Concerts Reviews


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Mar 27 2014
Live Act(s): John Zorn
Event Date: 19 March 2014
Type of Event: Big Stage Concert
Venue: Town Hall
Last week, renowned composer/musician John Zorn premiered a third series of his popular Masada compositions, entitled "The Book of Beriah." He announced that there would be a total of 92 pieces in the Book of Beriah, each one to be played by a different ensemble. The premiere concert, held at Town Hall in New York City, featured no less than twenty different bands playing twenty different pieces. Musical styles were - in typical Zorn fashion - all over the map, including jazz, metal, classical, klezmer, rock and a host of experimental sounds.

It's impossible to fully review twenty different bands in a short review, but there were some notable highlights. Eyvind Kang's string-heavy octet was my personal favorite of the night, a very beautiful and melodic piece which featured Frank London on trumpet. Another highlight was vocalist Sofia Rei's duet with saz bass player Jean-Christophe Maillard, who brought us a lovely exotic piece with a sparse arrangement that perfectly framed her voice. The most fun band of the night was undoubtedly Zion80, Jon Madof's Afrobeat-influenced big band, who lightened the mood before the intermission.

The Merkaba Quartet, comprised of a string trio plus Marc Ribot on electric guitar, was another one of my favorites - it reminded me a lot of Bar Kokhba, with a sort of slinky, laid-back-yet-energizing sound. Mephisto (which was the band Mephista, but with a substitute drummer) was one of the more experimental/avant groups of the night, with Ikue Mori's fascinating electronics and Sylvie Courvoisier's dramatic piano keeping me captivated throughout.

Cleric, a Philadelphia-based band on Mimicry Records, were probably the most polarizing band that we heard; fans of heavier music absolutely loved them, while people less appreciative of that scene were rather taken aback by their aggressive sound. Secret Chiefs 3, one of their Mimicry labelmates, capped off the night with a fantastic and energetic finale, leaving us with our heads spinning and wondering about what the next installment of the Book of Beriah will hold. After a three-hour concert of almost unbelievable diversity, it's hard to imagine what could come next!
Oct 17 2013
Live Act(s): Les Rhinoceros (@)
Event Date: 15 October 2013
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: Lilypad (@)
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Les Rhinoceros, a young band originally from the Washington DC area, kicked off their 6-week, 20+ state U.S. tour on Tuesday night with a short set at the Lilypad in Inman Square, Cambridge, MA. I've been a fan of theirs for a couple of years since picking up their debut self-titled album (released on Tzadik) after a friend recommended it - both of their studio albums are excellent, and I was eager to see what they would do with their latest release in a live setting.

Their web page lists their genre as 'Noise/Ambient/World/Experimental/Other' and that is pretty accurate, except they are probably a lot easier to listen to than you might guess from that description. They have some catchy tunes and a good groove on most tracks, and they are creative with their use of samples, pedals and effects.

The concert on Tuesday was pretty sparsely attended, but the audience that did turn up thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be an excellent set by the Rhinos. They came with a different lineup than the last time I saw them, a little over a year ago ' they had a violin and saxophone that time, but for this show the lineup was a more traditional electric guitar/bass/drums rock trio. The two shows weren't as different as you might imagine from the instrumentation, especially since they used a lot of their samples and electronics to fill out the sound. They played pieces from both of their studio albums during their set, mostly selecting pieces that were more upbeat and melodic and less ambient.

I really recommend checking them out on their current tour ' it's the first time they've visited many of these places, and they're coming to some smaller cities that don't tend to get that many great bands coming through. Their full tour schedule is listed here: http://tinyurl.com/rhinotour
Live Act(s): Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog
Event Date: 5 October 2013
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: Boot & Saddle
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Ceramic Dog (Marc Ribot: guitar; Ches Smith: drums; Shahzad Ismaily: bass, moog) has been performing together for six or seven years now, and they've grown to be one of my favorite live bands. The show we saw at the Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia Saturday night was a perfect example of why I like them so much: in a packed, sweaty little rock club, they were able to play an absolutely slamming set that just about knocked us off our feet. And while they are undoubtedly a rock band - they rock HARD! - they've also got experimental tendencies and they do a lot of improvisation, so it's a lot more interesting than just a plain old rock show. Ribot's solos are anything but straightforward, and between Ismaily's Moog and Smith's electronics, there are a lot of noise elements as well.

Highlights of the set were mostly from their excellent new record, "Your Turn" (released in 2013 on Northern Spy), including "Lies My Body Told Me," the title track "Your Turn," and the wildest cover of "Take Five" you will ever hear. Another one I loved was the first song in the encore; they came out and started playing something slow and pretty - for about a minute, when Ribot suddenly said "F*** THAT!" and abruptly switched to a different, much louder and more raucous song ("Pinch" from their 2008 debut album "Party Intellectuals"). I couldn't quite tell if they'd planned that beforehand or if the band was as surprised as the audience, but it was a lot of fun, and the crowd loved it.

Ceramic Dog is an unusual rock trio in that it isn't just a singer with a guitar who has a rhythm section behind him to fill out the sound. They really feel like an all-parts-equal trio, with everyone contributing musical ideas and extended solos. It's more like a jazz band in that way. I always enjoy watching and listening to the interplay between the three of them - Ismaily and Smith especially seem to feed off each other's energy during their live sets. Energy was particularly high at this show, with the audience often having a hard time finding enough space in the music to applaud and shout their appreciation. The band reacted with equal fervor, playing with a lot of power and really pushing the boundaries - especially Ches Smith, who played a phenomenal set (the guy standing next to me couldn't stop himself from joyfully air-drumming along for a good part of the show). At one point Smith managed to play so hard he put a stick through his drum and had to go find a new one to borrow for the rest of their set.

Ceramic Dog doesn't play all that often, and if you're not in NYC or Europe you'll have a hard time finding one of their shows - but if you do get a chance to see them, I recommend that you take it!

Zion80: 25 September 2012

 Posted by Marc Urselli  United States  Edit (7206)
Sep 25 2012
Live Act(s): Zion80 (@)
Event Date: 25 September 2012
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: The Stone
Promoter/Organizer: John Zorn
Rated: *****
Zion80 is music by a Jewish composer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach played with Fela Kuti inspired arrangements. That combination alone spiked my interest. I had first seen an early incarnation of this ever-changing and developing band at the 6th St Synagogue on Xmas eve of last year and later Zorn assigned Madof the residency, which allowed the band to grow, experiment and build upon the body of work that Madof had chosen. Every Monday an open rehearsal at 7.30 and a show at 9 (different than the usual 8 and 10pm sets) culminating in what was (I heard) one the best and busiest nights conveniently taking everyone into the Yum Kippir celebrations. The band was huge tonight! 18 musicians crowded the performer's area at the Stone: 7 horns (Jessica Lurie on baritone sax, Frank London on trumpet and the master Zorn himself sitting in, just to mention a few), 3 guitar players when you count Madof who skillfully conducted everyone from his Home Depot step stool while ripping a few great solos here and there, 4 percussionists (including Deep Singh and Mathias Kunzli, Madof's bandmate in Rashanim), 1 bassist (Rashanim's other third, Shanir Blumenkranz), 1 keyboard player (Brian Marsella, from Cyro Baptista's Beat the Donkey and Banquet of Spirits) and 2 drummers (Aaron Alexander and Yuval Lion). For those of you who have been to the Stone before you must know that fitting all those musicians in there is an achievement in itself! If to that you add the crowd, sitting, dancing and lining up outside I'd say Madof really succeeded with Zion80, as he deserved to. The project really beautifully bridged musical genres, historical times, geografic areas, cultures and religions in a way that I was used to see at the Stone, but probably even more so on this night. The music was great. Probably some of the most accessible I've ever seen at the Stone (I don't think I had ever seen a crowd dancing there before), it had everyone really engaged and grooving, whether they were sitting on standing.
Look out for their CD being recorded in December and coming out on Tzadik next year.

Jill Tracy: 31 March 2012

 Posted by Cristina Zuazua (@)  United States  Edit (6967)
Apr 05 2012
Live Act(s): Jill Tracy (@)
Event Date: 31 March 2012
Type of Event: Theatre Event
Venue: Mütter Museum (@)
Rated: *****
San Francisco-based performance artist Jill Tracy has been around the musical block; as a singer, songwriter, poet and composer, she has worked on movie soundtracks, voiceovers, full musical albums, and been published in numerous magazines. Her performance at the Mütter Museum this past week added another feather to her cap: she is the first musician to receive the Wood grant, which will give her the opportunity to compose music in the museum itself, with the objects (or people, depending on how you define it) there for inspiration.

To back up, the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a medical research museum, and at this most recent event, Tracy performed for a smallish audience who were decked out in 1920s fashion. Looking like a (somewhat gothed out) lounge singer herself, Tracy's breathy vocals, haunting piano music and mournful lyrics fit the speakeasy atmosphere well. As polished as her set was, the most intriguing part of the evening was her encore performance, where she gathered the audience to the front of the stage and performed one of her signature acts, termed 'spontaneous musical combustion.' She asks the audience to share the history of something of sentimental value (grandmother's ring, in this case) present that night, and compose an improved piece then and there.

Listening to her just-composed piano solo and the hushed conversation of the audience around me was a unique moment - the best was certainly saved for last. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see what comes out of her time at the museum.
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