Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Artist Profile - Sculpter Jon Kessler

Jon Kessler, Noriko, 1994. Plexiglas, aluminum, screenprint on cloth, duratran, mixed media with lights and motors, 47 x 31 x 26 inches

Sculpting with Light

As published by The Queens Times Ledger on Friday November 26, 2010
Original Link: http://www.yournabe.com/articles/2010/11/26/astoria_times/ent_news/at_ent_news_kessler_20101125.txt

LONG ISLAND CITY -- Jon Kessler, a New York artist who has become known in recent years for his anti-war installations, has mounted a career retrospective exhibit at the Fisher Landau Center for Art in Long Island City, with 12 pieces spanning nearly 20 years of sculptural objects made from a variety of media.

Among the pieces on display is “Iron Curtain” (1983), the first of his anti-war sculptures. The sculpture uses lights and motors to reveal the forms of plastic soldiers.

“Iron Curtain” is from my first show in New York in 1983, and ‘The Outsider’ is from 1999, and was the last piece that I exhibited before I made a big shift in my work and started making video sculptures,” Kessler said. “This work really does capsulate the idea of the early work of the ’80s and the ’90s.”

Kessler said he wanted to show these particular artworks because a lot of people are not familiar with his work from past decades. In recent years he has gained a whole new audience who were eager to make connections between his later works and his earlier works, he said.

“What was interesting about doing this show is that each one of those pieces really captured something I was going through. I could identify each one in a voyeuristic way,” Kessler said.

Some of the pieces on exhibit were made during a five-year period when Kessler lived in Paris. He said he does not have a favorite piece, but each one does capture very personal experiences Kessler was going through when he embarked upon their creation.

The curator of the exhibition, Nicholas Arbatsky, describes why these particular artworks are on display.

“I’ve known Jon’s work for 25 years and the first pieces I saw of his involved these [pieces on display]. It was a show at the museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and there were computers and lights and army men flashing around the gallery, very similar to what he’s doing now. I thought way back to the show because it was lodged in my memory.”

Arbatsky said the exhibition shows how Kessler’s sculpture has evolved. “His sculpture has progressed from very basic beginnings with light and technology taking on more computer systems, almost taking on a minimal light balance, sculptural attitude.”

When viewers leave the exhibition, Kessler said he hopes they have gained an understanding of some of the ideas behind his work.

“I want them to be fascinated with the mechanisms and the poetry and the visual language. I’m hoping that they see connections in the works even though they do span more than 15 years of work,” Kessler said.

Philanthropist Emily Fisher Landau sponsored this exhibition through the Columbia MFA Thesis Program. The exhibition is free and open to the public and runs until Jan. 3.

If You Go
When: Monday to Friday, noon-5 p.m., through Jan. 3.
Where: Fisher Landau Center for Art, 38-27 30th St., Long Island City
Contact: Sydney Masters sydneymasters2@yahoo.com 718-937-0727
Web site: www.flcart.org

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Working on a Dream - Laurent Luke, R&B Artist Profile

As published in the Queens Times Ledger on Thursday, September 23, 2010
Original Link: http://www.yournabe.com/articles/2010/09/23/astoria_times/ent_news/at_ent_news_laurent_luke_20100923.txt

Twenty-one year old R&B singer Laurent Luke is revving up his career in the music industry. A fixture in the southeast Queens music scene who lives just over the Nassau border in Elmont, the up-and-coming songwriter describes himself as an urban gentleman hoping to reach people through his emotional, wholesome lyrics.

“I want to bring out love in my music. I write. A lot of people don’t get to write, so they don’t get to enhance what they say,” Luke said. “I bring out the emotion in my music. It’s about love — the mental aspect as well as the physical aspect.”

The Haitian-born musician came to the United States when he was 5 years old and grew up listening to artists like Boyz II Men, James Brown and the Jackson 5. He started writing love songs at an early age, picking up tidbits from the romantic relationships of his sisters and their friends.

After graduating from Elmont Memorial High School in 2007, Luke enrolled at Nassau Community College, where he currently studies business administration on a part-time basis.

In addition to his academic studies, Luke is getting an education in how to be a star, thanks to his managers, Steven Carthan and Carl Radjpaul, who have flung him into a militaristic “R&B Boot Camp.” Luke describes the regime as helpful and challenging.

The method involves surprising Luke with knocks at his door at dawn, accompanied by demands for on-the-spot performances. The boot camp also coaches Luke on how to interact with the public by hiring fake fans and reporters to swarm him after staged concerts.

“Steven and Carl are like my big brothers. They’re always making sure that my performance is better by putting me in a spot where I’m uncomfortable,” Luke said.

Luke came to meet his new managers by chance. He was out one night in January 2009, eating at the USA Diner in Rosedale. He overheard Carthan, who was at a nearby table, talking about his start-up production company, Start 2 Finish Productions and Publishing. Luke introduced himself, adding that he was a singer. That’s when Carthan challenged him to serenade the diner. His performance won them over, because shortly after, Luke and Carthan started working together, along with co-manager Carl Radjpaul.

Under their tutelage, Luke is developing a unique style to set himself apart from other artists. He describes the image he’s going for as “urban gentleman.”

“Wherever I go, I’m always respectable in my attire and what I say in my music,” Luke said. He wants to be prepared, because at any moment a big break could be just around the corner. “If they don’t get to speak to you, they see what you wear,” he said.

Luke is also seeking out bookings for performances in order to expand beyond modest-sized venues in Jamaica. He also has a collaboration underway with Red Spyder, a producer who has worked with Lauren Hill and Mary J. Blige. Luke and Spyder are set to release six songs together.

And songwriting is something Luke knows a thing or two about.

Every night of his freshman year at Nassau Community College, he wrote lyrics over all the instrumental samples he could find on YouTube. He compiled more 200 songs.

“I got to the point where I was eager to work and put out my music fast,” Luke said. “I had no money coming out of high school. So I went in my room and went through instrumentals and tracks. I went through seven months of just being in my room on YouTube writing, just writing.”

Since setting his sights on a music career, Luke’s attitude has been about self-improvement, about hard work, about discipline.

He says these efforts are ways to keep him growing. “I want to portray growth in everything I do.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

California's gay marriage ban continues until December

As published on The Examiner August 16, 2010

According to a court order issued late Monday, California’s ban on gay marriage will continue until at least December.

The decision came from a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. court of Appeals. California’s gay marriage ban is remaining in effect until oral arguments are scheduled.

District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling earlier this month invalidating the California law, known as Prop 8, was a huge victory for gay rights supporters. Monday's order puts that decision on hold but there's a clear indication from the Ninth Circuit that there may be a serious problem with the appeal.

The two page order directs Prop 8 supporters to address whether they hav the legal ability to challenge Judge Walker’s decision. The order states, “"In addition to any issues appellants wish to raise on appeal, appellants are directed to include in their opening brief a discussion of why this appeal should not be dismissed for lack of Article III standing,"

In December, the Ninth Circuit will have to determine if Prop 8 supporters will be harmed if Walker's ruling takes full effect, or to put it simply, will supporters be injured if homosexuals are allowed to marry. Supporters of the measure argue that California state law precedents give them the standing right to challenge Judge Walker’s decision.

Lawyers for the Prop 8 defenders argued in their brief to the Ninth Circuit that California courts have “repeatedly allowed proponents to intervene to defend initiatives they have sponsored.”

The lawyers representing the gay couples who are defending Judge Walker’s ruling point to a 1997 Supreme Court decision which casts “grave doubts” on the courtroom rights of ballot initiative supporters.

They claim that Prop 8 supporters lack standing to file an appeal and note that none of the state’s key lawmakers, like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or Attorney General Jerry brown, who normally have standing to file suit have done so.

