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Tag: swing music

Sweet Megg Brings Her Imaginative, Dynamic Take on Western Swing to a Familiar Williamsburg Haunt

Where Bob Wills started with country and blues and added jazz to the mix to create western swing, singer Megg Farrell starts with swing jazz as a starting point for her latest album, My Window Faces the South, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a party album, but it’s also an innovative mix of vintage styles. She’s keeping her cowboy hat on for her next gig on Nov 26 at 9 PM at Skinny Dennis. For those who might dread Williamsburg on a weekend night, consider that a lot of the contingent who make that neighborhood such a miserable place will probably still be out of town for Thanksgiving.

Sweet Megg, as she’s known, switches effortlessly between the many types of oldtime Americana she’s explored from the start of her career about ten years ago. She reaches down for a low-key, mistier take on Patsy Cline in the opening number, Faded Love. Fiddler Billy Contreras fires off a deliciously slinky solo midway through, trumpeter Mike Davis and saxophonist Ricky Alexander punching in with bright harmonies over the groove of bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Chris Gelb.

The band blend dixieland flair and a little jump blues over an oldtime swing beat in the next track, Hesitation Blues. There’s an accordion along with Chris Scruggs’ steel guitar on a balmy version of I Can’t Stop Loving You; then the band pick up the pace with There’ll Be Some Changes Made, with Contreras’ fiddle, Alexander’s clarinet and Scruggs’ scrambling steel front and center.

The album’s title track gets a sly cha-cha intro and some spiraling ragtime piano from Dalton Ridenhour before the horns and the steel pair off. The tricky intro to Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia is there to fake you out: Farrell and the band make hi-de-ho country out of it, if you can imagine that.

They really nail a hazy, wistfully nocturnal atmosphere in their lush, enveloping version of Stardust, fueled by Ridenhour’s steady C&W piano. Farrell and Alexander harmonize in an oldtime swing-infused take of I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling as Contreras flickers in the background. And they have fun reinventing the Tennessee Waltz, first with just Farrell’s vocals over animated slip-key piano, then Scruggs comes in sailing overhead.

Likewise, Ridenhour and Gelb give an incisive, imaginative drive to Those Memories of You. They close with Trouble in Mind, Farrell and the group stretching further out into the jazz that brought them here. On one hand, almost all of the songs here have been done to death: credit this inspired cast for breathing new life into them.

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A Well-Loved New York Oldtimey Swing Tradition Resumes in the East Village

Last night at their Avenue B home base, Mona’s Hot Six delivered a typically animated evening of hot 20s swing and dixieland as part of their ongoing weekly Tuesday night residency there, which they’d begun as a quartet in the late zeros and had continued until they were interrupted by the global totalitarian takeover in March of 2020. Their lineup of usual suspects from the traditionalist party animal contingent in the New York jazz scene fluctuates depending on who’s in town and who’s not. Clarinetist and ringleader Dennis Lichtman was gone last week but he was back this time around alongside Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Dalton Ridenhour on piano, Jerron Paxton on banjo, plus guest trombonist Charlie Halloran and an unidentified bass player tucked into the corner.

They opened with a romp through a midtempo take of what sounded like Sweet Sue, kicking off with a little jaunty trumpet/trombone conversation and a spiraling Lichtman solo. Ridenhour’s ragtime-flavored piano solo (in what might be charitably be called saloon tuning) gave way to some feathery tremolo-picking from Paxton, and eventually a couple of modulations to a lively dixieland interweave. That set the stage for the rest of the night’s first set.

Lichtman, who until the lockdown led a fantastic and almost as long-running western swing outfit, the Brain Cloud, has been a good clarinetist for a long time but obviously spent the dead months of 2020 and 2021 practicing. There were some moments where his liquid-crystal spirals were nothing short of breathtaking. Halloran was in town from New Orleans and got a lot of time in the spotlight (as well as a turn on the mic in an upbeat take of Dreaming the Hours Away). For him, sometimes that meant balmy and soulful; other times that meant chewing the scenery, as music like this eventually makes you do if you’re a trombonist.

Ridenhour anchored the songs with a steady, imperturbable stride and a few devious excursions to the upper registers while Paxton drew on the deep well of antique guitar voicings that inform his status as one of the world’s great acoustic blues guitarists. The bar wasn’t very full when the band first assembled in the back, but by the end of their opening set a crowd had grown around them and the vibe was contagious. Mona’s Hot Four (or whatever the weekly number is) play there every Tuesday night starting pretty much at the stroke of 9.

Legendary Oldtimey Band the Squirrel Nut Zippers Play a Rare Outdoor New York Show this Friday

The world’s best-loved and arguably most influential oldtimey band, the Squirrel Nut Zippers are playing Friday night, July 15 at 7 PM at Bryant Park. Much as there’s been a lot of furnover in the group over the years, this is a bucket-list show for people who were too young to see them during their heyday back in the 90s. So if you want to get close to the stage, you might want to show up early.

The crew on their most recent album The Lost Songs Of Doc Souchon – streaming at Bandcamp – is not the one that busted out of Chapel Hill in the mid-80s. But founding member Jimbo Mathus – who became part of New York music history for his turn onstage on closing night at legendary East Village institution Lakeside Lounge – still fronts the band. And much as they spearheaded the oldtime swing revival, that was hardly the only style they played: their first big hit, Hell, was a calypso song.

The opening track on the album is a cover of Jelly Roll Morton’s Animule Ball that starts out like a Cab Calloway hi-de-ho tune, then the band go straight into New Orleans, Mathus goes into sarcastic crooner mode as the band reinvent the odious Frankie Valli hit Can’t Take My Eyes Off You as a noir bolero, complete with Boulevard of Broken Dreams strings and creepy tinkling piano.

Cella Blue takes over the mic on the blues She’s Ballin’ as Mathus’ guitar scrambles and slashes, saxophonist Henry Westmoreland’s solo followed by some snazzy Jerry Lee playing from pianist Leslie Martin over the brassy backdrop from trumpeter Dave Boswell and trombonist Eddie Lehwald.

Mathus switches to banjo, joining forces with Dr. Sick’s mysterious fiddle and Martin’s funeral organ for the Appalachian gothic tune Train on Fire. Sarcasm reaches a slow burn as Mathus sings a deadpan version of the piano ballad Mr. Wonderful.

The band follow the twisted Louis Jordan-style narrative of I Talk To My Haircut with the album’s longest song, Purim Nigrum, a strutting klezmer jam with a blistering dixieland brass raveup. It’s the best song on the record.

Drummer Neilson Bernard and bassist John Kveen give a fat swinging bottom to Cookie, a sly hokum blues where Mathus can’t resist cracking a smile. The band’s ska-flavored cover of Happy Days Are Here Again comes across as the most sarcastic song on the record – although it seems they recorded it before the 2020 totalitarian takeover. They close the with Cella Blue taking over vocals on the elegant string band tune Summer Longings.

Remnants of a Well-Loved Western Swing Group Onstage Outdoors This Month

From 2012 through March of 2020, the Brain Cloud played a rambunctious take on western swing that was just as outside-the-box as what Bob Wills did when he mashed up swing jazz with 1930s hillbilly music and blues. The group got their start as subway buskers and took the name the Cangelosi Cards when they launched their first residency at the old Banjo Jim’s in the East Village back in the late zeros. They rebranded themselves as the Brain Cloud – after a Wills lyric – when they took over another Monday night residency at a popular Park Slope venue which at the time was open to all New Yorkers. While their band members would disperse to other jazz and Americana-adjacent groups during the week, from Red Hook to Williamsburg, they built a devoted following at the 9th Street residency.

Like so many other New York bands, they didn’t survive the 2020 lockdown, although several of their members have emerged with their own projects in recent months. Co-founder Dennis Lichtman, who played clarinet, violin and mandolin, is leading his latest group tomorrow evening, July 7 at 6 PM under the Dumbo archway. Take the F to York Street, go downhill a couple of blocks, hang a left to the bridge underpass and follow the sound. And the group’s deviously charming, tapdancing frontwoman Tamar Korn is leading her band at a free outdoor lunchtime show at noon on July 27 at the pedestrian mall at Willoughby and Pearl in downtown Brooklyn.

The Brain Cloud put out three albums: the last one was a charming and often sizzling 2017 Park Slope live set, and it’s still up at Bandcamp. If you were there, it will bring back a lot of memories. They open with a frenetically fun western swing version of the Carter Family’s Jealous Hearted Me and wind up with a similarly rambunctious take of Patsy Cline’s Love, Love, Love Me Honey Do.

In between, Lichtman’s clarinet trades off with Korn’s playful and sometimes irresistibly droll vocalese. Guitarist Skip Krevens channels a cosmopolitan Nashville pre-rockabilly vibe, circa 1953, while lapsteel player Raphael McGregor sails and plays thorny jazz clusters, and impersonates a trombone when Korn isn’t doing that.

Andrew Hall’s punchy bass looms large in their hi-de-ho version of Comes Love, the klezmer-swing hit which Korn would always hit out of the park. The little shivery echo that she throws to Lichtman is priceless, as is Korn’s solo later on – is she a clarinet or a theremin, or both? McGregor’s theremin-like steel solo keeps the entertainment going all the way through to drummer Kevin Dorn’s final emphatic thud.

Lichtman also plays seamless fiddle and takes a rare turn on electric mandolin for uncharacteristically chilling, incisive ambience in a couple of tunes. There’s a couple of instrumentals, a subdued swing version of Jimmie Rodgers’ Any Old Time and a couple of moments where you might wish this was a video since it’s impossible to tell whether that’s the clarinet or the steel, or Korn making fun of them.. What a great time this band had, and they brought the audience along with them.

The last time anyone from this blog was in the house at a Brain Cloud gig, it was July of 2019 and they were jousting and messing with each other pretty much like they do on this record, with Korn deserting the stage for the outer bar while McGregor and Krevens took extended solos. If there’s a band you really like playing somewhere in this city this summer, you might want to catch them now because you may never get another chance.

A Rare, Distinctive Male Jazz Vocal Record From Michael Stephenson

Michael Stephenson is a rarity: an individualist male jazz singer. In a world that’s probably about 95 percent women at this point, he distinguishes himself with his no-nonsense baritone and devious sense of humor. You would think that more dudes with his talents would have gone into the field, but at the moment Stephenson pretty much has the floor to himself. And he’s a competent tenor saxophonist as well. His latest album Michael Stephenson Meets the Alexander Claffy Trio is streaming at Bandcamp.

This is jazz as entertainment. He and the group – Claffy on bass, Julius Rodriguez on piano and Itay Morchi on drums, with special guest Benny Benack III on trumpet – are often a party in a box. They open the record with a mostly bass-and-vocal duo version of Sweet Lorraine: Stephenson shows off that he can cut loose on the mic in a split second, and that’s about it. Then things get really amusing with a slyly swinging take of Ray Charles’ Greenbacks, which as Stephenson sings it, are coated in chlorophyll…or maybe something else. No spoilers. Stephenson and Benack’s solos give it a muscular midsection.

Rodriguez and Morchi spiral around, building symphonic intensity to introduce a tightly pulsing version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Happening Brother?, giving voice to indomitability in the face of unrest. How times change, huh?

The group reinvent When a Man Loves a Woman as a straightforward midtempo swing tune: Rodriguez adds judicious gospel touches, with an exuberant solo from Benack. Stephenson and Claffy build intensity with a rubato-ish intro to On the Street Where You Live. then they swing it with a low-key simmer, Rodriguez’s hard-hitting solo giving way to Claffy’s balletesque break.

Stephenson resists reaching for the rafters in a slowly crescendoing take of the Tennessee Waltz, Rodriguez reinventing it with a neoromantic gleam. Stephenson’s smoky, purposeful tenor solo gives Benack a springboard to go for broke with his mute in Ain’t That Love, then he moves to the mic for an emphatic last chorus.

