Archive for July, 2009

vermont mozart festival @ the radiator, event #2

July 27, 2009
7/27/09 - Jennifer Grim

7/27/09 - Jennifer Grim

World of Music is taking a short summer break, we’ll be back in business later in August with a fresh collection of tunes from every corner, with the usual unusual assortment of  jazz, poetry, blues and world sounds.

‘Til then, “Mondays with Mozart” on The Radiator feature visiting performers from the annual Vermont Mozart Festival. Last week we talked with oboist Marc Schachman. This week the spotlight turned to another veteran wind player, the Festival’s principal flutist Jennifer Grim. (Next week we’ll complete the trio with bassoonist Andrew Schwartz.)

At the start of the conversation she remarked that it’s especially nice to come back to New England to work with the Festival now that she’s moved away. I wasn’t sure quite how to take that, but she quickly explained herself. As an associate professor at UNLV (“a place where they still look forward to rain”, noted Exec. Director Tim Riddle), Dr. Grim’s landscape has changed much since she moved from New York City to Las Vegas. Summers in Vermont, rainy or not, are a welcome change of scenery.

Change of pace? Well, probably that too, but maybe not in the expected way. With around 10 concerts in the three weeks of the Festival (and no repeated programs!), the schedule is demanding, performers are chosen for their deep experience with a wide variety of repertoire, and precious rehearsal time is spent “coming to a concensus about dynamic and tempo markings,” Grim said, “we don’t have time to spend hours discussing it.”

As the studio’s temperature and humidity escalated in the late afternoon sun, the audience questions dwindled and Grim offered to play a Bach Partita. It was elegant and lovely – light, while the day hung heavy and hot. She performed standing. Sort of. The lilting Partita was accompanied by Grim gracefully and naturally moving with the music: raising up on her toes in the high register, leaning in (as if listening, or encouraging listening) to the pianissimo passages, and dipping and swaying to dig into the arpeggios.

Executive Director Tim Riddle and Jennifer Grim

VT Mozart Festival Executive Director Tim Riddle and Jennifer Grim

“Do you have training as a dancer?” asked one audience member in the short followup q & a after the performance “Yes, I do,” Grim admitted shyly, “I took ballet lessons from four years old to college.” Though she also confessed that it often took observers to let her know afterward she’d been moving with the music she was playing.

Along with the work she does in the full Festival Orchestra, Grim often takes on solo or ensemble work over the course of the summer’s programs. Like the all-Bach and Prokofiev concert coming up on the 31st. She’ll be seated for that performance, I’m guessing, but that won’t keep you from enjoying the dancing lightheartedness she brings to her music.

Listen to the final “Mondays with Mozart” event next week, starting at 3pm. It’s 105.9FM in Burlington, VT or online at The Radiator.

trading fours: this week’s listening

July 25, 2009

“Trading fours” is an occasional series you’ll see here featuring four recommended recordings on a theme from any music genre. Leave a comment – send me your four picks, explain what the theme is and why you chose them. I’ll do the rest. (See previous post for the details on this project.)

I’ll get the series started with a set that can best be described as “Things I listened to this week”. In both of my jobs (as music director at VPR, and interning at Cumbancha/Putumayo World Music) and in my weekly show at the Radiator, I’m really fortunate to have exposure to a lot of different kinds and styles of music. As a result, the week’s listening often encompasses everything from jazz and classical to more eclectic sounds (electronic music, prepared instruments)  to new tunes from all different parts of the world. Here’s a pretty typical week of listening:

DJ Frane: Journey to the Planet of Birds

DJ Frane's "Journey to the Planet of Birds"

#1 – DJ Frane’s “Journey to the Planet of Birds” – I was turned on to this amazing, complete musical vision by a friend at Cumbancha. It’s an artfully crafted (more than 300 samples!) electronic tapestry, all on themes of birds and space and spaceflight. It even includes John Glenn’s magical “thousands of luminous fireflies” audio from that moment in February, 1962 as Friendship 7 ventured into the dark side of the planet, and Glenn saw the light particles (ice crystals) swarming his capsule. This is a beautiful recording, and a snapshot “of an era”, in a sense, even though it’s only a year or so old. Things are changing fast in the area of music rights and just as quickly it’s becoming about impossible to create a new work from sampling as liberally as DJ Frane does here.


Rautavaara's "Cantus Arcticus"

#2 – Rautavaara: Cantus Arcticus, Op. 61 – Early this week as I listened to DJ Frane weaving his spell with the “Birds” I was reminded of another piece, by Finnish sound master Einojuhani Rautavaara. His Cantus Arcticus, Concerto for Birds and Orchestra (written 1972) is an equally complex and enchanting work whose “samples” include shore larks, and migrating whooper swans. Sometimes I like to listen to this CD when I’m driving. Between its birdsongs and wide open sound landscapes, it has a soundtrack kind of feel. Perfect for watching nature roll by outside. (I’m not saying that it doesn’t deserve more concentrated listening as well; it does.) Bonus listening on this particular recording (with the Lahti Symphony and conductor Osmo Vanska) – the monunemtal “Angel of Light” Symphony #7, one of Rautavaara’s finest works. Outstanding.

Coltrane's "Meditations"

Coltrane's "Meditations"

#3 – John Coltrane’s “Meditations” – Following the tracks through from the opening (“The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”), through the middle section (“Compassion”, “Love”, “Consequences”) to the end (“Serenity”) is nothing less than a full-circle spiritual reckoning. The fuller, louder and more demanding companion piece to Coltrane’s “First Meditations” (recorded two months earlier that same year, 1965), this one adds Pharoah Sanders and second drummer Rashied Ali to the classic quartet for a largely free-form exploration on themes of redemption and personal reconciliation. [PS – It’s been said before, but it can’t be said often enough: engineer Rudy Van Gelder is a genius of mythic Mozart proportions and talent.]

Kimi Djabaté's "Karam"

Kimi Djabaté's "Karam"

#4 – Kimi Djabaté’s “Karam” – From Guinea-Bissau and carrying on the centuries-old tradition of West African griots, Kimi Djabaté’s music leans heavy on the vocals in soulfully rhythmic tunes. The voice is definitely the thing with this one. It’s been riding around with me for a few weeks, but now that I’ve had a chance to really get into it, I can tell you the more I listen the more I appreciate some of the other (non-vocal) aspects of it: like the gentle, woody, melodic percussion that drives many of the songs. Like the sweetly singing kora. And the transparency of instrumental textures – you can really pick out the individual voices and follow them through each piece. Full disclosure: “Karam” will officially be released on Tuesday (7/28) this coming week. I’ve had a copy of it and I’ve been able to listen to it for a while now because I’m an intern at Cumbancha, and this CD is the first release in the new Cumbancha “Discovery” series. The further truth, though, is that I would be listening to this release and loving it even if I had no association with the label. (I would have just had to wait longer to come across it on my own.) “Karam” is special.

So there you have it, getting the conversation started with the first recommendations in the new “Trading Fours” series. Pick a theme and leave me a comment here with your top four music picks.

take five: latina jazz

July 25, 2009

ClaudiaAcunaHeard on NPR this morning, the latest in the ‘Take Five’ series (5 recordings recommended by the music staff, usually on a theme). Today’s feature: Latina jazz singers. I was familiar with three of the five (Claudia Acuna, Susana Baca and Martirio) and happy to learn about the other two (Venissa Santi and Magos Herrera). Claudia and Susana in particular are favorites, with strong, sweet voices and a great gift for phrasing.

I’ve always found the best way to learn about new music is through friends. So let’s do that. I’m going to borrow NPR’s idea and call the occasional series here “Trading Fours”. Leave a comment here and send me your favorite four recommendations on a theme – any musical genre – and a little note about why you picked them. Write as much or as little as you want, but I can tell you I will be a lot less likely to post your music choices if they don’t come with any explanation.

No names necessary unless you want to leave that too, keep it anonymous if you want. Pick a theme, send me your four faves (with the reason why) and I’ll find the cover art and do the rest. The point is to share your particular passion or expertise and let the rest of us in on some tunes we might not otherwise know about.

I’ll it started with a set of four I’ll call “Things I’ve been listening to this week”, give me a little bit to put it together and check back here in a bit for the results. And be thinking about yours.

vermont mozart festival: ying quartet

July 22, 2009
the Ying Quartet at Bolton Valley

the Ying Quartet at Bolton Valley

Second concert of the season for this year’s Vermont Mozart Festival was last night, with the Ying Quartet visiting the newly built “Ponds” at Bolton Valley.

As the (mostly – keep reading) sibling quartet moves into their second decade together now, they’re doing it with some big changes.

Or, at least one big one: this past April it was announced that first violinist Timothy Ying was leaving the ensemble for more time with family and new business ventures in Canada. Replacing his role meant finding just the right player to fill the musical void and complement the sound of the group. Given the intimate nature of quartets, it’s always a challenging situation for an ensemble to endure. Add to this particular situation the fact that it wasn’t just a first violinist who had to be replaced, but one of the four original members of the group…who also happened to be a brother to the remaining three members.

Big shoes? Sure. And Violinist Frank Huang is just the person to fill them – quickly! His first public appearance with the Ying Quartet was a mere three weeks ago, at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine. Last night he fit in seamlessly in a diverse program of Haydn, Dvorak  and a delightful set of short Chinese classics.

It was just right that the rain began as the program’s first half  closed. The last sounds of Chen Yi’s Shuo were accompanied by the soft pattering of raindrops on the deck just beyond the room’s open doors. It felt like a recital taking place in the artfully designed acoustic of a Zen water garden.

Going into the night’s concert, I was most looking forward to the Dvorak “American” Quartet. David Ying’s gorgeous cello solo was a highlight of the second movement, luxurious and roundly warm. A little less satisfying, but still thrilling, was the exceptionally peppy finale. The vivace non troppo of Dvorak’s score was instead more of a prestissimo, as the famous steam engine ‘locomotive’ rhythm at the opening of the 4th movement came across a lot more like the Eurorail breaknecking through the countryside. Sleek, all the moving parts working together, but a little fast for comfort.

Coming out of the concert, I had to give the best of show to the perfectly crafted, delicate yet sumptuously substantial collection of Chinese classics.

At last I understand why the Ying’s newest recording of these little self-contained treasures is called Dim Sum.


Performances with the Vemont Mozart Festival continue through August 9th at various locations in the region.


The program:

HAYDN Quartet in B-Flat, Op. 33/#4

TAN DUN: Drum and Gong; Cloudiness; Red Sona

ZHOU LONG: Song of the Ch’in



DVORAK: “American” Quartet in F, Op. 96

vermont mozart festival @ the radiator, event #1

July 20, 2009

oboist Marc Schachman

I mentioned that I’ve (cheerfully!) given over my weekly World of Music timeslot on the Radiator to allow the station to feature a series of interviews and performances with visiting musicians.

For the next two Monday afternoons (3-5pm EDT), the Radiator’s airwaves will resonate with the lyrical sounds of guests from this year’s Vermont Mozart Festival.

Apparently the opening concert yesterday evening at Shelburne Farms was just about picture perfect, with a gorgeous sunsent  over Lake Champlain and a program including the dark Don Giovanni Overture, and – one of my all-time fave classics – the Brahms Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Wish I had heard it! Ah, for the want of being in two places at one time.

The first event in the Radiator series took place this afternoon with guest artist Marc Schachman. He’s played oboe with the Festival since its inception 36 years ago(!) and has recently assumed the position of principal oboe in place of Festival founder Mel Kaplan, who’s taking a more background role this season. Look for Marc as one of the four featured soloists in the Haydn Sinfonia Concertante (for violin, cello, oboe and bassoon) in the Stowe concert this Sunday.

“Music is communication”, Marc explained in the q & a session in the downstairs Burlington Yoga Studio, “it’s why were here.”

And communicate he did, graciously agreeing to play a bit of the Mozart C major Oboe Quartet acapella (and stopping to laugh at himself when he accidentally slipped into playing the violin part at one point!)

Next week’s Mozart Festival event features flutist Jennifer Grim, listen in to 105.9FM (3-5pm EDT) in Burlington, VT or online at The Radiator.

novalima in burlington

July 20, 2009

2009-Jul19-Novalima02<—-(Parima Thai Restaurant, Sunday night, 10:30pm: just checking. Yep, remarkably, the roof’s still there. Good thing it’s a vaulted one.)

Novalima blew the lid off the place.

There it is, out in the open for the public record.

Eight members strong (and strong is the word); one musician for every year they’ve been a group. They shook it, smacked it, and sang it for all they were worth in a sold out show that lasted a little over two hours last night at Burlington’s Parima Thai Restaurant.

A late-breaking engagement (it helps that their record label is here!), their only Vermont appearance was squeezed in between shows at Montreal’s Nuits d’Afrique festival, Millennium Park in Chicago, and the rest of their North American summer tour.

Novalima at Parima Thai Restaurant: kicked it, yes they DID

Novalima at Parima Thai Restaurant: kicked it, yes they DID

The stage setup spoke volumes. I took a quick count before they got started and noted an iBook and two keyboards (at the back), an electric guitar and bass (one on either side), and four different drum setups of various sizes, styles, and tools. Four.

Best instrument of the night had to be the large bleached lower jawbone that clattered and clacked its way through the hands of several bandmembers in the course of the show. It’s just cool to ‘play’ a jawbone, that’s all there’s to it. (“Jawbone of an ass” – sound familiar? Check out the reference here for fun.)

True to their roots, Novalima spins out catchy Afro-Peruvian grooves heavy  on percussion and powerful vocals. The contemporary twist is that the acoustic instruments and  high energy, rhythmically- infused melodies are also overlayed with a tasteful veneer of electronic sounds and effects that amp the music into the ‘club mix’ zone and make it irresistably danceable.

These are musicians who thrive in the energy of a live house and love playing with each other. It was obvious in the rounds of smiles that made their way around the group throughout the show, and in the ‘click’ of the music itself.

They were on.

Check here for info about Novalima’s albums “Coba Coba” and “Coba Coba Remixed”

world of music – update for 7/20/09

July 19, 2009

Radiator Summer vacation time.

If you tune in tomorrow (or any Monday for the next three weeks) and wonder what’s up, I’m taking a little break with World of Music.  I’m temporarily relinquishing my regular Monday show time (3-5pm) to allow visiting guests from the Vermont Mozart Festival to perform live on the air from the Burlington Yoga Studios downstairs. (Hey, now. What’s classical music if not one of the FIRST  ‘world’ musics?)

These special performances will be broadcast live at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT and you can  listen to them live online as usual.

In the meantime, I’m collecting, I’m listening, and when World of Music resumes on 8/10 we’re going to have some FUN(K) for the rest of the summer so get ready for it!

And enjoy the VT Mozart Fest performances, they’re great musicians every one.


July 19, 2009
7/18/09 - Leonard Solomon and the Majestic Bellowphone

7/18/09 - Leonard Solomon and the Majestic Bellowphone

The notice in Seven Days asked, in bold-faced type: “What the hell is a bellowphone?”

No explanation was needed; the notice included a photo of the improbable instrument. It’s a one-man band with horns, pipes, whistles, and a giant foot pedal that pushes air through the whole thing. I confess, I’d go a long way out of my way to see a one-man band setup, I just love them. The more tools, gadgets, levers and stops, the better! (Don’t even get me started on the ones with the wasboards and clap cymbals…)

The creator and performer of the Bellowphone is Leonard Solomon, who visited Montpelier’s Langdon Street Café last night as part of the venue’s 3-day “Vaudeville weekend”. (Must also mention the wonderful puppet show that preceded the Bellowphone performance; “Punch and Judy meet the Jolly Banker”. Moral of the story: when puppets take out hefty home equity loans there can be no winners. Not even the clueless, automaton jolly bankers.)

So, back to the Bellowphone – does it really bellow? Not really. It’s quite musical, honking and whistling in tune as it whimsically ripped through classical barn-burners like the Brahms Hungarian Dance #5, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever march, and an inspired Rossini medley.  The namesake ‘bellow’ actually refers to the giant wood footpedal, which depresses a large dimpled red ball of the kind you often see on playgrounds to blow air through the instrument (see picture below). Red dodgeballs also make a perfect bellow, it turns out, though it would take an inventive mind like Solomon’s to find a way to musically employ that realization. The Majestic Bellowphone makes a lot of music, and Solomon’s animated, deadpan delivery makes it great visual entertainment as well. He knows it’s silly. Of course it’s silly. Why not make the most of it visually and aurally?

There were other instruments as well, all equally unusual and musical, and all of Solomon’s own design and creation. A crowd favorite was a sort of portative pipe organ – TWO red ball foot pedals on that one… – he alternately called the “fortepianocalliophone”, or the “fortecalliopianophone”. It proved to be the perfect voice for a hilarious, reduced version of Suppe’s Light Cavalry Overture.

Solomon’s talents also extend to more conventional instruments: he played the house piano in a version of the Maple Leaf Rag, and pulled out the guitar for accompaniment as he sang soulful renditions of St. James Infirmary and Pamela Brown. The evening’s entertainment was made complete with the juggling and close-up magic that fill out the rest of Solomon’s variety show. (Gee, what’s it feel like to have talent, anyway?)

But the star was the Bellowphone, looming at the edge of the stage like a giant piped sentry watching over the rest of the show when it wasn’t being used.

festivus for the (jam-baddest) restivus

July 18, 2009

Presenting the opening night grande finale for Festivus for the Restivus: Toubab Krewe. Steeped in the jam band tradition of the Grateful Dead and Phish, trained in Mali, and based in Asheville, North Carolina, these folks are a tight band combining traditional West African instruments and the groove of Western pop aesthetics. Their set began around 1:40am. It was so much fun I didn”t even realize the time until quite a bit later when it was time to leave for the night.

Before I forget to mention it, you’ve probably noticed by now in the pictures here that the Festivus stage was very striking. It really was. Nice job, folks, for all of the attention to creating a complete experience with the visual and audio. The great stage decoration and lighting were as memorable as the music.

Festivus wraps up tomorrow with Earl “Chinna” Smith  and Friends (11-Noon) and (Noon-1:30) the Jazz Criminals.

festivus for the (fire-starting) restivus

July 18, 2009

Festivus for the Restivus, Act IV: thanks to the bonfire (very nice on a wet night) and the fire artists, intermission flew by as Oumou’s crew cleared out and Toubab Krewe was just about ready to come on for the finale.

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