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“Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.”

—fortune cookie

Many years ago I asked a famous New York Times critic and a well-known jazz musician for advice on what I should do if I decided to write what passed for criticism. The former said, “Don’t make friends with any musicians.” The latter intoned, “Always try to teach someone something.” Well, sadly, I screwed up on both accounts. I already had too many musicians as friends, including the one whose advice I had asked, and I wasn’t smart enough to teach anyone anything. So why do I do this every chance I get? Because I love it? No. Because I value my own opinion? Sometimes. Because it helps me get into gigs free? Definitely. And now I will rant about some of those gigs.

I happened to experience three dance works by three major choreographers one after another recently: the Dean Moss/Yoon Jin Kim collaboration Kisaeng Becomes You at Dance Theater Workshop, Think Punk! by Karole Armitage at the Kitchen, and Yessified! by Sally Silvers at P.S. 122. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in how these three choreographers dealt with and related to music within the context of the choreography. In Kiesaeng the cellist/composer Okkyung Lee composed a piece providing the foundation/landscape for the deconstructed plot to proceed. In Armitage’s work, the music (Rhys Chatham’s “Drastic-Classicism” and David Linton’s “Watteau Duets,” which was brilliantly “played” live by the avant duo Talibam!) was used in more of a classical sense to complement the dance.                  

Silvers’s case was the most abstract, using a non-stop parallel threading of text and sound put together by Bruce Andrews, with additional music by composer/musician Michael Schumacher. Interestingly, the one thing that the three shared was music from the 60s! Kisaeng explosively opened with an intense Janis Joplin tune, “I Need a Man to Love”; Think Punk! opened with Hendrix’s cover of “Wild Thing”; and Yessified! sparkled throughout with vintage soul music by Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, and Aretha. Where they differed was in their content, though in some respects all three tried to deal, through movement and music, with social interaction and culture-clashes.

The Moss piece used an all-female Korean ensemble that at one point got very drunk on stage and invited folks from the audience to participate. Armitage’s troupe was comprised of male and female dancers of many ethnic and racial backgrounds, as was Silvers’s, the main difference being that Armitage used them primarily for their skills and role-playing, while Silvers was more interested in making a socio-political statement. Silvers wanted a diverse racial mix to show how white and black intermingle socially and how in some ways white yearns to be, in mannerism, speech, and musical taste, even blacker than black. The Silvers and Moss events were new pieces comprised of hour-long vignettes, whereas the Armitage was an overview of her work since the 80s. For the most part the music worked exceptionally well for all three artists’ settings.

I spent the past couple of months in and out of Merkin Concert Hall. In March I sat through a dreary, near-empty, overpriced concert by Sarah Cahill, who performed anti-war works by Rzewski, Riley, Kline, and The Residents, with cluttered and distracting video by her husband, John Sanborn. This show was balanced out by such luminescent moments as Cecil Taylor doing a spoken-word-and-piano gig to a sold-out crowd for his 80th birthday; a wild Bang on a Can All-Stars presentation with commissioned pieces by the likes of Fred Frith and Lee Ranaldo; a bill including flautist Jamie Baum, the centerpiece of which was a composition based on works by Charles Ives; and the Polish trumpeter Thomas Stanko with Craig Taborn and Jim Black, sharing what was a truly haunting set of high aesthetics.

From the Stanko set I ran down to the Village Vanguard to hear the master Lee Konitz and his quartet, which included a fresh young pianist and the almighty Joey Baron. Konitz’s humor and playing were in top form. One of his best gigs in years.

Comeback of the Year, on par with the return of Henry Grimes, is altoist Giuseppe Logan, who had been M.I.A. for almost forty years. Though Logan only made two LPs for ESP Records as a bandleader, and appeared on only three others, he is rightly regarded as a living legend. Now at seventy-seven, with the help of trumpeter Matt Lavelle (who, like Logan, doubles on bass clarinet), he has made four appearances over the last three months and is slowly regaining his chops.

Three outstanding days of music last month at the Irondale Center, a wonderful new space inside the Presbyterian Church on S. Oxford St. in Fort Greene, showcased the Walter Thompson Orchestra and Walter’s characteristic conducting system known as Sound Painting, with special guest Anthony Braxton sitting in.

And keep an ear out for the ongoing RUCMA (Rise Up Creative Music & Arts) events every Monday night now at Local 269, a bar at Houston and Suffolk, which has featured some terrific music by the likes of Rob Brown, Cooper-Moore, Louie Belogenis, Joe Morris, Charles Downs, Billy Bang, Burton Greene, Perry Robinson, and the aforementioned Logan, to name a few. And of course in early June there’s its affiliate, the Vision Festival, which this year will feature a tribute to the indefatigable Marshall Allen.

So pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and while you’re smiling at least try your best to LISTEN.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2009

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