Last night, I headed down to Fred Anderson's "Chicago sound" Velvet Lounge on Cermak (21st Street), to see Aarawak Productions and AACM's (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) concert, featuring Douglas R. Ewart & Inventions, a group that includes my good friend, poet, performer and Black Took Collective co-founder Duriel Harris. I've seen Duriel read and perform her work many times (we've read together a few times over the years), but amazingly to me, never with Ewart and Inventions. The lineup included Ewart (winds, voice and percussions), Duriel, Dee Alexander (vocals and percussions), Edward Wilkerson (reeds and percussions), Mwata Bowden (reeds and percussions), Darius Savage (bass and percussions), Dushun Mosley (drums), and, as a special treat, Anderson himself on tenor sax, and was titled "To Tell the Truth."
The first piece, a Lester Lashley tune titled "For All We Know," put me in mind of the music of one of my favorites, AACM member and Art Ensemble of Chicago longtimer, composer Roscoe Mitchell, with its opening passage of parallel, dissonant harmonic blocks, on the winds, that slowly shatter into rich improvisatory lines, only to reconvene, piece by piece, at the song's end. Everyone (save Alexander, who wasn't onstage) had a solo, and the wind players astonished me, Wilkerson taking off at a speed that would have impressed Charlie Parker and with an improvisational canniness that brought to mind the sharpest saxophonists in the Afro-avant tradition. The second piece consisted of the trio Bowden, Savage and Mosley entering into musical dialogue with Duriel's poetry, and it was one of those performances in which the embodied voices, the lyric subject's and Duriel's, struggled, warred, sang, wailed, sublimely, against the poetic text's voicings. (To see this on the page, check out Duriel's first collection of poems/texts, Drag.) Bowden's clarinet solo on this one drew an ironic line, with its mellowness a striking counterpart to Duriel's journey through her words and, at the end, to near-wordlessness. The group then remixed its numbers and members, and did so throughout the rest of the concert, to fine effect. Below are some photos, and a short clip of the Duriel's performance. Enjoy!
Ewart, Bolden, Wilkerson, and Duriel, as the set was beginning
Wilkerson in motion during one of his solos
A snippet of Duriel's poem
Partway through the set, I headed back north, to catch a student production of Naomi Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, which was directed by one of my advanced fiction sequence students, Rebecca Stevens. I'd heard of Wallace's work though I'd never seen any productions of her plays, and this was a great introduction. Set during the Great Depression, the play explores the effects that joblessness, fear of the present and future, and multiply-layered alienation and repression have on several characters, primary among them Dalton Chance (played by Mark Underhill) and Pace Cregan (played here by Anna Perczak), who take to footraces over a trestle as a way of grounding themselves and beating--at least for a while--hopelessness and fate. I was so impressed by what Rebecca, her producer, and the cast and crew pulled off. The acting for the most part was never too stagy or overdemonstrative, the set was spare in the best way, with just enough detail to draw the mood of that era, and her musical interludes, comprisings 30s blues, jazz, folk, and popular songs, none of them obvious, evoked the soundtrack of a too-easily forgotten era. Most importantly, I think, she was able to guide her actors in capturing most of the poetry of Wallace's text; despite the subject matter, the play is anything but naturalistic. Its nonlinear movement and poetic texture, along with the play's overall tragic undertow, require expert management, and Rebecca gets my props for an adroit hand behind it all. And now, a couple of photos:
Alex Weisman (as Chas. Weaver) and Underhill
Perczak, Underhill and Catherine Lefrere (as Gin Chance)