New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: September, 2011

32 Concerts in 32 Days: Day 12

Sunday might seem like a slow day for concerts, but that’s not necessarily true. A week ago Sunday, there was a glut of good 9/11 memorial shows. This past weekend, after a long and somewhat exhausting Saturday of bluegrass followed by the gypsy music show afterward at Drom, it was time to chill. And what better chillout music than a concert of classical organ music, in the lofty confines of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine? It’s a bit of a hike if you’re not in the neighborhood, especially if the 1 train is all messed up. But Sunday, everything was fine, especially when Ray Nagem stepped up to the console and delivered a gorgeous, semi-thematic, frequently hypnotic program.

I’ve been proselytizing for organ music ever since I saw my very first concert at Notre Dame in Paris. I can’t remember who the organist was without looking it up, but I’ll never forget the piece: Julius Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm. Its theme is revenge, and it sold me for life. Since then, little by little, I’ve been introducing my friends to the organ repertoire and it tickles me somewhat to say that while most of them may not be as crazy about it as I am, everybody likes it. Maybe it’s all those low tonalities, which as you may know have a powerfully relaxing effect on the body – slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, the works. Nagem’s performance of the atmospheric pieces on this particular bill had a potently calming effect, beginning with the swirling finale from French composer Marcel Dupre’s Suite in F Major, following with three attractively tuneful, low-key “canon studies” by Schumann and then a delightful, unfamiliar piece, Arvo Part’s Annum per Annum (Year After Year). Bookended by long, sustained chords that faded the first time and then swelled gloriously on their way out, Nagem maintained a rapt, distant majestic feel throughout the subtly shifting ambience of the middle passages.

Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 537 for all you Bach fans out there) brought back a lush, hushed atmosphere until the fugue kicked in, picking up the energy level with its endlessly suspenseful volleys of call-and-response. After that it was back to rapt, starlit beauty with Louis Vierne’s classic Clair de Lune, an otherworldly lunar soundscape that almost imperceptibly turns warmer, more in the style of a lullaby (Vierne wrote one of those too – it’s great!).

Nagem ended on what seemed to be a somewhat devious note with John Philip Sousa’s Washington Post March. Even if you don’t know it by that title, you know it – it’s been a Sunday morning cartoon theme, and the melody for a whole bunch of playground jump-rope rhymes, since forever. It was as if Nagem did it on a dare – and with some imaginatively shifting textures, as it turned out. Cheesy as it is, it was still impressive seeing how he’d actually put the time into turning it into something more than sonic graffiti. Regular, free organ concerts at the Cathedral continue most Sundays at 5:15 PM sharp except for holidays: it’s always best to check the church’s site for updates before heading up to Harlem.

Roger Davidson Brings the Party to Drom

It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without at least one trip to the New York Gypsy Festival. In its seventh year now, it might be the consistently best music series in this city – especially since it isn’t just limited to gypsy music. This year’s has included Eastern European jazz, gypsy punk, Macedonian fusion and flamenco funk, to name a few styles. And it’s still going on: with five more concerts left, the organizers are selling the remaining festival passes for $25, which at $5 per show is a ridiculous bargain, considering that these include a triplebill with A Hawk & a Hacksaw, Dark Dark Dark and Pillars and Tongues on the 28th at the Bell House and the 29th at Drom.

Is it sacrilegious to say that klezmer is great drinking music? If so, too bad. That’s what composer/pianist Roger Davidson and his all-star band played at their Gypsy Festival appearance at Drom last night. If the room wasn’t sold out, it was close to capacity, the crowd growing as the night went on. Minor keys, or for that matter waltz time, have seldom been so much fun. Davidson’s latest album On the Road of Life is his first adventure in klezmer, and like his bandmates, he’s expanding the style to incorporate other equally ecstatic styles: Russian, Hungarian and other European sounds from further west. As he told the audience, he feels like he’s part of a bigger picture, a constantly evolving tradition that he’s just happy to be part of. His band was as bracing and intense as you would expect from a group with Frank London on trumpet, Matt Darriau on clarinet, Patrick Farrell on accordion and Pablo Aslan on bass plus mandolin, cimbalom and drums.

Davidson REALLY likes 3/4 time, and he redeemed it, over and over again, although frequently those songs would suddenly burst into flames and go doublespeed or four-on-the-floor. The first opened dark and stately, the accordion carrying it until London’s trumpet took over with a jaunty ragtime flair. Darriau got a solo spot thrown at him, completely unprepared – and it might have turned out to be his best one of the night. Likewise, Davidson picked this spot for his best one of the evening as well, nimble and ecstatic, firing off a couple of furious glissandos up and down the keys at the end, clarinet and trumpet joining in a dixieland raveup. That got the party started.

Aslan took a lickety-split, rumbling bass solo for a couple of bars on the scurrying romp that followed, London blazing a path through the darkness on the slow, austere number after that. The trumpeter had introduced Davidson to The Lonely Dancers, which might have been the most unselfconsciously gorgeous tune of the evening, a Russian melody that they built to a lush, brooding majesty and then took down to just Aslan against the accordion and terse piano (the whole band was seldom playing all at once, so when they hit a swell, the effect was intense). Davidson gave a catchy, tiptoeing tune a funky edge before they took it doublespeed with the horns whirling; a little later, they did a particularly mesmerizing version of his nocturne Night Journey, its atmospherics finally punctured by Darriau’s blazing crescendo. They closed with the rapt, suspenseful Equal in the Eyes of God, a tricky, Serbian-inflected dance, then another one of those brooding waltzes with balalaika-ish mandolin, and finally Harvest Dance, whose wicked riff lingered long after the show had ended.

And as it turned out there was another act: London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, who are as wild and intense as you would think and don’t really need any press since they’re legendary in klezmer and Balkan circles. And at that point, sadly, there were other places to go and things to do.

Burnt Sugar Smolders at Bryant Park

Burnt Sugar can be many things: lush, hypnotically psychedelic 50-piece avant garde orchestra, blazing funk band, and also a combination of the two. Tonight at Bryant Park they were all three. The best songs of the night came at the end of the show, as bandleader/guitarist/conductor Greg Tate essentially mixed them live – but without a laptop. He did it the old-fashioned way, signaling band members in a split second for solos and group input, the horns, keyboards,vocalists or rhythm section taking a turn, sometimes for several bars, sometimes as other elements would enter the picture, sometimes leaving, sometimes taking over centerstage. The vocalists would play off each other, or off the beat, in a completely different time signature. The night’s final song, a trancey one-chord vamp on an oldschool disco beat had the keyboardist playing artful variations on a rapidfire Sly Stone-style clavinova riff, the three-piece horn section and the three singers adding color, then carrying it solo for a bar or two before Tate would signal a change. That neither he nor the audience knew what was coming, or precisely how the other musicians would react, made it absolutely fascinating to watch. In fact, if Tate really wants to elevate the suspense factor, he could do like a big league baseball coach and instead of signaling to the band with his baton, he could tweak his nose or hike up his trousers, his back to the crowd, so they’d have no clue that he’d just called for yet another unexpected trick ending.

A tantalizingly brief Melvin Van Peebles cameo, with the Burnt Sugar members who also make up his funk band Laxative, was another unexpected treat. Van Peebles’ filmmaking may have overshadowed his music, but give him a microphone and he becomes one of the funniest men alive, just as he was when he was making albums like What the Fuck You Mean I Can’t Sing? back in the early 70s. Back then he did his best to sound like a dirty old man: now in his seventies, he no longer has to try as hard. His lyrics fall somewhere between Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolomite, Lee “Scratch” Perry and old dozens rhymes like Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law.

After riffing on the idea for one verse after another, Van Peebles asked the crowd, “Is there something you don’t understand about how Lillie did the Zampoogie whenever I pulled her coattail?” The sleepy afterwork crowd didn’t respond as boisterously to his absurdly repetitive tale of post-coitus dance fever as if this had been at say, BAM Cafe (he’s playing there on October 1 with the band), but either way it was impossible not to laugh. Another number gently but vividly made fun of a country bumpkin who wants to get just thisfar away from where he is right now. But Van Peebles’ music, like his movies, also has a fiercely perceptive social awareness, exemplified by a brief conscious funk medley. And then it was back to more Burnt Sugar.

The show took awhile to get going, possibly because of technical difficulties, although the band was obviously working overtime to overcome them, through a series of originals that blended hip-hop, Art Ensemble of Chicago-style mass improvisation and metallic funk. Then they reinvented a small handful of Bowie songs, including a snarling bluesmetal version of Fame, and found the definitive inner soul of Breaking Glass: Bowie deserves as much credit for writing songs that fit the idiom as much as this band does for taking that idiom to the next level. Surprisingly, Rock N Roll Suicide turned out to be a tuneout for the crowd, even as singer Lisala pulled out all the stops, wailing “You’re not alone!” over and over, further and further up the scale (although this pyrotechnic version still couldn’t beat Sarah Mucho’s incendiary cover).

Sullivan Hall Surrealism

This concert couldn’t have happened; this band can’t exist. Not in 2011. Suitcoated, lefty guitarist/crooner with a cheshire cat smirk, singing ominously swinging late 70s style powerpop in a creepy Iggy Pop baritone, flanked by a woman young enough to be his niece (was she even old enough to be in the club) wearing a Mad Men era red-and-white dress and doing blue-eyed soul harmonies while hammering out chords on a gorgeous Gibson Flying V. To her left, Jimmy Buffett’s keyboardist, indulging his New York noir fixation on piano and organ. Behind him, the bassist, putting to the test Mance Lipscomb’s claim that it is actually possible to sleep and play at the same time. The spikily towheaded drummer – as the audience will discover later – is a refugee from major label hell, seemingly hell-bent on redeeming herself. But that shouldn’t be a worry, she can choose her gigs since good drummers are always a hot commodity. Just the visuals alone are enough to dislodge any remaining picograms of LSD from your liver and send them flying straight at your brain, just as your college friends used to warn you.

How do you react to this kind of Lynchian sensory overload? The Sullivan Hall bathroom doesn’t even smell like pot like it usually does, there’s a big crowd in the house and you don’t want to let on that your mind has gone deep down the rabbit hole into a time warp from the CBGB or Hurrah’s of your dreams, that you were either at, or wished you were, you can’t remember which. Meanwhile, the songs keep coming and Sam Sherwin’s “Who, me?” expression offers just the hint of a leer. It’s a scene from Steppenwolf but with electric instruments.

