Cabaret Lawlessness

"We only need 999,995 more people to break the conga-line world record!" gushed an over-optimisic member of the Dance Liberation Front shortly before their Saturday night march up Avenue A, protesting the city's cabaret laws, which forbid dancing in unlicensed bars. Sadly, the self-described anarchists hadn't drawn much of a crowd 15 minutes before kickoff time at Houston and Essex, unless cops counted: at least 40 officers waited in over a dozen squad cars, vans, and paddy wagons.

Clad in a purple hooded tunic, stockings, garter belt, and white panties, Dancing John wasn't intimidated. No authority could stop this bearded fiftysomething "go-go dancer at Squeezebox" from fighting for his right to party. Banned from Coney Island High for violating the dress code, the Upper West Side poet raged against the cabaret laws that were not only used as a pretext by the bar's management to bounce him, but have resulted in the recent temporary closures of Baby Jupiter and Nation. "First they got rid of the sex and drugs, so all that's left is the rock 'n' roll. And you can't even dance to it!"

John was virtually alone in his ire— by 10 the event seemed like a bust— when suddenly a band of merrymakers approached. Led by a furry gnome waving an American flag and a she-devil with spinning emergency lamps strapped to her breasts, the colorful contingent was cut off by police officials before they crossed Houston. Promising peaceful civil disobedience, approximately 150 marchers proceeded north with a heavy police escort.

Mad hatters: the Dance Liberation Front, about one million people short of the conga-line world record
Pak Fung Wong
Mad hatters: the Dance Liberation Front, about one million people short of the conga-line world record

Freezing temperatures kept the DLF from coalescing into the conga's traditional single-file, three-steps-and-a-kick routine. Or maybe such tropical standards are beyond any anarchist's organizational capabilities. Some protesters did master the conga's six-beat tempo though, chanting "Fuck You Giu-li-a-NI!"

Twenty minutes later the parade wound up in Tompkins Square Park for some final invective against City Hall, though the night's fervent opprobrium was misdirected. For once, the mayor had little to do with the ridiculous police presence. Instead, the DLF and Lower East Side bars have enemies more dour than Rudy. According to Capt. Collins of the Ninth Precinct, the protesters were ratted on by their own neighbors: both the Seventh and Ninth Precincts were warned about possible disturbances by members of Community Board 3. — Ernie Glam

A Rosnes Is a Rosnes

A recent New York Times article lamented the too pervasive influence of Herbie Hancock among jazz pianists, breathing a sigh of relief that some young players had finally gotten past his shadow. Nobody wants to be anyone's epigone forever, but there is a reason why Herbie's neo-impressionism left such an appealing thread for younger pianists to weave, especially since he has only sporadically played in the supple, sinuous vein that blew everyone away in the '60s. Renée Rosnes emerged in the '80s as one of Herbie's strongest disciples, and since the man himself was spending much time in an electronic wilderness, who better to pick up his conception and take it somewhere else? Indeed, on a duet with Herbie himself on Rosnes's first CD, it's hard to tell them apart.

One could carp that at Rosnes's quartet gig at Sweet Basil— including her husband, Billy Drummond, on drums and the mega-hyped Chris Potter on tenor and soprano— Herbie's spirit still lingered on the bandstand, but in the set's finest moments, it couldn't have been invoked with more alacrity, grace, and subtlety. After a couple of perfunctory numbers, Rosnes coyly turned to the mike and, after nearly announcing the next tune, merely said: "I'm not going to tell you what it is 'cause I want to see if you recognize it." Launching into a Zen-like "With a Little Help From My Friends," she found so many calm spaces within the tune that her performance undid all of Joe Cocker's paroxysms at Woodstock. A major-key version of "Footprints," meanwhile, perversely gave Wayne Shorter's brooding tune a dose of Prozac.

But it was her performance of Ellington's "African Flower" that not only evidenced close listenings to Money Jungle, but also a harmonic restlessness, ingeniously stacking voicings, or substituting chords where you'd least expect them, without losing any of Ellington's cool rumblings. On her last tune, Herbie finally left the building, at least temporarily. Behind thumping quarter notes, Rosnes took a break from the Debussyian swirl for some compact lines that would have evoked a "one more once" from Basie himself. I'm sure Herbie's fingerprints resurfaced for the second set, but however much Rosnes strays, she clearly has the world at her own fingertips. — David Yaffe

Nostalgia Gap

The healthiest kind of nostalgia is the kind young people have for things they couldn't have experienced the first time, and the cutoff date for it keeps moving forward. The Rondelles, who played Brownies on Sunday night, lovingly allude to the rhythms and conceits of '60s girl-group pop: in their songs, affection is mostly expressed in terms of holding hands, and betrayal is holding hands with another girl. They're also big fans of the Buzzcocks, whose influence shows up less in their playing than in the way they reduce complicated emotions to very simple ones, then act like they couldn't possibly be that simple. (And in their album title: Fiction Romance, Fast Machines.)

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