Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Daniel Bennett and Mark Cocheo Play the Funniest Weekly Jazz Residency in Town

The wryly entertaining, irrepressibly catchy new album We Are the Orchestra, credited to the Daniel Bennett Group and streaming at Bandcamp, is actually the work of just two guys in the studio. Bandleader Bennett, who plays a small orchestra’s worth of reeds along with piano and percussion, admits that the idea was pretty crazy. But he and guitarist/banjo player Mark Cocheo pulled this eclectic, pastoral theme and variations together with boundless energy and an unstoppable sense of humor.

Bennett came up with the idea after arranging several Verdi opera themes for small ensemble for a Whitney Museum exhibition. The record is a mix of some of those numbers mingled with Bennett’s witty originalsf you have to pin a label on it, you might call it it film music: it’s rooted in jazz, but bustles with catchy rock hooks and is more than a little cartoonish in places. He and Cocheo have an ongoing weekly Tuesday night 7:30 PM residency at an unexpected and easy-to-get-to spot, the hideaway third-floor Residence Inn bar at 1033 6th Ave., a block south of Bryant Park on the west side of the street. Until word gets out about how much fun Bennett and Cocheo are having with it, you may have the place to yourself.

The new album’s first track is Loose Fitting Spare Tire, a briskly strolling highway theme assembled from crisp Cocheo guitar multitracks and some breezy alto sax from Bennett. It comes across as a more tightly wound take on Bill Frisell. Cocheo breaks out his banjo for a long, spiky solo over the changes in I’m Not Nancy, Bennett switching to flute.

Gold Star Mufflers is a twistedly surreal, uneasily psychedelic detour, banjo mingling with the piano. The first of the Verdi variations, Theme From Ernani is recast as a bittersweet, bossa-tinged tune with a warm, Memphis-flavored soul solo from Cocheo. Refinancing for Elephants – which wasn’t written by Verdi – brings in unexpected Irish flavor via Bennett’s tricky flute work.

Inside Our Pizza Oven, a real showstopper live, presumably could have been written by Verdi but also wasn’t. It’s got some absolutely gorgeous, Balkan-flavored microtonal, melismatic work from Bennett over a hypnotically strummy backdrop. Theme from Il Trovatore – which wasn’t written by Bennett – works much better as waltzing spaghetti western jazz than you might imagine. Carl Finds His Way – which was – brings the album full circle, Cocheo hitting his distortion pedal for extra edge and bite as Bennett swirls overhead.

August 30, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blissing Out With Fabian Almazan at the Jazz Standard

This past evening at the Jazz Standard, pianist Fabian Almazan and his trio played a lustrous, glimmering set of nocturnes with the same epic gravitas as his larger-ensemble work. It was a show to get lost in.

Almazan’s lefthand attack can have every bit as much intricacy and nimble glisten as his whirlwind righthand, but the material in this set – comprising much of his latest, lavishly gorgeous, ecologically-themed album The World Abounds with Life – was typically anchored by sometimes fiery, sometimes broodingly resonant pools of chords or hypnotically circling, trickily percussive lefthand riffs.

More often than not, bassist Linda May Han Oh – Almazan’s significant other – would double those riffs, or at least the rhythm, although she took one of the night’s most unselfconsciously plaintive solos, bowing up to an angst-fueled peak in what could have been the show’s most emblenatic number, Drummer Henry Cole opened that one solo with a steady, elegantly tumbling stroll, finally hinting at a famously canine Led Zep groove. Were the band going to go there? As it turns out, no, Almazan following what would become a familiar pattern, circling staccato phrases lightly enhanced by an echo effect, bookending expansive, lush cascades and long, neoromantic chordal brescendos over a shapeshifting beat.

They opened the night with Benjamin – named after the cynical donkey in George Orwell’s Animal Farm – following a similar pattern. The fluttery electronics, which Almazan would typically set a quarter note behind the beat, added textures that during the sparest passages were surreal, and when the notes flying from Almazan’s fingers grew torrential, created a parallel storm. Sometimes this echoed Ikue Mori’s live sampling with artists like Satoko Fujii. The challenge to the rhythm section to stay undistracted must have been considerable but Oh and Cole didn’t waver.

The highlight of the night was The Everglades, an epic salute to Almazan’s refuge as an angst-ridden Cuban immigrant growing up in Florida. Building an increasingly stormy upward drive out of the murk, then going fullscale orchestral with the electronics, Almazan finally brought it down to a long, hushed, tender calm, a moody salute to an imperiled old haunt. The rest of the set was more kinetic, but the rapturous effect lingered: after awhile, it seemed like one long symphony, warmly enveloping passages alternating with frenetically circling interludes.

Almazan’s going to be on the road, in both the US and Europe, for awhile; his next gig is with trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s Art Blakey project at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Sept 1.

August 28, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | Leave a comment

A Wild, Ferociously Lyrical Take on the History of Jazz Uptown

The Manhattan debut of the multimedia spectacle The Spirit of Harlem at Harlem School of the Arts this past evening was everything the final night of the Charlie Parker Festival wasn’t: cutting-edge, fearlessly political and often very funny. And trumpeter Dominick Farinacci’s lavish ensemble didn’t even venture beyond the classics, tunewise. On one hand, songs like Strange Fruit are eternal for a reason. On the other, it’s seldom that a band is able to reinvent them in a way that does justice either to the spirit or the quality of the original.

After Farinacci introduced that haunting number solo, setting a mood more pitchblende than indigo, Shenel Johns sang Abel Meeropol’s chronicle of a lynching with a Nina Simone-like steeliness, in a stark duet with bassist Jonathan Michel. Dapperly dressed rapper Orlando Watson – whose slashing metaphors and intricate flow unearthed innumerable connections between the history of jazz, the New Jim Crow, Black Lives Matter and other historical moments – would reference that song later on, a hybrid kind of fruit still hanging from the poplar trees.

The Spirit of Harlem, which Farinacci put together at the annual upstate Catskill Jazz Factory festival, debuted in Italy just last week, The symphonic part of the evening – with tight, inspired student ensemble the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra – turned out to be a world premiere, the entire cast pulling it together in rehearsal about three hours before showtime.

The show’s premise is to bring jazz history out of world of pedants and snobs, with unexpected new interpretations and a focus on legendary Harlem jazz shrines. Tapdancer Michela Marino Lerman dueled it out with pianist Mathias Picard, through an increasingly complicated series of stride tunes that ended with a feral take of Tiger Rag. She clearly won the early part of this cutting contest, but Picard really gave her a run for the money with a diabolically fast coda that would have made Art Tatum proud.

Not everything was a total reinvention, but even the more standard interpretations were a lot of fun. The group – which also included vibraphonist Christian Tamburr, tenor saxophonist Patrick Bartley Jr., and drummer Kyle Poole – romped through a phantasmagorical version of Minnie the Moocher that left no doubt what Minnie was smoking. Likewise, Bartley’s eerie duotones and Middle Eastern-tinged wails in tandem with Poole’s shamanistic attack in A Night in Tunisia – which then segued into Dizzy Atmosphere – conjured up the spirit of the early bebop sessions several blocks to the south at Minton’s.

Bartley and Picard got bittersweet and lyrical with a Monk medley beginning with a fleeting excerpt from Pannonica followed by a somewhat furtive take of Round Midnight. After a lavishly orchestrated, rather sentimental new salute to impresario Norman Granz, the entire cast made a quick coda out of Sing Sing Sing. If jazz is your thing, even if you find this material moldy and figgy, Watson’s lyrical firepower and the irrepressible fun of the rest of the show will win you over.

August 27, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epic Bustle and Thump and Entertainment From the Uncategorizably Fun NYChillharmonic at Joe’s Pub

Was it worth leaving this year’s Charlie Parker Festival early to catch the NYChillharmonic last night at Joe’s Pub? Absolutely. Who knows, maybe someday singer/keyboardist Sara McDonald’s lavish eighteen-piece big band will play the festival – although the lineup that day will have to be a lot more forward-looking than it was yesterday evening.

McDonald’s music is easy to trace back to the wildly syncopated early 70s art-rock of bands like Genesis, although her compositions also draw on classical music, big band jazz, Radiohead and lately, classic soul music and even disco. Huddled together on the cabaret-sized stage, the mighty group were tight as a drum throughout a pummeling, nonstop performance heavy on the beat.

The staggered, staccato pulse of the opening number set the tone and was the most evocative of 70s psychedelia. Like the rest of the songs on the bill, it was pretty much through-composed, reaching a white-knuckle intensity with a series of rhythmic shrieks toward the end. McDonald typically finds more surprising places to take an audience – and her bandmates – than simply coming back to land on a verse or a chorus. Often but not always, the band would bring starkly moody intros full circle to close a tune, whether voice and keys, voice and guitar, or even voice and tuba.

