Friday, March 29, 2013

Plaque Attack at the American Swedish Institute

Opening Saturday, March 30 at the American Swedish Institute: an exhibition of 1,200 birchwood plaques from Sweden. You've seen these once-ubiquitous little objects in antique stores, your grandparents' home or cabin, maybe on the occasional outhouse door during a camping trip. But 1,200 in the same place at the same time? It's mind-boggling yet strangely seductive.

Look at them and you almost have to love them. See them in such large quantities and you focus in, drawn to one or two favorites. Stand back and you're amazed at the wash of blue and green. Each plaque was made by hand, by someone who cared enough to make it. Each was hung on a someone's wall for a reason -- maybe because This is my town or I visited this place or I dream of going here someday or I like this scene or story. They seem kitschy and commercial, but they're also very personal.

The exhibition encourages you to ask "Is this art?" and even "What is art?" Both are important and interesting questions, but you can also just soak up the scene. It's a sunny, optimistic, slightly twisted show. In the end, it's like too much sugar on your scone, but what a tasty scone.

We saw the exhibition on Wednesday, March 27, while it was still being installed. These photos are the tip of the birchy iceberg.

Photos by John Whiting.

Related: On MinnPost:  Opens Saturday at the American Swedish Institute: "#NameThisExhibit: 1200 Birchwood Plaques."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Monterey Jazz Festival 56

It's never too soon to get stoked for the Monterey Jazz Festival. Today the festival released this year's poster and some of the headliners: Diana Krall, Wayne Shorter, Bobby McFerrin, Bob James/David Sanborn, George Benson, Buena Vista Social Club. And we know that Joe Lovano is the artist-in-residence. Those are more reasons than anyone needs to block off Sept. 20-22 on your calendar, and maybe a few days on either side to enjoy Monterey and nearby Carmel, Santa Cruz, the Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, and the sleepy little town of Pacific Grove.

The poster is by Barcelona artist Maria Corte. We love that the horn player is a woman. We really love the little crab. And the iconic bentwood chair. And the fact that it's all curves, no angles.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Performance knitting with StephenBe

StevenB with Wing Young Huie over his right shoulder
Photo by John Whiting
As Steven Berg, he worked in the fashion industry, designing for Monsanto and Versace. He had learned to knit from his mother at age three and was making clothes for his friends' Barbies by age eight. Educated at Parsons and the Fashion Institute of New York, he saw the world on the corporate dime.

Today, as StevenBe, aka the Glitter Knitter, he owns a yarn shop in an old firehouse on Chicago Avenue and is an outspoken, charismatic part of the area's artistic renaissance, along with the Pillsbury House Theatre, photographer Wing Young Huie, and others who are taking a chance in a neighborhood many avoid. (Steven calls some of them "the ladies in their Mercedes.") He believes that gentrification might as well start with him; that there are no mistakes, only variations; that no continuous strand should go unknit.

The night we saw him, he was knitting multiple strands of yarn, plastic tubing, and long strips of clear plastic on custom-made needles that might have doubled as Louisville Sluggers. He was seated on a throne, which suited him perfectly. 

One of StevenBe's creations
Photo by John Whiting
At an event billed as "a live action knitting performance," hosted by Wing Young Huie at his gallery, The Third Place, StevenBe held court for the 60 or so people who came, some with their knitting, some wearing garments they had made under his loose tutelage. Steven himself wore a sweater he called (if memory serves) "Home Movies," being knit in part from 35mm film. Arranged around the perimeter were other StevenB creations: sweaters knit from fabulous yarns and materials including pull chains and hemp (that one an homage to Willie Nelson). 

He regaled us with stories of his life, introduced his staff, and made everyone in the room believe they could knit, should knit, or (if they already do knit) would go home resolved to knit differently, more creatively, perhaps with a bit more flash and pizzazz, and have more fun. 

We talked about whether knitting, specifically StevenBe's creations, were art or craft. No one really cared that much, but the general consensus seemed to be art. 


About The Third Place, from the gallery's website

"The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. Ray Oldenburg ("The Great Good Place," 1989) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. Oldenburg calls one's "first place" the home and those that one lives with. The "second place" is the workplace, where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction.... Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true "third place": free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars  -- those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.

The StevenBe knitting night took place on Saturday, March 23. The suggested donation was $5-$10. Boxed wine and simple snacks were plentiful. Afterwards, people hung out upstairs or went downstairs for karaoke and pingpong. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tattooriffic shows at Light Grey Art Lab

The crowd was inked, pierced, studded, gauged, leather-clad and friendly. The rooms were small. The art was sweet, dark, and highly detailed: skulls, bats, kittens, snakes, pin-up girls. The beer cost $5.

The event was an opening reception on Friday, March 22 for "Blowout" and "Beautiful Forever," two shows running concurrently at Light Grey Art Lab a block off Eat Street in Minneapolis, each a benefit for Uptown Tattoo artist Tom Strom.

"Fate" by Jared Tuttle
Strom was badly injured in a biking accident, needed surgery, and now faces big expenses. For "Blowout," 40 tattoo artists donated work from outside of their usual day job: drawings, oil paintings, and personal statements. For "Beautiful Forever," illustrators, designers, and artists (e.g. people who don't tattoo) created flash-art inspired temporary tattoos.
"The Kitten Startlets"
by Lillian Joan Duermeier
Pieces from "Blowout" are available as giclee prints in two sizes. We're waiting for our print of "Fate" by artist Jared Tuttle.

You could buy temporary tattoos on the spot, even have them applied if you wanted; helpful people were waiting with sponges and bowls of water. The "Kitten Startlets" by Lillian Joan Duermeier sold out by the time we reached the front of the line. Lindsay Nohl, Light Grey's co-owner with husband Chris Hajny, wore them well.

"Blowout" and "Beautiful Forever" run through April 12. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 12-7 p.m., Sundays 12-5 p.m., and by appointment.


Gallery photos by John Whiting. Art courtesy Light Grey Lab and the artists.

Eldar breaks through with a new "Point of View"

Courtesy In Touch Entertainment
Eldar, wunderkind. His name does not, in fact, mean "aged person." In Hebrew, it means "God resides," and in the Norse languages, "warrior who fights with fire."

Eldar Djangirov started playing piano at age three in Kyrgyzstan. He loved jazz from the start (his father is a jazz fan), but the first live jazz he heard was of his own making. In 2006, when Eldar was nine, the influential and well-connected Charles McWhorter heard him play at a jazz festival in Siberia. Realizing they had a genius offspring, Eldar's parents soon moved the family to Kansas City, believing they were going where the jazz is.

Now 26, Eldar lives in New York City, with seven (soon to be nine) albums to his credit and a long list of accomplishments: a scholarship to Interlochen, an appearance with Marian McPartland on "Piano Jazz"at 12 (thanks to McWhorter, who knew McPartland), catching the ear of Dr. Billy Taylor, who booked him on CBS's "Sunday Morning," performing live on the 2000 Grammys telecast, winning top prizes at the 2001 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and the 2002 Peter Nero Piano Competition, signing with Sony Classical at 17, playing jazz festivals all over the world, earning a Grammy nomination for his fifth release, "Re-Imagination" (2007).

While Eldar is a virtuoso with preternatural dexterity, he's not a machine. While he plays with strength and power, he's not a pounder. He can deliver a lot of notes and chords flawlessly and at superhuman velocity, but they're not just precise and plentiful, which can be boring and cold. He brings intelligence and deep emotion to his playing. Hearing him live is both dazzling and moving.

At his advanced age, Eldar is already revisiting his earlier efforts. The soon-to-be-released "Breakthrough," a trio album with Armando Gola on bass, Ludwig Afonso on drums (and special guests Chris Potter and Joe Locke), includes a new version of "Point of View," a song he recorded on his first CD for Sony, "Eldar" (2005), with the beloved saxophonist Michael Brecker. The original is an all-out race to the finish for both men (Eldar was then 18, Brecker 56). It's a great tune, a lot of fun to hear, full of fat chords, rapid-fire runs, breakneck unison passages, and playful back-and-forth. Brecker is the more imaginative improviser. Listen here. P.S. That's John Patitucci on bass, Todd Strait on drums.

"Point of View Redux" (2013) seems twice as fast. The rhythms are more complex, the improvisations more interesting. There's no horn; this is a classic piano trio, on speed. The song is also more muscular. Can you improve over an outing with Michael Brecker? Probably not, but you can take a different direction. This, too, is fun to hear, but for a whole new set of reasons. Here it is.

Another track from "Breakthrough" is available to sample in advance: Eldar's cover of Radiohead's "Morning Bell." (BTW Potter recorded this on his album "Underground," which came out in 2006.) It's surprising Brad Mehldau didn't get to this first. Passionate and shimmering, it signals Eldar's willingness to record more contemporary pop and rock tunes with a jazz sensibility, a smart move for a young musician these days.

The rest of "Breakthrough" is mostly originals by Eldar, who is also a fine composer, and songs by Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Redd Evans ("No Moon at All"), and Ervin Drake ("Good Morning Heartache").

"Breakthrough" comes out April 9. A little over a month later, on May 14, Motema will release Eldar's classical solo piano debut, "Bach/Brahms/Prokofiev." ("Three Stories" from 2011 is a combination of jazz standards and classical pieces; "B/B/P" is all classical.) Both "Breakthrough" and "B/B/P" were recorded in the same week at different studios; both were self-produced for Motema. (So Eldar isn't with Sony anymore?) One track, the Sinfonia from Bach's Partita #2 in C minor, can be heard on Motema's website; go here and click on "mp3 - Classical Solo." Will he transform any of the other pieces on "B/B/P," as he did "Air on a G String" on "Three Stories"?  Or will he play them straight? Either way, it seems that Eldar will inhabit both the jazz and classical worlds, something few musicians can do.

Related: Live concert review from 2008.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What Jessye Norman will sing at the Ordway on April 30

The Schubert Club has announced the program for its 130th Anniversary Celebratory Concert featuring the great American soprano Jessye Norman. Mark Markham will accompany her on piano. You know she'll wear something fabulous. Other than that, there will be no distractions: no set, no scenery changes, no cast. Just the diva (Norman inspired the character in the famous French film "Diva") and her pianist, alone on stage. Think about that. FYI and tickets.


Falling in Love with Love – Rodgers & Hart
You’ll Never Walk Alone – Rodgers & Hammerstein
But Not for Me – George & Ira Gershwin
I Got Rhythm – Gershwin
The Man I Love – Gershwin
Oh, Lady, Be Good! – Gershwin
A Sleepin’ Bee – Harold Arlen
House of Flowers – Arlen
Climb Ev’ry Mountain – Rodgers & Hammerstein
Lonely Town – Leonard Bernstein
My Man’s Gone Now – Gershwin


My Baby Just Cares for Me (for Nina Simone) – Donaldson/Kahn
Stormy Weather (for Lena Horne) – Harold Arlen
Another Man Done Gone (for Odetta) – Traditional
Mack the Knife (for Ella Fitzgerald) – Brecht/Weill
Meditation for piano (from Second Sacred Concert) – Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore – Ellington
I’ve Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good – Ellington
It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) – Ellington