New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: jon lipscomb guitar

Halloween Gets to Greenpoint a Little Early This Year

If your ideal Halloween would be coming face to face with something genuinely disturbing rather than filling up on a bucketful of free candy, going out into icy, torrential rain would be a good way to start the evening. The spy satellites can’t see through the clouds, and the spycams get all streaked up. Watch your back, and you could literally get away with murder.

The walk from the L train past McCarren Park to Manhattan Inn on Greenpoint Avenue, and then back, was enough to soak through a heavy winter coat the night that Big Lazy and Beninghove’s Hangmen played what could have been a notorious show there. The prospect of seeing two, maybe even three hours of macabre, marauding, stampeding noir cinematic instrumentals – and the cred of having been witness to it – justified the trip, theoretically at least.

The show that this blog trumpeted last spring as being the year’s most auspicious twinbill didn’t exactly turn out that way. Not a fault of the bands, or the musicians, but the space.

If you’ve seen a band rip the roof off your local every month for almost two years, you hold them to a high standard (another way of looking at it is that you take them for granted). If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Big Lazy. For those who’ve stumbled onto this page for the first time, the guitar/bass/drums trio play reverbtoned, cinematic instrumentals that blend David Lynch film score sounds with those of an earlier era, from Nino Rota’s Fellini themes, through surf rock and Ennio Morricone spaghetti western. Live, about half of what they play is improvisational: they are the consummate dark jamband. They also rely very heavily on audience interaction: people typically dance at their shows.

But there was nowhere to dance here. What was weirdest was how the band was set up: guitarist Steve Ulrich and bassist Andrew Hall found themselves facing drummer Yuval Lion, in the center of the room, surrounded by tables of diners and neighborhood newcomers who’d probably ducked in to get out of the rain. This completely discombubulated the trio: not being able to see half the crowd was obviously a drag, and the group never got unglued. Songs were shorter, solos far more brief, and from the perspective of sitting behind the drums –  the only place left in the room by the time the show started – it was hard to hear what was going on. For any musician who’s ever struggled through a tough set, don’t get down on yourself: even the world’s best bands sometimes have an off night. Usually it’s not their fault.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen hit, they were half in the bag and didn’t let the weirdness of the configuration – amps facing the drums – stop them from turning in a ferocious, careeningly intense set. They opened with an epic take of Surf N’ Turk. The version on their amazing Rattlesnake Chopper album is a blistering, Middle Eastern-flavored horror surf number; this time around, they started with a volcanic metal intro and then slowed down to a midtempo swing, through a long, forlorn Rick Parker trombone solo, saturnine microtonal jangle from guitarist Dane Johnson and some savage, insistent, hammering passing tones from bandleader/tenor saxophonist Bryan Beninghove that he’d reprise several times over as the night went on.

By contrast, Surfin’ Satie – a gleefully evil go-go surf take on a classic Erik Satie tune – was just as amped-up as the album version, the group clearly gasssed to have drummer Sean Baltazor back behind the kit. Then they slowed things down with a haphazardly psychedelic take of Pineapples and Ashtrays, the centerpiece of their new album. The studio version pairs a subtly sunny, wryly sarcastic cornpone theme with an increasingly horror-stricken chase narrative. This time out, they ramped up the psychedelics, guest guitarist Jon Lipscomb playing axe murderer against Johnson’s heavy-lidded bemusement. From there the band skanked slowly through the Lynchian dub reggae of Lola’s Got a Gun, brought the red-light roadhouse theme Roebuck down to a slow swamp-rock groove, and eventually ended with droll, explosively elephantine takes of familiar Neil Diamond and Led Zep tunes.

Big Lazy return to their someday-legendary monthly Barbes residency this Friday, Oct 7 at 10 PM; Beninghove’s Hangmen don’t seem to have anything coming up at the moment. But this is Halloween month – watch this space!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can We Please Never Ever Hear Xmas Music Again?

How sadistic is it to review an album of Christmas music the day after the holiday? Well, kind of. But there’s a catch here. See, Super Hi-Fi‘s Yule Analog Vol. 1: A Very Dubby Christmas – streaming at Spotify – was written by and for people who HATE Christmas music.

And who doesn’t? Come to think of it, Hanukkah music is pretty awful too. There isn’t any of that on this masterfully crafted dub reggae remake of a bunch of old carols, but there might as well be: the source material for most of these songs is quickly subsumed in an icy wash of echo and reverb and tasty trombone. The point of all this is that it’s good all year long, a good joke to pull on a roomful of stoners:

“Dude, you just put on a Christmas album! Hahahahaha!”

“You’ve been listening to it for the last half hour, doofus.”

Bassist Ezra Gale rescues We Three Kings with a classic minor-key riff, and does much the same with his arrangements of the other cheeseballs on the program. To his infinite credit, most of this stuff is just plain good, woozy, echoey dub in a purist oldschool Black Ark vein. Beyond fiddling with the knobs, his secret is to reharmonize the melodies just a smidge, an old jazz trope.

The trombonists – Rick Parker and Alex Asher (of John Brown’s Body) can barely contain their cynicism on It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, but Gale’s chart quickly sends them off on a soca tangent with Jon Lipscomb’s guitar spinning amiably behind them. There’s a second version of that song later on that’s much better, and catchier, for being unrecognizable.

Little Drummer Boy, arguably the ickiest Christmas song ever, will leave you on the floor laughing: it’s an audio whippit, courtesy of Lipscomb’s full-on nitrous assault. Gale and the band get away with leaving Go Tell It on the Mountain more intact than most everything here, which works since it’s a spiritual and hasn’t been played to death during the holiday season. The second version of the song, which appears later, is even better and more dynamic.

The band flips the script by kicking off God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as a ska tune, drummer Madhu Siddappa keeping it pretty straight-ahead before Gale gets crazy with the faders and the reverb knob. There are two versions of the title track, the second one longer and with more of a duppy-invoking 70s Jamaican atmosphere than the other. Either way, it’s the most hypnotic, psychedelic piece of music here, and if it’s not an original, what it was to begin with is a mystery. There’s also a ska version of Auld Lang Syne that sounds like it was inspired by a lot more beer than weed. For those whose contempt for Christmas music hasn’t reached breaking point, this album’s good for plenty of laughs.