New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: art-rock

Iconic Heavy Psychedelic Band Revisit Deep Cuts With Surprising Results

Can you imagine if Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper made its debut on corporate radio in 2020? The politically correct crowd would crash Instagram with all their outraged selfie vids. “I can’t believe you’d be so irresponsible as to play a song that ADVOCATES TEEN SUICIDE!!!!!”

The band, of course, leave it open to multiple interpretations: it could just as easily be about drugs..or a love song, heh heh heh. And it’s a far cry from their best work: for that, you need to dig into their first four records. Over that initial span of releases, there is no other act in the history of rock music who were better.

Not the Stones, who weren’t ready for prime time. Not the Beatles, although they get an asterisk because their manager and record label held them back. Not the Dream Syndicate (who got screwed even worse by their label), the Velvets (who couldn’t pull their shit together, basically), the Stooges (who learned on the fly), Pink Floyd (who had to regroup after their bandleader self-destructed), the Dead Kennedys (whose second album was awful), David Bowie (who got off to a bad start) or Richard Thompson (ever try listening to Henry the Human Fly?). And as revolutionary and brilliant as the first four albums by Elvis Costello, the Jam, the Clash, X, Parliament/Funkadelic and several others are, Blue Oyster Cult’s classic early stuff is just as strong, and smart, and sometimes a lot funnier.

So why would this blog cover something as crazy as the band’s new recording, a 40th anniversary celebration of their uneven 1976 Agents of Fortune album, recorded live in concert in 2016 and streaming at Spotify? Because it’s just plain preposterous. Right off the bat, this isn’t even the same band that made the original: the Bouchard brothers’ rhythm section disintegrated back in the 80s, and we lost the great Allen Lanier a couple of decades later. Still, this is actually an improvement on the original!

Frontman/guitarist Eric Bloom, once a fine, clear-voice singer, doesn’t do much more than rasp these days. But lead guitarist Buck Dharma still has his chops here, and the replacements are clearly psyched to play a lot of material that these days falls into the deep-cuts category. There’s snap to the bass, a leadfoot groove but a groove nonetheless from the drums, and a lot of swirly organ.

They open with This Ain’t the Summer of Love, a riffy anti-hippie anthem that isn’t much more than rehashed Stones….but they seem to be having fun with it. They can’t do much with True Confessions, an ill-advised attempt at mashing up that sound with doo-woppy soul. Although Bloom can’t hit the high notes in the ominously circling hit single, and the band must be sick to death of it, they manage not to phone it in. “Forty thousand men and women coming every day!” State of the world, 2020, huh?

This edition of the band’s take of the “classic rock” radio staple E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) isn’t as quite as offhandedly macabre as the original, but it still has a gleefully sinister ring. The Revenge of Vera Gemini – which original keyboardist Lanier co-wrote with his girlfriend at the time, Patti Smith – is heavier and a lot more menacing.

Dharma’s icy chromatics can’t quite elevate Sinful Love above the level of generically strutting powerpop. Likewise, Tattoo Vampire is a second-rate Led Zep ripoff. Morning Final, a haphazard attempt to blend Lou Reed urban noir and latin soul as the Stones did it on Sticky Fingers, is so bizarre it’s pretty cool.

From there the band segue into Tenderloin: disco-pop was not their forte. They wind up the record, and the show, with Debbie Denise: what an understatedly bittersweet, profoundly Lynchian pop song! A sparse audience cheer enthusiastically afterward.

Psychedelic Rock Icon With Inspired Band Picks Up Gloriously Where He Left Off

What can a person do at night in a place that suddenly became the City That Always Sleeps?

You could pick up your instrument, or sit down at it, and write something.

If you gravitate toward big, ornate sounds, you could tune in to the New York Philharmonic’s live webcast.

Or you could watch James Tonkin‘s new concert film Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets: Live at the Roadhouse. It hasn’t hit VOD yet, but the audio is streaming at Spotify. This isn’t just your ordinary Pink Floyd cover band: “There’s so many thousands, all playing the same four albums,” guitarist Gary Kemp smirks. “The first thing that will be really telling will be to see how they change their setlists as a result of us doing this!”

What differentiates these guys from the wannabes is that they play exclusively pre-Dark Side material from the Syd Barrett and early David Gilmour eras. They also managed to convince Floyd’s iconic drummer to join them. After a few well-received shows, they had this frequently glorious concert immortalized, at a venue where the Barrett edition of the band were the first group to play.

To open the show, Telecaster player Kemp picks hard on his low E string, second Tele player Lee Harris launches into the evil, chromatic descending riff of the instrumental Interstellar Overdrive, then bassist Guy Pratt – playing a snappy Rickenbacker – joins the song along with organist Dom Beken and the bandleader…and they’re off. In general, throughout the concert, the music has a tighter, somewhat lighter-fingered pulse than the reckless abandon of the Syd Barrett era. The songs also tend to be more ornate, but in a lot of ways the additional layers raise the psychedelic factor. Who wants to hear a band play something exactly as it was recorded, anyway?

Jim Parsons’ classic rock-doc production is purist: lots of fretboard close-ups, panning the stage and then back. The sound mix is tastefully oldschool as well. To his infinite credit, the bandleader is toward the back, just as he was throughout Pink Floyd’s tenure: he’s always been a guy to let the sound out of his kit instead of trying to bang something into it. And what a big kit it is. One of his bandmates remarks that even in his seventies, Mason’s vigor is “terrifying.” Maybe his subtlety has something to do with that.

Tellingly, it takes two guitarists to replicate what both Barrett and Gilmour did, with plenty of noise and echo, closer to the former’s style than the latter’s anguished, Hendrix-inspired existential screams. Likewise, Beken has a Rick Wright-sized array of textures at his disposal, orchestrating the music with more of an overtly trippy ripple and twinkle than just the vast deep-space textures the late, great Pink Floyd keyboardist constructed so expertly.

The group segue into Astronomy Domine after the night’s opening jagged surrealism: this song is a little more bluesy than the original, but practically just as crazed in places, the bass obviously higher than that instrument typically was recorded in 1967 when Roger Waters played it. Lucifer Sam and Arnold Layne seem a little fast. and rotely digital; yet that same approach improves Fearless, underscoring that otherwise gentle pastoral pop tune’s druggy narrative.

The woozy instrumentals Obscured by Clouds and When You’re In seem odd choices, little more than a platform for Kemp’s simple slide work. As does Vegetable Man, considering what happened to Barrett. In that context, the “why can’t we reach the sun” refrain in Remember a Day has special poignancy, a cautionary tale to the extreme.

While Kemp stays on key more than Waters did singing If, the gloomily sunbaked madness anthem, Waters’ acid-damaged vocals are stil missed. As are the horns and orchestra of Atom Heart Mother – at least we get about seven minutes of the majestic main theme, emphasis on the macabre.

The proto-metal of The Nile Song holds up well (and foreshadows a famous Johnny Rotten lyric). The alien-encounter anthem Let There Be More Light has an almost gleefully grim intensity; likewise, the bulked-up version of the rarely played Gilmour narrative Childhood’s End is more richly dark.

The show’s centerpiece, the menacingly raga-influenced Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun, has a literally breathtaking vastness, Mason having a wryly good time with his huge gongs and then his mallets on the toms. The band pick up the pace with the hauntingly bittersweet See Emily Play, romp through Barrett’s mid 60s Carnaby Street pop tune Bike, then hammer their way through One of These Days, Waters’ strobe-lit repeaterbox instrumental from the Meddle album.

Fueled by Beken’s funereal chromatics and enveloping, smoky echoes, the band go way down the rabbit hole with A Saucerful of Secrets and end the show triumphantly with Point Me At the Sky. The film also contains a few snippets of live footage from the Barrett years plus a bit of context from individual band members. Who would have thought that in 2020, anyone would attempt, let alone succeed in revisiting these classic sounds?

Epically Intense, Cinematic Indian Grooves and a New Album From Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain

To what degree is drummer/composer Sunny Jain‘s new album Wild Wild East – streaming at Bandcamp – simply the latest release by his wild Indian brass band Red Baraat? For one thing, it’s more stylistically vast, mashing up that band’s blazing, brass-fueled bhangra with classic Bollywood grooves, surf and spy themes, Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack ambience, and majestic 70s art-rock. Jain’s next gig is leading Red Baraat from behind his massive doublebarreled dhol drum at Symphony Space on March 10 at 8 PM; you can get in for $30.

The new album’s title reflects both the chaotic unease that an immigrant experiences, and also turns the traditional American cowboy archetype inside out. As Jain sees it, immigrants are the new cowboys, blazing a trail for the West, relegating the old model to what it is: a swaggering, pistol-packing menace to society, and especially to newcomers here.

