New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: raybeats

Winter Jazzfest, New York, January 11, 2019: Tantalizing, Changing Modes

For this blog, night one of this weekend’s Winter Jazzfest marathon, as it’s now called, began with Big Heart Machine at the Sheen Center. Multi-reedman Brian Krock’s careening big band reflected the zeitgeist in more and more large ensembles these days – Burnt Sugar’s unhinged if loosely tethered performance at Lincoln Center Thursday night was much the same. Miho Hazama’s conduction in front of this group followed in what has become a hallowed tradition pioneered by the late Butch Morris, directing dynamic shifts and subgroups and possibly conversations, especially when she sensed that somebody in the band had latched onto something worth savoring.

In the first half hour or so of the band’s set, those included long, sideswiping spots from trombone, trumpet and Olli Hirvonen’s fearlessly noisy guitar. Vibraphonist Yuhan Su launched many pivotal moments with characteristic vigor and grace. Otherwise, methodically blustery upward swells contrasted with tightly circular motives that would have been as much at home in indie classical music, if not for the relentless groove. It would have been fun to have been able to stick around for the whole set.

Winter Jazzfest is a spinoff of the annual booking agents’ convention, from which they have parted for the most part (there was a mini-marathon with a bunch of big names for the talent buyers last weekend). Crowds on the central Bleecker Street strip last night seemed smaller than in years past, although that might been a function of all the stoner fratboy faux-jazz being exiled to the outskirts of Chinatown, and the craziest improvisers being pushed to the edge of SoHo. And a lot of people come out for that crazy improvisational stuff. It also seems that a lot of fratboys get their parents to buy them weekend passes (cost – over a hundred bucks now) for the fusion fodder.

At Zinc Bar a little further west, it was a treat to see trumpeter Ingrid Jensen playing at an early hour, in front of a quintet including the similarly luminous, glisteningly focused Carmen Staaf on piano. It was the best pairing of the night. Jensen has rightfully earned a reputation as a pyrotechnic player, but her own material is more lowlit, resonant and often haunting, with profound roots in the blues. Her technique is daunting to the point that the question arose as to whether, at one point, she was playing with a mute or with a pedal (the club was crowded – it was hard to see the stage). No matter: her precision is unsurpassed. As was her poignancy in a circling and then enveloping duet with Staaf, and a blissful, allusively Middle Eastern modal piece, as well as a final salute with what sounded like a Wadada Leo Smith deep-blues coda.

At the Poisson Rouge, pianist Shai Maestro teamed up for a similarly rapturous, chromatically edgy set with his trio, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ofri Nehemya. Maestro represents the best of the current vanguard of Israeli pianists, with as much of a gift for melodic richness as Middle Eastern intensity. It’s rare to see a piano-led trio where the rhythm section, per se, are so integral to the music. Barely a half hour earlier, Jensen’s guitarist had launched into a subtly slashing, feathery passage of tremolo-picking while the trumpeter went into vintage Herbie Hancock-ish blues. Roeder did much the same with his fleet volleys of chords, way up the scale, while Maestro built levantine majesty with his cascades. Yet there was no way the two acts possibly could have heard each other do that…unless maybe they share a rehearsal space.

With Rachmaninovian plaintiveness, Wynton Kelly wee-hours bluesiness and finally some enigmatically enveloping, hypnotic, reflective pools of sound common to other pianists who have recorded for ECM (Maestro’s debut album as a leader is on that label), the trio held the crowd rapt. And all that, despite all sorts of nagging sonic issues with the stage monitors. It’s not often at the Poisson Rouge that you can hear a pin drop.

Back at the Sheen Center, a tantalizing half hour or so of Mary Halvorson and her quintet reprising her brilliantly sardonic Code Girl album validated any critics’ poll that might want to put her on a pedestal. What a treat it was to watch her shift through one wintry, windswept series of wide-angle chords after another. Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill served as the light in the window, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara each kicking in a series of waves, singer Amirtha Kidambi channeling sarcasm and wounded righteousness along with some unexpectedly simmering scatting.

A couple of doors down at the currently reopened Subculture, pianist Aaron Parks packed the house with his Little Big quartet, featuring Greg Tuohey on guitar, Jesse Murphy on bass and Tommy Crane on drums. Hearing Tuohey bend the wammy bar on his Strat for a lurid, Lynchian tremolo effect on the night’s third number made sense, considering the darkly cinematic tangent Parks had been taking. The first half of the set was a mashup of peak-era 70s Pink Floyd, late 60s Santana and P-Funk that grew more devious and metrically challenging as the night wore on. A slow, distantly ominous, methodically swaying border-rock theme – Lee Hazlewood via the Raybeats, maybe? – was a highlight. From there they edged toward Santana as Weather Report might have covered him, complete with all sorts of wry Bernie Worrell-ish synth textures.

And that’s where the night ended, as far as this blog is concerned. The lure of Miles Okazaki’s solo guitar reinventions of Thelonious Monk, or psychedelic Cameroonian guitarist Blick Bassy’s reinventions of Skip James were no match for the prospect of a couple of leisurely drinks and some natural tetracycline to knock out the nasty bug that almost derailed this report. More after tonight’s big blowout – if you’re going, see you at six on the LES at that hastily thrown up new “luxury” hotel at 215 Chrystie for clarinetist Evan Christopher’s hot 20s jazz quartet.

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Eerily Glimmering, Cinematic Nightscapes From Suss

Cinematic instrumental quintet Suss are the missing link between Brian Eno and Ennio Morricone – or the Lost Patrol without the drums. Which makes sense, considering that guitarist/bandleader Pat Irwin got his start with enigmatically loping and prowling 80s instrumentalists the Raybeats, but since then has made a mark in film music – when not playing in one version or another of the B-52’s, that is. The new group’s debut album, aptly titled Ghost Box is streaming at Bandcamp.

Never mind the album – if there’s any act out there that really makes their song titles come alive, it’s these guys. The band – which also comprises guitarist Bob Holmes, pedal steel player Jonathan Gregg, keyboardist Gary Lieb, and William Garrett – are  playing the release show tomorrow, Feb 4 at 8 PM for free at the Secret Theatre, 4402 23rd St. in Long Island City. Since the 7 train isn’t running, take the E or G to Court Square; the cozy black-box space is about three  blocks away.

The opening track, Wichita begins with a lingering big-sky riff answered by a wash of steel, then the echoes begin to gently swoosh and clang through the mix. Almost imperceptibly, wisps and flickers of steel and guitar begin wafting over the loop. It’s hypnotic to the extreme.

Opening with and then shadowed by a haze of feedback, Late Night Call is a slow, nostalgic conversation between guitar and steel, Likewise, Big Sky alternates between oscillating, slightly distorted washes, blippy electric piano fragments and sparse Old West riffs.

Twangy Lynchian guitar chords intersperse within a distantly menacing Angelo Badalamemti-style vamp in Rain. The band pick up the pace, at least to the extent that they ever do, with Laredo, putting reverbtoned 80s electric piano out front of the shifting clouds of guitar and spare spaghetti western licks.

Oscillating loops, disembodied dialogue, jagged clangs. resonant tremolo phrases and finally some gently acerbic, bluesy resonator guitar blend over a muted beat in Gunfighter. The album closes with a starrier, livelier, more expansive reprise of the opening theme. Drift off to your own private Twin Peaks Lodge with this.

Unhinged Hungarian No Wave Noir Surf Jazz

The danger in writing about an album that came out almost a year ago is that the band might not still exist. Dorota hail from Budapest: their album is a brain-warping, assaultive mix of surf rock, no wave funk and free jazz, often with a creepy noir edge. With shimmery reverb and chorus-box guitar contrasting with menacingly growling, melodic bass and a drummer who smartly chooses the spots where he gets ugly, it’s a time trip back to around 1980. If this band had been around then, they’d be worshipped for being an influence on Sonic Youth, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and god knows who else. It’s feral, fearlessly noisy, adrenalizing stuff; while there were plenty of bands who prowled around the jagged outskirts of new wave back in the day, no one sounds quite like Dorota. The album cover gives it away more or less: a rough woodcut showing a warrior, naked except for the antlers on his head, skewering a rifle-toting soldier.

They introduce their menace quietly, just steady, scraping bass over a vocal loop. The second track is sort of a twisted Besame Mucho Twist, a staggering one-chord surf jam that cruelly refuses to find any kind of resolution except in horror tonalities. A brief no wave funk interlude is followed by a sick, skronky funk tune in 7/8 time that they take down to an atmospheric interlude before bringing it back. The way these instrumentals shift shape, switch tempos abruptly and then return to something approximating coherence is the jazz element here. The best two songs are the most noirish: the first a swaying mix of surf and dark new wave built around a brooding bolero guitar hook, the second a cinematic, ten-minute southwestern gothic epic that alternates a slow, twangy, desolate desert guitar theme with ghostly, quiet interludes where shadowy flickers of sound twitch their way from the amps to the cymbals.

The best of the funky songs blends paint-peeling atonalities and junkie blues guitar over the snarl of the bass, the guitar’s watery tone and horror-film motifs echoing John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees. The funniest one is basically a one-chord jam that slowly and matter-of-factly speeds up to a whirlpool of dreampop guitar over the roar and clatter of the rhythm section. Another of the funkier tracks evokes Robert Fripp’s abrasive King Crimson stuff; the strangest of the short interludes here features bagpipes over a distant guitar din. The band brings back the bolero allusions on a song that sounds like a cross between Bauhaus and the Raybeats, and ends the album with a warped big sky theme, Bill Frisell on an acid O.D.

Does Dorota still exist? YESSSSS. Even if this is the last album they ever put out (happily, from the looks of it, there may be many more),  it’s a classic of its kind. Download it at their site and then hit their Soundcloud page where there’s even more delicious pandemonium!