New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: soul music

Live Music Calendar For New York and Brooklyn For May and June 2021

We’re taking baby steps toward getting back to normal. More and more free outdoor shows popping up all over town, so this calendar is being updated more frequently. A lot of shows are being announced at the 11th hour, so you might want to bookmark this page and check back on a night, or an afternoon, when you feel like going out.

5/8, 4 PM brilliant resonator guitarist/bluesmama Mamie Minch in front of the Wild Project, 3rd St between Aves A + B. She’s also at High Dive on 5th Ave and Carroll Street in Park Slope on 5/29th at 2

5/13, 5 PM  hard-hitting bassist Dawn Drake & Zapote‘play psychedelic Afrobeat and funk at the corner of Fulton and Bond in downtown Brooklyn

5/15, 3 PM ish powerhouse tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a chordless trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/15, 4 PM composer-collective Oracle Hysterical premiere their new song cycle Terra Nova outdoors at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza

5/15, time TBA avant garde chanteuse Jane LeCroy’s new punk cabaret duo project Shelter Puppy outdoors at City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, free

5/16, 1 PM ish drummer Antonio Sanchez leads a trio with Donny McCaslin on alto sax and Matt Brewer on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/16, 3 PM luminous, visionary vocalist/dancer Luisa Muhr, multi-reed legend Daniel Carter and a posse of many more improvise outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg

5/16, 5 PM the SEM Ensemble play Petr Kotik’s Letters to Olga (1988) with text by Václav Havel for two narrators, winds and guitars at in the yard adjacent to the Willow Place Auditorium, 25 Columbia Place (Joralemon/State), downtown Brooklyn, closest train is the A/C to High St.

5/17, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra brass quartet play works by Tcherepnin, Carlos Chavez, Strauss and others at Bryant Park. The program repeats on 5/19.

5/18, 5:30 PM oboeist Alexandra Knoll leads a wind trio playing an all-French program with works by Poulenc, Francaix and others at Bryant Park

5/20, 5 PM dynamic, sometimes atmospheric jazz violinist Charlie Burnham and band at the corner of Fulton and Bond in downtown Brooklyn

5/21, 3 PM cellist Marika Hughes‘ New String Quartet with Charlie Burnham on violin, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side. 5/27, 5 PM she’s at the corner of Fulton and Bond in downtown Brooklyn

5/22, 3 PM ish tsunami drummer Johnathan Blake leads a wild quartet with Mark Turner and Chris Potter on tenor sax and Dezron Douglas on bass, wow, in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/23-24, 1 PM ish drummer Nasheet Waits leads a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/29, 1 PM ish alto saxophonist Abraham Burton leads a trio with Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/31, 1 PM ish trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his Quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Edward Perez on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/2-4, 1 PM ish pyrotechnic tenor sax player Mark Turner records a live album with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/ 6-8, 1 PM ish saxophonist Darius Jones records a live album with Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/10, 7:30 PM bhangra-klezmer mashups with Sharabi with trumpeter Frank London & Deep Singh with singer Sarah Gordon at Wagner Park just north of the battery

Please don’t patronize venues that comply with lockdown restrictions. The longer we comply, the longer it’s going to take us to end the lockdown.

Some say that this is the time when we should all be supporting venues which are thisclose to being forced out of business. And a lot of venue owners hate the restrictions, but they’re terrified of losing their licenses.

The sad truth is that supporting businesses who comply with lockdown restrictions won’t help them a bit. They’re going to go out of business anyway. Why prolong the agony?

Those restrictions were deliberately engineered to destroy independent businesses. No venue, or really any business of any kind, can survive at 25% or even 50% of capacity. The only way a small business, or independent business, can survive is the same way that we as individuals survive: by defying the lockdown.

If every business in New York opened their doors and ignored Cuomo’s insane restrictions, there’s no way they could be enforced. The police are on our side. The NYPD will not enforce lockdown restrictions, no District Attorney will prosecute those violations, and there aren’t enough State Liquor Authority inspectors to hassle more than a tiny fraction of the businesses in town. Think of what we could accomplish if we all got together and decided to throw off this state of tyranny, just as people from Florida, to Texas, to the Dakotas already have. We’re going to have to do it eventually.. Why not make this the summer of freedom?

More Dark Retro Soul From Nick Waterhouse

Nick Waterhouse has been one of the prime movers in the retro soul movement for over a decade. His latest album Promenade Blue – streaming at Bandcamp – is a welcome addition to that consistently strong, purist body of work, focusing more on the noir side of that sound than usual here. You know the drill: reverb on everything, harmony singers who punch in on the chorus, trebly guitars and melodic bass playing through vintage amps, and nonstop catchy hooks.

With the opening track, Place Names, Waterhouse reinvents pre-Motown soul with stark strings in lieu of the kind of wafting orchestral sonics that Phil Spector would have used. And Waterhouse is more of a crooner than most artists from that era. At about four minutes, the song gives him a chance to chill and reflect on better times…as those of us who remember the glory days before March 16, 2020 have probably been doing in the time since.

The Spanish Look doesn’t have anything remotely Spanish about it, although it does have a lot of fevered Elvis in it, hey heh, mmm hmmm. Waterhouse goes back to a roughhewn, vampy early 60s milieu with Vincentine, complete with tantalizingly brief, blazing Chicago blues guitar breaks.

He paints a doomed, down-and-out Tom Waits tableau in the next track, Medicine, over a Lynchian guitar twang. Very Blue is the album’s best song, a gorgeous early 60s Orbison noir song complete with desperately hammering piano, bittersweet major/minor changes….and flurrying early ELO strings. “I remember trying hard just to wake you up,” Waterhouse intones – and the rest is history.

Elvis goes to see the gypsy in Silver Bracelet, set to a tinkly Vegas noir backdrop. Promene Bleu, a quasi title track, makes for a tasty instrumental mashup of Django Reinhardt and oldschool soul with a smoky tenor sax break. The noir tropes reach parody pitch in Fugitive Lover – gruff baritone sax, fire-and-brimstone gospel imagery repurposed as crime jazz, hook-and-ladder guitar riffage, the works.

Waterhouse goes back to primitive mode for Minor Time – as in “was your major, but you made the change” – and then picks up the pace with the quasi-surf Santa Ana 1986. Turns out Waterhouse is a California Man, just like Roy Wood. The album’s final cut is To Tell, the great missing b-side to ELO’s Showdown. If you like the standard noir tropes, if you miss Twin Peaks, this is your jam. Less devoted fans may find this on the monochromatic side. But maybe that’s the way Waterhouse wants it – and if so, that’s cool.

Live Music Calendar for New York City and Brooklyn For April and May 2021

Audiences from Florida to the Dakotas are back to normal while we’re still stuck in lockdown hell. But there’s a growing number of shows here this month, almost all of them outdoors and free. Sorry, no speakeasy shows listed here: we can’t snitch on them!

New listings are being added, sporadically: it couldn’t hurt to bookmark this page and check back in about a week to see what else is on the schedule!

4/4. 11 AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by the Wayne Escoffery/Jeremy Pelt Quartet with Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, wow, at the south end of the mall in Central Park, enter at 72nd St and go south when you see the Naumburg Bandshell

4/6, 5 PM the Regeneration Quintet – Ras Moshe (saxophones), Matt Lavelle (trumpet),Ayumi Ishito (saxophone), Evan Crane (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) improvise in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

4/10, 3 PM organist Gail Archer plays a rare program of Russian organ music at St. John Nepomucene church, 411 E 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

4/10, noon AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by bassist William Parker’s Trio with Cooper-Moore (on keys?) and Hamid Drake on percussion at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/11, POSTPONED DUE TO THREAT OF RAIN alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading her Trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/14, 5:30 PM serious improvisation: Becoming and Return – Daniel Carter (woodwinds/trumpet), Roshni Samlal (tabla), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

4/15, 7 PM poignant, eclectic, lyrical jazz bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo’s tango quartet at Terraza 7, sug don $10

4/17, 1:30ish saxophonist Chris Potter leads a trio with Joe Martin on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/17, 1:30 PM luminous, visionary vocalist/dancer Luisa Muhr, multi-reed legend Daniel Carter and a posse of many more improvise outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg

4/20, 5:30 PM best show of the month: haunting Middle Eastern jazz with Ensemble Fanaa – Daro Behroozi (saxophone/bBass clarinet), John Murchison (double bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums/percussion) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

4/23, 7 PM noirish, tunefully scruffy pastoral jazz guitarist Tom Csatari leads his pastoral noir Uncivilized band at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE, outdoors, F to Smith/9th

4/24, 1 PM ish trumpeter Marquis Hill‘s Quartet in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/25, 1 PM ish saxophonist Michael Thomas leads his Quartet with Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Edward Perez on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/25, 5 PM spy-surf band the Royal Arctic Institute outdoors at 18th Ward Brewing, 300 Richardson St off Kingsland, Greenpoint, G to Nassau

4/27, 5:30 PM stoner downtempo grooves with Lateef Beats – Fima Chupakhin (keys), John Merrit (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

5/1, noon saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Chad Taylor on drums followed at 1 ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s Quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/2, 1 PM ish intense tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leads a trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/3-4, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra String Quartet play works from south of the border by Manuel Ponce, Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez at Bryant Park

5/5, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra Percussion ensemble play an all Javier Diaz program in the park at Herald Square. The program repeats on 5/12

5/8, 1 PM ish cellist Marika Hughes‘ New String Quartet with Charlie Burnham on violin, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and Rashaan Carter on bass – hey, they’re all string players! – in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/10-11, 5:30 PM jazz pianist Lee Musiker leads a quintet at Bryant Park

5/15, 1 PM ish powerhouse tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a chordless trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/15, time TBA avant garde chanteuse Jane LeCroy’s new punk cabaret duo project Shelter Puppy outdoors at City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, free

5/16, 1 PM ish drummer Antonio Sanchez leads a trio with Donny McCaslin on alto sax and Matt Brewer on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/16, 5 PM the SEM Ensemble play Petr Kotik’s Letters to Olga (1988) with text by Václav Havel for two narrators, winds and guitars at in the yard adjacent to the Willow Place Auditorium, 25 Columbia Place (Joralemon/State), downtown Brooklyn, closest train is the A/C to High St.

5/17, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra brass quartet play works by Tcherepnin, Carlos Chavez, Strauss and others at Bryant Park. The program repeats on 5/19.

5/18, 5:30 PM oboeist Alexandra Knoll leads a wind trio playing an all-French program with works by Poulenc, Francaix and others at Bryant Park

5/22, 1 PM ish tsunami drummer Johnathan Blake leads a wild quartet with Mark Turner and Chris Potter on tenor sax and Dezron Douglas on bass, wow, in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/23-24, 1 PM ish drummer Nasheet Waits leads a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/29, 1 PM ish alto saxophonist Abraham Burton leads a trio with Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/31, 1 PM ish trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his Quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Edward Perez on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/2-4, 1 PM ish pyrotechnic tenor sax player Mark Turner records a live album with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/ 6-8, 1 PM ish saxophonist Darius Jones records a live album with Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/10, 7:30 PM bhangra-klezmer mashups with Sharabi with trumpeter Frank London & Deep Singh with singer Sarah Gordon at Wagner Park just north of the battery

Playful, Gently Trippy Dance Tunes and Neosoul From Kalbells

Kalbells play psychedelic funk and neosoul. They’re a road-warrior supergroup: Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver fronts the band with her cheery, chipper vocals, alongside Okkervil River keyboardist Sarah Pedinotti, Angelica Bess of Body Language and drummer Zoë Brecher of Hushpuppy. Their new album Max Heart is streaming at Bandcamp. This stuff is all about trippy textures and messing with your head: airy highs, reverb and uncluttered dance beats all figure into their web of sound. This is a good party record but it works just as well as chillout music.

Lush string synth joins the twinkly electric piano, Bernie Worrell-esque keyb flourishes, and fluttering flute in the opening track, Red Marker, Traver’s bandmates’ harmonies wafting behind her vocals. The song seems to be about picking up the pieces and moving on.

Traver testifies gently to the therapeutic effects of blowing some notes out into the street in Flute Windows Open In the Rain, exchanging phrases with thoughtful sax over an altered oldschool disco groove. Purplepink has a muted but resolutely funky strut and a slit-eyed, sunbaked guitar solo.

