Jherek Bischoff & some of his guests
It wasn't the marathon that opened the inaugural Ecstatic Music Fest in 2011, but this year's opening show on Saturday (2/4) had some of that same collaborative energy, focusing on the compositions and arrangements of Jherek Bischoff, a musician known for his work primarily with The Dead Science, Parenthetical Girls and The Degenerate Art Ensemble. For the show, billed as a preview of Bischoff's forthcoming CD from Brassland ("composed"), the composer got help from the Wordless Music Orchestra and nine guest vocalists.
After a too-brief instrumental opening, David Byrne came out to sing a swaying Afro-Cuban-tinged piece. In what would be a recurring theme, Bischoff's composition wasn't entirely different than the type of song Byrne might sing at one of his own shows. Next up, Charlie Looker intoned through "The Secret Life of Machines" (which you can find an instrumental version of at WNYC) in a style that'd be a close fit to his Extra Life material. Mirah's voice sounded as warm and honeyed as always. Parenthetical Girls's Zac Pennington sang a duet with Sam Mickens, both of them playing up their own strengths, Pennington the animated, Wildean dandy and Mickens the snazzily dressed crooner. The other singers, Craig Wedren from Shudder to Think, Carla Bozulich of Evangelista, and Steven Reker and Jen Goma, were idiosyncratic in their own ways, and Bischoff's string-laden avant-pop tunes bent to their strengths. Deerhoof's Greg Saunier stood out with a few good improvisatory fills but mostly hung back in the ensemble. For his part, Bischoff played ukelele, guitar, bass and sang a song. His young cousin came out to hit a gong at the end of one tune.
The second part of the program, only five songs long, consisted of Bischoff's arrangements of the singers' own material. Craig Wedren, Zac Pennington, Mirah and Carla Bozulich all returned. (In particular, Mirah's vibrant Latin number, "The Country of the Future," was great). For the finale, David Byrne premiered a new song, which he sang with Reker. It took a few verses, but eventually I worked out that "The Fat Man's Comin'" was a song about Santa Claus. As a closer, it was a small gesture where I would have preferred a grand finale, but it seemed to fit with Bischoff's humble collaborator-focused ambitions.
While in town, Mirah plays tonight (Monday) at Glasslands, where she'll be accompanied by cellist Lori Goldston and percussionist Geo Wyeth (Mirah's Facebook says they'll be "performing songs seldom heard from [her] repertoire"). The Ecstatic series continues with three more shows this week. The full schedule is here.
More pictures from Saturday's show at Merkin Concert Hall,below...
Steven Reker and Jen Goma
Zac Pennington and Sam Mickens