New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: sam kulik

James Ilgenfritz Makes a Troubling, Acidically Relevant Operatic Suite Out of a William Burroughs-Classic

In keeping with this month’s epic theme, today’s album is bassist James Ilgenfritz’s musical interpretation of William Burroughs’ cult classic novel The Ticket That Exploded, an “ongoing opera” streaming at Bandcamp. A collaboration with video artist Jason Ponce – who also contributes to the sound mix – it features Anagram Ensemble playing a mashup of surreal, often dadaistic free jazz and indie classical sounds. The text is delivered both as spoken word and by a rotating cast of singers including Nick Hallett, Ted Hearne, Ryan Opperman, Anne Rhodes and Megan Schubert. Burroughs’novel can be maddeningly dissociative, although in its more accessible moments it’s witheringly aphoristic, and often uproariously funny. That sense of humor does not often translate to the music here: it’s usually serious as death and relentlessly acidic. Most of it seems improvised, although that could be Ilgenfritz, a fixture of the New York creative jazz scene prior to the lockdown, toying with the audience.

With his weathered New York accent, Steve Dalachinsky – who knew Burroughs – was a good choice of narrator. In its best moments, this is classic jazz poetry. “It’s the old army thing: get dicked firstest with the brownest nose,” Nick Hallett muses about midway through. Sound familiar?

“If I had a talking picture of you, would I still read you?” Dalachinsky ponders a little later. Again, Burroughs is being prophetic: remember, this was written in the 1960s. An astringent guitar duel – Ty Citerman and Taylor Levine – pushes him out of the picture, only to be eclipsed by an almost shockingly calm moment from the string section at the end. That’s characteristic of how this unfolds.

After a rather skeletal opening number, the two women’s voices reach crushingly screaming and tumbling peaks, contrasting with a persistently offkilter minimalism. Many of the most ominous moments here pair the strings – Julianne Carney on violin and Nathan Bontrager on cello – with Denman Maroney’s eerie piano tinkles.

Ted Hearne gets the plum assignment of introducing the cast of characters in the Nova Mob which several generations of writers and punk rockers would reference in the decades that followed. The brass and strings drift and rustle uneasily, occasionally coalescing for unexpected pockets of clarity or a rare vaudevillian interlude. Percussionists Andrew Drury, John O’Brien and Vinnie Sperazza squirrel around, sparely, on anything that can be wacked.

Dichotomies – man versus machine, the sacred versus the very sacreligious, reason versus unbridled lust, reality versus hallucination – abound, both lyrically and musically. As challenging a listen as this is, in an age where surveillance is becoming a more and more omnipresent threat, it’s also timely:

Why don’t we shut this machine off?
I had all the answers a thousand years ago…
All we had to do is shut the thing off
Soundtrack calls the image police?
Shut off the soundtrack!

Mitra Sumara Keyboardist Jim Duffy Puts Out a Wickedly Catchy, Cleverly Fun Instrumental Album

Jim Duffy is one of New York’s most irrepressibly entertaining and individualistic keyboardists. He had a longtime gig with Americana rockers Martin’s Folly; these days he plays organ in the wildly psychedelic Mitra Sumara, who specialize in covers of classic/obscure Iranian art-funk hits from the 60s and 70s. But he’s also a distinguished songwriter in his own right. His third and latest instrumental album, ominously titled Pale Afternoon, is streaming at Spotify (there are also a bunch of tracks at soundcloud and youtube for those of you who can’t stop multitasking long enough to jump on that fader and ride it down to zero when the ads pop up).

The album opens with Boulevard Six, a dead ringer for a late 60s/early 70s Herbie Hancock movie theme in rambunctious 6/4 time, guitarist Lance Doss contributing a blue-flame solo. The way Duffy’s oscillating Wurlitzer electric piano riff fades into the terse resonance of trombonist Sam Kulik and baritone saxophonist Claire Daly is just insanely cool, like something Brian Jones would have overdubbed on Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Figurine is sort of a variation on the previous tune, a bittersweetly twinkling late-night stroll lowlit by Kevin Kendrick’s vibraphone. If Bryan & the Aardvarks had been a rock band, they would have sounded like this. Once again, Doss fires off a solo, this time channeling late 60s Mike Bloomfield.

The album’s title track turns out to be a slow, summery groove until Doss drifts into sunbaked, stately art-rock, pushing the song toward 70s Procol Harum territory. Duffy’s Fillmore Theme turns out to be a breezy, swinging number, part Bacharach bossa, part Free Design psych-pop, Duffy multitracking his rippling, upper-register Wurly along with lush, fluid organ.

Keep Keeping On is a soul waltz as Booker T might have done one circa 1967, or Quincy Jones might have on the In the Heat of the Night soundtrack, Paul Page’s bass bubbling over the washes of drummer Dennis Diken’s cymbals. The elegant Wurly clusters in Reverse Image are so close to the melody of Figurine that it begs a momentary switch between the two tracks, to see if Duffy is pulling something clever like doing that song backwards. As it turns out, no – they’re just both incredibly catchy, this one close to a goodnatured Big Lazy highway panorama without the exit into David Lynch territory.

Mission Creep is the album’s best and darkest track, Doss’ simmering lapsteel bringing to mind the Friends of Dean Martinez‘s Bill Elm doing something from Dark Side of the Moon. Then with Tenerife, the band return to a sunny Bacharachian backbeat spiced with Doss’ wry soul-jazz lines.

Duffy follows the gently allusive ballad We’ll Never Know (nice theremin impersonation there, dude) with Spurare Il Rospo (The Spitting Toad), a briskly tropical motorik theme that’s a dead ringer for Los Crema Paraiso. The album winds up with Evening Birds, an iconoclastic spin on a hallowed, funereal Floyd tune. Crank this at your next party and get the entire room dancing – ok, everything but that last song.

Fun and inspiring fact: Duffy is one of the few musicians to shift from being a first-rate bassist to an A-list keyboardist. And then put out one of the ten best albums of 2016, more or less.

Guitar Goddess Mary Halvorson Makes a Rock Record – Sort Of

The people who call themselves People – fiery jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson, irrepressible drummer Kevin Shea (of NYC’s funnest jazz group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Kyle Forester (from Crystal Stilts) have a new album titled 3xaWoman (The Misplaced Files) streaming at Telegraph Records’ site. It’s a riot, and it’s worth owning on vinyl, which is especially cool because it’s actually available in that format. The trio are playing what might or might not be the album release show at Death by Audio at 10 PM on July 2 if you’re in town.

Halvorson turns out to be an excellent singer, with a clear, balmy, attractive voice that contrasts with the snarl and menace of her guitar – any discussion of important guitarists in 2014 needs to have her front and center. Forester plays snaky, melodic lines along with Shea’s restless, tumbling, rumbling attack that sometimes provides comic relief against the guitar’s savage burn.

The album opens with a slow, moody, Twin Peaksian horn theme (that’s Peter Evans on trumpet, Sam Kulik on trombone and Dan Peck on tuba). The first of the funny numbers is called These Words Make Up the Lyrics of the Song, which quickly decays to a noisy improvisational interlude that becomes a very precisely choreographed exchange of ideas – and yet sounds completely random unless you listen closely. What’s So Woman About That Woman is a short, bristling hardcore tune, followed by A Song with Melody and Harmony and Words and Rhythm, which takes a brooding early 70s-style art-rock/Britfolk ballad and edges more menacingly toward noiserock. Lyrical jokes aside, just hearing Halvorson – one of the prime movers from Anthony Braxton’s avant garde circle – playing simple barre chords is funny all by itself.

The album’s most relevant song is the barely minute-long but cruelly spot-on Supersensible Hydrofracked Dystopia!!! The band follows that with a loopy oompah interlude, a snide acoustic parody of sorts and then Inoperable Intertrigo, a creepy, slowly marching blend of outsider jazz-inflected postrock and peak-era Sonic Youth.

Piles for Miles starts out suspiciously like a spoof of Bushwick meh-core indie pop and then works a dreampop/post-My Bloody Valentine vein. Another really short one, Psychic Recapitulation has some tasty, eerie guy-girl vocal harmonies. The Virtuous Relapse is one of the funniest numbers, with a punchline that’s too good to spoil. The Caveman Connection offers more dark punk rock humor, Halvorson’s calm vocals contrasting with a sludgy Melvins backdrop.

The funniest song here – and the funniest song of the year, bar none – is titled The Lyrics Are Simultaneously About How This Song Starts. Again, the jokes are too good to spoil – let’s just say that even if you don’t play music or write songs, it’s LMFAO good. The last song is an acoustic fragment that wouldn’t be out of place on Guided by Voices’ latest album. Who would have thought that such an unlikely lineup would end up having so much fun together, let alone make such a great record?