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Out There :: Tunes for the Dog Days of August

by Roberto Friedman
Saturday Aug 22, 2015

"Why does August try so hard/To hoist me on my own petard?" - Ute Lemper singing Tom Waits' "Purple Avenue" on "Punishing Kiss" (Decca, 2000). So what else is Out There quenching his thirsty ears with during these summer-doldrums days?

1. After the outrageous 2003 invasion of Iraq by American war-mongers, Bay Area pianist Sarah Cahill bemoaned the lack of protest music in response. She commissioned 18 antiwar pieces from prominent composers, including the nine collected on "A Sweeter Music" (Other Minds, 2013). They include "Be Kind to One Another (Rag)" by Terry Riley, "Steppe Music" by Meredith Monk, "Peace Dances" by Frederic Rzewski , "Sonamu" by Carl Stone , "The Long Winter" by Phil Kline, "Toning" by Yoko Ono, and "drum no fife" by The Residents.

The most extraordinary composition on the album is "War Is Just a Racket" by composer/music critic Kyle Gann. This is a setting of a 1933 speech by General Smedley Butler, "who, in 1933, was approached by a bunch of plutocrats (including apparently Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of presidents) who wanted to stage a quiet coup, reducing FDR to a figurehead and setting up a government friendlier to Hitler and Mussolini," Gann writes. "It was an attempt at a Fascist takeover. Butler feigned interest for awhile, but he marched straight to Congress and turned the bastards in."

From Butler's speech, set to Gann's music: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." The Empire is exposed.

2. Pianist Anthony de Mare offers a new 3-CD set of 36 songs by legendary composer Stephen Sondheim arranged and reimagined by contemporary composers (ECM New Series, releases Sept. 25). Per the press materials: "De Mare, a renowned champion of contemporary music, invited 36 composers from a wide variety of musical backgrounds - contemporary classical, jazz, pop, film and theatre - to 're-imagine' a song of their choice by Stephen Sondheim as a solo piano piece. The recording sessions for this spanned a four-year period and resulted in a remarkable compendium of new music."

"Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano" features composers including William Bolcom, Nico Mulhy, Steve Reich, Jason Robert Brown, Duncan Sheik, Wynton Marsalis, Fred Hersch, Jake Heggie, Frederic Rzewski, David Shire, Ricky Ian Gordon, Gabriel Kahane, Thomas Newman and others.

3. Singer-songwriter Janelle Kroll shared a terrific new track online, her own airy and up-tempo take on Joni Mitchell's "Down to You (My Confidante)." It breathes new life into an old song.

4. Satirical songwriter Roy Zimmerman writes and performs funny topical ditties like "SCROTUS" ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDMdSJJCKzk). Here's just one cunning verse: "Oh hail us, and heed us, and read us, and quote us, the Supreme Court Republicans of the United States: SCROTUS !

"They brought a case before us, a ruling we upheld, / a private corporation can't be legally compelled, / if it violates its deep religious credo, / to insure an employee against her wild libido.

"For in our esteemed opinion, a woman has the right / to work for Hobby Lobby and to keep her legs shut tight. / For the company, like a church, has its morality. / No other church sells Elmer's Glue, but that's a technicality."

5. Melody Gardot's fourth studio album "Currency of Man" (Verve/Decca) "is rooted in Melody's observations of real-life characters on the streets of Los Angeles where 'Currency of Man' was recorded, touching upon many timely issues including racial inequality and homelessness. The cinematic black-and-white video for lead single 'Preacherman' is a stirring poetic tribute to the story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American boy whose 1955 murder was a catalyst for the ensuing Civil Rights Movement." Gardot will appear on Sept. 29 in the newly renovated Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

Also cued up on OT's trusty old Sony stereo system: Osvaldo Golijov's "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind," performed by Kronos Quartet and David Krakauer on clarinet, bass clarinet, and basset horn (Nonesuch, 1997); Final Fantasy's "Heartland" (Domino, 2010); and Helene Grimaud with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Schumann Piano Concerto, Strauss "Burleske" (Erato, 1995).

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com


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