New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: ryan snow trombone

Sister Sparrow Tears It Up in Chelsea

The history of funk music in New York is littered with bands that never made it further than the Bleecker Street strip – or maybe never wanted to. Then there are plenty of good, individualistic, funky acts, from Sugamyth, to D’Tripp, the Family Stand and the Pleasure Unit, who all earned a certain following but never broke through to an audience much further beyond their NYC home base. With the demise of the major labels and corporate music radio, could a band even consider reaching a broader fan base these days? Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds are as good a candidate as any to do it. What sets them apart from the legions of imitators out there is that they’re what could be called a tight jamband. You might think that’s an oxymoron, but their private performance for media and a posse of friends last night at a Chelsea studio reinforced that perception and left the crowd screaming for more.

Their frontwoman Arleigh Kincheloe is as hyper, individualistic and down-to-earth offstage as she is on. By the night’s third number, she’d blown out her voice – she didn’t need to do that, she could have gone easy on herself, but she’s one of those rare singers who seems to feel the need to go deep inside the songs and inhabit them. Her lyrics aren’t just “celebrate good times, c’mon” – she likes to tell a story, whether about betrayal, or passion, or something sarcastic or funny. Her hurricane-force contralto is a mighty instrument, but this time out she didn’t always go full throttle, and showed off an impressive top end for someone who usually hangs out in the moody lows. This is a family band, with that kind of tightness and rapport, her brother Jackson adding an eerily noisy, wailing edge on harmonica, and brother Bram propelling the unit on drums. Sasha Brown’s guitar joined with the harmonica to raise the edgy intensity with a similarly noisy approach, adding molten-metal, keening sheets of sustain and carpetbombing, incisive accents instead of the Clapton cliches that so often ruin this kind of music. The three-piece horn section of trumpeter Phil Rodriguez, trombonist Ryan Snow and baritone saxophonist Brian Graham punched, and bobbed, and weaved, and soared mightily when the songs hit a high point.

The set mixed earlier material with tunes from the band’s just-released new ep, Fight. One standout number was The Long Way, with its wickedly catchy chorus and wry call-and-response outro. Bassist Josh Myers’ fat, boomy chords drove the intro on the gorgeously oldschool, pulsing, retro 60s number after that (Don’t Be Jealous, maybe?) – it would have fit right in seamlessly at a Sharon Jones show. After that they turbocharged a vintage 70s disco groove lit up by a fiery, bluesy exchange of horn riffage. The centerpiece of the show was the slinky soul epic Mama Knows, with its message of family love and togetherness. “Thank you for sweating with me,” Arleigh told the crowd late in the show, and she wasn’t joking. This band plays mostly larger venues these days – what a treat it was to see them in such a small, intimate space.

Super Hi-Fi Puts Out the Best Reggae Album of the Year

Meet the best reggae album of the year – and it doesn’t have any lyrics. Brooklyn band Super Hi-Fi’s new album Dub to the Bone is all instrumental. Essentially, it’s live dub – to an extent, they’re doing live what Scratch Perry would do in the studio. But this album keeps the studio wizardry to a minimum and focuses on the songs. Theyv’e got an oldschool echoplex, which they use judiciously and absolutely psychedelically, but it’s the tunes and the playing that make this psychedelic. Since this was recorded as a vinyl record for Brooklyn’s excellent, eclectic Electric Cowbell label, there’s an A-side and a B-side.

The band keeps it simple and catchy as they make their way methodically from one hook to another. A lot of reggae is verse/chorus/verse/etc. and this isn’t, which keeps it interesting while maintaining a fat groove. And while a lot of dub is an endless series of textures echoing and fading in and out of the mix, the band does this live without missing a beat. Bassist Ezra Gale’s songs lean toward the dark and menacing side: some of this is absolutely creepy, as the best reggae and ska can be.

The opening track, Washingtonian works trippy variations on a dark reggae vamp, the occasional vintage newsreel sample adding snide commentary on the military-industrial complex (is that Eisenhower?) The tightness of the twin trombones of Alex Asher and Ryan Snow reminds of classic Skatalites, or Burning Spear’s peak-era band with the Burning Brass.

There are two versions of Tri Tro Tro here and they couldn’t be any more different: they’re basically two separate songs. Which is the coolest thing about dub – the first builds to a carefree Will Graefe guitar hook over the equally catchy bassline, the second begins as a new wave guitar song before the reggae riddim kicks in and morphs into a soukous tune. The third track, Neolithic, runs from a twin trombone hook to a wickedly catchy turnaround, wailing guitar giving way to the swoosh of the echoplex and then an unexpectedly balmy, jazzy interlude.

The best track here is the absolutely Lynchian We Will Begin Again with its noir trombones, creepy, lingering guitar and shapeshifting melody. Q Street drops the individual instruments in and out over an Ethiopian-flavored groove, while Public Option – another political reference  – centers its echoey orchestration around a moody minor groove and Madhu Siddappa’s hypnotically boomy snare drum. The final track, mixed expertly by Victor Rice, somebody who knows a thing or two about classic dub, is Single Payer, the most psychedelic, Black Ark-style plate here, the veteran ska and reggae producer having fun matching the bass and drums against the guitar and trombones and vice versa. The album release show is at Nublu at around midnight – you know how that place is – on Dec 13, and it’s free.