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February 2018 – upcoming London gigs (folk, jazz, soul, and eclectic acoustica) – Ian Beetlestone & the Drowning Rats (10th February); Matsudisho and Alice Phelps (18th February); plus Tell Tale Tusk (12th February), Alice Zawadski’s cello-heavy Valentine Show (14th February) and Kabantu’s album launch (8th February)

5 Feb

Even more than the Magic Garden (as covered a few posts back), Camden’s Green Note serves as a London folk-boutique par excellence. Most evenings, its small café space wedges in the cream of roots acts, the care they take over choice, presentation and atmosphere often justifying the priceyness of an evening out. You get what you pay for.

Here are a few things on offer there during early February:

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Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats, 10th February 2018

Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats
The Basement Bar @ The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England ·
Saturday 10th February 2018, 8:00pm
– information here, here and here

Plenty of charming elements and conversational topics converge in Ian Beetlestone. He’s a Yorkshireman-turned-Londoner, a pop and chanson connoisseur, a gay man and a cabbie. Several of these come together in his lively, engaging cabbie’s blog; even more of them combine in the fact that for the last couple of years Ian’s driven the capital’s first (and, to date, only) rainbow-coloured taxi (for what it’s worth, it’s becoming a much-loved city ornament both inside and outside of Pride, and he gets more stick from fellow cabbies over the Transport for London logo than he does for the LGBT+ associations).

As for the musicality, that flourishes in his all-singing acoustic trio The Drowning Rats, who offer “(a) unique combination of ratty jazz, drowned pop, magic, mystery, darkness and light to the capricious twin deities of love and song with ever pleading, hopeful eyes.” Having started up in Leeds about a decade and a half ago (and survived a subsequent re-potting in London), they’ve been the players of regular gigs in Soho (until recently, at the Blue Posts) and their home turf of Kings Cross (at the Star of Kings) as well as the Green Note.


 
With Ian’s florid piano backed by Dom Coles’ drumkit and Tom Fry’s double bass (and with occasional visitations from beery horns and assorted vocal foils), they deliver songs bursting with melody, harmony and joie de vivre; nodding to Brel and barrelhouse, Tom Waits and Paul Weller, Nina Simone and the Shangri-Las; suffused with wry reflection, wit and camaraderie. Ian rolls them out in a joyful soul growl – honey, gravel, fur and phlegm, with the hint of a romantic tenor under the wear and tear. It’s a little Tom Waits, but it’s rather more Dr John (if instead of immersing himself in the Big Easy, he’d taken a ship up the Thames estuary to found a bayoux in a London canal basin).

If you’re specifically after queerness, you’ll find it in the subtle and rosy sexual glow which illuminates many of the songs like fireside warmth, and also in the elastic inclusive community etched out in hints and amongst the broader scope of Ian’s songwriting. Inclusivity’s the word, in fact: there’s little details and easter eggs sown throughout the songs if you want to pick them up and decode them, but in general it’s all woven together with subtlety and open-heartedness. You can walk through their door and enjoy epic magic-realist power ballads about the A40, jaunts around the concerns, compromises and evasions of friendships, sly ballads which put the boot into Soho gentrification, and cheerfully apocalyptic accounts of mornings-after… all without worrying that you need to belong to any particular club. Although, in the extremely cosy confines of the Green Note’s basement bar, you’ll soon feel as if you do belong to one.



 
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Matshidiso + Alice Phelps
The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England
Sunday 18th February 2018, 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Matshidiso, 2017
I’m not sure just how hard you have to work, just how much you have to do, blossom and branch out before you burst the “secret” side of “well-kept secret” wide open. I would have thought that Matshidiso would have reached that point a long time ago.

Music flows through pretty much everything she lives and does, stemming from the cosmopolitan stew of her upbringing (a native Londoner with Jamaican and Sotho heritage, a classical piano trainee with a parallel love of soul, hip-hop and the cream of 1970s singer-songwriters) and blossoming into her realisation of herself as do-it-all artist – on-call pianist and singer, producer/writer/arranger for herself and for others. Sometimes a band leader, always a constant communicator, Matshidiso has led creative workshops; run song sessions across the internet from her own front room and played venues from the Southbank Centre to South Africa. All this and she’s also a qualified and multilingual international human rights barrister (with experience fighting sex trafficking rings in Ethiopia); a spokesperson for activism around positive African and female identity; a visiting music therapist at the Royal Marsden; a rehabilitating coach and encourager for young male offenders at various prisons; and a onetime relief worker in Haiti.

All of which would be gems on anyone’s resume (and which suggests someone who’s already learned and given back more than most of us will in an entire lifetime) but as a musician, the final proof has to be in the songs Matshidiso sings. Traditional they might be, but she’s learnt well from the craft of forebears such as Roberta Flack, Laura Nyro and Lauryn Hill, creating harmonically rich keyboard-driven work drawing from songwriter soul, gospel and pop through which she roams with self-awareness and generous interest in other people’s efforts and struggles.


 
Maybe Matshidiso’s relatively low profile is because of the fact that, despite being the best part of a decade into her career, she’s yet to record a debut album, or even that many releases. There’s been a smattering of very occasional singles; there’s been a 2012 EP of nursery rhymes reconfigured for adults (an idea that fits neatly into of what ‘The Guardian’s called her whimsical yet solicitous approach, and one that’s far more successful than its spec would suggest). In many artists this would seem to be a flaw – a shortage of the hunger, the self-assertion, the pushy pride which is needed to succeed.

I’d suggest the opposite – that Matshidiso’s artistic presence is one that’s absolutely caught up in the moment, too much so to have prioritised lumping her output down into artefacts or commodities. Her work is live, whether it’s in the concerts in which she improvises made-up-on-the-spot stories from the personal accounts of audience members, or the connection she makes with prisoners, the lost, the under-represented as part of work which goes beyond being an entertainer and engages itself with re-weaving music (with all of its connecting and healing qualities) back into the fabric of everyday life.



