baboons-108Miami’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).

Read the rest of this entry »

Nu_Deco_Southern_Land_Films_McGivern80

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.”

 *  *  *

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:

pure honey

Hans Morgenstern

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

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

beeb

Released for the first time on vinyl, Bowie at the Beeb, is a compilation featuring a comprehensive overview of David Bowie’s BBC radio appearances during his early years, and it has been long overdue. The great vinyl reissue company Rhino Records released it last Friday as a four-disc set. It was originally planned for release in 2000 when Virgin Records put out a CD version of it. It was never to be. I wrote about it after receiving a preview copy of the set for review in “Goldmine Magazine.” The renaissance of vinyl records was a few years away. Now, 16 years later, Rhino has amended what Virgin Records failed to deliver.

Below you will find my original review of the compilation where I explore the quality of music the Bowie-curated compilation featured. It includes references to some of the glitches that had to be corrected after release as well as a paragraph about a third CD featuring a 2000 BBC concert that came as bonus disc with the initial release, marketed as a limited edition held together by a slipcase cover. This concert is not part of the vinyl set, which would have probably added two more vinyl slabs to the already big four-disc box set. I have yet to hear the vinyl version of this set (it’s in the mail!), but I have faith in Rhino, which has long released excellent quality records. As for the music, it’s a brilliant retrospective of Bowie’s formative years, and I get into in detail in the original “Goldmine” review. Without further ado, here’s my archival piece as originally submitted to my editor at “Goldmine” (I’ve only made a few tiny tweeks):

DAVID BOWIE
Bowie at the Beeb (Limited Edition)
Virgin/BBC (7243 5 28958 2 3 / 7087 6 15778 2 2)

Providing one of the most comprehensive insights into the development of David Bowie in his early years, Bowie at the Beeb is probably one of the greatest retrospective collections on the legendary musician available.  The only retrospective that could possibly stand above it is the now out of print Sound + Vision box set, which heralded the beginning of the re-release of Bowie’s then out-of-print back catalog by Rykodisc, in 1989.  But that collection even lost momentum by the third disc, omitting many a rare track.  Bowie at the Beeb is all about the rare tracks—it’s David Bowie recording exclusively for the BBC, from his pre-“Space Oddity” era to his Ziggy Stardust years.

The recordings on Bowie at the Beeb are so dynamic, and so rich in importance as an indication of where Bowie was in development between albums, it would be hard to avoid commenting on every single track.  The retrospective Bowie At The Beeb 'Best of the BBC Sessions' 3CD_Posteropens with the never-before bootlegged sessions from 1968, a year which saw Bowie mostly immersed in Buddhism and mime—not in the recording studio.  Though recording since 1964, Bowie had not achieved any form of stardom yet and was in limbo after his fifth failed record contract.  Bowie himself had to provide the tapes for this one, as the BBC had lost the original masters.  Fans have reason to rejoice Bowie’s modest decision to release these tapes, as he has often been protective of officially releasing early recordings he felt were below par.  But these selections are some of the better songs Bowie wrote in an era often maligned for its easy-listening, sometimes cheesy quality.

A session from 1969, easily found on bootleg though never broadcast, follows, including one of Bowie’s greatest sixties songs, “Let Me Sleep Beside You.” A lengthy, though abridged, concert from 1970, hosted by John Peel, comes next.  It is in this session that Bowie publicly introduced Mick Ronson.  Ronson and Bowie are also presented in rare form as a duo, performing “The Supermen” and “Eight Line Poem,” in a 1971 session that kicks off disc two.

Bowie at the Beeb is a fantastic tribute to not only David Bowie but his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, whose presence can be felt as early as the last third of the first CD.   But it’s CD two that is pure Ziggy-glitter heaven, including covers of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and “Waiting for the Man,” among a variety of different BowieBowie by Brian Ward cuts.  Only two songs are repeated, “Hang On To Yourself” and “Ziggy Stardust,” but in distinctly different versions, as they are culled from different recording sessions.  Owing too a production error, the “Ziggy Stardust” track from the 1/18/72 session is duplicated in the 5/16/72 session.  An estimated 25,000 copies were shipped before the error was caught.  To make up for the missing track, Bowie, being the internet-friendly artist he is, has offered a free download for those who purchased the album prior to the error correction at http://www.musicmatch.com/get_music.  To get the track you need to download and install the MusicMatch Jukebox software (for free), then load any Bowie at the Beeb CD into your CD-ROM drive.  Once your CD is verified, you will be given the opportunity to download the correct version of the song.

If you’re wondering about the overall quality of the recordings, it’s safe to call them incredible, considering the shoddy bootleg versions already out there.  Though the sessions here omit some tracks, making the more comprehensive bootleg versions still valid, the superior sound quality and the expertly selected track selections by Bowie himself, make this a definitive, well-paced compilation.

cover_ltdedn

For a limited time, Bowie at the Beeb will be released in a sturdy slip cover with a bonus CD of Bowie’s intimate June 27, 2000 BBC Radio Theatre concert.  The energy of the show is undeniable, including such gems at “Ashes to Ashes,” “Cracked Actor,” and “Stay,” and even a few hits like “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.”  Bowie’s band, including veterans like pianist Mike Garson and guitarist Earl Slick, provide a stellar back-up.  Pick up this limited edition version of the compilation while you can: this bonus concert CD is an extraordinary performance, capturing a rare live moment, as Bowie has eschewed any traditional touring this year.  This third CD will be discontinued later this year, as Virgin will replace the 3 CD package with a double CD of the 1968-1972 sessions, which will also be made available as a four LP vinyl limited edition set including two bonus tracks not included on any of the CDs (Ed: until now! From davidbowie.com, those tracks are detailed as follows: “Oh! You Pretty Things” from the Sounds of the 70s Bob Harris session, broadcast in September 1971, which was previously exclusive to the Japanese release of the CD. This performance features Bowie and Ronson as a duo. Completely exclusive to this collection, and making its debut, is the once lost “The Supermen” from the Sounds of the 70s Andy Ferris session, broadcast in March 1970, and performed with The Hype).

Hans Morgenstern

Images from top to bottom: courtesy Rhino Records, the Virgin Records promo poster, Brian Ward shot from inside the original booklet, bonus CD cover art from www.teenagewildlife.com.

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

339413_4ko2noiseAhead of the unveiling of an exhibition of unseen images featuring David Bowie shot by Markus Klinko for the 2002 album Heathen, I had a chance to talk to the fashion photographer for an up-coming preview piece in the Miami New Times’ Arts and Culture blog (it’s live now, read it here). I was given a preview of many of the images (some of which illustrate this post) at the Miami Design District art gallery Markowicz Fine Art by gallery owner Bernard Markowicz. He also put Klinko on the phone with me, and we spoke for quite some time. After submitting my article to the Miami New Times, there was plenty of material left over, including some details Klinko knew the fans would appreciate. This is what this article is about.

When Bowie’s death from cancer was announced in the early morning hours of January 11, Klinko admits he was not completely surprised by it. Because he often worked with Bowie’s wife, the supermodel Iman, Klinko was one of the few Bowie collaborators who knew of Bowie’s illness. “I can’t say that I didn’t expect it,” he says speaking via phone from New York City. “Even though I didn’t know and nobody called me to say that he was about to die, I had a feeling that this was happening. I knew he was very sick. It was mentioned to me, and I saw the video a few days before he died for ‘Blackstar.’ I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t expect it, but I wasn’t surprised.”

He found out about Bowie’s passing at 69 the same way many others did, via social media. “I woke up and saw so many Bowie mentions on Instagram,” he recalls. “I was tagged on some of them. $_57One of my images was used on the cover of ‘Le Monde.’ There were a bunch of emails from people asking to publish images. It was waking up to an avalanche of Instagram tags, missed calls. It was definitely a busy morning.”

The idea for the upcoming exhibition came when he and Markowicz, who has represented Klinko for the past 15 months, discussed revealing some outtakes from the Heathen photo session for a touring exhibit. Klinko added the cancer benefit component (proceeds will go to Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research).

The photos were all taken after Bowie had recorded Heathen, during a day-long session at Klinko’s Soho studio in New York City. As with many of Klinko’s images, he collaborated with Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri who added effects in post-production, for instance erasing Bowie’s corneas for the album’s striking cover. Many of the images were never used and some later appeared on the pages of GQ. Still others never saw the light of day. “You can imagine how rich that session was,” says Klinko. “We got so much done in such a short time.”

Some of the images might bring to mind Bowie looks from past eras. Klinko points to things as subtle as a look in Bowie’s face to what he wears. 339413_2koala2sharp“There’s an image in the press release where he leans on a brick wall, I feel like there’s a bit of Ziggy Stardust in his expression there, different from all the other images from this set,” he notes. “Then there’s some of the Thin White Duke in the white shirt and the black vest … There are some reference points throughout his career, with all the transformations that he went through that still come back all the time.”

Though they would not work for a long time after, they stayed in touch because Klinko worked so often with Iman. He remembers when Bowie suffered a heart attack on stage in 2004 and needed emergency surgery. Bowie would then enter a decade-long phase away from the limelight. Like many others, Klinko thought Bowie had simply quietly retired after the health scare, though the photographer never stopped trying to get him involved with his shoots with Iman. “That’s exactly what I thought,” Klinko confirms, “that he’s not going to do anything, and I did ask Iman several times, ‘Hey, why don’t we do a shoot with you and David, and she said, ‘No, no.’”

But, one day, in the spring of 2013, Klinko was surprised to receive a call from Bowie to ask him to direct a music video for one of the songs off of his recently released album The Next Day. It was Bowie’s first album in 10 years,339413_10_ko1noisewhich had been recorded in secrecy, and it was an album that I declared in a Miami New Times review as Bowie’s great reboot. Indeed, says Klinko, when he spoke to Bowie after the album’s release, the pop star sounded rejuvenated and surprised by the album’s success. “It was obvious in his voice that he was absolutely shocked by the commercial success of that album,” says Klinko. “It made number one on a bunch of charts in the U.K. — not in the U.S. chart — but it did well in the U.S. chart, and he was very, very excited about that.”

It seems, according to Klinko, Bowie had doubts of his relevance in the world of popular music. “He would have never expected it because that was another conversation I also remember having,” Klinko continues. “Back in the time of the Heathen album shoot, I had asked him if he was going to do a video and he said, ‘Why should I? MTV won’t play it.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about? You’re David Bowie.’ He said, ‘They’re not gonna play it. They’re not gonna play it. Maybe they’ll play it one time at 2 a.m. I’m not gonna do it.’ And, you know, I wasn’t at that time interested in directing videos, so I didn’t make much of it, but I remember him saying it in conversation, that MTV won’t play it, and so 12 years later, when he called, and he asked me to direct the video, I felt an almost child-like enthusiasm in his voice that ‘Oh, my God, it’s a huge success. I’m actually going to do this next video now,’ and he had already done [three] other ones.”

During the release of Heathen, music videos were not seeing routine release on YouTube and MTV became more obsessed with reality shows than playing music videos. But, in 2013, the music video world had become something else, easing into spaces on the Internet via artists, record labels and even fan produced works. On Bowie’s birthday, 339413_7ko1noisein 2013, he released a lyric video for “Where Are We Now” (David Bowie returns to music with new song on his 66th birthday). A month later, he released a second video, co-starring Tilda Swinton, for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” (Finally, David Bowie and Tilda Swinton join forces: Watch DB’s new video). Then, after the album’s release in March, Bowie released a video for the title track where the singer played a Christ-like figure. Klinko worked with Bowie on the album’s final single, “Valentine’s Day.” By then, Bowie was on a roll, and Klinko cannot help but compare The Next Day Bowie to the Bowie he met during Heathen. “When he said, ‘MTV won’t play it,’ it was definitely with some kind of disappointment,” he says. “He was definitely feeling that the genre of music that he wanted to do did not get the support of this type of mainstream channels, and it was something that he was trying to deal with at the time.”

After not having heard from Bowie for a few years besides casual conversations with Iman, in the spring of 2013, Klinko received the phone call from Bowie’s manager that the singer wanted to do something him. “I was actually in L.A. at the gym, and his longtime manager Elaine called me and said, ‘David wants to speak to you right away. Can you talk to him?’ And I remember stepping out of the gym, running home to get his call, and he had this idea for this video.”

In the video for “Valentine’s Day” that we know, which was also co-directed by Indrani, Bowie inhabits an abandoned building, posing rather menacingly at times with a small guitar that he sometimes handles as if it were a rifle. But it would have been something quite different had Bowie had his way. “He wanted to reverse age, like in that Brad Pitt movie [The Curious Case of Benjamin Button]. He basically wanted to start out as an old man, like 80, and reverse in special effects and be like 19 at the end of the video.”

It wasn’t a concept entirely new for a later-period Bowie music video. The 1997 music video “Little Wonder” featured a young visage of Ziggy Stardust and Bowie had a young doppelgänger in the 1999 video for “Thursday’s Child.” It was also an idea Klinko, however, did not feel too keen about. Having already worked collaboratively with Bowie for the Heathen photo shoot, the photographer had no trouble disagreeing with Bowie, though it wasn’t necessarily an easy task to sway him away from the idea. “It was kind of tough to talk him out of it,” admits Klinko. “He really wanted it that way. We cast a young version of him, a lookalike, a model that was really talented that was used for some of the shots, like the scene from the back, when he’s looking through the window. That’s actually his younger body double. We decided not to do that with him. I felt it was a little cheesy to do it … It was the only time I ever really talked him out of something. Many of the other ideas for the record packaging and all that, a lot of it was his ideas.”

What finally changed Bowie’s mind, says Klinko, was the photographer’s stark concept for the music video. “He fell in love with the simplicity because the ‘Valentine’s Day’ was shot right after this very crazy  that he did withbabywlkbook being Jesus Christ, the priest … It was really a lot, very intense, very theatrical, so coming out with a video that was very simple, basically an animated portrait performance.”

But it was also more than that. The song is about a mass shooting and the video contains subtle references to guns. Klinko says of the song, “He did that about the time where the school shootings were very intense, around 2013. I mean, they still are, for the last few years in America. We thought about that, and so he made the song about that.”

The references are indeed quite subtle. In one instance, Bowie strikes a pose holding the guitar overhead in imitation of a famous photo of Charlton Heston holding a rifle similarly during an address to the NRA. In another, Klinko inserted a bullet that most viewers might miss. “There’s a close up of the vibrating guitar strings, very close, and out of the coiled guitar string you see a flying bullet. It’s almost subliminal because it’s so fast. Most people won’t realize it, but it’s there.” Cue the video above to the 2:28 mark to see it.

“With the tiny little hint of the gunshot,” continues Klinko, “I’m happy you picked up on that because it was a very subtle thing that was very important for me to have in there … I wanted to do more gun references and shadows of guns and things like that. There’s a little bit of that, like a machine gun shadow at some point.”

Klinko and I also spoke about how he met Bowie, his experience listening to a rough mix of Heathen and shooting and conceptualizing the artwork with Bowie. Jump through the logo below for the Miami New Times Arts and Culture blog to read all about that:

NT Arts

The photos will be on display for the public at Markowicz Fine Art in Miami’s Design District from Feb. 26 though mid-March. It begins with a private Media & VIP Reveal Party on Thursday, Feb. 25, from 7-9 p.m.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Nu_Deco_Southern_Land_Films_McGivern8

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.

Nu_Deco_Southern_Land_Films_McGivern29

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. Nu_Deco_Southern_Land_Films_McGivern40It’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.”

Nu_Deco_Southern_Land_Films_McGivern22

“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.

Spamcolors

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.

Nu_Deco_Southern_Land_Films_McGivern7

Hans Morgenstern

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.

All photos are courtesy Southern Land FilmsMonica McGivern. They were taken on the night of “Water Music” at the Deering Estate. Photo of Spam Allstars is courtesy of the band.

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

the-catastrophist-coverTortoise has never been a group to rest on any laurels. Though certainly its members have recognizable styles of playing — from the varied beats produced by dual drummers John McEntire and John Herndon, not to mention the added percussive activity by Dan Bitney, to the clean, crisp guitar lines of Jeff Parker to the deep, affected bass lines of Doug McCombs — Tortoise has changed from album to album every time. With every release over its 25 years as a group, Tortoise has challenged listeners to dare to listen closely and engage with their instrumental jazz-driven, electronica-inspired progressive instrumental rock (Albums that have stood the test of time: Tortoise – ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ [1996]). Their’s was never ambient music, though it has often been pigeon-holed into the genre of post rock.

Seven years after producing one of their more defiant albums to date, the noise-heavy Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise was coaxed back into activity by its hometown of Chicago, whose officials tasked them to create a suite of music that paid homage to the city’s musical history. The result is The Catastrophist, a bold return to form that leaves none of the group’s itches to experiment with melodies, effects and reverberating noise unscratched.

