Monday, February 28, 2011

Birds of a feature: New band, old friends take flight

The sun is setting, the red-tailed hawks that hang out in the back yard are likely around somewhere, hidden in the dusk. The rehearsal is supposed to be starting now — about 45 minutes ago, actually, and the bass player is nowhere in sight. Will he show? No one knows. He’s got phone, car and work issues, apparently. A triple threat. Nobody seems too worried about it, they’re all pretty laid back about it — way too laid back. Clearly someone needs to stir the pot, and it looks like it’s gotta be me. Everybody else is too well adjusted. “You know,” I say. “You should fire his ass, if, for no other reason, to get even with him for the despicable way he treated you during the Dink era,” that period being a brief portion of middle school more than a decade and a half ago. Alexander Sandman laughs at the reference. As he probably should, since it’s such a terrible and, well, juvenile name for a band! Then again, right around the same time, Sandman was playing in an equally unfortunately named band, Dying Cat, a short-lived project with a logo showing a bloody cat with crosses for eyes. (“It was about being in a band,” he says, “not about being good — or especially clever.”) It doesn’t matter anyhow, because Benny Zanfagna isn’t biting. He wants to talk about Red Tail Hawk, his latest project, not temporarily wayward bassist Mike Gruen.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Silent is golden: Miller unveils Deren scores

Kristen Miller’s new obsession started quietly — appropriate, considering the media — seven years ago, even though nothing really came of it until last year. She had been hanging out in Gloucester with Brian King, from the band What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?, a band rooted in folk and blues, but filtered through cabaret and alt-rock, and a frequent Miller collaborator, working on a project — a long-form experimental piece. They had been at it all morning and decided to take a break. King told Miller, an innovative cellist with three albums under her belt, that he wanted to show her something, so he fired up the DVD player and played “Meshes of the Afternoon,” a silent film by Maya Deren, who famously said she could make an entire movie for what Hollywood spends on lipstick. This film, of course, was not Hollywood by any stretch. It is stubbornly interior, a film that inhabits the world of dreams and myth, attempting to tell a life story in less than 15 minutes with little in the way of linear plot and without a word being spoken. It “reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience,” Deren said in her program notes for the film’s premiere in 1943.  The experience was a revelation for Miller. “I was speechless,” she says. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's another Pleasant Valley Saturday

The name’s kind of a joke. Not the first part, of course. That’s straight from old wooden teeth, Georgie Washington. Supposedly, back in 1780, he was hanging on the Salisbury side of the river, waiting for a ferry to get him across to the proper side, and made a comment on what a “pleasant valley” it was. No, it’s the second part of the name — the social club business, that is, well, if not exactly a joke, then a phrase tossed out with just a hint of irony — though, to be fair, it’s probably not “more like a medieval guild than a social club,” as Pleasant Valley Social Club drummer Jeff Philcrantz says. No, it’s not a medieval guild or a social club. Not quite. Even though the members of the “club” are all pals and hang out together at least one day a week. They get together after ditching their days jobs, they play some music, they have a good time. “It’s like we’re walking on air,” says Bill Plante, who has been playing music in the area since the fabled old days — the early ‘90s. “It’s exhilarating. We’re doing music for music’s sake, we con’t care about the music industry, we’re a social club. We just have a ball playing. We do it for the love of it.” Says Philcrantz, “We pay a lot of attention to craft, and we have open exchanges of ideas that are sometimes brutally honest. It’s definitely a check-your-egos-at-the-door vibe. But it’s also incredibly energizing. I can’t count the times I’ve showed up, beat from work, and left hours later with a bounce in my step.” 

Friday, February 11, 2011

NCMF: Waiting out Mother Nature

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s official: Pianist Natalie Zhu’s Newburyport Chamber Music Festival debut, a victim of our unrelenting winter season, has been rescheduled for 4 p.m. April 24. Yes, that’s Easter Sunday. Making it “a perfect way to celebrate the return (well-established by this time) of sun and light to our world,” according to  NCMF Executive Director Jane Niebling. Yeah? Maybe. We’ll see. Regardless, this might actually be good news for laid-back romantics, who figured they could  grab a ticket later, only to discover the cookie jar was empty by the time they finally got around to it. Well, maybe the cancellation will shake a couple of tickets loose. Maybe folks have other plans for Easter Sunday — like being with family or hunting wabbit or something. Which is certainly possible, although wabbit season is still a ways off. The program will include a performance of Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major, Rachmaninoff preludes, including “The Bells of Moscow,” and Liszt’s majestic B minor Sonata. Anyhow, it’s up to you:  So, you can hang on to your tickets and see the show in (hopefully) better meteorological conditions, or turn them in and get a refund — enough cash, perhaps, to get those snowblower blades sharpened. The show will be at the Carriage House. Dial up the NCMF online to buy, sell or trade your tickets.

Artists, musicians brush up on performance

Paint & Play isn’t going to play out like “The Chamber Group,” the Alan Bull painting pictured above, seeing how we’re in the middle of a new Ice Age and everything. But the piece, which is hopeful and all but screams “warm summer breeze, warm summer breeze,” certainly conveys what the thing is all about — music and painting. The event, let’s call it a paint-slam,  will be the first local show for Lux, the Port-based, sax-centered funk band since the release of its debut album, “The Left One Alone.” While the quartet plays, Bull and other artists will be doing their thing — recalling 1990s performances-slash-collaborations  of Uz jsme doma with resident artist Martin Velisek. Art-making will be encouraged for anyone who would like to pick up a paintbrush. Some materials will be provided. Or you can bring your own sketchpad. Music-related art and other works by Bull and photographs by Sara Elizabeth Connor will be on display and for sale.  Paint & Play will run from 4 to 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at Bull’s studio. No, not the guerilla gallery. That’s gone. The studio is located at 18 Graf Road / Unit 18 (2nd Floor) at the Newburyport Industrial Park.  This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.  The exhibition and sale will continue from 1 to 5  p.m. Feb. 13. For more info, call 978-417-9778.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Connecting the dots with 'Terezin'

There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you (re)turn to Old Faithful and, after you dust it off, put a shine on it and kick its metaphorical tires, and (re)discover that it still rocks and gets the job done even after all these years — or, as Anna Smulowitz, the Queen of the Scene, puts it, “that we’ve still got it.” And that is what’s happening with “Terezin: Children of the Holocaust,” her award-winning — and, especially given the current international situation and ... well, life as we know it —  much-too-infrequently produced play about life before death in Terezin, or what the Germans called Theresienstadt: a “showcase” concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, designed to con the world into believing the Nazis were treating Jews decently. The six kids in the play represent the 15,000 children who died at there, a fraction of the 97,000 Jews who died in this one camp, which, in turn, represents a fraction of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. Only 132 survived. But a new production, which pulls into the Actors Studio this week after a tour of local schools, is resonating in new ways, going beyond ”just” never again and  tapping into new hot-button issues like homophobia and good old-fashioned bullying,  “There’s been a vivid response,” says Smulowitz. “You can really feel the energy. They’re connecting the dots.” 

The show must, but simply cannot, go on

Usually we’re fans of irony, but this is just too much: A show designed to take a bite out of the psychological turmoil of this cold, heartless winter — the hottest ticket in town, by the way — has been canceled because of ... well, because of the cold, heartless winter: Natalie Zhu, a  pianist who is known for hot, emotional pyrotechnics, was supposed to play “The Romantic Piano,” a program that would have included Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major, Rachmaninoff preludes, including “The Bells of Moscow,” and Liszt’s B minor Sonata, one of the titanic pieces for the instrument, at the Carriage House this Saturday,  Feb. 5. Instead, she will be shoveling snow from  the roof of her Philadelphia home. Well, OK, maybe we’re making that up. But the 500th storm of the season has forced the folks from the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival to postpone the show until what we used to call the cruelest month, as mean old Mother Nature prepares to dump another foot of what old Dick Albert used to call “the white stuff” and what we call .... well, never mind about that, on us. Word is the show will be April 23, but that’s unofficial. And, considering what a rhymes-with-witch MN has been, perhaps optimistic. We’re anticipating a mid-May thaw. Check out the NCMF web for real details. And, note to Mother Nature, nobody’s trying to fool you, so don’t get yourself into full vengeful mode.