New York Music Daily

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Tag: instrumental music

Lisa Dowling Holds the Crowd Spellbound with Kills to Kisses

Bassist Lisa Dowling‘s chops on the four strings are well respected throughout the far, adventurous reaches of indie classical, postrock and improvised music. What was most striking about her solo show last night at Spectrum was how dynamic and powerful a singer she is. With split-second timing and the help of her trusty loop pedal, she held the crowd rapt, building an eclectic set of both vocal numbers and instrumentals that drew on styles as diverse as art-rock, 90s trip-hop, acid jazz and horizontal music.

Much of the material was taken from her Kills to Kisses album Lullaby Apocalypse. While some of it brought to mind Bjork in a more somber moment, or Kate Bush (the lone artist Dowling covered during her set), Dowling has a distinctive, individual sound. There are other bassists who play loopmusic – notably Florent Ghys – but Dowling relies far less on electronics and uses her bow more. The result was as darkly hypnotic and enveloping as it was kinetic.

Throughout the set, Dowling employed all sorts of extended technique for whispery, keening harmonics, or sudden bursts or shrieks that she’d sometimes run mutedly through the pedal as a rhythmic device. As the loops circled around, she’d often manipulate the timbre or volume while adding additional harmonies or textures overhead. That intricate approach contrasted with the starkness and directness of her lowest-register melodies. Her vocals were similarly diverse, ranging from jazzy scatting, to moody and plaintive, to a full-gale wail. The one number that she shrugged off as her lone venture into dance-pop turned out to be a detour into elegant trip-hop, in the same vein as Mum or Eve Lesov‘s early work.

Dowling’s cover of the Kate Bush cult classic Babushka began as a spare, aptly Slavic folk-tinged dirge, eventually reaching towering, dramatic proportions, a platform for Dowling to air out her voice’s highest registers as she reached for the rafters. One of the strongest songs in the set was a new one, awash in tersely atmospheric, Julia Kent-ish gravitas. Reverberating deep-space echoes sat side by side with flitting, sepulchral textures. The concert came full circle at the end with a dreamily pulsing art-pop number. When there were lyrics, they tended to be clever and playful. Dowling is probably the only artist to ever use the latin pronoun “quo” twice in the same song without sounding pedantic. She’s at Cake Shop on August 1 at 10 PM; cover is $8.

Gato Loco Bring Their Creepy Latin Cinematics to Williamsburg

Probably the best way to describe how Gato Loco has evolved is to call them a noir jamband. Which on one level might seem ludicrous: jambands tend to play upbeat, goodtime psychedelic music. Gato Loco, on the other hand, play slow, slinky latin themes that suddenly become bustling and frantic, stalkers on the run from the cops and maybe vice versa. They spent a lot of time developing that suspenseful dynamic at their show last month at Barbes. Frontman/saxophonist Stefan Zeniuk first conceived of the group as an all low-register combo playing 1920s era Afro-Cuban classics. Then they started writing period-perfect originals, then branched further out into cinematic territory. Much as the first version of the band was an awful lot of fun, this is the best edition yet. They’re headlining a somewhat unlikely but solid twinbill on July 19 at around 9:30 at Brooklyn Bowl, with the considerably sunnier but similarly eclectic Tuelo & Her Cousins, who mash up jangly guitar pop with retro soul, opening at 8 PM. Cover is $8, which is two bucks cheaper than the ten bucks for the Barbes tip jar: two bands this good, what a deal!

Zeniuk has never written better or more murderously. The highlight of their set in Park Slope turned out to be Liar, a slowly crescendoing, boleroish noir cabaret theme, like Beninghove’s Hangmen at their most epically focused, or Big Lazy about fifteen years ago, when they were more likely to cut loose with a longscale jam. To compare this band to those two cult favorites isn’t overhyping them: Gato Loco have always been a lot of fun, but they’ve never been this fun before.