 

Opening the show is Leeds-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alice Phelps (who, with her full band, was delighting Daylight Music earlier in the weekend). Harpist, guitarist, pianist, violinist and rich grainy singer, Alice spins blues into folk, Irish, Chinese and otherworldly elements to create original songs and a full-bodied chamber pop. On this occasion, she’s on her own; but she’ll be back at the Green Note next month with a full ensemble of strings, harp and choir. For now, enjoy her songs in their simpler format.



 

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A few more familiar faces are showing up at the Green Note at around the same time. On 12th February, contemporary female folk ensemble Tell Tale Tusk, who work “spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies…around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new” bring their harmonies and humour back to Camden Town for an evening of old and new songs. On 14th February, Alice Zawadzki – whose name has been scattered around these pages for her voice and/or violin work alone or with Sefiroth, Jamie Safir and others – presents a Valentine’s Day Special of known and unknown songs, covers and originals (assisted by dual cello improvisers Alice Purton and Shirley Smart). Or – if you fancy a different venue and a different blend of polycultural acoustica – then on 8th February Manchester world quintet Kabantu are launching their debut album down at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Plentiful…




 

February 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Meg Lee Chin, Keiko Kitamura, I Am Her, Kosmic Troubadour, Math Jones (2nd February); Peter Blegvad Trio and Bob Drake (9th February – plus the Club Integral Resonance Benefit Gala on the 8th); Evil Blizzard and Nasty Little Lonely (10th February)

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“Into The Forest” Soiree: Meg Lee Chin + Keiko Kitamura + I Am Her + Kosmic Troubadour + Math Jones
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

After a few events which were perhaps a little more predictable than we’d’ve hoped, this month’s Society Of Imaginary Friends-hosted concert moves up a gear with the involvement of “two goddesses of Earth and Heaven”. Purple twilight time:

“We take the path that leads down from the fell, over the style, over a stream and into the heart of the forest. At first it seems completely lifeless in the wood, all of its creatures hibernating deep in the ground; but as our eyes become adjusted to the dusky dark and senses atuned to its music..the rustle of a robin in the dried leaves, a squirrel’s staccato, a falling pine cone. Suddenly we are in a clearing of softest moss – a place of refuge and rest, where a clear spring rises and sunlight dances. Welcome to our “Into the Forest” Soiree.”

A mid-‘90s Pigface member (and the former frontwoman for female noise band Crunch), industrial pop/darkwave/hip hop songstress and hands-on producer Meg Lee Chin is a prime example of longstanding female creativity and independence. Having rattled cages and excited commentators with her turn on Pigface’s ‘Nutopia’, she then spearheaded contemporary home-studio recording with her 1999 solo album ‘Piece and Love’ and went on to found pro-audio community Gearslutz. Although released music has been sporadic for the last couple of decades, Meg’s kept her reputation as a fascinating, brilliant performer and composer and as an outspoken, sometimes contrary blogger. SOIF, in turn, have a reputation for coaxing people’s slumbering performance talents out of semi-retirement: if Meg’s risen to the occasion in response, this ought to be pretty exciting.

Also on hand – and in delightful contrast – is Keiko Kitamura: known for activities ranging from replaying Japanese court music to Jah Wobble’s Nippon Dub Ensemble, is a leading international koto player (in particular, the 17-string bass version) as well as a singer and shamisen player. Expect a mixture of tradition and originality.




 
The rest of the appropriately quirky SOIF bill is filled out by eccentric rainbow keyboard warrior The Kosmic Troubadour, poet/dramatist Math Jones (with a sheaf of forest poems) and Soiree regular I Am Her, a.k.a. ex-Rosa Mota singer Julie D. Riley (who also, with fellow Rosacian Sacha Galvagna, makes up transatlantic transcontinental electropop minimalists Crown Estate). As ever, the Society themselves are performing, presenting (presumably) art-pop forest ballads to take in with the Karamel vegan feast that’s part and parcel of a SOIF event. This time, you get an appropriately woody wild forest mushroom soup, a mushroom and root vegetable pizza and some Black Forest gateau…


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Here’s news on one of the several fundraisers for London alt.culture radio station Resonance FM, helping it to keep up its mission of broadcasting the wild and wonderful across the Smoke’s airwaves and around the world online. Even setting aside the calibre of the night’s performers, it’s pretty much worth going along for that reason alone.

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

Resonance FM presents:
Peter Blegvad Trio with Bob Drake
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 9th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Peter Blegvad – not only for the owlish wit of his songs (including his skill as palindromist and wordplayer) and the enviable polymathic breadth of skills which means he’s also a fine experimental cartoonist, audio dramatist and commentator. It’s also because anyone who can get himself sacked from ‘70s avant/oppositional prog gods Henry Cow by outrightly twitting their seriousness at the height of their brow-furrowing Maoist phase (and apparently by writing a lyric about a woman chucking raisins at a skeleton) is a man who knows something about whistling in the face of sternness.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of this. For one thing, despite (and because of) Henry Cow’s high-flying, generally admirable idealism, spending time there seems to have been argumentative for everyone (in particular during the period in which almost every potential action appeared to have its cripping counter-bourgeois condemnation, during which a man of Peter’s wayward questioning wit and self-declared flippancy would have stuck out like a slammable thumb in the way of a door). Once out of the mothership, though, it was evidently easier to be familial. Showing up most artistic spats and internal rock band feuds for the pique and piffle that they are, all of the ex-Cow-ers grew up (and grew past their arguments) to become a mutually supportive bunch. Threading in and out of each other’s concerts and solo careers, they rapidly learned to welcome and celebrate the diversity of their collective interests and ideas, and they’ve stayed that way.


 
Proving this yet again, whenever the Peter Blegvad Trio comes back together it reunites Peter with two regular Cowfriends: John Greaves (bassist and longtime ally both during and after Cowdays, from the ‘Kew.Rhone.’ project onwards) and Chris Cutler (drummer and owner of the eclectic and honourable post-Cow record label ReR Megacorp which, since 1988, has released four widely-spaced Blegvad albums – ‘Downtime’, ‘Just Woke Up’, ‘Hangman’s Hill’ and last year’s ‘Go Figure’). Thirty-seven years of on/off playing together has resulted in a relaxed, gently telepathic connection: not a mysterious communion, nor an alliance of breakneck musical stuntwork, but an easy, comfortable instinct for what’s required to frame the song and no more. As for Peter himself, if you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s best to think of someone with one foot in the sardonic-wit songworld of Loudon P. Wainwright, Leon Rosselson, Richard Thompson and Kinky Friedman, and the other in the counterflow rock camp which the Cow shared with (among others) Faust and Pere Ubu.


 
And that brings me to the second point – ultimately, it’s really pretty misleading to define Peter by the lineaments of Henry Cow, art-prog or Rock In Opposition. Granted, he’s spent quite a bit of time paddling away in those areas (in addition to ‘Kew.Rhone’ and the Cow work, there’s been Slapp Happy, Faust and The Lodge, as well as swing-by dates with The Golden Palominos and Art Bears). Yet if you put him firmly in the driving seat on his own, what you get isn’t hyperliterate trickery, but intelligent, light-touch, surprisingly roots-rocking songs with a smart economy of tale-telling and reflection.

He’s still got a yen for throwing up a thesis and exploring it (this is, after all, a man who once explored the roots and fears of the European Union via a teasing, erudite and baffling lyrical mirror-maze of classical borrowings), but more often than not he’ll now use a folk or country-folk form to do so, or pick a nuanced idea to polish in a few simple strokes: something a child could pick up on but which an adult might savour. From some angles you could even confuse him (via that nasal, tuneful, breathy bark of a voice) with a more relaxed Mike Scott in acoustic mode, or even with Mark Knopfler in a moment of sardonic humanism. Although neither of them would have written a love ballad as sparse and sorrowful as Shirt And Comb, honed a metaphysical gag like Something Else (Is Working Harder) or tweaked, explored and upended a common cultural assumption the way Peter does on Gold.


 
One of the contributors to ‘Go Figure’ (along with Karen Mantler) was the delightful Bob Drake – the erstwhile Thinking Plague and 5uu’s mainstay turned offbeat producer and solo artist. For more of my rambles on him, take a look over here. The long and the short about him, though, is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist and hedge-bard with broad and rambling ideas about just how far you can stretch and mutate an open-ended thought or song, who now regularly heads out for solo voice-and-guitar gigs (often performing, for reasons both flippant and serious, in a lovely white bear-dog suit). Like Peter Blegvad, Bob’s got a liking for complexity and warm perverse wit; but what you take away from his shows is literal shaggy-doggery: peculiar sung tales both finished and unfinished about strange mammals, haunted houses, odd habits, monster-movie scenarios and twisted eldritch dimensions.

When I originally posted this, I was under the impression that Bob was playing a solo Oto support slot, but it now appears that he’s actually beefing up the Trio to a quartet, with or without the animal suit. If you still want to see Bob in solo mode, however, you could set aside some time the previous evening for another Resonance FM fundraiser: Club Integral‘s annual Resonance tin-shaker, being held south of the river at IKLEKTIK on Thursday 8th.

Offering “thirteen minute sets from thirteen acts”, this features a wealth of music-and/or-noise-makers from the Integral playlists: improv pranksters Glowering Figs, audiovisual sculptress Franziska Lantz, ARCO composer Neil Luck, mixed-ability folk internationalists the No Frills Band, Found Drowned/Four Seasons Television guitar manipulator James O’Sullivan, sound designer/Howlround member Robin The Fog, Bob and Roberta Smith (a.ka. artist/advocate/utopian Patrick Brill) playing with his own “musical intervention” project The Apathy Band, restlessly morphing New Wave survivors Spizz, and whoever St Moritz, Two Horns, Robert Storey, Strayaway Child, Swordfish and King/Cornetto happen to be. Plus Bob – who was hoping to balance his thirteen-minute time limit with the playing of thirteen one-minute songs, but has apparently opted to settle for eleven.


 
(If Bob’s wily, he’ll also strap a few tentacles onto that fur-suit and go up and do a bit of busking by Camden Lock, staking out the London Lovecraft Festival that’s also taking place that week…)

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Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Evil Blizzard + Nasty Little Lonely
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Wednesday 10th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here

Filling in a three-cornered gap between Public Image Ltd, Poisoned Electrick Head and The Residents, hilariously distressing Preston lords of misrule Evil Blizzard are bringing their act south in order to launch their ‘Fast Forward Rewind’ single (from upcoming third album ‘The Worst Show On Earth’). Their gigs are part banging art-punk party and part horror-comedy masked ball, featuring four cranky and disparate bass guitarists; a singing, chanting drummer; and a pair of in-house stage invaders in the shape of a dancing money-chucking pig and a man running wild with a mop.

The assorted masks (hilarious and creepy) and the threatening mannequin/orc lunges may make it all look like an Auton’s cheese-dream or a riot in a Black Lodge dollhouse, but underneath the screaming horse-laughs are a rattling good party band. Over the years, they’ve won over many a psychedelic or underground festival audience and even their own musical heroes (with Killing Joke, Hawkwind and PiL having invited them on for support slots).



 
Also playing are stomping industrial post-punk duo Nasty Little Lonely, who provide a bandsaw-guitar set of “post apocalyptic decadence, discarded trappings of consumerism gone awry, alienation and small furry creatures with very sharp teeth.” They might possibly be tempted to dance afterwards if you encourage them enough.


 

January 2018 – upcoming London rock and folk gigs – twists and weaves with Prescott, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (11th January); a carpet of acid-folk/chanson dreams with Alison O’Donnell & Firefay (18th January); a lysergic lattice with a Knifeworld double-set (20th January)

6 Jan

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 11th January 2018

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 11th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Reunited with guitarist Keith Moliné (who had to sit out some of their engagements last year), instrumental avant-rockers Prescott bring their springy barrage of warm, bouncy tune-mozaics back to London at Servant Jazz Quarters. On the evidence of last year’s ‘Thing Or Two’ album, the band (completed by spacey fretless bassist/composer Kev Hopper, keyboard quibbler Rhodri Marsden and swap’n’go drummer Frank Byng) is growing like a tricksy hedgerow. New layers, extensions and scrabbling digressions continue to bud out of their riotous cellular approach; and out of the games of post-minimalist chicken which they use to hold and release each other from their stack of cunning microloops.

It’s still fair to say that Prescott’s relationship with their own instrumental cleverness is an edgy and oblique one. Fine and rebellious players all, they’re too suspicious of straight prog, jazz or lofty experimentalism to have a straight relationship with any of them. Consequently they come across on record as jitterbug countercultural eggheads – ones who play obstinate, transfigured parallels to clavinet jazz-funk (post-Miles, post-Headhunters) or twinkly-marimba’d Zappa passages, but who nail it all down to a precise post-punk, post-virtuoso sensibility. Still, this only sketches part of the Prescott picture while missing the heart of it. Despite the band’s tendencies towards deadpan stage presence (and the eschewment of anything even vaguely wacky), each and every Prescott gig ends up as a generous, audience-delighting puzzle of pulses, traps and tickles on the funny bone.

Maybe if they’ve got anything as corny as a raison d’être (that is, beyond executing Kev’s pieces with deftness, style and pleasure) it might be about evaporating the frequently frustrating and gummed-up relationship between musicality, suffocating ideology and good humour. For all of their self-imposed restrictions, Prescott are in some senses a freer band than almost anyone else in their field: an expansive Lego set of musical options concealed in a deceptively small box.


 
Thanks to both the burgeoning stature of Knifeworld and his helming of the post-Daevid Allen Gong (plus entanglements with Guapo and Cardiacs, and his garrulous showings on radio and in print), Kavus Torabi is rapidly becoming a senior figure at the culty end of psychedelic art-rock. Even his rough-and-ready solo acoustic performances are becoming a draw in their own right, although he’s mostly (and modestly) restraining them to support slots, presenting gravelly-voiced house-party strumalongs rather than electric-genius showcases. Such is the case with his opening slot for Prescott, which also sees him broaden his guitar playing with trips to the harmonium.

On previous form, expect established songs, songs-in-progress and song unveilings from Kavus’ Knifeworld catalogue (plus visits to his old work with The Monsoon Bassoon and possibly a bit of latterday Gong-ing if any of it translates away from the group’s electric Om). If you’re hoping for Guapo stuff, you’d better wait for one of his gigs with them. If you want him to rip into a Cardiac song, you’re best off catching him guesting at one of the growing number of Spratleys Japs shows (increasingly become rolling parties celebrating the Cardiacs spirit, pulling in hit-and-run appearances from the band’s alumni and songbook).


 
Invigorating as a Prescott/Torabi summit might be, the night’s real draw is Lost Crowns: only the third live venture for this carefully-concealed solo project from Richard Larcombe. You might have seen the Crowns step out at either one of a culty pair of Alphabet Business Concern shows in 2013 and 2017: otherwise, you’ve not seen or heard them at all. If you’ve followed Richard’s on/off work singing and guitaring for fraternal duo Stars In Battledress (alongside his brother James), you’ll have some idea of the rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection to expect. Complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.

Reared on English folk and art-rock but steeped in both Chicago math-rock and (via radio, television and film) in sophisticated comic absurdity from the likes of the Marx Brothers, Spike Milligan and Vivian Stanshall, Richard is in fact one of the most aggravatingly unknown, self-effacing, even self-concealing talents of his generation. In the fifteen years since his last, short-lived solo foray Defeat The Young he’s kept his own work closely hidden, apparently preferring the shared burden and brotherly warmth of occasional shows with the similarly-obscure Battledress, or to play supporting roles with William D. Drake or sea-shanty-ers Admirals Hard. Were he not so damn elusive, he’d be regularly cited alongside the likes of Colin Meloy or Neil Hannon as an exemplar of bookish art-pop wit. For the most part, though, Richard seems happiest with his other career (in children’s theatre, an area in which, incidentally, he’s equally talented) although I suspect that the truth is that his perfectionist’s need for control gets a little on top of him, though never enough to ruffle his brow. According to Richard, this particular live surfacing’s going to be a “limited-capacity probably-not-to-be-repeated-often event”, but he clearly means business, having armed himself with the kind of musical crack squad that can do his work justice – London art-rock go-to-guy Charlie Cawood on bass, Drake band regular Nicky Baigent on clarinet, the enigmatic “Keepsie” on drums and a doubled-up keyboard arrangement of Rhodri Marsden (hopping over from Prescott) and Josh Perl (coming in from Knifeworld and The Display Team).

As regards firmer, more specific details on what Lost Crowns will be like, Richard himself will only murmur that the songs are “quite long, with a lot of notes.” Rhodri Marsden (a man more given to gags than gush) has chipped in with a wide-eyed “utterly mindbending and completely beautiful”; rumours abound re ditties about synthesia and/or the quirks of historical figures; and what’s filtered through from attendees at those previous ABC shows is that the Larcombe boy has seriously outdone himself with this project. The rest of us will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, in the absence of any available Lost Crown-ings to link to or embed, here are a couple of live examples of Richard’s artistry with Stars In Battledress.



 
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Alison O’Donnell + Firefay
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 18th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Same time, same place, but one week later – another rare treat in the shape of a London appearance from “fairy queen of acid folk” Alison O’Donnell, allied with Anglo-French folk-noirists Firefay.

Alison O'Donnell & Firefay, 18th January 2018The possessor of a warm declamatory folk voice (one well suited to storytelling), Alison began her musical journey at convent school in 1960s Dublin with childhood friend Clodagh Simonds. Writing and singing folk songs together, the two became the core of mystical folk-rockers Mellow Candle: scoring a faintly lysergic orchestral-pop single before either girl had turned seventeen, Clodagh and Alison then spent five years exploring and finessing the baroque/progressive folk sounds eventually captured on Mellow Candle’s one-and-only album ‘Swaddling Songs’.

Ahead of its time (and mishandled by the record company), it followed the example of other recent genre-stretching folk albums by Trees and Nick Drake and sold poorly. By the time that the disillusioned band disintegrated in 1973, Alison was still only twenty. She spent the next three decades travelling in a slow arc across the world and across music: spending long stretches of time in South Africa, London, and Brussels before returning to Dublin in 2001, she passed – en route – through traditional English, Irish and Flemish folk bands (including Flibbertigibbet, Éishtlinn and Oeda) as well as stints in theatre and satire, and in contemporary jazz band Earthling. As she entered her mid-fifties, though, Alison’s career entered a surprising and fruitful second stage. She finally began releasing material under her own name – initially with multi-instrumentalist Isabel Ní Chuireáin (for the part-trad/part-original ‘Mise Agus Ise’ in 2006), and then alone or with her band Bajik from 2009’s ‘Hey Hey Hippy Witch’ onward.

Meanwhile, the slow transition of ‘Swaddling Songs” from forgotten ’70s flop to early Noughties word-of-mouth lost classic brought Alison into active collaboration with a fresh generation of musicians who’d been captivated by the record. Agitated Radio Pilot’s Dave Colohan came in for on 2007’s ‘World Winding Down’, Steven Collins of The Owl Service for 2008’s ‘The Fabric of Folk’ EP, and Graham Lockett of Head South By Weaving for 2012’s ‘The Execution Of Frederick Baker’. Colohan in particular has become a regular ally and co-writer, playing a big part in Alison’s 2017’s ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’ album and inviting her into his Irish psych-folk collective United Bible Studies. There have also been teamups with metal bands Cathedral and Moonroot, with folktronicists Big Dwarf, and with Michael Tyack of psych-folkers Circulus.

Among the most promising of these latterday collaborations has been her 2012 teaming with Firefay (fronted by the trilingual Carole Bulewski) for the much-admired ‘Anointed Queen’ album. This month’s concert revisits that project and beyond, Alison and Firefay performing in a meticulously interwoven partnership which will dip into songs from ‘Anointed Queen’ in addition to Firefay material and songs from Alison’s own back catalogue, from Mellow Candle through to ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’. Come expecting a world/wyrd-folk wealth of keyboard drones, strings, bells, reeds and ouds, all mingled in a lysergia-flecked folk-rooted song continuum stretching from Ireland to Brittany and Flanders (across the British Isles and London, with look-ins from Gallic chanson, kletzmer, urban baroque, boozy sea songs, tints of Canterbury art-prog and even hints of the Sudan and Middle East.)


 
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Knifeworld, 20th January 2018Guided Missile presents:
Knifeworld (double set)
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 20th January 2018, 7:30pm
– information here , here and here

Just over a week after their leader disports himself (mostly) unplugged and exposed in Dalston, Knifeworld themselves burst back into action in Islington, getting a whole show to themselves at the Lexington. Currently revelling in the flexibility and range of tones available to their eight-piece lineup, they’ll be drawing on their last couple of years of songwriting and performance by playing a full acoustic set followed by a full electric set.

If you’re not yet familiar with Knifeworld’s work, you’re probably new to the blog – ‘Misfit City’ has been saturated with it ever since the band first emerged eight years ago – look back over past posts to acclimatise yourself to their dancing, springy, psychedelic mix of oboes, guitars, saxophones, drums and warm, wood-rough head-next-door vocals. It’s a skewed but precise brew of pointillistic acid-patter pulling in sounds, tones and attitude from five decades of music – you can spot ’50s rockabilly, late ’60s lysergic swirl, full on ’70s prog/soul complexity, ’80s and ’90s art pop noise and suss and beyond – all topped off by Kavus’ particular wide-eyed worldview. Eccentric and garbled on the surface, his songs still couch pungently honest depths of feelings, fears and hope if you’re prepared to push past the distraction of tatters and gags – as with two of his mentors, Tim Smith and Daevid Allen, Kavus treats psychedelia as a tool to explore, question and deepen the subject of human existence rather than trance it away in a blur.

Exceptionally excited by what’s coming up, the band are promising “a gig like no other…. your chance to hear many rarely- or never-played songs before. A whole night of delirious, mindbending and beautifully strange music.” Below is forty-one minutes of slightly shaky, slightly scratchy Knifeworld footage from the Supernormal 2016 festival, in order to light the fuse…


 

November 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – alleged folk/electro-folk clash with Rivers Of England, Boe Huntress and The 150 Friends Club at Collage Nights; a world-swirl with Firefay, The Scorpios and Bread And Circus (both 8th November)

31 Oct

I’m late to the party as regards Wood Green’s regular Collage Nights (which play in the same lively vegan restaurant that also houses the Society of Imaginary Friends soirees and some of outer London’s most vigorous jazz sessions). Just as I discover it, the current every-second-Wednesday-of-the-month season is rolling to a close; but a couple more gigs will see out the autumn. Though November’s gig is billed as a clash (or at least a head-on nuzzle) between straight folk and electrofolk, I’m not sure that it’s as simple as that.

