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Tag: brian prunka

Matt Darriau Brings One of His Edgy, Slinky Projects to a Bed-Stuy Gig

One New York artist who was ubiquitous before the lockdown, and whose presence was conspicuously absent during the last fifteen months, is eclectically edgy multi-reedman Matt Darriau. The longtime Klezmatics clarinetist did some outdoor gigs earlier this year; he’s back to the indoor circuit this July 19 at 9 PM at Bar Lunatico, where he’s leading his Yo Lateef project with Santiago Liebson on piano, Peck Almond on trumpet, Arthur Kell on bass and Steve Johns on drums, While the band was conceived to reinvent the work of distinctive jazz bassist Yusef Lateef, lately the group more closely resemble Darriau’s sometimes slashingly Balkan-tinged Paradox Trio.

There’s some pretty lo-fi audio of their most recent Brooklyn gig up at youtube (you’ll have to fast-forward through about the first ten minutes of the band bullshitting before it’s showtime). At this gig, Liebson’s piano got switched out for Max Kutner’s guitar, his unsettled chromatics echoing Brad Shepik’s work in the Paradox Trio. You can watch the group having fun with long, slinky, brooding quasi-boleros, a circling, soukous-tinged flute tune and a triptych where Darriau finally gets to cut loose, switching between Bulgarian gaida bagpipe, tenor sax and clarinet.

He’s gotten plenty of press here over the years, most recently with the Klezmatics, backing cantors Chaim David Berson and Yanky Lemmer at Central Park Summerstage in 2017. The time before that was for a Brooklyn Raga Massive event the previous November, where he spiraled and wafted through a series of Indian carnatic themes with oudist Brandon Terzic.

There was also a December, 2015 Brooklyn small-club gig with a serpentine, Middle Eastern-flavored group he called Du’ud since they had two oud players (Terzic and Brian Prunka). Yet some of the shows Darriau played before then, and didn’t get any press for here, were just as darkly sublime.

There was his Who Is Manny Blanc project, who play the sometimes eerily surfy, sometimes crazily cartoonish music of Manny Blanc, whose 1961 album Jewish Jazz is impossible to find and iconic among diehard crate-diggers. There were also a couple of more Balkan-flavored gigs with his Gaida Electrique band, where he focuses more on the chromatically slashing bagpipe tunes. That takes us all the way back to 2015. All this is to say that if you haven’t been watching the guy ripping it up onstage since then, there’s no time like the present,

You could also call this a long-overdue mea culpa for not having covered all those shows, That’s what happens sometimes when you go out intending to focus on the music, run into friends at the bar, and it’s all over. What a beautiful thing it is that here in New York, after sixteen months of hell and deprivation, we finally have that choice again. Let’s never lose it.

Diverse Brooklyn Sounds in an Era of Vanishing Diversity

Where was the Brooklyn massive last night? Packed in the middle of the arena in front of the Prospect Park Bandshell, where Protoje and his protean reggae band were energizing the crowd. But as crowded as the middle of the space was, the sidelines were pretty vacant, and the party that goes on out back and off to the sides was almost completely absent. Which was strange: last year, his Jamaican countryman Chronixx drew a packed house that overflowed into the surrounding space.

Is an only 80% capacity crowd for a popular reggae act an indication that 20% of the Brooklyn Jamaican and Caribbean population has been forced into exile by real estate speculation? That the most musically-inclined 20% have been displaced, in the ongoing brain drain out of New York? Or is Chronixx really that much more popular than Protoje? That last proposition is dubious.

Everybody seemed to know the words and was singing or toasting along to Protoje’s eclectic mix of tunes. More than ever these days, the dwindling supply of artists still caught on the record label treadmill are forced from their usual positions and turned into utility players. Protoje did something for the ladies, something for the Rastas, something for the politically conscious – Criminal, an anti-corruption, anti-racist broadside and the biggest hit of the night- and plenty for the weedheads. A small parade of special guests filtered on and off the stage. Meanwhile, the energetic band behind him shifted from punchy dancehall to several detours into some pretty serious metal, including a sizzling guitar duel.

