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.