Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Grammy nominee Gregory Porter shows soulful side of jazz at 2013 NYC Winter Jazz Fest

Singer/song-writer Gregory Porter in action

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere Saturday, January 12, 2013 at the Poisson Rouge, formerly the Village Gate in Greenwich Village

NEW YORK--Gregory Porter is right now the hottest vocal star in the jazz firmament. A singer/soong-writer, now with two current Grammy nominations under his belt for best R & B Vocal and Best Album, and recent appearances at the Nice and Monterey Jazz Festivals, and an upcoming appearance with Wynton Marsalis and theLincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in a performance's of Marsalis's Pulitzer Prize winning epic oratorio  on slavery, "Blood on the Fields" Porter's career has taken a meteoric arc, from a standing-start as a virtual  unknown to being on the cusp of a major international career. That fact was made quite evident at a recent post-midnight appearance at the Poisson Rouge, formerly the legendary Village Gate, as part of the New York Winter Jazz Festival, sponsored by local and internet jazz radio station WBGO (wbgo.org) and recorded for future broadcast on the station. Radio and festival venue host Gary Walker introduced Porter, tracing his humble beginnings as a house painter's son. "As a young boy, growing up in Brooklyn, he would stand under his father's ladder and let the drops of paint pour onto his head, so that his hair would have these streaks of color. He would run through the neighborhood like that so everyone could see that he was the 'house painter's son.' That touching bit of biography was the perfect segue into Porter's opening number "Colors" from his Grammy-nominated album, that inaugurated a 45-minute set before a steamy, sardine-packed, standing room  only audience. Porter's soulful voice (his mother was a church choir director, where he had his first singing experiences as a child) soared above the din of conversation and clinking glasses as he delivered his achingly personal lyrics depicting the panful loss of history and identity in Harlem (On The Way to Harlem) and biting social commentary and lamented loss of racial identity and violence against black youth (1960 What!) The performance was somewhat uneven at times, with some numbers languishing beneath the audience's preoccupation with idle murmurings, texting and cell phone photo flashing, but Porter quickly won them back with his soulful entreaties that brought a thunderous ovation and calls for "Encore!" I think he's got that Grammy-thing sewn up tight!

Chano Dominuez injects history of jazz piano into Flamenco Jazz

Photo courtesy Dizzy's Coca Cola/Jazz at Lincoln Center

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere, Saturday, January 12, 2013 at Dizzy's Coca Cola, Jazz at Lincoln Center

NEW YORK---From the romanticism of Claude Debussy to the pre-modern rustlings of Maurice Revel, the inspired genius of Thelonius Monk and the cool jazz musings of Bill Evans and Miles Davis, pianist Chano Dominquez and his high-energy trio amp, injected a sense of jazz piano history into its presentation of Flamenco Jazz at Dizzy's Coca Cola jazz club at Jazz at Lincoln Center in the Time Warner Center of midtown Manhattan. The entire set had a sense of purpose about it, with Dominquez generously sprinkling in piano quotes from the masters of the instrument from Bud Powell and Monk to Bill Evans and the recently departed Dave Brubeck , all the while segueing into the Brazilian and Flamenco-styled references that provided entre' to the rustically charming vocals of Dafnis Prieto, with his John The Baptist mane of hair and fervent cries. Dominguez led the capacity audience through a master class of jazz piano improvisation from Chic Corea to Monk's "Ruby My Dear" to a touching rendition of Bill Evans/Miles Davis'  "All Blues."  Prieto punctuated each of the musical journeys with a detour into the realm of almost other-wordly whoops and cries that recalled the tribal "throat singing" of a timeless race and culture. It was a performance that both stirred and satisfied the soul.

