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Tag: funny music

A Mammoth, Deliriously Funny, Searingly Relevant New Recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide

Once one dismisses
The rest of all possible worlds
One finds that this is
The best of all possible worlds

So sings Sir Thomas Allen in his role as Dr. Pangloss, in the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus’ epic new recording of Leonard Bernstein’s satirical opera Candide, streaming at Spotify.

When Lillian Hellman enlisted Bernstein and what would become a rapidly expanding cast of lyricists in this ridiculously funny parable of McCarthyite witch hunting, little did anyone involved with the project know how much greater relevance it would have in the months after March of 2020. Marin Alsop leads the orchestra and a boisterous allstar cast of opera talent in a massive double album culled from concert performances in the fall of 2018.

Tenor Leonardo Capalbo plays the title role. Soprano Jane Archibald is Cunegonde and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter plays the Old Lady, with a supporting cast of Thomas Adkins, Marcus Farnsworth, Katherine McIndoe, Carmen Artaza, Lucy McAuley, Liam Bonthrone, Frederick Jones and Jonathan Ayers in raucous multiple roles. Simon Halsey directs the choir.

Alsop and the orchestra have just as much fun as the singers. Bernstein’s score comes across as almost as satirical as the text. As a parody of centuries of European opera, it’s not quite Scaramouche doing the fandango, but it’s close. The coda of act one is priceless.

For the most part, the plot is consistent with Voltaire’s novel. As you would expect in an operatic context, the characters are infinitely more over-the-top. We learn early on what a horrible pair the credulous Candide and the bling-worshipping Cunegonde make. Innuendo flies fast and furious, and some of the jokes are pretty outrageous for a production first staged in the late 50s. The lyric book by itself is a riot – although it only has the songs, not the expository passages. Listen closely for maximum laughs.

Alsop perfectly nails Bernstein’s tongue-in-cheek seriousness and good-natured melodic appropriation, through one stoically marching, bombastic interlude after another. There’s phony pageantry to rival Shostakovich. Swoony string passages and hand-wrenching arias alternate with the occasional moment where Bernstein drops the humor and lets the sinister subtext waft in. The most amusingly grisly part of the story is set to a parody of the climactic scene in the Mozart Requiem. Brecht/Weill’s Threepenny Opera and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherezade are recurrent reference points.

The most spectacular display of solo vocal pyrotechnics belongs to Archibald – in response to a hanging, appropriately enough. For the choir, it’s the Handel spoof early in the second act. Music this comedic seldom inspires as much repeated listening. And the political content, in an age of divide-and-conquer, speaks truth to what at this moment seems to be rapidly unraveling power.

A Fearless, Funny, Spot-On New Holiday Protest Song Album From the Pocket Gods

The Pocket Gods might hold the alltime record for the total number of songs released by a rock band. A considerable portion of their voluminous output comes from a series of hundred-song albums written to protest Spotify’s nanopayment system: a couple quid per million plays, more or less.

The band come out of the scruffy British space where psychedelia meets punk and garage rock. Since the early zeros, they’ve released everything from a concept album about Oak Island, where a fortune in pirate treasure is reputedly hidden, to the incendiary No Room at the (Holiday) Inn collection of Christmas-themed protest songs which made the top ten albums of 2020 list here. Frontman Mark Christopher Lee is a purist pop polymath who never loses his sense of humor, no matter how grim things get – and they get very, very grim here.

This year the Pocket Gods have a snotty new holiday album, Apocalyptic Christmas, streaming at Spotify. It’s basically their greatest holiday hits. As anti-Christmas music, it’s irresistible. Some of the songs are pure punk rock, ranging from filthy and Ramonesy to more overtly political. There are also instrumentals, punked-out carols and a loopy little number built around a sample of Boris Johnson’s father waxing eloquent about “decreasing the surplus population.” No joke.

On the lighthearted side, there’s a Stiff Little Fingers-style version of Silent Night. On the more venomous tip, there’s the title track, a garage-punk critique of New Abnormal surveillance state totalitarianism. It’s sort of this decade’s counterpart to the Clash’s English Civil War.

Some of the songs, like Covid Cavalry, have a poignancy that transcends the rage of the music: imagine being separated from your significant other for months on end by a global divide-and-conquer scheme. If you’re one of the literally billions who’ve been deprived of some basic human necessity since the more-or-less international fascist coup d’etat in 2020, this resolutely funny, quintessentially British band will lift your spirits.

Some Funny Videos to Cheer You Up This Holiday Season

OK, making fun of New Abnormal Nazism is like shooting fish in a barrel. But it’s a big barrel. Everybody wants to be Charlie Chaplin on the set of The Great Dictator now:

“Perry Carditis & the mRNA’s” have a ridiculously funny Christmas medley in the style of a vintage K-Tel commercial, via Jeff Childers’ indispensable Coffee & Covid (scroll all the way down). “Order now at 1-900-666-VAXX, must be double-masked when you call!”

Tyler Fischer goes to pick up his laundry in the not-too-distant New Abnormal (via Mark Crispin Miller’s News From Underground). This particular lockdown-o-mat has a door guy, like at a music venue. Hang in there as things get crazier and crazier, all the way through to the punchline.

And the best of all of these is Pure Blooded, by the mysterious Nirvana A. It’s Foreigner’s Hot Blooded with new lyrics that make you remember what a pathetic Bad Company ripoff the original was (also via News From Underground). “C’mon Fauci, you can kiss my ass, I’m pure blooded, I’m pure blooded!”

Sick of Halloween Cliches? The Goosebumps Soundtrack Is Your Revenge

Today’s Halloween album is the cartoon kind. Danny Abosch and John Maclay‘s Original Studio Cast Recording to Goosebumps: The Musical – Phantom of the Auditorium is up at Spotify. It’s a play within a play packed with snarky, spot-on acting-world references.

This sometimes loving, sometimes coldly cynical satire begins when a handful of drama-club dorks, sick of being stuck in nonspeaking roles, decide to hijack the Woods Mill Middle School’s production of Phantom of the Opera. Seeing as they’re the school’s most dedicated horror fans, they’re uniquely qualified to pull off the stunt.

Beyond Andrew Lloyd Webber’s third-rate Berlioz, it’s a good guess that this is peppered with sardonic quotes from other musicals like The Lion King and Beetlejuice. The fourth wall comes down fast and pretty much stays down throughout this spoof, which also extends to the music. Like the narrative, this is a parody of parodies. Corporate urban pop and new wave each get a good spanking. Every horror-film score cliche other than a theremin eventually makes an appearance: spiraling cello, a churchbell, a random scream, lingering vibraphone and minor keys everywhere.

The plotline is akin to a PG-rated take on Heathers (which also was adapted into a killer musical). This cast includes Krystina Alabado, Alex Brightman, Stephanie Styles, Noah Galvin and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Alabado gets more time on the mic than anyone else. It’s anybody’s guess if or how good a singer she is because she’s autotuned. But that could be part of the joke.

The Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet Bring Their Irrepressibly Entertaining Sound to the South Slope

More than anything, the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet swing. Most sax quartets work in the rarefied and all too frequently abstruse world of contemporary classical music. The Broken Reeds are one of the world’s funniest jazz bands, and the absence of bass and drums doesn’t keep them from bringing the party. Their most recent album, Those Who Were – a 2019 release streaming at their music page – may reference a lot of artists who’ve left us, but alto sax player and bandleader Charley Gerard’s compositions are as irrepressibly upbeat and entertaining as always. The group are bringing their bright, erudite, often comedic, catchy tunes to an outdoor show with special guest singer Tammy Scheffer on Oct 22 at 6:30 PM at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th St south of 6th Ave in South Park Slope. Take the R to Prospect Ave.

The album’s opening number, Something to Remember You By is somewhere between a stroll and a march, with rightly lustrous four-part harmonies, understated dixieland counterpoint and walking bass from baritone saxophonist Dimitri Moderbacher

Gerard leads a series of flutters punctuated by moments of warm resonance built around a catchy, cheery theme in A Long Life: the point seems that if you stick around long enough, you’ll be happy too. Soprano saxophonist Jenny Hill’s tantalizingly brief solo adds unexpected gravitas. She Was Connected to the Earth has more of a dixieland-style intertwine between the horns, while Don’t Forget the Cork Grease has a tightly pulsing hot 20s exuberance, once again capped off by Hill’s quicksilver legato.

A Lot of Living in a Short Amount of Time is an edgy, increasingly wild, Ellingtonian minor-key jump blues with some incisively conversational moments between Hill and tenor saxophonist Justin Flynn. Call Me Jimmy, dedicated to Gerard’s teacher and big inspiration Jimmy Giuffre, is an aptly eclectic mini-suite built around a sternly strolling, 19th century gospel-infused blues: a brilliant guy, but not a particular warm, fuzzy character, if this is any indication

The sixth track is Who Was Father Mckenzie? – gotta love these titles, huh? – and as Gerard sees him, he has a secret latin side. With its sly cha-cha riffage and Gerard reaching for the rafters, the song has absolutely nothing to do with the Beatles.

The group go back to biting minor-key blues in the steady, strutting bursts of Do You Want to Be Ruth. Hmmm…which one could this be? Ruth Brown, maybe? Hill’s solo about three quarters of the way in is one of the album’s most unselfconsciously breathtaking moments.

Gerard airs out his latin side again in Adios A Cuba, a slinky nocturne and one of only two tracks on the album with bass and drums. Goodbye Don, a fond remembrance of a former drummer, shifts from matter-of-fact lustre to a pulse that’s just short of frantic, Gerard’s high-voltage solo saluting a guy who obviously had no shortage of energy.

The group finally reach Keystone Kops scamper, intertwined within a surprisingly shamanic Afro-Cuban groove, in Father Mckenzie’s Cuban Catastrophe, only to end it on a simmering, serious note. They close the record with Ugly Duck Strut, dark and tan Ellingtonian blues filtered through jauntily shifting rhythms. If you were lucky enough to catch Quatre Vingt Neuf onstage in the months before the lockdown when Wade Ripka was frantically writing charts to Leroy Shield’s Little Rascals themes, you’ll love this crew.

A Restriction-Free Show From One Of New York’s Most Interesting, Individualistic Jazz Reedmen

Until last year’s lockdown, multi-reedman Mike McGinnis was a ubiquitous presence in the New York jazz scene. He’s an eclectic, erudite composer and arranger, as adept on the sax as the clarinet, equally informed by Americana and music from across the European continent. With his lush nine-piece Road Trip Band, he rescued Bill Smith’s picturesque 1956 Concerto for Clarinet from third-stream jazz obscurity. But as serious and straightforward as much of his own work is, he also has a great sense of humor. It’s anybody’s guess who he’s playing with at his gig at 2 PM at Parkside Plaza in Prospect Lefferts Gardens on Oct 17, but it’s bound to be entertaining, especially as there are also dance performances on the bill. The space is at the corner of Parkside and Ocean Avenue, close to the Q stop at Parkside Ave.

One particularly colorful project McGinnis has been involved with for over a decade is the Four Bags. He plays clarinet and bass clarinet in the band alongside trombonist Brian Drye, guitarist Sean Moran and another trombonist, Jacob Garchik, who plays accordion. Their most recent release, Waltz, came out in 2017 and is still up at Bandcamp. The connecting thread is a frequent but hardly omnipresent time signature: they should have called the album The Three-Four Bags.

To set the stage, they put a coy dixieland spin on what could be a Mexican folk tune, El Caballo Bayo, then go fullscale cartoon on you. It’s obvious, but impossible not to laugh.

The joke in the second track, Runaway Waltz is polyrhythms – those, and a baroquely comedic sensibility. Waltz of the Jacobs is a brassy, Belgian-tinged musette, the four taking a couple of increasingly cartoonish detours before Drye and Garchik engage in some calmer, completely deadpan clowning around.

Invisible Waltz is not a John Cage cover but one of the deliciously slow, airy, sinister tunes the group like to throw at you once in awhile. The group go back to jaunty latin sounds with Puerta Del Principe, which also has droll hints at flamenco, unexpectedly stormy gusts and a head-scratchingly exuberant McGinnis clarinet solo.

Vaults Dumb ‘Ore bears a suspicious resemblance to a famously venomous Randy Newman song that Nina Simone covered. The band switch her out for a brooding, bolero-tinged interplay between accordion and guitar, then Drye adds a surprisingly somber extra layer before Moran takes it into increasingly fanged psychedelia. Finally, the jokes kick in, one poker-faced quote after another.

G is for Geezus is a buffoonish New Orleans theme. There are also bits and pieces of variations on Les Valse Des As, the wryly nocturnal closing cut, scattered throughout the album. Fans of funny jazz acts like the Microscopic Septet and Mostly Other People Do the Killing will enjoy this goofy but very seriously assembled stuff.

The Tiptons Sax Quartet Release the Funnest Jazz Album of the Year So Far

Since the zeros, the Tiptons Saxophone Quartet have been making some of the most lusciously irreverent music in jazz. Their deviously entertaining latest album Wabi Sabi is streaming at Bandcamp. Joined by their longtime drummer and ringer dude Robert Kainar, the four reedwomen fire off one catchy, harmonically rich number after another, drawing on styles from Romany brass to soca to dixieland and many points in between. Their music is picturesque, upbeat and occasionally cartoonish. Everybody in the band writes, and sings – or at least vocalises. This is one of the funnest and funniest albums of the year.

The album’s opening track is December’s Dance, by baritone player Tina Richerson. It’s an acerbically pulsing blend of Ellingtonian lustre and dusky Ethiopian chromatics, Kainar pushing the song deeper toward funk as the solos around the horn peak out with a wild crescendo from alto player Amy Denio.

Similarly, Denio’s El Gran Orinador is a Balkan/latin brass band mashup with a dixieland-like horn intertwine, Richerson playing the tuba bassline on her baritone. Tenor player Jessica Lurie’s friendly ghost of a solo as Kainar squirrels around is one of the album’s high points. The title track, by tenor player Sue Orfield balances lushly triumphant harmonies with a spare, camelwalking Afrobeat groove and a soaring, carefree vocalese solo.

A Sparkley Con, by Lurie has a lithely undulating New Orleans second-line rhythm, Richerson again playing the tuba role beneath the cheer overhead before cutting loose with a tersely bluesy solo. Root Dance, a second Denio tune has Serbian flair in the horns’ biting chromatics, dramatic vocalese and tricky rhythm: the precision of Orfield and Lurie’s tenors fluttering like a trumpet section is breathtaking.

Kainar’s keening cymbal harmonics gently launch a spacey intro to Torquing of the Spheres, an especially resonant Lurie composition, goes slinking along in 10/8, the composer taking a tersely spiraling solo on soprano. The band head to Trinidad, with some New Orleans mixed into Richerson’s lively but enveloping Jouissance.

Memory Bait, by Orfield is part punchy go-go tune, part action movie theme and a launching pad for some of the album’s most ambitiously adrenalizing solos. Denio’s final composition here is Moadl Joadl, a Balkan tune with a broodingly atmospheric intro that lightens when the dancing rhythm comes in.

Lurie manages to build the album’s lushest brass band evocation in 3x Heather’s 17, maintaining the tricky Balkan rhythm around a wryly suspenseful drum break. The album winds up with Orfield’s Working Song, shifting from a rather somber oldtime gospel theme to echoes of a 19th century field holler mashed up with Afrobeat and reggae, This is a lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

Fun fact: the band take their name from Billy Tipton, a well-known saxophonist and bandleader who was born biologically female but managed to live and perform as a man for decades, at a time when it was almost as daunting to be a woman in jazz as it was to dress as a member of the opposite sex. How far we’ve come – one hopes, anyway.

Irrresistible, Boisterous Fun From the 3D Jazz Trio

The 3D Jazz Trio are a subset of the well-loved Diva Jazz Orchestra, arguably the world’s longest-running and most talented all-female large jazz ensemble. The trio’s debut album I Love to See You Smile is streaming at Bandcamp This is jazz as entertainment. All three musicians are colorful players and have an infectious good time with a mix of standards and originals, whether they’re throwing devious quotes and jokes both subtle and broad into the mix, or chewing the scenery. For people who might be looking for genteel, unobtrusive wine-hour jazz, this is definitely not it.

The title track echoes the style of another pioneering, underrated woman artist, Bertha Hope, with pianist Jackie Warren’s jaunty, joyous ragtime-inflected flourishes echoed by drummer Sherrie Maricle, bassist Amy Shook having similar fun toying with the melody when it comes to her punchy solo. Throughout the record, Maricle gets to cut loose a lot more than she does with the big band and indulges her inner Elvin Jones – and inner vaudeville star – more than you might expect, with irresistible results.

How do they tackle the ostensibly most-recorded song of alltime, Besame Mucho? Warren gives it a glistening, solo neoromantic intro, then the trio completely flip the script and take it bouncing to Bahia.

Shook carries the looming, deadpan melody line against Warren’s blend of gospel and ragtime in Moonglow, up to a series of jokes that are too good to give away.

The band reinvent Back at the Chicken Shack as a hard-swinging jump blues, Warren’s trills and upper-register stabs sending a shout back to Jimmy Smith. The trio’s broodingly Lynchian clave intro to Angel Eyes is a real shock to the system, then Warren slowly swings it into much sunnier, sagely blues-infused terrain.

Recado Bossa Nova has a persistent, darkly restless quality over a spring-loaded pulse, up to a a spare, incisive solo from Shook and an unexpectedly misterioso, surfy one from Maricle. They make increasingly un-sedate wee-hours saloon blues out of an old Irish ballad with When You and I Were Young, Maggie, and close the record with the racewalking swing of L.O.V.E. Never a dull moment with this crew.

Funny and Troubling Songs For a Funny and Troubling Time

Good things come in fours today: here’s a mini-playlist of videos and streams to get your synapses firing on all cylinders

The woman who brought you the devious Tina Turner parody What’s Math Got to Do With It, singer/sax player Stephanie Chou has a provocatively philosophical new single, Continuum Hypothesis. It’s sort of art-rock, sort of jazz – a catchy, dancing, anthemic duo with pianist Jason Yeager, dedicated to mathematician Paul Cohen. According to this hypothesis, there is no set whose cardinality is strictly between that of the integers and the real numbers. This seems self-evident, but, based on Cohen’s work in set theory, Chou sees it as essentially unknowable, at least with what we know now. Snag a free download at Lions with Wings’ Bandcamp page while you can.

Here’s Erik Della Penna – the guitar half of erudite, lyrical superduo Kill Henry Sugar with drummer Dean Sharenow – doing a very, very subtle, rustically shuffling, Dylanesque acoustic protest song, Change the Weather:

I’m gonna make predictions
I’m gonna make it rain
I’m gonna put restrictions
On hearing you complain…
I’m gonna change the language
To make you change your mind
I’m gonna make predictions
That you can get behind

Swedish songwriter Moneira a.k.a. Daniela Dahl has a new single, The Bird (Interesting to See) It’s almost eight minutes of minimalist, anthemic art-rock piano and mellotron vibes, an oblique memoir of a troubled childhood, “a bird trapped in an open cage.” Sound familiar?

Natalia Lafourcade sings a slow, plush, epic take of the brooding Argentine suicide ballad Alfonsina y El Mar with Ljova orchestrating himself as a one-man string ensemble with his fadolin multitracks. You’d never know it was just one guy.

Joel Hoekstra’s 13 Reanimate an Extinct Breed of Dinosaur Metal

In olden days, before Odin delivered the runes which ordered the gods of metal to fixate on Viking regalia, pagan myths and the apocalypse, there was a strain of heavy rock that was pretty goofy. It was party music: catchy pop melodies played with loud guitars and a lot of winkingly comedic flourishes. Joel Hoekstra’s 13 come out of that late 70s school. He’s a great pop tunesmith, he loves volume and he knows this music inside out. His latest album Running Games – streaming at Spotify – is a prime example.

It’s a concept album about – gasp – a breakup. Who knew these leather-clad rogues had hearts that might not have been totally blackened, whether in a deal with the devil or by flying too close to the sun? The central metaphor is a race: themes of escape and the sobering possibility of a crushing loss permeate these otherwise very upbeat and adrenalizing tunes.

Guitars play ridiculously fast tapping solos over the steady gallop of the bass and drums. Divebomb effects, the occasional acoustic passage or grandiose keyboard break pop up in places. Hoekstra’s vocals have the requisite bombast, sometimes edging toward fullscale operatic drama. Don’t take this the wrong way, but the choruses on this album are straight out of Blondie, Bachman-Turner Overdrive or…Abba. No joke. Meanwhile, you half expect David Lee Roth to come swinging down to the stage on a couple of guidewires, wAAAAAAAAoooooh, wearing a yellow jumpsuit.

Serious fans will dismiss this as a parody, self- or otherwise, or 7-11 parking lot music for the under-15 crowd who haven’t discovered Sabbath or Led Zep yet. Yes, this is comic-book rock…but it’s a well-drawn comic book. Dare you to spin the tenth track, Cried Enough For You, without laughing at the faux-Floyd and faux-Zep touches…and then when Hoekstra takes a solo, he takes your breath away. And makes you laugh again. In the grimmest year in human history, we still need to smile sometimes.