Skip to main content

4 CDs: Kurt Weill, Salina, Angry Metal and Smoked Herring

It's a safe bet to assume you have never heard "Mack The Knife" interpreted like The Julia Hulsmann Quartet featuring Theo Blackman. Other sounds you have never ever heard before include a band comprised of but two bassists and a drummer plus the kind of introspective songs that Salina Sias (pictured) has brought from Texas to Brooklyn. We top it all off with some delicious post-bop Smoked Herring.

You can't get much cooler than these two. Meet New Yorker Theo Bleckmann and Germany's Julia Hulsmann, the abstract and impressionistic piano player whose quartet with Tom Arthurs (trumpet and flugelhorn), Marc Muellbauer (double bass) and Heinrich Kobberling (drums) is making international waves. They recently convened in Oslo, Norway to record "A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America" (ECM) by The Julia Hulsmann Quartet featuring Theo Blackman Every generation since German Composer Kurt Weill [1900-1950] lived his all-too-short life (he suffered a heart attack in New York) has adopted him as their own. That's how universal and beloved his compositions are. He's been covered by Lou Reed ("September Song"), Louis Armstrong ("Mack The Knife"), Billie Holiday ("Speak Low"), The Doors ("Alabama Song") and hundreds of others. Bleckmann has sung everything from Charles Ives and Kate Bush to Shakespearean sonnets set to song. In past projects, Hulsmann has added melodies to the poetry of e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson. Here, she works wonders with the words of Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash, Maxwell Anderson, Walt Whitman, Ira Gershwin and Bertold Brecht. The tempos are luxuriously slow: "These wonderful lyrics seem to demand you give them space," she explains. Thus, for instance, Whitman's poem, "A Noiseless Patient Spider," turns a beautifully-observed meditation into an elegant Monk-Mysterioso-styled vehicle for piano and Bleckmann's warm captivating vocal charm. Arthurs plays a decidedly Miles-like trumpet throughout and the result is a sly, hipper-than-hip cabaret of existential proportions. Here's a fine young lady from Texas whom I'd love to buy a drink next time I go to Brooklyn NY where she now lives. Singer-Songwriter Salina Sias was a border kid influenced by the Tejano music on the Mexican side. She's battled obstacles her whole life, losing her right eye and even her voice between the ages of 17 and 31. With her first love--classical music--as her muse, by the time vocal coaches coaxed her voice back, she had bought a guitar and realized her mute condition was psychosomatic. That's when she discovered her three-octave range. With the release of a highly personal six-song EP, "New Day Comin'" (Eclectic Muse Productions), she takes stylistically from the deep Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake well to craft poignant observations in a timeless contemporary folk mode all gussied up with cello, bass, drums, harmonium, keyboards, percussion, background vocals and strings. So I'm standing outside of one of the best damn CD (and vinyl) stores I know, Main Street Jukebox in Stroudsburg, PA (the Poconos), heading into a Hot Tuna/Leon Russell concert at The Sherman Theater, when an old acquaintance of mine from my metal days slides a CD into my hand. It took me six months or so to finally spin it but when I did, I was shocked into submission by its creative instrumental veracity (no singer!) of bass, drums and another bass. I've always maintained that a lot of metal sounds great until the singer opens his mouth and it all turns to garbage so the idea of a singer-less metal band is fine by me. These boys--Kevin on bass, Steve on drums, and Will on bass--rock. They truly rock. A thousand hails to King Dead for adding some much-needed angry loudness to my day. "Night And Day" (Smoke Sessions Records) has alto saxophonist Vincent Herring leading a quintet with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer Joe Farnsworth on such worthy material as Donald Byrd's "Fly Little Bird Fly," Cedar Walton's "Theme For Jobim" and Cannonball Adderley's "Wabash." (Herring and Pelt play in the Cannonball Legacy Band after Herring spent nine years with Cannonball's brother Nat Adderley). Herring had spent much of his professional life with Walton, the hard bop pianist who died in 2013 at the age of 79. "All of us are Cedar's musical children," says Herring. "I wish we could have played this one for him." Usual Smoke Sessions are recorded live at the posh Upper West Side Manhattan club Smoke but this one was done in a studio so every last cymbal tap is crystal-clear and there's no crowd noise to stifle the purity of sound. Herring's two originals are phenomenal: "The Adventures Of Hrun Joo Lee" gallops on at breakneck tempo. (It's based on Coltrane's "Countdown.") "Smoking Paul's Stash" closes things out with a groovy blues that you can get high on.

Bleckmann, Hulsmann by Volker Beaushausen ECM
KING DEAD 2015 copy