Category Archives: Review

Glenn Kotche revisited: Spectaculs in concert with So Percussion

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Glenn Kotche

I have to confess that Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche‘s forays into New Music were beginning to rub me the wrong way.

Maybe it was the Delta faucet commercial that set me on edge. I can’t say for sure.

But it had begun to feel to me that he was trying far too hard to prove that he’s not just the drummer in one of the world’s best rock bands. He seemed to be crying out to be taken seriously as a percussionist with depth and breadth as well as great rock chops.

His most recent serious album, “Adventureland” (Cantaloupe Music, 2014), is well done and pleasant, but for some reason it never really grabbed me. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate it.

When I got the opportunity to attend a concert on Saturday in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall the featured some of his work,  I decided to open my ears again.

I’m glad I did. Kotche’s work was a big part of what made the evening a spectacular musical event.

The evening opened with some older work — four selections from his 2011 Drumkit Quartets — performed by So Percussion (Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting) alone.

So  Percussion clearly had an enormous amount of fun with the compositions. All of them featured a wide array of drums and myriad other percussion. The first, “Drumkit Quartet #50 (Leffinge, Chicago), kicked off with each member of the ensemble playing a hand-cranked siren, while the third, “Drumkit Quartet #51 (Tokyo, Brisbane, Berlin),” featured Japanese rock band Cibo Matto‘s Yuka Honda (who is married to Wilco guitarist Nels Cline) reciting haiku.

It’s no surprise that So  Percussion knew the pieces well, as the ensemble has recorded a “Drumkit Quartets” album due out Feb. 26 on Cantaloupe.

Kotche joined the ensemble for the world premiere of “Migrations,” a Carnegie Hall commission, that testified dramatically to Kotche’s admiration for minimalist composer Steve Reich with rhythms playfully produced on marimbas struck with fingertips and combs.

A hard-driving “Drumkit Quartet #1,” featuring a strobe-like animated film by Patrick Burns, closed the Kotche section of the show in memorable fashion.

The evening also featured a short piece by composer Steven Mackey, “Before It Is Time,” sung by Shara Worden, a performer and composer who works in rock and New Music like Kotche. (She performs in the rock world as My Brightest Diamond), in its New York premiere.

A 45-minute Worden song cycle, “Timeline” — commissioned jointly by Carnegie Hall and the University of Texas at Austin — closed out the evening. Worden sang and, at times played the guitar, a distracting move that took the focus off of the rhythms and interesting tonal qualities of the percussion, which included a mean steel drum number played by Quillen.

 

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The best time for Speed the Plough is ‘Now’

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Mark your calendar now: Speed the Plough is ready to party.

The North Jersey chamber rockers have been playing the songs from their splendid new album, aptly titled “Now,” for awhile. But now they’re ready to make it official with a record release party.

STP will jam the tiny stage of The HiFi Bar (formerly Brownie’s) in Manhattan’s East Village on Thursday night, Feb. 25, to celebrate its release.

nowcover “Now” is Speed the Plough’s eighth album, and is notable for its fresh-but-familiar sound and the fact that it’s the first release by the newly revived Coyote Records.

Coyote was responsible for some of the early releases by Yo La Tengo, The Feelies, Beat Rodeo, Chris Stamey,and other leading lights of the Hoboken indie rock scene that centered on Maxwell’s. It was co-founded by Steve Fallon, who also ran Maxwell’s before giving it all up and moving to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he opened a collectibles shop called Gidget’s Gadgets.

It’s fitting in so many ways that “Now” is Coyote’s first release in years. Speed the Plough  started playing in 1984, during the golden age of the Hoboken scene, and has persevered — with an evolving membership always anchored by stalwarts Toni and John Baumgartner — through so many changes.

“Now” is a perfect example of Speed the Plough’s ability to ability to adapt.

The album preserves the feel of the band’s earlier work without  sounding dated. This disc embraces the talents of the new members — vocalist/guitaristsEd Seifert and Michael Baumgartner, bassist Cindi Merklee, and drummer John Demeski.

Seven of the album’s 12 tracks are John Baumgartner compositions featuring vocals by him or Toni, along with Toni’s traditional wind instruments. They’re every bit as good as anything they’ve done before. The haunting “Midnight in the World” — with its refrain of “Calling you ’cause I don’t know what to do” — is a particular earworm.

Their son, Michael, comes on strong with three contributions: “Garden,” a rocker that is probably the first of the gravel-voiced songwriter’s that I ever heard live, “Hey, Blue,” a gentle love song, and a brief (1:47), driving, Hüsker Dü-ish rocker, “Ed’s Song.”  that closes the disc.

Seifert contributes “Be With You,” a delightful, loping folk-rocker with spare, repeated lyrics.

Merklee steps forward in a way that I’ve been waiting to hear, offering a beautiful, plaintive homage to novelist Carson McCullers wiht “Miss Amelia.”

IF YOU GO

What: Speed the Plough record release party

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 25

Where: The HiFi Bar, 169 Avenue A, Manhattan

Tickets: Free, donations accepted, with all proceeds going to the artists. Shows in this small venue tend to fill up, but if you arrive early, you’ll likely have no problem getting in. Making a donation in advance online guarantees entry.

 

‘Surface Noise’: A self-effacing title for Jennifer O’Connor’s brilliant new album

The cover of Jennifer O'Connor's album "Surface Noise" (March 4, 2016, Kiam Records) features an ambitious abstract painting, "There 48," by Brooklyn artist Joan LeMay.

The cover of Jennifer O’Connor’s album “Surface Noise” (March 4, 2016, Kiam Records) features an ambitious abstract painting, “There 48,” by Brooklyn artist Joan LeMay.

I’ve never been one to make best-of lists when it comes to music. I enjoy so much of what I hear that it’s difficult to pick favorites.

So I won’t say that Jennifer O’Connor‘s forthcoming album, “Surface Noise,” out March 4, 2016, on Kiam Records, is a sure-fire pick for my best of 2016 list, since I’m not likely to compile one.

I can say it’s the best new album I’ve heard so far in this still-young year — and I fully expect to feel that way about it when this year is winding down.

“Surface Noise” is packed with 12 songs that explore love, loss, and the challenges of life with a casual brilliance about this album that makes it the best work this talented artist has produced so far.

ORDER JENNIFER O’CONNOR’S “SURFACE NOISE” VIA KIAM RECORDS NOW — GO HERE

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‘You Us We All,’ well … I am very disappointed

I wanted to love “You Us We All,” the celebrity-citing, pop culture-driven modern opera in Baroque form — in its music, theatrical arc, staging, and costuming — that had its first performance Wednesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater. (You can judge for yourself. Performances continue through Saturday. Buy tickets here.)

After all, I think Shara Worden, a classically trained singer who performs in the pop world as My Brightest Diamond and works the New Music circuit under her given name, wrote the music and is one of the singers.

I didn’t know anything much about Andrew Ondrejcak, who wrote the text, directed, and designed the production or about B.O.X. (Baroque Orchestration X), which commissioned the piece and provides the first-rate instrumental ensemble, but had high hopes.

I’ve frequently enjoyed Worden’s work in pop and New Music. And I’ve been itching for a new work to come along that as exciting and challenging as, say, Thomas Adès’ “Powder Her Face.” But this piece isn’t up to that task.

In fact, “You Us We All” ultimately left me wondering whether I had wasted my evening.
It isn’t without merit. The music is lovely, some of the singing is delicious, the chamber orchestra is splendid, and the text is wickedly funny at times. But all those positives created more of a pastiche than a written-through show.

I chalked up my discontent at first to being tired. I found the piece very difficult to follow, and the poorly projected supertitles almost impossible to read from my upper orchestra seat. (You might think supertitles wouldn’t be crucial for an English-language production, but you’d be wrong.)

But then I saw members of the opening night audience slipping out early. It’s not unheard of at BAM, but audiences there are generally more tolerant and attuned to avant garde work than audiences at, say, the Metropolitan Opera.

I realized I wasn’t just being cranky about this when I read  Zachary Woolfe’s review in The New York Times review, which declares the piece “earnest and eventually tiresome.”

Jackson Browne enthralls at The Capitol Theatre

Jackson Browne and his band at The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Jackson Browne and his band at The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Jackson Browne’s music has been in my life since high school. While I’ve been to thousands of rock concerts since then, I never even considered checking out Browne in live performance.

I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s because his music was so pervasive — especially during my young adulthood — that I felt sufficiently sated by what I heard every day on the radio. (Remember radio?)

That changed on Thursday night, when I got the chance to see Browne on his second night at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York.

Browne, who’s less than a month shy of his 67th birthday, put on an incredible show for a wildly appreciative sold-out crowd for a full 2½ hours — with only two brief encore breaks.

He never stinted, lovingly spinning the songs at times into extended jams.

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Come Laugh in the Dark with Tommy Keene this Thursday at The Bowery Electric

Guitar god Tommy Keene performs Thursday at The Bowery Electric.

Guitar god Tommy Keene performs Thursday at The Bowery Electric.

Maybe Tommy Keene has discovered the Fountain of Youth.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. He’s aged. He’s not the skinny kid guitar-slinger he was when he exploded out of Maryland and onto the rock scene in 1982 with his debut album, Strange Alliance.

He’s earned every line on his 57-year-old face. But his voice, searing guitar playing, and songwriting still have all the energy and feel of his younger self.

Whatever he’s doing is really working for him, so he should keep on doing it.

Keene’s new album, Laugh in the Dark, which dropped Sept. 4 on Second Motion Records, ranks with the best work he’s ever done.

You can hear the new material live when he plays The Bowery Electric in New York City this Thursday.

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Amy Bezunartea: Pop hero or new villain?

Amy Bezunartea performs at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3 on Sept. 1, 2015. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Amy Bezunartea performs at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3 on Sept. 1, 2015. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

If you’re a curiosity seeker who decided to check out singer-songwriter Amy Bezunartea because you heard — or heard about — the NSFW lyrics in her new single, “Oh the Things a Girl Must Do,” good for you.

But stick around, there’s more — a lot more  — to this artist than one line that incorporates slang for vagina:

Oh the things a girl must do
If you only knew
Just how much the world wants to see
Everyone’s having fun
When it’s over you can tell
They all want the pussy
But they don’t like the smell

NPR’s “All Songs Considered” praises the work while falling all over itself to call out the song’s frankness, using “graphically” in its headline. As if that weren’t enough, the NPR post also carries the warning label “LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This song contains sexually explicit language,” and uses the terms “a shocking turn” and “NSFW (not safe for work)” in the text. 

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