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Category: stoner music

Howling Giant Headline a Killer Heavy Psych Triplebill in Queens Next Week

One of the best metal and heavy psychedelic triplebills of the year is happening this March 15 starting sometime after 7 at TV Eye in Ridgewood, where Stoogoid stoner boogie band Sun Voyager open the night, followed by the more eclectically noisy and considerably heavier Restless Spirit, and then shapeshifting heavy psych band Howling Giant. Cover is $15

Sun Voyager are natives and used to play around here a fair amount, at least before the lockdown, but the other two bands have been conspicuously absent until recently. One good record to spin for the show is Howling Giant’s 2019 vinyl release The Space Between Worlds, streaming at Bandcamp. Why this album and not their most recent ep? Because the central narrative is about a huntress who has to fight off a mythical dream eater. As Tessa Lena has chronicled, what better metaphor for the last three years of hell?

It’s also a good capsule of what the band bring, live: stoner sludge with frequently tricky post-Mars Volta rhythmic shifts and terse guitar solos. Drummer Zach Wheeler hits a couple of martial flurries, then launches into an impressive lithe forward drive for such heavy music as guitarist/frontman Tom Polzine builds a dense wall of chords and bassist Sebastian Baltes holds down the gritty lows in the album’s first track, Comet Rider. Organist Drew Harakal adds swirl; Polzine hits his pedalboard and fires off a couple of tantalizingly brief solos.

The band slow down for Nomad, Polzine’s chiming loops over a murky drift through deep space. Again, he could have taken ten times as long with that first wah-wah solo and nobody would be complaining.

Ghosts in the Well is a surprising and rewarding detour into slow, mythical acoustic folk, followed by The River Guide, a mini-epic as Sleep might have done it thirty years ago, with an unexpected dream-nebula interlude.

Ice Castle begins with fuzz, tasty doublebass drum volleys and then the band pick up steam with more of a doomy, vengeful atmosphere and smoky organ. “They’re building a machine hiding in the wasteland,” Polzine announces, “The lab is overrun,” as he and the band launch into Cybermancer and the Doomsday Express, a thrashier, more 60s flavored dash through the gloom.

Harakal adds glimmering electric piano textures to the album’s most hypnotically swaying, drifting track, Everlight. The band pick it up, then descend to a lull with Wheeler’s shamanic beats before rising to a hammering attack where the bass finally cuts loose.

They slowly sway their way to a pummeling battle scene and then some venomous tremolo-picking from Polzine in The Orb. Does this space odyssey end well? It would seem so from the final cut, Stone Giant, but at the twin solos hover over the torrents of organ and the relentless, ornate drums, the message is “watch your back.”

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Ace Bandage Jam Like Nobody Else in Town

Ace Bandage are the best new jamband in New York. When they weren’t playing shows last year, they were improvising in their rehearsal room and putting that stuff up at Bandcamp. They recorded their latest short album, Ace Bandage’s Almost Halloween live at Hart Bar in Bushwick last October. You can hear the originals at the Bandcamp page; the whole concert, including Bowie and Pink Floyd covers, is available at archive.org.

They make their way up from a minor-key reggae groove to a brisk mid-80s Talking Heads pulse in the first of their tunes, Weirding. Guitarist Jake Pepper plays purposeful, bluesy lines over his sparring partner Kent Dunne’s incisive chords,. then they eventually take the song down into the vortex as bassist Zach Koeber and drummer Taylor Harvey back away, then pull everybody back on the rails in a split second.

They segue into Snuff the Torch, Dunne’s chicken-scratch wah-wah in contrast to Pepper’s unhinged slashes, slow-bake-in-the-sun leads and occasional pickslides. It’s like more focused mid-70s Can.

The last song is Burn. In almost seventeen minutes, the band slinking along on a darkly psychedelic funk pulse. Dunne takes the first couple of solos with a hammering, reverbtoned dark garage attack. When he goes flying over the edge and hands it over to Pepper to go further off the handle, it’s a clinic in spontaneous combustion. And yet, when Koeber goes bubbling up into the high frets, the two guitarists work their way down into a resonant simmer and a little robots-adrift-in-space interlude. The misterioso bass-led jam at the end is the best part, quiet as it is. It’s rare that you find a new band with this kind of chops or telepathy.

Ace Bandage are at Bar Freda on March 9 at 9 PM; cover is $10

Slow, Slinky Psychedelic Cumbia Grooves From Locobeach in Queens

By ten in the evening, the back room at the Brooklyn bar had filled up with undulating bodies. The swaying groove from the drums and the sinister, spare reverb guitar mingled with the torrential textures, and swoosh and warp and wah-wah from the two little keyboards that Locobeach bandleader Josh Camp bent over patiently, like an alchemist trying to find a sonic secret that had disappeared in Peru around 1983.

Silhouetted in red neon, twisting little knobs to get the optimum psychedelic glimmer or wash, he played as if he had a whole pipe organ at his disposal instead of maybe a couple dozen notes on the mini-synths with the maze of pedals and effects underneath. Meanwhile, everybody kept dancing.

Slowly and suspensefully, the group behind him worked their way up into the familiar minor-key broken chord, and the song that everybody had come out for: Sonico Amazonico, the national anthem of cumbia. As usual, the band took their time with it, mutating from that basic bassline to more enigmatically floating textures that Camp took deeper and deeper into dub territory.

This could have been a Locobeach show in 2017, or for that matter a moment from either of the two years of their semi-regular monthly residency. This blog was in the house for a half dozen of them: after a few years, memories start to blend into each other. One of the group’s more experimental moments was a Monday night in November of 2018 when one or more members were AWOL. One of the guys who pulled a pickup band together asked out loud what they ought to call themselves. “Loco Bitch?”‘

The good news that is that they survived the lockdown and have a gig at 9ish on Feb 24 at at Bar Freda in Ridgewood; cover is $10. They released their more psychedelic and dubwise debut album in 2019, which has some straight-up oldschool disco as well as the kind of cinematic groove-scapes that guitarist José Luis Pardo plays in his other band Los Crema Paraiso.

Locobeach’s latest single is Isabella, a brisk, bouncy tune where singer Cheo Pardo relates a tongue-in-cheek post-gig encounter with a girl who is, um, not what she seems. Camp’s horror-movie intro basically gives it away, but it’s still a good story.

Roots Reggae Original Mykal Rose Brings Oldschool Jamaican Flavor to a Swanky SoHo Joint

Back in the late 90s, there was a popular series of roots reggae concert albums recorded at Maritime Hall in San Francisco. Many of them were quite good. The Congos, Lee “Scratch” Perry and one of the post-Marley incarnations of the Wailers all made live albums there. That’s one reason why, in mid-August, 2001, a future daily New York music blog proprietor showed up at the club box office at the stroke of 8 PM, hoping to see a show by former Black Uhuru frontman Mykal Rose.

The other reason is that by the turn of the century, there weren’t many of the original stars left from the golden age of reggae in the 70s.

Now, if you’ve gone to a few reggae shows, you know how late everything runs. The box office wasn’t open: big surprise. Maybe the show was sold out. Looking to kill time, future music blog owner went up the hill toward the highway, found a taco stand that served liquor and had a whiskey. Maybe not the optimal choice after being up since seven in the morning, but it was a way to kill time.

An hour later, the box office was open, and the show wasn’t sold out. Great! There was an Irish pub a few blocks away to hang out at before the show started, presumably at ten.

Returning to the venue, it was obvious that this was going to be a late one. Tired after a couple of drinks, future blog owner found a place on the floor to sit, back to the wall. A rasta made his way through the crowd, selling joints and bags of weed. He eventually reached future blog owner. “Twenty-seven bucks for a ticket, I’m broke,” he laughed. Then leaned back against the wall, and passed out.

He woke with a start about an hour later to find that the Itals, who had an excellent organist that night, were already onstage. The archival notes about this concert don’t mention anything else about their set: for a better idea of what they might have sounded like, consult this piece from six years later. After they’d left the stage, future blog owner went back to his original spot and passed out again.

Mykal Rose turned out to be a wakeup call worth waiting for when he went on sometime after midnight. His backing band, with keyboards, two guitarists and rhythm section, was solid and steady as they ran through many of Black Uhuru’s biggest hits. They opened with a punchy version of Short Temper, then later did the wistful expatriate anthem Gone a New York. Rose was in high spirits, sang strongly and exhorted everyone within earshot to legalize the herb, through an extended, fervent version of Sinsemlla and a more compact take of Reggae in Session.

Nine years later, this blog’s proprietor took the opportunity to see Rose play again, this time at an outdoor concert in Brooklyn – and did not fall asleep either before or during the show. You can read about it here: Rose’s voice was a little more weathered, and his more 21st century-oriented dancehall stuff wasn’t as powerful as those Black Uhuru classics from the 80s, but it was still a good show. If you want to see how much Rose has left in the tank, he’s playing SOB’s on Feb 22 for $30. Showtime is supposedly at 8 PM: considering the current state of live performance in New York, he’s much more likely to hit the stage earlier than he did that night in San Francisco. Be aware that standing room at SOB’s is tight: forget about sleeping on the floor.

