Straight into December, then (I’m ignoring the last day of November – it’s done me no favours this year) and before the splurge of upcoming musical Christmas parties, here are some assorted one-off gigs. Classical, post-classical and tango nuevo chamber concerts; Brooklyn art-pop; a small but significant folk festival; and a man battering experimental songs out of a piece of beef. That’ll do. As ever, these are mostly London shows, although as mentioned New York does get a look in at the end. Over the coming weekend – a man in a top hat sings songs of Victorian-Edwardian never-weres, wild noise in Hackney and Yorkshire, and a couple of spells of jazz… but more on that later.
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The Arensky Chamber Orchestra presents ‘Surround Sound II’ (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Tuesday 1st December 2015, 8.00pm) – £12.00 – information & tickets
Since its debut in 2009, The Arensky Chamber Orchestra has established itself as one of London’s most exciting young ensembles, dedicated to revitalising the concert experience with theatrical and brilliant productions of classical music. Led by international prize-winning conductor William Kunhardt, the orchestra’s performances fuse electric performance with lighting design, ‘live’ programme notes delivered from the stage and unusual venue use. The ACO also regularly combine their performances with specially created food and drink menus and commissioned work from other artists, including video DJs, artists, actors and dancers. This will be the Forge’s second immersive ‘in the round’ performance from the Arensky Chamber Orchestra’s brilliant principal players; and on the menu are performances of two of the great string quintets.
Luigi Boccherini’s String Quintet in E major is one of the most famous quintets in the classical repertoire. The timeless melody of its third movement, ‘The Celebrated Minuet’, is woven into popular culture (appearing in ‘The Blues Brothers’ and ‘This is Spinal Tap’ as well as many other contexts). Tonight’s performance is in the original configuration (a conventional string quartet of two violins, viola and cello, plus a second cello as the fifth instrument) but over the years the piece has been rescored for a startling breadth of instruments including organ, mandolin duo, accordion and saxophone.
Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C was the composer’s last instrumental work (composed during the final weeks of his life) and possibly his greatest accomplishment. It’s most iconic movement is the Adagio – a piece of such sublime tranquility that time seems to stand still throughout. Yet every other movement lives up to this extraordinary standard as well – from the expanse of the opening Allegro to the dazzling scherzo, it is a work of endless invention, radiant and rich sound-worlds and infinite varieties of texture and colour.
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The Deco Ensemble (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Wednesday 2nd December 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00 – information & tickets here and here
Established in 2013, The Deco Ensemble performs an eclectic and colourful combination of classical masterpieces, little-known gems and new avant-garde works. Rich in poignant harmonies, bold rhythms and elaborate ornamentations, their exuberant and glamorous repertoire includes works by Gustavo Beytelmann, Yannis Constantinidis, Frédéric Devreese, Ramiro Gallo, Graham Lynch, Astor Piazzolla, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel and Anibal Troilo. A quintet of Sabina Rakcheyeva (violin), Bartosz Glowacki (accordion), Ricardo Gosalbo (piano), Rob Luft (electric guitar) and Elena Marigómez (double bass), they also collaborate with many of the world’s most promising and intriguing composers and performers, and write their own arrangements.
The ensemble’s adventurous approach and spirit of fearless exploration has its origins in the music of Piazzolla, re-imagining the Tango Nuevo Quintet which the composer formed during the 1960s in order to lay down the foundations of modern tango writing and to combine classical, jazz and traditional influences. Already the veterans of extensive European touring, Deco Ensemble have performed sellout concerts across Britain and across the breadth of Europe from west to east. Their critically-acclaimed debut album ‘Encuentro’ was released in July 2015.
Ramiro Gallo – El último kurdo
Gustavo Beytelmann – Travesía
Astor Piazzolla – Muerte del ángel
Astor Piazzolla – Milonga del ángel
Astor Piazzolla – Tango del diablo
Frédéric Devreese – Passage à 5
Frédéric Devreese – Dream & Tango
Gustavo Beytelmann – Encuentro
Astor Piazzolla – Triunfal
Astor Piazzolla – Oblivion
Ramiro Gallo – Las malenas
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Now here’s something interesting…
Cosmo Sheldrake (Rockfeedback Concerts @ The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Thursday 3rd December 2015, 7.30pm) – £11.00 – information & tickets
A multi-instrumentalist, an improvising sampler/looper and the crafter of sweet unorthodox earworms, Cosmo Sheldrake has been described as “a relentlessly experimental artist taking organic samples from the world and turning them into dreamy songs.” Certainly his best-known single, ‘Rich’, is a case in point. Its tripping, sunny melodies – apparently moulded from stray chunks of both English folk and contemporary R&B – bob over a rhythm made by tearing meat from a cow carcass.
