Border Crossings

A significant pleasure of wallowing in Sunday's sold-out Bang on a Can marathon at the Henry Street Settlement lay in mapping out the resonances that linked the 23 works (chosen from 400 submissions) performed over eight hours (you do the math). The program began at two in the afternoon with Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mikrophonie I (performed by Red Fish Blue Fish), a midcentury pinnacle of West-meets-East electropercussive theatrics. I missed it, regrettably, but arrived to hear heroic Brooklyn trio Ne-Ne perform [a] [e] [o], a recipe for cross-cultural celebration that involved Japanese percussion, a vamp in 10/4, free-jazz piano, and baby talk.

Several other pieces were also Euro-Asian in design, or theatrical, or semielectronic, or parageneric. These ranged from Christopher Adler's Three Lai, in which the composer played the Southeast Asian free-reed khaen in Steve Reich­ian conjunction with violin and viola, to a pair of works performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars sextet. With its Noh percussion attacks, prog-rock cycles, and Toru Takemitsu­ inspired quietude, James Rolfe's Railway Street seemed almost an inside-out prefiguration of hot Chinese composer Tan Dun's marvelous Concerto for Six, a subtle and witty work of dramatic ensemble demands and inventive soloing.

The other works written for the All-Stars' particular instrumentation (bass, cello, percussion, guitar, piano, and bass clarinet) were equally challenging and inventive, and downright fun, especially John Halle's Operation Chaos (inspired by CIA acid terrorist Sidney Gottlieb) and David Lang's Cheating, Lying, Stealing. Anthony Coleman's Mise en Abime was perhaps a little indebted to Pierre Boulez's Pli Selon Pli, down to Mark Stewart's mandolin, yet aptly embodied the reflective, refractive nature of the BoaC aesthetic, to the extent it could be reduced.

Vaudeville for the mind: Red Fish Blue Fish performing at Sunday's Bang on a Can marathon
Hiroyuki Ito
Vaudeville for the mind: Red Fish Blue Fish performing at Sunday's Bang on a Can marathon

Which it couldn't, as Maggi Payne's Hum and Ingram Marshall's Dark Waters, both slow solo works for instrumentalist and tape, demonstrated. If anything, the BoaC marathon is vaudeville for the mind; which led to Judy Dunaway's only slightly irritating Music for Tenor Balloon and Kato Hideki's electric-bass abuse. Nevertheless, the novelty factor was enough to ward off any doldrums. Saxophonist Charles Gayle and drummer Rashid Bakr's "Christ's Creation" proved a head-clearing solvent as the evening wound down, and the whole shebang concluded with the blistering border crossings of David Krakauer's "Klezmer Madness!"— pure pastiche, pure pleasure. Richard Gehr


Poet, Fool, or Bum?

Like all great revivals, Lee Hazlewood's reached its apotheosis in a line at a men's room, where waste often turns to giddy relief. Waiting to empty himself between sets at the Losers' Lounge tribute at Fez on April 24, the original cosmic cowboy— equal parts Johnny Cash, Harry Chapin, Phil Spector, and Ken Nordine— muttered to the next fellow that perhaps they should enter together and Hazlewood would gladly take to the sink.

Piss in the fanciest basin you can find. That's always been the Hazlewood method of unpretentious pretension, and the Losers' tribute— a record third for Hazlewood, in town to promote a long overdue reissue program on Smells Like— featuring string and horn sections, along with a Wrecking Crew led by keyboardist Joe McGinty, also attempted to balance opposing attitudes: out-and-out songwriter worship and a Hoboken-ish contempt for kitsch (an attitude kitschier than the complex subject at hand).

For Hazlewood is a god, of sorts. But, like a god, he is flawed and ravenous. His lyrics are often compellingly overwrought, and beg for a Sirkian flatness of delivery that perfectly suits both yang-y Hazlewood and his yin, Nancy Sinatra. The less successful of the evening's 30-plus interpreters suffered from histrionic emoting (Sophia Ramos on "Don't Look Now but I've Got the Blues") or snooty '60s parody (Nick Danger and Chloe Sweeney's take on "Big Red Balloon"). But Joshua Tyler worked an astonishingly apt Scott Walker on "Your Sweet Love," while Dan Stechow's attempt at the epochal "Poet, Fool or Bum" was utterly tuneless in an understated and evocative manner— the way to go, as these songs don't work with too much knowing thrown at them. When sexpot Molly Griffith attempted showbiz oomph on the slight "Tony Rome," she did it straight, accidentally summoning Sinatra's propulsive emptiness. It's not what she wanted, but that was all the better. As Hazlewood put it in "Train to Stockholm," "Freedom is where you think it is." — D. Strauss


Raw Power

Even though Duke Ellington turned 100 last Thursday, it was not exactly clear whose birthday was celebrated. Was it the raunchy dynamo who used toilet plungers for mutes and titled a ballad "Warm Valley," or the dandified gentleman so revered by institutional powers who weren't around when he needed them? Call it a case of the Raw and the Cooked. Whether a tribute is underrehearsed or belabored, no one can quite figure out how to love him madly.

Pianist Anthony Coleman— who once led an ensemble called the Selfhaters— did so much to downplay expectations for his tribute to Duke that the beyond-capacity crowd in the undersized Alterknit wasn't sure what they were in for. Given Coleman's Sephardic predilection, it would have made sense for him to Judaize Ellington, especially since John Zorn undertook a Radical Jewish Culture series for the goyish, Mass-writing Dave Brubeck. Lenny Bruce once pronounced Count Basie to be Jewish, so an Ellington bar mitzvah didn't seem out of the question.

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