Best-kept music secret in the Berkshires
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 20, 2002) -- The best-kept secret of the summer’s live music scene is Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket. You read that right – Jacob’s Pillow. While the Pillow may not present any concerts per se, many of the dance performances include live music or original recorded music by some of the most adventurous composers and musicians in contemporary music.

Take, for example, this weekend’s performance by Francesca Harper. A principal dancer with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt, a veteran of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and recently seen on Broadway in the cast of “Fosse,” Harper is a conceptual choreographer whose work has been compared to that of Laurie Anderson and Jenny Holzer.

Harper’s “multimedia movement theater,” as it is called, has led her to collaborate with one of contemporary music’s most notorious multi-taskers: Paul D. Miller, the conceptual artist and writer best known as DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid. Miller -- who will be bringing his own project, “Rebirth of a Nation,” to Mass MoCA in August (more on that later in the summer) – provided much of the transitional sound used in Harper’s “Fragile Stone Theory Music and Dances” at the Pillow now through Sunday.

Music for Harper’s performance will be performed live by Spanish composer/pianist Mikel Adonegi, a veteran of bands including Lovehead and Poetic Babies, and violinist Katy Rose Cox, originally from Texas and now a member of New York’s traditional bluegrass bands Nieces and Nephews and Brooklyn Browngrass and a bluegrass/punk band whose name cannot be printed in a family newspaper.

Other opportunities to hear live music this summer at the Pillow (243-0745) include Basil Twist’s Petrushka (June 27-30), featuring music by Igor Stravinsky performed by twin-sister pianists Juila and Irina Elkina, graduates of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia. Composer/instrumentalist Cynthia Hopkins, who has frequently performed in the area as a soloist and with her band, Gloria Deluxe, provides the live soundtrack to “Shunkin,” a new theatrical work by Annie-B Parson’s Big Dance Theater (July 4-7), based on the story by the Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki about a modern-day rock star, her love affair with her disciple servant, and the tumultuous relationship with her all-girl rock band.

The music for Grupo Corpo’s program (July 10-14) includes the U.S. premiere of “7 or 8 Pieces for a Ballet,” a collaboration with Philip Glass, and a world premiere with music by Brazilian avant-garde composer Tom Ze. The Wally Cardona Quartet (July 18-21) will break down the conventional walls of dance performance with “Morph: Live Remix,” in which audience members will freely interact with dancers and live DJs playing state-of-the-art club music, “taking the zeitgeist of the club as the content of the work,” according to a press release.

Concertante, a chamber ensemble, will perform classical quartets by Beethoven and Kurtag and Mendelssohn’s “Octet” as part of the program for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (July 24-28). Company Salia ni Seydou (July 25-28), from Burkina Faso, will bring percussionist Dramane Diabate and flutist Timbiri Winse, to accompany its dances. Composer/percussionist Michael Wimberly will collaborate with Urban Bush Women and dancers from the National Company of Song and Dance of Mozambique (July 31-August 1), and live instrumentalists will play the music of Robert Schumann, Erik Satie and Richard Cumming for the Mark Morris Dance Group (August 6-11).

Miya Masaoka is a composer and kotoist who has collaborated with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Pharaoh Sanders and Cecil Taylor. She will join forces with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet (August 14-18). Composer Robert Een will lead a group of musicians in his score for “/Asunder” by Yin Mei Dance (August 15-18). “Private Lives of Dancers” by David Gordon and his Pick Up Performance Company (August 22-25) features a score by Michael Gordon, a co-founder of Bang on a Can, the contemporary ensemble that will be in residence in July at Mass MoCA. “Passion,” by Momix (August 21-25), will be powered by music composed by Peter Gabriel.

Maybe they should change the name to Jacob’s Pillow Dance and Music Festival?

The Iguanas: Pan-American party

With shared lead and harmony vocals, and a pan-American musical palette embracing Tex-Mex, New Orleans r&b, blues, zydeco and rockabilly, the New Orleans-based rock quintet The Iguanas can’t help but evoke comparisons to The Band and Los Lobos. And judging from the group’s most recent album, the versatile, roots-rocking Sugar Town (Koch), the comparisons are apt and deserving. Formed in 1989 by vocalist/guitarist/accordionist/songwriter Rod Hodges, the group -- which sings in English and Spanish and performs on Saturday night at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington (528-3394) -- boasts two saxophonists, a keyboard-playing bassist, a repertoire that jumps from New Orleans barrelhouse to Mexican cantina, and a reputation as one of North America’s top party bands.

Rosey: Funky white girl from Connecticut

Those going to see Melissa Etheridge at the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford on Sunday should be sure to arrive on time to catch opening act Rosey, the funkiest white girl this side of Nelly Furtado. A neo-hippieish newcomer whose fantastic debut album, Dirty Child (Island) is officially released next Tuesday, Rosey -- whose songs have already been heard on the soundtracks of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Shallow Hal” --could be the next big thing, combining as she does the soul-funk vibe of Macy Gray and party-rock vibe of Sheryl Crow.

Rosey obviously spent time listening to Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone as a child, but she credits the influence of Hebrew melodies she grew up singing in synagogue for her adventurous melodic sensibility. The Stamford, Conn.,-native and former record-label scout is sure to be greeted warmly by the hometown crowd at the Meadows. If you miss her this Sunday, Rosey returns to the region with Etheridge – whose band once again includes superstar rock drummer and Stockbridge native Kenny Aronoff – on July 14 at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Performing Arts Center.

Darden Smith

Sunflower (Dualtone)

The first album by Texas singer-songwriter Darden Smith in four years, Sunflower ranges from Neil Young-like midtempo folk-rock of “Satellite” to the pop-country of “After All This Time.” Smith’s gentle, whispery vocals and delicate melodies are contrast starkly with the sharp guitar lines that bleed through the bed of jazzy, pop-folk arrangements. Produced by Stewart Lerman (Laurie Anderson, the Roches) and featuring guest appearances by Patty Griffin and Kim Richey, Smith’s rootsy, time-tested, folk-pop formula makes him the male answer to Shawn Colvin or the Glen Campbell of the early 21st century. [6/23/02]

Darden Smith performs at the Taste of Amherst on Sunday, June 23, on the Amherst Town Commons.

Ali Hassan Kuban

The Rough Guide to Ali Hassan Kuban (RGNET)

The late Ali Hassan Kuban was the king of modern Nubian music, which combined the traditional sounds of this ancient, Southern Egyptian culture with international pop music, with an emphasis on r&b. Beginning in the 1950s, when Kuban first came upon an American jazz group playing in Cairo, he combined traditional Nubian melodies and percussion with saxophones, guitars, and keyboards to make for an infectious, vocal-heavy Pharaonic funk – think James Brown leading a Mardi Gras parade at the pyramids. This CD collects 15 tracks from four of Kuban’s final releases, including the cleverly-titled “Walk Like a Nubian.” [6/23/02]

Radio Beat

Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:

1. Jen Chapin/Stephan Crump, “Open Wide” (Purple Chair Music)
2. Badly Drawn Boy, “About a Boy (Original Soundtrack)” (XL/BMG)
3. Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (Nonesuch)
4. Rosey, “Dirty Child” (Island)
5. Shannon McNally, “Jukebox Sparrows” (Capitol)
6. Elvis Costello, “When I Was Cruel” (Island)
7. Gogol Bordello, “Voi-La Intruder” (Rubric)
8. Jessica Lurie Ensemble, “Zipa Buka!” (Zipa)
9. Jewlia Eisenberg, “Trilectic” (Tzadik)
10. Sheryl Crow, “C’mon, C’mon” (A&M)

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 20, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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