Monthly Archives: July 2010

Ethel Fair Launches Lincoln Center Out Of Doors

Crews were making the final preparations to Damrosh Park on Tuesday night for Wednesday's premiere of the 2010 edition of Lincoln Center Out Of Doors. (Copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

The fabulous Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival starts Wednesday night with a bit of Civil Rights Movement street theater at 6:30 at Barclays Capital Grove (the sponsored name for the plaza between Lincoln Center Theater and Avery Fisher Hall and moves into full-bore music mode at 7:30 in Damrosch Park with Ethel Fair: The Songwriters.

Ethel is Ralph Farris (viola), Mary Rowell (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Cornelius Dufallo (violin).

Ethel is a string quartet like no other string quartet you’ve seen or heard. These four skilled players, who are quite active together and separately on the international contemporary music scene, have been working in collaborative mode over the past several years. Their latest project, which has its world premiere at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival,  features the quartet yoked with songwriters who are quite well known on their own. Pop tunesmith Adam Schlesinger (a member of pop bands Fountains of Wayne and Ivy and composer of Broadway’s “Cry Baby”), assisted by Mike Viola (Candy Butchers), has created a work with Ethel. Other collaborators include folk-blues dynamo Dayna Kurtz, punk-New Wave pioneer Tom Verlaine (Television) and folky Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina.

Ethel always pushes boundaries with its work. This collaborative effort appears to reach for a broader, more mainstream appeal than some of the band’s more left-of-center efforts, such as its ongoing TruckStop project, which takes the band on the road to work with and celebrate indigenous cultures. But it’s certain to provide a richly entertaining evening.

No Snakes In This Grass is the title of the theater piece, written by James Magnuson and directed by Mical Whitaker, that kicks off the evening. It’s a comedy set in the Garden of Eden that deals issues of race and the Fall.

This is just the first night of a jam-packed schedule of fabulous free music and performance art that runs through Aug. 15. For the full Lincoln Center Out of Doors schedule, read the press release after the jump. Continue reading

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BREAKING NEWS: Phosphorescent’s stolen van recovered, complete with gear!

Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent.

In a matter of days, Matthew Houck and his band Phosphorescent have had their lives turned upside down and now, suddenly, uprighted again!

The band publicist announced Tuesday morning that the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Athens, Ga., band’s rental van, stolen from a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, street last Thursday night, hast turned up, complete and unharmed.

Phosphorescent’s publicists at 7-10 Music just blasted this note from the band:

this is insane!
the police have recovered the van
and
all of our gear is in there
and appears to be un-damaged

speechless right now,
more soon, love phos

note from label/management: we will of course return everyone’s generous donations. thanks so much for your love and support!

If you missed the backstory to this amazing turnaround, click through to the jump. Continue reading

Fela! storms Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing — and Femi Kuti plays, too!

Sahr Ngaujah, star of the Broadway musical Fela!, leads Midsummer Night Swing dance lessons on Monday night. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force may have been the headline act at tonight’s special Monday night edition of Midsummer Night Swing, but the cast members from Fela! on Broadway who taught the preshow dance lesson were just as big a draw — and equally exciting — for many in the audience.

Jill Vallery (in blue T-shirt, left), the dance captain from Fela!, worked hard to keep the crowd dancing.

Sahr Ngaujah, who created the title role of Fela Anikulapo Kuti off-Broadway, and shares the role on Broadway with Kevin Mambo, joined Fela! dance captain Jill Vallery and a host of dancers from the stage spectacle as they whipped the wannabe Afrobeat dancers into a frenzy. Many of the people in the audience, like yours truly, ably demonstrated that they had two left feet when it came to following the athletic and intricate steps involved. But that didn’t deter many from trying. But the real test came later, when the real dance party started. Click through for more photos. Continue reading

Femi Kuti kicks off the final week of Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Femi Kuti

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has been distracted this summer. There’s been a lot going on, musically speaking, around NYC and environs so far. As a result, we’ve neglected our friends at Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.

But on Monday night, the start of MNS’s final week  for 2010 — hard to believe — Femi Kuti & The Positive Force are taking over Damrosch Park. And we can’t fail you this time. Even if you think you can’t dance, you should be at this show. It’s hard not to at least feel like you can dance when Femi Kuti takes the stage. His version of Afrobeat — he’s one of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s two musical sons, the other being Seun Kuti who inherited his father’s band Egypt 80 — has an insistent beat and a joyous feel that can get anyone to dance. (Fela Kuti, you may recall, is the subject of the fantastic Broadway musical, Fela!, directed by Bill T. Jones.)

The fun starts at 6:30 p.m. with a dance lesson with Sahr Ngaujah, star Fela!, and the music starts at 7. Tickets are $17 and available at Damrosch Park, at West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, or online. And there are more shows throughout the week: Catherine Russell and Cat & The Hounds Swing Band on Wednesday, Loser’s Lounge Ladies Night on Thursday, La Exelencia on Friday and, wrapping up this year’s dance season, a kids’ dance party at 3 p.m. Saturday followed by the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra on Saturday evening.

Music at the museum: Talujon Percussion Quartet performs at the Noguchi on Sunday

Talujon Percussion Quartet at the World Financial Center Winter Garden.

Bang on a Can/Cantaloupe Music and the Noguchi Museum are hosting Second Sundays, an awesome concert series on the second Sunday of each month through September. Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? missed the inaugural gig, a performance by French avant-pop composer and bassist Florent Ghys — catching him instead at the Bang on a Can Marathon later in the month.

The series continues this Sunday, July 11, with a set by the amazing Talujon Percussion Quartet. To get a good sense of this group, check out the sound samples posted here.

Master clarinetist Evan Ziporyn will take the garden stage in August, while one-bit electronics composer Tristan Perich closes the series in September.

Shows are at 3 p.m. on the second Sunday of the month in the garden of the Noguchi at 9-01 33rd Road (at Vernon Boulevard), Long Island City. It’s the former workshop of Japanese-American sculptor and visionary Isamu Noguchi that is now preserves his artistic legacy. The concert is included with museum admission, which is $10 for adults.

New life for Matt Marks’ The Little Death

Composer Matt Marks and soprano Mellissa Hughes are Boy and Girl in the Incubator Arts Project presentation of The Little Death: Vol. 1 on Thursday, July 8. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Something magical happened to Matt Marks‘ post-Christian nihilist pop opera The Little Death: Vol. 1, when it was preparing for its current staging at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. What had been a great collection of smart, sometimes silly, pop songs in the guise of a gently confusing pop opera has evolved into a smartly staged, well focused piece of musical theater.

The stars of the show sell lemonade and cookies before the performance.

While Marks’ excellent music provided the building blocks, director Rafael Gallegos has built a solid foundation and has cemented the building block  together to form an elegant theatrical environment for the Marks’ eerie love story.

A little less wholesome.

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? was blown away (pun intended) by Thursday night’s premiere performance of the staged version. That’s quite a contrast to my reaction to the semi-staged version presented by Marks’ label, New Amsterdam Records, in March. Although I loved the sample- and hymn-heavy music, the overall feel of the piece left me a bit uneasy. It was hard to discern what Marks was trying to do. Was he making fun of Christianity or exploring the quirks and limitations of the faith context in which he was raised? Songs like “I Like Stuff,” are the types of catchy tunes that every producer wants in a musical — ones that the audience can easily hum on the way out of the theater. The lyrics are no less catchy, but that where things became a bit unsettling — when the singers compare liking hamsters and ice cream and rainbows to liking Jesus.

The piece uses recognizable samples and large chunks of Christian hymnody as the basis for some of its songs that loosely tell the story of a blossoming love affair between Boy (Marks) and Girl (soprano Mellissa Hughes), backed up by a four-member choir. Another thing that left me feeling uneasy in that early viewing was the fact that the story starts with Boy shooting Girl before time-traveling back to the start of their relationship. Marks describes Vol. 1 as “the first half of our story.”

The last temptation of Christ?

Continue reading

New Speed the Plough — live on the Fourth of July

True fans of The Feelies will remember Speed the Plough fondly, given that many Feelies played in Toni and John Baumgartner‘s band during its existence in the early 1990s. Like The Feelies, STP is back making music. Earlier this year, the band released its first album in 15 years, Swerve.

On the Fourth of July, before heading to Maxwell’s in Hoboken for the third and final Feelies show of the holiday weekend, the members of STP visited the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan. There, tucked away on the plaza surrounding sculptor Greg Wyatt’s Peace Fountain (1985), the band gathered around the public piano that was one of 60 installed around NYC as part of the Play Me, I’m Yours art project. The Fourth of July was the last day of the installation, and the members of STP thought it would be fun to take advantage of it as a group. (STP wasn’t the only band to think of this. The Bill Murray Experience did something quite similar, as Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? reported previously.)

They did an acoustic rendering of “Kentucky Moon” that was captured on video by Katie Demeski. Enjoy!