Betel offering late-night menu inspired by Thai hawker food stalls

As published in The Examiner on August 24, 2010

Original link: http://www.examiner.com/ny-in-new-york/betel-offering-late-night-menu-inspired-by-thai-hawker-food-stalls

Betel Chef Adam Woodfield

West Village restaurant Betel, a modern Southeast Asian spot inspired by the Australian take on the hawker food stalls of Thailand, is launching a late-night menu Night Market.

The underground late night menu is inspired by the Asian night markets and is all about serving steamed buns. Starting at 11pm, when the kitchen is closed for dinner, Betel will be serving plates of buns to fix late night, post-cocktail carb cravings.

 And, just like the real night markets of the far East, patrons can test their luck haggling for the price of the buns. Order 3 and it might be $10, it might be free, depends how good the customer’s bargaining skills are.

Betel’s Night Market buns and drinks specials are available for a limited time, through October, from 11 pm until close, everyday. Haggling for buns is welcome every Monday night only.

 Chef Adam Woodfield is showcasing his favorite takes on late night food with his menu of Betel’s signature steamed buns:
  • Steamed Pork Belly Buns (3 for $10)
  • Steamed Wagyu Buns (3 for $15)
  • Steamed Curried Chicken Buns (3 for $10)

Enjoy these buns with drinks at happy hour prices – half price on all cocktails and beer, and select wines for $8 per glass.

Mixologist Mary Zayaruzny offers an extensive list of cocktails, all are made with fresh muddled fruit and seasonal ingredients. Betel’s most popular cocktails include:

  • Nashi Citrus Fizz (Three Olive Citrus Vodka, Prosecco, Naghi Pear, lemongrass syrup, lemongrass powder)
  • The Blackberry Passionfruit Caipiroska (42 Below Passionfriut Vodka, Lime, Blackberries, Palm Sugar)
  • Southeast Julep (Lucas Bols Genever, Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka, Cucumber, Vietnamese Mint, Lime, Palm Sugar).

A little about Betel:
After moving from Sydney to New York City in 2008 Chef Adam Woodfield (Public NYCand Jimmy Liks Sydney) and entrepreneur Luke Fryer sought to create an experience that is at once adventurous, fun and seductive. The Australian natives based their vision based upon the hawker food stalls of South East Asia mixing of bold flavors, elegant style and casual with Sydney’s own strong Thai food culture. The restaurant is named after the betel leaf, which is used in Asian cultures for its range of curative properties.

 *Betel is located at 51 Grove Street, between Bleecker St. and 7th Avenue.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

'Soup Nazi' to reopen Original SoupMan in Midtown

Michael Schmelling/Associated Press

By Morgan Rousseau
Published July 14, 2010 Examiner.com (original link)

NEW YORK CITY --- The original "Soup Nazi," Al Yeganeh, will reopen his Original SoupMan shop on 55th street. Yeganeh was made famous in Seinfeld's Soup Nazi episode, in which he was portrayed as a stern ladler of soup who would sometimes fly off the handle and shot, "no soup for you!"

The New York City soup legend opened for business in 1984, at Soup Kitchen International at 259A West 55th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue). In 2004, after his Seinfeld fame rocketed him as a food-culture icon, Yeganeh closed the storefront in pursuit of a nation-wide franchise.

His Original SoupMan brand and frozen soup production business were successful, but on July 20th, he will open his original location. According to the franchise website, all customers visiting the reopened location that day will receive a free T-shirt.

Representatives say the reopened location will still function under the franchise umbrella, but the soups will still be made from scratch, on the premises.

The original location will feature some new additions to the menu, such as asparagus caviar soup and Mexican tortilla soup.

Yeganeh has told media outlets that he plans to make sporadic appearances at the reopened location.

Become an original SoupFan by signing up on originalsoupman.com to order online and stay up-to-date on the menu choices. The site also includes rules for customers in 11 languages.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New York to Allow No-Fault Divorce

By Morgan Rousseau
As published 7/9/2010 on The Examiner.Com (original link)

ALBANY -- New York is about to become the last state in the country to enact no-fault divorce, which means a spouse will not have to cite legal wrongdoing in order to obtain a divorce.

Governor David Paterson (D) is expected to sign the legislation into law soon. This coming 57 years after Oklahoma became the first state to allow no-fault divorce. Some view the benefit of no-fault divorce is in the speediness and simplicity of the process.

As of now, married couples must cite legal misconduct, like adultery, or endure a court-sanctioned one-year separation agreement if they want a legal divorce.

But if Paterson signs the legislation, and supporters are optimistic he will, one party in a marriage can end their union at any time, for any reason.

Those opposed say that no-fault may raise New York’s annual divorce rate, which stands at a low three percent. Others are concerned that the legislation could hurt the spouse with the least income, typically the woman.

Prominent women’s activist Marcia Papas, who runs the National Organization for Women in New York state, told amNY that “women will have to spend more to prove they deserve damages and make it easier for men to walk out for capricious reasons.”

The Catholic Church stands opposed to no fault divorce, saying it sends the message that marriage is a “disposable institution.”

Still, supporters say disputes between couples seeking a divorce will be minimized, as spouses split on irreconcilable differences rather than assigning fault.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Growing Rate of Senior-Aged STDs: Viagra, Healthy Life to Blame

By Morgan Rousseau
Published July 7, 2010

Orginal link to Examiner.com

A new report says the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in older men taking erectile dysfunctions drugs like Viagra is twice as high as men not taking the medications. But doctors say that for men in both groups, the number of STDs is soaring higher than ever before.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than six new cases of STDs per 10,000 men over 40 years of age in 2008, which is up almost 50 percent since 1996.

Younger adults still have far more STDs than older adults, but the numbers are growing at a far higher rate in elders. The reason for this development is not yet understood, but more divorces and better health may be contributing to a boost in sexual activity among older people.

The issue of unprotected sex is obviously a problem for senior-aged people who are not accustomed to using condoms. Researchers say that 50-year olds are six times less likely to use a condom than men in their 20s.

Dr. Anupam B. Jena of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston told Reuters, “We are typically unaccustomed to practice safe sex over the age of 50, because the risk of pregnancy is eliminated.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Zikrayat Releases 2nd Album, Blends Modern with Classic Egyptian Music

By Morgan Rousseau

As published on Thursday, May 6, 2010 in the Queens Times Ledger
LONG ISLAND CITY -- Zikrayat, the Queens-based musical group that performs new sounds inspired by the golden age of Arabic music and dance, released “Cinematic,” its second album, Saturday. The release was a long-anticipated follow-up to the 2008 Independent Music Award winning album Live at Lotus.

Bandleader Sami Abu Shumays, a Long Island City resident, composed original music for the album, mixing it with both popular and rare songs and dance instrumentals from Egyptian film musicals of the 1950s and 1960s. The arrangements evoke the sound of mid-20th century Egyptian film orchestras.

According to Shumays, Zikrayat strives to capture the Egyptian small ensemble referred to as “takht” and also capture the texture of the musicals.

“They have a lot of dance music. It’s fun, but it’s sophisticated. We capture that kind of artsy-retro dance,” Shumays said.

Shumays plays violin and also sings backing vocals for Zikrayat. The vocals of Salah Rajab are highlighted by the dance beats of master percussionist Faisal Zedan on “Cinematic,” which also features percussionist Johnny Farraj, oud and accordion player Dimitri Mikelis, nay player Bridget Robbins and bassist Apostolos Sideris.

“Cinematic” is a mix of studio tracks and a few live tracks that capture the sounds of their inspired performances.

“We have this whole variety show inspired by the vaudeville format because we can present different sides — the more classical end as well as dance elements, all in one show,” Shumays said.

