A few short notes from the end run…
News bites about Micaela Tobin and John Zorn, a noble video premiere by the New Jersey Symphony, and streaming picks, for a week between the big conversations.
Jack Bruce (left) and Kip Hanrahan, possibly circa 1991
Thanks to Kip Hanrahan for the characteristically oblique title I’ve repurposed here as a headline. Thinking back on the Hanrahan recordings that ruled my nights and days during the mid-to-late ’80s, I still can’t decide what’s more beautiful: vocalist Jack Bruce’s signature blend of virility and vulnerability, the hypnotic entanglement of Steve Swallow’s nimble electric bass guitar with Bruce’s own slippery work and Andy Gonzalez’s throbbing double bass, or Hanrahan’s matchless knack for recording percussionists.
The definitive “Two (Still in Half Light)” had appeared already, on Hanrahan’s 1983 magnum opus, Desire Develops an Edge. That version benefited from the presence of a fourth bassist, the incomparable Jamaaladeen Tacuma, plus anxious scratches from the iconic No Wave guitarist Arto Lindsay. It’s Lindsay’s presence that defines Desire, an album that is now and ever shall be on any “Desert Islands Discs” list I might compile—but that’s an essay for another time, if not an earlier decade.
A Few Short Notes from the End Run arrived between Vertical’s Currency – the successor to Desire, and one of the most voluptuously sensual/sensuous records ever made – and Days and Nights of Blue Luck Inverted, where Bruce ceded the microphone to Fernando Saunders, and Hanrahan ceded distribution (briefly) to Sting. An EP not quite 15 minutes in length, Short Notes was a gesture of marking time, a stop-gap that filled some space usefully and appealingly.
That feels like an appropriate reference for today’s newsletter, which similarly is a gesture of marking time between more substantial statements. Speaking honestly, it’s been a rough few weeks on the productivity front. Given the state of the world, it feels petty to complain about personal challenges—yet clearly the state of the world can and does contribute to a dearth of time, industry, and self-assurance. But rest assured, a substantial interview is set to arrive next week, and there’s plenty more to come.
Meanwhile: a few things I’d like to commend to your attention…
Other Voices, Other Views
I knew about the Los Angeles-based soprano and composer Micaela Tobin for her work with the maverick opera troupe The Industry, and for A Vast Room, the fascinating avant-garde vocal album she released last year on A Wave Press. But not until I spotted this tweet from the indefatigable Joshua Minsoo Kim that Tobin had a noise-oriented project called White Boy Scream, or that under that name she’d just issued what unquestionably is one of this year’s benchmark releases, BAKUNAWA, on Deathbomb Arc, a label associated with acts like Clipping., JPEGMAFIA, and Death Grips. Joshua wrote about that tape – as in cassette, y’know – for The Wire, a review that Tobin thoughtfully shared on Twitter. I got to say my little piece about the album in The New Yorker last week…
Now, here comes Joshua again, this time with an extraordinarily frank, revealing Q&A published in his imperative blog-turned-newsletter, Tone Glow. Here’s the kicker: Whether you respond personally to Tobin’s WBS music or not, you should read this interview for its insights into family, heritage, and what non-white artists face as they navigate white-dominated cultural spaces like opera. (One more hat tip: if you’ve not read Joshua’s previous Q&A with producer, writer, and curator DeForrest Brown Jr., cue that one up to follow the Tobin interview.)
Speaking of non-white artists in the opera world, an article titled “No More Whispers: Opera’s Reckoning with Racism” – written by Brian Chang and published yesterday on Ludwig Van Toronto – is one you won’t want to miss. The article covers stories reported on the Instagram account Opera Is Racist, which itself is eye-opening in some pretty alarming ways we all ought to know about.
One more tip of the cap: this one to my old friend and Time Out New York colleague Hank Shteamer, whose deep, deep dive for Rolling Stone into the origins and enduring impact of John Zorn projects like Spy Vs. Spy and Naked City, which bridged the worlds of jazz, improvised music, extreme metal, hardcore punk, and considerably more, is exhilarating and exhaustive—really a virtuoso feat. In addition to an enviable sit-down with Zorn, Hank musters a world-class roll call of collaborators and acolytes to discuss how such projects took shape in the studio and on the bandstand, the liberating effects they had on the players involved, and how these projects changed the musical landscape permanently—setting the stage for latter-day efforts like Baphomet, a swinging prog-metal juggernaut due out tomorrow. One caveat: the YouTube embeds scattered throughout Hank’s article, featuring rare footage of the bands covered therein, exert a gravitational pull from which you’ll be hard-pressed to escape.
Video of the Week
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, an accomplished, ambitious institution even under present conditions, has kept busy throughout its pandemic closure with a delightful series of “Couch Concerts,” devoted to chamber-music performances by NJSO players (some solo, others judiciously accompanied, still others in digitally assembled ensembles), as well as educational offerings and a virtual orchestral performance in which amateurs played alongside the pros.
Gratias Tibi, posted on Tuesday, is the orchestra’s most ambitious offering during the present crisis, as well as its most moving. Composed by the Chilean conductor José Luis Domínguez, artistic director of the NJSO Youth Orchestra, Gratias Tibi honors the frontline workers who’ve made sacrifices and saved lives during the pandemic. The performance involves the full orchestra and the Montclair State University Singers, and the video, assembled by Daniel Graziano with art direction by Raquel Bonassisa, is beautifully done.
Photograph: Adam DeTour
All times listed are EDT.
June 25, 6pm: Pianist Adam Tendler is no stranger to livestream concertizing, having appeared recently in the Kitchen Broadcast series as well as the consistently remarkable online festival ChamberQUEERantine. Tonight, he’ll participate in still another online initiative, Live@NationalSawdust, for which he’ll play his own Texas Letters and How Now, an early Philip Glass piece. Free; live.nationalsawdust.org
June 25, 8pm: Percussionist Maria Finkelmeier, one of the most generous spirits energizing the contemporary arts scene in Boston, plays a solo concert for marimba and electronics for the Celebrity Series At Home initiative. Her program includes her own appealing music, alongside pieces by J.S. Bach, Osnat Netzer, and Eric Sammut. Free with RSVP; celebrityseries.org
June 25-26, 8pm: The International Contemporary Ensemble – whose co-artistic director Ross Karre participated in an extensive conversation about online initiatives not quite a month ago – presents two nights of programming as part of the Quarantine Concerts series produced by Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio. Tonight’s program features Matana Roberts, David Byrd-Marrow, and Levy Lorenzo; tomorrow night brings a showcase of Ensemble Evolution participants, beamed in from around the globe. Donations suggested; twitch.tv/experimental_sound_studio
June 26 at 5pm: Composer-performer Molly Joyce celebrates the recent arrival of her newest infectious release on the New Amsterdam label, Breaking and Entering, with an online release party, featuring performance and conversation. Free with RSVP; facebook.com
June 27 at 8pm: Non-Event, Boston’s premier purveyor of avant-garde sounds, has kept busy during these long weeks of pandemic with a reliable parade of mostly New England-based experimental composers, improvisers, and sound artists. But Saturday’s big Non-Event is something special: a fund raiser for G|Code, a Roxbury initiative that provides young women of color with a safe living space, hi-tech training, and employment assistance. The lineup includes bassist Damon Smith and drummer Jerome Breyerton (playing music by Cecil Taylor and Ben Patterson), singer-songwriter Joseph Allred, bassist Mike Bullock with multimedia artist Linda Gale Aubry, and electronic/noise artist Victoria Shen. Donations suggested; nonevent.org
June 27 at 7pm, June 28 at 2pm: If you’ve not yet checked out a livestream concert from the Village Vanguard, New York City’s most venerable jazz club, you’ve missed scintillating performances by the Billy Hart Quartet and the Vijay Iyer Trio, presented while they’re happening with keen camera work and superb sound. The third presentation in the series finds bassist Joe Martin anchoring a quartet that includes saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Kevin Hays, and drummer Nasheet Waits. $7; villagevanguard.com/live-stream
Photograph: Brantley Gutierrez
Coming next week, a candid conversation with pianist and composer Conrad Tao about current projects, political imperatives, and pursuing ethical work.