Sunday, February 21, 2016

PEOPLE: Musicians & their Music

Much has happened in the two months between my last blog post and now: a trip to Cuba, the ever-distracting enticements of New York City, and my decision to clean up the piles of clutter around my desk.

In fact, the impetus for this blog post on musicians emerged from cleaning up. In the process, I unearthed a forgotten CD. On it were old, color-negative photographs of musicians. This discovery prompted the following post in which I combined these images with some newer, digital photographs which had been waiting for me to select them.

Whenever appropriate or possible, I also provide a link so you might enjoy hearing the person play along with seeing a photograph. 

Blind Guitarist, Los Angeles, CA, Hollywood Farmer's Market, 2006

Flamenco guitarist, Pepe Viramontes, born in Zacatecas, Mexico. I wish I knew more about him, but even finding his name from this side of the country posed some challenges.

Dan, Manhattan, NY, Tonic, 2004

Musician, Dan Rathbun, is also a recording engineer and builder of fabulous electronic instruments. He was the founder, along with Nils Frykdahl and Carla Kihlstedt, of the industrial, prog-rock west coast band, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (SGM).  This group's inventive compositions of textured, raucous sounds won SGM a large following, especially in the West, right up to its final show in 2011 in San Francisco

Matthias, Manhattan, NY, Tonic, 2004

Matthias Bossi became the drummer for SGM in 2004, the band's fifth year. These two photographs were taken at SGM's show of March 2, 2004 at Tonic, a major venue for avant-garde music in New York until it succumbed to gentrification  in 2007. 

A recording of that show can be found here.  An interview from 2007 which offers insights into the forming of SGM can be found here (8:48).  And a recording of one of the group's iconic pieces, Sleep Is Wrong, can be found here (6:36).

Rion, Manhattan, NY, MATA, 2009

I photographed double bassist, Rion Wentworth, at one of the events sponsored by MATA, which stands for Music at the Anthology.  Founded by Philip Glass and two members of his touring ensemble, composer and vocalist Lisa Bielawa and pianist and composer Eleonor Sandresky,  MATA promotes the work of young composers.  It took its name from the fact that its first venue for presenting new work was the Anthology Film Archives.

Adam, Manhattan, NY, Rockefeller University, 2015

This and the two following photographs are of the members of Trio Solisti, which has been called "the most exciting piano trio in America," and a trio that, in the words of critic Terry Teachout, has "succeeded the Beaux Arts Trio as the outstanding chamber music ensemble of its kind."

The pianist is Adam Neiman, and I would recommend his web site to everyone for elegance and the clarity of its layout.  It also offers listeners six sample audios and six sample videos of his performances.

Maria, Manhattan, NY, Rockefeller University, 2015

This is Trio Solisti violinist, Maria Bachmann.

Alexis, Manhattan, NY, Rockefeller University, 2015

This is Trio Solisti cellist, Alexis Gerlach.  Here is a video link in which they perform the first movement of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49 (10:06).

My thanks to the Trio for allowing me to spend a few minutes taking these photographs as they rehearsed in the hour prior to their performance.  That performance was part of the Tri-Noon Recitals offered free to the public at Rockefeller University.

Sunset Serenade, Manhattan, NY, Bryant Park, 2014

My title for this photograph is a reference to the fact that the Bryant Park stage faces west. The sun was pouring in from that 41st Street break in the buildings; this made for a nice setting, but a slight photographic challenge.

The string quintet seen playing here is Sybarite5.  As their web site states, they play an eclectic repertoire "from Mozart to Radiohead." This promotional video offers a good introduction to the group and its playing.  The event, New Music in Bryant Park, is promoted by Chamber Music America in conjunction with the Department of Parks.

Brass on the Shuttle, Manhattan, NY, Grand Central Subway Station, 2015

This was a single, "quick-draw" shot, taken with my handy pocket camera, as we ran for the Shuttle. The group is Affinity Brass. Three examples of its repertoire can be accessed at this site.

Colin, Manhattan, NY, Washington Square Park, 2015

I imagine that Colin Huggins is one of New York's most frequently-photographed musicians, given his commitment to haul out and assemble his baby grand on any weekend that weather allows. Then, also, his venue is Washington Square Park, a major meeting place as well as protest gathering place in Greenwich Village.

As you can see, a bit of snow on the ground deters him not. You can watch Colin (and his heterogeneous audience) in warmer circumstances here, playing Philip Glass' Metamorphosis 2 (4:40), and here, playing Clair de Lune by Debussy (3:33).


The following four photographs, taken during a rehearsal of Necessary Monsters by Carla Kihlstedt and Rafael Oses, capture three of the seven musicians who performed this staged song cycle in Chicago. Three years later, it was recast and performed (with a new director) at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center.

The photographs below are simply four portraits, hardly related to Necessary Monsters, since--on stage--each musician was costumed and transformed into a specific being (monster). The best introduction to Necessary Monsters is this trailer produced by the Yerba Buena Center (15:35), and it shows clips from the actual performance.

Here is a video of the earlier, Chicago, version of Necessary Monsters (21:12) as staged.

Carla, Chicago, IL, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008

Carla Kihlstedt is a violinist, vocalist and the composer of Necessary Monsters.

Theresa, Chicago, IL, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008

Theresa Wong, Bay Area cellist, vocalist and composer, here performing in a rehearsal for Necessary Monsters.

Freddi on the National Steel, Chicago, IL, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008

Freddi, Chicago, IL, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008

Freddi Price has carved out a wide niche for himself as a multi-instrumental musician; as a stage performer, whether in regular theater, cabaret or puppet theater; and as a stage designer and constructor.  I caught him here during rehearsal for the Chicago version of Necessary Monsters.


2 Foot Yard was started by Carla Kihlstedt as a form of investigation into song-writing as a solo project. That provided its name: a (back) yard, but one only large enough to be occupied by two feet. Then, again, her intentions were to write pop songs, but what emerged was too quirky to ever approximate "pop." 

Thus, as she once stated, the title's other play on words refers to "a mis-matched measurement."  So, a collaborative being by nature, Carla called on two other musical friends of kindred spirit to form a trio and transform 2 Foot Yard into a composer's collective for song.

The three principals are pictured below, each in two photographs taken during a performance at Le Poisson Rouge.  The last photograph, Colin & Johnny, shows two other musical friends who joined 2 Foot Yard for this particular performance.

Carla I, Manhattan, NY, Le Poisson Rouge, 2009

Carla II, Manhattan, NY, Le Poisson Rouge, 2009

Carla has been introduced already (and will appear once more). But before proceeding, take some time to listen to some 2 Foot Yard songs. Here is a version of Octopus (4:26), and here is Hold My Own (2:54).

Marika, Manhattan, NY, Le Poisson Rouge, 2009

Shahzad & Marika, Manhattan, NY, Le Poisson Rouge, 2009

In retrospect, it's easy to understand why Marika Hughes embraced the cello over the violin at the age of twelve, as she recounts in her web site bio. After all, she is the grandchild of the great cellist Emanuel Feuermann.

Here, in Soliloquy by Carla Kihlstedt (5:12), Marika gives her instrument's low register a real workout, and here, in another contemporary piece performed at Music Unlimited 24 in Wels, Austria (8:41), Marika combines cello and voice.  

Shahzad I, Manhattan, NY, Le Poisson Rouge, 2009

Shahzad II, Manhattan, NY, Le Poisson Rouge, 2009

Shahzad Ismaily is another multi-instrumentalist, consummate musician, composer, and collaborator extraordinaire.

Colin & Johnny, Manhattan, NY, Le Poisson Rouge, 2009

These two guests to the 2 Foot Yard gig are the two violinists of the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, founded in 2005 and committed to playing contemporary classical repertoire and venturing far outside of the classical sphere. 

On the left is violinist and composer, Colin Jacobsen. Here we can listen to Brooklyn Rider play "Second Bounce," a movement of Colin's composition, Achilles Heel (5:26).

On the right is Russian-born violinist, Johnny Gandelsman, who moved to the United States in 1995 and lives in Brooklyn.  For a special treat, watch and listen here to Gandelsman, as he plays the Bach Chaconne on a borrowed baroque violin with gut strings (13:18).

