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Showing posts from August, 2015

Debussy masterpieces anchor new discs by Frederic Chiu and the Avalon String Quartet

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Paul Rosenfeld, an insightful if excessively florid music critic of the early 20th century, was in full cry when he turned his attention to Claude Debussy. From various sources, there is a host of picturesque writing about the French master (1862-1918). His music is forever linked to impressionism but he was more comfortable with the designation "realism," as Frederic Chiu usefully reminds us in notes for his Debussy centered CD, "Distant Voices." Rosenfeld was swept away by the music, whatever label better applies to it. Frederic Chiu partners Debussy with Gao Ping Debussy's realism can be interpreted to mean reconceiving musical structure, harmony, and color to fit the contours of life as it is lived — the ordinary life of Manet's "Boating Party," for example. Rosenfeld hints at some of this in a typically all-embracing pair of sentences about the String Quartet in G minor (1893). This work is as solid an indication as you can find of ho

Jazz Kitchen performing debut: The intricate swing of Amina Figarova

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Amina Figarova revels in a joyful moment at the Jazz Kitchen. Amina Figarova , a native of Azerbaijan who has established herself well as a jazz composer-pianist first in Europe, now in the U.S., understandably says she would rather play than judge young pianists. She has been in the latter role once at the Jazz Kitchen , sitting on the jury of the American Pianists Association 's Jazz Piano Competition earlier this year. Her own music seems as convoluted as any imaginable jury deliberation. Its intricacies delivered payoffs, however, in the almost two sets I heard at the Jazz Kitchen, where she made her Indianapolis performing debut here Friday. Figarova, specializing in a sextet book of her own making, properly paid special tribute near the end of her second set to Rob Dixon, sitting in on tenor and soprano saxophone and fitting in superbly in his first outing in Figarova territory. Other members of the group she's traveling with (she'll appear at the South Ben

Jazz bassist Daniel Fortin's "Brinks": How to stand out in a crowd without getting bizarre about it

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Daniel Fortin writes with understatement, heads a simpatico quartet. Plenty of imagination and technique funnel into the creation of new jazz worldwide. Amid the abundance, fans have a trickier task than ever just figuring out who is worth hearing. My view is: Why compile a short list, when exploring the ever-lengthening long list can be so much fun? The problem for musicians is how to present something honest with enough individuality to lodge in the world's ear somewhere. You have to assume you're going to be part of a crowd and just make the most of what you have to say. Here's a new release that does just that. I've recently been listening to Toronto bassist Daniel Fortin 's debut album, "Brinks" ( Fresh Sound, New Talent ). As a composer, he shows a strong commitment to crafting pieces for a working ensemble that sounds as if the participants really belong together. My guess is he's not too concerned about having his compositions taken up

Silence, please! The performance art of Marianne Moore, or poetry as theater's secret agent and the world's caretaker

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Eyes on the prize: A pangolin subject to out-of-control harvesting The toll mankind exacts on wildlife throughout the world took a poignant turn for me when I listened to NPR's Aug. 18 report on the threat to the pangolin , a compact anteater that I'm guessing few people have heard of. The report calls it the most trafficked mammal in the world, despite its obscurity and low profile in conversations about exploitation and extinction. I would have been among many American listeners unfamiliar with the beast had I not known one of Marianne Moore's inimitable animal poems, "The Pangolin." I went back to this poem as I reconnected with the poet's severely truncated version of "Poetry" in order to make a point about my response to Phoenix Theatre's current show, "Silence! The Musical." Considering whether to lasso "The Pangolin" into that post, I was stopped by my internal editor, who barked: "Wait a minute! You'

Gag reflex: Musical comedy from a world untuned in Phoenix Theatre's "Silence! The Musical"

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The queasiness at the heart of "The Silence of the Lambs," the much-laureled 1991 film starring Bleat treat: The lambs raise their voices Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, gets dialed up beyond retching in "Silence! The Musical," a jolly interpretation of an imprisoned cannibal's rapport with an ambitious FBI agent in search of an even more heinous mass killer. The Off-Broadway hit has been freshly interpreted by the Phoenix Theatre to end its 2014-15 season in the intimate basement confines of the Basile Stage. As seen Sunday at the end of its second weekend, the all-out musical thriller could hardly have been carried off with more gusto. The cast pins our ears back and props our eyes open (like Alex's in "A Clockwork Orange") with its adroitness and fervor. This goes from the intrusive Lambs — generally grouped in buoyant and nimble choruses reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan — through the dogged law-enforcement crowd to the keenly por

My IndyFringe wrap-up: A grab-bag of shows seen late in the run

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The strong, beating heart of the IndyFringe Festival is the eternal, thumping appeal of comedy, sometimes just abrasive enough to make us unembarrassed by hints of uplift and happy endings. In cobbling together a selection of shows, I had to take into account the need to check in with new productions by Indianapolis Opera and Phoenix Theatre while shrugging off my late arrival (due to out-of-state travel) at the festival after the crucial opening weekend. Jeremy Schaefer detects fishiness in the workaday world. But funny things have happened on the way to this forum, though I'm the only one holding forth on it.  Two examples of highly accomplished comedy spun out along the narrative threads characteristic of storytellers were "Working Titles"  and "Hannibal: Liar!" Both shows — the former by Jeremy Schaefer presented at ComedySportz and the latter Chris Hannibal's blend of comical high spirits and amazing magic on the Indy Eleven Stage — privileg

Indianapolis Opera resumes its production history with "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"

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Opera throws more obstacles into the paths of true identity and genuine love than you can shake a selfie stick at. Moment of truth: Dr. P. grabs wife's head when it's time to go. But no obstacle is more bizarre than the degenerative brain disease suffered by the main character in "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," Michael Nyman's one-act piece drawn from the title true story by neurologist Oliver Sacks in his best-selling book. It's the story of an accomplished artist, identified only as Dr. P.  He's primarily a singer and voice teacher but also an accomplished painter, suffering from a puzzling, persistent mental tarnish darkening his golden years. Indianapolis Opera Friday night resumed its interrupted and imperiled course into the 21st century at the Schrott Center for the Arts at Butler University. It was the first of three performances, designed and directed by GLMMR (Giving Light Motion + Memory + Relevance), a performance-art company

Dance Kaleidoscope again makes an indelible impression at IndyFringe

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One of the hottest tickets at the IndyFringe Festival for several years has been the annual hourlong show by Dance Kaleidoscope , the city's durable contemporary-dance troupe. For a couple of years, the program has focused on new works by DK dancers rather than samples from its repertoire. Artistic director David Hochoy displays both graciousness and wise encouragement in turning over to his member colleagues this part of the company's outreach. The show I saw Thursday evening brimmed with lyricism, exuberance, and simple truths. Titled "New/Next/Now," the production consisted of seven works, all introduced by their creators or designated spokespersons (Hochoy and DK rehearsal director Liberty Harris). Choreography necessarily bridges abstract and dramatic expression. All the pieces in "New/Next/Now" reflect their creators' idealism and desire to either transcend or resolve conflicts through the language of movement. The collaborative spirit is in

Learning more about how our brain processes our worlds: Indianapolis Opera adds information to production of "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"

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There are notable mad scenes in the operatic repertoire, but little focus on other types of brain dysfunction. A rare exception is on the cultural schedule this weekend. Indianapolis Opera opens its 2015-16 season presenting GLMMR' s production of "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," Michael Nyman's adaptation (with two librettists) of neurologist Oliver Sacks' book of the same title. One story in particular, of a man suffering from visual agnosia, a condition in which someone can see but not recognize or interpret visual information, forms the basis of the opera. Distortions of normal perception in loved ones occasion lots of heartbreak in families, and opera is rich in heartbreak. To help those who attend performances this weekend at the Schrott Center for the Arts at Butler University, the company has set up panel discussions two hours before each performance of the opera. At 6 p.m. Friday, the panelists will be Dr. Brandy Mathews of Indiana Unive

What a Wednesday for whimsy! Reviews of three IndyFringe shows, chiefly comical

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Performances that give an hour of impure pleasure are a staple of IndyFringe, and my abbreviated 2015 coverage of the festival yesterday focused on three funny shows. Because attempts to capture humor in a review are futile almost to the same degree as having to explain a joke to someone who didn't get it the first time, this post will be brief. Squeeze-box heroics: Daniel E. Biemer as Captain Ambivalent "Not So Secret Origin of Captain Ambivalent"  presents life according to accordion, accompanying original songs by the performer Daniel E. Biemer of Valparaiso. It's a story with generous amounts of fantasy, superhero impersonations and unfulfilled wishes. The self-description Biemer ends up with — the one in the title — indicates that the mission-driven clarity of superheroes is unsustainable for an ordinary guy adept at pushing keys and buttons for fun. Biemer's songs are packed with wit, sometimes on the borderline of being inaccessible at first heari

Catching up with IndyFringe: Reviews of three Tuesday performances

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Never having started Fringe Fest coverage this late, I decided to plunge in close to where I picked up my media badge, festival headquarters at 643 Mass Ave: "4.48 Psychosis" and "Ca-Ching" at Theatre on the Square, just down the street at 627. It was a chilling double dip. And inevitably, my first Fringe shows also fell under the shadow of the light cast by a recent visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. When your week has opened with a radiant production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night," you're likely to be blinking for a while. And when a few days before you took in an equally stunning performance of "Much Ado About Nothing," it's hard not to find even such a FringeFest tour de force as "Breakneck Hamlet" (the last of my three Tuesday shows) somewhat contrived. All points of view in mental illness tend to approach gridlock. Eugene O'Neill nonetheless came to mind usefully as my 2015 FringeFest opened wit

Indy Reeds: Frank Glover joins the Sophie Faught team for a stellar exhibition at the Jazz Kitchen

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Like many of us, I've sometimes imagined a cliche deathbed scene for myself. In this age of hooked-up hospital shutdowns, hardly anyone experiences this sort of exit: family and a few close friends gathered round, a time to dispense final thoughts with retrospective wisdom. Frank Glover should come up from Brown County more often. Including regrets, of course. (No, don't go there. They don't want to get you started, believe me. By the time you get to "I should have flossed more often" and "I wish I'd learned to identify birds by their song," they'll be looking around for a spare pillow. And it won't be to put under your head.) Pipe down, Sensible Inner Voice! Here's one regret my loved ones would have to bend close to hear, because I'd be trying to call up what I'm talking about in my head as I say it: "I wish I had gone out to hear Frank Glover and Claude Sifferlen more often." Sophie Faught made the most o

The image of Indianapolis jazz: Mark Sheldon mounts a major exhibition at Indiana Landmarks Center

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Mark Sheldon's "3 Bass Hit": Frank Smith, Mingo Jones, Nick Tucker. The look of jazz has had a century of photographic images to make its musicians nearly as indelible visually as they are in the music itself. Indianapolis is fortunate to have over recent years the sensitivity and technical acumen of Mark Sheldon applied to our jazz musicians. On Friday night, Sheldon's expansive display, "The Naptown Scene," opened in the Rapp Family Gallery at Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 Central Ave., where it will remain throughout August. Mostly black-and-white prints, framed and featuring text mainly from David Williams' book "Indianapolis Jazz: The Masters, Legends and Legacy of Indiana Avenue." Sheldon is equally comfortable pointing his camera at jazz musicians performing and posed. His portraits are effective expressions of musicians in repose. You are invited to study what depth of character can bring out in original music night after nig

The better nature of our angels: Amy Schumer meets John Milton, with help from a couple of major literary critics

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I'll say up front that I've been watching more "Daily Show" excerpts than ever in the past week, leading up to Jon Stewart' s finale last night. One of the YouTube clips that popped up on my feed was Amy Schumer' s appearance. I was curious about that because of the lamentable "Trainwreck" shooting last month in Louisiana. That was my unusually sobering introduction to Amy Schumer. Amy Schumer: An unforgettable image As YouTube helpfully does when you've finished clicking on a video, a list drops down full of related items. So, a gamy buffet of Amy Schumer monologues and other stuff was set before me. Today, despite my aversion to her brand of raunchy humor, I watched this one , titled "Slutty Friend." It was enthralling, but mostly with respect to one clever image that will haunt me for a long time. I have to do a bit of set-up, in case you don't want to go to the monologue right away. The comedian was describing a good fri

Both solid and surprising, the Tucker Brothers Quartet proves itself a fully achieved ensemble at the Jazz Kitchen

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Some of the buzz about "the new standard" has faded since Herbie Hancock made a valiant effort to show how current pop could add to the repertoire of usable standards for jazz musicians. It's still a lively issue: Can you mine the Great American Songbook forever, particularly when vocal versions of songs more or less as they were written are far from the center of the musical marketplace? So it's understandably rewarding for young jazz musicians to keep their ears open for adaptable material by popular artists now active. Adept guitarist-composer Joel Tucker When imagination is applied to give a jazz vibe to a pop tune, as in  Joel Tucker's arrangement of Imogen Heap's "Closing In," the effort justifies itself. Only after I returned home from the Tucker Brothers Quartet's first set Wednesday night at t he Jazz Kitchen did I become acquainted with the original song, thanks to YouTube. Thinking back from Heap's recorded performance o

Two important American singers are the foundation of Dance Kaleidoscope's summer reprise

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From "Night and Day" to "What'd I Say," Dance Kaleidoscope brings back this weekend another of its inspired interpretations of American popular music. "Ray & Ella" pays tribute to Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald, 20th-century musical stars with devoted followings. It feels right at home at Butler University's Schrott Center , where I saw Saturday night the first of two performances of the revival. Ella's "Tea for Two" serves four just fine in DK's show. There might be some overlapping of the singers' fan bases, but while Charles ignited the burgeoning self-awareness of both black and white youth in the 1950s by infusing rock 'n' roll with soul, Fitzgerald remained a major representative of the Great American Songbook — the swingingest in that category of singing. Both were influenced by jazz and capable of drawing upon its freewheeling spirit. That spirit roams freely throughout both halves of the curren