New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: jam band

Endea Owens Brings Her Jazz Party to Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center, bassist Endea Owens emerged from behind the audience and earned a spontantous clapalong from the crowd on a brisk version of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, getting a growly, funky tone out of her shiny beige Fender Jazz model. The band simmered behind her: Jonathan Thomas on Rhodes, Shenel Johns and Jay Ward on vocals, and a three-piece horn section of Jeffrey Miller on trombone, Irwin Hall on tenor sax and Josh Evans on trumpet. What was coolest was how Owens stuck with tightly coiling riffs and steady walks instead of the slaphappy garbage some four-string people fall into when they plug in.

“The next song is an original composition called Feel Good. Before we get started, I just want to tell you why I wrote it.” The suspense was killing. “I wrote it because I wanted to feel good!” So much for awkward confessions in front of an audience.

Switching to upright, Owens gave her tune the same kind of spring-loaded, riff-driven groove, even during a long crescendoing solo, Evans choosing his spots to blast out of drummer EJ Strickland’s pummeling swing. Owens’ debut album Feel Good Music is due out later this month: truth in advertising.

Johns returned to ease her way airily into Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, the horns slowly rising to a jaunty series of dixieland-tinged licks. Hall matched the cheer of the original in an extended break; Miller chose his spots with a bluesy gravitas. When Johns got to “War is not the answer,” that’s where she really picked it up.

Owens is doing the same thing with soul music that the golden age jazz artists did with showtunes. “Feel good music means thinking about going back home – you’re going to hear a lot of Motown tonight,” the native Detroiter grinned. She likes Donny Hathaway: inspired by a good soundcheck, she scrapped her arrangement of Someday We’ll All Be Free for a simple, summery piano/vocal duet by Thomas and Ward.

Owens wrote For the Brothers in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, but now she sees her resolutely bouncy triplet funk number as something for everybody. “A lot of my friends went through troubles with police brutality…and just being slighted in life, It takes all of us, it doesn’t just take a song, it takes effort from all of us,” she reminded. Triggered by Thomas’ gospel solo, the crowd engaged themselves again.

Owens sent the whole band away for a solo piece, Yesterdays, in D minor, her favorite key as a budding bassist. It was a knockout: gritty and spacious to begin, then a defiant strut spiced with clenched-teeth eighth-notes and an unexpectedly somber ending. The band came back up for a bluesy ba-BUMP take of Can’t Get Next to You, echoed by a Johns/Owens duet of Quincy Jones’ Celie’s Blues.

A percolating minor jump blues also sizzled with Thomas’ sabretoothed modalities and Owens’ jubilantly striding lines. Owens and Johns tried teaching the audience the electric slide, without much luck. Then she and the band ran off to Dizzy’s Club a few blocks south to play a late-night set, where she’ll be through this Saturday night, Feb 15 at 11:30 PM for a measly $10. The mostly-weekly Thursday night free concert series at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. continues on Feb 20 at 7:30 PM with a high-voltage oldschool salsa dura dance party featuring longtime Tito Puente sideman John “Dandy” Rodriguez’s Dream Team band. Get there early if you’re going.

Rapturous Violin/Tuba Rarities at Barbes

“Some of my songs are based on basslines, but some of them aren’t,” Bob Stewart said enigmatically to the crowd at Barbes a couple of Saturday nights ago.. What’s the likelihood that the guy who’s arguably the best tuba player in the history of jazz would play Brooklyn, let alone the back room at this cozy Park Slope hotspot?

It happened. A handful of New York’s best low-register musicians came out along with the cognoscenti to catch him in a spine-tingling one-off duo set with violinist Curtis Stewart. They covered all the bases, from the muddiest lows to the most ghostly, whistling high harmonics. The tuba player is a known quantity as one of this century’s great blues musicians, but the violinist distinguished himself just as much with his edgy, oldtime gospel-infused lines, broodingly resonant vistas and searingly precise riffage.

The original compositions had a lot of intertwining melody between the lows and the highs, their composer seldom employing the kind of ostentatious, upper-register extended technique that a lot of tuba players like to show off: this guy is all about the melody. He marveled at what a great bassline the gorgeously latin-tinged Frank Foster ballad Simone has – and then reveled in that slinkiness as he wound those phrases upward, adding flourishes as the energy rose. One of the last songs in the set was a minor blues by Don Cherry with an unexpectedly strange turnaround. The duo closed with a mutedly regal, slowly shuffling, distantly New Orleans-flavored original.

Barbes is a rare small club that features tuba music on a regular basis: brass band Slavic Soul Party hold down a weekly Tuesday residency that starts at about 9 PM. As far as violin music there is concerned, haunting Turkish band Dolunay, with the brilliant Eylem Basaldi, are playing on Feb 28th at 8.

A Serendipitous, High-Voltage Live Album and Crown Heights Appearance from Gerald Cleaver

A rabbi, a minister and an imam walk into a bar.

They’ve all had a bunch to drink. Jazz plays over the PA: it’s obviously a live recording, and the band are cooking. They have a loose, comfortable, solo-centric camaraderie, over a floating swing. The three holy men try to figure out who’s playing.

The trumpeter enters with a wild volley, then digs in, hard and bluesy. “Is that Woody Shaw?” the rabbi ponders. “He was Jewish, you know. Woody Schwartz!”

The rabbi is kidding. He doesn’t have a clue who this is. The sax player is more suave: at one point, the pianist goes down in the lows with a snarl to see if he’ll take the bait and get all gritty, but he doesn’t. The bass player walks the changes furiously; the drummer is colorful and has the whole kit resonating.

“This is one of those situations where we’ll never know who this was. It’s just some random night that somebody had the presence of mind to record,” the imam asserts. That’s a Muslim thing: the Prophet tells us to chill because some things are beyond our understanding.

The minister has other things in mind. He asks the bartender, who tells him that the record is Gerald Cleaver’s Violet Hour, Live at Firehouse 12 (for the sake of the story, let’s say he’s streaming the thing from Spotify). If you want to be like these three wise men of dubious sobriety but impeccable taste, you can see Cleaver lead a completely different but similarly incendiary trio with Brandon Seabrook on guitar and Brandon Lopez on bass at Bar Bayeux in Crown Heights tomorrow night, Feb 5 at 8 PM.

If you’ve scrolled down this far, you’ve figured out that this is a party record. The middle of the lineup is allstar caliber, and future Hall of Famer JD Allen, on tenor, isn’t even the cleanup hitter. That might be trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, or multi-reedman Andrew Bishop, who sizzles here. Chris Lightcap is the bass player, with Ben Waltzer on piano.

The first track, the one that the three holy men happened to walk in on, is aptly titled Pilgrim’s Progress, meant to illustrate triumph over adversity. After that, Bishop switches between genially smoky bass clarinet and some slashing moments on soprano sax over the syncopatedly dancing, allusively latin-tinged groove of The Silly One, the rest of the band following in a darker mood.

From there they segue into Tale of Bricks, a grim oldtime gospel tune cached amid a busily stairstepping drive. It’s Exodus, movement of jah people, deciding that Pharaoh was a Silicon Valley boss and that ‘s time to take their talent elsewhere. Over about twelve minutes, Pelt chooses his incisions and then wails, as Allen does later; Bishop’s bass clarinet shivers and combusts. Told you this was solo-centric.

Carla’s Day starts out with a moody, distantly Frank Foster-ish vampiness, the daily struggle making way for better times, speeding up, slowing down. It’s the album’s most contiguous number; Allen’s whirls and spirals and dissections might be its high point. The bandleader’s rumble and Lightcap’s looming chords make the bridge to the defiantly swinging, even catchier, Brubeck-tinged Detroit, a shout-out to Cleaver and Allen’s hometown, This isn’t music for people with short attention spans but it is very entertaining if you have a long one, half a dozen road warriors captured doing what they do best, in good company.

Symphonic Lushness and Edgy Intensity from Wildly Eclectic Accordionist Simone Baron

Accordionist Simone Baron‘s debut album The Space Between Disguises, with her group Arco Belo – streaming at Bandcamp – has the lushness and epic sweep of classical music, the edge of the Balkans, the rhythmic complexity of jazz and the vividness of a film score. Just when you think it couldn’t get more eclectic,  she throws in brief interludes with loops and snippets of found sound in between songs. There are thousands of bands across Europe who mash up all these styles, but few here in the US.

The lush string overture introducing the album’s opening cut, Post Edit Delete, alludes to a famously overcast weekend song made famous by Billie Holiday. Then the group tipetoe through a Balkan-tinged violin theme. Baron plays piano on this particular number, dancing through the moody mist.

With its hazy swells and a coy bass/violin conversation, Angle of Incidence is more astringent, Baron’s accordion doubling bassist Mike Pope’s bubbly lines midway through. Who Cares is a gorgeously dark pastoral jazz vignette fueled by banjo player Mark Schatz’s enigmatic frailing. Dramatically incisive low-register piano, biting violin, austerely swirling strings, a bit of funk and warily unsettled accordion percolate throughout the epic mini-suite Passive Puppeteer.

The melancholic, singing quality of the strings and acccordion as the album’s title track gets underway is stunning; then all of a sudden it’s a loopy, marionettish dance that grows more haunting and lush. Baron reinvents Walter Bishop, Jr.’s Those Who Chant with an elegant gallop, then takes her time with the sweepingly plaintive Valsa, by Brazilian accordionist Tibor Fittel. The album’s concluding diptych, Buciumeana/Kadynja juxtaposes a gorgeous, klezmerish Moldovan theme with a Romanian folk dance appropriated by Bartók, complete with creepy music box-like piano and a killer handoff from accordion to violin.

A tour de force from a group that also includes drummer Lucas Ashby and the strings of Aaron Malone on violin and viola, Bill Neri on viola, Peter Kibbe on cello, plus violinists Nelson Moneo, Laura Colgate and Ellen McSweeney.

Purist Guitar Blues and a Ferociously Funny Anti-Trump Broadside From Dave Specter

As the historic events of the Trump impeachment continue to unfold, it’s past time to give props to the many American artists who’ve channeled this nation’s righteous rage at the fratboy-in-chief and his kleptocrat cronies. A standout among those musicians is Chicago blues guitarist Dave Specter, who was driven to singing on a record for the first time. The centerpiece of his album Blues From the Inside Out – streaming at Spotify– is How Low Can One Man Go? The lyrics are so spot-on, and the interplay between Specter and guest Jorma Kaukonen so purposeful, that you don’t realize the song’s just a one-chord jam:

Rich daddy dollars on a silver spoon
Telling lie after lie like a hot air buffoon
…Got millions of true believers like a cult on too much blow
Tell me how low can one man go?

March Through the Darkness, a Mavis Staples-inspired retro 60s soul anthem with some gorgeous Muscle Shoals guitar from Specter, is a shout out to everybody who’s heard a “loud wakeup call” to battle bigotry and oppression. And Sarah Marie Young takes the mic on the simmering, Memphis-tinged Wave’s Gonna Come.

The rest of the record isn’t particulary political, but it is a welcome throwback to the days when guys like B.B. King were still with us, playing tight solos and entertaining us with sharp, funny lyrics. And with his gritty voice, Specter acquits himself well on the mic. The album’s first track is the optimistic title cut: as he puts it, just because your Pontiac breaks down doesn’t mean you have to go off on a bender. The rest of the band – Brother John Kattke on piano, Harlan Lee Terson on bass and Marty Binder on drums – keeps a hard-swinging ba-bump groove behind Specter’s biting riffage and wry, aphoristic lyrics.

That’s the template for the rest of the tracks. The band work an understated, slinky New Orleans rhythm in Ponchatoula Way, bolstered by Mars Williams on tenor sax, John Janowiak on trombone and Ron Haynes on trumpet. Kattke switches to organ for the Meters-inspired Sanctifunkious.

The lyrics to Asking for a Friend are as sly as the modulation in the middle: if Albert Collins had been a Chicago guy, he probably would have sounded like this. The album’s big epic is Minor Shout, an expertly layered instrumental set to a tight clave beat, part Santana and part Ronnie Earl. Kaukonen and the horns return for The Blues Ain’t Nothin, a confident bounce with some fierce Airplane-style playing and one of Specter’s most subtly amusing narratives

Opposites Attract is LMAO funny, with tasty interplay between Kattke’s tumbling piano and Specter’s biting riffs. The group go back to a Meters strut with Soul Drop and close the album with String Chillin, Kattke’s gospel piano matched by the bandleader’s expansive, T-Bone Walker-style approach. Noteworthy background: Specter’s dad, Jerry Specter, was a Chicago community organizer who led a successful battle against a 1970s Richard Daley gentrification scheme. The land formerly occupied by an abandoned sanitarium is now a park and low-cost housing for seniors.

Specter’s next gig is Feb 9 at 9:30 PM on his home turf at Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S Wabash St. in Chicago; cover is $10.

Haunting, High-Voltage Balkan and Middle Eastern Sounds from Oud Mastermind Mehmet Polat

One of the most richly dynamic albums of recent months is Mehmet Polat‘s Quantum Leap, with his eclectic band Embracing Colours. The oud virtuoso and composer’s latest releas, a mix of influences from Andalucia to the Balkans and the Middle East is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Expanded Lives, is stunningly intense, a wounded minor-key anthem that builds to a long, flamenco-tinged, flurrying crescendo from the bandleader. Accordionist Bart Lelivelt joins the dance as it reaches a peak, then the rhythm section – bassist Hendrik Müller and drummer Joan Terol Amigo – pull the song back to more elegant drama.

They don’t waste a second to segue into Dancing Statues, a suspenseful accordion-bass conversation setting off a fiery, pulsingly insistent Balkan dance with a deliciously edgy, chromatic accordion solo, with the bandleader adding his own scampering, misterioso lines. Playing the Time Away is more pensive, with a series of carefree oud/accordion exchanges.

The band stay in animated dance mode with the tricky metrics of Falseta Mesopotámica, Polat firing off a percussively incisive solo, singer Ciğdem Okuyucu adding her spacious, ripely melismatic voice to the mix. They follow with Segue – good as that joke is, this bridge is a particularly interesting one, shifting from a kinetic scramble to a wary, brooding bowed bass solo, picking up with renewed intensity and eventually coming full circle.

Trumpeter Eric Vloeimans’ airy microtones join with the accordion to introduce the slow, stately, Palestinian-inflected anthem All Connected: with the trumpet moving into stark blues, it could be the album’s most hauntingly gorgeous track.

The aptly titled, saturnine Breathing Again is another stunner, Polat’s allusively chilling, spacious solo giving way to Imamyar Hasanov’s plaintive, imploring kamancheh fiddle. The quote at the end is too good to give away: let’s say it’s a happy ending appropriate for the current political climate.

The band follow Polat’s steady, sternly catchy solo piece Conveyed Emotions with Contemplation, a big, powerful, serpentine, Balkan-spiced showstopper. Then Polat and Müller edge their way into the shapeshifting Entropy – with the exchanges between Polat’s soaring vocals and Michalis Kouloumis’ stark violin, it’s the closest thing to current-day, electric Black Sea jazz here.

Lelivelt’s portentous accordion taqsim kicks off A Deserved Distraction – it seems designed as a welcome, pedal-to-the-metal diversion in the wake of so much haunting intensity. The group close with Aftermath, a grimly beautiful tableau that wouldn’t be out of place in the Mohammed Abdel Wahab catalog: Polat’s insistent, minimalist solo is impossible to turn away from. What a breathtaking record.

Polat’s next concert is on January 31 at at the Lutherkirche Sudstat, Martin-Luther-Platz 4 in
Cologne, Germany.

Top-Quality, Sonically Pristine, Previously Unreleased John Coltrane

Here’s a special treat: the new John Coltrane record. That’s kind of a joke: over the years, there have been many “new” John Coltrane records, most of them field recordings of varying quality, some where the iconic saxophonist was little more than a special guest. But Blue World – streaming at Spotify – is the real deal, the classic quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums laying down tracks for a 1964 Canadian film soundtrack that ended up never being used. The sound quality is excellent, heavy on the reverb. Although there’s nothing earth-shattering or new here, the performance is every bit what you would expect.

Trane plays exclusively tenor on this album. As with so many rare archival recordings from jazz’s golden age, there are multiple takes of the same song here. Is it worth sticking with three different versions of Village Blues? The band’s uncanny tightness reveals itself in the fact that each is almost identical in length. The variations in Jones’ deviously counterintuitive offbeats are as delicious as usual, the bandleader taking his time in purist blues mode. The first time around, with Tyner launching into a more majestically relaxed approach, Jones implying rather than shuffling the tune’s 6/8 groove, seems to be the charm. Still, it’s a lot of fun to see how these guys would tweak the material.

There are also two takes of Naima. Both are absolutely gorgeous; the second one’s more dynamic. The exchanges of roles between bandmates, from timekeeper to colorist, are a clinic in teamwork. The album’s tersely modal “title track” is so tight that it ticks; the bandleader is smokier and everybody cuts loose more, maybe because that’s what you have to do to keep what’s more or less a one-chord jam interesting. Jones’ thunderous rolls at the end are the funnest part of the record.

Like Sonny is a bossa-tinged platform for Trane’s playful Sonny Rollins-ish, mordent-like riffage. Garrison’s jaunty, solo second-line bubbles and chords introduce Traneing In, Tyner instantly turning it more circumspect and ambiguous as the band comes in, the bandleader’s uneasy blues and biting intensity reaffirming that almost sixty years later, these guys are still the gold standard.

Pianist Yoko Miwa Brings Her Purist Retro Sounds to Birdland

Artists who come from outside an idiom often have some catching up to do. In the process, some of them surpass others who grew up in that style. Yoko Miwa embodies a gritty, purist, 1960s take on jazz: the Japanese-born pianist’s music is a lot more about entertainment and tunes than insider snarkiness – or whatever it is that Snarky Puppy do. Her new trio album Keep Talkin’ is streaming at her music page. She’s playing Birdland on Jan 30 at 7 PM; you can get in for $20.

The album is a mix of originals and inventive covers, with a remarkable freshness and road-tested camaraderie: these expansive tracks really nail what she sounds like live. Miwa opens with the title cut, a vampy latin soul groove where she weaves in some uneasy Monkish harmonies toward the end. She’s a hard hitter, as she reaffirms in a dynamic, leaping take of In Walked Bud, focusing on Monk’s wary passing tones. Bassist Will Slater shifts between dancing melody and walking the changes hard as drummer Scott Goulding swings it toward New Orleans and then back.

Secret Rendezvous, a straightforward, syncopated clave tune is next, Goulding subtly pushing the beat with his tropical rimshots and a purposeful drum solo out. The Bill Evans-influenced, lyrical Sunset Lane manages to be ripplingly kinetic and bittersweet all at once. Miwa reinvents Charles Mingus’ Boogie Stop Shuffle as a stripped-down but no less turbulently bluesy showstopper.

She makes a diptych out of the Beatles’ Golden Slumbers and You Never Give Me Your Money, sticking close to the originals while adding an unexpectedly starry solo, picking up with a rather crushing attack on the second tune. The trio work a spring-loaded pulse in the understatedly brooding, modally-charged, intensely crescendoing Tone Portrait: it’s the album’s darkest track.

Miwa draws on singer Maria Rita’s waltzing version of the Brazilian ballad Casa Pre-Fabricada for a striking, emotionally direct sparkle. The pianist reinvents Joni Mitchell’s Conversation as a dynamically bristling, absolutely exhilarating gospel anthem that brings to mind Fairport Convention as much as, say, Mulgrew Miller. It’s one of the finest things Miwa has ever recorded: if only she could have given it a proper ending instead of a fade out!

If You’re Blue is a cleverly bluesy, straight-up swinging paraphrase of Puttin’ on the Ritz with bracing Monk references. Miwa closes the album with the epic, wistful ballad Sunshine Follows the Rain, guest bassist Brad Barrett adding moody washes and subtly sinuous melody, Miwa drifting into stern gospel territory once again.

Golden Fest: Best New York Concert of Whatever Year You Can Remember

It was early, a little before six, upstairs in the Rainbow Room Saturday night at the big finale to this year’s Golden Fest. A young mom with bangs in a simple black top and pants swung her daughter by the wrists. The two pretty much had the whole dance floor to themselves, and the little kid was relishing the attention. A friend of her mom’s joined them and took over the swinging.

Then the little girl decided she wanted to show off her dance moves – and schooled the two adults in how to get down to an edgy minor-key Balkan tune, in 7/4 time. Over the course of the next eight hours or so, she wouldn”t be the only preschooler who had those kind of moves down cold.

Many of those kids’ parents, or the kids themselves, are alumni of the annual Balkan Camp immortalized as the idyllic setting of Josephine Decker’s horror film Butter on the Latch. It seems like a great place to learn Romany dances or sharpen your chops on the accordion, or zurla, or gadulka. But not everyone who goes to Golden Fest every year goes to Balkan Camp, or has roots in the old country, or in Eastern European music. They just like minor keys, and chromatics, and what a lot of western musicans would call weird tempos (and eating and drinking too – there’s lots of both). Over the course of two nights every January, this is New York’s most entertaining music festival, year after year. At the risk of being ridiculously redundant, you’ll see this on the best concerts of 2020 page here at the end of the year.

The little girl, her mom and her friend were dancing to the sounds of Rodyna (which, appropriately, means “family”). That particular song had a rustic northern Greek or Macedonian sound to it, the women in the band singing stark and low, bouzouki player Joseph Castelli adding a bristling edge. A floor below, the Navatman Music Collective were joining voices in leaping, precise harmony throughout an ancient Indian carnatic melody.

Indian choral music at a Balkan music festival – with harmonies, no less? Sure. Over the years, Golden Fest has expanded beyond Serbian and Romany sounds to embrace music from all over: Egypt, Spain, and now, India. That’s where Romany music started, anyway. As the members of New York’s original Balkan brass band Zlatne Uste – who originated the festival, and were the centerpiece of the Friday night edition – view it, it’s all just good music.

To hell with the overcrowded, touristy Copacabana – this is the real Globalfest.

When careening Russian Romany dance band Romashka took the stage at about half past six, the big ballroom was pretty empty. As frontwoman Inna Barmash and violinist Jake Shulman-Ment took a couple of breathtaking cadenzas, was this going to be the year nobody came to Golden Fest?

Ha. About half an hour later, just in time for everybody to hear guitarist Jay Vilnai slink his way through an eerie, pointillistic solo, it was as if the floodgates broke and half of Brooklyn busted through the doors. In what seemed like less than five minutes, it was impossible to get through the expanding circles of line dancers. This party had a plan.

To the extent that you can bring a plan to it, anyway. Much as Golden Fest is one-stop shopping, a way to discover a couple dozen great new bands every year, there comes a point where Plan A and Plan B go out the window and you just have to go with the flow. In an age where social media is atomizing and distancing everyone from their friends, it’s hard to think of a more crazily entertaining way to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in months.

So this year’s agenda – to hang on the dance floor and catch as many of the headliners as possible, like a lot of people do – didn’t last long. Until the first distractions came into view, it was a lot of fun to discover Orchester Praževica, their surfy guitar and shapeshifting dance tunes from the southern side of the Danube. After them, it seemed that Slavic Soul Party spent as much time off the stage, in the middle of the floor surrounded by the circling hordes, as they did onstage. This time they didn’t do the Ellington, or much of the hip-hop stuff, as they’ve played in years past here; this was as close to traditional as this untraditional brass band gets.

While the Elem All-Stars were keeping the dancers going with their tight, purposeful Romany tunes, the first of the distractions led to some drinking – at Golden Fest, you really have to pace yourself – and a side trip to the atrium to see Wind of Anatolia playing their achingly gorgeous, lush mix of Turkish folk themes and cinematic originals.

The decision to give Danish klezmer band Mames Babagenush the main stage paid off mightily. They’d just played a bunch of relatively intimate Manhattan club dates the past weekend, so this was their chance to use the big PA and really rock the house, and their energy was through the roof, particularly frontman/clarinetist Emil Goldschmidt. Upstairs, legendary Armenian-American multi-reedman Souren Baronian and his band weren’t as loud but were just as mesmerizing, the bandleader’s burbling, microtonal sax and duduk matched by oudist Adam Good and bassist Michael Brown’s slinky riffage.

Gauging the most opportune moment to join the food line (Golden Fest has a buffet starting at around 10) was more of a challenge this year – but so what, that only opened up the door for more music. The first-floor Chopin Room is where most of the wildest bands on the bill play, whether onstage or, like more and more of them seem to do, under the big chandelier. Representing Brooklyn for the umpteenth year in a row, Raya Brass Band scorched and blasted through one pulsing, minor-key original after another. Greek Judas‘ set of searing heavy metal versions of classic Greek rembetiko gangster anthems from the 20s through the 50s had some people scratching their heads at first, but by the time they hit their second song, the room was packed once again. One of the security guys couldn’t resist giving the group the devils-horns salute and joined the dancers on the edge. Frontman Quince Marcum has never sung with more Athenian fury than he did at this show; Good, meanwhile, had put on a mask, put down his oud and strapped on a Strat.

By the time midnight struck, Lyuti Chushki – Bulgarian for “Red Hot Chili Peppers” – were keeping the dancers twirling in the ballroom, the food was down to babagenoush, pitas and an irresistible but short-lived spread of ajjar (a sort of Turkish red pepper hummous). In the top-floor room, Zisl Slepovitch (hotshot clarinetist the Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof) and his similarly sizzling klezmer band Litvakus were leaping to the top of their respective registers for a lickety-split, nonstop series of what could have been traditional Ukrainian tunes but were probably originals.

By one in the morning, if you’ve done things right, this is where the booze finally starts to kick in and the dilemma of where to go really hits home. The allstar Amerike Klezmer Brass in the ballroom, Klezmatics reedman Matt Darriau‘s five-piece Paradox Trio downstairs, or singer Jenny Luna’s haunting Turkish ensemble Dolunay? If you last any longer, you might discover that the calm, thoughtful-looking individual seated next to you during one of the early sets is actually a member of What Cheer? Brigade, the feral, gargantuan street band who took over both the stage and the dance floor to close the night. Meanwhile, there was a much quieter Turkish quintet still going strong on the topmost floor. You want to dance? Great. You want to chill? Golden Fest has you covered. Looking forward to 2021.

Big Lazy Bring Their Sinister, Slinky Noir Grooves Back to Barbes

Noir instrumental trio Big Lazy‘s two sold-out album release shows at the American Can Company building in Gowanus late last year were completely different. For a group whose usual sonic palette is a magically detailed but typically grim greyscale, that was unexpected – and obviously influenced by some devastatingly sad circumstances.

Frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich had lost his mom the previous night. Only a few hours before the first show, he’d played Cole Porter’s I Love You to her at her bedside – and the group, who typically don’t play many covers, reprised that with a gently starry, expansive instrumental take featuring Sexmob’s Steven Bernstein on trumpet. As far as emotional ironman performances go, this was right up there with Exene Cervenka’s gig the night her sister was killed in a car crash. Word spread throughout the venue; nobody knew how to react. Yet the pall over the space lifted as the band went on and played two long sets, the crowd hanging on every creepy chromatic and wry bent note. If there ever was proof of love being stronger than death, this was it.

The second night’s two sets were more boisterous. The Onliest, the desolately loping theme that opens the band’s latest album Dear Trouble, was especially dusky and spare the first time, but the group gave it a more sinisterly windswept take the second time around. There were unexpected treats from deep in the band’s catalog: the hammering Human Sacrifice, like Link Wray doing the Mission Impossible theme, on night two, and the gleefully macabre Skinless Boneless on night one. Bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Yuval Lion also dug in and cut loose more, the former finally indulging the crowd with a slap-happy rockabilly solo late Saturday night during a full-throttle, rat-a-tat take of Princess Nicotine.

The special guests fit seamlessly with the music: it was as if they were a regular part of the band. Miramar organist Marlysse Rose Simmons, with her funereal tremolo and murderously slinky riffs, completely gets this music. Baritone saxophonist Peter Hess, of Slavic Soul Party, added extra smoke on the low end. Bernstein provided disquieting animation on the highs, particularly when he picked up his slide trumpet for all sorts of bloody slashes and smears. And the guitar interplay between Ulrich and Marc Ribot, particularly on Ramona, a brooding quasi-bolero, had an especially bittersweet, saturnine depth.

Big Lazy return to their monthly Barbes residency this Friday, Jan 24 at 10 PM on the year’s best twinbill so far: ageless. Rapturous Armenian jazz multi-reedman Souren Baronian and his amazing band with Adam Good on oud open the night at 8. If you’re on the fence, you should know that this will be Big Lazy’s last Barbes gig for a couple of months. Although they’ve been playing around town more lately, they’re at their peak at what has been their home turf for the last six years.