Dennis Lichtman

Dennis Lichtman and The Brain Cloud at Rodeo Bar

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Dennis Lichtman blew me away the only time I saw him, 10 months ago, at Mona’s. That night, he was doing his weekly Mona’s Hot Four gig, where he plays the clarinet. Our friend Melissa Tong took us there, specifically to hear Dennis. Here’s what I wrote about his clarinet play and her response to me:

Dennis Lichtman was that clarinet player. When I mentioned that to Melissa, she told me that he doesn’t consider the clarinet to be his strongest instrument. Say what? Now I have to find him and watch him play every other instrument, first ensuring that my seat belt is on and my tray table is locked in its upright position!

Dennis has another regular setup called The Brain Cloud. In that group, Dennis plays mandolin and fiddle. I’ve had a number of close encounters trying to get to see The Brain Cloud. They used to play every Monday night at Banjo Jim’s. I assumed I’d catch them there sometime, but then Banjo Jim’s closed. Sad smile That Monday gig moved to Barbes in Brooklyn. I might make it there, but the stars need to align (and I have to update my passport) to get us to Brooklyn (where we both grew up and spent all of our formative years). Smile

DennisLicthman

When I got Dennis’ email newsletter announcing a show at Rodeo Bar, not too far from our apartment, I knew that nothing else happening in NYC last night would push this off my calendar (and there was a ton happening at Rockwood Music Hall!). We had never been to Rodeo Bar (27th Street and 3rd Avenue), but we’ve driven by it 100 times. I had no idea they had live music, now I do.

We walked over thinking that this would be a noisy neighborhood bar (not unlike Mona’s) with Brain Cloud playing in some corner. Happily, I was wrong (I usually am). Rodeo Bar is a Tex-Mex restaurant bar, with two rooms. One is a more typical local sports bar, and the other is more of a casual restaurant with a real stage area. They have a real sound board and a full-time sound engineer working it. We were both extremely impressed with the sound quality.

The people in our room were an awesome audience. Super quiet during the songs, fully appreciative after each song was over. While we only had drinks, the food looked so good that I’m sure we’ll be back for a meal, with or without music being involved.

On to the music. The Brain Cloud is a mix of Bluegrass, Old Time Jazz, Western Swing, Big Band Lite, etc., sometimes all together in a single song. It’s all covers (or at least everything on their CD and in last night’s show were), so the musicians better be good.

Not to worry my pretties. Dennis is indeed masterful on both the mandolin and fiddle. I might still prefer his clarinet play, but that might also be biased by that being my first introduction to him. Dennis also sang a bit of background harmony. There are five more people in Brain Cloud. The bass player and drummer from the CD were not part of last night’s lineup.

Left-to-right on stage:

Skip Krevens on electric guitar and lead vocals. Skip played the electric beautifully. He sang lead vocals on one song. His vocals last night were OK. On the CD, he sings lead on one song and comes across much better.

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Raphael McGregor on lap steel guitar. Fantastic! Tasty play, including duels with Dennis.

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Tamar Korn on lead vocals (lots of links about Tamar, but I couldn’t find her own website). Tamar has a voice that is very suited to Bluegrass and old-time Jazz (like the Andrews Sisters). It’s high, and has a bit of a Betty Boop flavor. She’s a showman (showwoman?), in her expressions and movements, including dancing around when she’s not singing. During one instrumental, she sat right near us and couldn’t have been lovelier.

TamarKorn

Scott Kettner on drums. Scott is not the drummer on the CD, but I didn’t feel cheated. He was excellent, including a number of solos. This style of drumming is generally understated, but that doesn’t make it easy.

ScottKettner

Ian Riggs on upright bass. Ian was also replacing the bassist from the CD, and as with Scott above, I thought Ian was excellent. He took a number of solos. In one number, Ian and Scott traded solos back-and-forth, with Scott supporting Ian on the high-hat. Wonderful!

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I mentioned above that Tamar sat next to us during one of the instrumentals (she sat for two songs, the second was when Skip sang lead). The instrumental was Mission to Moscow. It was awesome.

When the first set was over (they played two sets, split over three hours) I went up to Dennis and bought a copy of The Brain Cloud CD (it’s self-titled). When I popped it in this morning, I was thrilled to find that Mission to Moscow was the first song. The entire CD is excellent.

Glad to have finally caught Dennis again, playing two additional instruments. Glad to have discovered Rodeo Bar. Glad to have been able to walk to/from a music venue.

Dennis Lichtman and Mona’s Hot Four

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This post is really a continuation of the previous one, but I was so blown away by my experience that I felt it needed to stand on its own. They link to each other at the appropriate head and tail ends for those that want to read through the night as a single event.

Melissa Tong won the gentle arm twist and we grabbed a cab over to Mona’s.

First, as life-long New Yorkers, it never ceases to amaze me how many facets of the city are not only undiscovered by us, but are actually invisible to us. Mona’s is one such place, but I’ll bet a lot more than $1.75 that it’s one of dozens of such places.

It’s a neighborhood bar, and a very crowded one at that. It feels like two railroad cars. The front room is the bar itself (long and narrow room) and the back room has a pool table and a bit more space to sit. Next to the end of the bar, right where the two rooms meet, is an upright piano (ancient looking). In that tiny space, where you might expect to fit one or two other musicians, an entire music scene is in full gear.

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At one point eight people were jamming at the same time (trumpet, trombone, clarinet, piano, upright bass, two banjos and an instrument I never saw before, some kind of finger steel drum, played brilliantly). There were as few as four playing (when we first walked in) comprised of piano, guitar, upright bass and clarinet. People (musicians) kept coming and going with their instruments strapped on their backs, waiting for their turn to jump in.

PianoClarinetTromboneTrumpetAtMonas

Here’s a fuzzy photo of the finger steel drum thingy. Feel free to comment if you know what it’s called. Smile

FingerSteelDrumThingy

Most of the music was ragtime/Dixieland, with a bit of more mellow jazz thrown in for good measure. To say it was awesome would be to understate it dramatically. The clarinet player was killing me he was so good.

Dennis Lichtman was that clarinet player. When I mentioned that to Melissa, she told me that he doesn’t consider the clarinet to be his strongest instrument. Say what? Now I have to find him and watch him play every other instrument, first ensuring that my seat belt is on and my tray table is locked in its upright position!

Now I have to blow my own mind (and yours, if you are open to that kind of stuff). When I went to dennislichtman.com to link it to his name, I saw that he has a few projects. In addition to his regular jam at Mona’s, he has a group called Brain Cloud. That name sounded familiar. I looked at my open tabs in Firefox and saw that a week ago I opened a tab to the Brain Cloud section of dennislichtman.com, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Someone (Melissa, Kevin, Alex?, I’m thinking Kevin!) told me that I had to check out Brain Cloud. I dutifully opened a tab with the intent of doing so, then got so busy with shows every night (you can read my thoughts on each one) that I haven’t gotten to it yet. I was clearly destined to know about Dennis and at least one of my friends (sorry that I can’t even remember who told me about him!) knew that was the case.

Here’s a second thing that amazed me about the scene at Mona’s. We normally get really annoyed if people even whisper at the shows we attend. We’re there to enjoy the music and respect the artists. At Mona’s, the context seems different. Yes, there’s a show of sorts going on, and yes, it’s specifically about the music, but no, it’s not a concert, it’s a jam, in a local bar.

The social scene is loud (very loud) and buzzing/humming non-stop. People who really prefer to hear more of the music than hang out naturally gravitate as close to the musicians as they can get, and somehow tune everyone/everything else out. Don’t get the mistaken impression that people who are talking loudly aren’t simultaneously enjoying the music. We too were part of a loud four-way conversation for the first 45 minutes that we were there, but I was also soaking in every note.

Then, when the steel-finger-drum thingy joined the jam, Melissa suggested we get a closer look. I stood in the door-jam between the rooms for the next 30 minutes, away even from the people I came with and soaked up the music for another 30 minutes. At 12:30am, Lois and I decided that we had pretended to be young long enough and we called it a night, though it was really hard to walk away from that music!

We’ll be back at Mona’s, count on it! Smile