New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: matt Moran

The Claudia Quintet Make a Triumphant NYC Return Uptown

What’s the likelihood that a band would be better now than they were over two decades ago? The Claudia Quintet defy those odds. They didn’t invent pastoral jazz, but pretty much every rainy-sky jazz group with an accordion (who don’t play Romany guitar swing, anyway) owe a debt to drummer John Hollenbeck’s long-running ensemble. It’s been awhile since they’ve played a New York gig, let alone one at a prestige venue like the Miller Theatre, where they’ll be on March 24 at 8. Tix are as affordable as $20.

On one hand, it’s a good bet that pretty much everybody who’s a fan of the band already has their most recent album, Super Petite, streaming at Cuneiform Records. If the group are new to you, they’re a vehicle for Hollenbeck’s more concise compositions – he saves the most lavish ones for his equally tuneful and relevant Large Ensemble. This 2016 release is as good a place to start as any to get to know the band: the tunes are slightly more condensed than usual, with plenty of cinematic flair and wry humor. Beyond this one, the band’s essential album is September, ironically their most improvisational release, a brooding examination of post-9/11 shock and horror that would have been a lock for best album of 2013 had Darcy James Argue not decided to release Brooklyn Babylon that same year.

Super Petite opens with Nightbreak, an echoey nocturne fueled by Matt Moran’s summer-evening vibraphone, lingering in stereo over the bandleader’s muted, altered shuffle as Chris Speed’s clarinet and Red Wierenga’s accordion waft amid the starry ambience. There’s a Charlie Parker solo hidden deep in this night sky.

Hollenbeck’s all businesslike while Wierenga runs a wary, pulsing loop and Speed sniffs around throughout JFK Beagle, the first half of a diptych inspired by airport drug-sniffing dogs. The second, Newark Beagle begins much more carefree but then Moran takes it into the shadows: cheesy Jersey airports are where the really sketchy characters can be found. There’s more similarly purposeful, perambulating portraiture and a memorably jaunty Speed clarinet solo a bit later on in If You Seek a Fox.

Bassist Drew Gress dances through the acidically loopy, hooky ambience in A-List as the bandleader drives it forcefully: being a meme is obviously hard work. Wierenga’s swoops and dives over Moran’s high-beam gleam is one of the album’s high points. Speed takes careening flight in Philly, a wry shout-out to Philly Joe Jones and how far out a famous shuffle riff of his can be taken.

High harmonies from Wierenga and Moran take centerstage and eventually hit a very funny ending in the brisk but idyllic Peterborough, home to the MacDowell Colony, where Hollenbeck wrote it. Rose Colored Rhythm takes its inspiration from Senegalese drummer/composer Doudou N’Diaye Rose, an epic journey through haze to insistent minimalism, cartoonish riffage and wry syncopation all around.

Pure Poem, which draws on knotty numerical sequences from the work of Japanese poet Shigeru Matsui, has hints of bhangra jabbing through Hollenbeck’s boisterous pointillisms. The album concludes with Mangold, a shout to his favorite Austrian vegetarian restaurant (such things exist – there’s hope for the world!). With sax and vibraphone joining for a belltone attack, it’s unexpectedly moody. Heartwarming to see a band who’ve been around for as long as these guys still as fresh and indomitable as ever.

An Overlooked Lorca-Inspired Art-Rock Treasure from Rima Fand

Much as this blog’s raison d’etre is to keep an eye on what’s happening now, the past is littered with unfairly overlooked albums. One recent one, from 2011, is Rima Fand’s Sol, Caracol (Spanish for “Sun, Snail”). It comprises many of the songs from her theatrical project Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man, which sets Federico Garcia Lorca poetry to frequently haunting, flamenco-tinged original music. This is the closest thing to an original soundtrack recording that exists, part dark flamenco rock, part noir cabaret, part chamber pop. Besides playing violin, the Luminescent Orchestrii co-founder distinguishes herself on mandolin and keyboards as well, accompanied by an all-star cast from many styles of south-of-the-border and Balkan music.

Although Don Cristobal and his sidekick Rosita are a Spanish version of Punch and Judy, there’s very little here that’s vaudevillian, consistent with Garcia Lorca’s full-fledged rather than one-dimensionally farcical depiction of the characters. The opening track, Midnight Hours, sets a dramatic lead vocal by David Fand over a spiky blend of the bandleader’s mandolin with Avi Fox-Rosen and Chris Rael’s guitars, a soaring choir behind them. You might call this art-flamenco. Lucia Pulido sings the dynamically charged Replica, Rima Fand doubling on mandolin and accordion. Cicada, a shivery, hypnotically suspenseful string piece, blends her violin with those of Sarah Alden and Not Waving But Drowning’s Pinky Weitzman and Matt Moran‘s vibraphone.

Justine Williams
sings the creepy, marching Rosita’s Song. The choir returns for Don Woodsman-Heart, a moody flamenco vamp lit up by Quince Marcum‘s alto horn, morphing into a dreaming, longing waltz. Pulido takes over the mic again on the terse, minimalistic Confusion over My Brightest Diamond cellist Maria Jeffers‘ bassline. David Fand returns to imploring lead vocals on the insistent Abre Tu Balcon (Open Up Your Balcony – that’s Don Cristobal imploring Rosita to have a word with him). They follow that with a cartoonish miniature, Te Mate and then Hat-Ache, another flamenco-tinged, angst-fueled, love-stricken ballad.

The album’s centerpiece is the macabre, carnivalesque Billy-Club Ballet, the bandleader on piano with guitar and percussion, Fox-Rosen’s jagged electric incisions adding menace up to a twinkling piano interlude and then back down. They follow a brief mandolin waltz with La Monja Gitana (The Country Nun), rising from another austere 3/4 rhythm, with a rich, bittersweet vocal from Rima Fand.

Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker a.k.a. innovative Balkan/Appalachian duo AE sing the sweeping, tensely moonlit Lullaby for a Sleeping Mirror, building to a lush, anxious round. The album ends with the towering overture La Cogida y la Muerte, sung pensively in English and Spanish by Abigail Wright, the acidic close harmonies of the string section contrasting with Katie Down‘s anxiously dancing flute and the distantly circling trumpets of Ben Syversen, Sarah Ferholt, JR Hankins and Ben Holmes. Surreal, sad, eclectic and vivid, it more than does justice to Lorca’s equally surreal, sad, ironic poetry. The album comes with a useful lyric booklet including English translations.

Slavic Soul Party’s New York Underground Tapes: Intense As Always

As usual, the corporate media gets it all wrong. Brooklyn isn’t about Bushwick blog-rock. That’s a tiny clique of one-percenters who don’t really care much about music, anyway: their thing is all about fashion, and memes, and pseudo-celebrity. And much as music in Brooklyn may have become completely balkanized, there are innumerable small, self-sustaining scenes that continue to flourish just under the radar: country music, oldtime string bands, hip-hop, bachata and not ironically, Balkan music. Brooklyn’s best-loved Balkan export, Slavic Soul Party continue their Tuesday night 9 PM residency at Barbes when they’re not playing much larger clubs around the world. For those who might take this mighty, funky, genre-smashing nine-man brass band for granted, they’ve got a new album out appropriately titled The New York Underground Tapes. A little earlier this year their fellow Brooklynites Raya Brass Band put out a phenomenal album, Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders and this is just as good.

How is it that this music, with its tricky tempos and frequently menacing microtonalities, has become so popular? Maybe because it’s so good! It’s about time the rest of the world caught up with what the Serbians and Macedonians and the rest of the people in the former Eastern Bloc have known for centuries. But what Slavic Soul Party does isn’t just traditional songs. Over the last couple of years, they’ve been mixing Balkan brass music with James Brown, adding hip-hop flavor and poking fun at techno; this new album is just as eclectic. The opening track, Jackson, is typical: punchy, bluesy soul trumpet over a Balkan hook, a mesh of biting close harmonies, a blazing bop jazz trumpet solo and finally Peter Stan switching from his accordion to organ to add subtle, staccato textures on the way out. And it gets better from there.

Ominous low swells anchor the rapidfire microtones of the horns on Sing Sing Cocek, with an unexpected thematic change mid-song. Brasslands – a pun on Glasslands, the unairconditioned Williamsburg sweatbox venue, maybe? – sounds like a Serbian brass band taking a stab at a Mexican folk song, while the aptly titled Romp begins with fast waves of accordion over a suspensefully stalking tune and then goes into brisk gypsy swing. Bass drummer Matt Moran’s arrangement of Draganin Cocek is one of the best songs of the year: it’s looser and more dangerous than anything else here, with dark, Arabic-tinged hooks, a tensely smoldering Matt Musselman trombone solo and a lushly delicious crescendo. It’s a song without words, basically – where is their sometime frontwoman Eva Salina Primack when they need her?

Who is Walter Hurley? There’s a band director at Oxon Hill High School in Maryland with that name, and if this song is about that guy, he’s kind of funny – the tune begins as a caricature and almost imperceptibly shifts back to the minor-key intensity of the rest of the album. Clarinetist Peter Hess kicks off his composition Ahmet Gankino, jamming out the highs over suspensefully pulsing lows, eventually building to a shivery, pulsing call-and-response with joyous syncopated low brass, followed eventually by a machine-gun accordion solo. It’s a bigtime party anthem – as are all these songs, for that matter, no surprise considering that what they’re playing is dance music.

There are three more tracks here. The brief Alcohol to Arms, by Moran, has fun with an action movie theme. Underneath all the stabbing, there’s a balmy ballad underneath Moran’s arrangement of the traditional tune Zvonce. The whole band – besides Stan, Moran, Musselman and Hess, there’s John Carlson and Kenny Warren on trumpet and truba, Tim Vaughn on trombone, Chris Stomquist on snare and percussion and Ron Caswell on tuba – tackles a brutally difficult, pinpoint-precise staccato arrangement and makes it seem effortless. The album closes with Jonas Muller’s clever Last Man Standing, the whole band having fun portraying a drunk guy as he staggers and slurs and tries to keep up with the tune. Beside the usual digital formats, the band also recorded a song on a wax cylinder in case you have ten grand to burn. Calling all Bushwick bloggers!

Slavic Soul Party are at the Jewish Museum this Wednesday, July 19 at 7:30 PM; $15 ($12 for students) gets you in plus open wine/beer bar plus free kosher ice cream.