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Fail Better: Arcana New Music Ensemble continues a Philly legacy of daring contemporary music

Elizabeth Huston, Eric Derr and Andy Thierauf of Arcana Ensemble performing Moondog's "Marimba Mondo" at the Rotunda | photo courtesy of Bowerbird Promotions
Elizabeth Huston, Eric Derr and Andy Thierauf of Arcana Ensemble performing Moondog’s
“Marimba Mondo” at the Rotunda | photo courtesy of Bowerbird Promotions

Shortly before the finale of last Friday’s debut concert by the Arcana New Music Ensemble at the Rotunda, the group’s ten members were joined by an unexpected guest: a lightning bug flitted across the stage, blinking on and off in time with “Theme,” a piece of accumulating intensity written by Louis Thomas Hardin, Jr. – better known as Moondog. The firefly traced meandering curlicues that seemed to echo the outsider composer’s eccentric thought processes.

That late appearance was only the latest piece of synchronicity involved in bringing the Arcana New Music Ensemble to life. The project was launched under the auspices of Bowerbird, the long-running experimental and contemporary classical presenting organization, and is being spearheaded by Bowerbird founder/director Dustin Hurt in collaboration with harpist Elizabeth Huston and Curtis professor Thomas Patteson. Continue reading →

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Local chamber choir The Crossing reflect on 1680 composition with new Seven Responses

the crossing
The Crossing | photo by Mark Conti Photography

More and more, contemporary composers seem to be engaging with and drawing inspiration from early music. The ascetic beauty, stark melodicism and raw emotion of pre-Classical music seems to enjoy a particular resonance with the most modern of composers and ensembles. That bridge between future and past can’t help but appeal to The Crossing, Philly’s remarkable new-music chamber choir. Dedicated to both the newest of creative music and the oldest of instruments (the voice), The Crossing engages in that era-spanning dialogue every time they perform.

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Jason Moran leads jazz trio Bandwagon at South tonight

bandwagon
Bandwagon | photo courtesy of the artist

It’s been a little while since Philly has had the opportunity to see the Bandwagon in action. That’s understandable, given the dizzying breadth of what the trio’s leader, pianist Jason Moran, has been up to since the release of their tenth anniversary album, the aptly titled Ten (Blue Note) in 2010. In the intervening years Moran has taken on the role of artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center, composed the soundtrack for Selma, continued his collaboration with legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd, and hosted a series of dance parties sporting an oversized, cigar-smoking papier-mâché Fats Waller head and playing funked-up versions of Waller songs with help from Meshell Ndegeocello.

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Cloud Becomes Your Hand brings quirky art-pop to Space 1026

cloud becomes your hand
Cloud Becomes Your Hand | photo by Christopher Swane | courtesy of the artist

Don’t get put off by the self-conscious “weirdness” of Brooklyn art-pop sextet Cloud Becomes Your Hand. Their live sets boast oddball outfits, spasmodic choreography, and craft-fair accoutrements – hell, their name was inspired by a hand puppet that frontman Stephe Cooper employed in another (presumably even quirkier) band. But look past the arch theatrics and the band’s delightfully off-kilter songs inhabit the same catchily cerebral terrain as earlier bands that weren’t afraid to bubble-wrap their complexity inside kiddie show trappings – names like DEVO and the Residents come easily to mind.

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Rhys Chatham traces influences and epiphanies at FringeArts with his new Pythagorean Dream

rhys chatham
Rhys Chatham | photo by Roland Owsnitzki | courtesy of the artist

In the timeline of rock history, the Ramones are typically hailed for their stripped-down, back to basics sound, a necessarily primal scaling back from the excesses of prog and fusion. But when an unsuspecting Rhys Chatham walked into CBGB for the first time in May 1976, he was coming to the nascent punk scene from the opposite direction – the even more extreme austerity of minimalism – so he had a very different reaction to the Queens foursome.

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Jane Bunnett and Maqueque bring Cuban jazz to the Painted Bride

jane bunnett
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque | photo courtesy of the artist

Yes, the president’s recent visit to Havana portends new opportunities for the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. But don’t jump the gun just yet and assume that historic rapprochement has trickled down to affect artists like Jane Bunnett, who has spent the last 30 years traveling from Canada to Cuba and attempting to bring the resultant cross-cultural musical collaborations into the States.

“If one more person comes up to me and says, ‘It must be easier now that Obama went to Cuba…’” Bunnett trailed off, but the frustration in her voice revealed the challenges that the saxophonist/flautist continues to face in crossing our northern border with her Cuban collaborators. When we spoke last Thursday morning, Bunnett was scheduled to head into the studio that afternoon to start recording the second album by her all-female ensemble Maqueque, in which she’s joined by seven young women (all still in their early 20s) that Bunnett and husband/trumpeter Larry Cramer discovered during their travels to the island.

Instead, she found herself scrambling to deal with a series of visa-related catch-22s related to their impending return to the U.S., which will (if all goes well) bring them to the Painted Bride on Friday. She discussed the headaches she was facing with the air of someone who’s no less annoyed by the hurdles she had to conquer just because she was used to them, but confident that they would once again be overcome in time to take the stage.

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Talking Miles Ahead with Philly jazzman Josh Lawrence

Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead | photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead | photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The idea of Don Cheadle playing Miles Davis has been floating around for at least a decade, ever since the legendary trumpeter’s son, Erin Davis, and nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr., proposed the idea while inducting Davis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The notion finally came to big-screen fruition this year as Miles Ahead, in a form different than anyone might have expected (it opens at the Ritz Five on tonight).

Doubling as director, Cheadle deviated from the standard biopic format to create a heist-movie fantasia with Miles at its center,aiming for the spirit rather than the factual reality of its subject. I wondered how the film might look to someone directly influenced by Miles’ music, so I invited trumpeter Josh Lawrence, co-founder of the Fresh Cut Orchestra and host of the Thursday night jazz series at Jose Garces’ Volver Restaurant, to attend a screening with me and discuss the film afterward.  Continue reading →

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Fire Museum brings Sameer Gupta and Ross Hammond to Fishtown

Sameer Gupta
Sameer Gupta | photo courtesy of the artist

Upward, the new duo album by 12-string guitarist Ross Hammond and tabla player Sameer Gupta, isn’t a coming together so much as a circling back. The two men both grew up in California, where their first collaboration was in their mid-90s college years when they were part of what Hammond describes as “a very electric, groovy jazz group.”

At the time, Hammond was focused on electric guitar and Gupta was solely a drum kit player. It was only in the intervening years, after Gupta relocated to Brooklyn, that both embarked on separate but parallel paths to discover their roots. For Hammond, that meant the country blues and Appalachian folk music of his native Kentucky; for Gupta, it entailed a look even further back into his heritage with an immersion into North Indian classical music and the tabla.

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The Necks will ring in 30th anniversary at Philadelphia Art Alliance

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The Necks | photo by Holimage | courtesy of the artist

Lean and intimate yet affording a vast palette of possibilities, the piano trio has proved to be one of the most resilient and malleable units in modern music. From the elegant finesse of Bill Evans to the skewed-angle eccentricities of Thelonious Monk, down to modern innovators like Vijay Iyer’s rhythmic expansiveness and The Bad Plus’ droll provocations, the deceptively simple set-up of piano, bass and drums provides seemingly endless opportunities for exploration.

Over the last three decades, The Necks have taken full advantage of those opportunities. The Australian trio – pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck – don’t just go deep; they’re sonic spelunkers, venturing into darker, more mysterious corners and finding unexpected treasures typically hidden from the light. They craft massive structures from tiny moments, typically taking the form of single, hour-long pieces that are allowed to grow and evolve at a relatively glacial pace.

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Kneebody and Daedalus explore jazz at Johnny Brenda’s on 3/12

kneebody
Kneebody | photo by Chris Clinton | courtesy of the artist

The SoCal quintet Kneebody and the stable of eclectic artists on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label have both been rethinking the meaning of “jazz,” albeit from opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Kneebody – keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, bassist Kaveh Rastegar, saxophonist Ben Wendel and drummer Nate Wood – steer a recognizable jazz quintet line-up into unexpected waters, detouring through electronica, indie rock, hip-hop and new music en route to an of-the-moment sonic palette. Spearheaded by his own uncategorizable mash-ups, meanwhile, Lotus has made Brainfeeder a home for artists who use genre as an element, not an end.

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