Over the last fifteen-plus years, producer Francis Falceto’s Éthiopiques CD series has uncovered the rich history of Ethiopian jazz and pop music of the 1960s and ‘70s, making record-collector stars of artists like jazz musicians Alemayehu Eshete and Mulatu Astatke. As with any rediscovered sound, younger American musicians have inevitably latched on and founded their own bands to mine the same vein. The best known of the Stateside Ethiopian-groove ensembles is Boston’s Debo Band, which hints at the sound of the Washington D.C.-based Feedel Band, which plays World Café Live on tonight. The group features Addis Ababa-born saxophonist Moge Habte, an alumni of the Walias Band, a renowned EthioJazz band that played a fusion of Ethiopian jazz and two-fisted American funk of the James Brown/Junior Walker school. The Feedel Band treads some of that same territory, while also absorbing elements of straight ahead jazz, reggae and jam band grooves that make them a distinctly U.S. hybrid. Go here for tickets and more information about the show.
Author Archives: Shaun Brady
If thrash had a Mount Rushmore, Anthrax would definitely be represented – and would be the head wearing the clown nose. Alone among the otherwise deadly serious Big Four – Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer rounding out the pantheon – Anthrax had a sense of humor, whether dashing around the stage in an enormous Indian headdress or releasing goofy rap/metal novelty mash-ups like “I’m the Man.”
So it’s not terribly surprising to see lead guitarist Scott Ian going the spoken word route, following in the footsteps of musicians-turned-mouthpieces like Henry Rollins. Ian has long been the band’s de facto spokesman, with his brash Queens accent and trademark beard, looking like a badger has burrowed its way into his chin, leaving only its tail exposed. On his “Speaking Words” tour, which stops at World Café Live tonight, he promises a blend of stand-up comedy, road stories, and confessional. As a member of a band that’s seen its share of turmoil, got wrapped up in post-9/11 hysteria by virtue of its name, and dedicated itself to making Slayer laugh onstage, he should have plenty to talk about.
The album was created using a synthesizer built by pioneering instrument maker Donald Buchla, so Nonesuch turned to his leading peer, Robert Moog, in search of a follow-up. Moog referred the label to a young Philadelphia composer named Andrew Rudin, who had been instrumental in bringing Moog to the University of Pennsylvania. Rudin used the commission to create Tragoedia, a four-movement piece inspired by the four fundamental emotional processes of Greek tragedy.
The 1969 album met with critical acclaim (High Fidelity Magazine’s Alfred Frankenstein proclaimed, “In Andrew Rudin’s hands the electronic idiom finally comes of age”) but soon was lost in relative obscurity as the art form rapidly and bountifully evolved. Tonight at the Rotunda, Bowerbird will present “Meeting Moog,” a concert portrait of Rudin’s early electronic music featuring Tragoedia with a live video accompaniment by Rudin’s former student Peter Price. The program will also include two earlier works, Il Giuoco (1966) and Paideia (1967), both of which are accompanied by films created by the composer.
When Rudin arrived at the University of Pennsylvania to study with composer George Rochberg, he had no intention of working with synthesizers. “I didn’t even know that they existed,” recalls Rudin, now 74. “In those days, when one heard the word synthesizer it meant only one thing: the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer, which was a giant contraption that ran on hundreds or thousands of vacuum tubes and within an hour’s work you’d have to find what tube had burnt out and replace it. It also operated on punch paper tape like a player piano, which would get snarled and the three hours that you spent making four seconds’ worth of music would be trashed.”
A few years earlier, however, a childhood friend of Rudin’s had become a member of the ground-breaking Alwin Nikolais Dance Company, which purchased one of Moog’s earliest synths. After Nikolais demonstrated the instrument to Rudin, the composer persuaded Moog to build one of his first large-scale studios in the basement of the Annenberg School of Communications.
“Bob Moog was a typical science nerd type,” Rudin says with a laugh. “He came down to Penn with a synthesizer in a cardboard box underneath a Greyhound Bus. But the wonderful thing about working with him was that he was kind of a frustrated musician himself, so you didn’t have to be some sort of engineering genius. He wanted to make things easily available to the musician. I feel really lucky that I was in the right place at the right time and happened to meet him at the beginning of it all.”
