New York Music Daily

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Tag: alex asher trombone

Ladama Keep the Heat Simmering at Last Weekend’s Hot Pepper Festival in Brooklyn

Last weekend at the annual chile pepper festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, high-energy pan-latin band Ladama were charged with the thankless task of following Red Baraat , whose  brass-fueled bhangra vindaloo opened the festivities. That Ladama could hold their own, and hold the crowd gathered out of the sun and away from the long lines of chile heads in line waiting for a fix, attests to how refreshingly unpredictable and fun this group is.

Frontwoman/guitarist Sara Lucas gave that away during soundcheck. “Baile la cumbia,” she grinned, and although it wasn’t until later in their set that they hit a slinky cumbia groove, the party started pretty much right from the first bouncy beats of their opening tropical acoustic pop number. The mostly-female band’s not-so-secret weapon is Mafer Bandola, whose axe is the spiky Venezuelan bandola llanera. Throughout the show, she played with flash and fire and a purposeful focus: fast as her fingers are, she doesn’t waste notes. And she varied her textures, sometimes with a bachata-like ring, other times flicking her way through with a staccato attack, as if she was playing a mandolin. When she finally would cut loose with a furious flurry of tremolo-picking, or a slide up or down the scale, the effect was breathtaking.

The women in the band have contrasting voices that blend intriguingly. Lucas has a bright, soaring delivery, while drummer Lara Klaus – who finally emerged from behind the kit to take over lead vocals on a muted, suspenseful number – has a lower, calmer voice. Percussionist Daniela Serna comes across as the troublemaker in the band – taking a turn out in front, she rapped her way through the boisterously irrepressible Porro Maracatu, a rapidfire mashup of Brazilian rainforest rhythmic riffs and reggaeton from the band’s brand-new debut album. She also took a hypnotically rumbling solo on Colombian tambor alegre drum during a long, psychedelic take of the vamping, bossa-tinged Confesion as Lucas’ vocalese sailed overhead.

Bassist Pat Swoboda shifted elegantly from a funky pulse to starker, bowed lines, switching to Fender on one of the night’s most propulsive, Bahian-flavored numbers. Trombonist Alex Asher and trumpeter Andrew McGovern spiced a handful of the song with some rousing, punchy charts. The sardonic anger of Sin Ataduras (No Bandages) contrasted with the serpentine, joyous Cumbia Brasileira; given plenty of time onstage, the group jammed out intros and outros and left room for brief, tantalizing solos from throughout the band. Ladama’s current US tour continues:

10/7-8/2017- Shakori Hills Festival– Pittsboro, NC
10/20/2017- Columbus Theater– Providence, RI
10/24-25/2017- Dartmouth University– Hanover, NH
11/2-3/2017- Tedx Charlottesville– Charlottesville, VA

As far as hot pepper is concerned, the available samples – the ones with healthy ingredients, anyway – were a disappointment. Most of the sauces didn’t raise any real red flags – other than Hell’s Kitchen’s deliciously spiced Cinnamon Ghost Punch, that is. The westside Manhattan boutique’s sweet Rockin’ Rasta habanero sauce wasn’t quite as hot but just as flavorful and left most of the out-of-state contenders in the dirt. 

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Beninghove’s Hangmen Bring Their Cinematic Menace to the Gritty Side of the Hudson

The last time Beninghove’s Hangmen played Brooklyn Bowl, they hit the stage with a single mghty, ominous minor chord and just let it resonate, and simmer, building a blue-flame ambience that would recur again and again throughout the show. Frontman Bryan Beninghove’s tenor sax blended with Rick Parker’s looming trombone, Dane Johnson’s guitar fanning the flames as guest drummer Kevin Shea (of Mostly Other People Do the Killing) brought in a hailstorm of cymbals, Johnson finally firing off a creepy Turkish lick, and then they were off into the horror surf of Hangmen’s Manouche. There is no more menaciungly cinematic band on the planet than these guys right now. For musical cinephiles across the Hudson, they’re playing Saturday night, January 16 at 10 PM at the Fox & Crow, 594 Palisade Ave. in Jersey City heights. For serious adventurers coming from this side of the river, you’re better off taking the Path to Hoboken and then making the trek uphill than you are trying to get there from Journal Square at the center of town.

That first number was epic: chugging call-and-response, shuddering elephantine groans, a smoky roadhouse blues sax solo from the bandleader and a Lizzie Borden guitar solo that went on just as long. And a trick ending, and then the band sped it up! So the morose stroll of the title track to their amazing forthcoming album Pineapples and Ashtrays made a contrast, all the more so as the band took their time through gentle Bill Frisell pastoral colors…and then got more menacing, then followed a murderous/charming dichotomy through a series of droll 60s cocktail-party jazz interludes, after which the axe-murderer intensity would go up several notches. Beninghove can be a real cutup onstage, and he was here, unable to resist hitting a sarcastic siren motif at one point.

From there they went into Lynchian dub, Parker’s low-flying thunderclouds matched by bassist Ezra Gale’s broodingly minimalist low-end pulse. And as the horns gleamed, and soared upward, suddenly it was clear: they were making crime jazz out of Burning Spear’s iconic hit, Marcus Garvey! For all the relentless darkness in this band’s music, they’re pretty hilarious.

