copyright © 2005 Rahsaan Clark Morris
[Editor's note: Chicago-based JJA member Rahsaan Clark Morris attended the National Critics Conference as a Clarence Atkins Fund fellow, and observed the JJA panel on "Cross Disciplinary Reviewing from a Jazz Perspective." These two examples of his cross-disciplinary reviewing were written and published well prior to that panel; Clark also studied to be a dramaturge, and follows Chicago's theater world closely.]
Twyla Does Clifford
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is not unfamiliar with choreographing dance to jazz, if you take for an example the Twyla Tharp piece "Nine Sinatra Songs" in which the ensemble goes through tunes such as "One For My Baby" and "All The Way" either in groups or in duet. But it is a rare joy when someone gets the idea to re-work some of the music of the Atlantic and Blue Note labels into a thematic piece for a dance program. That someone is, once again, Ms. Tharp, and, working again with Hubbard Street, she has come up with a piece entitled "I Remember Clifford" (which the company apparently previewed last August) using the original recorded tracks of the various late '50s and early '60s artists on those labels, e.g. the Lee Morgan gem "The Sidewinder," "Blue Rol" by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, "Lonely Woman" by Ornette Coleman and "I Remember Clifford," the homage to late '50s trumpeter Clifford Brown composed by tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, and performed, once again, by Morgan. After viewing the premiere performance of the piece in early May at the Shubert Theater as part of Hubbard Street's two-week stint at Performing Arts Chicago's Spring Festival of Dance, I feel it really should have been entitled "I Remember the Clifford Era." The piece was more of an overview of mid-century jazz dance styles accomplished convincingly by Ron DeJesus as a loner type with the ensemble playing sort of the "in-crowd": the men costumed in sports suits a la the dance in the gym from West Side Story, the women wearing little late-beatnik, early-hippie tunics with slits on the side.
The question here is, How did Hubbard Street do with the music? After the ensemble's rambunctious opening of "The Sidewinder," I liked the way the group's bluesiness of "Blue Rol" merged, literally, into the up-tempo, Oliver Nelson-penned "Cascades." Ron DeJesus dancing solo to "Lonely Woman" was a revelation because of his own metric counterpoint to that polyrhythmic piece. The final piece, the resolution, if you will, was danced to Golson's "Clifford" with Lee Morgan closing the work as he had opened it, with his calculated brand of mid- to high-range trumpet fire igniting the dancers.
There have been other recent attempts to merge modern jazz with dance, what with Wynton Marsalis and Marcus Roberts providing music for the Garth Fagin dance ensemble; there is talk of a possible project including Wynton and his retro ensemble working with Judith Jamison and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. This collaboration proves that the vitality of the post-bop era can be evoked not just through the performance of the music of that era, but through dance, as well.
As I walked into the lobby of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art's auditorium, I saw two groups of works by different artists. Immediately to my left were a colorful rain stick and other objects d'art by the musician and instrument-maker Douglas Ewart. To the right of these works were two large photo prints by Lauren Deutsch, but not your average jazz shots, as you might expect; to be more exact, they were experimental, multi-directional gelatin silver prints.
The first, "Improvisation 2000," had an image of saxophonist Joseph Jarman super-imposed upon himself, and it took the smoky mysteriousness of both William Claxton and William Gottlieb a surrealistic step further. The second print looked as if you were peering through a prism in a tube you could turn, except the images are frozen with Fred Hopkins, the late bassist, ringing the images of Malachi Favors Maghostut, the elder bassist of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Aptly titled "Continuum 2000," it transmits the idea of the "living," if you will, legacy of the AACM: always active, always being carried forward, passed from the elders to the younger players.
This small exhibit introduced you to what was taking place in the auditorium all that weekend as the AACM celebrated its 35th Anniversary, the four nightly concerts bringing to life the symbolism of the first two artists' grand work.
C o m m e n t s
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