Saturday, February 12, 2011

Esperanza Spalding: Part One

Super Nova/White Hot; Hot!!!  and Rising…might be one way to describe the present state of Esperanza Spalding’s music career. She is nominated for a Grammy as best new artist, performing at the Pre- Grammy Show, the subject of articles in publications from “The New Yorker “ to “Billboard” and countless “Youtube”  videos all as she performs  live around the world. One benchmark of a really good artist is the caliber of people that want to perform with you; Stanly Clarke, Stevie Wonder, the illustrious Quartet “Fourplay” and Prince have all enlisted her talents.

 She has come on to the contemporary music scene like an unbelievable through bred  leaping out of the blocks. Running sometimes along with the pack then out distancing all of the competition and again with the pack but always slightly ahead. The music world hasn’t seen her likes  for many years. She just happens to be primarily a jazz artist and she is in a unique position as such. The only other jazz performer to be nominated as best over all new artist by the Grammys  was Nora Jones. Esperanza Spalding has the potential to change all music that comes after her. She is that good.

She reminds me of Yo-Yo Ma in the way that she seems to be the conduit that the mysterious entity that is music is transmitted into being. She is much like a spiritualist bringing forth a thing from another plane into our plane of existence. She is to marvel.

Esperanza currently has three solo albums: “Junjo” released in 2005, the self titled “Esperanza” in 2008 and most recently “Chamber Music Society” in 2010. Chamber Music is the first to feature mostly original compositions and arrangements. It is her strongest to date. She has chosen to cover Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Inutil Paisagem”, The Johnny Mathis classic “Wild is the Wind” and even puts the luminous   British poet William Blake’s “Little Fly” to music.



This is inventive music that is challenging while still being beautiful to the ear and also renewing to the spirit. With this latest effort she does what great art should do, it breaks new ground while building on the past taking us willing as passengers. Her effort is a leap of faith into a wonderful new place that is hauntingly familiar.

"Chamber Music Society"

Spalding within the last few weeks has included performances in cities from Tokyo to Los Angeles and Cape Town. Her next weeks of performance will be in London, Paris, Barcelona and oh yes; Roanoke. That is correct Roanoke Va. at The Jefferson Center. I do plan to be there and I am excited!!! Part Two of this blog should follow the Jefferson Center Concert that is part of the “Chamber Music Society Tour.”

 If luck is a lady and fortune is good I may even talk with her and get some photos on what should be an enchanting evening.

Grammy Night is Feb. 13th



Thursday, February 10, 2011

Four To See

Every year budgets are bigger, profits and tickets are higher, special effects are grander and more people stay at home. Plots are cookie cutter, the faces and costumes change but the stunts and characterizations are all the same.  It’s the state of film today. We’ll soon need a new descriptions of the medium other than film or the movies as what we see is increasingly digitally formatted. I find myself becoming less and less amazed, amused or moved by the product that at one time was a considerable art form.
In contrast to what I’ve just said I now I have to say that recently I have seen four movies (for lack of that new description) that have actually renewed my faith in the theatre experience. These were complete surprises and very welcomed. The title of these gems is:  “The Black Swan”, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, “True Grit” and “The Green Hornet”. Yes; “The Green Hornet” was good enough to make my cut.  These features were all very different and they touched on varying aspects of humanity. They were funny, driven, compelling, intriguing, fanciful and daring. They chronicled many adventures, were gritty, black and one was a even a little “green”. I’ve included individual posters of all and below the poster I have my thoughts on each one. They are four to see.

 Black Swan

 This is Natalie Portman’s vehicle. She gives a compelling, believable performance that like her character should transform her actual career to another level. This is in a film that is in many ways pure fantasy. Set in the competitive, demanding but beautiful world of ballet it is really a dark psychological thrill ride. Director Darren Aronofsky has taken a certain art-house hit and somehow tapped into the main stream consciousness or possibly sub-conscious to forge a popular hit. The twist and turns are many, the intrigue abounds and you will never truly be sure of what is real and what is imagined.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  The third adaptation from the Narnia series of books is completely wonderful, endearing and magical as a series for young readers and movie goers should be. There are no uninteresting scenes here. It is a pleasure from start to finish. One for the whole family’s enjoyment. New characters are introduced and old ones are developed. The special effects are used to develop the story and not merely gimmicks. This enchanting movie was able to capture and convey a sense of awe, adventure and the belief of infinite possibilities.  The leap into the fantastic that once was a staple of the movies is in full form here. 

True Grit

More than any of the films I’ve featured; “True Grit” is the most satisfying and brilliant. The original film is an American Icon and gave John Wayne his only performance Oscar. By placing their version more firmly into the actual time period the Coen brothers have envisioned a more realistic telling of the original source material. It is a remarkable thing to behold. The principal’s performances of  Matt Damon,  Hailee  Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges are to perfection and with no trace of modern quirks and mannerisms. The narrative is one of revenge, justice, perseverance and ultimately about the consequences of our life choices. This is a solid film, the result of creative talent at the height of their powers combined with and embellished by the shock of the new.

The Green Hornet
I really enjoyed seeing just how many things Seth Rogen and Jay Chou as the Green Hornet and Kato could break and or completely demolish. Keep in mind the source material was weak. The Green Hornet was an almost totally forgettable radio show from the thirties, a completely forgettable movie serial in the forties and a mostly forgettable TV show from the sixties (It lasted a grand total of one season). Bruce lee and the car were the only bright spots from the sixties Green Hornet.  Every truly popular super hero has at least one cool nick name; The Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, The Wall Crawler, to name a few. Everyone recalls lovingly referring to The Green Hornet as…The Green Hornet.  Anyway; the character was perfect for a movie with no seriousness attached to it. The laughs are built in because of the almost total lack of any history with any of it’s audience. Good satire with daring escapes, fist fights, car crashes, guns, bloody noses, martial arts and all done remarkably  without tights.

Oscar Night is Feb. 27th