front and center while bassist Jack Breslin kicked in some emphatic climbs along with slithery low-end riffage.

The irresistible “whoah-oh” chorus of the big powerpop anthem Bury Me Here masked the song’s ambiguity over how much fun it really is to be young and out on the prowl in what’s left of this city. Likewise, the band scorched through a punked out take of A Key, a cynically detailed, defiant burner from the band’s latest album Multiverse. Another almost obscenely catchy tune from the record, Savage Planet was more Runaways than Go-Go’s.

The funniest moment of the night was when the band finally figured out what they were going to do with Under Pressure – the Bowie/Queen collaboration – playing it suspiciously deadpan. There was also a satanic ritual of sorts as an intro to Triple Hex, a big, creepy Lynchian country-pop ballad which set up the end of the night. The blood all over Haley turned out to be fake, but for a minute it wasn’t completely obvious whether all the drinks had finally caught up with her and she really was offering herself up as a human sacrifice. Or a female Iggy Pop – the show was that much fun.

Thrills, Gravitas and Cinematic Color with the Nakshatra Quartet at the Drive East Festival

Considering how much great live music there is in New York, a festival has to be pretty special to be worth going to four out of five nights during the work week. But this year’s edition of the Drive East Festival has been that good. And it’s been as diverse as always. So far this week’s concerts have featured laments, ragas both epic and fleeting, a harrowing Metoo-themed dance piece set to a live score, and blissfully peaceful improvisation. Last night’s performance by violinists Arun Ramamurthy and Trina Basu’s Nakshatra Quartet was the most viscerally thrilling and solo-centric of all of them up to this point. But it was also about dynamics, and pushing the envelope, and keeping a clear eye on the grim realities of this year’s political environment…and what we can do about it.

Ramamurthy and Basu would probably laugh if someone called them New York’s #1 power couple in Indian music, but it’s impossible to think of another family with equally formidable chops. When they perform as a duo, it’s hard to tell who’s playing what unless you’re watching. In this ensemble – which also included Jake Charkey on cello and Dan Kurfirst on percussion – their individuality was much more defined, although the two have a near-telepathic rapport.

Basu came to carnatic music from a classical background, and plays with her violin on her shoulder. In this context, she revealed a lighter, more delicate tone than her husband, who’s been immersed in carnatic music since his student days but also excels at jazz improvisation. Where her approach had more a silken legato, Ramamurthy dug in hard with his glissandos and jaunty ornamentation, seated crosslegged, the head of his axe balanced on the stage. Both husband and wife delivered spine-tingling solos.

They opened with the colorful, cinematic pastorale, Tempest. The intensity went through the roof when Charkey joined the tense intertwine between the violins, adding an ominous drone on the G string. From there they negotiated a maze of increasingly agitated echo effects and circular phrases, up to a stormy peak and then an uneasy clearing, coming full circle at the end,

The rest of the set combined edgy jazz flair with Indian majesty and gravitas. Basu introduced the mini-epic Migration as a parable of the increasing terror and obstacles facing refugees and immigrants since the fateful 2016 Presidential election – an insight underscored by her participation in the Borderless Lullabies benefit project for refugee children incarcerated at the US-Mexico border. The interplay was dancingly optimistic to begin with but then climbed to stormy, increasingly syncopated territory.

Nocturne, a dramatic and incisively haunting tableau, had Middle Eastern tinges, ominously shivery chromatic cascades from Basu and slashing microtones from Ramamurthy, in solos that were tantalizingly short. He introduced the night’s one cover, Kalamabike, by 18th century composer Muthuswami Dikshitar, as being very dear to his heart, which was understandable: it’s a gorgeous coda to one of the composer’s many suites, its stark, plaintively unwinding variations anchored by an elegant, broodingly serpentine bassline from Charkey.

You might not expect a drummer to be using a djembe, cajon, daf frame drum and cymbal at a show like this, but this isn’t your typical Indian band, and Kurfirst provided understated color and texture with each of those implements. Charkey also got a couple of moments to pitch in with darkly slithery, microtonally bristling solos. The trio’s closing number echoed the loping, quasi trip-hop groove that many of the other songs followed in their most straightforward moments, in addition to vivid raga riffs from all three of the stringed instruments. Was all this jazz? You could call it that. Indian music? Most definitely. But ultimately, all this defied categorization: it’s unique to the Nakshatra Quartet. You’ll see this concert on the Best Shows of 2019 page here at the end of the year.

