Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roman Polanski's explosive Carnage Opens New York Film Festival

NEW YORK—The 49th New York Film Festival opens tomorrow with the Roman Polanski’s Carnage. The Sony Pictures Classics release is a searing commentary on the social civilities of our time, where savage emotionalism lies just beneath the surface of the banal conventions and verbal platitudes that pass for daily human interactions.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play “God of Carnage,” the film stars Jodie Foster (Academy Award, Best Actress, Silence of the Lambs, The Accused), Kate Winslet (Academy Award, Best Actress. The Reader), Christoph Waltz (Academy Award, Best Supporting Actor, Inglorious Bastards), and John C. Reilly (nominated, Academy Award, Best Supporting Actor, Chicago).

All of the action in this parlor drama takes place in the living room (and bathroom) of the Brooklyn apartment of the Foster and Reilly characters where the Waltz and Winslet characters have come to hash out a dispute between their two 11 year old sons, which resulted in one of the boys receiving two broken teeth and a gashed lip.

The film starts out civilly enough, with the two sets of parents haggling over a carefully worded document, presumably for medical insurance purposes, detailing the events of the supposed assault “following a verbal dispute, Zachary Cowen, armed with a stick. No, that’s a bit too much, let’s just say carrying a stick!), proceed to sit down over coffee and discuss the matter. There’s an undercurrent of hostility between the two couples that starts to percolate to the surface from the outside. Polanski, a master at pacing, allows the animosity to grow by incremental degrees, with his superb cast providing just the right sense of timing and pacing, until it erupts into over-the-top hostility that practically jumps off of the screen.

Polanski is a master at portraying mounting tension and drama in a confined space (The Pianist, Knife in the Water). He’s also good at portraying the venality that underlies the pc veneer that permeates society. His handling of the mounting tension that finally erupts in Carnage borders on social anarchy.

Winslet is superb as the upper class, restrained one, who starts to become unglued at the outset. She suddenly takes ill after eating the Foster character’s Apple and Peach cobbler (a treackly sweet concoction in which the secret ingredient is revealed to be graham cracker crumbs) and barfs all over her husband and the Foster character’s prized tabletop art book. (There is no buying another one. Its out of print!). Her regurgitating is perhaps symbolic of the ugliness that lurks inside the characters, who all start to get more animated and ugly as the evening progresses from coffee and dessert to a bottle of the Reilly character’s prized single malt scotch. We learn that his wife, the strong-willed, opinionated Foster character, is a borderline alcoholic, with a nasty temper, when fueled by strong drink.

There are no surprises in Carnage, especially for those who saw the play. The treat is how Polanski and his stellar cast handle the all-too-familiar subject matter. The film shows the ugly underbelly of human nature, but in Polanski’s skilled hands, deliciously so. Opening Night of the 49th New York Film Festival Friday, September 30 at Alice Tulley Hall, Lincoln Center.
Upcoming attractions include Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, a bio pic centering around the production of Marilyn Monroe’s 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl, the Mexican action/thriller Miss Bala, which portrays the societal toll on the little people affected by the Mexican drug cartel reign of terror, a contender for Best International Film and Melancholia, an evocative psychological thriller with sci-fi overtones, starring Kirsten Dunst in a haunting portrayal of mounting mental illness. For more information on the New York Film Festival, visit

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jon Hendricks, Jimmy Heath dynasties give royal opening for Jazz at Lincoln Center

Photos courtesy Jazz at Lincoln Center
-Jon Hendricks in performance
-Scattin' with daughter Aria
-With Annie Ross
New York—Opening Night of Jazz at Lincoln Center Concerts featured a galaxy of jazz stars in An Evening with two NEA Jazz Masters, Jimmy Heath and his Big Band and celebrating his 85th birthday, preceded by Jon Hendricks, accompanied by the Andy Farber Octet and featuring a vocalese ensemble that included his daughters Aria and Michelle Hendricks and featuring the likes of jazz diva Dianne Reeves and vocal jazz genius Bobby McFerrin. The aggregate star power of the night brought out no less than the super nova of vocalists from all corners of the music spectrum, including opera legend Jessye Norman.
From the outset, Hendricks, who is 90 years old, an his supporting cast set the Rose Theatre on fire with their vocal pyrotechnics. The opening, Horace Silver’s Come on Home, was a tour de force for the elder Hendricks, who proudly showcased the vocal prowess of his pride.
Hendricks then talked of his time spent in Brazil and his collaborations with composing legends there, which sequed nicely into Every Time They Play This Song (E Preciso Perdoar), a composition co-written by Hendricks with Carlos Coqueijo Costa and Alcivando Luz. Hendricks ‘played’ a drum stick, while whistling an improvised melody, which made an almost ethereal sound. It was truly magical!
After that brief excursion far south of the border, it was back to jazz terra firma and Hendrick’s familiar Everhybody’s Boppin’. At 90, Hendricks voice may show a slight waver here and there around the edges, but the jazz fire still burns in his belly and he moves with the animated enthusiasm that has marked his career these 70 years. In his bright purple suit, he was a whirling dervish of jazz energy, at times setting the pace for the younger musicians on stage. He’s the Jack LaLane of jazz!
The entire vocal ensemble rocked It’;s Sand, Man, recalling Hendricks early Lambert, Hendricks & Ross days.
Dianne Reeves then strolled casually onstage to an avalanche of applause, but she demurred, preferring to let the spotlight focus firmly on the dynamo in front of her. She then proceeded to give one of the finest scat performances this side of “Sassy” Sarah on “Social Call,” the jazz standard written by Gigi Gryce, to which Hendricks adapted lyrics. Reeves sang it with a sense of intense joy mixed with reverence that made hers one of the standout performances of the evening.
Enter Bobby McFerrin to really set it off, with the two taking turns as a vocalese “instrumenta”l soloists, McFerrin a high pitched trumpet of sorts and Hendricks a tenor saxman with “Scattin’ on the Corner, which showed off their contrasting sthyles to tremendous advantage.
Count Basie & Jon Hendricks are the Red Beans & Rice of jazz and the entire ensemble came together to put the first set into the jazz stratosphere.
You would think it almost impossible to follow Hendricks & Co. with anything that would excite as much enthusiasm from an audience, but that certainly was not the case when 85 year old Jimmy Heath strode on stage in his blazing white jacket to lead his Big Band through the paces of his rhythmically complex compositions.
His collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham, Benny Golson and John Coltrane, dating from the earliest days of his first big band in 1947, are the stuff of legend. He continues to curate new musicians for his band and cultivates them like rare musical orchids until the blossom into soio artists in their own right. Bassist David Wong is a shining example of that approach. He was hired to replace Jimmy’s brother, the legendary Percy Heath, when he died in 2005. Alto sax player Antonio Hart became his alter ego among the horn players. Pianist Jeb “General” Patton is the musical heart and pulse of Jimmy Heath’s tight-knight ensemble.
His loving tribute to his brother, Percy, Big “P” and the jazz standard Gingerbread Boy, popularized by Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon, was written, Heath said, in honor of his son who died last year at the age of 46, showed off the band at its best. Soloists reeled off line after line of inventive improvisation, which is the essence of modern jazz. Heath’s driving rhythms and sparkling melodies are what make jazz the life force that it is around the world. If I don’t see another jazz concert this year, I can now say that I heard one of the best of all time at JALC.
Cassandra Wilson brings her Grammy-winning vocal chops which meld urban jazz with her Mississippi blues heritage to the Rose Theatre September 30 to October 1. For more information, visit

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tanglewood Jazz Festival finale: Sing The Truth!


Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass.—A hurricane of black female musical power roared through the forest at Tanglewood, that made the previous week’s storms caused by Irene seem like a gentle breeze. Sing The Truth! A musical review and tribute to 50 years of female musical perseverance featured a diverse trio of singing stars, which spanned musical genres, continents and generations. Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright separately and collectively showcased a half-century of pioneering women singers and songwriters from Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and Mahalia Jackson to Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Traci Chapman and Odetta. The concert served as the finale to a stellar Tanglewood Jazz Festival.

At times a well choreographed review, at others, an impromptu shout and response reminiscent of a Gospel revival or the fervent dancing of an African tribal ritual flamed by pulsating drum rhythms and haunting chants, Sing The Truth! shook branches from the towering trees and uprooted the audience from their seats in Seiji Ozawa hall as if swept up by a hurricane.

