Showing posts from November, 2016

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra's "Basically Baker Vol. 2" memorializes seminal jazz educator David Baker

Almost 12 years ago, with the honoree still very much alive and active heading jazz studies at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra recorded "Basically Baker" for Gunther Schuller's GM label . The soul of Indiana jazz education: David Baker (1931-2016) In June, at a studio in Bloomington, a BWJO with significant changes of personnel expanded on that project with a two-disc set of David Baker compositions and arrangements. "Basically Baker Vol. 2" (Patois Records) is a culminating tribute by Brent Wallarab, Mark Buselli and their colleagues to the Indianapolis native, who died last March . Adventurous in his jazz visions as a performer as well as a composer, Baker in these big-band charts challenges performers with countermelodies, key changes, washes of acoustic sound, rhythms that rub up against each other, and the spice of dissonance. When we hear the skittering of saxophones complicating the introduct

"Chimes of Freedom" revised to comment on the through line from resistance to the 14th Amendment to today's voter suppression

IRT evergreen: Janet Allen returns to directing 'A Christmas Carol" for the first time since 1998

The dramatic crux of this year's production of "A Christmas Carol" by Indiana Repertory Theatre occurs when the up-and-coming Ebenezer Scrooge pauses on the stairway to his lonely counting-house perch to scrutinize the ring his distraught fiancee Belle has just returned to him. Ghostly tours of his life behind him, Ebeneezer Scrooge begins to discover joy. In that moment, Dickens' durable miser confirms his change of heart from someone alive to the fullness of his experience to a man dead to anything beyond his narrow focus on a fiercely guarded wealth he's unable to enjoy. Charles Pasternak's intense, jeweler's-loupe view — the merest moment in an opening-night performance full of revelations from a seasoned cast under the guiding hand of Janet Allen — feels like a dark parody of transubstantiation. Like wine to Christ's blood in the rite of Eucharist, the ring changes from its symbolic promise on Belle's finger to a commodity in the fled

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Burning Away Cliches: 'A Very Phoenix Xmas 11' hits the stage

Tilting toward seasonal  harmony, a striking setting of "Carol of the Bells." I used to think a certain lively Christmas carol was addressed to "merry gentlemen," but that was before I became versed in the subtleties of punctuation. My father, a church choir director, first pointed out to me that the title (and first line) runs, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and the conscientious singer should insert the slightest of pauses after "merry." A minor "aha" moment — yet not irrelevant when considering Phoenix Theatre 's latest version of its popular "Very Phoenix Xmas" series, a seasonal variety show stitching together submitted playlets with cleverly produced songs and commentary. You see, that English carol pegs the wish that the gentlemen be merry on the grace of God in arranging for the birth of the Savior on the day we celebrate as Christmas. They are not merry to begin with. In the broader culture of today, mo

Are you connected?: Loneliness has changed in the 80 years since Fats Waller wrote "Ain't Misbehavin'"

Mark Ortwein brings his visiting son into the quartet mix at Fountain Square Brewery

John Fell, Mark Ortwein, Craig Hetrick, Olas Ortwein. It was a bit of a pre-Thanksgiving lift to motor ten miles through a chilly, rainy evening to Fountain Square Brewery to catch a special edition of the Ortwein JazzTet, featuring the leader's son Olas on electric bass. A pint of Backyard Porter to accompany listening to a set-and-a-half didn't hurt, of course. Olas is visiting for Thanksgiving from New Orleans, where he lives, plays and studies. He sat in with his saxophonist-bassoonist dad Mark and his regular colleagues Craig Hetrick, drums, and John Fell, guitar. I came in during a hearty excursion through Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" and left near the end of the second set, when the Beatles' "Yesterday" was drifting toward a wistful close. In between came some versions of two of the multi-reed player's contributions to Icarus Ensemble book, the jagged "Schizoid" and the tender ballad "Lunar Love,"

"Stand By Your Man" sums up the reflexive loyalty between Donald Trump and those he's bringing to the White House with him

Dr. John puts his own stamp on the Louis Armstrong legacy, with help from trumpet star Nicholas Payton

Tribute shows tend to spin into orbits of their own when the generating star already has a significant, decades-old brand. Thus it Dr. John channels the Creole musical mix of New Orleans. was when Dr. John, the New Orleans pianist-singer steeped in that city's musical gumbo, came to the Palladium Saturday night with his "Spirit of Satch" show. The selections leaned toward the sentimental and pop sides of Louis Armstrong's music.  That was signaled at the start with the performance of Bob Thiele's syrupy favorite, "What a Wonderful World," well-known through Satchmo's vocal warmth in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam." As he presented himself here, Dr. John favors slow tempos that allow lots of room for his deep-delving piano flourishes between phrases as well as mellow, rough-hewn vocals. A surprise application of this preference came late in the show, with a somber version of "When the Saints Go Marching In." That served a

Fizz and ample fun add extra animation to Rossini's music in Indianapolis Opera's "Barber of Seville"

A stage director can hardly go wrong adding hijinks to complement the music that has made Gioacchino Rossini's "Barber of Seville" the foremost comic opera in the repertoire. Figaro lays out a plan for the eager aristocrat prepared to pay him well, Almaviva. Accordingly, there is no let-up in the flourishes and frolic stage director John Truitt has brought to the Indianapolis Opera production that will run through Sunday at the Tarkington in Carmel. Fortunately, the production also enjoys good musical preparation, guided by Matthew Kraemer, conducting the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, of which he is music director. Apart from some lack of precision in rapid ensembles and a few "patter" solos, coordination between stage and pit was shipshape. Spark plug of the comic intrigue that powers "The Barber of Seville" is the title character, Figaro, who makes himself available for a price to the lovesick nobleman Almaviva. The role was sung by Michae

Jazz Legacy Showcase puts David Baker's name on its annual award to an outstanding Indiana teacher

Lida Baker accepts award on behalf of Janis Stokhouse from Gene Markiewicz. In accepting an award newly named for her late husband on behalf of Janis Stockhouse of Bloomington North High School, Lida Baker noted that of all the distinctions David Baker accumulated during his long musical career, being a teacher was uppermost. "Quincy Jones never stopped calling, trying to get him to come out to Hollywood and work with him.," she told the Jazz Legacy Showcase annual dinner and awards ceremony Thursday evening at Indiana Landmarks Center. "But he liked teaching best of all the things he did." And the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University remained his home base until the end. David Baker died last March at age 84. The Indianapolis native started IU's jazz studies department and ran it for several decades, becoming one of the most eminent jazz educators in the nation, while continuing to compose music in both jazz and classical genres. The Indianapo

If it's a half-century old, it must be classical, right?: "19th Nervous Breakdown" revised as a commentary on the state of world leadership today

Using Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" as a vehicle, I comment in song on the lamentable outcome of the Clinton campaign

"Trump and Pence" song: The winners of the election last Tuesday are complementary halves of the same night-and-day structure of reaction and prejudice

The Indianapolis Symphony's music director makes his last podium appearance here until the New Year

After a tumultuous week in the larger world, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra set a pacific seal upon its 2016 classical offerings under the music director's baton with a one-off concert featuring Polish composers in the first half, an international modern masterpiece in the second. Jan Lisiecki played Chopin's E minor concerto and banished my agitation. Krzysztof Urbanski conducted Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra after intermission. It may be one of the few symphonic works in the post-World War II repertoire to have earned a permanent place in the canon. Strictly speaking, it is a product of that global catastrophe, but its reputation has been made in the past 70 years, when new compositions tend to come and go. Resourceful in its use of orchestral resources, and a largely cheerful summing-up of the composer's piquant style, the Concerto for Orchestra found a provocative interpreter in Urbanski. Untypically using the score, Urbanski had arranged the orchest

'Madama Butterfly' at Clowes: Indiana University brings a typically well-prepared and -executed opera production to Indianapolis

Cio-Cio-San and her entourage enter the home her fiance Pinkerton has acquired for her far above Nagasaki. An interrupted rote gesture of the heroine's adopted faith, then sobbing. That tiny moment, at the beginning of the second act in Indiana University's "Madama Butterfly," represents the keen attention to detail of the production that moved into Clowes Hall for a two-night stand Friday. For three years, Cio-Cio-San, the title character, has waited — amid expressions of confidence masking growing despair — for the return of her husband, an American naval officer whose founding-father name, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, is the most solid thing about him. Having taken his marriage to the former geisha lightly, he has gone back to the USA and married the "real American wife" he had promised himself in the first act. His Japanese wife is left to wait and wonder, to heal from banishment by her people, resisting a rich suitor while holding on to an incr

Jerusalem String Quartet returns to EMS series to offer post-election balm

Celebrating 20 years in existence and nurturing a growing international reputation, the Jerusalem String Quartet returned to Ensemble Music Society's concert series Wednesday night. The Jerusalem String Quartet played Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Haydn at Indiana History Center. Its first appearance under EMS auspices 25 months ago drew from me nothing but unstinting kudos . The second visit struck me as less superlative, and that response has nothing to do with an accident in the last movement of Beethoven's Quartet in F, op. 59, No. 1 ("Razumovsky"). As the ensemble launched the finale, second violinist Sergei Bresler's bow broke; he dashed backstage, returning a few minutes later with a replacement and completing the concert with his colleagues. "Usually, we have strings break," quipped violist Ori Kam while Bresler was offstage. "Bows — not every day." It was a deft understatement about a rare mishap from which the quartet recovered

On a day of constantly turning outward, a look within: "How to Save Yourself"

The author as cowboy: April 1951, Lancaster, Pa. How to Save Yourself I keep meeting myself as a boy. He’s doing and saying everything I remember him doing. I think this is all he is now: what I remember. But I’m wrong: there is something else. At the end of each appearance, clumsy Or adept depending on the event, he has started To add something in a newer tone. “Save me,” he says in a whisper. He is not following the rules of memory. But he is me, so I have a stake in his demand. “How can I help?” I ask helplessly. “Understand.” A whisper with a shout’s resonance. I take it as a cue to offer retrospective advice. Circumspection and foresight are what I recommend. “Circumspection? Foresight? I’m five years old!” Then: “I’m twelve years old.”   Then: “I’m seventeen years old.” I’m at a loss. “Just understand,” he says. I stop talking. I watch him talk and act some more, Following the scripts of my memory to a T. It can be pa

On Election Eve, a new string quartet makes a splash worthy of a campaign rally

Michael Strauss, Zach DePue, Austin Hartman, Austin Huntington. Everywhere you look, current events seem to have raised ordinary life to fever pitch. If you haven't noticed, good luck at being released from that persistent vegetative state you must be in. The excitement carried over to a concert at the University of Indianapolis Monday night. The occasion was the debut of a new string quartet (announced from the stage of the Lilly Performance Hall in DeHaan Fine Arts Center as "the Indianapolis String Quartet" before the musicians took the stage, but a permanent name has yet to be chosen). The highly charged political atmosphere may have an analogy in music's parallel universe. Any echo of that energy in the packed concert hall can be attributed to the professional stature of the new ensemble (Zachary DePue and Austin Hartman, violins; Michael Strauss, viola; Austin Huntington, cello) and how well it delivered on the eager anticipation of so many people, incl

Director wants 'Madama Butterfly' to be about the story and the music — not her

Lesley Koenig comes to Indiana University as an opera director with 30 years of experience and a cross-cultural appreciation of the difficulties of staging "Madama Butterfly" in 2016. The production, which opened last weekend at the Musical Arts Center on the Bloomington campus, travels to Indianapolis this week for two nights at Clowes Hall. Koenig, now general director of Weston Playhouse in Vermont, began her career as a teenager working for the San Francisco Opera. By the age of 23, she began decades of association with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where her first job was directing "Salome" with Grace Bumbry. "Madama Butterfly" tells the story of the misguided love affair and marriage between an American naval lieutenant and  Cio-Cio-San, a Japanese geisha, in the early 20th century. It's one of the Puccini "Big Three" — worldwide favorites by the Italian composer (1854-1928), the other two being "La Boheme" and &qu

'Cabaret' extends its sardonic welcome in ATI production

One advantage of seeing lots of plays new to me is that it checks the temptation to sift among plays I know and come up with ideal casts in my mind from among actors whose work I admire. Apart from concocting such a cast for Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" several years ago for an Indiana Repertory Theatre production of my dreams, I've resisted going into the fantasy-football mode — it feels somehow arrogant and manipulative, even though no one is harmed by the game. On the other hand, looking at the announced cast for a play I know, it's exciting to discover an actor has been cast who seems perfect for a role. Thus I was sure Actors Theatre of Indiana 's production of "Cabaret" was an immediate must-see because the Emcee would be Ben Asaykwee. A fantasy I hadn't thought of would meet reality. It turned out the real thing surpassed the fantasy. This was ATI's second performance Saturday night in the Studio Theater of Carmel's C