Gato Loco’s belated album release show for their mighty Enchanted Messa (a reimagining of the Verdi Requiem), at Joe’s Pub back in January, was more of a dark carnival, with a guerrilla team of baritone saxophonists leaping out of the audience to bolster the group’s low-register sound at optimum moments. The Barbes set, by contrast, was more creepily cinematic, awash in long tangents rising out of ominously catchy themes. “Tuba Joe” Exley held down the low end while Zeniuk switched between bass and tenor saxes, leading the horns through tightly biting minor-key mambo and bolero riffage, trombonist Tim Vaughan wailing with a majestically bluesy intensity while drummer Kevin Garcia added all kinds of evil rattletrap accents. Guitarist Lily Maase ranged from terse, acidic jangle, to some straight-up hard funk, to a Hendrixian tsunami of noise and meticulously rapidfire volleys of notes. Having her and Vaughan out in front of the band have really transformed this group’s sound: if darkly energetic cinematics are your thing, miss this show at your peril.

Hard-Hitting, Edgy, Tuneful Postrock Band Sunwatchers Opens for Smog’s Bill Callahan in South Williamsburg

Sunwatchers play hard-charging, psychedelic postrock instrumentals with Middle Eastern, Balkan and occasional African touches. Their sound blends the searing guitar and electric phin of Jim McHugh with Jeff Tobias’ atmospheric, resonant alto sax over the driving rhythm section of bassist Peter Kerlin and drummer Jason Robira. They’ve got a new, self-titled full-length album (sort of streaming online if you connect the dots – follow the individual links below) out from Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer’s Castle Face label, and they’re opening a kind of weird twinbill at Baby’s All Right starting the night of June 26, which happens to be sold out. As of today the two following shows, at 9 PM on the 27th and 28th, with Smog’s Bill Callahan headlining, are not. Cover is $25. On one hand, as loud, and catchy, and adrenalizing as these guys can be, putting Callahan – Mr. Mist – on after them is anticlimactic. On the other hand, it’s good to see a deserving band get to play to a captive audience. ***UPDATE – all three nights are sold out.

The suite – much of which has been released previously on cassette a couple of years ago – opens with Herd of Creeps, a pounding series of variations on a wickedly catchy minor-key hook, sax and guitar blasting together as a toxic swirl builds in the background over a punk stomp. It reminds of the kind of long, ska-flavored jams Tuatara would take back around the turn of the century. They vary it with more complex guitar on the second track, For Sonny (a Rollins dedication? It isn’t as far as out as the jazz sax icon could go with it) and then hit a hardcore drive as the guitar buzzes and oscillates and the sax swirls on track three, White Woman.

Eusubius moves toward the looseness of free jazz, but Robira’s decisive, spacious hits hold it together as the guitar flutters and bursts into flame and the sax does the same, but more warmly and low-key. It’s like an electric wacko jazz take on circular, spiky yet balmy West African kora music. The band goes back to the original theme for the most epic cut, Ape Phases, sort of a cross between the insistent aggression the album opens with, and the more varied second part. They finally hit a peak in a machete-thicket of tremolo-picked guitar and frenetically melismatic sax.

Moroner shifts from a (relatively, for these guys) easygoing, ultraviolet-lit Velvets/Black Angels style jam toward more haphazardly intense territory. Likewise, the final cut, Moonchanges rises out of spiky blues guitar phrasing over atmospherics, to a steady, surprisingly four-on-the-floor drive with amiable sax/guitar interplay.There are some good special guests here – Dave Harrington on guitar and keys, Hubble’s Ben Greenberg on guitar, Cory Bracken on vibraphone, Dave Kadden on keys and Jonah Rapino on fiddle, but it’s not apparent where any of these guys are exactly within the squall. Bite the bullet, go to the Baby’s All Right show and find out for yourself.

