New York Music Daily

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Tag: concert revie

Cousin From Another Planet Bring a Whole Funky Universe to Lincoln Center

The undulating performance by multi-keyboardist Aaron Whitby’s Cousin From Another Planet project at Lincoln Center this past evening attested to the psychedelic power of good funk music. It’s rare that an audience comes to listen to funk; then again, this was an unusually textured sonic confection.

Whitby brought an allstar cast of New York soul, funk and jazz veterans: Charlie Burnham on electric violin, Keith Loftis on tenor sax, Fred Cash on bass, David Phelps on guitar and Gintas Janusonis on drums. They opened with Escape Route, a  twinkling Hollywood hills psychedelic bourdoir soul tune from the new Cousin From Another Planet record. Burnham’s wafting wah-wah riffs contrasted with Loftis’spare, incisive lines over Whitby’s echoey Fender Rhodes cascades.

Whitby’s wife Martha Redbone and actor Rome Neal joined the group for Sleeping Giant, a mighty, populist psych-funk anthem. “Wake up from this endless bigotry,” Redbone encouraged, then capped off a big, booming crescendo with a searing wordless vocal. Whitby’s chucka-chucka clavinova solo and Burham’s rapidfire lines wound up the song optimistically.

Walking with Z was a picturesque musical account of what it’s like tryng to get a hyperkinetic gradeschooler to his destination on an early morning in downtown Brooklyn. This time it was Whitby who had the wah going on, Loftis blending determination and wry wariness: somebody keep that kid out of traffic!

Eye of the Hurricane was New Orfleans through the prism of classic P-Funk: bracing violin/sax harmonies over a fat, distantly second line-tinged low end. Whitby is a funny guy: he explained that a new number, The Inverse of Nothing, was inspired by mishearing “the universe of nothing” on a youtube physics podcast. He kicked it off gracefully with gorgeous, Mad Men-era solo piano, then the band swung their way into saturnine midtempo funk with some oscillating Bernie Worrell keys from the bandleader.

Redbone returned to the stage for a vigorous, solo-centric detour into the classic 70s playbook: Whitby immersed himself in the stuff under the guidance of longtime P-Funk musical director Junie Morrison, so he knows where all the pieces go. For awhile, he blended with Phelps’ devious, tongue-in-cheek lines, then opted to just let the six-stringer shred.

The band went back to starry, nocturnal mode for a number where Whitby credited Redbone for having saved it from sad ballad territory. She did a good job: it wasnt’ sad at alll, with a series of playful echo effects filtering among the various voices. It was no surprise that Whitby would offer grateful payback with Mrs. Quadrillion, a snappy, no-nonsense strut.

Afer a lively detour into bubbly, classic 70s style clave disco, they closed with Make Somebody Happy, shifting subtly from a boombastic, Clintonesque groove to a spiky, West African-tinged melody fueled by Phelps’ bright, jangly lines., This wasn’t P-Funk, but in their own surreal, imaginative way, Whitby’s irrepressible crew of improvisers turned out to be just as full of surprises.

The next free show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is next Thursday, Sept 12 at 7:30 PM with Texas-Colombian bandleader Kiko Villamizar playing oldschool 60s Colombian cumbia plus more psychedelic, electric sounds. People will be there to dance; get there early if you’re going.

Perennial Relevance, Irrepressible Wit and Catchy Tunes From Meredith Monk at the Jewish Museum

Thursday night at the Jewish Museum, Meredith Monk sang a playful, relentlessly catchy, perennially relevant mix of songs spanning over forty years. Now well into her seventies, the iconic composer still has the same clarity and purity in her upper register that she had back in the 1970s when she first came to prominence as a young lioness of the avant garde. Since then, just about every quirky songstress, from Laurie Anderson, to Bjork, to Carol Lipnik, owes her a shout for blazing the trail.

Monk always looks like the cat who ate the canary, an outward calm masking an inner delight that she can’t resist sharing. Her leaps and bounds and sudden rhythmic shifts seem more seamless – and easy to sing – than they actually are, considering what a brilliant tunesmith she is. Bright, kinetic melodies from throughout the show lingered long after it was over. She opened solo, a-cappella with Wa-li-oh, a 1975 number from her Songs from the Hill collection, where she’d literally gone to the mountaintop for the inspiration to write them. Its subtle echo effects may well have reflected that milieu.

She delivered similarly dappled, sunspotted pointillisms in a couple of other numbers: the Xosa-inflected Click Song, from 1988, and later in a series of brief pieces from last year’s suite of Cellular Songs, the final puckishly titled Lullaby for Leaves. By then, she’d been joined by two members of her Vocal Ensemble, Allison Sniffin and Katie Geissinger, tall blonde valkyries flanking the modestly dressed, slender bandleader. The two womens’ harmonies, frequent upward flights and command of Monk’s frequently challenging counterpoint were the icing on the cake.

