Photograph: Richard Termine for The New York Times
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall
The New York Times, October 20, 2011
There was surely one burning question on the minds of the audience who packed the chic New York City nightclub (Le) Poisson Rouge to capacity on a Friday night for the first evening of Tri-Centric Modelling: Past, Present and Future, a two-day celebration marking the 65th birthday of Anthony Braxton. The concert, as well as a second event presented the next day at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, were mounted to raise funds for the Tri-Centric Foundation, a non-profit organization meant to help document and promote Braxton's work.
Friday's programme featured an outstanding array of Braxton's peers, acolytes and protégés. But the burning issue at hand had everything to do with just three of the participants — pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassist Mark Dresser and percussionist Gerry Hemingway — and a fourth, Braxton himself. Together, they represented one of the most reliably thrilling ensembles of the late 1980s and early ’90s.
For Braxton, a leader who has marshalled any number of distinguished groups, this was the unit to conjure with: one rightly to be cited alongside Miles Davis's quintets, John Coltrane's quartet and Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity trio. When Crispell, Dresser and Hemingway took the stage midway through the evening, their astonishing cohesion during a seamless sequence of brittle marches, luminous unison melodies and brief, roiling outbursts melted away the years.
Album review: Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles: Diamonds in the Dark
Sugar Hill Records, 2007
Time Out New York, June 7–13, 2007
Five stars (out of five)
Had Boston-based singer Sarah Borges come along in the mid-1960s, she surely would have been roped into the Capitol stable alongside like-minded mavericks such as Wanda Jackson, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Ten years later, she might have been part of the Stiff cartel; in the ’80s, Slash and Twin/Tone would have fought over her. That Borges’s second album, Diamonds in the Dark, has just been issued by Sugar Hill only furthers the argument that roots music is the new punk.
Blessed with brassy pipes and charisma aplenty, Borges is irresistible in “The Day We Met,” a jangly ode to new love that could easily be one of the summer’s top singles. But she’s just as capable of selling a line like “I’m always the girl that they dance with / But I’m never the one that they want to take home,” the tear-soaked refrain in “Belle of the Bar.” Borges surrounds her catchy original tunes with shrewdly chosen covers associated with Dolly Parton (“False Eyelashes”), X (“Come Back to Me”) and George Cartwright (“Stop and Think It Over”).
Guitarist Mike Castellana provides spit-shined twang and broken-hearted steel, while bassist Binky and drummer Rob Dulaney lay down whip-crack beats and lazy shuffles. Producer Paul Q. Kolderie, a veteran of sessions with the Pixies, Radiohead and Uncle Tupelo, adds atmospheric touches here and there but mostly adheres to a useful old maxim: Less is more.
When I first announced some months ago—optimistically, go figure—that I intended to start archiving some of my older pieces here with the collective tag My Back Pages, what I had in mind was a specific Anthony Braxton concert review from last year that appeared in The Wire. Obviously that effort got derailed, though the notion is still very much alive. But when I came upon this choice old CD review this evening on the Time Out New York website, where older pieces disappear without a trace all too often, thanks to multiple migrations, I decided to grab it right away and stick it here for safe keeping.
So now, when I least expected it, My Back Pages has become a real thing, which is nice. Also, I reviewed a show by Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles at Joe's Pub shortly after this CD review ran; it appeared both on this blog and on Time Out's defunct music blog, The Volume, where you can still find it here. Borges is currently raising funds to do a solo album, which I did not know until just this very minute, and just a little over a year ago released a live set, Live Singles, on the piquantly named label Suck a Bag of Discs. I just bought it on iTunes, and you can, too. Or, at the very least, you can give it a listen on Spotify.
Hilary Hahn and Cory Smythe at the Stone
The New York Times, October 13, 2011
The video embedded above shows the grand finale of Hilary Hahn's holy-rolling "Ives geek-out party" (her term) at the Stone, John Zorn's East Village new-music space, on Monday night. Hahn's disc of Ives's four sonatas, recorded with Valentina Lisitsa for Deutsche Grammophon, is something you need to have, or at least to hear. For me, the bonus in this event was finally getting a chance to tell Jan Swafford in person how his amazing Brahms biography permanently changed the way I think about Brahms. Swafford's Ives biography, I hasten to add, is equally authoritative and revealing. (He lamented that it doesn't sell well, a condition that deserves remedy.)
Speaking of embedded, have you heard Cory Smythe's terrific recent solo album, Pluripotent? If not, go listen to it here. Now.
Frédéric Chaslin accompanies Kirstin Chávez.
Photograph: Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times
Tobias Picker Composer Portrait at Miller Theatre
The New York Times, October 10, 2011
The title of this post refers to the notion of a concert that touches on multiple facets of a single composer's work over the course of an evening: the useful premise of Miller Theatre's Composer Portraits series. But it also alludes to something I didn't mention in the review: during a mostly inconsequential onstage interview with Tobias Picker, the composer in focus last Thursday night, the great pianist Ursula Oppens mentioned that two of Picker's four operas (specifically, Thérèse Raquin and An American Tragedy) include a death by drowning. Actually, Picker replied, the opera he is currently writing for Dolora Zajick also includes a death by drowning, bringing the total up to 60 percent of his operatic canon.
Whatever else the audience took away from this event, we definitely learned one thing: never, ever get into a boat with Tobias Picker.
Photograph: Lino Brunetti
For at least the past several years, Michael Gira, the singer, songwriter, guitarist and bandleader behind the exquisite agonies of Swans, has been issuing a steady trickle of exclusive, limited-edition projects through the website of his label, Young God Records. Packaged with paper covers in plastic sleeves, these hand-numbered, signed and otherwise customized albums have featured original graphic art by Gira.
Several of these projects have provided illuminating snapshots of work in progress, audio verité recordings featuring Gira alone with an acoustic guitar and a microphone. That was mostly the case with I Am Not Insane, a CD/DVD package produced last year in a limited edition of 1000 copies to raise funds for the recording of the latest Swans album, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.
But in a departure, Young God's latest exclusive is a two-disc live set recorded during the current Swans tour. (Or maybe it's a web-exclusive edition of a live set planned for general release; it's a little hard to tell so far.) Titled We Rose from Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head, the set is another fundraiser: this one to pay for the next Swans studio release, said to be in advanced stages of preparation already.
I can't speak to the packaging, but the recording is gorgeous, capturing the current band—which just played at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last week and at ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror fest in Asbury Park over the weekend (reviewed by Ben Ratliff in The New York Times)—in all its desolate rage and glory.
Details of the album's release date, price, provenence and edition size have not yet been announced; to find out, sign up for the Young God mailing list via the label site. Here's a tracklist:
No Words/No Thoughts
Sex God Sex
93 Ave B Blues/Little Mouth
Four of those songs ("No Words/No Thoughts," "Jim," "Eden Prison" and "Little Mouth") are from My Father. Two more ("Beautiful Child" and "Sex God Sex") are from the band's 1987 epic, Children of God. "Your Property" dates back to 1984's lacerating Cop. Among the two new titles, "93 Ave B Blues" is a lurching, squalling instrumental maelstrom prefacing "Little Mouth."
Then there's "The Apostate," a grim, sordid epic slated for the next album; here, it clocks in just shy of 17 minutes. The entire set is crucial listening for any Swans admirer, but this track alone makes purchase mandatory. Here's a May performance of "The Apostate" filmed in Malmö, Sweden, in two parts:
Photograph: Roberto Sanchez
Time Out New York, Oct 6–12, 2011
In this article about the seminal Mexican alt-rock band Caifanes, recently reunited and now en route to New York's Hammerstein Ballroom for an October 12 show, I start by evoking the reunions of Led Zeppelin, Cream and the Pixies. For admirers of rock en Español, that's not a stretch. I discovered the band in 1992, when I noticed Adrian Belew's production credit on the back cover of their third CD, El Silencio, and saw them for the first and last time amid a teeming crowd at the Houston International Festival in 1993. For the article, I spoke with the band's previously warring factions, singer Saúl Hernández and guitarist Alejandro Marcovich—seen above playing to 70,000+ fans at this year's Vive Latino festival in Mexico City—about what caused them to mend bridges after 16 bitter years.
So far I've had no luck digging up my 2005 Time Out article about Jaguares, the spin-off band formed by Hernández and drummer Alfonso André, now on hiatus. But if you're curious about the long-term impact that aformentioned Caifanes show had on the local music community, I've located two smart Houston Press articles (not mine) from 1995 and 2002. And Remando, Hernández's recently released (and Latin Grammy-nominated) solo debut, is streaming on the singer's website and well worth checking out.
Here's a good clip of Caifanes playing "No dejes que…" ("Let It Be…") at Vive Latino.
"In Brooklyn, a New Leader Who Knows No Boundaries"
The New York Times, October 2, 2011
An article about the arrival of Alan Pierson as the new artistic director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, an esteemed ensemble that has known tremendous highs and disheartening lows over the years. At a time when the orchestra is not only starting over more or less from scratch but also critically redefining what an orchestra can be, and what the Brooklyn Philharmonic should mean within the context of its home borough, Pierson's reputation as a gifted musician, an unconventional thinker and a diligent collaborator should help him fit right in.
Pierson's not the only new kid in town: the orchestra also has an unorthodox new CEO, Richard Dare, an international investment strategist with no prior experience running a nonprofit, but one who has deep connections with and commitment to the arts. Hard to predict what's to come in the seasons ahead, but one thing is certain: it's going to be interesting.
The season starts this Saturday afternoon, October 8, at 12:30pm in Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, when Pierson will conduct members of the orchestra as they accompany rapper Mos Def in songs arranged by Derek Bermel as part of Restoration Rocks, a hip-hop festival. Pierson & posse then come to the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center on Wednesday, October 12, for an eclectic New Sounds Live concert featuring Mos Def, Corey Dargel, Mellissa Hughes and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, in a program ranging from shape-note singing to new pieces by Dargel, David T. Little and Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin.
Update, Oct. 3: Another article covering Pierson's arrival, by my friend and colleague Amanda MacBlane, appears in the new issue of Time Out New York.