I’m sorry that this is another last-minute posting, but if you’re reading this in or around New York, there might be some tickets left for this concert.
Michael Chinworth & The Rudder Band + Will Stratton + Jonah Parzen-Johnson (Union Hall, 702 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York, NY, USA, Friday August 21st 2015, 7.30pm) – $10.00
Part of the generation from the liberal arts Bennington College which also fostered Trevor Wilson (Anawan, Vocal Ensemble), Tavo Carbone (Horse’s Mouth) and J.J. Beck, Michael Chinworth maintains that group’s indifference to musical boundaries, keeping up a New York tradition of playing (like latterday Arthur Russells) across genres. Exploring his Bandcamp page throws up assorted experiments in cut’n’paste electro-acoustic collages and vocalese plus assorted various college-classical chamber pieces in various contemporary Romantic, minimalist or post-Ligeti forms. On this occasion, he’s following his well-established alternative pop side, performing his own lustrously tuneful take on a Trevor Wilson song cycle – 2013’s ‘Rudder Songs’ – which he’s due to release on album the following day.
‘Rudder Songs’ is in keeping with much of Trevor’s work – simultaneously vague and pointed, obscure and lovely, and often subtly provocative. While never being so obvious as to make a straightforward point, it suggests a unsettled fluidity of sexual identity and choices of vision; providing off-kilter, stream-of-consciousness hymns to unorthodox friendships and the possibilities of city life that nonetheless wilfully and regularly flees to open countryside or the solitary road life. Familiar elements from folk, torch song, soul jazz and psychedelia float alongside each other, recombining at odd intoxicated angles; or explode from straightforward beginnings into thought patterns too complicated for a simple frame to contain.
If you want to compare the Chinworth versions to the Wilson originals (sung and recorded solo at Meredith Monk’s piano, no less) you can find the latter above. Michael’s smooth, Wurlitzer-tickled blue-eyed soul approach might initially seem miles away from Trevor’s wayward and uninhibited performances and whisper-to-caterwaul vocalising (in some respects, it’s like Frank Ocean covering Kevin Coyne or John Cale at their most frothing). Still, if you’re familiar with Michael’s work on Trevor’s songs elsewhere, both the link and the sympathy are clearly intact; and it’s clear that their work together in Anawan (in which both Michael’s voice and Wurlitzer play a key role) paves a way towards Michael’s slant on the Rudder material. Check out his performance in the video for Anawan’s ‘Breaded Me’, below, and then compare it to his versions of a pair of Rudder Songs underneath (one exploring an unusual fissile threesome, the other obliquely fishing in a friend’s thoughts).
In addition to Michael the Rudder Band lineup includes guitar visionary Ben Seretan and fellow Benningtonians J.J. Beck and Matt Scott, plus Trevor Wilson himself on additional keyboards. Re the collaboration, Trevor comments “In many more ways than one, this is a repeat of a much-admired album from 1970, ‘Nilsson Sings Newman’. Harry Nilsson, inspired by the odd, rude composition style of Randy Newman, wanted to take the songs and re-imagine them with his signature vocal layering and general studio beautifying. These two songwriters, equal but so different in their contribution to musical history, united to create this album together without ego, without agenda. (Maybe. I hope.) As I will do (at the concert), Newman plays and sings on Nilsson’s adaptation of his own songs… with another bandleader.
“I think everyone should have the opportunity to do this with their form of expression. Not to get too 3rd-grade-after-school-assignment-y, but seriously, try it out. Ask one of your contemporaries, friends, colleagues if you can ‘cover’ their thing, and have them sit in the passenger seat somewhere during the process. Or the other way around. You’ll both learn a thousand things. Michael has a rare gift of seeing music on its own terms- terms that don’t exist within human realities- and he has certainly shown me things about my compositions that has changed my whole process. The band is sounding great, and I am so happy to be a part of it.”
There are two support acts. Folk songwriter Will Stratton will be playing songs drawn from his five full-length albums; while Jonah Parzen-Johnson (frequently seen as part of New York afrobeat ensemble Zongo Junction) will be bringing his lo-fi music for solo circular-breathing saxophone and analogue synthesizer, described as follows – “Imagine the raw energy of an Appalachian Folk choir, tempered by a lofi, minimal aesthetic inspired by the music of Bill Callahan… (Jonah) has meticulously constructed a world of warm memories remembered in a cold present, as he melds the evocative nature of folk music with the chilling power of experimentalism.” Judge for yourselves at the gig, or via the previews below.