Ivo Perelman, ESG, Frank London & The Pharcyde
This gig was at the opposite scale to the ESG show. There were only three audience members at The Firehouse Space, a wonderful new-ish addition to the Brooklyn venue scene in Williamsburg. Firehouse is psychologically difficult to place, given that it's nowhere near any other haunts, or familiar music zones, but the walk from the Graham Avenue subway station is quite short, really. The previous Saturday, the venue had a good turnout, particularly considering that this is a highly competitive evening in New York City. Firehouse has an intimate, homely studio vibe, like a ground level loft. It's literally situated in a converted fire station. The acoustics are pristine, and visiting pianists talk about how much they appreciate the in-house piano. Organizer Sandra Sprecher operates an adventurous booking policy that veers from improvisation, through out-there jazz, and then towards moderne composition and electronic music.
We three sets of ears were privileged to experience a magical sequence with a highly specialized nature. Trumpeter Frank London (The Klezmatics) and singer Jeremiah Lockwood (The Sway Machinery) collaborated to produce a set of cantorial reinterpretations as Songs Of Zebulon. They were joined by pianist Shoko Nagai, trombonist Brian Drye and tuba huffer 'n' hefter Ron Caswell. Specifically, this outfit shaped the old khazones of Zebulon Kwartin, a repertoire of Ashkenazic song. Born in Ukraine, Kwartin eventually became the head cantor at Temple Emanuel in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and most of his recordings were laid down in New York City. In 1927, he moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he remained until his death in 1953. Lockwood was a member of his grandfather Cantor Jakob Konigsberg's choir, so he's certainly been steeped in the tradition.
Beginning with Nagai on rickety pump organ, and Drye using his small keyboard, the players set out to frame Lockwood's voice with a sensitized spread of harmonized cushioning. When Drye picked up his accustomed 'bone, the three horn players operated as a sweetly ringing, golden choir, Nagai hoisting her accordion, then moving to piano, or into its ghostly interior. Both London and Drye enjoyed spells on the pump organ, as the subtle sonic veil ruffled its character for each song.
When Lockwood started to sing, the effect was quite startling. His voice traversed a remarkable range of expression, swooping and diving, filled with emotional precision. To a listener not versed in the ways of cantorial performance, this was an exotic mystery realm, but as with many forms of music from around the world, the words, phrasing and delivery still commanded an intensely communicative power. Briefly, Lockwood picked up his dobro for an instrumental piece, using bottleneck to craft a language that had absorbed the sound of the oud as well as the techniques of Delta blues steel guitar. The set was very short, but of an extreme density, a rich delicacy of the like that has rarely been heard by most of our ears.
January 31, 2013
Back to the crowds, later that same evening, although the house wasn't quite as crammed as might be anticipated for this rendition of 1992's Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (Delicious Vinyl). Despite the usual longueurs of a hip hop show, when the current edition of The Pharcyde eventually invaded the stage, everything changed. This was that rare beast: a rap gig where every second counted, where no flab was wobbling, no egos were extended and the Los Angeles crew got right down to the heart of its inspired four-man (and more) criss-crossing wordplay. Fatlip, SlimKid3, J-Sw!ft and L.A. Jay emanated a bounding, humor-filled, sharp-witted compaction of kinetic energy, rolling through classics from the album, including "Oh Shit," "Officer," "Ya Mama" and "I'm That Type Of Nigga."