New York Music Daily

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Hell Fire Stampede and Burn Through Their Best Album Yet

What would Halloween month here be without at least a handful of metal bands? One of the best metal albums to come over the transom this year is Hell Fire’s latest one, Reckoning, streaming at Riding Easy Records’ Bandcamp page. Much as calling this new release their Master of Puppets invites screams about hubris, it’s definitely the band’s strongest effort yet in their ongoing crusade to sustain a well-loved 80s sound.

They open with the title track: first, a lingering, flamenco-tinged two-guitar intro before the stampeding Iron Maiden triplets kick in. It’s a familiar, satisfying NWOBHM vibe: twin lead harmonies and some tasty Bach-via-Malmsteen chromatics from guitarists Jake Nunn and Tony Campos over Mike Smith’s boots-to-the-wall drumming.

Track two is Medieval Cowboys, a brisk, catchy, thrashy tune that looks back to the earliest Maiden days. It Ends Tonight has more of a Royal Hunt-style viking ballad feel, with an unexpectedly delicious, Middle Eastern-flavored guitar break.

Thrill of the Chase is exactly that, a stampeding opportunity for Campos to take his tapping to the next level, joined by Nunn for an extra level of fireworks midway through. Then Smith shifts into frantic overdrive for Addicted to Violence – good title for a song from 2022, huh?

The closest thing to a big epic here is Tortuga Nights: this one’s for the mead-drinking, helmeted warriors, veering from ba-bump metal cabaret to what sounds like quadruplespeed and then back, with a surprise ending.

Eye For an Eye has surprisingly allusive chromatics and some tricky rhythms. The band look back to an early Judas Priest turbocharged pop feel bolstered by additional guitar pyrotechnics in Many Worlds: sub bassist Matt Freeman (who has since been replaced by Kai Sun) holds up well playing music this heavy.

Nowhere Fast is their Ace of Spades, more or less. They completely flip the script with the unexpectedly plaintive, druid-folk tableau A Dying Moon, with one of the album’s most unlikely savage solos from Campos. They close the album with The Executioner, Freeman getting into the baroque blaze along with the guitars.


Wanna Get Paid to See Concerts?

This isn’t a help wanted ad. It’s the most radical initiative this blog has ever undertaken. Let’s cut straight to the punchline: it can literally add years to your life, and put a little money in your pocket too.

You may be aware that running a music blog is incredibly labor-intensive, yet also extremely unprofitable. It is literally more cost-effective to be a musician than to publish a music blog: a musician can at least monetize a Zoom or Patreon page. For that reason, over the years, New York Music Daily has pursued a number of financing schemes. Longtime subscribers may remember a battle-of-the-bands contest, a cutting-edge dating app, a reality tv show, and a bold proposition to solve the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

For many reasons – a trademark dispute, burdensome regulatory hurdles and the tragic, unexpected suicide of one of the developers – none of those initiatives ever made it past the conceptual stage. Meanwhile, this blog was able to achieve great things, becoming New York’s go-to source for outside-the-box music coverage, all the while surviving on what was fast becoming a phantom budget.

By April of 2020, it was clear that if New York Music Daily was going to emerge with any capability of covering live music again, a significant capital program would be required. That’s why, while you’ve been reading about album after album on this page over the past two years, there’s been major work going on behind the scenes, culminating in a project with transformative potential.

When sourcing capital for a program that many would consider controversial, it pays to dovetail with the current zeitgeist. For that reason, a decision was made to sync with today’s global emphasis on personal health and wellbeing. In fact, that agenda has always been part and parcel of New York Music Daily’s commitment to advocating for live music in New York, even if it might not be obvious.

Studies have proven that on average, people who experience live music at least twice a week live at least two years longer than people who don’t. The health industry, insurance industry and employers are all keenly aware of this fact. Armed with this information, surely there should be a way to collaborate in the philanthropic space to help promote a common goal: greater health and longevity among New Yorkers.

