For their new restaurant and jazz club South, the Bynum Brothers have smartly turned over the booking of a couple of weeknights to two well-known Philadelphians with wide-ranging contacts. Thursdays belong to bassist Gerald Veasley, whose Unscripted series features big names from the smooth and contemporary jazz worlds. Hump days are the province of pianist Orrin Evans, whose “What’s Happening Wednesdays” are typically diverse, each week of the month dedicated to a different theme from veterans to vocalists to newcomers.
Put ten of the world’s greatest guitarists together on one stage, and what do you get? Not what you might expect in the case of Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Guitar Orchestra, which will perform at FringeArts on Sunday, presented by Ars Nova Workshop. Guided by the percussionist/composer’s conducted improvisation techniques, what could be an unruly eruption of six-string pyrotechnics becomes a unified ensemble exploring a wide range of textures, colors, and combinations.
“Since guitar players have all these foot pedals and sound processing and can sound like so many different things, I thought we could really make it sound like a futuristic orchestra,” says Rudolph. “All these players are phenomenal guitarists, but it’s serving a bigger orchestral palette and a bigger sentiment about what we’re expressing. That’s why it’s successful for me as a composer.”
As we’ve all learned from countless listens to “Turn the Page” or “Faithfully,” life on the road can be lonely. But at least Bob Seger had his Silver Bullet Band, and Steve Perry (or his Filipino doppelganger, depending on when you’re listening) had his Journey-mates.
When Jonah Parzen-Johnson tours the country, it’s just him, his baritone sax, and an analog synth. His music for this uncommon combination – most recently represented by the captivating and haunting Remember When Things Were Better Tomorrow – captures its own sense of solitude. Occupying a nether region somewhere between high lonesome lament and David Lynchian surrealist noir, his music distorts Appalachian folk melodies through the distorted lens of experimental electronic drones. Continue reading →
Brian Carpenter is a hard man to pin down – in several senses. For one, there’s the fact that he always seems to be juggling several projects at once. Then there’s the eccentric diversity of those projects, each of them uncategorizable in their own right and seemingly adrift in time. He originally made his name as the leader of Beat Circus, an ensemble that sounded like a circus’ resident jazz band and a Tom Waits-infected folk band riding parallel roller coasters in an abandoned carnival somewhere in the Gothic south. He then started the Ghost Train Orchestra, a jazz big band that sics modern Brooklyn jazz players on vintage charts from 1920s and ‘30s Harlem and Chicago. He’s also worked in radio and the theater in similarly genre-defying fashion. Continue reading →
Orlando Haddad is a native Brazilian who came of age in Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by the culture that gave birth to the bossa nova. But he was interested in the progressive jazz fusion of the day rather than the music of his homeland, more attuned to the sounds of Chick Corea than of Antonio Carlos Jobim. At that time, bossa nova felt to him like “home-cooked food that you eat all the time. You want to experience something different.”
It took meeting an Italian-American woman with a passion for Brazilian music to reorient Haddad toward the music he’d grown up with. Patricia King was born in Denver and raised in Carlisle, PA, where she fell in love with sound of AM radio hits like “The Girl From Ipanema” and the songs of Sérgio Mendes’ Brazil ’66. “I thought it was the most romantic music I’d ever heard,” King recalls. “I was very drawn to it from an early age.”
The two met at the very un-Brazilian University of North Carolina, where both were students. King heard Haddad playing modern jazz guitar and asked if he knew any bossa nova. Their fates were sealed from that moment on – they’ve been a couple both personally and professionally, co-leading the bossa jazz band Minas for more than 30 years.
Pianist Tom Lawton didn’t know much about Man Ray when the opportunity came his way to compose a suite of music inspired by the eclectic visual artist. But a crash course soon made Lawton realize that he had more in common with the Dada innovator than he’d expected.
“I’d seen one or two photos through the years, but I really had to start researching Man Ray from the ground up because I knew very little about him,” Lawton admits. “He turned out to be a fascinating character who I related to in a lot of ways. He worked in so many genres and was at one and the same time a fine artist and did other kinds of work in artistic ways for money, so he resembled a working jazz musician in that sense.”
It’s certainly a description that fits with Lawton’s career. His performance of the “Man Ray Jazz Suite” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday evening will be a rare occasion to see the pianist perform as a leader. More often, he’s either busy teaching – he’s on the faculty of both Temple and UArts – or working as a sideman for a host of local jazz singers and musicians, from straightahead gigs with saxophonist Larry McKenna to avant-garde outings with Bobby Zankel’s Warriors of the Wonderful Sound big band.
Organization is, to a large degree, anathema to free improvisers. But a contingent of local musicians, dancers and presenters have overcome their resistance to form the Impermanent Society of Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to promoting the improvisational arts.
Where improvised music is concerned, every moment on stage is a roll of the dice. Scott Hughes wants to help beginning or struggling musicians by taking that idea literally.
The former UArts piano major successfully raised nearly $10,000 in a Kickstarter campaign earlier this summer to create Tonic: The Card & Dice Game for Musicians, which prompts players to create sounds prompted by techniques more reminiscent of a round of Monopoly than a late night jam session.
“It’s a practice tool disguised as a game,” says Hughes, who eventually shifted his academic focus to a Physics major at Temple and now considers himself an avid amateur musician. “It’s not a game in the sense that you’re going to keep score. It’s a way to explore and play and get out of your comfort zone. You can do it alone or with a group, but it’s certainly not competitive in any way.” Continue reading →
One of Philly’s hidden gems, the Wagner Free Institute of Science is a place out of time. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the opening of its building and museum, the Institute has remained essentially unchanged since the late 19th century, offering visitors a glimpse of the Victorian era approach to the study of the natural sciences.
The feeling of the past coexisting with the present appealed to Brooklyn-based artists Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere. The pair were fascinated by Chris Marker’s influential 1962 film La Jetée, with its storyline about time travel and fate (which also inspired Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys) unfolding in a series of (mostly) still black and white images. At one point during his travels, the protagonist finds himself in a “museum filled with ageless animals” much like the Wagner.
That’s only one of myriad echoes that Nevarez and Tevere have in mind for Memory of a Time Twice Lived, the film that will eventually result from several years of visiting and shooting in Philadelphia. One component of that film will take place on Wednesday night at the Wagner as Prelude to a Memory, a live performance by the Mexican-American band Jarana Beat, which fuses folkloric Mexican music with more modern influences. The footage that the artists film on Wednesday will be incorporated into the film, which will then be premiered at the Wagner and become part of an exhibition of the duo’s work at the ICA next year. Continue reading →
Saxophonist/composer Kamasi Washington brought an 8-piece version of the West Coast Get Down to World Café Live on Thursday as part of his first east coast excursion in support of his attention-grabbing debut The Epic. Even stripped of the orchestra and choir, his band lives up to that album title. Both roof-raising showmen and envelope-pushing adventurers, Washington and company delivered on the converging promises of George Clinton’s Afro-futurist funk and the boundary-obliterating jazz reinventions of late Coltrane and electric Miles. Continue reading →