The drummer hits the cymbals insistently on offbeats, the organ swirls with a graceful Alan Price menace, and Sherwin brings in a little Memphis via the LES on his guitar. “That’s not how we do it anymore,” the woman in the 60s dress wails. Meanwhile, Sherwin is intent on revenge. “I’m just that kind of man that sends your love right back to you,” he offers, snarling behind the bright Americana shuffle of the tune. It’s pretty obvious that this is not a love song.

The next tune’s a sunbaked slide guitar boogie. “Think it over,” the harmony singer warns him, and he does, and then lets the organ ripple and rise and flood the place until the song literally gets smashed to pieces as the waves rise and knock it over. The most surreal number has Sherwin railing about “licking my wounds at the scene of the crime,” then insisting that everything will be ok…if you want it to. As if. Like the song before it, it falls apart, but slowly, in a drizzle of Riders on the Storm piano and resigned jazz chords from the guitar. They follow it with a sad, swaying country ballad set on the banks of a canal. “I wish I could have fallen in love with you,” Sherwin broods, but it’s clear from the beginning that any hope of that was doomed, destined to float away with the dead fish.

In the next song, Sherwin’s in jail. It’s not clear what he’s there for and he doesn’t think he should be. Tell it to judge, says the guard (in the bright, pretty voice of the harmony singer), and Sherwin does. Oh baby, does he ever. But it works! He’s sprung from the Tombs, no the worse for the experience, and now it’s payback time. They take the show out with a catchy, rising three-chord vamp: “Get close!” Sherwin grins, maybe wondering how or if anybody in the crowd will. By now, the bassist is awake and locked into a slinky soul groove, the drummer is firing off one unexpected crash after another, the girl in the dress hasn’t let her sabretoothed smile slip and Sherwin raises the neck of his guitar like a ringmaster with a whip. Proper, impeccably produced versions of most of these songs can be found on Sherwin’s new Iodine Cocktails album, but as you can imagine, it’s impossible to bottle an experience like this. Outside the club, the temperature has plummeted, jet trails streaking from the lights of the cabs making their way down Sullivan Street. “Stay away from me!” barks the curb. Will you make it home?

Ehud Asherie Tackles the 88s at the Fat Cat

Have you ever been tempted to post a review of your favorite eating spot on yelp or somewhere similar, and then thought the better of it? After all, if your local is managing to stay in business, do you really want to have to fight off hordes of gentrifiers so you can get a table? The Fat Cat is one of those places. It pulls a lot of traffic as a pool hall, but if you don’t mind a little background noise, it can also be a great place to see A-list jazz for D-list prices. The door charge is $3, drinks are cheap and the noise typically doesn’t grow to a fullscale roar til after 9. Tonight Ehud Asherie opened the night playing piano with a trio. Best known as a versatile jazz organist with several excellent albums to his credit, he brings to the piano the kind of fluidity and smooth precision you’d want to hear from a B3 player. Tonight’s early show mixed up bluesy ballads with some memorably original, out-of-the-box playing.

As much as this was probably more rehearsal than public performance, Asherie didn’t phone it in, resisting the urge to lounge it, an easy way out that Dave Brubeck insists every pianist is capable of lapsing into when there’s no pressure to perform. Asherie’s rapport with the drummer was casual and comfortable, the two often trading breaks toward the end of the song, Asherie unable to resist coloring them with playfully bright upper-register accents. They did a couple of ballads early on, sticking to a brisk four-on-the-floor rhythm, Asherie concentrating on building rippling, attractive righthand melody, laying off shifting the dynamics or shaking the rhythm up – again, as you would expect from an organist. One standard – The Nearness of You, or a variation on that theme, maybe? – featured lots of deftly rolling, New Orleans-style phrasing, followed by a bustling shuffle with a Fats Waller melodic feel but a more relaxed, cosmopolitan attack. The real stunner was a fascinatingly original, noir-tinged take of September Song, with a restless, slightly accelerated pace but loaded with juicy, brooding chromatics and a gorgeously plaintive, Chopinesque solo piano outro. Asherie maintains a busy schedule in New York and globally: after a Japanese tour with veteran reedman Ken Peplowski, his next NYC gig is a duo show at Smalls on October 13 at 7:30.

32 Concerts in 32 Days: Day 7

Day seven is where the dead-tree media guys all drop out. If they were lucky, newspaper people were union, so they got Sunday off – and if there was a show Sunday, somebody from the news desk (or the mailroom) got lucky and covered it. Last night was another unplanned adventure, usually the best kind, and so was this one. 9 PM on a muggy night out on the upper west side, everybody wants to hang and talk, the Mets game has a typical fatalistic tension, and just like Jose Reyes a couple of days ago, my streak is in jeopardy. My original game plan was to hit Korzo in Sunset Park, which is a hike for a lot of people, me included. Is there possibly a good show in the neighborhood instead? P&G Bar would have been an option a few months ago, but it’s closed now, which is too bad. Cleopatra’s Needle has jazz, and good food, but in the warmer months they leave the doors open, which makes it both a steambath and sonically unfeasible since it’s right next to a bus stop. Here’s where a good plan B comes in: a couple of years ago, the Symphony Space people installed a little cafe on the 95th Street side, which is where the Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble were playing. And who did the cellist in this group happen to be? None other than Jody Redhage, star of Monday night’s concert. With this crew, she’s basically the bass player, picking out a terse, bouncy groove alongside the percussionist, violinist Zach Brock and bandleader/keyboardist Hudson.

