New York Music Daily

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Tag: Ornette Coleman

Marc Ribot’s Young Philadelphians Bring Their Twisted Take on Philly Soul and Disco to Bowery Ballroom

To say that guitarist Marc Ribot doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet is a something of an understatement; where this guy treads turns into Carthage. To take that to its logical extreme; whatever he touches, he destroys – in the best possible sense of the word. The irrepressible downtown polymath’s career high point may be his shadowy, noir 2010 Silent Movies album, but his latest release, Live in Tokyo, with his group the Young Philadelphians – guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston – might be the best album of 2016. It’s a volcanic punk-funk record – most of it streaming at the band’s music page -with the same noisy, clenched-teeth exhilaration as Ribot’s 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard set. The premise of this one is typically ambitious: to connect the dots between Ornette Coleman’s 70s/80s Prime Time band and the plush Philly soul which served as a backdrop if not an immediate touchstone. AND to do it with two guitars instead of a horn band. Wild stuff. They’re bringing their careening intensity to a gig this Thursday, July 28 at 11 PM at Bowery Ballroom, a rare appearance by a jazz band at Manhattan’s best-sounding midsize venue. Advance tix are $20, half of what you’d spend if you saw Ribot in any number of jazz clubs. Chris Cochrane subs for Halvorson on the band’s current US tour.

The intro to the album’s opening track, Love Epidemic, is worth the price of admission alone: Ribot blazes through a classic funk riff, then Halvorson comes in with an artery-slashing pickslide, a pickup Japanese string section swirling animatedly overhead. Tacuma anchors all this with his bubbly, purposeful vintage disco lines in tandem with Weston’s straight-up dancefloor pulse. Both guitarists switch on a dime between hard funk and irresistibly jubilant blasts of distorted punk rock. It’s fun to just think about this, let alone hear it or try to play it.

By contrast, the two guitarists’ droll wide-angle tremolo approach on the ballad Love TKO brings to mind Isaac Hayes at his most soulfully hot and buttered. Tacuma and Weston draw on their time with both Coleman and James Blood Ulmer, the bassist strutting and slipsliding, drums moving effortlessly from chill to crush. Ribot builds with fiery deliberation from shivery acid blues to skronk to cap it off.

The group twists Fly, Robin, Fly – a cheesy 1975 hit by German one-hit wonders Silver Convention – into a sick mashup of Bush Tetras and late-period ELO – and then takes it toward saturnine Sun Ra territory. TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) is just plain hilarious, Weston and the strings opening it as a bombastic Olympic theme over the guitars’ jagged, sandpapery attack, then they hit the groove with a snarky thump. They get a lot looser on an even more sardonic, wah-infused take of the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster, Halvorson having a ball anchoring Ribot and Tacuma’s stoner funk with her cumulo-nimbus ambience and woozy textures.

Do Anything You Want is closer to classic P-Funk than anything else here, and a launching pad for both Halvorson’s and Tacuma’s most incendiary playing. The group winds up the set logically with the funniest number of all, The Hustle. Ribot’s incessant quoting from an iconic anthem from a completely different idiom is as cruel as it is hilarious, finally getting his revenge for having to play the song on a wedding gig decades ago.

On the vocal numbers, it sounds like everybody sings, or at least vocalizes – not that there’s a lot in the way of lyrics, but it adds an extra dimension of fun. Since releasing the album, Ribot explains that the band is now stretching this material out even further, slicing and dicing the big hooks as springboards for even crazier improvisation. That’s an auspicious move since Halvorson’s own legendary ferocity is held in check somewhat here (she plays in the left channel, Ribot in the right).

And in case you haven’t already guessed, the Bowery gig may have something to do with the material on the bill, in addition to the artists. Can’t you see it: two dudes texting back and forth on Okcupid, “Let’s go to this, it’ll be so ironic.” To pronounce that final word correctly you have to hold your nose and say it in as flat and loud a voice as you can while trying to photobomb the selfie being taken by the gentrifier next to you. Steve Wynn put out a couple of dozen brilliant albums before he realized that he needed to write songs about baseball in order to reach a mass audience. Maybe Ribot has to be the leader of the world’s funnest and funniest disco cover band to do the same.

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A Walk in the Dark with Mary Halvorson

What’s the likelihood of getting to see guitarist Mary Halvorson trading riffs with pedal steel icon Susan Alcorn, building an alchemical stew from there? Along with a familiar and similarly-minded crew including erudite trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson; polymath trombonist Jacob Garchik; the even more devious Jon Irabagon on alto sax; tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and her irrepressible deadpan wit; groovemeister bassist John Hebert, and potentially self-combustible drummer Ches Smith? It’s happening tonight and tomorrow night, December 15-16 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM when Halvorson leads this killer octet at the Jazz Gallery. Cover is $22.

Who’s the best guitarist in jazz? Pretty much everybody would probably say Bill Frisell. But how about Halvorson? Within the past year or so, she’s released a drolly noisy, politically spot-on art-rock record with People as well as a methodically-paced, texturally snarling trio album by her Thumbscrew trio with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, al the while appearing on a slew of other artists’ records. To get an idea of what she’s likely to do with a larger crew alongside her, your best reference point is probably her moodily orchestrated 2013 septet masterpiece, Illusionary Sea (Spotify link).Halvorson’s latest album, Meltframe – streaming at Firehouse Records – is a solo release, a playlist of radically reinvented standards and covers by colleagues who inspire her, tracing something of a career arc for an artist who rather dauntingly hasn’t reached her peak yet.

What’s most striking here is how sad, desolate and often utterly Lynchian these songs are. Halvorson’s own material is hardly lighthearted, but her sardonic sense of humor so often shines through and shifts the dynamics completely. She doesn’t do that here: it’s a raptly bleak and occasionally harrowing late-night stroll, almost a challenge as if to say, you think you really know me? This is me with my glasses off. The material spans influences readily identifiable in Halvorson’s own compositions, including the AACM pantheon, similarly off-the-hinges guitarists past and present, the blurry borders of rock and jazz songcraft…and Ellington.

The album opens with a carefree but blazing fuzztone bolero-metal take of fellow six-stringer Oliver Nelson’s Cascades. Avant jazz singer Annette Peacock’s original recording of Blood is a lo-fi, careless mess of a vignette: Halvorson’s take is twice as long, segueing out and then back into the previous cut in a brooding flamenco vein, distortion off and the tremolo up to maintain the menace.

She shifts gears, sticking pretty close to the wistful pastoral shades of guitarist Noel Akchote’s Cheshire Hotel, but with a lingering, Lynchian unease that rises toward fullscale horror as it goes along. Ornette Coleman’s Sadness blends hints of the gloomy bridge midway through Iron Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner into its moody modalities, an apt setup for her lingering deep-space/deep-midnight interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Solitude.

Ida Lupino, a Carla Bley tune originally recorded by her husband Paul Bley, returns to a nebulous Spanish tinge amid the hazy, strummy variations on Sonic Youth-style open chords, Halvorson playing clean with just the hint of reverb. She keeps that setting as she spins, spirals and then lets her chords hang around McCoy Tyner’s Aisha, one of the more deviant interpretations here. Then she cuts loose with a brief blast of distortion and saunters off toward the deep end of the pitch-shifting pool.

Platform, a Chris Lightcap composition, gives Halvorson a stepping-off point for some gritty crunch and wryly Maidenesque grand guignol. When, by Fujiwara plays off a loop of enigmatically chromatic chords; it sounds like something a drummer might write on an unfamiliar instrument. The album closes with a pensively pitch-shifted, Dave Fiuczynski-esque cover of Roscoe Mitchell’s Leola. Guitar jazz doesn’t get any more individualistic or intense than this in 2015.

Sean Noonan Conjures Up More Menacing Magic

A pavee is an Irish Tinker, a member of the nomadic tribe who’ve spread culture, repair and reinvention across the Emerald Isle for centuries. Drummer Sean Noonan saw a connection between those travelers and what the band he’d pulled together for his latest album was doing during their lone rehearsal for it, so he was inspired to name Pavees Dance, his collection of darkly surrealistic, shapeshifting, highly improvised art-rock mini-epics, after them. The band also happens to be well-traveled: Aram Bajakian, Lou Reed’s last lead player, who might just be the most exciting guitarist in any style of music right now; bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who famously did a long stint in free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman’s band; and Can co-founder Malcolm Mooney, who was largely responsible for making that band’s debut album Monster Movie so monstrous, on vocals. This feral, individualistic crew wil be playing the album release show on May 30 at around 9 at Bowery Electric. Advance tix are $10; the show looks like it’s going to be a wild one.

Noonan’s previous album A Gambler’s Hand blended indie classical, chamber metal and art-rock, a collaboration with a string quartet assembled from the ranks of rising star indie classical Cadillac Moon Ensemble and fiery string group Trio Tritticali. This one’s even more of a rock record, equal parts punk, psychedelia and downtown jazz. Much as there’s obviously a lot of improvisation going on, it’s tight and focused, with the same relentless menace, sometimes distant, sometimes in your face, that characterized Noonan’s last album.

The brief opening track sets the stage, Noonan’s clustering drums holding it all together as Bajakian veers from Arto Lindsay skronk, to warps, scrapes, squalls and scratches while Tacuma goes from judicious ornamentation to a steady walk and then back. Mooney’s nonchalantly haphazard vocals, part spoken word, part proto-punk, raise the unease factor to redline. Sometimes he repeats a mantra, other times veers all over the map, so it’s hard to tell what, other than madness, he’s carrying on about in his weatherbeaten rasp. Which in itself makes perfect sense with the music.

Tacuma’s bass builds to an ominous gallop on the mini-suite There’s Always the Night, which takes a dive into Beatlesque flamenco-tinged rock, shifts to pounding skronk and then terse punk-funk. Quick Pick begins as an acid funk theme and then goes into creepy late 70s King Crimson territory, then shades of both the Grateful Dead and reggae before Bajakian hits a reverb-drenched, wailing, trickily syncopated crescendo. Moonwalk begins as a low-key vintage soul ballad, Noonan picking it up to practically hardcore-style agitation, then Bajakian channels Ron Asheton with a wah circa 1969 – the way the band effortlessly and instantly shifts between idioms and eras here might sound awkward, but in their hands it’s the most natural thing in the world.

No Strings Attached is a showcase for Bajakian at his most elegant, evoking David Gilmour with his gleaming, resonant Brain Damage lines while Tacuma solos with a similarly purposeful, horn-inspired attack. The final track, Portrait of a Heartless Lover reverts to juxtaposing oldschool soul with acidic King Crimson art-rock – although Noonan is a vastly more nuanced and down-to-earth drummer than Bill Bruford. Bajakian’s vintage art-rock lead builds to the one point on the album where the center collapses into raw noise, Mooney leading them out with a darkly sardonic tale that’s either about a murder or at least a psychic one.

In addition to the album, there’s a companion book – also available as an e-book – featuring both the lyrics as well as Mooney’s original album art and plus poetry by Mooney, Marquita Pool-Eckert and Lowell Henry.