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

(If you missed the first half of this review, you can find it by clicking here!)

After stretching our legs during the 15-minute intermission, I settled back in my seat for the next ten bands. Well, I say “my” seat, but technically I was sitting in someone else’s seat, because my friend M. tipped me off to a no-show empty seat, front row dead center. Yeah, I’ll take advantage of that, thank you! It was a very nice change of pace seeing everything except the keyboards, instead of nothing but the keyboards.

The first band in the second set that really wowed me was the trio of Loren Sklamberg (vocals, accordion), Frank London (trumpet) and Uri Caine (piano). Out of all the bands we heard that night, this one had the most klezmer at its heart. (This seems relevant as the Book of Beriah concert was part of the Newish Jewish Music Festival.) Frank London gave us a bit of an explanation before the beginning of the piece, saying the name of the piece, “Kelim,” which is “part of the kabbalistic-mystic concept of how the world was created” inspired them to use this particular text, which I think he said was Yiddish. Even without being able to understand the lyrics, I thought the piece was hauntingly beautiful with a very Old World feel. Really loved London’s trumpet on this piece.

Next up was Abraxas, a band that regular readers of my blog will be familiar with. Shanir Blumenkranz is the bandleader and gimbri player, accompanied by Kenny Grohowski on drums, and two electric guitar players: Aram Bajakian and Eyal Maoz. While the band was setting up and getting plugged in, some joker in the audience yelled out “What IS that thing?” This prompted John Zorn to grab the mic and retort, “A gimbri, you fool!” which got a laugh out of the audience. I especially liked the intro to their piece which had some really cool atmospheric guitar work over a melodic bass line (well, gimbri line).

mark-abraxas(Abraxas. Photo courtesy of Mark Kirschbaum.)

After Abraxas, we got to hear Mephisto – which (as Zorn explained) is usually called “Mephista,” but apparently the substitution of a male drummer (Jim Black) made them decide to alter the (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 review: Winter Jazzfest Marathon (Jan. 10-11, 2014)

This weekend I attended both days of the Winter Jazzfest marathon in Greenwich Village. It’s a festival that has a unique appeal to those of us who are particularly manic about concerts; it’s basically an all-you-can-eat buffet of live music held in a bunch of venues in Greenwich Village. For one relatively low price you can run around and hear as many bands as you can stuff in your ears in the time allotted. Most sets were 45 minutes with a few double-length sets here and there. (I took it relatively easy and caught eleven ensembles plus the “round robin” duo improvisation set.)

This year was the tenth anniversary of Winter Jazzfest and featured a huge amount of bands (more than ninety). It was, of course, impossible to see them all, and there were some tough decisions to be made. We’d been warned by friends about previous years having long lines and big crowds at some venues, so we simplified our schedule a bit and tried to do multiple sets in the same venues as much as we could (without sacrificing the bands we most wanted to see). I spent most of my time in the NYU Law venue and the Judson Memorial Church, which was a pretty cool-looking room:

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(That’s Ches Smith on the left and Shahzad Ismaily on the right, during Ceramic Dog’s late-night Saturday set.)

The funny thing was that after I simplified things and tried to make my schedule less ambitious, I somehow ended up seeing (more…)

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…)