Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Lost Weekend in New York

33 bands in 5 nights. That was my APAP Conference showcase weekend tally. Now before you start calculating how much time I spent just traveling through Manhattan and the boroughs to see all of that, keep in mind that a number of showcases bundled a lot of bands (GlobalFest alone is 12 bands). And some of those showcases lasted less than 5 minutes for me, with either another obligation, or feeling that I'd seen enough. So, I'll start with my favorites:

1. CARAVAN PALACE at GlobalFest I blogged about these guys last summer. For many presenters, this was the high point of this year's GlobalFest (see below), despite being completely dissed by Jon Pareles of the NY Times. Fun music video now up too:

2. ANDY STATMAN at the Charles Street Synagogue. Not only is Statman a double-threat (clarinet and mandolin), equally adept at straight jazz, klezmer and bluegrass, his weekly Thursday night concert in the heart of Greenwich Village is an experience you can only have in New York:

3. RED BARAAT at Joe's Pub "Bangin' Bhangra & Brass Funk," a unique blending of cultures that works so well. Brass sections seem to be the big thing in global music these days, which is OK by me. The Bollywood dance videos in the background only add to the experience:

4. PUNCH BROTHERS at The Living Room. I know, I cheated. I'm really supposed to go see things I've never seen before, and we've had Chris Thile & Co. at The Cedar many times before (and they return on March 1). But this is probably their "home venue," small and intimate, where they like to experiment. They played lots of new things from their upcoming record, but the highlights were the covers of Little Feat, Radiohead and Pavement. Awesome.

5. HAZMAT MODINE at the Mercury Lounge. More brass, this time with two harmonicas playing American R&B. Pretty hard to sit still with these guys on the stage. Even I was dancing.

GLOBALFEST is the Main Event for global music in the U.S. Staged for the past seven years during the APAP Conference, and masterfully curated by Shanta Thake of Joe's Pub, Isabel Soffer of the World Music Institute, and Bill Bragin of Lincoln Center, featuring 12 bands on the 3 stages of Webster Hall, the evening provides a glimpse of what's likely to come, seeing that almost every major global music programmer in North American is likely to be in attendance.

As is often the case with these kinds of showcases, it can be very hit-or-miss. But this year's offering was largely to my liking. Besides CARAVAN PALACE, I particularly enjoyed the sets by Alif Naaba of Burkina Faso, Nguyên Lê & Saiyuku (cross-cultural), and La Cumbiamba eNeYé (Columbia).

As usual, the folks at NPR Music posted an complete blog report the morning after, so if you're curious and want to hear song samples, check that out. They will be posting full performances there shortly as well. And keep your eyes open for video blog postings at Link TV.

Finally, a personal story: on the last night of the event, I taxi'd over to Joe's Pub for a reception for North American presenters. Once inside, I realized that I left my iPod Touch in the back seat of the taxi. This had been my supplemental brain all weekend, tracking my schedule, providing me with subway directions, and keeping notes from my meetings. All gone. This being New York City, I figured there was little chance of seeing it again. I went about the rest of the evening with that uncomfortable feeling inside, crashing in my hotel bad at just before 1 am, when my cell phone buzzed.

It was a couple in Long Island who had found my iPod and wanted to know how to return it to me. My name and cell number were etched on the back, so they called it. Not only did these good Samaritans meet me at Jamaica Station the next morning on my way to my flight at JFK, and return my iPod to me, they actually charged it up!

Kind of restores your faith in human kindness...