With a vocal delivery that came across as more chirpy and biting than it’s been in recent months, McDonald sang resonantly while spiraling through tightly wound arpeggios on a mini-synth. Then she’d spin and conduct the ensemble, then return to the mic and keys, and made it look easy.

She explained that she’d written the night’s second number, Living Room, after quitting her shitty dayjob. Maybe some organization like Chamber Music America can step in and help her stay away from shitty dayjobs so she can concentrate on what she does best.

That particular number began as a restlessly propulsive soul anthem bulked up to orchestral proportions, with unexpectedly hushed, halfspeed interludes and a similarly sepulcutral outro, flitting out on the wings of the group’s string section. With the next tune, Ambito, the band mashed up classic 70s disco and 50s Mingus urban noir bustle, punctuated by a series of almost vexing interruptions and a wry, woozy, Bernie Worrell-style bass synth solo.

The night’s darkest and most bracing song, Wicker – which McDonald dedicated to “Ugly patio furniture everywhere” – had looming, ominous chromatics and 21st century Balkan jazz allusions, along with a deliciously jagged guitar solo and more P-Funk keyboard buffoonery. Zephyr has been considerably beefed up since the last time the group played the piece here, its chattering, uneasy intro more of a contrast with its relentlessly syncopated upward drive. It was the closest thing to orchestral Radiohead on the bill.

The Cyclone began with circus-rock piano phantasmagoria, shifting through a polyrhythmic maze to a determined disco strut that ended sudden and cold. The group closed the show with another mashup of Radiohead, dancefloor thud and Darcy James Argue-style big band minimalism. Like Missy Mazzoli, McDonald manages to write torrential melodies without cluttering them.

Time was short, so there were no band intros. It would have been fun to have been able to stick around for brass quartet the Westerlies with crooner Theo Bleckmann, but sometimes life takes you elsewhere.

August 26, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Curmudgeonly View of This Year’s Charlie Parker Festival

Why did the final day of this year’s Charlie Parker Festival at Tompkins Square Park feel so tired? For one, because the order of bands was ass-backwards. Alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, who opened, should have headlined: she and her quartet built an energy that, for many reasons, none of the other acts matched.

The relatively small size of the crowd was also a factor. Sure, there were a lot of people gathered down front, but there was never a problem finding space on the lawn, and the perimeter was deserted. To the west, a homeless guy with wireless speakers was blasting the Carpenters. To the east, a strolling brass band had conveniently picked the afternoon of the festival to compete with Benjamin’s all-Coltrane set during the quietest moments. If Kenny G had been onstage, that interference would have been welcome. But he wasn’t. How classless and uncool!

And as a rock musician would say, other than pianist Fred Hersch, everybody else was playing covers.

Drummer Carl Allen can bring the highest echelon talent wherever he wants, considering the size of his address book.. But the potential fireworks between trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and tenor saxophonist JD Allen never materialized, each reading charts throughout a wide-ranging set of material associated with Art Blakey. Allen was more chill behind the kit than Blakey ever was, and the horns (and spring-loaded bassist Peter Washington, and pianist Eric Reed) went for cruise-control rather than friendly sparring – or otherwise. It was lovely – and it sounded as old as it was.

Ageless tenor saxophonist George Coleman thrilled the crowd with a viscerally breathtaking display of circular breathing throughout one persistently uneasy modal interlude, leading an organ jazz quartet. In another moment, he and his alto player conjured up the aching microtonal acidity of Turkish zurlas. Organist Brian Charette was having a great time bubbling and cascading while the bandleader’s son shuffled and swung and shimmered on his cymbals. But as much veteran talent was on display here, it was mostly Charlie Parker covers.

Benjamin has a bright, brassy, Jackie McLean-esque tone on her horn and a killer band. Pianist Sharp Radway is both sharp and way rad: with his crushing low-register chords, endlessly vortical pools of sound and modal mastery, he was the highlight of the festival. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico walked briskly and pedaled and eventually went to the deepest part of the pocket and stayed there while drummer Darrell Green played much more chill than Elvin Jones ever did with Trane’s band. Benjamin’s decision to work her way up from brooding chromatics and modes all the way to a hypnotically swaying A Love Supreme – with guest vocalist Jazzmeia Horn – was also smart programming. Spiraling and bobbing and weaving, her homage to every saxophonist’s big influence (and sometimes bête noire) was heartfelt and affecting. It also would have been fun to have heard some of her own material: she’s a very eclectic writer and a good singer too.