Brass Sextet--Prow Half, Manhattan, NY, Central Park, Harlem Meer, 2015

As one small part of Creative Time's transformation of the upper reaches of Central Park into a vast installation art venue last summer, Icelandic performance artist, Ragnar Kjartansson reworked a 1934 fishing boat into this hybrid vessel, the S.S. Hangover, gave it a brass sextet, and had it slowly and continuously motor around Duck Island in the Harlem Meer. 

The sextet consisted of members of the Metropolis Ensemble, and they played a composition by the Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and composer, Kjartan Sveinsson.

Stop Shopping Choir, Manhattan, NY, Joe's Pub

Those unfamiliar with Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping are missing out on one of the greatest, most inspirational (not to mention ecologically-important) secular revival meetings anywhere. 

Reverend Billy is a performance artist turned social activist. I don't picture him here, because I chose a visual statement that captures a musical moment over something more documentary. But here you may see Billy in a quieter moment, blessing the unborn child of one of the choir members (2:58).

For an indication of the energy that accompanies Billy and the Choir, open this link to see them perform The End of the World at Joe's Pub (2:51).

Alex on Calle Ocho, Miami, FL, La Esquina de la Fama

Alex Zerquera was originally from Trinidad, Cuba but now lives and plays in Miami, Florida. Here he is playing at a restaurant in Little Havana on SW 8th Street (Calle Ocho).

Unfortunately, the CD I got from him won't allow me to select a track (or maybe it is I who is computer challenged), and searches turn up nothing on him. Were I able, I would have played Aye Mama, Qué Pasó?, in which Alex does some pretty great whistling near the end of the track.


Below are four photographs taken (in waning light) at a private, outdoor wedding ceremony in Connecticut, as guests made informal music during the reception. One guest, as you will see, is a living legend of the musical world.

Carla, Redding, CT, Private Wedding Celebration, 2007

Carla Kihlstedt--not a legend--we already have met.

Willie & Carla, Redding, CT, Private Wedding Celebration, 2007

There's no mistaking Willie Nelson, a true American legend, here playing with Carla. Besides this occasion, at which the two musicians shared long friendships with the groom, the chamber jazz group, Tin Hat, was the other time these musicians collaborated; here is Willie accompanying Tin Hat in a gorgeous rendering of Willow Weep for Me (4:37).

Willie & Daniel, Redding, CT, Private Wedding Celebration, 2007

Willie Nelson and Canadian musician/record-producer, Daniel Lanois sing a duet.

Mickey, Redding, CT, Private Wedding Celebration, 2007

This is Mickey Raphael, Willie's harmonica player for the past forty-three years. This is the guy I keep wanting to step front stage for more than ten seconds and give us a dose of those great, bluesy chords of his; but he steps back, like the consummate musician he is, conscious of keeping everything in balance.  I love this guy. 

Here is Mickey talking about aspects of his years with Willie (4:21). 

It goes without saying, I love Willie as well.  So, let's end with two of his many classics, Whiskey River (3:37) and On the Road Again (3:06).  Damn, that man sure knows how to make music...and, yes, you'll hear lots of Mickey in the background. 

Jim, Lancaster, PA, Lancaster Square

My old buddy, Jim Phipps makes his living as a tennis pro and coach, which is how I know him. But he also plays a mean harmonica and plays (or played--I'm not sure which, as I moved from Lancaster almost a decade ago) locally with a group called the Blue Light Special.  Here's another guy I love (as a friend, not a musical idol), but we can hear him in the background of Help Me (4:14). 

Zeena, Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada, 2008

Zeena Parkins is an American harpist and keyboard musician. I took this shot during an early morning rehearsal of the experimental rock band, Cosa Brava, formed by Fred Frith.  They were to play later in the day at the Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville.

Here is Zeena playing a wild, improvised solo on electronic harp at Le Poisson Rouge in 2013. (26:08)

Trio with 2 Instruments, Woods Hole, MA, 2014

I can't comment--never heard them make a sound.

The Next Generation, Viggo & Jen, Chilmark, MA

We'll have to wait as well to hear Viggo, even though I have watched and heard him make some great moves on his father's drums.

1 comment:

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