Aug 292007
 

MiekaMaybe it’s cause I had never seen her with a full band before, but today’s set was so much more aggressive that it sounded like she sure must have picked up that gun that Elijah dropped and is out to hurt us all… no just kidding! Of course she was sweet and funny and talented as always, but the sonic impact of a full band makes her obviously sound more in-your-face and angry than she ever could (or would want to) in those intimate acoustic performances I have gotten to know her through.

This was some kind of private performance open to the public (an oxymoron in terms…) which I believe was very quickly whipped together as a showcase for some label person… basically if you were on her mailing list (which you should be! hint hint!) you got a 6 hour notice (she emailed at 11am) to be at the 5pm show at Rockwood Music Hall, which behind closed doors and closed curtains made the magic come alive almost as if it was nighttime (gotta tell you, it sure was shocking to walk out of there and see the sun!).

The show was short and sweet and one or two of my favorite songs didn’t make the set list but it was interesting to see her with a full band. A solid rhythm section I didn’t catch the names of was well balanced by Daniel Mintseris (on piano and Hammond keys) who delivered as always and jazzed up the two introductory piano/guitar-only pieces and by guitar player Brian Cassagnol, whose instrument was quite honestly a little overwhelmingly loud in the mix (but we are not gonna hold him responsible for that since from the stage he obviously didn’t know and since he also had some problems with his Big Muff pedal).

I could say I almost preferred her solo ’cause she has such a beautiful and rich voice and with a band in a place like that you invariably loose some of the nuances and characteristics that make her special and make her stand out… She wasn’t drowned out by the band’s volume or anything, but her voice just didn’t get to you in a way that it does when you can really hear every little element in it. But again that probably is just a matter of mixing the sound right in the club and maybe in a different situation you could still get the full picture…

Anyway, the album she recorded with Cassagnol in Boston is finished and will come out in October (you may pre-order your copy from her website now!). I heard three un-mastered versions on a sampler CD she handed me and, although I’d much rather hear a real string quartet (if not an orchestra) in place of the fake strings that the indie budget made them go for, the songs came together really well in their new full-band incarnation. I like the arrangement of the open, spacious and grand “Devil’s Got My Secret” in particular.

Looking forward to be able to listen to her full album and catch her live again soon (solo or not), especially considering that she is now officially a NYC adoptee, as of last week. Welcome to NYC Mieka!

Aug 242007
 

Aside from being one the most respected (and covered) songwriters and musicians of our times, Allen Toussaint is the man who singlehandedly did more for his home town of New Orleans than any government, aid organization, corporation or individual did. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, one of the many things he did was to raise awareness AND to raise $9 million to benefit the long-term relief efforts through a huge concert held at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall (two locations, at the same time!).

MSG (the network channel) presents a one hour documentary called “The Concert for New Orleans Remembered” (premiering Wednesday August 29th at 10pm, on MSG of course) featuring behind the scene and concert footage by himself, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Irma Thomas, Elton John, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, Cindy Lauper, Elivs Costello (whom I had seen Toussaint perform with two years ago during their duo tour in occasion of a private performance within the Tribeca Film Festival) and many others.

To promote the premier of this wonderful documentary (which I urge you to see on TV or get on DVD), MSG hosted a private & performance at the newly (not yet officially) opened jazz club Lola Is Soul.

Although poorly amplified and drowned in disrespectful chatter by people who were obviously there for the free food (which was delicious) and the open bar, the performance itself was fun and touching at the same time. Mr. Toussaint is a great piano player, talented singer and superb songwriter. He is one of the smartest individuals you’ll meet and he does everything he does genuinely and with the heart. The same passion went into tonight’s solo piano & voice performance of his, during which he manned the sustain pedal with his left foot (which I never saw anyone else doing), hit the 88 keys in all ranges of dynamics and pitch and poured his heart out while singing some of his most memorable compositions into the non-boom microphone stand on his right side.

As a cake-topping cherry, Mr Clarence “Frogman” Henry (who was in the house for the event) took the stage with his walker, sat down, and sang a few pieces (in his regular, falsetto and super-low frog voice) accompanied by Allen.

Truly a memorable event, filmed on site by a camera crew (so we might see some of it on TV at some point) and luckily immortalized (in a more grand version) in the MSG Originals documentary, where Frogman and Toussaint also played together.

I highly recommend you check out the concert, which has great footage, photography etc and I just as strongly recommend that you check out this new (yet historical) jazz/soul/blues venue in town (in its new and gorgeous downtown re-incarnation). They have a great food menu which is sure to please, great staff and management, beautiful  interior design and hopefully a good sound system.

Aug 232007
 

Summer’s coming to an end but every year the hot months spent in the city are a great time for good music and free shows. This year I’ve been roaming the parks looking for good music and found some really good one and, as always, some less interesting one… In my quest for fresh sounds at open air public gatherings I’ve gotten increasingly frustrated with some of the rules and attitudes at these events.

First of all, what is up with the no water bottles policy at Summer Stage? It is 100 degrees for chrissake! How can you ask people not to bring water? If anything, water should be distributed for free if ask me (especially if they insist on enforcing this ridiculous rule)! Not sure if they do it because they want you to buy their water or because they think you’ll fill your Poland String bottle with grappa or with liquid explosive? With hundreds of people in that heat, somebody might dehydrate and just pass out! Who’s fault is it going to be? We’ll have to ask a good lawyer!

Then there is photography… At Central Park I used my long lens SLR camera to take some shots from the front row and nobody said a thing. At Prospect Park, while I was just shooting birds between shows, some staff member on a power trip told me to put the camera away because, I quote, “long lenses are not allowed”! Since when are they making a separation? I have a point and shoot camera with an optical zoom that is bigger than the long lens I have on my SLR! I walked around reading the signs and all they said was that flash photography was not allowed. The same thing was said on stage by the announcer. Nobody said anything about non-flash photography with long lenses! No announcements and no signs. I contacted Celebrate Brooklyn through their website but I received no answer. I just wonder what they are going to do in 5 or 10 years when there will be 15mpx 25x optical zoom camera phones or pen-shaped cameras that fit in the palm of a hand…

Finally there is the crackdown on freedom of body movements and shows of love. The other day I went to Pier 54 on West 14th Street and watched John Lee Hooker Jr and a a few other artists on the bill of the 8th annual Blues BBQ under the light rain of that afternoon. Outside this Hudson River Park organized event the list of “don’ts” was longer than the list of performers on the stage! I could not believe my eyes when I saw these private security employees that were telling people not to dance… Are we serious? Is this what it has come down to? People are having a good time and happen to feel like swinging their bodies and shuffling their feet and some nazi security guard tells them not to? Their argument was that people are not supposed to dance in the middle corridor between the seating, but that corridor was really wide, there were no cables on the floor and on BOTH the exterior sides of the two seating areas the staff and security had two extra corridors.

I am telling you: these security policies and attitudes are the new fascism of today and the new real threat to art and to its wide-spread diffusion. What are they gonna do next? Tell you that you must wear shoes on the Park’s grass? Kick you out cause you are kissing your partner? Chain concert goers to the Park benches and seating so they won’t move? (oh wait, they are not gonna do that because they do want people to go buy overpriced drinks and food at the concession stands! right! just walk there slowly, do not dare running there or dancing your way to the food stands!) Maybe they’ll burn all the books at the library because readers are not sitting up straight enough in their chairs? These are the new fascists of our time and the new obstacles to future’s generation peaceful fruition of art, community spirit and events attendance. Shame on them!

I don’t remember the name of the security company (I believe it is a three letter acronym) but I am pretty sure it is the same people who handle security at Central Park Summer Stage and THEY SUCK. My beef is not necessarily with them as a company or with their employees, but with what event security has come to mean and be today. First of all their bag check is absolutely useless and ridiculous! Even more ineffective than the ones they do at airports. At airports, where the terrorism threat is real, they do a lousy job at checking bags but at least there is a metal detector and they try to feel the contents of the bag. At the parks they look inside and you could have literally ANYTHING in there in any of the side pockets or just covered under a newspaper or what not and you’ll get through no problem! And if you happen to be a skateboarded you are totally out of luck! You cannot go in unless you surrender your “vehicle”. I’ve seen people part with so much stuff just to get in after they stood in line for an hour… Mostly perfectly harmless stuff. Sad indeed! Seriously now: how many terrorists do you know that are interested in attending concerts or blowing up big crowds, it’s not like the concert is in the Gaza Strip!

I am not advocating no security at all, but I’d like to see smart security employing smart and effective methods. And I’d like them to focus on the important things (prevent weapons to make it into the park, don’t waste time trying to prevent people from dancing if that’s what they wanna do: after all they went to the park to have a good time)! But the reality is that as always we need to wait for something bad to happen and we won’t smarten up until then. Sad.

Between 9/11 and Giuliani’s own doing, NY has become a city of rules and regulations and has lost a lot of what used to make NY a great city. Very often I feel like I am in a fascist state (I am not even gonna talk about the rules at the beaches). Terrorism is used as an excuse for anything nowadays. All these rules to prevent or control public gatherings along with the completely anachronistic enforcement of the even more anachronistic Cabaret Laws need to stop. Authorities need to chill out and leave the kids alone to focus on some more important stuff!

What happened to NYC? I’ve only lived here 10 years and I barely recognize its spirit! I can’t even imagine how a long time resident must feel about all of this.

Don’t let the good-time killers win! Peace, love and rock’n’roll!

Aug 112007
 

Indeed a though call yesterday at the Highline Ballroom, where the leading (only?) New York City-based Serbian brass band Slavic Soul Party performed a well received show in support of their new CD “Teknocheck Collision” (which I tracked and mixed a few months back at EastSide Sound). Even though I spent a few weeks with them in the studio and they play at the Brooklyn club Barbes every Tuesday, I actually had never made it out to one of their shows, so I am glad I did this time ‘coz I had lots of fun!

SSP is eccentric and tantric and as much into their act as their audience is. The eight-piece parade of instrumentalists jumped around the stage limited uniquely by the position of the microphones. Escaping that rule was the master of ceremonies, conductor and bass drummer Matt Moran, whose clip-on mic afforded him the ability to go bother his band mates and offer visual cues and instructions. Equally mobile but less into mobility was the shy new snare drum and cowbell player, replacing previous percussionist Take (who tragically died a few months ago – R.I.P.). John Carlson and Ben Holmes ripped on their trumpets and made sure the high end was solid and covered while the once-blond Ron Caswell put the low end in the pocket playing his big tuba in his pajamas. The middle grounds are the territory of Jacob Garchik and Brian Drye and their bones/trubas. Last but not least there is the de-facto star of the night and only real true “original” first generation eastern European player Peter Stan, who just loves noodling in all of his accordion’s registers and who midway through the show is joined by his son, affectionately named Repeter, for a gypsy riff battle made of slick licks, cozy father & son love and cocky show offs… people were throwing money at them, and that’s the last thing I’ll say about that. Unfortunately clarinetist Oscar Noriega pulled a no show (literally), which is too bad cause he is a funny cat and perfect complement to Peter’s playing. Also featured on a bunch of songs was singer Eva Salina Primack, who brought her Eastern European flavor to complement the band’s own. I gotta say for being mostly a bunch of gringos they do a pretty damn good job at this!

It is probably fair to say that the real attraction of the night was the crowd. They were totally into it and let themselves be entirely transported by the vibe, bodies and minds! The crowd was very diversified and amongst the unassuming everyday looking people were eccentrics and freaks alike… If to that you add the fact that the members of the opening 25-piece marching band members were circulating and dancing along in their marching band outfits, it really seemed like a scene straight out of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s crazy recording session described by Emerick in his book or scenes from the Coney Island Marmaid Parade or from the opening scenes of the Borat movie. Drunk, high or just completely absorbed by the mood that was set by this music, in the hundreds were tripping on SSP, rubbing their bodies against strangers and dancing around like rubbers… Scenes like that were not new to me, but I must say I had never seen that in the allegedly forward-thinking-yet-really-conservative US of A. I had been to the “Notte della Taranta” once or twice and worked with plenty of Mediterranean and Eastern European bands while I was doing live sound in Italy, however in the US it was new to me and I welcome the freedom of body and spirit that SSP is able to stir up.

SSP is a cult! And their encore set proved that. Once the mics where off and the crowd kept cheering them up, they just all took their instruments and danced around in the crowd while playing a few more tunes, then, while still playing, they slowly retreated backstage with the most die hard of their fans throwing themselves at their feet with hands in the air, on top of each other, in a completely un-choreographed yet worthy of being re-staged show of love and appreciation that looked like a mixture of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and one of Spencer Tunick‘s controversial photo shoots.

I just have one question: where was Zoran?

I missed the other two bands on the bill (Main Squeeze Orchestra and Mucca Pazza) but I heard they were good and that the ydefinitely set the right tone for the headliners.

Check out Slavic Soul Party‘s new record “Teknocheck Collision” and stay tuned for their up-coming remix CD, which will include a remix I did for them of the title track (while they played it, I kept hearing Kenners’ “We want SSP!” in my head!).

One last thing I wanna say is: Highline Ballroom rocks! I had never been there before but it seems to be a great music venue, set up specifically for that, with a good sound system and good lighting. In a city ruined by completely anachronistic Cabaret Laws and majors on power trips, this comes to me as a great and welcome surprise! It almost looks like (or makes me hope that) people are starting to care about (live) music again… We’ll see, I’ll keep my ears (or was it fingers?) crossed!

Aug 062007
 

After a long day kitesurfing in Long Island, could there possibly be anything better than savoring some great new music at Rockwood Music Hall and eating a couple of Palà‘s roman pizza slices next door between sets (I strongly recommend their Bufala Cruda pizza!)? Hardly my friend, hardly! I love Rockwood and I go there after long sessions in the studio or when I have a little bit of time to kill while in the neighborhood, just ’cause I know I’ll always be in for a treat and discover some new amazing hidden music gem of our local scene. This time was no different.

Leah SiegelOn Friday I went there primarily to see Leah Siegel, whom I had discovered at one of the earlier Headroom Jams (when she blew me away with her unmistakably Jeff Buckley-inspired voice, her great songs and her awesome band), however I stayed for the following set by Jeff Taylor, whose song-writing and performance style is definitely not nearly as uneventful and uncommon as his name might be.

Leah’s solo set was as awe-inspiring, intimate, delicate, soulful and exquisite as the first time I had seen her. Leah is a mature artist, her song writing is simple yet complex, she loves going up and down with her voice and even surprise you with an occasional note from the left field (obviously meant to be there). Siegel will remind you first and foremost of Jeff Buckley, but also of his father and of Billie Holiday, but make no mistake: the fact that I am comparing her to people that all passed does not mean that her sound is outdated. She is a modern artist with a very actual sound… but if a comparison with a contemporary makes you feel better, check out Mieka Pauly, who’s also a pretty familiar face (not quite as familiar as Leah) at the cozy Allen Street spot.

Leah strummed her wine-red hollow body guitar and played songs from her current (last year’s) “Little Mule” full-length debut. I assure you that whatever Leah is to Buckley, her spider song is to his alleluia song. She took everyone along for the ride (I hear the spider song even prompted some tears) and I was happy to listen through the entire set even though I was starving to death!

Jeff TaylorWhen Jeff came on by himself (and I had finally tamed my hunger next door), everyone that stayed was just as transported and even though the ride might have gotten bumpier or wilder, it was still a very emotional ride indeed. Jeff Taylor’s ability to tunnel his vulnerability into songs is astonishing but he can also get everyone clapping along when he is just singing solo and not playing any instrument at all! Jeff goes from practically soft spoken word to loud screaming and everything in between, including human beat-boxing with the lowest notes in the Tenor or Baritone range, singing his heart out, stomping his feet on the stage, clapping his hands, dropping imaginary items down his pants and all of that without ever touching an instrument (when he does it’s a guitar or a piano). His vocal style and the huge dynamic & note range he draws from, coupled with very fun and thoughtful lyrics and with his writing chops, makes him an unlikely but possible blend of equal parts Tom Waits, Kenny Muhammad a.k.a. the Human Orchestra, Radiohead, Dave Matthews, Jello Biafra, Savion Glover, Chuck Berry, Barry White or Isaac Hayes and of course the ever present influence of the night: Jeff Buckley.

I am new to Jeff (Taylor, that is) so I don’t know (yet) what he’s up to, but look out for Leah’s upcoming stop-motion video (directed by Rohitash Rao and produced by John Broaddus) while I figure that one out.

Rockwood Music Hall belongs into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! For real!

Aug 022007
 

Yesterday I attended the Headroom Jam night and was introduced to two very different and very talented bands…

UmamiThe first band to hit the stage (ehm… floor) was this Brooklyn-based trio called Umami, who serves up some kind of meaty punk-flavored indie-rock with two bass players (who both sing) and a lefty drummer. Umami’s sound makes for an interesting sonic palette offered by the opportunity to exploit the full range and tone of two bass guitars (interwoven harmonies, counter-pointed levels of fuzz, overdrive or distortion, one goes up while the other goes down kind of thing…). I though their best songs where the ones where the two basses acted like a guitar and a bass of some sorts, in the way that one was more distorted than the other and/or maybe played higher up in the range. If to that you add the skewed and fast-paced hi energy drumming and the vocal harmonies you’ve got a pretty original sounding band… In general they reminded me a lot of some of the more underground punk/hc bands in Europe (Shock Treatment etc). Although there’s been artists that used the two-bassists formula before (Ornette Coleman, Talking Heads, Balancing Act or the Mexican band Molotov, who’s the only in this bunch that plays something even remotely resembling to Umami), if I had to described these Brooklynites I’d sooner make an attempt mentioning something like a weird mixture between Fugazi, Tortoise, Cop Shoot Cop, Death from Above 1979… I guess it is one of those situations where you have to check them out yourself…

ClareEasier to describe, but most definitely still worthwhile checking out for yourself, are Clare and the Reasons, an ensemble of three strings players (violin, viola, cello), a double bass player (occasionally on electric), a drummer and a keyboardist (and jack of all trades) all backing up (literally, as background singers, and figuratively as musicians) the fantastic chanteuse Clare Muldaur and her romantic, European-scented, sexy and lush compositions… Clare strums her acoustic guitar and has this angelic soprano voice and sings about Pluto (not the planet, Disney), cooking in her underwear (definitely not Disney there…) and love (the last name gave it away, but at this point I am pretty sure she must be French)… The string arrangements (from lush to hip) are really beautiful and the whole band has a defined sound and essential approach to music. Remarkable!

Chris HowesTo complete this night made of four string instruments, Chris Howes stole the spotlight during the open mic jam session with his virtuoso electric violin rock solo improvisations orchestrated on the spot by the two leaders of the Jam band (the bass player and his guitarist relative).  Another relative of the jam band’s leaders is the young Leon G. Thomas III, who on this very night turned 14. This talented kid just got signed by Sony and has been on Broadway in The Lion King and The Color Purple. I had seen him rip it on the dance floor while his family was getting down and dirty and funky, so I knew he could dance, but I now know he can sing with an amazing voice and plays the guitar too. He played the encore of the night and ventured off into his fifteenth year of life, sure to be a very exciting one for a promising talent like himself.

Headroom’s jam rock!

Aug 012007
 

It was really Korn on the Pier, Pier 17 at South Street Seaport to be exact. A free show (only 30 minutes, you get what you pay for…) several hundred of people came out for… The sun was baking and the water bottles were flying (a real airborne fight of Poland Spring water bottles broke out at one point before show!) and when Korn finally took the stage the fans went crazy and the mosh pit followed suit!

I had never seen Korn before. The five-piece band played a good, tight and aggressive show made of walls of guitar, the oh so characteristic distorted bass sound that pretty much defines their sound, machine(gun)-precision drumming, occasional keyboard drones and the screaming voice of the front man wearing an Irish kilt, drinking out of a goblet and holding on to his uber-cool cast aluminum microphone stand designed by my favorite artist: the Swiss H.R. Giger (hint hint: Alien). The sound of Korn live is aided by an albino background screamer+percussion player and second guitar player (gotta stack the bricks for that wall of guitars!).

I never really bothered to pay attention to their lyrics (admittedly it is a little hard sometimes…) but I think this was the first time in my life as a straight guy that I’ve heard so many people at once screaming the words “Suck my Dick and Fucking Like It!” …so I looked up the lyrics to this “Faget” song and I still can’t really figure out for sure if they are a bunch of homophobic racists or if they are trying to sing against discrimination… I sure hope it’s the former cause I saw a lot of people in tight leather pants at the show! ;-)

The other words that really stood out loud were “Are You Ready?” which marked the beginning of a short-lived but absolutely insane and massive head-banging, body-slamming, crowd-surfing, leg-overturning, sure-to-be-injury-provoking mosh pit slam-dance (I recall my days at the punk shows in Italy!). “Are You Ready?” concluded the short show but by then everyone was satisfied ’cause Korn made sure to play all of their hits and of course introduce their new album “Evolution” (out today).

I checked the show out from the Pier 17 restaurant stairs where I had a good general overview of it all… I think the only bad thing about that particular spot were these obnoxious tourists who fueled an argument with every bystander who stood in their line of sight while they were comfortably sitting at a table expecting everyone to be out of their way so they could enjoy the show seated. They claimed a whole entire balcony for themselves and even had the balls to block it off to other people who could have seen the show from there without even interfering with them… Allegedly the restaurant charged them $30 for those seats (which I am not sure is really a legal thing to do at a free show…). Shame on them and the restaurant!