Sunday, October 21, 2007

The OOZE, Samples Now + Fully Sprung soon...

OK, so I've already said how much I admire the songwriting of Ms. Shena Verrett, and the next time the Village Voice has its Siren Festival they need to try to get girlfriend to MC, because she knows how to work the positive magic on a crowd, except I think she's loyal to the music festival/series she co-produces, URB ALT. (left photo by rich press; right photo uncredited)

On top of all that is her admirable work on her new Tenderhead album, OOZE, where a little bird suggested to me the parallels between her writing and the best parts of Heart (the Wilson Sisters, Ann & Nancy) in its prime (think about all the song structures within a single song that Nancy Wilson worked, e.g. "Heartless."). This is particularly evident on "Goes 2 Show," where Verrett comes out with some burning guitar parts that are fiery cause they're saying something, not just because Verrett has the skills to bring the house down. In that same song she throws down two vocal styles, one reminiscent of both Neneh Cherry (early work, circa Float Up CP 's Kill Me In the Morning) and Kristin Hersh's (solo & reformed Throwing Muses era) particular ways with vocal melodies and harmonies ending in places you don't quite expect--which is a good thing to my ear--and showing off the steely vulnerability of Verrett's voice. Then with the memorable refrain, "If you'd come to my rescue/ once in a while/maybe I'd smile," Verrett gets down to some soulful balladeering and delicate lyrical runs which give that song its great emotional duality of a woman walking in her strength, but also wanting to have that "soft place to fall" now and again (oh, yeah I know, I hate to quote Dr. Phil, but when his language is on, it is so on). You can also hear this vocal play between the hard and pliant, those harmonies pushing the balanced edge; and blistering guitars on "One," itself a song about the fragility of balance: "it only takes one dollar/one day/ to win it all/to whup your ass," well...
(photo left, Ed Marshall; photo below right, Louis Devito)

The song "He Said, She Said" is getting the most play right now on Tenderhead's MySpace page and reminds me of both of spare guitar-driven late 60's pre-punk rock, and British 1980s post-punk rock, with some solid drumming. Once again Verrett's vocal character is walking with a foot on either side of the vulnerability-strength divide, calling out in the chorus, "Don't want to be your/your pitiful, pitiful girl/ there's more to me than/than whispers you may have heard." There is also some really complementary production happening on this cut, with the use of reverb to accent parts of the lead vocal. I noted the spatialization of the guitar, lead and background vocal parts, and the way the bass is brought up the middle for the last few choruses and how the whole instrumentation fades away until all that's left are some faint metallic sounds and Verrett's reverbed vocal which is pushed way back in space, so the intonations of "whispers you may have..." become literal whispers.

Now some people may think "Heart?"And say to themselves, "oh no, Album-Oriented-Rock!" mega-stadium muzak! Whatever. Hold up. It's important to remember that a lot of progressive, concept-album folks like Heart, King Crimson, and hello, Pink Floyd, were getting great reception from the public and critics back then. Hell, the Police were a stadium band, actually the stadium band in the mid-late 1980s until they passed the hat to U2. And both those bands started off in the punk/new wave scene despite guitarist Andy Summers having great chops--well they all were good musicians, including Stewart Copeland and Sting (née Gordon Sumner)--and U2 being primarily made up of avowed Christians who didn't consider themselves to be in a Christian rock-band. So once upon a time album rock was a different kind of animal, and you could play three different genres within a song and audiences would scream for more. Tenderhead inviting folks back to a more layered type of songwriting, think Canada's The The or the different styles mined by fellow New Yorkers Clem Snide or The Magnetic Fields. I get the sense Verrett is looking to explore those genres in a single song, with more electricity & amplification, and to play with how they can be combined and made to speak to each other. But I would likely be remiss not making connections from what she's doing to the legacy of other black rockers such as guitarist Vernon Reid, Love's songwriter & vocalist Arthur Lee, as well as ground-breaking conceptual funk-rocker composer/arranger Betty Davis. Like Davis, Verrett has a number of on-stage personas. In Davis' case her overtly sexualized image, and that of her primarily male band, were about creating a performance environ for the audience. Verrett, like Davis prior to Davis' going into music full-time, is a model (and actor) and is adept at creating a multitude of personas (and takes amazing pictures--just check out the photos here culled from Tenderhead's MySpace page), visually, sonically, and as a songwriter. I find myself wondering how all those elements work in the complex negotiation of what it is to be an attractive, intelligent, creative, and talented woman in the music industry, since, uh, forever...But that's another conversation. (above left, photo by tippi shorter)

