New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

A Surreal, Paradigm-Shifting Night of Music and Film at the Asia Society

On face value, the idea of mashing up Beijing opera with icily cinematic, Bob Belden-esque, post-Miles Davis tableaux might seem like a particularly farfetched exercise in hippie esoterica. But for guitarist and Chinese sanxian lute player Zhu Ma, the blues scale and the Asian pentatonic scale are peas in a pod, and he’s right. For that matter, most folk music traditions around the world have some connection to the blues, which shouldn’t be any surprise since the blues has its roots in Ethiopia, the birthplace of humanity itself. Last night at the Asia Society, the bandleader and his eight-piece ensemble brought those commonalities into sharp focus, throughout a set that began by making terse Western horizontal music out of ancient Chinese themes and ended with dissociative, distantly menacing, air-conditioned psychedelia. In between songs – and a slowly crescendoing, stormy live film soundtrack – the guitarist carefully and colorfully articulated his mission as both an advocate for the music of his home country and its infinite possibilities

The bandleader opened the performance on sanxian, joined by his band Pi-Huang Club – Jiang Kenan on bass, Liu Sheng on drums, Lu Jaiwei on pingtan lute and vocals, Yan Jonathan Boodhoo on percussion and gong, with Erik Deutch on keys, Nolan Tsang on trumpet and filmmaker David A. Harris on alto sax. Together they slowly worked their way up from wispy minimalism to a cumulo-nimbus peak as ornately costumed chanteuse Dong Xueping and singer Lu Su delivered stately, often otherworldly versions of the Beijing opera pieces featured in Harris’ new film, Sever, which was projected behind them. The movie, part slapstick and part surrealist Lynchian noir, is a hoot. The storyline follows a famous Chinese folk narrative, in which the rather buffoonish Guan Yu is betrayed by and eventually gets even with vixen Diao Chan by cutting off her head. The two singers play those respective roles in the film, the female lead a more allusive presence in contrast to Lu Su’s tragicomic, befuddledly Falstaffian persona, wandering a modern Beijing and slowly losing bits and pieces of his elaborate opera costume to thieves and misadventures. Anyone looking for the root source of a lot of David Lynch’s ideas ought to see this: it’s coming from a lot of the same places.

The rest of the concert brought to mind artists as diverse as Ennio Morricone and Pink Floyd. Playing a vintage hollowbody Gibson, Zhu Ma’s style often echoed his training in traditional Chinese music. with stately, steadily rhythmic passages that would go on for bars at a time. But he also brought to mind David Gilmour as he added savage curlicues and achingly angst-infused tension, pulling away from the center, during the most bluesy interludes. The highlight of the set was a nebulous boudoir noir soundsscape that could have been Morricone, or maybe even a Roy Ayers b-movie theme from the 70s, infused with stark Chinese motives.

The Asia Society’s impresario, Rachel Cooper, enthused about Zhu Ma being an old soul, and that’s true, but he’s also a perennially young, adventurous one. This concert was staged jointly by PS122 and the R.A.W. (Rising Artists’ Works) project of the Shanghai International Arts Festival. While one might expect stodgy and doctrinaire from such a program, if this was any indication, audiences there are in for an edgy time.

A Second Sick, Reverb-Drenched Disc of Holiday Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Super Hi-Fi play live dub reggae. Their signature sound blends the twin-trombone frontline of Rick Parker and Curtis Fowlkes (of Lounge Lizards/Jazz Passengers fame) into a moodier, sometimes noir-tinged take on vintage Lee Scratch Perry or what the Skatalites were doing in their quieter moments during the golden age of Jamaican ska. When the band started, they had more of an Afrobeat feel, no surprise since bassist/bandleader Ezra Gale led first-rate, second-wave Bay Area Afrobeat band Aphrodesia. These days, they’re a lot slinkier and more low key. From their doomy and seriously excellent debut album, Dub to the Bone, you’d have no idea just how funny this band can be…unless you also know the follow-up to that, Yule Analog Vol. 1, a snarky collection of dub versions of Christmas carols. Sure enough, when the band went into the studio, they did enough of those to fill not one but two cds  – four album sides, considering that the band is known for their vinyl releases – of this shit. And they’re back, with Yule Analog, Vol. 2 – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show in the front window at the intimate, laid-back Bar Chord in Ditmas Park on December 19 at 9.

The previous collection opened with a theme that Jethro Tull was known for pilfering – are you laughing yet? This time it’s Simon & Garfunkel. OK, not a Simon & Garfunkel original, and not with the samples or the antiwar message. What it does have is tons of reverb on the guitar, gently oscillating organ, a rhythm section that sways rather than skanks along and meanderingly goodnatured ska-jazz trombone solos. It sets the stage: the most recurring joke here is the cat-and-mouse game about what song they’re playing and how far they go with it.

O Come All Ye Faithfull (with the double L in “faithfull” – oldschool 90s stoner humor?) doesn’t do that as much, and after awhile the carol has you reaching for the fast-forward. The Christmas Song takes a very, very, very familiar Irving Berlin theme toward swing, with a wry Mitch Marcus tenor sax solo that fades just when it seems like there’s a serious punchline on deck. But the Tschaikovsky theme is killer: who else would have thought to wring Jamdown noir and ambient noise from the Nutcracker?

Gale and drummer Madhu Siddappa keep What Child Is This very close to the ground for a bit until the screams from Jon Lipscomb’s guitar signal another chorus: it’s not hard to imagine this epically delicious plate emanating from the Black Ark in a cloud of ganja smoke circa 1976. They follow that with a funny ska song, Please Santa Bring Me an Echoplex, the album’s only vocal number.

The rest of the tracks are versions of the early songs, and each is an improvement. O Come All Ye etc. gets a black-hole spin through the Echoplex. The Tschaikovsky grows into a mind-altering blend of the baroque, King Tubby and postbop jazz. There’s also the noisy What Version Is This?  [memo to self – isn’t there a carol called It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear?] and a brief Echoplex Reprise. The joke works better before or after December: as heavy disguises as these songs wear, it’s hard to avoid reaching holiday smarm saturation point this time of year. Unless you do your grocery shopping and other retail stuff where this blog travels – in that case, that means salsa, bachata, reggaeton and Polish hip-hop. All of which have never sounded better than they have this month.

Distinctive Postrock Instrumentalists Tigue Return Home with a Greenpont Show

Tigue – percussionists Matt Evans, Amy Garapic and Carson Moody – play an imaginative, distinctive, hypnotic yet kinetic blend of indie classical, minimalism, postrock and drone music. On their latest album, Peaks – a suite, streaming at Bandcamp – each play various drums and other bangable/rattlable objects, along with a kitchen sink’s worth of other instruments. For example, Evans also serves as the group’s main keyboardist, but also plays shruti box and melodica, as his bandmates also do. Garapic also adds vibraphone throughout the album’s most tuneful moments. They’re just back from a midwest tour, with a homecoming show at 11 PM on December 3 at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint.

The best way to experience the album is when you’re not multitasking. Otherwise, the subtly shifting, cantering rhythms of Cranes won’t catch your attention. From there, they segue with a crash into Sitting, slowly adding bagpipe-like, droning synth chords as the sonic picture slowly brightens and the swaying beat recedes back into the mix, then rises and falls with a propeller-like insistence. Mouth is where the pace picks up even faster and the tempo gets tricky as a catchy, vamping tune slowly develops.

Then there’s a brief, static, ambient interlude followed by the pretty self-explanatory Drips. Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and James McNew add guitar and bass, respectively on Dress Well as its circles expand outward from neo Steve Reich to echoey, lingering yet propulsive psychedelia. From there they follow a methodical downward tangent into Cerulean, with its trippy sheets of white noise shifting through the sonic frame. The final cut, Ripped, brings the suite full circle, sometimes primal, sometimes icily elegant. Fans of similarly pulsing, hypnotic instrumental groups like Dawn of Midi should check them out.

Darkly Cinematic Pianist Romain Collin’s New Album Transcends Category

Pianist Romain Collin is one of those rare artists who can’t be pigeonholed. His music defies description. Much of it has the epic sweep and picturesque quality of film music, although his noir-tinged new album, Press Enter is not connected, at least at the moment, to any visual component other than your imagination. Some of it you could call indie classical, since there are echoes of contemporary composers throughout all but one of its ten tracks. And while it’s not jazz per se, it ends with a muted, wee hours solo piano street scene take of Thelonious Monk’s Round About Midnight. For those of you who might be in town over the Thanksgiving holiday, Collin and his long-running trio, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Kendrick Scott are playing a three-night stand, November 27-29 at Iridium at 8:30 PM.Cover is $27.50.

The opening track, 99 (alternate title, at least from the mp3s this blog received: Bales of Pot). Is it a reggae number? Nope. It’s a brief series of variations on a tersely circling, Philip Glass-inspired theme. If Rick Wakeman could have figured out how to stay within himself after, say, 1973, he might have sounded something like this. Like Clockwork, true to its title, takes that motorik riff and then expands on it, with echoes of both Glass and Keith Jarrett, slowing it down for more of an anthemic sweep. It sets the stage for how Collin will use his trademark textures – acoustic piano echoed by very subtle electroacoustic textures, from simple reverb, to doubletracking on electric keys, to light ambient touches.

Raw, Scorched & Untethered actually comes across as anything but those things: it’s a stately, brooding quasi horror film theme that picks up with a jackhammer insistence, in the same vein as Clint Mansell might do. Cellist Laura Metcalf adds elegantly austere textures as she does in places here. Holocene hints that it’s going to simply follow a rather effete series of indie rock changes but then edges toward pensive pastoral jazz before rising with a catchy main-title gravitas and then moving lower into the reflecting pool again. The Kids circles back toward the opening track, but with a wry, Monkish sensibility (although that whistling is awful and really disrupts the kind of subtly amusing narrative Collin could build here without it).

The darkest, creepiest and most epic track is Webs, alternating between stormy menace and more morose foreshadowing over stygian, bell-like low lefthand accents. Another menacing knockout is Event Horizon, which eerily commenorates the eventual exoneration – courtesy of the Innocence Project – of seven wrongfully convicted men. Separating them, San Luis Obispo is an unexpected and pretty straight-up take of the old Scottish folk song Black Is the Color. Collin then reverts to no-nonsense macabre staccato sonics with The Line (Dividing Good and Evil). The album isn’t up at the usual places on the web, although there are three tracks streaming at ACT Records’ site, and Collin has an immense amount of eclectic material up at his Soundcloud page.

Psycho Mambos with Gato Loco Saturday Night at BAM Cafe

Gato Loco got their start putting a punk-jazz spin on classic old Cuban son and mambo styles, with low-register instruments: baritone and bass sax, tuba, bass and baritone guitar, among others. Snice then, they’ve expanded their sound with a rotating cast of characters: it wasn’t long before they’d added originals to their set. They had long-running residencies at the old Bowery Poetry Club and the late, lamented Zirzamin. Since then, gigs have been somewhat fewer and further between, especially since frontman/multi-saxophonist Stefan Zeniuk is so highly sought after as a sideman. It’s never exactly certain just what Gato Loco lineup is going to show up, but it’s a safe bet that their gig this Saturday night, November 21 at 10 PM at BAM Cafe will be a party.

