New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: psychedelic rock

Thrills, Gravitas and Cinematic Color with the Nakshatra Quartet at the Drive East Festival

Considering how much great live music there is in New York, a festival has to be pretty special to be worth going to four out of five nights during the work week. But this year’s edition of the Drive East Festival has been that good. And it’s been as diverse as always. So far this week’s concerts have featured laments, ragas both epic and fleeting, a harrowing Metoo-themed dance piece set to a live score, and blissfully peaceful improvisation. Last night’s performance by violinists Arun Ramamurthy and Trina Basu’s Nakshatra Quartet was the most viscerally thrilling and solo-centric of all of them up to this point. But it was also about dynamics, and pushing the envelope, and keeping a clear eye on the grim realities of this year’s political environment…and what we can do about it.

Ramamurthy and Basu would probably laugh if someone called them New York’s #1 power couple in Indian music, but it’s impossible to think of another family with equally formidable chops. When they perform as a duo, it’s hard to tell who’s playing what unless you’re watching. In this ensemble – which also included Jake Charkey on cello and Dan Kurfirst on percussion – their individuality was much more defined, although the two have a near-telepathic rapport.

Basu came to carnatic music from a classical background, and plays with her violin on her shoulder. In this context, she revealed a lighter, more delicate tone than her husband, who’s been immersed in carnatic music since his student days but also excels at jazz improvisation. Where her approach had more a silken legato, Ramamurthy dug in hard with his glissandos and jaunty ornamentation, seated crosslegged, the head of his axe balanced on the stage. Both husband and wife delivered spine-tingling solos.

They opened with the colorful, cinematic pastorale, Tempest. The intensity went through the roof when Charkey joined the tense intertwine between the violins, adding an ominous drone on the G string. From there they negotiated a maze of increasingly agitated echo effects and circular phrases, up to a stormy peak and then an uneasy clearing, coming full circle at the end,

The rest of the set combined edgy jazz flair with Indian majesty and gravitas. Basu introduced the mini-epic Migration as a parable of the increasing terror and obstacles facing refugees and immigrants since the fateful 2016 Presidential election – an insight underscored by her participation in the Borderless Lullabies benefit project for refugee children incarcerated at the US-Mexico border. The interplay was dancingly optimistic to begin with but then climbed to stormy, increasingly syncopated territory.

Nocturne, a dramatic and incisively haunting tableau, had Middle Eastern tinges, ominously shivery chromatic cascades from Basu and slashing microtones from Ramamurthy, in solos that were tantalizingly short. He introduced the night’s one cover, Kalamabike, by 18th century composer Muthuswami Dikshitar, as being very dear to his heart, which was understandable: it’s a gorgeous coda to one of the composer’s many suites, its stark, plaintively unwinding variations anchored by an elegant, broodingly serpentine bassline from Charkey.

You might not expect a drummer to be using a djembe, cajon, daf frame drum and cymbal at a show like this, but this isn’t your typical Indian band, and Kurfirst provided understated color and texture with each of those implements. Charkey also got a couple of moments to pitch in with darkly slithery, microtonally bristling solos. The trio’s closing number echoed the loping, quasi trip-hop groove that many of the other songs followed in their most straightforward moments, in addition to vivid raga riffs from all three of the stringed instruments. Was all this jazz? You could call it that. Indian music? Most definitely. But ultimately, all this defied categorization: it’s unique to the Nakshatra Quartet. You’ll see this concert on the Best Shows of 2019 page here at the end of the year.

This year’s Drive East Festival continues tonight, August 10 at 7:20 PM with a rare US performance by another spectacular, dynamic violinist, Sruti Sarathy at the Mezzanine Theatre, 502 W 53rd St.; cover is $20.

A Catchy New Album and a Gowanus Release Show From Anthemic, Psychedelic Rockers Quicksilver Daydream

Quicksilver Daydream distinguish themselves among psychedelic bands as one of the few in the world who feature a mellotron as a primary instrument. Alex Bayer is the lucky guy who gets to turn loose that mighty beast’s orchestral sonics, joining with synth player Jonathan Schenke to create a drifting majesty above the jangle and clang of the guitars. Unlike most of their trippy brothers and sisters, Quicksilver Daydream keep their songs short and concise. Their new album Fly Oblivion is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show tomorrow night, August 10 at 9 PM at Littefield; cover is $10.

Drummer Alf Lenni Bak Erlandsen propels the album’s catchy, jangly opening track Into the Night with a loose-limbed shuffle: “My days have turned to ashes,” frontman/guitarist Adam Lytle muses. He teams up with lead player Glenn Forsythe for a grittier but similarly anthemic sound in Immortal Blue beneath the sweep overhead.

Bassist Brett Banks’ elegant broken chords pulse through the mix of folk-rock jangle and art-rock lushness in Hang On. The album’s longest and trippiest song, Warmth of Other Suns is a riff-driven number with a surreal atmospheric interlude. Then the band bring it down in Forever, gentle acoustic fingerpicking mingling with spare electric guitar textures and the sweep of the mellotron.

After a hypnotic intro, the band pick up the pace with an emphatic drive in Turn It Around, the closest thing here to the eerie jangle of current day Laurel Canyon revivalists like the Allah-Las. “Memories eclipse on eternity’s plane,” Lytle sings casually in the galloping, spaghetti western-tinged Infinite Range.

They blend those Morricone tinges with Schenke’s starry, swirling keys in the propulsive but elegaic Silent Gaze. The pensive Realm of Light and the bouncy closing cut, Voyager both look back to vintage 70s psychedelic Britfolk bands like the Strawbs. With all the subtle textural variations, catchy hooks and big singalong choruses, it sounds like the band had a great time recording this album, and that vibe is contagious.

A Haunting, Riveting Opening Night at This Year’s Drive East Festival of Indian Music

The Drive East Festival has rapidly become the Indian music counterpart to the Charlie Parker Festival: New York’s most highly anticipated concert series in a rapidly growing demimonde. In recent years, opening night has been a feast of thrills and chills. This past evening, sitarist Hidayat Khan may have set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the week with his relentlessly haunting duo performance with tabla player Enayat Hossain. Then again, the rest of the schedule promises similarly transcendent moments.

In about an hour and a half onstage, Khan”s approach to a bracingly chromatic South Indian raga was nothing short of symphonic. What was most striking, intellectually, was how effortlessly and imaginatively he built a series of several thematic variations and then interpolated them into the piece. What was most emotionally riveting was how relentlessly sad the music was: Khan’s brow remained furrowed throughout the entire duration of his opening alap. If there was ever a raga to reflect this grim historical era, this was it.

Khan may have serious chops on the sitar, but he quickly made it clear that this wouldn’t be about searing solos: it was about poignancy, and longing for some kind of closure. He finally delivered that about three-quarters of the way through the concert, but not until then. The alap was spare, somber, bristling with unresolved phrases that tantalized but eluded any decisive landing. Khan’s virtuosity revealed itself the most in a series of wrist-twisting bent notes that he delivered with such force that it seemed he might be using an icy electronic effect like a chorus pedal.

Maybe whoever invented the chorus pedal once saw a sitar virtuoso doing the same thing to build that kind of ambience.

There was plenty of daunting interplay between sitar and tabla throughout the set, Khan challenging Hossain to match his increasingly thorny syncopation note for note: Hossain nailed every phrase. Other sitar virtuosos like to build dynamic contrasts and ride the waves up and down, but Khan was intent on watching the darkness. The central theme was a close approximation of the edgy Arabic hijaz mode, but without the microtones – unless you count the sometimes subtle, occasionally savage bent notes in his matter-of-fact, unrelentingly brooding phrases over Hossain’s sometimes galloping, sometimes stark four-on-the-floor beat

The two alluded to an Afro-Cuban clave for extra slinkiness about three-quarters of the way through, then hit the passing lane, only to detour to the shoulder of this musical road as Khan brought the plaintiveness of the central theme full circle. The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 6 at 6 PM at the Mezzanine Theatre at 502 W 53rd St with Bharatanatyam dancers Rasika Kumar, Sahasra Sambamoorthi and Nadhi Thekkek performing their new piece Unfiltered, inspired by the Metoo movement. There’s also a live score by spellbinding singer Roopa Mahadevan with violinists Sruti Sarathi and Arun Ramamurthy. Tickets are $30.

