Saturday, January 12, 2019

REVIEW: Taylor Barnett – "Loose Ends"

Posted By on Sat, Jan 12, 2019 at 8:55 PM

“Loose Ends” is joy on two levels. Primarily, it is smart, polished music, full of appealing ideas and the space required for their realization by a large ensemble.

With an EP running time of less than a half-hour, it’s easy to take in a single listen, letting the songs work as a unit. “Loose Ends,” about the length of a classic LP side, is a throwback to the “less is more,” focused charms of the album era.

The other level? Fresh as they are, these recordings are decade-old time capsules. It was an era when the Richmond scene was just coming together. These are once and future all-star RVA lineups. World-traveling virtuoso Rex Richardson was still something of a recent arrival. Daniel Clarke was in the early stages of his exemplary career. Brian Jones and JC Kuhl were fresh from the first iteration of Agents of Good Roots. NoBS! Brass, represented by multiple players in the sessions, was still setting up in the audience and on the street. (Come to think of it, the latter hasn’t changed.) Dr. Barnett was plain old “Taylor.”

This is not the first project from Barnett. His highest-visibility work has been with No BS!, but he’s released two albums on his own before, one featuring his “10-tet” at about the same time as these recordings, and the brilliant “Old and New Things” with Trey Pollard (another player in these sessions.)

Maybe it is appropriate that the delay between recording “Loose Ends” and its release is just about as long as it took to release Barnett’s mentor, Doug Richard’s big band masterwork “It’s All in the G.A.M.E.” But Richard’s great album was a magisterial career summation. “Loose Ends” is a delightful echo of another generation’s opening shots.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

PICK: Mdou Moctar at Gallery5

Tuesday, Jan. 8

Posted on Tue, Jan 1, 2019 at 1:00 AM

Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar, known for his film homage to Prince’s “Purple Rain,” returns to Richmond with his droning electric guitar, singing and desert soundscapes. How often do you get to see authentic communal music from Niger, with some wild Jimi Hendrix flavor and hand percussion thrown in like splashes of rain? If you missed his trio before, here’s your makeup chance. The show starts at 8 p.m. $10 in advance, $15 at the door. 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. galleryfive.org.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Gift Suggestion: Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles [ECM]

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2018 at 3:00 PM

“The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Related Ensembles” is an epochal celebration of one of the great bands of the last century. And it is delivered in late 20th century format.

Massive CD box sets were go-to Christmas gifts in the era before all-access streaming and retro vinyl, and at 21 discs, this is one of the largest of the form, although smaller than the 24-disc RCA Ellington centennial, or the 200-disc Mozart 225th anniversary collection.

These anthologies are an argument for the artist’s importance. The material may be filled out with an obsessive’s wealth of alternative or incomplete takes, or, as in this case, collect recordings long available independently, albeit curated in a numbered edition with all the original art interleaved with brief appreciations by various writers and musicians.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago were the prime champions of the Chicago-based Association for Advancement of Creative Music. Their early work had a strong affinity for the free-form expressionism of pioneers like Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, but by the time this collection starts had evolved into a winning balance of approachability and abstraction. While never easy listening, their trailblazing compositions left enough breadcrumbs in the melodic/harmonic maze for audiences to follow. Their performances mixed ritual and intense/humorous play arguably captured at its most listenable during their association with ECM.

It was an unlikely match, even if both label and band celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. ECM was known for chamber productions with the crystalline clarity of a Nordic night. In the early '80s, that was a great setting for Keith Jarrett, Gary Burton, and Burton’s young sideman Pat Metheny. The Art Ensemble was consciously African, hot, unrestrained, spiced with chaotic unpredictability. The combination worked well, arguably cutting back on the intensity but also revealing complexity and intelligence of the interplay. The five records of that fire and ice artist and label collaboration are the heart of this collection.

The balance of the box set is filled out with releases featuring key band members, trumpeter Lester Bowie and/or saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell as leaders or sidemen. Not to downplay the contributions of saxophonist Joseph Jarmon, bassist Malachi Favors, or percussionist Famodou, Bowie and Mitchell were the Lennon/McCartney of the band. With his waxed goatee and white lab coat, in contrast to the Afro-centric tribal garb and face-paint of the others, Bowie was the McCartney of the duo. His music was accessible, warm, and full of life. His Brass Fantasy was not averse to mixing up jazz standards with pop/rock hits like “I Only Have Eyes for You” or the Platters' “The Great Pretender.” Mitchell, by default, was the Lennon; more avant-garde and exploratory. If Bowie’s later session tended toward melodic accessibility, Mitchell’s were more abstract and impressionistic, if still based on swing. Fiery improvisations have seldom been so pristinely recorded.

