Thursday, January 24, 2019

CD review: Gameboard, Gwen Laster

Gameboard, Gwen Laster (independently released, 2018)

CD review by John Pietaro

Violinist/violist Gwen Laster has a career spanning New York’s creative tapestry, from Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton, Thurman Barker, the Sun Ra Arkestra, the New Muse 4tet, and the Go: Organic Orchestra to Alicia Keys, Nona Hendryx, Aretha Franklin, Rhianna and the Roots. A presence at the Vision Festival and the AACM 50th Anniversary Concert, Laster’s also been featured in chamber and orchestral music and on stage for the 2008 Obama inauguration, yet remains new music’s best-kept secret. With the release of Gameboard, her third album as a leader, she’s hoping to change that.
The music herein serves as an aural component of Laster’s metaphysical and creative inspirations, social activism and call for compassion (sustenance to artists during these Trump years), threading global sounds with improvisation and strains of pop. The ensemble pairs a world music octet with a string section, boasting such downtown notables as bansuri flutist Steve Gorn, violist Jason Kao Hwang and guitarist Marvin Sewell. However, guitarist Freddie Bryant, a regular in the Laster ensemble, is also heard to excellent effect, particularly when paired with Brahim Fribgane’s darkly sparkling oud and the South Asian and Near Eastern percussion of Tripp Dudley and Tim Keiper. Tabla, tar, dumbek and other hand drums, as well as an array of small percussives, carry the rhythm with the whole-earth electric bass of Damon Banks, the album’s producer. Banks too has had a varied career but exhibits a special connection to this rather rootless music based in many traditions. And while so much of Gameboard alternates between the inner and the outer (atmosphere, tonality and consciousness), the album also contains one vocal piece, “Maestro”, drawing on the crossover pop/jazz genre. However,  Hwang’s presence here, in a whirling sound ballet with cellist Rufus Cappadacio, assures a striking authenticity to the genre. Steve Gorn is also on this piece and the next, “The Baju”, which features another powerful Laster segment.
While the leader cites the direct influence of Noel Pointer and Jean-Luc Ponty, her solo statements reveal the deliciously disparate echo of L. Shankar and Stuff Smith. Her bow doesn’t simply glide over the strings but often seems to bite into them, adding an earthy, blue, extra-rhythmical quality rare to bowed string instrumentalists. This texture is downright compelling on “Yoga Gridlock”, another work that captures the ear between first and third, so to speak, worlds. Listen here for interplay between Laster and cellist Nokia Workman (yes, that would be Reggie’s daughter).
The opening and closing cuts are free works that fade out prematurely, leaving the listener simply wanting more. But then maybe that was the whole idea.  

1.         Collective Free (intro)
2.        Ahimsa
3.        Maestro (intro)
4.        Maestro
5.        The Baju
6.        Yoga Gridlock
7.        Collective Free (outro)

Gwen Laster: violin, viola, vocal / Damon Banks: electric bass / Steve Gorn: bansuri /
Brahim Fribgane: oud, cahon / David Ellenbogen; gongs, lap steel guitar / Tripp Dudley: tabla, percussion / Tim Keiper: percussion / Freddie Bryant: guitar / Marvin Sewell: guitar / Manu Koch: keyboards
String section:
violin-Duane James; violas-Jason Kao Hwang, Aurora Mandel, Alva Anderson; cellos-Rufus Cappadocia, Melvin Greenwich, Nioka Workman
Produced by Damon Banks

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Reportage: NYC Women’s March

Translating Power into Policy: NYC Women’s March, Round 3

by John Pietaro

Photos by John Pietaro

For the third consecutive year, Manhattan’s Upper West Side was the staging ground of the resistance. Though beset with recent division and a competing march downtown, this mass gathering of progressive women and like-minded male supporters spoke out thousands strong.
At 10AM, the West 72nd Street entrance to Central Park was already vibrating as throngs emerged, many in ‘pussy hats” and with placards held aloft. As the activists milled about, members of Batala’ NY, a large, all-female drum ensemble, were warming up, their thunderous accents tearing through the expanse. Speakers from Refuse Fascism brandished bullhorns, shredding conservative talking points with humor and rhythm as a legion of Voter Registration volunteers armed with clipboards stood at each corner. Members of Planned Parenthood, the NYS Public Employees Federation, film and theatre union IATSE and many other women’s and progressive organizations were out in numbers.

The storm casing the East Coast must have been sympathetic to the cause as it’s promised snowfall, hard rain and pelting hail were replaced by a still, cold winter day. The atmosphere made for a special urgency extending throughout the terrain.
Over the next hour, marchers made their way toward the 61st Street rally podium, bearing signs reading “Follow the Females”, “The Future is Intersectional”, “Halfway There”, “These Boots are Made for Governing” and “My Body, My Choice” as well as the singular “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance”, “Does This Ass Make My Country Look Small?”, “We Shall Over Comb” and “Vaginal Walls, Not Border Walls”, threading satire through utterly revolutionary statements.
Kicking off the march was an open-air rally hosted by comic Lauren Ash. “Thank you for making history with us”, Ash told the enthusiastic crowd. “We’ve made major cracks in the glass ceiling, but men and women are still not seen as equal under the Constitution”.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Following a Shinnecock Nation blessing by Native activists, Women’s March Alliance founder Catherine Siemionko told the ralliers, “We’ve gone from suffrage to Senate—and that’s just the beginning!”. Also on stage was trans-gender advocate Hannah Simpson, her presence a demonstration of the unifying mission at hand. “My path to womanhood was different”, she stated, “but we stand together”. She added “We speak for the women who suffer in silence or have been silenced”.

The celebrity of the event was Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez whose presence drew cheers quaking the press box. She told the mass crowd that she’d been present each year of the Women’s Marches, the first in Washington DC: “When I looked over at the Capitol Building, a shiver went down my spine. I didn’t yet know that I was going to run for office, but a few months later, my campaign began”.

Ocasio-Cortez continued: “We just overturned the House, now we must do it with all of the houses, including the White House”. Before encouraging the crowd to “march like Fannie Lou Hamer”, the Congressional Rep added “This year we must translate power into policy!”

The march ignited the path to Columbus Circle, a favorite target along the way the Trump Hotel. Chants of “Shame!” were accompanied by shows of vividly anti-Trump placards, costumes and flashes of the middle finger toward the building’s golden facade.

Album review: Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation, Let’s Save the World Suite

  Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation , Let’s Save the World Suite (Composers Concordance 2022) --originally published in The NYC Jazz Recor...