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Tag: Connell Thompson

ShoutHouse Trace the Turbulent History of New York With an Ambitious Blend of Styles

ShoutHouse play a lavishly orchestrated, absolutely unique blend of postrock, art-rock and indie classical pageantry. The obvious point of comparison is Sara McDonald’s similarly majestic NYChillharmonic. Both bands are (typically) fronted by women; the big differences are that ShoutHouse relies on strings instead of traditional jazz instrumentation, and they have a hip-hop edge. The group’s debut album, Cityscapes – streaming at Bandcamp – is a song cycle tracing the history of New York, from the days before the European invaders arrived, to a possible future. Bandleader/pianist Will Healy wrote most of the material.

The first track, Mannahatta has a bubbly, spacious, optimism reinforced by rapper Nuri Hazzard, David Valbuena’s clarinet and Connell Thompson’s sax adding verdant textures. George Meyer’s violin spirals and dips above Healy’s steady minimalism as Hudson Drones rises toward a lush peak, verses by Akinyemi and and Maassai reflecting how 19th century struggles here mirror those of today. Akinyemi spells it out at the end:

The morning of peace, took a trip around the hill
The same dividend impacted me, subtracted thrill
Add in all the negative: the subway stops, delays in the mix
As I’m released from these trapped doors
I’m faced with the fate of these past laws
My passion would probably pull me in a positive direction
I stop at the river entrance
Enthralled by the possibility but worrisome
Of the penalties that change by the minute…

Singer Majel Connery delivers a setting of a Billy Collins poem with brassy passion over a relentless drive and increasingly nebulous bustle in Grand Central. Drummer Aaron Ewing’s rhythmically tricky For Those Who Look Up shifts on a dime from minimialist mathrock to a summery trip-hop groove.

Percussionist Jesse Greenberg opens his contribution to the album, Ancient Tools, with tinkling bells over hazy atmospherics. Hannah Zazzaro’s pensive vocals over a catchy, syncopated sway evoke the Chillharmonic in a sparse, dancing moment; Akinyemi returns to end it with a long, rapidfire lyric.

Over a driving, emphatic sway, MCs Bush Tea and Nuri Hazzard put a wary, urban 21st century update on the old ant-and-grasshopper fable in the next-to-last track, Ants. The ensemble close the album with Rebuild, its tricky metrics anchored by Healy’s Radiohead chords, MC Spiritchild contemplating a rather grim cycle of death and renewal over an increasingly epic sweep. An ambitious achievement from a group who also include violists Leah Asher, Sofia Basile, Linda Numagami, Lauren Siess and Drew Forde; violinists Megan Atchley and Allison Mase; cellists Maria Hadge, Olivia Harris, Philip Sheegog, Mosa Tsay and Daniel Hass; bassists Luiz Bacchi, John McGuire and Andrew Sommer; flutists Kelley Barnett, Izzy Gleicher and Fanny Wyrick-Flax; clarinetist David Valbuena; guitarist Jack Gulielmetti; drummer Cameron MacIntosh and rapper Adè Ra.

Wild Balkan Band Tipsy Oxcart Bring Their Intensity to a Free Upper West Side Park Gig

Rule of thumb is that if a band is reasonably competent in daylight, they’re probably great after the sun goes down. Considering how wild Tipsy Oxcart can get at night, it was no surprise to see them kick out the jams last week at Madison Square Park despite taking the stage just after noon The fiery Balkan and Middle Eastern band have squeezed their way onto the summer parks concert circuit, and they’re doing that again this Wednesday, August 9 at 1 PM at the triangle at 66th and Broadway.

Their opening number was epic. Tricky syncopation, slashing chromatic edges, shifts into halfspeed, doublespeed, a tongue-in-cheek couple of reggae interludes and finally nto oldschool 70s disco were most of but not all of the picture. A big slowdown was punctuated by a feral, whirling Connell Thompson clarinet solo, the rampaging outro by a blistering  guitar solo.

Their second number had a flamenco-tinged pulse: the band ran its anthemically stairstepping hook up to a chilling, icy guitar solo played through a chorus pedal. Then the band switched up the rhythm artfully on the way out. They completely flipped the script with a slow, mournful Turkish-flavored number lowlit by the clarinet until the guitar and drums conspired to take it doublespeed just like the first song. By now, the park was full of black women pushing strollers full of white yuppie children; everybody danced as bassist Ayal Tsubery took a slinky snakecharmer solo that mimicked the blue notes of Thompson’s horn riffs.

The band hardly looked or sounded tired, but there was only so much showmanship they could indulge in: foot up on the monitor, looking mean, was about it. That was a far cry from their pre-album release show at Barbes right before Golden Fest, when Thompson and then accordionist Jeremy Bloom basically bumrushed the crowd: that was intense!

Microtonal trills from the clarinet, a bubbling-crude bass solo from Tsubery, more clever shifts between disco, funk and the Middle East from the drummer and  acidic atmospherics contrasting with blazing minor-key riffage from the accordion dominated the rest of the show. At least until the guitarist would take one of several feral machete-through-the-ganja-field chord-chopping solos. The only thing an onlooker could have possibly wished for was more volume, but there’s a legal limit to how much of that you can get in a public park when night shift people – if any still exist in the Flatiron District – are still asleep.

t the show up by Lincoln Center, the buildings are a lot closer to the little park, meaning more of an echo effect. If you’re in the area, it’s more fun than anything else you could probably do  on your lunch break. Is this blog going to be represented there? No. If you’re going to play hooky from work, you have to choose your spots.

Which makes the Madison Square Park series so tempting. They also have free evening shows there this month; the next one is jazz alto sax great Kenny Garrett, who’s there with his group on the 9th at 8:30 PM.

Another Sizzling Balkan Party Album from Tipsy Oxcart

In terms of pure fun, there aren’t many bands in New York who can compete with Tipsy Oxcart. Saturday night at Barbes, as part of a WFMU radio broadcast, they played a tantalizingly brief set of music rooted in Balkan sounds, with bits of reggae, and dub, and cumbia and styles from across the Middle East soaring over a fat groove. That bouncing low end is one thing that distinguishes them from most other bands who jam out on dark Eastern European folk melodies. Another distinguishing characteristic is Maya Shanker’s violin tone: she uses an effects pedal, at one point managing to pretty much replicate the sound of a steel pan as she plucked her strings. The band has an excellent second album, Upside Down, streaming at their Bandcamp page and a show on Matchless in Williamsburg at 9 PM on May 20, where they’re followed at 10 by Brooklyn pioneers Hungry March Band, who play brass styles from New Orleans to Belgrade and pretty much all points in between.

Back in 2013, this blog said that Tipsy Oxcart’s debut, Meet Tipsy Oxcart, was better than the Beatles’ first album. And it was! Meet the Beatles may be a perfectly enjoyable janglerock record, but it’s not Tipsy Oxcart. Jury’s out on how the band’s career will compare to the Fab Four in five years’ time, but so far so good. The new album’s opening cut, Honey Dripper hints at Ethiopiques and then hits a reggae groove, Shanker in tandem with accordionist Jeremy Bloom and alto saxophonist Connell Thompson over the deep pulse of bassist Ayal Tsubery and drummer Dani Danor.

Yalla Yalla pairs eerily spiraling, wickedly microtonal Thompson clarinet with acerbic responses from Shanker over a trickily rhythmic beat, Bloom driving the dance to a raucous peak. Me First, a rather epic Shanker composition that also appeared on the debut album, features starkly incisive, rapidfire violin, a moody, Turkish-flavored clarinet break, and then after another pretty feral Shanker solo, hands off to Bloom’s machinegunning accordion. The Sheikh may sound as Arabic as a Hungarian freylach, but it’s a supremely tasty minor-key romp, Bloom and Thompson raising the energy to redline as Tsubery takes a familiar ba-bump groove and walks it briskly.

Bone Dance has an unexpectedly pensive sweep flavored with Shanker and Thompson’s twin harmonies over a backdrop that ranges from straight-up reggae to dizzying polyrhythms. You might think that the elegant fingerpicking that opens and then recurs in Homecoming over Bloom’s spare, wistful lines is a guitar, but it’s not – it’s Tsubery playing his bass way up the fretboard. Thompson and Bloom’s trilling lines are as catchy as they are bracing. Fax Mission, a salute to outdated technology, is the most westernly jazzy of the tracks here – at least until a completely unexpected dub interlude and then a searing Thompson alto solo. Then they go back to straight-up Serbian flavor with Tutti Frutti, Thompson and Shanker’s wildly careening lines over a tight strut. It’s about as far as you can get from a cheesy 50s pop hit

Sevdah One Eight has a bittersweet edge, Shanker and Thompson’s uneasy harmonies over Bloom’s lush backdrop. Tipska brings back the Balkan reggae – or is that ska? – up to a blistering outro fueled by Tsubery’s fuzztone attack. The album winds up with The Storm, a surreallistically vivid, shapeshiftingly cinematic tableau with more of a Balkan brass feel than the rest of the material. Look for this on the best albums of 2015 page here in December if we’re all still here.

