New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

A Brooding, Wounded Masterpiece from Jane Antonia Cornish

Composer Jane Antonia Cornish has scored some big hits (pun intended) with her film music. Her signature style tends to be reflective and atmospheric, meticulous to a fault: a wasted note would be a serious crime in her universe. Her latest album, Continuum opens with Nocturne 1, a starkly minimalist, Lynchian series of very subtle variations on a very simple motif for strings that Angelo Badalamenti would no doubt approve of. As it grows darker and louder, bringing to mind Philip Glass’ Dracula soundtrack, the ghosts of the deep, robust roots of the trees whose wood became cellos and violins begin to flicker, their microtones dancing across the bows of the string ensemble Decoda. Composers tend to write best for their own instruments, and Cornish being a violinist, that strikes particularly true here. For that matter, the whole album – out from Innova and streaming this week at WQXR – is as starkly gripping as its opening track.

Nocturne II opens with such precision and clarity that its sonorities could be produced by winds instead of strings – and then that macabre theme kicks in! The third and final Nocturne is an achingly crescendoing grey-sky tone poem. Again, the cello quintet achieves such a crystalline timbre that they could be french horns.

Cornish’s cinematic prowess stretches across the horizon on Continuum 1, a spacious, moody Great Plains tableau of sorts – it’s tempting to say that it reaches Spielbergian heights. The second movement refers obliquely to the Glassine pulse of the opening Nocturne, with a series of wavelike echo effects as hypnotic as anything Glass ever wrote. The solo cello piece that follows offers a fond nod back to the Bach cello sonatas, adding both Cornish’s signature spaciousness and minutely honed sense of tasty string overtones. The album winds up with Tides, a vivid illustration of waves and echoes. A thousand electronic composers have used machines to follow similar tangents, but Cornish’s triumph is one of echoing nature exactly as it exists rather than through the bottom of a laptop.

And it wouldn’t be fair to end without mentioning the rapturously precise and inspired solo performance by Decoda cellist Hamilton Berry at the album launch party last month at Chambers Fine Art in Chelsea, where he gave voice to an austerely poignant Cornish sonata as well as a colorful solo pastorale by George Crumb that required considerable split-second extended technique.

The Balkan Clarinet Summit Album: A Moody, Dynamic, Adrenalizing Treat

One of the most enjoyable albums to come over the transom here in recent months is the Balkan Clarinet Summit, streaming at Spotify. Recorded during a series of concerts in Romania and Greece in 2012, it combines the talents of virtuoso clarinetists from all over Europe: Macedonia, Serbia, Moldavia, Turkey, Germany, Bulgaria and Switzerland, testament to Balkan music’s massive rise in popularity. If this blog gets its way, it’ll soon be as popular as cumbia! Wolfgang Pöhlmann, director of the Goethe Institute in Athens, brought in Claudio Puntin and Steffen Schorn to lead the project. In turn, they brought in their fellow clarinetists Stavros Pazarentsis, Slobodan Trkulja, Sergiu Balutel, Oğuz Büyükberber and Orlin Pamukov. Each artist contributes two original numbers, soon to be part of a documentary film by Horacio Alcala as well.

As you’ve doubtlessly figured out by now, this is no ordinary wind ensemble. While the dynamics range from whispery and suspenseful to towering and majestic, the arrangements are more lush and symphonic than you would expect in this kind of music: the group is tight beyond belief. There are plenty of wild, rather feral moments, though, beginning right off the bat with Pazarentsis’ moodily dancing improvisation that opens his first number, Nostalgia, a shapeshifting diptych of sorts.

Balutel contributes a tricky Turkish-flavored dance that shifts abruptly between major and minor. Trkulja’s first contribution is one of the more classically-oriented numbers here, a long, almost impreceptibly crescendoing sonata with a terse, jazz-inflected solo by Puntin. Pamukov’s Severniaski Tanc, by contrast, follows a kinetic, metrically thorny, bracingly chromatic Bulgarian folk theme.

