New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Oldschool and Newschool Soul at Lincoln Center Out of Doors This July 27

There’s an intriguing triplebill this July 27 at Lincoln Center Out of Doors exploring the glorious past and trippy future of soul music. British band the Black Pumas, who open the night at 7:30 out back in Damrosch Park, represent the dark, psychedelic side, as does headlining Grupo Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada, who’s joined by a parade of singers from his Texas home turf. In between, there’s veteran singer and bandleader Lee Fields, a James Brown contemporary who got his start in the late 60s.

For an idea of what the night’s second set is going to sound like, you can stream Fields’ arguably best album Special Night at Bandcamp. For a more cynical appraisal of a Fields show, playing to a crowd of entitled yuppie puppies in Williamsburg almost a decade ago, you can visit this blog’s predecessor. On the album, Fields’ six-piece band the Expressions does a good job replicating the gritty analog sound of the late 60s and early 70s when Fields was working overtime on the small club circuit.

The catchy, swaying, midtempo title track starts out with Adam Scone’s organ over the rhythm section: bassist Quincy Bright and drummer Homer Steinweiss, Then Thomas Brenneck’s guitar and the horns make their way in judiciously, on a long, satisfying upward tangent capped off by a brooding spoken word interlude over lush strings. “Loneliness is dangerous and should be avoided if possible,” Fields cautions. His voice holds up well throughout the record, hitting all the high notes with passion and a little growl in places.

In keeping with the oldschool vibe, there’s reverb on everything here: the drums, the trebly bass and even the backing vocals. I’m Coming Home has coyly punchy call-and-response between lead and backup singers, tumbling drums and hi-beam horns. An unselfconsciously gorgeous 6/8 ballad, Work to Do paints a picture of a party animal trying to pull his act together. Does he ditch work to go to the therapist, or did his nocturnal ways cost him his job? Fields doesn’t specify.

Never Be Another You comes across as a sober (i.e. less psychedelically woozy) take on what Timmy Thomas did with Why Can’t We Live Together. Fields picks up the pace with the funkier Lover Man, then tackles issues of eco-disaster over the insistent, fuzztone Isleys pulse of Make This World.

Lingering jazz chords and jagged tremolo-picking from the guitar permeate Let Him In, along with a blaze of brass: it’s an uneasy look at a relationship that may be too damaged to resuscitate. The whole band add very unexpectedly subtle flavors in the stomping sex joint How I Like It. Where Is the Love – an original, not the 70s pop hit – has stiletto guitar chords paired with acidic, airy organ and horn incisions.

Fields wraps up the album with the bouncy, minor-key syncopation of Precious Love. Suddenly spycams and Instagram disappear, the internet is just a dialup connection for the Pentagon, gas is thirty-five cents a gallon, people make eye contact in conversation, and it’s 1970 again.

Lyrical Piano Icon Fred Hersch Hasn’t Played the Vanguard Since January, So He Must Be Back This Month

The Vanguard is pianist Fred Hersch‘s home base, and it’s been six months since he played there. So he’s due, and he’s back for a stand starting on July 23 through the 28th with his long-running, conversational trio, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Sets are at 8:30 and around 10; cover is the usual $35.

These days Hersch has been releasing almost as many albums as he does weeks at the Vanguard. The latest one, Begin Again – streaming at Spotify – is a real change of pace, a lavishly orchestrated collection of tunes from throughout his career, recorded with German jazz orchestra the WDR Big Band. With his trio, Hersch is all about clever conversations, and playfulness, and singleminded attention to a song’s emotional center. This one, maybe unavoidably due to the sheer size of the project, is more about how much epic grandeur Hersch’s translucent tunes are suited to. Answer: a lot. Vince Mendoza’s arrangements are sharp and often surprisingly restrained. On one hand, given the joie de vivre and humor in Hersch’s writing, it must have been hard to resist the temptation to go completely epic with them. On the other, there’s a lot of gravitas on this record.

The band punches in and out throughout the cleverly dancing, triumphant metric shifts of the opening, title track, with a long, hushed, suspenseful interlude and a coda that’s gone in a flash. Alto saxophonist Johan Horlen rises from a gentle intro to a joyous peak over a lustrously majestic backdrop and Hersch’s steady neoromantic phrasing in Song Without Words #2: Ballad, high reeds and muted brass adding extra lustre.

A lot of Hersch’s vast back catalog doesn’t stay in one place for very long, and the version of Havana here is characteristic, Ernesto Lecuona glimmer followed by a punchy, ebullient jazz waltz with a stormy Paul Heller tenor sax solo. The desolate big-sky intro to Out Someplace (Blues for Matthew Shepard) is chilling; the band’s violence afterward is only slightly less so.

Maybe because of the size of the lineup, Hersch amps up his attack on the fugal lines of Pastorale – a standout, classically-inspired track from his brilliant 2011 Alone at the Vanguard album. The oldest number here is the vividly overcast yet kinetic Rain Waltz, brmming with artful orchestral interpolation orchestra amid Hersch’s incisive articulation. Trumpeter Ruud Bruels’ moodiness and alto sax player Karolina Strassmeyer’s more energetic spot foreshadow a titanic, brassy crescendo .

The album’s longest number, The Big Easy begins with a moody On Broadway sway, then slowly edges toward jubilation, punctuated by trombonist Ludwig Nuss and trumpeter Andy Haderer’s easygoing, coyly muted solos. The bustling, tropically-tinged Forward Motion makes quite a contrast. The album’s final cut is The Orb, from Hersch’s Coma Dreams suite, Hersch working his way cautiously from a uneasy, starlit Lynchian tableau to warm lyricism. Deep stuff from a deep guy.

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.

Scruffy, Catchy, Eclectic Folk-Rock Tunesmithing and a Lower East Side Show From Sunshine Nights

For the better part of the past decade, lo-fi acoustic duo Sunshine Nights – Amy Priya and Stephen Sunshine – have entertained crowds across the five boroughs with their catchy, upbeat, almost ridiculously eclectic songwriting and soulful guy/girl vocals. Their characteristically diverse, energetic latest vinyl record If We Stick Around – streaming at Bandcamp – has politically-fueled gravitas to go along with the good vibes. They’re playing the Parkside (the one in Manhattan at Attorney and Houston, not related to the much newer Prospect Lefferts Gardens joint) on July 17 at 10 PM.

Priya sings an Indian carnatic devotional tune over a simple, high bell drone on the album’s opening track, For Love. The second song, Tell Me has a loping desert rock feel. “”Just turn around if you’re feeling hypnotized…. turn in for a deeper look, this is not some storybook,” Priya reminds.

Peace Out is a rocksteady tune as the Violent Femmes might have done it – if they’d had a banjo and an organ in the band. With its interweave of acoustic fingerpicking and bluesy dobro, There and Then follows a quintessential urban trail of images: when the meter maid pulls her gun on somebody, we know we’re in trouble!

The next track, Billie is packed with deliciously spot-on 60s Memphis soul guitar: “You say you’re looking to expand your outer circle, what the fuck does that mean?” Sunshine asks. The duo bring to mind the Jefferson Airplane in the crescendoing, angst-fueled anthem The Amplifier, then they multitrack their vocals for a rousingly brief take of the gospel tune Brighter Than Gold.

Armageddon Blue has a defiant, populist edge, an aphoristic kiss-off to the boss from hell. Piss Off Donald is as self-explanatory and plainspokenly funny as it ought to be, while the album’s longest song, MTA paints a classic global warming-era New York tableau where “There ain’t no counting on the MTA, we all gotta walk it today.”

The duo take a sunny stroll through Chinatown in New Colossus, which sounds a lot like an indie folk version of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. They close the album with Last Dance, an imaginative mashup of oldtimey front-porch folk and Indian carnatic music. There’s literally something for everybody here.

An Imaginative, Hard-Swinging Change of Pace and a Smalls Gig by Saxophonist Nick Hempton

Saxophonist Nick Hempton has been a regular in the Smalls scene for at least a decade. His compositions swing hard, with an eclectic, ambitious edge and frequent detours into noir. His next gig there is July 14 at 10:30 with a killer, counterintuitive organ groove band including guitarist Mark Whitfield, organist Kyle Koehler and drummer Fukushi Tainaka

Hempton’s most recent album, Night Owl – streaming at Spotify – is a good introduction to what he can do with that band onstage – and a considerable change from his previous work. It features Koehler and Tainaka along with another purist guitarist, Peter Bernstein, playing a mix of originals and some pretty radical reinventions of standards.

Bernstein adds an unexpectedly bracing, clustering attack,echoed by Koehler while the band swing the blues in the album’s opening, title track. I Remember Milady’s is a somewhat wistfully altered, similarly bluesy cha-cha with a characteristically smoky solo from Hempton, Koehler launching a river with his.

The band shuffle with lickety-split verve through their take of After You’ve Gone, the bandleader making his scampering lines look effortless, Bernstein having fun with a series of spacy hammer-on phrases. Then they do I’m a Fool to Want You as a brooding bolero: the shadowy ambience of Bernstein’s cautious phrasing, Koehler’s muted backdrop, Tainaka’s brushwork and the smoke from Hempton’s tenor sax is where the noir really kicks in.

From there the band flip the script with the blithe 10th Street Turnaround: it’s akin to what Jimmy Smith might have done with a New Orleans ballad. Corner Bistro – a shout-out to a rare West Village landmark that’s still standing – has a slinky 60s funk shuffle lurking just beneath its shiny, somewhat acidic surface. Then the band shift into low gear with the balmy southern elegance of It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream.

Hempton’s catchy riffage and a long, majestic Koehler solo contrast with the massed, enigmatic harmonies behind them in Listen Hard, Speak Easy. They close the album with the expansive Macao Mood, a rather jubilant swing number that doesn’t sound the slightest bit Portuguese. Anybody who thinks that all organ-and-tenor records sound the same (are you listening, Harvey?) ought to hear this.

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.

Yet Another Killer Short Album and a Williamsburg Gig From Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black

Over the last couple of years, power trio Castle Black have put out a series of ferociously smart, edgy short albums. Watching the group develop from a promising, messy punk band into a sleek, relentlessly dark, complicated beast has been one of the real feel-good stories in the ever-shrinking New York rock scene. Their latest release, Dead in a Dream is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show this July 9 at 9 PM at Muchmore’s; cover is $7. For people worried about not being able to get home from Williamsburg on the L train, the venue is a leisurely five-minute walk from the Lorimer St. station, and the G train is running all night.

The first couple of tracks on the new ep blend dark garage rock with shapeshifting psychedelia. Throughout U Do the Same the band veer between time signatures, new drummer Joey Russo handling the tricky changes and also addiug gritty intensity on bass.

Frontwoman/guitarist Leigh Celent begins the moody Know Me, Anyway with a wall of feedback, the song rising from a plaintive verse into a venomously catchy chorus: “You don’t know me, anyway,” she intones as the storm builds toward gale force..

The title track is a creepy, sabretoothed masterpiece, Celent working the contrast between her lingering, jangly lines and savagely insistent chords, up to a series of brooding, psychedelic interludes. It’s one of the half-dozen best songs of 2019 so far, and the band play the hell out of it live.

A Sparkling, Verdant, Ecologically-Inspired Suite from Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna

Dana Lyn is one of New York’s most captivatingly protean violinists. She leaps between Irish music, classical and jazz and makes it seem effortless. She’s also one of the most relevant composers around. Her previous album Mother Octopus was a trippy, shapeshifting musical parable about oceanic eco-disaster. Guitarist-keyboardist Kyle Sanna is just as eclectic, moving from Irish and Middle Eastern music to indie classical, jazz and the artsier side of rock. The latest release by the two musicians’ duo project, is the Coral Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a more spare yet lingering and resonant exploration of the vanishing world of coral reefs. Catchy as it is, it’s hard to pin down: there’s baroque elegance and Celtic plaintiveness in Lyn’s alternately wistful and vibrantly lyrical phrasing, anchored by Sanna’s subtle, methodical acoustic work.

Lyn begins the first part of the suite solo with a bittersweet ballad theme, then Sanna makes his entrance and the the two build stately, pointillistic ambience. They shift to a punchy reel of sorts, which in turns morphs into a hypnotic waltz, violin flitting and then soaring over terse, enigmatic chordal guitar varations. The two reharmonize the first reel theme, which leads to another, the multitracks growing more lush. Sanna’s deep-space, delta blues-tinged slide work closes the first section.

The duo begin part the epic, 27-minute second half with slow, hazy, Debussy-esque wave motion, then develop an increasingly lively Irish open-road (or for that matter, open-sea) melody. Echoes of acoustic Fairport Convention – imagine a particularly bright Dave Swarbrick solo – eventually lead to another waltz, a joyous line dance and then more waves.

Sanna makes a gorgeous, poignant Renaissance theme out of that last waltz. From there, the music grows from a tightly strolling intertwine, goes flying through another reel, then recedes to a spare pizzicato interlude. The two take it out with a gently tidal wash of atmospherics.

Lyn’s next New York gig is on July 11 at around 9 PM at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery, where she’s playing with pianist JP Schlegelmilch, a similarly diverse artist who may be best known as the not-so-secret weapon in Hearing Things – the missing link between the Doors and the Ventures – but has also released the only album of solo piano arrangements of Bill Frisell works. Rising star tenor saxophonist Anna Webber opens the night, leading a chordless trio at 8. Cover is $20.

Nonstop Catchy Hooks, New Depth and a Brooklyn Gig from Ferocious Powerpop Band the Manimals

The Manimals‘ latest release Multiverse – streaming at Bandcamp – is a great powerpop record. Big crunchy guitars rise through catchy verses into singalong choruses, and frontwoman Haley Bowery has become a hell of a singer. Yet for all the hooks that bodyslam you, one after the other, this is a pretty dark album. Haley’s lyrics here are as witheringly funny as ever, yet a lot of the songs have a seething, wounded undercurrent. The charismatic tunesmith and her band are headlining a triplebill on July 11 at around 11:30 at the Nest, 504 Flatbush Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Mathrock band  Faster Than Light open the night at 9:30 followed by searing singer Hannah Fairchild’s lyrically brilliant noir punk power trio Hannah vs. the Many . Cover is $8; take the B/Q to Prospect Park

The album’s opening track, Gone with the Wind Fucked Me Up for Life sets the stage, looking back in anger via a mashup of Alladin Sane-era Bowie and watery 80s new wave. The title may be funny but it’s a metaphor. “All of the highs weren’t so,” Haley announces. A Key could have been a monster mid-80s radio hit for the Go-Go’s: it’s about being indomitable, not afraid to cheat, and a lot of other things. The twin-guitar assault of Michael Jayne and Christopher Sayre over the motoring beat of bassist Jack Breslin and drummer Matt O’Koren is unrelenting.

The album’s most epic track is The Maze, punctuated by a couple of disorienting, noise jams. The influence of Hannah vs. the Many also jumps out when Haley takes the song doublespeed, trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, even if it’s a pyrrhic one. It’s shattering, it’s as good as the vintage Bowie it resembles and will leave you hitting repeat for every second of its six minutes. After that, the band go to the sunnier side of the galaxy with Savage Planet, a coyly resolute punk-pop come-on.

“You know I don’t regret much but I regret fucking you,” Haley’s vengeful narrator snarls to her narscissistic rockstar ex in the punchy kiss-off anthem Sleepwalker. Bury Me Here offers a momentary flash of hope: “What a time to be alive!” Haley exults, even though she knows the guy she’s gone into Manhattan to pursue is just “sunlight on the river.”

The band take a stab at trip-hop with another kiss-off number, Transference, then pick up the pace with Triple Hex, an offhandedly creepy, hard-rocking update on Orbison Nashville noir pop. Just when you think that Super Human is a straight-up empowerment anthem, Haley pulls out the album’s best joke.

The Cyclone isn’t about the Brooklyn landmark, although Haley reaches for rollercoaster adrenaline, bruised but hardly defeated; a goofy sample at the end makes a good punchline. The album winds up with the guarded optimism of Believers, breaking the fourth wall with a mighty coda. Good to see a band who’ve been around since the early part of this decade taking their sound to the next level.