New York Music Daily

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Tag: album review

Goddess Releases One of the Year’s Best and Most Hauntingly Psychedelic Albums

Goddess are one of New York’s most phantasmagorical, individualistic bands. There is no other group in town who sound remotely like them. Part creepy 60s psychedelic act, part folk noir, part underground theatre troupe, they create a magically eerie ambience, whether live or on record. It was a treat to be able to catch their most recent performance at a private party in south Brooklyn: the album release show for their fantastic new one, Paradise, streaming at Bandcamp. Maybe it was the low lights over a leafy back courtyard – or maybe it was Ember Schrag‘s dangerous gin punch-  but as it went on, the show built an electrically suspenseful ambience, like being invited to a wiccan ceremony or some kind of sacrifice, a real-life Stonehenge hidden away just up the block from Fourth Avenue.

Andy Newman’s lushly enveloping multi-keys are one of the keys to the band’s sound. The other is Tamalyn Miller’s one-string violin, which she built herself. With no training as a violinist, she created her own otherworldly style, sometimes trancelike, other times savage and menacing. Singer Fran Pado maxes out both the band’s surrealistic, theatrical side and also the creepiness factor. Bassist/keyboardist Bob Maynard and polymath guitar sorcerer Bob Bannister complete the picture.

The album’s opening track, Leave Here builds a gorgeously enveloping web of acoustic guitars, the women adding their eerie vocal harmonies, rising to a hauntingly bracing interlude, the stark overtones of the violin contrasting with the gently suspenseful lattice behind it. Death by Owls, a mini-suite, juxtaposes an uneasy lullaby theme with pulsing, warily echoey vocals and then a psych-folk march that looks back to vintage King Crimson or the Strawbs at their most psychedelic. Begins sets soaring, stately, gorgeous vocal harmonies over what could be a horror-film piano theme. By now, it’s clear there’s a narrative of sorts, if a rather opaque one: “Like a finger in the palm, like the death of remorse,” the women intone.

Ponies, a slow folk-rock piano theme, switches from a Brothers Grimm-style tale of mass drowning to a balmy, nocturnal Peter Zummo trombone solo. The band builds contrastingly ethereal vocals and droll electronic keys throughout the anthemic, late Beatlesque Belladonna Honey. Grey Skull works a disquieting dichotomy between ethereal, mellotron-like art-rock orchestration and stark, spare strings, Prado’s mysterious vocals soaring calmly overhead.

Married opens with the mantra “this is not a dream,” those richly soaring vocals over spare, baroque-tinged classical guitar, Miller providing a menacing, multitracked outro. The album winds up with the majestically elegaic title track, an escape anthem fueled by organ and violin, Pado’s gently alluring vocals joined by a choir of voices: a shot of hope breaking through the gloom that’s been gathering all the way to this point. What is this all about? It’s not clear. What is clear is that this is an album you have to spend some time with, and get lost in. Its closest relative is Judy Henske and Jerry Yester”s 1969 cult classic Farewell Aldebaran; someday this too may be just as prized by collectors of magical esoterica.

The outdoor show featured another, similarly phantasmagorical suite, this one a sinister, tragicomic tale of a witch who hypnotizes and then moves in with a hapless New Jersey family, who must then use what little strength they have left to break free of the spell. No spoilers here! And for the icing on the cake, Schrag played a set afterward with her full band, Bannister doing double duty on lead guitar, with Debby Schwartz playing lusciously slippery slides and chords on bass and Gary Foster behind the drum kit, matching Bannister’s edgy nuance. Highlights of the set were not one but two Macbeth-themed new ones. What’s become more and more intriguing, watching Schrag’s repertoire grow over the past several months, is how she takes fire-and-brimstone biblical imagery and turns it back on itself, a savagely articulate critique set to similarly biting, incisive psychedelic rock. Speaking of which, she’s playing Hifi Bar (the old Brownies) at 8 PM on July 2. Watch this space for upcoming Goddess gigs – with their theatrical, multimedia bent, they like to make their events special and for that reason haven’t been playing live a lot lately.

Hauntingly Atmospheric Art-Rock Instrumentals from Brilliant Bassist Dana Schechter’s Insect Ark

Dana Schechter is one of this era’s great bass players. Her sinewy, biting low-register lines brought an unexpected elegant and grace to Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. After that, she led the hauntingly cinematic Bee & Flower. Her latest project, the richly atmospheric art-rock instrumental band Insect Ark with Taurus drummer Ashley Spungin, might well be her darkest yet. They’re headlining at St. Vitus on July 2 at 11 PM; cover is $10. Dead Kennedys-influenced Pennnslvania hardcore/punk band the Abandos open the night at 8 followed by Pawns – good luck finding them on the web – and then keyboardist Shari Vari’s 80s-tinged darkwave pop project Void Vision.

It’s amazing how much density, and mighty majesty, and how many cumulo-nimbus textures Schechter gets out of just lapsteel, keys, bass and drums on the new album, Portal/Well. What’s most impressive is that Schechter plays all of the instruments herself. The title track sets the tone, a steady, ominously atmospheric dirge, dark washes of lapsteel and keys shifting through the picture, distorted chords lingering and then rising in a dense, grey mist, aching to break free.

The Collector builds from a creepy tritone synth loop with a minimalist bassline that brings to mind early Wire, picking up steam as it bends and sways, and ends up back where it started. Lowlands is a miniature, awash in sustain from slow-burning lapsteel. The album’s most epic track, Octavia, opens as an opaque, Richard Wright-like minimalist-yet-maximalist mood piece and takes on a deep-space grandeur as layers and layers of lapsteel cut through the mist, then create their own. The miniature that follows, Crater Lake, is the most straight-up Eno-esque atmospheric piece here.

Taalith – a reference to an eerily portentous Isabelle Eberbardt short story about a drowning – could be described as slowcore spacerock, anchored on the low end by growling bass and at the top by drifting sheets from the lapsteel: the Friends of Dean Martinez taking a slow, syncopated stroll on Pluto. Parallel Twin, with its doppler effects and unexpected drum accents, is the most cinematic and suspenseful, picking up with some tasty, chromatic bass chords: it’s the closest thing to Bee & Flower here. The final cut, Low Moon is the droniest and most surreal, its stygian waves contrasting with almost droll, lo-fi synth oscilations. Only one of the tracks – The Collector – is up at Insect Ark’s Bandcamp page, but there are a handful of similarly brooding, intense singles there, and more stuff at Soundcloud as well. And it almost goes without saying that Schechter is the rare artist whose work is always worth owning. If you want more info on this, one of the few reliably good music blogs, The Obelisk did a good piece on the band.

The Grasping Straws Release Their Savagely Intense, Tuneful New Album at the Mercury

New York band the Grasping Straws have been through a lot of changes, but their latest incarnation is absolutely spine-tingling. Their ambitious debut ep – streaming at Bandcamp – introducd them as a rainy-day, jazz-tinged, jangly project in the same vein the Cardigans or Comet Gain. Their forthcoming album takes the energy up several thousand volts – wow! Frontwoman Mallory Feuer blends an otherwordly, raw, bluesy edge with the fearlessness of pre-meltdown Courtney Love, both vocally and guitarwise, instantly putting this group on the map as one of New York’s most distinctive, individualistic, exciting new bands. They’re playing the album release show on June 30 at 10:30 PM at the Mercury/ Sultry punk-folk-soul siren Liah Alonso – formerly of politically fueled rockers Left on Red – opens the night at 9:30 PM. Cover is $10.