This year’s Drive East Festival continues tonight, August 10 at 7:20 PM with a rare US performance by another spectacular, dynamic violinist, Sruti Sarathy at the Mezzanine Theatre, 502 W 53rd St.; cover is $20.

Misty, Meditative Clarity with Saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan at the Drive East Festival

The early show this past evening at the ongoing Drive East Festival of Indian music was both lively and serene. In that sense, alto saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan‘s duo set with Rohan Krishnamurthy on mridangam represented a considerable shift from the harrowing poignancy of sitarist Hidayat Khan’s opening night raga, not to mention the ferocity and relevance of the following night’s Metoo-themed dance performance.

Early on, Radhakrishnan mused about how sound enables enlightenment: if only it was that easy to filter out the rest of the world and focus on it! Calmly and thoughtfully, the two musicians held up their end, establishing a peaceful and purposeful dialogue with a long mridangam solo midway through, punctuated by a ridiculously funny countdown sequence.

Radhakrishnan’s approach is more Coltrane (someone he quoted from, lyrically, in a brief interlude about three-quarters of the way through) than, say, Hafez Modirzadeh. Throughout the night, the tone of the sax was misty and enveloping, a warmly bounding presence anchored by a steady pulse and steely command of minute inflections, eschewing microtones for an often hypnotic fluidity. Optimism and a calm sense of triumph prevailed, beginning with a bubbly carnatic theme that Radhakrishnan finally brought full circle. In between, the duo shifted from a fleeting atmospheric passage or two to subtly morphing, deftly syncopated variations on classic raga riffs.

The effect on the audience – which kept growing after the show began and almost completely filled the auditorium – was womblike. Walking out to to the street afterward, still wrapped in a calm, meditative state, how pleasant it was to see that there’d been a storm and that the temperature had plummeted at least twenty degrees. Lord Indra was definitely smiling on the festival tonight!

The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 9, beginning at 6 PM with two of the most compelling violinists in Indian music, Trina Basu and Arun Ramamurthy and their carnatic-inspired Nakshatra Quartet. Cover is $25.

A Harrowing, Mesmerizing Multimedia Meetoo Parable at the Drive East Festival

Sitarist Hidayat Khan‘s haunting raga last night at this year’s New York edition of the annual Drive East Festival could easily have upstaged the rest of the week’s performances. But it didn’t. This past evening, bharatanatyam dancers Rasika Kumar, Sahasra Sambamoorthi and Nadhi Thekkek performed their seethingly relevant yet often sardonically hilarious Metoo parable, Unfiltered, to a series of standing ovations from a sold-out crowd. If this is typical, the rest of the week is going to be pretty amazing – and this blog is giving away tickets.

Singer Roopa Mahadevan‘s live score was every bit as compelling, to the point where it could easily be adapted as a stand-alone concert suite. And the three dancers’ forceful, stunningly imagistic performance works as well as theatre and mime as it does as a choreographed work. Each of the trio has a very distinct character and role. Perhaps ironically, Thekkek portrays the quietest of the three as she encounters a sexual predator. Kumar has to fend off a boss without boundaries; Sambamoorthi battles trouble on the home front.

We never get to see these womens’ male adversaries. There’s very little dialogue, and until the coda, everything spoken is in the form of a question. All the interaction is portrayed by facial expressions and gestures. Kumar’s many faces are absolutely priceless as she tries to maintain a sense of humor and inner calm while her situation deteriorates. Sambamoorthi imbues every aspect of her role – her arm movements, her determined attempts to get her point across, and her thousand-yard stare – with a simmering intensity. Thekkek endows her character with unexpected poise throughout an understatedly harrowing solo.

The narrative is hardly predictable. The grisliest details are only alluded to, and the constant cat-and-mouse game between the three women and their respective predators leaves much to the audience to figure out. Yet there’s also great humor – sometimes vaudevillian, sometimes grim – throughout the piece. The visual jokes, especially early on, are too good to give away – phones and social media are part the picture, at least to the extent that we can imagine it.

And the score is as dynamically rich, and haunting, as the dancing. Mahadevan’s famously powerful mezzo-soprano vocals remained mostly in a moody low register throughout the suite, backed by Arun Ramamurthy on violin – who supplied the biggest crescendos of the night – along with Rohan Prabhudesai on piano, Kavi Srinirasavagavan on mridangam and Malavika Walia on vocals and nattuvangam castanets. They opened with hypnotic, calm variations on a carnatic theme and then drifted toward slowy swaying horror-film tonalities. Constant rhythmic and stylistic shifts matched the dancers’ intricate footwork, whether lithe and slithery or stomping and emphatic. As the drama reached critical mass, Mahadevan and Walia countered the dancers’ defiance and reslience with an all-too familiar spoken-word refrain: “Get over it. This happens to everyone. What will people say? Do you really want the atttention?” Ad nauseum.Without giving away the ending, it’s fair to call this a capsule history of Metoo.

It’s also a good bet that the dancers may reference iconic bharatanatyam dance pieces from over the centuries: those more knowledgeable about classical Indian dance than anyone at this blog may get them. The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 7 at 6 PM with tabla players Rohan Krishnamurthy and Nitin Mitta’s North and South Indian Percussion Duo with the versatile Prabhudesai on harmonium at the Mezzanine Theatre, 502 W 53rd St; cover is $20.

A Haunting, Riveting Opening Night at This Year’s Drive East Festival of Indian Music

The Drive East Festival has rapidly become the Indian music counterpart to the Charlie Parker Festival: New York’s most highly anticipated concert series in a rapidly growing demimonde. In recent years, opening night has been a feast of thrills and chills. This past evening, sitarist Hidayat Khan may have set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the week with his relentlessly haunting duo performance with tabla player Enayat Hossain. Then again, the rest of the schedule promises similarly transcendent moments.

In about an hour and a half onstage, Khan”s approach to a bracingly chromatic South Indian raga was nothing short of symphonic. What was most striking, intellectually, was how effortlessly and imaginatively he built a series of several thematic variations and then interpolated them into the piece. What was most emotionally riveting was how relentlessly sad the music was: Khan’s brow remained furrowed throughout the entire duration of his opening alap. If there was ever a raga to reflect this grim historical era, this was it.

Khan may have serious chops on the sitar, but he quickly made it clear that this wouldn’t be about searing solos: it was about poignancy, and longing for some kind of closure. He finally delivered that about three-quarters of the way through the concert, but not until then. The alap was spare, somber, bristling with unresolved phrases that tantalized but eluded any decisive landing. Khan’s virtuosity revealed itself the most in a series of wrist-twisting bent notes that he delivered with such force that it seemed he might be using an icy electronic effect like a chorus pedal.

Maybe whoever invented the chorus pedal once saw a sitar virtuoso doing the same thing to build that kind of ambience.

There was plenty of daunting interplay between sitar and tabla throughout the set, Khan challenging Hossain to match his increasingly thorny syncopation note for note: Hossain nailed every phrase. Other sitar virtuosos like to build dynamic contrasts and ride the waves up and down, but Khan was intent on watching the darkness. The central theme was a close approximation of the edgy Arabic hijaz mode, but without the microtones – unless you count the sometimes subtle, occasionally savage bent notes in his matter-of-fact, unrelentingly brooding phrases over Hossain’s sometimes galloping, sometimes stark four-on-the-floor beat

The two alluded to an Afro-Cuban clave for extra slinkiness about three-quarters of the way through, then hit the passing lane, only to detour to the shoulder of this musical road as Khan brought the plaintiveness of the central theme full circle. The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 6 at 6 PM at the Mezzanine Theatre at 502 W 53rd St with Bharatanatyam dancers Rasika Kumar, Sahasra Sambamoorthi and Nadhi Thekkek performing their new piece Unfiltered, inspired by the Metoo movement. There’s also a live score by spellbinding singer Roopa Mahadevan with violinists Sruti Sarathi and Arun Ramamurthy. Tickets are $30.

Another Savagely Brilliant Album and a Williamsburg Gig from Expertly Feral Guitarist Ava Mendoza’s Power Trio

Word on the street is that Ava Mendoza is the best guitarist in Brooklyn – and might have been for a long time. Her show with creepy, organ-and-sax-fueled quasi-surf instrumentalists Hearing Things at Barbes at the end of last month was mind-blowing. Mendoza has become that band’s secret weapon: through two sardonic sets, she had her reverb turned way up, slashing and clanging and often roaring through the group’s allusive changes. With her, they’re more Doors than Stranglers, but without any of the 60s cliches, Mendoza’s next gig is August 10 at around 10 PM leading her  epic noisemetal power trio Unnatural Ways on a triplebill in between the math-iest doom band ever, Skryptor, and shapeshiftingly surrealistic Chicago art-rockers Cheer Accident at Ceremony, 224 Manhattan Ave. (off Maujer) in Williamsburg. The venue doesn’t have a website, so it’s anybody’s guess what the cover is. To avoid hourlong-plus waits for the L train, your best bet is to take the G to Broadway and walk from there

Unnatural Ways’ new album The Paranoia Party is streaming at Bandcamp. True to form, it’s a relentlessly dark concept album, more or less, centered around a disturbing encounter with alien beings. Mendoza and bassist Tim Dahl shift between warpy sci-fi sonics and machete riffery in the opening track, Go Back to Space: it’s the missing link between Thalia Zedek’s legendary 90s band Come and Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth.

The Runaway Song is a savage mashup of Syd Barrett, Diamond Dogs-era Bowie and 70s Zappa. Most of All We Love to Spy is nine sometimes skronky, sometimes crushingly ornate minutes of chromatics over drummer Sam Ospovat’s precise but relentlessly thumping syncopation.

Mendoza fires off volley after volley of casually sinister Dick Dale tremolo-picking over a squiggly backdrop in Trying to Pass. The band shift from machinegunning hardcore to a doomy sway centered around a surprisingly glammy guitar riff in Draw That Line, Mendoza and Dahl each hitting their chorus pedals for icy ominousness. They machete their way through the fragmentary Soft Electric Rays, which leads into the final cut, Cosmic Border Cop, a deliciously acidic pool of close harmonies, macabre chromatics and distorted scorch over a constantly shifting rhythmic skeleton. Easily one of the ten best, most adrenalizing rock albums released in 2019 so far.

Pioneering Cello Rocker Serena Jost Brings Her Rapturous, Intimate Sonics to a Similarly Intimate Brooklyn Space

“My cello wants to go up in the ceiling,” Serena Jost observed at one of this year’s most rapturously intimate New York shows: in the middle of the day, in the cozy, vintage tin-plated Chinatown studio at Montez Press Radio a couple of days before Memorial Day weekend. As she did with her meticulously playful solo album Up to the Sky, Jost will typically size up the sonics of a room and then make them part of the performance. Just as she took advantage of the rich natural reverb at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea when she recorded the album – live – she felt the highs bouncing off the studio’s metal, and the walls, and ran with it…calmly, and gently, with respect to any ghosts she might be coaxing out of the woodwork with her harmonics and overtones. She’s playing a slightly less intimate space, Freddy’s, at 7 PM on August 10 on a killer triplebill with haunting, fearsomely powerful soul belter and noir Americana songstress Karen Dahlstrom and the anthemic, politically fearless, vintage Springsteenian Tru Mongrel Hearts’ frontman Pete Cenedella

As a founding member of Rasputina, Jost is a pioneer of cello rock, but her own writing and improvisation defy categorization. If there was any common thread between the songs in this particular set – drawn mostly from her solo record – it was minimalism. No wasted notes, no gestures that weren’t meaningful, spiced with subtle echoes and sepulchral wisps of sound.

She opened with It’s a Delight, her soul-infused vocals soaring over its distantly Indian-tinged variations on a hypnotic octave riff. She got the harmonics keening with an especially emphatic take of the catchy Window; she’d revisit that trope with even more sonic surrealism later, with the contrasting rhythmic plucks and hazy atmospherics of Hallway.

Her lone cover was a more polished but understately chilling take on the brilliant/obscure Happiness, by Molly Drake (Nick’s mom): “Happiness is gone without a warning, jack-o-lantern in the night.”

Going back to the originals, Jost dug in hard with the staccato chords of Silver Star, an allusively seductive but ultimately just as wary and unresolved tableau. She also made up what was essentially a catchy, optimistic, singalong stadium-rock anthem, on the spot, and eventually closed with The Cut, a swaying, Britfolk-tinged tune that strongly evoked Linda Thompson, both vocally and thematically

The performance and interview afterward have been archived: click the archive link at Montez Press Radio and scroll down for a very acerbic, insightful look at where Jost is at these days: more attuned to psychedelia and spontaneity than ever, both as a solo artists and a bandleader.