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.


Concert review: Joe Henry (6/27/2014)

Joe Henry and his gorgeous custom-built guitar.

Joe Henry and his gorgeous custom-built guitar.

Yep. Joe Henry at Brighton Music Hall. I was, by any measure, unreasonably excited about this show. I keep a concert calendar with a list of dates, names and venues with a note about whether I have or need to buy tickets, and this entry read: ZOMG JOE HENRY IN BOSTON!!! Poking a little fun at my own excitement, of course, but I’m pretty sure I was the first person to buy a ticket and I was definitely the first person to arrive at the venue (but that was mostly because Brighton Music Hall tweeted the wrong door/set time for the show and I got there an hour earlier than intended). I actually went and lurked across the street to watch the door because I was afraid they would think I was a stalker if I got in line that early. When I saw some other people start waiting in line I went over and joined them. This worked out well, because those other people in line turned out to be really nice and we spent the next 75 minutes or so chatting about music until the show started.

I’d just been at this same venue two nights earlier for Jolie Holland (see my previous blog post), so I was surprised to see that they’d set out chairs – I’ve been there a bunch of times and I didn’t even know they did seated concerts. Joe Henry’s music is definitely sitting-down music and not standing-and-dancing music, so I was happy to see that. Plus it was a week where I managed to see four concerts in three states while also working full-time, so I was just plain tired and happy to be sitting.

The concert had been advertised as a solo set, although I suspected that (more…)

Concert review: Jolie Holland (6/25/2014)


This review’s a bit late, but it was such a good concert I couldn’t bear to let it pass completely undocumented in my blog. I’d seen Jolie Holland and her current band in May when I was in NYC, so I had an idea of what to expect from this set; but this time around I’d gotten a chance to listen to the new album, Wine Dark Sea, a few times and acquaint myself with the new songs. It took me a little time to get into the new album – not because it’s difficult, but because it’s kind of laid-back and I’ve been wound up like a spring. Incompatibility of mood. I finally found the right place and time to hear it properly (a late-night flight home after a beautiful weekend with some close friends), and then I couldn’t stop listening for days – just in time for her concert at Brighton Music Hall here in Boston. I love it when I am in the exact right mood for the concert at hand.

Concert review: Joe Henry in Ghent (6/10/2014)

Concert Manic’s most famous Belgian correspondent, Bjorn Weynants, is back with another excellent guest post! Many of my music-loving European friends have been catching shows on Joe Henry’s current tour, and their reports are making me really look forward to seeing his concert here in Boston in a few weeks. Have a listen to one of the songs from his brand-new album, Invisible Hour, while you read. – Sarah V.

Joe Henry is the not the kind of artist who tours regularly. The fact that he planned a massive European tour (at least massive to Joe Henry’s norms: only 12 dates, from Sevilla in the south of Spain to Bergen in Norway) with a stop in Ghent, Belgium is big news for his fans. His last Belgian concert was in 2007 (in the same venue as tonight’s show), as his Brussels gig two years ago was suddenly cancelled for undisclosed reasons.

The Handelsbeurs is a beautifully converted 19th century Trade Hall building in the centre of Ghent, which has been used for concerts for the past 10 years or so. (They have a rather Concertmanic-friendly programming as e.g. Ceramic Dog played here last April.) For this concert chairs were put around tables, giving the concert hall the feel of some kind of smoke-filled New York jazz club in the fifties. An ideal setting for a Joe Henry concert.

Joe Henry just released his 13th solo album, the excellent Invisible Hour. Just like his previous albums, it’s one that only discloses its full beauty after repeated listens. Add to that way-better-than-average lyrics and the result is that this is an album which will score very high on end-of-year lists (or at least it will on mine). Unfortunately, this is the kind of music that you won’t hear on the radio, as his music sits somewhere in the no-man’s land between folk, blues and jazz. And that’s a place not a lot of people (let alone your average radio DJ) venture into. While he is one of the great singer-songwriters of the last twenty years (and a great producer as well), the best known fact about him is that he’s the brother-in-law of (more…)

She’s not dead, she’s… pining for the fjords?

(Pardon the Monty Python reference, I couldn’t help myself.)

I just wanted to write a quick post saying that, yes, I know I haven’t written anything in ages, and no, I haven’t abandoned the blog. In April I got hit with a perfect storm of simultaneous health issues, job crises, and housing/home problems, among other things. That stuff is all calming down now, but the result is that I’m moving out of state, so now I am absorbed in all of the packing, apartment hunting, travel and so forth involved with the move. I had to give up trying to blog for a while – I just haven’t had the time or energy, and I didn’t want the blog to turn into some kind of unpleasant obligation that I would start to hate doing.

The good news is that the out-of-state move is going to end up with me living in the live music capital of the world, New York City! I’m really excited about it. I hope my blog readers will be patient enough to wait for me to settle down and start writing more regularly. In the meantime I’m trying to figure out which neighborhood is the perfect balance between a short commute to my new office and a short commute to the Stone…