New York Music Daily

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Tag: dave hofstra bass

An Exhilarating Live Album and a Lower East Side Release Show by Metropolitan Klezmer

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since high-voltage, time-warping Jewish jamband Metropolitan Klezmer played their first gig at CB’s Gallery, next door to its big sister club, CBGB. In the years that passed, there’s been some turnover in the band, but no relenting in the intensity or the fun department. Their latest release, Mazel Means Good Luck, is a live album – something more bands ought to be making – which comprises material from concerts at several venues from 2009 through 2013. The album is streaming at Bandcamp, and the band are playing the album release show on Dec 15 at 7 PM at the gorgeously restored, sonically rich Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum (just north of Division; B/D to Grand St.); cover is $20/$15 for students.

Much as the band dedicate themselves to original material, drummer/leader Eve Sicular is also a serious musicologist, with a love for resurrecting obscure treasures from across the decades. One particularly noteworthy cover here is the version of the slow, sad lament Die Fire Korbunes – a 1911 requiem for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire – which by all accounts seems to be the first-ever recording of that song. The band also reach to the Soviet Union in 1956 for their update on an Anna Guzik recording of incendiary, iconic songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig’s subtext-drenched Yankele, sung in shiveringly nuanced Yiddish by Melissa Fogarty, accordionist Ismail Butera and violist Karen Waltuch supplying a stark backdrop.

A medley of Romanian-inflected tunes opens with a suspenseful, whirlwind acccordion improvisation, then the band segue into a stately but edgy processional. A clarinet-fueled take of Mikhail Ziv’s 1969 title theme from the Soviet tv cartoon Cheburashka portrays its furry, enigmatic central character as a rather forlorn soul. Fogarty pulls out all the stops for a mischievously sultry take of the album’s title track, originally recorded by Louis Prima’s big band in 1947. There’s also a mashup of a couple of pensive traditional themes with a jaunty, vaudevillian, klezmerized version of Frank Loesser’s Luck Be a Lady Tonight, fueled by clarinetist Debra Kreisberg and trumpeter Pam Fleming.

A similar outside-the-box sensibility informs the band’s originals, which is what distinguishes this group from others in their field: their repertoire is vibrant and in the here and now, and often irreverent. Kreisberg contributes Baltic Blue, which begins as a haunting, slow cumbia, then mashes up the blues and Hava Nagila with soulful solos for alto sax, muted trumpet and Reut Regev’s trombone – it may be an elegy for Brooklyn neighborhoods lost to the blitzkrieg of gentrification. A diptych by the group’s former trombonist Rick Faulkner goes in the opposite direction. And the band waste no time kicking the album off on an explosive note with a trio of party dances.

Sicular also has a thing for subversive humor, which is front and center on the closing number, When Israel Met Jenny, from her multimedia piece J. Edgar Klezmer. It’s a sort of klezmer-chamber-pop reminiscence of how Sicular’s psychiatrist grandmother dealt with FBI surveillance during the cold war, a bitingly funny over-the-shoulder glimpse of the kind of conversation many of New York’s intelligentsia could have had around the table at a Passover seder. Keep an eye out for this one on the best albums of 2014 page here at the end of the year.

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Rachelle Garniez Plays a Hell of a Birthday Show at Barbes

Birthday concerts are usually good, whether you buy into the astrological theory that it’s the performer’s power day, or the simple logic that being surrounded by good friends and good cheer makes for lively entertainment. That was the case last night at Rachelle Garniez‘ show at Barbes. She’s not known as a guitarist, but she’s a good one: she started and ended her long, practically two-hour set playing six-string, snaking her way through a handful of nimble solos, hitting her bottom strings hard, oldschool blues style. She also played solos on piano, accordion and bells that were even more edgy and interesting. Lately she’s become a charter member of wild New Orleans/klezmer/reggae/jamband Hazmat Modine, so she brought along her guitarist bandmate Michael Gomez as well as her longtime bassist Dave Hofstra. Her duo shows at Barbes with Hofstra can be pretty hilarious, with as much surreal storytelling and free-association as music. With Gomez fleshing out the sound, this show gave her the chance to do as much playing as singing and flex her instrumental chops.

She did Luckyday (title track to her classic 2003 album) on piano, giving it a resonant Debussy-meets-Steely Dan gleam, along with a moody, expansively minimalist soul/gospel take of God’s Little Acre, cruelly exploring the dilemma of whether or not to reconnect with someone from the distant, distant past on Facebook. Playing accordion, she indulged a couple in the crowd with a sweet, torchy take of Broken Nose, from her first album, and later encored with Silly Me (from her 1999 Crazy Blood album), playing up its warm latin sway rather than the wary ambiguity of the lyrics. The jaunty Pre-Post Apocalypse had a narrator “maxin’ and relaxin’ on this morphine drip” while the water and the thermometer kept rising, while Jean-Claude Van Damme, which may or may not be a tribute to the action film personality (actor might be a stretch) and antidepressant pitchman, was a showcase for Garniez to air out her immense range with some joyous (or semi-joyous) operatics.

A couple of times she dropped the double entendres and the jokes and went straight for the jugular, which makes sense considering her teenage roots in punk rock. People Like You had less of its usual sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek bounce than raw uncut hostility, Garniez lashing out at the type of New York newbie who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if he/she should be talking to someone more popular. And After the Afterparty, as Garniez explained, took its inspiration from a high school classmate who went on from spending his wee hours at Danceteria to become some alternative kind of sex therapist (Garniez wasn’t clear on this, and maybe he isn’t either). Her sotto vocce “I can’t remember a thing, Captain” refrain is a Star Trek reference, a line that this time out made for a fleeting respite from the song’s terse, sullen, wounded beauty. Garniez will be back at Barbes on April 4, which is usually where she plays when she’s not recording with Jack White, playing with Hazmat Modine, or serving as the music director of the Citizens Band, among other projects.

More Good Shows You Might Have Missed, Part 2

When this blog started, its raison d’etre was live music. Over the first two months, there were a grand total of four albums reviewed here: pretty much everything else was free downloads and concerts. But what happens at every music blog was bound to happen here: the PR machine discovered a brand-new place to send their stuff. Suddenly life got a little easier – a cynic would say, why keep going out night after night now that there’ll probably be some reasonably interesting content for the blog in the next day’s email? But just because every other blog does that doesn’t make it right – even considering how many great studio albums are still being released despite all logic and wisdom, at least commercially speaking. Therefore, here’s part two of a long-overdue rundown on some recent, noteworthy shows by artists you might know or might enjoy.

Exactly a week ago, Patti Smith and her band played upstairs at the Barnes and Noble at Union Square. She did a lot more talking than playing – along with a new album, there’s a new reprint of Woolgathering, her first published full-length prose work, a limited-edition chapbook originally issued in the early 80s. From the excerpts Smith read, it’s snarky and off-the-cuff and bitingly amusing in places, all qualities you would expect from her. The bookstore events person who interviewed her obviously didn’t have much familiarity with Smith’s work, but Smith was gracious, even when it came to deflecting questions that she didn’t want to answer. Much of her time onstage was spent telling a long story about searching for a Renaissance Italian painting that she’d fallen in love with after somebody sent her a postcard of it, which she promptly lost. For the better part of twenty years, she’d tried on and off to find out what the painting was and by whom. Then last year she found herself in a small town in Italy, fell asleep in her hotel room, then woke distraught from an apocalyptic nightmare. Trying to shake off the dread, she went down to the street, found a random church that happened to be open, went inside and was intrigued with the architecture and decor. Making her way to the back – you can see this coming a mile away – what did she see hanging on the far wall? The painting. Blissed out, she rushed back to the hotel, woke Lenny Kaye, and then dragged him to the church to show off her serendipitous find. What is the painting and who is the artist? Watch for a new Patti Smith song about it.

By then, there wasn’t much time to play. Smith only sang; she didn’t pick up her guitar, delivering three new songs and sounding as vital as she’s always been. The first was a soul ballad memorializing Amy Winehouse; the second a surprisingly lighthearted pop number that had Kaye playing nimble acoustic bass while bassist Tony Shanahan switched to electric piano (it was his birthday). The final one was a “world premiere,” as Smith called it, the title track to the new album, a punchy, singalong jam-based number inspired by the dog in the surreal, Stalin-era Mikhail Bulgakov parable The Master and the Margarita. That one could have gone on a lot longer than it did, but Smith graciously wound it up quickly.

The next night dub reggae band El Pueblo played Shrine. Drummer Lucas Leto and bassist Eli Sperling kept the grooves deep and slow while their frontman/alto saxophonist Jeremy Danneman lit them up with crystalline, slowly unwinding, hypnotically melodic lines. Electric pianist Marcelo Casagrandi would sometimes take an incisive, jazz or blues-tinged solo, sailing into the upper reaches of the keyboard, but for the most part he kept things simple and tuneful, as did Robert Julian, their excellent guitarist, who stuck to Chinna Smith-style rhythm for the most part. While a couple of their vamps went deep into echoey territory where it became hard to tell who was playing what – which is the point of dub, after all, to get you completely lost in the music – the majority of their songs sounded more like they were simply oldschool roots reggae songs without the vocals. That they held up as well as they did without any words speaks to how catchy and tuneful their songs are.

The next day Metropolitan Klezmer, another smartly jam-oriented band, played a daytime show on the Upper East Side. Drummer/bandleader Eve Sicular reminded the crowd how diverse klezmer music is, and how it keeps evolving. And then they pushed the envelope, not just with blistering dance numbers and plaintive introductory taqsims by accordionist Ismail Butera and clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Deborah Kreisberg, but with a slinky cumbia tune, a Yiddish movie theme, a Polish tango reworked by Russians and a ferocious Romanian medley to close the show. Bassist Dave Hofstra (of the Microscopic Septet) took only one solo but made it a darkly smoldering one, playing with a bow; chanteuse Melissa Fogarty delivered a handful of songs charmingly but with a knowing wink, particularly an irony-tinged version of Abi Gesunt. Sicular is a joy to watch and also a great wit behind the kit, switching effortlessly from suspenseful vaudevillian rumbles to a hypnotic gallop to artful pings and smashes on her hardware.

Then later that night the most cutting-edge show of the entire week took place in a new public plaza tucked away behind Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, where rap star Yasiin Bey (f.k.a. Mos Def) teamed up with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Pierson. The first half of the showwas nothing special, pretty much what you’d expect at a summertime pops concert: a competent version of the finale from Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the “Eroica”), and a handful of lushly orchestrated versions of jazz-pop hits sung with plenty of drama by Leslie Uggams. After a pause, Bey came out front, saluted the crowd from his old hood and then proceeded to lead the ensemble through a mix of eerie, lushly orchestrated RZA-style straight-up hip-hop narratives, a pensive tone poem, and most impressively, a song that succeeded at the type of artsy, soaring soul-jazz that Elvis Costello was shooting for on his North album but couldn’t reach. Bey has always been a great lyricist, but as it turns out he’s also a first-class soul singer, with a plaintive upper midrange that brought out all the angst in that particular number. From the rear of the plaza, it wasn’t possible to get a decent-quality recording, but it’s safe to say that Bey’s lyrics were as enigmatic, incisively critical and spot-on as ever. They wound up the show with a rap tune that worked permutations on the second movement from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and then a brief, rhythmic, anthemic one by Bey. Blending classical and hip-hop may be nothing new – Bushwick Bill and the entire Wu-tang Clan were doing it as far back as the early 90s – and this was the third time that Bey and the Brooklyn Phil had collaborated live. Let’s hope it’s not the last.