About 30 minutes into Aceyalone’s set on March 7 at the Knitting Factory, he needled the heavily backpacked crowd, “Bet I could stay up here longer than you could stay an audience.” It wasn’t an idle boast for this founding member of the Freestyle Fellowship, the rhyme-improv kings who established the Los Angeles underground. In Acey’s world, time-bending feats of rhyme are all in an evening’s work.
Aceyalone fortified his reputation as a man cursed with too much skill, bringing a hailstorm of verse—intense, complex, and voluminous. On “B-Boy Real McCoy,” Acey took two mics at once, proclaiming, “I’m about to bust one of them in half.” And then he did, dipping into selections from his 1998 album, A Book of Human Language, before segueing into “Annallillia?” and “Makeba,” a pair of tongue-twisting amorous cuts from his impossible-to-find ’95 debut, All Balls Don’t Bounce. Then he grabbed a third mic and eased into the immodest couplets he serves better than anyone, taunting on “Mic Check,” “I start most of my raps off kinda slow, just so you could see exactly where it gonna go.”
Patronizing? Sure, but Acey didn’t have to worry about this crowd of diehards, who kept up with all his tricks—even when, on “Accepted Eclectic” (the title track from his new album), he pitched the turntable up to +8 and still rhymed on beat. “Greatest Show on Earth” found him compressing copious syllables into precious few bars: “Must I begin babbling?/Amphibian oblivion/I’m living the life of 10 men.” No wonder the crowd booed when he departed the stage after an hour and a half. “I pour my precious heart into rhyme and y’all boo?” he asked, then conceded, “Y’all won. Y’all beat me.” —Jon Caramanica
“Well, what’s actually on the page?” radio commentator John Schaefer asked Derek Bermel before the Kitchen House Blend band tore into a premiere of the clarinetist’s “Three Rivers” on March 3. Schaefer, host of WNYC-FM’s New Sounds, was broadcasting live on the third night of another House Blend installment; his pre-concert interviews with each musician were awkward, while his one relevant query was best answered by the music.
Composer or performer? Scored or improvised? The distinctions are getting fuzzier and maybe less important as genre walls crumble and Downtown improvisers pool their resources for a Jazz Composers Collective week (recently at the Jazz Standard). Kitchen music curator John King assembled the House Blend band to exploit this blurred space; these three-night stands let musicians develop their work with one of the oddest, most eclectic workshop ensembles in a town full of workshop ensembles. Ikue Mori, whose music is based around drum machines, didn’t so much lead as prompt: Her “Aphorisms” nudged the group from ethereality to bombast as she sat at a Mac PowerBook. Saxophonist Marty Ehrlich’s “Paint People #1” began with gentle gongs and bells, then exploded into richly hued swing.
The House Blend band—steeped in everything from classical music to rock—seems an especially liberating vehicle for composers with jazz pedigrees (such as Ehrlich). Last winter, the music of bassist William Parker soared as he left his usual ax to Nicki Parrott and wailed on a double-reed. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson played tapes of phone conversations with his dad, then plunged into a sax-violin duel. And the ornery idiosyncrasies of saxophonists Hamiet Bluiett and Charles Gayle (May 31 through June 2) are likely to push the group to further extremes. —Larry Blumenfeld
Why Do They Gotta Front?
Most high school freaks from the mid 1990s ended up music snobs working radio stations at Ivy League universities (later they became rock critics)—wry fucks who made up for their lack of social skills by out-towel-snapping the jocks with their self-deprecating humor. The Weezer show on March 5 was like a class reunion. The Roseland stage was done up like a gymnasium on junior prom night. Picture that indoor basketball court where Reed Anderson gave you a melvin in front of the ninth-grade PE class. Now imagine the hoops had backboards that doubled as video screens, flashing a snapshot of your face during undies-liftoff. That’s what Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo looked like.
With most bands, you wait all night to hear that one song; Weezer had an endless supply of that one song, following instant gratification with instant gratification (“My Name Is Jonas,” “Tired of Sex,” “Undone (The Sweater Song),” “Buddy Holly”). New songs like “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun” glistened like mint-condition vintage Weezer: vaguely punk, vaguely pop compositions with bubblegum jazz chords, ditzy riffs, and stupid-smart lyrics. The audience had that ambiguous and cartoonish “I ‘love’ it, but I really don’t love it” pose—flashing hand-signed “W”s every time Cuomo took a hair-metal solo. He had Woody Allen?neurotic mystique: that mix of naïveté, mental fragility, and shyness that’s so fuckin’ annoying you want to call the prick on it: “I know you’re just acting like this to get laid.” The fact that he was as exciting as a wet suppository on a hot day probably did matter to the sold-out crowd, who chanced the show despite blizzard threats. I can only imagine the backstage scenes . . . Busty girl number one stuffed into a youth-sized $55 Michael Jackson “Beat It” T-shirt: “Oh, Rivers, that was so hot when they beaned you with a ball and you didn’t even flinch.” Dirty blond in a “Spear Britney” tank top: “It was worth suffering through seven computer crashes to get my available-online-only ticket, even if you didn’t move, smile, or talk to the audience.” Hey, Better Than Ezra couldn’t pull this Kiss-fan spectacle off. —Lorne Behrman