New York Music Daily

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Tom Warnick Brings His Ominous Noir Sounds and Wry Black Humor to Otto’s

One of the reasons why Tom Warnick shows are always worth checking out is that he’s constantly reinventing his songs. His most recent New York show, at Freddy’s last month, recast about half the songs. Meaning that the singer-keyboardist can take the exact same set list and completely flip the script with the songs. For example, Side Effects – as in, “I’m experiencing all your side effects, won’t you give ’em all to me” – used to be a boisterous newgrass song, as you might expect with a tune about a guy who won’t take no for an answer. But this time out, the band completely redid it, as a swing tune. Alto saxophonist Jason Reese, who’s been a charter member of the band for a long time, is getting and more time in the spotlight and making the most of it. You probably wouldn’t expect a sax player to take the music in as noir a direction as Warnick has returned to lately, but it’s happened. Reese slunk and slowly smoked and built ominous ambience through I’m a Stranger Here, which used to be an upbeat, cynical new wave-flavored tune but is now a minor-key circus rock number. And he teamed with Warnick for some disturbing chromatics through Cop Car, a cruelly funny tale of a highway pot bust that used to be a pretty straight-up blues but has been taken deep into Tom Waits territory without seeming cliched and imitative.

Likewise, the band took Lost in Place, which used to be total new wave, straight out of 1981, and gave it more of a swaying janglerock feel. And all this reinvention works because this crew – Warnick on piano and organ, Reese on sax, John Sharples and Ross Bonadonna on guitars, Scott Anthony on bass and the guy who plays drums under the pseudonym of Jacques Strappe in hilarious faux-French rockers Les Sans Culottes – can turn on a dime and play pretty much anything. Deep Jamaican roots reggae? That’s what the slow, grimly funny Old Man Blues is now. The grimmest number of the night was actually set to its most lighthearted tune, an oldschool country-folk sway – but maybe that was meant to reinforce a sense of irony. Warnick got a lot of flash going with his righthand organ lines as Bonadonna mined a satirical, over-the-top arenarock floridness on the reggae tune, Sharples switching between lingering chords and ominous chromatics. They finally relented to the crowd, who’d been pleading for 40 People, Warnick’s early-zeros classic about the increasing difficulty of even a good band (or for that matter a really bad one) getting booked into a decent New York gig at a decent hour on a decent day. They’re at Otto’s this Saturday, April 18 at 8, as good a time and place as any to find out what  Warnick will be up to next. You can count on it being different than what he did at Freddy’s.

Amir ElSaffar Unleashes a River of Sound at Lincoln Center

Chicago-born, New York-based composer Amir ElSaffar books a comfortable, classy joint in the financial district, Alwan for the Arts, a hotbed for cutting-edge new music coming out of the Middle East and cross-pollinating with other styles from around the world. This evening at Lincoln Center, the trumpeter-santoorist-singer debuted his new suite, Not Two with a mighty seventeen-piece ensemble centered around the members of his regular quintet Rivers of Sounds: drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Carlo DeRosa, buzuq player Tareq Abboushi, oudist/percussionist Zafer Tawil and tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen. It was a magically epic performance, one which will momentarily be recorded and which is scheduled to be released on vinyl within the year. That’s major news.

As the group slowly rose with a pensively emphatic, mournful signal from the trumpet, were they going to continue in the direction of long-toned massed improvisation, a slightly Arabic-toned take on Karl Berger or Butch Morris? As it turned out, no. The opening segment grew to a sort of take on the distant, august majesty of a theme from another cross-pollinator, Hafez Modirzadeh, with whom ElSaffar has memorably collaborated. As the work went on, multiple themes rose and fell, slowly crescendoing long-toned melodies against an uneasily rippling, relentlessly rhythmic backdrop, Waits augmented by several percussionists including Tim Moore (of the transcendently good Middle Eastern jamband Salaam). ElSaffar’s sister Dena – leader of that group – supplied what was arguably the night’s most plaintive moment, playing achingly raw, sustained lines on her joza fiddle, also adding austere oud and atmosphere on viola and violin. DeRosa did the heaviest lifting of anybody in the ensemble, working up a sweat with endlessly vamping, incisively circular riffs, a couple of times racewalking his scales as he pushed the tunes into a couple of lickety-split hardbop swing interludes.

