Monday, September 24, 2007

While the Gettin' Is Good II: Out On A Limb Finale - 9/23/07

When the Bough Breaks: an appropriate enough title for an ending, or maybe it's just a literal reference to what inevitably happens when enough people get out on a limb; the bough's gonna break. This is not a bad occurrence, it's just a playful way of noting the temporal element of music. Out On A Limb was initiated by guitarist Brandon Ross as an opportunity for musicians to go past the comfort of their root system and hang out on the less developed (and more gravity sensitive) limbs of their artistic practice, to get into the metaphor for a moment. So artists who don't typically play solo or a cappella had a chance to do so and push their own envelopes. Even something as good as the experiment that was Out On A Limb had to come to a close, and I'm glad I got to be there.

The finale of guitarist Brandon Ross' curated music series at the welcoming Williamsburg music spot that is Rose Live Music, ended tonight with a conduction of an ensemble comprised of the series' solo artists, by none other than musician and composer Lawrence D. Butch Morris (pictured above left). Morris is the originator of conduction, a musical process or engagement, wherein conductor (in this case Morris) and musicians collaborate to express an idea or series of ideas or musical motifs through directed improvisation. The night's musicians were Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar) Carlo Vutera (tenor voice) JT Lewis (drums) Charles Burnham (violin) Timothy Hill (vocals), Melvin Gibbs (electric bass), and Brandon Ross (acoustic guitar).

No pictures because this gig had some serious intimate lighting, deep reds and burgundies, and it was too intimate to use a flash. No one there who had a camera used it; the energy just wasn't havin' it, if you know what I mean. Sometimes a moment has to live on somewhere other than in a captured image.

Morris came out dressed entirely in white, baton in hand and began the series of cues that communicated specific music gestures to be performed. In that the musicians seemed to have a lot of freedom. But I wasn't exactly sure what parameters they had agreed upon regarding pitch, timbre, duration, although when Morris wanted a unified ending, or a uniform silence that was clear.

I should really just talk about the music because otherwise it's like attempting to chart a graph of frequency/sound events over time, and that's something of a fool's errand in this context. It doesn't really help expose or unpack the creative possibilities available through conduction.

Let me start by saying that I missed Brandon Ross playing with Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey as For Living Lovers, last night at the Williamsburg Jazz Festival, and my, my, am I feeling regret, although I really did need a break from the train (Ross pictured left). Stomu Takeishi really is a wonder, fully committed to the conduction moment, plus he has that interest in timbre that warms my heart and fascinates me, is passionately able to walk out on the tightrope of that limb, and plays acoustic bass guitar (he also plays electric) which is one of my favorite instruments--although I come to it from the sound of Mexican conjuntos which is definitely different than what was happening here (Takeishi pictured right). In much of the set Ross was the backbone, along with violinist Charles Burnham, and vocalist Timothy Hill. Morris would have Ross set the pitch and/or rhythm and go from there. Or he would have Burnham set it and proceed forward with Hill. Or start with that front row (Vutera, Burnham, and Hill) and add and attenuate from that upper-frequency foundation.

In one of the more spare compositions Takeishi set the tone and rhythm, giving considerable color to that skeleton that Morris then began to flesh out with the rest of the ensemble. I had only heard Burnham live once previously when he played both solo, accompanying himself on voice, and in a group with Ross backing up Cassandra Wilson during the Lance Carter Memorial Benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America earlier this year. Burnham's appearance in that setting was truly moving, but only gave a relatively small sample of all the musical voicings he has at his disposal. I was truly stunned. Just his arco work had at least three voices, let alone the interesting stuttering glissando, which moved from a slight stutter (but not with staccato intonation, it was more like stuttering butter if you can imagine such a thing, ha!) into a gliss run, and repeated. There was also some pizzicato work (index finger only) with full tone, this was all un-mic'd and often competing with the other musicians (Burnham right, with the band Odyssey). I knew of Lewis and Gibbs' work from Harriet Tubman, along with Gibbs' various projects as a sideman and producer (he also has work from his other current ensembles, Melvin Runs the Hoodoo Down, JFM, Elevated Entity, and the Punk-Funk All-Stars on his MySpace page) and Ross' work from his solo releases and the aforementioned Harriet Tubman. Timothy Hill was probably the biggest revelation (Hill pictured left). I had never heard him before and his vocal technique knocked me out. At certain instances I didn't even know it was him producing the sounds because of the placement of the sound in the room. It turns out that along with being a singer-songwriter Hill is a pioneer in harmonic or overtone singing, and skilled in Tibetan chanting technique; music writer Robert Palmer deemed his technique in this realm "virtuoso." Hill is also an original member of David Hykes' Harmonic Choir. Morris pulled all sorts of sounds from Hill, and it was fascinating to witness Hill manipulation of timbre, the density of sound in space (from thick and concentrated in the space immediately in front of his body to more diffuse and suffusing the larger space).

Morris employed Lewis a bit more sparingly at the beginning and pulled more from him as the set went on, with accents and fills, having the drums initiate unique musical gestures more so than continuous rhythmic elements. Something similar occurred with Gibbs although his presence was felt more throughout the set; it was only clear to me how sparingly he was playing when he suddenly cut into a muscular polyrhythmic moment at one point in a composition. (Gibbs pictured left) Conduction is a wild ride, not for the faint of commitment, and in this instance when Morris had less time to spend with the musicians than is typical (I believe this to be approximately 1 week or 50 hours), even someone experienced in working with him might be riding by the seat of their pants as a breathless, but smiling, Takeishi indicated as he departed from the stage. (JT Lewis pictured right, photo: Dennis Meckler)

It was a priceless evening (and for only $10!). I'm so glad I went and that Rose Live Music has made a space for some compelling experiments in performance. I hope that won't be the last time I get see some great musicians sauntering out without a net.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

(The Church of) Harriet Tubman @ Joe's Pub 9/21/07

Whenever I hear Harriet Tubman, sometimes in their various aspects--Brandon Ross' solo work, Melvin Gibb's side projects (I'm less familiar with JT Lewis' other work)--I experience some kind of spirit work. But from the first time I heard Harriet Tubman as the sum of their collective parts--Brandon Ross (guitar, mandolin, banjo), Melvin Gibbs(bass), and JT Lewis (drums)--I felt like I had been to church, in the best sense of the word. I felt my spirit had been fed and my soul given succor. Sometimes you don't know how thirsty you are until someone gives you a cup of water. That's Harriet Tubman.

The thing is they work in layers. If all you want to do is hear good music they bring it, sometimes, often times, in ways you never imagined. If you want to hear soaring sonic experiments and mad brilliant percussion that won't take you to the ENT specialist the next week, they bring that. If you want some playful banter, they bring that, but sparingly--it's about the music after all.

I had been waiting all summer to see Harriet Tubman, checking their MySpace page, and waiting for each of them to get back from touring with their other projects. Finally, finally, they were playing in New York. The three came out to the applause of an appreciative crowd sitting at the small tables, plush couches, and velvety cushions that comprise the intimate front space of Joe's Pub. They opened with "Afro Sheen" a song for music writer/former Steel Pulse road manager/artist advocate Tom Terrell. They followed that with "Wayne's World" which Lewis said was for Wayne Shorter with a nod to [fellow Weather Report co-founder] Joe Zawinul," who passed away on 11 September 2007 in Vienna, Austria--his homeland.

There was an extended call-and-response with Gibbs and the crowd initiated by an audience member calling out "Kings and Queens"--their wish to have the borough of Queens acknowledged. Having acknowledged Queens, and noting that he felt like he was at a hip hop concert, Gibbs had to ask about Brooklyn, and then Manhattan, and note the long-standing rivalry between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Next thing you know Gibbs was calling out wider and wider possible circles of attendance: New Jersey; Connecticut; Kennebunk, Maine; Chicago, and back to Brooklyn. A little later Ross brought up the question of the Brooklyn allegiance, was it a question of socio-economics, etc.? After Gibbs asked if Ross really wanted to go there, and if Ross wanted his university thesis on the subject, Gibbs thoughtfully explained that Brooklyn would get the biggest response at hip hop concerts because for a long time Brooklyn was the US city with the largest number of African American residents (news to me).

Now if you want a bit of history, or a lot, with your musical rapture they bring that as well. For me it's that part that makes the experience rapturous. In some cases it's all they've brought to the songs they've written honoring musicians of previous generations ("Wayne's World") and those who have gone on (the encore, "Where We Stand," was dedicated to Alice Coltrane). Tubman is self-described as being "dedicated to musical revelation/investigation in a pan-african vernacular of Now." On their website Gibbs says of Harriet Tubman " create new forms, we need to learn from our past innocations and how they relate to our experiences today. Having this knowledge honors our past and allows us to truly innovate, because we have the knowledge necessary to alter the forms of the past and still remain true to the intent of the innovators....HARRIET TUBMAN rises to the challenge and creates something new on the level of our elders."

That might sound highfalutin' or plain pretentious if they couldn't back it up--but they can. They are a "power trio" yes, but their "power" is beyond amplitude, dexterity, and technical proficiency. Lewis can make you hear a hurricane, or a waterfall, or a shimmering of raindrops, or the circular drive of what I imagine a tornado sounds like, or throw down the sparest marrow-sucked-chicken-bone funk-blues groove. You can hear the past in each of their musical voices and their collaborative intermix, as well as in Gibbs and Ross' respective skills in signal processing and live mixing, in such a way that you come to realize that the past is and was limitless in its legacy, hence the possibility of being quite grounded in its traditions while continuing in the vein of innovation.

The through-line to past-present-future continued with "Savannah." An homage to histories of "migration," as Lewis put forth with particular emphasis. Savannah is a port city in Georgia just south of South Carolina, and located on the Savannah River, whose outlet is the Atlantic Ocean. So we know at least one of the "migrations" and resulting histories the song references. Next was "Passages" (although I might have heard that incorrectly, was it "On Passages"?) for Ross' friend Ralph Gibson (whom I believe is Ralph Gibson the photographer/guitarist). That "past Now," was again evident in what Tubman has brought to the reclamation of particular musical traditions, tonight through a song with the banjo front and center. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the title, all that comes to me is "Trickology" which was one of the terms Gibbs used in his signification on the history of the instrument. As he introduced the song Gibbs acknowledged that seeing an African American with a banjo was close to, well I wish I could remember his analogy, but it was something like a minstrel show. On cue Ross, banjo slung across his shoulder, adopted a classic minstrel pose (there are many, but just use your imagination--his arms were outstretched, one leg was thrust out at a jaunty angle, and he beamed a sarcastic smile). When a bunch of flashes went off simultaneously, I felt a little unnerved and decided I really didn't need to add to the aggregate of online images of Ross in this pose, potentially stripped of its context through the particularities of the retrieval search engine that is "Google images." OK, but back to Gibbs, who explained that "it's [the history of the banjo] complicated, because if you look at early paintings you'll" see this instrument being played by African slaves. (Gibbs above right introducing the song)

Interestingly, I was just reading about this on the train over in music writer/guitarist Debra DeSalvo's informative and award-winning book The Language of the Blues: from Alcorub to Zuzu (2006, Billboard Books) which functions a glossary, an encyclopedia, and an oral history collection. The "Banjo" entry traces the instrument to the mbanza, a stringed instrument brought to the colonies by enslaved members of the Kimbundu tribe of Angola. DeSalvo breaks down the linguistic history of the term mbanza in relation to its Bantu-language origins and its eventual morphing into "banjo." She then explains how it was made and how its adoption by white minstrels as a prop in their humiliating portrayals of African Americans, especially in the period immediately before the Civil War, led to numerous African Americans abandoning the banjo to whites who, absent "blackface," used it in the development of bluegrass and country music (interesting as Sister Rosetta Tharpe biographer Gayle Wald has posited that there wasn't a clear racial distinction in the practice and production of country and bluegrass music until the racialization of radio--but that's another story). DeSalvo also discusses the paintings that show these instruments prior to their popularization by whites, and quotes Thomas Jefferson referring to the instrument in 1781 as the banjar, as it was then called, and his writing of enslaved Africans having brought the stringed instrument which was "the origin of the guitar, its chords being precisely the lower chords of the guitar." [DeSalvo, 10] Like much that is musical these days, the book has its own MySpace page (it's male, 32 years old, and hails from Chicago, if you were curious).

They broke that composition down into something of a love song for all those banjo players who found their beloved instrument--that dear reminder of their homeland and the site of various creative legacies--made into an unwilling enemy; its voice mocking them now with its new role as a cultural coder of their subjugation. While Lewis and Gibbs provided the steady roots, with a processed loop of banjo voicings just underneath him, Ross played the banjo with a series of more traditional melodic passages, a duet that created a conversation, a healing really, between those players and the present. And for us too, if we wanted it.

At the encore, as a way of introducing the final song, Ross named a number of musicians/artists that have been "called home to the next port of call," including Alice Coltrane, Michael Brecker (news to me), someone called out Max Roach, and Ross repeated Roach's name, Leroy Jenkins, Lance Carter; Gibbs called out the name of another artist, and Ross ended with poet/performer Sekou Sundiata, noting that there were others he'd had yet to hear about (I silently thought about the recent passing of New Orleans keyboardist Wilson "Willie Tee" Turbington who had just lost his older brother, saxophonist Earl Turbington, four weeks ago). The vibrations have changed [with the loss of all these people], Ross noted, and that was the natural order of things. It was nonetheless important to note the shift, to acknowledge the loss, and the resulting changes, and leave some space to wonder, contemplate what will emerge.

Harriet Tubman has released two albums, I Am A Man (1998, Knitting Factory Records; which I talked about here); and the live album (Treasure Hunt for the) Prototype (2006, on John Zorn's Avant Records; which I'm diggin' now). A forthcoming CD from Harriet Tubman Double Trio, Dub-ill 3rio LIVE, featuring trumpeter Ron Miles, DJ Logic, DJ Singe (aka Beth Coleman) will be released sometime this Fall on Jazzaway Records, out of Oslo, Norway. I keep wondering when they're going to record the track where Ross cries out the lyric, "Lord, I can't tarry here no more," which always makes my hand raise up in the air like a missionary circle sister about to get the spirit (the black church children know what I mean, well, maybe not the Presbyterians, but the rest do). (Above right, Ross on the mic with Gibbs and Lewis, introducing the final song)

The Mix: I can't help but be a gear head here. While I didn't crash the stage in order to see what was what, I did check out their mic'ing and some of their gear from a solid vantage point. Of course gear isn't everything, but mic placement is something. And the placement on Lewis' drums has fascinated me on their more recent recordings. Every drum on his kit was mic'd at this show. I just wish I knew which mics they were, as well as what mic Gibbs had pointed at his amp. Looked like a Sennheiser to me, but I couldn't tell for sure.

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While the gettin' is good: OUT ON A LIMB, 9/20/07

Master guitarist Brandon Ross' Out on A Limb curated music series at Rose Live Music was intended to give musicians an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones and try working without the usual nets, be they back-up musicians, laptop computers, or whatever.

"Naked," as bassist Melvin Gibbs intoned this evening, is the operative word. Gibbs and lyric tenor Carlo Vutera were on tonight's bill with Vutera offering the first set, a primarily a cappella performance of songs in Spanish, Italian, and there was also one in French I caught which dealt with memory and was quite haunting. Vutera is the owner of Rose Live Music which he runs with his sister, Gina Vutera. But he was quite reticent about accepting Ross' invitation to participate. Somewhat refreshing modesty from an opera singer (yep, there have been some unfortunate recent experiences), except he almost backed out of the gig. That would have been a shame. In between songs he said he was ultimately lured by the opportunity to work with composer/conductionist Butch Morris on the final night of the series.

The naked voice is a scary thing to put out there, especially when it's yours and you're singing to an intimate group of people a selection of songs that requires the placing of your heart on your sleeve. But Vutera rose to that, he allowed himself to be exposed with a maybe four feet between him and the audience--at eye-level no less on the Rose's low stage--singing songs that he loves. It was all there in his voice, and it was moving to witness. Vutera, a Sicillian, was born in Italy, and has lived in Belgium and New York (he's a long-time Williamsburg resident), where he sang with the New York Light Opera. But he was apparently changed forever by studying Cuban music, which he did for three years while living in Havana and working with coach and pianist Pura Ortíz and singing at the National Opera House. He has released an album which includes popular Neopolitan works along with traditional Cuban ones, and supporting him are some of the top musicians in Havana. Vutera called himself "a romantic" tonight, so it's not surprising the album is called Ammore (check out Vutera's playful bedroom eyes on the cover), it's also available in Spanish as Mi Amor. Where can you get it? Why, CD baby of course (love 'em!). Vutera live and unaccompanied was rawer sounding than what you'd hear on the CD (go to his MySpace page for more tracks), he was also more vulnerable and immediate. It's just a different experience, both for audience and musician. Fortunately, we were a crowd capable of appreciating Vutera's ultimate willingness to "go there" evidenced by repeated enthused applause (and not just from his biggest fan, the friendly María, who was collecting the cover charge, and to whom he dedicated the song "Maria O Mari").

Melvin Gibbs was up next, and though he said he's never nervous before playing a gig he was nervous yesterday about this one. The bass, he explained, is meant to be played with other things. It's not a solo instrument. I've never subscribed to this view having grown up listening to Charles Mingus, Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, and Jaco Pastorius. Even though they each "played well with others" (even the legendary ego that was Pastorius, RIP), I listened to them because I came to appreciate their particular musical voices.

But it's not like I was going to stand up and contradict the bass legend that is Mr. Gibbs.

There was no need for that anyway because Gibbs went on and pulled a breadth of sounds from a six string and a four string bass that made his hesitancy a moot point. Plus, he treated us to a couple of poems from a book he found during his recent touring in Europe, The Immeasurable Equation: The Collected Poetry and Prose of Sun Ra (pictured below right). Gibbs had been planning on bringing his laptop, as he makes his own beats and such (all the beats on his MySpace page are his own), but playing a laptop, he shrugged, was "so 2003, I just couldn't get with it [for this date]." (He mentioned the unfortunate issue with live performance and laptop music, where the musician is playing away but to the audience it looks as though s/he is checking their email.) I was grateful Gibbs wasn't feeling the laptop. Nothing wrong with those beats, it's just a huge gift to have the opportunity bear witness to an artist journeying "out on a limb" creatively. These days it's a pretty rare experience. It's also not a simple one; it was evident that Gibbs was pushing himself at different points during the set to go beyond his own expansive instrumental vocabulary. Gibbs, pulled lyrical passages, full sensual lead-lines, deft runs, funk, punk, deep growls and crunchy moans from his basses. He played with the bass as a melodic instrument--strumming, slicing, and arranging chord progressions; worked it as a spare rhythmic engine, sometimes giving a hard yet full sound with thumb and plucking; he worked note extensions with pedals, gave us a range of meaningful distortion, and played with harmonics from behind the pick ups--I didn't know that was possible.

There were dedications; a work speaking to the situation of the Jena 6. Gibbs shared that his mother and her sister had moved to New York because they witnessed a lynching in their town; they left for New York the very next day--so nooses hanging from trees aren't a silly prank to him. Also, Gibbs gave us an edgy instrumental commentary on the Jamaican vacation phenomenon known as "Rent-A-Rasta" of which he'd recently become apprised on his own vacation where he went to rest, look at the water, just relax, something he doesn't normally get to do when he travels because it's all about work. But some people go on vacation to experience "something" completely new. Nuff Said. Gibbs also played a beautiful and multi-voiced piece honoring Sonny Sharrock with whom Gibbs played for a number of years. Gibbs shared that over those years Sharrock only held one actual rehearsal--he preferred to teach Gibbs about playing through telling jokes, "because it was all about the timing." That's some profound trust in letting the process be what it's gonna be. Gibbs even accompanied himself on voice on a few songs, and played the mbira (pictured below right).

All told it was a profound experience, and if that's the first and last time Gibb is ever gonna play a solo set (which is what he inferred) I can't tell you how glad I am I was there.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Q: What did we learn today? A: Sandra St. Victor is my Hero

Thank goodness for motivated visionaries, cause Rob at Bold As Love is making his happen with his Bold As Live Black Rock Series. For a mere $8.00 you got a mini-concert by The Family Stand (V. Jeffrey Smith (horns, flute, guitar), Sandra St. Victor (vocals), and Peter Lord (keyboard)), featuring past material and new cuts from their recent release (not yet available in the US) Super Sol Nova; a live interview with The Family Stand by journalist/urbanista Michaela angela Davis; and if you were fast on your feet, an answer to you very own burning question about the artistic vision, advice to emerging artists, thoughts on mentoring, etc. from members of The Family Stand. For an additional mere $10 you coulda gotten the abovementioned Super Sol Nova and possibly a free(!) Black Rock Coalition (BRC) sampler from the nice folks from BRC (thank you!).

Being that folks aren't foolish (playing the fool is different from being one), the place was packed. Ah, no pictures, cause I brought no camera today. I ran out the door to get there on time only to find the time had been changed and the event was at 4pm instead of 3pm. But hey, believe me, I was rewarded with a fantastic seat and the chance to see a bunch of black audio geek professionals set up for the event. That's always a good time as far as I'm concerned (yep, geek to the bone, and proud of it!). Fortunately Afrofuturist featured some as does the Bold As Love site.

This was the first time I had heard The Family Stand live (yes, I'm embarrassed, but why focus on the negative when there's so much positive in having remedied that situation?). They were really amazing, and yeah, why didn't I know about them before? I had albums by Hollywood Beyond ("we want to be the black David Bowie"), A.R. Kane, and Float Up CP, but, oh yeah, those were all black or multi-ethnic British bands. Black rock in the US, aside from Living Colour (originally isolated as a musical anomaly in accord with the famous Highlander syndrome: "There can be only one..."), was a rabbit hole of potential critical acclaim, limited/no radio play, with the resulting limited audience exposure leading to dismal sales and often losing a record contract.

Thankfully each of the members of The Family Stand is a skilled songwriter. While Sandra St. Victor made a point to say that they had never broken up (perhaps the change in lead singers with 1998's Connected caused folks some confusion on that point--but change is just a part of life. Peter Lord speaks with admirable frankness about the process of making that album on their website), it's clear that they also never stopped working in music in some form: writing and/or producing for other artists.

I could go on and on about how great they were; how the crowd gave them two standing ovations; how a friend of Smith's requested a live version of "I Thought We Had" on which Smith sings lead vocal; and the crowd quietly echoed this wish only to be politely deflected by the modest Smith (it's the first track on their MySpace site); how young guitarist Marcus Machado's playing almost set the concrete floor on fire; how special it was to hear V. Jeffrey Smith sing after only previously having heard him on horns and flute, especially with much of his family there showing him love; how honest they were in their comments on the current state of music, sometimes to each others' chagrin (!). But I really want to note why Sandra St. Victor is my hero. Below are the notes I made as the R train carried me away from Brooklyn (apologies to my future-reading-self for the occasionally cheesy tone of 12th grade s/hero worship):

Today I found out Sandra St. Victor is my hero. She's a woman with a beautiful spirit (and physically beautiful as well), amazing talent, with a multi-hued voice, and unafraid to make "da ugly face" when she sings. You know what I mean. I personally have a hard time singing without making the ugly face (and don't have St. Victor's chops), so I'm particularly sensitive to this having been trained in classical and jazz standard performance not to make the ugly face. I don't actually know if classical folk would even know what is meant by by "the ugly face." I think solo string players and pianists are allowed a grimacing visage onstage as a performative gesture, but I don't recall this benefit being extended to others.

In response to a joint question by Greg Tate and Davis, St. Victor spoke of the mentoring she received when she attended a high school of performing arts in Dallas (probably Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts) , singing back-up for Chaka Khan, and working with Smith and Lord, the latter two who wouldn't let her do a another take if they felt she'd hit an emotional truth, even if she felt her singing had been technically off.
St. Victor started her vocal training in the classical realm and from there moved into jazz, singing with Roy Ayers, did a lot of back up and session work, and eventually emerged with the melange of styles she's pursued with The Family Stand and in her solo work. In her high school the vocalists were encouraged to find their individual style and voices, and also to be technically accomplished (aka perfect). In late night conversations with Chaka Khan (sometimes "enhanced," sometimes not) she found herself encouraged to do whatever it takes to get to that place of deep connection--the ugly face, "squeezing your buttcheeks," whatever--but fully commit to that vocal expression; don't hide. St. Victor communicated a profound sense of prioritizing that visceral element.

Many creative folk are at the crossroads of the visceral and the technical, as well as finding the perfect niche or packaging--that sound, that sound. If you're fortunate (or not, as the case may be), the one that's in your heart will also be the one that sells (or at least allows you to pay the rent), but well, it ain't always that kinda party.

* * *

The above doesn't wholly communicate my experience this past Sunday. For me it was one of those synergistic moments: I was in the right place, at the right time, and open to hearing some things quite important for me personally. From the luminous energy at the Brooklyn Lyceum, I can't imagine I was alone in that experience.

While there I found out about Brian Tate's Restoration Rocks 2 Festival, where everyone was rockin' out Saturday night. What??? How did I miss hearing about that?! Well, I'm sure bluegum will have something to say about what was apparently a blowout event of superlative talent, black rockers all. Bold As Love did some pre-fest coverage on Tate last week.

The Family Stand performing the transcendent (and goose-bump inducing) "Undiscovered Country" from Super Sol Nova, at Park Pop Festival, The Hague, June 2007. Get this album! You'll understand why Micaela angela Davis was proclaiming, "I now have an album I want to listen to every day!"

• Want more from Davis on The Family Stand?
• Want the Peter Lord and V. Jeffrey Smith pre-show interview with Bold As Love?
• Want more St. Victor? Check out the Daughters of Soul concert.
• More on Essence's Take Back the Music Campaign (Davis was involved in this while an editor at Essence Magazine.
• More on Black Girls Rock! Inc founded by DJ Beverly Bonds (Davis is on the board of this organization aimed at creating positive images for black women and girls in hip hop and popular media).

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ned's "List"

I don't blog explicitly on the subject of September 11th, and haven't done any anniversary posts. I'm aware that there are plenty of people who have more to say and can say it more eloquently than I.

One of those people is Texas born, Louisiana-New Mexico-Texas-raised New York-based (25 years and counting) musician/writer Ned Sublette, who started what eventually became "nedslist," as means to let friends around the world that he and his family were "okay." People started forwarding his posts to friends and the next thing you know strangers were writing him asking to be put on his "list" (I met him at a concert and asked to be added). It's not a blog, it's- well, it's nedslist. And on this September 11, Sublette wrote a meditative and quite moving, and at some points polemic, post about it being the sixth anniversary of the inception of this list. So I don't forget it, I wanted to repost it here.

From Ned Sublette's Nedslist
"September 11 again"

every year i recall that this list began on september 11, 2001, as a way of letting our far-flung friends know we were okay. as i sent out dispatches, i started getting e-mail from people i didn't know asking to be on "the list." it grew. it's still not very big. it didn't get named until this year.

so today is this list's somber sixth birthday.

it's not a blog. i don't want to find all these posts on google. it's more like a lifeline, a way of staying in touch. this is just me, talking to friends, some of whom i don't know, and passing on information that might be interesting or useful.

i've been reading greil marcus's "the shape of things to come," in which, after quoting steve erickson: "a dream is a memory of the future," he describes writer david thomson's visit to a class marcus was teaching:

"'I know exactly when film noir began,' Thomson said weirdly. And he went on to recount, for a class of students born in the early 1980s, the impact of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963.

"He told the story as if it were a relic from another world. He described the shock and disbelief, grief and displacement, that the event produced in England, where Thomson, who is British, then was: 'This man,' he said, as if he did not quite understand what he was about to say, 'this man was loved, you understand -- *loved*, by people who were not even his own.'

"'But that,' he said, 'was not where film noir began.' We were all of us in the seminar room beginning to wonder what in the world Thomson was getting at, but we were also nervious. 'Film noir,' he said, 'began in the basement of a Dallas police station, two days later,' when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald -- when, to make history into genre, a nightclub owner shot and
killed the man arrested for the crime.

"But *wait*, everyone thought -- and the question would have been asked out loud if Thomson had not been moving so fast -- film noir goes back to theearly 1940s; how could it begin in 1963?

"'--and it was *then*,' Thomson said of that moment in the police station, 'that all the paranoia and fear that film noir had been prophesying for twenty years, the sense that our lives are not our own, that forces we cannot see or name are ruling our lives and our destinies -- it was then that everything that film noir had prophesied in America exploded into real life.'

"The assassination of President Kennedy, and then the removal of that event from the realm of what could be known to the realm of mystery, to a realm where one felt what could not be known as a rebuke and an oppression, to a realm where to be a citizen was suddenly to be a party to a conspiracy you could not even be certain existed at all -- all of this was the future film noir had, film by film, betrayal by betrayal, death by death, remembered."

september 11 was a memory of the future.

we could go back to the cinematic milestone that was for years celebrated as the ne plus ultra of filmic innovation, d.w. griffith's "the birth of a nation." you remember, the movie that celebrated lynching and black disenfranchisement as cornerstones of our great nation and inspired the rebirth of a bigger and better version of the previously moribund ku klux klan. in a 1915 interview for the new york times sunday magazine, griffith said:

"The time will come, and in less than ten years, when the children in the public schools will be taught practically everything by moving pictures. Certainly they will never be obliged to read history again.

"Imagine a public library of the near future, for instance. There will be long rows of boxes or pillars, properly classified and indexed, of course. At each box a push button and before each box a seat. Suppose you wish to ‘read up’ on a certain episode in Napoleon’s life. Instead of consulting all the authorities, wading laboriously through a host of books, and ending bewildered, without a clear idea of exactly what happened and confused at every point by conflicting opinions about what did happen, you will merely seat yourself at a properly adjusted window, in a scientifically prepared room, press the button, and actually see what happened.

"There will be no opinions expressed. You will merely be present at the making of history. All the work of writing, revising, collating, and reproducing will have been carefully attended to by a corps of recognized experts, and you will have received a vivid and complete expression."

though his time frame was too ambitious, griffith was nothing if not visionary: you will merely be present at the making of history.

september 11 is now a day like the fourth of july. it commemorates, to borrow a phrase from d.w. griffith, the birth of a nation. the consolidation of the united states as a fascist nation.

for years i tried to avoid using the F word, because it has been so debased by its use in pop psychology. i studied whether it might be historically applicable -- not quite, i think, because mussolini's fascism was about the state taking control of the corporations and this is about the corporations becoming the state. but maybe that's mere hair-splitting: the corporate state is the corporate state.

this is what american fascism looks like. we are now in the world of "repeat until true." there is no lie so outrageous, so ass-backward from the truth, that it won't be straight-facedly told by the leaders and picked up by the chorus. no one in the bush government can possibly tell the truth, because they've told so many lies they no longer can know what the truth is. we routinely live in a world of lies, in a civil war the right declared against the rest of us long ago. we have now reached the stage where large media outlets have no shame in conflating with osama bin laden. (and what's up with that squirrely bin laden video, anyway? did he *really* praise noam chomsky with his beard dyed brown? the voice is authentic, we are told. this is all cheesy enough to be some CIA spyboy's work.)

the moment the congressional elections ended in november 2006, the media narrative shifted immediately, with no interval at all, to the presidential horse race. that has been our overriding subject since then: who's going to be voted off democrat island? look at this bright shiny object. it's a rigged contest. prayer-warrior hillary's the nominee. it's a done deal, but we have some theater to get through first. we will then have a conservative candidate running against a fascist candidate and we will have spent the last two years talking about it instead of demanding real change.

which brings me to rudolph giuliani, waving the bloody shirt of 9/11 as he runs on a platform of national strength through collective submission to his authority. mitt romney might be crazier, huckabee and brownback crazier than that, and fred thompson might be more right-wing, but no single presidential candidate is as despicable as giuliani. and september 11 is his big day. one more reason to loathe it.

one of my strongest memories of september 11, 2001 is what a perfectly beautiful day it was. new york city has between ten and twenty sublimely beautiful days a year, and they tend to fall in the late days of summer. the sky was utterly blue, utterly clear. the light in this season falls at a marvelous angle to the city. the temperature was delicious. ever since then, when we have one of those beautiful end-of-summer-harbinger-of-fall days, somewhere down there i think, "september 11 was a day like this."

two years ago, we got a second national anti-holiday, august 29th. and now even the characteristic beautiful weather of that period -- august 29th through september 11 -- has become tainted. the interval between those two days has become, whether you want it to be or not, a time to meditate over the legacy of these last years.

the new security state that was born the same day as this list does not need -- does not want -- new orleans.

my anger at what happened to new orleans far exceeded what i felt at 9/11. but it wasn't until last year, when i was interviewing john feal on air america -- a 9/11 pile worker ill from smoke exposure -- that i began to realize that part of my anger at what happened to new orleans was bottled-up 9/11 anger. i'd put it in a jar and screwed the lid on, in order to get on with my life after the months of black depression that all but paralyzed those of us who live here a mile north of ground zero. (i remember: one day constance opened the drawer where the pillowcases are and *that smell* came out of it.)

tonight, out walking, something we enjoy but not as much as we used to on the congested sidewalks of this neighborhood where we now feel increasingly like strangers, we passed roberta (not her real name), an old-timer who's lived here as long as i have, one of the few people that i can remember seeing here 25 years ago. we nod when we pass but never speak. tonight she called out to us, are you going to ground zero tomorrow?

there's a solemn ceremony at the hole in the ground. wnyc host brian lehrer, who lost my respect forever when he ridiculed brig. gen. janis karpinski when she tried to tell the truth on his program, will begin broadcasting at 8:40 a.m.

no, we won't be there.

"i'll be there," roberta said, "shouting and screaming."

i was thinking about the woman from code pink -- i've looked at ten stories about it and can't find out her name -- who screamed all the way as they dragged her out of petraeus's presentation today. i felt she was screaming on my behalf.

i looked down at roberta's bag and saw the sticker: "9/11 truth commission." i think that's what it said.

"we won't be there," i said, "but we're screaming with you."

"i'm frightened," roberta said. "i'm *frightened.* i don't know what to do. this is *it.*"

"we all feel like this," i said. "we're all having this conversation."

"are we?" she said.

"you're not alone."

"i'm not?"

it's 1:37 a.m. on september 11. six years ago i got home at 1:37 from hanging out with juan carlos alfonso and dan den at SOB's and as i turned my key in the lock, i saw the twin towers for the last time.

i wonder what will wake me up in the morning. six years ago it was the second plane. i heard it in my dream, the dream that was a memory of the future.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007


Friday, September 7, 8:00pm - 9:00pm

The HOWL Festival and Wash and Dry Productions Present:

Conducted by Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris
Klean and Kleaner
173 East 2nd Street bet Avenues A & B

The Poets:
Nora McCarthy
Jessica Eubanks
Helga Davis
Chavisa Woods
Jameel Hobbins
David Devoe
Alexander Bilu

The fun and revealing theme for this Friday's performance:

Airing, Cleaning and Drying "DIRTY LAUNDRY"

Please come by and to witness another first - you never know what
will transpire when Butch Morris works his magic. Interview with Morris.


Sunday, September 16, 3pm
The Family Stand's Peter Lord & V. Jeffrey Smith
interviewed by Michaela angela Davis, whom BoldasL!VE bills as, "'Urbanista' and Hip Hop Fashion Feminist." Sounds from The Family Stand's latest release, Super Sol Nova, are available on both their website and that of BoldasL!VE, and for purchase as an import and iTunes download. (pictured The Family Stand, l-r Peter Lord, Sandra St. Victor, V. Jeffrey Smith; photo: Donald Andrew Agarrat)

Brooklyn Lyceum
227 4th Ave @ President Street
Park Slope, Brooklyn
$8 (children under 13 FREE!)
M or R train to Union Street


Monday, September 17
Tenderhead's new CD OOZE drops.

A little taste of Tenderhead (fronted by the multi-talented Shena Verrett) doing "Over" live @ Knitting Factory in 2006. Their previous CD, Psickcevyn -Ate is still available at at CDBaby (love 'em!).

UPDATE: The OOZE release date is now September 30th. Yeah, Ms. Verrett is going to make us wait. But when it's right it's ready, and when it's ready it's right. Right?


Thursday, September, 20 + Sunday, September, 23
Brandon Ross curates:"OUT ON A LIMB" Solo Series@ ROSE Live Music
345 Grand St. (between Havemeyer & Marcy Sts.),
Brooklyn, New York 11211
Cost : $10.

Thursday, September, 20, starts @ 9:00PM
MELVIN GIBBS - solo electric bass; CARLO VUTERA - acapella Tenor vocal. 2 individual sets: VUTERA @ 9:00 PM; GIBBS @ 9:45 PM Improvised DUET w/ GIBBS & VUTERA @ 10:30!! Rare/Debut SOLO Performances. MODERN CHAMBER MUSIC ADVANCES IN Brooklyn...

Sunday, September, 23, 9:00PM
Very special evening conducted by Butch Morris. Stomu Takeishi - acoustic bass guitar; Charles Burnham - violin/mandolin; Timothy Hill - harmonic/overtone vocals; JT Lewis - drums; Carlo Vutera - tenor vocal; Melvin Gibbs - electric bass; BUTCH MORRIS - CONDUCTING. Be There for THIS one!

and because you're always going to be missing something in NYC...Joe's Pub & Shrine both offering great shows on the same day (Oh, to be Hiro of HEROES!)

Friday, September, 21
425 Lafayette St.
NY, New York
Cost : $15

Friday September 21
Ben Tyree (jazz guitar) and Will Martina (cello) 8pm
DEVI (guitarist Debra DeSalvo's Power Trio, w/ guest Therese Workman of OMG) 9pm
@ Shrine
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd
(between 133 and 134 St)
Harlem, NY

Choices, Choices, Choices....

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

here it is...Here It Is...HERE IT IS....!!! Junot Díaz's debut novel

We waited, we tarried, we prayed...yes, yes, Lord, here it is...OK tomorrow, 6 September 2007 here it will be... but still!

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Getting rave reviews thus far, a lotta "it was worth the ten-year wait" sentiment. Good on you, Díaz, go on then!

Here's an interview, "Junot Díaz out of the Silence," from the Powell's Books site. Lucky Portlanders will get to hear Díaz read and talk at Powell's Books on 25 September.

Free the Jena 6: Day of Action 20 September--Go to Jena or Buy a t-shirt

I've been meaning to post about this horrible situation in Jena, Louisiana. With the federal government's clear demonstration of its estimation of the poor blacks, Native Americans /American Indians, and whites of New Orleans, and in the absence of a major "natural" disaster (can't really call anticipated levee failure "natural") the powers-that-be in Jena felt quite comfortable with charging six black male high school students with attempted murder for retaliating against a beating sustained by one of them at the hands of a group of white male students. These white male students had also hung nooses from a tree in a series of incidents that started with the young black males being given permission(!) from a school official to sit under the unofficial "whites-only" tree! I'll tell you, I'm still listening to Mavis Staples' We'll Never Turn Back and on the cut, "Down In Mississippi," she talks about being so happy to see the day when "Dr. King got all those ["Colored Only" and "White Only"] signs removed."

Reed Walters, the District Attorney in the case, reportedly said to the young black men that he could "take your lives with a stroke of my pen." Wait, what year are we in again? BTW the white student that was beaten by the black students was taken to the hospital, treated and released that day and was well enough to attend a social event later that evening. I don't condone any of the violence that has occurred, but I've yet to hear any evidence supports the "attempted murder" and "conspiracy to commit murder" charges made by the district attorney.

"Six Black Jena High students, Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, were expelled from school, arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. Bail was set so high -- between $70,000 and $138,000 -- that the boys were left in prison for months as families went deep into debt to release them." (from Bill Quigley, "Injustice in Jena as Nooses Hang From the ‘White Tree,'" truthout, July 3, 2007)

The Color of Change Organization ("Changing the Color of Democracy") which emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina started an online petition protesting the treatment of the Jena 6 resulting in 140, 246 signatures to date (their goal is 150,000) and a march attended by a multi-ethnic group of 300 on the Jena courthouse on July 31st, the day of sentencing for the first defendant, Mychal Bell, who refused to accept a plea bargain. That date they also delivered 43,000 petitions to District Attorney Reed Walters, and noted the receipt of 60,000 emails by Governor Blanco who had said she was powerless to intervene on the local matter. You can go to Color of Change for background history of the case. Jstheater also has a post on the case and the Bronzebuckaroo has a post noting the parallels between the Jena 6 and the Scottsboro Boys case from the 1930s.

Color of Change is planning a Day of Action in Jena on 20 September 2007, the new date set for Mychal Bell's sentencing, and is asking people to come to Jena to participate. But if, like me, you can't be there you can purchase the Free the Jena 6 t-shirt and wear it in solidarity on September 20th, as well as calling various officials in Jena. GoodStorm, whose motto is "Capitalism Done Right," has paired with Color of Change to offer the T-shirts for $10.00. If you purchase the shirt by 6 September @ midnight then they can promise you'll get it by the 20th. All proceeds from sales (minus shipping) go to the Jena 6 defense fund.

With GoodStorm's shipping policy you'll probably want to go for the 2-Day shipping which costs $13.00, but at least you'll get it in time for the Day of Action. Also, you can save money if you order in a group, although that can add to your order fulfillment time as the t-shirts are printed to order. Nevertheless, if I were you I'd order my t-shirt ASAP. The high traffic on the GoodStorm site resulted in my order process taking almost 1 whole hour! Also, they don't deliver to P.O. Box or APO addresses, they don't ship outside the U.S., and they don't take PayPal (but they're working on the last two: I guess capitalism done right presents its own bureaucratic challenges). I've copied the Shipping and Return info from the site below, to save you spending time navigating to and from that page for shipping-time & cost information.

From the GoodStorm site:
Production and Shipping Time for T-Shirt Orders

At GoodStorm we work to process all orders within 2 to 5 business days. Please add 2-5 business days to the shipping timeframes below when calculating when your order may arrive.

Our standard method of shipping is by Super Saver. We also offer 2 Day and Next Day shipping for an additional cost. We ship via UPS or DHL for 2-Day or Overnight shipping. For Super Saver, we ship via USPS delivery confirmation shipping. At this time we cannot ship to PO Box or APO/FPO locations.

With Super Saver, most orders arrive at your doorstep within 2-6 business days after printing (so total time from placing your order to receiving it can be 4 to 11 business days). We have found that USPS delivery confirmation can occasionally take up to 2 weeks to arrive. Larger orders may also take a little longer to arrive. If you need help with an order you placed, please contact us.


Each shirt we sell is custom printed to order. We will honor requests for returns, exchanges, or refunds only in cases where you received a size, color, or style other than what you ordered; or if items are defective. We will honor such requests placed within 60 days of the original order date.

Shipping costs are not refundable.

If you received the wrong item, or a defective item, please contact to initiate a return authorization and receive further instructions. We are not responsible for items returned without prior authorization.

Shipping rates:

Method Transit Time First Item Each Additional
Super Saver 2-6 business days $5.95 $1.00
(from shipping date)
2-Day 2 business days $13.00 $1.50
(from shipping date)
Next Day 1 business day $25.00 $2.00
(from shipping date)
*** GoodStorm does not currently ship internationally or to PO Boxes and APO/FPO locations.
International Shipping

Unfortunately, we do not ship outside the U.S. at this time.