Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Albert Maysles: Photographs and Cinemagraphs, at the Steven Kasher Gallery

Albert Maysles, along with his late brother David, is one of the great pioneers in documentary filmmaking. Their most famous works include the groundbreaking Salesman (1968), the immortal Rolling Stones movie Gimme Shelter (1970) and the cult classic Grey Gardens (1976). Albert Maysles’ latest documentary, The Gates, chronicling the notorious Christo installation in Central Park two years ago, premieres on HBO this coming February 26. The shots on display here, from the just-published A Maysles Scrapbook: Photographs/Cinemagraphs/Documents fill four walls of the gallery, beginning with over two dozen from the Soviet bloc in 1955. In one black-and-white photo, Albert Maysles casually leans against the bumper of an old World War II surplus truck somewhere in Czechoslovakia, beer in hand, as the locals have just offered him as much as he can drink and as much gas as his scooter will hold. It’s an indelible moment, and sadly, unlike the vast majority of what’s on display here, it’s not for sale.

Other black-and-white shots from the Maysles’ trip behind the Iron Curtain that year include several of inmates at a mental institution, including one particularly scary character posing up against his hospital’s marble steps. Others are alternately troubling and lighthearted: a series depicts weary, clearly out-of-sorts travelers in the Moscow airport, including a family sleeping huddled together, as well as some amusingly sarcastic portrayals of Soviet-era women’s fashions, or what posed for fashion in a society that denied its citizens the right to express any esthetic sensibility that could conceivably be considered individualistic.

The stars of this show occupy the final wall, several large color montages from Grey Gardens. Popular in the gay community because of its camp factor, it’s actually a harrowing look at the effects of mental illness, tracing the twisted, symbiotic relationship between the aging, reclusive septuagenarian Kennedy clan member “Big” Edith Beale and her equally crazy wannabe-chanteuse daughter, fiftysomething “Little Edie” Beale over the course of several months in the duo’s rotting, rodent-infested Long Island mansion. Grey Gardens (which was adapted into a popular musical last year) is an incredibly funny movie, but the humor is completely unintentional, as far as its subjects are concerned. “Al Maysles is a great artist. He’s also a great photographer. He is also of Russian descent. My best friends were all Russian, but they were royalty,” Little Edie is quoted as saying, which speaks volumes.

Several of the most classic scenes from the film are here: a series of six shots of Little Edie cavorting with an American flag, as well as larger shots showing her doing sit-ups in her bathing suit on the decaying back porch, posing in the dunes, perusing an astrology book through a magnifying glass, demonstrating how to wear pantyhose underneath a dress and reclining on a bed while gazing at herself in a mirror with considerable trepidation. What may be the film’s most immortal scene is included here, where Big Edie, sitting bloblike and practically falling out of her dingy green dress, reprimands Little Edie to stop her incessant singing, threatening to leave the room and go hang out with the cats instead. The show’s scariest moment is the final shot, a black-and-white photo of Little Edie posed on the porch in a short skirt, dark scarf around her waist, pulled up to show her thigh. But there’s no seduction here. The frightened bewilderment on her face stops just short of complete self-awareness: only a crazy person would let someone take a picture like that. And as you leave the gallery, thinking you’re seen it all, there’s another black-and-white shot just to the left of the elevator, this time showing a smiling Little Edie shooting with Albert Maysles’ camera. This is a must-see exhibit whether you are a fan of the Maysles’ work or not yet a convert. The show runs through March 15 at the Steven Kasher Gallery, 521 W 23rd St. just west of 10th Ave., second floor, 11 AM – 6 PM Tues-Sat.

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February 21, 2008 Posted by | Art, Film, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Makoto Nakura Plays Bach, Osada and Bunch at Trinity Church, NYC 2/21/08

Interpretation has never been more fresh than it was this afternoon, as Japanese expat marimba player Makoto Nakura played a fascinatingly imaginative, spectacularly virtuosic program of classical and modern works. Although Nakura didn’t seem to even break a sweat, the passion of his performance matched his precision. He began with his own arrangements of two etudes and then two preludes by Villa-Lobos. Playing the marimba or vibraphone requires equal amounts of athleticism and meticulous skill, and Nakura nailed it all, both during the baroque-inflected studies that seemingly served as a warmup, and the more complicated, lyrical two works that he followed with.

Next, he tackled a piece written for him by Japanese composer Moto Osada, entitled Sylvan Lay and Pastoral Air. From traditional Japanese mythology, it’s a narrative of confrontation and forgiveness involving a couple of medieval warriors, although there was absolutely nothing remotely antique about this difficult, tonally challenging, intensely cerebral work. There were some striking passages, including an ominously percussive series of tritones early on, and one particularly impressive, rapid run down the scale midway through, but this is a piece that requires repeated listening.

After that, Nakura played his own arrangement of Bach’s popular Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. This is one of those NPR Bach pieces, a well-known composition frequently heard around Christmastime during pledge drives, but Nakura made it all his own, from the sad tonalities of the adagio that opens the piece, to the interesting, Vivaldiesque “Siciliana” that serves as a third movement, to the rousing Presto that wraps it up. Following this with the Fugue from one of Bartok’s final compositions, the Solo Violin Sonata, was ambitious, but the move fell flat: as can happen in Bartok’s work from time to time, the piece is fussy and overworked, and the new arrangement did nothing to compensate for the lack of emotional compass.