Collage Nights, 8th November 2017
Collage Nights presents:
Electrofolk meets Folk: Rivers Of England + Boe Huntress + The 150 Friends Club
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

In the “straight folk” corner, Bristolian quintet Rivers Of England (fronted by songwriter Rob Spalding) are a fine example of how latterday Anglo folk attempts to hone and counterbalance its nostalgic tendencies, keeping a foot in tradition while steering away from twee fustiness and trying to stir in a contemporary consciousness. Much of their sound has a clear ’70s electric folk lineage (the Fairports or the Albion Band, the stirring in of jazz and blues elements a la John Martyn) but there’s also a conscious effort to get away from that wipe-down synthetic sound that’s plagued many such acts as they hit the studio or deal with increasingly digitised technology.

While there’s plenty in their music to link them to folk roots, their current album ‘Astrophysics Saved My Life’ displays the band’s eclectic instrumental flexibility and takes pains to explore the broadened scope of the present-day educated rural/urban person attempting to make sense of life across a much broader conceptual canvas, with “themes ranging from the inner self to the outer cosmos – the emotional to the scientific… a nautical theme present with a blend of rivers and the sea, alongside the more common personal themes of failed relationships, mental illness, memories of family holidays, childhood bicycle adventures, jobs woes, loneliness and universal love.”



 
If Boe Huntress really is occupying the electro-folk corner, it’ll be yet another alteration in a career built on transformations. Once known as Rebecca Maze (under which name she came to attention via a set of songs critiquing the misogyny around Gamergate), she changed her name circa 2013 in order to dive deeper into her troubadour impulses, mystical femininism and social protest.

Her first album as Boe saw her exploring her own fluid identity via journeys into deep mythology and archetypes from wild women to transformative green dragons to self-examining witches. Inspired (among others) by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Bikini Kill and Eve Ensler, Victor Jara, Fela Kuti and The Clash, her follow-up EP (2015’s ‘And I Became A Student Of Love’) saw her moving into more clearly defined spiritual protest songs, turning her evolving feminist voice outwards towards the world to advocate awareness while still keeping a toehold in mythology (as in the Inuit-inspired fable of Untangling The Bones, in which compassion overcomes fear). I’ve no idea whether there’s been a billing goof and whether Boe really has set aside the acoustic guitar and solo voice in favour of keyboards, loops or whatnot; but if she has it will be in keeping with her spirit of adventure and motion.

 
As special guests, there’s collapsable party guys The 150 Friends Club (led by “money-crazed, delusional, imbecile” David Goo, who describes the band as his “evil twin sister”). Based around the theory that “society is best managed at a hundred and fifty people”, they’re a band built for small, intimate, cheerful gigs. The music’s a messy-haired lo-fi folk-pop-rock with attention deficit disorder, which sometimes throws on a skuzzy electric overcoat and reels around the room pulling reggae, rap, post-rock and various other stylistic swerves out of its manky pockets.

David, meanwhile, plays it all up to the hilt – sometimes a chirpier, skiffling Lou Reed continually pricking any romantic balloons in sight, sometimes a Tom Petty who shucked the dedication and dived headfirst into cabaret, sometimes a skinny London echo of David Lee Roth cribbing and cherishing his old-time R&B. Apparently, this performance is some kind of comeback. I’m not sure that they’d care about having something to prove, but expect them to warm things right up.




 
* * * * * * * *

On the same night, over in east London, there’s the option of “a musical journey that will take you across the world in just over three hours”

Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread And Circus, 8th November 2017Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread and Circus
Cafe 1001, 91 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London, E1 6QL, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Formed from “storytelling, wyrd folk, Middle Eastern flavours, things that can only be defined as otherworldly, and still a bit of France somewhere in there… urban baroque, world folk noir, jazz and chanson music… whisky and sailors’ songs” as well as influences from John Dowland and Gabriel Fauré to kletzmer and the Canterbury Scene, Firefay blend keyboards, guitars, ouds, violins, brass and cello underneath Carole Bulewski’s trilingual vocals in a polycultural blend of colourings.

Compared to Art Bears, Françoise Hardy and Broadcast as much as to the Fairports and Pentangle (see the rave review of their 2015 album ‘The King Is Dead’ over at the ‘Active Listener‘ blog), they’ve also recorded with Mellow Candle’s Alison O’Donnell and have spent the last five years becoming one of the London folk world’s most joyous rising secrets. They’re planning “a full set of entirely reworked old songs, some from the ‘The King Must Die’ and some older even, some that took years to complete, and some brand new ones from the album we are currently recording”.



 
Firefay themselves are playing in the middle of the bill. Their cellist Fraser Parry will be opening the show with his own project Bread And Circus, a “musical vanity project (of) songs about anxiety, enjoying oneself, the passage of time and solipsism” with added piano, accordion, brass, and allsorts (depending on which other musicians he can plug in on the night).




 
Closing the show, Firefay’s sibling band The Scorpios will be playing a set of their own material: a Sudanese-based world funk in which “Arabic rhythms and guitar chops (and a kind of swooning cyclical ecstasy) with a raw Eastern funk feel (and) heavy bass, synths, horns and percussions drive through traditional Sudanese forms to create a sound owing to both Detroit and Khartoum.” Expect plenty of crossover, both in terms of musical traditions and in terms of how many members of Firefay also show up in this band.


 

April 2017 – upcoming London gigs – three songwriters – Momus (10th); BC Camplight (20th); David Vaughan (29th)

4 Apr

This month, there’s the chance to catch the work of three distinctive and different songwriters who are making individual appearances in London.

