May 12, 2007

NYC (Part 3): Records & Books

Saturday was mostly sunny and quite warm - an excellent day to walk around and shop.

You can get anything you want in New York City. What do I want? Records. And books. Given what’s available on 5th Avenue, I actually have pretty modest desires. And I had been saving my pennies since Christmas and was looking forward to doing some treasure hunting in The City.

After another way-too-tasty breakfast at the Waverly, I walked up to 23rd Street to Academy Records, which specializes in classical music. It was jam-packed with mostly used CDs, sensibly organized by historical time-period (with opera its own thing altogether). Actually, they had a “jazz” and “rock” section as well, but it was as skimpy and as marginalized as the “classical” section would be in any other record store. I thought that was pretty amusing. The “pre-classical” section offered many temptations, but I kept thinking about all that stuff that awaited me at Downtown Music Gallery. I spent quite a bit of time prowling the racks, but I left empty handed. I had to get back to Downtown.

I stopped by the hotel to ditch my jacket (like I said, it was warm) and headed down to the Bowery. Spring had sprung in Washington Square Park which was glowing with flowering trees, tulips, and new green leaves. People were out enjoying the weather, jazz combos wailed for coins, and the chess players were three deep. There’s nothing like Washington Square Park for a taste of what makes NYC such an amazing place. I sat on a bench and took in the scene for a bit, but I was on a mission. I had to get back to Downtown.

If you’re into the kind of “weird” music I am, Downtown Music Gallery is truly the most comprehensive record store in the world. Every in-print CD by Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Derek Bailey, Sun Ra – you name it, it’s there - every in-print CD from such labels as Black Saint/Soul Note, Hat Art, Hopscotch, etc. and used CDs and a bunch of somewhat dodgy “archive” (wink) CDRs of way out of print avant-jazz LPs. Whew! - Oh and racks of vinyl that I couldn’t even bring myself to browse, not wanting to have to deal with safely transporting LPs on the plane. . .I spent a good couple hours examining the selection. OK, I admit it – I am a record junkie.

So, after seeing Taylor Ho Bynum the night before, I had already decided that I needed to pick up Anthony Braxton 12(+1)tet: 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 (Firehouse 12). Yep - 9 CDs and 1 DVD documenting every set of his historic 4-night run at the Iridium in Times Square. I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface of this thing, but I can say that it is superbly recorded and a summation of whatever it is that Braxton’s up to with this “Ghost Trance Music” thing. It’s very easy to dismiss Braxton and say he’s crazy, but he may also be America’s greatest living composer. I managed to snag a copy signed by Mr. Braxton himself for only $120.00, a bargain, when you get right down to it. I also picked up Anthony Braxton Sextet: (Victoriaville) 2005 (Victo) for a taste of the Sextet.

My friend Stan sent me an email a while ago saying that the most exciting new music he’d heard recently was by Helmut Lachenmann. He described it “as if Boulez and Crumb had a lovechild.” That was certainly enough to pique my interest. Downtown had nearly a dozen CDs to choose from and, after examining each one, I decided to buy Allegro Sostenuto/Serynade (Kairos), Kontrakadenz/Klangschatten – mein Saitenspiel/Fassade (Kairos), NUN/Notturno (Musik fur Julia) (Kairos), and Schwankungen am Ram (ECM). Now that I’ve had a chance to hear this music, I’d have to say Stan’s description is right on. The ECM recording of orchestral music is particularly, um, cosmic.

After a leisurely lunch at the North Square Restaurant, I headed over to Broadway to meet Scott at the Strand Bookstore. I browsed the music section, but it was literally dizzying trying to scan the shelves. We decided to head down to St. Mark's Bookshop for a more pleasant bookstore experience. And what a great bookstore! I headed straight for the “cultural studies” section and there he was: almost two shelves of Adorno! Here’s one I didn’t even know about: Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction (Polity) in a 2006 translation – how interesting! I also picked up Adorno’s Sound Figures (Stanford) and Jacques Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minnesota). This will keep me busy for a while. One of the (few) things I miss about living in Boston is the variety of quality independent bookstores. Sure, it’s convenient to buy books on Amazon, but it’s nothing like browsing a great bookstore (or record store for that matter).

Later, I met up with Liz and her brother Dave and his fiancĂ©, Michiko for an authentic southern Indian dinner at Saravanaas (26th & Lexington). It was definitely pretty exotic – I have no idea what most of it was, but my Thalis were delicious. It was great to see Dave, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, and he and Michiko seem very happy.

But all the walking around had done a number on my back, so Lizzy and I went back to the hotel and watched dumb movies and fell asleep. It was nice. Yep - Saturday night in New York City and we go to bed early! I’m Ok with that. It had been a great day.


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