Sunday, March 23, 2008

One Night Only...MuthaWit...Monday, March 24: KAOS Network, Los Angeles

Angelenos and those currently hanging out in the Los Angeles area get one more shot at an infusion of the MuthaWit vibe during their LA foray. (right: freaky and fearless: MuthaWit's Shena Verrett and Boston Fielder with Michelle Wilding in Long Beach)

Yeah, I know it's a Monday. But that's a big reason to go, cause the energy promises to be such that you'll be floating and flowing the rest of the week. You can read about the MuthaWit City of Angels experience thus far here. Sure, I know, it's the ensemble leader Boston Fielder's take on the shows, and sometimes musicians are wont to exaggerate the excitement and impact of their own performances. But having been to a MuthaWit show, I can testify that when they're in the zone there's no need for hyperbole in describing the effect. Clearly they are in the zone.

But playing Devil's Advocate, even if only half of what Fielder describes came to pass those would be a couple of seriously trip-a-sonic shows, que no?

A few excerpts:

On bassist Orlando Greenhill (aka Brother O, aka Oddrocker O) who's sitting in with MuthaWit in LA :

Orlando is easily one of the baddest bassists in the world. He is technical and organic in playing and performance in a way that most folks never get to. His performance energy is pretty much like watching a Yoruba practitioner come down upon by Egun or Orisha. It’s frightening and funny simultaneously ultimately resonating with the audience in a way that just makes me happy. I am always chiming in about how mastering your instrument is not enough when it comes to having a career in the music business. Performance is also tantamount. If I had to create a picture of a musician who is masterful in any genre but also a seductive performer I’d probably draw Orlando.

On guitarists Lou Rossi and Shena Verrett, and guest musicians, Brig Feltus and Waberi at the Crash Mansion/LA show:

Shena and Lou held down the guitar chairs for the show and they brought it in a way that was revelatory. Their fearless approach to our songs is really uncovering elements in the melodies that have heretofore only been hinted at. Lou is able to channel ambient clouds and Shena brings that ragged punk energy that makes MuthaWit so hard to define musically. Again, their performance energy is inspiring. The audience at Crash Mansion LA was a mixture of hip hop heads and alt rock types that were very appreciative and vocally responsive to the performance. How best to close out the evening? We were joined onstage by my friend/singer, Brig Feltus...and my new partner in crime, Waberi... These two ladies have a regal presence that when coupled with their powerful voices and open-minded approach to music just had the audience OPEN. You can probably tell that the Crash Mansion show is one of the best MuthaWit gigs EVER. The combination of nerves, happiness, excitement and talent made the event volatile and explosive. RAWK!

On the dynamics of the very different and no less rockin' Que Sera show:

It was a night of experimental music of 5 bands with MuthaWit as a three piece featuring Shena on guitar/pedals, Orlando on standup bass/electric bass and me on acoustic/electric guitars. A couple of the people who attended this show were also at Crash Mansion LA and it was so interesting to get their reaction to how different the shows were. If Crash Mansion LA was punk/rock/funk/jazz/drum n bass then Que Sera was noise/blues/free jazz/classical. Orlando’s bowing of the acoustic bass really brought out beautiful elements on the lower end that inspired me to experiment with some challenging vocal approaches. I have to tell y’all at this point about the crazy onstage chemistry between Shena and Orlando. They pretty much had their instruments engaging in a savage bout of sexual intercourse throughout the show. WHAT?! Yup, the were ramming the electric guitar and electric bass together creating a cosmic cataclysm of sound. Rubbing the strings together, shaking the instruments and physically running into each other Orlando and Shena WERE THE SHOW. LOL I spent a bit of the show watching them and coaxing gutteral sounds out of my effects units. They inspired me to emphasize the noise part of my soundset...The audience was all up in it and I was ecstatic to see how intense the performances of MuthaWit’s songs can actually be when the commitment is there to just be in the moment. Whew!
Like I said, even if only 50% of all that happened don't you wish you'd been there to see it?

Well, you got one more chance, and you'll be "...Losing A Good Thing," (lil' nod to Barbara Lynn) if you sit on this and miss it. So Don't.

• March, 24 2008 •
URB ALT @ KAOS Network ("historic home of the ever popular Project Blowed")
4343 Leimert Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90008
Cost : Donations
Tel: 323-296-5717

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Cuban music legend Israel "Cachao" López R.I.P.

Cachao 1918 - 2008

From The Miami Herald obituary:

Known to the world by his nickname, Cachao, bassist, composer and bandleader Israel López died Saturday morning at Coral Gables Hospital of complications resulting from kidney failure. He was 89.
Cachao was, in his last years, the most important living figure in Cuban music, on or off the island. And according to Cuban-music historian Ned Sublette he was ''arguably the most important bassist in twentieth-century popular music,'' innovating not only Cuban music but also influencing the now familiar bass lines of American R&B, ``which have become such a part of the environment that we don't even think where they came from.''

Cachao and his brother Orestes are most widely known for their late-1930s invention of the mambo, a hot coda to the popular but stately danzón that allowed the dancers to break loose at the end of a piece. Typically modest, Cachao always admitted that it was bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado who made the beat world famous in the '50s.

(pictured left, album cover of the famous 1957 Afro-Latino Cuban jazz jam session Cachao produced in the early hours with musicians "pumped" after a night of playing in Havana nightclubs. Cachao is on the far left with his bass)

Los Angeles Times obituary for Cachao
notice of Cachao's passing.
Reuters listing for Cachao
March 2008 Bass Player article on Cachao
• Chuy Varela
on Cachao and the "musical glue" known as Tumbao
All About Jazz 2007 profile of Cachao
New York Times AP coverage of Cachao's passing.

Longtime friends pianist Bebo Valdez and Cachao performing "Lágrimas Negras" in 2000.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Sun Moon Child - Imani Uzuri/ Exit the Apple

A little transcendence celebrating and honoring the legacy of black dance courtesy of exit the apple filmmaker Pierre Bennu with music by vocalist/composer Imani Uzuri (thanks to Ernest Hardy | Blood Beats for pairing it on his blog with a synergistic Sonia Sanchez quote).

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama Addresses Questions of Race & Rev. Jeremiah Wright in Philadelphia March 18, 2008

For the archives:
Interactive video and transcript of the Illinois Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate's speech from the New York Times.

Endnote I:
The response of Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, the religious denomination to which Senator Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright belong, to the recent controversy over some statements made by Wright's as pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, Sen. Obama's home church can be read here, along with responses from some UCC members to both Thomas and Wright.

Endnote II:
Video of an address by Rev. John H. Thomas honoring Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright's ministry at Trinity UCC on Sunday, February 24, 2008. This video also appears at the end of the above-linked statement by Rev. Thomas on the UCC website.

Endnote III:
As has been pointed out elsewhere, and in Rev. Thomas's comments the United Church of Christ is a predominantly white religious organization and Trinity is one of the few predominantly African American churches among its membership. It is also reported to be the UCC's largest congregation.

Endnote IV:
Rod 2.0 notes the ill-advised release of the 1998 photo of Bill Clinton and Rev. Wright to the media by the Obama campaign, and links to the NYT response commentary by Kate Philips. This is disappointing given Obama's words about conceding to a politics of division:

"For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism...We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time.'"
Faith is not a facile achievement, but I definitely want to see a candidate who can hold to a committed faith in her/his own beliefs, particularly the ones to which he/she asks me to ascribe and share.

Endnote V:
Fox News and ABC News soundbyte excising of selected sermons by Rev. Wright.
Again for the archives, and not because I support the soundbyte analysis methodology (30 seconds or less from a likely 30-40 minute sermon) engaged by these media outlets and others.

Endnote VI:
From Kalamu Ya Salaam's e-drum, Jon Stewart's post-Obama speech commentary on the Daily Show (to quote Ya Salaam: "watch the whole thing.")

May we each know "a more perfect union" in our respective lifetimes.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hot Lights @ Passing Strange

Now, we knew Passing Strange was a great show, what with the amazing casting and performances. Now the lighting designers are all up in it as well:

The 2008 Broadway Lighting Master Classes on May 20-22, 2008 in New York City at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU, will attend the hot new Broadway musical, Passing Strange, with lighting by Kevin Adams—last season’s Tony Award winner for the lighting of Spring Awakening (which the BLMC saw last year). Described in the New York Times as a “bracingly inventive show,” Passing Strange has some of the most singularly original lighting ever to hit Broadway. The BLMC will attend the show on Wednesday evening, May 21, 2008 followed by a Q&A post-show in the theatre, and an in-depth discussion of the lighting at the classes the next day by Kevin Adams.

A little more on that casting. The musical features performances by de'Adre Aziza, Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge and Rebecca Naomi Jones. Then there's the tasty band, serving up great music, some of whom were also a part of the show since its Berkeley Rep days and/or members of Stew and Heidi Rodewald's band The Negro Problem: Christian Cassan on drums, Christian Gibbs (aka Lucinda Black Bear, C. Gibbs) on guitar and fingered hair (when you see the show you'll know what I mean), Heidi Rodewald on bass and feminist Greek chorus (again, see it), and Jon Spurney on keyboards and classic rock defense Greek chorus (again...). Each of the cast members, with the exception Breaker, Davis, and Stew as the Narrator, is called upon to play multiple characters, some have an arc and some operate as various backing choruses in group scenes, as a result the audience is privy to the marked versatility of each of those performers and it's quite exciting to experience. I've already noted the multi-talented gifts of Davis who plays Mother, here, and the New York Times recently did a fine profile on her varied accomplishments and skills.

As for the rest of the casting, Aziza (above right, with Breaker at The Public's staging of Passing Strange) is a revelation as she gets to play three different characters over the course of the play, the sexy, future Miss Black America church princess whose intonations, vocal gestures and gesticulations along with her disdainful loose-limbed insouciance completely bring this character to life in a matter of seconds. Then there's the Dutch lover who liberates the protagonist from his sense of shame and displacement with her guileless welcome, her casual yet sensual grace has her criss-crossing the downstage with the fluid rhythm of a wave. Lastly there's her seemingly opposite embodiment of the German pornographer (to paraphrase her painfully earnest description: "my films have fully dressed men in business suits making corporate deals." Thanks, Stew. Who knew it was possible to make a good humanist/feminist joke about the Marxian concept of excess?). This character was palpably uncomfortable in her own body, every movement martial, stiff, and controlled, as though her muscles were on a permanent flight or fight setting. Somehow this character seemed a foot taller than the ones Aziza had previously inhabited yet still with a posture weighed down by some invisible load. Same shoes, it was just Aziza's training, stagecraft, and talent at work. It's always funny to me that it often takes a dancer or someone with similar physical training and body awareness to realistically portray someone who is so awkward in their own skin. Aziza studied acting, singing, and dance at the Harlem School of the Arts and Dance Theater of Harlem, as well as NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

Mr. Domingo, as Colman Domingo is also known, has a similar acumen which I knew from having seen him during his San Francisco theater days and he stunned me then with the energy and focus he brought to his roles. (Domingo has appeared on numerous stages in the Bay Area including those of the Guthrie, Berkeley Rep, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, California Shakespeare, A.C.T., as well as Boston's Huntington Theatre, and has also appeared in several Off-Broadway productions, additionally he's a playwright and has been on faculty at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center). Here he projects the same laser focus and commitment playing Franklin, the minister's son and closeted gay choir director. Like many a gay choir director the closet is one of language--of the don't ask, don't tell variety. Franklin's mannerisms and sense of style mark him as either a dandy from another world, a child of James Baldwin, or the silent gay man whose only flag of liberation is the allowance of these gestural give-aways. As Franklin he provides the play with one of its most poignant moments. It succeeds based on Domingo's skill as Breaker's character's intentionally clueless demeanor doesn't readily hold a space of support for his cast mate--Domingo is pretty sailing out there by himself as Franklin delineates the difference between a slave and a coward from a primarily fixed sitting position. Domingo has only his arms, voice and face as instruments to make what could be a maudlin moment one of gravitas and sincere pathos. I don't want to give anything away, I'll just say pay attention during this scene: it's a key turning point. Plus it's truly a mini-master class. Later Domingo resurfaces as a transgender German performance artist (Domingo pictured above left with Stew and Breaker) whose intensity is beyond edgy; the actor could power up a good chunk of the lighting design as he rasps the mantra, "What's inside is just a lie!" He scared me, but I just couldn't look away--I kept looking up at him with a big grin on my face (inside a little voice was cheering, "It's Colman Domingo! THE Colman Domingo, on BROADWAY! YEA! He is SO amazing! He SO deserves to be HERE acting his heart OUT! I'm so happy I get to see it!" Yes, I am that kind of theater nerd, but fortunately, I can keep that inside voice--inside). Goodridge (pictured right with Breaker and Davis, with Stew in the background) who studied theater at Dartmouth College (apparently a pretty strong program) is called upon to be the most chameleonic of the cast, playing a Baptist-style animated church minister, a simultaneously intimidating and faceless German officer, a would-be delinquent church kid with feet of clay, a puckish Dutch sex worker and performance artist, and a rather stern lovelorn German writer/activist. He's believable at every turn, although his preacher doesn't quite have the elderly carriage of a man with a full-grown son.

, like co-star Goodridge, is a theater/arts baby from jump--according to her bio, her father sang to her just after she'd been delivered in the hospital. She waved her hands in time with the music, and her musician father declared that with those long fingers she would be a pianist. He was right. Most of her childhood was spent in piano, dance and acting classes, she went on to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts. And she does play a little piano in the show. Jones operates somewhat under the radar in a series of background sidekick/friend roles until the last third of the play when she shines as the German lover and activist who is organizing a revolution pragmatically centered on love (Jones pictured left). She's the woman, aside from his mother, who seems to have the most chance of touching the emotional core of the Youth played by Daniel Breaker. Her depiction of the emotional arc of an independent, intelligent woman falling in love who is also honest enough to face love's human limitations head-on, slowly draws us in as Jones disappears into the portrayal. She shows the strength and vulnerability in this woman's absolute openness--it's intimidating to the protagonist and causes the audience to catch their breath as well. About that protagonist, played ably and with alternating shades of adolescent moodiness and obnoxious bravado, awed young adult self-discovery, and armed denial by young Shakespearian actor Daniel Breaker. Breaker was trained at Juilliard and has further honed his skills at Washington D.C.'s Shakespeare Company whose artistic director, Michael Kahn, is also the long-time head of Juilliard's drama division. Of Breaker's training and work at Shakespeare Company, Kahn has said:

"There's nobody who took the training more seriously than Daniel," Kahn says. "He has a huge natural ability, but it all shows up because of his hard work. His sense of craft, his work ethic, are extraordinary and very rare in this day and age."

And the Washington Post's Peter Marks has written:

What also distinguishes Breaker is a charismatic oneness with verse. He has the ability to make ancient language completely his own. There is, too, that ineffable quality of an actor in his element, that feeling radiating across the footlights that he's exactly where he belongs.

Former Army-kid (born: Manhattan, Kansas; raised: all over, including Germany) Breaker (pictured right, in the foreground, Stew as Narrator in background) brings his Bard-trained ear for music and language to his role Passing Strange, for which he did not have to audition. Apparently, he was at the Sundance Theater institute for another project and got pulled in to the neighboring Passing Strange workshop when they "needed a black guy," and the rest is, or will be, history. I think it's funny that Breaker is actually a classical music freak and he's got a Brahms score and and Mahler poster up in his dressing room. When an interviewer asked about how that stands with being in a rock musical, Breaker responded, "Some could say that Mahler 9 is pretty rockin'." Yep, I believe I know a few folks who have written part of a dissertation and/or scholarly article making just that point, albeit a bit less explicitly.

Don't you think it's about time you got your tickets? You can find out about getting discounted tix through May 18th by either going online to or calling them at 212-947-8844, and using code PSTCX33.

Why did I mention the institutional training of each of the actors in Passing Strange (Eisa Davis was also a theater baby, taking classical piano lessons, and dance classes in her youth, graduating from Harvard and obtaining an M.F.A from the Actors Studio)? Well reader, because of a recent comment by Melvin Gibbs during a Black History Month gig Harriet Tubman played at the Brooklyn Museum as reported by Bold As Love. As Rob Fields/Bold As Love noted:

I also liked that he [Melvin Gibbs] made the following point: What the audience was hearing was the result of many years of hard work (it's called practice)--not some Heaven-sent, God-given talent--on the part of each member of the group. I guess he's run into a lot of people who thinks what he does is magical and mysterious. Well, it's certainly inspired. All of their [Harriet Tubman's] performances were, but those performances didn't come out of nowhere. So I'm glad he spoke on the natural talent vs. good protestant work ethic divide that's plagued Black musicians and athletes for ages. Speak on it, I say.

I differ with this a little, as I believe that talent does play a part in any artistic success, but ultimately the development of that talent requires commitment and discipline, a serious work ethic (which I don't believe is the exclusive domain of Protestants, but I figure Mr. Fields was just using a popular turn of phrase). Whether the actors appearing in Passing Strange studied acting in prestigious and rigorous institutions, honed their chops on theater circuits, or both, what you see up on that stage at the Belasco is the result of years of commitment and hard work to develop the God-given (or whatever spirit you may or may not believe in) talent those folks were birthed with. I, for one, deeply appreciate the dedication that each of them has brought to their craft.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

MuthaWit Throws Down in LA!

OK, I admit it, I'm biased and have a virtual and sometimes corporeal connection to MuthaWit. But it must be said I liked them before I ever met any of the ensemble members. Now they've relented to all the folks who have been asking for the past two years, "when are you'all going to come to LA?" Since they've done their thing in New York, Atlanta, Mississippi, and parts of Europe you can understand why folks had a hard time seeing the big deal about them coming to the City of Angels.

But if good things come to those who wait, really good things will definitely come to those that get on down to the show.

As of today MuthaWit will be playing the following LA dates:

•March, 19 2008•
Crash Mansion LA (the sister club to Crash Mansion NY)
1024 South Grand Avenue,
Los Angeles, California 90015
Tel: 213-747-0999
Cost : $5

• March, 21 2008 •
Que Sera
1923 East 7th
Long Beach, California 90804
Tel: 562-599-6170
Cost : $5

• March, 24 2008 •
URB ALT @ KAOS Network ("historic home of the ever popular Project Blowed")
4343 Leimert Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90008
Tel: 323-296-5717
Cost : Donations

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

And where, oh where?

Working hard these days, and just not getting much time to blog unfortunately. However, I have been visiting various neighbors out in the blogsphere. JsTheater, one of my favorite bloggers, literary, creative, an educator, a sports fan who has gotten me to at least pay attention to baseball season, art lover, word lover, thoughtful national and international political commentator, astute translator, and other great qualities, has just had his 3rd year blogaversary--or whatever such things are called. He recently did a shout out to the National Book Critics Circle Award winners which included Edwidge Danticat for Brother, I'm Dying, Junot Díaz for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Harriet A. Washington for Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. I've only read Díaz's tome, because I was able to get to it over the summer. I've been wanting to read Washington's book but have been afraid I'd have to sleep with the lights on for a month afterward. And people wonder why many black folks, regardless of socio-economic status (i.e. resources), have an adversion to going to the doctor. I have a family member who has worked for many years in the upper-echelon of the medical establishment. That person's longstanding advice was: "Don't get sick. Ever." Not realistic, but it did motivate my willingness to become my own advocate, and shop for a doctor like I shop for the best in computer equipment: ask folks about their doctors, do a lot of research, go in with a bunch of questions. Etc.

Writer Tayari Jones whose even-handed assessment of the literary scene as well as her intelligent joi de vivre, keeps me returning to read her stories of the professional writing life was reluctantly giving the breakdown on the recent Margaret B. Jones/Seltzer nonfiction hoax (private school educated middle-class white woman raised in a middle-class suburb by two parents claims half-Native American ancestry, a foster care childhood with an African American foster mother (Big Mom, natch), and a youth of gang-life, drug dealing, and dead and incarcerated friends and family). I say reluctantly because it seemed that while Tayari Jones saw the import of examining the underlying issues of why such a hoax could be perpetrated on the current publishing establishment, she didn't want to get stuck in the toxins of those issues--"gotta keep writing" girlfriend seemed to say. Truly, that's the only way to make the world you want to see outside your window; work your craft, and work it some more.

Tayari Jones links to some interesting articles on this current hoax as well as an August 2007 TimeOut New York article, "White Noise: Why do so few people of color work in publishing" by James Hannaham on what a parallel Village Voice feature from some 15 years ago termed "The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing." A classic quote that Tayari Jones included in her original post on the article ("Craig" is a pseudonym for a "big-house editor" ):

"Invariably," says Craig, “a black-themed book will come up for consideration, and there won’t be anyone of color to put in an opinion, or there’ll be one, who shouldn’t bear the burden alone. So we all pretend we’re experts. Maybe I’m the only one who’s embarrassed by that.” The end result of such roundtables, one can only fear, could be that the only books depicting people of color that get published are those that do not challenge white assumptions.

Meanwhile, blogger and media producer & writer Rod 2.0 is fortunately is coming out the other side of a rough week. March 4th's Super Tuesday found him doing a subtle version of the "told-you-so" dance with Clinton's victory in Ohio which he called earlier in the day, as well as Texas and Rhode Island. Yes, it's true, you can't ever count Clinton out until she decides she's out. Rod posits:

The Ohio primary winners always become the nominee of each party, and, the general election winner always wins Ohio. So goes Ohio, so goes the nation. If any Obama supporters believe he can win the general election without Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Michigan, please drop me an email with the scenario. Would love to hear it.

This goes to Pennsylvania. Dozens of superdelegates are still on the fence. Before tonight, many were probably going to bolt for Obama, but, most will probably keep their fingers in the wind for several more weeks.
Clinton's heavy campaigning in Ohio and the "Meet Me in Ohio!" call to arms played a part, as did heavy-hitting Ohio political support for Clinton. But Rod 2.0 predicted that Clinton will take Pennsylvania due to the the major blow suffered by Obama with the "Obama campaign's disastrous backpedaling on NAFTA." Probably didn't help when Obama Foreign Policy advisor (unpaid) Pulitzer Prize winning Harvard professor Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton "a monster." Powers subsequently resigned from the campaign, but ouch!

Just in case the above makes it sound like Rod 2.0 is pro-Clinton, or anti-Obama, I personally can't tell one way or the other from his coverage. A good example his write-up of the Ohio debate. He is politically knowledgeable and I imagine he's correct; Obama has some major work left to do beyond fundraising in order to win a major primary and be seen as a viable party nominee.