Polka Dots and Moonbeams is probably the last number you would expect a guy to sing: the band give it a lush nocturnal atmosphere, but this is a tough sell, and it’s out of place on what’s otherwise a good party record. On the other hand, the group’s cascading cover of Dionne Warwick’s Can’t Hide Love is a smashing success, Rodriguez fueling the inferno.

The group have fun with Ben Webster’s Did You Call Her Today?, keeping it stealthy until Benack’s trumpet pierces the surface like a missile from a submarine. Stephenson saves his most emotive vocal for his closing duo take of For All We Know with Rodriguez. It’s anybody’s guess where Stephenson is playing next – he’s quite the mystery man on the web – but Benack is leading a quintet at Smalls at 10:30 PM and then hosting the midnight jam session afterward on April 27. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

Singles, Amusement and Inspiration for Mid-March

Today’s self-guided playlist is about a half hour of great songs, some snarky comedy and useful information. Click on artist names for their webpages, click on song titles or descriptions for audio/video.

Top of the list today is Austrian group the Mona Lisa Twins I Bought Myself a Politician, a venomously funny oldtimey-flavored swing parable of the plandemic. The video is great too. “Who would have thought I’d bring the whole world to its knees?” Thanks to Mark Crispin Miller – the other New York Music Daily – for passing this on.

Here’s a succinct, blockbuster two-minute clip by former BlackRock hedge fund manager Edward Dowd, whose analysis of insurance industry all-cause mortality data reveals how the Covid shot killed more young people in the second half of 2021 than were killed in ten years in the Vietnam War. Data like this is what’s going to crash Moderna’s stock value down to zero.

It would have been nice to be able to save this next video for the annual Halloween month celebration of all things creepy, but it can’t wait. This is the World Economic Forum‘s three-minute promo for their planned facial recognition tech-based Known Traveler Digital ID, scheduled to be rolled out in Canada and the Netherlands in 2023. It’s a platform for a Chinese communist-style social credit scheme. Forewarned is forearmed! Thanks to Unacceptable Dr. Jessica Rose, astute analyst of VAERS data, for passing this along

Here’s a beautiful off-the-cuff nine-minute video of the reliably poetic Dr. Paul Alexander – the Linton Kwesi Johnson of the freedom movement – with fearless native New Yorker Dr. Pierre Kory chatting with Laura Lynn at the Freedom Convoy encampment in Maryland after a productive and peaceful day.

Soul songstress Dee Ponder‘s latest single Poor Man has sparkly, expansive retro reverb guitar over a trip-hop beat, up to a surprising late-Beatles outro. “Who’s gonna listen to a poor man’s pain?” The final mantra is Freedom! Fun fact: she’s a former public defender from Rochester.

Paper Citizen‘s Heart on Fire juxtaposes quirky techy verse, catchy swirly chorus and an unselfconscious sense of humor from frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Claire Gohst

Julia Gaeta‘s Weight of You is dense late 80s/early 90s goth as Siouxsie would have done it: uncluttered and merciless.

Dance Back in Time to a Happier Place with the Gabriel Evan Orchestra

One of the funnest albums to come over the transom here over the past several months is the Gabriel Evan Orchestra‘s latest release, Global Entry, streaming at Bandcamp. The inside of the album booklet shows the bandleader lounging in the shade of a ramshackle backyard in South Williamsburg, where this blog’s predecessor was born in 2007. Aldo’s, and the Southside Lounge, and Rock Star Bar, and innumerable neighborhood fixtures from that time are long gone. But this hot jazz group capture not only the excitement of that era, but of another tropically influenced moment in this city about ninety years ago.

They model themselves after the John Kirby Sextet, the popular 1930s group whose specialty was wry jazz arrangements of classical pieces. Fans of the Ghost Train Orchestra will love this stuff. Trumpeter John Zarsky wafts and buzzes amid the bright harmonies of the bandleader’s alto sax and Joe Goldberg’s clarinet over the sotto-voce pulse of pianist Joe Kennedy. bassist Ben Fox and drummer Michael Voelker. All that’s missing is a comedic Spike Jones rap.

Rumba Azul. the first of two 1930s hits by the Lecuona Cuban Boys, has a dixeland flair balanced by a beat that’s practically reggae. The other is the closing number, Rumba Tambah, following a similar trajectory from a lively bounce to more wary tonalities and back: the group really nail that style’s primitive, minimalistically trebly sound.

For Arabian Nightmare, Evan takes a Charlie Shavers arrangement of a famous Rimsky-Korsakov theme which completely changes the beat and adds a cheery midsection: that piano rhythm, veering from quasi-reggae to mambo, is hilarious. South 5th Street. one of a couple of Evan originals. has a brisk, brassy swing along with carefree clarinet and piano solos before Zarsky romps in with his mute. Evan’s other tune here is Negotiations of South Williamsburg, a slinky hi-de-ho mashup of the Ravel Bolero and a nifty. scampering klezmer tune.

The band go into stripped-down calypso jazz for Diane (Tropical Moon), a vehicle for Zarsky’s soulful trumpet. They make fond midtempo swing out of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s Singin’ the Blues and play Ellington’s Jubilee Stomp with an apt, hokum blues-influenced jubilation in their brief solos.

The band use the same jaunty template for Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes. Then they bring the lights down for an undulating, coyly ornamented take of Henry Mancini’s Lujon. From there, Shavers’ Effervescent Blues, done with a strut and choo-choo riffs, makes a good segue..

Sizzling Noir Swing in the Black Hills on the First of the Month

Back in 2018, Minneapolis band Miss Myra & the Moonshiners put out one of the most darkly electrifying oldtime swing albums of the century. The band’s lineup has shifted a bit since then, but they’re still ripping up stages across the northern United States. That record, Sunday Sinning, is still streaming at their music page, and the band have a gig on Oct 1 at 7 PM at the Monument, 444 Mt Rushmore Rd. in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cover is $27.50, but students get in for ten bucks less.

If the creepy, hi-de-ho side of swing is your thing, don’t blink on this record like this blog did the first time around. The group have the chutzpah to start it with their own theme song, Miss Myra leading the sinister romp with her voice and Django-inspired, briskly percussive guitar attack, lead guitarist Zane Fitzgerald Palmer and clarinetist Sam Skavnak spicing the the doomy ambience from trumpeter Bobby J Marks and trombonist Nathan Berry. Tuba player Isaac Heath provides a fat pulse with nimble color from drummer Angie Frisk.

They play Sheik of Araby with a hint of noir bolero on the intro, then they go scrambling with a hearty jump blues-style call-and-response between Myra and the guys. The Kaiser, an ominously steady klezmer swing tune, has bowed bass and a sinister bass clarinet solo from Skavnak before Palmer goes spiraling up into the clouds.

Likewise, Miss Myra’s creepy downward chromatics in Egyptian Ella, Skavnak’s clarinet front and center. Everybody Loves My Baby is brassier – five songs in, and we’re still in a minor key. Sunday Sinning (Palmer’s Bar) features a sizzling tradeoff from the clarinet to Palmer’s guitar solo. They close the record with the stomping, brisk Red Hot & Blue Rhythm – the only major-key song on the record – the ending screams out for audience participation. South Dakotans are obviously in for a treat on the first of the month.

A Familiar Favorite on the Oldtime Swing Scene Return For an East Village Dance Party

Until the lockdown last year, Baby Soda were one of the busiest bands on the New York oldtimey swing circuit. They’re also one of the most original. Where Svetlana & the Delancey Five began to bring in repertoire from the 40s on forward, along with more outside-the-box arrangements, Baby Soda distinguished themselves as improvisers. What made their shows so much fun is that they didn’t just try to replicate those old 78s: they’d keep the dancers going, with all kinds of wild interplay and solos, for minutes on end. They’re back to their old tricks, with an outdoor show this Sept 24 at about 7 PM to kick off this year’s LUNGS Festival in the East Village at La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez, Ave C and 9th St.

