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Time Out NY Event Preview

posted Sep 27, 2011, 5:37 AM by Tom Abbs

Live preview: Spy Music Festival

Open-minded record label Northern Spy surveys the NYC avant-garde.

 By Hank Shteamer


Photograph: Courtesy of ZS

It’s not only bands that return from the grave; sometimes labels reanimate too. One noteworthy reboot was the mid-aughts reprise of ESP-Disk, an imprint that helped to put NYC free jazz and art folk on the map back in the ’60s. That revival has since faltered, but it wasn’t a complete wash: Former employees regrouped to found Northern Spy, which aims to do for the 2010s Brooklyn avant-garde what its mothership did for downtown Manhattan a half century ago.

As Northern Spy turns one this weekend, a two-night birthday party shows off the label’s unusually broad agenda. Like ESP in its heyday, Northern Spy documents a scene in progress—a teeming avant-garde untouched by the chloroform of history. Zs, performing Saturday 1, might be the label’s key signing; its captivating sax-drums-guitar pieces create a ghostly sound space where noise, modern composition and free improv bleed together into a strange new discipline. (Zs six-stringer Ben Greenberg, who performs as Hubble, presents his sparkling loop webs on Sunday’s bill.)

Others to watch for are local punk-prog hero Colin Langenus’s psych-meets-roots Orchestra, noise-embracing free-jazz trio the Spanish Donkey, bent British garage-pop songsmith Dan Melchior, and free-blues guitar heroes Loren Connors (playing as one fourth of Haunted House) and Tom Carter. “The artists alone decide,” quipped the original ESP motto; Spy Music Festival attendees will see that credo play out in real time.

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