New York Stories
Acoustic bassist Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth band goes back 15 years, but the inspiration for the group’s new CD, Epicenter (Clean Feed Records), goes back significantly further. The disc addresses specific New York City venues, thoroughfares and landmarks, offering a peek into what lured the 44-year-old Pennsylvania native to his adopted hometown of Brooklyn.
Epicenter displays a simpatico band capable of delivering such imagery. Bigmouth’s two tenor saxophonists, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, have been onboard for all four of the band’s CDs, and their chemistry is evident on their intertwining lines on the opening track, “Nine South,” and elsewhere. Drummer Gerald Cleaver, also a charter member, effortlessly navigates various rhythmic mazes, like, for instance, the one found on the 5/8-timed “Stillwell,” named for a Coney Island subway stop.
Keyboardist Craig Taborn, who joined the band in 2005, provides glue-like textures, playing Wurlitzer and Hammond organs on the folkish “White Horse” and acoustic piano on the dissonant “Down East.” Both of those songs are named for sites within New York City, and finding out what’s behind the tunes makes them even more interesting.
“The White Horse Tavern is a beautiful old Greenwich Village bar where Dylan Thomas hung out,” Lightcap says. “It’s still open and historically well-preserved, including the original sign. Taborn and I played four-handed Hammond organ on that track. And ‘Down East’ is a nod to the city’s downtown rock scene of the ’60s and ’70s, and clubs from Max’s Kansas City to CBGB. So it’s influenced by ’60s garage bands to the punk era.”
The title track, dedicated to the Village Vanguard, is a swinging piece further energized by Lightcap’s solo. Two of the disc’s quieter offerings, “Arthur Avenue” and “Stone by Stone,” are more romantic visual statements. “My wife, Victoria, is from the Bronx,” Lightcap explains. “One of our first dates was in its Little Italy section, nicknamed Arthur Avenue, with its great restaurants and vibe. And ‘Stone by Stone’ is dedicated to The Cloisters, the structure built by John D. Rockefeller in Manhattan. Every stone is from a castle he bought in Europe and shipped over, turning it into a beautiful series of gardens, rune stones and catacombs.”
The CD’s only cover tune is no less New York. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is a Lou Reed composition that appeared on the 1967 album Velvet Underground & Nico. “I remember hearing that song and noticing Nico’s really deep voice,” Lightcap says. “And immediately I projected that melody into the tenor saxophone range, thinking, ‘That’s for Tony and Chris.’ And it’s my dad’s favorite track, even though he probably doesn’t know who Lou Reed is.” —Bill Meredith
Photo Credit: Peter Gannushkin