Concert review: John Zorn’s Masada Book Three: Book of Beriah – part one (3/19/2014)

When John Zorn announced back in January that he was doing a live premiere of a third Masada book, I was… excited. I was very excited. I immediately booked a train and hotel and started trying to convince everyone I know to come with me. I had my browser refreshing to get a ticket the second they went on sale (sadly, that turned out to be kind of a bust since all the best seats were reserved for the musicians and their plus-ones – oh well). Zorn’s Masada compositions were my introduction to his work and they opened up a whole new world of music to me that I’d never been exposed to before. The second book of Masada, the Book of Angels, contains some of my absolute favorite music, and I’ve religiously collected all twenty volumes to date. We’ve been hearing rumors for the last couple of years that the Book of Angels was drawing to a close, so the announcement of a third book was thrilling for me. A temporary reprieve, as it were.

It’s unclear what form the third book will take – Zorn told us early in the show that the book would consist of “92 tunes which will be played by 92 different ensembles,” which is pretty amazing in and of itself. I don’t know if they’re planning to record them in the studio and release them (maybe in a box set?) or just to do concerts; hopefully both, and hopefully I’ll be able to see them all! He also mentioned one final piece to close the book, which would be a longer piece that he would do in the studio after book three is finished.

Wednesday night’s concert premiered 20 of the 92 tunes, with 20 different ensembles or soloists – most of them were either pre-existing bands (Zion80, Secret Chiefs 3, Cleric, etc.) or variations on existing ensembles (e.g., the Merkaba Quartet, the Aleph Quartet, Mephisto). Quite a few of them have already created albums for the Book of Angels series, so they were no strangers to the Masada universe (or working with Zorn, which I imagine is a rather unique experience for most musicians).

Usually for a show with so many bands I would just pick a few favorites, but I think I have to go against my better blogger instincts and write up most of them – I’m only skipping a couple that just weren’t my style. Nothing against the few bands I’m passing over, some of them were just not my scene at all (on both ends of the spectrum – too aggressive, or not aggressive enough…).

It’s possible that the very first piece was my favorite one out of the whole night. The arrangement was by violist Eyvind Kang, and the performers were Eyvind Kang (viola); Mark Feldman (violin); Timba Harris (violin); Erik Friedlander (cello); Shanir Blumenkranz (bass); Hidayat Honari (tar); Ches Smith (drums) and Frank London (trumpet). It was melodic and beautiful, with lots of drama and emotion. Lots of klezmer influence from Frank London’s trumpet playing, and the strings just sounded incredible. I actually wish they hadn’t put this band on first, because it was so good and I wasn’t ready for it to be that good yet – I needed them to ease me into things a bit more. (Although this probably was Zorn’s idea of easing us into the show, now that I think about it.) Kang’s Book of Angels album, Alastor, is being released in a few weeks, and after hearing this ensemble I can’t wait to hear it. I’m not sure if the same ensemble is on the album, but he clearly has some affinity with this music and I’m sure he has done a great job with it.

Mark-kang(Eyvind Kang’s ensemble. Photo courtesy of Mark Kirschbaum)

The next piece was a quick three-minute hit from (more…)

Concert(s) review: Ode to the Nonas: Bonebridge and Abraxas in Milan

Today we have a guest blog from Ariëla Flusser – long-time reader, first-time contributor! She’s a Belgian currently living in London, and enjoys traveling around Europe to see her favorite downtown NYC musicians. Incidentally, traveling internationally for live music qualifies you almost instantly for the diagnosis of “concert manic!” – Sarah V.

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Each year from October to March, Teatro Manzoni in Milan stages a series of concerts of contemporary jazz, avant-garde and world music from around the globe: Aperitivo in Concerto, rhythms of our times. The concerts have a very unique set-up. They take place in a beautiful red velvet theatre from 1873 at 11AM on a Sunday and attract a curious mix of open-minded no-nonsense people of all ages and backgrounds, artists, music lovers, students, families with children, and tourists. The eclectic crowd joins in to be surprised, sometimes challenged, but above all to enjoy fabulous live music. And most ‘Aperitivo’ concerts I’ve seen over the years were out of this world.

I often wondered what makes these concerts so special. Is it the untimely hour? You already have to want to be there, to get up and dressed and in the mood at 11 on a Sunday morning. The musicians also have to switch to another gear from evening to (early) morning playing. Is it the stately theatre with its plush chairs, programme books and stewards showing you your place? Such a setting in a way ‘forces’ you to be quiet and focus on the music. Is it the down-to-earth audience? Some of the continental avant-garde/jazz venues can be so snobbish, attracting a ‘’tu m’as vu’ crowd who come ‘to see and to be seen’ rather than to hear. The Manzoni magic is probably a mix of all these elements and much more.

This year’s 29th edition hosted the David Murray Quartet featuring Macy Gray, the reunited Jazz Passengers, the controversial writer-poet Amiri Baraka with his word music project (and one of his last public performances before he passed away in January) and jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, amongst others. I made my way to Milan for Erik Friedlander’s Bonebridge and Abraxas playing John Zorn.

Cellist Erik Friedlander is one of my favourite artists and always an absolute pleasure to hear live. He manages to give the best of himself in all circumstances, be it a 1000-seat hall, a small attic room, in open air on top of the Dolomites or a venue with a sound system breakdown and a chatty audience. Bonebridge is Erik Friedlander’s latest band with Doug Wamble on slide guitar, Michael Sarin on drums and Trevor Dunn on bass. I did not manage to go to any of last year’s European concerts, so I was double excited to finally see the band live in my favourite venue. Bonebridge were promoting their new album Nighthawks, due to be released in May.

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Erik Friedlander, cello.
Photograph by Roberto Cifarelli (click here for the full gallery)

Erik Friedlander opened the concert by thanking everybody for turning up so early and set the tone for a warm interaction between the band and the audience. The band played tracks from both Bonebridge and Nighthawks and took the audience on an interesting journey through (more…)

Concert(s) review: Marc Ribot residency, part five (1/31, 2/2/2014)

It took us a while, but here we are: the final chapter of the Marc Ribot residency blog series. In this post we’ll be covering the “Songs” night (early set on Friday) and the John Zorn improv benefit (early set on Sunday). These two nights featured the largest line-ups of the residency, with 6-7 musicians per set. If you’ve missed the last few posts, you can read them here: one (improv duos), two (8mm film night), three (Marc Ribot Trio sets), four (solo sets/Zorn/Cage). But first, the gratuitous guitarist photo… here is George Spanos (left) and Marc Ribot performing at the benefit improv set:

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The “Songs” set on Friday was kind of a tricky one for me, which is why I’ve saved it for last. The band consisted of Ribot on guitar (acoustic and electric), Melvin Gibbs on bass, Tony Lewis on drums, and a three-piece string section of Christina Courtin (viola), Pico Alt (violin) and Christopher Hoffman (cello). It was quite a grab-bag of styles, everything from Philly soul to punk to delicate ballads. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Ribot putting together a collection of songs like this, really, but if you’ve ever heard a Ceramic Dog album you’re probably familiar with this eclectic approach to songwriting. (He commented wryly at one point that “you bring in charts for one night out of the whole week, and they write in ‘Time Out’ that you’re a singer-songwriter! The nerve of those people!”)

Some of my favorites of the night: the third song they played, La Noyee, was a cover/translation of a (more…)

Concert(s) review: Marc Ribot residency, part four (2/1, 2/2/2014)

In part four of my review of the rather epic Marc Ribot residency at the Stone, we’ll be covering two of his three solo performances – Saturday night’s early set, “Standards;” and Sunday night’s performance of John Zorn’s Book of Heads and John Cage’s Some of ‘The Harmony of Maine’. It was quite an eclectic set of performances, to say the least. Here’s a gratuitous photo of him playing the John Cage piece since everyone’s always telling me that people on the internet like pictures:

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Saturday night’s “Standards” set was one of the most in-demand sets of the whole week. Saturday is easier for most people to get out of the house, I suppose, and maybe people thought standards would make for a relatively easy and fun night of music compared to some of the other sets. At any rate, it was a tough show to get into and there was a long line outside before the doors opened. I was, once again, extremely lucky and grateful to get two seats in the front row for my friend and I who wanted to get some video footage. (I was starting to think of us less as fans and more as documentarians at this point since we’d managed to capture so much of the residency for posterity – though I suppose in this case “posterity” is defined mainly as “our Youtube subscribers.”)

The set of standards was (if I remember correctly) played entirely on his old acoustic Gibson, and was a lot like other solo sets I’ve seen him do in the last few years, except he didn’t (more…)

Concert(s) review: Marc Ribot residency, part three (1/31 & 2/1/2014)

Seven concerts, a foot of snow, and 200 miles later, we’re back with the exciting third installment of the Marc Ribot residency week at the Stone! (Previous reviews, if you missed them, can be found here and here.) Today we’ll be covering the two Marc Ribot Trio + guest shows, which were the late sets on January 31st and February 1st.

The Trio consists of Marc Ribot on guitar, Henry Grimes on upright bass and occasionally violin, and Chad Taylor on drums. I saw them a few times back in November at the Village Vanguard (see my review/video/etc. here), and after those stellar performances I was really looking forward to seeing them in the Stone with a group of good friends. I was expecting them to mix things up a bit since they had invited special guests each night: guitarist Mary Halvorson on Friday and keyboardist Cooper-Moore on Saturday. I’d seen both musicians before and knew they were both top-notch performers who could potentially add something really special to the Trio.

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(Apologies for not getting a photo of Cooper-Moore, he was sitting with his back to me and I never really got a chance to get a photo of him that would show anything more than the back of his head.)

Friday and Saturday’s performances were the most crowded of the whole residency; I’m not sure how much of that was because of the appeal of the line-ups those nights and how much was because of the fact that it was the weekend, and maybe the weather played into it as well. (I can personally attest that it was painfully cold on Tuesday and Wednesday when we were waiting in line outside. Literally painful, as in “my exposed skin was really hurting right up until I lost all the feeling in my face.”) At any rate, it was packed, with people standing in the back and sitting on the floor, and people were turned away at the door after the venue reached capacity.

There are pros and cons to the general-admission no-advance-tickets strategy, but one thing it does is (more…)