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Finding a Common Language in Jazz: Jason Moran and Robert Glasper Part I

Esteemed jazz pianists and composers Jason Moran and Robert Glasper take the stage at the Walker’s McGuire Theater on Saturday, May 2 at 8 pm and 10:30 pm for two exclusive US performances. Showcasing collaborative talent through an energized repertoire of jazz history, their duets pay tribute to a number of influential jazz geniuses. Honoring […]

Robert Glasper & Jason Moran, Blue Note Records’ 75th Anniversary Tribute at Winter Jazz Fest, January 8, 2014. Photo: Lesley Keller

Robert Glasper & Jason Moran, Blue Note Records’ 75th Anniversary Tribute at Winter Jazz Fest, January 8, 2014. Photo: Lesley Keller

Esteemed jazz pianists and composers Jason Moran and Robert Glasper take the stage at the Walker’s McGuire Theater on Saturday, May 2 at 8 pm and 10:30 pm for two exclusive US performances. Showcasing collaborative talent through an energized repertoire of jazz history, their duets pay tribute to a number of influential jazz geniuses. Honoring the contributions of artists such as Thelonious Monk, Sam Rivers, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ammons, and Meade Lux Lewis, the duo’s compositions and improvisations reflect the ever-changing landscape of contemporary jazz. Although they acknowledge the rich legacy of their jazz forebears, they also catalyze a fresh conversation about the very state of the genre. Through extreme virtuosity, humor, and poise, Moran and Glasper launch jazz into a new realm.

Moran and Glasper’s friendship began during their days at Houston’s High School for Performing and Visual Arts, but only recently did they decide to fuse their individual musical inclinations into one performance. The pair made their debut at the 713–212 —> Houstonians in NYC concert in 2011. They came together again with force at last year’s 75th anniversary celebration of Blue Note Records in New York City. Through solos, duets, and improvisation, they alternate back and forth until the culminating moment when their music becomes one. You can still expect their individual personalities to emerge next Saturday night, as both hold acclaimed musical careers in their own right. Their divergent paths make the pair an unlikely but impeccable duo. They share a similar ambition: to take jazz in new directions.

As part of a two part series on their upcoming collaboration, I first delve into the artistic career of Jason Moran. Another post will follow next week highlighting the work of Robert Glasper.

Jason Moran, Photo: Clay Patrick McBride

Jason Moran. Photo: Clay Patrick McBride

As a Houston native, Jason Moran began playing the piano at age six, later moving to New York to study jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. While he cites Monk as his first inspiration, Moran’s oeuvre continues to break down boundaries that once divided jazz from other artistic disciplines. A 2010 recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award and the Artistic Director for Jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., his formidable artistic achievements continue to reach audiences around the world.

Moran is no stranger to the Walker. Since 2001, he has participated in a variety of distinctive performances here, including his collaboration with the legendary saxophonist-flutist, Sam Rivers; an evening with his trio The Bandwagon (drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen); and a postmodern jazz tribute to Thelonious Monk. In addition, his residency at the Walker resulted in the acclaimed 2005 Walker-commissioned piece, Milestone. While at the Walker, Moran did not limit himself to the McGuire Theater. He ruminated on the artworks in the Walker’s permanent collection, including performance and visual artist Adrian Piper’s The Mythic Being; I/You (Her) (1974). His intensive research into Piper’s work, and other works in the Walker’s collection, resulted in a new concert form and evening of music. Throughout his composition of Milestone, Moran maintained close contact with Adrian Piper. He adopted her consciousness for the personal, political, and performative dimensions of art, later synthesizing this philosophy into his compositional strategy. He comments on how reframing traditional compositions within this collaboration allowed him to “tamper with the form [of jazz].” Milestone remains just one of many instances when Moran decided to push the boundaries of jazz.

Adrian Piper, The Mythic Being; I/You (Her), 1974 (detail) T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1999

Adrian Piper, The Mythic Being; I/You (Her), 1974 (detail) T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1999

As seen from his exchange with Piper, Moran does not limit his musical ambitions to individual acclaim. Instead, he takes unprecedented effort to foster collaborations with artists, musicians, poets, curators, and choreographers across disciplines. These include performances and compositions with Glenn Ligon, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, and Lorna Simpson, as well as a decade-long, ongoing collaboration with Joan Jonas. Moran has also worked with renowned contemporary visual artist Kara Walker, celebrated for the intricate silhouettes she affixes to gallery walls to create a landscape that interrogates racism in past and present. Walker illuminates a history embedded with enslavement, exploitation, and sexual violence. She performed with Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran in their multimedia work Bleed at the 2012 Whitney Biennial.

Moran forges thoughtful collaborations with contemporary artists that deal with charged interpretations of identity and society. His Hollywood debut earlier this year composing the score for groundbreaking film Selma, with director Ava Duvernay, earned him a nomination for an Oscar. His work warrants consideration in the context not just of music, but also the pressing social and political issues of this century. In an interview with Daniel Schweiger following the release of Selma, Moran describes how he views the relationship between jazz and social practice:

Jazz and activism are so integral to each other, whether we think about the music of Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, the music of the vaudeville performer Bert Williams in the early 1900′s, or the music of Paul Robeson. That link, that defiance, that comes out of the origins of jazz and blues are what we know of black music in American. It has that kind of tension and history built in to it, a process of exploring sounds from James Brown to today’s artists like John Legend and Common, who perform Selma’s end song, “Glory”. So when I study jazz, I don’t just study just the music. I study its relationship where it was in the history. (Full interview found here).

Remaining cognizant of this momentous history and never losing sight of the trailblazers of jazz, Moran challenges the status quo of 21st-century music. His astute awareness of relevant events informs the bold collaborations he sparks with contemporary artists. Moran’s music carries underlying narratives of personal history; the power that emanates from his compositions allows sonic concepts to resonate with listeners. In a recent interview with Franz A. Matzner, Moran puts it well: “So for me via my relationship with musicians who have taught me so well over all of these years, there’s never been a demarcation between the music and the culture. Never!”

Radiclani Clytus, Gregg Conde, and Tony Gannon, Jason Moran:Looks of A Lot, 2014 Photo: courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Radiclani Clytus, Gregg Conde, and Tony Gannon, Jason Moran: Looks of A Lot, 2014
Photo courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

The much-anticipated documentary Looks of a Lot explores the shifts that Moran proposes for how we define jazz in 2015. Directors Radiclani Clytus, Gregg Conde, and Tony Gannon set out to complicate narrow interpretations of jazz by displaying the interdisciplinary sound Moran has created through his extensive collaborative efforts. Looks of a Lot provides a window into the far reaching impact of Moran’s artistic connections. The film explores Moran throughout the preparation of his multimedia presentation, Looks of a Lot, as seen at the Symphony Center in Chicago in 2014. His collaborators include the Bandwagon and Chicago sculptor Theaster Gates, reedist Ken Vandermark, Katie Ernst, and the Kenwood Academy High School Jazz Band. Looks of a Lot will be screened at the Walker Cinema on Thursday, April 30.

Stay tuned for part two of this series, on Robert Glasper, early next week.

Jason Moran and Robert Glasper perform at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater on Saturday, May 2nd at 8:00 pm (sold out) and 10:30 pm (limited tickets available). The documentary Looks of a Lot will be screened during Target Free Thursday Night on Thursday, April 30th at 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm in the Walker Cinema.

Breathing Machine Music: Holly Herndon’s Sound Gallery

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Sound Horizon performance by Holly Herndon. Agree or […]

Holly Herndon. Photo: Suzy Poling

Holly Herndon. Photo: Suzy Poling

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on Thursday night’s Sound Horizon performance by Holly Herndon. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Holly Herndon breathes into a very loud microphone. Her inhale and exhale pan across the room. Scott Nedrelow’s Movie (Black Swan), a series of six video projections shot inside a cinema screening Darren Aronofsky’s film of the same name, plays on a loop in the background. Herndon’s voice is joined by disjointed, deconstructed beats. Her sharp inhales come so suddenly that we realize we are at her mercy: anything louder than breath would surely send a jolt through the audience.

The music grows dense, and a 4/4 rhythm emerges. Suddenly, we’re awash in drum machines. I briefly wish we were dancing in a warehouse instead of sitting quietly in a gallery. Black Swan continues to loop: an audience arrives in the cinema, watches a scene of the film, the credits roll, the audience leaves.  The amplifiers shake. I wonder if the art on the other side of the wall is shaking too. She gasps. The rhythm dissipates. The focus remains on her voice, constantly manipulated, keeping us in suspense.

Holly Herndon’s work is somewhere between the academy and the club; the performance is at once confrontational and intimate.  Her second LP, Platform, is due out May 2015 on the venerable 4AD label. She is a 21st century electronic artist who sits behind an array of computers – but it is the sound of her breath that fills the room, forms sonic sculptures, and keeps us on edge.

Deceptive Magic: Noah Keesecker on The Music of Bryce Dessner, Program B

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on Saturday night’s program of The […]

So Percussion performing Bryce Dessner's "Music for Wood and Strings". Photo: Jayme Halbritter

So Percussion performing Bryce Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings. Photo: Jayme Halbritter

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on Saturday night’s program of The Music of Bryce Dessner, co-presented by the Walker Art Center and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

Let’s dispense with the obvious. Bryce Dessner is a sorcerer, Buke and Gase is a griffin, Ben Lanz is a cyborg, Caroline Shaw is a unicorn, and Sō Percussion is a machine.

Great. Glad we cleared that up. So if you had bumped into me before last Saturday night and asked what I was doing that evening I could have said, in metaphorical truthiness, “I’m going to go see a sorcerer play music with a griffin and a machine. Oh, and there will also be a cyborg and a unicorn. Wanna join me?” To which you would have said “I’ll grab my wand while you pull the brooms around.”

Seriously though. There was a lot of energy in McGuire Theater on Saturday night and I am not going to say it was all good. It was certainly well crafted, well educated, and well executed but there were some elements of the evening that I just couldn’t get over. Liquid Music is one of my favorite concert series anywhere but the more I pay attention the more I wonder if this trend of the Indie/Classical interloper isn’t simply a new version of orchestra pops concerts; Indie Chamber Music for Millenials. There. I said it. We’ve got  Sufjans and Newsoms and a good line of bands working with top tier chamber ensembles and symphonies. Of course this isn’t a revelation, good old Pitchfork has tossed the Indie Classical label around for quite some time. And so what? The label is just the words we make up so we can talk about something that doesn’t have a name. And so what.

This overnight review has turned into three, four, five overnights for me. Like that old college friend that’s “just passing through” and crashes on your couch for a few too many days, I’ve been wrestling with identifying what it was about this concert that left me so, well, not impressed.

So I broke this down into my main observations (read: complaints) and a silver lining.

Your Credentials Don’t Matter

Nothing feels more like the eye-rolling snake oil call of a traveling salesman than waving credentials like a white flag of peace before you enter the hallowed white walls of contemporary art institutions. You know that scene from Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?

Do I really need to state for the millionth time that college degrees are not a magic recipe for making good art? They mean something but they do not guarantee quality. Correlation does not imply causation. I got hung up on the fact that everybody wanted me to know Dessner went to Yale for music. Yes, I just kicked that dead horse so let’s move on.

Silver Lining: The more I think about it the more I feel that my own bias is the problem here. The institution waves the academic flag because the institution needs it, not the audience, not the artist. The artist is going to make their work regardless of announcing their pedigree and the audience is going to like or dislike their music regardless of the artist’s pedigree. Dear Audience and Artist, you are free to go.

A Minimal Amount About Minimalism

Can we just admit that Minimalism is the Pop Art of the classical music world? That hocket is the audio equivalent of halftone and being functionally monophonic is an harmonic palette of just primary colors?

Silver Lining: There is some great Pop Art in the world and talented artists continue to test its boundaries.

Punch-In, Punch-Out

It’s a structural thing. It’s about the construction of the work, specifically Dessner’s work. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that he writes straight into a DAW. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I would be the last person to tell another artist that he must suffer the misery of a quill and inkwell or that you should write your canon out by hand rather than click a couple buttons, trim the fat and call it a day. But I’m not talking about canons, I’m talking about being able to hear the tool. “And how, all knowing and curmudgeonly wizard, can you hear the tool of composition? Please, enlighten us!” Well, there was an overwhelming amount of blocks. A layer begins, another layer is slapped on top, then you pull something out for a bit, then you layer it all back in. It was as if you could just see someone punching tracks in and out on a sequencer. Lines did not blend, they were jutted up against each other like a mixture of hard geometric shapes. Melody was down played in favor of textures and process, nudge a loop, get a new permutation. Nudge it again, get another permutation.

Silver Lining: Electronic dance music and a majority of popular music idioms have ingrained a very satisfying appreciation for blocky layers and abrupt change. The reason is because time is difficult to parse when things move slowly so the more you repeat with a frequent change the more you demarcate time for the listener. It’s pleasing to hear, it’s jarring, it’s well crafted, which all makes it exciting.

