barbes, Brooklyn, 16 October 2007
Ah, sweet residency. It used to be all about Wayne Krantz for me... my entire musicgoing life seemed to revolve around setting myself up to be at 55 Bar on a Thursday night. Although I do not nearly get out as much as I did back in those glory years, Jenny Scheinman, Tuesday evenings in Brooklyn are nearing that kind of spot on my calendar, the kind of thing that just tickles my pickle. So, when it looked like there would actually be a night on the town for me this week, there was no doubt that it would have to be on Tuesday and that all roads would go through Barbes in Park Slope.
This would be my third occasion this calendar year (see dis and dat for background reading) and it's a darn shame I can't get there more often. This week's happening was more of the same incredibleness line-up wise as Jenny had coaxed the incomparable Greg Cohen to play bass for her and two longtime guitar collaborators: Adam Levy and Steve Cardenas. Cohen is "in the conversation" if you know what I mean and really lifted last night's gig to another level.
Scheinman started off the night by saying something about how it was the first time that group of people had played together. I think that's almost always the way with these Tuesday night gigs, the thing that makes them so special YouTube is stocked with cool spots of musicians rehearsing their shit, in-studio tinkering, backstage impromptu duets and the like... we all dig this stuff, no doubt, it's fun to watch... it's even better to watch unfold on stage and every time Jenny Scheinman lumps together some of her friends in the back room of Barbes, it's almost always a brand new page in a brand new book. Some of the stock characters perpetuate, but the plot twists and interactive dialogue are always on-the-spot and always fresh and exciting.
They started off with some Gershwin and dabbled on more than one occasion with some Django pieces and filled in the rest with some magnificent originals, old and new. I've seen Jenny plenty and last night she was as limber and joyful as I've heard her. Some sort of combination of the people and the crowd and I don't know what seemed to infiltrate the musicians with a giddy temper and the mod flowed through the music like sap through a tree. It was loose, but a certain chemistry pervaded. Jenny had a real rapport with both guitar players who have a somewhat similar style. But the intimacy was a of a different level for each -- with Cardenas it felt more like a flirtatious playing of footsie under the table, their notes delicately tiptoeing around each other, building an atmosphere subtly; with Levy it was more like their playing was giving big bear hugs to each other: their music knows each other so well the notes and chords seem to joke around like old friends.
It was really Cohen that made it all stick together, though. It's sometimes sad to watch someone so masterful play music from that intimate proximity -- it makes you realize how so many other musicians you hold in high regard are inferior. Cohen is a musical Don Juan that makes sweet love to whomever he's sharing the stage with. Without flash or attention grabbing Mr GC just knew what to do and most importantly how to do it. There was a moment early on, it may have been that mournful opening Gershwin number when the song was drawing to a close and Greg instinctively pulled out his bow to close out the tune. It was barely a measure of music when he was playing it like that, but it was almost so perfectly placed and timed and played with such perfect emotion that it nonetheless gave me the chills. There were many moments like that.
Oh, yeah, and Jenny kicked ass as well. In fact, just going by her playing alone, I don't think I've seen better output from her like ever. There were some flabbergastingly sweet stretches -- maybe you'd call them solos -- the kind of playing that kind of "oofs" you in your seat. In short, awesome.
I really like the vest.
They took a short break to put the air conditioning on for a few secs and recollect their thoughts. When the band came back they were in full-on loosey-goosey mode, like they had just shared a monster spliff or something, although I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case. The music took it up a notch and just when things were clicking in the next-level category, the clock struck that hour and the room needed to be cleared for the late set. At this point I'd normally be thinking that a few more gigs together and they'll really be otherworldy. But with Scheinman and crew, next time will be someones different and this night will probably exist only in the moment. As it should be.
Zebulon, Brooklyn, 16 October 2007
The second part of my night brought me up to Williamsburg to Zebulon. For those keeping tack at home, Zebulon :Williamsburg::Barbes:Park Slope. Great room and the second of the "suggested donation" hat passing ticket variety. Nothing like deciding what the music is worth after hearing it. The music was Circuitbreaker, and I'd say it was worth a shekel or two. Circuitbreaker is Rashanim's Jon Madof's new ensemble and it's a shame that you don't know who Rashanim are because they are high on my list of underappreciated heavy hitters in the tri-state area of any religious persuastion. But never mind about that, because the principal players in that band -- Madof on guitar+ Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on badder-than-bad electric bass and Matthias Kunzli on drums -- are the nucleus of something that's equally as exciting.
The new band adds some sax and keys, a second drummer and two distinctive percussionists to create a big rock-funk-flipped out fusion that's both nothing new and yet pretty wonderful nonetheless. I'd compare them to Electric Masada, but you probably don't listen to them either althouh why the fuck don't you listen to them, like best band ever, possibly (probably?). Anyway, Circuitbreaker is kind of like a baby Electric Masada... which is to say a sweeter, kinder, softer-skinned , cuddlier version. While the talent couldn't possibly compete (yet, at least), they make up for it with a pure combination of viciousness and listenability. This band can rip to shreds, but they won't lose you at any moment.
So, the sound is a heady ratatoiulle of electric Miles, mid 70's Santana, Fela Kuti et al -- that is, deep afrobeat-inspired, funked up dance-and/or-wig-out music... all this, I should add, making do with very little of the Jewish/Masada vibe that Rashanim pulls off quite nicely. Madof brings to it his own version of improv-directing that John Zorn either invented or perfected or both. This was the weaker portion of the show in my opinion -- not something to discard, but to be filed under "needs improvement." They started off grooving and Jon kind of directed traffic ably, but it somewhat stifled the final product a bit. As things went on, he loosened up, the band tightened and they were able to just feel the groove without too much direction whatsoever. By the end they were do-no-wrong territory and you could just feel the potential potent sickness of the thing. There is very little in the way of fresh, new high level jam music being made these days and Circuitbreaker might just have the goods.
The magic weapon to me is Blumenkranz who is a player through and through. Last time I saw him, he was crafting beautiful magic out of some Zorn Masada pieces. Tuesday night he was all about the nasty filthy electricity on the bass guitar. Goodness me, that's some deep, dark shit he was playing. Madof was gracious all around, giving plenty of room to his bandmates who range from adequate filler material to definite keepers. But when the time came and the music needed to enter take-no-prisoners mode, he didn't hesitate to lock in and just flat-out shred.
I highly recommend checking these guys out should they start gigging at all regularly... which is something I would hope they will do -- think about a residency, folks, a weekly gig would do everyone a world of good. Just ask Jenny Scheinman.
17 October 2007