Zukerman, Eschenbach inject new life into Bruch's war-horse Violin Concerto

Pinchas Zukerman by Paul Labelle

Performance Photo Courtesy New York Times

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere Saturday, January 12, 2013 at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center

NEW YORK-The National Theatre of Great Britain may have recently ended their Lincoln Center Theatre run of the epic drama War Horse a few weeks ago, but another 'war horse' of symphonic proportions was being put through its paces across the plaza at Avery Fisher Hall, as violin virtuoso Pinchas  Zukerman and the esteemed German conductor Christoph Eschenbach as guests of the New York Philharmonic, led an inspired performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor.  Zukerman's playing was both soulful and probative throughout as Maestro Eschenbach kept a tight reign on tempos and timbre to create a sympathetic and, at times, contrapuntal thematic base to Bruch's rich, Romantic themes and lush accompanying orchestrations. The spiritual beauty of the Adagio and the almost chamber music feel of the interplay between the woodwinds and cellos and soloist Zukerman were among the most sensually satisfying moments of this superlative performance. As this was the soloists 100th performance with the orchestra, the sympatico between he and the assemblage was evident. Huge swells from the brass and timpani punctuated by the synchronized pulsations of the bass section made the Finale: Allegro energico, quite thrilling.  Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 in A major, by contrast, was a somewhat solemn, measured piece of well-calibrated music, more intended to pierce the intellect than inspire the soul. Still, Eschenbach carefully mined its intricate depths like an agronomist searching for hints of jewels amongst the limestone. There were moments of brilliance and even joy in its carefully constructed measures.  The Langsam (slow) movement at the conclusion of a rather subdued Scherzo (moderately fast) movement, was perhaps the highlight of the piece, achieving a sort of equipoise under Eschenbach's skilled hand. He also managed to imbue the Finale with an air of suspense, building to an explosive crescendo that brought the audience to its feet with thunderous applause.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Les Troyens an Epic at Met Live HD in Movie Theatres Worldwide

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Met Opera Photos by Ken Howard/Marty Sohl

NEW YORK--A stellar all-American cast in a pull-out-all-the-stops production of Hector Berlioz's "Les Troyens" marked the Metropolitan Opera's observance of the composer's 200th birthday anniversary and the halfway mark of the Met's Live in HD season. With an encore performance set for Wednesday, January 23 and 6:30pm local time, this is a program that commands a second look.The next Met Live HD presentation is Saturday, January 19 at 12:55 pm ET, with Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (Mary Queen of Scotts) starring Joyce DiDonato, who also served as the backstage Met Live HD Host for Les Troyens. 

 Brilliantly staged by director Francesca Zambello, the production brought Berlioz' epic interpretation of Virgil's "Aeneid" into sharp focus through the exceptional camera work of Live in HD director Barbara Willie Sweete and her nimble multi-camera crew.  With a stellar chorus, directed by Donald Palumbo, performing seamlessly throughout in scenes punctuated by a captivating corps du ballet, choreographed by Doug Varone,the production was both visually stunning and emotionally riveting. The more than five and a half hour running time, with two half-hour intermissions included, seemed to fly by. The singers were so emotionally engaging that the audience was involved in the epic story at every turn. The marvelous singing and their emotive gestures brought their characters to life and made them so much more than historical representations, but real flesh and blood characters trapped in a crucible of betrayal, love triangles and power-lust. The story of "Les Troyens" is familiar to most, ecompassing the Fall of Troy at the hands of the Greeks, who, after ten years of seige, left behind a giant wood horse as a gift. The horse, of course, was a decoy. It was filled with armed soldiers who would lay waste to Troy once it was brought within the gates of the city.Deborah Voigt is the doomed Queen Cassanera, in her greatest role since that of Brunhilde in last year's Met production of the Ring cycle. The action in the second half of the opera moves to Carthage, North Africa, where Aeneas, sung forcefully by Bryan Hymel in his Metropolitan Opera debut, vows to fulfill his destiny as foretold by the gods to found a new empire (Roman) in Italy. Dido, sung dramatically by soprano Susan Graham, at the end, foretells the doom of the Roman Empire at the hands of a fellow member of African nobility, Hannibal. The sets, designed by Maria Bjernson, emphasize the sense of impending doom with a giant surrealistic globe hovering over the expansive wasted futuristic landscape of a set. The electrifying costumes by James F. Ingalls heightened the sense of other-worldly oppulence. Met Maestro Fabio Luisi led the orchestra with a firm hand, emphasizing the panoramic grandeur of the opening acts and the more intimate drama of the final scene with equal skill. Choreography by Doug Varone gave particular elegance to the lengthy ballet scenes. It will all be repeated in an Encore Presentation Wednesday, January 23 at 6:30pm local time. Check local listings for theatre locations. "Les Troyens" is experience well worth repeating.