New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: pastoral jazz

One of Brooklyn’s Best Jazz Acts Returns to Playing Live with a Vengeance

One of the first bands at the very front of the pack getting busy on the live circuit again is fronted by the guy who might be the best guitarist in Brooklyn. From the mid to late teens, Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized played a careening, highly improvisational but also wickedly tuneful blend of pastoral jazz and psychedelia, with frequent detours into the noir. Their distinctively drifting live album of Twin Peaks themes is an obscure treasure from the peak era of the Barbes scene. The group survived their bandleader’s brush with death (this was long before any so-called pandemic) and have emerged seemingly more energized than ever. Csatari didn’t let all the downtime during the past fifteen months’ lockdown go to waste: he wrote three albums worth of songs. He calls it the Placebo Trilogy, and it’s streaming at Bandcamp.

Their next show is June 26 at 8 PM at the new San Pedro Inn, 320 Van Brunt St. (corner of Pioneer) in Red Hook. You could take the B61 bus but if you’re up for getting some exercise, take the F to Carroll, get off at the front of the Brooklyn-bound train and walk it. Nobody at this blog has been to the venue yet but it gets high marks from those who have.

All three records are Csatari solo acoustic, often played through a tremolo effect. The first one, Placedo-Niche has a couple of numbers with a distantly Elliott Smith-tinged, hazily bucolic feel, the first steadier, the second more spare and starry. Csatari packs more jaunty flash and enigmatic strum into D’art in less than a minute thirty than most artists can in twice as much time: one suspects that this miniature, like everything else here, was conceived as a stepping-off point for soloing.

Morton Swing is an increasingly modernized take on a charmingly oldtimey melody. And Extra could be a great lost Grateful Dead theme – who cares if this singalong doesn’t have lyrics.

The second record, Placebo-ish begins with Fresh Scrabble, Csatari’s gritty, nebulous chords around a long, catchy, descending blues riff. As it unwinds, he mingles the same kind of finger-crunching chords into a southern soul-tinged pattern, explores a moody Synchronicity-era Police-style anthem, then sends a similarly brooding variation through a funhouse mirror. The most John Fahey-influenced number here is titled Sad-Joy, both emotions on the muted side.

The last album is Placebo-Transcendence. The gentle, summery ambience of the opening track, Valentino, suddenly grows frenetic. Sugar Baby vamps along, warm and hypnotic. The wryly titled Civilized is…well…exactly that: it sounds like Wilco. The funniest song title (Csatari is full of them) is Silicone Transcendence (Tryin’ to Transcend), the closest thing to Twin Peaks here.

There isn’t a jazz guitarist alive who gets as much mileage out of a chord-based approach than Csatari, and there aren’t many people writing tunes as hummable as these in any style of music. Yet they tease the ears at the same time. If you want to learn how to write using implied melody, there isn’t a better place to start than these records.

A Cinematic, Energetic Live Album From Cowboys & Frenchmen

Among ambitious, relatively young jazz groups, Cowboys & Frenchmen are a lot closer to the virtuosic fractal flex of Kneebody than the goofy insiderness of Snarky Puppy. They did what every band ought to be doing: they put out a live album, Our Highway, streaming at Bandcamp and recorded in the nick of time just before the lockdown in the pristine sonics of the now-shuttered Subculture.

As the bandname implies, these guys are irreverent. The music is energetically picturesque, frequently springboarding off comfortably homey, pastoral themes. This is a concept album, a boisterous band-on-the-road saga with an accompanying video travelogue.

Alto saxophonist Ethan Helm’s calm, liquid solo intro to the night’s first number, American Whispers: Pines is a red herring. In a flash, the band come bustling in, rushing to make it to the next stop on the tour. Pianist Addison Frei’s terse Shaft-y riffs anchor the tightly flurrying clamor, down to a little hint of boogie and flickers of wry lounginess. Bassist Ethan O’Reilly is a sudden voice of reason, introducing a moment of clarity before the trick ending. No spoilers: it works with the crowd.

Alice in Promisedland, a Alice Coltrane homage is built around Frei’s reflecting-pool ripples and O’Reilly’s lithely muscular bassline, Owen Broder’s alto sax entwining airily with Helm’s flute. He sticks with the flute over drummer Matt Honor’s snowstorm cymbals. and more Shaft/Mission Impossible piano from Frei, until O’Reilly hits a racewalking pace in the next segment of American Whispers. This one’s a portrait of torrential streams and an old church, captured with wistful gospel-infused warmth by sax, piano, a terse bass solo and an oldtimey anthem of sorts on the way out.

A similar, somewhat darker gospel-inspired atmosphere finally emerges in Where Is Your Wealth: the degree to which this is either sarcastic, a philosophical inquiry, or a stickup, isn’t clear. The big epic here is the final American Whispers tableau, Mountains. The range looms ahead, imposing, as birds cluster tightly over the slopes, Frei channeling the spring runoff, or at least so it seems. The group meet the challenge with an insistent pulse, swaying, swinging and finally hitting a disquieting series of echoes. The scenery changes with the rhythm, from defiant insistence to brisk swing, a long Helm solo with Broder shadowing him on baritone and then leading a calming downward trajectory, solo, into the night’s closing, benedictory nocturne, The Farmer’s Reason. It’s easy to imagine the band highfiving each other afterward: good thing somebody had the presence of mind to record the night !

Catchy, Thoughtful Rainy-Day Sounds From Modern Nature

Modern Nature play a tuneful, individualistic blend of pastoral jazz and chamber pop with tinges of vintage 70s soul music. Their new album Annual is streaming at Bandcamp. They like nature imagery and long, catchy, circling phrases over simple, muted drums.

They open the record with Dawn, a hazy miniature balancing bandleader Jack Cooper’s uneasy, lingering guitar over Arnulf Lindner’s overtone-laden bass drone. Elegantly uneasy soul guitar anchors frontwoman Kayla Cohen’s muted, half-whispered delivery as Flourish gets imderway, up to a big, anthemic chorus with Jeff Tobias’ fluttery sax and then back down. From there they segue into Mayday, which has a funkier swing but is just as hypnotically circling.

Spacious, incisive piano and balmy sax mingle with syncopated guitar jangle throughout the album’s fourth track, Halo. In Harvest, the band build very subtle variations into a staggered, loopy hook. They bring the record full circle with Wynter. “Outside the trees are groaning,” Cohen sings with an airy calm over the resonant, brooding clang of the guitar. Let’s hope the lockdown doesn’t destroy this band as it has so many others, and we get to hear more from them.

The Kolotov Mocktails Play Dynamic, Interesting, Subtly Amusing Cross-Genre Instrumentals

As you would imagine, instrumental jamband the Kolotov Mocktails have a sense of humor. The mocktail part of the band might be a characteristically wry admission of how many styles and ideas they appropriate; and yet, they are absolutely unique. Their songs tend to be upbeat, the solos are purposeful and the tunes are catchy. Their latest album Ivy Hall is streaming at Spotify.

They open with Between the Ranges, a lively Grateful Dead-style instrumental by drummer Rob McKendrick. Violinist George Mason’s wildly spiraling solo is a highlight; the southern rock quotes at the end are predictably amusing.

Mason and pedal steel player Dave Easley take centerstage in Dancing on the Wall, McKendrick and bassist John Lang giving it a tight jazz waltz beat. Lang contributes Mr. Pants Pants, which could be the Alan Parsons Project with a more organic groove, guest Allan Walters’ Scottish smallpipes mingling with the layers of keys.

Easley contributes A Visit to the Zoo: with his percussive hammer-ons and ambiguously lingering lines, along with Mason’s long, moody solo, this seems to reflect the inhabitants’ unease rather than a joyous family outing. The shift toward a marching raga, with Mason on guitar sitar, makes for an unexpected coda.

The group shift back toward newgrass rock with Acoustic Alchemy, a brisk number in an Old Crow Medicine Show vein. Fueled by Lang’s strutting, circling bassline, Coming to an Alley Near You is a bizarrely entertaining mashup of Jean-Luc Ponty, Kraftwerk and maybe Dave Tronzo in a particularly terse moment. Likewise, imagine Ponty trying his hand at Meters funk in, say, 1974 – with a pedal steel – and you get The Fuzz.

Mason and Easley trade punchy riffs in Raw Eel Sheets, a similarly mind-warping blend of Django Reinhardt and New Orleans funk. The Crack of Noon features Walters on the pipes again: it could be a Greer Coppins tune, or the Dead taking a stab at a highlands air. The band segue from there to close the record with Time Ebbing: the guitar/violin duel is pure Terrapin Station. If you smell something skunky and smoky coming from under your neighbor’s door, it might be this album.

Daniel Bennett and Mark Cocheo Play the Funniest Weekly Jazz Residency in Town

The wryly entertaining, irrepressibly catchy new album We Are the Orchestra, credited to the Daniel Bennett Group and streaming at Bandcamp, is actually the work of just two guys in the studio. Bandleader Bennett, who plays a small orchestra’s worth of reeds along with piano and percussion, admits that the idea was pretty crazy. But he and guitarist/banjo player Mark Cocheo pulled this eclectic, pastoral theme and variations together with boundless energy and an unstoppable sense of humor.

Bennett came up with the idea after arranging several Verdi opera themes for small ensemble for a Whitney Museum exhibition. The record is a mix of some of those numbers mingled with Bennett’s witty originalsf you have to pin a label on it, you might call it it film music: it’s rooted in jazz, but bustles with catchy rock hooks and is more than a little cartoonish in places. He and Cocheo have an ongoing weekly Tuesday night 7:30 PM residency at an unexpected and easy-to-get-to spot, the hideaway third-floor Residence Inn bar at 1033 6th Ave., a block south of Bryant Park on the west side of the street. Until word gets out about how much fun Bennett and Cocheo are having with it, you may have the place to yourself.

The new album’s first track is Loose Fitting Spare Tire, a briskly strolling highway theme assembled from crisp Cocheo guitar multitracks and some breezy alto sax from Bennett. It comes across as a more tightly wound take on Bill Frisell. Cocheo breaks out his banjo for a long, spiky solo over the changes in I’m Not Nancy, Bennett switching to flute.

Gold Star Mufflers is a twistedly surreal, uneasily psychedelic detour, banjo mingling with the piano. The first of the Verdi variations, Theme From Ernani is recast as a bittersweet, bossa-tinged tune with a warm, Memphis-flavored soul solo from Cocheo. Refinancing for Elephants – which wasn’t written by Verdi – brings in unexpected Irish flavor via Bennett’s tricky flute work.

Inside Our Pizza Oven, a real showstopper live, presumably could have been written by Verdi but also wasn’t. It’s got some absolutely gorgeous, Balkan-flavored microtonal, melismatic work from Bennett over a hypnotically strummy backdrop. Theme from Il Trovatore – which wasn’t written by Bennett – works much better as waltzing spaghetti western jazz than you might imagine. Carl Finds His Way – which was – brings the album full circle, Cocheo hitting his distortion pedal for extra edge and bite as Bennett swirls overhead.

Catchy, Thoughtful, Purposeful Guitar Instrumentals and a Bed-Stuy Gig by Guitarist Ryan Dugre

Do you ever wonder what the few competent musicians who play indie rock actually do on their own time, when they’re not jumping from one hired-gun gig to the next? Guitarist Ryan Dugre’s gently captivating, tersely tuneful new album The Humors – streaming at Bandcamp – is one answer to that question. Dugre plays much of it solo, both electric and acoustic, varying his textures, using a lot of loops. He has a pastoral streak as well as a penchant for rainy-day pensiveness. A lot of this you could call Bil Frisell Junior. Dugre is playing C’Mon Everybody on April 15 at 8 PM; cover is $10.

For a minute – and that’s about it – the album’s opening track, irts Tide, sounds like it’s going to linger in careful, mannered, peevishly unresolved indie territory…then Dugre introduces a disarmingly pretty, wistful theme, and ends up completely flipping the script with it. It’s a song without words worthy of Frisell.

Tasty, watery, tremoloing chorus-box sonics contrast with a spiky, Americana-tinged, fingerpicked melody in Mateo Alone. Dugre picks out a hushed, calmly steady, baroque-tinged tune over orchestral washes in Bali, up to a moody, feathery arrangement for strings. New June is a tantalizing miniature: Dugre could have taken this shift from hints of psychedelic majesty to jazz exploration much further than he does..

He returns to spare, casually strolling, brooding Frisellian territory with Smoke From Above, the strings once again adding wary ambience. The alternately pulsing and resonant Wild Common is assembled around coy echo effects, as is High Cloud, the album’s most hypnotically loopy number.

Tonight is a Lynchian, Britfolk-tinged ballad without words, a clinic in implied melody and arguably the album’s most impactful track. In a lot of ways, the stately title cut is an apt summation of the album, part baroque, part Beatles. The concluding number, In Tall Grass, is aptly titled, a summery, vintage soul-tinged tableau. Whether you call this pastoral jazz, soundtrack music or Americana, it’s a breath of fresh, woodsy air.

Trippy, Eclectic Sounds in Deep Bushwick This Sunday Night

This December 3 there’s an excellent multi-band lineup put together by boutique Brooklyn label Very Special Recordings at Secret Project Robot, 1186 Broadway between Lafayette and Van Buren in Bushwick. The show starts at 8; the lineup, in reverse order, is psychedelic Afrobeat headliners the People’s Champs; female-fronted trip-hop/postrock band Green and Glass; brilliant bassist Ezra Gale’s funky, dub-inspired psychedelic project the Eargoggle; psychedelic pastoral jazz guitarist Dustin Carlson; similarly eclectic guitarist Ryan Dugre; and cinematic guitar-and-EFX dude Xander Naylor, who can be a lot louder and more fearsome than his latest, more low-key album. Cover is ten bucks; take the J to Kosciusko St.

It’s an album release show for the label’s new Brooklyn Mixtape, streaming at Bandcamp. The playlist is a cheat sheet for their signature, eclectic mix of hypnotic, globally-influenced grooves as well as some more jazz, postrock and indie classical-oriented sounds, which are a new direction from the stoner organic dance music they’re probably best known for.

The A-side begins with Swipe Viral, by Sheen Marina, a skittish, math-y, no wave-ish number awash in all kinds of reverb: “I gotta go to the edge of a digital world where I can find my soul,” the singer says snottily. Green and Glass’ Night Runner brings to mind Madder Rose with its slow trip-hop sway, uneasy low tremolo-picked harp anchoring frontwoman Lucia Stavros’ clear, cheery vocals.

Ryan Dugre’s Mute Swan makes postrock out of what sounds like a balmy Nigerian balafon theme. He’s also represented by another track, the pretty, spare, baroque-tinged pastorale Elliott, on side B.

There are three Eargoggle tracks here. Picking My Bones opens with a tasty chromatic bass solo: deep beneath this sparse lament, there’s a bolero lurking. The second number is You’re Feeling Like, a blippy oldschool disco tune with dub tinges. A muted uke-pop song, Hero, closes the mix

Shakes, by Carlson, is a gorgeously lustrous brass piece with countryish vocals thrown on top. Trombonist Rick Parker and acoustic pipa player Li Diaguo team up for the album’s best and most menacing track, the eerily cinematic, slowly crescendoing Make Way For the Mane of Spit and Nails. Then Middle Eastern-influenced noir surf band Beninghove’s Hangmen put on their Zep costumes to wind up the A-side with the coyly boisterous Zohove, from their hilarious Beninghove’s Hangmen Play Led Zeppelin album.

The.People’s Champs open the B-side with a throwaway. Twin-trombone roots reggae band Super Hi-Fi – whose lineup also includes Parker and Gale – toss in an echoey Victor Rice dub. Xander Naylor kicks in Appearances, a shifting, loopy resonator guitar piece with innumerable trippy overdubs.And Council of Eyeforms’ slowly coalescing, oscillating tableau Planet Earth – with guitarist Jon Lipscomb of Super Hi-Fi – is the most hypnotically psychedelic cut.

All of these artists have albums or singles out with the label, who deserve a look if sounds that can be equally pensive and danceable are your thing.

Gato Libre Bring Their Rapturously Pensive Accordion Jazz to Gowanus

Gato Libre began life as a quartet making pensive, often plaintively tuneful jazz out of Japanese folk themes. As the Spanish name implies, a Romany influence appears frequently throughout their work. The nucleus of the group is the most formidable husband-wife team in jazz since Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln.

The astonishingly consistent and prolific pianist Satoko Fujii plays accordion with her husband Natsuki Tamura, the shogun of extended-technique trumpet. Originally a four-piece, they tragically lost their bass player in the months after 3/11 and are now a trio with trombonist Yasuko Kaneko. Their new album, Neko (not a homage to a redheaded Canuck songwriter) is streaming at youtube, and they’re bringing their increasingly austere, gorgeously pensive sounds to I-Beam on Nov 17 at 8:30 PM. Cover is $15.

If you’re expecting Tamura to do his proto-Peter Evans thing here, for the most part you’ll have to look elsewhere: the Japanese maestro has never played with greater elegance. Tempos here are on the glacial side.

The album opens with moody variations over a low accordion drone, Tamura’s warmly welcoming melody giving way to the trombone’s more uneasy tones. The second track shifts from stately call-and-response to a grittily triangulated conversation, Fujii’s calm, musette-like lines the voice of reason.

Tamura finally turns the ghosts and the microtonal mist loose in the third number, Fujii again starkly alluding to classic French chanson, Kaneko adding muted squall while Tamura channels the spirits of the hearth. Then the horns switch roles.

Distanced from Fujii’s slow, loopy variatoins, Tamura’s deadpan approach on the fourth track is pricelessly funny – no spoilers here. The trio take turns on the fifth tune, Yuzu, Tamura opening with what sounds like a Civil War bugle call and an amusing classical quote before Fujii builds to an unexpectedly wary crescendo. Kaneko takes a turn to bring in some blues, then the trio join forces for a brief, careful processional.

Finally, their lattice of voices grows more lush and lively in the final number, Tora. coming full circle with a simple fifth interval from the trombone that could be a a call to arms, or at least a call to awareness: this is very guardedly optimistic music for troubled times. How many more months til impeachment day?

Because this album is largely improvised, you will definitely get the tunefulness but probably not these tunes in Gowanus on Wednesday night. 

Epic Lynchian Jazz at Barbes Last Night

Covering music as iconic as the Twin Peaks soundtrack is playing with fire. Last night at Barbes, it was as if guitarist Tom Csatari said, “Fire walk with me!” and his nine-piece band Uncivilized could’t wait to follow him into the flames. It was less an inferno than the slowly gathering menace of a prairie burn – Angelo Badalementi’s David Lynch film scores are all about suspense and distant dread. And it was an awful lot of fun to find out just where this unpredictable crew would take those themes.

They opened with the Twin Peaks title theme. From the first few lingering notes of Csatari’s guitar, it was obvious that they weren’t going to play it completely straight-up, considering that he was already staking out territory around the famous, ominous, two-note opening riff. The genius of Badalaenti’s score is that he uses very simple ideas for his variations for all the femme fatales, wolves in sheeps’ clothing and resolute boy scout detectives. If only for a second, any of them could be pure evil. In that sense, the music perfectly matches Lynch’s esthetic.

Yet as much further out as Csatari and the band took this material, they also stuck pretty closely to the melody and the changes. This was hardly generic postbop jazz with halfhearted alllusions to the tunes and solos around the horn.

And Uncivilized are the least generic jazz group in New York. One of Csatari’s favorite devices is to swing and sway his way up to a big crescendo where the four-horn frontline can shiver and flurry, more or less – sometimes a lot less – in unison. They did that here a lot, as well as messing up the rhythm a little with a couple of what sounded like momentary free interludes over drummer Rachel Housle’s floating swing.

There are some great players in this band, but she was the biggest hit with the crowd, as dynamic as she was subtle – and she’s very subtle. Starting out with a suspenseful thud with her mallets, she muted her snare with a scarf, went to sticks and then brushes, using the trebliest parts of the kit for rat-a-tat riffs and hits in all the least expected places. Can anybody say “DownBeat Critics’ Poll Rising Star, 2017?”

Bassist Nick Jozwiak bobbed and bounced like a human slinky behind his upright, playing terse, rubbery rock riffs bolstered by the occasional looming chord. Guitarist Julian Cubillos shadowed Csatari with a subtlety to rival Housle, particularly when the bandleader was playing with a slide for a hint of extra deep-woods menace. Keyboardist Dominic Mekky sent starry electric piano wafting through the mist in lieu of Badalamenti’s big-sky string synth orchestration, while the horns – flutist Tristan Cooley, alto saxophonist Levon Henry, tenor saxophonist Kyle Wilson and bass clarinetist Casey Berman – built a fluttery, gauzy sheen.

They reached toward the macabre stripper tune inside The Bookhouse Boys, played a tantalizing, single haphazardly uneasy verse of Laura  Palmer’s theme and then found unexpected grit – and a Pink Panther – in Audrey Horne’s theme.

Singer Ivy Meissner joined the band to deliver Julee Cruise’s Nightingale as well as Questions in a World of Blue, opting for soul-infused plaintiveness rather than trying to be the girl at the very bottom of the well. Meissner also sang Shelby, a noir-tinged soul ballad from her excellent debut album from last year. In between, she suddenly disappeared: it turned out that she’d taken a seat on the floor amidst the band.

Additionally, Csatari led the group through a handful of his own enigmatically careening pastoral jazz numbers, including a couple of somewhat restrained “stomps.” Most of what this band plays sounds as if it’s completely improvised, but it’s likely that most of it is actually composed, testament to how fresh Csatari’s charts are. No voicing is ever in constant, traditional harmony with the rest of the group, which enhances the suspense as much as it it opens up the floor for more interesting conversations than most bands dream of starting.

Csatari’s next gig is with Meissner on Nov 13 at 7 PM at Footlight Bar in Ridgewood. And fans of Twin Peaks and deep noir should also check out Big Lazy, who play their monthly Friday night show at Barbes on Nov 3 at 10 PM.

Dave Douglas Leads a Killer Quartet Through Eclectic Americana Jazz Themes at the New School

It figures that trumpeter Dave Douglas would eventually collaborate with Carla Bley. At his show last night at the Stone’s future fulltime home in the New School’s Glass Box Theatre, he enthused about how Bley’s music tackles “big life events,” and how much narrative, and purpose, and color it has. He could just as easily have been describing his own catalog: both he and Bley are connoisseurs of American sounds far beyond the jazz idiom.

Leading his calmly spectacular Riverside quartet, he opened with an uneasy, careeningly shapeshifting Bley number lit up with some valve-twisting microtonal bite from Chet Doxas’ tenor sax, and closed with a turn-on-a-dime highway theme of his own, where he traded boisterously flurrying eights with drummer Jim Doxas over six-string acoustic bassist Steve Swallow’s practically motorik pulse.

The Stone is the kind of place where on any random night, you can see something like a Swallow world premiere – it wasn’t clear if this was the actual debut of this particular brand-new, balmy-yet-saturnine jazz waltz, but the band were clearly gassed to tackle it. From the composer’s own pensive, spacious solo intro, the quartet worked their way to judiciously crescendoing solos from both horns. They went considerably darker later for the night’s best number, an allusively slinky Douglas tune akin to a more elegant Steven Bernstein/Sexmob take on Nino Rota noir, the bandleader taking it further outside until the drums finally put a spotlight on its shadowy clave.

Another rarity was a Bley number from the early 60s written for but apparently never played by Sonny Rollins. Douglas’ saxophonist had a lot of fun with its flares and flights early on; the bandleader had even more fun with a bizarrely carnivaleque, dixieland-flavored interlude that appeared out of nowhere.

A similarly irresistible mashup was Douglas’ cheerily bucolic new tune Il Sentiero (Italian for “The Path”), a triptych of sorts that rose from a warm pastorale to a bouncy bluegrass drive where Swallow played a familiar Appalachian guitar strum, peaking out with a triumphant “we made it” mountain-summit theme.

Likewise, an audience peppered with many of Douglas fellow soprano valve trombone players voiced their approval. Since Douglas’ axe contains the name of an infamous demagogue, that’s Douglas’ new term for it, at least until the guy in the wig gets impeached. Douglas’s next stop is at 8 PM on July 5 at the Grand Theatre in Quebec City.And the next Stone show at the New School is July 14 at 8:30 PM with progressive jazz sax icon Steve Coleman.