Early Moods Deliver a Macabre Heavy Psychedelic Masterpiece

Early Moods play high-voltage, dynamically unpredictable heavy psychedelia and doom metal. Early Sabbath is the obvious and pervasive influence, but frontman/keyboardist Alberto Alcaraz has his own sound and isn’t trying to ape Ozzy. Their debut full-length “mystery color” vinyl album, one of the best of 2022, is streaming at Bandcamp.

One thing that elevates this album above so many other groups gathered around the glyph in the shadow of Sabbath is the nimbleness of the rhythm section. Another is the relentlessly ominous riffs and big anthems that come thisclose to careening over the edge, but somehow the band hold the songs to the rails.

On the album’s opening track, Return to Salem’s Gate, they shift back and forth from edgy fuzztone chromatics to a smoldering Fender Twin burn, drummer Chris Flores’ machinegunning salvos capping off the big peaks, with an edge-of-the-abyss wah-wah solo from lead guitarist Oscar Hernandez.

The Sabbath influence bubbles to the murky surface in the second cut, Live to Suffer, from the menacing first verse, to the doublespeed interlude with Hernandez’s tantalizingly shivery lead lines.

Alcaraz opens the band’s signature song with distantly drifting unease from his synth, Hernandez levitating from funereal belltones through a series of increasingly agitated variations  to a full-bore stomp in tandem with bassist Elix Felciano.

Defy Thy Name starts out gritty and briskly hypnotic: a tensely pounding halfspeed interlude leads to a bone-chilling, acid-flamenco dance of death, the high point of the record. From there they segue up into Memento Mori, a mini-dirge straight out of the first minute of Sabbaths’ first album and then work the gloomy implied melody in Last Rites for all it’s worth. Hernandez could go on at the end for ten times as long as he does and it wouldn’t be boring.

They hit a gallop in Curse the Light, but it’s a restrained one, Hernandez letting his grim, fuzzy notes linger in the toxic air. The band slow down a bit with a skewed take on a classic Arabic mode in Damnation, with a wry reference to an iconic busker tune and a famous Geezer Butler riff.

They close the record with Funeral Macabre, the most phantasmagorical and 60s-inspired track here, from a leering, carnivalesque theme through a long, gonzo, woozy Hernandez solo out. Doom metal purists who appreciate the classics, from Sabbath through Candlemass, St. Vitus and Radio Moscow, will love this record.

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.

Klezmer Music For a Chinatown Street Fair and the Horror Show in Canada

One of New York’s most unusual and enjoyable street festivals is happening today in Chinatown. That neighborhood doesn’t have many, because pretty much every day is a street fair down there. This one is on Eldridge between Division and Canal, outside the Eldridge Street Synagogue. The music starts at noon with iconic klezmer trumpeter  Frank London‘s Klezmer Brass All Stars, followed by the  Klezmographers with violinist Eleonore Biezunski and tsimbl player Pete Rushefsky, and then flutist Chen Tao and his Melody of the Dragon  Chinese traditional ensemble playing lively, verdant pentatonic folk songs. This blog was in the house (or more accurately. under the eaves across the street) to catch their set here four years ago and it was a lot of fun.

The Klezmographers, who specialize in obscure Ukrainian klezmer repertoire, are also fun. The last time anyone from this blog was at one of Rushefsky’s shows, it was at a gig at the now-discontinued Friday night concert series at the American Folk Art Museum back in 2014. Memory is a little hazy on whether it was an actual Klezmographers gig, or Rushefsky with his flutist wife: that night turned out to be a pretty wild one.

Rushefsky put out a handful of records back in the zeros with his Ternkova Ensemble. The most recent album he appears on is Toronto group KlezFactor‘s new Songs From a Pandemic Winter, streaming at Bandcamp.

The first song is Mardi Gras Fever Dream, with Mike Anklewicz’s soaring tenor sax, Jarek Dabrowski’s chicken-scratch guitar, Paul Georgiou’s clip-clop hand drum and Ali Berkok’s roller-rink organ fueling a playfully surreal mashup of Balkan cumbia, New Orleans second-line jazz and Eastern European Jewish folk music.

Rushefsky’s somberly rippling tsimbl opens Lake Michigan Klezmer Fantasy, Anklewicz switching to clarinet alongside Kousha Nakhaei’s violin for this wistful theme: Canadians have had an awful lot to mourn lately. Third Wave Lockdown opens with a twisted sample of Fidel Jr. reading from his World Economic Forum handler Chrystia Freedland’s script. Then Graham Smith’s snappy bass kicks in, Anklewicz launches into a peppy clarinet tune, and Jarek Dabrowski channels David Gilmour at his most majestic. Just like the truckers, these guys aren’t going to let fascism get them down!

