Sunday, February 16, 2014

What's brewing? You can ask Dave Drouin

Ever wonder what’s going on with The Brew since the summer, when the boys   closed the books on the band — forever, irrevocably — ending a decade of creative work that took the Amesbury-born, Newburyport-based quartet from free-form psychedelic jam band to road-hardened festival-headliners who shared the stage with their musical heroes, people like the Allman Brothers, Levon Helm and Bruce Hornsby, becoming a creative force capable of creating “Triptych,” a massively ambitious three-disc box set? 

Yup, us too. Well, next week still-jonesing Brewsters will have a chance to put the question to someone who should know: Dave Drouin, the band’s flashy guitarist, seen here in this marvelous Joey Walker photograph on the left, from the band's last lives show. He'll be playing a solo show of classic rock and modern covers from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the 17 State Street Café, which is located at … um, 17 State Street, Newburyport. Try not to pester him all night for Brew songs. That’s our job.  For more information on the 17, call 978-948-3456.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blues Party laying down the Laws on Sunday

Willie J. Laws, is kicking it at the Grog
this week. Kendal J. Bush photography 
Ladies and gentlemen, "The Last Prophet of the Funky Texas Blues," Willie J. Laws, is in the house after long and adventurous journey from the Gulf Coast of Texas to Massachusetts, becoming, along the way, one of the Bay State’s best bluesy treasures. And what a ride it’s been. Laws has toured the world with blues legend Phillip Walker and opened shows for the likes of Koko Taylor, Etta James, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Warren Zevon, Albert King and James Cotton. When the guitarist lays down the Laws with Parker Wheeler and the gang at the Grog on Sunday, he’ll be playing stuff from critically acclaimed CDs, the latest of which is "Running Out of Lies," and, of course, kicking out the jams with an all-star ensemble that includes his regular bassist, Malcolm Stuckey, and drummer Osi Braithwaite, as well as Peter Wolf Band keyboardist Tom West and two, count them, two saxophonists: Amadee Castenell and Henley Douglas Jr. Awesome.  It all gets under way at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Grog, 13 Middle St., Newburyport. There’s a $7 cover. And the guitarist, by the way, will return the favor next month, when he taps Parker Wheeler and Castenell as Willie J. Laws Band sidemen for Flashback, a benefit dance, party, auction and fashion show for the Lynn Shelter Association, at 7 p.m. March 22 at R&B Consignments, 270 Lynnway, Lynn. For more info on that show, check out

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Birdsongs: Flock of finches rocking at Peabody Essex

French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's exhibit has birds interacting 
with humans — and creating music — at The Peabody Essex Museum. 
Wicked Local Photo / J.C. Lockwood 
Three things, at least, that everyone should take away from "FreePort [007]: from here to ear," the new exhibit by acclaimed French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at the Peabody Essex Museum: First, you have never heard bird songs like this – never. And probably never will again. Second, words cannot even begin to distill the oddly intriguing sonic and visual world of the piece, the museum’s first major foray into contemporary art under The Present Tense initiative. It has to be experienced. Of course, since we’re in the word business, for better or word, we’ll will give it a go. And, third, this jaw-dropping exhibit, on display through April 13, is simply the coolest thing this side of MassMoCA, the contemporary art museum known for big, courageous and, occasionally, odd exhibits. So, then, what’s "from here to ear" all about? Well, imagine the sounds of a cat walking across a piano keyboard. Now imagine the Ramones or AC/DC covering the resulting "song," the wobbly, tentative tune replaced by big, crashing power chords.

Read more here.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Freddie II: A 'Great' new play by Port's Joshua Faigen

Don't get tripped up by the title, or by the picture on the poster. “Frederick the Great,” the play, is not about Frederick the Great, the fun-loving 18th-century Prussian warlord, er, king and patron of the arts who wrote more than 100 sonatas for flute and a couple of symphonies, including some to glorify his conquests, like when he and his BFFs to the east sliced up Poland that time. Frederick the Second?” Joshua Faigen, the Merrimac Street playwright laughs. “No, no, no,” he says. “It’s not that Frederick the Great!” Okay, but before you laugh too hard, Mr. Playwright, it seemed like it might fit. This, after all, is a Joshua Faigen play, so you don't know what he’s going to throw at you, but a lot of the time they have something to do with music, like those cranky downstairs neighbors in “Zoltan,” the playwright’s last production, who are sick and tired of listening to the music of the Hungarian composer Kodaly from upstairs. Or, “Book of Snow,” which features three piano pieces written by a young Richard Strauss, with the music firing up the emotional tenor of the piece, and, in fact, actually adding something to it, like a character — in the same way as the playwright built his ironically named “A Very Simple Play” around Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbundlertanzes,” a glorious piece by a fabulously insane composer written to defend the Romantic movement against the classical thugs Schumann imagined lurking in the wings.

Friday, January 17, 2014

SSU's 'Kafka in Tel Aviv' in theater throwdown

Submitted for your approval, a story so strange – Kafkaesque, if you will – that it becomes art, or could, in the right hands, and, since the story involves old Franz himself, focusing on the legal and moral ownership of work that he insisted be burned when he checked out, well, that’s one more delicious dimension of irony, of absurdity on an already strange, Byzantine story. Imagine, the papers, the literary legacy of one of the world’s most celebrated writers landing in the hands of a "cat lady" in Tel Aviv, once a secretary and lover of Kafka confidant Max Brod, now an old woman living with between 40 and 100 cats at any given time, who is cashing in, selling the work for hundreds of thousands of dollars, without a thought of scholarship, of legacy, who won’t let anyone see the work – all while the governments of Israel and Germany are locked in a furious legal battle, almost as odd as that faced by Josef K., over who owns these priceless lost works – Israel because Kafka was a Jewish writer, Germany because, while he lived his whole life in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, because he wrote in German.

Yes, a complex story raising some interesting questions, like who, ultimately, owns a work of art and whether society has a legal or moral right to snatch it out of someone’s hands, however it got there. A strange story, even before Salem State University theater professor Peter Sampieri, who calls himself "an armchair Kafka fanatic," put his own spin on the story, adding a character, Nina Stern, an American blogger obsessed by Kafka, who travels from the bright lights of the Big Apple to what is described as "the shadowy streets of Tel Aviv," to see the papers — and a collection of puppets who read fresh English translations of fragments and the lesser-known works by Mr. Metamorphosis in what becomes the play "Kafka in Tel Aviv."

Read more here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dave Mason's Traffic-jamming at the Blue Ocean

Let’s start by harshing your buzz, get it outta the way, right outta the box:  No, there’s no full-fledged Traffic reunion in the works. That's not what “Dave Mason's Traffic Jam” is all about. Not that Mason, a founding member (and one of two surviving members) of the iconic '60s band, would be against it. In fact, the guitarist, who has played with everybody from the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac to Hendrix and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends — the “Friends” at the time included Eric Clapton — and has had a strong solo career, has been pushing for a reunion for years. “For me, personally, I think it would be great. I think a lot of people would love to see it, but I don’t think it will ever happen.”
Ever? What's the problem?

“As I tell everyone who asks me, “ he says, “you’re asking the wrong guy.” The “right” guy, of course, is fellow founder Steve Winwood — and he's not talking.

Traffic Jam, which pulls into the Blue Ocean Music Hall on Jan. 18, has Mason ripping through the Northeast during a particularly bone-chilling winter. “How smart am I,” he says, laughing, during a telephone interview from his cozy Cali home.  The show is a Winwood-less celebration of the band, of the early sound, featuring hits and deep album cuts from 1967’s “Mr. Fantasy” and 1968’s “Traffic” albums, plus new material and classic Mason music.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Port jazz sessions swing into new location

Port drummer Phil McGowan, swinging again. Courtesy photo
They say that when the Big Guy closes a door, he opens a window – or something like that. And that certainly seems to what’s going on with jazz in Newburyport.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we were saddened to hear that the Wednesday night jazz sessions at Ten Center hit a sour note, that they were history. Then, just a couple of week later, we find out that Phil McGowan, who organized the event, lining up some of the area’s hottest players for his midweek rambles, had landed on his music feet on the other side of Market Square, at Andiamo's, 24 Winter St. Local jazz will still swing, maybe, on a different day. Thursday. If  folks make it clear this is something they want. That is to say, if they get their seats into the seats. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

French accent in new Tannery Series program at PEM

New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik will talk all
things French at the Peabody Essex Museum,
thanks to the Port-based Tannery Series. 
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
Now this sounds like fun, even for traumatized ALM students who have never gotten further than “Dis donc, où est la bibliothèque?” The answer to which, as many recall, maybe, is “C’est tout droit. Tu y vas tout de suite?” Even if they no longer know what that means.

But what is important here is that in “La Vie Bohème: Adam Gopnik on French Life, Light and Love,” a reading and conversation with Adam Gopnik at the Peabody Essex Museum, the sights, the sounds of France will be in the air in Salem, as the PEM kicks off its new Impressionism exhibit with an evening of French café culture. You’ll also be able to listen to French singer-songwriter Marine Futin.  Based in Brooklyn, New York, Futin takes her colored groove from the energy of the City, fusing jazz and blues with folk influences. Also check out an absinthe demonstration and sample pastries in the fashion of the best of France. Participate in an art-making event by sketching models dressed for the bohemian life from local vintage shop Modern Millie. The program, the latest in the Port-based Tannery Series, runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 16.