If Schorn’s Colors of Istanbul is to be believed, it’s a gloomy, grey city, depicted via his darkly danciung leads against a drony backdrop that only picks up at the end. Nostalgic Dances, a mini-suite, alternates between a similar mood amd pinpoint-precise klezmer-tinged flair. Tyran’s Daughter is one of the most stunning tracks here, another mini-suite that moves through apprehensively snaky solos to a danse macabre that becomes more and more menacing as the harmonies grow more otherworldly.

Balutel’s lickety-split, microtonally-inflected phrasing takes centerstage on Breaza, an otherwise lighthearted oompah tune. Pazarentsis also shows off wickedly precise chops on one of the album’s most exhilirating tracks, a bristling chromatic suite dedicated to his Macedonian hometown, where he runs a music venue. Puntin’s Poeme, true to its title, follows a nebulous, amorphous trajectory with its misty, aching, long-tone chromatic phrases. The album winds up with Trkulja’s Pitagorino Oro, a sizzling feast of microtonal melismas, chromatics and dizzying counterpoint.

There’s also a lively, jazzy clarinet-and-bass clarinet strut and a Serbian dance with some droll hip-hop and electronic glitches. When you stream this, also be aware that the seventh track is a joke. There’s nothing wrong with your headphones, and there’s no need to reload the page, it’s just Puntin having some random fun all by himself in the studio with his gadgets. Look for this one on the best albums of 2015 page at the end of the year.

NASA’s Spectacular Bella Gaia Multimedia Extravaganza Makes Its Brooklyn Debut on August 30

Did you know that in the state of Florida, you can get fired from the State Department of Environmental Protection for mentioning global warming? The official rightwing-approved term for it, as the coastline recedes and the waters rise, is “nuisance flooding.” Which leads to the question of what’s next – requiring a weatherman to use the more palatable “wet air” instead of “rain?”

That’s just one example of how the extreme right is hell-bent on directing the conversation away from rising temperatures around the world (you’d think that considering how much waterfront property they own, they’d be hell-bent on protecting it, but that’s typical Republican cognitive dissonance). On the realistic side of the equation, the scientists at NASA are very concerned about global warming and its potentially apocalyptic consequences, and in an intriguing and very captivating stroke of theatricality, they’ve come up with the lavish multimedia project Bella Gaia. An experience suitable for the whole family, it utilizes video imagery of our changing Earth taken from outer space alongside dance and a wildly eclectic, cinematic live musical score in order to get people to pay attention to the simple message that if we don’t stop the rise in global temperatures, we can pretty much kiss the world goodbye. The complete Balla Gaia experience comes to Broooklyn Bowl on August 30 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10, which gets you not just the film and projections but also the dancers and band.

The soundtrack album – streaming at Spotify – a lavish, majestic mashup of global sounds, is often nothing short of breathtaking: if the visuals come anywhere close to matching it, the experience could be an awful lot of fun. It opens with Living Universe, a brightly waltzing, sparkling main theme lit up with composer/bandleader Kenji Williams’ effects-laden violin multitracks alongside Kristin Hoffmann’s soaring, passionate, enveloping vocalese and balletesque piano over percussionist Deep Singh’s hypnotic groove. Like the other themes here, it’s a big, sweeping piece of music that sounds like a whole symphony orchestra rather than just the work of three musicians. Yumi Kurosawa’s koto adds otherworldly, spiky textures before it fades down elegantly to just Hoffmann’s piano.

Singh layers sitar, harmonium and mystically rustling percussion on the second number, Orbital, a dramatic, dynamically-charged blend of Indian classical and modern-day film music; Hoffmann’s careful, precise piano reminds of the work of a similarly pioneering, south Asian-influenced pianist, Anton Batagov. Ocean’s Blood, a circular, indie classical-inspired theme, sends a hypnotic series of call-and-response motives spinning through the mix, Hoffmann’s voice mingling with the strings, growing more raw and apprehensive over Singh’s trancey clickety-clack rhythm.

Kurosawa’s stately, suspenseful, almost imperceptibly crescendoin koto takes centerstage in Takeda Lullaby – Inner Space. From there the group segues into a kinetically atmospheric, similarly Asian-tinged interlude pulsing with echoes and slowly shifting sheets of sound. The circular theme returns, this time with variations on a west African folk-inspired motif. From there the music shifts to the Nile with Lety ElNaggar’s ney flute and Shanir Blumenkranz’s oud, building to an achingly beautiful Middle Eatern melody that twists and turns through innumerable variations as it picks up steam. It makes for a stunning centerpiece. The album winds up with deep-space atmospherics, trip-hop and motorik rhythms, and a big Alan Parsons Project-style conclusion. The only dud is a failed attempt to mix jazz with top 40 urban pop: too bad that’s how our city is depicted, musically speaking anyway. In addition to the soundtrack, there is also a dvd available.

Big Lazy Bring Their Lurid, Creepy, State-of-the-Art Noir Back to Barbes

How many bands have there ever been who were at their peak twenty years after they started? On one hand, just getting to the twenty-year mark as a band is quite the achievement. But composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich just keeps getting creepier and more eclectic. And it’s safe to say that this edition of Big Lazy, the world’s most consistently haunting, reverb guitar-fueled instrumental band is the best ever. Which is not to be dismissive of original drummer Willie Martinez, who only left the group due to the demands on his schedule as a star of latin jazz and salsa. Nor is this a dis at original bassist Paul Dugan, whose darkly frenetic pulse was such an important part of the band’s first incarnation from about 1996 through 2007.

But the new rhythm section of Andrew Hall and Yuval Lion is the best ever, and the most consistent with Ulrich’s bleak, rain-drenched vision. Back in the day, the band made their home at Tonic, the late, lamented Norfolk Street hotspot for adventurous, jazz-influenced music. Since last year, maybe predictably, the band has made Barbes their home base. They’re playing there again on August 7 at 10 PM.

Between them, Hall and Lion give Ulrich a more minimalist groove than this band has ever had. And yet, they also get featured more prominently on solos, Hall using his bow for extra stygian resonance, Lion rattling the traps like a poltergeist left over from when Manhattan’s Record District (where you bought turntables and vinyl) was bulldozed to make way for the World Trade Center. It may not be safe to say that any one band in town is the very best, but it is safe to say that Big Lazy never play anything remotely the same way twice.

Ulrich saves his bloodthirsty volleys of tremolo-picking and savage chord-chopping when he really needs to take the energy to redline or bring a sonic narrative to a murderous peak (film soundtracks are his regular gig – Big Lazy is his fun project). He’ll often intersperse a loping highway theme or great plains noir atmospherics amidst all the crime-jazz chromatics and wall-bending noir surf riffs. Although on record, menace is the band’s stock in trade, onstage Ulrich can be very funny, quoting from all sorts of jazz songs and movie themes. Once or twice a set, he’ll put down the guitar and break out his lapsteel for high lonesome wails or lingering, floating body-in-the-pool sonics. And much as most of the songs are instrumentals, occasionally they’ll have a guest take a turn out front: one of the coolest moments in the trio’s recent shows has been where oldtime music maven Mamie Minch joined them for a nonchalantly Lynchian, plaintive version of Crazy.

When Ulrich regrouped Big Lazy in 2013 after a six-year hiatus, that was big news, and this blog covered them not once but five times that year and in 2014. Which explains why the band has been absent from the front page here since this past January. But this blog hasn’t been absent from Big Lazy’s Barbes shows this year, beginning in January and then in each of the last three months. In case you haven’t already figured it out, one more thing that’s safe to say about this decidedly unsafe band is that they’re worth seeing more than once. At the end of the year, along with the best albums and best songs lists, there’s also a list of the best concerts in New York and at least one of these gigs will be on it – the May show in particular was pretty amazing.

Ben Von Wildenhaus Brings His Gorgeously Entrancing, Lynchian Guitar Back to Brooklyn

Guitarist Ben Von Wildenhaus is a connoiseur of noir. He’s also one of the best loopmusic performers around. Loopmusic is as brutally difficult to play live as it is easy to record: you lay down a phrase, preferably a simple, catchy one that you can harmonize with, and then play over it, again and again. Onstage, if you miss a beat, you’re screwed, but Von Wildenhaus has done this to the point that he has it in his fingers. His new album II is streaming at Soundcloud, and available on delicious vinyl. He’s also got a show coming up at Troost in Greenpoint on July 9 at 9 PM accompanied by a diversely talented cast: vocalists Clara Kennedy and Scott Matthew, resonator guitarist Zeke Healey and violist Karen Waltuch.

The album’s opening track, Bad Lament is basically variations on the Twin Peaks theme with boomy drums, a balmy bocal choir, tersely suspenseful Rhodes piano, spiky twelve-string guitar. Hard to argue with a classic riff and what a talented cast can do with it…but not crediting Angelo Badalamenti’s original is a crime. The originals start, essentially with the first part of The Knife Thrower, a fast, shuffing, surfy take on a noir bolero, veering between tremoloing Lynchian twang and surfy staccato phrases, a smudgy loop taking the place of the drums.

From the title, you might think that Al Azif would be a Middle Eastern theme, but instead it veers from a Frisellian pastoral soundscape into eerie, more ambient shadows, an attempt to evoke a creepy, H.P. Lovecraft insectile atmospherics. For whatever reason, the next track, Bad Motherfucker is a slinky Egyptian snakecharmer theme punctuated with tersely spiky layers of guitar and Rhodes electric piano. Then Kennedy sings the torchy, slowly swaying, ominously crescendoing ballad Tú in Spanish, up to a smoky baritone sax solo over shivery, reverberating Rhodes electric piano and guitar.

Side two of the album opens with Bad Lament II, a less thinly disguised version of that iconic theme, veering toward more skronky terrain: think Tonic, 2006. The second version of The Knife Thrower slows it down to a simmering, halfspeed intensity, a white-knuckle tension between the echoey Rhodes and lingering, twangy guitar building a Morricone-esque southwestern gothic tableau.

An Nur follows a stern, woundedly stark upward trajectory over an almost imperceptibly pulsing backdrop: it’s arguably the catchiest track here. Easy Opium, arguably the album’s strongest and most anthemic cut, pairs elegant Rhodes bolero-psych riffage against Ethopian-flavored violin, with a jagged sax/guitar conversation on the way out. The album winds up with Two, an anguished ballad, like Botanica lost in the desert and the only track with actual lyrics. One of the most cinematic and consistently interesting albums to come out so far this year, it’s something you could put on loop and discover something new in every time – maybe something about the music, maybe something about yourself, if you aren’t afraid to look in the mirror.

Hauntingly Atmospheric Art-Rock Instrumentals from Brilliant Bassist Dana Schechter’s Insect Ark

Dana Schechter is one of this era’s great bass players. Her sinewy, biting low-register lines brought an unexpected elegant and grace to Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. After that, she led the hauntingly cinematic Bee & Flower. Her latest project, the richly atmospheric art-rock instrumental band Insect Ark with Taurus drummer Ashley Spungin, might well be her darkest yet. They’re headlining at St. Vitus on July 2 at 11 PM; cover is $10. Dead Kennedys-influenced Pennnslvania hardcore/punk band the Abandos open the night at 8 followed by Pawns – good luck finding them on the web – and then keyboardist Shari Vari’s 80s-tinged darkwave pop project Void Vision.

It’s amazing how much density, and mighty majesty, and how many cumulo-nimbus textures Schechter gets out of just lapsteel, keys, bass and drums on the new album, Portal/Well. What’s most impressive is that Schechter plays all of the instruments herself. The title track sets the tone, a steady, ominously atmospheric dirge, dark washes of lapsteel and keys shifting through the picture, distorted chords lingering and then rising in a dense, grey mist, aching to break free.

The Collector builds from a creepy tritone synth loop with a minimalist bassline that brings to mind early Wire, picking up steam as it bends and sways, and ends up back where it started. Lowlands is a miniature, awash in sustain from slow-burning lapsteel. The album’s most epic track, Octavia, opens as an opaque, Richard Wright-like minimalist-yet-maximalist mood piece and takes on a deep-space grandeur as layers and layers of lapsteel cut through the mist, then create their own. The miniature that follows, Crater Lake, is the most straight-up Eno-esque atmospheric piece here.

