Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I wasn't expecting much.

I'd bought the first Fennesz/Sakamoto disc, Sala Santa Cecilia, and found it to be so much attractive fluff, not unlistenable but certainly unmemorable. Hadn't heard anything more recent but had a nagging suspicion things hadn't exactly taken a turn toward the gritty. But the show was free, in the Winter Garden near the World Trade Center site, an easy train jog from home, so off I went.

I'd been to a couple of shows there before, though not in a while. One was Fripp and his League of Artsy Guitarists. That was pretty bad; this may have been worse.

Lot of people, maybe 1,000, kind of dispiriting considering the 100 or 150 that showed up in 2004 when Christian played with Rowe at Tonic. I gather Sakamoto is fairly big in Japan and the crowd may have been 1/3 Japanese. They began each on laptops and that was easily the best part of the show, rising to the level of a lousy eai set, some quiet noise but assembled with little touch or rigor. Even so, I was kind of surprised and wondered if, whatever the quality, the cotton candy aspect of the music was going to be less than I expected.

No such luck. Sakamoto went over to the piano which, for the duration of my stay, he proceeded to play with a ham-handedness and vapidity that would have challenged George Winston. Fennesz largely just provided background fuzz, sugary waftings. Once in a while he picked up his guitar and scratched at it, a relatively welcome sound. Amazingly shapeless music, enough so that, for a while, I attempted to listen to it as a Cagean, "personality-vacant" performance. Maybe it was my lack of ability, but I couldn't even get that to work.

I was more or less trapped in my seating situation, but after about an hour a small aisle opened up and I took advantage to make a hasty exit. Walking over the Vesey St. Bridge back to the PATH station, the roar of traffic on West St. below and the deep chugging of a helicopter above were infinitely preferable to what I'd experienced inside.

I don't care a whit about Sakamoto, but I do hold out hope that this is simply a financial issue for Fennesz and that he returns to creating vibrant music sometime in the future. It'd be mighty sad if he ends up churning out this pap for years to come.


grisha said...

thank you.


billy g said...

yeah this is why I didn't complain when it turned out that the fennesz/sakamoto concert conflicted with the Spoon concert in prospect park (which is two blocks from my apt) that anne had already bought us tickets for. i was underwhelmed by fennesz @ mutek this year, and didn't really need my expectations lowered any more. their cendre on touch from a year or so ago was very nice and pretty but not very interesting.

in other news, Seymour did send a copy of the "Wright Stuff" (or whatever) to anne that is in need of a good listen.....

Jon said...

what's amazing is that might be the "better" one of his current primary duos, the other one being with Mike Patton. the next Sakamoto project I hear that I have any tolerance for will also be the first.

FWIW, there were well over 200 people at that Rowe/Fennesz Tonic show, it actually sold out. Keith's opening solo set that night was so good, shame it wasn't recorded.

Brian Olewnick said...

Before I had any notion of who he was, I kinda liked what I took to be Sakamoto's contributions on the soundtrack to "The Last Emperor". But that was 20 years ago.

Robert said...

I dunno, I really haven't heard much of that "vibrant" music from Fennesz in the past, so I don't hold out much hope there. But thanks for the report, always good to read.

BTW did you go to any of that Rasbliutto three days festival?

Brian Olewnick said...

No, couldn't make it. I think Jon did though?

I do have very fond memories of the solo set Fennesz did right after Keith's that Jon mentioned. Parts of the Erst duo release are, imho, amazing as well.

And some of his songs, like a couple on Venice, are very beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I just happened upon this blog via a Google search. These comments on Sakamoto and Fennesz strike me as ignorant. A shame. They deserve more respect than are being given here.

Jon said...

damn, I guess releasing four Fennesz records doesn't qualify me as knowledgable enough to talk about him. thanks for the feedback, "anonymous"!

Brian Olewnick said...

You're allowed, btw, to use your real name even when disagreeing.

OK, "ignorant" isn't much to go on, feel free to elaborate. Most of the crowd seemed to enjoy it, though the applause was lukewarm and I observed a sizable portion of the folk in my vicinity to be gabbing with each other and noisily unwrapping foodstuffs (again, a relatively interesting sound in context), unlike yours truly who made a concerted attempt to listen and grasp.

I suppose I should say that I respect Fennesz enormously, both as a musician and personally. He's one of the single most enjoyable people I've met in recent years and we had an excellent, lengthy conversation when he came over for dinner while playing here with Rowe.

But even then, in 2004 (? 2005?), he seemed to be torn whether or not to follow the more lucrative path being offered him or do more work like he was doing with Keith. At the time the latter was his choice and, in fact, while here he turned down a festival gig in Italy that would've paid a bundle. He was very happy with that decision. It seems to me that he's changed his mind at least somewhat since then which to me is a shame.

"Respect" doesn't mean blindly praising everything someone you generally admire does. The music last night was only marginally more probative than what Windham Hill was churning out in the 80s. Sorry, but that's the way I hear it.

btw, while he was here he talked about his love for early Eno (which I share). At its best last evening, the music bore some striking similarities to parts of "On Land". Not as rich, though and, of course, about a quarter century after the fact.

billy g said...

I think that, at it's best Cendre sounds like a pale (if more modern & over-glossed) imitation of Music for Airports. Brian's Windham Hill note is very apt, and one I've been using in the last year to describe a path I see a lot of 'laptop music' (for lack of a better term) heading towards. I have a very personal stake in 'laptop music,' a large collection of Fennesz recordings, and a have seen him perform at least a few times. I have listened to all of Sakamoto's recent collabo's with Fennesz, Nicolai and Willits and in many ways they are lacking. I have not found the last ~4 years of Fennesz performance's at all compelling.

so, anonymous, I don't think you are encountering ignorance or a lack of respect here - I think you are encountering informed opinions you do not share. to shamelessly echo Brian - I know MANY good friends who went to that show, and I'm sure MOST of the audience enjoyed it. This kind of conversation benefits from differing opinions.

re Rasbliutto - I attended the last night @ fotofono and thought it was nothing short of lovely. Lafkas/Garcia/Arno especially. i took some photos and they are floating about somewhere.....

Anonymous said...

Yeah I totally agree. and, I think the Willits + Sakamoto collaboration has been the best in this "old famous japanese guy + awesome more underground electronic musician series" sakamoto and co. is doing. I think it is because the piano is not as obvious. and well, Willits is a bad ass. Fennesz may have a bigger name since he's been known for longer, or old, or whatever, but Christopher Willits is the man in my book. He's always cranking out new fresh stuff that challenges his listeners. Fennesz is like.. "shhhhwhiztzooonghisss" (repeat) since Endless Summer. I think endless psyched him out or something. Killer record though.