New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

Moist Paula Henderson Brings Her Starry, Playful Improvisations Back to Greenpoint

Baritone sax star Moist Paula Henderson is, among other things, the not-so-secret weapon in gonzo gospel-funk pianist/showman Rev. Vince Anderson’s wild jamband. Last night at Union Pool, she was in a characteristically devious mood, having all sorts of fun in between the notes. But she’s not limited to baritone sax. Last month at Troost, she played a fascinatingly enveloping, psychedelic show with multi-instrumentalist and film composer Dorothea Tachler and inventor/guitar shredder Nick Demopoulos. She’s back there tomorrow night, April 26 at around 9 in a duo with Demopoulos, who will no doubt be improvising on the SMOMID, his own electronic invention that looks like a vintage keytar would look if such things existed back in the 50s.

Beyond her work as a hardworking sidewoman, Henderson is also a great wit as a composer. And she’s not limited to baritone sax, either: like the Sun Ra Arkestra’s Marshall Allen, she frequently employs the EWI (electronic wind instrument) for her more adventurous projects. Her most recent solo album, Moist Paula’s Electric Embouchere – streaming at Bandcamp – is a series of EWI compositions that harken back to the playfully cinematic pieces she explored with her late-zeros electroacoustic act Secretary, while also echoing her work with legendary downtown punk-dance sax-bass-drums trio Moisturizer.

The album’s opening track, I Dream of Dreams on Wheels juxtaposes wispy, fragmented, woozily tremoloing upper-register accents over a wryly shuffling, primitive, 70s style drum machine beat. We Always Fought on Thanksgiving – Henderson is unsurpassed at titles – is typical example of how she artfully she can take a very simple low-register blues-scale riff and build a loopy tune around it. 

Awake Against One’s Will is as surreal and distantly ominous as a starry dreamscape can be, awash in ambient waves and gamelanesque flickers. Old Ass Air Mattress is a jaunty electronic strut over a buzzy pedal note that threatens to implode any second: if there’s anybody alive who can translate sound into visuals, it’s Moist Paula. 

Riskily, She Named her 13th Child Friday sounds like P-Funk on bath salts, a rapidfire series of sonic phosphenes over which she layers the occasional droll, warpy accent. The album’s final cut is the mini-epic  Trick Or Treat Suite, ironically its calmest, most spacious and gamelanesque number, spiced with the occasional wry, unexpected swell amidst the twinkles and ripples. It’s like a sonic whippit except that it’s not as intense and it lasts longer. 

Bryan and the Aardvarks: The Ultimate Deep-Space Band

It’s impossible to think of a more apt choice of players to evoke an awestruck deep-space glimmer than vibraphonist Chris Dingman, pianist Fabian Almazan and singer Camila Meza. Back them with the elegantly propulsive drums of Joe Nero and bassist-bandleader Bryan Copeland, and you have most of the crew on Bryan and the Aardvarks’ majestic, mighty new album Sounds from the Deep Field, streaming at Bandcamp. Saxophonist Dayna Stephens adds various shades with his EWI (electronic wind instrument) textures. They’re playing the album release show on April 27 at the Jazz Gallery, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $22.

Over the past few years, the band have made a name for themselves with their bittersweetly gorgeous epics, and this album, inspired by Hubble Telescope images from the furthest reaches of space, is no exception. The opening number, Supernova is much less explosive than the title implies: it’s an expansive, almost imperceptibly crescendoing epic set to a steady, dancing midtempo 4/4 groove, Almazan’s purposeful ripples mingling with subtle wafts from the EWI and Meza’s wordless vocals, setting the stage for Dingman’s raptly glistening coda. Meza doesn’t play guitar on this album: that’s Jesse Lewis’ subtle but rich and constantly shifting textures.