Gopnik, the New Yorker writer and author of “Paris to the Moon,” will discuss beauty and leisure, bohemia and art. The reading and conversation will explore how Impressionism has shaped our ideas about love, light, freedom and leisure. The program plays against a backdrop of “Impressionists on the Water,” an exhibit with more than 90 paintings, prints, models and photographs, which tells the story of how living near France’s waterways and oceans influenced one of the world’s most enduring artistic movements. The sparkle and play of light on water proved irresistible to key Impressionists. Rippling seas, dancing reflections and sailboats propelled by strong winds animate the art of Manet, Monet, Renoir, Caillebotte, Pissarro, Sisley, Seurat, Signac … you get the idea. The exhibit runs through Feb. 17.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New look: Altered Trio in special acoustic show

Newburyport guitarist Dan Searl will roll out an acoustic version of 
the Altered Trio this month at 17 State Street Cafe in Newburyport. 
Courtesy photo.
A new year, a new look — a couple of them, actually — for Dan Searl: The Port guitarist will roll out an altered version of The Altered Trio for a special all-acoustic show at 17 State Street Cafe. 

The Jan. 18 show will put the spotlight on Bossa Buena flutist Albert Lamar, who, like Searl, is a Berklee alum and instructor at the Musical Suite. Then, further south, Searl will bring out an altered version of his primary band, the Dan Searl Group, at Gulu-Gulu in Salem. This line-up will feature Searl and original DSG saxophonist Jared Yee,  playing with percussionist Yuriana Sobrino, who plays with Searl in Altered Trio, and Turkish bassist Yaman Akdogan, just a couple of weeks later.

Both shows will showcase original tunes and deconstructions and decompositions — arrangements of popular tunes that Searl has “done my own way,” he says. “re-harmonizing them and taking the tunes to a different place musically, while still preserving the message and vibe of the original versions. Some people may call them ‘jazzier’ versions, but I prefer to just say they are more rhythmically and harmonically developed,” he says.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Motes notes: Exhibit adds color to bleak season

Sorry, Mr. Eliot. April may be the cruelest month, but it's got nothing on January — a bleak, unrewarding, darkly monochromatic month, physically and emotionally, the gorgeous natural landscape chilled and covered with a sea of white. But not to worry. Skip Motes has that covered. The Port artist unveils a bright new exhibit,  “New Year, New Show, New Art: Pastels by Skip Motes,” this weekend at the Firehouse Gallery.

A past president of the Newburyport Art Association and, with his wife Marge, a fixture on the local art scene, Motes' paintings capture the light and color found in the landscape, but his pictures of places and objects express something close to an abstraction of the color and line and rhythms. 

 Although he works with multiple media in his paintings, the glowing colors are achieved with pastels, and these colors will draw the viewer in to a sensory experience of sun, breeze, and the balance of objects in nature.  

He's been painting marsh and seacoast landscapes of the North Shore. He works in pastel and builds up the texture over printing ink, monoprints and dry color pigments. His work also includes black Conté crayon drawings. “I use color, texture and form to express the landscape, rather than seeking a literal interpretation,” he says. 

Many are drawn by the mood and mystery in his work.

“Motes Motifs: New Year, New Show, New Art” runs through Jan. 26 at the Firehouse Gallery, 1 Market Square. There will be a  reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 5. Guitarist John Tavano will perform. The reception is free and open to the public.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Newburyport Arts: Back to the blog

Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle of Environs or, forgetting James Joyce for a moment and, with another vicus of recirculation, cuing up Billy Preston, to pose the musical question, “will it go around in circles?” And the answer, for better or worse, is yes. The blog is back. Newburyport Arts, your guide to the local arts, from swerve of shore to bend of bay. Whether it will fly high like a bird up in the sky, as Mr. Preston ponders in his song, well, we’ll see. The Port’s éminence gris or, if you want (when he’s out of hearing range, of course) crusty commentator J.C. Lockwood is back in the house, with one more lyric, this one from Dave Mason. Yeah, the guy right below, co-founder of Traffic, who’s playing the Blue Ocean this month: “Time for a new day in search of a new way. But are you sure that it will do. World in changes still going through …” Nah, forget about it, kamarádi. It’s a long story. Buy me a beer, if you want, and we’ll talk about it, right? Wow, can’t believe I’m hustling drinks again. Anyhow, later …