New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: david lynch

The Red Room Orchestra Bring Iconic Noir Cinematics to the Upper West

Are the Red Room Orchestra the world’s most distinctive noir cinematic band? Considering that they specialize in Twin Peaks themes, if they’re not, there would be something wrong. Last night at what appeared to be a sold-out New York debut at Symphony Space, they went deep into Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic David Lynch tv and film music to conjure up a relentlessly bittersweet, menacing “purgatory,” as bandleader Marc Capelle put it.

But they didn’t just do meticulously arranged, spot-on recreations from the original scores. There were lots of surprises. Who knew that violist Dina Maccabee could do such a perfect Julee Cruise imitation? Or that original cast member James Marshall, singing and wielding his Strat, had the chops to play Hendrix? Or that Capelle, who spent most of the set at the piano, would turn in one of the night’s most gorgeously bittersweet solos, playing muted trumpet on the title theme from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me?

He and the group have spared no detail to appeal to a rabid fan base who totally geek out on this stuff, not limiting themselves to coy little flourishes on intros and outros. The original Twin Peaks tv themes were the most luridly luscious numbers on the bill, although here they had more of an organic feel than Badalamenti’s original score. Those recordings balance blue-neon tremolo guitar against icy string synth: although these versions had plenty of swirling keyboard orchestration, courtesy of Capelle, Yuka C. Honda and vibraphonist Toby Dammit, who also doubled on keys, the music was warmer and more intimate, amplified by Capelle’s grand piano, Maccabee’s viola and Scott Larson’s looming trombone.

They opened with the tv show’s title theme, bassist Eli Crews and baritone guitarist Tom Ayres doubling their lines on the low end. From there, they slunk and fingersnapped their way through the stripper theme that eventually became would-be femme fatale Audrey Horne’s dance. And they took their time reaching from nostalgic, melancholy Americana to foreboding grey-sky sonics as they worked sweeping, majestic, ineluctably gloomy permutations on dead girl Laura Palmer’s themes.

There were some funny bits too. When guitarist Allyson Baker wasn’t absolutely nailing all those deliciously terse, resonantly tremoloing riffs, she evoked Chuck Berry on acid during a surprisingly un-cheeseball reinvention of Bill Doggett’s silly 50s instrumental Honky Tonk. Singer Karina Denike reached for the rafters with an aching wail in dynamic takes of the expected Orbison hits Lynch has used to drive home big dramatic moments, from Blue Velvet through the Twin Peaks franchises. And Margaret Cho joined with Marshall and Beth Lisick for a couple of over-the-top bits from the drama within the drama, the make-believe soap opera Invitation to Love.

Multi-reedman Ben Goldberg added liquid crystal clarinet as well as gritty low end on contrabass clarinet, notably during the Audrey Horne sequences. Drummer Robin MacMillan provided a nimble, frequently muted swing, often using his mallets. At the end, Marshall plugged in again and blazed through a dirty, noisy take of Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile: Slight Return. It was appropriate because of the Pacific Northwest connection, Capelle explained.

Denike is at Pete’s this Sunday, Feb 17 at 8:30; the Red Room Orchestra are playing a completely different program of material from Wes Anderson movies tonight, Feb 16 at 8 again at Symphony Space;  you can get in for $30.

Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized Make a Long-Awaited Comeback in Red Hook This Thursday

Of all the great bands who’ve had monthly residencies at Barbes over the years, one of the most consistently entertaining and even paradigm-shifting ones was by Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized. Throughout 2016 and into the fall of last year, the guitarist and his nine-piece group careened through a more-or-less monthly series of shows there. Crowds were good, and word was out about Csatari’s enigmatically orchestrated, scruffy, individualistic mashup of jangly Americana and improvisational jazz.

Then disaster struck.

Long story short: Csatari survived a brush with death, and has reconvened the band for a show this Thurs, Aug 23, starting at around 6:30 PM at Pioneer Works. The band’s Barbes gigs were always on the epic side, so if you can’t make it to Red Hook by the time the doors open, don’t stress. The show is free; you probably can just walk in although the venue wants you to rsvp. It’s the big comeback jazz show of 2018, and this blog will be in the house.

Throughout the residency, Csatari and the crew played mostly originals, although they did a surprisingly tight and trad Chico Hamilton night and explored other composers as well. The best of the cover nights, by a country mile, was Twin Peaks night in October of last year. It earned a mention as one of the year’s best concerts here, and serendipitously, the entire show was recorded and is streaming at Csatari’s music page.

For that show, Csatari had his tremolo on, but not with as wide an angle as on Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic soundtrack. The group began by skirting the Twin Peaks title theme, hitting on the offbeat instead of nailing it right from the start and ending up with as much if not more suspense as the original as the high reeds – flutist Tristan Cooley and alto saxophonist Levon Henry – misted and veered in and out of focus. Without flinching, they gracefully fluttered through the end, as closely as a nine-piece jazz ensemble can approximate a four-piece rock band. Without a hint as to what they’d play next, they vamped slowly and built to a mighty crescendo fueled by a couple of emphatic Csatari clangs, then the instruments fell away….into a haphazard jam on one of the more unctuous Christmas carols out there. Jethro Tull once used it as comic “relief,” if that means anything to you. Csatari reprised Badalamenti’s haunting, minimialist riffs at the end with a spare, lingering presence.

Listening back to this show a year later is a trip, to say the least. Rashomon memories fall away, while the more indelible ones spring back to life. Drummer Rachel Housle’s stunning dynamics, from hushed, Lynchian suspense to a four-on-the-floor rock swing are a big part of the picture – although happily the mic was positioned so the drums don’t drown anybody out. Likewise, bassist Nick Jozwiak’s slinky pulse and occasional thunderous chord are toward the back in the mix.

The band also played a lot of originals that night, many of the intros slowly coalescing only to slowly unwind later. Rowlings, with its nebulous, Frisellian intro and tempo changes; the haphazardly twisted little waltz Yellow Rose; Just Friends, a starrily brooding duet between Csatari and fellow six-stringer Julian Cubilllos; and the hypnotic Lullaby Stomp (hardly a stomp, actually) are early highlights.

With torchy, soul-infused grit, singer Ivy Meissner leads the band through a couple of her songs, Races Are Run and Shelby as well as the Julee Cruise valium-noir hits Questions in a World of Blue and The Nightingale. Organist Dominic Mekky is most present in the best of the originals, the catchy, nebulously pulsing Pale Rider.

The rest of the Twin Peaks material is also choice. The group reinvent the stalking Pink Room theme as a sway, and then practically a soul strut. Laura Palmer’s theme is all the more menacing for its sparseness, mostly just Csatari and Cubillos the first time around. And bass clarinetist Casey Berman adds welcome gravitas to the sardonic Audrey Horne stripper theme.

Csatari can be hilarious when he wants, with a cynicism that’s pure punk rock. Voices diverge and fall off the page. The momentary detours into into punk, new wave and free squall can be priceless. But he can also be as unselfconsciously dark as you would expect from a guy who would take the trouble to come up with his own Twin Peaks charts. The band should be especially psyched to tackle whatever he throws at them in Red Hook.

A Chillingly Lynchian Soundtrack from Nathan Halpern

In the New York rock world, Nathan Halpern is known as an intense, melodic guitarist, a member of Kerry Kennedy’s brilliant Ghostwise band and a first-class dark rock songwriter in his own right. The film world knows Halpern as a composer. His most recent project is the soundtrack to the documentary film Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, playing at Film Forum through July 5, on HBO all summer long, followed by a national theatrical release which is still in the works. Halpern is a master of noir, and this haunting, Eastern European-tinged theme and variations establishes him as a sort of 21st century counterpart to Angelo Badalamenti. One word to describe this: Lynchian. Analytically speaking, it’s absolutely fascinating how Halpern develops and orchestrates a series of variations on a series of allusively menacing ideas. But nobody’s going to sit and analyze this: as haunting, Balkan-inflected High Romantic angst, it’s something to get completely lost in. Other than the gypsy music, and Badalamenti – whose minimalist work with David Lynch comes to mind most obviously here – there are echoes of Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock scores, the Tin Hat Trio’s contributions to the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack, and the occasional reference to Bach or Beethoven. In other words, this guy isn’t messing around, diving into the shadows from the first few lingering notes from his piano.

A lot of these pieces are tantalizingly brief, clocking in at just a couple of minutes or even less: how they segue into each other makes it next to impossible to keep track of which is which unless you’re keeping a close eye on which track is playing. There are two main themes. The first, a tensely moody, chromatically-charged melody, features Halpern’s piano and a string section of O’Death’s Robert Pycior (who is credited as co-writer of the main theme and a couple of variations) on violin and viola, Jody Redhage on cello and Andrew Platt on bass plus Thurston Moore collaborator Mary Lattimore on harp. The second is a morosely atmospheric waltz anchored by Halpern’s echoey, often bloodcurdling music-box broken chords. The title theme recurs again and again, strings rising and falling against it, sometimes warmly and lushly, sometimes agonizingly. The waltz channels unrequited love and longing as it recurs and shifts tempos, at one point morphing into a dark little Serbian dance. There’s also a chillingly stately interlude that toys cruelly with a Bach Invention motif; a gleefully dancing Balkan piece led by Pycior’s stark phrasing; and a couple of artful atmospheric passages where droning textures move sepulchrally into and then out of the picture. The orchestrations manage to be simultaneously terse yet enveloping, and are packed with neat, shadowy little touches: is that the choir patch on a synthesizer? No, that’s Lori Fisher’s ghostly, distant vocals leading into that stern, tense Jody Redhage pedal note. And V.S. Nabakov’s water-drop percussion adds a cruel inevitability to a miniature Beethoven-tinged nocturne about the passage of time, lit up by Halpern’s spaciously reverberating, plaintive electric guitar.

What about the film, and Abramovic? She’s a Belgrade-born performance artist, now in her sixties, who’s made a career of putting herself on display: she may be your cup of tea, or she may not. Not having seen the film, it’s not clear to what degree it comments on what she does, if at all, and the soundtrack gives nothing away. The suspense is crushing. The itunes link is here.

A Brian Eno Classic Live in Concert

Recording a live album of ambient Brian Eno compositions is a potential minefield. First and foremost is the issue of audience noise – never mind how to arrange or orchestrate the music. Yet at the 2010 Brighton International Festival in the UK, James Poke’s ensemble Icebreaker bravely tackled the 1983 Brian Eno/Roger Eno/Daniel Lanois collaboration Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, and pulled it off, quietly but mightily. A lush, mesmerizing piece of music, this newly released concert album – just out on Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe Music label – doesn’t have the spontaneous vibrancy of a live recording. While it sounds like a studio effort, Icebreaker’s new arrangement enhances the hypnotic, enveloping, raptly warm ambience of the original, giving it a more organic feel. Here, the young pedal steel player on the studio recording, Lanois, is absent – in his place, the brilliant BJ Cole, who cites Eno and Apollo in particular as major influences on his own paradigm-shifting work.

To the twelve-piece ensemble’s credit, it’s impossible to keep track of who’s playing what, as the minimalist melody gently shifts from one voice, or combination of voices, to another. The group’s lineup is acoustic-electric, with Dominic Saunders and Andrew Zolinsky on keyboards, Pete Wilson on bass, and James Woodrow doing a chillingly accurate David Gilmour impersonation on guitar over the hypnotic sweep of woodwinds, strings and accordion. The piece’s slow tectonic shifts drift between instruments, practically imperceptibly as subtle shifts in the melody float in and then out of the mix, the ringing, bell-like tones of the electric piano evoking Angelo Badalementi at his dreamiest. As the variations go on, the music takes on a more ominous, Lynchian atmosphere: what becomes obvious is how many artists, from 17 Pygmies to Bill Frisell, have felt the influence of this work (and how much Eno was influenced by Pink Floyd). Woodrow’s jarring, apprehensive, Gilmour-esque riffs juxtapose against quietly anxious, shifting voices, highs slowly ceding centerstage to lows as the clouds loom in with a distant menace.

The album then takes a turn away from minimalism and horizontality. Cole’s purist country phrasing lights up what’s essentially a swaying folk anthem, stripped to the bone, followed by what could be Another Brick in the Wall, Part 4, then a soul guitar theme, and an imaginatively spiced countrypolitan steel guitar ballad. The album ends with a gorgeous, hazily bittersweet series of circular motifs, and a lullaby of sorts. Who is the audience for this? For one, the next generation of kids who’re just now discovering Floyd and the rest of the art-rock pantheon, along with anybody who was there for that stuff the first time around and who might have missed this – and for that matter, anyone looking for hypnotic, gently atmospheric music to get completely and absolutely lost in.

Deep Noir with Ben Von Wildenhaus

Ben Von Wildenhaus, connoisseur of noir guitar, played Zebulon last night. It was a show worthy of Jim Campilongo, or Duke Levine, or Marc Ribot, all guitarists that Von Wildenhaus resembles. But while he pulls ideas from the depths of a seemingly bottomless pit of every lurid trick in the cinematic guitar playbook, his style is completely original. His website sardonically mentions from time to time that he plays “with a professional band;” last night that professional band was the usual effects (delay and a swollen river of reverb) plus a couple of loop pedals and what looked like a shortwave radio that he’d dial for drones, or for weirdly keening Dr. Dre-style pitches. Slowly building from a forlorn, forsakenly spacious wee-hours theme, from that point Von Wildenhaus would usually lay down a simple two or four-note bassline and then take his time filling in the blanks.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the show was that he didn’t simply add layers of melody until the loop was complete, as Jon Brion will do – there always seemed to be all kinds of improvisation going on. Once in awhile he’d take what seemed a split-second pause to pedal in or simply play a couple bars of a new riff after he’d had enough of the old one. He’d get the twangy effect of a tremolo bar by bending the neck of his Gibson SG ever so slightly, Campilongo style; when he wailed up and down on the strings, it wasn’t for a savage chord-chopping effect but for a flurry or a smear of chromatic morbidness. For the most part, he hung around the lowest, most resonant notes on the guitar, places where so many players fear to tread. This was the slow, Lynchian, angst-ridden set, populated with haunted spaghetti western vistas, rain-drenched cityscapes and sepulchral mariachi overtones in lieu of manic depressive, Mingus-esque chase scenes. Von Wildenhaus found the noir lurking at the surface of a popular Ethiopian riff that a million funk bands have appropriated but never take anywhere near that level of menace, took his time with a morose Middle Eastern passage that lurched apprehensively into a biting, stop-time tango in 7/8 and then an even murkier, echoey theme that sounded like 9/4 or could have been considerably more complicated. The unexpected acidity of one particular gypsy-infused turnaround echoed another darkly individualistic player, Jack Martin of the Dimestore Dance Band, who were scheduled to headline as a two-piece.

What’s more is that Von Wildenhaus got the crowd to shut up. While there were a lot of fans in the house, some obviously weren’t, including one particular ditz who went on and on about how her BBFFF-du-jour’s unsteady chair was “finicky” – she couldn’t come up with the right word, but, you know, what-evvvv. That those people stayed more or less silenced until the end bears witness to the haunting power of the music. What about Dimestore? For the 99%, everyone’s a slave to the trains and it was getting late. Looking forward to the next one, guys, hopefully with the full band.

Noir Pop from British Columbia

If you like your tunes catchy but creepy, Vancouver retro rockers Chains of Love are coming out with their debut album Strange Grey Days this March 14 on Manimal Vinyl. The singles they already have out make this auspicious news. The first one’s A-side isn’t much but the B-side, Black Hearts is the best of all of them, lo-fi Lynchian reverb noir pop with extra guitar bite and frontwoman Nathalia Pizzaro’s dreamy vox; think a more DIY Nicole Atkins. The second one’s A-side, Breaking My Heart is also a lot of fun, a creepy bastard la-la-love child of the Supremes and the 13th Floor Elevators. And here’s the latest one, He’s Leaving with Me, sort of a lo-fi Pipettes.

A Free Download from David Lynch and More

David Lynch – yeah, the David Lynch – has a new single, Crazy Clown Time, up as a free download. Imagine the baby in Eraserhead singing a long, long, hypnotic (some would say interminable) noir cabaret/trip-hop song with Angelo Badalamenti’s band. Who knew this guy was also a songwriter? It’s the title track from a forthcoming album.

And while you’re at it, check out Hannah Vs. the Many’s Better Off My Way – gorgeously jangly, menacing, jazz-tinged powerpop. Another more upbeat track, Muse, also streaming on the same page, is also excellent. She’s at Cake Shop tomorrow at 10.