New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: disco music

The Jazzrausch Bigband Rock Lincoln Center in Their US Debut

“Who here has heard German techno big band jazz before? This is a first for me!” Lincoln Center impresario Meera Dugal grinned. “The second you hear this music, you’re going to want to get up and dance.”

Watching Munich’s Jazzrausch Bigband in their US debut last evening at Lincoln Center had the effect composer Leonhard Kuhn was shooting for: “rausch” means “drunk.” Standing behind his Macbook and bass synth, head bobbing like a turtle crossing the autobahn, he and his seventeen-piece outfit validated their reputation as one of the world’s most  distinctive and adrenalizing dance outfits.

What was shocking, and gloriously refreshing right from the first hammerhead beats of Marco Dufner’s kickdrum, was that this band swings. Which completely sets them apart from the machines and the would-be cyborgs who man them. At first the crowd didn’t know what to make of the band. “Why don’t you get up and party with us?” trombonist/bandleader Roman Sladek encouraged. Watching this massive outfit, the brass and reeds running the same motorik loop and then clever variations on it throughout their opening number, Moebius Strip was genuinely breathtaking: imagine the amount of practice that requires. Singers Patricia Roemer and guest Sara McDonald harmonized about being taken to the other side, Kuhn having fun mixing their vocals dubwise at the end.

Sladek also had the turtlehead thing going even when he was playing, through the relentlessly pulsing second number in lockstep with Kevin Welch’s piano and Maximilian Hirning’s bass. The Euclidean Trip Through Paintings by Escher (that’s the title) was a clinic in how to make odd meters not only look easy, but to get America kids to dance to them, propelled by an endless bass loop and peaking midway through with guitarist Heinrich Wulff’s steady, echoey pace down the runway to a final liftoff.

Welch took over the mic as the brass swelled and faded behind him, the band’s two tenor saxophonists taking kinetic tag-team solos, followed eventually by a gruff, wildly applauded baritone sax solo from Florian Leuschner that elevated the song above the level of generic 70s disco. By now the crowd had gotten over their shyness and were out on the floor.

Kuhn’s blippy electro beats, Sladek’s tight blasts and Jutta Keess’ similarly forceful low-register tuba propelled Jesus Christ Version 2.0: trumpeter Angela Avetisyan’s purist bluesy phrasing and blazing postbop trills in this context were a trip, to say the least. As the song unwound, alto saxophonist Daniel Klingl took an animated turn centerstage, Roemer’s disembodied vocals hovering as the rhythm section pedaled themselves to a big crescendo…and then shifted gears when the two singers pulled the harmonies together again.

Uneasy echo effects between the two singers, big brass swells, an elephantine bass solo and finally a welcome detour into Afrobeat were next on the bill. If the epic, surprisingly subtly shapeshifting Dancing Wittgenstein –  not as bizarre a concept as some might think – is to be believed, the philosopher liked polyrhythms and minor-key vamps. McDonald bookended it with deadpan readings about – this is a paraphrase – how to achieve genuine lucidity. The group closed with the gargantuan Punkt und Linie zur Flaeche (Point and Line to the Area), Avetisyan channeling a high-voltage ghost with her airy phrases over the endless thump-thump, flitting voices from throughout the group filtering into the mix to max out the psychedelic impact.

If this is the future of EDM, it’s this band’s ODM that’s going to replace it – that’s a big O for Organic. The Jazzrausch Bigband make their Brooklyn debut at the Good Room in Greenpoint with McDonald’s similarly epic, more eclectic NYChillharmonic. on Sept 6 at 8PMish; cover is $10. The two groups are also at the Sheen Center on Bleecker just off Bowery at 7:30 on Sept 8 with a dadrock band for twice that. 

Advertisements

A Sneak Peek at One of the Year’s Most Enticing Big Band Shows

It used to be that an artist never got a Lincoln Center gig until they were well established. That’s changed. These days, if you want to catch some of the world’s most exciting up-and-coming acts, Lincoln Center is the place to be. This August 31 at 7:30 PM the mighty, cinematic and wildly danceable Jazzrausch Bigband make their Lincoln Center debut at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street. The show is free, so whether you want a seat or a spot on the dancefloor, getting there on time is always a good idea.

Some mystery surrounds this largescale German ensemble. There isn’t much about them on the web other than a Soundcloud page and a youtube channel, which is surprising, considering how individualistic, cutting-edge and irrepressibly fun they are. Like the NYChillharmonic – whose leader, Sara McDonald, has also sung with them – their instrumentation follows the standard big band jazz model. Stylistically, they’re all over the map.

A listen to four tracks from their forthcoming album reveals influences that range from current-day big band jazz to EDM, autobahn krautrock, indie classical and disco. The result is an organic dancefloor thud like a much more ornate Dawn of Midi or Moon Hooch. Much as these recordings are extremely tight, the band have a reputation for explosive live shows, with roots that trace all the way back to the raucous European anarchist street bands of the late 1800s.

The first album track that mysteriously made its way into the inbox here is the aptly titled Moebius Strip. Loopy, pinpoint syncopation from the reeds -Daniel Klingl, Raphael Huber, Moritz Stahl and Florian Leuschner – leads to a suspenseful pulse fueled by the low brass, and then they’re off onto a whoomp-whoomp groove. “It’s a weird strip,” intones soul-infused chanteuse Patricia Roemer; at the center, before the strutting crescendo peaks out, there’s a jaunty alto sax solo.

The ten-minute epic Punkt und Linie zur Flaeche (Point and Line to the Area) has a relentless motorik drive, cinematic flashes and flickers from throughout the orchestra and a deadpan hip-hop lyric. Moody muted trumpet and dancing saxes punctuate the mist as the band build a towering disco inferno: is that white noise from Kevin Welch’s synth, or the whole group breathing through their horns?

The Euclidean Trip Through Paintings by Escher brings back the loopy syncopation, with a playfully bouncy melody that could be a fully grown Snarky Puppy, trumpet shifting the theme into uneasier territory until they turn on a dime with a little New Orleans flair. The last of the tracks, Trust in Me, is another epic and the most traditionally jazz-oriented number. When’s the last time you heard a disco song that combined flavors like Henrich Wulff’s lingering Pink Floyd guitar,Marco Dufner’s sparkling chicha-flavored drums and stern faux hi-de-ho brass from trumpeters Angela Avetisyan and Julius Braun, trombonists Roman Sladek, and Carsten Fuss and tuba player Jutta Keess?

Marc Ribot’s Young Philadelphians Bring Their Twisted Take on Philly Soul and Disco to Bowery Ballroom

To say that guitarist Marc Ribot doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet is a something of an understatement; where this guy treads turns into Carthage. To take that to its logical extreme; whatever he touches, he destroys – in the best possible sense of the word. The irrepressible downtown polymath’s career high point may be his shadowy, noir 2010 Silent Movies album, but his latest release, Live in Tokyo, with his group the Young Philadelphians – guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston – might be the best album of 2016. It’s a volcanic punk-funk record – most of it streaming at the band’s music page -with the same noisy, clenched-teeth exhilaration as Ribot’s 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard set. The premise of this one is typically ambitious: to connect the dots between Ornette Coleman’s 70s/80s Prime Time band and the plush Philly soul which served as a backdrop if not an immediate touchstone. AND to do it with two guitars instead of a horn band. Wild stuff. They’re bringing their careening intensity to a gig this Thursday, July 28 at 11 PM at Bowery Ballroom, a rare appearance by a jazz band at Manhattan’s best-sounding midsize venue. Advance tix are $20, half of what you’d spend if you saw Ribot in any number of jazz clubs. Chris Cochrane subs for Halvorson on the band’s current US tour.

The intro to the album’s opening track, Love Epidemic, is worth the price of admission alone: Ribot blazes through a classic funk riff, then Halvorson comes in with an artery-slashing pickslide, a pickup Japanese string section swirling animatedly overhead. Tacuma anchors all this with his bubbly, purposeful vintage disco lines in tandem with Weston’s straight-up dancefloor pulse. Both guitarists switch on a dime between hard funk and irresistibly jubilant blasts of distorted punk rock. It’s fun to just think about this, let alone hear it or try to play it.

By contrast, the two guitarists’ droll wide-angle tremolo approach on the ballad Love TKO brings to mind Isaac Hayes at his most soulfully hot and buttered. Tacuma and Weston draw on their time with both Coleman and James Blood Ulmer, the bassist strutting and slipsliding, drums moving effortlessly from chill to crush. Ribot builds with fiery deliberation from shivery acid blues to skronk to cap it off.

The group twists Fly, Robin, Fly – a cheesy 1975 hit by German one-hit wonders Silver Convention – into a sick mashup of Bush Tetras and late-period ELO – and then takes it toward saturnine Sun Ra territory. TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) is just plain hilarious, Weston and the strings opening it as a bombastic Olympic theme over the guitars’ jagged, sandpapery attack, then they hit the groove with a snarky thump. They get a lot looser on an even more sardonic, wah-infused take of the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster, Halvorson having a ball anchoring Ribot and Tacuma’s stoner funk with her cumulo-nimbus ambience and woozy textures.

Do Anything You Want is closer to classic P-Funk than anything else here, and a launching pad for both Halvorson’s and Tacuma’s most incendiary playing. The group winds up the set logically with the funniest number of all, The Hustle. Ribot’s incessant quoting from an iconic anthem from a completely different idiom is as cruel as it is hilarious, finally getting his revenge for having to play the song on a wedding gig decades ago.

On the vocal numbers, it sounds like everybody sings, or at least vocalizes – not that there’s a lot in the way of lyrics, but it adds an extra dimension of fun. Since releasing the album, Ribot explains that the band is now stretching this material out even further, slicing and dicing the big hooks as springboards for even crazier improvisation. That’s an auspicious move since Halvorson’s own legendary ferocity is held in check somewhat here (she plays in the left channel, Ribot in the right).

And in case you haven’t already guessed, the Bowery gig may have something to do with the material on the bill, in addition to the artists. Can’t you see it: two dudes texting back and forth on Okcupid, “Let’s go to this, it’ll be so ironic.” To pronounce that final word correctly you have to hold your nose and say it in as flat and loud a voice as you can while trying to photobomb the selfie being taken by the gentrifier next to you. Steve Wynn put out a couple of dozen brilliant albums before he realized that he needed to write songs about baseball in order to reach a mass audience. Maybe Ribot has to be the leader of the world’s funnest and funniest disco cover band to do the same.

Black Masala Bring Their Deliriously Fun, Edgy Brass-Fueled Dancefloor Intensity to Drom

Black Masala are sort of the Washington, DC counterpart to Slavic Soul Party. They play an intoxicatingly edgy blend of Romany, Indian, Afrobeat, circus rock and hard funk dancefloor grooves. Their brassy attack features lots of biting minor keys and slinky rhythms. They’re bringing their high-voltage live show to Drom on June 10 at 11:30 PM. Advance tix are $10.

Their latest album I Love You Madly is streaming at Bandcamp. The title track opens with a swaying hi-de-ho noir swing theme and then hits a brisk Romany punk strut ablaze with the brass harmonies of trumpeter Steven C, trombonist Kirsten Warfield and Monty Montgomery’s pinpoint sousaphone pulse.

Drummer Mike Ounallah gives Too Hot to Wait an oldschool Earth Wind & Fire-style disco groove, the guys in the band trading vocals with percussionist Kristen Long, who delivers a coyly whispery Jane Birkin-style boudoir interlude as the song winds out. Guitarist Duff Davis drives the hypnotic but explosive Bhangra Ramo with his stinging upper-register riffage, akin to Red Baraat with a woman out front.

Cool Breeze adds hard funk edges, a lustrous EW&F sheen and spacy George Clinton psychedelia to a fiery minor-key Balkan brass instrumental. Sounds of the Underground, the album’s most straight-up, catchy number, is a pouncing latin rock-tinged number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Karikatura catalog, Davis’ nimble Django solo giving way to tightly wound spots from trumpet and sax.

Devil Sunset opens as Balkan reggae and then vamps along on a trippy disco beat, with plenty of sizzling riffage from the horns: it isn’t til the end that you realize that it’s mostly a one-chord jam. With its uneasy chromatics and staccato brass, the album’s arguably best number, Haute Cultura has both the catchiness and the edge of Serbian groups like Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar. The swinging, funky Oh No What Can I Do? makes a good segue from there as the band sprints to the finish line. The album winds up with a “radio edit” of the title cut. Nine songs, every one of them excellent, one of the best dozen releases to come over the transom here in the past several months.