Yet in the context of today’s New York, that goal, noble as it may be, needs to be focused on equity. To merely give away a bunch of concert tickets, like radio stations used to do, isn’t nearly enough. For a music blog which has always represented all New Yorkers, issues of equal access to live music need to be addressed.

For one, consider how all the big concerts halls are located in Midtown Manhattan, rather than in, say, the South Bronx. The explanation is simple: when Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden first opened, the majority of Manhattan property was residential. Did you know that Carnegie Hall was a major focal point during the Harlem Renaissance? A long series of exclusive concerts were held there for years, featuring a who’s who of foundational artists of color. Likewise, you may remember that rap music and break dancing were programmed at Lincoln Center as far back as the early 1980s, before artists like Run DMC and Kid n’ Play even existed.

What happened?

As Manhattan shifted to commercial real estate, residential communities moved to the outer boroughs…where music venues have traditionally been in short supply. How do we restore equity to communities who stand to benefit the most from live music yet often have the least access to it?

Here’s how: through New York Music Daily’s new Health Through Music Live (HTML) app developed in collaboration with the J. Edward Epstein Memorial Trust, Black Lives Matter and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The planning and execution of the program have been incredibly complex, yet the technology behind it is incredibly simple. Realistically, it had to be, in order to be viable.

For you, it’s as simple as downloading the Health Through Music Live (HTML) app to your phone. Activate the app, and a list of available concerts pops up, all of them free. Even better, you get all kinds of perks and or cash back every time you check in at the concert venue or log on to a virtual event, even though this doesn’t cost you a cent. It doesn’t matter if you go to the show or just stay home and watch in your jam-jams.

And there’s no limit on how many concerts you can see. If you want to do it New York Music Daily style and go to four shows in a single evening, no problem! Hit the Curate button and an entire night of entertainment pops up. For example, you can start with the John Legend/Britney Spears 2gethR4ever tour at the Garden, then head up to the brand-new Planned Parenthood Center in the Bronx for Fall Out Boy/Girl and if you still have the energy, head over to the Hudson Yards complex for the intimate Hanson midnight cabaret extravaganza.

If all the concertgoing becomes overkill, the Health Through Music Live (HTML) app can also hook you up with all kinds of other fun activities that you can choose from the main page. Free timed entry into New York City museums, historical sites, parks, Open Streets events, fitness activities, farmers markets and educational programs are just a click away. So much to choose from, so little time!

Each time you participate, whether in person or virtually, you build up extra points that can be redeemed at a number of national retailers including Amazon, Nike, SweetGreen, Whole Foods and The Body Shop, just for starters. There is also a planned initiative with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to offer certain eligible concertgoers free accounts and instant credit in the form of the new digital currency currently in development, as soon as the exchange technology is available. Until now, an account with the New York Fed was something only the world’s most prestigious banks had access to, but now membership in that exclusive club can be yours, through the app.

Now for a little housekeeping and a lot of transparency. Instead of ten pages of tiny type and every kind of legal disclaimer imaginable, here’s how it works. The app is a ticket. It gets you into the show. It’s timed entry – you have to be there on time, which depends on the venue. At Brooklyn Steel, that might mean an hour and a half before showtime for pre-entry and health screening, where at the Mercury Lounge, that could be 45 minutes. All the information pops up immediately when you receive confirmation that you’re on the list. Have your phone out and be ready to swipe it at the instruction of venue personnel. They know you’re coming and they’re ready – it’s so easy!

Age restrictions apply at some venues and are listed for every show where applicable. If you get there late, sorry, no entry. You also have to leave the venue on time, as indicated in your confirmation. Compliance with venue rules is a must. Misbehave and that’s your problem: by consenting to use the app, you indemnify New York Music Daily, its partners, vendors and affiliated venues from all claims, in perpetuity. Seriously: it’s a free concert. You’re not going to sue somebody who just gave you a five hundred dollar concert ticket for free…and bought you an Impossible Burger at Burger King afterward, right?

Tickets are first come, first served, one per show per phone, no exceptions – although if you want to bring the kids, please do, just download the app to their phones as well. The app streamlines compliance to keep up with the latest CDC guidance, which as you have seen lately is subject to change at a moment’s notice. Along with your confirmation, you’ll get up-to-the-minute notifications on what’s required in terms of how many masks you’ll need, and a reminder to get your booster status up to date if necessary. Information on distancing from other patrons may also be included: this will apply to people in your party as well.

If you’re white. be aware that you may notice some people of color in your social circle going to more of these shows than you are, and that’s because the technology that powers the app is weighted toward underserved populations. That’s the price you pay for white privilege. All those free shows you got to see in your wealthy neighborhood, and you’re bitching about some underprivileged kid from East New York getting to go to the Lower East Side for the first time ever? Grow up and show some respect. There are so many fun activities available on the app that you’re bound to find something you like.

You may be asking how all this is possible. Doesn’t this cost a fortune? Well, yes. But the nonprofit sector and the Health Department have an interest in your health, and they’re willing to pay for it. So enjoy!

Another way this whole project is financed is through partners and affiliates. The coolest thing about this app is that it’s so simple, yet so adaptable that you can run your whole life from it if you want. It’s been specially optimized for New Yorkers. There are a million sexy features, but here’s one that’s not sexy at all, yet which may be incredibly time-saving. Would you believe that this app has a one-click link to the IRS system? Yeah, nobody likes paying taxes, but it’s something everybody has to face every year. And you may have heard nightmares about how hard it’s been just trying to log on to the system this year. But with the Health Through Music Live (HTML) app, you’re in, BOOM, no problem!

Here’s another unsexy one-click frontdoor that some of you might actually find yourself using: the New York City Department of Motor Vehicles. No more standing in line at the DMV! You can even upload a new photo and download the new digital driver’s license via the app.

You want sexy? Google Pay, Apple Pay, Venmo, Seamless, Doordash, Peloton, Tinder, Zoom, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime and pretty much every service you use every day can all be activated via the app, as can direct deposit to your exclusive Fed account from all major payroll systems along with all major debit/credit cards. All major insurers as well as government entitlement programs including Social Security, food and rent assistance can be accessed by eligible New York residents as well. You can also run all socials including FB, IG, Telegram and (we think – this one may change) TikTok. There have been some last-minute tweaks required to remove all Russian links and content, but there are new Ukrainian features and a special app where you can contribute to humanitarian partners sending nonlethal aid to Ukraine.

Pandemic security alerts, dangerous weather advisories straight from the Mayor’s office and instant video chat with your landlord or building management via the new Safe Corridor system are also included. You can even access and exchange Bitcoin on the app. Full disclosure: New York Music Daily does not endorse Bitcoin or encourage anyone to purchase it, the consensus here is that it’s a pump-and-dump scheme. But, realistically, some of you own Bitcoin and may want to unload it, and the app gives you that option.

What is the technology behind the app? A very simple interface using blockchain and bluetooth. You have an identifying code and a unique password that you and you alone know. Information is only transferred between you and trusted partners. That’s the way all electronic transactions work anyway. For example, the venue needs to know it’s you who’s getting the seat for the concert, your doctor needs to know it’s you who has the appointment and not somebody else, and the retailer needs to know it’s you who’s redeeming the coupon rather than an impostor. And because it’s blockchain, all your perks and earnings are safe from any kind of rando North Korean hacker who might be trying to steal your data.

Bottom line: free concerts, get paid. Hit this link, get the app and get started on a healthy, music-filled life!


A Tuneful, Evocative. Auspicious Debut by Pianist Andrew Boudreau

Pianist Andrew Boudreau‘s debut album Neon – streaming at Spotify – is ambitious, but also very translucent. His themes are strong, with a fondness for lingering, uneasy, distantly latin-tinged modalities. The album is more about vivid tunesmithing and portraiture than flash.

Tenor saxophonist Neta Raanan follows a steady trajectory from stubbornly off-center passing tones to connect with Boudreau’s judicious, moody modal chords, then the pianist builds a series of lively, leaping little riffs in Mile Ex, tracing the gentrification of a Montreal neighborhood. A return to the initial desolation is not so slight: trendiness may be even more transitory than we think!