Down the hill, a smaller subset of the Brooklyn massive had gathered at Barbes to watch Middle Eastern group Nashaz debut a spellbinding new set of material. Bandleader/oudist Brian Prunka has been on a creative tear lately and the result is some of the best music his shapeshifting, slinky band has ever made. The decision to write material focusing on oud and trumpet has paid off immensely, with the addition of Slavic Soul Party‘s Kenny Warren to the band. Warren’s immersion in Balkan sounds with that Brooklyn brass crew has given him formidable chops to simmer and storm through chromatics and microtones, as he did last night. The result was akin to the great Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf backed by a more traditional rhythm section. No joke.

Tersely and emphatically, bassist Marouen Allam found just about every trick to make long one-chord jams interesting: slurry, shivery slides around a low note, the occasional leap to much higher registers, subtle rhythmic shifts and changes in voicings. Drummer Philip Mayer played the toms and cymbals with his hands, and engaged in a couple of adrenalizing dumbek duels with his percussionist bandmate Gilbert Mansour.

Prunka opened a couple of the numbers with moodily spiky, methodically crescendoing improvsiations, building up to exit velocity by the end of the first set. Meanwhile, Warren’s mournful resonance, ominously burbling riffage, sharp bursts and exuberant Romany-flavored crescendos were the icing on the cake. Prunka is back at Barbes on July 5 at 8 PM, hopefully not with 20% fewer bandmates because they too have been forced out by the luxury condo blitzkrieg.

Some Great December Shows Reprised This Month

Who says December is a slow month for live music in New York? The first three weeks were a nonstop barrage of good shows. And a lot of those artists will be out there this month for you to see.

Last summer, Innov Gnawa played a couple of pretty radical Barbes gigs. With bandleader Hassan Ben Jaafer’s hypnotically slinky sintir bass lute and the chorus of cast-iron qraqab players behind him, they went even further beyond the undulating, shapeshifting, ancient call-and-response of their usual traditional Moroccan repertoire. Those June and July shows both plunged more deeply into the edgy, chromatically-charged Middle Eastern sounds of hammadcha music, with even more jamming and turn-on-a-dime shifts in the rhythm. Innov – get it?

So their most recent show at Nublu 151 last month seemed like a crystallization of everything they’d been working on. The usual opening benediction of sorts when everybody comes to the stage, Ben Jaafer leading the parade with his big bass drum slung over his shoulder; a serpentine chant sending a shout out to ancient sub-Saharan spirits; and wave after wave of mesmerizing metallic mist fueled by Ben Jaafer’s catchy riffage and impassioned vocals.

Ben Jaafer’s protege and bandmate Samir LanGus opened the night with an even trippier show, playing sintir and leading a band including Innov’s  Nawfal Atiq and Amino Belyamani on qraqabs and vocals, along with Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion on drums, Dave Harrington on guitar, plus alto sax. Elements of dub, and funk, and acidic postrock filtered through the mix as the rhythms changed. Innov Gnawa are back at Nublu 151 on Jan 12 at around 6:30 with trumpeter Itamar Borochov for ten bucks; then the following night, Jan 13 they’re at Joe’s Pub at 7:45 PM for twice that, presumably for people who don’t want to dance.

The rest of last month’s shows that haven’t been mentioned here already were as eclectically fun as you would expect in this melting pot of ours. Slinky Middle Eastern band Sharq Attack played a mix of songs that could have been bellydance classics from Egypt or Lebanon, or originals – it was hard to tell. Oudist Brian Prunka had written one of the catchiest of the originals as a piece for beginners. “But as it turned out, it’s really hard,” violinist Marandi Hostetter laughed. The subtle shifts in the tune and the groove didn’t phase the all-star Brooklyn ensemble.

Another allstar Brooklyn group, Seyyah played an even more lavish set earlier in the month at the monthly Balkan night at Sisters Brooklyn in Fort Greene. With the reliably intense, often pyrotechnic Kane Mathis on oud behind Jenny Luna’s soaring, poignant microtonal vocals, you wouldn’t have expected the bass player to be the star of the show any more than you’d expect Adam Good to be playing bass. But there he was, not just pedaling root notes like most American bassists do with this kind of music, his slithery slides and hammer-ons intertwining with oud and violin. The eight-piece band offer a rare opportunity to see a group this size playing classic and original Turkish music at Cornelia St. Cafe at Jan 15, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

When Locobeach’s bassist hit an ominous minor-key cumbia riff and then the band edged its way into Sonido Amazonico midway through their midmonth set at Barbes, the crowd went nuts. The national anthem of cumbia was the title track to Chicha Libre’s classic debut album; as a founding member of that legendary Brooklyn psychedelic group, Locobeach keyboardist Josh Camp was crucial to their sound. This version rocked a little harder and went on for longer than Chicha Libre’s typically did – and Camp didn’t have his trebly, keening Electrovox accordion synth with him for it. This crew are more rock and dub-oriented than Chicha Libre, although they’re just as trippy – and funny. They’re back at Barbes on Jan 15 at 10. 

There were four other Barbes shows last month worth mentioning. “Stoner,” one individual in the know said succinctly as Dilemastronauta Y Los Sabrosos Cosmicos bounced their way through a pulsing set blending elements of psychedelic salsa, cumbia, Afrobeat and dub reggae. Their rhythm section is killer: the bass and drums really have a handle on classic Lee Scratch Perry style dub and roots, and the horns pull the sound out of the hydroponic murk. They’re back at Barbes on Jan 10 at around 10.

Also midmonth, resonator guitarist Zeke Healy and violist Karen Waltuch took an expansive excursion through a couple of sets of Appalachian classics and a dadrock tune or two, reinventing them as bucolic, psychedelic jams. For the third year in a row, the all-female Accord Treble Choir sang an alternately majestic and celestial mix of new choral works and others from decades and centuries past, with lively solos and tight counterpoint. And the Erik Satie Quartet treated an early Saturday evening crowd to stately new brass arrangements of pieces by obscure 1920s French composers, as well as some similar new material.

At the American Folk Art Museum on the first of the month, singer/guitarist Miriam Elhajli kept the crowd silent with her eclecticism, her soaring voice and mix of songs that spanned from Venezuela to the Appalachians, including one rapturous a-capella number. And at the Jalopy the following week, another singer, Queen Esther played a set of sharply lyrical, sardonic jazz songs by New York underground legend Lenny Molotov, her sometime bandmate in one of the city’s funnest swing bands, the Fascinators. She’s at the Yamaha Piano Salon at 689 5h Ave (enter on 54th St) on Jan 14, time tba.

The Spellbinding Rachelle Garniez Tops the Bill at This Year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival

What’s the likelihood of being able to get what amounts to an intimate, personal show from the world’s greatest English-language songwriter? A handful of New Yorkers got to experience that at last night’s edition of the ongoing Bryant Park Accordion Festival, following Rachelle Garniez across the park to various stations for tantalizingly brief fifteen-minute mini-sets.

Even though there were two dozen other accordionists playing in the park’s four corners and next to the fountain on the Sixth Avenue side, it was impossible to resist taking in two sets from Garniez. What was most fascinating was to watch her mash up elements of latin, klezmer, zydeco, classical, punk rock and even a bit of opera, banging out one song after another without the hilariously surreal, politically-charged stream-of-consciousness intros and jams that have made her legendary among New York performers.

The best song of the night was Tourmaline, a bittersweet waltz that works on innumerable levels: ultimately, it’s about rugged individuality triumphing against all odds. Without any more fanfare, Garniez let the rest of her songs speak for themselves.

The funniest moment was during Jean-Claude Van Damme, a tongue-in-cheek shout-out to a pitchman for antidepressants. She got everybody laughing when she reached the part about certain personality traits that have to be brought under control – then hammered that word again, and again, until everybody within earshot got the message. The faux-operatic outro, where she took a flying leap to the very top of her formidable four-octave vocal range, was pretty funny too.

She also played the jaunty, cabaret-infused Just Because You Can (Doesn’t Mean You Should), whose corollary is “just because you should doesn’t mean you can,” along with the slyly strutting, seductive Medicine Man, packed with all kinds of coy double entendres. She’s emceeing the festival’s closing night a week from today on June 21 at 6 PM, which might be the single best concert of the year, a bill that includes the Bil Afrah Project, who recreate iconic Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani’s legendary 1975 Bil Afrah album; pyrotechnic Romany accordionist Peter Stan’s new band Zlatni Balkan Zvuk, Brazilian accordionist Felipe Hostins’ new forro group Osnelda; and cumbia accordionist/crooner Gregorio Uribe leading his slinky big band in celebration of Colombian Independence Day.

The festival’s only drawback is that it’s such a feast that there isn’t time to see everybody on the bill. It was awfully cool last night to watch accordionist Simon Moushabeck make his way through Arabic modes with all sorts of enigmatic passing tones, in two abbreviated duo sets with oudist Brian Prunka, mixing up steady, serpentine originals with a Fairouz cover or two.

Further to the west, Sadys Rodrigo Espitia played equally slinky, catchy cumbia and vallenato numbers. When he forgot the words to the hit Cumbia Del Oriente, a woman in the crowd sauntered over to the mic: and sang them with serious Colombian pride.

It was also cool to get to watch popular busker and Thee Shambels accordionist Melissa Elledge jam out cinematic themes and a Johnny Cash classic, then make noir blues out of Beethoven. Late one night a couple of years ago in the Second Avenue F train station, after a Bowery Ballroom show, Elledge played what had to be the most heartwrenchingly gorgeous version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 ever. So it was refreshing to be able to just chill on the grass and hear her think outside the box without the usual subway stresses. Garniez may be the world’s most brilliantly eclectic songwriter, but as an instrumentalist, Elledge is on the same page.

Before the big blowout on the 21st, there’s another night of mini-sets from another amazing cast of accordionists at Bryant Park on July 19 starting at 6 PM, with a lineup including avant garde and klezmer player Shoko Nagai, pan-Mediterranean wizard Ismail Butera, jazz luminary Will Holshouser and Ed Goldberg & the Odessa Klezmer Band.

Sharon Goldman’s Brave New Art-Rock Album Weighs the Richness and Gravitas of Jewish Heritage

Since the early zeros, Sharon Goldman has made a name for herself as one of the world’s great tunesmiths. Although she sometimes gets pigeonholed as a folksinger, and she plays that circuit, her music has always had more of a classic pop sensibility. The Brill Building and the 80s – think, Elvis Costello – are frequent reference points. Until now. Goldman’s new album Kol Isha – A Woman’s Voice (streaming at Spotify) finds her going deeper into art-rock, as well as the musical roots of her Jewish heritage. As a lyricist, Goldman says a lot in very few words, crystallizing her imagery just as she does her anthemic verses and catchy choruses. The new album is a song cycle, and it’s as dark as anything she’s ever written. While the suite explores Goldman’s conflicted roots as a secular – and fearlessly individualistic – Jewish artist raised in the Modern Orthodox tradition, her tale of gentle resistance, and angst, and ultimately transcendence will resonate with anyone raised in any strict, traditional culture.

The core of the band is Goldman on acoustic guitar and piano, Stephen Murphy on guitars, Craig Akin on bass, Cheryl Prashker on percussion and Dan Hickey on drums. Goldman has never sung more strongly or dynamically: this album contains both her sultriest song ever – the lush piano ballad Rose of Sharon – and also one of her most hushed. That number, Three Stars, concludes the album, an uneasy recollection of a childhood Saturday night waiting impatiently for nightfall and the end of the Sabbath.

Is that an oud on Pillar of Salt, the witchy Lot’s Wife ballad that with electric instrumentation would make a killer heavy metal anthem? Yesssss! Brian Prunka adds ominous touches with that instrument there, as he does on the album’s title track

Red Molly’s Abbie Gardner adds a surreal but strikingly effective Americana touch on Lilith (Goldman has a thing for Talmudic hussies), just as Murphy does with his purist, bluesy slide work on Song of Songs, Goldman’s take on innuendo-fueled Old Testament erotica. She and Murphy do the same with their bluesy twin-acoustic work on The Sabbath Queen, a rather grim account of an Orthodox matriarch who’s about to pass out on her feet just at the moment that the celebratory weekly Shabbos meal begins. Middle Eastern blues, who would have thought?

Goldman returns to more straight-up bluesy terrain – through the gauzy prism of Mazzy Star, maybe – with In My Bones, pensively weighing the richness and joys of Jewish culture against  emotional and historical baggage. Similarly, The Bride awaits her impending nuptials not as the first day of a lifelong journey but “the beginning of the end,” awash in Laura Wolfe’s brooding violin and Goldman’s intricate fingerpicking.

She sings in both Engish and Hebrew in the enigmatic piano ballad Land of Milk and Honey:

The taste of blood and berries on my tongue as I wander ancient streets…
War overlooks fields of wildflowers, pieces buried in dreams…
There’s a soldier sleeping next to me with a gun on his shoulder
As we pass olive trees and barbed wire

Prunka’s opening taqsim on the album’s insistently anthemic title track might be the single most delicious musical moment, among many, here. “A woman’s voice is naked, forbidden, don’t raise that sweet sound in front of men,” Goldman sings with more than a hint of seduction. “It might arouse attention!”

Lest we forget, there are places in the world where a klezmer band with women in it wouldn’t be allowed to perform. Which seems to sum up the dichotomy Goldman is dealing with here: Biblical heroines defy the restrictions on them to do wonderful things, and thousands of years later, the theme repeats itself. While it helps to be a member of “The Tribe,” as Goldman reminds, to appreciate this, her narrative and anthems will resonate across cultures. And maybe generate some controversy, and maybe shift the cultural paradigm as much as she does the musical one, in the process. Goldman’s next New York show is Oct 13 at 6 PM at the Christopher Street Coffeehouse, in the basement of the church at 81 Christopher St. between 7th Ave. South and Bleecker.

Sharq Attack Bring Their Rapturously Haunting, Virtuosic Middle Eastern Jams Back to Barbes

“Raqs sharqi” is the Arabic term for bellydance. Sharq Attack, get it? Violinist Marandi Hostetter seems to be the ringleader of this merry, slinky, intoxicatingly good band who jam out decades-old (and maybe centuries-old) Middle Eastern themes. They’ve got a gig coming up on August 23 at 8 PM at Barbes, opening for Slavic Soul Party, who blend Duke Ellington, hip-hop and funk into their blazing Balkan brass sounds.

Sharq Attack’s show there last month was an awful lot of fun. Along with Hostetter, the rhythm section – percussionist Philip Mayer and bassist John Murchison – seemed to be particularly psyched to be playing with the great Palestinian-born oudist Zafer Tawil. They opened with an elegant, moody clip-clop theme, the oud in tandem with the violin, playing variations on a biting chromatic riff. Hinting at a trick ending, they brought the song down to a couple of bristling, rising and falling tremolo-picked oud interludes that Tawil artfully shifted in and out of the shadows. Murchison’s misterioso, tiptoeing bass solo over Hostetter’s otherworldly drone was the icing on this epic sonic confection.

From there they segued into a bouncy. catchy minor-key road theme of sorts, sped it up, slowed it down and ramped up the microtonally-fueled suspense, ending it unresolved. Tawil gave the next number a flurrying oud-and-vocal intro into a similarly anthemic, swaying drive over a catchy, Andalucian-tinged descending riff, his impassioned baritone rising as the song peaked out. They returned to a dusky, austerely bucolic, enigmatically strolling groove after that, utilizing something approaching a western whole-tone scale, then reached for more dramatic levels. Considering that this band has a semi-rotating cast of characters, you never know what other deliciously unexpected tangents the group might go off in next week.

Ancient Instruments, Magically Enveloping New Tunes: Matt Darriau Blends Ouds and Reeds at Barbes

If you go to Barbes on the right night, you can catch the debut of a new band that might be pretty amazing…or just a fun one-time-only sonic adventure. The Park Slope hotspot isn’t just a friendly watering hole and music venue, it’s a lab for a long list of elite musicians intent on working up new projects. Just this past year, groups who debuted there include wild remebetiko art-rock band Greek Judas, droll Soviet psychedelic pop band Svetlana and the Eastern Blokhedz and last night, entrancingly intricate Middle Eastern jazz group Du’ud. There have probably been others.

Du’ud – pronounced “dude” – take their name from the two ouds in the band, played by Brian Prunka and Brandon Terzic. Bandleader Matt Darriau spun from low and brooding on the small but magical kaval, wafted gracefully dancing phrases skyward on alto sax and spiraled animatedly and soulfully on what sounded like an alto flute, when he wasn’t circling hypnotically on what he called a “faux clarinet.”The grooves tended to be on the slow, slinky side, hypnotically dirgey on one opaquely enveloping Prunka number, although the percussionist – playing mosty daf frame drum and a single cymbal – picked up the pace on a couple of West African-influenced Terzic numbers. The interplay between the two oudists was more matter-of-factly congenial than it was heated, although that could change, and it probably will, once this unit gets more time together.

Prunka told a funny story about how he’d been called away from a gig, so he got Terzic to sub for him. Turns out there’s a video of that gig online that credits Prunka for Terzic’s performance. Both oudists are pushing the envelope in terms of where the ancient African low-register lute can go. At this show, Terzic moved further afield from somber, otherworldly Middle Eastern modes, often evoking an African kora harp, while Prunka hovered mostly in the lower registers, resonant and often plaintive while Darriau soared overhead. The night’s most memorable song was the slow Prunka piece that made it to video, featuring long, contemplative ascents from both ouds. Darriau’s material included a mystically kinetic number that alluded to, yet flew animatedly beyond the confines of the klezmer music that he’s best known for. The percussionist made it look easy as he negotiated between all sorts of tricky time signatures, playing with his eyes closed half the time. He was on to something: it was music to get lost in, and despite this being a sleepy Sunday right after Xmas, there was a big crowd in the house and everybody seemed to agree that they’d just seen something pretty amazing. Darriau plays a lot of Barbes gigs; his next one is Saturday night, January 2 at 8 PM where he plays Balkan bagpipe in his larger. two-guitar Gaida Electrique ensemble.

Slinky, Haunting, Jazz-Tinged Middle Eastern Sounds from Brian Prunka’s Nashaz

Oudist Brian Prunka’s Nashaz takes slinky, brooding Middle Eastern themes and adds a two-horn jazz frontline and bass for a sound that’s more jazz-inflected levantine music than levantine jazz. Their new album – streaming all the way through at Bandcamp – reminds of Dimitris Mahlis’ oud-and-drums project Wahid with horns, and in its more intricate moments, Amir ElSaffar‘s jazzier Two Rivers Ensemble. Prunka’s expansive instrumentals go on for eight or nine minutes apiece with plenty of room for soloing. Prunka typically starts out slowly, feels around for his footing and then takes his time before he leaves the runway, with all kinds of masterful ornamentation and dynamics. The album gets better as it goes along; the mood is enhanced by the natural reverb in the room where it was recorded, giving extra resonance to Kenny Warren’s trumpet and Nathan Herrera’s sax and bass clarinet.

The coyly titled opening track, Hijaz Nashaz sets the stage for the rest of the album, but counterintuitively: it’s the smoky sax that opens the song with a lengthy introduction over flurries of oud. There’s plenty of conversational interplay over Apostolis Sideris’ growly, incisive bass, the horns sticking to the western chromatic scale while Prunka gets to revel in luscious Middle Eastern modal microtones. Khartoum is more rhythmic, Prunka diving to the cello-like low registers of the oud, the horns fluttering and diverging as it winds down.

Andalus juxtaposes moody bass clarinet and snakecharmer ney flute over a mournful, elegaically slow groove, Prunka finally taking his haunting, desolate solo spiraling to a big crescendo. Qassabij’s Nightmare is less of a nightmare than an anthem, unless you count the anxiously sputtering horn break midway through.

City of Sand emerges from a moody oud waltz intro to an Iraqi-tinged theme, with a neat rondo riff and more varied, droll percussion (by Vin Scialla and George Mel) than the other numbers. Jurjina sets all kinds of edgy riffage from all the instruments over a tricky Madeconian-tinged tempo that shifts back and forth unexpectedly. Then they take it over to North Africa for the swaying, levantine style Al-Ghayb, the oud and then the bass clarinet sticking close to the ground with pensive, grey-sky solos. The album winds up animatedly with Ajam, which is actually two jams, the first brightly dancing, the second suddenly more ominous and insistently hypnotic. This album will probably resonate more with fans of music from the Fertile Crescen than with jazz fans – although anyone with a love of haunting, emotionally gripping sounds ought to check it out.