Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people, from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms, punk and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this creative writer, journalist, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Saturday, September 29, 2018

concert review: Milford Graves and Shahzad Ismaily

Published in 'the NYC Jazz Record' NY@Night column, October 2018

Milford Graves and Shahzad Ismaily (photo by John Pietaro)


September 6, 2018, Unitarian Center/Issue Project Room

Performance review by John Pietaro

The atmosphere was understatedly thick; on the heels of a late summer heatwave, the remains of the strangely grey, painfully humid day lined the interior of the Unitarian Universalist Church (September 6) like a padded cell. Aurally mimicking the heat was the opening performance of airtight electronic soundscapes, leading to sweat-soaked near blackouts before the headliner emerged.
Milford Graves took the stage defiantly, tossing down his cane in marked protest of aging if not time itself. Launching into beautifully flowing vocalization drawing on African tradition, the veteran drummer soon added a blurring counterpoint over his historic, single-headed hand-decorated kit—that which he’s had since the days with Ayler, Bley, Sanders, Sun Ra and the New York Art Quartet, now expanded with hand drums and a single timbale. No cymbals outside of the hi-hats which typically chattered triplets, his use of this percussive combination precluded the need for anything else to ride on. Shahzad Ismaily’s electric bass matched Graves’ pulsations, blending into the high-ceilinged roar like an organic bassosaurus. During the course of this fascinating set, Ismaily also emoted on synthesizer, electric guitar and 5-string banjo tuned to mountain modal, simultaneously backing and challenging the master percussionist.

Graves’ drumming reflected no sign of the years as he rained polyrhythmic perpetual motion, sang and spoke to the crowd. When the volume came down, his drumsticks skittered lightly over slackened heads, occupying the sonic world of an African drum choir.