The album opens with a bit of a psyche-out via the title track and a squeaky repetitive synth melody that sets a false sense of an electronic heavy record but whooshes out of the way to make way for one of Parker’s luscious, tranquil guitar lines and McCombs’ solid, throbbing base against the high-pitched hum of shimmering organ work and crisp tqP32rqGdrumming. It sounds like classic Tortoise, with breakdowns allowing for some simple organ work augmented by resonant, low-vibe work (it’s mixed low, but it’s there— get on your headphones). With the album’s second track, “Ox Duke,” and its understated swelling of organs, electronics and subtly rumbling percussive work that even enters a loop of bottom heavy bass that recalls the early sonics of Tortoise, you might be forgiven to think that this is a record set on returning to the band’s early nineties roots.

But then comes the group’s rendition of David Essex’s 1973 hit “Rock On.” The bass is so heavily processed in the deep end, you don’t hear it as much as feel it in the vibration of the speakers. Still, it keeps the integrity of the original with Dead Rider’s Todd Rittman taking vocal duties. Rittman could have held back on the vocals a bit, and the added voices accentuating certain words in opposite speakers can be a bit over the top, but the band still plays with a mischievous restraint, adding whizzing effects, rumbling chords and creaks so heavily processed that seem to tear at the insides of your sound system.

This is the real beginning of the new album, and Tortoise remain coy and playful throughout, fully embracing a sort of new-found inspiration. Once again the band members play around with electronics and processed effects that are transporting, most notably on the album’s most tranquilizing track, the patiently developing, ticking and shimmering “The Clearing Fills.” The band released a digital single ahead of the album, “Gesceap,” which featured brilliant layering of shifting organ drones and repetitive guitar work that builds into a multi-melodic wall of sound that recalls the early work of Philip Glass. “Hot Coffee” features a funky, grooving bass line and an urge to break out that speaks to the group’s roots in fusion. There’s also an additional track featuring vocals, “Yonder Blue.” This time Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley contributes. It’s a pretty song that melodically glistens with subtly affected instrumentation fitting snugly with Hubley’s hushed, sleepy voice and even features a warm vibraphone solo during its finale.

The Catastrophist is a welcome return for Tortoise and proves that a band too often categorized as an example of a certain scene and era of alternative music can still prove vital by staying true to its sound, but also pushing at its limitations. Most of all, they sound like they are having fun.

Hans Morgenstern

The Catastrophist will be officially released Friday, Jan. 22. Also being released on that date are reissues of Tortoise’s back catalog on colored vinyl. Visit their artist page for each title. Pitch Perfect PR provided an mp3 version of the album for the purpose of this review. Images of the front and back cover of the album are courtesy of Tortoise. The band is currently on tour. For dates visit their page, here. Nope, no South Florida dates for us. 😦

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili PepperA1 10-7-97Back in October of 1997, I wrote about what will go down in history as David Bowie’s longest ever live performance. I was following reports of the Earthling tour extensively via this once great but now dormant Bowie fansite Teenage Wildlife. I knew how his set list varied from show to show and what songs were on it. On what was the second of back-to-back nights at the Fort Lauderdale nightclub/live venue The Chili Pepper (now Revolution Live), he performed every different song he and his band had played on that tour. The show was one of two back-to-back shows that was added when the first show sold out in minutes. Below is an edited recap of what happened those two nights, based on a review that ran in “Jam Entertainment News” for the first night and a recap for the Teenage Wildlife site. The photos were all shot by a friend I made via Teenage Wildlife, who got me a ticket for that second night, Kelley Curtis.

*  *  *

Having last stopped into Florida in 1990 for his Greatest Hits tour, “Sound + Vision,” Bowie’s absence from Florida for seven years and two world tours was made up for with two intimate, spell-binding evenings at the 1,000-person capacity Chili Pepper in Fort Lauderdale. Though both shows were characterized with obscure cuts, a sprinkling of covers, a dash of hits, and a heap of selections from his new album, Earthling, they were both distinctively different experiences.

David Bowie Chili Pepper 10-7-97

The concerts started Oct. 7, a Tuesday. I got there at 1 in the afternoon, for the first show. There were only about five people there already in line, some of whom had been following Bowie around on tour. A few hours after bonding over similar likes in music beyond Bowie, we listened to sound check, where Bowie and his band performed six songs all the way through, a nice preview of what was to come at night.

It was just after 7  p.m. when the doors opened, and I was able to find an ideal spot to lean right against a barricade at the front, in front of bassist/vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey’s set up. After listening for over an hour of trendy danceDavid Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper3 10-7-97 music, the lights went low and Bowie sauntered out of the shadows with an acoustic guitar. He said hello and started playing “Quicksand” solo.

Though it was a dream come true to have Bowie alone, in front of you playing some deep cuts from his catalog. The show was a strong and tight example of why Bowie’s backing band for Earthling was one of his best, ever. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels and pianist Mike Garson, both veteran Bowie players with eerily angular playing talents, exemplified why they came from Bowie’s only two other true band projects. In the late eighties, Gabrels was an important part of the genesis of Bowie’s pioneering return to hard rock with Tin Machine, and Garson originally helped define Bowie’s glam rock sound with The Spiders From Mars, in the early seventies.

But the chemistry couldn’t have been complete without Bowie newcomers drummer Zachery Alford and Dorsey. In fact, the highlight of the performance came when Bowie took a back seat to meld with the band on the Laurie Anderson cover of “O Superman.” Gail Ann Doresy by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97Bowie took a back seat while Dorsey sung lead. Bowie backed her up on the chorus and shimmied and twisted along with her during a skittering drum and bass musical interlude. The huge horn refrain and fade-out toward the end of the piece was characterized by monstrous, fat notes on Dorsey’s keyboard. She gave a over-the-top smile as the foreboding notes just came rumbling out. During a second refrain Bowie strapped on a humongous baritone sax, and boom, the song droned on with a hypnotic vibrancy that I could have never imagined. It was a more up-beat version than Anderson’s, so I had expected it to be shorter than her original of 8-plus-minutes version, but it actually seemed longer and delightfully indulgent. I’ve always loved that song, and it was probably the highlight of the evening.

Other highlights with the band included “Waiting For The Man,” a Velvet Underground cover, which Bowie updated exceptionally well to what was then his new electronic/hard rock sound. A majority of his new Earthling material translated well live, as well, thanks to the presence of some pre-recorded backing tracks, something Bowie should have done on many previous tours.

David Bowie Reeves Gabrels by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97

Some fun color from the stage included Bowie showing off his sandals at the beginning of the show. During “Little Wonder,” Bowie put the giant eyeball balloon against his crotch and started bouncing it there while wearing a devilish smile. He tossed it out into the audience, and it lasted just a few seconds before it burst. Bowie covered his left eye and declared, “My eye! You animals!”

Bowie was a lot of fun on stage, posing to “Fashion” and just being a goof, never taking himself too serious but giving strong renditions of his songs. There was a cool mix in the crowd, from those who probably had seen him as Ziggy Stardust to those for whom Bowie was something new. Still, there was a rehearsed distance that night. Reeves Pick nameHe was still an arena performer gesturing to the audience rather than connecting with individuals. Although, during “Hallo Spaceboy,” he did wave “bye-bye, luv” to a drunk man who tried to take a swing at a security guard and was promptly dragged away. I did recall connecting with Gabrels for a second who looked at me bopping my head and sticking out my tongue and gave me a smile. At the end of the show I got one of his picks, which could be found on the floor as the audience cleared out.

But the real magic was yet to come.

The following Wednesday, I arrived later, at around 3:30 p.m. and still got a spot close to the door. But then the tour bus pulled up, close in eyesight to the few of us in line, unlike the previous day. Something was afoot, as if the Bowie and the band wanted the attention. About four of us walked over. David Bowie by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper2 10-7-97My friend who acted as photographer for the show handed me her record of Aladdin Sane, but she wanted to stay back and hold out spots and take some shots. We were only about four people, but, when the band started getting off, more fans started coming. I stood right in front of the bus with camera ready, and wouldn’t you know it? Bowie stepped off. People started crowding, and I stepped closer. He was signing everything. I held the record out, and someone passed it to Bowie, who signed while smiling and chatting with fans. People were trying to sum up what he meant to them in 10 words or less: (“You’re the man!” etc.) or making requests (“Do ‘Changes’ tonight” etc.). I just kept my mouth shut. I’ll save that when I get the interview, I thought.

He finally took the opportunity to slip away and everyone went running back in line to show off their prizes. We were like a bunch of silly kids, still trembling after the encounter. Later, from outside, we could once again hear the David Bowie by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97band doing sound check, including a country and western version of “Scary Monsters.” When we were let in, I got the same spot as the night before. The show started 15 minutes early, and Bowie said hello and asked if we were in a hurry. “Do you want a short set or a long set?” he asked. You can imagine what the crowd said, and Bowie just laughed. He said, “Good, ’cause we feel like being here for a long time, so call your mothers and tell them you’ll be late.”

Selections that night included the mellow but intense Ziggy Stardust-era staple, “My Death.” There was also instrumental interludes featuring his new versions of “V-2 Schneider,” “Pallas Athena,” and “Is It Any Wonder?” a new piece derived from Bowie’s 1975 hit “Fame,” which featured an endearingly amateurish alto sax bit.

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper8 10-7-97

Bowie was certainly having the time of his life, being very chatty, telling his story about taking the infamous Jimmy Page riff for “The Supermen” and then reusing it for “Dead Man Walking.” He played both, the latter was an acoustic version. When he did the eyeball balloon during “Little Wonder” this time, he humped it so hard it almost knocked him back. Then, when he threw it out into the crowd it immediately burst on a light, overhead. “I’m such an animal!” he said, while the skittering, elastic drum and bass solo went on. Then he pulled out another eyeball balloon and threw it out. Still, it didn’t last much longer, bursting in a few seconds.

He introduced “Seven Years In Tibet” by saying, “This is ‘Seven Years In Tibet’ now a major motion picture called ‘Seven Years With Brad Pitt.'” He also made a joke of this spray he uses to soothe his throat David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper5 10-7-97during performances, hinting that it was some kind of pharmaceutical by The Chemical Brothers, which included some ingredient “with the initial E.” He sprayed it and laughed a bit mischievously then said something like, “Oh, what the hell,” and unscrewed the top off and drank it down– a sort of hint of what the audience was in store for as far as the effort from his voice.

Throughout the show he said things like, “The longest show we’ve played was two hours and forty minutes. We’re going to try and beat that record tonight.” He did three sets that night. He never played around with phony finales. Before the breaks he said, “This is only a bathroom break, we’ll be right back.” The show turned out to be three and a half hours long! He played 36 songs. It included every song Bowie had been performing on the current tour, minus one, which he probably only forgot to play because he did it at sound check (“I’m Deranged”).

This was a truly unprecedented event as far as Bowie concerts go. Toward the end of the show Bowie waved off someone backstage who seemed to be trying to hurry him off. He and the band just kept doing song after song after song. By the finale of “All The Young Dudes,” David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper10 10-7-97Bowie’s tongue was literally hanging out of his mouth while he smiled brightly. After the song, in a high-pitched, exhausted and grateful voice, he said, “Thank you.” With a gracious wave goodnight, Bowie admitted it was the longest performance he had given on tour so far, lasting way beyond his previous two-hour-and-40-minute record. “We went well over the three-hour mark,” he said and added, “We’re never going to do anything like this again.”

In these two evenings, Bowie proved himself a true anomaly among his rock ‘n’ roll peers, defining a new standard for popular rock artists over 50. While everyone else has turned their live performances into cabaret shows, Bowie continues to develop as a true artist. He did not rely on old hits to captivate the audience but did what he has always done best– perform and transform, and the fans loved him for it.

Here’s the full set list, provided by SetList FM:

Dead Man Walking (Acoustic)
Quicksand
I’m Waiting for the Man
Always Crashing in the Same Car
The Supermen
My Death
The Jean Genie
I’m Afraid of Americans
Strangers When We Meet
Fame
The Hearts Filthy Lesson
Seven Years in Tibet
Looking for Satellites
Under Pressure
Fashion
Hallo Spaceboy
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Little Wonder

Encore:
Panic in Detroit
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
The Last Thing You Should Do
V-2 Schneider
Battle for Britain (The Letter)
O Superman
White Light/White Heat
Moonage Daydream

Encore 2:
Queen Bitch
I Can’t Read
Telling Lies
Look Back in Anger
Fame (Is It Any Wonder version)
Pallas Athena
Stay
Outside
The Man Who Sold the World
All the Young Dudes

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper 10-7-97

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)