Lake Street Dive Brings Down the House at Ithaca’s State Theatre

LSD

The initials of Lake Street Dive may spell LSD, but the music of this Brooklyn-based quartet is no hallucination. It’s as real as it gets. Especially real was the energy on Sunday night as, one by one, the band took to the State Theatre stage. Drummer Mike Calabrese established a beat, standup bassist Bridget Kearney locked in a groove and guitarist Mike Olson laid down a few chords before singer Rachael Price ignited the room like a barbeque grill as she launched into “Rabid Animal.” This tune, one of a handful off the new album Bad Self Portraits, raised the bar high for any other indie acts set to grace these parts in the near future. With their engaging cocktail of soul, rock, and Beatles-esque backbone, LSD brought professionalism to every twist and turn of an 18-song rollercoaster.

As was obvious to anyone there, Price is a natural born performer and by the seventh song (the addictive “Use Me Up”) had the audience on its feet and in the palm of her hand. Combining the follow-through of Amy Winehouse and the rasp of Betty Carter, her voice was sensual, hip and confident to the last drop. No small feat, considering that much of the Portraits material deals with themes of regret, surrender and, perhaps most of all, self-abdication. Whether in the title cut or the bittersweet “Seventeen,” the band’s suave rhythmic sensibilities — anchored by Kearney’s rooted bass lines — and lucid harmonies maintained a spirit of underlying propulsion even in the slowest numbers. Ballads as such were few and far between, and included the soulful spotlight that was “Just Ask.”

BSP

In spite of their all-around proficiency, LSD expressed little interest in instrumental soloing. Rather, they focused on maintaining a consistent sound that made even the less successful tunes shine with spirit. Of the latter, “Neighbor Song” was the only real expendable. This depressing tale of a lonely girl who laments her bachelorette-hood while listening to her neighbors make love upstairs quickly wore thin and, with each repetition of the chorus, felt just a bit uncomfortable. Then again, so did its protagonist. In any case, by the last song we were fully refreshed and enlivened by LSD’s stellar vibes. They have hit upon a special combination.

As rich it was, the concert might have felt incomplete without its opening act: Signature Sounds label mate Heather Maloney. Armed only with a guitar and a voice from on high, the New Jersey native — now based in Northampton, Massachusetts — was a study in contrasts. Her unique, sometimes-quirky songwriting concerned itself one moment with simple pleasures (“Nightstand Drawer”), morphing the next into an ode to pathos (“Dirt and Stardust,” a fan favorite). With delicate restraint at her fingertips, she told stories of old friendships (“Hey, Serena”) and, in the evocative “1855,” of an immeasurable love captured in a single photograph. In this song her playing was most alive, like ocean waves lapping over one another before a storm.

HM

Despite tempting comparisons to coffee house queens Aimee Mann or Ani DiFranco, Maloney’s closest analogue is perhaps Joni Mitchell, a point confirmed by her heavenly version of the chanteuse’s classic “Woodstock.” Even more remarkable was her closer, “No Shortcuts.” Hearing this Motown-inflected anthem emanating powerfully from her petite frame to the sole accompaniment of the audience’s stomping and clapping left us fully primed for the sunbursts that followed. Like a good novelist, she followed her voice and thoughts to their logical endpoints, leaving us nonetheless wanting more.

(See this article as it originally appeared in The Cornell Daily Sun.)

Marc Sinan: Hasretim – Journey to Anatolia (ECM 2330/31)

2330/31 X

Marc Sinan
Hasretim – Journey to Anatolia

Marc Sinan music, guitars, idea, concept and production
Traditional musicians from Turkey
Mustafa Boztüy
darbuka, framedrum
Güç Başar Gülle oud
Ömer Can Satır kaval
Onur Şentürk kemençe
Erdem Şimşek bağlama
Traditional musicians from Armenia
Araik Bartikian duduk, zurna
Vazgen Makaryan duduk, zurna
Andrea Molino arrangement, conductor (DVD only)
Jonathan Stockhammer conductor
Markus Rindt idea, concept and production
CD recorded live July 2011 at Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival by Volker Greve and Holger Schwark
“Prolog” recorded December 2012 at MIAM Istanbul by Can Karadogan
Mastering: Volker Greve
DVD recorded Ocobter 2010 at Festspielhaus Hellerau
An ECM Production