Abboushi, Tawil and fellow oudist George Ziadeh each got to take long, crescendoing solos against a hushed, anticipatory backdrop, ElSaffar adding more rippling, suspenseful flourishes on his santoor than he did on trumpet. ElSaffar built Gil Evans-like lustre, from the bottom of the sonic register – bass, cello and JD Parran’s bass saxophone – to the very top, with the santoor, violin, vibraphone and pianist Craig Taborn’s insistent, repetitive close harmonies. The rhythms would shift artfully from a stately dirge, to galloping triplets or a circling gait evocative of Ethiopian folk music. The themes embraced Mohammed Abdel Wahab-esque classical  Egyptian anthemicness as well as lingering, otherworldly, minimalist Iraqi melodies and a couple of romps through pretty straight-ahead American postbop tinged with Monk-like modalities. They took it up for an explosive outro and then slowly wound it down at the end. ElSaffar has enjoyed a long association with Lincoln Center, who co-commissioned this work, another impressive notch in the  belt for both.

This show is typical of the kind of coucerts in the atrium series at Lincoln Center: an abundance of styles from across the spectrum and around the world. One particularly enticing upcoming show is the JACK Quartet‘s appearance on April 23 at 7:30 PM where they’ll be playing works by John Zorn, Missy Mazzoli, Caroline Shaw and others.

Cutting Edge Sounds at This Year’s MATA Festival

Early in the second part of this evening’s portion of this year’s MATA Festival at the Kitchen, the audience looked on expectantly as a steadily oscillating timbre echoed through the auditorium. It was the motor rewinding the video screen above the stage. Was this part of the program, or just incidental noise? Moments like these are why the festival is worth checking out, year after year. They take more chances than pretty much anybody in the avant garde music world and cast a wider net than most, both in terms of finding global programming, and simply sonics. Could an electric motor be music? The answer, more often than not here, seems to be, “why not?”

The night got off to a hilarious start with a US premiere, Mirela Ivecevic‘s Orgy of References. Mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer made the most of its over-the-top satire of music-academy pretentiousness, delivering it with operatic high camp against a similarly sardonic mashup of florid dramatic themes, flurries of crowd noise and oration. The text was Ivecevic’s own resume, Fischer having a great time with every gushing, adulatory adjective – and then relished the chance to pronounce the word “oeuvre.” On one level, Ivecevic can personally relate to how misleading and utterly useless a composer or musician’s CV can be, since she books an ongoing series in her native Croatia. On the other hand, she got Abigail Fischer not only to namecheck her but to sing her resume. If that’s not “making it” in the avant world, you figure out what is.

Another highlight and US premiere was Jasna Velickovic‘s solo performance on an instrument of her own invention, the velikon, an amplified board on which she manipulates a series of magnets and coils producing oscillations which grow lower in timbre as they become more magnetized. What began as blips and beats slowly took on jawharp-like warp and then grew lower and lower until she was approaching stygian ocean liner diesel depths. Was she going to take it all the way to where there would be no sound, only subsonics? Not quite. Watching this unfold – with Velickovic’s perfect, practically metronomic timing, as she played a furious chess game of sorts with the objects on the board – was as thrilling as it was to hear. It was like a more smallscale take on Eli Keszler‘s similarly murky sonic explorations.

Even more intense to witness was dancer Melanie Aceto, her wrists and ankles attached to fishing line that manipulated strings inside a piano via a series of pulley assembled overhead. Performing the New York premiere of Megan Grace Beugger‘s Liaison, Aceto began carefully and fluidly before evoking the relentless angst of a prisoner straining against her bonds. And the choreography actually produced genuine melodies, albeit simple ones, typically low drones and hammering motives (the low A and B flat were conjoined and attacked to one of the pulleys) against keening high overtones. Which would rise, raising the angst factor every time Aceto retreated back toward the piano after another seeming attempt to break free of her shackles. As the frame holding the pulleys over the piano trembled and swayed, the spectre of real horror – Aceto cutting a carpal vein or even her jugular, as she pulled and twisted – appeared within the realm of possibility. As far as sheer fireworks were concerned, it was impossible to top – and happily, there was no bloodshed.

There were also a couple of other works on the program, one a brief, mechanistically blippy audio-video montage of video images – ostensibly taken during the first Gulf War – sped up long past the point of unrecognizability. Maybe that was the point – although that point would have been lost if there hadn’t been program notes for it. There was also a droning piece by the Montreal trio of Adam Basanta, Julian Stein and Max Stein that paired long sustained electronic tones, simple chords and sudden electronic cadenzas with amplified lamps of assorted sizes and sounds. Given the three guys onstage with their laptops, there were umpteen opportunities for interplay and drollery that went by the board. Rather than any kind of conversation, amusing or otherwise, it evoked the experience of living in a building with bad wiring. Somebody comes home, turns on the AC…everybody on the hall loses power. Then somebody hits the breaker box and it’s back.

The MATA Festival continues through April 18; the remaining schedule is here.

The Spirit of Miles Davis Returns Via Bob Belden’s Noir Nightscapes

Friday night at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s sonically immaculate auditorium, reedman and Miles Davis scholar Bob Belden’s quintet, Animation, revisited the lingering unease of Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool, reinventing the music as a sort of update on Morricone 70s crime jazz, playing along to a chillingly here-and-now series of black-and-white video pieces. Shot by Belden himself on a blustery night last summer, the restless bluster of black leaves against neon glare or distantly flickering streetlights vividly evoked the same urban angst that permeated Davis’ original. Belden’s point was that this era’s juxtaposition of real estate bubble luxe against crushing poverty and burgeoning racism mirrors similar struggles and stress experienced by everyday New Yorkers during the era of Robert Moses and Joe McCarthy. The group – Belden on soprano sax and flute, Nord Electro keyboardist Roberto Verástegui, bassist Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, trumpeter Pete Clagett and drummer Matt Young – drove that point home, hard.

The original Miles themes were transient to the point of being practically illusory: from the git-go, it was obvious that Belden had reimagined this music as a suite. During a pre-concert Q&A with organizer Willard Jenkins, Belden more than hinted that this music would be intense. Relentless is more like it. Young’s deftly machinegunning rhythms, sometimes morphing on a dime from one odd meter to the next, other times evoking a more aggressive, less pointillistic John Hollenbeck, underpinned these long, purposefully stalking midnight strolls. Verastegui subtly varied his timbres from a eerie, vintage Rhodes echo to outer-space warp on an absolutely unrecognizable, twistedly futuristic take of Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid, aptly set against the bombardment of Times Square advertising images. It seemed to ask, is this all we have to show for sixty years of ostensible progress?

Wells interestingly got the eeriest moments of the night with his stately horror-film tritones and nonchalantly menacing chromatic walks during a long solo. Both Belden and Clagett ran their horns through a raw wee-hours mist of reverb, evoking the same kind of primitive processing – as on the Escalier Pour L’Echafaud soundtrack – that  made Davis’ music the essence of late 50s noir. Belden alternated between aching, sustained lines and anxiously clusters of bop, from the vamping bustle of the opening number, Move, through the only number where the band really made any attempt to match the trad, blues-based melodicism of the originals, Boplicity. Clagett got plenty of choice moments to evoke and revel in Miles-style nocturnal resonance. In between, they switched between white-knuckle Taxi Driver soundtrack intensity, chrome-chill 90s trip-hop and occasional echoes of In a Silent Way-era early electric Miles, through long, warily exploratory versions of Darn That Dream, Why Do I Love You and Budo (which Belden introduced, appropriately, as “Hallucination”). The highlight of the night came early in the second set, with a plaintively rapturous, considerably slower and more expansive take of Godchild.

Belden, like Davis and Duke Ellington has talent for visuals, in his case film. Anyone who’s spent time walking along Central Park West in the wee hours – especially in the pre-bubble decades – will resonate to Belden’s apprehensive shots of open windows, subway staircases and deserted streets lined by iron fences which offer no way out in case of trouble. It appears the concert was recorded: what a great DVD it would make!

Some backstory: Belden and the band were especially amped in the wake of being the first American band to play in Iran since the late 70s. As he told it, there’s actually an audience for jazz there (German label ECM Records has an Ikanian affiliate who record and release a small handful of jazz acts there), and Belden’s final night there, a concert in Teheran, received thunderous ovations. “And we did the same thing over there that we do here,” he noted dryly, also taking care to relate that the Iranians he encountered are in so many respects indistinguishable from Americans. They suffer through traffic jams, have close-knit families and seem eager to interact with westerners. And they love jazz. Not to beat a point into the ground, but these are the people who would be displaced or killed should the Obama accords get pushed off the board by the rightwing lunatic fringe.

 

 

Getting Up Close and Personal with Bjork at MOMA PS1

It must be as much fun for the museum staff to watch people watching Stonemilker – the new virtual reality piece by Bjork and filmmaker Andrew Huang at MOMA’s PS1 in Long Island City – as it is for the viewers themselves. Not to spoil the experience, but there’s more than one Bjork in it and she might be somewhere other than in front of you. Which makes for a, um, head-bobbing good time.

It’s a music video, and you’re in it, at the very center. Vertical movement won’t change your perspective much but horizontality will (although the stool you’re sitting on will limit that, probably for the better). The irrepressibly puckish Icelandic songstress/environmentalist is backed by a lush string orchestra in this rhythmically tricky, epically enveloping neoromantic art-rock piece. Its gist is that she wants to “synchronize emotions” with you. The scenery fits the music: it’s more majestic than your typical beachy scene. Bjork is as playful and fun as you would expect, and she gets right up in your face. And turns out to be considerably more petite than she seems onstage.

The 360 Bjork experience continues daily through May 17, Thursday through Monday, noon to 6 PM in the dome at MOMA PS 1, 22-25 Jackson Ave. in Long Island City. It’s about a ten-minute walk up Jackson Ave. from the Vernon-Jackson stop on the 7 train; those on the G should take it to 21st/Van Alst. LIC residents get in free; otherwise, it’s $10/$5 stud/srs, or $5 if you have a MOMA ticket from the previous two weeks. While you’re there, you should also check out the many current-day revolution-themed video installations as well as Simon Denny’s LMAO satire of technosupremacist mythmaking, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and Samara Golden‘s surreal, vertigo-inducing, three-floor cutaway The Flat Side of the Knife.

The New York Scandia Symphony Sell Out Symphony Space

Many years – maybe decades – before Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic were thrilling audiences with the sweep and majesty and blustery fun of Carl Nielsen’s symphony cycle, maestro Dorrit Matson was doing the same thing and more with the New York Scandia Symphony. She and the orchestra specialize in both classical repertoire and new music from the Nordic countries. Much of what they play is rare and relatively obscure, at least south of where the aurora borealis is flickering. Which makes them a unique and important part of this city’s cultural fabric.

And they’re not such a secret anymore: from the looks of it (a few empty seats in the balconies), their Thursday night concert at Symphony Space was sold out. The orchestra rewarded the crowd with rousing, dynamic versions of material that for the most part is not typical for them. This time out, the program wasn’t about discovery as much as it was revisiting some of Scandinavia’s greatest global classical hits via a joint 150th birthday salute to both Nielsen and Jean Sibelius.

The one lesser-known piece on the bill was Nielsen’s quirky, strikingly modernist Flute Concerto, quite a departure from the late Romantic material he’s best known for, but characteristically flush with subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) good humor. Soloist Lisa Hansen held the center with minute command of dynamics while jaunty motives made their way through a characteristically labyrinthine arrangement that was closer to a series of funhouse mirrors than the often stormy intensity of Nielsen’s earlier works. One of those on the program, the Overture from the opera Maskarade, balanced stiletto precision from the strings against the goodnatured rambunctiousness of the brass section (this orchestra’s brass has a visible camaraderie and chemistry, and will sometimes perform as a separate ensemble).

Drama, suspense and foreshadowing permeated the lushness of Sibelius’ At the Castle Gate (from his Pelease et Melisande suite). Matson brought the drama up several notches further with a roller-coaster ride through his Karelia suite, unleashing the triumph of the first movement, dipping to a long, enveloping sweep upward and then a graceful balletesque pulse that alternated with mighty stadium bombast. The orchestra closed with a similarly triumphant yet warily colorful take of Finlandia, leaving no doubt that this was written not as a piece of nationalistic pageantry but as a slap upside the head of Russian Tsarist aggression.

In addition to performing in concert halls, The New York Scandia Symphony puts on an annual free summer series at Fort Tryon Park, typically on Sunday afternoons in June: check back at their site for details.

The Monophonics Bring Their Darkly Psychedelic Soul Sounds to Brooklyn Bowl

The Monophonics are sort of a more psychedelic west coast counterpart to the Dap-Kings, masters of all things darkly slinky and soulful. They get extra props for starting their career as an all-instrumental band: it wasn’t until fairly recently that they even bothered with vocals. But that’s a good thing, because it adds yet another trippy dimension to their ominous grooves. They’ve got a new album, Sound of Sinning due out soon, which will no doubt end up with the rest of their catalog at their Bandcamp page. They’ve also got a Brooklyn Bowl show coming up on April 15 at around 9, with the similarly slinky, groove-driven Afrobeat/psychedelic funk band Ikebe Shakedown opening the night at 8. Cover is $12.

The new album opens with Lying Eyes – an original, not the cheesy 70s hit by the Eagles – setting a well-traveled 60s noir garage guitar hook to a jaunty, shuffling soul-clap beat. It gets darker and trippier as it goes along, with hints of dub. Frontman/organist Kelly Finnigan’s raindrops-on-the-keys attack and gruffly impassioned vocals rise above an echoey backdrop, part Zombies, part noir soul, on the title track.

The slowly swaying 6/8 soul ballad La La La Love Me is straight out of 1967, right down to the reverb on all the instruments…but with a creepy undercurrent. Promises is a killer update on late 60/early 70s Rare Earth that adds reverbtoned depth and menace missing from the era’s original stuff. Then the band returns to a brooding nocturnal ambience with Falling Apart, guitarist Ian McDonald alternating between bright, Memphis tinged licks and dark-water chorus-box lines against a backdrop of period-perfect strings and brass.

Drummer Austin Bohlman propels Hanging On with a tight latin soul pulse, up to a darkly rising brass chart anchored by trumpeter Ryan Scott – and then they channel Jethro Tull for a few bars, an unexpectedly droll touch. Strange Love has a Spectorish majesty, Myles O’Mahony’s precise, hollowbody-toned bass dancing over the string section, bells and growly baritone sax. Find My Way Back Home artfully pairs watery guitar and airy organ for what sounds like a prototype for jazz-inflected 70s Stylistics art-soul balladry

They follow that with Holding Back Your Love, the hardest-hitting, most direct song here, infused with McDonald’s fuzztone Yardbirds riffage. Too Long follows a similarly straightforward groove, but a slow-burning, menacingly nocturnal one with a towering noir soul arrangement. The final track, Everyone’s Got is a surreal mashup of trip-hop, Lee Hazlewood southwestern gothic and oldschool soul. The Monophonics have been touring with Galactic and probably blowing that band off the stage, night after night. Fans of the dark side of soul and psychedelic pop – Clairy Browne and Nick Waterhouse in particular – will love these guys. Not to give away anything that’s going to happen here later this year, but an awful lot of best-of-2015 lists will have this album on it.

A Trippy, Fun New Album and a Brooklyn Bowl Show by the Pimps of Joytime

Playful psychedelic funk band the Pimps of Joytime came out of Williamsburg in the late zeros. Their home base back in the day was the Lucky Cat, the Grand Street sweatbox that became Bruar Falls for a couple of years and is now a Chinese junk shop – real estate bubble-era New York in reverse. They’ve got a new album, Jukestone Paradise, streaming at Soundcloud and a US tour that kicks off tonight, April 10 at around 9 at Brooklyn Bowl. Cover is $15.

Where there are a gazillion funk bands out there who ape other styles from the past fifty years, what sets the Pimps of Joytime apart is that they write original songs that draw inspiration from all sorts of unexpected places and mash them up without sounding derivative. For example, the album’s opening track has a southern-baked guitar rock feel that gives way to a lush, anthemic chorus with synth and an exuberant choir of vocals from singers Mayteana Morales and Cole Williams. The second number kicks off with an oldschool 70s disco groove, but with blippy synth bass and vocals until it hits a big, vintage Kool & the Gang-style chorus, the fuzz from the synth bass pushing it along like a wave of foam from an overexcited firehose.

Waiting for My Ride – a story anybody can relate to – hints at Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean, with its 80s disco-funk style. By contrast, Heart Is Wild has an early EWF/Parliament hard funk flavor…but then the band does the time warp with an echoey, shreddy stoner guitar interlude. They go to a similar blueprint later on with Dank Janky, but with an even heavier stoner organ-and-guitar section toward the end.

Sky is a rousingly successful blend of 70s Three Degrees girl-group soul and more recent psychedelic sounds, with an unexpectedly Beatlesque outro. With Cut Off, the band takes anthemic Rare Earth and updates it for the teens, then follows that with The Jump, the trippiest thing here, mashing up delta blues, dub and video game soundtrack action. Then they flip the script again with the album’s most straightforward joint, Body Party, a catchy late 70s Pointer Sisters style hit.

The album winds up with a characteristically shapeshifting mini-epic, moving from Isley Brothers-style organ-and-guitar funk to a lickety-split doublespeed interlude, then a dip into dub reggae and finally a soulful brass fanfare. On one level, this is party music that’s made for dancing. On another, this is also a good high-energy headphone album – it’ll pick you up after a rough day at school or the dayjob.

Concetta Abbate Brings Her Elegantly Enigmatic Violin Songs to Ember Schrag’s Fort Greene Hangout

Like many violinists, Concetta Abbate is classically trained, just as likely to be found playing Ravel or Paganini as she is her own music. She finds inspiration in poetry, literature and scientific observation. The point of the “pocket-sized songs” on her loosely thematic new debut album, Falling in Time (streaming at Bandcamp) is that despite how distracted we are by the demands of dayjobs, family and (yuck) technology and social media, we mustn’t cut ourselves off from the world around us because it’s so interesting. Abbate isn’t necessarily telling us to stop and smell the roses, although she might encourage us to stop and watch the waves at the river’s edge…or the faces on the platform as the train pulls into the station. Abbate finds meaning and beauty in the seemingly mundane, translating that tersely and imagistically into a series of brief, often barely two-minute songs that could be called chamber pop or art-rock but really defy categorization.

She’s playing some of them on April 12 at 2 (two) PM at Mayflower Bar, 132 Greene Ave. just off Waverly in Ft. Greene as part of the weekly Sunday afternoon series booked by brilliant Great Plains gothic songwriter Ember Schrag, who has collaborated with her in the past. Take the G train, if it’s running (check mta.info) to Clinton-Washington; you can also take the C to Lafayette Ave. and walk straight up Greene about seven blocks. Abbate is also playing the third room at the Rockwood on April 27 with singer Tine Kindemann’s pensively psychedelic chamber pop group DK & the Joy Machine at 7 PM for $10 plus a strictly enforced $10 drink minimum.

Some of the songs on the album are just multitracked violin and vocals, Abbate altenating between bitingly terse neoromantic, sustained lines and dancing pizzicato. Others are much more ornately orchestrated. Abbate works a misty, jazz-tinged expressiveness on the opening track: “Looking for a key we can follow, and many days are many lines, too many walls that we could climb,”she muses. The second song, Burst is characteristically allusive and enigmatic, fire as metaphor for jumpstarting something – a career path? A passage to clarity? The video offers a few hints.

A jazz-tinged trip-hop number with piano and acoustic guitar, Fish is a snide portrait of a slimy guy who can’t get enough. Vibrato-heavy multitracked strings color Leaves, an achingly autumnal instrumental diptych. Firefly balances woundedly lush orchestration with noir guitar jazz: imagine Karla Moheno with strings. Spring has an aptly hopeful, dancingly wistful pulse. Then Abbate picks up the pace with Sun Song, a glistening, bittersweetly gorgeous Laurel Canyon folk-pop miniature.

She sings Oh Little Shell with a velvety, smoke-tinged delivery over spiky layers of pizzicato violin and acoustic guitar. Then she switches to Spanish for Tonada al Tiempo, with its understatedly impassioned flamenco touches. House has an eerie horror-film music-box feel echoed in its foreboding lyrics. Then, with Cave of Stars, Abbate takes that eerie ambience to even more gothic, Siouxsie-esque proportions.

Wooden Box reverts to a dancing trip-hop groove, followed by the fiery flamenco jazz of Elements. The album – a stealth contender for one of 2015’s best – winds up with Thought Thieving Hen, a surreal take on eerie early 60s style Skeeter Davis Nashville orchestral pop.

A Rare, Must-See New York Concert and a Magical Album by Kurdish Tambour Lute Master Ali Akbar Moradi

Ali Akbar Moradi is one of the world’s foremost virtuosos of the Iranian tambour lute. Drawing on his heritage, his specialty is the Kurdish Sufi repertoire, although he’s also an esteemed composer and improviser. His latest album, Fire of Passion is streaming at youtube. The album title, in English anyway, is a bit of a misnomer: much of it is somber, spare, even otherworldly. Moradi will be airing out songs from it at an extremely rare American appearance with his son Kourosh on percussion on April 15 at 7 PM at Elebash Hall at CUNY, 365 5th Ave. just north of 34th St. Cover is $25 ($20 for students). Since Moradi – who made waves recently by mentoring and playing on star chanteuse Bahar Movahed‘s most recent album- is iconic in the Iranian diaspora, the expat contingent will be out in full force, so get there early if you want a seat.

Much of what Moradi plays dates from a time when music was communal and participatory rather than spectacle: Middle Eastern chamber music for the 99 percent, if you will. So it’s no surprise that the album opens with a mantra-like, insistently prayerful solo tambour intro and then picks up as Moradi spins rapidfire, tremolo-picked lines introducing Songs of Nostalgia, the album’s most epic number. Its slowly swaying gravitas and intensity imbue it with an orchestral majesty, notwithstanding that the instrumentation is just tambour and percussion. As it slowly rises, Moradi and his percussionist join together in acerbic flurries, Moradi’s impassioned vocals – he sings in both Farsi and Kurdish – coming in about halfway through. It’s closer to minor-key western music than to the microtones of the Arabic world. And it’s incredibly catchy: try not to hum this to yourself after you’ve heard it all the way through.

Another epic slowly rises to a tensely strolling rhythm punctuated by rapidfire strums and whirling circles of eerie chromatics that make it easy to forget that it’s essentially a one-chord jam. It’s bookended by a broodingly hesistant solo instrumental that picks up steam the second time around and segues into Intimate Dialogue, a conversational piece for tambour and frame drum lit up with Moradi’s lightning tremolo-picking: Dick Dale has nothing on this guy.

The Caravan works a similar dynamic, blending a slowly swaying pace and a persistent drive evocative of a desert journey, literal or figurative. Moradi then segues into a spare, broodingly spacious number and then raises the intensity with a long, spikily rhythmic interlude. The album winds up with the aptly titled Gallop, a lickety-split coda and the album’s most memorable number. If the hypnotic grooves and edgy modes of Iranian and Kurdish music are your thing, miss this concert at your peril.

And not to flog a dead horse, but if the United States goes to war with Iran, this is what the world loses.

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