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Tag: dance music

Get Your Reverb Fix This Saturday Night at Otto’s With the Surf Junkies

One of the most telling signs of how the plandemic turned New York into a second-rate artistic hub is how venues are reacting. Take Smalls jazz club, for example. For decades, they had two acts a night plus the midnight jam session. These days, the headline artist is also responsible for the jam, and where a monthly gig there used to be reserved for an elite few, bandleaders are playing two or three shows a month there now.

That paradigm works all the way down the line to Otto’s, where the monthly surf rock show used to feature as many as five acts. This month’s installment there on Nov 5 has only three. The night starts at 8 with a mystery band who call themselves Drip 2.0 and could go either way, but the groups afterward are excellent.

Headliners the TarantinosNYC, who play at 11-ish, have been around since the zeros and have evolved into a surprisingly sleek, cinematic outfit that match their name. The Surf Junkies, who play in between at around 9, just put out a debut short album, streaming at Bandcamp,

The Washington, DC quartet of guitarists Max Gonzo and Larry Atom, bassist El Kabong and drummer Vic Vegas obviously do not take themselves seriously, as befits a surf band, but their original songs are dope.

They build the opening track, The Tube, from a funky strut to a big anthemic payoff that wouldn’t be out of place in the Ronnie Earl tunebook.

The band blend subtle latin influences into the tightly wound Barrel Pounder and close the record with Surfer’s Lament, awash in spare, enigmatic, wide-angle chords over a slow clave beat.

Every surf band plays Tequila, but….do you have to record the damn thing? At least this version has more slashing guitar work than most groups give it. It’ll be interesting to see what else they have up their sleeves this Saturday night. Word to the wise: if you don’t know the club, they have an ID scanner and use it on everybody. Like, everybody: if you’re 90 and on a walker, expect to be carded. Bring your passport since ID scanners don’t work on passports, and this is no time to be leaving a trail of electronic crumbs that could wind up on a social credit score.

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Sizzling Afrobeat and Gospel at One of the Year’s Best Twinbills to Kick Off September

One of the best twinbills of the year is happening this Sept 1 at 7 PM at an unlikely spot, Baby’s All Right on the south side of Williamsburg, where psychedelic Afrobeat band Super Yamba share a bill with the rousingly soulful Harlem Gospel Travelers. The venue has reopened and the bands’ publicist advises that there are no restrictions; cover is $15 for what promises to be an awesome dance party. The venue webpage isn’t clear on who’s playing first, but it doesn’t matter because both acts are worth sticking around for.

Super Yamba have been one of the best party bands in town for several years. Kaleta, their frontman brings a deep background to the music after getting his start in Nigeria as a sideman with King Sunny Ade and then Fela Kuti in the late 70s.

Super Yamba’s most recent album Medaho came out in 2019 and is streaming at Soundcloud. The title means “big brother,” but in a good way. It’s a shout-out from Kaleta to his older brother, who is tragically no longer with us but was responsible for introducing the bandleader to Afrobeat.

The album is best appreciated as a cohesive whole, ideally with everybody on their feet. Throughout the playlist, organ swirls and blips tightly over strutting bass and drums. The opening number, Gogo Rock has a long, sinuous wah-wah solo from the bandleader. Track two, Mr. Diva has bitingly catchy minor-key brass riffage that Kaleta artfully picks up with his guitar as the song winds along, and a grittily insistent vocal: there’s no mistaking this for a dis!

Briskly stepping rhythms circle through Hungry Man, Angry Man as the organ keens and chirps overhead. The album’s title track is an edgy, practically punk jam with deep-space wah guitar and a clattering, circular groove. The band work a tastily quadrangulated, understated call-and-response from bass, to guitar, to organ and then horns in the next track, Goyitò

The rhythms get trickier in Jibiti, then the band kick into the Super Yamba Theme, pulsing along on the album’s catchiest bassline and stabbing horn interplay. It’s also the album’s most hypnotic interlude.

Adjotò is a big concert favorite and the most intense, careening number here. The band take the album out in a blaze of brass and staccato distorted guitar in La Gueule (Afro-French insult: “shut up”).

This blog has been in the house at several Super Yamba shows, in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The most recent one was a private event in Williamsburg in the fall of 2019; whether playing for the public or just the cognoscenti, they jam like crazy.

The Zoo Berries Bring Their Slinky, Imaginative Funk and Soul Grooves to Long Island City

Have you noticed how suspiciously much the word “lab” is trending, not just when connected with things that escape or are released from labs, but in everything from rehearsal studios, to bands, to music venues? Especially the places with free shows? What’s that all about?

One of those venues, surprise surprise, is a new one, Culture Lab in Long Island City. Even so, there have been a ton of good acts playing on the back of the flatbed trailer in the parking lot there this summer. One of them is the Zoo Berries, who are there on August 26 at 8 PM.

Back in 2018, their bandleader and bassist Ayal Tsubery – also of sizzling Balkan band Tipsy Oxcart – sent over some files. Since everybody in the band had plenty of other projects going on, this group didn’t play that many shows, so those files just sat, and sat, and sat on the hard drive here. But the band’s lone studio release is good!. If imaginative soul and funk sounds are your thing, give it a spin at Bandcamp.

The first number is Back In Time, which the band build from a spare intro, to an easygoing slow jam, then guitarist Nadav Peled (also of ferocious Ethiopiques band Anbessa Orchestra) takes a machinegunning solo, and the energy goes through the roof. Soprano saxophonist Hailey Niswanger’s solo after that is just about as incendiary.

The second track is Brother, a warmly swaying 6/8 oldschool soul groove, Niswanger harmonizing exuberantly with tenor player Arnan Raz before the two diverge and go blasting through the stratosphere as pianist Daniel Meron and drummer Peter Kronrief kick in harder. They follow the same trajectory in Final Decision, an update on a classic, slinky Booker T sound, Peled’s icepick guitar anchoring the groove to where Meron unexpectedly takes it into hard-hitting jazz.

He pulls back to a moody ripple in Shir LeShabbat, a traditional Jewish melody: finally, the bandleader takes a serpentine solo, climbing and then taking the long way down from the top of the fretboard with his nimble hammer-on riffs. The final tune is Acceptance, a real change of pace with its rainy-day intro. But then spoken-word artist Kéren Or Tayar gets on the mic, and Niswanger plays gentle, sustained lines and a few curlicues, and the sun bursts from behind the clouds.

A Rare Surf Rock Triplebill in Williamsburg on the 18th

Beyond the occasional show in the little back room at Otto’s or Freddy’s, there hasn’t been much surf rock in New York since before the 2020 totalitarian takeover. For anyone who misses the days when people in this city had the chance to bounce around to fast, catchy rock instrumentals with reverb guitar and rolling drums, there’s a rare triplebill happening on August 18 at 8 PM at a new outdoor Williamsburg venue, the Sovereign at 173 Morgan Ave. Like a lot of places in town, they’ve been slow to catch the #cashalways wave and in the early going have embraced the weird dollars-and-cents online ticketing fad. Which most likely translates to twenty bucks at the door if you want to see the Jagaloons, Wiped Out and then headliners Messer Chups.

The openers play a mix of originals and classic covers which range from early 60s surf hits to spaghetti western themes. A live set at Otto’s in the spring of 2018 revealed them as a lot tighter than what they have up at Bandcamp: knowing that they made it through the lockdown intact is a good sign just by itself. The headliners are a Russian counterpart to Man or Astroman, except that they have a regular bass player: their cartoonish take on horror surf can get annoyingly kitschy. The biggest attraction on the bill is the in-between band, who have an ep and a bunch of singles up at Bandcamp.

The first one, Waves of Panic, is a great start, a chromatic, Greek-flavored cousin to Misirlou with a little organ mingled in with the guitars. The flip side is No Surfing in the East River, a go-go theme. Those washed up on shore and pretty much went back out to sea in the lost summer of 2020.

Fast forward three months later to when the band put out the aptly titled Bummer Vacation, where they switch on a dime between horror surf and reggae. The band stayed busy and in January of last year put out their first ep, Sweet Almond Eyes, which opens with a doo-wop vocal number, followed by the punchy Shark Attack and then One More Before Dark, an ominously twangy tune with a little Tex-Mex flavor.

Last June, they released another single, Dude, That Was Gnarly, a tasty blend of tremolo-picking and icy reverb-tank pings backed by a pretty sizzling cover of Walk, Don’t Run. The band’s most recent release is the single Reverbology, which makes a good segue and has what sounds like a theremin on it. The b-side (do digital releases have b-sides?) is wryly titled Mellow Out and is the strongest, most darkly unpredictable song they’ve recorded so far.

Underground System Bring Their Playful Jams to a Dance Party on the Hudson

Over the last few years, Underground System have built a reputation as a ferocious party band. Singer/flutist Domenica Fossati is every bit as tirelessly entertaining to watch dancing out in front of the band as she is on the mic. The group are bringing their distinctive, psychedelic mix of Afrobeat, hard funk and other eclectic dancefloor sounds to an outdoor show on August 12 at 7 PM at Pier 45 on the water in Chelsea. Take West 10th St. to the river.

The band’s latest vinyl album is an ep, Into the Fire, streaming at Bandcamp. The title track is a coy mashup of early 80s tech-funk – think Midnight Starr or Jah Wobble’s collaborations with Holger Czukay – with harder chicken-scratch guitar textures and spicy horns as the jam goes on. Fossati finally goes spiraling upward into the Milky Way with her flute.

Track two, He Said She Said, is harder-edged, fueled by guitarist Peter Matson and drummer Yoshio Kobayashi. Singing in Spanish, Fossati needles a dude who’s just a party-pooper: like the first track, there’s a very 80s feel to this. After that, the band get swirly and ethereal but keep the groove going just as steady in Desnuda. The ep also includes interestingly organic-flavored remixes of the first and last songs. If you have the space at your place or on your rooftop to throw a dance party this summer, this will keep everybody on their feet.

The Budos Band Bring Their Undulating Menace Back Home to Staten Island

Most bands tend to mellow out as they get older, but Staten Island’s Budos Band went in the opposite direction. They started out playing a psychedelic blend of Afrobeat with frequent Ethiopiques tinges and then brought a macabre Black Sabbath influence into the mix. They’re got a free outdoor concert coming up on August 4 at 7 PM on their home turf at Corporal Thompson Park, which is close to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. If you’re not a Shaolin resident, be aware that it’s a good half-hour on foot: hang a right, for starters, after you exit the ferry terminal.

Their latest album Long in the Tooth, arguably their most concise, catchiest release yet, came out during the dead of the 2020 lockdown and is streaming at Bandcamp. This time out the ghosts seem to be dancing in the courtyards of haunted castles on the Ethiopian coast rather than in gloomy Albion. The group open with the title track, guitarist Tom Brenneck building an ominous surf tune way down at the bottom as organist Mike Deller’s keening Farfisa lines float overhead, baritone saxophonist Jared Tankel the smoke peeling off the fire from Andrew Greene’s trumpet.

Track two, Sixth Hammer perfectly capsulizes the direction the band’s taken in the last few years: menacingly looping Sabbath chromatics over a cantering Ethiopian rhythm fueled by the funereal funk of the percussion section: Brian Profilio on drums, John Carbonella Jr. on congas, Rob Lombardo on bongos and Dame Rodriguez on everything else.

They slink their way through the tantalizingly brief Snake Hawk, which could be Beninghove’s Hangmen playing Mulatu Astatke. Then bassist Daniel Foder spaces out his boomy chords to punctuate Dusterado, a slower, organ-fueled oldschool noir soul groove.

The horns take over with otherworldly Ethiopian chromatic riffage over a go-go flavored pulse in Silver Stallion. Haunted Sea could be what an Ethiopian horn band might have done with a dark Dick Dale theme a half-century ago. Then the band shift from dark vintage soul to a brassy Afrobeat blaze in The Wrangler.

Brenneck – who sticks with a vintage, gritty tube-amp reverb sound here for the most part – kicks off Gun Metal Grey with his distortion turned up to breaking point, the horns swooping in with a brooding resonance. To what extent is there bullshit in the next track, Mierda De Toro? The joke seems to be the resemblance to a famous surf song, reinvented as a cantering groove built around a catchy descending bassline.

The most straightforwardly trad Ethiopian themes here are Budonian Knight and the closing cut, Renegade, Deller’s funeral-parlor organ and Brenneck’s icepick wah guitar building to a surreal dubwise break and then back. How great is it to have these amazing, darkly individualistic instrumentalists playing live shows again!

Brilliant Bassist Yula Beeri Brings Her Upbeat New Duo Project to Long Island City

Yula Beeri played bass in wildly influential circus rock band World Inferno. That group met a tragic demise with the death of their frontman Jack Terricloth, murdered by the Covid shot just over a year ago. However, Beeri has always stayed busy with other groups, from the sizzling, slinky Israeli-tinged Nanuchka, to a rotating cast of characters she calls Yula & the Extended Family. Her latest project is Y&I with drummer Isaac Gardner. Their debut album Holy Vol. 1 is streaming at Spotify. They’re playing outdoors at Culture Lab in Long Island City on July 16 at 5 PM.

It was a lot of fun watching the two working up this material over the course of a series of shows at LIC Bar at the top of the street in the months before the 2020 lockdown. There aren’t many bassist-fronted bands, let alone singers who can play Beeri’s serpentine, melodic lines at the same time. Throughout her shows there, she’d sometimes play along to a loop pedal, sometimes adding layers live and building a song on top of them while Gardner played low-key funk, and shuffles, and dancefloor beats behind her.

The new album is a lot more lighthearted and techy than Beeri’s harder-rocking earlier work. The first track, Cub sets the stage with its tricky tempo, woozy processed layers of vocals and flurrying drums. The duo follow with Slip & Slide, a cheery, aptly slithery trip-hop tune with dub echoes, some icy raga guitar licks and a lickety-split ska outro

Gate (as in “finish gate”) has playfully syncopated layers of vocals over a muted, galloping beat where Beeri’s guitar and bass tracks pick up with her signature chromatic edge. The duo go back to trip-hop with a more minimalist, loopy, skronky Goldfrapp/Garbage edge in the next track, Wire.

Beeri hits her chilly vintage chorus pedal for an icy strobe in the album’s title track, Gardner rattling the traps vintage one-drop style at the end of a phrase. The last song is This House, Beeri’s disembodied sci-fi vocal multitracks and a sly hip-hop interlude over Gardner’s loose-limbed swing beat. There’s plenty of room in the parking lot in Queens to dance to this.

The Attacca Quartet Play Outdoors This Month. and Stagedive Into Punk Classical

Quick: name the New York string quartet who’ve played for a larger live audience than any of their peers. Obviously, that’s kind of a trick question since those groups typically all share a circuit of intimate spaces best suited to that repertoire.

Some of you might be surprised to find out that the answer to that question is the Attacca Quartet, who were invited by Jeff Lynne to open for the Electric Light Orchestra at that group’s Manhattan appearances during the mid-teens. What may have endeared them to him is their dedication to material far outside of standard repertoire, as well as their fondness for unorthodox venues.

One unorthodox space they’re playing this month is Madison Square Park, where they’re holding down a three-week Wednesday evening residency starting on July 13 at 6 PM and continuing with shows on the 20th and 27th. While they tackle a vast range of material from 21st century works, to art-rock with songwriter Becca Stevens, all the way back to Renaissance composers like John Dowland, they also have a punk side. And a punk classical album, Real Life, streaming at Spotify. It’s possible they may air some of that one out in the park.

The album’s shtick is string quartet arrangements of EDM themes. They’re simple and repetitive and obviously weren’t originally conceived for any kind of close listening, let alone much of a shelf life. To call their insistent riffs and endless whoomp-whoomp rhythms minimalist would be giving them too much credit – and the quartet seem to get that. This is closer to the early Kronos Quartet at their cheekiest, or Rasputina, than it is to, say, the fluffy orchestral versions of RZA or J Dilla themes that have been staged in recent years.

Cellist Andrew Yee seems to relish the chance to dig in hard on the low end, whether with his bow or his fingers. Violinists Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni and violist Nathan Schram are most likely playing their parts straight through rather than simply looping them. There is also a percussive component, which seems to be electroacoustic: it’s not clear who’s on the drums.

The quartet have the most fun when they’re ornamenting the sound with saucy glissandos, pizzicato flickers, mimicking the sound of a backward-masking pedal, or building hazy ambience before the whoomp-whoomp kicks in. There’s a drifting, summery interlude which looks back to 70s disco, as well as moments of sheer chaos and a woozy, wallowing tableau. This is a gimmicky record, but it’s fair to say that these versions will outlast the source material. And you can do the punk rock dance to most of it.

Sonny Singh Reinvents Ancient Sikh Themes As Catchy, Slinky Dance Tunes

Sonny Singh is best known as the soaring trumpeter in New York’s well-loved, ecstatically brassy bhangra dance group Red Baraat. But he’s also a composer and bandleader. His debut album Chardi Kala – streaming at Bandcamp – resembles his main band in that the music draws on ancient traditions from the Hindustani subcontinent, but it’s less thunderously percussive and more enveloping. Tantalizing hints of the Middle East and Afrobeat filter in and out of the music as well. For lyrics. Singh draws on medieval Sikh chants which celebrate subversion and defiance in the face of repression: spot-on choices for this moment in history.

To open the record, Singh and ensemble make a ringing, resounding guitar rock anthem out of an old Punjabi melody. Red Baraat are a large band, and there’s a small army playing on this album. Singh sings, plays trumpet and harmonium, joined by the core crew on most of the rest of the tunes: Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Wil Abers on bass and Dave Sharma on drums, plus Ernest Stuart on trombone.

The title track is a balmy, lilting tune with brightly sailing trumpet. Track three, Ghadar is a darkly gorgeous bhangra-rock number with Andalucian-tinged chromatics and flaring Goldberger guitar. Singh makes a swaying, starry anthem out of a kirtan theme in the album’s fourth cut, followed by an undulating melody with bright horn counterpoint, swirly harmonium and stinging guitar from Nadav Peled.

After that, we get psychedelic trip-hop with swooshy keys; a bright Punjabi soul song; a chugging bhangra brass anthem that sounds like a Punjabi Burning Spear song; an ecstatic, dub-tinged ghazal; a revolutionary-themed Bollywood spy theme; and an airy coda. All of this you can dance to.

Singh’s next restriction-free New York show is July 10 at 5 PM in the parking lot at Culture Lab in Long Island City.

An Upbeat New Album and a Loisaida Release Show by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra

One auspicious development here in New York is that we are seeing several groups whose performances were banned during the 2020-21 lockdown beginning to reemerge. Before March of 2020, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra were leaders in keeping the flame of oldschool salsa dura alive, while adding their own brassy spin on a sound that in many ways defined this city for so long. Even better, they have a brand new album, Imágenes Latinas – streaming at Spotify – and a record release show this May 20 at 7:30 PM at Drom. Adv tix are $30, which is five bucks less, in a more salsa-centric space, than their previous release show at the old Jazz Standard several blocks to the north.

All the singers – Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch – kick in right off the bat on the first number, Llego La Hispanica,,over the blaze of trumpeters Maneco Ruiz and Alex Norris, and trombonists Doug Beavers and Juan Gabriel Lakunza. Mitch Frohman’s baritone sax smokes in the background, bolstered by bassist Jerry Madera as bandleader Oscar Hernandez’s piano tumbles elegantly. The percussionists – timbalero Luisito Quintero, conguero George Delgado and bongo player Jorge Gonzalez – are slinky and pretty chill on this one, but they will all cut loose later on.

The album’s title track, a shout-out to immigrant determination, gets a deliciously spare, noir-tinged intro before the brass blasts in. Bosch contributes the cheery, undulating Vestido de Flores. After that, their catchy take of De Mi Para Ti makes a good segue, echoing Manny Oquendo and Conjunto Libre, a persistent influence throughout the record.

Romance Divino, a Hernandez original, has a more pop-oriented 80s salsa romantica vibe but with a classic-style arrangement. A steady, salsafied take of the bolero Como Te Amo makes another good segue, with a tastily shifting brass chart.

Frohman opens Hernández’s Mambo 2021 with a blithe flute solo, then switches back to baritone and completely flips the script, followed eventually by a tantalizingly brief timbale solo from Quintero. Sentimiento y Son has a rustic bomba rhythm but also the sophistication of the group’s home turf.

Likewise, Cuando La Hispanica Toca is an update on a smoky, vintage Machito cha-cha sound. The group slow down a little for the plush, balmy but moodily modal clave ballad Mi Amor Sincero and stay on that tip to close the album with La Musica Latina. We took this group for granted for so long: good to have them back.