New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Dalton Ridenhour

Party Like It’s 1929, or 2019, With Megg Farrell and Ricky Alexander

For the last few years before the lockdown, Sweet Megg & the Wayfarers were one of New York’s top hot 20s-style swing dance bands. They held down a regular Radegast Hall residency and if memory serves right were also one of the main attractions at the now-discontinued Porchstomp festival on Governors Island. Radegast Hall may no longer have music, and these days Governors Island visitors are subject to a clusterfuck of the World Economic Forum’s New Abnormal restrictions. But the core of the band, frontwoman Megg Farrell and multi-reedman Ricky Alexander are still partying like it’s 2019 and have a high-voltage new album, I’m in Love Again, streaming at Spotify. It’s a lot of fun figuring out which are the originals and which are the covers here. Sometimes it’s hard to tell: the band really know their hot jazz inside out.

The opening track, My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms has a jaunty, brassy dixieland interweave contrasting with Farrell’s mentholated purr. We get a red-flame forward drive from Mike Davis’ trumpet and Rob Edwards’ trombone, plus a bouncy solo from Alexander’s clarinet over Dalton Ridenhour’s saloon jazz piano and the steady bass and drums of Rob Adkins and Kevin Dorn. It sets the stage for the rest of the party.

Alexander switches to balmy tenor sax for the shuffling ballad Foolin’ Myself, Farrell calm and cool overhead. That’s none other than the great Jerron Paxton on the acoustic blues guitar.

Edwards and Davis square off for a playful duel in Right or Wrong, setting up a slyly amusing clarinet break, Farrell unexpectedly dropping the composed facade and reaching for the rafters. She gets even more diversely seductive after that in Squeeze Me, as the band keep a tightly matching beat going, Davis and Alexander trading solos.

Farrell and Paxton (on banjo here) duet on the coyly innuendo-fueled Last Night on the Back Porch. The horns duel and then make way for a wry Paxton banjo break in Angry, then the group slow everything down for I Got It Bad, with a lusciously lustrous, Ellingtonian arrangement and Alexander’s most affecting sax solo here.

Ragged But Right has a rustic hokum blues vibe and a deviously perfect early 30s vernacular. The band take the vibe about twenty years further into the future on album’s title track, with its western swing tinges and Ridenhour’s scrambling piano.

I’d Love to Take Orders From You – yikes, that’s a scary title for 2021 – has the album’s most sophisticated rhythms. The band close it out with A Blues Serenade, awash in lush nocturnal sonics behind Farrell’s expressive, dynamic vocals. Won’t it be fun when we get rid of Cuomo and all the restrictions and bands like this can get the party started at any venue that will have them.

Saluting One of New York’s Most Consistently Entertaining Weekly Residencies

Just about every Monday starting at around 7 PM, Brain Cloud play Barbes. While they take their name from a Bob Wills song, western swing is just one of the styles they play, along with jump blues, hot 20s swing and dixieland. The core of the band got their start in the busker scene in the mid-zeros as the Cangelosi Cards, and then at Banjo Jim’s began one of New York’s longest-running residencies. When that venue closed, they moved their weekly Monday night gig to Barbes and haven’t looked back. They’ll be back there on Nov 12 at 7, playing two sets and followed at around 10 by the NYC Gaita Club – a Bulla en el Barrio spinoff – who do rustically pounding Afro-Colombian trance-dance jams with a rotating cast of reed flute players.

In addition to his work with Brain Cloud, multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman can often be found with other jazz acts. His most recent album under his own name is Just Cross the River, a joyously conversational tribute to the jazz roots of Queens, streaming at Bandcamp. Much as almost all the tracks are originals, everything here fits a late 20s/early 30s swing milieu.

The group here call themselves the Queensboro Six, opening the record with a boisterously shuffling shout-out to the 7 train that follows all sorts of clever modulations. With Brain Cloud, Lichtman plays clarinet, violin and mandolin; here, he sticks to the licorice, with a plaintively melismatic solo to kick off For Bix, a tribute to the jazz great who died in his Queens apartment in 1931. Trumpeter Gordon Au and trombonist J. Walter Hawkes harmonize with their mutes over a sotto-voce strut from bassist Nathan Peck.

Midnight at the Piers is not a seedy Chelsea tableau but a celebration of Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, portrayed here as latin noir with Arabic allusions and a slinky bolero groove from drummer Rob Garcia that shifts into contented wee-hours swing.

Mazz Swift’s jaunty violin livens Road Street Court Place Avenue Drive, a jump blues wryly referencing the borough’s crazy street address system – if you can call it a system. Swift also plays and contributes a low-key, knowing vocal on Someday You’ll Be Sorry.

Pianist Dalton Ridenhour gives Waltz for Camila a lowlit pulse and a saturnine lyricism as Lichtman gets balmy and Peck takes a moody stroll. The horns triangulate dixieland-style in LIC Strut, Lichtman taking one of his most expansively spiraling solos as the music darkens momentarily.

Guest Jerron Paxton sings and plays guitar on the album’s title track, a sunny, shuffling duet with Lichtman. Terry Wilson gets torchy on the mic for the aphoristic Fats Waller hit Blue Turning Grey Over You and returns a bit later for a sultry version of another of the Queens resident’s iconic tunes, Squeeze Me.

23rd Between 23rd and 23rd – an address that could mean several different Queens blocks – is immortalized as a jump blues with a coyly tiptoeing piano solo and flurrying guitar from guest Nick Russo.

The album’s most lickety-split and most sort-of-modern-sounding – i.e. 1940 – number is The Power of Not Then, with Russo on guitar again. Likewise, the steady, strolling, somewhat bittersweet I’d Remember Having Met You is a period-perfect, bittersweet late 30s/early 40s ballad. They close with a scampering take of Cake Walking Babies From Home, an early number by another Queens guy, Louis Armstrong, with Paxton on vocals.

Svetlana and the Delancey Five Bring Their Poignant Cosmopolitan Swing to the Blue Note Jazz Festival

Among New York swing jazz bandleaders, singer Svetlana Shmulyian either has the best taste in supporting musicians, or has finagled her way to the best access to them. Maybe both. She distinguishes herself as an original songwriter, and she sings in character, bringing new life to old standards as well as her own dynamic, poignant originals. She and her band the Delancey Five are one of the highlights of this year’s Blue Note Jazz Festival coming up on June 24, with two sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at Lucille’s, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Advance tix are $20.

Her debut album, Night at the Speakeasy – inspired by her long weekly residency at Norfolk Street hideaway the Back Room – is streaming at Bandcamp. With a grand total of fourteen tracks, Shmulyian offers a lot of bang for the buck. And where others might have taken the safe route and opened with a standard, she kicks it off with a swinging, subtle midtempo original, All I Want, contemplating the hope for a summer solstice “in this winter city of my dreams” in a sunny soprano, shaping the blue notes with a coy bittersweetness.

Onstage, she draws from a semi-rotating cast of talent; the band here is killer, with Wycliffe Gordon on trombone (and some arrangements as well); Adrian Cunningham on saxes and clarinet; Charlie Caranicas on trumpet; Dalton Ridenhour on piano; Vinny Raniolo on guitar; George Delancey on bass; and the fantastic Rob Garcia (whose latest album is one of the year’s most brilliant jazz releases) on drums.

Much as the standards – and not-so-standards – here are choice, it’s her own material that stands out the most. It’s All Good has Shmulyian’s signature, precise articulation – she turns off her phone just to keep things nonchalant with the guy, but then she soars up into a big angst-fueled chorus. The way the sax and Shmulyian’s upper register flights mingle and then hand off at the very end is artful, and awfully fun. The most retro number is Temptations, a co-write with bassist Brandi Disterheft, bringing to mind Blossom Dearie with its jaunty litany of images.

The bandleader duets with Gordon on a couple of Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald tunes. You Won’t Be Satisfiied finds each reveling in their roles as wounded ingenue and similarly bruised rake, while Under a Blanket of Blue pairs dixieland flourishes with a nocturnal suspense and a bitingly good Ridenhour solo. The dynamic between Gordon’s signature, irrepressible humor and Shmulyian’s poignancy is a recurrent theme throughout the record.

Ridenhour and Caranicas bring some tempting latin allusions to Ellington’s Just a Sittin’ and a-Rockin’. Another Ellington tune, Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me gives Ridenhour a lauching pad for some Otis Spann-class purist blues. Garcia pushes the band’s reinvention of the Beatles’ Because with a stark tango-infused pulse under Shmulyian’s surrealistically straightforward delivery. And his original, Dance In Between the Moments, is arguably the album’s strongest moment; a sardonic, vivid, indelibly New York salute to escapist behavior on the Lower East Side.

Lady Be Good showcases the band’s expertise in stirring up a crowd on the dancefloor, while Tea for Two goes in the other direction as a tasty guitar shuffle. Shmulyian and Cunningham duet on the album’s funniest number, Sometimes I’m Happy: intentional or not, there’s a whiff of Jamaican rocksteady here.

The album’s most exotic track is legendary Russian trumpeter Eddie Rosner’s You Are Like a Song, Shmulyian giving it a balmy, tender interpretation in the original vernacular. There’s also a Beach Boys cover: the whole band gamely puts everything they have into it, but god only knows the album wouldn’t suffer without it. As it is, Shmulyian and her crew have crafted one of the year’s most dynamically fun releases, rooted in the past but inescapably in the here and now.