Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Make Music NY 2011: Saved by Heavy Metal

When La Fête de la Musique (the annual French busk-a-thon that spurred a worldwide day of outdoor music) originated, global warming was still in its early stages. Even now, France is more temperate than New York in late June. In the weeks leading up to this year’s Make Music NY festival, what was most obvious was that most of the performers who played it last time around were not doing it this year. And most of those who played in previous years have not done it since. This is true for both acoustic acts along with performers who require electricity and bear the additional responsibility of generating or acquiring it.

At this point, in the wake of the fifth annual MMNY, it’s become obvious that June is simply not a viable month for the festival. Consider: Central Park on Make Music NY day. It should be a beehive of activity. Yet within view of the 72nd St. path, from the east side to the west side, there was one single performance going on in mid-afternoon. In Tompkins Square Park a little later, absolutely nothing. McCarren Park in Williamsburg? Ditto. Clearly, New York musicians have had enough of sweating it out on June 21. So let’s move Make Music NY to a Saturday in late October. The actual date can change year by year, so both performers and concertgoers won’t have to miss a day of work. It’ll make performing less physically taxing, it’ll boost participation, and losing the solstice aspect will have the added benefit of losing the “namaste” crowd.

If you’re immune to heat, or feel like braving the sauna like we did, how do you best experience MMNY? Not by trying to track down the music: you have to let it come to you. That means just walking around, or even just walking to the train and then home, leaving open the possibility of a great random discovery. This time around, for us, there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but that rainbow took forever to get past. Our most successful tour of MMNY was 2008, simply because there happened to be an excellent afternoon’s worth of shows all within walking distance. This time around, the game plan was to start out uptown and then work our way down, which turned out to be much easier said than done. The reggae band on the calendar for noon was nowhere in sight – although out in front of the beauty parlor at 128th and Lenox, doing gospel karaoke, was Pastor Murthlene Sampson. And she’s good! She growls, she purrs, she wails, she knows what she’s doing and she gets around: she was scheduled for two other performances yesterday. She’s leading a gospel choir of over fifty voices on June 25th at Miracle Temple Ministries, 965 Boyland St. in Bed-Stuy at 6 PM for $20 and if they’re anything like she is, it’ll be worth it.

Next stop was Naumburg Bandshell, where classical pianist Taka Kigawa was scheduled. But there was no pianist, and for that matter, no piano. What happened in many cases this year is that performers would reserve space for a block of time, some of them hoping to find like-minded musicians to fill the early hours, others simply waiting til later in the day to play. And that’s fine – MMNY is all about freedom to play, rather than having to adhere to a venue’s strict schedule for load in, soundcheck and then stage time. Our first discovery was on the way from the deserted bandshell to the train, where toward the edge of the park the Dirty Urchins were playing beautifully low-key, all-acoustic Americana, party country, part jazz, part low-key rock. The quartet – two acoustic guitars, tenor sax, upright bass and girl/guy vocals – did two excellent songs before they took an obviously well-deserved break. Bandleader Julia Haltigan sang the first, Homesick for the Moon, with a casual, warmly jazzy lilt. Ever see a band, play along with them in your head and then witness one of the musicians play the exact same lick you’d been imagining? The sax player did that, bluesy and laid-back – it was a beautifully validating moment in a day that had been full of disappoinments up to this point. Guitarist Freddie Stevenson sang the second song, Spare Me, a gorgeous shuffle tune. They’ve got three albums out, and play with the authority, tightness and chemistry that comes with working up a lot of material together.

Running around downtown turned out to be a fiasco, so we made a quick trip back to the office, then over to Williamsburg, where the reggae band scheduled for 4 PM was just starting to unpack the truck. At this point, worn out, dehydrated, we figured that we’d make one last stop on the hunch that it would save the day, and it did. The concept was heavy metal under the BQE. Pure genius. It was cool down there, with a breeze! And all but one of the bands were so loud that they drowned out a recurrent car alarm, which is not nearly as easy as it seems. The first group we caught was Krystaleen. They have two wickedly fast, eclectically skilled lead guitarists and a tight and pummeling rhythm section with a bassist whose rapidfire fingerpicking was straight out of the Steve Harris school of intensity. Their songs were anthemic, ornate, smartly put together and had some surprising dynamics, the guy who took most of the solos wailing with an unexpectedly gentle, mournful unease during a quieter interlude. It was impossible to hear the vocals, although their frontman was clearly doing everything he could under the circumstances.

Exemption were next, a three-piece with an even more eclectic style that frequently took flight into jazz territory, through thickets of tricky rhythms and several moments with a genuinely funky slink. The nimble, melodic bassist played his Hofner with a pick and sang. Their guitarist’s deep bag of tricks includes noiserock and bluesmetal among other things – it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that he’s had conservatory training. The last band of the night, at least for us, was the SOS, a furious, unstoppable beast with a UK Subs/Motorhead punk/metal edge. Several times, the guitarist would sneak around the corner, get his strings humming and then suddenly turn up all the way as he reappeared with an otherworldly meteor storm of overtones. In two solid hours with barely a minute’s worth of changeover between bands, they didn’t play a single bad song. Pretty amazing for a random day when you never know what you’ll run into.

A far as Make Music NY is concerned, at least in terms of covering it as a daylong event, we’re done with it. Next year, we might pick a single show that we know for absolutely certain is happening, and we’ll be there. Or maybe we’ll go somewhere else that night – or we won’t go out at all. Unless there’s more metal under the BQE: in that case you may find us there.

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June 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Make Music NY 2011 Schedule – Our Top Picks

Here’s a list of the most interesting acts we could find who’re playing this year’s Make Music New York, Tuesday, June 21. The official schedule is here. We’ll update this page as we get word of other quality acts playing around town that day. Be aware that as in years past, even the official list has massive gaps in it: there will be hundreds, maybe thousands of artists who aren’t listed who will be participating. This is your chance to discover random performers who might become your favorites (or not) during your lunch hour, or on the way home – or, if you’re like us, you might think of playing hooky that day. A few observations: 1) there seem to be considerably fewer performers listed this year than last; 2) most of the people who played it last year aren’t playing this year, at last according to the calendar (which can be interpreted many different ways), and 3) there are far fewer locations listed this year, compared to 2010, at least according to the official calendar. Which is also open to interpretation.

Remember that the excellent free Punk Island shows on Governors Island are on Sunday, June 19, not the 21st.

We’ve done our best to list performances with good sonics: every year, dozens of good performers find out how impossible it is to compete with the eardrum-shattering alarms that go off when city bus doors open, or with the subway rumbling overhead. If the Sediment Club was playing under the Manhattan Bridge, we’d be there – the din would only enhance what they do. But last year, there was an unamplified acoustic guitar duo down there. Go figure.

At noon catchy, hypnotic Afrobeat band Emefe play Tavern on the Green, Central Park West at 67th St; at 3:30 they move to the corner of Battery Place and State Street Plaza downtown (just follow the sound of the horns); at 7 they navigate up to the Winery at 257 W 116th St.

At noon Barmaljova – a rare performance by extraordinary violist/composer Ljova Zhurbin and his equally extraordinary singer wife Inna Barmash – outside the old Astor Wines & Liquors space on St. Mark’s Place, just west of Lafayette St.

Also at noon, Zap & the Naturals play reggae at K. Printing Inc., 355 Lenox Ave. uptown.

Also at noon, eclectic jazz guitarist Nick Demopoulos – inventor and virtuoso of the smomid, sort of a cross between an electric oud and a bass. He’s at Pentatonic Guitars at 139 Franklin St. in Greenpoint; at 6:30, he moves to Supercore at 305 Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg.

1 PM a “griot summit” hidden way up at Wave Hill Park in the Bronx (675 W 252nd St.) featuring a tremendously skilled, entertaining group of African artists: balafonist Famoro Dioubate and kora players Salieu Suso, Lankandia Cissoko and Yacouba Sissoko.

1 PM ambient downtempo chanteuse Lulla at Tea Lounge, 837 Union St. in Park Slope.

2 PM classical pianist Taka Kigawa has scored the coveted Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park! Nice work Taka!

3 PM heavy metal under the BQE: just the way it used to be, Union Ave. and N 8th St. in Williamsburg. The show starts with SOS at 3, Wizardry at 4, the punk/hardcore of Thinning the Herd at 4, darkly psychedelic La Otracina at 6, then Exemption and Krystaleen split the remaining hour from 7 to 8.

4 PM one of our favorites, eclectic roots reggae band Zion Judah at Peach Frog, 136 N 10th St. in Williamsburg.

4 PM the avant-garde Red Light Ensemble, hilarious furry-suited oldtime swing xylophone jazz band the Xylopholks (will they survive the heat?) and Shakuhachi Ensemble, with trumpeter Leif Arntzen squeezed in there somewhere, at the Cornelia St. Cafe.

4 PM torchy pianist/singer Jeanne Marie Boes at the Athens Triangle, 3221 Newtown Ave. in Astoria.

4 PM several reggae acts playing 366 Myrtle Ave. in Ft. Greene: Terry Lyons, Kemston, Hotta Lava and Tayazawan.

4 PM rootsy rockers Whisperado followed at 6 by fearless, fiery, lyrically-driven pop siren Elaine Romanelli at Jackson Hewitt, 28-17 Steinway St. in Astoria.

4 PM the David Glukh klezmer ensemble at the NYPL Spuyten Duyvil branch, 650 W 235th St. in the Bronx.

4 PM the Pitch Blak Brass Band at Water St. Restaurant, 66 Water St. in Dumbo.

4 PM Tschaka Tongy play reggae at K. Printing Inc., 355 Lenox Ave. uptown.

4 PM the Caribian Ricans play reggae and ska at Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd. uptown; at 6 PM they’re at Hunts Point Park, Lafayette Ave. and Edgewater Road in the Bronx.

4:45 PM the Fools – tuneful, lo-fi all-girl garage-pop duo – at the junk shop at 106 N 3rd St. in Williamsburg.

5 PM cool concept: “Unsung Greats: ‘Where is the Outrage?’ Musical and poetic commentary on the need for continuous strikes and other forms of mass protests. The purpose: To ignite and excite the spirit of revolution in our communities and the world.” Today Yemen: tomorrow Wall Street. At the community garden at 312 E 4th St.

5 PM Thunda Vida plays reggae and ska at the Whole Foods at 98th and Columbus Ave.

5 PM lyrical jazz pianist Deanna Witkowski plays the Winery at 257 W 116th St.

5:30 PM the lush, sweeping, intoxicating NY Arabic Orchestra plays Bryant Park.

6 PM smartly lyrical, Aimee Mann-esque songwriter Andrea Wittgens at Fort Tryon, Riverside Dr. and Dyckman St.

6 PM carnivalesque Balkan brass outfit Hungry March Band marching around Highline Park, 10th Ave. and 16th St.

6 PM Alarm Will Sound’s Alan Pierson conducts some kind of ensemble playing Rzewski and Beethoven at 246 Spring St. – ostensibly WQXR is involved.

6 PM the Birdhive Boys play bluegrass at Verde at 216 Smith St. in Carroll Gardens.

6 PM the Renaissance Street Singers at 108 Christopher St. in the West Village.

6 PM Pastor Murtlene Sampson sings gospel with piano accompaniment at Brower Park, 1040 Park Place in Bed-Stuy.

6 PM Tribal Legacy play reggae and ska at Sans Souci Restaurant & Bar, 330 Myrtle Ave. in Ft. Greene.

6 PM jazz flutist Carlos Jimenez plays the Riverdale branch of the NYPL, 5540 Mosholu Ave. with his group.

6 PM at Goodbye Blue Monday, someone or something called Meatloaf Sucks. Do they mean the big fat guy, or the hamburger creation?

6:30 PM pioneering avant-garde string quartet Ethel at the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St.

6:30 PM the Kaufman Center’s student avant garde ensemble Face the Music plays their home base at 129 W 67th St.

7 PM smart guitar jazz with a sometimes sardonic, cynical edge:  Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord at Beer Table, 427 7th Ave. in Brooklyn.

7 PM Num & Nu Afrika play their annual reggae show at Drastadub Studios, 31 W 127th St. uptown.

7 PM Americana rock siren Karen Hudson at her usual haunt, Indian Hill Cafe, 600 W 218th St. in Washington Heights. Honkytonk singer Orville Davis follows at 9.

7 PM the Brooklyn Brass Quintet at the Central Park entrance to the Columbus Circle subway.

7:30 PM Ill Rendition plays reggae at Joloff, 930 Fulton St. in Ft. Greene.

8 PM oldschool Brooklyn indie rock legend John Hovorka at Russell & Driggs Ave. in Greenpoint

8 PM Bill Popp & the Tapes at Tompkins Square Park. This may be the best gig he’s ever had – not bad, considering that various versions of this band have been around for 30 years. He’s not bad either, in a Beatlesque powerpop way. You are destined to see him one of these days whether you realize it or not – why not now?

June 4, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment