New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

Big Lazy Bring Their Noir Intensity to the East Village This Friday Night

Even by their own legendary standards, Big Lazy’s show Friday night at Barbes was a high point in the history of a band who go back twenty years. Having seen the cinematic noir instrumental trio in various configurations since the 90s, this could have been their most improvisational show ever. Their music is often described as crime jazz, but they also play noir boleros, and go-go struts, and uneasy big-sky themes that turn macabre in seconds flat. Those are just a handful of styles they’ve played over the years. In between songs, frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich alluded to surf music, which makes sense considering how much reverb he uses. But ironically, there were more latin rhythms and pouncing suspense themes in this set than there was the horror surf which was one of the band’s signature sounds during the early days.  Since Ulrich’s main gig is writing scores for film and PBS, that’s no surprise.

The guy can play anything. Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot get all the props for being this era’s preeminent jazz guitarists, but Ulrich can do anything they do, just more darkly. There was a lot of new material in this set, and as Ulrich cut loose with lingering, mournful approximations of wee-hours horn lines, bottom-of-the-well echoes, plaintive country twang or elegant proto-rockabilly Nashville riffs, creating a constantly shifting tableau that was as close to straight-up postbop jazz as this band’s ever played.

Amplifying that was how nimbly bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Yuval Lion negotiatid the songs’ tricky syncopation and odd meters. Hall is the one bass player in this group to actually carry the melody from time to time,  with a lot of conversational interplay, but this show was more or less Ulrich out alone over a taut, slinky backdrop, flying without a net. One common device that came back again and again with a wallop was how he’d answer his own semi-hopeful, soaring phrases with a crushing barrage of tremolo-picking,  akin to what Rachmaninoff would do.

Ulrich usually saves that kind of unhinged attack for when he really needs it – he leaves the pick-melting to Dick Dale. But this time the angst and fury was relentless, through expansive and careening versions of the lickety-split Princess Nicotine, a gloomily gorgeous take of Uneasy Street and finally a warped version of Don’t Cross Myrtle. That’s the title track of the band’s latest album, and while New Yorkers might think it means “stay out of the bad part of town,” it could just as easily mean “keep your hideous condos and money laundering out of what’s left of our cool neighborhood.”

Big Lazy pick up where they left off this Friday night, Nov 10 at Drom at around 9 PM on one of the year’s best triplebills, which opens with wild, theatrical, female-fronted Chicago barrelhouse piano blues band the Claudettes, and trumpeter Brian Carpenter and the Confessions – the dark oldtime jazz maven’s Lynchian rock band. Showtime is 7 PM; $12 adv tix are highly recommended.

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Ensemble Et Al Bring Their Precise, Psychedelic, Gamelanesque Glimmer to South Williamsburg

Ensemble Et Al’s new album The Slow Reveal – streaming at Bandcamp – blends hypnotically gamelanesque ripple and cinematic sweep, with the occasional tricky detour into postrock metrics. They make a good segue with Empyrean Atlas, with whom they’re sharing a double album release bill at Baby’s All Right tomorrow night, Nov 5 at 7 PM. Cover is $15.

The album opens with Au Cheval, vibraphonist Ron Tucker’s subtle variations on a catchy, dancing riff mingling with the rest of the band’s pings and ripples, the drums leading the charge upward. The song title is apt. A horse’s hooves stride on a diagonal, left-right and vice versa: the interweave suggests a good time on the racetrack or just roaming the plains.

Guernsey Goodbye is a quiet, mystical tone poem for bells and vibraphone, the former swaying steadily while the latter plays a lullaby of sorts, drums leading a calmly triumphant crescendo. From there the quartet segue into Old Anew, rising suspensefully out of organ-like bowed bells to a carillon-like lattice over a tensely muted shuffle beat. Buzzy, loopy synth paired with twinkling bells brings to mind a more organic Tangerine Dream.

The group returns to mystery gamelan mode with Typewriters, again crescendoing almost imperceptibly out of allusive, enigmatically hushed ambience, hinting at an uneasy, heroic theme and then finally hitting it. The glimmer continues in Minbalism, assembled out of very subtly shaded live loops – as the gongs enter with a stately, otherworldly grace, Kenny Wollesen’s adventures in gamelan music come to mind, then the band blips toward early Terry Riley territory.

With its suspenseful microtones, the strolling Medal Meddle Metal is both the most traditionally gamelan-influenced number here and also the album’s most anthemic tune. As vast distorted washes enter the picture – is that a guitar? – it could be Tuatara at their most epic.

Playfully polyrhythmic, Riley-ish cells take centerstage throughout Ondrejko. The final cut is Ellipsis, a relatively brief (for these guys, that means three-minute) return to driving, gamelanesque postrock. Jeffrey Eng, Charlie Kessenich and Ross Marshall join Tucker in spinning this frequently magical web.

Empyrean Atlas Bring Their Hypnotically Sparkling African-Inspired Sounds to South Williamsburg This Weekend

Postrock band Empyrean Atlas play African juju mathrock. Or indie classical African juju music. Their music chimes, and sparkles, and often circles hypnotically Bandleader David Crowell’s lines twinkle amidst the ripples from his fellow guitarists Andrew Smiley and Will Chapin. Their new short album Poly Rush is streaming at Bandcamp, and they’re playing the release show on an excellent twinbill on Nov 5 at 8 PM at Baby’s All Right. Similarly glimmering percussion group Ensemble Et Al open the show at 7; cover is $15.

Empyrean Atlas open their new album with the title track, which sounds like King Sunny  Ade playing Philip Glass: tightly interwoven, plinky guitar harmonies in subtly shifting, polyrhythmic cell-like phrases. The second track is Polipoli, a lovely, bucolically vamping, chiming theme where the guitars loosen as drummer Jason Nazary’s cymbals rise and then subside.

Echolocation is an amalgam of the first two numbers, with a cheery, low-key kora break that Nazary gently and methodically pushes upward. Ocelot sounds like a thicket of acoustic twelve-string models: it’s the lushest piece here, with the textures that are nothing short of celestial.

As the title implies, Nethermead begins with a lingering, steady Britfolk feel – John Renbourn comes to mind – and then rises toward spacerock as the electric guitars clash and clang against each other. It’s the most rock-oriented track here and the one where bassist Greg Chudzik is most present. The final number is Murmuring, its introductory atmospherics giving way to Nethermead’s ornate folk guitar elegance.

Trippy Guitar Loopmusic from Xander Naylor

Xander Naylor played some of the most refreshingly unhinged guitar recorded in this century as a member of trumpeter Ben Syversen’s Cracked Vessel. Their lone album remains a high point in recent New York creative music, which is quite an achievement considering that Syversen is also a member of feral Balkan group Raya Brass Band.

Since the late zeros, Naylor has also pursued a solo career. His latest album, Arc, inspired by unnamed tragic losses, is completely different. It’s hypnotic, and loopy, and occasionally motorik, drawing on influences from mathrock to Zappa and Robert Fripp. Another theme is basically, “Look, ma, can you believe all the sounds I’ve got stashed away in my pedalboard?” It’s streaming at Bandcamp and available on limited edition cassette for just seven bucks; Naylor is playing the album release show tonight, Nov 3 at 8 PM at Greenpoint Gallery at 390 McGuinness Blvd. Take the G to Greenpoint Ave.

The opening traci, Pinball, is true to its tiltle: it’s a pinging guitar-and-bass instrumental with very subtle rhythmic shifts and a wryly funny ending. Bad For Glass is a tapping exercise that grows blippier as it goes along, then Naylor hits a pedal for an approximation of an acoustic piano.

The even shorter Hellespont also follows a trancey circle of loops, but it’s more spiky and vampy. Another miniature, Observing Silence layers deep-space atmospherics. By contrast, Appearances is another subtly shifting, loopy piece but sounds as if Naylor is playing a vintage resonator, at least before the remainder of his overdubs kick in.

Natural Born Relic comes across as a spoof of both EDM and early video game music. Glass House is Naylor messing around with belltones, while Ratchet is funny and squirrelly: why won’t this damn lid come off?

Elegy hints at gamelan music; then Naylor explores echo effects, skronky distortion and slow decays in How to Ward Off a Werewolf, the closest thing to Cracked Vessel’s ferocity here. He closes with the album’s most melodically interesting track, the atmospheric rainy-day tableau Dry Your Boots.

The Nifty’s Make Exhilarating Surf Rock and More Out of Iconic Jewish Themes

It’s been more than half a century since the Ventures recorded the first klezmer surf rock hit: Hava Nagila. Wrapping up their first US tour with a deliriously fun show at the Austrian Cultural Center earlier this week, Vienna instrumentalists the Nifty’s took the idea of making electric rock out of Jewish folk and jazz themes to new levels of noir menace, surfy fun and punk rock intensity.

Their opening number, an original, sounded like Big Lazy with two guitars – that good. Lead guitarist Fabian Pollack played lingeringly Lynchian reverbtoned lines on his Fender Jazzmaster, mingling with the similarly reverberating, spacious clang and twang of Michael Bruckner, who played a mysterious hollowbody model. Bassist Dominik Grunbuhel strolled tersely behind them with a dry, crisp tone, but by the end of the show he was swooping and diving all over the place. At one point, he was playing furious tremolo chords with his knuckles while the guitarists did the same, but with their picks: it’s a miracle he didn’t leave the stage a bloody mess.

Like Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion, drummer Gottfried Schneurl loves counterintuitive accents, odd syncopation and uses every piece of his kit, but with more of a punk edge. At one point, he emerged from behind it to bang on hardware and mic stands and eventually the strings of the bass, an old Dick Dale trope that surf musicians have never been able to resist.

But the Nifty’s aren’t a straight-up surf band. Niffty was the nickname that Naftule Brandwein, who was sort of the Sidney Bechet of klezmer clarinet, gave himself. One of the great paradigm-shifters in the history of Jewish jazz, he would no doubt approve of where the Nifty’s take the tradition. That’s what Brandwein’s great-nephew, who was in the crowd, said after the show, and he ought to know.

The band opened with a couple of moodily surfed-up horas – two-part dance numbers that began slowly and uneasily and picked up steam in the second half – and closed with a reggae tune, encoring with a rapidfire bulgar from Odessa with a stunning cold ending. In between, they mixed up originals, new arrangements of brooding minor-key traditional melodies as well as reinvented versions of tunes from Brandwein’s catalog.

Drei, a serpentine Pollack original and the title track of the band’s latest album Nifty’s No. 3, was more of a diptych. Nifty’s Texas Massacre, from the band’s second album Takeshi Express, was a cinematic, punk-influenced four-part psychedelic punk mini-suite that set the stage for much of the rest of the night, as the band sped up again and again, past the point where the rhythm had come full circle. There was a persistent, slinky noir bolero quality to much of the rest of the material, reminding how much of a confluence of latin and Jewish music the noir esthetic is. Let’s hope these guys make it back here soon.

The next show at the Austrian Cultural Center is on Nov 7 at 7:30 PM with cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl and pianist Andreas Woyke playing Beethoven sonatas plus works by Schnittke, Friedrich Gulda and Shostakovich. Admission is free; there’s a reception to follow; a RSVP is required.

Ominously Enveloping Ambience in La Equidistancia

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is A Strangely Isolated Place, by La Equidistancia, the dark ambient project of Kompakt’s Leandro Fresco and Rafael Anton Irisarri of Room 40. It’s less overtly menacing than allusively ominous, a storm looming on the distant horizon but with shafts of light filtering through.

A nebulous choir of voices awash in reverb rise as the first track, Cuando El Misterio Es Demasiado Impresionante, Es Imposible Desobedecer (When the Mystery Is Too Much, It’s Impossible to Disobey) gets underway. Bubbles of keys linger back in the mix, then a steady, staccato synth-piano rhythm moves to the center. Likewise, densely layered clouds shift through Bajo un Ocaso Desteñido (Under a Fading Sunset), the waves circling more tightly as the piece develops, then shifting to an unexpected calm.

Drips of wind chimes flicker against the synths’  echoing major third interval in Lo Esencial Es Invisible a Los Ojos (The Essential Is Invisible to the Eye): the way the duo imply a catchy folk tune as lingering, sustained guitar phrases rise is especially artful.

Las Palabras Son Fuente De Malentendidos (Words Are a Source of Misunderstanding – great title for an instrumental, huh?) – has a vaster, deep-space unease with hints of a brooding chromatic melody amid the grey expanse, Entre la Niebla (In the Mist) whirs and echoes, with what’s by now become a consistent trope: echoing highs in the right channel, tidally shifting lows in the left punctuated by the occasional blip, click or strike of one thing against another.

The final cut is Un Horizonte En Llamas (Horizon in Flames), a slow, tectonic gothic theme pushing wispy waterfall sonics out of the picture for moody minimalist guitar in the same vein as Brian Eno’s Apollo suite. Not for use while operating machinery.

Yet Another Haunting, Psychedelic Silent Film Score From Morricone Youth

Today’s Halloween album is Morricone Youth’s original score to F. W. Murnau’s 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans. For the past almost twenty years, Morricone Youth have built what might be the vastest, most consistently dark repertoire in the history of art-rock. Aas film music, bandleader/guitarist Devon E. Levins’ body of work rivals the greatest of the greats: Bernard Herrmann, Angelo Badalementi, Steve Ulrich and the maestro Morricone himself. Over the past eighteen months or so, the group have been on a marathon recording binge, with a game plan of immortalizing every single one of the band’s roughly fifty original scores. This latest edition is one of the very best of the bunch, streaming at Soundcloud. The band are playing the release show on Oct 15 at WFMU’s Monty Hall, 43 Montgomery St (between Greene and Washington) in Jersey City. Cover is $12; take the Path train to Exchange Place.

The title theme is a slowly stalking, creepily carnivalesque, distantly bolero-tinged art-rock instrumental with a big Pauline Kim Harris violin crescendo midway through, keyboardist Dan Kessler shifting cleverly between woozy, keening synth and funereal organ. Levins becomes a one -man Ventures with his guitar overdubs on the crime-surf romp Barber Twist, beefed up with low brass underneath Kessler’s swooping synth and a couple of momentary unexpected Pink Floyd-ish interludes.

Dreiky Caprice and Tredici Bacci‘s Sami Stevens duet on Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a suspiciously blithe Os Mutantes-style exercise in psychedelic bossa nova; Levins’ flitting Led Zep quote trailing out of a fluttery flute solo is priceless. From there the band follows a fragment of a boogie-woogie chase scene with Trolley Song, Fraser Campbell’s uneasy sax over Brian Kantor’s galloping drums. Stevens’ coy vocal bombast sounds like Bombay Rickey’s Kamala Samkaram singing the Ventures’ Apache.

Spare motorik synth textures twinkle grimly alongside the occasional menacing reverb-guitar accent in the soundscape Bundle of Reeds. Then they make gloomy 7/8 art-rock out of the title theme with Another Honeymoon, Kessler’s melancholy rivulets glistening alongside Levins’ jangly lines.

They follow a momentary starlit interlude with a gloomy, Romany-tinged “peasant dance” straight out of the Beninghove’s Hangmen playbook. The same could be said about the far darker instrumental reprise of that snappy bossa. The album ends with an epic return to the title theme, opening with Levins’ mournfully chiming solo intro to another guy/girl duet, like a minor-league take on Karla Rose at her most distantly menacing. If Trump hasn’t started a nuclear war by the time December rolls around, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2017 page here. 

A Brooding, Resonant Subterranean Soundscape for Halloween Month

Today’s installment for Halloween month is Philip Blackburn’s album Music of Shadows – streaming at Spotify – which was written to be played in the St. Paul, Minnesota sewer system. Innova Records put out this bleak, tectonically and ineluctably shifting triptych in 2014, and it may be the high point of the composer’s career so far.

Blackburn is sort of the shadow image of Brian Eno – his enveloping, often darkly majestic electroacoustic soundscapes tend to whoosh and resonate in the lows, sometimes with provocative samples. His recent works have addressed the struggles of Vietnamese refugees and have lampooned right-wing bigotry. This one is more of a relentless mood piece. Even the mathrock-y bubbles as the second movement opens give way to a coldly echoing, oscillating resonance.

About five minutes into the icy lead-pipe ambience of the opening movement, there are doors slamming and children playing, but the effect evokes a prison vastly more than it does a playground. And the disembodied choir fading in and out eventually blend with the rest of the ghosts.

And for anyone living in an urban area, the album has value to match its gloomy, entrancing artistic merits. Your neighbors might bang on the ceiling if you crank a loud rock record in the middle of the night to drown out the crackhead or the creeps down the hall, but if you blast this, nobody can really complain – and if you’re tired enough, it will eventually lull you back to sleep.  After all, nobody can tell you that you can’t vacuum your floor at four in the morning, can they? That movie you were just blasting? What movie, wink wink! Any nightmares you might have are incidental. Or are they?

Bleak, Chilly, Distantly Menacing Urban Soundscapes From the Metro Riders

In somber recognition of Halloween month, today’s album – streaming at Bandcamp – is Europe By Night, by Stockholm soundscaper Henrik Stelzer a.k.a. the Metro Riders. The album title is apt: Stelzer’s world is relentlessly overcast and stops after black fades to grey. The production is opaque and sounds analog, an early 80s lo-fi atmosphere Stelzer builds with vintage or neo-vintage synth textures spun through walkmans and other oldschool devices.

Coldly anonymous tenements, smog-stained bridges and endless expanses of concrete come to mind in the opening track, Stockholm 2024. It’s an icily syncopated, hypnotically loopy mood piece, plastically acidic Roland Juno organ swirling around over what sounds like echoey conga samples. Things get darker from there.

Tension on the Train follows a similar pattern, but with a groove that’s  not quite trip-hop and muddy, loopy synths that edge toward symphonic grandeur, but can’t escape the overwhelming claustrophobia. In lieu of plague-bearing rodents, Rats evokes more of the previous track’s motorik, semi-insulated subway car milieu.

As high-pressure waves squiggle and bubble tightly through the mix, Trauma alludes to a very, very, very famous horror movie theme (hint: the girl’s head does a 360). A New Dawn follows swirly, steady variations of an almost painfully simple synth riff where Stelzer just moves the bass around, ending with an unexpected and welcome joke.

Bruno Mattei –  an echoing shout-out to the low-budget Italian film director – sounds like something pretty much any kid messing around with Ableton could come up with. The mood lifts temporarily with Suburban Youth, which could be a cheery trip-hop stroll if not for that latin-influenced percussion loop. Endgame brings the album full circle. Fans of artists like Deathprod and Cousin Silas as well as obscure late 70s/early 80s dustbunny four-track sounds like Young Marble Giants can’t go wrong with this.

Tredici Bacci Kiss the Sky at Barbes

This is what old NEC students do when they’ve had too much to drink: play slow, simmering oldschool soul vamps, take a stab at faux-operatic vocals and then bop their way through a bunch of summery, serpentine instrumentals inspired by 60s Italian cinema. At their most recent Barbes gig back in July, Tredici Bacci did all that tighter than most bands could do sober.

Not everybody in the band was half in the bag. Singer Sami Stevens was a force of nature and then some, giving the music all the drama it demanded with her full-throttle vibrato and passion worthy of a primo Sophia Loren role. Keyboardist Evan Allen went from creepy with his tremoloing funeral organ, into outer space with the synth and then all the way back to the Middle Ages with a wry electric harpsichord patch.

The strings shimmered and shivered behind the blaze and blips of the horns – this is a big band – through a cheery mix of mostly original material, a lot of which sounded like 60s Burt Bacharach on steroids. They did one Morricone cover, but in a similar vein. The lone spaghetti western number, late in the set, was an original, and turned out to be the night’s best song.

Bandleader/guitarist Simon Hanes was in a surreal mood: “Gimme a generic bossa,” he ordered the band, and they obliged: practice this enough at conservatory and you can pull it off in a split-second like this crew. Then he had Stevens free-associate on random topics over the music, and she ran with it: she’s funny, and managed not to embarrass herself. The effect was akin to Ingrid Sertso doing her stream-of-consciousness jazz poetry thing with Karl Berger’s improvisational big band, but at doublespeed and a couple of generations removed.

Barbes is home base to a whole slew of the funnest bands in town: organ-fueled psychedelic surf rockers Hearing Things; mesmerizing Moroccan trance-dance band Innov Gnawa; Afrobeat monsters Super Yamba; fiery Ethiopian jamband Anbessa Orchestra; spectacular Bollywood cumbia band Bombay Rickey; and at the top of the list, slinky noir soundtrack trio Big Lazy.  Count Tredici Bacci as one of the newer additions to the elite: they’re back at Barbes on Sept 28 at 10 PM. The Austin Piazzolla Quintet, who open the night at 8, play both classic nuevo tango and originals in the same vein and are also excellent.

And Stevens also leads an oldschool soul group whose next gig is at the Parkside (the Brooklyn boite at 705 Flatbush Ave between  Winthrop and Parkside,  no relation to the Manhattan one) – on Oct 20 at 9:30 PM.