Big Ears 2016

20160331_173903I just got back from this event in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Big Ears is one of the world’s most diverse “outside” music festivals, with offerings that range from classical to jazz to improv to experimental, to electronica. The focus is on avant-garde, creative artists across all of these genres.

Knoxville is a small city with an outsized arts district.  Its downtown features a large number of unique restaurants, as well as several musical venues.  Big Ears takes over much of this area.  Between the focus of the music and the town, the result is a festival with a polite “artsy-nerdy” crowd with a wide age range.

I attended Big Ears with a few friends for a fun weekend. I did not intend to write about the shows, but I though I’d share a few words and photos. There are often 3-5 shows overlapping throughout most of each day, so you have to be selective. This is not a review of the fest as a whole.  In fact, I just want to focus on a few acts.

20160401_160412The highlight of the weekend for me was the Anthony Braxton 10+1tet. Featuring a number of his former students, Braxton led this extended group through a hour of dense, information-rich, structured improvisation. Featuring six horns, two guitars, cello, bass, and percussion, the players used hand signals to “conduct” one another through the piece. This facilitates the 11 members spontaneously breaking off into two or three subgroups for a period of time, each performing their own piece which fits into the music system as a whole. The words “multiphonic” and “intricate” barely begin to describe what was going on.  Further, watching the signals and interaction between the players added a unique visual element to the experience.

Other performances of note were the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Steven Schick performing works of Bryce Dessner and John Luther Adams, a high-power duet between Zeena Parkins and Tony Buck, Chicago’s eighth blackbird performing works of Dessner, Rzewski, Adams, and Lang, Ikue Mori’s audio-visual storytelling, Mary Halvorson on solo guitar, The Necks, and much more.


Steven Schick and John Luther Adams


Wolf Eyes


Marc Ribot


Zeena Parkins and Tony Buck


eighth blackbird


eighth blackbird with Phillip Glass, Nico Muhly and Maya Beiser


Faust with Tony Conrad‘s Amplified Drone String musicians


Anthony Braxton, Kyoko Kitamura and Taylor Ho Bynum


The Necks


Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins


Mary Halvorson


Sunn O)))


April NYC Calendar 

Charlemagne Palestine

Source: extended techniques.

7:30PM Kronos Quartet
ALEKSANDRA VREBALOV My Desert, My Rose (World Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
NICOLE LIZÉE The Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop [Fibre-Optic Flowers] (NY Premiere)
N. RAJAM Dadra in Raga Bhairavi (arr. Reena Esmail) (NY Premiere)
WU MAN “Ancient Echo” from Four Chinese Paintings (arr. Danny Clay) (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
KARIN REHNQVIST All Those Strings! (NY Premiere)
YOTAM HABER break_break_break (World Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
FODÉ LASSANA DIABATÉ “Bara kala ta” from Sunjata’s Time (arr. Jacob Garchik) (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
PETE TOWNSHEND Baba O’Riley (arr. Jacob Garchik) (NY Premiere)
ALBERT BEHAR Lost Wax (NY Premiere)
VENUE: Carnegie Hall
ADMISSION: from $50/sold out

9PM & 10:30PM Kris Davis Quartet
Ingrid Laubrock, Stephan Crump, Ches Smith 9PM & 10:30PM
VENUE: Cornelia Street Cafe
ADMISSION: $10 cover, plus $10 minimum

SUNDAY, April 3
8PM Ken Vandermark’s Made To Break
Ken Vandermark, reeds
Christof Kurzmann, electronics
Jasper Stadhouders, bass guitar
Tim Daisy, drums
VENUE: Union Pool

SUNDAY, April 3
8PM Olivier Messiaen’s timeless Quatuor pour la fin du temps
VENUE: Firehouse Space

MONDAY, April 4
7PM Nate Wooley Quartet
Nate Wooley – trumpet
Chris Pitsiokos – alto saxophone
Brandon Lopez – bass
Dre Hocevar – drums
9PM Farmers by Nature
Craig Taborn – piano
William Parker – bass
Gerald Cleaver – drums
VENUE: Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center

8 and 10 PM Loisaida Sextet (dedicated to John Farris)
Frank London (trumpet) Marty Ehrlich, James Brandon Lewis (saxes) Anthony Coleman (piano) Brad Jones (bass) Newman Taylor Baker (drums)
VENUE: The Stone

FRIDAY, April 8
8PM Okkyung Lee: Red Eclipse
Violins – Julianne Carney, Jennifer Choi, Cornelius Dufallo, Emilie-Anne Gendron, Pauline Kim Harris, Conrad Harris
Violas – Stephanie Griffin, William Hakim
Cellos – Hamilton Berry, Michael Haas
Bass – Stephan Crump
Percussion – Ches Smith
VENUE: Roulette
ADMISSION: $25/$15

8PM The American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) – “From Minimalism into Algorithm”
Philip Glass: Piece in the Shape of a Square for two of the same instruments (1967) performed on two violas
Steve Reich: Violin Phase (1967)
Joseph Byrd: Animals for prepared piano and ensemble (1961)
Joseph Byrd: Water Music for amplified percussion and tape (1963)
VENUE: The Kitchen

SUNDAY, April 10
8PM The American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) – “From Minimalism into Algorithm”
Charlemagne Palestine joins ACME
Meredith Monk: Stringsongs (2005)
Julius Eastman: The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc for ten cellos (1981-score missing; 2016 world premiere of transcription by Clarice Jensen from live recording)
Charlemagne Palestine: Strumming Music (1977)
VENUE: The Kitchen

FRIDAY, April 15
9 PM Kronos: Creating a New Repertoire
Performers (note that Kronos is NOT performing)
Argus Quartet
·· Jason Issokson, Violin
·· Clara Kim, Violin
·· Diana Wade, Viola
·· Joann Whang, Cello
Friction Quartet
·· Otis Harriel, Violin
·· Kevin Rogers, Violin
·· Taija Warbelow, Viola
·· Doug Machiz, Cello
Ligeti Quartet
·· Mandhira de Saram, Violin
·· Patrick Dawkins, Violin
·· Richard Jones, Viola
·· Val Welbanks, Cello
FODÉ LASSANA DIABATÉ Sunjata’s Time (arr. by Jacob Garchik) (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
GARTH KNOX Satellites (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
WU MAN Four Chinese Paintings (arr. Danny Clay) (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
TERRY RILEY Selections from Salome Dances for Peace
·· The Gift
·· The Ecstasy
·· Good Medicine
VENUE: Carnegie Hall

MONDAY, April 18
6:30 PM Colin Stetson presents SORROW, a reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony
with Justin Walter (solo)
Colin Stetson: Alto, Tenor, Bass Saxophones; Contrabass Clarinet; Lyricon
Dan Bennett: Tenor, Baritone Saxophones; Clarinet
Greg Fox: Drums
Grey Mcmurray: Guitar
Gyda Valtysdottir: Cello
Justin Walter: Keyboards, EVI
Matt Bauder: Tenor, Baritone Saxophones; Clarinet
Megan Stetson: Voice
Rebecca Foon: Cello
Ryan Ferreira: Guitar
Sarah Neufeld: Violin
Shahzad Ismaily: Synth
ADMISSION: $25/$30

TUESDAY, April 19
8PM Sylvie Courvoisier Trio w/ Drew Gress + Kenny Wollesen
Sylvie Courvoisier – piano, comp
Drew Gress – bass
Kenny Wollesen – drums
VENUE: Roulette
ADMISSION: $15/$20

TUESDAY, April 19
8 PM and 10 PM Rothenberg and Mivos Quartet
Ned Rothenberg (clarinet, shakuhachi), Mivos Quartet: Olivia De Prato (violin) Joshua Modney (violin) Victor Lowrie (viola) Mariel Roberts (cello)
VENUE: The Stone
ADMISSION: $15 each set

8 PM Ned Rothenberg (woodwinds) Uri Caine (piano)
VENUE: The Stone

THURSDAY, April 21
8 PM Composer Portrait:Francesca Verunelli
VENUE: Miller Theatre at Columbia University
ADMISSION: $20 – $30

THURSDAY, April 21
8 PM Ned Rothenberg and Inner Diaspora
Mark Feldman (violin) Erik Friedlander (cello) Jerome Harris (acoustic guitar, acoustic bass guitar) Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) Ned Rothenberg (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, shakuhachi)
VENUE: The Stone

FRIDAY, April 22
8 PM Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) Ned Rothenberg (woodwinds)
10 PM Nels Cline (guitar) Ikue Mori (electronics) Ned Rothenberg (woodwinds)
VENUE: The Stone
ADMISSION: $15 each set

MONDAY, April 25
7 PM Composer Portrait: Beat Furrer
Argento Chamber Ensemble
VENUE: Carnegie Hall

TUESDAY, April 26
6PM A Study of György Ligeti
Jennifer Choi, violin
Rachel Drehmann, horn
Taka Kigawa, piano
György Ligeti Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano (1982)
Ligeti Selections from Piano Études
VENUE:Miller Theatre at Columbia University

SATURDAY, April 30
8 PM Scott Robinson’s “Spacetette”
Scott Robinson (saxes, theremin, sonic laser actuator) Kevin Norton (vibes, drums, percussion) Pat O’Leary (bass, cello, toys) Julian Thayer (bass, phono-fiddle) and, if available, Marshall Allen (alto sax, EVI)
10 PM Heliosonic Toneways (a 50th Anniversary celebration of Sun Ra’s Heliocentric Worlds)
Scott Robinson (tenor sax, bass marimba, theremin, tuned bongos) Philip Harper (trumpet) Frank Lacy (trombone) Tim Newman (bass trombone) JD Parran (bass clarinet) Yosvany Terry (alto sax, flute) Pat O’Leary, Julian Thayer (basses) Matt Wilson (drums) and, if available: Danny Thompson (baritone, flute) Marshall Allen (alto sax, EVI)
VENUE: The Stone
ADMISSION: $20, each set