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April 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 3) with Margaret Leng Tan, ModernMedieval, Julianna Barwick, Patrick Zimmerli, Carla Kihlstedt and others, featuring premieres of new works by George Crumb, Suzanne Farrin, Kelly Moran, Jeremy Flower and Patrick Zimmerli (14th, 19th, 26th April)

1 Apr

During April, New York’s Ecstatic Music Festival comes to an end with its three final events. In the previous six concerts, we’ve seen (among other things) big band music, contemporary classical percussion, slam poetry, choirwork, experimental pop and progressive industrial metal. The closing three shows feature left-field jazz/classical/pop fusions, mix-and-match vocal ensemble music, and a finale of virtuoso contemporary classical piano (including toy piano).

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Jeremy Flower, John Hollenbeck, Ethan Iverson, Carla Kihlstedt, Christopher Tordini & Patrick Zimmerli: ‘Clockwork’ & ‘Songs of Mourning’
Saturday 14th April 2018, 7:30pm
– information here and here

“The evening begins with a celebration of the release of composer-saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli’s ‘Clockworks’, an hour-long jazz quartet suite and a musical meditation on time, in all its forms, performed by Zimmerli with former Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Christopher Tordini and composer-jazz drummer John Hollenbeck.

“In the evening’s second half, pop/art song composer-violinist-vocalist Carla Kihlstedt (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Rabbit Rabbit, Charming Hostess, Tin Hat, The Book of Knots, Causing a Tiger and others) and composer Jeremy Flower joins Zimmerli, Tordini and Hollenbeck for the world premiere of ‘Songs Of Mourning’, an exploration of sorrow ranging from the political to the personal, and other works from their cumulative pasts.”



 
ModernMedieval & Julianna Barwick
Thursday 19th April 2018, 7:30pm
– information here and here

“Some of the greatest voices in contemporary music come together! Julianna Barwick’s ethereal, powerfully emotive voice (usually layered on top of itself to stunning effect) is paired with three-member super-group ModernMedieval (celebrated performers of early music, featuring former Anonymous 4 founder Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek and Roomful of Teeth’s Martha Cluver and Eliza Bagg), ascending into a thrilling and truly ecstatic sonic world.

“Featuring premieres of new works by Barwick, Caleb Burhans (“New York’s mohawked Mozart” – ‘Time Out New York’), and Caroline Shaw (the youngest ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music).”



 
Margaret Leng Tan premieres George Crumb, Suzanne Farrin, & Kelly Moran
Thursday 26th April 2018, 7:30 pm
– information here and here

Margaret Leng Tan — the formidable doyenne of the avant-garde piano — has built a career on upending tradition, pushing her instrument into fresh, no-holds-barred sonic worlds,” raves the Washington Post. Tan gives the New York premiere of ‘Metamorphoses’, a major new work written for her by the seminal twentieth century composer George Crumb, for amplified piano, toy piano, percussion and voice. Metamorphoses is performed with Monica Duncan’s video projections, in which atmospheric visual textures complement the music.

“Tan will also premiere two new EMF-commissioned pieces by young composers responding to Cage and Crumb’s influence: a work for prepared piano by Kelly Moran, and a haunting new piece by 2017 Rome Prize winner Suzanne Farrin that acknowledges not only Crumb’s important contribution to American music, but, in Farrin’s words, “also Margaret Leng Tan’s special role as the artist who has brought the piano’s insides to life on stage.” Works by Toby Twining and John Cage round out the program.”



 
As with all the other EMF concerts, these will take place at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA.

Both the ModernMedieval/Julianna Barwick and the Margaret Leng Tan concerts are co-presentations with New Sounds Live: hosted by John Schaefer, they’ll be streamed live via the New Sounds homepage.

Same again next year?

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018

April/May 2018 – solo tours in Britain/Europe for Kavus Torabi and Cosmo Sheldrake (4th April to 24th May various, with guest appearances from I See Rivers, Paul Morricone, Bunty, V Ä L V E, Peaks, Arch Garrison, Madilan, Stephen Evens, Bovril, Redbus Noface and May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams)

25 Mar

It’s not exactly surprising that Kavus Torabi has finally gone solo. There’s too much hopeful, demanding inventiveness in him ever to submit entirely to the dynamics of a group, despite the fact that he’s currently got at least three on the go, most of them with him at the helm – the brassy lysergically-illuminated avant-pop of Knifeworld; the ritual instrumentalism of Guapo, and the cantering countercultural circus of Gong (transferred onto his lanky shoulders, history and all, following the 2015 death of Daevid Allen).

What’s more surprising is the direction he’s chosen for the first records under his own name (the new ‘Solar Divination’ EP and a full upcoming album for later in the year). A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations. It’s never mopey or lachrymose, thank goodness (even in Knifeworld or The Monsoon Bassoon, Kavus knew how to undercut joyous tootling with passing shadows without souring the milk) but these new songs are overcast with sombre vulnerability: the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.



 
Despite being a couple of decades younger than Kavus, Cosmo Sheldrake has been out on his own for a bit longer. It’s been four-and-a-half years since Cosmo put out anything as part of super-eclectic mongrel troupe Gentle Mystics, but during that time he’s been gently dabbing the release schedules with occasional singles, videos and EPs of his own. Earlier work brought some of the Mystics weird and charming vibe along with it: a homemade-toy, party-in-the-fairy-forest feeling, Cosmo lilting skewed nursery-rhyme verses over softly bouncing weaves of melody. In the videos, he came across as a generous digital troubadour on a set of meandering visitations, playing his lashed-up keyboards-and-tech assemblages for performances in model villages, truck beds, pigsties and fishing boats.

Byronic-looking but Branestawm-minded, Cosmo’s a shed-pop tinkerer and a baffling multi-instrumentalist with a mixed mystical/academic background. Part kid’s entertainer and part hippy-boffin, he has a shamanical nose for the margin between nonsense and connection. More recent efforts (trailing the imminent release of his debut album ‘The Much Much How How and I’) have seen chewier, pacier and poppier songs. The videos, meanwhile, have become an ingenious riot of increasingly theatrical, fantastical and sometimes macabre fabling in which foil monsters swim in canvas seas and giant fluffy headlice run amok. There’s a communal, childlike warmth to what he does: not perhaps a guileless wonder, but a sense of celebration, where fables and singalongs and misadventures become part of the accepted, useful junk with which we build our nests.



 
Kavus’ upcoming tour is a brief series of simmering April dots around England and Wales; Cosmo’s is a more leisurely, lengthy two-month loop, garlanding the British Isles and western Europe. They’re not sharing any shows, or even any venues. The only time they overlap in any respect is on the 25th of April, when they’re playing different but simultaneous one-man shows a stone’s throw apart in Bristol. It would be nice to think of them looking up midset on that one evening, peering across that city-central loop of the Avon, and nodding to each other. Not necessarily natural comrades but, in their way, parallel leywalkers. Each with a bit of Barrett in the back pocket, each with a peculiar charm of innocence, each with fingertips in the otherworldly and the mythic. The uncontainables…

Kavus’ tour also happens to be a chance to catch an intriguing spread of fellow musicians, reflecting the wide body of musical ideas and affinities he touches upon. While in Margate (squeezed into a former Victorian coach house transformed into the Japanese/Alpine cheese dream of a minature theatre), he lines up with two left-field folk acts: the organ-draped, ridge-walking green-chapel psychedelia of Arch Garrison and the mysterious brand-new “wonk-folk” of Bovril (featuring Tuung’s Mike Lindsay). In Birmingham, the bill sharer is Scaramanga Six songwriter Paul Morricone, providing gutsy acoustic songs of fear and brutality with lashing of dark Yorkshire humour. Paul and Kavus also reunite in York for the Tim Smith fundraiser Evening of Fadeless Splendour, alongside the off-kilter art rock of Redbus Noface and the sarcastic-bastard English songcraft of Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a. Stephen Evens).




 
On his Manchester date, Kavus will be supported by Peaks (Ben Forrester, formerly of shouty slacker-punk duo Bad Grammar and Manc math-rock supertrio Gug, now performing “loop-driven emo pop”). In London, it’ll be V Ä L V E – once an avant-garde solo project (full of belches and found sounds, situational scoring and sound-art jokes) for Kavus’ Knifeworld bandmate Chloe Herington, now an increasingly ubiquitous three-woman live trio (evolved and evolving into a warm-hearted feminist/Fluxus/Rock In Opposition massing of harps, bassoon, punk bass and singalong bunker-folk). In Leeds, Kavus plays the quiet support act in a free gig for tintinnabulating Sheffield post-metallers May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams (whose echoing tremstrumental pinings add a little magical shimmy to the usual doleful post-rock astronomy) and Bristolian experimental rockers Madilan (whose songs recall both the angst-shredded psychedelic night-journeys of Oceansize and also, in their spindly electronics and Autotuned vocal musing, post-Oceansize rocktronicists British Theatre).




 
In contrast, most of Cosmo’s dates are solo – possibly because once he’s unshipped his assorted instruments and gizmos (from euphoniums and banjos to loop pedals and pennywhistles), there’s not much room for anyone else in the dressing room. Nonetheless, support for eight of the European April dates comes from Liverpool-based Norwegian girl trio I See Rivers, who wed their outstanding and eerily resonant Scandinavian vocal harmonies, sunny dispositions and scanty guitar to their own balloon-light, touching folk-pop songs and to heart-thawing covers of Daughter (Medicine), George Ezra (Budapest), and Whitney Houston (‘80s wedding fave I Wanna Dance With Somebody).



 
For the London album launch for ‘The Much Much How How and I’, Cosmo and I See Rivers are joined by Bunty“multi-dimensional beat merchant and vocal juggler” Kassia Zermon. Also to be found fronting jazz/junk/folk trio Le Juki, co-fronting dub act Resonators, and co-running Brightonian experimental label Beatabet, Kassia’s run Bunty for years as a loopstation-based “one woman electro-orchestra” bolstered by her multi-instrumentalism and vivid imagination. Parallels with Cosmo are clear (the looping and beatboxing, a life blossoming with social art initiatives and therapeutic work beyond the entertainments) and she guests on one of the ‘Much Much’ tracks (very much an equal passing through, with a cheeky hug and a bit of upstaging), but her own vision is distinct. Giddier, jazzier, less directly English in its whimsy, with input from her Moroccan heritage and from her taste for Andy Kaufman; a slightly more cosmic playbox; imaginary languages; an undiluted Brightonian fabulosity.

Kassia’s last Bunty album, ‘Multimos’, was a pocket-sized multimedia event spanning apps, interactive AV, dream machines, audience choirs and gaming cues. Time and occasion will probably only allow a smidgin of that, this time around, but it’ll be a window onto her explosively colourful world.



 

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Kavus’ full tour dates:

 

Cosmo’s full tour dates:

  • More Human Than Human @ The Haunt, 10 Pool Valley, Brighton, BN1 1NJ, England, 4th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England, Thursday 5th April 2018, 7.30pm (album launch, with Bunty + I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Friday 6th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Headrow House, 19 The Headrow, LS1 6PU Leeds, Saturday 7th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Fluc + Fluc Wanne, Praterstern 5, 1020 Vienna, Austria, Austria, Monday 9th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Feierwerk, Hansastr. 39-41, 81373 Munich, Germany, Tuesday 10th April 2018, 7.30pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Artheater, Ehrenfeldgürtel 127, 50823 Cologne, Germany, Wednesday 11th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information
  • Molotow, Nobistor 14, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Lido, Cuvrystrasse 7, 10997 Berlin, Germany, Friday 13th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Paradiso, Weteringschans 6-8, 1017SG Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday 17th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Wednesday 25th April 2018, 7.30pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Ancienne Belgique, Anspachlaan 110, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Friday 27th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Ninkasi Gerland Kafé, 267 Rue Marcel Mérieux, 69007 Lyon, France, Wednesday 2nd May 2018, 8.30pm – information here
  • Point Éphémère, 200 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris, France, Thursday 3rd May 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Unplugged in Monti @ Black Market Art Gallery, Via Panisperna 101, Rione Monti, 00184 Rome, Italy, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Serraglio, Via Gualdo Priorato 5, 20134 Milan, Italy, Thursday 10th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Freakout Club, Via Emilio Zago, 7c, 40128 Bologna, Italy, Friday 11th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here
  • The Hug and Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Globe, 125 Albany Road, Cardiff, CF24 3PE, Wales, Wednesday 23rd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Plug, Sheffield, Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

March 2018 – upcoming London folk-plus gigs – MacGillivray, The Doomed Bird of Providence and Harpoon Group (20th March); India Electric Company (23rd March)

17 Mar

MacGillivray + The Doomed Bird of Providence + Harpoon Group, 20th March 2018

MacGillivray + The Doomed Bird of Providence + Harpoon Group
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 8:00pm
– information here and here

For anyone who missed MacGillivray‘s performance at the Antigen evening in Ipswich last night, she’s headlining again in London on March 20th, formally launching ‘Watermarked in Flame’ (her latest mini-album of scarily reworked traditional folk songs via “sea-wrecked electrics and salt-luck vocals”). For anyone who missed my summary prior to the Antigen show, here it is again.

“When she’s out and about playing music, writing or committing performance art, Kirsten Norrie goes by her ancestral Scottish name MacGillivray, pulling her matrilineal Highland heritage over her head like a mask. With many wannabe artists, this kind of method ends up as no more than an affectation: people short on colour, scraping at the bottom of the pot of history in a vain attempt to garner the last scraps of savour. With Kirsten, it’s different: if it’s a mask, it’s the kind that renders everyday matters and habits transparent, allowing her to express deeper and stranger ideas and fancies fervently. What emerges is startling. MacGillivray it is, then.

“Discovering her is a little like being startled by a slow-motion jack-in-the-box: she’s already got eight albums behind her, a couple of soundtracks and poetry collections, and a collaborator roster which bags a list of left-field folk musicians of all strands and odd definitions, including The Fall (yes, folk, really), The Pogues’ Jem Finer, Dead Rat Orchestra, Trembling Bells and Current 93. Her performance art involves powerful weird rituals – furiously smoking cigars in Sigmund Freud’s garden; conflating mediaeval stocks and death metal; eating chandelier glass in an abandoned shopping centre; carrying a dead sheep on a pilgrimage. As a musician (both recorder and performer), she’s similarly unnerving: experimenting with loudness and quietness via folk drones, piano, savagely distorted electric autoharp and vocal wails, but refusing to hide behind them. Slender, still and intense, she rules a stage, dragging up distressed ghosts and the aftermath of harsh laws and bare beliefs. On this occasion, she’ll be performing tracks from her forthcoming mini-album, ‘Watermarked in Flame’.”

Since I wrote that, ‘Watermarked in Flame’ has surfaced on Bandcamp and revealed itself as a superb live document (akin in certain respects – technological approach, transformative preoccupations and feminist undercurrents – to Kerry Andrew’s similar reinventions as You Are Wolf), in a variety of voicings from softly accessible to eldritch croons and stifled screeches, all filigreed by sparse and singular piano, lap steel guitar, harmonium or electric autoharp (plus some electric guitar apparitions from Primal Scream’s Henry Olsen).



 
Support comes from The Doomed Bird Of Providence (replacing Mark O’Pilkington & Michael J. York’s Strange Attractor/Coil spinoff, Teleplasmiste) and from Dead Rat Orchestra’s Robin Alderton ( under his Harpoon Group alias.

