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Calexico and Gaby Moreno at Bowery Ballroom

by Steven Pisano

calexico "Bowery Ballroom"The Arizona-based band Calexico was in the city on Sunday and Monday nights at the Bowery Ballroom as the last stop of a US tour before jetting off to Europe for much of this summer. Many of the songs they performed were from their most recent full-length album, Edge of the Sun, but over the course of the set they delved back into their early albums as well, all of which have been received well critically.

Calexico has been around for 20 years now, and they remain true to their Southwestern sound, a mix of indie rock, mariachi, norteno, and Latin jazz, depending on the mood of any one song. Band leaders Joey Burns and John Convertino have been supported by different musicians over the years, and the current line-up is first rate, lending support on steel guitar, baritone guitar, ukulele, double bass, piano, accordion, and trumpets. Not to mention cow bells, tambourines, and assorted other percussion.

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Coffee Conversation: Kronos Quartet's David Harrington

David Harrington, Big Ears FestivalFor anyone who cares at all about the living art of music, there is no more vital institution than the Kronos Quartet. Since their founding 41 years ago, this indefatigable quartet has commissioned more than 850 works and has performed more than 8,000 concerts around the globe. 

Kronos is in NYC this week for a pair of shows, including Mary Koyoumdjian's Silent Cranes at Roulette tomorrow (5/12) - part of their Under 30 project - and a collaboration with the students of Face the Music - including a world premiere triple quartet by Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen - at the Queens New Music Festival on Wednesday (5/13).

Somewhere in between the Kronos Quartet's seven performances at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville back in March, I had the chance to grab founder and artistic director David Harrington to talk a bit about Kronos' legacy, as well as some of the exciting things on the horizon. Chief among these is their ambitious Fifty for the Future project for Carnegie Hall, in which they will commission no fewer than fifty new works over the next five seasons. Excerpts from our conversation below.

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Omar Sosa at BRIC House

by Steven Pisano 

Omar Sosa at BRIC, Brooklyn, piano

With Cuba increasingly on people’s minds as access to that magical island becomes easier for Americans to travel to, Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa and his Quarteto Afrocubano attracted an eclectic audience to its show last week at the newish digs of the BRIC Arts | Media House. Opened in 2013, BRIC House is an impressive facility nestled in Fort Greene near other institutions like BAM, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Theatre for a New Audience. If you haven’t been there yet - as I had not - you should check it out. (We were also there for So Percussion's performance this past Friday, part of the annual Look & Listen Festival.)

Sosa left Cuba back in the 1990s, living first in Ecuador before finding his way to the United States, and finally to his present base in Barcelona. His travels around the world, especially in South America and Africa, have helped to shape his music, adding flavors not heard in more traditional Afro-Cuban jazz. There is also a spiritual element to Sosa’s music that is based in his Santero religious beliefs, which grew out of Yoruban religious customs brought to the Caribbean by slaves centuries ago.

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New Music in the Tennessee Mountains: Big Ears Festival 2015

Tennessee Theatre, Big Ears Festival
KNOXVILLE, TN - It didn't take long after my arrival at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville last weekend for me to realize that this was no run-of-the-mill music festival. After picking up my wristband, I wandered next door to the landmark Tennessee Theatre, where the Kronos Quartet - this year's Artists-in-Residence - were finishing up their all-Terry Riley set with pipa master Wu Man. Then, in one of those magical moments that only seem possible at festivals, they were joined onstage by Riley and Laurie Anderson, each of whom told stories while Kronos improvised. Prior to that moment, I found out later, Riley and Anderson had never met in person, much less performed together. (Anderson was in town to perform Landfall with Kronos the following night.)

As I listened to Riley's rambling story about John Cage at a baseball game, I thought to myself: Where am I? How is it possible this is happening in a place not named New York, L.A., or San Francisco?

Turns out that Knoxville (pop. 180,000), aside from being home to the University of Tennessee and its 30,000 students and faculty, is also the home of AC Entertainment, best known as the co-producer of Bonnaroo in nearby Manchester, TN. AC Entertainment president Ashley Capps, who started Big Ears in 2009 (there was a hiatus from 2011-2013), applies the same basic formula here that he uses at Bonnaroo: pile together as much interesting, wow-inducing music as you can within a set amount of space and time in order to build a critical mass of energy and excitement. Add unannounced DJ sets, jam sessions, and a satellite festival, and you spin the whole thing into a wild frenzy.

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