New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: ibrahim maalouf

Frank London and Adeena Karasick’s Darkly Gorgeous New Album Salutes a Feminist Archetype

“You are bringing in the big guns, opening the sluicegates with your hyperdramatic extra sex, a swishy riff, pithy swift grifters…like a feisty zeitgeist, a forever Riviera,” poet Adeena Karasick freestyles, saluting her title character in one of the early tracks on the new album Salome: Woman of Valor, her new collaboration with iconic trumpeter Frank London., streaming at his music page. It’s a psychedelic, globally-inspired, feminist reclamation of the Salome archetype, recasting her as a fearless, indomitable, multi-faceted persona rather than uber-slut. Typically, Karasick’s intricate, wickedly playful, erudite solo spoken world interludes are spaced in between the individual songs here.

The enticement builds over an echoey wash from Shai Bachar’s electric piano, Deep Singh’s tabla and London’s lyrically pensive trumpet in the album’s first musical number, Song of Salome. As it goes on, London channels more of the acerbic, chromatic edge and meticulous melismas that have characterized his sound as one of this era’s great klezmer and Balkan brass players.

Playing with a mute, he introduces a bracing, suspenseful Ethiopian theme over a chilly, techy haze in Garden of Eros, Karasick celebrating the pleasures of the flesh amid the “cinders of avarice.” London shifts to a hypnotic mashup of Ethiopiques, qawwali and Romany psychedelia in Drown Me, exchanging terse, soulful trumpet riffs with a swirly synth as the tabla holds down the groove.

Dance of Desire has a darkly slinky trip-hop ambience, Karasick deviously referencing a half century or more worth of lyrics, from Wilson Pickett to Leonard Cohen as London’s trumpet teases the listener. Bind Me has a gorgeously brooding, contrapuntal Hasidic melody and a metaphorically loaded lyric: this Salome doesn’t like being restrained.

To introduce Johnny, Karasick sends a shout out to Jean Genet and other bad-boy figures before London’s balmy trumpet and tersely circling, uneasy piano enter the picture. Martyrology, a grisly chronicle of Jewish mystics tortured and murdered over the years, makes a chilling contrast, followed by a haunting, Middle Eastern and Indian-tinged interlude from London that brings to mind Ibrahim Maalouf.

London returns to an anthemic mix of murky Ethiopiques and woozy psychedelia in Yes I Will Yes Say Yes. He shifts to the Middle Eastern freygish mode for the undulating Dance of the Seven Veils, part klezmer, part Palestinian shamstep, featuring an imploring vocal cameo by Manu Narayan . The group return to dusky, forlorn Ethiopian ambience to wind up the record with Kiss Thy Myth. Look for this one on the best albums of 2020 list here, scheduled for the end of the year.

A Long-Awaited, Darkly Brilliant Gem of a Debut Album From Ben Holmes’ Naked Lore

Over the past couple of years, trumpeter Ben HolmesNaked Lore trio became one of the most consistently edgy, entertaining bands in the Barbes scene. Considering how many dozens of other great artists rotate through Brooklyn’s best (and currently shuttered) music venue, that’s a major achievement.

But Holmes has been a mainstay, playing everything from klezmer to ska there since the zeros, and guitarist Brad Shepik and multi-percussionist Shane Shanahan have long resumes in jazz that slinks toward the Middle East. With this group, the goal is to reinvent old klezmer themes and introduce new ones. If you’re a fan of old Jewish folk tunes from across the diaspora, you’ll hear a lot of familiar minor-key riffs here, beamed down to a completely new planet. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open the album with a diptych, Invocation 1/Snake Money, an airy, spacious, allusively chromatic trumpet solo leading into a suspensefully pulsing, flamenco-tinged groove. From there Shepik’s fleet-fingered flurries and Shanahan’s snakecharmer beats underpin the bandleader’s lively, spacious, klezmer-infused phrasing. Ibrahim Maalouf’s most upbeat work comes to mind.

The second track is titled 543, a Smile, and Bullshit, reflecting Holmes wry stage presence as well as the whole group’s immersion in Balkan music. This one has a tricky groove that seems Macedonian, deliciously biting upper-register chords from Shepik, trumpet floating and trilling uneasily overhead..

Shepik plays clanging, overtone-laden Portuguese twelve-string guitar in the steady, jauntily strolling, tantalizingly gorgeous Swamplands Chusidl and sticks with it in the hypnotically circling Interlude on Avenue J, a throwback to the more postbop jazz-inflected style Holmes mined on his Balkan jazz record Gold Dust.

Another crystalline, unsettled trumpet taqsim, Invocation II leaps and bounds, introducing The Dust of Unremembering; Shepik runs a moody acoustic guitar loop as Shanahan fires off machinegunning riffs and Holmes hangs low and ominous, a stormcloud above all the scampering.

The Sunbeast Emerges, with its moody bolero tinges, is another killer track: it sounds like a Serbian take what could be a catchy, incisive Michael Winograd tune, no surprise considering how much time Holmes has spent in the clarinetist’s band. Shepik’s spiraling, spine-tingling solo is one of the album’s high points.

Two Oh No’s and an Oh! no No! is not a Yoko Ono paraphrase: it’s a dusky, Indian-flavored theme built around a Shepik chromatic loop, Holmes moodily choosing his spots over Shanahan’s clip-clop attack, the guitarist adding a wickedly Middle Eastern solo.

First We Were Sad, Then We Danced is a pretty self-explanatory hora, a high-voltage concert favorite: the trio add smoldering flamenco flavor and then an absolutely surreal new wave rock pulse. They wind up the album with the unselfconsciously poignant waltz All Together, a subtle mix of klezmer, pastoral American jazz and the Balkans.

All of these guys have done great work over the years but this is a high point for everybody in the band. No wonder they’ve stuck together so long. If it makes sense to put up a best albums of 2020 page at the end of the year – if New York still exists at the end of the year, if we all exist – this will be on it.

A Darkly Smashing Return to Form and a Jazz Standard Stand by Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez

Cuban-born pianist and Quincy Jones protege Alfredo Rodriguez made waves with his 2012 debut album Sounds of Space, His latest and third release, Tocororo – streaming at Spotify – is a welcome return to that record’s juxtaposition of terse Afro-Cuban and broodingly lustrous third-stream sounds. Rodriguez is leading a trio with bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Henry Cole plus chanteuse Ganavya Doraiswamy through a three-night stand at the Jazz Standard starting on March 3, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $30, which may seem steep, but remember, the Jazz Standard has no minimums (although they do have good food if you feel like splurging).

The album takes its name from the Cuban national bird, which does not survive in captivity: subtext, anyone? Rodriguez opens it with Chan Chan, a gorgeously creepy George Crumb-like inside-the-piano theme lowlit by some absolutely bloodcurdling bass clarinet. Yemaya veers elegantly between jaggedly insistent Afro-Caribbean intenstiy and enveloping lushness,building with soaring vocalese from Doraiswamy and the duo Ibeyi. Rodriguez’s hard-hitting, music-box-like precision livens bassist Richard Bona’s generically vampy Raices; the bassist also contributes an easygoing cha-cha that they reprise at the end of the album.

Ginaterias spirals with a wickedly catchy intensity that’s part flamenco, part suspenseful phantasmagoria and part Bach. Speaking of which, there’s a wryly syncopated version of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring a bit later on.

The album’s title track mashes up jackhammer latin swing, brooding neoromanticism and anxious Indian classical motives, sung with an aptly dynamic, meticulous intenstiy by Doraiswamy. There are two numbers by haunting Lebanese-French trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf here: the first, Venga La Esperanza is a wistful title theme of sorts. The second, Kaleidoscope, is the album’s best track, a propulsively dynamic blend of Middle Eastern classical, Indian carnatic, neoromantic and balmy cinematic styles featuring some strikingly ominous microtonal trumpet from its composer.

Sabanas Blanca is a surreal, unexpected departure into an avant garde take on trip-hop. Adios Nonino, the classic Piazzolla elegy, rocks a lot harder than other artists typically do it, at least to begin, which underscores the plaintiveness that follows. And Meteorite turns on a dime from breathless cinematics to lively pointillisms, then a crushing, angst-fueled dirge. The not-so-subtle message here, other than “Free my people!” seems to be, what can’t this guy play? Answer? Probably nothing. It’ll be fun to see where he lands when he eventually sorts all this out.

A Brilliant Noir Soundtrack by Ibrahim Maalouf

Lebanese/French trumpeter/composer Ibrahim Maalouf’s brilliant new new score to the 1927 Rene Clair silent film La Proie Du Vent (Prey to the Wind) takes it its inspiration from Miles Davis’ immortal noir soundtrack to the 1958 Louis Malle film Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows). Maalouf follows the architecture of the Miles record, but not sequentially. As Davis did, when Maalouf gets the chance, he focuses in hard on lighter moments, both to offset and accentuate the relentless darkness of the rest of the soundtrack.

Davis recorded his album haphazardly in a couple of days in a Paris studio with a pickup band, employing the same modal system used for the improvisations on Kind of Blue, with equally powerful results. Maalouf recorded this one in a couple of days in a New York studio, but carefully chose the players – pianist Frank Woeste, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Clarence Penn – since he felt they’d be comfortable with his use of Middle Eastern scales. The Miles record is drenched in reverb, added post-production; Maalouf’s production is as airy and sometimes arid as the film would seem to suggest. Overall, the effect of both albums is the same, an unrelenting unease foreshadowing imminent doom despite all distractions to the contrary. Together and separately, both are classics of the noir pantheon.

Woeste’s icy, Ran Blake-esque flourish introducing Maalouf’s resonant lines over Grenadier’s tersely staggeried syncopation immediately establishes the claustrophobic atmosphere that will resound crushingly throughout most of the score. Clear as this recording is, it feels as if the band is playing from behind a wall, Maalouf tentatively reaching upwards just as Davis did with his title theme. Davis offered temporary reprieves with bass solos, chase scenes and convivial, conspiratorial interludes; Maalouf employs the latter but none of the former, choosing to liven his own score with reggae and clave. But while the latin groove motors along comfortably and expansively, the reggae all too soon gives way to a crypto-waltz, ushering in the somber main theme.

To call the rest of this album Lynchian would be ironic, considering that David Lynch and his frequent soundtrack collaborator Angelo Badalamenti – and others – have drawn so heavily on Miles Davis. Maalouf matches Davis’ restraint, even though he often digresses into Middle Eastern modalites, which the supporting cast let resonate from a distance, leaving plenty of room for the trumpet’s eerie microtones. Yet Maalouf’s attack doesn’t mimic Davis, as the themes build with an expansive, sometimes breathy, sometimes ironic balminess. Turner often plays good cop to Maalouf’s brooding bad one, working the dichotomy for all it’s worth on the aptly titled Excitement, soaring over the band’s uneven pulse before Maalouf takes it down into shadowy noir cabaret. The final three tableaux – chillingly tense variations on a Gallic ballad, a morose wee-hours nocturne and the suspenseful closing theme, propelled by Penn’s judicious hitman tom-tom work – drive this masterpiece home through the mist with a quietly determined wallop. It’s out now from Harmonia Mundi; and here’s an enticing clip of Suspicions, one of the score’s most chilling interludes.

A Secret Guide to Make Music NY 2012

Thursday is Make Music NY, the New York equivalent of the French Fete de la Musique, the all-day buskathon that started out back in the 70s and has since spread around the world. Make Music NY started out in 2007 with high hopes, got even better very fast and then quickly dissipated. One could say that perfectly capsulizes the state of music in New York at this point in time, but that’s too cynical. Music is thriving in this town, just not in a particularly visible way. Which, to shatter some romantic notions of how great it supposedly was in the punk era, or the early indie era, or the classic jazz era, is pretty much the way it’s always been. Duke Ellington played the big hotel bars, but so did a bunch of now-forgotten combos phoning in covers of showtunes. The Ramones played CBGB not because they wanted to but because no other venue would give them a gig. And Yo La Tengo still play their December residency at little Maxwell’s in Hoboken because when they started out, they had a hard time getting gigs too. A look at the Make Music NY calendars – by artist, and by venue, which, by the way, don’t share information – shows an increasingly smaller number of participants. A lot of these people pop up here every year and then disappear til June 21 rolls around again; many of the singer-songwriters are hopeless open mic types; but there’s also a surprising amount of potentially amazing shows here.

If the heat doesn’t stop everything in its tracks. It threatened to in 2010 and then did exactly that last year. Be aware that a lot of artists reserve daytime space in public parks, or at popular intersections, and then don’t show up til after the sun goes down. Who can blame them? However, there are a handful of spots that get completely booked from early afternoon to evening. From the point of view of a music blogger looking for diamonds in the dust, Make Music NY at its best will deliver that many times over. And it’ll disappoint just as much, if you choose unwisely. If you’re crazy enough to ditch work and spend a day being a music tourist, here’s the New York Music Daily game plan, a series of performances carefully chosen for A) the likelihood that they’ll happen at all, B) the likelihood that they’ll start on time and C) minimizing travel time between destinations. NYMD’s representative will be at some of these events, wearing a Mets hat and shades (yeah, so will a lot of people – just trying to add to the mystery factor) and will have a report for you on this page soon afterward. So here’s the plan!

Starting at 6 AM (yawn), a series of vibraphonists will be playing Erik Satie’s satirical (some would say interminable and annoying) magnum opus, Vexations at Broad and Water Streets in the financial district. Satie was a surrealist and this is a surreal piece of music, but it’s very rarely staged and since it literally goes all day, you have all day to see it. That’s going to be the first stop on this adventure. What time? You decide. NYMD’s professional witness will probably get there by 11 AM, in order to make it to the noon performance by torchy chanteuse Julia Haltigan, who’s playing at Astor Place west of the cube at noon. Haltigan is a force of nature and even crushing heat has no effect on her: she radiates charisma and lush oldtimey sultriness. Whether playing with a band or solo, she’s always on her game, as she was last year, playing in the middle of Central Park to no one in particular with the Dirty Urchins. If for some reason the show here is running behind, there’s also oudist Jeff Peretz and Abu Gara at half past noon at St. Mark’s Park, 10th St. and Second Ave.

At 1 PM, another jazz-influenced singer, Rachel Brotman, is scheduled to play Calvary Church at the corner of Gramercy Park North and Park Avenue. That’s barely a ten-minute ride north on the 6 train and offers a temporary respite from the heat. Then at 2 PM, Indian indie classical percussionist Somnath Khartal and his band play St. Mark’s Park (another quick train ride). His music seems eclectic, and he hasn’t showed up on the radar here before, meaning that this may be a rare opportunity to see him play.

3 PM is too hard a choice to make – if you’re coming along on this crazy trip, you have to choose on your own. The excellent, new wave-influenced two-keyboard band Changing Modes – sort of the teens equivalent of what Pulp was in the UK in the 90s – are playing the Prospect Park boathouse. Ostensibly this is in the park beyond the Lincoln Road/Ocean Avenue intersection, via the B or Q to Prospect Park. That’s a bit of a hike, and not knowing where the boathouse is, if you see somebody wearing a Mets hat and shades, it’s probably not somebody from this blog. But you never know. The faster option, travelwise, is the “metal under the BQE” bash just past Union Pool (484 Union St. in Williamsburg, L to Lorimer St, not listed on the Make Music NY calendar, but it’s definitely happening) which starts at 3 featuring Thinning the Herd, SOS and a bunch of other excellent Brooklyn and Queens metal bands. To throw a wild card into the mix, the excellent, hip-hop influenced PitchBlak Brass Band are playing Water St. Restaurant in Dumbo (66 Water St., on the river), but it’s not clear whether they’ll be indoors or out. If indoors, beware, that place is expensive!

At 4 PM the amazing 40-piece Chinese Music Ensemble of NY plays Chatham Square in Chinatown. Don’t let the prosaic name fool you – they play everything from plaintive folk tunes to ecstatic opera pieces. The closest train is actually the B or D to Grand St.; walk south and then take a right on Division and it’ll be straight ahead, otherwise take any train to Canal and take Mott all the way downhill to the intersection with Bowery and East Broadway. Sonics may be an issue here since East Broadway is on a bus route and there’s a stop out in front of the dumpling place just past the park. Another option is the excellent Alon Yavnai Big Band, who play original Middle Eastern flavored big band jazz; their show is also at 4 PM at Bryant Park, and again, sonics may be an issue since there are bus stops nearby.

At 6 PM, NYMD’s representative is going to the movies in midtown (which was a done deal before the decision to attend any Make Music NY event ever entered the picture; that’s how the Bryant Park show came up). In the approximately 90 minutes it’ll take for the movie to screen, you might be interested in haunting, historically rich songwriter Elisa Flynn, who’s scheduled to play at 5 at Bitter and Esters, 700 Washington Ave. between St. Marks Ave. and Prospect Pl. in Ft. Greene. Or you could see another New York treasure, the lush, epic, intense NY Arabic Orchestra, who’re playing outside the UN at First Ave. and 46th St. at 6 followed at 7 by a gathering of oud players which, if they know what they’re doing, could be heaven. The opposite is also possible.

At 8, NYMD’s rep is scheduled to see Daniel Stampfel, who back in the late 90s and early zeros fronted the Inevitable Breakups, a fantastic powerpop band who had the misfortune to sign with a major label and consequently got royally screwed. He’s playing at Fontana’s; there’s a cover charge. There’s also Empire Beats, fronted by soul chanteuse Camille Atkinson at the playground on W 46th St between 9th & 10th Aves.

At 9, the Old Rugged Sauce – Brooklyn legends who have been doing their own irreverent but strangely brilliant take on guitar-driven vocal jazz – are at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club, 59 Kent Ave. between N 10th/11th. in Williamsburg. Knowing them, they’ll go til late, and they’re a short train ride away. There are two other excellent choices among the late-night acts: twin-trombone Afrobeat dub band Super Hi-Fi are scheduled for Hanson Dry, 925 Fulton St in Ft. Greene, C to Clinton/Washington. And haunting, intense Lebanese/French trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf is playing Drom at 10 for free, although you may need to RSVP to (212) 777-1157. It would be a memorable way to end a long day (just so you know, Drom has excellent air conditioning). Don’t count on anybody from here making it that far – but you never know.

A Dark Original Middle Eastern/Brazilian Hybrid

Here’s something for people who like brooding, intense, melancholy music: trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf is playing Drom on June 21 at 11 PM, doing some US dates in support of his recent album, Diagnostic. Maalouf’s background as a musician is eclectic to the extreme, encompassing Middle Eastern, western classical and jazz; he’s played with the great Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife, and on the lighter side, with Sting. Although trumpet is still central to the album, Maalouf also plays piano with a raw, plaintive style that often alludes to Erik Satie. For beats, Maalouf enlisted 17-piece Paris-based Brazilian batucada percussion troupe Zalinde to provide boomy, distant thunder. Taken together, the result is absolutely original and usually on the dark side: even a spacious solo piano piece for his young daughter is imbued with dread. Which might have something to do with his experience as a refugee from war in Beirut, growing up alienated in the tough cinderblock banlieu outside Paris, his father an acclaimed trumpeter in his own right.

Maalouf’s approach to the trumpet is the same as how he approaches music in general: nothing is off limits. He might rip into a Balkan tune with Arabic modalities over a Brazilian rhythm, segue out of an epic, cinematic Middle Eastern suite into garish heavy metal (a rare moment that actually doesn’t work very well here) or switch in a split-second from a slinky salsa groove to reggae, all of that over the distant boom of the batucada drums. He also switches up scales without any notice, an effect that he employs very powerfully to amp up the drama or unease factor. He’s the rare player who can solo for what feels like five minutes and at the end, you’re still left wanting more. The most energetic  tracks here are a couple of sirening, careening jajouka rock numbers – one that begins as a guitar boogie and then undergoes a very artful transformation. A pensive, low-key tune dedicated to Maalouf’s mom features a thoughtful, sympathetic interlude from French rapper Oxmo Puccino. Interestingly, the album’s most intense track is not one of the high-powered, crescendoing cinematic ones but the title cut, which juxtaposes wounded, absolutely depleted trumpet against a glittering backdrop of piano and marimba. Since much of the album is a one-man effort – sort of a vastly more moody, trumpet-driven counterpart to Daniel Bernard Roumain’s work – it’ll be interesting to see what kind of combo Maalouf brings to his Drom concert. And ostensibly he’s playing somewhere in Central Park as part of Make Music NY earlier in the day: if you hear pensive Arabic trumpet melodies wafting from behind the trees, it’s probably him.