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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Jungle out There

AT NO POINT during his lengthy performance at the Troy Music Hall Saturday night did Randy Newman mention his new album, “Dark Matter.” It’s a significant release, both for its excellent material and because new Newman recordings come along only once every decade or so. He could have mentioned something about it when introducing any of the six songs he performed from that album. But no.

Randy Newman
Which underscored the irony of the concert’s opening number, “It’s Money That I Love.” It’s from his 1979 album “Born Again,” and typifies Newman’s songwriting genius, in this case putting a cynical lyric (“They say that money / Can’t buy love in this world / But it’ll get you a half-pound of cocaine / And a sixteen-year-old girl / And a great big long limousine / On a hot September night / Now that may not be love / But it is all right”) against a sprightly R&B accompaniment complete with an effective hook.

Three Dog Night had a hit with their rocking version of “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” but Newman, by contrast, performed it with an air of wry resignation. His own recordings tend to avoid the charts, but 1977's “Short People” (from the album “Little Criminals”) went to Billboard’s No. 2, earning it the roar of recognition brought by its first few instrumental bars as Newman performed it in Troy. (“Sounds kind of vicious,” he said of one of the verses as he headed into the song’s bridge.)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Of Times on the River

From the Concert Stage Dept.: The Albany Symphony Orchestra spent part of the summer on a rivergoing barge, performing works old and new at ports along the way. The concert I reviewed below was a kind of warm-up, presented in Troy, NY’s, newest performing arts center.

                                                                           
            

AS THE CLIMACTIC CONCERT in the week-long American Music Festival, last Saturday’s event was notable in presenting four new works – and two world premieres – with each composer on hand to provide insight into the music.

There also was a generational aspect. Composer Katherine Balch, whose “drift” premiered on the program, was recommended by an instructor of hers – Christopher Theofanidis, whose Violin Concerto closed the show.

Theofanidis’s concerto was born as a brief commission from the Principality of Monaco in 1997. At the request of violinist Sarah Chang, he enlarged the piece, first adding a second, slower movement, and then, a la Samuel Barber, giving it a high-velocity finish.

Soloist Chee-Yun was unfazed by the technical challenges, which ranged from those fast finale figurations to octaves that swept high up on the A and E strings – and with being heard over the rest of the strings when all were pitted together in the concerto’s bigger moments. She has a huge, gorgeous sound, well-suited to the romantic heart of Theofanidis’s writing.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Keeping It Anonymous

From the Vault Dept.: I wrote a handful of tech pieces for Metroland, back when the computer industry was hurrying through some of its most profound changes. Here’s a concept that never will stale, although the techniques described herein are terribly dated and most of the links are dead.

                                                                                                  

THOSE HACKERS BUSY MAKING HEADLINES during the past few weeks will get caught. That’s a psychological certainty – hackers do this kind of thing for the publicity, and someone soon will brag too much. But what those hackers did well was cover their tracks, and that’s difficult when you’re using the Internet.

Despite promises to the contrary, the Internet is not secure and much of the information you transmit and receive leaves traces. Online retailer CD Universe had its user database hacked not long ago, and the malefactors made off with user info that included credit card numbers. Right now the best approach is to treat online commerce with care, keeping records of what you buy and with what credit instrument – and keeping up with news of Internet intrusions.

But what about your own anonymity? On the Internet, as the cartoon goes, nobody knows you're a dog. But your web browser may be sharing more details about you than you’d care to reveal. Especially if you’re pursuing interests to which you’re not keen on having your name attached.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Incidentally

State of the Stage Dept.: A re-look at my recent review of a stunning show that touched down at Proctors in Schenectady last November.

                                                                                                   

THE POWER OF LIVE THEATER was nowhere more evident than during a moment in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which played at Proctors last week, when 15-year-old Christopher Boone is struck by his angry father. The audience reacted with a surprised groan; a man across the aisle from me twisted in pain.

It wasn’t a particularly convincing strike, nor did it have to be: the stylized gesture conveyed all the needed anger, and Boone’s reaction, as played by the superb Adam Langdon, was so hurt that we couldn’t let go of that feeling for quite some time.

Such was our emotional investment in these characters. They moved through a rectilinear space that functioned as chalkboard and screen and light-up display – an extension of the mind of an autistic teen whose contained environment is shattered when he’s accused of killing a neighbor’s dog.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Italian Marrow

From the Restaurant Vault Dept.: When I began reviewing restaurants in 1986, Schenectady still had an assertive array of Italian restaurants throughout the city, many of them not far from the city’s center. The area there now designated Little Italy only begins to suggest what was. Although Perrino’s is long out of business, its space has been occupied for many years by the excellent Cella Bistro. The Perrino’s review below ran during a period when Metroland didn’t always add a photo to the page, so I have borrowed one that’s related only in spirit. Although Perrino’s is long out of business, its space has been occupied for many years by the excellent Cella Bistro.

                                                                                         

ONE GOOD-SIZED SEATING of a weekday evening is a good accomplishment. At Perrino’s on a recent Wednesday the house was almost full at 6 when my party arrived; it began to fill again as we were leaving ninety minutes later.

The business has been operating at a hard-to-spot Rosa Road location for 14 years, and it probably will be Gilda Perrino who greets you when you come in.

With that kind of repeat business, it’s no surprise that the atmosphere is that of a private club, and a newcomer like myself can feel a little neglected.

But the club is not exclusive. By the end of the meal we, too, were a part.

That’s probably the secret, that and some tasty food.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Routes of Slavery

THIS IS THE MOST AUDACIOUS PROJECT that musical wizard Jordi Savall has put together – and he has come up with many a stunning program, saluting Joan of Arc, Christopher Columbus, Erasmus, music of the Balkans, and even a sweep of a century’s worth of music that defined an era of war that began four hundred years ago. In all of these multi-disc sets, published with lavish, multi-lingual books, Savall and his ensembles have sought to bridge the cultural gaps that thwart the pursuit of peace.

“The Routes of Slavery” is different in that it invites a more somber reflection on the centuries-old, centuries-long exploitation of African citizens. “Humanity is divided into two: Masters and Slaves” is the Aristotelian epigram, declaimed by Bakary Sangaré (known for his work with the Comédie-Française) before he begins the first in a series of recitations that remind us of the cold-blooded nature of the slave trade. To our ears, it’s an indictment; it was meant as a statement of facts, and it’s accompanied by the airy, emotionally indeterminate music of kora (a cross between harp and lute) and valiha (a cylindrical zither), from Mali and Madagascar, respectively.

What follows is a series of musical selections interspersed with more readings. The formal tones of Mateo Flecha’s “La Negrina” gives way to the high-spirited “Gugurumbé,” creating the pattern that keeps the programming so compelling.

Monday, September 04, 2017

As She Said ...

Platonic Relations Dept.: A recent review of an enjoyable mix of music and theater given at RPI’s EMPAC, where such innovations regularly await.

                                                                                         

KATE SOPER’S STARTLING, ENTHRALLING “Ipsa Dixit” begins, almost self-deprecatingly, with the question, “What is art?” Academics wrestle with the concept, but I’ve never known a true artist to feel any need to answer it. And therein lies the delightful dichotomy of Soper’s work: it pursues the question with the words of others, but words that are themselves turned into the art of which they speak.

Soper and members of the ensemble Wet Ink presented the piece in the theater at Troy’s EMPAC last Friday evening, in a black-box setting that facilitated the work’s multimedia aspect.

Three doorway-sized scrims hung in front of a projection screen; behind the centermost scrim was a platform. The show’s title was projected onto the screen, with the “X” landing on the platform’s scrim.

As the performers entered – flutist Erin Lesser and violinist Josh Modney stage right, percussionist Ian Antonio with marimba and drum battery at left, Soper mounted the platform and stood ready. Then time stopped for the next ninety minutes.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Off the Map

From the Vault Dept.: Let’s drive into the past and through the interesting geography of the country alongside Tom Rawls, whom I interviewed in 1990 on the occasion of his book Small Places, reviewed below.

                                                                                               

“EVERY PERSON HAS A STORY,” says Tom Rawls. “When I was helping start Harrowsmith Magazine, I suggested a series on small towns and the people in them. The idea was to find the distinctive in what at first glance may seem common.”

Rawls wrote the column, 15 selections of which are collected in a book titled Small Places (see accompanying review). His travels take him practically from coast to coast and north into Alaska's wilds. How did he choose the places he wrote about?

“It was a pretty unscientific mix,” he confesses with a laugh. “My intention was serendipity. Most of the places had some feature that caught my eye, or there was some outgrowth of the community that made it striking. In Nye, Montana, for instance, here was the country’s only platinum mine, so it was an opportunity to study the natural tension you get between cattlemen and miners.”

Rawls, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, came to writing by way of the editor’s desk. “I took up the pen five years ago, when I was 39,” he says. “Before I came to Harrowsmith I was an editor at Blair Ketcham’s Country Journal for six years. That was sold to a corporate entity and things changed. I guess we all have to make our Faustian bargains, but I left to come here.”