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…)

Recent concert highlights: Erik Friedlander, Trevor Dunn’s PROOFReaders, Marc Ribot, Sean Rowe, and Zion80

I’ve had a light three weeks of concerts (well, light for me) between two head colds, a sinus infection and a round of antibiotics – yuck! Hopefully now that summer has arrived a couple of months early, the cold and flu season is over. I did manage to push through and get to a handful of shows, though I didn’t feel well enough to write about them until this week.

Erik Friedlander‘s solo set at Dixon Place, premiering his new album “Illuminations,” was a real treat. The new album is a must-hear – I’ve really been enjoying it (you can listen and buy it by clicking here). It reminds me a little of “Volac,” the album he did for John Zorn’s Book of Angels series, but with a bit more of a classical sound. I hadn’t been to Dixon Place before and it was an excellent place to see a very focused and intense solo set, with no distracting noise from the street or a bar. It was a beautiful concert, and I was happy to bring home the new CD afterwards for some extended listening sessions.

Here’s a piece from “Illuminations” that he performed in Krakow:

The same night, and with a slightly overlapping set time, was Trevor Dunn’s band PROOFReaders, with Dunn on upright bass, Darius Jones on saxophone, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Ryan Sawyer on drums. Luckily this show was just a few blocks from Dixon Place at the Skinny, so we were able to scoot over there and only miss a little bit of the beginning of the show. They played a double set of Ornette Coleman tunes, so we definitely got our money’s worth even though we were late (not always a sure thing these days with lots of sub-60-minute sets happening in avant-garde/jazz venues). It was a great opportunity to relax on some comfy couches and take in some high-quality acoustic jazz performed by very talented musicians. What more can a jazz fan ask for?

I don’t think the PROOFReaders have any recordings or videos available to share, but I will definitely go see them again if I get the chance.
(more…)

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.)
(more…)