Concert Review: Zorn@60 at the Barbican in London (7/12/2013)

Today’s concert review was contributed by William Sarginson, founder/moderator of the John Zorn/Tzadik/Merzbow forum at http://offering.proboards.com.

Of course I was excited for this show ever since it was announced. I always try to see Zorn (in whatever incarnation) whenever he visits the UK, and this was my sixth time. At Barbican too, which is always a plus for me as I’m straight off the train and five minutes walk to the venue – no subway, no hassle. In the heat of this time of year, believe me that was a plus point! So, a few drinks sank and on to the show!

The Barbican hall is a great venue, acoustically and aesthetically. Seats are comfortable, staff are helpful and it’s a great place to see anything performed. Probably why Zorn favours it as his London venue of choice. Looking through the evening’s programme we were in for a varied night of great music, although the actual billing of the show was to be altered. As the players arrived onstage and were introduced by Zorn, he explained that his original intention was to have each act as advertised, in that order of billing. However, the venue “didn’t like that idea” apparently, and insisted on an interval. As a result JZ split the evening into two – vocal, followed by non vocal. Made sense I guess…

First up was The Song Project – Zorn tunes performed with added vocals and lyrics, courtesy of Jesse Harris, Mike Patton and Sofia Rei. Now, I kinda spoiled things for myself here and previously watched footage from the recent Moers Festival show so I knew what to expect. Each vocalist took it in turns to do a song which included Naked City, Filmworks and Book Of Angels pieces as well as Towards Kafiristan from The Concealed. Rather than break things down tune by tune, the overall effect of this set was lost on me. All the players performed very well as you’d expect, but I just think that the whole idea of putting lyrics to already established songs is a little futile. I believe all the singers contributed to the lyrics, but the absent Sean Lennon’s contribution had this reporter wincing at the entry-level lyricism! I can’t remember which song they were applied to, but they were all pretty poor in my opinion. I can’t help but think this spot could have been used to greater effect with the inclusion of a different part of Zorn’s oeuvre. (Nova Express? Cobra? Hell, why not aim really high and say Naked City? Painkiller? :) ) Highlights here as ever was watching the musicians interact with each other. I could watch Joey Baron and Mike Patton laugh to themselves all day. Zorn conducting is always great to observe too. Overall though, The Song Project was a mis-fire for me.

Next up was The Holy Visions – an a cappella piece for five female voices inspired by Hildegard von Bingen. This was mind-blowing. I’m out of my depth even beginning to decipher what goes into writing or performing this type of music, but it was awesome to watch. Bewildering and almost trance inducing at times! The good thing about having front row seats is that I could see all the interactions between the singers – intricate hand movements and their use of tuning forks – all very interesting. I look forward to hearing the full (30 minute) piece which is due for release sometime this year apparently. All misgivings about The Song Project fell by the wayside after this set! [Note: You can see the Holy Visions in NYC this week at Lincoln Center on July 18! Click here for details. – Sarah V.]

The final act in the “vocal” segment was Moonchild / Templars. For whatever reason, John Medeski was not in attendance so it was a Patton / Dunn / Baron trio, with Zorn (hood on and up!) conducting. I was fortunate enough to see the Moonchild premiere in 2006, so was quite disappointed at the added keyboards / organ not materialising tonight. This was a storming set, though. I was pleased to see Zorn conduct the trio as he didn’t do so for the premiere, and YouTube footage of the South American dates looked insanely energetic and enjoyable. Which this was! About 20 minutes of noise then out for an interval….

First up after stretching the legs was The Alchemist, a piece for string quartet. After introducing the players, Zorn told us the full title of the piece, which I’m afraid was (more…)

Concert Review: Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, Shahzad Ismaily, Marc Ribot (NYC, 6/11/2013)

Tuesday night found me in the same place as Monday night: in line outside Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan, with some friends, hoping to get into the front row of a concert with a particularly unbelievable lineup. Guitar geeks around the world had been drooling over this one, an improvisational trio of world-famous guitarists, along with Shahzad Ismaily on drums (presumably he was brought in to keep the guitar players from getting out of hand ;)). All three of the guitarists – Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, and Marc Ribot – are superstar performers in their own right, and this was, as far as I know, the first time they’ve ever appeared on stage together. Unsurprisingly, I recognized a number of guitarists (and some other musicians) in the audience. It was just that kind of show.

In the weeks coming up to the show, I was seeing a lot of comments from people along the lines of “Those three guitarists are awesome! And I’m sure whoever that other guy is will be good too.” And that’s a shame, because Shahzad Ismaily is awesome. I started paying attention to him a few years back when someone had asked me for a top five albums of the year list, and I realized that he was a major player on three of my top five – and they were all completely different genres of music. I really wish he had a website where I could see when he is playing concerts and stuff (hint hint!).

I feel like I don’t really have to introduce the guitarists, but sometimes my mom reads my blog (Hi Mom!) and she probably doesn’t know who Nels Cline is, so I’ll give a brief overview of them. Marc Ribot – my favorite – plays a very wide variety of genres, has something like twenty albums released under his own name and has contributed to countless other people’s albums, including Tom Waits, John Zorn, Joe Henry, Elvis Costello, John Lurie, Jolie Holland, and even Elton John. Nels Cline is currently best-known for his membership in Wilco, one of the biggest indie bands around, and he also leads his own projects, including the Nels Cline Singers and the Nels Cline Trio. Bill Frisell is – geez, the bio on his website is about 7000 words long, it’s hard to summarize this guy! Like Ribot, he’s played in extremely diverse genres, he’s got a huge roster of collaborators and a long list of his own bands and releases.

Photo by Petra Cvelbar
(Photo by Petra Cvelbar – check out more of her photos at her photo blog!)

They played two sets, and did a variety of duos and trios – each set had an all-guitar trio, and at various points in the evening all of the guitarists did duets (Ribot/Frisell, Cline/Frisell, Cline/Ribot). I think Shahzad Ismaily only joined in for pieces with the full quartet, but I may be misremembering something (I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, which is never good for remembering gig details later!). The entire night with the exception of one song (as far as I could tell) was improv. The non-improv piece was a song with Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell, introduced by Marc Ribot muttering something about how “Frisell is making me sing.” I have a video of (more…)

Concert Review: Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos, Edmar Castaneda (NYC, 6/10/2013)

On Monday I went to the second concert of my four-day NYC vacation: Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street. The first time I ever saw that band was at the very same venue in 2009, and to this day it stands as one of the most fun concerts I have ever been to, so I was very much looking forward to a repeat performance. Every time I’ve seen them, the band has had a different line-up – this time we had a fairly pared-down version: Marc Ribot on guitar; Anthony Coleman on keyboard; EJ Rodriguez on percussion; Brad Jones on bass; and Cougar Estrada on drums.

The Cubanos Postizos are sort of a genre unto themselves – I guess I’d have to call it Cuban jazz put in a blender with punk, a dance party, and that distinctive Ribot guitar flavor. What comes out of that blender is an awful lot of fun. Happily, Le Poisson Rouge removed all the tables and chairs from the main floor to make room for those of us who wanted to do some dancing – I’ve seen the Cubanos at a nice, seated venue and it just doesn’t feel right…

Mr. Ribot started the evening with a bang, saying: “You may have noticed something: there’s no chairs! There’s no tables! SO YOU BETTER DANCE!” Then he let out a wordless shout (out of sheer enthusiasm, from the sound of it) and launched into the fast-paced and light-hearted Los Teenagers Bailan Changui from the Cubanos’ debut eponymous record. After treating us to 15-20 minutes of fast music to get our feet moving, they shifted down a gear and played a more slow-burning song, Fiesta en el Solar, from the same debut record, and then Dame un Cachito Pa’Huele from their followup album, “Muy Divertido!” After a few more dance-friendly tunes, they moved into one of my very favorites: Aurora en Pekin. The studio version of that is not just one of my favorite Cubanos tunes, or one of my favorite Ribot pieces, but really one of my favorite all-time pieces of music ever. Pure perfection. Naturally, when I realized they were playing it, I filmed it, and since I had gotten there really early, waited in line in the pouring rain for 40 minutes, etc., etc., I was right at the edge of the stage in front of Marc Ribot:

Also included in that video is (more…)

Concert Review: Ceramic Dog (Shahzad Ismaily, Marc Ribot, Ches Smith) (New York City, 5/5/2013)

On Sunday night, some friends and I caught the record release party for Ceramic Dog‘s new album “Your Turn” at Le Poisson Rouge in New York. I was excited enough to get in line around 6PM to ensure top quality seats, and we ended up at just about the best possible table in the front row. As you can see, it was a pretty good view:

CDOG-all

I’ve always liked this venue, both for the room itself (sightlines, sound, etc.) and the consistently interesting and high-quality music they book. I wish they would open a branch here in Boston! (Le Poisson avec des Chaussettes Rouges?) I’m always happy to catch a show there. (more…)

Concert Review: John Zorn Marathon at the Walker Art Center (4/6/2013) – Part 2: Masada

(Click here to read part one of this series.)

The second concert of the John Zorn event at the Walker Art Center was a trio of Masada performances, mostly focused on the Book of Angels material. (The Book of Angels is a collection of Zorn’s compositions with a Judaic theme that have been recorded by a number of different bands and soloists.) Zorn’s Masada work is my favorite of his vast output, both live and on record, so I was particularly looking forward to this set, even though I’ve seen all of the performers many times before.

First up was a solo performance by cellist Erik Friedlander, playing material from the eighth volume of the Book of Angels, Volac. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen him play this material – off the top of my head I can think of eight – but I never get tired of it, and I swear he just gets better and better. He began with Harhaziel, which has always been one of my favorite pieces from the Book of Angels series. The studio version is beautiful, but hearing it live just takes my breath away – the intensity evokes such a visceral emotional response in me. The fourth piece he played was one of my favorites of the whole day/night – an intricate, contemplative pizzicato piece played with absolute delicacy and enormous depth of feeling. The kind of thing you can just close your eyes and get lost in.

His fifth and final piece was Sannul, which is another of my favorites from the album. Completely different from the previous piece, this one is played at approximately Mach 3. It’s the sort of impressive piece that makes audiences leap to their feet for a standing ovation. I was able to sneak a little video footage:

After that piece, they took a moment to rearrange the stage and the Masada String Trio walked out: Erik Friedlander on cello again, Mark Feldman on violin, and Greg Cohen on bass. They all faced each other in a tight circle, with John Zorn conducting from a seat on the floor.

The Masada String Trio is one of the oldest Masada bands, going back about fifteen years. The result of such a long collaboration is (more…)