Born in Newgulf, Texas, a small town south of Houston, Rudin (pronounced “roo-DEEN”) began composing small classical pieces and music for theater productions while in high school. He then studied at the University of Texas at Austin before heading east in the summer of 1960. At Penn he studied under a number of renowned teachers, including, briefly, Karlheinz Stockhausen and George Crumb. The pieces he created on Moog’s newly-installed synthesizer became his first mature works. “I was fascinated with it because it was the latest, most avant-garde thing to do at the time,” he says. “I was absolutely convinced that once they had the equipment, I would work with it and make something. When you’re 26 you think you can do anything.”
That includes writing music for an almost wholly unprecedented new instrument that makes bizarre electronic noises. “The first thing is that writing doesn’t apply,” Rudin says. “What was fascinating to me was that I could work directly in the sound. It was much more like sculpting than it was like writing. I would simply find a sound by fiddling around with the instrument and coming across a sound that appealed to me. It was like someone gave you a trumpet and you thought, ‘I’ll try to play something legato, and I’ll try to play something high, and I’ll try to play something fast and jittery with it.’ Then I would edit the tapes, like working in film where you shoot a lot of footage and see what you can cut together out of it.”
The Philadelphia Composers Forum premiered Rudin’s first major synthesized composition, Il Giuoco, on a program with pieces by Crumb and Vincent Persichetti. “That first concert absolutely marks the dividing line between my student days and my life as a professional,” Rudin says. “It was a piece that totally represented what I would do and not something obviously influenced by anybody else.” Continue reading
Separated by two centuries, Joseph Haydn and Arvo Pärt would seem to have very little in common. The Austrian Haydn was one of the most prominent figures of the Classical period, hailed as the “Father of the Symphony”; the Estonian Pärt is among the most renowned and influential voices of later 20th and early 21st century music, a master of minimalism that draws upon the deceptive simplicity of early music.
But one unfortunate connection between these two very different composers – and, sadly, the rest of humanity – is that both lived during and responded to times of war. On Sunday, the Mendelsson Club of Philadelphia, the city’s 140-member chorus, will present a program entitled “The Sound of Spirit,” pairing landmark works by both composers that respond to the wars of their times. The chorus will be joined by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia for the concert at Rittenhouse Square’s Church of the Holy Trinity.
“Especially since 9/11, Americans have a mental fatigue about war,” says Alan Harler, artistic and musical director of the Mendelssohn Club. “You may not even be aware of it, but if you bring that to a performance of this music it somehow colors one’s perception. It may not be on the cognitive surface; nobody’s going to hear this music because they’re tired of fighting these pointless wars and this music is going to somehow help. But I think one does connect to the music more because that’s such a universal feeling.”
“Adam’s Lament,” which the chorus first presented in a successful concert in the fall of 2012, is Pärt’s starkly beautiful setting of the poetic lamentations of St. Silouan, a Russian Orthodox monk. Continue reading
What was most impressive about San Fermin’s 2013 self-titled debut album was the cinematic sweep of the songs. Penned by Yale music school grad Ellis Ludwig-Leone and realized by an ensemble of more than twenty musicians, the album is chamber-pop with a heavy stress on the chamber, familiar tales of heartbreak and loss writ large with grand, lush arrangements.
Ludwig-Leone can’t hope to recapture that sense of scale in a live setting – even if hauling a twenty-piece band from city to city was a viable option, the scaled-down eight-piece version that played Johnny Brenda’s on Monday night still had to crowd together on the stage. But rather than simply scaling down, San Fermin’s live show wisely shifts the emphasis from chamber to pop. On record, what impresses most is the achingly gorgeous arrangements; in person, it’s the dynamics that are captivating.
Rather than the record’s battery of strings and horns, the band hit the road with Ludwig-Leone at the keyboards, violinist and backing vocalist Rebekah Durham, trumpeter John Brandon, baritone saxophonist Stephen Chen, guitarist Tyler McDiarmid, and drummer Mike Hanf. Ludwig-Leone’s longtime collaborator (and Philly native) Allen Tate remains, while Milwaukee native Rae Cassidy steps in to take the place of both Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe.
The sold-out show began, as does the record, with Tate’s morose baritone over Ludwig-Leone’s lonely piano on “Renaissance!” On the album, his lament is soon swathed in a swelling vocal chorus, which Cassidy can’t be expected to recreate alone, which seemed to portend a less rich sound. But the singer, barefoot in a black dress, reassured on “Crueler Kind.” She brings a musical theater sense of drama to the songs, making up for layered voices with impassioned vigor and contributing an engaging playfulness to the sometimes introspective material.
With the single, “Sonsick,” the live unit really cohered, with horn bursts that propelled the energy forward and really captured the room. From that point on the momentum was undimmed, even during a pair of new songs (the highlight was “Parasites,” which unleashed Durham for a country fiddle interlude over a throbbing pulse). The encore turned the spotlight onto Chen, first on the sudden snaking horn lines of “The Count” and then on a tricky, evening-ending cover of The Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage.”
Son Lux opened with a set that played with shifting dynamics in their own, less grandiloquent fashion. Clad in black and dancing manically behind his keyboards, Ryan Lott crafted ecstatic swells over staggered rhythms, or constructed echoing bird-call loops layer upon layer, building songs from stark minimalism to power-crunch clapalongs.
If you’re looking for a way to impress your Valentine with more than a box of chocolates and a dozen roses, Pablo Batista promises that an evening of dancing and live salsa music is the way to go. The Grammy-winning percussionist will lead his ten-piece Mambo Syndicate band at the Painted Bride on Friday night for a Valentine’s Day salsa party. (Not to worry if you don’t know the steps – the performance will be preceded by a free salsa lesson with Maestro Flaco.)
“Latin music is very sexy and a lot of fun,” Batista says. “It will be a fun night out for lovers and dancers.”
Batista certainly knows how to create the right environment for a hot and lively night of Latin dance. Born and raised in Bethlehem, PA, he frequently traveled to New York City to catch the Fania All-Stars at the Cheetah Lounge and see all the greats of Latin music. Based in Bala Cynwyd, he’s long aimed to conjure that same atmosphere on a regular basis in Philadelphia. “It’s difficult because there’s not a lot of venues,” he admits. “There are Latin dance parties but there’s usually a DJ, and there’s a different vibe when there’s a live band. I’m always trying to recreate the vibe that occurred in a hotspot like the Palladium Ballroom in New York City, to expose people to the dance and get people pumped up.”
Of course, it’s also difficult to establish a steady salsa night when you’re as busy as Batista. He’s spent the last thirteen years recording and touring with Alicia Keys and recently went on the road with gospel superstar Kirk Franklin for a year and a half. He’s also an in-demand studio musician and educator. “Growing up in the United States, I love all these different styles of music,” he says. “I love funk, R&B, jazz, Latin, classical, rock – at heart I’m really a rocker. All these different influences have enabled me to continue doing what I do.” Continue reading
The inspiration for the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble came to the group’s founder, percussionist Kahil El’Zabar, when he was studying at the University of Ghana in the early 1970s. But despite the band’s ground-breaking fusion of jazz and traditional African music, it wasn’t his experiences in Ghana that brought the concept to light so much as a “No place like home moment” that steered him back to his native Chicago.
“After a year and a half of study, one of my professors in Ghana asked if I knew how to play the blues,” El’Zabar recalls. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m from Chicago.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s your language.’ So after all that time learning the traditional forms, they then told me that my real voice was the ethnicity of my own experience. That’s why I named the band the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: a lot of people think it’s about the connection to Africa, but it’s really about the African-American experience in music: gospel, jazz, blues, funk.”
The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble will celebrate its 40th anniversary in Philly on Wednesday night at The Rotunda, in a performance presented by Ars Nova Workshop. Its current incarnation, with El’Zabar, saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, and trumpeter Corey Wilkes, has remained constant for nearly a decade and will soon release its latest CD, Black is Back (Catalyst). “I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done,” El’Zabar says. “In a way, I can’t believe that the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is still here after four decades, but we’re still attempting to the best of our abilities to express music in an alternative space that has value and history.”
Born in 1953, El’Zabar has played with jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderley as well as pop superstars like Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon. But his chief association has been with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the seminal organization founded in Chicago in 1965 to support the city’s forward-thinking jazz community. El’Zabar joined the AACM as a teenager, and became its chairman in 1975 after returning from Ghana.
“Having that experience before I went to college gave me a greater security in invention and discovery and individual voice,” El’Zabar says. Continue reading