Review: Jeremiah Cymerman’s residency at the Stone (Nov 2014)

cymermancropped

Last week the Stone hosted yet another week-long residency that I was really excited to see: Jeremiah Cymerman. I’d never seen him do anything but improvisation sets before this week, so I was very interested to hear some material from his studio recordings and some of the bands he’s put together over the years as well as, of course, more improvisation.

I went to half a dozen sets during the week – solo; Sky Burial; improv benefit for the Stone; improv set with Joe Morris and Sylvie Courvoisier; Pale Horse; and Pale Horse with guests. The solo set was the first one of the week and it turned to be one of my favorites. I wasn’t surprised since I thought his last solo album, Purification/Dissolution, was pretty darn brilliant. You can listen to some by clicking here. (The embed isn’t working, so you’ll have to click through… I know, I know, clicking that mouse button is arduous work.)

It’s not necessarily what you think of when you think “solo clarinet,” and it’s not for everyone, but I think he has a real talent for noise music. I don’t listen to a lot of noise – it’s one of those things I have to be exactly in a certain mood for – but when I am in that mood and I hear something just right, it can be one of the most ecstatic types of music listening. I think of it as musical masochism – noise music lets you float right on the edge of pleasure and pain, pushing you right to the limits of enjoyment. When the composer or musician in question can walk that line perfectly, the listener can have sufficient trust to sit back and fully take it in without being tensed up with a finger on the “off” button in case it goes too far.

It hardly needs saying that it falls in the “not for everyone” category, but for me, Mr. Cymerman is a top practitioner in this particular art form. The first, long piece in his solo set (taking up most of the time he’d allotted) was a prime example – a briliant-bordering-on-genius set of clarinet filtered through enough electronics and effects to make it nearly unrecognizable as an instrument. It was a real education watching him make this music after having heard his albums and having no idea how the music was being made. The complex textures and sounds he was coming up with on the fly were powerful and masterfully done.
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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…)