They recorded their live album – streaming at Bandcamp – at their main haunt, Radegast Hall, back in 2011 (sadly, the venue doesn’t have music anymore). There’s been a rotating cast of players filtering through the band over the years. The record has the original core unit of Emily Asher on trombone and vocals, Adrian Cunningham on clarinet and tenor sax, Jared Engel on banjo and Kevin Dorn on drums. Peter Ford plays box bass and Kevin V Louis plays cornet; both sing.

The sound quality is vastly better than you would expect from an outdoor show on a Saturday at a crowded Williamsburg beer garden. The opening number, a boisterous take of the old hokum blues revenge tune You Rascal You, is a red herring: don’t be fooled by the relative brevity of this song because the other numbers here go on for much longer. Ford sings it; guest clarinetist William Reardon Anderson bubbles within a cheery web of dixieland counterpoint.

The rest of the album is more solo-centric. The instrumental Weary Blues is anything but tired: Louis’ moment where he spirals out of the sky draws a roar from the drinkers. The band follow with a New Orleans mardi gras shuffle, a dixieland remake of a hymn, then When You Wore a Tulip with its energetic guy/girl vocals.

Cunningham’s modulated clarinet solo on the midtempo drag Whinnin Boy is another highlight. A deliciously klezmerized take of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho is the best song of the afternoon, with an ecstatic cornet/drums duel.

After a booty-shaking Palm Court Strut, Asher moves to the mic for an undulating take of Sugar and then shows off her signature, devious sense of humor with her horn. Ford must like the mean songs because he takes over on vocals again on Nobody’s Sweetheart Now. They go out in a blaze of Glory Glory. A good choice to open the festival on the 24th.

Party Like It’s 1929, or 2019, With Megg Farrell and Ricky Alexander

For the last few years before the lockdown, Sweet Megg & the Wayfarers were one of New York’s top hot 20s-style swing dance bands. They held down a regular Radegast Hall residency and if memory serves right were also one of the main attractions at the now-discontinued Porchstomp festival on Governors Island. Radegast Hall may no longer have music, and these days Governors Island visitors are subject to a clusterfuck of the World Economic Forum’s New Abnormal restrictions. But the core of the band, frontwoman Megg Farrell and multi-reedman Ricky Alexander are still partying like it’s 2019 and have a high-voltage new album, I’m in Love Again, streaming at Spotify. It’s a lot of fun figuring out which are the originals and which are the covers here. Sometimes it’s hard to tell: the band really know their hot jazz inside out.

The opening track, My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms has a jaunty, brassy dixieland interweave contrasting with Farrell’s mentholated purr. We get a red-flame forward drive from Mike Davis’ trumpet and Rob Edwards’ trombone, plus a bouncy solo from Alexander’s clarinet over Dalton Ridenhour’s saloon jazz piano and the steady bass and drums of Rob Adkins and Kevin Dorn. It sets the stage for the rest of the party.

Alexander switches to balmy tenor sax for the shuffling ballad Foolin’ Myself, Farrell calm and cool overhead. That’s none other than the great Jerron Paxton on the acoustic blues guitar.

Edwards and Davis square off for a playful duel in Right or Wrong, setting up a slyly amusing clarinet break, Farrell unexpectedly dropping the composed facade and reaching for the rafters. She gets even more diversely seductive after that in Squeeze Me, as the band keep a tightly matching beat going, Davis and Alexander trading solos.

Farrell and Paxton (on banjo here) duet on the coyly innuendo-fueled Last Night on the Back Porch. The horns duel and then make way for a wry Paxton banjo break in Angry, then the group slow everything down for I Got It Bad, with a lusciously lustrous, Ellingtonian arrangement and Alexander’s most affecting sax solo here.

Ragged But Right has a rustic hokum blues vibe and a deviously perfect early 30s vernacular. The band take the vibe about twenty years further into the future on album’s title track, with its western swing tinges and Ridenhour’s scrambling piano.

I’d Love to Take Orders From You – yikes, that’s a scary title for 2021 – has the album’s most sophisticated rhythms. The band close it out with A Blues Serenade, awash in lush nocturnal sonics behind Farrell’s expressive, dynamic vocals. Won’t it be fun when we get rid of Cuomo and all the restrictions and bands like this can get the party started at any venue that will have them.