This is New York, and you can hear great music any night of the week and many times in a night. Yes, I do go across (and under) the sea strait (“East River”) into Manhattan, and across the creek into Brooklyn (check out my “Now again in Manhattan” blog). Over these past couple of weeks I’ve been to quite a few. “Do you go to music every night” said one of my friends as we met for the third night running in different places. Of course I said the same to him. It’s like that here; a big place but a village feel, especially in Long Island City where you can hear live music on at least four, if not more, nights in the week. Check out: LIC Bar (Sun,Mon,Wed and Sat – see http://www.licbar.com/eventcalendar/evcal.html); Domaine Wine Bar (Jazz on Sun, Mon and more) http://www.domainewinebar.com/calendar.html; Dominies Hoek (Wed.), Madera Cuban restaurant (Fri.). Occasionally you might get music at the New York Irish Center on Jackson Ave. (http://www.newyorkirishcenter.org/events.htm) at Creek and Cave on Jackson (http://creeklic.com/calendar)and LIC Art Center complex (http://www.licartcenter.com/).
Last night I went to a charity event in a nearby apartment building, Avalon Riverview North, organised by opera singer Kirstin Olson. This was in aid of her trip to Paraguay to join in a Habitat for Humanity project where volunteers spend time building houses for poor communities; a charity with real practical tasks that involve people on a very direct level, good for the communities and also good for fostering international understanding. (http://www.habitat.org) This event was just across the road from my apartment building, and a triumph for the community spirit of local businesses including Shi (http://www.shilic.com), Skinny’s Cantina and Manducatis Rustica (www.manducatisrustica.com)who provided the food and drink, as well as the many others who provided raffle prizes and silent auction vouchers.
Three local Jazz artists were involved in this charity event; Anthony Cekay, Christian Coleman and Broc Hempel, offering some nice, finely wrought at the beginning of the evening.
Kirstin offered a range of opera, lieder and “songs from the shows” that showed that she has a great talent. She’s a young singer, properly trained and starting to make her way in her career. Her operatic training showed in both her ability to express a wide emotional range and also to project her voice across a talkative audience. As the evening progressed the two other singers, P J Lovejoy and Sally Swallow suffered from a lack of amplification. They had nice voices but struggled to make themselves heard over the increasing hubbub of the crowd. Sally Swallow (www.sallyswallow.com), in particular has a good theatrical presence, showing that she is a professional and well used to entertaining an audience with a nicely chosen range of songs from musical theatre. Piano accompaniment for the evening was very ably provided by Scott Wheatley, an expert and expressive pianist who played some challenging music with great skill, which showed especially in the complicated and ernergetic lied “Hexenlied” Op 8/8 by Mendelssohn.
I had seen Anthony Cekay and Broc Hempel earlier in the week at an LIC Bar evening which also included singer songwriter Danny Mackane and Leah Gough-Cooper’s “Human Equivalent” band.
Leah Gough-Cooper (http://www.leahgoughcooper.com) played in Emily Wolf’s “Project” band a few weeks previously (see http://sometimeinlongislandcity.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/a-jazz-virgin-in-lic/) and was impressed then by her alto sax playing. “Human Equivalent” allows her to show that she has a wide range of taste and has considereable writing ability. This is a jazz band that rocks in ways that reminded me of Weather Report and Frank Zappa, with driving bass lines from Bryan Percivall, bluesy tough liquid guitar playing from Andrew Baird and solid drums from Bob Edinger.
Leah herself was superb in leading this band and providing sinuous and provocative sax lines that showed she has a huge musical talent. The contrast with her playing for Emily Wolf shows that she has the flexibility and real musicianship that will hopefully offer her lots of work opportunties in an environment where making a living is hard, even for the most talented of musicians.
Originally from South Eastern Scotland, Leah has trained in the US for the last few years and has been very active on the local scene for the past year or so. She chooses her band well. This night’s band had a completely different lineup (except for LGC) to the Human Equivalent that features on their first album “Future Pop“, yet the music has the same rock/jazz feel and shows that she is a young artist who really knows how she wants her music to sound and who chooses musicians who are of like mind and capabilities.
Check out http://www.myspace.com/humanequivalent .
Anthony Cekay is one of those local musicians who pops up on many different occasions at LIC Bar; whether offering sax backing to a tribute show, as part of the band of folk/pop singer Julie Kathryn or, as on this occassion, pairing up with local keyboard man Broc Hempel for a late night improvisation session. Anthony plays a big saxaphone. The tenor sax sits one down from the baritone sax in size and, in a small space can take up a lot of room, both in physical presence and in sound. Anthony himself is not a small guy and in the past I have felt that his habit of moving around a lot on stage has detracted from his music making. However, I was pleased to see that this late night session offered a part of Anthony that I had not seen before. He offered performance that showed considerable concentration. The almost meditative stillness of the music matched stillness in his body. This was not the Anthony who seemed to be showing off, this was the Anthony who just demonstrated skilled music making.
I have great respect for Broc Hempel. He is a hugely talented keyboard player whose playing is always interesting; whether thoughtful and introverted or sparklingly exuberant. I realise that in the past week I have heard him three times (at Domaine Wine Bar on Sunday with Sam Trapchak, Christian Coleman and the amazing Greg Ward, just back from Africa; at LIC Bar on Monday and last night at the Habitat for Humanity event. I do not tire from hearing this man’s music making. he is one of a small group of local musicians whom I credit with having turned me on to Jazz (see my previous blogs http://sometimeinlongislandcity.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/jazz-in-small-spaces/”Jazz in small spaces” and “A Jazz Virgin in LIC”).
Danny Mackane (http://www.myspace.com/dannymackanesound) is a singer songwriter who shares his thoughtful and intelligent songs with a self-effacing but carefully considered performance style. He reminded me, in presence, of the younger Neil Young – hair falling over his face as he moved from guitar to keyboard. Although he does not have Young’s individual voice he shares a perfectionist attitude to the sounds that he wants his guitars to make, whether in themselves as instruments (he had three on stage with him) or in the way that he uses electronics to create the sound he needs. He is a performer who demands to be heard with attention, not an easy task in a popular place like LIC Bar. He did, however, bring his own fans and will have hopefully given others, like me, a first opportunity to really listen and want to hear him again – especially in his own material.
Singer songwriters are not just solo folk artists who sit at the mic in bars, some also have band incarnations within which they express aspects of themselves that more intimate settings do not permit. One such local artist is Little Embers, a young woman who often shares the stage as a backing singer with other singer songwriters like Michele Riganese, Shelly Bhushan and Jeneen Terrana. In fact this group of four (currently known as the Queens of Queens) are coming to LIC Bar in May as a resident act for the five Wednesdays of the month. Embers also has own band and also shares the limelight with Danel Verdugo as the “Darlin’ Clementines“. I caught her full band version of herself at Mercury Lounge last week, when they were the support act for Wormburner. The Mercury Lounge is a popular venue on East Houston Street in that area between East Village/Bowery and Lower East Side that is a true nest of venues like the Living Room and Rockwood Music Hall.
I was pleased that they sold earplugs at the bar as the sound there was one of the worse I have heard in New York City. It was not so much the volume but the quality and frequency spectrum produced by a combination of the system and the sound engineer’s choices. This made it hard to listen to the music, and especially the lyrics. Little Embers writes songs to be both heard and appreciated lyrically. I know I might be sounding like an old grump but, in my defence, I must say that I am not averse to loud music. I have sat 6 feet away from Jimi Hendrix playing “3rd stone from the sun” in the Marquee club in London (a small venue) and only a few weeks ago listened with great pleasure to rock band Alamance ( a great band with a lot of potential) playing loud, energetic and powerful music at the Bowery Poetry Club http://www.bowerypoetry.com/). They have a sound system and engineer that I would place in the top 5 of the sound systems I have heard in small clubs around the world.
Fortunately I was able to buy ear plugs at Mercury and listened carefully to the music from Little Embers; a forceful rock/melodic set that offered energetic performance from Embers, her man, guitarist Anthony Rizzo, Shelly Bhushan (vocals), Rachel Swaner (keyboard, vocals and Accordian), Tony Oppenheimer (bass) and Dave Burnette (drums). I have their album on the rack to listen to next, and I know that they’re are due to go into the studio again in the next few months. I enjoyed this music making and look forward to hearing them again in a better acoustic environment.
I’m aware that there is much music that I haven’t written about here, in fact I’m getting behind with putting band photos up on my facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/profile.php?id=100001041228357) as well. That means I will have to do a catch up sometime soon and talk about Runaway Dorothy, Sam McTavey, Niall Connolly (how have I not praised this man’s music yet in this blog?), Warren Malone, the Sky Captains of Industry, Janeen Terrana, Jefferson Thomas as well as numerous others whom I have had great pleasure in hearing over the past year or so in LIC.
Here’s a plug (is that term used in the US?) for tonight’s show at LIC bar. In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, an impressive line-up of musicians will present a Tribute to Van Morrison from 7-9pm. Also come along on Sunday 18th from 5 until 8 to hear Niall Connolly and Anthony Mulcahy in a Big City Folk special.