Thursday, April 25, 2013

More Friday Night Fun + Classical Finds

Pianist/composer/arranger and educator Earl MacDonald (he's on the faculty of the University of Connecticut/Storrs) leads and plays with  the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble. The nonet (listed below) plays at 8 p.m. Friday April  26 in the Polish National Home, 60 Charter Oak Avenue, Hartford.  Scheduled to appear with the NDE are Kris Allen (alto saxophone), Frank Kozyra (tenor saxophone) and the fine young baritone player Lauren Sevian as well as trumpeters Tony Kadleck (a mainstay of the Maria Schneider Orchestra) and Josh Evans, Shelagh Abate (French horn), Sara Jacovini (trombone), Henry Lugo (bass) and Ben Bilello (drums). This is a formidable ensemble and one expects the music to really shine. Opening the show will be the excellent Newington High School Jazz Ensemble.  For tickets and more information, go to www.hartfordjazzsociety.com or call 860-242-6688.

Guitarist/composer Sinan Bakir returns to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown for a Trio gig at 8 p.m.  Joining him will be Jen Allen (keyboards) and the fine young drummer Cemre Dogan. Thanks to his busy schedule of live dates, Bakir's playing and musicianship has truly matured over the past 18 months or so.  Since I first heard him play 3 years ago, he has become a stronger soloist, more melodic and forceful yet gentle when the music calls for it.  He's also a fine accompanist.  For ticket information, go to www.buttonwood.org - to find out more about the guitarist, go to www.sinanbakir.com.

Also on Friday night (this is beginning to look like listing for New York City), vocalist Giacomo Gates performs as part of the Music@Japanalia Series, located at Japanalia Eiko II, 11 Whitney Avenue in Hartford.  Gates, who just released, arguably, his best CD "Miles Tones" on Savant Records, performs with guitarist Tony Lombardozzi and bassist Jeff Fuller. The concert, titled "Mostly Miles", will foecus on material from the recording and, in this intimate setting, one will be able to hear what a great job Gates does blending the lyrics into his interpretations of solos from a number of Davis's albums.  For ticket information, call 860-232-4677.

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Movies often glorify war; most, especially modern movies, do not shy away from the violence that war begets.  Music, however, often takes sides whether it be the flag-waving favorites of the 2 World Wars or the harsh anti-Vietnam screeds of the late 1960s.

Composer David T. Little interviewed a number of soldiers from the various wars that the United States has been involved in over the past 5 decades. Using excerpts of those interviews as his libretto, Little has created "Soldier Songs" - the music, now released by Innova Rcords, is performed by Newspeak, the ensemble Little has worked with (percussion, vocals) and composed for over the past 6 years.  That octet features Caleb Burhans (violin), Mellissa Hughes (voice), James Johnston (piano, keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet, bass clarinet), Brian Snow (cello) and Peter Wise (vibraphone, percussion).  (Newspeak guitarist Taylor Levine is not on the recording.)  Added to the ensemble for this production are Kelli Kathman (piccolo, flutes) and lead vocalist David Adam Moore (baritone), all conducted by Todd Reynolds.

The multi-media production debuted in June 2011 at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, CT.  The reviews were (mostly) positive and Little set about recording the music.  Needless to say, much of the music is dark, harsh, and grating (like the combat scenes it represents) yet the power of the compositions, Moore's expressive vocals, and the ensemble's precise work shines on this recording.  While the lyrics do not pick out any particular politician, government or guerilla organization, they do speak to the dreams and frustrations of the men and women who do the "dirty" work"of those who call the shots.  As the program progresses from the dreams of young boys playing soldier in the backyard to the various war zones to the aftermath (how we inform families of the loss of their children and how we remember the fallen) to the inevitability of war breaking out around the war, one hears the people that Little has interviewed.

Music can not stop war but pieces like "Soldier Songs" can inform those of us in the safety of our homes of the sacrifices of those people we send to fight for us and the families they leave behind.  The memories of combat do not, can not, leave the minds of those who are involved - David T. Little reminds us to listen to those people, to pay attention to the families, to make sure we never grow "cavalier" about what war really is - war is killing, plain and simple  Neither glorious nor beautiful, wa is death.  This is powerful music and deserves your close attention.  For more information, go to davidtlittle.com/projects/soldier-songs/.

The first sound you hear on "Native Informant", the striking new Naxos CD of music by Arab American composer Mohammed Fairouz (born 1985) is the plaintive clarinet of David Krakauer, one of the brilliant players of the modern Klezmer music.  The piece is "Tahwidah" (lullaby) and the text comes from a poem by Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) - when soprano Mellissa Hughes adds her voice, the piece builds in emotion and intensity.  Throughout the remainder of the CD, one often hears emotion, intensity, and sadness.  Much of this music is informed by the composer's trip to Lebanon, once the 'jewel" of the Middle East, now a trampled ground of hopes, casualties, dreams deferred or denied.  Fairouz sets 2 poems by American poet David Shapiro to music as well as 3 pieces by American Wayne Koestenbaum, both Jewish.  Like the Middle East, Fairouz's music speaks to the centuries of Arabs and Jews living together under the rule of various emperors or nations. Nowhere does he speak about this but, if you know anything about the music of the Middle East, it is a fusion of many cultures that have or still reside there.

But the music goes in so many directions.  Violinist Rachel Barton Pine is featured on the 5-part title piece, a solo work that ranges from a celebration of dance to a lament to the many people killed in the Egyptian uprisings of 2010-11 to the plaintive lullaby that closes the work.  The Borromeo String Quartet are featured on the expansive "Chorale Fantasy" and return on the 2-part "For Victims", accompanying baritone David Kravitz as he sings the Shapiro poems.  Pianist Steve Spooner teams with baritenor Christopher Thompson on "Posh", the song cycle based on the Koestenbaum poems - the blend of darkness and light is quite lovely.  The CD closes with the 5-part "Jebel Lebnon" (Mount Lebanon) commissioned and performed by Imani Winds.  The music takes its direction from the disastrous Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and is marked by the blend of shrill piccolo and clarinet on the opening section ("Bashir's March") to the plaintive bassoon that opens "Ariel's Song", a lamentation to the massive loss of civilian life and dislocation in the conflict. Yet, the lightness of spirit that permeates "Dance and Little Song" and feistiness of "Mar Charbel's Dabkeh" points to the resilience and hopes of the nation.

The best person to talk about this music is Mohammed Fairouz and he does so in this recent article on the Huffington Post (read it at www.huffingtonpost.com/mohammed-fairouz/native-informant_b_3119521.html.)  My suggestion is find this music, soak in it, pay attention to its inner workings and the voices that emerge - it's an intense emotional journey but also quite educational.  To learn more about the composer, go to mohammedfairouz.com.

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