New York Music Daily

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Tag: jam band

The Legendary Dream Syndicate’s Latest Album Is Their Most Political and Lyrical One Yet

“You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way,” Dylan said. But the Dream Syndicate proved him wrong. It’s mind-blowing how a band who put out their first album in 1981, broke up in 1989, regrouped early in this soon-defunct decade and influenced pretty much every noiserock and psychedelic band since are arguably better than ever. Their latest album These Times – streaming at youtube and available on autographed limited edition vinyl – is their quiet one so far.

As quiet as the world’s most brilliantly feral jamband gets, anyway. The janglerock ticks more tightly, and frontman/guitarist Steve Wynn goes deeper into his recent explorations of dreampop and psychedelic soul, taking advantage of drummer Dennis Duck’s slinky capabilities (anybody who thinks he’s just a four-on-the-floor rock guy hasn’t seen the band play John Coltrane Stereo Blues live). It’s also one of Wynn’s lyrically strongest albums, and his most allusively political one.

The first track on the record is The Way In, Wynn’s vampy downstroke guitar over a nebulous dreampop backdrop:

What a tangled web
What a piece of the puzzle
Hot licks and rhetoric
A syntactical muzzle
And we can’t begin
Until we find a way in

Put Some Miles On is the most motorik song the band’s ever done , a wryly defiant commentary on the wear and tear of the road, literally and metaphorically Wynn goes deeper into that theme with the haunting Black Light, its spare, resonantly jangly guitar and eerily blippy keys over a midtempo swing groove:

Crawled out from beneath the rock
Crustacean rough and steely strong
A weathered eye with a ticking heart
I know where and why but not how long

Awash in watery 80s guitar, Bullet Holes is a catchy backbeat hit over a classic Wynn two-chord verse, contemplating the ravages of time and knowing where the bodies are buried:

Barely surviving
Shell shocked, struck by lightning
And alone
Death defying
Acceptance without trying
Walking on gilded air
Down the boulevard without a care
Something reminds me
Nothing left to bind me
I see the bullet holes
The history that no one knows
Just the way the story goes…

Still Here Now is just plain gorgeous, a bitterly resolute midtempo anthem that picks up with incisive piano and distantly unhinged sheets of Jason Victor guitar, building to his first tantalizingly savage solo here:

I sing the song in vain
And I know there are those
Who might feel the same
Stunted by light
I just guess I wasn’t thinking right

The slyly allusive revolutionary anthem Speedway comes across as less lyrically dense Highway 61 Dylan:

Banging on the shuttered doorway
The owner is fast asleep
Gonna work it out this time
Maybe just for keeps

Recovery Mode is a brisk, new wave-tinged tune: the momentary guitar duel between Wynn and Victor is spot-on and like nothing they’ve ever done before. It’s a tense, metaphorically-loaded late Trump-era scenario:

You came to the right place
You got a kind face
What if your saving grace
Was lost in the chase

Duck opens The Whole World’s Watching with a sly lowrider clave groove, bassist Mark Walton turning up his treble for a little funk flash as the guitar swirl grows denser and more abrasive, distorto organ flitting through the mix. “Differentiate the sides,” Wynn instructs: “Same wrong, different time.”

The growlingly propulsive Space Age could be a snide come-on to a groupie, or an even snider commentary on politics as spectacle. The band wind up the record with Treading Water Underneath the Stars, a crushingly cynical eoo-disaster parable over lingering Meddle-era Pink Floyd atmospherics. It goes without saying that this is one of the best albums of the year.

Why did this blog wait so long to pitch in and spread the word? Waiting for the band to come back to town! Good news: there’s a 2020 tour in the works, keep your eye on Wynn’s tour page.

Best New York Concert of the Year

The best New York concert of 2019 was Rose Thomas Bannister‘s wedding. In case you think it’s elitist to choose a private event over something everybody in town theoretically could have gone to…you could have been there too if you happened to wander into Union Pool the night of September 29. “You thought you were coming to a wedding!” the protean, psychedelic Great Plains gothic lit-rock songwriter beamed. “I gave you a music festival!”

Super Yamba Band headlined. By that time, plenty of people had come out to the bar, with no idea that two of this era’s most formidable musical minds had just tied the knot. And soon there were plenty of random strangers getting down to slinky Afrobeat in the back room with all the wedding guests.

