Tag Archives: Lincoln Center Out of Doors

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

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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.

Quest for the grail: Lincoln Center Out of Doors version of A Crimson Grail for 200 electric guitars to be released on Nonesuch

It’s been a long time coming. First it was rained out in 2008. Finally, after a great deal of additional planning and with the blessing of the weatherman, Ronen Givony of Wordless Music and Bill Bragin, director of public programming at Lincoln Center, managed to stage the NYC version of Rhys Chatham‘s A Crimson Grail for 200 Electric Guitars (Outdoor Version) at Lincoln Center Out of Doors last season. (Loyal Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? readers will remember our coverage.)

Composer Rhys Chatham conducts his A Crimson Grail at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in 2009. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

On Sept. 14, a recording of that monumental performance is being released by Nonesuch. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

The magnificent, drone-based piece was mind-blowing in performance. Damrosch Park seemed ready to levitate from the amazing sonic pressure from the volunteer guitarists (plus 16 bassists and the sound of one hi-hat cymbal keeping the beat). I’ve heard the recording of the indoor Paris version of the piece, and while it’s amazing, it doesn’t quite do justice to the work. But I have high hopes that Nonesuch’s effort will top that.

Here’s the press release:

Nonesuch Records releases A Crimson Grail—Rhys Chatham’s work for large electric guitar orchestra—on September 14, 2010. Written in 2005 as a commission for the city of Paris, A Crimson Grail premiered at the basilica of Sacré-Coeur. It was created to work with the specific architecture of the basilica, making use of its natural 15-second reverberation time. The musicians surrounded the audience, creating an antiphonal effect with the sound moving around the space from area to area. Scored for as many as four hundred guitarists, an orchestra of approximately 125 musicians performed the premiere, to great acclaim.

The Dallas Observer said of a recording of that concert, “Beautifully intricate and harmonically dense, A Crimson Grail is nearly ambient in tone while pursuing a beauty that never seems beyond its scope.” When Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Wordless Music invited Chatham to mount A Crimson Grail in New York at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, the composition had to be completely reworked for the acoustics of an exterior, non-reverberant setting. The Nonesuch recording captures the subsequent 2009 performance, in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, with 200 electric guitars, 16 electric basses, 5 conductors, and percussion.

Rhys Chatham is a composer, guitarist, and trumpet player from Manhattan, currently living in Paris. He was the founder of the music program at The Kitchen in downtown Manhattan in 1971 and was its music director between 1971–73 and 1977–80. While at The Kitchen he was responsible for programming more than 250 concerts of living composers including the NEW MUSIC / NEW YORK Festival, which was the prototype upon which the NEW MUSIC AMERICA Festival was later based. Chatham studied under, was influenced by, or has collaborated with Maryanne Amacher, Don Cherry, Tony Conrad, Jon Hassell, Charlemagne Palestine, Eliane Radigue, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Morton Subotnick, Serge Tcherepnin, and La Monte Young, among many others.

Click through to the jump for Givoney’s personal account of the journey from an idea in 2007 to a reality n 2009.

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Asphalt comes indoors

Asphalt Orchestra debuted at last summer's Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Asphalt Orchestra, my very favorite avant-garde marching band — okay, I admit, it’s the only avant-garde marching band I know — high-steps it indoors tonight at Lincoln Center for a free show.

“We’re playing everything we’ve ever played — plus two new arrangements,” promises Asphalt saxophonist Ken Thomson.That means music by Frank Zappa, Meshuggah, Bjork, Tom Ze, Thomas Mapfumo, Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Goran Bregovic, Tyondai Braxton (of Battles), Charles Mingus and Conlon Nancarrow. Whew!

This is the only show the band — created by Bang on a Can for last summer’s the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festiva — will be doing in NYC until the summer. And, while Asphalt is probably best seen and heard outdoors, marching up and down bleachers and wandering around the Lincoln Center campus, it’s a big plus that tonight’s show is indoors!

The show is scheduled to begin at 8:30 tonight in David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, on Broadway between West 62nd and West 63rd streets, just east of the Plaza in the former Harmony Atrium space. It’s a perfect gateway to the arts center, with visitor information on all Lincoln Center tenants, a ticket office offering day-of-performance discounts, a performance space, a restaurant, free WiFi and restrooms.

Arrive early to get a good seat, as it’s first-come, first-served. For my part, I’m thinking about standing, just to remind me of my first experiences with Asphalt.

Asphalt Orchestra playing the world premiere performance of Stew and Heidi Rodewald's "Carlton."

A Passing Strange week

Stew and Heidi at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

What a Passing Strange week it’s been. First Stew and Heidi Rodewald hit the Walter Reade Theater for a talk about creative partnerships, something we’ve already talked about here. Then came The Broadway Problem show in Damrosch Park on Wednesday. And then the crowning event: The theatrical premiere of Spike Lee‘s film version of Passing Strange at the IFC Center yesterday.

For a guy who often says he knows nothing about Broadway musicals, Stew did a good job of demonstrating otherwise at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Wednesday night. Stew, with the help of Heidi and a dozen guest musicians, did almost exactly what was promised in the promotional blurb written months before planning out their free show at Damrosch Park Bandshell — they deconstructed a raft of Broadway tunes.

Paul Oakley Stovall and Eisa Davis.

Paul Oakley Stovall and Eisa Davis.

They tackled the the gamut from “Nobody,” a tune in the 1906 show Abyssinia by Bert Williams, the early 20th Century’s greatest black entertainer, to a mashup of “Big Black Man” from The Full Monty and “Black Boys” from Hair (done in hilarious Sudabey-from-PassingStrange-style by de’Adre Aziza) , the musical choices were full of dark humor and biting wit. And the arrangements and deconstructions put them in an entirely new light.

Stew and Heidi called in friends from many parts of their careers to help out. Singing friends from Passing Strange onstage in addition to d’Adre, included Lawrence Stallings (Youth understudy) and Eisa Davis (mother). Chivas Michael, who played Flute and Peaseblossom in the fabulous Connecticut production of  A Midsummer Nights Dream for which Stew wrote the music, and singer/actor/playwright Paul Oakley Stovall, a friend from the early days of Passing Strange, also lent their voices to the effort.

Lawrence Stallings and de'Adre Aziza.

Lawrence Stallings and de'Adre Aziza.

Players included drummer Marty Beller, a longtime collaborator of Stew and Heidi (“Marty’s was the first couch I crashed on in New York,” said Stew upon introducing him) and Joe McGinty‘s Losers Lounge crew and a few others.

Stew maintained his tradition of sarcasm and lies (albeit with a sly wink) by completely misidentifying composers and shows just to mess up with the audience. He said repeatedly referred to one African-American composer as Vietnamese, and called another a Cambodian novelist. (My memory fails me at the moment, but one was Fats Waller and the other Duke Ellington, though there’s some dispute as to which was which.

He credited Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot”  to The Fantastiks and introduced “Magic to Do” from Pippin as a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill number.

Although he threw in some pop tidbits (Stevie Wonder’s “She’s a Bad Mamma Jamma”), mostly he tackled classics, like “Summertime,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing),” “Feelin’ Good” (popularized by Nina Simone) from The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd and even “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.

They only thing they didn’t touch on was any of Stew and Heidi’s music — either from Passing Strange or from their The Negro Problem/Stew back catalogue.

The evening got off to an amazing start with Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq‘s erotically charged performance. Her sound is at moments gutteral, or wailing, or moaning, resembling nothing less than an onstage orgasm.

Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq

There are only two days left in the Lincoln Center Out of Doors schedule, but they are chock full of great stuff. And everything’s free.

Meanwhile, Friday’s premiere of the Passing Strange movie was absolutely magical. The packed audience at the 9:20 pm show was clearly blown away by the  movie, and gave the creators and cast, who spoke after the screening, a standing ovation.

For someone like me, who saw the show many times in various incarnations, the movie is a fantastic document of a moment in the show’s life — a near-perfect distillation of a life-changing experience.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, make a point of doing so — soon. It’s too important to miss.

Last night, Eisa described Passing Strange as “a myth,”  a story that makes you think about who you are and forces you to confront what it means to life and to die. It’s not about race, it’s not about rock and roll, it’s not about drugs, even though all of those themes are in it.

Eisa is right. It is a myth in its own right.

The Passing Strange team at the IFC Center, from left: producer Steve Klein, Stew, de'Adre Aziza, Heidi Rodewald, Eisa Davis, Chad Goodridge, Colman Domingo and Daniel Breaker.

The Passing Strange team at the IFC Center, from left: producer Steve Klein, Stew, de'Adre Aziza, Heidi Rodewald, Eisa Davis, Chad Goodridge, Colman Domingo and Daniel Breaker.

Stew and Heidi tackle The Broadway Problem

The Damrosch Park Bandshell stage could hardly contain the full forces of Stew and Heidi: The Broadway Problem on Wednesday night.  (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

The Damrosch Park Bandshell stage could hardly contain the full forces of Stew and Heidi: The Broadway Problem on Wednesday night. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald took on Broadway at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Wednesday night, and Broadway was no match for them. I’m posting pictures now, with words to follow soon.

Stew and Heidi — too much space between them!

Stew and Heidi — too much space between them!

Meanwhile, don’t forget: The Spike Lee film version of Passing Strange on Broadway hits the big screen at the IFC Center in NYC today! Even if you’ve seen the show as many times as I have, you need to see the movie — to get a new perspective on it and to support Stew and Heidi. Be there!

Stew was in a great mood.

Stew was having a good time.

Two chances to see Stew and Heidi live in NYC before Passing Strange hits the big and small screens

Heidi Rodewald and Stew

Heidi Rodewald and Stew

Next week is a big week for Strange Freaks.

First, on Tuesday, Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the creators of the musical Passing Strange and longtime collaborators in the rock band The Negro Problem, are making a public appearance to talk about their artistic partnership joys and concerns of their longtime artistic partnership Summer Scoops Live with The Wall Street Journal. wsj_header_events

On a porgram titled pARTners, They’ll talk with WSJ reporter Wendy Bounds before an audience at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. Also involved in the conversation are the creative team behind the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Artistic Director Bill T. Jones — who’s bringing his own musical, Fela!, to Broadway this fall — Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong and Creative Director Bjorn Amelan. The talk starts at 7 pm on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the Walter Reade, 165 West 65th Street, Manhattan. General admission tickets are still available and cost $25. Buy them here.

Then, on the following night, Stew and Heidi return to make music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors as Stew and Heidi Present: The Broadway Problem. The show in Damrosch Park, at the southwest corner of the Lincoln Center Campus at West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, opens with a set by Nunavit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Admission to the outdoor concert is free and starts at 7 pm.

Keep reading for even more news about Stew and Heidi.

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