In reverse date order – there’s the warm and witty cabaret folk of David Vaughan, who ruminates on subjects from cheerful lust to the downfall of Andrew Mitchell, to the resolve of bereaved children. There’s the wrecked, wracked, shaggy-falsetto alternative pop of Philly refugee-turned-Manchester revenant BC Camplight. Finally – or firstly – there’s whatever a reflective, career-compiling Momus currently cares to pick out from his twenty-six years of contentious adventure (whether it’s the sampler pop performance art palimpsests of his recent work, the Pet-Shop-Boys-do-transgressive-Gainsbourg synth pop of his middle period, or the dazzlingly literate acoustic folk of the early years when he lined up alongside Cave, Cohen and Brel as a speculative, lethally witty chronicler/observer of the possible, the askew and the perverse).

* * * * * * * *

Momus
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Monday 10th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

Momus, 2017“Nick Currie, more popularly known under the artist name Momus (after the Greek god of mockery), is a Scottish songwriter who lives in Japan. He also writes fiction and reviews contemporary art.

“A veteran of British indie labels, Momus is currently in the midst of a re-release program which will see all his early material reissued by Cherry Red. His latest LP of new compositions is ‘Scobberlotchers’ — a response to Brexit and Trump — and his latest novel is ‘Popppappp’, the tale of two graphic designers captured by fanatical followers of Mark E. Smith.”




 
* * * * * * * *

Parallel Lines presents:
BC Camplight
St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL, England
Thursday 20th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

“Lost treasure needn’t be found in the distant past; the 21st century hides many artists who disappeared into the great wide yonder. BC Camplight (the alter-ego of American songwriter Brian Christinzio) is one such example.

BC Lamplight, 20th April 2017“Originally from New Jersey, Christinzio started playing piano aged just four, inspired by his mum’s Jerry Lee Lewis and Nilsson records and his Dad’s classical collection. Depression and crippling hypochondria clashed with captaining the football team and a penchant for boxing. Post-school, he fell in with people, “willing to go through shit to be a musician,” which saw him relocate to Philadelphia where he occasionally played live with Philly faves The War On Drugs and guested on Sharon Van Etten’s album ‘Epic’. He went on to release his own albums in 2005 and 2007, both gems of a certain psych-pop vintage, combining eloquent songwriting with a self-destructive bent. Christinzio certainly knew it – he’s described himself as “the guy who blew it.”

“But this sublime talent with the keening vocal and fearless approach to lyrical introspection has another chance. His new album ‘How To Die In The North’, recorded in his newly adopted home of Manchester, England, is a fantastically rich, stylistically diverse trip. From dramatic, layered pop to a haunted take on Sixties sunshine-pop, from blue-eyed soul to speedy surf-pop, from sparser piano balladry to psychedelic showstoppers and a grand finale that’s part Nilsson and part Broadway showtune.”

There’s a further twist to the tale in that BC has recently fallen foul of Britain’s ludicrous visa laws and is now having to split his living time between Paris and Philadelphia (the very place he had to leave in order to achieve this artistic and personal rebirth). Come along to this solo piano-and-voice gig on the 20th to at least express a little sympathy.


 

 

(UPDATE, 7th April 2017 – Another sorry twist. This gig has been moved to St Pancras Old Church following the sad, sudden closing of The Forge. Another great venue goes down… At least this means that the show doesn’t get pulled and that more tickets are available.)

* * * * * * * *

MAP Studio Café presents:
David Vaughan
MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Saturday 29th April 2017, 7.30pm
information

David Vaughan“Singer-songwriter David Vaughan’s highly original mix of chanson, latin jazz and classical music comes to MAP for the very first time. Playing two forty-five minute sets of original songs arranged especially for voice, piano/classical guitar, accordion and clarinet, David calls on a number of influences including French chanson of the mid 20th century, modern and traditional Latin jazz, and classical music. They are melodic in nature with intricately arranged accompaniments highlighting David’s talents as both a performer, composer and arranger.

“With a varied career that spans work as a big band jazz trumpeter, jazz fusion keyboard-player (with Matt Borgmann’s 1990s band Meander), rock singer, commercial music composer and music teacher, David leads the show in his own relaxed, friendly style putting his audience at ease for what is an intimate, often heart-felt, sometimes dramatic, sometimes virtuosic show. Few contemporary British songwriters propose such an original blend both of instrumentation and of musical styles. The sound of top UK cabaret/jazz accordionist Romano Viazzani, combined with the mellow tone of upcoming classical clarinetist Jordi Juan Pérez, provides an inimitable backdrop to Vaughan’s songs. And yet this is neither folk nor traditional song, but something entirely original.”


 


 

Upcoming London gigs in early June – A Formal Horse & Ham Legion; Olga Stezhko; The Spiders of Destiny play Frank Zappa; a Bowie Night in Soho

29 May

Here’s some quick info on upcoming gigs in early June which I’ve heard about – all of them in London.

Over the last couple of years, Westminster Kingsway College has established itself as one of the capital’s finest homes for quirky art-rock – by which I don’t mean student hobby bands thrown together for campness or for ironic prankery, but a rich, complex, committed electric music spanning the range between gutter-punk and flouncing prog via metal, jazz, folk, avant-gardening and anything else which gets melted down into the stew. Here’s one of those gigs that proves the point.

A Formal Horse, 2015

A Formal Horse + Ham Legion (Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8RA, Tuesday 2nd June, 6.30pm)

A Formal Horse is a new progressive rock quartet based in Southampton. Although the band’s sound is difficult to pinpoint, their dense instrumental passages are reminiscent of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, whilst Francesca Lewis’ lead vocals evoke the whimsical surrealism of the 1970s’ Canterbury scene. Wonky melodies and serene vocals over a brutal sound – their music keeps you on your toes. However, A Formal Horse go beyond simply regurgitating the music of their predecessors. With influences as diverse as Bartók and Bon Iver, the band prove that there is still much territory to be explored in the field of British progressive rock.

