New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: film music

Murky, Dissociative Cinematics From the EFG Trio

Trumpeter Frank London has one of the most immense discographies of any New York musician. He’s on over five hundred records, which date back before his band the Klezmatics springboarded the carnivalesque sound that morphed into circus rock and Romany punk in the 90s. Some of London’s latest adventures have been especially adventurous: jazz poetry, Indian/klezmer mashups, and now a darkly cinematic trio album as part of the EFG Trio with guitarist Eyal Maoz and composer/keyboardist Guy Barash. Their new album Transluminal Rites is streaming at Bandcamp.

Often it’s impossible to figure out who’s doing what here – even the trumpet could be processed beyond the point of recognition, such is the grey disquiet of this morass. Many of the tracke here re brooding miniatures that suddenly rise with industrial abrasiveness, squirrel around, stroll briskly like a spy or offer moments of comic relief, One has a calmly circling, Indian-inspired trumpet melody that gets slowly decentered; its sequel is pure industrial noise

Spectralogy, one of the more epic numbers here, begins as an eerily warping guitarscape with traces of Maoz’s signature, incisively Middle Eastern-tinged sound, then Barash’s electric piano shifts to a much more noirish interlude before everything’s spun through a fuzzy patch. London’s circling, snorting lines rescue everyone from dystopia, more or less.

Winds of ill omen circle around London’s animated curlicues in Polysemia Deluxe, another largescale piece that leaps and bounds, out of focus, towards an abyss, London finally sounding an elephantine warning..

The big idystopic diptych here is titled Eau de Pataphysique: strange rumblings inside the drainpipe, short circuits and wheels going off the axle in the projection room. The concluding largescale piece, Sweet Thanatos is platform for some of London’s most plaintive, chromatically bristling resonance of recent years.

Dark and oppressive sounds for dark and oppressive times: those brave enough to plunge in, especially at the end, will be rewarded.

A Triumphant Action Movie For the Ears by Laura Masotto

Violinist Laura Masotto transforms into a one-woman orchestra on her new suite WE, streaming at Bandcamp. Much of this bright, riff-driven theme and variaitons is an action movie for the ears. A lot of this could be called loopmusic, although Masotto fleshes out her anthemic, stadium-worthy hooks with lush but terse harmonies and melodic shifts that transcend the usual vamping, circling limitations of playing against a backing track.

The album’s overture, Atoms, is a shimmery, shivery, minimalist tune seemingly based on a very famous raga (or maybe the first song on side two of Sergeant Pepper). Refugees, with Roger Goula on atmospheric keys, rises to a brisk motorik pulse: this sequence triumphantly reaches the shore rather than capsizing in the Mediterranean.

Blue Marble is awash in big sweeping broken chords, followed by Ithaki,. a muted, suspenseful variation on the refugee theme with Hior Chronik on twinkly keys. After that, 2020 starts out ambient but the energy returns: this is quite an optimistic record.

The title theme turns out to be an understatedly joyous, pulsing love ballad without words. Masotto returns to lavish variations on the central, arpeggiated melody. There’s a long descent through swirly, calming ambience as the music grows loopier and more baroque on the way out.

Min Xiao-Fen Releases a Darkly Surreal New Score to a Classic Chinese Silent Film

Min Xiao-Fen is one of the world’s great adventurers on the magical Chinese pipa lute. She first made a name for herself with her spiky, incisive arrangements of Thelonious Monk tunes, but she has done immense cross-pollination with the instrument in the years since. She’s also a brilliant singer and a composer whose eclecticism is as vast as you would expect considering her background. Her songs can be spare and intimate, in keeping with tradition, or explosively symphonic. Her latest album White Lotus – streaming at Spotify – is an original score for Wu Yonggang’s 1934 silent film The Goddess, a tragic melodrama about a Shanghai hooker who battles an evil pimp as she struggles to provide for her son’s education. The soundtrack is a duo collaboration with a similarly adventurous, cinematic artist, guitarist Rez Abbasi, who plays both acoustic and electric here

The album opens with a stark, hypnotically circling pipa theme and ambient guitar effects, dialogue from the film and fragments of the bandleader’s operatic vocals floating through the mix. There are moments where the textural contrast between Abbasi’s acoustic guitar and the pipa are subtle but distinct, others where it’s harder to distinguish between them since he sometimes uses a pipa-style tremolo-picking attack.

