My self-curated guitar festival with Aram Bajakian, Nels Cline, Marc Ribot and Stephen Ulrich

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks here in Concertville, having attended eleven sets of live music in the twelve days after I wrote my last blog post. (Edit: And I’ve attended four more concerts since I wrote that sentence because I haven’t found the time to finish this blog post all week!) I realized partway through that eleven-set run that I was in the middle of an inadvertent celebration of all things guitar, with several of my favorite guitarists playing multiple shows all in a row.

The main event was Aram Bajakian’s residency at the Stone. I only made it to seven sets (going to the Stone is a lot harder when the MTA does late-night construction on your concert commute, grrr!) but I heard some wonderful music along the way. I have a hard time narrowing it down to favorites, since the music was so diverse that it’s hard to compare one set to the next; but I think my top three were Dálava; music inspired by “The Color of Pomegranates,” and his duo set with Alan Semerdjian.

Aram did two sets of Dálava during his residency, one with a full band and one as a guitar/vocal duet. I saw the one with a full band, which was Aram Bajakian on guitar; Julia Ulehla doing vocals; Tom Swafford and Jake Shulman Ment playing violins; Frank London on trumpet; Shanir Blumenkranz on bass; and Ted Reichman on accordion. (It was funny since I’d had a fairly random interaction with someone the previous night on the subway, and said something about there not being enough good music written for accordions. And the very next night: great music with an accordion! Wish: granted.) I’d seen Dálava’s New York premiere a few months ago, and although I enjoyed that first show, I thought this set at the Stone was by far the better of the two. The attentive, appreciative audience at the Stone and the intimate space makes everything better, and I think the band was just feeling it more this time. The music is an unusual blend of old Eastern European folk music and modern downtown New York sensibility. Very interesting stuff. (Check it out here.)

The duo set with Alan Semerdjian was really very special; Alan would recite poems (written by him as well as some poems by Armenian writers, translated into English, in tribute to the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide) while Aram played music to underscore and illustrate the texts. The poetry was excellent and thought-provoking, and the solo guitar accompaniment was beautiful. I would love to hear more of this collaboration, it really worked well and was an emotionally powerful experience.
(more…)

Early April Concert Highlights: Doug Wieselman; Jolie Holland; Nels Cline Singers w/Jeff Parker

As usual, I’ve been seeing too many concerts to review, but I thought I’d take a night off and cover a few highlights of the last couple of weeks – just pulling out my very favorite performances among the ten or so bands/performers I’ve seen.

The first really great set I saw in April was Doug Wieselman‘s solo performance at a house concert. I think he performed music exclusively from his recent album, From Water, which features pieces he wrote after being inspired by specific bodies of water. Some have obvious inspirations like “Pacific 1″ and “Pacific 2,” and some had more involved explanations – like “Train” which was inspired by the train that goes along the Hudson River (which is the one I take to my parents’ house, so I know it well – it’s beautiful) and even as far afield as “Kepler-22b,” which is an exoplanet that astronomers believe has a lot of water on it. Mr. Wieselman performed on solo clarinet and some electronics/pedals.

I found this music to be particularly enjoyable in such an intimate and friendly setting. It was so easy to fully focus on and lose yourself in the sound. I’ve seen him play a few times before, but this set felt really special.

Later that week I went with a friend to see Jolie Holland. Kind of a nice musical segue, because although these two concerts could hardly be more different, Doug Wieselman played a lot on her most recent album, Wine Dark Sea. And the lion’s share of her setlist was from that album, including one of my favorites, “Saint Dymphna.”

For this particular live set, she had an unusual lineup featuring three electric guitars and no other instruments (although one guitarist swapped out his guitar for a harmonium on a couple of songs). Electric guitars are one of my favorite instruments, so I thought it made for a pretty fun band. It was a short-ish set, but the setlist was very well-chosen and included a new song that I really liked. After hearing it, I’m already looking forward to the next album! (She tends to go a few years between albums, but hopefully I don’t have to wait TOO long for it.)

Edit for a late addition: My friend Mike W. sent me this great pic he took at the Jolie Holland concert from our vantagepoint at the corner of the stage:
Jolie Holland at the Bowery Ballroom

(more…)

Concerts: Cyro Baptista’s residency at the Stone (Nov. 2014)

Ten concerts since I last managed to write a review, terrible blogger shame… but let us talk about the glorious week that was the Cyro Baptista residency at the Stone! I badly wanted to see all six nights, but I slept poorly all week and didn’t have the energy for it, so I only managed three nights and regretted all the ones I missed. The ones I did manage to catch were Beat the Donkey; Banquet of the Spirits with special guest Nels Cline; and Banquet of the Spirits with special guests Peter Apfelbaum and John Lee. (I honestly didn’t choose those three with any real plan, I simply went to the first night and then was too tired to ever go out two nights in a row, so I attended every other night.)

The first night was the one with Nels Cline guesting on guitar and Banquet of the Spirits. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mr. Cline is the guitarist for Wilco, who are kind of a big deal in the indie rock scene. Naturally, when he plays with a great band in a one-off show at a tiny venue like the Stone, there will be long lines. I showed up about 20 minutes later than I was hoping to, and ended up with a seat in the back corner which was only tolerable because we had a great view of the keyboards. Banquet of the Spirits features Brian Marsella on keyboards, and he’s one of my all-time fave keyboard players, so I was pretty happy in spite of my view otherwise consisting of the backs of people’s heads. Although sometimes that can be interesting, too…

shanirback
(more…)

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:

IMG_3879

(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: 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…)