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March 11, 2012

Herbie Hancock at the Rose Theater

by Brian Weidy

Herbie hancock rose theater

Herbie Hancock brought his trio Friday night to the acoustically near-perfect Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The trio, which also includes James Genus on bass and Trevor Lawrence, Jr. on drums, brings with them a variety of experiences, such as Genus’ role on the Saturday Night Live band and Lawrence’s experiences with Dr. Dre, among others.

The band opened with the classic “Actual Proof,” off Hancock’s 1974 album Thrust.  The trio intricately weaved through the song’s many tricky passages, and the cohesion between band members was truly remarkable.  After a long bit of banter from Hancock, he proclaimed that they were going to play a combination of Lionel Loueke’s “Seventeen” with his own “Watermelon Man.”  This produced one of the funkiest songs of the night: splitting the head with Genus, Hancock eventually moved to the keytar, with he and Genus locked in a duel.  Their solo kept building and building, ascending the scales higher and higher to create an intense musical climax.  

Closing out the first part of the show, the band took on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” After an incredible solo by Hancock on the upright piano, Genus got his chance to shine with a phenomenal bass solo while Lawrence kept everything in check, displaying his immense skill-set without showing off.

To start the second half, Hancock walked onstage alone for a 10-minute solo performance, incorporating themes from “Maiden Voyage” into his improvisation.  The rest of his band then came out, and after a lengthy intro launched into the familiar head of the classic “Cantaloupe Island." 

After a quick encore break, Hancock broke out the keytar once again for the classic “Chameleon,” off of 1973's Head Hunters. After a fleet-fingered solo by Hancock, Lawrence treated the audience to his first drum solo of the night.  Hancock then turned his keytar into a MIDI-trigger for a variety of human sounds before reprising the head of the tune to close out the show, bringing the sold-out crowd to their feet.

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society w/ Anti-Social Music at Galapagos Art Space

by Mike Engle

Anti-Social Music, a chamber music collective, performs original music at the Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn, NY.  9 March 2012.  Photo by Mike Engle.
Galapagos Art Space is not simply a beautiful room with a curious name. It's also an environmental landmark, having recently obtained a prestigious LEED certification for its energy-saving features, such as the signature lake, located directly below the main-level seating section, that serves to regulate the internal temperature. There were about a hundred audience members when I arrived there on Friday, evenly distributed among island seating pods, the mezzanine, and the bar. As a whole, the double-decker space is just small enough to feel intimate, with excellent views of the well-lit stage.

The opening act was Anti-Social Music, a non-profit composer's collective that debuts new music every six months.  It is, essentially, a chamber music group, as there is no conductor.  At the same time, it features some of the most unique instrumentation I have ever seen, including vibraphone, drumset, French horn, and a wide range of reed instruments. The music included a curious hodge-podge of classical, jazz, and rock, along with a narrator who seemed so focused on reading his scripted "story" between each selection that he failed to effectively introduce the songs by name.  In short, my experience in listening to Anti-Social Music was identical to my attempts at decoding the group's name: I didn't get it.

The featured performers were Darcy James Argue's Secret Society.  Following Darcy's "steady hand and square jaw," his "co-conspirators" (which included, in typical big-band format, five trumpeters, four trombonists, five saxophonists, a pianist, a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer) navigated through some of Argue's older compositions from Infernal Machines, a new suite from Brooklyn Babylonabout a fictional carousel fixed to the top of the fictional "tallest building in Brooklyn" ("No political overtones, I swear, cross my heart, hope to die," Argue affirmed), and a pair of new compositions from David T. Little and Vijay Iyer, written especially for the Secret Society.  With equal respect to the swinging jazz band tradition, driving rhythms of modern rock, and unorthodox melodies and meters from contemporary composition, the Secret Society left me and the rest of the audience overwhelmed by their fantastic showcase.Darcy James Argue (composer, arranger, conductor) leads his band, Secret Society, in concert at Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn, NY.  9 March 2012.  Photo by Mike Engle

Stéphane Denève Makes His Carnegie Debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra

by Michael Cirigliano II


Feast of Music Stephane Deneve Boston Symphony Carnegie Hall

If Friday night’s concert at Carnegie Hall is any indication, the Boston Symphony is an orchestra in crisis. Although they have only technically been without a music director since James Levine resigned in September due to chronic health concerns, the Boston players have had to do without Levine at the helm for much of his six-year tenure with the group.

For their 2011 residency at Carnegie, Levine pulled out as conductor, leaving managers scrambling to find suitable replacements. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the year since that debacle: the orchestra’s three nights at Carnegie Hall this week were led by three different conductors, with one of those conductors (former New York Philharmonic music director Kurt Masur) pulling out last month, leaving Tanglewood Music Festival Chorus director John Oliver to take the helm for Wednesday night’s performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.

For their final Carnegie program, the orchestra was led by Stéphane Denève—a French conductor who not only had never conducted the BSO before, but was also making his Carnegie Hall debut. Thankfully, the rich timbres often associated with the high-caliber BSO were on full display throughout their program of Ravel, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich. However, Denève served as more of a guiding post than a reliable leader.

In Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye, which opened the program, entrances lacked pinpoint accuracy, and the sweeping sense of motion needed to bring Ravel’s glossy score to life was notably absent. The orchestra simply looked like a lost band—perhaps even a bit broken, having gone so long without a music director to corral the talented players and provide artistic vision. After witnessing the miraculous relationship displayed between Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic last month, I couldn’t help but to think of how long a leaderless orchestra can ultimately keep their musical composure.

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Clarence Bucaro at The Living Room

By Jordi Oliveres

Clarence Bucaro
If  a visitor from another planet was asked to guess the state of the world based purely on the lyrics of popular music, the first decades of the 21st century would seem among the most peaceful and harmonious, and the 60's the bloodiest and most turbulent. Even though, in many ways, the world is a much better place than it was 50 years ago, there is still plenty to complain about—war, famine, Justin Bieber—so it’s shocking to realize almost no protest music travels our airwaves. 

Traveling to Jerusalem, Cuba, Russia, Morroco, and the West Bank helped Clarence Bucaro realize the world is still a pretty shitty place, and he decided to write songs about it. He played some of these songs at The Living Room on Thursday night for a small, but thoughtful crowd. The Cleveland native’s music is mostly in a Southern minor blues style, with occasional flourishes of gospel that have led critics to compare him to a Moondance-era Van Morrison. Songs like “Renew My Faith In You,” with its startling changes in dynamics and mellow guitar solos, bring Jeff Buckley and, in some ways, even John Mayer to mind.

Even though Bucaro performs with only a bass player and a drummer, the trio fills up the room in an impressive way. The skill with which the band handles dynamics and backing vocals gives the choruses an extra punch, and Bucaro’s gloomy harmonies, on both guitar and piano, consistently set the angsty mood he is going for.

“Dangerous Secret,” from Bucaro’s upcoming fifth album, Walls Of The World, was one of the highlights of the night. The upbeat drum groove combined with a dark chord progression (played with a creepy surf-rock flanger effect) and the crawling bass line created a portentous atmosphere that perfectly matched the song’s ominous lyrics. Bucaro switched from guitar to piano for “Child of War,” a song inspired by the birth of his son. The latter asks questions like: “Why does a child strap on a bomb?” that perfectly illustrate the blunt protest spirit of Bucaro’s music. 

Walls Of The World will be released on April 3rd; a CD release show is scheduled for Rockwood Music Hall on April 4th.