These Must-Raeds Explore Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and the Art of Opposition

Pirate Utopia
by Bruce Sterling
Tachyon Publications, $19.95, 192 pp.
The Last Days of New Paris
by China Miéville
Del Rey, $25, 224 pp.
Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of Myth
by M.E. Warlick
University of Texas Press, $32.95, 335 pp.

Well, it’s 2017, a century-plus since Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire first raised the flag of Dada derision above the senseless carnage of World War I. The founding group of Dada expats soon attracted many other bohemian rebels seeking freedom from existing social, aesthetic, and governmental norms. Of course, as Bruce Sterling’s new novella, Pirate Utopia, points out, the pro-war, pro-nationalist Italian Futurist movement was winning followers at the same time, and their manifestos ultimately supported the rise of Italy’s Fascist Party. Continue reading “These Must-Raeds Explore Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and the Art of Opposition”

Downtown Icon James Chance Cuts Loose

It was well after midnight last Thursday by the time James Chance and the Contortions took the stage of the Bowery Electric. Dapper in his dress jacket and dancing shoes, the 63-year-old Chance made it clear he was there to boogie. The grotto-like basement space was packed with people who clearly didn’t give a fuck about a day job. Feckless twentysomethings squeezed back-to-belly against grizzled survivors of three or more decades of musical nightlife, ready to spend the first minutes of a new day with a legendary downtown iconoclast. Continue reading “Downtown Icon James Chance Cuts Loose”

Still Beating: A Bronx Festival Celebrates Centuries-Old Puerto Rican Rhythms

Every two years since launching at Hostos College in 2000, the BomPlenazo festival has come to the South Bronx to celebrate Puerto Rico’s traditions of bomba and plena music. Through concerts, dance, film, and master workshops, New Yorkers experience firsthand how the twin art forms can create and empower communities. This year’s edition (October 6-9) adopts a theme of “Between Generations,” setting longtime masters alongside younger players for a dialogue that spans decades. Continue reading “Still Beating: A Bronx Festival Celebrates Centuries-Old Puerto Rican Rhythms”

Global Fest – Webster Hall – 1/13

Last night the multiple stages of Global Fest played host to more strong female headliners than ever before. This was deservedly a point of pride for the event’s co-producers. Earth Mother energy was so pervasive in this year’s lineup that even most of the bands led by men had the wisdom to include women as singers or dancers. This was also the most conceptually balanced roster of talent I recall seeing at any Global Fest. Moving from room to room throughout the evening you could often sense one performer’s key qualities instructively illuminating another’s. Continue reading “Global Fest – Webster Hall – 1/13”

Why “World Music” Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore: What I Learned at APAP

If you ever had any doubts about whether the global pop promotion game was an intellectual enterprise as well as an entrepreneurial movement, this year’s 10th pairing of NYC’s annual Global Fest with the yearly Association of Professional Arts Presenters’ conference would set you straight. Continue reading “Why “World Music” Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore: What I Learned at APAP”

Live: Gonjasufi Presses On in the Midst of Technical Chaos

Better Than: Watching the corny parts of the “Watch the Throne” tour.

Hip-hop has always flirted with spirituality. The S.p.o.o.k.s. and Wu-Tang embraced a Buddhist vision; M.C. Hammer, God’s Property, and P.M. Dawn charted with Christian themes; and the 5% Nation attracted many gifted creators of beats and rhymes. But what’s most different about the combination of yoga-dharma, Sufism, Rasta altruism, and hip-hop purveyed by Sumach “Valentine” Ecks (a/k/a Gonjasufi) is the psychedelic aspect. Continue reading “Live: Gonjasufi Presses On in the Midst of Technical Chaos”

Live: Concha Buika Plays With Pronouns . . . and You

Concha Buika
Highline Ballroom
Sunday, June 24

Better than: Dreaming of her.

A 2009 performance by Concha Buika is on YouTube showing the Spanish singer in Lincoln Center’s Damroch Park backed by solo piano and performing a smoldering version of “Tu Volverás.” Even then, with minimal accompaniment, star quality oozes from every pore and note. It’s not just her flawless diction and phrasing; Buika’s intellectual command of her material makes each song she tackles hard to forget. You see the same showmanship when Aretha Franklin performs “Respect” in the original Blues Brothers movie: Acting out the words as she sings, ReRe’s personal authority makes you believe she wrote the tune on the spot. Continue reading “Live: Concha Buika Plays With Pronouns . . . and You”

Live: Kathleen Battle Does It Her Way at the Blue Note

Kathleen Battle and Cyrus Chestnut
The Blue Note
Tuesday, June 19

Better than: Never getting to see this lyric soprano perform live.

In 2010, Kathleen Battle chose a pianist and a repertoire of classical material to bring to Carnegie Hall for a formal recital. This summer, Battle decided to give the European composers a rest and instead brought a top jazz pianist to a small Manhattan supper club to help salute the roots of American popular music. Never let it be said that Battle doesn’t keep one foot firmly in two worlds: she can hold the high notes of any spiritual as if it were an aria, and bend the phrasing of a Mozart lieder as if it were a Shirley Caesar hit. But she’s also taken criticism from purists over the years for her willingness to collaborate across genres and performance styles. (One can only imagine what her critics thought in 2008 of seeing Battle on the American Music Awards performing “Superwoman” with Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys.) But if her two shows this week at The Blue Note prove anything, it’s that La Battle does what she wants, when she wants to do it, and Devil take the naysayers. Continue reading “Live: Kathleen Battle Does It Her Way at the Blue Note”

Live: Ljuba Davis Leads Her Masterful Combo at Drom

Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble
Friday, June 15

Better than: Getting bummed about the end of Al-Andalus.

For those of us who grew up hearing a lot of Yiddish, it can come as a nice surprise to discover that Hebrew modified Spanish as much as it transformed German. The resultant “Ladino” toungue is to Spanish Jews what Yiddish became to the Ashkenazim, but whereas witty Yiddish catchphrases are almost as familiar to mainstream America as a vaudeville pratfall, ladino humor and terminology remain less well-known. The Iberian flavor of Ljuba Davis’s Ladino Ensemble owes much to spicy North African percussion and the melodic sweetness of the fado, and it reaches all the way back before Columbus to the golden age of Moorish rule for inspiration. String instruments — in this case the cello, the bouzouki, the oud, and the acoustic guitar — play together as in Arab orchestrals, with each instrument adding distinctive ornamentation to the main melody. Live, this tight five-piece combo of master instrumentalists sounds like a much bigger unit. Continue reading “Live: Ljuba Davis Leads Her Masterful Combo at Drom”

Live: Imani Uzuri Brings the Gypsy Life to Joe’s Pub

Imani Uzuri
Joe’s Pub
Friday, June 1

Better Than: Being sad that Alice Coltrane and Cesaria Evora are dead and that Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill don’t make albums together.

The Gypsy Diaries is North Carolina homegirl Imani Uzuri’s second self-produced release, and it proves that major-label support can become irrelevant with shrewd uses of online tools like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, as well as a fanbase that include the likes of The Roots, Bill Laswell, and Talib Kweli. With a voice that would sound equally at home on an opera stage or a disco 12-inch, Uzuri is a constant surprise on record, seamlessly combining jazz, classical, country and blues motifs into highly personalized compositions. Continue reading “Live: Imani Uzuri Brings the Gypsy Life to Joe’s Pub”