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Jose Llana in Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" Series

by Steven Pisano

46912453522_0177f1eaa5_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The "American Songbook" series presented by Lincoln Center for over 20 years has been a reliably top-notch showcase for showing off the strengths of American songwriting. Some of the artists are singer-songwriters; others are interpreters of other people's songs. On Friday night in the Appel Room, the Filipino-American singer Jose Llana took the stage singing a range of songs from Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel, to Stephen Sondheim and William Finn.

Llana is best known in Broadway circles for two defining roles--in 2015, as the King in Lincoln Center Theater's Tony award-winning production of The King and I, succeeding the original star Ken Watanabe, playing opposite Kelli O'Hara; and for his portrayal of Ferdinand Marcos in the Public Theater's 2013 production of Here Lies Love written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Along the way, he also had roles on Broadway in Rent, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the revival of Flower Drum Song, amongst other roles.

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Winter Jazzfest 2019: "We Resist" at Le Poisson Rouge

by Steven Pisano

31725044687_0b385db1f6_k(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The Winter JazzFest is filling venues all week with a wide range of musical styles linked to "jazz", including old school, new school, and everything in between. One thing you can be sure of: You are going to hear some great music by some great musicians--even if you've never heard their names before.

On Sunday, Le Poisson Rouge played host to an ambitious program called "We Resist," presenting politically motivated music by Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (with special guests Antonio Sanchez, The Villalobos Brothers, and Akua Dixon); Marc Ribot; Toshi Reagon and musicians; and Samora Pinderhughes and musicians.

The evening kicked off with Pinderhughes performing his magnificent "Transformation Suite," which I first saw a couple of years ago at the BRIC JazzFest in Brooklyn. At that time, the piece was performed in the Artist Studio, the smallest space at BRIC, and with videos playing in the back corner and Pinderhughes half-hidden behind his piano, there was almost a detached, academic air to the work. It was beautiful music that engaged your intellect.

But at LPR, Pinderhughes and his group of excellent musicians and spoken word artists were aiming for something much more powerful, and the effect was a punch in the gut. The basic thrust of "Transformation Suite" is about racial injustice and about the brutality enacted against people of color in our country.

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"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher

by Steven Pisano

"The Good Swimmer" at BAM Fisher(All photos by Steven Pisano)

Back in 2008, Heidi Rodewald was nominated for a Tony and won an Obie for her musical "Passing Strange," which was eventually turned into a film by Spike Lee. She has collaborated many times with singer/songwriter Stew. Writer Donna Di Novelli is known for her fascination with "found text" as the basis for her lyrics written for various music-theater projects.

Together, Rodewald and Novelli have written the new song cycle "The Good Swimmer," which is currently playing at BAM Fisher through Saturday as part of the 2018 Next Wave Festival. First seen as a sneak peek back in 2016 at the Prototype Festival, "The Good Swimmer" isn't a work of theater per se. There is a band on stage throughout (including Rodewald on electric bass) that includes electric guitars, drums, keyboards, cello, trumpet, and violin. On a scrim above the band, there are projections and videos, including images from old lifeguard manuals and the roiling ocean. Throughout, a group of seven lifeguards move around behind the band and occasionally gather into tableaus, without directly conveying the lyrics being sung.

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Gary Clark, Jr. and Fiona Silver at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!

Celebrate Brooklyn Gary Clark  Jr. - 8In an age where almost any sound can be manufactured - or altered - in the production studio, it was a breath of fresh air to witness a true guitar virtuoso on Thursday night, when blues master Gary Clark, Jr. lit up BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! to kick off the final weekend of free shows at the Bandshell. (The Decemberists are playing the final benefit show tonight, weather permitting.) The packed house ate up his nearly two-hour set, along with sultry opener Fiona Silver

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