Concert: Zammuto with Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nadia Sirota at the Spaceland Ballroom, Hamden, CT March 29, 2013
Nick Zammuto – Guitar and Electronics, Nick Oddy – Guitar and Keyboard
Mikey Zammuto – Bass, Sean Dixon – Drums
Promoter and Venue
I missed the last Zammuto tour in 2012, so I was determined to go see them this time around—and it was a great coincidence that they ended up stopping so close by in Hamden, Connecticut at the new Spaceland Ballroom with promotion by Manic Productions from nearby New Haven. Valgeir Sigurðsson (producer and founder of Iceland’s Bedroom Community record label and Greenhouse Studios) and violist Nadia Sirota started the evening’s show with an introspective and sensitive performance of work from Nadia’s latest album Baroque and Valgeir’s album Architecture of Loss (in addition to some earlier VS work). I think that the performance would’ve been enhanced all the more with a better piano and subwoofer system, but their performance ranged from the contemplative (my son says “chill”) to visceral. I’m less familiar with Sigurðsson’s and Sirota’s individual works, but this performance was a great introduction. My only other hope for this new venue is that the lighting improves to allow one to see the musicians better during their performances (and perhaps some more tables and chairs).
I’ve followed Nick Zammuto’s work since his days with The Books, and have appreciated his mining for music and inspiration in unexpected places, whether from old or new family home movies to skillfully edited (often bizarre) instructional videos. The humor and wordplay also makes his work all the more attractive. The difference (to my ears) between The Books and Nick’s latest incarnation in the band Zammuto is that the music is even more rhythmically infectious and at times, downright joyful. I also appreciate that Zammuto has created in their first eponymous album music created by artists staying true to themselves and their work—always pushing the boundaries and seeking inspiration from the most unlikely of places…making the serious silly and the mundane musical…and to be doing it in beautiful Vermont is all the more enticing. Their work is also an example of what I see as a proper usage of auto-tune technology—not to correct a singer who can’t sing, but to enhance the statement of the art and sound.
Last night’s set was tight, energetic and enhanced by a multimedia show of short films synchronized to the music. Much of the songs were taken from the latest Zammuto album on the Temporary Residence (independent) label. We were also treated to some songs from The Books era, a Paul Simon cover and some unreleased tracks. This was the second performance by new guitar/keyboardist Nick Oddy and he has immediately absorbed the often intense and delightfully quirky parts that Gene Back (up until recently) contributed to the band—bravo!
Zammuto Set List: 1) Groan Man, Don’t Cry, 2) The Shape Of Things To Come, 3) Idiom Wind, 4) Too Late To Topologize, 5) Zebra Butt, 6) FU-C3PO, 7) Harlequin, 8) Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon, 9) Yay, 10) The Stick, 11) Tahitian Noni Juice – That Right Ain’t Shit – from The Books The Lemon of Pink, 12) Classy Penguin, 13) The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time – A remarkable bit of video/sound editing!, 14) Smells Like Content – from The Books – Lost And Safe and the non-encore 15) The Fig and the Finger
If you haven’t seen Zammuto live yet, go see them—it was a very memorable concert. The link to their current tour is noted above, and I’m told that Nick is working on material for a new album.
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Stick Men: https://www.facebook.com/stickmenofficial
Tony Levin: http://www.papabear.com/
Pat Mastelotto: http://patmastelotto.com/
Markus Reuter: http://www.markusreuter.com/
Stick Men dot Net will take you to: http://iapetus-store.com/album/deep
I’m not often prone to numerical connections, but it occurred to me last night on the long quiet drive home from the woods of northwestern Connecticut that here I was in year 13 of this century and it has been (almost to the day) 31 years since I had last seen Tony Levin on stage in Syracuse, New York with the 1982 incarnation of King Crimson (Fripp, Bruford, Belew and Levin) in support of their incredible return album Discipline. Although Tony Levin might disagree, to my eyes his energy and spirit hasn’t aged a day in those 31 years. Last night’s concert in Norfolk, Connecticut was an incredible display of musicianship, sound and an intimate connection between the musicians and the audience (especially in a small hall like Infinity with great acoustics, sound system and a beautifully restored historic building).
In one way or another this trio of Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter all have a connection to King Crimson (and Robert Fripp) in various incarnations and ongoing KC ProjeKcts, but Stick Men while embracing KC’s influential work, have continued to develop their own voices in progressive rock including vital relationships with other bands, artists in addition each members respective solo work.
The Bows Come Out!
The set list last night was largely from their new album DEEP (all but two tracks) in addition to some real treats. Tony Levin made a special point to express appreciation to the audience for being so receptive to the new material, rather than insisting on hearing only the old (including many King Crimson favorites)–in effect progressive rock music…PROGRESSES. One thing that I wanted to see after listening intensively to DEEP is just how much of the melodies each instrument would take, and I was surprised to see that many sections that I thought were coming from Reuter’s Touch Guitar turned out to be melody exchanges between Reuter and Levin (the Chapman Stick being an extremely versatile instrument—not just for the bass line). Here are the tracks (along with some brief notes…not on every track, and nothing that I can write will do justice to the intensity and clarity of the sound last night–something to be experienced first-hand!):
1) Nude Ascending Staircase: As is the beginning of the album DEEP, this performance set the tone for the entire night, a seriously raucous (and fun) sound with deep visceral notes from Levin’s stick.
3) Crack In The Sky
4) Breathless (from Robert Fripp’s 1979 solo album Exposure): This Fripp album is incredible, and it’s still as vital as when I first placed the LP on my turntable in 1979. This was an absolutely shredding performance of this piece. Markus Reuter’s faithful interpretation of Fripp’s work (searing guitar) was just chilling. The trio seriously cooked on this.
6) Infinity Improv (free improvisation): Tony Levin noted that they record each of their performances (and I had noticed some stage and ambient microphones on stage before the show) in the hopes that some of the improvisations and recordings could lead to future releases.
7) Horatio: Thunderous!
8) Whale Watch: Tony Levin noted that despite his many years of having played the Chapman Stick, he was still learning more about what the instrument could do (and its often unpredictable results). He noted that some nights Whale Watch could turn out differently, depending on whether the instrument needed to be wrestled to the ground (I’m paraphrasing). It’s the story of being on a whale watch, from the start of an ocean journey to spotting, pursuit and arrival to see a whale up-close.
9) Industry (from the 1984 King Crimson album Three of a Perfect Pair): The growl and electronic percussion.
Pat is A-blur
10) Hide The Trees: The growing tension, exchange and release in this piece is deliciously enticing.
11) Open, Pt. 3 (from Stick Men’s 2012 improvisation-based album Open)
12) Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 (from the 1973 King Crimson album Larks’ Tongue in Aspic): It was exciting to hear this piece live again, as it was in the concert in 1982 (and previous KC concerts that I had attended)—also, on the heals of the recent 40th anniversary release of the re-mastered album.
Tony Levin playfully taking a stage photo for the ongoing Crimson Chronicles
13) Encore: A Stick Men arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird: Let’s hope that this ends up on a future live album—a forceful and experimental rendition of Stravinsky’s 1910 work.
After the Encore
It was a real treat to observe the persona of each musician on-stage: Tony Levin’s classic broad stance and kinetically expressive movements (resulting in many blurry photos!), Markus Reuter’s calm scanning of the crowd as he switched from touch-fingering his guitar to using it in a more conventional guitar-stance, and Pat Mastelotto’s highly expressive performance on percussion and electronic devices—and just when I thought that he had no more tricks in the bag, out he’d pull even more paraphernalia, including a bow!
At one point during the night Tony Levin noted that King Crimson was still alive, not broken-up, yet (somewhat comically) Levin noted that Robert Fripp had recently attended a Stick Men show (and paid for his ticket, despite a guest pass) and in response to a question about when a King Crimson tour might occur again, Fripp responded “Pain.” I think Mr. Fripp has moved on, and is enjoying his semi-retirement and over-seeing of the re-mastering and re-releasing of their massive archive of concerts and other recordings.
If you’re within striking distance of a Stick Men show—please go see them! They’re appearing at the Iridium Jazz Club this Friday (March 29) and Saturday (March 30) nights in New York City. I’m sure they’ll be on the road again soon. Bravo and thank you to the Stick Men! Oh, and buy their new album DEEP–see also this great review of the album by my friend over at Horse Bits: http://horsebits-jrc.blogspot.com/2012/11/deep-by-stick-men.html
Note: Click on any photo to see an enlarged version. Please contact me if there are any factual errors in what I have written above. I have many other high resolution photos of the show, and if you chose to copy or repost any of the photos, please credit me “wajobu.com”. You can’t see them, but the photos ARE watermarked.
Merge Records CD MRG465 – Time: About 54 minutes
Tracks: 1) Country Illusion, 2) The Geography Of Nowhere, 3) Cadillac Desert, 4) We Can’t Go Home Again, 5) A Portrait Of Sarah, 6) Hotel Catatonia, 7) The Last Residents Of Westfall, 8) The World Set Free
I posit that William Tyler is a thinker, and is perhaps more comfortable expressing himself with music than with words (although his spoken thoughts on the Merge teaser video have a distinct and interesting clarity). Tyler has worked in a number of bands prior to his solo albums including the Silver Jews, the ongoing experimental collective Hands Off Cuba and Lambchop (in addition to his record label, Sebastian Speaks). Tyler’s work brings a wide range of colors and moods to Lambchop’s sound, where he has been a principal guitarist for many years. Impossible Truth seems to me to be a more cohesive and mature work than his last solo album on the Tompkins Square label, Behold The Spirit. Nonetheless, I urge readers to seek out this very strong album.
The titles of the tracks on this album are like the names of short stories, and from the moment the cord is pulled on the first note of a track we are thrust right into the middle of the scene, without shyness or any lack of confidence. It almost feels like Tyler propels a well-worn yet vibrant flywheel at the start of each piece, and from that moment he is shaping and sculpting the sound and mood until the story is told.
Country Of Illusion starts mysteriously and sounding rather exotic (as if from a foreign land, sitar-like). There are sweeping passages envisioning a changing scene and then there are pauses (almost like a moment of contemplation) before moving through a sonic curtain and then the next passage of the tale. Some tracks show a greater tenderness (with solo acoustic guitar) than others like We Can’t Go Home Again or A Portrait Of Sarah (although musically the latter is quite adventurous, as are many relationships). The Geography Of Nowhere has a resonant otherness of being on the edge of consciousness and sensing the tangible without being able to actually reach it. There are others like Cadillac Desert and Hotel Catatonia that present vistas as broad and intense as a Montana sky (and I never knew what a big sky looked like until I saw one). The fretwork, picking and phrasing are tracing the landscapes and wrapping the listener in the gentle or gusty breezes of sound.
The Last Residents Of Westfall sounds like a scene from a dying or deserted town as the music pans to each of the buildings in the village, all with their own story to tell, some jaunty and others subdued. The closing track of the album, The World Set Free is the most reflective, but it enlivens joyfully as the track progresses—the acoustic bass being a steady and forthright heartbeat, and finally William Tyler releases to a growling close. I am trying to resist comparisons, but the opening section is similar to the instrumental sections of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.
Tyler disguises his guitars as many different instruments, and his musicianship and intense fingerings give a sense that more than one set of hands is at work, yet there is never a sense of Tyler playing a guitar hero—my guess is that he sees himself as quite the opposite. Just like Lambchop, William Tyler blurs the distinction of musical genres; first this is an instrumental acoustic and electric guitar album, there are hints of twang, country and roots in it, but also some blues, folk and rock and roll. Merge Records has a wide ranging catalog of musicians and has been around for more than two decades. I just finished reading and thoroughly enjoyed their biography of the first twenty years of Merge, Our Noise. Even though William Tyler has been part of the Merge family for many years in his work with Lambchop, I’m thrilled that he has released this latest brilliant solo album with Merge. This is an album that I highly recommend.
Merge Records just posted this reinterpretation (homage?) to the film Two Lane Blacktop with A Portrait of Sarah as the soundtrack.
12k Label – 12k1074 – CD Time: 47:00
When I was younger and had a completely untrained eye for seeing, as in art of any form, I didn’t realize how many colors went into what I saw, whether in a landscape or an object (same in the musical parallels). It was later, seeing artwork at a museum (paintings up-close), dramatically enlarged photos, and a friend’s work in college (artist, Allen Hirsch) that I started to understand the density and complexity of color–as well as in sound and music, the overtones, harmonics and phasing in addition to the pure waves.
The Endless Change Of Colour affects me in two ways, creating a state of peaceful timelessness (wondering where that nearly-an-hour went) as well as producing a state of nearly motionless cascades of blending sounds that transmute into a sense of relaxing in a stream bed of flowing water on a warm summer’s day–when all else falls away and what remains is that moment. All of this from a generative piece of music built from a single phrase on an old jazz record split into three audio stems. The sounds (and side-effects) that without closer examination and contemplation, we wouldn’t normally sense except for the benefit of the time that this work seems to warp and retrograde during its existence.
There are brief moments when almost familiar sounds enter, only to be absorbed back into the metamorphosing blend. I hear some parallels to the effects created by Nicholas Szczepanik’s brilliant album Please Stop Loving Me, although the feeling in Endless borders on that of a gentle voice on the edge of a dream–a peaceful sense of belonging.
Available at: http://www.flamingpines.com/
The Wonga Pigeon by Broken Chip
Sometimes there are things that I don’t want to end, but then they do, far too soon.* This is how I feel about Broken Chip’s dreamy and elusive The Wonga Pigeon contribution to the latest pair of CD3s released in the Flaming Pines label Birds Of A Feather Series. Broken Chip is one of the musical personas of Martyn Palmer, who is from the Blue Mountains of Australia. Broken Chip has contributed to other Flaming Pines releases, and Palmer’s other nom de plume is Option-Command, for more electronic oriented works. The Wonga Pigeon musically recounts a first mysterious encounter with an unknown bird. Time passed and then the bird reappeared to finally be identified. Despite the presence of (what appear to be) bird calls within the recording, it’s a piano (in my opinion) that takes on the guise of this particular avian creature. All sounds, initially, are distant in the recording, indescribable, and ethereal. Gradually, the identity coalesces, only to disappear back into the ether after a brief second chance encounter.
* – And so, I hit repeat!
The Phoenix by Simon Whetham
The Phoenix is the second CD3 of this latest pair of Birds…, and starts off like a shower of humidity encountered when disembarking from a plane in a distant land—the sudden shock of relocation. The wall of omnipresent sound of the outdoors is from Phoenix Island in Cambodia and at first it is intense (mind your amplifier’s volume control!). Eventually, the body and mind adjusts to this extraordinary new environment, and the sounds around eventually calm, and the vision of what was once like a blinding light comes into focus. Water, wooded areas, bells and gongs can be heard from sound recordings made by Whetham in June, 2012. In a way, the piece starts off with the fervor of the war endured by Cambodia and VietNam not so long ago, and the gradual calming could symbolize the peace that has slowly returned to these environs; The Phoenix rising, symbolically. As with the previous releases in this series, I love the cover illustrations.
Landing Lights by Kate Carr
Also, of note (and I have only heard these samples thus far), I am intrigued by Kate Carr’s latest new album Landing Lights. I quite like the contrast of the growl of her guitar juxtaposed against the soft, floating keyboards as in the track My Brother Came To Stay…I wonder who the brother could be, in the mix? I can’t imagine. 😉 Some samples from Landing Lights are below, so I am definitely interested in hearing more.
My Brother Came To Stay
When is a musical work true invention? When is it referential? When is it derivative? Can a work influenced by previous work still be considered original or innovative? I suppose these are questions that could spark a (sometimes heated) discussion like: “What audio speakers sound the best? Is it the east coast or west coast sound?” Often, the proper answer is: “What ever speakers sound best to one’s own ears.”
Generally, I think that most art, design and music works are built on the foundations that came before them and there really is little actual invention, more on the side of innovation or variants of an original. Dig deeply enough and one even can see that Frank Lloyd Wright’s and other modern architectural works (many seemingly original) have been influenced by the works of others or by some reference to design in nature or distant history (like many of Wright’s LA houses of the 1920s being highly influenced by ancient Mayan temples).
I’m certainly not an expert on the extensive back catalogs of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson (including Wilson’s various side projects), but I have enough of their music in my collection to know that I generally like their respective work (some albums, in my opinion, being better than others—that’s the subjective part, like the what speakers sound better question). Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson are from two different musical generations and have been influenced by different works and people, but there is some overlap.
Ferry has noted that much of his seminal listening, writing and songs were influenced by early and mid-20th century instrumental jazz (including Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman): “I loved the way the great soloists would pick up a tune and shake it up – go somewhere completely different – and then return gracefully back to the melody, as if nothing had happened.” With these influences and those of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and others, Ferry’s band Roxy Music (with a number of different musicians, including Brian Eno and later Eddie Jobson) would go on to create quite innovative and often influential art-glam-pop-progressive rock works in the 1970s and early 80s in addition to Ferry’s distinctive solo works.
Steven Wilson works within a cauldron of many genres (progressive rock, metal, ambient and jazz fusion), and it’s clear from his remixing/remastering work (such as the King Crimson back-catalog, most recently Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) that he has both a deep affection for those influences as well as a respect for the history behind them. Wilson’s latest album The Raven That Refused To Sing is steeped in a mind-bending brew of musical influences, yet stays safely on the side of creatively paying homage while avoiding pastiche or cliché. Throughout the album he tips his hat with musical phrases and instrumental sounds that have kept me looking back into my music collection for their roots (a most welcome research project).
Steven Wilson – Luminol
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Whether it’s a soaring guitar bend of Pink Floyd, a vocal introduction reminiscent of McDonald and Giles’ Tomorrow’s People, a Mellotron phrase from Genesis’ Watcher of the Skies, an electric guitar intro akin to the band Focus, acoustic guitar phrases of Ant Phillips’ The Geese and the Ghost or flute phrases of Jethro Tull, Wilson and his current band blend these deftly into the rather sullen tale of The Raven… I can also hear more recent parallels in the menacing track The Holy Drinker, to the works of (Miles Davis scholar) Bob Belden’s jazz-fusion Animation project (the recent post-9/11 track Provocatism from the album Transparent Heart). The musical and sonic success of this album is also thanks to the great live studio engineering care of Alan Parsons and gifted musicians Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis and Jakko Jakszyk who have interpreted Wilson’s vision into a cohesive and often stunning recording. The dynamics and emotions are broad, from the aggressive percussion/bass opening to the somber balladic close of the title track. There are minimal overdubs on the album, except for using an original King Crimson MKII Mellotron (recorded at DGM).
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – Do The Strand
In contrast, Bryan Ferry is reinterpreting his own past work with vocals removed, leaving the melodies and harmonies of the original songs, and they’re are filtered through a time machine that brings the listener back to Ferry’s earliest musical influences—the sound, orchestration and recording techniques of the roaring and often buoyant 1920s. Some fans of Roxy Music or Ferry’s original work don’t seem to appreciate the effort (especially the sound treatment, and the monaural recording), but being that I enjoy original pre-and jazz-age acoustic recordings, I think it’s a favorable re-examination of Ferry’s work while avoiding the temptation reissue yet another compilation for the sake of churning a back-catalog. In fact, the recording sounds almost identical to the hi-fidelity of that period, a Victor Orthophonic reproducer and Victrola.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – The Reinterpreted Tracks
Bryan Ferry – The Jazz Age – The Original Tracks
I like both of these albums very much, for different reasons, and while they are clearly influenced by works before them, they stand very well on their own. Are either as groundbreaking as King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King? No (again, my subjective opinion). On the positive side, after a somewhat cool start, Steven Wilson’s album has been growing on me (my favorite track, by far, is Drive Home), whereas I liked Ferry’s album almost instantly—I was hooked by Do The Strand. Are either of these albums what I would consider the best of 2013? It’s a bit early for that–let’s wait and see.
Steven Wilson – Drive Home