New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: instrumental music

Vivid String-and-Piano Tableaux From Drum and Lace

Drum and Lace a.k.a. film composer Sofia Hultquist’s tantalizingly short album Semi Songs – streaming at her music page– comprises a quartet of bracingly tuneful, often hypnotically circling instrumentals for violin, two cellos and piano. You could call it minimalism, or new classical music: however you categorize it, this brief, verdant release leaves you wanting more.

The album begins and ends with a diptych, Outsider Complex. The first part opens with a burst of strings followed by some furious, machete-chop sixteenth notes. The piano joins the frenzy, then recedes with a brooding elegance; the strings follow as the song calms before a final volley. As terse and minimalistic as this is at heart, it takes serious chops to play. To wind it up, the piano rises to a loopy insistence, strings leading to a moody lull and tantalizing hints of what will eventually be a deliciously ominous return to tightly orchestrated savagery.

There are two other tracks. The swaying, summery Parhelion begins with a loopy contrast between stark, insistent cello and hazy violin; then the two switch roles as the harmonic web grows more complex, a rondo of sorts. Coyly bouncy piano suddenly leaps in; it ends brightly.

The epic, fourteen-minute Gardenia has a slower, more pensive sway, spacious piano chords and a steady, lullaby-like melody that begins to sound completely improvised. A light, echoey electronic drone moves toward the forefront as the strings echo each other; the piano kicks off the first of several successive rounds of circular riffs. Composer Matt McBane’s ensemble Build comes to mind, although Drum and Lace’s music is more springlike, closer in spirit if not in sound to Vivaldi than, say, Bach.

Saluting a Century of the Wacky, Versatile First Electronic Instrument

Now that live music – and movies, and sports, and museums, and galleries – in New York have been shut down by the coronavirus scare, what can a person do for entertainment? Spring is here: you could go for a good, long run…or listen to a creepy fifty-one track album of theremin music. Or do both at once – it’s on Bandcamp.

To be fair, the NY Theremin Society’s compilation album Theremin 100 isn’t always creepy. While Russian scientist Leon Theremin’s 1920 invention may be most readily recognized for its uncanny evocations of creaky doors in a million horror movies, there are thousands of artists from around the world who have mastered the granddaddy of all sci-fi instruments’ magical force field for both good and evil. A lot of them are on this record. And one of the best, Pamelia Stickney – who’s surprisingly not on it – had a scheduled gig on March 20 at the Owl, but like pretty much everything going on around town, it’s been cancelled.

The album’s first track, Christopher Payne’s Somnambulist is a loopy, swoopy, chromatic nocturne that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie: are those strings and bass real, or an expert theremin imitation? Other tracks in the same vein include Herb Deutsch’s Longing – one of many with just theremin and darkly neoromantic piano, and Ei and Kuli Schreiber’s surreal tunnel narrative Train Jumper, at the top of a substantial list.

Often the theremin will evoke a violin, as in Peg Ming’s Therexotica, a gentle, brisk bolero with retro 50s twinkle; About Aphrodite’s lustrous Membran Music; or where Gregoire Blanc adds just a hint of shudder over eerily glimmering piano in Waves – with a bridge that’s too gleefully grisly to give away.

Therminal C’s Sputnik Crash powerfully demonstrates the instrument’s vast range and little-used percussive potential, as does Thorwald Jorgenson’s epic seaside tableau Distant Shores. The theremin gets backward masked in Hekla’s Twin Peaks pop tune Indenderro, used for squiggles and ominous banks of sound in Aetherghul’s Fire in the Sky, and an imploring vocal analogue in Jeff Pagano’s The Ancient Sea.

Some of the acts here employ a theremin for laughs. The Radio Science Orchestra contribute Atom Age Girl, a wry space-surf theme; Everling throws in his droll, bloopy Playing Theremin Is My Madness. The joke is simpler yet subtler in Hyperbubble’s I’m Your Satellite, while Robert Meyer’s deadpan teutonic boudoir groove Taxi is pretty ridiculous. Matt Dallow’s circus rock theme Tailor Made Destination isn’t far behind.

