Friday, May 30, 2008

In Praise of Ernest Hardy...

Ernest Hardy is one of my favorite writers on film, music, whatever. Whatever brotherman wants to write on I'm up to reading it. Even when I don't agree with him, he still gives me something to think about. Really chew on, like a mental sassafras or licorice root. The only reason I don't check his blog more frequently is he's often busy with a paying writing gig, or a speaking gig somewhere, and I hate to be disappointed. (Hardy pictured right; photo from The Cocoa Lounge)

Wondering who Hardy is? Well, he's written for Vibe, Rolling Stone, The LA Times, The New York Times, and is a regular contributor to the LA Weekly. He's unabashedly queer, feminist, black, male, outspoken, and brilliant. He's written liner notes for Chuck D Presents: Louder Than A Bomb, the box sets Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America, Superstars of Seventies Soul, and Love, Luther: Luther Vandross, and he won the ASCAP Deems-Taylor Award for Excellence for his liner notes for the Chet Baker box set, Career: 1952-1988. He's also sat on a number of film festival juries including Sundance and San Francisco Int'l (hey now!) and is a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. But this is all information you can get off the back of some book, or an page. The point is that Hardy is accomplished across various segments of his fields of interest, and respected by his peers. One of my favorite pieces by him is "Outkast in Love" which I read as an acute panoramic take on black male creative collaboration, complexity, mutual respect, camaraderie, and yes, love, all wrapped up in a profile of Big Boi and Andre 3000. Nevertheless on the heels of that portrait, Hardy, while acknowledging much that was right about their big screen debut and the various missed opportunities to play on the movie's strengths, basically panned Idlewild. Of course, he wasn't the only one, but his not pulling punches in that situation was a particular choice, a commitment to ongoing critical engagement.

Mr. Hardy has felt my disappointment and that of others, at the lack of blog posts, and attempted to make it up to us earlier this month by posting at length on a plethora of subjects, including the untimely demise of Janet Jackson's career--which is a sad topic because I frankly had forgotten about the sartorial debacle of a few Super Bowl Sundays ago, and wasn't studying on that. It's like who hasn't had a dress failure or witnessed one at a public and inopportune moment. If you're a woman who's had to straddle various fashion phases you've experienced such things. Oh, the piercing/body art. Well, I'm from Cali and again, whatever--I mean was it ugly? No. So what's the issue? My guess would be the overarching hypocrisy of the corporate-political face of country with its multi-million dollar porn industry that's only rivaled by the sales of the video game industry (the film industry comes in third as far a entertainment industry earning power is concerned), the conservatives getting caught with their hands in the same fetishistic / sex work cookie jar they've written and enforced laws against others dipping into. Ms. Jackson wasn't bringing home potential STDs to her clueless family and/or talking out of both sides of her neck to the US public. But I digress...

This is really about Mr. Hardy and how his keen ability to break it down (dissassembe and reassemble/ deconstruct, reconstruct, and then employ and deploy across a signifying viaduct--for those theory-heads out there) garnered him a 2007 PEN/Beyond the Margins Award for Blood Beats Vol. 1, Demos, Remixes, and Extended Versions (2006) and a kick-ass review in the latest volume of the American Book Review for Blood Beats: Vol. 2, The Bootleg Joints (2008) Since Mr. Hardy has rigged his blog to reveal only his homepage URL no matter what page you link to from his site, I have to reprint the review in its entirety below. But it's worth it. As reader fnj wrote, reviewer Alisha Gaines (a writer to watch for) put eloquently and incisively what many of us have been thinking for a long time, and yes, time come and folks WILL recognize! This edition of ABR also includes a piece on Lisa C. Moore, the publisher of Redbone Press--Hardy's publisher--which is also worth checking out. You can do so at Hardy's blog, on his lengthy post of Sunday, May 11th, 2008.

Alisha Gaines reviews Ernest Hardy's Blood Beats: Vol.2/The Bootleg Joints (Redbone Press, 2008) American Book Review, May-June (2008), v.29, no.4.

The first draft of this review began boldly enough: “There are very few writers I would call genuine ‘cultural critics’ …and then there’s Ernest Hardy.” Satisfied, I kept the line until chancing upon an interview conducted by Steven Fullwood entitled “Writing in Ernest” (2006) in which Hardy emphatically denounces my attempt at flattery: “I hate the term cultural critic.” And while this review is not shaped to meet Hardy’s taste, his refusal to embrace a term often used to describe him challenges the work and role of the cultural critic, but also, more importantly, how the seeming exceptionality of that relation to cultural production has been grossly fetishized. Hardy then goes on to describe himself as simple a “film and music critic,” a description that falls way too short of fully summarizing the breadth and freshness of his work as seen in publications as diverse as
Vibe, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and most notably and regularly, LA Weekly.

Then it hit me.

Ernest Hardy is a black critic.

Let me explain.

Hardy operates from a modality of blackness where blackness is, by its very ontology, a trenchant critical stance. “I work from the position that blackness is the most expansive, dynamic and universal filter through which to gauge and interpret the world,” he says later in the same interview. “It just is. It’s certainly been the most vital and important cultural well in this country, the source of its heart and soul.” It is this very heart and soul that pulses throughout
Blood Beats: Vol. 2 / The Bootleg Joints, the follow-up to the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award winner, Blood Beats: Vol. 1 / Demos, Remixes & Extended Versions. As Hardy’s epigraph to Vol. 1 cites James Baldwin’s hand-me-down advice to “go the way your blood beats,” the quickening in his veins moves him both through and beyond Los Angeles as he turns a critical and adoring eye on communities working, living, and creating, most often in spite of, and in the cracks left by, the seeming hegemony of mass modes of cultural production. Reminding those “struggling creative folk, that you don’t have to wait for the machine to validate you, that you can do it for yourself,” Hardy’s collection of essays, reviews, and interviews unabashedly considers everything from the “real hip hop” of Kim Hill, the recently unappreciated stylings of Dolly Parton, and Agnès Varda’s remarkable documentary The Gleaners and I (2000) to the commercial blandness of actor Freddie Prinze Jr. and America’s favorite wigger, Eminem.

Practicing a feminist politics when most are content to only pretend to do so, Hardy opens
Vol. 2 with a choir of women’s voices, or a “SampladelicaFemmeatopia” as he titles it. Citing Toni Morrison speaking to the Parisian press, “We [African Americans] made modernity in that country [the US],” Hardy then excerpts an achingly intimate conversation between Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich before shattering the quiet with the deliciously bawdy Roseanne Barr. This sonic assemblage (or perhaps it is only this reviewer that can hear Barr reminding us that “All of American culture is pimp culture”) sets the stage for Hardy’s special brand of deeply insightful funk even as it is sutured to discussions of the most mainstream aspects of popular culture. In a parenthetical riff on the notorious beef between rappers DMX and Ja Rule, for instance, Hardy sharply declares, “You can take black folks’ temperature to find out how the American body is doing.”

Mining multiple sites of possibility and resistance, Hardy refuses to over-edit, offering us that raw footage most would leave behind on the cutting-room floor. He does so “living at the end of [an] imagination” that sees beyond the stereotypical constraints of both blackness and queerness with a humor that is as profound as it is brash. “If
Sex and the City were cast with Negroes and Carrie Bradshaw had dreads and an ass, this might be the show’s nightlife scene,” he writes to describe Rassela’s, an after-hours spot in San Francisco. While Hardy follows blood, he does so while remaining critical of the hackneyed performances of authenticity that often dictate communal belonging. It is this renegotiaton of what “realness” looks, feels, and sounds like that provides coherence to the collection. In “Young Soul Rebels: Negro/Queer Experimental Filmmakers,” Hardy dares to push his readers beyond the seductions of the minstrel versions of blackness that have become comfortably lucrative for some and a violent undoing for others. He writes,

"We’re all seduced into wanting to play along… Whether it’s spoon-fed uplift the race bullshit or plantation legacies (refurbished by mainstream rap music and videos) of thugs, pimps and gangstas, we are comfortable with and eagerly support images and storylines that merely regurgitate cliché and stereotype or that allow us to be “empowered” by simply putting black faces on cinematic archetype and creaky formula."

Here, Hardy reminds us to subvert, distort, and play with the edges of blackness. Or as he writes, “Blackness is experimental.”

Hardy ends his collection with two very sexy, previously unpublished “downloads”—an almost too lengthy genre-bending essay of personal reflection and multi-person interviews on the gay, mainly Latino, porn scene in New York, and a quilted “interview” with Lil’ Kim stitched together from a series of other sources (her publicist let Hardy know she wasn’t interested in a sit down). While the Lil’ Kim essay is inspired by the now infamous photograph of her sporting a bikini and burqa on the cover of
One World, both pieces fly in the face of propriety, interrogating constructions of colored sexuality and gender that work to soothe and balm, as well as irritate. Hardy theorizes the political through the banal and the spectacular, the funky and the vanilla, while unapologetically forcing his readers to take some necessary conceptual risks: to challenge categories of identity, agitate the status quo, and push the boundaries of what is counted as “culture.”

is black criticism.

Alisha Gaines is pursuing her doctorate in the English Department at Duke University, as well as a certificate in African and African American studies. Her interests include twentieth- and twenty-first-century African American narrative, queer epistemologies, visual popular culture, and Michael Jackson.

Because both Ms. Gaines and Mr. Hardy have inspired me, I will be posting soon on my ambivalent appreciation for MC Jean Grae aka Tsidi Ibrahim aka What? What? aka The Dread Pirate Roberts.

In the meantime, here's Ernest Hardy's September 27, 2007 Quote of the Day via Noctuary's Reggie H. (this I found inadvertently in a search for something else so there's a archive link from from writer Junot Díaz (paired with an unrelated photo which has him looking (perhaps unintentionally) badass) in his Fall 2007 BOMB Magazine interview with writer Edwidge Danticat, talking about language:

"There's a lot of language in this book (The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao) that many could find offensive. The N-word is without question one of them. But as I'm always saying: there's a difference between representing a thing and endorsing it. The Yunior narrator feels comfortable using "the N-bomb" but Oscar never would, not for anything, and I think it's important to remember that. What's funny is that this is a conversation that interests the middle classes and the upper classes in our communities -- but talk to kids where I grew up or where I'm living now and that's not really what's at the top of their priorities. They're wondering why they've been abandoned educationally, politically, culturally -- why living in these urban zones is so very bad for your goddamn health.

"As an artist and as a person of color who've never had a moment in his life where someone hasn't been actively trying to control my tongue, I'm seriously conflicted about these debates. To keep it short: language has never been a good dog and its free exercise will never provide comfort to cultures of respectability. And I guess I've never really been one for comforting my readers either."

• Another rich link from Hardy, to a New York Magazine interview with Joni Mitchell
with some priceless quotes from Mitchell on the state of US music, and why she left the scene and painted for ten years before releasing her album Shine in 2007.

• In case you're wondering about what other writers as well as artists think about Hardy, check out the feedback he got earlier this year when Blood Beats: Vol. 2 was first published (Jeff Chang, Saul Williams, Cauleen Smith, Mark Anthony Neal, plus Phyllis J. Jackson's comments are a crack up--in the best way).

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Summer Sounds of Music in the Air

Yes, with Summer comes a host of music festivals, indoor and outdoor and sometimes both. Again it's hard to be everywhere, but still one can revel in the rich opportunities being offered, no?

• May 31st - June 1st •
Bang on A Can Marathon
World Financial Center Winter Garden
6pm May 31st - 6am June 1st

Once again Bang on a Can (with the co-sponsorship of River to River Festival and arts>World Financial Center) is giving us some select juicies from new contemporary music, with works by Annie Gosfield, Pamela Z, Karsh Kale, Caleb Burhans, Julia Wolfe (Bang on a Can co-founder) Lukas Ligeti, David Lang (Bang on a Can co-founder), Stockhausen, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley among others. Performers include Lisa Moore, Pamela Z, Young Peoples Chorus of NYC (pictured above at the 2007 Marathon performing Meredith Monk's Three Heavens and Hells; photo credit: James Darcy Argue's Secret Society), Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble Nikel, SIGNAL, So Percussion, Bora Yoon, and Crash Ensemble, with video by Luke Dubois and film by Bill Morrison. See the website for the full schedule.

• May 31 - August 10th, 2008 •
Playing the Building
An Installation by David Byrne
Battery Maritime Building
10 South Street, NYC

OK, not really a music festival. But an opportunity to be a part of a live musical moment which will shift and change during the course of it's upcoming incarnation at the Battery Maritime Building in southern Manhattan. Check the website for more details and an interview with Byrne about the project (photo from Stockholm, Sweden installation)

• June 10 - 13, 2008 •
Arts for the Art 13th Annual Vision Festival of AvantJazz
Clemente Solo Vélez Center
107 Suffolk Street (@ Rivington St.)
New York, NY
More info: 212-696-6681
Festival pass & day pass, check website for cost & availability

Featuring a Lifetime Achievement Tribute to tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, the festival also features sets with trombonist George Lewis and bassist Joelle Leandre, trumpeter Wadado Leo Smith, pianist Vijay Iyer, drummer Don Moye, drummer Gerald Cleaver, violinist Billy Bang, bassist Mark Dresser, and way to many folks to list including dancers, video artists, and poets. For the full schedule check here. (photo credit:

• June 12th - 14th, 2008 •
4th Annual New Languages Festival
The Living Theater
21 Clinton Street
New York, NY

A bit of an unfortunate overlap with the Vision Festival, but that's how it is sometimes. This Festival features guitarist Ty Cumbie's assemblage of genre-crossers The Color Now: Daniel Carter (winds) Lukas Ligeti (drums) and Adam Lane( bass), composer/conductor James Darcy Argue's 18-piece ensemble Secret Society (pictured above right), and composer/drummer Tyshawn Sorey's trio premiering his new work Wu-Wei (June 12th, 10pm) which was commissioned by Roulette and supported by the Jerome Foundation. (pictured right Sorey, June 19,2007; photo credit John Rogers NYC)

• June 21, 27, 28, 2008 •
2008 URB ALT Festival
Harlem Stages (@ the Apollo) and BAM
NYC & Brooklyn
FREE, $10 suggested donation

As usual, an eclectic line-up of musicians from around the US and elsewhere and to be announced special guests. The festival makes a move over to Brooklyn this year for the main of its run and features bassist extraordinaire Melvin Gibbs, the transcendent and gifted rockers Faith, punk heaviness from Millsted, roots rockers Devi, southern hip hop from Stacey Epps and Pierre Fignole, and genre bending from mainstays MuthaWit & Tenderhead. Check the website for full details.

• July 5th - 9th, 12th - 13th, 2008 •
4th Annual Afropunk film & music festival
Brooklyn, NY
Music Festival, FREE
Film Festival tix, check BAM site in June

OK, I kid you not, the line up is still apparently unavailable--I think this must be an error, it seems I already got an email talking about the amazing line-up. I remember reading that it would be FREE and there would be a HUGE skatepark. But perhaps I dreamed it? Anyway, it looks like they are culling bands from online submissions to:

And I haven't seen any deadline on their website or MySpace page. So if you're interested in playing the fest, run do not walk to enter your band on the Afropunk Ourstage registration site. Yes, do it now. Yes, NOW.

WAIT, WAIT. OK, Brooklynvegan (shouldaknown!) posted the 411 last week, giving the partial line up as Michelle N'degeocello, The Noisettes, Tamar Kali, Little Jackie, Sophia Ramos, and more.

Plus returning from last year, Whole Wheat Bread, the Smyrk, and Game Rebellion. Fortunately I did not dream the BAM Skatepark, and clinic...

• Saturday July 19th, 2008 •
Village Voice Siren Festival
Coney Island
Festival Pass, check site for cost & availability

The Siren Fest looks to be scaled back a bit this year, but their site says "+ more to be announced." But then again pretty pretty punkin notes that last year was supposed to be the Last Year. If Siren is a bit smaller in 2008 it may be because Coney Island is undergoing a gentrification face-lift. Out with the history, in with the more lucrative development--OK, that's me being a bit cynical. It's also possible those creaky slats will be replaced with something a bit more stable for 200+ folks to walk across on a hot summer day.

If you were wondering where the Dragons of Zynth had gone to after their successful date at last year's AfroPunk festival, well, they're at the Siren Fest along with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the Dodos, and the Helio Sequence.

• August 8-10, 2008 •
All Points West Music & Arts Festival
Liberty State Park
Jersey City, New Jersey
Festival & Day Passes, check site for cost & availability

Yep Jack Johnson and Radiohead got a jump on folks by starting a new music & art festival and taking the scene over to Jersey, putting it in a beautiful park under highly controlled pro-environmental conditions (read the list of do's and don'ts before you leave home, and don't expect to camp out onsite) and of course giving it a MySpace Page. This looks to be the big momma of the music festivals this summer with some serious cross-cultural offerings from multiple continents: Sia, Gabriela y Rodrigo, Amadou & Mariam, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Chromeo, The Go! Team, The Felice Brothers, and Juana Molina, etc. plus perennial faves New Pornographers, The Roots, Cat Powers, again Michael Franti & Spearhead, and of course headliners Radiohead & Jack Johnson, along with new faves, Animal Collective, Mates of State, and about to break big, local heroes/sheroes Earl Greyhound. Not surprisingly, the first top friend on their MySpace page is the Coachella Music Festival (and in a new whimsical trend sweeping MySpace, their last "top friend" is "Tom.") They've got festival passes and day passes, and will probably sell out of all before the festival starts. We'll see if this becomes the next career-making indie festival to play after Coachella (even Pitchfork is getting behind them, and don't they have their own fest in Chicago?).

The Pitchfork Guide to Summer (Music) Festivals 2008

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Alice Coltrane moment...

A year hasn't passed since Alice Coltrane transitioned, yet she's on my mind. Then I found this thoughtful post on Coltrane at destination: out, "Transcribing the Infinite: ALICE COLTRANE (1937 - 2007)."

At destination: out, I also happened upon this link to an interview with Muhal Richard Abrams and George E. Lewis of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) that occurred in advance of the book release gathering in New York. The interview was conducted writer Henry (Hank) Michael Shteamer, and posted on his blog, Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches.

Alice Coltrane in Bombay circa 1978, including performances and an interview

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Death of Hip Hop (...again?) What say you Grandmaster Flash?

As Bold as Love points us to another scribe, this time at, bemoaning the death of thoughtful wordplay, and innovative beat engineering in commercial hip hop, word comes from that Grandmaster Flash's autobiography is on the way.

First off, I am admittedly not a hip hop head. However, every time I read variations on this "death knell of hip hop" article I wonder why instead of writing various perspectives on the lowered standards and/or lack of innovation of the form in its commercial aspect, why aren't these writers looking at underground artists. I expect that focus wouldn't sell as much ad space, or generate as many clicks/hits (translate: readers) on those pages. But it would take the conversation about hip hop, or for that matter about any artistic form that seems to have become a gaseous ballooned parody of its former self, to where the art form itself is still alive, innovating and enervating.

OK, but on to Grandmaster Flash who is teaming up with writer David Ritz to put to the page the story of the Grandmaster's life, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats. Due out June 10, 2008, the book is positioned to cement as bona fide history Flash's reputation as a primary architect of hip hop. When the canonizing starts isn't that when the reports of the death of a creative genre or period are no longer considered to be wholly exaggerated? At least that's the point at which a genre becomes codified with particular distinguishing markers, possible edicts and demarcations of inclusion and exclusion, hierarchies of what Bourdieu would call "taste" and ideological camps, plus with canonizing comes particular types of research and documentation allowing for greater inroads into the scholarly realm, and conversely allowing for scholars to get to bring their skills to bear on a medium that likely gave them great pleasure while they were growing up and/or toiling to get that de-gree (to quote a Nikki Giovanni inflection). With canonization comes the before and after, the calls to revitalize the form and/or the celebration of creative contributions whose style, sophistication, emotional depth, composition, etc. harken back to the days of the forefather and occasionally acknowledged foremothers. Certainly, these are interesting times.

Lastly, does anyone else notice the way David Ritz has a lock on many of the music autobiographies and biographies of African American artists (Ray Charles, Etta James, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Scott, B.B. King, Smokey Robinson) creating/innovating in the r&b/rock, soul, blues, jazz, and hybrid (let's face it Ray Charles unapologetically covered the field--and thank you Mr. Charles for that) musical forms during the mid-to-late 20th century? According to his website, Ritz's specialization, during his 30 year career as a writer, "has been the collaborative autobiography, a form I both respect and love. I've written sixteen such books, in addition to two independent biographies." Also, Ritz hasn't exclusively collaborated with African American musicians or written about them. He's also collaborated with comedian Don Rickles and former CBS label head Walter Yetnikoff on their memoirs, and with classical pianist Lang Lang on his forthcoming memoir (July 15, 2008), as well as with Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley on their family portrait of Elvis. Ritz also provided text for a Rolling Stone photography book on celebrities and their tattoos. But in the main it's African American figures (or African American originated musical genres), even when they aren't musicians (athletes Laila Ali and Gary Sheffield, and actor Felicia "Snoop" Pearson (The Wire)). I don't have a particular opinion on it a present--I'm just noticing, particularly because I'm reading his collaborative autobiography with Etta James, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story (1995). It's clear he had the ability to get James to trust him enough to open up and articulate a lot of the pains and demons of her life, as well as the great love she had and has for various friends, fellow musicians, and her intense passion for singing. Reading the narrative, I feel like I'm hearing her voice--though of course I don't know the sound or meter of either her actual or narrative/storytelling voice. I'm only halfway done, so no more writing about it until I've reached the end. (pictured above right: Etta James at the 2006 St. Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival (aka Jazzfest))

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Brahms on the Brain...

Two chamber works from Brahms, considered to be by many a master of the form during the Romantic period, in the latter part of the 19th Century--heir to Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Schubert in this genre each of whom brought innovations to the form during the earlier part of the 19th century, again in the Romantic period.

, "Obsession," a thematic video art response by Argentinian YouTuber Alex Dukas, to Johannes Brahms' String Quartet Opus 51, C minor, Movement IV (1873), performed by the internationally renowned Takács String Quartet.

Second a passionate rendering of the final movement of Brahms' Piano Quartet in G minor, Opus 25 (with a visual unfortunately marred by the "evaluation copy" watermark that runs through the entire video). The players are identified as "Akiko" "Jude" and "Chiuchen" so someone's name is missing! This piece caught my ear on the radio today (but played by Emanuel Ax (piano) Isaac Stern (violin) Jaime Laredo (violin) Yo-Yo Ma (cello) from a 1991 Sony release, Brahms: The Piano Quartets, Opp 25, 26 & 60) because of the Hungarian influence (style hongrois) in the melody. As Grove Music Online indicates, "The fiery rondo-finale ‘alla Zingarese’ constitutes the earliest appearance of the style hongrois (and one of the most successful) in Brahms's chamber music."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Passing Strange - 7 Tony Nominations!

Ah, don't it feel good? It's just great that Broadway's nominators can be expansive enough to give this show the recognition it deserves for revitalizing and re-envisioning the Broadway Musical. And the nominations received by Passing Strange are....

• Best Musical
• Book of a Musical - Stew
• Original Score - Stew and Heidi Rodewald
• Leading Actor in a Musical - Stew
• Featured Actor in a Musical - Daniel Breaker
• Featured Actress in a Musical - de'Adre Aziza
• Orchestrations - Stew and Heidi Rodewald

I find it interesting that Daniel Breaker isn't nominated in the Leading Actor in a Musical category. It's an interesting situation when there are basically two lead actors, but the way their respective parts call for them to play lead is quite distinct. Breaker is playing a fully drawn character "Youth", while Stew is playing the Narrator of the life said "Youth". It's obvious Breaker is acting (especially when you find out he's a Shakespearian actor with a thing for Mahler and Brahms) and doing a skilled job of playing a disaffected youth, and then emotionally skittish young man. The role of "Narrator" in Passing Strange meanwhile requires considerable understatement, sharply timed line delivery (think Thornton Wilder's Narrator in Our Town, but really different), and the ability to rock the crowd at a moment's notice. I think I'm just wishing that Coleman Domingo could have qualified for a category, but with the way they assessed the roles that wasn't going to be possible. I'm excited at the nomination of de'Adre Aziza who I think is really marvelous in each of her roles. As I've written previously, she creates fully embodied characters just using the instrument of her body posture, facial expressions, and vocal delivery and with very little changeover time to definitively establish each new character with the audience. Yet each of the portraits she draws is immediate, and quite memorable.
(photos from Opening Night February 28, Belasco Theater: above left, Stew; above right(l-r) Daniel Breaker, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and de'Adre Aziza; below right (l-r) Chad Goodridge, Coleman Domingo, and Eisa Davis)

• Endnotes •

• Christopher Isherwood's February 29, 2008 review of Passing Strange in the New York Times. The page also links to an interview with collaborators Stew and Heidi Rodewald who collaborated on the musical, and other articles on the show.
• 2008 Tony Award nominations coverage by NYT
• 2008 Tony nominations press conference and American Theatre Wing website
• Awards show: Sunday, June 15, 8/7pm; Hosting: Whoopi Goldberg

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Friday, May 09, 2008

AACM Event: The power stronger than itself talks about itself, and performs itself...

Was this a wonderful event? Truly it was, and I got to meet Oliver Lake! Talk to Amina Claudine Myers and Matana Roberts! No photography was allowed at the event so, unfortunately, no pictures from tonight. The pictures here are all from the AACM-Chicago website's member page. There was audio and video documentation of the event, so hopefully that'll be available to the public through AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) at some point.

OK, so I got there late, it was raining and New Jersey Transit was s-l-o-w, and I had underestimated the walking distance from Penn Station to the Community Church on East 35th. The panel was in full, low-key swing when I got there and Greg Tate was happily moderating--like a kid in a candy store. And who wouldn't be? The panel was comprised of AACM musicians, from left to right (and on this page pictured from top to bottom sans Tate): (Tate, moderating); alto-saxophonist/composer Matana Roberts; pianist/composer Amina Claudine Myers; multi-instrumentalist/instrument maker/costume designer & maker Douglas Ewart; author/trombonist/composer/Director of the Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies , George E. Lewis; vocalist Iqua Colson, saxophonist/flautist/composer Henry Threadgill, and trumpeter (multi-instrumentalist)/composer Wadada Leo Smith.

Tate directed questions specifically to Lewis and then more general questions to the panel at large about the impact of the AACM on their lives as creative artists. One interesting question he posed to Lewis was about the choice he made to focus so much on people's backgrounds in the book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: the AACM and American Experimental Music, chronicling the families and communities that shaped the various musicians in the AACM. Lewis responded that it wasn't his initial approach, but once he interviewed saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell (Art Ensemble of Chicago) he rethought the way he was going about interviewing people. Mitchell told the story of staying out late as a kid and having to cross through a large park, Washington Street Park, in order to get home. Sometimes he would just get tired and so would lay down in the park and go to sleep. This was a markedly different Washington Street Park than the one Lewis knew as a child in Chicago where such a thing wasn't imaginable. But Lewis asked an older female relative about this, and she confirmed that yes, napping in that park on the way home was a regular occurrence--and a safe choice for a young person to make at that time.

Lewis realized he needed to show the larger familial and community relations and contexts that shaped these musicians. He also answered that difficult question of the tensions between the Chicago and New York branches of the AACM, explaining that even delineating the membership in that manner was erroneous because people's relationships to each were more complex. Also at some point, with its multiple generations of members, and members spread around the globe, the AACM became an idea, a concept, not just a brick-and-mortar entity. Basically he summarized it by saying whatever the fights and disagreements the AACM is still here and will likely survive all of the people that founded it. Which is why it's "a power stronger than itself."

What was clear from the panelist's comments was that the AACM allowed people a sense of freedom to push past boundaries, to create new languages of music, sound, and composition, and to trust what they were doing, and approach it with serious discipline and passion.

After the panel there was a 30 minute book-signing and AACM members' CDs were available for sale in the lobby. True to the AACM ethic (everybody does everything) Roberts and Myers were peopling the sales table, trading off on signing books and selling CDs. There was a line at the back of the church that went on for about 30 -40 feet and the George Lewis signing lasted almost the whole of those 30 minutes. But for them running out of books, Lewis probably would have been signing books as he was walking on stage to play.

Next was the concert with The Trio. Unfortunately, I have no idea if this is a "historic trio" or one of first times they've played together in this configuration. But this configuration was Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, Wadada Leo Smith on various trumpets, and George E. Lewis on trombone. One thing that cracked me up was that George Lewis had a H2 Zoom recorder set up (but without the windsock) on a mic stand/tripod onstage and was getting his own recording of the event! It was a great hour-long concert. I really appreciated what they were doing, and how they were interacting with each other. It was good to remember that a bunch of the extended techniques that "new music" now claims came from experimentation from musicians working before "new music" was a term, and whose experimentalism or "new music" wasn't (and often still isn't) claimed by the experimental music world as part of that creative genre and legacy.

It's the erasure that can knock you flat. Even George Lewis addressed the frustration of having to do a "reclamation project." As important as such projects are, they also have the odd quality of stopping time, or creating a time pocket, in which while you are spending time re-constructing and reclaiming the past, time doesn't seem to move forward. So the work of reclaiming, and also noting present contributions has to be simultaneous, and that's not as facile a prospect as it may sound. Time stops and then is compressed as people (laypeople, as well as other musicians, composers, and music historian, music writers, musicologists) lacking this knowledge have to absorb the past and fast-forward to the present without the years of classroom teaching or contextualized concert attendance and radio listening (or maybe there wasn't even non-contextualized concert attendance or radio listening), so there's so much factual and aural imbibing and integration that needs to happen it can be frustrating to have to mediate that along with recording history(ies). I deeply appreciate that Lewis went forward with what needed to be done. I look forward to finally reading the work, with the historical research he did and the 90+ interviews, it sounds amazing.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Re-Recording Mixer Chris Boyes on Iron Man Film Sound

Yes, Summer is coming soon, and with it action hero and comic book hero movies. Bring on the popcorn. As a little teaser MIX has a video interview with Oscar winning re-recording mixer Chris Boyes at Skywalker Ranch on the making of the sound design for the character Tony Stark in his Iron Man incarnation.

As of today Iron Man is the #1 US Box Office Movie.

It pays to be first out of the box.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

For more information about the Battle of Puebla in 1862 from which the celebration originates, check out this MexicoOnline site.

Although Cinco de Mayo is not the acknowledged Mexican day of Independence, that's September 15th, Cinco de Mayo has taken on its own significance particularly for Mexican immigrants and Chicanos in the United States. The holiday has also grown in popularity among a growing number of United States anglos and people of color, although sometimes just as an opportunity to drink Corona and Margaritas and eat Mexican food, but food can stimulate the other senses and the brain's curiosity. At least that's the idea with the cultural festivals that always include foods from around the world, ¿qué no?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

It's Here!: A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

Yes, the awaited tome by scholar/musician/composer/MacArthur (Genius) Fellow George E. Lewis, on the historic Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, is out! The AACM-New York has organized an historic event to celebrate its release, which also marks the beginning of its 2008 series.

The AACM Book Release Concert
Friday, May 9, 2008,
7 PM
General Admission
Seniors/Students $12 with currently valid I.D.
The Community Church of New York

40 East 35th Street
(Bet. Madison and Park Ave.)
New York, NY 10016

A Panel Discussion with AACM Members
George Lewis,
Amina Claudine Myers,
Henry Threadgill, (and here)

Wadada Leo Smith,(and here)
Reggie Nicholson,
Iqua Colson &
Matana Roberts

Moderated By:
Renown Journalist, Greg Tate

AACM Book Signing By: Author, George Lewis

Concert Performance By:
The Trio

Muhal Richard Abrams - piano
George Lewis - trombone and electronics
• Wadada Leo Smith - trumpet

• Getting there
B,D,F,N,Q,R,V,W to 34 St.-Herald Sq.
(@ 6th/Ave of the Americas/Broadway) then walk down to Madison Ave, turn right
up one block to 35th St.
6 to 33rd St/Park Ave and walk up Park Ave and take left onto 35th St.
• See Map here

more info on the aacm is at:
AACM Chicago
AACM New York

(pictured above, l-r: Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis; photo John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times)

New York Times article on Lewis's book and the AACM Chicago & AACM New York.
Interview with Matana Roberts on WNYC's Soundcheck, May 6, 2008.

Amina Claudine Myers performs "Dirty No Gooders' Blues"

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The minister-candidate double standard

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Frank Rich has managed to provide some larger context for the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in today's column "The All-White Elephant in the Room." His column questions the double standard of scrutiny experienced by Obama regarding his relationship with Rev, Wright versus that of white Republican current and resigned presidential candidates John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Guiliani to their religious leader associates and endorsers. Here's an excerpt which discusses one of various YouTube videos of Rev. John Hagee, who has endorsed John McCain, after McCain sought out the minister's endorsement:

...white televangelist Rev. John Hagee, lecturing in front of an enormous diorama. Wielding a pointer, he pokes at the image of a woman with Pamela Anderson-sized breasts, her hand raising a golden chalice. The woman is “the Great Whore,” Mr. Hagee explains, and she is drinking “the blood of the Jewish people.” That’s because the Great Whore represents “the Roman Church,” which, in his view, has thirsted for Jewish blood throughout history, from the Crusades to the Holocaust.

Mr. Hagee is not a fringe kook but the pastor of a Texas megachurch. On Feb. 27, he stood with John McCain and endorsed him over the religious conservatives’ favorite, Mike Huckabee, who was then still in the race.

Are we really to believe that neither Mr. McCain nor his camp knew anything then about Mr. Hagee’s views? This particular YouTube video — far from the only one — was posted on Jan. 1, nearly two months before the Hagee-McCain press conference. Mr. Hagee appears on multiple religious networks, including twice daily on the largest, Trinity Broadcasting, which reaches 75 million homes. Any 12-year-old with a laptop could have vetted this preacher in 30 seconds, tops.
Is there more? Yes there is, and none of it is getting the level of playback currently being experienced by Wright's original decontextualized sound bytes, or apparently the new ones after his perhaps ill-advised attempt to address the press on their terms (and in their own house) regarding their characterization of him to date.

YouTube "John Hagee compares Roman [Catholic] Church to Hitler"
NYT reporting on Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson's televised comments blaming 9/11 attacks on the United States having become "a nation of abortion, homosexuality, secular schools and courts, and the American Civil Liberties Union."
YouTube "Falwell and Robertson on The 700 Club after 9/11"
Media Matters for America article "Will MSNBC devote as much coverage to McCain's embrace of Hagee's support as it did to Obama's rejection of Farrakhan?" which provides a number of instances of hate-mongering remarks from Hagee.

Update: With thanks to New Black Man ("A Hand Clap of Praise for Bill Moyers") Bill Moyers' May 2, 2008 essay on Reverend Wright after his conversation with the minister last week on PBS.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Various Notes on the Sean Bell Verdict

from J's Theater: "Thoughts + Poem: Claude McKay"

from Bejata: "The Bell Verdict"

from Kevin Powell (also here): "The Sean Bell Tragedy"

from James Braxton Peterson: "You Know How We Do"

from dnA guesting at Racialicious: "On Sean Bell: Fear Is Cause for Slaughter Only When Victim Is Black"

from Keith Josef Adkins: "Sean Bell and the Obama Bubble"

from Kai Wright: "If They Are So Scared, How Come We're The Dead Ones?"

For more information: Justice for Sean

For multi-media coverage from of the verdict go here.

Unfortunately, Dawn Lundy Martin's blog Negro Element has been removed so I can't link to her incisive 2007 post "How to Kill A Gorilla" which spoke about the number of shots required to take down an average full-grown gorilla (5 ft 5in to 5ft 9 in; 310 - 440 lbs) versus the average human male in response to the Bell shooting. Oh, in case you weren't sure, it doesn't take 50 bullets to take down the average full grown gorilla (the three police officers who killed Sean Bell cumulatively shot Bell 50 times, one took the time to reload).

And finally, this week, from Mark Anthony Neal, a considerably more prolific aspect of violence against black males: "The Chicago Shootings: Why Black Men Kill Each Other"

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