The galloping, syncopated, darkly windswept third track is mostly Abbasi multitracks. A handful of drifting passages for vocals and solo guitar are more spare and pensive.

A tableau for vocals and solo guitar channels utter desolation. There’s a bristling chase scene with occasional flickers of Greek rembetiko music. Echoes of bluegrass music, a tense nocturne, and a distantly sinister blend of ba-bump cabaret and the blues follow in turn. Interestingly, the moments where Asian pentatonics are front and center are few and far between, heightening the exotic effect. Toward the end, there are a couple of themes that come across as acoustic Pat Metheny with Chinese tinges. This is a gripping, dynamically shifting mix of styles that fits right into both artists’ constantly growing and paradigm-shifting bodies of work.

Irresistibly Fun Retro Cinematic Themes From Sven Wunder

Sven Wunder, like the soul/funk icon whose name he’s appropriated, is pretty much a one-man band. His specialty is balmy, cinematic instrumental themes with a psychedelic, late 60s/early 70s European feel. One good comparison is Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack in a particularly calm or pastoral moment. Among current bands, Tredici Bacci are another. This second Wunder’s playful, entertaining new album Natura Morta is streaming at Bandcamp.

Tinkly piano and fluttering flute breeze into the album’s opening track, En Plein Air before the strings go sweeping over a lithe, bouncy beat spiced with chiming keys. Is that an electric harpsichord? Is that real brass or the artificial kind?

More of those brassy patches alternate with brittle, trebly vintage clavinova, echoey Rhodes and sinuous hollowbody bass in Impasto. Prussian Blue begins with a cheery piano cascade and rustling flute but quickly becomes a strutting motorik surf rock theme. Surf popcorn? Popcorn surf?

The album’s title track is hardly the dirge the title implies: it comes across as a sort of orchestrated 70s soul take on Bob Marley’s Waiting in Vain. Wunder subtly edges the beat in Panorama into a 6/8 sway with 12-string acoustic guitar, wafting strings and winds, and vintage keyboard textures.

He goes back to vampy, lushly orchestrated early 70s soul with Alla Prima, those layers of 12-string guitar sparkling overhead. The sparkle continues in Umber, which has a somewhat more uneasy, pensive edge. Barocco, Ma Non Troppo is a funny little number: it’s a canon of sorts, but with shuffling syncopation and a funky Rhodes interlude

Wry low-register clavinova contrasts with the sweep of the strings in Memento Mori: the message seems to be, let’s party while we can. Pentimento is the album’s most hypnotic track, sheets of strings and winds shifting through the mix over growly, clustering bass. Wunder reprises the title track at the end with slip-key piano that’s just a hair out of tune. Somewhere there’s an arthouse movie director or two who need this guy.

A Foundationally Haunting, Influential 70s Political Thriller Soundtrack Finally Available on Vinyl

Alan Pakula’s 1974 political assassination thriller The Parallax View is arguably more relevant today than when it was released at the height of the Watergate scandal. And while fewer film scores were released in those days as stand-alone records, it was not uncommon: some of the era’s bestselling albums, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Star Wars, were movie soundtracks. So it’s something of a shock to discover that Michael Small’s Parallax View score, one of the most iconic and influential of its kind, has never been released on vinyl until now. The whole album is not online, but bits and pieces of the score are floating around youtube.

Generally speaking, it’s amazing how much mileage Small gets from so few moving parts, especially in the tensest moments, presaging the minimalist meme of fifteen years later. Eerily twinkling accents peek out over ominous, sustained low strings as the title theme wafts in, a distantly brassy allusion to a Richard Strauss tune which had been resurrected very successfully just five years previously. That dichotomy continues throughout the brief morgue scene and dips to pitchblende cellos for the sheriff’s house interlude.

The momentary chase scene is classic: jagged Bernard Herrmann strings, but also icepick flutes, machinegunning drums and more Strauss from the lows of the piano. Spare violins accent a wary, slow stroll through the Testing Center. Eerie close harmonies and creepy tritones linger over the sparest, syncopated pulse, bells against massed basses in the nocturnal tableau that follows.

The famous brainwashing scene at the Parallax Corporation comes complete with dialogue: the way Small shifts from wistful folk-pop, to faux-pomp, to a contented Jimmy Webb-esque nocturne, is a clinic in mashup science. Lows balance keening, tense highs, sheets of strings and brass shifting slowly through the sonic picture as a suitcase bomb is delivered. Did Angelo Badalamenti nick one of the riffs from the bells for a famous Twin Peaks theme? Maybe!

Small gets classic again, with the most minute, insectile string flickers against looming lows as the death squad make their way in. Zarathustra hangs in the wings through a bit of chaos before the closing credits, where the quasi-pageantry reaches Shostakovian heights of sarcasm. No spoilers; see the movie or even better, get the vinyl.

Fun fact: in pulling together this release, the Cinema Paradiso crew were required to identify the uncredited voiceover actor in the brainwashing scene in order to secure permission from Paramount Pictures to include it. Considerable sleuthing finally revealed that it was Pakula himself, who had recorded a scratch track. The director, apparently satisfied with his own Hitchcockian cameo, ended up keeping it

Clever, Deviously Picturesque Themes and an Upper West Side Album Release Show by the Daniel Bennett Group

One icy Sunday in Manhattan about six months ago, the Daniel Bennett Group were busking on the sidewalk, out in front of a shuttered computer repair store and a vacant barbershop.

It was about ten in the morning.

That’s a typical kind of stunt for Bennett. Why play later and compete with the likes of Jeremy Pelt or Chris Potter? All of them elite jazz musicians who appear at major venues and festivals. All reduced to playing on the street or in the park for spare change at one point or another this past fifteen months.

That’s what happens when live music is criminalized.

Being one of the great wits in jazz no doubt helped Bennett stay sane through the lockdown. He emerged with a characteristically sly new album, New York Nerve, streaming at Bandcamp. He also has – gasp – a real-life album release show this June 26 at 7 PM at the Triad Theatre, 158 W 72nd St. between Broadway and Amsterdam. Cover is $20; be aware that the venue has a two-drink minimum as well.

The album is a suite, a theme and variations. The opening number is titled Television. It’s a steady, suspiciously cheery, motorik rock tune, percolating over an endless series of gritty guitar changes, Bennett driving it forward with his steady alto sax and then clarinet. It sets the stage for the rest of the record.

The Town Supervisor, as Bennett sees him, is a folksy, wistful kind of guy, bassist Kevin Hailey and drummer Koko Bermejo maintaining a muted 6/8 beat as guitarist Assaf Kehati jangles and bubbles and exchanges verses with Bennett’s alto.

The group return to the brisk pulse of the opening track in Gold Star Mufflers, Bennett’s keening organ fueling an increasingly subtle disquiet beneath the busy pulse and occasional cartoonish touch. Likewise, Human Playback is a subtly altered reprise of the opening theme, Kehati hitting his distortion pedal for a sunbaked, resonant solo, Bennett’s electric piano tinkling and rippling. Then he shifts back to sax for a surreal, floating, spacy outro.

Bennett and Kehati burble and intertwine arrythmically over a deadpan, steady beat as Rattlesnake gets underway, sax pulling the theme together with a catchy, biting minor-key intensity. The group go back to pastoralia to wind up the album with The County Clerk, who comes across as more brooding than his boss (presumably that’s the Town Supervisor). The humor in Bennett’s songs without words always comes across most strongly onstage: these guys are probably jumping out of their shoes to be able to play indoors again without having to do it clandestinely.

Disturbios Recall a Darker, More Dangerous, More Diverse New York Rock Scene

Disturbios play darkly cinematic surf rock, like a more stripped-down Morricone Youth with cynical hip-hop tinges. You might expect that from a couple of veterans of the seedier side of New York rock. Guitarist Matt Verta-Ray has been kicking around the reverb tank since his days with Speedball Baby back in the 90s, joined by Rocio Verta-Ray on what sounds like a vintage Vox Continental organ. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The album’s brief opening track, Rough Rider starts out as hip-hop and then goes twinkling around the roller rink with Rocio’s swirly organ and Matt’s spare reverb guitar. The monster hit here is Surf Gnossienne, a slow surf remake of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1, an iconic piece from the creepy-classical canon. They seem to be using a certain Brooklyn band’s cumbia version as a prototype, right down to the flickers of the castanets.

“I never shook babies, I never beat no ladies,” Rocio insists, but everything else was pretty much up for grabs as she tells it in Jesus I Was Evil – right down to that funny Rick James quote. Matt builds a wasp-in-a-jar scenario in the next track, Starr, a broodingly rippling noir soul theme.

They launch into a snarling mashup of Sticky Fingers-era Stones shuffle and, say, the Flamin’ Groovies in Little Bird Got Swallowed. After the hypnotic, macabre cumbia vamp See-Thru Rhonda, the duo go back to vintage soul-surf for Summer Loves.

Rocio’s deadpan vocals in the stomping electric take of Jimmy Reed’s Big Boss Man are pretty priceless. The two hit a slinky latin soul groove in I Love You and close the album with Dear Boy, a skewed take on early 60s girl-group pop. New York used to be full of bands who played all these sounds. Good thing somebody’s keeping this stuff alive.

Iconic Guitarist and Bassist Release a Blissfully Gorgeous Duo Record

The preeminent jazz guitarist of our time and one of our era’s greatest and most distinctive bassists played a gorgeous 2017 duo session originally released as part of a box set which is now available for the first time as a stand-alone vinyl record. Bassist Skúli Sverrisson wrote the music on his album Strata – streaming at Spotify – for guitarist Bill Frisell, whose resonant lyricism and judicious, terse overdubs are a perfect fit for these sublime melodies. Frisell likes working in a duo situation and in 35 years of recording, this is his best album in that configuration. Pretty much everything Frisell has ever done since this blog went live has ended up in the ten-best list at the end of the year and this should be no exception.

The first track on the record is Sweet Earth, a lingering, echoey, jangly, distantly Britfolk-tinged theme. The bass is typically so sparse that it’s almost invisible…or simply seamless. The second song, Instants has the feel of an arpeggiated Nordic space-surf instrumental: right up Frisell’s alley, or one of them. Again, the intertwine of the two instruments is such that it’s often impossible to figure out who’s playing what, especially as the song takes on a more fugal feel, or when the bass is shadowing the guitar.

Frisell plays twelve-string on the ravishing, chiming, bittersweet Vanishing Point, a waltz pulsing along on a steady, emphatically minimalist bassline. Ancient Affection is more complex, Frisell adding ominously psychedelic fuzztone resonance beneath the increasingly intricate, glistening thicket overhead. Sverrisson’s spare chromatics add suspense to his steady arpeggios beneath Frisell’s spare, echoey riffs in the austere, moody Came to Light, which closes the first album side.

Side two opens with Cave of Swimmers, a slow, rapt, warily strolling theme with distant baroque echoes. There’s also a spare, gently emphatic fugal sensibility in Amedeo, Frisell’s low accents adding a warm resolve to this otherwise rather opaque tune.

Sverrisson’s variations on a staggered, loping riff hold the foreground as Frisell fills out the picture with a lingering bittersweetness in Afternoon Variant. The simply titled Segment is an echoey tone poem of sorts. The duo wind up the album with Her Room and its gentle echoes of a well-known David Lynch film theme. Whether you call this jazz or jangly rock – it’s both, in the best possible ways – this is one of the most unselfconsciously beautiful albums of the year.

A Hauntingly Relevant World War I Concept Album From Bare Wire Son

Multi-instrumentalist Olin Janusz records under the name Bare Wire Son. Whether kinetic or atmospheric, his music has a relentlessly bleak intensity. One obvious comparison is the gloomy, cinematic processionals of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Other dark postrock acts, from Mogwai to Swans come to mind. His latest album Off Black – streaming at Bandcamp – is a World War I song cycle, often utilizing texts from journals by mothers who lost their sons. Janusz is a one-man, lo-fi orchestra here: everything is awash in reverb, vocals often buried deep in these slow but turbulent rivers of sound.

The parallels between the Great War and the lockdown are stunning, making this album all the more relevant. Chemical warfare played a major role: poison gas in 1918, deadly hypodermics 103 years later. Propaganda campaigns of unprecedented proportions are central to both events. The drive to get the British and the US involved in the war was inflamed by stories of hideous atrocities on the part of the “Huns,” as the Germans were rebranded. The ubiquitous, multibillion-dollar ad blitz promoting the needle of death also relies on many fictions, from grotesquely inaccurate computer models, to blood tests rigged to generate false positives.

The album’s opening track, Involuntary is a crescendoing conflagration, possibly a parody of a Catholic hymn, with a cruelly cynical coda. Percussion flails out a sadistic lash beat over the organ textures in Cenotaph, struggling to rise against a merciless march that finally hits a murderous peak.

Janusz assembles Saved Alone around a series of menacingly anthemic, twangy reverb guitar riffs and whispered vocals, shifting from a lulling organ interlude to a roughhewn crescendo. From there he segues into CSD, a brief, portentous, organ-infused tone poem.

Simple, ominous guitar arpeggios linger over an industrial backdrop of cello, percussion and organ in Ends Below: the visceral shock about two thirds of the way in is too good to give away. The Gore is portrayed more minimalistically and enigmatically than you would probably expect, resonant washes of slide guitar and organ behind a crashing guitar loop

Close-harmonied organ textures and cello drift through Antiphon, joined by guitar clangs and slashes in The Bellows and extending through the dissociative flutters and funereal angst of Kampus. Spare, Lynchian guitar figures return in Fingernest, an emphatic, pulsing dirge rising to Comfortably Numb proportions.

Heavy Grey is the closest thing to indie rock here, although it reaches an anthemic vastness at the end. Janusz trudges to the end of the narrative with the hypnotic Red Glass and then a quasi-baroque organ theme cynically titled Voluntary, This is one of the best albums of 2021 and arguably the most haunting one so far.

Gorgeously Haunting, Surreal Cinematics From Dictaphone

Dictaphone’s distinctive, unique sound falls somewhere between film noir soundtrack music, jazz and the Middle East. Which makes sense, considering that bandleader Oliver Doerell does a lot of movie scores. The group’s often sweepingly crepuscular instrumentals are much more lush than one would expect from just three musicians, yet it’s also very minimalist: no note goes to waste here. Their new album Goats & Distortions 5 – streaming at Bandcamp – expands on their exploration of what they call “morbid instruments.”

The album’s opening track, simply titled O, has a loopy trip-hop beat beneath drifting ambience over that could be muted pizzicato violin, or a processed guitar riff, or a sintir at a distance: it’s often hard to isolate who’s playing what here. Clarinetist Roger Döring looms sparely and moodily as the atmospherics pulse in and out.

The second track, Island 92 quickly coalesces into a hypnotic Middle Eastern groove, Döring’s bass clarinet chromatics weaving broodingly, then suddenly dropping out for Alex Stolze’s hazy violin. From there, Doerell builds a terse, resonant web of guitar clang and atmospherics.

Döring’s sax and Stolze’s violin waft uneasily over Doerrell’s sintir loop and a lo-fi electronic click track in track three, titled 808.14.4. The album’s title track is in two parts: the first a brief, swoopy, minimalist loop pastiche and the second a trickily rhythmic, darkly surreal dub interlude, pings and blips contrasting with spare bass and morose bass clarinet.

Likewise, washes of grey noise, bass clarinet and amplified loops from an old, broken tape recorder mingle mournfully in Tempete et Stress. Il Grande Silenzio is anything but, a lament with funeral parlor organ and more of that bass clarinet, plus some creepy robotic textures.

M – which doesn’t seem to be a salute to the iconic Peter Lorre horror film – is the driftiest interlude here. Helga Raimondi takes an enigmatic cameo on the mic in Your Reign Is Over, a rainy-day Balkan reggae dub theme. They close with Griot Dub, which is not a reggae tune but a grey-sky tableau.

Fun fact: the band take their name from a lo-fi tape recorder with a variable-speed motor, invented in the late 40s and commonly used in offices as late as the 1990s. It was meant to free up secretarial staff from the slow process of taking dictation. A typist could transcribe the tape and slow the machine down if the person doing the dictating was speaking rapidly. There was also Dictaphone etiquette: to avoid mistakes in transcription, it was considered de rigeur to enunciate slowly and clearly, to spell out proper names and difficult words, and to thank the typist – almost invariably a woman working for near-minimum wage – at the end of the tape.