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Mesmerizing Accordion Sounds Serenade Bryant Park, Again

As all of us in New York have been painfully reminded over the last few days, summer is far from over. But there’s a silver lining: the summer outdoor concerts aren’t over yet, either. One of the year’s best series so far – no surprise – has been the Bryant Park accordion festival. Considering how widely that little box has infiltrated cultures around the world, it’s also hardly a surprise that this may be New York’s most multicultural annual festival.

This past evening’s installment was characteristically sublime and eclectic. Laura Vilche is one of relatively few women whose axe is the even smaller bandoneon so widely used in tango music. She played very kinetically, rhythmically and also remarkably sparsely, underscoring the sheer catchiness of her sometimes slinky, sometimes brooding mix of Argentine and Paraguayan themes. Her dynamically shifting take of the Carlos Gardel classic La Comparsita was the biggest hit with the crowd gathered on the folding chairs and blankets provided for concertgoers. Then she packed up her gear and moved to another of the park’s five quasi-stages to serenade another group; many followed.

Where Vilche was spare and almost otherworldly direct, Latvian-born accordionist Ilya Shneyveys played lavishly and even epically throughout a set of original and often relatively obscure klezmer songs from across the Jewish diaspora. He opened his set by explaining that he was going much further afield, beyond horas and Hava Nagila, and he wasn’t kidding. With long, lingering, suspenseful intros building to waterfalling and then absolutely torrential volleys of notes, he used every second of the allotted time to air out every bracing chromatic and adrenalizing minor key in a series of dances and more subdued material. The highlight was a slowly crescendoing, rather mysterious diptych typically played as an introductory theme for wedding guests. “Cocktail music,” he smirked. He’s playing tomorrow night, Sept 6 at 9 PM at Drom with pyrotechnic Russian klezmer band Dobranotch to open this year’s New York Gypsy Festival; cover is $15 if you get tix before midnight.

As much fun as it was to watch those two musicians, the stars of this installment of the accordion festival were Eva Salina and Peter Stan. In two separate sets, they played a lot of the same material, completely differently the second time around. The mesmerizing Balkan singer and her longtime accordionist collaborator aren’t just frontwoman and accompanist: each is as integral to the music as the other. Toying with rhythm and taking their time making up intros, outros and meticulously thought-out solos, they brought a jazz sophistication to a blend of Romanian and Serbian tunes from across the Romany diaspora.

Their first take of a catchy dance number, imploring Romany husbands to come home to their wives and kids from faraway jobs, was very straightforward. The second was slower and much more plaintive. Jaunty dance rhymes contrasted with haunting ballads of loss and longing. Both musicians’ fearsome technique was in full effect, whether Stan’s supersonic volleys of chromatics and grace notes, or Salina’s minute, microtonal melismas and ornamentation.

Next week’s first episode of the festival is on Weds Sept 12, starting at 5:30 PM with a phenomenally good lineup including but not limited to Ismail Butera playing Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music, Will Holshouser’s Indian-influenced accordion jazz, Shoko Nagai’s mix of klezmer and Japanese folk, and Sadys Rodrigo Espitia’s oldschool Colombian cumbia and vallenato. The festival’s grand finale is two days later, on Sept 14, and starts a half hour earlier.

It’s a Great Summer for Middle Eastern Music in New York

While much of the New York City parks system is on the highway to privatized hell – both Central Park Summerstage and the Prospect Park Bandshell series are selling ticketed seats to free concerts now – we haven’t yet reached the point where free summer concerts here have been whitewashed and yuppified to the point of irrelevance. Meanwhile, serendipitously, there have been some new publicly accessible concert series popping up, keeping the hallowed tradition of free summer concerts here alive.

One public space that’s been flying more or less under the radar until recently is Bryant Park. It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the transcendent performance by slinky Middle Eastern ensemble the Bil Afrah Project, who opened the final night of this year’s Accordions Around the World festival there. Obviously, it would have been fun to stick around for the whole night, which ended with a wall-to-wall sea of revelers celebrating Colombian Independence Day.

The park’s overseers had the good sense to put the festival in the hands of tireless, intrepid impresario Ariana Hellerman (publisher of the irreplaceable Ariana’s List of free summer events). Over the course of the month, she drew from her roster of two hundred of New York’s finest accordionists (yes, there are that many) for a series of performances that reinforced the instrument’s portability across cultures, a powerful if compact vehicle for musical cross-pollination. 

In barely a half hour onstage, the Bil Afrah Project – who dedicate themselves to recreating Ziad Rahbani’s iconic 1975 Bil Afrah suite of reinvented Lebanese and Egyptian love and love-gone-wrong ballads- raised the bar for the rest of the evening dauntingly high. Rahbani has since gone on to be called the Lebanese Bob Dylan, although many others, none of whom sound anything like the American Nobel Laureate, have been given that label. Rahbani – son of famous chanteuse Fairouz and songwriter Assi Rahbani – was nineteen when he pulled a band together to record it. The suite doesn’t have much of the acerbically fearless political sensibility that characterizes his later work: its populist message is much subtler, grounded in its achingly wistful, sometimes melancholic, sometimes bucolic themes.

Group members, notably oudist Brian Prunka, accordionist Simon Moushabeck, ney flutist Bridget Robbins and violinist Sami Abu Shumays took turns playing plaintive taqsims as segues between songs. The most incisive, intense of these was from buzuq player Josh Farrar, who remained very prominent in the mix. John Murchison, a connoisseur of Middle Eastern bass, made his debut concert on kanun a memorable one as well. And riq tambourinist Michel Merhej Baklouk, who played on the original album, was present and added an almost defiantly crescendoing solo toward the end of the suite as the edgy chromatics, uneasy microtonal modes and graceful sweep of the music rose and fell over the pulse of Sprocket Royer’s bass and Jeremy Smith’s darbouka. Then emcee Rachelle Garniez took the stage and treated the crowd to some similarly incisive banter and her own noir-tinged material.

The performances on the festival’s next-to-last night fit in perfectly with its eclectic sensibility as well. Over the course of the early part of the evening, Erica Mancini played jaunty oldtimey swing, then made noir mambo out of the old standard St. Louis Blues. Shoko Nagai began with airy, austere Japanese folk themes and then went deep into the dark, kinetic chromatics of the klezmer music she loves so much.

Will Holshouser, best known for his exhilarating speed and high-voltage solos, flipped the script with his own thoughtful, methodically shifting originals, occasionally alluding to Indian modes: as a pioneer of the pastoral jazz revival, he deserves far more credit than he’s been given. And a beautiful blue-eyed blonde in the crowd called out Eduardo de Carvalho for the masculinity of his playing. That’s not to say that the other performances weren’t strong, but there was plenty of muscle in his confident, impassioned, unselfconsciously soulful, rustic runs through a mini-set of forro and tango.

Circling back to the Middle Eastern theme, there are a couple of upcoming shows that shouldn’t be missed. On July 29 at 8 at the Lynch Theatre at 524 W 59th St., haunting Lebanese oud-playing brothers the Trio Joubran  perform a homage to their late collaborator, the incendiary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as part of this year’s Lincoln Center Festival; $30 tix are still available. And on August 10 at 10 PM, legendary, ageless Armenian-American jazz reedman Souren Baronian leads his amazing band at Barbes.

The Spellbinding Rachelle Garniez Tops the Bill at This Year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival

What’s the likelihood of being able to get what amounts to an intimate, personal show from the world’s greatest English-language songwriter? A handful of New Yorkers got to experience that at last night’s edition of the ongoing Bryant Park Accordion Festival, following Rachelle Garniez across the park to various stations for tantalizingly brief fifteen-minute mini-sets.

Even though there were two dozen other accordionists playing in the park’s four corners and next to the fountain on the Sixth Avenue side, it was impossible to resist taking in two sets from Garniez. What was most fascinating was to watch her mash up elements of latin, klezmer, zydeco, classical, punk rock and even a bit of opera, banging out one song after another without the hilariously surreal, politically-charged stream-of-consciousness intros and jams that have made her legendary among New York performers.

The best song of the night was Tourmaline, a bittersweet waltz that works on innumerable levels: ultimately, it’s about rugged individuality triumphing against all odds. Without any more fanfare, Garniez let the rest of her songs speak for themselves.

The funniest moment was during Jean-Claude Van Damme, a tongue-in-cheek shout-out to a pitchman for antidepressants. She got everybody laughing when she reached the part about certain personality traits that have to be brought under control – then hammered that word again, and again, until everybody within earshot got the message. The faux-operatic outro, where she took a flying leap to the very top of her formidable four-octave vocal range, was pretty funny too.