The Doomed Bird Of Providence was initially the vehicle for the dark songs of Australian émigré Mark Kluzek, who lurched from memories of baked red soil and the bleakest of Aussie colonial Gothic in 2011 with ‘Will Ever Pray’: comically grim and overwrought, it was enough to make Nick Cave sound as cuddly as Burl Ives, and was a furrowed coffin-moan too far, even for me. A second album, ‘Blind Mouths Eat’, arrived in 2013, in which Mark honed and solidified his compulsion to tell stark, painful accounts of cruelties and injustices at the ruthless edge of Victorian Empire.

Following a relocation from London to Manchester, ‘Burrowed Into The Soft Sky’ arrived in September 2017, displaying a shift from songs into twenty-minutes instrumental narratives. Rather than using words, Mark currently bears harsh witness to Australian history via the sifting, blaring reeds of his accordion and a shifting band including percussionist Ian Hothersall, Current 93 violinist Joolie Wood, Extreme Noise Terror bassist Stafford Glover and SOUP/Croft’s Drew Barker; its folk-drone rattle and far-adrift traditional melodies creating a subtly nightmarish, primeval, post-Godspeed depiction of hot sun, hard deeds and fraying roots.


 
As Harpoon Group, Robin Alderton performs in an arc of creaky audio technology – “Dansettes spinning dubplates, reel-to-reel recorders flailing, dictaphones dying, overdubbed cassettes and bust samplers”. Drawing on found sounds and fragmented antique recordings filtered through or played on these contraptions (and processing them his fine arts background), he endeavours to craft new collaged compositions in a spirit of benevolent, sympathetic audio necromancy, via “ideas of sound recording technology, nostalgia, memory and place – the processes of deterioration, and of the failure of (or grasp for) memory.” There’s not much on him so far, but I did dig up these two brief phone-filmed fragments from gigs in recent years.



 
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India Electric Company, 23rd March 2018

Nest Collective presents:
India Electric Company
The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, St Pancras, London, WC1N 1AZ, England
Friday 23rd March 2018, 6.30pm
– information here, here and here

Coming from an altogether less murky zone, singing multi-instrumental duo India Electric Company (Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe) perform at the Foundling Museum as part of their promotional jaunt for their ‘Seven Sisters’ album. Expect explosively emotive folk-pop, weaving in Irish and Eastern European content to spin out and enrich their songs.




 

March 2018 – upcoming London gigs of various kinds – folk-jazz and loop-tinted songcraft from Gabriela Eva and Yasmyn Hendrix (20th March); post-blues and wakeful dream-pop from Cavey and Moon Panda (26th March)

16 Mar

Woodburner presents:
Gabriela Eva + Yasmyn Hendrix
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here


 
On video, Gabriela Eva is a colourful explosion of appropriated and deftly spun images. In many respects she’s a tourist, but the kind who pulls off her acquisitive magpie business to perfection – a keen eye for the fabric she can repurpose, the hairstyle she can adapt, the body-paint or tattoo that can be repositioned. A globetrotter and a photographer’s darling even before she dropped her debut EP last month, she’s a natural at the subtly chameleonic star act; the dance of other people’s veils illuminated, assimilated and penetrated by her own charisma.

Gabriela Eva + Yazmyn Hendrix, 20th March 2018I’m hoping that this translates well to the stage once Gabriela’s tucked under the stairs at Servant Jazz Quarters – belatedly launching that selfsame EP, trapped behind her guitar without access to the self-edit suite, the quick-change boudoir screen and the magical boxes for makeup and jewels. That’s when it’ll either all fall apart or show its core roots. She doesn’t lack courage: previously part of Colchester duo Passive Passengers, she’s busked alone, braved the stage at Ronnie Scott’s and she’s certainly thrown her meme-anchors down (while “future organic” could mean bloody anything from cottage-industry world-changers to rich hippies with busy self-aggrandising Snapchat accounts, “driven, dyslexic, dreadlocked” is as good a packed’n’loaded personal tag as I’ve heard recently).

As for the music, there’s skipping rhythmic and harmonic footwork from jazz, some rhythmic echoes from hip hop, some party looseness from the breezier end of soul and R&B. You can trace your fingers through Gabriela’s songs and tease out strands from clear forebears – Erykah Badu, Astrid Gilberto, Van Morrison, Minnie Riperton (for her part, she claims Nina Simone, Little Dragon, Alanis Morrisette and Incubus) – yet her prime musical descent (probably through accidental parallels) seems to be Eva Abraham, the acoustic London jazzfolksoul luminary who, despite having boiled up cauldron after cauldron of superb transfigured rootsiness for twenty years now, seems doomed to remain a perpetual (though beloved) secret.

Setting aside the quick visual fix of a memorable video, though, that’s not a bad place to be, musically. Close your eyes and you’re still left with Gabriela’s rolling carpet of songcraft: just picking three, there’s her conversational, hip-hop storytelling cover of Estelle and Kanye’s American Boy, the airborne soul-jazz of Sailing Over The City and the twinkling Rise Up (heading that first EP – a light-touch groove salute to advance-and-reclaim, flickering through a clutch of delicate psychedelic changes and nodding to the short-lived but renewable hopes of the Arab spring).




 
In support is Yazmyn Hendrix, whom I last saw four-and-a-half years ago providing guest-vocal accompaniment to What?! (a long-dispersed jazz-rock trio). Nowaday’s she’s still most visible for further collaborations (with Euro-soul act Retrospective For Love and with jazz-rapper Mrisi) plus a smattering of Soundcloud cover versions (including Laura Mvula’s Green Gardens, John Legend’s All Of Me, Adele’s Chasing Pavements and Massive Attack’s Teardrop). By herself – armed with a microphone, a loop station, and assorted live percussion and beatboxing – she creates layered a capella choirs and vocal ensembles out of herself: either simple classic sounding pop songs, the cover versions mentioned above, or assorted vocalese experiments.


 
So far there’s not much direct evidence of the harnessed synaesthesia which Yazmyn claims shapes her music-making (and which means that she “associates each song, each word and each instrument with colours and textures”). Let’s assume that the full breakthrough in that direction is still working its way through development and caution, and that one day she’ll be giving us her own ear-boggling parallel to ‘Medúlla’ or ‘Starsailor’ or Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Capella’. Given her tunes-over-weirdness tastes, I’m guessing that we can rule out a head-to-head with Mike Patton in more tangled territory. For now, she stands as a capable one-woman Manhattan Transfer (or a sleepier, slowed-paced Grace McLean) for contemporary pop songs; and that’ll do in the short run.



 
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Cavey + Moon Panda, 26th March 2018

Decave Discovers presents:
Cavey + Moon Panda
The Waiting Room, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoek Newington, London, N16 0LH, England
Monday 26th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Young post-blues singer-guitarist Luke Cave – a.k.a. Cavey – is already known as half of stoner-fuzz rock duo Rad Frü. He’s already engaging in some solo wing-stretching, parking the Zep-happy Rad in favour of collaborating with Blaenavon bassist/producer Frank Wright, laying down songs with junior Wrecking Crews full of heavy-duty young session dudes. Not far out of his teens, it’s as if he’s trying to echo Robert Plant’s career development, while simultaneously crushing it down from fifty years to a mere decade.

Perhaps that’s a bit glib of me, as well as overstating the classic rock thing. Similarly, I’m not sure if he’s the same Luke Cave as the one who sprang (literally) from Nick Cave’s loins back in 1991, but even if he is, there’s not much trace of Cave the Elder here. Cavey himself cites Jim O’Rourke, T-Bone Walker, Hamilton Leithauser and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen as influences; and in his light-touch songs I can also hear a dash of Gomez. Here’s a live performance of his recent Living Room Parade single, plus the studio take of its predecessor Day And Night.



 
Born in Boston but currently London-based (and sporting members coming in from Denmark, Sweden and Scotland), dream pop band Moon Panda will inevitably always ring Californian, not least because of the sheer sun-kissed San Diegan beauty of frontwoman Maddy Myers. A blonde, delicately-freckled photographer’s dream on honeyslide vocals and soft dots of bass guitar, she probably finds this kind of objectivifying attention a damn nuisance. For one thing, it distracts from the thoughtful, intricate details of the songs she writes: just as there was always more to Stevie Nicks than posturing and chiffon, there’s more to Maddy than blank-canvas prettiness or swoony lashes.

Let’s be honest – most dream pop bands think it’s enough to deliver blank blocks of navel-gazing noise and dirty snowplough billows: retrodden, remasticated sub-Lushness. Moon Panda don’t. Their songs are constantly, carefully changing beasts: encapsulated within their yearning melodies and taffy-stretched hooks, they have finely honed choral a capella parts, strange and revelatory key changes, sudden pauses and unorthodox shifts of time and dynamic. As with Gustav Moltke’s carefully-placed, only-there-when-you-need-them tidal smooshes of guitar, Maddy’s keen awareness of structure – of spectral drama, of just how softly and subtly you can make a jump-cut work – has a tendency to shatter the mood from within with a hard-hook shift in rhythm and intensity.



 
The lyrics too, eschew the cough-syrup blankness and drunken, dissolved sensual dazes of the genre; in effect, avoiding its copouts. Instead, Moon Panda are dream pop on the verge of waking up, or of piecing together the dreamwork. Shades of vulnerability, disquiet and suspicion run through these words: I’m still processing them, in the way that one works over the puzzling gristle of a dream, but I’m suspecting that these are songs for the gaslit, the fearful, the unwittingly immured: that they’re the etchings of the beginnings of an escape kit. Their videos, too, have an awareness to them – the disassociative motion, fall and sleep-roll of severed doll parts, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Todd Haynes’ ‘Superstar’ and its Barbie-puppet retelling of the Karen Carpenter story; the road trip photography with its trapped, continuous-loop feel; Maddy’s own blank-faced ballet moves in which limbs stretch or a back twitches into restless determination.

It’s a shame that ‘Twin Peaks’ appears to be over and done now, and that Moon Panda are a year or two behind its production curve. In some respects they’d have made an ideal Roadhouse band. On the other hand, perhaps I’ve missed the point. Perhaps they wouldn’t have fitted the bill: not quite suited to the seamless and ominous cool, nor enigmatic enough for us to project our hungers, our apprehensions and confusions onto. From here, Moon Panda seem more like a measured curious hand rippling the waters or testing the surface of the mirror, fingertips uncovering and assessing what would otherwise been smoothed away. A band and a songwriter to keep a woken eye on, I think.
 

