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Tag: avi fox-rosen

Edgy, Dynamic, Guitar-Fueled Klezmer Jangle and Clang from the Avi Fox-Rosen Electric Trio

The Jalopy in Red Hook isn’t just New York’s Americana Central. It’s home to all kinds of sounds beyond the  bluegrass, country blues and oldtime string band music that’s made the venue arguably Brooklyn’s best music club and inarguably New York’s best-looking and most welcoming concert space. This Thursday, May 4  at 8:30 PM, guitarist Avi Fox-Rosen leads his Electric Klezmer Trio through a set of chromatically sizzling, reinvented classics from the Dave Tarras catalog, across the years and the Jewish diaspora in the theatre’s lowlit, dusky confines with the church pews in the back and the Thomas Jefferson bust on the left side. Fox-Rosen might have a few issues with that guy’s personal ethics: who knows, that might raise the voltage of the performance a few notches.. Cover is $15; if you want a music or dance lesson beforehand, or the option of sitting in with the band afterward – holy smokes – other options are available.

To get an idea of how Fox-Rosen’s trio sounds, imagine Jim Campilongo playing Tarras’ incisively catchy Jewish jazz. Both Campilongo and Fox-Rosen play Telecasters and get their surfy tremolo by bending the neck of the guitar ever so slightly rather than with a wammy bar that throws the tuning out of wack. Bassist Zoe Guigueno plays with a bow, as klezmer bassists traditionally do, adding dark pulses of melody over drummer Dave Licht’s counterintuitive, playful rimshots and snare hits. Fox-Rosen carries the melody with lead lines that echo the original horn parts but range far beyond the limitations of oldschool klezmer instrumentation: this band rocks, hard, even if they don’t play through Marshall stacks or use distortion. The trio’s low-key, early-week show at Barbes back in February had all of this and more; it would have been fun to stick around for their whole set instead of rushing to catch that improvisational thing further north.

Fox-Rosen is a chameleonic presence in the New York music scene. In 2013, his marathon series of monthly releases vaulted his songwriting into the elite ranks of Elvis Costello and Steve Wynn. The only one of the dozen albums that wasn’t worth owning was a collection of covers. All the albums are still up at Bandcamp as name-your-price downloads. Fox-Rosen is unsurpassed at satire – some of the songs bring to mind a tougher Jonathan Coulton or a more guitarishly talented Walter Ego – and the songs span just about every style on the planet, from psychedelia to art-rock to funk.

How does all this figure into his approach to klezmer? Choosing his spots, wailing when there’s an opportunity, and generally jangling and clanging through a bunch of haunting old tunes that have never jangled and clanged before. How good it is to be alive to hear this music when the rest of the world is being deported and displaced – just like the Jews who invented it.

Clarinet Titan Michael Winograd Plays a Full-Throttle Saturday Residency at Barbes This Month

If adrenaline is your thing, go see Michael Winograd this Saturday at Barbes. Even if you don’t know much about klezmer music, it’s worth the gamble. There is no Coney Island ride, with the possibility of the Cyclone, that can deliver thrills on the level of Winograd’s clarinet. And he makes it look easy. He’s got a silken, steady wind-tunnel tone, in the same vein as Rudresh Mahanthappa’s approach on the alto sax, and a Saturday 6 PM Barbes residency this month where he’s airing out a lot of new material. This Saturday, April 8 he’s doing “Order: A Musical Seder,” with singer/pianist Judith Berkson and Sandcatchers guitarist Yoshie Fruchter. Then Winograd plays with a large ensemble on the 15th and 29th, and with a quartet on the 22nd.

Last week’s show was packed with a mix of oldsters and kids who’d come out to see Winograd deliver an eclectic, dynamic set of new material from a forthcoming album, backed by a pretty sizeable group including accordion, piano, rhythm section (Zoe Guigueno on bass and Dave Licht on drums), plus Avi Fox-Rosen on banjo. The addition of that instrument turned out to be more of an extra textural treat than an attempt to be old-fashioned or go in a bluegrass direction like Andy Statman.

The new material is killer. The dark stuff came first, along with the biggest crescendos and slinkiest, rapidfire volleys of sixteenth notes from Winograd. Since these tunes are getting their first workouts from the band, he took most of the solos. They opened with a handful of chromatically bristling, Russian and Ukrainian-flavored numbers. There was a point early on where the flutter of the banjo against the steady chords of the piano amid the swells of the rest of the group had a bittersweet, achingly beautiful, Ellingtonian lushness.

Later in the set, they did a hora that started out all mysterious and then picked up with a bang, true to form. There was a doina that turned out to be the most exploratory number – some would say it was the the jazziest moment of the night. As the show went on, the songs got bouncier and sunnier. They closed with a catchy, anthemic tune that sounded like a classic from the Russian Jewish folk tradition but could have been an original: Winograd can be like that. And even back at the bar, the sound was good: hanging with friends, away from the crowd didn’t turn out to be an obstacle as far as listening was concerned. See you Saturday. 

