New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: lincoln center out of doors review

An Oldschool Soul Show Offers a Break from a Scorching Summer at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

This has been a challenging year for summer outdoor concerts in New York, to say the least. It’s impossible to remember if events across the city parks were ever cancelled en masse as they were a couple of weekends ago because of the heat. If there was ever a July where the chickens came home to roost to crush the global warming deniers’ conspiracy theories, this was it.

So maybe it’s understandable that on the one deliciously cool night of the week, people would be slow to get out of reflex mode, holed up in front of their air conditioners while Lee Fields and the Expressions were playing a simmering set of mostly midtempo oldschool soul songs at Damrosch Park. At its peak Saturday evening, the space might have been at half capacity. And that’s not a fault of programming: anyone who remembers the huge crowds that Sharon Jones used to draw around town knows how popular 1960s-style soul music remains. Still, it was weird to see a Lincoln Center Out of Doors bill that wasn’t close to being sold out.

The synergy between the gritty-voiced sixtysomething frontman and his devoted backing band, at least a generation removed, is clear. They get a seasoned master of moving crowds and getting people to get down, and he gets a bunch of guys who totally get what he does. Over the years, they’ve been a rotating cast of characters, although their collective sonics are spot-on retro.

This particular bassist had tweaked his big Marshall stack and Fender Jazz model to get a perfect, late 60s style clicky attack and decay that fell away almost as fast. In tandem with the group’s nimble, precisely swinging drummer, it wasn’t quite as if Fields had Booker T & the MGs backing him – but it was close. The keyboardist switched between a smoky B3 organ sound and subtle, low-key, bubbling Rhodes piano. The two-man horn section – trumpet and tenor sax – added spicy staccato and looming ambience, while the group’s conguera provided extra texture as well as animated backing vocals. Guitarist Thomas Brenneck ran his vintage hollow-body through generous amounts of reverb, shifting expertly between expansive chords, plaintively lingering accents and a little chicken-scratch funk.

After awhile, two-chord soul vamps tend to blend into each other, but the band mixed them up. At one point Brenneck nicked the “if we ever get out of here” riff from Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run and then ran with it. Methodically and seamlessly, they shifted from the sly come-on Will I Get Off Easy, to the insistent, practically hypnotic Love Prisoner, to the indignantly forceful Wake Up. “I’m sick of all these lies!” Fields railed.

Getting a listless crowd to sing along proved to be as much of a slog for Fields as it was for the other artists on the bill. On one hand, watching Grupo Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada play similarly expert soul riffs behind a parade of oldschool and newschool Texas soul singers was impressive. On the other hand, not everybody crossing the stage seemed up for it. And while it’s admirable that he would assemble an album resurrecting several veteran Tejano soul stars from the 60 and 70s, doing it as a deal with the devil is something we should not encourage. We’ve all read the horror stories coming out of Amazon: the Dickensian working conditions, employees having to carry pee bottles because they don’t get bathroom breaks, and the relentless, Orwellian surveillance, everybody scrambling to beat the clock that keeps track of every single movement. Corporations like Amazon love the PR that comes from token attempts to support the arts and create an illusion of dedication to multiculturalism. But let’s not fall for it.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues tomorrow night, July 31 at Damrosch Park at 7:30 PM featuring a wildly diverse all-female lineup including but not limited to Americana soul songstress Courtney Marie Andrews, vintage Americana maven Rhiannon Giddens, Afro-Cuban singer Xiomara Laugart, legendary AACM singer/organist Amina Claudine Myers and formidable jazz vocalist/bandleader Charenée Wade.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors Kicks Off with an Eclectic Triplebill

[repost from NY Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture]

The Kronos Quartet are celebrating their fortieth anniversary this year, so it makes sense that the beginning of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival – one of the best ever – would be centered around that landmark occasion. The world’s most adventurous string quartet have an auspicious new cellist, Sunny Yang (replacing Jeffrey Ziegler) and their usual slate of premieres and new commissions. Even by their paradigm-shifting standards, their world premiere of Ukraine-born Mariana Sadovska’s Chernobyl: The Harvest – with the composer on vocals and harmonium – last night at the Damrosch Park bandshell was nothing short of shattering,  It’s a suite of old Ukrainian folk songs reinvented to commemorate the horror of the 1986 nuclear disaster, which by conservative standards killed at least a million people around the globe and caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, the world’s second-greatest power at the time.

