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).
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Review: John Zorn’s “Angels at the Vanguard” (part one)

Faithful readers of Concert Manic will have already read about John Zorn’s week at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village, thanks to an in-depth guest post previewing all of the concerts (click here if you haven’t read it and would like to). This week I relocated to my new apartment in New York City approximately 28 hours before the start of “Angels at the Vanguard,” which I swear was a complete coincidence. An hour after my parents dropped me off with the remainder of my belongings, my Zornfest companion for the week arrived from Spain, and the rest is history…

We’re now halfway through the Vanguard residency, and I’ve gotten internet access installed at my new apartment, so I am back in the business of writing concert reviews!

The first set of the first night was one I was particularly looking forward to: Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier on violin and piano. Their Book of Angels album, “Malphas,” is one of my favorites in the series (I think it was the first one I stumbled across in a Tower Records store bin back in the day) and I’m never disappointed when I see them live, whether it’s performing their own compositions or those of John Zorn. I had just picked up Sylvie Courvoisier’s latest album, “Double Windsor,” that afternoon* and was really excited to see her play. (*At the world-famous Downtown Music Gallery, because I live in New York now! It’s exciting.)

It was a Tuesday night and therefore not as busy as some of the weekend sets will no doubt be, but the room was more or less full and I think everyone was excited to be kicking off Zorn’s debut appearance at the Vanguard. I think the two musicians on stage were a perfect choice for the first set – they made one of the really classic Book of Angels albums, and they have played together enough that there was very little chance of nerves or pressure marring their set. In the end, I think they set the tone for the rest of the week, performing brilliantly and beautifully throughout – among the very best sets I’ve seen them play. Several of us in attendance at these shows have remarked on what a pleasure it is, after so many Masada Marathons and shuffle concerts, seeing these talented performers really spreading their wings and playing a full hour or more instead of 10-15 minutes at a time. It feels almost decadent to sit back and revel in these long sets.

The second set of the first night was one I was quite curious about: Eyvind Kang (on viola) and his large band (Mark Feldman – violin; Erik Friedlander – cello; Doug Wieselman – clarinet; Graham Haynes – cornet; Hidayat Honari – tar & guitar; Shahzad Ismaily – bass; and Ches Smith – drums). His recent Book of Angels album, “Alastor,” frankly confused me from the start, although I started getting into it after a few listens. The Vanguard set had an almost entirely different lineup from the album, so it was a bit of a mystery as to what we would get (especially when I’m looking at the list of musicians and thinking: “two-thirds of the Masada String Trio on stage with two-thirds of Ceramic Dog? What!?”). The set turned out to be quite beautiful, I liked it (at least in terms of first impressions) a lot more than I liked the studio album. I’m not sure if it was the different line-up/instrumentation/arrangements or if it’s just something that works better live, but I really enjoyed this set a lot. If I had to find a complaint about it, I would say it was maybe a bit restrained, which is perfectly understandable as it is a very new ensemble and they may not be fully ‘broken in’ yet, as it were. (At least Shahzad Ismaily looked relaxed, barefoot and sitting on his own amp in the back of the room.)
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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(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 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…)