New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: funk

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog Use Lockdown Time to Make One of the Year’s Best Albums

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog’s new album What I Did on My Long Vacation – streaming at Bandcamp – is the rare album recorded in isolation during the lockdown that actually sounds like the band are all playing together. But that wasn’t how it was made. Guitarist Ribot, bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith each took turns laying down their tracks in Ismaily’s studio since for one reason or another they couldn’t pull the trio together at the same time. Testament to their long camaraderie, they got not only this funny, cynical, deliciously textured album out of it; they’ll be releasing a full vinyl record (yessssssss!) with material from these sessions in 2021. They’re playing the album release show at 8 PM on Oct 23 on the roof of St. Ann’s Warehouse, Beatles style, the band playing down to the crowd on the street below.

The first track is We Crashed In Norway, a sketchy, vamping, sardonic quasi-disco theme that harks back to Ribot’s similarly wry Young Philadelphians cover band project. Beer is just plain awesome – the suspiciously snide skronk/punk/funk second number, that is, forget about the (presumably) fizzy stuff that too many of us have been abusing since March 16.

With Ismaily’s loopy bassline and Ribot’s jaggedly spare multitracks, Who Was That Masked Man reminds of  classic Metal Box-era Public Image Ltd. Dog Death Opus 27 is a lot shorter and just as loopy, with a sarcastic turnaround.

The most sarcastically savage track here is Hippies Are Not Nice Anymore, a pretty straight-up punk rock tune tracing the sordid trail of the boomers to the point where “corporate was the theme of the week” – imagine the Dead Kennedys with a careening Velvets jam at the end. To close the album, the trio channel the Dream Syndicate – Ribot playing both the Steve Wynn and Jason Victor roles – in the buzzy, psychedelic, atmospherically careening The Dead Have Come to Stay with Me.

Considering the horrific toll the lockdown has taken on bands all around the world, it’s heartwarming to these these downtown punk-jazz legends still at the top of their game, undeterred.

Intriguingly Original Chinese and American Jazz and Funk Grooves From Song Dynasty

One of the most individualistic albums to come over the transom here in recent months is Song Dynasty’s debut album Searching, streaming at Spotify. The Dallas band (not to be confused with the similarly named Chinese group) play jazz and jazz-adjacent sounds with Chinese lyrics, both covers and originals. The bandname is a pun: the Song Dynasty in China lasted from approximately 960 to 1279 AD. During this period, China was one of the world’s great powers, a leader in scientific innovation. Thanks to invention of gunpowder, the Chinese navy ruled the waves off the coast of Asia for centuries. 

You might not expect such a searing guitar solo as Ben Holt plays in the band’s otherwise understatedly slinky lounge-funk cover of the Chinese pop hit, Fa Su Ha (Under the Blossom Tree), but that’s the band’s strong suit. Their music is very unpredictable. Frontwoman Li Liu sings expressively, airy and misty at the same time in this case. She has a very expressive and dynamic delivery that transcends the limitations of language: you don’t have to speak Chinese to get a good sense of what she’s putting across.

The first Liu original here, Tango Cha has more of a bite, both vocally and musically, Dan Porter’s glittering piano edging toward latin noir over the low-key pulse of bassist Corentin le Hir and drummer Hiroki Kitazawa; Holt and saxophonist Jeff Chang add chill solos.

Liu sings the album’s disquietingly modal title ballad in both English and Chinese; Porter’s spare chords and precise ripples enhance the theme of struggling to find inner calm. Liu adds original lyrics to a bustling samba reinvention of Herlin Riley’s Shake Off the Dust, then remakes the standard I Remember You as a cool, briskly tiptoeing swing tune with her own lyrics as well.

Liu and Holt revert to low-key, twinkling Hollywood Hills funk in Flying, with Porter on Rhodes, trumpeter Kevin Swaim and trombonist Kenny Davis adding bright harmonies. The group open Heart in Sorrow, a setting of a text by Chinese poet Li Qing Zhao, as wide-angle chords by Holt and Porter gently edge into a moody jazz waltz.

Liu brings both her sultriest and most insistent vocals to Ai Ta (Love Him) as the band return to slinky funk, with a sly dubwise bass solo by guest Mike Luzecky and some welcome grit from  Holt. They close with the album’s most trad and chipper tune, Summer Ride, nicking the chords from Charlie Parker’s Confirmation. This is a vocalist and backing band – there’s not a lot of interplay here. But the ideas and the creativity make you want to hear more.

Ferocious Oldschool Protest Soul and Funk From Soul Scratch

Soul Scratch play fearlessly woke, searingly political funk and soul with a spot-on early 70s vibe and more than a hint of Afrobeat in places. The production really nails a vintage analog feel: trebly, organic guitar and bass, shuffling percussion with drums and congas, and blazing, incisive horns. Their album Pushing Fire is streaming at Bandcamp.

The brass punches in, Joel Givertz’s wah-wah guitar scatters and the rhythm section – Johnny Chou on bass and Adam Greenberg on drums – slinks along with an emphatic 70s latin soul groove on the confrontational opening track, Pacified. “Where’s that outrage now, where’s my people on the streets? Corporations got a voice while we sit silent in defeat!” frontman Dale Spollett reminds. “We’ve got that same old addiction, a different kind of coke.”

Look How Far We’ve Come is an impassioned noir soul ballad in 6/8 time, referencing the murder of Eric Garner, “Just another life lost to the beast.” The horns soar and punch in over a strutting, swinging minor-key vamp in The Road Looks Long, a message of strength and resilience for dark times.

The bass scampers underneath the summery horns of the instrumental Odessa Heat, capturing that magic late 60s moment when American soul bands started to catch what was coming out of Ethopia, and vice versa. The group go back to a warmly soulful sway in It’s Not Over, a bittersweet look at the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the work still left for us to do. “Don’t cry now, it’s not over,” Spollett encourages. “Ir’s hard to change a system, there’s no fellowship, only greed.”

Kiss Me in the Morning is a one-chord jam and a launching pad for his soaring voice. They pick up the pace with more of a vintage JB’s feel in Be Kind and then keep that going, reaching escape velocity in Empty Cup, smoky baritone sax underneath the brass.

The album’s catchiest instrumental is the simmering Fireside Lounge, which could be a vintage Isaac Hayes jam with a tight, purposeful Matt Reale trumpet solo over the rippling wah-wah backdrop. They close the album with Thank You, a slow vintage Memphis style gospel/blues ballad. This is a great party record and a great dance record – and it’s also inspiration to keep up the fight.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Compilation: Five Albums of Crescent City Madness

What can you do when you’re unemployed (temporarily, let’s hope) and your city’s nightlife has gone completely dark? You could fire up Bandcamp and listen to all five of the albums of Jazz Fest: the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival compilation. In a sick way, most New Yorkers will never have as much time on our hands as we do now – and let’s all swear that we will never again use this same excuse for sitting around listening to long albums!

This playlist spans several decades of revelry. Pretty much every style of music and every culture to ever play the festival are represented here – historically, New Orleans has been a melting pot every bit as diverse as New York. There are a lot of big names from across the years, a bunch of standards and many rare treats as well. In general, these are LONG songs: if you can multitask, the compilation has you covered for two days of a work week.

It’s a mixed bag. Some of the segues are jarring, and you can quit halfway through album five without missing anything. Giving Kenny Neal and his generic blues band fifteen minutes, more than just about anybody else, to phone in a medley was a waste. Surely the compilers could have found something more compelling from Professor Longhair than the song where he plays a trebly Wurlitzer…and whistles. Notwithstanding how much great material Preservation Hall Jazz Band have put out lately, we get…My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It? And who really wants to hear all the band intros at the end of a rote version of a familiar Clarence Frogman Henry novelty song?