The recordings stretch from 1979’s “Nice Guys” to 2013’s valedictory “Made in Chicago.” There are a host of great players who appear in the later groups- Vijay Iyer, Henry Threadgill, Jack DeJohnette, John Abercrombie. The sessions are not chronologically-sequenced; Bowie, who died of liver cancer in 1999, is still alive and playing on the 20th CD, “Jack DeJohnette New Directions In Europe.” Appropriately so. However much you liked and admired The Art Ensemble and the cloud of groups that followed in its slipstream, Bowie was the player you could love.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Richmond Symphony Announces New Four-Year Contract with Musicians

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2018 at 11:45 AM

From the press release desk, the Richmond Symphony sent out this announcement today:

The Richmond Symphony and the Richmond Musicians’ Association, Local 123 of the American Federation of Musicians are pleased to announce jointly that the Board and musicians have ratified a new four-year collective bargaining agreement, through Aug. 23, 2022.

The new contract, covering the 2018/19, 19/20, 20/21 and 21/22 Seasons, guarantees annual wage increases of 1.5%, 1.5%, 2.0% and 2.5% respectively, with the salaries of section musicians increasing to $36,847.20, associate principals to $42,010.80, and principal musicians to $47,901.36 by the final year of the agreement.

Continuing to nurture the Richmond Symphony’s growth as a leading regional orchestra with an excellent national reputation, its management and union have agreed to prioritize in the new contract the conversion of four positions within the orchestra from ‘per-service’ to ‘core’ (essentially, from part-time to full-time) over the period of the agreement – increasing the full- time ‘core’ complement from its current 37 to 41 musicians. The first two to be converted will be the Principal Tuba and Second Horn, which will be sustained over the long term by the growth of the Symphony’s endowment.

The Symphony is currently in the final stages of a $12M capital campaign, which has already included and enabled the conversion of a per-service cello position to core by the creation of the $500K Kenneth and Bettie Christopher Perry Foundation Cello Chair, now held by Schuyler Slack.

The remaining $1M to be raised in the capital campaign includes three elements designed to help underwrite the new contract and support the musicians: building the new John R. Warkentin Fund which underwrites musicians’ salary increases and helps individual Richmond Symphony musicians in times of emergency and personal distress; establishing a new Core Expansion endowment fund; and matching a $250K challenge grant by George and Luzi Wheeler who, it can now been announced, have generously agreed to name the Second Horn Chair through a new endowed fund. The Richmond Symphony and its musicians join in extending warmest gratitude to John Warkentin and to George and Luzi Wheeler for their leadership support; and welcome all donations to the capital campaign, to help accomplish these goals.

“We are very happy with terms of our agreement with the Union.” said Leon Roday, the Richmond Symphony Board’s Negotiating Committee Chair. “We are particularly excited that a 4 year agreement provides a lengthy and stable environment for the Symphony and its musicians to focus on providing great entertainment for our patrons. Kudos to the musicians for their successful desire to expand by 4 the permanent members of the Orchestra along with cost of living increases for musicians. We thank all our supporters for their commitment to the sustainability of the Symphony for years to come.”

“The Musicians are delighted that the Board is willing to tackle the expansion of the full-time Core of players, which we consider vital to the artistic growth and future of the orchestra, and we are pleased by the many other changes that will enhance both the music-making and the working relationships in our wonderful organization.” said Alison Hall, Orchestra Negotiating Committee Chair and Richmond Symphony Violinist. “We feel very hopeful that this is the beginning of a renewed confidence and cooperation among our Musicians, Management, and Board, so that we can move forward together towards greater excellence, and greater usefulness to the City of Richmond.”

As part of the new contract, musicians have agreed to formalize and expand their role in supporting the Symphony’s fundraising and marketing initiatives. “We greatly appreciate our musicians’ willingness to support our efforts to create outstanding experiences for our audiences, not just by their superlative performances on stage but by their focus with us on building our base of public support.” said Richmond Symphony Executive Director, David J.L. Fisk. “As we prepare for the next decade, including the hosting of the Menuhin Competition, the Olympics of the Violin, in 2020, and the selection of a new Music Director, having musicians, Board and staff working together in harmony will enable us to accomplish great things in service to the citizens of Richmond, the wider region, and the Commonwealth.”

Friday, December 7, 2018

Go Fund Me Page Started to Save Former Strange Matter Space

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2018 at 4:30 PM

People saddened by the impending closing on Dec. 15 of popular rock venue Strange Matter at 929 W. Grace St. may have a way to do something.

