Just Do Art

There’s no simple way to label the harmonically swirling sound of Bryan and the Aardvarks. Is it jazz? Yes, probably. Is it chamber pop? One would think so. Or could it fit within some intricately lush movie soundtrack? Well, you could make the case for that too. But regardless of how anyone spins it, the group, led by bassist and primary composer Bryan Copeland, offers up a tonal blend that is both intellectually impressive and entirely accessible. And for any listener, it’ll be clear that Copeland’s tunes have a fundamentally progressive aura — embracing genre overlaps, rather than clumsily accentuating them — while also featuring plenty of solid improvisation and constant interplay among the band.

Fabian, Joe and Bry are in a box here — and at Cornelia St. Café on March 20 (with Aaron Parks subbing for Fabes).
Fabian, Joe and Bry are in a box here — and at Cornelia St. Café on March 20 (with Aaron Parks subbing for Fabes). PHOTO BY RUSSELL MOORE

Those who have the pleasure of checking out Bryan and the Aardvarks at Cornelia Street Café on March 20 will also get to see some interesting twists on that sound, courtesy of a couple of guest performers. Three of the group’s regular members — vibraphonist Chris Dingman, guitarist Jesse Lewis and drummer Joe Nero — will be in attendance for the gig, but the spot generally filled by pianist Fabian Almazan will be taken by fellow pianist Aaron Parks, an equally engaging player who’s sure to add some unexpected sparks into the set. Other satisfyingly surprising turns will surely result from that night’s addition of a vocalist — namely, the Chilean-born Camila Meza, who is already pretty tight with the Aardvarks, having briefly performed with them in the past.

In any case, you’ll have to decide for yourself when it comes to categorizing their sound — preferably over a drink on Cornelia Street. Or, perhaps more likely, you’ll be captivated enough to forget about all that damned terminology and just dig the tunes.

Thurs., March 20, 8:30pm. At Cornelia St. Café (29 Cornelia St., btw. Bleecker & W. Fourth St.). $10 cover, $10 minimum. Call 212-989-9319 or visit corneliastreetcafe.com. Also visit bryanandtheaardvarks.com.

—Sam Spokony

On “Downton Abbey,” the ruling class may hold the purse strings and claim the greater status — but all the really interesting stuff happens downstairs, where the servants love, laugh, gripe and gossip while they wait to be called upstairs by the ring of a bell. Over a half-century before Carson would give that newfangled toaster a proper dressing down, the Irish servants employed at 29 East Fourth Street, New York City, tended to the Tredwell family’s every need. Called by the same bell system as their TV counterparts, it was backbreaking work — performed without the benefit of Downton’s domestic assistance contraptions (no sewing machines, no refrigerators). But where did they come from, how did they accomplish their work and what did they do on a rare day off?

This March, Irish history comes alive — inside “Manhattan’s most haunted house.”   COURTESY OF THE MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM
This March, Irish history comes alive — inside “Manhattan’s most haunted house.” COURTESY OF THE MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM

Like those busy servants, The Merchant’s House Museum does some impressive multi-tasking of its own — with a series of March events highlighting the role of Irish servants in local 19th century life. It’s a fitting tribute. The wealthy Tredwell family’s lavish home (intact, as it was during the 1835-1865 period) is one of NYC’s oldest remaining sites of Irish habitation.

At 1pm on March 16, 23 and 30, “In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: A Walking Tour” begins at the house, and then explores the surrounding neighborhood — revealing where the servants shopped, worshipped and went to find employment. The 45-minute event is $10, $5 for students/seniors. On March 16, tours at 12:30, 2 and 3:30pm (included with admission) celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. “A Tribute to the Tredwells’ Irish Servants” includes a visit up the narrow staircase, to the just-restored fourth floor servants’ quarters. At 6:30pm on March 21, the “Spirits of the Irish Candlelight Ghost Tour” explores the museum’s well-earned reputation as “Manhattan’s most haunted house.” The scene of ghostly sightings for decades, many of the most compelling occurrences have been related to the Irish servants. This 50-minure tour is $20, with reservations required. The next ghost tour, sans Irish theme, happens on April 18.

At the Merchant’s House Museum, 29 East Fourth St. (btw. Lafayette & Bowery). Find a full schedule of events by visiting merchantshouse.org or calling 212-777-1089. Also see facebook.com/merchantshouse and, on Twitter: @merchantshouse. Regular museum admission: $10, $5 for students/seniors. Hours: Thurs.-Mon., 12-5pm.

—Scott Stiffler