Their most recent show at another frequent haunt, Barbes, was this past June, where they were joined by a hotshot Strat player along with Tim Vaugn on trombone, Tuba Joe, Ari F-C on bass and the brilliant Kevin Garcia (also of another similarly estimable noir band, Karla Rose & the Thorns) on drums. They opened with an agitatedly pulsing chase scene of sorts that rose to a wailing, enveloping forestorm as the rhythm went completely haywire along with the rest of the band, faded down into cinders and then sprang up again in a split second. Zeniuk’s ghostly bass sax mingled with lingering, reverbtoned Lynchian licks from the guitar as the slow, slinky second number got underway, then shifted shape into a warmly moonlit tableau before rising toward macabre Big Lazy territory. From there they segued into a dark clave groove, Vaugn punching holes in the sky, Garcia tumbling elegantly in the background as the horns joined forces, terse and somewhat grim as they went way down low. The careening, axe-murderer sprint to the finish line was one of the most exhilarating moments of any show anywhere this year – and probably one of the loudest ever at little Barbes.

From there the band went epic, making a slow, big-sky highway theme out of a wistful Gulf Coast folk-inspired tune, slowly elevating to a lively, scampering fanfare, then down again, Vaugn pulling the rest of the group along with a long, tightly unwinding staccato solo. The low instruments’ murky noir sonics contrasted with the guitarist’s spare, sunbaked blues  and Memphis soul lines as the next number got underway, Zeniuk finally signaling with a snort that it was time to build another funeral pyre on top of the serpentine groove. The best song of the night was a gloomy bolero, played in a dynamically shifting vein as Sergio Mendoza might have done it, featuring a muted trumpet solo, another pyrotechnically noisy interlude and an unexpected, clickety-clack dixieland outro. Name another band with as many flavors as these crazy cats.

Cult Favorite Italian Art-Rock Band Rises From the Grave

Today’s Halloween album is the video game kind. The original Goblin, one of Italy’s best-known art-rock bands from the 70s, are best remembered for their horror film soundtracks, most notably Dawn of the Dead. Goblin Rebirth pick up where that band left off, with a new album streaming at Bandcamp.

After a brief early-zeros reunion by the original band (whose lineup was always in a state of flux, more or less) Goblin Rebirth got their start playing rarer archival repertoire, and soon found themselves writing new material. Stormy clouds of synth! Soaring, snapping, trebly bass! Big, dramatic drums! Heavy, lingering, one-foot-up-on-the-monitor guitar chords! If anything, the new songs – all of them instrumentals, essentialy – are even more epic and propulsive then the group’s famous 70s and 80s output, maybe since the lone original members are bassist Fabio Pignatelli and drummer Agostino Marangolo. The new group also includes dual keyboardists Aidan Zammit and Danilo Cherni along with guitarist Giacomo Anselmi, who also plays bouzouki. If you like your soundtracks packed with nonstop action, put in your earbuds and crank this puppy up: it’s the audio equivalent of a double espresso.

The opening track is Requiem For X – it doesn’t take long before its wistful whistling gives way to a couple of King Kong drumbeats, Dracula’s castle piano rivulets, a a churchbell or two and then Pignatelli enters with his treble turned up, the guitars ringing and rising overhead as the track reaches escape velocity. With its loopy, trebly synth lines and echoey guitars, Back in 74 brings to mind Kraftwerk with a real rhythm section: again, Pignatelli’s incisive lines put him front and center in the role of terse second lead guitarist.

Book of Skulls is slower and closer to something you might hear in a classic game like Castlevania – tongue-in-cheek oscillations and swirls abound, then make way for Anselmi’s ornate David Gilmourisms. Creepy/twinkly electric piano, droll portamento flourishes, choral samples and more of that achingly climbing lead guitar rise over the pounding sway of the rhythm section throughout the somewhat less-than-mysterious Mysterium. Evil in the Machine, unlike what its title might imply, is the least techy, most straight-ahead stadium rock-style track here – and also one of the most genuinely menacing, as it builds to a tense peak before taking an unexpected turn toward funk.

The band take their time bulding out of suspenseful atmospherics in Forest: again, it’s the drums and guitar, Anselmi fighting off any direct path to an easy resolution, that move front and center as the theme rises to a peak and then subsides. With its wary mashup of Andalucian and Balkan sounds, the album’s best and most genuinely menacing track, Dark Bolero features emphatic cello from Francesco Marini. The final cut, Rebirth, with its endlessly cyclical phrases, is the closest thing to what you might call prog here. As a whole, this isn’t particularly scary music, but there’s never a dull moment.

A Brooding, Wounded Masterpiece from Jane Antonia Cornish

Composer Jane Antonia Cornish has scored some big hits (pun intended) with her film music. Her signature style tends to be reflective and atmospheric, meticulous to a fault: a wasted note would be a serious crime in her universe. Her latest album, Continuum opens with Nocturne 1, a starkly minimalist, Lynchian series of very subtle variations on a very simple motif for strings that Angelo Badalamenti would no doubt approve of. As it grows darker and louder, bringing to mind Philip Glass’ Dracula soundtrack, the ghosts of the deep, robust roots of the trees whose wood became cellos and violins begin to flicker, their microtones dancing across the bows of the string ensemble Decoda. Composers tend to write best for their own instruments, and Cornish being a violinist, that strikes particularly true here. For that matter, the whole album – out from Innova and streaming this week at WQXR – is as starkly gripping as its opening track.

Nocturne II opens with such precision and clarity that its sonorities could be produced by winds instead of strings – and then that macabre theme kicks in! The third and final Nocturne is an achingly crescendoing grey-sky tone poem. Again, the cello quintet achieves such a crystalline timbre that they could be french horns.

Cornish’s cinematic prowess stretches across the horizon on Continuum 1, a spacious, moody Great Plains tableau of sorts – it’s tempting to say that it reaches Spielbergian heights. The second movement refers obliquely to the Glassine pulse of the opening Nocturne, with a series of wavelike echo effects as hypnotic as anything Glass ever wrote. The solo cello piece that follows offers a fond nod back to the Bach cello sonatas, adding both Cornish’s signature spaciousness and minutely honed sense of tasty string overtones. The album winds up with Tides, a vivid illustration of waves and echoes. A thousand electronic composers have used machines to follow similar tangents, but Cornish’s triumph is one of echoing nature exactly as it exists rather than through the bottom of a laptop.

And it wouldn’t be fair to end without mentioning the rapturously precise and inspired solo performance by Decoda cellist Hamilton Berry at the album launch party last month at Chambers Fine Art in Chelsea, where he gave voice to an austerely poignant Cornish sonata as well as a colorful solo pastorale by George Crumb that required considerable split-second extended technique.

The Balkan Clarinet Summit Album: A Moody, Dynamic, Adrenalizing Treat

One of the most enjoyable albums to come over the transom here in recent months is the Balkan Clarinet Summit, streaming at Spotify. Recorded during a series of concerts in Romania and Greece in 2012, it combines the talents of virtuoso clarinetists from all over Europe: Macedonia, Serbia, Moldavia, Turkey, Germany, Bulgaria and Switzerland, testament to Balkan music’s massive rise in popularity. If this blog gets its way, it’ll soon be as popular as cumbia! Wolfgang Pöhlmann, director of the Goethe Institute in Athens, brought in Claudio Puntin and Steffen Schorn to lead the project. In turn, they brought in their fellow clarinetists Stavros Pazarentsis, Slobodan Trkulja, Sergiu Balutel, Oğuz Büyükberber and Orlin Pamukov. Each artist contributes two original numbers, soon to be part of a documentary film by Horacio Alcala as well.

As you’ve doubtlessly figured out by now, this is no ordinary wind ensemble. While the dynamics range from whispery and suspenseful to towering and majestic, the arrangements are more lush and symphonic than you would expect in this kind of music: the group is tight beyond belief. There are plenty of wild, rather feral moments, though, beginning right off the bat with Pazarentsis’ moodily dancing improvisation that opens his first number, Nostalgia, a shapeshifting diptych of sorts.

Balutel contributes a tricky Turkish-flavored dance that shifts abruptly between major and minor. Trkulja’s first contribution is one of the more classically-oriented numbers here, a long, almost impreceptibly crescendoing sonata with a terse, jazz-inflected solo by Puntin. Pamukov’s Severniaski Tanc, by contrast, follows a kinetic, metrically thorny, bracingly chromatic Bulgarian folk theme.

