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Themselves, John Hollenbeck, Uri Caine, The Arditti Quartet & DJ Spooky

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Themselves/Eyedea & Abilities

The Knitting Factory

November 27, 2009

This was shaping up to be more extended than anticipated. Showtime was advertised as being nine-thirty, but upon arrival it seemed that Themselves were set to take the stage at ten-thirty. Their set was lengthy, but with not a trace of sagging. This made Eyedea & Abilities much more of a late nighter proposition, and by the time they played, the crowd had noticeably thinned.

This pair of MC/DJ duos were representing Hip Hop at its furthest reaches, at the opposite end to mainstream rap, but actually more in keeping with the form's original sonically adventuring spirit. The terms "MC" and "DJ" are only vaguely accurate, particularly in the case of Oakland's Themselves, where such roles are spliced and shaken until the dedicated tabulator feels kinda nauseous.

Themselves have been away and inactive for six years, but chief raconteur Doseone (Adam Drucker) was at the old pre-Brooklyn Knit last year, spearheading the expanded (and similarly excellent) Subtle. He and Jel (Jeffrey Logan) have an uncompromisingly hands-on approach to sample-triggering, visibly hammering out beats, rumbling bass tones and tapping tinny clickety-clacks, their digits performing a micro-ballet across their black box array. Themselves were both garbed in grey gear, with signature arrows emblazoned on waistcoats and jackets. Doseone has a Mohican and a suit, whilst Jel is his comparative straight man.

This is extreme Hip Hop, a chaotic spillage of barely controlled jaggedness that's just as likely to find appeal among the experimental rock and electronica cabals. Doseone is quite simply (or complicatedly) one of music's (any kind of music's) sharpest young frontmen: unique, lunatic, twisted, wise-cracking and tongue-twisting. He's a twitchy mess of perverse thought, instantly ejaculated in rhyme. Jel is persistently fiddling with scratched-up sonic waste matter, constructing brutal collages of sculpted noise. Their set's extended stay notwithstanding, theirs was totally compelling—and compulsive—music for every second and every song.

Of course, this is a very hard act for the Minnesotan Eydea & Abilities to follow. On any other evening they would have been a substantial headliner, but immediately chasing Themselves they suffered heavily by comparison. Yes, DJ Abilities (Gregory Keltgen) is expressive on his laptop/turntable blend, scratching swiftly behind Eyedea's nimble lines (Michael Larsen), but the pair was fighting against the late shift, as the audience reduced after midnight, as well as the sheer godlike impact just made by Themselves. Doseone and Jel returned to the stage towards the close, boosting the set-up into four-piece mode, but by this time the evening's momentum was just on the point of slipping below acceptable levels.

John Hollenbeck

(le) Poisson Rouge

November 30, 2009

For a concert that crept ever closer to the dangerous three-hour mark, this was a remarkably engaging experience. Drummer, percussionist, composer and (now we discover) pianist John Hollenbeck was showcasing three of his very different groups and repertoires, with only two short intervals between the sets. The Claudia Quintet, his most renowned group, was taking a rest. On other memorably tedious occasions, such longueurs have inevitably led to the audience's attention being brutalized into submission, but with New Yorker Hollenbeck at the helm the night swept by without losing its sense of vitality and alertness.

The Poisson Rouge bookers had asked Hollenbeck to present his quintet arrangements of Meredith Monk music (he's now a regular player in her ensemble), but the drummer then seized the opportunity for one of his all-too-irregular Large Ensemble engagements. Hollenbeck also decided to open the evening with a trio that presented pieces he'd penned specially for his old college buddy Todd Reynolds, exploring the outer limits of violin technique. Hollenbeck soon found out that there weren't actually any limits to the interpreting skills of his chosen soloist. Besides the composer and Reynolds, vibraphonist Matt Moran (a Claudia cohort) completed the line-up.

With the Large Ensemble looming, Hollenbeck made the canny decision to unveil his wraith-like compositional aspects. Reynolds was scything sweetly, Moran glimmered across his magic metallophones, Hollenbeck barely struck his skins as he set up soft clockwork patterns, scuttling gracefully. They enveloped the audience in a spangled enchantment, creating an aura of dreamlike lucidity.

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