Tag Archives: Shirley Smart

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…




 

November/December 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – Tell Tale Tusk in Rotherhithe (29th November); Sefiroth in Poplar (3rd December)

22 Nov

One of the best things about running the gig notification side of ‘Misfit City’ is uncovering unknown venues – ones which were previously unknown to me, at least. The ongoing embittering saga of London’s shuttering venues (gobbled up by flats or zoning, squeezed out by skyrocketing rents or bullying neighbours) is at least offset by news of new ones, be they dedicated performance buildings or reclaimed/improvised spaces. From what I hear, half of Peckham seems to be sprouting pop-up performance opportunities: but on this occasion, I’m taking a look at a couple of spaces nearer the river.

I can’t think why I’ve not heard of Sands Films Studios before – as institution and location, they’ve been in place for forty-two years, nearly as long as me. Based in an 18th century granary in the same corner of Rotherhithe as The Mayflower pub, they’ve made most of their money from costumery (sumptuous hand-embroidery for Merchant Ivory, ‘Wolf Hall’, ‘Doctor Who’, the film version of the Lloyd Webber ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and many more) but over the years have expanded into sound and film staging, some of it contained in a small, sofa-filled, enchanted-looking theatre space like a pocket Georgian dream. Judging the latter to be “an inspiringly intimate place to hear fabulous music”, promoters Tunedin.London have swooped on it. Since this September alone, it’s hosted Chilean flamenco from Natalia Garcia Huidobro, polyglot West African songs from Jean Paul Samputu, Galician music from Uxía, and trans-Manche Celtic songcraft from both Siobhan Wilson and Mary Ann Kennedy, with upcoming baroque and rebetiko concerts to come.

My not knowing about Poplar Union is more understandable. it really is brand new – a dedicated arts and community centre for this neglected London neighbourhood above the Isle of Dogs, adding light and colour to a tower block beside the Limehouse Cut, its name a wry nod to the area’s former Victorian workhouse. Much of what goes on there is community workshops, but they’re also getting up to speed as an interesting gig venue, having hosted a double showcase for polyfusional song outfits 1816 and Land of If, with a vibrant sets of new jazz concerts lined up for next year.

Here’s what they’re doing next…

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Tuned In London present:
Tell Tale Tusk Quartet
Sands Films Studios, 82 St Marychurch Street, Rotherhithe, SE16 4HZ, London, England
Wednesday 29th November 2017, 7.45pm
– information here and here

Tell Tale Tusk, 2017Hailed as “clever, witty and deep” by Resonance FM – and based around singing clarinettists/guitarists Fiona Fey and Laura Inskip, singing percussionist Reyhan Yusuf and fiddle player Anna Lowenstein – folk band Tell Tale Tusk Quartet have “grown and developed together over the years, emerging first as an a capella trio, before collecting a fiddle player and setting hands upon new instruments to explore and expand their palette. Their highly collaborative process informs the diverse styles and varied sounds that can be heard within their music. Spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies weave around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new. Tell Tale Tusk’s take on folk is boundlessly creative: as well as being inventive interpreters of music from around the British Isles, the ensemble are prolific writers, adding their distinctive and astute voices to modern day folksong.”

This end-of-November gig celebrates the recent launch of ‘Through The Morning’, the band’s crowdfunded debut EP as a quartet, featuring “an anthropomorphized journey through the changing seasons, a pensive ode to the Moon and a bawdy tale of a (not so) lascivious sailor… just some of the characters that come vividly to life through Tell Tale Tusk’s dynamic storytelling.” In keeping with Rotherhithe’s ongoing celebrations of the three-hundred-and-ninety-seventh anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, expect a few sea shanties too. Meanwhile, see below for the quartet’s arrangement of an old English folk song performed earlier in the year at Sofar Sounds, plus a rip through Ungrateful Wench from one of the occasions when the band goes out as a rhythm-section-bolstered sextet.



 
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Sefiroth
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Sunday 3rd December 2017, 6.30pm
information

Via projects such as Otriad, Blue-Eyed Hawk, Future Currents and Yurodny and through collaborations with orchestras such as the London Sinfonietta, the work of multi-disciplinary guitarist Alex Roth covers jazz, improv, contemporary classical, alternative folk and electronic music; and crosses over into dance and theatre events such as the Katarzyna Witek dance project aired earlier this month.

Sephiroth, 2017One of the projects closest to his heart is chamber-folk ensemble Sefiroth, founded with his brothers (saxophonist and flautist Nick, drummer Simon) to “explore and reimagine traditional Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) repertoire… Sung in Ladino, these ancient songs weave timeless stories of love, loss and yearning for home, evoking the lands in which the Sephardic diaspora settled: Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The group’s arrangements are as porous and wide-ranging as the history of the Sephardim, combining acoustic and electric instruments, contemporary harmony, improvisation and trance-inducing rhythms.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything new from Sephiroth, although various combinations of the band, drawn from a pool of mostly Anglo-Sephardic musicians – percussionist Francesco Turrisi, trumpeter Alex Bonney, cellist Shirley Smart and bassist Ruth Goller, with the vocals handled by Olesya Zdorovetska and violinist Alice Zawadzki – have regularly interacted with each other since the ensemble’s last full concert circa 2013. It now seems as if they’re all collectively refreshed and up for more. This Poplar Union show promises to be the first in a new set of dates for the band.

Meanwhile, see below for some excerpts from Sefiroth’s previous multimedia show, ‘Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia (The Trees Weep For Rain)’, which you can also pick up as a Bandcamp EP.



 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – close-quarters Sephiroth Trio concert of Sephardic music at the Green Note (16th)

12 Mar

At pretty short notice, there’s a chance to see a version of guitarist Alex Roth‘s spellbinding Sephiroth project in Camden Town this coming Thursday (while Alex takes a little live-refresher break from recording his debut solo album).

Mosaic Nights presents:
Sefiroth Trio
Basement Bar @ The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England
Thursday 16th March 2017, 8.30pm
– information here and here

Sephiroth Trio, 2016

Sephiroth Trio, 2016

From Alex: “Sefiroth is the group I co-founded with my brother Nick to explore traditional Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) repertoire. After releasing an EP in 2012 and staging a multimedia theatre show in 2013, we put the project on hold for a while, but I’m really excited to be getting members of the band together to play these achingly beautiful songs again. This intimate trio performance at one of London’s cosiest venues will feature new arrangements of traditional melodies which have been haunting me for years now. Given the intimacy of the venue, booking is highly recommended!”

The trio performing are the same trio who performed at the Play For Progress fundraiser mentioned here last December – Alex on guitar, plus Shirley Smart on cello and Alice Zawadzki on voice and violin. (Shirley is also the woman behind the Mosaic Nights organisation presenting the concert – they put on a variety of monthly folk/jazz/classical fusion events. I’ll need to look out for more of those.)

Here’s more information which I’ve scrounged up on the project:

“Sung in Ladino, these ancient songs weave timeless stories of love, loss and yearning for home, evoking the lands in which the Sephardic diaspora settled: Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The group’s arrangements are as porous and wide-ranging as the history of the Sephardim, combining acoustic and electric instruments, improvisation and trance-inducing rhythms. Following the release of its debut EP… Sefiroth’s multimedia theatre show ‘Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia’ (brought) its experimental arrangements to life through dance, digital projection and production design. It was hailed as “absolutely incredible” (Musicians Benevolent Fund), “striking and innovative” (‘Plays to See‘) and “flawless… an incredibly fascinating collaboration between music, dance and digital media”…”

You might not get the dance and visuals this time, but you’ll get the music up close and personal. Alex isn’t kidding about the intimate venue. Green Note is tiny, and its basement bar more so. At time of posting there were only twenty-one tickets left. Move fast. To encourage you, here are snippets from the EP and the multimedia show, plus the full version of the latter if you want to see and hear more. (And if you miss out on a Sephiroth ticket, there’s always the rather rowdier She’Koyokh Baltic kletzmer gig over in Kings Cross the following night…)


