New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: jam band

The Myrrors Bring Their Dusky, Pulsing Psychedelic Postrock to a Killer Alphabet City Twinbill

It’s not clear what the title of hypnotically kinetic psychedelic band the Myrrors’ latest record Hasta La Victoria – streaming at Bandcamp –  refers to. Whatever the case, it’s definitely a victory for the band themselves. The Arizona-based group went their separate ways around the turn of the past decade, but regrouped in the wake of ongoing youtube popularity. If there’s any need for further proof of the eternal viability of good psychedelic music, this is it. The Arizona collective are headlining a killer twinbill on Jan 20 at Berlin at around 9; Eno-esque ambient soundscaper J.R. Bohannon a.k.a. Ancient Ocean opens the night at 8. Cover is $10.

The album is a mix of hypnotic, circling epics and shorter numbers. The methodically swaying, ten-minute opening instrumental, Organ Mantra has a simple call-and-response sax loop front and center while the guitars of Cesar Alatorre-Mena and Nik Rayne build a dense wall behind it, and finally join the conversation. Meanwhile, Kellen Fortier‘s bass and Grant Beyschau’s drums bubble above the surface.

Awash in reverb, Somos La Resistencia sounds like Mogwai covering White Rabbit, with a squalling sax solo on the way out. From there the band segues into Tea House Music, with its echoing rainy-day rise and fall, distantly thundering percussion, plaintive twelve-string guitar hooks and echoes of Joy Division.

El Aleph, an ominous string soundscape, has distantly Indian-flavored overtones and melismatics. It’s a good intro for the mammoth title track, a dense, grey swirl and eventual flurry of instruments slowly coalescing around a central loop much like the album’s first number. This is the furthest from rock the band’s ever gone, and the trippiest destination they’ve found so far on a sonic journey that promises to discover newer depths and more enigmatically remote destinations.

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A Rare Chance to See Haunting Large-Ensemble Turkish Music in the West Village

One of the most serendipitous developments in New York music this year is that Seyyah, who might be this city’s most epic Turkish band at the moment, have been playing more lately. Which is more impressive than it seems, considering that percussionist/singer Jenny Luna has been plenty busy with her own similarly haunting Turkish-Balkan band Dolunay. Pretty much everybody else in Seyyah plays with other bands as well. Tanbur lute player Adam Good is also in Dolunay, and lends his prowess on many stringed instruments to numerous other groups including sizzling rebetiko metal band Greek Judas. Oudist Kane Mathis has his own project, his Indian-tinged groove duo Orakel, and plays in Nubian band Alsarah & the Nubatones. Clarinetist Greg Squared is in Raya Brass Band (who played a sizzling set this past Saturday night at Barbes) and Sherita. Violinist Marandi Hostetter plays with slinky Egyptian bands Nashaz and Sharq Attack (some might say that they’re the same group) and others, as do percussionists Shane Shannahan and Philip Mayer.

Seyyah’s next gig is this Jan 15, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM at Cornelia St. Cafe. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum; the food at the downstairs West Village jazz boite is actually a cut above what most jazz club kitchens throw at you. Seyyah are also one of the latest bands with the good sense to release a live album, a free download recorded at Barbes last May on a live WFMU Transpacific Sound Paradise broadcast which also featured a rather rare, starkly intense set of Georgian folk tunes by guitarist Ilusha Tsinadze and his trio, plus a lustrous, hypnotic, tantalizingly brief handful of tunes by a subset of lavish, paradigm-shifting Indian carnatic choir the Navatman Music Collective.

Seyyah’s set opens with Mahur Saz Seman, a catchy, bouncy, somewhat bittersweetly anthemic tune. As the song goes on, the trills of the clarinet and violin take it into more brooding territory before the main theme returns. Sultani Yegah veers between a jiggy, sea chantey-like bounce, and more wary, chromatically incisive interludes, with a spiky, moody tanbur solo. Hostetter takes centerstage with her microtonal nuance in the briskly flurrying, slashing Hicaz Zeybek, the set’s arguably best and most Arabic-inflected song.

Scampering percussion propels Hüzzam Oyun Havasi – like most of the songs here, it starts out with everybody playing the rippling, uneasy modal melody, then Good pulls away, then we get a moody, deliciously microtonally-spiced clarinet solo and a lively percussion break. The night’s coda is Çeçen Kizi, a wickedly catchy, broodingly intense, undulating theme with Hostetter leading the charge out this time. It’s amazing how good the sound quality is, considering how packed and noisy the bar was that Saturday night.

And if you’re going to Golden Fest this weekend, Greek Judas, Raya Brass Band and Dolunay will all be there on Saturday.

Rapturous Musical Cross-Pollination at Women Between Arts at the New School

Yesterday was the fourth installment of Luisa Muhr’s new interdisciplinary series Women Between Arts at the New School. One would think that there would be several series in this city devoted to women whose work crosses the line between different artistic disciplines, but this appears to be the only one at present. What’s new with Muhr’s series is that it isn’t just a place for women artists who defy categorization: it’s also a space where adventurous established artists can branch out beyond their usual practice.

Case in point: Jean Rohe. She’s known as a songwriter and a strong, distinctive acoustic guitarist (to call her a folksinger would be reductionistic). Throughout her tantalizingly brief performance yesterday’s show, she did a lot of storytelling.

This narrative was harrowing. Rohe was named after her paternal grandmother, who killed herself on December 9, 1961. Tragically, just like her father, Rohe didn’t find out about the suicide until years later. That revelation springboarded an “odyssey,” as she termed it, to find out the truth and what pushed the woman over the edge.

Like many of the projects that find their way to Women Between Arts, it’s a work in progress, and a hauntingly captivating one. Rohe’s fingerpicking channeled distant delta blues grimness with her opening number, then she referenced the Penelope myth with a more expansive, anthemic tune. Her final song, she told the crowd, was set in Hades: “In New Jersey, as we all know,” she mused, drawing a handful of chuckles. The narrative saw her climbing into her grandmother’s old black Buick at a stoplight, to find her crying and incommunicado, a ghost before her time.

Noa Fort is known as a composer of translucent piano jazz informed by classical music as well as her own Israeli heritage. After guiding the crowd through a brief meditation, she had them write down their innermost feelings on slips of paper so she could channel and maybe exorcise those issues. As it turned out, this was a very  uneasy crowd. Fort plucked around inside the piano gingerly, George Crumb style before launching into a series of eerie belltones, close harmonies and finally a woundedly descending anthem. She closed with a somewhat elegaic but ultimately optimistic ballad where a calmly participatory crowd carried the melody upwards. 

Trina Basu, one of the great violinists in Indian classical music, leads the pioneering carnatic string band Karavika. This time out, she played a rapturous homage to 16th century mystic Meera Bai, joined by Orakel tabla player Roshni Samlal and singer Priya Darshini. Basu explained that she’d discovered the controversial, pioneering proto-feminist poet via the work of 1960s singer Lakshmi Shankar.

Basu opened the trio’s first epic number with elegant spirals that spun off into sepulchral harmonics, then built steam, rising up and down in a series of graceful pizzicato exchanges with the tabla. Darshini sang the second long piece, Basu and Samlal matching its poignancy, an ancient raga theme sliced and diced through the prism of progressive jazz. 

 The next installment of Women Between Arts is Jan 21 at 3 PM at the New School’s Glass Box Theatre (i.e. the new Stone) at 55 W 13th St., with Meredith Monk collaborator Ellen Fisher, lustrously haunting singer/composer Sara Serpa with cellist Erik Friedlander and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and Appalachian music maven Anna Roberts-Gevalt.

A Riveting, Exhilaratingly Dark Lincoln Center Album Release Show by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra

It’s impossible to think of a better way to start the year than watching Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra slink and swing their way through the darkly surreal album release show for their new one, Book of Rhapsodies Vol. 2 at Jazz at Lincoln Center earlier this week. In a sense, the record brings the former Beat Circus leader full circle with his noir roots, in the process rescuing all kinds of eerie, genre-shattering 1930s and 40s tunes from obscurity.

From the first uneasy, enigmatic solo of the night – from alto saxophonist Andy Laster – to the last one, a furtively expansive one from tenor player Ben Kono – this mighty seventeen-piece edition of the band were obviously jumping out of their shoes to be playing this material. Since before the group’s wildly popular 2013 Book of Rhapsodies album, trumpeter/conductor Carpenter has dedicated himself to resurrecting the work of little-known carnivalesque composers, most notably Reginald Foresythe, a British pianist who was more than a half-century ahead of his time.

Recast in Carpenter’s new arrangement, one of that composer’s numbers sounded like a beefed-up swing version of a noir surf number by Beninghove’s Hangmen. A serpentine, bolero-tinged tune again evoked that current-day cinematic band, drummer Rob Garcia having fun rattling the traps in tandem with the moody low-end pulse of bassist Michael Bates and tuba player Ron Caswell.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, guitarist Avi Bortnick added the occasional marionettish ping or pop to goose the music when it threatened to go completely dark. The rest of the band – Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Dennis Lichtman  on clarinet, Mazz Swift on violin, and Emily Bookwalter on viola – were bolstered by a six-piece choir including but not limited to the soaring Aubrey Johnson and Tammy Scheffer. The extra voices added deviously incisive counterpoint on all ends of the spectrum as well.

There were two swinged-out arrangements of Chopin pieces, the second an impromptu, which featured the night’s most sizzling solo, a lickety-split series of harmonically-spiced cascaces from Swift. She’d reprise that with a little more brevity during an epic take of Raymond Scott’s Celebration on the Planet Mars, along with similarly punchy solos from Hasselbring, Kono, Laster, Garcia and Caswell. A couple of romping, swinging, sometimes vaudevillian and occasionally cartoonish Alec Wilder tunes gave the band something approximating comic relief. Watch this space for a more in-depth look at the amazing new album.

Some Great December Shows Reprised This Month

Who says December is a slow month for live music in New York? The first three weeks were a nonstop barrage of good shows. And a lot of those artists will be out there this month for you to see.

Last summer, Innov Gnawa played a couple of pretty radical Barbes gigs. With bandleader Hassan Ben Jaafer’s hypnotically slinky sintir bass lute and the chorus of cast-iron qraqab players behind him, they went even further beyond the undulating, shapeshifting, ancient call-and-response of their usual traditional Moroccan repertoire. Those June and July shows both plunged more deeply into the edgy, chromatically-charged Middle Eastern sounds of hammadcha music, with even more jamming and turn-on-a-dime shifts in the rhythm. Innov – get it?

So their most recent show at Nublu 151 last month seemed like a crystallization of everything they’d been working on. The usual opening benediction of sorts when everybody comes to the stage, Ben Jaafer leading the parade with his big bass drum slung over his shoulder; a serpentine chant sending a shout out to ancient sub-Saharan spirits; and wave after wave of mesmerizing metallic mist fueled by Ben Jaafer’s catchy riffage and impassioned vocals.

Ben Jaafer’s protege and bandmate Samir LanGus opened the night with an even trippier show, playing sintir and leading a band including Innov’s  Nawfal Atiq and Amino Belyamani on qraqabs and vocals, along with Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion on drums, Dave Harrington on guitar, plus alto sax. Elements of dub, and funk, and acidic postrock filtered through the mix as the rhythms changed. Innov Gnawa are back at Nublu 151 on Jan 12 at around 6:30 with trumpeter Itamar Borochov for ten bucks; then the following night, Jan 13 they’re at Joe’s Pub at 7:45 PM for twice that, presumably for people who don’t want to dance.

The rest of last month’s shows that haven’t been mentioned here already were as eclectically fun as you would expect in this melting pot of ours. Slinky Middle Eastern band Sharq Attack played a mix of songs that could have been bellydance classics from Egypt or Lebanon, or originals – it was hard to tell. Oudist Brian Prunka had written one of the catchiest of the originals as a piece for beginners. “But as it turned out, it’s really hard,” violinist Marandi Hostetter laughed. The subtle shifts in the tune and the groove didn’t phase the all-star Brooklyn ensemble.

Another allstar Brooklyn group, Seyyah played an even more lavish set earlier in the month at the monthly Balkan night at Sisters Brooklyn in Fort Greene. With the reliably intense, often pyrotechnic Kane Mathis on oud behind Jenny Luna’s soaring, poignant microtonal vocals, you wouldn’t have expected the bass player to be the star of the show any more than you’d expect Adam Good to be playing bass. But there he was, not just pedaling root notes like most American bassists do with this kind of music, his slithery slides and hammer-ons intertwining with oud and violin. The eight-piece band offer a rare opportunity to see a group this size playing classic and original Turkish music at Cornelia St. Cafe at Jan 15, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

When Locobeach’s bassist hit an ominous minor-key cumbia riff and then the band edged its way into Sonido Amazonico midway through their midmonth set at Barbes, the crowd went nuts. The national anthem of cumbia was the title track to Chicha Libre’s classic debut album; as a founding member of that legendary Brooklyn psychedelic group, Locobeach keyboardist Josh Camp was crucial to their sound. This version rocked a little harder and went on for longer than Chicha Libre’s typically did – and Camp didn’t have his trebly, keening Electrovox accordion synth with him for it. This crew are more rock and dub-oriented than Chicha Libre, although they’re just as trippy – and funny. They’re back at Barbes on Jan 15 at 10. 

There were four other Barbes shows last month worth mentioning. “Stoner,” one individual in the know said succinctly as Dilemastronauta Y Los Sabrosos Cosmicos bounced their way through a pulsing set blending elements of psychedelic salsa, cumbia, Afrobeat and dub reggae. Their rhythm section is killer: the bass and drums really have a handle on classic Lee Scratch Perry style dub and roots, and the horns pull the sound out of the hydroponic murk. They’re back at Barbes on Jan 10 at around 10.

Also midmonth, resonator guitarist Zeke Healy and violist Karen Waltuch took an expansive excursion through a couple of sets of Appalachian classics and a dadrock tune or two, reinventing them as bucolic, psychedelic jams. For the third year in a row, the all-female Accord Treble Choir sang an alternately majestic and celestial mix of new choral works and others from decades and centuries past, with lively solos and tight counterpoint. And the Erik Satie Quartet treated an early Saturday evening crowd to stately new brass arrangements of pieces by obscure 1920s French composers, as well as some similar new material.

At the American Folk Art Museum on the first of the month, singer/guitarist Miriam Elhajli kept the crowd silent with her eclecticism, her soaring voice and mix of songs that spanned from Venezuela to the Appalachians, including one rapturous a-capella number. And at the Jalopy the following week, another singer, Queen Esther played a set of sharply lyrical, sardonic jazz songs by New York underground legend Lenny Molotov, her sometime bandmate in one of the city’s funnest swing bands, the Fascinators. She’s at the Yamaha Piano Salon at 689 5h Ave (enter on 54th St) on Jan 14, time tba.

Some of the Wildest, Danceable Psychedelic Acts in New York Share the Best Bill of the Month…and Maybe the Year

What if you had the chance to see the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane and the Ventures all on the same bill..for ten bucks. Would you go? How about if you added Mulatu Astatke and Mercedes Sosa to the bill?

Obviously, that lineup never happened. But you can see a similarly amazing show this Jan 13 starting at 7:30 PM at Drom with the 2018 counterpart to many of those artists. Since the annual booking agents’ convention is in town, this is arguably the best concert weekend of the year – if you plan on seeing a weekend of music in 2018, it won’t get any better than this. The show starts with Christylez Bacon & Nistha Raj’s Indian hip-hop Bhairavi Beatbox, at 8:15 Super Yamba playing their psychedelic Afrobeat jams, at 9 singer Carolina Oliveros’ mighty 13-piece Afro-Colombian  trance/dance choir Bulla en el Barrio, at 10 the amazing Thai psychedelic jamband Drunken Foreigner Band (a Sunwatchers spinoff); at 11:15 the similarly trippy, more eclectic Combo Chimbita, at midnight awesomely slinky, psychedelic Israeli Ethiopiques groove instrumentalists Anbessa Orchestra and at around 1 Brooklyn’s funnest band, psychedelic organ-driven Middle Eastern-tinged surf rock trio Hearing Things . It’s like a month’s worth of going to Barbes, all in one marathon night – most of these acts are in regular rotation at Brooklyn’s best venue. 

The highlight of the night is Drunken Foreigner Band, not because they’re necessarily better than any of the other acts but because they don’t play a lot of shows. They’re the most psychedelic act on the bill by a mile – and it’s a very psychedelic lineup. They have an amazing new album, sardonically titled White Guy Disease, due out on vinyl from Electric Cowbell Records just in time for the show. Keyboardist/bandleader Dave Kadden draws his inspiration from Akha and Lam Lao folk tunes from Thailand and Laos and then electrifies them with creepy, trebly organ, a slinky rhythm section and Jim McHugh’s eerie electric phin lute. The result is some of the wildest, most psychedelic music you’ll ever hear,  an early contender for best album of 2018.

It’s basically a theme and variations. The first track, Akha 1, a practically thirteen-minute one-chord jam, sets the stage. As Jason Robira’s drums slither along on an altered clave groove and bassist Peter Kerlin loops a leaping one-five hook, Kadden spirals around, making Ray Manzarek-style funeral music out of a riff that’s essentially psychedelic Asian blues. Running through a reverbed-up amp and eventually a wah pedal, the phin has a mosquitoey Vox amp tone . If Country Joe & the Fish had been Laotian, they might have sounded like this.

The title track is louder and a lot shorter, sheets of fuzztone acidity burning from the phin, the organ sometimes doubling the melody line. With its tortured animalian snorts from sax and phin, the fourth track, Chan Choa Wa Chan Bin Dai sounds like the Velvets doing a wordless Thai version of Sister Ray – but infinitely more tightly. It’s the catchiest, most anthemic and rock-oriented track here.

The band make a march out of the opening theme in Akha 2, spiced with a surreal choir of throat-singing voices, then brings it down for a split-second before the surreal spirals pick up again. From there the band segues into the epic concluding segment Farang Mao, bringing the main theme full circle. As this trip peaks out, McHugh, hits his wah and distortion pedal, fires off a little choppy funk and finally goes completely off the rails in a savage flurry of tremolo-picking before pulling himself back on. Sunwatchers are a great band but this stuff is something else. Fans of psychedelic rock in general, as well as those who gravitate toward stoner sounds from other continents, i.e. Chicha Libre or Greek Judas should check these guys out. See you there!

Brooklyn’s Creepiest Metal Band Hit Barbes Tomorrow Night, Golden Fest on the 13th.

Greek Judas have the creepiest, most twistedly psychedelic sound of any metal band in New York. They play electrified rebetiko music. Rebetiko was to Greece in the 1920s and 30s what metal was in the early 70s cinderblock slums of Europe: the default music of a disenfranchised criminal underworld. Rebetiko songs celebrate getting stoned, smuggling hash, running from the law and dealing with the consequences sometimes – what’s more metal than that, right? Greek Judas play those feral, frequently macabre, chromatically slashing anthems wearing animal masks, with their guitars turned up to eleven. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing Barbes tomorrow night, Jan 4 at 8 PM, then they’re at Golden Fest on the 13th where they will probably be louder than any of the blaring brass bands.

The album’s first track is Young Hash Smokers (the video is here). Adam Good’s sludgy growl anchors bandleader Wade Ripka’s nails-down-the-blackboard shrieks over the steady thud of bassist Nick Cudahy and drummer Chris Stromquist. Dressed in a monk’s robe, frontman Quince Marcum sings in Greek for a strong, expressive celebration of cannabis resin.

Ripka’s guitar prowls and slashes around the upper frets in How Long the Night, up to a sly trick ending. The band bookend the darkly sirening, slide guitar-fueled I’m a Junkie with ominously lingering pieces of the Beatles’ Within You and Without You, and the unexpectedly tasty addition of a string section.

Roma Girl comes across as a mashup of late Beatles clang and smoky Keith Richards riffage, with more darkness than either of those bands – suddenly it hits you that it’s a one-chord jam. The album’s high point and most recent number here, Kokkinia 1955, pulses like a desperately dying quasar, Ripka making evil tremolo metal out of what could have been a bagpipe tune in a past life.

The smugglers’ anthem Contrabandistas is both the album’s most broodingly catchy and epic track. Syndrofisses is a launching pad for the most hydroponically intertwining, Iron Maiden-style guitar here and an especially unhinged Ripka solo that Good leaps out of and takes the song into slyly sunbaked early 70s territory.

The most evocatively desperate number here is Why I Smoke Cocaine, a crack whore’s sad story – that stuff existed on the streets of Athens in the 20s. The final cut is I’ll Become a Monk, the closest thing to a poignant breakup anthem here. Best album of 2018 so far by a mile.

Fun fact: before they were Greek Judas, the core of the band were in a stately, more traditionally-oriented rebetiko trio, Que Vlo-ve. You can still get their singles as free downloads from Bandcamp.

3MA’s Superstar African Improvisers Blend Their Hypnotic Powers

3MA – the trio of Malian kora player Ballake Sissoko, Moroccan oudist Driss El Maloumi and Malagasy valiha harp player Rajery – are an African supergroup. Their popularity and influence stems from how the three – each a popular solo performer and highly sought out collaborator – have developed a distinctive, hypnotically intertwining group sound. Their new album Anarouz is streaming at Spotify. It’s music to get lost in,

Although there are places on the album where the melody edges toward the Middle East, or the Sahara, or East Africa, it’s seldom genre-specific. These guys aren’t the African Dead Weather: individual voices typically take a backseat to collective improvisational genius.

The album opens with the title track: listen closely for how artfully El Maloumi takes a simple riff in the blues scale and develops very subtle variations beneath the rippling interweave overhead. There are jaunty exchanges between Sissoko and Rajery, each leaving plenty of space for the other’s tantalizingly brief solos.

Hanatra, a vocal number, has a suspenseful, insistent pulse and is also grounded in a catchy blues hook. The trio use that same minor-key riff as a springboard for solos in Lova, a magical acoustic duskcore number that suddenly hits a pulsing crescendo fueled by Rajery’s delicately incisive solo.

Samedi Glace – “Saturday ice Cream” – is a brisk, strolling vamp, the trio in perfect sync with their catchy, dancing phrases. While Rajery takes the first spiky solo in Anfaz, there are flickers where the oud pulls the music subtly toward edgy Arabic modes. Yet when it’s El Maloumi’s turn to solo, it’s mostly with voicings from sub-Saharan kora music.

Sissoko’s spiraling lines take centerstage early in Moustique, an allusively gorgeous, Middle Easten-tinged number, El Maloumi edging toward proto-blues amid the trance-inducing thicket of notes.Mariam is a gorgeous, hauntingly rising and falling nocturne with a long, suspenseful El Maloumi solo at the center – it’s the high point of the album. Aretina is the catchiest track here, raising the question of whether music like this is the roots of African-American soul music, or a refraction of it back from the old country.

El Maloumi’s misterioso opening taqsim kicks off the joyously bouncy Jiharka, the group running the catchy chorus in unison. The album concludes on a raptly peaceful note with Awal, a twinkling deep-desert nocturne. This is the kind of magic that happens when borders get broken down. 

Fun fact: the bandname is a pun on the word “trauma.”  Say “3MA” in French.

A Rare Appearance From the Darkly Slinky Ghost Funk Orchestra

Over the past couple of years, multi-instrumentalist Seth Applebaum has been building a catchy, slinky, darkly cinematic catalog of organic dance music, mostly by himself. He calls the project Ghost Funk Orchestra. And since he’s a one-man band, more or less, he has to pull a group together if he wants to play live. Which is rare. That’s why the Ghost Funk Orchestra’s upcoming gig on Jan 5 at 8 PM at Baby’s All Right is a pretty big deal – and it’s free.

Back in 2016, Applebaum sent over the tracks to his first album, Night Walker, streaming at Bandcamp. They’ve been sitting here on one hard drive or another ever since. Let’s say they’ve aged well – hypnotic, ominous grooves never go out of style.

After a trippy, atmospheric intro, the first cut is Brownout, which is basically a clattering one-chord latin funk jam with distantly enigmatic vocals from Adrii Muniz. Applebaum laces Dark Passage with flickers of reverb surf guitar over multitracks that spiral and linger over catchy, undulating bass and drums – again, a one-chord jam.

The album’s title track takes a turn into Chicano Batman-style psychedelic latin soul: this time, it’s Laura Gwynn as the femme fatale on the mic. Demon Demon is a funny, Halloweenish vamp: Applebaum’s faux-beatnik spoken-word voiceover builds a creepy after-dark tableau over a percolating backdrop reminiscent of a Herbie Hancock early 70s blaxploitation film score.

Blood Moon makes a return to latin soul: with Muniz’s cheery vocals and Applebaum’s gritty guitars, it’s the album’s hardest-rocking track. After the briskly shuffling latin funk Interlude fades up and out, Applebaum builds an uneasily summery scenario in Franklin Avenue – a dreaded deep-Brooklyn destination lowlit by Gabriela Tessitore’s vocals and Rich Siebert’s trumpet in tandem with Applebaum’s guitars and Ally Jenkins’ shivery violin.

The album’s final cut is the slowly swaying, lingering nocturne A Moment of Clarity. Fans of ominously picturesque grooves by bands from Big Lazy, to the Royal Arctic Institute, will love this stuff. And it’s impossible to sit still while you’re listening. Bounce to this on the south side of Williamsburg next year – or on the train on the way there.

And there’s more! In the months since Applebaum put out this album, he hasn’t exactly been idle. Ghost Funk Orchestra’s latest album, Something Evil – also streaming at Bandcamp – takes a turn into both funkier and more sinister territory.

 

An Amazing New Compilation Album of Rare, Magical Sounds Never Before Available Outside of Somalia

Thousands of years before the medieval European patronage system took shape, African dictators made it a practice to surround themselves with the best musicians they could find. Somalia’s Said Barre, no doubt inspired by Haile Selassie’s campaign to blend big band jazz with indigenous sounds in adjoining Ethiopia, set up a culture ministry of his own. Barre’s motivation was to help solidify Somalia’s status as a new nation-state. Beginning in the late 1960s, the result was some of the most amazing music to ever come out of Africa. Less than twenty years later, in a stroke of colossal irony, the dictator tried to destroy it when he realized that great art is always opposed to tyranny.

In 1988, the northern city of Hargeisa was a stronghold for freedom fighters working to bring down Barre’s reign of terror. Barre was worried that Radio Hargeisa, the local branch of the state radio network, would rally the opposition. Realizing that the station would become a target of the dictator’s bombing raids, personnel there worked furiously to remove fifty years’ worth of priceless archival recordings.

And then buried those cassettes and master tapes deep underground, where the bombs that eventually destroyed the city wouldn’t get them. Some of those recordings were spirited across the border into neighboring Djibouti and Ethiopia. Now, Ostinato Records have put out an incredible compilation, Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa (streaming at Bandcamp) that draws from those archives. None of the album’s fifteen tracks have been released outside of Somalia, and very few have ever been heard outside of East Africa. This collection could do for Somali music from the 1970s and 80s what Barbes Records’ Roots of Chicha anthologies have done for cumbia. Maybe in five years’ time the whole world will be listening to dhaanto.

That’s the slow, loping groove that propels the album’s first track, Nimco Jamaac’s  Buuraha U Dheer (The Highest Mountains). It starts out with an uneasily wavering, microtonal vocal improvisation and then morphs what sounds like roots reggae, except that this is a native Somali beat rather than slowed-down ska. It validates any argument that reggae isn’t a western hybrid but an original African rhythm!

Like many of the other tracks here, the instrumentation is spare: in this case, lo-fi synthesizer patches, guitar and drums. The flutter and wow from the original cassettes is still present, an early example of the longstanding African tradition of making albums on the best-available technology, in this case probably a boombox recording of a live show or a rehearsal.

The rest of the album is a mix of ballads and dance numbers. Bollywood-influenced high-soprano songbird Aamina Camaari’s Rag Waa Nacab iyo Nasteexo is translated as “Men Are Cruel and Kind” – maybe we should take that as a compliment! More likely, it’s a coded political message. Lyrics were censored under the Barre regime, so many of these lost-love songs are laments for a time free of repression or enemy invaders.

Calm crooner Ali Nuur sings a number whose title has been lost,  pouncing along with clangy, trebly guitar and ominous minor-key organ. Hibo Nuura’s acerbic, brassy, Afrobeat-influenced Haddii Hoobalkii Gabay (If the Artist Lets You Down), a late 80s tune, speaks to the perils of selling out at the worst possible time.

Gacaltooyo Band, fronted by chanteuse Faduumina Hilowle, are represented by Ninkaan Ogayn (He Who Does Not Know), a slow, haunting mashup of noir soul, Bollywood balladry, Ethiopiques and what sounds like J-pop – Somalian pentatonic scales come across as positively Asian in places here.

Iftin Band were one of the most popular state-sponsored acts from the 70s. They have two tracks here. The first is a similarly haunting, slinky duet by popular singers Mahmud Abdalla “Jerry” Hussen and Maryan Naasir,  Xuduud Ma Leh Xubigaan (This Love Has No Boundaries). The other, Anaa Qaylodhaankaan has snappy bass, smokily ominous organ and a guitar line that’s a dead ringer for Mark Knopfler.

Another popular early 80s group, Dur Dur Band have singer Muqtar Idi Ramadan crooning the gritty, soul and Ethiopiques-influenced Duruuf Maa Laygu Diidee (Rejected Because of My Situation), a smash hit about a romance imperiled by class discrimination. And one of the era’s biggest Somali singers, the stunningly tender-voiced Sahra Dawo, delivers Gorof (Elixir), which could be Men at Work with infinitely better vocals.

Watery chorus-box guitar, punchy organ and woozy, echoey vocals permeate Xasan Diiriye’s Qaraami (Love) – it’s one of the most psychedelic tracks here. Sharaf Band have Xaawo Hiiraan singing Kadeed Badanaa Naftaydani (Life is Full of Trouble), an aptly plaintive mashup of what could be I-Threes songstress Judy Mowatt and a Bollywood ballad.

4 Mars – another state-sponsored group – contribute Na Daadihi (Guide Us), an insistent Afrobeat-tinged number with blippy keys and brass. Danan Hargeysa. a northern band with Mohamed “Huro” Abdihashi out front, contribute the upbeat Uur Hooyo (Mother’s Womb), raising the question of whether or not Dr. Dre might have somehow discovered this stuff and nicked the keening synth for his own shtick.

Sharero Band, with the darkly nuanced Faadumo Qaasim on vocals,  deliver Qays iyo Layla (a Somali counterpart to Romeo & Juliet) with Afrobeat, roots reggae and Bollywood tinges. And Waaberi Band chug their way through the trippy Afrobeat instrumental jam Oktoobar Waatee? Waa Taayadii (What’s October? It’s Ours).

Much as many of these songs and artists have been iconic in the global Somali community for decades, this is brand-new to most of the rest of the world – and one of the best albums of 2017. And it’s available on double gatefold vinyl with a fascinating and informative thirty-page booklet.