Another Dark Chapter in Morricone Youth’s Marathon Series of Film Scores

Avi Fox-Rosen‘s record of releasing a dozen albums in a dozen months may be safe, but Morricone Youth aren’t far behind. The latest album from New York’s most prolifically cinematic band – in a planned series of fifteen soundtracks to films they’ve played live to over the past five years – is guitarist/bandleader Devon E. Levins’ original score for George Miller’s pioneering, dystopic 1979 post peak oil monster truck epic Mad Max. Like the rest of the series, the record is available on limited edition vinyl, in translucent Coke bottle greeen, and streaming at soundcloud.

The initial release in the series, a mix of the original score and new material composed for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, explores the darkest corners of 60s psychedelia. The second, for the 1926 silent film The Adventures of Prince Ahmed, is more Morricone-esque, with Middle Eastern and Italian influenes. This new one is a mix of 70s art-rock and early new wave. Which makes sense: when the movie was in production, new wave rock was in its embryonic stages (and Mel Gibson, if he was a rightwing Christian supremacist nutjob then, hadn’t yet become famous for it).

As with much of Morricone Youth’s work, the album is a series of themes and variations. In general, the music is more overtly dark than the film’s exuberantly cynical narrative about vigilantes who can’t quite figure out how to get the max out of their prized but rapidly evaporating stash of petrochemicals. Dan Kessler’s washes of keyboards fuel the brief title theme: its motorik foreshadowing takes centerstage in the second piece, Mad Goose, over the furtive new wave pulse of bassist John Castro and drummer Brian Kantor.

Noir singer Karla Rose – whose forthcoming album of hauntingly lyrical songs is reputedly amazing – contributes distantly ghostly vocals to Clunes Town, a mashup of Del Shannon and Morricone spaghetti western. From there the band segues into Revenge of the MFP, which sounds like the Ex taking on a Richard Strauss theme famously repurposed for outer space.

Fraser Campbell’s balmy sax floats over a starry backdrop throughtout Jessie, a surrealistic love theme. Then Levins puts the rubber to the road with his grittily circling riffage in Nightrider, a careening chase scene. The band channel their main inspiration in the creepy, woozily psychedelic bolero Anarchie Road, followed by Johnny the Boy. a sardonic mashup of early Squeeze and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Kantor propelling it with a tumbling leadfoot drive. Castro’s Geezer Butler-like, growling bass pushes Toecutter as it rises from Pink Floyd ominousness toward krautrock. The closing credits roll to the surprisingly upbeat, starlit spacerock of Bad Max. That there are another dozen albums like this in the works is really something to look forward to in what’s been a horror movie of a year so far.

The Best New York Concerts of 2014

Of all the year-end lists here, including the best albums and best songs of 2014 lists, this one is the most individual, and the most fun to put together. But as amazing a year for live music as it was, there were twice as many enticing shows that this blog never had the chance to cover as there are on this list. It’s called having a life – or trying to, in between concerts, anyway.

So consider this an informed survey rather than anything definitive, and ultimately, a reason for guarded optimism. Much as gentrification destroys the arts like Walmart destroys local economies, neither one has killed us. Yet.

What was the single best show of the year? Four multi-band bills stand out from the rest. Back in October at Trans-Pecos, charismatic Great Plains gothic bandleader Ember Schrag played a wickedly lyrical mix of mostly new material, some of it with a string section, the rest fueled by the snarling, spectacular lead guitar of Bob Bannister. Also playing that night: rapturously hypnotic, melancholic cellist/songwriter Meaner Pencil, dark art-rock duo Christy & Emily, plus a starkly entrancing set by two jazz icons, guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone.

A month earlier, renaissance woman Sarah Small put together a similarly magical night at Joe’s Pub featuring her Middle Eastern-inspired trio Hydra with Rima Fand and Yula Beeri as well as her otherworldly Balkan choral trio Black Sea Hotel with Willa Roberts and Shelley Thomas. There were also brief sets from the reliably entertaining all-female accordion group the Main Squeeze Orchestra and a trio version of one of NYC’s original Romany bands, Luminescent Orchestrii.

In mid-November, the Bowery Electric triplebill of hauntingly catchy Nashville gothic tunesmith/singer Jessie Kilguss, similarly lyrical and vocally gifted art-rock songwriter Ward White – both playing an album release show – and well-loved literate Americana rocker Matt Keating was pretty transcendent. And let’s not forget the Alwan-a-Thon back in January, the annual celebration of cutting-edge sounds from across the Arabic-speaking world held at financial district music mecca Alwan for the Arts. This one featured two floors of amazing acts including intense Lebanese-born pianist Tarek Yamani and his trio, luminous Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina, amazingly psychedelic 1960s Iranian art-dance-rock revivalists Mitra Sumara, sizzling Romany party monsters Sazet Band, and the all-star Alwan Ensemble, who played bristling jams on classic themes from Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

Rather than trying to rank the rest of these shows, they’re listed in chronological order:

Avi Fox-Rosen and Raya Brass Band at Rock Shop, 1/9/14 – Fox-Rosen had just released an album every single month in 2013, so this was a triumphant sort of greatest hits live gig for the sharply lyrical, catchy art-rock tunesmith followed by a wild vortex of Balkan jamming, the group down on the floor in front of the stage surrounded by dancers.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at Parkside Lounge, 2/1/14 – the charismatic, nattily dressed noir rocker led his explosive, blues-fueled band through a careening set of intensely lyrical, distinctively New York narratives.

Siach Hasadeh and Ichka in the basement at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on the Upper West Side, 3/4/14 – every Tuesday, more or less, drummer Aaron Alexander – a prime mover in Jewish jazz circles – books a series of reliably excellent bands here. This twinbill kicked off with a rapturously haunting set by Montreal’s Siach Hasadeh followed by another Montreal outfit, the high-energy Ichka and then a jam with members of both bands joined by audience members.

Tammy Faye Starlite singing Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English at the Lincoln Center Atrium, 3/13/14 – a counterintuitive, sardonically hilarious reinterpretation of a haphazardly iconic new wave era album.

Jenifer Jackson at the Rockwood, 3/26/14 – the eclectic Austin songwriter brought her new band from her adopted hometown, reinventing older material and newer stuff as well with Kullen Fuchs’ rippling vibraphone as the lead instrument.

Gord Downie & the Sadies at Bowery Ballroom, 5/2/14 – a furious, often haunting sprint through the Canadian gothic Americana band’s most recent collaboration with the Tragically Hip frontman, ending with an explosively psychedelic Iggy Pop cover.

Hannah Thiem at Mercury Lounge, 5/29/14 – the haunting violinist/composer teamed up with an A-list string section to air out soaringly ethereal, cinematic new Nordic and Middle Eastern-tinged electroacoustic material from her latest album.

Nick Waterhouse at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Greenpoint, 6/13/14 – the LA noir soul bandleader and a killer pickup band featuring Burnt Sugar’s Paula Henderson on baritone sax brought moody Lynchian sounds to this grotesquely trendoid-infested space.

Kayhan Kalhor and Jivan Gasparyan at the World Financial Center, 6/14/14 – the legendary Iranian-Kurdish spike fiddle virtuoso and composer joined the similarly legendary Armenian duduk reedman for a rapturous, otherworldly duo set of improvisations on classic themes from each others’ traditions.

No Grave Like the Sea at Ramirez Park in Bushwick, 6/21/14 – after a day running around aimlessly trying to find bands playing daytime shows during the annual Make Music NY buskerfest, the volcanically sweeping, epic set by bassist Tony Maimone’s cinematic postrock band made it all worthwhile.

Karen Dahlstrom at the American Folk Art Museum, 6/27/14 – while she may be best known as one of the four first-rate songwriters in Bobtown, arguably the best gothic Americana harmony band around, Dahlstrom is also just as captivating as a solo performer. She took advantage of the museum’s sonics and sang a-cappella and ran through a tantalizingly brief set of haunting, historically rich original songs from her Idaho-themed album Gem State.

Serena Jost at the Rockwood, 6/29/14 – a lush, sweeping, richly enveloping, tuneful show by the art-rock cellist/multi-instrumentalist singer and her band. The all-too-brief, eclectic set by southwestern gothic bandleader Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta about an hour beforehand at South Street Seaport – with psychedelic cumbias, rumba rock and the most twisted Fleetwood Mac cover ever – got the evening off to a great start.

Changing Modes at Bowery Electric, 7/19/14 – keyboardist/bassist Wendy Griffiths’ slinky, shapeshifting art-rock band has never sounded more anthemic or intense. And earlier that afternoon, scorching sets by the noisily atmospheric VBA, pummeling postrock/metal band Biblical and dark garage punks Obits at Union Pool kicked off what might have been the year’s single best day of music.

Jacco Gardner at South Street Seaport, 8/15/14 – he sort of plays the same song over and over, a dreamy, gorgeously chiming, psychedelic sunshine pop number straight out of London, 1967. But it’s a great song, and it was worth sticking around for what were essentially variations on a theme.

Bliss Blood & Al Street at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club, 8/27/14 – the lurid but plaintive and haunting torch song icon teamed up with the brilliant, flamenco-inspired guitarist for a riveting, Lynchian set of mostly new material from their phenomenally good forthcoming album.

Gemma Ray at Rough Trade, 9/13/14 – the British noir songwriter played a similarly Lynchian set in a stark duo show, just guitar and drums, a showcase for her smart, individualistic, creepy playing and macabre songwriting.

The Dances of the World Chamber Ensemble at St. Marks Church, 9/14/14 – the improvisationally-inclined, cinematic instrumentalists ran through a magical blend of African, Middle Eastern, tango and jazz pieces by frontwoman/pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn.

Chicha Libre at Barbes, 9/15/14 – sadly, NYC’s funnest band have since gone on “indefinite hiatus,” whatever that means. At least they were on the top of their game when they played a wild, darkly psychedelic mix of trippy, surfy Peruvian psychedelic cumbia sounds in one of their last shows of the year.

Wounded Buffalo Theory playing Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway at Rock Shop, 9/19/14 – the art-rockers joined with a revolving cast including members of the Sometime Boys, Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls for an impressively spot-on, epic recreation of the cult favorite 1974 art-rock album, WNYC’s John Hockenberry reading Peter Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between songs.

Souren Baronian’s Taksim at Barbes, 9/23/14 – this isn’t the show reviewed at this blog back in June. That show featured the octogenarian multi-reedman and his hypnotic but kinetic band playing an unselfconsciously deep, soulful blend of Armenian music and incisive American jazz. His next gig there was even better!

Sherita at Barbes, 9/30/14 – the Brooklyn Balkan supergroup of sorts – reedman Greg Squared of Raya Brass Band, violinist Rima Fand of Luminescent Orchestrii, percussionis/singer Renée Renata Bergan and oudist Adam Good – played an alternately sizzling and sepulchral mix of originals and classic themes from Turkey, Greece and here as well.

Mary Lee Kortes at the Rockwood, 10/7/14 – the brilliant Americana songwriter and chanteuse and her band, feauturing John Mellencamp guitarist Andy York, aired out dazzlingly eclectic, intensely lyrical songs from her forthcoming album, The Songs of Beulah Rowley, a mix of saloon jazz, torch song and plaintive Americana.

The Skull Practitioners at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, 10/31/14 – it was the ultimate Halloween show, Steve Wynn lead guitar monster Jason Victor’s otherworldly, pummeling noiserock trio building a menacing but wickedly catchy vortex. That their half-hour set was as good as some of the four-hour bills on this list testifies to how volcanically good it was.

Karla Moheno at the Rockwood, 11/18/14 – the inscrutable noir songwriter and guitarist led a killer, Lynchian band through a mix of low-key, murderous, mysteriously lyrical narratives and more upbeat but no less shadowy material.

Mamie Minch at Barbes, 12/20/14 – this is why it always pays to wait til the very end of the year to finish this list. The charismatic resonator guitarist/singer and oldtime blues maven teamed up with Kill Henry Suger drummer Dean Sharenow for a killer set of blues from over the decades along with similarly edgy, sardonically aphoristic original material

If you’re wondering why there isn’t any jazz or classical music to speak of on this list, that’s because this blog has an older sister blog, Lucid Culture, which covers that kind of stuff in more detail.

A couple of things may jump out at you here. Nineteen of these shows were in Manhattan, eleven were in Brooklyn and one in Queens, which is open to multiple interpretations. More instructive is the fact that nineteen of the thirty-one were free shows where the audience passed around a tip bucket rather than paying a cover at the door. Most interestingly, women artists dominated this list. 26 out of of the 42 acts here were either women playing solo or fronting a group. That’s a trend. You’re going to see more of that here in the next couple of days.

Intense, Slyly Shapeshifting Middle Eastern Jamband Shtreiml Hits the Upper West Side

Shtreiml are one of the world’s most darkly exhilarating and distinctive jambands. There is no group anywhere who sound anything like them. Their signature sound – a psychedelic, funky, sometimes phantasmagorical circus rock mashup that updates traditional Jewish and Turkish melodies from across the centuries – is highlighted by Jason Rosenblatt’s spiraling harmonica and Ismail Fencioglu’s rippling, often savagely incisive oud. Rosenblatt is famous for being being one of the few harmonica virtuosos who can play the standard diatonic blues harp like a chromatic harp – think the rustic, otherworldly overtones of Little Walter or Howlin’ Wolf rather than Dave Matthews. Fencioglu is just as adrenalizing, and provides a more somber, often haunting counterpart to Rosenblatt’s sizzling riffage. They’re playing a rare New York show on Dec 16 at 7:30 PM in the basement at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, 30 W. 68th St. (Columbus/CPW). Cover is $15 and if serious jams or killer Middle Eastern music is your thing, you would be crazy to miss this.

Their amazing latest album, Eastern Hora, is just out: the whole thing isn’t streaming at any single spot, but what’s up at the band’s Sonicbids, Soundcloud and Youtube channels will give you a good idea of what’s on it. It kicks off with Grand Theft Stutinki, a deliriously dancing mashup of Acadian and possibly Macedonian themes that sounds like a more rhythmically tricky take on Hazmat Modine, with a more Middle Eastern intensity. Chassidl pour les Bâtards hits a swaying groove – what a trip it is to hear a slithery harmonica play a creepy, slinky Turkish melody, the horns doubling the oud perfectly, Avi Fox-Rosen adding resonant, growling electric guitar.

A take of the traditional Turkish tune Ciftetelli gets more of a Frankensteinian lope than other bands typically give it, with a surpisingly balmy midsection before the intertwining harmonica and oud join with the rest of the band – Rachel Lemisch’s pinpoint-precise trombone, Joel Kerr’s bass and Thierry Arsenault’s drums. After Party Freilach makes swaying, chromatically charged wah funk out of an apprehensive klezmer theme, with bluesy lowrider trombone.

A Saturday Evening Blues turns out to be a slow, slinky, suspenseful minor-key oud theme lowlit by Kerr’s misterioso bass and Lemisch’s forlorn trombone. Abou Khalil’s sets lively upbeat trombone and harmonica over a bubbly, rhythmically shapeshifting undercurrent. Raurys Spielt works a tongue-in-cheek, minor-key vaudevillian pulse, a feature for marching trombone and Rosenblat’s ragtime-infused piano.

Rosenblatt plays the sad waltz The Old Mill solo on piano – it might or might not be a requiem for rust belt Quebec. Then Fencioglu and Rosenblatt’s enigmatic lines harmonize on the brooding, wintry Waltz Azoi. The album hits a noir peak with the fiery, swaying title track, Fox-Rosen’s eerrie, twangy guitar anchoring a blazing, horn-fueled funeral march. By contrast, Rosenblatt’s solo piano piece Lullaby for Halleli blends Erik Satie and klezmer tonalities into a starlit, Lynchian waltz. What a darkly gorgeous mix of songs – you’ll see this on the Best Albums of 2014 page here in a couple of weeks.

Avi Fox-Rosen and Raya Brass Band Slay at Rock Shop

“Love is a word you use so you don’t hurt the feelings of the ones who like to say it more than you,” Avi Fox-Rosen sang nonchalantly, without a hint of sarcasm, over a bouncy, singalong, pseudo-theatrical pop tune, early in his album release show Thursday night at Rock Shop. “Love is as suspect as me,” he added later on. That’s Fox-Rosen in a nutshell. He’s sort of akin to Elvis Costello with better guitar chops. Both are purist pop tunesmiths with an encyclopedic bag of licks and ideas. But where Costello goes for lyrical gymnastics and umpteen levels of meaning, Fox-Rosen tells sardonically and sometimes grimly funny, aphoristic stories, and slips you the shiv when you least expect it. For example, the organ soul song that opened the set, So Fucking Happy: the implication is that this may be the only time in the guy’s life that he’s not miserable.

That song is sort of the title track to Fox-Rosen’s December album, his final release in a year that saw him put out an album a month (all up at his Bandcamp page as name-your-price downloads). That he actually pulled off this feat is impressive in itself; that the material he released was so strong catapulted him to the top of the Best Albums of 2013 page here. He’d pulled an excellent band together for this show – a melodic, eclectic basssist, the similarly diverse and tasteful Chris Berry on drums and Dave Melton channeling 60s soul grooves on organ and electric piano: these guys really get Fox-Rosen’s incessant references to decades of rock history.

The night’s second song was Baby, a twinkling lullaby from February’s ep that poked fun at the lure of returning to the womb: Fox-Rosen drew plenty of laughs from its “Suck and shit and sleep” mantra. On album, Fox-Rosen’s apprehensive playground narrative Ugly Duckling begins as a cabaret tune – this time, the band made fluid new wave out of it until they took it doublespeed into creepy, snarling, guitar-fueled circus rock territory. “The other ducks didn’t give a fuck, Brother Duck cursed my rotten luck,” Fox-Rosen intoned, deadpan and cool. But this little duck turns out to have unexpected bite.

College had a similarly tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, Fox-Rosen bemoaning his “worthless degree in esoterica” and the fact that living at home with the ’rents doesn’t exactly compare with studying in Paris. He kept a low-key but corrosive political edge going – “Are you proud to be American?” he challenged over faux-celebratory Huey Lewis-style 80s anthemic radio rock, Melton taking an lush, swirly organ solo.

Then Fox-Rosen shifted gears, showing off some impressively creepy surf rock chops and took a searing, intense, noisy solo on Everybody Dies, the most macabre song of the evening, Melton adding the occaasional jarring slasher-flick riff. They lost the crowd on the song after that – sometimes Fox-Rose’s satire can be so subtle that it’s hard to tell when he’s being serious or not, or a mixture of both. But he got everybody’s attention with the savage God Who Lives in Your Head, who’s a real sourpuss, watching you like a spycam and digging up as much dirt as he can.  He closed with Where Is My Parade, underscoring the song’s twisted carnivalesque side, a snide spoof of rockstar (or wannabe rockstar) narcissism. Fox-Rosen is at Bar Chord, 1008 Corteyou Rd. (Stratford/Coney Island Ave.), in Ditmas Park on Feb 6 at 9.

Afterward, Raya Brass Band gathered on the floor in front of the stage rather than on it, drew the crowd in and then played their asses off. “Do you do originals as well as covers?” a woman in the crowd wanted to know.  Trumpeter Ben Syversen paused: “We’ve been playing mostly originals, although we also play a lot of the traditional repertoire,” he hastened to add. That’s this band’s appeal in a nutshell: you’d assume that they were from East Serbia if you didn’t know they were actually from Brooklyn. A nonstop gig schedule over the past couple of years has made this scorching Balkan five-piece group incredibly tight. Syversen and alto saxophonist Greg Squared use extended technique – microtones, slides and lickety-split doublestops – that would make most jazz players green with envy. Tuba player Don Godwin’s funky, surprisingly bright tuba pulse fueled the nonstop groove along with the ominously booming clip-clop clatter of the standup tapan bass drum. Ostensibly there were sound issues with Matthew “Max” Fass’ accordion, but out in the crowd his swirls and rapidfire riffage were cutting through just fine.

A lot of the traditional material from throughout the Balkans pulses along on menacingly chromatic vamps, and Raya Brass Band does that as well, although their songs are a lot more complex. They don’t rely on a simple verse/chorus format, they love tricky time signatures and they jam the hell out of the songs. By the time the first explosive minor-key number was over, Greg Squared had already shredded his first reed. By the end of the set, there was something in Syversen’s mouthpiece – a piece of him, maybe? Talk about giving 100% onstage. The staccato twin riffage between the two horns had an icepick intensity, the two sometimes doubling their lines, sometimes pairing off harmonically. Fass led the band through an unexpectedly lush, lingering ballad that took all kinds of wary twists and turns before they brought back the marauding minor-key assault. The high point of the many originals was a slinky number with an austere Ethiopian flavor. The most exhilarating of the traditional tunes was a lickety-split dash through Mom Bar, which does not have anything to do with your mother although drinking is definitely involved. Raya Brass Band are at Golden Festival Saturday night at 11 PM and then play a 2 AM set at Freddy’s afterward.

Avi Fox-Rosen’s Monthly Album Marathon Reaches the Finish Line

Avi Fox-Rosen set out this past January to release an album a month this year. That he achieved his goal is noteworthy enough; that the music has been so consistently good is mind-boggling, except for the fact that he’s always been a strong songwriter and a hell of a guitarist. Did he simply have a huge backlog of unrecorded songs waiting and decide to get it all out there this year, or are all of them brand new? The answer isn’t clear. Whatever the case, you can guess for yourself and enjoy everything he released because it’s all up at his Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download..

Fox-Rosen approached this project thematically. January’s album contemplated getting old, February’s was about love, followed by – in monthly order – money, stupidity (April’s album, the pick of the litter), fairy tales, teen angst, nationalism, sex, religion and fear (the existential kind),

November’s album focuses on family dysfunction. Oh boy, does it ever. Fox-Rosen’s tunesmithing is as eclectic as always, his cynicism at redline as it has been throughout much of this past year. And so is his snide sense of humor.The most LMFAO funny song here is Eat. It’s a noir cabaret tune about a mother who equates food with love. But that’s only part of the story. One of Fox-Rosen’s most effective tropes is to take a straightforwardly comedic song and use it to deliver savage sociopolitical commentary, and this is a prime example. Halfway through, he turns the story away from the ridiculous mom and launches into a litany of ridiculous food, a parody of fussy foodie trends. The jokes are too good to spoil.

Together Again is a sardonic gospel rock song about a family that likes to bond: their bonding mechanism happens to be fighting, the physical kind. We Ain’t Never Gonna Forget (What a Shit You Were) is a new wave tune and much as it it’s a little obvious, it’s irresistibly funny:

Well you were just two feet tall
You took out your penis and pissed on the wall
And everybody in town thought I cussed
When I said, “Hey, that little shit is pissing on the wall!”

Intertwined, a pensive folk-rock ballad, is a lot more subtle, contemplating some of the quieter ways a child’s individuality gets crushed. The album ends with one of the longer songs in this project, Demon Inside (Corporate Family), a big, enveloping art-rock anthem set in a surreal, futuristic, grey Orwellian world that is actually the here and now, Fox-Rosen offering a quietly revolutionary message. On another level, it might also be a Coldplay parody.

December’s album hints at being triumphant coda to all of this, but the central theme is rockstar narcissism: an easy target, and Fox-Rosen takes full advantage. Listen closely and decide for yourself which of these parodies might be outtakes from previous themes.  As he will do occasionally, Fox-Rosen occasionally drops his guard – in the first song, So Fucking Happy, a wry spin on generic Bad Company-style riff-rock, he admits that “I’ve never been happy quite this long, I’m either doing something very right or doing something very wrong.”

Where Is My Parade is a warped circus rock song that gets more over-the-top, and funnier, as it goes along – and the big brass band Fox-Rosen assembled for the track matches that surrealism. With Sisyphus, Fox-Rosen goes back to the classic radio rock for a spoof of optimistic “keep on keepin’ on” cliches. You Think That Was Something straddles the line between powerpop parody, a Spinal Tap-style narrative about an aging rocker mounting a dubious comeback, and a defiantly triumphant message that Fox-Rosen may be done with this project, but his best days are still to come. The album ends with Thank You, a generic blues ballad which on one level makes fun of musicians onstage pandering to an audience, but on the other puts both a scowl and a self-effacing shrug on the grim reality that most guys with guitars face. Fox-Rosen and band play a celebratory end-of-marathon show at Rock Shop in Gowanus at around 9 PM on Jan 9; explosive Balkan brass jamband Raya Brass Band, who put out one of the most phenomenal albums of 2013, open the festivities at 8.

Avi Fox-Rosen’s Album-a-Month Steak Isn’t Dead

Since this past January, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Avi Fox-Rosen has been releasing a new album (or at least an ep, to be precise) every month at his Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download. Has there ever been another rock artist who’s done that? He’s got two more months to go to bring the yearlong marathon full circle. Plenty of other artists, especially in the jazz and classical worlds, have pulled off similar feats – another multi-instrumentalist, Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal comes to mind. Then there’s John Zorn, who’s probably written or improvised at least one piece of music for every day he’s been alive.

Sheer volume aside, what makes Fox-Rosen’s stunt worth following – which this blog has done since day one – is that the music has been so consistently excellent. Of the ten albums Fox-Rosen has put out this year, only one of them is a dud, and that one is all cover songs. Whether this whole undertaking is just Fox-Rosen emptying a very deep songbook he’s been building for years, or coming up with new stuff month by month, isn’t clear, but it’s an impressive feat any way you look at it.

Having reviewed the initial release back in January, a mighty handful from February through June and then July and August together, it’s time to take a look at September and October’s releases. September‘s theme (each one of these explores a specific concept) finds Fox-Rosen confronting his Seventh Day Adventist roots (you didn’t think he was Jewish, did you? ha ha, jk…). One important thing to know about Fox-Rosen is his music has a dark, ironic (some might say Jewish) sense of humor. He is unsurpassed as a parodist…and the first song on this album sounds suspiciously like a spoof of indie whiteboy blues. The longer it goes on, the more he slurs his words. “I’ve lied, overcharging my credit card til the day I die,” he drawls. The second song, This Year, takes the dirty blues vibe in a White Light/White Heat direction – it reminds of Sway Machinery before that band discovered Malian music. Alone sets a gloomy existential lyric to pensive folk-rock, followed by the album’s real zinger, The God Who Lives in Your Head, where Fox-Rosen gets to do a pretty amusing one-man Oasis approximation. This particular deity is a real, um, meshugganeh: he’s a “meticulous accountant” who keeps a shit list, who watches you like a hawk, who “has a famously inflammable tongue – he gets dissed anytime anybody smiles, anytime anybody looks his damn way.” And he might resemble you more than you want to admit.  At the end of the album, Fox-Rosen finally lets down his guard with the broodingly catchy, nonchalantly haunting acoustic anthem Days Become Weeks Become Years. On this album, aside from a single percussion track from the ubiquitous Rich Stein, Fox-Rosen plays all the instruments.

The theme of October’s album is Scary. Here Fox-Rosen has a full band including Dave Melton on keys, Rima Fand on violin and Yoni Halevy and Chris Berry sharing the drum chair. The first track, Everybody Dies is basically Misirlou with lyrics and some snarling klezmer trumpet from Ben Holmes. Characteristically, Fox-Rosen’s black humor has a message:

Little boy, your german shepherd’s gonna die
The goldfish you won at the carnival’s definitely gonna die
Your teddy bear’s not gonna die
But the kids who sewed him at the factory are gonna die

Apocalypse Party is Fox-Rosen doing yet another one of his spot-on 80s imitations, in this case an irresistibly funny Prince parody. “This shit ain’t global warming, this heat’s not from the south,” he wants all the peeps banging in the VIP section to know. Terrified is a very different, and more subtle parody, a self-obsessed singer-songwriter contemplating the unthinkable fate of fading into obscurity – or simply into the background. When I’m Dead seems to be a spoof of hi-de-ho noir swing – and it would be a great song with or without the snidely macabre lyrics. October’s installment ends with I’ll Be Leaving, which is sort of a musical version of the movie Ghost…or something like that. It leaves the listener guessing to what degree it’s supposed to be funny or serious, one of Fox-Rosen’s signature traits and reason to look forward to what he’s got in store for November. He’s also got a couple of shows coming up, at 9 PM on Oct 10 at Pete’s and then at around 9 again on Oct 27 at Freddy’s.

An Overlooked Lorca-Inspired Art-Rock Treasure from Rima Fand

Much as this blog’s raison d’etre is to keep an eye on what’s happening now, the past is littered with unfairly overlooked albums. One recent one, from 2011, is Rima Fand’s Sol, Caracol (Spanish for “Sun, Snail”). It comprises many of the songs from her theatrical project Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man, which sets Federico Garcia Lorca poetry to frequently haunting, flamenco-tinged original music. This is the closest thing to an original soundtrack recording that exists, part dark flamenco rock, part noir cabaret, part chamber pop. Besides playing violin, the Luminescent Orchestrii co-founder distinguishes herself on mandolin and keyboards as well, accompanied by an all-star cast from many styles of south-of-the-border and Balkan music.

Although Don Cristobal and his sidekick Rosita are a Spanish version of Punch and Judy, there’s very little here that’s vaudevillian, consistent with Garcia Lorca’s full-fledged rather than one-dimensionally farcical depiction of the characters. The opening track, Midnight Hours, sets a dramatic lead vocal by David Fand over a spiky blend of the bandleader’s mandolin with Avi Fox-Rosen and Chris Rael’s guitars, a soaring choir behind them. You might call this art-flamenco. Lucia Pulido sings the dynamically charged Replica, Rima Fand doubling on mandolin and accordion. Cicada, a shivery, hypnotically suspenseful string piece, blends her violin with those of Sarah Alden and Not Waving But Drowning’s Pinky Weitzman and Matt Moran‘s vibraphone.

Justine Williams
sings the creepy, marching Rosita’s Song. The choir returns for Don Woodsman-Heart, a moody flamenco vamp lit up by Quince Marcum‘s alto horn, morphing into a dreaming, longing waltz. Pulido takes over the mic again on the terse, minimalistic Confusion over My Brightest Diamond cellist Maria Jeffers‘ bassline. David Fand returns to imploring lead vocals on the insistent Abre Tu Balcon (Open Up Your Balcony – that’s Don Cristobal imploring Rosita to have a word with him). They follow that with a cartoonish miniature, Te Mate and then Hat-Ache, another flamenco-tinged, angst-fueled, love-stricken ballad.

The album’s centerpiece is the macabre, carnivalesque Billy-Club Ballet, the bandleader on piano with guitar and percussion, Fox-Rosen’s jagged electric incisions adding menace up to a twinkling piano interlude and then back down. They follow a brief mandolin waltz with La Monja Gitana (The Country Nun), rising from another austere 3/4 rhythm, with a rich, bittersweet vocal from Rima Fand.

Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker a.k.a. innovative Balkan/Appalachian duo AE sing the sweeping, tensely moonlit Lullaby for a Sleeping Mirror, building to a lush, anxious round. The album ends with the towering overture La Cogida y la Muerte, sung pensively in English and Spanish by Abigail Wright, the acidic close harmonies of the string section contrasting with Katie Down‘s anxiously dancing flute and the distantly circling trumpets of Ben Syversen, Sarah Ferholt, JR Hankins and Ben Holmes. Surreal, sad, eclectic and vivid, it more than does justice to Lorca’s equally surreal, sad, ironic poetry. The album comes with a useful lyric booklet including English translations.

Avi Fox-Rosen Keeps His Album-a-Month Streak Alive

Avi Fox-Rosen‘s marathon attempt to put out a new album every month isn’t just a stunt: it’s actually produced some of the year’s best music. And it’s been hard to keep up with him. Blink, and he’s got another one up at his Bandcamp page, where they’re all available as name-your-price downloads. Fox-Rosen’s signature traits are humor and good guitar, and often the point where those two intersect: he is unsurpassed as a musical satirist, sort of a ballsier, Brooklyn counterpart to Weird Al Yankovic. Throughout the series, Fox-Rosen plays most of the stringed instruments, with a rotating cast of drummers, keyboardists, occasional strings, horns and harmony singers. As a rule, these songs are catchy, they’ve got intricate, elegant arrangements and sound like real records, not haphazard takes recorded on somebody’s phone. Each album in the series has a theme – in chronological order: getting older, love, money, stupidity (April’s album, the best of the bunch so far), fairy tales and teen angst. Fittingly, July’s theme was nationalism: its title is Amurka.

The opening track, Proud to Be American is bombastic post-Chuck Berry bar band rock set to drummer Chis Berry’s scurrying new wave beat. “Every playground needs a bully, say, why not you and me?” Fox-Rosen inquires. Open Letter to Thomas Jefferson has a snarkily laid-back dixieland brass section of Ben Holmes on trumpet, Ric Becker on trombone and Matt Darriau on reeds. It’s hilarious both as a spoof of the new crop of oldtimey swing bands, and as a swipe upside the head of American exceptionalists who won’t cop to the Founding Fathers’ blind spots.

Movin’ to the Country has more brass and a laid-back 70s hippie-rock Rhodes piano groove – and a caustic lyric that ponders “how will we stay alive surrounded by the rotting remains of what we thought would last” when the best we can do is head for the hills and bury our heads in the sand. The most caustic and darkly funny track here is Doctor: over gentle, pretty folk-rock spiced with Darriau’s calm bass clarinet and Holmes’ bright trumpet, Fox-Rosen coldly sums up the failures of the medical-industrial complex. It’s one of the two or three best songs of this whole series. As is the last track, President Sly (it’s a pun – say it fast). Faux southern rock gives way to a catchy electric piano ballad that sneakily goes into lite FM territory as Fox-Rosen gets the politicians in his crosshairs:

Left, right
Theatrically staged fights
Diversions from the real task of the day
Jobs, wars, education’s closing doors
The corporate masters make the puppets sway
It’s a performance, just some entertainment
To keep us on our knees
It seems to be working, there’ll be no revolution…

If you think that Fox-Rosen might want a break at this point, you’re right. The August installment suggests comic relief in the form of sex songs. This is his only covers album so far and unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the rest of the pack. Sex joints can be funny and even more fun to spoof, but once you’ve heard Biggie Smalls do Fucking You Tonight, nothing else really compares. This one opens with a Spike Jones-inspired version of the old swing tune Let’s Misbehave and then stalls: you keep waiting for the jokes, but there aren’t any. And if you’ve followed the series, the fact that Fox-Rosen is just as adept at period-perfect early 80s disco as he is at early 60s doo-wop pop is old news. Bookmark his Bandcamp page and check back next month to see what else he has up his sleeve.