To close the show, Nakura invited composer Kenji Bunch up to the mic to introduce his recent composition Triple Jump, also written for Nakura. Written specifically for the marimba, it’s an intriguing, smartly arranged three-part suite, the first evoking Chicago lounge-psychedelia instrumentalists Tortoise, the second being a thoughtful, somewhat pastoral evocation of stones skipping across a placid pond, the final being an impressively upbeat portrayal of muscle and sinew in action. A program like this might at first glance seem far better suited to something like the Next Wave Festival or an outsider jazz club like the Stone, but Trinity Church has incredible acoustics, the tones of the marimba bouncing around gorgeously, creating something of an organ effect especially when Nakura was using his soft mallets. Adventurous listeners got a real treat this afternoon. Three cheers for whoever booked this winter’s series here. And there wasn’t a single bus alarm blasting in from outside and disturbing the concert, either!

February 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, experimental music, Music, music, concert, New York City, NYC Live Music Calendar, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marni Rice, Bliss Blood and Dreamboat Live at Laila Lounge, Brooklyn NY 2/20/08

This is the kind of place where music is only an occasional thing, as evidenced by the chalkboard outside on the sidewalk which simply said “open mic.” As at innumerable other bars, the musicians who play here apparently also do all the promotion. Either the night was running ahead of schedule, or there had been a switchup after the email announcing the event was sent out, because by quarter after ten, accordionist Marni Rice was wrapping up her solo set. She’s excellent, a player who’s equally influenced by French chanson and American garage rock. Singing in a smooth, confident alto, her last two songs were both excellent originals, the last a new one perhaps titled Red Light, a scuffling, klezmer-inflected broadside about the New York subway system’s inability to treat their customers with even a minimum of respect. She’s playing another solo set at Hank’s this Saturday at about 9:30, opening for some garage-rock friends. Musically, it might not be the smoothest segue, but energy-wise it ought to be perfect: Rice has considerably more edge and originality than your typical accordion-playing chanteuse.

Bliss Blood is a one-woman time machine, a brilliant songwriter with breathtaking command of pretty much every oldtime blues, ragtime and swing style ever found on shellac or celluloid. Unsurprisingly, she’s a major force in the New York music scene, as leader of the wildly popular, lushly romantic Moonlighters, the sizzling barrelhouse blues act Delta Dreambox, macabre “crime jazz” trio Nightcall and swing dance band Cantonement (that seems to be all for the moment). A Bliss Blood solo show is so rare that it’s a can’t-miss event: even thought she got her start here in town playing solo, she virtually never gets a chance to do that anymore. In the Moonlighters, she favors lush, complicated, harmony-laden arrangements, so hearing her songs pared down to just vocals and chordal rhythm was a treat worth braving the cold and this somewhat suspect, frequently trendoid-infested venue. Accompanying herself tonight with just her trusty ukulele, Blood reaffirmed her status as one of the smartest, most captivating performers around. As a singer, she alternates between seduction and indictment. Her serenades were sweet and clear, but she put her fangs in for the sad, rueful ballads and politically-charged anthems. In the bar’s intimate confines, she transcended the dodgy sound and put on a riveting show, opening with a brief cover of the Goldfinger theme, then the explosively powerful Nightcall song Blackwater, a corrosive, spot-on critique of the mercenary company killing innocent civilians in Iraq.

Introducing the breezy, seemingly carefree hobo tune Ballad of a Gink, she explained that “gink” is Depression-era slang for someone who’s lost or homeless. Broken Doll, a stark narrative about a battered woman, was just as evocative as the version on the Moonlighters’ latest album Surrender. Blood also did a handful of covers of songs by her idol, Bessie Smith, and also debuted a touching new one entited Winter in My Heart (“and snow in my eyes,” she sang wistfully). It was hard to remain dry-eyed after that one.

Before launching into a tersely intense version of the Moonlighters classic Blue and Black-Eyed, she told the audience it evoked a different New York, one a little more dangerous, in this case the Bowery at the turn of the 20th century when prostitutes would drink carbolic acid and throw themselves off the fire escape of the recently demolished tenement that once housed the notorious bar McGuirk’s Suicide Hall. She wrapped up the set with a request, the charming Hello Heartstring and then her fiery, minor-key, tango-inflected maquiladora ballad Dirt Road Life, told through the eyes of a Mexican sweatshop slave.

Dreamboat, the headliners (no relation to Bliss Blood’s similarly-titled band) were terrific, the best new act we’ve encountered since unexpectedly discovering James Apollo back in December. This new trio features excellent acoustic guitarist/singer Craig Chesler, upright bassist Tony Masselli and a frontwoman who jokingly told the audience that she was Kelly Ripa. Iowa expat Kelli Rae Powell, alternating between a wink, a smirk and an occasional shit-eating grin, showed off a spectacular, vastly entertaining and delightfully witty ability to absolutely nail a range of styles from Bessie Smith subtle, to Shirley Bassey over-the-top, and seemingly everywhere in between. If this band stays together, they’ll be huge. Like the Moonlighters, there’s a fondness for harmonies and an unabashed romanticism in most of what they do, but playing for laughs is also part of it. Powell’s onstage persona is as devious as it is virtuosic. Their best song, appropriate for tonight’s chill, was a very pretty, soaringly optimistic ballad called When My Winter Turns to Spring. They’re playing the Jalopy Café on March 8 with the Moonlighters, well worth the B61 bus ride to Red Hook and back home again.

February 21, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments