Jun 282010
 

Bang on a Can is a collective of composers and musicians who, since 1987, have been writing and performing avantgard/experimental/new music. Their approach somehow speaks to a more “ordinary” and less “niche” audience and so, to some extent, they have succeeded in reaching larger audiences where others might have failed (or, depending on who you ask and where you stand, might have deliberately chosen to keep it a bit less accessible to filter out the casual listener from the really dedicated and interested followers).

The Bang on a Can marathon is a 12 hour concert (from noon to midnight) which takes place every year and presents pieces from a number of experimental music composers performed by musicians from anywhere around the world.

I’ve stayed for about 4 of the 12 hours and in that time caught Buke and Gass (a vocal+guitars duo with foot-operated tambourine and bass drum who played some interesting stuff and had a very powerful sound); german piano player Moritz Eggert (who played a few of his compositions based on falling fourths and fifths which were interesting in concept but at times felt a bit forced in their presentation); dutch performer Slagwerk Den Haag (four people writing and drawing with chalk on four amplified blackboards – see picture); Vernon Reid (who presented a piece based on the recordings of voices of some of the last people born in slavery – accompanied by Mazz Swift on violin and Leon Gruenbaum on Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeeee); Bang on a Can All-Stars themselves (performing a pretty powerful composition by Kate Moore – see picture); Mira Calix (doing some live laptop improvisation); Kyrgyzstan-based players (playing traditional pieces on traditional instruments); french upright bass player Florent Ghys (who performed a nice piece on his double bass playing along with two or three tracks of himself from a laptop and a video in sync with his playing – see picture); Burkina Electric (which consisted of three dancer/singers and a guitarist from Burkina Faso accompanied by two american composers/performers on electronics, mallets and drums; – the musical results were not always as interesting as the authentic dancing and singing); and finally the ensemble called “Signal” conducted by Brad Lubman who performed the BAM-commissioned piece “Shelter” in seven movements. Composed by the Bang on a Can founders Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, this piece reminded me at times of Glass, at times of JG Thirwell, at times of Zorn… I thought it lost some steam in the middle but I really enjoyed the last and the first two movements, especially the second one, my favorite; the piece featured a libretto sang by three great singers and some film projections by Bill Morrison and Laurie Olinder (for the video too, I thought the first and last movements were the most interesting).

Very interesting event all in all. I wonder how many people stayed for the whole thing, but it’s definitely an interesting event and it’s great that it is free, which further lowers the barrier of entry if you are trying to bring this music to the masses. I still prefer to see this kind of music in the quiet and dedicated confines of the Stone, but nevertheless I enjoyed it.

Jun 192010
 

Laurie Anderson's "Homeland"

Laurie Anderson's "Homeland"

Full disclosure: I have worked with Laurie and have worked on this record as well, so I am partial to her music and it’d be hard, if not impossible, for me to say anything negative about such an amazing person and artist. I will however attempt to give you just the facts so you can make an informed decision about whether to purchase this CD or not (spoiler alert: you most definitely should!).

Laurie Anderson needs no introduction: a visionary, a pioneer, a true and complete artist whose approach to art encompasses music, story-telling, visual arts, sculptures and more. Her previous studio album “Life on a String” came out in 2001 and she’s been busy touring, writing new material while on the road, releasing a book, creating videos, installations, pieces for museums and being actively involved in a number of other artistic and political events.
If you’ve been a fan of her work, the long wait for a new studio album is about to pay off. “Homeland” is possibly one of the most versatile, complete, personal and mature records in her discography. It is also possibly one of the most political ones. This might come as no surprise if you consider that her previous release was the 2002 double CD “Live in New York” recorded less than 10 days after 9/11 at Town Hall in New York; and that while she was writing new material for this album she’s obviously been heavily affected and inspired by those events and the unfolding of the follow-up war and the “W” parade/tyranny.

On every one of her albums, Laurie Anderson takes you on complex journey through her visions and her ideas. Listeners become the privileged travelers who get to take a peak inside her beautiful mind. This album is no different, with all its great story telling, inspiring words and unmistakable truths. 
With true poets and musical story tellers of our times (people like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and others) I always feel sad for the non-english speaking people who can’t really fully appreciate such great records until they find a good translation of the lyrics. But especially so with Laurie, even if you don’t speak any english and you were to never look for a translation (which would be a shameful mistake on your part, especially since they do exist!), strictly musically speaking “Homeland” is so gorgeous that you’d probably still end up taking this record to your deserted island.

Its ethereal atmospheres, organic textures, synthetic pads, sub-sonic pulses, orchestral arrangements and worldly influences create a beautiful, timeless and incredibly heterogeneous record. When you look at who’s played on the album, that too should come as no surprise. For the most part the core band on tour and on the record consisted of Laurie playing all electronics and violin accompanied by Eyvind Kang on viola, Peter Scherer on keyboards and Skuli Sverisson on bass; but several songs feature Rob Burger and Kieran Hebden on keys, Shahzad Ismaily on percussions and bass, Omar Hakim, Ben Wittman and Joey Baron on drums and even three mongolian throat singers and igil players. So many musicians have leant their incredible talents to the making of this record in its various and many permutations, that the resulting equation of Laurie’s creative mind enhanced by all these people’s musical inputs rubbing off on her and shaping these pieces really produced a genius’ masterwork. And on top of all of that, other very special guests also leant their talents: Antony on vocals, John Zorn on sax, of course Lou Reed (who also produced this record together with Roma Baran) on guitar and percussions and even Lou an Laurie’s dog Lolabelle on piano!

“Homeland” comes as a CD+DVD. 12 gorgeous audio tracks plus a DVD disc that includes a 41 minute long sort of “making-of” video (featuring interviews with Laurie, the producers and some of the musicians) and a 7 minute long interview with Laurie about her violin.
If you haven’t gotten the point of all of the above yet, the gist of it is: go out and buy this record if it were to become the last record you buy before the music industry completely crumbles!

Jun 182010
 

Yesterday night after Laurie Anderson’s record release party I had dinner with some friends and some new people, one of whom was this nice cool dude from Alaska who dresses like a rock star and has jokes and opinions about everything. Gabe (was his name) told me his band would perform the following midnight at the East Village rock’n’roll glamour striped-ceiling venue called Ella. The band (Dog Soldier) is a high energy quartet. They are kind of hard to describe but are a bit of a mixture of seveties rock, irish/british punk and metal. Gabe with his ripped shirt (at least while he actually had it on), low jeans, leather boots, blue eyes, thick beard and long blonde weavy hair looks like Zakk Wylde meets Chris Robinson and is a magnet for grabby groupies (most of the crowd tonight). His energetic stage presence and punk moshpit attitude reminded me of Iggy Pop but his voice is growly like Lemmy’s or Billy Gibbons’. Some of the band’s choirs sounded almost like the faster episodes of Type O Negative, but when they went all Irish on the crowd they echoed Dropkick Murphy’s… Other times thy sounded a bit like Big Elf or the Damned. Or was it just their looks? Who knows. What matters is I had planned to stay a few songs to check them out but ended up staying the whole show. They are a riot to watch! They have another gig next week at Roseland and then they are off for a few months on tour so catch them in town while you can.
I turned out to be an eventful night which included an industry party on a west side rooftop, a nice dinner and a movie, so adding a concert to top that all off made perfect sense to me, a real NYC night out! I love this town!

Jun 082010
 

Those who were lucky enough to catch Frisell’s two week long residence at the Vanguard, were also fortunate enough to see the talentuous Eyvind Kang play his magic on the viola. But the really fortunate out there were blissed with a performance by Eyvind and his wife Jessika Kenney at Drom, where they played some of their new written and some improvised Persian-inspired music. The day after the show I was the fortunate one to be able to record their new music at EastSide Sound.
I’ve used my new and beloved Latvian JZ Black Hole microphone on Jessika’s vocal and a Beyer Dynamic MC740N on the viola and ran both through Neve-reissue Vintech X73 preamps and my MasterRoom II analog reverb to capture an intimate and marvelous performance of the two standing feet apart in same room and performing haunting music live for my lucky ears and my lucky mics.
Can’t wait to hear this record out in stores.