New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Jordan McLean

Epic Big Band Surrealism and a Jazz Standard Gig From the Michael Leonhart Orchestra

The Michael Leonhart Orchestra‘s previous album traced the epic journey of a swarm of butterflies all the way from Mexico to Egypt. Breathtaking as that trip over the top of the globe was, Leonhart’s new album with the ensemble, Suite Extracts Vol, 1 – streaming at Spotify – goes in a completely different direction, although in places it’s even more swirlingly atmospheric. If the idea of big band versions of songs by Spinal Tap, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Wu-Tang Clan and Howlin Wolf are your idea of a good time, you should hear this record. Leonhart and the group are at the Jazz Standard on Nov 12, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $30.

The album opens with an exuberantly brassy Afrobeat arrangement of the Nusrat classic Alu Jon Jonki Jon, punctuated by cheery sax solos. Things get more surrealistically entertaining from there. The first of a grand total of six tunes from the Spinal Tap soundtrack, the wryly titled La Fuga Di Derek turns out to be a moody piece for Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon and Pauline Kim’s pizzicato violin. Schoenbeck’s desolate solo intro to Big Bottom offers absolutely no idea of where the song is going: as you would expect, Leonhart has fun with the low reeds, and also adds an accordion solo from Nathan Koci. From there, they segue into a one-chord jam that’s ostensibly Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. Most of this actually makes more sense in context than it would seeem to, Leonhart’s chart following a similar trajectory from spare and enigmatic to an extended, achingly shreddy sax break over mutedly snappy bass chords.

Likewise, The Dance of the Maidens at Stonehenge has repetitive low brass bursts bookended by lots of African percussion: it’s as sardonic as the original. As is the medley of Jazz Odyssey and Lick My Love Pump, a brooding accordion solo bridging the ominous opening soundscape and the majestic, sweeping arrangement of the film score’s most sarcastically poignant tune. The final Spinal Tap number, The Ballad of St. Hubbins is the album’s vastest vista, Robbie Mangano’s spaghetti western Morricone guitar over postapocalyptic Pink Floyd atmospherics.

The Wu and their members are first represented by the Ghostface classic Liquid Swords, reinvented with forlorn Ray Mason trombone over grey-sky ambience, with darkly Balkan-tinged accordion: RZA would no doubt approve. Da Mystery of Chessboxing vamps along, alternately gusty and blithe, hypnotic and funky, while Liquid Chamber provides a launching pad for a slashing, Romany-flavored violin solo from Kim.

The diptych of ODB’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya and Raekwon’s Glaciers of Ice is the album’s most distinctively noir track, all ominous rises and falls. The concluding tune is a beefy take of Fela’s Quiet Man Is Dead Man and Opposite People, which could be Antibalas at their most symphonic. And Leonhart recasts the Howlin Wolf hit Built for Comfort as a slow, simmering, roadhouse fuzztone groove evocative of Quincy Jones’ 1960s film work.

Leonhart conducts and plays trumpet, mellophonium and bass harmonica; the rest of the group also includes Kevin Raczka and Eric Harland sharing the drum chair, Elizabeth Pupo-Walker and Daniel Freedman on percussion; Joe Martin and Jay Leonhart (Michael’s dad) on bass; Nels Cline on guitar; Philip Dizack, Dave Guy, Jordan McLean, Carter Yasutake and Andy Bush on trumpets; John Ellis, Ian Hendrickson-Smith, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin and Jason Marshall on saxes; Sam Sadigursky and Daniel Srebnick on flutes and Erik Friedlander on cello.

The Sway Machinery and Hydra Stage a Magical, Otherworldly, Psychedelic Collaboration at Joe’s Pub

While a whole lot of New Yorkers were up at Lincoln Center Out of Doors to hear Lucinda Williams, an audience of cognoscenti filled Joe’s Pub to witness this city’s most auspicious musical collaboration this year, between the magically Balkan-influenced all-female trio Hydra and the Sway Machinery, who could be described as a cantorially-influenced psychedelic desert rock band. Hearing frontman/guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood’s impassioned, melismatic baritone amidst the pulsing, distantly gospel-inflected harmonies of Luminescent Orchestrii’s Rima Fand, Nanuchka’s Yula Beeri and Black Sea Hotel‘s Sarah Small was viscerally spine-tingling. Lockwood might be the strongest male singer in New York, and stood out even more when bolstered by the three women’s uneasy, deep-sky close harmonies.

It wasn’t until late in the set that Fand persuaded Lockwood to explain the origins of his band’s songs. He related modestly that they drew on Jewish liturgical melodies that vary widely, depending on where in the Jewish diaspora you come from, to the point of being very individual, from family to family. What he didn’t add is that he’s the scion of a famous cantorial legacy, and that the Sway Machinery’s songs take those millennia-old themes into the present day via a host of influences every bit as global.

Lockwood’s guitar playing draws equally on his mentor, the late country bluesman Carolina Slim, as well as loping, hypnotic Saharan Tuareg rock and Afrobeat: it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Sway Machinery the American Tinariwen. When his voice wasn’t reaching for the rafters with a soaring, sometimes imploring intensity, he drove the band with his slinky, snaky, incisively spiraling Telecaster riffs and a handful of snarling, tightly coiled solos. In one of the night’s most dynamic numbers, there were two basslines going, Nikhil P.Yerawadekar on the low end and Lockwood slightly higher up the scale, holding down his low E with his thumb while fingerpicking out a snaky lead at the same time. Strat player Tim Allen alternated between airy, astringent textures, jangly interplay with Lockwood and a couple of blue-flame solos. Drummer John Bollinger kept a tricky, rolling beat going, punctuated by Matt Bauder’s tenor sax and Jordan McLean’s trumpet.

Midway through the set, the Sway Machinery left the stage to Hydra to sing a brief and tantalizingly dazzling, eclectic set. The interplay between the three personalities was as interesting to witness as their harmonies. This may seem overly reductionistic, and it probably is, but Fand the mystic, Beeri the Secretary of Entertainment and Small the badass, tall and resolutely swaying to the beat, brought a dynamism and nuance that was every bit the sum of its formidable parts.

Their first number without the band behind them evoked Small’s innovatively intimate arrangements of Bulgarian choral music. While that’s what she’s made a name for herself with in the popular trio Black Sea Hotel, Beeri and Fand proved just as much at home in those eerie close harmonies and microtones. From there they ventured into a diptych of flamenco and Ladino-tinged Spanish folk tunes, then a starlit, mandolin-driven lullaby by Fand, a stark Russian Romany tune, then the Sway Machinery returned for the night’s most intricately orchestrated, ornately thrilling mini-epic. Between everyone onstage, they sang in Hebrew, Spanish, Ukrainian and English. Let’s hope this isn’t the only time this otherworldly, entrancing collaboration gets staged in this city.

The Sway Machinery Release Their Richly Psychedelic New Album on a Killer Multi-Band Bill at the Knitting Factory

You might think that a song titled You Will Love No One But Me would be a creepy tale about a stalker. As the title track to the Sway Machinery’s new ep – streaming at Soundcloud – it’s a characteristically eclectic, warmly tuneful mashup of reggae, Afrobeat and psychedelia, frontman Jeremiah Lockwood’s enigmatic, deliciously jangly guitar solo at the center. Like most bands in this century, the Sway Machinery have recorded sporadically, if memorably: their previous album Purity and Danger, from earlier in the year, is a sparkling, psychedelic masterpiece, and this one picks up where that one left off. They’re playing smack in the middle of one of this year’s most enticing and eclectic bills on December 16 at around 9 at the Knitting Factory: country blues guitarist/songwriter Jon LaDeau opens at around 7, followed by funky psychedelic Ethiopiques band Nikhil P. Yerawadekar and Low Mentality, the Sway Machinery and then the People’s Champs, who lately have taken a hard turn from funk into Afrobeat at its most psychedelic. Advance tix at the box offfice, open on show nights, are a bargan at $10.

Beyond the title cut, the Sway Machinery ep’s other tracks are just as choice. Kith & Kin bubbles and dances on the wings of Matt Bauder’s sax and Jordan McLean’s trumpet up to Lockwood’s eerie, lingering minor-key twelve-string phrases, an uncanny approximation of a Middle Eastern kanun that works like a charm in the context of this Ethiopiques-tinged tune. Can’t Help But Stare veers from hints of garage rock, to reverb-drenched dub reggae over the steady pulse of bassist Yerawadekar and drummer John Bollinger, up to an almost stadium-rock grandeur.

This Kiss Blooms But Once a Year is the most straightforward and hard-hitting song here, Lockwood’s biting guitar and expressively melismatic baritone welded to a groove that’s part ominously foreshadowed Ethiopiques and part Marquee Moon-era Television. The final cut, My Beloved, is the most unselfconsciously gorgeous, a brass-spiced, simmeringly guitar-fueled, pouncing update on an ancient cantorial theme. As is typical with this band, there are allusions and frequently less oblique references to the Hasidic music that Lockwood came up in – his grandfather, Jacob Konigsberg, was legendary as a choir leader and soloist in that demimonde, and remains a profound influence in the group’s work as well as the guitarist’s many solo and theatrical projects.

The Sway Machinery Release Another Fiery, Eclectic, Psychedelic Masterpiece

The Sway Machinery are one of the real feel-good stories of the New York rock scene. They’ve come a long, long way since their days in the early zeros, when as one esteemed New York guitarist put it, they were sort of the “cantorial AC/DC.” There’s no band in the world who sound remotely like them. Mashing up hypnotic Saharan duskcore, biting postpunk, Afrobeat, funk and ancient Hasidic ngunim with a searing, guitar-fueled undercurrent, they’re one of the most individualistic and consistently exciting groups to emerge from this city in this century. They’ve got a new album, Purity and Danger, due out next week (hence no streaming link, although three of the tracks are up at soundcloud) and an album release show on March 1 at 6 (yes, six) PM at Baby’s All Right. Cover is $10, which is dirt cheap for that venue.

The big difference with this album is that it’s something of a return to their hard-rocking roots. Bass saxophonist Colin Stetson has been switched out for Antibalas‘ guitar-bass team of Tim Allen and Nikhil Yerawadekar, who provide a bouncy contrast for frontman Jeremiah Lockwood’s tersely searing reverbtoned guitar riffs. The album opens with the brisk, punchy Afrobeat-tinged instrumental title track, Lockwood’s chords blasting in the right channel, Allen playing lithe jangle in the left against the bright harmonies of trumpeter Jordan McLean and saxophonist Matt Bauder over a groove that’s equally catchy and hypnotic.

Rachamana D’Onay mashes up Middle Eastern rock, reggae and Ethiopiques into a surreallistically dancing stew. Revive the Dead has an irrepressible drive that’s part Sly Stone, part pensive 70s European art-rock, with a long jam that’s a study in tasty guitar contrasts, and a soulful trumpet solo out. My Dead Lover’s Wedding circles and careens around a rhythm that’s part 70s stoner art-rock, part camelwalking assouf desert rock.

On Magein Avos, Lockwood makes a bouncy, trickily rhythmic anthem out of its otherworldly, rustic cantorial theme, drummer John Bollinger pushing it with a restless, hard-hitting pulse. The band does Longa, another number based on an ancient traditional theme, as marauding Middle Eastern surf: imagine Eyal Maoz out in front of Budos Band. Then Lockwood returns to a lingering, resonantly psychedelic groove with Al Tashlicheini, a launching pad for his soaring, impassioned baritone vocals.

Od Hapaam is a mashup of joyous oldschool soul, blazing Ethiopiques and searing, suspensefully cinematic stadium rock, Lockwood’s rumbling solo leaving a long trail of sparks in its wake. My Angel’s House skirts funk, desert rock and rhythmically shapeshifting art-rock without hitting any of those style head-on, although Lockwood’s sputtering guitar here wouldn’t be out of place in a Bombino song. The album winds up with Rozo D’Shabbos, by the great Russian-American cantor Pierre Pinchik, reinvented as a vigorously crescendoing anthem that rises out of a hypnotic Afrobeat vamp. Knowing the band, they’ll probably jam the hell out of these songs live.