PureHoney’s publisher talks Bumblefest Music Festival and the wonders and challenges of print ‘zines
September 13, 2016
This weekend, PureHoney, our favorite South Florida-based, independent, grassroots entertainment ‘zine, will celebrate its fifth anniversary with an expansion of its usual anniversary party into a full-fledged music festival: Bumblefest. PureHoney publisher Steve Rullman says he is taking the ‘zine’s usual anniversary to the “next level.” Instead of two stages there will be five. Instead one venue there are now four, and instead of 10 bands, there will be 24.
July 30, 2016
In the documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, the film’s subject sometimes comes across as a bit frustrated by his cult of personality. One thing he bemoans more than once is that most people know his name but few buy his music. The film itself is also more focused on his interviews than his performances. It didn’t even take day after I published my review (Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words highlights the mind behind the music … and the ideology — a film review) before a friend texted me to ask “Who is Frank Zappa?”
Miami solo musician Xela Zaid evolves as he searches for raw essentialism of music on latest album — a vinyl release
June 6, 2016
Local gem Xela Zaid has long been one of the most innovative musicians working the Miami music scene, from his early career as a singer-songwriter using unique tunings on an acoustic guitar with a microphone shoved into its sound hole to his current experimentation with peddles, radio and abstract noise.
Miami’s music scene is a rich one, with talent that spans a variety of genres. One of the city’s long-standing bands is one that surfaced during the ’90s era of World Beat, and have grown a confident sound all its own. The Baboons have been around, off and on, for 23 years. They haven’t released an album for 15 years, but they have made a mighty return with a 15-track CD called Spanglish, as I have already detailed in an article recently published by the Miami New Times (The Baboons’ First Album in 15 Years, Spanglish, Is a Love Letter to Miami).
Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble, a chamber orchestra of 24 musicians, that we introduced readers to in an earlier post (Nu Deco Ensemble tests the boundaries of classical music with reggaeton, Daft Punk suite, more) performs music by a range of artists from Aaron Copland to Daft Punk. This week, they plan to debut a new suite based on the music of Radiohead.
Speaking via phone, conductor Jacomo Bairos and composer Sam Hyken admit the music of the British alt-rock band is something they have wanted to present from the beginning. However, they had to be careful with their approach for fear of placing their own ground-breaking group in the shadow of another more famous one.
“Radiohead has been on our minds for a long time,” says Bairos, who speaks from San Diego, just ahead of a collaboration with pianist Ben Folds. “We wanted to do it. We just didn’t want to start there because Radiohead is one of those groups that other classical groups have adapted and mashed up, and we wanted to establish ourselves with original content, done and made and performed before we dive into stuff like that, that other people have also listened to.”
“We talked about Radiohead for a while, but we knew we didn’t want to do it for our first concert, as our first artist,” adds Hyken, who is speaking from his home base in Miami, where he is still working on the arrangements (we spoke a few weeks ago, now). “But, as Radiohead fans, we knew it would be a phenomenal group to cover.”
He won’t reveal what songs they are adapting, but admits that they are skipping the first two albums, Pablo Honey and The Bends. Hyken says of the tracks they are considering, “I’m going to keep it a surprise because we haven’t picked out all of them, and I’d like to keep that under wraps.”
As he is in the works of adapting some of the music, he talks freely about some of the challenges in Radiohead’s music compared with adapting Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, another alternative dance/rock band they have adapted. “Radiohead is very sonically based,” says Hyken. “Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, even though it’s electronic, the grooves are very straight ahead. Radiohead, so much if its sound is electronic. We’re trying to figure out how deep we want to go with that, at this point. Do we want to go with electronic drums? Do we want to make it the exact same percussion? We’re just kind of diving into that a little bit deeper. A lot of sounds that Radiohead have are methodically manipulated by so many different factors. It’s not as straight forward. With Daft Punk you can take the lines that they created and you can put them right into the orchestra, and it really works. With Radiohead, you have to get more creative in terms of color and orchestration.”
As with previous shows, the ensemble will also explore classical music by contemporary composers during the performances at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, including Ricardo Romaneiro and Nicolas Omiccioli. Hyken describes Omiccioli’s piece, “[fuse],” as “very current and very digestible” and the Romaneiro piece as “very beautiful and exciting and vast, in terms of soundscape. It’s going to be an amazing auditory experience. It’s gonna be almost like surround sound because of the way we do it with the speakers and because of the way he’s written the piece. It’s going to have an encompassing feel to it because the audience is going to feel like they’re deep into the music.”
In their shows, the Nu Deco Ensemble also tries to work in 20th century composers into their sets. They have touched on some famous ones already, like Copland and Ravel. This pair of nights will feature a piece from a composer whose pieces aren’t routinely performed by orchestras, the German composer Paul Hindemith. His piece “Kammermusik No.1, Op. 24” will also be one of the longest works the Nu Deco Ensemble has ever performed.
Bairos says it’s all about broadening the pallet of the audience. “We really felt it was a great opportunity to interject the great music that doesn’t get to be performed so much by regular orchestras,” he says of the Hindemith piece, “and people are going to get to learn about Hindemith a little bit … and it’s gonna make us a better ensemble, too. The wider our artistic pallet is the better musicianship we’re gonna develop over time, and that’s just gonna help everybody at the end of the day.”
Finally, also as with previous shows, the events will feature a collaboration with another group. Earlier, the orchestra played with local luminaries like Afro Beta and The Spam Allstars. These shows feature a group visiting Miami from Brooklyn: The Project Trio. “They’ve become one of my favorite collaborators of all time because they get it,” offers Bairos. “They understand classical music is amazing, but at the same time they understand that it needs to be freshened up and livened up.”
“People of all ages love their music,” adds Hyken. “The intensity that they bring to the stage is just ridiculous. They just bring this high octane energy that’s just infections and gets the audience really engaged.”
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You can read more about this show in Pure Honey Magazine, which is also out in print, available for you to pick up for free at the hipper indie shops, bars and cafes in South Florida, from Miami north to West Palm Beach. Jump through the publication’s logo below for the article:
The Nu Deco Ensemble performs with Project Trio on Thursday, March 3 and 4, at 8 p.m., at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse. For tickets, visit www.nu-deco.org. Photo credit: Southern Land Films / Monica McGivern
January 26, 2016
The house lights the night of The Nu Deco Ensemble’s second performance, earlier this month, in Miami were provided by nature. Not far from the still waters of Biscayne Bay, only disturbed by a small group of passing manatees, at the historic Deering Estate, the musicians of the 24 piece chamber orchestra settled into position, as the sun came down. As night fell and the mosquitoes retired for the night, the large, brightly lit stage exploded with the sounds of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor.”
But there was something else going on with the piece, too. It has a salsa swing to it, featuring a percussive element that’s far from Bach. After the piece, conductor Jacomo Bairos reveals the piece’s title: “Tocatta Y Fuga en Re Menor,” and it was arranged with a Latin flair by composer Sam Hyken. Bairos and Hyken are the masterminds behind the Nu Deco Ensemble, a 2014 Knight Arts Challenge winner just beginning its first season of performances. As they explained after the show, Hyken and Bairos are not content to recycle the classics. They are here to push against expectations and limitations of classical chamber music on various levels. Besides reinventing classics by Bach and others, their repertoire also includes adapting the electronic dance music of Daft Punk and the disco-rock of LCD Soundsystem. They are also on a mission to support new works by living composers, including the work of Japan’s Andy Akiho, who was represented that night with “Ki’lro,” an angular yet entrancing piece of music.
Hyken and Bairos wear the badge of “Miami’s 21st Century Chamber Orchestra” with pride and an excited pioneering spirit. The two complete each other’s thoughts but also talk over one another to explain the Nu Deco Ensemble’s mission. The two first loosely crossed paths while pursuing undergrad degrees at Julliard. Bairos was senior to Hyken, but he knew of him. They really got to know each other, however, in Singapore while auditioning for the city’s symphony. They were both hired the same day in 2004. Both brass players (Bairos played tuba and Hyken trumpet), they got on famously.
That was also where the idea to make something new happened. “Just two young Americans having a ball over in Asia,” says Bairos, “and we had similar musical tastes. We had similar ideas of what an orchestra’s gonna be in the future and started brainstorming then about everything we wanted to do.”
Both also tapped into personal connections to South Florida. Bairos grew up in Homestead. Though he conducts several city orchestras across the U.S., including San Diego, Atlanta and St. Louis, his attachment to South Florida is indelible. Hyken, meanwhile, was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey, but he moved to Miami 10 years ago. He graduated with a Master’s degree from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. The musicians in the ensemble are all classically trained and hail from the most prestigious organizations in South Florida. Some are New World Symphony fellows, others are professors at UM’s Frost School of Music and some also play in the Florida Grand Opera.
To note what makes the group different from other chamber orchestras begins with the fact that there are only one of each instrument (save for clarinet) as opposed to a formal set up of a chamber orchestra, which has pairs of instruments. There’s also electric bass and guitars and a drum kit. Bairos also conducts the group like a rock star gesticulating to an arena. It’s unintentional, he assures. “I don’t know. Sometimes I try not to,” he admits. “Sometimes it gets a little out of control. Tonight I’m a little tired, so my body was probably flailing even more… I feel like the music is coming through, and I just try to feel it and express it. Sometimes it’s funny,” he adds, and Hyken joins him in amused laughter.
Nothing about Nu Deco is traditional, and almost every element is about breaking formal rules. Asked if they are committing a purist sacrilege by giving Bizet a Reggaeton feel (“Refried Farandole”), Hyken says, “I think everyone has their own point of view on that. We can only be true to our own art. That’s how I feel.”
“The funny thing is,” adds Bairos, “I’ve connected to [Hyken’s] music literally all over the world, basically, from San Diego to Charlotte, and you know what? People clap like crazy, so I think we’re on to something. There could be some purists out there who don’t appreciate the fact that we’re taking an old piece of music and reinventing it, but you know what? We’re all about making sure that the future of classical music is alive.”
“Also, some of the greatest composers did the same thing,” chimes in Hyken.
“Brahms with the Hyden variation, Liszt,” says Bairos.
“They made a symphonic metamorphosis, and there’s jazz,” Hyken continues. “There’s different elements of that. And Britten took Purcell and made it into all these crazy variations, so it’s happened in the ‘50s and the ‘40s and the ‘20s. It’s a continuation of a tradition.”
“Looking back informs the future,” notes Bairos. “Why it spawned the way it did informs what we do in the future. The most important thing is we speak to society today and make sure we’re preserving this great classical art, at the same time supporting these musicians but building a culture in Miami that’s savvy, that loves art and understands its value to the community.”
Further in their ethos to push forward while breaking the rules, is Hyken’s work in adapting electronic music for their small orchestra, something that has earned the Nu Deco Ensemble a lot of attention. Hyken says adapting the music is not as complex as one might assume. “When you’re dealing with electronics so much of that is sonic based,” he explains. “You’re trying to create a sonic type of sound that doesn’t exist with the acoustic instruments, so you have to do a version of that, but that kind of contemporary music, LCD, Daft Punk, it all has a beautiful counterpoint. There are lines that go back and forth. It’s almost like a minimalist type sound. It happens to translate very well to acoustic instruments. It gives it a new kind of life.”
Asked if either of these contemporary dance music groups are aware of what the Nu Deco Ensemble has done with its music, Hyken says, “I don’t think Daft Punk is. You never know these days with the Internet, but sources say that LCD may be aware because we had somebody who was at our last concert who has been in touch with them, and he said he shared it, but we don’t know for a fact.”
“Unofficially, we think maybe,” Bairos adds.
This week, the Nu Deco Ensemble is more focused on its upcoming collaboration with Miami’s renowned jazz, funk Afro-Cuban fusion group The Spam Allstars. “Spam Allstars is an iconic Miami band with an iconic Miami sound,” says Hyken. “Adding orchestral instruments to this creates a whole new world of possibilities and layer of richness. It’s a unique combination that is exciting, lush and sophisticated.”
Spam Allstars’ founder and turntable maestro, D.J. Le Spam (a.k.a. Andrew Yeomanson) offered a hint of what is in store at the North Beach Bandshell this Thursday night when his seven-piece band joins the 24 piece of Nu Deco on stage. “We are going to play four songs from our catalog, which Sam Hyken has created very exciting arrangements for,” says Yeomanson.
Yeomanson also says audiences should expect to see them perform a new piece called “Ibakan,” a collaboration with Hyken. It debuted at The New World Symphony as part of the orchestra’s annual lightshow/dance party hybrid “Pulse,” in November of last year.
Yeomanson says the rehearsals have been an amazing experience. “It’s thrilling for me to hear our stuff with these added textures and colors,” he says. “It opens up a whole new palette of sounds and range of emotions.”
For now, Nu Deco is only a live experience, but Bairos and Hyken have been hearing about requests for recordings. Though he clearly appreciates the interest, Bairos sighs about the added pressure, “Yeah, we have,” adding that it is indeed something they are considering for the future. “We want to take next summer and really decide what it is we really want to record first, what we want to put out there first. We’ve gotten some requests from some major artists here in town, and we’re just kind of waiting to see where all that falls. But we definitely want to put out an album that not only has living composers but some of [Hyken’s] arrangements, just our signature style.”
Though the future may see the release of a recording, for now the ensemble’s first season is packed with performance dates that include new suites based on the music of Jamiroquai and Radiohead, performances of music that range from the likes of Paul Hindemith to Paul Dooley and collaborations with more guest musicians including Brooklyn’s Project Trio and Japan’s Akiho. For all upcoming dates and tickets, visit, this link: www.nu-deco.org/seasonone.
The Nu Deco Ensemble and Spam Allstars perform this
Thursday, Jan. 28, Sunday, Jan. 31 (it was postponed due to weather), at the North Beach Bandshell in North Miami Beach, Fla. The concert is presented in partnership with the Rhythm Foundation. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
One of South Florida’s greatest contemporary solo musicians still criminally treading water down at the end of the United States to not enough global recognition is Jose Ferrer, a.k.a. Boxwood. The 34-year-old multi-instrumentalist and singer has just self-released his second EP, “Moon Garage.” We covered the release of his first one (Boxwood, a one-man wall of sound, releases “Sun Garden City” EP today). The man with the celestial obsession was casually introduced to me by another local musician, Alex Diaz, who also has been down in Miami, evolving as an artist for even longer (read my 1997 profile on that guy in the Miami New Times here and check out his soundcloud).
I had no idea what to expect of Ferrer’s music, but he was introduced to me by someone I trust. Though some will detect similarities in sound to The Cure, My Bloody Valentine or Radiohead, no one makes music like Boxwood. Though he performs solo, he layers parts, including percussion, guitars and vocals via loop pedals to create a lush, dynamic brand of music all his own. He does it live both on stage and in the recording studio. Over an open air dinner at the Vagabond Hotel in Miami, the slight-of-frame musician says, “A lot of the stuff that I come up with is because of the loop pedal. I’ll come up with a part to a song, and then I’ll kind of isolate the rest of a song, and I’ll let that part ring out.”
The flow of a Boxwood song’s construction comes across as strong as it does because Ferrer prefers to follow the resulting music in its hazy swirl of hooks and melodies and not force some strict construct. It seems counter-intuitive for a solo artist who has complete control over his work, but he says he prefers to follow the music almost subconsciously as if he was a one-man jam band. In fact, he would prefer it if all his songs came out blended together. “I’m always thinking that it will be cool if this song went into something else,” he says. “Like the last part of this song can go off, and I’ll see if I can write something to that, like a medley, and then I end up coming up with another song.”
Whereas collaborative musicians in a band jam with each other to create music, Boxwood feeds off inspiration from the looping parts he creates. It’s a process of exploring music that the musician finds liberating for his creative process. “I’ve also tried to play like just whatever and just loop it and then try to fill in the gaps to see what comes out of it, and that’s interesting,” he explains. “When you listen to some songs and then all of a sudden the drums come in not where you’d expect it, and the guitars are doing something that’s cool, so I try to do that not to throw you off but just for myself, and then songs come out of that, and then I change them around.”
Here’s one song he is streaming free on his bandcamp, “Let It.”
But a favorite he won’t give out for free is “Affected,” featuring pummeled drums affected by echo, an incessant buzz of electrified rhythm guitar and a catchy hook that sounds like it was made by an electric slide guitar. In the middle of the song the hook drops and three guitar parts stack up one by one. One is a simple repetitive plucking and the other two are call and response parts with slightly different shimmering effects. Though he speaks a bit low, Ferrer’s singing voice is something else, especially on this number. It’s bold and compliments the range of effects on his instrumentation. He’s not a neat singer, but it comes from a place of potency you will never find while talking to him over dinner. There are whines, growls and slurs that obscure the lyrics, which are sometimes filled with bitterness: “Good morning, here’s another shit storm coming my way, panicking heads, visual shit, audible waste.”
It’s a little scary, but Ferrer is quite an affable fellow in person. He’s also a new dad, having recently had a child with his longtime girlfriend. It’s apt that he plays his music under an abstract moniker because the man is certainly different from the musician.
His exploration of music began at a perfect time: his early teen years. At 14 years old he learned a few chords from a friend and the rest by ear. “I don’t even know the chords I’m playing,” he admits. “I never learned how to play guitar. I just kind of write. I’m not a player.” In fact he adds, “I wouldn’t call myself a painter or a musician or a carpenter. I like to make things.”
He may not call himself any of that, but he studied art at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in Manhattan, focusing on illustration. So, like any good artist, he contradicts himself a bit. “I did a little bit of everything but mostly oil painting,” he admits.
Like his last release (see images here), he has made the physical version of his new EP a handmade affair. “It’s a wood casing with burlap seams and a random booklet inside taken from school text books,” he explains. “I work with wood at my job all the time. I have access to a shop and liked the idea of having a wooden CD case, with an organic feel and look. Something that was clearly handmade. And also, like the previous EP, no two cd casings are alike. This is probably also the last chance I’ll get to make a CD since they are quickly becoming more and more obsolete.”
Which leads one to think that maybe a vinyl release might be on the horizon. “I would prefer to buy vinyl, if getting music in the physical form,” admits Ferrer, “but Lord knows I can’t afford to press vinyl at the moment. Unique handmade packaging I think makes up for whatever format the music is in.”
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You can read more of my conversation with Boxwood, including more intimate details on how a quiet guy like Ferrer finds such a powerful voice on stage by jumping through the logo of the Broward New Times Music section below. You can also stream another new song off the EP there. The same story that you’ll find after the jump also appears in print in this week’s “Miami New Times” music section:
Boxwood will take the stage in Miami at Will Call this Friday, April 3. Show begins at 10:30 p.m. with special guests Sigh Kicks. There’s no cover charge. Here’s the FB event page. Let us know if you’re going or even if you wish you could go in the comments below.