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s a ton of great material you can use for your own playlists. You can tell from the first few close harmonies of Hey, Now Baby that it’s Henry Butler at the piano. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are represented by a pouncing guitar-and-sax-fueled 2004 take of Blackbird Special. Dr. John’s emphatic, darkly stirring Litanie des Saints and a smoldering, vengeful, psychedelic take of I Walk on Gilded Splinters could be the high point of the whole album. The soulful John Boutte contributes a simmering post-Katrina parable, Louisiana 1927, a tale of “Twelve feet of water in the Lower Nine….They’re trying to wash us away, don’t let ’em!”

The Al Belletto Big Band bring the storm with their mambo-tinged Jazzmocracy. Bluesman Champion Jack Dupree and pianist Allen Toussaint deliver Bring Me Flowers While I’m Living with plenty of gallows humor, then cut loose in Rub a Little Boogie. Toussaint turns in a brass-fueled Yes We Can Can, as well as What Is Success, with Bonnie Raitt on sunbaked slide guitar, a little later on.

The expansive, oldtimey version of Summertime, by the Original Liberty Jazz Band featuring Dr. Michael White is strikingly fresh. The bursts from the choir in Ain’t Nobody Can Do Me Like Jesus, by Raymond Myles with the Gospel Soul Children are viscerally breathtaking. The Zion Harmonizers‘ I Want to Be At the Meeting and Golden Gate Gospel Train are just as stirring instrumentally as they are vocally.

The accordion/fiddle harmonies of the Savoy Family Cajun Band‘s Midland Two Step are especially juicy. When Beausoleil‘s sad twelve-string guitar waltz Recherche d’Acadie finally appears, four albums in, it’s actually a welcome break from all the relentless good cheer. Shortly afterward, the Neville Brothers’ slow-burning Yellow Moon rises to an eerily surreal halfspeed dixieland raveup. And bluesman John Mooney’s It Don’t Mean a Doggone Thing, Deacon John‘s Happy Home and Sonny Landreth‘s Blue Tarp Blues each have some sizzling slide guitar. Those are just some of the highlights: at this point, it’s time to stop and turn it over to you. Enjoy.

Yet Another Wildly Diverse Album From the Brilliantly Psychedelic, Lyrical Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys are a rarity in the world of psychedelic music: a lyrically-driven band fronted by a charismatic woman with a shattering, powerful wail. Guitarist/singer Sarah Mucho cut her teeth in the cabaret world, winning prestigious MAC awards….when she wasn’t belting over loud guitars as an underage kid out front of the funky, enigmatic Noxes Pond, a popular act at the peak of what was an incredibly fertile Lower East Side rock scene back in the early zeros. Noxes Pond morphed into volcanically epic art-rock band System Noise, one of the best New York groups of the past decade or so, then Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege went in a more acoustic, Americana-flavored direction with the Sometime Boys.

They earned the #1 song of the year here back in 2014 for their hauntingly crescendoing, gospel-fueled anthem The Great Escape. Their new album The Perfect Home – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mind-warpingly diverse collection of originals and covers. There aren’t many other bands capable of making the stretch between a country-flavored take of the Supersuckers’ deadpan, cynical Barricade and a similarly wry hard-funk cover of the Talking Heads’ Houses in Motion.

The other covers are a similarly mixed bag. Mucho’s angst-fueled, blues-drenched delivery over guest Mara Rosenbloom’s organ and the slinky rhythm section of bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit takes the old Allman Brothers southern stoner standard Whipping Post to unexpected levels of intensity, Likewise, Pink Floyd’s Fearless has a bounce missing from the art-folk original on the Meddle album, along with a balmy, wise, nuanced vocal from Mucho and a starry, swirly jam at the end. And their slinky, gospel-influenced take of Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole is a clinic in erudite, purist blues playing.

But the album’s best songs are the originals. Unnatural Disasters has careening, Stonesy stadium rock over a bubbly groove and a characteristically sardonic but determined lyric from Mucho. The group are at their most dizzyingly eclectic on the European hit single Architect Love Letter, blending elements of bluegrass, soukous, honkytonk and an enveloping, dreampop-flavored outro.

Leege’s mournful washes of slide guitar, Rosenbloom’s pointillistic electric piano and Mucho’s brooding, gospel-tinged vocals mingle over a nimble bluegrass shuffle beat in Painted Bones. And the defiance and hard-won triumph in Mucho’s voice in the feminist anthem Women of the World – a snarling mashup of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Poi Dog Pondering, maybe – is a visceral thrill. Good to see one of New York’s most original, distinctive bands still going strong. They’re just back from European tour; watch this space for upcoming hometown shows.

A Slyly Cinematic Instrumental Album and a Rockwood Residency From Henry Hey

Multi-instrumentalist Henry Hey may be best know these days for his David Bowie collaborations,  notably as musical director for the stage productions of Lazarus, but he somehow finds the time to lead his own band. The latest album, simply titled Four, by his Forq quartet with guitarist Chris McQueen, bassist Kevin Scott and drummer Jason Thomas is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s their most colorful and cinematic release yet. Hey has a weekly 9 PM Monday night residency this month, with special guests at each show, at the small room at the Rockwood, where he’ll be next on Nov 11 and you can expect to hear at least some of this live.

The album’s first track is Mr. Bort. a ridiculously woozy Bernie Worrell/P-Funk style strut employing a slew of cheesy late 70s/early 80s keyboard patches – it sounds like a parody. The second track, Grifter is an epic  – it shifts from a techy update on early 60s samba-surf, to slit-eyed Hollywood hills boudoir soul, Tredici Bacci retro Italian cinematics and finally a noir conversation between twelve-string guitar and synth.

M-Theory is sternly swooshy outer space drama in an early 80s ELO vein, followed by Duck People, a return to wry portamento stoner funk with a jovially machinegunning faux-harpsichord solo out. Lullabye, the album’s most expansive track, has loopy faux-soukous followed by Hey playing postbop synth over a long drum crescendo, then a startrooper theme and a bit of second-line New Orleans.

Likewise, Tiny Soul morphs into and out of hard funk from a chipper, Jim Duffy-style psychedelic pop stroll. The band go back to brightly circling, buoyantly orchestrated Afro-pop with Rally, then bring back the wah funk with EAV.

After a brief, warpy reprise from Lullabye, the band channel Rick James with the catchy Times Like These. The last track is Whelmed, a funny riff-rock spoof: imagine what Avi Fox-Rosen would have done with it if he was a weedhead. Somewhere there is a hip-hop group, a video game franchise, an action flick or stoner buddy comedy that could use pretty much everything on this record.

Fun (or not so fun) fact: Hey takes the B.B. King memorial ironman award here for most macho performance while injured. Two sets of jazz at the piano with a broken thumb, lots of solos and not a single grimace. Can’t tell you where or with who because the injury could have been costlhy if anybody had known at the time.

Multistylistic, Psychedelic Dance Grooves and a Midtown Release Show From Dawn Drake & ZapOte

Dawn Drake & ZapOte are a blazing horn-driven band who play just about every style of dance music you could want. Afrobeat? Check. Salsa? Doublecheck. Hard funk? Word. Ethiopiques? Kind of. They’re as psychedelic as they are stylistically diverse, and frontwoman Drake is the rare bassist across all those styles who likes incisive lowdown riffs and makes those notes count without overplaying. The band’s new album Nightshade isn’t out officially yet and is due up momentarily at her Bandcamp page They’re playing the release show in a more sit-downy place than usual for them, Club Bonafide, on Nov 8 at 10 PM. Cover is $15.

The album opens with Oya de Zarija, Mara Rosenbloom’s langorous electric piano over a trip-hop sway and elegantly layered polyrhythmic percussion: a stoner soul jam, more or less. The first of the Afrobeat numbers is Shoulda Never, a miniature that the band reprise toward the end of the record. Chi Chi’s Afrobeat, the album’s longest joint, is especially catchy, with a tantalizingly brief Maria Eisen sax break and dubby keys.

Ethwaap is just as anthemic, a vampy minor-key tune wryly flavored with P-Funk psychedelic keyb flourishes and a spiraling flute solo. Zim ta Tim is a slinky slice of tropicalia, kicking off with surreal, baroque-tinged vocal harmonies.

Drake mashes up cumbia with soca in Salon de Coiffure (i.e. Hair Salon), with a thicket of bright Eliane Amherd guitar multitracks. Likewise, the kiss-off anthem Judgment Rumba is part roots reggae, part oldschool salsa dura. The album’s best track is the East African-flavored Puriya Makuta, with a Bob Marley Exodus pulse, brief, purposeful solos from Eisen’s sax and Jackie Coleman’s trumpet, and the group’s dubbiest interlude.

Bunny’s Jam turns out to be a return to concise Afrobeat – imagine that, wow! The group stay on the Afrobeat tip to wind up the album with the Wake Up Remix, a fiery, organ-driven, apocalyptic cautionary tale. Great party record; play it loud.

 

Above the Moon Steals the Show at Marcus Garvey Park

Sunday afternoon at Marcus Garvey Park, it was validating to watch Above the Moon take over the big stage like they owned the place. The last time this blog was in the house at one of their shows, it was a weeknight at a hideous little Chinatown mob joint where frontwoman/Telecaster player Kate Griffin’s vocals weren’t even in the mix. Which was a crime, because her voice will give you chills. Still, good things started happening: all of a sudden, the band were headlining Arlene’s on Friday nights, and they’ve released a series of excellent ep’s. The data-mining dorks at the big corporate venue chains don’t get it, but Above the Moon are proof that there’s still a massive market for smart, fiercely tuneful rock.

Their sound these days is tighter and harder than it’s ever been, a lot less jangly. Griffin played her usual uneasy mix of roaring, distorted major and minor chords punctuated by Shawn Murphy’s gritty, new wave-ish bass and Strat player James Harrison’s terse, incisive upper-register chordlets and simple, jagged blues leads. Drummer John Gramuglia provided a relentless, colorful stomp, using his whole kit, not just the kick and the snare like a lot of bands with this kind of sound.

Likewise, Griffin uses every inch of her mighty voice’s register, from ominous lows to wailing highs, leaping and bounding effortlessly. The high point of the show was when the music came to a sudden stop after a chorus, but Griffin kept wailing for a couple of seconds of raw adrenaline until the band jumped back in again. There’s always been a restlessness in her songwriting, and the new, angrier edge is a welcome development. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. The band are about to record yet another ep, and the new material is more punk and new wave-influenced than ever. Songs ended sudden and cold, and the final, slowly crescendoing anthem brought to mind a Buzzcocks epic from the 80s.

The rest of the bill was a mixed bag. The last band opened with what sounded like a loud guitar version of a Madonna hit from the 90s and got really cheesy from there, with a goofy ha-ha presence and lazy, inept Pearl Jam-style open chords. After Above the Moon, Mojo & the Mayhem were as lame as their name, which was sad because they have really good songs, and a strong frontwoman who has the timing and the flair to go deep into the group’s attempt to work an oldschool soul vibe. It’s rare to see a band with such purist, catchy material looking so lost onstage. Maybe they’d get somewhere with a different lineup (and a different name – ouch). The horns were ragged, and the guys in the group should know better than to try to upstage a good lead singer on the mic – or, for that matter, to take a halfhearted stab at fake ebonics at a Harlem show. That was shameful. And the bassist and guitarist looked like mercenaries, bored out of their minds, phoning it in and then overplaying when they finally got to take centerstage.

Cosmonaut Radio, on the other hand, do one thing and one thing spectacularly well: psychedelic funk, with a little oldschool 70s disco in places. They were literally as tight as their drummer. And they have a sense of humor; “We’ve got one more for ya. That’s the name of the song: ‘One More For Ya,’” one of the group’s two Telecaster players explained to the crowd – and then treated them to at least another half-hour of groove. With chicken-scratch rhythm, wah-wah lead guitar, smoky organ, a fiery two-man horn section, wryly processed bass and a high-voltage soul chanteuse out in front, they did their best to get a sleepy indian summer crowd on their feet. But it was a hot day; people seemed more interested in sipping Hennessy and smoking weed than moving around much.