Likewise, Boudreau straightens out Ribbons from brooding syncopation to a determined swing, Ranaan flickering and fluttering over a methodical chordal backdrop, bassist Simón Willson and drummer Eviatar Slivnik fueling a steady, triumphant crescendo out. Ranaan’s cheery curlicues contrast with Boudrean’s darker undercurrent in Maud Lewis, a jazz waltz inspired by the Nova Scotian folk artist.

His circling, glistening modalities permeate Ghost Stories – drawing on a childhood memory of
“one of those sifters you put dirt through looking for nice rocks at a little gorge tourist trap in New Hampshire.” Ranaan takes a determined upward path toward paydirt as Boudreau chooses his spots to punch in hard.

The somberness of the title track, a murky, spacious, Messiaenic miniature, recurs in the slowly striding One Day, Willson’s loose-limbed solo giving way to Boudreau’s tensely spiraling gleam. It was inspired by a David Wojnarowicz mixed-media piece dating from the era when Dr. Faulty was pushing AZT, the failed cancer chemotherapy drug that killed hundreds of thousands of AIDS patients.

The Water’s Cold, a coastal Canadian maritime tableau, has a restrained, hypnotic turbulence that finally goes out calmly with the tide. Boudreau took inspiration for the lithely kinetic Hopscotch from the labyrinthine Julio Cortázar novel, bounding and rippling over the rhythm section’s pouncing syncopation, Ranaan cutting loose with a smoky intensity.

Boudreau brings the album full circle with a second, resolutely solitary miniature, Welcome Tree. Let’s hope there’s more where this came from.

A Colorfully Melodic Big Band Debut by the Sam Pilnick Nonet

If you want to make a big splash with your debut album, you put as many players on it as you can. Maybe you leave no doubt about where the record is going by opening with a nine-minute song which starts with the big riff from Also Sprach Zarathustra.

That’s what saxophonist Sam Pilnick did on the first album by his nonet, The Adler Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. It was not easy to resist being snarky about the album’s central concept: the mysteries of deep space (Pilnick came up with it on his first trip to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium). In all seriousness, Pilnick’s compositions are refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and on the upbeat side: he and his formidable group managed to wrap up recording under the wire in February 2020, just ahead of the plandemic lockdowns.

The title of the opening number, Squawk Box refers to the NASA communication device which seems positively quaint after all these years. That famous Space Odyssey riff becomes a cheery march over an increasingly bustling rhythm, then suddenly the band drop out for a fleetingly sober break by pianist Meghan Stagl. She returns to deliver a longer, loungey twinkle. On bass clarinet, Ted Hogarth adds comfortable nocturnal ambience beneath growing lustre as the group wind their way out with an unhurried optimism. The far reaches of the galaxy have seldom been more inviting.

The album’s second tune, Star Launch opens with an attractively bustling theme, an intertwine between altoist Max Bessesen, trumpeter Emily Kuhn, trombonist Euan Edmonds, and Hogarth on baritone sax alongside guitarist Ben Cruz, bassist Ben Dillinger and drummer Matthew Smalligan. The bandleader races steadily through the song’s first solo, Bessesen raising the intensity to a genial 50s Basie-esque series of flurries which the ensemble ride out on.

Stagl switches to electric piano for extra starriness in Revolving Twins, a series of variations on a gentle, steadily circling riff, Cruz playing Luke S. to Smalligan’s Darth V. for a bit. Dillinger artfully shadows Pilnick’s deliberately paced upward trajectory to a febrile peak.

Kuhn does her best Venus impression in the tenderly resonant ballad Silver Light, and she’s got it, wafting over ambered horns and Stagl’s spacious chords. The moody duo number Constant Companion makes a good segue, the bandleader taking his time closing in on Stagl’s simple, loopy descending progression.

The album’s most epic track is House of the Massive (Pismis-24), inspired by a star system 6500 light years from home. With its hypnotically funky pulse, echoey electric piano, buoyant horns and shreddy guitar solo, it brings to mind late-period Steely Dan. Pilnick returns to spacious ambience with A Light Year, a contented canon for the horns and then takes that theme more bracingly and warily upward in Expanding Universe.

