Review: Jeremiah Cymerman’s residency at the Stone (Nov 2014)

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Last week the Stone hosted yet another week-long residency that I was really excited to see: Jeremiah Cymerman. I’d never seen him do anything but improvisation sets before this week, so I was very interested to hear some material from his studio recordings and some of the bands he’s put together over the years as well as, of course, more improvisation.

I went to half a dozen sets during the week – solo; Sky Burial; improv benefit for the Stone; improv set with Joe Morris and Sylvie Courvoisier; Pale Horse; and Pale Horse with guests. The solo set was the first one of the week and it turned to be one of my favorites. I wasn’t surprised since I thought his last solo album, Purification/Dissolution, was pretty darn brilliant. You can listen to some by clicking here. (The embed isn’t working, so you’ll have to click through… I know, I know, clicking that mouse button is arduous work.)

It’s not necessarily what you think of when you think “solo clarinet,” and it’s not for everyone, but I think he has a real talent for noise music. I don’t listen to a lot of noise – it’s one of those things I have to be exactly in a certain mood for – but when I am in that mood and I hear something just right, it can be one of the most ecstatic types of music listening. I think of it as musical masochism – noise music lets you float right on the edge of pleasure and pain, pushing you right to the limits of enjoyment. When the composer or musician in question can walk that line perfectly, the listener can have sufficient trust to sit back and fully take it in without being tensed up with a finger on the “off” button in case it goes too far.

It hardly needs saying that it falls in the “not for everyone” category, but for me, Mr. Cymerman is a top practitioner in this particular art form. The first, long piece in his solo set (taking up most of the time he’d allotted) was a prime example – a briliant-bordering-on-genius set of clarinet filtered through enough electronics and effects to make it nearly unrecognizable as an instrument. It was a real education watching him make this music after having heard his albums and having no idea how the music was being made. The complex textures and sounds he was coming up with on the fly were powerful and masterfully done.
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Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing (11/9/14)

If you’re into the jazz scene at all, you’ll probably have read something recently about Mostly Other People Do the Killing‘s brand new album, “Blue.” There has been a good deal of controversy surrounding the release, most of which I feel is silly, but I have really enjoyed contemplating some of the questions raised in the process. The concept of the album is that they decided to recreate, note-for-note, as closely as possible, the iconic 1959 jazz album “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Some critics and fans seemed to be kind of upset about it, which I find amusing. How upset can you really be at a piece of instrumental music these days?

I find it fascinating in a sort of performance-art way: they managed to closely recreate one of the most iconic jazz albums in the world, but since they removed all aspects of improvisation in the performance – turning it into a piece of music where every intonation and grace note is on the sheet music – it is, in some way, no longer jazz, since most people consider improvisation one of the core principles of jazz. It’s a very strange thing to do, and also kind of pointless, because how many fans are really going to buy an identical copy of an album they either already own or never wanted in the first place? (I assume the number of MOPDtK fans who don’t own “Kind of Blue” because they’ve never heard it are vanishingly small…) It is worth mentioning that all profits from the album are being donated to charity, so at least critics of the concept can’t accuse MOPDtK of trying to profit off of cultural appropriation, yadda yadda yadda.

But I think it is highly successful as a piece of modern art, because it makes you think about all sorts of big philosophical arty questions. I mean, I haven’t even HEARD the album and it has that effect, that’s pretty amazing. It’s probably somehow very meta that I downloaded a review copy and never got around to listening to it. But you can listen to a track here if you can get over all of the existential angst involved: (more…)

Concerts: Cyro Baptista’s residency at the Stone (Nov. 2014)

Ten concerts since I last managed to write a review, terrible blogger shame… but let us talk about the glorious week that was the Cyro Baptista residency at the Stone! I badly wanted to see all six nights, but I slept poorly all week and didn’t have the energy for it, so I only managed three nights and regretted all the ones I missed. The ones I did manage to catch were Beat the Donkey; Banquet of the Spirits with special guest Nels Cline; and Banquet of the Spirits with special guests Peter Apfelbaum and John Lee. (I honestly didn’t choose those three with any real plan, I simply went to the first night and then was too tired to ever go out two nights in a row, so I attended every other night.)

The first night was the one with Nels Cline guesting on guitar and Banquet of the Spirits. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mr. Cline is the guitarist for Wilco, who are kind of a big deal in the indie rock scene. Naturally, when he plays with a great band in a one-off show at a tiny venue like the Stone, there will be long lines. I showed up about 20 minutes later than I was hoping to, and ended up with a seat in the back corner which was only tolerable because we had a great view of the keyboards. Banquet of the Spirits features Brian Marsella on keyboards, and he’s one of my all-time fave keyboard players, so I was pretty happy in spite of my view otherwise consisting of the backs of people’s heads. Although sometimes that can be interesting, too…

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