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Mark Morris Dance Group

Pepperland

Penn Live Arts-Annenberg Center

Philadelphia,

May 6-8, 2022

http://www.pennlivearts.org

Artists of the company in The Mark Morris Dance Group’s production of Pepperland at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London on 20th March 2019

~Pepperland cast May 2022

Karlie Budge, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lesley Garrison, Sarah Haarmann, Courtney Lopes, Aaron Loux,
Taína Lyons, Matthew McLaughlin, Dallas McMurray, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Christina Sahaida,
Billy Smith, Noah Vinson, Malik Q. Williams

I’d Love to Turn You On…

 Choreographer Mark Morris’ dance animation of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with a half a dozen of its songs with re-imagined by composer-pianist Ethan Iverson, with some original orchestral interludes conjuring the fantasia of Pepperland.

Sgt. Pepper was lushly produced by George Martin with symphonic fusion, introduced the pop charts to edgy ‘concept’ album and made the Beatles bigger rockstars than they already were. Morris debuted his dance production in Liverpool in 2017 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the album’s release.

If Penny Lane was McCartney’s pop music confection, A Day in the Life was a chilling view of mundane British life, with themes of self-destruction and the allure of drugs and sex and a line that became lore about McCartney rumored death. That symphonic fade at the end of the album is the note that starts Morris’ freewheeling ode to the album and the era.

The dancers momentarily pose as the stars on the album cover from- Oscar Wilde, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Sonny Liston, Albert Einstein, et. al. – Costumes by Elizabeth Kurtzman the dancers all dressed in vivid pinks, purple, yellow, green suits, and mod era skirts go with the choreographic flow.

Morris is expected to be unexpected and Pepperland’s cast of 14 dancers’ possess radiant esprit and infectious energy that win us over even through some static sections, for all around funsies. Except for a few audience members who bolted after a few numbers on this rainy night in Philadelphia, this audience loved it.

Morris’ builds a vibrant dance canvas of petit jetes and flattened out pas de bourrée (which echo Nijinsky’s Faun tableau-choreo) and sections peppered with flashes of 60s dances including the frug, pony and boogaloo and even a breakout Charleston rag.

Ringo’s hit ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ (wonderfully sung by Clinton Curtis) leads into the mise-en-scenes depicting ‘the Lonely Hearts Club’ singles hookups of a bygone era, and in the age of Tinder/Grindr apps, Morris choreographs straight and same-sex couples’ dances. Charmingly intimate, but a bit choreographically anemic in their combined effect. It seemed like a missed opportunity for either passion or comedy. Or better yet both.

Musically and choreographically, ‘Within You and Without You’ George Harrison’s rock meditation is truly inspired, with Morris’ lacing in classical Indian dance phrases and interfaith universality of cosmic connections. Groovy would be the word.

With the reprise of Sgt. Pepper at the end, is busted open musically with a Bourbon St. trombone lead by Sam Newsome, soprano sax, Ryan Keberle, trombone and Vinnie Sperrazza, percussion turns into a Bourbon St. parade, with the dancers linked and lurching over the stage like soused zombies.

‘Penny Lane‘ was slated for Sgt. Pepper but was actually released as single and was, as flimsy as it was, a hit. Pianist Iverson turns a few bars from Penny Lane into a Bachesque allegro lead in, then Curtis belts out the song’s quaint descriptive lyrics about the ‘Pretty nurses are selling poppies/though she feels she is in a play/she is anyway/A barber shaves another customer/when the fireman rushes in from the pouring rain/ very strange. Morris makes this droll lyrical narrative into a simpleton panto(dance)mime of said action.

In contrast, the simplicity of kick line Morris concocts for ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ is truly inspired, as Iverson scrambles the beat and dancers are warped out of count signatures- (explained in the program-(the between 6 & 4 is 5. under the music-hall scuffle). and despite that extra piece of the puzzle, this is Morris at his most inventive and for the dancers, a whole article could be written about their quicksilver precision. It is Morris at his best, a warm and witty dance dervish par excellence.

The startling ‘A Day in a Life’ the most compelling track musically, with its haunting lead vocal by Lennon, is the finale of Pepperland. In the 60s, guitarist jazz great Wes Montgomery turned it into a smoldering jazz jam and Iverson builds it into an elegiac anthem of a mythical cultural era.

His somber piano melody  in duet with Rob Schwimmer’s theremin’s time-bending effects that lead into the Clinton Curtis’ vocal and then the dancers singing its ethereal chorale, indeed, was such a….. contact high….. circa ’67…8…9. I cried.

Classical Philly

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Gil Shaham and The Philadelphians

Violinist Gil Shaham (photo: Chris Lee)

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

April 28-30, 2022

Gil Shaham, leader & violin

Violinist Gil Shaham fronted the Philadelphia Orchestra, as ‘Leader and soloist’ in a string orchestra program of works by Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Bologne and the masterpiece for seasons by Antonio Vivaldi. A herculean task, and yet Shaham didn’t run out of steam, in the zone-sans podium-with the full strings in a semi-circle around him. Because his body was busy with his violin, in lieu of the typical maestro choreography, Shaham ‘leading’ everything with a fascinatingly, minimalist physicality. (More on that in a moment).

On Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium & Allego, Shaham sounding rushed on the first bars, deliberately perhaps, for when he reached the first notes of Kreisler’s central theme, his rich soulful tone engulfed the concert hall, and was a sumptuous warm up to the orchestra’s legendary strings.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin has been correcting previous sins of omission and performing more repertory by composers of color. In this concert, Shaham soloing on a long-overlooked masterpieces of 18th century, by Joseph Boulogne Chevalier St. Georges’ Violin Concerto no. 9 for this concert.

Born around 1745, the son of Nanon, an enslaved woman in colonialized Caribbean islands and a French aristocrat plantation owner. Mother and son escaped to France and Boulonge was raised among France nobility. Joseph excelled at fencing and a gifted violinist and composter. He was subjected to racism, along the way, other musicians refused to collaborate with him. when he was orchestrating his own works, because he was biracial, meanwhile, he was a favorite at the court of Marie Antoinette.

 The Chevalier’s Violin Concerto is in its mastery of forms and in that pocket of baroque-classical forward transitional era. St. George, and his soon to be contemporary Mozart, compositionally prescient, exploring ideas of his own. The glittering courtly structure on the first movement is prelude to the somber symphonic expressionism of the 2nd movement. The Chevalier

The finale of the Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ performed with such rigor by the Philadelphians, still evokes a mystique that has remained undimmed in the canon of essential world music. It is earthy and ethereal, narrative and abstract, and for string musicians, foundational and challenging repertory. Each Season a ripe sonata form followed by musical depictions of weather furies, flora, fauna and the musical contemplations of the seasons of life.

Gil Shaham commanded throughout, but never eclipsed the rest of the players. This was orchestrated for a large chamber orchestra and the balance, precision and ensemble energy with Shaham was exquisite. Aside from the warm smile and Shaham was a study in maestro-maneuvers, his back to the musicians. At various times, inching toward the individual musicians at key moments of interplay with the principals up front, otherwise signaling tempos or phrasing with tilts of his head, or craning his body as he fiddled, with very expressive eyebrows signaling sonic contours.

Among the outstanding soloists- principal violinist David Kim, Christine Lin and William Polk (2nd & 3rd violin) and principal cellist Ni-Ye Ni, harpsichordist Avi Stein brilliant in the keyboard counterpoint and those eerily dissonant sustained notes.

This ensemble crystalized every musical idea of this perpetual masterpiece, from Vivaldi’s earthy rhythmic drive to the perpetual motion of baroque form, nothing was diluted.

OperaStage

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 Verdi | Rigoletto

directed by Lindy Hume

revival director Daniel Pelzig

Opera Philadelphia

Academy of Music, Philadelphia

April 29-May 8

http://www.Operaphila.org

Opera Philadelphia returned to the Academy of Music Stage for the first time in almost 3 years, with a full, production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, re-envisioned in an oligarchy of Duke of Mantua by director Lindy Hume in 2012 (for the New Zealand Opera) ”I found inspiration for this bad boy Duke…in Silvia Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister.” Hume noted.

bass-baritone Ben Wager (Monterone) ~ all photos by Dominic Mercier

Verdi and librettist Francesco Piave adapted the story from a Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, aside from its themes of brutality against women, it also was a political scandal as it seemed to allude to the king of France, after its premiere in Vienna censors closed it and the opera was not seen onstage again for 50 years, but since has became a classic of Verdi’s famed middle period of opera sera classics, and scandalizing Vienna, in its depiction of rape, political corruption.

The Count gets bored with the usual bacchanalia at his state room and looks for action on the other side of the track. He is even bored with his court fool Rigoletto, who he abuses routinely in front of his cabal of sycophants. Sound familiar.

Hume also wanted to make the point about the cultural implications of the prevalence of criminal, misogynist, abusive subjugation of women by men in power. Then and now. Still, the narrative, set in the contemporary world, doesn’t escape some thematic problems, as it is set in this era where the characters can check their mobiles as they plot around the lascivious and corrupt Count.

At the center of the sweaty melodrama is the fate of his beautiful daughter Gilda who he keeps hidden. But the Duke’s henchmen brutalize and kidnap, claiming she is Rigoletto’s secret mistress, when she is actually his daughter. Meanwhile, the Duke sees her a church and wants her, he goes around town posing as a penniless student, and she is smitten with him.

It is unsettling now, for instance, to see Gilda, fling herself at the Duke because she loves him after her father takes her to a seedy bar where the Duke is pawing a prostitute.

Tenor Anthony Clark Evans as Rigoletto
Soprano Raven McMillion as Gilda

Richard Roberts’ gilt marbled court parlor set design which seamlessly reconfigures into back-alley crime scenes and Rigoletto’s home, moves along the plot stunning noirish stage pictures in tandem with Drew Billiau’s sculpted noirish lighting. There are no dance scenes in this Rigoletto, but Daniel Pelzig, the revival director, kept the group scenes in naturalized, earthy motion. through the miasma of plot points.

Baritone Anthony Clark Evans, builds a reserved performance as Rigoletto, acting the part of the buffoon in court, but signaling contempt, his physical performance as ‘the hunchback’ minimalistic, his rich baritone, simmers with inner turmoil. As Gilda, Soprano Raven McMillion sumptuous upper range handles the opera’s difficult (and character sketchy) scenes, with touching interpretive artistry. 

Joshua Blue revels in his swagger as a bored, heartless Duke, with a mighty tenor, gleefully unconvincing in his second act aria about ‘being a new man’ after trying to seduce Gilda in the presence of her heartfelt emotions. His swagger most cynical in the opera’s greatest hit ‘la donna e mobile’ sung with seething sincerity by Blue.

bass Wei Wu (Sparafucile); mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi (Maddelena) & tenor Joshua Blue (The Duke of Mantua

Outstanding supporting cast starting with Wei Wu as Sparafucile, an ask-no-questions hitman who knows every angle, and all that is conveyed in multiple ways with Wei Wu’s fine acting and sumptuous basso vocals. Kristen Choi’s Maddalena’s in stunning in a leather-fringe mini and spikey mezzo perfect for the bar hooker ready for any hustle.

Opera Philadelphia maestro Corrado Rovaris doesn’t vamp the symphonics, and actually seemed underpowered in spots, but mostly this was a fulsome performance, supported by OP choristers in mighty Verdian form under the consummate direction of Elizabeth Braden.

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ph~Julieanne Harris

Philadanco’s Spring Dances thrill

Joan Myers Brown always brings something new for her annual spring dance season at the Kimmel Center Cultural Campus. Philadanco returned to live performances last fall with ‘Fast Forward’ a program of premiere works that was in celebration of the company’s 50th Anniversary year but was postponed due to the pandemic.

 Last week Philadanco hit the Perelman Theater stage with retooled ballets by choreographers Ray Mercer, Jowale Willa Ja Zollar, Ulysses Dove, and Rennie Harris in a program called  ‘RE (RE-vived and Archived, RE-visted and RE-constructed ballets, four of Brown’s favorite ballets from ‘Danco’s vault of over 200 repertory works.

And this program was packed with ‘Danco signature styles that showcased the range of its current roster of 12 dancers and back for this high-octane bill that included guest artist alums Lamar Baylor, Adryan Moorefield, and Courtney Robinson.

A tall table is center stage for Ray Mercer’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ so tall and wide that the cast of eight dancers fly over-under-sideways-down it with fearless speed and accuracy in Mercer serves up a simmering dance drama of narratives about relationships, conflicts, crisis, romance, breakups

Some of the duets have the flash of show-dance couplings, but dazzlingly fueled with daredevil balletics. The lighting design of sudden fade outs and half-spots adds to the effects of the duets as the dancers flash through a series of dramatic antagonistic scenes. In contrast Mikaela Fenton’s dances, a solo under the table that is full of mystery and anguish.

Next, Jowale Zollar’s‘The Walkin,’ Talkin,’ Signifying Blues Hips, Sacred Hips, Lowdown, Throwdown

The title says it all and the dancers illustrate the details with Zollar’s sensual, deep dive into Afro-Caribbean vernaculars. set to a raucous mix of original music by Zollar and Percussion virtuoso Junior ‘Gabu’ Wedderburn.

The first scene, BattyMoves, (means butt) and danced by soloist Kaylah Arielle with wry, sexy flair and expression of the body as manifest power. Then the slow, breezy processional with dancers Leslie Bunkley, Mikaela Fenton, Drani Pinnix, Brittany Wright in a sensual and lyrical line as they float over the stage in a choreographic character study of feminine mystique titled ‘Soon Come’

Then ‘Up in Here’ a wily funk rap workout instructional to cue ‘attitude walks, power twerks, solidarity in the body beautiful power to the nth degree. The fabulous costume designs by Terri Shockley in a Jamaican couture. The finale section a mix of Africanist movement and explosive modern expressions. Joan Myers Brown making a star appearance with some sage elegance steps all her own. This audience wild with cheers and applause the whole time.

Choreographer Ulysses Dove was a Cunningham and Ailey dancer in the 60s, and after an injury that side-lined him while AAADT was on tour, Ailey asked him to choreograph a work on Ailey’s junior company. Dove was a choreographic student at Juilliard, but never aspired to be a choreographer. Dove went on to choreograph major works for AAADT, ABT, NYCB and top international companies including, Royal Swedish Ballet, Dutch National Balletet.al. Dove’s concepts and technical approach is still revealing his singular choreographic voice, in terms of classical modernist idioms and liberating interpretive artistry. Dove died of AIDS complications  died of AIDS in 1996. ‘Bad Blood’ is a modern classic.

Jameel Hendricks dances the arresting opening solo to ‘Bad Blood’ that states many of the movement themes. The dancers in white unitards to accentuate Dove’s distinct innovations in a series of sculptural duets that freeze in moments, sometime in mid-trajectory. Dove’s signature tight mach-speed turn variations, geometric port de bra that speaks volumes and explosive leaps for the men and women.

Dynamic lighting design by ”’ in tantem with 80s altnoir music by Peter Gabriel and Laura Anderson. Dove’s choreography stage composition haunts. He plays with time, space, and potent stage composition. The audience responded with applause at the dancers supple precision. Among the standouts Janine Beckles and Adryan Moorefield in a central duet completely embodied the dynamic lyricism in Dove’s powerful balletics.

Rennie Harris choreographed ‘Wake Up’ in 2014 and after watching the rehearsals in Philadanco’s studiosfor this revival, he saw immediately how it should be revived. It was already one of his PureMovement works with self-defining messages of what hip-hop is aesthetically and what the idioms represent culturally.

For ‘RE’ he wanted to impart its original energy on new dancers “refine it a little bit. He saw spots where he could make it more urban contemporary from just 10 years ago. “Use more Afro-beat music, more communal passes.”  ‘

‘Wake Up’ resonates in the wake of the many incidents of police killings of black Americans in recent years. It contains a fiery speech voiceover by MLK.

Laced through music mix by composer Darrin Ross and are voiceover excerpts from a fiery speech by Dr. Martin Luther King and other commentary in reference to the many incidents of the killings of black Americans by law enforcement.

Those civil-rights issues resonate from the first scene as Lamar Baylor is in distress, gasping for breath, he ends up lifeless on the ground as Harris’ ensemble movement ignites the full company in razor sharp unison, hip-hop choreography that heats up to even more complex, but completely fluid streams. Baylor floating in and out of the action, ramping it up. In various scenes Baylor is in slow motion, ghostly and weaving in and out of the dance action.

 In his program note, Harris states, “Wake Up” shows us through the lens of dance that community people relationships in hip hop define itself then this cannot be altered nor controlled.” Harris is credited for the costume ‘concept’ consisting of street clothes that evoke retro black fashions, from 60s jazz club cool to black power Afros of the 70s to yesterday. Harris has a terrific sense of theatrical and historic arc, and the choreography and themes of ‘Wake Up. are relevant as ever.

Jazznights in Philly

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(ph: LJW)

Jazz in the Key of Ellison

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

April 14, 2022

Jazz in the Key of Ellison

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

April 14, 2022

 ‘Jazz In The Key Of Ellison’ is a concert production conceived in 2016 at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts and the Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra is back on tour in Verizon Hall for one night only performance on April 14.

Ralph Ellison’s novel ‘Invisible Man’ confronted mid-20th century racism in the country and remains a groundbreaking novel in the pantheon of social justice literature, which has inspired generations. Ellison also wrote about jazz, its musical importance to American arts, and about its cultural significance for Black America. An accomplished trumpeter himself, Ellison was very much part the jazzworld of Armstrong, Basie, Ellington, Gillespie, Monk, et. al. and the defining genres reflecting the African American diaspora that spoke to people of color and their communities in the US.

The Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra, with vocalists Quiana Lynell, Lizz Wright, and the legendary Nona Hendryx along with actor-singers Andre DeShields, Carl Hancock Rux and Ellison scholar Robert O’Meally performed ‘Jazz in the Key of Ellison‘ structured in two hour long sets for a beautifully conceived concert of music and inspiring words of Ralph Ellison, delivered by the narrators between the numbers.

Here are a few random highlights

Verizon Hall was just a little more half full but those of who were there knew just a few bars into the orchestra’s rendition of Count Basie’s ‘Jumpin’ at the Woodside’ this was going to be a jazz night to remember.

From that dancehall classic, vocalist Quiana Lynell’s interpreted the Fats Waller song ‘ Black & Blue’ made world famous by Louis Armstrong, which vamps the blues lament via Armstrong’s mocking sincerity, as it confronts the face of American racism. Controversial in its time in, it still conjures many disturbing tropes of its era, meanwhile Lynell’s soaring operatic jazz vocal, up and down the scale, laced with scat ala Louis, It is followed by a screening of the historic film of Armstrong performing it at an embassy event in Ghana in 1956.

Later Quiana Lynell drove mighty high & low notes into the stratosphere for Oscar Brown, Jr.’s  ‘Chain Gang’ with trumpeter Randy Brecker picking up the afterburn in a solo and pianist Zack Hyde driving it home in roadhouse slide piano style.

