New York Music Daily

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Tag: ismail butera

The Spellbinding Rachelle Garniez Tops the Bill at This Year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival

What’s the likelihood of being able to get what amounts to an intimate, personal show from the world’s greatest English-language songwriter? A handful of New Yorkers got to experience that at last night’s edition of the ongoing Bryant Park Accordion Festival, following Rachelle Garniez across the park to various stations for tantalizingly brief fifteen-minute mini-sets.

Even though there were two dozen other accordionists playing in the park’s four corners and next to the fountain on the Sixth Avenue side, it was impossible to resist taking in two sets from Garniez. What was most fascinating was to watch her mash up elements of latin, klezmer, zydeco, classical, punk rock and even a bit of opera, banging out one song after another without the hilariously surreal, politically-charged stream-of-consciousness intros and jams that have made her legendary among New York performers.

The best song of the night was Tourmaline, a bittersweet waltz that works on innumerable levels: ultimately, it’s about rugged individuality triumphing against all odds. Without any more fanfare, Garniez let the rest of her songs speak for themselves.

The funniest moment was during Jean-Claude Van Damme, a tongue-in-cheek shout-out to a pitchman for antidepressants. She got everybody laughing when she reached the part about certain personality traits that have to be brought under control – then hammered that word again, and again, until everybody within earshot got the message. The faux-operatic outro, where she took a flying leap to the very top of her formidable four-octave vocal range, was pretty funny too.

She also played the jaunty, cabaret-infused Just Because You Can (Doesn’t Mean You Should), whose corollary is “just because you should doesn’t mean you can,” along with the slyly strutting, seductive Medicine Man, packed with all kinds of coy double entendres. She’s emceeing the festival’s closing night a week from today on June 21 at 6 PM, which might be the single best concert of the year, a bill that includes the Bil Afrah Project, who recreate iconic Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani’s legendary 1975 Bil Afrah album; pyrotechnic Romany accordionist Peter Stan’s new band Zlatni Balkan Zvuk, Brazilian accordionist Felipe Hostins’ new forro group Osnelda; and cumbia accordionist/crooner Gregorio Uribe leading his slinky big band in celebration of Colombian Independence Day.

The festival’s only drawback is that it’s such a feast that there isn’t time to see everybody on the bill. It was awfully cool last night to watch accordionist Simon Moushabeck make his way through Arabic modes with all sorts of enigmatic passing tones, in two abbreviated duo sets with oudist Brian Prunka, mixing up steady, serpentine originals with a Fairouz cover or two.

Further to the west, Sadys Rodrigo Espitia played equally slinky, catchy cumbia and vallenato numbers. When he forgot the words to the hit Cumbia Del Oriente, a woman in the crowd sauntered over to the mic: and sang them with serious Colombian pride.

It was also cool to get to watch popular busker and Thee Shambels accordionist Melissa Elledge jam out cinematic themes and a Johnny Cash classic, then make noir blues out of Beethoven. Late one night a couple of years ago in the Second Avenue F train station, after a Bowery Ballroom show, Elledge played what had to be the most heartwrenchingly gorgeous version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 ever. So it was refreshing to be able to just chill on the grass and hear her think outside the box without the usual subway stresses. Garniez may be the world’s most brilliantly eclectic songwriter, but as an instrumentalist, Elledge is on the same page.

Before the big blowout on the 21st, there’s another night of mini-sets from another amazing cast of accordionists at Bryant Park on July 19 starting at 6 PM, with a lineup including avant garde and klezzmer player Shoko Nagai, pan-Mediterranean wizard Ismail Butera, jazz luminary Will Holshouser and Ed Goldberg & the Odessa Klezmer Band.

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An Exhilarating Live Album and a Lower East Side Release Show by Metropolitan Klezmer

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since high-voltage, time-warping Jewish jamband Metropolitan Klezmer played their first gig at CB’s Gallery, next door to its big sister club, CBGB. In the years that passed, there’s been some turnover in the band, but no relenting in the intensity or the fun department. Their latest release, Mazel Means Good Luck, is a live album – something more bands ought to be making – which comprises material from concerts at several venues from 2009 through 2013. The album is streaming at Bandcamp, and the band are playing the album release show on Dec 15 at 7 PM at the gorgeously restored, sonically rich Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum (just north of Division; B/D to Grand St.); cover is $20/$15 for students.