Bobby Egger, founder of Oregon Hill punk record store Vinyl Conflict, as well as Gabe Lopez and Harry Pinnix, have started a Go Fund Me Page that aims to keep the space a music venue. So far, in one day, they've raised almost $9,000 of a $150,000 goal.

As stated on the page, "there are talks of people taking it over (ourselves included. We've been in constant contact with the owners since news of the closing), but it takes a lot. There are debts that need to be paid, necessary repairs (I solemnly swear to fix up the bathrooms), and other costs to consider in keeping the spot in its proper glory!"

It continues: "Your donations would go on top of a potential business loan that would provide us the necessary funds to let all this happen, but the more we get in donations, the more likely it is for us to get our necessary loan, as we could ask for less. We know it seems like a lot, but our goal is only a portion of the projected funds we would need ... For complete transparency, its important that we let you know that we will most likely not be using the name Strange Matter. We feel like Strange Matter will always be remembered how it was, and we don't want to come in and take away from that. That doesn't mean we're going to completely change it, either!"

The organizers offer a disclaimer at the end that "any funds donated will not be used or withdrawn until a deal goes through and is finalized. Any unused funds will be returned to the contributor."

While the group has been tentative about speaking with media, Egger did post this comment on social media:

"Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with a couple friends. This was just an idea and it simply whirl-winded into a reality. After speaking with so many of you yesterday, I realized we need to act on this rather than brainstorm.

Myself, Gabe Lopez and Harry Pinnix want to keep 929 West Grace Street a venue, just like all of you do.

I’ll keep this brief, I believe in this space. We will be taking the proper loans to make this right. We will continue to bring you the entertainment that you have enjoyed in this location for the last few decades. There is plenty that needs to change and we are already working to make sure that the space will adapt and update how it needs.

Help us share this link, there is a long road ahead of this, but I am confident in this decision.

yours in punk

-Bobby Egger

AUDIO: “Jesus Man, It’s Christmas” – Russell Lacy

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2018 at 4:00 PM


Just as a bit of bitters are often the key to a good cocktail, the secret to many good Christmas songs is a touch of darkness to give depths to the brilliant cheer. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is haunted by the horrors of WWII. The hopefulness of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is deeply shadowed by global injustice. Joni Mitchell’s “River” is heartbreaking.

“Jesus, Man It’s Christmas” by the Virginia Moonwalker’s Russel Lacy taps into this tradition. It starts off as a bright, backbeat-laden, guitar-strumming, glockenspiel-dazzled country ditty, then quickly turns into a plea for the homeless. “Hello friend, are you bitter from the cold/All them pretty girls have dusted off their winter clothes.”

In addition to Lacy on guitar and vocals, the band features Kelli Strawbridge (Kings, the Big Payback) on drums, Gabriel Santamaria (Funky Monks, Black Janis) on bass, and all-star backing vocals from Angelica Garcia, Keneeka Cook, and Buttafly Vasquez. For two and a half minutes the song balances on the knife edge between seasonal cheer and humanistic hope, ending on a note of resignation, “Ain’t nobody home.”

The “Jesus” in the lyrics may be an areligious exclamation. But it is also a reminder that the traditional Christmas story was about folks looking for shelter on a midwinter night.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Venture Richmond Announces New Position and Promotion

Stephen Lecky promoted to Director of Events plus new hire.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 4:45 PM

The non-profit Venture Richmond has promoted Stephen Lecky to director of events wihle hiring Max Hepp-Buchanan for a newly created position of director of riverfront and downtown placemaking.

“We couldn’t be happier that Max is joining the Venture Richmond team and bringing with him not just a love of our downtown, but also solid expertise and experience in urban planning," said Lisa Sims, executive director of Venture Richmond in a press release. "And we’re delighted that Stephen will be leading our events team. He has consistently excelled as manager of the Richmond Folk Festival, and we know that he will bring that same passion, energy, and experience to his new role overseeing all of our events. It’s an exciting time!”

Max Hepp-Buchanan
  • Max Hepp-Buchanan

A Seattle native, Hepp-Buchanan is the director for Bike Walk RVA, a regional program of Sports Backers that advocates for biking and walking infrastructure, according to the release. He will begin his new job in January. He describes his new job as "helping to make the Richmond riverfront and downtown a better place to live, work, and play for everybody,” in the release.

Lecky is a familiar face to many concert goers at Friday Cheers and Dominion Energy Riverrock. He has been festival manager at Venture Richmond since 2006 and was a key staff member managing the popular Richmond Folk Festival since 2005.

“I have been fortunate to have worked with the Venture Richmond team for so many years and to be a part of the exceptional events we produce,” said Lecky in the release. “I look forward to expanding my role and responsibilities to continue the success of these events, and others, that help to make our Downtown vibrant for residents and visitors alike.”

Venture Richmond's stated goal is to engage "business and community leaders in partnering with the City of Richmond to enhance the vitality of the community, particularly downtown, through economic development, marketing, promotion, advocacy, and events. Crucial elements of Venture Richmond’s mission include bringing nearly a half million people from across the region Downtown for large-scale public events, as well as managing key portions of the Downtown Riverfront, like Brown’s Island, Tredegar Green, and the Canal Walk and Turning Basin, and the Riverfront Canal Cruises."

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Richmond Symphony Announces Original "Star Wars" Concert on May 4

John Williams' original score to "A New Hope" will be performed live at Altria Theatre.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2018 at 3:00 PM

"Star Wars" geeks, rev your engines.

The Richmond Symphony will present "Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert" featuring a screening of the complete film that started it all, with the Oscar-winning composer John Williams' musical score performed live at Altria Theatre.

The concert will be led by acclaimed conductor Keitaro Harada and will be held on May, 4, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, which range from $40 to $80, will go on sale to the public on Friday, Dec. 7.

And yeah, this one will probably sellout (if a gazillion dollars of movie business over 40 years is any indication).

The Star Wars: Film Concert Series is produced under license by Disney Concerts in association with 20th Century Fox and Warner/Chappell Music.

Oh yeah, and there's nothing like hearing Luke whine like an angsty teen in a large crowd of moviegoers.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

John Maus Performing at Broadberry Feb. 10

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 12:40 PM


John Maus, wildman vocalist and vintage synth freak, will be performing at the Broadberry on Sunday, Feb. 10 for his first Richmond show.

A Minnesota native, Maus is a former teacher of philosophy at the University of Hawaii whose music is sometimes described as a “goth-pop,” probably due to its use of medieval church modes, as well as his dramatic baritone vocals.

He’s known for emotional and energetic live shows and for albums with titles such as “We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves” which has a little ditty called “Cop Killer” that didn’t create nearly the controversy that Ice-T’s song by the same name did (with the group Body Count).

Maus went to school at Cal Arts with musician Ariel Pink and the two have performed together and have plans to collaborate on an album.

The artist has announced that this upcoming tour will be solo. Sadly, his younger brother Joseph recently died at the age of 30 while on tour with Maus last July in Latvia, due to an undiagnosed heart condition.

The John Maus show takes place at the Broadberry on Sunday, Feb. 10 with a special guest to be announced. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 day of show. They go on sale Nov. 30 at 10 a.m.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Paste Magazine Places Richmonder Lucy Dacus Atop 2018 Album Poll

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2018 at 4:30 PM


Georgia-based Paste Magazine has named the second album by Richmond-based singer and songwriter Lucy Dacus as its number one record of the year. Congrats to Lucy!

Here's what they wrote about the album "Historian" by the Matador recording artist, Style Weekly Top 40 under 40 winner, and proud graduate of Maggie L. Walker's Governor School:

"Historian is at once tightly focused and musically expansive, 10 new songs that sidestep any notion of a sophomore slump. While her 2016 debut, No Burden, had its tentative moments, Dacus displays remarkable poise here. She never sounds less than supremely confident on lyrics that make the personal political, and vice versa, accompanied by musical arrangements that are sometimes downright majestic. It wasn’t a secret that Dacus is a strong lyricist, but she’s become subtler, too, with turns of phrase that gleam, and sometimes devastate: “I’m just calling ’cause I’m used to it / And you’ll pick up ’cause you’re not a quitter,” she sings on “Addictions.” She’s just as skilled at describing a scene as delivering one-liners: Dacus wrote “Yours and Mine” after participating in the 2017 Women’s March, and she evokes the feeling of camaraderie and, simultaneously, the excitement and trepidation of standing on a precipice: “For those of you who told me I should stay indoors / Take care of you and yours,” she warns over a big, thumping beat and jangling guitar. “But me and mine…we’ve got a long way to go until we get home.” It’s a rare artist who has a voice so compelling, and rarer still are the ones who learn so early on how to use it. At 23, Dacus has already made a career album with Historian, and she’s really only just getting started." —Eric R. Danton

Dacus is currently on tour in California. She has only two 2019 dates scheduled, both of them festival stops in Georgia.

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