New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Searingly Relevant Spoken Word and Steel Pan Music From Miyamoto Is Black Enough

Miyamoto Is Black Enough blend excoriating, politically fearless spoken word and innovative, kinetic indie classical compositions by the group’s steel pan player, Andy Akiho. Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler serves as bass player and also supplies metal riffage, with Sean Dixon on drums behind frontman Roger Bonair-Agard. Their brilliant debut album Burn/Build is streaming at Bandcamp.

It’s bookended by a piece titled Panifesto. The first part covers a lot of territory: cultural appropriation, Yoruban mythology, and the fact that the steel pan was invented in Trinidad solely to fuel an “exodus to freedom…a weapon in the continued unchaining of the enslaved.” As Bonair-Agard sees it, the steel pan tradition reflects genuine history rather than one codified by “victors and false discoverers.”

Zeigler solos slowly and plaintively over Akiho’s shimmering ambience as the defiant concluding half picks up steam: appropriately, Bonair-Agard’s voice pans the speakers. In Nina, Bonair-Agard teaches a child about genfrication over Akiho’s eerie, dancing pointillisms:

Nina, the bike shop used to be a bodega…
The bar with the M&Ms on the counter used to be a candy store…
This park used to be a park
With potholes and crack vials on the running track
And dirt in the center of the field where grass should be
And that dog run was a field of geraniums
The Dominican restaurant used to be cheap
Used to have a line out the door
I used to be able to afford to live above it
And come down in the middle of the night
Especially after my girl left and I was tired of looking at the linoleum
And the sloping floors…
Kim’s grocery used to sell 40s
This subway stop used to be dangerous…
These cops used to be in squad cars, and not always so polite…
Big Daddy Kane once played a block party right here on Marcus Garvey…
This garden used to be a drum circle
Before the new neighbors called the cops to complain…
That school used to be public
This used to be Brooklyn

Black Shapeshift is a sardonic hip-hop litarny of common salutations in ebonics, “where n___a and god both mean love.” Over the Asian-tinged reggae of Revolver, Bonair-Agard chronicles the exploits of a former high school valdedictorian whose colorfully vast knowledge extends to firearms and heroin.

21 for Jit, which traces a Trinidad steel pan star’s DIY journey to greatness, has a more hypnotic, circling backdrop. The title track has the album’s catchiest hip-hop groove and also the most venomously relevant lyric, perfectly capturing the outrage of the past six months: “The movement needs both builders and burners…praise guns in the hood waiting to clap back at the right time, this is the right time!”

The group take their name from Ariana Miyamoto, who was chosen to represent Japan in a beauty contest but was later accused of being insufficiently Japanese since her heritage is half African-American.

Thulani Davis’ New Poetry Collection Chronicles Twenty Years of Transcendence, Resistance and Concerts

Thulani Davis‘ writing has always had a very close connection to music, from her jazz poetry and operas to her nonfiction work. Her latest poetry collection, Nothing But the Music, 1974-1992 is subtitled “Documentaries from nightclubs, dance halls & a tailor’s shop in Dakar.” From a music writer’s perspective, she is an inspiration, her concise, crystalline, indelible imagery capturing the febrile energy of the 1970s loft jazz scene, the punk movement in the 80s…or just chilling with friends and blasting records. And she never fails to put the music in historical context. She’s a tireless and transportative guide: if you weren’t there, she makes you wish you were. It hardly comes as a surprise that much of this material has been performed in concert over the years, by the author and others as well. As she takes care to mention in a breathless account of watching Cecil Taylor and his quartet at the Five Spot in 1975:

this is not about romance
this is the real stuff

Even better, Davis lists showdates and personnel. One can only hope, for example, that somebody in the crowd – or the band – had the presence of mind to record the two sets that the hall of fame AACM lineup of Roscoe Mitchell, Julius Hemphill, Phillip Wilson, Joseph Bowie, Richard Muhal Abrams, Leroy Jenkins and George Lewis played at Studio Rivbea on February 8, 1976.

Davis’ portrait of a busker outside the Village Vanguard in 1975 is viscerally spine-tingling. Her account of a night in a Washington, DC club a year later may be fervent and ecstatic, but in the context of enormous historical baggage. In a portrait of a David Murray quintet gig in that same city, the way she brings back the motif of how “the truth came down twice” is too masterful, and too spot-on, to spoil: it will leave you green with writer’s envy.

These poems aren’t limited to first-class concert reportage in politically informed free verse. In jaunty period vernacular, Davis imagines Chicago’s Mecca Flats apartment complex in 1907, sixty years before it was razed, where a catchy piano riff wafting from an open window testified to its fertile role in black culture. She connects the dots between Mingus and Henry Threadgill with an erudite bass player’s skill. She tickles you with her observation about the Bad Brains’ attempts at roots reggae. And she reminds that two decades before the Lower East Side’s 1990s days as a rock mecca, there was a jazz joint there called Brownies.

And the book’s subtext, considering this year’s assaults on our civil rights, screams bloody murder. “I wish you all the live music you can get your hands on,” Davis encourages at the end of her acknowledgments. What she only alludes to is that throughout history, relationships and revolutions alike have been cemented around a beat and a catchy tune. That’s why Andrew Cuomo and the rest of the lockdowners are so terrified by the prospect of crowds of people packing stadiums and clubs: because music is empowering. And the lockdown is all about disempowerment. You can’t surveil someone who’s screaming into a friend’s ear over the band. But you can if they’re miles apart, chatting on Facebook while they watch the livestream.

Jazz on an Autumn Day

This has been a year of heroes and zeros like no other. One of the more recent heroes is Jimmy Katz of Giant Step Arts, who has stepped in to program a world-class series of weekend afternoon outdoor jazz concerts in Central Park at a time when musicians have arguably become more imperiled than at any other point in world history. Of the many nonprofits advocating for jazz artists, Katz’s is one of the most ambitious. Before the lockdown, he was booking a series of concerts at the Jazz Gallery, recording them for release on album and also on video, putting his own talent behind the lens to good use. Sunday afternoon’s performance on the southern end of the Central Park mall by vibraphonist Joel Ross and his quartet wasn’t like a hot Saturday night at Smalls or the Vanguard, but that didn’t seem to be the point anyway. Instead, a small, transient but generally very attentive crowd of maybe fifty people, at the most, scattered around the statue towering over the band, were treated to a thoughtful, very purposeful and occasionally outright haunting show.

Until we get Smalls and the Vanguard back again, in the short run this seems to be the future of live music in New York: communities coming together to support each other. Lately the park has become a pretty much daylong jazz festival, buskers everywhere, and several of them threw some of their own hard-earned cash into tenor saxophonist Sergio Tabanico’s open case as they passed by. A toddler sprinted up to the group in a joyous attempt to become their dancer, and the band loved it. His muzzled mom snatched him away: the child was distraught.

With mist from Tabanico’s sax and glimmer from Ross’ vibes, pedal down all the way, the group launched into the show with a wary take of what sounded like John Coltrane’s Birmingham. Drummer Craig Weinrib methodically worked his way up to the loose-limbed swing that would propel most of the set: like his bandmates, he was pacing himself. Tabanico set the stage for the rest of his afternoon, building slowly to a coda of insistent bursts and occasional shrieks against the beat.

Bassist Rashaan Carter maintained a more undulating, bubbling approach throughout the set, airing out his extended technique with harmonics in a couple of low-key solos. The bandleader was as terse as always, whether driving through steady but increasingly intense volleys of eighth notes, or providing spacious, judiciously ringing ambience behind the rest of the group.

One of the high points of Ross’ afternoon was an absolutely gorgeous, creepily tritone-infused solo to open the broodingly modal but increasingly funky third number. Another was the rivetingly allusive solo he took during an otherwise upbeat, bluesy swing tune toward the end. The group hinted they’d go further in a latin direction with a catchy, vamping minor-key number punctuated by another emphatically rhythmic Tabanico solo, but ended up holding back.

A return to pensive minor-key balladry – more Trane, maybe? – gave Ross a springboard for a stiletto-precise solo where he completely took the pedal off: it was almost as if he was playing a steel pan. Ross’ next scheduled gig is this Oct 9 at 4 PM with the Jazz Gallery Allstars at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

This particular Central Park series continues on Sept 26 at around 1:30 PM with drummer Nasheet Waits and saxophonist Mark Turner, plus Carter on bass again. It’s possible the players may not be at this exact location – on this particular afternoon, there was every possible kind of sonic competition further north, so sometimes you have to move around the park a little. The mall extends from the skating rink to the north, past the Naumburg Bandshell to about five blocks further south. The closest entrance is probably at 72nd St. and Central Park West.

Magical Mini-Ragas From Rare 78 RPM Records Now Available on Album

The new compilation How the River Ganges Flows – streaming at Bandcamp – has a rare PR tagline worth repeating. Third Man Records calls it “A transcendent collection of carnatic violin performances captured on 78 RPM disc between 1933 and 1952.” This is their second batch of newly digitized and sonically enhanced tracks from archivist Christopher King’s collection of global rarities. The first one, a mix of mostly unreleased Greek recordings titled Why the Mountains Are Black made the best albums of the year list in 2016. This one threatens to do the same this year.

On one hand, ragas that top out at about the three-and-a-half minute mark would never have existed if not for the limits of early recording technology. Which makes the work of the six violinists here all the more impressive: imagine Tschaikovsky trying to condense the Pathetique Symphony into a three-minute hit.

Each of these guys plays with small-group instrumentation that varies from song to song. Tabla is a ubiquitous presence (and happily very present in the new mixes). Mridangam may also be, although those boomy lows could simply be a by-product of the original recording process.

By comparison, a lot of contemporary Indian violinists are tame: swoops and dives and microtonal magic permeate this record, even beyond the point where an Indian mode diverges furthest from the Western scale. Case in point: Paritosh Seal’s careening melismas and brisk chromatics in Raga Ahir Bhairi.

Seal is also represented on five other tracks. He bends into far limbo and trills meticulously over  a tanpura drone on Raga Darbari Kanada. He leaps and bounds joyously in Raga Sur Malhar, lilts through Raga Bageshree and plays with even more of a singing quality in a recording simply titled Thumri, which speeds up tantalizingly for maybe twenty seconds of a coda. His three-plus minutes of Raga Adana make a bittersweetly gorgeous closer to this lusciously tuneful album, which comes on gatefold vinyl with extensive liner notes plus artwork by R. Crumb.

But the other artists here offer even more fire, flash and breathtaking skill. Shri Gajana Karnad plays Raga Thodi with wicked spirals and rapidfire precision, then basically makes Raga Tilak Kamod into a shivery stand-alone coda.

Muthi and Mani break up a section of Raga Aberi into two 78 sides: the uneasily rippling, quasi-Japanese diatonics seem to be coming from a santoor, but the instrument actually turns out to be a piano. Likewise, Swaram Venkatswamy Naidu makes an A-side and B-side out of Raga Thanam, building a plaintive alap into a similarly brooding duet. The most rustic and weatherbeaten recordings here are T. Chowdiah playing a jaunty bit of Raga Hamir Kalyani and then giving some lightning-fast ornamentation to Raga Manirang. Must listening for Indian music fans.

Dreamy, Enchanting Indian Sounds From Falu and Karyshma

Karyshma were basically an Indian jamband back in the 90s when they first started out. What differentiated them from the legions of hippies twenty years earlier who learned a few raga riffs and then tried to make rock out of them is that Karyshma’s core members all came out of Indian traditional music. Their new album Someday – streaming at Soundcloud – is much more oriented toward those deep roots, a mix of starry songs from over the centuries. This auditory thali is a korma spiced to nuanced perfection, rather than the vindaloo of the group’s early years.

They open with Yara, a delicate, slinky vintage Bollywood anthem, frontwoman Falu’s tender melismas rising over a delicate web of acoustic guitar and mandolin textures from Soumya Chatterjee. Gaurav Shah’s moody bansuri flute builds hypnotic crescendos in tandem with the elegant clip-clop Rajasthani beat of Deep Singh’s tabla. It’s a very poetic song, Falu contemplating whether happiness is possible despite separation, and sorrow, and constnnt change. “I try to mend my slit wrists with these broken bangles,” is the crux of the story.

