New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: album review

Daniel Hart’s Colorful, Ambitious New Film Score Hits the Screen and the Web

The last time composer Daniel Hart was featured on this page, it was at the end of last year’s annual Octoberlong Halloween celebration of dark music here. The dark soundtrack being celebrated that day was Hart’s score to the 2017 film A Ghost Story. Hart’s latest soundtrack is for the new movie The Green Knight, streaming at Spotify.

This music is very colorful, entertaining, ambitious and speaks well for the film. Here Hart engages a choir as well as orchestra, through a much wider sonic palette than his horror cinematics. Most of the twenty-nine segments here are on the short side, three minutes or considerably less: there’s a lot going on this narrative, obviously.

The beginning is percussive and flutey. Harp and cello move to centerstage, then orchestra and choir drift through calm and storm. Most of the orchestration is organic, although there are surreal electronic flourishes and effects.

Portents – acidic woodwinds approximate birdsong, a knock-knock from the drums and a stern mini-fanfare from the choir – appear early on. A bucolic guitar-and-flute tune signals the birth of Christ, quite an outside-the-box depiction.

Two central themes are a striking, somberly circling, Philip Glass-like string interlude followed by an even more striking waltz in the style of a medieval Jewish nigun.

A woman sings in Italian to wind up a twinkling, harp-and-cello-driven all-night vigil. The choral interludes can be demanding, and dramatic, and the singers rise to the technical challenges. Interestingly, Hart doesn’t get Elizabethan til the end: throughout most of the score, his harmonies are on the austere, modernist side. This is a rewarding listen for fans of picturesque contemporary composers like Richard Danielpour and Caroline Shaw.

Low-Key, Subtle, Inventive Jazz and Parlor Pop From Singer/Pianist Aimee Nolte

Aimee Nolte is best known for her extremely popular youtube jazz piano instructional videos. To her further credit, one of her most interesting videos is on how to play rock piano, a rare art to be sure. After all, you don’t want to clutter a rock song with fussy harmonies: Nolte shows you how.

As an artist herself, Nolte has a clear, direct, uncluttered voice and a fondness for inventive, counterintuitive arrangements. Her album Looking for the Answers is streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of low-key originals and jazz standards. Nolte is all about subtlety: there’s nothing here that’s going to blow you away, but there are all sorts of clever touches. As a vocalist, she really excels at ballads; as a pianist, she plays with classically-influenced lyricism and remarkable terseness: this music is on the quiet side, but there’s nothing loungey about it. 

The balmy woodwind arrangement that opens the album’s first song, The Loveliest Girl, matches Nolte’s calm, warmly unadorned delivery. As the aphoristic narrative about a sunbeam finding its raison d’etre gathers steam, Mike Scott’s gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar enters the picture, followed by bassist Bruce Lett and drummer James Yoshizawa.

There’s a hint of the South in Nolte’s voice and a little Brazil in the album’s title track, a syncopated swing shuffle, Scott’s guitar intermingled within the bandleader’s bright, steady piano. Scott’s long solo really nails that same matter-of-fact, lyrically ratcheting drive.

A samba titled Falling Snow might sound bizarre, but it works as a muted backdrop for Nolte’s tender vocals and some nimbly interwoven guitar/piano exchanges. She sings with a bittersweet resonance throughout This One Hurts, a pensive but catchy solo lament.

Then she picks up the pace with the salsa party anthem I Gotta Get, Lett’s bass prowling around deviously. The plush woodwinds return in Save Me One Last Time, the album’s best and most haunting track, a wounded breakup tale told from the point of view of the instigator.

Nolte recalls Ella Firzgerald in her stripped-down bass-and-vocal take of Bye Bye Blackbird with a lot of carefree scatting. Her piano follows a mutedly exploratory tangent in a trio version of All Too Soon over Scott’s steady chords.

So In Love is an understatedly joyous return to samba jazz, followed by You Should’ve, a 70s-style Nashville country-pop ballad recast as grey-sky art-song. Nolte closes the record with For a While, a brief, lyrical solo piano ballad.

Lush, Majestic, Angst-Fueled Orchestral Rock Tunesmithing From Dot Allison

Songwriter Dot Allison opens her new album Heart Shaped Scars – streaming at Bandcamp – with the title track, a Britfolk-tinged tale of abandonment, starry fingerpicked guitar and spare piano over increasingly lush strings, her airy voice reaching for the rafters. It sets the stage for the rest of the record. Allison has a thing for ghosts and metaphorically loaded nature imagery. She likes to record a central vocal track and then layer another one way up in the stratosphere: Lisa Hannigan and Susanne Sundfor‘s more lavish, folk-inspired material comes to mind.

“Listen to what this corridor said,” Allison encourages in The Haunted, a tale of metaphorically loaded ghostly presences over a similar, slightly less symphonically lavish backdrop. Icy raindrop piano flickers above the strummy acoustic guitar of Constellations, a surreal mashup of sweeping chamber pop with tinges of hip-hop, a vibe she reprises with even more imaginative textures later in Cue the Tears..

She reaches for a breathier, more mystical delivery in the circling, mantra-like Can You Hear Nature Sing: “Can you hear through her tears, a myriad of melodies?” Allison asks. The angst hits fever pitch in Ghost Orchid. a stately, anthemic art-rock ballad spiced with some uneasy close harmonies: “We melt into the sun,” is the last line. Allison deserves a lot of credit for resisting the urge to turn this into full-blown High Romantic cliche.

The stark, Appalachian-tinged waltz Forever’s Not Much Time is a subtly venomous broadside that works on many levels: the creepy outro is priceless, and too good to give away. The message of One Love – an original – is not “let’s get together and feel all right,” but the devastating consequences of a garden left to die.

“We’ve got blood on our hands,” is Allison’s opening refrain in Love Died in Our Arms, another stab at orchestral hip-hop. She winds up the album a stark but ultimately optimistic, verdantly string-driven start-over theme, the closest thing to a medieval English ballad here.

Murky, Dissociative Cinematics From the EFG Trio

Trumpeter Frank London has one of the most immense discographies of any New York musician. He’s on over five hundred records, which date back before his band the Klezmatics springboarded the carnivalesque sound that morphed into circus rock and Romany punk in the 90s. Some of London’s latest adventures have been especially adventurous: jazz poetry, Indian/klezmer mashups, and now a darkly cinematic trio album as part of the EFG Trio with guitarist Eyal Maoz and composer/keyboardist Guy Barash. Their new album Transluminal Rites is streaming at Bandcamp.

Often it’s impossible to figure out who’s doing what here – even the trumpet could be processed beyond the point of recognition, such is the grey disquiet of this morass. Many of the tracke here re brooding miniatures that suddenly rise with industrial abrasiveness, squirrel around, stroll briskly like a spy or offer moments of comic relief, One has a calmly circling, Indian-inspired trumpet melody that gets slowly decentered; its sequel is pure industrial noise

Spectralogy, one of the more epic numbers here, begins as an eerily warping guitarscape with traces of Maoz’s signature, incisively Middle Eastern-tinged sound, then Barash’s electric piano shifts to a much more noirish interlude before everything’s spun through a fuzzy patch. London’s circling, snorting lines rescue everyone from dystopia, more or less.

Winds of ill omen circle around London’s animated curlicues in Polysemia Deluxe, another largescale piece that leaps and bounds, out of focus, towards an abyss, London finally sounding an elephantine warning..

The big idystopic diptych here is titled Eau de Pataphysique: strange rumblings inside the drainpipe, short circuits and wheels going off the axle in the projection room. The concluding largescale piece, Sweet Thanatos is platform for some of London’s most plaintive, chromatically bristling resonance of recent years.

Dark and oppressive sounds for dark and oppressive times: those brave enough to plunge in, especially at the end, will be rewarded.

A Look Back at a Catchy, Acerbically Swinging Album by Baritone Sax Star Lauren Sevian

As one of the world’s major baritone saxophonists, Lauren Sevian needs no introduction to jazz fans. What’s less known about her is that she’s also a composer and bandleader. Her most recent album under her own name, Bliss, came out in 2018 and is streaming at Spotify. Her instantly recognizable sound stems from her fondness for the instrument’s high midrange: she can get as lowdown and smoky as any other bari player, but she excels at melodies a little higher up like nobody else.

The opening track, Triple Water – a reference to Sevian’s emotionarlly fraught astrology chart – is a tightly wound, lickety-split swing tune, pianist Robert Rodriguez scrambling down to a fleeingly moody interlude that the bandleader pulls back in a flash, relying mostly on her midrange as bassist Christian McBride and drummer E.J. Strickland scurry along.

Sevian and her pal Alexa Tarantino used to have a band coyly named LSAT, and the tenor saxophonist contributes one of her own tunes, Square One, joining Sevian out front of the warmly lilting, expressive tune. McBride clusters around, The album’s title track slowly coalesces into a slow, syncopated sway, Sevian employing her marvelously brassy midrange tone for maximum impact over Rodriguez’s steady, spare backdrop.

The briskly strolling Bluesishness is a launching pad for Sevian’s souflul, “twisty” blues variations, as she calls them, McBride tossing off a deviously horn-voiced solo of his own. Goldie’s Chance is Sevian’s Lucille, a dynamically shifting, unexpectedly moody ballad dedicated to her Buffet 400 series baritone model: it’s a love song rather than a demo for everything her axe can do.

Sevian wrote the jaunty, matter-of-fact stroll Miss Lady for her cat, Astoria – even a spare, rather mysterious Strickland solo can’t get this furry friend to get uncentered. Lamb and Bunny, dating from Sevian’s LSAT days, is a lickety-split burner, the two women having a spiraling, conspiratorial good time as the rhythm section walks it frantically. The album’s most expansive track, In the Loop has a low-key, funky groove, Sevian’s gravelly solo followed by a mutedly jubilant one from McBride.

In Evergreen, Rodriguez’s gorgeously chiming lines, the bandleader’s thoughtful, resonant melody and McBride’s unabashedly romantic solo build inviting early summer ambience. Sevian winds up the album with Minimal Moves, using the changes from Coltrane’s Giant Steps for a racewalking swing. In a world where live music exists everywhere – and hopefully such a world will exist again – Sevian plays with everybody: this album is one of the reasons why she always has a gig.

Incendiary Ethiopian Jams on the Upper West Side This Weekend

Anbessa Orchestra‘s latest single Gobez (Brave) – streaming at Bandcamp – is a condensed, slashing version of a big anthem they slayed with for over a year before the lockdown. Then the Israeli-American Ethiopian jazz jamband had to record it remotely over the web since the band members had been scattered across the world. Here, guitarist/bandleader Nadav Peled introduces the big, defiant, ominous Ethiopian modal hook, picked up by the brass and eventually a slithery solo by baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket.

This wild, incendiary outfit are back in action with a free outdoor show on Aug 1 at 7 PM at Pier One on the Hudson; take the 1/2/3 to 72nd St., walk west and take the stairs down to the river at 68th St. out behind the Trump complex. There’s plenty of room for dancing on the pier.

Their most recent album, Live at New City Brewery 11/22/19 hit their Bandcamp page about a year ago and underscores why more bands should make live albums. For a soundboard recording that the band probably never planned on releasing until the lockdown, this is pretty amazing. They are in their element through a relentlessly slinky thirteen-song set in western Massachusetts, a mix of originals and classics. Bassist Ran Livneh and drummer Eran Fink run hypnotically undulating, circular riffs as the band shift from an ominous mode to sunnier terrain on the wings of alto sax player Bill Todd’s jubilantly melismatic alto sax solo on the night’s opening number.

As they like to do, they segue straight into a searing, practically eight-minute version of their signature song Lions, organist Micha Gilad holding down turbulent river of sound behind the biting chromatics of the horns, trumpeter Billy Aukstik out in front. Peled’s supersonic hammer-ons raise the energy to redline through a tantalizingly brief solo: this band can go on twice as long and the intensity never wavers.

Assefa Abate’s Yematibela Wef ((A Bird You Can’t Eat) has a subtext as salacious as the title implies and a bouncy triplet groove. The Gize Suite, a diptych, based on Gizie Biyasayegnem by Misrak Mammo, starts out as a shivery, chromatic, trumpet-fueled clapalong shadowed by Peled’s guitar and rises to blazing, symphonic proportions. Peled brings it down to a spare, ominously jangling solo guitar interlude, then the conflagration starts again.

From there the group hit a balmy oldschool 60s soul bounce with Zemena and Abebe Mellese’s Kelkay Yelelbebet, then an original, Tch’elema (Darkness), a turbulently pulsing salute to resilience in troubled times.

Todd’s spare flute contrasts with the brooding undercurrent of Werik’i (Gold), another original. Mahmoud Ahmed’s Belomi Benna gets a cinematic, relentless drive that goes straight-up ska and then reggae, then the band go back to biting minor modes with their own stomp, Gurage

Once again, they follow a segue, from their Ethiopian reggae tune, Le’b, into Aregahegn Worash’s wickedly catchy Zelel Zelel. “Do you want more?” Peled asks the crowd. “One more set,” a guy in the crowd bellows back. Yo which the guitarist responds with a menacing, spiraling, reverb-drenched solo into, then the band launch into the angst-fueled Yeleleu Hager Lidj (Man Without a Country). They close with the bounding, strutting, Dera, with solos all around. This is as good an idea as any of what the Upper West is going to get this weekend.

Haunting Klezmer Sounds and Protest Songs Outdoors in Park Slope This Week

One of the most powerful protest songs that’s been resurrected in recent years is Mir Veln Zey Iberlebn (We Will Outlive Them).

This old Jewish melody, reinvented by Brooklyn klezmer band Tsibele, is as indomitable an anthem as any freedom fighter could want. In this seven-minute live clip, the group lead a singalong in the deliciously Middle Eastern-flavored freygische mode. Midway through, they provide the grim backstory.

When the Nazis marched into Lublin, Poland in 1941 and rounded up the Jews there, they were as sadistic as usual. Driving the population out into the fields, they commanded the captives to dance. The response was this song. As we all know, those Jews did not outlive their tormentors, but they raised the bar for defiance in the face of evil about as high as it can go.

