Thursday, June 14, 2012

Must-Here Music

My favorite regular live band these days is Boston's Dub Apocalpyse, which plays every Sunday at Bull McCabe's in Somerville (though they also play sporadically elsewhere). Grab surprisingly well-recorded gig recordings here. Guitarist/leader Johnny Trama, once he gets warmed up, is consistently oh-my-god great. He's the only constant in a fluidly-populated group centered on reggae/jam (they call it "high flyin experimental dub"), but which digresses into funk, blues, jazz, and most everything else.

I'm fussy about "trad" jazz, in the 1920's/1930's style. Very often it's shticked-out and stylized. But very late every Tuesday night at Mona's on Avenue B near 14th in Manhattan, younger guys (led by clarinetist Dennis Lichtman) play, and they really swing and listen to each other, making this one of the warmest and most alive-feeling weekly live music events in the city. Great vibe all around. It's wonderful, and a bit disorienting, to see a full (sometimes overwhelmingly full) crowd of twenty-somethings appreciating this stuff. Maybe this is trendy...what the hell do I know? Mona's is an old Irish dive bar (their great Irish music sessions take place, I think, Monday nights). Have a shot of Red Breast Irish whiskey, which is the absolute bomb.

A remarkable modern jazz CD: Bill Anschell's "Figments". Musicians get self-conscious when they record. The result is the very opposite of the sort of looseness which produces the most affecting results. In fact, the sound of recorded music is, for the most part, the sound of uptight musicians. The time to hear a musician at her/his best is late at night, with no one listening (paradox duly noted). Pianist Bill Anschell, who also pens the hilarious Mr P.C. jazz advice column (my fave is "Jazz Jam Sessions: A First-Timer’s Guide") has managed to trap lightning in a bottle, offering, via some miracle, the genuine sound of a pianist, all alone, late at night, at home winding down after a (likely aggravating) gig. This is the undiluted real stuff, with no aim to impress, just honest unselfconscious expression. It's like a Zen koan, and I have no idea how he pulled it off.

Does classical music often strike you as stiff and starchy? That's only how they play it now. Back in the day, before its fresh-by date had long passed, it was radically hip and juicy, and intended to sound improvised. Arbiter Records releases rare historical recordings that connect you to that dimly remembered time when this music was alive and breathing (plus they offer some "world" music). Almost everything in the catalog is worth having, but here are a few not to miss (the first is actually contemporary, but played super-fresh):

Arbiter 102: The New Ravel (liner notes)
Arbiter 109: The Hambourg Legacy (liner notes)
World Arbiter 2002: Dances and Trances (liner notes)
and World Arbiter 2004: Lost Sounds of the Tao (liner notes)

Jazz pianist to watch for: Helen Sung. She's got unusually fleet technique and meticulous consistency, but I don't care about such things. What I'm into is her musical intuition and inventiveness. It's subtle, so you need to listen quite closely.

Very useful NYC music listing: The Gigometer.

And, finally, Rubblebucket. I don't love their most recent CD; they're blanding up a bit (can't blame them; touring around in cult obscurity gets old). But any of their previous recordings (like this one or this one or this one) are great. Want to instantly fall in love? Check out the video for one of their best tunes, "Came Out of a Lady", below. Fun fact: I play sousaphone in one of their videos (though you can hardly see me, so don't bother searching).

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