New York Music Daily

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Tag: PAM FLEMING trumpet

Rachelle Garniez Releases 2015’s Best Album, a Harrowing, Richly Detailed Portrait of the Here and Now

Dichotomies run deep throughout Rachelle Garniez’s latest album, Who’s Counting, streaming at Spotify. Optimism and despondency, irresistible laughs and corrosive anger sit side by side. The music is spare, uncluttered and for the most part unhurried. Everything counts for something, even the subtlest touches. Funny/creepy hospital room sonics channeled via the highest stops on her accordion; faux sleigh bells that could be cruelly faux-Christmasy, or maybe just guardedly festive. Even the jauntiest tracks have a dark undercurrent, while the darkest ones are understated, even gentle. While the music draws on many retro styles – saloon blues, Louis Armstrong torch song, Brecht/Weill cabaret, 19th century Celtic New York balladry – it’s irrefutably in the here and now, an artifact of a year of refugee death marches, tribal bride murders and the devastation of Garniez’s beloved Manhattan as the stampede to cash in on what’s left of the real estate bubble leaves entire neighborhoods trampled and crippled. Garniez relates all those narratives in many voices: an innocent, a bawdy belter or a shellshocked witness, sometimes a parade of personalities in the same song. As a bittersweetly accurate portrait of the here and now, it is unrivalled in 2015 and for that reason is the best album of the year, maybe the best album in a career that includes more than one brilliant one.

Garniez’s work over the past fifteen years or so is not an easy read. Very often, the window of interpretation hangs open, as far as the degree of subtext or sarcasm lurking in the shadows underneath. On the surface, Medicine Man – a remake of a sultry hokum blues strut originally released on her 2003 Luckyday album – builds a steamy atmosphere fueled by the gusty brass of Hazmat Modine, of which Garniez is also a member. A closer listen reveals a thinly veiled plea for some relief from a lingering angst. Little Fish – a Cajun-flavored duet featuring the Hazmats’ banjo player Erik Della Penna, originally released on Garniez’s eclectic 2000 album Crazy Blood – is addressed to a missing person who might be missing for keeps. And the album’s most irrepressibly dancing number, Flat Black – a simple bass-and-vocal duet that looks back fifty years to Sarah Vaughan’s work with Joe Comfort – is a blackly droll look forward to the singer’s funeral, where everybody’s going to “sit shiva by the river, have a little chopped liver.”

That’s the bright side of the album. The dark side is harrowing, even devastating. Garniez plays spare gospel-tinged piano against an ambered horn chart on the title track, in the moment in every conceivable sense of that phrase. She maintains that mood, taking it up a notch for awhile, on the vivid, photorealistic New York Minute, on one hand a fond reminiscence of a Manhattan childhood in the days before helicopter parenting, on another a very uneasy portrait of a budding eight-year-old existentialist. And Manhattan Island – one of several miniatures interspersed enigmatically between songs – grounds the current speculative crisis in centuries of history.

The album’s highest points are also its most brooding. The Elizabethan Britfolk-flavored Vanity’s Curse opens as a suspensefully crepuscular portrait of a dotty old lady’s well-appointed lair but quickly moves to illuminate the sinister source of all that luxe: it’s impossible to imagine a more relevant song released this year. The haunting, starkly quiet A Long Way to Jerusalem follows an ages-old Talmudic tale, recast as a shattering chronicle of women abused and tortured over the centuries. And It’s a Christmas Song (watch the cool video) offers a contrarian view that will resonate with anyone whose tolerance for corporate holiday cheer has maxed out. As the song swings and bounces along, Garniez has no problem with revelry. “If you gotta shop, please support the mom & pop,” but:

Let’s celebrate the birth
Of redefining worth
Start a full-scale reconstruction
Of a flawed global economy
Take down corporate tyranny
Promote local autonomy

It figures that Garniez would wait til the album’s last song to finally drop her guard and let her message resonate, pure and simple. That’s a Christmas present worth sticking around for. Garniez plays Barbes on January 7 at 8 PM, then she’s back there on January 17 at 7:30 PM.

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A Menacing Masterpiece and an Annual Halloween Celebration from Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band

Trumpeter Pam Fleming‘s Dead Zombie Band are the inventors and possible sole practitioners of a relatively new and incredibly fun style of music: Halloween jazz. Fleming, who’s played with everybody from Natalie Merchant to roots reggae legend Burning Spear, brings her signature eclecticism to the band’s album Rise and Dance, streaming at cdbaby. Leading an all-star cast of New York talent, she’s playing the band’s annual Fort Greene Halloween dance party starting at around 6 PM this Saturday on Waverly Avenue between between Willoughby and DeKalb Avenues. Take the C train to Clinton-Washington.

