I guess the comment in my last post about having an unsustainable lifestyle was pretty spot on. I’ve seen 57 concerts since the last one I reviewed. Between general lack of time, lack of sleep, and all-too-frequent illness I just can’t keep up with it. Plus I’ve been having bad writer’s block lately (I’ve been trying to write one concert review for over a week now and finally gave up to write this instead.) But I hate-hate-hate to just give up on these years of work, so I’m trying to come up with ideas for a slightly less intense blog that I could actually do without having to be institutionalized. Maybe a weekly or biweekly post with briefer reviews and highlights instead of the really in-depth stuff I’ve been doing. I don’t know. Ideas are welcome!
Anyway, I can at least give you some of the highlights of my winter concert schedule.
Dave Douglas & Uri Caine at Subculture: Whenever I go to this venue I wish they had more music I liked, because it’s a great space and in a great location. I’ve only been there a few times, but I really like it. And this particular concert was so nice – I don’t listen to a ton of music that I consider relaxing, but this was a rare gig that I found both engaging and de-stressing. Couldn’t have come at a better time as it was in the midst of a hectic holiday season and on my monthly work deadline. I bought their new album, “Present Joys,” after the show, and I listened to it quite a bit over the holiday season.
Winter Jazzfest: I only managed to see eight bands this year at WJF (compared to last year’s 12) but I had a really good time seeing shows with a group of friends (I won a couple of extra passes at the last minute so I got to bring extra concert buddies!). Highlights included a sort of reprise in miniature of the John Lurie tribute show that I saw at Town Hall last year, this time with Marc Ribot stepping in as a guest for a couple of pieces; Henry, Hampton & Low; Wooley & Vandermark; and the Young Philadelphians, who played a mostly-disco set which was difficult to take seriously, but a lot of fun if you pretended you weren’t at a jazz festival.
Jazz & Colors Festival: Hosted in the Metropolitan Museum, this was a great chance to get a quick taste of some bands I’d been wanting to hear. There were something like a dozen bands playing simultaneously, so you had to skip around from room to room to see them. My favorite was Jenny Scheinman’s ensemble (we ended up seeing about 2/3 of her set and spending the other 1/3 checking out other bands) but I also really enjoyed Amir ElSaffar’s group as well as Cellar and Point.
Jason Isbell at the Beacon: This show went on sale when I was still in Boston, and it was on sale so far in advance I wasn’t even paying attention to NYC shows. So I didn’t have tickets (so sad!). But… I never give up on concerts entirely, so I patiently checked Ticketmaster a few times a day for a few weeks until, hey look! Front row center, on sale the day before the show. (So happy!) I am so grateful for this bit of luck, because it was one of the best rock shows I’ve seen in ages. Isbell’s a great songwriter and a fantastic singer, and it was easily the best show I’ve seen him do. The quality on this isn’t super (someone else’s video from a few rows back in the orchestra) but the strength of the performance comes through, especially the powerful vocals:
The energy in the room during that song was almost tactile, growing steadily throughout the song and earthing itself in occasional audience outbursts, until it erupted into a several-minute-long standing ovation at the end of the song (in the middle of the set – not trying for an encore, just showing appreciation). I walked out of that show feeling better than I had in probably two months.
John Zorn’s week at the Village Vanguard: I only (ha ha?) made it to 10 sets this week (not counting the two times I saw him that week at other venues) unlike the first week he did at the Vanguard where I managed to see every set. It is a lot more taxing if you are crazy enough (like my friends and I) to wait outside in line for 30, 60, 90 or more minutes to get front row seats. Especially when it’s really really cold out, which it was. But it was worth it! I knew Electric Masada and Bar Kokhba would be great, and they were – although I was wonderfully surprised by the presence of “Azazel” and “Kol Nidre” in the Bar Kokhba sets; that was even better than I’d hoped for. The Gnostic Trio was gorgeous. But to me the big surprise of the week was the Asmodeus/Valentine’s Day set (on February 13th, just to confuse everyone). As much as I love Marc Ribot (paired here with Trevor Dunn on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums), I didn’t expect it to be a highlight. Valentine’s Day is a difficult listen, and Asmodeus doesn’t even crack my top ten favorite Book of Angels albums. But that set turned out to be incredible! The kind of show where you’re exchanging “HOLY SHIT!” looks with your friends ten minutes in. Zorn was on stage conducting the band, and from the look on his face I think he enjoyed it as much as we did. I hear there will be another Asmodeus performance again later this year, and I can’t wait.
Sylvie Courvoisier’s residency at the Stone: This time I did manage to see all 12 sets of the residency, even though it probably wasn’t a terribly healthy choice for me. I got a new mattress at the beginning of that week and I’m crediting my improved sleep for the fact that I didn’t crap out after four or five nights. 😉 There were a lot of highlights from this week, really not a bad set out of the twelve, but I think my favorites were the duets with Mark Feldman (one playing Zorn’s Masada music and one playing their own compositions) and Marc Ribot (an improv set), and the solo set she did on the last night. They also did Mephista, Mephisto, Lonelyville, a couple of trios and two sets with the same quartet… and those were all excellent, too. Sylvie is one of my all-around favorite improvising musicians, and it was an incredible treat to see so much of her music all in one week. Living in Massachusetts I hadn’t had a chance to see much of her work live before.
She plays with a lot of extended techniques, but manages to make it into real music and not just the random noise element that lesser musicians often do. She plays with so much passion and intensity – her heavier solos always put me in mind of a thunderstorm. Beautiful, loud, intense, and possibly a little scary. Here’s one of my favorites from their Book of Angels album, Malphas, which they performed in the first set of the week:
I still remember the extended piano solo she played during that piece when I saw them perform it about five years ago, I was completely stunned. (I also remember the time my brother took me to see them at the ICA in Boston for my birthday, and he was also completely stunned, but more in a PTSD kind of way. He’s not really into avant garde music…)
So… that was how I spent my long, blogless winter. I’ve got tons of great stuff to look forward to in the spring: Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits, Marc Ribot, Sex Mob, Jolie Holland, Nels Cline, William Elliott Whitmore, John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Sean Rowe, Zion80’s residency at Joe’s Pub, Aram Bajakian’s residency at the Stone, Ghost Train Orchestra’s CD release at Jalopy, Calexico, and so much more. In the meantime, I hope to figure out a way to keep writing without killing myself doing it, and I hope to keep updating my blog concert calendar for the New Yorkers among you. Wish me luck!