In June 2014, the band released their debut EP, which was recorded by Rob Aubrey (IQ, Transatlantic). They went on to perform at London’s Resonance Weekend alongside Bigelf and Änglagård, and were described by Prog Magazine as a “festival highpoint”. Since, they have shared stages with Knifeworld and Lifesigns, cementing their position at the forefront of the British progressive scene.

Ham Legion spent 2014 honing their sound and developing a storming live show. You can expect a collision of beaming up beat power pop, grinding metal outbursts, dramatic changes of mood, sudden passages of twistingly epic prog then moments of restrained delivery and somber reflection. They are striking out in 2015 with the release of their debut album towards the end of the year.

Tickets available here – £6.00/£5.00

Olga Stezkho: 'Eta Carinae'

Olga Stezkho: ‘Eta Carinae’

Olga Stezhko (the far-thinking Belarusian classical pianist whose ‘Eta Carina’ album impressed me so much last year) has two London concerts coming up in the first fortnight of the month. The second’s likely to be an all-access crowd-pleaser. Given its charity fundraiser status, I’m not sure whether the first is likely to feature or indulge any of Olga’s intriguing conceptual preoccupations with Scriabin, Busoni, cosmology and early twentieth century consciousness, but even if it isn’t it’s a great opportunity to see a fine musician at work in a grand location.

Olga Stezhko charity piano recital in aid of Friends of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice (St Pancras Parish Church, Euston, London NW1 2BA, Thursday 4th June, 1:15pm – 2:00pm)

Programme not revealed – free admission, donations requested.

EC4 Music in aid of The Prince’s Trust (Barbican Hall, Tuesday 9th June, 7:30pm – 9:30pm)

The choir and orchestra of London-based EC4 Music return for their seventh fundraising concert in aid of The Prince’s Trust with a stirring selection of music from both sides of the Atlantic.

Programme:

Leonard Bernstein – Overture from ‘Candide’
Aaron Copland – Appalachian Spring
George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue
Vaughan Williams – Serenade to Music
Leonard Bernstein – Chichester Psalms
Eric Whitacre – Water Night
Hubert Parry – Blest Pair of Sirens

Performers:

EC4 Music Choir and Orchestra
Tim Crosley – conductor
Olga Stezhko – piano
Claire Seaton – soprano
Roderick Morris – countertenor
Thomas Herford – tenor
Adam Green – baritone

Tickets available here – prices from £10.00 – £35.00 plus booking fee.

Some of London’s most active art-rockers are brewing up a free Zappa homage in Croydon at around the same time. Details below:

event-20150606spidersplayza
The Spiders of Destiny play Frank Zappa (The Oval Tavern, 131 Oval Road, Croydon, CR0 6BR, Saturday 6th June, 8:30pm)

Great googly moogly! On June 6th, nine-piece tribute band Spiders Of Destiny come to The Oval Tavern to play a marathon set of music by the late, great Frank Zappa. Featuring world class performers with a sense of humour from notable prog/alternative bands such as: Knifeworld, Perhaps Contraption, Pigshackle, Medieval Baebes, The Display Team, Hot Head Show, Poino, Spiritwo, First, A Sweet Niche and more. So polish up your zircon-encrusted tweezers, trim your poodle, learn the mudshark dance and join us as we propagate the conceptual continuity instigated by one of the masters of modern music.

More info here – this gig is FREE ENTRY but there will be a donations jug doing the rounds during the intermission.

book-bowiespianomanAnyone with an interest in David Bowie, rock history, cabaret, electropop and all of the other things that get swept up into Bowie’s art should head to Soho on Thursday 11th June for A Bowie Night at Gerry’s Club, at which pianist and writer Clifford Slapper launches his book ‘Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson‘ (which also has its own Facebook page).

As well as readings and signings there will be performances of Bowie songs from avowed fans Danie Cox (from “flock-rockers” The Featherz), Ray Burmiston (of ’80s heroes Passion Puppets), club siren Katherine Ellis (Freemasons, Ruff Driverz, Bimbo Jones etc.) and acoustic singer Jorge Vadio. There’ll also be a performance from a longtime ‘Misfit City’ favourite – London balladeer, Brel translator and onetime ‘Pirate Jenny’s’ host Des de Moor, who’ll presumably be singing his Bowie-gone-chanson interpretations from his ‘Darkness and Disgrace’ show. (I’m particularly pleased to see that Des is back onstage. It’s been a long time.)

More on the book below, and more on Gerry’s Club here.

“It is pointless to talk about his ability as a pianist. He is exceptional. However, there are very, very few musicians, let alone pianists, who naturally understand the movement and free thinking necessary to hurl themselves into experimental or traditional areas of music, sometimes, ironically, at the same time. Mike does this with such enthusiasm that it makes my heart glad just to be in the same room with him.” – David Bowie

Mike Garson has played piano on sixteen David Bowie albums, including Aladdin Sane, with his celebrated piano solo on its title track, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, 1. Outside and Reality. He has also played live with Bowie on countless tours and shows, and remains his most long-standing and frequent band member.

For some time Clifford Slapper has been working very closely with Garson to write a book which explores the life of this extraordinary and eccentric modern musician. It documents in detail how as a pianist he was catapulted overnight from the obscure world of New York’s avant-garde jazz scene to a close and long connection with Bowie. In addition, Garson is recognised as a classical virtuoso, a jazz master and one of the world’s greatest exponents of improvisation. He has also recorded and performed live with other rock legends such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails. All of this is covered by this first ever biography of Mike Garson.

Its starting point was several days of in-depth and frank conversation with Garson himself, and covers a wide range of themes which will be of interest to all Bowie fans, but also to anyone with a passion for music, social history or the process of creative inspiration. Input has also come from many interviews with those who have worked with him over the years, including Earl Slick, Trent Reznor, Sterling Campbell, Reeves Gabrels, Dave Liebman and many others.

event-20150611bowienight

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