Archive for the ‘Avant-Garde’ Category

HOLY SHIT

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

HENRY COW
40th ANNIVERSARY BOX SET Volumes 1 & 2
9 CDs and 1 DVD with 2 substantial books - in two solid Boxes. LIMITED EDITION.

Assembled over 15 years, this collection gives for the first time some idea of the breadth and depth of Henry Cow’s work. Always very much a live band, performance was their metier, and a concert might range far - always driven by an intense dialogue between tightly knit compositions and radically open improvisation. The officially released LPs tell at best only half this story, and one purpose of this definitive collection is to set the work back into its broader context. These are all previously unreleased recordings, that include many compositions and improvisations new to anyone who only knows the official releases, documentation of a number of one-off projects and events and - where different or remarkable enough to justify inclusion - live versions of parts of the LP repertoire. Many of these recordings are high quality radio transcriptions taken directly from the original masters, others are less hi-fi, but justified we think by their historic and musical quality. And everything has been carefully transferred and re-mastered by Bob Drake to the best audio quality that current technology allows without interference or tampering. It’s all a million times better than the terrible bootlegs that are swimming around. Altogether, these 9 CDs embody some extraordinary, and occasionally prescient music. Taking this box together with the officially released albums, it is possible at last to get some impression of the extensive ground Henry Cow covered in it’s 10 short years. Finally, there is the DVD: 80 minutes of the 1976 Cow (with Georgina Born and Dagmar Krause) performing many unreleased pieces as well as Living in the Heart of The Beast, Beautiful as the Moon &c. This is the only known video recording in existence - professionally made, multi camera - and has not been recovered since its original broadcast (just scour U-Tube, HC is conspicuous by its total absence). And last but not least, there is a great deal of written, photographic and textual documentation. Since this will probably be the last and definitive collection, it has to be thorough. For reasons of fairness and cost we have decided to split the set into two boxes - which can be bought separately or together. VOL 1 covers the period 1971 to the 1976 Hamburg radio show which documents John Greaves’ last concert with the band, as well as the extraordinary Trondheim concert from the quartet tour that immediately followed. VOL 2 takes the story through to 1978 and includes more previously undocumented compositions as well as the Bremen radio recording. The Stockholm CD belongs to this second box, which also contains the DVD.

This came from ReR via ProgressiveEars. Supposedly out in September for 99 GBP. (I haven’t been able to find the original, so this is unverified, but I believe it.) To recap: nine CDs and one DVD of live Henry Cow — none of this stuff has been released before, so you’re not paying for 5 CDs of stuff you already have in order to get to the goodies.

In which Zs make my brain hurt

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Zs 2

On Tuesday night, I went to the Velvet Lounge to see a pretty great quadruple bill of avant/experimental-minded groups: New York-based Zs, who have been one of my favorite avant-rock groups for a couple years now; DC’s Caution Curves, El Paso’s zeuhl-heads Corima; and DC’s FFFFs.

FFFFs 1

FFFFs opened things up, at a typically (for Velvet Lounge) late hour of around 10pm. This is a solo act of a dude named Sean Peoples (pictured above); when I saw him last year opening for Zs, he played very calm, pretty ambient stuff - which is also what’s found on the one recording I have of his, Tree Epic. This time around, though, things were very different; Sean crouched behind his laptop for his brief set and bombarded the audience with some thumping beats and a much more aggressive brand of electronic music. The ambient stuff is more up my alley, I have to say, but perhaps this more bombastic material was more in line with the bands to come.

Corima 6

Corima were one of the reasons I was excited about the show; any band that lists Magma and Koenjihyakkei as prime influences has my attention. Additionally, I was forwarded an email about them from one of the bands that they had played with earlier on their tour, in which the words “fucking amazing” appeared prominently. And, to be sure, these guys were all fucking amazing musicians. They are a very young trio - drums, keys, and bass - whose music is almost a straight-up homage to the aforementioned zeuhl bands. Seriously, it was like if Ruins or Koenjihyakkei wrote 20-minute-long songs. It was the most bombastic, over-the-top performance I’ve seen since… well, Dream Theater, but let’s not go there.

If that description sounds exhausting, well, that’s what it was. Corima definitely had some awesome, jaw-dropping moments - the lightning-fast, dissonant keyboard solos in particular tickled my aural pleasure centers, and drummer Sergio Sanchez did a pretty credible Yoshida/Vander act - but the compositions were so long and disjointed that they lost me within minutes. They played three pieces and by the end I was fried. Really, really enjoyed parts of the set, and I hope they tighten up their writing - this is a group with pretty huge potential. Did I mention the musicianship was pretty jaw-dropping?

Caution Curves 2

Now, if Corima were wild and exhausting, at least I had all the right reference points to understand what they were trying to do. When The Caution Curves came on, it was immediately clear to me that this wasn’t the case for this band. They are a duo, one member on drums and percussion, the other on laptop and reeds, and both are vocalists. But not vocalists in any traditional sense; rather, their voices were used in a kind of babbling, speaking-in-tongues style, or just to make random noises. The overall feeling was one of total discombobulation. There isn’t much out there these days that makes me think, am I really listening to music or just noise? But this did, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m not sure I enjoyed the set, but it was provocative to say the least.

Day 169: Zs 3

And then it was finally time for the headliners. Zs lost a member recently and are down to a trio of guitar, sax and drums, with the drummer also triggering some electronics that are new since I last saw them. Ben, the guitarist, responded in the affirmative when I asked him if their material had changed substantially as a result, saying, “I think you’ll like it.”

The band ended up playing a single lengthy piece. Zs have always made some of the most bracingly ugly music I’ve ever heard, and that certainly hadn’t changed. The saxophonist spent most of the composition blowing long, extremely high notes, and if there was melody there it was stretched out over such a long period of time that it was imperceptible to me. The piece was fairly slow-moving and deliberate, with thematic and rhythmic changes coming at unpredictable intervals, using generous amounts of repetition as a compositional element. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t something I’d be able to digest without having a recording of it and settling in with it for some time - it lacked the visceral thrill of some of the older, fast-paced, Discipline-era-King-Crimson-on-steroids (sorry, that’s overly glib) stuff.

Photographically, it was a nightmare. The Velvet Lounge, while my favorite local venue in terms of the acts that they book, is one of my least favorite places to photograph. The lights are always static and generally dim (and most problematically, the front spotlights are blocked by big speakers mounted from the ceiling). Tonight was worse than it’s ever been, with the lights turned lower than I’ve ever seen them. I probably should have gone back and asked the guy controlling the lights to turn them up a little, but, er, I didn’t. In any case, my resulting settings looked like this: ISO HI 1.0 (6400), f/1.8, 1/40 to 1/80 second. Ouch. Definitely pushing the limits of my D300 there.

Needless to say, these are not my best photos ever, and the noise is distracting in some of them. That’s what I get for liking all this obscure music, I suppose; it’s not like I’m ever likely to get the chance to shoot Zs with a huge light show or anything. These are the challenges that come with the territory.

Full set at Flickr, of course.

Nels Fucking Cline

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Nels Cline Singers 15

“You’re all very strange people” — that was Nels Cline’s introductory statement before his trio, the Nels Cline Singers, launched into the first of two blistering sets at The Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday, June 6. East Coast appearances by Cryptogramophone groups are few and far between, so even though Charlottesville is a bit of a hike from DC, I made the trek down through three and a half hours of rush hour hell.

I’ve seen Cline a few times with Wilco, where his guitar work is always the highlight of the show for me; and I also saw him last year in a solo/duo show with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. But this show may have been my favorite of any of the above. The Singers are a trio of Cline, Devin Hoff on bass, and Scott Amendola on drums (note to Scott: please bring your own eponymous band to the East Coast!). What they play is fairly indescribable; like much of the stuff that Cryptogramophone puts out, it’s easiest to lazily call it “jazz,” but while there are certainly elements of jazz and improv, there are also substantial nods to rock and noise and blues.

Nels Cline Singers 16

Many of the group’s pieces are long-form structured compositions with plenty of space for raucous improv in the middle. The first set that the trio played seemed to draw from their more abstract material, stuff that would build extremely quietly before exploding into unpredictable, manic noise from all corners. The second set, by contrast, was relatively accessible: they opened with two pieces from Cline’s (excellent) tribute to Andrew Hill, New Monastery - if I recall, these were “Dedication” and “Reconciliation.” I was hoping for the aggressively noisy “Compulsion,” but the lyrical melodicism of the two selections they played instead was a welcome change from the more “out” material from the first set. Following this were a couple of pieces that were almost straight-up rock, except with a generous helping of Cline’s trademark excursions into pure noise.

Random aside: oddly, some of my favorite moments of this show, as well as the solo/duo show last year, were when Cline wildly strummed or picked his guitar, then frantically reached over to twiddle some switches - which clicked audibly in the spaces between sheets of abrasive sound, like the electronic musician’s analogue to fingers squeaking along a fretboard.

The final piece of the show was “Something About David H.” from The Giant Pin, which is probably my favorite of the three Nels Cline Singers recordings. It summed up the evening nicely, beginning and ending with quiet ambience and Cline’s delicate, sensitive picking, bookending a thrilling middle section that could have been taken straight from a breakdown in a metalcore song. All in all, this was exactly the kind of stuff that gets my heart pumping, and I think it was easily among the best of the 30 or so shows I’ve seen so far this year.

Nels Cline Singers 5

The Paramount Theater was somewhat of an odd place for an avant-jazzish band like this to play: it’s a cavernous but still fairly intimate space, capacity almost 3000, all seated. The sound was pristine - really, just absolutely phenomenal; the tone of Cline’s guitar and Hoff’s electric upright bass were amazing. Cline seemed openly bemused by the fact that he was playing in such a venue (I wonder if he knew that two days later, none other than Kenny G was scheduled to play there) - not that he doesn’t have experience with huge venues given that he’s been touring with Wilco for several years now, but the fact that he was playing this music in a big theater was no doubt a novelty.

Not surprisingly, the venue wasn’t anywhere close to capacity. Cline joked towards the end of the first set, “We have another set coming up - please don’t leave because then this place would really be empty.” A number of folks walked out during the first set, even in the middle of songs - I have to wonder if these were folks expecting Wilco minus Jeff Tweedy or something. I try not to judge by looks alone, but the frat-boy looking dudes with disgruntled expressions on their faces as they quietly left in the middle of a song probably didn’t get what they came for.

As the trio closed out the show, Cline said something like, “Thank you for having us here; it’s bizarre and strange and wonderful.” Indeed it was.

Nels Cline Singers 13

Photographically, the Paramount was a joy to shoot in; my only regret is that I didn’t have a wide-angle zoom with me (gotta get that 17-55/2.8 so I don’t have to keep renting it). The light wasn’t fantastic - strong blue backlighting with weaker blue frontlighting and a hint of red mixed in, such that the musicians tended to be haloed without enough light illuminating their faces. But the space was excellent; I was free to move all around the theater. The front row of seats was left empty (as at DAR Constitution Hall for the Progressive Nation show) so despite the lack of a real photo pit, I had free reign along the front of the stage, which was raised 4-5 feet above floor level. I could also move out to the wings and shoot from the sides. Because I was the only photographer and the theater was probably something like 15% full, I never felt like I was in anyone’s way.

Because the stage was large and the musicians planted themselves fairly far back on it, I mostly used my 80-200/2.8 (this is becoming a recurring theme - that telephoto is fast becoming my most-used lens for concert photography in any medium- to large-sized venue). The light was just a bit too dim, though; I was at ISO 3200, wide open and shooting at speeds ranging from 1/125 to 1/200, supporting the lens on the edge of the stage to minimize camera shake. And I was still underexposing by a stop or so (adding an extra couple steps to my post-processing workflow and bringing out a bit of noise in the images as well). I did have some success shooting with my 50/1.8 from the front of the stage as well, at ISO 2000 or so and without the underexposure.

Because the musicians were all pretty static - no jumping around or posturing, though they certainly had some great facial expressions - I really wished I had a wide-angle zoom to get some more dynamic shots, especially since I could literally lean over the edge of the stage to get as close as possible. I’m going to have to make some extra cash to get myself that 17-55 soon. Still, I’d consider this a pretty successful shoot all things considered.

Nels Cline Singers 20

Big thanks to Ben Levin, who helped get me set up with permission to photograph this show. The venue staff were also extremely helpful and accommodating. The usual three songs, no flash rule applied, but I think I actually just did two songs because their pieces are so damn long. Also thanks to Todd Tweedy, who tried to set me up with an interview with the band after the show, but that idea was nixed because they had some pretty grueling-sounding travel plans involving a very early morning flight the next day out of Richmond (over an hour from Charlottesville).

As always, more photos can be found at the full Flickr photoset.

Great show: Earth & Kayo Dot

Monday, May 5th, 2008

Okay, sorry for the major delays in updates both in the site proper and this blog. I’m going to try something here. In 2008, I’ve been focusing a lot on my photography, and doing a lot of live music photography in particular. I’ve started a photography blog, and will be cross-posting concert reviews, with photography notes, at that blog and this one. So at this blog I’ll continue posting my usual ramblings, as well as concert reviews, but the concert reviews will now include more photographs and a few paragraphs of photo-geek stuff that you can safely skip over if you’re just in it for the music. We’ll see how this works. Not that the photos will usually look better at the photography blog thanks to the black background there. Anyway, here’s my first shot at it — a review of a great show I saw last night, Earth and Kayo Dot. Sunday night metal.

Earth 9

“Metal” is stretching it a bit, but both of the touring bands I saw last night at Rock & Roll Hotel, Earth and Kayo Dot, have their roots in it - the former in their classic drone-metal albums of the early 90s, the latter in their evolution out of avant/prog-metal group Maudlin of the Well. Still, this was about as different from Saturday’s prog-metal (when I saw Symphony X and Epica, review to come) as it could get. Earth plays glacially slow, crushingly loud instrumental music that, were it not for the volume and subtle drone tendencies, could almost be called doomy country & western. Kayo Dot is pretty much uncategorizable, straddling some invisible line between rock and rigorously composed modern classical music. The opener, Stymphalian Birds, was a solo noise/drone act that was surprisingly quite excellent. Needless to say, there was no symphonic metal bombast going on here, no drunken screaming fans, no call-and-response fist-pumping.

Earth was who I’d come for and they did not disappoint. The touring version of this band is a four-piece of guitar, bass, drums, and keys/trombone (trombone very sparingly used on one song only). They played almost exclusively stuff from the new album, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, which was fine by me as I think the album is pretty excellent. Live, their music sounded pretty much identical to the album versions, with one key difference: sheer volume. This stuff, when heard at bone-rattling loudness levels, becomes even more doomy and impactful than on record. Yet it still retains its beauty, with slow, repetitive melodies shining through wonderfully. It was also impressive to watch these guys play so damn slowly - drummer Adrienne Davies (pictured below) especially. I’m sure it takes massive concentration to play these songs, where sometimes there was a full second or even more between individual beats, and they pulled it off easily.

Earth 6

I’ve never been a huge fan of Kayo Dot (sorry Aaron). I always get the feeling that much of their material is going straight over my head - lots of abstractness and subtlety when I am longing for more intensity. Live, they held my attention better than on record, and it was fun to see just how intricately composed some of the pieces are, with all the musicians either reading from their charts or watching bandleader Toby Driver (below) intently for cues. The majority of the set was very quiet and slow-moving, with a few heavier parts intermingled; calling this band “metal” at this point would be a total misnomer. The pleasant surprise was a stunningly lyrical guitar solo from Driver during the last song - not sure what song it was but it was gorgeous. By that point, it seemed like they had already completely lost some of the audience, though - a couple of the guys in the front row next to me looked noticeably impatient with the whole affair.

Kayo Dot 7

Photographically, this was a tough show to get anything exciting, between the mostly static performers and completely static lighting. At least there was enough light (barely), but it was patchy and strongly hued. This weekend, in fact, I had a first: I blew out the blue channel in several of my photos. I’m used to screwing up and blowing out red highlights, but blue is a new one for me. Still managed to get some decent shots, but nothing as dynamic as Saturday night’s show - which, all things considered, is hardly surprising. I shot wide open with my rented 17-55 again (boy was I sad to return it this morning), between 1600 and 3200 ISO, shutter speeds as high as 1/160 to preserve blue/red highlights, as low as 1/40 at times to try to get the performers who were standing deeper in shadow.

The nice thing about shooting at Rock & Roll Hotel is that, except at completely sold-out shows, it’s relatively easy to move around. I mostly shot from right in front of the stage, but during Earth’s set I moved to the side and slightly behind (which I how I got the headline shot of Dylan Carlson haloed by the spotlights up front). No problems like Saturday at Jaxx where I was pinned to one spot and not even in the front row.

One last Earth shot to close out this post… check out the full set at Flickr for more.

Day 125: Earth

I’m still alive, and I saw Bloodcount!

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

So. Long time no nothing. Since I last wrote anything of consequence, I’ve had the privilege of seeing four concerts, all of which were quite awesome. Seriously, one of the better streaks of shows I’ve had. At each of them I managed to take photos for the first little while, then settle in and just listen and enjoy the music — best of both worlds. I’ll tackle them in chronological order over the course of a few posts.

Way back when on February 9, I had the privilege of seeing Tim Berne’s Bloodcount play their third show since something like 1997. I don’t make much of a secret out of the fact that Berne is one of my favorite modern composers and bandleaders, and some of the stuff that Bloodcount put out in the 90s is up there with the best of his work, in my opinion (the first disc of Unwound is just astonishing). So to get a chance to see the quartet reformed was a real treat. They played two sets; the first consisted of mostly shorter pieces, which seemed more focused than the old meandering compositions of the 90s, and really condensed the energy of the quartet to great effect. The second set was a change of pace, as they played one piece over again (Berne’s performance the first time around, when they opened the first set with the song, was apparently flawed — I didn’t notice — as he said after the piece ended, “Well… the score is 1-0. I’m losing.”) but then unleashed a 45-minute behemoth on the audience. It was classic Bloodcount, unfolding in ways that were sometimes difficult to follow; attention-demanding but extremely rewarding. After the fact, Berne wanted to know if anyone had recorded that second set, and I can see why: it was fantastic. (Sadly, I don’t think anyone was recording.)

Photos of the show below, in black & white because the colors in the performance space at An Die Musik do not exactly translate well into film (they show up as kind of a sickly yellow that also tinges the skin tones… gross).

End of year jazz

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

So I was on a much-needed vacation last week, but still managed to squeeze in a couple last concerts in DC: Frode Gjerstad Trio and Circus of Saints, two groups that were sort-of jazz but not really, although in completely (and I do mean completely) different ways.

The former show was a tough decision, because that same night, a very appealing group was playing at An Die Musik in Baltimore, including Marc Ducret on guitar and Tom Rainey on drums. Luckily I made the right call, as that show turned out to be cancelled due to weather. Gjerstad’s trio consisted of the titular member on saxophones and clarinet, Øyvind Storesund on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. I’ve seen the latter three times now this year, with three different bands, and I think I have something like eight CDs from this year alone on which he plays. Does the man ever rest? Who knows, but what I do know is that he’s a damned entertaining drummer, and the main reason I decided to go to this show, dragging my girlfriend along with me.

This trio played a little less than an hour of pure free improv, with few gestures towards traditional melody, harmony, or rhythm. Definitely not free jazz, just freeform improvisation. Gjerstad had a tendency to explore the upper registers of his instruments, particularly clarinet, something that I don’t particularly enjoy, but otherwise this was still a pretty fun show. Nilssen-Love is always a blast to watch, in any case. Without any real musical reference points, I’m a bit at a loss to describe this stuff except that it was very challenging.

Three days later, seeing Circus of Saints was a bit of a jarring transition. This is some kind of collective of local musicians playing what could be categorized as accessible, melodic jazz-rock, with plenty of room for soloing but also lots of catchy, composed melodies. The show was at one of my favorite venues, Jammin’ Java (though sadly they were out of their amazing spicy pork chili when we got there), and I had a good time. Although it wasn’t the kind of music I would ever listen to on record, they were fun to watch live, particularly a guy on low brass (trombones and tuba) who was a bit show-offy but had the chops to match — at one point my girlfriend thought he was reading off of the saxophonist’s music and transposing the lines on the fly in is head!

So the vacation was the reason for the lack of recent posting, but I’ll have some good stuff coming up — maybe some notes on new acquisitions, thoughts on an MP3 player I bought a friend for Christmas, recounting an eMusic customer service experience, and an end-of-year concert recap. Til then… happy holidays!

The new Zs fucking rocks.

Friday, November 16th, 2007

I got the new Zs album, Arms, recently, and my only thought so far is: fuck yeah, this stuff is great.

I think this is one of the most vital bands in the avant-rock scene these days. I’m kind of tiring of avant-rock a bit, at least in the RIO/avant-prog form, but Zs push all the right buttons for me, even if it’s really hard to explain why they appeal to me so much. “Uh, well, see, they play these repetitive semi-melodies, like, really fast, in unison, sometimes in crazy time signatures, yeah. And it’s all really UGLY and would annoy the shit out of 99% of the world’s population. And it rocks!” Good thing I’m not the one writing their promotional copy.

Alarm Will Sound @ the Library of Congress

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Although I still have other shows to write about, I wanted to put some words down about the concert I saw tonight (Tuesday night), Alarm Will Sound at the Library of Congress. This was the best show I’ve seen since the spring — I really haven’t seen a show since then that’s had me smiling gleefully in the midst of it, but this one had exactly that effect on me.

Alarm Will Sound is a large ensemble of about 18-20 mostly quite young musicians, playing mostly classical instrumentation (a couple violins, viola, cello, bass, various winds, trumpet, trombone, percussion, piano etc) but with a few notable exceptions. I think they made it onto my radar because I heard about the album of Aphex Twin interpretations they did a couple years ago. In any case, their repertoire now is something they’re calling “a/rhythmia,” in which they play a bunch of pieces that are all based on a steady pulse, but that fuck with them either by layering additional rhythms on top or simply by messing around incessantly with said steady pulse. I’m a pretty beat-based music listener (with the exception of the various ambient musics I’ve started getting into fairly recently), and as a fan of prog and RIO, in which unusual rhythms are the norm, this was a pretty ideal program for me.

Of the pieces they played — interpretations of everything from 20th century Western classical music to rock to electronica to early music (pre-1500) — my absolute favorite was something called “Yo Shakespeare” by Michael Gordon. For this piece, the ensemble shifted around their instrumentation considerably, ditching some of the acoustic instruments for three Fender Rhodes and two electric guitars, in addition to an assortment of acoustic strings and horns. The music was a loud, polyrhythmic, dissonant cacophony that sounded to me like it could have been a direct influence on Zs, that insanely awesome avant-rock band that rocks out like crazy while focusing on intricate charts the whole time. Imagine Zs‘ material fleshed out for an ensemble of 20, with many of the resulting possibilities for increased complexity and poly-everything explored to the fullest, and you get some idea of what this piece was like. My feet kept tapping out some of the rhythms in this one for at least 20 minutes after the piece was over.

Another highlight was a composition by Harrison Birtwistle called “Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum,” a disorienting slice of postwar classical experimentation that reminded me a lot of (and I’m probably showing my total lack of knowledge when it comes to this kind of thing) Penderecki’s more chaotic stuff, in effect if not really in sound. The group also played several pieces by Conlon Nancarrow that I found really appealing — each of these compositions started off with very simple jazz or blues-inspired melodies and basically layered them on top of each other, with the melody played simultaneously by mini-ensembles playing in several different meters. These pieces were some of the the most immediately comprehensible, and accessibly beautiful, examples of complex polyrhythm that I’ve heard.

Then there were the electronica pieces. A low-key piece by Aphex Twin based on a simple bass drum beat was given life by the performers constantly shifting position, first throughout the concert hall as they meandered down the aisles while playing, and then on the stage. And a manic piece by Mochipet, “Dessert Search for Techno Baklava” (clearly a play on Mr. Bungle’s “Desert Search for Techno Allah”), was fun to watch just to see these musicians tackling a composition not meant to be played by humans; their speed and dexterity was impressive, although the song appeared to my ears at least to lack the some of complexity of the rest of the program. But maybe that’s just because it was all flying by too fast for me to hear.

Finally there was a cover of a song by The Shaggs. If you don’t know it, their story is worth reading. For the purposes of this entry, though, all you need to know is that they were called “the most horrible rock band in the world” by the New York Times, which probably isn’t too far off the mark if you’re concerned with things like conventional ideas about instrumental talent, compositional chops, the ability to sing and play in tune, etc. But here’s what the text of the concert program said:

“…the rhythmic complexity of the other arrangement of commercial music, Philosophy of the World by The Shaggs, may not be the result of intelligence… The drummer seems to be flailing, the vocals and guitar are completely out of tune, and all three are never in time with one another… It is not clear whether the complexity of their music is accidental or deliberate.

One of the guys in Alarm Will Sound apparently decided to take the Shaggs’ complexity seriously, and the ensemble’s cover of “Philosophy of the World” was actually pretty great, taking the original song’s hilariously inept drumming (they played a recording of the original first) and turning it into an asset, an insanely shifting meter that formed the basis for other rhythmic shenanigans in which the rest of the ensemble indulged.

What a pleasant surprise this was. It’s like I unwittingly stumbled into a “Classical In Opposition” concert. I expected stuff like the Ligeti and even the Birtwistle, but the overt rhythms and complex beats in the other pieces was what really sold it for me. Really great fun. Sounds like the ensemble are releasing some pieces from this repertoire on a forthcoming CD, which I’ll definitely be looking into.

UPDATE: some good reviews of this concert from IonArts and the Washington Post.

An hour with Kidd Jordan @ Twins Jazz

Monday, October 15th, 2007

A couple more concerts to report, and tomorrow I’m thinking about going to see Gongzilla despite never having heard them and not being all that much of a fan of Gong (not that I actually know whether or not the two bands’ music has much of any relationship).

Last week sometime I had the most efficient concert experience ever. Now that I go to tons of concerts, many of them by myself, I don’t really enjoy standing (or sitting) around waiting for bands to start. I try to time my arrival at the venue as close as possible to the band’s starting, and once I’ve had enough, I get the hell out of Dodge. In the past I felt some compulsion to stay for a band’s entire show even if I wasn’t enjoying myself. I have no such feelings anymore — or at least, I’m much better at ignoring them.

In any case, said efficient concert experience was Kidd Jordan at Twins Jazz. Jordan — who was the subject of a really nice interview at the Philadelphia Daily News just a couple days ago — was playing with his trio with pianist Joel Futterman and drummer Alvin Fiedler. I have a couple of this trio’s records, and really like one of them, Southern Extreme, on which Futterman reminds me a lot of Cecil Taylor.

In any case, I timed my arrival perfectly, getting to the club, ordering dinner, and then watching the trio take the stage no more than five minutes later. They played a single lengthy improv, somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour long. Futterman definitely struck me as having a style somewhat similar to Taylor, although much less percussive. The interplay between the three musicians during this completely improvised, free-blowing set was mesmerizing. Futterman and Jordan in particular had some really fist-pumping moments, and were as fun to watch as they were to listen to. This was definitely “difficult” stuff, with much in the way of conventional rhythm or melody, but in the live setting they really tore it up and the sheer energy was enough to win over most of the crowd on its own.

I had a lot of things to do that night, so I had to leave after the first set — which I managed to do and then get home in record time. All told, I was gone from the house for 90 minutes, and in that space of time saw 60 minutes of fabulous music and ate dinner. Now that’s an efficient concert experience. Ha.

And then last night I saw Nightwish, but I’ll save my writeup of that one for later.

Exploding Stars at 1am

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

The last (first) of the three concerts was Exploding Star Orchestra, whom I saw at Velvet Lounge on Thursday the 13th as part of DC’s Sonic Circuits festival. This is a festival of experimental music, mostly of the noisy electronic improv variety as far as I can tell. Certainly the five (!!) groups that played supporting sets at this show were along those lines: making a shitload of noise with the occasional rhythm and the even scarcer melody. The one exception was the last guy, who played some ironic rawk mixed in with more avant-garde stuff; I could have liked this stuff, but by that time wasn’t really in the mood for anything but the band I’d come to see, so I sat it out. Overall, this was not really my bag at all, especially since they all invariably played way, way, way too loud.

Exploding Star Orchestra, on the other hand, were refreshingly good. The actual band is a 12-piece jazz group headed by Chicago trumpeter Rob Mazurek, who have released a single album thus far, interestingly enough on Thrill Jockey — a label better known for indie and post-rock. On this tour, the band was down to a five-piece (trumpet, sax, vibes, bass, drums IIRC), but still managed to create a very full sound not far from the album. They played both of the big suites from the album, which came off extremely well; while I find the record a little soporific at times, the aggressive, repetitive beats were much more energizing in concert and they held my attention the whole way through. Still, the best thing they did was a new piece, which was quiet, introspective and absolutely beautiful. They didn’t tell us what it was called, but hopefully it’ll surface on a new album at some point — it was easily the best thing I’ve heard from this crew.

I didn’t get home until almost 2am because of the five opening sets (the first of which didn’t start until after 10pm), but it was almost worth it thanks to the Exploding Star set. I think I was just a bit starved for some live jazz, too, not having seen any since early June.