Category Archives: Festivals

2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival 6/28/18-7/7/18

Dates: June 28 - July 7, 2018

Location: Montreal, Canada

Hot Fun in the Summertime: The Montreal Jazz Festival Burns Away the Bluster

BY ALISA CHERRY

As the namesake city of the internationally renowned jazz festival it’s hosted for the past 39 years, Montreal is a cool, cool city. However this year it was hot, very hot in fact. And that has nothing to do with the hot acts… or, for the matter, the cool performances either. With temperatures approaching the mid-90s, and the stifling conditions that made even brief walks between venues a daunting challenge in itself, this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival which took place June 28 to July 7 was not without some tedium due to its temperatures. (Go HERE for our  2017 coverage.)

Nevertheless, those who attended either the free outdoor performances, the dozens of ticketed events or a bit of both, mostly agreed it was worth dealing with the heat at least for the sake of witnessing some amazing music. And indeed, with choices between dozens of world class artists, both known and occasionally obscure, the 2018 Montreal Jazz Festival proved yet again how all-inclusive it is when it comes to its musical offerings. As anyone who has attended the fest over the course of the past several years will attest — its handle aside — The Montreal Jazz Festival isn’t just about jazz. In years past, such rock luminaries as Brian Wilson, King Crimson and Bob Dylan have graced its stages, either as featured artists or associated performers. This year, such popular luminaries as Ry Cooder, Jann Arden, Seal, Boz Scaggs, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull took to its stages.

It may be sweltering outside, but the Montreal Jazz Festival — or as it’s referred to so eloquently in French, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal — is cool. Very cool indeed.

Montreal is indeed a model city for a festival so sprawling it takes up several city blocks just to contain it. Fortunately, the heat notwithstanding, all the venues are easily accessible. The venues come in all varieties, from a multitude of clubs to the expansive Place des Arts, home to several ample staged stages within its massive confines. Then of course, there are the outside locales spread along the main drag, Rue St. Catherine, all of which invite the choice of a concerted devotee.

Naturally, those who consider themselves diehard jazz aficionados had plenty to cheer about. Herbie Hancock, Carla Bley, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Dave Holland, and Terrence Blanchard were among the more iconic names that headlined the many stages and featured concerts. Those weaned on a rock or pop pedigree had opportunity to soak up the blues, bluster and boogie of George Thorogood or marvel at the performance by Number 9, a group comprised of young musicians who faithfully reproduced every note and nuance of the Beatles famed “White Album.” A spectator whose tastes weren’t necessary confined to any particular parameter could marvel at the genre-bending abilities of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the classic and contemporary musical fusion of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, or simply find themselves dazzled by the ageless Dee Dee Bridgewater and the sultry sounds of Beth Hart.

Personally, we found ourselves immediately impressed on the first night by the combined talents of John Medeski and Marc Ribot. It was jazzy indeed. Or was it? The sheer sweep and intensity of the music’s remarkable dynamics had us completely held in sway.

That perhaps is the greatest gift the Montreal Jazz Festival provides for all, an opportunity to venture into unknown realms, jump between genres and learn to understand and appreciate sounds which may not be immediately familiar. Those who normally find adventurous sounds of this sort alien or intimidating in any way are given a chance to explore on their own without judgement or disdain. It’s a vast musical market boasting a wide array of wares, all of which make Festival International De Jazz De Montreal one of the coolest festivals around.

Even when it’s just too damn hot.

 

THAT’S ‘ROO FOR YOU: The Bonnaroo 2018 Festival

The annual blowout happened June 7 through 10 this year, and it was indeed a blowout. (Pictured above: Durand Jones & the Indications.)

TEXT AND PICTURES BY: MARK JACKSON (#markjacksonphotography1)

 Bonnaroo first started way back in 2002 with a heavy influence in jam bands, Positivity, and happiness, but has branched out in many wonderful directions. Over the years the festival has stayed true with their core selection of genres but has added more and more mainstream artist. Bonnaroo has also worked to separate itself from the many same old same old music festivals by giving the attendees a unique experience inside the festival grounds and in the campgrounds. Offering pop up mini-concerts and karaoke sets on small stages in the campground areas, shaded hangout areas, food vendors throughout the campgrounds, and the addition to a lot of “real bathrooms” this festival does indeed set itself apart from most festivals. With attendance at around 80,000 this year, I would say it’s safe to say they are giving the people what they want. Bonnaroo has also had its share of house and techno artist over the past several years, but last year they made a huge leap into the EDM scene by turning “The Other Tent” into a full stage that rivals the main stage. The Other Stage is solely dedicated to EDM music and EDM artist and with the crowds that flocked to the stage all weekend last year and again this year, I would say it’s definitely here to stay!

New for this year was the Grand Ole Opry, a two-hour country show similar to the Super Jam format in that they had many artists playing together. The official announcer of the Grand Ole Opry Mr. Bill Cody was at the helm and introduced Opry members Old Crow Medicine Show, Bobby Bare, Del McCoury Band, and Riders In The Sky, as well as Joshua Hedley, LANCO, Nikki Lane, and Maggie Rose.

   The Super Jam was a tribute to late great Tom Petty this year and it too had an all-star cast to pay tribute to Mr. Petty who passed away October 2nd of 2017. The tribute included such names as Cheryl Crow, Hayley Williams from Paramore, Matt Shultz from Cage The Elephant, Sameer Gadhia from Young The Giant, Langhorne Slim, Photographer and musician Danny Clinch, Vanessa Carlton, and more. This year’s Super Jam was a heartfelt tribute that showcased many songs of the career of Tom, and I think he was looking down on us with that wonderful smile that he had in approval.

    Bonnaroo is also known as a festival for finding the next big names in music. Artists that you may not have heard of yet will often play here and six months later be all over the radio and social media. I’ve seen this happen over the years with acts such as Twenty One Pilots, Highly Suspect, Halsey, and last years breakout artist who once again played this year on a bigger stage, Dua Lipa. The list goes on and on for breakout artist who first gains major traction at the Roo. Some of the up and coming artist at Bonnaroo this year included Lewis Capaldi, Lizzie, Topaz Jones, Flor, Jade Bird, and my favorite new find this year Sir Sly. Miller Lite held a contest this year called “The Road To Roo”, This contest allowed bands to compete for a chance to play and be featured on the New Music On Tap Lounge Brewed By Miller Lite Stage. The winning band was The Foxies who have roots in Phoenix but now reside in Nashville, TN. Fronted by Julia Lauren Bullock the band has started making a name for themselves in a town where country music rules. The Foxies are bringing an Indie pop sound infused with an 80’s glam pop that needs to be seen live.

   Headliners for this year’s Bonnaroo were Eminem, The Killers, Muse, Future, and Bassnectar.  There were many great bands such as Paramore, T-Pain, Midland, Khalid, Moon Taxi, who topped the bill as well, but there is so much more than music to experience at Bonnaroo that must be experienced for yourself. The motto “Radiate Positivity” is much more than a slogan on the farm and from the moment you are here you can feel it in the air and in the people. This place is much more than a music festival and arts festival. It is a utopia of sorts that carries with it long days, long nights and extreme Tennessee summer heat, but you won’t care about any of those things while you are living in the moment of this magical place. Unfortunately, we must live in the real world until next June 13th thru the 16th when we can once again grace the farm. Until then I would like to give a huge thanks to the first class Big Hassle Media staff and to Live Nation for once again allowing me to cover this fantastic music festival.

Arizona

Bobby Bare

CYN

Dua Lipa

Elohim

Eminem

Flor

Future

Hayley Williams (Paramore) – Tom Petty Tribute

Khalid

Langhorne Slim/Danny Clinch S

Lewis Capaldi

Lizzie

Maggie Rose (Grand Ole Opry)

Manchester Orchestra

Matt Shulz/Cage the Elephant

Mavis Staples

Midland

Moon Taxi

Old Crow Medicine Show

 

Paramore

Playboi Carti

Rag n Bone Man

Sameer Gadhia (Young the Giant)

Sheryl Crow

Sir Sly

The Foxies

T-Pain

The Other

Vanessa Carlton

 

   

 

 

Beale Street Music Festival 5/4-6, 2018, Memphis

Dates: May 4-6, 2018

Location: Memphis, TN

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY MARK JACKSON

The Beale Street Music Festival is an annual music festival that takes place in downtown Memphis, with the backdrop of the mighty Mississippi River and the iconic symbols of the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, and the Tennessee/Arkansas Bridge. Every year this is one of my favorite festivals for many reasons, first being the staff. Memphis holds a month long celebration every year for the month of May and celebrates a different country each year (this year was the Czech Republic), including events such as the music festival, BBQ cook off contest, Great American River Run, exhibits, and more.

This festival always has a great mix of rock, alternative, rap artist, and a blues tent that only has blues artist for the entire three day event. This festival is always packed, but this year sold out completely on Sunday by five o’clock. I think it may have had something to do with having a “Rockstar” artist who is all over the radio and Youtube with hit after hit. You may have heard of him, he goes by Posty aka Post Malone. If Post alone was not enough, Sunday also had Juicy J, Young Dolph, Delbert McClinton, Dram, Erykah Badu, The Flaming Lips, Flor, Andrew W.K., and a band who I was especially excited to see live called Misterwives an indie pop band based in New York City. The lead singer, Mandy Lee, reminds me of Haley Williams from Paramore, with her onstage presence and dance moves. Misterwives had the crowd jumping, dancing, and everyone singing along.                                                                                                                                      Other great acts from the weekend included Alanis Morrisette, Third Eye Blind, Margo Price, North Mississippi Allstars, Queen of the Stone Age, Kaleo, Clutch, Tyler, The Creator, Cake, Chevelle, Gov’t Mule, David Byrne, Ludacris, Al Kapone, Logic, and of course Jack White, who once again banned the photographers with a closed pit with no photos allowed (as he has done many times in the past). Jack also kept low blue lighting for the entire show, which I assume was to not allow fans to have any photos as well.

We want to send a special thank you to the promoters and staff of the Beale Street Music Festival for having me and Blurt back for the fourth year in a row – I can’t wait to see who’s playing next year!

Among the artists who performed:

ACTION BRONSON

AL KAPONE

ALANIS MORISSETTE

ANDREW W.K.

CAKE

CHEVELLE

CLUTCH

DAVID BYRNE

ERYKAH BADU

FLOR

JUICY J

KALEO

KINGFISH

LOGIC

LUDACRIS

MISTER WIVES

NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS

POST MALONE

FLAMING LIPS

THIRD EYE BLIND

TYLER THE CREATOR

VANCE JOY

YOUNG DOLF

 

Rock On The Range 5/18-5/20, 2018, Columbus OH

Dates: May 18-20, 2018

Location: Columbus, OH

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY MARK JACKSON

This year’s Rock On The Range was bigger than ever with 140,000 people attending over the three day festival. This year marked the 6th consecutive sellout for Rock On The Range, and with names like Tool, Alice In Chains, Avenged Sevenfold, A Perfect Circle (pictured at top), Greta Van Fleet, Machine Gun Kelly, Stone Sour, Three Days Grace, And Stone Temple Pilots (just to name  a few of the nearly 60 bands who played this year), you can see why this is the biggest and best rock festivals of the year!

The festival did have a weather delay on Saturday and a three hour mandatory evacuation due to lighting in the area. This had many festival goers worried that the festival would be canceled for the day or at least miss many of their favorite bands, but this was not the first time that the promoters and staff have had to deal with Mother Nature. The promoters were able to get an extension on the city curfew, and with a few set trimmings and only having to cut Bullet For My Valentine’s set completely, all other bands were able to perform.

I love festivals because you get to see so many great bands in one weekend while enjoying the festival atmosphere. To me the atmosphere is totally different than that of a single concert where everyone is trying to get in and get out as quickly as possible. A single “big name band” night also means that most of the people skip the opening bands. In my opinion, you miss the up and coming bands that could very well be your next year’s favorite new band. When you attend a festival you get to experience these bands through out the day.

A couple of the new acts that I caught this year included joyous Wolf and The Fever 333. Both of these bands not only sound great but have a unique and wild stage presents. Some of the highlights for me from the weekend were Machine Gun Kelly who never fails to deliver. Stone Temple Pilots who are back and better than ever with a new singer whom sounds and moves a lot like Weiland, but you can tell he is his own front man who should continue to make hits with this seasoned powerhouse band behind him. Cory Taylor is always a great show. Cory’s voice is amazing wheatear he is pushing the limits of his voice with Slipknot or hitting the sweet spot while fronting Stone Sour.

