The Month in Weird: February’s Best Avant-Garde Concerts

February's most exciting concerts include Cinema Cinema, Sloppy Heads, Nick Millevoi, the return of Blind Idiot God, and many more.

Cinema Cinema
Brooklyn’s Cinema Cinema play Pianos on February 12. Facebook

2017 is young but there’s no arguing it’s been a political shit-storm of epic proportions. The silver lining? There’s always the escape that music provides and although February is a short month, it’s long on mighty, must-see shows. So go do your protesting, donate to good causes, and then chill out with the month’s best concerts.

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Sleepyhead, The Special Pillow, Sloppy Heads and Bob Carol Ted at The Gutter on Saturday, February 4

It’s no wonder mysterious fuzz-dipped art-pop heads Sloppy Heads conjure images of record-collecting geeks nerding out on their vinyl collection while testing out Velvets-inspired jams on their econo four-track: James Mcnew, burly bassist of Yo La Tengo and brainchild behind bedroom-fi pioneers Dump, recorded and guested all over the trio’s just-released, candy-sweet and feedback-coated debut, Useless Smile.

With a steady diet of YLT’s slower heartfelt moments, Jonathan Richman’s quirk, the playful simplicity of Beat Happening, VU’s chug and certainly Dump cassettes, Sloppy Heads—Bill the Drummer (a.k.a. V. Stiles), Ariella Stok (a.k.a. Starmaiden) and Jimmy Jumpjump (a.k.a. Frow #1)—slather on a wonderful earwormy mess of jangly dream-pop, entrancing psych’y and droney slow-burn and saccharine girl/boy harmonies that makes Useless Smile a welcome and light escape for these heavy-assed times.

Fittingly, tonight’s lineup features bands Sloppy Heads have taken its cues from: ’90s local indie rock heroes Sleepyhead and The Special Pillow. With Bob Carol and Ted (featuring guitarist Dave Rick).

Matthew Shipp Trio at The Cutting Room on Thursday, February 9

Next week the Observer will feature an in-depth look inside the ever-adventurous sound world and uncompromising mind of piano vanguard Matthew Shipp, an East Village stalwart who, as he approaches 60 years of age, shows no signs of slowing down, remaining a creative force to be reckoned with.

Sure, the bespectacled keys tickler is currently threatening retirement from recording (again) after a solo piano set for famed free jazz label ESP-Disk is released sometime in 2018. Thankfully, that’s a long ways away and in the subsequent year-and-change, out-jazz buffs will be able to feast on a slew of Shipp efforts. Most notable is the record Shipp and his Trio (bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker) are celebrating the release of this evening: the terrific Piano Song, which is his final record for Thirsty Ear Records after a long and illustrious career.

Nick Millevoi’s Desertion Trio plays Greenwich House on Saturday, February 11

Guitar eclectic Nick Millevoi is as pliable an ax-swinger as they make ’em. The freewheeling Millevoi has aced math-jazz chaos with Many Arms, Jewish doom metal crunch with Deveykus and guitar-versus-trombone-minimalist-skronk in Archer Spade with Philly pal Dan Blacksberg.

In 2016, Millevoi made his case as heir to the guitar king throne of Nels Cline when he joined forces with his Many Arms bandmate/bassist Johnny DeBlase, pianist/Rhodes keys maestro Jamie Saft and Marc Ribot Ceramic Dog drummer Ches Smith on Desertion, one of our top picks for best experimental records of last year.

A scorched-earth masterpiece of epic stoner desert-rock trippiness that channeled the fretboard-skipping solo mastery of both Neil Young’s Ragged Glory and the wickedly bleak cinematic minimalist guitarscapes of his Dead Man soundtrack, Millevoi showed he can dish out country home twang as much as the tech-metal he does in Hollen-Voi.

Tonight, Millevoi and his current band (DeBlase and Talibam! drummer Kevin Shea) will test out new material from their just-recorded second effort and songs from Desertion.

Loren Connors, Isobel Sollenberger and Steve Dalachinsky at Issue Project Room on Saturday, February 11

For decades, experimental guitar titan Loren Connors has pioneered out-blues, freak-folk and free-improv in solo mode and via collaborations with fellow renegade outsiders like Bill Orcutt, Alan Licht, Jim O’Rourke, Ken Vandermark, Thurston Moore, Suzanne Langille and Kath Bloom.

Tonight promises to be an otherworldly wedding of righteous sounds and words when Connors joins forces with a pair of outliers: flutist/vocalist Isobel Sollenberger of Philly psych-rock institution Bardo Pond and ubiquitous downtown NYC poet and jazzhead-about-town, Steve Dalachinsky.

Cinema Cinema at PIANOS with The By Gods, Legz, The Trnsnts and Eric Jackson on Sunday, February 12

Deafeningly loud Brooklyn experi-metal outsiders and perennial nice dudes Cinema Cinema wear their hearts on their punk rock sleeves. The duo of guitarist/vocalist Ev Gold and drummer Paul Claro have covered Nirvana and PJ Harvey, unapologetically did a touring stint with Greg Ginn’s latter-day, despised version of Black Flag and recently have found themselves partnering with reedsman Matt Darriau in free-improv noise-fests.

The culmination of those schizoid influences and more is manifested on CC’s upcoming fourth rager, Man Bites Dog, another deranged slab of prog-tweaked, metal-inspired, neck-breaking riff-dizzy punk, once again caught on tape by super-producer to the noise-rock stars Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Swans, Helmet) and featuring Darriau on a handful of tracks. Earplugs highly recommended as Cinema Cinema have been known to scare rooms into submission.

BLIND IDIOT GOD, STATS and Husbandry at Saint Vitus on Wednesday, February 15

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In 2015, grizzled all-instrumental metal/dub terrorizers Blind Idiot God made its triumphant—and typically decibel-shattering—return after a nearly 25-year hiatus with
Before Ever After, a 74-minute sprawl of apocalyptic bludgeon.

A trio of monumental heaviness, BIG were one of SST Records’ best kept secrets in its 1980s heyday and had the avant-garde jazz cred to boot: downtown kingpins John Zorn and Bill Laswell were early champions of the slow-crawling metallic riffers and dub-centric enthusiasts.

The alliance with Laswell as producer soldiered on with comeback record Before Ever After and here guitarist Andy Dawkins, bassist Will Dahl and drummer Tim Wyskida (of Khanate) continue its amps-stacked sonic assault on the senses with a semi-rare appearance. Arrive early for prog-metal locals STATS, who have since added vocalist Nick Podgurski (New Firmament/Feast of the Epiphany) since 2015’s overlooked Mercy.

Ches Smith/Craig Taborn/Mat Maneri at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Drummer/bandleader Ches Smith is a protean smasher of myriad genres. The longtime Brooklynite has done electronic-based minimalism and solo drumscapes with his one-man project Congs for Brums, big-band jazz with These Arches and is the sturdy and manic anchor for Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog.

However, The Bell—Smith’s debut as leader for the prestigious ECM label—may be the composer’s defining statement, at least until his next effort. With his tapping of pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri to help interpret his unique vision, Smith crafted a ghostly and unsettling portrait of chamber-jazz and classical music deconstruction that the Observer rightfully highlighted in our best jazz albums we missed in 2016 list. Don’t miss these two chances to see these three master improvisers recreate The Bell in the live setting.

Harriet Tubman “Meta” with Alicia Hall Moran and Wadada Leo Smith at The Stone on Saturday, February 18

Over its forward-thinking 20-year stretch of protest-minded experimental rock, NYC instrumental power trio Harriet Tubman have played a crucial role in ushering the downtown out-music movement with a politically-wired fusion of funk, jazz and dub that is spiritual as it is shred-heavy.

For its newest effort, guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs (Rollins Band, Arto Lindsay), and drummer J.T. Lewis—all renegade vets carrying the torch of electric Miles, Interstellar Space Coltrane, Sonny Sharrock, P-Funk and Bad Brains—have teamed with iconic trumpeter and kindred spirit Wadada Leo Smith on the sonically warped free-improv space jams and groovy funk throwdowns that fill the forthcoming Araminta.

As part of Ross’ six-day Stone residency, he’s convened an expanded iteration of Harriet Tubman (dubbed “Meta”) complete with Smith and Alicia Hall Moran (mezzo soprano) to ring in its release.

Mostly Other People Do The Killing at Cornelia Street Café on Sunday February, 19

Hard bebopping prankster troupe Mostly Other People Do the Killing—led by happy go lucky bassist/composer/ringleader Moppa Elliott—seem to take delight in stomping on sacred ground while enraging jazz purists.

For starters, Elliott and his rotating cast of fellow provocateurs have spoofed the album art and title of This is Our Music by Ornette Coleman (MOPDTK called theirs This is Our Moosic), and are still feeling the reverberations for their note-for-note rendition of the album that’s known as jazz’s greatest achievement: Mile’s Davis’s 1959 masterwork, Kind of Blue. With their 2014 version (they called it Blue), MOPDTK ignited a controversy where they were actually labeled racists and their musicianship was questioned, sparking a debate that’s still resonating today.

After that detour into uncharted Miles territory, MOPDTK returned to its peppy post-bop rollick form on 2015’s Mauch Chunk. Now Elliott has upped the old timey romps and shits ‘n’ giggles like he did on 2014’s Red Hot.

He’s also ballooned his lineup to a whopping septet with trumpeter Steven Bernstein (of Sex Mob and John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards), saxist Jon Irabagon, trombonist Dave Taylor, banjo shredder Brandon Seabrook, pianist Ron Stabinsky and Talibam! drummer Kevin Shea. On the new Loafer’s Hollow, these zany jazzheads bounce, swing and thump with abandon as they pay homage to the 1920s and ’30s swing, bowing down at the altar of the legendary Count Basie.

Weasel Walter Large Ensemble: Igneity at Roulette on Tuesday, February 21

Extreme-music brutarian Weasel Walter first served as fearless ringleader of large ensemble free jazz tsunamis back during his days in the Bay Area and now the Lydia Lunch Retrovirus and Cellular Chaos guitarist has birthed its East Coast iteration with cataclysmic force that puts his previous endeavors to shame.

Under Walter’s stewardship, he first premiered the hell-raising Igneity alongside a monolithic 13-piece (more or less) orchestra of punk-jazz heavyweights that included guitar innovator Henry Kaiser, cellist Leila Bordreuil, saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos, trombonist Steve Swell and many more luminaries, at Fort Green experimental hub JACK.

After self-releasing his hour-long big-band tour de force featuring Kaiser, Walter is now taking Igneity’s orgiastic skronk feast of hurricane-powered horns, twin bass thwacking blitz, unhinged percussion, guitar shreddery and cello scrape to the majestic room at downtown Brooklyn avant venue, Roulette.

Do not miss this chance to see Walter (also mastermind of the recently reunited “brutal-prog” purveyors, The Flying Luttenbachers, soon to be on tour) serve as musical director/drummer as he reigns supreme over a murderer’s row of trailblazing vets and rising stars that counts the aforementioned Bordreuil, Pitsiokos and Swell alongside Tyshawn Sorey (trombone), Battle Trance’s Matt Nelson (saxophone), Michael Foster (saxophone), Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Forbes Graham (trumpet), Child Abuse’s Tim Dahl (bass), Brandon Lopez (bass) and Brandon Seabrook (guitar).

Honorable Mentions

Ryan Walsh Memorial Concert at Park Church Co-op featuring David First, Rick Brown & Sue Garner, Bob Bannister and more on February 11

Local musician Ryan Walsh, a longtime member of The Glenn Branca Ensemble and his own experimental outfit Neg-Fi, tragically passed away last December. Tonight, many of his peers including, Notekillers guitarist David First and Rick Brown (75 Dollar Bill) & Sue Garner (Run On) come together for a concert to honor his memory. 

Three Solos: Nate Wooley, Leila Bordreuil and Chris Pitsiokos at Knockdown Center on February 12

Three rising stars of Brooklyn’s avant underground—trumpeter Wooley, saxophonist Pitsiokos and cellist Bordreuil (the latter two appearing at Roulette in Weasel Walter’s Large Ensemble) do it up in solo mode at Queen’s Knockdown Center.

Henry Fraser/Les Ret/Sam Weinberg Trio at Rye on February 15

The free-improv barrage continues at Williamsburg’s Bar Below Rye with a nascent trio featuring freethinking stalwarts leading the local avant-jazz scene: bassist Henry Fraser (of the Chris Pitsiokos Quartet) and his Maestro Day bandmate, saxophonist Sam Weinberg (also of W2 with guitarist Chris Welcome) and percussionist Les Ret. (247 S 1st St, Williamsburg)

Elder Ones, Tamio Shiraishi/Les Ret, GRID, Samantha Riott/Leila Bordreuil on February 17 at Park Church Co-op

A free-improvisational firestorm is sure to engulf the incredible confines of the cavernous Park Church Co-op tonight as it hosts the debut of jazz/metal terrors GRID (Tim Dahl of Child Abuse and Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, Nick Podgurski of New Firmament and STATS and Matt Nelson of Premature Burial and Battle Trance) alongside the spoken word-cum-cello assault of Rodenticide’s Samantha Riott and Leila Bordreuil, the sax/drums ear-bleeding grind of subway crasher Tamio Shiraishi and Les Ret and the classification-defying alien experimentation of Elder Ones.

The Necks 30th Anniversary at Issue Project Room on February 23February 25

The slow-building sonic marathons experimental jazz Australia trio The Necks specialize in resulted in a pair of outstanding albums (2015’s Vertigo and 2013’s Open) for the Northern Spy label that brought them a new audience here in the States. Here, The Necks celebrate three decades of groundbreaking experimentalism with three nights of entirely different performances at Issue Project Room.

Mixology Festival at Roulette from February 22-February 25

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This year’s four-day sound/dance/video Mixology Festival spectacular stars a host of knob-twiddling tweakers like Greg Fox, Olivia Block and Eli Keszler but is most noteworthy because Mixology curator Michael Schumacher will be debuting a new composition from the elusive Jim O’Rourke, who will not be present.

Major Stars Record Release at Union Pool on Friday, February 24

Boston psych-rock slayers Major Stars will melt your face off with epics from their new buzzsawing mind-blow Motion Set tonight.

Noura Mint Seymali w/dj henri at (le) poisson rouge on Friday, February 24

Hailing from Mauritania, Africa, Noura Mint Seymali churns out a shapeshifting blend of psych, blues and dance music using the ardine (a type of harp) that is utterly transcendent.

Craig Taborn Quartet at The Village Vanguard from February 28-March 5

Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis piano whiz Craig Taborn welcomes in the release of his third record for ECM, the exquisite Daylight Ghosts, at the Vanguard with his all-star quartet of tenorist Chris Speed, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Dave King.

The Month in Weird: February’s Best Avant-Garde Concerts