New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

The Taksim Trio’s Album No. 2: Intricate, Rapturous, Haunting Beauty

One of the year’s most rapturously beautiful, plaintively lush albums is Turkish classical luminaries the Taksim Trio‘s latest release, simply titled Taksim Trio No. 2, streaming at Spotify. Baglama player Ismail Tuncbilek, clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici and kanun player Aytaç Dogan weave haunting, serpentine arrangements to get lost in. Their music’s intricacy is such that unless you listen closely, it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what. Yet the group has a conversational tightness: despite the fact that everybody’s playing a lot of rippling, spiraling notes, nobody steps on each other. The overall ambience tends to be pensive and brooding: most everything here is in a minor key. Tempos are slow and the compositions expansive, pretty much everything here clocking in at over five minutes.

The opening track, Unutmamali is one of the album’s catchiest, anchored by an uneasy, minor-key riff that eventually expands and then the band plays in unison, shifting from a twinkling, starlit lattice of individual voices to a biting hook that brings to mind the Romany party music from across the Black Sea.

Track two, Yesli Basli Govel Ordek, is a sort of a lighter variation on the opening number, lit up with gracefully sliding electric guitar chords and clarinet sailing over the bristling underbrush. By contrast, Ic Benim Icin builds off a spiky, rapidfire Turkish folk theme over a lilting guitar groove with a few artfully overdubbed layers. Seni Kimler Ani goes in the opposite direction, a wary, wounded dirge with the kanun and then the baglama’s mournfully tremolo-picked lines front and center. From there, the band picks it up with the dynamically shifting Elfa Laila, itsbrapidfire, cascading, distantly Egyptian-tinged dance motives interspersed within a windswept twilight atmosphere.

Sevda Degil follows a delicately cautious, sad tangent, wistful clarinet sailing over lingering, enigmatic guitar, incisive baglama and icepick kanun. Track 7, Naz, blends ancient, ambered baglama/clarinet lines with sparsely resonant guitar and picks up with an uneasy, dancing energy as it goes on. The band return to the fast lane, with tons of lickety-split picking throughout the catchy Kumsalda Dans, with echoes of both Brazil and Russian Romany music.

The waltz Unutamadim is a lot slower, moody clarinet contrasting with all the machinegunning string licks blazing underneath. Mahur Saz Samaisi has the album’s trickiest tempos and also its most easygoing melody, although it goes in a decidedly darker direction as it picks up. Yalan Dunya gives the band a platform to spaciously build variations on a suspenseful, unresolved riff, then they take it skyward as they speed up. They wind up the album with the hard-hitting, Hicaz Mandira, blending elements of flamenco and dizzyingly rhythmic Macedonian folk. This isn’t Middle Eastern music that’s been watered down for American hippies: this is the real deal, state-of-the-art, straight from the source. For whatever degree of wildfire improvisation may be going on here – taksim means “jam” in several Middle Eastern languages – the Taksim Trio sound like what they’re doing is completely composed.

While the group made a quick New York trip this summer and then went back to Turkey, there are two New York acts with shows coming up that fans of intricate Middle Eastern music will love. You can go to both this Saturday night if you want: at 6 PM, soulful singer Jenny Luna’s Balkan-Turkish folk band Dolunay play the first night of their monthlong December residency at Barbes. Then at 8, six stops north on the G train, the Secret Trio – virtuoso kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi, clarinet titan Ismail Lumanovski and brilliant oudist Ara Dinkjian – play Roulette at 8. Tix for that one are $30 and considering how mesmerizing that band was at their most recent show at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, it’ll be worth it.

Tredici Bacci Air-Kiss a Classic Italian Cinematic Sound

Among the innumerable great bands to emerge from the Barbes scene in Brooklyn, nobody’s riding more of a wave of popularity right now than Tredici Bacci. As Chicha Libre did with Peruvian psychedelic cumbias from the 60s and 70s, and Les Sans Culottes have done with 60s French ye-ye pop, Tredici Bacci play their own inimitable, original songs inspired by Italian film music from forty and fifty years ago. Their debut full-length album, Amore Per Tutti, isn’t officially out yet and consequently not yet streaming at their Bandcamp page. They’re playing the album release show on Nov 12 at the Park Church Co-op, 129 Russell St. just off Nassau Ave. in Greenpoint at 8 PM. Cover is $15; it’s an all-ages show. The closest train is the G to Nassau Ave.

The album’s opening track, Columbo sets the stage, a skittishly strutting Bacharach-ish theme with horns, frontman Simon Hanes’ reverb guitar over keening roller-rink organ..The women in the group supply jaunty vocalese as it winds out. Likwewise, Ca C’est Cantare (some of the titles here are all over the map linguistically) is a dead ringer for 60s Bacharach bossa, spiced with blippy trumpet, balmy sax and strings, and more ba-ba vocals.

Modern Man rises from spare accordion and wordless vocals to a stern, hefty theme straight out of the Gato Loco songbook…then guest crooner Ryan Power follows a blithely waltzing tangent that sounds suspiciously like the kind of satire that Avi Fox-Rosen has so much fun with. The inevitable Morricone spaghetti western theme, Avante, is a great approximation: trebly bass, twangy guitar and the requisite mariachi trumpet over a galloping beat. The only giveaway that it actually isn’t Morricone is the vocals: instead, it could pass for Bombay Rickey minus that band’s swinging groove.

Swedish Tease turns out to be about as Nordic as a meatball hero, an almost frantic, scampering romp lit up with bluesy organ, surf drums, mosquito guitar and a wryly noisy interlude midway through. Ruth Garbus‘ airily dancing, unpretentiously jazz-inflected vocals match the joyously tricky metrics of Slusher. Elysian Fields frontwoman Jennifer Charles lends her blue velvet allure to Drowned, which alternates between bloodcurdling Lynchian tremolo-guitar sonics and a contrastingly lighthearted bossa tune.

Give Him the Gun features JG Thirlwell (who has a characteristically ambitious, lavish new album of his own just out) on vocals, an update on 70s Nino Rota disco. Souvenir de Beaucoup d’Amor is an unlikely successful mashup of Dark Side-era Pink Floyd, tarantella pop and oldschool organ soul – un peu bizarro, nyet? Vincenzo Vasi supplies lounge-lizard vocals to Nessun Dorma, a swaying chamber pop remake of an old operatic theme. Otherwise, the only real miss among the otherwise infinitely clever eleven tracks here is Vendetta Del Toro, a decent Morricone impression ruined by stupefyingly lame, off-key vocals. They’re so bad that it raises the question of who might have been serviced to get such an embarrassing effort – or, more accurately, lack of effort – in the can.

Morricone Youth Slay Zombies in Williamsburg

It’s hard to imagine a better way to cap off Halloween month than watching Morricone Youth play a live score to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Backs to the crowd, gamelan style, so they could follow every split-second cue onscreen, the band’s performance this past evening at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg was a lot more entertaining than the movie. From the applause afterward, one suspects that the sold-out audience agreed.

The score is just out and available on limited edition neon green vinyl, the inaugural release in an ambitious series of fifteen soundtracks to the midnight movies the band’s played live to in the past five years. This one is a very cleverly intertwined series of three themes and variations, comprising both original soundtrack pieces and newly composed material. Although keyboardist Dan Kessler used his synclavier to trigger the occasional motorik loop, and guitarist/bandleader Devon E. Levins seemed to have an atmospheric wash or two stashed away in a pedal, everything else was completely live. Bassist John Castro matched a looming, booming presence to poinpoint precision in tandem with drummer Shaun Lowecki, who impressed with his tightness and subtlety despite having been pressed into service with just two rehearsals.

Kessler took centerstage most of the time with an endlessly shifting series of texures: eerily twinkling electric piano, sardonic wah-wah chromatics, ghostly music-box glockenspiel and warpy, rasping 60s synth tones. Levins lurked in the corner, stage left and alternated expertly between stilletto tremolo-picking, a little spaghetti western twang, elegantly menacing ripples and lingering, murderous ambience.

And like the movie, the score was absolutely hilarious in places. With an almost simultaneous flash of grins throughout the band, the group gently worked their way through a twinkling, sotto-voce love theme while a bizarre hint of romance between humans beseiged by zombies flickered onscreen. And the sudden, emphatic jolts in a couple of segments of the increasingly macabre main theme turned out not to mirror gunshots, or zombie deathblows. Timed to the split second, those sudden hits drove home the nails that the film’s protagonist was lackadaisically hammering in order to bar the doors and windows of the house that serves as the set for almost the entire film.

About the movie: for those who haven’t seen it, it’s like an Ed Wood production. Eighty percent of the budget gets saved for the vehicles and extras at the end. Watching how Romero pads the film to stretch it out to full-feature length – here’s the Pontiac going up the hill! Now here it is going down that same hill! – is funny at first and then leaves you wondering whether it’s time to take a break for a snack, or for the bathroom. Both of which would have been an option, had the band not been playing: the venue is primarily a bar/restaurant that just happens to show movies. The only real mystery here was where the box office was. “Upstairs!” hollered the guy behind the downtstairs bar. But the only office up there didn’t open until right before the performance.

An Uneasy John Vanderslice Instrumental Packaged As Collectible Art

Today’s Halloween song is the new John Vanderslice instrumental single, Mother of All Dead Time Factories b/w Convict Lake (For Minna), The A-side is a moodily surreal piano-and-organ theme, snappy bass over a techy trip-hop loop, like Goblin at halfspeed. The B-side has a similar groove, an uneasily ragtime-tinged parlor-pop number that brings to mind Andrew Bird. The single is available on 7” vinyl packaged with a limited-edition, signed 11 x 17 Guy Maddin print entitled Falling Man; the collage comes across as something of an update on Manet’s Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe. It’s expensive – $45 – but collectible value could justify the price. It’s the first in a planned series of vinyl singles paired with collectible prints from Cosmic Dreamer Music.

Superstar Film Composer Johann Johannsson and New Music Luminaries ACME Team Up This Weekend

This Sunday, Oct 23 at 8 PM there’s an auspicious collaboration between the vivid and frequently haunting film composer and keyboardist Johann Johannsson, and indie classical chamber music stars American Contemporary Music Ensemble in a recently renovated old church at the edge of where Fort Greene meets Park Slope. The venue is the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph at 856 Pacific St, (Vanderbilt/Underhill); the closest train is the 2/3 to Bergen St. $27.50 advance tix are your best bet and available at the Poisson Rouge box office.

Johannsson works fast and is constantly putting out new scores. He’s also the rare composer with the good sense to release those scores as stand-alone soundtrack recordings. Of his most recent projects, the real creeper is Sicario, streaming at Spotify. It’s typified by all sorts of apprehensive white noise giving way to sudden swells – then virtual silence. It’s also a lot more electronic than Johannsson’s work usually is: its distant, echoey, icy gunshot sonics and relentlessly lumbering android stomp offer a fond nod back to Brad Fiedel‘s enormously influential Robocop score. A sad cello theme early on is unanticipated and welcome, as is a rippling, trebly electric bass passage. The music takes on more of the feel of a video game as it goes along – but that’s the nature of war these days.

Johannsson also scored The Theory of Everything (at Spotify), which supplies pretty much everything you would expect throughout a feel-good drama . If you’re one of the legions who enjoyed the Stephen Hawking biopic, you may remember the elegant but doggedly determined main theme, lots of anxious neoromantic piano-and-orchestra segments, pageantry occasionally sweeping in from a moody backdrop. You may not remember the composer’s sweet little lullaby, or how much fun he has building starry-night and deep-space scenarios. Hearing the score by itself facilitates new appreciation for such things.

Johannsson’s most recent instrumental album, also streaming at Spotify, is Orphee. The seemingly never-ending main theme and its variations have a surprisingly simple, indie pop touch, beginning with its minimalist, slowly rising waves of piano and strings. Half of it is so simplistic, and lacking in resolve, that it could be Arcade Fire – hmmm, maybe that explains the Poisson Rouge’s involvement with the Brooklyn concert. But that comparison is also not a dis – good film composers write to fit a narrative. Maybe Orphee is meant to follow a vaguely uneasy, possibly tortuous storyline that doesn’t move around much. The Greek myth certainly doesn’t offer much in the way of subtlety.

Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson Mesmerize a Financial District Crowd

It wouldn’t be fair to let the week go by without a mention of the deliciously enveloping duo set that violinist Sarah Neufeld and multi-saxophonist Colin Stetson played this past evening at the World Financial Center atrium. If you missed it, good news: it’ll be rebroadcast on a date TBA on John Schaefer’s New Sounds Live program on WNYC.

Neufeld and Stetson did a memorable duo album, Never Were the Way She Was, last year; since then, she’s released another solo effort, The Ridge. This show revisited both recordings: it was a performance to lean back and take in with eyes closed and get absoutely, completely lost in.

Neufeld opened solo with some assistance from her trusty loop pedal, building steady rhythmic variations on a stately three-note descending riff. Her second number rose out of canon-like, fluttery flurrying, a call-and-response of extended phrases. It was hard to tell what was in the pedal and what Neufeld was playing herself, but she was working up a sweat. Brisk broken chords and allusions to Romanticism appeared and were subsumed by sirening banks of sound.

Stetson joined her and supplied a rippling, almost subsonic idling-diesel drone, then introduced minutely stygian shifts as Neufeld played terse, wary, minimalistic washes overhead. Together they built a microtonal mist heavy at both ends of the register, Neufeld’s swipes and swoops against Stetson’s digeridoo-like rumble. The two slowly wound the epic down at the end with what could have beeen whale song translated to the two instruments: a deep, endangered ocean.

It was here that it became obvious that the two musicians had figured out the timing of the sonic decay in the boomy atrium space: in their hands, it became an integral part of the instrumentation as the echoes bounced off the walls. Memo to musicians looking to capitalize on that: it’s a fast echo, only about a half a second.

Stetson’s work on tenor sax was just as hypnotic, and expertly rhythmic, as his rumbling bass sax attack, the kind of masterfully metronomic series of live loops that he does with his live techno. A warmly nocturnal vamp and all sorts of otherworldly warping textures – including some ethereal vocalese from Neufeld filteried through the mix. They lost the crowd for a bit with a dancing, flitting number with a lot of pizzicato violin but pulled them back in, ending on as anthemic a note as such vast, spacious music can conjure. As the show wound up, Neufeld stomped her foot for a trancey percussive loop and pushed Stetson to his murkiest depths. What a refreshing, revitalizing experience in the middle of a week that really screamed out for one.

Meanwhile, throughout the show, a jungly loop of birdsong fluttered behind the mix, audible in the quietest moments. At first it was cute, but the shtick wore thin. Juan Garcia Esquivel would have faded it out thirty seconds in.

Halloween Gets to Greenpoint a Little Early This Year

If your ideal Halloween would be coming face to face with something genuinely disturbing rather than filling up on a bucketful of free candy, going out into icy, torrential rain would be a good way to start the evening. The spy satellites can’t see through the clouds, and the spycams get all streaked up. Watch your back, and you could literally get away with murder.

The walk from the L train past McCarren Park to Manhattan Inn on Greenpoint Avenue, and then back, was enough to soak through a heavy winter coat the night that Big Lazy and Beninghove’s Hangmen played what could have been a notorious show there. The prospect of seeing two, maybe even three hours of macabre, marauding, stampeding noir cinematic instrumentals – and the cred of having been witness to it – justified the trip, theoretically at least.

The show that this blog trumpeted last spring as being the year’s most auspicious twinbill didn’t exactly turn out that way. Not a fault of the bands, or the musicians, but the space.

If you’ve seen a band rip the roof off your local every month for almost two years, you hold them to a high standard (another way of looking at it is that you take them for granted). If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Big Lazy. For those who’ve stumbled onto this page for the first time, the guitar/bass/drums trio play reverbtoned, cinematic instrumentals that blend David Lynch film score sounds with those of an earlier era, from Nino Rota’s Fellini themes, through surf rock and Ennio Morricone spaghetti western. Live, about half of what they play is improvisational: they are the consummate dark jamband. They also rely very heavily on audience interaction: people typically dance at their shows.

But there was nowhere to dance here. What was weirdest was how the band was set up: guitarist Steve Ulrich and bassist Andrew Hall found themselves facing drummer Yuval Lion, in the center of the room, surrounded by tables of diners and neighborhood newcomers who’d probably ducked in to get out of the rain. This completely discombubulated the trio: not being able to see half the crowd was obviously a drag, and the group never got unglued. Songs were shorter, solos far more brief, and from the perspective of sitting behind the drums –  the only place left in the room by the time the show started – it was hard to hear what was going on. For any musician who’s ever struggled through a tough set, don’t get down on yourself: even the world’s best bands sometimes have an off night. Usually it’s not their fault.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen hit, they were half in the bag and didn’t let the weirdness of the configuration – amps facing the drums – stop them from turning in a ferocious, careeningly intense set. They opened with an epic take of Surf N’ Turk. The version on their amazing Rattlesnake Chopper album is a blistering, Middle Eastern-flavored horror surf number; this time around, they started with a volcanic metal intro and then slowed down to a midtempo swing, through a long, forlorn Rick Parker trombone solo, saturnine microtonal jangle from guitarist Dane Johnson and some savage, insistent, hammering passing tones from bandleader/tenor saxophonist Bryan Beninghove that he’d reprise several times over as the night went on.

By contrast, Surfin’ Satie – a gleefully evil go-go surf take on a classic Erik Satie tune – was just as amped-up as the album version, the group clearly gasssed to have drummer Sean Baltazor back behind the kit. Then they slowed things down with a haphazardly psychedelic take of Pineapples and Ashtrays, the centerpiece of their new album. The studio version pairs a subtly sunny, wryly sarcastic cornpone theme with an increasingly horror-stricken chase narrative. This time out, they ramped up the psychedelics, guest guitarist Jon Lipscomb playing axe murderer against Johnson’s heavy-lidded bemusement. From there the band skanked slowly through the Lynchian dub reggae of Lola’s Got a Gun, brought the red-light roadhouse theme Roebuck down to a slow swamp-rock groove, and eventually ended with droll, explosively elephantine takes of familiar Neil Diamond and Led Zep tunes.

Big Lazy return to their someday-legendary monthly Barbes residency this Friday, Oct 7 at 10 PM; Beninghove’s Hangmen don’t seem to have anything coming up at the moment. But this is Halloween month – watch this space!

Hearing Things: Brooklyn’s Funnest New Band

Ever smile so hard during a show that your face hurt afterward? Hearing Things will do that to you. They’re the funnest band in Brooklyn right now. Tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, organist/keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza play bouncy, wickedly tuneful, often very dark original surf instrumentals that frequently veer into psychedelia or Ethiopiques. The trio play at 7 PM on 9/11, the centerpiece of a triplebill at their home base these days, Barbes. It’s a typical Barbes night: the segues are pretty bizarre, but the music is killer. Pianist Joel Forrester, one of the great wits in jazz and co-founder of the irrepressibly cinematic Microscopic Septet, opens the evening solo at 5. If you dig the theme to NPR’s Fresh Air – which he wrote – you’ll appreciate his sense of humor and Monk-influenced purposefulness. At around 9:30, after Hearing Things, guitarist Stephane Wrembel and his trio play his signature mix of Romany jazz, hypnotic post-Velvets psychedelia and Pink Floyd-influenced art-rock themes.

Hearing Things opened their most recent Barbes show last month by faking out the crowd with a honking, deadpan cover of Midniter, by the Champs. Sperrazza took a drum break that was more Gene Krupa than Mel Taylor, which made the song even funnier. Would this set the tone for the rest of the night? No.

Bauder opened the next number with a misterioso Ethiopian riff as Sperrazza tumbled ominously on the toms and Schlegelmilch anchored everything with creepy funeral organ. Quickly, they hit a swirly spacerock interlude and then took the song back toward enigmatic Mulatu Astatke territory over Sperrazza’s rolling triplets. The fluttery, echoey outro sounded like early Pink Floyd spun through a food processor.

The nonchalantly macabre stroll after that was a dead ringer for Beninghove’s Hangmen, bloody overotnes dripping from Schlegelmilch’s electric piano, Bauder pulling the trio back toward Addis Ababa, 1976. Then they picked up the pace with an uneasy go-go shuffle, like a John Waters soundtrack piece on brown acid, organ and sax trading menacing fours with the drums midway through, Bauder finally taking an angst-fueled spiral up to the rafters as they wound it up. Then they swung their way through another mashup of horror surf, Spudnik and Ethiopiques, evoking another excellent if now obscure New York keyboard-surf band, Brainfinger. By now, most of the room was dancing.

Introducing Hubble Brag, Bauder took a break and reached for his phone, where he pulled up the Hubble Telescope Twitter feed and proceeded to crack up the audience with a few of them. Pity the poor NASA intern stuck with that job. At the end, Bauder was laughing as hard as the crowd. “We’re mostly a music band,” he shrugged.

Sperrazza’s hushed, ominously resonant bolero groove drove the next number, Bauder’s long washes bleeding overtones over a distant river of funeral organ. They picked up the pace with another uneasily stabbing go-go tune: if the Stranglers played go-go music, they would have sounded like that. The shuffle afterward was a lot more wry and easygoing, Then they took Peter Gunne into the Apollo 5 control room before Schlegelmilch sent it spiraling off towards Doors territory, anchoring his rapidfire righthand organ with catchy lefthand keyboard bass riffage. The crowd screamed for more, but the band was out of originals. It’s hard to think of a better alternative to all the somber 9/11 memorial stuff going on this weekend.

A Rare Brooklyn Show by One of New York’s Funnest, Most Esoteric, Psychedelic Bands

As far as esoteric jambands go, Tribecastan have few if any rivals. The group’s ringleaders, multi-instrumentalists John Kruth and Jeff Greene have led a rotating cast of characters since this wild, psychedelic beast first made its appearance on the streets of lower Manhattan about a half-dozen years ago. To try to pigeonhole or categorize them would be useless. Like their closest comparison, Hazmat Modine, jazz is a frequent reference point, but where that group uses horns, this crew employs a vast arsenal of central Asian, Middle Eastern and African stringed and percussion instruments along with a rock rhythm section. And they’re funny – if Spike Jones and Juan Esquivel aren’t direct influences, they’re distant relatives. The group’s latest album, Goddess Polka Dottess – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most straightforward and psychedelic rock-oriented release. They’ve got a rare Brooklyn show coming up this Friday, Sept 9 at 8 PM at Shapeshifter Lab; cover is $12.

Tribecastan also distinguish themselves as one of New York’s most prolific bands. The latest album is a bit of a change from their previous output in that most of the songs are by Kruth. The opening number, Repo Rodeo follows a droll, cartoonish, cajun-flavored sprint fueled by Kruth’s mandolin, Greene’s vibraphone, the horns of baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, trumpeter John Turner, alto saxophonist Premik Russell Tubbs and trombonist Chris Morrow until keyboardist Kenny Margolis leads them down a Middle Eastern rabbit hole. From there the group keeps the Middle Eastern noir psychedelia going with Konjo – the first of two songs by Greene here – driven by Kruth’s watery electric mando and Eric Halvorson’s tumbling drums.

Bassist Ray Peterson’s snappy riff opens Bangalorious, a wry mashup of latin soul and Bollywood – a sitar, played by Kruth, finally makes a cameo. Vagabundo is an unlikely successful hybrid of creepy klezmer and dub ska – imagine a Belorussian James Bond theme. The even more macabre Charnel Waltz brings to mind Kruth’s other, more stripped-down group, Villa Delirium.

Majestic Ganesh, one of the band’s few vocal numbers, pokes playful, Beatlesque fun at the Indian pantheon. The band takes a turn into brassy psych-funk with Trouble in a Fur Coat and follow that with the silly calyspo flute tune Myrtle & Mable. Then they march through the somewhat subtler Zoli’s Strut, with its microtonal banks of Asian reed instruments.

The Mahakala Stomp, Greene’s second track here, is a catchy hi-de-ho swing number with boisterous solos all around. (you’ll have to supply the band intros yourself). The Surfing Swami makes a return to Beatlesque Indian psychedelia, followed by Kilopatra, the album’s best and most Middle Eastern track, awash in uneasy, icy mando, snakecharmer flute and biting banjo. The next track, Borislav, a slinky Balkan brass tune with a hilariously over-the-top break that’s too funny to give away here, is another real winner. Constantly shifting from one instrument to another, Tribecastan are very entertaining to watch onstage, with Kruth affecting a mad pied-piper-on-acid persona.

Mitra Sumara Keyboardist Jim Duffy Puts Out a Wickedly Catchy, Cleverly Fun Instrumental Album

Jim Duffy is one of New York’s most irrepressibly entertaining and individualistic keyboardists. He had a longtime gig with Americana rockers Martin’s Folly; these days he plays organ in the wildly psychedelic Mitra Sumara, who specialize in covers of classic/obscure Iranian art-funk hits from the 60s and 70s. But he’s also a distinguished songwriter in his own right. His third and latest instrumental album, ominously titled Pale Afternoon, is streaming at Spotify (there are also a bunch of tracks at soundcloud and youtube for those of you who can’t stop multitasking long enough to jump on that fader and ride it down to zero when the ads pop up).

The album opens with Boulevard Six, a dead ringer for a late 60s/early 70s Herbie Hancock movie theme in rambunctious 6/4 time, guitarist Lance Doss contributing a blue-flame solo. The way Duffy’s oscillating Wurlitzer electric piano riff fades into the terse resonance of trombonist Sam Kulik and baritone saxophonist Claire Daly is just insanely cool, like something Brian Jones would have overdubbed on Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Figurine is sort of a variation on the previous tune, a bittersweetly twinkling late-night stroll lowlit by Kevin Kendrick’s vibraphone. If Bryan & the Aardvarks had been a rock band, they would have sounded like this. Once again, Doss fires off a solo, this time channeling late 60s Mike Bloomfield.

The album’s title track turns out to be a slow, summery groove until Doss drifts into sunbaked, stately art-rock, pushing the song toward 70s Procol Harum territory. Duffy’s Fillmore Theme turns out to be a breezy, swinging number, part Bacharach bossa, part Free Design psych-pop, Duffy multitracking his rippling, upper-register Wurly along with lush, fluid organ.

Keep Keeping On is a soul waltz as Booker T might have done one circa 1967, or Quincy Jones might have on the In the Heat of the Night soundtrack, Paul Page’s bass bubbling over the washes of drummer Dennis Diken’s cymbals. The elegant Wurly clusters in Reverse Image are so close to the melody of Figurine that it begs a momentary switch between the two tracks, to see if Duffy is pulling something clever like doing that song backwards. As it turns out, no – they’re just both incredibly catchy, this one close to a goodnatured Big Lazy highway panorama without the exit into David Lynch territory.

Mission Creep is the album’s best and darkest track, Doss’ simmering lapsteel bringing to mind the Friends of Dean Martinez‘s Bill Elm doing something from Dark Side of the Moon. Then with Tenerife, the band return to a sunny Bacharachian backbeat spiced with Doss’ wry soul-jazz lines.

Duffy follows the gently allusive ballad We’ll Never Know (nice theremin impersonation there, dude) with Spurare Il Rospo (The Spitting Toad), a briskly tropical motorik theme that’s a dead ringer for Los Crema Paraiso. The album winds up with Evening Birds, an iconoclastic spin on a hallowed, funereal Floyd tune. Crank this at your next party and get the entire room dancing – ok, everything but that last song.

Fun and inspiring fact: Duffy is one of the few musicians to shift from being a first-rate bassist to an A-list keyboardist. And then put out one of the ten best albums of 2016, more or less.