Twinkling keys return over a spare, steady beat and increasingly lush keys in Poppy Tree. Dancing along over some catchy bass octaves, Hump the Beach is just as hypnotic as it is catchy.

Pickles is the album’s funniest track: without giving anything away, it’s metaphorical and features a cameo by hip-hop artist Miss Eaves.

Brecher supplies an elegantly rattling Afrobeat rhythm to anchor the blippy, playful textures of Bubbles. Big Lake is closer to four-on-the-floor, with a catchy, leaping bassline and enveloping harmonies.

Diagram of Me Sleeping is a slow jam that gets funnier the more closely you listen to the lyrics – although that whistling is annoying. The band wind up the album with the defiantly anthemic, whimsically ornamented title track.

Lake Street Dive Return With Their Most Lyrically Potent, Relevant Record

Lake Street Dive are one of the real feel-good stories in music over the past decade. Taking a catchy but edgy blend of oldschool soul and late Beatles, they turned into a touring powerhouse. And what a great live band they were: an enthusiastic writeup of a 2013 show in a Flatiron District park became the alltime most popular piece ever here for several months. As more and more of the world is liberated this year, let’s hope they can get back to what they do best. In the meantime, they have an unexpectedly powerful new album, Obviously, streaming at Spotify.

Ironically, this is the band’s most overtly commercial record, not to mention accession to sounds invented after 1980. Yet this is also their most lyrically potent and political one. Frontwoman Rachael Price is mystifyingly and awfully autotuned on the album’s first song, a false start, but on the rest of the record she gets to flex her powerful wail with newfound subtlety and dynamic range. The addition of keyboardist Akie Bermiss may have something to do with the slickness and techiness of some of the textures, but also some surprisingly amusing touches as well.

Skip that opening track and start with the killer second one, Hush Money. “You can’t win the game so you wanna throw it, but I’ve got a whistle and I’m gonna blow it,” Price insists, over the quasi trip-hop sway of bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese. and some of those Beatles soul riffs that guitarist Mike Olson likes so much.

Same Old News, a duet between Price and Bermiss, has an altered latin groove, an update on 70s Bill Withers with a sardonic message about celebrity obsessions. Price is wary of being the “subject of a thousand prying eyes;” the synthesized phony sax solo will make you chuckle.

Being a Woman is a feminist anthem that starts out with a gentle lilt and then explodes on the bridge: “If I complain they’ll blame my feelings, but look at the view from my glass ceiling,” Price snarls. The band follow that with Making Do, a cynical, angry, tensely pulsing gig economy-era broadside: they make it clear that the next generation is going to be left with a real mess to clean up.

Nobody’s Stopping You Now begins with spare strings and piano and grows into a big anthem for rugged individualists everywhere. Olson breaks out his trumpet for the jaunty, seductive Know That I Know, then the band take a rare turn toward hip-hop in Lackluster Lover, the album’s most cynically funny song.

Trying to make cheesy 80s lite FM pop out of Anymore, an otherwise catchy if subdued breakup ballad, makes no sense. Price goes to the gospel well and Kearney adds low-key ukulele textures in Feels Like the Last Time. The album’s final track is Sarah, a gorgeous, Aimee Mann-esque ballad which would be vastly improved with one of the band’s earlier, more organic arrangements rather than the weird talkbox effects here.

A Picturesque, Psychedelic New Instrumental Soul Album From the Menahan Street Band

Of all the oldschool soul groups that followed Sharon Jones’ ascendancy out of New York in the mid-zeros, Menahan Street Band were the most distinctive, psychedelic and also the darkest. Nobody did noir soul in New York like these guys. And they didn’t even have a singer. It’s been a long time between albums for them, but that’s because everybody in the band is also involved with other projects, or at least was before the lockdown. Their long-awaited new album The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band lives up to its title and is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, Midnight Morning, sums up how these guys work. It’s a steady oldschool 70s groove, bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Thomas Brenneck’s twinkling keys and sheets of organ over the graceful, understated rhythm section of guest bassist “Bosco Mann” – hmmm, now who could that be – and drummer Homer Steinweiss. But the gently gusting harmonies from Leon Michels’ tenor sax and Dave Guy’s trumpet are more bracing than they are balmy.

