New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: dance music

Incendiary Ethiopian Jams on the Upper West Side This Weekend

Anbessa Orchestra‘s latest single Gobez (Brave) – streaming at Bandcamp – is a condensed, slashing version of a big anthem they slayed with for over a year before the lockdown. Then the Israeli-American Ethiopian jazz jamband had to record it remotely over the web since the band members had been scattered across the world. Here, guitarist/bandleader Nadav Peled introduces the big, defiant, ominous Ethiopian modal hook, picked up by the brass and eventually a slithery solo by baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket.

This wild, incendiary outfit are back in action with a free outdoor show on Aug 1 at 7 PM at Pier One on the Hudson; take the 1/2/3 to 72nd St., walk west and take the stairs down to the river at 68th St. out behind the Trump complex. There’s plenty of room for dancing on the pier.

Their most recent album, Live at New City Brewery 11/22/19 hit their Bandcamp page about a year ago and underscores why more bands should make live albums. For a soundboard recording that the band probably never planned on releasing until the lockdown, this is pretty amazing. They are in their element through a relentlessly slinky thirteen-song set in western Massachusetts, a mix of originals and classics. Bassist Ran Livneh and drummer Eran Fink run hypnotically undulating, circular riffs as the band shift from an ominous mode to sunnier terrain on the wings of alto sax player Bill Todd’s jubilantly melismatic alto sax solo on the night’s opening number.

As they like to do, they segue straight into a searing, practically eight-minute version of their signature song Lions, organist Micha Gilad holding down turbulent river of sound behind the biting chromatics of the horns, trumpeter Billy Aukstik out in front. Peled’s supersonic hammer-ons raise the energy to redline through a tantalizingly brief solo: this band can go on twice as long and the intensity never wavers.

Assefa Abate’s Yematibela Wef ((A Bird You Can’t Eat) has a subtext as salacious as the title implies and a bouncy triplet groove. The Gize Suite, a diptych, based on Gizie Biyasayegnem by Misrak Mammo, starts out as a shivery, chromatic, trumpet-fueled clapalong shadowed by Peled’s guitar and rises to blazing, symphonic proportions. Peled brings it down to a spare, ominously jangling solo guitar interlude, then the conflagration starts again.

From there the group hit a balmy oldschool 60s soul bounce with Zemena and Abebe Mellese’s Kelkay Yelelbebet, then an original, Tch’elema (Darkness), a turbulently pulsing salute to resilience in troubled times.

Todd’s spare flute contrasts with the brooding undercurrent of Werik’i (Gold), another original. Mahmoud Ahmed’s Belomi Benna gets a cinematic, relentless drive that goes straight-up ska and then reggae, then the band go back to biting minor modes with their own stomp, Gurage

Once again, they follow a segue, from their Ethiopian reggae tune, Le’b, into Aregahegn Worash’s wickedly catchy Zelel Zelel. “Do you want more?” Peled asks the crowd. “One more set,” a guy in the crowd bellows back. Yo which the guitarist responds with a menacing, spiraling, reverb-drenched solo into, then the band launch into the angst-fueled Yeleleu Hager Lidj (Man Without a Country). They close with the bounding, strutting, Dera, with solos all around. This is as good an idea as any of what the Upper West is going to get this weekend.

Fun Brass Band Sounds in Park Slope This Weekend

If you’re in Park Slope this Saturday evening, July 31, you can catch a free outdoor show by irrepressible, all-female street band the Brass Queens at 5th Ave and 3rd St., a barely ten-minute walk from the Atlantic Ave. subway.

There are three singles up at the 7-piece group’s Bandcamp page. Casanova is in the same vein as the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble‘s hip-hop/New Orleans second-line mashups, Bad Brass Bunnies is a funny trip-hop groove with some absolutely luscious harmonies on the high end.;

The latest single is Love How You Wanna, which comes across like an oldschool 70s soul ballad with a bright, increasingly animated interweave of voices and a solid, slinky sousaphone bassline. Catchy sounds, sophisticated arrangements, and you can dance to all of this.

