Sunday, July 27, 2008

Recent Favorite Bits: Music...


1. Jill Scott, "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)" Jill Scott: Live in Paris+ (Hidden Beach Recordings, 2008; recorded in 2006)
This DVD is really the hotness. I haven't ever seen Jill Scott live, but this was an amazing sampling of her live show, and the talented musicians she's assembled for her band Fat Back Taffy, particularly Musical Director/Keyboardist Pete Kuzma. The real joy of this concert footage is the intimacy she achieves with the audience, she's constantly addressing them, engaging them, and encouraging the artist-audience dynamic. One particularly special performance on this DVD is the final cut, her post-divorce rendition of "He Loves Me" which she introduces while backlit, a partial halo around her 'fro, by saying in a soft clear voice, "I always wanted to sing a song like this...always." She starts singing, "You love me-" with the barest keyboard accompaniment, her hand to her face as though holding stillness and composure there. The crowd roars then goes silent so as not to miss any of the song. Scott signals the rest of the musicians to hold off on coming in, and holds all of the emotion of the song with just herself and Kuzma on keyboard. Her voice and face in close up are showing so much of the mix of feeling she's obviously going through walking through the performance of this song. But clearly even the audience in the back row get it, because when she gets to the phrasing "...happily excited/By-" she notably swallows. It's less than half a second, yet the audience is right there holding her up singing the lines in her stead "your cologne, your hands," and then she smiles that spirit-sunshine smile, and sings with them "your smile, your intelligence." Without any signal the audience goes silent again and she continues, with the solo keyboard accompaniment eventually cuing in the backup singers and the band. Beautiful synergy between artist and audience.

2. Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings: "Meditations" Other Stories (Three Suites) (482 Music, 2005)
A friend and I have been talking about pianist Cecil Taylor for a while and recently he mentioned Taylor Ho Bynum. Bynum, a cornetist and composer, is a member of Taylor's orchestra and has also collaborated and recorded with saxophonist (and AACM member) Anthony Braxton. I know I've heard of Bynum, but not heard his work. 'Till now anyway. So I checked out his Myspace page and heard "Meditations" from Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings one of his numerous ensembles. You know those moments when you hear a sound and it answers a question, or a longing, or an ineffable "something" that was inside you such that you stop in your tracks and simply say: "Yes." That was my experience listening to this track. SpiderMonkey Strings instrumentation includes string quartet (2 violins, viola, cello), electric guitar, tuba, drums and vibraphone, plus Bynum on cornet. The resulting sound, its color(s) and texture(s) certainly had something to do with my response. The other factor was certainly Bynum's compositional voice and arrangement. I was happily stunned and it made me rethink my ambivalence about the tuba (I really love the tuba, but not very much of how it's often arranged which results in me sometimes forgetting how much I love the tuba). But tuba and vibraphone together, plus the electric guitar and the treble and bass (or at least alto) clefs being represented in the string quartet means the tuba isn't alone providing the bottom, talking to itself, and it's not alone with the vibraphone creating a sympathetic resonance in that alto clef as well (typical vibraphone range is F3 (F below middle C) to F6), but from a different sonic palette than the cello. The conversatin' of the whole is something to behold. Yes.

3. Graham Harley and Michael Polley, "Cheer Up Hamlet" "Slings and Arrows" (CBC/Rhombus Media, 2003-2006)
I've become attached to this Candadian television show about the trials, tribulations, thrills and titillations of a Canadian Shakespeare Theater Festival in the fictional town of New Burbage, which may or may not be loosely based on Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival. There are the usual divas and would-be-divas, a possibly mad genius director, as well as a Shakespearian chorus made up of Graham Harley and Michael Polley whose renditions of "Cheer Up Hamlet" and "Call the Understudy" begin and close the show. And no show about art would be complete without the ubiquitous struggle between art and commerce. The first season features a villain in the form of sociopathic US business woman Holly Day, played by Jennifer Irwin with an imperfect middle-America accent, that periodically slides back into a Canadian one. This is forgivable because her portrayal is so gleefully over the top: e.g. Holly Day driving to the hospital to make a "sympathy" visit to a rival Festival Board Member while mouthing affirmations along with a self-actualization tape: "I am the center of my universe. All things revolve around me. My power is beyond measure. I am God. Please turn tape."

Paul Gross as mentally (and sartorially) shambled, but gifted, director Geoffrey Tennant has a wonderful scene in which he confronts an actor playing Ophelia who has opted to use her recent memories of being stoned to simulate madness. Gross' Tennant seamlessly dives into the deep end of Ophelia's emotions and pulls out again, returning to his director persona and capping it off with a punchline "OK. Let's try it again, without the Vietnam flashback." It's a scene that lasts about 2.5 minutes and it made me wonder why I hadn't seen Gross in more projects. It was riveting.






But this is about the song with lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Bob Martin, and music by Greg Morrison (part of the creative team behind Broadway's The Drowsy Chaperone). It's something of a sing-a-long English drinking song tune and features lines like:

So your uncle's a cad who murdered dad and married mum,
that's really no excuse to be as glum as you've become


and

Your incessant monologizing fills the cast with ennui,
Your "antic disposition" is embarrassing to see,

And by the way, you sulking brat, the answer is "to be!"

Polley (actor/director Sarah Polley's father) and Harley perform the track during the opening credits of every show of the first season. They're at an upright piano in the middle of what turns out to be the theater cast's traditional haunt, having a great old time performing for the regulars and the bar workers. It's the shared camaraderie of two-long time theater actors, along with the unmistakable glee with which Harley and Polley attack these lyrics that makes the whole thing work. Delightful.

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