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Tag: album review

The Ghost Train Orchestra Bring the Roaring 20s and the Not-So-Roaring 20s to the Jalopy

The Ghost Train Orchestra differentiate themselves from most of the oldtime swing bands out there in that they don’t play standards. They specialize in rescuing lost treasures from the 20s and 30s, songs that were typically unknown outside of small, regional scenes. Part living archive, part tight, explosive dance band, it’s no wonder that their albums routinely top the jazz charts. They’re playing the cd release show for their latest one Hot Town this May 22 at 10 PM at the Jalopy. Because the venue is expecting a sellout, they’re selling advance tix for $10. Opening the show at 9, GTO clarinetist Dennis Lichtman does double duty and switches to his fiddle and maybe his mandolin out in front of his western swing band Brain Cloud.

The new album is a mix of songs that didn’t make it onto the orchestra’s 2011 breakthrough album Hothouse Stomp, along some even more obscure rediscoveries and a couple that might be slightly better known – go figure! The title track is actually a reinvention rather than a straight-up cover -and it was actually a big hit for Harlem’s Fess Williams and his orchestra in 1929 as a vamping novelty tune. This version has guest bass saxophonist Colin Stetson providing eerie diesel-train overtones before the clickety-clack groove gets underway. A second track originally done by Williams, You Can’t Go Wrong has more of a 19th century plantation-folk feel than the rest of the material here.

This album marks the debut release of Mo’Lasses, the second track, recorded by Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, also in 1929, but never released. As rapidfire doom blues (is that a genre?) go, it’s got a striking early Ellingtonian sophistication; bandleader Brian Carpenter’s trumpet, Petr Cancura’s clarinet and Curtis Hasselbring’s trombone all get brisk solos.

Hot jazz cult bandleader Charlie Johnson is represented by You Ain’t the One, with its jaunty, staccato brass and low-key but determined Mazz Swift vocals – and Charleston Is the Best Dance After All, which winds up the album. Benny Waters’ Harlem Drag strongly suggests that the Rolling Stones nicked it, hook and all, for Spider & the Fly. There are two numbers from the catalog of late 20s Harlem composer/bandleader Cecil Scott & His Bright Boys: Bright Boy Blues, with its slowly swaying, luminously morose chart, and the more upbeat but similarly indigo-toned Springfield Stomp.

Fats Waller’s Alligator Crawl alternates droll mmm-hmmm backing vocals with spritely dixieland clarinet and vaudevillian muted trombone. Chicago bandleader Tiny Parham – celebrated along with Williams on Hothouse Stomp -has three numbers here. Skag-a-Lag sets a rapidfire series of cameos against an oldtimey levee camp hook; Down Yonder features a call-and-response chart and sudden, klezmer-tinged minor-key detours; the lickety-split stroll Friction calls on Hasselbring’s trombone, Swift’s violin and the rest of the band to be on tiptoe all the way through, and they are.

This one will get both the Gatsby wannabes and the rest of us out on the floor – or at least wishing we could afford to be there. This may be dance music, but it’s also rooted, sometimes front and center, sometimes less distinctly, in the blues, and the blues isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky stuff. Times weren’t easy, before or after the Crash of 1929 and the persistent undercurrent that runs throughout much of this material reflects that. The album’s not out yet, therefore not streaming link, but you can get a sense of the kind of fun this band generates at their Soundcloud page. And they always bring merch to shows.

Another Sizzling Balkan Party Album from Tipsy Oxcart

In terms of pure fun, there aren’t many bands in New York who can compete with Tipsy Oxcart. Saturday night at Barbes, as part of a WFMU radio broadcast, they played a tantalizingly brief set of music rooted in Balkan sounds, with bits of reggae, and dub, and cumbia and styles from across the Middle East soaring over a fat groove. That bouncing low end is one thing that distinguishes them from most other bands who jam out on dark Eastern European folk melodies. Another distinguishing characteristic is Maya Shanker’s violin tone: she uses an effects pedal, at one point managing to pretty much replicate the sound of a steel pan as she plucked her strings. The band has an excellent second album, Upside Down, streaming at their Bandcamp page and a show on Matchless in Williamsburg at 9 PM on May 20, where they’re followed at 10 by Brooklyn pioneers Hungry March Band, who play brass styles from New Orleans to Belgrade and pretty much all points in between.

Back in 2013, this blog said that Tipsy Oxcart’s debut, Meet Tipsy Oxcart, was better than the Beatles’ first album. And it was! Meet the Beatles may be a perfectly enjoyable janglerock record, but it’s not Tipsy Oxcart. Jury’s out on how the band’s career will compare to the Fab Four in five years’ time, but so far so good. The new album’s opening cut, Honey Dripper hints at Ethiopiques and then hits a reggae groove, Shanker in tandem with accordionist Jeremy Bloom and alto saxophonist Connell Thompson over the deep pulse of bassist Ayal Tsubery and drummer Dani Danor.

Yalla Yalla pairs eerily spiraling, wickedly microtonal Thompson clarinet with acerbic responses from Shanker over a trickily rhythmic beat, Bloom driving the dance to a raucous peak. Me First, a rather epic Shanker composition that also appeared on the debut album, features starkly incisive, rapidfire violin, a moody, Turkish-flavored clarinet break, and then after another pretty feral Shanker solo, hands off to Bloom’s machinegunning accordion. The Sheikh may sound as Arabic as a Hungarian freylach, but it’s a supremely tasty minor-key romp, Bloom and Thompson raising the energy to redline as Tsubery takes a familiar ba-bump groove and walks it briskly.

Bone Dance has an unexpectedly pensive sweep flavored with Shanker and Thompson’s twin harmonies over a backdrop that ranges from straight-up reggae to dizzying polyrhythms. You might think that the elegant fingerpicking that opens and then recurs in Homecoming over Bloom’s spare, wistful lines is a guitar, but it’s not – it’s Tsubery playing his bass way up the fretboard. Thompson and Bloom’s trilling lines are as catchy as they are bracing. Fax Mission, a salute to outdated technology, is the most westernly jazzy of the tracks here – at least until a completely unexpected dub interlude.and then a seaing Thompson alto solo. Then they go back to straight-up Serbian flavor with Tutti Frutti, Thompson and Shanker’s wildly careening lines over a tight strut. It’s about as far as you can get from a cheesy 50s pop hit

Sevdah One Eight has a bittersweet edge, Shanker and Thompson’s uneasy harmonies over Bloom’s lush backdrop. Tipska brings back the Balkan reggae – or is that ska? – up to a blistering outro fueled by Tsubery’s fuzztone attack. The album winds up with The Storm, a surreallistically vivid, shapeshiftingly cinematic tableau with more of a Balkan brass feel than the rest of the material. Look for this on the best albums of 2015 page here in December if we’re all still here.

Aram Bajakian and Julia Ulehla Bring Their Magic Reinventions of Ancient Moravian Songs to the Stone

Aram Bajakian is one of the world’s elite guitarists. Of all the lead players, good and not-so-good, who filtered through Lou Reed’s band, the only two who rate with Bajakian are iconic and sadly no longer with us: Mick Ronson and Robert Quine. But as you would expect from a member of John Zorn’s circle, Bajakian plays a lot more than just rock lead guitar: he’s just as adept at enigmatic, cinematic instrumentals, reinvented Armenian folk themes and surf music. He’s got a weeklong stand at the Stone this week, with sets at 8 and 10 PM starting on May 19 and running through the 24th with an intriguing cast of characters. Cover is $15; there are too many good sets to list. The late show on opening night, a Yusuf Lateef tribute with Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Mat Maneri on viola, is tempting. But the best one of all might be the late set Friday night, May 22 at 10 PM where Bajakian and his singer wife Julia Ulehla reinvent ancient Moravian folk songs from their recent collaboration, Dalava.

The duo project – streaming at Bandcamp – has a really cool backstory. Bajakian and Ulehla first discovered those songs in a hundred-year-old book passed down through her family, meticulously transcribed by her great-grandfather Vladimir. But rather than trying to recreate an ambience to match the era the book dates from, the two decided to do their own versions. The results run the gamut from plaintive to jaunty to richly otherworldly: it’s an unselfconsciously magical album. The opening track takes a stark, rather mystical melody, infused with longing, and adds echoey harmonies and creepily tinkling glockenspiel, sparsely and then lushly orchestrated with violin from Tom Swafford and Skye Steele. By contrast, the second number is darkly bouncy, the violins’ acidic lines underpinned by Shanir Blumenkrantz’s spiky gimbri.

They follow that with a wistful waltz, Bajakian’s mutedly dancing reverbtoned incisions and surrealistic blues lines anchoring Ulehla’s dramatic, knifes-edge Czech vocals. From there the guitar and strings hit a minimalistic, otherworldly pulse that Ulehla eventually risees over with a pensive elegance. Mamičky (Mother) mines a similarly hypnotic ambience, but with a swaying, feral groove with guitars and violins wailing in tandem.

Originally a big, rousing hymn, Nech Je Pán Lebo Kraál gets reinvented as an airy, poignantly atmsopheric mood piece, Ulehla’s gently melismatic lines awash in Bajakian’s ebow guitar. Then they have fun with an old mountain melody, Bajakian’s burning, fuzztone metal attack contrasting with Ulehla’s delicately precise vocals. On Litala, she rises to wary, otherworldly levels over fluttery, misterioso ambience before the band picks up with a similarly uneasy, dancing pulse.

The love song after that reverts to gentle minimalism, just vocals echoed artfully by violin. The band does Vyšla Devcina as a creepy circus rock waltz, Bajakian’s icepick guitar paired against nebulous strings and Ulehla’s calmly enigmatic voice. The album winds up with Hájíčku Zeleny, its most gently anthemic, woundedly epic track. The audience for this is vast: fans of Balkan music, obviously, but also dreampop, cinematic soundscapes, indie classical, psychedelia and folk music as well. Follow these two to a land that time forgot.

High-Voltage Bagpiper Cristina Pato Brings Her Explosive Spanish Sounds to Subculture

Even in an age when the mainstream is full of all kinds of esoterica, Cristina Pato has a particularly individualistic choice of axe: the Galician bagpipe. Her sound is wild, feral yet virtuosic and breathtakingly fast. She leads a similarly explosive band with accordion and a rhythm section. Fresh off a residency at Harvard, theYo-Yo Ma collaborator and member of the Silk Road Ensemble is bringing her deliriously fun, hard-hitting flamenco and Romany-tinged instrumentals to New York at Subculture tonight, May 17 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $25 and worth it: if you really want to wind up the weekend on a high note, this is how to do it.

Pato has a new album, Latina, a mix of shapeshifting numbers in a vast range of traditional Spanish rhythm, written by her bassist Edward Perez. The opening track, Prueba de Fuego – a fandango – is definitely a trial by fire. Jazz drummer Eric Doob pushes it with a brisk triplet rhythm until Pato goes spiraling into the stratosphere, then Perez takes a dancing solo, accordionist Victor Prieto adding some neat call-and-response lines. Maria Lando, a lando dance, has a slower groove like a staggered clave beat, the accordion adding a lushly wistful edge that Pato picks up with a raw, plaintive tone.

Pato plays precise, tensely suspenseful, hard-hitting, jazz-inflected piano on The High Seas, a dramatic tanguillo number: the mesh of textures between the piano and accordion is downright delicious. Muiñeira de Chantada, a simple, rustic oropo-festejo tune, gives Pato a long launching pad for wailing bends and machinegunning, trilling riffage. Pato goes back to piano for Currulao de Crisis, a vamping number that hints at reggae, then flamenco, then hits nn unexpectedly balmy interlude that’s pure jazz and picks up once again from there. Then she picks up her pipes again and bounces her way through the Spanish counterpart to a tarantella – lots of cross-pollination in that part of the world and on this album.

The lone cover here, Llegará, llegará, llegará, by Emilio Solla (who also has an excellent new album out) is a real epic. Prieto’s tango-tinged pulse anchors Pato’s lustrous upper-register flights over a galloping groove, up to a bustling piano pasage, then a lively, expansive accordion solo that hits a peak when Pato wails on the pipes again. The final cut is the joyously if somewhat acidally shuffling Let’s Festa, the closest thing to Romany jazz here. There’s also a bonus track, a take of the tarantella without Pato’s breathless explanation of how closely interrelated Italian and Spanish folk traditions are. Sanitized yuppie exotica this is not: Gipsy Kings, eat your hearts out.

The album’s jsut out, so it hasn’t hit the usual spots yet, but three of the tracks are up at Sunnyside Records‘ site.

The Bright Smoke Earn Comparisons to Joy Division

Lots of groups draw comparisons to Joy Division. Inevitably, all of them fall short. None of them can match that iconic band’s shatttering gothic art-rock grandeur…and nobody goes as far into the abyss as Ian Curtis. The Bright Smoke are a rare exception to that rule. In a way, their new album, Terrible Towns – streaming at Bandcamp – could be the great lost Joy Division album between Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Except that frontwoman/guitarist Mia Wilson doesn’t sound anything like Ian Curtis. However, she does have a powerful, angst-fueled low register, something akin to Cat Power without the affectations (ok, hard to imagine, but just try). She’s as strong a tunesmith and lyricist as she is a singer, and an inventive guitarist. Her songwriting is equally informed by oldtime acoustic blues and dark rock: other than the guys from Manchester, the new album occasionally brings to mind the live Portishead album. The Bright Smoke are playing the Cameo Gallery on May 19 at 9 PM; cover is $8.

As you would expect from such a relentlesly dark outfit, their songs are on the slow side, and usually in ninor keys. Beyond having a woman out front, the Bright Smoke distinguish themselves from Joy Division in that they’re considerably more swirly and psychedelic. Live, drummer Karl Thomas colors the songs with a terse, almost minimalist precision and the occasional jazzy flourish. Lead guitarist Quincy Ledbetter is a monster player, a master of texture and timbre, who although he has blazing speed doesn’t waste notes: if Bernard Sumner had started playing earlier than he did, he might have ended up sounding something like Ledbetter. Lately, for atmospherics, onstage the Bright Smoke have been including an electroacoustic element.

The album’s opening track, Hard Pander, could be Sade covering Joy Division. Wilson’s lyrics are enigmatic, sardonic, often imbued with gallows humor and this number is typical:

I don’t have to fake my inclinations
I don’t have to draw on my scars
You’re in over your head, girl
Pander right and pander hard

The way the bass rises, a low harmony with the wary, wounded guitar overhead in Like Video is a recurrent, artful touch throughout the album: this band really works every dark corner of the sonic spectrum. And Wilson’s cynicism is crushing:

I hear the Midwest stretches on for miles
And calls you back and it’s always on time
I hear it don’t have a past like mine
I hear the Midwest don’t have a voice to raise
Just settles down on her knees and prays
And makes you feel big in your small way
Baby, I’m in town today

On Ten also works a recurrent trope, Wilson’s elegant fingerpicking against layers and layers of lingering ambience, a savage dissection of Notbrooklyn ennui:

Join, join, join the ranks
Of the pretty, white, and jobless
And pray your daddy’s money away
At St. Sebastian’s School for the Godless

August/September is a diptych, the first part a plaintive piano waltz evoking Joy Division’s The Eternal, the second fueled by a menacing, echoing pulse that ends in crushing defeat: its quiet, sudden ending is one of the album’s most powerful moments. “There’s a bloody side to this, I don’t share your sunny disposition,” Wilson warns in Exit Door, with its wickedly catchy “You wanna know where the money comes from” mantra. Shakedown, a creepy roadhouse boogie in Lynchian disguise, brings to mind Randi Russo. “If there’s a game of losing friends…you and I would be Olympians,” Wilson broods.

Howl builds nonchalantly to an unexpectedly catchy, yet unpredictable chorus that would be the envy of any stadium rock band, a sardonic look at self-absorption lit up by a nimble tremolo-picked Ledbetter solo. City on an Island, with its watery chorus-box bass and 80s production values evokes early New Order and might be the album’s catchiest song. It might also be its most searing one, a kiss-off to a fauxhemian:

Good luck with your pylons
With your city on an island
And good luck with the small false hints
That you live the way I live

The album’s final track, simply titled Or, is a Mississippi hill country blues vamp, T-Model Ford spun through the prism of psychedelia and trip-hop, closer to the band’s stark, spare previous output than anything else here. Look for this around the top of the best albums of 2015 page in December if we make it that far.

The TarantinosNYC Surf the Silver Screen

The TarantinosNYC use that name to distinguish themselves from the Tarantinos, a UK band who play a diverse mix of songs from Quentin Tarantino films. The TarantinosNYC do some of that, but they also write originals. They’re best known as a surf band, but as you would hope from a group with a film fixation, they have a cinematic side. Their music is catchy, and fun, and sometimes pretty creepy, much more unpredictable and occasionally epic than what most straight-up surf outfits typically play. Between them, lead guitarist Paulie Tarantino, bassist Tricia Tarantino, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Brian Tarantino and drummer Joey Tarantino make up one of New York’s most consistently interesting, original, entertaining bands. They have a new album, Surfin’ the Silver Screen coming out and a release show this Friday, May 15 at 11 PM at Lucille’s Bar, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Cover is $10.

Shindig – one of the six first-class originals here – makes a good opener: purist reverb surf guitar hitched to swirly organ, the rhythm section holding a classic Ventures beat. The organ and digital production give it a more current feel, yet also enable the band to put their own stamp on it. Bullwinkle Pt. 2 is the first cover, lowlit with Paulie’s lingering, noir, reverb-drenched tremolo-bar chords. Then they reinvent You Only Live Twice as a glittery showstopper, Brian’s organ front and center. It’s almost like ELO doing a surf song – and if you don’t think ELO could play surf music, you haven’t heard their version of a well-worn Grieg theme.

Dust-Up, another original, mashes up hints of monster surf and a Dell Shannon standard: it’s hard to imagine any band other than this one that would have come up with something this improbably successful. Their cover of Son of a Preacher Man brings to mind the Ventures’ psychedelic period – yikes! But then they get serious again with Our Man Flint/Dr. Evil, first doing an old hymn as surf, then channeling pretty much every dance rock style from the 60s in under three minutes

Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova is a bizarre hybrid of roller-rink theme, garage psychedelia, a vintage soul strut and artsy late 70s Britpop. With its vamping repeaterbox guitar and some dancing tremolo-picking from Paulie, Spanish Steps sounds like Link Wray in a hurry to get a Lee Hazlewood desert rock groove on tape. There are two versions of another instrumental, Our Man in Amsterdam, the second harder and more garage-rock oriented – it’s hard to figure where the Amsterdam connection comes in.

The theme from Django – Tarantino’s best film by a mile – gets a richly watery, jangly, psychedelic arrangement with layers of acoustic and electric guitar and keys that elevates it above the cartoonish original. Pushed along by Tricia’s dancing, period-perfect early 70s soul bassline, Lo Chiamavano King comes across as a more artsy take on what could pass for a big Roy Ayers title theme.

Elena Barakhovski contributes soaring vocalese on Korla’s Theme, an artfully nebulous, ominously crescendoing Dick Dale-style Red Sea stomp with all kinds of cool variations – it might be the album’s best song. Then they slow things down to a misterioso swing with an impressively lush cover of Shake Some Evil by 90s cult heroes Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Positraction, another original, manages to blend Booker T, 60s go-go music, surf and swing without anybody in the band stepping on anybody else. Then they do Les Baxter’s Hell’s Belles as blazing psychedelic soul. The album ends with Man from Nowhere, a rare spy-surf gem first recorded by Shadows bassist Jet Harris on the soundtrack to the obscure British film Live It Up, pairing a brooding baritone guitar hook against uneasily airy keys. Surf bands typically live for rarities, but this is an especially sweet find. For that matter, so is the whole record. While it  hasn’t hit the usual spots yet, cds are available, and there are a handful of tracks up at the band’s Soundcloud page.

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project Does It Again Live at the Jazz Standard

Pretty much everybody, at least in the jazz world, agreed that Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, by conductor and Evans scholar Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project, was the best album of 2012. You rarely see that kind of consensus. Even for an ambitious jazz bandleader, it was an enormously labor-intensive achievement. Truesdell also left himself little wiggle room for a sequel: pretty much anything was destined to be anticlimactic. So Truesdell – who has probably spent more time unearthing rare and previously unknown Evans compositions and arrangements than anyone else – flipped the script. Rather than emphasizing the iconic big band composer’s genre-smashing, paradigm-shifting later works, the group’s new live album, Lines of Color features a lot of older material. It’s also on the upbeat side: Evans’ music is Noir 101 core curriculum, and what’s here tends to be more lighthearted than Evans typically is. So there’s another cult audience – the oldtimey swing crowd – that will probably love this if they get to hear it. You can hear this mighty, stormy, dynamically rich, twenty-plus-piece group when they play their annual residency at the Jazz Standard starting this Thursday, May 14 and running through the 17th, with sets at 7:30 and 10 PM. It’s pricy: $30, and $35 on the weekend, but it’s worth it. Remember, the club doesn’t have a drink minimum (although they have a delicious and surprisingly affordable menu if you feel like splurging).

The new album opens with a punchy, sleek take of the noir waltz Time of the Barracudas, from the iconic 1964 album The Individualism of Gil Evans. On the heels of a bouncy Marshall Gilkes trombone solo, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin takes it up with an aptly marionettish pulse through a series of a playful hints at endings. The band follows by reinventing Bix Beiderbecke’s Davenport Blues as a lustrous slow drag, Mat Jodrell’s trumpet carrying its triumphant New Orleans tune much of the way. This version is notable for being exactly the way Evan originally wrote it before many better-known revisions, right down to the second line-flavored break midway through.

Avalon Town both embodies its dixieland origins and transcends them – those oceanically eerie close harmonies as it opens are a prime example of how Evans could take something utterly generic and make magic out of it. And you thought you knew (or wish you’d forgotten) Greensleeves? Just wait til you hear the mighty outro and warily tasty Marshall Gilkes trombone solo that concludes it.

John Lewis’ Concorde, another track from The Individualism of Gil Evans, has more of a jet-age ebullience and plushness than the uneasily bossa-tinged original – here Lois Martin’s viola plays Lewis’ original righthand figure for piano. Singer Wendy Gilles does a marvelously nuanced job, ranging from fullscale angst to playful cajolery on Can’t We Talk It Over, over a pillowy backdrop with Evans’ signature high reed/low brass dichotomy. Later on, she offers an elegantly cheery take of Sunday Drivin’.

Gypsy Jump, an early work from 1942, reveals that already Evans was doing things like hinting at Tschaikovsky and opening with a figure he’d recycle memorably later on with Miles Davis. It’s lternately neblous and disarmingly oldtimey, McCaslin’s sax enhancing the former and Steve Kenyon’s clarinet the latter. Then the band makes a medley of Easy Living, Everything Happens to Me – centered around Gilles’ heartfeld, angst-driven, tersely bluesy phrasing – and another Johnny Mercer tune, Moon Dreams, which builds to a galactic sweep, dreamy JMW Turner colors over that omnipresent low, murky pulse.

Just One of Those Things is another mashup of vintage swing and lush sophistication, Steve Wilson’s purposefully fluttering yet unresolved soprano sax solo at the center. The album ends with a take of How High the Moon that’s on the slow side – at least for a song that so often gets played lickety-split – with an exchange of barely bar-length solos frou throughout the band, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Lewis Nash pushing it with what’s practically a shuffle beat. You like epic? You like counterintuitive? You like venues with exquisite sound? The album was recorded in this very same space, most likely in front of a sold-out house, but it’s a big-studio quality production. Some if not all of it is up at Truesdell’s webpage along with tracks from that amazing first album.

Sonny Knight Brings His Oldschool Soul and Funk Dance Party to Dumbo

This Thursday night, May 14 at around 8 Sonny Knight & the Lakers are bringing a serious oldschool soul/funk party to Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo, and it’s free. They’ve got a new live album out on double gatefold vinyl and streaming at Secret Stash Records‘ site, capturing the kind of blazing energy the veteran soul man brings to the stage. Recorded in in front of an adrenalized audience on the band’s Minneapolis home turf, the group lays down a groove worthy of the Dap-Kings. Although everybody in the band – guitarist Blair Krivanek, bassist Casey O’Brien, drummer Eric Foss, organist Sam Harvey-Carson, tenor saxophonist Cole Pulice, trumpeter Bryan Highhill and trombonist Tony Beaderstadt – is a couple of generations younger than the frontman, they put forward a potent reminder that Minneapolis was kicking out first-class funk back when Prince was in kindergarten.

The show this particular evening opens oldschool style, the band’s punchy brass over the shuffling minor-key organ groove that they’ll stick to for most of the night. Speaking of which, Knight takes the stage to a familiar Led Zep riff and then launches in a split second into Juicy Lucy, a period-perfect 60s-style James Brown funk hit. The singer’s impassioned growl is undiminished, maybe that’s because he’s younger than most of his contemporaries who are still kicking around: Knight was only 17 when recorded the collector favorite Tears on My Pillow in 1965.

This is a dance party, first and foremost, Knight only too glad to serve as emcee. So he and the band vamp on a groove or a hook for five or ten minutes at a clip. Stormy brass and organ fuels Baby Baby Baby; Boogaloo has the latin flavor you’d expect; Get Up & Dance nicks a familiar Edgar Winter riff and then picks up from there. After awhile, it’s as if the upbeat numbers are one long song rather than separate tracks, testament to the band’s ability to keep the pot boiling. But not everything here is fast and bouncy: there’s an absolutely brilliant, creepy, 6/8 noir soul ballad version of the old folk song In the Pines (which some people in the band might have learned from Nirvana: eat your heart out, Kurt Cobain!). There’s also the insistent, imploring, intense, slowly crescendoing It’s You for Me, the warmly gospel-infused When You’re Gone and Knight’s signature ballad, I’m Still Here, all in 6/8 as well. And their cover of Day Tripper works because the famous riff gets switched to the organ, or the horns, while Krivanek sticks to Stax/Volt riffage.

And just when you think you have these guys figured out, they open the slow-burning Sugarman – which is sort of Knight’s Pusherman and the album’s strongest, most dynamic number – with an eerie Ethiopiques horn riff. Lots of fun, familiar flavors, along with some not so familiar, on the water in Brooklyn Thursday night.

A Surrealistically Spellbinding New Album from Spectacular Singer Carol Lipnik

Find someone who was part of the music scene on the Lower East Side in the late 90s and zeros, before it turned into a tourist trap, and ask them who the best singer in New York is. Chances are they’ll tell you it’s Carol Lipnik. These days she’s taken her spine-tingling four-octave range to classier places. And she has a new album, Almost Back to Normal just out and streaming online which stakes Lipnik’s claim to a place in the pantheon alongside such equally distinctive, individualistic song stylists as Nico, Diamanda Galas, Laura Nyro and maybe Bjork. Lipnik is playing the album release show this Thursday, May 14 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub on what could be a transcendent twinbill with the similarly enigmatic, lyrically-fueled, wickedly charismatic accordionist/multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez. Cover is $18 and advance tix are a good idea.

The cd cover perfectly capsulizes what the album’s about. Much as Lipnik can be playful and quirky, or channel a period-perfect 70s soul vibe, ultimately this is a harrowing record. The music is elegant, just piano, strings and vocals, sometimes stark, sometimes lush. Pianist Matt Kanelos – one of the foremost improvisers in town right now – alternates between spare, lingering phrases, stately baroque-tinged lines and eerie washes of resonance enhanced by the rich sonics of the Brooklyn jazz studio where he recorded them. Likewise, violinist and producer Jacob Lawson shifts seamlessly between graceful, dancing lines and windswept orchestration, a pillowy, sometimes opaque backdrop for Lipnik’s effortlessly crystalline leaps and cascades upward.

Lipnik is Coney Island born and raised and has a special fondness for water: ”Dreaming an ocean at twilight,” is the album’s opening line. That imagery reaches Dostoyevskian proportions: it’s everywhere, and the symbolism is subtly crushing. Allusions if not direct references to Hurricane Sandy and the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico echo in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. To say that this is an album for our time is an understatement to the extreme.

The opening track, Oh, the Tyrrany is a gentle, brooding waltz with an interlude that sounds like a theremin but is actually Lipnik’s voice: that’s how much command she has. By contrast, the second number, Honey Pot, is a joyously sexy, anthemic blue-eyed soul tribute to getting high. The title track has a wounded, minimalist insistence, Lipnik hitting some spectacular highs, but the feeling isn’t high camp, it’s genuine angst.

Crow’s Nest is a simple but impactful piece of defiant art-rock. Sonadora Dreamer contrasts a wickedly catchy chorus with both the wariness and lustre that define this album. The elegaic Lost Days and Songs is aptly titled, awash in tersely hypnotic, steadily rhythmic atmospherics that bring to mind Arvo Part. With its chromatically-charged menace, the album’s arguably strongest and most socially relevant track is The Things That Make You Grow: “The weeds get trampled on and the weak get trampled on, so put your antlers on,” Lipnik warns. Then she and Kanelos revert to a precisely soaring, Bach-like elegance with The Oyster and the Sand and its characteristically understated but adrenalizing vocal dynamics and pervasive sense of longing.

The first of the three covers here is Harry Nilsson’s Life Line, done much the same as the 70s pop hitmaker played it solo, exponentially raising the alienation and angst of the lyric. Aother is Lipnik’s own galloping, explosive setting of cult favorite poet Helen Adam’s existentialist theme Farewell, Stranger, a showcase for low-register pyrotechnics and soaring melismas.

The album’s most puckish (and slightly carnivalesque) track is Some People’s Souls: “Some people’s souls are full of holes, that’s how the rain gets in,” Lipnik explains. It ends, appropriately, with the moody ambience of a reinvented version of the old tin pan alley song Troubled Waters. Lipnik has put out some amazing albums in the past and has them streaming at her webpage: 2008’s Cloud Girl is a masterpiece of the Coney Island phantasmagoria she’s best known for. But this one is her best album – and as strong a contender for best of 2015 as has been released this year.

The Velocity Duo Entertain With Just Bass and Wordless Vocals

On one level, the Velocity Duo‘s new album Dichotomies – streaming online at singer Lauren Lee’s site – is avant garde to the extreme. On the other, it’s very accessible and irresistibly fun. You’d hardly guess that just vocals and bass (that’s Charley Sabatino on the four-string) could be this entertaining. The duo are playing the album release show tomorrow night, May 6 at 6 PM at the Whynot Jazz Room on Christopher St.; cover is $10, and there’s probably a drink minimum, the venue site isn’t clear on that.

Rare as bass-and-vocal albums are, the obvious recent point of comparison is singer Jen Shyu‘s 2011 masterpiece, Synastry with bassist Mark Dresser. Both that album and this new one have a dramatic flair, but where Shyu goes for pointed sociopolitical commentary and knifes-edge theatrics, Lee goes for mood and ambience with frequent bursts of humor. And where Shyu writes lyrics, Lee sings vocalese, which raises the conversational factor with Sabatino (who is an equal even if he’s not centerstage in this collaboration).

The album title says it all: the three first tracks are Apathy/Desire, Awe/Melancholy, and Disappointment and Joy. Again, as these titles indicate, Lee and Sabatino are working contrasts rather than opposite extremes. Sometimes the two take separate roles, other times working in tandem to bring each emotion or mix of emotions to life. The first track seems to be the former, Lee’s carefree, soul-infused flights and occcasional detours into jazz scatting contrast with Sabatino’s close-to-the-vest, almost claustrophobic minimalism. The second is airy and spacious: Sabatino’s punchy, percussive, incisive lines give these tunes a much-needed drive. The third sets a bittersweet, jazz-tinged Lee against Sabatino’s steady, dancing low-register lines.

Likewise, Elation/Woe pits Lee’s blithe scattting – the album’s most straight-ahead jazz passages – against Sabatino’s somber, rustically bluesy lines…until he goes up the scale and joins the fun. Holiday/Death – what a contrast, huh? – pairs Sabatino’s furtiveness with Lee’s operatically-tinged leaps and bounds. Hunger/Satiety is both the album’s most outside moment and also one of its funnier ones, while on Insecurity and Substance Sabatino once again anchors Lee’s LMAO attention-deficit attack with his gravitas until he too can’t resist getting in on the joke.

Lee’s sarcastic noodling on Narcisissm/Selfless is even funnier – it’s hard to see where if at all a contrast comes in. Skeptical/Naive also goes for laughs, but far more subtly, at least til midway through. Likewise, the bass/vocal tradeoffs in Tranquility/Cacaphony are more low-key. The album winds up with a strange and thought-provoking dichotomy, Uncomfortable/Placid. These short, most likely at least half-improvised vignettes transcend the question of whether or not this is jazz or indie classical or whatever mix of genres it might be: it’s just good, fun music.

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