Aug 082014
 

Since their 1971 formation on the Dartmouth campus, Pilobolus has been the living embodiment of Curt Sachs’ proclamation that dance “gives and shall always offer something of the ardent desire of humanity for victory over gravity, transfiguration of body and soul, exaltation of creature to the level of creator, a reaching into the infinite . . . .”

Whether they’re folding themselves into teapots, or teaching kids about geometric shapes, or creating hitherto-unimagined human sculptures that defy both gravity and description, Pilobolus combines boundless physical strength with limitless imagination to create dance pieces that titillate and tantalize; that make us think and wonder . . . and, with some frequency, gasp in amazement.

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Pilobolus - Joyce Marquee

This year, the group brought two different shows to Chelsea’s long-running dance mainstay, the venerable Joyce Theater. There are only a few more shows left in this year’s Pilobolus run. Last night, I enjoyed “Program A.” Grab whatever tickets are left, and go see them while you can.

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Even before the show began, we were welcomed into Pilobolus’ world. While the audience filed into their seats, dancers milled about the stage, talking, laughing, warming up, stretching out into dramatic yoga poses, running barefoot circles around the stage perimeter. One dancer would lift another up, the former’s chest serving as the pendulum pivot for the latter’s rod and bob, swinging (seemingly) effortlessly back and forth…

Eventually, the lights dimmed, and we were treated to a brief introductory video, Pilobolus is a Fungus, featuring fluoroscopic swallowing footage, cellular organelles and time lapse imagery of Pilobolus crystallinus, the beautiful and bizarre “dung cannon” fungus from which the group took its name.

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The evening’s program began with On the Nature of Things, a powerful ‘creation mythic’ work of multifarious sensuality, multidirectional sexuality and graceful savagery:

Out of the dark, a man enters with another man slung over his shoulder. He gently drapes the limp figure across a raised round platform (only 2-3 feet in diameter). Each chiseled body is covered by only the smallest of flesh-toned thongs. Is this Jehovah and Adam? Prometheus and his human-clay creation (or, perhaps, his co-creator brother Epimetheus?). A nameless captor with his hapless prey? We don’t know.

He brings out another lifeless form, this time a comparably-suited female (Eve?) (Prometheus’ Athena?) (Epimetheus’ Pandora?), who he stands upright atop the first, still prone body.  Soon, the three bodies are exploring, lifting, crawling, climbing above and writhing about each other, all within the improbable confines of a small cylinder of space above, and just over the edge of, this small round pedestal. The dancers employ their bodies as extensions of the others’, creating a unified organism that moves simultaneously in multiple directions about a single collective center of gravity—the middle body holding the other two upright as they cantilever over opposing edges of their diminutive columnar universe. This pas de ménage à trois takes place in sultry slow motion, requiring extraordinary strength and control to effect such athletic maneuvers while keeping each motion smooth and graceful.

But the seeds of discontent bring this ecstatic, elegant era of exploration to a close, and the woman wrests herself from the two men and their collective perch, her body coming to rest in a static, twisted, exaggerated-seductive pose on the floor, off to one side. The interactions between two men, still on the platform, devolve into an erotically-charged slow-motion battle (for dominance over the other? over the woman?), their bodies still moving in grand, largo arcs as they claw, grapple, parry and defend against one another. Set to a backdrop of mournful, operatic Vivaldi (featuring Clare McNamara’s stunning mezzo-soprano) the three dancers’ interactions conjure an atmosphere of lush, elegant, (Peter Greenaway-like) sensuously-baroque violence.

In the end, only the initial creator/captor remains. This seeming creation myth seems to have ended with the destruction of that which had been created. Perhaps the initial figure represents serial manifestations of the Hindu Trimurti: Brahma (world-creator), Vishnu (world preserver) and Shiva (world destroyer/transformer)… Regardless, this brief adventure was painfully beautiful and incredibly moving.

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While the stage crew changed the scenery for the next piece, we were treated to Robert Löbel’s Wind, an animated short about a world subjected to perpetual gale-force gusts (with a secret!), and the ways that man and beast have adapted to them.

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The next piece was a quirky bit of shadowplay called The Transformation. This kinder, cuter Kafka is an excerpt from the group’s full-length work Shadowland.

We see the silhouette of a woman lying down on the ground. A giant silhouetted arm reaches down from above. The fingers of a Brobdingnagian hand rouse, and then poke, prod and tickle her. I was reminded of the beleaguered mother-with-infant in the opening sequence of 1973’s animated sci-fi masterpiece La Planète sauvage, compared to whom the protagonist here (arguably) fares better . . . the giant umbral hand molds her into a dog (a full-bodied variant of the hand shadow-puppet we all made as kids), and then into a woman-with-dog-head chimera.

The man attached to the hand lowers himself to her level, then hands her a hobo’s bindle. He departs (his silhouette seeming to step over the top of the floor-to-ceiling screen), and thus sends his canine creation, on her own, off into the world . . .

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During the next scene change, we were treated to Anthony Cerniello’s Danielle, a gently discomfiting meditation on aging.

A young Asian girl stares at us, framed head-on in close-up, against a white background and a sonic backdrop of pulsing, dynamic, electronic drones.  She blinks, but her expression never changes; her gaze never falters.  Over the next five minutes, she ages some sixty years in what is carefully assembled to look like a single unbroken shot.

Our mortality processional is arguably conveyed as non-threatening—the titular character retains the same calm, anodyne stare throughout the piece. Yet, while the fact of Danielle’s gradual aging is apparent, we never seem to notice “when” it actually happens. Like our own eventual ripening, hers just sneaks up on us.

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Next up was Licks, a bright and bouncy demonstration of wave mechanics in which the dancers used various lengths of heavy-gauge rope to throw sinusoidal pulses—and each other—around.

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During the brief intermission, two audience members were brought up on stage to help construct a wooden box to be used in [esc], a collaboration with Penn & Teller.

While a presumably pre-recorded Penn Jillette narrated the proceedings (peppered with TSA-themed humor), troupe members carried out a series of modern-day Houdini-inspired escapes. One was heavily duct-taped to a chair; another folded and bound into a fakir-like pose then zipped up inside a duffel bag with a set of pajamas that he somehow managed to change into before freeing himself from his nylon confines; two men, festooned with ‘light B&D’ leather thongs, had their arms wrapped around each other (and a thirteen-foot high pole) then hand-and-footcuffed. In each instance, the dancers’ physical power and bodily control enabled them to break free in suitably dramatic fashion, while Jillette’s ever-present-circus-barker commentary ensured that the tension was consistently ratcheted as they performed their [esc]apes. Although I guessed the role of the audience-built box about a minute into the piece, I gasped no less strongly than anyone else at the piece’s concluding sleight-of-body switcheroo.

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The evening’s final performance, Rushes, involved six dancers and twelve chairs, initially arranged in a center-stage circle. Are we viewing a waiting room? The deck of a ship (as suggested by unidentified water sounds)? A psyche ward? An old age home? The mind of one of the characters?

Some dancers were seated in chairs, while others leapt in to the proceedings from off-stage. With slapstick precision, three men (one of whom might have been dressed as a captain/conductor) lifted, carried, threw and halted each other… combining briefly into a working clock mechanism, then into a human seesaw… and generally cavorted about like an alternate Three Stooges comprised solely of Buster Keatons. Meanwhile, two women engaged in synchronized watching/catching of the aforementioned trio, as one man clutching an old suitcase shuffled slowly along, hunchbacked and flat-footed, at the periphery of the activity. Jaunty dixieland music played in the background, setting a mood akin to the final seconds of the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera.

The initial carnivalesque mood took a darker turn as we followed the man with the suitcase through a number of oneiric and corporeal scenes (the musical accompaniment now included music by Miles Davis, and Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel).

The cast traversed the stage, the chairs alternating as scenery, props and dancing partners. The characters acted out various melancholy tableaux on the dimly-lit stage (seemingly lit by a single light bulb, suspended on a wire from the ceiling)… searching for, dragging along and rejecting one another. This was a dark, populated-but-lonely world, like an Edward Hopper painting crossed with the Twilight Zone’s Five Characters in Search of an Exit (sans cylindrical enclosure).

In one of the evening’s most memorable turns, the man with the suitcase—once the physically compromised outsider, now standing proudly upright—cradled and carried a woman while walking, stately and proudly, along the tops of the chairs. As he strode, others formed a two-man bucket brigade, one passing the last chair in the row to another who placed it just ahead of the man’s next footfall. Had the man blossomed from ugly duckling to virile swan? Or was this merely a Walter Mitty-esque fantasy?

As the woman who he so heroically carried reached up and extinguished the light bulb, we are left wondering which sad reality the darkness describes—was this the end of a dream, or the dreamer?

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I left the theater feeling entertained and elated; aroused and contemplative; exhausted and envigorated.  Next year’s program can’t come quickly enough . . . . .

 

 Posted by at 4:01 pm
Jul 072014
 


Savion Glover's Om - Joyce Marquee

Last night, Savion Glover’s just-debuted show, Om, spun my head around a full 720° at NYC’s Joyce Theater. Against a backdrop of low drones, Psalm 23, Tibetan Monk chants, Hindu and Arabic sung prayers (bookended by Coltrane and Trane-like instrumental passages), on a dark stage covered with yellow candles, gongs/singing bowls, Holy Books and icons of the world’s major religions, LP covers (Coltrane, Lena Horne, Jacksons Mahalia and Michael, &c.), oversize photos of Ghandi, the Dalai Lama and sundry tap greats, and seated non-dancers steeped in meditation, Glover and his group took tap somewhere I had never expected it to go — somewhere DEEP…

Photos of the stage were allowed, post-performance.

Armed with only two heel taps, two toe taps, the varied acoustic properties of of the different sections of the box stage upon which he stood, unbelievable powers of concentration and superhuman muscle control, SG was a wildly expressive one-man percussion ensemble. He began slow, quiet and conversational, his feet speaking the equivalent of South Indian Konnakol (wherein rhythmic compositions are created using percussive vocal syllables—see, e.g., the Vinayakram Brothers’ wonderful vocal three-way in this video, from 44:14 to 49:42).

Over time, his pace and intensity increased… each tap, slide, shuffle and STOMP perfectly placed. At times, I could pick out which hits represented the bass drum, snare, hi-hat and crash cymbal of an imaginary drum kit. With one foot, he tapped out faster (and more accurate) sustained rolls than most drummers can with four limbs flying. His speed, his expressiveness, and his stamina kept the audience’s collective jaw floorbound throughout the performance. In several sections, he performed a powerful polyrhythmic pas de deux with cast member Marshall Davis Jr., the two men alternately egging each other on and setting up dovetailing crossrhythms that emerged from the stage as a unified, driving force. All the while, the background monks intoned and the sacred drones lulled the audience into an alpha state frequently upended by “how’d they do that” gasps. Although the show was largely improvised, all motion stopped on a dime as the last musical backdrop came to a sudden conclusion, the last of the evening’s many awe-inspiring moments.

This was not at all what I had (unfairly?) come to expect from a night of tap. There was no showboating, no top hats, no ‘jazz hands’… it didn’t ‘swing’… the pedal pyrotechnics, superimposed as they were upon the resonant, mystical Eastern drones, conjured feelings of a deep, long-wrought, fearsomely peacefully devotional rapture… akin to the kanjira playing of V. Selvaganesh or John Mclaughlin’s alternately blissful and blistering guitar work with Mahavishnu Orchestra (whose song title “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love” captures perfectly the essence of each Glover footfall). Spiritual jazz lives on, and it required no voices or instruments…..


tage, large section.jpg

Sadly, I found no video from this show on The Internets. Hopefully, it has been professionally filmed, and will be commercially released. If you have a chance to see this (he and his group will be performing it at the Joyce until July 12), you owe it to yourself to check it out…..

 Posted by at 2:42 pm
Oct 272013
 

Dominique Leone Band - Group02.jpg

One of many cool aspects of the two recent NYC Fred Frith’s Gravity Band shows was that both nights’ opening bands were comprised of Gravity Band members. Opening the second night’s show was the Dominique Leone Band, led by Dominique Leone (vocals and keys) and featuring Ava Mendoza (guitar heroine), Jason Hoopes (bass), Aaron Novik (bass clarinet) and Jordan Glenn (drums).

Leone’s playfully complex music was well-suited for this particular opening slot. The majority of the night’s pieces fused Reich- (and Magma)-like repetition with open-vowel scatting, Jason Hoopes’ full-fretboard bass calisthenics and Ava Mendoza’s potent guitar riffing and soloing which called to mind Deep Purple, Sonny Sharrock and the Magic Band in equal measure. Jordan Glenn played with a fast, light (and sometimes furious) touch, keeping perfect time and filling space beautifully.

I’ve lamented, previously, the shameful and irrational lack of bass clarinet in rock music, and Aaron Novik brought tremendous punch, punctuation, and timbral character to the group’s low end.

A series of images from the show can be found here but, as always, a video says a thousand pictures. So here’s the DLB performing UB313, perhaps/presumably named after Eris (née Xena), the Kuiper Belt denizen whose name will be familiar to anyone who has followed with any rigor the tragic (if rational) demotion of Pluto from beloved outlier planet to discarded dwarfen detritus:

[Youtube appears to default to 360p, so be sure to click on the little ‘gear’ icon in the lower right-hand corner of the video and select the highest resolution that your computer will accommodate happily]

 Posted by at 9:16 pm
Oct 212013
 


S4 - Sold Out Show

There’s been a small, steadily-smoldering movement underfoot over the last three-or-so decades, of composers and performers dedicated to demonstrating how classical music can move not only head and heart, but also fists and unmentionables.

Last Saturday night, Tribeca New Music pursued their noble mission—viz., bridging the gap between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ musics, and filling the public’s ears with beautiful music penned by still-breathing composers—by bringing four of them to The Cell Theatre in Chelsea.

Currently at the head (or, perhaps, some other extremity) of this critical movement is the Sirius Quartet, named appropriately after the brightest star in the night sky (technically it’s a binary star system, but you know…), not to mention one that has stirred up a fair amount of interest and controversy over the decades.

From 1985 to 1995, violist Ron Lawrence played in the Soldier String Quartet, arguably the first of the latter-day “rock star” string quartets (the Ardittis played some unquestionably bold and progressive modern material as far back as ’74, but the Soldiers put out on SST Records, so that’s where my vote goes). They referred to themselves, back in the day, as “the Ramones of classical music.” He has played, over the years, with a staggering array of new music heavyweights including John Zorn, John Luther Adams, John Cale, near-John Jonas Hellborg, and non-Johns Anthony Braxton, James “Blood” Ulmer, Elliot Sharp, Phill Niblock, Mary Rowell, Nick Didkovsky, Robert Dick, Elodie Lauten, Leroy Jenkins, and Newband (though, as far as I know, he has not yet worked with Dave Soldier’s precocious pachyderm protégés).

Violinist Gregor Huebner is an extraordinary performer (and a none-too-shabby composer), who leverages simultaneously the classical master’s rigor, the jazzman’s improv lexicon, and the Eastern European gypsy’s fire. The first time I saw him play was some years ago at Birdland, NYC, in the Richie Beirach Quintet (with Randy Brecker, George Mraz und Billy Hart), and he held his own (hell, he flat-out shone) even in such esteemed company.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei is a speed demon. Ysaÿe via Vai. He definitely brings The Rock to the group, spending a lot of his time in fifth gear, and we are all better for it.

In the hands of ‘cellist Jeremy Harman, the instrument sings, it cries, it wails. It also pounds, throbs and propels the group across sometimes calm, sometimes raging, sometimes deeply polymetric/polyrhythmic seas.

All four do a tremendous job of taking traditional classical instruments, presenting them in a traditional classical grouping, and smashing any extant preconceptions of classical music being fusty, pompous, antediluvian, high-brow elitist entertainment for the blue-haired bourgeois (which it isn’t, but opportunities to pigeonhole abound). They make everyone rock. Get up and dance with your bad selves…

For nearly two hours, the group dazzled the packed house with virtuosic, rock-inflected, jazz-grounded, classical-minded polyglot music that was by turns lilting and churning, diaphanous and crushing, placid and rhythmic, soothing and fiery… and always compelling and always exhilarating.

A series of images from the show can be found here, but a video says a thousand pictures. So buckle up for S4 stretching out and letting it fly with Get in Line, a piece written by Chern Hwei:

[Youtube appears to default to 360p, so be sure to click on the little ‘gear’ icon in the lower right-hand corner of the video and select the highest resolution that your computer will accommodate happily]

 Posted by at 8:19 pm
Sep 242013
 

On two nights last week (September 19 and 20), luminary musician/composer Fred Frith and his right-on-target Gravity Band treated audiences at Brooklyn’s Roulette to a rousing reworking of Gravity, his brilliant 1980 rock/jazz/prog/folk-music-of-indeterminate-origin LP.

I will soon be posting additional video excerpts from the latter evening’s performance. With this initial post, however, I want to share with you a video of a timely, and very touching, moment from that show.

At the conclusion of the album’s rollicking performance, an obviously choked-up Frith confirmed the news that had started circulating online, that his “dear friend and bandmate Lindsay Cooper passed away, a couple of days ago.”

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Ms. Cooper brought a unique instrumental voice (primarily oboe and bassoon, but also saxophone and flute) to the recordings of a number of daring and innovative artists, including Comus, Henry Cow, Art Bears, National Health, Egg, Mike Oldfield, Steve Hillage, Hatfield and the North, News from Babel, Marx Brothers (with vocalist Sally Potter and ‘cellist Georgie Born), Rova Saxophone Quartet, and David Thomas and the Pedestrians, not to mention a number of recordings released under her own name.

She was also a political activist, who commingled her musical and political ideals, inter alia, by co-founding the Feminist Improvising Group (later the European Women’s Improvising Group).

Per The Wikipedias: “Cooper was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1970s, but did not disclose it to the musical community until the late 1990s when her illness prevented her from performing live. In September 2013, Cooper died from the illness at the age of 62, 15 years after her retirement.”

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Mr. Frith announced that they were going to perform a song that Ms. Cooper had originally played on—the Art Bears’ Terrain—adding that “we are actually celebrating her being free of her multiple sclerosis cage . . . and her setting such an incredible example.”

Terrain was the perfect song with which to pay homage to Ms. Cooper that evening. Ms. Cooper played on the original Art Bears version, which was included as a bonus track on the (now out-of-print?) East Side Digital CD reissue of Gravity.

The song’s subtle, graceful dissonance, the gentle disquiet provided by the staccato bass clarinet, and the simultaneously-silky-and-cerebral cross-rhythms together convey a mood that is gripping, but neither joyous nor mournful. This song—particularly in this retelling—reflects the emotional complexities of a life replete with both profound achievements and insurmountable restrictions… and of the “celebration” of the occasionally-beneficent power of death. It was a beautiful recitation of a fascinating piece of music.

And a wonderful tribute to Mr. Frith’s lost friend and musical compatriot:

[Youtube appears to default to 360p, so be sure to click on the little ‘gear’ icon in the lower right-hand corner of the video and select the highest resolution that your computer will accommodate happily]

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Jun 142013
 

Through each bout of vernal darkness, the virginal arboreal white of this Pyrus calleryana was set ablaze by the electrostatic emissions of the abutting theater’s marquee. Technology supersedes nature; Art overtakes life.

No filters, no effects, no external influence — I paint what I see.

[Chelsea, NYC; April 2013]

 Posted by at 12:28 pm
May 292013
 

The Living Earth Show is guitarist Travis John Andrews and percussionist Andrew Meyerson. They play diverse works for guitar (clean or processed… plucked/tapped/E-bow’d… and occasionally microtonal), live and pre-recorded electronics, harmonica, melodica, and percussive allsorts (struck/bowed vibes, struck/bowed cymbals, drums, glockenspiel, mixing bowls, disposable electric toothbrushes, &c.).

They cover vast sonic territory, and they take the stage with neither safety net to catch ’em nor sheet music to consult… yet they manage to play (unison and counterpoint) with seemingly-telepathic ease. This is no mean feat considering the complexity of the six pieces they played at the fifth and final concert of Tribeca New Music‘s Festival 2013, held in The Cell, Chelsea’s most intimate home for the performing arts.

I have included HD video of one of these pieces — “Double Happiness” by composer Chris Cerrone — at the end of this post. The program also included works by Brian Ferneyhough, Samuel Carl Adams, Luciano Chessa, Timo Andres and Adrian Knight.

For “Double Happiness,” Travis John Andrews played electric guitar (whose sound was modified, live, with reverb and resonant filters) and harmonica:

Andrew Meyerson deftly handled three-sometimes-four mallets and a melodica, all the while maintaining an organic connection with the guitar parts:

Myerson’s timing and technique were impeccable. In one section of “Double Happiness,” the occasional metal disc accent hit with the gold-tipped mallet never caused him to break the ostinato pattern being played on the ‘excerpted’ glockenspiel with the two red-tipped mallets:

They played against a backdrop of sound assembled and reproduced live via a patch created in Max/MSP, a modular visual programming language used by artists of all stripes to create bespoke multimedia software that is equally suitable for static installation and live performance settings.


In the words of composer Christopher Cerrone:

I wrote Double Happiness in the fall of 2012 in New York, though much of the piece was inspired by a summer spent in Italy while I was a fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation’s castle in Umbria. I spent a lot of my time in Italy collecting field recordings of the Italian countryside: the sounds of church bells, train stations, and rainstorms. With these, I constructed an emotional narrative that eventually became Double Happiness. The title of the work comes from an eponymous collection of short stories by my friend Mary-Beth Hughes. Mary-Beth’s stories often create works of sustained melancholy that seems to ring very closely with the piece as I began writing it.

Double Happiness consists of three large movements connected by two nearly identical interludes. The first movement, “Self Portrait, Part 1,” explores the simple yet obsessive repetition of four melancholic notes. The guitar, which is detuned throughout the entire piece, plays out of tune harmonics against the gentle sustained notes in the vibraphone. Both are paired with ambient noises and simple sustaining drones that hover in and around theses pitches and maintain the static mood. The movement ends optimistically, as the four repeated notes slowly transform into a descending chorale that leads inexorably to a celebratory D major chord.

The mood of the first movement cuts off quickly, like the hot dry summer in Umbria that abruptly ended with a long and extreme rainstorm. I used the sound of this rainstorm to create the same effect in my interludes in Double Happiness. The first interlude features the rainstorm and two gentle chords in the guitar and the vibraphone-my transcription of four church bells heard ringing asynchronously in the distance. If the first Self Portrait explores extremes of melancholy, the third movement, “Self Portrait, Part II,” is a study in ecstatic joy that comes from the feeling of artistic creation, which can feel as uncontrollable as melancholy. The movement features a field recording of a rhythmic train station bell. This sound is coupled with a persistent rhythmic melody played on glockenspiel, crotales, and constructed metal pipes, and is augmented with resonant and microtonal electronics that produce a brilliant metallic sheen.

The third movement cuts off as quickly as the first and leads directly into the next interlude. This second interlude is more austere than the first: the rainstorm underscores a transcription of a simple and extraordinarily resonant church bell ringing against the chords of the guitar. The final movement, ‘New Year’s Song (for Sarah),” is a place of repose between the two extremes. The performers play a simple song comprised of long and sustained melodies against sustained chords on a melodica and a harmonica. A brief moment of electronics features the composer himself playing violin and accordion. The movement ends gently, peacefully, and happily.


The Living Earth Show, performing Chris Cerrone’s “Double Happiness”:

 Posted by at 6:31 pm
May 212013
 

In Concert #1 of the Tribeca New Music Festival 2013, held in Chelsea’s beloved intimate home for the performing arts The Cell, composer and wind instrumentalist Michael Lowenstern made a convincing case for the undersung’s bass clarinet’s place in the rock idiom.


He played four pieces that night, all of which I filmed — You’ll get to see/hear two of them in just a few minutes.


For worse or for worse, rock/pop music simply doesn’t showcase the bass clarinet.

Jazz aficionados have many opportunities to relish the bass clarinet in its full power and glory, thanks to the capacious lungs and capable hands of Eric Dolphy, Bennie Maupin, Herbie Mann, Michel Pilz and others…

But rock has only offered the slimmest of pickings. You can get a novelty/nostalgia taste in The Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four, and there’s that declicious moody dirge from 4:15 to 5:15 in King Crimson’s Epitaph but, in both instances, the bass clarinet is merely used to add some texture to the B♭ clarinet parts.

Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica 2LP features two bass clarinet players, (the Cap’n and Victor Hayden), but the instrument is generally featured only in fragmentary bursts.

The greatest and most consistent source of bass clarinet (and contrabass clarinet) in rock music (jazz-tinged or otherwise) was Frank Zappa, whose Mothers of Invention featured the bold low tones of Bunk Gardner (see, e.g., here and here), as well as Mike Altschul, John Rotella, David Ocker, and Kurt McGettrick. Of course, posthumous releases aside, there hasn’t been any new FZ music since 1988.

As far as I can tell, the bass clarinet has made no further inroads to metal than this (decidedly righteous) Cannibal Corpse play-along.


But in just four short pieces, Michael Lowenstern demonstrated that the bass clarinet has an important place in today’s music — not just as a textural base or a bit of tone color, but as the center of attention.

The first piece, “Trip,” was a jaunty travelogue for bass clarinet, more bass clarinet, Korg Kaossilator, &c., complete with its own mellow techno “filtered synth pad” break:

“Trip” is the opening track on his 2010 album “Spin Cycle,” which can be purchased via iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and elsewhere.


Next, he pulled XX and XY volunteers from the audience to help him perform “Lost in Translation,” an hysterical recontextualization of British English phrasebook lesson snippets. While he created a one-man Latin dance party in the background (using a Native Instruments Maschine, sampled shaker, and mini keyboard), the volunteers alternated triggering phrases with His and Her iPhones. While none of the actual utterances were off-colo(u)r, the resulting “conversation” was dripping with abstract, physically-as-well-as-syntactically-improbable innuendo:


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“Lost in Translation”

In the third number, “My Mouth,” Lowenstern wrought jazz, blues and gospel out of his bass clarinet and blues-harp, against the slow Boom-Bap of pre-assembled bass and percussion samples:


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“My Mouth”

The fourth piece, “What’d I Say,” opened with a virtuosic-yet-funky solo for Akai EWI 4000s MIDI Wind Controller. Lowenstern used his Maschine to hammer out loops of bombastic distorted e-piano, funky drums, and the disembodied voice of a certain soul giant… He set the sampled loops a-rolling, and then solo’d over the whole thing, much to the audience’s protracted delight:


What Michael Lowenstern proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, is that the bass clarinet holds tremendous potential as a featured instrument in a rock/funk/blues/hip-hop context. It’s unique sound, capable of conveying humor, sorrow or malevolence by turns, just needs more people to rise to the challenge and build up their chops and their repertoires.

 Posted by at 1:23 am
Apr 092013
 

Mystery Tree of Riverdale

What to make of this bizarre, hunched-over tree, lying semi-prostrate over Johnson Avenue in the Bronx… the lower two-thirds of whose dorsal branches have grown — obviously for some time — in purely vertical fashion? Are they reaching for something/someone? Are they being pulled by some unseen arboreal hand?

 Posted by at 9:43 pm
Mar 272013
 

Scratched unceremoniously onto the exterior wall of the Sephora outpost in the Meatpacking District:

    It’s hard to decide what’s best about this:

  • the fact that someone bothered to scratch Zappa’s name anywhere;
  • that one lowercase letter;
  • that fact that he (the graffitor was, undoubtedly, male) specifically opted to do it on the exterior of a posh beauty products ’boutique’ situated in a 1%-playground nabe, considering FZ’s well-documented take on both the dolls and the dolling up for which such environs are renowned;
  • the half-hearted removal attempt, which made it approximately one good stroke after the do-goodnik admitted defeat on that all-important first character.

Mind you, it’s all fun and games until Gail finds out… this partic’lar act of cultural vandalism isn’t merely an NYC “quality of life” infraction… it’s also Federal Trademark Infringement:

FZ TM Reg. No. 2755830

“Now did you cause . . . this misery . . .”

 Posted by at 10:13 pm
Jan 162012
 

… I share with you a contemporaneous speech that you probably haven’t heard (of).

Just before Dr. King took the stage to deliver his I Have a Dream speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the grandfather of one of my most treasured friends took the podium and delivered this short, stirring, still-apropos address. Since you are all presumably familiar with the former… let me introduce to you, today, the latter:

Joachim Prinz — March on Washington Speech.

Takeaway quote:

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not ‘the most urgent problem.’ The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

Joachim Prinz — March on Washington Speech

Joachim Prinz — March on Washington Speech

 Posted by at 1:05 am
Jan 132012
 

Relax, don’t worry—everything will be all right…

…or, at least, no worse than it would be on a Friday by any other name…..

To simultaneously soothe and rile you, here is a lovely duet/duel between F. Zappa and L. Shankar, circa Hallowe’en 1978:


For more information (and audiovisual recollections) regarding the once-wonderful, now NYU student-full Palladium, look here and here and here.

 Posted by at 12:46 am
Jan 112012
 

This past weekend’s onslaught of Music For Fans kicked in to high gear, Sunday, with a glorious reproduction/transmogrification of Brian Eno‘s legendary 1973 album Here Come the Warm Jets.

Make no mistake: presenting one of the most unique, illogical and inexplicably compelling rock albums ever made was no mean feat. Eno himself never attempted its live performance.

This review presumes familiarity with the source material. If you are new to th’ fold, hie thee at once to the closest (or most convenient) purveyor of sonic treasures, open sufficiently wide thy wallet, and plug, posthaste, this most unfortunate of lacunae in your musical preparation.

WNYC Radio engineer, guitarist and et ceterist Rob Christiansen assembled a top-flight core band, comprising:

himself…

Rob Christiansen's well-deserved Frampton moment

Rob Christiansen's well-deserved Frampton moment

Brett Lefferts on keys…

Brett Lefferts (keys)

Brett Lefferts (keys)

Jessica Bruder on six strings…

Jessica Bruder on six strings

Jessica Bruder on six strings

Glenn Mohre on six more strings…

Glenn Mohre on six more strings

Glenn Mohre on six more strings

Roger Paul Mason (bass) and Vince Fairchild (keys):

Roger Paul Mason (bass) and Vince Fairchild (keys)

Roger Paul Mason (bass) and Vince Fairchild (keys)

The visually way-in-the-back, but sonically all-encompassing Bill Bowen on drums…

Bill Bowen (drums)

Bill Bowen (drums)

Ian Peksa on marching and percussives:

Sonic and symbolic, Ian played a mean drum...

Sonically and symbolically, Ian played a mean drum...

And the redoubtable, resplendent and bi-coastal Trouble Dolls on backing vocals, incidental percussion and front-line glam(our):

The Trouble Dolls, (L to R):  Pam Weis, Cheri Leone, Chris McBurney and Matty Karas

The Trouble Dolls, (L to R): Pam Weis, Cheri Leone, Chris McBurney and Matty Karas


Christiansen could have stopped there, and a fine show would have been inevitable. But he, together with producer Dan Efram opted to give us so much more, assembling an inventive roster of guest singers/musicians:

  • Bad Seed, Grinderman-man and Vanity Settee Jim Sclavunos;
  • Jim Thirlwell (Foetus, Wiseblood, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, &c.)
  • Vernon Reid (Living Colour, Ronald Shannon Jackson/Decoding Society, Black Rock Coalition, lots lots more)
  • Paul Duncan (Warm Ghost)
  • Bryan Scary (Shredding Tears)
  • Dominic Cipolla (Phantom Family Halo)
  • Siobhan Duffy (The Gunga Din, Angels of Light, God Is My Co-Pilot)
  • Travis Morrison (Dismemberment Plan)
  • Rachel Lears (Os Postiços, The Mystery Keys)
  • Sohrab Habibion (Obits, Edsel)

The show was emceed by radio legend, Eno fan and guitarist-of-no-small-stature John Schaefer:

John Schaefer:  a more well-schooled emcee could not be found

John Schaefer: a more well-schooled emcee could not be found


The show touched down with all cylinders firing — Paul Duncan and Bryan Scary captured and projected Needles in the Camel’s Eye‘s abstract urgency, creating a sound that was bigger than the both of ’em:

Paul Duncan (L.) and Bryan Scary (R.): one eye, two needles, no waiting

Paul Duncan (L.) and Bryan Scary (R.): one eye, two needles, no waiting


Next, Trouble Doll Cheri Leone and Dominic Cipolla carried the crowd through Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch, an odd historical-fiction melodrama centering around real-life ostensible-pyrokineticist A. W. Underwood:

Cheri Leone and Dominic Cipolla: no choice need be made

Cheri Leone and Dominic Cipolla: no choice need be made


Getting the next song right was particularly important.

Robert Fripp’s legendary Baby’s on Fire solo, an incendiary assault that beats the listener’s mind and body into submission for three-fifths of the song’s duration, has rightfully earned pride of place in the pantheon of rock guitar expression. Three of the greatest minutes of anything ever caught on tape. Finding a suitable soloist would be no easy task.

In walked Vernon Reid, whose unique right hand position makes it look like he is not so much wielding his axe as clutching a machine gun. The visual metaphor was apt, as Reid brought the fire(power) to his unrelenting solo for the better (and best) part of Baby’s on Fire:

Vernon Reid soloing on "Baby's on Fire"

Vernon Reid lighting Baby on Fire


Pairing Reid’s machine gun etiquette with Siobhan Duffy’s chanteuse stylings was just the sort of counterintuitive coupling that Eno himself would have relished:

Vernon Reid and Siobhan Duffy

Vernon Reid and Siobhan Duffy


Cheri Leone returned to the stage, adding new-millenial nuance to the distraught ’50s nostalgia of Cindy Tells Me

Cheri tells us.

Cheri tells us.

… while the other Trouble Dolls kept the crowd swaying:

3/4 of the Trouble Dolls

3/4 of the Trouble Dolls


Next, Paul Duncan lurched through the discordant angst of Driving Me Backwards:

Paul Duncan, ever-driven

Paul Duncan, ever-driven


On Some Faraway Beach was then sung (more or less) by Travis Morrison:

Travis Morrison, faraway

Travis Morrison, faraway


Suddenly, the stage appeared to have been beset upon by a seven-foot-tall lumberjack in a surprisingly dapper pink suit. ’twas, in fact, Jim Sclavunos, who careened (with equal parts sonic and sartorial aplomb) through the terrifying tale of Blank Frank, by turns howling and hebephrenic:

Jim Sclavunos: Blank Frank's messenger

Jim Sclavunos: Blank Frank's messenger


Dead Finks Don’t Talk brought Siobhan Duffy and Travis Morrison back to the fore.

Ms. Duffy nicely captured the sly coyness of Eno’s original oration. Mr. Morrison had the devil-may-care-bopping-in-place-with-one-hand-in-pocket-and-t’other-grasping-a-brew move down pat, although one wishes he had spent a little more time learning the lyrics, centering his pitch and the like…

Don't talk...

Don't Talk


Next came one of the musical high-points of the evening, viz., a short, sweet, swirling, squelchy, sprawling, spiraling soundscape by Jim Thirlwell, serving as the brain-cleaning segue from Dead Finks Don’t Talk into Some of Them Are Old. It was impossible to divine, from my angle, from what diminutive demon box he called forth these raging spirits:

Jim Thirlwell and tiny, unidentified (but decidedly effective) noisemaker

Jim Thirlwell and tiny, unidentified (but decidedly effective) noisemaker


Following a lovely, lilting flute-and-recorder lead-in, Rachel Lears and Sohrab Habibion harmonized sincerely through Some of Them Are Old

Rachel Lears and Sohrab Habibion: what's old is now new

Rachel Lears and Sohrab Habibion: what's old is now new

… accompanied by a three-way slide-guitar interlude:

Matty Karas and Jessica Bruder: Slides 1 and 2

Matty Karas and Jessica Bruder: Slides 1 and 2

Rob Christiansen:  Slide 3

Rob Christiansen: Slide 3


The album drew to a close in suitably grand fashion, with the band slowly building on the opening riff of Here Come the Warm Jets while a two-man processional snaked slowly through the rapt audience and joined the rest of the band onstage:

Glenn Mohre and Ian Peksa, leading us to the alb's grand conclusion

Glenn Mohre and Ian Peksa, leading us to the alb's grand conclusion

The sound, now a twenty-eight string extravaganza, continued building:

Glenn Mohre, Roger Paul Mason and Rob Christiansen, strings 1 through 16

Glenn Mohre, Roger Paul Mason and Rob Christiansen: strings 1 through 16

John Schaefer and Jessica Bruder: strings 17 through 28

John Schaefer and Jessica Bruder: strings 17 through 28


The song reached its culmination as the Trouble Dolls sang the admittedly nonsensical, albeit strangely moving, lyrics… the heart soared, while the head scratched itself:

Nothing to say... and, thankfully, they said it disirregardless...

Nothing to say... and, thankfully, they said it disirregardless...

Finally, Messrs. Mohre and Peksa returned to the primordial sea from which their procession began:

Glenn Mohre and Ian Peksa: All good (and great) things must come to an end

Glenn Mohre and Ian Peksa: All good (and great) things must come to an end


The album completed, the band soldiered on through four dazzling encores.

First up, Bryan Scary returned to tell the tawdry, under-told tale of The Seven Deadly Finns.

This bawdy beast sits at the midpoint of an aesthetic arc drawn between the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R. and the Damned’s “1 of the 2.” Bursting with raw punk energy and sung with a lecherous sneer, it prefigured British punk by a good two years. Brimming with sexual double-entendres and cobbling together everything from Japanese erotic torture references to puns on the name of the, er, progenitor, of Systems Theory, it balances (however metastably) erotica with esoterica. Never released on any album, it remains one of Eno’s lesser-known masterpieces.

Although variety is the spice of life / A steady rhythm is the source...

''Although variety is the spice of life / A steady rhythm is the source...''


The altitudinous and grandiloquent Jim Sclavunos returned for a jaunty regaling of Backwater:

Jim Sclavunos: recasting the logistics and heuristics of the mystics

Jim Sclavunos: recasting the logistics and heuristics of the mystics

Jim Sclavunos and the Trouble Dolls: slated for becoming divine

Jim Sclavunos and the Trouble Dolls: slated for becoming divine


John Schaefer and Vernon Reid returned to the stage, for a rousing and raging version of Third Uncle, beginning with a stratospheric multi-guitar rave-up, punctuated by the torrent that was Jim Sclavunos’ manic and propulsive timbales (made possible, apparently, by virtue of his inspired, impromptu, mid-rehearsal purchase of said drums).

Schaefer’s didactic delivery made for a subtle but nice shift from Eno’s original detached recitation. Having listened to the man through the radio box for about thirty (!) years, and being used to his calmly authoritative broadcasting demeanor, it was particularly gratifying to see him command as cacophonous a stage as this…

Jessica Bruder, Bill Bowen, Vernon Reid, Rob Christiansen and Jim Sclavunos:  all Heaven breaking loose

Jessica Bruder, Bill Bowen, Vernon Reid, Rob Christiansen and Jim Sclavunos: all Heaven breaking loose

Glenn Mohre, Jessica Bruder, Bill Bowen and Vernon Reid: more Heaven, more breaking

Glenn Mohre, Jessica Bruder, Bill Bowen and Vernon Reid: more Heaven, more breaking

Eno sayeth: ''There was John...''

Eno sayeth: ''There was John...''


For the dramatic conclusion, Dominic Cipolla and Cheri Leone re-possessed the stage for The Jezebel Spirit, the right funky exorcism rite that concluded Side One of Eno/Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts album (Remember albums? Remember sides?)

Armed with only his bible, some dangling religious tchotchkes and a bullhorn, Cipolla successfully called Jesus “Out… Out…” and expelled the Jezebel spirit that dwelled deep within Cheri…

… or did he?!?!?

Dominic Cipolla and Cheri Leone: ''Out. Out Jezebel. Come out now!!''

Dominic Cipolla and Cheri Leone: ''Out. Out Jezebel. Come out now!!''

3/4 of The Trouble Dolls and all of Glenn Mohre, keeping the deadliest of grooves

3/4 of The Trouble Dolls and all of Glenn Mohre, keeping the deadliest of grooves

''I break your power Jezebel.  Loosen your hold on her mind...''

''I break your power Jezebel. Loosen your hold on her mind...''


And thusly, the evening ended.

The core group did a heroic job throughout, successfully channeling the many moods of this protean production.

They, and the guest singers and musicians put on a blazing show that successfully captured the anarchy that first forced its way into unsuspecting ears nearly forty years ago. The audience made their pleasure known:

Lost forever in a happy crowd.

Lost forever in a happy crowd.

The bottom line: You should have been there.

With any luck, Messrs. C and E will be bringing this show to your town in time for this grand album’s proper anniversary………………….

 Posted by at 5:37 pm
Jan 082012
 

Friendly coup cum teenage dance party.

Featuring, after about eight minutes, Wobble on drums — rather than sheepishly miming their “hits,” the band rightly embraced the artifice, first by forsaking their prerecorded roles, and ultimately by swapping instruments … An undoubtedly surprised Dick Clark proved to be a very good sport about the whole affair (while the show’s insurance underwriter probably had an apoplectic fit):

 Posted by at 12:28 am
Jan 072012
 

This weekend is and will continue to be replete with bespoke Music for Fans.

First up, last night, NYC’s ambient cognoscenti were treated (literally and figuratively—the show was free) to a lush, luscious, and transportive audiovisual rendering of Brian Eno‘s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album in the spacious World Financial Center Winter Garden.

The free event, dubbed The Apollo Project”, was the kick-off of this year’s New York Guitar Festival.

The core of the group consisted of instrumental duo itsnotyouitsme (violinist Caleb Burhans and guitarist Grey McMurray) playing guitar, violin and keyboards, Bob Dylan/Levon Helm/Woodstock Mountains Revue alum Larry Campbell on pedal steel, and Phish bassist Mike Gordon.

The were joined, at various times, by musicians Jeff Parker (Tortoise), Noveller‘s Sarah Lipstate, and veteran master of guitar-texture David Torn. They were accompanied, throughout, by visuals extracted from filmmaker Craig Teper‘s as-yet-unfinished documentary about Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, “Man in the Right Seat.”

Apollo has always struck me as a unique album, its drifting spacescapes like the empyrean An Ending (Ascent) interspersed among airy country-inflected pieces like the lilting Deep Blue Day. Country music made a strong impression on a young Eno, who listened to American Armed Forces radio as a child in Woodbridge. In Eno’s hands, the Very American form takes on a quintessential, aethereal, almost weightless quality.

In the hands of the Apollo Project musicians, the diaphonous raw material was given propulsive power, lifting and carrying the audience into the lunar, cosmic, Earth-from-afar and occasionally abstract realms depicted on the raised-high video screen.

The main ingredient for me was Larry Campbell’s pedal steel. As I learned, not too long, ago, the mechanics behind creating deceptively-simple-sounding pedal steel parts are incredibly complex (be it on a real or sampled instrument). Campbell’s playing was exhilarating and infused the material with an unexpected vigor and liveliness, whether he was filling the low end with drone, punctuating walls of sound with sharply-plucked high notes, or gently lifting/lowering the audience with perfectly-placed glisses. Free from the tired tropes of ‘new’ country, this pedal steel soared through Terra incognita (or perhaps, using Lunar nomenclature, Mare incognitum)…

David Torn brought some well-controlled, perfectly-manicured feedback and six-string manipulation to the proceedings, sounding in spots like Live at Pompeii‘s Echoes‘ midsection’s David Gilmour, on aestheroids.

This was a wonderful, soothing warm-up for Sunday night’s sure-to-be-raucous Here Come the Warm Jets Tribute at Joe’s Pub.

 Posted by at 12:25 am
Nov 052010
 

Wavelore Instruments is offering its entire catalog of extraordinary sample instrument libraries (not merely priced at, but worth $720), as an unbeatable package, for a mere $50. This offer is not to be taken lightly; nor is it to be missed.

The package, available until December 1, 2010, includes four meticulously recorded, richly-detailed, highly-customizable Kontakt libraries:

  • Pedal Steel Guitar — An incredible MIDI implementation of a surprisingly complex instrument, this library gives you “ten bendable strings,” adjustable portamento speed, adjustable vibrato speed/depth, the ability to bend single notes in a sustained chord, and realistic amp simulation. A brief description of this library, and a link to a recent song built around it, can be found in this earlier post
  • American Zither — A gorgeous hammered dulcimer, inextricably linked to traditional American, European, Asian, Indian and Persian musics. It sounds beautiful played “clean” and, thanks to its hard attack and harmonically rich timbre, it serves as the ideal substrate for building exotic and textured sounds and effects. An example of this library played “clean” is The Moon Lies Black Upon the Straits; An example of it processed into an “ambient electric guitar” is Dark Matter I;
  • XpanDrum — a collection of two clay bongos and two wooden darbukas, featuring independent tuning, volume, panning and timing/dynamics randomization, coupled with a velocity sensitive Low-Pass Filter that creates realistic dynamics with low processor overhead.

Additional audio examples, magazine reviews, &c., can be found on the Wavelore Demos Page.

This too-good-to-be-true offer is rooted in tragedy… and routed towards the potential light at the end of the tunnel for a long-time MS sufferer. As the Wavelore website explains:

The sale is in support of the John Reid Liberation Fund. John is a longtime Multiple Sclerosis sufferer, and a dear friend of Wavelore Instruments, who is trying to raise funds for a revolutionary new surgery that could alleviate or eliminate many of his MS symptoms. We are offering this unprecedented deal to you, in hopes of supporting John’s treatment. If you’d like to get a no-brainer deal on everything Wavelore has to offer (over $700 worth of sample libraries!) while supporting a great cause, please use the buy now button below, and we’ll donate 75% of all proceeds to John’s cause. You can find out more about John’s condition and treatment, or donate directly to the fund at http://johnreidliberation.wordpress.com

Support Wavelore — buy these libraries before December 1, 2010.

Support John Reid — donate directly to John Reid’s Fund.

 Posted by at 12:15 am
Sep 012010
 

The latest piece to emerge from the Ars Perspicuus studio is the result of a personal challenge: viz., to create a work featuring an instrument with which I was almost wholly unfamiliar, and which is featured primarily in music with which I don’t generally recreate.

Challenge met, I’m quite happy with the results:

Alan Blattberg, ''Low Plains Drifter''

The piece, Low Plains Drifter, features the incomparable — as gorgeous as it is complex — Wavelore Pedal Steel Guitar.

Creating this song required the crossing of three musical bridges:

First, I had to familiarize myself with the mechanics; of playing both the actual instrument and its MIDI implementation, so that I could become reasonably well-versed in both the broad strokes and nuances of this hemidemisemifamiliar instrument’s musical vocabulary.

Next, I had to become better acquainted with the ways in which the pedal steel’s vocabulary is expressed by its more learned practitioners.

It became apparent, rather quickly, that I had much to learn on both of these fronts. I will address the traversing of each of these bridges in subsequent posts.

Finally, I had to incorporate the instrument into a more personal — and thus, perhaps, less intuitive — musical environment… to “make it my own.”

The end result? Not quite yer old man’s (or anyone’s) “country”… Dark strings, electronic drones, ghostly piano… What you might hear if Flying Saucer Attack and Wilco co-scored a David Lynch western…

 Posted by at 11:52 pm
Mar 302010
 

[While this blog will focus mainly on matters musical, it is being launched in the less-than-36-hour-old shadow of a good friend’s death. His life ended as this blog sprang into existence, so I think it appropriate to commemorate him at its commencement. You probably didn’t know him, but you may well have known someone like him, or someone who suffered (or suffers) like him.]


My friend and high school classmate Anthony Brissett passed away, Monday, due to complications from a massive heart infection.

I can’t think of a more tragic and unwarranted pronouncement by the Fates. Tony was a bright, funny, and generous person, deep of character and rich of spirit. He carried with him to the end a cadre of dedicated friends, some nurturing bonds that were formed decades ago, and others (like me) forging Facebook Era friendships after years of post-high school separation.

For nearly two years, Tony lived a tortured and tortuous life. A catastrophic series of strokes (a by-product of an earlier heart infection that had gone cruelly and inexplicably undiagnosed) wiped out most of the right side of his body. His heart required multiple surgeries to repair damage that he never should have suffered in the first place.

He spent the lion’s share of the last two years in various hospitals, staring at blank walls and decrepit televisions, subjected to an unceasing cacophony of others’ wheezes and moans and the constant beeps and pings of the machinery that kept him and his neighbors alive. His birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, &c., were no different from yesterday or next Thursday or two weeks ago…

Such environs could easily (and do frequently) break the spirits of lesser men. But Tony fought with tenacity unparalleled. He was eventually able to get himself out of the hospital and achieve public locomotion — slow but sure — with a cane and quiet, dogged perseverance. Subways included…

One night, several months ago, he hauled his bad self down to the World Financial Center to see a Vernon Reid multimedia performance with me. We spoke of the things that he was going to do, once he got “better” — within whatever parameters of improvement he could actually hope to achieve. Work plans, educational plans, social plans… all of which would take flight in the weeks/months/years to come. Sadly, it is Tony and not his plans that has taken flight.

I have very strong mixed feelings about Tony’s death. He lost his life yesterday but, in many ways, he really lost his life in the summer of ‘08. He has been deprived of a future, and all of the thrilling possibilities that a future can entail… but he has been spared an arduous life guaranteed to be filled with physical restrictions, social/professional struggles and necessarily compromised expectations.

He lives no more but he grieves no more, feels anguish no more and suffers the terror of future surgeries no more… and he will never have to spend another moment in another hospital.

His friends and his family — I’m glad to have met his wonderful sisters and niece in recent months — will continue to carry the burden of his loss and the dreadful story that led to it… but Tony himself is now free and unfettered… and shall be so forever more.

He never lost his sense of humor, even as it began to hew more closely to the gallows end of the spectrum. I was delighted when he pointed out the irony of his checking in for open heart surgery in a hospital located in Valhalla (albeit the one in Westchester County). I’m glad that he picked up on that, ‘cause I wasn’t going to mention it otherwise…

He was also very good at mastering the series of exhortations/exercises we devised to improve the fine motor skills in his right hand: “Dio” (metal horns) . . . “Fox News” (middle finger raised) . . . “Dio” (metal horns) . . . “Rush Limbaugh” (middle finger raised) . . . “Dio” (metal horns) . . . “Pat Robertson” (middle finger raised) . . . [repeat as necessary] . . .

Some people leave their mark on the world by building huge skyscrapers, or by unifying (or destroying) great nations, or by writing one of those awful auto-tuned songs that are okay to dance to and everyone seems to like so it gets played on the radio all the time until it gets unseated by the next awful auto-tuned song…..

Tony had his life taken away from him — and then, ultimately, extinguished — before he had a chance to create that kind of legacy. But he left a substantial and indelible mark of his own through the shining example of how he carried himself in the face of constant, life-threatening, adversity.

Throughout his ordeal, Tony was a pillar of strength, seeking no sympathy from others, attacking his physical limitations with slow, saddened perseverance. Despite each slowing of improvement, each complication, each return to the hospital, he always maintained an air of dignity and stoic grace, coupling resignation with determination. And he fought, tirelessly, right up until the very end. May we all be so brave when our times come. He was truly inspiring, and I will always treasure the time that I and others from the “Bx. Sci.” crew got to spend with him.

Death may have won the decisive battle — it always does — but it didn’t have nearly as easy a time besting this particular conquest as it presumably expected. Looking back over the last two years, the bottom line — the unassailable truth — is that Tony kicked Death’s ass far more often than the other way ‘round.

He fought like a warrior, and he died like a %@$#! hero, earning a much-deserved position of glory in the halls of the real Valhalla.

You ruled, Tony. And you rule. I miss you, man. Like the Bad Brains sang, “Sail on, sail on…

2010.03.25 - 017 - Tony and AB

 Posted by at 11:06 pm