New York Music Daily

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Tag: Jeff Hudgins sax

A Deliciously Psychedelic Album and a Saturday Night Barbes Show by One of New York’s Best Bands

Lately Bombay Rickey are calling themselves “operatic surf noir.” What’s coolest about that observation is that this irrepressible, individualistic group realize just how dark a lot of surf rock is – and how much grand guignol there is in opera. In reality, the only real western opera references in their music are channeled via frontwoman/accordionist/sitarist Kamala Sankaram’s spectacular, practically five-octave vocals. Otherwise the group transcend their origins as a Yma Sumac cover band, mashing up cumbia, Bollywood, spaghetti western, brassy Nancy Sinatra Vegas noir and even classical ragas into a wildly psychedelic, danceable vindaloo. Their new album Electric Bhairavi is streaming at Bandcamp, and they’re headlining their usual haunt, Barbes, this Saturday night at 10 PM.

The album title refers to the Indian goddess: Bhairavi is Lord Shiva’s squeeze, an eastern counterpart of sorts to Hera in Greek mythology. While the band can jam like crazy in concert, the new album is surprisingly more terse. The first track is a wildly psychedelic, Bollywoodized reinvention of the old Yma Sumac hit Virgenes del Sol, Sankaram vocalizing with tongue-in-cheek, pointillistic, Verdi-ish flair over Drew Fleming’s spiky guitar, alto saxophonist Jeff Hudgins adding a luscious solo packed with otherworldly microtones and chromatics.

The group kick off Frantic with a scream: from there, they veer from Fleming’s growling guitar against Sankaram’s flitting accordion, down to a pulsing, insectile, distangly bhangra-tinged interlude where drummer Brian Adler gets his hardware flickering, Hudgins’ sax channeling a neon-crazed moth. Kohraa, one of the band’s catchiest and most wickedly serpentine live numbers, has a slinky guaguanco beat and an uneasy interweave of surf guitar, accordion and sax. Sankaram blends allure and nuance in this beachy reminiscence.

Bhonkers – a typical title for this band – leaps between a wistfully opaque, accordion-fueled raga theme and tinges of sunbaked border rock. Likewise, Megalodon – saluting a sea monster who’s been extinct for forty thousand years – alternates between lush majesty and surf drive, Adler and bassist Gil Smuskowitz’s pulsing, syncopated riff signaling the charge.

Gopher is classic Bombay Rickey, a sly mashup of mambo, psychedelic cumbia and Bollywood. Sankaram’s droll Betty Boop accents bring to mind another  brilliant New York singer, Rachelle Garniez, in similarly sardonic mode, Hudgins and Fleming both kicking in with bristling solos. LIkewise, with Sa-4-5, they make dramatic raga-rock out of a spine-tingling, well-known Indian carnatic vocal riff.

Meri Aakhon Mein Ek Sapna Hai brings a purloined Meters strut back full circle from Bollywood: this band can really jam out the funk when they want, Hudgins pulling out all the microtonal stops as he weaves around, Sankaram reaching back for extra power in her vocalese solo during a long, hypnotic interlude over Adler’s tabla. 

The album’s most brooding track, Cowboy & Indian is a reference to band heritage – Fleming is a native Texan while the California-born Sankaram’s background is Indian. It’s an unexpectedly elegaic southwestern gothic ballad: “Midnight comes when you least expect it, but springtime will never come again,” the two harmonize. 

They wind up the record with the towering, epic raga-rock title track, rising from Sankaram’s mystical sitar intro to a mighty, guitar-fueled sway. Like the group’s previous release, Cinefonia – rated best debut album of 2014 here – this one will end up on the list of 2018’s best albums at the end of the year

Bombay Rickey Put Out a Hauntingly Twangy, Exhilarating Debut Album

Brooklyn band Bombay Rickey‘s new album Cinefonia – streaming at Bandcamp – has got to be the best debut release of 2014, hands down. With twangy guitars, hypnotic grooves and frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram’s shattering five-octave vocals, the band blends surf music, psychedelic cumbias, Bollywood and southwestern gothic into a lusciously tuneful, darkly bristling mix. Bollywood is usually the root source lurking somewhere in each of the album’s ten surprise-packed, shapeshifting songs, but cumbia, spaghetti western soundtracks, and the Ventures in their border-rock moments are more-or-less constant reference points as well. Imagine a more south Asian-influenced Chicha Libre fronted by one of the most exhilarating voices in any style of music, a picture that becomes clearer considering that Sankaram got the inspiration for this project the night she teamed up with Chicha Libre for one-off Yma Sumac cover show. Bombay Rickey are venturing north from their Barbes home base to play a Manhattan album release show on Sept 8 at 8 PM at Joe’s Pub; advance tix are $12, which is the closest thing to a bargain as you’ll ever get at this shi-shi venue.

Sankaram’s voice could shatter a black hole, never mind glass. Much as she’s built a very versatile career (everybody from Philip Glass, to free jazz icon Anthony Braxton, to opera companies, keep her busy), this band seems to be a defiant attempt to resist all attempts at being pigeonholed. Then again, defiance is a familiar trait with her: when she’s not fronting other groups, she’s writing and performing her own politically transgressive operas.

Guitarist/keyboardist Drew Fleming is a connoisseur of 60s surf and psychedelic sounds. Saxophonist/clarinetist Jeff Hudgins has a fondness for Mediterranean and Balkan tonalities; bassist Gil Smuskowitz shifts effortlessly between idioms, as do drummer Sam Merrick, percussionists Timothy Quigley and Brian Adler. The album opens with a Sumac tune, Taki Rari – it sounds like Los Mirlos‘ surf-cumbia classic Sonido Amazonico going down the Ganges. The interchange of accordion, strings, a sizzling sax solo and Sankaram’s electrifying shriek at the end are a visceral thrill, and do justice to the woman who sang it first.

Bombay 5-0, by Sankaram, transcends an awkward venture into takadimi drum language, Hudgins’ uneasy sax setting the stage for a big, dramatic, arioso vocal crescendo. Promontory Summit, a Fleming tune, explores dusky, hallucinatory desert rock vistas, bookended by balmy jazz-tinged ambience. The version of the Bollywood classic Dum Maro Dum (meaning “take another toke”) here is a lot more subtle and creepily suspenseful than either the boisterous, horn-fueled original or the many covers other bands have done over the years.

Pondicherry Surf Goddess, by Hudgins, starts out as an ambling shout-out to the Ventures, then winds its way through blistering newshchool Romany funk and art-rock. Another Hudgins tune, the somewhat menacing El Final Del Pachanga evokes Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Destellos, Hudgins’ sax intertwining with Sankaram’s supersonic vocal flights, Fleming following with a deliciously spiraling surf guitar solo.

Fleming sings the Johnny Horton-ish Coyote in the Land of the Dead, which sounds suspiciously like a parody. Likewise, Sankaram’s similarly deadpan rhumba-ish arrangement of a popular Mozart theme, which might have taken its cue from Chicha Libre covering Wagner. The high point among many on this album is a Sankaram composition, Pilgram, her wickedly precise, loopy accordion winding through a misterioso, lingering, surfy stroll with ominous bass and alto sax solos, the latter building to a spine-tingling coda. The album winds up with another darkly cinematic Sankaram number, Toco’s Last Stand, blending Balkan-flavored sax, dancing accordion and terse surf guitar underneath the singer’s unearthly wail. It’s a teens counterpart to the Ventures’ classic Besame Mucho Twist. This might not just be the best debut album of the year: it might be the best album of 2014, period.

Bombay Rickey Plays Amazing Psychedelic Bollywood Rock at Barbes

It would be reductionistic to the extreme to describe Bombay Rickey as a psychedelic, Bollywood-influenced surf rock band. Their show Saturday night at Barbes was an example of the best kind of results a band can get blending literally dozens of styles from around the world, including ideas from American rock spun through the prism of other cultures who transformed them and then blew them back at us. That was apparent from bassist Gil Smuskowitz’s first few notes: he was playing the riff from Sonido Amazonico, the Peruvian chicha classic that the Barbes house band, Chicha Libre, immortalized on their 2008 debut album. That was only the beginning. Alto saxophonist Jeff Hudgins took the song, a rock arrangement of a Bollywood theme, deep into the shadows with a sinuous, noir solo, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram adding a contrastingly boisterous, playful edge with some rapidfire, staccato vocalese over the jangle and twang. She’s probably the most powerful singer to play [fill in the name of your favorite venue – if she’s been onstage there, it’s most likely true]. Yet her mighty coloratura soprano is only part of the picture. When she sang off-mic, she was the loudest instrument in the band; when she went on mic to color the songs with minute, more subtle shades, the effect was no less exhilarating. Later on in the set, they did a Yma Sumac song as a psychedelic cumbia and Sankaram made hitting all those stratospherically high notes look like just another day at work.

Their most intricate number was a joint homage to Steve Reich and Ennio Morricone, intertwining a spaghetti western theme into a blithely circular indie classical accordion-and-guitar riff, Hudgins’ apprehensive, microtonal atmospherics building the suspense to breaking point. They followed a takadimi arioso surf song with a Mozart aria done as a jaunty bolero, the pinpoint precision of Sankaram’s upper-register swoops wowing the crowd. A weedhead hare krishna theme translated to English as “take another toke,” Sankaram explained with a grin. Then Hudgins sang a spaghetti western ballad driven by Drew Fleming’s ominously jangly reverb guitar, with a long, hypnotic interlude that Fleming finally took up with an off-center menace. A little later, Hudgins and Sankaram duetted on a torchy, pensive chamber-pop song that was a dead ringer for another Barbes band, the Snow: “Midnight comes when you least expect it, and spring will never come again,” Sankaram intoned with a wounded poignancy.

Another number started out as a spaghetti western theme, then went in a Beatlesque direction, then picked up with a klezmer-ish series of sax riffs and soaring, powerhouse vocalese from Sankaram. They closed with Tuco’s Last Stand, a pensive bolero galloping gently along on percussionist Timothy Quigley’s mysterioso groove. Folks, this is the future of music: every style, from every spot on the world is fair game. Bombay Rickey just happens to have more of those flavors in their fingers than just about anybody else. They’re at Branded Saloon on Ft. Greene on August 24 at 10.