Just about everywhere Spanish is spoken, Charly García is a mythical rock hero, known as much for his crazed lifestyle as his influence on three generations of rock en español. On Argentinean national TV last month, García received his country’s highest honor, the Gardel de Oro for lifetime achievement. For his speech, the 51-year-old—whose erratic output best compares to singer-songwriters Elvis Costello, Silvio Rodríguez, and Arto Lindsay—faced the applauding audience, grabbed his crotch, then walked offstage. Leaving when least expected is one of the living legend’s trademark moves: A couple of years ago, García plunged from the ninth floor of his hotel to the pool below. Clutching dolls and wearing makeup, he told authorities that he likes to jump from high places. (Yes, he’s toured through the psychiatric clinics.)
So the only real surprise when García played a cramped Club New York last Friday was how long he stuck it out—till just shy of 6 a.m. García is too big for this tiny venue, but at least his ego didn’t get in the way. At first with only a Yamaha keyboard and mic, the lanky artist zigzagged through 30 years of his music, from ’70s folk-pop outfit Sui Generis to alter ego Casandra Lange. At one point he seemed lost in a labyrinth of cheesy synth-pop, but he broke out soon enough with spare drum-machine beats for Bukowski-esque lyricism and piano solos. Letting his long hair down and donning an electric guitar, he dug into his most recent material, careening into his forthcoming Influencias.
The aging icon hates being called a burnout. Shooting arrows at his audience (and doing time for it) and leaving crowded soccer stadiums without performing is all part of García lore. Here, the intimate scene tickled him, as when he intoned with vampiric flair, “It’s when I masturbate your girlfriend that you realize I’m the last of the vices.” Who’d have thought a little self-control from a rock star could be a good thing? —Enrique Lavin
“Improvised and Otherwise”: It’s a lot for a debutante festival to bite off. Loosely speaking, you can pin almost any performance somewhere along that spectrum. More specifically, improvised and “otherwise” (read: composed) is one of the last pertinent distinctions in the post-ideological, über-pluralist experimental music of the post-20th century. In a town where even the outré is professionalized by insiders, it’s refreshing to see artists take matters into their own hands. Over three evenings of music and dance at the Williamsburg Art neXus (April 26-28), I&O bit it off with a nice crunch.
“Improvised” generally meant everyone onstage doing their own thing, generally involving a whole lotta notes. The Dan DeChellis Chamber Ensemble uses an approach informed more by Pauline Oliveros than William Parker: Performers on theremin, percussion, piano, violin, and voice melded their parts into an eerie, slowly mutating whole, with singer Anita DeChellis bridging free jazz and art song. Improv tends to highlight the indefinable quality, tangentially related to musicianship, called “musicality.” D-I.S.K., a power trio of prepared instruments, turned hardcore noise—a flute run through a distortion box, a guitar dragged on the floor—into beauty so fragile that I winced when they abruptly ended one piece. (Look for W.O.O. Revelators, which include saxophonist Bonnie Kane and drummer Ray Sage.)
Dance and experimental music don’t mix much on the festival circuit, and the juxtapositions worked terrifically well at “Improvised and Otherwise,” letting the eyes and ears take turns to avoid fest fatigue. But improvisation is a difficult art form in any medium; practiced by anything less than a master, it sucks, let’s face it. A dancer introduced her Ensemble Project with the grandiose truism that improvisation is “composition without an eraser.” This required every one of 11 dancers to also be a choreographer, which they certainly were not, and left me wishing for a carton of those beige Artgums. But if you can’t tolerate chutzpah in an artist-run festival, stay uptown. —David Krasnow
Andalusian of Grandeur
If by some miracle the Israeli-Arab standoff is resolved in his lifetime, I nominate Emil Zrihan to headline the treaty-signing afterparty. A Sephardic Jew born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1954, Emil emigrated with his family to Israel nine years later. At 13, he began a singing career that combines music in the Jewish cantor tradition with the nearly seven-centuries-old Arab-Jewish musical hybrid known as al ‘Ala l’Andalusia. Today Zrihan leads a band that, like the setup to a joke we’d now think twice about telling, contains a Catholic Egyptian accordionist, a pair of Muslims on oud and darabouka drum, and a Jewish Moroccan violinist who resides in Canada.
During his sold-out April 28 show at Symphony Space, Zrihan sang in Hebrew and Arabic in equal parts, sometimes during the same song. His unforced countertenor stops just short of falsetto, making it perfect for the long, languidly circling melismas and ornaments of the breath-defying mawal improvisations. These were the highlights of an evening that began with classics and concluded with an attempted dance party that never quite got off the ground (excepting the free spirit flailing away beside me).
Zrihan, who bears some resemblance to Nathan Lane, ambiguously mixed secular and sacred love in “Ana Dini Din Allah” (“I believe in the one and only God”) and the flamenco-flavored “Mahani Ezzine,” in which he sings in Arabic that “your beauty is killing me.” Zrihan’s voice is a killing thing as well, even as he hastened to wind up an evening devoted to reclaiming an era when musical race-mixing flourished in ye olde Oriente. —Richard Gehr