Hudson writes catchy, genre-defying instrumentals that ought to be movie themes. Maybe they are movies themes, famous ones, and I’ve just never seen those movies. That’s what happens when you spend your life in dingy clubs instead of at home, glued to the tube. Their first number was a cross between a tango and a jazz waltz, Hudson’s electric piano tones glimmering and reverberating beneath Brock’s bracing, austere, sustained violin lines. A plaintive song without words titled Song for John Lennon was less Beatlesque than simply cinematic, building slowly as Hudson’s piano took on a pensive, longing tone. The rest of the set included a plaintive Belgian accordion waltz – that Hudson played on a melodica over a hypnotic Afrobeat groove – and a little later, a quietly nocturnal tune with a circular cello bassline. Redhage used this as a springboard for an unexpectedly searing solo, moving further and further up the scale, finally furiously joining the cajon player in staccato doubletime until it completely fell apart and collapsed violently on itself. This was as far from the serenity of what she played Monday night as you can possibly imagine. And maybe the last thing you might expect to find at the cafe tucked off to the side of a classical hall on the upper west, further proof of how many great shows are taking place in some unlikely places all over this town, every night of the week.

Unselfconscious, Serene Beauty from Jody Redhage

This past week has been a great one for concerts. In terms of unselfconscious beauty, not to mention accessibility, cellist Jody Redhage’s album release show at Drom last night tops the list. The new record, Of Minutiae and Memory, just on New Amsterdam Records is a hypnotically gorgeous, thematic collection of electroacoustic works. Redhage played all but one of them, singing on several, with ample use of effects and backing tracks supplied by a laptop. Wil Smith’s Static Line, which appeared about midway through the set, was perfectly representative, cleverly setting a couple of drones just enough of a microtone apart to create an apprehensive effect, Redhage then sliding slowly up, then lower, then back up over it to raise the suspense factor.

Like the album, the rest of the show went deeper into dreamy, warmly lush atmospherics, although a close listen revealed innumerable layers of subtle shades that helped establish each piece’s individual personality: they transcend being pigeonholed as horizontal or minimalist. In places, some of the material reminded of Enya, or Sigur Ros, but any similarity ended when Redhage raised her voice. She sings with the round, bell-like clarity of a chorister, a voice that’s just as strong at the very top end as it is three or maybe even four octaves lower. She only went up that high a couple of times, but made those gently soaring ascents count. The album’s title track, by Paula Matthusen, set stately vocals atop gently shifting layers of electronics and processed cello, almost imperceptibly shifting to more intense textures from the cello as it wound up.

Joshua Penman’s aptly titled I Dreamed I Was Floating was next, Redhage’s brightly sustained lines an anchor amidst swirling, shimmering ambience. Missy Mazzoli’s warily mysterious A Thousand Tongues played shifting segments off rhythmically echoey, piano-like accents and another warmly hypnotic vocal passage. The Light by Which She May Have Ascended, by Ryan Brown, a slowly expanding and increasingly pensive round, had the most hypnotic quality of all the songs. Redhage closed the show with Derek Muro’s Did You See Me Walking, setting a Frank O’Hara poem to a tersely accented, wistful theme. What did it feel like to experience about an hour of all this? Absolutely relaxed and at peace, like after a full-body massage – or like taking a vicodin, but without the fuzziness. In a week of harrowing, intense, anguished sounds, this was a welcome respite.

32 Concerts in 32 Days: Day Five

The past weekend was a glut of good concerts: yesterday presented an opportunity to make up for Saturday’s disappointment. First stop of the day was the Joyce Soho, ground zero for a 9/11 memorial concert featuring a glut of downtown new music/avant garde talent, most of whom had been directly affected in one way or another by the tragedy. Were there any concertgoers there who’d been able to juggle their schedules in order to take in the entire sixteen-plus hours of performances? If the one o’clock hour’s worth of music was any indication, those people got to see the concert of a lifetime.

Pianist Lisa Moore first tackled Philip Glass’ Mad Rush, a warmly yet almost jarringly crescendoing 1986 solo piece, and pulled it off spectacularly. It’s classic Philip Glass: if you’ve ever tried to play his stuff, some of it – like this particular number – is so simple and repetitive that it leaves you completely unprepared for when it changes in a split second and becomes fiendishly difficult. Like Bach, there’s often absolutely no wiggle room in the rhythm, but Moore didn’t need it, sailing through a seemingly endless series of stinging staccato volleys with equal parts precision and fire. It wouldn’t be true to say that she didn’t break a sweat (the organizers had left the front doors open, and much as it was ten years ago, it was humid), but she made it look easy. Then she played a series of cold, stilted Don Byron etudes (etudes for what? Playing coldly and stiltedly?) that were arguably even more difficult because they made no sense at all, alternating between awkwardly herky-jerky and repetitive – but she didn’t let it phase her.

The next performance was the Mivos Quartet playing Annie Gosfield’s absolutely gorgeous The Blue Horse Walks on the Horizon, a Caramoor commission from last year, for string quartet and traffic. To be truthful, traffic isn’t part of the composition. Strange as this may sound, the decision to open the theatre front opened the door – literally – for an unexpectedly enjoyable extra layer of sonics, the low tonalities of the passing cars adding some interesting frequencies and random rhythms to contrast with the precision and higher timbres played by the strings. It also grounded the music in an inimitably New York milieu. With its occasionally breathless, frantic passages, the piece could have passed for a 9/11 work, but it actually takes its inspiration from the coded radio broadcasts used by the European resistance in World War II. You could call it The Joy of Subversion. Beginning with a suspenseful airiness, the quartet absolutely aired it out, through several intense, apprehensive variations on a catchy chromatic riff, to a couple of raw, uninhibitedly slashing, percussive passages fueled by cellist Isabel Castellvi and violist Victor Lowrie while violinists Olivia De Prato and Joshua Modney held the careening melody to the rails.

Between acts, two dramatic, cinematic Tim Mukherjee compositions, Heat Multiplier, and one without a title, played over the PA. With their hypnotic overlays of synthesized strings, brass, whirling low bass ambience and even a simulated church organ for one particularly big crescendo, they would have made a suitable soundtrack for a documentary about the early hours of 9/11. One quibble: when the two pieces were introduced, the emcee announced them as being “for tape,” rather than saying, for example, “We’re going to take a break while the Mivos Quartet [tunes up/sets up/goes around the corner for coffee/does shots of tequila], in the meantime, please stick around and enjoy this recording of two excellent Tim Mukherjee works.” Better yet, it would have been interesting – and inspiring – to watch the composer, who was in the house, play at least a portion of them live, simply to see how he put them together.

The rest of the bill was tantalizing: Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Tift Merritt, Rosanne Cash, Greta Gertler and literally dozens of others were on the schedule.

32 Concerts in 32 Days: The Diary

In order to get this brand-new music blog off the ground, this past September 7 I began a marathon attempt to break the record for most consecutive concerts covered by a music writer. As far as I can tell, that record was 31 days in a row. On October 8, I set a new record with 32. This page is a day-by-day chronicle of those 32 days.

Day 1: moody third-stream piano music by Michel Reis and his quartet at Caffe Vivaldi. Full details here.

Day 2: Earth, Wind and Fire at South Street Seaport (full details here), and then the Chiara String Quartet playing 9/11 requiems at Trinity Church (I wrote about that one at New York Music Daily’s sister blog, Lucid Culture)

Day 3: soul, bluegrass, blues and some rock with the eclectic Bethany St. Smith & the Gun Show at Lakeside. Full details here.

Day 4: My first mistake. I was hoping to be able to say after this is all over that in 32 days, I hadn’t seen a single bad concert. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. I had a lot to get done today, and since I had to make a stop in Harlem in the afternoon, I figured I’d catch one of this weekend’s many 9/11 memorial concerts at a church uptown before heading home. Bad choice to the max: it was one of the worst concerts I’ve ever seen in my life. The orchestra couldn’t keep time, the string section couldn’t hold a note and the choice of music was putrid. But what hit me less than a minute after the show started, considering that the people onstage far outnumbered the people watching them, was that this wasn’t really a concert at all. It was a community gathering – just like the ones 500 years ago in pretty much every little village around the world, in the days when music as spectacle existed only for the thieving dukes and abbots and the gentry of the land. Back then, if you were there, you were probably either in the band or the choir. Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t. In an atmosphere where everyone who wanted to participate had obviously been given the green light, I felt vicarious, and completely out of place. Bad as the music was, these people had every right to get together and make it – although advertising it as a public performance was probably not a smart move. Who knows – if they keep playing, they might actually do it well someday, like the posse of old Puerto Rican guys I passed afterward as I walked down Broadway, a full rhythm section banging and clattering along blissfully to salsa blasting from a battered boombox.

Since one of my primary motivations for attempting this crazy stunt is to help spread the word about all the good music happening under the radar in New York, I don’t think it serves any useful purpose to identify where I was or who was onstage there. I’d ask you to wish me luck tomorrow, but I don’t think I’m going to need it – there’s all kinds of amazing stuff going on, and I’m going to catch as much of it as I can.

Day 5: sometimes the best things are the ones you don’t plan. My plan for Sunday was to catch an intriguing 9/11 memorial concert at the Met. Good thing I stopped into the Joyce Soho for a little over an hour of the daylong Music After concert, which by all accounts seemed like a really fantastic day of music. Full details here. In retrospect, I should have stuck around for more because the show at the Met was sold out! But it was still fun to check out the night photography exibit, and all the Franz Hals portraits of  medieval drunks, before heading south to the Metropolitan Room where Amina Figarova and her sextet played her harrowing 9/11-themed September Suite (details at NYMD’s sister blog Lucid Culture).

Day 6: Lots of singing cellists in this town, but none with a better voice or better taste in composers than Jody Redhage. Her album release show at Drom was incredibly relaxing, just the right thing after a weekend of pretty harrowing sounds. Full details here.

Day 7 is where I pass most of the print media peeps, who had union jobs and therefore got the seventh day off. Today required a plan B, Steve Hudson’s cinematic Chamber Ensemble, which turned out to be a great choice. Full details here.

Day 8 went off plan as well. An attempt to play hooky in midday backfired because an expected weekly series – which you may hear about here in the future – hasn’t started yet. Plan B was Bobtown, a terrific, haunting acoustic Americana band, who were playing in Dumbo. But I’ve covered them before – and when I found out that jazz player Ehud Asherie, somebody I’d never seen live, was doing a show a little closer to home, that made the decision a little easier. Full details here.

I had reservations about Day 9, but it was a smashing success. Sam Sherwin’s rock songs are pretty straight-up, at least tunewise, but his show at Sullivan Hall had a surreal menace that I hadn’t expected, and it set a mood that I couldn’t escape. Full details here.

Day 10 reverted to unexpected-treat mode: the original game plan was to go to Lakeside again because it’s one of the few places in the East Village that hasn’t been overrun by spoiled brats with a bloated sense of entitlement. Then I got an email about a show by shapeshifting funk orchestra Burnt Sugar at Bryant Park early in the evening. And it turned out that the incomparable Melvin Van Peebles was on the bill, if only for a little while – full details here.

Day 11 was a double whammy: bluegrass in the afternoon and gypsy music at night. Full details here and here.

Day 12 was Sunday. It had been a pretty crazy weekend, I had to get a lot done and fortunately there was an early evening organ concert uptown. It was a bit of a hike but it was worth it! Full details here.

Day 13, at 9:24 PM to be precise, it occurred to me that this whole thing is one bad train ride away from failure. I was on my way to Small Beast at the Delancey – once and still occasionally New York’s best dark rock night – when the train stopped and didn’t move for five minutes. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed [muffled and inaudible],” said the PA system. Fortunately, the delay didn’t last – and the show by And the Wiremen and the Reid Paley Trio was worth the hassle of getting there. Memo to self: next time there’s a late concert, be in the neighborhood or get there early. Full details here.

Day 14, for the hell of it, I went back and checked and found out that my record is actually 23 days in a row. And if I’d found a show to go to on Christmas day, 2002, I would have set the record (the current record, 31, wasn’t set til a couple of years later). How did I manage to do this? I was booking a club at the time. When I wasn’t there, I was out seeing bands, some of whom wanted a gig and had invited me to check them out. Back then, there was no youtube, or for that mattter, no myspace: other than dropping off a cd with the booking person, this was how a band got a gig in those days. So I’ve got a lot further to go than I first thought, before I set a new personal best.

Tuesday seemed to have the slimmest pickings thus far. My original plan was to see a quirky jazz group at Rodeo Bar, but as much as I love that place, with all its faults – jazz at Rodeo Bar? Let’s say it’s less than an ideal venue for that. And a little last-minute sleuthing hit paydirt: Charlene Kaye playing cliche-free powerpop at the Rockwood! Full details here.

Day 15 went off plan yet again. In case anybody’s wondering, I’ve got a schedule all worked out, including a plan B and plan C in case anything falls through. Right now my obsession is to be able to keep the streak alive without having to go out at night so I can finally get some sleep get caught up on the other blog. So I tried playing hooky again yesterday, but once again came up emptyhanded since I was only able to catch about 20 minutes of the semi-private press performance by Taiwanese folk/new music ensemble A Moving Sound (who were great, by the way) in midtown. The calendar for the evening had 68 Jay St. Bar on it…but I’d just received an email from Patti Rothberg, who had a show a little closer to home and that made it a no-brainer. And what a great choice that turned out to be. Full details here.

Day 16 marks the halfway point in this adventure. How’m I doing? Same old, same old – a lot of us music bloggers see a whole lot of shows anyway, so this has been no big deal. At this point, I’m thinking of scrapping the calendar – at least on the days where I haven’t already committed to covering someone – and going off plan entirely, seeing how well flying by the seat of my pants is working out. Case in point: last night. The schedule said gypsy music at Barbes. Instead, I got roped into going to an art opening in Chelsea, which turned out to be awful. But the way there was inspiring: an excellent acoustic guitarist playing broodingly jazzy instrumentals in the subway at 23rd Street, then an energetic three-piece brass band called No Credit Bad Credit jamming out on Balkan themes on the back of a pickup truck a couple of blocks away. I’d just seen Patti Rothberg the previous night, who got her start busking, which reminded me that awhile ago I’d received an email from Walter Ego, one of the most entertainingly literate songwriters in town. In characteristically tongue-in-cheek fashion, he was playing a “tour of the L train.” So I decided to track him down. When I got to Brooklyn, there he was on the platform – full details here.

Day 17 featured rocker Randi Russo playing with characteristic resolute intensity over the roar of the gentrifiers celebrating their wealth at the recently reopened, disgustingly upscaled Sidewalk. Full details here.

I’m phoning in Day 18, which explains why today’s concert was so bad. Sorry – much as I was hoping to make every one of these 32 days a discovery worth remembering, this was anything but. Faced with a Saturday afternoon full of running around in the miserable heat and hoping to make it home in time for the Red Sox-Yankees game, I figured I’d take in another one of those sporadic outdoor shows that keep popping up around town. Big mistake. Other than the occasional marathon trip to the supermarket, I haven’t suffered through a half-hour of elevator music in years – if the band onstage is that bad, I leave. I wanted to give this ostensibly bluegrass-influenced acoustic couplecore group a chance, but the best they could do was a wimpy imitation of Wilco. Serves me right for not doing my due diligence, huh? And while I hesitate to dis a band who’d offer a tribute to a union employee, this particular tribute sounded forced and insincere, like a bunch of rich kids paying lip service to progressive politics in order to win the hearts of what they perceive as a liberal folkie audience. Because I didn’t go off on this adventure to make enemies, I’m not going to identify where I was or who it was that I saw (in case you’re wondering, no, it’s not that other couplecore group fronted by that trust fund child who claims to be an expert on Mexican music even though he doesn’t seem to speak a word of Spanish). Tomorrow will be better than this – it has to be.

Day 19 was just plain great. I managed to catch two shows. The first I’m not going to get into here, not because it was bad, but because the program got all switched around and not being familiar with the material, I couldn’t tell whether one piece was by that sort-of-Modernist French composer, or that sort-of-Romantic American Modernist. And with this stunt in full swing, I don’t have the time to make a fool of myself here, and then go back and rewrite everything when it turns out I got the compositions mixed up. The second show was pure joyous intensity, Balkan band Which Way East at Drom. Full details here.

Day 20 was not the ideal choice of concert after getting buzzed on wine at an awful photo opening earlier in the evening, but as a psychedelic head trip, it’s hard to imagine anything being more interesting than itsnotyouitsme’s swirling, hypnotic show at le Poisson Rouge. Full details here.

Day 21 was when I started to feel less like Joe DiMaggio and more like someone trying to break the record for most miles logged on a unicycle, or behind the wheel of a steam-powered car – I have a suspicion that when this is all over, my record’s going to stand for awhile. I’ll be breaking my own just two days from now. Has this been easy? Yes, and deliberately so. While I haven’t been babying myself, I also resolved not to let all this club-hopping mess with my social life or the rest of my life and so far I’ve been able to accomplish that – after all, the subtext here (which, if I’ve done things right, should be screaming at you) is that seeing live music here in New York is incredibly inexpensive and pretty much 100% stress-free. Speaking of stress-free, Jenny Scheinman played a gorgeously thoughtful, eclectic, often dreamy set of violin jazz and country fiddle tunes at Barbes last night: full details here.

Day 22 was one of the best so far: A Hawk & a Hacksaw playing eerie, frenetic gypsy, Balkan and Turkish music at the Bell House. Full details here.

Day 23 was yet another Plan B situation, a choice that was probably better than Plan A, who wasn’t where she said she’d be playing. Cancellation or just bad typing? Who knows. So Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. were doing their monthly show at Otto’s, which is a show in every conceivable sense of the word, and a damn good one. Full details here.

Day 24 set a new record for me. And it wouldn’t have been fair to pull off this stunt without at least one trip to the fabulous Jalopy. I realize that I’ve been going heavy on the gypsy and country music lately…but the gypsy and country scenes here are among the city’s most vital. Friday night featured the perennially popular M Shanghai String Band playing the latest exhibit by Robin Hoffman, who’s become the #1 chronicler of roots music in New York, at least as far as visual art is concerned. Full details here.

Day 25: At the party I went to last night, nobody wanted me to leave and head over to Lakeside to see Band of Outsiders so I could keep this streak intact. Instead, everybody wanted to hang out and catch up and drink, and do whiskey shots when the wine ran out. Which explains why I didn’t make it to Lakeside. What I didn’t tell anybody was that officially, the streak was still alive since I’d seen a pretty awful solo acoustic show early in the afternoon. Actually, the performance wasn’t completely awful, it was just generic and boring – it’s been a long time since I actually saw a full half-hour of a folkie singer-songwriter, and it’s hopefully going to be even longer before I see another. The only reason I stuck around that long was because I had a hunch I’d get stuck at the party – a hunch that pretty predictably turned out right.

As with the two other lousy shows I’ve seen since I went off on this adventure, I’m not going to identify who the performer was: let’s say that she’s the type who goes to songwriting conferences. It seems that after all these years – she’s been around – she still has big dreams of stardom, or at least placing a song in a sitcom or a chick flick. And her music is every bit as forgettable as as a sitcom or a chick flick.

So yeah, I copped out yesterday. But you wouldn’t want me to blow off my peeps, would you? I’m lucky to have them – and as much as this stunt has been a lot of fun, the compulsive aspect is wearing on me. Part of me will be glad when it’s over and I can get back to living like a normal person. The score so far: 25 days, 29 shows. 26 good ones, 3 bad ones, all of those my fault. Today I’m getting back on the good foot: the last week of this is going to be great.

Day 26: party people in the house, round 2. Some of the crew were looking a little woozy from the previous night’s excesses, but everybody agreed that the Greenwich Village Orchestra is amazing. Full details here.

Day 27: party but no people. At least hardly any. Chicha Libre usually pack the back room at Barbes for their regular Monday night gig, but the crowd this time around was shockingly sparse. Was it the weather? Has everybody gone camping in Zucotti Park? Full details here - at least as far as the show is concerned.

Day 28: it took me almost a month, but I finally managed to use this stunt as an excuse to play hooky during the day, and it worked: I got to catch a couple of very enjoyable and interesting solo piano sets of Thelonious Monk songs at a lunchtime show at the World Financial Center. Axel Tosca went from mysterioso – literally – to lively and amusing, while Dan Tepfer added a quirky bop improv edge that respected the purity of the compositions yet enhanced the humor in them, especially with a jaunty version of Pannonica. And then he got really creepy at the end.