Sunday’s lineup was a full schedule, with all three stages giving the crowd more rock than they could handle! Greats included Shaman’s Harvest, Red Sun Rising, We Came as Romans, I Prevail, Code Orange, Stone Temple Pilots, Godsmack, and of course Tool, just to name a few of the 21 acts.

And that’s not counting The Comedy Tent. The Comedy Tent also brought the funny this year with Taylor Tomlinson, Big Jay Oakerson, JB Smoove, and my favorite of the weekend Jay Armstrong! We even got a little Rap Rock this year with Jelly Roll, Tech n9ne, Body Count, Yelawolf, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Music fans from around the world even got to join in on the action this year as LiveXLive live streamed performances and backstage interviews through out the weekend. One of the busiest attractions on the grounds was A.D. Farrow Co. Harley-Davidson — America’s Oldest Harley Dealer, who had a motorcycle demo that festival goers who have never been on a motorcycle could get a little taste of the feeling of riding a Harley Davidson. While the bike was safely locked into a vise, it allowed the rear wheel to move freely and the rider could shift gears and use the throttle. This made for a lot of smiling faces. On Sunday A.D. Farrow also hosted a bike run with over one hundred motorcycles in attendance to raise money for the Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial.

I would like to thank the following for allowing us to once again cover this great event. Rock On The Range, AEG Presents and Danny Wimmer Presents. Thank you for another great year and I can’t wait to see who makes the lineup next year! If you want to be in attendance I suggest you get your tickets early as this event will surely sell out for the 7th year in a row!

Among this year’s performers:

10 YEARS

A PERFECT CIRCLE

BIG JAY OAKERSON

BLACK VEIL BRIDES

ICE T & BODY COUNT

BREAKING BENJAMIN

CODE ORANGE

GODSMACK

GRETA VAN FLEET

I PREVAIL

JAY ARMSTRONG

JELLY ROLL

JOYOUS WOLF

MGK

RED SUN RISING

SHAMAN’S HARVEST

STONE SOUR

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS

TECH 9

THE FEVER

THREE DAY’S GRACE

WE CAME AS ROMANS

YELAWOLF

Preview: 2018 Montreal Jazz Festival

Returning for Its 39th Year and Bending Its Boundaries Yet Again

By Alisa B. Cherry

Anyone who has ever been to Montreal can attest to the fact that there’s no need for an excuse when it comes to making it part of one’s travel plans. It’s rich in history, a remarkable confluence of cultures and home to some of the most remarkable restaurants and interesting architecture found in the whole of North America.

Nevertheless, those that do need incentive would be wise to consider the annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, which takes place from June 28 through July 7, one of summer’s most memorable musical events. Offering a variety of talent that incorporates jazz (natch), folk, rock and experimental ensembles — around 150 concerts altogether, some entirely free — within theaters, clubs and a spacious pedestrian mall, it’s easy, accessible and pedestrain friendly.

Montreal is the ideal setting for this  annual event because as a beacon for international tourism, it makes the international variety practically a given. As it approaches its 39th year, the festival has attained the same stature as Montreux, Newport and New Orleans as a beacon for great music, with an additional additive in its accessibility that welcomes aficionados near and far.

While the headliners are, of course, the main reason for attending, the venues themselves are well worth noting as well, from the sprawling confines of the performing arts center — a combination of three world-class concert halls (Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Maison Symphonique De Montreal and Theatre Maisonneuve) — to the array of clubs and cabarets that dot the nearby streets. This year’s festival will feature any number of artists with worldwide appeal — Ian Anderson at the helm of Jethro Tull’s 50th anniversary tour, Boz Scaggs, Herbie Hancock, Ry Cooder, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Bobby McFerrin, Carla Bley, Soft Machine, My Brightest Diamond, John Medeski, Marc Ribot, along with numerous other internationally known artists and up and coming performers clearly on the verge of future success.

Consequently, over the course of ten days or so, attendees can get an entertaining lesson in a wide range of musical invention, as well as a sense of this spectacular city.  Audiences get an opportunity to enjoy a wide array of innovation and invention, artists that find a common bond with tradition while also setting a course towards the future.

This year for the first time, the festival will extend its offerings by filming several of the concerts and broadcasting them live worldwide. A partnership with Mezzo Live HD which will allow Bela Fleck & The Flecktones to be shared with worldwide audiences on Sunday, July 1. Other concerts scheduled for broadcast will be announced later.

Tickets for the 39th Festival International de Jazz de Montréal are on sale now.

 

 

Shaky Knees Festival 5/4/18-5/6/18, Atlanta

Dates: May 4, 5, and 6, 2018

Location: Atlanta, GA

BY JOHN BOYDSTON

Above: Courtney Barnett kicks out the jams. All photos copyright 2018 by John Boydston; many more photos of each band up on his website. https://www.facebook.com/Johnboydstonphotos/ / https://jobo.smugmug.com/

Day 1 – Friday May 4th, 2018

This year’s Shaky Knees Fest was located on 4 stages in Atlanta’s Central Park area – with an amazing array of musical performers from the two large Stages (Peachtree and Piedmont) and 3 days of generally more indie-rockers on two smaller stages (Ponce de Leon, and Criminal Records, both of which provided for shade, the former with a tent and the latter with trees, so these were a ‘cool’ place to be always.)  Photos in no particular order except by performer, and no day is an all-inclusive photo collection – couldn’t get to all stages.  People were forced to make tough choices, which is probably a good problem to have at a festival, but you could generally see some of anyone you wanted if you were up for the walk.

***

David Byrne – Peachtree Stage

Courtney Barnett – Peachtree Stage

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Criminal Records Stage

Japandroids – Ponce de Leon Stage

Waxahatchee – Ponce De Leon Stage

Ghost of Paul Revere – Criminal Records Stage

LA Witch – Criminal Records Stage

The Frights – Ponce de Leon Stage

 

***

Day 2 -Saturday May 5th, 2018

Greta Van Fleet –  Peachtree Stage
Prediction – Jimmy Page sues this band to prove paternity, panicked GVF attorney settles out of court, band agrees to tour with Page as often as he wants as part of the settlement. Page could do a lot worse. All Zep issues aside, this band rocks and it was fun to hear such a young group cranking out such a big-sounding and joyous thunder. Huge mid-day main stage crowd. Heard several people say this band made their weekend.

Broncho – Piedmont Stage.
A newish indie-rock band many people were excited about and Broncho did not disappoint after getting a late main stage upgrade. They are original and quirky enough to be be huge.

Bully – Peachtree Stage
Nashville melodic pop-rockers carried the big stage like they were born to be there.

Andrew W.K Ponce de Leon Stage

Circa Survive – Ponce de Leon Stage.
The fans were ready.

The Distillers – Peachtree Stage.
Crowd digging ‘em before the band started.

***

Day 3 – Sunday May 6th, 2018
Tenacious D – Piedmont Stage.
Gotta start with a few the D –  They could headline festivals like this all summer. Tenacious D’s loyal followers showed up for this fun in the Funday fest. Sorry I didn’t get the full-frontal Jack Black jump. Most of us were heading out of the photo pit when he surprised us with 3 of these classic D moves.
  
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Ponce de Leon Stage
 
Menzigers – Criminal Records Stage
We’ve got another jumper.
 
Basement – Criminal Records Stage
 
Basement crowd – on that well-shaded and breezy Criminal Records stage.
 
 

 

Incoming: Shaky Knees Festival Photos, Reviews

“This is your brain on drugs. Or my music.” – David Byrne.

By Barbi Martinez

We’ve deployed the Blurt gang to Atlanta this weekend to chronicle the annual Shaky Knees festival, which is never less than awesome. Our men on the ground, scribe Jeff Clegg and shutterbug John Boydston, will do the deal, so keep tuned. Meanwhile, if you want a sneak peak at some images from the event’s first day, hop over to Boydston’s website where he has a gallery started. (The two pics here are by Boydston.  Below: Waxahatchee.)

 

YOUR BIG EARS ARE QUITE BECOMING: Big Ears Festival 2018

Once again Prof. Rosen makes his pilgrimage to Knoxville. Check out his 2014 report, as well as 2015, not to mention 2016 and 2017. We sense a trend here. Warning: musical hallucinations ahead. (Pictured above: Steve Gunn)

BY STEVEN ROSEN

One of my favorite events at the annual Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn. — and I’ve now gone to five of the six — is the Kick Off Event. I’ve come to enjoy the way that festival head Ashley Capps and Mayor Madeline Rogero always work a Captain Beefheart reference into their opening remarks. Capps, whose AC Entertainment founded Tennessee’s famous Bonnaroo festival, once operated a Knoxville venue called Ella Guru’s, named after a track on Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica album. Rogero was a frequent patron.

