New York Music Daily

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Category: jam band

Drop Party Bring Their Wildly Original Horn-Fueled Mashups to Alphabet City This Friday

Otto’s Shrunken Head is best known as a relic of a long-gone, gritty East Village punk rock scene – and one of the most notorious tourist traps in town on the weekend. Be that as it may, Otto’s was one of the first New York venues to reopen after live music had been criminalized in 2020. Vestiges of its second-gen claim to punk rock fame remain, and these days there are still punk and punk-adjacent sounds like ska and surf rock in the little back room on the off weekend. This Friday night, Jan 20 there’s a ska bill that looks pretty awesome, starting at 8 with Skappository – who are anything but anal – followed at 9 by Drop Party, one of the most original and unpredictable bands who sprang from the ska scene in the zeros. The mystery headline act call themselves Cenzo: good luck finding them on the web.

The centerpiece of the show is Drop Party. They play a wildly multistylistic blend of Crescent City brass band music, oldschool soul, ska, funk, classic disco and psychedelia, typically in the same song. Their musicianship is as tight as their jams are unpredictable. They put out a debut album, Lean Into the Wave, in 2018, which is still up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. Even better, they managed to regroup and put out a handful of singles last year, all of which you can snag for whatever you feel like paying, or not.

The first is Disco Ranger, which starts out as a straight-up wah-wah disco tune. But then the band turn it into a ferocious mashup, part New Orleans second-line march, hard funk and a wistful cinematic theme. New York used to abound with imaginative, outside-the-box horn-driven bands like this: the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Mamarazzi, Super Hi-Fi, to name a few.

The second single is Mental Health, which is more of a straight-up New Orleans tune, with blazing horns from trumpeter Dan Raccuia and tenor sax player Jacob Raccuia over the slinky swing of bassist Jake Krasniewicz and drummer Zach Rader. Guitarist Jeff Wickun contributes a couple of jagged, tantalizingly brief solos.

Likewise, the band rise from an undulating groove to a sprint and then a dubwise LA lowrider interlude in the third single, Horns Up. Wickun takes over the mic briefly on the last one, What Can I Say, a sly disco strut.

The album is also worth grabbing. It’s a lot harder and more solo-centric. The opening track is a darkly blazing ska tune that’s skittish bordering on frantic, with a smoky sax solo midway through. The Mountain is a cinematic gem, veering from roadhouse funk to getaway theme to icepick skank.

The first of the big epics is On the Up & Up, part classy 70s soul-jazz, part sunny roots reggae and eventually a hard-driving minor-key ska theme. In First Contact, the band veer from Booker T soul, to a second-line march, some oldschool disco and noir ska, with a goofy joke that’s too good to give away.

The band do the same in Big Harry, switching on a dime between noir ska, dub and bluesy, psychedelic soul. One Small Favour is twelve minutes of eerily lingering psychedelia, Lynchian soul, twisted circus rock and an irresistible trick ending.

The final cut Captain’s Orders, a wild mix of oldschool soul, action film score and smoky reggae. Grab this while it lasts.

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Trippy, Texturally Luscious Oldschool Soul Jams From the Ghost Funk Orchestra

When the World Economic Forum and the Gates Foundation engineered the fascist takeover of New York in March of 2020, Ghost Funk Orchestra bandleader Seth Applebaum bunkered down, wrote and got a new album out of it. He began the project as a one-man band, more or less, but by the summer of 2019, when the group got a rave review here for a midtown Manhattan show, they’d grown into a beast of an oldschool instrumental soul band.

Their latest album A New Kind Of Love – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most psychedelic and eclectic yet. The instrumentation and production is totally classic 60s: reverb on the guitar and drums, snappy trebly bass, plus layers of organ or vintage electric piano and horns in places.

The first cut, Your Man’s No Good is an artful mashup of Isaac Hayes vintage soul sprawl, Menahan Street Band crime-soul and a little Hugh Masekela. Track two, Scatter comes across as dub Isaac Hayes: hypnotic, spare bass riffage, chicken-scratch guitar beneath lingering chords, a tantalizingly snarling Applebaum guitar solo and a trick ending.

The loopy, dubwise vibe continues in Prism, a twinkling Hollywood Hills boudoir soul jam. Quiet Places is actually anything but quiet, a swaying, brassy study in lo/hi contrasts, grim fuzztone versus starry gleam.

The album’s title track is a two-parter: Applebaum shifts between slow, slinky Quincy Jones soundtrack noir and dub-infused funk in the first, then closes the album with the second, a hazy early 60s summer-house theme with a gritty psych-soul coda.

Megan Mancini sings Why?, a hypnotically catchy slow jam, then sticks around for Blockhead, a steady, vampy groove where Applebaum flexes some judicious jazz chops in tandem with flutist Brian Plautz.

Baritone saxophonist Stephen Chen floats and bobs over the latin soul shuffle of bassist Jeremy Stoddard Carroll and drummer Mario Gutierrez in A Song For Pearl. Then the band go back to a drifting milieu with Bluebell, a pensively swaying love ballad with Mancini on mic again. The closest thing to straight-up psychedelic rock here is the Doorsy next-to-last track, Rooted. So far 2022 has been a relatively slow year for psychedelia in general, but this is one of the most enjoyably immersive records of the year.

The Ragas Live Festival 2022, Part 2: Hits and Misses

This year’s return of the 24-hour-plus Ragas Live festival of Indian music and related sounds was so epic that it requires two parts to reasonably digest. The frequently rapturous first half was reviewed here yesterday. The second part was also often transcendent, with some issues.

Let’s tackle those and then get to the good stuff. You’re never going to see fusion jazz on this page: with rare exceptions, good jazz is basically acoustic music. So if you enjoyed the tropical midnight act and the interminable Moroccan fusion interlude yesterday afternoon, glad you had a good time.

It would have been fun to catch sitarist Abhik Mukherjee‘s set to begin the second half of the marathon. Who knew that a trip for coffee a little earlier in the morning would also have turned into a marathon, a much less enjoyable one.

Back at Pioneer Works, bansuri flutist Jay Gandhi took an absolutely harrowing detour, running variations on a haunting, wary chromatic theme with Ehren Hanson on tabla for what seemed the better part of an hour. Beyond Gandhi’s breathtakingly liquid, perfectly modulated sine-wave attack, the somber mood was impossible to turn away from. These are troubled times: nobody has channeled that with such subtle power in recent months as these two. Which made their clever and allusive permutations on a bouncy nursery-rhyme-like riff afterward such a stark contrast. And yet, the darkness lingered, if at a distance.

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, whose most recent specialty has become oceanic Middle Eastern big band jazz, followed with about an hour of brooding electroacoustic sounds. Starting off on a labyrinthine rack of analog synthesizers, he rose from enveloping ambience to an achingly gorgeous, regal solo trumpet fanfare in a moody Iraqi maqam. Next, he looped an austere, baroquely churchy organ processional, then employed it as a backdrop for a constellation of santoor riffs which echoed Gandhi’s pervasive angst. He wound up the set on vocals with a similarly cautionary clarion call, more or less.

Another santoorist, Vinay Desai kept the angst at redline with a saturnine tribute to the late, great Shivkumar Sharma, who left us this past spring. We don’t know for certain if the lethal Covid injection took him out. With Vivek Pandya on tabla, the two musicians developed an absolutely gorgeous, elegaic, allusively chromatic theme and variations. Remaining mostly in the midrange, Desai rose for the great beyond with a somber glimmer before bringing it down to a dirge and the tabla entered. As the hour went on, Desai’s ripples off the walls of the space echoed into a galactic drift. Eventually, the duo took the theme skipping into the stars, a sober but energetic farewell to a pioneer.

ElSaffar returned for a second turn on santoor, joining percussionist Zafer Tawil and violinist Sami Abu Shumays behind impassioned veteran Iraqi crooner Hamid Al Saadi. After the sober, stately initial march, the maqam singer would begin the rest of the set’s expansive numbers with darkly dynamic, rubato intros, one leading to a surprisingly subtle call-and-response with ElSaffar. A little later, the group made their way into a swaying, ebullient major-key tune with a starkly contrasting santoor-and- violin break. They closed with undulating, biting chromatic theme with even more lusciously intertwined santoor and violin and a machinegunning coda.

Violinist Arun Ramamurthy gets credit for the festival’s most pyrotechnic performance, a role he’s become accustomed to. This time out he had his Indian jazz trio with bassist Damon Banks and Sameer Gupta on drums. This was the symphonic Ramamurthy: in the boomy space, with the natural reverb bouncing off the walls, he was a violin army. Banks would typically shadow him, Gupta inventively doing a nimble churning groove with tabla voicings on his kit, as the bandleader made his way through a rising and falling epic in tribute to his ancestors, to moments of icy ambience as well as frequent excursions through the bluesy raga riffs that he likes to mine in this context. Nobody knows how to draw an audience in with foreshadowing and judiciously spectacular slides and stabs better than Ramamurthy.

After that it was dance time. All-female Moroccan trance-dance ensemble group Bnat el Houariyat, featuring New York’s Esraa Warda took over the stage and then stomped and twirled and spoke power to male hegemony.

In her New York debut, singer/dancer and mystic Parvathy Baul brought ancient archetypes to life in a fervent but utterly unselfconsciously spiritual set of Bengali ritual songs. Showing off a soulfully soaring, meticulously melismatic, carnatically-infused voice which took on a grittier edge as her set went on, she sang innumerable mythical metaphors and cheerily translated them for the English-only crowd. Moving from ecstasy to tenderness and then an acerbic insistence, she cut loose and reminded that crowd that the truth is like a lion. All you have to do is set it free. Or words to that effect. Let’s hope there’s a Ragas Live festival in 2023.

The Ragas Live Festival 2022, Part 1: The Magic Is Back

It was great to see the Ragas Live festival of diverse Indian and Indian-adjacent sounds return after a two-year absence. The Brooklyn massive at Pioneer Works last night wasn’t overwhelming, but by the time the concert was over this past evening, a raucous crowd had packed the house. That so many people would come out to the fringes of Red Hook on a raw, unwelcoming afternoon to see what by any standard would be considered niche speaks volumes about what audiences in this city have been missing since March of 2020. Whether that need will be filled in 2023 is a loaded question.

Since the all-night concert was such a feast, this first part concerns the past evening, with part two here. It’s been ten years since the all-night marathon first began in a radio station studio and quickly spread to a series of venues around town. Previous incarnations have been more jazz-oriented: this was a mix of frequently rapturous traditional sounds juxtaposed with more modern ones. Some of the segues were jarring, and the location was suboptimal: if you thought trying to score a cup of coffee at five in the morning in Manhattan was tough these days, try Red Hook, never mind Carroll Gardens. But the performances made the trip worthwhile.

Veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan, backed by Sriram Raman on mridangam and Shiva Ghoshal on tabla, was a fantastic choice of opener (she got a rave review here awhile back for her show at a venue which has since been weaponized in the ongoing mass murder campaign). She dedicated her bouncy, cheery first raga to the men in the house, alluding to how it’s time for the dudes to speak up, stand up and be counted. After the trio built to an immutable, imperturbable drive, there was a wry high/low exchange: the girls schooling the guys on what time it is, maybe?

She followed with raga Mohanam, which she described as an antidepressant: as she put it, releasing the gunk all the way up as the notes rise to the heart chakra. And her attempt at a singalong with the crowd actually worked! Parsing the theme from shivery, steady melismas to a fleeting, thorny complexity and a distant, starry sense of longing, the trio channeled a bustling, determined cheer into an equally imperturbable stroll: it was impossible not to get swept up in Ranganathan’s momentum. There was a wry sotto-voce duel with the mridangam; her interpolation of a call-and-response into the final charge out was masterfully subtle within the volleys of notes and bracing, hold-onto-your-seat ornamentation.

Kora player Kane Mathis and tabla player Roshni Samlal followed with an often celestial set. Samlal grew up in Queens listening to the Ragas Live broadcasts as a kid, and was psyched to be playing now as an adult (actually, she shows up pretty much every year). Mathis delivered feathery, harpsichord-ish waves with an effortless, weightless precision while Samlal drove the occasional unexpected crescendo up to the rafters.

A liltingly dreamy, syncopated number built around a circular kora riff featured the occasional striking polyrhythm by Samlal, who incorporates grooves from her Trinidadian heritage into the mix. Then they picked up the pace with the Mathis tune Rue du Jardin, set to a scampering. cumbia-esque beat.

A little after one in the morning, sarod player Manik Khan and tabla player Sudhakar Vaidyanathan played a tribute to the former’s father, the iconic Ali Akbar Khan to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Their first tune was a serioso evening raga which began with a searching alap built from the simplest ingredients. Khan dipped to a pensive interlude where he parsed the low strings, then subtly rose to an allusive stroll. This was raw magic.

From there he hung allusively as the pace picked up, landing on a chugging, moody theme. Hints of a heroic ballad punctuated by a few downward slashes and then a somber, low tremolo-picking interlude followed in turn He ended it it cold and sudden.

Next was Raga Kirwani, another evening piece, this one a theme imported from the south of the Hindustani subcontinent. Khan let this biting pavane of sorts resolve a lot more than the first number. Again, he hung in the lows for the most part, saving his upward stabs and a fleeting bluegrass flatpicking motif for dramatic effect. The two finally picked up – those slashes were real foreshadowing, but ultimately this was more about brooding intensity than pyrotechnics, even when Khan went pirouetting through an understatedly undulating groove. It made for a great segue.

Dawn of Midi’s Qasim Naqvi was up next with about an hour of Eno-esque electronic ambience. It didn’t have the slightest thing to do with Indian music, but it was pleasant and cocoony.

Sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan and tabla player Pranav Ghatraju went back to the fifteenth century for a couple of timeless pieces, the first beginning with an acerbically resonant, swoopingly ornamented alap. While it underscored the eternal appeal of the endlessly otherworldly microtones in Indian fretless string music, the set was also very riff-driven. The two made their way up to a rather stern, stark stroll, methodically building to a triumphant, heroic coda. They launched into a rather solemn processional with the second number, which they could have continued for twice as long, and nobody would have complained.

It was five in the morning when sax-and-synth loopmusic act Kroba built echoey, dystopically warbling soundscapes that went on for almost two hours. A little after expressive singer Samarth Nagarkar took the stage with Khan and tabla player Shank Lahiri, it became clear that despite the quality of his set, it would be impossible to get through the rest of the marathon without more coffee. More on that and the rest of the show in part two here.

A Solid Bargain Basement Rock Twinbill on the Lower East Tomorrow Night

Watching this city struggling to emerge from two years of a fascist lockdown and restrictions that devastated the arts and drove a substantial percentage of the population out of town has been eye-opening, to say the least. But there have been some positive developments lately. For one, we’re seeing a slow emergence of bands who were clearly good enough to be playing any dive in town in 2019, and weren’t – but they are now. Fault of venues who placed social media presence ahead of quality, most likely. Two of those bands – the eclectically catchy, occasionally 80s-tinged Sugar Pond and Stonesy jamband Hometown Unknown will be at the Delancey tomorrow night, Oct 8 at 7 PM; cover is $10.

It’s not an ideal segue, but both groups are worth checking out. Sugar Pond’s latest album, It Came From Sugar Pond, is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The first track, Missing the Point is an interesting take on a gritty late 90s Versus sound with a little 80s goth and a classic disco bassline from Andrew Megos. Frontman Nick Bernstein and his bandmate Jackson Cadenhead share guitar and drums duty on the record.

Track two, Mountain is a swirlier dreampop take on Tears for Fears. Artichoke is part catchy early 80s powerpop strut and part mid-80s Cure: “White room with a two-inch display, nothing there but nothing done today,” Bernstein reveals.

Die Wheel is a cheeky, very successful take on mid-60s Bacharach bossa pop with twinkling psychedelic touches. The last song is Let Me Squeem (Please Allow), a goofy folk-pop number.

The four guys in Hometown Unknown are first-class musicians. They love to jam; they love to emulate both the Stones and the Grateful Dead. They open their debut album – streaming at their music page – with a Stonesy rocker and then a beefed-up psychedelic funk tune with a sizzling guitar solo. Lester’s Lament, the third track, is a solid, tuneful take on Sticky Fingers-era Stones: it’s a bet the band play it tighter onstage than in this skittish home-studio recording.

Heavy Dreamer wouldn’t be out of place in the Blackberry Smoke tunebook, with a long jam at the end. The final song is a go-go soul shuffle.

The band also have a decent collection of Dead covers available as a free download. Here they’re shooting for what seems to be a peak-era mid-80s Dead vibe, as you can tell from the choice of songs. There’s a low-key, soul-tinged Althea, a Stones-ified Alabama Getaway, a thoughtfully vintage soul-style reinvention of Eyes of the World and a haphazard attempt at doing Going Down the Road Feeling Bad as a honkytonk tune.

Minibeast Open a Dark, Gritty Twinbill in Bushwick This Sunday Night

As this blog celebrates Halloween month, there aren’t a whole lot of particularly dark shows around town coming up. But there is one on Oct 9 at 9 PM at Our Wicked Lady, where Minibeast – the latest project from Peter Prescott, of Mission of Burma and Volcano Suns – opens for the explosively theatrical A Deer A Horse, who have gone in a more grittily postrock/industrial direction lately. Like a lot of trendier venues, the club seems oblivious to #cashalways and has embraced the nickel-and-dime electronic ticketing fad. That presumably means that cash customers will have fork over $14 even at the door.

Prescott got his start behind the drumkit in Mission of Burma, so it’s no surprise how percussive Minibeast’s new album, On Ice is. Their pounding, minimalist, icily noisy posrtock brings to mind Can, Savage Republic, Mogwai and Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd. There’s surreal spoken word in places behind the steady, hard-hitting, often hypnotic forward drive of bassist Niels LaWhite and drummer Keith Seidel. The album also features sax cameos by Either/Orchestra’s Russ Gershon on a surreal, uneasily drifting, loopy organ piece and Morphine’s Dana Colley on a funkier mid-70s Can-style jam. The best song on the record is a long, undulating noiserock raga.

But more apropos to this month here is Prescott’s solo album Horror & Suspense Themes For the Hole Family, which he put out last year and is also up at Bandcamp. It has a similarly loopy quality, but there are more darkly lingering, drifty cinematic tableaux as well. Shards of reverb guitar flit into the mix or mingle with simple, forebodingly circular synth or fuzz bass riffs. One interlude sounds like an early New Order instrumental; others are more dystopically ambient. They’d make good between-song segues at the Bushwick show.

The Dream Syndicate Return With a Haunting, Stomping Masterpiece

Much as the Dream Syndicate will always be best known for their volcanic jams, those unhinged duels wouldn’t mean much without frontman Steve Wynn‘s allusive, frequently menacing songs.

And just when it might have seemed that the Dream Syndicate had finally gone off on an odyssey to the far shores of jazz, they return with their most song-oriented album since their iconic 1982 release The Medicine Show. The resolutely shapeshifting jamband’s latest vinyl record, Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions – streaming at Bandcamp – is basically a light side followed by a dark side, with a trippy coda to bring it full circle.

Wynn’s songwriting is as novelistic, deviously allusive and counterintuitive as it has been ever since the band busted out forty years ago: is there anyone alive who has written more good songs? Hearing one catchy verse and chorus after another is a real mindfuck, in contrast to the slowly unwinding, symphonic AACM-rock epics on the band’s previous album, The Universe Inside, which was a rare bright light amid the relentless gloom of 2020.

The opening track, Where I’ll Stand has the classic Dream Syndicate backbeat sound, but with more of the dreampop swirl that Wynn has explored in recent years – and maybe a little Bowie in the mix too. The gist is “don’t bullshit me” – in more reflective, articulate terms.

Track two is Damian, a lithe 70s Tom Petty-style bounce that suddenly winds into one of Wynn’s signature series of unpredictable changes. His conspiratorial narrator seems to be telling his beaten-down bud that all omens aren’t necessarily grim. Lead guitarist Jason Victor fires off a tantalizingly sinuous guitar solo as it fades out.

“I’m a scrapyard and a barking dog, everything must go,” Wynn intones in Beyond Control, the band rising over drummer Dennis Duck’s brisk spacerock drive as keyboardist Chris Cacavas throws in a quirky mbira-like setting. Hearing Victor playing a skittish, staccato chorus-box pattern is a trip.

The Chronicles of You is a gorgeously vindictive, enveloping number glistening with layer after layer of guitars along with wafting horn harmonies from Marcus Tenney, who doubles on sax and trumpet. Wynn has been one of the great voices in rock noir for years, and this is prime: “Was it really scripted in the sky by your own private plane? Was it the undertaker’s arms that laid you down in the grave?” As usual, there are infinitely more questions here than answers.

Victor’s lapsteel and the horns resonate uneasily throughout Hard to Say Goodbye, a slowly strolling requiem for someone who couldn’t resist the lure of shiny objects that flicker. It comes across as pastoral Pink Floyd done Steve Wynn style, The band shift to a cyclotron take on the Jesus & Mary Chain in Every Time You Come Around, bassist Mark Walton rising to pierce the veil. “Tell me what you think is inappropriate, I’ll tell you why you’re wrong,” Wynn cryptically avers.

A searing Victor riff kicks off Trying to Get Over, a stampeding Wynn study in conman doublespeak. With Victor’s searing, careening lead lines, the song looks back to Wynn’s volcanic 90s work: say, the Melting in the Dark album.

Wynn’s rapidfire lyrics deliver a grimly aphoristic payoff in Lesson Number One, a withering portrait of someone slithering to move his own goalposts as damage control gets more complicated. It could also be a portrait of somebody recently scheduled for an exit from the NIAID – and could be the best song of the year.

The sarcasm remains at redline for My Lazy Mind, one of those tango-flavored struts that Wynn does so well. It wouldn’t be out of place in the Ward White catalog, all the way through the “curtain call from Frankenstein.” The album’s final cut is Straight Lines, a breathlessly charging garage rock number, the Seeds as played by mid-70s Can maybe. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2022 page here if we’re all still around..

Sizzling Afrobeat and Gospel at One of the Year’s Best Twinbills to Kick Off September

One of the best twinbills of the year is happening this Sept 1 at 7 PM at an unlikely spot, Baby’s All Right on the south side of Williamsburg, where psychedelic Afrobeat band Super Yamba share a bill with the rousingly soulful Harlem Gospel Travelers. The venue has reopened and the bands’ publicist advises that there are no restrictions; cover is $15 for what promises to be an awesome dance party. The venue webpage isn’t clear on who’s playing first, but it doesn’t matter because both acts are worth sticking around for.

Super Yamba have been one of the best party bands in town for several years. Kaleta, their frontman brings a deep background to the music after getting his start in Nigeria as a sideman with King Sunny Ade and then Fela Kuti in the late 70s.

Super Yamba’s most recent album Medaho came out in 2019 and is streaming at Soundcloud. The title means “big brother,” but in a good way. It’s a shout-out from Kaleta to his older brother, who is tragically no longer with us but was responsible for introducing the bandleader to Afrobeat.

The album is best appreciated as a cohesive whole, ideally with everybody on their feet. Throughout the playlist, organ swirls and blips tightly over strutting bass and drums. The opening number, Gogo Rock has a long, sinuous wah-wah solo from the bandleader. Track two, Mr. Diva has bitingly catchy minor-key brass riffage that Kaleta artfully picks up with his guitar as the song winds along, and a grittily insistent vocal: there’s no mistaking this for a dis!

Briskly stepping rhythms circle through Hungry Man, Angry Man as the organ keens and chirps overhead. The album’s title track is an edgy, practically punk jam with deep-space wah guitar and a clattering, circular groove. The band work a tastily quadrangulated, understated call-and-response from bass, to guitar, to organ and then horns in the next track, Goyitò

The rhythms get trickier in Jibiti, then the band kick into the Super Yamba Theme, pulsing along on the album’s catchiest bassline and stabbing horn interplay. It’s also the album’s most hypnotic interlude.

Adjotò is a big concert favorite and the most intense, careening number here. The band take the album out in a blaze of brass and staccato distorted guitar in La Gueule (Afro-French insult: “shut up”).

This blog has been in the house at several Super Yamba shows, in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The most recent one was a private event in Williamsburg in the fall of 2019; whether playing for the public or just the cognoscenti, they jam like crazy.

Colorful Guitar Icon Jim Campilongo Continues His Rockwood Residency

It took a long time after the lockdown, but Jim Campilongo made it back to one of his oldest haunts, the Rockwood, where he’s played an on-and-off monthly residency, practically since the venue opened in 2005. Revered in guitar circles, Campilongo is not quite as well known as Bill Frisell, but the two have much in common beyond erudite and eclectic chops. Each player infuses jazz with Americana and a frequent noir sensibility. And each has his shtick: Frisell with his loop pedal, Campilongo using the neck of his Telecaster for a wammy bar effect by bending it ever so slightly. His next Rockwood gig is in the big room on August 29 at 7 PM; cover is $15.

Right before the lockdown, Campilongo was spending a lot of time in low-key, intricate duo situations. But one of this blog’s favorite Campilongo albums, Heaven Is Creepy, goes all the way back to 2006 and remains one of his most picturesque releases to date. An added element of creepiness is the tragic loss of bass player Tim Luntzel, who was stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease and died eight years later. Like a lot of musicians have been doing, Campilongo has discovered the utility of Bandcamp as a marketing tool and has put most of his albums up there, including this classic.

The first track is The Prettiest Girl in New York, a cheery lattice of bluegrass licks and coy harmonics over drummer Dan Rieser’s shuffle beat. Track two, Monkey in a Movie is a wry, slightly skronky strut with moments for the rhythm section to gnaw on the scenery.

There are two versions of the album’s first cover, Cry Me a River. The first is an instrumental. Campilongo’s surreal, slipsliding, lapsteel-flavored licks never quite coalesce out of an increasingly agitated, psychedelic thicket, shades of Dave Tronzo, until the very end. The second, with Norah Jones on vocals, is faster and more straightforwardly haunting, even if it isn’t on the same level as Erica Smith‘s shattering version with Dann Baker on guitar.

The album’s darkest and best track, Mr & Mrs Mouse veers all over the place, from Campilongo’s bracing wide-angle chords, to horror surf, to a cynically tiptoeing cha-cha that could be Big Lazy. Then the trio bring it down with the skeletal, brooding rainy day theme Because You Like Trombone.

Hamster Wheel (Slight Return) is a swampy trip-hop theme. Menace is less outright creepy than sardonically skronky, when Campilongo isn’t leading the trio scampering through Django Reinhardt’s shadow. The album’s chromatically snarling title track could just as easily be called Creepy Is Heaven: it’s the most enigmatically ominous, disquietingly strange tune here.

Nellie Bly, as Campilongo seems to see the prototypical investigative journalist, is a Beatles fan with a vintage country streak. The final cut on the album is Pepper, part lullaby, part suspense film theme. It says a lot about how much ground Campilongo can cover in under five minutes. There’s also a brief, aptly Victorian-flavored cover of Beautiful Dreamer with Martha Wainwright on vocals.

The Sun Ra Arkestra Make a Welcome Return to a Laid-Back Outdoor Williamsburg Space

As far back as the 90s, the Sun Ra Arkestra had become a fixture on the New York summer outdoor festival circuit. A Central Park twinbill with Sonic Youth earned the sprawlingly cinematic jazz ensemble a brand new audience with the indie rock crowd. In the years immediately leading up to the 2020 lockdown, they’d been scheduled to play a more intimate space than usual, the courtyard at Union Pool. As it turned out, it took a few cancellations and some rescheduling to get them there. That’s where they’ll be this August 28 at around 3 PM. Under ordinary circumstances, it would make sense to get there early. But the circumstances we face today are anything but ordinary, and in a city that by some estimates has lost a quarter of its population, there probably won’t be an overflow crowd (and if there is, you’ll be able to hear the missing link between P-Funk and the Art Ensemble of Chicago just fine from the sidewalk around the corner).

The Arkestra were DIY pioneers, releasing much of their legendarily voluminous output themselves. Today, most of those original recordings, along with limited-edition pressings on long-defunct European free jazz microlabels, command auction-level prices on the collector market. Serendipitously, the group have been digitizing and re-releasing select albums from throughout their career. The latest one to hit their regularly updated Bandcamp page is the 1983 recording The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab In Egypt, a collaboration with the Cairo Jazz Band. It’s noteworthy for being a slinky, sometimes haphazard, utterly psychedelic collection of compositions by pioneering Egyptian jazz composer, percussionist and bandleader Salah Ragab.

The first track is Egypt Strut, a surreal mashup of a New Orleans second-line groove, a chromatic Middle Eastern-tinged theme and the blues. In Dawn, the second track, the groups combine to balance a blithe flute tune against galloping percussion, followed by a cantering, hypnotically circling theme echoing sounds from the southern end of the Sahara.

Ramadan begins with a muezzin-like call-and-response, then the ensemble flesh it out with darkly dramatic vocals, horns and tumbling drums followed by a biting solo from the bandleader – who went back to Saturn to stay in 1993 – and a spirited flute outro with a nod to Take Five.

Oriental Mood is the catchiest and hardest-hitting track here, with jajouka-like brass, animated sax solos and piano. The ten-minute Farewell Theme is a more robustly orchestral series of variations on that theme, and considering the length, about twice the fun. Throughout the album, Sun Ra switches between glimmering, echoey Fender Rhodes and organ, backed by punchy massed horns, and sailing and spiraling solos. How does all this sound compared to the group’s sound now? Much the same, if you leave out the distinctive Middle Eastern and North African references.

The last time this blog was in the house at a show by the Arkestra, it was at the Union Pool courtyard, over the Labor Day weekend in 2018. The crew onstage were a mix of veterans, some of whose time in the group went back to around the time of this album or before, along with some more recent additions. The yard was crowded but wasn’t completely sold out, and the group’s long, slowly crescendoing trajectories kept everyone on their feet.