Joining Zikrayat in their upcoming performances are musicians Tareq Abboush (buzuq, backing vocals), Salma Habib (vocalist), Rami el-Aasser (percussion) and Zafer Tawil (percussion, oud, violin and backing vocals), and belly dancers Robin “Dameshe” Shumays (Sami’s wife, and Zikrayat’s dance director), Yowalka, Mariyah, Sherine and Jaida.

Zikrayat is set to perform its variety show at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center Friday at 8 p.m., in a multimedia production featuring clips from Egyptian films of the 1940s through the 1960s synchronized to live performances of dance and vocal numbers. The event will feature master dance artist and choreographer Dalia Carella, who will pay tribute to dancer Badia Masabni’s Casino Opera and other Cairo night-clubs of the 1920s and 1930s.

Their LPAC performance promises solo dance pieces alternating with solo vocal pieces, group dance pieces, a vocal duet, instrumental improvisations and more. The show is part of LPAC’s Lab program, which looks to give exposure to emerging artists in New York City.

“What I find exciting about Zikrayat is their ability to address many different audiences across different disciplines,” said Steven Hitt, LPAC’s managing director.

The music and visual performance put on by Zikrayat speak to the Arab and Arab-American community in New York.

“We have an audience of Arabs and Arab-Americans. The younger people have an interest in exploring the culture, while the older people have a nostalgic connection to it,” Shumays said.

However, the music also aims to catch the interest of the belly dance community – which encompasses a multitude of cultures and social groups.

“The belly dance audience is not very familiar with the depth of the tradition, but it is poppy and fun,” Shumays said. “It has an appeal to both audiences.”

The vision for Zikrayat began after Shumays and his wife Robin returned from their honeymoon in Egypt in 2005. The couple purchased a variety of old Egyptian musicals, and promptly fell in love with the genre. After pitching the concept of the group to a few musical acquaintances, Zikrayat was born.

Shumays describes the time period they are exploring as “very ornamented and intricate.”

“My wife’s a belly dancer, and she likes stuff from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s — upbeat music. We reached a point of agreement with the ’50s,” Shumays said. “It’s a period where Cairo was producing many musicals per year. It still had this very complex sensibility regarding melodies, but it was also fun, upbeat and danceable.”

Zikrayat will also join Salma Habib at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan May 23 at 9:30 p.m. Habib is a prominent up-and-coming Arab vocalist in the United States.

“Cinematic” was introduced with a performance by Zikrayat Saturday at Barbes in Brooklyn, where there were also performances by musical groups Shusmo and Falu. There was a simultaneous broadcast on WFMU 91.1 FM on Rob Weisberg’s “Transpacific Sound Paradise” show, which can be streamed from WFMU’s Web site at wfmu.org/playlists/shows/35624.

The album is available for purchase at zikrayatmusic.com and CDBaby.com and on iTunes, and is also available during Zikrayat’s live performances.

Original link: http://www.yournabe.com/articles/2010/05/06/queens_village_times/ent_news/qv_ent_news_zikrayat_cinematic_20100506.txt

Live at the Gantries brings music to LIC waterfront

By Morgan Rousseau

As published on Friday, June 11, 2010 in the Queens Times Ledger
QUEENS -- The 2010 season of Long Island City’s performance series Live at the Gantries is kicking off with a sunset show at Gantry Plaza State Park June 13 with a performance by the Long Island City Jazz Alliance, a new collective formed by jazz fans and musicians that live and work in LIC.

Live at the Gantries is a series of 10 outdoor free shows featuring some of Queens’ most celebrated new entertainers. After Sunday’s show the performances run weekly, every Tuesday, from June 22 through Aug 18 at 7 p.m. at Gantry Plaza on the Long Island City waterfront.

The series offers up a diverse selection of music, ranging from jazz to classical, power gospel to rock ‘n’ roll and more.

The series is organized and produced by The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Queens Theatre in the Park, and Queens Council on the Arts. All three organizations work together, each contributing resources and commitment to make Live at the Gantries what it is.

Since Live at the Gantries began in 2008, it has drawn an eclectic audience of all ages — a combination of LIC residents and folks from other Queens neighborhoods and boroughs, thanks to a blazing word of mouth.

Rachel Gordon, regional director at the Parks Department, came up with the idea for the series because she wanted to make the most of a beautiful state park in the Queens community. “[The series] brings a wonderful sense of community in the larger sense. Not just a community within a few blocks, but in all of Queens, for the city as a whole,” she said.

Gordon calls Live at the Gantries a “unique series in a unique park that stresses the diversity of Queens.”

She describes the selection of performers as a broad spectrum of diversity. “There is a marvelous array of music, performers and people from different parts of Queens, and people from different parts of the world that come to Queens,” Gordon said.

Chris Henderson has been curator of Live at the Gantries for the past three years. He describes the event as having a relaxed setting with a family-oriented crowd made up of children and young adults. In order to choose the musicians, Henderson assembles a master list of Queens-based musicians from which the performers are chosen.

“I’ve worked around the borough, so I know a lot of the bands in the area. I give [the organizers] a list of the bands. We then collaborate on the right mix of balancing different kinds of music — things that are obscure, things that are popular,” Henderson said.

Jeff Rosenstock, executive director of Queens Theatre in the Park, says the organization has been involved since its inception three years ago. Rosenstock says Queens Theatre in the Park’s goal is to make something unique and “Queens-oriented” happen in LIC at no charge to the community.

“We see Live at the Gantries as a window into the artistic depth of our borough’s emerging and diverse performing artists, as well as an entry into one of the city’s most beautiful locations — Gantry Park,” Rosenstock said.

This year’s line-up includes Opera Collective (June 22), whose name is self-explanatory; Pass Kontrol (June 29), an art collective and band that puts on plays and musical performances; Jia-Yi He (July 6), a Taiwanese harmonica virtuoso; DB Rielly (July 13), a roots musician; Mundoclave (July 20), an Afro-Cuban jazz act; Andy Statman (July 27), a mandolin-and-clarinet maestro; the St. Paul AME Mass Church Choir (Aug. 3); Hiromi Suda (Aug. 10), a classically trained singer who has taken up Brazillian jazz; and a closing performance by Mission: on Mars (Aug. 17), an Indian-flavored fusion band.

Adrienne Patino of Opera Collective says the musical group strives to make opera accessible to the general public, which makes Live at the Gantries a perfect venue.

“Any organization like Live at the Gantries that provides musical experiences to the public is very appealing, and you couldn’t ask for a better setting than our city skyline,” Patino said.

Three out of the 10 members of Opera Collective live in Queens. “Being a rather new Queens resident myself, I love getting to know my borough. This series will allow me to explore more parts of my community. And we strive to make our communities better through music,” Patino said.

Gantry Plaza State Park is a 2.5 acre waterside spot between 49th and 50th avenues along the East River in LIC. The venue offers a perfect view of a skyline sunset, with open seating.

"Our goal was not to re-create another large scale outdoor summer festival, but rather to take some exceptional Queens-based artists, fuse them with a beautiful setting and share it all at no charge with all who wish to attend,” Rosenstock said.

Live at the Gantries is sponsored by TF Cornerstone, Rockrose Development Corp. with additional support from State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, L Haus, O’Connor Capital Partners and Con Edison.

For more information visit www.liveatthegantries.com.

Original Link: http://www.yournabe.com/articles/2010/06/11/queens_village_times/arts/qv_arts_live_at_the_gantries_20100610.txt

Make Music NY Stretches to Queens Neighborhoods

Outdoor music fest expands its reach in Queens

By Morgan Rousseau

As published on Thursday, June 17, 2010 in the Queens Times Ledger

QUEENS -- Hundreds of additional acts are slated to perform at a number of new outdoor, public venues in Queens and across the city at this year’s edition of the celebrated musical event Make Music New York.

Last year’s MMNY had more than 800 events across all five boroughs. This year’s MMNY, set to take place June 21, promises about 5,000 musicians of all ages and musical persuasions — from hip-hop to opera, Latin jazz to punk rock and more. The performances will take place on New York’s streets, sidewalks, stoops, plazas, cemeteries, parks and gardens.

Thousands of musical performers, amateur and professional alike, are expected to perform an elaborate and diverse array of tunes for passers-by.

The musical event, now in its fourth year takes place simultaneously with similar festivities in more than 300 cities around the world, based on France’s Fête de la Musique, a lively street music festival held every June in Paris.

This year’s MMNY has spread to bustling but less central neighborhoods of the city, such as Astoria, Harlem, Fort Greene, and DUMBO. Each of these neighborhoods has benefited from volunteer organizers who helped connect musicians with performance locations.

Astoria Park will welcome jazz and rock performances between the hours of 4:30 and 8 p.m., and Athens Triangle in Astoria will offer a venue for rock and world music from 1-8 p.m. Other Queens locations to host music include Brick Café in Astoria, Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queensbridge Park in LIC, Espresso 77 in Jackson Heights, and Tower Square Starbucks in Woodside.

Founder Aaron Friedman says he modeled MMNY after Fête, which he saw in 2006 while in Paris.

“I wanted to give New Yorkers a chance to interact with each other in a spontaneous, musical way, and learn about different kinds of musical cultures in this very diverse city,” Friedman said.

Friedman said this year offers new presenters and highly anticipated performers.

“The first year had 560 free, outdoor concerts across New York City. This year, we’ll have over 1,000 concerts, with about 5,000 musicians. Not only has the event grown, but we’ve started a number of innovative projects,” Friedman said.

One such project will take place in Central Park, where MMNY will offer a celebration of the music of visionary Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the festivities will include a percussion performance of Xenakis’ “Persephassa” (1969). Xenakis’ music will be performed by six percussionists surrounding the lake.

The Celebration of Xenakis features two different percussion groups – one at the Naumburg Bandshell and the other will be dispersed around Central Park Lake. Three percussionists are slated to perform on the western shore. Audience members are invited to listen from row boats, as there will also be percussionists performing on floating stages. In addition, the composer’s sole opera “Oresteia” will be performed in Central Park’s Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in a puppet production directed by Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti.

Other notable performances around the city include a New Orleans-style second line jazz parade that will work its way from Soho to Lincoln Square and uptown to Harlem; a program of interactive electronic performances in the Meatpacking District; the Play Hard Corporate Challenge, which gives a performance outlet to business executives who are also amateur musicians; Mass Appeal, which brings together hundreds of musicians to give mass performances onf pieces written for single types of instruments, including accordions, drums, gongs, iPhones, trumpets and tubas; and Punk Island, with more than 100 of the city’s loudest bands playing on Governors Island, where there are no decibel restrictions.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that the event is a great example of why New York City is one of the world’s cultural capitals.

“Make Music New York gives residents and visitors a chance to experience the City’s diverse musical riches in their own backyards or explore the sights and sounds of other neighborhoods,” he said.

For a complete schedule and list of locations, visit www.makemusicny.org.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Astoria's Santos pays tribute to Brazilian roots on CD

As published in the Queens Times Ledger, Thursday April 15, 2010
By Morgan Rousseau

Adriano Santos always knew he would play drums. He recollects being drawn to the instrument at 5 years old, pressing his face against store windows and perching beside the stages of local restaurants offering live music in his native Brazil. Now, decades later, Santos asserts with confidence that he couldn’t be happier than he is now — living in Astoria, performing in Manhattan, and recording with some of jazz’s most notable musicians.

Santos’ new release, “In Session,” pays tribute to Brazilian composers who are not well -nown here in the States.

“I decided to record tunes that made an impact on my talent as a musician and tribute to the drummers that play with composers,” Santos said. The album features tributes to musicians like Brazilian jazz drummer and percussionist Airto Moreira and composers Moacir Santos, Toninho Horta and Milton Nascimento.

Although Santos has contributed to numerous recordings with prominent musicians, “In Session” is his first recording as a band leader. Santos says the members of his quintet hold prestigious spots in modern music scene. The album features Helio Alves (piano) David Binney (alto sax) Dende (percussion) and David Ambrosio (AC bass).

Santos said it was refreshing to take charge of his musical output after being a sideman for so long. “It’s a process you go through in New York,” he said. “I realized for the 15 years I’ve been here that I was so busy working with other people and learning material for other musicians that I never had time to stop and do my own stuff ... In 2008 I had a little break from gigs and tours, so I said, ‘Maybe it’s time for me to do my stuff and not wait for the phone to ring.’” That’s when he began putting together the repertoire and choosing the musicians for “In Session.”

But the Brazilian composers featured on the album were not the only musical influence shaping Santos.

“Having two older brothers was a great thing, because they listened to a lot of different styles of music. We’d listen to a variety of pop and instrumental music,” Santos said of his time as a child in Brazil. “We’d go to clubs that would play videos from the U.S. and England. I used to talk about how one day I’d be playing live music like that.”

He began his drum studies at Zimbo Trio Music School in Brazil, also known as CLAM, at the age of 12. In 1988 he brought his Brazilian musical influence to the United States when he enrolled at Boston’s acclaimed Berklee School of Music.

“I never turned back. I loved it, the whole vibe at Berklee. There was music all day long,” Santos said.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in Film Scoring, Santos came to New York to attend the City College of New York’s master’s program. It was there that he enjoyed ensemble lessons with jazz legend Ron Carter.

“I think it was the right move [coming to New York]. As soon as I got here, I was the only Brazilian drummer that could read music at that time. That was a big plus for me,” Santos said.

Shortly after settling in New York, Santos started getting gigs outside the college. He thrived on watching other Brazilian performers in the city.

“New York is good because you get to see such great musicians all the time. When you go out at night, you are always learning something new.”

Santos has produced publications in specialized drum magazines and released a new book through Drummers Collective NYC, where he is also part of the faculty. The book is entitled “Afro-Caribbean & Brazilian Rhythms for Drum Set.”

As for future recording endeavors, Santos asserts that a studio album is on its way — this time featuring his own original compositions.

Astoria is now home to Santos, who originally moved to the neighborhood in 1996. After relocating to Manhattan, and then Brooklyn, Santos happily settled back into the eclectic rhythms of Astoria. It’s been nine years.

“I love it,” Santos said. “The vibe, the atmosphere, the culture and, of course, all the Brazilian restaurants.”

“In Session” is available for purchase on CDbaby.com, iTunes, Digstation.com, Amazon.com, and adrianosantos.com.

Original source: http://www.yournabe.com/articles/2010/04/15/astoria_times/arts/at_arts_adriano_santos_20100415.txt

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Sit Down With Saget

By Morgan Rousseau

Talking to Bob Saget, it’s hard to believe you are not sitting there with his former TV alter-ego, Danny Tanner. That is, until he drops the F-bomb.

Saget has battled the clean-cut, single father image of the ABC family sitcom “Full House” since it first aired in 1987. On top of that, Saget’s corny humor on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” branded him as a wholesome family comedian. But after bidding adieu to both shows, Saget exposed the darker side of his comedic talents - raunchy humor.

In an interview with the Collegian prior to his performance at Curry Hicks Cage Friday night, Saget opened up about his long-standing career in comedy, and where he's found himself now.

“Stand-up gives you a rush like nothing else. It’s nothing but fun,” said Saget, adding that he feels at home with a college audience.

“I think that’s one of the reasons people like me, because I appreciate that we have great, amazing young people,” said Saget.
Saget’s risqué style of humor was perhaps best depicted in the 2005 film “The Aristrocrats,” in which he tells the infamous dirty joke of the same name. He admits the joke is so risky that when he tells it at stand-up shows he usually loses 90 percent of laughs in the room. Needless to say, he told it Friday night.

“It depends on the audience. If I look down from the stage and see a 10-year-old kid sitting there, I’m going to clean it up a little bit. I mean, I won’t start talking about his mom’s t***ies, because...well, because he shouldn’t be having thoughts like that about his mom, anyway.”

But going out on a limb is what fills the seats, particularly if it’s a college-aged audience. College venues are now his forte, or so his tour schedule says. He was right at home with the depraved humor of the average male college student who has daily doses of “Family Guy” and “Opie and Anthony.”

This might account for why his stand-up act“This Ain’t Full House” sold out the Curry Hicks Cage on Friday night, and packed hordes of excited students. All chanting his name, of course.

As the scene of enthused pandemonium radiated through the Cage and into Saget’s backstage trailer, the comedian could only sit back and say, “I’d love to go out drinking with everyone here tonight, but I don’t want to get half the campus pregnant. It’s a joke.”

Young adults eat up a chance to hear a 50-year-old Danny Tanner -who we thought we knew so well - spewing a rainbow of profanity and talking about Uncle Jesse’s pubic hair, or lack there of.

Somewhere in the middle of his act, Saget grabbed a guitar and toyed around with it, swearing like a belligerent teenager. He was just too excited to be up there, it seemed, because his act was all over the place. He would start a story that wouldn’t draw to a close for another 40 minutes, or so. Tangents were a-plenty Friday night, and Saget was dishing them out like a caffeinated line cook. He intermittently named off some of the Internet’s most heinous adult Web sites; this was where male humor took over.

The manner of his stand-up is simple: swear constantly, be blunt and to the point, but most of all, remain confident. Anyone can try it and fail miserably, but Saget knows he is Bob Saget, and he is confident in every sense of the word. As we all saw Friday night, it is hard to stop a man who thinks he is The Man. I

Friday’s stand-up routine also consisted of UMass students screaming to Saget, and him playing off of it with a friendly yet offensive response. Combine that with rancid jokes as dirty as they come. As his set grew to a close, clusters of obnoxious girls rushed the stage, rambling incoherently and pleading for Saget hugs - but considering his cracks about college-aged girls, he must have enjoyed it.

Saget says he didn’t decide to be a comedian at a young age. Originally he was interested in filmmaking.

“When I was eight, my dad, who was a butcher, gave me an eight millimeter camera, and I played around with it,” Saget said. “I made all the cliché effects and showed them off. It was like “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

He went on to study film at Temple University, where he won a Student Academy Award for a documentary he made in 1977 titled “Through Adam’s Eyes.” After college Saget went to work at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, where he met some of the most successful comedians in history, including Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor and Robin Williams.

“I was interested in acting but never thought I’d be good,” said Saget. “But I worked for free six years at The Comedy Store, and got to meet and become friends with some of the best comedians.”

In the 1980s the comedian turned to acting, and because of the popularity of his stand-up he gained roles in television shows, like “Bossum Buddies.” He also had a small role in Richard Pryor’s 1987 movie, “Critical Condition.”

“I’d land small roles in television shows, but at the end I’d be edited out, and the credits would still say ‘guest Bob Saget’ at the end,” Saget said.

But it’s the role in “Full House” as Danny Tanner that made the difference in his career. Saget said it was just a matter of good timing that he was cast on the hit show. He didn’t expect the show to run eight years.

With his success in “Full House,” ABC offered him the role of the host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and Saget accepted. Starring in both shows made him the first person in television history to have two top rated shows in the same week.

Since leaving his role as the host of “Home Videos” and the close of “Full House,” Saget has remained busy with directing, playing small roles in movies and doing stand-up. He has also tried having his own show again called “Raising Dad,” but it only lasted one season. Now Saget is in the process of developing his Web site, http://www.thebobsaget.com/.

Look for him later this fall, as he will be returning to television as host of NBC’s new game show “1 vs. 100.”

“The show has been on Europe, but now we are bringing it to America. It’s kind of like ‘Hollywood Squares’ but its one person answering against 100,” he said. “It’s Hollywood squares with diarrhea.”

As published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian

NYC Band Looks East for Inspiration

Consider The Source Slams NYC with Ethnic Fusion
By Morgan Rousseau

They consider it “Progressive Ethno-Fusion,” while others would call it ideal late-night entertainment for the college aged youth of New York City. The eclecticism reflected in their music is ever-present in New York, from the Turkish corner store to the Indian restaurant a few blocks away. Consider The Source is a band that appreciates the layers of cultural dimensions that make up their city. Thanks to their relentless dedication and independent promotion, CTS plans to make this their year to shine.

On Nov. 10 at The Village Underground on West Third St. guitarist Gabriel Marin, a tall young man with classic rock star shoulder length blonde hair, shows off a distinctive style of playing his fretless guitar – hunched over and eyes closed, clearly lost in a musical realm of his own making. A Hunter College alum, Gabriel, 25, hails from the Upper West Side in Manhattan, but met fellow band mates and Queens natives John Ferrara and Justin Ahiyon, both 24, through a heavy rock circuit of musicians when they were in their mid-teens.

Bassist John and drummer Justin, both Queens College alumni and Oakland Garden natives, perform with a mesmerizing ability to raise your heart rate with steady, growing energetic rhythms. Justin’s vigorous drumming combined with a hot, cramped venue like The Village Underground prompts him to go shirtless mid-set. They are hard to miss, even through the smoky air of the tiny club. Sweaty and furiously thrashing, something in their music still manages to come across as serene. Most likely it’s the Eastern tint in their musical style.

Something all three of these young men have in common, though, is their down-to-earth modesty. They smile and hug members of the audience when their set ends. They even hit up near-by bars, inviting everyone in attendance to tear it up with a late night after party. Their amicable reverence for each other is nearly tangible. These guys share an unspoken relationship for each other, thanks to their music.

“We’ve become friends through the music. The three of us have a unique style on our instruments,” Gabriel said in reflection of the band’s roots. CTS began at a party one night about three years ago when Gabriel and Justin started jamming together. “He was the only other person that was into Turkish music,” said Gabriel. Soon after they brought John into the mix.

What culminated was, as Justin put it, “a dynamic connection in music,” so the musicians decided to make it official. They named their band, started recording their improvisations and booked venues.

Their use of Indian and Mid-Eastern musical style comes straight from the source – in January 2006 Gabriel and Justin traveled to India in search of authentic lessons in life and the exotic music of the land. They proudly announced on their homepage, considerthemusic.com that “we're traveling across the globe with our instruments, in pursuit of music and inspiration.” According to Gabriel, “The trip didn’t change our style as much as it reconfirmed that it was the direction we wanted to go in.”

While in India the pair crashed with the musical Gurus they were studying under in Calcutta, and at other times stayed in cockroach ridden youth hostiles. They were completely submerged in the poverty and chaos of the city, but took it as a learning experience. After a thirty-three hour journey to the South, they were pleased to stay in a decent apartment with other percussion students. They opened their minds, and tuned into the teachings of the East in the hope of brining a newfound strength to their music.

And so they did, only to return to the U.S with a deeper connection to the music of the Far East, and a spirituality that beckoned them to explore the idea of genre bending.

According to Gabriel, this aspect of their music includes Bulgarian folk tunes, Jewish folk music, Northern and Southern Indian classical music, Persian music, Turkish music and American jazz and heavy metal undertones. “We all grew up playing jazz, and I was really into classical, too,” Gabriel said. “[The fusion] comes from the metal, jazz and classical music in our blood. We were a fusion band for a year and a half before we went.

John picked up on his band mates’ enthusiasm for the sound right away. “It’s rhythmic, and in-depth. Once it was exposed, we had to explore it,” he said.

Justin described Indo-Eastern music as having the ability to “make you leave yourself,” like a vehicle for spiritual transportation. Once they started applying this aspect to their improvisational jamming, the two sounds of East and West just fell together.

With no lead singer, the band compensates for their absence of vocals with the sporadic insertion of one-liners from an electronic sampler, mostly in the form of quotations from the movie “Borat.” CTS said they are inspired by movies, and enjoy having a sense of humor when they perform because it lightens up their performance, and gets a kick out of the crowd. John said that the band is an instrumental trio that has no problem taking risks with their audience. He said that their strong instrumentation works for them because they have open-minded fans that produce what Justin considers “an atmosphere of love.”

“They are throwing love at us, and it inspires us to give it back,” he said, with a sudden surge of excitement. Justin then went on to describe the key ingredient to their crowd stimulating ability – he and his band mates thrive on the energy of the audience during live performances. Justin feels that fans may be disappointed with their studio albums after experiencing the invigoration of high-energy music at their live sets. Their studio album doesn’t quite capture that lively, improvisational peak that defines their live set. The band agrees that their albums may be more subdued and less captivating than their live performances, so the band’s next album will be recorded during a live New York show set for Feb. 2008, date to be announced. At the present time the band is focusing on promotion and publicity, and in turn they are taking a breath from booking many upcoming shows. Their next performance will be on Dec. 18 in Philadelphia, but they announce new shows on their Myspace Music site, http://www.myspace.com/considerthemusic, or considerthemusic.com where their two albums, Esperanto (2006) and Consider The Source (2005), can also be purchased.

As published in the Queens Times Ledger

Tool Shakes The Stage

The Tweeter Center Awakens With a Darker Art

By Morgan Rousseau

Their live performance is an emotional experience that channels our anger, excitement, inspiration and fear. And still, after a five year hiatus, Tool is still known for the exceptional quality of their live performance. On Friday the Tweeter Center in Mansfield welcomed Tool, along with thousands of their patient fans.

Most of the audience went wild with ferocity at the first instance of the band’s presence on stage. They started the show with “Stinkfist,” one of their comparatively better known songs from the album Aenima.”
The stage wasn’t embellished with decór, and neither was the band. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan, who has sported over the top costuming in past shows, replaced black body paint and leather briefs with an orange windbreaker and jeans. Regardless of the simple scenery, Tool still managed to engage the audience in an intense experience fueled by stellar music.
Shortly into “Aenima,” aesthetics found their way into the show. Although many venues offer large screens behind the stage, The Tweeter Center offers no such thing - so visual stimulation wasn’t too prevalent. But there were a few things to liven up the visual aspect of the show.
Thanks to two tiny screens on each side of the stage, the crowd watched the uniquely unsettling “claymation” film-art done by Tool’s guitarist, Adam Jones. Above the crowd tufts of smoke interrupted blue and green laser beams.
Although the band opened with one of their older songs, most of their set consisted of new songs from their album, “10,000 Days.”
After “Aenima,” they took it down a notch with “The Pot,” only to spike everyone’s adrenaline again by playing “Forty-Six & 2,” followed by “Jambi.”
The audience’s reaction showed a clear distinction between their old and new songs. Although their new songs were well enjoyed - their old ones were celebrated in the crowd. It was then that hair went flying in chaotic directions, and fists boxed the air.
The middle of their set consisted of the songs, “Schism,” “10000 Days,” “Rosetta Stone,” “Wings for Marie” and “Lost Keys.” But the highlight was yet to come.
A good performance knows how to simulate the ultimate performance - sex. Tool’s set had a deliberate arrangement designed to bring the audience higher and higher with excitement; but just before reaching the peak of satisfaction, they lowered us down to catch our breath. In between longer energetic songs the band soothed their crowd with their usual instrumental breaks, which are similar to what they do on their albums.

“Lateralus” delivered the climax. Anyone who is a fan of any solid musician or band knows what this means - complete satisfaction. A complete release shared by everyone within the radius of the performance.
Next, they played “Vicarious,” their first single from “10000 Days.” After that Keenan gave the words, “Peace the f*ck out.” But as confused fans waited in angst for something more than the band’s departure, the venue filled with the unmistakable grunting chants of “Ʈema.”
Tool has always done a good job of keeping their music as the center point, and separating themselves from the spotlight. This show was no different as the four band members maintained their exact places on stage
Their set lasted a mere two hours, which seemed short, but also understandable considering the Tweeter Centers’ 11 p.m. curfew.
After the show, like any other Tool performance, there is a feeling of relief and relaxation. Their musical delivery is an emotional and interactive release of many ferocious feelings.
While their music isn’t as aggressive as it used to be, it’s almost as stimulating. Their new songs are more political, whereas their earlier songs were more emotional, sexually aggressive and philosophical. Though still dark and heavy, their sound is not as hard or “thrashy.”
The band has often praised their fans for listening and respecting Tool as artists, and listening with their hearts. The fact that the band can take a lengthy break, and still have thousands waiting for them when they come back to the stage says a lot about their fan base’s dedication.
The band has withheld the test of time since their first release, “Opiate,” (EP) in 1992. Since then the band has released five more albums; “Undertow” (1993) “Aenima” (1996) “Salival” (2000) “Lateralus” (2001) and most recently “10000 Days” (2006).
All four members of the band gave remarkable performances; drummer Danny Carey produces hypnotic percussions, Adam Jones is mesmerizing on electric guitar, while Justin Chancellor delivers magnetic bass lines. And Maynard is a musical poet of exception. If you haven’t witnessed him stomping his leather bound boots in the dark corner of a morbidly lit stage, you should.
As published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bon Jovi Rocks the Garden

By Morgan Rousseau

Some music knows how to shine only momentarily in the rolling spotlight of pop-culture. But when Bon Jovi made pop meet metal in the early 1980s, his band’s classic style of hard rock learned to last as long as his good looks.
Bon Jovi’s music hooks the pop crowd with its clean, catchy tunes, but gives just enough grit to grab hold of those metal heads. Up-beat and badass sans swears, Mötely Crüe could never pull it off (good choice, Heather Locklear).

One year older than my mother, Jon Bon still manages to bring a blush to her cheeks and a flush to my own when he graces the stage in perfectly (painful-not-to-reach-up-and-grope) painted on denim. The Jersey-born front man stopped off at Boston’s TD BankNorth Garden (formerly known as the Fleet Center) Dec. 10 as part of his band’s “Have a Nice Day” world tour.

When you have the time of your life at a concert — with your parents — you know that the musician in question must be, eternally, an icon. I learned this first hand as my parents led my boyfriend and me through a packed arena dappled with fans of all ages, but mostly one gender: female.
When the lights dropped, the crowd went wild. Screaming women, hands on their husbands’ shoulders, jumped up-and-down in search of Jon Bongiovi Jr., whose band appeared on stage without the leading man

Within moments, the first tunes of “Last Man Standing” resonated, and Jon’s voice rose along with his image, which stood on a platform in the back of the audience. Jon bravely trekked through the crowd toward his band on the main stage, and rocked into a high-powered set of “You Give Love a Bad Name,” a song that set the energetic tone for the rest of the night.

The band rocked through hits like, “Complicated,” “Born to Be My Baby,” then a personal favorite, “Runaway.” Bon Jovi jammed out some Petty with a cover of “I Won’t Back Down.” The band varied from the classics and the new hits to keep the dynamic crowd pleased. We enjoyed the latest ones like “It’s My Life” and “Have a Nice Day,” though I must say the real madness came alive when the foursome rocked their old stuff. The tunes we all love, like “Bad Medicine” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Jon and Richie Sambora shared vocals in an acoustic set of “I’ll Be There for You.” J.B.J made many fans happy that night by venturing into the crowd again for an acoustic set of “Blaze of Glory.”

