Thursday, December 20, 2012

Camerata celebrates the holiday season at home

The Boston Camerata is a pretty big deal in early music circles. It’s a Boston-based ensemble with an international reputation. In fact, the Camerata is America’s “foremost early music ensemble,” according to Le Monde, the Parisian daily. Its album “A Mediterranean Christmas,” which explores holiday musical traditions from Spain, Italy and the Middle East from 1200 to 1900, was an international bestseller when it came out in 2005. Three years later, “A Boston Camerata Christmas: Worlds of Early Christmas Music,” a three-CD set looking at similar themes in American, French and Spanish holiday celebrations, also burned up the charts. But the Camerata is way more than just rarified, early music performance. “Simple Gifts,” its collection of Shaker spirituals and chants, topped the Billboard classical charts in 1995. And when the group performed at the Classique au Vert festival in Paris last year, they didn’t play madrigals or the like. They played a program of American music: hymns, patriotic songs and dances. Two performances of that show had a combined audience of 2,300, one of the biggest audiences in Camerata history. “That’s enormous,” says Boston Camerata director emeritus Joel Cohen, an Amesbury resident. “I mean, that’s rock concert stuff.” So when Cohen and his wife, French-born singer and musicologist Anne Azéma, who became the ensemble’s director in 2008, get past the jet lag — the group toured Europe five times in 2011 — and put on a local show, something they’ve been doing for the past few years, you might expect the air to come hissing out of their tires a little, psychologically if not in performance; that the rush level after so many big shows in big venues might go down when they play in smaller venues like First Parish Church in Newbury, where the Camerata will reprise “The Brotherhood of the Star: A Hispanic Christmas 1300 to 1700” this weekend, in the group’s only North Shore appearance of the year. And that’s fine.

Read more here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Roger Ebacher: Creating a world of sounds

Most of the time, when people talk about world music (or world beat or whatever), they’re usually talking about one very specific thing, a particular style or flavor, whether it's delightfully obscure, like, say, Tuvan throat-singing or Balinese gamelan music, or maybe something less specific, like Afro-pop or Latin-influenced jazz. But when Roger Ebacher says he's got a new world beat album, chances are the Port musician is gonna throw the whole world at you, all at once, one style at a time. Which is pretty much what he does on "Airstream," the fifth album from Air Department, a duo with former Amesbury percussionist Dennis Pelletier, which, over the past few years, has been throwing together some very different sounds that jell on an emotional, if not exactly stylistic, level. Released last week, "Airstream" puts the spotlight back on the melody flute, the unique wind instrument most often associated with the multi-instrumentalist, as well as the Casio DH-100 Digital Horn, another wind instrument whose limits Ebacher has pushed the limits "beyond all reasonable expectations," as he puts it, while managing to find a cohesiveness in the music. The digital horn is also the reason this duo is able to make such a big sound.It’s a six-song collection of music with earthy grooves and deep textures. It's a little Brazilian, a little Middle Eastern — even a little Indian. It’s mostly a solo album. Scheduling and geographic issues made it difficult to collaborate with Pelletier, a former Amesbury percussionist now living in western Massachusetts, who goes back with Ebacher to the 1970s, when they played together in Timestream, a seven-piece jazz band with a punk attitude. "So I just kind of went for it, seizing the moment," he says. "That's how this one came to fruition."

Read more here.

Alan Bull: Port painter keeps on truckin'

Doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you get lucky and a big, phat concept just falls into your lap, out of the blue. Which is what happened to Alan Bull. The Port painter, one of the most visible and in-demand artists since moving to the city more than two decades ago, had been playing around with the idea of putting out a calendar using fresh images from the truck series, probably his best-known to date. Well, actually, he was thinking about a calendar with new truck paintings, but also an exhibit of the original work. He wanted the work to "be out there, in the world, at least for a little while" before finding homes in private collections as originals or as images starting new lives as wall hangers that people could love each and every day of the year, as the song says. The idea was to show them, sell them, then put out the calendar, which is useful and practical, not to mention totally kick-ass promotion, all of which would, or could, stave off the romantic-but-entirely-unacceptable starving artist thing — at least temporarily. There were some practical considerations — like the fact that it was summer, which was already too late. The business shorthand is that calendars have to be in the stores by late summer and early fall if they’re going to ever end up under the Christmas tree, and the fact that the market pretty much dries up by the new year. So Bull decided to create a dozen truck paintings and print a limited edition calendar — selling 100, maybe more, depending on what the initial response was. It would be a starting point. Then he would start on another calendar in the spring for 2014, hopefully having it ready to go in June, maybe teaming up with a charitable organization ... Yeah, there were lots of details to work out. "This is all unknown, right now," he says. "Right now I just want to get the work out there."

Read more here.

Tucker settles in with the NSJP All Stars

Crazy career that Mike Tucker has: You just never know where the Beverly saxophonist will turn up — or whom he'll be playing with. He's on the road, often out of the country, three or four months every year, sometimes stomping through Europe with red-hot soul act Robin McKelle and the Flytones, managing to slip away just long enough to play the Toulouse Jazz Festival with Mike Tucker Organ Trio, one of the dozen of bands he plays in or leads — a slight exaggeration there, but only slight. Or in Japan, where he tours — and teaches — with jazz trumpeter Tiger Okoshi, a bud from Berklee. Or suddenly packing his bags for Vienna, for three unexpected fill-in dates with Gansch and Roses, the seriously entertaining Austrian "little big band." Or playing in Rio with Mingus Bingus, the Brazilian version of his regular trio — playing the music of jazz icon Charles Mingus, natch. Or, much closer to home, when schedules jibe, you might find him sitting in with Dub Apocalypse, the experimental dub band with musicians from John Brown's Body and Morphine, among others, tricking out his tenor with electronics to create a wild new sound. Or, these days, playing with Classic Headshaft, a back-to-the-future incarnation of the old Dodge Street Bar & Grill house band, whose rotating membership represents the cream of the North Shore. The travel? Yeah, it gets to him, especially these days, but it goes with the territory. "Local gigs don't pay what being on the road pays," Tucker says. Or get you the kind of numbers you get in Europe. Over there, you'll get maybe 3,000 people in a theater. Here? Not so much. "It's all part of being a musician," he says. "It comes with the job title."

Read more here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Something new, something tasty on tap in Port

For beer fans, it just doesn’t get any better than this: New brew, as fresh as it possibly could be, making straight-from-the-tap seem, well, a little past its prime. Fresh beer, local bee-yah, wicked local, so new it hasn’t even made it into a bottle or keg yet. And now the dream is a reality. Riverwalk Brewing has begun the first direct-to-consumer sales of its flagship beers, suds developed in Amesbury by Carriagetown resident Steve Sanderson and produced in Newburyport. It happened last week, on the first day possible — two months after Sanderson successfully completed the federal regulatory juggernaut, and just six hours after Newburyport officials signed off on the license to sell the stuff the front room of the facility. And just in time for the holiday weekend, in the first-ever Port emergency growler hour ... um, growler hour? The term goes back to late-19th-Century England, when folks with a wee bit of a thirst would go down to the local pub with a pail to bring home the brew. Supposedly, the sound of sloshing suds made a “growling” sound. These days, when a sixer isn’t what you’re looking for, when you get a hankering for fresh, local beer-to-go — or “rustic, flavorable, earthy beers,” as the Riverwalk logo has it — you can leave the pail at home and head down to the brewery, located at the Newburyport Industrial Park, and buy a half-gallon glass growler — filled with beer, naturally. When you’re ready for more, you return, washed growler in hand, and get a refill. It’s like pulling into a hoppy service station and saying fill ‘er up.

TITO holiday production is simply 'panto-licious'

The cool thing about panto, which is short for pantomime — a style of theater that is rooted in commedia dell’arte, but dressed up in something approaching British vaudeville, mashing up literary implausibilities, dumb humor, lots of audience participation and, being British, a wee bit of cross-dressing — is how it breaks down the fourth wall, the one that separates make-believe and reality, actor and audience, letting you produce a show and comment on it at the same time — and letting folks on both sides of the looking glass, so to speak, accept both "realities" at the same time. Which can come in handy. Like last summer, when a wedding party inadvertently wandered onto the "set" during Theater in the Open’s production of "Little Red Robin Hood: A Merry Manly Panto," the set, of course, being Maudslay State Park, where the company has been performing for like evah — and, for almost as long, a popular place for folks to tie the knot, for better or worse. But, instead of derailing the show, the wedding party was incorporated into it, for at least one production, and the troupe became a (minor) part of the wedding party, even posing for pictures ...  Or, during the run of the same show, one of the actors broke his wrist during a fight scene. The show had to go on, of course. It always does. This time with Edward Speck, the troupe’s artistic director, putting on the tights for two roles — Robin and the not-quite-so-merry man Will Stutely. Luckily, he knew all the lines. Wrote them, actually.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Speed the Wow! Masterful Mamet at Actors Studio

You know the type: Quick on the metaphorical zipper, ruler at the ready, eager (make that desperate) to show anyone not smart enough to flee before the display begins just how, um, huge they are — personally and professionally, of course. And that’s exactly what you get in “Speed the Plow,” David Mamet’s brutal, unflinching look behind-the-scenes in Hollywood, the so-called Dream Factory, which, as you might expect, is a bit of a nightmare, an alt-universe populated by blowhards and beancounters, gobshites on the make, loudly, desperately trying to prove something to somebody, especially themselves, Philistines, full of themselves — and worse — confident, convinced of their genius. And why not, since the bottom line bears them out, right? This is Mamet at his best: Observing men at work, their dreams, their insecurities, their camouflage. It’s a world he knows well, having played the game, writing and producing several screenplays there in the go-go '80s. The play, which examines the ugly confluence of art, commerce and power, is being staged in an irresistible, razor-sharp production at The Actors Studio of Newburyport.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Baxterless Brown back with 'Guide'

Yeah, Baxter McLean will be back, this time our unlikely folk-singing sleuth getting tangled up in the messy revolutionary politics of the 1970s, specifically the so-called United Freedom Front, which, in 1976, decided that bombing our happy little town, Newburyport Superior Court, was an interesting and effective way to protest whatever it was they were against (it seems so foggy now, like a bad dream) in the next Libertyport murder-mystery — Libertyport being that quaint, fictional-but-oh-so-familiar New England community where everyone knows everyone else, and their business, “an idyllic vision straight out of Norman Rockwell, but gay-friendly, with hybrid cars and flat-screen TVs,” as Joel Brown, the author, puts it. But you won’t find him, Baxter, kicking around the Rum House, or fending off the ferocious queries of local gossip/blogger Abigail Marks until next year. “If I make good on my promises,” says Brown, a North End resident, Boston Globe scribbler and author of “Mirror Ball Man” and “Mermaid Blues,” the two Libertyport/McLean mysteries. And he pretty much has to follow up on the series, seeing how he promised to kill off some lucky fan as a reward in his Kickstarter campaign to help finance “Essex County Byway Guide: History, Culture & Nature on the North Shore,” his current project, which has its coming out party next week at Plum Island Coffee Roasters — and his third book in as many years.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jozef Nadj: Hitting all the right notes

Jazz violinist Jozef Nadj’s got his funk on. He’s moving, grooving, despite the fact that he’s still getting used to real time after a trip back home, his first home, to Central Europe. So he rolls out of bed at the ungoldly hour of 5 in the morning, still hobbling around the house, nursing a foot injury from a pick-up soccer game, which delayed his return stateside by almost a week, leaving him barely enough time to prepare for the first day of classes at The Musical Suite, where the Lynn resident has taught for three years. He puts on some Maceo Parker and shakes off the cobwebs. Not that the violinist, who brings his band, the Jozef Nadj Fusion System, to the Firehouse next week, is especially heavy into the funk thing. Fact is, Nadj, whose name rhymes with "lodge," could, and would, play pretty much anything, as long as he finds something intriguing at its core, some challenge, something interesting to latch onto, to explore, an attitude perfectly illustrated by the classically trained musician’s two current, competing projects: the first, a rock album of original music somewhere in the vicinity, musically, of his favorite bands from back in the day: Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica — itself a significant departure from JNFS’s 2009 debut, "Digital World," which finds him in the neighborhood of Jean Luc Ponty (natch) and Miles Davis (the fusion years). And then there’s the other project, an album of tunes by Charlie Parker. By a band that does not have a tenor player — any saxophone, in fact. Yeah, Bird, the guy who all but invented the instrument. A god in jazz circles. Untouchable, unapproachable. An album with violin as its main weapon, its ax of choice. Granted, a hopped-up violin. Electric, with all the gear, pedals. Which adds another layer of controversy for purists.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Amazing journey: Dunphy, Epomeo, the Dreadnaught

Melissa Dunphy is a classical composer with, um, some unusual influences, touchstones, like her stubborn, lingering obsession with Nine Inch Nails, which led her to re-imagine NIN’s “The Frail,” which she named “Variations on a Theme by Trent Reznor” and which she arranged as an Elizabethan madrigal, of course. And this is probably the most “normal,” the most standard repertoire thing she’s done lately. She’s 32, an Australian transplant. She’s a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, a PhD candidate in composition, on a Benjamin Franklin Fellowship. She’s currently working on an opera based on the writings of Ayn Rand. Not the (yawn) important philosophical underpinnings of her fiction, what the Russian writer called objectivism. No, she’s zeroing in on Rand’s nasty, completely over-the-top depictions of sex that read like rape fantasy, or, in the case of “Fountainhead” hot-to-trot protagonists Howard Roark and Dominique Francon, sexual assault committed during the course of a home invasion. “I’m amazed that no one has made an opera out of it yet,” she says. Then, pausing, she adds, “Hopefully I won’t get sued.” 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

It ain't easy: Benefit concert leads to CD

Nothing worth a damn comes easy, does it? Just ask Gary Shane. The North Shore rocker, a fixture on the local music scene for, like, evah, decided to put together something for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a benefit concert. Raise some bucks for the organization, you know? About time, right? I mean, the guy has been living with MS since the mid-1980s, when his band, The Detour, broke with the monster hit "Shadow World," and over the past few years has organizaed multi-band benefits for disaster relief in Japan  and Indonesia, so it makes sense that he would do somethng a little closer to home, so to speak. So, in April, Shane put together a bill that combined local scenesters like EJ Ouelette and Crazy Maggy and Wade Dyce and Imojah and the Skylight Band with the crowd from Tavern at the End of the World, the Charlestown venue, Natalie Flanagan and Trusty Sidekick, as well as the current versions of Shane's Detour and Silvertones bands and the Heygoods, a country-soaked duo featuring Dave Champagne, who goes back with Shane to the pre-Detour days, who played with Boston blues legends, and Morphine prototype, Treat Her Right. And, for whatever reason, and we're not pointing fingers, the benefit didn't do quite as well as everyone had hoped, pulling in only $800. Which, although more than a little bit disappointing, financially, especially considering the amount of work that went into putting the thing together, did help finance a live recording from the show, which will also benefit MS. And that's when everything started falling off the rails and, unexpectedly, opened the door for something truly special.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In the Cards: TITO's stunning 'Waste Land'

A beautiful fall day in the middle of summer at Maudslay State Park, making this August, however splendid, seem a bit sad, perhaps cruel. Not April cruel, with its false hope, coaxed from the dead land, from the forgetful snow, but cruel nonetheless. We’re walking along a damp, fragrant path to the performance site – on time for once, early, in fact, without a care, so it becomes a lovely, leisurely stroll, a point unto itself. We come across a small crowd where the path veers away, lazily, towards the river. Which is strange. Usually you walk right to the “stage” and pull up a bit of lawn. Something else is going on. Obviously. So we wait with the others. As the minutes pass, we debate whether this is part of the production, our wait a metaphor for the uneasy, potent concept of not knowing, about uncertainty, about the future, about life, about death, which lies at the heart of “The Waste Land,” the T.S. Elliott poem, perhaps the most celebrated poem in Western literature, one that has been re-imagined for the stage by Theater in the Open and directed by Stephen Haley, probably best known for his productions of all things Beckett, but whose edgy, vivid, stripped-down production of Sartre's “The Flies” last year set an impossible standard for the future. And this production, an adaptation of a dense, modern poem that is about everything, including nothingness, that, in itself, does not cry out for the stage, that is all wrong for the stage, would certainly pose the same sorts of challenges. Perhaps more, seeing how it's just 400-plus lines, including the Latin opening and the Sanskrit ending, one that takes maybe 20 minutes to read and a lifetime to understand, with no immediately obvious narrative.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fan-tastic: Bruisers back together ... for one night

Face it, it’s a fact of life. Sooner or later, you’ll have to drive too far and pay far too much money to see a band — you know, someone from back in the day, one of those bands that struck a nerve, that makes your heart go thumpa-thumpa still, that makes you grit your teeth and  feel those feelings again, the ones that made you feel alive, lighting you up in a way you barely remember now, with the mortgage and health insurance to deal with, right? Even if you weren’t really there, like Dropkick Murphys frontman Al Barr intimated in an interview about, among other things, the Bruisers, the Portsmouth/Newburyport punk band he founded back in 1988, a band that bashed its way out of regional obscurity with a brutal, punishing, as-hard-as-you-can-get street punk sound, a band that built a name for itself here and a virtual cult-status in western Europe. Which is not to say they ever achieved mass popularity of any sort, because they didn't. Despite the legion of fans the Bruisers have now. Which was Barr’s point exactly when he was talking about the last Bruisers reunion. Which was seven years ago, at this point, when the band filled the Roxy, drawing close to 1,000 fans — unheard of in the day, like five times what the band would get, on a good day, back in the day. ”It's cool to like a band when they don't exist anymore, as long as they're not popular," he said earlier this year in an interview for the gimmenoise blog.

Monday, August 6, 2012

It's in with the new at NCMF

What's new with the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, the intimate classical music series with a rock and roll attitude, as it digs into its second decade? Plenty, says NCMF Artistic Director David Yang in an e-mail exchange from Calabria, Italy, in the Bay of Naples, where the violist chills, so to speak, every summer before the Port music series kickoff, at Festivale d’alla Musica da Camera d’Ischia, a week-long chamber music festival and intensive workshop where Yang has been a coach and performer for years — a cool retreat, he says,  but “hot as hell, actually,” he says, “but a dry heat,”  not that dry heat is much of a comfort. New? There will be new players, in the festival quartet, which will feature two new violinists, and at large, with two hired guns in the house to perform the much-loved Brahms Sextet, among other pieces. There will be new venues, as organizers reach across the river into Carriagetown for its first-ever non-Port concert, a performance benefiting the steeple restoration fund for the historic Union Congregational Church, as well as an open rehearsal at the 14 Cedar Street Artist Studios.  As in the past, there will be a world premiere, another piece highlighted by local texts, this one with Port poet Rhina Espaillat’s  “Three Tenses of Light,” inspired by the paintings of Ipswich artist Andrew Anderson-Bell, which will be lit up by Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield, who composed  it specifically for the Port-based  Candlelight Chorale, a 30-voice chorus. Which is certainly new for NCMF.

The (classical) beat goes on at NCMF

You never really know what the Meehan/Perkins Duo is going to throw at you, or even what instruments they might be playing, until the program is in your hand — and even that might not help because the music tends to be, well, either a bit obscure, or so aggressively modern that it’s not even on the pop culture radar. The music could be anything from Joanna Beyer, the grand dame of American percussion music, or, for that matter, anyone from that circle of, sadly, largely unknown composers from the ‘30s, to new music guru/composers like David Lang, best known for his work with Bang on a Can All Stars, or the “superstars” of new music, people like Steve Reich or John Cage, both of whom will be represented when the duo pulls into town this weekend to kick off the second decade of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival with a slightly stripped-down concert at St. Paul’s Church, a decision based on the size of the venue — or, more accurately, "how big of a box it is, how many of my toys I can fit on the stage," says Todd Meehan.  The instruments could be marimbas, could be gongs. Could be congas, could be flowerpots. Could be anything they can get their hands on. Could, in fact, be their hands. The duo has a “big tent” view of percussion. Anything is possible. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Marco Badot: Getting in touch with his inner monkey

It's important not to overthink "The Geshe Gorilla Drawings," the new and, sadly, short exhibit by Marco Badot, because you lose the whimsy, the playfulness, the nostalgia of the work, which looks and feels like comic book art, and, perhaps, could, or should, be. It's also important not to take the artist  at his word when he's explaining the genesis of the series, suggesting, essentially, the work is little more than monkeyshines, fleeting, inconsequential, that it's just what comes out these days  and, instead of relegating it to some dark corner somewhere and being somewhat embarrassed by it, he simply decided to embrace his inner monkey and show the work. While there may be some truth in that self-observation — the Belgian-born Badot trained at Ecole nationale supérieure des arts visuels de La Cambre, one of Belgium’s leading art schools, after all — there’s nothing revolutional or earth-shattering going on in the exhibit, just a gorilla trying to get by in a complicated inner and outer world, this is more than just empty calories. It's playful, it's fun, it’s nostalgic, recalling youth and comic books, but, at the same time deals with the big three: sex, death and what the artist  calls “our apeness,” our basic animal nature, which we all like to believe we have transcended, but, as we are reminded every day, have not and cannot. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The funny thing about signal2noise?

Doug Blair and John Anthony hope to bump up
the signal2noise profile ... well, maybe after Blair
gets back from the 30th anniversary W.A.S.P. tour.
Funny thing about this band? There’s lots, actually. Like the name, signal2noise, with its stubborn insistence on the lower case. Or, more significantly, how frontman Doug Blair who, since 2006, has been playing that mad, custom-made guitar with the buzzsaw blade and lasers that track his fretwork with W.A.S.P. — that in-your-face metal band with a perfect PMRC pedigree, a band that has been scaring the dickens out of American mommies and daddies for three decades — ever ended up leading an essentially progressive classic rock act, heavy but “Beatles-ish underneath,” in the first place. Or how s2n (hmmm, the name even looks funny when it’s abbreviated) started out as an ambitious, if ultimately, neglected side project of not one, but two bigger acts, shunted aside before getting out of the musical gate. Which, and this is kind of funny, may have been a good thing, the delays giving the band a chance “to develop, to percolate,” says Blair. Or, how it started out as a power trio, facing all the problems associated with that form, like trying to fill the space after the guitarist takes off to solo, but fixes the “problem” by morphing into a power duo. Or how s2n has put out one album, “Fight Mental Illness,” and has done most of the grunt work for a follow-up, but has no firm plans about what to do with the final product when it’s done: Maybe doing it the old-fashioned way, maybe linking directly to metal news websites, getting the music directly to the fans. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Straight outta NYC: A 'Screaming' fundraiser

You scribblers out there might want avert your eyes or turn the virtual page because this might be a little too much to take, this whole Jack Rushton situation. You know him. He’s an actor, among other things. He’s been in a lot of shows, but the roles that stick out are Mr. Lucky, a completely over-the-top operator, a French ladies man, Pepe LePew come to life, complete with the very European (and tres elegant) hand-lick, at the New Works Festival a couple of years ago, and Dan, the self-emasculated, late-in-life newlywed whose, um, penis gets up and walks away because he’s not getting any attention in “The Richard Cycle,” the centerpiece of Michael Kimball’s “I Fall for You,” a collection of short works the playwright staged at the Firehouse three years ago. He’s also a writer. He started scribbling seriously a couple of years ago after getting a seat with The Group, a Port writers’ group that includes Kimball as well as Joshua Faigen, whose most recent play, “A Book of Snow,” served as appetizer for this year’s Boston Theater Marathon, and Raymond Arsenault, who will be rolling out “A Secret Remedy,” his new play, at the Actors Studio in a couple of weeks. It’s a productive group that, as Faigen has said in the past, whose name is either cool or stupid, depending on your mood. And Group member Rushton is apparently hard-wired directly to the Muse, who is totally crossed off my Christmas list since she is spending way too much time with this guy. I mean, in the past two years, he’s written 50 to 65 pieces. Yeah, so many that the guy can’t even keep track of them — and they “keep coming out,” he says. And you thought you had problems, right?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Onore: Busy guy with a new "Baby"

Jeff Onore abandons 'a profound sense urban loneliness'
for modern farce in 'Robotic Baby,' his new full-length.
Jeff Onore is a funny guy. Meaning, um, that he’s a little off his rocker.  Of course, that’s not quite the spin Bonnie Lake puts on it, is it?  No, the Port actress, who plays the Mom in “Robotic Baby,” Onore’s latest, says the guy has “a unique point of view” — and an equally singular way of getting that point of view across. Which means that he’s a little … well, it’s been said, right? Which is fine. At least he’s not still churning out work filled with a “profound sense of urban loneliness,” which is how one Canadian critic described “A Busy Guy With Lots of Problems,” his one-man show and entry to the 2009 Atlantic Fringe Festival, a play that’s about ... well, it’s difficult to nail down, but explores themes of obsession and failed relationships. “Got to admit it sounds pretty good, whatever it means,” he says, “but I think I’ve moved past that.” Which is a good thing, turning away from that profound sense of urban loneliness, that is, because, like existential dread, a little urban loneliness, profound or otherwise, goes a long way.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lesllie Powell: No rest for the weary

Port playwright Leslie Powell.
If you see Leslie Powell and she seems somewhat, um, unresponsive, don’t jump to the conclusion that she’s suffering from, you know, that well-known affliction of playwrights. Chances are that she’s not even lightly toasted, whatever a comfort that might be, no matter how loud a martini might be calling her name. No, she’s probably just taking a nap, whether her body agrees or not. The Port playwright hasn’t been sleeping well, hasn’t been sleeping through the night. She keeps waking up to deal with crises involving the new production of “The Way Life Should Be.” Whether they have actually happened or not. Stress. Everything that could go wrong, plus everything that has gone wrong. Like having two actors from the original production, people who know the work, pull out at the last minute. When she was 2,500 miles away, in Tucson, her winter hide-away. And the dreams — sleep-shattering nightmares about everything that could possibly go wrong. All these things banging around her brains. She’s thinking about hypnosis to help calm her down. She's not joking.  Stress: It’s a monster. You’d think the she would be used to it by now. After all, the Merrimac Street resident isn't exactly a rookie. She’s the one of the founders of North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative and Readers and Writers, INK. She’s a playwright who always seems to have something going on. Later this year, for example, she going to be attending a production of her play “Backfire,” about a young woman who seeks revenge on a man who bullied her in high school, at the Inspiration Festival in Toronto. Then she and her hubby, Ron Pullins, also a playwright — and owner of Focus Publishing in Newburyport — will be checking out “Ice Dancing” at the Last Frontier Conference’s New Play Lab in Valdez, Alaska.  But that’s different. Sitting in the audience, watching a play you wrote, the only real worry in the world is not being too deep in the wine line for intermission. That’s not exactly true, says Powell. She recalls Port playwright Gregory S. Moss fielding a question during a talkback session, someone asking what it’s like sitting in the audience watching someone do one of  your own plays. His response? “It’s like having your skin flayed off ... while you’re alive.”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Babes in Boyland: Looking at women in jazz, pop

This is a tale of two photographs. This first shows a fresh-faced hippie chick with flowing hair and clothes, straight outta Left Coast counter-cultural lore, stubbornly naive, still not broken by the world. She's got an acoustic guitar. You can almost hear the soundtrack of the Great Folk Scare in the background. The second, taken in 1991, about a decade later, shows the Bangkok babe, a jazz singer, a girl singer, as they used to call Rosemary Clooney, wearing a slinky black sequined cocktail dress and an upswept hairstyle. She’s surrounded by a trio of local musicians. It’s taken at the Bamboo Bar in Bangkok, in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where guys like Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham used to hang, in another era, where she played four sets a night, six nights a week during a seven-month run. Very different scenes, worlds, right? So, then, what happened, Celia Slattery? “Some very serious drastic changes," says the Boston-based singer/actress, who will bring “First Ladies of Jazz and Pop: Voices of Change,” her one-woman show, to the Actors Studio this week.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Look, it's Tiger Saw. Wow, it's been a while.

Tiger Saw will play its first local show in seven years
March 24 at the Firehouse. 
Photo courtesy Jon Donnell.
Well, anybody hoping to dig into a heaping helping of fresh, interesting news about Tiger Saw, information in advance of the band’s March 24 show at the Firehouse … well, sorry man, you gonna be disappointed because there’s not a whole lot happening with Tiger Saw right now. No tour on the immediate horizon, no new records since “Nightingales,” ten tunes about, or, at least, inspired by the night, and a return to the band’s slowcore/sadcore roots in late 2010, and, so far, no plans to head back to the studio any time soon. Yeah, an unusually slow period for the band, which constantly shifting collective that has zigged and zagged, musically, from the beautiful, hushed, slowcore sound of its early days to indie pop singalongs and basement over the course of its decade-long, 1,000-plus concert existence. Because, truth be told, Tiger Saw founder Dylan Metrano has been dogging it a bit, spending most of the winter on the road, in warmer climes, enjoying some down time, and his friends, and the calendar is quickly coming up on his standing date, his pause/refresh time, when he hides out on Monhegan Island, the artist colony outside Boothbay Harbor. Or, at least, that’s one way of looking at it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mara Flynn back in the local spotlight

Singer-songwriter Mara Flynn performs with Tiger Saw
March 24 at the Firehouse.
It's not like Mara Flynn fell off the face of the earth. She's been around, over there, at the Tannery, running Acting Out Productions for the past decade. And it's not like she made a conscious decision to walk away from music, from the stage. Not at first, anyhow, although it almost ended up that way, but not because she had grown tired of it. Life just took over. Her focus turned to family, the day-to-day and, after a while, she just didn’t feel the need to pick up the guitar. Maybe once a year, when she would have to play camp songs at summer theater workshops for kids, but that’s it. And the stage? That would have been way too much of a commitment, with rehearsals and performances and all. All things considered, life was good and, just when things started getting comfortable, real life came tumbling down on her, big time — a health crisis, an ectopic pregnancy that nearly killed her. Which got her attention. And, after dealing with the physical realities, left her holding the existential bag. She had to figure out what all of this meant, which, for Flynn, meant creatively. She started writing, not for anybody in particular, just writing to process, writing from “a place of deep grief and solitude,” she says.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Schmoozing with a brash, bawdy singer

Linda Myer plays Sophie Tucker at the Actors Studio.
Sophie Tucker is on the bubble, historically, remembered as a brash and bawdy belter, a nightclub performer with a swagger and a repertoire of, well, playfully nasty songs filled with winks and double entendres. She was the self-styled Last of the Red Hot Mamas, performing in the heyday of the Vaudeville era in the early 20th century to the dawn of the rock age — in clubs, on the circuit, even on the big screen. But her historical profile these days is thinner than the physical, her girth, which, for better or worse, was another big part of her persona. A lot of people have heard her, but few know much about her. That she was a nice Jewish girl, an emigre from the Ukraine. Who was married and divorced three times. Who abandoned her family, which included her young son, to chase after a career, a dream. Who "made it" in blackface, racist but accepted in the day. Who was forced to go that route because club owners and talent handlers decided she was “so big and ugly" that they had to "black her up," says Linda Myer, who brings “Schmoozing with Sophie: Last of the Red Hot Mamas," her one-woman show about Tucker to the Actors Studio next week, black culture being the only one where such an, um, voluminous, talent would be accepted, or so the thinking went. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Strange Brew: Band reveals new drummer

That's the guy, on the right: Aaron Zaroulis.
It didn’t look or feel like a Monday night at the Grog, especially one in the dead of winter. The place was packed, the base coming out hard to give The Brew a proper sendoff for its national tour to support “A Garden in the Snow” and “Light from Below,” the first two discs from “Triptych,” an insanely ambitious three-disc unboxed boxed set.  Final tweaks for the third are going on now, for "Hard Enough to Break,” the third album, for those of you keeping score. By this point, everyone had heard the big news. Kelly Kane, the Brew brother, charter member, who had been with the band since the beginning, fresh out of high school, back to the Blue Fungus Brew days more than a decade ago, would not be joining the band on this stomp through the country, and, in fact, had played his last date with the band, and would be hanging up his drumsticks for a while. Why? Sorry, no big scoop here. No personality clashes or creative differences or pilfering or girlfriend stealing. Simple economics. For an emerging band, touring requires a financial as well as a personal and artistic commitment. It costs money, in other words, and when you have a mortgage to deal with, taking off a month and hitting the road, bringing the music to the people can be, well, let’s just say that sometimes the romance of the road sometimes bumps up against some ugly realities. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Miller time: Busy cellist back ... with some surprises

Kristen Miller kicks off Women's History Month at the Actors Studio.
Been a busy time for Kristen Miller, even by the Georgetown cellist’s crazy standards, all quite possibly explained by her previously undisclosed and apparently unquenchable jones for tea, although, granted, she did hint about that as far back as 2003, on "Later that day," her debut album: The past two years have been steeped in creative work.  She's released two albums — “Walk,” a distinctive solo release that mixes world beat rhythms and Eastern melodies with a rock attitude and a beat sensibility, something she calls "cellobrew," and “Winter Loves Company,” a collaboration with Port sound guru Tom Eaton that mixes cello and piano with a Windham Hill sensibility. She’s also written soundtracks for three Maya Deren films, fascinating, mesmerizing silent films that are stubbornly interior, with little in the way of linear plot, and even toured with them. She's also created an original score for “No More Gloomy Sundays,” a short film by Robert Newton documenting the history of the WPA murals in Gloucester, and kept up her own busy performance  schedule. And toured with Ken Bonfield, a Gloucester-based multi-instrumentalist who, like Miller, has developed a style that's difficult to pin down, combining elements of folk, Celtic, classical and blues for acoustic guitar.  And, considering the creative workload, Miller has decided to take a short break from writing,  to catch her breath and regroup before the next big thing, whatever that might be — and if she knows, she’s not telling. But it will be only a break of a sort, seeing how she’s got session work lined up with Liz Mitchell, Conor O’Brien and What Time is it, Mr. Fox? And, before that happens, she’s got something else going on, something that incorporates all the disparate elements in her work, and throws a couple more into the creative stew, for the Actors Studio celebration of Women’s History Month, four weekend performances putting the spotlight on wimmins. And she’s happy to report that a few days ago, when she sat down for, errr, a cup of tea, she “realized how insane that is.” Which, of course, is the first step toward recovery.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blair ax project: Making guitars, making a racket

W.A.S.P. guitarist Doug Blair and his Blade guitar.
OK, class: settle down. Hey. I. Said. Settle. Down! Now! … OK, that's better. This week in Port Rules: Our Impact on the History of Rock and Roll, we're going to look at "Babylon's Burning," a video from W.A.S.P.'s 2009 album "Babylon," That, of course, that's the infamous Blackie Lawless center stage, playing bass and singing. Nope, no mistaking that melodic howl. He's the only original member of the band, which is celebrating three decades of scaring and creeping out American mommies and daddies with his rude and crude lyrics, adding fuel to the obnoxious fire, especially during the early years, with his in-your-face antics, like throwing raw meat into the audience or firing up the old flame-throwing or buzz-sawing codpiece or using bound-and-gagged women as props. Cute, eh? All of which earned the rockers, who emerged from the metal stew with bands like Motley Crue and Quiet Riot in the early ‘80s, a big old target on their backs from self-righteous censors like the so-called Parents Music Resource Council. And, in the spirit of the PMRC, a word of warning about the video: Try not to focus on the ridiculous Raiders’ T Blackie’s wearing, or, for that matter, the Raiders emblem on his bass. Poor guy's from the West Coast and doesn't know any better. And, to be fair, the Raiders did manage to win as many games as they lost this year — finishing the season a full game better than the bottom-dwellers. Which is playoff-worthy in that division. Besides, this time the spotlight's not on Blackie. We're looking at the guy stage left. That's Doug Blair, a Newburyport resident for about a decade and a three-time member of the band. That's him playing the crazy-looking guitar, which, like the guitarist, has roots in the city.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Faigen: 'Snow' business like show business, awk!

Port playwright Joshua Faigen, back at the Big Show.
Josh Faigen is on the phone. We’re supposed to be talking about his new play, and maybe we are. Who the hell knows? The only sound clearly audible is this horrendous, god-awful squawking, apparently some kind of bird, a parrot maybe. Name's Mary or Barry or something. Harry? Yeah, Harry. Named after his grandfather? "Don't ask," he says. Faigen, that is, not the bird. He squawks about ten minutes a day, then settles down. The bird, not Faigen. Except when he's talking on the phone. Faigen, not the bird. He doesn't like that. The bird, not Faigen. And expresses his irritation with unscheduled squawking. Usually lasts about ten minutes, then everybody can calm down. Faigen's been dealing with Harry's telephone envy for about 17 years, since  Pittsburgh, where Harry, Faigen and his wife, Penny Lazarus, lived before moving to the Port about a decade ago. Apparently, these creatures can irritate people for up to four decades, which is also interesting, but, at this point, I know more about the bird than "A Book of Snow," the new Faigen production, which will anchor this year's New Works Festival. So, now that Harry's finally calmed down, let's get busy.

Pasternack chillin' at this year's New Works

Playwright Leslie Pasternack with Sylvia, um, Simon.
Yup, Leslie Pasternack's back at the New Works Festival, but this year it's gonna be a little different. Way different, actually. Instead of running around like a crazy woman backstage or running lines in rehearsal, she's been kicking back at home, without a care in the world, other than dealing with a lingering case of, well, theater's equivalent of postpartum depression — when all that's left of a production is the memories and the reviews and, in Pasternack's case, a bloody goat head. You see, a month and a half ago, Pasternack had to say goodbye to Sylvia, the virtually unseen character in "The Goat, or who is Sylvia," Edward Albee's controversial — and creepy — parable about a guy who falls in love with a goat, who nobody actually sees until the end of the play, and all you actually see is the head. Which Pasternack, who directed the play, had been babysitting since the show closed last summer and had become strangely, perhaps dangerously, attached to it — her? — right down the sinewy stump, for which she had to pay extra.  She had to return Sylvia to Steve Faria, the Newbury actor, playwright and director who mounted the Actors Studio production. She's said her goodbyes — and has moved on, she says, but also admits, in an unguarded moment,  that she is "pining still" for sad Sylvia. Or maybe she's just playing. She is an actress, after all.  But, if true, the big win came at the perfect moment.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

American classical music finds its voice, old school

Strictly speaking, there's still nearly three decades left of the so-called American Century, the somewhat jingoistic phrase coined in 1941 by Henry Luce, the American Century's first multimedia mogul, to spur on the good old USA to dominate the world stage in politics, business and culture, not necessarily in that order, just the way God wanted it. But, truth be told, it looks like our century has passed in everything but the cultural realm and, while we may make it to the finish line of our designated time, we will probably be limping and hurting and gasping for breath, impressing no one, save for the cheerleaders for the power de jour and its hangers-on. So, the Boston-based collective Amercan Century Music seems a little unstuck in time, historically speaking, seeing how much, if not most, of its programming comes from before our self-proclaimed time — and far more benign, referring to the period when American classical music found its own voice, but not shouting at people with it. In fact, all three pieces in "Voices of the Early American Century," the ensemble’s second performance in Newburyport, were created and performed before Luce ever shot off his big mouth. About that, anyhow.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Barnard Firehouse photo exhibit shines infrared-hot

Jeremy Barnard remembers the bad old days of infrared photography, back in the days of film and chemicals. He remembers them well, the bad old days, remembers them as ... well, kind of like golf. Not because the work was mind-numbingly boring, like the so-called sport is for most, if not all, sentient beings, or because you are required to wear silly-looking clothes, but because of the way the game, and the style of photography, just takes it out of you — challenging you, taunting you, all but daring you to throw your clubs — or your camera — into the lake. Where they belong. Like most golfers, if you were working the infrared part of the light spectrum before the dawn of the digital age, you "stunk most of the time," says Barnard. Not for lack of talent or for an inability to keep your eye on the ball, but because the technology itself was, back then, unpredictable — and flawed.  "It drives you out of your mind, but then, just as you're about to quit, after all that frustration and disappointment, you get something that's decent and, masochist that you are, you think, 'OK, I'll suffer with this a little longer.'"  He eventually drifted away from infrared, but got back into the game when technology caught up with the format, with digital photography eliminating most of the headaches. When it came time to upgrade his equipment about three years ago, he replaced the low-pass filter in his digital SLR with a permanent infrared filter. Why? “Because something about infrared that speaks to me,” he says. The approach has an eerie effect in black-and-white photography, giving viewers blistering, eye-popping detail, sometimes on a surreal canvas, with leaves transformed plume-like on silvered branches and tree trunks. Or, as Barnard puts it, the images are like "an X-ray peering into the innermost life of Mother Nature ... allowing us to see more than we would with our naked eye." All of which you can see in "Beyond Our Vision," Barnard's new exhibit of infrared photography at the Firehouse.