Beninghove’s Hangmen Release Their Most Savagely Cinematic Noir Instrumental Album

In the jazz world, Bryan Beninghove is known as a monster tenor and soprano saxophonist and a connoisseur of Romany swing. But he’s also one of this era’s great film composers. His most interesting project may be his noir instrumental band, Beninghove’s Hangmen. Their previous two original albums both ranked in the top five of the year here; their new one, Pineapples and Ashtrays – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most eclectic, twistedly picturesque and definitely their funniest. Much as Beninghove’s creepy riffage and rainswept themes make him one of the small handful of film score writers who deserve mention alongside Angelo Badalamenti, he also has a snide, deviously erudite sense of humor and that’s front and center here. The band are playing the album release show on May 26 at around 10 at the Citizen, 332 2nd St. in Jersey City, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station.

The album opens with Astronete, arguably the most sarcastic cha-cha ever written. Beninghove distinguishes himself with a faux-bubbly Rhodes piano solo, treble turned up to the point of distortion; guitarist Dane Johnson takes it out with some gritty metallic blues.

On one hand, the title track is your basic musical dialectic: bad cop vs. good cop, Jason stalking his unsuspecting prey. On the other, it gives you pause: the band hold their sarcasm close enough in check, and dive into the menace with so much relish, that they just might be serious after all. It starts off as a menacingly altered bolero, then the scenes shift through a balmy ranchera, cornpone C&W and a twinkling Hawaiian tableau. Meanwhile, the bolero theme winds up, then winds down, Rick Parker’s looming trombone and Johnson’s clenched-teeth monster surf guitar front and center.

Lola Gotta Gun is a very clever, Lynchian dub reggae mashup of Lola and Happiness Is a Warm Gun. La Girafe is a showcase for Beninghove’s subtle side, which is ironic considering how over-the-top cartoonish this loping, happy-go-lucky theme is. The best joke is cruel, it’s in French and it’s too good to give away here

Roebuck – a shout-out to the Staples Singers’ patriarch Roebuck Staples – opens as a simmering, misterioso Quincy Jones summer night theme and builds to a methodical but very uneasy sway on the wings of Johnson’s dark blues lines and Beninghove’s shivery red-neon tenor work. The careening, self-explanatory Elephant Stampede echoes the band’s expertly buffoonish Zohove album, a collection of instrumental Led Zep covers.

The lone cover here is a pretty icky Neil Diamond ditty that other bands have tried to make noir out of. It’s not up to the level of Beninghove’s originals, although it does bring to mind a teenage, trenchcoated Diamond lingering outside the girls’ yeshiva somewhere in Midwood, staring at a nine-year-old and thinking to himself, girl, you’ll be a woman soon enough. The album winds up with Terminator, which sounds like Nine Inch Nails taking a stab at a New Orleans second-line groove, as funny as it is ugly. Much as we’re still in April, there’s no way anybody’s going to release a more cinematically entertaining album than this in 2016.

Last night, it was viscerally painful to walk out on the band as they launched into the lickety-split monster surf of H-Bomb, considering how expertly feral their set had been up to that point. Has the leader of any band ever to play Otto’s Shrunken Head ever instructed his players to pay attention to volume and dynamics? Beninghove did, and the crew – this time including bass powerhouse Ezra Gale, guitarist Sean Kiely and drummer Sean Baltazor – delivered, through a scorchingly psychedelic set including ferociously expansive takes of macabre, chromatically-charged surf classics like Surf ‘n Turk and Surfin’ Satie as well as a trippy version of Lola Gotta Gun and an amped-up roadhouse blues-infused Roebuck.

Transcendence in the Face of War and Conflict from Kinan Azmeh’s City Band

This week is Global Week for Syria. Over seventy artists around the world are performing to help raise awareness and help the citizens of war-torn Syria. Brilliantly individualistic Syrian-born clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh contributed to the cause with a matter-of-factly transcendent show last night with his City Band – acoustic guitarist Kyle Sanna, bassist Josh Myers and drummer John Hadfield – at National Sawdust.

