Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records the musical offerings of New York City’s street musicians.
Who: CINEMA dub MONKS
Where: Washington Square Park
When: June 20, 9 p.m.
I guess all the musicians in this city are better about checking the forecasts than I am, because a sizable loop through the East Village last week just left me sweaty and exhausted and still empty-handed. I gave up on the wanderlust and just made a beeline for the reliable Washington Square Park, where the Sistine Criminals inaugurated this enterprise a year ago. And what do you know! In the exact same spot, just in front of the statue on the western side of the park, I found another group likewise commanding a crowd’s attention.
Even if CINEMA dub MONKS are allegedly monks of some sort, I won’t do this Japanese duo the injustice of calling their music “meditative” since that’s a field I know precious little about; also, one guy had a mohawk. But, yes, it was all strikingly serene, a nice change from the usual attention-grabbing busker antics (I’m looking at you, guys who interrupted Zack Orion.) It really felt like the audience passively taking it all in was being expertly manipulated every step of the way. Bassist Gandhi Nishigaki’s parts were sparse, but each note hit unflinchingly when it finally arrived; multi-instrumentalist Daiho Soga was certainly the more prominent of the pair, filling all that leftover space with ukulele and flute and melodica, and occasionally even triggering long prerecorded samples and unsynchronized loops that lent the proceedings an air of the abstract quite unexpected for a performance unfolding in the middle of a park.
That’s the key to the whole endeavor, really—upon each of their many mid-song instrument changes, a clear artistic purpose invariably emerged within a few notes to handily reinvent the central theme, usually a short minor-key vamp seemingly designed specifically for flexible interpretation. Coherent vision obviously makes a great foil for this sort of improvised creative weirdness, so I have high hopes for tonight’s show at the intimate East Village venue Drom, where they’ll have visual accompaniments and presumably an even more formidable quiver of available instruments. It’s also thus accordingly difficult to choose a clear winner from the cache of recordings, but “Anqeroplos” has both the stickiest riff and the strangest name, and that actually sums it all up quite nicely.
In the hat: $7
CINEMA dub MONKS, “Anqeroplos” [FLAC, via MediaFire]
CINEMA dub MONKS play at Drom tonight. If you’re going to be busking in New York, please consider this an open invitation to tweet at me with the details and I’ll try to come out and catch you.