Nakhaei plays what sounds like a stark chinese erhu in the polyrhythmic Winter’s Groove, as the band shift from cumbia to a bit of what sounds like a bulgar dance, to dub reggae. Singer Melanie Gall brings somberness but also a soaring, hopeful vibe to a final waltz, Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boym, a spare, vivid arrangement of a chilling parable of exile and improbable escape. In 2022, this song couldn’t be more relevant. May we all fare better than that withered tree in the Yiddish lyrics.

El Perro Bite Into a Classic Acid Rock Sound

Radio Moscow‘s Parker Griggs is one of a rare crop of guitarists who’s figured out a way to use Jimi Hendrix as a stepping-off point without sounding like a pale imitation. This summer Griggs is touring with a new band, El Perro, whose debut album Hair of El Perro is just out on limited edition multicolored vinyl and streaming at Spotify.

It’s an interesting new direction, a little closer to funk or heavy latin soul than Radio Moscow’s Hendrix-baked heavy psych. The lineup here includes former Radio Moscow drummer Lonnie Blanton, bassist Shawn Davis, guitarist Jaron Yancey and percussionist Tawny Harrington.

With the album’s first track, The Mould, the band work their way up from a skeletal, nimble intro to fuzzy, heavy wah heavy riffs: nothing fancy, just straight-up catchy early-70s acid funk before Griggs goes flying off the hinges.

Track two, No Harm, is closer to the group Griggs made a name for himself with: Band of Gypsys with some killer Niagara Falls barrel-rolls from Blanton and searing, speaker-panning guitar leads. Imagine early Santana with twin leads, minus the organ, and you get Take Me Away: this is one of those great songs that you don’t realize is just a one-chord jam until it’s almost over.

Griggs and Yancey ride the wah pedals, across the speakers and back throughout track three, the instrumental K. Mt. Is that a real keyboard or just a guitar patch bringing back the vintage Santana vibe in the fourth tune, Breaking Free? Hard to tell.

They hit a dirty, refreshingly noisy 70s acid rock strut in Crazy Legs and follow it with Sitar Song. which sounds like one of those ridiculous effect-fixated rare singles you find on the Brown Acid compilations.

Volume knobs, rattletrap drums and then pure supersonic venom all figure in Black Days, the delicious twelve-minute epic that winds up the record: the dip to a squiggly bass-and-drums interlude sets up a memorable duel on the way out. There’s also a bonus track, O’Grace – with riffage like these guys have, who needs chord changes?

After an insanely slow start to the year, we are starting to be deluged with new rock records and this is one of the best and most psychedelic of the bunch. El Perro’s next unrestricted show is June 7 at around 10 at Growlers, 1911 Poplar Ave. in Memphis, Tennessee; cover is $15. Hometown heavy psych band Dirty Streets headline and make a great segue.

Slashing Twin-Guitar Intensity on Jane Lee Hooker’s New Album

Jane Lee Hooker play a snarling, distinctive mix of gutter blues, retro soul music, psychedelia and 70s acid rock. Their latest album Rollin’ – streaming at Spotify – is their most ambitious, soul-oriented and strongest release yet.

They open with Lucky. a heavy soul anthem. Frontwoman Dana Athens’ raw, impassioned vocals ring out in between stomps from the guitars of Tracy Hightop and Tina T-Bone Gorin. As bassist Hail Mary Zadroga and drummer Lightnin’ Ron Salvo lay down a lithe, incisive 6/8 groove, the two guitarists diverge into separate channels, flinging bits of blues at each other and an exchange of solos from simmering to savage.

That slashing, conversational dynamic recurs memorably throughout the rest of the record. Athens punches in on both piano and organ on the second track, Drive, a seething retro 60s-style soul tune. They follow a twisting trajectory in Jericho, from a brisk anthem down to a lull, only to explode out at the end.

The band bring a restless, relentless energy to a well-worn gospel-tinged soul jamband sound in Weary Bones: if only the thousands of other groups who play this kind of stuff could steer clear of cliches as well as this crew do.

They hit a roaring, catchy early 80s-style powerpop drive in All Good Things, then slow down a little for the organ soul tune Mercy Mercy Mercy, a vehicle for Athens’ powerful pipes. Then the band’s two guitarslingers switch out their electrics for an acoustic and a National steel model in White Gold, a delta blues stomp.

The rampaging boogie Runaway Train comes across as a more jagged, female-fronted take on peak-era 70s Blue Oyster Cult. They close the album with Mean Town Blues, a deliciously unhinged, stampeding gutter blues tune with the album’s longest guitar duel.

Jane Lee Hooker are on European tour right now. Their next restriction-free show is on June 7 at 8 PM at Samlingsstuen, Andresens Købmandsgård 4 in Kerteminde, Denmark; cover is 250 kr.

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.