New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental rock

Big Lazy Take Their Film Noir Sounds to Pleasantville

The house was full, and people were dancing. That’s inevitable at Big Lazy‘s monthly Friday night residency at Barbes, although it’s not what you would expect at a show by a band best known for film noir menace. Then again, you wouldn’t expect the bandleader to write a score for a PBS series about comedians, But composers who write for film and tv are expected to be able to create any mood the director wants.

The band have a long-awarited new album  due out later this summer. Frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich’s latest batch of instrumental narratives are just as dark, maybe even darker at the center, although parts of them extend into much brigher terrain than the trio have typically explored since they got their start in what was then an incredibly fertile rock scene on the Lower East Side back in the 1990s.

Onstage, the group reinvent their material, old and new, sometimes to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable. Was that a 6/8 version of Uneasy Street, the slow, macabre centerpiece of their first album, that they played at last month’s show? Maybe. Or it could have been a new number: tritones and chromatics slink out of the shadows constantly throughout this band’s catalog. Ulrich went further out on a limb than uusal this time, pulling himself off the ledge with savage volleys of tremolo-picking, taking a machete to the music. Bassist Andrew Hall used his bow for long, stygian, resonant passages, especially when the band took the songs toward dub, a welcome return to a style the band took a plunge into back in the early zeros. Drummer Yuval Lion was in a subtle mood this time, icing the intros and outros and quieter moments with his cymbals, rims and hardware.

The familiar material got reivented and tweaked as usual, too. Princess Nicotine, inspired by a 20s dada silent film, wasn’t quite as lickety-split as usual: maybe the princess has switched to lights. Their cover of the Beatles’ Girl was even more of a dirge than usual. Loping big-sky themes took unexpected dips into the macabre, balanced by the tongue-in-cheek go-go theme Sizzle and Pops. Guest trumpeter CJ Camerieri’s moody lines intertwined with Ulrich’s similarly spare incisions while another guest, Brain Cloud lapsteel monster Raphael McGregor added slithery sustain and flickering ambience at the edges as the songs moved toward combustion point.

Big Lazy are back at Barbes at 10 PM on July 26. Singer/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande‘s edgy parlor pop band Bad Reputation – who continue to build a rich catalog of English translations of songs by French chansonnier maudit Georges Brassens – play at 8.

Horror Surf Legends the Coffin Daggers Play the Best Rock Show of 2019 So Far

The Coffin Daggers played what could have been the best rock show of 2019 at Otto’s just over a month ago. They might not just be the best horror surf band in the world. Since Dick Dale left us earlier this year, it wouldn’t be overhype to call them the best surf band around, period. And that’s no disrespect to Los Straitjackets. It’s just that the Coffin Daggers are infinitely more intense – and infinitely darker.

They opened the show with a series of endings, letting the crowd know that this was going to be a descent into the maelstrom. It was like Beethoven in reverse, and ten times as gothic. From there, they went straight for grimly enveloping psychedelia with an extended version of Avenue X, an older tune. Guitarist Viktor Venom’s Fender amp pulsed with icy waves of deep-space noise when he wasn’t ripping through one volley of machete tremolo-picking after another, standing calm and relatively motionless at the edge of the stage.

Bassist Peter Klarnet was the opposite, lunging toward the crowd like a rabid animal on a chain as he slammed out booming chords, slithery upward climbs and snidely slurring riffs. There’s been some turnover in the band over the years; their current drummer has the agility of their original guy behind the kit, but with a more ferocious attack. Their organist conjured up vampire castles, haunted roller rinks and on a couple of screamingly sarcastic faux go-go tunes, played more or less straight up Booker T. Jones-style soul. He also added burning, distorted rhythm guitar on a few of the band’s more straightforwardly punk tunes.

But was the macabre material they do best, and there was a lot of it. The best material of the night was the newest stuff: a couple of searing, serpentine, eerily modal, Middle Eastern-flavored numbers along with a pair of chromatically thumping tunes like Dick Dale on steroids. A couple of other ones echoed Vegas noir, but from a gleefully sarcastic distance.

A lengthy, unexpectedly dubwise interlude had several cruel quotes including a half a verse of the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia. They closed with what sounded like a parody of retro 70s stoner boogie; the last of the encores had a savage, phony salsa fanfare from the organ at the end.

The Coffin Daggers usually much larger venues: the Mercury has been their Manhattan home base in recent months. They’re playing at around 9 on June 22, immediately following this years’s Mermaid Parade, on the roof of Kitchen 21 at 3052 W 21st St, right off the boardwalk. Cover is $25.

Brooklyn’s Funnest Band Put Out One of the Most Casually Creepy Albums of 2019

Hearing Things are Brooklyn’s funnest band and have been for the last three years or so. They play dance music that’s equal parts film noir, soul, go-go music, surf rock, creepy psychedelia and new wave. They’ve also been more or less AWOL lately since the core of the band – alto saxopphonist Matt Bauder, organist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza – have all been busy with other projects. But they’ve fimally made an album, Here’s Hearing Things – streaming at Bandcamp – and they’re playing the release show at around 9 PM at C’Mon Everybody on May 24. Cover is $10.

Live, the band often sound like the Doors playing surf music, which makes more sense than you might think considering that Ray Manzarek got his start in a surf band. This album starts out in high spirits, gets more sardonic and ends very darkly.

The first track is Shadow Shuffle, a deliciously twisted remake of Green Onions: the band vamp out the second verse instead of sticking with a creepy chromatic reharmonization of the old Booker T & the MG’s hit. Schlegelmilch swirls and Bauder punches in alto and baritone sax parts throughout the catchy Tortuga, a go-go tune as the Stranglers would have done it.

Wooden Leg is a subtly sardonic horror theme in the same vein as Beninghove’s Hangmen, Bauder fluttering furtively in the low registers as the band picks up steam: it’s the album’s most deliciously noir epic.

Likewise, Stalefish is a more traditional, horror surf take on Turkish psychedelia, guitarist Ava Mendoza firing off slashing chords over baritone guitarist Jonny Lam’s snappy, evil basslines. Houndstooth is an evil, faux-loungey take on a blue-flame roadhouse theme, animated by irrepressible flurrying drumwork and more whipcracking from Lam.

Hotel Prison would be slyly swayng take on balmy early 60s summer-place theme music if if wasn’t just a little too outside the lines. The outro is cruelly funny. Mendoze’s echeoey leads contrast with tongue-in-cheek, blippy orgnn. goodnatured sax iand expertly flurrying surf drums n Uncle Jack. Then the band completeley flip the scirpt with Trasnsit of Venus, the band’s first and most trippily macabre adventure in Ethiopian jazz,

The abum’s most epic number, Ideomotor opens with Bauder’s bass clarinet over jungly drums, Schleegelmilch;s organ slinking between them as a brooding, dubwise Ethopian theme gains velocicy. .The album’s fiinal cut is Triplestep, coalescing into a into a menacing mashup of Ethiopiques and a death row strut. Bauder gets the alto and baritone to get the Pink Panther to cross over to the dark side, up to a defiantly soaring alto solo that makes a killer coda for the album as a whole. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the year if we get that far.

A Lusciously Jangly, Ferociously Relevant Masterpiece From Girls on Grass

Girls on Grass’ latest album Dirty Power – streaming at Bandcamp – has everything you could possibly want from a great rock record: slashing lyrics, soaring vocals, gorgeous harmonies, layers and layers of luscious guitar jangle and clang and roar, and tunesmithing that draws on styles from the 60s through the 80s. It’s fearlessly political, and it might be the best record released so far this year. Frontwoman Barbara Endes is on the shortlist of the best guitarists in all of rock – and she’s a great bassist too. Imagine the Dream Syndicate fronted by a woman, and produced by Eric Ambel (who was actually behind the board when this was made, and it’s one of the best projects he’s ever worked on). Girls on Grass are headlining one of the year’s best triplebills on May 12 at Coney Island Baby at around 9. Catchy, fun guy/girl indie soul band Sunshine Nights open the night at 7, followed by wickedly jangly surf/twang/country instrumentalists the Bakersfield Breakers at around 8. Cover is a ridiculously cheap $8.

The new album opens with Down at the Bottom, the harmonies of Endes and drummer Nancy Polstein rising over a soul-clap beat, spiced with icy twelve-string guitar jangle that’s part 60s Merseybeat, part 80s paisley underground psychedelia. Second guitarist David Weiss adds country-tinged twang as bassist Dave Mandl holds down an insistent groove, Endes reminding that all the best things are in the shadows and in the deepest waters. In status-grubbing real estate bubble-era New York, that subtext screams.

Street Fight is a cynical, sarcastic stomp, Weiss channeling Mick Taylor in simmering post-Chuck Berry mode, up to a slashing chromatic run. Friday Night is an indelibly simmering tableau, capturing the energy and anticipation of meeting a crush at what promises to be a hot show, chilling back by the soundboard, passing around a joint. The ending is an unexpectedly different kind of crush.

Got to Laugh to Keep From Crying, a bittersweet account of betrayal and stalker behavior, is one of the album’s most gorgeous songs, Endes’ clang against Weiss’ country twang. Two Places at Once shifts between amped-up. briskly shuffling Morricone spaghetti western and an eerily surfy Radio Birdman highway theme. Then the band burn through the garage rock riffage of the escape anthem Into the Sun, with a searing, chromatically-fueled guitar solo midway through: it sounds like that’s  Endes, but it might be Weiss too.

“Capitalism ruins everything worth doing,” Endes intones to a guy who’s only in it “For the cash, and the underage ass” in the album’s most overtly political track, Because Capitalism: the rhythm section hits a fast Motown beat as the guitars stab and burn. Endes got the inspiration for the wounded, crescendoing anthem John Doe  from the time the X bassist wrote a carpe diem message in her journal, with a “We gotta stick together” mantra that works on more than one level.

The loping desert rock instrumental Asesino sends a shout-out to an iconic Ventures hit, with hints of vintage Public Image Ltd. at the very end. “I come from superior genes,” the narcissist-in-charge brags over a swaying Flamin’ Groovies drive in Commander in Thief: the faux bombast of the guitars matches Endes’ sardonic lyric. The band wind up the album with Thoughts Are Free, with a slow, richly lingering Dream Syndicate-style intro, then picking up with a brisk country shuffle beat. “Got my money, never mind what’s happening behind the scenes,” Endes sings sarcastically. Look for this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the year.

Enigmatic, Cinematic Instrumentals and a Williamsburg Gig from the Royal Arctic Institute

The cover photo for the Royal Arctic Institute’s latest album Accidental Achievement – streaming at Bandcamp – shows the utterly flavorless top section of a 1970s adobe-tinged concrete highrise apartment complex. If only we could have stuck with that kind of quality construction…then again, nobody’s ever going to live in those cheap plastic-and-glass highrises that are being thrown up by sleazeball developers to replace perfectly good brick buildings on seemingly every Manhattan and Brooklyn streetcorner. Seriously: somebody could get murdered there and nobody would ever know. The cinematic instrumental trio’s latest album has a similar sardonic edge. They’re playing Rough Trade on April 16 at 9 PM; $13 advance tix, which you can and should get at the box office at the back of the record store, are still available as of today

The album’s first track, Leaky Goes to Brooklyn hints at spacerock before bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Lyle Hysen start tiptoeing behind guitarist John Leon’s lingering noir lines; then he switches to pedal steel for a mournful southwestern gothic feel. Then the band completely flip the script with The Grubert Effect, switching coyly between hypnotic, insistent Raybeats attack and a loungey theme.

A shout-out to surrealist poet Raymond Roussel has a lingering, reverbtoned, strolling menace, the steel adding a big-sky wonder over the jangle and eventual roar below. Graveltoned bass soars over resonant steel in When Razors Were Works of Art, Leon savaging the upper registers with his guitar as the rhythm section stays chill.

The Lark Mirror is a steady, distantly bittersweet, conversational stroll highlighted by plaintive violin – it’s the album’s most haunting track. Frosted Tips sardonically channels Celtic balladry via Sonic Youth. The Vorth is an icily dreampop-tinged march, while Dear Mr. Bookman – a Joe Maynard shout-out, maybe? – is a surreal mashup of western swing and triumphant new wave stadium rock.

Dark Matter (Song for Randy Newman to Sing) slowly coalesces into a pastoral waltz that quickly shifts into cold, cinderblock postrock territory. The album winds up with the jaunty, jangly, Northern Progress Exploration Company, the missing link between Fairport Convention and maybe early zeros Hoboken instrumentalist the Subway Surfers. The album makes a good companion to this year’s highly anticipated forthcoming release by this era’s premier noir guitar soundtrack band, Big Lazy.

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.

Janglerock Heaven at Union Pool This Week

Last night at Union Pool was a feast of jangle, and clang, and twang, with enough reverb to lower the air a few degrees, it seemed. Girls on Grass frontwoman Barbara Endes was especially psyched to be opening for her favorite band, which speaks volumes about how she writes and plays. Few acts have someone out front who can not only sing and put a tune together but also play as ferociously eclectic lead guitar as she did throughout a set that could have gone on twice as long and everybody still would have wanted more.

Although Endes is a generation younger, her band often sounds like the Dream Syndicate with a woman out front. Her band doesn’t duel like Steve Wynn’s group, but the songs have a similarly edgy blend of Americana and riff-driven rock, and a psychedelic side. This particular version of the group switches out Sean Eden on second guitar for David Weiss, whose honkytonk and blues licks made an incisive, burning counterpart to Endes’ slithery, precise cascades and chordlets on her lefty model Fender Jazzmaster. Bassist Dave Mandl got all of two bars in one of the later songs for a solo but made the most of his rise out of the murk. Drummer Nancy Polstein swung hard and traded coy beats on her crash cymbal with the bandleader on the intro to one of the early numbers.

Much of the set was drawn from the band’s forthcoming album Dirty Power, due out momentarily. From its soul-clap intro, through a surreal blend of honkytonk and Dream Syndicate stomp, Down at the Bottom spoke for a generation of displaced artists trying to not to lose hope (and their homes) amid a blitzkrieg of gentrification. And did Endes change the last chorus from “Come hang with me” to “Don’t hang with me?” Just how much of a cautionary tale is this?

The rest of the set was just as catchy and compelling. The slowly crescendoing, anthemic Friday Night perfectly captured the electricity of being “in like with a chick who likes good music” at a good show. The opening number, Father Says Why had a deliciously watery, careening clang, while Drowning in Ego evoked a jaunty late 80s vibe with Endes’ meticulous, lickety-split quasi-bluegrass riffs. Although Endes’ vocals had their usual crystalline bite, one of the best tunes of the night was the spaghetti-surf instrumental Two Places at Once, with a remarkable similarity, stylistically if not melodically, to the headliners’ adventures in surf rock. Endes has obviously listened deeply.

The Sadies have gotten a lot of ink here. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to go see a band with two brilliant lead guitarists – brothers Travis and Dallas Good – and who came out for what could have been a single encore but ended up playing a total of eight songs that went on for as long as Girls on Grass’ set. Drummer Mike Belitsky’s funereal accents on his cymbal bells lowlit one of the handful of the band’s brooding, Americana-flavored waltzes, Cut Corners. Bassist Sean Dean plays an upright so, this time, he unfortunately wasn’t very present in the mix beyond a low resonance.

Counterintuitively, the best song of the night was the quietest one, the band hauntingly shuffling through The Good Years, a crushingly ironic tale of a mismatched couple’s tragic miscommunications: “She never asked him, he wouldn’t say,” Travis Good intoned.

The rest of almost two hours onstage featured everything from bouncy, reverbtoned surf rock, to punkgrass – a lickety-split remake of the old folk song Pretty Polly included – to waves of Brian Jonestown Massacre-tinged psychedelia and a handful of garage rock covers including a slamming remake of the Jay Walkers’ I Got My Own Thing Going. The Sadies are back at Union Pool tonight, April 3 at around 9:30, then they’re playing two sets tomorrow night, April 4, starting about an hour earlier. Cover is $20 and worth every bit.

Haunting Film Noir and Desert Rock Themes from Reverend Screaming Fingers

Reverend Screaming Fingers’ cinematic, surfy instrumental themes don’t often scream, but boy do they resonate. And there are no doubt films in development screaming out for these songs. The guitarist (real name: Lucio Menegon) layers colorful multitracks over a steady, low-key rhythm section for a mix of creepy noir themes, spaghetti western tunes and midtempo surf rock. The Desert Years, his new third volume in his series of Music for Driving and Film, is streaming at Bandcamp. Big Lazy’s highly anticipated new album isn’t out yet, but until then, this twangy, dusky masterpiece will do just fine. It’s a lock for one of the best albums of 2019.

Here Menegon is supported by a rotating rhythm section: Wally Ingram on drums, with Danny Frankel, Damian Lester, Kip Powell and Janie Cowan sharing bass duties.The opening track, No Destination starts out with a fleeting, insistent new wave guitar riff but quickly slinks into the shadows with a southwestern gothic ambience capped off midway through with a little Tex-Mex. Then the bandleader completely lfips the script with the tender, oldtimey country ballad Chapparal Kiss, with low-key mandolin over a graceful 6/8 sway.

Dream of the Desperado comes across as a mashup of rapt Japanese temple music mingled with slow-burn Black Lodge guitar that finally coalesces as a creepy slide guitar blues: it would be a solid track on any Big Lazy album. Monsoon Gully has snarling, distorted, serpentine guitar leads set to a gently tumbling cha-cha beat: Beninghove’s Hangmen are a good point of comparison.

Spare, spaciously fingerpicked guitar figures mingle above a backdrop of rain and tree frog samples throughout Funereal. Speaking of funereal, the organ beneath the loping, savagely crescendoing desert theme Dance of the Dust adds immensely to the ominous ambience.

Delicate tremolo-picking beneath lingering reverbtoned riffs raises the suspense in Yuma Interlude, up to a tantalizing exchange of riffs in both channels, then back down again. Lost Alien Highway slowly builds into a simmering roadhouse blues. Almost Home is a lively blend of Buck Owens twang and roller-rink organ theme. The final cut is Rattler Ranch, an upbeat, catchy, woodsy groove for guitar and bass.

Towering, Hypnotic, Psychedelic Korean Postrock Majesty from Black String at Lincoln Center

Korean postrock band Black String’s show at Lincoln Center last night seemed much more terse and minimalist than their feral set last year at Flushing Town Hall. Yet while the songs this time out seemed more focused and stripped-down, the music was no less psychedelic. There, bandleader Yoon Jeong Heo was all over the place on her geomungo bass zither, delivering every texture and timbre that can possibly be plucked – with a stick! – from that magical instrument. Here, she was more percussive, and in that sense, hypnotic, and the band followed suit.

At that Queens gig, guitarist Jean Oh let loose majestic, David Gilmour-esque flares and got lowdown with some gritty Marc Ribot skronk. Here, he played mostly big, icy, resonant block chords, adding contrasting delicate flavor via flickering electronics. Last night, it seemed more than ever that multi-reedman Aram Lee has become the group’s lead instrumentalist, switching between wood flutes of various sizes, running endless variations on simple pentatonic riffs, often with a bluesy majesty. Drummer Min Wang Hwang made the tricky time signatures and metric shifts look easy, whether adding marionettish cymbal accents, fullscale stomp on a couple of floor toms, or with the thump of his janggu barrel drum.

The enveloping, persistent unease brought to mind the insistent, grey grimness of Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor at their most focused…or Jethro Tull playing a Glenn Branca symphony (that’s where the flute comes in). To max out the psychedelic factor, the band rode the sonic rollercoaster, often bringing the music down to a simple pairing of instruments: there seemed to be fewer moments when everyone was charging along in unison.

At one point, Heo marvelled that the ancient Korean folk themes which the group use as a stepping-off point seem absolutely avant garde today. She could just as easily have said no wave. Black String’s most hammeringly emphatic instrumentals would have been perfectly at home in the early 80s downtown scene.

The most poignant moment of the night was a gently imploring prayer of sorts wafting up from Lee’s flute: here as elsewhere, the electronics (when they were working) added subtle echo or sustain effects. The most explosive interlude was a ferocious geomungo-drum duel: it was astonishing to witness Heo snapping off so many volleys of notes against a single, pulsing low pedal tone.

They closed the set on an insistent, triumphant note with Song of the Sea, a mini-suite of ancient fishermen’s songs that Hwang delivered in his powerful pansori baritone, modulated with a wide-angle, Little Jimmy Scott-style vibrato.

What’s become most clear after seeing this band in two very different spaces – each with an excellent sound system – is that they need better gear. The guitar rig Oh was using delivered a cold, trebly, flat, transistor amp sound that died away too soon. And Heo needs some custom pickups for her geomungo. She was out of breath at the end of several numbers, yet there were too many places where her riffs got lost in the mix. A performer so mesmerizing to watch deserves to be heard.

The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is their more-or-less monthly salsa dance party. This time the featured band is oldschool Cuban-flavored charanga Son Sublime. Showtime is 7:30; the earlier you get there, the better the chances of getting in.

Winter Jazzfest, New York, January 12, 2019: Late Start, Early Departure

The new “luxury” Public Hotel at 215 Chrystie Street in Chinatown was constructed so cheaply that they didn’t even spend the two hundred bucks it would have cost them to put a sink in the men’s latrine.

The exit door swings open to the inside. There are also no paper towels.

Meaning that if you want to leave, you have to use your bare hand to yank something that many other dudes have yanked earlier in the evening, presumably with bare hands as well.

What relevance does this have to night two of the big marathon weekend of Winter Jazzfest 2019? You’ll have to get to the end of this page to find out.

For this blog, the big Saturday night of the increasingly stratified annual event began not in Chinatown but at the eastern edge of the Bleecker Street strip, which has traditionally traded in its cheesiness for a couple of nights of jazz bliss to accommodate the festival. Less so this year.

What’s the likelihood of seeing a band playing spaghetti western rock two nights in a row? It happened this weekend at Winter Jazzfest. Guitarist/singer Markus Nordenstreng, co-leader of the eclectic Tuomo & Markus took an early stab at defusing a potential minefield. “I know we’re pushing the limits of what you can do at a jazz festival. But we’re Finnish, so we don’t have to play by the rules,” he grinned. The group had just slunk their way through a triptych of slow, lurid, Lynchian soundtrack instrumentals in front of an aptly blue velvet backdrop. Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola took centerstage in a mashup of Angelo Badalamenti and late Bob Belden noir, with a couple of departures into Morricone-esque southwestern gothic. After that, Nordenstreng sang a new wave-flavored tribute to Helsinki pirate radio and then took a turn for the worse into Americana.

In past editions of the festival, the thrill of getting into a coveted set has too often been counterbalanced by the failure to do the same: a festival pass doesn’t guarantee admission, considering how small some of the clubs are. Down the block from Zinc Bar, it was heartwarming to see a long line hoping to get in to catch darkly tuneful pianist Guy Mintus with explosive singer Roopa Mahadevan. It was less heartwarming to have to go to plan B.

Which meant hunkering down and holding a seat for the better part of an hour waiting for Jen Shyu to take the stage at the rundown venerable cramped intimate Soho Playhouse. Shyu’s music inhabits a disquieting dreamworld of many Asian languages and musical idioms. She’s a talented dancer, a brilliantly diverse singer and composer. At this rare solo gig, she played more than competently on Taiwanese moon lute, Japanese biwa, Korean gayageum, American Rhodes piano and Korean soribuk drum, among other instruments.

Shyu’s themes are often harrowing and fiercely populist; this show was a chance to see how unselfconsciously and bittersweetly funny she can be, via a retelling of an ancient, scatological Taiwanese parable about the dangers of overreaching. “Cockfighting,” she mused. “You can laugh. It’s a funny word.” It got way, way funnier from there, but a dark undercurrent persisted, fueled by the devastating loss of a couple of Javanese friends in a brutal car crash in 2016.

Back at Subculture, it was just as redemptive to watch Dave Liebman challenge himself and push the envelope throughout a mystical, hypnotic trio set with percussionists Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake. Liebman’s meticulous, judiciously slashing modal work on soprano sax was everything a packed, similarly veteran house could have wanted. His trilling wood flute, adventures plucking under the piano lid, and unexpectedly emphatic, kinetic tenor sax were more of a surprise from a guy who’s in many ways even more vital than he was forty years ago – and that says a lot. Rudolph wound up the set playing sintir – the magical Moroccan acoustic bass – and looping a catchy gnawa riff as Drake boomed out a hypnotic beat on daf frame drum.

Even better than two successive nights of spaghetti western music was two nights of Carmen Staaf compositions. The poignantly lyrical pianist shared the stage with the similar Ingrid Jensen on Friday night; last night, Staaf was with polymath drummer Allison Miller and their wryly titled Science Fair band with Dayna Stephens on tenor sax, Jason Palmer on trumpet and Matt Penman on bass. Staaf proved a perfect, hard-hitting rhythmic foil throughout Miller’s compositions, which are as restless as Miller’s drumming would have you believe. We’re not just taking A and B and C sections; we’re talking M and N and maybe more, considering how many fleeting ideas were flickering through her metrically glittering tunes. Palmer started out as bad hardbop cop but got lingeringly Romantic, fast; Stephens stayed in balmy mode, more or less. And Miller’s hyperkinetic, constantly counterintuitive accents added both mirth and mystery to Staaf’s methodically plaintive balladry, a richly bluesy Mary Lou Williams homage and a final, broodingly modal latin-tinged anthem.

That’s where the night ended for this blog; much as it could have been fun to watch tenor sax heavyweights JD Allen and David Murray duke it out, or to hear what kind of juju trumpeter Stephanie Richards could have conjured up alongside reedman Oscar Noriega, sometimes you have to watch your health instead.

Now about that bathroom and how that factors into this story. According to the printed festival schedule, there was a whole slate of hot swing jazz scheduled in a downstairs room – hidden behind an unmarked, locked doorway, as it turned out – at the “luxury” Public Hotel. According to a WJF staffer, a last-minute change of venue two train stations to the north was required when the hotel suddenly cancelled because someone had offered them more money to do a wedding there instead. The result was a lot of mass confusion.

And the Public Hotel staff did their best to keep everybody in the dark. None of the support people seemed to have been briefed that such a room existed, let alone that there was any such thing as Winter Jazzfest – notwithstanding that the hotel had been part of the festival less than 24 hours before. Those who knew that there actually was such a room gave out conflicting directions: no surprise, since it’s tucked away in an alcove with no signage.

It is pathetic how many people will not only kiss up to those they view as bosses, but also emulate their most repulsive characteristics. Cornered by a posse of a half dozen of us, the Public Hotel’s front desk people on the second floor wouldn’t make eye contact. Despite repeated entreaties, they pretended we didn’t exist. Entitlement spreads like herpes.

A floor below, the bar manager couldn’t get his story straight. First, there was no way to the downstairs room other than through the locked outside door. Then, woops, it turned out that there was an elevator, but that we weren’t “allowed to use it.” Likewise, he told us that the venue – whose website didn’t list the night – also didn’t have a number we could call for information.

“A Manhattan music venue without a phone, that’s a first,” a veteran in our posse sneered.

The simpering manager finally copped to the fact that there was in fact a phone, “But it’s private.” Would he call it, or get one of his staff to call it for us and find out what the deal was? No.

“The hotel and the venue are separate places,” he confided – and then enumerated the many types of information the two share. What he didn’t share was what would have sent us on our way. And maybe he didn’t have the answer. What was clear was how much he wanted us to abandon our search, and stay and pay for drinks amidst the Eurotrash.

One tireless member of our posse went down into the basement and opened one of many, many doors marked “private.” Behind it was the kitchen. One of the cooks, a personable individual eating a simple plate of what appeared to be Rice-a-Roni, volunteered to help. First, the cook suggested we go up to the front desk and ask. After hearing how all we were getting was the runaround, the cook was still down for finding an answer: “Let me just finish this and I’ll come up with you.”

As welcome as the offer was, one doesn’t drag people away from their dinner…or into a fiasco that clearly was not going to be resolved. But it was reassuring to know that in the belly of the beast, surrounded by Trumpie Wall Street trash and their enablers who mistakenly think they can get ahead by aping them, that good people still exist.