The double bass is a perennial fixture of many jazz combos. And yet, how rare to hear it on its own terms. Rarer still in duet with a like partner. The Cornell Concert Series kicked off its spring season by proving that a duo of basses could be more than meets the ear. As twin ramparts of their generation, Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer are as masterful as they come. Where one cut his teeth on the jagged edges of jazz, the other was baptized in classical waters.
There was a great deal of hand-wringing about the dearth of protest art being made over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, and after the election of Donald Trump. These hand-wringers, however, appear not to have looked very hard at all. Reverend Osagyefo Sekou and Jay-Marie Hill met on the frontlines of a 2015 Movement for Black Lives protest. After being pepper sprayed arbitrarily by police at the demonstration, where activists were demanding the release of an illegally detained 14 year old, Reverend Sekou helped wash the toxins out of Hill’s eyes. Several weeks later, they would title themselves Rev. Sekou & the Holy Ghost, and release their anthemic record, The Revolution Has Come.
“What are the young people doing here?” a friendly Ithaca local asked me at The Haunt this past Friday night. The crowd, mostly 45-65 year-old Ithacans, was there to see John Doe, the now 63-year-old front-man of the 80’s LA punk band, X. My answer was that I was curious about what he’s gone on to produce as a solo artist. John Doe has come out with six records in the past decade, each far different from those produced by X. His most recent album, The Westerner, was released just this year and features some Western-inspired, psychedelia-tinged, Americana rock. The older artists get, the bolder they get. They write for themselves.
Toward proving that “solo piano” is a misnomer, I might present Friday night’s recital by Tamara Stefanovich as my Exhibit A. Stefanovich knows that the piano is more than a single entity, that the trials of other composers and performers before — if not also echoes of those after — graft their own wires into its evolving circuitry. Not only did she seem to make reference to these histories, but also created an alternative one of her own. Her program was a formidable one. Titled “35 Études,” it brought together knuckle-busting pieces of varying temperament. By way of Frédéric Chopin’s “Étude in F minor (Op.
For those who don’t know, the revival of emo is upon us. In a recent article titled “Modern Baseball and How Emo Grew Up,” Pitchfork’s Dan Caffrey describes how a torrent of bands have emerged over the past few years who bear the influence of the emo acts of the ’90s and 2000s, while eschewing the lyrical immaturity, and bitter misogyny characteristic of those earlier waves. These bands sound far less like the “emo” bands that are freshest in our memories — mainstream acts like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and My Chemical Romance whom genre purists wouldn’t consider emo in the first place — and much more like their more indie-influenced predecessors. How appropriate it is then, that two prominent bands of this resurgence — Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms — have joined emo veterans Brand New on their final tour?
When I stooped into the basement of 660 Stewart on Saturday night to catch the debut performance of Cornell’s own West End China Shop, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Going to Fanclub Collective and Ithaca Undergound shows, one sees their fair share of lo-fi rock bands. While there are many standouts, far more common are the acts which are perfectly forgettable. Would West End China Shop be yet another half-serious, irony-soaked project by a group of 20-somethings who, at the end of the day, probably had something better to do? Another whiney, soul-bearing emo band?
In 1987, Zakir Hussain released one of my favorites among his “nontraditional” albums, Making Music. It was a prophetic title for the world’s leading Indian classical tabla player, whose dedication to doing just that is never clearer than when experiencing him in a live setting. Ithacans had the fortune of doing exactly that last Friday night, when a crowd of over 1000 filled Bailey Hall for his two-and-a-half-hour performance with Niladri Kumar. In characteristic humility, Zakir introduced himself as little more than Niladri’s accompanist, on a mission as he is to promote the rising sitar virtuoso to new, global audiences. The duo began with a Rageshree, a Hindustani raga following a 16-beat rhythm cycle, before moving on to lighter material for the second, along with a few modern surprises.
Esperanza Spalding sees something different in her music than I do. Out of Emily’s D+Evolution — her most recent album whose namesake tour brought her to the State Theatre this past Sunday — I personally got not only the best album I’ve heard this year, but one of the most halting pop-jazz records I’ve ever heard, period: that rare/vital kind of stuff that manages to wrap music at its most complex and daunting in a package that’s not just digestible, but alluring and outright dazzling, too. If we can take her Sunday performance as any indication, though, Spalding’s own take on the sounds she makes must be pretty far removed from mine. After (or maybe because of) releasing a hifalutin album like Emily’s that’s been getting laurels heaped on it like wood on a fire, it’s little wonder that Spalding seems to be suffering from that age old plight of the popular musician: taking herself way too fucking seriously. Under the guise of a prophet or a sage or a savior or something else like that, Spalding turned what could’ve been a showcase of her downright excellent music into an overwrought mish-mosh of histrionics, bad ideas, philosophizing and pretension.
In the two years since I first saw Real Estate play The Haunt, I have done a lot in the way of growing up. In 2014, I was a naïve sophomore with a head full of possibilities and uncertainties. Now I am a senior with one eye toward graduation and the “real-world” beyond; probably still naïve, but much more settled in my views and plans. Real Estate, in contrast to my development, has remained fairly static. The band hasn’t released so much as a Single since 2014’s Atlas: the record which they were supporting on that previous spin through town.
This past Friday, Dan Smalls Presents treated us to a lovely and endearing performance at the State Theatre of Ithaca by inviting Regina Spektor to pay the city a visit. Waiting for the start of the concert, the theater was loud and everyone seemed in a slight daze, presumably from the recent turn of the weather, or maybe as a residual effect from the week’s earlier presidential debate. The cold outside had everyone shedding layers of coats, or drinking off the chill, or both. A half hour after the projected start time, as people could be heard asking their neighbors, “The opener hasn’t even started yet?” Spektor waltzed out onto the stage with drummer Mathias Kunzli, cellist Yoed Nir and keyboardist Brad Whiteley. “Oh my gosh she’s so cute!” I heard someone half-whisper off to my left.