Last week at Spectrum, Azmeh and guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu played a harrowing duo set of cinematically crescendoing, ominously enveloping themes meant to depict the trauma of life under repressive regimes. This performance was far more lively but had Azmeh’s signature, direct, purposeful melodicism, simple riffs with artfully elegant orchestration set to kinetically shapeshifting grooves. The most spare material had an Andalucian feel: imagine the Gipsy Kings but with trickier meters, depth and unpredictable dynamics in place of interminable cheer. The slowest numbers were the most traditionally Middle Eastern-flavored; the most upbeat featured purposeful solos from everyone in the band, drawing as deeply on psychedelic rock as they did jazz.

The opening song set Azmeh’s moody low-midrange shades over sparse guitar and bass, then picked up with an emphatic flamenco-tinged pulse, Sanna’s judiciously exploratory solo bringing to mind Jerry Garcia in “on” mode until Azmeh took over and sent it sailing through an insistent, crashing crescendo.

The second number, by Myers, had echoes of Eastern European klezmer music as well as Mohammed Abdel Wahab and spiraling flamencoisms. Sanna contributed an austere, catchy tune that built enigmatic variations on what could have been an Elizabethan British folk theme, his guitar rising from plaintive, Satie-esque spaciousness to tersely energetic single-note lines.

Little Red Riding Hood, inspired by a cruelly aphoristic, recent Syrian poem, evoked the lingering shock and angst of wartime displacement. November 22, inspired by Azmeh’s first experience of an American Thanksgiving weekend, looked back with a mix of nostalgia and longing to places and eras erased by bombs and combat. Sanna set up Azmeh for a wild upward swoop and then flurries of suspenseful microtonal melismas. on a shapeshifting anthem meant to evoke the wildness and unpredictability of Syrian village wedding music. They closed by debuting a somber, pensive new song that Azmeh said he’d only written a couple of days previously. dedicated to the small town in the green belt outside of Damascus where Azmeh had spent a lot of time as a kid and which until very recently had been under siege, with barely any access to food or supplies. Azmeh’s next performance is in San Antonio on May 15 to kick off his US/European tour.

Kinan Azmeh and Erdem Helvacioglu Evoke the Horror of Living Under Tyranny

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu debuted their harrowingly cinematic duo project last night at Spectrum. An attempt to sonically portray life under oppressive political regimes, some of the music had the icy, technopocalyptic shifts of late 80s Brad Fiedel film scores. As the series of electroacoustic themes segued into each other, the music grew somewhat more kinetic and eventually hit a horror-stricken peak, coming full circle at the end. A one-man orchestra with a Les Paul and a laptop, Helvacioglu methodically and meticulously built lingering, grey-sky atmospherics while Azmeh played simple, plaintive, elegaic modes, eventually rising to the kind of effortlessly serpentine phrasing that characterizes much of his work as a bandleader.

Woven into the music were brief snippets from speeches by the three Assads of Syria and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan. It would be extreme to characterize the autocrats’ stridency and fervor as Hitlerian, but the similarity was unmistakable. Azmeh wove a lattice of uneasily leaping, chattering phrases as Helvacioglu built a somber backdrop of nebulous cumulo-nimbus washes and echoey deep-space pulses. It came across as perhaps an Anatolian take on Steve Reich. Spare, funereal, belltone guitar phrases built to a desolate echo chamber; Steven Severin’s film scores and Sava Marinkovic’s rainy-day tableaux came to mind.

As the suite went on, Helvacioglu’s lines became more incisive and less atmospheric, like a minimalist David Gilmour. Likewise, Azmeh’s phrases grew more animated and ornamented, sometimes with a lamenting wail, sometimes as a possible call to arms, with just the occasional hint of Middle Eastern microtones.Dynamics rose froma whisper to a single blast from a terrified vortex, then back down to echoing pools of sound with a lingering, ever-present menace, a symphony of sorrowful wartime songs. “That was intense,” Helvacioglu remarked to Azmeh, a little out of breath, after the show. He wasn’t kidding. Look for more duo performances by these two, as well as an upcoming National Sawduat show on April 17 at 9 PM with Azmeh leading his Middle Eastern jazz band. Tix for that one are $25.

An Exhilarating Paisley Underground Instrumental Album from Dave Miller

Guitarslinger Dave Miller plays adrenalizing, catchy instrumental rock informed by Americana, soul music, pastoral jazz, noiserock and postrock. There’s nobody out there who sounds remotely like him. He’s so good that you might actually want to go to the small room at the Rockwood at midnight, where he’ll be on April 3, or to Greeenpoint, where he’ll be at Manhattan Inn at 10 on April 6. He’s got a sensational new album, Old Door Phantoms, which hasn’t officially hit yet, although there are a couple of tracks up at Bandcamp and some tantalizing live stuff at his youtube channel.

It opens with a roar and a clang with Found Towns, a swaying, stomping, burning paisley underground instrumental, like a song from True West’s second album minus the lyrics. As it goes on, there’s a push and pull and eventually a fullscale battle between guitar tracks, much as Russ Tolman and Stephen McCarthy would do thirty years ago. Eventually Ben Boye’s electric piano joins the melee, then they decay in a haze of reverb exhaust and Quin Kirchner’s tumbling drums. It’s a hell of a way to kick thing off.

Bison Disciple works a warmly familiar 70s Americana rock riff into a more swinging soul groove anchored by Boye’s electic piano. If the Band hadn’t been a bunch of stoned Canadian hippies, had some real balls and took some real chances, they might have sounded something like this. As it goes on, it gives Miller a chance to bellyflop into classic 60s/70s Westside Chicago blues. The Things I Don’t Know shifts into drifty mellotron-fueled, twinkling spacerock, part Nektar, part early Built to Spill, the ghost of Jerry Garcia looking on approvingly. Last Call makes an abrupt move into insistent 80s noiserock, then hits a stomping Motown-inflected pulse from Matt Ulery’s bass, blending the two with a wry edge as the keys go spiraling up into a bubbly nitrous web.

Animsm blends slow, slinky Bill Frisell pastorals with a little Hendrix and a tinge of evil Steve Ulrich/Big Lazy noir – in fact, as it builds steam and then subsides, it could be a less lithe Big Lazy. Wry allusions to the Cure, Hendrix and the Ventures pop up as For Too Much Longer gets going and then it hits a sprinting, bittersweet highway groove, then edges toward enigmatic dreampop before skittering back toward the surf. With its mammoth cinematic sweep and good cheer, it sounds like a more explosive American take on Los Crema Paraiso.

Miller keeps the epic intensity going with the towering 6/8 paisley underground sway of Tree Worship, sort of a mashup of 1984-era Dream Syndicate and MC5 freakout.The album winds up wih a noisy, snarky cover of the surf classic Telstar, with a crash landing ending that puts the original to shame. What a breath of fresh air this is. Let’s put Miller on a triplebill with Girls on Grass and the new Dream Syndicate and make paisley underground the sound that all the cool kids listen to just like they did thirty years ago. This one’s one of 2016’s best with a bullet.

Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy in Brooklyn: Noir Music Heaven

Considering that we’re only in March, it’s hardly safe to say that the twinbill coming up this Monday the 14th at around 9 at Manhattan Inn, with Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy, is the best one of the year. The April 15, 10 PM doublebill of Desert Flower and Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, at Sidewalk, of all places, looks awfully good. And there will be others. But as far as dark and blackly amusing sounds are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than Monday’s lineup in Greenpoint.

Big Lazy’s set last Friday night at Barbes was surprisingly quirky. Gallows humor, and funny quotes from other songs are familiar tropes for the noir cinematic trio, but frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich was having an especially good time with them: Mission Impossible, My Funny Valentine, Caravan – which Ulrich has covered murderously well in the past – and a whole bunch of others. And a trio of creepy cover tunes: Girl, by the Beatles, a stabbing version of an Astor Piazzolla tango and an absolutely lurid take of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice, with a savagely tremolo-picked solo midway through.

It was kind of a weird night, if a good one. The crowd wasn’t the usual mobscene that this band draws. Out front at the bar, it looked like the prom bus from Jersey or somewhere in Alabama had just disembarked. Scarier than Big Lazy’s originals – even Park Slope isn’t safe from yuppie puppy zombie apocalypse anymore. But in back, people were dancing in an oasis of reverb guitar and pitchblende basslines.

This Monday’s opening act, Beninghove’s Hangmen work the same turf: raindrenched wee hours crime jazz tableaux and more overtly humorous interludes. Like Ulrich, frontman/multi-saxophonist Bryan Beninghove gets a lot of film work, so his instrumentals can shift shape from, say, blithe to brutal in a split second and the segue doesn’t seem the least bit jarring. Case in point: the title track to their deliciously creepy upcoming album, Pineapples & Ashtrays.

And they’re more of a jamband than Big Lazy. While a lot of their material can be grim, and ghoulish, and sometimes downright morose, they can also be hilarious. The best example is Zohove, their instrumental album of Led Zep covers, streaming at Spotify.. Zep’s music can be awfully funny by itself, and Beninghove’s reimaginings are even funnier.

On the opening track, Kashmir, Rick Parker’s elephantine trombone snorts and Beninghove’s spectacularly swirling soprano sax lines over the stomp behind it elevate it to Vesuvius heights. Heavy new wave rhythm from drummer Kevin Shea (of another even funnier band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Ezra Gale (of dub reggae crew Super Hi-Fi, who are also hardly strangers to funny songs) might be the last thing you might expect to work in a cover of Misty Mountain Hop, but it does. And the guitar is trippy behond belief: Eyal Maoz’s droll Spinal Tap bends over Dane Johnson’s Jabba the Hut Space Lounge electro-breakdown.

What Is and What Never Should Be is a droll mashup of quotes:You Can’t Just Get What You Want, ad infinitum. Likewise, the album’s title track, a sort of a greatest-riffs collection, cleverly disassembled in the same vein as what you find in how-to books like “Play Guitar in the Style of Tony Iommi.”

The group’s version of Immigrant Song substitutes Bennghove’s sax and Parker’s trombone for Robert Plant’s bleat – and it’s priceless. A shivery twin guitar solo decays toward the noir the band’s known for, over dancing bass to match Beninghove’s bluesy tenor spirals

It’s amazing how they reinvent D’yer Maker as uneasy, metrically tricky noir ska, and then an Afrobeat epic, And the Specials quote at the end is LMFAO too. The album ends with a slinking, incendiary take of When the Levee Breaks fueled by blue-flame slide guitar worthy of Jimmy Page himself. It’s the one place on the album where the band actually seems to take the material seriously, and it might be the best track of all. Get this and get a roomful of Zep fans laughing their collective asses off. Beninghove’s Hangmen usually play at least one Zep cover at most of their shows, so we’re likely to get some of this buffoonery Monday night in Brooklyn.

Film Noir Instrumentalists Big Lazy and Italian Singer Julia Patinella Haunt the Crowd at Barbes

As the story goes, Julia Patinella‘s first live appearance at Barbes lasted for about two bars.worth of music “But what two bars!” said Big Lazy frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich, as he introduced the singer early in the band’s set there last month. The two first met in the wee hours there. She’d done what a lot of musicians do when it’s past midnight and the bands are finished: she broke out her guitar and took a stab at entertaining her friends with a couple of Italian folk songs, completely unplugged.

Uh uh. Like a lot of venues, Barbes has a strict curfew on music, and they enforce it. But unlike the bartender who did the enforcing, Ulrich was entranced. Being a devotee of Italian music and heavily influenced by both Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone, Ulrich asked Patinella if she’d sing with the band. The result turned out to be a couple of hauntingly affecting, nocturnally lilting numbers, the first with Romany tinges, the second a playful commentary on how women deserve just as much fun in the sack as guys do, complete with sardonically low-key orgasmic vocalese. And as comfortable as she was with this material, maybe considering her Sicilian heritage, this was something of a departure for her since she’s focused mostly on flamenco lately. Years from now, when Patinella is playing big stages around the globe, she can tell the world that she was discovered by Big Lazy.

For their part, the iconic noir instrumental trio hung back with a moody jangle to match Patinella’s nuance. Their own material was just as dynamic, and considerably darker, as you would expect from this creepy crew. Their show on New Year’s Day here featured a lot of highway themes and big-sky ambience: this set was a particularly murderous one. Bassist Andrew Hall used his bow more than usual, painting pitchblend swaths underneath Ulrich’s lurid chromatics, lingering blues phrases drenched in reverb, and the occasional savage flurry of tremolo-picking. It’s a mystery how this guy manages not to break strings.

Mystery was the theme for the rest of the show, part horror surf, part crime jazz, part shapeshifting cinematic sweep. Drummer Yuval Lion seemed more amped than usual as the band stabbed and pulsed through a cover of Piazzolla’s Pulsacion #5, then later the surrealistic sprint Princess Nicotine – a new theme for an old silent short from the 20s. Otherwise, the menace was relentless, through the slinky shadows of Don’t Cross Myrtle, Swampesque and one of the creepiest songs of the night, Influenza, which Ulrich wryly pondered about renaming. If dark sounds are your thing, Big Lazy are your band. Their monthly Friday night Barbes residency continues this Friday, March 4 at 10. T’hey’re also at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint on March 14 at around 9 on what might be the years’s best twinbill, with similarly macabre, surfy, shapeshifting soundtrack instrumentalists Beninghove’s Hangmen.

The Jack Quartet Play the Darkest Show of the Year

What was it like to hear the Jack Quartet play Georg Friedrich Haas’ In Iij. Noct.at the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown last night in more-or-less total darkness, as the composer intended? On the most prosaic level, the ensemble performed it in stereo, mirroring how the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony incorporated the audience into their stage plot for their performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony earlier this year. In this case, cello and viola (Kevin McFarland and John Pickford Richards) were behind the audience, violins (Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld) onstage, with only the occasional twinkle from a tiny overhead light (a CO2 alarm, maybe) and a couple of orange neon fire door lights, muted and obscured from much of the sold-out crowd. In any case, it was impossible to see the performers. Were they able to make out a shadow or two in the audience? That depends on how sharp their eyesight might be.

The performance was playful, and fun, and gripping, and full of surprises, and harrowing in places. The quartet, who’ve played it a couple of dozen times, at least, have it more or less in their fingers, although the score is mostly improvised, based on a series of riffs and a brief quote from Gesualdo which surfaced about three-quarters of the way in. What was most stunning was how meticulously the group made the slow slide downward, then upward, from basic major to minor triadic harmony and then back again during one long sequence. There were flickering, irresistibly fun hide-and-seek interludes, lots of austere, acidic atmospherics that required extended technique to sustain challenging overtones and harmonics, and a couple of chillingly insistent codas that reminded of Julia Wolfe.

One might think that hearing it in such relative sensory deprivation would be a solitary experience, but that turned out to be 180 degrees the opposite. Being in the dark enhanced the sense of everybody being in the same boat. Basic questions of urban diplomacy quickly posed themselves. Why didn’t that narcissist with her paroxysms and grossness just stay home instead of sharing her sickness? Does an oniony lunchtime falafel carry through the air like the homey scent of hand sanitizer coming in on the left? If anything, an experience like this reinforces how much a little compassion, or just plain common courtesy, really make a difference at a public event.

As far as hearing the music in near pitch-blackness, we’ve all done that, at least those of us whose windows face a shaftway rather than the street. If you’ve ever drifted off to sleep with something wafting from the boombox or the turntable rather than from the glow of a phone or a laptop, with, say, a cat or a girlfriend nestled in your arms, this was somewhat more impersonal but required no less attention to the consequences of disturbing the peace.

The Austrian Cultural Forum puts on a lot of adventurous shows like this. There’s another tomorrow night, February 26 at 7:30 PM at the Czech Center 4th floor ballroom at 321 E 73rd St. featuring works by Haas performed by members of the Talea Ensemble, including the world premiere of a piece for solo trumpet, dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, to be played by Gareth Flowers.

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