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An Edgy, Entertaining New Album From Individualistic Jazz Cellist Hank Roberts

While thousands of New York artists were getting brain-drained out of this city, cellist Hank Roberts went against the current and came back. And quickly returned to being a ubiquitous presence at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene. His new album Science of Love reflects a particularly fertile period after his return here, recorded in 2017, but just out now and streaming at Sunnyside Records.

Roberts is an exceptionally versatile and purposeful player. Sometimes he’s part of the rhythm section, walking the changes like a bass player as he does early during the opening number, a careening swing tune that doesn’t take long to hit a colorfully haphazard dixieland-flavored raveup with a bubbling interweave from trombonist Brian Drye, clarinetist Mike McGinnis. pianist Jacob Sacks and violinist Dana Lyn over drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s low-key groove. The rhythm drops out for a surreal freeze-frame tableau while Roberts picks up his bow for extra low-end resonance.

The album’s epic centerpiece is a fourteen-part suite titled G. It opens with a title track of sorts, Sperrazza’s altered latin groove quickly giving way to Sacks’ clusters and then a bright, anthemic theme from the rest of the band, which they take on a loose-limbed stroll with echoes of the Claudia Quintet.

Many of the suite’s segments are miniatures, akin to film set pieces. There’s a tongue-in-cheek, distantly suspenseful interlude, an uneasy, Satie-esque piano theme, and a cello/piano conversation that decays from austere steadiness to playful leaps and bounds. Roberts wafts uneasily over Sacks’ brooding minimalism and Sperrazza’s muted, scattershot snare in the fourth segment, Earth Sky Realms,

Part five, titled D23 pairs Roberts’ bluesy riffs against Lyn’s coy, jawharp-like accents and Sperrazza’s squirrelly shuffling as the harmonies grow denser and hazier. How funny is Levity Village? It’s more of an expectant, resonant string theme. The two brief passages afterward flit and dance acidically, then Roberts and Sacks pair off in a more wistful direction.

A wryly tiptoeing. deceptively catchy dance gives way to the GLC Magnetic Floating Stripper, a cheery quasi-match that shifts to more rhythmically unsettled terrain, McGinnis’ soprano sax bobbing and spiraling in a stormy sea of low midrange piano.

A lusciously lustrous, Ellingtonian theme introduces the suite’s practically thirteen-minute next-to-last section, which kicks off with a fondly lyrical trombone/piano duet, Roberts stepping in for Sacks with darkly sustained chords as Drye solos amiably. A shambling, undulating groove sets in as the music grows more dense yet also more agitated. Roberts’ solo, from stark acerbity to a little funk, is arguably the high point of the record. Anxious piano and cello trade off as Sperrazza rustles, then the whole group gets into the act. They close the suite on a surprisingly suspenseful note and then close the album with a rainy-day orchestral melody.

Roberts’ next gig is July 24 at the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival upstate.

Imani Uzuri Brings Her Gospel-Inspired Gravitas and Historical Insight to Lincoln Center

Thursday night at Lincoln Center, singer Imani Uzuri put on a mesmerizing show that was part joyous gospel revival and part hushed, rapt classical concert, with a little Showtime at the Apollo during the early part. Uzuri stands with Fanon in asserting that the damned of the earth keep things running, and someday will inherit it. She wasted no time in dedicating the performance to the marginalized, the oppressed and those trapped in the prison-industrial complex.

That set the tone for what she had in store: the way she expressed those ideas was much more poetic and succinct. Her most recent show here was a stark, otherworldly duo set of improvisations on old African-American spiritual themes. This show was much more lavish, Uzuri flanked by a trio of singers – Joshuah B. Campbell, Ann McCormack and Carami Hilaire in addition to Yayoi Ikawa on piano, Nick Dunston on bass, Marvin Sewell on guitar, Kaoru Watanabe on flute, and Dana Lyn and Trina Basu on strings. And yet, Uzuri’s themes were just as hypnotic, emphatically grounded in dark, wounded, ancient-sounding minor-key blues riffs.

She took special care to send a shout-out to Vera Hall, one of the songwriters she covered, since her song, Troubles So Hard, had been sampled from a rare Smithsonian recording by a corporate radio meme – and apparently had been left uncredited. That long, allusively tormented number finally took an unexpected turn into a final verse with a message of hope against hope even in the most troubled times. As she did in several other numbers, Uzuri gave the other singers onstage plenty of room to add soaring, achingly melismatic solos. She also tried engaging the audience, with mixed results. Much as there were some very inspired, gospelly-informed voices in the house, the general afterwork lethargy absolutely bedeviled her. But that’s to be expected; Uzuri is used to energizing late-night crowds.

Another musical pioneer Uzuri covered was Elizabeth Cotten, who in her sixties worked as a maid for Pete Seeger until he found out that she was a songwriter, and the rest is history. Since then, her signature three-finger guitar technique has become a popular device throughout the worlds of folk music and acoustic blues. Uzuri and the group delivered that particular number with somewhat more of an upbeat vibe than they did with Hall’s resolute, relentless epic.

Throughout the show, Uzuri’s powerful voice ranged from looming, defiantly resonant lows to a stratospheric falsetto that sent microtones bleeding from the atrium’s bare walls. Ikawa rose from minimalist atmospherics, to nonchalantly loungey phrasing, to a sudden, white-knuckle intensity with a series of achingly gorgeous gospel-infused, chromatic solos. Sewell’s stamina in running the same leaping acoustic blues phrase over and over during one of the later numbers was impressive, not to mention the erudite, intricate Chicago blues, and little later the plaintive, elegaic slide work he he played on Telecaster.

Watanabe gave the opening and closing numbers a charanga-like brightness, balanced by a broodingly slashing blues solo from Lyn along with Basu, whose glimmering, nocturnal solo early on literally sent shivers through the PA system. And with  Dunston holding close to the ground with his terse, propulsive, woody lines, who said a band has to have a drummer?

Uzuri closed with a world premiere commissioned by Chamber Music America, who spent their money well. In this pensively immersive suite, questioning where the human spirit has disappeared to, the group opened with a suspensefully circling string interlude and then went deeper in a gospel direction, winding down to a whisper. The ensemble brought the show full circle with a summery, vamping, latin-tinged psychedelic soul tableau.

The Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. has arguably the best and most eclectic mostly-weekly series of free concerts anywhere in New York. You can get your classical on this coming week when the Argus Quartet play there on March 5 at 7:30 PM. Then on March 12 there’s a shamanistic Korean dance-and-percussion performance.

A Sparkling, Verdant, Ecologically-Inspired Suite from Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna

Dana Lyn is one of New York’s most captivatingly protean violinists. She leaps between Irish music, classical and jazz and makes it seem effortless. She’s also one of the most relevant composers around. Her previous album Mother Octopus was a trippy, shapeshifting musical parable about oceanic eco-disaster. Guitarist-keyboardist Kyle Sanna is just as eclectic, moving from Irish and Middle Eastern music to indie classical, jazz and the artsier side of rock. The latest release by the two musicians’ duo project, is the Coral Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a more spare yet lingering and resonant exploration of the vanishing world of coral reefs. Catchy as it is, it’s hard to pin down: there’s baroque elegance and Celtic plaintiveness in Lyn’s alternately wistful and vibrantly lyrical phrasing, anchored by Sanna’s subtle, methodical acoustic work.

Lyn begins the first part of the suite solo with a bittersweet ballad theme, then Sanna makes his entrance and the the two build stately, pointillistic ambience. They shift to a punchy reel of sorts, which in turns morphs into a hypnotic waltz, violin flitting and then soaring over terse, enigmatic chordal guitar varations. The two reharmonize the first reel theme, which leads to another, the multitracks growing more lush. Sanna’s deep-space, delta blues-tinged slide work closes the first section.

The duo begin part the epic, 27-minute second half with slow, hazy, Debussy-esque wave motion, then develop an increasingly lively Irish open-road (or for that matter, open-sea) melody. Echoes of acoustic Fairport Convention – imagine a particularly bright Dave Swarbrick solo – eventually lead to another waltz, a joyous line dance and then more waves.

Sanna makes a gorgeous, poignant Renaissance theme out of that last waltz. From there, the music grows from a tightly strolling intertwine, goes flying through another reel, then recedes to a spare pizzicato interlude. The two take it out with a gently tidal wash of atmospherics.

Lyn’s next New York gig is on July 11 at around 9 PM at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery, where she’s playing with pianist JP Schlegelmilch, a similarly diverse artist who may be best known as the not-so-secret weapon in Hearing Things – the missing link between the Doors and the Ventures – but has also released the only album of solo piano arrangements of Bill Frisell works. Rising star tenor saxophonist Anna Webber opens the night, leading a chordless trio at 8. Cover is $20.

La Mar Enfortuna Lead a Haunting Guided Tour of Sephardic Music at the Jewish Museum

There was a point last night at the Jewish Museum where La Mar Enfortuna guitarist Oren Bloedow, playing a gorgeous black hollowbody Gibson twelve-string, hit an achingly ringing, clanging series of tritones. Violinist Dana Lyn answered him with a flittingly menacing couple of high, microtonal riffs. It was like being at Barbes, or the Owl, except on the Upper East Side.

That good.

For four years now, the Bang on a Can organization has been partnering with the Jewish Museum for a series of concerts that dovetail with current exhibits there. This time out, La Mar Enfortuna’s starkly beautiful Sephardic art-rock and reinventions of ancient Jewish themes from across the Middle East and North Africa were paired with the ongoing Modigliani show.

Since the 90s, Bloedow and his charismatic chanteuse bandmate Jennifer Charles have been the core of similarly haunting, sometimes lushly lurid noir art-rock band Elysian Fields. Likewise, this show built a dark but more eclectic atmosphere. At their quietest, bassist Simon Hanes – who otherwise looked like he was jumping out of his shoes to be playing this material – switched to acoustic guitar, for a spare duo with Bloedow on an ancient Moroccan song whose storyline was a possibly hashish-influenced counterpart to the Sleeping Beauty myth.

The band slunk through a salsa-jazz verse to a ringingly otherworldly, anthemic chorus on an original, Charles singing a lyric by Federico Garcia Lorca in the original Spanish. Bloedow, who was in top form all night as sardonically insightful emcee, noted that the band had played that same song just a few yards from where the fascists had taken Garcia Lorca into the underbrush and then shot him in the back.

Charles also sang in Farsi, Ladino and Arabic. The early part of the set featured more minimalist, lingering ballads; drummer Rob DiPietro sat back from his kit and played a hypnotic dance groove on daf frame drum on one of them. Matt Darriau began the set on bass clarinet; by the end, he’d also played a regular-size model and also bass flute, fueling the songs’ moodiest interludes with his sepulchral, microtonal, melismatic lines.

The closest to an over-the-top moment was when the band danced through the original Sephardic melody of a big Vegas noir ballad that’s been used umpteen times for Hollywood approximations of exoticism. The night’s most hypnotic song was another Moroccan number that strongly brought to mind Malian duskcore rock bands like Tinariwen. The high point was a slowly crescendoing original that rose to a mighty peak, fueled by Bloedow’s majestically resonating chromatic chords.

The Bang on a Can series at the Jewish museum continues on February 22 of next year at 7:30 PM with similarly otherworldly Czech violinist/composer/vocalist Iva Bittova and her ensemble; tix are $18 and include museum admission.

A Rare, Can’t-Miss Reuinon of Phantasmagorical 80s Legends Kamikaze Ground Crew This Thursday at Roulette

This coming Thursday, Sept 29 at 8 PM there’s a rare reunion of legendary, carnivalesque 80s band Kamikaze Ground Crew at Roulette. Advance tix are $20 and worth it. Before World Inferno, or for that matter, Beat Circus were even conceived, there was this band. Kamikaze Ground Crew were just as phantasmagorical – because they were a real circus band. Fans of the dark and surreal would be crazy to miss this early kickoff to Halloween month.

Since the horn-driven supergroup – whose members over the years included saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, trumpeter Steven Bernstein and drummer Kenny Wollesen, among others – disbanded, co-founder Gina Leishman has pursued a similarly eclectic solo career, spanning from elegant, Britfolk-inflected chamber pop, to more theatrical material. The highlight of her most recent show at Barbes was a long, understatedly chilling, dystopic “bardic ballad,” as she put it, in the same vein as Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts, going on for more than ten verses. She played that one on piano, as she did on about half the set, switching to mandola on the rest of the songs, much of the material from a forthcoming album.

Austere strings from violinist Dana Lyn and cellist Hank Roberts lowlit a brooding, rainy-day art-song, Leishman’s calm, steady, nuanced vocals channeling wistful melancholy and saturnine angst. Multi-reedman Doug Wieselman (another Kamikaze alum) added sepulchral sax atmospherics, fluttering over Leishman’s piano as a rather coy, trickly rhythmic number built momentum, like a jazzier Robin Aigner (whose most recent couple of Barbes shows have also been pretty rapturous).

Then Leishman went into sunnier territory with a lush, balmy baroque-pop waltz, stately cello contrasting with soaring, spiraling clarinet. The lilting chamber-folk number after that blended catchy Sandy Denny purism with Chelsea Girl instrumentation, followed by a bossa-inflected tune. Leishman’s solo material is a lot quieter than Kamikaze Ground Crew typically was, so you can expect her and the rest of the crew to pick up the pace for what should be a killer night Thursday at Roulette.

 

Brooklyn Rider’s Latest Album Capsulizes Their Paradigm-Shifting Sound

For the past few years, Brooklyn Rider have pushed the envelope pretty much as far as a string quartet can go, and in the process have raised the bar for other groups: they transcend any preconception about what serious composed music is all about. Their latest album, The Brooklyn Rider Almanac – streaming at Spotify – is their most ambitious effort yet, and may well be the one that most accurately captures what the group is all about. They draw on a wide composer base, including their own members, an A-list of mostly New York-based players and writers across the musical spectrum, from indie classical to Americana to rock and now even jazz.

It’s also a dance album in many respects – pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn‘s similarly eclectic Dances of the World Chamber Orchestra also comes to mind. Beyond the rhythms – everything from funky grooves to waltzes and struts and the hint of a reel or a stately English dance – dynamics are everything here. The pieces rise and fall and shift shape, often with a cinematic arc. The first track is Rubin Kodheli‘s Necessary Henry!, the group – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen – establishing an ominous/dancing dichotomy out of a stormy intro. It may have originally been written for Kodheli’s snarlingly majestic cello metal band Blues in Space.

Maintenance Music, by Dana Lyn shifts from a lustrous fog with distant echoes of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here to a slow waltz and then a chase scene – it’s the most cinematic piece here. Simpson’s Gap, by Clogs‘ Padma Newsome makes a good segue, an Appalachian ballad given bulk and heft with fluttering echoes, as if bouncing off the mountain walls and down into the valley below.

The Haring Escape, by saxophonist Daniel Cords veers from swaying, echoing funk, to slowly shifting resonance, to an aggressive march. Aoife O’Donovan’s Show Me is akin to something Dvorak would have pieced together out of a gentle Hudson Valley dance. Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer‘s Dig the Say gives the quartet a  theme and variations to work, a study in counterrythms, funky vamps bookending a resonantly atmospheric interlude.

There are two pieces by indie rock drummers here. Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier – most recently witnessed  trying his best to demolish the house kit at Glasslands a couple of weeks ago – contributes the most minimalist piece here, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche’s Ping Poing Fumble Thaw being more pointillistic. The album continues on a kinetic path from here until the very end, through Ethan Iverson‘s Morris Dance – which blends contrastingly furtive and calm themes – then Colin Jacobsen’s Exit, with Shara Worden on vocals, a triumphantly balletesque, swirling, rather Reichian piece. The most rhythmically emphatic number here is by Gonazlo Grau, leader of explosive psychedelic salsa band La Clave Secreta. After Christina Courtin’s raptly atmospheric Tralala, the quartet ends with a warmly measured, aptly pastoral take of John Steinbeck, by Bill Frisell.

Dana Lyn Plays an Ocean of Melody at the Firehouse Space

[republished from New York Music Daily’s older and more sophisticated sister blog Lucid Culture]

Violinist Dana Lyn is as adept at Bach and Celtic dances as she is at searchingly acerbic string music. There’s a lot of the the latter on her latest album Aqualude. The night of 4/20 at the Firehouse Space in Greenpoint, she and her shapeshifting band from that album – Clara Kennedy on cello, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Mike McGinnis on clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums – aired out some of the spiraling, entrancing pieces on it as well as a number of even more intriguing new compositions. One of those Lyn had just finished earlier in the day, but the group approached it with relish, Kennedy’s stark solo intro giving way to a lively balletesque theme that worked back and forth through all kinds of permutations, Goldberger hinting at skronk against an uneasy wash of strings.

Another began with an elegant eight-note clarinet hook that Lyn and Goldberger used as a springboard for lilting, dancing harmonies. One of Lyn’s main tropes is to loop a phrase and then use that to anchor an intricate interweave of voices. and the band did that often throughout an expansive set that went well over an hour. Lyn also has a fascination with the ocean and its creatures, carefully and wryly explaining how those often very strange beings influence her music. The guardedly explosive centerpiece of the Aqualude album, she said, was inspired by the hairy crabs who frequent the volcanic vents on the seabed. Another piece drew on the plight of the octopus, whose male and female basically go insane and die after they mate (does that remind you of another species?).

Kennedy opened the show with a stark intro that grew into a metrically tricky loop in tandem with the guitar, McGinnis adding counterrythmic staccato accents as Lyn’s violin wafted overhead. Sperrazza – who felt the room’s sonics instantly, keeping his masterfully counterintuitive accents and colors low-key with his brushes and sometimes just his hands – kicked off the next one as loudly as he’d go, with an almost baroque counterpoint from the clarinet and strings.

Along with the web of melodies, there’s a lot of contrast in Lyn’s music, and the band worked those dynamics with a comfortable chemistry: hazy atmospherics versus a kinetic drive, loud/soft and calm/agitated dichotomies, Goldberger hitting his pedals for an unexpected roar or McGinnis leaping from the murk of the bass clarinet to the top of his register. Lyn also counters the pensiveness and gravitas of her music with a surreal sense of humor. It was her birthday, so she supplied paper and pens so that everyone in the crowd could draw a cadavre exquis. Some of the audience came up with intriguing or amusing stuff; from an artistically-challenged point of view, it was impossible to concentrate on drawing for very long because it was such a distraction – and a lot more fun – to watch Lyn’s magical sonic tableaux unfold.