Early April Concert Highlights: Doug Wieselman; Jolie Holland; Nels Cline Singers w/Jeff Parker

As usual, I’ve been seeing too many concerts to review, but I thought I’d take a night off and cover a few highlights of the last couple of weeks – just pulling out my very favorite performances among the ten or so bands/performers I’ve seen.

The first really great set I saw in April was Doug Wieselman‘s solo performance at a house concert. I think he performed music exclusively from his recent album, From Water, which features pieces he wrote after being inspired by specific bodies of water. Some have obvious inspirations like “Pacific 1″ and “Pacific 2,” and some had more involved explanations – like “Train” which was inspired by the train that goes along the Hudson River (which is the one I take to my parents’ house, so I know it well – it’s beautiful) and even as far afield as “Kepler-22b,” which is an exoplanet that astronomers believe has a lot of water on it. Mr. Wieselman performed on solo clarinet and some electronics/pedals.

I found this music to be particularly enjoyable in such an intimate and friendly setting. It was so easy to fully focus on and lose yourself in the sound. I’ve seen him play a few times before, but this set felt really special.

Later that week I went with a friend to see Jolie Holland. Kind of a nice musical segue, because although these two concerts could hardly be more different, Doug Wieselman played a lot on her most recent album, Wine Dark Sea. And the lion’s share of her setlist was from that album, including one of my favorites, “Saint Dymphna.”

For this particular live set, she had an unusual lineup featuring three electric guitars and no other instruments (although one guitarist swapped out his guitar for a harmonium on a couple of songs). Electric guitars are one of my favorite instruments, so I thought it made for a pretty fun band. It was a short-ish set, but the setlist was very well-chosen and included a new song that I really liked. After hearing it, I’m already looking forward to the next album! (She tends to go a few years between albums, but hopefully I don’t have to wait TOO long for it.)

Edit for a late addition: My friend Mike W. sent me this great pic he took at the Jolie Holland concert from our vantagepoint at the corner of the stage:
Jolie Holland at the Bowery Ballroom

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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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Preview: John Zorn’s “Masada – Angels at the Vanguard”

Today we’ve got a guest blog from Concert Manic’s renowned Ohio correspondent, Mark Allender – you may know him as the voice behind the excellent Masada: Book of Angels Facebook fan page. Today he has given us an in-depth preview of John Zorn’s special series “Angels at the Vanguard.” It’s Zorn’s first appearance at the world-famous Village Vanguard in New York City, and – true to form – he is doing it differently than everyone else, with eleven different bands performing in six nights instead of the usual Vanguard format of one band playing twelve sets in a row. I’m planning on being at every set, but if you need to pick and choose a couple to see, this post has everything you need! – Sarah V.

Feldman/Courvoisier – Malphas
Tuesday 9/2 @ 8:30 pm
In the Masada canon, there is a type of piece that Zorn refers to as an “event piece.” Specifically, in an event piece, the score calls for periods of guided improvisational playing that lasts for a certain amount of time. A score might indicate a melodic phrase, followed by a period of frenetic playing, which cuts off into a period of drones, which segues into another melody. These periods are typically guided by a conductor, who is typically Zorn himself, who is typically very entertaining to watch doing it. OR, in the case of Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier, these event pieces are led by body language, where wild, screeching noise turns on a dime to the sweetest, most elegant chamber music you’ve ever heard with a nod, or a full-body gesture or even half a raised eyebrow communicating the changes.

Feldman and Courvoisier perform together like dancers. Elegance – you can’t get away from that word when describing these two. Tempo, dynamics, timbre – these wax and wane dramatically – sensuously even – over the course of the music. And they are always intimately in step with each other. Their on-stage chemistry – the physicality of the way they play together – makes this performance a must-see.

Hope to see: “Zethar.” Promises to have the most visual drama.

Eyvind Kang Ensemble – Alastor
Tuesday 9/2 @ 10:30 pm
Eyvind Kang’s Alastor takes Masada into a lush orchestral realm of splendor and majesty. In Xanadu did Eyvind Kang a stately pleasure dome decree. Exotic – with a pan-Asian flair, Kang’s arrangements communicate a mysticism not found in the other recordings. All sonics have soft edges, creating a dream-like atmosphere accented by slow, sensual percussion. This music would not be out of place in a Bollywood film score. The ensemble for the evening is comprised of Kang on viola, Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Doug Weiselman on clarinet, Graham Haynes on cornet, Hidayat Honari on guitar as well as the tar (a six-stringed central Asian lute), Shahzad Ismaily on bass, and Ches Smith on percussion. With such a versatile set of musicians on the set, I can only imagine this will sound amazing.

Hope to see: “Variel.” That opening flourish makes me happy every time I hear it.

Jamie Saft Trio – Astaroth
Wednesday 9/3 @ 8:30 pm
My entry into the Book of Angels series was volume 3 by Feldman/Courvoisier. But it was volume 1 by the Jamie Saft Trio that kicked this series into an obsession. Saft had previously been known as an electric keyboard player with an occasional thing for death metal. In this all acoustic jazz piano set, the results are sublime. Saft has a couple playing signatures that I love. First, the guy LOVES to play in triplets, which in the jazz trio format creates an air or a breath to the music that is just amazingly cool. Second, in more raucous passages, he plays like a cat jumping around on the piano keys. In the trio, Saft is augmented by the incomparable Greg Cohen on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums. The original trio featured Ben Perowsky on drums. And no slight against Wollesen, but I kinda miss Perowsky with this group. The lightness of his playing on the recording mixed with Saft created something really special. But what am I saying? Wollesen is an accomplished vibraphonist – if he can’t bring it, nobody can.

Hope to see: “Shalmiel.” For me, this tune is like a first kiss.

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Upcoming concerts, tours and albums

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been living in Crazy Town lately, and not going to a lot of shows. I have tickets to ten concerts in May so I’m hoping this will change soon! But in the meantime, I thought I’d give you a little update on a few artists I really like who are releasing new albums and going on tour. Consider them all on my “not to be missed” list.

Joe Henry is doing some rare solo dates in Europe and the U.S. to promote his album due in June: Invisible Hour. There are about a dozen European dates and just six U.S. dates (San Francisco, L.A., DC, NYC, Philadelphia and Boston). He’s one of my absolute favorite singer/songwriters (and an excellent producer as well) – if you haven’t heard him, I can’t recommend his recent output highly enough: Reverie, Blood from Stars, and Civilians are all favorite albums of mine. He works with top-notch musicians, writes extremely fine lyrics, and has a knack for writing that kind of classic melody that feels as though it must have always existed, just waiting to be captured in a song. Check out the single from his upcoming album below (and/or check out another one of my favorites on Youtube by clicking here).

The tour dates are all listed here: http://www.joehenrylovesyoumadly.com/live-shows/

The next underappreciated songwriter on the list: Jolie Holland. I like all of her albums, but the last two (The Living and the Dead & Pint of Blood) really showed off her songwriting talents. Her upcoming album, Wine Dark Sea, is coming out in a few weeks and has been getting rave reviews – I can’t wait to hear it. I love her unique vocals and the fact that every one of her albums is coherent and distinctive enough that you could probably hear any one of her songs and immediately know which album it came from, just from the overall sound and feel of it. I’ve been listening to her a lot lately – the first signs of spring weather always make me want to listen to her music. I have no idea why – just one of those little quirks of the human brain, I guess! Here’s one of my favorite songs from The Living and the Dead:

You can see her tour dates by clicking here – she’s mainly sticking to the U.S. coasts but there are also a couple of Canadian dates.

Up next, Wovenhand, led by David Eugene Edwards. His previous band, 16 Horsepower, remains better-known than his current project, but he has done some fantastic work with Wovenhand and I love the fact that I can see him performing in tiny venues now. (I realize he would probably like to go back to the bigger venues he used to play with 16HP, but… I can’t help loving intimate venues!) I have kind of a weird relationship with (more…)

Concert(s) review: HONK! Festival 2013

Technically the HONK! festival is only about half over, but I’ve worn myself out so much this week I don’t really see myself being able to attend any more of it (well, maybe the parade…). So: I will take this time to write and share videos and such.

The HONK! festival is an annual festival in Somerville, Massachusetts, bringing together activist street bands from across the world (although for cost reasons most of them are from the U.S., I did see both European and South American bands this weekend). From the “What is HONK!” page on their website…

Across the country and around the world, a new type of street band is emerging. Acoustic and mobile, borrowing repertoire and inspiration from a diverse set of folk music traditions – New Orleans second line brass bands, European Klezmer, Balkan and Romani music, Brazilian Afro Bloc and Frevo traditions, as well as the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnival– these “honkers” all share a commitment to several core principles. Metaphorically speaking, they honk their horns for the same reasons motorists honk theirs: to arouse fellow travelers, to warn of danger, to celebrate milestones, and to just plain have fun.

First and foremost, they honk their horns – or beat their drums, or wave their flags – to enliven and embolden their audience. Members vary widely in age, class, ethnicity and background, and although they often wear some kind of uniform, there is also always an emphasis on individuality and a “DIY” (do-it-yourself) sensibility to their instrumentation and attire. These bands play music that is truly of, by, and for “the people.” The distinction between performer and audience, just like the distinctions between different musical genres, is just one more arbitrary social boundary they aspire to overcome.

The result of all this as far as the audience goes is that we have a four-day entirely-free festival full of the craziest, most fun brass and marching bands that you’ll ever see in one place. Since Thursday I’ve seen nine bands plus a jam session, and my favorite band so far was Os Siderais from Brazil (so good I had to see them twice!):

That video was from Thursday night’s pre-HONK! kick-off concert, held in front of Precinct Bar in Union Square in Somerville (a nearly-convenient walk from where I live, so it was a no-brainer to attend). They were actually borrowing some (more…)