It’s probably safe to say that Super Yamba’s set was a mashup of their mid-July 2018 show on an old shipping pier by the water on the Upper West Side, and their gig at Barbes this past March. If there’s any band in town worth seeing more than once, it’s these guys. The pier show seemed to be louder and heavier on the horns, the keyboardist doing double duty on both, while the Barbes gig had more dynamics, instruments leaving and then rejoining the mix, Both shows were heavy on the minor-key, sometimes distantly, sometimes closely Ethiopian-tinged jams. Impassioned frontman Leon Ligan-Majek a.k.a. Kaleta did a long stint in Fela’s band toward the end, so he learned from the guy who invented Afrobeat. Cantering, undulating rhythms, sharply sparkly electric piano, looming organ and spicy, emphatic horns and brass filtered through the mix, sometimes for minutes on end, sometimes shifting quickly to a faster tempo or back the other way.

Super Yamba Band’s next gig is at 9 PM on Dec 14 at Bar Chord for the tip jar. For those who can’t make it to deep Brooklyn, they’re playing Symphony Space on Dec 19 at 7:30, where you can get in for $20 if you’re thirty and under.

The rest of the wedding was a mix of searing jams and savagely brilliant tunesmithing. The wildest jam was when Bannister’s virtuoso bagipiper dad Tom Campbell came up to the stage and joined 75 Dollar Bill for a hypnotic yet searing duel with guitarist Che Chen. It was as if the freedom fighters in Tinariwen had flown to Scotland for a predawn raid to liberate a Trump property.

Bannister has never sung more powerfully, or with more triumphant intensity. Which made sense in that marrying guitar polymath Bob Bannister was the crowning stroke in a career that began when she escaped from a Christian supremacist environment, driving off in a little car with her secret collection of forbidden secular cassettes. In that context, the sudden, wary martial flurry in the opening number, Ambition, made sense on every possible level: a word of warning, but also a vengeful, martial riff. Whichever motivation you might ascribe to the slowly crescendoing anthem – a portrait of greed, or revenge – it worked.

Working on only two rehearsals, drummer Rob Smith colored the music with his subtle brushwork and cymbals while the groom wove restlessly articulated webs of notes, from saturnine Richard Thompson-esque leads to lingering jangle and clang, austere blues, warmly soulful Beatlesque lines and even a little wry Tex-Mex. When bride and groom calmly matched voices in the stately, understated, Macbeth-inspired Lady M – “Your children will be kings” – there was no mistaking how much of a victory had been snatched from the jaws of defeat.

The rest of the set was a mix of the hypnotic and the ferocious. The Real Penelope, a mashup of Revolver Beatles psychedelia and Britfolk, was wistful yet guardedly optimistic, the future Mrs. Bannister realizing that she’d found the lead guitarist of her dreams. Same Name Blues, which she rarely plays live, had a seethingly sardonic edge, as did the most relevant song of the night, Heaven Is a Wall, a shapeshifting fable about border walls packed with the cynically appropriated Old Testament imagery that she loves to use to drive a point home. And Iowa, with its simple yet eerie Midwestern imagery and coda that fell away abruptly at the end, seemed to synopsize her flight from repression, knowing that there would be possibly apocalyptic consequences, both personally and globally,

After that, most of the band reconvened as PG Six, frontman/guitarist Pat Gubler a steely, dapperly suited presence out front. Debby Schwartz, fresh off a sizzling set with the Bannisters, was even more of a whirlwind, firing off incisive chords, raga riffs working around an open string and sinuous, soaring leads that gave the band a third lead player. Gubler’s resonant, darkly opaque chords and tersely circling lines rang out as Bannister’s leads slashed and wailed around them, sometimes bringing to mind Jerry Garcia in “on” mode, at other times veering closer to unhinged Sonic Youth territory. His bride eventually came up to sing harmonies, one of the great Brooklyn musical power couples reveling in making it official.

A Wildly Majestic New Double Live Album and a Vanguard Stand from High-Voltage, Individualistic Drummer/Composer Johnathan Blake

These days pretty much every phone can capture at least some of a concert in various degrees of dodgy audio or video. But what’s the likehlihood of being at a transcendent performance that ended up being released as a live album? For anybody who might regret missing out on drummer Johnathan Blake‘s transcendent, torrential trio performances with Chris Potter on tenor sax and Linda May Han Oh on bass at the Jazz Gallery earlier this year, good news! You can hear the group in all their dark, majestic, wickedly catchy glory on Blake’s marathon new double live album, Trion, streaming at Bandcamp. Blake has been on a creative tear this year: he’s making his Vanguard debut as a bandleader tonight, Dec 3 with his similarly exhilarating Pentad featuring Joel Ross on vibes and Immanuel Wilkins on tenor sax on a stand that continues through Dec 8, with sets at 8:30 and around 11. You might want to get there early because it’s going to be intense.

For anyone who might scowl snarkily at the idea of a seventeen-minute chordless jazz version of the Police’s Sychronicity I, you have to hear the album’s opening track – to be fair, the original is actually a decent new wave tune and fertile source material. The bandleader kicks it off with a judicious solo tour of the drumkit, like a tabla player making sure everything’s right: Blake’s unusually musical tuning instantly identifies him. All the other tracks here are as epic, if slightly shorter, i.e. around the ten-minute mark. If you want to kick back with an album that’s going to keep you up all night, this is it.

Potter playfully throws a spitball or two before launching into the tune head-on with the rhythm section tightly alongside. From there they motor along, leaving a lot of space and elbow room for Oh’s gritty propulsion, Blake’s adrenalizing outward expansion and Potter’s artful variations. The saxophonist teases the crowd until a searing trill in response to an evil Blake roll; Oh’s long solo has a remarkably austere, balletesque grace.

Oh introduces Trope, her lone composition here, with an expansive yet darkly terse, distantly Appalachian-tinged solo intro, taking the implied menace introduced by the Police tune to the next level; then Potter enters hazily over her warily pulsing chords, which will give you goosebumps. The rest is equal parts gorgeousness and latin-tinged gravitas, which Blake seizes on: it’s arguably the highlight of the night.

Likewise, Oh’s funky intro kicks off the scampering shuffle One for Honor, by Charles Fambrough, the bassist who took a young Blake under his wing early in his career in Philadelphia. This song without words is just about as catchy and unsettled, Potter working the unease of the passing tones for all they’re worth, up to an enveloping hailstorm of a Blake solo.

Blake’s first anthem on the album, High School Daze, will resonate with anyone who couldn’t wait to get the hell out” Potter channels soul-crushing tedium balanced by guarded hope and then playful defiance. Oh subtly runs a hip-hop-tinged loop; Blake makes a second-line groove out of a simple rap riff; then Oh takes a biting solo that brings to mind mid-70s Stevie Wonder. No Bebop Daddy – an incisively waltzing shout out to Donny McCaslin’s kid, who really knew what he didn’t want to hear on the morning drive to school – has a delicously dark, pointillistic Oh solo and a long climb to an aching, livewire Potter crescendo.

Tne second record also gets a solo Blake intro, the subtly leapfrogging Bedrum, leading into the first of the Potter ompositions, the bouncy, hypnotically crescendoing, vampy Good Hope, with a long climb to a mighty sax solo. His second tune is the warmly saturnine Eagle, Oh’s twilit, folksy riffs setting the stage for the saxophonist’s lyrical drift toward wary, modal JD Allen-esque intensity and back. The trio stay in a similar, slightly more carefree latin-tinged vein for a sprawling, impromptu encore of Charlie Parker’s Relaxing at the Camarillo.

The debut recording of the catchy but enigmatically shifting Blue Heart, by Blake’s dad – the distinctive and underrated jazz violinist John Blake Jr. – has a loose-limbed, syncopated strut and Potter’s most casually genial work here. The album’s final number is West Berkley Street, a jaunty shout-out to Blake’s hip-hop-infused childhood stomping ground. What a treat to be able to revisit such a magic couple of nights.

Yet Another Brilliant, Shadowy Album and a Gowanus Release Show From Noir Instrumental Icons Big Lazy

Big Lazy are the world’s most menacingly cinematic instrumental trio. They’re also the world’s darkest jamband, one of Brooklyn’s most popular dance bands…and they keep putting out brilliant albums. The cover of their long-awaited new one, Dear Trouble (streaming at youtube) has a 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon off to the side of a desolate road somewhere in the midwest, facing a tower along the powerline as the clouds linger and the sun sets. That says a lot. They’re playing the album release show this Nov 8-9 at 8 PM at the old American Can Company building at 232 3rd St. in Gowanus. Night one is sold out, but night two isn’t yet; you can get in for $20. They’ll be joined by three of the special guests on the record: Sexmob‘s Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Slavic Soul Party’s Peter Hess on saxes and Miramar’s Farfisa sorceress Marlysse Rose Simmons. Take the F or the R to 4th Ave/9th St.

Interestingly, this turns out to be the band’s quietest, most desolate album. It begins with The Onliest, a loping, skeletal theme slinking along on Andrew Hall’s hypnotically bluesy bassline. They hit an interlude bristling with bandleader/guitarist Steve Ulrich’s signature, macabre chromatics, then eventually a false ending. It’s a good introduction to where the band are at now: there are echoes of horror surf, Angelo Badalementi David Lynch soundtracks, Thelonious Monk and Booker T. & the MGs in the rhythm, although Big Lazy’s sound is inimitably their own.

The album’s title track has Ulrich’s melancholy, resonant lead over a sardonically strutting blend of Nino Rota tinged with early 60s pop: if Tredici Bacci wanted to get really dark, they might sound like this. As is the case with so much of Ulrich’s catalog, the song takes on many different shapes, textures and guitar timbres and winds up far from where it started.

Ramona, with dubby accents from Simmons organ, is one of the spare, overcast bolero-ish tunes that Ulrich writes so well. Cardboard Man features Marc Ribot, a rare guitarist who can go as deep into noir as well as Ulrich, adding eerily flamenco-tinged touches. The exchanges between the two, switching in a split-second between styles, are expertly bittersweet.

Sizzle & Pops – referring to the imaginary roadhouse that Ulrich and his wife would be running in an alternate universe – is a rare moment of straight-up levity for this band, part Booker T, part pseudo Bill Black Combo 50s cheese. Bernstein adds distantly muted New Orleans flavor, both jaundiced and jubilant, on the group’s cover of the Beatles’ Girl: who knew what an ineffably sad song this was!

Drummer Yuval Lion takes the loose-limbed slink of the opening number and raises it several notches with his flurries in Dream Factory as Hall runs another trancey blues bassline, Ulrich’s baritone guitar pulling the song deeper into the shadows. Consider how the title of Cheap Crude could mean many things, and its sardonic rockabilly makes even more sense.

Exit Tucson, another tense, morose quasi-bolero, has all kinds of neat, rippling touches pinging through the sonic picture around Ulrich’s sad broken chords, disconsolately reverberating riffs and long, forlornly shuffling solo. The arguably even more gloomy Fly Paper has a deliciously disorienting blend of tone-bending lapsteel and furtive guitar multitracks: with its trick ending, it’s the most Twin Peaks of any of the songs here.

Ribot returns for Mr. Wrong, a disquietingly syncopted stroll: it’s amazingly how chameleonic yet grimly on task both he and Ulrich are here. The album’s final cut is Sing Sing, Peter Hess’ baritone sax adding extra smoke beneath Ulrich’s lingering, macabre tritones.

Ulrich and Big Lazy are no strangers to the best albums of the year page here. He took first place back in 2012 for the Ulrich Ziegler record, a quasi-Big Lazy album with guitarist/bassist Itamar Ziegler, which turned out to be a one-off project before he reformed the group.. And Big Lazy’s big comeback album, Don’t Cross Myrtle, was #1 with a bullet for 2014. As far as 2019 is concerned, no spoilers, check back here at the end of December…

The “New Nusrat Record” – Believe the Hype

Today’s Halloween month piece concerns someone who has gone to the great qawwali party in the sky. If you haven’t heard the “new Nusrat record,” as everyone seems to be calling it, you should, if hypnotic sounds or dance music are your thing. Credited to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party, this live recording– never before released – from the 1985 WOMAD Festival, was the iconic Pakistani qawwali singer’s first-ever performance in front of a western audience. It’s streaming at Spotify.

The show begins with swirling harmonium over a spare tabla beat. Some of the male members of the party onstage trade ecstatic, imploring, melismatic verses as the harmonium resonates gently behind them; finally, the crowd clap along as the rhythm kicks in and the first number, Allah Ho Allah Ho gets underway. It’s twenty full minutes of hypnotic revelry, pretty much everyone raising his or her voice. Khan’s is both honeyed and gritty, maybe feeling the effects of being on the road.

The catchy, singalong second number, Haq Ali Ali is even longer and slower, in a broodingly chromatic, Middle Eastern-tinged mode; the bristling vocal cadenzas tend to be more incisive and brief. The group take it doublespeed at about the eight-minute mark and don’t look back.

Everybody onstage joins in the rapidfire exchanges of call-and-response in the concert’s most hypnotic number, Shahbazz Qalandar, “A very famous tune,” as Khan succinctly explains. They close with the  sprawling Biba Silda Dil Mor De, returning to an uneasy Middle Eastern-flavored mode. Obviously, miking everybody onstage– vocals, percussion and harmonium – was a potential minefield for the sound engineer, but the recording levels are seamless.

It would be a stretch to call any of this Halloween music – but, this blog did promise you dead people earlier this month.

Cedric Burnside Plays His Individualistic Take on a Classic Mississippi Blues Style at Lincoln Center

Early during his show at Lincoln Center last night, guitarist Cedric Burnside related a story he’d originally heard from his grandfather, iconic hill country bluesman RL Burnside. See, there was this guy who was twenty-two years, still living with his folks. His parents strongly suggest that it’s time for him to find a wife and move out. So he meets a girl and brings her home. Dad takes one look at her and says, “You can’t marry that girl. She’s your sister. But don’t tell your mama, she doesn’t know.”

So the guy goes out and brings another girl home: same deal. At the end of the week, the guy’s mother starts giving him a hard time about not finding a girl and moving out. At this point, the guy spills the beans and tells her what his dad said. His mom’s response is “You can marry either one of those girls if you want, because he ain’t your daddy.”

Much as the younger Burnside draws on a hundred years of revelry and rustic party music, he has his own distinctive sound. Where his “big daddy,” as he called him, played with a careening sway and built a wall of sound with his guitar, this Burnside has a much funkier, incisive, rhythmic attack and a no-nonsense, direct vocal style. And he also plays acoustic, opening the show solo, utilizing an open tuning for a number that was like the source code to early 70s boogie rock, his vocals doubling the catchy bassline at the turnaround.

He followed with a spare, percussive take of RL Burnside’s snide dismissal of a backstabber, Just Like a Woman. He built the next tune by getting the guitar humming with slow hypnotic hammer-on riff, then he’d hit a driving downward progression. He put on his slide for Feel Like Going Home, a more driving, passionate update on the Muddy Waters acoustic version.

Burnside went back to hard-hitting, spare mode for Life Can Be So Easy and its chorus of “Summertime is hard, it’s hard to stay cool,” something Mississippians know a little bit about. Then he brought drummer Brett Benton up and switched to a Les Paul copy for We Made It, sticking with his usual percussive attack, bassline alternating with spare chords: where this guy comes from, this stuff is dance music.

Beyond the open tunings and hypnotic vamping, hill country blues has its own rhythms: bouncier than your typical shuffle but not quite straight-up funk either, and his next couple of numbers worked that hard-swinging style. In the ba-bump tune after that, he revealed that he doesn’t take every gig he’s offered. Going back to the RL Burnside catalog, he did Going Down South with a lot more punch and incisive riffage than the original.

After a thumping warning to “keep your hands off that girl, she don’t belong to you,” he switched to Strat for a number that on the surface was about not missing out – there was another level there, too, the kind of things you might do on a Holly Springs front porch. Meanwhile, it was strange that nobody was up dancing like crowds usually do here. Where were the kids?

The next show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is next Thursday, August 22 at 7:30 PM with whirlwind tropical accordion star El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica and his band. Get there early if you’re going because he’s a force of nature and this show will sell out fast – and it’s free!

Rare 1969 Live Recordings From a Hall of Fame Caliber Blues Festival Lineup Now Available on Vinyl

Half a century ago, Michigan blues fan Jim Fishel brought a low-budget analog tape recorder, a handful of cassettes – and a couple of fresh sets of bulky C batteries – to the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. One can only wonder if he was aware just how much history he was going to capture. The highlights of those field recordings have just been released on vinyl for the first time ever on vinyl, in two volumes streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a goldmine of rare and often unusual performances by some of the greatest blues artists of all time.

The sound quailty varies. A handful of numbers – including J. B. Hutto savagely chopping his way through the Elmore James soundalike Too Much Alcohol, and Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins swinging I Wonder Why – are so trebly that when the guitars are cooking, with the reverb all the way up, it’s painful to listen to them at high volume on headphones. But others are surprisingly good quality – digital tweaking is most likely responsible for a surprising amount of bass presence. And many of the performances are amazing. These artists aren’t pandering to a stoned hippie audience – they’re kicking out the jams just like they’d been doing for decades on the chitlin circuit.

Barrelhouse pianist Roosevelt Sykes’ hilarious hokum blues Dirty Mother For Ya – which he proudly recalls recording for Decca Records in 1934 – opens the album. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup contributes a raw, fresh take of So Glad You’re Mine, just guitar and drums. Junior Wells sends a shout to his blues harp mentor, the late Sonny Boy Williamson, with an expansive performance of Help Me. B.B. King sings a wrenchingly impassioned version of I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living after introducing it with a long, unexpectedly upbeat solo.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s shuffling, twangy slide guitar interpretation of the folk staple John Henry turns out to be more about jaggedly leaping riffage than the story itself. “I plays it different from other folks, you know, I plays it so you can understand it,” he deadpans. Longtime Muddy Waters pianist Pinetop Perkins shows off a punishing left hand in his signature boogie-woogie instrumental.

“The Original Howlin’ Wolf and His Orchestra” get seventeen minutes to seemingly make up a couple of tunes on the spot – and assail an unresponsive sound guy to “Wake up over there!” Hearing the Wolf backed by brass is quite a change, and lead guitarist Hubert Sumlin’s searing solo reminds why he was Jimi Hendrix’ favorite player.

A suave, thirtysomething Otis Rush delivers the elegant Great Migration chronicle So Many Roads. Muddy Waters, in rare form as a showman, tells the crowd he’s going to take them back to the 40s – when he’d run out of a barbershop after a pretty woman on the street – then takes his time with Long Distance Call.

Interestingly, it’s harpist Charlie Musselwhite and band who veer the closest to jazz here, with the jump blues instrumental Moovin’ and Groovin’. T-Bone Walker is all over the place but just as sophisticated throughout a careening, eleven-minute Stormy Monday, then returns to do the same behind Big Mama Thornton’s unleashed wail on Ball and Chain.

Magic Sam turns in one of the night’s most feral numbers with I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie). Shirley Griffith’s spare, precise take of Jelly Jelly Blues is the biggest throwback to the old delta style here. One of only two acoustic performances here is from Big Joe Williams, whose high-voltage Juanita strangely doesn’t seem to grab the audience.

Sam Lay’s version of Key to the Highway doesn’t take many chances with the Muddy Waters original. The band follow Lightning Hopkins’ unpredictable changes in Mojo Hand with aplomb; then James Cotton works the dynamics of his blues harp instrumental Off the Wall up and down for fifteen increasingly interminable minutes. The album winds up with Son House prefacing his iconic Death Letter Blues with some oldtime blues history, then giving an impressively shivery treatment, solo on acoustic with his slide.

Obviously, you can’t expect a field recording to be perfect, sonically or otherwise, and this isn’t. Clifton Chenier was every bit as proficient at blues as he was at zydeco, so the cajun ballad Tu M’a Promis is out of place. A pretty pointless Luther Allison interlude is haphazardly edited, and the Big Mojo Ellum tune could have been left on the cutting room floor. The piano goes further and further out of tune, intros and outros get chopped off, there’s audience chitchat and a couple of quaint moments where the tape stops and then restarts. Still, for diehard electric blues fans, this is a must-hear and it’s a great introduction for kids who’re just getting into the music.

A Haunting, Riveting Opening Night at This Year’s Drive East Festival of Indian Music

The Drive East Festival has rapidly become the Indian music counterpart to the Charlie Parker Festival: New York’s most highly anticipated concert series in a rapidly growing demimonde. In recent years, opening night has been a feast of thrills and chills. This past evening, sitarist Hidayat Khan may have set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the week with his relentlessly haunting duo performance with tabla player Enayat Hossain. Then again, the rest of the schedule promises similarly transcendent moments.

In about an hour and a half onstage, Khan”s approach to a bracingly chromatic South Indian raga was nothing short of symphonic. What was most striking, intellectually, was how effortlessly and imaginatively he built a series of several thematic variations and then interpolated them into the piece. What was most emotionally riveting was how relentlessly sad the music was: Khan’s brow remained furrowed throughout the entire duration of his opening alap. If there was ever a raga to reflect this grim historical era, this was it.

Khan may have serious chops on the sitar, but he quickly made it clear that this wouldn’t be about searing solos: it was about poignancy, and longing for some kind of closure. He finally delivered that about three-quarters of the way through the concert, but not until then. The alap was spare, somber, bristling with unresolved phrases that tantalized but eluded any decisive landing. Khan’s virtuosity revealed itself the most in a series of wrist-twisting bent notes that he delivered with such force that it seemed he might be using an icy electronic effect like a chorus pedal.

Maybe whoever invented the chorus pedal once saw a sitar virtuoso doing the same thing to build that kind of ambience.

There was plenty of daunting interplay between sitar and tabla throughout the set, Khan challenging Hossain to match his increasingly thorny syncopation note for note: Hossain nailed every phrase. Other sitar virtuosos like to build dynamic contrasts and ride the waves up and down, but Khan was intent on watching the darkness. The central theme was a close approximation of the edgy Arabic hijaz mode, but without the microtones – unless you count the sometimes subtle, occasionally savage bent notes in his matter-of-fact, unrelentingly brooding phrases over Hossain’s sometimes galloping, sometimes stark four-on-the-floor beat

The two alluded to an Afro-Cuban clave for extra slinkiness about three-quarters of the way through, then hit the passing lane, only to detour to the shoulder of this musical road as Khan brought the plaintiveness of the central theme full circle. The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 6 at 6 PM at the Mezzanine Theatre at 502 W 53rd St with Bharatanatyam dancers Rasika Kumar, Sahasra Sambamoorthi and Nadhi Thekkek performing their new piece Unfiltered, inspired by the Metoo movement. There’s also a live score by spellbinding singer Roopa Mahadevan with violinists Sruti Sarathi and Arun Ramamurthy. Tickets are $30.

Brent Arnold and Aditya Kalyanpur Create an Entertaining, High-Energy Repertoire for Cello and Tabla at the Rubin Museum

Last night at their sold-out show at the Rubin Museum of Art, Brent Arnold and Aditya Kalyanpur had about as much fun as a cellist and a tabla player can rustle up in about an hour and a half onstage. The music definitely wasn’t classical, and there were only a couple of numbers in their energetic yet frequently hypnotic set that sounded remotely Indian.

One of those interludes was a tabla solo. Early in the set, Kalyanpur built frenetic volleys of sixteenth notes and hung with those perfectly articulated beats, making it easy while seemingly waiting for a sign from Arnold to chill. Arnold didn’t give him one. How long was Kalyanpur going to be able to keep this up? Probably indefinitely, at the rate he was going.

Later on, completely deadpan, he moved from a similarly rapidfire thicket of beats to a wryly muted, bubbly, low-register brook, then had goofy fun with slowly oscillating notes that became a booming, strutting, cartoonish portrait of somebody who takes himself way, way too seriously. It got the most applause of the night.

Arnold may be best known for his loopmusic, but there were inumerable passages during the show where he could have stashed away several long, circular patterns in his pedal and then just let them play back. But he didn’t. Witnessing him articulate them live, with subtle variations in attack and tone, was a rare treat in this style of music.

Arnold plucks as much, maybe more than he bows: essentially, this was a drum-n-bass set. The duo made quasi trip-hop out of a famous Thelonious Monk chorus, but without the usual loopy CHUNK, ka-chunk. Arnold’s opening tune, and one of the later ones as well, had a rustic, often wistful Adirondack folk freshness. A couple of slower numbers could have been Palestinian dirges…without the chromatics and microtones. Other than a clever, enigmatic detour into the whole-note scale, and swaths of sustained chords keening with microtones, Arnold stuck wit traditional western tonalities.

The night’s most epic, shapeshifting number seemed to conjure up fishing for increasingly larger and more dangerous prey. Other tunes either alluded to or distantly brought to mind hard funk, and Tunisian rai music, and occasionally the more playful side of two other cellists with a thing for loops, Julia Kent and Maya Beiser. But Arnold is more aggressively rhythmic and less brooding – and has created his own instantly recognizable, entertaining sound.

The Rubin Museum of Art is home to lots of music throughout the year, both in the comfortable basement-level auditorium and throughout the building (the Brooklyn Raga Massive held their annual all-night raga marathon here for a few years). This Sunday, July 21 the museum has free admission all day, with activities for kids plus performances by a Nepalese hip-hop collective and a thunderous all-female Brazilian samba reggae drum corps.

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.