Monday, December 17, 2007

Ice and Hard Edges

This weekend I made a quick jaunt down to New York, to see a few friends, and catch some music, including Darcy's last hit of '07. Alas, mother nature intervened and cancelled all the buses, and I had to catch an early train to get back to Boston for a busy (and icy) Monday. I like these trips, beyond the excitement of New York, for a few hours uninterrupted to read and listen to music. That listening will bring some album reviews later this week, but first a few scattered thoughts.

I was at Stone last night for a performance by cornetist Graham Haynes and “sound designer” HardEdge (more on that later). I overheard the next piece of bad news- Downtown Music Gallery is moving from its Bowery location to a yet-to-be-determined new storefront. (Not coincidentally, you're starting to see empty storefronts. Something has to give eventually, and I hope, but doubt, that it's the rent prices) It is a victim of the continuing gentrification (I think that's too gentle a word at this point, how about baronizing) of the Bowery; their rent is being doubled. Manhattan continues to eat its young- even the East Village and the Lower East Side feel more and more like hipster caricatures rather than vibrant neighborhoods- signs on the subway advertise one bedrooms for “only $3K per month”. Meaning, realistically, you have to be making $70K minimum to live in what were tenements not too long ago. Huh? All of this has a predictable and chilling effect of the arts scene, which was one of the main attractions of the LES in the first place. The new gilded age.

This is the third or fourth time I've been to Stone this year, and while I appreciate many things about the place and the music it presents, I like the place less and less each time I go. Even great music isn't that fun to listen to there- the setting is so austere and cold, white walls and black ceilings, the musicians so nonchalant about the audience. I'm reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, (fantastic, btw) and it reminds me of his description of Schoenberg's avant-garde scene in Berlin in the aughts. I think it's great that the artists and the music are priority one there, and agree with it, but does that inherently have to make it hard on the audience.

To be fair, I could've been at last night's gig on a high-end couch having grapes fed to me, and I'm not sure it would've increased my appreciation of last night's gig. (I should say I'm at the age where wearing sunglasses inside looks silly no matter who you are, so I wasn't predisposed for Mr. Edge from the get-go) HardEdge's sonic palate consisted of a lot of sounds that approximated radio noise, combined with very distorted and digitized voices- a very cold, very harsh aesthetic. Coming out of the beginnings of a snowstorm, it just reinforced the cold in my bones. Haynes contrasted effectively, with a deep rich tone on coronet enhanced by very wet reverb and delay effects. His material reminded me of very late Miles (i.e. late 80s) in its clear, clipped but warm approach. However, beyond this hot/cold bath, I wasn't finding much connection between the musicians for much of the set- occasionally HardEdge would fall into a bleepy groove, and Haynes would alternate between sitting in and floating on top of it lyrically. But mostly it hit my ears as a lot of noise, and not especially interesting noise at that. There was also a video artist, manipulating kaleidoscopic designs and wispy line patterns, sometimes over distorted images of the players. He was very in tune with what they were doing, and his interaction with them was fun to watch, thought they didn't reciprocate, or even really look at him. There was a second set, but a warm bed sounded better at the end of the first, especially with an ugly hail/snow starting to fall. .

Sometimes I'm beginning to think it's just me. I had breakfast with my friend who recently hung out with a colleague from my NEC days, one I haven't seen or played with at all in four years. She recounted his description of me, and said she didn't really recognize the person he was talking about. I did, and sometimes winced at his accurate descriptors, but it's not the same person who's playing and teaching and writing now. This is inevitable, I suppose; we all change, like it or not, and I'm much happier now than I was then. But I couldn't help but think- would that me have been more into last night, into Stone in general? More complimentary, or harsher about records I review, concerts I see? Does it matter, and how? I wonder...

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