New York Music Daily

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Tag: album review

A Current-Day Roots Reggae Masterpiece From Taj Weekes & Adowa

Most reggae fans, if they didn’t know the band, would never guess that Taj Weekes & Adowa aren’t one of the golden-age bands of the 70s, contemporaries of Bob Marley, Burning Spear and the rest. Those familiar with studio recording from across the ages would notice the cleaner production quality, as opposed to what was coming out of cramped, dingy Jamdown analog rooms throughout that time (and what that stuff sounds like as overcompressed mp3s from the web). Weekes has an individualistic sound, setting his aphoristic, socially conscious lyrics to slinky, artfully orchestrated organic grooves with low-key guitar multitracks, flowing organ, incisive piano, and a tight, fat rhythm section. What sets Weekes apart is that he doesn’t just vamp out on a couple of chords – his melodies are anthemic and shapeshifting, as equally informed by psychedelic rock and the 60s as by Bob Marley. His expressive voice sails up to the rafters on occasion when he wants to really drive a point home or match the music. Weekes and the band are playing the album release show for their new one Love Herb & Reggae at the Knitting Factory on Feb 12 at around 10 for $12 in advance. Popular 90s artist Mighty Mystic opens at around 8.

The album – streaming at Storyamp – kicks off with Let Your Voice, as in “let your voice be as loud as your silence.” In an age where so much of what’s left of reggae is ditsy good-vibes hippie bs, this allusive revolutionary anthem is a caustic blast of Caribbean heat. Weekes follows that with the similarly catchy, subtly dub-tinged Life in the Red. It’s an unselfconsciously poetic look at breaking free…but for a price. “Traded my desk for convenience of life…caught dead fighting fire with a feather,’ he warns.

The sad rocksteady ballad Full Sight is another example of how Weekes’ songwriting looks back to far more sophisticated era in reggae, both musically and lyrically. Giant Beast is a vengeful anti-tyranny anthem with a mighty intro – “One day her name no longer spoken, one day her ruins to my right,” Weekes nonchalantly intones. The album has a couple of version of the single Here I Stand, a brave choice of song in the world where Boom Bye Bye still tends to be the norm rather than the exception.

You don’t need no wings to fly,” is the mantra of the soaring, sunny title track. Bullet for a Gun casts Weekes’ antiviolence message into a elegant soul-jazz influenced ballad with some hints of vintage dub. Mediocrity is an especially defiant number: “I won’t wallow in self-pity and I won’t make peace with mediocrity …I shun the comfort of compromise,” Weekes insists. More songwriters ought to make that promise.

Rebels to the Street adds gospel vocals to what could be a vintage Brixton Riots-era Aswad song. The Laws, the most Marley-esque track here, revisits age-old logic for legalizing the herb – what are we watiing for, in New York it’s impossible to walk down the street or ride the train without at least catching a whiff of the wisdom weed. The album winds up with Was It You, a love song with some sweet melodica that reminds of Augustus Pablo; the acoustic Rebel, which attests to how oppression creates “criminals;” and St. Lucia on My Mind, a fond shout-out to Weekes’ home turf in the islands. It’s hard to think of another roots reggae album this purist and smart and original released in the last few years.

A Brilliant Valentine’s Afternoon Big Band Show in Gowanus With Miho Hazama’s Darkly Amusing, Cutting-Edge Epics

What’s the likelihood that five of the world’s most happening composers in big band and chamber jazz would be Japanese-American women from New York? And what’s the chance that they would all converge for an afternoon in the middle of Gowanus, Brooklyn? Believe it, it’s happening on February 14 at 4 PM when the 17-piece Sakura Jazz Orchestra plays material by Miho Hazama, Asuka Kakitani, Migiwa Miyajima, Meg Okura, and Noriko Ueda at Shapeshifter Lab. Cover is $15, and there are other more expensive options with perks for those with the means of supporting the artists on a patronage level. A night out on Valentine’s Day may be a no-fly zone for both those of us with sweethearts and those without, but this show’s early start time enables you to get home in time for snuggling…or to get away from the weirdos.

Edgy violinist Okura, leader of the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, is the senior member of the composer contingent. Bassist Ueda has lately split her time between playing big band gigs and leading her own purposeful, tuneful trio, while pianist Miyajima focuses more specifically on big, powerful, enveloping compositions. While it might seem farfetched to imagine an album any more lustrous or rhythmically shapeshifting than Kakitani’s magnificent 2012 debut album Bloom with her Big Band, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that about Hazama’s debut from the same year, Journey to Journey, streaming at Spotify and recorded with her 13-piece ensemble M-Unit.

It’s a landmark of largescale composition, one of the most counterintuitively and imaginatively arranged releases of this decade. It’s as ambitious a debut big band jazz album as anyone’s ever recorded. It instantly put Hazama on the map alongside Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue and Erica Seguine. Hazama’s erudition across many, many idioms is astonishing even in this era when you can youtube pretty much anything. And she can be hilarious, often with a sarcastic or occasionally cruel streak.

Hazama is a wild storyteller, and in those epic narratives she does pretty much everything you can do with, or would want from a large jazz ensemble. Instruments are paired and arranged unexpectedly, and hardly anything ever repeats. Drama and surprise are where you least expect them. Hazama engages a string quartet for melody and color as much as she employs the brass and reeds. She loves textures, particularly strange and unnerving ones, fueling the impression that she has even more of a dark side than she lets on. And the musicians, a cast of allstar and rising star talent, have a ball with this music.

The opening cut, Mr. O portrays a garrulous amusement park owner, with all kinds of droll conversation between various band members, and sections, plus plenty of neat echo phrases, chattering between voices and a bit of unexpectedly woozy surrealism. Tokyo Confidencial shifts from bustling, airconditioned clave to hints of a classic by the Doors, diverges toward reggae and eventually emerges as a rather beautiful neoromantically-tinged anthem. Blue Forest beefs up genially bluesy Nat King Cole phrasing with ambitoiusly expansive Gil Evans colors.

The title track never settles in groovewise even while it shifts in many directions, as Kakutani likes to do. Droll solo spots contrast with underlying, toweringly cinematic unease; there’s a charmingly coy, marionettish exchange, hints of Afro-Cuban melody and a very intense, agitated coda, the kind that you seldom hear in jazz. Paparazzi, which is just as sweeping and even funnier, opens hilariously as it mimics the “this won’t play” sound from a computer. Furtive stalkers too easily pleased do not get off well on this track, at all, and Hazama is very specific and articulate about thas. Hazama returns to fullscale angst bordering on horror with Believing in Myself, which should come with a question mark, a harrowing chamber-jazz number with a relentless ache and inner turmoil, her own Monk-tinged piano rippling moodily through it up the least expected cartoonish interlude ever written. Does she go as far over the top with you think she might? If you haven’t heard it, no spoilers.

She follows the simply titled Ballad – a fragmentary tone poem of sorts – with What Will You See, which mingles allusions to funk and Jim McNeely newschool swing with devious permutations on a chattering horn theme. That and the easygoing final cut, Hidamari are the closest things to the kind of large-ensemble stuff you typically hear at the Vanguard or Jazz at Lincoln Center, but even here, Hazama can’t resist pulling away from contentment as her divergent voicings take centerstage when she winds it up.

By contrast, the album’s followup, last year’s Time River – which doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the web, at least in English – seems like a grab bag, if a grab bag from a really good party. It seems aimed at a more trad jazz audience, the arrangements are simpler and there’s an interlude which what sound like set pieces from films – good ones, admittedly. And there are still plenty of the kind of delicious moments that pepper Hazama’s work. Muted Brazilian-flavored drums add unexpected color to the rather trad postbop of The Urban Legend. The tremolo effect on James Shipp’s vibraphone and a gritty soul detective theme give Cityscape as vast a panorama as the title calls for. Hazama employs Gil Golstein’s accordion for a lengthy, harmonically edgy excursion to rival Astor Piazzolla at his most avant garde in the tango-inspired Under the Same Moon, while the ensemble gallops over an altered qawwali beat with all kinds of playful handoffs up to a tricky false ending and explosive coda on Dizzy Dizzy Wildflower.

After the surrealistically warping, oscillating string piece Alternate Universe, Was That Real? Hazama’s furtive piano introduces her chamber-jazz Fugue – an early composition n that already showcases her irrepressible wit as well as her penchant for stormy intensity. The epic title track is the only one that really reaches for the debut album’s titanic majesty, building out of an uneasily circling, Philip Glass-tinged riff, through brashly charging swing passages to the unease that Hazama so often confronts, ending unresolved after a frantically sailing peak. After that, making swing out of an 80s goth-pop hit by A Perfect Circle seems an afterthought, tacked on to end the album on an upbeat note. It’ll be interesting to see how much of this demanding but richly rewarding material the orchestra can handle on the 14th.

A Masterpiece of Noir and Southwestern Gothic by Bronwynne Brent

One of the best collections of dark Americana songwriting released over the past several months is Mississippi-born singer-guitarist Bronwynne Brent’s Stardust, streaming at Spotify. It has absolutely nothing in common with the Hoagy Carmichael song. What it does recall is two other masterpieces of noir, retro-tinged rock: Karla Rose’s Gone to Town and Julia Haltigan‘s My Green Heart. Brent’s simmering blue-flame delivery draws equally on jazz, blues, torch song and oldschool C&W, as does her songwriting.

The album’s opening track,The Mirror sets the stage, twangy Telecaster over funereal organ and Calexico’s John Convertino’s tumbling drums. “The mirror knows the cards that were dealt,” Brent accuses, “You were never there.” Keith Lowe’s ominously slinky hollowbody bass propels Another World, its eerie bolero-rock verse hitched to Brent’s dreamy chorus. She could be the only tunesmith to rhyme “felon” with “compellin’.”

The unpredictably shifting Don’t Tell Your Secrets to the Wind picks up from spare and skeletal to menacingly lush, with biting hints of Romany, mariachi and klezmer music: Nancy Sinatra would have given twenty years off her life for something this smartly orchestrated. By contrast, the banjo-fueled Devil Again evokes the dark country of Rachel Brooke. “You’re just a prisoner watching shadows dance, dancing to your grave,” Brent intones, then backs away for a twangy Lynchian guitar solo. She keeps the low-key moodiness going throughout the softly shuffling Dark Highway, Hank Williams spun through the prism of spare 60s Dylan folk-pop.

When You Said Goodbye brings back the southwestern gothic ambience, with artful hints of ELO art-rock. “When you said goodbye I knew that I would die alone alone,” Brent muses: the ending will rip your heart out. By contrast. Heart’s On Fire, an escape anthem, builds to more optimistic if wounded territory:”Well, you learn from your mistakes, sometimes the prisoner gets a break,” Brent recalls.

Already Gone builds shimmery organ-fueled nocturnal ambience over a retro country sway: spare fuzztone guitar adds a surreal Lee Hazlewood touch. Bulletproof gives Brent a swinging noir blues background while she shows off her tough-girl side: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Eilen Jewell catalog.

Heartbreaker leaves the noir behind for a spare, fingerpicked folk feel, like Emmylou Harris at her most morose. Lay Me Down blends echoes of spare Britfolk, mariachi, creepy western swing and clever references to the Ventures: “Distance grows between us, doesn’t that just free us?” Brent poses. She ends the album on a vividly Faulknerian note: “Guess I can’t stop drinking, not today,” her narrator explains,” You may think that I’m lonely and running out of time, but I’m not the marrying kind.” Add this to your 3 AM wine-hour playlist: it’ll keep the ghosts of the past far enough away where they can’t get to you.

Brooding Folk Noir and Lynchian Janglerock from Jaye Bartell

Jaye Bartell plays spare, Lynchian folk rock. His album Loyalty – streaming at Noisetrade – poses more questions than it answers. Bartell sings in a clear baritone with a bit of a wounded edge, amplifying his enigmatic lyrics. He invites you into his brooding, allusive narratives, throws a series of images at you and lets you figure out what kind of trouble is going down, or went down ago; who’s dying, or maybe who’s already died. The songs trace the narrative of a doomed relationship, although not all of them may relate to that. What is clear is that all things dear die here.

There’s a lot of tremolo and reverb on Bartell’s simple, straightforwardly layered acoustic and electric guitar tracks; bass and drums are spare and minimal, enhancing what is often a bedroom folk-noir feel. Bartell really has his way with a catchy hook: the melodies look back equally to pensive 60s Laurel Canyon psych-folk as well as to 80s goth. Both the Velvet Underground ande the Smiths are obvious influences, but melodically rather than as an affectation.

The ominously twangy opening track, Lilly, situates Bartell’s narrator in a metaphorical cave:

It’s the best place for a bird
Who wouldn’t know what a home was
Even if you built him a birdhouse and filled it with string…
Miles of tissue and stitches
Which you can use on the days when I fell to the base of the cave
Lilly
I woke up screaming
Fuck ’em
I’ve got nothing
But I’ve got guts

The more enticing second track, Come See takes a classic 60s Jamaican rocksteady melody and makes Orbisonesque acoustic-electric rock out of it. The accusatory Dance with Me starts slow and then picks uip, then picks up – New York underground legend Dan Penta comes to mind. “Dance with me, so that all of the people see the bane and blame and reeling, dance with me,” Bartell taunts, quietly.

With its uneasily homey metaphors, The Face Was Mine could refer to a dissolved marriage, or possibly the death of parent, or a parent figure: like everything ehse here, the answer unclear. Bartell continues the theme with He Can’t Rise, slowly building out of hypnotic, echoey minimalism to an anthemic Jesus & Marcy Chain-ish chorus.

The Papers starts out as a noir strut and then swing, with a Tom Waits bluesiness – it’s another accusatory number:

You think that you feel bad because he is around
But you feel bad because you feel bad
He always took off his shoes when he walked on the grass
You feel bad because you feel bad

The album’s title track is its jangliest, most 80s-influenced moment. “To know the weight and length of snakes won’t bring sleep to a troubled evening,” Bartell observes. Your Eyelashes is where the story comes together; it’s both the most stark and angriest cut. Which contrasts with the album’s most ornate and anthemic, J&MC-like track, Oldest Friend, closing the album on a gospel-tinged, elegaic note. Put this on your phone and walk the perimeter of McGoldrick Park in Greenpoint some gloomy Sunday, where Bartell reputedly comes up with some of this stuff.

Dolunay Raises the Bar for an Amazing Night of Music Downtown This Friday

More about that amazing lineup this Friday, January 15 at Alwan for the Arts at 16 Beaver St. in the financial district. As you may remember from yesterday’s piece here, the acts are slightly staggered, Lolapalooza style, on two stages, so that you – and the booking agents in town for this week’s convention – can sample all of them between 7:45 and around 11. The concert isn’t cheap – $30 – but the lineup is killer. Starting at 7:45 PM: on the fourth floor (the main space of this Arabic-diaspora cultural center), there’s singer Jenny Luna’s exhilarating Turkish/Balkan/Middle Eastern band Dolunay, followed an hour later by similarly intense Palestinian-American buzuq player Tareq Abboushi’s Shusmo art-rock/funk project, then the whirlwind Russian Crimean Tatar Ensemble at 9:45. Upstairs on the sixth floor, there’s wild southern Italian folk reinventors Newpoli at 8, then veteran Malian griot guitarist Abdoulaye Diabate at 9 and then at 10 Punjabi chanteuse Kiran Ahluwalia, who makes mystical, mysterious albums but is much more charismatic and animated onstage than you might expect.

Dolunay’s epic debut album, Our House, is streaming at Bandcamp. Over sixteen tracks, the band weave a bristling tapestry that runs the gamut from quiet and moody, to suspenseful and serpentine, to a sort of elegantly feral dancing quality. The material mixes traditional Turkish and Rumeli (Balkan-Turkish) songs as well as originals: without knowing which are which, it’s impossible to tell the band’s own material from the centutires-old songs in their repertoire. Bracing Middle Eastern modes, eerie chromatics and minor keys rise and fall, sometimes into a gentle, jangly backdrop that brings to mind traditions as diverse as Greek and Macedonian dances or Elizabethan British balladry.

When the band aren’t snaking or dancing their way through an instrumental, frontwoman/percussionist Jenny Luna’s spellbinding voice is front and center. Depending on the song, she can be austere and plaintive, or chillingly imploring, or jaunty and triumphant. Not a lot of the material on the album employs the flickering microtones common to a lot of Middle Eastern music, but it’s when Luna glides in and out of them that she resonates the most.

One of this city’s great fretted instrumentl players, Adam Good plays the oud with his usual incisive resonance, but he also takes a turn on the janglier, higher-register cumbus – the closest thing her to his original instrument, the electric guitar – as well as the less resonant, more plinky tambura. Violinist Eylem Basaldi matches the clarity and inciisveness of the vocals, with several wickedly spiraling, spine-tingling solos throughout the album – and adds her own vocal harmonies to the mix on its most ornate, memorable numbers. Alongside Luna, percussionists Polly Ferber propels the songs through thickets of tricky meters with a scampering grace or steady, minimialist insistence, employing n an assortment of drums from across the region. Turli Tava leader Jerry Kisslinger guests on standup drum on one of the later tracks.

Considering that it bridges the chord-based song structures of western music with the more improvisational, microtonal flair of the Middle East, Balkan music in general tends to be pretty exciting stuff and this album is a prime example: it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable mix of songs put out by any New York band over the past several months. .

Newpoli Whirl Through the Rich, Edgy Kaleidoscope of Southern Italian Music

This Friday, January 15 there’s an amazing six-band lineup at Alwan for the Arts at 16 Beaver St. in the financial district. The acts are slightly staggered, Lolapalooza style, on two stages, so that you can see at least some of every one of them between 7:45 and around 11. Cover is on the steep side, $30, but look at this lineup: on the fourth floor (the main space of this cultural center for the Arabic-speaking diaspora), the night starts with singer Jenny Luna’s exhilarating Turkish/Balkan/Middle Eastern band Dolunay, followed an hour later by similarly intense Palestinian-American buzuq player Tareq Abboushi’s Shusmo art-rock/funk project, then the whirlwind Russian Crimean Tatar Ensemble at 9:45. Upstairs on the sixth floor, there’s wild southern Italian folk reinventors Newpoli at 8, then veteran Malian griot guitarist Abdoulaye Diabate at 9 and then at 10 Punjabi chanteuse Kiran Ahluwalia, who makes mystical, mysterious albums but is very dynamic and fun onstage.

Newpoli’s latest album, Nun Te Vuta – meaning “Don’t Look Back”- is streaming at Spotify. The title is sardonic, considering that what the band plays is rooted in centuries of Mediterranean-borne, southern Italian cross-pollination. On the other hand, just like their antecedents in centuries past, they’re putting their own spin on an old sound, and half of the album is original songs. With eight people in the band, there’s a lot going on. The opening title track sets the stage, frontwomen Carmen Marsico and Angela Rossi soaring through an angst-ridden reflection on the depopulation of the countryside as a younger generation of Italians migrates to the cities, Bjorn Wennås’ acoustic guitar and mandola laying down a lush backdrop for Roberto Cassan’s warily dancing accordion, Megumi Sataaki’s violin and multi-reedman Daniel Meyers’ flute.

Bazar works its way up from a stately, suspensefully pulsing intro to a wild, wailing chorus, then back and forth, Meyers’ flute adding a bracing Middle Eastern edge. Sciure d’Arance – meaning “orange blossom” – is even more misterioso, an elegantly balletesque, mightily crescendoing, minor-key ballad, with a woundedly circumspect Jussi Reijonen oud solo at the center. The trio of chirpy dance numbers afterward make a lively, contrasting interlude: finally, about ten minutes in, the music takes a turn back into bristling minor-key terrain with a gritty staccato pulse.

Wennås’ moodily cascading guitar and Cassan’s rich washes of accordion anchor the womens’ insistent harmonies on the next number, simply titled Pizzica: it takes on a more flamenco-flavored swirl as it goes on. Even more intense is the Palestinian-tinged dirge that follows, Marsico’s voice rising with dramatic intensity over spare, funereal mandola, percussion and a stygian accordion drone. Intensity-wise, it’s the album’s high point.

The group keeps the minor-key coals burning, fueled by Cassan’s spiraling accordion, throughout the dance number after that, followed by a slow, serpentine mashup of what sounds like Elizabethan English folk and Mediterranean balladry. They close the album on a rustically otherworldly, dancing note.

If you’re wondering why there are so many multiple-band bills with acts from all over the world in town this week, it’s because the annual booking agents’ convention is here, celebrating a tradition of live auditions even though youtube and streaming audio long ago rendered all that running around obsolete.

A Smartly Enigmatic New Album From the Shapeshifting Parlor Walls

Parlor Walls – part of the Famous Swords art collective – call themselves trash jazz. It’s a modest handle for their ferociously kinetic, shapeshifting, noisy songs. Much as their sound is distinctly teens, their esthetic looks back to the no wave era of James Chance & the Contortions and Lydia Lunch’s various projects, if with a lot more focus and emphasis on melody and memorable hooks. In music-school terms, their songs are pretty much through-composed. Not only do verses and choruses tend not to repeat: the music just flows, or leaps and bounds, rather than following a distinct progression. Tempos and meters shift in a split-second.

Onstage they’re a lot of fun to watch. Drummer Chris Mulligan anchors the music with a mighty rumble and crash while playing organ, ambitiously, with his left hand. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb spins and pounces and fires off shards of noise one second, then evilly lingering, noirish phrases the next. Alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty provides a calm yet similarly brooding presence with her resonant, minimalist lines and astringent, boxcutter tone. Parlor Walls also find a way to join a lot of really good lineups onstage. This Thursday, January 14 they’re at Aviv at 496 Morgan Ave. (Division/Beadel) in Williamsburg starting at 8 with the restlessly noisy, hypnotic, surprisingly groove-driven, bitingly lyrical Pill, then the more assaultive, noisier Guardian Alien, Parlor Walls at around 10, darkly psychedelic art-rock legend Martin Bisi and finally guitarist Arian Shafiee of dance-punks Guerilla Toss at the top of the bill. Cover is $10.

Parlor Walls’ latest album, Cut is up as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp. It opens with Bloodsport, a maze of guitar loops quickly giving way to a mashup of circling indie classical riffs and what sounds like wry faux urban corporate pop. The Key, clocking in at just a little over two minutes, sets haphazardly lingering guitar, warping organ and sax over a drum stampede.

Mulligan and Mohanty work a creepy/jaunty contrast for all it’s worth on Me Me My, Lamb adding a similar dichotomy with her menacing guitar flares and enigmatically playful vocals: “Push me out,” is the mantra. The build up to bell-like hypnotic ambience over Mulligan’s tersely dancing drums as the surprisingly dreampop-influenced Sundress reaches toward escape velocity is a lot of fun. Likewise, the final track, Birthday, which rings and clangs as it follows an unexpectedly warm, Afrobeat-tinged triplet groove before a tempo change, Lamb and Mohanty throwing off sparks over Mulligan’s pulsing syncopation. Get this album, crank it and revel in the fact that we live in such uneasy, interesting times.

Charming, Erudite Swing Sophistication from Daria Grace & the Pre-War Ponies

Daria Grace and the Pre-War Ponies distinguish themselves from the rest of the hot jazz pack by hanging out on the pillowy side of the street. Their sophisticatedly charming new album, Get Out Under the Moon is snuggle music. It’s best experienced with someone near and dear to you, or thoughts of someone near and dear to you. It can be danced to; much of it was written for that. Speaking from experience, let’s say that if you are a single person in New York, you will be missing out if you don’t own this album. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll meet someone with something similar in mind at the release show on January 17 at 7 PM at the Slipper Room, that’s not out of the question either. Cover is $12.