Jain kicks off the record with Immigrant Warrior, a brisk, flurrying epic built around a lavishly arranged action theme that begins as a Bollywood-flavored dancefloor stomp and rises to titanic heights with Grey McMurray’s layers of searing guitars,  Pawan Benjamin’s catchy, matter-of-fact alto sax carrying the tune. The title track is more swirlingly suspenseful, with chanteuse Ganavya’s echoey, wordless midrange vocals over tightly clustering syncopation.

Benjamin’s trills and bends build a bracing microtonal edge over the enveloping raga ambience in Osian, as Jain subtly pulls it onto the rails out of a tumbling introduction, guitar growing more deliciously jagged as the band gather steam. In a lot of ways the ominous hip-hop tune Red, Brown, Black is the key to the album; “I love my country but they think I’m ISIS,” guest rapper Haseeb muses early on in a grim struggler’s narrative.

Aye Meri Del Kahin Aur Chal has a swaying, machinegunning bhangra beat, catchy multitracked surf guitar and a big raga crescendo. Bhaagi is a stormy ghazal set to a trip-hop beat, followed by Blackwell, a languid, carefree tableau with balmy bansuri flute. Hai Apni Dil to Aawara is the album’s biggest musical mindfuck, a carnatic country waltz.

The bansuri returns, but much more darkly, in the lingering twists and turns of Turnse Lagi Lagan, which in its quietly brooding way might be the album’s strongest track. From there the band segue up slowly into a gathering storm in Maitri Bhavanu, Ganavya’s melismatic vocals imploring overhead. The clouds finally burst in Brooklyn Dhamal, closing the album with a barreling drive through a blend of Peter Gunne theme and Sufi music. Whether you call this dance music, film music, Indian music or its own unique creation, it’s one of the best albums of the year as well as a snapshot of where American music will be headed in the decades to come…assuming we survive four more years of the Trumpies. It’s starting to look really ugly at this point.

Twin Peaks Chorales and a Mysterious Ritual From Mary Prescott at Roulette

A jubilant howl emanated from the dressing room last night at Roulette seconds before the nine members of Mary Prescott’s ensemble took the stage for her hauntingly immersive performance piece Loup Lunaire. It began rather coyly but quickly took a much darker turn. Part choral suite, part dance performance, the choreography was every bit as compelling yet as enigmatic as the music, to the point where it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the plot. Inspired by the wolf mother archetype – depicted here as responsible yet more or less alone – along with behavioral cycles in nature, the piece is a precursor to another work, Mother Me, which Prescott and Cara Search will perform on May 6 as part of a semi-monthly Roulette residency.

Luisa Muhr was the first to let loose a howl onstage, but it wasn’t long before the responding round of wolven voices from the rest of the group – Prescott herself stage left, joined by Search, Noa Fort, Ariadne Greif, Joy Havens, Nina Dante and the lone man in the cast, Chanan Ben Simon – had reached a peak and then scattered downward.

Prescott’s strikingly translucent, distamtly disquieting themes gave the singers plenty of room to join in increasingly intricate webs of counterpoint, and sometimes back from there. The compositions evoked styles as diverse as rapturous Hildegard hymns, wistful Appalachian folk, Caroline Shaw’s maze-like work with Roomful of Teeth, Angelo Badelamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtracks, and Indian canatic music. What was consistent was a pervasive unease, amplified by how surealistically one segment would overlap into another.

Meanwhile, onstage behind the dancers, guitarist David Torn added extra levels of angst, or menace, or outright dread, with airy washes of sound as well as several long, majestically mournful Pink Floyd interludes. Nobody does David Gilmour in lingering cumulo-nimbus mode better than this guy.

The series of narratives among the dancers were similarly somber, much of the action in elegant slo-mo. Their buoyantly simple, flowing costumes were sometimes augmented by a little onstage dressup – Prescott’s expression as she was tidied and prepared for the next stage was priceless, and too good to give away. Purification, or at least forgiveness for some unnamed (or unnamable) sin seems to be part of the picture – no spoilers. It’s impossible to find fault with this piece. The dancers are all strong singers, individual role-playing was sharp, choreography briskly executed, lighting a thoughtful enhancement, and the guitar was as vivid as the vocals. Roulette hit a bullseye in commissioning this.

