Concert Review: ZoRN@MoMA (4/24/2013)

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) played host to a mini-marathon of John Zorn projects in another Zorn@60 event in honor of Mr. Zorn’s 60th birthday (which is in September, but being celebrated with epic concerts all year long).

The concept behind this concert was a beautiful one: each set would be performed in a gallery with ‘matching’ art, with music and artists selected by John Zorn based on where his inspirations for each composition came from. My only complaint was that I wish we’d had a little more time between each set to look at the art, but there was only ten or fifteen minutes between each set, and there were a lot of people in attendance, so we generally scooted between rooms pretty quickly. (Mind you, other people probably didn’t have to power-walk to the Port Authority to catch a bus to Boston afterwards – maybe everyone else went back and spent some more time with the art later.)

The first set was billed as the Gnostic Preludes, which is an album released in early 2012 with performers Carol Emanuel (harp), Kenny Wollesen (vibes) and Bill Frisell (guitar). This performance was a little different, and was a duet between Wollesen and Emanuel with no guitarist.

I have heard the studio recordings of the Gnostic Preludes, but it was a very special experience to see it performed live in that beautiful setting. Some instruments feel very different in a live setting, and to me this set was a great example of that. The sound was so rich and gorgeous. I especially enjoyed watching Kenny Wollesen, he is such a unique performer and he was very animated and interesting to see. I was able to sneak a video of the second piece:

The next set was “Apophthegms for Two Violins,” performed by Chris Otto and Dave Fulmer (both on violin); I believe these were pieces from Zorn’s recent ‘Lemma’ album. (All three of you who get the mathematical reference are chuckling right now, I’m sure.) These pieces were (more…)

Concert Review: Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau (4/14/2013)

On Sunday night I headed across the river to Boston for a show at the Berklee Performance Center – Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau. I’m a member of World Music/CRASHArts, which presented the concert, and I’d picked up a ticket when they put the current season on sale without knowing much about it. I ended up having an unexpectedly busy couple of weeks beforehand and didn’t manage to do any sort of research before the show – I pretty much walked in having no idea what to expect. (This can be a great way to see a concert, though!)

I’d seen Thile a few times before, with the Punch Brothers and with Michael Daves; but I’d never managed to see Brad Mehldau. (I had a ticket to see him at Montreal Jazz Fest once, but the band I saw earlier in the evening was so powerful that I had to go back to my hotel and lie down instead. A lost opportunity, but sometimes even the hardiest concertgoer has a hard time seeing 17+ hours of live music in three cities in one week.) All I really knew was that I should be seeing an interesting mix of a jazz pianist and a genre-defying (but originally bluegrass) mandolin player. Jazz and bluegrass might seem like an odd combination to some people, but they are actually a perfect match; like jazz, bluegrass has a heavy focus on improvisation. Both musicians have huge reputations, so I knew they would be able to pull off whatever they put their minds to.

The majority of songs they played were covers, from a wide range of songwriters (e.g. Fiona Apple, Radiohead, and Bob Dylan). They also played a few originals: one untitled piece by Brad Mehldau and a couple of Thile’s (Chopped Down Your Shade Tree and the Punch Brothers’ Me and Us). It’s hard for me to pick out highlights since the show was of such consistently high quality, but I think if I had to pick favorites I’d go with (more…)

Concert Review: Wovenhand (4/11/2013)

On Thursday I went with a couple of friends to see Wovenhand at Great Scott in Boston. I’ve been a fan of David Eugene Edwards for a long time – one of the very first concerts I ever traveled out of state for was 16 Horsepower at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. Sadly, 16HP broke up years ago, but Mr. Edwards continues to tour with his newer band, Wovenhand.

I unfortunately didn’t do a very good job being a blogger at this show – when I left for work in the morning I wasn’t expecting to be able to attend the concert and didn’t bring anything with me – so I have no pictures, no videos, no notes, no nothing. Just a memory dulled by sleep deprivation and multiple unrelated emotional traumas. (It has been a seriously bad week…)

This was the fifth time I’ve seen this band, but it was very different than the previous shows I’d been to. When the show ended, I immediately turned to one of my friends and said (more…)

Concert Review: John Zorn Marathon at the Walker Art Center (4/6/2013) – Part 3: The Concealed, Nova Express, Aleph Trio and The Hermetic Organ

(Click to read Part One and Part Two of this series.)

We were heading into our eighth hour at the Walker Art Center when the third concert of the Zorn@60 marathon was set to begin. There was some sort of delay (we were too far back in the line to hear the cause) and we ended up waiting for a while in a line stretching down the stairwell and into the bar/restaurant area. Eventually, they let us into the McGuire Theater for the third time that day and the concert started relatively quickly.

The main part of this set was music from “The Concealed” and “Nova Express,” which were both released within the past two years. Nova Express was performed by John Medeski (piano), Greg Cohen (bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), and Joey Baron (drums). The Concealed was the same quartet with two more players added: Mark Feldman on violin and Erik Friedlander on cello. Apparently Zorn thinks of these two projects as being very closely related; he mixed the pieces together into a single set, with the strings having a little break during the Nova Express pieces.

I was especially interested to hear The Concealed in a live setting, since it was one of my favorite recent Zorn releases and has only rarely been performed live (just once or twice, I think). Naturally, as a new ensemble, they were not as masterful as the bands we’d just seen who had been playing together for a decade and a half – that wouldn’t really be a fair expectation. But the music is brilliant and the musicians are all top-notch, so we still got a very worthy performance. I was pleased that they played my favorite track from the album, Towards Kafiristan – I just love Medeski’s piano on this piece. And, as you might have guessed, I filmed it for you:

Nova Express is not necessarily one of my favorite albums to listen to, but I enjoyed it more live than on CD. The less melodic pieces were a lot of fun to (more…)

Concert Review: John Zorn Marathon at the Walker Art Center (4/6/2013) – Part 2: Masada

(Click here to read part one of this series.)

The second concert of the John Zorn event at the Walker Art Center was a trio of Masada performances, mostly focused on the Book of Angels material. (The Book of Angels is a collection of Zorn’s compositions with a Judaic theme that have been recorded by a number of different bands and soloists.) Zorn’s Masada work is my favorite of his vast output, both live and on record, so I was particularly looking forward to this set, even though I’ve seen all of the performers many times before.

First up was a solo performance by cellist Erik Friedlander, playing material from the eighth volume of the Book of Angels, Volac. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen him play this material – off the top of my head I can think of eight – but I never get tired of it, and I swear he just gets better and better. He began with Harhaziel, which has always been one of my favorite pieces from the Book of Angels series. The studio version is beautiful, but hearing it live just takes my breath away – the intensity evokes such a visceral emotional response in me. The fourth piece he played was one of my favorites of the whole day/night – an intricate, contemplative pizzicato piece played with absolute delicacy and enormous depth of feeling. The kind of thing you can just close your eyes and get lost in.

His fifth and final piece was Sannul, which is another of my favorites from the album. Completely different from the previous piece, this one is played at approximately Mach 3. It’s the sort of impressive piece that makes audiences leap to their feet for a standing ovation. I was able to sneak a little video footage:

After that piece, they took a moment to rearrange the stage and the Masada String Trio walked out: Erik Friedlander on cello again, Mark Feldman on violin, and Greg Cohen on bass. They all faced each other in a tight circle, with John Zorn conducting from a seat on the floor.

The Masada String Trio is one of the oldest Masada bands, going back about fifteen years. The result of such a long collaboration is (more…)