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Interview: Fresh Cut Orchestra turn new page with Mind Behind Closed Eyes

fresh cut orchestra
Fresh Cut Orchestra | photo courtesy of the artist

When the Fresh Cut Orchestra returns to the Painted Bride, the venue that started it all, the occasion was always planned to be both homecoming and celebration, falling just one day after the release of the ten-piece ensemble’s second CD, Mind Behind Closed Eyes on Ropeadope Records. As it turns out, though, the show has also become a farewell, as trumpeter and co-leader Josh Lawrence made the move to New York City earlier this week.

On the phone from his rapidly emptying Philly place a few days ago, occasionally interrupted by movers pushing past on their way out the door, Lawrence insisted that the move wouldn’t cause any drastic changes for the FCO. “It basically means the mail’s gonna go to Jason instead of me now,” he shrugged, referring to bassist Jason Fraticelli, “but that’s really the only difference.”

Given the challenges of keeping a large ensemble together in today’s financial and musical climate, an extra couple hours’ commute is hardly the biggest hurdle that Lawrence, Fraticelli, and co-leader Anwar Marshall face in maintain the adventurous orchestra. The fact that they’ve kept the band active for nearly four years now is all the more remarkable given the fact that they were put together by Painted Bride music curator Lenny Seidman to celebrate the Vine Street venue’s 40th anniversary of presenting jazz in 2012, not by their own initiative.

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live jazz around town in August

daniel bennett group
Daniel Bennett Group | photo by Beatriz Ota

Who says jazz isn’t summertime music? Sure, the pickings are generally slim with most of the institutions that present the music in off-season hibernation until next month, but the August calendar is surprisingly loaded with enticing options. And while the genre can lean towards dark, formerly smoke-filled (still so in spirit) nightclub swing or cerebral avant-garde complexity, much of what’s happening this month is seasonally appropriate – maybe not quite the musical equivalent of beach reading (we can’t quite compete with the pop world for that), but still a bit breezier than the norm.

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Keeping the swing alive: Wycliffe Gordon will celebrate big band jazz in Mount Airy

wycliffe gordon
Wycliffe Gordon | photo courtesy of the artist

Duke Ellington wrote “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” in 1931, heralding the dawn of the swing era a few years later. The days of the big band as popular music had long passed by the time Wycliffe Gordon was born in 1967, but the versatile trombonist has spent much of his career revisiting the music of the swing era, both as a former member of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and fronting his own bands, which have recorded tribute albums to Ellington and Gordon’s idol, Louis Armstrong.

On Thursday, Gordon will pay yet another homage to the swing era with two shows at Mt. Airy’s Alma Mater, the second installment in the Modern Renaissance Jazz summer concert series that kicked off last month with James Carter playing boisterous tribute to Philly’s own jazz heritage, and continues in August with Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun.

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July Jazz Guide: Top picks for live jazz in Philadelphia this month

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Tony Miceli | photo courtesy of the artist

July’s typically a slow month for jazz in the city, as most of the venues and presenters have closed their seasons and audiences are skipping town for the summer months. That includes jazz writers, which means that I’m putting together the first installment of this to-be-monthly jazz roundup with one eye on the beckoning road. Despite all that, there are still quite a few shows worth catching between jaunts to the Shore, including local favorites, returning hometown heroes, intriguing experiments and a community-focused entry in the city’s festival season. Watch this space in the coming months for regular highlights of the Philly jazz scene; for now, here’s a few quick tips while I pack my bags to join the temporary exodus. Continue reading →

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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

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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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