“My little girl is singing: Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah!.....she wants to say that everything is not horror but joy.”
Two special treats—not music in themselves, but with great musical content—were the Nakadai film festival, which featured soundtracks by such greats as Toru Takemitsu, and Celebrate Brooklyn’s outdoor screening of Godfrey Reggio’s Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation. The latter featured live accompaniment by the Philip Glass Ensemble along with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Though Glass is not my thing (I like his work with film best), the first fifteen minutes were beyond exhilarating. And the entire 102 minutes were one of the best experiences I encountered all summer. Before the concert/screening, WNYC’s John Schaeffer did a fifteen-minute interview with Glass and Reggio that was informative and humbling. One of the great moments was when Reggio stated that both he and Glass had tremendous egos, but that working with Glass was a joy because he exhibited no vanity. The evening had not enough transformation, however, and as my wife pointed out, the film was pretty much devoid of white folks (those probably responsible most for transformation by sucking the energy out of other life forces), though the audience was filled with them. Overall, the parts were greater than the sum.
Staying with film, there was Lou Reed’s Berlin, directed by Julian Schnabel and documenting three days of concerts by Reed of his 1973 LP (a flop at the time) at St. Ann’s Warehouse. The film had sets by Schnabel, contained a film by his daughter, and featured a host of great musicians (many hand-picked by Hal Willner) and an appearance by the very same Brooklyn Youth Chorus. At the Film Forum screening I attended, Reed was present for a short, witty, and informative Q&A. Afterward Lou and I chatted, and he even gave me a hug.
A lot of the great concerts were outdoors this summer, and Willner was everywhere: There was a tribute concert for legendary producer Joel Dorn in Damrosch Park, with such luminaries as Roberta Flack and Mose Allison, and another for Bill Withers in Prospect Park featuring the likes of James “Blood” Ulmer. Both were sorely disappointing.
No, I didn’t go to the Bon Jovi concert, but I did catch Sonny Rollins, Joseph Bowie (wow), Anthony Davis, Connie Crothers (at her loft in celebration of saving 475 Kent Ave.), Dylan, Patti Smith (both on film and live), the Ex, Sonic Youth, Zorn’s Cobra, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Some were pricey, so I stayed outside the concert and listened as best I could.
CS&N went through most of their favorites, and encored with two songs that are still very relevant today, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and “Teach Your Children.” Stills looked a bit done in but played and sang great, as did C&N. The only lyric they were a bit out of sync on was “You Don’t Have to Cry.”
Cecil Taylor was a major plus: a week of duets with Tony Oxley at the Village Vanguard, two solo concerts, and a new film of a duo between Cecil and Yosuke Yamashita.
A truly boring event was Ryuichi Sakamoto at the World Financial Center. Ambient torture at its worst. Hokie piano. Hokie electronics. Hokie videos. And on the other side of the yen, novelist and film essayist Masaya Nakahara, aka Hair Stylistics, did a blistering noise-with-a-capital-N set at Pianos, fidgeting with dials, rattling an amplified metal box, and screaming his brains out.
Talibam! at Deitch Projects was cute, with their recyclable costumes and noisy banter.
Violinist Jason Kao Hwang overwhelmed me at the Living Theatre with his group Spontaneous River, which consisted of eleven violins, seven acoustic guitars, four violas, eight contrabasses, and a drummer. The material contained written heads that were intensely improvised upon under Jason’s conducting. Amazingly, the group had a mere fifteen minutes of rehearsal before the gig. I hit this show right after leaving Coney Island, where I had experienced a remarkable concert by Motown master Smokey Robinson replete with go-go dancers. Smokey covered all his greatest hits and those he had written for such giants as the Temptations. Two completely different musical worlds, equally important and equally great on one sweltering but lovely evening.
Anyway, enjoy the changing leaves and life’s exterior and interior designs. Recycle. Throw your trash in the trash bin. And for what it’s worth, remember to stop, look, and LISTEN.
Note: I must apologize for my use of the phrase “greedy world” twice in my last article, which somehow neither I nor my esteemed editor caught. [Oops—ed.] I mean, it can never be emphasized enough what a greedy world this is (hyper-capitalist China being the new prime example), but in this case that was definitely not good editing on our part. I hope this admission won’t get me fired.
Turning Lead To Air: Music for Cello From Primo LeviBy Alessandro Cassin
MARCH 2023 | Music
Can narrative prose occasion instrumental music? Though countless compositions have been based on literary texts, the process from words to music can be elusive. A case in point was the world premiere of Luciano Chessas Piombo (Italian for lead)from Primo Levis story of the same titlefor solo cello, performed by the exceptional Frances-Marie Uitti on January 21 at Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring, New York, and the following week, at the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco.
Moondog Music in Coventry CathedralBy Martin Longley
APRIL 2022 | Music
Coventry Cathedral invited Down Is Up from London, an ensemble dedicated almost solely to the music of Moondog, that old inhabitant of New York City. The cathedral is famed for both being bombed into destruction (1940) and optimistic rebirth (1962), providing a suitably majestic setting for the works of composer, performer, and Viking-robed street musician Louis Hardin.
The Brooklyn Presence at SXSWBy Nic Yeager
MAY 2022 | Film
Between March 11 and 20, four Brooklyn-based short films screened at SXSW, each shot in Brooklyn and made by and featuring Brooklynites. SXSW is known for celebrating innovation in tech and education, and these projects offer their own kind of innovation: namely, an irreplaceable artistic ingenuity that flows out of this borough.
The Birth of Music out of the Spirit of Critical Idolatry?By Seth Brodsky
DEC 21-JAN 22 | Critics Page
Sounding the idolswait, isnt this what music already does? What music is? Everything music touchesand it touches everythingseems to appear after the fact as having been an idol, or at least idol-like: hollow, silent, still. A drum, a mouth, a score for sure. A room, a premise. Maybe images above all? None dead, none even all that mute, and yet music, once it arrives on the scene, makes them seem as if they had been dead and mute, refuges for a kind of unearned authority. No idols without unearned authority.