New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: disco

Epic Bustle and Thump and Entertainment From the Uncategorizably Fun NYChillharmonic at Joe’s Pub

Was it worth leaving this year’s Charlie Parker Festival early to catch the NYChillharmonic last night at Joe’s Pub? Absolutely. Who knows, maybe someday singer/keyboardist Sara McDonald’s lavish eighteen-piece big band will play the festival – although the lineup that day will have to be a lot more forward-looking than it was yesterday evening.

McDonald’s music is easy to trace back to the wildly syncopated early 70s art-rock of bands like Genesis, although her compositions also draw on classical music, big band jazz, Radiohead and lately, classic soul music and even disco. Huddled together on the cabaret-sized stage, the mighty group were tight as a drum throughout a pummeling, nonstop performance heavy on the beat.

The staggered, staccato pulse of the opening number set the tone and was the most evocative of 70s psychedelia. Like the rest of the songs on the bill, it was pretty much through-composed, reaching a white-knuckle intensity with a series of rhythmic shrieks toward the end. McDonald typically finds more surprising places to take an audience – and her bandmates – than simply coming back to land on a verse or a chorus. Often but not always, the band would bring starkly moody intros full circle to close a tune, whether voice and keys, voice and guitar, or even voice and tuba.

With a vocal delivery that came across as more chirpy and biting than it’s been in recent months, McDonald sang resonantly while spiraling through tightly wound arpeggios on a mini-synth. Then she’d spin and conduct the ensemble, then return to the mic and keys, and made it look easy.

She explained that she’d written the night’s second number, Living Room, after quitting her shitty dayjob. Maybe some organization like Chamber Music America can step in and help her stay away from shitty dayjobs so she can concentrate on what she does best.

That particular number began as a restlessly propulsive soul anthem bulked up to orchestral proportions, with unexpectedly hushed, halfspeed interludes and a similarly sepulcutral outro, flitting out on the wings of the group’s string section. With the next tune, Ambedo, the band mashed up classic 70s disco and 50s Mingus urban noir bustle, punctuated by a series of almost vexing interruptions and a wry, woozy, Bernie Worrell-style bass synth solo.

The night’s darkest and most bracing song, Wicker – which McDonald dedicated to “Ugly patio furniture everywhere” – had looming, ominous chromatics and 21st century Balkan jazz allusions, along with a deliciously jagged guitar solo and more P-Funk keyboard buffoonery. Zephyr has been considerably beefed up since the last time the group played the piece here, its chattering, uneasy intro more of a contrast with its relentlessly syncopated upward drive. It was the closest thing to orchestral Radiohead on the bill.

Easy Comes the Ghost began with circus-rock piano phantasmagoria, shifting through a polyrhythmic maze to a determined disco strut that ended sudden and cold. The group closed the show with another mashup of Radiohead, dancefloor thud and Darcy James Argue-style big band minimalism. Like Missy Mazzoli, McDonald manages to write torrential melodies without cluttering them.

Time was short, so there were no band intros. It would have been fun to have been able to stick around for brass quartet the Westerlies with crooner Theo Bleckmann, but sometimes life takes you elsewhere…humming riffs from this shapeshifting crew which this time included Alden Helmuth on alto sax, Jasper Dutz and Jared Yee on tenor, Drew Vanderwinckel on baritone, Ben Seacrist and Michael Sarian on trumpets, Nick Grinder and Nathan Wood on trombones, Jennifer Wharton on tuba, Kiho Yutaka and Dorothy Kim on violin, Will Marshall on viola, Sasha Ono on cello, Eitan Kenner on electric piano, Steven Rogers on guitar, Adam Neely on bass and Dani Danor on drums.

Trippy, Eclectic Sounds in Deep Bushwick This Sunday Night

This December 3 there’s an excellent multi-band lineup put together by boutique Brooklyn label Very Special Recordings at Secret Project Robot, 1186 Broadway between Lafayette and Van Buren in Bushwick. The show starts at 8; the lineup, in reverse order, is psychedelic Afrobeat headliners the People’s Champs; female-fronted trip-hop/postrock band Green and Glass; brilliant bassist Ezra Gale’s funky, dub-inspired psychedelic project the Eargoggle; psychedelic pastoral jazz guitarist Dustin Carlson; similarly eclectic guitarist Ryan Dugre; and cinematic guitar-and-EFX dude Xander Naylor, who can be a lot louder and more fearsome than his latest, more low-key album. Cover is ten bucks; take the J to Kosciusko St.

It’s an album release show for the label’s new Brooklyn Mixtape, streaming at Bandcamp. The playlist is a cheat sheet for their signature, eclectic mix of hypnotic, globally-influenced grooves as well as some more jazz, postrock and indie classical-oriented sounds, which are a new direction from the stoner organic dance music they’re probably best known for.

The A-side begins with Swipe Viral, by Sheen Marina, a skittish, math-y, no wave-ish number awash in all kinds of reverb: “I gotta go to the edge of a digital world where I can find my soul,” the singer says snottily. Green and Glass’ Night Runner brings to mind Madder Rose with its slow trip-hop sway, uneasy low tremolo-picked harp anchoring frontwoman Lucia Stavros’ clear, cheery vocals.