Dingman and Almazan build and then drop back from a hypnotic, pointillistic, uneasily modal interweave as the rhythm of Eagle Nebula circles and circles, subtly fleshed out with Meza’s meteor-shower clarity and the occasional wry wisp from Stephens. Subtle syncopations give the distantly brooding Tiny Skull Sized Kingdom hints of trip-hop, Meza calmly setting the stage for an unexpectedly growling, increasingly ferocious Lewis guitar solo

Echoes of Chopin, a contemporaneous American Protestant hymnal and John Lennon as well echo throughout Soon I’ll Be Leaving This World. Almazan’s gently insistent, stern chords build to a trick turnaround, then Nero and Dingman finally come sweeping in and the lights go up. By the time the warpy electonic effects kick in, it’s obvious that this is not a death trip – at least not yet.

Meza’s tender, poignant vocals rise as the swaying waves of The Sky Turned to Grey build toward Radiohead angst. It’s the first of two numbers here with lyrics and the album’s most straight-ahead rock song, fueled by Lewis’ red-sky guitar solo. By contrast, Nero’s lighthanded, tricky metrics add to the surrealism of Strange New Planet,  a disarmingly humorous mashup of Claudia Quintet and Weather Report.

Interestingly, Bright Shimmering Lights isn’t a vehicle for either Dingman or Almazan: it’s a resonant Pat Metheny-ish skyscape that grows more amusing as the timbres cross the line into P-Funk territory. It segues into LV 426, a miniature that recalls Paula Henderson’s recent, irresistibly funny adventures in electronics.

Meza’s balmy, wistful vocals waft through Magnetic Fields, the closest thing to a traditional jazz ballad here, lit up by a lingering Dingman solo. Nero’s dancing traps, Dingman’s shivery shimmers and Almazan’s twinkle mingle with Lewis’ pensive sustain and Almazan’s rapidfire, motorik electric piano in To Gaze Out the Cupola Module. the album’s closing cut.

The next time we launch a deep-space capsule, we should send along a copy of this album. If anybody out there finds it and figures out what it is, and how to play it, and can perceive the sonics, it could be a soundtrack for their own mysterious voyage through the depths.

Dynamic, Exhilarating, Haunting New Armenian Sounds from Miqayel Voskanyan

Last night Drom was packed with a chatty, boisterous crowd who’d come to party and take in a surrealistic, often haunting, absolutely uncategorizable show by Yerevan-based tar lute player Miqayel Voskanyan and his band. Unlike your typical Iranian tar player, Voskanyan holds his high on his chest, like a giant ear of corn that he’s about to take a big bite out of. While there were a few crescendos during his roughly hourlong set that were packed with high-voltage flurries of tremolo-picking, Voskanyan plays with a great sense of touch and subtlety. He saved his wildest chord-chopping for when he really needed it, and even then, he didn’t give the impression that he was working that hard (beyond frequent trips to the side of the stage to guzzle water, anyway). Otherwise, his attack on the strings was nuanced, and judicious, with a masterful use of space. Guys who can play as fast as he does can’t usually chill with an equal degree of mystery.

Behind him, the trio of Arman Peshtmaljian on a Nord Stage 2 keyboard, Gurgen Ghazaryan on bass and Movses Ghazaryan on drums shifted between rhythms and idioms with a similar, understated dexterity. There were interludes that drew on Near Eastern art-rock, and folk-rock, along with frequent allusions to current-day Balkan turbo-folk and Romany dance music. And there were some moments, usually when Voskanyan left a verse or two to the band, that veered closer to jazz territory. Yet this isn’t a rock band, and it’s definitely not a folk band, even though they amped up a couple of singalong numbers with the crowd at the end.

Armenia is small, about the same size as Jamaica. Like reggae, Armenian music has a vast, global influence: Voskanyan’s compositions reflect that scope. He and the band opened with a pretty straight-up American funk tune, except that it sounded as if it was being played on a banjo. Then Voskanyan went up the fretboard, where the microtones of the Armenian scale creep in, and the effect was as magical as it was strange and unexpected. There were many, many moments like that throughout the rest of the the evening.