What was weird was that the only people there seemed to be tourists and retirees. Admittedly, the place is a bitch to get to if you don’t know your way around the financial district, but is everybody so overworked that they can’t sneak out for an hour? Could be.

Day 29 might have been the best of the bunch. It started out with what was practically a private show, the Matt Herskowitz Trio defying categorization at the Yamaha Piano Salon, a makeup date of sorts for a late summer Naumburg Bandshell concert that got rained out midway through: full details here. The fun continued at a gypsy punk show downtown at R Bar featuring Amour Obscur and Copal, among others (I blew off the headliner, Bad Buka, who are an awesome live band so I could get home and work on this thing – crazy, I know, but in this music blog “business,” you eventually end up seeing pretty much everybody who’s any good. Full details here.

Day 30 I cheated with a lunchtime show downtown again. Franz Liszt isn’t usually my cup of tea – I like his organ music, but his other stuff…too many notes. So Eric Clark’s solo piano performance was a real eye-opener: details at NYMD’s sister blog Lucid Culture (I didn’t want piano overkill here two days in a row).

I’m wrapping up this project with a country band tonight and then tomorrow night one of my favorites, a dark rock band I discovered about ten years ago, who are still around, but whose days may be numbered: their Saturday show may be their last. And I may take out some insurance on this stunt by catching a classical performance earlier during the day. Stay tuned!

Day 31: ok, I hinted that I’d go see a country band tonight, but Drina & the Deep Blue Sea are so much more than country: they’re blues, and countrypolitan, and soul, and a little jazz, and suddenly one of the best bands in New York. I had a feeling Friday night’s show at Lakeside was going to be pretty amazing, and it was: full details here. Today I own the record – or at least co-own it – tomorrow it’s mine and mine alone…Smeagol…Gollum… Gollum…

Day 32: It only makes sense that this adventure should end with a great discovery. For all you classical fans out there who know Rachmaninoff’s series of “Musical Moment” piano pieces, this one’s for you: I’d never heard any of them until today. As this thing began to unravel and take on a life of its own, I skimped on classical music, so it’s only fair that the final day of this long, strange trip should end with a joyously impromptu concert at Bargemusic featuring those pieces, as well as Bach and Tschaikovsky, played with soul and virtuosity by violinist Mark Peskanov and pianist Olga Vinokur. Full details here.

And this thing isn’t necessarily over. I’ve got the record now, but I’m still going out tonight to see Nashville gothic rock in the old Orange Bear space on Murray Street. I have a suspicion that the show won’t start til after midnight, in which case I’m going to count that as Day 33: after all, by then it will be Sunday. Monday I’m staying home.

Day 32, 23 hours and 16 minutes: as it turned out, Ninth House took the stage a little after eleven and played a brief, blistering set that they cut short at around the half-hour mark, disgusted at the ineptitude of the drunk behind the sound board (details here). So Day 33 didn’t happen. The new record stands at 32, waiting for you or someone like you to break it.

Bethany St. Smith Pulls the Crowd In Close at Lakeside

“I want all of you to get up and come closer. I feel a lot more comfortable with people all around me, all y’all. It’s been a year and a half since I played here and I want to make this real,” Bethany St. Smith told the crowd at Lakeside last night. She and her band The Gun Show were a regular weekend presence here for what seemed like a couple of years, and it was good to see her on that stage again. As usual, she made a charismatic presence, shimmying in front of the band. She’s got a low, contralto voice and a unique style, floating slowly up or down to a note suspensefully, like a stormcloud, full of potential for both excitement and destruction. This show was about bringing back a vibe and turning up the heat: Lakeside is usually well air-conditioned, but last night it was hot in there in more ways than one.

Behind their singer, the Gun Show switched effortlessly from from oldschool soul, to bluegrass, to jangly rock, sometimes adding a funky edge. Guitarist Michael Washburn was nothing short of amazing, and he made it look easy. He uses an old Jimi Hendrix device, throwing an edgy, bluesy riff into the mix while letting a chord ring out at the same time, except that Washburn makes it smooth and effortless rather than noisy and sloppy (and that’s not meant to dis Hendrix, it’s simply what makes Washburn’s style unique). They opened with a darkly seductive minor-key tune with a bluesy undercurrent, followed by the best song of the night, classic 60s soul with a slow, sultry vocal intro followed by a brisk shuffle driven by biting jazz chords. They did Dock of the Bay as low-key janglerock – it was interesting to hear St. Smith sing it in a lower register than Otis Redding, as well as to finally understand all the lyrics! When the time came, she left the whistling to the audience.

The rest of the show mixed originals and covers; a swaying, two-chord vamp that St. Smith growled and purred over; a slowly unwinding southern groove that sounded like what Bad Company or the Black Crowes could have been if they knew anything about soul; a dark, lickety-split electric bluegrass cover (Deer Tick, maybe?); a warmly pensive 6/8 ballad; a cover of Folsom Prison Blues; another bluegrass tune that sped up to hardcore speed; and a brief Hendrix-flavored funk/blues tune that segued into a slow ballad drenched in anticipation and longing. At the end, they did Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke and at that point it would have been nice if the bass had been louder. But this was Lakeside, and loud bass isn’t part of the deal there – the bar wants to be a good neighbor. St. Smith and the band are playing Fontana’s in November where that won’t be an issue.

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