Classical guitarist Marc Sinan, born in 1976 to a Turkish-Armenian mother and a German father, has over the past two decades attracted increasing demand as a soloist and collaborator, and dedicates his output to softening divides between genres, eras, and cultures. Hasretim represents the most significant evolutionary leap in his career as a composer. The result of a commission by Hellerau – European Center for the Arts Dresden and the Dresdner Sinfoniker, this video-musical journey traces Sinan’s heritage along the Black Sea coast to the Armenian border. More than that, it’s an invaluable archive of life and song on the Anatolian plateau, which he explored together with Dresdner Sinfoniker artistic director Markus Rindt in 2010. During the trip, Sinan was saddened to find that the preservation of folk music so prevalent elsewhere (viz: the Baltic states, Hungary, and Greece) was lacking in Turkey. Consequently, he took Hellerau’s commission as an opportunity to address the discrepancy, pooling a storehouse of traditional musicians and incorporating their art into a large-scale, contemporary piece of his own design. “I was quite nervous,” writes Sinan of the recording process. “Unlike musical field research, our project demanded much more than simply documenting the current state of the Turkish musical tradition regardless of its artistic merit. We were on a treasure hunt and would only rest once we stumbled upon something truly special.” As connections grew, so too did the availability of choice musical talent and the opportunity to capture it for posterity. Once satisfied with his bank of original recordings, to them Sinan introduced what he calls “decisive, subjective elaborations” in the form of both through-composed and improvised material.

Hasretim was originally conceived as an installation piece, with videos of these unrecognized Turkish troubadours (many of whom must balance their musical lives with working ones) projected onto five towering vertical screens at stage rear. Before them plays an assembly of European classical musicians augmented by traditional specialists from Turkey and Armenia. The latter bring their expertise to a veritable portrait of Asia Minor in sound as the oud, kaval, kemençe, bağlama, duduk, zurna, and frame drum hold their own alongside strings and winds. It is to ECM’s credit that its release should encompass both the audio on CD and the visual on an accompanying DVD. For while the music stands alone as a welcoming experience, to see the musicians (live and recorded) in their element, along with segues of candid scenes from Istanbul and beyond, brings out the project’s reach in most immediate terms. Both versions feature essentially the same personnel, with the notable exception of conductors: Jonathan Stockhammer directs the CD version, recorded live at the Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival, while Andrea Molino, also the project’s musical arranger, handles the DVD performance, recorded at Festspielhaus Hellerau.

As indicated by the title, which means “I’m yearning” or “My desire,” Hasretim is a search for roots. Yet it’s also a spray of new foliage in the towering branches, nourished by Sinan’s unique ear for montage. The album is bookended by a “Prolog” and “Epilog.” One is a menagerie of harmonics, blips, and whispers that tightens like a spring, while the other pieces together footage of nearly all the recorded musicians in a chain of reprisals, ending as it began: with an attunement that spans multiple geographies.

Within this frame are five distinct “Tableaux,” each named after a Turkish city or, in the case of “Tableau II – Yayla,” for the mountain pastures where an old man (Haci Ömer Elibol) plays the end-blown kaval while his sheep animate the background. His call, for that is what it becomes in Sinan’s contextualization, inspires some upbeat interweaving. In contrast to the dark fiddling of “Tableau I – Ordu,” which details the face of singer Asiye Göl across all five screens, it more fully includes itself in the musical goings on.

Indeed, voices resound clearest throughout the program, even if certain instrumentalists do stand out for their charisma. There is Hüsseyin Altay on the tulum (Turkish bagpipe), joined by droning brass; the unforgettable Ismail Küçük, who sings and bows his kemençe in “Tableau III – Trabzon” from the back seat of a car, thus underscoring the film’s road movie feel; the duet of Ömer Parlak on kaval and Mesut Kurt (along with Göl, the youngest of those featured) on kemençe; and in “Tableau IV – Erzurum” the rhythmically savvy Aşik Eminoglu accompanying himself on the bağlama to invigorating effect. This same Tableau also cradles “In Memory of Vahide,” a 10-minute duduk duet that interpolates shadows into light. All of this buoys “Tableau V – Kars” as the most compositionally unified vision of live elements (especially in the percussion) and descriptive archival work.

In absence of any background information, one might never know that Sinan witnessed firsthand a loss of connection among contemporary Turkish musicians to their rich heritage, or that their art needed recovery in this regard. Neither was the counterpoint lost on him between the boisterous people and their peaceful, sometimes dreary, settings. Such contrast of medium and message informs every frame and staff of this multimedia treasure trove. Although awarded a special prize by the German Commission for UNESCO for its “inspiring and experimental confrontation between different cultures,” Hasretim is less about experiment than experience and anything but a confrontation. Rather, it is a book to which each new witness adds a page.

(See the article as it originally appeared in RootsWorld online magazine, where you may also hear samples.)

Dino Saluzzi Group: El Valle de la Infancia (ECM 2370)

El Valle de la Infancia

Dino Saluzzi Group
El Valle de la Infancia

Dino Saluzzi bandoneón
José Maria Saluzzi guitar, requinto guitar
Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela guitar
Felix “Cuchara” Saluzzi tenor saxophone, clarinet
Matias Saluzzi electric bass, double bass
Quintino Cinalli drums, percussion
Recorded March-May 2013 at Saluzzi Music Studio, Buenos Aires
Production coordination: José M. Saluzzi
Recording engineer: Néstor Díaz
Mix and mastering: Stefano Amerio
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

Over the past three decades of his association with Munich-based ECM Records, Argentine bandoneón virtuoso Dino Saluzzi has built a new home, but through his output on the label has traced so far back down his old roots that with El Valle de la Infancia (The Valley of Childhood) he might at last have reached the center of the earth. Playing once again with his “in-house” band, last heard with slightly different personnel on 2006’s Juan Condori, he emotes seamlessly with brother Felix on reeds, son José on guitars, and nephew Matías on electric and upright bass. Guitarist Nicolás Brizuela and percussionist Quintino Cinalli round out the extended family portrait. As ever, Dino’s humble beginnings (his father worked on a sugar plantation and played the bandoneón in his spare time before becoming a noted composer himself) manifest themselves in every note, and he credits them with freeing his creative approach. Dino’s mastery is thus so organic that to name it as such barely renders a sketch of his capabilities, as evidenced by this latest excursion. As it turns out, the valley of his childhood is a bountiful place to be.

The program of Infancia juxtaposes standalone pieces alongside compact suites, all of which blend into a meta-narrative dotted by contemplative pauses. At its core, the music (mostly by Dino himself) thrives on warm, impressionistic feelings, so that whenever the band does cohere, the effect is dazzling. “Sombras” welcomes new listeners to one of the most recognizable sounds in all of modern South American music, and old listeners to a familiar, paternal squeeze of the shoulder. The title means “shades” and connotes a mission statement Dino has been crafting since he first laid hands on bellows. His bandoneón exhales magic so potent and with such familiarity, one would swear to have been born in the presence of its melodies. After an intimate introductory sweep, José’s guitar (occupying the mid-left channel) opens its currents and inspires Father Saluzzi to low-flying surveys. Cinalli’s brushed drums (there’s nary a stick to be discerned on the album) lighten the weight of their memory.

Biological linkages strengthen in “La Polvadera” and “A mi Padre y a mi Hijo” (For My Father and Son), each a coming together of such thematic clarity as to whisk the heart away on a cloud. Brizuela’s picking (mid-right channel) contrasts verdantly with José’s nuanced flutter and sway. The two guitarists combine beautifully over butterfly-kissed snare and cymbals in “Churqui.” Cinalli’s rhythmic details make the scenography all the more believable. His patter may be that of rain one moment, the next of a magician who excels in misdirection.

The album’s mini-suites usher in colors from adjacent plains, where crops give way to the tilling of a new generation. Ranging from two to five parts each, the suites cover a range of emotional stirrings and interpret tunes by a handful of late Argentine folk singer-songwriters among Dino’s own. Moods vary accordingly. From the dissonant rainforest activity and droning resolution of “Urkupiña” to the guitar-driven medley that is “La Fiesta Popular,” motifs find their way through thickest forest and driest riverbed alike. Even “Tiempos Primeros,” which nods deepest toward folk traditions, balances images of sleeping and waking in the final curlicue of wind.

The tripartite “Pueblo” captures the band at its purest shade yet. Its introductory guitar solo (“Labrador”), written and played to angelic perfection by José, preludes a nocturnally realized “Salavina,” the most famous zamba (not to be confused with samba) of Mario Arnedo Gallo (1915-2001). The subtle unity forged therein carries over into Part III, the quietly majestic “La Tristecita” by Ariel Ramírez (1921-2010). As throughout the album, each instrument holds its own in equal measure, serving the depth of restraint over the allure of drama. That said, Felix’s tenor casts an inescapable spell: jazzy, gritty, and tasting of soil. All of which labors to remind us that even the most ethereal prisms of art extract their light from the embers of that which came before.

(See this article as it originally appeared in RootsWorld online magazine, where you may also hear samples.)

Stephan Micus: Snow (ECM 2063)

Snow

Stephan Micus
Snow

Stephan Micus douss’n gouni, duduk, maung, gongs, tibetan cymbals, bavarian zither, sinding, steel-string guitar, hammered dulcimers, charango solo, nay, bass duduk, voices
Recorded 2004-2008 at MCM Studios
Produced by Manfred Eicher

For his 18th ECM meditation, German multi-instrumentalist Stephan Micus goes deeper into his travels, into his technique, and into himself. Among his usual bevy of means, the Armenian double-reed duduk—last heard on Towards the Wind—is now a central energy field, its song a balance to the cold. “I’ve always regarded snow as the essence of magic,” notes Micus in this album’s press release, and his impressionistic view of one of nature’s most enigmatic phenomena shines through with a glow all its own. The title track likewise harbors many warm bodies, despite the wintry theme. Two doussn’gouni (a West African harp that Micus debuted on Desert Poems), along with various gongs and cymbals, give the duduk a gentle berth for travel. Guided by breath, not oar, its intense presence rides toward frosty shores, singing of the ice as gateway and kissing the land with its solemnity. Also retained from Desert Poems is the sinding, another West African harp that blends with steel-string guitar, hammered dulcimers, and an ever-growing chorus of voices in “Sara.”

The duduk continues its tender mission across a “Midnight Sea” (accompanied here only by Bavarian zither) and into the arms of “Madre.” The latter speaks further in the language of strings and mallets, and both mix the reeds spatially, so that notes scale from left to right as they ascend. The album’s final track, “Brother Eagle,” features the bass duduk. Along with two sinding and fifteen voices, its near-ghostly sound feels spun from the very earth of which it chants. This marriage of glitter and darkening cloud, of moonlit sailing and glorious dream journeying, advances its subterranean walkabout lead by shadows toward the promise of sunrise.

Making its debut at Micus’s fingertips is the charango, an Andean double-stringed ukulele popularized by Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla. “Nordic Light” is a solo for the instrument, which in this context sounds more like some miniature koto that evokes its aurora with understated flame. Another solo begins “For Ceren and Halil” before being joined by seven more charangos, duduk, nay, sinding, and five hammered dulcimers in an eddying current of leaves and time until they reach the waterfall that makes one of them all. The album’s sole remainder is “Almond Eyes” (11 voices, steel-string guitar, maung), which offers some of Micus’s most impassioned singing yet.

It bears noting that the cover of Snow was painted by father Eduard Micus (1925-2000), a gestural painter who shaped his medium as his son shapes sound. It’s a naked glimpse into the musician’s upbringing, and proof that life is indeed a river that, once frozen, simply awaits the thaw of another realm.

Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Songs Of An Other (ECM 2057)

Songs Of An Other

Savina Yannatou
Primavera en Salonico
Songs Of An Other

Savina Yannatou voice
Kostas Vomvolos qanun, accordion
Yannis Alexandris oud, guitar
Kyriakos Gouventas violin, viola
Harris Lambrakis nay
Michalis Siganidis double-bass
Kostas Theodorou percussion, double-bass
Recorded October 2007 at Sierra Studios, Athens
Engineer: Yannis Baxevanis
Edited and mixed by Manfred Eicher, Yannis Baxevanis, Kostas Vomvolos, and Savina Yannatou
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Songs Of An Other marks the third point of contact between Greek singer Savina Yannatou, along with Primavera en Salonico, and ECM. The program is more geographically varied than ever and emphasizes the interpretive prowess of its musicians. Much of that prowess breathes through Primavera’s superb control, for while the album boasts moments of sportive extroversion, it upholds the music first and foremost as a model for emancipation.

Indeed, Songs Of An Other, shows this collective at both its most animated and its most delicate, oftentimes within the same song. Both the slack-stringed “Za lioubih maimo tri momi,” which comes by way of Bulgarian Macedonia, and “Radile” (from Greece) run the line of straight-up folk and all-out jam. In the latter vein, two new tunes based on Greek sources add another line to the project’s résumé. “O Yannis kai O Drakos” is a dragon-slaying song replete with fanciful colorations, paroxysmal gasps, and subtly frenetic bassing. “Perperouna,” a call for rain, explores the gravelly pits of Yannatou’s voice, embraced by the windy brine of nay and kalimba, all moving in a Celtic knot of rhythm toward an adlibbed comet’s tail. Even the “Albanian lullabye” becomes a ritual of ululations and incantations, honing a mysterious and strangely accessible edge.

For much of the album, however, the musicians tread a delicate path, adapting to every dip in Yannatou’s tightrope along the way. From the dulcet “Smilj Smiljana” (Serbia) to the Italian olive-harvester’s song “Addio amore,” they emote lucidly. Combinations of flute, violin, and accordion cloud like ink in water in “Sassuni oror” (Armenia); dances take the night by the hand in “Dunie-au” (Kazakhstan); and the 16h-century Yiddish traditional “Omar hashem leyakoyv” is practically translucent in sentiment.

The greatest accomplishment of Songs is the fullness with which it romanticizes, as is clear in “Sareri hovin mermen” (Armenia). Given the “Eastern” feel, one might easily read into it an alluring sway. Likewise, “Ah, Marouli,” a Greek song about sponge-divers on the island of Kalymnos, sashays with seeming invitation. And yet, these arrangements are so emotionally (and physically) complete that they hardly need even these words to convey to the uninitiated listener the magic of their self-assurance. And that’s the thing: every step and element of this audible alchemy is as lucid as the light that illuminates the talents of these fine instrumentalists, Yannatou tracing them all the while as a wave might shape an Aegean breeze.

Ketil Bjørnstad/Terje Rypdal: Life in Leipzig (ECM 2052)

Life in Leipzig

Life in Leipzig

Ketil Bjørnstad piano
Terje Rypdal guitar
Recorded live by MDR, October 14, 2005 during the Leipziger Jazztage
Engineer: Matthias Sachers
Produced by Christian Cerny

Pianist Ketil Bjørnstad and guitarist Terje Rypdal present a parallel universe to the former’s duo recordings with cellist David Darling. Despite having performed with Rypdal more than any other musician, Bjørnstad makes here his album debut with Rypdal as a duo. Recorded live at Leipzig’s Opera House in 2005, this document finds both musicians unmasked and in prime lyric form. They are also more focused and impactful in their playing, needing only to listen to each other and to the muses guiding them to sing.

With a Bösendorfer piano at his fingertips, Bjørnstad elicits a heavier sound not heard on previous projects. “The Sea V” thus begins the set in rather dark territory for Bjørnstad, whose lyricism tends to skim the waterline. Only now it scours the ocean floor, a ghost from some ancient wreckage clawing silt and coral into musical rebirth. The pianism gradually turns into sparkle, while Rypdal’s fire remains untainted by the waves—if anything, enlivened by them. Thus the album offers its first of a handful of reprises from The Sea, including also Nos. II and IX. Both overflow with aching nostalgia, the mode of speech between the duo so heartwarming that you’d swear you’ve heard it before, even if for the first time. The latter tune treats us to some rare strumming from Rypdal for a webbed, Bill Frisell-like effect.

Other tracks link back to further group collaborations. From Bjørnstad’s Water Stories we get the utterly fragile “Flotation And Surroundings,” for which Rypdal’s subdued, mid-heavy whispers bob like petals on water, while Bjørnstad dips into some crisp, jazzy playing that takes a page out of Keith Jarrett’s vast book. This in turn elicits from Rypdal a crispness of his own as he carves out a fiercely melodic solo. “By The Fjord” comes by way of The Light. Originally written for voice, it gains even truer vocal quality by virtue of Rypdal’s introspection. His is a physiological bed made up in sheets of gold.

The guitarist’s own Skywards gets props with “The Pleasure Is Mine, I’m Sure.” There or here, it is a luscious and soaring thing, equal parts muscle and fragrant breeze. Two references to If Mountains Could Sing also put Rypdal in the spotlight. The overlapping guitars of “Le Manfred / Foran Peisen” whip up a fiery solo replete with grungy delays. This is a profound moment in the program, and a bursting foray into Rypdal’s cosmology. Fan favorite “The Return Of Per Ulv” closes out the concert in a spirited version. This has a different quality with only a piano to back it. One can almost see it relegated to the corner of a nondescript tavern, even as it blasts its message across tundra and sand. Rypdal’s soloing takes this one to new heights…and depths.

Three standalones round out the set. “Easy Now,” excerpted from Rypdal’s Melodic Warrior, receives an astonishing treatment. Rypdal navigates its chordal landscape with his eyes closed and his pick telepathically attuned to every change in wind. And a fragment of Edvard Grieg’s “Notturno,” a short piano solo with slightest shadows, shifts into a short piece by Bjørnstad entitled “Alai’s Room,” another solo so pretty that might have upset the balance had it been any longer. It offers just enough reprieve.

Even at its most sensitive, the duo maintains an epic quality to its playing. About as good as it gets from either man, and a sheer joy to have them—and no one else—together at last.