The three artists could not have been more divergent, yet more united in their endeavor. Angelique Kidjo is a high priestess of the Afrobeat movement and a direct musical descendent of South African revolutionary matriarch Miriam Makeba. Lizz Wright, both chronologically and musically, the ‘little sister’ of the group, has strong ties to R & B and gospel from her roots in rural Georgia. Dianne Reeves is the polished diva, the heiress apparent to the great jazz legend Sarah Vaughan with the vocal richness of opera’s Leontyne Price thrown into her rich vocal arsenal. African-born Kidjo is a whirlwind of primal strength. Wright is a caramel-coated confection served in a velvet lounge of delight. Reeves is a Westminster organ with a sound that reverberates across rivers, and mountains with a piercing crescendo capable of ringing bells in distant steeples. It’s a good thing the exterior walls of Ozawa Hall are virtually open to the elements. There are few enclosed spaces that could harbor this much combined energy!

Angelique Kidjo electrified the crowd, dancing through the audience on the Makeba classic Pata Pata. Wright used her mocha cafĂ© voice to good advantage on Mahalia Jackson’s How I Got Over and Dianne Reeves really carried the show, turning almost everything she sang into an anthem of praise to those women artists who paved the way for her artistic ascendancy.

While Kidjo’s performance added some much-needed verve to the show, her monologue on the color blind society seemed like so much preaching to the choir and a waste of valuable show time since so many in the audience are already long-time supporters of liberal causes. They might have been better served by a rendition of Abbey’s “Throw It Away,” or Miriam’s “Malaika,” (My Angel), a Swahili song Makeba learned upon her return to Africa after many years of political exile in America.

Add to the vocal fireworks a superb instrumental ensemble, headed by keyboard artist, composer and arranger Geri Allen, Brazilian guitar master Romero Lubambo, the aptly-named lyrical bassist extraordinaire James Genus, African/Brazilian percussionist Munyungo Jackson and the dynamic drummer and Music Director Terri Lyne Carrington, and you have an experience that speaks to the universe and the ages.

The words and the music echoed far into the night and remained in memory for days after. Sing The Truth! has the ring of social truth as written by the greatest female musical sages of our time.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tanglewood finale features heroic Beethoven/Perlman program

Tanglewood: Itzhak Perlman All Beethoven Program

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

Photos: Boston Symphony Orchestra/Hilary Scott

Additional photos-Dwight Casimere

The view from the Tanglewood Koussevitzky Music Shed

Picnicking on the Tanglewood green

The Berkshires, Lenox, Mass.—The ovation was thunderous as violin master Itzhak Perlman strode heroically onstage in the Koussevitzky Music Shed for an All Beethoven Program that would turn out to be the season finale for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer residency at Tanglewood.

From the opening strains of Beethoven’s Romance No. 1 in G, which Perlman conducted from the soloist’s chair, it was a performance by an artist totally at one with both his instrument and the music. His violin sang with an almost human voice, his facial expressions reflecting the sheer rapture of the moment.

Romance No. 2 proved to be the more lyrical of the two pieces. The purpose behind Beethoven’s reason for the composing the two Romances remains an historical mystery. It was clear that if he had been prescient enough to foresee Mr. Perlman’s performance on this night, that would have been reason enough!

This was only his second appearance as guest conductor with the BSO at Tanglewood as both soloist and maestro, but Mr. Perlman quickly made himself at home. It took a few moments for Perlman to situate himself in the conductor’s chair at the podium for his conducting of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C, but the bit of discomfort was worth the wait. The audience was richly rewarded with a performance that certainly captured what premiere audiences must have heard in 1800 Vienna. Perlman and the BSO captured the freshness of Beethoven’s youthful voice. This was the opening salvo of a thunderous voice that would echo through the ages.

That promise is completely realized in Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 5. Here, Mr. Perlman chose restraint rather than bombastic showmanship to allow the contrapuntal themes of the final movement to unfold and reveal their true heroic character. Perlman captured the urgent sense of struggle of a voice, perhaps misheard by many, finally asserting itself and making a declaration of self-worth for all to hear. This is truly Beethoven’s “Eroica,” which Perlman, by example, has also made his own.

Boston Symphony Orchestra's Tanglewood Music Festival gives Gershwin's Porgy and Bess new vitality

Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Music Festival, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess give regal luster to lowly Catfish Row

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

Performance photos courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra/Hilary Scott

Additional photos by Dwight Casimere

Soprano Nicole Cabell (Clara) with Dwight Casimere

The famed Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood

The view of the Berkshire Mountains from Tanglewood

Alfred Walker as Porgy and Laquita Mitchell as Bess

Conductor Bramwell Tovey leads the cast and Boston Symphony Orchestra in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

The Berkshire’s, Lenox, Mass.—Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Music Festival chose as one of its season closing concerts Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in a concert version of its Original 1935 production. Presented without costumes or props, the singers acted out the parts in summery white tuxedoes for the men and colorful evening gowns for the ladies. With British Grammy Award winning conductor Bramwell Tovey at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his Tanglewood and Boston Symphony Orchestra debut, and the robust Tanglewood Festival Chorus, ably conducted by John Oliver, the Koussevitzky Music Shed reverberated with soulful wailings from the depths of Catfish Row. Remarkably, without the benefit of any props or costumes, the singer/actors ably represented the anguish, trials and tribulations of life in the hardscrabble world of South Carolina’s bayous and back alleys.

Based on DuBose Heyward’s 1926 novel Porgy and later fleshed out into a play with spirituals by Heyward and his wife, Dorothy, the following year, the pair then collaborated with George and Ira Gershwin to create one of the most enduring works of both the American Broadway and the world’s operatic stages.

Porgy and Bess is Gershwin’s finest work. He spent months in South Carolina immersing himself in the music and physical setting of the opera. Having lived in Harlem, its no surprise that he became a master at incorporating black musical idioms into his compositions. The vernacular of jazz and the heart-wrenching wail of the black spiritual became an integral part of his far-reaching orchestrations. Under Maestro Tovey’s baton, the passages sparkled with depth and clarity. The singers represented one of the most superb assemblages of stellar African American voices on any concert stage. They delivered spine-tingling performances and breathed fresh life into Gershwin’s familiar melodies. So invested were they in the performance, they made it seem as if it had been written solely for that night’. Indeed, on so many levels, this evening’s presentation was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Beginning with the beauteous Nicole Cabell and her shimmering silver-toned rendition of the Gershwin classic, “Summertime,” the template was set for an unforgettable summer’s evening that will remain indelible.

Laquita Mitchell had the delicate beauty and the crystalline coloratura soprano voice needed to make Bess seem the vulnerable and besieged woman that she would become throughout the night. The object of Porgy’s headlong ardor (bass-baritone Alfred Walker, in an electrifying performance), their stormy relationship appears doomed from the start, but the ride to its obvious conclusion is so enthralling that both the principals and the audience, cast all caution to the wind. The self-serving ardor and silver-tongued overtures of Sportin’ Life (Jermaine Smith), and Porgy’s earnest-to-a-fault pursuit of Bess, propel the action. Storms exist on the emotional horizon that are as devastating as the physical threat of Irene.

There are some brilliant performances throughout. Tenor Jermaine Smith is a tour de force as the sarcastic Sportin’ Life. His leaps and struts were as “thrillin’” as anything performed by the late Michael Jackson. Mezzo-soprano Krysty Swann used her sultry voice and voluptuous beauty to good advantage to convey the sass of her character, Annie. Soprano Marquita Lister sparkled both visually and vocally in scene after scene. At every interlude, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus rocked the Shed with their echo. Catfish Row will never be the same! The haunting voice of the Strawberry Woman, soprano Alison Buchanan, also in her Boston Symphony Orchestra debut, was hauntingly effective as she made her mesmerizing entrance along the Shed’s perimeter.

Porgy and Bess does not so much entertain, as it inhabits your emotional universe. Its story of worshipful, unrequited and abusive love resonates deep within the soul and occupies a place in the farthest reaches of the human psyche. Its impact is felt long after the ovations have echoed within the Shed and faded into memory.

This night’s Porgy and Bess and its proximity to the storm-delayed dedication of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial in the nation’s capitol brought pause for reflection.

Dr. King was a great lover of music and the arts and counted many African American artists as his closest friends. Indeed, the “I Have A Dream” passages of his most famous and final speech were uttered at the urging of his close friend and confident, the late, Gospel great, Mahalia Jackson.

It occurred that this performance by these gifted young African American singers was a far more fitting tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. King than anything that could have been manufactured in Washington. I’m sure that if the strains of “I’m On My Way (To The Promised Land)” had in anyway reached the National Mall, the stony visage of the King monument sculpted by Chinese Master Lei Yixin, would have broken into a heartwarming smile!