 

St. Bernadette Packs the House in Their NYC Debut at City Winery

The debut of chanteuse Angela McCluskey and pianist Paul Cantelon‘s sophisticated new dancefloor project St. Bernadette packed the house at City Winery last night. They treated the crowd to a mix of songs as eclectic as you would expect from the the brain trust of popular 90s folk-rockers the Wild Colonials. They’re sort of a hi-de-ho swing or noir cabaret take on Beats Antique: if they want to take this act on the road, they could make a killing. It was rather incongruous watching the crowd sitting still, more or less, while McCluskey swayed animatedly across the stage, trading grins and the occasional riff with her bandmates, including a nimble bassist, jazz trumpeter and polymath multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez, who doubled on accordion and claviola. Behind them, loops and a drum track swirled and thudded, Cantelon sometimes enhancing the textures with his own multi-keys.

McCluskey explained that she’d gotten the inspiration for this group after having done a session fronting a sixteen-piece jazz orchestra for a piece for the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack. Not having the full orchestra available, she decided to take matters into her own hands and bring them with her, even if that meant having them in the can rather than actually onstage.

Cantelon’s lustrously rippling piano in tandem with muted trumpet set the stage for McCluskey’s balmy, roots reggae-inflected take of her catchily vamping hit You and Me. McCluskey is a woman of many, many voices, depending on the song or the emotional content she’s putting across, channeling a completely different persona – a brassy seductress with a hint of smoke in her delivery – on the torchy swing number after that.

They revisited the vamping anthemic quality of the opening number, then brought a moody, Ethiopiques-tinged sway to the slow swing number after that: McCluskey is a far more nuanced song stylist than Amy Winehouse, but there were echoes of that singer’s sad, smoky delivery all the same. From there the band made their way through wary bossa-pop, the bittersweetly lowlit, accordion-fueled noir swing of What About Us, more Cab Calloway-inflected material and eventually the dreamy, narcotized boudoir disco hit In the Air. Garniez turbocharged the songs’ pulse with her rhythmic claviola lines, finally getting a solo on accordion and made the most of it with a torrent of low-midrange chords and rivulets

Late in the set Cantelon and McCluskey reprised their cover of Wild Is the Wind from their performance earlier in the week at Pangea – but where the version they did there was a glistening river of sound, this was pure high lonesome angst, echoing a chilling sense of abandonment. But Cantelon lept into that nocturnal sparkle on the ballad that followed that. The group wound up the set with a suspensefully subdued cover of My Baby Just Cares for Me – a surprising number of people in the crowd knew it and sang along. Or maybe that shouldn’t be such a surprise: you’d think that people who like Nina Simone would also be drawn to McCluskey’s work. She, Cantelon and Garniez continue their weekly Monday 10 PM residency at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $10 plus a $10 drink minimum.

Water Seed Bring Their Infectious Dancefloor Grooves to the Brooklyn Museum

The first Saturday of every month, starting at 5 PM is free day at the Brooklyn Museum at 200 Eastern Parkway, and there’s often music there on free days as well. This coming Saturday, New Orleans-bred psychedelic dancefloor unit Water Seed makes an appearance at 5 PM. Early arrival is always a good idea; take the 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway.

What Water Seed is doing is subversive. Like Moon Hooch and Bombrasstico, they’re playing organic whoomp-whoomp dancefloor grooves. But where those two bands mash up jazz, second-line riffage and punk rock along with the disco, Water Seed are more psychedelic, closer to P-Funk or the intricately orchestrated psych-funk of Turkuaz. Now some people might say that Water Seed’s nonstop party vibe isn’t exactly revolutionary, but there’s an enemy out there and its name is EDM. There’s a whole generation, maybe more than a generation, who grew up with the sound of the synthesizer, who learned to dance to the beat of electronic drums, as Black Box Recorder’s Luke Haines warned us fifteen years ago. Obviously, those people don’t come out for the music: they’re there for the hang, and to get wasted (and to meet boys). What Water Seed is doing is something for them – and something for us, bringing everybody together on the dance floor and playfully reminding everybody in the house that beats are more fun when they’re played by people rather than machines.

Water Seed’s latest album, Retro Electro, is streaming at Bandcamp. Imagine Bill Withers, or P-Funk, or Roy Ayers doing tracks from Sade’s Love Deluxe album, hitting on the “one” over and over again and you get the picture. Among New York artists, Jesse Fischer‘s Soul Cycle are similar. The result is as energizing as it is trippy. The opening track, Couldn’t Love You More (a free download) sounds like a minimalist remix of something of Sade’s from twenty years ago. With Joy Clark’s chicken-scratch guitar, J Sharp’s swooshy synth strings and brass and twinkling electric piano over Lou Hill’s undulating percussion, their cover of the Jackson 5’s Shake Your Body Down is akin to how the Gap Band might have done it

We’ve Got to Do This mingles woozily intertwining portamento synth loops, bursts of fake brass and tinkling electric piano. The catchy, oldschool psych-disco number Mama Use to Say has a spicy arrangement featuring Cinese’s flute, Mario Abney’s moody muted trumpet and Clarence Slaughter’s alto sax. Night and Day has tasty, loopy latin percussion underneath its plushly enveloping sonics, Abney again adding tasty trumpet flavor overhead. The album ends with the pillowy 70s-tinged soul/dance epic I Would Die 4 U. Other than the randomly sampled between-song “interludes,” the only mistake the band makes here is to assume that a song by an act as icky as the Eurythmics could be worth covering, even with a clever latin arrangement.

Hypnotic, High-Voltage Afrobeat Grooves from Afrolicious

More about that September 3, 8 PM show at Brooklyn Bowl mentioned here yesterday: Afrolicious are on a twinbill with Zongo Junction. If the idea of getting down on the dancefloor for three seriously sweaty hours is your thing, this is the place to be. Two bands, ten bucks.

Like Zongo Junction, Afrolicious has a new album, California Dreaming, streaming at Spotify. In a lot of ways, one band is the reverse image of the other: where Zongo Junction is all about mighty orchestration and expansive jams, Afrolicious keep things extremely tight and close to the ground, as you would probably expect from a somewhat smaller group. Where Zongo Junction’s psychedelic side plays up an intricate interweave between the instruments, especially the horns, Afrolicious is a lot more hypnotic and closer to the original Nigerian roots of Afrobeat. Afrolicious also blend elements of oldschool 70s disco and newschool dancefloor beats as well, drummer Paul Oliphant propelling a handful of numbers with the same kind of steady 2/4 thump you’d expect to find in techno…except that his groove is organic and doesn’t lose sight of the human element.

The album’s title track sets the stage, a seamlessly catchy, minor-key blend of funk, oldschool disco and Afrobeat, fueled by Wendel “Get Down” Rand’s dancing bass and the three-sax reed section of Kate Pittard, Aaron Liebowitz and Frank Mitchell. The second track, Revolution, pairs the optimistic vocals of frontman Freshislife with percussionists Baba Durum and Diamond over a steady, swinging funk vamp: “Everywhere I turn, I see revolution,” is their mantra. The cautionary tale Never Let No One mashes uo Fela and disco with terse horns and minor-key guitar from the axeman who calls himself “Pleasuremaker.” They follow that with Crazy, a brisk vintage disco number built out of a simple, incisive, bluesy guitar riff, making their way methodically up to a scurrying sax solo.

Pleasuretime is the first of the organic techno-influenced tunes, with elements of ska and dub reggae but more funky than either of those styles usually get. Pleasurepower follows a similar theme, followed by Thursday Right King Swing, which is almost a remix, but a live one, with more of that heavy dancefloor thud and spiraling electric piano, bringing in a Fela-esque arrangement so subtly that you don’t realize it until it hits you. The rest of the album comprises a couple of pretty straightforward Afrobeat jams, a reggae jam and one that’s more straight-up funk. Like all good party music, this works on a physical and metal level: free your ass and your mind will follow.

A Good-Natured Change of Pace for Nicole Atkins

Goth music can be a riot, especially when it’s not trying to be. Same deal with Nicole Atkins‘ latest album, Slow Phaser, streaming at Spotify. It’s a sharp turn away from the brooding, frequently lurid, Americana-tinged sound that’s been her stock in trade. In much the same vein as Pulp, who built a career out of being simultaneously creepy and funny, this one goes in a satirical retro 70s and 80s vein. It’s a keyboard-driven album. Organ and an endless supply of cheesy vintage synth patches pop up everywhere, in lieu of the Irina Yalkowsky guitar solos that have made much of Atkins’ work so consistently intense. Atkins will be playing a lot of this new stuff, no doubt, at Madison Square Park on June 18 at 7 PM and if you’re going you should get there early.

Not everything on the album is funny and sarcastic. There’s We Wait Too Long, which looks back to early 80s Siouxsie & the Banshees: “I will soon find something wrong for you to find in me, I will bend the melody until it bleeds,” Atkins intones. With its creepy keys and church organ, Red Ropes is typical Atkins noir. “‘I’ll always be a prizefighter beaten up against the ropes; you’ll always be a liar, punchdrunk on busted hopes,” she laments. Then she segues into What Do You Know, which shifts from unexpectedly funky to 80s goth-pop with more of that ominous organ. And from there, into Gasoline Bride, which starts out as a savage Nashville gothic escape anthem but then goes into high camp as the synth raises the cheese factor to redline.

Building out of a cool noir piano-and-organ intro, It’s Only Chemistry becomes a blithely carnivalesque mashup of noir, oldschool soul and circus rock. Atkins reaches for a parched desperation against a backdrop of theatrical 80s goth-pop on The Worst Hangover. A wry miniature, Sin Song loops an acoustic guitar riff straight out of Supertramp underneath an obscenely amusing punk rock mantra.

Cool People nicks the riff from Walk on Wild Side, a snide outsider’s anthem juxtaposing silly synth flourishes with a typically moody Atkins lyric. There are also a couple of straight-up retro 70s disco songs: Who Killed the Moonlight, and the sarcastic post-party brushoff scenario Girl You Look Amazing. The album ends on a somberly enveloping note with the mysterious, swayingly nocturnal, metaphorically-charged seafaring anthem Above As Below, bringing to mind a slow ballad by the Church from around 1990 or so. Which could be a sign that since Atkins has had her fun, it’s time to go back to the shadows she knows so well.

Charlene Kaye Funks Up the Mercury Lounge

Charlene Kaye & the Brilliant Eyes brought a party to the Mercury Lounge Wednesday night with a too-brief set that was as quirky and fun as it was surreal, blending equal parts psychedelic funk, new wave and postpunk. She had not one but two drummers onstage, playing full kits: how cool is that? Kaye has jumped nimbly from style to style in recent years, from pensively jangly rock to  more oldtime-flavored sounds, but lately she’s put a lot more muscle into the rhythm. Since this band had no bass, the low notes were supplied by keyboardist Jason Wexler, whose fat, woozy synth basslines drew a straight line back to Bernie Worrell. And this guy is FAST – he played his one solo of the night, a machinegunning series of spirals down from the upper registers, with just his right hand. It was Kaye’s bad luck to follow that big crowd-pleaser with one of her own, firing off nimble funk and blues licks. She’s a connoisseur of guitars – last time this blog caught her onstage, she had a Les Paul, this time it was a Jazzmaster – and has serious chops to match. And an ear for assimilating the sounds of a particular era and then spinning them back with her own stamp on them.

The night’s second number began with acidic sheets of noise from the keyb – which drove the sound guy crazy – and blippy 80s synth grounded by Kaye’s solid, minimalist, funky riffage. The slinky, vintage P-Funk-tinged number after that, Kaye said, she’d written to pick herself up after a particularly bad summer. From there she led the band into oldschool 70s disco updated with wry 80s synth voicings. She reinvented a Drake song as classic disco, building from minimalist postpunk guitar on the verse to a big lingering chorus over fuzzy, sustained synth bass and echoey electric piano.

One of several brand-new songs, simply titled You, set an anthemic 80s Britpop tune to the cleverly orchestrated thump of the two drums – this was the number with the back-to-back high-voltage solos. Another song brought back the classic disco groove and then morphed into an anthemic new wave hit that evoked the Motels at the peak of that band’s mid-80s popularity. Years go by and people still dance to these sounds – and Kaye seems determined to capitalize on that. There were a couple of songs that missed the mark – the opener, which had a cloying, Vampire Weekend-ish sweaterboy Afropop feel, and the closer, with its singsongey ah-OOH-ah backing vocals, which veered toward the studied awkwardness of corporate emo. But the crowd was into it. It would have been more fun if Kaye’d had the chance to do a longer set and cut loose more on guitar. To let off steam, she sometimes plays in an all-female Guns & Roses cover band called Guns & Hoses (no joke) and is reputedly fierce in that one as well.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors Kicks Off with an Eclectic Triplebill

[repost from NY Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture]

The Kronos Quartet are celebrating their fortieth anniversary this year, so it makes sense that the beginning of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival – one of the best ever – would be centered around that landmark occasion. The world’s most adventurous string quartet have an auspicious new cellist, Sunny Yang (replacing Jeffrey Ziegler) and their usual slate of premieres and new commissions. Even by their paradigm-shifting standards, their world premiere of Ukraine-born Mariana Sadovska’s Chernobyl: The Harvest – with the composer on vocals and harmonium – last night at the Damrosch Park bandshell was nothing short of shattering,  It’s a suite of old Ukrainian folk songs reinvented to commemorate the horror of the 1986 nuclear disaster, which by conservative standards killed at least a million people around the globe and caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, the world’s second-greatest power at the time.

