New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: album review

Top-Quality, Sonically Pristine, Previously Unreleased John Coltrane

Here’s a special treat: the new John Coltrane record. That’s kind of a joke: over the years, there have been many “new” John Coltrane records, most of them field recordings of varying quality, some where the iconic saxophonist was little more than a special guest. But Blue World – streaming at Spotify – is the real deal, the classic quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums laying down tracks for a 1964 Canadian film soundtrack that ended up never being used. The sound quality is excellent, heavy on the reverb. Although there’s nothing earth-shattering or new here, the performance is every bit what you would expect.

Trane plays exclusively tenor on this album. As with so many rare archival recordings from jazz’s golden age, there are multiple takes of the same song here. Is it worth sticking with three different versions of Village Blues? The band’s uncanny tightness reveals itself in the fact that each is almost identical in length. The variations in Jones’ deviously counterintuitive offbeats are as delicious as usual, the bandleader taking his time in purist blues mode. The first time around, with Tyner launching into a more majestically relaxed approach, Jones implying rather than shuffling the tune’s 6/8 groove, seems to be the charm. Still, it’s a lot of fun to see how these guys would tweak the material.

There are also two takes of Naima. Both are absolutely gorgeous; the second one’s more dynamic. The exchanges of roles between bandmates, from timekeeper to colorist, are a clinic in teamwork. The album’s tersely modal “title track” is so tight that it ticks; the bandleader is smokier and everybody cuts loose more, maybe because that’s what you have to do to keep what’s more or less a one-chord jam interesting. Jones’ thunderous rolls at the end are the funnest part of the record.

Like Sonny is a bossa-tinged platform for Trane’s playful Sonny Rollins-ish, mordent-like riffage. Garrison’s jaunty, solo second-line bubbles and chords introduce Traneing In, Tyner instantly turning it more circumspect and ambiguous as the band comes in, the bandleader’s uneasy blues and biting intensity reaffirming that almost sixty years later, these guys are still the gold standard.

A Darkly Picturesque Double Album and a Carnegie Hall Debut by Cutting-Edge Bassist Sigurd Hole

Sigurd Hole gets more sound out of his instrument than virtually any other bassist alive. He’s made a name for himself as a purveyor of brooding, envelopingly minimalist themes, but he also uses the entirety of what his instrument can produce. He has a picturesque, vastly dynamic solo album, Lys/Morke, recorded outdoors on a desolate island off the coast of his native Norway. He’s making his Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Hall on Feb 3 at 8 PM, performing many of these pieces. Cover is $25; the record hasn’t hit his Bandcamp page yet.

The first disc begins with the epic Lys. Over sounds of wind and water, Hole employs his bow for harmonics from across the audible spectrum, steady, hypnotic microtonal arpeggios, shivery shards, steady, peacefully minimalist washes and cautious, low-register footfalls.

That template describes much of what Hole does throughout the rest of the record, with frequent, bracing close harmonies, percussive moments and a pensive sketch or two. There’s a breathtaking display of extended technique that would make Charles Mingus proud, where Hole plays what’s essentially a bagpipe dance using high harmonics.

A lively, hypnotically circling theme evokes West African mbira music. In one of the album’s lighter moments, a lumberjack meets considerable resistance in the forest, or so it would seem. The most amusing vignette sounds like a reel of tape winding. Behind Hole, there are moments where the waves or the wind seem to pick up, adding to the general sense of desolation.

That really comes to the forefront as the second record coalesces. Increasingly otherworldly, eerily reverberating, pulsing variations on a stygian drone lead to more discernible, suspenseful melody, beginning with an unexpectedly catchy, gloomy chromatic theme. Hole goes down to his tailpiece for keening, scraping, brushy textures. Hypnotic echoes give way to slowly shifting cloudbanks, low/high contrasts, and a dirge of sorts that morphs into what could be Philip Glass.

Increasingly agitated, sawing phrases grow calmer and more enveloping. The slowly crescendoing vastness of the disc’s title track leads to a spare, spacious conclusion. This isn’t just a showcase for Hole’s fellow bassists to admire: fans of metal, the dark side of psychedelia and jazz improvisation ought to check out these strange and unique creations.

Pianist Yoko Miwa Brings Her Purist Retro Sounds to Birdland

Artists who come from outside an idiom often have some catching up to do. In the process, some of them surpass others who grew up in that style. Yoko Miwa embodies a gritty, purist, 1960s take on jazz: the Japanese-born pianist’s music is a lot more about entertainment and tunes than insider snarkiness – or whatever it is that Snarky Puppy do. Her new trio album Keep Talkin’ is streaming at her music page. She’s playing Birdland on Jan 30 at 7 PM; you can get in for $20.

The album is a mix of originals and inventive covers, with a remarkable freshness and road-tested camaraderie: these expansive tracks really nail what she sounds like live. Miwa opens with the title cut, a vampy latin soul groove where she weaves in some uneasy Monkish harmonies toward the end. She’s a hard hitter, as she reaffirms in a dynamic, leaping take of In Walked Bud, focusing on Monk’s wary passing tones. Bassist Will Slater shifts between dancing melody and walking the changes hard as drummer Scott Goulding swings it toward New Orleans and then back.

Secret Rendezvous, a straightforward, syncopated clave tune is next, Goulding subtly pushing the beat with his tropical rimshots and a purposeful drum solo out. The Bill Evans-influenced, lyrical Sunset Lane manages to be ripplingly kinetic and bittersweet all at once. Miwa reinvents Charles Mingus’ Boogie Stop Shuffle as a stripped-down but no less turbulently bluesy showstopper.

She makes a diptych out of the Beatles’ Golden Slumbers and You Never Give Me Your Money, sticking close to the originals while adding an unexpectedly starry solo, picking up with a rather crushing attack on the second tune. The trio work a spring-loaded pulse in the understatedly brooding, modally-charged, intensely crescendoing Tone Portrait: it’s the album’s darkest track.

Miwa draws on singer Maria Rita’s waltzing version of the Brazilian ballad Casa Pre-Fabricada for a striking, emotionally direct sparkle. The pianist reinvents Joni Mitchell’s Conversation as a dynamically bristling, absolutely exhilarating gospel anthem that brings to mind Fairport Convention as much as, say, Mulgrew Miller. It’s one of the finest things Miwa has ever recorded: if only she could have given it a proper ending instead of a fade out!

If You’re Blue is a cleverly bluesy, straight-up swinging paraphrase of Puttin’ on the Ritz with bracing Monk references. Miwa closes the album with the epic, wistful ballad Sunshine Follows the Rain, guest bassist Brad Barrett adding moody washes and subtly sinuous melody, Miwa drifting into stern gospel territory once again.

Catchy, Pissed Off Punkish Sounds and a Ridgewood Gig from Cruel Children

Cruel Children do things right. Why worry about making a fancy studio album when you’re just getting started? Why not just record a rehearsal on your phone and slap it up on Bandcamp as a free download?

That’s exactly what they did, and as rough as the results were, their songs are catchy and have a bite.They’re playing Footlight Bar at around midnight on Jan 26 at the top of an excellent five-band lineup of pissed-off, funny, punkish music for the disenfranchised. Irresistibly amusing, politically woke, all-female punk trio Witchslap open the night at 8, followed by the even more pissed-off Bint, the even rougher Que Sick and then the sardonically spot-on Anxious? Anxious! Cover is $10. With the L-pocalypse in full effect, take the M to Seneca Ave and walk north eight blocks.

Frontwoman/guitarist Ella Sanandaji’s vocals have a dramatic, angry, stagy edge: she really goes to the top of her raging range on the album’s first song, An Empty Space. It seems to be a kiss-off anthem. The instrumentation is just her distorted guitar through a cheap amp, over Bill Schoenberg’s splashy drums.

You Don’t Belong is just as catchy, with hints of noir swing, 60s psychedelic folk and Syd Barrett. Criminal is closer to oldschool CB’s era punk: “You’re a woman-hater, I don’t feel sorry for you, it’s all about control control control…you’re not a man,” Sanandaji snarls. The last song is Eat the World, an antiglobalist rant, chaotic verse into an anthemic chorus. “I’ve never met anyone so selfish as you,” Sanandaji screams. Truth in advertising; Cruel Children probably sound even better live now than when they recorded this

Leading the Way for Women Composers at Lincoln Center

To celebrate one hundred years of women voting in this country, the New York Philharmonic have launched Project 19, a major initiative to feature women composers in their regular programming. That’s a genuine paradigm shift, in the wake of the ugly confirmation from a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra survey confirming that as recently as 2015, the major orchestras in this country have been performing works written by women less than two percent of the time

Dovetailing with the Philharmonic’s long-overdue move, the Juilliard School are staging an unprecedented series of free concerts the last week of this month, with both semi-popular and obscure works by women from over the past two hundred years. The first is on Jan 24 at 7:30 PM at the conservatory’s Sharp Theatre, with a student ensemble playing music by Jacqueline Fontyn, Ursula Mamlok, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Elisabeth Lutyens and Galina Ustvolskaya. Free tiix are currently available.

