Slayer at the Sinclair, April 29, 2015
May 2, 2015
Jason Lescalleet and Olivia Block: Sonorous Vessels
3S Artspace, Portsmouth, NH
April 18, 2015
Sound artists Jason Lescalleet and Olivia Block collaborated for the first time in the world premiere of Sonorous Vessels, a new piece inspired by and extending upon Alvin Lucier's Music for Piano with Amplified Sonorous Vessels, on Saturday night at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, NH. I wrote about Lescalleet's series and this particular concert in the latest installment of my Newer Music column for the Boston Globe last week (column here), added more insights from Block here on the blog a few days later (post here), and then made the quick, pleasant drive up from Boston to Portsmouth for the event.
A terrific performance. Photos now…words to come.
Block Six, the very pleasant restaurant and bar at 3S Artspace. Mostly populated by diners who aren't headed to the performance in the next room.
Olivia Block's gear, partial view.
Olivia Block's gear, another partial view.
Jason Lescalleet explaining his performance series and the evening's program.
Performance in progress.
Performance in progress.
Performance in progress.
Vijay Iyer Trio at the Regattabar, April 10, 2015
April 13, 2015
I'll admit it, I was nervous going into this one. I hadn't written about jazz regularly since my days as the assistant editor of Jazziz, fully 15 years ago – an odd development, really, since access to jazz and improvised music was what caused me to move to New York City in 1993 in the first place.
Sure, I did some small pieces here and there for Time Out New York, but reviewing concerts is a different thing than profiling artists or previewing events. Going into this specific assignment, I also knew that Vijay Iyer is an artist whose work has attracted a lot of attention and ink, meaning that whatever I wrote wasn't likely to float under the radar.
Happily, the gig gave me a lot to think about, the writing came easily, and the response has been gratifying. I remain happy to defer to the excellent Jon Garelick as the principal jazz writer for the Globe (read his review of Iyer's new CD, Break Stuff, here). But I'm also eager to augment Jon's efforts, whenever and wherever it's useful to do so.
One more thing: Henry Threadgill is among the greatest American composers of all time – period, full stop.
The Nile Project at Tsai Performance Center, March 27, 2015
March 30, 2015
I'm reasonably sure that I didn't use the word fad when I filed this review, since that term doesn't accurately portray my feelings about artistic and cultural fusion, which can be a powerful and progressive force. But I can live with the rest of this non-specialist's view of a performance by The Nile Project: a dozen fine musicians who represent the 11 nations of Africa's Nile Basin, and a collective whose goals extend well past singing in perfect harmony.
Music of Pierluigi Billone at Boston University, March 19-20, 2015
March 23, 2015
Two concerts featuring compositions by the Italian-born, Vienna-based composer Pierluigi Billone, whose name and music I first encountered because of the Talea Ensemble. How often have I spoken or written that particular phrase now, I wonder? In this case, I saw Talea's Alex Lipowski perform Billone's Mani.Matta in a concert at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City, which I reviewed for The New York Times a little more than a year ago.
Talea was originally supposed to perform at Boston University as part of a Billone residency that started on March 16 and runs through April 1. Plans changed, alas, but the BU programming is still quite rich. Plus, Talea will now play its own Billone program (including Mani.Matta, plus a world premiere and a U.S. premiere) at Columbia University's Italian Academy on April 8, and Boston will still see Talea on May 8 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, where it will perform Happy End by Georges Aperghis. And Lipowski still served as an expert witness in David G. Weininger's excellent Boston Globe preview of the BU residency.
Almost invariably when I read my reviews in print, I come upon something that I regret, and that's true in this case. No, it's not the invocation of Shakespeare, Wagner, Beckett, and Herriman, all of which suited how those concerts left me feeling.
Rather, I regret that I forgot to mention something I discussed briefly on Friday night with Joshua Fineberg, the founding director of the Boston University Center for New Music and the organizer of the Billone residency: namely, that no matter how many times you might listen to a recording of a Billone composition like ITI. KE. MI. beforehand, nothing can prepare you adequately for the overwhelming barrage of sensation that a live encounter brings on. There's just something so tactile, so present, so vulnerable, so very human about the sensation of witnessing a performance like the one that Marco Fusi gave on Thursday...humbling is among the words that comes to mind.
As I state at the end of the review, there are two more concerts remaining in Billone's residency: one by bassoonist Christopher Watford on Tuesday night, and one by the ensemble [sound icon] on April 1, both at BU's College of Fine Arts Concert Hall (855 Commonwealth Ave.) Here's a bit of Watford playing Billone to provide incentive.
Annina didn't make it quite to the end of the lovely set that Lee Konitz, a saxophonist who actually warrants the tag "legendary," played with pianist Dan Tepfer at the Museum of Fine Arts yesterday afternoon. Much as I would have liked to hear it, I passed on the preceding conversation with Konitz, moderated by Tim Hagans, reckoning that Annina's attention might be better focused on the music. Instead, we watched an Indian dance demonstration in a nearby gallery.
During the concert, Annina wiggled and bobbed along to elegantly spare re-shapings of "Stella by Starlight" and "Body and Soul," and murmured and pointed during the semi-directed, audience-participatory free improv that followed. Eventually she grew fidgety, though never outright unruly. (Not surprising: We'd missed nap time.) I reckoned that we shouldn't disturb audience members around us, so we made our way up to the vestibule outside Remis Auditorium. Annina gently and swiftly nodded off in her carrier harness, so I caught the last few tunes of the set - one of which included Hagans - through the auditorium door.
Outside, we unexpectedly bumped into old friends from New York, and then I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Mr. Konitz to his youngest admirer. Annina remained blissfully unaware of the privilege, but I enjoyed it.
To get a sense of what the music and mood were like, dip into this sample track from Duos with Lee, the album that Konitz and Tepfer released on Sunnyside Records in 2009:
The MFA's music series doesn't seem to get the attention that it deserves, so here's a list of what remains in the current season:
Jaggery presents The Beautiful and the Grotesque: Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci
Friday, May 1, 7:30 p.m., Remis Auditorium, $25, MFA members $20
Boston-based avant-pop quintet Jaggery presents an evening of original music exploring themes in Leonardo da Vinci's drawings.
An Afternoon of Beethoven
Sunday, May 10, 2 p.m., Remis Auditorium, $25, MFA members $20
Revel in the majesty of Beethoven's piano trios and sonatas, performed by principal members of the Handel and Haydn Society.
Friday, June 5, 7:30 p.m., Remis Auditorium, $25, MFA members $20
Experience the groundbreaking quartet as they "ignite enthusiasm for percussion music old and new" (The New York Times).
Boston Early Music Festival: Keyboard Mini-Festival
Friday, June 12, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Remis Auditorium
10:30 a.m.-noon harpsichord; 12:30-2 p.m. fortepiano; 2:30-4 p.m. clavichord
Individual sessions: $25, MFA members $20
Three-session package: $60, MFA members $48
Hear world-renowned master artists perform on the MFA's period instruments, with three individual lectures and demonstrations on the harpsichord, fortepiano, and clavichord.
Sound Bites: Nancy Lee Clark Concert Series
Every second Thursday, 6-8 p.m., Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, free with museum admission
Join us for small-group ensembles performing classical, folk, and world music.
For more information, visit mfa.org/music.
Cameron Carpenter at Sanders Theatre, March 5, 2015
March 9, 2015
ECCE Ensemble at Goethe-Institut Boston, December 6, 2014
December 8, 2014
ECCE Ensemble's next public concert program will be a portrait of Mark Andre, a French composer based in Germany and a student of Gérard Grisey and Helmut Lachenmann, among others (and not to be mistaken for Marc-André Dalbavie). Bostonians can hear the program on Monday, February 2 at the New England Conservatory, where works by John Mallia and Katarina Miljkovic will also be included; New Yorkers will be able to hear ECCE play Andre at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on Friday, February 6.
I've just noticed an imprecision in this review, by the way. The opening quotation comes from an essay by Romain Rolland, but in that specific passage he is actually quoting someone else: a Dr. Max Bendiner, who wrote the words in question for the festival program book.
Oy. My chops are maybe a bit rusty.
Anyone curious to read the entire Rolland essay, "French and German Music," can find it here. Much of it seems quite dated, perhaps. but some of what Rolland claims of a world supersaturated with musical activities could be entirely contemporary. And his quick sketches of Mahler and Strauss are definitely worth reading.
Bob Dylan and His Band, Orpheum Theatre, November 14, 2014
Boston Globe, November 16, 2014
"You were off base with your review. He was horrible. I couldn't understand any of his lyrics or the songs he was seeing. It was an awful show and I wouldn't ever go back to see him. The band sounded beautiful but he drowned out the music with his scratched out voice."
"I saw your review of the Bob Dylan show. It was very polite of you not to mention that Dylan cannot sing at all. It's a shame because the band and the songs are so great."
"What a lame concert review. How old are you, kid, 25?"
When it comes to the Yes shows I've caught since I first started attending in 2004 (late start, I know), as well as those I've heard via various audience-sourced recordings floating around on the Interwebs, there's a simple, fairly reliable rule of thumb: As goes "Siberian Khatru," so goes the band. When that staple from the 1972 LP Close to the Edge runs well, it's generally a sign that the band is locked in and prepared to deliver a solid show. When it's anemic, the concert often reflects that state. When I reviewed Yes at the Beacon Theatre for The New York Times last year, I called the song "generally a reliable barometer of Yes’s health," and noted that it "sounded rock solid if not particularly urgent."
Theirs is no disgrace in my saying that tonight's show-opening performance at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion was much along the same lines: not the fiery sort of rendition Yes might have produced in the '70s, or even the stately beast of the late '90s, but the kind of solid, all-pistons-firing rendition that has signaled a characteristically strong show during the band's latter-day stretch from 2004 onward – and especially in its post-Jon Anderson, post-Rick Wakeman period from 2008 to now.
It wasn't flawless – Geoff Downes doesn't handle the fiddly harpsichord-patch curlicue bit with the authority that Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz or Igor Khoroshev did, but he's usually a match for his very good immediate predecessor, Oliver Wakeman (son of Rick). Still, the rendition augured well for this date, the third in Yes's current American tour and the second to feature a complete set list (the first, at Tioga Downs Racino in Nichols, NY, was a truncated casino set).
The hook for this year's tour is that the setlist features two classic albums in their entirety, Fragile and Close to the Edge. That the latter album would sound secure was to be expected; Close to the Edge was also played alongside The Yes Album and Going for the One on last year's three-album tour. The main difference this time is that the band is playing it back-to-front, starting with "Siberian Khatru" and proceeding through "And You and I" to end with the title suite. That "And You and I" went well almost goes without saying; this is one of those anthemic pieces that stands out during any set it turns up in. But last year at the Beacon – and on several earlier occasions – "Close to the Edge" wasn't quite the magnificent assemblage it should be.
Here, it was – in my ongoing Twitter commentary, I ventured to say it was the best "Close to the Edge" I'd heard since 2004, and unless an audience recording proves that my ears were on vacation, I'm sticking to that story. It's as if playing the album in reverse provided sufficient warm-up time for the band (and its engineers) to allow for a performance that actually built on the strength of "And You and I," rather than the reverse.
In Albany on Sunday night, Yes followed Close to the Edge with two songs from their forthcoming new album, Heaven & Earth, a respectable addition to the canon, and one that I expect many fans will deem slight. (You don't have to search hard to find "fan" reviews of unwarranted brutality already.) I was intrigued that the band selected "To Ascend" and "The Game" instead of the well-promoted first single, "Believe Again."