The night’s most memorable number was Scared Song, for organ and vocals, its macabre undercurrent reflecting its response to Reagan-era fearmongering. “Fear becomes violence when we don’t know it’s fear,” she advised.

Another starkly relevant moment was when the trio sang Memory Song, from Monk’s dystopic 1984 suite The Games, a calmly surreal evocation from the point of view of a quasi-griot enumerating lost cultural references, from the essential to the ridiculous. That’s why Monk’s work has always had such resonance beyond the cutting edge: there’s always something funny to lighten even the darkest points.

Monk related how she’d recorded the bittersweetly circling Gotham Lullaby in 1975, solo on piano on her debut album, and felt like she’d botched the take. Producer Manfred Eicher told he it was fine – she could do another take if she felt like it, but he’d be going out for coffee while she did. And he was right, she demurred: there was magic in its imperfections, although her take this time out certainly didn’t seem to have any.

The most operatic moment of the night was a song from her 2006 Impermanence suite. The most trickily rhythnic was Waltz in 5’s, from 1996’s The Politics of Quiet. The most enigmatic was her own solo rendition of Happy Woman, from last year. Monk’s everywoman narrator seems on the surface to be perfectly content, but it turns out she’s also troubled in almost innumerable other ways. At face value, she maintained a resolute calm, but the turbulent undercurent cuoldn’t be masked. In an era when state legislatures are falling like dominoes to a lunatic misogynist fringe, that song couldn’t have had more of an impact.

This was it for this spring’s series of concerts at the Jewish Museum sponsored by the Bang on a Can organization, but they typically do an outdoor summer series at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City as well. Meanwhile, the Museum’s must-see Leonard Cohen exhibit will be up through Sept 8, and trumpeter Steven Bernstein’s noir cinematic trio Sexmob are there for free on June 11 at around 6 as part of this year’s Museum Mile Festival.

A Thrilling Centerpiece to This Year’s Drive East Festival of Indian Music

High-voltage Indian vocal and instrumental group the Navatman Music Collective played one of the year’s most exhilarating concerts as part of this year’s Drive East Festival last night at LaMaMa, a sold-out performance in celebration of the release of their new album An Untimely Joy. Although each member got at least a couple of turns out front to dazzle the crowd with their voices and their chops, their de facto main soloist, Roopa Mahadevan, reaffirmed her status as not only one of the most spellbinding singers in New York but in the entire world. With her pulsing, minutely inflected melismas, powerful low register and the occasional dramatic flight upward, she displayed thrilling command of classical carnatic styles from throughout the ages, in addition to ghazals and theatre music.

The rest of the group pretty much did the same. What was most striking right off the bat was how far they’re pushing the envelope. They opened counterintuitively with the kind of coda typically associated with a dance theatre piece and concluded with what Mahadevan said was one of the alltime bom diggity ragas, and she wasn’t kidding. The strong baritones of Vignesh Ravichandran and Kaushik Ravi anchored the music, usually hovering an octave beneath the kaleidoscopically timbred voices of the women: Mahadevan, Kamini Dandapani, Bhargavi Khamakshivalli, Prettha Raghu and Shradda Balasubramaniam. Kavi Srinivasaragavan negotiated the music’s tricky rhythmic shifts on mridangam, while 17-year-old violin prodigy Harini Rajashekar wove meticulous, often plaintive lines amid the dynamic, often joyously dancing melodies.

Perhaps ironically, the night’s most riveting moments came not during the most ecstatic peaks but in a brooding, low-key mini-epic that Mahadevan began slowly and plaintively. Tali Rubinstein’s flute spun eerily baroque-tinged lines against Camila Celin’s stark sarod while guest tabla player Ehren Hanson engaged Srinivasaragavan in some subtly wry rhythmic jousting.

The early part of the show quickly rose from a raptly enveloping medieval piece to a new arrangement of a classic carnatic theme featuring some stunningly unexpected harmonies and intricate counterpoint making its way throughout the choir, akin to a mashup of Thomas Tallis with classic Indian themes. The night’s most epic work was a torrentially rising and falling new piece by Ravichandrana and Mahadevan, featuring the full ensemble along with Celin on acoustic guitar. There was also an ecstatic raga made famous as a film theme, opening with a stunningly dynamic, melismatic solo vocal from Mahadevan, along with a stately ghazal with Kamaikshivalli taking the lead.

They brought everything full circle at the end. Hearing the voices in unison delivering the kind of shiveringly precise, minutely wavelike phrases commonly associated with the sitar reminded how carnatic music is the foundation of the Indian classical canon. Long before there were sitars, people were doing the same thing with their voices, which is actually more physically demanding than merely playing it on a fingerboard. That this group challenge themselves to take this music to yet another level testifies to their collective fearlessness and irrepressible joie de vivre.

The Drive East Festival continues through Sunday at LaMaMa, 74 E 4th St. between Bowery and 2nd Ave. Tonight’s performances begin at 6 PM with carnatic instrumental ensemble Akshara, featuring sensationally eclectic violinist Trina Basu.