Sauntering onstage in a red lace, bell-bottom ensemble ala her days with LaBelle, Nona Hendryx launched into the Coots/Gillespie 30s standard ‘You Go to My Head. Took the first verse to find her footing, almost speaking the lyrics, but then gave a tour de force vocal like no one else. But it was a house down moment for her smoldering version of Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddamn.’   Hendryx’s owning Ray Charles’ low down blues belter “I Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town

Jazz stylist Lizz Wright sang 40s style of big band singers for Ellington’s ‘In a Mellow Tone. Then with pianist Zack Hyde hypnotized with their version of Hoagie Carmichael’s ‘Stardust.’  Wright brings everything in its lyrical magic and vocal control. Randy Brecker solo at the end making it all the more ‘a timeless ‘haunting melody.’ Wright also performed a medley of Fred Parris’s  In the Still of The Night that segues in the Jonny Green/Edward Heyman atmospheric classic ‘ I Cover the Waterfront.’ highlighted by the Jennifer Vincent’s atmospheric solo on double bass.

Deep vocal qualities, and impeccable phrasing all her own, finished out with Brecker’s noirish trumpet solo. Later, Wright is vocally radiant on Mongo Santamaria ‘Afro Blue’ backed by a lushly quiet arrangement (after John Coltrane).

Throughout this concert the Andy Farber Orchestra- Andy Farber on sax, Willie Applewhite (trombone); Courtney Wright (baritone sax); Bruce Williams (altosax) Anthony Hervey (trumpet); Randy Brecker (trumpet); Alvester Garnet (drums); Zack Hyde (piano)

Alto Saxophonist Bruce Williams soulful, solo on Ellington’s ‘Jeep’s Blues’ and its brilliant ascent with Ellington’s majestic jazz crescendos, the musicians make this one a symphonic blues barnburner for the ages.

JazzPhilly

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SFJAZZ Collective meets the musical & humanitarian moment at PennLiveArts concert

 On the last leg of their 2022 tour SFJazz Collective swung into Philadelphia on a cold, starry April 3 night and electrified the almost full Penn Arts Live concert in the Annenberg Center’s Zellerbach Theater. It’s Jazz appreciation month and after two years of industry shutdown over these musicians met the musical and humanitarian moment with

Musical director Chris Potter, a multi-reed virtuoso led on soprano & tenor sax, bass clarinet and alto flute. But all the musicians curated session ‘New Works Reflecting the Moment’  the group’s musical response to a world experiencing multiple global crises of pandemic, climate change conflicts abroad and political unrest at home.

Pianist Edward Simon introduced each player, commenting” This is our first tour since the pandemic began,” and added that Philly was “A second home for me…I’m originally from Venezuela, but I went to high school & college here and I have a lot of great memories.”

Instead of focusing on the music from such jazz giants from the past, Simon noted ” this time we were giving the freedom to bring either an original composition or arrangement, as long as it reflects what is happening in the world.”

The session opened with vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s ‘Vicissitudes” opening in an entrancing prelude by Wolf and interplay with pianist Simon. Then the simmering dynamic percussion by t Kendrick Scott’s and Chris Potter’s sinuous tenor sax turning it into a smoldering jazz sinfonia. The first sampling of the famed West Coast jazz milieu is a breezy ensemble virtuosity as tight as it is fluid and freewheeling in the performance moment that continued to entrance this audience for the entire concert.

Some random highlights from this memorable concert

Simon on electric organ framing the blazing harmonics of Saxophonist Etienne Charles and trumpeter David Sanchez, in a jazz-funk intro to Sly Stone’s ‘Stand’ as vocalist Martin Luther McCoy saunters onstage and launches into the vocals. McCoy’s builds it to that famous bridge that is just busted open as a jazz funk comet that took the roof off. The audience roared their approval, some audience members already on their feet dancing before it was over.

Later McCoy vocal interpretation of Edward Simon’s ‘8’46’’ his sobering and somber jazz chamber piece in response to the murder of George Floyd by police on the streets of Minneapolis. Simon’s lyrics laced with anguished upper registers burning through McCoy’s vocal.

Later, the band played an intro with echoes of a familiar tune and then dropped in the lead line of Marvin Gaye’s seminal 60s classic ‘What’s Going On.’ with McCoy straightforward passionate vocal in soaring through the jazz sub streams already built into Gaye’s orchestral harmonics and rhythmic drive.

Both these hits from the late 60s, then and now, are more than pop classics, but manifestos against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, sexual liberation, and social justice issues that we still have to solve today.

Throughout the concert, the rhythm section of Simon, Kendrick A.D. Scott, and the phenomenal Matt Brewer on double bass and switching up with bass guitar. And equally impressive, aside from their horn virtuosity Charles and Sanchez would also perform on conga and drums joining Kendricks for some meaty improvs.

Potter’s Composition ‘Mutuality’ inspired by lines from Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail’  “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Potter’s spirited humanity built into the melodies and rhythmic drive wrapped around McCoy’s passionate vocalese.

The SFJazz Collective is a non-profit organization that for 15 years has assembled some of the most accomplished and thrilling jazz musicians from around the world to tour. Each year a new group of musicians celebrate the music of the legends of jazz – Miles, Dizzy, Monk, Silver- just to name a few, in new arrangements. SFJazz Collective keeps this vital repertory alive and has explored every jazz genre and era. And this performance will be remembered as one legendary jazz night in Philadelphia.

Next up~Jazz in the Key of Ellison a concert production about the life and writings of Ralph Ellison who also happened to be an accomplished. And his association with jazz titans of the big band and bebob eras. With vocals by Lizz Wright, Quiana Lynell & the legendary Nona Hendryx in front of the phenomenal Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra. Stay tuned.

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Watergate | A New History

by Garrett M. Graff

Simon & Shuster

Hardcover; photos; 795 pgs; $35,

Political journalist and historian Garritt Graff acknowledges that there are shelves of books and declassified government documents that chronicle Watergate saga that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon’s presidency. But, 50 years on, Graff debriefs on all of the untold tales of all the president’s men and women in his book ‘Watergate- A New History.

Graff is not only a veteran political reporter for Politico, The Washingtonian, CNN and New York Times he is a researcher who can stylishly weave together the many colliding political capers and dramas that swirled around Nixon with both journalistic and theatrical flair.

The book opens on Richard Nixon’s “last joyful day” in the White House- the day he and Pat hosted his daughter Trisha’s wedding in the White House. But the next day he groused that there was not enough tv coverage, that had it been a Kennedy wedding it would have been covered live on all three networks. The following day the wedding was covered on the front page, with a glittering photo of the event, but next to it ran the first installment of The Pentagon Papers that exposed the disastrous US policies that fueled the war for over a decade that had cost tens of thousands of American lives.

Even though the Pentagon Papers exposed the malfeasance and warmongering hubris of previous administrations, Nixon was obsessed with insider leaks to the press could potentially lead leaks about the first term of his own presidency. And what was being plotted for his second term.

Graff is methodical in his sourcing and granular its detail- both the established facts and disputed ones- newly revealed sourcing and, critically, exculpatory evidence that can now be collated into the voluminous Watergate lore.

 There’s deep background on known and unknown aspects of Watergate and the cast of infamous characters the short list being- Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy- the jailed off burglars being paid off to keep quiet, not to mention the Oval Office cabal of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean collaborating with the hard-drinking paranoid, vengeful Nixon.

Graff’s paints a dimensional portrait of a Nixon, the man and politician full of dualities and contradictions, but as he justified his actions and whose less self-destructive side led him to think of himself as the great statesman who had a positive agenda for cleaning up the environment, achieved détente with Russia and China, advocated for cancer research, and even for more women in the male dominated jobs in government. Graff reminds readers of his reasonable political agenda.

The overtures to bug the Watergate was ignited by Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist being surveilled. Nixon had considered J. Edgar Hoover useless to do his bidding. Graff goes into the shady dealings of Nixon’s landslide victory in 1968 dubbed, The Chenault Affair where Nixon’s engaged a society matron to in sabotage the Paris Peace talks until after his 1968 run for the presidency.,

Nixon who was vengeful, petty, insecure, and power greedy. And sabotage political opponents. Graff devotes a chapter early on detailing the Chennault scandal in which Nixon was engaged in clandestine overtures with the South Vietnamese government that would stall the Paris peace talks at the end of the Johnson administration. Johnson knew about it and tried to contain it, when he could have exposed Nixon in what would have, on the face of it been a treasonous offence.

Nixon’s fear of leaks over his impulses to ignore legalities. The formation of the Plumbers, not only to smear Nixon’s enemies, but using methods that were indisputable crimes. Sound familiar?

Graff dissects the events that led up of the break-in at the Watergate. Gives the backstory of the dupes and shady characters recruited by Nixon’s henchmen. The opening chapters dissecting Nixon’s obsessive tactics employed to blackmail, silence, and smear his real or perceived enemies.

Graff delves into fascinating episodes such as Nixon knowing that the aging J. Edgar Hoover was losing his iron grip on the FBI. Mark Felt aka Deep Throat, was Hoover’s heir apparent at the FBI. Or that Nixon and his inner circle figured it out early that he was feeding information to reporters. But Nixon thought it wouldn’t serve them to expose him but strategized how to sideline, and control him, knowing that he was waiting be named director.

John Dean’s image as the President’s lawyer of conscience who’s famous ‘There’s a cancer growing on the presidency’ account to the Ervin committee made him come off as a choirboy, as Graff reveals Dean’s testimony was a performative red herring to the Ervin Committee since he an active participant in the coverup from the start.

Graff tips his hat to the groundbreaking first line reporting by Woodward & Bernstein in cracking open the case, but he also dissects the faults and factual errors in their best-selling All The President’s Men and the blockbuster movie produced by Robert Redford.

And to fill in the areas that dropped off the radar, or were under seal, or hidden until years after Nixon was out of office. New details about the infamous showdown over the Nixon tapes, the Saturday Night Massacre, Executive privilege, Rosemary Woods contortions caused the 18-and-a-half-minute-gap,

At near 800 pages of reveals, Graff uncovers all of the political malfeasants, hubris, smear tactics and dirty tricks that became the Nixon administration’s brand. Watergate | A New History reads like a political primer that anticipated what the Republican party has now become, a secret, cut-throat, undemocratic, petrified institution cast with people who will do or say anything to stay in power.

Nixon’s tragic flaws are still fascinatingly Shakespearean in their complexities, even as his compulsions are the stuff of farce- unfortunately a comedy with tragic consequences for a democracy.

 

Philly Stage

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A Play for All Seasons

The Lantern Theater Company

A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt

Plays & Players Theater, Philadelphia

Through April 10

http://www.lanterntheater.org

The Lantern Theater Company returned to live performances with a gorgeous revival of Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man For All Seasons.’ Peter DeLaurier directs a stellar ensemble cast led by FrankX as Sir Thomas More, the uncompromisable nobleman who navigates the treacherous minefield of the court of Henry VIII.

As good as the 1966 movie starring British star Paul Scofield and directed by Fred Zinnemann remains, many of Bolt’s soliloquies are condensed or cut completely. And it is terrific to hear a full rendering of Bolt’s script on played out on the Lantern stage.

For contemporary classical actors it presents a gallery of rich characters and Bolt’s riveting dialogue cycles DeLaurier’s sharp and sensitive direction illuminates every angle of this brilliant script.

It is not only a thrilling depiction of political hubris, but about ideas conscience in a corrupt world, as timely today as it was in the 60s or the Tudor court of the 1600s,’ in other words, it resonates in this or any other season.

The story unfolds at Thomas More’s estate and the private world he has built for his wife and his daughter, revered by King Henry VIII, but maintaining his political distance from scabrous court intrigue.

When Henry VIII seeks a divorce from Catherine of Spain because she has borne him no son and heir and is now in love with Anne Boleyn who he knows will bear him sons, he orders Cardinal Wolsey to get Sir Thomas More to officially support him.

Cardinal Wolsey summons Sir Thomas in the middle of the night, but his veiled threats are to no avail, as More dances around the arguments and stands on his principals.

Henry then visits More and his family at their estate. He matches wits with Thomas, complimenting and stroking his ego, but gets nowhere, so hurls some veiled threats that More doesn’t take seriously. When Wolsey dies, Henry sicks the ruthless Cromwell to find dirt on More, to charge him with corruption. ON manufactured evidence More loses everything and is jailed.

FrankX gives an electrifying, revelatory performance. It adds to his gallery of consummate performances from Shakespeare to Beckett that make him one of Philly’s most versatile actors of classic repertory.

Jake Blouch’s Henry VIII is full of fire, humor, and mystery and as the awkward journeyman Thomas, humbly courting Lady Margaret. Scott Greer is the ‘Common Man’ portraying multiple subservient roles with cynical swagger. Gregory Isaac also in multiple roles first as the wryly humorless Cardinal Wolsey trying to match wits with More, the as Thomas the awkward suitor to Lady Margaret and as the goateed, furtive diplomat Chapuys jockeying for court power by playing both ends against the political middle.

Bolt gives Lady Alice and Margaret a lot of heavy lifting from the sidelines of much of the dramatic action but Leah Brockman is as Lady Margaret and Elizabeth Scallen as Lady Alice captivate throughout.

Even though Margaret is not groomed to be a court decoration or married off to nobility, More is sternly against her betrothal to Thomas, whose agnosticism More considers heretical, even as he admires the young man’s convictions. Scallen’s Alice is heartbreaking as the wife knows the machinations of the court and what harms it can do her family.

Anthony Lawton is terrific as the snarlingly ambitious Cromwell . Benjamin Brown equally dynamic as More’s earnest compatriot, who tries to save him from being too noble, lest he end up in the tower. .Paul Harrold, in his first role as the court climbing Richard Rich is convincing as the malleable rube who can’t resist overriding his conscience for position.

Bolt’s brilliant script full of drama, tenderness, intrigue, and comedy elements that director Peter DeLaurier balances with tight, illuminating direction.

Lantern’s Fine production team make the most of Plays & Players proscenium theater. The production design by James Pyne, of a two-tiered stairwell gallery, in tandem with Lilly Fosner’s shadowy lighting design conjures gothic atmospherics. Add to that Chris Collucci’s period music adds Tudor noir soundscapes. And Kelly Meyer’s costume design with lush robes, gowns, accoutrement is dazzling court couture.

April = Jazz&Poetry month

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Chet plays the Mercury Lounge

from The Music Rooms

Before the rain
Tore off
some baleful heart
in private pictures
Of sordid songs
beats inside my head

the alley footfalls
& other shadows
quit the sounds
in my cornet


a dreamer’s dream

siren of
spent memories
abandon hotels
notes on that shattered
infinity

lost invitations
lipsticks bleeds

onyx cufflink hurled
dogtags crushed

silver flask too far under the bed
with discarded jacks

lovers again yes

blue smoke
faced away

twin nightmares

promises
night sweats
in whispers
through coma

ostinato in 16th notes

dreamsindreams/ofdreamindreams

Driving red ’55 Alfa

your blonde hair &

silver scarf  flowing

around my head
you made me sing ‘Where or When’
you cradle my horn

as sweet as our boy in your arms

you dangle your foot out
your window
dismissing the world/ my toes curl around the gas petal

That sad day becomes nothing

when I pissed you off

dark side of the moon bad

torch song lousy adios bad

You can’t chase down
that scorched hallway
of that empty stage
then escape on lullaby street

hung out

condemned psalms
sexual blue
shadows
seethe
at a fevered pitch
Then he shoots the stars
into that vanquished nirvana

pictures of godless eyes
Of mercury wings
of that skeletal wounded heart
Crouched over burnt notes
on ash, smack, whiskey

honey flowing’

all over the bed
melting my trumpet

PhillyClassical

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Philadelphia Orchestra

Verizon Hall,

Kencho Watanabe, conductor

Sergio Tempo, pianist.

Mar. 26, 2022

www.philorch.org

 Philadelphia Orchestra’s scheduled program March 26 was initially to be conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, but he had to cancel so the baton was taken up by the orchestra’s Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who fell ill late in the week and also had to bow out for performances and his duties on the podium the same day conducting Don Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera.  

Stepping in at the last minute for these performances was Conductor Kencho Watanabe, a Curtis Institute Fellow & Assistant Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra (2016 -2019) and now in-demand on symphony orchestra stages all over the world, stepped in to conduct the challenging line-up of Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1 and Shostakovich’s mighty 5th Symphony.

Meanwhile the day before the concert, the orchestra announced that there would be a pre-concert fundraising event in support of the people of Ukraine in the Kimmel Center’s Commonwealth Plaza (adjacent to Verizon Hall) hosted by Urnya Mazure, representing the Ukrainian Consul in Philadelphia. Members of the orchestra accompanied Mezzo-soprano Yulia Stupen stirring performance of the Ukrainian national anthem. Poems and traditional Ukrainian songs sung, with dignitaries expressing gratitude for local humanitarian support for Ukrainians. Ms. Mazure expressing gratitude to the orchestra for the Philadelphia Orchestra reaching out to her, in the initial days of the war, to ask what they could do to help.

The evening’s main concert got under way half an hour later with a performance by Concert Master David Kim performing a composition by Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk and a recitation by Charlotte Blake Auston who spoke of world peace and recited a poem by Paul Dunbar, then called for a moment of silence for those lost in war and solidarity for the people of Ukraine

 Maestro Watanabe then brought Venezuelan pianist Sergio Tempio onstage, the long orchestral opening of Frederic Chopin’s first piano concerto, with war related history of its own. First performed  by the composer in Vienna in 1830, while back in Poland, his homeland, Warsaw was under siege by Russian forces.

This concerto can be tricky in the balance between the huge technical demands on the pianist and the delicate balance that has to be blanced with rest of the orchestra. Tempio was in his own zone in moments vis-à-vis the orchestra musicians, but, this was, overwhelmingly, a brilliant performance by the soloist, the maestro, and this orchestra.

. Tempio’s delivered a captivating performance of this towering work. Which requires both delicacy and complete technical command over three movements. Tempio’s interpretive artistry particularly radiant in the intimacy in the 2nd mov. ‘Romanze, Largetto.’ After the density of the long Allegro maestroso of the first.

Equally impressive is the fact that Watanabe also delivered  such a fulsome performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 5. A program that was scheduled at the beginning of the season, full of so many haunting connections to what is happening in our world today.

 first performed in Moscow and embraced by the public and even Stalin’s musical censorship committee, until it wasn’t. It was deemed too expressive and outside the dictates of ‘Soviet Realism’ as ordained by Stalin and his music police. Shostakovich’s evocation of blaring nationalistic fanfares and military sonics that would satisfy Stalin, didn’t completely hide the composer’s subversive subtext. Watanabe conducted not only with command and passion, but strong interpretive skill, eliciting every dimension- the tempos, narrative arc, sonic balance- thrillingly detailed.

Among the outstanding principal soloists in this performance, Jeffrey Khaner (flute), Jennifer Montone (French Horn), Ricardo Morales (clarinet), Phillipe Tondre (oboe), Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon), Elizabeth Hainen (Harp), Kiyoto Takeuti ,piano, and commandeering Shostakovich’s brutally ironic war drums in the 1st movement, the unstoppable Don Luizzi.