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Julianna Barwick and ModernMedieval at the Ecstatic Music Festival

by Steven Pisano

20180419-DSC09597(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Since 2011, the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall has presented collaborative concerts by performers and composers in the alternative and classical music scenes. On Thursday, Julianna Barwick and ModernMedieval teamed up for a night of ethereally beautiful vocal music.

Barwick revealed in her on-stage interview with WNYC's John Schaefer that she came to her style of music after several failed attempts at traditional pop music, which left her bored and unfulfilled until somebody introduced her to a loop pedal. Actual words are besides the point in Barwick's gorgeous vocals, which are all about sound. At one point, Schaefer asked her about Meredith Monk, whom Barwick said she admired but who she only came to know after she had been singing her own way for quite some time. (Monk is in her mid 70s, Barwick in her late 30s.) Barwick's singing is dreamy, crystalline, and pure--as you might expect from the daughter of a Louisiana pastor who started singing in church--but it is not at all spacey or annoyingly precious like many New Age singers. There is something deeply sacred about the music, even in its secular-ness.

Barwick's set ended with "The Harbinger," one of the standout tracks from her 2013 album Nepenthe. Barwick recounted how she has performed this majestic song dozens of times with different groups of back-up singers, ranging from a group of 10-yr-old boys to a group of teenage girls, each time the performance taking on a slightly different character. At the same time, she said that her loop pedal has allowed her to perform it many times alone. (One can only imagine the "Hallelujah Chorus" performed with such a gadget.)

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"Africa Now!" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

DJ Black Coffee at Africa Now! at the Apollo TheaterThe sixth annual "Africa Now!" concert co-sponsored by the World Music Institute and the Apollo Theater was focused more on the electronic side of African music. The featured act in the first half brought together legendary drummer Tony Allen and techno wiz Jeff Mills, supported by keyboardist Jean-Philippe Dary. The Nigerian-born Allen is widely credited with establishing Afrobeat music back in the 1970s as part of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70. Paired with the Detroit-born Mills, the resulting set was a long improvisational groove that was at turns jazzy, Afrobeat, and techno - and always dreamy. A vibrant light show helped to engage the audience, since the musicians barely moved.

The second half of the show spotlighted the night's big draw, the internationally acclaimed DJ and record producer Black Coffee (Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo) from South Africa. The Apollo instantly changed from concert hall to dance club, with the entire house rising up from their seats and dancing. Basically it was house music with a South African flavor.

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Winter Jazzfest: Saturday Night Marathon

 By Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

Winter Jazzfest 2018 New School
Night two of the 2018 Winter Jazzfest Marathon began in the intimate fifth floor theater at The New School, where a crack team of trombonists were paying homage to the uniquely blithe and expressive spirit of Roswell Rudd. Art Baron honored Rudd's famously potent physical presence by "sanctifying" the room, facing each of the four walls and blessing them with little music segments, before launching into a sweet, genuine, plunger-and-pixie mute rendition of Ellington's "I Got it Bad". Brian Drye honored Rudd with his original "For Roswell", a gentle, folkish tune embellished with multiphonics and little mouth pops and swishes, ending with "Pannonica" (a nod to the Roswell Rudd/Steve Lacy recordings of Monk tunes). Josh Roseman's performance recalled some of his playing on his own "Treats for the Nightwalker", imbued with dubby wah's and hisses through a Harmon mute, and seemed to relate closely to Rudd's later work in the realm of world music.

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Winter Jazzfest 2018: Friday Night Marathon

By Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

DSC04246
New York is nothing if not a land of contrasts, so it was jarring if not totally surprising to slog through a warmer-than-usual rain storm on Friday’s Winter Jazzfest Marathon having just experienced a colder-than-usual near-sub-zero snowstorm only a week prior. However, New York is also full of tough natives and intrepid tourists, so no crowd was too deterred to pack and hop between the 11 venues (on the third of a record eight-day-long WJF) to see new configurations, old favorites and adventurous mixtures of the two on the first marathon night.    

Over at Zinc Bar, alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis was both riding and twisting a robust swing in trumpeter Josh Lawrence’s Color Theory, punctuating flowing melodic lines with wild zig-zags in unexpected directions at unexpected times. Propelled by drummer Anwar Marshall, bassist Luques Curtis and a rare Fender Rhodes/piano team of Zaccai Curtis and Orrin Evans, Lawrence’s beautiful and ambidextrous writing would alternate between gentle tippin’ and Blakeyesque group runs that would cluster around close harmony (sometimes on the same tune). One piece would have Lawrence and Curtis gently flicking specks of color on an orchestral canvas, then a faster one would show off Lawrence’s deftness as he carefully constructed, expanded and contracted melodic cells, all while never losing his mature, relaxed trumpet sound.

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