She also played the jaunty, cabaret-infused Just Because You Can (Doesn’t Mean You Should), whose corollary is “just because you should doesn’t mean you can,” along with the slyly strutting, seductive Medicine Man, packed with all kinds of coy double entendres. She’s emceeing the festival’s closing night a week from today on June 21 at 6 PM, which might be the single best concert of the year, a bill that includes the Bil Afrah Project, who recreate iconic Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani’s legendary 1975 Bil Afrah album; pyrotechnic Romany accordionist Peter Stan’s new band Zlatni Balkan Zvuk, Brazilian accordionist Felipe Hostins’ new forro group Osnelda; and cumbia accordionist/crooner Gregorio Uribe leading his slinky big band in celebration of Colombian Independence Day.

The festival’s only drawback is that it’s such a feast that there isn’t time to see everybody on the bill. It was awfully cool last night to watch accordionist Simon Moushabeck make his way through Arabic modes with all sorts of enigmatic passing tones, in two abbreviated duo sets with oudist Brian Prunka, mixing up steady, serpentine originals with a Fairouz cover or two.

Further to the west, Sadys Rodrigo Espitia played equally slinky, catchy cumbia and vallenato numbers. When he forgot the words to the hit Cumbia Del Oriente, a woman in the crowd sauntered over to the mic: and sang them with serious Colombian pride.

It was also cool to get to watch popular busker and Thee Shambels accordionist Melissa Elledge jam out cinematic themes and a Johnny Cash classic, then make noir blues out of Beethoven. Late one night a couple of years ago in the Second Avenue F train station, after a Bowery Ballroom show, Elledge played what had to be the most heartwrenchingly gorgeous version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 ever. So it was refreshing to be able to just chill on the grass and hear her think outside the box without the usual subway stresses. Garniez may be the world’s most brilliantly eclectic songwriter, but as an instrumentalist, Elledge is on the same page.

Before the big blowout on the 21st, there’s another night of mini-sets from another amazing cast of accordionists at Bryant Park on July 19 starting at 6 PM, with a lineup including avant garde and klezmer player Shoko Nagai, pan-Mediterranean wizard Ismail Butera, jazz luminary Will Holshouser and Ed Goldberg & the Odessa Klezmer Band.

Jeremiah Lockwood and the Sway Machinery Blaze Into Union Pool This Sunday

If you follow this blog at all, you know all about the Curse of the Residency. It goes something like this: a band book themselves into a venue for a show every week for a month. First night is a success: everybody’s friends are there. But the second night doesn’t draw, and the third night is a wash. The final night of the month gets a better turnout, pulling all the stragglers who’ve blown off the first three shows and are feeling guilty about it. Last month at Barbes, guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood shook off the curse and played a monthlong series of early Satuirday evening shows that by all accounts were absolutely transcendent. This blog caught the second and third installments.

The first of those two was a simmering, low-key duo set with singer Fay Victor, emphasis on the blues. The second was another duo performance with multi-keyboardist Shoko Nagai, and gave Lockwood a chance to really cut loose on the fretboard. This guy is an absolutely incendiary player, and what’s more, for somebody who likes long, flashy solos, he doesn’t waste a note. He’ll be bringing that rare blend of adrenaline and economy to his show with his individualistic Malian cantorial psychedelic rock band the Sway Machinery this Sunday, August 9 at around 8 at Union Pool. Another high-energy crew, latin rockers El Imperio open the night at 7 PM. Cover is $10.

Both with Victor and with Nagai, Lockwood played National Steel guitar, amplified only by the club’s PA. He didn’t need anything more, firing off slithery filigrees, jackhammer chords, nimbly rustic delta blues lines, creepy klezmer chromatics and Middle Eastern riffs and the occasional flurry of wild tremolo-picking. He also varied his dynamics, particularly with Nagai, a longtime collaborator and purveyor of similarly eclectic sounds, from epic film themes to animated avant jazz improvisation.

Nagai’s first song, which she played on accordion, was a sweeping, bittersweeetly pastoral film theme: the duo did it as something akin to a duet between Bill Frisell and Tin Hat accordionist Rob Reich (both of whom have played Barbes, although probably not together). Then Nagai  ducked under the piano…and remained in that cramped position until it was humming, and then emerged, gracefully, managing to hold down the pedal without losing her bright orange, vintage Kangol hat. Had she dropped her phone, maybe? No. She’d begun by playing inside the piano. a la George Crumb, and since the Barbes piano is an upright, that’s where you have to go inside to pluck and brush the strings. From there the two alternated between frenetic clusters of notes and resonant, minimalist chords, diverging and then coming together for an intense cantorial theme that Nagai ornamented with every flourish she could muster.

Another cantorial rock theme rose to almost stadium proportions – Lockwood is as powerful a singer as he is a guitarist. Unleashing his passionate but minutely nuanced baritone, he belted with the intensity of someone who’s the heir to a line of famous cantors (which he is). His otherworldly, shivery melismas had the same white-knuckle intensity as his solos on the guitar. The two ended the show with some energetic if not quite as titanic exchanges of solos and riffs, through a trio of blues numbers: a tasteful, purposeful take of Blind Joe Taggart’s Everybody’s Got to Be Tried, Elizabeth Cotten’s Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie and an instrumental encore where Nagai’s coy ragtime inflections and playful glissandos soared over Lockwood’s purist, spiky picking.

Isle of Klezbos Play a City Winery Show Worth Waking Up For

The Sunday morning/early afternoon klezmer brunch concert concept didn’t originate at City Winery. That venue stole the idea from Tonic, the late, well-loved Lower East Side venue with the leaky roof that closed in 2006 and was razed within months to make room for a mostly vacant “luxury” condo tower. Tonic was doing klezmer brunch shows as far back as the fall of 2001, when Isle of Klezbos played one of them. If memory serves right, that edition of the irrepressibly tuneful, mostly-female, klezmer/latin/jazz jamband – a more improvisational spinoff of cinematic NYC institution Metropolitan Klezmer – featured Rachelle Garniez on accordion along with founder Eve Sicular on drums, Melissa Fogarty on vocals, Debra Kreisberg on clarinet and sax and Pam Fleming on trumpet. Who the bass player was is a mystery. Yeah, you’d think that with a band that works such a slinky groove, that person’s contribution would leave a mark, but that position in the group has been something of a revolving door and after thirteen years, memories of a hungover late Sunday morning spent leaning on the bar and wishing for a seat get fuzzy- it may have been early, but the show was crowded. Anyone who might wish they could have seen that show – it was a good one – can check out the band when they do it again this Sunday, August 17 starting at around 11 in the morning at City Winery. Cover is $10, there’s no minimum purchase and kids 12 and under get in free.

If more recent memory serves right, Isle of Klezbos’ previous New York show  was a deliriously fun, free outdoor performance in a 12th Street community garden right before the Fourth of July weekend. This edition of the band was pretty much the same, Shoko Nagai adding sepulchral swirls, pointillistic punches and jaunty chords on accordion. How has Isle of Klezbos changed over the years? They’re doing psychedelic cumbias now, really fun ones, like an acoustic, horn-driven Chicha Libre. Fleming introduced one of those tunes as a brooding reggae song, more or less, then the band took it in more Colombian direction before taking a spin back toward Jamaica. The other was a gorgeously ominous number that built suspensefully to a long, joyous Kreisberg clarinet solo.

Fleming’s Middle Eastern-flavored Revery in Hijaz was especially tasty, the trumpeter finally pulling the band out of a haunting groove to an apprehensively triumphant crescendo. The band also aired out long, expansive versions of Sicular’s towering, rollercoastering narrative East Habsburg Waltz, a couple of somber-then-frantic wedding dances, took their time through a brief, murky bass-and-clarinet duo take of what sounded like Summertime and then a brisk, bouncy tango that gave Fogarty a launching pad to climb to the top of her stratospheric range. And that was just the first set. It would have been fun to stick around for the second, but by then the mosquitoes had come out in full force and the beer had run out – at least this blog’s supply, anyway. Neither of those factors should be an issue at City Winery.

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.

Inna Barmash Stuns the Crowd at Joe’s Pub

Wednesday night at Joe’s Pub, Inna Barmash led an excellent band  (clarinet, bass and cello plus the brilliant Shoko Nagai on accordion and piano) through a set of frequently spellbindinding, emotionally rich new arrangements of old Jewish folk tunes from the Ukraine and points further west. Fronting Romashka, her Russian Romany string band, Barmash is all about spine-tingling technique and big crescendos. In this somewhat more low-key performance, Barmash built a warmly personable rapport with the audience, sharing her passion and erudite knowledge of obscure treasures brought to light by both Dmitri Shostakovich as well as legendary pre-Holocaust archivist Moishe Beregovsky.

Barmash was quick to remind the crowd that these songs weren’t originally concert music: they were sung unaccompanied, mostly by women who were all alone or with young children. Appropriately, she saved her most tender vocal for an a-cappella lullaby, which she delivered sweet and low as if she was singing to her own kids (come to think of it, that’s exactly how she might have practiced it before the show).The rest of songs ran the gamut from dark and heavy and unselfconsciously deep, to jaunty and lighthearted. Since this was the first day of Hannukah, Barmash came prepared. After lighting the menorah onstage, making an offering and getting a big “Amen” from the crowd, she led the band through a bittersweetly edgy, historically vivid Hannukah song that didn’t neglect to mention Jews fighting for their rights. Sing Me a Song in Yiddish translated loosely as “I’m gonna sing this so everybody gets it and that way we won’t fight;”  the surreal Over the Attic lamented a long-lost love, and by implication, someone who might just as likely have been taken away by the Cossacks as having left under his own power.

One of Barmash’s most plaintive moments of the night was when she sang an anxiously expectant number about a mother looking forward to the day when she and her children can be reunited with her husband, who’s gone of to work in America. Barmash’s irrepressible husband, Ljova Zhurbin came up and seemingly did the impossible, playing viola with a broken hand (he’d had a bicycle accident, ironically, on the way to Roosevelt Hospital, to play for patients there). Making the best of a bad situation (not to worry, he’ll be fine in a month or so), he played along on his open strings while the cellist aired out viola voicings in his upper registers

And as good as the band was – an absolutely sizzling, rapidfire clarinet solo was a late highlight, while Nagai’s lush, often haunting washes of chords and playfully prowling inside-the-piano work dominated the earlier part of the evening – the most wondrous instrument on the stage was Barmash’s voice. She sang in character, varying her approach depending on the lyric. She struck a jazzy, deviously fingersnapping chanteuse pose on a slyly petulant number titled something along the lines of “don’t you DARE go out with anybody else,” and cut loose joyously on the final song of the set, a gambling song for dreydl-spinners. But it was the quieter material that was the most stunning, possibly most vividly on a sad , characteristically minor-key tale of two lovers watching each other from across the river, contemplating how soom they might (or might not) see each other. As nuanced a singer as Barmash is in the studio – her new album Yiddish Love Songs and Lullabies, many of which she played this evening – is fantastic, but live is where her heart is, so watching her inhabit these (mostly) troubled characters made a shlep out in the cold rain to hear it worth it many times over.

Haunting, Eclectic Jewish Songs from Romashka’s Inna Barmash

Inna Barmash is the intense, inscrutably charismatic frontwoman of fiery Russian Romany string band Romashka. She’s got one of those rare voices that comes along maybe once a generation: a bell-like, bolt-cutter soprano that’s so clear it’ll give you chills. In a city stocked to the brim with great vocalists, Barmash is one of New York’s most rivetling. Hailing originally from Vilnius, Lithuania, she cut her teeth singing music that these days falls under the broad rubric of klezmer. Her debut solo album, Yiddish Lullabies & Love Songs, is a powerful and haunting return to those roots. The whole thing is streaming at her Bandcamp page; she and her band – including her husband, viola powerhouse and composer Ljova Zhurbin, along with along with Shoko Nagai on piano and accordion, Dmitri Slepovitch on clarinet and bass clarinet and Dmitry Ishenko on bass  – are playing the album release show on Nov 27 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. $20 advance tickets are still available as of today but it’s likely that this show will sell out.

The songs here, spanning several centuries and drawing from across the Jewish diaspora, are short and to the point. Likewise, the band keep their solos short and sweet as well. The acerbic minor keys and haunting chromatics typical of Jewish music echo thoughout the album, although there are lighthearted moments as well. Barmash sings in character – she can sweep your off your feet one moment and then rip your face off the next. She further distinguishes herself with strikingly crisp if seemingly nonchalant diction, an enormous help for listeners trying to remember or come to grips with the language. This blog being in English, the titles used here are the English versions provided on the album.

Wake Up Dear Daughter, the opening track, is a potent example of Barmash at the top of her plaintive power, a brittle vibrato trailing off at the end of her phrases to enhance the song’s sense of longing and unease. She does that even more affectingly on the album’s longest song, Ever Since I Remember, lit up with glimmering solos from piano, viola and then clarinet as it reaches its moodiest peak. She pulls back a little, adding a sense of resignation, on the pensive waltz  If I Had Wings.

Don’t You Dare Go Out with Other Girls, with its menacingly shivery clarinet solo, has a tongue-in-cheek bounce, but Barmash leaves no doubt that she means business. She contrasts that with the sweetly hypnotic lullaby Sleep My Child and its gorgeous viola/piano harmonies.

Afn Boydem (Over the Attic) is a duet that takes on a droll, dancing quality as it moves along and then goes straight into vaudeville.  Barmash brings back the nocturnal mood with Sleep, Sleep, Sleep and Nagai’s surrealistic piano, equal parts Satie and blues. Oy Abram is a showstopper both for Barmash and the band, rapidfire counterpoint from the clarinet and viola leading to a rich interweave of instruments – to the uninitiated, it’s the most recognizably “klezmer” song here. The rest of the album includes By the Road Stands a Tree, a wistful, skeletal waltz; Reyzele, which sounds like it could either be a tale of seduction or seduction gone wrong; and the triumphantly soaring Play Me a Song in Yiddish.

The Best NYC Concerts of 2011

Of all the year-end lists here at New York Music Daily, this one is the most fun to put together since it’s the most unique. Everybody has a different one: this is an attempt to be REALLY different and stay as faraway as possible from duplicating the other blogs. That’s why Sharon Jones, or the Brooklyn What, or Gogol Bordello aren’t on this list. Everybody else went to those shows – and had a good time, and more power to you if you were one of those people.

Considering how many incredible live performers play around town, and pass through over the span of a year, choosing the year’s best New York concert is usually like shooting fish in a barrel. But in 2011, there was one show that stood out over all the others, and that was one by a familiar presence, someone who’s been a force in the downtown scene for a long time, who gets more and more vital as the years go by. Laurie Anderson’s concert at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on August 11 brought an air-conditioned highrise chill, a calmly matter-of-fact indictment of post-9/11 paranoia and gentrifier cluelessness, laced with deadpan wit and set to hypnotic, pensive, icily ambient atmospherics. Though much of the concert was a requiem for an edgy New York that’s been bulldozed out of existence, it offered some hope that new version can rise again from the ashes of the old one.

In any other year, Marc Ribot’s April 3 performance of classic noir film music along with his own equally dark matter at the New School would be a no-brainer for best concert of the year; the same could be said for Either/Orchestra’s November 9 marathon two and a half-hour concert there featuring bandleader Russ Gershon’s new suite of moody Ethopian jazz as well as new arrangements of rare Ethiopiques, never before performed outside Ethiopia and probably not since the 1960s.

As far as the rest of the year is concerned, that it was impossible to whittle this list down to any fewer than 26 shows speaks for itself:

Sanda Weigl, Razia and Very Be Careful at the 92YTribeca, January 8 – Shoko Nagai was the star of this one, playing creepy, surreal, crashingly and virtuosically intense piano and accordion in the gypsy singer’s band. The Malagasy chanteuse and LA cumbia party band who followed weren’t bad either.

The Dixie Bee-Liners at the Jalopy, February 13 – since relocating from New York to the hills of Virginia, Buddy Woodward and Brandi Hart’s cutting-edge bluegrass band have made a living on the road with their Bible Belt noir. Pretty impressive in these hard times.

Miramar at Barbes, March 5 – new and classic Puerto Rican boleros, haunting and psychedelic, fueled by Marlysse Simmons’ creepy funeral organ.

Svetlana Berezhnaya at St. Thomas Church (5th Ave.), March 27 – the Russian organist played her own even more macabre arrangement of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Caithlin De Marrais, the Oxygen Ponies and Randi Russo at the Mercury, April 17 – the former Rainer Maria chanteuse/bassist followed by two of New York’s darkest, most literate rock bands, those two groups both using two drummers.

Ward White at Bowery Electric, April 19 – the literate rock tunesmith was under the weather but still delivered a soaring, understatedly snarling cd release show for his latest one, Done with the Talking Cure , backed by keyboard maven Joe McGinty and a killer band.

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans tribute at the Jazz Standard, April 22 – the composer/arranger is a major Evans scholar, and assembled an A-list big band to recreate the legendary 1961 Out of the Cool album plus a couple of surprises.

Dark & Stormy at the Tank, April 28 – the duo of Adrian Morejon and Rebekah Heller played pretty much the entire known repertoire for two bassoons, as lively and entertaining as it was sonically luscious.

Barbez at the Austrian Cultural Center, May 12 – playing mostly material from their most recent album Force of Light, a Paul Celan homage, they mixed brooding, klezmer-fueled instrumentals with spoken-word passages featuring work by the late Holocaust poet.

The JD Allen Trio at le Poisson Rouge, May 18 – the tenor saxophonist and his longtime collaborators, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, hit dark and forcefully again and again, airing out three-minute “jukebox jazz” songs from their darkly triumphant new album, VICTORY!

Those Darlins and Black Joe Lewis at Madison Square Park, June 12 – swirling jangly psychedelia with a little country from the 3/4 female rockers, followed by a marathon performance by the charismatic punk/funk guitarslinger and his purist, bluesy band.

Brooklyn Rider at Pace University, July 12 – a characteristically eclectic set by one of the world’s most adventurous string quartets, with works by Philip Glass and Kojiro Umezaki along with a bluegrass romp by Colin Jacobsen and several scorching gypsy tunes.

Pierre de Gaillande at Barbes, July 14 – the Snow’s frontman played a bunch of brand-new English translations of classic,smutty, wickedly literate Georges Brassens songs.

The Universal Thump at Barbes, July 16 – keyboardist Greta Gertler’s lush art-rock band brought along a string quartet for this exhilarating, majestic show featuring new songs from their brand-new First Spout album.

The New York Arabic Orchestra at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, August 5 – a rich mix of Egyptian and Lebanese classics as well as intriguing, cinematic works by bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Bassam Saba

Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Thomas Simon at Small Beast at the Delancey, August 15 – the weekly dark rock event, which has been running on fumes lately, had a rare good night since charismatic chanteuse Beren – who booked the bands this time around – brought along both the equally charismatic and even more inscrutable Garniez as well as swirling soundtrack crafter Simon.

The Chiara String Quartet at Trinity Church, September 8 – the ensemble revisited Robert Sirota’s anguished, chilling 9/11-themed Triptych where they’d premiered it less than a year later after the attacks. Seconds after they finished, sirens echoed outside just a couple of blocks away: eerie coincidence!

And the Wiremen and the Reid Paley Trio at Small Beast at the Delancey, September 19 – this time out Lynn Wright of southwestern gothic mavens And the Wiremen booked the night, bringing along charismatic retro rocker Paley, who was not amused by the chatty bar crowd and delivered what might have been the most deliciously assaultive show of the year

Chicha Libre at Barbes, October 3 – the surfy, psychedelic cumbia band plays pretty much every Monday here on their home turf – this time they went deep, deep into dub with a swirling, deliriously fun mix of classics and a lot of new original material.

Amour Obscur and Copal at R Bar, October 5 – blazing gypsy punk and noir cabaret, followed by gorgeously slinky violin-and-cello dance grooves from Hannah Thiem, Isabel Castellvi and their hypnotic rhythm section.

Drina Seay at Lakeside, October 7 – she came out of nowhere – a year ago she was singing backup vocals with a bunch of country bands – to lead one of New York’s most versatile, smartest Americana groups. Watching her soaring through a mix of torchy, intense ballads and more upbeat songs reminded a lot of seeing Neko Case right before she got popular.

The American Composers Orchestra at the World Financial Center, October 22 – closing night of this year’s SONIC Festival featured intense, majestic new works by Paul Yeon Lee, Ruby Fulton, Ryan Gallagher, Suzanne FarrinAndrew Norman, and an unexpectedly thoughtful, pensive one by the National’s Bryce Dessner.

Walter Ego at Otto’s, November 19 – switching from guitar to piano and back again, the literate rock tunesmith was at the top of his wryly amusing game.