Dynamics

Did anyone else notice that there were very few dynamics during this concert? Ben Ganz had dynamics (but some suspiciously flat sounding audio quality at times), and Caroline Shaw wins the nuance award for the evening with her clever, delicate, and expertly balanced work for solo violin and voice.  The rest of the concert was mostly just… loud. Not uncomfortably loud but just consistently lacking in the use of softer amplitudes. This to me is something that really sets classical music apart from pop genres. It’s super hard to listen to Mahler, or Brahms, even Stravinsky in your car because the works are constructed out of a amplitude range that goes from bombast to susurration. The Saturday night show had very little whispering and felt more like any other rock show. One could argue that loud is a choice, and it can be, but when you deny yourself the expressive power of using a full dynamic range, I consider that to be a poor choice. Not to mention tiring.

Silver Lining: Loud is easy. Loud is fun. Loud keeps your attention.

Highlights

You may be wondering if I have any compassionate or happy bones in my inner ear and the answer is yes, yes I have a few. Buke and Gase proved to be a fantastically quirky duo that write some really fine songs and Arone Dyer’s voice and melodic sense cannot be overstated. For two people and a pile of invented instruments, they produce a facile capriciousness of style and an amazingly varied color palette.

As mentioned previously, Caroline Shaw performed a felicitous little piece for violin and voice. It was a simple little piece and like great simple things it was deceptively complex. I call this easy complexity and it is a mark of artistry.

Finally, we come to Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings, a percussion piece written for a mutated sort of dulcimer created by Aron Sanchez. I’m going to be totally honest and say that the dulcimer is probably one of my least favorite musical instruments ever created and a 21st century dulcimer is still a dulcimer. The one magical moment from the work was near the climax there was a sheet of resonance hanging in the air and then like some kind of magical creature, there emerged some of the most sparkling overtones that I have heard in person for some time. And it occurred to me that no sorcerer’s apprentice is going to make this kind of ethereal sonic event happen, only a full fledged sorcerer can pull that off.

Overall, I thought I hated this concert but as I wrestled with the lingering sounds and mulled over all these pesky details I came to really enjoy how persistent the music had been. I am not an advocate for liking everything that is made. I like to dislike things because it is in taking issue with work that we are faced not just with those challenges in front of us but the challenges inside of us as well.

The Many Faces of Marc Ribot: Seven Sides of a Guitar Genius

I have no hesitation saying Marc Ribot is one of the greatest guitarists alive today. I know of no other contemporary musician who manages to merge experimental ambition, raw gutbucket emotion, and unmistakable beauty like Ribot. A vast array of collaborative contexts over the course of his career have led Ribot to develop myriad original […]

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Marc Ribot. Photo: Barbara Rigon

I have no hesitation saying Marc Ribot is one of the greatest guitarists alive today. I know of no other contemporary musician who manages to merge experimental ambition, raw gutbucket emotion, and unmistakable beauty like Ribot. A vast array of collaborative contexts over the course of his career have led Ribot to develop myriad original guitar sounds, from the free-skronking blues of his performances with Tom Waits to the electrified neo-classical klezmer of his work with John Zorn and much more.

Ahead of Ribot’s performance at the Cedar on Saturday, April 18 with David Hidalgo (of Los Lobos), it seemed appropriate to compile a playlist that attempts to at least scratch the surface of the legendary guitarist’s diverse body of work.

1. The Lounge Lizards – “Fat House” – Big Heart: Live in Toyko (1986)  

Playing here with a top-form Lounge Lizards lineup, Ribot’s free-blues funk is a perfect representation of the jocular, disjointed, and visceral Downtown sound he would help define throughout the ’80s.

2. John Zorn – Live at Jazz in Marciac (2010)

One of the most fruitful collaborative relationships in either musician’s career has been the partnership between Marc Ribot and John Zorn. Ribot has played on everything from Zorn’s most outré compositions (“The Book of Heads”) to the “radical Jewish music” of his Masada songbook (as we see in the video above).

3. Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos – “Postizo” – The Prosthetic Cubans (2000)

The music of Ribot’s Los Cubanos project may give us some clue as to what we can expect from his duet performance with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo next Saturday at the Cedar. His distortion-laden take on Cuban music bursts with energy on this track and on nearly everything he’s put out with the band.

4. Marc Ribot (Solo Acoustic) – “Fat Man Blues” – Live at the Falcon in Marlboro, NY (2014)

In this breathtaking performance at a club called the Falcon in the small town of Marlboro, New York, we get a taste of one of Ribot’s subtler, more meditative takes on the blues.

 5. Tom Waits – “Cold Water” – The Mule Variations (1999)

In a career that’s seen Tom Waits go from a lounge-rat court jester to a demented noise-making carny and everywhere in between, Ribot’s guitar has been one of the few consistent variables. His deep-in-the-pocket blues has always managed to keep Waits (somewhat) grounded in the basics of American popular music without dumbing anything down. Dig his solo here at around three minutes in.

6. Marco Cappelli – “And So I Went To Pittsburgh” – Extreme Guitar Project (2006)

Ribot’s remarkable talent for composition is on display with this tune, a cut from Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli’s album of guitar pieces written by a number of accomplished contemporary avant-garde composers.

7. Ceramic Dog – “Your Turn” – Your Turn (2013)

With bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith, Ceramic Dog is the closest Marc Ribot comes to playing straight up rock ‘n’ roll. On “Your Turn,” he’s out for blood with a blistering four minutes of hard-nosed, prog-inspired post-punk.

….

Marc Ribot performs at the Cedar on Saturday, April 18th alongside David Hidalgo at 8 pm.

A Quiet Evening: Chris Campbell on The Music of Bryce Dessner, Program A

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer Chris Campbell shares his perspective on Friday night’s program of The Music […]

Left to right: Stefan Schneider, Bryce Dessner, Richard Reed Parry, Caroline Shaw, and Laurel Sprengelmeyer. Photo: Jayme Halbritter

Left to right: Stefan Schneider, Bryce Dessner, Richard Reed Parry, Caroline Shaw, and Laurel Sprengelmeyer. Photo: Jayme Halbritter

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer Chris Campbell shares his perspective on Friday night’s program of The Music of Bryce Dessner, co-presented by the Walker Art Center and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

The Liquid Music series, presented by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, is navigating some challenging and exciting terrain.  It’s dealing with no-genre aspirations, or what Duke Ellington once called “the music of the future..when it will be boiled down and left without a category.”  The series is concerned with the cross-pollination of ideas, scenes and personalities, and the physical draw of getting people excited to come out to concerts. The mixing of contemporary and experimental musical genres has, of course, been central to the Walker’s performing arts programming for decades.

Ultimately, last night succeeded on all these fronts. The show itself presented an obvious entry point for the audience to experience the music they came for.   It also provided, whether intentionally or unintentionally, an invitation to explore the larger world of classical music that can often be intimidating or esoteric. Audiences need more cordial entry points to that world, not less.  Which leads us to the actual concert.  The penultimate show for Liquid Music 2014-2015, copresented by the Walker Art Center, was billed as “The Music of Bryce Dessner – Program A” (Program B is tonight) but the evening felt more like a collaborative effort between equal-share friends. Composer, guitarist and curator Dessner, who is also a member of The National, had two pieces performed which bookended the main program.  Joining him were multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw, who each had several of their own works programmed, in addition to performing on each others’ works.

The show began with the piece Lachrimae.  Composer Dessner, who acted as an engine and a rudder throughout the night, explained and gave context to the piece afterwards.  The piece is heavily influenced by Renaissance composer John Dowland, whose works Dessner often played while studying classical guitar.  Parry’s Interruptions followed. A suite of vignettes, Interruptions is part of a larger theme Parry is exploring, connecting performers’ heartbeats and breathing to their music making.  Stethoscopes are used by the performers to link their biorhythms to the external rhythms being created.  The piece is a series of lovely miniatures, like aural 2” x 2” paintings executed with a few well-placed and fully mindful brushstrokes.  It was delicate, simple and balanced.   Parry’s Quartet followed without much of a lull and was stutter-y, organically asymmetrical, and inherently inward-looking.  Simple ideas executed well can be powerful, and Parry and crew executed well.

Dessner and Parry are both clearly interested in teasing out certain threads and tendrils that they might not be able to explore in a standard issue pop/rock song.  A particular sonic image or texture that might only last a few seconds in a certain context was zoomed-in on, explored, and repurposed in the context of the evening.

Halfway through the main program, Little Scream (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) offered a sonic palette cleanser and built up the energy in the room with a quick two song set.  Caroline Shaw’s two pieces were programmed next.  Her work was the highlight of the concert in an evening chock full of good moments.  By and By, her re-framed, stripped-of-all-varnish arrangement of gospel and bluegrass songs, took the energy of the room and transformed it upward and inward into an ethereal bloom.  Shaw’s Entr’acte spun its web using small, motivic ideas.  The piece churned along earnestly, with whispered asides and technical, snaky flourishes for punctuation.  It developed with chorale progressions that were chopped, bounced and rotated through variation.  The piece was smart and understated, with a clear and nuanced form.  I saw the audience lean in toward the stage at certain points, which points to the piece’s impact.

Dessner ended the main program with a piece called Tenebre.  It began quietly, fluttering while squeezebox clusters and chords lined up with lyric lines and gestures dancing atop. Tenebre’s language is pretty, with some sprinkles of dissonance thrown in like a well-placed swear word in a conversation.  The piece reached its climax with a pre-recorded, disembodied Sufjan Stevens singing from the rafters.  The strongest aspect of this piece was its kinetic qualities. The players gave the sound a corporeal property that moved.

After a 20 minute intermission, Parry’s new group Quiet River of Dust, which includes Laurel Sprengelmeyer, played a closing set.  It was filled with Nick Drake-ish moments, but with a different color palette.  In a song about rain and death knocking on one’s door, one of the amps started to break up and it created a weird radiating rain texture toward the end of the piece, creating a magic moment.  The amp continued to break up for the next few minutes, which wasn’t so magical, but Parry handled it like a pro and the problem resolved itself without notice.

After listening to these three composers, I kept coming back to the breadth and depth of the classical ecosystem in terms of styles, designations, motivations, and vocabularies.  If your view of serious contemporary classical music is Tristan Murail, Georg Friedrich Haas, Henry Brant, or even Heinz Hollinger (the linked piece reminds me conceptually a little of Parry’s quartet) this ain’t it, and it never will be.  Good.  The truth is, this gracious and approachable (gasp!) modality of classical music must exist as much as the most rigorous experimental classical music does.  When in expert hands, both things are equally awesome.  There’s no conflict when viewing it all as interrelating and informing one body of music.  Having different schools, scenes and micro-genres help us evolve, converse, and adapt as listeners and creators alike.  What was done last night was neither risk-taking nor groundbreaking from a certain point of view, but the music I heard challenges and pushes in important ways.  Isn’t trying to be understood a risk in itself?

The playing and performances were tight, and it was a great night of music from three talented composer-musicians.  I’m curious to hear how they develop their own musical logic and language over the next few years. Walking out of the hall, I heard a stranger next to me say to their date that they “want to learn more about string orchestras”.  Appetite whetted.  Invitation to explore accepted.  It’s Saturday now, and in the light of morning I really hope that person engages and absorbs what the many branches of the classical tradition have to offer.  I hope they get to know this awe-inspiring ecosystem better, from the most anarchic sounds, to the most whip-smart and whisper quiet. I highly recommend you go to tonight’s show and see what new magic happens.

Curiosity is the “Big Mother” of Invention: An Interview with Buke and Gase

As anyone who writes about Buke and Gase is obliged to do, let’s begin by explaining the New York duo’s name. The name Buke and Gase comes from the two self-made instruments that create most of the band’s sound. The buke is a baritone ukulele invented by Minnesota-born multi-instrumentalist Arone Dyer (right), and the gase, invented by Aron Sanchez […]

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Buke and Gase. Photo: Grant Cornett

As anyone who writes about Buke and Gase is obliged to do, let’s begin by explaining the New York duo’s name. The name Buke and Gase comes from the two self-made instruments that create most of the band’s sound. The buke is a baritone ukulele invented by Minnesota-born multi-instrumentalist Arone Dyer (right), and the gase, invented by Aron Sanchez (left), is something of a half-guitar-half-bass. Running their instruments through an elaborate rig of homemade pedals, Dyer and Sanchez manage to achieve a seamless mixture of art-pop songwriting and experimental limitlessness.

On Saturday, April 4, Buke and Gase will join critically acclaimed percussion quartet Sō Percussion on the Walker’s McGuire Theater stage to present a new collaborative work. The performance is a part of a weekend-long mini-festival copresented with the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series celebrating the music of composer/guitarist Bryce Dessner, who has worked closely with both Buke and Gase and Sō Percussion over the years.

Ahead of next week’s performance, Performing Arts Interns Sam Segal and Mark Mahoney had the chance to ask Buke and Gase some questions about their compositional strategies, their collaborative process with Sō Percussion, and what led them to invent their own instruments.

Aron, you built instruments for the Blue Man Group for a period, and Arone, you’ve worked as a bike mechanic. It seems that one thing that characterizes all of your creative output, mechanical and musical, is a certain spirit of invention. Why have you embraced this DIY approach? What does it allow you to accomplish musically that conventional instruments and approaches couldn’t?

Aron Sanchez: Well, we’re only two people and we don’t want to play to a track; we want to perform all our sounds because it’s fun and presents us with interesting challenges both musically and technically. The “DIY approach” is just a matter of course. I think most musical projects are “DIY”—artists have to figure out how to achieve their particular musical expression. Ours logically extends to the creation of instruments and other technical devices, because other people don’t already make the kinds of tools we need to create our sound.

Arone Dyer: Having been a bike mechanic mostly speaks of my desire to do work that requires manual skill and understanding of how things work. Ultimately, this way of thinking has seeped into every millimeter of my existence, and without it as a philosophy I would be someone very different.

When many people first hear your music, they assume it’s coming from a band comprised of several people. Is that kind of expansive sound something you strive for? How does that sound get translated into a collaborative context with a group like Sō Percussion?

Sanchez: Sure it is. We like expansive. We get excited by hearing ourselves sound bigger than the two of us (we also like sounding as small as we are). With Sō, we try to blend in and not take up as much space as we do when we usually perform.

Dyer: We strive to create music that we enjoy performing and listening to, regardless of how expansive it is.

Has it ever felt like the uniqueness of your instruments has overshadowed the other elements of your music in the press?

Dyer: Yes, often, although it can be considered to be a “Chicken Vs. Egg” complex; how could we make the music we do without the instruments we use, and likewise, why would we think to create new equipment and instruments without playing and noticing the need for change or addition to our sound palette? Some say “Boredom is the mother of invention,” but perhaps for us it’s more that our curiosities are the mother. The Big Mother. At this point our instruments are quite solidified in their virginal sonic range, and most of our invention/additions are along the lines of enhancing usability and expanding post-instrument sonic expression. As far as this being the pinnacle of interview and article content, it feels likely that since instruments and inventions are such tangible, material subjects, it’s easier for the press to focus on those, rather than questions directed more toward the intangible, such as lyrical content, creative inspiration, and intended direction. It bugs me, but I also understand that some bubbles just aren’t easy or comfortable to pop.

How did the Sō Percussion collaboration first come about? What can we expect from your performance together on Saturday night?

Sanchez: In 2013, the Ecstatic Music Festival in NYC approached Sō and B&G about doing some sort of collaboration. Ecstatic usually pairs different artists together to either create something new or collaborate on existing work. B&G and Sō took the opportunity to collaboratively write new material together over the course of some months, meeting and sending files back and forth. What we will perform at the Walker is a result of that work.

In an early iteration of Buke and Gase, you guys played with a drummer. What initially led you to pare down to a duo, and why have you now decided to return to using live percussion?

Dyer: Correct. We were playing with a drummer, and then that was simply no longer the case. We made the decision to remain a duo for many reasons, starting with the discovery that our music was just fine without one. B&G and Sō Percussion remain as two separate groups who come together to perform music we had created together, and we still don’t have a drummer.

Aron, you’ve said in the past that electronic music is a huge influence on you. Did you try to give this collaboration the feeling of a piece of electronic music played on organic instruments?

Sanchez: Yes, I’ve always been interested in the translation of electronic sounds and processes into the world of hands-on instruments, and definitely this is something we try to bring to the table. Regardless, our “organic instruments” are highly electronic to begin with, taking into account all the digital processing we use to add different dimensions – they sound completely different when un-plugged. Recently we’ve been taking that some steps further, actually using computers and synthesized sounds that we control with our instruments or feet.

Arone, did you change the lyrical process at all when you knew you were writing for this collaborative effort, rather than another Buke and Gase record?

Dyer: No, although I may have subconsciously toned down the variety of the subject content. It was quite a fluid, of-the-moment process this time around.

In 2009, Bryce Dessner and other members of The National came to one of your shows in Brooklyn, and they were absolutely floored. What has your relationship with Bryce been like?

Sanchez: Yes, Bryce and Aaron Dessner came to one of our first shows that their sister Jessica had booked at a little venue in Ditmas Park called Sycamore. It was super early days for us, but they were nonetheless impressed and asked if they could help us out, which led us to releasing three records on their label. Bryce is awesome of course and working with his label Brassland has been a huge influence on our success as a project.

Finally, on the video for your NPR Tiny Desk Concert, YouTube commenter ‘travelswithcharley4’ opined, “If they collaborated with the red hot chili pepper, i think that’d be awesome.” Can you comment on this?

Dyer: Chili Peppers are spicy, and, no doubt, were we to collaborate with them, our faces would be red, beading with sweat, and our heart rates would be higher than normal due to the capsaicin receptors located on our tongues reacting to high amounts of SHU. This might not be a good idea…

….

Buke and Gase will perform with Sō Percussion as a part of the Walker’s and Liquid Music’s The Music of Bryce Dessner program in the McGuire Theater on Saturday, April 4 at 8 pm.

A View from the Back Row: Bill Cottman on Jack DeJohnette’s Made in Chicago

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, photographer, writer, and radio host Bill Cottman shares his perspective on […]

Left to right: Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Jack DeJohnette, Larry Gray, and Henry Threadgill. Photo: Paul Natkin

Left to right: Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Jack DeJohnette, Larry Gray, and Henry Threadgill. Photo: Paul Natkin

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, photographer, writer, and radio host Bill Cottman shares his perspective on the recent performance of Jack DeJohnette’s Made in Chicago at the Walker. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Jack DeJohnette’s Made In Chicago with Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, and Larry Gray appeared on the McGuire Theater stage this past Thursday night. If you were present, you heard IT. If you were absent, you will never hear IT. The creative natures of these musicians require physical presence to fully experience their work. Depending upon your exposure to them and their music, IT was terribly terrific. IT was the beginning, or IT was the continuation, or IT was the eve of another Friday the thirteenth.

From my seat in the back row, I could see the heads of the full house audience. After several minutes into the first selection, a listener stood and clapped his hands in no discernible relationship to the music. Roscoe Mitchell’s horn was sounding a rivetingly rhythmic pattern, relentless as the passage of time. IT reminded me of a preacher’s comment to his standing congregation, “sit as you are able!” Words are unable to make you hear IT if you were not present. This IT, declared dead too many times to cut flowers for. After several minutes Mitchell was satisfied with IT and stopped and we applauded and hooted as modern audiences are prone to do.

DeJohnette lead us into the next experience. We followed, listening for familiar hooks to hang our listening baggage upon. My foot was raised, waiting for the one. Whenever it came, I had forgotten I had been waiting. I think Threadgill’s horn was the sound introducing the next movement. My listening mate asked me something about the title of IT and I had nothing to say. Call IT what you will and wait to see if IT passes this way again. In the meantime the motion continued forward.

Writing about IT is somewhere on the continuum from intellectual analysis to emotional experience. When people look at my photographs and say, “I don’t know anything about photography”, I ask them to consider three questions:

What do you see?

How does it make you feel?

What might you do as a result of what you’ve seen and felt?

On Thursday evening I felt the need for my own questions. I was in the midst of something that was demanding more than my intellect was equipped to analyze. I needed to yield to the part of my brain best equipped to deal with IT. An engineer could not say how IT worked. An artist needed to express why IT was working. So to the readers looking for words to hear IT with, you will not find them here. My words are a ramble rather than a review. Thursday’s music came from the upper room of a full house. Gaining entry required effort. Effort of the intellect, filled with knowledge of the players and their stories. Or, effort of the spirit, filled with open space available for unexpected outcomes.

From the back row of a full house you can see the silhouettes of listeners. You can see movements microseconds after hearing the sounds causing them. You can see the restless bolt at the first opportunity they perceived as freedom to get out. You can see those who stay; the great majority, moving in ways suggesting individualized acceptances and realizations. This was not music for the masses. IT was selective, but not exclusive… unless you made IT so.

Remember the failed verbal communication between Threadgill and Mitchell? Both were sitting out a solo when Threadgill looked to his right and captured Mitchell’s attention and moved his lips to send a message. Mitchell didn’t get it, so Threadgill repeated. Mitchell didn’t get it, so for a third time Threadgill repeated. He still didn’t get it. Threadgill stood and moved toward Mitchell and reached beneath his chair to lift an oversized sheet of white paper to the music stand in front of them. Both men winked, nodded, and smiled! Surely, from this point forward, IT sounded better/different/worse?!

Larry Gray never touched his cello; did he? With ears wide open, I nodded several times. Gray stood behind his double bass and raised his right foot numerous times. But it was a raising like live yeast does in correctly baked bread. IT never fell! IT contained the capacity to lift and transport one above and beyond the inequities of daily life. The ancestors said they could fly!

See how he leads from behind. How does all the credit get back there? Isn’t all the credit up front? Perhaps there is sufficient credit to cover everyone. What if credit is not the objective? What if everyone knows the destination and the journey becomes the objective?

Technology enabled bootleggers or permission granted powers that be may have recorded IT. At some point in the not too distant future, we may be cursed/blessed with an opportunity to re-view, re-visit and re-hear something called IT, but that will not be IT!

billcottmanbio

Bill Cottman is a photographer, writer, and host of Mostly Jazz on Saturday mornings at 9am on KFAI Community Radio, 90.3 FM Minneapolis and 106.7 FM St Paul. Live stream and archived programs at www.KFAI.org/mostlyjazz.

Greg Tate: AACM’s Greatest Hits

For newcomers, the voluminous discography of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) can seem daunting, if not overwhelming. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this influential improvisational musicians’ group—founded in Chicago by pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran—we invited writer and Burnt Sugar […]

Greg Tate

For newcomers, the voluminous discography of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) can seem daunting, if not overwhelming. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this influential improvisational musicians’ group—founded in Chicago by pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran—we invited writer and Burnt Sugar bandleader Greg Tate to share a brief history of AACM for the Walker website. In doing so he gave us a bonus: his “idiosyncratic selection of the AACM’s Greatest/Sui Generis Hits.”

Muhal Richard Abrams

Young At Heart/Wise In Time (1969)
Things To Come From Those Now Gone (1975)
Sightsong (1976), with Malachi Favors
Duet (1981), with Amina Claudine Myers
Blu Blu Blu (1991)

The Art Ensemble of Chicago

People In Sorrow (1969)
Les Stances A Sophie (1970)
Certain Blacks (1970)
Bap-Tizum (1972)
Fanfare For The Warriors (1973)
Urban Bushmen (1980)

Roscoe Mitchell

Sound (1966)
Nonaah (1977)
Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin’ Shoes (1981)

Lester Bowie

Rope-A-Dope (1976)
Fast Last (1974)
The Great Pretender (1981)
I Only Have Eyes For You (1985)
Blasé (1969), with Archie Shepp
No Agreement (1977), with Fela Kuti 
Black Tie White Noise (1993), with David Bowie

Joseph Jarman

Song For (1966)
Egwu-Anwu (1977)
Black Paladins (1979)

Henry Threadgill

Air Song (1975), with Air
Air Lore (1979), with Air
80° Below ‘82 (1982), with Cassandra Wilson
Air Show No 1 (1986), with Air
Just The Facts And Pass The Bucket (1983)
Song Out of My Trees (1993)
Makin’ A Move (1995)
Up Popped The Two Lips (2001)

George Lewis

Solo Trombone Record (1976)
Shadowgraph (1977)
Sequel (for Lester Bowie) (2006)
Voyager (1993)
News For Lulu (1988), with John Zorn and Bill Frisell
Streaming (2006), with Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell
Les Exercices Spirituels (2011)

Leo Wadada Smith

Reflectativity (1975)
Dark Lady of the Sonnets (2011)
Ten Freedom Summers (2012)

Fred Anderson

Live At The Velvet Lounge, Volumes I+II (1998)

Douglas Ewart

Angles of Entrance (1998), with Inventions Clarinet Choir
Velvet Fire (2009)
Homage To Charlie Parker (1979), with George Lewis
Velvet Drum Meditations
 (2011)

Nicole Mitchell

Xenogenesis Suite (2008)
Aquarius
 (2013)

Matana Roberts

COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (2011)
COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (2013)
COIN COIN Chapter Three: River Run Thee (2015)
Dear Science (2008), with TV on The Radio
Live from Minagle Falls, with Burnt Sugar
Yanqui U.X.O. (2001), with Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Rock the Garden 2015 Lineup: Modest Mouse, Belle and Sebastian, Babes in Toyland, and More

Today, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock the Garden 2015. For the second year, the festival will span two days: Saturday and Sunday, June 20 and 21. On Tuesday, March 10 we celebrated the announcement by revealing one artist every hour live on 89.3 The Current. We liveblogged the announcement all […]

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Today, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock the Garden 2015. For the second year, the festival will span two days: Saturday and Sunday, June 20 and 21.

On Tuesday, March 10 we celebrated the announcement by revealing one artist every hour live on 89.3 The Current. We liveblogged the announcement all day, and you can see the entire list of bands below, along with a few fun facts about them.

For more updates, follow the action on Twitter at @walkerartcenter@RockTheGarden, and @TheCurrent.

Modest Mouse, Issaquah, WA (Sunday, June 21)

Modest Mouse. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

Modest Mouse. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

  • Modest Mouse hasn’t played in the Twin Cities since 2010, and their upcoming release, Strangers to Ourselves, is their first full-length album in eight years. The album features “The Best Room,” a single based on frontman Isaac Brock’s experience of the famous Phoenix Lights UFO sighting of 1997.
  • Speaking of Modest Mouse and celestial weirdness, a meteor appeared in the sky as the band was on stage during November’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin. The song they were playing: “Dark Center of the Universe.”
  • Last fall, Glacial Pace Records re-released the band’s early albumsThis Is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West on vinyl. Along with those reissues came a handful of previously unreleased early songs. Check out Lonesome Crowded West outtake “White Lies, Yellow Teeth.”

Babes in Toyland, Minneapolis, MN (Sunday, June 21)

Babes in Toyland. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

Babes in Toyland. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, Lagos, Nigeria (Sunday, June 21)

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. Photo: Johann Sauty

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. Photo: Johann Sauty

  • The son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, saxophonist, singer, and bandleader Seun Kuti has been carrying on his father’s legacy with a style of West African dance music all his own. First playing with the band at the age of eight, Seun leads Egypt 80, the group of musicians who once backed up his father.
  • Kuti’s most recent album, A Long Way to the Beginning, was produced by jazz pianist Robert Glasper, who will perform at the Walker in May with pianist Jason Moran. The album also features guest rappers M1 (of Dead Prez) and Blitz the Ambassador.
  • Seun was offered the lead role in Fela!, Bill T. Jones’s hit Broadway musical about his father’s life and music, but turned it down. “It would just give ammunition to those who say I am copying my father,” he told the Guardian.

JD McPherson, Broken Arrow, OK (Sunday, June 21)

JD McPherson. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

JD McPherson. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

  • Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s own JD McPherson makes roots music with simultaneous originality and shameless nostalgia, drawing influence from both Little Richard and Wu-Tang Clan. McPherson’s music is part Motown and part rockabilly with a little bit of the fuzzed-out blues of the Black Keys thrown in for good measure. On February 10, McPherson released his second full-length LP, Let The Good Times Roll.
  • Even though he’s not a son of the Midwest, McPherson has a huge fan base in Minnesota. When asked about this by Mary Lucia during a recent in-studio session at The Current, McPherson said, “We all know that Minnesotans are very intelligent and sensitive, artistic people, with the highest level of taste.” You flatter us, JD.
  • Before deciding to play music full time, McPherson was trained as a visual artist. He received an MFA from the University of Tulsa in Open Media. You can sense the influence of an art-school background on the literary style of his songwriting.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, New York, NY (Sunday, June 21)

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger

  • The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger features singer-songwriter Sean Lennon along with his girlfriend and collaborator Charlotte Kemp Muhl. Their music merges the classic ’60s psych sounds of a certain world-renowned four-piece with the surrealism of more modern acts like the Flaming Lips and Ariel Pink.
  • While the two have been recording music together since 2008, they just released their debut album, Midnight Sun, last year. PopMatters called it “a near perfect album,” while Mojo praised the record’s “out-of-body transmissions that channel Bends-era Radiohead, Syd Barrett whimsy and woozy melodic weirdness.”
  • Ever wonder what Sean Lennon’s favorite flavor of ice cream is? Or what he would do if he found $46 on the ground in a parking lot? Find the answers to these and other questions in this interview with Lennon, conducted by a grade-schooler named Olivia for the website Kids Interview Bands.

Belle and Sebastian, Glasgow, Scotland (Saturday, June 20)

Belle and Sebastian. Photo: Soren Solkar

Belle and Sebastian. Photo: Soren Solkar

  • In January 2015, Belle and Sebastian dropped Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance, their first album since 2010. Nineteen years and nine albums into their career, the band is still finding new nooks and crannies of pop history to plum for inspiration. On this album, they’ve injected the danceability of ’80s synth pop without losing any of their revolutionary edge.
  • Last year frontman Stuart Murdoch made his debut as a film director and writer with the musical God Help The Girl. The film garnered a Special Jury Award at Sundance, and the soundtrack featured original songs by Murdoch and Belle and Sebastian.
  • Belle and Sebastian might not be the first band you’d expected to cover Journey, but when you’re playing a children’s hospital, you have to break out the hits. Here they are playing “Don’t Stop Believing” at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for the Songs For Kids Foundation.

Conor Oberst, Omaha, NE (Saturday, June 20)

Conor Oberst. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Conor Oberst. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

  • The last time Omaha native Conor Oberst swung by the Twin Cities to play to a packed crowd at First Avenue, he also stopped by The Current to perform a stunning in-studio session with his tour mates Dawes.
  • In a recent interview with Noisey, Oberst revealed the existence of an unreleased collaborative album he recorded with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and the Postal Service’s Jimmy Tamborello in 2003 called Blood on the 4-Tracks. Unfortunately, it seems the only way they’d be interested in releasing it is as a novelty edible seven-inch on Third Man Records. Your move, Jack White!
  • Speaking of long-lost Oberst projects, he will be touring all of April with his recently reunited punk project Desaparecidos. The group will be releasing the follow-up to its 2002 record Read Music/Speak Spanish on Epitaph sometime in 2015.

Courtney Barnett, Melbourne, Australia (Saturday, June 20)

Courtney Barnett. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Courtney Barnett

  • Singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett is a slacker-rock stream-of-consciousness poet. Her music has the dreamy languidness of a sunny June afternoon, but her lyrics employ the cutting storytelling of a master satirist. Rolling Stone has referred to her as “Jerry Seinfeld with a fuzz pedal.”
  • The music video for “Pedestrian at Best,” a single from her upcoming record Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit(due out March 23), features Barnett playing a depressed clown who just can’t seem to catch a break. Hilarity ensues.
  • Want to watch Courtney Barnett cover the entirety of INXS’s seminal 1987 album Kick? Sure you do!

Lucius, Brooklyn, NY (Saturday, June 20)

Lucius. Photo: Peter Larson

Lucius. Photo: Peter Larson

  • Described by the Guardian as “exuberant” and “relentlessly melodic,” the Brooklyn indie-rock quintet Lucius makes millennial girl-group pop with anthemic ambitions. Their live act is somewhere between a fashion show and a rock opera, featuring dual vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig singing in unison dressed in identical outfits.
  • Respected economist, New York Times columnist, and self-proclaimed “60-year-old wannabe hipster” Paul Krugman is an avowed fan.
  • The cover of Lucius’s latest album, Wildewoman, features art with a timely Walker connection: Belgian artist Evelyne Axell’s 1964 painting Ice Cream will be featured in the Walker-organized exhibition International Pop, on view from April 11 to August 29, 2015.

thestand4rd, St. Paul, MN (Saturday, June 20)

thestand4rd. Photo: Courtesy the Artists

thestand4rd

  • Made up of Twin Cities wunderkinds Allan Kingdom, Spooky Black, Bobby Raps, and Psymun, thestand4rd fuses cloudy hip-hop with R&B and ethereal electronic music. The New York Times describes their live show as an act that walks the line between “reverent church hymnal and intense backpack-rap show.”
  • Rapper Allan Kingdom recently found himself in the spotlight when Kanye West featured him on his new single “All Day” along with Theophilus London and Paul McCartney. The song debuted with an explosive live performance at last month’s Brit Awards.
  • At the tender age of fifteen, singer Spooky Black’s first single “Without You” scored mountains of Internet hype, with the song’s music video hitting the million-views mark while he was still in high school. Spooky graduates in 2016, by the way.

ROCK THE GARDEN 2015

The annual summer festival returns Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 2015 from 2–10 pm each day, in the green space next to the Walker.

BUY TICKETS

Tickets go on sale to Walker and Current members on Thursday, March 12 at 11 am. Any remaining tickets go on sale to the general public on Tuesday, March 17, at 11 am.

Mark your calendar and make sure that your Walker membership is up to date. Walker/MPR membership ID numbers will be required for all pre-sale purchases.

Walker membership: 612.375.7655 or membership.walkerart.org.

MPR membership: 1.800.228.7123 or mpr.org/support.

Sounds in Motion, Community in Action: Douglas R. Ewart’s Sound Horizon

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker Intern Mark Mahoney shares his perspective on Douglas R. Ewart’s recent […]

Left to right: Stephen Goldstein, Mankwe Ndosi, and Douglas R. Ewart. Photo: Mark Mahoney

Left to right: Stephen Goldstein, Mankwe Ndosi, and Douglas R. Ewart. Photo: Mark Mahoney

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker Intern Mark Mahoney shares his perspective on Douglas R. Ewart’s recent Sound Horizon performance. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Acclaimed local composer, improviser, and sculptor Douglas R. Ewart launched this year’s installment of the Walker’s Sound Horizon series with a far-reaching and engaging performance. Ewart’s variegated artistic practices and his propensity for finding interconnections between different media made him a natural choice for the series, which celebrates the intersection of sound, materiality, space, and community. He was joined by the similarly multifaceted Mankwe Ndosi (voice, poetry, and percussion) and Stephen Goldstein (laptops, various electronics and controllers), both longtime collaborators.

Ewart arrived at Walker Gallery Six with an impressive array of instruments both traditional and invented, among them an English horn, sopranino saxophone, and several crutches retrofitted with tiny bells. This assortment was not simply for show; Ewart’s remarkable command of these instruments opened up a vast spectrum of timbral possibilities. Goldstein proved a deft foil to these explorations, conjuring evocative textures that alternately complemented and challenged Ewart’s decisions.

The textural juxtaposition of Ewart’s acoustic instruments and Goldstein’s electronics could be read as a kind of trope, a transparent take on the motto of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future.” (Ewart served as the AACM’s president from 1979 to 1986.) Ewart’s expansive approach, however, soon complicated any reductive assumptions as to which sounds were ‘ancient’ and which belonged to the ‘future.’ When Mankwe Ndosi added her potently expressionistic vocals to the mix in the second set, the expanded palette allowed all three improvisers to stretch even further into realms of abstraction.

Walker Director Olga Viso and former Director Martin Friedman watched the affairs silently from within artist Goshka Macuga’s monumental tapestry, It Broke from Within. Twentieth-century art provocateurs Joseph Beuys and Marcel Duchamp sat elsewhere in the wall-sized image, and interposed were Tea Party protesters with signs such as, “We don’t want socialism, you arrogant Kenyan!” It would be difficult to imagine a more incongruous group of personages, yet all of them have affiliations with the Walker or the surrounding community. Macuga’s piece begged the question: what are the limits of “community”? It’s a question that seemed to animate much of what transpired Thursday night. The musicians sat at the center of this space, anchoring this improbable gathering as activity emanated outwards in all directions. The audience sat in an ad hoc semicircle around the artists. It was sometimes difficult to distinguish the audience from those who were merely passing by, further underscoring the question of community, of who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out.’

Ewart concluded the second set with an unexpected flourish, releasing a number of hand-made spinning tops onto the gallery floor. As the crowd watched, enraptured, the tops circled each other in a kind of cosmic choreography, eventually tipping over until only a single top remained: a blue sphere, eerily suspended, seemingly perfectly balanced upon its axis. The significance was difficult to miss.

When asked about his tops in an interview with Time Out Chicago, Ewart explained that tops “are magical, cosmic, mystical and beautiful.” The same set of adjectives could be applied to Ewart’s performance. Tops are imbued with further significance for Ewart because they help “to inveigle and instigate substantive engagement with families, diverse people and communities.”

This performance took place within the larger context of the Walker’s celebration of the AACM’s 50-year anniversary. Next week, AACM luminaries Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell will join Larry Gray in Jack DeJohnette’s Made In Chicago. Ewart shared his thoughts on that organization and recounted its impact on his artistic trajectory here.

Former AACM President George Lewis, a frequent collaborator of Ewart’s, has written, “In improvised music, the development of the improvisor is regarded as encompassing not only the formation of individual musical personality, but the harmonization of one’s musical personality with social environments, both actual and possible.”

Ewart’s Sound Horizon performance served as a welcome occasion to come together in celebration of these radically inventive artists in our midst, and, in so doing, to reflect on our community, actual and possible.

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