Concert(s) review: John Zorn & friends improvising at the Stone

It’s become somewhat of a tradition for John Zorn to hold a series of improv concerts at the end of the year with a whole passel of downtown NYC musicians taking part. The concerts raise money for the Stone, the experimental music venue in Alphabet City. (That’s a neighborhood in New York, for those who aren’t familiar.) My office closes down between Christmas and New Years Day, so for the last few years I’ve made an effort to come down for some of the improv concerts. This year they did a five-night run and I made it to four of them, making it the fourth year I went to four sets of year-end improv at the Stone. Very symmetrical of me!

The fun of these concerts is the surprise element: you really never know what you’re going to get. The basic formula is for John Zorn plus maybe eight or nine other musicians to show up, and they all hang out in the basement and periodically send up small groups of musicians (usually 2-5) to play a fully improvised piece. Then for a finale they all get on stage together and perform. (This last piece can be a bit bizarre depending on the makeup of the group – you might have more pianists than pianos, more drummers than drum kits, more guitarists than amps, or simply too many people to fit on stage – but the name of the game is improvisation, so they always make it work!)

One of the more interesting aspects of these shows is that Zorn will throw together musicians from all kinds of genres and just see what happens – classical, jazz, rock, avant garde, they just get put on stage and they have to come up with something on the spot. It’s always fun to see what works and what doesn’t – and more importantly, which musicians are up to the challenge. Often you will see people performing who had not only never played together before, but had never even met. It doesn’t always work, but the surprising moments of brilliance are worth it.

I took a bunch of surreptitious flashless photos, as usual, so I thought I’d try out a little photo gallery thingy with my favorite pics from this week’s concerts:

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(I’m going to ask your forgiveness in advance if I miss or screw up any names here, there were so many different musicians and this was the first time I’d seen a lot of them…)

The first of the four concerts this year was on (more…)

Concert Review: Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos, Edmar Castaneda (NYC, 6/10/2013)

On Monday I went to the second concert of my four-day NYC vacation: Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street. The first time I ever saw that band was at the very same venue in 2009, and to this day it stands as one of the most fun concerts I have ever been to, so I was very much looking forward to a repeat performance. Every time I’ve seen them, the band has had a different line-up – this time we had a fairly pared-down version: Marc Ribot on guitar; Anthony Coleman on keyboard; EJ Rodriguez on percussion; Brad Jones on bass; and Cougar Estrada on drums.

The Cubanos Postizos are sort of a genre unto themselves – I guess I’d have to call it Cuban jazz put in a blender with punk, a dance party, and that distinctive Ribot guitar flavor. What comes out of that blender is an awful lot of fun. Happily, Le Poisson Rouge removed all the tables and chairs from the main floor to make room for those of us who wanted to do some dancing – I’ve seen the Cubanos at a nice, seated venue and it just doesn’t feel right…

Mr. Ribot started the evening with a bang, saying: “You may have noticed something: there’s no chairs! There’s no tables! SO YOU BETTER DANCE!” Then he let out a wordless shout (out of sheer enthusiasm, from the sound of it) and launched into the fast-paced and light-hearted Los Teenagers Bailan Changui from the Cubanos’ debut eponymous record. After treating us to 15-20 minutes of fast music to get our feet moving, they shifted down a gear and played a more slow-burning song, Fiesta en el Solar, from the same debut record, and then Dame un Cachito Pa’Huele from their followup album, “Muy Divertido!” After a few more dance-friendly tunes, they moved into one of my very favorites: Aurora en Pekin. The studio version of that is not just one of my favorite Cubanos tunes, or one of my favorite Ribot pieces, but really one of my favorite all-time pieces of music ever. Pure perfection. Naturally, when I realized they were playing it, I filmed it, and since I had gotten there really early, waited in line in the pouring rain for 40 minutes, etc., etc., I was right at the edge of the stage in front of Marc Ribot:

Also included in that video is (more…)