Although there are some identifiable influences in the band’s sound, Fiona Apple first and foremost, their sound is unique. Feuer’s chords ring out with a reverbtoned, enigmatic edge, her vocals wailing, murmuring or occasionally rising to a goosebump-inducing scream with a sardonic lyrical bite while hard-hitting drummer Jim Bloom holds the songs to the rails. Sam Goldfine – formerly of popular alternative rock road warriors Beast Make Bomb – completes the picture as the band’s latest addition. Recorded in analog to half-inch eight track tape, the album’s production has an immediacy that captures their rollercoaster live show.

The jaggedly catchy opening track, State of Affairs reflects the disarray left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the year Feuer, a native New Yorker, founded the band. She switches gears with the ghostly, stark intro to Home, building to an uneasy, acidic vintage Sonic Youth grit. Just a Memory welds wounded, blues-infused paisley underground psychedelia to a late 80s Seattle assault.

Bloom pushes How Will I Grow with a scrambling punk rock pulse; Feuer’s indignant vocals channel Heart’s Ann Wilson as second guitarist Rob Krug adds acid blues textures. Feuer takes Say It Ain’t So up to a frantic doublespeed attack, then flips the script with Your Face, which begins as a hauntingly spare reflection drenched in natural reverb, then rises to a shatteringly epic peak (listen to those multitracked screams at 2:17 – bone-chilling!). The final cut, Don’t Hold Your Breath, looks back to the enigmatic, jazz-inflected vein the band mined in their early days. First-class tracks wall to wall with this one: put it on the shortlist for best full-length debut of 2015.

Chris Dingman Releases His Richly Nocturnal New Album at WNYC”s Greene Space

Chris Dingman isn’t just a talented jazz vibraphonist: he’s a brlliant tunesmith. He probably scored his album release gig with his band the Subliminal and the Sublime this June 26 at 7 PM at the Greene Space because he wrote a popular WNYC radio theme that everybody in the organization knows, so nobody could say no to the idea. Cover is $15 and worth it: if magically enveloping, dreamy music is your thing, go to this show and get lost in it.

Truthfully, Dingman could probably write a catchy radio theme in his sleep. For this project, he’s assembled a crew of cutting-edge New York talent – Loren Stillman on alto sax, Fabian Almazan on piano, Linda Oh on bass, Ryan Ferreira on guitar and Justin Brown on drums – to play a warmly nocturnal series of longform compositions that in a previous century could be spliced into familiar tv themes, or film sequences. The opening track, Tectonic Plates works off a resonant, simple, echoing melody built by bowing the vibraphone, rising from the quietest, shifting shades to a balmy sax passage. Ferreira’s guitar switches from ambience to chords only as it ends.

The epic Voices of the Ancient is a throwback to the late 70s with its wavelike, dynamically shifting rhythm, Stillman taking centerstage judiciously. Much of Dingman’s work has a saturnine ambience, and this seventeen minute-plus piece is a prime example. From the intro, bassist Linda Oh manages to be both an anchor and a marionette simultaneously, Dingman and Almazan supplying a hypnotic glitter and then backing away as a 70s neon-jazz theme coalesces and then takes a long trajectory upward, Ferreira’s pinging guitar leading the way. They take it out with a long, gentle, steady postlude worthy of any Times Square documentary circa 1977.

The album’s gently but insistently cinematic centerpiece, The Pinnacles, rises from an intricately below-the-surface piano-and-vibraphone confluence of currents, making way for Stillman’s balmy sax. Dingman’s judiciously resonant lines bring to mind Milt Jackson, Stillman following a more offcenter tangent as Brown pushes the group to transcend 70s hippie tedium. And suddenly, just when you least expect it, there’s a long, pulsing moment of terror.

The lingering, expansive outro makes a comfortable segue into the album’s conclusion, All Flows Forth, with its gentle syncopation, insistent alternating rhythmic accents and interlocking, pointillistic polyrhythms. On the way out, the band swings it and sways it, emphatically and memorably. In an era where the Bush family, their collaborators and apologists are buying up global water assets, Dingman’s wary naturalistic themes make more sense than ever.

