Jan 072012

This weekend is and will continue to be replete with bespoke Music for Fans.

First up, last night, NYC’s ambient cognoscenti were treated (literally and figuratively—the show was free) to a lush, luscious, and transportive audiovisual rendering of Brian Eno‘s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album in the spacious World Financial Center Winter Garden.

The free event, dubbed The Apollo Project”, was the kick-off of this year’s New York Guitar Festival.

The core of the group consisted of instrumental duo itsnotyouitsme (violinist Caleb Burhans and guitarist Grey McMurray) playing guitar, violin and keyboards, Bob Dylan/Levon Helm/Woodstock Mountains Revue alum Larry Campbell on pedal steel, and Phish bassist Mike Gordon.

The were joined, at various times, by musicians Jeff Parker (Tortoise), Noveller‘s Sarah Lipstate, and veteran master of guitar-texture David Torn. They were accompanied, throughout, by visuals extracted from filmmaker Craig Teper‘s as-yet-unfinished documentary about Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, “Man in the Right Seat.”

Apollo has always struck me as a unique album, its drifting spacescapes like the empyrean An Ending (Ascent) interspersed among airy country-inflected pieces like the lilting Deep Blue Day. Country music made a strong impression on a young Eno, who listened to American Armed Forces radio as a child in Woodbridge. In Eno’s hands, the Very American form takes on a quintessential, aethereal, almost weightless quality.

In the hands of the Apollo Project musicians, the diaphonous raw material was given propulsive power, lifting and carrying the audience into the lunar, cosmic, Earth-from-afar and occasionally abstract realms depicted on the raised-high video screen.

The main ingredient for me was Larry Campbell’s pedal steel. As I learned, not too long, ago, the mechanics behind creating deceptively-simple-sounding pedal steel parts are incredibly complex (be it on a real or sampled instrument). Campbell’s playing was exhilarating and infused the material with an unexpected vigor and liveliness, whether he was filling the low end with drone, punctuating walls of sound with sharply-plucked high notes, or gently lifting/lowering the audience with perfectly-placed glisses. Free from the tired tropes of ‘new’ country, this pedal steel soared through Terra incognita (or perhaps, using Lunar nomenclature, Mare incognitum)…

David Torn brought some well-controlled, perfectly-manicured feedback and six-string manipulation to the proceedings, sounding in spots like Live at Pompeii‘s Echoes‘ midsection’s David Gilmour, on aestheroids.

This was a wonderful, soothing warm-up for Sunday night’s sure-to-be-raucous Here Come the Warm Jets Tribute at Joe’s Pub.

 Posted by at 12:25 am

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