Monthly Archives: November 2009

Monday night at Joe’s Pub: Clearly a Passing Strange family gathering

You can see the intensity in Paul Oakley Stovall's eyes.

Thanksgiving is a time when families come together. But this year, the Monday night after Thanksgiving is family day for Strange Freaks — people who love Passing Strange, its creators, its cast, and all the people inextricably linked to each other through the fantastic musical and movie. Monday night is when Joe’s Pub at NYC’s Public Theater turns into Strange Freaks Central with shows involving Stew, Colman Domingo and special guests during two shows that evening.

First there’s a performance of Clear, a new musical experience by Paul Oakley Stovall. Paul is the tall, striking young NYC-based singer who linked up with the Passing Strange crew during auditions for the show.

He’s an amazingly talented singer, who’s been heard before at Joe’s Pub, most memorably  on a bill with PS creators Stew and Heidi Rodewald and PS cast members. His show-in-the works, Clear, is the latest offspring of  PS, since Stew wrote some of the music. (Paul also has a day job working for the Obama administration. For a revealing interview with Paul in The Advocate, click here.)

Clear is being billed as an “opera poem” that will take you from the South Side of Chicago to the rooftops of Stockholm, from an ER in Minneapolis to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  Paul wrote the book and lyrics, and collaborated with  Stew, Tom Kitt and others on the music. It’s produced by Steve and Ruth Hendel.

It is directed by Krissy Vanderwarker.

The  cast features Joshua Kobak, Yassmin Alers, Chris Anderson and Brad Simmons.

Check out a track from the show on the Joe’s Pub web site.  It sounds like a winner to me. Click here to listen.

Here’s Paul’s take on the piece, from an interview by Tonya Pinkins:

Clear was inspired by a piece I was working on about Bayard Rustin. Google him folks. He’s too deep to summarize. Stew and I wrote some great music. That piece went in a different direction (and we are still working on it together) but I had all these songs about a strong Black man, who was gay, passionate, political and, among many other things, a survivor. I began to rework lyrics, pull some songs from my other songwriting ventures and collaborators and create this semi-autobiographical piece about our universal human desire to rise out of our self-created fogs and live a life that is CLEAR. It will be told in a very unique way. Sort of mix between Sandra Bernhardt, Passing Strange, and Mario Cantone’s Laugh Whore. Structured, but freewheeling. And I’ve got the most amazing people on stage with me. So, I’m very much looking forward to finding out how people respond to this “pop poem opera” as I am starting to call it.

Clear, a concert reading. 7:30 pm on Monday, Nov. 30, at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan. Tickets, available here, are $20.

Colman Domingo is celebrating his 40th birthday with a performace at Joe's Pub on Monday night.

Then, at 9:30, right after Clear, the amazing Colman Domingo, to whom regular readers of this blog need no introduction, will flex his musical and thespian muscles in a show that celebrates his 40th birthday (which actually falls on Saturday). Colman promises lots of special guests and surprises. Proceeds will benefit Save the Children.

I’ll let Colman explain the deal to you in his own words. And if you don’t recognize the names he drops, you just haven’t been paying attention. I’m guessing that Paul and his crew are likely to stick around for this one:
Celebrate my 40th Birthday with me at Joe’s Pub on November 30th. Anika, De’Adre, Eisa, Ari, Daniel, Jon and more will perform with me. Together we will sponsor children in need this year. That would be a great gift. Buy your ticket today.
Colman Domingo’s BIG ASS 40th Birthday Party, 7:30 pm on Monday, Nov. 30, at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan. Tickets, available here, are $20.

Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith join Team Fela!

Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith


It’s official! Rap-world entrepreneur Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Hollywood actors Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith are stepping up to support Fela! The A-listers now have their names over the title of this thrilling Broadway musical after joining the team as producers. They’ll also attend the opening night performance next Monday.

I saw this intense musical in previews last night, more than a year after seeing it twice in its off-Broadway incarnation. The show has made a very successful transfer to the Great White Way. The music is strong, the cast has gotten stronger. Saycon Sengbloh as Sandra Isadore, Fela’s American lover and the woman who introduced him to Black Power, is an amazing addition to the cast. And Kevin Mambo, who alternates with the amazing Sahr Ngaujah in the title role, offers a slightly more serious, less impish portrayal.

It’s a fantastic evening of hot African music and does a decent (if sanitized) job of conveying the story of who Fela Anikulapo Kuti was.

Check out a video sampler from the show after the jump. Continue reading

Asphalt Orchestra marches back to Lincoln Center!

It came from underground: Asphalt Orchestra marches out of the subway for its debut in August. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

That’s right, the fantastic Asphalt Orchestra, the avant-garde marching band that made its debut during Lincoln Center Out of Doors this summer, is making a comeback tomorrow for a free public preview of Lincoln Center’s newest space, the David Rubenstein Atrium.

Asphalt Orchestra with its inimitable, off-kilter marching band aesthetic kicks off tomorrow’s festivities at noon. And that’s just the beginning. There will be food and other performances well into the evening.

For the full schedule and more photos of Asphalt Orchestra, click through to the jump. Continue reading

New Music’s next wave


Remixer Dennis DeSantis, in the shadows, left, with the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble at (Le) Poison Rouge. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

I saw and heard the future of New Music on Sunday night, and I am happy to report the future is bright.

ICR Sax Solo

A saxophone solo opens the performance of "In C."

The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, which burst onto the scene with its fabulous 2007 performance (and followup recording) of Steve Reich‘s “Music for 18 Musicians”, filled (Le) Poisson Rouge last Sunday night with the sounds of another 20th Century classic — Terry Riley‘s “In C.”


Radio Lab host Jad Abumrad was master of ceremonies.

Riley’s piece is more of a challenge than Reich’s because it is less structured, more mutable and highly shaped by the musical personality of the performers. The 15 talented players in GVSUNME — most of them students — played an engaging version that they made their own with the use of electronics and flourishes like a saxophone solo  to open the performance.

Sunday’s concert was a celebration of the release of In C Remixed, GVSUNME’s double-CD recording of In C and 18 remixes by 16 artists. The ensemble’s recording of “In C” clocks in at just over 20 minutes. For Sunday’s concert, the group played for about an hour. That’s the other major variable of the piece — it’s written in such a way that it can be as long or short, within certain limits, as the players want it to be.

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Celebrate Julia Wolfe’s new album with four free concerts tomorrow


Composer Julia Wolfe

Bang on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe‘s new CD, Dark Full Rid, is coming out tomorrow on Cantaloupe Music. Anyone who follows Bang on a Can closely will know most, if not all, of these pieces. The title piece is a blistering percussion suite that stands as one of my all-time favorites. It’s high time a recording became available.

To celebrate, Bang on a Can has organized a series of free concerts at four locations in Manhattan. If you are lucky enough to be able to make it to all four locations, you’ll have the honor of hearing the entire contents of the CD live on the day of release.

The shows are all free and open to the public. Here’s the full schedule:

11 am – “LAD” for 9 bagpipes
Matthew Welch plays live with eight recorded bagpipes
Roulette, 20 Greene Street (between Canal and Grand)

NOON – “Dark Full Ride” for 4 drumsets
Talujon Percussion Quartet (David Cossin, Dominic Donato, Michael Lipsey and Matt Ward).
Dauphin Human Design, 138 West 25th Street, 12th Floor (between 6th and 7th Avenues)

1 pm – “Stronghold” for 8 double basses
Robert Black and the Hartt Bass Band.
Chelsea Art Museum, 556 West 22nd Street (corner of 11th Avenue)

darkfullride.ocard.012:30 pm – “my lips from speaking” for 6 pianos
Lisa Moore, Lisa Kaplan, Blair McMillen, Timo Andres, Kate Campbell, Isabelle O’Connell on piano. Conducted by Sam Adams.
Faust Harrison Pianos, 205 West 58th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues)

For more information about the album, click here.

Jad Abumrad to host In C Remixed live


WNYC Radio Lab host Jad Abumrad is MC for the In C Remixed show at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Sunday evening.

If you haven’t booked tickets for the In C Remixed show at (Le) Poisson Rouge tomorrow evening, here’s another incentive: the innovative radio host Jad Abumrad will be MC for the evening.,

Jad is host of WNYC’s Radio Lab, a program that Ira Glass of This American Life has called Jad’s program “the best show on radio.”

Jad is the perfect choice of hosts, as he’s one of the artists who remixed the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble‘s recording of Terry Riley‘s 20th Century classic In C for inclusion on the ensemble’s new In C Remixed CD.

With Jad as host and an opening set by the Slow Boys (Todd Reynolds and Michael Lowenstern, who also have remixes on the CD), it’s shaping up to be a memorable evening.

But if you really can’t make it, not to worry. The show is being recorded by WNYC/WQXR and will be available for listening on WQXR’s Q2 stream.

In C Remixed, featuring the GVSU New Music Ensemble and the Slow Boys is at (Le) Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, Manhattan. (212) 505-3474. Doors at 6:30 pm, show at 7:30.  Click here for more info or here for tickets. $15 in advance.

