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Tag: bryan beninghove

Darkly Distinctive Guitarist Will Bernard Makes a Rare Appearance Beyond His Usual Turf

Guitarist Will Bernard is unique in the jazz world as someone with a serious postbop pedigree but also a dark side and a penchant for all sorts of interesting textures. The trouble with so many jazz guitarists who use a lot of effects is that they sound fusiony, i.e. like everybody in the band is on coke and soloing at the same time. Bernard’s music, by contrast, is very straightforward, tuneful and often cinematic: he’s easy to spot because nobody else really sounds like him. When he’s not on tour – he’s highly sought after as a sideman – his usual home in New York is Smalls. But sometimes some of these A-list jazz guys use small venues more or less as a rehearsal room, which probably explains how Bernard got booked into the small room at the Rockwood at 10 PM on Jan 2. It’s a great opportunity to hear one of the most distinctive talents in New York jazz guitar in an intimate setting with good sound.

Bernard’s latest album is the aptly titled Out and About, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. All but one of the tracks are originals and the band is fantastic. Drummer Allison Miller’s jaunty groove, a New Orleans shuffle beamed back to Africa, propels the wry wah-infused opening number, Happy Belated, John Ellis’ bright tenor sax contrasting with Ben Allison’s growly, sinuous bass. Bernard follows that with a wistful, Americana-tinged miniature, Not Too Fancy. Then the band go for offcenter harmonies and staggered rhythms with Next Guest, from some terse guitar-sax exchanges to Bernard tumbling alongside Miller’s steady crescendoing pulse, Allison weaving between the raindrops.

The heat in Habenera, the album’s best and most epic track, is the simmering kind, Brian Charette’s creepy funeral organ over a beat that almost imperceptibly shifts away from an uneasy tango toward roots reggae as Bernard growls and burns: it sounds like Beninghove’s Hangmen at their most jazz-oriented. Then the band moves to an altered swing shuffle with Redwood (Business Casual), the bandleader’s enigmatic lines and Charette’s scampering riffage adding a suspiciously sardonic edge against Ellis’ irrepressible good cheer and a classic, expertly extroverted Miller solo.

A doggedly insistent clave groove, a catchy Americana turnaround and moody guitar-organ chromatics mingle throughout the Lynchian Homeward Bound, another killer cut: Bernard’s flickering resonance gives the impression that he wouldn’t mind staying on the road instead. By contrast, Ellis’ misty sax and Miller’s gently strolling rhythm take Homebody into pleasantly grey-sky current-day pastoral jazz territory.

With its pensive sway and surreal guitar efx channeling distant deep-space disturbances, Suggested Reading is another number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Brian Beninghove catalog – dig that trick ending! Miller rides the traps and Charette bubbles throughout the toe-tapping Full Sweep, which looks back to classic Jim Hall/Jimmy Smith collaborations. A slow, spacious number, Pan Seared veers warpedly toward pastorale territory The album winds up with the title track, a bleak bolero-jazz piece once again anchored in the murky depths by Charette, an apt way to wind up this shadowy, distinctive gem of an album.

Halloween Gets to Greenpoint a Little Early This Year

If your ideal Halloween would be coming face to face with something genuinely disturbing rather than filling up on a bucketful of free candy, going out into icy, torrential rain would be a good way to start the evening. The spy satellites can’t see through the clouds, and the spycams get all streaked up. Watch your back, and you could literally get away with murder.

The walk from the L train past McCarren Park to Manhattan Inn on Greenpoint Avenue, and then back, was enough to soak through a heavy winter coat the night that Big Lazy and Beninghove’s Hangmen played what could have been a notorious show there. The prospect of seeing two, maybe even three hours of macabre, marauding, stampeding noir cinematic instrumentals – and the cred of having been witness to it – justified the trip, theoretically at least.

The show that this blog trumpeted last spring as being the year’s most auspicious twinbill didn’t exactly turn out that way. Not a fault of the bands, or the musicians, but the space.

If you’ve seen a band rip the roof off your local every month for almost two years, you hold them to a high standard (another way of looking at it is that you take them for granted). If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Big Lazy. For those who’ve stumbled onto this page for the first time, the guitar/bass/drums trio play reverbtoned, cinematic instrumentals that blend David Lynch film score sounds with those of an earlier era, from Nino Rota’s Fellini themes, through surf rock and Ennio Morricone spaghetti western. Live, about half of what they play is improvisational: they are the consummate dark jamband. They also rely very heavily on audience interaction: people typically dance at their shows.

But there was nowhere to dance here. What was weirdest was how the band was set up: guitarist Steve Ulrich and bassist Andrew Hall found themselves facing drummer Yuval Lion, in the center of the room, surrounded by tables of diners and neighborhood newcomers who’d probably ducked in to get out of the rain. This completely discombubulated the trio: not being able to see half the crowd was obviously a drag, and the group never got unglued. Songs were shorter, solos far more brief, and from the perspective of sitting behind the drums –  the only place left in the room by the time the show started – it was hard to hear what was going on. For any musician who’s ever struggled through a tough set, don’t get down on yourself: even the world’s best bands sometimes have an off night. Usually it’s not their fault.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen hit, they were half in the bag and didn’t let the weirdness of the configuration – amps facing the drums – stop them from turning in a ferocious, careeningly intense set. They opened with an epic take of Surf N’ Turk. The version on their amazing Rattlesnake Chopper album is a blistering, Middle Eastern-flavored horror surf number; this time around, they started with a volcanic metal intro and then slowed down to a midtempo swing, through a long, forlorn Rick Parker trombone solo, saturnine microtonal jangle from guitarist Dane Johnson and some savage, insistent, hammering passing tones from bandleader/tenor saxophonist Bryan Beninghove that he’d reprise several times over as the night went on.

By contrast, Surfin’ Satie – a gleefully evil go-go surf take on a classic Erik Satie tune – was just as amped-up as the album version, the group clearly gasssed to have drummer Sean Baltazor back behind the kit. Then they slowed things down with a haphazardly psychedelic take of Pineapples and Ashtrays, the centerpiece of their new album. The studio version pairs a subtly sunny, wryly sarcastic cornpone theme with an increasingly horror-stricken chase narrative. This time out, they ramped up the psychedelics, guest guitarist Jon Lipscomb playing axe murderer against Johnson’s heavy-lidded bemusement. From there the band skanked slowly through the Lynchian dub reggae of Lola’s Got a Gun, brought the red-light roadhouse theme Roebuck down to a slow swamp-rock groove, and eventually ended with droll, explosively elephantine takes of familiar Neil Diamond and Led Zep tunes.

Big Lazy return to their someday-legendary monthly Barbes residency this Friday, Oct 7 at 10 PM; Beninghove’s Hangmen don’t seem to have anything coming up at the moment. But this is Halloween month – watch this space!

Beninghove’s Hangmen Release Their Most Savagely Cinematic Noir Instrumental Album

In the jazz world, Bryan Beninghove is known as a monster tenor and soprano saxophonist and a connoisseur of Romany swing. But he’s also one of this era’s great film composers. His most interesting project may be his noir instrumental band, Beninghove’s Hangmen. Their previous two original albums both ranked in the top five of the year here; their new one, Pineapples and Ashtrays – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most eclectic, twistedly picturesque and definitely their funniest. Much as Beninghove’s creepy riffage and rainswept themes make him one of the small handful of film score writers who deserve mention alongside Angelo Badalamenti, he also has a snide, deviously erudite sense of humor and that’s front and center here. The band are playing the album release show on May 26 at around 10 at the Citizen, 332 2nd St. in Jersey City, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station.

The album opens with Astronete, arguably the most sarcastic cha-cha ever written. Beninghove distinguishes himself with a faux-bubbly Rhodes piano solo, treble turned up to the point of distortion; guitarist Dane Johnson takes it out with some gritty metallic blues.

On one hand, the title track is your basic musical dialectic: bad cop vs. good cop, Jason stalking his unsuspecting prey. On the other, it gives you pause: the band hold their sarcasm close enough in check, and dive into the menace with so much relish, that they just might be serious after all. It starts off as a menacingly altered bolero, then the scenes shift through a balmy ranchera, cornpone C&W and a twinkling Hawaiian tableau. Meanwhile, the bolero theme winds up, then winds down, Rick Parker’s looming trombone and Johnson’s clenched-teeth monster surf guitar front and center.

Lola Gotta Gun is a very clever, Lynchian dub reggae mashup of Lola and Happiness Is a Warm Gun. La Girafe is a showcase for Beninghove’s subtle side, which is ironic considering how over-the-top cartoonish this loping, happy-go-lucky theme is. The best joke is cruel, it’s in French and it’s too good to give away here

Roebuck – a shout-out to the Staples Singers’ patriarch Roebuck Staples – opens as a simmering, misterioso Quincy Jones summer night theme and builds to a methodical but very uneasy sway on the wings of Johnson’s dark blues lines and Beninghove’s shivery red-neon tenor work. The careening, self-explanatory Elephant Stampede echoes the band’s expertly buffoonish Zohove album, a collection of instrumental Led Zep covers.

The lone cover here is a pretty icky Neil Diamond ditty that other bands have tried to make noir out of. It’s not up to the level of Beninghove’s originals, although it does bring to mind a teenage, trenchcoated Diamond lingering outside the girls’ yeshiva somewhere in Midwood, staring at a nine-year-old and thinking to himself, girl, you’ll be a woman soon enough. The album winds up with Terminator, which sounds like Nine Inch Nails taking a stab at a New Orleans second-line groove, as funny as it is ugly. Much as we’re still in April, there’s no way anybody’s going to release a more cinematically entertaining album than this in 2016.

Last night, it was viscerally painful to walk out on the band as they launched into the lickety-split monster surf of H-Bomb, considering how expertly feral their set had been up to that point. Has the leader of any band ever to play Otto’s Shrunken Head ever instructed his players to pay attention to volume and dynamics? Beninghove did, and the crew – this time including bass powerhouse Ezra Gale, guitarist Sean Kiely and drummer Sean Baltazor – delivered, through a scorchingly psychedelic set including ferociously expansive takes of macabre, chromatically-charged surf classics like Surf ‘n Turk and Surfin’ Satie as well as a trippy version of Lola Gotta Gun and an amped-up roadhouse blues-infused Roebuck.

Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy in Brooklyn: Noir Music Heaven

Considering that we’re only in March, it’s hardly safe to say that the twinbill coming up this Monday the 14th at around 9 at Manhattan Inn, with Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy, is the best one of the year. The April 15, 10 PM doublebill of Desert Flower and Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, at Sidewalk, of all places, looks awfully good. And there will be others. But as far as dark and blackly amusing sounds are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than Monday’s lineup in Greenpoint.

Big Lazy’s set last Friday night at Barbes was surprisingly quirky. Gallows humor, and funny quotes from other songs are familiar tropes for the noir cinematic trio, but frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich was having an especially good time with them: Mission Impossible, My Funny Valentine, Caravan – which Ulrich has covered murderously well in the past – and a whole bunch of others. And a trio of creepy cover tunes: Girl, by the Beatles, a stabbing version of an Astor Piazzolla tango and an absolutely lurid take of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice, with a savagely tremolo-picked solo midway through.

It was kind of a weird night, if a good one. The crowd wasn’t the usual mobscene that this band draws. Out front at the bar, it looked like the prom bus from Jersey or somewhere in Alabama had just disembarked. Scarier than Big Lazy’s originals – even Park Slope isn’t safe from yuppie puppy zombie apocalypse anymore. But in back, people were dancing in an oasis of reverb guitar and pitchblende basslines.

This Monday’s opening act, Beninghove’s Hangmen work the same turf: raindrenched wee hours crime jazz tableaux and more overtly humorous interludes. Like Ulrich, frontman/multi-saxophonist Bryan Beninghove gets a lot of film work, so his instrumentals can shift shape from, say, blithe to brutal in a split second and the segue doesn’t seem the least bit jarring. Case in point: the title track to their deliciously creepy upcoming album, Pineapples & Ashtrays.

And they’re more of a jamband than Big Lazy. While a lot of their material can be grim, and ghoulish, and sometimes downright morose, they can also be hilarious. The best example is Zohove, their instrumental album of Led Zep covers, streaming at Spotify.. Zep’s music can be awfully funny by itself, and Beninghove’s reimaginings are even funnier.

On the opening track, Kashmir, Rick Parker’s elephantine trombone snorts and Beninghove’s spectacularly swirling soprano sax lines over the stomp behind it elevate it to Vesuvius heights. Heavy new wave rhythm from drummer Kevin Shea (of another even funnier band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Ezra Gale (of dub reggae crew Super Hi-Fi, who are also hardly strangers to funny songs) might be the last thing you might expect to work in a cover of Misty Mountain Hop, but it does. And the guitar is trippy behond belief: Eyal Maoz’s droll Spinal Tap bends over Dane Johnson’s Jabba the Hut Space Lounge electro-breakdown.

What Is and What Never Should Be is a droll mashup of quotes:You Can’t Just Get What You Want, ad infinitum. Likewise, the album’s title track, a sort of a greatest-riffs collection, cleverly disassembled in the same vein as what you find in how-to books like “Play Guitar in the Style of Tony Iommi.”

The group’s version of Immigrant Song substitutes Bennghove’s sax and Parker’s trombone for Robert Plant’s bleat – and it’s priceless. A shivery twin guitar solo decays toward the noir the band’s known for, over dancing bass to match Beninghove’s bluesy tenor spirals

It’s amazing how they reinvent D’yer Maker as uneasy, metrically tricky noir ska, and then an Afrobeat epic, And the Specials quote at the end is LMFAO too. The album ends with a slinking, incendiary take of When the Levee Breaks fueled by blue-flame slide guitar worthy of Jimmy Page himself. It’s the one place on the album where the band actually seems to take the material seriously, and it might be the best track of all. Get this and get a roomful of Zep fans laughing their collective asses off. Beninghove’s Hangmen usually play at least one Zep cover at most of their shows, so we’re likely to get some of this buffoonery Monday night in Brooklyn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can We Please Never Ever Hear Xmas Music Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salons and Suspects

This blog’s raison d’etre extends beyond publicizing the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin. But while the Salon was created to provide a forum for the best rock and rock-related songwriters in town to work up new material, it’s also designed to be a show that, if all the performers are on their game, is as fun to watch as it is to play. The last few weeks have been pretty amazing, with steady contributions from art-rock cellist Serena Jost (who’s got a brand-new album coming out next month, and a gig here on the 17th at 7); barroom sage John Hodel, who brought out an understated and absolutely haunting elegy for the Newtown massacre; Walter Ego (more about him a little later on this page), Chris Fuller, who held the crowd rapt with his edgy gypsy and bluesy sounds; and LJ Murphy, who with his band the Accomplices scorched through one of the hardest-rocking, intense sets the club has ever seen, to wind up Salon #14.

Chanteuse Carol Lipnik and pianist Matt Kanelos headlined Salon #15: both are pushing the envelope harder than ever toward the avant garde, with a spacious, pillowy, psychedelic yet often clenched-teeth intensity. The high points of their show were their hypnotic, apprehensively trance-inducing originals, although their covers were just as interesting. A few of the highlights were a nocturnal, enveloping version of Harry Nilsson’s Life Line; a jaggedly stunning, percussive version of Nick Drake’s Black-Eyed Dog with some cruelly difficult crosshanded work by Kanelos; and a tale of Richard Thompson’s The Great Valerio so intense that you could hear a pin drop between chords, They’re playing Joe’s Pub on an excellent doublebill with historically-informed, theatrical Poor Baby Bree this Sunday the 17th.

The joke going around the club afterward was that this was the coldest night of the year, yet Asheville, North Carolina bluegrass band Town Mountain packed the place. It makes you wonder how much crazier the crowd would have been if this was a summer evening. Frontman/guitarist Robert Greer sang with a soulful twang over Jesse Langlais’ rippling banjo, Bobby Britt’s fiddle and John Stickley’s bass. They did the first instrumental that Britt ever wrote, a killer tune with lots of unexpected changes, along with a mix of originals and covers that ran the gamut from the moody moonshine anthem Midnight Road, to a version of John Anderson’s Wild and Blue that gave new meaning to the song’s half-crazed drunken menace, to a couple of lickety-split romps including what seemed like a bluegrass update on the old Irish ballad Whiskey, Oh Whiskey. “Now for the doxology,” Greer announced to no one in particular, and then launched into the pensive drinking ballad Leave the Bottle, the shapeshifting title track to their excellent new album. It was a fun show, a cool reminder of how much good new bluegrass there is pushing up through the weeds not only here but everywhere.

The following night, former Dog Show bandleader Jerome O’Brien took the stage with that group’s lead guitarist Jack Martin for the first time since a Kid Congo Powers show sometime in the mid-90s. Both musicians share a wry sense of humor, Martin’s biting slide work and emphatic, hard-hitting phrases complementing O’Brien’s sardonic lyrical torrents. As underground NYC rock nostalgia, this was just about as good as catching the band at their peak at the C-Note or Tonic about ten years ago. As low-key as the show was – just two guys with guitars – the positive energy was through the roof, through the nonchalantly cruel Saturday Nights Are for Amateurs, a bouncy reinvention of If I Laugh Anymore I’ll Break – a slyly exuberant celebration of pre-gentrification nocturnal entertainment – and a knowing take of the big audience hit This One Thing. O’Brien has a monthly residency here and if all goes according to plan will be back at Zirzamin on April 8 at 7 PM.

Beninghove’s Hangmen played afterward. They’re another band with a residency here, Mondays at around 9:30, and as usual they rampaged through an assaultively psychedelic set of noir jazz and original film themes as well as the macabre surf rock of Surf n’ Turk and Surfin’ Satie. Frontman/saxophonist Bryan Beninghove likes Middle Eastern sounds, finds the missing link between Ethiopian melody and Erik Satie and knows his way around a latin tune. Guitarist Dane Johnson led them in a surprisingly low-key, oldschool version of Tequila before they got rolling, through a moody reggae vamp and a creepy new waltz. A little later they took Quatro Loko, a salsa groove that’s so cheery it just begs to be ripped to shreds, and did exactly that, with high-voltage soprano sax from Beninghove and a careening, tumbling Rick Parker trombone solo. They closed with a cover of Led Zep’s Kashmir that did justice to the original, right down to the bassline, while turning loose the stoned monster inside.

Salon #16 was one of the best ones so far, featuring an absolutely sizzling set by Trio Tritticali, who did double duty as the house string section, most notably in providing a lush, haunting backdrop for a couple of creepy Lorraine Leckie chamber pop songs. Who says classically trained players can’t improvise? Violist Leanne Darling, cellist Loren Dempster and violinist Helen Yee are brilliant composer-performers, “daring to go where no string trio has gone before,” as Darling made clear early on. They gave a raw nonchalant intensity to Osvaldo Pugliese’s tango La Yumba, Yee’s arrangement of Mark Orton’s Helium also spiced with brooding Argentinian flavor. Was the best song of the night Darling’s artful new arrangement of the Mohammed Abdel Wahab bellydance classic Zeima, or her ingenious baroque ska take on A Message to You Rudie, or Yee’s powerfully crescendoing Candles in the Windows, or Dempster’s haunting, chromatically-fueled anthem Who Knows Yet? It’s impossible to choose. The three wrapped up the show with Darling’s funky, Bowie-esque Issue No. 1 (title track to their most recent album) in an explosive flurry of chamber metal. They’re at Freddy’s on March 22 at 8.

Noir Night at Zirzamin In Case You Missed It

It seems inevitable for music bloggers to start booking shows. In the case of this blog, that meant coming full circle. Where did New York Music Daily’s debut as live music promoter take place? At New York’s best new venue, of course: Zirzamin, the lowlit subterranean music parlor at the corner of Houston and LaGuardia. It was an aptly dark and stormy evening for what was billed as “noir night.” It wasn’t lucrative in any commercial sense, as the early part got more or less rained out, thanks to crazy winds and flying trashcans and intermittent explosions in the sky, two hundred years of CO2 emissions coming back to haunt us all. But the music was transcendent.

Elisa Flynn opened. With a polymath’s insatiable curiosity and a keen sense of history, she proved as knowledgeable about classic Americana roots as she is with indie rock, and it showed in her music. Armed with just her acoustic guitar, her trusty loop pedal and a richly nuanced voice that she let trail off with a suspenseful vibrato, she made her way through aching big-sky themes, a bitter returning Civil War soldier’s lament and a disarmingly pretty but grimly sarcastic Afghan War narrative told from a perspective looking out from inside an “iron galleon.” She reinvented the old folk standard Henry Lee as bitingly atonal, nimbly fingerpicked indie rock, underscoring the doom of the lyrics. A little later, she ran through a wistful high school reminiscence that referenced both Johnny Thunders and Ian Dury, which has got to be the only song in existence that does that. Moving from a catchy, simple, circular riff to fiery, anthemic minor chords, she brought a Marc Chagall picture to life, mixing gypsyish tonalities, enigmatic open chords and a little late Beatles. And just to prove that not all of her songs are dark, she played a new one that ended up hitting a bittersweet note despite itself: “Oh, won’t you tell me what drugs you’re on,” she sang, not a little jealous of how blithely some people carry themselves. Flynn has booked an intriguing show of her own on September 18 at the Way Station in Ft. Greene, where she and a parade of songwriters will be playing the entire Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music.

As eclectic as Flynn’s set was, Liz Tormes set a single mood and never wavered from it. That mood was menacing. Tormes makes it work because she does it so nonchalantly, and takes great pleasure it: when she described a song or two as murder ballads, her face lit up noticeably as the word “murder” crossed her lips. While between songs, bantering with her bandmates – Ollabelle keyboardist Glenn Patscha and guitarist/singer Fiona McBain – she broke character from the stoic, wounded femme fatale persona, it served her equally well throughout a mix of originals and classic country/folk covers, including understatedly haunting, gorgeously harmonized versions of Rosalie, I Never Will Marry and the old honkytonk hit Comin’ on Strong. The version of Read My Mind on Tormes’ brilliant 2009 Limelight album is a fiery rock song; stripped to its brooding acoustic roots, it was even darker. As is often the case with her, the subtext was crushing: “And I want you to read my mind. Dear,” she sang, with just the slightest hint that this was not exactly a love song. A bitter resignation and sense of all hell about to break loose dominated several other songs, including one hypnotic number that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Randi Russo catalog, and the steady, pulsing Maybe You Won’t, another track from Limelight. Eerily and methodically calm, the trio made their way through a troubled East Village nocturne that worked on a million different levels, and a Carter Family cover that could have been the Velvet Underground doing country gospel, with the piano in…um…western saloon tuning. Patscha would have been within his rights to have complained, but he didn’t. Toward the end of the set, Tormes catalogued a list of things that haunted her: “Nothing haunts you – I think it should,” she sang again and again as it wound out, raising her voice just enough to drive the point home, hard. There is no singer in the world who channels heartbreak or unconsummated rage more potently than Tormes.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen took the stage, the storm had subsided and a crowd had gathered to see saxophonist Bryan Beninghove and a six-piece version of his powerhouse noir soundtrack band careen through a wild, improvisational set. While what they’re playing is essentially film music, this time out they went deep into their diverse jazz roots, transforming the Neil Diamond cheeseball Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon into a Russ Meyer set piece. A little later, they rampaged through a practically twenty-minute version of Quatro Loko, an unexpectedly cheery number fueled by Beninghove’s jaunty soprano sax before going completely haywire, drummer Shawn Baltazor and bassist Kellen Harrison wailing on each others’ instruments, trombonist Rick Parker (also of the fascinating Bartok cover band Little Worlds) wailing on the out-of-tune piano for extra amperage.

Beninghove began a distantly apprehensive, swinging gypsy jazz tune on melodica, then switched to tenor sax and took it into more lurid territory, handing off to Parker, whose long, shivery, microtonal solo maxed out the menace. Guitarist Dane Johnson opened a horror-surf tune with some bracing, off-kilter grit, juxtaposing a klezmer-flavored dirge theme that shifted to a surprisingly warm, soul-infused chorus, Parker blasting over it with a coldly haphazard rage, Beninghove following with a long, electrically chromatic, achingly tense tenor solo. Their version of Hangmen’s Waltz took the macabre mood of the version on the band’s amazing, self-titled album from last year and expanded on it, polyrhythmic and hallucinatory. After diversions into calypso, samba and dixieland flair and then a morbid surf stomp highlighted by Johnson’s echoey, overtone-drenched intensity, they wrapped up the night at around half past eleven with another album track, Roadhouse, a surreal, volcanically Lynchian boogie. Beninghove’s Hangmen will be in residency several Mondays at 9 in September at Zirzamin; watch this space for details.

Beninghove’s Hangmen Get Noir at Spike Hill

Last year Beninghove’s Hangmen put out an amazing debut album of menacing noir jazz pieces, creepy Lynchian waltzes and macabre surf rock songs. Sunday night at Spike Hill they played a set of virtually all new material that was just as intense, and a lot more diverse. To those who know the band, it might come as a shock that they either would or could pull off a blissfully bouncy calypso jazz song, alto saxophonist Bryan Beninghove and trombonist Rick Parker meandering without a care in the world, until at the end it became clear that Parker had his tongue planted firmly in cheek. But it pays to be eclectic, if you get a lot of film work as Beninghove does.

The rest of the set was as lusciously creepy as their album, driven as much by the guitars as the horns, Ryan Mackstaller (of Little Worlds) handling most of the the eerily unhinged clanging surf lines while Eyal Maoz played a surprisingly low-key but smoldering mix of Middle Eastern and flamenco-tinged phrases. Elephantine blasts from Beninghove and Parker kicked off a furtive surf shuffle early in the set, Maox and Johnson trading increasingly agitated tremolo-picked lines that Johnson eventually picked up with a howling, chromatic intensity, Beninghove following with screams followed by agile downward swirls. Then he put down his sax for a melodica for a swinging two-chord vamp that sounded just a little too happy to be true, and sure enough that was the case when Parker brought in a some mournfully quavery ambience that Beninghove picked up energetically, this time on soprano sax, Parker’s low lurking menace contrasting with Maoz’ R2D2 blips and bleeps.

The album track they played was Roadhouse, a luridly stomping Twin Peaks nocturne featuring a searing noiserock duel between the guitars that finally dwindled to a brief interlude hinting at dub before the horns joined forces with some wry Peggy Lee allusions. Beninghove agilely led the group through a rhythmically tricky, tango-tinged surf tune, something akin to Booker T meeting Bernard Herrmann at the beach at night, with some haphazardly evil leads by Johnson and then Maoz as the horns swooped and dove. The rest of the set included a skronky Marc Ribot-style noir blues, ominously gritty guitar pitted against sultry, smoky sax, and a wild, klezmer-fueled number introduced by a long, chill-inducing Maoz intro that had the feel of a Middle Eastern oud jam. If you’re in New York and noir music is your thing, get out and see them now: they’ve been playing out a lot lately.

Delicious Noir Sounds from Beninghove’s Hangmen

If Marc Ribot’s noir stuff is your kind of thing,  Beninghove’s Hangmen are heaven. They call their music “creeptastic grinder jazz for the masses,” which is an understatement. Creepy, chromatic B&W movie tunes; a shot of gypsy punk; a hit of klezmer hash; a blast of surf music; a bite of punk jazz; a dash of ska…and the chase is on! Is the bad guy gonna get away? Hell yeah! Unsurprisingly, some of their music has made it to tv and film: with Big Lazy in mothballs, Steve Ulrich expanding a long way beyond his signature noir style and Mojo Mancini only playing infrequently, Beninghove’s Hangmen take over centerstage as New York’s most cinematic noir band. Alongside bandleader/saxophonist Bryan Beninghove, Rick Parker plays trombone, with Eyal Maoz and Dane Johnson on guitars, Kellen Harrison on bass and Shawn Baltazor on drums. Their album came out this past spring and it’s killer, streaming in its entirety at bandcamp.

Much as this has all the standard issue noirisms – reverb on the guitar, minor keys, devils’ chords, suspenseful press rolls on the drums – it’s not cartoonish. The angst and the menace are visceral. They leap into it with the first track, simply titled Jack Miller, a twistedly swinging chromatic theme, the guitars plowing through every garbage bag in the gutter, trombone shadowing Beninghove’s gritty tenor sax. Then they slow it down to a sway with distorted wah guitars, sax intermingling to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. It’s pure evil and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Interestingly, there are three waltzes here, and they’re all excellent. Reve Melodique is a pretty musette that goes creepy as the guitars kick in, then dreamy and ghostly and finally macabre as the trombone takes over. Reject’s Lament is the most haunting of the three, Beninghove’s smoky alto sax over reverb-drenched, jangling guitars, crescendoing to an agitated horror as the guitars pick up with a blistering, tremolo-picked bluesmetal solo from Maoz as Johnson grimes it up a la Ribot. Hangmen’s Waltz reaches back for a murderously Lynchian ambience, just trombone, drums and guitars setting an ominous backdrop until the rest of the band finally comes in about halfway.

The rest of the album is eclectic to the extreme. There’s Tarantino (A Tarantella), a scurrying surf/ska song that morphs into skronky no wave, and The Puppetmaster, a cruelly satirical stripper theme featuring an absolutely twisted, meandering solo by Parker. Sushi Tango jarringly alternates between a slow, resolute tango and a surprisingly bubbly dixieland theme, while H Bomb, arguably the best song on the album, is a Balkan brass tune done as horror surf, like the Coffin Daggers might have ten years ago, solos around the horn growing increasingly unhinged. There’s also Quatro Loko, a punk salsa tune with a memorably pensive Parker solo that Beninghove uses as a launching pad to take the song completely psychotic; a noisy, grimy boogie blues titled Roadhouse; and the suspenseful, shapeshifting tone poem that closes the album. It’s hard to keep track of all the great albums that have come out this year, but this has to be one of the ten best. Big shout-out to Jeff Marino of amazing oldschool soul band the One and Nines for the heads-up about these guys.