field report no.110916

SUBJECT: Zeena Parkins

Jazz harpists are rare. Avant-minded, free-improv ones are scarcer yet. Being all of the above, Zeena Parkins has made herself veritable fixture of the downtown NYC improv scene for decades—appearing on hundreds of records and a player titans like John Zorn, Fred Frith and Elliott Sharp frequently trust. The number of sides she's led is a (relatively) small clutch of those, but a few of those records have grown into touchstone documents for me—Nightmare AlleyThe Adorables and virtually anything by Phantom Orchard.

Disappointingly, I've only managed to see her live a handful of times since I came to NYC. Luckily though, this night was two sets. First up was a solo set. Even though she wasn't playing her trademark electric harp, the performance was by no means traditional: she filtered her classical harp through delays, and filters to expand and distort its presence. The second set was a new group she'd assembled, Green Dome, featuring a percussionist and a pianist / electrician. The joys of each set were unique. There's a certain austerity and poise to her solo sets, while In group settings, she swings (albeit, unconventionally) and is granted more space to make a much broader, gestural performance.

NOTES: Zeena Parkins solo; Green Dome: ZP, Ryan Ross Smith, Ryan Sawyer

field report no.091616

SUBJECT: Ikue Mori

If you explore much in John Zorn's ever-growing musical kingdom, you are bound to come across Ikue Mori. Her imp improvisational electronics features on dozens more by other artists. Her utterly unique style of adds depth and mystery to any ensemble. She's an artist with a very identifiable palette but is still a responsive partner.

Of late, Mori's been honing a visual art accompaniment to her work. The first half of the night featured one of her recent works, Pomegranate Seed, a hallucinogenic take on Nathaniel Hawthorne's story from the Tanglewood Tales. The vibrant, multi-layered visuals were great steps beyond what I had seen from her just a couple of years ago: much more sophisticated and engaging. It's a pleasure to her her solo, too—pushing the dense abstraction of her style to the fore.

The second set was the debut of Mori's new quartet, Obelisk. Here she's drawing on a deep stable of players she regularly collaborates with. They deftly coaxed melodies out of Mori's abstractions, but never in an overly song-like way. Instead they approach it crab-wise, casting a semblance of form with intimations and shadows around the edges.

NOTES: Pomegranate Seed: Ikue Moir, electronics, projections; Obelisk Quartet: Ikue Mori, Sylvie Courvosier, Okkyung Lee, Jim Black

field report no.091416

SUBJECT: Suzanne Ciani

You know a show is buzz-worthy when it sells out Roulette. The venue is appealingly large for it's avant garde mission. Suzanne Ciani has earned her hype: she is an early buchla synth pioneer, and this was her first NYC performance in decades. Some recent archival releases have reconnected her with an analog synth revival spilling over into the mainstream (check out her new, cross-generational duo record with wunderkind Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith). Of course, the shear number of kids now coaxing musical squiggles out of boxes and cables puts Ciani's music in a much more more powerful microscope. Synths swells and arpeggiator pulses haven't sounded alien for some time now.

By looking at it, the buchla synthesizer is an unruly beast; neither simple nor intuitive. The audience was given a unique window into it's inner workings through a camera, mounted on a chest harness, projecting her perspective on a screen above, in real-time. It's a simple concept that gives us a chance to see her tinkering as skillful instead of mysterious. With decades of experience with this peculiar instrument, she's readily shows a musical flair, and not just a display of technique. 

NOTES: Suzanne Cianni; E. Indigo / Antenes

field report no.060616


It feels petty to say it, but my first impression of Tigue was sullied by their naif-hippie presentation. They strolled onto stage wearing day-glo pants with mismatched socks and vests amateurishly adorned with spirals of yarn. Don't misunderstand, I can totally appreciate a desire to subvert the concert hall's formal paradigm, but as a rebellion this seemed half-baked and trite.

After overcoming my initial reaction, Tigue's music was quite enjoyable. It was surprisingly diverse (for a percussion trio). Triangle, with vibraphones and featuring two guest bassists, came off sounding like vintage Tortoise. Quilts could pass fora remix of Steve Reich's Four Organs, with the droning keys underpinning intricate, phasing percussion patterns, while a maraca incessantly kept time. One piece involved a bit of abstract theater as one performer tried to deflate a mound of puffed-up trash bags as quickly as possible while the other two contributed intermittent drum interjections.

Roulette, as a not-for-profit arts org, offers memberships which include 'all-access' passes. It makes giving something like Tigue a try, very low risk. It feels like a free show (even if, technically, you paid for it in advance). It doesn't hurt that Roulette is now practically down the street from me… Given all that, Tigue was a welcome discovery. 

NOTES: Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, Carson Moody: percussion, organ, props;

field report no.050416

SUBJECT: Jonathan Franzen & Myra Melford

I only mention that I came to this show on invitation as, before this night, I hadn't read anything by Jonathan Franzen or listened to anything by Myra Melford. That said, the evening held promise. If you were to ask me at this remove, I'm far more likely to look into the pianist's work than the author's. Of course, I tend have a fairly harsh take on modern literature, so, you know, grain of salt (and all).

In the billing, Melford talked of her inspiration by a wide variety of art, beyond music—a statement bolstered by the fact that half of the scores Melford played from were accompanied by prints of abstract art on her music stand. In practice this meant the evening alternated between short readings and solo piano works. The conceptual connections between the two were tenuous; maybe if we knew the titles of the works…

Franzen's readings reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson movies: works that aspired for abstraction but were far too infatuated grand meaning and closure. It ends up feeling like pop entertainment trying to pass itself off as deep—or worse yet, the work of someone who's believed their own hype.

While Franzen's writing is pop with aspirations of something greater, Melford's is abstract without forgetting its populist, blues roots. As fragmented as her improvisations could be, thanks to her boogie-fixated left hand, I never lost track of the melody.

NOTES: Jonathan Franzen. Myra Melford.
PRESENT: AMS, Angela F., Jared E., Jen S.

field report no.010616

SUBJECT: Tomeka Reid Quartet

These are all advanced, modern jazz players (no retro-fetishists)—but given that, they still roll with a heavy sense of classical swing. They evoke a feeling of chamber jazz as well, arranging the group as a string trio bolstered by percussion (with guitar replacing the violin).

Mary Halvorson held the floor (and attention) the most. She has an uncanny ability to shift between stylistic references and dynamics within a single line—finishing a run of delicate, rapid chiming notes of complicated fingering with a bluesy hammering on a single open string. Fujiwara grounded the classical feel with a steady backbeat and a sepia-toned palette, heavy on splashy cymbals and rimshots. As the leader (and writer of many of the numbers), Tomeka Reid served the songs over showboating, often bowing her cello, drawing the melodic core out of the songs. Her solos, though not fierce, were often abstract and striking.

The song, Wabash Ave—not featured on their first, self-titled LP—was a raucous closer, filled with slippery tempos. The last solo was given over to Fujiwara who ran for all he was worth, showing an impressive dexterity and melodicism on his kit.

NOTES: Tomeka Reid, cello; Mary Halvorson, guitar; Jason Roebke, bass; Tomas Fujiwara, drums.