Concert(s) review: Ode to the Nonas: Bonebridge and Abraxas in Milan

Today we have a guest blog from Ariëla Flusser – long-time reader, first-time contributor! She’s a Belgian currently living in London, and enjoys traveling around Europe to see her favorite downtown NYC musicians. Incidentally, traveling internationally for live music qualifies you almost instantly for the diagnosis of “concert manic!” – Sarah V.

* * * * *

Each year from October to March, Teatro Manzoni in Milan stages a series of concerts of contemporary jazz, avant-garde and world music from around the globe: Aperitivo in Concerto, rhythms of our times. The concerts have a very unique set-up. They take place in a beautiful red velvet theatre from 1873 at 11AM on a Sunday and attract a curious mix of open-minded no-nonsense people of all ages and backgrounds, artists, music lovers, students, families with children, and tourists. The eclectic crowd joins in to be surprised, sometimes challenged, but above all to enjoy fabulous live music. And most ‘Aperitivo’ concerts I’ve seen over the years were out of this world.

I often wondered what makes these concerts so special. Is it the untimely hour? You already have to want to be there, to get up and dressed and in the mood at 11 on a Sunday morning. The musicians also have to switch to another gear from evening to (early) morning playing. Is it the stately theatre with its plush chairs, programme books and stewards showing you your place? Such a setting in a way ‘forces’ you to be quiet and focus on the music. Is it the down-to-earth audience? Some of the continental avant-garde/jazz venues can be so snobbish, attracting a ‘’tu m’as vu’ crowd who come ‘to see and to be seen’ rather than to hear. The Manzoni magic is probably a mix of all these elements and much more.

This year’s 29th edition hosted the David Murray Quartet featuring Macy Gray, the reunited Jazz Passengers, the controversial writer-poet Amiri Baraka with his word music project (and one of his last public performances before he passed away in January) and jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, amongst others. I made my way to Milan for Erik Friedlander’s Bonebridge and Abraxas playing John Zorn.

Cellist Erik Friedlander is one of my favourite artists and always an absolute pleasure to hear live. He manages to give the best of himself in all circumstances, be it a 1000-seat hall, a small attic room, in open air on top of the Dolomites or a venue with a sound system breakdown and a chatty audience. Bonebridge is Erik Friedlander’s latest band with Doug Wamble on slide guitar, Michael Sarin on drums and Trevor Dunn on bass. I did not manage to go to any of last year’s European concerts, so I was double excited to finally see the band live in my favourite venue. Bonebridge were promoting their new album Nighthawks, due to be released in May.

2014erik

Erik Friedlander, cello.
Photograph by Roberto Cifarelli (click here for the full gallery)

Erik Friedlander opened the concert by thanking everybody for turning up so early and set the tone for a warm interaction between the band and the audience. The band played tracks from both Bonebridge and Nighthawks and took the audience on an interesting journey through (more…)

Concert(s) review: Marc Ribot residency, part five (1/31, 2/2/2014)

It took us a while, but here we are: the final chapter of the Marc Ribot residency blog series. In this post we’ll be covering the “Songs” night (early set on Friday) and the John Zorn improv benefit (early set on Sunday). These two nights featured the largest line-ups of the residency, with 6-7 musicians per set. If you’ve missed the last few posts, you can read them here: one (improv duos), two (8mm film night), three (Marc Ribot Trio sets), four (solo sets/Zorn/Cage). But first, the gratuitous guitarist photo… here is George Spanos (left) and Marc Ribot performing at the benefit improv set:

IMG_4230

The “Songs” set on Friday was kind of a tricky one for me, which is why I’ve saved it for last. The band consisted of Ribot on guitar (acoustic and electric), Melvin Gibbs on bass, Tony Lewis on drums, and a three-piece string section of Christina Courtin (viola), Pico Alt (violin) and Christopher Hoffman (cello). It was quite a grab-bag of styles, everything from Philly soul to punk to delicate ballads. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Ribot putting together a collection of songs like this, really, but if you’ve ever heard a Ceramic Dog album you’re probably familiar with this eclectic approach to songwriting. (He commented wryly at one point that “you bring in charts for one night out of the whole week, and they write in ‘Time Out’ that you’re a singer-songwriter! The nerve of those people!”)

Some of my favorites of the night: the third song they played, La Noyee, was a cover/translation of a (more…)

Concert(s) review: Marc Ribot residency, part four (2/1, 2/2/2014)

In part four of my review of the rather epic Marc Ribot residency at the Stone, we’ll be covering two of his three solo performances – Saturday night’s early set, “Standards;” and Sunday night’s performance of John Zorn’s Book of Heads and John Cage’s Some of ‘The Harmony of Maine’. It was quite an eclectic set of performances, to say the least. Here’s a gratuitous photo of him playing the John Cage piece since everyone’s always telling me that people on the internet like pictures:

theharmonyofmarc

Saturday night’s “Standards” set was one of the most in-demand sets of the whole week. Saturday is easier for most people to get out of the house, I suppose, and maybe people thought standards would make for a relatively easy and fun night of music compared to some of the other sets. At any rate, it was a tough show to get into and there was a long line outside before the doors opened. I was, once again, extremely lucky and grateful to get two seats in the front row for my friend and I who wanted to get some video footage. (I was starting to think of us less as fans and more as documentarians at this point since we’d managed to capture so much of the residency for posterity – though I suppose in this case “posterity” is defined mainly as “our Youtube subscribers.”)

The set of standards was (if I remember correctly) played entirely on his old acoustic Gibson, and was a lot like other solo sets I’ve seen him do in the last few years, except he didn’t (more…)

Concert(s) review: Marc Ribot residency, part three (1/31 & 2/1/2014)

Seven concerts, a foot of snow, and 200 miles later, we’re back with the exciting third installment of the Marc Ribot residency week at the Stone! (Previous reviews, if you missed them, can be found here and here.) Today we’ll be covering the two Marc Ribot Trio + guest shows, which were the late sets on January 31st and February 1st.

The Trio consists of Marc Ribot on guitar, Henry Grimes on upright bass and occasionally violin, and Chad Taylor on drums. I saw them a few times back in November at the Village Vanguard (see my review/video/etc. here), and after those stellar performances I was really looking forward to seeing them in the Stone with a group of good friends. I was expecting them to mix things up a bit since they had invited special guests each night: guitarist Mary Halvorson on Friday and keyboardist Cooper-Moore on Saturday. I’d seen both musicians before and knew they were both top-notch performers who could potentially add something really special to the Trio.

four-pic

(Apologies for not getting a photo of Cooper-Moore, he was sitting with his back to me and I never really got a chance to get a photo of him that would show anything more than the back of his head.)

Friday and Saturday’s performances were the most crowded of the whole residency; I’m not sure how much of that was because of the appeal of the line-ups those nights and how much was because of the fact that it was the weekend, and maybe the weather played into it as well. (I can personally attest that it was painfully cold on Tuesday and Wednesday when we were waiting in line outside. Literally painful, as in “my exposed skin was really hurting right up until I lost all the feeling in my face.”) At any rate, it was packed, with people standing in the back and sitting on the floor, and people were turned away at the door after the venue reached capacity.

There are pros and cons to the general-admission no-advance-tickets strategy, but one thing it does is (more…)

Concert review: Marc Ribot residency, part two (1/30/2014)

The first set in the third night of the Marc Ribot residency was the first solo performance that we saw, entitled simply: Improvisations to 8mm film. It being the Stone, and it being Marc Ribot, the film projection was about as DIY as you can get – it was propped up on cinder blocks and I saw a couple rolls of duct tape hanging around, and the whole thing was covered in an old rug and projected on a sheet hanging on a brick wall. And he had gotten his daughter to be the projectionist – I felt a certain kinship there, as I’ve been troubleshooting my father’s stereos, computers, iPods, digital cameras, remote controls, etc. etc. for over 20 years now. After seeing how much trouble the 8mm projector was to run, I have great respect for her – and I’m also glad my dad only ever did slide-shows, which are a lot simpler 😉 When everything was finally up and running, he started the show by jokingly announcing that “the theme of tonight’s performance is failed technology.” Luckily, you don’t need too much technology to play a guitar.

IMG_4067

We ended up seeing, if memory serves me correctly, five short films. (Actually, I’m pretty sure there were six and I’m completely spacing on one, so … let’s just go with five.) I’m not sure if they were all silent films originally or if they just screened them without sound, but they were all more or less understandable without sound, at any rate. The first one was called Dr. Cyclops, and it involved some sort of mad scientist figure and a lot of tiny humans running around. I have to admit I didn’t quite figure out the plot of that one, but it gave a lot of opportunities for dramatic music and surprises. He used an electric guitar, and improvised a very bold soundtrack to the film – loud, with a raw sound and a few extended techniques thrown in (well, it wouldn’t be a Ribot concert without a few extended techniques…). After a longish wait for the show to start, I liked kicking it off with a nice big sound, nothing held back.

The second film was a vampire film (I think the title was “The Return of Dracula”) which, again, was full of opportunities for dark and dramatic accompaniment. I particularly remember the bit when they were hammering the (more…)