March 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 2) with Bent Knee, big dog little dog, Arone Dyer’s Dronechoir, Mahogany L. Browne, Glasser acoustic trio and Mantra Percussion (1st, 22nd, 29th March)

19 Feb

Over in New York, the Ecstatic Music Festival continues throughout March with three more concerts across a brace of Thursdays, criss-crossing contemporary classical percussion, slam poetry, choirwork, experimental pop and progressive industrial metal in a thrilling cross-genre splay.

Arone Dyer’s Dronechoir & Mahogany L. Browne
Thursday 1st March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Dronechoir is the latest innovation by Arone Dyer of Buke And Gase. Since February 2015 she has been examining dis/comfort within performance through a series of long-durational choral pieces, and has assembled a group of talented women from completely different musical backgrounds to engage in spontaneous performance that bridges the gaps between them.

“They’ll be joined by the celebrated poet and spoken word artist Mahogany L. Browne (Cave Canem Fellow and Programming Coordinator of Black Lives Matter Pratt @ Pratt Institute) for an evening of powerful vocal performances addressing Black Lives, gender equity and racial equality (featuring poets Imani Davis, Shanelle Gabriel and poet and singer Camonghne Felix).”






 
Glasser (acoustic trio) + big dog little dog
Thursday 22nd March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Glasser (aka Cameron Mesirow), known for her ethereal vocals and atmospheric electro-pop, will venture into fresh sonic territory with her new all-acoustic trio, which features multi-instrumentalist Robbie Lee and bassist Eleonore Oppenheim.

“They will be joined by big dog little dog, Eleanor’s new duo project with composer-violinist Jessie Montgomery. Each band will perform sets of their own material, then together they’ll premiere a new piece written for the Festival.”



 
Bent Knee & Mantra Percussion
Thursday 29th March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“The “silo-smashing” sextet Bent Knee “taps into chamber pop, industrial rock, metal and prog-rock” (‘Wall Street Journal’). This hard-hitting experimental Boston band comes together with the visionary, “superhuman” (‘Time Out New York’) Mantra Percussion for new works expanding their already enormous scope and sound. The two ensembles will perform separate sets and then come together to premiere a new work by Bent Knee that weaves influences from across the rock, pop and avant-garde spectrums into a seamless, thrilling whole.”

 
As with the previous month’s worth of EMF concerts, all of these will take place at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA.

If I was in New York, I’d see you there.

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018
 

February 2018 – upcoming London classical gigs – assorted songwork with London Composer’s Forum’s ‘Art Of The Song’ (2nd February), Mimi Doulton’s ‘Focus: Solo Voice’ (13 February); and ‘Songwriters of 2018’ (20th February)

18 Jan

Various vocally-slanted classical gigs for the coming month, with an emphasis on various kinds of songcraft.

* * * * * * * *

London Composer’s Forum presents:
Tea House Theatre, 139 Vauxhall Walk, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HL, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here, here and here

London Composers Forum: The Art Of Song, 2nd February 2018“In this concert London Composers Forum composers will explore the many and varied aspects of the art song, with solo and ensemble vocal pieces on a wide variety of themes accompanied by a chamber ensemble of wind and strings.”

“Vocal music, which may have begun as an accessory to the dance in remote antiquity, is probably the oldest branch of the art of music. At a later time, bards and troubadours developed the art to commemorate heroic exploits and heroes’ deaths, and minstrels, with their songs of love both innocent and erotic, contributed another genre. During the course of the twentieth century, with the assistance of broadcasting and the record industry, the art of song proliferated into many styles. There are good and bad examples in all of these, but on the whole, there has been a regrettable tendency to ignore the art and craftsmanship in the process.

“The aim of this venture is to write songs for an evening’s general entertainment and to demonstrate that the art of good song-writing never died. Nine musicians will provide the accompaniment to a variety of original and colourful songs, especially written for the occasion. Come, with your friends, and enjoy the music in the ambient atmosphere of the Tea House, where food will be served until 10pm and drinks until midnight. See you there!”

Among the works performed will be David Arditti’s ‘Chamber Music’ (a song cycle setting of James Joyce, sung by tenor Ezra Williams and now orchestrated for a larger chamber ensemble) and Laurence Glazier‘s ‘Smartphone Aria’. There will also be new songs by Denis Betro, Jane de Florez, Peter Openshaw, Pamela Slater, John Holland, Liz Sharma, Janet Oates and Philip Jones. No news on who, besides Ezra, is actually performing (although I’m reasonably sure that Jane de Florez will be singing her own material.)

A preview of Lawrence’s piece – and a few examples of previous songs from various contributors – are below…



 

* * * * * * * *

Another classical songwriter’s concert for February is here – this one’s a free admission event for anyone who’s got an early Tuesday afternoon available…

Borough New Music Series 5: Featured Composers, 20th February 2018

Borough New Music and 2021 Concerts present:
‘Featured Composers: Songwriters of 2018’
St. George the Martyr Church, Borough High Street, Borough, London, SE1 1JA, England
Tuesday 20 February 2018, 1.00pm
– free event – information here

Rasmus Zwicki and Robert Reid Allan (glockenspiel/melodica), Ben Smith (piano, glockenspiel/melodica), Siân Dicker (soprano), Mimi Doulton (soprano), Delphine Mégret (soprano) and Krystal Tunnicliffe (piano) are performing a set of songs composed over the last few years by contemporary composers born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (including Rasmus himself).

Programme:

Clare Elton – Escape
James Garner – Emily Dickinson Settings
Cecilia Livingston – Give Me Your Hand
Oscar Ridout – Élévation
Mo Zhao – Just Watching
Rasmus Zwicki – Fly Little Birdy

A couple of tastes…

 
* * * * * * * *

The above is part of Series 5, the latest set of lunchtime concerts from south London New Music promoters Borough New Music covering new and rarely-performed contemporary pieces. For part of this season, Borough Music have teamed up with 2021 Concerts (Mimi Doulton and fellow soprano Patricia Auchterlonie’s own concert series) for several performances focussing on the human voice, sometimes in odd combinations and juxtapositions with other instruments.

Mimi herself makes another appearance in the series, performing a series of vocal/song-pieces, one of which – Alex Gowan-Webster’s ‘Cantio Invocatione’ – is a world premiere. The rest, dating from the late 1970s to the late noughties (Judith Weir’s ‘King Harald’s Saga’, Stephen Barchan’s ‘Two Songs About Spiders’, Elliott Carter’s ‘La Musique’, Georges Aperghis’ ‘Récitations 1 & 8’ and Oliver Knussen’s ‘Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke’) are not.

Borough New Music and 2021 Concerts present:
‘Featured Instrument: The Voice’ (or “Focus: Solo Voice’)
St. George the Martyr Church, Borough High Street, Borough, London, SE1 1JA, England
Tuesday 13 February 2018, 1.00pm
– free event – information here and here

Borough New Music Series 5: Featured Instrument: The Voice’ (or “Focus: Solo Voice’), 13th February 2018

Some previous examples of the songs in the set…





 
* * * * * * * *

Other events in Series 5 this month are:

As with the two other Series 5 events, these are both free and take place at St. George the Martyr at 1.00pm.
 

January 2018 – assorted English and Scottish gigs – piano, soul, art pop and verbiage with Society of Friends, Blert Ademi, Soul Deep and a host of poets at the SOIF Soiree (London, 5th); cutting an altfolkrock swathe with a Trembling-Bells-flavoured show by Orion’s Belt, Tom Slatter and Marcus Doo (Glasgow, 6th); experimental pop with Snails, Edward Penfold and Eugene Capper/Rhodri Brooks (Bristol, 13th)

1 Jan

Starting off the New Year, there’s a diverse brace of upcoming shows dotted around the country… In London, there’s the Society Of Imaginary Friends’ monthly musicians’n’poets soiree (this month, one that’s particularly heavy on the poets). In Glasgow, there’s a “feast of psych and folk wonderment” linking the folkworlds around Trembling Bells and Alasdair Robert with arch proggy steampunk songwriting. Down in Bristol, there’s “an evening of pop pleasures and wonky wonders.” Read on…

* * * * * * * *

Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th January 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“For Those in Peril on the Sea” Soiree: Society of Imaginary Friends + Blert Ademi + Debra Watson + Stone Deep + Amy Neilson Smith + Ernie Burns + DJ Miracle Rhythm
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

From the Society:

“A still boat in a raging storm, our January Soiree – the month of cataclysmic cyclones battering our little island, foam fills the air, cool seagulls ride the tempest and the Society Of Imaginary Friends gather in their cabin around a crackling fire and tell stories of things past and things to come.

“We are joined by the fabulous young pianist Blert Ademi; brilliant, hard hitting poetess Debra Watson; new intriguing soul music from Stone Deep; charismatic performer, Shakespearian beauty and wonderful poetess Amy Neilson Smith; lusty, revealing super-wordsmith Ernie Burns; on the wheels of steel, the vinyl singles DJ extraordinaire DJ Miracle Rhythm; and the Society Of Imaginary Friends taking you back to a beautiful solstice evening in the Glastonbury Green Field. (More amazing performers to be announced – watch this space!) Cordon bleu vegan delights available to purchase from top chefs Kathy and Roger. Free entry. Dinner from 6pm, live performances start at 8pm.”

I couldn’t find anything on – or by – Stone Deep; but here’s a look at the rest of the lineup so far, beginning with an old SOIF track…






 
* * * * * * * *

A day later, there’s the Scottish event: a delightful, consensus-bucking meld of the credible, the incredible and the extramural.

Orions Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo, 6th January 2018

Orion’s Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo
Nice’n’Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3LG, Scotland
Saturday 6th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Headliners Orion’s Belt are a “seven-piece behemoth” of latterday Glasgow-via-Canterbury psychedelic folk, sometimes compared to “Kevin Ayers & The Whole World with Judy Collins handling the vocals”. They’re led by singer Lavinia Blackwall, best known as the voice of Trembling Bells but a longstanding mainstay of Glaswegian early music and avant-folk. Prior to their work as Trembling Bells, she and Alex Neilson collaborated as free-improv folkers Directing Hand: outside of the Bells they still sing together (alongside Harry Campbell and Katy Cooper of Muldoon’s Picnic) as four-part a capella voice quartet Crying Lion, who blend madrigal, folk, Gregorian and Sacred Harp elements into original songs.

In comparison, Orion’s Belt sounds like one of Lavinia’s more easy-going projects but ought to be magical nonetheless. Also on board in the band, picked from Glasgow’s gutsier psych, prog and folk underground, are members of “ongoing sloth-themed rock opera” collective Sloth Metropolis, prog-folkers Big Hogg, and “neo-psychedelic ninjas” Helicon (plus perhaps a few more people from Trembling Bells). Sorry – it still seems to be too new to have generated any recordings or Youtubings yet, but as a compensation here’s Lavinia’s five-year-old version of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ performed with Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and the late Dave Swarbrick.


 
Originally with mid-noughties post-rockers Ancient Monsters, Highland-born singer-songwriter Marcus Doo has since made the transition to modern-day folk; initially with his own Spanish-based Secret Family, who explored the genre via their “Magpie Returned the Ring” album and scores for a Spanish Royal Theatre version of Ted Hughes’ ‘Gaudete’ and for Chema Rodríguez’s ‘Anochece en la India’. He’s been described by author Graeme Macrae Burnet as “a songwriter with a rare mastery of both melody and lyrics… his songs are satisfying as a rounded pebble in your hand, and he performs them with such passion and intensity that I would defy anyone not to be moved.” Since his 2015 return to Glasgow, Marcus has been working with sympathetic figures including Alasdair Roberts (with whom he’s recently toured), Alex Neilson and Mike Hastings of Trembling Bells, and Tom Davis of Big Hogg.

All of the latter appear on Marcus’ debut solo effort ‘Kid Wonder’, a loosely conceptual folk album about “an older man looking back at his life, towards death and in search of any Golden Apple (an old Norse emblem of eternal youth) of memory that may help him accept what has gone and what is about to come. Through various adventures to an ever-clearer destination he is emboldened by memories of places and people past, and gives thanks to them.” Other contributors to the record include Trembling Bells’ Valinia Black, various other members of the Doo family (including Marcus’ recently deceased grandfather), France-based flamenco-ist Genaro Alonso and Clova fiddler Aoife McGarrigle.

To have a listen to ‘Kid Wonder’ you’ll need to visit Marcus’ own music page, but here’s another substitute in the shape of an old Secret Family track.


 
In the middle of the bill is sardonic London bard-of-the-fantastical Tom Slatter, whose reliably arch and intricate songbook of weird-fiction songstories (steampunk murders, tentacled monstrosities running amok) has built up across a string of theatrical albums and EPs since the early noughties. Hailed for “epic tales of darkness and light (which) fuse the bile of Roy Harper with humour and a sharp musical mind”, he’s previously delivered them live via a single strummed acoustic guitar, but is now generally accompanied by electric guitarist Gareth Cole. Here’s the video for a particular bit of 2015 Slatter tentaculation:


 
In case you think that Tom sounds like an odd, forced fit in the midst of this sincere Scottish folk stew – and it’s fair to admit that a man who calls his own concert album ‘Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical’ might be bringing the hurt down on himself – it’s worth remembering that (in between the Lovecraft/Sterling/GameCon rampages) his catalogue features scattered, glowing moments of unguarded psychedelic beauty such as the ‘Earthbound’ single. On top of that, Tom’s most recent solo album – last year’s ‘Happy People‘ – took an unexpected sideswerve away from the monster galleries, the top hats and the cog-driven toy theatres into a much more nuanced consideration of the human condition. Tom probably wouldn’t thank me for pointing this out, mind; and if you’re solidly unconvinced, come along and heckle him anyway. By many accounts, he loves a good heckle, especially if topped off by a dose of cunning wordplay.

* * * * * * * *

Snails + Edward Penfold + Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, 13th January 2018

Pop Or Not Promotions and Undergrowth present:
Pop/Not: Snails, Edward Penfold, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

In the Cube Microplex (the squirreled-away Bristol theatre-turned-cinema/venue which recently hosted a rollicking showing of Cardiacs’ ‘Mare’s Nest’ concert film plus The Scaramanga Six), there are some more workings along the pop fringe. Over to the promoters…

“Led by songwriter Dan Weltman and described as “eerie, beautiful, modestly majestic” by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, five-piece experimental pop band Snails generate moments of suburban guitar pop reverie for lonely people walking to the shops. Their sound bears the influence of ’60s folk and psychedelia with a peppering of ’90s pop. Mavericks such as Syd Barrett and Nico mingle with the likes of the Gorky’s or even Belle and Sebastian; though, having no desire to recreate the past, Snails sensitively combine a passion for classic sounds with inventive songwritting to create their own heartfelt pop music. For this unique Bristol show they will be playing brand new material from their upcoming second LP.


 
Edward Penfold’s music is a blend of the old and the new, nostalgic but not dated. More than anything it sounds like now. It’s music from the heart – a hazy collection of sounds and moods, sometimes upbeat, sometimes down, but always genuine and always captivating. His lyricism reflects the eloquence and observation of a very English sort of poetry, seeing the depth in the shallows of life, the profundity in the mundane; all accepted with a matter-of-factness that is reflected in the driving impetus in every song, whether slow or fast or groovy. His new album ‘Denny Island Drive’ came out in late November 2017.


 
“After two years of ongoing collaboration and development, Cardiff twosome Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks have just released their beautiful debut LP ‘Pontvane’. Individually, both Capper and Brooks have developed back catalogues of diverse musicality and influence, incorporating elements of surf, lo-fi, Americana and psych. Their first release as a duo further emphasises this eclecticism, effortlessly stitching together disparate sonic fragments into a cohesive, compelling whole. Take a listen…”

 

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