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.
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.
Throw a bunch of New England Conservatory grads on a stage, and you can’t help but expect excellence. I knew going into the Lake Street Dive show this past Friday that I would see a tight, bluesy band fill up the State Theatre with sound. I was far from disappointed — Lake Street Dive brought even more presence and expertise than even I expected. The show opened with PWR BTTM, an energetic duo I’ve hoped to see for months. They emerged on stage, fully prepared to fill the mixed crowd of Ithaca natives and college students with their gritty, glittery garage-punk.
This past weekend we went beyond the basement of Cayuga Lodge and Ithaca at large, for a show seven hours away in Portsmouth, NH: Animal Collective’s debut of their new album Painting With (2016). The show made the far drive one-hundred percent worth the gas guzzling. Painting With officially dropped on February 19th, after a long awaited release. Though the group put out a live album in 2015, Painting With is their first original album in four years. Members Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist headline this album without their historical fourth member, Deakin.
If you’re reading this and you live in Ithaca, you probably missed out on Thursday. Cornell’s own Julian Gallo ’16 played as an opener to New Jersey-based alternative folk band Cold Weather Company as part of a WVBR/CornellRadio.com endeavor that I certainly hope will have an encore. Jordan Wechsler ’16, a member of Cornell Media Guild, found CWC playing in NYC this summer and asked them if they would be willing to come out to Ithaca during the fall. When I wandered out of the library and into The Nines, I found Brian Curry, Steve Shimchick and Jeff Petescia sitting in a circle on the stage beyond the bar. They introduced themselves (“We call Brian “Dad,” Shimchick said) and fleshed out the story of the show where they met Wechsler.
Some of you may remember my column last Friday when I waxed eloquent about the myriad of musical big-wigs who are en route to our humble town. You may also recall that included in that extra-ordinary line-up were two bands known respectively as The Hold Steady and Deer Tick, and that I gave a shout out to man-of-the-hour Dan Smalls, founder of Dan Smalls Presents, Inc. Well, this weekend, Dan Small Presents … the Positive Jam. Drawing a blank? Please, allow me to explain.
This past Saturday night, the Cornell Concert Commission welcomed both new and old students alike with a free concert at Barton Hall. The contenders were Ithaca’s own Hubcap and California based Rogue Wave. While the former tried to intrigue new and old students with their alternative rock music and mentions of the ever so fine tastes of Ithaca, such as the all day music festival in Stewart Park next Sunday, the latter spent the majority of their set trying to rouse the Cornell corpses from their zombie like trance, which could have been attributed to the bleak weather outside or a general dissatisfaction with entering into or coming back to Cornell life.
The Shanghai Quartet visited Bailey Hall on Saturday for a riveting performance that had some of the rough-and-tumble feel of a rock concert. To open the performance, the quartet took on Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K. 421, setting an elegant yet chipper tone for the concert. They dallied with the first movement’s lightsome runs with a tempered gusto. In the Andante that followed, however, the quartet attacked a dark counterpoint, allowing it to well up with an unexpectedly inward melancholy. When the counterpoint motif came back, they erupted in a startling, hall-reverberating crescendo that brilliantly shattered the remaining façade of delicate composure the piece had initially created.