Friday, October 31, 2014

From the Exquisite to the Exuberant

The entire evening was brought to me by the city's department of multicultural affairs. If we had one.

But it might as well have been because it began with the Scott Clark 4tet at VCU's Singelton Center performing the premiere of Scott's composition, "Bury My Heart."

And the drums relive what once was...

I'd first heard part of the piece back in January 2013 at a show at For Instance Gallery. Then Scott had said he'd been so moved, first by reading Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and then when he was touring the country with Matthew White and seeing the places in the book, that he'd begun writing music about it all.

That germ of an idea had continued to grow until it was now a full blown composition with separate movements and before beginning, he specifically asked the audience to hold their applause until the end.

I knew I had the perfect seat when I sat down because I was right behind Doug Richards, the man who shaped VCU's Jazz Studies program. The 4tet came out nattily attired, Scott unbuttoned his suit jacket and the piece took off.

In a perfect world, I would have the vocabulary to describe what I heard as Scott and his group - Bob on trumpet, Jason on sax and Cameron on bass - played this dynamic piece of moving music, but I don't.

Through the emotional music you heard the spirit of Native American culture and the violence against them. Scott's drumming had a rhythmic urgency that played out in his handling of the brushes and mallets against every part of the drums possible.

It was both a celebration of and a lament for Scott's native American ancestry and I doubt anyone in the room will soon forget what they heard tonight.

Standing ovation well deserved.

Then for something completely different and just as multi-cultural, I went to see a nine-piece Japanese band, Osaka Monaurail, do their tribute to the music of James Brown.

And lest you think they're a flash in the pan, they've been doing this for 22 years, touring Asia and Europe. This is their first American tour.

Plenty of people had come out to see this oddity, so I had the chance to chat with a former neighbor, a DJ, a guitarist, the record store owner and the woman I'd met at Amuse who keeps showing up everywhere I go.

Even better, there were lots of people at Strange Matter for the first time, including my old neighbor who said she hadn't been in this building since the '70s.

The band strode through the crowd in matching shiny black suits, took the stage and proceeded to show us how Japan has been doing JB for two decades.

It was pretty impressive. Whether because they're Japanese (one friend's theory) or because of their long time playing together, they were all crack musicians and really, really tight.

As expected (and hoped for) there was a whole lot of synchronized dancing onstage, not to mention a lot of trumpet twirling between notes.

"We're Osaka Monaurail and there will be no Japanese music tonight!" the lead singer promised. "You wouldn't like it if we played it! Or would you?" The crowd wanted it, he obliged off key and they went back to what they do best.

The audience went back to dancing. I was up against the bar with all the tall people in front of me, but I managed anyway.

It wasn't all James Brown stuff, either, because they did "Get Ready" and probably other stuff I should have recognized and didn't. Mostly it was just great fun, high energy and dancable as it could be.

"Twenty two years, still working hard, still splitting my pants," the lead singer shouted before doing the classic "Funky Chicken" and whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

Somewhere the godfather of soul had to be smiling down on Richmond at that. And probably thinking, what in the hell?

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