Post Modern Jukebox

I came across Post Modern Jukebox for their great cover of George Michael’s Careless Whisper (at the time, I was practicing that melody myself, badly, on guitar).  They are a rotating musical collective playing current songs with a 1930s jazz twist, brainchild of New York jazz pianist Scott Bradlee.  My daughter and I got into watching their prolific output on YouTube.  Try  Haley Reinhart singing Radiohead’s Creep or again singing All about the Bass with a three other vocalists.

They are still on a UK tour.  We saw them in snowbound Birmingham on 2nd March.  For me the star was diminutive, understated clarinettist and saxophonist Chloe Feoranzo.   I did not get the names of the guys – the bassist, the trombonist and the tap dancer.  The other singer shown below is Dani Armstrong (the linked video is not official – the best I could find is shot from the audience in another performance).  The unnamed pianist in this performance was not Scott Bradlee (a real franchise this operation!).  Ahead of Dani’s Chandelier, he slowly captured the audience’s attention by building a series of cadenzas, subtly shifting the key with each iteration.  Not pictured here is Emma Hatton, English singer who took on Haley Reinhart’s numbers on this tour.

 

These were drawn afterwards from memory and poor quality shots taken on my phone from far away.

As I say, PMJ is not a band but an ever-changing collective.  I would like it if they gave more credit to the singers and musicians they recruit as they roll through each country on tour.  They deserved the plaudits and I have had to scour the net and twitter to identify those I could.

#PMJtour #PMJofficial

 

The difficulty of crossing a field

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Ambrose Bierce’s admirably concise narrative tells of a man, Williamson, rising to walk to the distant pasture to speak on a particular matter with Andrew, his brother, the overseer, there supervising a dozen slaves; crossing a close-cropped field, level and without any means of concealment, and disappearing such that no person hears of or sees him again, so that he is declared dead and his estate is distributed according to the law.  The sole testimony is from a neighbour, Wren, who saw both Williamson’s presence and then, immediately after, his absence  but who was distracted at the moment of disappearance.  The woman, Williamson’s wife, black servant Sam and boy, Wren’s son, who were each greatly disturbed by the actual event, were deemed incompetent.  What had become of Mr Williamson?  Bierce states clearly, it was not the business of this narrative to answer that question.   The central event itself  is not examined and the reader is left to fill in the details.

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I came to this story though David Lang’s opera of the same name, a chance finding on Spotify.   Listening to this several times without any idea of its cast or staging nor the story or setting, the sense came to me of the neuroticism of oppression: that the act of oppression was driving the white folks mad and that myth and superstition were interwoven with horror and despair.

Mac Wellman’s libretto expands the original story to some 18 pages, seeing the events from the perspectives of the different actors,yet without resolving Bierce’s central question.

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At the heart of the piece is the tightly self-constrained testimony of Andrew, the overseer, explaining his principles of managing slaves and maintaining self respect, which collapses into anger and rhythmic evocative nonsense: “His name was Clock, of the tribe of Clock.  But I fear his true mode of locomotion, like that of Prince Zandor, was more humble, the singleton crutch, or cane, of the tribe of Crutch, or Cane”.  Andrew clarifies that seemingly random shouted words were the attributes, or names, of the slaves working in that distant field: Round, Square, Juniper, Crabgrass, Candlestick, Limbo, Clock, Bumblebee, Jackass, Crawdad, Nuisance, Puissance, Doorbell, Virginia Creeper.  The slaves are the chorus and Virginia Creeper their caller.  The overseer’s words become but an echo of the chorus’ ritual chanting: they are building a nation, seeking an erasure of John C. Calhoun (who promulgated that slavery was more than a “necessary evil” but was a social good) and invoking Prince Zandor, the one-legged red-coated predatory demon from their ancestral mythology.

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Sinfonietta to Fleshquartet

To the sounds of Janacek’s sinfonietta, I layered translucent pixels onto the uploaded blotswyrm

Now my mind dances to a different tune: a chance mention on the radio opening up new ideas for drawing.