For what it’s worth, Helen Grime is not one of the composers featured during this marathon week, possibly because she’s one of the better-known women in new classical music. There’s a fantastic London Symphony Orchestra recording of her Woven Space triptych conducted by Simon Rattle streaming at Spotify that you should hear, if staying on top of what’s happening in that world matters to you…or if you love John Barry or Bernard Herrmann suspense film scores.

The orchestra pounce on Grime’s sharp, anxious, Rite of Spring-ish introduction and swing its swirling variations around, brass and percussion dancing amid the strings as the first movement gains momentum. A distant horn sounds over a momentary lull, the angst returning with a vengeance anchored by low, sustained bass.

The second movement begins with disquieting chimes and disorienting, acidic resonance, nebulous strings in the background. There’s a sense of horror rising as sudden accents puncture the stillness, receding momentarily for an elegantly circling call-and-response. Sprightly dancing riffs interchange with bright brass, then ominous bass introduces a brooding reflecting pool of sound. The dance returns furtively – a celebrarion of the human spirit amid constant surveillance?

A tensely gusty circle dance kicks off the concluding movement, delicately churning amid heavy, stern percussion accents. A brief, eerily starry interlude rises and morphs into a series of bracing echo phrases. Grime’s low-high contrasts and reliance on percussion have Stravinsky’s fingerprints all over them; the dance ends suddenly and without closure.

Seething Satire and Corrosively Lyrical Narratives From Office Culture

Office Culture play a suspiciously deadpan, sharply satirical take on lyrically-driven 70s and 80s top 40 pop. The kind of people who use the word “adult” as a verb would no doubt call the group’s shtick ironic. The band’s debut album A Life of Crime – streaming at Bandcamp – actually doesn’t have much real irony, although there’s no shortage of sarcasm, starting with frontman Winston Cook-Wilson’s tirelessly pitchy attempts to play lounge lizard. This band sound like they’d be a lot of fun live: give them a Saturday night at the Rockwood and see if anybody in the house actually gets the joke. They’re playing the Sultan Room on Jan 22 at 9 PM; cover is $10. Assuming they hit the stage on time, you can still get home afterward before the nightly L-pocalypse starts.

The album begins with A Sign, its enveloping sonics and warmly vamping, Grateful Deadly chord changes masking a rushlessly cynical barroom pickup scene. Hard Times in the City, a glossy early 80s-style faux-funk number, skewers Wall Street yuppie money obsessions with a similarly jaundiced eye.

With its cheesily twinkling electric piano and ersatz jazz flourishes, Diamonds languidly chronicles a guy who’s “been pogo sticking around the Valley for half my life.” It’s Ward White lite. I Move in Shadows, a phony soul song, is so over-the-top awful that the satire gets lost. Likewise, Home on High is an exercise in scraping the bottom of the synthesizer patch barrel, “trying to use some new shtick on these hucksters,” an allusively grim narrative sinking amid blithely plasticky sonics.

If Lee Feldman had been writing songs back in the 80s, he could have tossed off Too Many and its chronicle of slowly losing it. The cynicism hits redline with Parade, its Trumpie protagonist making fun of a protestor. The final cut is Monkey Bone, which works on many levels: as apocalyptic parable, love ballad parody and swipe at young Republican entitlement. The world needs more bands as venomously amusing as Office Culture.

Spot-On, Frequently Hilarious Lyrical Tunesmithing and a Lower East Side Gig From Whisperado

Catchy, purist New York powerpop band Whisperado make irresistibly satirical videos. Check out Popstar Girl: she’s a meme, she’s a toy, she’s a tv show…and she might actually be human. Whisperado have a wildly lyrical new album, Out the Door, streaming at youtube. They’re playing the release show on Jan 20 at 9 PM at Arlene’s; cover is $10.

The first track is Vinegar Hill, an escape anthem tightly pulsing over the rhythm section of frontman/bassist Jon Sobel and drummer David Mills. The tradeoff between Sobel’s solo and Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s guitar is so subtle it’s almost imperceptible, a rare and unexpected detail. And Sobel’s never sung with such unleashed intensity as he does here.

The album’s second song, Precisely is a droll, picturesque, jangly Rickenbacker guitar-fueled examination of the vagaries of memory, and all that might imply. Signal to Noise is not the Peter Gabriel classic but an Emma Bull cover done as steadily swaying 70s British pub rock, Elisa Peimer’s organ swooshing as the band gather steam. She switches to bouncy piano for Nina (rhymes with “concertina”).

The album’s pouncing, blues-tinged title track could be about the apocalypse, or suicide…or both. Round the Bend is a towering, Celtic-tinged ballad with soaring vocal harmonies and honkytonk piano from Peimer. Mass Extinction No. 6 has hints of funk and a Dylanesque, spot-on, New York-centric catalog of dire images, reprised in an alternate acoustic take at the end of the record.

I Don’t Want to Do It Anymore is a coldly aphoristic look back at a pre-NAFTA America seemingly gone forever:

Factory, come back to me
I like those old machines
Pushcart tricks and Velcro strips
And all those ways and means
Folk songs on the radio
Sung out by human beings…

The Diddleybeat-driven Pretty Please is more optimistic but just as circumspect: it could be an upbeat Matt Keating tune. The album’s most surreallistically grim number is Stone Deaf, a mashup of the Kinks and Willie Nile, its narrator insisting that he “never left the grassy knoll.” The best serious song here is the towering 6/8 anthem Ghost of the Girl, with its icy Rickenbacker clang and Sobel’s loaded imagery: “The witches were legion, they blotted the moon while Satan was splitting the atom.”

With Hayden’s twangy riffage and Sobel’s growly bass solo, Winter Blues isn’t a blues in the strict sense of the word. Forbidden is beyond hilarious, a true insider look at how musicians take the easy way out: the jokes are way too good to give away. Best song of 2020 so far! The album’s only miss is that Little Feat ditty that everyone who’s ever played Rockwood Music Hall has covered at some point – and which, like Hallelujah and Hotel California, needs to be permanently retired.

Ashjesus Can’t Live in Bushwick But They’re Willing to Play There

“I can’t live in Bushwick, those people make me sick,” Ashjesus frontwoman Em Ashenden intones, before the screaming guitar and drums kick in on the first track of the 80s throwbacks’ so-called “demos” collection that’s up at Bandcamp as a free download. As the band churn up an acidic storm,like an early Bauhaus, she admits that she tried to get into Bed-Stuy…but insists she’s found nirvana in Ridgewood. Obvious, maybe, but this is one of those songs that needed to be written

It’s rare that you find a good band playing on a Saturday night in the ‘Shweck, but Ashjesus have a gig a the Broadway (the old Gateway space) on Jan 18 at around 11. Kaheim Rivera does his woozy, weedheaded raps beforehand at 10. Neither of the acts on the bill nor the venue have webpages of their own, so it’s anybody’s guess how much cover is, or if there is one – the Gateway was a pass-the-hat situation.

The rest of Ashjesus’ album keeps the early 80s noise-goth vibe going. Room – as in “I need a room” – has more of the loud, watery chorus-box guitar and bass that define this group’s retro sound. The implication is that a friend with a couch is a friend indeed: “Get one for yourself too,” Ashenden encourages.

Soda Bitters sounds like a lo-budget Joy Division. “I don’t need to take a cab, I can drive to rehab, how cool is that?” she wants to know. The poppiest song here, How Do You Feel Special says a lot in a few words, one of this band’s specialities – it’s a dis to a controlling boyfriend. With its quasi-reggae bassline and icy guitars, the last song, Tour, could be XTC or PiL, or the bastard child of the early Police and Bauhaus. Grab this haphazardly spot-on, period-perfect morsel while it lasts.

A Darkly Thorny New Album and a Nublu Release Show From Gordon Grdina’s New Trio

Like Adam Good and Brian Prunka, Gordon Grdina is the rare double threat on both oud and electric guitar. His style is closer to Good’s savage attack than Prunka’s more spacious, spare approach. Grdina’s often seethingly complex new album Nomad, with his recently formed trio including pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black, is streaming at Bandcamp. He’s playing the album release show on Jan 17 at the old Nublu at 62 Ave. C (4th/5th Sts.), at a very early hour for that venue, 6 PM; cover is $10.

Grdina’s writing for piano here is exquisitely grim, and Mitchell returns the favor with some of his most sharp-fanged playing. The opening track, Wildfire skronks and prowls around, the pianist’s enigmatic chords and loopily twisted boogie holding the center. After piano and guitar wind into a tight spiral, everything falls apart, Mitchell’s ominous minimalism finally gaining grativas and pulling the band together again.

Grdina gives the album’s title track a thorny solo intro, Mitchell nimbly handling some daunting, darkly insistent lefthand/righthand polyrhythms, Black’s flurries keeping this one on the rails. Ride Home, meant to evoke the wear and tear of the road, is simultaneously steady and staggering, Mitchell’s eerie stairsteps against Grdina’s weaving, wandering lines, shadowed by Black; Grdina’s final, savage coda packs a wallop.

Benbow, inspired by a California hotel which reminded Grdina of the one in The Shining, gets a spacious but gritty solo guitar intro, a long, tightly clustering crescendo and an evilly glittering Mitchell solo. Loopy, disconcerting belltone phantasmagoria and surprise funk from Black permeate Thanksgiving; the trio wind up the album with Lady Choral, a wry paraphrase of “Larry Coryell” that came to Grdina in a dream. Mitchell’s disorientingly Messiaenic solo sets the scene, Grdina taking his time with his oud for the album’s most unselfconsciously majestic interlude. This is an artichoke of an album: you have to get past the spines to find the reward inside.

A Welcome Return by What’s Left of 70s Psychedelic Legends Nektar

Nektar were one of the greatest psychedelic rock bands of the 70s, sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. Forty years before crowds of thousands were taking to the streets to protest corporate-fueled global warming, Nektar were putting out records with sidelong, acid-inspired cautionary tales about eco-disaster. After the band’s arguably best and ironically most hopeful album, Recyled, frontman/guitarist Roye Albrighton left. A lacklustre 2004 reunion cd, The Prodigal Stranger, was followed by an unexpectedly transcendent tour, reaffirming that they were still a mesmerizing live act.

Albrighton died three years ago. Since then, bassist Mo Moore and Ron Howden – one of the edgiest and most distinctive rhythm sections of their era – pulled another band together under the Nektar name, adding two guitarists – Randy Dembo and Ryche Chlanda – along with keyboardist Kendall Scott, whose textures match original organist Taff Freeman’s  mghty grandeur. The result is a new album, The Other Side, which hasn’t hit the web yet but turns out to be surprisingly fresh and invigorated. Even if it’s loaded with riffs nicked from Pink Floyd, Steely Dan and the group’s first incarnation.

The presence of Albrighton looms immensely over this record, from its innumerable baroque-tinged cascades, to the flaring guitar codas his songs would peak out with. And he had his hand in some of the material on the record, notably Devil’s Door, which opens with his own solo taken from a 1974 concert soundboard recording. The songs are a mix of lavish epics with lofty peaks and desolate valleys, themes morphing into different shapes like an Escher mobius woodcut.

The album opens with a nine-minute tour de force, I’m On Fire, a triumphant, galumphing dinosaur rock anthem that strikes a balance between the baroque and Led Zep, with a bridge that goes from balmy to Pink Floyd Wall grit It’s amazing how vital the rhythm section still is: Moore has the snap and crackle that elevated him above most of the other bassists of his era, and Howden negotiates whatever tricky directions the songs take with typical heavyfooted elegance.

SkyWriter is a a broodingly catchy ballad that Chlanda originally worked up with the band in 1978. I’s closer to ELO than, say, the Dead, with a minimalist Procol Harum-ish organ solo and a searing, Albrightonesque guitar break. The album’s most gargantuan creation is the diptych Love Is/The Other Side, an eighteen-minute monstrosity that begins as a pharaphrase of the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky with George Harrison slide guitar grafted on. The segue into the title track raisies the energy a little, shifting back and forth between an orchestral 70s psychedelic sound – Pink Floyd’s Dogs is an obvious reference point – and slicker 80s chorus-box guitar sonics. An unexpected neoromantic piano interlude signals an eventual break in the clouds.

Drifting, a mostly instrumental number in 9/4 time, is another Animals-era Floyd knockoff. Albrighton’s gentle, pastoral intro doesn’t hint at the syncopated 7/4 pulse that Devil’s Door will hit – it’s a shock this metaphorically charged anthem didn’t make it onto a Nektar album, live or in the studio, in its heyday. Scott’s high-beamed, richly textured keys here are one of the album’s high points.

They follow the Synergy-istic keyboard soundscape The Light Beyond with the sweeping, unsettled folk-rock vistas of Look Through Me, Dembo’s twelve-string acoustic guitar front and center. They close the album with Y Can’t I B More Like U, a late Beatlesque ballad that they eventually take bouncing down the hobbit trail. Good to see these guys still vital after all these years.