Review(s): A completely insane week of music, featuring Kenny Wollesen (3x), Marc Ribot, John Zorn, Secret Chiefs 3, and so much more…

For the record, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to review each concert I go to. In the last 30 days I went to 25 shows. Between that and working full time, I haven’t even finished unpacking from my move, let alone found time to blog about all those shows! I’m not sure if it’s best to write about only one in five shows (give or take) or if it’s best to write about more of them, but in less detail. Your feedback on this is encouraged…

Since my last review (a week ago) I’ve seen seven concerts in six venues in two states featuring roughly 20 bands/ensembles. I can’t write about them all, and it’s hard to even know where to start, but let’s go with 6:30PM, last Thursday afternoon. I’d been planning to go to the Stone for a relatively easy evening out, but I was feeling pretty well rested after staying in the previous evening and I made a very last-minute decision to take the PATH train to New Jersey and attend the HONK! festival event at Monty Hall in New Jersey. The main reason I wanted to go was to see Kenny Wollesen‘s band, the Himalayas, who were on the bill. I’ve seen him play vibes or drums or percussion many times, but only once before had I seen him lead a marching band, and it was over-the-top fun. Naturally, I was eager to repeat the experience.

Monty Hall is a new venue and I had never heard anything about it, so when I arrived to find a quite small venue with no seating, plush wall-to-wall carpeting, and a surprisingly liberal BYOB policy (…I’ve heard of “bring your own” but not “greet everyone at the door with directions to the liquor store and a suggestion that they go get something to bring back”), I just shrugged and tried not to think too hard about their carpet cleaning bills. Like pretty much every HONK! event ever, there was a great vibe to the place and the show was massive amounts of fun. There were a bunch of bands, my two favorites (very narrowly, but I’m trying to be brief, here!) were the Himalayas and the Chaotic Noise Marching Corps. CNMC were punky, loud, crazy, and fun. They overflowed off the stage and into the small audience area, making for a very intense and in-your-face set. The Himalayas, with Kenny Wollesen at their helm, were more percussion-focused than the other bands we saw, which I found very interesting. The rhythms seemed more subtle and sophisticated, and I really enjoyed that difference in a show that didn’t have a lot of subtlety going on. The whole concert was a lot of fun and we danced a lot. (Well, I only danced a little, I’m not very good at dancing. But other people danced up a storm and I had fun watching!)

Kenny Wollesen & the Himalayas

Kenny Wollesen & the Himalayas

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Review(s): My weekend of unrelated music featuring Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Tim Berne & HONK! NYC

After being sick last week, I was really in the mood to get out and see some shows this past weekend. I was in luck, because there was a lot of good stuff on the concert calendar. (Did you notice I added an NYC concert calendar to the sidebar? I did. It’s sort of in beta testing right now, but check it out if you’re in the area and let me know what you think.)

First up on Saturday night was the duo of Chris Thile (mandolin, guitar) and Edgar Meyer (upright bass, piano) at Town Hall. I’ve repeatedly had bad luck getting good seats for shows at Town Hall, but this time my ticket karma came through. The show had gone on sale months before I moved to NYC and I’d long ago given up hope of getting any kind of decent seat. But I kept checking back just in case… and about a week before the show: front row dead center popped up on Ticketmaster. Yes, please, and thank you!

I didn’t even really know what kind of music they’d be playing – I was so busy this summer I’m behind on listening to absolutely everything, and I was mostly just going on my friend Mark’s recommendation to see them. I’ve seen Chris Thile a few times before, but was new to the work of Edgar Meyer. Thile is a virtuoso and you can generally expect him to do amazing things, but I was really blown away by Meyer’s bass playing. Holy cow, can that man handle an upright bass! I’ve seen a lot of concerts, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bassist play like that. I found myself watching him almost the whole time. I’m skipping the videos I took myself and giving you something professionally recorded since the audio quality is so key with these two:

They are at the tail end of their U.S. tour, but there are two more dates this week in Ann Arbor and Chicago. Click here for details on the tour and their new album.

Sunday night was a totally different scene: the last night of saxophonist Tim Berne’s residency at the Stone. I’d wanted to catch a couple of nights but wasn’t feeling up to it until the weekend, when he was playing with two different (but similar) bands. The early set was “Decay,” with Tim Berne on sax, Ryan Ferreira on electric guitar, Michael Formanek on upright bass and Ches Smith on drums (because, clearly, I didn’t hear enough of his drumming during his own residency the week before!). The late set was “Cornered,” with those four plus Oscar Noriega on clarinet and Matt Mitchell on piano. These bands were fairly similar to his (relatively) well-known band, Snakeoil, which had played for several nights in a row earlier in the week.
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Review: Ches Smith’s residency at the Stone (9/30 – 10/5/2014)

In the interests of my health, hearing, and sanity, I did not go to every single set in Ches Smith‘s 12-set residency at the Stone… but I did manage to catch ten of them. (It turns out that those 12-shows-a-week runs are a lot easier when you’re on vacation and not working a full-time day job at the same time.) Ches is one of my favorite drummers, but having been up in Cambridge for most of the last 15 years, I hadn’t had a chance to see that many of his bands. I’d seen him in Ceramic Dog and as a sideman in a few other people’s bands, but out of his own bands I’d only ever seen his trio with Mat Maneri and Craig Taborn. I loved that trio when we saw them at Winter Jazz Fest, so I was really looking forward to seeing what he would do with all of these other projects. And I was looking forward to seeing them all at the Stone since it’s such an intimate, up-close-and-personal venue with a great vibe. (As an aside, I’ve never been so happy to have fancy musician’s earplugs in my life as when I saw 10 drum-heavy sets in a row at the Stone while sitting as close as possible.)

Ches Smith with Ceramic Dog

These were the ensembles I saw:

1. We All Break – a meeting of Haitian Drums and Creative Music: Matt Mitchell (piano) Daniel Brevil (traditional Haitian percussion) Markus Schwartz (traditional Haitian percussion) Ches Smith (drums, percussion)
2. These Arches: Tim Berne (alto sax) Tony Malaby (tenor sax) Mary Halvorson (guitar) Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics) Ches Smith (drums)
3. Ches Smith Quartet: Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) Craig Taborn (piano) Stephan Crump (bass) Ches Smith (drums)
4. Congs for Brums: Ches Smith (drums, electronics)
5. A free improv trio: Matt Nelson (tenor sax) Henry Grimes (bass) Ches Smith (drums)
6. A different free improv trio: Tyshawn Sorey (drums, piano) Randy Peterson, Ches Smith (drums)
7. Ceramic Dog: Marc Ribot (guitar, vocals) Shahzad Ismaily (bass, drums, electronics) Ches Smith (drums, electronics)

I’m not sure if you really get the scope of the variety and breadth just from reading that list, but it was a wide-ranging week of music. Percussion instruments alone spanned all the way from traditional wooden drums made with leather and rope to electronic effects played via a smartphone and tablet. Genre-wise there were several flavors of jazz and new music as well as a more-or-less rock trio (Ceramic Dog).
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