Here, the single is what the band delivered, mostly to strong effect. And oddly, it was guitarist Steve Howe, a musician capable of buoying a dullish Yes show singlehandedly through skill and determination, who sounded out of sorts in his twangy exposed runs late in the song. The notes were there; they just didn't all fall where they were supposed to with Howe's characteristic precision.
Then, onward into Fragile – which, as I mentioned in my Boston Globe interview with Howe, is an odder choice than it seems. Yes, it's the source of longtime set staples like "South Side of the Sky," "Long Distance Runaround," "Heart of the Sunrise" and the obligatory "Roundabout," plus the durable Chris Squire set piece "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)." All those pieces were present and accounted for; all came across with the authority that "Close to the Edge" had, save for a narrowly averted timing breakdown between Downes and drummer Alan White late in "South Side of the Sky."
But the rest of Fragile is devoted to tracks centered around a single member of Yes, and three members of the band that made the album are no longer present. Even counting "The Fish" and Howe's "Mood for a Day" as no-brainers, how the balance would go down is this tour's biggest risk.
On balance, the challenge was well met. Downes not only faithfully played "Cans and Brahms," Rick Wakeman's puffy romp through the Allegro giacoso movement of Johannes Brahms's Symphony No. 4, but managed to make it sound fresh with his voicings and phrasings. Singer Jon Davison likewise paid due tribute to original singer Jon Anderson with his respectful, animated rendering of "We Have Heaven." As for "Five Per Cent for Nothing" – well, all respect to White, whose supple fusion chops were documented on vintage LPs like Relayer and Tormato, but this version of Bill Bruford's compact, hiccuping jazzbo lark was all hiccup, little jazz and no lark. The tune amounted to a contractual obligation, dispatched and dispensed with.
After a heroic "Heart of the Sunrise" came the show's oddest turn: Yes sang the a cappella intro to "I've Seen All Good People," but instead of easing into the song's stately opening ballad, "Your Move," the band plunged straight into the rollicking "All Good People" portion of the song. Time efficient it might have been; satisfying it wasn't. That odd choice was compounded by the first song in the encore: "Owner of a Lonely Heart," the sole representation of the band's "YesWest" era with guitarist Trevor Rabin, and a cut that Howe long eschewed.
Me, I'd have traded it in a heartbeat for a complete "I've Seen All Good People." But the audience response was suitably ebullient, and here even Howe seemed swept up in it, following a surprisingly Rabinesque intial solo with a longer chaser all his own. Predictably – and would we have it any other way? – the encore closed with "Starship Trooper," with Squire on stomping form in "Wurm" and Downes strapping on a keytar for the final flurry of traded solos.
Throughout, as in previous encounters, the newly scruffy Davison was a marvel. Many a Yes fan seems all too willing to write off the present-day band entirely because of Anderson's absence, and perhaps that's to be expected. But Davison does more than just sing Anderson's notes accurately; he shares the ethereal spirit and affirmative warmth that Anderson brought to the band, a far rarer commodity, while bringing a youthful vigor to a band that could easily be going through the motions by now.
Heaven & Earth, an album to which Davison contributed mightily, won't likely change the minds of those who've already decided to abandon ship. But with its concise songs and detailed arrangements, it proves that there's new gas in the old battleship's tank now. What happens from here should be well worth watching.
Syd Arthur, a young English quartet that puts a fresh spin on Canterbury psych-prog, played a brief but terrific 30-minute opening set, mostly consisting of material from the recently released LP Sound Mirror. Afterward, I happily purchased a copy of the album – on vinyl, yup! – and got the band members to sign it at the merch booth. Anyone headed out to see the current Yes tour is hereby advised to turn up punctually, and pay attention. A nice article from the New York Daily News tells you what you ought to know about the group.
Setlist and more photos after the jump.