The group conclude with Falling Backwards, inspired by the return of the Gemini 12 expedition. Pilnick chooses his spots over a staggered, energetically syncopated drive and massed brassy atmosphere, Edmonds’ clusters and sailing phrases leading the group to the edge of night. Pilnick’s translucent compositions are a breath of fresh air: let’s hope we get to hear more from this purposeful crew.

Something for Manhattanites to Consider on 12/11

After everything we’ve been through since March of last year, the LAST thing New York Music Daily wants to do is to be complicit in fearmongering. This blog doesn’t have a shred of evidence that any kind of extraordinary calamity is going to happen in Manhattan on 12/11.

But just to err on the side of caution, this blog’s owner is going to take a day trip about a hundred miles out of town on the morning of 12/11 as a preparedness exercise. Here’s the rationale.

What are the two most defining historical moments of the 21st century so far? One was the 9/11 attacks. The other was the 3/11 Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdowns.

What do the two have in common? 9/11 was engineered by humans, but it’s hard to imagine that 3/11 was the result of anything other than a natural disaster (albeit one whose ramifications are due to human greed and incompetence).

But look at the dates: 9/11/01 and 3/11/11, each in the first year of a decade. Add 9 and 3, move it up another decade, and what do you get?

On one hand, any logically-minded person would assert that these are just random dates on a calendar based on a religion that only a minority of the world’s population adheres to.

On the other, we know that some of the most sinister forces in the world are obsessed with numbers and numerology, groundless and unscientific as those obsessions may be.

And 12/11/21 is a palindrome.

But we’ve had palindrome dates every year since the beginning of the Roman calendar, you say. Today, 12/9/21 is a palindrome, and has anything unusually disastrous happened? If anything, from a legal standpoint, the past eight days of palindrome dates in this country have been very auspicious.

So here’s the logic to an otherwise completely illogical premise: 12/11/21 is the next-to-last palindrome date of the year. The final one, 12/22/21, is actually a favorable date in astrological terms because it’s the first day after the winter solstice. Consensus in astrological circles seems to be that 12/22 has potential to be serendipitous in helping push an ongoing shift into a kinder, gentler Age of Aquarius.

So just for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re a bad actor in the geopolitical space, and you’re more obsessed with numbers than you should be. And you’ve just seen the American judicial system and legislature deal several crushing blows to your lethal injection scheme. You’ve got two palindrome dates left on the calendar. One has a tenuous connection to two landmark disasters. The other seems to be on the side of the angels. If you were going to choose one for a false flag attack to divert attention from how fast your global totalitarian agenda is collapsing, which one would you pick?

That being said, this blog went offline for the entirety of the Cyber Polygon cyberterrorism exercise last July, just to be safe, and nothing ended up happening that day. New York Music Daily certainly hopes that Saturday’s events are no more disturbing than they’ve been since March 16 of last year, and, let’s be clear, has no evidence that they would be. But this blog also isn’t taking any chances. Roadtrip, anybody?

One of the World’s Mightiest Latin Jazz Orchestras Gets Back to Business at Birdland

When a bunch of oligarchs and their puppets in politics tried to take over the world in 2020, musicians were left out in the cold. In the liner notes to his new album Virtual Birdland, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, longtime leader of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra takes care to mention how people who play music for a living are no less essential than any other workers. Empowered by that knowledge, he kept the band going through a long series of webcasts, possibly the most labor-intensive of all the innumerable online collaborations of the past sixteen months or so. The great news is that the big band’s home base, Birdland, is open again, and the group have resumed the Sunday night residency they were banished from in March of last year. Showtime these days is 7 PM. If you feel like celebrating, it couldn’t hurt to reserve a spot now since these shows are very likely to sell out. Cover is $20; your best deal is a seat at the bar.

Considering that individual parts on the record – streaming at Spotify – were recorded remotely in innumerable different sonic environments, the fact that it sounds as contiguous as it does reflects the herculean work of the engineers involved.

Big trombone fanfares interweave with lushly swirling reeds over a bubbling Punjabi-inflected groove in the cuisine-inspired opening number, Gulab Jamon. O’Farrill takes a cascading, brightly neoromantic solo with Bam Bam Rodriguez’s bass growling minimalistically behind him while the rhythm straightens into an emphatic clave. Tenor saxophonist Jasper Dutz summons a return to a web of triumphant counterpoint and a devious false ending.

Guest Malika Zarra sings her composition Pouvoir, a slinky, brassy Moroccan-flavored tune with solos from trombonist Mariel Bildstein and conguero Keisel Jimenez. This band have always slayed with Arabic and Jewish themes, underscored by their version of trombonist Rafi Malkiel’s brooding Desert, its uneasily undulating chromatics giving way to a serpentine solo by the composer and then a muted, soulful one from lead trumpeter Seneca Black.

With its nocturnal, Dizzy Gillespie-style suspense and bluster, Larry Willis’ Nightfall makes a great segue, trumpeter Rachel Therrien and tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta cutting loose hauntingly between the orchestra’s chromatic gusts. The bandleader spirals elegantly; Jimenez goes deep down the well as the storm hovers.

Guest guitarist Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi sings his methodical, bittersweet ballad Ana Mashoof, adding a starry solo in tandem with O’Farrill before Alejandro Aviles spins in on soprano sax. Alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera soars and weaves through a tightly turbulent take of his Samba For Carmen, echoed by O’Farrill’s trumpeter son Adam.

Alafia, by Letieres Leite – the Brazilian Arturo O’Farrill – gets a jubilant, percussion-fueled workout, part elegantly orchestral candomble theme, part feral frevo brass-band romp with a tantalizingly brief, smoky Larry Bustamante baritone sax solo.

O’Farrill first performed Rafael Solano’s En La Oscuridad with his big band legend father Chico O’Farrill alongside the great tenor saxophonist Mario Rivera, so playing this suave, balmy ballad again with Renta, a Rivera protege, brings the song full circle.

They close the album with a couple of salutes to transgression, something the world is rising to embrace like never before. The epic take of Papo Vazquez’s relentlessly anthemic Cimarron first features calm triumph from trombonist Abdulrahman Amer, Aviles turning up the heat on alto, then percussionist Carly Maldonado fueling a charge out. The final number is a towering, cinematic take of Tito Puente’s Para Los Rumberos: Renta, Malkiel, Maldonado, Jimenez and drummer Vince Cherico all get to cut loose. How beautiful it is that we can hear musicians of this caliber take material like this to the next level onstage again.

And if you’re around the East Village on the 29th, O’Farrill is leading a much smaller group at St. Marks Park at 2nd Ave. and 10th St. at half past noon.

The Bourbon Express Bring a Honkytonk Party to Lower Manhattan This Weekend

This may be the weirdest and scariest year in the history of live music, but not everything that’s happening is weird and scary. And some of those weird happenings are actually reason for a lot of optimism. For example, what’s the likelihood that a fantastic hard honkytonk band – with a singer whose original axe is the concert harp – would be playing a cozy taco-and-beer joint at the northern edge of the South Street Seaport over the 4th of July weekend?

No joke – the Bourbon Express are making a return to the stage at the friendly, laid-back Cowgirl Seahorse at 259 Front St. this July 5 at 7 PM. There’s no cover, although tips for the band are always welcome.

The last time this blog was in the house at one of their shows, it was in the spring of 2018 at the old Hank’s, where they were playing the album release show for their most recent one Cry About It Later. What a fun evening that was – what’s better than a hot night with a cold pint in one hand and a pretty girl snuggled up next to you while a good country band is cooking onstage? It’s the kind of memory we used to take for granted – and maybe we need to remind ourselves that moments like that need to be more than just memories.

That the Bourbon Express kept the crowd on their feet after a sizzling, twang-rich set by the jangly, psychedelic Girls on Grass speaks volumes. Lead guitarist Brendan Curley is a master of twang himself, and fired off one incisive, tantalizingly short solo after another on his Telecaster. Meanwhile, frontwoman Katie Curley showed off her own chops on acoustic guitar in front of the band, singing with more power and edge than ever. And her songs were really funny.

The best one of the night was Five to Nine, an exasperated and spot-on gig economy-era narrative told from the point of view of a girl whose entitled boss seems to think he can pester her about work at nine at night after she’s been on the clock all day. This was two years before the lockdown, but Curley totally nailed the kind of dynamic you get when authority figures who don’t have the balls to confront you in person are at the other end of the Zoom connection.

Other songs were funny for different reasons. Curley celebrated the joys of daydrinking and cooking with a glass of wine in hand in Dilly Dally, and the oldschool, retro 50s flavored Blame It on the Hangover. The rhythm section swung hard and the crowd kept drinking: Hank’s was in Brooklyn, and the bandleader is from Seattle originally, so the band don’t exactly channel a deep south vibe. Instead, Curley’s aphoristic lyrics and soaring voice were closer to something coming out of Bakersfield around 1965. Considering how many bands have been scattered across the country, and the world, by the lockdown, it’s awfully cool to see this group still together and playing.

Pianist Dan Costa Immortalizes a Beautiful Moment From a Better Time

Think of how many musicians were out on the road, trying to earn a living, at the time the lockdowners were trying to seize control of the world under the pretext of a health emergency. The economic damage, not only to those players, but to the venues where they were performing and the people who worked there, is immeasurable – and it’s only getting worse. Brazilian jazz pianist Dan Costa was lucky – his US tour ended just before the lockdown. Serendipitously, he had the presence of mind to record the final concert, on February 29 at Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, California. Since then, he’s released it as an album, Live in California, streaming at Spotify.

This gorgeously melodic, meticulously focused set includes a mix of originals and popular Braziian material. Costa plays solo, opening with his lithely energetic, lyrical composition Baião, his understatedly insistent lefthand anchoring a glittering neoromantic tune that strongly brings to mind Egberto Gismonti.

With his second number, simply titled Maracatu, Costa builds Debussy-esque, pentatonic lustre and pointillistic shimmer over a similarly low-key take on that iconic Brazilian rhythm. He approaches that famous and vastly overplayed Jobim hit with a blend of puckish wit and unexpected gravitas. Then he goes back to originals with the more expansively gleaming Sete Enredos, rising to a chiliing, chromatic peak, coloring the ominous resonance with icy upper-register riffs before returning to a pulsing forward drive. It’s the high point of the show.

Aria turns out to be a bounding, High Romantic jazz waltz lit up by Costa’s expansive righthand chords and cascades. Likewise, he adds a cosmopolitan shimmer to the bounce of Roberto Menescal’s O Barquinho.

Tempos Sentidos is another showcase for Costa’s purposeful, economical approach: steady pedalpoint, thoughtfully chosen, emphatic choral work, no wasted notes. He closes the show with a low-key, impressionistic take of Ivan Lins’ Love Dance. How ironic that something so completely unplanned would turn out to be a lock for one of the best jazz albums of 2020.

A True Ghost Story

[Editor’s note: since the house in this story is for sale, the owners have requested that the location not be disclosed. They also asked for some personal details to be changed, in order to protect their investment. Beyond that, the events here are one hundred percent true]

In late December 2018, I went out of state to dogsit for a couple who’d gone to their vacation home in Maine. If the idea of heading so far north for the holidays seems odd, this young family had good reason. Over the previous several days, the wife had been spooked by inexplicable bumping and creaking noises, and what she characterized as a general sense of dread. She was especially concerned that her infant son might be adversely affected as well. Redrum! Redrum!

I was left with a generous supply of wine, a fridge full of food, and the dog. As a wannabe ghostbuster, I watched him closely for reactions to unseen forces. Obviously, animals’ senses in general are more finally attuned than our own, so a dog reacting to something humans can’t perceive doesn’t mean there’s a ghost in the house. On our many walks together, along the road and through the woods, this lovable creature – a ten-year-old shepherd mix – was a typical canine, sniffing and pawing and psyched to be marking new territory. He didn’t seem the least bit unnerved.

When I dogsit and we go for a walk, I like to take a different route each time, because animals like variety – and the excitement wears them out, and then they can sleep and not bother me while I’m working.

That strategy worked out perfectly: if this house was haunted, the dog was either oblivious or didn’t care. And other than the usual sounds of winter – the furnace or hot water heater clicking on, wind in the trees, sleet on the roof and the deck – I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

About five days into my stay, I was on my laptop multitasking and listening to an album online. It was around ten in the evening. I hadn’t had anything to drink, nor any other mind-altering substances.

As with most albums, there were a few seconds of silence between tracks. About eight tracks in, the song ended and I suddenly heard the carefree laugh of a middle-aged woman erupt in my headphones. In the background, I could hear people milling around, sounds of silverware and glassware: there was a party going on. Then the noise vanished as abruptly as it had begun and the next track on the album began to play.

The song was Don’t Fear the Reaper.

I pulled off my headphones. Silence. The dog was asleep in the next room. My curiosity piqued at long last, I checked every room in the house along with the basement and the attic. Nothing. If I had company, it wasn’t revealing itself – anymore, at least.

I put my headphones back on and cued up the track which had played right before I’d heard the woman laugh. When the song ended, this time there was only silence before Don’t Fear the Reaper.

Through some quirk of the web, or wifi, did I catch a split second of somebody on Zoom? Was the computer somehow picking up on the audio to somebody’s Instagram, or a movie, maybe?

When the owners returned, they were reassured to learn that beyond this one incident, my stay had been uneventful. The wife explained that the previous owner had been her mother-in-law, who had died about a year before. The two women had despised each other, which could account for the daughter-in-law’s experiences right before I got there.

I also learned that the mother-in-law loved to throw parties, especially around this time of year. Had I received a festive greeting from beyond the grave? Maybe the Reaper isn’t such a scary guy after all.

A Ghostly Encounter with a Dear Departed Friend?

It was about 11:30 in the morning and I was already on my third whiskey, neat. The dog lay on the floor, dead, in the next room.

I’d woken up about an hour earlier and almost tripped over her. “What the hell are you up to?” I’d asked her, assuming she’d respond like she always did. Eloise was always playing you. This French bulldog was well into her teens and had slowed down a lot in the past year, but she’d been in good, snuffly spirits the previous night. The crushing heat wave had finally broken, she’d had a leisurely walk and a hunk of sliced turkey afterward. And now she was gone.

What the hell were the owners going to say? They were in Europe, five hours ahead, and I’d just let their beloved little neighborhood fixture die. I had to pull myself together. I found a sheet of plastic among some empty boxes in the hallway, picked her up and wrapped her in it. Then I put her in the fridge.

When I reached her owners, they were distraught but sympathetic, something I wasn’t expecting. They wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. I swept, mopped, then locked up their place and left.

The evening they returned, I was walking back to my place. On the block before mine, there was an ambulance doubleparked at the corner. I didn’t pay it any mind: there were always ambulances in this neighborhood.

As I crosssed the avenue, I looked back and noticed a French bulldog, a dead ringer for Eloise, standing directly in front of the right front tire of the ambulance.

Although there was nobody behind the wheel, I wasn’t going to take any chances. There was no way I was going to let two identical dogs die on my watch in less than a week.

I had to wait for an opening in the traffic before I sprinted back across, against the light. By the time I reached the ambulance, the dog had disappeared. I checked under the vehicle and also the surrounding cars: nothing. That was a good sign.

I crossed the street again, then looked back. No dog in front of the ambulance, or in the shadow underneath.

Suddenly I did a doubletake. That shadow under the ambulance, between the front wheels, was a giant silhouette of Eloise’s head, right down to her pointy little ears!

Trick of the light just before dusk? Survivor’s guilt? Or proof that even in the next world, Eloise was still up to her old tricks?