Singing in Ukrainian, Sadovska began it a-cappella with her signature nuance, a thousands shades of angst, sometimes barely breathing, sometimes at a fullscale wail, occasionally employing foreboding microtones to max out the menace. Violist Hank Dutt got the plum assignment of leading the ensemble to join her, Yang’s foreboding drone underpinning a series of up-and-down, Julia Wolfe-esque motives. Quavering, anxious Iranian-tinged flutters from the cello along with violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, astringently atmospheric harmonics and a big, uneasy crescendo, the harmonium going full steam, built to a savagely sarcastic faux circus motif and then a diabolical dance. That was the harvest, a brutal portrayal whose ultimate toll is still unknown. Through a plaintive theme and variations, Sadovska’s voice rose methodically from stunned horror to indignance and wrath: again, the triptych’s final theme, Heaven, appeared to be sarcastic to the extreme, Sadovska determined not to let the calamity slip from memory. Nuclear time forgives much more slowly than time as we experience it: 26 years after the catastrophe, wild mushrooms in Germany – thousands of miles from the disaster scene – remain inedible, contaminated with deadly nuclear toxins.

In a counterintuitive stroke of booking, luminous singer Shara Worden’s kinetic art-rock octet, My Brightest Diamond headlined. They’re like the Eurythmics except with good vocals and good songs – hmmm, that doesn’t leave much, does it? Or like ELO during their momentary lapse into disco, but better. Sh-sh-sh-sh-Shara can get away with referencing herself in a song because she does it with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and because she’s as funny as she can be haunting. She loves props and costumes – a big cardboard moustache and a fez among them, this time out – and draws on a wide-ranging musical drama background. But she saves the drama for when she really needs to take a song over the edge, belting at gale force in contrast to a fat, droll synth bass pulse late in the show. Her lively arrangements rippled through the ensemble of Hideaki Aomori on alto sax, Lisa Raschiatore on clarinet and bass clarinet, CJ Cameriere on trumpet, Michael Davis on trombone and Alex Sopp on flutes, like the early/middle-period Moody Blues as orchestrated by Carl Nielsen. Sopp’s triumphant cadenzas capped off several big crescendos, as did Aomori on the second number, a circus rock song with dixieland flourishes. Worden brought the energy down to pensive for a bit, crooning with a low, ripe, Serena Jost-like intensity and playing Rhodes piano on a hypnotic trip-hop number. Worden switched to minimal but assured electric guitar on a slow, pensive tune and then a warm, gently arpeggiated love song, then to mbira on a similarly hypnotic but bouncier Afro-funk song. “A girl from the country had a dream, and the best place she could think of was here,” Worden beamed to the packed arena as she wound up the night. “We’re living the dream.”

Emily Wells was lost in limbo between the two. The smoky patterns on the kaleidoscopic light show projected behind her on the back of the stage offered more than a hint of the milieu she’s best suited to. It was a cruel if probably unintentional stroke of fate that stuck Wells, a competent singer, between two brilliant ones. Her music is quirky, playful and trippy to the extreme. Wells can be very entertaining to watch, when she’s building songs out of loops, adding layers of vocals, keys and violin, switching between instruments and her mixing board with split-second verve. But as her set – the longest one of the night – went on, it became painfully obvious that she wasn’t doing much more than karaoke. She sang her dubwise, trippy hip-hop/trip-hop/soul mashups in what became a monotonously hazy soul-influenced drawl without any sense of dynamics. Where Sadovska sang of nuclear apocalypse and Worden tersely explored existential themes, the best Wells could do was a Missy Elliott-ish trip-hop paean to Los Angeles. And when she addressed the crowd, Wells seemed lost, veering between a southern drawl and something like an Irish brogue. But the audience LOVED her, and gave her the most applause of anyone on the bill.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors is phenomenal this year: the Kronos Quartet will be there tomorrow and then Sunday night. The full calendar is here.

Istanbulive 2012: A Historic Night at Lincoln Center

Last night’s Turkish Woodstock, a.k.a. Istanbulive night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was probably the closest in spirit to the original Woodstock, meteorologically speaking: with the rain, gently cool and comforting as it was, the sight of empty seats in Damrosch Park was surreal to the extreme. This year marked the fourth annual festival of Turkish music put together by Serdar Ilhan and Mehmet Dede, the brain trust behind Drom, the downtown world music mecca: as usual, the concert was brilliant, with a special historical significance. This show was especially notable for the American debut of legendary Turkish chanteuse and freedom fighter Selda Bagcan. It took her til age 64 to get here; she sang for almost two hours as the rain picked up and then abated, and got stronger as she went along. Dressed in her native Anatolian colors of red and white (and waving a Turkish flag during one song, to thunderous applause), she’d often sing a verse and then turn her mic to the crowd, or even let the audience open a song after a familiar intro. Known for her clever, satirical, politically-charged Turkish lyrics (which resulted in her imprisonment by the junta there in the early 80s), she frequently ad-libbed them to reference current events, which further energized the audience. Watching a circle of young people pushing their way to the front, linking hands in a circle, then spinning and bouncing to a psychedelic folk protest song that had to be at least 40 years old was heartwarming to the extreme: this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Bushwick, at least not in the trendy areas.

Much of the psychedelic rock that came out of the non-English speaking world during the 60s and 70s makes the American and British stuff seem sober and timid by comparison, often because the Peruvians, and Koreans, and Estonians and so forth used a broader sonic pallette. Bagcan was backed not only by electric guitar, keyboards and drums but also by saz (Turkish lute) as well as clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski and kanun virtuoso Tamer Pinarbasi, who comprised two-thirds of the evening’s extraordinary opening act, the Secret Trio. Microtones and overtones flew from the Turkish instruments as the rock band held the center, acoustic guitar and saz frequently blending together for an intoxicatingly, glimmering river of jangle and clang as the kanun flickered in the upper registers and Lumanovski added tersely plaintive washes of sound. With her minutely jeweled, muanced melismas, Bagcan sang like a woman forty years younger, as subtle as she was undeterred and defiant.

Yet a sense of longing pervaded much of what she and the band played. Big, sweeping anthems were bisected by quiet, tense interludes where the crowd quickly filled in the empty spaces with their voices. Hearing these many of these songs done as relatively straight-up, Pink Floyd-style art-rock was quite a change from the woozy textures (synths imitating a ney flute and tinny guitar without much sustain) of many of the original recordings. Bagcan has been called the “Turkish Piaf,” and there’s some truth in that considering her unwavering support for the working classes and her occasional penchant for drama: one of the evening’s best-received numbers was a torrent of lyrics, Istanbul cabaret style. As the end of the set neared, she and the band reached back for a more starkly acoustic, traditionally Middle Eastern flavored vibe, kanun and saz taking centerstage on an undulating, Egyptian-tinged anthem.

With grey skies overhead, the Secret Trio’s dark intricately pensive instrumentals set the tone perfectly and never let up through their abbreviated three-song set, Pinarbasi and Lumanovski’s lines grounded by oudist Ara Dinkjian’s terse countermelodies. Opening with the clarinet stark over a moody, neoromantic theme that could have been Ravel, or Morricone until an even darker detour into Arabic mode, they took it down even lower and more elegaically over a hypnotic web of prickly pointillisms. Then tenor saxophonist Ilhan Ersahin’s Wonderland treated the crowd to the most night’s most hypnotic moments, clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici spinning magical, ominously microtonal spirals in tandem with Ersahin over the ringing backdrop of Pinarbasi (who was doing triple duty tonight) and an electric rhythm section featuring a trance-inducing goblet drummer. Ersahin’s signature sound is swirling and dub-influenced: maybe because he and the band kept getting mixed signals about when they were supposed to wrap up their set (everybody seemed to be expecting a cataclysmic storm), there was a welcome edge and gypsy-flavored bite to the music along with the pulsing, shapeshifting atmospherics.