Review(s): A completely insane week of music, featuring Kenny Wollesen (3x), Marc Ribot, John Zorn, Secret Chiefs 3, and so much more…

For the record, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to review each concert I go to. In the last 30 days I went to 25 shows. Between that and working full time, I haven’t even finished unpacking from my move, let alone found time to blog about all those shows! I’m not sure if it’s best to write about only one in five shows (give or take) or if it’s best to write about more of them, but in less detail. Your feedback on this is encouraged…

Since my last review (a week ago) I’ve seen seven concerts in six venues in two states featuring roughly 20 bands/ensembles. I can’t write about them all, and it’s hard to even know where to start, but let’s go with 6:30PM, last Thursday afternoon. I’d been planning to go to the Stone for a relatively easy evening out, but I was feeling pretty well rested after staying in the previous evening and I made a very last-minute decision to take the PATH train to New Jersey and attend the HONK! festival event at Monty Hall in New Jersey. The main reason I wanted to go was to see Kenny Wollesen‘s band, the Himalayas, who were on the bill. I’ve seen him play vibes or drums or percussion many times, but only once before had I seen him lead a marching band, and it was over-the-top fun. Naturally, I was eager to repeat the experience.

Monty Hall is a new venue and I had never heard anything about it, so when I arrived to find a quite small venue with no seating, plush wall-to-wall carpeting, and a surprisingly liberal BYOB policy (…I’ve heard of “bring your own” but not “greet everyone at the door with directions to the liquor store and a suggestion that they go get something to bring back”), I just shrugged and tried not to think too hard about their carpet cleaning bills. Like pretty much every HONK! event ever, there was a great vibe to the place and the show was massive amounts of fun. There were a bunch of bands, my two favorites (very narrowly, but I’m trying to be brief, here!) were the Himalayas and the Chaotic Noise Marching Corps. CNMC were punky, loud, crazy, and fun. They overflowed off the stage and into the small audience area, making for a very intense and in-your-face set. The Himalayas, with Kenny Wollesen at their helm, were more percussion-focused than the other bands we saw, which I found very interesting. The rhythms seemed more subtle and sophisticated, and I really enjoyed that difference in a show that didn’t have a lot of subtlety going on. The whole concert was a lot of fun and we danced a lot. (Well, I only danced a little, I’m not very good at dancing. But other people danced up a storm and I had fun watching!)

Kenny Wollesen & the Himalayas

Kenny Wollesen & the Himalayas

(more…)

Review: Ches Smith’s residency at the Stone (9/30 – 10/5/2014)

In the interests of my health, hearing, and sanity, I did not go to every single set in Ches Smith‘s 12-set residency at the Stone… but I did manage to catch ten of them. (It turns out that those 12-shows-a-week runs are a lot easier when you’re on vacation and not working a full-time day job at the same time.) Ches is one of my favorite drummers, but having been up in Cambridge for most of the last 15 years, I hadn’t had a chance to see that many of his bands. I’d seen him in Ceramic Dog and as a sideman in a few other people’s bands, but out of his own bands I’d only ever seen his trio with Mat Maneri and Craig Taborn. I loved that trio when we saw them at Winter Jazz Fest, so I was really looking forward to seeing what he would do with all of these other projects. And I was looking forward to seeing them all at the Stone since it’s such an intimate, up-close-and-personal venue with a great vibe. (As an aside, I’ve never been so happy to have fancy musician’s earplugs in my life as when I saw 10 drum-heavy sets in a row at the Stone while sitting as close as possible.)

Ches Smith with Ceramic Dog

These were the ensembles I saw:

1. We All Break – a meeting of Haitian Drums and Creative Music: Matt Mitchell (piano) Daniel Brevil (traditional Haitian percussion) Markus Schwartz (traditional Haitian percussion) Ches Smith (drums, percussion)
2. These Arches: Tim Berne (alto sax) Tony Malaby (tenor sax) Mary Halvorson (guitar) Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics) Ches Smith (drums)
3. Ches Smith Quartet: Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) Craig Taborn (piano) Stephan Crump (bass) Ches Smith (drums)
4. Congs for Brums: Ches Smith (drums, electronics)
5. A free improv trio: Matt Nelson (tenor sax) Henry Grimes (bass) Ches Smith (drums)
6. A different free improv trio: Tyshawn Sorey (drums, piano) Randy Peterson, Ches Smith (drums)
7. Ceramic Dog: Marc Ribot (guitar, vocals) Shahzad Ismaily (bass, drums, electronics) Ches Smith (drums, electronics)

I’m not sure if you really get the scope of the variety and breadth just from reading that list, but it was a wide-ranging week of music. Percussion instruments alone spanned all the way from traditional wooden drums made with leather and rope to electronic effects played via a smartphone and tablet. Genre-wise there were several flavors of jazz and new music as well as a more-or-less rock trio (Ceramic Dog).
(more…)

Upcoming concerts, tours and albums

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been living in Crazy Town lately, and not going to a lot of shows. I have tickets to ten concerts in May so I’m hoping this will change soon! But in the meantime, I thought I’d give you a little update on a few artists I really like who are releasing new albums and going on tour. Consider them all on my “not to be missed” list.

Joe Henry is doing some rare solo dates in Europe and the U.S. to promote his album due in June: Invisible Hour. There are about a dozen European dates and just six U.S. dates (San Francisco, L.A., DC, NYC, Philadelphia and Boston). He’s one of my absolute favorite singer/songwriters (and an excellent producer as well) – if you haven’t heard him, I can’t recommend his recent output highly enough: Reverie, Blood from Stars, and Civilians are all favorite albums of mine. He works with top-notch musicians, writes extremely fine lyrics, and has a knack for writing that kind of classic melody that feels as though it must have always existed, just waiting to be captured in a song. Check out the single from his upcoming album below (and/or check out another one of my favorites on Youtube by clicking here).

The tour dates are all listed here: http://www.joehenrylovesyoumadly.com/live-shows/

The next underappreciated songwriter on the list: Jolie Holland. I like all of her albums, but the last two (The Living and the Dead & Pint of Blood) really showed off her songwriting talents. Her upcoming album, Wine Dark Sea, is coming out in a few weeks and has been getting rave reviews – I can’t wait to hear it. I love her unique vocals and the fact that every one of her albums is coherent and distinctive enough that you could probably hear any one of her songs and immediately know which album it came from, just from the overall sound and feel of it. I’ve been listening to her a lot lately – the first signs of spring weather always make me want to listen to her music. I have no idea why – just one of those little quirks of the human brain, I guess! Here’s one of my favorite songs from The Living and the Dead:

You can see her tour dates by clicking here – she’s mainly sticking to the U.S. coasts but there are also a couple of Canadian dates.

Up next, Wovenhand, led by David Eugene Edwards. His previous band, 16 Horsepower, remains better-known than his current project, but he has done some fantastic work with Wovenhand and I love the fact that I can see him performing in tiny venues now. (I realize he would probably like to go back to the bigger venues he used to play with 16HP, but… I can’t help loving intimate venues!) I have kind of a weird relationship with (more…)

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 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…)