Concert(s) review: John Zorn at the Anthology Film Archives (9/21 & 9/22/2013)

This weekend my friends and I were lucky enough to see two “Essential Cinema” concerts and one screening/discussion with John Zorn at the Anthology Film Archives. Essential Cinema is what Zorn calls his concerts where he has a live band performing scores along with silent short films. I’d seen one of these concerts years ago at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going in.

The theater at the AFA was fairly small, and the band set up directly beneath the screen, in front of the seats. The front row of seats was roped off, so we sat in the second row (hoping for the best view of the band in a darkened theater, since we are much more live music junkies than we are film junkies). It turned out that the front row was blocked off so that Zorn could sit there and conduct the band (and occasionally play his saxophone) while still being able to see the film as it was playing on the screen. This worked out pretty well for us as we had a great view of the conductor as well as the dimly-lit band.

He asked us at the beginning to turn off and put away our phones and cameras and “pretend it’s 1958″ and enjoy the show. So: I have no pictures or Youtube videos to share with you! I wasn’t about to go against his explicitly stated wishes while sitting two feet away from him.

Night One

On the first night, they played scores for five short films. The films we saw did not completely match the program, but I believe it was Joseph Cornell’s “Rose Hobart” as well as “Collage No. 36″; Harry Smith’s “Oz, the Tin Woodman’s Dream”; Wallace Berman’s “Aleph”; and Maya Deren’s “Ritual in Transfigured Time.”

Two of the films (I believe it was the Cornell films) had scores very reminiscent of the Gift or the Dreamers material – the band consisted of Jamie Saft (keys, guitar), Shanir Blumenkranz (bass), Marc Ribot (guitar), Tim Keiper (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Kenny Wollesen (vibes) and Ikue Mori on laptop/electronics. They had a very lush, exotic sound, mostly pretty smooth but with the occasional crescendo of intensity.

One of the films – Harry Smith’s, if my memory serves me correctly – had a soundtrack consisting entirely of (more…)

Concert Review: Border Music – David Hidalgo & Marc Ribot (9/16/2013)

On Monday night I went to my second concert of the week: Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo, playing one of their occasional “Border Music” shows. I’d seen this duo once before and really enjoyed it, so when they announced this concert the night after the Masada Marathon (see my review of that here), I added another night to my stay in New York so I could stick around for this set at City Winery. Hidalgo and Ribot have been performing “Border Music” sets for several years now, sometimes with a band and sometimes as a duet. This particular show was just the two of them and a stack of guitars. (OK, OK, a stack of guitars and one ukulele. Everyone has to have a ukulele these days…)

City Winery is generally a decent place to see a show – although it’s easy to run up a big tab there, it can be a treat to have a real wine list at a concert (as opposed to the usual “pay $10 for the worst gin and tonic you ever drank” venues). Sightlines vary depending on where you are sitting, but are generally OK if there aren’t any tall people in front of you; sound is very good. I’ve only ever sat in the front section, and it’s close enough to have an intimate small-club feel. I’d previously seen their concert in a large theater, so this was much nicer.

Even after two concerts, I’m a little vague on the Border Music concept – there was definitely a Latin-American theme running through the night, with about half a dozen Spanish-language songs; but it’s more than that, too. It’s an excursion through modern music history – (more…)

Concert Review: John Zorn’s Masada Marathon (9/15/2013)

On Sunday I went to the Skirball Center at NYU for one of John Zorn’s spectacular Masada Marathons. I’ve seen a number of them before (five, IIRC) and every one has been both different and wonderful in its own way. This one featured more bands than any I’d seen before, a total of thirteen – including a couple I hadn’t seen before. In order of performance: Bar Kokhba, Banquet of the Spirits, Mycale, David Krakauer & his band (billed on the program as simply “Krakauer”), Erik Friedlander solo, Secret Chiefs 3, the Dreamers, Malphas, Roberto Rodriguez Octeto Masada, Uri Caine solo, Abraxas, Masada String Trio, and the grand finale, Electric Masada.

If you’re not familiar with Zorn’s Masada music, it’s basically a songbook of tunes that he wrote based on certain rules – they are all short (and meant to be improvised/expanded upon by the musicians interpreting the tunes) and are based on certain scales/modes that have a Judaic feel to them. He’s released dozens of albums based on the hundreds of tunes in the Masada songbooks, and in recent years he has put together a number of Masada Marathon concerts where he gets together a large number of bands to play Masada material.

For this article, I’m going to write about the bands I thought were particular highlights, instead of trying to be completist – thirteen bands in one post is a bit overkill even for me. I really thought all 13 of the bands were at the very least good and/or interesting, but sometimes a blogger has to make tough choices…

Bar Kokhba was first up, and they are always a favorite of mine. It’s a real all-star band: Marc Ribot on guitar, Joey Baron on drums, Cyro Baptista on percussion, and the Masada String Trio (Erik Friedlander, Mark Feldman, and Greg Cohen) on cello, violin, and bass, respectively. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better band, and they’ve been playing together for about fifteen years as a group (some of them have been working together since the 80s) and they are always really tight and throw down a fantastic groove. I thought the first piece was a bit tame, understandable when they’re warming up the crowd. But in the second piece they really knocked it out of the park – especially Marc Ribot, with a few fiery solos. He just flipped that “It’s Time To Be Awesome Now” switch somewhere in his brain and cranked out some crazy, fun stuff. Bar Kokhba is a band that can be pretty laid back – surfy and groovy – but it’s a slow burn that can really go over the top when they have a chance to stretch out on stage. I think sometimes the limited time they get in these Masada Marathons works against them, since they have to stop playing almost as soon as they really get going.

I had terribly unfortunate camera problems on the night of the show (and me sitting front row center, too! What a wasted opportunity) so you’ll have to settle for audio with no picture:

Banquet of the Spirits was up next, and their set was a lot of fun. They are pretty much a band designed for fun: Cyro Baptista, the Brazilian percussionist who seems like he must have rhythm flowing through his veins; Brian Marsella, a fantastic and wild keyboard player (who you can also hear playing in Zion80, a band I’ve mentioned before); Shanir Blumenkranz, a talented multi-instrumentalist who played in several bands throughout the evening; and Tim Keiper on drums… I always feel a little bad for someone playing drums in Cyro’s band, how can you keep up with him?! But Keiper manages to do just that. The band only played a few tunes, but they changed the tone considerably, from Bar Kokhba’s sunny surfy grooves to something darker, weirder, and more exotic. The very beginning of the set started with some deep rumbling, strange and difficult-to-identify percussion noises, and some slightly creepy piano. Very atmospheric, and totally different from the band we’d just seen. But after that eerie introduction they launched into some faster, more rhythm-focused music, featuring a lot of interesting bass textures and some wonderful work on the keyboards from Brian Marsella. It’s a bit hard to pin them down into a genre, I guess you could call it “world jazz.” I’ve seen them 4-5 times and they are always exciting and fun.

Another favorite from the first half of the night was Erik Friedlander – I’ve always been impressed with his solo performances, but he’s taken these Masada pieces so far beyond the (more…)

Concert Review: Marc Ribot, Matana Roberts, Cian Nugent (9/12/2013)

On Thursday I went to the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn for the first time, to see three solo artists: Marc Ribot, Matana Roberts, and Cian Nugent. The show was part of the Issue Project Room’s tenth anniversary concert series, “Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain.” (That’s got to win some kind of “best concert series name” award, no?)

I hadn’t been to the Issue Project Room before, and I really liked it – a very laid-back vibe with a serious art-appreciation atmosphere. It was in a building that had obviously been repurposed – it could have been an old bank or post office, there was a lot of marble and faux-classical detail, some of which was in disrepair (which only added to the atmosphere, I thought). The marble made for interesting acoustics (not ‘interesting’ as a euphemism for ‘bad,’ just a little different than what is typical – I liked the sound a lot). I would definitely be happy to see more shows there. And I will probably like it even better next time since I (hopefully) will not be soaked to the bone after being caught in an apocalyptic thunderstorm on the way there!

You’ll undoubtedly have heard of the show’s headliner, Marc Ribot, if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time – I’m a big fan. He’s a versatile guitar player who has played with everyone from John Zorn to Tom Waits to Elton John, and touches on genres including jazz, classical, rock, punk, Latin and surf in his own projects. On this night he stuck exclusively to acoustic guitars, playing his usual stream-of-consciousness medleys – mixing his own compositions with a variety of other tunes and improvisations.

I’d been rather intensely looking forward to this set for a few weeks, my subconscious brain somehow picking this one over the incredible list of upcoming shows I have lined up (reviews coming soon – don’t touch that dial!). I think because I’ve been unusually stressed lately and his last solo album, “Silent Movies,” is such a masterpiece of (more…)

Concert Review: Zorn@60 at Gent Jazz Festival (7/14/2013)

Today’s concert review was written by our esteemed Belgian music correspondent, Bjorn Weynants. I’m posting this video of excerpts from the show here at the top so you can listen while you read! – Sarah V.


When it was announced that John Zorn would do a world tour with his “Zorn@60″ celebration, it came as no surprise that a Belgian stop at the Gent Jazz festival was included. After all, John Zorn has been a popular guest at this festival and its sister-festival Jazz Middelheim (which has the same organisers). You may be familiar with the live album by the original Masada Quartet Live in Middelheim 1999. The (multi-day) Gent Jazz festival takes place at the Bijloke site in the city of Ghent, which is a former hospital/abbey that has been beautifully converted into a museum/music centre, with a tent in the gardens where the concerts take place.

Apart from the “classic” Zorn@60 line-up on the main stage, we did get some extra (Zorn-related) concerts at a second – much smaller – Garden Stage. The concept behind Zorn@60 was not to look back at Zorn’s career thus far (he is not the type of musician to look back at what he did in the past), but rather to give an idea of what he is doing right now musically, at the age of 60.

The opening act was the Song Project, a new project. The central idea behind it was to write lyrics to a selection of Zorn songs, lyrics written by the likes of Sean Lennon, Laurie Anderson, Mike Patton and others. Three singers were present: Mike Patton (of Moonchild and Faith No More fame), Sofia Rei (from Mycale) and Jesse Harris (songwriting collaborator of Norah Jones). The backing was done by a band (directed by Zorn) which was basically The Dreamers, but with John Medeski instead of Jamie Saft on piano. A wide selection out of Zorn’s oeuvre was played: from Naked City to The Concealed (The Road to Kafaristan) to the Book of Angels (Dalquiel).

It will come as no surprise that (more…)