BRIC Celebrate! Brooklyn: Aimee Mann/ Robert Glasper's R+R = NOW / Branford Marsalis and Roger Guenveur Smith

Branford marsalis  - 1I've been in and out of town a bunch over the past few weeks, but when I'm home, I always make a point of stopping by the Prospect Park Bandshell, where BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn is holding its 40th(!) annual season of free concerts. (See our thoughts on the opening night with Common here.) Pretty much any night you stop by, odds are you'll see something worthwhile: in the past week alone, I've seen singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, and some intense, politically tinged jazz with Robert Glasper's R+R=NOW project (incl. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Terrace Martin, Derrick Hodge, Justin Tyson, and Taylor McFerrin).

Last night's show featured a monster double bill including two sets by the incredibly tight and powerful Branford Marsalis Quartet, which bracketed  Roger Guenveur Smith's Frederick Douglass Now, which is hands down the most brilliant, urgent work of theater I've seen in recent memory. Blending several of Douglass' most famous letters and speeches with his own freestyle mashup of socio-political rant, it was a wake up call right on time for the 4th of July - marked by a huge American flag hanging droopily onstage and Marsalis' emotional playing of the National Anthem, twice. One of the best nights I've had at the bandshell, period. 

If you're in the area and want to beat the heat with a little country and bluegrass, stop by tonight for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, with Sierra Hull, Justin Moses and Mamie Minch opening. Doors at 6pm, show at 7.

Pics (with links to full albums) below.

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The Neighbourhood at New Haven’s College Street Music Hall

by Katie Zepf

IMG_2957NEW HAVEN, CT - On Friday, California's The Neighbourhood paid a visit to New Haven's College Street Music Hall, located just outside the Yale campus. Known for their blending of alternative rock with electro-pop, the band - singer Jesse Rutherford, guitarists Zach Abels and Jeremy Freedman, bassist Mikey Margott, drummer Brandon Fried - delivered an energetic performance before a revved up crowd.  They played a total of 16 songs from their albums I Love You., #000000 & #FFFFFF, Wiped Out!, and their newest self-titled release. Halfway through the set, Rutherford crowd surfed over the audience, giving excited fans a chance to see him him up close. The band closed out with their top hits “Sweater Weather” and “Stuck with Me”, ending the night with just as much energy as they began.

Before The Neighbourhood, LA noise rock outfit HEALTH played a very loud set, sounding no less ferocious than when we first heard them in 2009:

"At first listen, HEALTH are like a lot of other no wave bands: fast, hard, loud, thrashing guitar and drums. But they layer in these hypnotic, almost ecstatic techno sounds that make you want to get up and dance. And, then, they unleash a terrible bass that rumbles through your chest like a Marshall Tank. Before long, the whole thing sounds like a nighttime air raid, dropping guitar hits like napalm."

Opening the night on a quieter note, San Francisco's Field Medic (a.k.a.Kevin Patrick Sullivan) played lo-fi folk songs on acoustic guitar and harmonica, including a freestyle piece about juice (as suggested by the audience).

College Street Music Hall, which opened in 1926, features both a standing general admission floor with elevated rows and a seated balcony. Personally, I loved the layout, as it allowed for those who didn't necessarily want to be in the more aggressive pit (unlike myself) to enjoy the music from the comfort of chairs. Concessions were also solid: there was a a taco stand outside the entrance, as well as multiple bars that served food and drinks during and after the show.

The Neighbourhood is playing numerous festivals and headlining slots throughout summer, and returns to New York in the fall for shows at Brooklyn Steel (October 5th) and Terminal 5 (October 6th). Full tour dates can be found here.


Esa-Pekka Salonen's "Foreign Bodies" at the New York Philharmonic

Ny phil obsidian teanPhoto: Chris Lee, NY Philharmonic

When the New York Philharmonic reached out to Esa-Pekka Salonen several years ago to ask him to become an artistic partner, it was not, as many might assume, as a conductor. Rather, he was engaged as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-In-Residence, and over the past three seasons, the Phil has performed several of his works, both at Geffen Hall and at Williamsburg's National Sawdust, where he curated the CONTACT! new music concerts this past season.

But, it wasn't until the final few months of Salonen's tenure that he decided to take up his baton and conduct the Philharmonic himself. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to his subscription concerts in April, where he led the Phil in performances of Beethoven and a new work by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. But, I was there a week ago Friday for "Foreign Bodies": a one-off program which the Phil worked overtime to market in the media and on their various social media platforms as "groundbreaking" and "an interdisciplinary extravaganza."

Aside from the music, there was a photo booth filled with feathered masks and plastic horns (presumably for Instagrammers who like to look silly) and Broadway-style sippy cups so you could bring your Sauvignon Blanc (clear beverages only!) into the hall. Not really groundbreaking, but better than the usual.

“The concert experience has become predictable,” Salonen told the Times earlier this month,"and, visually, mostly dead boring...People are quite used to not only following narrative layers at the same time, but also expecting it."

All-in-all, the concert was thrown together in about four months - a flash in the classical world, where schedules are often booked 2-3 years in advance. Still, Salonen wasn't working completely from scratch: his Green Umbrella new music concerts at the LA Phil (where he worked closely with current NY Phil President Deborah Borda) provided a successful template to work from. 

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River to River Festival - "Naamah's Ark"

by Steven Pisano

28016303517_0f6cbbebed_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Now in its 17th year, the River to River Festival is a series of free performances presented each summer in Lower Manhattan, offering music, dance, theater, and visual arts. On Sunday, in Rockefeller Park along the Hudson River, an oratorio by composer Marisa Michelson and librettist Royce Vavrek, "Naamah's Ark," was presented on an open-air stage featuring almost 200 singers.

Like many communities on the East Coast - including the area surrounding Rockefeller Park - Hurricane Sandy brought widespread destruction to the Long Island town of Lawrence, NY.  Different socioeconomic communities within Lawrence had for a long time been separate, keeping to themselves, but the storm changed everything, bringing the people of the town closer together as they all recovered from the storm.

Inspired by Michelson's conversations with the residents of Lawrence, "Naamah's Ark" re-centers the biblical story of Noah's Ark around Noah's wife Namaah, about whom relatively little is known. Here, Naamah is very much a modern woman, doing all she can to hold things together in the face of a disastrous flood - just like the residents of Lawrence.

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