A Picturesque, Symphonic Instrumental Suite From Marty Willson-Piper’s Atlantaeum Flood

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s preeminent twelve-string guitar player, and also as a witheringly brilliant songwriter. He’s also a composer. His latest album, One Day, credited to his Atlantaeum Flood project is streaming at Spotify. It’s his first all-instrumental suite, a day in the life of the planet from before sunrise to the wee hours of the next day. Willson-Piper’s bandmates here are Dare Mason and Steve Knott on guitars, Olivia Willson-Piper on violin and Lynne Knott on cello, rising together to an often titanic grandeur.

From a simple, fingerpicked four-chord acoustic guitar theme, Willson-Piper slowly builds a gentle predawn scenario into a blazing sunrise, adding layer after layer of guitar. It brings to mind a previous, epically brilliant Willson-Piper production, the lusciously jangly My Little Problem, from the 1994 Sometime Anywhere Album by his long-running, previous band the Church.

Mid-morning takes shape with another four-chord theme, ascending to an eagerly pulsing peak before the group bring it full circle, verdant and concise at the end. Then Willson-Piper completely flips the script with the pre-noon theme, his resonant David Gilmouresque electric leads and his wife’s airily soaring violin over an industrial percussion loop and an artfully rising and falling backdrop.

This particular afternoon is a simmering one, an elegant acoustic twelve-string theme anchoring rather wry backward masked and then wah-wah leads that finally give way to a lush violin break. The ensemble follow the fiery, flamenco-tinged sunset scenario with delicate dusk ambience balanced by spiky mandolin and horn-like electric guitar swells.

Before midnight is where Willson-Piper most closely evokes the Church’s densely echoey spacerock. This day doesn’t go out quietly til the very end, although the closing theme has a wistful, distantly elegaic quality,

New York’s Most Ubiquitous Cello Rockers Play a Favorite Williamsburg Haunt

The Icebergs are New York’s hardest-working cello rock band. They’re at Pete’s Candy Store just about every month – where they’ll be on Feb 25 at 8:30 – and they play a lot of random places in Bushwick as well. There’s no other band around who sound like them. Cellist Tom Abbs plays with his axe slung over his shoulder like a guitar. Mixing catchy basslines, slithery single-note riffs and boomy low-register chords, he’s sort of the Lemmy of the cello – on steroids.

Frontwoman Jane LeCroy comes out of the punk poetry scene and has been published all over the place, so her lyrics have a sharp focus that’s sometimes playful, sometimes witheringly cynical, with a fierce political undercurrent. Most of the time she sings, sometimes she speaks: either way, the drama is usually understated.

In hindsight, drummer Dave Treut was the obvious choice to fill the big shoes left behind when David Rogers-Berry left the band, and the switch turned out to be a fair trade. Treut is more chill in this band than in other projects including his own, but he still brings the psychedelic textures and ghostly flickers.

This blog was in the house for the better part of two shows at the trio’s usual Williamsburg haunt, in the spring of last year, and about a year before then as well. What was most obvious was how much more material the band have beyond what’s available on their catchy, clever 2017 debut album, Eldorado. It’s a cynical title. In case you’re wondering, there are no ELO covers on it (it’s impossible to imagine that a cello rock band would be unaware of the magnum opus by the group who paved the way). Assuming the Pete’s show starts on time, there’s still a window to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

Symphonic Lushness and Edgy Intensity from Wildly Eclectic Accordionist Simone Baron

Accordionist Simone Baron‘s debut album The Space Between Disguises, with her group Arco Belo – streaming at Bandcamp – has the lushness and epic sweep of classical music, the edge of the Balkans, the rhythmic complexity of jazz and the vividness of a film score. Just when you think it couldn’t get more eclectic,  she throws in brief interludes with loops and snippets of found sound in between songs. There are thousands of bands across Europe who mash up all these styles, but few here in the US.

The lush string overture introducing the album’s opening cut, Post Edit Delete, alludes to a famously overcast weekend song made famous by Billie Holiday. Then the group tipetoe through a Balkan-tinged violin theme. Baron plays piano on this particular number, dancing through the moody mist.

With its hazy swells and a coy bass/violin conversation, Angle of Incidence is more astringent, Baron’s accordion doubling bassist Mike Pope’s bubbly lines midway through. Who Cares is a gorgeously dark pastoral jazz vignette fueled by banjo player Mark Schatz’s enigmatic frailing. Dramatically incisive low-register piano, biting violin, austerely swirling strings, a bit of funk and warily unsettled accordion percolate throughout the epic mini-suite Passive Puppeteer.

The melancholic, singing quality of the strings and acccordion as the album’s title track gets underway is stunning; then all of a sudden it’s a loopy, marionettish dance that grows more haunting and lush. Baron reinvents Walter Bishop, Jr.’s Those Who Chant with an elegant gallop, then takes her time with the sweepingly plaintive Valsa, by Brazilian accordionist Tibor Fittel. The album’s concluding diptych, Buciumeana/Kadynja juxtaposes a gorgeous, klezmerish Moldovan theme with a Romanian folk dance appropriated by Bartók, complete with creepy music box-like piano and a killer handoff from accordion to violin.

A tour de force from a group that also includes drummer Lucas Ashby and the strings of Aaron Malone on violin and viola, Bill Neri on viola, Peter Kibbe on cello, plus violinists Nelson Moneo, Laura Colgate and Ellen McSweeney.

Transcendence and Trials at Winter Jazzfest 2020

One of the high points of Winter Jazzfest 2020 was a rock song.

Don’t read that the wrong way. Firing off clanging, reverb-fanged minor chords from her white Fender Jaguar, Becca Stevens sang her steadily crescendoing anthem I Will Avenge You with just enough distance to make the inevitable all the more grim. Connections to a famous hippie songwriter and steampunk Broadway show aside, it was validating to see her pack the Poisson Rouge to open last night’s Manhattan marathon of shows.

She’s lost none of the livewire intensity she had in the days when she used to front a surrealistically entertaining cover band, the Bjorkestra, ten-odd years ago. Her own material is just as artsy and outside-the-box: it’s what would have been called art-rock back in the 70s, but with a 90s trip-hop influence (Portishead at their most orchestral) instead of, say, Genesis. Drummer Jordan Perlson and bassist Chris Tordini gave a snap to the songs’ tricky metrics, lead guitarist Jan Esbra adding terse colors, keyboardist Michelle Willis bubbling and rippling and soaring with her vocal harmonies. The songs ranged from an uneasily dancing setting of a Shakespeare text from Romeo and Juliet, to a dizzyingly circling ukulele tune, to Tillery, the subtly soukous-inflected anthem that Stevens typically opens with. “Without love there is nothing,” was the singalong chorus. True enough: that’s why we do this stuff.

A few blocks east at the Zurcher Gallery, singer Sara Serpa raised the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night, or so it seemed at the moment. With barely a pause between songs, she led a tightly focused lustrous quartet – longtime partner and saturnine influence Andre Matos on guitar, Dov Manski on piano and analog synth, and Jesse Simpson on drums – through a glistening, sometimes pointillistic, sometimes shatteringly plaintive set of songs without words.

Serpa didn’t sing any actual lyrics until the unexpectedly playful final song, relying instead on her signature vocalese. While she’s best known as a purveyor of misty, airy, frequently noir sonics, she’s developed stunning new power, especially on the low end – although she used that very judiciously. The most haunting song of the night came across as a mashup of Chano Dominguez and Procol Harum at their most quietly brooding, with a ghostly avenger out front. Matos’ steady, purposeful, meticulously nuanced chords and fills anchored Manski’s often otherworldly textures and eerie belltones as Simpson maintained a steady, suspenseful flutter with his bundles.

Over at Zinc Bar, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack led a New York version of her Seismic Belt septet, playing shapeshiftingly emphatic, anthemic, eco-disaster themed material from her fantastic 2019 album of the same name. The music seemed to still be coalescing, but that observation might be colored by the situation where the bar wasn’t letting people stand in the inner room close to the band, as they had in the past, and what was being piped into the front area through a couple of tinny speakers wasn’t enough to compete with a chatty crowd. The bandleader’s soulful, cantabile tone rose and fell gracefully and mingled with the sometimes stark, occasionally lush textures of violinist Sarah Bernstein, violist Jessica Pavone, bassist Lisa Hoppe, expansively dynamic baritone saxophonist Chris Credit, pianist Kai Ono and drummer Jacob Shandling. Boshnack’s voice is full of color and sparkle, just like her horn: she should sing more. Chet Baker may have left us, but Boshnack would be a welcome addition to the trumpeter/singer demimonde.

That there would be such a packed house in the basement of a snooty new Lafayette Street tourist bar, gathered to see the debut of pedal steel paradigm-shifter Susan Alcorn‘s new quintet, speaks to the exponential increase in interest in improvisation at the highest level. That the band had such potent material to work with didn’t hurt. Alcorn’s tunesmithing can be as devastatingly sad as her stage presence and banter is devastatingly funny.

Drummer Ryan Sawyer – most recently witnessed swinging the hell out of a set by Rev. Vince Anderson a couple of weeks ago – sank his sticks into a diving bell of a press roll that Alcorn pulled shivering to the surface in a trail of sparks. Violinist Mark Feldman’s searingly precise downward cadenza out of a long, matter-of-factly circling Michael Formanek bass crescendo was just as much of a thrill. Guitarist Mary Halvorson echoed the bandleader’s sudden swells and sharply disappearing vistas with her volume pedal.

There was a lot of sublime new material in the set. They began with a poignant, 19th century gospel-infused minor-key number that disintegrated into a surreal reflecting pool before returning, austere and darkly ambered. An even more angst-fueled, lingering diptych began as a refection on a battle with food poisoning, Alcorn deadpanned: from the sound of that, it could have killed her. Later portraits of New Mexico mountain terrain and a Utah “circular ruin” gave the band plenty of room to expand on similarly stark themes. The coyly galloping romp out at the end of the catchy, concluding pastoral jazz number offered irresistibly amusing relief.

Winter Jazzfest has expanded to the point where it seems it’s now a lot easier to get in to see pretty much whoever you want to see – at least this year, from this point of view. Even so, there’s always triage. Matthew Shipp at the Nuyorican, what a serendipitous match…but the Nuyorican is a good fifteen-minute shlep from the Bleecker Street strip, just on the cusp of where a taxi driver would think you’re really lame for not hoofing it over to Alphabet City.

Cuban-born pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa and his irrepressible quartet at Subculture were much closer. There’s always been a fine line between salsa and jazz and for this show, this crew – with Mayquel Gonzalez on trumpet, Gaston Joya on five-string bass and the bandleader’s brother Ruy on drums – sided with bringing the first kind of party. In a spirited duet, it turned out that the bandleader’s bro is a more than competent and equally extrovert pianist, when he wasn’t riffing expertly on his snare like a timbalero. The group shifted from long, vampy, percussive cascades to classically-flavored interludes, including a catchy Leo Brouwer ballad that Lopez-Nussa used as a rollercoaster to engage the crowd. What a beautiful, sonically pristine venue, and what a shame that, beyond a weekly Sunday morning classical concert series, the space isn’t used for music anymore. They probably couldn’t put the Poisson Rouge out of business – who would want that bar’s cheesy Jersey cover bands, anyway – but they could steal all their classical and jazz acts.

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.

Darkly Multistylistic, Cinematic Cello Themes and a West Village Show from Ian Maksin

Cellist Ian Maksin writes catchy, often gorgeously cinematic songs without words. His music is stylistically vast, drawing on sounds from the Balkans to the Middle East to Latin America. He’s more dynamic than you might expect from someone who plays a low-register instrument and is also a rare cello player who excels at blues. There’s still time to get an advance ticket to his show tomorrow night, Jan 5 at 7 PM at the Poisson Rouge: you can get in for $20.

His new album Sempre is streaming at Bandcamp. The title track is an elegant cello take on minor-key Russian barroom balladry, Maksin overdubbing his moody, resonant lines over a lithely plucked bassline. Similarly, the nostalgic waltz Blues au Jardin du Luxembourg has more of a balmy Black Sea summer afternoon undercurrent than any distinctive Parisian flavor.

Vancouver Rain comes across as a loopmusic piece, Maksin’s biting chromatics and blues bookending a break in the clouds signaled by percussionist Andrew Mitran. The brief, acerbically tiptoeing Summer Garden could be Django Reinhardt at his most classical and chromatic.

Maksin is a one-man low string section throughout the tensely spacious, achingly soaring Respiro. The album’s longest and most hypnotic song, Lacrimae Novae begins as a medieval responsory of sorts, then Maksin brings in layers of broodingly chromatic, baroque-tinged melody.

Per Me, Per Te has contrasting layers of cautiously dancing pizzicato against uneasy resonance, set to a familiar four-chord progression: it could be a theme for a real weeper of a movie. Sunset on the Cascade is a pensive Russian/Brazilian mashup with light, Indian-flavored percussion. Maksin winds up the record with the soaringly crescendoing Brand New Page, its acerbically off-kilter chords recalling the edgy new wave-era bedroom pop of Young Marble Giants. Fans of this era’s most accessible, incorrigible Romantics – Ludovico Einaudi, Yann Tiersen et al. – ought to get to know Maksin.