 

 

December 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Sephiroth’s Alex Roth, Alice Zawadzki and Shirley Smart head up the bill at a Play for Progress refugee charity show (2nd); an early December soiree from Society of Imaginary Friends with Her, Kirsten Morrison, Peter Shipman, Jed Demochowski and others (2nd); the first free seasonal family helping of cuddly pop, folk, punk, electronica, choirs and dancing from Daylight Music’s Fuzzy Feeling (School Of Noise, Hackney Secular Singers Choir, Laura J Martin, Enderby’s Room, Whoa Melodic, The Action Men and Spaceship Mark – 3rd)

1 Dec

The first of the seasonal gigs are crossing my radar. So far, rather than just being bloated blowouts, they’re embodying and communicating ideas of support, communality, resistance (in some respects), humour and what Arctic Circle call “that fuzzy feeling”.

This probably sounds as loose and woolly as the old jumper you’ve just dug out from the back of the drawer – but at a time when we’re ducking or getting enmired in Twitterstorms of hateful, sleety 2016 bile, a little of that doesn’t go amiss. Better to be a snowflake than a mean hacking cough, I reckon.

So here we go…

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Play For Progress present:
Play For Progress Fundraiser: Alex Roth/Alice Zawadzki/Shirley Smart + others
The Albany Pub, 240 Great Portland Street, Regent’s Park, London, W1W 5QU, England
Friday 2nd December 2016, 6.30pm
– information here and here

Play for Progress fundraiser, 2nd December 2016 The guitar playing and general musicality of polymathic composer/improviser Alex Roth has graced Blue Eyed Hawk, Otriad and, most, recently, experimental fusion guitar trio Future Currents (as well as the repertoire of assorted contemporary classical ensembles). The work of Alice Zawadzki covers a similar number of bases – jazz singing; classical violin; original songs; the exploration and interpretation of a bevy of inspirations including folk and folklore, poetry, the music of New Orleans and of Joni Mitchell. Improvising cellist Shirley Smart originally studied classical music in London and Paris before immersing herself in jazz and Middle Eastern music during a long cultural sojourn in Israel, soaking up the stew of Hebrew and Arabic roots music and Western art music which has informed her projects ever since ( Sound Of The Ground, Melange, Sawa Trio).

Sharing a common Sephardic Jewish heritage, all three musicians are regular collaborators within the ten-strong Sefiroth, a Sephardic Jewish electro-acoustic chamber ensemble. They’re getting together for a trio performance in Marylebone this Friday, playing a selection of Sephardic ballads as part of a fund-raiser supporting Play For Progress (a charity delivering therapeutic and educational music programmes to children who are victims of conflict and war).

Also promised for the Friday fundraiser bill are “saucy jazzers, the best dad band you’ve never heard, duelling violins with electronics, a Scottish trad/ceilidh band, and a sweet voice with a sultry harp.” I’m not sure who any of these other people are – the event’s being publicized as a concert which is about community rather than names. Assuming that the Sephirothers are setting the bar for quality, it’ll all be worth seeing. For an example of Sephiroth in full flow, see below.


 
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'We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thangg', 2nd December 2016

I have *no idea* what this has to do with proceedings…

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang!’: Society of Imaginary Friends + Kirsten Morrison + Peter Shipman + Her + Jed Demochowski + Martin Wakefield + Nighmar Askouski + DJ Ontjdrew DJ set
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd December 2016, 8:00pm
– free entry – information

On the same night as the Play For Progress event, Society Of Imaginary Friends are hosting another in their series of music and poetry soirees up in Wood Green at vegan restaurant Karamel, with their usual boho-insurrectionary feel, sounding off as if the revolution’s already happened, with an arts café on every corner and democracy becoming a constantly active roots-up ferment. The stage is set for an evening of poets, Bolan-ista power-pop transformationalists, members of Eclectic Opera, plus the Society’s own expansive art-pop-prog-chanson-etc. (Bring yer own hyphen.)

“We’re in a feisty festive mood, comrades. Ready to man the cortical barricades. Love is good, good, good! Let the bells toll our message across hill and dale… To help you celebrate the end of oppression we have the virtuosic, stratospheric soprano and Lene Lovich’s right hand girl Kirsten Morrison – she will be joined by the magnificent counter-tenor Peter Shipman. What is more, we are featuring the punk Goddess, Her (aka Julie D. Riley); singing his beautiful songs will be lead singer of the VIPs and now charted soloist, the extraordinary Jed Demochowski; performing his intensely gripping poetry, Martin Wakefield; Nighmar Ascousky has something of the night for us; and to groove into the burning night we have the one and only DJ Ontjdrew. Society Of Imaginary Friends will be doing what they do. Plus some surprise guests…”

For more about the Society, have a read of my preview for their last show here. As was the case then, I’m unable to get the full skinny on everyone involved, but here’s a clutch of videos and soundclips relating to the upcoming show (including one of Peter Shipman being upstaged by a dog…)





 
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That Fuzzy Feeling, Part 1, 3rd December 2016Featuring “seasonal surprises that are guaranteed to give you a Yuletide glow”, the last Daylight Music concerts for the year excel at being unashamedly cuddly and kid-friendly: not just the harbouring church atmosphere of the Union Chapel, but the laying on of hot chocolate, mince pies and face painting and “a guest appearance by a certain scarf-wearing snowman.” In parallel to all of this, though, there’s the usual thoughtful and intricate Daylight musical overlay, sneaking crafted contemporary folk and pop, classical music, accessible avant-garde experimentation and a little punk rock into the family proceedings.

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 241 – That Fuzzy Feeling Part 1: School Of Noise + HSS Choir + Laura J Martin + Enderby’s Room + Whoa Melodic + The Action Men + Spaceship Mark
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 3rd December 2016, 12:00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

Top position on the first of these (on Saturday 3rd) is taken by a School Of Noise showcase (the performance result of sound workshops encouraging young people and adults towards creativity and experimentation with noise and sound, in which both students “create music, conduct orchestras of food, build analogue synthesisers, record sounds to film, learn about acoustic ecology, and compose original experimental sound art.” The Daylight taste for alt.choral is covered by the Bethnal Green-based, mixed-ability punk-rock-loving Hackney Secular Singers Choir.



 
Laura J. Martin put in a Daylight appearance back in September, singing oblique state-of-the-nation folk songs from a personalised perspective of disconnection, blandification and gentrification; the potentially glum subject matter warmed up by her sweet manner, inquisitive multi-instrumental musical diversity and Liverpudlian outlook (an elliptical wit, plus a reluctance to take authority as given). With a debut single scheduled for early next year, indie-folk quartet Enderby’s Room marshal guitar, ukulele, banjo, omnichord, French horn, harmonium, accordion and double bass under three voices; juggling the hooded delicacy and mood mastery of Low-esque sadcore with the uplift, bubbling rhythms and storytelling impetus of British and American folk music. Here they are playing on board a rumbling steam train.

Whoa Melodic is Michael Wood, who previously played bass and piano and sang in Singing Adams before going on to solo alt.pop work as Michaelmas. Associated with the …. label, Michael’s also worked with The Leaf Library, the Hayman Kupa Band and last year’s ‘A Girl & A Gun’ James Bond tribute. The new work under the old name is an extension of ongoing ideas, and Michael half-promises to deliver some old Michaelmas favourites in his set.


 
The show’s rounded off by a performance by politi-comical Dada-masculine dance troupe Action Men and by an appearance by School of Noise sound collector, film maker and educator Mark Williamson, returning in his solo guise as Spaceship Mark (for which he travels out to sites of specific or conceptual interest in order to record on-the-spot improvised music – previous and ongoing choice sets have included abandoned Royal Observer Corps posts, traffic blackspots and the former Kelvedon Hatch nuclear bunker). He’s bringing a project called ‘Null’… and there the mystery begins.




 
More on the second Fuzzy Feeling show in due course…
 

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