In the past few months I’ve heard and seen a number of interviews with Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal in support of Rosanne’s latest album The River & The Thread (produced and arranged by John). In particular, check out her interview from the CBS Sunday Morning program—it’s a great piece about the roots of most of her music, but also the inspiration for the songs on River, and how blues legend Robert Johnson, the civil rights movement, Rosanne’s parents (Johnny Cash’s childhood home and her own first home) and a bridge all mixed together to form a thread that makes up her story.
I can’t say that I have all of her back catalog of albums, but I have many of them. Rosanne noted (with her dry wit) last night, “…this is a song from back when I had hits…” and in describing the journey that led to the latest album (paraphrasing) “…you spend a great deal of time wandering around in your 20s figuring out who you aren’t so you can figure out who you are when you’re…older…”
John Leventhal is an extraordinary musician and arranger, and the two of them have the same chemistry on stage as they do on River. At one point Rosanne noted (after a guitar solo by John, with heavy country and blues roots…again paraphrasing), “…hard to believe that this guy is a native New Yorker…” John treats his guitar like it’s a full band. It was also really nice that John played soft lead-in vamps on many tunes as Rosanne recounted stories related to the development of the album.
Most of last night’s show was taken from River, her previous albums The List, Black Cadillac, King’s Record Shop, and Seven Year Ache…I haven’t yet compiled the full set list (but see the photo below). One of the highlights (in addition to TWO power failures during the show…it was sleeting outside) was a perfect (even with power interruption) cover of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe, which has a strong connection to The River & The Thread (the Tallahatchie Bridge is on the cover of the album).
Their encore last night included taking some requests from the audience (including a verse from Runaway Train) along with a gorgeous version of 500 Miles from The List. John’s one trip to the piano with an arrangement that had elements of gospel and the light touch of Count Basie—brilliant; even better, it’s a song that one of my cousins used to sing to us younger cousins in the 1960s. It was a special moment, and a lovely evening of music. Thanks to Rosanne and John, and all at the Infinity Hall (in snowy Norfolk, CT).
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.