Archive for July, 2008

Brooklyn Moment #4: Hypnotic Brass @ Weeksville
July 31, 2008

Walking along Schenectady Saturday evening on my way to see the aptly named Hypnotic Brass Ensemble perform at the Weeksville Heritage Center, I heard symphonic horn blare and the left-right pound of the snare reverberating along the Avenue. Could that be HBE?  “No,” I thought. The feeling was more Drumline than Second City and I found myself momentarily lost in high school reverie, resisting an incredibly strong urge to high-step and twirl a baton, or at least, my umbrella.  The source of sound finally came into view, a marching band practicing with chops to rival Grambling’s. There’s nothing like a Black marching band, and here was one in Central Brooklyn, prelude to the absolute delight that was to come.

When I arrived at Weeksville, the set was already in full swing, the small but enthusiastic group of spectators dancing their way to Nirvana.  The eight Chicago-bred siblings (backed by a drummer) who comprise HBE, all sons of former Sun Ra Arkestra trumpeter, Phil Cohran, blow with a fluency that attests to the fact that each has been playing since the age of four or five.

YouTube video: Erin R. Stevens

Given the proximity of the Kingsborough Houses–with a largely African-American population and courtyard art-installation known as “The Wall” (a sculptural frieze by Harlem Renaissance sculptor Richmond Barthé) and the historical significance of the carefully preserved Historic Hunterfly Road Houses, the sight of nine young Black men in a line-up that exalts rather than vilifies them, the performance was glorious relief from the pervasive media notions of beleaguered Blackness.

Elissa Blount Moorhead, Director of Programming and Exhibitions at Weeksville commented that the ancestors had been roused.  I think she’s right, and they, right proud.

Harlem’s loss is Brooklyn’s gain. Detail from Richmond Barthé’s “Green Pastures: The Walls of Jericho.” Photo: Frederick V. Nielsen

The 80-ft frieze was inspired by a 1930 African-American play called The Green Pastures and was created under the auspices of the WPA for installation at the Harlem River Houses in 1937.  It was however, installed at the Kingsborough Houses when they opened in 1941 in Brooklyn.   


The Wall, circa 1944. From The New York City Housing Authority Collection of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives

Note on Weeksville: In this urban oasis straddling Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights,  I’ve seen stellar performances by Olu Dara and a fiercely-shod Imani Uzuri. I’ve recently missed those by Sparlha Swa, Game Rebellion and an amazing-by-all-accounts string set by Tamar Kali.  These performances are free and though Weeksville has generous corporate and foundation support, their exciting plans for growth can be served by individual donations as well.  Visit the website, www.weeksvillesociety.org to learn more about Weeksville history, legacy and projections for the future.

Honoring the Ancestors
July 30, 2008

I was moved by the sight of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, leading a white-robed procession to inaugurate the first of ten Bench in the Road placements (by the Toni Morrison Society) honoring the memory of slaves near their point of entry into this country.  On July 26, the seventy-seven year-old Ms. Morrison, braved blazing South Carolina sun in Charleston Harbor along with approximately 300 yellow parasol-bearing participants in a service complete with African drumming, pouring of libation, flower casting into the waters which brought the ancestors to American shores and Ms. Morrison taking a seat, finally.  The gesture is a poignant reference to a comment made by the author nearly twenty years ago about the need for commemoration of the middle passage: “There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”

From the “Bench of Memory at Slavery’s Gateway,” photo by Anne McQuary for the New York Times

Just days later, I find myself once again moved by communal white-robed gathering to honor our revered dead.  Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, founder of the National Black Theater and impassioned champion of Black culture and her Harlem community was sent off to join her place among the ancestors in fittingly theatrical fashion on Monday, July 28.

Celebrants of her storied life were asked to wear white, honoring West African funeral traditions and purple, the color of royalty.  The cortège began at the site of the theater she founded 40 years ago, with 40 African drummers and an African elephant (she loved them.) The white glass-walled, horse-drawn hearse bearing her coffin then proceeded through the streets of her beloved Harlem to the packed Riverside Church, where the paeans to a fruitful life were delivered in profusion.  After the release of doves, a 21-gun salute and a three-hour repast, Dr. Teer was memorialized in a final dramatic display–fireworks by the famous Gruccis from a barge on the Hudson.

From “For Champion of Black Theater, a Salute in Harlem’s Streets,” photo by Gianni Cipriano for the New York Times

For a stirring first-hand account of Dr. Teer’s Homecoming, visit Xenobia Bailey’s Artist Journal

Just Because…
July 28, 2008

I love me some Alice Smith.  Certainly because of her phenomenal voice but also because the DC native didn’t come to New York, get all new and try to lose the Capitol City twang which reminds that Washington is, in fact, below the Mason-Dixon line.  Had I been able to make last week’s BAM MetroTech appearance, I’m sure I’d be rhapsodizing about it now.

Check out a couple of versions of her Grammy-nominated “Dream.” Which do you prefer?

All glammed up for her appearance on Craig Ferguson’s show

Unpretentious and paired down for a radio spot

Maiysha Marathon
July 28, 2008

I’ve mentioned Maiysha in an earlier post about her upcoming release, This Much is True, now I want to hip you to the opportunity to see/hear her live. Starting tonight, she’ll be making the rounds for seven straight days, performing sets in the NYC-area. Some of the venues are intimate, so it’s best to call ahead.

Mon 7.28: Shrine Bar 212.690.7807 9:30pm; Tue 7.29: Cafe Wha? 212.254.3706 (short set) 9:30pm; Wed 7.30: Tillman’s 212.627.8320 8:30 and 10pm (8:30 is pretty tight already); Thu 7.31: Londel’s Restaurant 212.234.6114 9:00pm (acoustic set); Fri 8.1: 5 Spot 718.852.0202 9:30pm; Sat 8.2: Lenny Green Beach Party 646.522.0108 12 noon (Long Beach, NJ); Sun 8.3: Village Underground  917.693.2573 9:00pm (short set).

Ba-Rock Obama
July 25, 2008

Thanks to Honeychild Coleman for the head’s up on the July 26 grassroots fundraising event, Ba-Rock Brooklyn to benefit Obama for America.

Honeychild’s band, Apollo Heights, is one of nineteen performing at four Greenpoint venues.  A twenty-dollar donation grants access to all-related activities–music, both live and DJs, film screenings, food from The Queen’s Hideaway, a discount coupon book for area vendors and a guarantee that all proceeds go directly to the Obama campaign.

So on Saturday night, from 6 pm to 1 am, hit all the spots, rock out and show the O some love.

Thorough ‘Good
July 25, 2008

I recently saw, within days of the late Thurgood Marshall’s 100th birthday, Laurence Fishburne become the civil rights legend in a 90-minute inspired “lecture” which understandably has won the actor both the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Outstanding Solo Performance in Thurgood and garnered him a Tony nomination.

I’m always impressed with actors who can pull off a one-man show, and does he ever.  When we, as latecomers were escorted to our seats by an usher, he addressed us in character, beckoning us welcome from the lectern as if we were tardy law students at Howard University.  He further admonished a couple in the audience who’d been speaking through his monologue, letting them know that they’d been heard and he would be happy to entertain their questions or comments after his “lecture.”  Ad libs aside, he continued without skipping a beat.

With a simple, effective set (Scenic Design, Allen Moyer) and appropriately minimal wardrobe adjustments (Costume Design, Jane Greenwood) the man christened “Thoroughgood” in turn-of-the-century Baltimore emerged to share his journey through segregation to his historic appointment to the highest court of the United States.

Fishburne’s impeccable turn as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice was full of humanity, humor and fitting dignity.  His nuanced postural shifts and gradually hoarsening voice aged him with a subtlety that sidled quietly into the consciousness leaving the audience wowed by the passage of time.

The limited engagement has been extended to August 17.  See it if you can.

Laurence Fishburne as “Thurgoodat the Booth Theatre

Here’s a video clip from back-in-the-day when newsmen like Mike Wallace smoked during interviews with prominent newsmakers like Thurgood Marshall.

Blogged Determination
July 24, 2008

I don’t have a blogroll.  My one-column blog format doesn’t allow much room for one.  I would, however, like to give a shout to a few folks I know who also find themselves in the addictive realm of the blogosphere.

Grrrl-about-town Nicole Moore has been kicking it in cyberspace for years.  The veteran blogger keeps her readership of smart, progressive urban grrrls informed and inspired with her savvy, of-the-moment observations in her clever, distinctive voice with theHotness Grrrl.

The always dapper Barney Bishop has an urbane, well-designed blog, Fragrant Moments, with his musings on men’s fragrance and interesting interviews with a diverse array of gentlemen who share a passion for it.

In addition to her post as Adjunct Lecturer at Hunter College, journalist, essayist and author of Crystelle Mourning, Eisa Ulen Richardson provides incisive social commentary and a forum for thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion at her website, EisaUlen.com.

Ion, the blog from the design studio, Chemistry, offers the wit, design inspiration and the intriguing collections of principal Todd Wilson in a pristine, minimalist layout. He also shares treasures discovered in his obsessive web-trawling.

I met the multi-hyphenate Evolyn Brooks a few years back when she served as a senior producer and I as wardrobe supervisor on Telepictures’ Queen Latifah, but she has for years created lovely handcrafted soft goods which she now sells online at In My Solitude Boutique. Her blog, a natural companion site to the shop, is a testament to tapping into one’s inner fire–living, loving and creating with fearless abandon.