Rogero didn’t disappoint when welcoming attendees to Big Ears 2018, held March 22-25. After first noting she had been given a note in big capitol letters that said “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Capps, she said she would do it anyway — a jokey reference to some idiot thing, one of too many to remember clearly for more than a day or two, that President Trump had done that week. And then she congratulated “our Spotlight Kid, Ashley Capps,” working in the title of Beefheart’s sixth album, a 1972 release.

In last year’s Big Ears coverage, I mentioned how I thought Capps, for all his love of the rock radicalism embodied by the late Beefheart’s work, now seemed more attuned to the more carefully expressed intellectual experimentalism of an American New Music composer like Frederic Rzewski, who at age 78 appeared at Big Ears 2017 to perform on piano his 1975 “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!,” a political composition based on a Chilean folk song. Capps wrote to correct me: He was attuned to both equally — he had wide tastes. “Big ears,” so to speak.

Fair enough. But after attending much of this year’s festival’s four days, I might list some additional musical interests for Capps — the free jazz movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and also Appalachian folk music.

The latter was not a retreat into traditionalism or regionalism, certainly not when it was best embodied by the duo of Anna & Elizabeth, who were celebrating the pending release of their first “major label” record, The Invisible Comes to Us on Smithsonian Folkways Records. If that doesn’t seem like a major contemporary label to you, but rather a historical throwback, you’re not on the same wavelength as Anna Roberts-Gevalt. “That’s the nerdy-est, best-est label to be on if you’re like us, if you like the old weird stuff,” she told a hushed, enraptured audience of several hundred on Friday afternoon at the beautiful St. John’s Cathedral, one of Big Ears’ many venues.

She and Elizabeth LaPrelle search for and revive older, forgotten Appalachian ballads, often ones by women. And at the concert, they sang such songs as Margaret Shipman’s “Here in the Vineyard” and Victoria Morris’ “John of Hazelgreen” with soulful purity. But there’s also an element of the art project, of experimentalism, in their work that is groundbreaking. Besides the stringed instruments they both play, LaPrelle also uses a self-made “crankie” to project mysterious silhouetted images and sometimes woodcuts, as visual accompaniment. She also uses a small, harmonium-like shruti box to inject a drone into their sound.

They ended their show in an unexpected way, walking down a church aisle to be among the audience and start singing a simple but darkly evocative refrain: “I don’t want to die in the storm/Let the wind blow east/Let the wind blow west/Lord, I don’t want to die in the storm.” Asking the crowd to join in, people unselfconsciously responded — transporting themselves, in the process, into the minds and fears of someone in the past, perhaps isolated in an Appalachian winter, struggling to survive another day. It was a theatrical yet completely, unpretentiously natural ending, and marked Anna & Elizabeth as artists to watch.

As for the more traditional Appalachian music events that Big Ears programmed, such as the Square Dance and Fiddler’s Convention presentations at Knoxville’s outdoor Market Square, I didn’t hear much discussion of them. It’s possible the chilly, rainy weather cut down on participation, but it’s more possible that Big Ears attendees go there for something else. With such a full slate of avant-garde artists, especially those with roots in Free Jazz, who has time to square dance?


There were the jazz elders, the giants of progressivism, and all of them gave terrific performances. The 76-year-old drummer/percussionist Milford Graves, sometimes holding his sticks in such an off-handed, almost-sideways manner that one had to wonder if he would be able to strike a direct hit on his instrument. (He could.) He played with energy, precision, propulsion and — rare for drummers — melodicism during his Saturday afternoon show at the filled-to-capacity Bijou Theatre. He got so worked up he sometimes seemed to be talking to his instruments. He was matched by pianist Jason Moran, who was pushed by his older partner to play with the kind of commanding, demanding, exciting sense of purpose that recalled (the now late) Cecil Taylor. The work seemed improvised, with the two responding to each other and enjoying what they were creating.

