Gigs, dance, art

May 14th, 2011: Wu Man


What can I say? Wu Man is amazing. She’d be on her own, but she played with musicians from Central Asia and that was even better. I think I had seen them before, but I’m not sure so I won’t wander and guess their names. The point is they all played in good faith and there was a magical moment where borders faded into irrelevance. Wu Man played a few songs solo, and these were great, then there was some Central Asian music where I was just sure I’d heard these guys before, they were so skilled yet that was nothing compared to when they played with Wu Man. Then it wasn’t about skill, they all had that. More about what each could bring to the table. It wasn’t always obvious, most of the time it was either Wu Man or the others, but when they played together at last that was a release and something special. I brought together worlds than had been kept separate for no reason.

It’s certainly not what I like best about Chinese music, and I like Kyrgyz music much better, but it made a lot of sense to bring these together. Wu Man definitely knows what she’s doing, and even though I don’t really like that side of the Chinese music tradition, she made her point that it belongs to it. And it’s such a rare thing that she could play with these guys like it was obvious they all belonged together. That’s how good she is, and that performance was something special just for all the untold things she made obvious. It’s all more than what just went on, and she conveyed as much by not playing at times. I’m still figuring out.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

May 13th, 2011: Anmitsu

@musée Guimet

I know that the acoustics are sub-par, but I’m glad I didn’t let that keep me away from this gig. I’ve had mixed feelings about the recent Tsugaru Shamisen hype, mostly because I don’t like Yoshida Brothers all that much. It’s OK sound-wise, but kinda bland in my opinion. Anmitsu are the real thing and the perfect antidote to that.

They too take the Shamisen beyond hackneyed cliches, but they don’t need synths to do so. They stick to the instrument itself, and prove that it’s not that dated at all for someone who has a novel approach. And they have that in spades. So they sometimes sounded rockish enough to come close to the dreaded cross-over world-music crap, except that it involved no technological trick and as such was not a bow to current mores but more a sign of the healthy ability to absorb whatever is around while not surrendering either, a prime sign that a tradition is alive and kicking. So there was no divide there, and maybe it was related to their embracing a low-brow kind of music, no matter the century. I don’t mean to disparage anything my the term “low-brow”, just to point out that sometimes high cultural aims get in the way, and it can be liberating to yield that ground, even though there’s no yielding when in comes to the music itself. This balance is something Anmitsu masters as well or better than anyone I’ve heard.

I didn’t like the vocal style, which isn’t a surprise as my taste in terms of vocals and instruments run widely apart when it comes to Japanese music. But it wasn’t featured often, and the shamisen playing was so creative and anchored in the here and now while being true to its heritage I felt honored to have witnessed such a masterful performance. They had all that I liked about this instrument, and added many things I didn’t know I liked. They played the classics but with enough input that they felt fresh again, and their ability to breathe a second life into those classics was only second to their ability to breathe life into anything, so much so that telling those classics apart took some effort that instantly felt irrelevant.

They even had a French guy playing with them and it didn’t feel wrong at all, just musicians sharing their trade and love. That was the mind-blowing thing for me. This was billed as traditional music, but they came across as musicians just like those I’m used to seeing in the free improv or noise scenes. That may be cryptic but means something specific to me. In that specific way they reminded me of Kazue Sawai.

I bought one of their records but didn’t want it signed — I stopped doing that decades ago — but they were so good I was tempted. Come to think of it, Kazue Sawai was one of the last musicians I got to sign a record; I think Kronos were the last by a few months. I’ll remember their performance far longer, I can only hope I’ll have many other opportunities to hear them again.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

May 5th, 2011: Steve Coleman & Five Elements

@cité de la musique

No drummer this time, the piano (David Virelles) and guitar (Miles Okazaki) were in charge of the rhythm section. I like percussive piano, so that was fine by me. I really like what Steve Coleman does, and I’m most fond of Jen Shyu and Jonathan Finlayson in this lineup, so I was well within my comfort zone despite the changes — I’m not sure that’s a good thing though.

Overall that was definitely not one of my favorite performances of theirs, but there were unexpected rhythmic twists in the second part that made it well worth it. I suspect I could come to reevaluate this positively in the future, it had the feel of something new being tried.

What felt weird was that I didn’t like Jen Shyu as much as usual. I suspect that my finally seeing her solo made me chafe at her secondary role. That would not be a good development, as she’s probably not likely to play solo often around here. But Coleman was good and I took that opportunity to focus more on Finlayson, and that was very rewarding. And they played for a long time, adding an encore without Coleman that was more playful than the main event. I was surprised at how long they had played, always a sure sign that I enjoyed the show more than I thought.

I’m not sure what I think of it, and that’s a good thing.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

May 3rd, 2011: eRikm – Dieb13 / Yann Leguay

@instants chavirés

Yann Leguay‘s could have turned out too smart for its own good: hard drives with turntable arms around them. But it was no issue, the sound stood its ground fine, despite a laptop crash a few minutes into the show that led to a restart. He would raise the arms and let the cartridge hit the drives, then the cracks would generate crackling loops. It all added up and slowly built a nice soundscape, where the source didn’t matter much. The setup could possibly provide some additional interest, but the performance worked on its own, as it should. The rest is just gravy, and I didn’t really think about it.

I was surprised at the sparse attendance, eRikm usually draws more people. His set with Dieb13 took a while getting started in my opinion. At first it was a bit too nice and sophisticated for me, and it looked like they were treading too lightly. It did take off when they added some tension by going their separate ways. I think that’s probably more eRikm’s doing, I’ve heard him play too nice before. He can be very good at this collaborative stuff, but I think he should be more assertive early on. These sets usually end well, but the ramp-up can get tedious

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Music | , , , | Leave a comment