Regular bassist Nick Movshon takes over with a spare, trebly hollow-body feel on the second track, Rainy Day Lady, Brenneck’s sparse, eerily Satie-esque piano exchanging with the horns and Michels’ organ as the sun pushes the clouds away. They completely flip the script with The Starchaser, a gritty, tensely cinematic, Morricone-ish tableau driven by Brenneck’s trebly, careening guitar and Michels’ trailing sax lines.

Silkworm rises out of dubwise trip-hop mystery with Brenneck on keening portamento synth along with the horns. Cabin Fever is surreal fuzztone Afrobeat; after that, the band return to enigmatic oldschool slow jam territory with Rising Dawn and its blazing layers of guitar.

The album’s most tantalizingly short interlude is Glovebox Pistol, a slinky desert rock theme in wee-hours deep Brooklyn disguise. Likewise, Queens Highway is a slow, spacious after-midnight miniature.

Michels’ organ swirls, the horns waft and Brenneck’s layers of regal soul chords permeate the next track, Snow Day. Brian Profilio takes over the drums on the cheery, dub-inflected miniature Parlour Trick. Mike Deller’s Farfisa loops and washes filter over a funky strut in The Duke, Ray Mason’s trombone beefing up the brass. Stepping Through Shadow has a wistful tiptoe pulse and elegant Stylistics jazz chords.

Devil’s Respite is the album’s best track, a darkly anthemic vamp with couple of unexpected tarpit interludes before the brass kick back in again. They close the record with There Was a Man, a slow, fond 12/8 ballad without words with the feel of a late 60s classic soul instrumental like The Horse. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2021 page here – and there’s going to be one. Spring is coming to New York right now, and it’s about time!

An Eclectically Catchy Big Band Album by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players

Does listening to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players transform them from a seventeen-piece big band into a trio? One of the premises of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that some particles are so small that merely observing them changes their state. It’s an extension of the basic idea that some tools are too heavy for the job: you don’t use a hammer where just your thumb would do.

Ultimately, Heisenberg’s postulate challenges us to consider whether some things will always be essentially unknowable: a very Islamic concept, when you think about it. But you hardly need special powers of observation to enjoy this big band’s energy, and catchy themes, and pervasive sense of humor. Their album Gradient is streaming at Bandcamp. There’s a high-energy sax solo on almost every one of bandleader/conductor John Dorhauer’s compositions here, sometimes expected, sometimes not.

The opening number, Boombox, makes a momentary Mission Impossible theme out of the old surf rock hit Tequila, then hits a Weather Report style faux-soukous bubbliness for a bit before shifting toward a gospel groove beneath Matthew Beck’s joyous tenor sax.

The second track, Nevertheless She Persisted is a slow, slinky gospel tune, Stuart Seale’s tersely soulful organ ceding the spotlight to a low-key, burbling trombone solo from Chris Shuttleworth and a big massed crescendo from the brass. Subject/Verb/Object has clever, rhythmless variations on a circling, Ethiopian-tinged riff, in an Either/Orchestra vein; the polyrhythms that ensue as the piece comes together and then calms to an uneasy syncopation are a cool touch.

Four Sides of the Circle begins as a stately, mysterious, Indian-tinged theme for choir and piano, then chattering high reeds take centerstage as the song almost imperceptibly edges toward dusky, modal soul over a familiar Radiohead hook.

The East African tinges return, but more cheerily in Plasma, with its rhythmically tricky interweave of counterpoint. Mahler 3 Movement 1 is exactly that: a moody, jazzed-up classical theme that rises from rumors of war, to brassy King Crimson art-rock fueled by Chris Parsons’ burning guitar, to chipper, Gershwinesque swing over a quasi-reggae beat and then back.

The record winds up with the Basketball Suite. The first segment, Switch Everything is the band’s Dr. J (that’s a Grover Washington Jr. reference). Part two, Point Giannis is probably the slowest hoops theme ever written: Dan Parker’s hypnotic bassline brings to mind a classic Jah Wobble groove on PiL’s Metal Box album. The band take a turn back toward booding, pulsing Ethiopiques with Schedule Loss, Adam Roebuck’s incisive trumpet contrasting with James Baum’s suave, smoky baritone sax. It ends with the album’s warmly funky, vamping title track An entertaining achievement from an ensemble that also includies saxophonists Natalie Lande, Kelley Dorhauer and Dan Burke, trombonists Michael Nearpass, Josh Torrey and Dan Dicesare, trumpeters Jon Rarick and Emily Kuhn and drummer Jonathon Wenzel.

A Spot-On, Politically Fearless Live Album From the Impassioned Kemp Harris

Songwriter/pianist/activist/actor Kemp Harris has made a career out of absolutely smoking you with a lyric when you least expect it. His signature blend of politically smart oldschool soul, gospel and funk earned him a devoted following on the crunchy circuit. His gritty, expressive vocals hardly hint that he was in his late sixties the evening he played a dynamic, impassioned set on February 29, 2020 at the Bird in San Francisco with a pickup band. Less than two weeks later, concerts there were criminalized by California dictator Gavin Newsom in order to comply with a cabal of tech Nazis hell-bent on turning the entire world into an Orwellian surveillance state.

Harris’ show happened to be recorded, and has now been released as the album Live at the Bird SF. streaming at Bandcamp. It’s endemic of the glut of live recordings that no one at the time ever thought they’d release, which are now being dumped all over the web. If there’s any silver lining to this dismal era in human history, some of those shows turned out to be fantastic, and this one has its moments.

Harris opens the show as a duo with drummer Jim Lucchese. You’re going to want to start with the third track, Ruthie’s, a wise, aphoristic illustration of the utility of hanging away from idiots intent on starting a confrontation. “Escape from the lions, let the gladiator games begin,” Harris intones midway through.

He brings up bassist Jose Saravia and guitarist James Nash for a haphazardly swampy, simmering take of the political broadside Sweet Weeping Jesus. Saravia runs the hook from the Isley Bros.’ Money, underscoring the political context in the flood metaphors of Didn’t It Rain: “I saw the rainbow sign, no more water but the fire next time,” Harris avers.

The sarcasm, and the surprise punchline of Edenton are absolutely withering, Harris reflecting on his childhood in a supportive but insular North Carolina black community surrounded by sinister forces. He and the band hit a minimalist Bill Withers vamp that picks up with a funky syncopation in Invisible, with a hip hop-flavored interlude that looks back to an iconic Ralph Ellison novel.

After a medley of covers and a bit of a hopeful original in tribute to Martin Luther King, he turns in an emphatic, gospel-infused solo take of Willie Nelson’s Night Life, then brings the band back for a sly, funky, suggestive take of The Rain Came Down.

He gives Wiggle the same vibe with tinges of reggae and hip-hop, finds the inner hymn in Dylan’s I Shall Be Released, and closes the set with Swing Down Chariot, a funky remake of the gospel standard. The first of the encores is a late-period Buddy Guy-ish take of the blues Going Down. Harris winds up the night with a benedictory, hopeful solo version of Good Night America.

An Epic Live Album by One of the Most Epic Bands of the Century

Let’s say your band has made a good living on the road for the last twenty years. All of a sudden, a bunch of oligarchs get together and create a phony health emergency in order to turn the world into an Orwellian nightmare where music doesn’t even exist. People aren’t even allowed to sing, let alone get together to see a band, since crowds of people who get together usually have fun. And in order to condition the population to a totalitarian slave state, all happiness has to be outlawed. That really happened throughout much of the world in 2020, and it isn’t over yet.

But it will be. The lockdown bears the seeds of its own destruction. In the meantime, out of the thousands of artists who’ve dumped hours upon hours of live recordings onto the web, only a handful can match the epic sweep of road warriors Okkervil River‘s latest release, A Dream in the Dark: Two Decades of Okkervil River Live, streaming at Spotify. On one hand, it’s sobering to realize that they’ve really been around that long. On the other, they are absolutely in their element, careening through the record’s two dozen tracks with their usual reckless abandon. This endless road trip begins in Northhampton, Massachusetts in 2006 and wind up in Cambridge in 2019, with almost a complete turnover in band members. By then, this endearingly shambling Americana quasi-jamband had tightened up their act a little without losing their spontaneity or irrepressible sense of humor.

The first song on this long, strange trip is the outlaw ballad Westfall, kicking off with a brief blast of feedback, steady strums from frontman Will Sheff’s acoustic guitar and a flurry of mandolin. The rest of the band don’t leap in until right before the fateful final verse. They fall apart in a spacerock outro.

The haphazard intro to the punkgrassy No Key, No Plan is priceless. Sheff gets a singalong going, mercilessly needles the crowd: the joke is too good to spoil. Then, as if this was an actual setlist, they follow with a superslow, lingering, steel guitar-infused take of the sad ballad Kansas City

The quiet, wintry, waltzing beginning of Listening to Otis Redding At Home During Christmas doesn’t offer the slightest hint of how orchestral the arrangement’s going to get: “Not even home will be with you forever,”Sheff intones.

This version of the subdued piano-and-strings ballad For Real winds up with a regal peak and a careening, screaming guitar solo. It Ends With a Fall come across as part Jayhawks, part late Beatles, part loping White Denim soul. Then the band pick things up with Sheff’s dramatic, signature off-key flair in a driving take of Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe, decaying to a free jazz freakout and then a typical noisy jam out.

The 90s Wilco influence comes in loud and clear in Unless It’s Kicks, the last song of a 2008 set in Germany. Goodnatured barrelhouse piano makes a surreal contrast with techy string synth in It Was My Season. Down Down the Deep River has post-Velvets clang, new wave swoosh and C&W chickenscratch guitar. By now, if this was an actual show, the band would really be on a roll, so in this case they keep the momentum going with Lost Coastlines and its faux-Motown groove.

A Stone – from a 2015 New York gig – is a momentary detour into wistful stoner country, with spot-on slip-key piano. Thirteen songs into the album, we’re finally rewarded with a minor-key anthem, Another Radio Song, from that same set – and as the band holler, “There’s no escaping it.”

The litany of dead performers in Okkervil River RIP is the most sobering moment here. The brisk, hypnotically pulsing, ten-minute stadium rock version of Judey on a Street is the album’s longest track among many: pretty much everything here is around the seven-minute mark or more.

The ridiculous mashup of blippy new wave and 90s alt-country in So Come Back, I Am Waiting is classic for these guys, in that they manage to make it work somehow. A Seattle crowd is stoked for a slowly crescendoing take of Okkervil River Song, probably the only Americana rock escape anthem that mentions skunk cabbage.

The Surgeon Above the Arbor is an inside joke, but a good one: a fan had requested a song by that title, but trouble was it didn’t exist. So Sheff wrote it: it turned out to be a slowly jangly, pensively vamping, distantly Neil Young-tinged ballad.

The album’s most muted, psychedelic number is Skiptracer. They pick up the pace with Black, a Velvets-meet-Wilco stomp and follow with the hip-hop/soul/Grateful Dead mashup Pink Slips.

Sheff brings out his dad Paul to play mandolin on the faux-western swing tune External Actor, just as he did on the album version.

Mary on a Wave, from a 2019 Washington, DC show, gets a long, lingering spacerock intro. They wind up the album on a similar note with Your Past Life As a Blast, more psychedelic than ever after all these years.

A Haunting, Hypnotic Elegy For People of Color Murdered by Police Since 2017

Cinematic postrock soul band Algiers originally released the anti-police violence broadside Cleveland on their 2017 album The Underside of Power. Frontman Franklin James Fisher’s impassioned vocals channeled determination to decimate what’s left of Jim Crow, whether the old or new kinds. In the wake of the protests of the past several months, they’ve released one of the most extended singles of all time, Cleveland 20/20 – streaming at Bandcamp – adding the names of 232 innocent people of color murdered by police since the song first came out. Fisher has also included the victims of the child murders that plagued Atlanta from 1979 to 1981. It is even more of a shock to discover that so many of these people were women.

This is sort of the Shoah single of 2020: haunting, hypnotic and relentless, over a swirling, gothic motorik background that decays to bleakly atmospheric free jazz. And at almost thirty-four minutes, it’s as grimly relevant as music gets in 2020.

There’s also a “vocal mix” that’s about half as long, with just the roll call of the murdered, gospel harmonies and handclaps.