Review: Jon Madof’s residency at the Stone (Dec 2014)

Last week was Jon Madof’s five-night residency at the Stone. I managed to catch half of the sets: two Rashanim Acoustic sets, one Rashanim Electric set, and two Zion80 sets.

I’d seen Rashanim twice before… sort of. The first time I saw them was five years ago when they participated in a Marc Ribot tribute concert, and they were playing Cubanos Postizos covers. (Historical concert review since I still have some of my notes from 2009: “They did a really fun set of covers from Ribot’s Cubanos Postizos albums. I loved all of the Cubanos cover set, it was really fun and you could tell the band was really enjoying it too, especially the guitarist.”) The other time I saw them was a Christmas Eve concert three years ago, where they were billed as Rashanim with three guests. But, surprise surprise, it turned out to be the first Zion80 concert (before they had a band name). So before this residency I’d never really seen Rashanim playing Rashanim, and I was looking forward to it!

All three of their sets were really high-quality live versions of music I’d previously only enjoyed on CD, which made me very happy. There’s just nothing like the energy and sound you get from a live performance. The electric and acoustic versions were somehow less different from each other than I’d expected – I guess when you think of acoustic guitar and bass vs. electric guitar and bass you have a certain internal stereotype of what kind of music that represents, but in this case both nights were distinctly Rashanim-y. It was cool to see them playing different instruments each night and comparing the sound (and of course the sitting vs. standing debate was played out with an all-seated acoustic set and a standing electric set). The most important part, of course, is that all of the music was great!

rashanims(L to R: Jon Madof, still Jon Madof, Shanir Blumenkranz, Mathias Künzli, and Shanir Blumenkranz again.)
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Review: Masada Marathon at Nublu (12/4/14)

So, I’ve seen a lot of Masada Marathons. I’ve lost count, really – three nights in Rome, Montreal Jazz Fest, NYC Opera, two nights at the Abrons, Book of Beriah at Town Hall, twelve sets at the Vanguard, Nublu (twice now), the Skirball Center, 92nd Street Y… it’s a long list. But even with all that competition, this little mini-marathon (we have to call a 6-hour set a mini-marathon because it was “only” five bands, right?) probably wins the top spot for the weirdest Masada show I’ve been to as well as featuring one of the best Masada sets I’ve ever seen. It was a hell of a night!

The night started out worryingly slow – the first set (Uri Gurvich Quartet) was at 8, and I showed up about 2 minutes before 8 to find that the place was almost entirely empty. Uh-oh! I had suspected it was going to be a tough night – Marc Ribot was playing at the same time in Brooklyn, Henry Threadgill was playing at the same time, Jon Madof was down the street at the Stone… a lot of competition for the type of audience that might come to a show like this. Not to mention that people were worried about transportation and other issues due to heavy protests around the city… it had taken me almost twice as long as usual to get home from the Stone the night before.

People did trickle in and when they finally started the set, about 20 minutes late, there was a little bit of an audience forming. Uri Gurvich’s quartet was the first band and I’m happy to say I found their set to be a lot more fun than the other time I saw them. I think they played better, and I think they’re better suited to play first and gently warm up an audience than they are to play after a really raucous band like they did at the Vanguard.

The second set of the night was Erik Friedlander playing a solo “Volac” set. Always a favorite of mine, and he somehow managed to outdo himself again. (How good can “Volac” get? Shouldn’t there be some kind of upper limit on how good you can make the same piece of music? It’s beginning to defy logic at this point.) There was a bit of a bigger audience by this point in the evening, although in the way of crowds everywhere they were lurking in the back, not wanting to appear too eager. My friend Tom and I had no such misgivings and eagerly parked ourselves front and center in the middle of the floor. Nublu is a pretty small and intimate space for this kind of concert (it somehow felt much more so than the Vanguard, maybe because of the tiny stage?). It felt like a very special moment, with the nearly dead-silent audience, the intimate atmosphere, and music that I need to invent new superlatives for. I had fleeting thoughts that it should be recorded for posterity, but the moment was too perfect and I didn’t dare break it by pulling out a camera to sneak a video or even a photo. Sometimes even an obsessive concert documentarian has to just let things be.
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Review: John Zorn’s Cobra – 30th Anniversary (11/29/14)

On Saturday night I headed to Brooklyn with some friends to catch John Zorn’s 30th anniversary performance of Cobra at Roulette. Cobra premiered at Roulette in 1984, so it was certainly the perfect place for the anniversary concert. (It’s one of my favorite NYC venues, I’m always happy when something I want to see is happening there.) Zorn put together an all-star cast of his usual suspects including a lot of my favorite downtown musicians: Cyro Baptista on percussion; Sylvie Courvoisier on piano; Trevor Dunn on upright bass; Mark Feldman on violin; Erik Friedlander on cello; George Lewis on trombone; Eyal Maoz and Marc Ribot on electric guitars; John Medeski on organ; Ikue Mori on electronics; William Winant on percussion; and Kenny Wollesen on drums.

The night kicked off with a Q&A which was supposed to be Anthony Coleman asking John Zorn questions about Cobra. It deteriorated quickly into a bit of a tirade when Zorn saw someone in the audience taking a picture with their cell phone. He went on at some length about how there should be no record made of this concert in any way – no recordings, no photos, etc. I hesitated to even write this blog, but I guess us writers still have that whole ‘free speech’ thing going for us. Since there was such a strict ban on photography I am forced to give you only this artist’s representation of the concert:
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Review: Jeremiah Cymerman’s residency at the Stone (Nov 2014)

cymermancropped

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…)