From there he sang vocalese over an uneasy, slow rainy-day theme that drew more heavily on chromatics and microtones. To western ears, his most riveting number was a slow, utterly inconsolable film noir-style chromatic instrumental that could have been a Steve Ulrich composition. Voskanyan’s songs without words are very evocative: a fireside tableau was more bittersweet than you might expect. The biggest hit with the crowd was a TGIF-themed epic that shifted from a brisk, flurrying 12/8 rhythm through all sorts of changes, a long keyboard break  – the only place where Voskanyan really lost the crowd – and then he brought them back in a split second with an enigmatic hailstorm of a tar solo. At the end of the set, he brought up accordionist Sevana Tchakerian, who alternated between terse washes of sound and a rhythmic pulse, and also provided spellbinding, acerbic vocals that were a perfect counterpart to Voskanyan’s confident baritone.

Voskanyan and band are currently on US tour, sponsored by AGBU-YPNC. The next stop is tomorrow night, April 7 at 9 PM at St. John Armenian Church, 275 Olympia Way in San Francisco; cover is $30/$20 stud. Drom, the East Village’s mecca for sounds from every part of the globe, has their usual slate of eclectic acts coming up. There’s a metal show tonight; Greek songwriter Kostis Maraveyas plays with his darkly bouncy rembetiko and latin-flavored band tomorrow night, April 7 at half past eleven for $20. 

A Rare New York Appearance by Haunting Norwegian Soundscaper Deathprod

For more than twenty-five years, Helge Sten a.k.a. Deathprod has been creating hauntingly provocative sounds that are impossible to turn away from. Elements of minmalism, Eno-esque soundscapes, spectral, microtonal and film music all factor into what he does, but he transcends genre. Three of his European cult favorite albums – Treetop Drive, Imaginary Songs from Tristan da Cunha, and Morals and Dogma are being reissued by Smalltown Supersound and are all scheduled to be streaming at Bandcamp (follow the preceding three links or bookmark this page) He’s playing a rare New York live show on March 28 at around 9 at Issue Project Room, 22 Boerum Place in downtown Brooklyn; cover is $15/$12 stud/srs.

On the triptych that comprises three-quarters of Treetop Drive, originally released in 1994, the instruments are Sten’s “audio virus” and Hans Magnus Ryan’s violin. Steady minor-key chordal washes build a hypnotic backdrop, finally infiltrated by flitting, sepulchral shivers. A ghostly choir of sorts joins as the waves rise, and almost as if on cue, a wintry seaside tableau emerges. The second part, an assaultive industrial fugue, has a similarly insistent, pulsing quality. The spoken-word sample in the unexpectedly catchy, allusively motorik conclusion addresses a death fixation in late 20th century society that extends even to young children: creepy, at the very least. The final cut, Towboat, juxtaposes a calm minor arpeggio against waves of chaotic industrial noise

On 2004’s Morals and Dogma, Ryan also plays harmonium on one track, joined by Ole Henrik Moe on violin. The approach is more enveloping and layered: distant echoes of breaking waves, thunder, perhaps bombs and heavy artillery, are alluded to but never come into clear focus, raising the suspense and menace throughout the opening track, Trom. The almost nineteen-minute Dead People’s Things filters shivery flickers of violin, and then what could be a theremin, throughout a muted, downcast quasi-choral dirge. Orgone Donor, awash in a haze of shifts between major and minor, reaches for serenity – but Sten won’t allow anything so pat as a calm resolution. The final, enigmatically and ominously nebulous piece, Cloudchamber, is aptly titled. Heard at low volume, it could be soothing; the louder it gets, the more menacing it becomes. Perhaps Sten is telling us that just like life, death is what you make of it.

Unmasking Steve Ulrich’s Mysterious, Murderously Fun Barbes Residency This Month

An icy, lingering tritone reverberated from Steve Ulrich’s 1955 Gretsch. “We end everything with this chord,” this era’s most esteemed noir guitarist joked. His long-running trio Big Lazy have been his main vehicle for suspense film themes, uneasy big-sky pastorales and menacing crime jazz narratives, but this month he’s playing a weekly 6 PM Saturday evening residency at Barbes to air out some of his more recent and also more obscure film work from over the years. This past Saturday he was joined by Peter Hess of Balkan Beat Box (who have a characteristically fun new album due out soon) on baritone sax and flute as well as a rhythm section. The final installment of this month’s residency is at 6 on March 25 and will feature Ulrich’s frequent collaborator, guitarist Mamie Minch, who will be playing her own scores to accompany a screening of Russell Scholl’s edgy experimental films.

At this past Saturday’s show, the quartet opened with Dusk, by Sandcatchers, “One of those tunes I’d wished I’d written the moment I heard it,” Ulrich revealed. Lonesome trainwhistle lapsteel bookended a melancholy, aptly saturnine waltz with exchanges of steel and baritone sax. They followed with an enigmatically chromatic, reggaeish new Ulrich original, just guitar, bass and drums. Echoes of 70s Peruvian psychedelic cumbia filtered through the mix, leading to a wry, descending solo by bassist Michael Bates. It was sort of the reverse image of the popular early zeros Big Lazy single Mysteries of the Deep.

From there the rhythm section launched into an altered bolero sway, Ulrich making his way through spikily strolling phrases and elegant descending clusters of jazz chords, down to an exploratory sax solo. Then Hess raised the energy to just short of redline: the dynamic wallop was visceral.

The one Big Lazy tune in the set turned out to have been inspired by Raymond Scott’s madcap Loony Tunes cartoon scores: “It’s pretty crazy,” Ulrich admitted. At its innermost core, it was a creepy bolero, but with a practically hardcore beat and a relentlessly tense interweave of sax and guitar, Ulrich and Hess a pair of snipers dueling at a distance.

Another new number, In the Bones was originally titled Lost Luggage, Ulrich revealed. A slowly unwinding, shapeshifting theme, it followed an emotional trajectory that slowly shifted from stunned shock to mournful acceptance. From there, the four made their way through a creepy cover of the Beatles’ Girl, packed with tongue-in-cheek Ellington quotes, then a murderously slinky instrumental take of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me

Awash in a long series of bittersweet Americana riffs, a new ballad, Sister, was dedicated to Minch. Her music is more overtly blues based, but it’s as dark and deep as Ulrich’s: this was an insightful portrait. Ulrich sent the band offstage and then played a solo take of Latin Quarter, from Big Lazy’s 1996 debut ep. He explained that it was originally conceived as a mashup of salsa jazz and ghoulabilly – and that the gorgeous gold Gretsch he was playing it on had been a gift many years ago from a fellow swimmer at the Greenpoint YMCA. The guitarist’s shock at his poolmate’s generosity was mitigated somewhat when he discovered that its serial number had been sanded off.

Hess switched to flute for the title theme from Ulrich’s latest film score, a slyly surreal Asian-flavored 60s psychedelic rock tune, part Morricone, part Dengue Fever and part Ventures spacerock. He wound up the set with a single, droll verse of Sizzle and Pops, the name of the imaginary lounge duo with his wife. “You can guess who’s who,” Ulrich told the crowd. Charming 1930s/40s French chanson revivalists Les Chauds Lapins played after – more about that one a little later. Good news for film music fans from outside the neighborhood who want to catch the final night of Ulrich’s residency: both the F and G trains are running to Park Slope this coming weekend

Rising Star Composer Ayumi Okada Brings Her Vivid, Picturesque, Cinematic Sounds to Upper Manhattan

Pianist/composer Ayumi Okada writes vivid, cinematic songs without words. Her music is full of stories, and humor, and unselfconscious depth. Much as her sense of melody is appealingly consonant, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole her as a neoromantic: she’s most at home in the borderlands with Debussy and Ravel. A composer-performer, she’s premiering a new piano quintet with a first-class chamber ensemble including star cellist James Waldo on March 10 at 7:30 PM at Holy Trinity Church, 20 Cumming St. in Washington Heights. The group will also play music of Dvorak, Bach, Johann Goldberg, Caroline Shaw and Doug Balliett; admission is $15/$10 stud. Take the 1 train to Dyckman St.

Okada’s debut album is Here, Where the Land Ends and the Sea Begins – streaming at Spotify  – a beguiling mix of chamber works. It opens with Okada’s String Quartet No. 1 a steady, bittersweetly theme with echoes of Dvorak and baroque-inflected counterpoint that gives way to a stormily dancing pulse which she elegantly ends up bringing full circle. There’s an arthouse film with a philosophical poignancy that needs this for when the main titles roll, a strongly voiced performance by Waldo, violinists Karen Dekker and Meredith Ezinma Ramsay and violist Rose Hashimoto.