After about two hours of jumping, jamming and rocking the band took a bow and retreated backstage, only to reappear for an encore of eight songs that had just as much energy as the rest of their show. The band even rang in the holidays with a spirited version of “Run, Run Rudolph.” Finally, they wrapped it up with a soothing set of “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which ended with an exhausted Jon throwing his microphone to the ground with a satisfied grin. Then, Jon Bon Jovi and his band took a much deserved bow. For a quartet of middle-aged men, I’d say the band has maintained their rockin’ vigor with a bang. And my mother would agree.

An Interview With Maynard James Keenan

Tool’s Front Man Talks on Album, Tour and More
By Morgan Rousseau

At times they reach a climax of chaotic release, but approach it with complete control. The band is sometimes understated, and often over-analyzed, but at the core of their raw and powerful music, these five musicians deliver eloquence in its richest, most leather-bound state of glory.

Patient fans both here and abroad wondered where they went and waited as the band’s eclectic members worked on other musical projects. But truly, how long could A Perfect Circle keep us fed? It’s not that “Thirteenth Step” and “eMOTIVE” didn’t have their good points - it’s just that the true Tool fans salivated for their own distinct brand of raw musical meat.

It was finally served. Their latest album “10,000 Days,” surfaced to platinum status after its U.S. release in May of this year, and climbed to top ten of the Billboard 200 charts. But as far as we’re concerned, there’s only one thing that tops topping the charts - and that’s Tool on tour.
Though all members of the band know how to deliver chills, there’s one in particular that stands out as the strange beauty of an uncompromised communication.

His lyrics have left us breathless. A front man painted black and packed with fury - he unleashes a frenzy of emotion that if you’ve ever heard, you’ve surely felt. For a musician that craves the shadow so much more than the spot light, it’s a rare and coveted moment when he agrees to give an interview.

Lucky me.

In a conversation over the phone on Tuesday, Maynard James Keenan said a few things about their new tour, their latest album, and more.

Morgan: What was your initial intention when you set out to make “10,000 days?” Did it have a particular purpose?

Maynard: No. Nothing in particular. We just pretty much explore each other in a room and write music. The result is what it is.

Morgan: I’m sure it’s never smooth when you’re making an album, but comparatively, anyway, was it a difficult album to make?

Maynard: No. they’re all challenging in their own way. We were in the studio for about three or four months.

Morgan: Some of your songs have advocated enlightenment as the key to change. Somewhere in there is a sense of optimism. Do you maintain optimism about people and problems in the world?

Maynard: Optimism? No. I’ve never considered myself an optimist. I think that there is a balance between pessimism and optimism. You find it for yourself.

Morgan: Do you think your music has an influence over the decisions that people make?

Maynard: I’d hope not.

Morgan: Why not?

Maynard: Because if my music has an influence, then that means that other bands have an influence. And if those bands have the wrong message, then they could influence people in the wrong way.

Morgan: But what about your lyrical references to people being sheep?

Maynard: I think that some people act that way. They let anything guide them in any direction. But not all people.

Morgan: And your fans? Do you think you are reaching the same people now that you did at the time of “Opiate’s” release, or do you think your audience has changed?

Maynard: Well, after our first album, we played in front of audiences of 100 people. Now about 17,0000 people show up to our performances. So certainly our fan base has grown. As for the people ? I don’t know what kind of people are coming to our shows, but whoever they are, certainly more of them are coming.

Morgan: When you are touring, how does it compare to play the United States versus other nations?

Maynard: They’re all pretty much unique in their own ways. Every country and every venue is completely different. For every show we give, we make changes and alterations. That’s what makes each show unique. [This tour] is going great so far.

Morgan: I’m looking forward to your show this Friday in Mansfield. I’ve been to your shows before, and the performance absolutely blew me away, especially the aesthetics. How do the shows on this tour differ from the shows on previous tours?

Maynard: It’s hard to say. I’m not very objective. The differences in each show don’t really change how we relate to each other when we’re performing. But as far as what we do and how we do it ? it’s all really the same.

Morgan: Have you come to a point where you would say it’s easier now to maintain your integrity as a band who refuses to compromise their art? Or do you still encounter pressure to conform to what popular culture requires of popular musicians?

Maynard: There’s always pressure. People always want to manipulate other people in power, to seek their own power. You can’t avoid that. We still see it. No matter what, we’ll always face this.

Morgan: Are there any artists out there who you think succeed at stimulating an emotional and artistic consciousness?

Maynard: In general, people that are writing music from the heart. Nobody in particular, really.

Morgan: What’s next?

Maynard: We’re going to Europe.

Morgan: Any plans for another album yet?

Maynard: We’ve just had a baby.

Morgan: Of course.

Maynard: We have no plans yet for another baby. We’re still taking care of this baby.

Morgan: Is the band where you pictured it would be at this point in time?

Maynard: Where I pictured ? I suppose so. We’re always taking things in different directions. But yes, I’m very happy.

As published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Woody Allen Scores with Match Point

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Jonathon Rhys-Meyers, Alexander Armstrong, Emily Mortimer
Rated R

Woody Allen’s newest film is gaining critical acclaim as one of his best in years. No doubt Allen has stirred up something peculiar, even for him, but in doing so stumbled on yet another story of human complications that has left audiences contemplating the struggle between morality and destiny.

Perhaps it is Allen’s notorious reputation for delivering intelligent, existential humor through sex, infidelity and irony that brings viewers to the cinema, but in Match Point it is the unlikely twists and curious outcome that leaves them astonishingly satisfied.

The film begins as what you would, but really wouldn’t, expect from Woody Allen. We have a couple of couples, and the inevitable triangle of temptation set to a posh London backdrop. The chemistry between the characters obviously lacks the familiar awkwardness we’ve warmed up to in films like “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” “Mighty Aphrodite” and even “Anything Else,”

After Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a former tennis pro, meets a wealthy new friend, Tom (Matthew Goode), he starts to like Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and really enjoys the ins of the family’s rich lifestyle. But after Chris meets Tom’s sexy fiancée Nola (played by Scarlett Johansson) he becomes infatuated with her. Infidelity soon finds its way into the story, and the ball bounces between each lover’s court as games of lust often do. Morality, selfishness, temptation and luck propel Chris’ life in a shaky new direction that culminates into a unique twist of intrigue.

The film is graced by impressive performances by Rhys-Meyers, Good and Mortimer, but Johansson delivers the most passionate act of all. Ah yes, Scarlett. No wonder her face suits perfectly the character she plays, a seductive, out-of-work actress who manages to captivate the sexual intrigue of almost every male character in the film, not to mention every man in the theater. Although she played her part well, the performance doesn’t compare to her 2003 role in “Lost in Translation.” Johansson is flawlessly beautiful in Match Point. At first, the captivating curves of her face, above all her lips, would have done just as well depicting the sensuality of Nola’s character without any words. But as time goes on, Nola’s aura transforms from aloof to a desperation that is trickled with distinct human grit.

Viewers might see similarities between Match Point and Allen’s 2004 film “Melinda and Melinda.” One being that HE’S NOT IN IT, which may contribute to another: it isn’t candidly funny. But beyond lacking the neurotic ramblings of an eternally middle-aged comedic genius, the film centers more firmly on a purpose. Not just an analysis of love; who’s right, who’s wrong, and the unanswerable question, “Well... (adjusts black rimmed, Coke-bottle glasses) why, really?” but more so takes a rather startling look at the magnitude that chance plays in life. The peculiar outcome in Match Point, along with the circumstances leading up to it, examines destiny as an ever present force hovering over our own menial choices.

Before “Melinda and Melinda” clearly confronted the question, “What is the essence of life, tragedy? Or comedy?” most of Allen’s earlier films insinuate that he’s swaying more towards comedy. Now we are left to contemplate a shift from humorous reality to one that is harshly tragic. Match Point makes it obvious now more than ever that Woody Allen has contributed a plethora to modern pseudo-philosophical thought.

The film earned four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

As published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on Jan. 30. 2006

Last King of Scotland a Moving, Engaging Work

Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy
Rated R

Director Kevin Macdonald’s Last King of Scotland is an engaging masterpiece. Powerful and at times disturbing, Last King offers a story of power, corruption and relentless brutality. Whitaker’s performance, which earned his nomination in this year’s Academy Awards as the Best Leading Actor, casts a brilliant shadow over the film’s various other deserving qualities.

The charmingly grainy cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle propels the viewer into the 1970s with hectic and bustling camera work. With on-location filming in Uganda, Africa Last King, thrives on the visual reality of the exploited nation. Mantle’s cinema graphic work in Last King won him a Best Technical Achievement award at the 2006 British Independent Film Awards. The on-screen sights are unfamiliar yet tantalizing to the vast majority of viewers — ethnic dances, missionary camps, military men with guns slung over their shoulder at every bus stop and street corner.

Unlike fellow Oscar contender and African based film, Blood Diamond, Last King doesn’t initially give the impression that it’ll be painted in blood. But in Uganda, naivety is short lived. Despite a handful of sickening images, the film succeeds at delivering action without the usual necessity of non-stop blood-shed. The little violence that is present does more than enough to satiate even the hardest shelled desensitization.

And then there’s Whitaker.
While ego-obsessed characters have charmed the silver screen since the early days of cinema, it’s fair to say that few actors are capable of pulling it off. The Texas-born actor’s depiction of former the Ugandan president gives a fresh meaning to Megalomania.

Last King is a story of historic fiction centering on Nicholas Garrigan (played by James McAvoy) a young Scottish doctor who takes a job as Ugandan President Idi Amin’s personal physician shortly after his rise to political power. Idealism seems to be Garrigan’s initial flaw. Fresh out of med-school, and with the original intention to work in a Ugandan missionary, his youthful romanticism draws him to Amin’s magnetism like a polar opposite. The two become unlikely pals, and Garrigan is quickly seduced by the palace life. Women, luxury, foreign exoticism; Ugandan life seems lovely to the young doctor until gruesome truths of reality open his eyes to the world outside the palace walls.

No stranger to up’s and downs, most cinema goers are more than capable of smelling a “bad guy” minutes after the opening credits. But Whitaker does himself justice. The actor’s portrayal of the larger than life president initially seduces audiences with good humor and amiable personality quirks before the character’s horrid colors start to show. Garrigan’s admiration for Amin dissolves as the irking underbelly of power and corruption is exposed little by little; hence, persistent suspense.

Playing the role of missionary Sarah Merrit, a familiar yet improved Gillian Anderson (X-Files) did little to disappoint, and even less to impress. Kerry Washington’s role as Amin’s unfaithful wife, Kay, is played nicely, but has a “nothing exceptional” ring to it. The same can be said for McAvoy, whose leading role in Last King drew international recognition for the 28 year old Scot. Garrigan’s character is somewhere between likeable and heroic, but McAvoy’s performance is just likeable. The actor’s ambition seems a little over played, as does his cowering intimidation when in the presence of the overbearing dictator.

Obviously in the midst of an award typhoon, if the supporting cast seems par it’s not because they are mediocre actors (For her role, Washington was nominated for an Image award and a Black Reel award, and McAvoy won a BAFTA award for Best Supporting actor). It’s because Whitaker’s blazon performance makes the film. The actor engulfs the screen much like his character’s persona overwhelms a room. His buoyant presence transfixes with charisma just as a dictator should, which may explain his roughly twenty other nominations or wins, including; a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Drama, a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, a Satellite Award, New York Film Critics Circle Award, and an L.A. Film Critics Association Award to name a few.

All in all Last King is worth much more than its theater ticket or DVD purchase price. Not only does this film address and expose issues of government corruption and politically enforced homicide still plaguing African nations today, but it does so with clout. A hammering leading performance by Whitaker, and the distanced yet unsettling circumstances in Last King are capable of leaving viewers’ lungs bereft of steady breath.

As published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on Feb. 21, 2007

Volver climaxes with compelling cast

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring Penélope Cruz
Language: Spanish
Rated R

From the opening scene, Pedro Almodóvar introduces his delicate style of mixing morbidity and vibrancy as chatter-box women polish tombs of their departed loved ones. The filmmaker’s signature plasticity is nearly tangible in Volver, as it is in so many of his acclaimed works. Forget jewelry. In this quirky comedic drama even the scenery seems plastic. It’s so drenched in up beat charisma that even when it rains, it soars.

Vovler’s title, which translates to Coming Back in English, subscribes to the overwhelming desire of human beings to know, once again, those they’ve lost. It addresses people in life who have the power to shake our foundation. Their departure often leaves us shattered, and their return is needed to gain stability. Such is the common thread in Volver, as characters go in search of closure, of peace.

Consider, Almodóvar’s 1988 film Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) which features Carmen Maura as the lead role, Pepe. Maura returns in Volver, as the role of Irene, a mother of two grown women. While Maura’s role in Volver is emblematic of a warm, yet strong mother, her daughter’s character, Raimunda, resembles that of Maura’s character in Mujeres. Similar less in circumstance — though both Raimunda and Mujeres’ Pepe encounter extreme situations of stress and action — Pepe’s florescent essence shines through in Raimunda’s high-heeled confidence. To this day, Almodóvar does little to hide his adoration for lively female characters.

Heaving cleavage a-blazin,’ Raimunda’s cups are filled by Penélope Cruz. Her acclaim in international cinema seems to be overshadowed by her few American works, which do the actress little justice. The Madrid-born 32-year-old packed the part of Raimunda with more presence than any of her roles in such American films as Vanilla Sky, Blow and Gothika.

In Volver, Cruz’s character is no lady, at some points vulgar, but she is painted with femininity, both maternal and hard-edged. Her Best Actress award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival laid the way for little surprise at how well Cruz plays the colorful female role. A mother, sister, daughter and niece, Raimunda knows how to take care of business, and those around her. While expressive of emotion, and showing human fragility, Almodóvar’s Raimunda doesn’t lose control in dire situations. She maintains her cool, and does so with perfect liquid lined eyes and floral hike-up blouses. In this nearly all-female cast, other characters also excel at handling crises — they lend each other help, and don’t consider for a moment that any task is undoable.

Another distinguishing feature of Almodóvar’s present in Volver is his characters lack of concern about any consequences that may arise from their drastic actions. This may be attributed to its success at stitching humor into a story that’s built on murder, death, abuse and illness. While the film is a kind of murder-mystery thriller, its plot mainly focuses on the light, comedic queries of the “living” characters, and their strong relationships with one another.

One of the film’s main accomplishments is its ability to dangle questions over our brains, teasing with suspense and alluding to possible outcomes. Then, as though blossoming with resolution, answers fall to our feet with precisely the right timing, mere moments before too much confusion sets in.

A certain sentence haunts the movie, and contributes to the sometimes ambiguous nature of the story: “Someday I’ll explain it all.” Throughout the film, characters assure each other of this. They play off of one another, promising an explanation that ends up partly, though never fully, delivered.

Volver is a film of delayed explanations, but also of high reaching climaxes. While there are enough twists to quench even the driest attention span, the keen observer is able to spot some visibly approaching plot points before their arrival. Despite any anticipation, these twists are brilliantly crafted, and do enough to give viewers the closure that the characters themselves crave on-screen.

The film speaks to the towering endurance of personal anguish that haunts us all when bereft of explanation. It’s a film of confronting the pain of the past, and reconciling with demons that haunt our present. This colorfully written and buoyantly directed film exposes no doubt that Almodóvar’s work is as poignant and pervasive as ever.

As published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian Feb. 9, 2007