DISSIDENT ARTS' 10th ANNIVERSARY
By John Pietaro
Dissident Arts Festival Day 1, 8/15/15: John Pietaro, Rocco John Iacovone, Adam Cadell
The Dissident Arts Festival, the annual gathering of revolutionary creativity, feted its 10th anniversary with a special weekend-long event on Saturday August 15 and Sunday August 16 at El Taller Latino Americano (Manhattan) and ShapeShifter Lab (Brooklyn), respectively.
The event was sponsored by the Len Ragozin Foundation and the Rosenberg Fund for Children and endorsed by the National Writers Union-New York UAW Local 1981 and DooBeeDooBeeDoo world music magazine; it was dedicated to the struggle for unity and the memory of Ornette Coleman. The amalgam of the performances and addresses to the audience by guest speakers amounted to a very successful event. Festival performers offered a wide variety of progressive socio-political statements that ranged from stirring to prideful to sad and humorous. From an artistic perspective, the expanse of our reach into various arts genres with more than one truly multi-media presentation, only exemplifies the goal of breaking down barriers and forging new ground I envisioned 10 years ago.
We opened on August 15 at the brand new space occupied by El Taller Latino American--now a part of ArtSpace PS 109. An absolutely beautiful place for any performance with expert sound engineering. The enthusiasm of the Taller staff--was deeply welcoming, especially as they had barely completed the official move to the new space. After my opening remarks, the audience was treated to the stirring spoken word by Raymond Nat Turner, a jazz poet I have had the pleasure of working with several times over the course of a few years. The Festival's dedication was toward the struggle for unity; this in the face of a divided nation and a series of ongoing, brutal police murders by area police departments. Raymond's pieces addressed this vision and encountered the evening news head-on, but done so in the jazz tradition with his vocalized basslines and riffs filling space around his poetry.
After Raymond's set was a presentation of the "other-world art music" of Sumari: Matt Lavelle, Jack DeSalvo and Tom Cabrera. These guys had a four-star review in this month's 'Downbeat' and were also positively reviewed in "NYC Jazz Record" and "DooBeeDooBeeDoo" all at the same time. Anyone present for this gig knows why the media is becoming terribly aware of this wonderful trio.
Poet/author Sana Shabazz next took the stage with several pieces which examined contemporary mores, particularly the stealing of homes in these times of gentrification.
My own band the Red Microphone's set was a special one for me. The only people in the house who knew how anxious I was about playing vibes again after months of being caught up in both my day job and writing were Ras Moshe, Rocco John Iacovone and Phil Sirois. But there is something magical in this band and my concerns were quelled as soon as we began the first phrase!
Steve Dalachinsky is one of the best known and most beloved jazz poets on the scene today. He was accompanied by Rocco John Iacovone (alto saxophone) and Adam Cadell, a violinist who traveled all the way up from Brisbane Australia. The set boiled over, flowed into a hush and then took off all over again. Steve is haunted by the ghost of Kerouac, Hughes, Dolphy and Henry Gibson, of this I am sure.
Bernardo Palombo presente! Another beautiful, all-encompassing set of what I call nueva nueva cancione by this man and his new ensemble. Compelling music, regardless of the language it’s sang in, will pull you in--and this set surely did.
The 12 Houses closed off the evening with an explosive set of largely improvised music threaded through the compositions of leader Matt Lavelle. The pieces were largely dedicated to the fight for social justice, offering commentary on the preponderance of firearms in this nation and the violence that grows from this. There was also a piece written for the recently deceased jazz legend Ornette Coleman.
In the spirit of any other movement cultural event, we also had some wonderful guest speakers on both days of the Festival. On Day 1 it was Peter from the National Writers Union-NY, Local 1981 of UAW, and Sohrab of Musicians for Musicians.
On Day two, August 16, we moved the event to ShapeShifter Lab, a beloved home of new music for years now. What a gift to have two spaces that have equally caring, professional and considerate staff members. We opened this day with a jaw-dropping piece of multi-media art, downtown stalwart Trudy Silver's Where's the Outrage? There was nothing missing, from both an arts and political perspective as this presentation was performed in front of a screen projecting images of generations of fight-back. The musicians, speakers and dancer had largely interchangeable roles, producing a special new music performance art to life. It made me think of the 1930s workers' theatre productions I have studied for so long but one that straddled the eras of the 30s and the late 60s.
Next was a wonderful spoken word artist, poet and actress Safiya Martinez, who offered a deeply moving piece about personal transformation.
And then next was the band I put together specifically for this event, one I called John Pietaro's Literary Warrior Project. The writer/musician tightrope I regularly walk came together in this inventive ensemble of gifted artists which interacted with my readings of John Reed, Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, Woody Guthrie and Bertolt Brecht excerpts over my own hand drumming. I asked Raymond Nat Turner to come up and read one of the Hughes' works and I was so moved when, at the end of the set, he presented me with a special award he called The Dissident Arts Award, in honor of the fest's 10th anniversary.
Patricia Nicholson Parker (a founder and administrator of Arts for Art/Vision Festival but an artist in her own right) and her own multi-media group Resurrection/Revolution: post-modern dance of herself and Jason Jordon with music by two celebrated new music/improvisation masters, Jason Hwang and Michael TA Thompson. The four were “painted on” by the projected video art of Bill Mazza. An amazing presentation by artists at the top of their game that easily tied together distinct genres.
Poet Chris Butters joined our festival for the second time, having also wowed audiences at Taller last year. Chris' hard-hitting poetics speak of real-time struggles, echoing his many years of activism in the labor movement. Chris is also host of WBAI's poetry show and a leader of the Workers Film Festival.
Dissipated Face featuring Daniel Carter closed off the festival with a set of music that defied description. The five piece band with the celebrated jazz musician Carter had performed from 1981-86 and came together again only recently, with this performance being a major focal point of their reunion. We were thrilled to host such an event.
We also had guest speakers on Day 2: Tim Sheard of the National Writers Union, Mary Lonegran of the Len Ragozin Foundation--who offered us a generous grant-- and Dawoud Kringle of Musicians for Musicians, also a journalist of "DooBeeDooBeeDoo" magazine. Unfortunately, no one from the Rosenberg Fund for Children was available to join us (they are a Massachusetts-based organization), but these wonderful folks have in the past and again this year aided our efforts with a grant.
We are forever appreciative of each of the organizations that supported these efforts that made it possible to present such a powerful pair of concerts. I am always happy to help all with an endorsement or statement or action. In the case of the National Writers Union—my own union-- I was very proud to have such an endorsement from this body. The connection was very meaningful statement of the legacy of the Literary Left.
Many, many, many thanks.