Thursday, August 26, 2010

Murder, mayhem in Joel Brown's Port City

Caught up with Joel Brown at Fowle's. He's a regular, stops in every day after an solo sunrise bike ride on Plum Island, and, closer to home, a bit of exercise with his dog, Buffy. Yes, named after the vampire slayer. He confesses to being “a little uncomfortable on this side of the pad.” You know, answering the questions instead of asking them. He's an old-school ink-soaked wretch. Moved to town in 1998 after landing a gig as television editor at the Herald, became executive arts editor, got voted off the island about five years ago, another casualty of print journalism's sad, long-running decline. He's still in the game — freelancing, poor bastard. Running a blog, Hub Arts, which has a wider view than its name might suggest. We're sitting at a table on State Street. Everybody seems to know him. Then again, he is a regular and this is Newburyport, or Libertyport, as Brown calls a somewhat fictionalized city in “Mirror Ball Man,” his first mystery. It's an “old-fashioned New England small town where everyone knew everyone else, an idyllic vision straight out of Norman Rockwell, but gay-friendly, with hybrid cars and flat-screen TVs.” That vision is shattered when Jules Titward, a local developer who has stirred up a lot of ugly emotions in his bid to build a hotel on the central waterfront, turns up dead, face first in the gravel parking lot, the proposed project site, next to his Beemer, in a pool of his own blood.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Crazy beer at the Ale House

Dreary afternoon. Desperately needed rain, equally desperate need to get out of the house and do something amazing — or at least amusing. So, from the list of fun things to do and other strategies for avoiding boredom-inspired bickering: An afternoon of crazy beer at The Ale House. And, man, they've got some kinda crazy brewskis at the Carriagetown restaurant, located at the former site of Pow Wow River Grille: about thirty wild, intriguing brews on tap, three times that in bottles — from unique Belgian lambics to muscular imperial stouts brewed with coffee to, for all you high-rollers out there, a special Sammy described as other/unclassifiable, that clocks in at 27 percent alcohol and will set you back $22.50 for a 2.5-ounce taste. My goal was to get as far outside my comfort zone as I could and, if at all possible, shut up my buddy Jason — a hopeless task, no doubt — who says I'm just stuck in the sudsy mudsy because of my preoccupation with Czech pilsner. Not that I really care what he thinks. He's moving to Canada anyhow. Weirdo. The wife would be ordering because it was way too scary for me. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Latin Quarter: Sambas, rhumbas, cha-cha-cha

It’s not like John Tavano really needs anything else to fill out his dance card. The guy's stretched pretty thin as it is. Performing with Rhina Espaillatt and Alfred Nichol in Melo Poea, the continuing music-meets-poetry series, and with soprano Ann Tucker, most recently in "The Ballad of San Isidro," a program also based on one of Espaillat's poems. He's also gearing up for a fall show with Polish pianist Malgosia  Smolarek, and preparing a new album of non-traditional Christmas music. And that's in addition to regular gigs as a classical guitarist, a staff musician with the Museum of Fine Arts, an instructor at The Musical Suite and as a portrait artist. But the way the Port guitarist figures it, what's the point of having a bunch of sweet sambas, rhumbas and bossa novas in your bag of musical tricks — and he's got them — if you don't have the means of getting them out there? So, about six months ago he assembled a team of local aces and revived the Latin Quarter, a Tavano project that had its last twirl on the dance floor about ten years ago. The ensemble, now a quartet, re-emerges with a new line-up for a weekend performance at the Actors Studio.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Port home, architect cooking on HGTV

Let's be clear about this: Andrew Sidford does not know whether he's getting thrown off the island or not. Not Plum Island, where the Port architect does a lot of his work, like Sea View House, a unique, striking home on the dunes that we've written about before, but in a "reality" TV sense, after lots of old-fashioned intrigue and dramatic backstabbing. But there'll be none of that on HGTV's "Bang for Your Buck," which looks at three similar home projects and, after much poking and prodding, decides which represents the best investment for the homeowner. This week, they'll be looking at Sidford's kitchen renovation at the home of Jocelyn and Frank McLaughlin at Plum Bush Downs — just a plover's egg throw from the Plum Island Bridge — which the architect describes as "a radical transformation from a cluster of dark rooms closed off from its to-die-for location to  a bright perch, positioned to enjoy views of the Great Marsh," done on a shoestring budget of just $75,000. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Deak: Big Bad Wolf got a big bad rap

OK, we’re not naming names, but Jon Deak has seen a lot of the clips of people performing his “B.B. Wolf” and, frankly, some of them make him ... well, cringe. Because the piece for double bass and narrator, which he will perform at this year’s Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, is cool and funny and seems easy enough to handle and “open” to interpretation, especially once you finesse the haunting, sublime sound of the Kabloona wolf in the wild. Which is no mean feat in itself. Just ask NCMF artistic director David Yang, who still remembers the first time he ever heard the sound. “I simply had never heard anything like this before,” he says. “How can someone make a bass sound so convincingly like a wolf howl that the hairs raised uncomfortably on the back of my neck?”
But, to make “B.B. Wolf” work, you have to resist the impulse to mug for the cheap seats, to play it for laughs, says the composer. This takes  focus and discipline, because you’re talking about a piece for solo bass and narrator that is, essentially, an apologia by the Big, Bad Wolf, one of the original bad guys, the “star” of all the fairy tales we grew up with, a huffing-puffing, Grandma-eating baddie whose rep is just above Eden’s serpent on the Richter scale of literary evil — and whose real-life counterparts are just as hated. And that is the subtext for the 10-minute piece. It’s funny, but it’s not a joke. Personalizing it, incorporating cutesy quirks or ad-libs, has the same effect as adding “meep-meep,” the roadrunner’s eternal response to the coyote, a wolf for all practical purposes. Improvising in what is pretty much a set piece, “sinks it to a comic level,” he says. “It becomes just a cartoon.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

Andrew Mungo and the fame game

This is the story of two Andys. The first one came up with the insight — prescient, now a cliche — that in the future everyone would be famous for oh, just about a quarter of an hour. And he became very famous indeed, Andy, almost as famous as the amazing Lindsay Lohan is today. The other Andy has a peculiar relationship with celebrity. Unlike Andy I, a genuinely revolutionary artist who became famous the world over for being famous, Andy II is very well known, famous you could say, but only within narrow geographical constraints. Call him a local celebrity. If you’ve been in the city for a while, chances are that you know him. You’ve probably given him money for a good time. He's been a fixture in downtown Blueberryport for more than three decades .... What's that? Yeah, right, Blueberryport. That’s what our Andy — Andrew Mungo, the owner (and the guy behind the ticket counter and sometimes behind the projector and popcorn machine) at The Screening Room — calls the community that looks an awful lot like Newburyport in “Thanks for Listening, A Memoir," a film that has been in the works for a decade and that will make its big-screen debut this week. Not at the alt-hip downtown cinema, but just up the street, at a meeting of the Newburyport Public Library's Film Club.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sound and fury on opening night

A fabulous start to Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, a stunning performance by the Naumburg competition-winning Trio Cavatina at the Carriage House that was a treat for eyes and ears.  The trio — pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, violinist Harumi Rhodes and cellist Priscilla Lee — pounced on the program, bringing a real physicality, a fiery, visual intensity not often found this side of tell Tchaikovsky the news, balancing a rock attitude, a muscular musical attack with dead-on technical skills and a subtle emotional heat that made for a mesmerizing performance and an exhilarating opening night.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Talking music: NCMF finds its voice

Yeah, sure. He admits that he’s “probably pushing it” a little — fessing up that, unlike previous years, there’s no immediately obvious overriding theme unifying the music of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival this year. But David Yang, the guy behind the programming at the festival since its inception nine years ago, isn’t quite ready to give up the musical ghost: He’s starting to warm up to the subject after cautiously playing the theme. He’s thinking of the lyrical nature of music — not in the sense of the always- breathtakingly “singing” quality of Yo-Yo Ma’s playing. He’s thinking about non-verbal communication that actually approaches conversation. You hear it in the Kodaly (Duo for violin and cello, Opus 7), where, Yang says, the composer seems to be interested in striking up a dialogue, having the musicians talk — and, at times, spar — with each other. And the Mendelssohn (String Quartet in F minor, Opus 80), which was published posthumously, a piece he wrote after the death of his beloved sister, after which he just could not go on. It is “desperate communication,” says Yang, “a terrible cry of anguish … so intense.” And the two Jon Deak pieces (“B.B. Wolf” and “Sherlock Holmes and The Speckled Band, Scene I,” take the Yang theme to its limit, with the composer actually telling the stories.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Exit: Just what the doctor ordered

Here's a little zig to the normal zag of performance: The always-intriguing Exit Dance Theatre will be collaborating with father-and-son duo Doc Zig and Benny Z, otherwise known as Jim and Benny Zanfagna, who will be joined by local aces Roger Ebacher and Mike Gruen — yes, the same lineup as "Father & Son Playing for Small Change,” Zig and Z's debut EP —  in an evening of dance and music to benefit the modern dance company. Fontaine Dubus, Erin Foley, Wendy Hamel, Nicole Duquette and a special guest or two (nope, not telling) will perform new choreography, including a dance set to the duo's single "Run, Run." Played live, of course. From there the band will finish out the night, kicking out its crazy mix of sounds that someone said is Americana realized through a filter of reggae and jazz, or the other way around. Yeah, that would be me. The show takes place at 7:30p.m. Aug. 20 at the Tannery, at the Dance Place's Studio II Black Box. Cost you $10. Cheap date. You can check out the video for "Run Run" here and look up Exit here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dylan Metrano: A real cut-up

Dylan Metrano has been escaping to Monhegan Island for the past four years. Every summer, like clockwork, he just vanishes into the mists of Maine. So does his band, Tiger Saw. It's a time for everyone to kick back and recharge. You've got to chill on Monhegan — a close-by island with a far-away feel, just a dozen miles off the Maine coast, accessible only by boat, no cars or paved roads. He writes, he reads, he works as a cook in a fancy restaurant, and lately he's been capturing the island, its historic buildings and natural landmarks, in a series of papercuttings. The former Newburyport resident, a central figure in the city's new music revival in the late 1990s, has been showing the work in Down East galleries and shops since 2008. Now he has collected the work in "Monhegan Island Papercuttings," just published by Burst and Bloom.