Indie. New Music. NYC.

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I hope you’re all recovering from the Memorial Day weekend! Nothing quite says America like drinking out of doors and blasting some good old rock and roll. But now that we’re out of the sun and cramped back in our Stockholm Syndrome inducing cubicles, we could all use a little extra taste to get us through to the weekend. 
Meadowhawks are here to provide that bit of hair of the dog and introduce themselves with their brand new, aptly-named, single 'Stowaway'! Get ready to have this tune stash itself inside your brain all day!

Spring is setting upon the city and so is the soul that’s been sleeping under this winter’s stubborn grasp. You can hear it starting to creep out from hiding through the open windows of cars passing by, resonating off your building from the block party nearby, and Cody ChesnuTT is here just in time to shake off any last remaining threat of snow and sing us into a soulful summer. 

Cody ChesuTT will be playing the Apollo Theater on Saturday, June 14th at 10pm. For tickets check HERE.

His unassuming, lyrical honesty brings a special kind of emotional purity to his music, enhanced by his equally rough-cut yet diamond-clear voice and backed by an innovative yet familiar instrumentation that cuts right down to the bone. All these factors combine to create an incredibly performance that is not to be missed. If you don’t believe me, check out the clip below of the song “Everybody’s Brother” from his album Landing On A Hundred.

Cody ChesnuTT | FOR NO ONE from FOR NO ONE on Vimeo.

If you’re not convinced after that I’ll have to wonder what you got for your deal with the devil. Was losing your soul really worth not being touched by that? I think not.

Last week, immediately upon walking into MATA Festival, presented this year by The Kitchen, I was greeted by a wavering and warm electric hum slipped underneath the familiar harmonics of a piano. I turned to find a gentleman playing an instrument as curious as it was beautiful - a glass table laden with geometric shapes of gold and silver to form a musical mosaic. As he passed his hands over the surface or lightly pressed a finger to the pattern, a signal sent to a nearby laptop triggered the pleasant tones. Its operator referred to it as the 'Rose Controller' and after this lovely welcome, I knew I was in for an evening of innovation.

The first piece began and I was not disappointed. Members from the Uusinta Ensemble immediately let their artistry and synchronicity be known as they performed Joan Arnau Pàmies visceral [lVflbclVln/c], a piece whose title defies pronunciation. Much like Pàmies’ departure from traditional musical notation - his scores like sonic seismographs - the music itself certainly left harmony behind yet seemed to maintain a sense of the old call and response, the flute both lilting and percussive, leading the players into an exciting and quaking landscape.

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Photo by Noah Stern Weber, courtesy of MATA

While Pàmies descended into dissonance with a ‘bad boy cool,’ complete lack of recognition of the rules, Sampo Haapamäki’s Connection had more fun finding loop-holes within them, rather than a total disregard. Personally, I believe this to be a more effective form of experimentation and, indeed, one of my favorite musical moments of the night occurred in this piece as the cellist expertly and gingerly spidered his fingers down the strings, coaxing out near synthetic sounds as delicate as a web of silk. 

Before the Intermission break, the evening took a more somber tone with Kellojen Kumarrus, which translates to “The Bells Bow Down,” composer Ilari Kaila’s haunting tribute to a pianist friend who had tragically passed away. Kaila remarked that he had the virtuosic talent of his friend in mind when writing the piece and that much was clear as the piano keened and knelled amid the harmonic hum and drone of the rest of the quintet. Woven within reflection, the keys crashed and the instrument rang out, reminiscent of the titular bells. 

After intermission ended, a singular clarinetist from the Uusinta Ensemble took the stage to absolutely awe me with Aaron Helgeson’s A Place Toward Other Places. Played with a presence and charisma to mirror the cleverness of the piece, this solo work highlighted the subtitles and true potential of the clarinet. It sometimes sounded like a conversation between two registers, the instrument producing chords underlined by the very breath that fuels the sound. It was colorful but muted, like the sounds of night insects heard from indoors.

Artistic Director Yotam Haber certainly made a good move giving the audience the calm of a clarinet solo before Alexander Khubeev’s audio assault, Sounds of the Dark Time, took center stage. Keep in mind, I mean that as no insult. Khubeev stated that he drew inspiration for the composition of the piece from one of my favorite films, Lars Von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” and the parallels between the methods of construction are apparent. Rough, confrontational, and purposefully gritty and unattractive, Sounds of the Dark Time is not a pleasant listening experience and that is very much the point. While this sort of music isn’t my aesthetic, and while I do believe at times the work suffered from too much emphasis on technique, losing focus on the over-arching idea, I have to applaud MATA Festival for its fearless support of all New Music, regardless of genre and style.   

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Photo by Noah Stern Weber, courtesy of MATA

The evening was brought to a close with a World Premiere, MATA Commissioned, piece by Japanese composer Hikari Kiyama.The set up for Jōruri Death Metal involved the careful placement of megaphones, toy xylophones, bicycle horns and various other knick-knacks around the musicians. Pictured above, the conductor joined the stage and there was a quiet buzz of anticipation, like eyeing that stack of birthday presents before you’re given permission to tear them open. But with a flick of the wrist and bounce the Uusinta Ensemble tore into this music with the joyful ferocity of children at play. Driven by an 8-bit pulse this wonderfully chaotic piece celebrated music, noise, and the freeing discovery that those things may not be so separate after all. It was as if the orchestra had set up in an arcade where the players learn through destruction, taking apart the machines, stripping wires from their circuits. Similar to how Charles Ives strove to replicate the link of music and memory in childhood, so too does Kiyama’s music illustrate the absolute overwhelming experience of exploration. 

It’s no surprise that Kiyama was commissioned by MATA to write this piece, as I believe the work really reflects the ideas behind the festival. No matter where around the globe the music comes from, what aesthetic it appeals to, or what emotional strings it does or doesn’t pluck at, MATA is here to not only promote, but also celebrate the creation of new music. It was a triumphant opening night of exquisite and innovative art - and the next evening of the festival did not disappoint. Check back here soon for the full run down of the second program! 

For more information on MATA please visit www.MATAFestival.org

This year’s MATA Festival is the largest yet featuring seven full days of music and lectures curated by Outgoing Artistic Director Yotam Haber.

The festival runs from April 14th - 21st at The Kitchen and tickets are available HERE.

In the MATA tradition, this year’s festival includes the work of 34 composers, all under the age of 40 at the time of their submission, representing 17 countries! This week long event is a celebration of the music of young and emerging artists from all around the world and has helped kick-start the careers of musicians such as Jennifer Higdon, Nico Muhly, and David T. Little. 

I’m lucky enough to be attending two evenings, April 16th and 17th, of this zeitgeist-defining festival and I couldn’t be more excited to be there and witness the music that will be remembered tomorrow today. 

Here’s a small breakdown of the festival, for complete listings and information on the pieces be sure to visit www.matafestival.org

Wednesday, April 16th
Between Noise and Silence - Uusinta Ensemble

Thursday, April 17th
The Which Remains - Vicky Chow, Matt Evans, Marina Kifferstein, Carolyn Chen, and others

Friday, April 18th
Lives in Miniature - Talea Ensemble and Ekmeles

Saturday, April 19th
Matra

Sunday, April 20th
Matinee Concert - Neue Vocalsolisten

Monday, April 21st
Of Circles and Motions of the Others - Manta Percussion and MIVOS String Quartet

This year is just filled to the brim with New York, American, and World premieres! Check back here later this week for my full report on Wednesday and Thursday’s shows!

Today, one of my favorite up and coming bands, Walking Shapes, digitally release their debut album Taka Come On, out on vinyl April 19th!

Fresh off their residency at one of Brooklyn’s hottest venues, Baby’s All Right, and in the middle of their spring tour, this band’s tenacity and grit is matched only in the tones and rhythms of their music so evocative of the cityscape that shaped their sound. Resonating somewhere between iconic Brooklyn grime and intricate yet inclusive experimental musicianship, Walking Shapes are by no means a one note band. Charged with chaotic contemplation, this album is the perfect soundtrack to the city shaking off winter and humming back into Spring.

For a taste of the album, check out the video of “Winter Fell” premiered by The Village Voice HERE

If you like what you hear, stay tuned for the full-length album music video that I’ll be sure to post back here just as soon as its released and mark your calendars for April 24th and 25th where they’ll be playing two shows in NYC.The first is at The Bowery Electric and the second is at DROM. Buy tickets for one or both dates - you certainly won’t regret it!

Last evening, Pete Seeger passed away at the age of 94.

With a career that spanned more than 70 years, Seeger’s influence in the contemporary folk scene is unparalleled, the lives he touched and moved innumerable. 

It’s hard to know what to say when such a great man could cast such a long shadow, but that was the thing about Pete Seeger, the sun was always directly above him. People great and small, children and elderly alike, stood atop their darkness in his presence. When his music played, there was only light.

Take a moment today to listen, marvel, and reflect.

Kylie Minogue released the lyric video for her new single “Into the Blue” today and I am a happy gay. Her new album, Kiss Me Once will be out March 17th. Happy early birthday to me.

That’s it. That’s all I have to say.

I’ve been able to get myself to some wonderful music over the past two weeks and now I’ve finally got the time to give these artists deserve.

The first on my list is Jherek Bischoff who played two talent-packed performances back to back at St. Ann’s Warehouse. I got to see the Wednesday evening performance, the first flexing of this powerhouse team of creative muscle. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. 

The format of the concert recalled a classical environment - the ensemble, contemporaneous, already on stage with violins, clarinets, and trumpets resting on laps waiting for the performance to begin with the entrance of the conductor, David Bloom, and the man of the hour himself, Mr. Bischoff. Taking the stage, Bischoff gave us a little hint of the attitude of the evening, sporting a traditional tuxedo and an amazing pair of patent gold shoes. There’s a brief pause as Mr. Bloom raises his hands to cue the start, instruments are tucked under chins and brought to lips. Bischoff and Bloom exchange a glance and house explodes with electrifying music.

These players did not sit stiff and simply play off the score, but engaged with the same rock and roll flare and sexy confidence as their five-piece band counterparts. Bloom masterfully articulated the music through wrist and fingertips with the swagger and command of an animation dancer. Bischoff knelt besides the featured instrumentalists and the two performers riffed off each other’s electric energy. No, this was not a sit down ensemble. 

The first half featured Bischoff’s own music, and with names like Sondre Lerche, Mirah, and living legend David Byrne supporting you, it’s easy to understand how any artist may wish to pass along the microphone. No, Bischoff didn’t sing at all for this performance but between the charismatic music and even more endearing stage banter, Bischoff shone among his guests.

The second half of the performance featured songs by the guest artists as arranged by Bischoff, shedding a new light on some classic favorites as well as songs new to everyone. Nika Danilova (aka Zola Jesus) was a particular stand out for me, performing with an intimidating intensity and control. It nearly goes without saying that the highlight of the evening was having the pleasure to watch David Byrne perform. Despite his iconic status there was an inviting intimacy about the performance and he often looked to and engaged with the young performers. 

I left the concert with a great feeling of impact, not only because I had just heard gorgeous music, but also because it was the type of collaborative experience that imparts faith in the possible. Genres can and should be defied, fame and status are only obstacles if you let them be, and if you’re good, if you possess a true passion for your art, as Bischoff and all the performers on that stage clearly did, others will support, love, and be changed by you. The artist’s job is to create, but it is the audience’s lot to let themselves be transformed - and I for one had no trouble surrendering. 

Check out this song by my good friend Lissy! It’s a sweet listen on a cold day like today - there’s something about seeing your breath hang in the air that begs introspection. Listen and let this song warm you up a bit!

Also be sure to follow her tumblr HERE.