Gale’s stalking bass pushed the gritty, Doorsy nocturnal groove that followed, Beninghove’s horn chart bringing to mind Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night score as Johnson played sunbaked acid blues. From there the band scampered furtively through the getaway anthem Surf ‘N Turk, then made tongue-in-cheek, Nick Cave-inflected psychedelia out of an old Neil Diamond radio hit and treated the bowlers to the right of the stage to an even funnier, manic Viking jazz cover of a Led Zep number.

Super Hi-Fi headlined. One of the tourists at the bowling lanes adjacent to the stage asked Gale – who was pulling a doubleheader – what they were playing. He did a doubletake, then responded, “Christmas music, that’s what!” And he was telling the truth. The twin-trombone dub reggae band recorded and remixed more than a couple of sides of pretty hilarious, spot-on Lee Scratch Perry style dub versions of Christmas carols a couple of years ago, and have released them in two volumes of what they call A Very Dubby Christmas. This show gave them the chance to take their time with some of the tracks from the latest one.

What makes Super Hi-Fi so much more interesting than your typical reggae band that just vamps on a couple of chords for what seems like hours on end is how much detail they fill in the blanks with: there’s always something fun and unexpected going on. Who knew that guitarist Jon Lipscomb was going to go off into skronky downtown jazz? Or how drummer Madhu Siddappa was going to hold things together with a dead-serious one-drop pulse. Overhead, Parker – also doing double duty – traded wry phrases with fellow ‘bone player Kevin Moehringer when they weren’t trying to keep straight faces as they made their way through happily brief snippets of holiday “favorites” like We Three Kings and the like. Afrobeat and the Specials permeated Irving Berlin and poker-faced Teutonic year-end themes with an irresistibly smoky grin, with the occasional tumble toward free jazz freakout or straight-ahead Skatalites skank. Considering how these two bands share members, another twinbill wouldn’t be out of the question.

A Second Sick, Reverb-Drenched Disc of Holiday Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Super Hi-Fi play live dub reggae. Their signature sound blends the twin-trombone frontline of Rick Parker and Curtis Fowlkes (of Lounge Lizards/Jazz Passengers fame) into a moodier, sometimes noir-tinged take on vintage Lee Scratch Perry or what the Skatalites were doing in their quieter moments during the golden age of Jamaican ska. When the band started, they had more of an Afrobeat feel, no surprise since bassist/bandleader Ezra Gale led first-rate, second-wave Bay Area Afrobeat band Aphrodesia. These days, they’re a lot slinkier and more low key. From their doomy and seriously excellent debut album, Dub to the Bone, you’d have no idea just how funny this band can be…unless you also know the follow-up to that, Yule Analog Vol. 1, a snarky collection of dub versions of Christmas carols. Sure enough, when the band went into the studio, they did enough of those to fill not one but two cds  – four album sides, considering that the band is known for their vinyl releases – of this shit. And they’re back, with Yule Analog, Vol. 2 – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show in the front window at the intimate, laid-back Bar Chord in Ditmas Park on December 19 at 9.

The previous collection opened with a theme that Jethro Tull was known for pilfering – are you laughing yet? This time it’s Simon & Garfunkel. OK, not a Simon & Garfunkel original, and not with the samples or the antiwar message. What it does have is tons of reverb on the guitar, gently oscillating organ, a rhythm section that sways rather than skanks along and meanderingly goodnatured ska-jazz trombone solos. It sets the stage: the most recurring joke here is the cat-and-mouse game about what song they’re playing and how far they go with it.

O Come All Ye Faithfull (with the double L in “faithfull” – oldschool 90s stoner humor?) doesn’t do that as much, and after awhile the carol has you reaching for the fast-forward. The Christmas Song takes a very, very, very familiar Irving Berlin theme toward swing, with a wry Mitch Marcus tenor sax solo that fades just when it seems like there’s a serious punchline on deck. But the Tschaikovsky theme is killer: who else would have thought to wring Jamdown noir and ambient noise from the Nutcracker?

Gale and drummer Madhu Siddappa keep What Child Is This very close to the ground for a bit until the screams from Jon Lipscomb’s guitar signal another chorus: it’s not hard to imagine this epically delicious plate emanating from the Black Ark in a cloud of ganja smoke circa 1976. They follow that with a funny ska song, Please Santa Bring Me an Echoplex, the album’s only vocal number.

The rest of the tracks are versions of the early songs, and each is an improvement. O Come All Ye etc. gets a black-hole spin through the Echoplex. The Tschaikovsky grows into a mind-altering blend of the baroque, King Tubby and postbop jazz. There’s also the noisy What Version Is This?  [memo to self – isn’t there a carol called It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear?] and a brief Echoplex Reprise. The joke works better before or after December: as heavy disguises as these songs wear, it’s hard to avoid reaching holiday smarm saturation point this time of year. Unless you do your grocery shopping and other retail stuff where this blog travels – in that case, that means salsa, bachata, reggaeton and Polish hip-hop. All of which have never sounded better than they have this month.

Can We Please Never Ever Hear Xmas Music Again?

How sadistic is it to review an album of Christmas music the day after the holiday? Well, kind of. But there’s a catch here. See, Super Hi-Fi‘s Yule Analog Vol. 1: A Very Dubby Christmas – streaming at Spotify – was written by and for people who HATE Christmas music.

And who doesn’t? Come to think of it, Hanukkah music is pretty awful too. There isn’t any of that on this masterfully crafted dub reggae remake of a bunch of old carols, but there might as well be: the source material for most of these songs is quickly subsumed in an icy wash of echo and reverb and tasty trombone. The point of all this is that it’s good all year long, a good joke to pull on a roomful of stoners:

“Dude, you just put on a Christmas album! Hahahahaha!”

“You’ve been listening to it for the last half hour, doofus.”

Bassist Ezra Gale rescues We Three Kings with a classic minor-key riff, and does much the same with his arrangements of the other cheeseballs on the program. To his infinite credit, most of this stuff is just plain good, woozy, echoey dub in a purist oldschool Black Ark vein. Beyond fiddling with the knobs, his secret is to reharmonize the melodies just a smidge, an old jazz trope.

The trombonists – Rick Parker and Alex Asher (of John Brown’s Body) can barely contain their cynicism on It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, but Gale’s chart quickly sends them off on a soca tangent with Jon Lipscomb’s guitar spinning amiably behind them. There’s a second version of that song later on that’s much better, and catchier, for being unrecognizable.

Little Drummer Boy, arguably the ickiest Christmas song ever, will leave you on the floor laughing: it’s an audio whippit, courtesy of Lipscomb’s full-on nitrous assault. Gale and the band get away with leaving Go Tell It on the Mountain more intact than most everything here, which works since it’s a spiritual and hasn’t been played to death during the holiday season. The second version of the song, which appears later, is even better and more dynamic.

The band flips the script by kicking off God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as a ska tune, drummer Madhu Siddappa keeping it pretty straight-ahead before Gale gets crazy with the faders and the reverb knob. There are two versions of the title track, the second one longer and with more of a duppy-invoking 70s Jamaican atmosphere than the other. Either way, it’s the most hypnotic, psychedelic piece of music here, and if it’s not an original, what it was to begin with is a mystery. There’s also a ska version of Auld Lang Syne that sounds like it was inspired by a lot more beer than weed. For those whose contempt for Christmas music hasn’t reached breaking point, this album’s good for plenty of laughs.

Super Hi-Fi Puts Out the Best Reggae Album of the Year

Meet the best reggae album of the year – and it doesn’t have any lyrics. Brooklyn band Super Hi-Fi’s new album Dub to the Bone is all instrumental. Essentially, it’s live dub – to an extent, they’re doing live what Scratch Perry would do in the studio. But this album keeps the studio wizardry to a minimum and focuses on the songs. Theyv’e got an oldschool echoplex, which they use judiciously and absolutely psychedelically, but it’s the tunes and the playing that make this psychedelic. Since this was recorded as a vinyl record for Brooklyn’s excellent, eclectic Electric Cowbell label, there’s an A-side and a B-side.

The band keeps it simple and catchy as they make their way methodically from one hook to another. A lot of reggae is verse/chorus/verse/etc. and this isn’t, which keeps it interesting while maintaining a fat groove. And while a lot of dub is an endless series of textures echoing and fading in and out of the mix, the band does this live without missing a beat. Bassist Ezra Gale’s songs lean toward the dark and menacing side: some of this is absolutely creepy, as the best reggae and ska can be.

The opening track, Washingtonian works trippy variations on a dark reggae vamp, the occasional vintage newsreel sample adding snide commentary on the military-industrial complex (is that Eisenhower?) The tightness of the twin trombones of Alex Asher and Ryan Snow reminds of classic Skatalites, or Burning Spear’s peak-era band with the Burning Brass.

There are two versions of Tri Tro Tro here and they couldn’t be any more different: they’re basically two separate songs. Which is the coolest thing about dub – the first builds to a carefree Will Graefe guitar hook over the equally catchy bassline, the second begins as a new wave guitar song before the reggae riddim kicks in and morphs into a soukous tune. The third track, Neolithic, runs from a twin trombone hook to a wickedly catchy turnaround, wailing guitar giving way to the swoosh of the echoplex and then an unexpectedly balmy, jazzy interlude.

The best track here is the absolutely Lynchian We Will Begin Again with its noir trombones, creepy, lingering guitar and shapeshifting melody. Q Street drops the individual instruments in and out over an Ethiopian-flavored groove, while Public Option – another political reference  – centers its echoey orchestration around a moody minor groove and Madhu Siddappa’s hypnotically boomy snare drum. The final track, mixed expertly by Victor Rice, somebody who knows a thing or two about classic dub, is Single Payer, the most psychedelic, Black Ark-style plate here, the veteran ska and reggae producer having fun matching the bass and drums against the guitar and trombones and vice versa. The album release show is at Nublu at around midnight – you know how that place is – on Dec 13, and it’s free.