New Care Bears on Fire video: “Barbie Eat a Sandwich”

Check out this wonderfully entertaining animated video by one of my absolute favorite young bands, Care Bears on Fire. It’s called “Barbie Eat a Sandwich,” and offers some wry commentary on the pressures young women face in modern Western culture. It’s also just a really cool song and a great video, directed splendidly by Daisy Edwards.

Grace Hilbig, the charming actress who plays Barbie, is also quite a find. She does a lot of improv and also has her own daily video channel,  Daily Grace, which you can check out by clicking here.

The Long Count: From baseball saga to creation story

Long Count Dessners Ritchie

Stereogum Senior Writer Brandon Stosuy, left, interviews The Long Count creators Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matther Ritchie at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

What did I learn from the artist talk for The Long Count at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last weekend?

For starters, that twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner (of rock band The National) wanted to write a baseball saga when Joe Melillo, BAM’s executive producer,  invited them to create a show for this year’s Next Wave Festival. They wanted to work with acclaimed writer and baseball fanatic Michael Chabon, but that didn’t work out. Then the teamed up with British visual artist Matthew Ritchie, who persuaded them to adopt the structure of the Mayan Popol Vuh creation story, which involves a heroic set of ball-playing twins. It was a good move.

The resulting show, which ended its run at BAM on Halloween, was a treat for the eyes, ears and mind.

The Dessners chose to work with a great orchestra, many of whom, like violist Nadia Sirota, are very active in the same contemporary classical-rock crossover circles they are. And their featured collaborators, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and Kim and Kelley Deal, twin sisters from The Breeders.

Check out great photos and info about the performance at Brooklyn Vegan.

M Shanghai drives the Jalopy

M Shanghai String Band at the Jalopy Theater in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Oct. 30, 2009

M Shanghai String Band at the Jalopy Theatre. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

M Shanghai String Band is easily one of the most creative and entertaining old-timey bands in New York City. And there was no shortage of creativity when the big band (counting as many as 12 players at full strength) to the stage of the Jalopy Theatre and School of Music in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighorhood last Friday night.

Dressed in homemade skeleton costumes, the band played to a packed house, opening for the CD release party of Kelli Rae Powell, a ukulele player. Each player has a distinct personality and all are extremely accomplished, but no one of them seems to hog the spotlight or pretends to be is irreplaceable. I’ve seen them play in various configurations, with smaller forces or at full force through the grace of guest performers, and the band personality always shines through. This is a bunch of players who really enjoy what they’re doing. The result is some of the most infectious original music you could hope to hear.(You may recognize its member from other NYC bands. MSSB has links to The Ukuladies, Babe the Blue Ox, Gloria Deluxe and even the Bang on a Can contemporary music organization.)

Guitarist-vocalists Austin Hughes and Matt Schickele (son of Peter “PDQ Bach” Schickele) and fiddle-saw-washboard player Philippa Thompson took many of the leads on Friday night. Philippa’s rendition of the Austin-penned “Bus Called Cemetery” was particularly effective for the beginning of the Halloween weekend.

MSSB has made three albums, all excellent. But the band needs to be seen live to get the full effect.

M Shanghai String Band’s next performance is at 9 pm on Nov.14, for the latest installment in its monthly Saturday-night revel in the basement of a Williamsburg Chinese restaurant from which the band took its name:   M Shanghai Den, 129 Havemeyer St. (between Grand & S.1st St.), Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Free admission.

In C Remixed


If you’re lucky enough to be in New York City next Sunday, don’t miss out on an amazing opportunity to witness a live performance of one of the 20th Century’s defining pieces of music, Terry Riley‘s In C.

The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble is bringing its version of In C to the stage at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Nov. 8 to celebrate the release of its fantastic new recording, In C Remixed.

The GVSU ensemble obviously can’t reproduce the album — which features the recording of the title piece and 18 remixes by some of today’s best sonic manipulators — in a concert setting. But the show will feature live remixing by composer and sound designer Dennis DeSantis (one of the album’s remixers), videos by album remixer R. Luke DuBois, and an opening set by the Slow Boys (comprising digital violin genius Todd Reynolds and bass clarinetist and composer Michael Lowenstern, who also contributed remixes).


Terry Riley

This is a show that requires homework, albeit very pleasant homework. Here’s your assignment:

Before the show — best to do it now — download In C Remixed from your favorite digital music source. (It’s available now at and on iTunes. If you want a physical CD, you’ll have to wait until Nov. 17.)

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