Maybe the sound guy expected Hersch to savage the keys like Radway did, but he didn’t, and for that reason a lot of his signature subtlety got lost in the mix. Bassist John Hebert’s mutedly terse pulse was often considerably higher, and drummer Eric McPherson – one of the great kings of subtlety – was sometimes almost inaudible. Attack aside, Hersch’s signature mix of neoromantic glimmer, wry humor and gravitas is actually a lot closer to Radway’s style than might seem apparent. Hersch deserved more attention, so that we could have given it back to him more than it seems we did.

August 25, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epically Relevant Tunesmithing and a Jazz Standard Gig From Fabian Almazan’s Trio

Fabian Almazan is one of the most brilliantly and tunefully eclectic pianists in any style of music. His Alcanza Suite is one of the most epic albums released in this century, as ambitious in scope as, say, Miles Davis’ Miles Ahead. It doesn’t sound anything like Miles Ahead, but Almazan’s lavish orchestration is just as radical as Gil Evans’ charts were at the time. At this point, we can call the album one of the great underrated masterpieces of the past couple of decades – hopefully the critics, or what’s left of them, will catch up with it someday.

But Almazan doesn’t limit himself to orchestral epics. His latest one, This Land Abounds With Life – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mighty trio release with his brilliant bassist wife Linda May Han Oh and drummer Henry Cole. They’re playing the Jazz Standard on August 27 and 28, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $30.

The opening track, Benjamin shifts from a punishing, pummeling, syncopated scramble to a fleeting reggae interlude…and back up again. It wouldn’t be ridiculous to call this the missing link between Gyorgy Ligeti and Orrin Evans.

Keening with delicately oscillating electronic touches, Almazan’s palette balances murk and dappled sunlight in the allusively gorgeous, thirteen-minute Everglades, with a broodingly emphatic solo from Oh, his piano chords rising with a crushing intensity. Is this about fighting alligators…or alligators fighting to survive?

The Poets has a wry spoken-word intro, lavishly circling chords that Almazan takes for a waltz, and Cuban percussion shuffling incisively in the background: McCoy Tyner’s 70s work seems to be an influence. Ella is more low-key, a return to the album’s opening mix of lustre and algebraic minimalism. Cole’s dirgey Middle Eastern boom and Oh’s sober, staggered pulse anchor the moody modalities of Songs of the Forgotten, with a viciously sarcastic sample springing up to drive its political message home.

The Nomads is all about contrasts, blippy syncopation versus lingering gravitas; it warms considerably as the trio follow a long crescendo. Reflecting-pool glimmer moves in and envelops the tone poem Jaula, until Almazan picks up the pace with equally colorful neoromantic cascades. 

The practically ten-minute Bola de Nieve (Snowball) is the album’s high point, Oh’s bows somberly beneath a stark string trio – Megan Gould on violin, Karen Waltuch on viola and Eleanor Norton on cello – while the bandleader’s achingly lyrical. kinetic, Piazzollaiano melodic shifts kick in with a stately, balletesque pulse. It might be the most unselfconsciously beautiful song of the year.

Just when Folklorism seems like it’ll be the album’s most lighthearted track, Almazan starts flinging icy, Messiaenic close harmonies into the mix: the thematic shifts are disorienting, but they leave a mark. Likewise, Uncle Tio (a jokey title: “tio” is Spanish for “uncle”) moves suddenly from a hypnotic, stairstepping tangent to more pointillistic variations, Oh dancing cautiously, centerstage. Along with the the coyly spring-loaded Pet Steps Sitters Theme Song, it’s the album’s most amusing cut.

Almazan winds it up with the warmly familiar, relatively fragmentary (three minute, ha) solo ballad Music on My Mind. Classic album comparison: McCoy Tyner’s Sahara. This one’s that good.

August 20, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, review | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elegantly Riveting Intensity in Brooklyn with Luisa Muhr and C. Lavender

Last night at Spectrum dancer Luisa Muhr and sound sculptor C. Lavender improvised a literally mesmerizing, often haunting multimedia sonata of sorts, complete with variations on a series of recurrent tropes and gestures. It had all the intensity of butoh, but none of the brutality.

Muhr, dressed in a stark, loosely fitting black cotton top and pants, her hair back, typically moved in sync with Lavender’s electroacoustically-enhanced drumming –  even if that rhythm was often implied. Her timing was striking to witness. For much of the performance, Muhr swayed, turned, rose and fell at halfspeed, as if underwater. Much of her time onstage was spent contending with an invisible tether:, which seemed to encircle her, encumber her feet, hung in front of her face where she could analyze it, then became a sudden threat. But just when it seemed that it had finally sent her into a fetal position, and then a crumpled form at the very edge of the stage, she rose from the depths, slowly but ineluctably, in an understatedly steely display of athletic command.

Muhr’s green eyes are profoundly expressive: like a young Liv Ullmann, she excels at channeling very subtle or conflicted emotions. At times, Muhr’s features were undeterred yet shadowed with unease, especially toward the end of the show where she dealt with what could have been an unseen mirror, a hostile presence lurking beyond the stage, or both. Likewise, during the tether sequence, she fixed her gaze with an unwavering composure but also a profound sadness. This may have been a job she had to finish, but it was ripping her up inside. What exactly was responsible for that, we never found out, although any woman in the current political climate faces an uphill struggle with no comfortable conclusion in sight.

Lavender played a set of syndrums and also a dulcimer, which she hit gently with mallets. She ran the sometimes murky, sometimes much more pointillistic torrents of beats through a mixer for effects that diminished from turbulence to a trickle; then the river rose again. Meanwhile, even while the sound looped back through the mix, she doubled the rhythm, adding a layer of arid, blippy textures above the thump and throb. There were also moments when the sound subsided where she’d get the dulcimer quietly humming, or would build austere blocks of close harmonies and spin then them back through the vortex. Seated centerstage, there was as much elegance as restlessness in her performance, something drummers rarely get to channel: often, she was just as fascinating to watch as Muhr.

August 19, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, dance, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Contrasting Styles at an Intriguing Prospect Lefferts Gardens Jazz Twinbill This Week

There’s an especially intriguing jazz twinbill this August 15 starting at around 8 at the Owl. Multi-reedman Mike McGinnis – who excels at both pastoral jazz and large-ensemble pieces – leads a quartet with the perennially tuneful Jacob Sacks on piano. They’re followed by alto player Jonathon Crompton – whose methodically drifting compositions blur the line between indie classical and free improvisation – doing the album release show for his new one, Intuit with Ingrid Laubrock, Patrick Booth and Patrick Breiner on tenor sax, plus bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Kate Gentile.

On this album – streaming at Bandcamp – Crompton and the group focus closely on echo effects and shadowing. Tempos, when they coalesce, are on the slow side: there’s a very baroque feel to much of this. They open with the title track, which is trippy to the extreme. A three-way conversation in birdsong-like figures develops into a shadow of a boisterous New Orleans march, shifting in and out (mostly out) of focus, sustain punctuated by squonk. From there, the group provide a hazy, flickering backdrop for Crompton’s forlorn, Mike Maneri-style microtonal wisps and cries before everyone joins in a surrealistic exchange of echoes. A backward masking pedal seems to be involved.

Courage, the pensive, drummerless fugue after that, is closer to indie classical than jazz. Breiner’s enigmatically balletesque bass clarinet and Hopkins’ peppy bass join in a duet to open Apathy; then the band come in and sway sardonically through a hangdog theme and squirrelly variations. In Dreaming, the group come together out of a quasi-classical hint of a round into a jaunty strut that the bandleader pokes at, but can’t quite derail.

The gently triangulated fugue Primacy of Gesture and Catherine (for Cathlene) make an increasingly lively diptych, increasingly cartoonish humor pushing the tightlipped, Bach-like riffs out of the picture. Crompton’s Suite in A Major first traces the deconstruction of a carefree second-line tune, everybody taking turns holding the center and then breaking free. The second part, with its brooding, muted, plaintively funereal harmonies, is the high point of the album. The concluding number, December makes a return to the neo-baroque: it’s deceptively simple, thoughtfully executed and speaks well to Crompton’s uncluttered, moody sensibility,

August 11, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Misty, Meditative Clarity with Saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan at the Drive East Festival

The early show this past evening at the ongoing Drive East Festival of Indian music was both lively and serene. In that sense, alto saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan‘s duo set with Rohan Krishnamurthy on mridangam represented a considerable shift from the harrowing poignancy of sitarist Hidayat Khan’s opening night raga, not to mention the ferocity and relevance of the following night’s Metoo-themed dance performance.

Early on, Radhakrishnan mused about how sound enables enlightenment: if only it was that easy to filter out the rest of the world and focus on it! Calmly and thoughtfully, the two musicians held up their end, establishing a peaceful and purposeful dialogue with a long mridangam solo midway through, punctuated by a ridiculously funny countdown sequence.

Radhakrishnan’s approach is more Coltrane (someone he quoted from, lyrically, in a brief interlude about three-quarters of the way through) than, say, Hafez Modirzadeh. Throughout the night, the tone of the sax was misty and enveloping, a warmly bounding presence anchored by a steady pulse and steely command of minute inflections, eschewing microtones for an often hypnotic fluidity. Optimism and a calm sense of triumph prevailed, beginning with a bubbly carnatic theme that Radhakrishnan finally brought full circle. In between, the duo shifted from a fleeting atmospheric passage or two to subtly morphing, deftly syncopated variations on classic raga riffs.

The effect on the audience – which kept growing after the show began and almost completely filled the auditorium – was womblike. Walking out to to the street afterward, still wrapped in a calm, meditative state, how pleasant it was to see that there’d been a storm and that the temperature had plummeted at least twenty degrees. Lord Indra was definitely smiling on the festival tonight!

The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 9, beginning at 6 PM with two of the most compelling violinists in Indian music, Trina Basu and Arun Ramamurthy and their carnatic-inspired Nakshatra Quartet. Cover is $25.

August 8, 2019 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Harrowing, Mesmerizing Multimedia Meetoo Parable at the Drive East Festival

Sitarist Hidayat Khan‘s haunting raga last night at this year’s New York edition of the annual Drive East Festival could easily have upstaged the rest of the week’s performances. But it didn’t. This past evening, bharatanatyam dancers Rasika Kumar, Sahasra Sambamoorthi and Nadhi Thekkek performed their seethingly relevant yet often sardonically hilarious Metoo parable, Unfiltered, to a series of standing ovations from a sold-out crowd. If this is typical, the rest of the week is going to be pretty amazing – and this blog is giving away tickets.

Singer Roopa Mahadevan‘s live score was every bit as compelling, to the point where it could easily be adapted as a stand-alone concert suite. And the three dancers’ forceful, stunningly imagistic performance works as well as theatre and mime as it does as a choreographed work. Each of the trio has a very distinct character and role. Perhaps ironically, Thekkek portrays the quietest of the three as she encounters a sexual predator. Kumar has to fend off a boss without boundaries; Sambamoorthi battles trouble on the home front.

We never get to see these womens’ male adversaries. There’s very little dialogue, and until the coda, everything spoken is in the form of a question. All the interaction is portrayed by facial expressions and gestures. Kumar’s many faces are absolutely priceless as she tries to maintain a sense of humor and inner calm while her situation deteriorates. Sambamoorthi imbues every aspect of her role – her arm movements, her determined attempts to get her point across, and her thousand-yard stare – with a simmering intensity. Thekkek endows her character with unexpected poise throughout an understatedly harrowing solo.

The narrative is hardly predictable. The grisliest details are only alluded to, and the constant cat-and-mouse game between the three women and their respective predators leaves much to the audience to figure out. Yet there’s also great humor – sometimes vaudevillian, sometimes grim – throughout the piece. The visual jokes, especially early on, are too good to give away – phones and social media are part the picture, at least to the extent that we can imagine it.

And the score is as dynamically rich, and haunting, as the dancing. Mahadevan’s famously powerful mezzo-soprano vocals remained mostly in a moody low register throughout the suite, backed by Arun Ramamurthy on violin – who supplied the biggest crescendos of the night – along with Rohan Prabhudesai on piano, Kavi Srinirasavagavan on mridangam and Malavika Walia on vocals and nattuvangam castanets. They opened with hypnotic, calm variations on a carnatic theme and then drifted toward slowy swaying horror-film tonalities. Constant rhythmic and stylistic shifts matched the dancers’ intricate footwork, whether lithe and slithery or stomping and emphatic. As the drama reached critical mass, Mahadevan and Walia countered the dancers’ defiance and reslience with an all-too familiar spoken-word refrain: “Get over it. This happens to everyone. What will people say? Do you really want the atttention?” Ad nauseum.Without giving away the ending, it’s fair to call this a capsule history of Metoo.

It’s also a good bet that the dancers may reference iconic bharatanatyam dance pieces from over the centuries: those more knowledgeable about classical Indian dance than anyone at this blog may get them. The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 7 at 6 PM with tabla players Rohan Krishnamurthy and Nitin Mitta’s North and South Indian Percussion Duo with the versatile Prabhudesai on harmonium at the Mezzanine Theatre, 502 W 53rd St; cover is $20.

August 6, 2019 Posted by | concert, dance, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment