Gigs, dance, art

March 28th, 2009: Nassima

@théatre de la ville

Music from Algeria, but not the style I’m most familiar with. At first I didn’t like it much, I though Nassima‘s voice was too high and pretty. But it was mostly a matter of getting in the right frame of mind, something that was helped a lot by the audience for a change. Concerts in this particuliar venue can often be a bit staid and too quiet, but there seemed to be a bunch of women from Algeria in the house and I felt much better as soon as they fired the first round of zaghareet. Now that helped me connect to shards of my past, and to the music then and there.

I’m still not that fond of the style itself, a bit too sophisticated and polished for me, but Nassima is good and the musicians even better. She said she was tired but still went on for almost two hours, so I’m not sure I want to take her disclaimer at face value. Or maybe the bar is just higher in her trade, I can think of many performers for who being tired would mean a twenty minute set at most. Among the musicians, Mohamed Abdenour was especially outstanding, but my favorite was Rabah Khalfa — that’s probably my bias for percussion talking, but I guess I’m too old to change that. His play helped me find a way into a music that would otherwise lack some immediate appeal for me.

I was surprised that it had been so long when the show ended, always a sign that I enjoyed it more than I thought. So maybe this style could grow on me if I gave it more of a chance. Anyway it did make me want to hear more music from this area, but probably something a bit rougher.

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

March 26th, 2009: Benoît Lachambre & Su-Feh Lee – Body-Scan

@centre pompidou

Over the years I’ve seen things I liked from Benoît Lachambre, and others just eluded me. Often it was a mix of both feelings, with parts leaving me midly puzzled. This one had all of these impressions, but even though I’ve been getting wary of the effect this hallowed art center has had on otherwise interesting people, this show had a lot that I really liked a lot. A mixed bag, but the things I did like were clearly dominant.

It began poorly enough though: Benoît Lachambre and Su-Feh Lee sitting and talking while the audience was coming in, then adressing the audience in a way that I thought was too wordy by far. So the introduction was a bit labored for me, but it did put a frame in place, with extended limbs coming through not as completion of an unfolding but as points in a trajectory where the bending was just as much worthy. That’s something I did like. The first half or so was mostly slow movements except for a solo part by Su-Feh Lee, but even that speed was relative.

There was a section with her and Lachambre which is probably the one I like most of everything of his I ever saw.  Touch was a big part of it, but it went beyond the obvious, not touch as support or repelling motion but in itself. Part of this impression came from the open hands, but most of it came from the response — or lack thereof. That was an ongoig theme throughout, but was at its best in this part, from a laying of an open hand that was accepted as unintrusive to something anticipated. Something that I liked a lot was that it didn’t evolve into expectation, or more likely played with it in going from touch to almost touching. And that drove the point deeper. The connection that took place didn’t require actual touching, but was more about acknowledging the other and dealing with that, in many different ways.

After a break with more words I could have done without, the pace was faster but with a transition or rather a layering of a couple of dancers going through a section that would have fit in nicely in the first part while Su-Feh Lee undressed before a part that I thought was a bit too eightiesish for me. Part of it may come from the relatively small room with made catching everything challenging, maybe I’d have liked it more had I been able to catch more of it without switching back and forth. Then after what came close to a pause there was a section with dancers popping in and out of view whirling, playing with the black curtains in the back of the stage.

The final section was great in a different way, with the dancer throwing blankets with black and white portraits of them on one side, having them spin and often fall off the stage. As the lights slowly faded the spinning motion through the air reached an effect that really struck a chord with me. That part and the earlier touch-themed duo with Lachambre and Lee would alone have made it very much worthwhile for me. As it was there were quite a few other nice moments in there, so I really liked this show a lot.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Dance | , , | Leave a comment

March 24th, 2009: The Ex / Ililta Band

@café de la danse

My main motive in going there was that Mesele Asmamaw was part of the Ilalta Band, because he had been great when he played with the late Mohammed Jimmy Mohammed. Asnake Gebreyes was the third member of that trio and he was there too, so it looked very promising. And the show was great indeed. Mesele Asmamaw and Asnake Gebreyes played the first couple of songs on their own, with the latter singing, and this opening was just beautiful. Then Chalachew Ashenafi joined them, singing and played masinqo, and even though he doesn’t have the charisma Jimmy had, he’s a very talented musician and this was so good I was left wondering at the lack of warmth of the audience. After a couple of songs he left the stage for a few others before coming back for the last few ones. The music got progressively faster and more upbeat, and at long last I was no longer isolated in clapping. They turned on their showmen selves to bring everyone standing and singing, which probably is second nature to them. Great show, despite the not ideal setting.

I was curious about Arnold de Boer being the new singer for The Ex. It promised to be very different and it was. He had the good idea to be himself and not try to ape G.W. Sok at all, which was good because he would have been hard pressed to reach that level of intensity and authority. He was in front and center, and was probably closer to singing that anything I heard from The Ex. Right now I’d say I liked it better before, but it will definitely take some getting used to, and I wasn’t there to think about the past. His obvious difference helped a lot in that respect, and the only time I was annoyed by his voice was at the very end, during Theme From Konono, and really that was because I felt he missed the point of the parts that were an obvious reference to Konono n°1. His playing guitar definitely brings something to the band, probably making Andy Moor and Terrie Ex even freer to explore, but bringing a new sound as well. I’d say it’s a good thing, but I felt the set was a bit too consistent and lacked some of the change in direction I’ve seen them pull off before. Time will probably help with that, and the set was good enough to have me willing to come back for more next time.

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

March 21st, 2009: Chi Bulag – Epi – Byambajargal Gombodorj – Nanjid Sengedorj


Some traditional music from Mongolia. That was a treat because of my general interest in music from Asia and because that area was a blind spot for me. I’m still far from knowledgeable, but it was a delightful start, featuring the .

The three musicians from Mongolia came on stage first, but started by performing in turn. Enkh Jargal aka Epi played the Morin Khuur, the horse-headed two string fiddle that seems to be a mainstay of Mongolian music; most impressive was his diphonic singing though, especially the highest notes that I had actually heard before but didn’t even imagine were an actual voice. That sound was really arresting, but that was quickly dispelled by the use he made of both his voice and fiddle. Really beautiful and interesting music. Byambajargal Gombodorj performed in the long song style, long phrases going through a wide range of pitch and modulation. Again beautiful stuff there, but at times her voice was too pure for me; not very often though, and I fully realized how good she is when a voice was a little drowned out later when they played together. Nanjid Sengedorj too performed in the diphonic style, but in a very different way, and also sang while playing a flute at the same time. His music maybe lacked the force of Epi’s, but had a steady elementally evocative quality that was just as convincing. He also briefly played a small lute at the very end, but it was a bit lost in the whole.

Then Chi Bulang played alone for a while, using three different sizes of Morin Khuur. There’s no question he has achieved an impressive mastery of his instrument, and some of his flowing melodies were almost earworms, but in a good way. His music flows naturally in what seems so natural and effortless it can only come from years of hard work. Nonetheless the very perfection made it a bit too impressive, and I still liked Epi better for that reason. Finally he was joined by the three others for the end of the show, and that brought together the different elements very nicely for the most part, except that I felt the long song made more sense on its own of with a more subdued fiddle accompaniment.

The bottom line is that this great show only reinforced my interest in traditional music from Asia, but I still don’t know where I can hear more in my area. I really need to figure that out, the sooner the better.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | 6 Comments

March 20th, 2009: Xiao He / Vialka


When I first saw Vialka getting ready to start their set, I thought about Schwervon! — especially with their being on tour and hopefully finding a a way to stop around here — but that didn’t last more than a few seconds. The only deep common thread is that both are great live acts, but Vialka plays harder and faster, with more of the best kind of weirdness. The drummer/singer is really impressively good, even though her voice is a bit too polished at times. Not always though, which was an ongoing thing because their set held more than a few changes and surprises. I can’t say I’m fond of their music in itself, but hearing it live makes all the difference, and I am fond of their act indeed.

Xiao He joined them for a piece or two, adding another dimension, but that paled in comparison to his own solo set. Guitar and voice with a side serving of computer samples and a deft piling of loops. I just love loops when they’re used that well. But what really won me over was his voice. Different textures, but the most throaty worked best in my opinion. The loops allowed him to bring those different sounds together and he managed to have the crowding underscore the power of it all instead of watering it down. There were some quieter moments and louder ones, sometimes in close succession, and even though there were some annoying samples at times, I loved most of the set. In fact I loved it so much I even bought one of his records, something I rarely do these days. I definitely would like to hear this guy again, and many thanks to Macario for having him play over here.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , | Leave a comment

March 15th, 2009: De Kift

@instants chavirés

A lot of people showed up for this show, which is always nice to see. And the stage was pretty crowded as well, with the eight members of De Kift. But first they had to get there, and they started from the back of the room, led by their bicycle/drumkit. That was a nice touch, and worked quite well because half play brass.

The show was pretty much what I half expected/half feared, songs in a style that’s just not my thing, but the cheerful delivery and commitment to their music won me over for most of the show. I still don’t care for the tunes, but the experience was worth it anyway. I did get a little tired of it by the end, but with their playing close to 90 minutes it’s already a surprise I remained interested for so long. I don’t plan to listen to their music and probably won’t go again to see them for a while even if the opportunity comes up though, it’s just way too happy and predictable for me.

But despite my lack of interest in the music itself, I nonetheless enjoyed this gig, including the end, hardly pretending to leave the stage before an encore I quite liked, before they concluded the set by filing out upstairs while playing as in the beginning. Good show by good showmen.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

March 13th, 2009: Alexandre Bellenger – Arnaud Rivière – Roger Turner / Salmigondis

@instants chavirés

Great opening set by Salmigondis. My favorite of the three times I’ve seen them so far, and a big part of that was the quality of the sound itself. That made a big difference, not having the saxophone or guitar drowned out. Quite diverse set as well, different speeds and styles. Some of the pieces felt a bit too long, and having heard them quite recently spoiled it a little, but not much. I guess I might pass on their next gig nonetheless to avoid tuning them out, but it’s not because I don’t like what they do. And especially the way the six of them bring quite different elements to the mix, and this time each could be clearly made out without taking anything from the whole.

This was a very good gig for me, because I like the second set even more. Here again, I was usually able to identify each part, but not always, because at times their sounds blended seamlessly into a whole that just reached another level. That came and went, part of the deal with improvised music, and there were times when I thought Roger Turner was too prominent, but the peaks were towering and there were a bunch of those. The more regular segments when one or another would take the lead were nice too, but the dynamic of the whole was the most interesting. Goes to show what being a good listener brings to a performer, because I can’t believe such a blend of different sounds is due to mere chance. I was definitely impressed, but actually more happy than impressed. A very good night indeed.

March 16, 2009 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment