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 Review: Marc Ribot Trio at the Village Vanguard (11/9 & 11/10/2013)

This weekend I was lucky enough to be able to go to New York and attend the last two nights of the Marc Ribot Trio residency at the Village Vanguard. They had played their first Vanguard residency last summer, and I attended some of those shows as well, so I had a pretty good idea of just how special these concerts might be. The Vanguard – while not an ideal venue at first glance (it’s crowded, has weird sight-lines, etc.) – is practically oozing jazz history from the walls, and when you’re there you can’t help but feel the weight of nearly eighty years of performances by jazz icons like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus. The audiences tend to be peppered with music tourists who want to experience what may be the most famous jazz club in the world – I sat near two different people who appeared to have no idea who the band was, and were just there because “it’s the Vanguard!” I guess there are upsides and downsides to that as a musician – you can win over some new jazz-loving fans, but you can also face some skepticism if you are not a straight-up jazz player. But the experience as an audience member is like – well, if you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show with some kind of downtown smoky basement jazz club, it was probably based on the Village Vanguard. It’s like that. And the sound is excellent.

The Marc Ribot Trio consists of Marc Ribot on guitar (naturally!), Henry Grimes on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums. Ribot is an incredibly versatile guitarist who plays everything from rock to jazz to classical to punk to surf guitar, and has performed with a very wide variety of musicians both live and in studio. He also has a number of his own bands and projects (Marc Ribot Trio/Spiritual Unity, Cubanos Postizos, Ceramic Dog, etc.), all of which are worth checking out. Chad Taylor is a drummer who has played with a long list of impressive jazz and indie rock collaborators, from Cooper-Moore to Iron & Wine to Eugene Chadbourne. Henry Grimes has perhaps the most unusual life story of any musician I’ve ever seen – he was an important up-and-coming young bass player in the 50s and 60s, playing with people like Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, but he dropped out of the scene completely and suddenly. No one really knew where he was, and for many years people assumed he was dead. In 2002 a particularly determined fan discovered that he was living in California, no longer performing after being forced to give up his instrument some 35 years previously due to bad luck and finances. With help from some fellow musicians and fans he was able to procure an instrument and start performing again… and in spite of all those years away, he is still amazing.

I got there early enough on Saturday night to be the first person in the door, so I was able to snag one of the best seats in the house. I misjudged a little bit because when the band came on stage it turned out that Henry Grimes’ bass was blocking my view of Chad Taylor, but on the plus side I had what I believe to be the only seat in the entire place where you could sneak perfect photos of Marc Ribot from underneath the table where the camera wouldn’t bother anyone:

Ribot-vanguard

I didn’t plan it that way, but sometimes life just works out in your favor like that! I only took a couple of flashless photos and a short video clip for my blog readers, because it really wasn’t (more…)

Concert(s) Review: Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog in Brooklyn and Philadelphia (10/4, 10/5/2013)

I decided on Thursday night to grab some last-minute travel deals and head down to Brooklyn and Philadelphia for the last two-thirds of Ceramic Dog‘s three-date east coast tour. They’d announced the dates not too far in advance, and I already had all this travel planned for Zorn@60 concerts (see: my last two bazillion blog posts) so I didn’t think I could go. Then after all the Zorn concerts were over I started getting that concert itch, and I cobbled together bus schedules and Amtrak points and figured out that I could see two shows while only missing three hours of work if I tried really hard, so… yeah. I booked it all about 16 hours before I left, and e-mailed my mom to let her know I was traveling out of state on short notice.

When people ask and I need an easy answer, I always tell them that Ceramic Dog is my favorite band. Which is sort of silly, since the people who ask me questions like that tend to have simpler tastes in music and the response is always “who?” Those people clearly don’t know what they’re missing – everyone should see this band! They’re a rock band, and they ROCK, but there’s also a lot of experimentation and improvisation, which means they’re way more interesting than just a rock band. Their live shows rarely disappoint.

I had never been to the venue they were playing in Brooklyn, Union Pool, and I really liked it. They have a separate bar and outdoor areas where the less-interested attendees could talk without bugging those of us watching the band. I was in the front row so I can’t complain about the sightlines, and the sound was good (but not outstanding). They had a guest percussionist (didn’t catch his name – leave a comment if you know it!) but otherwise the lineup was as usual: Marc Ribot on guitar and vocals, Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Moog, and Ches Smith on drums. I had left on such short notice that I didn’t have time to charge my camera before the show, so I just have a couple of pics from before it died, and no video:

Marc Ribot at Union Pool
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Concert(s) Review: John Zorn’s Song Project & Moonchild (9/29/2013)

Sunday night was (sadly) the last night of my New York Zorn@60 adventure – and it was the end of a rather remarkable run of shows for me. I ended up going to 18 concerts in September, 10 of which were Zorn@60 events. (I didn’t have a chance to write about some of the shows, unfortunately – it’s hard to combine that level of concert attendance with a full-time job, travel and blogging.) I was a little worried that after the big blowout week of music we’d just seen, this night would be a bit of a let-down, because I have kind of mixed feelings about both projects. But I’m not the sort of person who would skip a Zorn concert (under pretty much any circumstances you can think of) so I went along and hoped for the best.

Both of the concerts on Sunday were at Le Poisson Rouge, a venue I really like in Greenwich Village. The early set was the Song Project, which is more-or-less the Dreamers with a replacement keyboard player (John Medeski instead of Jamie Saft) with the addition of a few vocalists. The full band line-up: John Zorn (conducting), Marc Ribot (guitar), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), Trevor Dunn (bass), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Joey Baron (drums), and John Medeski on keys. The vocalists were Mike Patton, Jesse Harris, and Sofia Rei. They play some Dreamers material, but they also play a bunch of other stuff ranging anywhere from Filmworks to Naked City.

The reason I have mixed feelings about the group is that (more…)

Concert Review: John Zorn’s Game Pieces (9/27/2013)

(See previous post for explanation of why there are no photos or videos in this blog article. Welcome to Wordville, population: 1871. If you find any photos or videos from this show, feel free to link to them in the blog comments!)

Friday night was our third night in a row at the Miller Theatre, and out of the three nights, it was the music I was most excited about: John Zorn’s Game Pieces. I was sadly in a lousy mood going into it, partly because of the e-mail I’d received from them and partly because I wasn’t looking forward to spending another 3-4 hours in such a hot and stuffy room (it had been so bad the night before, people were falling asleep left and right, and my friends had to miss pieces of music to go out and get fresh air). I felt bad for the musicians – you know if it’s hot and stuffy in the audience section, it’s ten times worse on stage since they’re higher up and constantly under all those hot lights.

It is really a shame that there are no videos available of most of these pieces, because some of them I feel are almost pointless to listen to without being able to see them. It is so much easier to understand what’s happening when you can see the musicians and the prompter/conductor/director. It’s also lots and lots of fun to watch these pieces! On this particular night we got an incredible array of pieces, the likes of which has not been seen probably since (more…)