New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: lisa gutkin

A Potentially Paradigm-Shifting Series of Women Performers at the New School

In conversation with the audience and performers at her potentially paradigm-shifting new series Women Between Arts at the New School yesterday, singer/actress/impresario Luisa Muhr contemplated the complexities of branding interdisciplinary works. How do you market something that resists easy categorization? Maybe by calling it what it is: outside the box. Considering the turnout, there definitely is an audience for what might be the only interdisciplinary series focusing on women performers whose work encompasses so many different idioms in New York right now.

When Muhr springboarded the project, she’d assumed that Women Between Arts would be one of at least five or six ongoing programs here. But this seems to be the only one at the moment – If there’s another, would they please identify themselves, because they could be doing very important work!

Dance on the same program as storytelling? Sure! Writer/choreographer Allison Easter wryly remarked that audiences at dance performances don’t mind being talked to. Her piece on the bill featured dancers Tiffany Ogburn and Paul Morland subtly and then explosively tracing Easter’s spoken-word narrative about a couple of American college girls intent on thwarting a would-be rapist on a train winding its way through the Alps.

Klezmatics violinist Lisa Gutkin proved to be the ideal headliner for a bill like this. Born and raised in a secular Jewish family in Sheepshead Bay, the songwriter/actress revealed an insatiably curious worldview that mirrored her sizzling musical chops, via excerpts from her one-woman show. Likewise, part of her eclectic background stems from the demands of being a highly sought-after sidewoman. Irish reels? OK. Tango? Si! Klezmer? No problem! She grew up with that culture, inspired by her immigrant grandmother, who would hitchhike upstate to her bungalow where she’d book artists like Pete Seeger to entertain her garment worker friends.

And Muhr illustrated her own, similarly eclectic background with wistful projections, a subtly humorous dance piece and poetry, following her own Greek immigrant great-grandmother’s journey as a refugee from Istanbul to Vienna. In pushing the boundaries of diverse idioms, a program like Muhr’s has the potential to spur the growth of new synapses for both audiences and performers.

The next Women Between Arts performance features songwriter Jean Rohe, choreographer Sasha Kleinplatz, brilliant carnatic violinist Trina Basu, singer/actress Priya Darshini and Brooklyn Raga Massive tabla player Roshni Samlal on January 7 at 3 PM at the New School’s Glass Box Theatre (i.e. the new Stone) at 55 W 13th St.

The Klezmatics Build Their Legacy With Yet Another Explosive, Eclectic Album

This new record has a song about slavery. another about the joys of being out and gay in an oppressive society, one about the murder of an innocent immigrant, along with a pretty wild drinking song, a bunch of dance numbers and a handful of dirges. Pretty relevant stuff, right? Is this hip-hop? Blues? New wave? None of the above. It’s the new Klezmatics album, Apikorsom/Heretics, streaming at Spotify. And it’s one of the best releases of 2016.

The Klezmatics are the Clash of klezmer. Back in the 80s, the Clash were the one punk band that pretty much everybody knew and loved, and the Klezmatics were their Jewish folk-punk counterparts – although their musicianship was always a cut above even the most talented punk rock band. There have been plenty of other innovators in traditional Jewish music from around the world, but most  – Dave Tarras, Manny Blanc and Prince Nazaroff, noteworthy among them – edged toward jazz. The Klezmatics, on the other hand, brought the transgressive energy of punk to a vast legacy of global Jewish sounds, and vice versa. The new album only further cements their reputation as innovators and instigators, a band whose influence long ago reached far beyond the klezmer demimonde. It’s safe to say that without the Klezmatics, there probably would be no Gogol Bordello and probably no World Inferno either.

The album opens on a trad note with Lisa Gutkin’s instrumental Der Geler Fink, her rapidfire violin against a suspensefully vamping pulse, then trumpeter Frank London and frontman/accordionist Lorin Sklamberg lead the band off on a scampering tangent. London flips the script and clarinetist Matt Darriau follows suit, wary and soulful, before the band brings the lightning back.

Zol Shoy Komen di Guele is a swaying, elegant take on a midtempo oompah groove, a song of redemption and salvation. The band moves to elegantly waltzing, brooding Ladino territory with the bitterly metaphorical Der Yokh (The Yoke) originally recorded by Lluis Llach in 1968: “Although it’s rotten and rusty, it grips us like pliers,” Sklamberg intones in the original Catalan.

The traditional Party in Odessa follows a bounce that’s just short of frantic: It’s a funny song, a peasant gone wild in the big city: “The guy with no suspenders is the one who loses his pants,” more or less. The band ramps it up doublespeed at the end.

Dark Is the Night, a new original with music by London features stark violin against mournful washes of accordion punctuated by spare cimbalom. If John Lennon had grown up in a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe, he might have written something like this.The title track is another London original; Sklamberg delivering a homoerotic Yiddish lyric over a happy bouncing melody that’s part early Beatles, part joyous shtetl stomp, taking an abrupt, welcome detour into a minor-key romp livened by the trumpeter’s terse, muted attack. Darriau’s Three-Ring Sirba is next, a bittersweet waltz fueled by the composer’s enigmatically sailing clarinet.

The bolero-tinged Vi Lang, London’s adaptation of David Edelstadt’s poem Vakht Oyf! sets Sklamberg’s understatedly imploring vocals against an elegantly slinky backdrop lowlit by funereal organ and latin-flavored horns, up to an uneasily shadowy, psychedelic outro underpinned by London’s insistent piano and Richie Barshay’s tumbling drums. Likewise, Sklamberg’s arrangement of Chava Alberstein’s Ver Firt Di Ale Shifn? (Who Guides the Ships?) has a moody late Beatlesque resonance and a boomy Barshay bolero beat. Then the band picks it up with the lickety-split Shushan Purim, contemplating the hangover of all hangovers. In case you’re wondering how to say “blotto” in Yiddish, the word is “farshnoshket.”

Green Violin, a London instrumental, has a dramatic ba-BUMP bounce and delicious Middle Eastern chromatics. Der Mames Spigl (Mama’s Mirror), a minimalist dirge by Gutkin with lyrics by Masha Shtuker-Paiuk, grimly contemplates the ravages of age. Even grimmer is the swaying, ominously Turkish-flavored murder ballad Tayer Yankele (Poor Yankele), Paul Morrisett’s guitar steady as the whole band builds a haunted call-and-response. It’s the album’s most epic and arguably best number.

The band handles the traditional, chromatically fueled dance Shtetl MO with a bouncy restraint that explodes on the chorus and then builds to a lickety-split romp as the horns blaze. The album winds up with Mazltov, a tender folk-rock waltz. Over the decades, the Klezmatics have put out some great albums and this one is probably in the top three along with their 2011 Live at the Town Hall album and their iconic 1997 collection, Possessed. The band are currently on US tour; their next show is at the Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St. in Berkeley, CA on Dec 21 at 8 PM. Advance tix are $28.

The Rich Past and Edgy Future of Jewish Music Live at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center, singer/accordionist Olga Mieleszczuk’s Polesye Project and the Shofar Trio made their American debuts in an often riveting program that spanned some of the best of Jewish music from the 19th century to the present, both melodically and lyrically. With a nuanced, expressive voice that ranged from plaintive and haunting to coyly whimsical, Mieleszczuk led her band – Ittai Binnun on multi-reeds and guitar and Uri Sharlin on accordion and piano, with the Klezmatics’ Lisa Gutkin guesting on violin – through an eclectic set of material from the repertoire of 1930s-era Polish-Canadian chanteuse Mariam Nirenberg. Nirenberg hailed from Polesye (now encompassing adjacent parts of Poland, Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia), “one of the wildest and most mysterious regions,” as Mieleszczuk put it, managing to make an escape just as Hitler’s reign of terror was getting underway. The songs she brought with her spanned much of the Jewish diaspora in Europe, as well as a similar range of emotional terrain rich with irony and dark humor.

The band opened with a sad brooding, klezmer waltz and closed with a lushly glimmering art-rock version of a Yiddish pop hit from the era that Nirenberg had recast as a lullaby. In between, they romped through a couple of dance numbers livened with Gutkin’s alternately wry and biting lines, a bitter deathbed ballad from Russia, a jauntily sardonic number about a guy who can’t seem to hook up with any of the girls at the party despite his fancy shoes, and a swooping and then sweepingly triumphant take of the old Ukrainian folk song Akh Odessa, done as more of an adventurous immigrant’s tale than nostalgic look back.

Another intriguing Polish group, the Shofar Trio headlined. Tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Mikolaj Trzaska, guitarist Raphael Roginski and drummer Macio Moretti worked suspenseful, dynamically-charged, frequently explosive vamps on ancient Jewish ngunim themes that evoked the work of John Zorn and especially Sex Mob: imagine that group, but with sax and guitar in place of the trumpet and bass. Trzaska held long, rapturous pedal notes via circular breathing, squalled and whispered and then brought the tunes back to the center with his austere Middle Eastern-tinged lines. Roginski alternated between carefully plucked, overtone-tinged staccato, frenetically noisy Velvet Underground scales, resonant jangle and even an interlude where he played spot-on Mississippi hill country blues: it was as if Junior Kimbrough had been transported to some remote shtetl on the Russian border. At the top of the music’s swells, the drums going full bore and the guitar throwing off layers of natural reverb, the trio reached for a snarling postrock feel similar to Mogwai. Moretti’s work behind the kit was masterful and amped up the suspense factor several notches as he played with his hands, often muting his beats and cymbals to add a surreal element of distance while the rhythms echoed throughout the atrium space. As the songs rose and fell, the melodies spanned from doomed ominousness, to stately apprehension and even unabashed delight, on a rhythmically tricky, Madedonian-tinged theme early in the set. It was something akin to watching a band jam out the legendary Darkcho album that came out several years ago. Fans of the Tzadik catalog as well as anyone who gravitates toward emotionally vivid music won’t be disappointed by either group.

Demolition String Band: Brilliant Country and Bluegrass

Demolition String Band’s new album Gracious Days is a kind of record that doesn’t get made very often anymore. It answers the question of what would happen if two of the most esteemed players on the New York country scene were turned loose in the studio with unlimited instruments and unlimited time, something Varese Vintage apparently decided to do, with delicious results. The production is absolutely gorgeous, many of the songs starting out totally acoustic before the electric instruments come in on a second verse or chorus: it’s a fully realized blend of the band’s electrifying live show along with their passion for old Appalachian songs. The band’s 2002 album Pulling Up Atlantis may represent an iconic moment in underground Americana, but musically speaking, this is the best thing they’ve ever done. The core band members, guitarist/banjoist Boo Reiners and mandolinist/guitarist Elena Skye have never sounded more inspired: Reiners’ effortless flatpicking, soulfully resonant dobro and fiery electric guitar create the album’s obvious highlights, Skye’s mandolin as edgy and contemporary as it is rustic. She’s also taken her vocals to the next level, whether soft and pillowy on the quieter songs, or evoking a raw, emotionally charged intensity on the more oldtimey numbers, her harmonies with Reiners as soulful as ever. This version of the band includes David Mansfield on steel, Mike Santoro on acoustic and electric bass guitar, Catherine Popper on upright and electric bass, Jimi Zhivago on keys, Kenny Soule on drums and Lisa Gutkin on fiddle: the arrangements are devised so that pretty much the whole band gets a chance to contribute to every track.

The album is bookended by a swaying countrypolitan theme by Skye disguised as an oldtimey string band tune. Misfortune, the most antique-sounding of all the tracks here is actually a Skye original, moving stoically from Carter Family plaintiveness to more lush textures with fiddle and a web of electric guitars. Reiners’ Under the Weather is a swaying, Creedence-flavored swamp rock tune and a launching pad for what seems dozens of smartly chosen guitar licks played on dobro and electric.

In the past, this band has covered Madonna: this time around, they tackle the Ramones’ Questioningly, turning it into rueful Social Distortion-esque Americana rock, lit up by a lithe, serpentine Reiners electric guitar solo. Mickey Newbury’s Why You Been Gone So Long gives the band a chance to show off their Bakersfield honkytonk side, with some clever effects on the vocals. Has anyone ever killed a fifth of Thunderbird, as the guy in this song does, and lived to tell the tale?

Dress of Roses, a longtime concert favorite for this band, gets reinvented with an even slower groove than usual, with some wickedly spiky banjo/mandolin interplay followed by a gorgeous Mansfield solo. Reiners gets to show off his wry banjo virtuosity on the lickety-split Boojo Breakdown, while Skye takes a turn of her own on the slower, more romantic Williamsville Ramble: these folks have their country dance tunes down cold.

Their swinging fiddle-and-mandolin version of Hard Ain’t It Hard is a showcase for Skye at her most vivid, while Blaze Foley’s sadly swaying you-done-me-wrong song Alibis is awash in cool guitar licks and an understatedly biting chordal acoustic solo. The band also takes a brisk run through Ola Belle Reed’s Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow (the centerpiece of the band’s brilliant Reed cover album by the same title, from 2006) and takes a stab at the traditional number Old Blue, which they rescue from cheesiness with a joyous acoustic-electric arrangement. If country music is your thing, this is for you. Demolition String Band play the album release show at around 10 PM on March 30 at Rodeo Bar.