Monday, April 14, 2008

More nonsense wot I wrote

Sadly there's no Beard radio this week, due to technical problems at Subcity. We'll be back next week though, bringing the motherfucking ruckus. With magnitude.

Anyway, here are a couple of things I wrote recently for Scottish indie webzine Is This Music? The Bert Jansch one strives for purple prose a bit too much and ends up a pale shade of blue, but them's the breaks. The Fanfare Ciocarlia is ludicrous. I quite like it.

Fanfare Ciocarlia

Celtic Connections @ Glasgow Old Fruitmarket (January 18th '08)

Fanfare Ciocarlia are totally metal. Certainly the most metal band at Celtic Connections. Now, it might seem odd to describe a Romanian gypsy brass band as metal, but bear with me here. Lightning speed tempos, colossal low-end riffs, wailing virtuosic solos and the odd Steppenwolf cover? ‘nuff said.

Granted, it’s a bit of stretch, but my point is that a group like Ciocarlia shatter any preconceptions about worthy “world” music with one gulping rasp of their euphoniums. They fuckin’ rock dude, and what’s more, they’re insanely funky, the rowdiest party band around. But as their name suggests – it means skylark – they’re capable of moments of grace and lyricism too.

You may have heard them in Borat, giddily honking their way through ‘Born To Be Wild’. Or you may have heard them on Hawk & A Hacksaw’s ‘The Way The Wind Blows’ bringing colour and fire to Jeremy Barnes’ compositions. Either way, their mightiness is self-evident.

They take to the stage in waves. First come the tuba and euphonium players, lining up against the back of the stage to lay down some quaking basslines. Then come the trumpets and percussionists, before the band leaders, sax/clarinet whiz Oprică Ivancea and trumpet heroes Rădulescu Lazăr and Costică “Cimai” Trifan arrive to decorate the band’s infectious grooves with dizzying leads.

What follows is nigh on two hours of glorious Balkan dance tunes, where Romanian tradition gets down with Macedonian, Albanian and Serbian styles, before hot-stepping across the Mediterranean to shake down with Turkish and Arabic sounds. Ciocarlia owe a great deal formally to the great jazz bands of Ellington and Basie, so it’s apt that they give Sir Duke’s Caravan a Romany makeover.

The encore sees Ciocarlia step off the stage and into the crowd, weaving their way into the centre of the auditorium to play unamplified. Of course, they still blast the roof off. It’s a masterful way to end the show, band members shaking hands and selling CDs as they work the crowd. Lightning Bolt eat your heart out.
//Stewart Smith

Bert Jansch / Espers / Eliza Carthy
Celtic Connections @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (Wed January 23rd)

The daughter of Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy is folk aristocracy, but she’s never been one to preserve the tradition in aspic. Her latest material, showcased tonight, sees her fuse English folk with trad jazz, suggesting some imaginary jam session between Cleo Laine and Fairport Convention. Toss in a little Cajun zydeco and the odd reggae rhythm and you’ve got a pretty heady concoction. These global-roots fusions can sometimes be a bit bland, the ingredients losing some of their flavour in the cooking, but a crack band, led by the outstanding Phil Alexander (of Salsa Celtica and Moishe’s Bagel fame) on piano and accordion, and Carthy’s fiery fiddle playing and gorgeously salty Yorkshire voice, give the music real character.

Playing a one off show ahead of Meg Baird’s short solo tour (which didn’t include Glasgow – boo!), Philadelphia’s Espers have left their cello and organ at home, resulting in a relatively stripped down performance. As a result, they don’t quite recreate the heady opium scented textures of their records, but Baird’s airy vocals drift gorgeously over the group’s intricate guitar picking and shuffling drums. Sound problems bedevil the start of their set – biscuit tin drums and a barely audible bass do not make for psychedelic bliss – but it comes together for fine renditions of ‘Moon Occults The Sun’ and ‘Mansfield & Cyclops’. With no organ to keep him occupied, Greg Weeks assumes the role of prog guitar shaman, coaxing wisps of black smoke feedback and purple clouds of fuzz-wah from his amp. All of which makes their choice of covers – Blue Oyster Cult and Durutti Column - less surprising than they might first seem. Sure, they recall Pentangle’s jazz-tinged psych-folk, but Espers have a dark, ominous quality that hints towards an acquaintance with doom, drone and Japanese psychedelia, as well as folk’s dank, shadowy corners.

Having appeared on Jansch’s latest album, Black Swan, Espers might have been expected to join the old master on stage tonight. Alas, it was not to be. Not that I’m complaining; Jansch is an absorbing solo performer. Never the most commanding of vocalists, he sounds as crumpled as a discarded paper bag at first, while the sound crew struggle to capture his acoustic guitar clearly. But all this passes soon enough. He eases us in with the beatnik blues of the classic Strolling Down The Highway, a sweet shrug before the more characteristically intense material that makes up the bulk of the set. To sporadic cheers, Jansch doffs his cap to Anne Briggs, the great English folk singer who taught him Black Water Side. His voice may be a little too gruff to do the melody – one of the most starkly beautiful in the tradition – justice, but the brilliance lies in his inspired guitar arrangement, his modal chording connecting British folk to the Middle East and the blues. Never as flashy as his mentor Davey Graham, or his old Pentangle sparring partner John Renbourn, Jansch chooses to serve the songs with inventive chordings and complex right hand orchestrations, rarely breaking into a solo. His voice comes into its own on originals like Poison, his weathered baritone taking on a compellingly sour edge. Jackson C Frank’s Blues Run The Game is suitably bleak in his hands, and he makes a fair stab at the Appalachian ballad Katie Cruel, while never reaching the devastating depths of Karen Dalton’s incredible reading. With new material like Black Swan standing proudly beside his classics, Jansch sounds as relevant as ever. Long may he run.

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