Gigs, dance, art

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

March 12th, 2010: Baramgot

@musée guimet

The Korean material in Emmanuelle Gibello’s recent piece made me realize how little I know about Korean music — which is a weird gap indeed. This show was a perfect opportunity to start fixing that.

Baramgot‘s first set felt more traditional, while the second mixed in other elements, mainly Indian music which was present through a sitar but more generally throughout one the later songs. I wasn’t all that convinced by this influence when it was that strong, but I think it found its place in the last piece, a rather long one with many ideas and patterns that still had a narrative cohesion, and a thoroughly enjoyable piece for me.

The first part of the show was the most interesting for me, as it introduced me to several instruments I had never heard — the main exception was the hourglass drum. My favorite was definitely the geomungo. A long zither with relatively few strings and big frets, it is played with a short stick in a quite percussive way. Its sound had the same pleasing roughness as its looks, but I quickly made out the many subtleties that the free hand could add by varying pressure on the strings. In a way, that’s close to my first impression of Korean music: parts of it were close to Japanese or Chinese music, but with a very different approach, it seemed more direct and rough than the neighboring court styles at first, but with a little time I could figure out that there was just as much going on.

The gayageum was another nice instrument, another zither but with a diagonal of bridges. It was less unusual, looking close to a koto. The playing style made all the difference there too. Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with it, but I thought the nuances were less strongly asserted. They used other instruments, including a flute and a reed oboe called Piri that has a very nice sound, but I’m just not so much into wind instruments these days.

It was my first contact with this music, so I guess I can’t expect more from that first step than getting a rough idea of the sounds. Hopefully some insight into the music itself will come later. It definitely sounded worth pursuing.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

April 17th, 2008: Deepika Reddy

@musée Guimet

At last I found some kuchipudi, it had been close to a year since I saw Shantala Shivalingappa; I have to say I prefer her take on that style, but I’m very happy I could see someone else perform in this style. Especially someone as highly regarded as Deepika Reddy, this gives me some context. I learned quite a lot, but nothing easily put into words, it’s more a question of flow and attention.

The first part was performed by Deepika Reddy and two of her students. I immediately found what I like most about this style, the combination of sinuous arm and hand movements with the rhythmic authority of the feet and legs. The students were good, but they did not reach their teacher’s mastery of that contrast. I guess that’s why they’re students, but they didn’t seem too far away, as they could do both very well, but not as well at the same time. It helped seeing them share the stage in the third part, without the teacher around to distract me; that showed me how good they are. They were also featured in the long narrative fifth part, but that was more acting than dancing — I’m just groping for words here, I don’t remember the actual names — apart for its ending where a student joined her teacher for a bit of that peculiar dancing on copper plates; I didn’t like that one very much, but that’s just my usual preference for abstract dance speaking. Deepika Reddy performed the two other parts alone, one another pantomime piece I didn’t enjoy much, and the final part, lively and satisfying for me.

I think her reputation is not hyperbole, Deepika Reddy really masters this style. I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but the perfection of her technique was highlighted when she performed with her students. I really like the way the upper and lower body are so different yet very much one in this style, and she almost made that look easy. On the other hand, I didn’t really connect much to this performance, maybe that very perfection made it harder; I know I have been expecting/dreading for a while to get familiar enough with classical Indian dance to stop liking it the way it played out with classical European dance. I  will have a few opportunities to check that out in the coming weeks, I’ll know soon enough.

I do like Shantala Shivalingappa better, and having seen again that Pina Bausch solo last week, I think it comes from her diverse interests that somehow come through no matter the type of performance. I hope I’ll get the chance to see another of her kuchipudi performances soon.

April 18, 2008 Posted by | Dance | , , | 2 Comments