If Schorn’s Colors of Istanbul is to be believed, it’s a gloomy, grey city, depicted via his darkly danciung leads against a drony backdrop that only picks up at the end. Nostalgic Dances, a mini-suite, alternates between a similar mood amd pinpoint-precise klezmer-tinged flair. Tyran’s Daughter is one of the most stunning tracks here, another mini-suite that moves through apprehensively snaky solos to a danse macabre that becomes more and more menacing as the harmonies grow more otherworldly.

Balutel’s lickety-split, microtonally-inflected phrasing takes centerstage on Breaza, an otherwise lighthearted oompah tune. Pazarentsis also shows off wickedly precise chops on one of the album’s most exhilirating tracks, a bristling chromatic suite dedicated to his Macedonian hometown, where he runs a music venue. Puntin’s Poeme, true to its title, follows a nebulous, amorphous trajectory with its misty, aching, long-tone chromatic phrases. The album winds up with Trkulja’s Pitagorino Oro, a sizzling feast of microtonal melismas, chromatics and dizzying counterpoint.

There’s also a lively, jazzy clarinet-and-bass clarinet strut and a Serbian dance with some droll hip-hop and electronic glitches. When you stream this, also be aware that the seventh track is a joke. There’s nothing wrong with your headphones, and there’s no need to reload the page, it’s just Puntin having some random fun all by himself in the studio with his gadgets. Look for this one on the best albums of 2015 page at the end of the year.

NASA’s Spectacular Bella Gaia Multimedia Extravaganza Makes Its Brooklyn Debut on August 30

Did you know that in the state of Florida, you can get fired from the State Department of Environmental Protection for mentioning global warming? The official rightwing-approved term for it, as the coastline recedes and the waters rise, is “nuisance flooding.” Which leads to the question of what’s next – requiring a weatherman to use the more palatable “wet air” instead of “rain?”

That’s just one example of how the extreme right is hell-bent on directing the conversation away from rising temperatures around the world (you’d think that considering how much waterfront property they own, they’d be hell-bent on protecting it, but that’s typical Republican cognitive dissonance). On the realistic side of the equation, the scientists at NASA are very concerned about global warming and its potentially apocalyptic consequences, and in an intriguing and very captivating stroke of theatricality, they’ve come up with the lavish multimedia project Bella Gaia. An experience suitable for the whole family, it utilizes video imagery of our changing Earth taken from outer space alongside dance and a wildly eclectic, cinematic live musical score in order to get people to pay attention to the simple message that if we don’t stop the rise in global temperatures, we can pretty much kiss the world goodbye. The complete Balla Gaia experience comes to Broooklyn Bowl on August 30 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10, which gets you not just the film and projections but also the dancers and band.

The soundtrack album – streaming at Spotify – a lavish, majestic mashup of global sounds, is often nothing short of breathtaking: if the visuals come anywhere close to matching it, the experience could be an awful lot of fun. It opens with Living Universe, a brightly waltzing, sparkling main theme lit up with composer/bandleader Kenji Williams’ effects-laden violin multitracks alongside Kristin Hoffmann’s soaring, passionate, enveloping vocalese and balletesque piano over percussionist Deep Singh’s hypnotic groove. Like the other themes here, it’s a big, sweeping piece of music that sounds like a whole symphony orchestra rather than just the work of three musicians. Yumi Kurosawa’s koto adds otherworldly, spiky textures before it fades down elegantly to just Hoffmann’s piano.

Singh layers sitar, harmonium and mystically rustling percussion on the second number, Orbital, a dramatic, dynamically-charged blend of Indian classical and modern-day film music; Hoffmann’s careful, precise piano reminds of the work of a similarly pioneering, south Asian-influenced pianist, Anton Batagov. Ocean’s Blood, a circular, indie classical-inspired theme, sends a hypnotic series of call-and-response motives spinning through the mix, Hoffmann’s voice mingling with the strings, growing more raw and apprehensive over Singh’s trancey clickety-clack rhythm.

Kurosawa’s stately, suspenseful, almost imperceptibly crescendoin koto takes centerstage in Takeda Lullaby – Inner Space. From there the group segues into a kinetically atmospheric, similarly Asian-tinged interlude pulsing with echoes and slowly shifting sheets of sound. The circular theme returns, this time with variations on a west African folk-inspired motif. From there the music shifts to the Nile with Lety ElNaggar’s ney flute and Shanir Blumenkranz’s oud, building to an achingly beautiful Middle Eatern melody that twists and turns through innumerable variations as it picks up steam. It makes for a stunning centerpiece. The album winds up with deep-space atmospherics, trip-hop and motorik rhythms, and a big Alan Parsons Project-style conclusion. The only dud is a failed attempt to mix jazz with top 40 urban pop: too bad that’s how our city is depicted, musically speaking anyway. In addition to the soundtrack, there is also a dvd available.

Big Lazy Bring Their Lurid, Creepy, State-of-the-Art Noir Back to Barbes

How many bands have there ever been who were at their peak twenty years after they started? On one hand, just getting to the twenty-year mark as a band is quite the achievement. But composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich just keeps getting creepier and more eclectic. And it’s safe to say that this edition of Big Lazy, the world’s most consistently haunting, reverb guitar-fueled instrumental band is the best ever. Which is not to be dismissive of original drummer Willie Martinez, who only left the group due to the demands on his schedule as a star of latin jazz and salsa. Nor is this a dis at original bassist Paul Dugan, whose darkly frenetic pulse was such an important part of the band’s first incarnation from about 1996 through 2007.

But the new rhythm section of Andrew Hall and Yuval Lion is the best ever, and the most consistent with Ulrich’s bleak, rain-drenched vision. Back in the day, the band made their home at Tonic, the late, lamented Norfolk Street hotspot for adventurous, jazz-influenced music. Since last year, maybe predictably, the band has made Barbes their home base. They’re playing there again on August 7 at 10 PM.

Between them, Hall and Lion give Ulrich a more minimalist groove than this band has ever had. And yet, they also get featured more prominently on solos, Hall using his bow for extra stygian resonance, Lion rattling the traps like a poltergeist left over from when Manhattan’s Record District (where you bought turntables and vinyl) was bulldozed to make way for the World Trade Center. It may not be safe to say that any one band in town is the very best, but it is safe to say that Big Lazy never play anything remotely the same way twice.

Ulrich saves his bloodthirsty volleys of tremolo-picking and savage chord-chopping when he really needs to take the energy to redline or bring a sonic narrative to a murderous peak (film soundtracks are his regular gig – Big Lazy is his fun project). He’ll often intersperse a loping highway theme or great plains noir atmospherics amidst all the crime-jazz chromatics and wall-bending noir surf riffs. Although on record, menace is the band’s stock in trade, onstage Ulrich can be very funny, quoting from all sorts of jazz songs and movie themes. Once or twice a set, he’ll put down the guitar and break out his lapsteel for high lonesome wails or lingering, floating body-in-the-pool sonics. And much as most of the songs are instrumentals, occasionally they’ll have a guest take a turn out front: one of the coolest moments in the trio’s recent shows has been where oldtime music maven Mamie Minch joined them for a nonchalantly Lynchian, plaintive version of Crazy.

When Ulrich regrouped Big Lazy in 2013 after a six-year hiatus, that was big news, and this blog covered them not once but five times that year and in 2014. Which explains why the band has been absent from the front page here since this past January. But this blog hasn’t been absent from Big Lazy’s Barbes shows this year, beginning in January and then in each of the last three months. In case you haven’t already figured it out, one more thing that’s safe to say about this decidedly unsafe band is that they’re worth seeing more than once. At the end of the year, along with the best albums and best songs lists, there’s also a list of the best concerts in New York and at least one of these gigs will be on it – the May show in particular was pretty amazing.