…in that order! I had a pretty busy week, including checking out four new-to-me music venues in four days. It’s amazing how many different venues there are in New York – I’ve gone to 200+ concerts in this town and there’s still so many places I haven’t been. (I just checked my list, I’ve been to 18 different venues since January 1st this year.)
The first concert of the week was a last-minute decision after being sick in bed for a couple of days. I made a swift recovery on the last day and decided I was OK to go downtown to the Cornelia Street Cafe to see Mat Maneri and Lucien Ban‘s new quintet. Unfortunately, since it was last minute, the early set was already sold out… but I decided to hang out and see if I could get in on the waitlist. Concert karma won out and I ended up being the last audience member allowed in, and yet somehow got a second row table. Score!
I stayed for both sets and really enjoyed it. It’s a somewhat unusual mix of instruments – Lucien Ban on piano, Randy Peterson on drums, Tony Malaby on saxophone, Bob Stewart on tuba, and Mat Maneri on viola – but it worked really well. It’s hard to even pick favorites among the band – they were all so good.
This video is a duet and not the same quintet we saw live, but perhaps it will give you an idea of the sort of music that Mr. Ban and Mr. Maneri come up with together:
(OK, that sounds so nice that I just opened a tab in my browser and bought the album from Amazon MP3 so I can listen to it while I’m writing the rest of this article. I love the 21st century sometimes!)
The second concert of the week was Tuesday evening at the Jazz Standard: Rudresh Mahanthappa‘s quintet playing “Bird Calls”. Believe it or not, this was my first visit to the Jazz Standard! I liked it a lot more than I thought I would – in my imagination, every jazz venue with table seating is overcrowded and annoying, and every jazz venue that serves food is terrible and overpriced. Happily, this venue turned out to be an exception to the rule, and we had a really nice time. I look forward to seeing more shows there.
Venue aside, the concert itself was also very enjoyable – we’d seen (and liked) this band at Winter Jazzfest, but in this more relaxed and intimate venue, with better sound quality, it felt like a whole different ball game. As you may guess from the title, “Bird Calls” is heavily influenced and inspired by the music of Charlie Parker. (If you want to read about the album in-depth, check out this great article from All About Jazz.) Mr. Mahanthappa’s saxophone was clearly the star of the show, although he was supported by an excellent band. He made the intricate melodies and ideas seem effortless, and as the show went on, it just got better and better. Check out one of the tracks from “Bird Calls” here:
The next night was a show I’d been particularly looking forward to: Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse. Another new-to-me venue, it is a pretty nice place to see a show and gets a lot of bonus points for being walkable from my apartment. Double bonus points: it was a free concert. (NB: you need to RSVP in advance for their free shows, so make sure you reserve a spot early.)
The music was everything I’d been hoping for and more: very fun, funny, creative, energetic music from a wildly talented quartet playing all manner of instruments. Cyro Baptista and Tim Keiper on percussion/drums, Shanir Blumenkranz on bass, gimbri and electric oud, and Brian Marsella on a wide variety of keyboard instruments (everything from a melodica to a grand piano, pretty much). I’ve seen them a bunch of times and I thought this was a particularly excellent show. Check out their performance in the below, and yes, I picked this video because of the segue from the “Bird Calls” concert… 😉
The fourth concert of the week was Marc Ribot performing with Emeline Michel at Greenwich House Music School. Another venue I hadn’t been to before, it has a kind of lo-fi, elementary-school charm. It was a little bit noisy (I think they left the windows open to the street because it was so overheated, plus there was a bar at the back serving beer and wine) for what turned out to be a very quiet concert – 2/3 of it was solo acoustic guitar and the last part added vocalist Emeline Michel to Marc Ribot’s guitar playing. It was really a gorgeous show – Mr. Ribot was playing the compositions of his childhood guitar teacher, Haitian composer/guitarist Frantz Casseus. (His recording of this music is unfortunately out of print, but it’s a beautiful album.) Beautiful, slightly exotic, classical-style music. Emeline Michel (who I was unfamiliar with before this performance) has a wonderful voice and added another layer of nuance to the songs.
The final show of my week was Sex Mob performing a live score to Maciste all’inferno, an Italian silent film from the 1920s. I visited yet another new-to-me venue for this – Symphony Space in the UWS. A quartet consisting of bandleader and slide trumpet player Steven Bernstein, saxophone player Briggan Krauss, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on percussion, Sex Mob has been performing together for almost 20 years. They are a tight, fun jazz band with a great sense of humor. Humor was definitely needed to enjoy this particular performance, as Maciste all’inferno is… well, it’s hard to describe and kind of hard to follow, too. There was a protagonist who was trapped in Hell for a while, being tormented by devils wielding 1920s-era special effects. Something like that, anyway. 😉 But you know me, I was there for the music, and the score they provided was great fun! They mixed in appropriately-timed sound effects with the music for added drama. I hope I get to see them do another show soon, it was definitely one of those concerts that left me wanting more.
Stay tuned for more concert mania, April is looking like one of my busiest months yet. I need to spend some serious time sorting out my calendar, because I’ve got an enormous amount of conflicts and about a dozen more shows than I can possibly attend…