The second number is Bhooli, a ghazal with a similarly warm, bittersweetly pensive vocal, Singh’s flurrying tabla contrasting with a floating backdrop. Beeghi, a gorgeously sweeping monsoon-season nocturne, is even more enveloping, Falu’s voice rising to celestial heights.

Chatterjee’s guitar adds a low-key Americana undercurrent to Nadi, Singh’s swaying rhythm evoking a woman on a swing by the river, missing her boyfriend. They close the album by making a joyously organic dancefloor anthem out of the mystical Raga Bhairavi. Chatterjee breaks out his sarangi and Singh is a one-man percussion orchestra, employing a small arsenal of drums from across the Hindustani subcontinent.

Gail Archer Brings Concert Organ Music Back to New York with a Rare, Fascinating Ukrainian Program

Gail Archer is not only a trailblazing organist and rescuer of undeservedly obscure repertoire. She’s also been responsible for some of the most entertaining and often rewardingly unorthodox organ music programming in this city in recent years. So it was no surprise to see her back at the console Saturday afternoon, playing what has to be one of the first, quite possibly the very first organ concert for a public audience in this city since Andrew Cuomo declared himself dictator. While the turnout at St. John Nepomucene Church just west of Tudor City was very sparse, this being Rosh Hashanah, Archer and the church’s very personable staff deserve immense credit for their commitment to bringing back the arts.

What was most immediately striking about the program – essentially a reprise of Archer’s new album, Chernivtsi, A Recording of Contemporary Ukrainian Organ Music – was how loud it was. She took full advantage of the 1956 Kilgen organ and the space’s impressive amount of natural reverb throughout a robustly seamless performance of mostly rather midrangey material.

Ukraine has a deep tradition of choral music, but less so with the organ, and as a result most of the works on the bill were 20th century vintage. Much as it was glorious to simply be able to see an organ concert in Manhattan again, this was a pensive glory. There was no Lisztian ostentatiousness, nor much reliance on the many more colors that composers from where the organ has more of a history might have brought into the music. Rather, the similarity of the timbres and registrations made for plenty of strong segues. And it’s a fair bet that Archer was premiering much of this material, whether simply for New York, or for all of North America.

What stood out from hearing Bohdan Kotyuk’s Fanfare live rather than on the album? The echo effects – a favorite concert device for Archer – and the prominence of the lows. His Benedictus: Song of Zachariah seemed much more distinctly Romantic, by comparison. The initial, blustery foreshadowing of Tadeusz Machl’s Piece in Five Movements brought to mind Charles Widor; its stormy bursts over lingering resonance later on evoked the work of contemporary composer Naji Hakim.

Archer surpassed her already colorful album version of Viktor Goncharenko’s Fantasia with a steady dynamism, and later brought out more of a lilt in the cadences of Svitlana Ostrova’s Chacona. The remaining two pieces on the bill were the most rapturous, beginning with the dark, slowly expanding majesty of Mykola Kolessa’s Passacaglia. Iwan Kryschanowskij’s arguably even more mysterious, symphonic Fantasie was an enveloping yet relentlessly restless choice of coda, Archer building starry ambience and broodingly stairstepping intensity amidst the swirl and pedalpoint, to a deliciously articulated series of chromatic themes right before the end.

The monthly series of organ concerts at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 E 66th St. continues on Oct 17 at 3 PM with a performance by Austin Philemon.

A Diverse, Playfully Eclectic Solo Violin Album From Michi Wiancko

Until the lockdown, violinist Michi Wiancko enjoyed a busy career in the New York new music scene. Like many arists have done in the last few months, she’s releasing a solo album, Planetary Candidate – streaming at Bandcamp – an eclectic collection of both organic and electroacoustic works by several of her favorite contemporary composers, along with one of her own. The sounds here are adventurous and often psychedelic, but not harsh or assaultive.

The album’s title track, by the artist herself, is a deceptively catchy, increasingly dense jungle of insistent, minimalist pizzicato chords bookending a still, sustained interlude. Wiancko’s vocals are multitracked as well. The theme is breathing, which could be a loaded metaphor: hard to do that with a muzzle over your face!

Wiancko’s similarly insistent eight-note phrases dirift further and further into dissonace as Christopher Adler’s Jolie Sphinx moves along, a trope that repeats in more pensive, subtly baroque-influenced cadences a little later on in Mark Dancigers‘ Skyline. Paula Matthusen’s Songs of Fuel and Insomnia has dissociatively drifting overlays, trippy electronic textures that extend into stygian depths, and some unexpectedly shreddy metal.

Wiancko shifts from briskly leaping arpeggios to hazy, steady close harmonies and then halfway back in Jessie Montgomery’s Rhapsody No. 2. Bizarrely processed echo effects pervade William Brittelle‘s alternately ambient and acerbic So Long Art Decade – a reference to the Bowie song?

A waterside tableau complete with found sounds, Matthusen’s Lullaby for Dead Horse Bay manages to be both the album’s most atmospheric and captivating piece. Wiancko winds up the record with a second Brittelle composition, Disintegration, a swooping, imaginatively overdubbed, increasingly kinetic series of echoey exchanges with coy, distant echoes of 80s new wave music.

Lavish, Imaginatively Arranged, Individualistic Ballads From Le Mirifique Orchestra

Le Mirifique Orchestra play lush, vast, majestically arranged ballads from the worlds of jazz standards, classic chanson and pop music. The arrangements on their new album Oh! My Love – streaming at Bandcamp – draw on classical styles from the baroque to the 21st century, emphasis on the modern. It’s an absolutely unique, imaginative sound, with jazz solos, classical lustre and catchy, relatively short songs. The group like playful instrumental intros, and have six strong singers taking turns out front.

The orchestra open the record with calmly spacious minimalism and then make their way into the first song, Skylark, sung with soaring, vintage soul-infused hopefulness by Agathe Peyrat. With orchestration that spans the sonic spectrum, from Thomas Saulet’s flute and Nicolas Fargeix’s clarinet down to Jérémie Dufort’s tuba, the song sets the stage for the rest of the record.

Co-leader Alban Darche’s judicious sax flurries over Alexis Thérain’s bittersweet guitar chords introduce Don’t Explain, then back away for Alice Lewis’ similarly pensive vocals. The swirl of the reeds against the resonance of trumpeter Rodolph Puechbroussous and horn players Pierre-Yves Le Masne and Emmanuel Bénèche maintain an uneasy dichotomy over drummer Meivelyan Jacquot’s muted sway.

Chloé Cailleton moves to the mic for the wistful You Can Never Hold Back Spring, the orchestra shifting between terse lustre and bubbling optimism. After a coyly shapeshifting intro, crooner Loïs Le Van takes over the lead on Parce que je t’aime, the ensemble moving from a subtle fugue to bright pageantry and back.

After a suspensefully flurrying guitar-and-drums interlude, the strings of Le Quatuor Psophos add lushness to the moody, often rather troubled instrumental Answer Me. Darche opens Je crois entendre with a balmy solo, then Philippe Katerine offers a gentle vocal over a contrastingly brooding, tense backdrop.

The string quartet return for My Love, foreshadowing the album’s title track with disquieting close harmonies and dynamic shifts. Cailleton takes over vocals again in a hazily brassy take of I’ll Be Seeing You, the high reeds rising to a balletesque peak.

Lewis goes back to the mic with a moody understatement for the haunting Celian’s Complaint, guest trumpeter Geoffroy Tamisier winding it up with a desolate solo: it’s the high point of the album. The similarly somber, mysterious narrative Et pour autant qu’il m’en souvienne makes a good segue, Le Van’s sober spoken word set to spare, possibly improvised verses before the angst-fueled chorus kicks in. Thomas de Pourquery sings the title cut to close the album on a pensively pillowy note.

A Powerful, Lyrical Solo Debut by the Jigsaw Seen’s Dennis Davison

Dennis Davison built a formidable back catalog as the leader of the Jigsaw Seen, one of the best and most lyrical psychedelic rock bands of the 90s and zeros. They played their final New York gig in late March of 2017 at Bowery Electric, an inspired set which proved that even at the end, they hadn’t lost their edge. In the time since then, Davison has hardly been idle, and has a characteristically brilliant new solo album, The Book of Strongman streaming at Bandcamp.

Here, Davison plays all the instruments. he’s always been a solid guitarist and distinctively articulate singer, but it turns out he’s competent on bass, drums and keys as well. As usual, his historically-informed, metaphorically bristling narratives scream out for the repeat button. The album’s opening number, Strongman and Sonny James, a big, stomping, angst-fueled anthem, follows a grim escape scenario:

Claim those gullies left for dead
Everyone was seeing red
Sanity was hanging by a thread
Juvenile soldier, flee!
Run like hell and return home safely to me

The ending comes as a surprise and makes perfect sense considering the current state of the world.

Shadow on a Tall Tree has a 60s Kinks/Merseybeat pulse rising to a lush ELO-ish chorus, awash in tremolo guitar and what could be a Stylophone keyboard. In the Folly of Youth begins as a wistful accordion-fueled folk-rock tune and hits a swaying Bowie-esque gravitas:

When the living is free there’s no misery
So it is and it was throughout history

Museum Piece is a sweeping, dreamy, subtly slashing, distantly Beatlesque portrait of a drama queen who’s seen better days. Bitternesss and disillusion reach fever pitch in the otherwise lushly anthemic Can You Imagine, which could be an early 80s number by the Church. Heaven Bound has a susupiciously blithe, strutting new wave bassline and layers of chilly guitars and keys: “You set your sights on the sky, that doesn’t mean you can fly,” Davison advises.

Organ and layers of keys swirl over stately strummed guitars in The Spoken Word, a meticulously detailed, cynical social media era parable. With bubbly bass paired against fuzzy guitar layers, Auras is the closest thing here to Davison’s old band.

Awash in vintage analog chorus-box sonics, the toweringly bittersweet Aberdeen Vista is arguably the album’s high point:

Clipper ships have sailed
Politicians jailed
Birthday cards were mailed
Notice on a screen
Orange and black birds seen
Now we live a scheme
In Aberdeen Vista

Davison winds up the album with What the Hell Is That Noise, an uneasily tongue-in-cheek, Love Camp 7-ish reminiscence of teenage experiments in avant garde soundscaping, complete with samples from his 80s basement duo project Bizarre Trolls with Kevin Mackenzie. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2020 page at the end of December, assuming there is a December this year.

Parker Ramsay Reinvents Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the Harp

Among the brave and the few who have tackled solo Bach on the harp lately, Bridget Kibbey is joined by Parker Ramsay, who traded in playing the concert organ under Stephen Cleobury and now runs a blog, Harping On: Thoughts from a Recovering Organist. As if playing Bach on the organ isn’t difficult enough, Ramsay has transcribed the complete Goldberg Variations for the instrument he learned from his mom. The result is a revelation and is streaming at Spotify,

Ramsay has unimpeachable cred as a baroque musician. In November of 2016, he played a thoughtful, sensitively voiced program of works by Buxtehude, Sweelinck and Scheidt on the Gernan-colored rear organ at New York’s St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue.  What’s most artistically resonant here is that Ramsay isn’t doing this as an ostentatious side project. On one hand, his use of space builds rapturous ambience, bringing out resonant lows seldom heard front and center on this instrument. There’s plenty of natural reverb at the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, where this album was recorded, so there are places where ornamentation in the lowest registers actually gets lost sometimes – although that doesn’t affect the highs.

The best comparison to this new arrangement is the Goldberg Variations for organ, ironically enough. What works as long as you hold down the pedal with all stops out turns out to work just as well for this delicately incisive axe – although there are moments where it’s not always immediately recognizable as such. When Ramsay has his pedal down in places, it could be a harpsichord.

However, there’s plenty new that comes into view here, particularly the viigor of the counterpoint as Ramsay alternates between hands. You could say that this interpretation reduces the music to its most basic and lucid terms. Ramsay’s dynamics are lyrical, his tempos on the slow side. And he leaves room for flourishes most commonly associated with the harp.

There’s the occasional creepy music-box effect, eye-opening emphasis on basslines when they bubble toward the surface, and poignant pointillisms everywhere. If you’re one of the millions who have beens swept away by the Goldberg Variations over the years, this album will significantly deepen your appreciation of their beauty as well as the challenges they pose for those who play them.