Grace is one of New York’s most distinctive and elegant singers. Her voice is plush, clear and unadorned; often she’ll add just the subtlest hint of vibrato at the end of a phrase. She sings in character, but with warmth and restraint: even the most over-the-top personas from both the rare and well-known swing numbers in her repertoire get the benefit of her sophistication and wit. The new album opens with a bit of a red herring, an opiated take of a noir cha-cha, Amapola, a shout-out to a pretty little poppy, spiced gingerly with solos from irrepressible multi-instrumentalist J. Walter Hawkes’ trombone and Tom Beckham’s simmering vibraphone.

Grace lends a wary, understatedly brooding edge to Say It Isn’t So, Hawkes matching the vocals with his foghorn resonance. She takes a more cajoling approach on the album’s swinging title track, infused with aptly wry, early-evening roller-rink organ from Hawkes. Cole Porter’s Find Me a Primitive Man digs deeper into the song’s cabana-jazz roots than its composer probably ever dreamed, anchored with a muted oomph by Tom Pietrycha’s bass and Russ Meissner’s drums, with latin jazz great Willie Martinez on percussion and Hawkes having the time of his caveman life with the mute on his trombone.

Grace picks up the coy charm, but just a little, with the gentle innuendos of the boudoir swing tune What Do We Do on a Dew Dew Dewy Day, Hawkes switching to uke for a good-natured solo. Then Grace puts a little brittle, wounded brass into her voice for a plaintive take of Irving Berlin’s heartbroken waltz, You Forgot to Remember, M Shanghai String Band’s Philippa Thompson adding sad, sepulchral ambience with her singing saw behind Hawkes’ twinkling glockenspiel. I Only Want a Buddy, Not a Sweetheart, popularized by Bing Crosby, makes an apt segue.

Grace’s gracefully defiant understatement in Fats Waller’s How Can You Face Me Now underscores the lyrics’ bitterness, set to a purposeful stroll punctuated by vibes and trombone. Then she moves to a sweetly lilting cajolement in the risqe 1934 hit Pettin’ in the Park and keeps the balmy, upbeat trajectory climbing through the Johnny Mercer novelty swing tune Pardon My Southern Accent, guitarist Mike Neer contributing a spiky Wes Montgomery-flavored solo.The album’s most disarming moment – arguably the most upbeat suicide song ever written – is Jimmie Noone’s 1920s hit Ready for the River, Thompson serving as rustic one-woman string section.

The only place on the album where Grace reaches toward vaudevillian territory is So Is Your Old Lady, which, by contrast, makes the longing of Take My Heart all the more poignant, lowlit by Beckham’s lingering vibes. The album winds up on a lively Hawaiian-flavored note with I Love a Ukulele, harking back to Grace’s days as a founding member of pioneering New York oldtimey band the Moonlighters. The album’s not officially out yet and therefore not at the usual spots, but there are a couple of tracks up at the band’s music page and also Hawkes’ youtube channel.

Ventanas Bring Their Exhilarating Mashup of Flamenco, Middle Eastern and Ladino Sounds to the Lower East

Is there a more enticing way to open an album than with a bristling oud solo? That’s what Toronto band Ventanas do on their new album Arrelumbre – meaning “shine” in Ladino, the Sephardic Jewish dialect, and streaming at Bandcamp. As the song goes along, Dennis Duffin’s flamenco guitar climbs and intertwines with Jessica Hana Deutsch’s violin over a shapeshifting groove as frontwoman Tamar Ilana’s voice sails overhead. All that pretty well capsulizes what you get on the record, conjuring images of dark-haired señors and señoritas passing around a bottle of arak against the backdrop of a blazing bonfire, crackling castanets and twirling dervishes, an enchanting and genre-warping cross-cultural party. The eclectically intense Mediterranean/Romany/Middle Eastern/klezmer acoustic jamband are bringing all this cross-pollinated fun to a free show at Drom on January 15 (actually the wee hours of the 16th) at around half past midnight.

After that first track, the album really gets cooking with the lickety-split Dedo Mili Na Pazar, its eerie Balkan vocal harmonies over a spiky thicket of Demetrios Petsalakis’ baglama lute bolstered by pizzicato violins (that’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra‘s Mark Marczyk on the other one). The title suite of Moroccan dances rises amd then bursts out of Duffin’s elegant flamenco intro in flurries of shivery violin, Ilana’s honeyed vocals providing a tender contrast – and then the band picks it up even further. Then they mash up flamenco and classical Persian balladry.

The well-traveled Balkan folk song Makedonsko Devojce doesn’t bear much resemblance to the cult favorite Black Sea Hotel version, but it’s reinvented all the same, in this case as a mashup of flanemco, Romany guitar jazz and jaunty folk-rock with an incendiary violin solo at the center. The album’s most epic track, Elianto, is a deliciously slinky, misterioso number fueled by Ilana’s low-flame vocals and Petsalakis’ oud.

Libertad has a similarly edgy Middle Easter flavor, blended with flamenco intensity at double the speed. La Sala Del Crimen pairs lustrous violin against Duffin’s elegant fretwork, while Si Te Quiero offers a dusky launching pad for fast-fingered strumming. The gorgeously bittersweet, enigmatic Landarico pairs Ilana’s wounded vocals against an austere wash of strings, then Petsalakis’ oud takes over, ambered and stately. The album winds up with Ven A Mi (Colombianas), a lively blend of flamenco and Romany guitar jazz. Toronto may have earned infamy as home to a broken social scene, but this is the together one: it’s hard to imagine anybody having more fun onstage than this merry band.

Xixa Find Themselves in the Middle of the Year’s Best Lineup of Music on the 16th at Drom

Xixa are a Giant Sand spinoff. Formerly known as Chicha Dust, their name is as coyly entertaining as the psychedelic cumbias they play. But Giant Sand’s Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez don’t just imitate the gloriously trebly sounds of Peru in the 70s, or pretty much anywhere south of the border in this decade: they’ve got an individual, sometimes harder-rocking, very 80s-inspired sound. Their debut vinyl ep Shift and Shadow is streaming at rockpaperscissors and out from Barbes Records.

They’re playing what’s most likely the best multiple-band lineup anywhere in New York this year – who knows, maybe anywhere at Drom on January 16, starting at 7:30 PM for a measly $10. Check out this lineup: Moroccan trance grooves with Samir Langus, psychedelic, surfy, vallenato-influenced art-rock groovemeisters Los Crema Paraiso, the even more psychedelic cumbia/salsa jammers Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta; the magically haunting, soaring all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache ; Xixa; then the darkly Middle Eastern flavored Nubian sounds of Alsarah & the Nubatones , rustic Haitian/Dominican cumbia/vallenato group Buyepongo and the newschool Ethiopiques-inspired dancefloor intensity of Debo Band sometime in the wee hours around 1 AM. For those in Park Slope, Buyepongo and then Xixa are also at Union Hall on 1/17 at 8 for $10

The ep’s title track welds Lynchian tremolo guitar and slithery minor-key organ to a peppy stadium rock chorus: you can practically see the sea of lighters rising as the sun goes down on Bonaroo or somewhere similar. The cover of the Meat Puppets’ Plateau – famously redone by Nirvana – looks not to grunge but to both the 80s goth-pop of bands like the Damned and Echo & the Bunnymen, as well as Peruvian jungle-rock legends like Juaneco y Su Combo. With its echoey timbale groove and serpentine organ, Cumbia del Platero brings to mind ornately orchestrated late-period Chicha Libre. The final cut, Dead Man slowly winds its way out of the synthy, chorus-box-guitar 80s toward a newschool cumbia slink.

A full-length album is scheduled for later in the year; fans of dusky, distantly ominous, trippy sounds should check this stuff out. And for those new to the genre, chicha is both a Peruvian malt beverage – sort of the Andean equivalent of Olde English or Colt .45 – and a slang adjective that translates roughly as “ghetto.” It’s also a style of psychedelic cumbia that first peaked in popularity in the 70s but was brought to the US by Chicha Libre and…you know the rest.

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