Talib Kweli (and friends) at Brooklyn Bowl

by Steven Pisano

  Talib Kweli

Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli, a star in the world of hip hop for almost a generation now, brought his expanding hip hop universe to Brooklyn Bowl for two nights last week, spotlighting some of the talent now recording for his new independent music label, Javotti Media. As Kweli turns 40 years old this year, he clearly has plans to continue having an impact beyond his own recording career by supporting young, up-and-coming talent.

On Thursday, the music kept coming for four hours, so the sold-out crowd definitely got its money’s worth. First up was MK Asante, who rapped stories from his best-selling memoir Buck (published by Random House) about growing up on Philadelphia’s tough-luck streets, to find his place now as a professor of creative writing at Morgan State University.

MK Asante

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Sarah Plum Plays New Works at Spectrum

by Nick Stubblefield

Sarah Plum

Stepping into Spectrum in Lower Manhattan is like stepping into a modern-day composer's living room. CDs line one wall, books the other. There are plenty of comfy couches, and even a dedicated beer fridge. It's worth seeing a show there just to say that you have. 

Last week, violinist Sarah Plum stopped by Spectrum and performed a set of recent works, with a little aid from a pianist and a computer. Plum demonstrated her dedication to precise and thoughtful playing right from the get-go with Andrew List's "Suite for Solo Violin" (2001). It was atonal, sometimes jarring, but often thought-provoking. Intended as an homage to the Russian Futurism movement, it set a bleak musical tone for the evening. 

Sidney Corbett's "Archipel Chagall 1" (1998) and Christopher Adler's "Violin Concerto" (2014) each offered additional showcases for Ms. Plum's abilities. Extended techniques, harmonics, and occasional pizzicato were scattered throughout: it seemed that the notes that weren't played were almost as important as the ones that were. No ferocious Vivaldi-like violin runs here, but rather music that was a bit more contemplative and harder to chew. 

Pianist Francine Kay joined Plum for Bela Bartok's Piano Sonata No. 2. Unquestionably the highest point of energy in the program, the work builds beautifully from its folksy motifs into an explosion of heavy, strained violin riffs. The piece, completed in 1922, far pre-dates anything you might call rock music, but there were sections towards the end I was certain sounded like power chords from an electric guitar. 

The program ended with the highly entertaining "Il Prete Rosso" (2004) by Charles Nichols, with live recording and looping effects that played back through surround-sound speakers. The result was hypnotic and mesmerizing. 


Jeremy Loops at Brooklyn Bowl

by Steven Pisano

Jeremy Loops, City WineryLast Friday, Jeremy Loops played Brooklyn Bowl on the final night of a U.S. tour aimed at introducing this South African folk singer from Cape Town to American ears. Over the last few years, Loops has garnered a solid reputation in his homeland as a first-rate live act, earning him invitations to several worldwide festivals.

Loops isn't Jeremy's real surname, but a stage name he adopted based on his use of a loop pedal board to create layers of sound as a one-man band. Loops creates a beat with his mouth, plays it back through the loop pedal, then layers on top a chorus, harmonica and guitar - all of which plays under his own distinctive singing. This DIY approach was developed over the course of a number of years working on yachts in the Mediterranean after graduating university, alone in his cabin, creating his own musical world on the high seas.

These days, Loops plays regularly with two other musicians from South Africa, rapper Motheo Moleko and saxophonist Jamie Faull, so he technically doesn’t need to use the loop board to make it sound as if he has a full band. But, he still uses it to build a rich layered sound, recording samples from his bandmates and adding them into the mix. At this show, they were also joined by Mr Sakitumi on electric bass. (I couldn’t tell if that was his real name or a play on the old “Laugh-In” line, “Sock it to me.”)

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Rhett Miller at City Winery

by Steve Danielssonrhett miller, city winery

Last week, Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller came to City Winery to celebrate the release of his newest album “The Traveler." Miller recorded the album last year in Portland with members of Black Prairie, who have an eclectic energy and sound that perfectly complements Miller’s songwriting style.  On this evening, Rhett performed a solo set featuring songs from the new record as well as fan favorites from Old 97's.

Armed only with his Gibson Jumbo and a microphone, Miller has the ability to capture an audience and keep them locked in all night. He played with the unbridled enthusiasm of a young singer-songwriter just making his mark on the scene, but as he reminded us, “we’ve been doing it longer than you’ve been alive, twenty good years of about twenty-five.” Maybe it’s the Rhett Miller Cabernet available at City Winery that keeps this lifelong rocker ageless, or all of the whiskey he likes to sing about.

You can tell the mark of a great songwriter when longtime fans are most excited to hear the newest tracks, and are already singing along. “Fair Enough,” seemed to echo an all-too familiar thought: “A little would suffice, but me, I want too much.”  Couples sipped wine and cuddled up close during “Question,” a fan favorite telling the story of a couple embarking on an engagement.  In classic alt-country style, Miller followed up with “Wish The Worst,” a tale of a broken hearted man begging all the world’s misery on the one he loves who doesn’t seem to love him back.

Miller will be on the road this summer and fall performing with The Old 97’s, but be on the lookout for a return to City Winery before the end of the year.