I adore the surprises that happen at jam sessions or when musicians are asked to play alongside each other in new combinations, but Heaven smiles on that rare entity, a WORKING BAND. The Brain Cloud, led by Dennis Lichtman (clarinet, violin, mandolin, and more) is such a remarkable entity — and they’ve just released their third CD, “Live at Barbes.”
Photo by Seth Cashman
Here’s a sample: music does speak louder than words!
Dennis Lichtman and all the members of the Brain Cloud have created the world’s most swinging, melodic “safe space”: which is to say, a place where all kinds of lyrical music are welcome to flourish — not historical or archaeological, but alive now.
Once upon a time, we know, there was just MUSIC — a beautifully undulating landscape as far as we could see. Then, people looking to sell product — journalists, publicists, record company executives, even some musicians — came and divided the landscape up into little fiefdoms whose occupants glared at one another. The Brain Cloud suggests that a return to the prelapsarian world is possible: imagine a record store where The Carter Family and Benny Carter are friends, where Lester Willis Young and Bob Willis share a drink, a cigarette, and a story. Or a place where double-entendre blues sit in the same pew as hymns, where “Dixieland,” “roots music,” “Americana,” all those dazzling names for what is essentially the same thing, coexist beautifully, because they are all only music that has stories to tell and in the telling, enlightens the listener.
Photo by Tom Farley
To the music: as you can hear and see above, the opening track on this CD, JEALOUS HEARTED ME, is no academic exercise: a Carter Family song, it reminds me of rocking Fifties rhythm and blues, with an outchorus that would equal any Eddie Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE. The expert Merrymakers here are Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle; Tamar Korn, vocal improvisations; Skip Krevens, guitar, vocals; Raphael McGregor, lap steel guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.
Each track is wonderfully itself — the CD isn’t a monochromatic blur — but each is a joyous lesson in the merging of “styles.” So aside from the “roots” classics — venerable as well as new (from Jimmie Rodgers and Patsy Cline) — there’s Alex Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME (hooray!) and the 1939 Broadway song COMES LOVE and the Twenties LONESOME AND SORRY and IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW.
Since the Brain Cloud has had a long residency at Barbes (on Monday nights) there is a delightful mix of exuberance and comfort. Everyone’s made themselves to home, as we might say. And — in case you worry about such things — the recorded sound is excellent. Those who have been to Barbes already have multiple copies of this disc; if you’ve never made it into Brooklyn for such frolics, you’ll want your own copy. And on a personal note: listening to the Brain Cloud has helped me to drop my own narrow suspicions of music that I didn’t think was “jazz,” always a good thing; I’ve been following them since 2009, and this disc is a wonderful encapsulation of what the band does so well.
Here you can find out more about the Brain Cloud, hear more music, buy this disc, or a download, or even as a limited-edition cassette. And more. Don’t just sit there! Move that cursor!
May your happiness increase!