The second work, Cape Roca has a similarly picturesque sweep, Waldo’s austere lines against resonant glimmer and then gracefully ornamented neoromanticism from pianist Alyona Aksyonova. The miniature A Walk in the Park is a showcase for Okada’s playful sense of humor, Aksyonova’s devious leaps and bounds in tandem with peek-a-boo clarinet from Yumi Ito bookending a momentary cloud passing across the sky.

Okada’s Piano Trio No. 1, with the standard orchestration of piano, violin and cello hints at chromatic Shostakovian menace in between stately Piazzolla-esque passages and hints of late Romanticism. The album concludes with a triptych, the Light Princess Suite. Aksyonova plays a majestically enigmatic, emphatically waltzing theme over Waldo’s austere washes in the first movement. The second, where the rest of the strings join in, is awash in moody high/low, still/kinetic contrasts in the same vein as Rachmaninoff’s more airy chamber works. Once again, Waldo’s starkness grounds the piano’s dancing, Debussyesque figures as the suite winds out, artfully shifting meters. It’s Okada at her most colorful and picturesque: this intrepidly dancing  creature takes a lot of detours, but she can’t be stopped.

Steel Player Mike Neer Darkly Reinvents Thelonious Monk Classics

Any fan of western swing knows how cool a steel guitar can sound playing jazz. The great C&W pedal steel player Buddy Emmons knew something about that: back in the 70s, he recorded steel versions of famous Charlie Parker tunes. In that same vein, steel guitarist Mike Neer has just put out an even more deliciously warped, downright creepy, dare we say paradigm-shifting album of Thelonious Monk covers for lapsteel, wryly titled Steelonious and streaming at the band’s webpage. Neer’s playing the album release show on Jan 25 at 8 PM at Barbes. If you like Monk, steel, and/or darkly cinematic sounds in general, you’d be crazy to miss this.

The album opens with a tongue-in-cheek slide down the frets into a surf stomp, and the band is off into their tight version of Epistrophy, a devious mix of western swing, honkytonk and the Ventures. Neer is amped up with plenty of reverb and just a tad of natural distortion for extra bite. By contrast, he plays Bemsha Swing through a watery chorus effect against the low-key pulse of bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Diego Voglino as pianist Matt King stays in the background.

The rest of the album is a mix of iconic material and deeper cuts. In deference to the composer’s purist taste, King’s piano keeps things purposeful and bluesy, with the occasional hint of New Orleans. Neer’s take of Round Midnight echoes the Hawaiian sounds he played for so long, first with the Haoles and then the Moonlighters. In its own twisted way, this simmering quasi-bolero is closer to the spirit of the original than most straight-up jazz versions. It’s easy to imagine Beninghove’s Hangmen doing something as noir as this with it.

Likewise, In Walked Bud gets reinvented with all sorts of slinky bossa nova tinges, Tom Beckham’s echoey, bluesy vibraphone over lingering organ. If Neer’s version is historically accurate, Bud Powell wasn’t just crazy – this cat was scary!

Bye-Ya has more of a western swing feel, partially due to Neer’s droll, warpy tones. I Mean You positions Neer as bad cop against purist, good cop King. Putting organ on Off Minor was a genius move – what a creepy song! Voglino’s surf drums provide an almost gleeful contrast. In the same vein, the band does Ugly Beauty as a waltzing, noir organ theme, Neer’s menacing solo echoing Charlie Rouse’s sax on the original before veering back toward Bill Monroe territory.

It’s amazing how good a country ballad Ask Me Now makes; same deal with how well Blue Monk translates to proto-honkytonk. Straight No Chaser is so distinctive that there’s not a lot that can be done with it other than playing it pretty much as written, and the band keep their cards pretty close to the vest. But their starlit waltz version of Reflections is anything but trad: it’s sort of their Theme From a Summer Place. It’s awfully early in the year, and much as it might be cheating to pick a cover album, this is the frontrunner for best release of 2017 so far.

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.