Full Moon Intensity with Dolunay

Although two of the members of Dolunay are Turkish, no one in the band grew up immersed in the haunting sounds of Turkish folk music. But the minute they began to explore it, they were hooked. The five-piece band specializes in the diverse styles played by people of Turkish descent throughout the Balkan nations. At an intimate show Friday night at the American Folk Art Museum, someone in the crowd asked how they discovered it, and one by one the group members responded. Frontwoman/percussionist Jenny Luna was intensely into Balkan music while in college, so this was a natural progression for her. Oudist/tamburist Adam Good was studying jazz guitar when he heard the first album by Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, which became a gateway drug to the Middle East. Turkish-born violinist Eylem Basaldi was on the classical track in conservatory when she took a class in Turkish folk and rediscovered the sounds she’d first been exposed to as a child. Connell Thompson was inspired to return with a vengeance from the sax to his original instrument, the clarinet, when someone turned him on to Ivo Papasov. And percussionist Nezih Antakli was playing jazz in his native Germany before rediscovering his cultural roots. Together they make music that’s as magical and mysterious as the band name (Turkish for “full moon”) implies. And it’s a bit of a pun: Luna, Full Moon…you get it, right?

Luna sang with a stunning, raw plaintiveness while keeping time on a frame drum  throughout many difficult, shapeshifting meters, while Antakli grounded the low end of the percussion on his dumbek. Basaldi and Thompson frequently doubled their biting, eerie, chromatic lines over Good’s precise, resonant picking. Some of the songs reflected the influence of native traditions on Turkish themes: a Bulgarian song with strange and bracing overtones in the vocal melody; a hypnotic Madeconian dirge; a stately anthem with more than a hint of southern Greek melody; and a couple of gorgeously haunting, soaring, slinky numbers with a sweepingly majestic, Egyptian tinge. Good opened a couple of songs with brooding solo taqsims on the oud, switching to tambura for a spiky but resonant tune that went unexpectedly doublespeed at the end. Most of the lyrics, said Luna, were sad laments for lost love, i.e. “I came all the way across the mountains only to find you painting the town,” that kind of thing. And most of those sad tales were told from a guy’s point of view, so when Luna sang one particularly poignant lament from a woman’s perspective, it had special resonance. They closed with a lively, almost menacing dance lit up by Thompson’s feral, flickering waves of microtones. Dolunay are at Barbes at 7 PM on Oct 27; Luna is also singing material from across the Middle East on Oct 10 at 7 PM with the Jerry Bezdikian Ensemble at the Sullivan Room, 218 Sullivan St. a couple of doors down from Sullivan Hall.

Brazda Mesmerizes the Crowd at Barbes

“I lost my youth and my looks to a man who smoked too much cocaine,” Brazda frontwoman Shelley Thomas explained to the crowd at Barbes Friday night. She was offering an English translation of the lyrics to a Greek rembetiko song from the 1930s that she’d just sung with a plaintive, microtonally chilling unease. Obviously, crack was as wack back then as it is now. Thomas did that all night – translating, that is, after pretty much every song she’d sung in several languages including Bulgarian, Greek and Romanes. She’s a nonchalantly riveting singer with a warmly organic, dulce de leche voice that’s unusual in Balkan music (she also has a background in Indian music and sings with the exhilarating New York Arabic Orchestra). Joining her, mostly on low harmony vocals, was Black Sea Hotel’s equally formidable, eclectically intense Willa Roberts. Together they soared, smoldered and wailed through a series of broodingly ornamented, bristlingly microtonal laments about rebel soldiers fighting off Ottoman invaders, guys having trouble with their moms who want to marry them off and mothers who won’t let them near their daughters, as well as nightingales to whom you offer wine at night but poison in the morning because you don’t want them to wake you up. They began slowly and gently, voices mingling  austerely with Connell Thompson’s moody minor-key clarinet lines, Francesco Marcocci’s steady, pulsing bass and the 9/4, 10/4, 11/8 and various other hypnotically labyrinthine rhythms of the two percussionists.

The show quickly picked up steam. “We’re going to get really villagey now,” Roberts announced with a a grin, then the two women ran through what was essentially a long medley of old Bulgarian songs packed with tricky trills and otherworldly close harmonies. Thompson picked up the pace as well with fiery doublestops, fang-baring chromatic runs and slinky modal vamps, Roberts swaying, eyes closed, completely lost in the music. At one point late in the show, it suddenly seemed that there was a second horn onstage, but no: Thomas had simply decided to improvise a low, cool harmony line against the clarinet. The high point of the show was a lush, moody, poignant anthem about a woman freedom fighter in Bulgaria battling the invading Turks, Roberts and Thomas exchanging long, hauntingly resonant tones. Beyond the goosebumps generated by everybody in the band – including a jaunty gypsy jazz bass solo on one of the closing numbers – was the fact that they were missing both their accordionist and violinist. They’re at Korzo on May 21 at 9. Roberts and Thomas are also taking part in the vocal celebration of Titania (the Shakespearean heroine from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) that’s happening at the Hive in Bushwick (20 Cook St. off Metropolitan Ave., J/M to Flushing Ave) on April 27.