Singing in Ukrainian, Sadovska began it a-cappella with her signature nuance, a thousands shades of angst, sometimes barely breathing, sometimes at a fullscale wail, occasionally employing foreboding microtones to max out the menace. Violist Hank Dutt got the plum assignment of leading the ensemble to join her, Yang’s foreboding drone underpinning a series of up-and-down, Julia Wolfe-esque motives. Quavering, anxious Iranian-tinged flutters from the cello along with violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, astringently atmospheric harmonics and a big, uneasy crescendo, the harmonium going full steam, built to a savagely sarcastic faux circus motif and then a diabolical dance. That was the harvest, a brutal portrayal whose ultimate toll is still unknown. Through a plaintive theme and variations, Sadovska’s voice rose methodically from stunned horror to indignance and wrath: again, the triptych’s final theme, Heaven, appeared to be sarcastic to the extreme, Sadovska determined not to let the calamity slip from memory. Nuclear time forgives much more slowly than time as we experience it: 26 years after the catastrophe, wild mushrooms in Germany – thousands of miles from the disaster scene – remain inedible, contaminated with deadly nuclear toxins.

In a counterintuitive stroke of booking, luminous singer Shara Worden’s kinetic art-rock octet, My Brightest Diamond headlined. They’re like the Eurythmics except with good vocals and good songs – hmmm, that doesn’t leave much, does it? Or like ELO during their momentary lapse into disco, but better. Sh-sh-sh-sh-Shara can get away with referencing herself in a song because she does it with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and because she’s as funny as she can be haunting. She loves props and costumes – a big cardboard moustache and a fez among them, this time out – and draws on a wide-ranging musical drama background. But she saves the drama for when she really needs to take a song over the edge, belting at gale force in contrast to a fat, droll synth bass pulse late in the show. Her lively arrangements rippled through the ensemble of Hideaki Aomori on alto sax, Lisa Raschiatore on clarinet and bass clarinet, CJ Cameriere on trumpet, Michael Davis on trombone and Alex Sopp on flutes, like the early/middle-period Moody Blues as orchestrated by Carl Nielsen. Sopp’s triumphant cadenzas capped off several big crescendos, as did Aomori on the second number, a circus rock song with dixieland flourishes. Worden brought the energy down to pensive for a bit, crooning with a low, ripe, Serena Jost-like intensity and playing Rhodes piano on a hypnotic trip-hop number. Worden switched to minimal but assured electric guitar on a slow, pensive tune and then a warm, gently arpeggiated love song, then to mbira on a similarly hypnotic but bouncier Afro-funk song. “A girl from the country had a dream, and the best place she could think of was here,” Worden beamed to the packed arena as she wound up the night. “We’re living the dream.”

Emily Wells was lost in limbo between the two. The smoky patterns on the kaleidoscopic light show projected behind her on the back of the stage offered more than a hint of the milieu she’s best suited to. It was a cruel if probably unintentional stroke of fate that stuck Wells, a competent singer, between two brilliant ones. Her music is quirky, playful and trippy to the extreme. Wells can be very entertaining to watch, when she’s building songs out of loops, adding layers of vocals, keys and violin, switching between instruments and her mixing board with split-second verve. But as her set – the longest one of the night – went on, it became painfully obvious that she wasn’t doing much more than karaoke. She sang her dubwise, trippy hip-hop/trip-hop/soul mashups in what became a monotonously hazy soul-influenced drawl without any sense of dynamics. Where Sadovska sang of nuclear apocalypse and Worden tersely explored existential themes, the best Wells could do was a Missy Elliott-ish trip-hop paean to Los Angeles. And when she addressed the crowd, Wells seemed lost, veering between a southern drawl and something like an Irish brogue. But the audience LOVED her, and gave her the most applause of anyone on the bill.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors is phenomenal this year: the Kronos Quartet will be there tomorrow and then Sunday night. The full calendar is here.