Another Savagely Brilliant Album and a Williamsburg Gig from Expertly Feral Guitarist Ava Mendoza’s Power Trio

Word on the street is that Ava Mendoza is the best guitarist in Brooklyn – and might have been for a long time. Her show with creepy, organ-and-sax-fueled quasi-surf instrumentalists Hearing Things at Barbes at the end of last month was mind-blowing. Mendoza has become that band’s secret weapon: through two sardonic sets, she had her reverb turned way up, slashing and clanging and often roaring through the group’s allusive changes. With her, they’re more Doors than Stranglers, but without any of the 60s cliches, Mendoza’s next gig is August 10 at around 10 PM leading her  epic noisemetal power trio Unnatural Ways on a triplebill in between the math-iest doom band ever, Skryptor, and shapeshiftingly surrealistic Chicago art-rockers Cheer Accident at Ceremony, 224 Manhattan Ave. (off Maujer) in Williamsburg. The venue doesn’t have a website, so it’s anybody’s guess what the cover is. To avoid hourlong-plus waits for the L train, your best bet is to take the G to Broadway and walk from there

Unnatural Ways’ new album The Paranoia Party is streaming at Bandcamp. True to form, it’s a relentlessly dark concept album, more or less, centered around a disturbing encounter with alien beings. Mendoza and bassist Tim Dahl shift between warpy sci-fi sonics and machete riffery in the opening track, Go Back to Space: it’s the missing link between Thalia Zedek’s legendary 90s band Come and Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth.

The Runaway Song is a savage mashup of Syd Barrett, Diamond Dogs-era Bowie and 70s Zappa. Most of All We Love to Spy is nine sometimes skronky, sometimes crushingly ornate minutes of chromatics over drummer Sam Ospovat’s precise but relentlessly thumping syncopation.

Mendoza fires off volley after volley of casually sinister Dick Dale tremolo-picking over a squiggly backdrop in Trying to Pass. The band shift from machinegunning hardcore to a doomy sway centered around a surprisingly glammy guitar riff in Draw That Line, Mendoza and Dahl each hitting their chorus pedals for icy ominousness. They machete their way through the fragmentary Soft Electric Rays, which leads into the final cut, Cosmic Border Cop, a deliciously acidic pool of close harmonies, macabre chromatics and distorted scorch over a constantly shifting rhythmic skeleton. Easily one of the ten best, most adrenalizing rock albums released in 2019 so far.

Uneasily Echoey Spacerock and Post-Velvets Psychedelia from the Abyssmals

The first thing you notice about the Abyssmals‘ new record The Abyssmals Present Gospels, Hymns and Other Trash – streaming at Bandcamp – is how how much reverb is on it. But it’s not a cheesy slapback effect: it’s more trebly. Just to be clear: the upstate New York five-piece are not a gospel group. Their retro sound oozes through dark garage rock, primitive psychedelia and the occasional dip into the surf. Brian Jonestown Massacre are the obvious reference point; some of the shorter, punchier tracks bring to mind the unhinged R&B of the Pretty Things right around the time they’d discovered LSD.

The first track, Enter…the Abyssmals is a dark surf song; in less than a minute, the downward cascades of tremolo-picking have kicked in and it’s obvious this record is going to some shadowy places. The second cut, Sleepwalker starts out with drummer Nick Nigro’s muted ba-bump Cramps beat, then the envelopingly opiated post-Velvets ambience takes over.

Death Row Messiah is all about cool contrasts: cheap Vox amp jangle versus resonance, the peaks driven not by the guitars of Jarpon Reyes and Bob Forget, but by Boris Cahrenger’s emphatic bass. Muffy Reyes’ organ bleeds with the two guitars into a deep-sky pool in the slowly swaying Mansion of Happenings. Then the band pick up the pace with For All of Time, post-Rubber Soul verse rising to gritty powerpop chorus.

Imagine the Pretty Things taking a stab at go-go music and you get See You Go, with its burbly bass and roller-rink organ. Spare, dissociative acoustic phrases punctuate the gritty, riff-driven spacerock of Nobody Cool. A slinky McCartney-ish bass hook propels the hypnotic No Sleep Til Low Beat, while the droning organ and subtly oscillating guitars of Good Faith bring to mind the Black Angels. The album winds up with its longest track and most obvious Velvets homage, Kiss, Kiss Abyss. In case you’re wondering how this band managed to form in a backwater place like Poughkeepsie, keep in mind that musicians like this would still be flocking to New York and creating a scene if housing was affordable here.

Breathtaking Grandeur and a Feast of Guitars on Noctorum’s Latest Brilliant Album

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s greatest twelve-string guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, an aspect that was often weirdly overlooked during his long tenure alongside another great tunesmith, Steve Kilbey, in iconic Australian psychedelic band the Church. Willson-Piper has also put out several great albums under his own name and with Noctorum, his project with Dare Mason. Noctorum‘s richly orchestral, mesmerizingly jangly latest album, Afterlife, is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with The Moon Drips, a slinky, seductive, bolero-tinged ballad: imagine Nick Cave at his lushest, with a brass section. The carnivalesque, hurdy-gurdy style bridge is delicious.

High Tide, Low Tide is a mighty, jangly, propulsive rocker that would have been a standout track on a late 80s Church album. Mason sings this cautionary tale to a high-flying party animal who’s heading for a fall.

Willson-Piper returns to lead vocals for the album’s first single, Piccadilly Circus, a bleakly gorgeous, syncopatedly swaying portrait of quiet working class desperation in real estate bubble-era London. A lusciously icy blend of six and six-string guitars anchor Show, a grimly metaphorical breakup narrative set to vamping, Television-like janglerock. Willson-Piper’s incisive, climbing bass punctuates the lush, dreamy, pulsing sonics and baroque elegance of A Resurrected Man.

The album’s loudest track is A Girl with No Love: choogling, raging 70s riff-rock verse, lushly jangly chorus. “I don’t know if I’ll ever dream again, all I know is I can,” Willson-Piper croons in Trick, a surreal blend of Iggy Pop and the Cocteau Twins. Head On (not the Stooges classic but a duet between Willson-Piper and his violinist wife Olivia) rises out of incisively rhythmic riffage to a sultry, sinister peak and eventually an outro straight out of Jethro Tull: “See you at nine-ish where we first met, me and my Sunbeam, you and your Corvette.”

The album’s title track is its most amorphous number, Willson-Piper’s narrator waiting in the netherworld for loved ones amid the guitar swirl. The final cut is the unexpectedl whimsical, bouncy In a Field Full of Sheep. Good to see these guys, with careers that go back to the early 80s, still going strong.

Grupo Fantasma Bandleader Adrian Quesada Headines a Cutting-Edge Soul Triplebill at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

More about that oldschool and newschool soul triplebill at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on the 27th of this month: at 7 PM, British band the Black Pumas open the night, followed by late 60s singer-survivor Lee Fields & the Expressions. Headlining at around 9 are psychedelic guitar maven Adrian Quesada. leading a Texas soul band with a rotating cast of singers from his home state.

As the leader of Grupo Fantasma and its many, many spinoffs, Quesada is no stranger to fans of psychedelic and latin music. His main band’s latest album, American Music Vol. 17 is streaming at Spotify. It’s the group’s most political album, and one of their best, right from the ominous flurry of guitars that opens the first track Fugitivo, a cantering norteno desert rock number with spaghetti western riffage, lithe accordion and a grim narrative about being on the run, from La Migra, or more than one enemy.

Nubes is a sly, brassy mashup of psychedelic cumbia and salsa, while LT, a sex joint, has bright horn accents over a slinky, oscillating soul groove. The band go back to cumbia for the aching, bolero-tinged ballad Que Mas Quieres De Mi, then shift to a mashup of lowrider funk amd reggaeton in The Wall, a snide dismissal of Trumpie anti-immigrant bigotry.

La Cruda is a brightly bouncy, oldtime Mexican folk-flavored party anthem, followed by the gritty, anthemic, fuzztoned Nosotros, set to a circling beat that’s practically qawwali. The brand come across as a latin soul Rare Earth in Let Me Be, a defiant individualist’s anthem fueled by organ and guitar.

The group sandwich a brief dubwise interlude amid circling, dancing psychedelic chamame in Ausencia. They kick off the album’s most epic track, Hot Sauce with a trickily rhythmic intro and then hit a mighty, horn-driven cumbia sway, Quesada contributing his most incisive guitar work here.

Cuidado is hard-swinging wah funk tune with a growly baritone sax solo. The album’s best and most broodingly trippy number is Yo Quisiera, Quesada’s bittersweet wah guitar over moody organ chords; then the band make psychedelic salsa out of it. They close with the darkly otherworldly oldschool Colombian-style cumbia Sombra Roja, flute and accordion swirling over icy reverb guitar. There are as many flavors here as you could possibly find on both sides of the Tex-Mex border. Now imagine if this music, or this band possibly could have existed if there was a wall there.

Big Lazy Take Their Film Noir Sounds to Pleasantville

The house was full, and people were dancing. That’s inevitable at Big Lazy‘s monthly Friday night residency at Barbes, although it’s not what you would expect at a show by a band best known for film noir menace. Then again, you wouldn’t expect the bandleader to write a score for a PBS series about comedians, But composers who write for film and tv are expected to be able to create any mood the director wants.

The band have a long-awarited new album  due out later this summer. Frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich’s latest batch of instrumental narratives are just as dark, maybe even darker at the center, although parts of them extend into much brigher terrain than the trio have typically explored since they got their start in what was then an incredibly fertile rock scene on the Lower East Side back in the 1990s.

Onstage, the group reinvent their material, old and new, sometimes to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable. Was that a 6/8 version of Uneasy Street, the slow, macabre centerpiece of their first album, that they played at last month’s show? Maybe. Or it could have been a new number: tritones and chromatics slink out of the shadows constantly throughout this band’s catalog. Ulrich went further out on a limb than uusal this time, pulling himself off the ledge with savage volleys of tremolo-picking, taking a machete to the music. Bassist Andrew Hall used his bow for long, stygian, resonant passages, especially when the band took the songs toward dub, a welcome return to a style the band took a plunge into back in the early zeros. Drummer Yuval Lion was in a subtle mood this time, icing the intros and outros and quieter moments with his cymbals, rims and hardware.

The familiar material got reivented and tweaked as usual, too. Princess Nicotine, inspired by a 20s dada silent film, wasn’t quite as lickety-split as usual: maybe the princess has switched to lights. Their cover of the Beatles’ Girl was even more of a dirge than usual. Loping big-sky themes took unexpected dips into the macabre, balanced by the tongue-in-cheek go-go theme Sizzle and Pops. Guest trumpeter CJ Camerieri’s moody lines intertwined with Ulrich’s similarly spare incisions while another guest, Brain Cloud lapsteel monster Raphael McGregor added slithery sustain and flickering ambience at the edges as the songs moved toward combustion point.

Big Lazy are back at Barbes at 10 PM on July 26. Singer/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande‘s edgy parlor pop band Bad Reputation – who continue to build a rich catalog of English translations of songs by French chansonnier maudit Georges Brassens – play at 8.

Get Lost in Susie Ibarra’s Chiming, Hypnotic Philippine Sounds on Governors Island

Percussionist Susie Ibarra, a mainstay of the downtown scene since the 90s, draws on her Filipina heritage to create an often mesmerizing blend of traditional bell ensemble sounds and jazz. She’s leading her aptly named DreamTime Ensemble this Saturday afternoon, July 13 at 3 PM, playing a free show outdoors in front of Building 10A in the park in the middle of Governors Island. Ferries leave from the old Staten Island Ferry terminal, and from the landing where Bergen Street meets the Brooklyn waterfront, on the half hour during the afternoon; a roundtrip ticket is $3. Ibarra is also at Issue Project Room on July 27 at 8 for $20/$15 stud/srs.

Ibarra’s five-part Song of the Bird King suite, with her slightly smaller Electric Kulintang quartet – streaming at Spotify – capsulizes the kind of dream state and flickering magic which have become her signature sound. From the first slides of Oz Noy’s acoustic guitar and Lefteris Bournias’ otherworldly, microtonal Balkan tenor sax over the bandleader’s ripples and pings, the effect is psychedelic to the extreme.

Her fellow percussionist Roberto Rodriguez drives the music forward – as well as round and round – with his drums and electronic loops. The suite’s epic first part, Of the Invisible rises and recedes, sometimes with majestic echoes of Pink Floyd, other times a mashup of ancient, fluttering and trilling Balkan sounds mingling with Ibarra’s steady pointillisms.

Part two, 21 Million Hectares (a reference to the Philippines’ forest acreage prior to global warming) comes across as a gamelanesque take on psychedelic cumbia, a shuffling, loopy thicket of beats underpinning Ibarra’s catchy riffage and Bournias’ achingly gorgeous, bagpipe-like phrasing. The third section, simply titled The Dream is more spare, echoey and evocative of loungey 90s trip-hop.

Spare bottleneck guitar and Bournias’ long, desolate birdcall sax echo over a martial, practically industrial beat in Indigo Banded Kingfisher. The concluding segment, Migratory has more of a swaying, strolling groove: until Bournias’ meticulously modulated microtones kick in, it sounds like a traditional Filipino ensemble taking a stab at Midnight Starr-style early 80s electro. To quote Jeff Lynne – another guy who knew something about early 80s electro – it’s strange magic.

A Seething, Politically-Fueled Dark Rock Masterpiece From the Bright Smoke

It wouldn’t be overhype to characterize the Bright Smoke as a female-fronted Joy Division. Harrowing intensity? Check. Minor keys? Doublecheck. Tight, minimalist tunes over analog drum samples, uneasy atmospherics wafting in the background? Check, check, check. Like Ian Curtis, singer/guitarist Mia Wilson is one of the most riveting performers in any style of music – and she has been, since the beginning of the decade when she was primarily a keyboardist, leading the brilliant/obscure French Exit. The Bright Smoke’s latest album Gross National Happiness – streamng at Bandcamp – could be her darkest and most shattering release so far, and it’s much more explicitly political than Joy Division ever were. The Bright Smoke have a couple of gigs coming up; on July 13 at 8 PM they’re at the small room at the Rockwood. Then on July 27 at 9:30 PM they’re playing the album release show at Littlefield; cover is $10.

On the new album, Wilson asserts herself more than ever on lead guitar, with potent results. With his guitars, bass and electronics, her longtime collaborator Quincy Ledbetter adds tersely orchestrated variations on the band’s usual black-and-grey sonic palette. They open the album with the brief Broken Party, its noisy ambience bringing to mind the politically-fueled dystopic soul of Algiers, the ache in Wilson’s voice reaching new heights

“I fear this more,” Wilson intones in American Proletariat. More than “The employ of and the company of torturers and slumlords…”? Yes. She gets out her bullhorn:

I will get to my desk on time
And I will stay til five
And I will aid
I will participate
In the united front and
I will lead your manhunt

Has Big Brother completely broken Wilson’s spirit? Hardly. The sarcasm is withering. Likewise, in Model Citizen – which shifts from unsettled indie chords to a stark minor-key interlude: “I can help you lose everything you won…you model citizens are out for blood.”

An ominously looping guitar figure gives way to an acidic swirl as Orbit moves along: “It’s not testament to your excellence that I’m bored with your war,” she warns. After that, the band motor through the wickedly catchy The Lion And, a defiant Patti Smith-esque anthem.

One Hundred Years looks back to the gritty gutter blues the band were exploring earlier in the decade:

It’s been a banner year
It’s open season on the weak
And every hundred years
We get dressed to the nines
The barbarians?
They’re not coming this time

Again Again has a spare, stripped-down minor-key blues phrase over a tightly swinging groove, biting guitar acccents slowly entering over an acidically misty backdrop. Wilson half-speaks, half-sings the verse: “Old friend I need your forgiveness again/Can I hold onto you as the walls close in.”

Ledbetter’s oscillating bassline propels Mauretania, a desperate tableau where everyone expects a “top down trickle down, but it never came.” The album’s guardedly optimistic final cut, Lower 48, again brings to mind Patti Smith, Wilson’s stark, insistent, minimalist guitar over a wafting nocturnal haze. It’s an apt soundtrack for the deadly, flailing final months (we desperately hope) of the Trump administration. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2019 at the end of the year.