Nneka Brings Her Politically-Fueled, Eclectic African Reggae Sounds to the Mercury

Born in Nigeria, raised in Germany, Nneka has gone in many directions over the course of her relatively young career: through soukous-tinged African pop, roots reggae, stripped-down acoustic folk and more ornately jazzy stylings, all of them imbued with a fearless political sensibility. She sings her aphoristic, terse lyrics in a fervent voice that rises to a gritty, almost otherwordly wail when she goes up the scale. The effect is both ancient and in the here and now. She has a new album, My Fairy Tales – streaming at Spotify – and a show at the Mercury on June 23 at 7 PM. Advance tix are $15.

Nneka’s English is better than the songs on the album might have you believe (she titled her second album No Longer at Ease, after the classic Chinua Achebe postcolonial novel). And the songs are a stylistic grab bag, possibly due to having traipsed from studio to studio in making the album. This time out, her lyrics are more skeletal and opaque – several of them in her native dialect -and the revolutionary sensibility both more general than specific, and further in the background. The opening track, Believe System is something of a mashup of Afropop, roots reggae and Stevie Wonder. Likewise, Babylon builds a hard funk backdrop around some lively mid-70s SW-style riffage.

The reggae-lite My Love, My Love goes deeper into its roots on the reprise that follows it, while Local Champion works a trippy, techy vibe with layers of blippy keys. Pray for You takes a disco groove backwards from cold teens electronics to a biting, guitar-fueled 70s vibe. Surprise veers between a propulsive soca bounce and electro-reggae, while the morose impoverishment tale Book of Job is an attempt to make a roots song out of samples and cheap keyb settings. And the last song sounds like it was assembled with Garageband in somebody’s bedroom. On one hand, it’s authentically African – this is what people do when all there is to work with is a secondhand dollarstore Casio. On the other, Nneka is an artist with ostensible label backing and access to topflight recording situations and gear. But she’s also a charismatic performer with a strong back catalog and the ability to transcend the limitations of these recordings onstage.

Catchy, Jangly, Propulsive, Afrobeat-Inspired Tunes from the Letter Yellow

Do you like the idea of Vampire Weekend but find the real thing impossibly insipid? If so, the Letter Yellow are for you. Frontman/guitarist Randy Bergida writes lithely dancing, catchy major-key tunes anchored by the rhythm section of bassist Abe Pollack and drummer Mike Thies. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Watercolor Overcast at the Cameo Gallery tonight, June 18 at 10 PM; cover is $8.

Pollack’s trebly bass plays an Afrobeat groove underneath Bergida’s balmy but tensely anticipatory vocals on the opening track, Anytime of Day, a lush, dynamically shifting, artfully orchestrated anthem. Road to the Mountain has a loping Afropop groove with an unselfconsciously joyous flute flourish on the turnaround, hitched to a gospel-inspired vamp. Summer in the City isn’t the 60s pop hit but an enigmatically sunny, soul-splashed, strummy original that in another era would have been a monster radio hit.

Pain in the World blends an edgy minor bossa groove and biting roots reggae lyricism over an echoey minor-key melody with hints of that tune that every busker from Sydney to South Carolina knows. The album’s strongest track, The Light We Shed sets pulsar guitar multitracks to a steady marching beat, echoey jangle giving way to clang and resonance. Slow Down works a slowly swaying, hypnotically summery soul vamp lit up with some sparkly keygboard flourishes.

Cold Cold Night builds a fiery, galloping nocturnal ambience, far from the wintriness the title suggests. Likewise, the soul strut Downtown has a nighttime vibe, with a long, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking-style latin psychedelic outro.

Drifter shifts toward Americana, while the final track, Can I Get It Girl goes in a more straightforward hard-funk direction, with more than a hint that it’s the style of music where the band got their start. Maybe the coolest thing about the album is that it’s available on vinyl: if the band remembers to bring a box of records to their shows, it’s a sure bet that they’ll sell out. So far, it hasn’t hit Bandcamp or the usual sites, but the band’s previous output is streaming at their  audio page.

Summer Fiction Put an Original Spin on Gorgeous Britrock and Sunshine Pop Sounds from the 60s and 70s

Don’t let the band name give you the wrong idea: Summer Fiction are a lot more than just a beach read. On their new album Himalaya – streaming at Bandcamp – frontman/guitarist Bill Ricchini channels classic 60s Britrock with tighter teens production values. Much as you can hear all sorts of elements and references to the Beatles, Zombies, Big Star and plenty of other iconic and not-so-iconic bands, they have an original sound. One of their secrets is Jonathan Prestbury s 12-string guitar, the other the straightforward rhythm section of Alex Yaker’s bass and Adam Dawson’s drums. They’re playing the album release show tonight, June 18 at 10 at Union Hall in Park Slope; cover is $12.

The album opens with On and On, the early Beatles as covered by the early Kinks. Dirty Blonde has a similarly kinetic pulse, this time driven by BC Camplight’s piano, with a deliciously watery guitar solo midway through. Perfume Paper builds a lushly gorgeous blend of jangly, chiming guitars, like Big Star, but again, with a tighter, more straight-ahead beat.

The instrumental title track works a late Beatles/early ELO vamp with tasteful cello from Eric Stephenson. The psych-pop Lauren Lorraine has a dancing, pinging sunshine pop vibe – it would be a standout Jacco Gardner track. Genevieve takes the idiom ten years forward to catchy late 70s ELO bossa-pop, followed by Religion of Mine, shifting back toward Zombies Odesssey and Oracle electric piano-and-organ-driven lushness.

Manchester turns out not to be a bleak postpunk song but a wistful art-rock waltz. By My Side is an elegantly fingerpicked, pensively autumnal folk-pop number, followed by Cathedral, a baroque pop instrumental. The album also comes with acoustic versions of Perfume Pape, Dirty Blonde amd Lauren Lorraine, each of them underscoring how strong the tunes are with just just guitar and vocals. If these songs had been around in the radio-and-records era, they would have been hits then and would be staples of oldies radio now. That’s meant as a compliment in the purest sense of the word.

Powerful, Relevant Honkytonk Songwriting and a Rockwood Gig by the Honeycutters

More about that that really good Americana twinbill tomorrow night, June 18 at 7 at the big room at the Rockwood: Asheville, North Carolina’s Honeycutters are on it, along with the Hillbenders, who’ve gotten plenty of notoriety for outdoing the Who with their newgrass version of the Tommy album. The club’s webpage doesn’t say who’s playing first, but both bands are good and justify a $12 cover, which will probably double when the waitress swoops down on you and insists that you buy a drink.

Where the Hillbenders bring their sizzling chops to unexpected material, the Honeycutters are just as original, putting a current-day lyrical spin on classic honkytonk sounds. Their latest album, Me Oh My is streaming at Spotify. Frontwoman Amanda Anne Platt writes potently vivid narratives that mine the underside of hardscrabble rural America: her characters are people we all know. She sings in a purposeful, unaffected drawl over the twangy backdrop of multi-instrumentalist Matt Smith – who supplies guitar, dobro and pedal steel – along with Tal Taylor on mandolin, Rick Cooper on bass and Josh Miligan on drums. The playing and arrangements look back to a classic 60s Bakersfield sound, the mandolin adding a spiky Appalachian touch. The opening track, Jukebox, sets the tone, a swaying midtempo number with a cajoling cynicism: it’s sort of a “better enjoy this because this might be all we’ve got” scenario.

“They can lead you to the darkness but you don’t have to go quiet,” Platt reminds in the catchy, shuffling All You Ever Needed, a friendly warning to a pal who’s willing to settle for a place to sleep on the kitchen floor: it’s a potent portrait of dashed dreams and their consequences in Flyover America. “I had a baby but the Good Lord took her, she was an angel but her wings were crooked,” Platt observes in the slowly swaying, John Prine-inflected title track, a chillingly clear take on the downside of trying to start a family too young: “Some girls do better without that ball and chain,” her narrator explains.

With its hard-hitting beat, resonant organ and keening pedal steel, Edge of the Frame is a biting portrait of somebody who’s gotten too big for their britches. Ain’t It the Truth – which could be the Wallflowers with a pedal steel and a woman out front – is even grimmer, a study in the psychology of domestic abuse.

Carolina works another restless shuffle groove, while Texas ’81 paints a stark portrait of a relationship unraveling with the demands of family and responsibilities. The slow, moody Little Bird, with Phil Cook’s gospel-tinged piano, could be a prequel, a new bride pondering how long the honeymoon will last – or, more accurately, how long it won’t. Not That Simple keeps the slow-burning, morose vibe going, then Wedding Song brings some bluegrass-flavored optimism: “When you’re with me, honey, it’s like throwing loaded dice,” Platt’s joyous heroine exclaims.

Hearts of Mine opens with a similar acoustic atmosphere and then goes deeper into melancholy, swaying honkytonk. Then Platt flips the script again with the upbeat I’ll Be Loving, a dead ringer for Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere, with a delicious dobro/mando duel on the way out.

“I’ve got the mind of a junkie and you’ve got the heart of a child,” Platt muses on Lucky, a sobering but hopeful and propulsively crescendoing anthem. The final cut is the plaintive, guilt-stricken breakup ballad A Life For You. Fans of strong, insightful songwriting from Lucinda Williams, to vintage Springsteen, to James McMurtry will love this album – it’s more than a stealth contender for one of the best of 2015.

The Hillbenders Bring Their Imaginative Americana Take on The Who to the Rockwood

If you’re into bluegrass, you’ve probably heard Luther Wright & the Wrongs‘ 2001 cult classic Rebuild the Wall, an acoustic version of the Pink Floyd movie soundtrack album. In a similar vein, with considerably less of a mean-spirited satirical edge, the Hillbenders’ Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry, an impressively faithful newgrass take on the Who, is currently burning up the charts and streaming at Spotify. They’re bringing it to the big room at the Rockwood on June 18 at 7 PM on an excellent twinbill with honkytonkers the Honeycutters, Cover is $12; the venue isn’t clear on who’s playing first, but both bands are worth seeing if Americana is your thing. And if you feel like nursing your $15 beer and making a night of it, sardonic oldtimey swing guitarist/crooner Seth Kessel & the Two Cent Band play their jaunty, fun, original  tunes afterward at around 10:30.

It’s tempting to say that audiences in 2015 will probably prefer the Hillbenders’ version over the Who’s original. Forget for a minute that these days, bluegrass is a whole lot more popular than bombastic stadium rock. For starters. this bluegrass band has virtuoso chops and impeccable taste, recording the album to two-inch tape. While the Who obviously also recorded in analog, they were still a garage band at heart when they made the original. What’s most surprising about the new album is how well the incidental music between the radio hits translates to bluegrass – and, quite frankly, how much the band improves it. A prime example is Sparks, where the dobro and banjo really soar. What’s less surprising is how well the Hillbenders do the hits. For one, just the absence of Roger Daltrey’s florid vocals is a big plus. And while it’s probably unfair to weigh how much more texture, and dynamics, and flair guitarist Jim Rea, mandolinist Nolan Lawrence, dobro player Chad Graves and banjo player Mark Cassidy add, by comparison to all of Pete Townshend’s overdubs, the ultimate result is that the Hillbenders’ version is arguably even more epic. And what more could you possibly want from a rock opera? That probably explains why Townshend has given his blessing to the album.

The one thing that it doesn’t offer is a blockbuster rhythm section, which makes sense: Gary Rea is a perfectly good bluegrass bassist, eschewing John Entwhistle’s sinewy attack for a purist oldschool approach. And the band sidesteps the issue of trying to match any of Keith Moon’s contributions, probably a wise choice. They also don’t attempt to clarify or expand on the original’s bare-bones plot: best to look at this as a catchy collection of newgrass pop songs imbued with tongue-in-cheek humor and played with first-class chops, rather than any kind of profound statement. And the hits are a revelation. You can understand the lyrics to Pinball Wizard – how’s “Bally table king” for 60s cultural resonance? Go to the Mirror matches the junior existentialist angst of the original, and We’re Not Gonna Take It has even more defiance. After all this, ironically, the original seems pretty lightweight.

State-of-the-Art Big Band Jazz and a Shapeshifter Show by John Yao & His 17-Piece Instrument

John Yao is one of New York’s elite trombonists, and a frequent performer with both Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.Yao is also a first-class, ambitious and witty composer and leader of his own all-star large ensemble, John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument. They have a new album, Flip-Flop, and a release show at 7 PM on June 17 at Brooklyn’s home for big band jazz, Shapeshifter Lab, with sets at 7 and 8:15 PM and an enticingly low $10 cover.

As you might imagine from a trombonist, the album is a big, bright, brassy extravaganza. But it’s also full of unexpected dynamics, dips and rises, imaginative voicings and occasional sardonic humor. The title track bookends punchy brass exchanges around a couple of long sax-and-rhythm-section vectors upward, John O’Gallagher on alto and Rich Perry on tenor, the two engaging in a genial conversation midway through. New Guy is Yao at his sardonic best: a moody, syncopated vamp with fluttery brass gives way to punchy swing with cleverly echoing voices, Andy Gravish’s stairstepping trumpet leading into to more serioso trombone from Yao and then a pugilistic exchange that builds to a hopeful crescendo and then a memorable punchline.

Slow Children at Play follows a bright, balmy clave stroll, echoing Yao’s work with the O’Farrill band, with a warmly considered Rich Perry tenor sax solo that builds to a lively exchange with the brass, followed by a summery trombone-and-rhythm-section interlude. It’s very New York. For that matter, the same could be said for the two “soundscapes” here, group improvisation in a Butch Morris vein, the first a luminously suspenseful intro of sorts with shivery violin at its center, the second with a similarly apprehensive, cinematic sweep.

With a blazing brass kickoff, impressively terse yet punchy David Smith trumpet solo and bustling Jon Irabagon tenor sax solo, the gritty swing tune Hellgate is the most trad and also the catchiest number here. Opening with Yao’s own moody trombone, Reflection shifts toward noir, its resonant, shifting sheets building a tensely expectant ambience with a lull for pianist Jesse Stacken’s brooding excursion and then a rewardingly brass-fueled crescendo. Yao’s sense of humor and aptitude for relating a good yarn take centerstage on Ode to the Last Twinkie, its playful echo effects and Jon Irabagon’s droll, eye-rolling tenor sax offering a nod to Arnold Schoenberg.

Illumination also features those echoes that Yao likes so much, a much more serious piece with Alejandro Aviles’ spiraling flute and Frank Basile’s energetic baritone sax over a tensely hypnotic piano riff, the brass falling into place with a mighty domino effect, Stacken adding a cascading, neoromantically-tinged break. The album winds up with the hard-swinging Out of Socket. Taken as a whole, it’s a tight, adrenalizing performance by a collection of first-call NYC jazz talent that also includes trumpeters John Walsh and Jason Wiseman; Luis Bonilla, Matt McDonald, Kajiwara Tokunori and Jennifer Wharton on trombones; Robert Sabin on bass and Vince Cherico on drums. As the album’s just out, it hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, but Yao has lots of good stuff on his music page including several of these tracks.

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