The Ghost Funk Orchestra Materialize at Bryant Park

The Ghost Funk Orchestra was originally a one-man band studio project. Then word started getting out about how incredibly fun – and psychedelically creepy – Seth Applebaum’s oldschool soul instrumentals were. All of a sudden there was a band, and then songs with vocals, and now there’s an album, A Song for Paul, featuring the whole crew. This past evening they played the album release show to a huge crowd spread across the lawn at Bryant Park.

Applebaum turns out to be a beast of a lead guitarist, switching from evilly feathery tremolo-picking, to enigmatically sunbaked, scorchingly resonant lines, incisive funk and even some icily revertoned, surf-tinged riffs. The horn section – Rich Siebert on trumpet, James Kelly on trombone and Stephen Chen baritone sax, the latter being the most prominent in the mix – were as tight as the harmonies of the three women fronting the band with an unselfconscious, down-to-earth passion and intenstiy. Lo Gwynn, Romi Hanoch and Megan Mancini twirled and kept the groove going on tambourine as they sang, while second guitarist Josh Park played purposeful chords and oldschool soul licks on his Gibson SG, often trading off or intertwining with the bandleader and his Strat. Bassist Julian Applebaum and drummer Kyle Beach handled the tricky rhythmic shifts seamlessly.

The best of the songs was the darkest one, possibly titled Evil Mind. There were a handful with a galloping Afrobeat rhythm, another with a qawalli-inflected, circling pace and plenty with a swinging straight-up psychedelic funk groove. With all the textures simmering onstage, they didn’t need a keyboardist. Not much chatter with the crowd, no band intros – for all we know, the lineup could still be in flux – just one hypnotic, undulating, sometimes cinematically shifting tune after another. Their next gig is this Halloween at 9 PM at Rough Trade; cover is $12.

 

Yet Another Grim, Brilliantly Lyrical, Oldtime-Flavored Album From Curtis Eller

Charismatic banjo player and bandleader Curtis Eller is yet another first-class songwriter who got brain-drained out of New York by the the real estate speculators’ blitzkrieg. But he’s never stopped writing dark, witheringly insightful, brutally funny folk noir songs. His latest album A Poison Melody – streaming at his music page – is his hardest-rocking record yet, and it’s as grimly relevant as ever.

The title track, Radiation Poison sets the stage. Don’t let the bluster of those of jump blues-inspired horns fool you: this is about an invisible killer. Eller’s references may be Nagasaki and the New Mexico atom bomb tests, but in the post-Fukushima era, the song has even more relevance. “Everybody’s been exposed,” Eller warns.

Eller introduces the dirty-water garage rock stomp of No Soap Radio as “A no-bullshit story about what happened in ’63 – how come it’s always Texas when there’s a murder on tv?” William Dawson’s vibraphone lingers in the background with the torchy harmony vocals of Dana Marks and Stacy Wolfson on the album’s title cut, a doomed soul ballad.

Jack Fleishman’s loose-limbed drums propel Union Hall, a New Orleans-spiced romp alluding to the 1968 Detroit riots, but with current-day irony:

I’m gonna call the police on my neighbor
I’m gonna take my pistol downtown
The Constitution said I can shoot what I want
Everybody get down

Nobody is surprised by the die-off in These Birds, a stark eco-disaster parable. Pay the Band, a big audience favorite at shows, has gospel piano from Tom Merrigan. As Eller sees it, money is like “morphine on the front line.” And, “You gotta pay the band if you wanna watch those losers dance.” It gets even better from there: the punchlines are too good to give away.

The gospel atmosphere is more subdued and elegaic in Lenny Bruce. Cowles plays flute over Eller’s spare, steady, ominous banjo in Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, a caustically aphoristic World War II basic training parable in period-perfect blues vernacular.

After that, Eller does a diptych about a riot; the sly introduction signals the twisted jubilation of the second, a cynical reminder how calamities are always heaven for profiteers. He winds up the album with the sobering No Word to Choose, Hugh Crumley’s steady bass holding the center amid subtly tricky syncopation, up to a final conflagration. In the post-3/11, post-9/11 era, we need clear-eyed guys like Eller more than ever.