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February 2009

January 2009

Open This

P1240006 Generally, I like showing up at shows early to catch the openers, who are often cutting edge acts that would never otherwise have the chance to play a Bowery Presents venue like Webster Hall. But why did DeVotchKa have to pick these twits Clare and the Reasons, with their bad gimmicks and worse harmonies? Back to Brooklyn, kids. 


Jazz Lions

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I stopped by Bethany's Stochastic Brooklyn at Barbes this past Wednesday to hear Buy My Book: a young, part-time sextet playing originals by Alex Hills (piano, accordion) and Chris Tordini (bass). Their spatial, occasionally ecstatic compositions were enabled by the multi-talented Becca Stevens (vocals), Masahiro Yamamoto (sax), and Gregg Ruggiero (guitar); I didn't catch the name of the guy on the drum kit, but he was a beast. Keep an eye out for these guys, however and whenever they appear next. (More pics below.)

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Song Play

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Singspiel ("Song-play") - a style of opera that combines music with spoken text - has been around for nearly three centuries. Think: Mozart's Magic Flute and Beethoven's Fidelio. Singspiel is designed to put the text on an even plane with the music, making it clear and comprehensible to the listener.

But, in Robert Ashley's Made Out of Concrete (2007), which opened last night at La MaMa E.T.C., characters speak over each other, or cut themselves off mid-sentence. Or, they spin off into unusually long soliloquies, relating stories that are at turns both amusing and disturbing. Electronic music, projected from amplifiers above the stage, hovers like a thin, atmospheric shroud. The experience is as frustrating - and captivating - as a Samuel Beckett play.  P1200038

As opposed to Ashley's other operas, Concrete has no vocal score, forcing him to rely on the abilities of four performers he's worked with closely over the past three decades: Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, Joan La Barbara, and his son, Sam Ashley. With the libretto taped into oversized playing cards held like poker hands, each "singer" improvised in his/her own unique style full of unusual cadences, their voices occasionally distorted through electronic processing (courtesy of Ashley's longtime sound designer Tom Hamilton.) Ashley, 78, was himself present onstage throughout, delivering his lines with poetic diction from an easy chair at the rear. 

Made Out of Concrete marks Ashley's 14th foray into the world of opera, and while its charms might be lost on those more accustomed to uptown fare, his dreamlike soundscapes will haunt you long after you leave the theater. Which is what all great art is supposed to do.

Concrete will continue at La MaMa E.T.C. through Saturday, in rotation with Ashley's other recent operas Dust (1998) and Celestial Excursions (2003). Tickets available at the box office or online.

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