New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

Rapturous Nightscapes From an Invisible Orchestra by Pamelia Stickney

Pamelia Stickney is arguably the world’s foremost theremin player. By any standard, she’s done more than anyone else alive to take the original electronic instrument to new places. While most musicians use the early Soviet-era contraption for horror-movie shivers or comedic whistles, Stickney plays melodies on it. At various points in her career, those have ranged from desolate deep-space tableaux to earthy symphonic extravaganzas. At her tantalizingly short set this past weekend at Barbes, she led her ironically titled Transcendental Dissonance Quartet through a similar, stylistically vast expanse of styles, from film noir themes to lowdown latin soul to elegant chamber jazz improvisation.

Stickney plays theremin as if she’s playing a magical, invisible, somewhat cranky bass. Standing perfectly still, her right hand controlling the volume, she bends her left hand at the elbow, expanding her fingers outward to hit the notes. She saves the instrument’s signature, quavery, creaky-door effects for when she really needs to make a point. This time, she opened with a low bass synth sound that George Clinton would undoubtedly love to have in his arsensal.

Meanwhile, Stuart Popejoy – playing piano instead of his usual bass here – delivered tersely incisive, moody variations on a stark, Lynchian theme while Danny Tunick’s vibraphone sprinkled stardust throughout the tableau, violinist Sarah Bernstein completing the picture with airy washes and spare, plaintive  countermelodies. They would stick with this eerie, surreal thousand-layer cake of textures throughout their roughly fifty minutes onstage while Stickney channeled the sound of massed voices, a cello (which she also plays, among many other instruments), and various kinds of brass. Her m.o. is simple: a theremin takes up a lot less space when you’re on tour.

Midway through the set, she moved to the piano for a slowly unfolding, hushed duet with Bernstein, who finallly got the chance to move through the magical microtones that have become her stock in trade over the last few years. Then the whoe group reconfigured for a final nightscape.

Stickney is back in New York this September, where she’s doing a week at the Stone with a series of ensembles. In the meantime, she’s back on her home turf in Vienna this week, with gigs on May 24 at the Ruprechtskirche at Ruprechtspl. 1 – where she’s playing cello alongside the carnivalesque Hans Tschiritsch & NoMaden – and then on May 25 with her Scrambolage trio with pianist Monika Lang and cellist Melissa Coleman at Roter Salon, Wipplingerstr. 2 at 8 PM; cover is 15€/10€ stud.  And for New Yorkers, Bernstein is playing the album release show for her most lyrically-driven album yet this May 30 at 9ish at Wonders of Nature.

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Squeegee Men and Twin Peaks Themes in Long Island City Tonight

There’s a great twinbill tonight, April 30 starting at 9 at Long Island City Bar. A fantastic band who call themselves Fuck You Tammy play Twin Peaks themes and music from David Lynch movies starting at around 9. Then at 10 the Squeegee Men play their twisted, reverb-laced original surf rock and cowpunk songs.

The Squeegee Men have an ep, Coney Island Shark Bite, up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The title track is a real blast, a serpentine instrumental that shifts from snappy, bass-driven dark garage rock to a sunnier, jazz-tinged, beachy theme and then back, guitar overdriven into the red.

After a careening, jangly take of My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It – as in “My bucket’s got a hole in it, I can’t buy no beer” – the band launch into Slow Burn and its swaying Wooden Indian Burial Ground-like contrasts between icepick leads and fuzztone menace. The album winds up with White Freightliner, a shout-out to diesel big rigs that brings to mind 80s cowpunk bands like the Raunch Hands.

A word about the band name for millennials – back in the 90s, homeless guys armed with squeegees and water buckets would stake out busy New York intersections, and the exits from the Holland and Battery tunnels, hoping to extort a few bucks from sympathetic motorists. The bridge-and-tunnel crowd hated this, and mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani exploited the situation for all the racist mileage he could get out of it in his successful 1993 campaign.

Back to the music – Fuck You Tammy put on a hell of a show here back in February, a less jam-oriented approach than guitarist Tom Csatari has taken with Lynch themes. With guitar, keys, rhythm section behind her, their dynamic frontwoman belted and purred her way through vocal numbers including a hazy, aptly nocturnal take of Julee Cruise’s Falling and The Nightingale.They stalked their way through The Bookhouse Boys, then did a restrained version of the sultry, vamping Audrey’s Theme as well as a more expansive, psychedelic take of the iconic Twin Peaks title theme. It makes sense that they might be even tighter, with possibly more material, this time out.

A Wryly Trippy, Picturesque New Album and an Owl Release Show by Curtis Hasselbring

Curtis Hasselbring has been a mainstay at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene since the late 80s. Best known as a trombonist and composer of cinematic themes with a sardonic sense of humor, he’s also a very distinctive guitarist and keyboardist. His new solo album, Curha II is streaming at his music page. It’s a lot more techy than his usual work, and probably the most psychedelic thing he’s ever done. Here, he plays all the instruments. He’s playing the album release show on April 20 at 9:30 PM at the Owl, leading a very cool quintet with Alec Spiegelman and Peter Hess on bass clarinets, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and John Bollinger on drums.

The album opens on a slashing note with Scissors, a gamelanesque, pointillistic stroll through a Javanese funhouse mirror. Then Hasselbring completely flips the script with Egon, a woozy, blippy synth-and-drum-machine acid jazz number.

A squirrelly new wave-influenced shuffle, Respect the Pedestrian comes across as an early 80s video game theme as XTC might have done it – with a not-so-subtle message for an era in New York where a driver can blast through an intersection, take out a couple of toddlers, and get away with it.

Mystery Guest mashes up Eno-esque rainy-day ambience and a warpy trip-hop groove. The Beatles catch up with Gary Numan in the catchy Sir Fish; then Hasselbring goes further into psych-folk mode with ’68, its wah-wah guitars and catchy acoustic garage riffage.

Party Platter People is prime Hasselbring: a staggered motorik drive, cascading Tangerine Dream synths against King Crimson guitar flares…and dreamy Hawaiian swing when you least expect it. The dubby Fish Coda is sort of King Tubby meets sleng teng uptown. The album ends with the stomping Ana-lo, which sounds like a Joy Division instrumental b-side. There’s also the surreal trombone-and-electronics shuffle Alpaca Lunch and Madgit, an interminable, robotic techno parody – maybe. Tune in, turn on, bug out. 

Edgy, Danceable B3 Grooves From the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Seattle band the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio are akin to Booker T & the MG’s with more of a guitar-oriented, often darkly cinematic focus. These irrepressible, constantly touring groovemeisters are bringing their party to the big room at the Rockwood this April 18 at 10:30 PM; cover is $15.

Their latest album Close But No Cigar – streaming at Spotify – bubbles and simmers with influences from a half-century of soul, funk and groove: these three guys live for throwing riffs back and forth, whether original ones, or hooks from obscure 1960s singles. The record opens with the title track, a catchy strut that’s like a mashup of the Meters and early James Brown, the bandleader’s subtly tremoloing organ contrasting with guitarist Jimmy James’  sharp funk lines over drummer David McGraw’s edgy snare hits and snowstorm cymbals. James’ wry, warpy, tone-bending guitar solo midway through is irresistibly fun.

Little Booker T is a self-effacing title for a slow but purposefully swaying soul groove driven by snarling guitar that shifts between distorted, staccato rhythm and big expansive chords, in contrast to Lamarr’s suammery fills and pulses. Ain’t It Funky Now is truth in advertising, a vintage JB’s-style slink. As with a lot these tracks, the organ and guitar switch up roles, between melody and rhythm, a trick most B3 bands use too infrequently. James indulges in some twangy blues over Lamarr’s leadfoot stomp midway through.

James vamps on an edgy 70s soul-jazz riff and variations in Close But No Cigar. Memphis – a Lamarr tune, not a cover – is another vampy number, Lamarr and James casually trading licks, with a couple of bluesy organ solos punctuating the interplay. Al Greenery – these guys are good with titles – is closer to the gritty noir cinematics of the City Champs than Rev. Green, bristling with wide-angle minor-key guitar over Lamarr’s slithery lines. Likewise, James’ serpentine, sparkly Marv Tarplin-ish lines propel Can I Change My Mind.

The no-nonsense strut Between the Mayo and the Mustard falls somewhere between Jimmy Smith, Booker T and the Meters, with a big powerful chorus packed with tense echo phrases – you can almost hear the horns. Raymond Brings the Greens bursts and pulses with oldschool soul-funk flavor; it’s the album’s funniest track. The trio wind it up with their only cover, a slow, simmering, heavily camouflaged take of the Burt Bacharach classic Walk On By

Oh yeah – you can dance to all this.

Single of the Day 4/9/18

The snarling psychedelic guitar solo that kicks off Les Sympathics de Porto Novo’s  A Min We Vo Nou We (via Soundcloud) offers more than just a smoky hint that it’s going to be proto stoner metal.

Nope.

Instead, it warps into absolutely feral pre-Fela Afrobeat. That the band managed to make it under brutally repressive conditions in Benin in the early 70s is even more impressive. When the organ kicks in, there’s no way you’re clicking through to anything else. It’ll be on the forthcoming African Scream Contest 2 compilation this June.

Eerily Glimmering, Cinematic Nightscapes From Suss

Cinematic instrumental quintet Suss are the missing link between Brian Eno and Ennio Morricone – or the Lost Patrol without the drums. Which makes sense, considering that guitarist/bandleader Pat Irwin got his start with enigmatically loping and prowling 80s instrumentalists the Raybeats, but since then has made a mark in film music – when not playing in one version or another of the B-52’s, that is. The new group’s debut album, aptly titled Ghost Box is streaming at Bandcamp.

Never mind the album – if there’s any act out there that really makes their song titles come alive, it’s these guys. The band – which also comprises guitarist Bob Holmes, pedal steel player Jonathan Gregg, keyboardist Gary Lieb, and William Garrett – are  playing the release show tomorrow, Feb 4 at 8 PM for free at the Secret Theatre, 4402 23rd St. in Long Island City. Since the 7 train isn’t running, take the E or G to Court Square; the cozy black-box space is about three  blocks away.

The opening track, Wichita begins with a lingering big-sky riff answered by a wash of steel, then the echoes begin to gently swoosh and clang through the mix. Almost imperceptibly, wisps and flickers of steel and guitar begin wafting over the loop. It’s hypnotic to the extreme.

Opening with and then shadowed by a haze of feedback, Late Night Call is a slow, nostalgic conversation between guitar and steel, Likewise, Big Sky alternates between oscillating, slightly distorted washes, blippy electric piano fragments and sparse Old West riffs.

Twangy Lynchian guitar chords intersperse within a distantly menacing Angelo Badalamemti-style vamp in Rain. The band pick up the pace, at least to the extent that they ever do, with Laredo, putting reverbtoned 80s electric piano out front of the shifting clouds of guitar and spare spaghetti western licks.

Oscillating loops, disembodied dialogue, jagged clangs. resonant tremolo phrases and finally some gently acerbic, bluesy resonator guitar blend over a muted beat in Gunfighter. The album closes with a starrier, livelier, more expansive reprise of the opening theme. Drift off to your own private Twin Peaks Lodge with this.

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.

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.