The band slowly rises, as if from the grave, as the album gets underway, Fleming’s somber trumpet leading the funeral procession. And then they’re off on a wry reggae pulse, Tine Kindemann’s singing saw flickering in the background. Fleming’s fiendishly fun vocals are the icing on this orange-and-black cake. Fleming’s trumpet, Karen Waltuch’s viola, Jenny Hill’s tenor sax and Buford O’Sullivan’s trombone all have chromatically delicious fun. It’s a lot more Black Ark noir than it is Scooby Doo.

Zombie Drag is a slow, muted, misterioso carnival theme: the way Fleming slowly marches the horn chart out of the mist, then back and forth, is Gil Evans-class inventive. Pianist Rachelle Garniez goes for icy Ran Blake noir on The Bell behind Fleming’s whispery, ghoulish recitation. Then Garniez – who’s also playing Barbes at 8 on Nov 5 – takes over on the similarly crepuscular Two Lovers and winds it up with a gorgously ghostly improvisation that dies on the vine far to soon.

The narrative gets very, very ghostly for a bit, Fleming’s ominous intonement backed by Ursel Schlicht brushing the piano strings, a “cackle cocktail party” and then the band goes up into Satan Is Waitin’, a mashup of saloon blues, Danny Elfman soundttrack shenanigans, jajouka (dig Jessica Lurie’s alto sax solo!), Jimmy Smith (that’s Adam Klipple on organ) and oldschool soul. After that, there’s some storytelling – imagine a Dr. Seuss Halloween tale set to Hollywood Hills noir boudoir soul.

Klipple’s droll roller-rink organ anchors some pretty joyous solos from tenor saxophonist Lily White, Hill (on baritone now), and Martha Hyde on alto throughout the reggae-soul number Rise and Dance – hey, if you were a zombie, you’d be pretty psyched to be getting out of the cold ground at last. Forget anything you’ve heard before: this is the real Monster Mash.

An Exhilarating Live Album and a Lower East Side Release Show by Metropolitan Klezmer

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since high-voltage, time-warping Jewish jamband Metropolitan Klezmer played their first gig at CB’s Gallery, next door to its big sister club, CBGB. In the years that passed, there’s been some turnover in the band, but no relenting in the intensity or the fun department. Their latest release, Mazel Means Good Luck, is a live album – something more bands ought to be making – which comprises material from concerts at several venues from 2009 through 2013. The album is streaming at Bandcamp, and the band are playing the album release show on Dec 15 at 7 PM at the gorgeously restored, sonically rich Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum (just north of Division; B/D to Grand St.); cover is $20/$15 for students.

Much as the band dedicate themselves to original material, drummer/leader Eve Sicular is also a serious musicologist, with a love for resurrecting obscure treasures from across the decades. One particularly noteworthy cover here is the version of the slow, sad lament Die Fire Korbunes – a 1911 requiem for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire – which by all accounts seems to be the first-ever recording of that song. The band also reach to the Soviet Union in 1956 for their update on an Anna Guzik recording of incendiary, iconic songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig’s subtext-drenched Yankele, sung in shiveringly nuanced Yiddish by Melissa Fogarty, accordionist Ismail Butera and violist Karen Waltuch supplying a stark backdrop.

A medley of Romanian-inflected tunes opens with a suspenseful, whirlwind acccordion improvisation, then the band segue into a stately but edgy processional. A clarinet-fueled take of Mikhail Ziv’s 1969 title theme from the Soviet tv cartoon Cheburashka portrays its furry, enigmatic central character as a rather forlorn soul. Fogarty pulls out all the stops for a mischievously sultry take of the album’s title track, originally recorded by Louis Prima’s big band in 1947. There’s also a mashup of a couple of pensive traditional themes with a jaunty, vaudevillian, klezmerized version of Frank Loesser’s Luck Be a Lady Tonight, fueled by clarinetist Debra Kreisberg and trumpeter Pam Fleming.

A similar outside-the-box sensibility informs the band’s originals, which is what distinguishes this group from others in their field: their repertoire is vibrant and in the here and now, and often irreverent. Kreisberg contributes Baltic Blue, which begins as a haunting, slow cumbia, then mashes up the blues and Hava Nagila with soulful solos for alto sax, muted trumpet and Reut Regev’s trombone – it may be an elegy for Brooklyn neighborhoods lost to the blitzkrieg of gentrification. A diptych by the group’s former trombonist Rick Faulkner goes in the opposite direction. And the band waste no time kicking the album off on an explosive note with a trio of party dances.

Sicular also has a thing for subversive humor, which is front and center on the closing number, When Israel Met Jenny, from her multimedia piece J. Edgar Klezmer. It’s a sort of klezmer-chamber-pop reminiscence of how Sicular’s psychiatrist grandmother dealt with FBI surveillance during the cold war, a bitingly funny over-the-shoulder glimpse of the kind of conversation many of New York’s intelligentsia could have had around the table at a Passover seder. Keep an eye out for this one on the best albums of 2014 page here at the end of the year.