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October 2015

The First Annual BRIC JazzFest Marathon

by Steven Pisano

20151015-DSC_5134-2

(All photos by Steven Pisano,)

If I had thought about it too much ahead of time, I probably would have stayed home. Five hours of nonstop jazz, on three stages, with overlapping start and finish times for each set. Instead, when I finally walked out of the first annual BRIC JazzFest Marathon - at nearly 12:30 in the morning - I was disappointed that the music wasn’t continuing on til dawn. 

During a week when the 35th CMJ Music Marathon, the 26th New York Cabaret Convention, and the start of the 6th White Light Festival at Lincoln Center all were in town at the same time, the idea of introducing yet another music festival seemed to be sheer lunacy. But jazz fans should rejoice—BRIC has established a new festival that is sure to be here for many years to come, destined to become just as much a fixture of the borough's musical scene as Celebrate Brooklyn (also run by BRIC).

Sometimes, a musician’s instrument has a special personality. It’s more or less the same hunk of metal or wood that you or I can buy at any music store, but certain musicians can draw out a special character in their instrument (think Miles Davis' trumpet, or B.B. King's guitar) that only he or she can evoke. 

Such is the case with Donny McCaslin and his saxophone. Nominated for a Grammy for his work as a sideman, as well with his own quartet, McCaslin’s sax has a big sound, infused with explosive rock energy. Fortunately, wherever McCaslin went with his playing, the other players followed, building pyramids of soaring sound. It was nothing short of exhilarating. 

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"Persona," a New Opera: Finding a Voice at National Sawdust

by Steven Pisano Lacey Dorn and Eve Gigliotti in "Persona"(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

Last weekend at National Sawdust, Williamsburg's hip new venue for contemporary music, Beth Morrison Projects presented Persona, a new chamber opera based on the 1965 Ingmar Bergman film with music by Rome Prize-winning composer Keeril Makan, a libretto by Jay Scheib (who also directed), and starring Amanda Crider, Lacey Dorn, Eve Gigliotti, and Joshua Jeremiah.

The production takes place in a room dominated by a camera on a swinging boom, which follows the characters around the stage. We in the audience watch the actors on stage, but we also watch the cameraman filming the actors, and we view on the different monitors the video that the cameraman has captured--all simultaneously. (Production support for cameras and monitors was by Joshua Higgason, Kim Madalinski, and Ashley Tata.)

The inevitable questions are raised. What is real? Who is the observer? What part do we the audience play?

Persona is essentially the story of two women, one who is mute, and one who can’t shut up (or, in this case, stop singing.) We first meet Elisabet Vogler (Dorn) in a hospital. A noted stage actress, Dorn one day suddenly stopped talking during a performance of the play Electra. Sister Alma (Crider), a nurse, is assigned the task of getting the actress to talk again.

The closeness of the two characters can be argued to be the duality of a single personality. Indeed, near the end of the story, Elisabet’s husband comes to visit her and mistakes Alma for his wife, and makes love to her. So maybe both women are the same person. Or, maybe not.

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CMJ Music Marathon: A Night at Webster Hall

by Steven Pisano 

Hannah Cohen(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

On the second night of last week’s CMJ Music Marathon, Webster Hall was filled with bands that ranged from dreamy self-absorption, to dressed-all-in-black arena rock, to a trippy electronic dance fantasy. I caught acts on two of the three stages.

In the Ballroom upstairs, model and musician Hannah Cohen sang ethereal and meandering songs that looped in and out of focus. These contemplative meditations probably would be best listened to in a darkened bedroom illuminated by a galaxy of twinkling candles. Once a California high school soccer star, and the daughter of a jazz drummer, Cohen was “discovered’ as a model and spent most of her 20s modeling and then hanging out in the New York art scene. Now she sings moody and languorous songs as she pads about the stage slowly, seemingly lost in her own world, like a cat. Some people have compared her in some ways to Lana Del Ray.

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CMJ Music Marathon: A Night at Rockwood Music Hall

by Steven Pisano

20151013-DSC_2505 (All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

The annual CMJ Music Marathon was in town last week for five days and nights of almost nonstop music in clubs around lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, showcasing a rainbow of music genres including everything from female rap, to K-pop, to Aussie folk, to jangly British shoe-gaze, to... well, you name it, somebody, somewhere, was probably performing it.

There are two approaches to covering such a musical glut. The first is to be promiscuous, wandering club to club. The second is to be monogamous, picking one venue, then sitting back and seeing what comes along on stage.

On the Marathon’s opening night, I chose to go steady with Rockwood Music Hall, mostly because they have three separate stages. First up were the Walking Sticks, from Washington, DC. On their recordings, they have a dreamy synth sound (ok, I’ll say it—they sound like the background music in a hotel breakfast room), but live, they had genuine zest.

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