Gigs, dance, art

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

April 20th, 2011: Cecil Taylor / Amiri Baraka

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I was so excited about finally seeing Cecil Taylor I hadn’t noticed Amiri Baraka was there too. I’d have gone to this show for him alone, so that was an unexpected treat to say the least. Except it took me a while to realize exactly who he was. His name didn’t register until he mentioned the controversy about Somebody Blew Up America, then it all became clear. I followed that at the time, and even there are sides to his poem that I just don’t care about, most of it is a strong work, and even stronger live. It wasn’t even a highlight, his delivery is so good it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. He has a musicality and rhythm that makes beat, jazz, and hip-hop come together. My own reaction was nothing to be proud of: the reception was icy at first, and I sat frozen, I was again too much of a coward to break the silence and be the first to clap. I did that before, and I still regret it. I’m just not one of the good guys. I was hoping he’d join Cecil Taylor at some point, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

A few years ago, I hadn’t even heard of Cecil Taylor. I can only express my deepest gratitude to Scott McDowell for introducing me to his amazing body of work. And now I got to see the man play, and he’s every bit as amazing as I hoped. He has that percussive side I love on piano, but also a delicate touch at times. And he uses all the range of his instrument, sometimes playing both high and low notes, with no filler moment. It was all the time intense, and his sense of endings is flawless: each time he stopped abruptly, as if he had no time to waste winding down when he could move on to the next piece. And anyway had no patience for niceties; when he’s done, he’s done, and that’s it. This might seem weird, but it made a lot of sense with the way he’s playing, there’s no settling down for less with him. How could that be anything but a good thing? If anything, seeing him play live heightened my appreciation, and thanks to Scott’s teachings, that’s saying something.

May 2, 2011 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

April 12th, 2011: Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy

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I’m left with a strange feeling of an incomplete experience. Dave Douglas was good, as were all the members of his band — Vincent Chancey on horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Roja on tuba, and Nasheet Waits on drums. Roja was especially great. But I never really could get into their set, even though a couple of compositions were really nice — I think my favorite was called “town hall” . On the other hand I didn’t like Waits much; he’s close to flawless, but I just don’t like his style, and his solo was close to grating to me. And I felt Chancey didn’t assert himself enough; horn is rare enough for me to want to hear more of it.

I think my main gripe was that this show was labeled as a tribute to Lester Bowie, yet the set was somewhat tame. Not a museum piece by any means, but still comfortably within the boundaries of what Jazz — capital J, please — is supposed to me. Which feels wrong to me, when calling on Lester Bowie. But that’s probably because I’m not much into tradition, and whatever appeals to me in Bowie’s music is the part that is harder to pay tribute to, at least officially. At least here. I guess I just need to find another place like La Dynamo.

April 25, 2011 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

February 5th, 2011: Zeritu / Jazzmaris

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For the most part, I liked Jazzmaris. A lot in their music comes from the standards from decades ago, but the bass and drums give it a more recent sound, and the guitar adds elements from other genres. They certainly know where the music comes from, but they seem to want to let it go places as well. That’s fine with me: even though I didn’t like everything, it means this fine music still lives as the legends get older. I did have a slight problem with the sax though. To me it felt a little too neat, and I thought he stuck to a grid far too much, but maybe that’s just unfair because he played a song I saw Getatchew Mekuria play several times, and I’m just stuck on his interpretation, which just felt more free. That’s not a fair comparison, and anyway it was an enjoyable set on its own terms.

They were all part of Zeritu’s backing band, and again the guitar stood out for me, though I wasn’t fond of the songs where he was in the forefront. Then again, I wasn’t fond of much of the music, it was just too smooth and quite mainstream for me. Zeritu has a beautiful voice and a lot of charisma, but that wasn’t enough and I ended up feeling pretty bored. Just not my kind of thing, that’s all I’m saying.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

February 4th, 2011: Azmaris

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After the religious music that was the main event, there was a free concert by azmaris at the same place, but not in the concert hall itself. That was more my kind of music, but the place was way too cold — the architecture, not the temperature — and the high ceiling felt very wrong to me. But the music was pretty good, and Melaku Belay was his amazing self. There was another dancer this time, Zenash Tsegaye, and though I didn’t think she reached his level, she had memorable moments too. Again, the language barrier probably made me miss a sizable chunk of the fun, but the musicians were good despite less than ideal conditions: Abbebe Fekade, Eyerusalem Dubale, Mimi Zenebe, Sileshi Demissie, and Asnake Gebreyes, who looked familiar. I think I saw him perform before, but I’m not sure where. Maybe with Mohammed Jimmy Mohammed a few shortly before his death. Anyway, that show made me wish I could see them in a more suitable venue.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

February 4th, 2011: Debteras choir / Alemu Aga

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Alemu Aga plays the begena, which is an amazing instrument with a unique buzzing sound. He sang too, in a quiet voice sometimes sounding like a whisper. That made me pay attention even more, though not understanding a single word certainly took away a lot from the experience. Then again, it’s religious music, and I may have been turned away by the message. There was also something soothing about the similar start of each song, and the repetitive phrases within each song. Something more hypnotic than insistent. The lone exception was the one he played with a plectrum, for a more assertive sound featuring chords instead of notes. But it too had something quietly focused. A very nice set, totally different from what I’m used to, even though I did hear that instrument before on a record out on Terp.

The second set was a choir of debteras. This one was mostly vocal, though they did use a drum for part of the set. For some reason they reminded me of some Japanese styles at times, especially when the drum was more a punctuation than a beat. Some interesting moments, but I have to say I dropped out along the way. Maybe I just lack the kind of focus to stay into religious music for so long.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

January 29th, 2011: Ensemble Intercontemporain

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I really didn’t like the typewriter sounds at the beginning of Pierre Jodlowski’s Is it this?, especially with the unsubtle title and text. But I liked most of the rest, the sand on green steel barrel, the violin, clarinet and drums at the end. I’m pretty sure I missed the point of the music, as I most often do, but I did enjoy most of it. (As an aside, a composer once told me this kind of music was meant to be read more than to be heard, and I guess he should know because he was writing it. I can’t read music, so I gave up there and then on trying to understand it.)

I really went for Thierry De Mey, because I genuinely like his work and I feel I owe a lot to him for introducing me to a lot of music through his association with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Michèle Anne De Mey. I really liked Light Music, especially for its blurring of the lines between sound, light and movement. I couldn’t really say which was responsible for what I “heard”, whether some rhythms or some progressions. A bit like in a film he made years ago with hands drumming on tables, the distinction feels besides the point. These basic gestures/sounds assembled into changing phrases share a lot with dance — especially De Keersmaeker’s — but to me it was clearly music and not dance, even though it was music I could see as well.

To my big surprise, my favorite piece turned out to be Pierre Boulez’ Dialogue de l’ombre double. I was surprised because I have basically stopped listening to his music for a few years for personal reasons. And I had never heard it live. It makes a huge difference, because the recorded clarinet moves around in a way that just does translates to a record. And some of the trailing echoes of the live clarinet are so much fuller live. To me it was a very intense performance, and my lack of understanding never kept me apart. Despite the visual progression, I was still surprised when it stopped, maybe it’s the pace but I didn’t feel it had been even ten minutes long even though it lasted double that. I may have to reconsider my avoidance policy.

January 30, 2011 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment