Songs for Barbès

Here’s something fun: New York City venue Barbès posted a month’s worth of video performances from musicians, little love notes to celebrate the bar’s 18th birthday (on May 1, 2020) and maybe draw a little attention to the Barbès fundraiser.

A jewel of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, Barbès hosts a lot of music that would land in the “world” category. Eastern European or Latin American or African, traditional or modern, folky or jazzy or even classical — every permutation seems to come up. They also host frequent shows out of New York’s avant-jazz scene, which is how I got introduced. The bar is a tight squeeze on a crowded Saturday night, but it’s a cozy, welcoming spot, and for my friends who lived in that neighborhood for a few years, it was an anchor.

The homemade videos are all sheltered-in-place and often charming, sometimes including spoken well-wishes to Barbès. Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey (who I believe are married) stitched together two improvisations for their four-minute tribute.

Jenny Scheinman, who was part of the early-’00s Bay Area scene, plays a friendly “Little Calypso” on violin. It still amazes me how much sound a violin can produce with so little actual motion.

The New Mellow Edwards, a quartet led by trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, recorded separately to produce their piece. Watch bassist Trevor Dunn — the look he gives to camera at the end is perfect.

Ben Monder contributes “Never Let Me Go.” The first comment on the YouTube page refers to Monder’s “impossible” playing, which to me is the perfect word. I’m impressed with the harmonic vocabulary of jazz guitarists in particular, but Monder is other-dimension-ly — I’m thinking especially of the gorgeous, baffling, dense chording on parts of his 1998 trio album Flux (with Drew Gress on bass on Jim Black on drums).

Finally, the ensemble called Anbessa Orchestra made a slickly edited video of their song “Lions.”

And so on. There are a few dozen videos stacked up on Barbès’ YouTube site, and they went along with a GoFundMe campaign that was successful but could still use a little more love.

Jim Black’s ‘Not Bloodcount’

Take a look at what’s on The Stone‘s calendar in March:

3/25 Tuesday (KR)
8 and 10 pm
Not Bloodcount
Tim Berne (reeds), Chris Speed (reeds), Mike Formanek (bass), Jim Black (drums)

Black is calling it “Not Bloodcount,” but of course it’s the exact lineup of Tim Berne‘s Bloodcount, the band that got me into creative music in the first place and whose reunion tour I attended in Philadelphia.

“Not Bloodcount” is part of a week-long residency by drummer Jim Black that will also feature his piano trio, the Ben Monder Trio of the late ’90s (another early discovery for me) and other bands.

Jim Black. Photo by Robert Lewis, from the booklet to "Low Life: The Paris Concert Vol. 1," the Bloodcount CD that started it all for me.
Jim Black. Photo by Robert Lewis, from the booklet to “Low Life: The Paris Concert Vol. 1,” the Bloodcount CD that started it all for me.

That’s the new model of The Stone: An artist gets a week to perform in whatever contexts he or she wishes. It can be a workout for a particular group, just like in the old days of the jazz clubs. More often, it’s a cross-section of a performer’s bands and projects, as Ben Goldberg is doing in the last week of February (first week of March). For Black, it seems, it’s also a chance to regroup with old mates from the ’90s.

With the name “Not Bloodcount,” though, he seems to be signaling that they won’t be playing Berne’s compositional suites. Bloodcount had a brief reunion in 2008, playing new material at shows in New York and Philadelphia, so a follow-up wouldn’t be out of the question, but it looks like the group will be trying something else at The Stone. Maybe an all-improvised set.

By contrast, the Ben Monder Trio‘s set, on March 26, is being billed as a reunion, with Monder on guitar and Ben Street on bass. I came across the trio on the CD Flux (Songlines, 1995), which had Drew Gress playing bass. I seem to remember discovering it while browsing at the Knitting Factory circa 1997. At the time, I was seeking out more of the Bloodcount crew’s previous work, especially Black, so it’s his name that caught my eye. What I found inside was some wondrous guitar work, with Monder spinning wispy chords that seem to never have existed before.

The opening moments of the track “Muvseevum” display what I mean. Here’s an old video of a live performance (with Street on bass):

Dust (Arabesque, 1997), also with Street on bass, has more traditional shadings. The chords are still tangly but in a mellower mode, and the guitar lines tap traditional paths more often. It’s good, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect on me as that first listen to Flux did.

Black’s residency will also include his own piano trio (which is supposed to have an album out sometime around now) but not his half-Icelandic Alas No Axis quartet. That makes sense; aside from the fact that Skuli Sverrisson and Hilmar Jansen might not be available on any given week, Alas No Axis already gets to tour fairly regularly.