A handful of these pieces are massively orchestrated, like the Nightterrors’ macabre, Alan Parsons Project-ish Megafauna. Others, including Dorit Chrysler’s atmospherically circling Murderballad and Elizabeth Brown’s desolate March 21, are more spare. Twenty-nine tracks in, an electric guitar finally appears in Veronik’s Anomala, which is sort of House of the Rising Sun with a theremin. Song number 38, by the Keystone, is a strangely drifting duet for lapsteel and theremin. The most atmospheric track here, Gabriel and Rachel Guma’s Balloons Tied Up in the Sky, evokes whalesong. The weirdest one, Aileen Adler’s Piezoelectric Dreaming, is a mashup of Balkan reggae and spaghetti western themes.

Much of the rest of this material is classically-tinged: Japan Theremin Oldschool’s take of Ave Maria; Tears of Sirens’ Under the Milky Way (an original, not the Church classic), and Lydia Kavina’s In Green, a pretty piano-and-theremin ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in the ELO catalog if that band had a theremin. Maurizio Mansueti does a great job getting his contraption to emulate bel canto singing in the moody Blindfolded, while there’s a real aria in Robert Schillinger’s Bury Me, Bury Me Wind. The compilers who put this thing together deserve enormous credit for the consistently high quality, vast scope and imagination of most everything here.

Deliciously Shadowy Surf Tunes From the Pi Power Trio

The Pi Power Trio first took shape in the backyard at Long Island City Bar, where they entertained summertime crowds with a psychedelically drifting, rather darkly enveloping sound informed by guitarist Pat Irwin’s years of film work. They’re as close to a supergroup as exists in New York: bassist Daria Grace has been a prime mover in the city’s oldtimey scene since the late 90s, and drummer Sasha Dobson plays in another “power trio,” country soul band Puss N Boots with Norah Jones. This particular trio have a delightful, allusively dark surf rock album, The Walk, out recently and streaming at Bandcamp.

The title track, which opens the record, is not the woozy bass synth-driven new wave hit by the Cure but a distantly Lynchian, surfy reverb guitar-fueled go-go groove with cheery vocalese from the women in the band. The Dreamy Vocal (that’s the name of the tune) is a growling all-terrain-vehicle theme that harks back to Irwin’s days fronting 80s cult favorite instrumental band the Raybeats.

Grace hits a catchy surf riff right from the start of pH Factor, which comes across as vintage Ventures doing their cinematic thing, with plenty of Memphis in Irwin’s simmering guitar lines. The three close with a pummeling, somewhat haphazard, punky cover of the B-52s classic 52 Girls. The trio don’t have any gigs on the slate at the moment, but Grace is leading her luxuriantly boisterous oldtime uke swing band the Pre-War Ponies at 8 PM on March 12 at Barbes.

A Picturesque, Symphonic Instrumental Suite From Marty Willson-Piper’s Atlantaeum Flood

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s preeminent twelve-string guitar player, and also as a witheringly brilliant songwriter. He’s also a composer. His latest album, One Day, credited to his Atlantaeum Flood project is streaming at Spotify. It’s his first all-instrumental suite, a day in the life of the planet from before sunrise to the wee hours of the next day. Willson-Piper’s bandmates here are Dare Mason and Steve Knott on guitars, Olivia Willson-Piper on violin and Lynne Knott on cello, rising together to an often titanic grandeur.

From a simple, fingerpicked four-chord acoustic guitar theme, Willson-Piper slowly builds a gentle predawn scenario into a blazing sunrise, adding layer after layer of guitar. It brings to mind a previous, epically brilliant Willson-Piper production, the lusciously jangly My Little Problem, from the 1994 Sometime Anywhere Album by his long-running, previous band the Church.

Mid-morning takes shape with another four-chord theme, ascending to an eagerly pulsing peak before the group bring it full circle, verdant and concise at the end. Then Willson-Piper completely flips the script with the pre-noon theme, his resonant David Gilmouresque electric leads and his wife’s airily soaring violin over an industrial percussion loop and an artfully rising and falling backdrop.

This particular afternoon is a simmering one, an elegant acoustic twelve-string theme anchoring rather wry backward masked and then wah-wah leads that finally give way to a lush violin break. The ensemble follow the fiery, flamenco-tinged sunset scenario with delicate dusk ambience balanced by spiky mandolin and horn-like electric guitar swells.

Before midnight is where Willson-Piper most closely evokes the Church’s densely echoey spacerock. This day doesn’t go out quietly til the very end, although the closing theme has a wistful, distantly elegaic quality,

Darkly Multistylistic, Cinematic Cello Themes and a West Village Show from Ian Maksin

Cellist Ian Maksin writes catchy, often gorgeously cinematic songs without words. His music is stylistically vast, drawing on sounds from the Balkans to the Middle East to Latin America. He’s more dynamic than you might expect from someone who plays a low-register instrument and is also a rare cello player who excels at blues. There’s still time to get an advance ticket to his show tomorrow night, Jan 5 at 7 PM at the Poisson Rouge: you can get in for $20.

His new album Sempre is streaming at Bandcamp. The title track is an elegant cello take on minor-key Russian barroom balladry, Maksin overdubbing his moody, resonant lines over a lithely plucked bassline. Similarly, the nostalgic waltz Blues au Jardin du Luxembourg has more of a balmy Black Sea summer afternoon undercurrent than any distinctive Parisian flavor.

Vancouver Rain comes across as a loopmusic piece, Maksin’s biting chromatics and blues bookending a break in the clouds signaled by percussionist Andrew Mitran. The brief, acerbically tiptoeing Summer Garden could be Django Reinhardt at his most classical and chromatic.

Maksin is a one-man low string section throughout the tensely spacious, achingly soaring Respiro. The album’s longest and most hypnotic song, Lacrimae Novae begins as a medieval responsory of sorts, then Maksin brings in layers of broodingly chromatic, baroque-tinged melody.

Per Me, Per Te has contrasting layers of cautiously dancing pizzicato against uneasy resonance, set to a familiar four-chord progression: it could be a theme for a real weeper of a movie. Sunset on the Cascade is a pensive Russian/Brazilian mashup with light, Indian-flavored percussion. Maksin winds up the record with the soaringly crescendoing Brand New Page, its acerbically off-kilter chords recalling the edgy new wave-era bedroom pop of Young Marble Giants. Fans of this era’s most accessible, incorrigible Romantics – Ludovico Einaudi, Yann Tiersen et al. – ought to get to know Maksin.

A Slyly Cinematic Instrumental Album and a Rockwood Residency From Henry Hey

Multi-instrumentalist Henry Hey may be best know these days for his David Bowie collaborations,  notably as musical director for the stage productions of Lazarus, but he somehow finds the time to lead his own band. The latest album, simply titled Four, by his Forq quartet with guitarist Chris McQueen, bassist Kevin Scott and drummer Jason Thomas is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s their most colorful and cinematic release yet. Hey has a weekly 9 PM Monday night residency this month, with special guests at each show, at the small room at the Rockwood, where he’ll be next on Nov 11 and you can expect to hear at least some of this live.

The album’s first track is Mr. Bort. a ridiculously woozy Bernie Worrell/P-Funk style strut employing a slew of cheesy late 70s/early 80s keyboard patches – it sounds like a parody. The second track, Grifter is an epic  – it shifts from a techy update on early 60s samba-surf, to slit-eyed Hollywood hills boudoir soul, Tredici Bacci retro Italian cinematics and finally a noir conversation between twelve-string guitar and synth.

M-Theory is sternly swooshy outer space drama in an early 80s ELO vein, followed by Duck People, a return to wry portamento stoner funk with a jovially machinegunning faux-harpsichord solo out. Lullabye, the album’s most expansive track, has loopy faux-soukous followed by Hey playing postbop synth over a long drum crescendo, then a startrooper theme and a bit of second-line New Orleans.

Likewise, Tiny Soul morphs into and out of hard funk from a chipper, Jim Duffy-style psychedelic pop stroll. The band go back to brightly circling, buoyantly orchestrated Afro-pop with Rally, then bring back the wah funk with EAV.

After a brief, warpy reprise from Lullabye, the band channel Rick James with the catchy Times Like These. The last track is Whelmed, a funny riff-rock spoof: imagine what Avi Fox-Rosen would have done with it if he was a weedhead. Somewhere there is a hip-hop group, a video game franchise, an action flick or stoner buddy comedy that could use pretty much everything on this record.

Fun (or not so fun) fact: Hey takes the B.B. King memorial ironman award here for most macho performance while injured. Two sets of jazz at the piano with a broken thumb, lots of solos and not a single grimace. Can’t tell you where or with who because the injury could have been costlhy if anybody had known at the time.

A Rare Live Show by Composer Christopher Marti’s Intense, Cinematic Postrock Project

Guitarist Christopher Marti is best known for his film scores. But he also has a pummeling, epically vast postrock instrumental project, Cosmic Monster. He’s released several albums under that group name over the years, and he’s bringing that project to do an improvisational show tonight, Sept 5 at 6 PM at Holo in Ridgewood. What’s more, the show is free, and since it’s so early, you still have time to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

To get a sense of what Marti does with Cosmic Monster, give a listen to their eponymous 2014 six-track ep up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The ominously titled first track, Strontium 90 – inspired by the Fukushima disaster three years previously, maybe? – has a pounding attack and multitracked guitars that strongly evoke Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, coalescing out of enigmatic close harmonies to a straightforward, anthemic chorus and then retreating.

Electric Battle Masterpiece has a watery 80s dreampop vibe – it could be Sleepmakeswaves covering a track from the Church’s Seance album. Marti brings back the vintage SY feel for Monster/Monster, awash in vigorously slamming tremolo-picked chords and big bass/drums crescendos, then returns to punchy Aussie-style spacerock with Answers From Space.

Ten Thousand Pink Satellites is both the densest and most concise track here, a spacier take on My Bloody Valentine. Marti winds up the album with the evilly majestic The Deep Blue Sleep, part Big Lazy noir surf, part coldly drifting deep-space tableau, part crawling Mogwai menace. It’s anybody’s guess what Marti might do in Queens, flying without a net, but it’s a good bet it might sound like all of the above.

Catchy, Anthemic, Innovative Newgrass Instrumentals and a Lower East Side Show from Fiddler Sumaia Jackson

Fiddler Sumaia Jackson writes catchy, soaring, individualistic instrumentals that draw equally on Americana as well as British folk traditions, along with a little jazz and hints of indie rock in places. Her debut album Mobius Trip is streaming at youtube. Jackson likes catchy riffs that circle round and round – get it? It’s fresh and invigorating and full of inspired, purposeful playing: if Chris Thile would for once give some thought to the melodies he used to play back when he was winning all those bluegrass awards, before he got all indie and boring, he might sound like this. Jackson and her band are at the basement-level room at the Rockwood on May 15 at 8:30 PM; cover is $15.

The first song is the title track, artfully shifting from a weird indie-chamber-newgrass mashup to a lilting, catchy waltz with an elegantly spiky duet between guitarist Colin Cotter and banjo player Jayme Stone. With its syncopation and allusive Celtic melody, Truth or Consequences is even catchier, Simon Chrisman’s hammered dulcimer solo bristling midway through.

Halifax has a rustic, enigmatically atmospheric opening, then Jackson and the banjo build a dizzyingly rhythmic circle dance. True to its title, Roundabout is sprightly clog dance – and is that a gong making those big big whooooooshes as the track gets going?

Smoke Jumpers is a big, crescendoing newgrass anthem – in 11/8 time. A pair of jigs – The Fog Rolls in, and Hi Karl Bye Karl – are next. Again, the band take their time, gently edging their way into the melody before the rhythm kicks in. Peanut, which is a lot closer to a traditional Irish reel, makes a good segue, as does There and Back, which has more distinctive vintage Appalachian flavor.

The band romp through a couple of reels, Buttonwillow and Gloucester Nightdriver, the dulcimer again adding incisive contrast with Jackson’s sailing lead lines before an unexpectedly murky jam in between. Old Granny Blair has some neat shifts between contrasting themes, then the band pick up the pace with the spirited, oldtimey Knoxville. The album closes with Paper Towns, a spare tableau that contemplates wide expanses, something that bands on the road know a little bit about. It’s inspiring to see how Jackson and her crew take a legacy style like bluegrass and make something completely new and exciting out of it.

The Budos Band Bring Their Darkest, Trippiest Album Yet to a Couple of Hometown Gigs

The Budos Band are one of those rare acts with an immense fan base across every divide imaginable. Which makes sense in a lot of ways: their trippy, hypnotic quasi-Ethiopiques instrumentals work equally well as dance music, party music and down-the-rabbit-hole headphone listening. If you’re a fan of the band and you want to see them in Manhattan this month, hopefully you have your advance tickets for tonight’s Bowery Ballroom show because the price has gone up up five bucks to $25 at the door. You can also see them tomorrow night, April 6 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg for the same deal. Brooding instrumentalists the Menahan Street Band open both shows at 9 PM

The Budos Band’s fifth and latest album, simply titled V, is streaming at Bandcamp. The gothic album art alludes to the band taking a heavier, darker direction, which is somewhat true: much of the new record compares to Grupo Fantasma’s Texas heavy stoner funk spinoff, Brownout. The first track, Old Engine Oil has guitarist Thomas Brenneck churning out sunbaked bluesmetal and wah-wah flares over a loopy riff straight out of the Syd Barrett playbook as the horns – Jared Tankel on baritone sax and Andrew Greene on trumpet – blaze in call-and-response overhead.

Mike Deller’s smoky organ kicks off The Enchanter, bassist Daniel Foder doubling Brenneck’s slashing Ethiopiques hook as the horns team up for eerie modalities, up to a twisted pseudo-dub interlude. Who knew how well Ethiopian music works as heavy psychedelic rock?

Spider Web only has a Part 1 on this album, built around a catchy hook straight out of psychedelic London, 1966, benefiting from a horn chart that smolders and then bursts into flame It’s anybody’s guess what the second part sounds like. The band’s percussion section – Brian Profilio on drums, John Carbonella Jr. on congas, Rob Lombardo on bongos and Dame Rodriguez on various implements – team up to anchor Peak of Eternal Night, a deliciously doomy theme whose Ethiopian roots come into bracing focus in the dub interlude midway through.

Ghost Talk is a clenched-teeth, uneasily crescendoing mashup of gritty early 70s riff-rock, Afrobeat and Ethiopiques, Deller’s fluttery organ adding extra menace. Arcane Rambler is much the same, but with a more aggressive sway. Maelstrom is an especially neat example of how well broodingly latin-tinged guitar psychedelia and Ethiopian anthems intersect. 

The band finally switch up the rhythm to cantering triplets in Veil of Shadows: imagine Link Wray jamming with Mulatu Astatke’s 1960s band, with a flamenco trumpet solo midway through. Bass riffs propel the brief Rumble from the Void and then kick off with a fuzzy menace in the slowly swaying Valley of the Damned: imagine a more atmospheric Black Sabbath meeting Sun Ra around 1972. 

It’s a good bet the band will jam the hell out of these tunes live: count this among the half-dozen or so best and most thoroughly consistent albums of 2019 so far.

Two Sides of Evocative, Brilliant Violist and Composer Ljova

Ljova, a.k.a. Lev Zhurbin is one of the world’s most dynamic, versatile violists. As you would expect from someone who’s as busy as a bandleader as he is a sideman, he wears many, many hats: film composer, lead player in a Russian Romany party band, arranger to the stars of indie classical and the Middle East…and loopmusic artist. Ljova’s next New York show is a great chance to see him at full power with Romashka, the wild Romany-flavored band who are playing a killer twinbill with western swing stars Brain Cloud at 8 PM on March 23 at Flushing Town Hall. Cover is $16, $10 for seniors, and kids 19 and under with school ID get in free.

Ljova’s latest album, Solo Opus, is a somewhat calmer but no less colorful one-man string orchestra ep, streaming at Bandcamp. The first three numbers feature Ljova overdubbing and looping his six-string fadolin; the finale is the only viola track here. The album open with The Comet, a broodingly gorgeous, hypnotically epic tone poem written in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. It’s his Metamorphosen: with its disquieting layers of echo effects, it brings to mind his work with iconic Iranian composer and kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor. As sirening phrases encroach on the center, could this be a commentary on the perils of a political echo chamber?

Does Say It build from “a gorgeously bittersweet, Gershwinesque four-chord riff to a soaring, bittersweet anthem,” as this blog described it in concert in December? Again, Kalhor’s work is a point of reference, as is the gloomiest side of Russian folk music, particularly when Ljova works the low strings for cello-like tonalities. But there are echoes that could be Gershwin-inspired as the aching melody moves up the scale to a big climatic waltz.

Lamento Larry is a moody interweave of simple, anthemic phrases, rising from a Bach-like interweave of lows to anxious, higher atmospherics, then an echoey blend of the two. Ljova closes the album with the wryly dancing, distantly bluegrass-tinged, pizzicato Lullaby for JS, complete with muffled conversation and tv noise in the background.