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Tag: Reut Regev

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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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.

A Brilliant, Intense, Eclectic Live Album by Isle of Klezbos

Strange as this is to say in New York in 2014, in some circles, just the idea of an all-female klezmer band is still pretty radical. Put allusions to women loving women in the band name and the picture grows more interesting. Add to that the intoxicating mix of a hundred years worth of classic and original klezmer, latin, jazz and film music that this shapeshifting, jam-oriented band plays, and you have one of New York’s most exciting groups in any style. Isle of Klezbos have an exhilarating new album, Live from Brooklyn, recorded mostly in concert at Brooklyn College last year, and an album release show coming up on April 6 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. Tix are $14 and still available as of today.

Reduced to most basic terms, this is minor key party music at its most deliriously fun and virtuosic. The concert opens with a brief, blistering take of the 1932 Yiddish film theme Uncle Moses’ Wedding Dance, Debra Kreisberg’s whirling clarinet against Pam Fleming’s more resonant trumpet in counterpoint to a surprise ending. By the time the song’s over, it’s obvious that the all-female shtick is just that: the women in this band are world-class players. They get plaintive and haunting on the hundred-year-old diptych that follows, singer Melissa Fogarty’s voice soaring through the first section with a wounded vibrato before the band hits a dancing drive on the second, drummer Eve Sicular’s vaudevillian accents and offbeats livening the groove in tandem with Saskia Lane’s terse bass pulse while Fleming and Kreisberg revel in wickedly tight harmonies.

A Glezele Yash – a drinking song first recorded in the Soviet Union in 1961 and penned by a World War II battlefield hero imprisoned in the gulag ten years previously – is another showcase for Fogarty’s pyrotechnics. Shoko Nagai – one of New Yorok’s most individualistic and intense performers on the avant garde side of jazz – dazzles with her glimmering, darkly neoromantic and blues-tinged piano on Noiresque, a bracing latin- and Middle Eastern-tinted theme by Kreisberg, Sicular shifting seamlessly between waltz time and a swing jazz groove. After that, Weary Sun Tango, a hi-de-ho Boulevard of Broken Dreams style noir piece originally dating from early 1930s Poland, makes a good segue, Nagai switching back to lush accordion lines.

Fleming delivers a long, richly suspenseful Miles Davis-esque solo against Sicular’s ominously boomy pulse on the Middle Eastern-flavored Revery in Hijaz, Nagai’s hard-hitting piano crescendo handing off to stately, lushly intertwined trumpet and clarinet as it winds out. The trumpeter – who famously served as a third of reggae legend Burning Spear’s all-female Burning Brass – also contributes the reggae-klezmer tune Mellow Manna, a showcase for deviously spot-on Rasta riffage and riddims from the whole band, notably Sicular.

Songwise, the drummer contributes her first-ever original composition, East Hapsburg Waltz, a cinematic mini-epic that shifts from a wistful sway to more dramatically orchestrated permutations, through ominous chromatic vamping, more vivid neoromantic piano from Nagai and a big crescendo that Fleming finally takes over the edge before they bring it back down again. The audience agrees that it’s a showstopper.

The triptych that follows that is a medley that both this band and their sister unit, Metropolitan Klezmer (with whom they share members) often play live. Nagai kicks it off, brushing and rustling inside the piano in a fair approximation of George Crumb, before she goes deep into the murk. That leads into a cautious, bracing minor key tune, Fleming out front, segueing into an animatedly blithe version of the venerable Molly Picon hit Abi Gezunt with an absolutely sultry vocal from Fogarty. They close it out with a few animated bars of Klezmerengue, a mashup of popular vaudeville and Dominican themes.

The quietest song on the album is When Gomer Met Molly, a moody, rather sad, wordless ballad written by film composer Earle Hagen for an episode of the old 60s sitcom Gomer Pyle, USMC featuring Picon in one of her occasional rent-a-yenta cameos. The album closes with a live-in-the-studio take of the album’s second number, a nod to klezmer’s somber roots with stark viola and resonant trombone from guests Karen Waltuch and Reut Regev. The album comes with fascinating liner notes that trace the origins of these tunes along with how the band was able to track them down: it’s as rich in history as it is in emotion, energy and tunefulness.

Reut Regev and R*Time Jam Out Some Murky Stoner Funk

[It’s always useful to have a sister blog that will send some good stuff over at the end of the month when you’re busy putting together the next month’s NYC concert calendar…]

Reut Regev is one of the ringleaders in minor-key jam band Hazmat Modine’s wild brass section, and a unique, original voice on the trombone. She’s got an eclectically fun new album, Exploring the Vibe, out with her stoner funk band, R*Time, which blends elements of jazz, no wave, Ethiopian and Balkan music, among other styles. Regev got the inspiration for the project at a festival in Germany where she had the chance to play with guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly and realized that the chemistry for a good album was there. The rhythm section here is Regev’s husband Igal Foni on drums and Mark Peterson on bass, with cameos from Kevin Johnson on drums and Jon Sass on tuba. As you would expect, there’s a hypnotic, psychedelic aspect to this; at the same time, Bourelly and Regev utilize a lot of space, judiciously choosing their moments over an undulating groove. Much as a lot of the music has a restlessness and unease, a wry sense of humor pokes out from time to time. It’s a fun ride.

Bourelly plays mostly with a tinge of dirty, natural distortion when he’s not adding subtle ornamentation with his effects. Regev is a very incisive, rhythmic player, although she also likes ambient, shadowy colors. Peterson’s work here is hook-oriented – there are several passages where the drums drop out, or there’s skeletal percussion rattling around and that’s where the bass carries both melody and rhythm. Foni likes the rumbling lows, but like the rest of this crew, he doesn’t waste beats.

The opening track, Drama Maybe Drama, is a tongue-in-cheek diptych, Bourelly going off on a completely unexpected, early Jimmy Page-tinged open-tuned tangent midway through. They follow that with a buzzing, loopy, unresolved interlude and then Montenegro, which hints at reggae, funk and disco before finally hitting some Balkan riffage and then a Middle Eastern-flavored bass solo. Bluegrass and Ethiopian tinges sit side by side in Ilha Bela, a minimalisti but catchy tune with doppler trombone from Regev. Madeleine Forever, a tribute to Foni’s mom, illustrates someone who could be severe but was also very funny, winding up with biting Big Lazy-style skronky funk.

Blue Llamas makes a good segue, again evoking Big Lazy with its allusive chromatics, stomping, spacious blues, hard-hitting guitar and hypnotic rimshot rhythm. OK OJ coalesces toward a camelwalking East African groove with some neat handoffs between the guitar and trombone and a tongue-in-cheek “let’s go” outro. Raw Way, ostensibly a Junior Kimhrough homage, sounds nothing like him: way down beneath all the rumbling and shrieking and free interplay, it’s a terse blues. New Beginning is a weirdly successful, catchy attempt to merge New Orleans funk and Hendrix. There’s also a wryly bluesy guitar miniature and a bizarre stoner soul song sung by Bourelly. Who is the audience for this? Obviously, jazz fans, although people who gravitate toward the more psychedelic side of funk have an awful lot to sink their ears into.