This kind of experimentation and juxtaposition (the cute tunes and the occasionally slightly-sinister underpinning; the initiation of whimsical but multi-layered musical questions; the rough-and-ready play across a huge musical vocabulary) seems to lie at the heart of what Cosmo does. He’s certainly steeped in music – aside from the wide-spanning instrumentalism (beginning with early days on piano at age four, building upwards and outwards and somehow never stopping), he’s been a founder member of nine-piece polygenre band Gentle Mystics since 2007, and also runs assorted instrumental and beatboxing workshops, plus a choir, in his Brighton hometown. He’s also known for performances in unusual locations including boats, farmyards, laundrettes and public swimming pools; and takes inspiration from the world around him with unfiltered, undifferentiated spontaneity; being as likely to turn out a song about pelicans as he is one about humans.
This week’s show promises to be mostly improvised, intimate and has a pretty small number of tickets, so move fast if you’re interested.
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Moving on to some purer folk…
‘Ghosts At Our Shoulders – The Tradition Unfolds’ featuring Chris Wood + Alasdair Roberts + Kirsty Potts + Stick In The Wheel + Martin Carthy + The Devil’s Interval (Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, UK, Thursday 3rd to Saturday 5th December 2015, various times) – various prices (£9.50-£22.50) – information & tickets
“The men have withdrawn and left me alone in a roomful of relics / But they gave me the song, so I carry the song that all men inherit.” – Alasdair Roberts
A series of songwriters and song interpreters inspired by tradition. The rich folk song tradition in these isles is a never-ending well of ideas and sensibilities as well as source material. The traditional canon is often attributed to ‘Anon.’ – a ghost perched on the shoulders of contemporary performers, who carry tradition forward and forge their own paths inspired by that legacy. This series of concerts features some of the most thoughtful and creative interpreters of song, whose unifying focus is the telling of the song. Voices close to the source, acting as a link from the then to the now.
With his work sometimes compared to that of Richard Thompson (though he cites his major influence as ‘Anon.’), Chris Wood is an uncompromising singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter whose music reveals his love for the un-official history of the English-speaking peoples, weaving his own contemporary parables into the tradition. His lateral take on the modern world follows an ideological thread from the likes of John Clare and William Blake, and as well as humble hymns and wry observations of the small things in life, his songs have included Hollow Point (a chilling ballad of the shooting of Jean Charles Menezez).
The twenty-year, eleven-album career of Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist Alasdair Roberts has taken him from the early alt.folk of his Appendix Out project via mingled traditional and self-penned work to his latest, self-titled solo recording, featuring a span of Glaswegian folk talent. He performs songs which are “elliptical and gnomic, direct and personal, romantic and tender” and which have moved from an early economical style (partially inspired by the sparse aesthetic of indie rock) to the complex, esoteric and spiritual work of more recent albums. An enthusiastic and generous collaborator, he’ll be sharing the stage with Kirsty Potts, a singer of traditional Scottish folk for thirty years. Having recorded six albums with the famous folk duo of Alison McMorland (Kirsty’s mother) and Geordie McIntrye, she’s recently released her own long-delayed debut solo album ‘The Seeds of Life’.
Raw and uncompromising London folk quintet Stick In The Wheel record to the sound of sirens and birdsong in their long-rented East End front rooms. Brought up in the thriving culture of working class London and cutting their teeth in its diverse musical landscape, they now bring those influences and attitudes to their traditional music. Across three EPs, multiple festivals and award nominations and the release of their debut album in September this year, their music is as authentic as it comes, capturing a culture that is rapidly disappearing, and is at times brutally honest and grabbing.
Over five decades of a varied career (with Waterson Carthy, Steeleye Span, solo and beyond), Martin Carthy has been one of folk music’s greatest innovators, one of its best loved, most enthusiastic and, at times, most quietly controversial of figures. He’s a ballad singer, a ground-breaking acoustic and electric-guitarist and an authoritative interpreter of newly composed material; always preferring to follow an insatiable musical curiosity rather than cash in on his unrivalled position.
Playing in support of Martin are some of his regular tourmates: recently-reunited vocal group The Devil’s Interval (the teaming of singers Jim Causley, Emily Portman and Lauren McCormick, each of them solo artists in their own right). The group are well-loved for their spell-binding harmonies and passion for captivating story-telling through the medium of traditional song: their three distinctive voices blend beautifully, bringing new life to some of the old jewels of the folk-song canon.
