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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Last week’s concerts: Mat Maneri, Lucien Ban, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Banquet of the Spirits, Marc Ribot, Emeline Michel, and last but not least, Sex Mob

…in that order! I had a pretty busy week, including checking out four new-to-me music venues in four days. It’s amazing how many different venues there are in New York – I’ve gone to 200+ concerts in this town and there’s still so many places I haven’t been. (I just checked my list, I’ve been to 18 different venues since January 1st this year.)

The first concert of the week was a last-minute decision after being sick in bed for a couple of days. I made a swift recovery on the last day and decided I was OK to go downtown to the Cornelia Street Cafe to see Mat Maneri and Lucien Ban‘s new quintet. Unfortunately, since it was last minute, the early set was already sold out… but I decided to hang out and see if I could get in on the waitlist. Concert karma won out and I ended up being the last audience member allowed in, and yet somehow got a second row table. Score!

I stayed for both sets and really enjoyed it. It’s a somewhat unusual mix of instruments – Lucien Ban on piano, Randy Peterson on drums, Tony Malaby on saxophone, Bob Stewart on tuba, and Mat Maneri on viola – but it worked really well. It’s hard to even pick favorites among the band – they were all so good.

This video is a duet and not the same quintet we saw live, but perhaps it will give you an idea of the sort of music that Mr. Ban and Mr. Maneri come up with together:

(OK, that sounds so nice that I just opened a tab in my browser and bought the album from Amazon MP3 so I can listen to it while I’m writing the rest of this article. I love the 21st century sometimes!)

The second concert of the week was Tuesday evening at the Jazz Standard: Rudresh Mahanthappa‘s quintet playing “Bird Calls”. Believe it or not, this was my first visit to the Jazz Standard! I liked it a lot more than I thought I would – in my imagination, every jazz venue with table seating is overcrowded and annoying, and every jazz venue that serves food is terrible and overpriced. Happily, this venue turned out to be an exception to the rule, and we had a really nice time. I look forward to seeing more shows there.

Venue aside, the concert itself was also very enjoyable – we’d seen (and liked) this band at Winter Jazzfest, but in this more relaxed and intimate venue, with better sound quality, it felt like a whole different ball game. As you may guess from the title, “Bird Calls” is heavily influenced and inspired by the music of Charlie Parker. (If you want to read about the album in-depth, check out this great article from All About Jazz.) Mr. Mahanthappa’s saxophone was clearly the star of the show, although he was supported by an excellent band. He made the intricate melodies and ideas seem effortless, and as the show went on, it just got better and better. Check out one of the tracks from “Bird Calls” here:

The next night was a show I’d been particularly looking forward to: Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse. Another new-to-me venue, it is a pretty nice place to see a show and gets a lot of bonus points for being walkable from my apartment. Double bonus points: it was a free concert. (NB: you need to RSVP in advance for their free shows, so make sure you reserve a spot early.)
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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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Concerts: Cyro Baptista’s residency at the Stone (Nov. 2014)

Ten concerts since I last managed to write a review, terrible blogger shame… but let us talk about the glorious week that was the Cyro Baptista residency at the Stone! I badly wanted to see all six nights, but I slept poorly all week and didn’t have the energy for it, so I only managed three nights and regretted all the ones I missed. The ones I did manage to catch were Beat the Donkey; Banquet of the Spirits with special guest Nels Cline; and Banquet of the Spirits with special guests Peter Apfelbaum and John Lee. (I honestly didn’t choose those three with any real plan, I simply went to the first night and then was too tired to ever go out two nights in a row, so I attended every other night.)

The first night was the one with Nels Cline guesting on guitar and Banquet of the Spirits. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mr. Cline is the guitarist for Wilco, who are kind of a big deal in the indie rock scene. Naturally, when he plays with a great band in a one-off show at a tiny venue like the Stone, there will be long lines. I showed up about 20 minutes later than I was hoping to, and ended up with a seat in the back corner which was only tolerable because we had a great view of the keyboards. Banquet of the Spirits features Brian Marsella on keyboards, and he’s one of my all-time fave keyboard players, so I was pretty happy in spite of my view otherwise consisting of the backs of people’s heads. Although sometimes that can be interesting, too…

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Review: John Zorn’s “Angels at the Vanguard” (part two)

(Continued from part one.)

We lined up a little earlier for Friday night’s shows, knowing that the presence of John Zorn on stage for the first set (Masada String Trio) would probably spur the fandom to greater heights of dedication. We ended up getting a front row table, and because of a rearrangement of seats due to the band configuration, I ended up sitting right against the stage; the band sat right up front due to the presence of a large percussion setup for the late set, so we ended up sitting about 1-2 feet from John Zorn and Erik Friedlander, which was a pretty crazy POV for this band. They sit in a tight circle with Zorn’s back to the audience, but my close-up sideways view let me see all of his conducting in detail. It was an amazing way to watch an amazing set – one of my favorites from the whole week. They played tunes from book 1 and 2 including the title track from their first Book of Angels album, “Azazel,” which was my favorite piece of the night. The string trio is one of the oldest Masada bands, and it shows – they are extremely talented musicians and about as tight a group as you’ll find anywhere. Zorn’s compositions show them off perfectly, with some pieces featuring lush melodies and others featuring sudden starts and stops and abrupt changes.

I didn’t take any photos or video during this set because it would have been disruptive to the musicians and other audience members to watch me be thrown out of the venue by John Zorn when I pulled out a camera two feet from his face 😉 but here is another live video of the band, from 15 years ago when they collectively had about 3x more hair:

The late set that night was Banquet of the Spirits, and my seat next to the stage meant that I had a faceful of Cyro Baptista’s large and complex percussion setup:

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This set was a lot of fun – it’s hard not to enjoy yourself when Cyro Baptista is playing, he’s almost in a class of his own when it comes to percussion. He brings not only technical mastery but also tons of creativity and a sense of humor. (In related news, I am really looking forward to his residency at the Stone in a couple of months!) The other members of the band are all excellent as well – Shanir Blumenkranz on bass and oud, Tim Keiper on percussion, and Brian Marsella on keyboards (he had a variety of instruments I couldn’t see in addition to the piano, I think there was a harmonium and a melodica as well). I had a great under-the-table photography spot during this set so I took a few nice photos…
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