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December 2007

Bowery Big Band

Dsc01671You don't expect composer-bandleaders to show up for gigs wearing brown hoodies and jeans, but that's how Darcy James Argue showed up Sunday night at the Bowery Poetry Club to lead an emphatic, challenging, and ultimately triumphant performance by his self-styled Secret Society big band. Many of you in New York know Darcy from his popular blog on the New York music scene, but he is first and foremost a talent of the first order, already on a par with his mentors Maria Schneider and John Hollenbeck.

Dsc01679_2The whole venture defies belief: Argue, who doesn't look a day over 25, composed or arranged all of the works on the diverse, two-hour set. He works within a traditional jazz idiom, but incorporates elements of rock, minimalism and electronic music to create a wholly new and unique sound. As if that weren't enough, he somehow managed to put together a band of eighteen musicians, resulting in some rocking solos and soaring unisons in no need of amplification.

Dsc01678Several of Darcy's compositions ("Habeas Corpus", "The Perils of Empire") had menacing overtones, which he drove home with some hard-hitting political commentary from the stage. Others, like "Induction Effect" or "Phobos", were more spectral, which Darcy said were meant to "confuse us." My personal favorite, "Transit", was inspired by his move to New York, and is an aural picture of the city: the rumble of the subway, the hustle on Fifth Avenue, the bright lights of Times Square. It literally made me tingle from head to toe.

Darcy's bringing the Society north of the border through the new year, stopping by the acclaimed IAJE Conference in Toronto on Jan. 10th. In April, he'll have a new composition performed by members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic at the Brooklyn Museum; details to follow.


Beethoven's 237th

BeethovenBeethoven was (probably) born on this day in 1770. WNYC's Overnight Music is celebrating by playing all nine symphonies in a row; you can catch the webstream here. (They're on the Eroica right now.) Later tonight, they will conclude their survey of the 32 piano sonatas; you can leave suggestions here. For me, Beethoven was, and always will be, it.


(Much)More Than You'd Expect

Photo_121307_002_2 Composers aren't supposed to have mohawks. Or tattoos. Or play cello. But Pat Muchmore had/did all three last night, at a concert of his music by convention-busting new music group Anti-Social Music, which Muchmore helped co-found back in 2001. This was my fourth ASM concert, and they've all been hoots: one was a "CD release kegger" held in a gallery on 42nd St; another, at BAM Cafe, erupted into near-anarchy after some of their fans started talking back to the stagehands.

Last night's show was deep in the bowels of the Ukrainian National Home: a turn-of-the-century banquet hall in the East Village whichPhoto_121307_004 got an unfortunate update sometime in the 60's, complete with wood paneling and cheap brass lamps. Audience members sat at folding tables and drank from Dixie cups. A throbbing beat from an upstairs dancehall threatened to overpower the musicians. But, add on a 24 oz. Obolon beer and the Ukrainian platter (a massive plate of stuffed cabbage, sausage, pirogies and kasha), and you've got all the makings of a brilliant evening. Besides, what do you expect for a $4.99 cover?

ASM strictly adheres to an indie ethos: there are no programs, no stage, no special lighting. The friendly, sarcastic audience shouts things like "Boring!" when players take too long to warm up, or "Freebird!" in between movements. The musicians - including accordionist Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady and sax player Ken Thomson of Gutbucket and Bang on a Can - absolutely refuse to take themselves seriously, and are often less-than-sober by the end of the night. It's all very charming. refreshing, and just a little bit geeky.

Photo_121307_008Muchmore's music feels more like punk than classical: string players sawed away relentlessly and brass players turned beet red. Some of the pieces had conventional titles ("String Quartet No. 2") while others had names that were...well, unprintable. (Muchmore is working on a PhD thesis called: "Humanity and Mechanicity in the Music of nine inch nails") There was even a "world premiere" on the program: a piece for trombone and iPod, commissioned and performed by Californian Jen Baker. In most of the selections, there were occasional moments of brilliance, but Muchmore couldn't quite sustain them, eventually reverting to a kind of aggressive, grating noise. Still, his music is face-forward and fun - not to mention he's by far the most down-to-earth composer I've met, the kind of guy you'd shoot a round of pool with at your local pub.

No word on when or where the next ASM show will be, but you can bet there'll be a bar close by.


Miami Music

Dsc01565My friend Liz and I spent this past weekend at the sixth annual Art Basel Miami Beach, which, with it's more than 20 satellite fairs, has grown into the largest art event in the world. Among the thousands of works of art, we saw a sound installation at the Rubell Collection called "Geist Ueber Materie" ("Mind Over Matter"), which happened to be the first thing I saw after learning of Stockhausen's death. At the Art Positions, a set of shipping containers converted into miniature gallery spaces, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard set up Silent Sound: a dark listening chamber with a recording of an orchestral score by J. Spaceman of Spiritualized, meant to replicate the aural experience of a live performance. At the main fair, there were numerous paintings and sculptures that incorporated musical themes. Dsc01648

Dsc01651There was also an almost-endless lineup of parties with live musical acts. Friday night, I saw reggae acts playing in empty lots and rock bands playing in shop windows and street corners. On Saturday, we settled on the F*ck Art Let's Dance party at the Pawn Shop Lounge, across from the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. Danny Krivit spun old school house inside, while headliners Japanther ended up playing in the middle of a frenetic mosh pit, frequently crashing into singer Ian Vanek's drumkit. Fun times.

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