Not to leave out Verrett in a more overtly experimental and ambient mood, "A Free Ka" employs a lot more openness in its musical framework, with less emphasis on forward-moving beat. The processing on the guitars creates a shimmering drape, and then has them falling away and the drums--in a staggered pattern--and bass coming forward. The guitar returns for some sonic accents, simple percussion coming forward, equally for timbral color as for rhythm, and then the whole piece fades away before the final percussive moment. Again, Verrett has a lot of musical legacies she expressing, and I'll be interested to see where she takes those paths. (right photo, Wilson Black)

Please do support indie artists and check out Tenderhead's MySpace page. If you want something different you gotta create that difference yourself and engage with the work of folks who are out there doing the same. Also, if you want to hear more of Tenderhead's work their first album, Psickcevyn -Ate (which includes the live fav, "Halo (My Kind Exist)"), is still available through (love 'em).

One of my favorite music writers, Kandia Crazy Horse, on black women in rock: "There's A Riot Goin' On (Agin): Who says black sisters can't rock?" (Perfect Sound Forever, August 2005).

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Upcoming: Sounded Text - The NYC reprise + AIDS documentary fundraiser

SOUNDED TEXT - intensely poetic multimedia...

SOUNDED TEXT is an evening of multimedia music theater that explores the relationships of the performative body to music, text, and new media, fearturing works by composers MR Daniel, Anne Hege, Andrea Mazzariello and Samson Young.

Friday, October 19 @ 7:30PM

279 Church Street (between Franklin & White)

Filmmaker Hima B. has been working on this important documentary for a few years now, and is raising additional funds for its completion.

Tuesday, October 23, 6pm - 8 pm

And I Do Survive Fundraiser
Rubyfruit Bar & Grill
531 Hudson St (between Charles St. & West 10th St. in
the West Village)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 929-3343
SUBWAYS: 1 to Christopher St; A,B,C,D,E,F, V to West
4th St
DONATION: $35 to $150

This feature cinema vérité documentary chronicles Trinidadian lesbian Michelle Lopez as she pursues the American Dream in a country that denies her citizenship because she is HIV+ immigrant. Her AIDS activism entails trying to reverse this discriminatory law & other practices that infringe on the quality of life for HIV+ people. As the gay marriage lightning rod strikes the nation, Michelle’s own relationship mirrors the divide within the LGBT community and she must decide whether to tie the knot with her girlfriend of 7 years. Michelle increasingly devotes herself to AIDS activism & her children (one is also HIV+) become teenagers who seek greater independence and she balances being a responsible single parent
while remembering her own turbulent coming of age. Determined to leave the Bronx and make Brooklyn her home so that she’s closer to her church & work, Michelle juggles an eviction and other housing issues so that she & her children have a better quality of life.

Director/producer Hima B. is a queer South Asian who makes documentaries, narratives, & experimental videos that explore the intersections of race, immigration, gender, sexual orientation, labor, & economics, especially as they impact queer women. Her previous LGBT documentaries profiled sex workers, Asian/Pacific Islanders, & those impacted by domestic violence.
And I Do Survive is a notable creative departure from her past work as she uses cinema vérité (capturing events as they happen in real time), interviews, & archival media, to create an intimate non-fictional portrait that delves deeply into her protagonists’ experiences.

Hima B.


Your Donations to this documentary are 100% tax-deductible when paid to MIX NYC.

Check Donations are payable to MIX NYC.
Write in the Memo line: “And I Do Survive.”
Mail to:
Hima B.
P.O. Box 395
NY, NY 10276-0395

Credit Card Donations can be paid online at Find the “Donate” link after going to the tab “Enter 2006 Website for More” After you donate, please email both: and and provide us with your name, address, telephone #, & the amount you donated. This will ensure that your donation goes directly to “And I Do Survive.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

JsTheater has the October Hook-Up...November in Cali...MOAD claims us all...

I won't even try to encapsulate all the upcoming events Jstheater has listed. I'll just link to his weighty post, "Lessing the Nobelist + Events in Profusion!" on the literature, art exhibition, and music performances coming up in NYC, Brooklyn, NJ, and Chicago (and Doris Lessing being named a Nobel Laureate). As per usual, Jstheater is a wealth of information!


One of my favorite Cali DJs and party people, Ms. Pippa Fleming is going seriously theatrical in this new show, The Ms. K.I.A. Chronicles--OK, I admit, I have no idea what K.I.A. stands for, so I'll have to ask at some point. The show is being staged at MOAD, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, which has been doing some innovative new media exhibits online, but this is the first I've heard of them doing anything with explicitly queer content. But, I haven't been in Cali in quite a while. In fact the last time I was there MOAD was still being constructed as part of an initiative of culturally specific exhibition centers located in the arts district in downtown San Francisco. I'm glad they're embracing the black diaspora in its complex diversity. Gotta give respect to artist/musician Hanifah Walidah kicking down that door in the Bay Area with her one woman Black which she originated in Oakland when she lived there.

I had the pleasure of seeing Pippa last in the ATL where she was doing her innovative thing just by insisting on getting around solely by public transportation and on foot. She's always had great energy, a real light and vibration that brought people together. I'm wondering what this new chapter she's beginning is going to become.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

MuthaWit returns + Sounded Text

Ah, the weather...a perfect time to revel in this final bit of play-summer and go hear some live music.

The BAMCafé Live Series is a curated affair and an upcoming show has myself in the periphery (little disclosure here). I might be fleshy-real or a virtual presence, one never knows. But one thing for sure is MuthaWit will be coming with it on this coming Friday, October 12th. Boston Fielder came back from a summer Southern sojourn like a phoenix with a burn on. He'll be telling stories, fireflying across the stage, bringing out prior favorites and new gonna-be's with that particular melange of channeling musicians that is MuthaWit...You can't be sure what you'll get, except sorry if you don't make it there.

Oh, yeah, and it's being filmed for TV, so MuthaWit is asking folks to show in force, show the love, sho' nuff...

• Friday, October 12

MuthaWit: "Hants, Saints, & Panties"
BAMCafé Live (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
Peter Jay Sharp Building
8:30pm (show starts @ 9PM Sharp: Union Rules)
2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, R, Q trains
Atlantic/Pacific Station
Info: 718-636-4100
or check out the BAMCafé Live MySpace Page


OK, another peripheral for the host. And a busy weekend!

• Saturday, October 13 + Sunday, October 14

Sounded Text: A Symposium on Music, Performance, and New Media
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Exploring the relationship of the performative body to music, text and new media, Sounded Text opens with the return of the multi-media group installation exhibition project, House of Sound. Focusing on variedinter-disciplinary artistic practice Sounded Text features lectures, presentations, and performances from renowned interdisciplinaryperformance artist and Columbia University professor--Visual Arts Division/Spanish and Portuguese--Coco Fusco, new media artists/musicians/scholars Mendi + Keith Obadike, poet/scholar Timothy Liu, and composer/vocalist Amy X Neuburg.

For a complete symposium schedule, directions, and more information on
the artists go to the Sounded Text website.

(Next week, choose between Charles Burnham's trio @ the Stone, Harriet Tubman @ NuBlu, and more! Choices, choices, my, my...)

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