Monday, March 31, 2014

Recent Shows & Records - The Return of The Clientele, (Not) Bloodcount, Tzadik Acquisitions

The Clientele (Chickfactor 22 @ The Bell House)
Although they conjure images of London like no other band, I also associate The Clientele's music with New York. They were in my headphones a lot when I first came to the city, and even though I assume they were referring to the street in London, I can't walk down "Delancey Street at night" without thinking of "Joseph Cornell". That song was part of the setlist for their first U.S. show in years, at The Bell House on March 21st. The band, playing in their original trio configuration, seemed slightly shaky at first and were briefly hampered by a vocal-deficient sound mix. As the mix was corrected and the crowd started responding enthusiastically, front man Alasdair MacLean visibly and audibly gained confidence and the music took off, taking the audience with it. We were all reminded that the immersive sound world created by MacLean's voice and guitar (applying Spanish/classical means to psychedelic ends) and the James Hornsey-Mark Keen rhythm section was not just a studio creation but something that was alive and in the room.

The band seemed surprised at the reception, and I noticed a glance from MacLean to Keen that seemed to say, "Can you believe this?". You can hear and see some of this in this video of "Reflections After Jane". I think it was after this song that MacLean joked about how nostalgic the audience must be. Although the set was made up largely of material from the band's first few albums, early singles, and EPs, the later "Here Comes The Phantom" received one of the biggest reactions of the night. Based on the way it hit me, I suspect the springtime feeling of the song connected with the winter-weary New York audience. All in all, this was one of the most moving and satisfying shows I've seen lately, with the clear sense of a band and audience exchanging positive energy. Whether or not MacLean, Keen and Hornsey are inspired to write and record more Clientele music (MacLean's current project, Amor de Dias, is quite excellent and I was disappointed to have missed their opening set the previous night), this set left no doubt that they've created a sound and a body of work that continues to have meaning and find an audience. To me, these three musicians are too good together not to continue collaborating in some fashion. They play the Merge 25 festival in North Carolina this summer (I'm tempted to make the trip), and I look forward to seeing what happens after that.

(To get a better idea of what went down at The Bell House, I recommend this piece.)

Not Bloodcount @ The Stone
Another reunion show (of sorts) happened at The Stone last week, at the beginning of Jim Black's weeklong residency, featuring the members of Tim Berne's influential quartet Bloodcount (Black, Berne, Chris Speed and Michael Formanek) playing as Not Bloodcount. In an interview on Jeremiah Cymerman's 5049 podcast, Black seemed to suggest that the billing had something to do with Berne's reluctance to revisit old projects, but it could also be taken as a simple acknowledgment that they were not going to be playing Berne's Bloodcount compositions. The set was, as far as I could tell, wholly improvised, but they inevitably hit on some themes and grooves that recalled the Bloodcount sound (which, I must admit, I only know from records) and their shared experience showed in the seemingly effortless way Berne and Speed harmonized and supported each other's parts, Black and Formanek locked into rhythmic patterns that slowly developed or emerged out of nowhere, and the group collectively structured their long improvisations into coherent forms. Formanek seems to play a linchpin role in any band I see him in, and I come away more impressed each time. I saw his big band play a memorable show at Shapeshifter Lab last year, and I hope some of that music makes it onto record.

Various Tzadiks
I took advantage of Downtown Music Gallery's recent Tzadik sale to pick up a bunch of discs released on John Zorn's label. The amount and quality of music that is continually being released on Tzadik is rather incredible, and the packaging defies the conventional wisdom that the CD is a dying, disposable format. Zorn has worked with and released music by some of my favorite guitarists, including Bill Frisell and Robert Quine (lately I've been enjoying The Gnostic Preludes and Silent Comedy with Frisell and Tears of Ecstasy with Quine), but the common thread in the albums I've enjoyed most from this recent haul is Marc Ribot. Asmodeus, part of the already voluminous and still growing Masada series, features Ribot in a trio with Trevor Dunn on bass and G. Calvin Weston on drums. I hope this album has gained some kind of reputation among guitarists since it came out in 2007, because it contains some of the most intense, insane rock/free/whatever playing I've ever heard. Ipos, a Masada album from The Dreamers, is a more stylistically diverse and less intense effort, though the album's deliberate mix of genres serves as a showcase for Ribot's ability to sound idiomatically masterful and yet absolutely individual in a wide range of styles. At the Mountains of Madness, a double live album by Electric Masada, is the only one of the three discs I've mentioned that features Zorn on sax, but here too Ribot is in the spotlight, alchemizing Zorn's Masada language into living, improvisational fire.

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