Your Right To Party

"Okay folks, I've had a couple of suggestions for how to deal with this. Maybe we could take a vote?" a flustered Captain John Codiglia of the Manhattan South Task Force announced over a bullhorn last Sunday, hoping to cajole the 400 or so boisterous ravers and activists who jammed traffic at Broadway and Astor Place for two hours during the city's first-ever "Reclaim the Streets" party. "Fuck that! Giuliani sucks!" shot back a kid in neon fake-fur and multiple piercings, who was dancing to throbbing Goa trance blaring from a generator-powered sound system.

Patterned after the Reclaim the Streets dance parties in Europe--one of which drew 20,000 to Trafalgar Square last May--Sunday's loosely organized protest against Herr Giuliani's "Quality of Life" crusade began at 2 p.m., when about 150 people assembled at the Astor Place cube. Before the cops could radio for help, protesters blocked off Broadway and set up a 22-foot, Earth First!­style tripod of aluminum poles, which a 25-year-old New School student named Louis Colombo nimbly scaled.

Horns blared as performance artists and fire breathers danced through the bewildered throngs of Sunday-afternoon shoppers, hundreds of whom joined in. The scene was dominated by young, mostly white students and ravers. Many brought boomboxes to pump up the mix, which was broadcast over 88.7 FM via a mobile transmitter set up in a van, far from the prying eyes of police.

Scores of police vans, paddy wagons, motorcycles, tow trucks, a cherry picker, a half-dozen mounted police, and the now obligatory helicopter were called in to quell the crowd. But despite the heavy mobilization, no one could figure out how to clear the streets without toppling the tripod. Eventually, Colombo slid down one of the poles and was arrested for disorderly conduct, along with 12 others. Many in the crowd seemed only vaguely aware of the protest's freeform agenda--which included everything from the privatization of public spaces and the bulldozing of community gardens to the crackdown on sex clubs and barroom dancing. "We want to show them that we own the streets just as much as the real estate people and the cops," said 18-year-old Makis, who was doling out vegan soup. Moments later, his shopping cart was seized by police.--Sarah Ferguson


Chemistry Set

Guillermo Klein meandered from his electric piano during a particularly delicate piece last Tuesday at the C Note--seems the level of lilt was off and he wanted to give the guys in his Los Gauchos big band a bit of extra direction. With cigarette in mouth--his tobacco smoke is ubiquitous enough to seem integral to the group's chemistry--the balding 29-year-old fluttered his left arm in a move that was half conduction, half ballet. Signifying fluidity, he was a demanding boss: the syncopation prescribed by his chart was elaborate.

Klein's music is defined by such dichotomies, and its glories depend on how resourcefully the contradictions duke it out. Los Gauchos isn't a soloist's domain. Saxist Tony Malaby rocketed toward Pluto during one tune, but Klein's 10-member team is more attuned to voicings than vamps. The Buenos Aires native began composing at 11, and his melody-strewn, omnitempoed orchestrations declare it doesn't all have to stem from Thad, Mel, and Gil. The pianist tells interviewers he wants to get close to blues, but the music avoids idiomatic designs. There are, what, 12 or 13 big bands doing business in town these days? Klein's doesn't sound like any of 'em.

Feral and fractious, Los Gauchos has the energy of garage rockers. Four percussionists rattled out rhythms, and, bumping up against a couple pieces of brass and a front line of saxes, the polyphony was addictive. Big bands turn into science experiments when their machinations are in high relief, but here the bonding was nuanced--especially when the ensemble coordinated itself to weave through a spooky ballad whose inner dirge was expressed by the leader's craggy, Tom Zé­esque vocal. Perhaps more than anything else all night, it clarified Klein's commitment to forging an experimentalist's identity. " 'Take the A Train'!" some rube bellowed as I was walking out the door. " 'A Train'?" grinned the pianist. "Ha, ha . . . I don't think so."--Jim Macnie


Whirl Music

Introducing the Turkish whirling dervishes and musicians of the Mevlana Culture and Art Foundation at City Center last Friday, Shaikh Kabir Helminski seemed intent on sucking all the fun out of watching sufis spin gracefully counterclockwise for what eventually felt like a really long time. "We are not performers and this is not a performance," declared the foundation's American representative, without so much as a nod to René Magritte. He went on to note that rather than entering a groovy trance state, the dervishes were actually performing the "service" of conveying God's spiritual juice to the audience.

With venue, staging, structure, and ticket price all belying Helminski's declaration, the unvaryingly sober and low-key show got under way with a recitation of verses by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the mystical 13th-century poet whose increasingly fashionable stanzas of love-ecstasy leave me, I must confess, cold. (How fashionable? Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's upcoming "digital opera," Monsters of Grace,takes Rumi's verses as its libretto.) "You are like water and we are like millstones," went one verse God-groveling enough to make me reach for my Nietzsche. The medley of Turkish pieces performed by the 13-piece Mevlevi Ensemble was charm itself, however, and concluded with the arrival onstage of three women "turners," apparently a first.

The second half of the evening was devoted to the Sema ritual, credited to Rumi. The seven-part ceremony began and ended with a stirring Koranic recitation delivered in a haunting nasal baritone voice by blind Kani Karaca. The accompanying music--endlessly ornamented arrangements of Turkish flutes, lutes, zithers, drums, and voices--included unusual nine- and 13-bar rhythmic patterns that provided more flow than beat. Seven Turkish dervishes in wide, white skirts and camel's-hair hats bowed to the two onstage shaikhs, slowly raised their arms over their heads, turned their right palm toward heaven and their left toward the earth, and spun on and on and on. When the Sema was over, much of the audience practically ran for the exits.--Richard Gehr


Strum Warning

Six of the world's best ukulele players came together last Thursday at Symphony Space to honor the wooden box with nylon strings and its contribution to 20th-century Americana. Unfortunately, the happy little instrument the Ukulele Masters came to celebrate was overshadowed for most of the night by a forced professionalism. The beauty of the uke is in its distinct, familiar, "plinka plinka plinka" sound. The artists, however, in trying to justify the instrument when no justification was necessary, took the highbrow road. Lyle Ritz and Buron Yasui played plenty of Rogers and Hart--complete with bass solos--but not once did they (or anyone else) offer up "Little Grass Shack." Instead, renowned slack key guitarist Led Kaapana offered up a humorless "Killing Me Softly," while host Jim Beloff played "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" with as straight a face as possible (and, trust me, Jonathan Richman he's not).

The second set featured a few Hawaiian tunes by Kaapana (whose excellent voice suggested Neil Sedaka with rocks in his throat), and his coupling with Bob Brozman, ex­Cheap Suit Serenader, made for sweet picking; sadly, the two took turns on ukulele, never actually dueting. When Brozman held up his guitar and said, "Just think of it as a big uke with strings," it was a bit of a cheat.

Rhino's new release Legends of the Ukulele is smart enough not to take itself too seriously. You get Tiny Tim playing "Tiptoe," natch, and some amazing performances (check out Roy Smeck wailing on "Uke Said It"). The record benefits from a healthy goofiness that was sorely missing most of Thursday night. When five of the Masters capped the show by strumming away on "Aloha Oe," accompanied by a saw player, it was the sweetest moment of the evening--a peak that could have been reached much earlier with a lot more plinka plinka plinka.--Frank Ruscitti


Myth Mash

It's a sign of the moment that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have made an album that's heavily dependent on studio electronics, and a sign of rock's resilience that they've translated it back into chip-free raucousness. At the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night, their set peeled away the song forms of the new stuff like a leather jacket, making way for the band's usual vamp-to-vamp surge: Spencer frenching the mic, Judah Bauer scratching his guitar like his baby's back, Russell Simins aiming his bass drum straight between everyone's hips.

Simins is a breakbeat hero, a philosopher king of the snare and kick, a groove drummer so wily you could read the Starr Report over his beats and he'd draw its secret rhythms out. ("Calvin," a crumbly sample collage on record, hangs together live thanks to his Velcro backbeat.) He's got the dinkiest, dryest-sounding kit around, and he whacks the bejesus out of it, stuttering like a tape splice or opening fire like a needlegun. When Simins set up the rolling and tumbling pattern of "Greyhound," Spencer-as-star deferred to Spencer-as-emcee and backed out of the way.

Spencer's stage persona, down to the Deep South accent that's as ludicrous as Mick Jagger's or John Fogerty's, comes from the swaggering self-invention of early rock and electric blues, but the big lesson he's learned from his heroes is to dispense with irony altogether. You can blow up your myth-bubble as big as you want as long as you don't try to break its surface, but you cannot get away with yelling, "I wanna make it all right!" five times in a row by way of introducing a song to a crowd of NYC hipsters unless that is what you mean. And he does. "I feel so GOODA BOUTA PIECE A' TRASH!" he blurted halfway through the finale with absolute conviction, just as Simins was raising his stick to crash back in, and he went on to shout all the song titles on the not-yet-released Acme as if they were hits already. They might as well have been.--Douglas Wolk

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