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Project Instrumental + Tpongle + Zach Walker + DJ Jesse Bescoby present ‘Built On Bass’ (Hackney Attic, 2170 Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HE, UK, Friday 4th December 2015, 7:30pm) – £6.00 – information here and here – tickets
Project Instrumental bring thrilling performances to unbounded audiences. Bold, imaginative and boundary defying, this virtuosic ensemble strips back the peripherals with their straightforward contemporary approach to create not just concerts, but experiences. For ‘Built On Bass’, they bring together a composer, a sound artist and a visual artist to create a multi-sensory musical environment using sound, electronics and cymatics. Taking a four-hundred year-old form defined by variations against a bass motif, they connect a passacaglia-inspired programme of music written within the last fifty years and create a twenty-first century experience, responding to the written repertoire through live collaborations that explore the physical sensation of sound and auditory-visual interactions.
The world premiere of a commission from composer Robert Fokkens features in an irresistible confluence of timelessness, change, cycles and variance alongside Arvo Pärt’s mesmeric Passacaglia in its version for 2 violins and Dmitri Shostakovich’s powerful Chamber Symphony op.118a. Inspired by and sampling the programmed repertoire, sound artist, producer and DJ Tpongle creates a ‘passacaglia for the present’, weaving a bass thread through the night, culminating in a live electronic set. Zack Walker‘s striking projections will extend the sound experience in space using his live liquid cymatics sculpture, original film content and analog feedback projections to respond to the live musical performance. Ace Hotel Guest DJ Jesse Bescoby rounds the night off with a set exploring the gap between contemporary classical and experimental, independent music. All can be taken with locally produced craft beers and food available to order throughout the evening.
Arvo Pärt – Passacaglia
Robert Fokkens – New Commission World Premiere
Dmitri Shostakovich – Chamber Symphony op.118a
Tpongle – Live electronic set
Zach Walker – Live cymatics sculpture
For a glimpse of Zach’s cymatic sculpture work, see below.
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Finally, something for readers in New York who like their art pop. Trevor Wilson of Anawan has been in touch with a welcoming Christmas message as cute, rambling, perky and openhearted as his band is. See below.
Anawan – ‘Having Fun’ show (Briscoe Music Space, 3 Sackett Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York, New York State, USA, Friday 4th and Saturday 5th December 2015, 8.00pm) – $5.00-$15.00 (pay-what-you-want) – information and tickets
We are doing a huge show on two nights, December 4th and 5th, at our music space in Red Hook, Brooklyn! At the intersection of danger and confidence comes, perhaps, one of the most important reasons for being alive. Sometimes ‘having fun’ is outwardly bold and courageous- motosports – skydiving. Sometimes just going out on a limb and making a joke is the boldest thing you can do in a day- just cracking a smile can take years for some! Love is more bold than any physical challenge- hearts are huge, sometimes mountains, with hiking trails to be lost in, make plans, need more, need less- as my friend Ethan Woods says, “love takes time”. But also, man, love is the funnest thing of all… what’s around the corner? You don’t know!
The “sound” of fun is loose and electric, sometimes passionate, sometimes flippant. The songs for this very special show include new songs inspired by fun – but don’t expect them to all sound like it… that would be too easy, and what’s the fun in that? In addition to working with my dear historical Anawan members, we’re working with some new folks and doing things in a new way, and that in and of itself is the most palpably fun element of this whole production. It’s going to be a huge ten-piece ensemble playing songs old and new; a rhythm section, string trio, electronics, and the usual Anawan gang. We’ll round the show off with some Anawan standbys as well as a supremely fun song from wa-a-ay back when. I really hope to see you there! I leave NYC at the end of the year to live elsewhere! This is it, guys! Let’s do it! I’m not gonna say it again!
Jesse Rifkin (a.ka. Jesse R. Berlin) will play electric guitar (one of my oldest and bestest musical pals – we met each other on Myspace in 2005 – such a beautiful guitar player). Tom Montagliano (of Maudlin Maladies) will provide the soundtrack to an experimental universe that will begin the night! Also involved – singing and more by Maia Friedman (Uni Ika Ai, Toebow), Alice Tolan-Mee (True Lucy) and Ethan Woods (Rokenri), percussion by Sandy Gordon (Silent Isle, Causings), violin by Elori Kramer (Alpenglow), keyboard and more by Judith Shimer (The Sneaky Mister), violin by Sarah Tolan-Mee (who is awesome) and elemental forces by Andrew Wells Ryder (True Lucy).
Tickets are donation based- we won’t turn anyone away- but this will go towards paying the performers and keeping the space warm. Make sure to come by 8.00pm so you do not miss anything. This could make a huge difference in your life! Or it may go on the same as always! See you there!
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More shortly, as we take on the weekend…