A Raucous, Redemptive Return For Gospel Wildman Rev. Vince Anderson at Union Pool

On Monday night Union Pool was packed with an energetic, characteristically diverse New York crowd who’d come out to dance to Rev. Vince Anderson’s distinctive, unhinged blend of oldschool gospel, funk and what could be called psychedelic soul. “How many of you are seeing live music for the first time since last year?” the wildman pianist asked them.

Only about half a dozen people raised their hands. Either this was a shy crowd, or New York is in a warp-speed operation to get back to normal. Obviously, we have to brace ourselves for the toxic schemes the lockdowners are cooking up in the lab for when cold and flu season gets here. But this show seemed to be a very good omen for the rest of the summer, at the very least.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night residency with the Love Choir, his rotating cast of some of the funkiest players around, ran almost totally uninterrupted from the summer of 2008 until the lockdown. Before then, there was a long run at Black Betty, and a couple of residencies at Pete’s. And in between, at Swift’s in the Village, and the dreaded Pianos, with brief stops at the Williamsburg Publik House and the Metropolitan. All that takes us back to around the turn of the century and Anderson’s legendary, marathon performances at the old Stinger club on Grand Street.

These days the show starts a little earlier, at nine sharp, and the party doesn’t go all the way until closing time. Anderson has had formidable chops for years,, but it was obvious from this one that he’d spent plenty of time at the keys during the lockdown. He opened the show quietly and then slowly picked up the pace until he’d raised the old hymn Precious Lord, Take My Hand to the rafters. He had his core players with him: baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson, trombonist Dave “Smoota” Smith, guitarist Jaleel Bunton and drummer Chad Taylor along with a bassist who was chilling on the back in a chair when the show started but quickly rose up to fuel the slinky groove.

Like so many other performers, Anderson had turned to social media when live music was criminalized, and one song that had grabbed him during the lockdown was Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again, No More. He did that one after Fallen From the Pray, an anthem for apostates that sounded a lot like Dr. John – minus the New Orleans accent – this time out. Anderson was especially on fire for Get Out of My Way, the careening minor-key gospel anthem he’s used to open innumerable shows, finally bringing it down to a rapt series of solar-flare chords before the band stampeded out.

Meanwhile, the dancers moved further and further toward the stage as the crowd grew. In between songs, Anderson did a wry Q&A with the audience, revealed that it was edibles that got him through the lockdown, and put on a wildly applauded demo of yoga for people with a little junk in the trunk.

Then midway through Come to the River, an undulating midtempo number, he got serious: after everything we’ve been subjected to over the past sixteen months, this is our chance to lose everything that doesn’t work and start over, he reminded. And then baptized himself with a pint glass of water, shook it off into the crowd and the party started up again with a high-voltage singalong of This Little Light of Mine. Henderson channeled deep blues, Smith right alongside her while Bunton made it clear that Anderson wasn’t the only one onstage who’d been shedding these songs during the lockdown. Taylor is one of the most sought-after drummers in jazz, but luckily for Anderson he seems to have Mondays off.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night Union Pool residency continues on July 26 at 9

A Rare, Edgy 1961 Calypso Treat Rescued From Obscurity

Smithsonian Folkways, which is more or less the US national record label, may be best known for championing artists across Americana roots music. But they also have a history of recording artists from around the world. With the boom in vinyl records, they’ve been reissuing a number of releases from their vast back catalog, some of which have been unavailable for decades.

One of them is a haphazard 1960 field recording of Tuareg women running through their repertoire of ancient desert songs. Another is Calypso Travels, a 1961 studio album by Lord Invader, one of the last recordings the Trinidadian legend ever made. His voice is a little ragged, but his deadpan sense of humor and often withering political sensibility are undiminished. Considering how, just like hip-hop, calypso has always reflected its era’s events, this is a real period piece.

There’s always been lots of cross-pollination going on down in the islands, which comes across immediately in the album’s opening track: Me One Alone has a striking Afro-Cuban feel, with call-and-response from the frontman and his band, slightly out-of-tune salsa-tinged piano, spare bass and conga and honking sax. He’s here to claim his title as king of calypso and once he gets the Americans involved (a seemingly very cynical way of looking at things), he’ll rule the island

Lieutenant Joe’s hit As Long As It Born in My House is bizarrely hilarious, a lilting litany of shotgun marriages and dubious patrimony. Likwise, the cheery Beautiful Belgic masks a cynical undercurrent of Cold War imperialist politics: remember, Trinidad only gained independence in 1962.

My Experience on the Rapper Band (i.e. Reeperbahn) is a funnier precursor to the Kinks’ Lola. Lord Invader shows off some surprisingly un-fractured German in Auf Wiedersehen and then examines the ongoing American Civil Rights struggle with the ironclad logic of Crisis in Arkansas. Finally, he drops the sarcasm: “I think you are afraid of the negroes’ intelligence.”

Lord Invader holds out hope for Fidel Castro with a sparse, biting cha-cha shout-out to him, then  gives props to calypso contemporaries Mighty Sparrow and others in Carnival, a celebration of revelry at home and throughout the global Trini diaspora.

The drums rumble, the piano cuts loose more, and it seems like the bandleader is basically freestyling throughout Te We and Beeway, a couple of party joints. Lord Invader’s cynicism hits redline in Cat O’Nine Tails: if corporal punishment is legal in the colonies, then why not use it in the UK too? He follows that matter-of-factly with the anti-violence anthem Steel Band War and wraps up the record with Women Trying to Rule, a wry battle-of-the-sexes tale which extends to the British imperialist classes. Lots of good jokes but plenty of history here too.

 

 

 

Feral, Catchy Guantanamo Party Music Captured For the First Time on Album

Imagine a world with no screens. Where after work, instead of obsessively spending an hour or two on Instagram, you went home and picked up an instrument. And when your neighbors across the way heard the song, instead of filming thirty seconds of it and posting it on Instagram, they joined you and started dancing. And then somebody brought a bottle of rum, and then even in the 110-degree, global warming-era heat, there was a party.

That’s what the new triple album Changüí: The Sound of Guantanamo – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds like, in Cuban Spanish. It’s a party in a box: three and a half hours of wild, rustic, funny, deviously innuendo-laced, historically rich music, played mostly by a bunch of jangly local acoustic pickup bands who have never been recorded before. Which is no surprise, considering that much of their part of the island didn’t have electric power before the 1990s – and explains why this material sounds as feral as it does.

Changui music has been appropriated by salsa bands for decades. In the wild, it sounds like son montuno with a more straightforwardly shuffling beat, although that rhythm is stretched to all kinds of new places here. Tres players show off their fretboard skills in long, careening, spiky solos. Singers trade battle rhymes, or endless rounds of call-and-response over an undulating groove from a simple marímbula rhythm box and bongo beats with a contrasting, labyrinthine, shamanic complexity.

Like salsa and blues, the repertoire is self-referential and self-reverential. Innumerable stars from local scenes are remembered in these songs, along with their descendants, who play their songs now and big-up themselves. One of the most compelling bands on this album is an all-female crew haphazardly assembled when the bandleader’s regular lineup was unavailable – and her subs turned out to be incredibly amped for the performances.

It’s normal to be suspicious of westerners who go into formerly colonized parts of the world and emerge with what they claim is new evidence of a previously undiscovered tradition. What is not in doubt is that Italian musicologist Gianluca Tramontana went into Cuba in 2017, hoping to score enough found sounds for a NPR piece. Two years later, he came back to the US with hours and hours of field recordings, distilled into this box set with a 124-page booklet including Spanish lyrics, plus some pretty good English translations. For non-native Spanish speakers, the vocals are much easier to understand than you might assume: the cheat sheet is a welcome bonus.

It would take another 124-page book to chronicle all the sounds on the record. Typically, the tres clangs and pings, shedding overtones almost like a twelve-string or Portuguese guitar. The spirits are invoked, bandleaders assert themselves as kings of the mic and the party, as the groove pulses from stark to frenetic and back. The lyrics can be suggestive, or snide – one of the funniest songs here is a dis aimed at a real princess of a girl – and also political. Several numbers reference the freedom fighters battling Spanish conquistadors in the 1890s.

There’s a haunting, delicately slashing minor-key number accusing vintage salsa bandleader Juan Formell of stealing the Guantanamo sound: after all these years, the sting still seems fresh. Singer Francisco “Mikikí” Hernández Valiente distinguishes himself with his gritty, impassioned style. Tres player Yoemnis “Sensei” Tabernas lives up to his nickname, and then some. Likewise, fast-fingered Pedro Vera, leader of Grupo Familia Vera, validates his claim as “El rey del diapasón.”

Grupo Changüí de Guantánamo are the band best known outside of Cuba here: they’ve toured the US and played New Orleans Jazzfest. The all-female Las Flores del Changüí are represented mostly by ringers who are very good.

Grupo Estrellas Campesinas and their tragically, recently deceased founder Armando “Yu” Rey Leliebre contribute strongly here, along with Grupo El Guajiro Y Su Changüí, Mikikí y su Changüí, Mikiki’s brother Melquiades y su Changüí plus a multi-brother extravaganza and the unrelated Popó y su Changüí.

There are also a couple of playful lyrical battles between Celso Fernández Rojas a.k.a. El Guajiro and José Andrés Rodríguez Ramírez, better known as “El Sinsonte,” backed by Grupo Changüí de Guantánamo. One can only imagine how much more material there might be in Tramontana’s archive that didn’t make it onto this album.

Hard-Rocking Balkan Brass, Romany and Indian-Flavored Sounds From Black Masala

Black Masala‘s 2016 album I Love You Madly made the best albums of the year list here; at the time, this blog equated them to a Washington, DC counterpart to Slavic Soul Party. The Washington DC group’s most recent album, Trains and Moonlight Destinies – streaming at Bandcamp – rocks harder, with more of a roaring punk edge, through a typically diverse mix of Balkan, Indian and hard funk themes.

The album’s title track is closer to Gogol Bordello than the Slavic Soul guys, layers of guitars beneath the blazing brass of trumpeter Steven C and trombonist Kirsten Warfield, pushed along by Monty Montgomery’s oompahing Balkan ska sousaphone. The band’s axeman Duff Davis contributes a slashing doubletracked guitar solo.

Percussionist Kristen Long takes over the mic, adding a sultry edge to the dramatically pouncing Midnight Bhangra. Again, there’s as much guitar roar as biting brass here, like Red Baraat at their most rock-oriented. Above the Clouds could be a majestic early 70s Earth Wind & Fire hit…with a sousaphone.

Drummer Mike Ounallah hits a strutting minor-key Balkan reggae groove with Tell Me Again, Davis slashing through the mix when he isn’t doing droll chicken-scratch accents. The party anthem Empty Bottles shifts between brassy rocksteady and ska; then the band mash up New Orleans with Bo Diddley in Whatcha Gonna Do,

The kiss-off anthem Big Man is a mix of Balkan brass, hip-hop and punk rock, trumpet and trombone duking it out from opposite channels. The band wind up the album with the deliriously blasting Romany dancefloor stomp Chaje Shukarije.

Party Like It’s 1929, or 2019, With Megg Farrell and Ricky Alexander

For the last few years before the lockdown, Sweet Megg & the Wayfarers were one of New York’s top hot 20s-style swing dance bands. They held down a regular Radegast Hall residency and if memory serves right were also one of the main attractions at the now-discontinued Porchstomp festival on Governors Island. Radegast Hall may no longer have music, and these days Governors Island visitors are subject to a clusterfuck of the World Economic Forum’s New Abnormal restrictions. But the core of the band, frontwoman Megg Farrell and multi-reedman Ricky Alexander are still partying like it’s 2019 and have a high-voltage new album, I’m in Love Again, streaming at Spotify. It’s a lot of fun figuring out which are the originals and which are the covers here. Sometimes it’s hard to tell: the band really know their hot jazz inside out.

The opening track, My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms has a jaunty, brassy dixieland interweave contrasting with Farrell’s mentholated purr. We get a red-flame forward drive from Mike Davis’ trumpet and Rob Edwards’ trombone, plus a bouncy solo from Alexander’s clarinet over Dalton Ridenhour’s saloon jazz piano and the steady bass and drums of Rob Adkins and Kevin Dorn. It sets the stage for the rest of the party.

Alexander switches to balmy tenor sax for the shuffling ballad Foolin’ Myself, Farrell calm and cool overhead. That’s none other than the great Jerron Paxton on the acoustic blues guitar.

Edwards and Davis square off for a playful duel in Right or Wrong, setting up a slyly amusing clarinet break, Farrell unexpectedly dropping the composed facade and reaching for the rafters. She gets even more diversely seductive after that in Squeeze Me, as the band keep a tightly matching beat going, Davis and Alexander trading solos.

Farrell and Paxton (on banjo here) duet on the coyly innuendo-fueled Last Night on the Back Porch. The horns duel and then make way for a wry Paxton banjo break in Angry, then the group slow everything down for I Got It Bad, with a lusciously lustrous, Ellingtonian arrangement and Alexander’s most affecting sax solo here.

Ragged But Right has a rustic hokum blues vibe and a deviously perfect early 30s vernacular. The band take the vibe about twenty years further into the future on album’s title track, with its western swing tinges and Ridenhour’s scrambling piano.

I’d Love to Take Orders From You – yikes, that’s a scary title for 2021 – has the album’s most sophisticated rhythms. The band close it out with A Blues Serenade, awash in lush nocturnal sonics behind Farrell’s expressive, dynamic vocals. Won’t it be fun when we get rid of Cuomo and all the restrictions and bands like this can get the party started at any venue that will have them.

Wild Indian-Flavored Dance Tunes on Sunny Jain’s Eclectic, High-Voltage New Album

Sunny Jain‘s new album Phoenix Rise – streaming at Bandcamp – isn’t just a good dance album. It’s a fun guessing game: trying to figure out who’s playing on what tracks is not easy, considering how many people play on them, but their very distinctive, individual voices sometimes give themselves away. Jain being a multi-percussionist – the dhol player and leader of Red Baraat, but also a first-class jazz drummer – the focus of his music is always the rhythm. As you would imagine from how eclectic the projects he’s played in over the years have been, the music here is just as diverse.

That’s definitely Malik Work out in front of the band on the vampy, opening hip-hop tune saluting the world’s everyday heroes. The calmly impassioned voice on the mic in the undulating, qawwali-inflected Where Is Home sounds like Arooj Aftab – and is that Rini on the slashing, carnatically-inflected violin? It could also be Raaginder – or, conceivably, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s Mauro Durante, who’s known for more tartantella-flavored sounds.

The vocals on Say It, a soul-infused, trip-hop-ish number, sound more like the misty, alluring Shilpa Ananth; the slithery bass is probably Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, but Devon Gates, Bubby Lewis and Endea Owens are also on the album somewhere.

I’ll Make It Up To You is one of the album’s most surreal numbers, a snarling Stonesy slide guitar rock tune: that has got to be Grupo Fantasma’s Adrian Quesada on guitar – or is that Jonathan Goldberger or Pete Eide showing off his secret inner Keith Richards?

On Pride in Rhythm, a swirly, hypnotic synth-and-percussion number – that’s got to be Rachel Eckroth playing keys – is followed by the album’s title track, a bracing action movie-type sequence with a sax duel at the center. Guessing that’s Pawan Benjamin on the edgy alto and Lauren Sevian on the smoky baritone.

Wild Wild East, an earlier track, gets reinvented in a storming electric bhangra version with carnatic singer Ganavya over a searing electric guitar-driven backdrop. Kushal Gaya’s wildfire vocals on the edgily modal Ja Ja Re Apne Mandirwa, a high-voltage jazz reinvention of a traditional Indian tune, are electrifying: and that has to be Goldberger on guitar here.

They close the album with In and Out, the album’s most traditional tune, at least until the beat goes halfspeed and the roaring electric guitars kick in, take your pick from above for the cast of characters. That sounds like Ganavya and Gaya on vocals again. Damn, this is one of those albums that must have been as fun to play on as it is to listen to – or dance to, for that matter.

A Tight, Focused, Psychedelic Album From the Brooklyn Funk Essentials

The two hardest styles of music to write about are bluegrass and funk. There are basically two types of bluegrass: fast dancey stuff and slow morose material. The job gets even harder if the band only plays the fast kind because the slow kind tends to have interesting lyrics about murder and misery and such.