Rob Fields started Bold As Love, his ruminations on “the mainstreaming of Black rock and the evolution of the new Black imagination.” in February of last year. His passionate immersion into the culture yields timely posts on a genre which embraces elements from a vast musical spectrum, and shatters myths about the very nature of Black identity.

Install This, the visual diary of sculptor and educator, Alexandra Zealand, is the reportage of her work-in-progress and outreach to her distant critique community.  To view her beautiful completed works, also visit her website, AlexZealand.com.

Alexandra Zealand’s  Untitled, 2006 (work-in-progress)

As Executive Editor of Real Simple, Corynne Corbett‘s name reads high on the masthead (and on her posts to their blog,) but her latest title, founder of That Black Girl Site is also one of which she is most proud.  An outgrowth of her personal blog, That Black Girl Blogging, the site is part social network, part blog community exchanging ideas on spirit, politics, lifestyle, health, finance, entertainment and culture.

Here, There and Yon, expands on designer Dorian Webb‘s “belief in enjoying all the random, little things that make life worth living, and prevent us from going insane (at least for now)”  like great food, wine and conversation as well as a humorous sense of the absurd.

In spite of her hectic schedule, Jacquette Timmons, CEO of Sterling Investment Management, financial coach and author of the forthcoming book, Financial Intimacy, still manages to find time to blog at Sterling Choices.

Talented writer (and fellow DC-native) Kenji Jasper is also a prolific blogger, first there is Live from the Grand Lodge: Meditations on Being Young, Gifted and Black on the Writing Rack; then The Cake Man, the online home of his alter-ego, D, author of the novels Got and Cake and finally, Culinary Intercourse, his pursuit of the gustatory godhead.

On Food Lovers Like Me, “self-taught, around-the-way gourmet” Vanessa Bush also shares her culinary quest as she endeavors to transform herself from a “foodie wannabe into a master chef.”  She brings the same spot-on clarity to her posts that she does in her other career as a writer/editor, prompting you to action, be it prepare that recipe, try that restaurant or take that class.

Once again I blog about artist-friend Xenobia Bailey who posts an online Artist’s Journal Her subhead says it all: “My inspirations, Memoirs, Images & Thoughts. Grammatical Disclaimer: This is a quick-fast, in-a-hurry, one-woman, artist-on-the-run journal, please forgive type-o’s, grammar/syntax, incomplete (printed) thoughts and my grocery list. Y’all know I mean to do good.”

Lost City Products awesome Chemistry-designed website features an incredible blog which with its lyrical writing evokes the eclectic beauty of the diverse influences on their collection of hand-embroidered textiles.

“The road to Urgup is pure rock and roll. A flag of Lost City silk flutters on a vagabond tree…”  Lost City

Drawing on Experience
July 23, 2008

When I first saw the beautifully rendered graphite drawings of artist Daniel Bretton Tisdale, they called to mind the Harlem Renaissance-era portraits of Winold Reiss, with their fully articulated faces and simple outlines suggesting clothing.  The Watts, California native, armed with an MFA from Otis/Parsons School of Design is proficient in several mediums including drawing, painting, performance and photography. He has been exhibited in over 100 galleries and museums including the Smithsonian in DC; the Whitney, Studio Museum in Harlem and International Center of Photography ICP in New York; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston; the Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

His work has garnered several awards and fellowships such as the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and the White House Millennium Arts Council and is among the permanent collections of the Norton and MacArthur Foundations.

He has distinguished himself as an educator at Teacher’s College at Columbia University as well as the Getty, Bronx and New Museums.  Through his Tisdale Studio, he is now offering master drawing lessons at the intermediate and advanced levels for private students.  For further information, contact him at TisdaleStudio@yahoo.com.

“James Baldwin,” 2007, (graphite on Italian handmade paper) from the “Harlem Masters” series.

Brooklyn Moment #3: BK Bastille
July 18, 2008

For the past seven years, each July 14 (or the Sunday closest to it), Francophiles from all over flock to a small stretch of Smith Street in Boerum Hill to party like it’s 1789. At the behest of local bistros Bar Tabac and Robin des Bois, Smith between Bergen and Pacific Streets is cordoned off, tons of sand poured into wooden grids to create the petanque playground known as a boulodrome, merguez is prepared and Lillet, Ricard and Stella Artois flow like water in this Gallic bacchanal celebrating the storming of the Bastille Prison and the birth of modern France.

In the spirit

Le baby-foot

Michael Arenella’s Dreamland Orchestra set up camp on Dean Street, just outside Tabac sporting jaunty straw boaters, a Tyrolean trilby, even a pith helmet — gotta love those sousaphone players — for an afternoon of live music evoking Django Reinhardt, Buddy Bolden and a little Ricky Ricardo swagger, thrown in for good measure.

Michael Arenella

The Dreamland Orchestra

Sousaphone and classical guitar

The mini skate park staged at the corner of Pacific Street had onlookers ooh and ahhing the boarders’ prowess and the boule-tossing commenced just feet away in what has become the largest pétanque tourney (80 teams) in the US.

Francophonic murmurs abound and spirits are high. Brooklyn loves a party. I raise my Lillet Rouge in salute. “vive la France moderne!”

Washing Away the Dust
July 17, 2008

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life ~Berthold Auerbach

Over the past week, I have had the utter thrill of enjoying widely differing live musical performances from the Latin rhythms of Si*Se to yodeling Swiss sojourners; Primordial Punk’s mosh mash-up at Galapagos on Friday night to the big band sound of Swing Shift Orchestra; and Robert Glasper’s piano in the park to the sublime Phoebe Snow in a moving midday MetroTech set just this afternoon.

Carol C.: “…bailare hasta al amanecer.”

With their mix of electronica, Soul and Latin rhythms, the collective Si*Sé, fronted by vocalist and DJ Carol C. set it off against the backdrop of a Hudson River sunset last Thursday at Pier 54. Opening the “Latin Celebracion” show for headliner Yerba Buena, they performed their hits, “More Shine” (which Carol dedicated to her Mom, front and center in the audience), “Mariposa en Havana” and “Cuando” as well as songs from their forthcoming release. The setting sun, the temperate weather, waterfront breezes and pitch-perfect sound made for a glorious summer night.

Yodel-ay-hee

Whilst traipsing through the city in a futile search for the sold-out Vogue Italia, I stumbled across this group of travelers from Switzerland who simply asked the Stationmaster at Grand Central for permission to drop their bags and raise their sweet voices in song for a while.

Aisha Cousins’ Diva Dutch impromptu jump jam. Photo: Fred Nielsen

A romp through Williamsburg on Friday night-Saturday morning yielded an impromptu performance of Diva Dutch just outside Galapagos where Primordial Punk’s (in conjunction with the Afro-Punk festival) LaRonda held sway presenting their first Debutante Ball featuring DJ tjäde on decks, and several live performances including those of two of my fierce friends who both happen to rock “Honeychild” stage names. Chicava Honeychild shook her shimmy, took it off and turned it out in her Brown Girls Burlesque number and soon after Honeychild Coleman, the sole member of Apollo Heights bearing the double-x chromosome rocked it out with her crew. Both “Honeys” have upcoming performances, check their webpages for details.

Tamar-Kali and Sophia Ramos’ photos: Heart On a Stick

Due to a welcome gig but nonetheless much to my considerable chagrin, I wasn’t able to make it out to Fort Greene Park’s day-long Afro-Punk Saturday installment. I missed the awesome vocals of both Tamar-Kali and Sophia Ramos. I have at least seen TK do her thing within the past year, but Sophia I haven’t seen since she scorched the now defunct Wetlands with “Fire in a Rainstorm.” That she hasn’t secured a record deal is criminal. And I missed her. Those who did check her out, do tell, I wanna hear all about it.

Dave Sherman photographed by his father, Warren.

I have fairly divergent musical tastes so it’s no surprise that I went from the mosh pit to circle skirts and two-tones. On Tuesday, I joined one of my dearest friends, Dan, and his family for Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing and the big band song stylings of Chicagoan David Sherman, (Dan’s brother) in town to MC/perform with Alan Gresik’s Swing Shift Orchestra.

Robert Glasper and Vicente Archer photo: Richard Louissaint

I always enjoy the intimate outdoor concerts at Madison Square Park. Last night was no exception. Robert Glasper and his trio played with a virtuosity that belies their relative youth. A young, shirtless fan of maybe 3 or 4 made a momentary appearance on stage that threatened to steal the show, but the fellas somehow rebounded.

And last but, by no means, least we come to today. The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s R+B Festival at MetroTech provides a lunchtime oasis for those who work in or find themselves strolling the beat of downtown Brooklyn on a Thursday afternoon. On this, the 56th birthday of the incomparable Phoebe Snow, I felt chills as she, in spite of disheartening personal challenges sang as beautifully as one ever could. Before making my eyes well with her flawless performance of her 1975 hit, “Poetry Man” she graciously complimented Queen Latifah’s rendition. Yes, while Ms. Dana Owens and Zap Mama’s Marie Daulne before her both admirably covered this lovely song, no one does it like Phoebe herself. Though the attached You Tube performance (from 1989) is magnificent, today’s was superlative, her beautifully trained voice just gets better with time.