Taalith – a reference to an eerily portentous Isabelle Eberbardt short story about a drowning – could be described as slowcore spacerock, anchored on the low end by growling bass and at the top by drifting sheets from the lapsteel: the Friends of Dean Martinez taking a slow, syncopated stroll on Pluto. Parallel Twin, with its doppler effects and unexpected drum accents, is the most cinematic and suspenseful, picking up with some tasty, chromatic bass chords: it’s the closest thing to Bee & Flower here. The final cut, Low Moon is the droniest and most surreal, its stygian waves contrasting with almost droll, lo-fi synth oscilations. Only one of the tracks – The Collector – is up at Insect Ark’s Bandcamp page, but there are a handful of similarly brooding, intense singles there, and more stuff at Soundcloud as well. And it almost goes without saying that Schechter is the rare artist whose work is always worth owning. If you want more info on this, one of the few reliably good music blogs, The Obelisk did a good piece on the band.

The TarantinosNYC Surf the Silver Screen

The TarantinosNYC use that name to distinguish themselves from the Tarantinos, a UK band who play a diverse mix of songs from Quentin Tarantino films. The TarantinosNYC do some of that, but they also write originals. They’re best known as a surf band, but as you would hope from a group with a film fixation, they have a cinematic side. Their music is catchy, and fun, and sometimes pretty creepy, much more unpredictable and occasionally epic than what most straight-up surf outfits typically play. Between them, lead guitarist Paulie Tarantino, bassist Tricia Tarantino, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Brian Tarantino and drummer Joey Tarantino make up one of New York’s most consistently interesting, original, entertaining bands. They have a new album, Surfin’ the Silver Screen coming out and a release show this Friday, May 15 at 11 PM at Lucille’s Bar, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Cover is $10.

Shindig – one of the six first-class originals here – makes a good opener: purist reverb surf guitar hitched to swirly organ, the rhythm section holding a classic Ventures beat. The organ and digital production give it a more current feel, yet also enable the band to put their own stamp on it. Bullwinkle Pt. 2 is the first cover, lowlit with Paulie’s lingering, noir, reverb-drenched tremolo-bar chords. Then they reinvent You Only Live Twice as a glittery showstopper, Brian’s organ front and center. It’s almost like ELO doing a surf song – and if you don’t think ELO could play surf music, you haven’t heard their version of a well-worn Grieg theme.

Dust-Up, another original, mashes up hints of monster surf and a Dell Shannon standard: it’s hard to imagine any band other than this one that would have come up with something this improbably successful. Their cover of Son of a Preacher Man brings to mind the Ventures’ psychedelic period – yikes! But then they get serious again with Our Man Flint/Dr. Evil, first doing an old hymn as surf, then channeling pretty much every dance rock style from the 60s in under three minutes

Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova is a bizarre hybrid of roller-rink theme, garage psychedelia, a vintage soul strut and artsy late 70s Britpop. With its vamping repeaterbox guitar and some dancing tremolo-picking from Paulie, Spanish Steps sounds like Link Wray in a hurry to get a Lee Hazlewood desert rock groove on tape. There are two versions of another instrumental, Our Man in Amsterdam, the second harder and more garage-rock oriented – it’s hard to figure where the Amsterdam connection comes in.

The theme from Django – Tarantino’s best film by a mile – gets a richly watery, jangly, psychedelic arrangement with layers of acoustic and electric guitar and keys that elevates it above the cartoonish original. Pushed along by Tricia’s dancing, period-perfect early 70s soul bassline, Lo Chiamavano King comes across as a more artsy take on what could pass for a big Roy Ayers title theme.

Elena Barakhovski contributes soaring vocalese on Korla’s Theme, an artfully nebulous, ominously crescendoing Dick Dale-style Red Sea stomp with all kinds of cool variations – it might be the album’s best song. Then they slow things down to a misterioso swing with an impressively lush cover of Shake Some Evil by 90s cult heroes Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Positraction, another original, manages to blend Booker T, 60s go-go music, surf and swing without anybody in the band stepping on anybody else. Then they do Les Baxter’s Hell’s Belles as blazing psychedelic soul. The album ends with Man from Nowhere, a rare spy-surf gem first recorded by Shadows bassist Jet Harris on the soundtrack to the obscure British film Live It Up, pairing a brooding baritone guitar hook against uneasily airy keys. Surf bands typically live for rarities, but this is an especially sweet find. For that matter, so is the whole record. While it  hasn’t hit the usual spots yet, cds are available, and there are a handful of tracks up at the band’s Soundcloud page.

Challenging and Intriguing Projects From Irrepressible Cellist Valerie Kuehne

Cellist Valerie Kuehne has made a name for herself by constantly touring and gigging at the outer fringes of improvised and experimental music. She may not be throwing wrenches into the system, but she’s always throwing something. She can spin a gorgeously lyrical phrase one second and then shatter her bow with a murderous swipe of low-register murk the next. Her music can be assaultive, even tortured, but also wickedly satirical and unselfconsciously playful, like a cat reveling in batting a breadbag twisty around the floor. Her sensibility is often inchoate and messy, fueled by anger and alienation, but also a sobering awareness that evades an awful lot of people who call themselves artists. She has a show coming up on April 4 at 7:30 PM at Dixon Place Theatre at 161 Chrystie St. north of Delancey with her uneasy neoromantic project Naked Roots Conducive with violinist Natalia Steinbach, and probably a small army of special guests, which is typical of bills Kuehne plays on. This happens to be the release show for her new “performance opera” Sacred521, which ostensibly “explores the beauty and terror of personal disclosure and visceral catharsis in individual experience.” Advance tix are $12.

Kuehne’s latest release is her Suite for Solo Cello, a starkly acerbic, multitracked five-part work available as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp. Played live, it would require at least a cello trio. It’s a good capsulization of what Kuehne is all about, in introspective mode, drawing on minimalism and spectral music as much as the avant garde, with abundant use of microtones and extended technique.

It rises out of a sideswiping tone poem of sorts to several crescendos which hint, almost agonizingly, at a resolution. But that never arrives. Slithery high harmonics introduce brooding, rain-drenched atmospherics; a staggering, sawing march hits an axe-murderer stomp and quickly subsides.

From an uneasily hazy atmosphere, she returns to a march, but with a slow, aching quality. From there Kuehne lets a broodingly suspenseful ambience linger and then abruptly flips the script, taking an eerily dissociative pizzicato stroll. And then it’s over, unless you count the drolly layered spoken-word passage at the end.

Kuehne is also on the shortlist of the world’s most entertaining and insightful music writers. Her album-a-day project awhile back is inspiring, to say the least, a challenge to anybody who’s ever spent the early morning hours in the dim light of a laptop trying to make sense of what they just heard.

Visual Music Circus Bring Their Movies for the Ears to the East Village Friday Night

Pianist/bassist Petros Sakelliou‘s Visual Music Circus plays movies for the ears. Despite Sakelliou’s money gig with a famous troupe of acrobats, the ensemble’s new instrumental album – streaming online – isn’t circus rock, nor is it as phantasmagorical as the band name implies. But it is cinematic. The group is playing a rare NYC show on March 20 at 7:30 PM at Drom; advance tix are ten bucks. The album features a twelve-piece group including horns and strings, which realistically might be more stripped down in concert.

It opens with an uneasily swaying, lush minor-key theme with echoes of Belgian barroom musette, Mediterranean balladry and the Italian baroque, Sakelliou tossing in a darkly blues-infused piano solo followed by a considerably more carefree one by alto saxophonist Ryoichi Yamaki as the mood brightens. Susanna Quilter’s balmy flute in tandem with Magda Giannikou’s ambered washes of accordion give the second track the feel of a mellotron-driven 70s art-rock theme and then take it in a more pensively bustling, Romany jazz-flavored direction, down to a long, allusively creepy, marionettish piano solo and then some stark violin from Ben Powel.

Linus Wyrsch’s chill clarinet lines in tandem with Giannikou’s accordion infuse the tiptoeing latin stroll that follows, Anna Hoffman’s baritone sax adding a wry edge that Yamaki spirals away from before the band drops out for an expansive piano solo: lots of moods packed into seven minutes. Sakelliou describes the diptych that follows as ironic: it’s not clear how its colorful, accordion-fueled Punch-and-Judy ballet, chase scene, and blustery, achingly vamping jazz tableau qualify as such.

A soaring, lushly bubbling, latin-tinged love theme slowly develops out of a warily circling intro, solos all around capped off by vibraphonist Mika Mimura – who also plays in Giannikou’s similarly colorful, shapeshifting Banda Magda. The album ends with a jaunty, dixieland-inflected “swingalong” that sounds like the Microscopic Septet going off on a tangent toward Romany jazz, driven by the nimble rhythm section of Yuki Ito on bass and Ryo Noritake on drums. In this age of bedroom recording, it’s rare to find something so unselfconsciously epic and richly orchestrated, a credit to Sakelliou’s ability to shift on a dime between idioms, ideas and instrumental voicings. They should be a lot of fun live.

The Brighton Beat Bring Their Psychedelic, Danceable Grooves to Gowanus

How brave is it for a band to open an album with a nine-minute song? If you play Afrobeat, that’s like putting the hit single first. Fela would vamp on the same groove for half an hour, live or in the studio, no problem. So explosive Boston-based Afrobeat jamband the Brighton Beat‘s new album, Off We Go, kicks off relatively tersely. The whole thing is streaming at Bandcamp – and if you want a cd, they’re only eight bucks. The band play the album release show in the mellow, comfortable Gowanus confines of Shapeshifter Lab on March 5 at 7 PM; cover is $10. And much as the venue is a jazz club, more or less, nobody’s going to stop you if you feel like dancing.

Because that’s what the Brighton Beat’s music is all about – that, and working a trippy groove with lots of solos. So it’s head music and body music too, in fact, the band’s most psychedelic effort to date. They take their time launching into that first nine-minute cut, the album’s title track. A lithe, skeletal guitar intro from Mark Cocheo and Greg Schettino builds to a stormy brass peak and then the band kicks into cruise control mode, with Jon Bean’s tenor sax taking a long climb skyward before the guitars turn up the heat again.

Drummer/bandleader Sammy Wags and conguero Patrick Dalton open the second track, Green Monster, as they do several of the cuts here. Is this a Red Sox rally theme? Hmmm…maybe. There’s plenty of livewire energy in Zach Kamins’ blippy keys and the mighty horn section of multi-reedman Mark Zaleski (who takes a blazing solo along with one of the guitarists), trombonist/trumpeter Freddy Gonzalez, trumpeter Francesco Fratini and baritone saxophonist Gabe Yonkler.

Hit the Bricks mashes up vintage Booker T soul-funk with Pink Floyd and a tiptoeing Afrobeat pulse driven by bassist Ryan Hinchey, a searing Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2-style guitar solo at its center. Fortune Teller, an original rather than the old Elvis song, artfully disperses a massive horn arrangement, with a warm, sophisticated 70s soul-funk vibe and cloudbusting trombone and tenor sax solos. Then they take the theme and make balmy, trombone-fueled dub reggae out of it.

Stand with the Herd is a two-parter, the first a vehicle for Kamins’ carbonated Rhodes piano ripples, the second a dubby nocturne with spot-on Gonzalez and Yonkler solos and an awesome afterburner twin-guitar solo out. Red Orange, another nine-minute monster, blends ska, stark Ethiopiques and Afrobeat, with all kinds of up-and-down dynamic shifts and some wry P-Funk keys. With its web of animated, conversational horns, Orange Sunshine is the most retro, Fela-inspired of all the tracks here. The album ends up with its strangest and strongest number, Summer Lullaby, which is about as far from Afrobeat as you can get: it’s a slowburning guitar-fueled sway straight out of the Shine On You Crazy Diamond school of eerie studio jams, and might be a hint of where this band is going in the future.

The Brighton Beat put out more albums than most bands, many of them recorded live and available as name-your-price downloads. The most recent one is Live at the Bean Runner, from about a year ago, and it’s something you should get if you like this kind of stuff.


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