What can you say about a funk band? That you can dance to them? If you can’t, either you or the band have a problem, and usually it’s the band. Then there’s the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, whose signature sound is a psychedelic yet very tightly focused kind of funk. Over the years, they’ve played just about every sweatbox venue across the borough. Their latest album, Stay Good  is streaming at Soundcloud.

What’s amazing about the title track, which opens the record, is how little there actually is going on in it – and that the band can make what’s mostly a one-chord jam interesting for almost seven minutes. They do it with Lati Kronlund’s dubwise bass, Iwan VanHetten’s wah keys, Desmond Foster’s chicken-scratch guitar, spare horns, a brief Anna Brooks alto sax solo and a good lyric from frontwoman Alison Limerick: the point of the song is that not everything sucks.

The rest of the record is just as imaginative. Hux Flux Nettermalm’s drums get your head bobbing and the little touches make it spin, from the hints of reggae and echoey electric piano in Ain’t Nothing to the squiggly portamento synth in No Strings.

The band build Watcha Want From Me around a catchy Rick James-style bassline and take a detour toward moody but bouncy tropicalia and then dub with Miss Mess, Limerick doing a little lively scatting. Just when you think Keep the Love is going to be a slow, dubby jam, they take it doublespeed. The rhythm section really pushes the beat in the oldschool disco tune Funk Ain’t Ova.

They stick with a slow jam all the way through Breeze on Me, over a spare reggae bassline with the wah open just a little bit. Bakabara has a gritty oldschool 70s edge, while the skeletal strut Y Todav (La La Quiero) is a platform for a low-key, dancing sax solo. They wind up the album with the slow, hypnotic Steps and then the oldschool disco groove Where Love Lives. Great dance music? That’s a no-brainer. Good head music too.

The Nile Project Reinvent Undulating, Mesmerizing Nubian and Ethiopian Grooves

The Nile Project use Nubian traditional songs and proto-funk as a stepping-off point for lavishly colorful, frequently hypnotic jams. There are all kinds of influences here, from Egypt to Ethiopia, Mali and points further south, not to mention American psychedelic rock This blog gave their 2015 debut album Aswan a big thumbs-up. Their 2017 follow-up, Jinja – streaming at Bandcamp – picks up with much more of a darkly vivid Ethiopian tinge. With this band’s vast stash of instruments, they must have a huge tour van.

The first track, Inganji begins with Mohamed Abozekry’s skeletal, skittish oud riff, then Steven Sogo’s guitar kicks in over a circling, hypnotic Malian groove. There’s a very assertive call-and-response at one point between frontwoman Sophie Nzayisenga and the other women in the group.

Allah Bagy sounds like a mashup of a majestic Nile valley anthem and a briskly circling Malian theme, spiced with a rapidfire web of stringed instruments and Jorga Mesfin’s honking baritone sax. You want psychedelic? Ya Abi Wuha follows the same slow/fast formula, with more of an Ethiopian tinge and rippling proto-blues guitar riffage.

Dawit Seyoum’s krar harp delivers hypnotic, rapidfire volleys in Omwiga – it gets joyous when Ahmed Omar’s bass and Hany Bedair’s drums kick in, moving in more of an ellipse than a circle. With Nader Elshaer’s leaping flute over a percussive gallop, Unzi Nil could be a prototype for a brooding Bob Marley anthem. The more distinctly Egyptian-flavored epic Dil Mahbuby gets a long, percolating oud intro, a lithely slinky groove, a plaintively expressive Arabic vocal from Dina El Wedidi and yet another doublespeed romp.

Tenseo is even longer, more than twelve minutes of suspensefully fluttering fretwork, Selamnesh Zemene’s dramatic melismatic vocals, and an undulating, broodingly chromatic groove that could be Mulatu Astatke.

Swaying along over a spiky oud loop, Marigarita has a fervent Ethiopian tinge. Biwelewele is a big, catchy, undulating anthem over a bluesy minor-key bassline. The album’s final, benedictory cut is Mulungi Munange. To say that this careening ensemble are the sum of their parts is actually high praise.