Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Guitar Fetish Photos at the Morrison Hotel Gallery

Photographer Jonathan Singer’s current exhibit at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CBs Gallery space at 313 Bowery positions the guitar as lurid fetish object. It’s hardly a new concept, but he takes it to the next level. At the celebrity-packed opening last week, Duke Levine’s twangy noir instrumentals played in the background as the crowd ogled the dark-shadowed, Rembrandt-esque portraits – that’s how much dignity Singer accords these instruments. Most of them owned by famous rockers at one time or another, they’re worth literally millions of dollars: viewing this show is sort of the equivalent of a stroll through the most choice goodies at a specialty dealer like Retrofret. Taken out of context, the guitars themselves show their age, whether the worn-down frets on a late 50s Telecaster, the cracked veneer on the oldest mandolins and acoustics or the faded patina of a 1930s National Steel model.

As expected, most of the show comprises early models of iconic models: Telecasters, Strats, Gibsons and Gretsches, one of the most stunningly beautiful being Chet Atkins’ personal Gretsch with Bigsby tremolo bar and matching amp. But the most mouth-watering shots, unsurprisingly, depict the rarest models. A handful of National electric mandolins, a circle of vintage 1950s Kays, a Kustom, a trio of Elkos with their tone buttons shimmering in the low light, and a posse of Fender Jaguars all lend their dangerous curves to an atmosphere dripping with desire. There are also three acoustics hand-painted by Annie Haslam, whose lushly shapeshifting aquamarine landscapes make perfect sense in light of her decades-long career leading anthemic art-rockers Renaissance. The photo exhibit is destined for the Smithsonian, but signed, limited edition prints are available from the gallery. It’s currently showing in two locations, the gallery’s Bowery branch and 116 Prince St. location in SoHo, through mid-March.

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February 14, 2011 Posted by | Art, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Renaissance at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/23/10

Some will find this hubristic, but this is the best edition of Renaissance yet – including the original 1969 lineup. Unlike a lot of their art-rock contemporaries during their seventies heyday, Renaissance opted for drama and majesty over any overwhelming sense of angst or wrenching intensity. Downtown tonight under a starless sky and a welcome sea breeze, they made every one of their fifty power-packed minutes count. Annie Haslam wasn’t even in the original band – she replaced the late, great Keith Relf – but throughout her time in the group she’s made a lot of people forget that. And she’s still got that awe-inspiring five-octave range. Other singers use all kinds of technology to disguise their flaws – not Haslam, and that made itself known not because she backed off from the demanding arrangements of the original recordings, but from the occasional slight imperfection. That she can still deliver those stratospheric notes, even if sometimes more gently than she did 35 years ago, is extraordinary. Not that Haslam would ever subject herself to the indignity of Eurovision or American Idol, but at age 63, she’d still win either one in a heartbeat.

The rest of the band played with passion and precision. Haslam’s longtime collaborator Michael Dunford’s acoustic guitar was too low in the mix most of the time, but when he was audible he was jangly and inspiring, while the two keyboardists, Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin matched piano to sweeping synthesizer orchestration. New bassist David J. Keyes was nothing short of brilliant, firing his way nimbly through a thorny series of changes, using a bristly, trebly tone much like Mo Moore would do with Nektar. Drummer Frank Pagano, a guy with a solid, four-on-the-floor rep from his work with Willie Nile and the Fab Faux, really opened some eyes with his spot-on, boomy and joyously orchestral attack on a big kit. From the first few notes of vocalese on the ornate, Romantically-imbued instrumental Prologue, Haslam held the surprisingly young (that word is relative) audience rapt – one can only wonder how many, relaxing on the lawn, were only now getting to see the band for the first time. Carpet of the Sun was a pleasant, artsy pop hit on record: live, the band emphasized its sweeps and swells, particularly the occasional Middle Eastern allusion (a device that would recur several times, to welcome effect). Strikingly, the best song of the night was a new one, a marvelously suspenseful epic, The Mystic and the Muse (to be released on a forthcoming ep of all-new material), a feast of spine-tingling vocals, a series of distantly Blue Oyster Cult-ish galloping crescendos and a perfectly powerful ending from Haslam.

Like the rest of the first crop of art-rockers, Renaissance were not opposed to pilfering a classical motif or two, most obviously on Running Hard, which makes a rock song out of the theme from the great French composer Jehan Alain’s Litanies. It’s hard enough to do on the organ and must be even more so on piano, but Renaissance’s keyboardist nailed it with staccato abandon. They went out on a high note with the epic Mother Russia, a seamless suite of themes closer to Tschaikovsky than Shostakovich, ending with Haslam belting out a long, low note (low for her at least – D next to middle C?), fearless and unwavering. What’s impossible for most of us still seems easy for her. The rest of the North American tour schedule is here.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment