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.

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

The Turkish Woodstock

As concerts in New York go, this was something of a landmark, representing both the vanguard and the old guard of cutting-edge Turkish music, something that according to people involved with the project would have been far less likely to have taken place on Turkish soil. Istanbulive AKA the Turkish Woodstock was a quick sellout (or the equivalent – the Summerstage arena was filled to capacity minutes after the opening act, the NY Gypsy All-Stars took the stage). This time around, acclaimed Turkish clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici stood in for the mostly instrumental group’s usual reed man Ismail Lumanovski, taking the music in a surprisingly but effectively murky, pensive direction. In Turkey, the clarinet carries the same connotation as the sax does here, frequently the instrument of choice for bandleaders and for party music in general. Where Lumanovski is a ferociously intense player, someone who typically goes straight for the jugular, Senlendirici took a characteristically more spacious and contemplative approach, an apt fit for several of the ballads in the set. With a rhythm section including electronic keyboards along with guitar and kanun, they alternated between tricky, rousing dances and quieter fare, some simply instrumental versions of Turkish pop hits which became mass karaoke for the high-spirited audience. One of them sounded like the old Burt Bacharach standard Never Gonna Fall in Love Again set to a more complex rhythm. Their best number featured a guest chanteuse doing a wistful, homesick Armenian folk song backed by just keys and clarinet.

The unannounced Brooklyn Funk Essentials followed with a brief, entertaining mini-set with Senlendirici out front (their 1998 album with him is a major moment in American/Middle Eastern fusion), working a dark reggaeish vibe on the first tune, following with a straight-up funk number that lept doublespeed into ska. They then did a funny ska version of the Mozart Rondo a la Turk, and were out of there – a quick rehearsal for their show later at City Winery maybe?

Painted on Water maintained the cutting-edge vibe, delivering the afternoon’s most electrifying moments. Frontwoman Sertab Erener is a star in her home country, and this mostly English-language project – her vocals and accent are flawless – ought to expand her audience exponentially. Kicking off the set with a long, passionate, intense vocalese intro, it was clear that she had come to conquer. Like Siouxsie Sioux without the microtones, she showed off a forceful, defiant wail that on the next-to-last song of the set she unleashed with unrestrained fury, a stunning crescendo that seemed to defy the laws of physics. That such a relatively small, lithe frame could cut loose such a powerful blast of sound was a wonder to behold. Then she did it again.

They built up to that with an intriguingly cross-pollinated blend of tastefully jazzy, guitar-driven, blues and Turkish-inflected rock songs. Guitarist Demir Demirkan came across as something of a warmer Andy Summers, casually tossing off artfully precise flourishes in a multitude of styles, sticking with a clean, trebly tone. The anthemic 1000 Faced Man, from the group’s brand-new debut cd packed a funereal, Doorsy wallop, courtesy of some totally Manzarek-esque organ from the keyboardist. On the next number Demirkan matched Erener note for note, his lines thick with vibrato and apprehension, as she went off with more vocalese. The catchy, swaying, syncopated Shut up and Dance brought back the psychedelic vibe with another long, haunting organ solo. On one of the tables in the seating area to the right of the stage, a little girl methodically built an impressive pyramid out of the plastic wine goblets they were using back there, which stood resolute until blown over by a gust of wind. It made a good visual counterpart to the steadfastly wary, purist intensity of Demirkan’s playing.

Legendary Turkish rockers Mazhar Fuat Ozkan turned the vibe back to haunting, at least for awhile. Because of their three-part harmonies, the comparison they always get is CSNY and that’s completely wrong because they’re far darker – their closest western counterpart would probably be early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, or perhaps Barclay James Harvest before they turned into the poor man’s Moody Blues, with more than a few echoes of Pink Floyd. Their mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems mixed lush, sometimes elegaic layers of guitar over stately descending progressions that owe more to western classical music than to either rock or traditional Turkish melodies, and these were potently effective. As with many of their contemporaries who date back to the early 70s, their attempts to incorporate slicker, funkier, more commercial sounds were less successful (artistically, at least, though the crowd loved them), taking on a derivative feel that the lead player’s metalish guitar licks only aggravated. As Kerouac said, first thought, best thought – stick to what you do best and you can’t go wrong.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment