Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Yo-Yo Ma: Conspicuously Absent at Summerstage

New York’s Central Park Summerstage series of free concerts was not originally devised as a marketing mechanism to lure tourists to town, even though that’s how they’ve been presented for well over ten years: this city has a long tradition of free concerts in public spaces, many of them historic. Some landmark performances have taken place in this very space: the North American debut of the Master Musicians of Joujouka, to name just one. Tonight’s scheduled show with the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma promised to be a highlight of this year’s season. Unfortunately, as a marketing device, it backfired, sending all the wrong messages to any visitor who might have had the misfortune to be there.

The opening act was a mix of professional musicians and public school students, ostensibly an attempt at some sort of music mentoring program that obviously isn’t working. That this particular unit wasn’t ready to perform in front of an audience in their own auditorium, let alone at an established venue, was frustrating, but it shouldn’t have been – although it raises the question of whether or not the promoters were able to afford a real opening act. High school bands aren’t necessarily inept. There are dozens of genuinely superb New York student ensembles who would have been more than happy to do the show for nothing, and would have delivered a performance that would have made this city proud. But this band was just plain awful. Even though it was a free concert, subjecting the audience – many of whom had stood in line in crushing heat for an hour and a half before the doors opened – to yet another an hour and a half of this travesty was insulting to the extreme. That the musicianship was less than competent is beside the point: no virtuoso could have made the program listenable. A ragged brass ensemble opened, unable to keep a simple vamp together despite the fact that there were no chord changes. Along with the music, there was a great deal of talking – apparently there was some kind of storytelling going on as well. After a brief, haphazard stab at opera, a couple of vaguely Asian passages and some funkless funk, a choir was brought up to sing a pop song that sounded like a Meatloaf arrangement of a nursery school alphabet rhyme. Apparently this group’s music director is unaware of the fact that a considerable amount of great music is very easy to play: had he or she never heard of Bach, or James Brown, or the Ramones? Even done raggedly, the Ramones are fun. But this band couldn’t do that. Or, they weren’t allowed to. While many of today’s struggling music students are tomorrow’s virtuosos, it’s safe to say that no student in this band has any future in music: anyone with real talent at the schools involved (Edward Bleeker Junior High School #185, Frederick Douglass Academy III, Granville T. Woods Middle School #584, and Public School/Middle School #161) would have quit after the first day.

Ultimately, the message that this sends to the audience is,”New York public school students are so retarded that they can’t be trusted to play Bach, or James Brown, or even the Ramones, so we have to make the music as stupid as they are.” And this will reverberate wherever this concert is discussed by the tourists who were there. “Our village band in [fill in the blank: Upper Volta, Kyrzygstan, the Azores] can play better than these losers. My kids are way better than any of these dumb Americans – and my kids never even practice!”

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble were scheduled to play afterward: when, who knows. The interminable student “performance” was still going on as the mercury rose closer to the hundred-degree mark, eight PM came and went and audience members began filtering out in disgust.

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June 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/7/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #602:

Knoxville Girls – In the Woodshed

Active from the late 90s through the early zeros, darkly swampy New York rockers Knoxville Girls inhabitated a stylized world of Jim Jarmusch noir Americana. With Dimestore Dance Band leader Jack Martin, former Cramp Kid Congo Powers and the Chrome Cranks’ Jerry Teel on guitars, Barry London on organ and original Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, they were the “the ultimate Lower East Side resume band” as one blog aptly billed them. As entertaining and occasionally menacing as their two studio albums are (In a Paper Suit, from 2004 is highly recommended), onstage they were an unstoppable beast. From 2000, this is their only live album, released only on vinyl and sold exclusively as tour merch. When Teel croons Warm and Tender Love, somehow it feels like just the opposite, a feeling that recurs on I Had a Dream and Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly standard Have You Ever. They take Ferlin Husky’s I Feel Better All Over to the next level, careen through the shuffling Armadillo Roadkill Blues, Kung Pow Chicken Scratch, the tongue-in-cheek One More Thing and the instrumental Sixty-Five Days Ago with an unhinged abandon that peaks in the sprawling, closing jam, Low Cut Apron/Sugar Fix. It doesn’t look like this has ever been digitized: try your local used vinyl joint. The band’s two studio albums are still available from In the Red.

June 7, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment