Showing posts from October, 2018

South of the Border, they say, a looming danger approaches the USA

Catalyst Repertory's 'Popular Monsters' scratches the dark underbelly of popular culture

The tawdry dreams of Hollywood can at least be admired for influencing the culture top to bottom. 'Popular monster: A veteran horror-film star in a heyday role. Some illusions stay tribal; others are pervasive. As a Tinseltown striver, if your niche is in the basement rather than the penthouse or an oceanside estate in Santa Monica, you still know the rules by which the game is played. The fact that it's the same game at all strata doesn't make it any easier. The setting of "Popular Monsters," a one-act drama by Lou Harry , is the cluttered office of a marginal horror-film magazine of the same title. It looks both lived in and worked in, with neither characteristic dominating more than simply the hang-out function that takes over for the play's four characters. The set, in this Catalyst Repertory production at the Irvington Lodge, is unfortunately lit in a way no actual room ever was, with floor spots throwing large overlapping shadows high on the wall

A frequent ISO guest brings along his orchestral survey of the Ring Cycle, and Watts plays Mozart

With a substantial arrangement of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" on a program conducted by the Much-admired guest conductor brought his Wagner along. conductor who made it, something to balance all that powerful Wagner needed to be chosen. Jun Märkl presides over that achieved balance this weekend in two Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts, the second of which starts today at 7 p.m. The foreboding woven into a masterpiece that is technically a comedy made for a substantial start to Friday's Hilbert Circle Theatre concert, as Märkl and the ISO opened with the Overture to "Don Giovanni." The vigor of those first commanding chords was a bit smudged, though the vigor remained as the texture fortunately cleared up. A charismatic bad actor gets his comeuppance in the opera; in this program, the moral import of such music is confirmed by Wagner's interpretation of Germanized Norse mythology in his great operatic tetralogy. The program's first half is

Dance Kaleidoscope gets assistance at the keyboard for 'Music of the Night'

Dance Kaleidoscope company puts out a nighttime vibe in "Duke's Place." The title of Dance Kaleidoscope 's current show is likely to stir to life an earworm — the title character's seductive song from "Phantom of the Opera." But "Music of the Night" has been borrowed, not from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but to apply to a program mostly devoted to George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, whose music inevitably suggests nocturnal romps and reveries. Ellington was once asked to explain how he habitually got by on four hours sleep a night. "I sleep fast," he replied. Daylight held no terrors for the jazz master, however. Another time, when he and a friend stepped outside a club long after closing and looked up to see a gray bank of clouds, his companion said: "I hope tomorrow is a good day." Duke, at the time afflicted with age-related health problems, came back suavely with this: "Any day I get up is a good day." So, w

Slide pride: Trombone ensemble makes debut at the Jazz Kitchen

Quite a lift was given to this former trombonist when a phalanx of a half-dozen sliphorn maestri sailed into "Jeanine" to launch the debut set Tuesday of Bone Appetit , an Indianapolis-based trombone band, at the Jazz Kitchen . Though jazz trombone ensembles have popped up around the country over the years, I had never Personal treasure:The mother of them all. My copy is  in glorious mono, with co-leader Kai Winding's first name deliberately misspelled "Kay" for the sake of rhyming with J.J. Johnson's nickname. heard one live. I've nourished my interest by plopping onto the record player from time to time this 50-some-year-old LP with the imperishable cartoon cover by Arnold Roth. Bone Appetit in rehearsal for its only scheduled gig up to now. Put together by bass trombonist Rick Balek, with musical direction by Freddie Mendoza, Bone Appetit also includes tenor trombonists Chris Van Hof, Ryan Fraley, Rich Dole, and John Huntoon, with a rhyth

White Rabbits on a Wall: A tribute in song to a mural controversy

Hail to the artist's naughty vision Which bothers some, and others find so funny: Art has a way of opening division — This time, bunny gets it on with bunny. Once again we see the leaves are turning, Overnight the temperatures grow colder; Suddenly we meet new ways of learning Beauty's in the eye of the Beholder.

Adagietto Ad Libitum: A response in rhymed couplets to a notorious concert incident

Adagietto Ad Libitum Gustav Mahler knew conflict, but was spared fisticuffs and rustling bags. As fraught as the race between Senator Cruz and Beto Was a dust-up in Sweden that marred Mahler's Adagietto: That a fistfight ensued because of a chewing gum wrapper At a classical concert might baffle the best handicapper. What could be the odds that a gum bag thrown to the floor Would generate blows once the music went some minutes more? The snack-deprived woman's resentment was too great to tally, But she showed some restraint throughout the awesome finale Then slapped the bag thrower in a vigorous improvised stretto, Annoyed at her neighbor's rash act in the Adagietto. He fought back, arousing the woman's companion as well, Who punched as commandingly as "der grosse Appel" Had begun Mahler Five well over an hour before, Thus putting to rest, or at least somewhat muting the  roar, That classical music resides in a prettified ghetto: Lo, w

Bassist-led trio sweeps along easily on 'Tailwind'

Bruno Råberg came to the United States to refine his education in the 1980s after having gotten a firm Bruno Råberg chooses sidemen well. foundation in his native Sweden and elsewhere in Europe. He has made good as both teacher and performer, and his nearly all-original program on "Tailwind" ( Red Piano Records ) indicates significant compositional skills and a way of giving simpatico bandmates good material to cultivate and help him harvest. Råberg's compositions are well-designed for himself and his two sidemen, pianist Bruce Barth and drummer Adam Cruz. He has a gift for melody, which is most prominent in "A Closer Look"; as a song, it could be a late addition to the Great American Songbook, just awaiting lyrics. The bassist's gift for creating tunes also comes up in his solos, as in the slow waltz titled "Paris Windows." His inviting ruminations nicely set up  a delicate outing by Barth, and the drummer's subsequent solo has like

IRT stirs the urban cauldron in production of Dominique Morisseau's 'Pipeline'

Nya expounds upon Gwendolyn Brooks' famous poem. There's so much to unpack from the mega-bookbag of public education in large cities that it's little wonder that "Pipeline" strains under the burden. Dominique Morisseau's one-act drama opened Friday night at Indiana Repertory Theatre. The style of the production is impressive,with projections to the rear and side of the stage giving the feel of turmoil and blurred personal identities in a big-city public high school. The sound design reflects the mass of signals we live among today — from the clicks of texting to class start and dismissal bells. It also represents emotional triggers for the main character, a hard-working teacher and single mom played to the hilt by Aimé Donna Kelly. Nya is trying to save her son, Omari, from expulsion at a suburban private school, to which her ex-husband, Xavier, is paying tuition for him. The couple had one child before they split up, and for Nya, it's as if all h

New York Standards Quartet continues to display its oblique mastery of familiar songs

You can tell from the first track of "Heaven Steps to Seven," the New York Standards Quartet 's jokily The New York Standards Quartet specializes in reorienting familiar tunes. titled new recording, just what the four have in mind with some well-known tunes from the American jazz and popular songbooks. Track 1 is also a Leonard Bernstein centennial tribute as it subjects "Tonight" from "West Side Story" to the NYSQ's signature treatment of well-known tunes (the ones from the jazz catalogue will be less familiar to the mainstream listener) in new ways. Listening in order, you can quickly get a dose of the jazz-standards side of the quartet. First there's a bop-centered run through Charlie Parker's "Cheryl," focused on saxophonist Tim Armacost at first, with Gene Jackson's steady, splashy drumming gradually joined by bassist Ugonna Okegwo (since the recording he's been replaced by  Daiki Yasukagawa ), then pianist D

The persistence of the jazz/poetry connection: Pianist Helen Sung collaborates with Dana Gioia

Avoiding subcultural status when you practice an art that you believe deserves a major cultural position can be more than a matter of frustration. It can produce fresh new work, as in "Sung With Words" (Stricker Street Records). Dana Gioia attracted unusual attention in the niche genre of essays about poetry when he wrote "Can Poetry Matter?" for the Atlantic years ago and attracted a tsunami of responses. Since then, he has been George W. Bush's director of the National Endowment for the Arts and took The cover of the new CD, an outgrowth of a mutual interest in jazz and words. advantage of the position to make poetry and other arts matter more than they normally do in public life. With this recorded collaboration with Helen Sung and her band, Gioia has revived the practice of poetry recited to jazz accompaniments. New public outlets for poetry are a consistent interest of the poet/teacher that has received enthusiastic support from a productive youn

Bernstein at 100: Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra presents a centennial tribute

A young Bernstein with two of his constant props: a score and a cigarette My only memory of Leonard Bernstein in concert is oddly focused on the curtain calls at the end. It was at the Meadow Brook Music Festival in suburban Detroit during what was probably his last tour with the New York Philharmonic in the frenetic but sadly declining years before his death in 1990. After a program I've forgotten (except for his Overture to "Candide," throughout which he shimmied more than conducted), the celebrated maestro stepped off the podium and shuffled eagerly among music stands and chairs, hugging and kissing every member of the orchestra, all of them standing, some more comfortable than others with the extended public display of affection. ("Being kissed by him was like an assault by a sort of combination of sandpaper and sea anemones," the stage director and "Beyond the Fringe" co-creator Jonathan Miller once said.) The audience continued to applaud,

Do You Hear the People Shout? Yes, of course you do, and they are a reliable presidential rally ego boost

Bang for your bucks: ISO presents a recent percussion concerto, flanked by Kernis and Prokofiev

Matthew Halls: ISO's adept, well-liked guest Matthew Halls, a British conductor of astonishing virtuosity just in his Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra guest appearances, returns to the Hilbert Circle Theatre podium this weekend in his second ISO engagement this year. This time the program is all 20th- and 21st-century music, with two of the three works composed by living Americans. On Friday night, the audience also got to savor the return appearance as an ISO guest of Colin Currie, a 42-year-old Scottish percussionist. The vehicle was the program's centerpiece, "Switch," a percussion concerto by another relative youngster, Andrew Norman (39). In continuous motion, Currie ranged across the stage extension, which was crowded with a host of large and small instruments. "Switch" grabs the attention from the start, because the percussion-dominated introduction comes from orchestra section players. After a few moments, the soloist makes his entrance up

Ronen Chamber Ensemble launches season with Sister Cities theme

A background of flags offered an unusual visual enhancement to the Ronen Chamber Ensemble 's season-opening concert Wednesday night in the Hilbert Circle Theatre's Wood Room. Sextet acknowledges applause at conclusion of Ludwig Thuille piece. The display signaled the theme of season-long programming related to Indianapolis' Sister Cities , eight of them to date. Two were represented by composers featured at the concert: Campinas, Brazil, by Jailton de Oliveira; Northamptonshire, United Kingdom, by Malcolm Arnold. The program was filled out by a substantial, evocative Sextet for Winds and Piano by Ludwig Thuille and Robert Schumann's Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, op. 63. The concert's first half put the formidable flutist Alistair Howlett in three different contexts. He had the honor of enunciating the program theme unaccompanied  in "Sertonancias" No. 2 for solo flute. Essentially a lyrical piece with some well-placed interruptions of its flow, th

No pondering weak and weary here: Dynamic 'Cabaret Poe' takes the stage at Phoenix Theatre

Few major American literary figures can be as oddly irritating to read as Edgar Allan Poe. The thick, morbid texture of his prose both enhances and nearly stalls the narrative drive of his tales. As for the poetry, it is sometimes hard to get past the tightly wrought jangling of meter and rhyme to be sure of the substance beneath all the spun sugar. Still, he's an institution: even his besotted demise after brief residence in Baltimore was enough, many years later, to get one of the city's sports teams named after his most famous poem . Ben Asaykwee, fortunately, has sailed past what seem to be the treacherous shoals of Poe's literary output. His "Cabaret Poe," a Q Artistry production celebrating its 10th year with a run at the new Phoenix Theatre , allows the author's fans to indulge their passion while those less enchanted by all things Poe can enjoy the canny balance of tribute and mockery presented in the two-hour show. Asaykwee and his muse wormed th

Republicans rest upon lawyers, guns, and money: A song that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley could be singing

ISO Classical Series begins: A good ride through the Brahms First, Shostakovich adding flame decals

Krzysztof Urbanski shored up his success in major works of Johannes Brahms Friday night as he led a revelatory reading of the Symphony No. 1 in C minor to open the Classical Series of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra . The ISO's music director adds to distinguished Brahms performances. He has programmed the two piano concertos (Dejan Lazic the soloist in both , and Andre Watts on hand for 2014 performances of the second), the double concerto with two ISO principals last November, and the German Requiem in April 2017. Of the four symphonies, the ISO music director got good results with the Fourth in 2014. His way with the Second and Third symphonies will be eagerly awaited this season; the Fourth will make a return visit as well. Certainly there was nothing to quibble about under the magic touch Urbanski brought to Brahms' long-delayed debut as a symphonist. Material that made its way into the 1876 C minor symphony can be dated back a decade and a half before the pr

Ben Wendel: Tracing the seasons in jazz, month by month, through original compositions

Ben Wendel responds to the seasons. Nature lay at one's doorstep a dozen decades ago, when Peter Tchaikovsky wrote his piano suite "The Seasons," and the changes of season were something you couldn't help feeling through your senses. Today the seasons, despite alarming meteorological events, are more likely to imprint themselves upon us city-dwellers through our appointment calendars and celebrations. That raises an interesting question of interpretation when listening to "The Seasons," saxophonist Ben Wendel 's new recording ( Motema ), for which Tchaikovsky was an inspiration: Do human or natural events have the upper hand in these 12 compositions, each titled after a month of the year and arranged chronologically? Maybe Wendel had very few programmatic intentions, so what I sometimes hear as abstract commentary on the weather is a reflection on that month's holidays (where applicable) or simply the deeply personal place of each month in Ben

Guitar maestro John Scofield wraps up a two-day stand at the Jazz Kitchen

John Scofield displaying his old-maestro focus More than once during his first set Tuesday night at the Jazz Kitchen , John Scofield took to the mike to express his affection for Indianapolis and the club hosting his two-day visit. It sounded genuine, and in response it's obvious that local jazz fans should be grateful for his fondness for playing here. He commands top dollar at the door, and it's unusual for the club to book non-fusion musicians for more than one night. Not surprising: Scofield's stature has been lofty for many years. Richard Cook and Brian Morton, the brilliant co-authors of "The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD," summed it up in their fifth-edition introduction (2001) to their survey of Scofield recordings, saying the Dayton-born musician is "seen by many as the quintessential, most widely read and flexible contemporary jazz guitarist." "Most widely read" in this context alludes to Scofield's broad sensitivity to t