Much as the band dedicate themselves to original material, drummer/leader Eve Sicular is also a serious musicologist, with a love for resurrecting obscure treasures from across the decades. One particularly noteworthy cover here is the version of the slow, sad lament Die Fire Korbunes – a 1911 requiem for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire – which by all accounts seems to be the first-ever recording of that song. The band also reach to the Soviet Union in 1956 for their update on an Anna Guzik recording of incendiary, iconic songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig’s subtext-drenched Yankele, sung in shiveringly nuanced Yiddish by Melissa Fogarty, accordionist Ismail Butera and violist Karen Waltuch supplying a stark backdrop.

A medley of Romanian-inflected tunes opens with a suspenseful, whirlwind acccordion improvisation, then the band segue into a stately but edgy processional. A clarinet-fueled take of Mikhail Ziv’s 1969 title theme from the Soviet tv cartoon Cheburashka portrays its furry, enigmatic central character as a rather forlorn soul. Fogarty pulls out all the stops for a mischievously sultry take of the album’s title track, originally recorded by Louis Prima’s big band in 1947. There’s also a mashup of a couple of pensive traditional themes with a jaunty, vaudevillian, klezmerized version of Frank Loesser’s Luck Be a Lady Tonight, fueled by clarinetist Debra Kreisberg and trumpeter Pam Fleming.

A similar outside-the-box sensibility informs the band’s originals, which is what distinguishes this group from others in their field: their repertoire is vibrant and in the here and now, and often irreverent. Kreisberg contributes Baltic Blue, which begins as a haunting, slow cumbia, then mashes up the blues and Hava Nagila with soulful solos for alto sax, muted trumpet and Reut Regev’s trombone – it may be an elegy for Brooklyn neighborhoods lost to the blitzkrieg of gentrification. A diptych by the group’s former trombonist Rick Faulkner goes in the opposite direction. And the band waste no time kicking the album off on an explosive note with a trio of party dances.

Sicular also has a thing for subversive humor, which is front and center on the closing number, When Israel Met Jenny, from her multimedia piece J. Edgar Klezmer. It’s a sort of klezmer-chamber-pop reminiscence of how Sicular’s psychiatrist grandmother dealt with FBI surveillance during the cold war, a bitingly funny over-the-shoulder glimpse of the kind of conversation many of New York’s intelligentsia could have had around the table at a Passover seder. Keep an eye out for this one on the best albums of 2014 page here at the end of the year.

A Gorgeously Bittersweet Middle Eastern-Flavored Album and a Brooklyn Show from Alsarah & the Nubatones

Underscoring the bittersweet beauty and lithely kinetic songs on Alsarah & the Nubatones‘ debut album, Silt, is the tragic loss of oudist Haig Magnoukian, one of the most soulful players ever to grace a New York stage. But the core of the self-described “East African retro pop” group – frontwoman Alsarah, percussionist Rami El Asser and bassist Mawuena Kodjovi – lives on, with an upcoming free show on Oct 7 at 7 PM at Bric Arts, 647 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place at the southern tip of Ft. Greene, right around the corner from BAM.

On the album – streaming online here – the band blends an early 1970s-style Middle Eastern-flavored Nubian sound with elements that reflect its members’ global background (Alsarah, for example, was born in Sudan and came to the US via Yemen). The vernacular lyrics often reference a longing for a home now gone forever, which makes sense since so many Nubians were displaced by the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt right around the time this style of music was at the peak of its popularity.

The album’s opening track, Habibi Taal sounds like a slinkier, bluesier take on vamping Moroccan gnawa music: the band takes it out with a fullscale sprint to the finish line. They amp up the funk factor on Soukura (It’s Late), a Middle Eastern groove with call-and-response guy/girl vocals, Alsarah in especially captivating, hazily seductive mode. Nubia Noutou has a trickier rhythm, Alsarah’s signature blend of warmth and wariness, and incisive variations on a dancing oud theme.

The album’s most poignant moment is the bristling, broodingly expansive Magnoukian oud solo that follows and then leads into Bilad Aldahb, a dusky lament lowlit by El Asser’s stately frame drum work. Then the band picks up the pace with the hypnotically bouncy Fugu (Shams Alhuria) and its droll wah-wah synth accents.

Rennat begins as a dirge and then morphs into a scampering psych-folk groove with blippy organ. The catchy, anthemic, soaringly swaying Wad Alnuba features Alsarah’s previous band, accordionist Ismail Butera‘s similarly slinky, frequently haunting Sounds of Taraab. Yanas Baradou has a camelwalking desert rock groove underneath unexpectedly airy vocal harmonies. El Asser’s playfully suspenseful, crescendoing drum solo introduces the final cut, Jibal Alnuba, a lively vocal-and-percussion piece. It’s good to see this group back in action, with a sound that’s as rustic as it is in the moment and individualistic. How cool is is that bands like this still exist in this city?