Concert / Event Review: KRONOS QUARTET & GHOST TRAIN ORCHESTRA PLAY MOONDOG (The Town Hall in New York City, Tuesday April 16, 2024 at 8pm)

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by Paola Bellu on April 22, 2024

in Theater-International,Theater-New York,Tours


Moondog’s music is magical and timeless, it has the power to take us to faraway places. I am here to tell you about the extraordinary concert, Kronos Quartet & Ghost Train Orchestra Play Moondog, the collaboration between The Kronos Quartet, breaking down music boundaries as they usually do, and the Ghost Train Orchestra, a Brooklyn-based jazz and chamber ensemble led by Brian Carpenter. It was a one-night-only affair at The Town Hall last Tuesday, but both outfits will be continuing the Moondog journey. To learn more about Moondog’s work, please read our editor’s preview. Also, this concert was one of the last Kronos shows featuring longtime members violinist John Sherba and violist Hank Dutt, who will be retiring from the group at the end of June.

Kronos Quartet
David Harrington, John Sherba, Brian Carpenter, Hank Dutt, Chris Lightcap, Paul Wiancko

The concert started with “Romance”, a passion filled classical piece played by Kronos with a refined intensity that explored all the various modal possibilities on the theme, a moving song that cannot leave anybody indifferent. Impeccable level of execution, it let us know right away that this concert was going to be a rare event. The next two tunes introduced some warm rhythm with David Cossin’s percussions in “Caribea”, and sheer joy with the orchestra playing “I’m Just a Hop Head”, sang by Karen Mantler. A jazz pianist, singer, and composer born into music (Mike Mantler is her father and Carla Bley her mother), she captured the song’s spirit with faux innocence and originality; she interpreted “Enough About Human Rights” in the second part of the show with the same tongue-in-cheek ingenuity.

Paul Wiancko (cello), Joan as Police Woman
Hank Dutt, Chris Lightcap, Marissa Nadler, David Byrne

Chris Lightcap, a double bassist and composer came in to play “Speak of Heaven”, another classical piece by Moondog. Graceful, playing with a light touch and technical clarity, he added a wide-range to the intense notes of the Quartet’s strings, dominating them at times and receding to let their virtuosic and interpretative qualities bloom. Lightcap is also a seasoned musician; he has led a variety of bands since 2000 and has produced six albums of original music.

David Byrne

“I’m This, I’m That” and “Choo Choo Lullaby” proved to us how talented Brian Carpenter truly is. Singing and playing with the elegance of Fred Astaire and exuding pure raw energy when leading his orchestra, he took us to a journey that started in the 1940s and ended in the 70s. Carpenter was the thread that kept the performance together and he never missed a beat.

Brian Carpenter leads Ghost Train Orchestra
Singer Karen Mantler

“High on a Rocky Ledge in D” featured David Byrne, the front man of the influential art-rock group Talking Heads, and gothic singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler on vocals, with Brandon Seabrook and Curtis Hasselbring on guitars. Moondog’s special kind of harmony and phrasing is perfect for a brilliant performer like Byrne who was as dynamic and free-flowing as the piece requested. He also sang with all the other vocalists “I’m a Hobo” — the tune that closed the concert — grinning, dancing, clearly amused.

Marissa Nadler, Joan as Police Woman, Karen Mantler
David Harrington, Karen Mantler, John Sherba, David Byrne, Rob Garcia (drums),
Hank Dutt (viola), Joan as Police Woman, Paul Wiancko, Chris Lightcap

“All is Loneliness”, with Matt Bauder on bass clarinet and Joan as Police Woman on vocals, is a nostalgic piece and Joan’s flexuous voice added sophistication and anguish, darkness and resolve to it. Six more tunes graced us to complete the evening; the quartet continued to excel in expressing difficult virtuosities with apparent ease while the orchestra accompanied them with great expressive intensity. The encore was “Bird’s Lament”, a classic, the perfect ending for this highly expressive performance that blessed us with a variety of Moondog’s music superbly re-imagined by Carpenter.

Brian Carpenter leads Ghost Train Orchestra
Brian Carpenter of Ghost Train Orchestra

photos by Sachyn Mital

Music of Moondog
Kronos Quartet & Ghost Train Orchestra
The Town Hall in NYC; reviewed on April 16, 2024
for the album, visit Songs and Symphoniques: The Music of Moondog

Paul Wiancko of Kronos Quartet
 John Sherba of Kronos Quartet
 David Harrington of Kronos Quartet
Hank Dutt of Kronos Quartet

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