New York Music Daily

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Category: jam band

Edgy Chromatics and Slinky, Otherworldly Sounds at This Year’s Greek Jewish Festival

The most esoterically enticing concert of the year so far is tomorrow afternoon, May 15 outside a Chinatown synagogue. Not all the music at this year’s annual Greek Jewish Festival is either Greek or Jewish, but it sure is good. It’s a lineup worthy of Golden Fest, the festival of Balkan and Balkan-adjacent sounds which for the better part of forty years has been one of this city’s most deliriously entertaining annual events.

This somewhat smaller but auspicious lineup begins at noon with the bouncy Elias Ladino Ensemble, followed by the Greek American Folklore Society band, the Noga Group featuring oud sorcerer Avram Pengas, bellydancer Layla Isis, psychedelic oud-rocker Scott Wilson & Efendi and the stark, haunting Pontic Firebird (best bandname ever, right?) headlining at 5. The Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum, where all this takes place, is at 280 Broome St. between Allen and Eldridge; the closest train is the B/D to Grand St.

The last time this blog was in the house for one of Wilson’s shows, he was playing with an excellent Middle Eastern pickup band on the back of a flatbed trailer at the 2018 Atlantic Antic street fair. Before that, it was a lot of fun to catch his set with his somewhat harder-rocking, electric group Efendi the previous January in one of the side rooms at Golden Fest.

There’s a little bit of that show up at the recently resuscitated Free Music Archive available as a free download, along with a full set from four years earlier. That one is a tight mix of mostly well-known habibi dance standards from the 1950s and earlier. It’s not clear who’s in the band, but there’s a kanun rippling away, an electric guitar, percussion and what could be Wilson’s custom-made triple-necked axe which is part oud, part baglama and part saz. The recording quality is excellent, without much audience noise. Wilson hits the stage (or the sidewalk) tomorrow afternoon at four.

Whirlwind Violin Metal at a Favorite Uptown Spot Tonight

“Your prism is just a prison,” Stratospheerius frontman/violinist Joe Deninzon sings on the band’s latest single, Prism – streaming at Bandcamp – which they recorded live at the Progstock festival in New Jersey in 2019 . It’s surprisingly mellow for such a ferocious band, who dance through the tricky rhythms of this characteristically ambitious blend of 70s stadium rock and artsy metal with Andalucian violin flourishes. They survived the lockdown intact and are back tonight, May 12 at 11 PM at a favorite Manhattan spot, Shrine. The Harlem venue is a scruffy little place which is not known for being particularly organized. Considering the location, it’s highly unlikely that there are any apartheid door restrictions.

The band have another single from the Progstock show, Game of Chicken, which is also up at Bandcamp. Moving through clustering minor-key riffs, the band build to a ferocious guitar/violin duel on the way out. “Drowning in the false alarmers…Chicken Little is hungry for you, on your way to your alley of doom,” Deninzon sings: a prophetic statement from right around the time the Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins were staging Event 201, the final rehearsal for the 2020 plandemic.

A third single, Cognitive Dissonance, could be the Alan Parsons Project at their heaviest and most complicated.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Stratospheerius show, it was in late May, 2018 at Gold Sounds in Bushwick on a killer twinbill with another tyrannosaurus of a band, Book of Harmony. Tragically, there is no field recording of the show in the archive here, although Book of Harmony did have the presence of mind to put several songs from a Drom show earlier that year up at youtube. Their band’s lone album is still up at Soundcloud: serendipitously, the oceanic first track is titled Echoes of Freedom. Less serendipitously, the band did not survive the lockdown.

That album features the band’s original singer, Leah Martin. By the time the group reached Bushwick, they had a new singer, an Asian woman with a dramatic intensity that may have been influenced by pansori or kabuki theatre. Bandleader/lead guitarist Anupam Shobhakar is also an accomplished sarod player and has a background in Indian music, which translated less in terms of riffage than long, labyrinthine, rhythmically impossible tone poems that seemed to go on for fifteen minutes at a clip.

If memory serves right, Stratospheerius headlined (the master concert list here isn’t clear on that). Deninzon was a whirlwind onstage, leaping down into the crowd and firing off lightning, Romany-flavored cascades of notes while the band pounced and roared behind him. The metal intensity grew as the show went on, the guitarist’s flurries of tapping entwined with Deninzon’s shivery, supersonic volleys. The crowd grew slowly, to the point where Deninzon actually had to dodge audience members as he spun across the floor in front of the stage. He may have to stay put at Shrine where there is less room for those kind of shenanigans.

Simmering New Songs, Oldschool Salsa Grooves at Pedrito Martinez’s Drom Residency

Percussionist Pedrito Martinez is a New York institution. He came out of Cuba to become a prime mover in the revitalization of this city’s salsa scene at a time when it had gone soft with salsa romantica. Until the lockdown, he held down weekly residencies at a long series of venues. This blog has witnessed his rumbling, dynamically shapeshifting live show at both small-club and big mainstage jazz festival appearances. Either way, he and his band jam like crazy. Martinez’s next gig is his now-monthly residency at Drom tomorrow night, May 12 at 7 PM; as of right now you can still get a $20 advance ticket.

As you would expect at an Alphabet City venue, the Drom shows are a dance party for what’s left of a vital, long-entrenched neighborhood Puerto Rican contingent. You can get a table with your friends, but by the end of the show, a little before nine, everybody’s on their feet. If you’re lucky, Martinez will show off his chops on bass as well as behind his huge rack of congas and other bangable objects.

Martinez also distinguishes himself by writing original tunes rather than just rehashing the classics. He has a new single, My Father’s Eyes, a characteristically slinky, swaying duet with Eric Clapton infused with some gospel-tinged piano as well. The gist of the song is what how our ancestors would react to the pivotal historical moment we find ourselves in right now.

Martinez and the blues guitar icon – who in the last couple of years has reinvented himself as a freedom fighter – have another single, Yo Si Quiero, with jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett. Don’t let the twinkly electric piano intro fool you – Garrett digs in as hard with his soprano sax as Martinez does on the mic and Clapton does in his tantalizing cameo, against a blippy psych-salsa backdrop. That blend of ferocity and finesse says a lot about where Martinez’s live show is these days.

An Aptly Restless Album and a Red Hook Gig From Genre-Defying Pianist Gabriel Zucker

Pianist Gabriel Zucker has carved out a distinctive niche as a leader in the New York improvisational music scene. He is an anomaly in that he has a strong neoromantic classical sensibility, and likes to both muddy the water (or clear the skies) with electronics. His songs can be incredibly tuneful one moment and messy the next. His latest album Leftover Beats, was recorded live in the studio on the Fourth of July, 2019 is streaming at Bandcamp and is more of an art-rock record. David Bowie and Radiohead are the most obvious influences.

Zucker’s spare, lingering, wistful phrases quickly dissolve in a chaotic whirlpool as the album’s title track gets underway, guitarist Tal Yahalom’s dissociative phrasing sliding closer to the center as drummer Alex Goldberg drives this babelogue upward to A Day in the Life, more or less.

The group follow a bit of a Radiohead-flavored interlude into the second number, Shallow Times and its snidely loopy late 70s Bowie-esque art-rock drama. Yahalom slips into the skronky Adrian Belew role.

“I used to write so much more than I do, I used to fall in love so much more than I do,” Zucker intones with more than a hint of angst in Songbird, a bittersweet ballad livened with Goldberg’s tumbling drums. It’s the missing link between the Grateful Dead and peak-era mid-zeros Botanica.

The trio veer from a lingering ballad to a cascading art-rock crush in Someone to Watch You, Part 2. Drunken Calypso definitely sounds drunken but not particular Caribbean, each band member squirreling their way toward an emphatic unity, Predictably, Zucker completely flips the script with an attractive take of the Dirty Projectors’ Impregnable Question, a ballad without words. He returns to a mashup of Radiohead, Botanica and jazz poetry to wind up the record with Someone to Watch You, Part 3.

Zucker’s next gig is May 15 at 7 PM at the Red Hook Record Store on Van Brunt just before you hit Pioneer; it’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the front of the downtown F train at Carroll St. Take First Place all the way to Summit, go over the pedestrian bridge, make a u-turn and then follow Summit past the playground triangle and hang a left on Van Brunt.

Ayumi Ishito Brings an Adventurous, Outside-the-Box Trio to Chinatown

Even in communities that support the arts, jazz musicians often get pushed to the fringes. The last two years’ insanity in New York has exponentially increased that marginalization for artists in general. Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito has been one of the more resourceful players in town: she was one of the first to resume performing during the brief window of opportunity in the summer of 2021, and she’s maintained a steady schedule in recent months playing a lot of out-of-the-way venues as restrictions have been dropped. Her next gig dovetails with both her adventurous improvisational sensibility and her most recent album as a leader. She’s opening a twinbill on April 26 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery with soundscaper Damien Olson and Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. They’re followed by a second trio with Aaron Edgcomb on percussion, Priya Carlberg on vocals and David Leon on sax. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

Ayumi Ishito & the Spacemen Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s her most experimentally ambitious release to date, a mix of trippy electroacoustic pieces featuring Theo Woodward on keys and vocals, Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. Jake Strauss doubling on guitar and bass and Steven Bartashev on drums.

Squiggles quickly give way to a collective shimmer and fragmentary acoustic and electric guitar riffs as the first number, Looking Through Ice drifts along, Woodward adding Indian inflections with his vocalese. Beyond the guitar and vocals, it’s hard to distinguish the rest of the instruments – Ishito using her pedalboard here – until Strauss introduces a gently swaying, Grateful Dead-like theme and Bartashev picks up the clave with his echoey tumbles.

Shifting sheets, dopplers and warpy textures drift through the mix in the second track, Hum Infinite. Strauss finds a center and builds around it, on bass; Ishito’s wry, dry bursts evoke a EWI. The group slowly reach toward an organ soul tune, then back away as Ishito emerges acerbically from behind the liquid crystal sheen.

Track three, Misspoke is irresistibly funny, Ishito and Woodward chewing the scenery, impersonating instruments real and imagined. Strauss’ blippy bass and Bartashev’s tightly staggered drumming propel Folly to the Fullest to tongue-in-cheek hints of a boudoir soul tune, Ishito floating overhead,

Night Chant is an entertaining contrast in starry, woozy electronic textures and goofy wah-wah phrasing from Ishito: stoner electro-jazz as fully concretized as it gets. The final cut, Constellation Ceiling, is a launching pad for Ishito’s most amusing indulgences with the wah,, eventually coalescing into a bit of a triumphant strut, We need more unserious improvisational music like this.

Revisiting One of the World’s Most Intriguing Guitarists in an Intimate Space

For more than two decades, guitarist Jim Campilongo has carved out a distinctive, erudite, energetic niche somewhere between jazz, surf rock and film noir music. For almost as long, he’s had an on-and-off residency at the various Rockwood rooms. In 2017, he finally got around to making a live album there with his long-running trio of Chris Morrissey on bass and Josh Dion on drums. That album is still streaming at Bandcamp, and Campilongo has returned to his old haunt. His next appearance there is April 25 at 7 PM in the big room; cover is $15

Obviously, considering how Campilongo’s music continues to evolve, a listen to the live record isn’t necessarily a good idea what his live show is about these days. His most recent album is even more intimate, an intricate, sometimes spare duo record with fellow six-stringer and Morricone fan Luca Bendedetti. It’s full of surprises: their quarterspeed version of Chopin’s Minute Waltz is a hoot. Much as Campilongo’s studio material is all worth hearing – his 2006 album Heaven Is Creepy is this blog’s favorite – live is where he excels most.

Is that a vintage repeaterbox he’s using on the intro to the live record’s first song, I’m Helen Keller and You’re a Waffle Iron? Maybe. It comes across as a more restless, ornamented take on Big Lazy noir skronk. The way he builds up to a scorching, circling series of sus chords is a clinic in tunesmithing – or creating a melody out of thin air.

The second number, Big Bill is a squiggly strut, Dion kicking up the dust as Morrissey shadows the bandleader and eventually gets his amp burning with a long, emphatic series of chords. Imagine Mary Halvorson playing a John Zorn noir surf tune and you wouldn’t be far off.

Dion sings the spare, sophisticated, angst-fueled blues ballad Here I Am, Campilongo defying gravity on the long ladder upwards. In what’s titled the “Jimi Jam,” he detunes his Telecaster, indulges in some of his signature neck-bending, fires off a handful of foghorn slide riffs and keening harmonics among his gritty chords. There are no distinguishable Hendrix licks.

Nels Cline guests on the album’s big epic, Cock and Bull Story, adding incisive Middle Eastern riffs and noisy haze against Campilongo’s biting, chromatic theme, the rhythm section keeping a tense pulse. The duel that follows, Cline first trailing and then engaging with the bandleader’s unhinged vintage Velvets squall is blissfully adrenalizing.

There are echoes of styles as different as Jerry Garcia spacescapes and Tal Farlow Americana swing in Sal’s Waltz, a more-or-less rubato tableau with Morrissey and Dion hanging on the fringes.

Cline returns for There You Are, a wistfully wafting theme that foreshadows where Campilongo would go with Benedetti almost five years later. The final number is Jim’s Blues, a loosely expansive launching pad for erudite Chicago and western swing-influenced clusters, a searing, machete coda and even a little Link Wray. Campilongo has so many ideas up his sleeve that it’s always a wild guess where he’s going to go next.

Jamband Legends Blackberry Smoke Tackle the Stones Just in Time For 4/20

Beyond the band at your local bar butchering Honky Tonk Women or Brown Sugar, consider how few Rolling Stones covers there really are. That’s because it’s not as easy to play them as it might seem.

Seriously – if you’re going to cover some other band’s song, you either have to do it better than the original, or completely differently…or pretty much note for note. That last approach is the one that Blackberry Smoke take on their brand-new vinyl album Stoned, streaming at Spotify just in time for 4/20.

Interestingly, the band focus mostly on one specific period in Stones history, with tracks from Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. Most of this stuff is iconic. How does it come off? Pretty damn well.

The level of craft here is meticulous but not stuffy and reverential: these guys nail the simmering tube amp atmosphere but also the pervasive, doomed cynicism of the originals. Guitarists Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson latch onto the slide-driven swagger of the first track, All Down the Line – and Starr enunciates way better than Mick Jagger. Bassist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner are a little more four-on-the-floor than Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts; Brandon Still’s spare, Nashville-inspired piano is an improvement on the Exile version.

“It’s just that demon lie that got you in its sway” – how cool is it to actually hear the lyrics to that one? The guitar sonics are an eerie approximation of the opiated original, Still’s echoey electric piano enhancing the vibe.

As Still’s organ rises in the mix in Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, the band switch out the lowrider soul for a more psychedelic approach. Tumbling Dice is more chill and focused than the original – and Jagger’s endless gambling metaphors are actually pretty clever! Who knew!

The band move forward in time a few albums for a second-gen cover, Just My Imagination – arguably the best one the Stones themselves ever did. This one doesn’t have the unleashed roar of the Some Girls version. Good song, solidly played.

Likewise, I Got the Blues – the real gem among the deep cuts on Sticky Fingers – is sketchier than the original. The band close with a ripsnorting take of Street Fighting Man, a great choice: they do to it what the Stones did to Just My Imagination.

How good does all this sound if you’re stoned? You be the judge. It takes a lot of memory to run a music blog, in every sense of the word. Blackberry Smoke’s next stop on their latest tour is tomorrow night, April 21 at around 8:30 PM at the Norva, 317 Monticello Ave. in Norfolk, Virginia. Another solid southern-fried band, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos open the night at 7:30; cover is $27.50.

Yet Another Tab of Treats on the Latest Brown Acid Compilation

Every year, in celebration of 4/20, the warped brain trust behind the Brown Acid vinyl compilations release a new volume in the series. The initial concept focused on resurrecting rare heavy psych and proto-metal singles from the late 60s and early 70s. As the years went on, the project grew into a quasi-solstice celebration, twice a year, and began to encompass heavy funk as well as the occasional thrashy, garagey R&B or protest song, which makes sense considering that a lot of this music dates from the Vietnam War era. The brand-new fourteenth volume – streaming at Bandcamp – is a characteristically wide-ranging and entertaining celebration of stoner excess. For whatever reason, this one is somewhat more pop-oriented: Nuggets on Thai stick.

The first track is Fever Games, by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania band the Legends. Stoner boogie gives way to heavy funk in this 1969 Hendrix homage with a devious Little Wing quote – not the one you think – and Iron Butterfly drums.

Detroit duo Mijal & White’s 1974 B-side is a throwback to early heavy British pop bands like the Herd: some excellent extrovert drum work here. The real rediscovered gem on this playlist is Texas band Liquid Blue’s 1969 obscurity Henry Can’t Drive (why can’t he get behind the wheel? Guess).. Lead guitarist Ted Hawley would go on to become an important figure in Texas blues: his slithery multitracks here are exquisite.

The San Francisco Trolley Company were actually a Michigan band, represented by their fierce 1970 original, Signs. With the group’s cheap amps spewing dust-bunny overtones, it stands up strongly alongside the heavier Detroit acts of the era like SRC.

The contribution from West Virginia garage rock project Blue Creed is pretty generic. One of the most obscure but tightest and catchiest tunes here is Play It Cool, Transfer’s slyly shuffling, slightly surfy 1974 shout-out to stoners on the DL. Even less is known about Appletree, whose cowbell-driven single You’re Not The Only Girl (I’m Out To Get) is built around some tightly scrambling lead guitar work.

There’s an interesting blend of Beatles and Hendrix in I’m Tired, by Chicago collar-county area band Cox’s Army. The last song is the Columbus, Ohio crate-digger favorite Raven’s 1975 mostly one-chord jam Raven Mad Blues, a prime example of the extreme hippie self-indulgence the Brown Acid records sometimes descend into. Punk rock was born as an antidote to monstrosities like this – although as a comedic coda to this latest installment, it’s pretty priceless. May there be many more.

Anouar Kaddour Cherif Releases an Inimitably Gorgeous North African Album

Anouar Kaddour Cherif’s axe is the mandola, the gorgeous, woody-toned North African lute, akin to an oud with a larger body and expanded upper register. The Algerian expat’s latest album Djawla – streaming at Bandcamp – is a deliciously edgy mashup of North African Arabic music and Balkan jazz. Cherif’s songs are unpredictable: dirges burst out into scampering, deftly syncopated dances and vice versa when least expected. It’s closer to chaabi or Turkish diasporic styles than it is jazz, and his quartet play briskly but with a striking economy of notes: noodling not allowed here. There’s really nothing quite like this out there.

In the opening track, Sans Pap the group take a slinky chromatic riff, go scampering, then slow it down, the mandola and Clément Meunier’s tersely looming bass clarinet over the lithe, understated pulse of Antoine Brochot’s bass and Hannes Junker’s drums.

Meunier’s aching, desolate, duduk-like upper register flutters over Cherif’s spare riffage as the group slowly make their way into Albatross over an ominous bass drone. Eventually they pick it up – and suddenly the bird breaks free of its shackles! Was this inspired by the Baudelaire poem maybe?

Likewise, Cherif backs away from his scrambling opening taqsim for more plaintive bass clarinet to introduce Savage Butterfly, then the band scramble and team up for bristling chromatic harmonies over a tricky dance beat. Brochot opens Call of the Night with a mysterious, skeletal solo before Cherif’s Lynchian chords enter from the shadows, only to back away, leaving just the rhythm section and low-key vocals.

Neatly orchestrated echo effects shift between instruments in Sirocco, a return to tight, rapidfire syncopation, with a break for spare, misterioso solo mandola. The band hint at the Pink Panther theme, slowly building Automne Occidental into a slow North African noir blues and then a briskly circling, vampy theme.

A True Lie is an ingenious, seemingly halfspeed take on what would otherwise be a lickety-split dance tune that would be just as much at home in Macedonia or Turkey as Algeria. Virgule – French for “comma” or “decimal point,” depending on context – is the loopiest and most rhythmically straightforward track here, with playful exchanges between the instruments. The group wind up the record with Amiret Erriyam, a loping, stately anthem in the biting Arabic hijaz mode with a tasty microtonal bass solo at the center.

Some Killer Rare and Unreleased Sonic Youth Rescued From the Archives

Other than field recordings, is there anything left in the Sonic Youth vault worth hearing that hasn’t already been released? As it turns out. yes, and some of it is prime! It’s a bit of a shock that several of the tracks on the new album In/Out/In – streaming at Bandcamp – haven’t surfaced until now. These rare and previously unreleased cuts date from the final decade of the most influential rock band of the past forty years.

One-chord jams, or close facsimiles, predominate here. In the case of one song, In & Out, a very late-period outtake, it’s amusing to watch SY turn into Yo La Tengo, a band they influenced so profoundly. Over Steve Shelley’s surprisingly muted, galloping rhythm, the guitarists assemble starry, chiming accents amid a warm drone laced with occasional flickers of feedback and Kim Gordon’s breathy, allusive, wordless vocals.

The opening instrumental is a false start: it could be your band, or anyone else’s, hesitatingly jamming out a two-chord Velvets vamp. Social Static, the theme from the Chris Habib/Spencer Tunick film, is a steady, one-note musique concrète mood piece that collapses into loops of feedback, oscillations, pulsing noise and R2D2 in hara-kiri mode: SY at their most industrially ugly but also subtly funny. No spoilers.

Machine, an outtake from The Eternal sessions, is a rare gem: a steady, midtempo stomp bristling with the band’s often-imitated-but-never-duplicated, dissociative close harmonies and layers of gritty textures that grow more assaultive. Why was this left off the album? Space considerations?

Out & In, an epic instrumental workout from 2000 is the real standout here. There’s a wry allusion to the moment The Wonder segues into Hyperstation (arguably the high point of the Daydream Nation album), with signature off-center Thurston Moore raga riffage, and just enough microtonality and clouds of overtones to let the ghosts in under the door. Everything falls away to buzz-and-clang midway through, then they start over with a squall that’s absolutely evil. The band take it out with a stampeding over-the-shoulder nod to Captain Beefheart. This is a must-own for fans and a surprisingly good overview for beginners.