Graves was followed at the Bijou by Roscoe Mitchell, one of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s founders, currently enjoying the success of one of his best-received albums, Bells for the South Side. With a large ensemble (playing as a set of trios), he worked through music that had a quietly alluringly dissonant artfulness (a spacey, fusion-y fluttering reminiscent of Miles Davis’ 1970s-work, only without the rock overtones). He played soprano, sopranino, alto and bass saxophones, sometimes letting James Fei also join in with his own dynamic sax work. Craig Taborn’s keyboard work was blistering, and the young Tyshawn Sorey contributed blurringly fast drum work and some piano. The concert, like the album, built to a version of Art Ensemble’s cathartic “Odwala” that was turned to 11, as Spinal Tap’s Nigel might say. You could see audience members in total thrall, unable to sit still as if they wanted to testify to a higher power. (Sorey, by the way, is a recent winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, and on early Sunday afternoon played a set with his own trio that had a very classical New Music feel.)

Also notable among the jazz performers was the Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, part John Cage and part Spike Jones, who with his Banquet of the Spirits group could get engaging sounds from any object that came near him. You watched him and his group and wondered, “Is he playing that through his nose?” or “Is that a swimming-pool noodle he’s waving around?” His musical interests are omnivorous, and it’s as much a pleasure to hear what he plays as to watch how he makes his sounds and beats.

Evan Parker, the prolific, 74-year-old British saxophonist who has recorded with Anthony Braxton, Peter Brotzmann, Steve Lacey and Roscoe Mitchell, was indefatigable during a Friday solo show at St. John’s Cathedral. (Free Jazz is such a good use for a historic church.) And, in one of Big Ears’ loveliest surprises, the 78-year-old Jon Gibson and a young band performed his 1973 masterpiece Visitations in its entirety at the same church on Friday night. It was originally released on Philip Glass’ label because Gibson, a flutist and saxophonist, was a member of Glass’ ensemble. It reminded me of Paul Horn’s Inside in its pristine, isolated and meditative respect for sonic clarity, but also had such modern touches as synthesizer and accompanying video imagery.

While I wasn’t able to see the full late-Friday night set by The Thing, a squealing, rocketing Scandinavian trio that plays Free Jazz as if it was scronky rock ‘n’ roll (Albert Ayler meets MC5), what I did catch was enough for me to want them for my next dance party. Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson has a friendly, celebratory relationship with the audience that reminds me of Jon Langford — he’s a guy who so obviously gets off on what he’s doing that he spreads joy all around him.

I also saw some uneasily categorized acts. A couple were disappointing: Norwegian singer Jenny Hval’s vocals got lost amid the conceptual theatrics of her Friday presentation at the Bijou; neither the singing nor the playing sounded very good at the highly anticipated Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda: The Ashram Experience concert on Saturday at St. John’s Cathedral.

But others really stood out: Pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn clearly can play anything (she accompanied Anna & Elizabeth at their concert), and her solo show at The Standard on Thursday night was a tour de force. She confidently played compositions by Astor Piazzollo, French composer Olivier Messiaen (the solemn and sacred “And I await the resurrection of the dead”) and her own beautiful work-in-progress that she had yet to name. Alcorn, herself, with her smile and poetically anecdotal introductions to her music, communicated a kind of beatitude. Her pedal steel was her church organ.

Jenny Scheinman (above) plays both violin and fiddle, by which I mean she plays contemporary jazz with Bill Frisell, Nels Cline and others, and she makes Americana albums, writing reasonably conventionally structured songs that she sings while accompanying herself in the folk tradition.

She had a perfect project for her latter persona with Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait, which she presented at the Bijou on Saturday afternoon and for which she was accompanied by Robbie Fulks on guitar and banjo and Robbie Gjersoe on guitars. This is a revelatory project: Duke University commissioned her to create accompanying live music for short silent films that H. Lee Waters shot from 1936-1942 in Kannapolis, North Carolina and nearby towns. The footage is a valuable document of everyday life — for the town’s blacks and whites, men and women, adults and children — during some tough years. That’s valuable enough, but Waters also experimented with film technique, giving the end result an avant-garde dimension.

Lyrically, Scheinman’s accompanying songs dwelled on the subject of anti-nostalgia; they sometimes seemed to be commenting on our act of watching rather than on what we saw. I’m not sure the film needed that extra conceptual layer, but her melodies were striking. Fulks’ solo number, “I’ll Trade You Money for Wine,” from his album Gone Away Backwards, was especially strong.

The Saturday night concert at the historic Tennessee Theater (above), celebrating its 90th year and so spectacular in scale that it’s the state’s official theater, is the marquee time-slot for Big Ears. This year, that slot was occupied by Diamanda Galas, a daring choice.

Dressed in black, with long black hair and the deepest, gravest voice imaginable, she is a Goth for the ages, but she’s also something more. Whereas “Goth” was a music trend of the New Wave 1980s, an atmospherically gloomy attitude that was a form of youthful romanticism, Galas treated it as a worldview of life-and-death urgency. Her severe singing became a requiem for those lost to AIDS, a cry to not forget.

Now, at age 62 and playing the piano solo before a reasonably large crowd in the 1,600-seat theater, she chose and then vocally deconstructed her songs to make sure listeners got the full gravitas of their sadness, fear, loss, despair. Yet the show was not a downer — her artful control, her knack for heightening a song’s inherent tension, is too enthralling. She’s a radical interpreter of pop music. She began with the traditional country song, “Pictures from Life’s Other Side,” popularized by Hank Williams (who recorded it as Luke the Drifter). She followed with B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” virtually stripped of the familiar melody in order to emphasize the stark desperation inherent in the title. She later did Johnny Paycheck’s “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill,” perfect for her oeuvre.

But the highlight was a long, moaning and hypnotic version of Ralph Stanley’s “O Death,” drawn out like Patty Waters’ jazz vocals of the 1960s. To paraphrase one of Joni Mitchell’s most famous lines, Galas stokes the grief-making machinery of the popular song. She’s a national treasure, speaking truth to that popularity.

My Saturday night ended late — at the Bijou, the Rova saxophone quartet, along with a small orchestra of additional players including percussionist Baptiste, guitarist Cline, rockin’ synthesizer/electronics player Yuka Honda and more, began their “electric” version of John Coltrane’s 1966 cosmic Free Jazz classic Ascension at midnight and didn’t end until close to 1:30 a.m. It was a “reimaging” of the work — players were free to riff on the work in-between the beginning and end. The most remarkable thing about this, aside from the pure space-is-the-place otherworldliness of the untethered work, was the way you could hear every player, despite the volume. The mix was perfect.

After it was over, I walked back to my hotel and found a well-dressed older man in the lobby, clutching two fluff dogs — one in each arm — to his chest. I thought I was hallucinating, after that Rova’s set. I still think I might have been.

 

Photos courtesy of Cora Edwards, Eli Johnson, LK Feliu, Andy Vinson. (Individual credits can be viewed in the photo titles.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SXSW 2018: The Blurt Photo Gallery

Our gal on the ground survived yet another week of Austin madness and even got a few pics in the process. Pictured above: Nikki Lane during her SXSW showcase.

By Sadie Claire

MARCH 9

A Quiet Place Movie Premiere: Emily Blunt & John Krasinski

American Animals Movie Premiere: Blake Jenner / Bart Layton

MARCH 10

Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky

MARCH 11

Balloons cast: director Dave Franco plus Abbi Jacobsen

MARCH 12

This Is Us cast: Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Justin Hartley

MARCH 13

Actor/Director Ethan Hawke

MARCH 14

Hearts Beat Loud premiere: Brett Haley, Nick Offerman

Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Mohawk

MARCH 15

Paradox movie premiere: Daryl Hannah & Neil Young

Chico Chico at the Elephant Room

MARCH 16

Joshua Burnside at BD Rileys

Keith Urban

Lo Moon at Radio Day Stage

Neuman at Sounds From Spain

Common Deer at Swan Dive

Shane Cooley & the Midnight Girls at Rachael Ray’s Feedback House

Blaze Movie premiere and concert at Paramount Theater: (top to bottom) Ethan Hawke, Ben Dickey, Gurf Morlix, Joe Ely, Alynda Segarra, JT Van Zandt, Nikki Lane

MARCH 17

Mint Field at Antones

Francobollo at British Music Embassy – Latitude 30

Otzeki at British Music Embassy – Latitude 30

Jaimee Harris at the Driskill Hotel Victorian Room

Jourdan Thibodeaux et Les Ros Et Ailleurs at Antones

Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble at Antones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit Sadie Claire at the Sadie Clair Photographer Flickr page.