Posts Tagged ‘Wildbirds & Peacedrums’

What’s spinning, February 12 edition

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Washington, DC got something close to 40 inches of snow over the past week. The whole city was shut down until today, and arguably should still be shut down. When I wasn’t out taking pictures, I was hanging out inside listening to music and doing some miscellaneous work. Here’s a sampling of what’s been playing:

  • Art Zoyd - Generation Sans Futur — Probably my favorite Art Zoyd album, although they released so many great albums that are all somewhat similar that this is kind of a tough call. The title track, augmented by Daniel Denis’ drumming, is an easy pick for an all-time favorite AZ composition.
  • Basta! - Cycles — Yeah, I’m pretty obsessed with this one, I’ve talked about it here before. Joris Vanvinckenroye + loop pedals = awesomeness. Definitely going to be somewhere high up on my best of 2009 list.
  • Birds of Prey - The Hellpreacher — Here’s another one I discussed earlier. Super simple, catchy death metal - not normally my thing but for some reason this one keeps finding its way back to the playlist.
  • Flower-Corsano Duo - The Chocolate Cities — A live tour EP from this free-improv duo of drums and shahi baaja. If anything, parts of this are even more intense than their excellent studio recording, but there are some really nice quieter bits as well. Thanks to Andrew McCarry for the heads-up on this one.
  • Gaza - He Is Never Coming Back — Some people are saying this one’s a disappointment after the groundbreaking I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die. It might be a little less overtly experimental, but make no mistake: this band is still kicking ass and taking names, mixing the manic feel of grindcore with the heavy, dirty sludge of doom metal to awesome effect. I am SUPER pissed that their tour with Converge is not coming anywhere near DC - the closest date is in North Carolina, and that one’s during Maryland Deathfest.
  • Margot MacDonald - Live at the Kennedy Center — This is actually a video available online. Margot is an 18-year-old rock musician whom I first heard a couple years ago and was impressed by her powerful voice. She’s only gotten better and there are some real highlights in this live performance, most notably an acoustic cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immgrant Song,” a loop-pedal extravaganza at the end, and several new compositions that she has featured on her YouTube page.
  • Pree - A Chopping Block — Saw these folks at the Kennedy Center a few weeks ago (video here) and liked them enough to pick this up; after several listens, I really like them. It’s low-key indie-rock with wonderfully subtle orchestrations and May Tabol’s offbeat, caterwauling vocals that will probably turn a lot of people off but that I seem to be a bit of a sucker for.
  • Those Darlins - Those Darlins — High-energy country music? This wouldn’t normally be my thing but after seeing this trio of women (plus a male drummer who gets completely neglected in all their press) tear it up live with true punk-rock zeitgeist, I’m hooked. I don’t think there’s anything on this list that’s quite as much pure fun as this stuff.
  • The Tiptons Sax Quartet - Laws of Motion — Beautiful, beautiful sax quartet plus drums material - runs the gamut from straight-ahead jazz to world music of many kinds. There’s not much in the way of out-three free improv or pure avant-garde a la Rova, but Amy Denio’s bizarre vocals definitely up the weird quotient to pretty delightful levels.
  • Wildbirds & Peacedrums - The Snake — Speaking of unique, powerful female vox (MacDonald, Denio, Tabol), this band basically exists to show off some sick tribal drumming and Mariam Wallentin’s amazing voice. Wallentin ably carries this record, the duo’s second, and she’s even better live. She often seems to be right on the edge of oversinging, but always seems to rein it in at the last second for some truly memorable tension-and-release type moments.

Day 1 of Nordic Jazz 08

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Wildbirds and Peacedrums 11

Nordic Jazz 08 was a classy affair held on the roof of the House of Sweden in Washington, DC, last Thursday and Friday. The House of Sweden is a beautifully modernist structure right on the Potomac River, between the Kennedy Center and the Georgetown waterfront; an idyllic location for a concert, as long as the volume levels are loud enough to drown out the planes flying overhead on landing patterns for National Airport further down the river. I was only able to attend Thursday evening, which featured two bands whose music could be considered “jazz” only in a fringe manner: Wildbirds and Peacedrums and Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil.

The former played first, treating the debatably attentive audience to a brief set of highly rhythmic, swooping, dramatic folk. The band consisted only of a vocalist and a drummer, with the vocalist doubling on kalimba, percussion and some interesting kind of stringed instrument played in the same manner that a pianist might pluck strings inside a grand piano (pictured below). I’d seen offhand comparisons to Björk, but I’m way out of my element here in terms of finding comparisons or a way to describe this stuff. Suffice to say that it was surprisingly captivating, and I’d recommend a visit to their Myspace page for a listen. (That’s the ultimate reviewer cop-out right there.)

Wildbirds and Peacedrums 10

Second was Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil, with whom I am familiar through their album Yggdrasil. That album features the considerable vocal talents of Eivør Palsdóttír, but sadly she was not in attendance at this show (and in fact I have no idea if her collaboration with this band on that album was simply a one-shot deal). This was, then, with one notable exception a purely instrumental journey. What this band played — 1982’s eight-movement, album-length piece Ravnating — could hardly be termed jazz; in fact, I’d imagine it has more in common with modern classical composition. Each movement had a unique feel, often led by a different instrument, but always evoking imagery of the oceans and the sky (the field recordings of bird calls towards the end obviously had something to do with this). Given the context of this show, I was pleasantly surprised to find some considerable edge to the composition in places, with a splintered guitar melody in the second or third movement providing some real teeth. For the most part, though, this piece ebbed and flowed peacefully, with long stretches of minimalist quietude punctuated by beautiful melodies elaborated on the lead instruments (sax, flute, guitar, occasionally Blak’s piano). After this lengthy, subtle piece, which succeeded in losing the attention of a dismaying portion of the audience, Blak’s band launched into some more accessible, folk-oriented songs that were enjoyable but somewhat less provocative. The one exception was an interpretation of what sounded like some sort of Native American tune, in which Blak sang with a surprisingly soulful lilt.

Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil 2

Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil 8

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this show, purchased a copy of Ravnating, and wish I purchased a copy of Wildbirds and Peacedrums‘ latest recording. The setting was beautiful and the weather perfect, although my sense is that at least half the audience was there for the scene as much as the music; everyone was snappily dressed (cocktail dresses and button-down shirts all around; this is Georgetown after all) and a substantial portion of people were hanging out far from the stage, talking throughout the performances. Thankfully, they were separated enough from the more attentive, seated audience that they were not generally too distracting.

Photographically, not much about this was ideal. The stage was full of clutter, making it difficult (even with a long lens) to isolate performers in a simple, compelling image. The light was great for Wildbirds and Peacedrums, illuminated as they were in the warm tones of the setting sun. For Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil it was a completely different story; the sun was down and the stage was lit solely by a few white spotlights that provided splotchy lighting: brightest on the drummer, who was so far back that I couldn’t get a clean shot of him anyway, dim on Blak and the reedist, and almost nonexistent on the bassist and guitarist. For a setting like this I certainly wouldn’t expect fancy lighting, but this was very challenging indeed. I got some usable shots but nothing particularly compelling.

Nordic Jazz 08 - after

As always, a full selection of photos are contained in a photoset over at Flickr.