New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: lounge music

It’s the New Iggy Pop Album!

Have you heard the new Iggy Pop album? Full disclosure; Jamie Saft’s Loneliness Road – streaming at Spotify – is the closest thing to a new Iggy Pop record that you’ll hear until Iggy makes his next one.

And what could be more perfect for Halloween than Iggy’s weathered, sepulchral croon?

Saft set out to make an elegant piano trio album with the formidable rhythm section of acoustic bass guitarist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte. They sent three tracks to Iggy, who improvised lyrics and did all the lead vocals in a single take. The result is as fresh as anything the Stooges’ frontman has done in decades.

The first number is Don’t Lose Yourself, a bluesy, One for My Baby-style nocturnal ballad that strolls along with a nifty implied triplet groove. “When it’s Halloween in your mind, fight them with crime…we’re racing with death, baby…” Iggy intones.

He goes way up the scale over Saft’s slow, brooding, latin-tinged swing on the title cut. You have to wait til after Saft’s darkly blues and gospel-infused crescendos for the best part, where Swallow rises briefly for a solo and Iggy talks about being at “The corner of Desperate Avenue and Loneliness Road.”

The third track is Everyday, another moody, bluesy one that Swallow introduces with a plaintive solo; Iggy makes it a sobering ballad. “My love is not a book of jive,” he asserts.

Obviously, if you’re working with an icon, your instrumentals without him are bound to be upstaged – but Saft’s night themes are vivid and inspired. The music is less about tradeoffs or interplay than intense focus. Saft, a multi-instrumentalist and member of John Zorn’s inner circle, is better known as an organist with a torrential attack, and there are a lot of places here where his chordal approach reflects that.

The opening number, Ten Nights, features darkly, latin-inflected block chords underpinning jaunty righthand flourishes while Swallow dances and Previte takes a triumphantly stormy tangent with his cymbals. In Little Harbor, Previte hints artfully and sparely at a clave as Swallow vamps uneasily and Saft slowly expands on a starry soul theme.

Bookmaking is as darkly spacious and suspenseful as anybody taking shady bets could want, an atmosphere that Saft revisits later in Nainsook. By contrast, Henbane is the closest thing to a straight-up swing tune here, Previte having a great time chewing the scenery, Saft spicing his ripples and glissandos with the occasional eerie, lingering accent.

There’s also Pinkus, a slow, austere, Summertimey blues ballad; The Barrier, which echoes a few things famously appropriated by Coltrane; Unclouded Moon, with its gritty, percussive, rubato rumble; and Gates, a soul-jazz waltz. Beyond its jazz appeal, Iggy completists won’t want to be without this album.

Charming French Tropicalia from Banda Magda

Truth in advertising: the cd cover for Banda Magda’s new album Amour, T’es La? is pink and festooned with palm leaves and tropical fruit. Although what this group plays is not dark – it’s bouncy, upbeat, irrepressibly fun music – it is quintessentially New York and cosmopolitan to the extreme. Frontwoman/accordionist Magda Gianikou writes and sings in French, although her ancestry is Greek. Her core band includes vibraphonist Mika Mimura, guitarist Nacho Hernandez, bassist Petros Klampanis and percussionist Marcelo Woloski. The rest of the players on the album – among them drummer Jordan Perlson, cellist Jody Redhage and violist Ljova Zhurbin – represent this city’s A-list jazz and classical music scenes. Gianikou’s quirky, clever arrangements also include parts for brass, shamisen, hammered dulcimer and concert harp. It’s a party in a box.

The title track – meaning “You There, Love?”  – sets the tone, Gianikou’s chirpy vocals (and solidily good French accent) soaring over bouncy bossa pop. The second track, Asteroide is a sassy, tiptoeing swing tune, Gianikou cajoling a guy to come populate her empty planet. Caramel works a latin disco groove, but in an organic way with lush strings and breathy, come-hither vocals (and a chorus that at first listen sounds like “cassoulet”).

The band brings in echoey Rhodes piano with the lush strings on Ce Soir (Tonight), followed by the jaunty boudoir pop anthem Couches-Toi (Lie Down), building to an unexpectedly lavish waltz midway through. Juin (June) sets a slightly delirious, slightly Indian-tinged seaside resort tableau, while Fond de la Mer (Bottom of the Sea) evokes Jenifer Jackson at her balmiest and most psychedelic.

La Japonaise is an Asian-tinged, drolly festive tale about Mimura’s adventures playing a Montreal jazz bar, dodging seductive men and losing her mallets in the street. Mouche (The Fly) is funkier – she gets in your hair, she may end up in your drink and she wants your body. The catchiest song here is Oublies-La (Forget Her), with its barrage of la-la’s, salsa piano and soaring flute. The album winds up with the dreamy but bouncy Petite Maline (which translates roughly as Little Devil or Little Troublemaker), Gianikou insisting she’s not a bad girl even though she ripped a hole in the roof so she could look up into the sky and see all the bright colors. Gianikou plays the Lincoln Center plaza for free at 7 PM on July 26; later on that night on the stage out back in Damrosch Park, she’ll sing alongside headliners the Kronos Quartet. Banda Magda are at Prospect Park bandshell at 7:30 PM on August 3, opening for salsa jazz legend Eddie Palmieri.

Haunting, Hypnotic Middle Eastern Sounds from Niyaz

In the era of the Arab Spring, it’s become clear that the people of the Middle East have not suffered gladly. As the revolution that spread from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Syria and Greece and soon these shores gains momentum, we owe a debt to its freedom fighters for jumpstarting the movement as it spreads around the world. Canadian ensemble Niyaz celebrate those heroes’ resilience – “Sumud” in Arabic – which is the title of the band’s hypnotically intense, melodically rich new album. The band’s multicultural viewpoint reflects its members’ diversity. Frontwoman/santoor player Azam Ali came to the United States as a refugee from India in 1985; multi-instrumentalist/composer Loga Ramin Torkian originally hails from Iran; keyboardist/drummer/effects wizard Carmen Rizzo is US-based. The rest of the group here includes Habib Meftah Boushehri on percussion and flute, Ulas Ozdemir on saz, Naser Musa on oud and Omer Avci on percussion. Rizzo’s signature sonic manipulation layers the organic textures of Torkian’s jangling, clanking, plunking lutes – rebab, saz, kamaan, djumbush, lafta and also guitar and viol – within a dense, chilly, endlessly echoing wash of drones, percussion loops wafting through the mix with a distant, muffled pulse. The effect is hypnotic, to say the least. The rhythms often give the songs a trip-hop or downtempo electronic lounge feel, albeit with dynamics which leave no doubt that this was created by musicians rather than by a computer.

Whether singing in Persian, Arabic or Turkish, Ali’s nuanced vocals span from longing, to rapturous beauty, to raw anguish: for those who don’t speak those languages, the cd booklet provides English translations. Most of the songs are new arrangements of traditional melodies, often with additional music by the band, which makes sense: in the countries where these tunes come from, improvisation rules. Ironically, the catchiest, most pop-oriented one here, Musa’s Rayat al Sumud (Palestine) is also the most lyrically intense: “No matter how many borders you create, no matter how many soldiers you line up, we will always fly the flag of resistance,” Ali sings in Arabic with a steely resolve. They follow that with another brisk anthem contrasting spiky lute textures with echoey, twinkling keyboards.

Many of the cuts here employ the haunting chromatics of the Arabic hijaz scale: a majestic Afghani folk song sung in Dari (a Persian dialect spoken there), whose message of peace has particular resonance these days; an almost imperceptibly crescendoing Persian love song; a steady, tiptoeing Kurdish tune and a duet by Ali and Torkian over a slinky Ethiopian-flavored triplet groove. A strolling, pulsing song by Ozdemir has echoes of gypsy rock; other songs here sound like an Iranian version of Portishead. The album ends with a gorgeous, longing Turkish epic that slowly comes together after a long, apprehensively crescendoing introduction. Sometimes solemn, sometimes soaring within Rizzo’s signature swirl, it’s the kind of album that sounds best late at night with the lights out.