As sadistic as the lockdowner regime has been, there’s special resonance in that song for us. Inevitability theories of history are full of holes, there’s no doubt that if the world is going to survive, we will outlive them. You can buy an embroidered patch for your coat which says exactly that, in Yiddish and English, from the band.

Half of the group – violinist Zoe Aqua and accordionist Ira Temple – are teaming up for an outdoor show with trumpeter Dan Blacksberg on July 29 at 4:30 PM at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, 58 7th Ave at Lincoln Pl in Park Slope. It’s about equidistant from the Grand Army Plaza and 7th Ave. B/Q stations.

Starting in the mid-teens, Tsibele became a fixture across several scenes here, and made some waves with their album It’s Dark Outside – Indroysn iz Finster, streaming at Bandcamp. Bassist Zoë Guigueno, flutist Eléonore Weill and trumpeter Eva Boodman focus intensely on Aqua’s dark arrangements of some well-known, politically resonant old songs.

Aqua’s slashing, low-register lines pierce the brooding ambience underneath in the first tune, Dem Nayntn Yanuar/Ninth of January, a dirge commemorating the 1905 massacre of freedom fighters in St. Petersburg, The band maintain a somber atmosphere in the blue-collar lament Di Svet Shop, based on a poem by Morris Rosenfeld.

They pick up the pace with a dead-serious take of Nifty’s Eigene, violin and trumpet taking turns with the original lead written by legendary klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. The album’s big, ominously atmospheric epic is a murder ballad, Tsvelef A Zeyger/Twelve O’clock, with a looming trumpet solo at the center.

Likewise, Boodman’s moody, soulful lines intertwine with the trills of the flute in the slow, darkly methodical Rosemont Terkisher. They close the record with the lilting, wistful title track, a love song.

Fun fact: tsibele is Yiddish for “onion.” Lots of layers to peel back here.

Catchy, Bittersweet 60s Pop-Influenced Sounds and a Couple of Brooklyn Gigs From War Violet

Songwriter Jummy Aremu performs under the name War Violet. She writes catchy, anthemic, assertive songs and sings in a resonant, unpretentious voice. Her music has a strong 60s influence, both on the folk side and the pop side: Burt Bacharach-era Dionne Warwick is a good comparison. Aremu sold out the vinyl edition of her latest ep, Getaway, but it’s still streaming at Bandcamp. She’s at Our Wicked Lady on July 27 at 10 PM for $12. Then she’s at Pete’s on July 31 at 10 for the tip jar.

The first track on the record, Just For the Night is one of the most elegant songs ever written about a one-night stand, the synth orchestration sweeping over Arenmu’s spare guitar. “I’ve been to all of the parties in my day,” Aremu intones soberly in the album’s bossa-tinged second track: they must not have been much fun.

The big, exasperatedly poignant singalong here is the title track: “I don’t need this, I don’t need this,” is the mantra. With just emphatic acoustic guitar, snappy bass and a string synth, it’s simple, direct and will be wafting through your head for hours

The last track is I Hope I See You Again, a mix of sparkle and scruffiness: “Just look to the wall for answers big and small.” War Violet also has a Soundcloud page which probably predates the Bandcamp tracks and as you can imagine, the songs are rougher, but it shows she hit the ground running. Since last year’s lockdown, there’s been more attrition than ever in what you might call the rock scene here: good thing for us that War Violet stuck around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Otherworldly, Drifting Diptych by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green

An eclogue is a pastoral poem. How bucolic is Eclogue, the new album by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green? It’s streaming at Bandcamp – you decide. The trio create a warmly drifting sunrise ambience with subtle textures and minimalist accents, plus the occasional creak or quaver as tectonic sheets of sound make their way slowly through the frame. Overtones and harmonics rule in this comfortably enveloping universe.

Without knowing the instrumentation, you might think that the slow oscillations and echoey blips could be electronic, but they’re actually from O’Connor’s prepared piano, Green’s brushed drumheads and Carbo’s guitar.

There are two tracks here. The first is about fourteen minutes and rises to watery rivulets over a steady calm, echoing a familiar Pink Floyd dynamic originally manufactured using a vintage analog chorus pedal. Rustles from the drums and a single somber, recurrent piano note hint that the forest or faraway galaxy here is about to awaken, and it seems more of a galaxy than a bright, green naturescape as it does.

Keening highs and squirrelly, muted percussive activity contrast as the twenty-minute second half gets underway. Playful figures that could be whale song, or beavers gnawing out the raw materials for a new home, appear amid the stillness. Gentle cymbal washes and that persistent low piano note add a second dichotomy, then the two reverse roles, Erik Satie at quarterspeed. A warped quasi-gamelan ensues, then it’s back to Satie territory to close on an absolutely otherworldly note.