Ryan Dugre’s Mute Swan makes postrock out of what sounds like a balmy Nigerian balafon theme. He’s also represented by another track, the pretty, spare, baroque-tinged pastorale Elliott, on side B.

There are three Eargoggle tracks here. Picking My Bones opens with a tasty chromatic bass solo: deep beneath this sparse lament, there’s a bolero lurking. The second number is You’re Feeling Like, a blippy oldschool disco tune with dub tinges. A muted uke-pop song, Hero, closes the mix

Shakes, by Carlson, is a gorgeously lustrous brass piece with countryish vocals thrown on top. Trombonist Rick Parker and acoustic pipa player Li Diaguo team up for the album’s best and most menacing track, the eerily cinematic, slowly crescendoing Make Way For the Mane of Spit and Nails. Then Middle Eastern-influenced noir surf band Beninghove’s Hangmen put on their Zep costumes to wind up the A-side with the coyly boisterous Zohove, from their hilarious Beninghove’s Hangmen Play Led Zeppelin album.

The.People’s Champs open the B-side with a throwaway. Twin-trombone roots reggae band Super Hi-Fi – whose lineup also includes Parker and Gale – toss in an echoey Victor Rice dub. Xander Naylor kicks in Appearances, a shifting, loopy resonator guitar piece with innumerable trippy overdubs.And Council of Eyeforms’ slowly coalescing, oscillating tableau Planet Earth – with guitarist Jon Lipscomb of Super Hi-Fi – is the most hypnotically psychedelic cut.

All of these artists have albums or singles out with the label, who deserve a look if sounds that can be equally pensive and danceable are your thing.

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. 

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.

The Bombay Royale Takes Classic Bollywood Psychedelia to the Next Level

The heart of what the Bombay Royale plays on their new album You Me Bullets Love is surf music. But over the driving drums and ominously twanging guitars, the eleven-piece band from Melbourne, Australia has dramatic blasts of brass, lush woodwinds and strings, sitar, tabla and all sorts of vintage keyboards. Their songs are mostly original material inspired by the classic psychedelic sounds of 1960s Bollywood, along with a couple of vintage covers from that era. Some of this is such a vivid homage that it’s almost satirical how this band gets that sound down so cold; when they’re not romping through one chase scene after another, they’re slinking along on a psychedelic disco boudoir groove that appropriates American tropes from the 70s like woozy bass synth, maybe an Omnichord, an Arp or whatever the cheap pre-Casio keyboard du jour happened to be in India circa 1980. This isn’t a subtle record by a long shot but it’s an awful lot of fun.

James Bond organ and ominous low brass kick off the Henry Mancini-esque opening track, Monkey Fight Snake, which picks up steam with Bob Knob’s wicked hollowbody bass pulse, managing to boom yet also cut through like a scimitar. As with most of the tracks here, the guy/girl vocals of Shourav Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh follow a predictable Bollywood dichotomy, debonair baritone smoothness versus coy, chirpy high soprano – Singh has a truly stratospheric range and really gets to air it out here. The title track, a prime example of the two pairing off, takes a raga melody, surfs it up and finallly sends it flying out on a lush bed of strings. The first of the covers, Jaan Pehechan Ho (from the 1965 film Gumnaam) maintains the Vampyros Lesbos/Electric Prunes-via-India vibe with Matt Vehl’s noir organ and Tom Martin’s reverb guitar; by contrast, the second, Sote Sote Adhi Raat works a suspensefully nocturnal disco vibe with a series of dubious synth settings that evoke vintage video games more than they do any instrument that was ever used in rock music.

From there the band takes their own stab at Hindi disco before splashing back into the surf with the cryptically titled Bobbywood, a somewhat more stripped-down arrangement (somewhat being a relative word here) with chromatic organ, punchy brass, a delicious and all-too-brief organ-and-sitar break and a very satisfying, darkly lush outro. Mahindra Death Ride turns out not to be horror surf but instead a sort of Indian take on go-go music with some lurid spy-movie guitar welded on. Oh Sajna – one of several co-writes by saxophonist/bandleader Andy Williamson – is a bracingly minor-key, anthemic surf-pop song, while Dacoit’s Choice offers a look at what P-Funk might have sounded like had they been Indian. The album winds up with Phone Baje Ne, slowly coalescing into hypnotic reggae lit up by a sweet trumpet solo over a catchy bass hook.

Is this campy? From an English-speaking perspective, not having any idea of what the Hindi or Bengali lyrics might mean, at least a little. Kitschy? Not really – the music has too much of an underlying unease and sometimes downright menace. Other than the obvious fans of old Bollywood spy movies, who is the audience for this? Anyone who’s into surf music, or the wooziest side of 60s psychedelia, or current-day American psychedelic revivalists like Dengue Fever or Chicha Libre, who’ve resurrected esoteric styles that originated in far-flung places like Cambodia or Peru. Isn’t it funny how so often cross-pollination often improves on the original sound? In a nutshell, that’s the Bombay Royale. Lucky fans in Sydney can see them play a swanky album launch party on June 10 at 7:30 at the Basement, 7 Macquarie Place, Circular Quay, NSW 2000: advance tix are $15.