Gigs, dance, art

July 26th, 2008: Steve Coleman and Five Elements with Opus Akoben / SFJazz Collective

@parc floral

Outdoors gig, with the sun out most of the time, which was nice. It’s the only one I found so far, and prospects for August look bleak on that front, so it was an even more welcome treat. Actually prospects for any kind of gig whatsoever look very poor this year. Boredom looms.

SFJazz Collective opened with a mix of Wayne Shorter compositions and others from some members. They are indeed very talented and their own stuff was pretty good as well. It’s really a question of taste, but it was not completely satisfying to me, I felt something was missing. It sounded maybe too neat, and for me lacked some experiments, some wildness. That why it was good but not great to me. But as far as this style of jazz is concerned, they’re good performers and delivered an enjoyable set. Of course part of that impression comes from my expectations about the next set.

I think it’s telling that I had never heard anything by Steve Coleman one year ago, and that gig was the fifth time I saw him, the third with five elements. I think Opus Akoben had one more member back in February, but I don’t think that’s why the set sounded very different. Part of that impression comes from the conditions: soaking up the sun on grass in a park in summer instead of dancing in the very first row in a concert hall in winter: can’t get much more different. I didn’t see them interacting, but I could hear that easiness and fun.

Anyway, it was great again. They played for close to two hours, and went from very quiet parts centered on Jen Shyu‘s wonderful voice — with an almost South American feel to it at times — to urban dynamic beats driven by Kikayi’s flow. With a lot in between of course. It was great hearing the development of it all, how things quickly came together and the way I could feel a change of pace brewing. I guess that’s a benefit of familiarity, I may have lost the surprise effect but this improved insight is well worth it for the tension alone. Another benefit is that I could feel Jen Shyu’s voice even when I could hardly hear her; she blends in so well with the sax, trumpet and trombone, bringing an amazing twist to the result. I might even like that better than her being in the front, though that’s too close to call. Again, Coleman himself was just right, knowing when not to play and never showing off. And of course Tyshawn Sorey was at his usual great — can we get Fieldwork in Paris please? — and his interaction with the other drummer was really something.

Another thing I really love about this music is that it’s really accessible on several levels. People who know as little as I do about jazz, or even nothing, can and do connect. I think a big part of it comes from Opus Akoben, but it’s music to dance to — two bass, two drummers definitely helps, see the Dirtbombs — but one can enjoy the great play or the structure, and probably many other sides that completely elude me. Five elements is probably with favorite live act right now, and even the heavy dose I got this year leaves me wanting more.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 25th, 2008: China Gold

@musée Maillol

Sticking with the China theme, I went to a show of Chinese contemporary art. My first motive was its poster, featuring a striking painting by Feng Zhengjie. Well, it’s actually much better, and there was another one. I really loved those, their gaudy colors and weird eyes were striking. I had a mind to buy the show’s book, but finally didn’t because the pictures didn’t do justice to these paintings.

Maybe I’ve been made overly suspicious by the backward looking mindset of many french art shows, but I was pleasantly surprised that when they said “contemporary”, they actually meant it. I didn’t hold a tally, but I’d say almost all works were less than ten year old, most less than five, and a few from this very year. Kudos for the curator for that.

It was a great show, just the right size, far different from the all-or-nothing of say the Pompidou center. Diverse, but so good. I started writing down the names of those I liked, but actually ended up copying most of the names. That’s how much I liked it. For different reasons, from the technique — the ash paintings of Zhang Huan or the raised circles of Yin Zhaoyang’s amazing paintings — to the colors — Feng Zhengjie and Zeng Fanzhi’s fire on black with colorful trails — to some unexpected mixes — abstract/trivial with Hong Hao’s circles or realistic/unreal with Ling Jian’s portrait.

Then there were Zhang Dali’s portraits made out of “AK47” letters, the old/new reversal of red and blue in Qheng Qi’s Beijing crowd, Li Qing’s blue ping pong table with orange balls in carved depressions, Jiao Xingtao bubblegum wrapper, Jiang Zhi’s neon rainbow and Ji Dachun’s banana ouroboros — with a wink to the most famous banana in painting. I was also impressed by Yan Lei’s sparkling portrait of a stewardess that look blurred from up close but clear from a distance. And the crowd of clones in Cui Xiuwen’s Angel n°4 has struck a chord made me want to see more of her work. A feeling that I also have for not just those I listed in this post, but most of those I left out as well.

That was a blast, one of my favorite art show ever — not my favorite though, that’s probably still Pipilotti Rist’s weekend solo show — and for a collective show it was amazing.

For another take on this — in french, but with pictures — go there.

July 27, 2008 Posted by | Art | , , | 2 Comments

July 24th, 2008: Dans la ville chinoise

@cité de l’architecture

So, disappointed by the earlier show but with time to spend, I paid my first visit to the relatively new museum of architecture. The name of the show — within the Chinese city — and its poster image — a street, modern and in colors on the left, out of a black and white picture of the late 19th century on the right — had made me think it would explore the recent changes in Chinese architecture.

Surely nobody would even think of addressing the whole history of Chinese architecture in a single show? The curators turned out even more ambitious, as it attempted to present Chinese culture as well. As a result, the thing was superficial, trying to touch all bases and presenting a smattering of stuff that was hardly making sense. A lot of interesting stuff in there, but the lack of focus was quite detrimental. For instance the now-and-then pictures of some cities could have proved interesting with some perspective and commentary, going beyond date/time captions. But it was probably not possible to pay that much attention to details when you attempt to cram everything from music to calligraphy to family structure to engineering to architecture into a single show.

I’m not impressed by the design of the space either, because the lighting was poor: too harsh for the black background, it make the little text available hard to read, and was hiding some pictures as well. And even though having movies made by Chinese film-makers about specific was a good idea, the viewing conditions were very poor: small cubicles where one has to stand far too close to the screen for a pixelated image and a headache inducing experience. I made it through the first — by Jia Zhangke about Suzhou — and it was a decent way to take a look at a city in an alternative way, but I just had to give up halfway through Peng Tao’s about Chongqing, which is a shame because that place looks spectacular — the cable car and mountains were striking.

Fortunately, there also was a side show, not part of the main event but downstairs, presenting about 40 projects by Chinese architects. And that was really interesting, with brief yet informative notes about the firms and projects, a few good pictures of each and some scale models. That left me wanting more, and I really think taking that room and building the whole exhibition around it would have been a vast improvement. There are even a couple of ready made storylines in there, with people like SOHO and the former mayor of Qingpu having made a lot of things happen — the former were actually part of the main event — or introducing elements of Chinese architecture and planning starting with their influence on these talented people. That’s a show I would gladly spend a couple of days at. Then again, there might not be enough people feeling that way to have such a thing happen.

Some have web sites, so I’ll just bookmark these here for my own sake, in no particular order. I found most of these links on the world architects site — not all though, their profile of MADA s.p.a.m. seems pending for now.

July 24, 2008 Posted by | Art | | Leave a comment

July 24th, 2008: Superdome

@palais de Tokyo

I tend to go there regularly, because of the convenient opening hours — from noon to midnight — and my interest in contemporary art, and also because I’ve been at this place since it opened. Sometimes I just don’t like it and this time much pretty much one of those. I have to say I didn’t get to see Christoph Büchel’s work, because there was a waiting list and the first slot was six hours later. And I only saw half of Jonathan Monk’s because I lacked the required enthusiasm.

My favorite turned out to be Yann Sérandour‘s, 18 books in a small white cube inside a white room, with a square of neon light overhead. The books were O’Doherty’s Inside the white cube, and even though that’s not such a great work, at least it was funny.

The black mattress and wallpaper with black pattern were not bad, but that confrontation brought memories of a far superior show that took place there last year, and that kinda spoiled it. The elephant balanced on its trunk and the beer bottle canon were nothing special for me, and I think the whole show lacked direction.

Finally, I went to hear the tune generated by the Darth Vader heads, but I think that one would required other tries to hear how it evolves — if it does — and I probably would have found it boring — as other people did — had I not been hearing about that project for months from one of the guys working on the computer side of it.

July 24, 2008 Posted by | Art | , | Leave a comment

July 19th, 2008: Philémon / Rompé / Krzych / Damien Schultz / Zaraz Wam Zagram


Most probably the very last gig at this place, as it is supposed to close down for good anytime now. The theme was solo performances, which was the case if one defines it as “no more than two hands”.

That refers to 1/2 ZWZ, because he had his right forearm and hand in a cast, and had someone lend him a hand — literally enough, as he kept his other hand behind his back — to man the guitar. Still interesting under the circumstances, but I’ve heard better from him.

Damien Schultz then read a text, his speed going from fast to breakneck, with a lot of repetitions but my understanding the words spoiled most of it for me. It usually takes me much longer than his short performance to turn off the mind stuff.

I then finally got to hear Krzych, after many near misses over the last couple of year; it seems that something would always come up and thwart my plans to hear him, in any of his various projects. I’m glad that streak came to an end, as it turned out to be my favorite performance of the evening. Quite diverse, from melodic echoes to distorted screaming to percussive anti-patterns. There were parts I didn’t like, but overall I really enjoyed that set, especially when the sound got used as a raw material yet with a trace of structure and trajectory underneath.

Rompé was more conventional noise guitar mayhem, but his use of a metal sheet with a contact mike added a welcome twist, injecting some unpredictability into what would have been a routine performance.

Finally, Philémon, his sax and pedals brought it to a close. That was pretty good, the sound was strong enough, but I still thought it lacked something. But I guess that’s the way it should be, these were more informal improvised performances anyway.

I’ll miss that tiny basement of a venue, it was a nice place for these small gigs.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 17th, 2008: Rinus / Stig Noise / Hawaiian Spasms / Ero Babaa


Not many people showed at first, which might be a reason why the gig started late, which was not such a good idea as gigs in this place tend to end on time to avoid having cops showing up. It did get a fair number of people eventually, but this tendency to show up late is growing into a pet peeve.

Ero Babaa ended up doing the first set, and I thought it was just too loud. This doesn’t bother me usually, so I guess I wasn’t all that much into their performance. Indeed, I’ve seen them do better things, this one lacked the fun part of their best shows.

Hawaiian Spasms did a pretty long set based on repetition of a melodic pattern. Pretty good, but a bit long, though I guess the longer stable part in the middle was part of the project. Some speed changes, some beats at times, for a somewhat hypnotic performance. It wasn’t great, but sure showed enough interesting parts to make me curious and I would probably like to hear him again in a few months.

Stig Noise started with a full onslaught but turned out to be no strangers to melody as well, and their use of a trumpet was a nice touch. Relentless most of the time, and overall a good set. They did relatively diverse stuff at first but kinda settled later on, which was a bit of a disappointment. Still good enough anyway.

Finally, Rinus was actually joined by another guy on dictaphone too, maybe another member of Diktat. A very short set, probably because of time constraints, and not very interesting. Most of it was noisish, and made little use of the tapes themselves, which was a letdown. They did wander around a couple of times with their players, but these parts were too distinct from the noise parts with no transition whatsoever. The guy seems better than that, at least judging from his page, so that was an anticlimactic end to the evening.

July 19, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 17, 2008: Tatiana Trouvé

@centre pompidou

I had been kinda rooting for her to win that Marcel Duchamp prize — especially with the jury convening upstairs from where I work — so it was a no-brainer for me to drop by and get a look at her show. She has come a long way since the early days of the polders, but there’s still something left of that sense of occupation of unclaimed space, and a tendency to have stuff going on close to the ground. Maybe not as strong as what she did at the Palais de Tokyo, but that may be because it was a personal exhibition, so the interference part was gone.

A very consistent show, with a lot of black between those white walls, and those by now familiar elements: mirrors, glass doors, copper plumbing and those black bronze sculptures.

Beyond an introductory corridor that featured drawing with unexpected thick lines that reminded me of those copper tubes, the space has a skewed symmetry. Partitioned in the middle by a black gate-like structure with three openings, and bookended by enclosed low corridors that where made to look straight by mirrors even though they were forming right angles. But the three in the back were bare with just a glass door inside, whereas the big one in the front held copper tubes coming out of tall gas bottles, with a pair of shoes stranded there — again this parasitic interference, within her own work this time. Out of small holes high in both of these walls came a thin stream of black sand piling up on the ground. In the middle, black bronze sculptures, my favorite being an arch of rope with a ball on each side. These all had some trivial aspect about them, nothing like glorious subject matter but held some mistery because of that. And drawings on the walls, some with unexpected elements, some with reflective material standing in for mirrors, all of them featuring something that would seem out of place but made a lot of sense.

My favorite series of drawings were the remanence series, all it shades from dark gray to black, usually a room with a picture window and something out of place in the middle, with elements kinda emerging into view progressively. A process in a static drawing, that sure made my day.

But the best part for me were the small touches, like the small impact marks in the glass plate of the first corridor, and especially the two lamps in a corner, one projecting a halo of light on the white wall, the other turned off but with a burn mark on the wall instead.

July 18, 2008 Posted by | Art | , | 2 Comments