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Concerts Reviews

Live Act(s): EK - Electric Kulintang (Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez) (@)
Event Date: 16 December 2006
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: Tonic
Rated: *****
These two faces are very well known to NYC's downtown music scene, so I won't delve into their extended discographies. Although they are actually married to each other, it is however pretty rare to see them perform together, so I had to go check them out on this cold December night on the occasion of the release party for their new record "Dialects" (cmp review in the Music Reviews section).

The evening started (late, luckily, 'coz I was late too) with a projected home movie by the couple on their trip to Southeast Asia, in which you could see local festivities, chants, every day life as well as the making of the Kulintang, which is this instrument consisting of 8 tuned gongs suspended on a rack which was set up in the middle of the stage and played exclusively by Ibarra during the remainder of the night.

Once the concert began, the talented percussionist used her thick sticks to hit the head and the sides of these volcano-shaped gongs to create different sounds and melodies that would go with the music coming out of one of their two G4's, manned by Rodriguez. During the concert Susie eventually also played drums (often exchanging position with her companion), a bamboo-based percussion instrument (I guess the Southeast Asian version of a Marimba, or something like that), keyboards (whose glitches were worrying the two performers) and (to the surprise of everyone) she also sang a couple of tunes. Susie is extremely eclectic and talented and obviously can seamlessly move from one instrument to the next creating rhythmic patterns and tonal melodies, or, like in the case of the Kulintang, both at the same time.

Roberto, on the other hand, moved between the drums and the computer, and although he is Cuban, he certainly knows what he's doing when he's tapping the Peruvian cajon, on which he was sitting the whole time. Although he stares at the computer with the same intensity my old mother does, tilting his head up trying to read above his glasses (think Marc Ribot reading music sheets on stage), he also is at ease in different situations and gives you a little bit of the latino thing when he is a percussion player and a little of the american thing when he plays the drums. Personally, since Roberto is well known for being such a good bridge between the Latin and the Jewish worlds, I would have actually liked to get a little more of his Latin input in this wonderful electronic world music dynamic environment, but we all know how these things go and how women really wear the pants anyway. ;-) Jokes aside, Juan is such a great jazz drummer and that showed every time he sat behind the set. His drumming went from light and tasty to intense and almost psychedelic, when in the context of an up-tempo trancey song such as for example "Golden Dream". Everybody was hypnotized, including Susie who seemed to have forgotten how to stop the loop, or just chose to ignore hubby's requests to do so to see how long he could last.

Another highlight of the evening was the addition to the stage line up of guitarist Oz Noy, who took his telecaster to places where no or few other Teles have been before, thanks to the multitude of pedals that he so knowledgeably and skillfully utilized to create the most gorgeous sounds, only to add even more to the highly entrancing effect of the whole set. Very tasteful guitar player you should be on the look out for!

This was basically one of those nights to remember, where great live music was played and history was made... well maybe not history, but if you missed it, you'll never know how great it sounded and looked.

Brainwaves Fest (day 3): 19 November 2006

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Live Act(s): Brainwaves Fest (day 3)
Event Date: 19 November 2006
Type of Event: Theatre Event
Venue: The Regent Theater
Promoter/Organizer: Jon Whitney
Brainwashed is a long-running website/discog hosting/record and DVD label/etc which specializes in dark, ambient/electronic/experimental music, and since the important milestone of a decade's worth of existence loomed, what better idea than to throw a big party w/ loads of interesting bands and visuals. So founder Jon Whitney set out to do just that, with spectacular results. With important musicians and artists such as Z'ev, Windy & Carl, Edward Ka-Spel, Christoph Heeman, Steven Stapleton, Volcano the Bear, Thighpaulsandra (and many more) on board, this three day event was shaping up to be a spectacle of major proportion. That rare merchandise (both tour- and show-only items, as well as RRRecords prying some treasures from the vault for public consumption) was available to a pack of inveterate collectors was also a nice addition, and the prices were kept very reasonable.

Unfortunately, personal commitments kept me from attending the entire fest, but I was able make it to the 3rd and final day, and what a day that turned out to be. After some introductory remarks from Jon, the NYC trio of Charles Atlas took the stage, and played some very beautiful low-key instrumental drones, fueled by guitar and cello; fumes of Labradford were hanging heavy in the room, and that's meant as a compliment of the highest regard. the backdrop showed visuals of a trawling net, as hapless fish and crabs were caught in its snare.

Next up was Kranky recording artist Jessica Bailiff, who had a couple of guitarists w/ her, one of which records under the name Red Morning Chorus. Her plaintive folky whispers were gently buffeted by textured guitar; unfortunately bass rig problems led to some songs being cut, and a premature end to her set.

Two brothers were next, playing after each other. Christoph Heeman plied microtonal waves against the visuals of a blizzard, fine tuning the energy as he went. or maybe he was just playing tetris; it's hard to tell w/ these pure electronic artists at times. the energy coiled, yet never released. Andreas Martin, his acoustic guitar playing brother, succeeded him, and played a rousing set of impressively virtuosic manual technique, playing both below and above the neck. An obvious touchstone and inspiration was Michael Hedges, and he paid tribute by playing two compositions. Personally I prefer the sound of the Fahey disciples, but it's nice to see someone break from the pack, and the talent level he's got is plainly staggering.

Windy & Carl took the stage in relative pitch blackness, and slowly coaxed a drone from their keyboard and guitar; it felt like being slowly immersed in warm honey, and you didn't mind when the lungs filled and suffocation took over, because it felt so relaxing. Noted confrontationalist/satanist/noise performer/alleged fascist and partner abuser Boyd Rice (aka Non) was scheduled next, but was an unexplained no show; even Jon Whitney had no information on why he didn't show. Instead, the slot was filled w/ a film and soundtrack from a very familiar name in electronic/experiemental circles, Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson (if you don't know, he was in Throbbing Gristle and Coil). The film was a coming of age ritual as triptych, filmed somewhere in southeast Asia. The hypnotic state that the almost-men got themselves into perfectly complimented the soundtrack, as it moved from mental preparation to self-flagellation w/ branches dunked boiling water, to elder-administered piercing (think tent stakes and not needles). Riveting.

During the Caretaker's set (a constructed sound collage of old-timey music, bits of noise, dialog, and other ephemera) i grabbed a cup of coffee and recharged for the finale, which was Thighpaulsandra. Easily the most visually interesting act of the day (he was decked out w/ a black feather robe and a golden stalk hovered over his clean-shorn head; the sometime drummer/guitarist/laptop player had on gold lame hotpants and armbands; the other two (keyboards/mouth organ, and guitar/drums) were in head-to-toe scarlet robes (burkas?), w/ eyeslits. Although I knew of the name from his work w/ Coil (and later i found out, also Spiritualized), I'd never heard a piece. Alternating between Sun Ra- style keyboard fuckery and ebow-driven guitar haze, they would also settle into a groove at times, putting the cock into cock rock. Outstanding performance, and a great way to cap the proceedings.

Johannes Marian: 3 October 2006

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Live Act(s): Johannes Marian
Event Date: 3 October 2006
Type of Event: Theatre Event
Venue: Austrian Cultural Forum NYC (@)
Rated: *****
On this night, my parents from Europe were in town and, since I know they are into classical music, I figured I'd take them to a solo piano concert at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City. Little did I know that I was gonna enjoy it more than they did and that it was actually material worth of a review in this magazine!I had never beed to the ACF. Beautiful wooden venue with a small balcony that offers great sound and greater view than you get from the front row!Viennese pianist, composer and teacher, Johannes Marian has been focusing his performance work on interpretations of pieces by composers of our time and this NY concert was a sample of that. The selection of contemporary material encompassed: US-born Tom Johnson's work of sequential and exponential minimalistic music; Austrian Friedrich Cerha's serial techniques made of tapestry of seemingly randomly placed notes and nostalic compositions reminiscent of his Slovakian/Hungarian relatives; and finally, also from Austria, Georg Nussbaumer, whose 'sonic installations' (a term which is more suitable than 'compositions') are known to be made of machines, inorganic, organic material, visual support and even living animals. This was definitely the concert's most interesting part to look at (also very interesting sonically). Nussbaumer's very recent piece "Birding Guide" aims at highliting and conceptualizing the similarities between the piano and the winged feather animals, so the piece actually consists of piano strings being plucked by bird feathers and bird skulls while the instrument's open-pedalled mid to low register strings vibrate due to the induced motion of half a dozen eggs rumbling and rattling on top of them. Very fascinating indeed!Unfortunately I had to rescue my poor parents so I missed the second set, which included pieces by Christoph Herndler (you guessed it! yet another Austrian!), whose scores look more like modern art, rather than notes on a pentagram; and American Morton Feldman a famously prolix intuitive-based composer active between the 50es and the 80es; friend and pupil of John Cage.

Live Act(s): The Plain Hex Quartet + Rashanim + Eyal Maoz's Dimyon
Event Date: 11 September 2006
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: Tonic
Rated: *****
On this day of mourning for New York City, bass player Shanir Blumenkranz (of the Masada String Orchestra) decided he'd make sure everybody's mind was off of that past tragedy/conspiracy and held the stage with three of the bands he currently plays in.
Although not officially part of the Jewish Music and Heritage festival taking place in New York at the same time, this concert pretty much complemented the official happenings, as it really was about presenting a lot of good jewish music. Pretty much the entire night was all about klez-jazz music venturing into rock, acoustic and indie territories!
Opening the night was The Plain Hex Quartet, a project by guitarist Yoshie Fruchter, also featuring Chris Hoffman on cello and my fellow swiss Mathias Kunzli (previously Lauren Hill) on drums.
Following that, Rashanim, the electric trio founded by guitar player Jon Madof (in the picture - btw, more pictures available from that night upon request). The trio (with the same rhythm section as in the previous band) took the stage by storm with their powerful and raw sound that draws from improvisational tradition but within the framework of carefully written and arranged music. Madof has also worked with Zorn, Ribot and Matisyahu among others. Look out for Jon Madof's new record, being released on Zorn's Tzadik label in October and mixed by the great Bill Laswell.
Last but not least, Eyal Maoz's Dimyon closed the night with their experimental classical/avantgarde/world music string ensamble plus electric guitar plus drums... oh, and if you thought that drums have nothing to add or do with a trio of strings, think again! Leave it up to the great percussionist Satoshi Takeishi (currently with Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias) and he will show you how toys and drums from the most distant places on earth will greatly complement and enrich every band or project I have ever seen Satoshi take part in. Besides the omnipresent Shanir (on upright, instead of electric, for this occasion) we also had the pleasure to see and listen to Eyal Maoz (guitar), Chris Hoffman (cello) and Jonathan Keren (violin).
Great concert night! I realized to late that I should not have worn my "Jesus is my Homeboy" t-shirt that night, but, oy vey, what the hell, right?!

Live Act(s): John Zorn and the Book of Angels (Masada Quartet, Electric Masada, Masada String Trio, Masada String Orchestra)
Event Date: 10 September 2006
Type of Event: Theatre Event
Venue: Y (92nd St.)
Promoter/Organizer: Michael Dorf
Rated: *****
The 2006 New York Jewish and Heritage Festival organized every year by the unstoppable Knitting Factory owner and Arts Exchange promoter/creator Michael Dorf, started out in this year the best possible way with an amazing quadruple whammy concert night. Featuring and portraying John Zorn's many incarnations as writer, performer, conductor, arranger all in one night and on one stage, this unforgettable show also celebrated the 13th anniversary of Zorn's Book of Masada (the second in a series of five songbooks including over 300 of his compositions in the second volume alone).
This unprecedented event saw Zorn conducting his Masada String Trio (featuring the amazing Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Feldman on violin and Greg Cohen on upright) and the Masada String Orchestra (a 15+ piece orchestra which included the two amazing cello players Friedlander and Fred Sherry, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center artist member; as well as Jennifer Koh on violing, among others). This configuration performed only one piece, "Kol Nidre" (a Jewish evening service synagogue prayer; Zorn's version was also was played in the background during the September 11th victims' names radio broadcast memorial), but were amazing nonetheless; definitely (too) short but (very) sweet!
During the remaining part of the evening, Zorn blew his horn (and conducted, of course) with the Masada Quartet (feat. Dave Douglas on trumpet, Joey Baron on drums and Greg Cohen) and the Electric Masada (feat. Marc Ribot on guitar, Jamie Saft on the Rhodes piano, Ikue Mori on her Max/MSP apple laptop, an untiring Trevor Dunn on electric bass, both Joey Baron and Kenny Wollesen on drums and Cyro Baptista on percussions).
Zorn's conducting style (consisting in swiftly pointing to the musicians that he wants playing the next four bars or so, effectively shuffling them around like cards) is unique and better left to be seen in person, rather than described.
The Y Theater is a beautiful venue. The audio was ok from where I was sitting, although it changed a lot through out the space, I was told. The event was priced at a pretty affordable $25 for the worst balcony seats and up ($45, $75 and a whopping $118 for the first rows).
Definitely a great show that will be remembered throughout the festival and NY downtown music scene (which did "rise" all the way to 92nd St for the occasion) for years to come!


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