New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: jam band

Firebrand Malian Chanteuse Oumou Sangare Returns to Her Roots

Pioneering Malian singer Oumou Sangare doesn’t put out as many albums as she used to, but she’s never wavered as an advocate for women’s rights in a part of the world where that idea is still considered radical, even taboo, in some circles. Her new album, simply titled Acoustic and streaming at youtube, is a collection new recordings of previously released material, most of it from her unfortunately overproduced 2017 Mogoya album. The resulting sound, recorded live and completely unamplified, is much more traditional, although Sangare’s lyrical content has always been daring, beginning with her first Malian hit in 1989 where she chronicled losing her virginity.

That song, Diaraby Nene is even more spare than the original, set to a spare, loping beat, Sangare joined by backing singers Emma Lamadji and Kandy Guira. The album’s opening number, Kamelemba sets the stage for most of what’s to come, a muted two-chord desert rock vamp with a big crescendo from the bandleader, virtuosically circling ngoni from Brahima “Benogo” Diakité, exuberant guitar from Guimba Kouyaté and a little keening toy organ played by Vincent Taurelle

The organ is a surreal touch in the spiky, shuffling Fadjamou; Sangare’s voice is a tinge huskier than it was thirty years ago, but she hasn’t lost any power. She builds a moodily questionining atmosphere in the syncopated Minata Waraba, while Saa Magn – a requiem for Orchestre National Badema’s Amadou Ba Guindo – has breathtaking fast, delicate guitar work from Kouyaté and spare, twinkling celeste from Taurelle.

Likewise, Kouyaté’s hammer-ons in the anthemic call-and-response of Bena Bena, more somber and circumspect in this version. With its camelwalking groove and sheets of organ, KounKoun is the album’s most hypnotic track. Then Sangare and the band pick up the pace with Djoukourou, its chugging rhythm, flurrying ngoni and guitar.

The band follow a long upward trajectory from sparse airiness in Yere Faga. The album’s most musically adventurous, rhythmically challenging number is Mali Niale. Sangare winds up the album with the pensive title track from Mogoya, Kouyaté adding more than a hint of the baroque. Fans of both older and more guitar-centric Malian music ought to check this out

Guitarist Sharon Isbin Pushes the Indian Music Envelope

Perennially adventurous guitarist Sharon Isbin has a couple of ambitious new albums out: the first, a Chris Brubeck concerto for guitar and orchestra, the second a landmark collaboration with Indian sarod virtuosos Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash. Titled Strings for Peace, it’s a terse collection of four classic ragas, streaming at Spotify. Kyle Paul’s arrangements are pristine and uncluttered, giving all the musicians plenty of room for individual contributions. Isbin’s judicious use of chords adds welcome, lowlit color and resonance.

The first is By the Moon, an interpretation of Raga Behag. Isbin’s delicate but determined phrasing and Amaan Ali Bangash’s warmly nocturnal melismas open this popular evening theme with lustre and subtlety. Amit Kavthekar’s tabla signals a shift to a joyously dancing series of rises and falls. The blend of sarod and guitar sometimes evokes a sitar, but with subtle timbral differences; Isbin turns out to be more likely to back Bangash than he does behind her stately, steady, strolling riffs.

Ayaan Ali Bangash takes over sarod duties on the album’s second track, Love Avalanche, a moody, suspensefully waltzing, barely four-minute take of Raga Mishra Bhairav. Romancing Earth, a.k.a. Raga Pilu features the family patriarch, first tantalizingly allusive, then engaging Isbin in a saturnine exchange. The suspense as he shadows her is masterfully orchestrated; there’s a rather coy ascent and then the two declare victory over relentless unease.

Ayaan Ali Bangash returns for the final track, Sacred Evening, an arrangement of Raga Yaman, There’s a starry sense of longing in the alap; the brittleness of the guitar (Isbin varies the amount of reverb from section to section) contrasts with the warp and speed of the sarod. It’s a bit much when they hang on a riff that’s been appropriated by a million fusion bands, but they redeem themselves with an unexpected and innovative coda. If you love Indian music and can handle some thoughtful harmonic innovation, you’ll should hear this album

Smart, Relevant Protest Jazz From Irreversible Entanglements

Protest jazz quintet Irreversible Entanglements came together out of a 2015 Musicians Against Police Brutality response to the killing of Akai Gurley, who was gunned down in a New York housing project stairwell the year before. Their debut album, Who Sent You? is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s smart, conversational, powerful and surprisingly catchy stuff. MC Camae Ayewa (better known as Moor Mother), saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Tcheser Holmes have a tight, purposeful rapport that echoes the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s more kinetic improvisations, and Ayewa’s lyrics are spot-on. If music that’s in touch with reality is your thing, this is your jam.

The album’s first track, The Code Noir Amina has a galloping, hypnotic Afrobeat groove with sunny, sustained horn lines shimmering overhead, building to a relentlessly tumbling drive and then receding elegantly. “At what point do we stand up…do we stand up at the breaking point? At the point of no return?” Ayewa asks.

The title track follows a similar pattern, from a big pummeling whirlwind of an intro to a series of rises and falls, the horns first spare and then frenetic. There are light electroacoustic touches, a quiet, persistent, echoey horn break in the middle and an unexpectedly calm, reflective djembe-and-sax outro. “What are you doing here in my home, my neighborhood, who sent you? Where did they tell you to patrol, to oversee, redeem, crucify? Did they tell you to walk around with your finger on the trigger? Who sent you? Did they tell you how long we’re supposed to stay here, under your gun, the occupation, who sent you?” Ayewa wants to know. What an appropriate song for this summer, right?

No Mas opens with the horns building variations on a stark minor-key blues riff, then hits a bass-and-drums groove that’s the closest thing to straight-up hip-hop here. “No longer will we allow them to divide and conquer, divide and oppress, define our humanity,” Ayewa insists.

Blues Ideoogy is the album’s fastest number, starting out with a tight, racewalking pulse and fraying at the edges as it goes along: it’s a snide commentary alluding to child rape in the Catholic church. The album’s final track is Bread Out of Stone, Ayewa reflecting on a turbulent heritage of enslavement and resistance over a loopy bass-and-drums clave groove. If there are historians twenty years from now, they’ll look back to this as a foundational album for the beginning of a new era. But we’ll have to fight to get to that point if we do at all.

New York’s Hottest New Music Venue: The Cube at Astor Place

As concertgoers are going to find out more and more this year, one of the very few good things to come out of the lockdown is that it provided a very fertile – if completely unwanted – opportunity for artists to create new material.This blog is long overdue to get back to spreading the word about upcoming concerts: one of the first to officially hit the calendar this month is an outdoor show at the cube at Astor Place this Weds, July 8 at 7 PM where CenterPoint Arts have been scheduling a series of improvisational lineups. This one includes but is probably not limited to drummer Dan Kurfirst, multi-reedman/trumpeter Daniel Carter and trumpeter Matt Lavelle. Once again, it bears mentioning that New York’s most forward-thinking improvisers are doing more than improvise with just their instruments. Obviously, we need to reopen all our music venues at full capacity, yesterday, but at least this is a start.

Of all the guys on this particular bill, Carter has appeared on more albums than everybody else combined. And he keeps popping up on new ones. The latest is Welcome Adventure, Volume 1 – streaming at Bandcamp – with pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

In keeping with these guys’ most expansive, improvisational esthetic, it’s just three tracks ranging from about four and a half to a full twenty minutes. The first is Majestic Travel Agency, which clocks in at thirteen. If you didn’t know all this was completely made up on the spot, you might easily assume it’s just a tight postbop quartet going out on a limb with some inspired interplay and solos. Cleaver’s beat is closer to trip-hop than straight up funk or swing as it unfolds from Parker’s catchy variations playing off a central tone. Shipp jabs at the edges; Carter’s balmy initial tenor sax solo alludes to the Middle East.

From there they swing it in more of a trad postbop mode, loosen and hit a more murky haze even as Cleaver refuses to quit. Shipp’s bad cop versus Carter’s good one is another amusing touch; after the piano cedes centerstage to the bass, they take it out surprisingly calmly.

Carter opens Scintillate with restrained muted trumpet: from a loose-limbed swing, they take it into brooding, vintage Miles Davis-ish jazz waltz territory. The closing epic,  Ear-regularities – probably not a reference to Matt Munisteri’s legendary Ear Inn residency – is where everybody gets to diverge. Parker and Cleaver prowl, Shipp’s incisions and Carter’s airy flute holding the center more or less. Restless, gleaming piano chromatics and saturnine muted trumpet draw the bass and drums into contrasting, funky swing. The unselfconsciously resonant, allusively haunting ambience afterward is completely unexpected and genuinely breathtaking.

Carter, Parker and Shipp go back to the jazz loft days of the 80s, and Cleaver fits right in, so it’s both a trip forward and backward in time.

How Free Jazz Is Saving New York

We are at a very interesting moment in New York music history. Some of the artists who have existed at the furthest fringes of our culture are stepping up to save it.

Is that a great irony, or has that always been the case? Aren’t the greatest innovators in any field, from politics to science, always viewed as heretics?

Sure, there’s been plenty of live music across the five boroughs since the lockdown was first instituted. But most of those shows were intimate house concerts, by invite only, promoted by word of mouth rather than on social media in order to stay under the radar. It’s been heartwarming to witness how many of the prime movers in New York’s improvised music community have recently managed to find a way around the lockdowners’ paranoid regulations to bring back live music for the general public in this city.

Maybe that should come as no surprise. Before the lockdown, very few profit-driven venues in this city would have been willing to book a single creative jazz act, let alone a whole night of free jazz, so creative musicians have always had to improvise (sorry – couldn’t resist that one).

The latest series of shows staged by the innovators behind CenterPoint Arts’ series are continuing over the next few days at the cube at Astor Place, at 7 PM. Tonight, July 5, drummer Dan Kurfirst jams with with multi-reedman and trumpeter Daniel Carter, Rodney “Godfather Don” Chapman on sax and other artists tba. And then on July 8 at 7 Kurfirst and Carter return to the cube with fearless, politically woke trumpeter Matt Lavelle and supporting cast tba.

Carter has played on a gazillion records over the years: one of the most entrancing and unusual recent ones is the Harbinger album with Jarvis Earnshaw on sitar, vocals and loops and Zach Swanson on bass. It’s a thoughtful, conversational forty-eight minute suite, more or less, recorded and mixed at Martin Bisi’s legendary, sonically rich Gowanus basement space, BC Studio and streaming at Bandcamp.

Foghorn trumpet from Carter anchored by Swanson’s long, low, bowed tones and Earnshaw’s terse, incisive lines echo kaleidescopically through the mix as the three get underway. Earnshaw introduces a lyrical, descending raga riff shadowed by Swanson, Carter switching to balmy tenor sax. Then he moves to flute, Swanson picks up his bow and the theme continues.

They loosen, expand and grow more desolate, Earnshaw’s steely phrases holding the center. Close harmonies between the spacious sitar and echoing trumpet add a bracing edge; Earnshaw also plays chords and unearthly plucked harmonics. Carter looms over a sitar drone, then a broodingly triangulated conversation emerges. A break in the clouds doesn’t last; Earnshaw vocalizes while shifting toward a more rock-oriented, chordal attack.

A lull for solo sitar introduces a warmly hazy nocturnal raga of sorts: it’s here where Carter – back on sax – cuts loose to the extent that he can here. They bring it full circle at the end. There’s as much listening going on as actual playing, resulting in a project that’s as envelopingly enjoyable to hear as it obviously must have been to record.

Rapturous, Haunting, Moroccan-Inspired Sounds From Ensemble Fanaa

One of the best albums to come out of New York in the last couple of years is Ensemble Fanaa’s often magical, mysterious debut, streaming at Bandcamp. The trio of alto saxophonist/bass clarinetist Daro Behroozi, bassist/sintir player John Murchison and drummer Dan Kurfirst conjure up a sometimes hypnotic, sometimes stark interweave inspired by Moroccan gnawa music.

The opening track, Creation doesn’t seem to engage with North African traditions, but it’s a fun piece of music. Behroozi opens it, solo on bass clarinet, with a snort of overtones; slowly the trio work their way up from stillness. Kurfirst rattles the cage for contrast. Behroozi and Murchison – on bass – size up the space, peering through the cymbal mist, then they bring it full circle with a cheery, syncopated hook.

Murchison picks up his sintir (the band call it a gimbri; either way, it’s the Moroccan three-string bass lute whose distinctive, lightly boomy sound defines gnawa music) for Traces, Part 1, running a steady, catchy riff while Behroozi’s sax floats spaciously overhead. The trio reprise it later on the record, slowly building to a lithely circling, raptly catchy gnawa theme with Behroozi back on bass clarinet.

The trio keep the gnawa catchiness going, rising with a whisper to the surprise rhythmic shifts of Imram, Behroozi’s trilling microtones building a goosebump-inducing intensity. Murchison introduces the loose-limbed groove of Water Song, Behroozi’s spacious, gorgeously desolate sustained lines and increasingly searing microtonal melismas overhead. It’s the album’s most stunning track.

Kurfirst’s marvelous, misterioso, muted thump and rattle anchors Sujood, Murchison’s bass echoing that, Behroozi pouncing and spiraling with an otherworldly intensity.

From a spare, exploratory bass intro, the trio develop a spacious, brooding lattice spiced with the occasional biting chromatic riff in Now What, the album’s most improvisational number. They close with Yobati – Breath, the album’s most energetic track, shifting from a cheery bounce of an intro to a serpentine, undulating, uneasily keening gnawa theme. 

Ensemble Fanaa are still around, individually; all three members maintained busy schedules with other projects in jazz, African and Middle Eastern music until the lockdown. Fortuitously, Kurfirst has a handful of gigs coming up at the cube at Astor Place, staged by Concerts From Cars. Tonight, July 2 at 7 PM he jams with Ras Moche Burnett on sax, then on July 5, also at 7 he’s back with multi-reedman and trumpeter Daniel Carter, Rodney “Godfather Don” Chapman on sax and other artists tba. And then on July 8 at 7 Kurfirst and Carter return to the cube with fearless, politically woke trumpeter Matt Lavelle and supporting cast tba. 

A Slightly More Subtle But Hardly Subdued Album From the Explosive Captain Black Big Band

Of all the projects that pianist Orrin Evans has his fingers in, his Captain Black Big Band are arguably the most exciting. They’re definitely the loudest. It’s amazing how Evans manages to find the time for them, considering that he leads smaller groups, everybody wants to play with him, and until the lockdown he had the closest thing in the jazz world to a serious money gig, taking over the piano chair in a certain popular trio and then elevating them above…where they were before.

Auspiciously, the Captain Black Big Band have a new album, The Intangible Between streaming at Spotify. The difference this time is that they aren’t quite as much of a careening beast as they’ve been in the past. Part of that’s due to the bandleader writing most of the charts, selecting very specific groups from a vast talent base to play the songs, and in general, varying the size of the orchestation more.

The album’s first track, Proclaim Liberty, opens with brassy optimism, then after a rippling bit of suspense, the band hit an anthemic drive. The tumbling pairings of piano and drums are as avant-garde as anything Evans has ever done, the solos from trumpet and sax as adrenalizing as ever.

His wide-angle swing arrangement of This Little Light of Mine rises with the horns out of a carefree piano-trio intro that offers a nod to Coltrane and telegraphs that there’s going to be plenty of room for spontaneity, notably a fiery sax-drums duel and some savagery from the bandleader himself.

The tenderness of Sean Jones’ flugelhorn throughout an understatedly majestic Todd Bashore arrangement of A Time For Love contrasts with an underlying tension, which evaporates when the rest of the horns float in. Evans dividing his hands between piano and Rhodes is an unexpected textural touch.

With its New Orleans ebullience and bright hooks, That Too comes across as a slightly stripped-down take on the completely unleashed sound the band made a name for themselves with, trombone and then soprano sax bringing in the storm.

Their loose-limbed, Sun Ra-ish take of Thelonious Monk’s Off Minor features a rhythm section bustling with four (!!!!) bassists and two drummers behind shreddy trumpet, spacy Rhodes and a rise to plenty of the group’s signature, barely controlled mass chaos.

Evans’ beefy yet spacious chart for Roy Hargrove’s Into Dawn gets lit up by spiraling alto sax, trumpet that delivers both sage blues and wild doublestops, and some serious crush from the piano. The album’s biggest epic is Evans’ arrangement of Andrew Hill’s Tough Love. In practically sixteen minutes, the group shift through fluttery stereo pairings of basses and piano, gritty dueling saxes, uneasily shifting sheets of sound, the whole ensemble helping Evans deliver an astute, politically insightful lyric by his brother, author and hip-hop artist Son of Black.

They wind up the record with I’m So Glad I Got To Know You, Evans’ elegy for his drummer friend Lawrence Leathers building from spare, stricken solo piano, to hints of calypso and a fond gospel sendoff. This is a mighty entertaining and rewardingly eclectic effort from a group also including but hardly limited to drummers Anwar Marshall and Mark Whitfield Jr., saxophonists Immanuel Wilkins, Troy Roberts and Caleb Wheeler Curtis, bassist Luques Curtis, trombonist David Gibson and bassist Eric Revis.

Amazing, Psychedelic, Danceable New Sounds From Djibouti

How much damage has the global lockdown done in Djibouti? That country has suffered enough without everybody having to wear those stupid masks. And if the digital gear necessary to record Groupe RTD’s new album The Dancing Devils of Djibouti existed on the band’s home turf last year, it wasn’t available at the time. A portable studio had to be flown in to catch the group’s marathon three-day session, fueled by high quality weed and qat (the national drug of Yemen, whose popularity extends to Barbary Pirates territory). The result is an ecstatically slinky mix of music with echoes of Ethipiques, but also roots reggae, Bollywood and Middle Eastern habibi pop. It’s streaming at Bandcamp.

In the album’s opening track, The Highest Mountain, guitarist Abdirazak Hagi Sufi runs reggae skank and big stadium hooks over keyboardist Moussa Aden Ainan’s keening multitracks backing frontwoman Asma Omar’s expressive, Bollywood-influenced delivery. This is insanely catchy minor-key music.

You Are the One That I Love (sticking with the English translations of the song titles here) is sort of reggae, sort of ska. Omar’s insistent intensity rises over sax player Mohamed Abdi Alto’s looming lines and the bubbling groove of drummer Omar Farah Houssein and dumbek player Salem Mohamed Ahmed.

The soulful, suave Hassan Omar Houssein takes over the mic on The Pearl Necklace, a pouncing minor-key ballad, followed by The Queen, a mighty, deliciously swirly anthem with some spectacular organ work from Ainan.

Alto’s Interlude turns out to be mostly a haphazard guitar -and-synth tableau in the blues scale. I Want You has the kind of stampeding drive that you would expect, with guitar, sax and rapidfire organ lines behind Houssein’s chill, melismatic vocals. That’s Where You”ll Leave His Reward (a religious reference, maybe?) has hints of a 70s disco strut and a warm major-key pulse.

Look at Me, with its catchy minor-key blues riffage, is more reggae-ish, validating any argument that both reggae and blues came from this part of the world. Joy could be a great lost classic from Jamaican reggae legends the Abyssinians’ iconic first album, more or less: it validates both that group, and this one here. They close the record with a gnawa-flavored shout-out to the spirits. How serendipitous that music from this part of the world could possibly be available at such a twisted time in global history.

Riveting, Haunting Flamenco-Tinged Armenian Sounds From Vigen Hovsepyan

Imagine you’re in Paris the first weekend of October, 2017. You’re in the midst of a crowd gathered on a barge docked alongside the Seine.

Nobody’s wearing a mask.

On the stage in the back, a man sings in a powerful, expressive baritone, in Armenian, wailing on an acoustic guitar and, occasionally, on a cajon. He’s backed by a slinky rock rhythm section, plus a pianist with an inclination toward minor keys and slashing chromatics. The music has a simmering intensity with flashes of flamenco. The crowd roar in appreciation after every song.

You can experience the highlights of the two concerts guitarist/bandleader Vigen Hovsepyan played at the intimate quayside venue Peniche Anako – the rive droite counterpart to Brooklyn’s Bargemusic – on his album Live in Paris 2017, streaming at Spotify. Fans of the iconic Souren Baronian’s work with guitarist Adam Good will love this music, especially since brilliant duduk player Harutyun Chkolyan is on it.

Electric pianist Havard Enstad introduces his gorgeous, allusively chromatic opening number, The Immigrant, then the woody, reedy microtones of the duduk float and stab overhead. Hovsepyan picks up his acoustic guitar for the suddenly crescendoing second number, Zepyuri Nman, with sabretoothed piano and shadowy duduk over a punchy groove.

The night really explodes when Hovsepyan delivers the starkly dancing anthem Habrban as Enstad switches to cello. Then he goes back to play angst-fueled, glittering piano alongside Hovsepyan’s melismatic intensity in the first slow ballad of the night, Gulo.

The group ramp up the suspense throughout Kanchum Em Ari Ani, bass and duduk rising mournfully above the slow, dirgey sway. Chkolyan’s aching upper-register crescendo over Enstad’s neoromantic angst in the towering anthem Zulo is absolutely transcendent.

The duduk gets subsumed in the percussive drive of Dikranagerd: as the band speed it up at the end, the connection to Palestinian shamstep is just a step away. From there they edge toward skeletal Balkan funk with Mairyam and then get a singalong going with the women in the crowd with an epic, ecstatic take of Ertank Mer Yegir Moush Hanina Koshari. Chkolyan adds hypnotic sorcery with his long, otherworldly trilling solo out.

Hovsepian sings a low-key solo version of Charles Aznavour’s La Boheme in Spanish, setting up the wounded chromatics of the album’s final, darkly majestic ballad, Lusnyak Gisher. Midway through the record, there’s a long drum solo – a break for the band, maybe? – that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Otherwise, this is a souvenir of what was obviously an amazing weekend. How serendipitous that we can listen to it now – and let’s resolve to never, never, let politicians create another situation where crowds can’t gather for transcendent moments like this.

Disquieting, Enveloping, Psychedelically Layered Sonics From Lord Buffalo

What was this haunting, savagely layered one-chord epic with a weird, possibly Pacific Island title doing on the hard drive here? Turns out that it’s Raziel, the seven-minute opening track on Austin band Lord Buffalo‘s latest album Tohu Wa Bohu, streaming at Bandcamp. They like slow, menacing themes; they don’t change chords much but they make them interesting.

That particular song is the missing link between the Friends of Dean Martinez’s southwesern gothic and Mogwai’s grim, cold concrete council estate tableaux. Through D.J. Pruitt and G.J. Heilman’s layers of guitars over the slow, steady beat, the heathaze is impenetrable, and frontman Pruitt makes that clear. But he holds out hope, dodging shards of reverb as they filter through the mix.

The band pick up the pace, building to a steady stroll with Wild Hunt, which has two chords, smoky sax, Brockett Hamilton’s piano and a Nick Cave influence along with the guitar torture. Troubled music for troubled times.

“This is the night, she don’t need nothing at all,” Pruitt intones, cold and deadpan, as the third track, Halle Berry gets underway, jagged quasi-funk guitars over a murky slink. Very early 90s New York gutter blues, a slower take on the Chrome Cranks maybe.

Dog Head comes across as a strung-out blues take on Joy Division’s The Eternal. “Be careful, you don’t know this song,” Pruitt warns as Patrick Patterson’s violin joins the guitars and the cloud congeals to toxic density. The title track is a slow, loopy mashup of jagged 70s no wave and early Dream Syndicate.

Cicadas cry, vehicles break down and night looms in all too soon in Kenosis, a mashup of understated Oxygen Ponies menace and sunbaked My Education atmospherics leavened with tinkly vibraphone and piano. The band open Heart of the Snake as a venomous take on an early 60s summer-house theme, then bring in creepy layers of organ and guitars: Alec K. Redfearn‘s work comes to mind. They segue from there into the loopy, careening Llano Estacado to wrap up the album in a ball of flame. You might ask why, in a time where we need to focus on shutting down the tech Nazis who keep flipping the script behind the lockdown, that it makes any sense at all to listen to something this amorphous and escapist. Hey, we all could use a break right about now.