Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chrissi Poland - Live on the Lower East Side, 11/4/08 through 2/15/09

The Living Room, 11/04/08

"Alone With My Troubles", Rockwood Music Hall, 2/15/09

[HD video on youtube sometimes streams slower than the player requires, so for smooth play pause it and let the stream get ahead of the player. Start the above song and read on.]

This story begins on election night 2008 at the Living Room. The atmosphere was already electric with anticipation of the impending election of Barak Obama. I'd seen Chrissi several times before, first encountering her at Rockwood back in July of 2008. I knew she was good, but nothing prepared me for what was going to happen next. She began her set with "Alone With My Troubles" a song which she had just written earlier that day, literally just a few hours before the show. The power of this heart-wrenching blues, together with the slow, beautiful and incredibly compelling performance by Chrissi and her band, made time stand still and made the heart stop, and the intensity did not let up for the duration of her set as she followed one great song with another. When it was over and I finally exhaled, to paraphrase Janis, Chrissi had taken a little piece of my heart.

"Angel Weep for Me", The Living Room, 11/04/08

The Living Room, 11/04/08

Chrissi's band for this show was Steve Elliot on guitar, Richard Hammond on bass, Henry Hay on keyboards, and Tony Mason on drums. "Troubles" was followed by "Steppin' Up, Gettin' Down", "Thinking of You", "Next Time", "Another Sad Song", "Angel Weep for Me" (video above), a great cover of Albert King's "Shake 'em Down", the gorgeous "Little Bit of Loving", with Chrissi reporting election news between some of the songs. She ended the set with "Yes We Can" covering Allen Toussaint as done by the Pointer Sisters, a tune she dedicated to Obama.

"Yes We Can", The Living Room, 11/04/08

Rockwood Music Hall, 12/28/08

I had never actually planned to add shooting video to my photographic repertoire, I had picked up a pocket camera to experiment with, to see if it might be suitable for times when carrying the Nikon SLR is impractical or impossible. It just so happens that this little camera can also shoot high definition video, and exploring that capability led to the above clips from election night. The prospect of shooting even better quality audio and video to capture some of these live performances led to further experimentation with a Canon high definition camcorder, which provides the video for all the later clips.

The Living Room, 1/25/09

On January 25th at the Living Room, Chrissi took over the drum kit for "Sing" a song she co-wrote with her partner, producer and pianist Jon Cowherd. Chrissi has mentioned enjoying the irony that while she's singing "All I really want to do is sing", she's really thinking that all she wants to do is play the drums.

"Sing", The Living Room, 1/25/09

The band for this date included Steve Eliott on guitar, Jon Cowherd on piano and Hammond B-3 organ, Tim Luntzel on bass, and Joe Goretti on drums. The show opened with another killer version of "Alone With My Troubles", a cover of Bettye Lavette's version of "Do Your Duty", the hauntingly beautiful "Next Time" (listen below), "Another Sad Song", "Sing", "No Good Guy", "Angel Weep For Me", and "Yours is the Love".

Listen to "Next Time" live at The Living Room, 1/25/09

The Living Room, 1/25/09

Chrissi's professional career to date has consisted mostly of singing in various lead and backup roles for a number of other bands, artists, and studio productions, most notably singing backup for Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), an association which took her to Washington D.C. a few days earlier on January 20th to sing backup with Sam, Sting, and Elvis Costello at the Creative Coalition's Inaugural Ball. The excitement of that extraordinary assignment spilled back into the Living Room as Chrissi ended her set with an impromptu election-inspired jam on "Yours is the Love", check it out.

"Yours is the Love (Obama Inaugural Mix)", The Living Room, 1/25/09

Rockwood Music Hall, 2/15/09

The video from Rockwood Music Hall, 2/15/09 features an audio mix of the Rockwood's sound board combined with the feed from a Rode stereo microphone attached to the camera for a live recording that with some good speakers attached to your computer will allow you to experience a bit of what it was like to be at Rockwood during this performance. Next up below is "Little Bit of Loving", this exquisitely beautiful song features a similarly gorgeous piano solo by Jon. Enjoy.

"Little Bit of Loving", Rockwood Music Hall, 2/15/09

In addition to Jon, Chrissi was backed by Steve Eliott on guitar, Richard Hammond on bass, and Joe Goretti on drums. She opened with "Alone With My Troubles", followed by "Do Your Duty", "Thinking of You", "Little Bit of Loving", "Sing" again with Chrissi on drums, "Angel Weep For Me", her first live performance of "This Time Around", "Another Sad Song", and "No Good Guy" to close the show. The Rockwood was packed for this excellent set, and the crowd was totally with her, line for line on "No Good Guy", have a look.

"No Good Guy", Rockwood Music Hall, 2/15/09

That bit of my heart that went missing on election night is still AWOL, but that's okay. As great as that show was, Chrissi has found a way to raise the bar a few dozen times since. This is an artist who draws from such a deep well of musical experience and talent for singing, musicianship, and songwriting, that her potential for greatness is unlimited. Tomorrow Chrissi goes into the recording studio to make her long awaited debut album of the original songs that she's been honing in these recent live performances. Stay tuned...

Chrissi Poland's myspace.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Cézanne and Beyond - Philadelphia Museum of Art, 4/04/09

Cézanne - The Smoker

I've never formally studied art history or art criticism, but as a photographer and as someone who enjoys art a great deal, I know what I like, and the Cézanne and Beyond exhibit, currently showing here in Philadelphia has an amazing number of awesome paintings on display. Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) has been a cash cow for the Philadelphia Museum over the years and it's easy to be cynical about why they might mount another exhibit with Cézanne as the marquee, but there is a good reason why Cézanne is such a draw and it has to do with the excellence of his work.

This show's concept is to include fifty works by Cézanne alongside 100 works by eighteen other artists whose work he influenced. Most of the work represents his posthumous influence rather than the effect that he had on his contemporaries. Which is why you won't find works by Camille Pisarro (himself a stellar draw for the Philadelphia museum some years ago) in Cézanne and Beyond. There was an equally superb exhibition in 2005 at MoMA New York entitled Cézanne & Pisarro 1865-1885, you can follow the link to see examples of how these two artists influenced each other.

Cézanne - Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffon

I fully expected to see great works by Cézanne, but it was a huge and pleasant surprise to be totally blown away by so many paintings by artists who were influenced by Cézanne, including at least four fabulous paintings by Piet Mondrian, nothing like the blocks of primary colors he is most known for. There is an amazing painting by Ellsworth Kelly called "Larry" which I would show you here but can't find any reproductions of it online. "The Geranium" by Henri Matisse is in the show and is incredibly beautiful.

Matisse - The Geranium

Although Cézanne's highly regarded series of "The Bathers" paintings does not hold the same attraction for me, the installation in this exhibit is extraordinary. In a large gallery room you can see a set of six sculptures by Pablo Picasso, "The Bathers" inspired by the Cézanne paintings. As you stand in front of the sculptures, the Cézanne paintings of "The Bathers" loom large on the wall forming a backdrop for the sculptures. The combination is powerful regardless of your predisposition to the paintings. And almost precisely at the moment I was having the thought that there was entirely too much work by Jasper Johns in this show, I looked up and saw what may be the first work by him that I actually like, "The Map".

Jasper Johns - The Map

In the centuries before photography was invented, artists provided the visual record of the world using their eyes, brain, brush, paint and canvas to create images that reflected the world as they saw it. The artists' choices of what to show, composition of the image, the use of color, and even the resolution of the image all are also aspects of photography that a photographer uses to create the photographic image. Looking at a painting such as Cézanne's "The Smoker" (above) I see the painter's sense of composition that mirrors in many ways, the choices that a photographer might make in creating such a portrait.

Artist Fernand Leger, whose art is also represented in the show is quoted as saying "Cézanne's influence was so strong that in order to free myself I had to move all the way to abstraction", which brings to mind the school of thought that the proliferation of photography freed artists to pursue impressionism and abstract art, and the more you think about it, the more powerful is the relationship between painting and photography.

Mondrian - The Grey Tree

Looking at artwork by these great masters up close, as compared to seeing a reproduction in a book or online is like the difference between listening to a piece of recorded music and seeing the musician perform it live at close range. Standing next to a painting makes you feel as if you are in the presence of the artist, I've had that same feeling at exhibits of Ansel Adams' photographs.

While Mondrian's paintings give the impression of being linear and precise, looking at his "Composition No. 11" (below) closeup you can clearly see blobs of paint, brushstrokes and other indications of how artists create such works of beauty that have enriched the lives of generations. If you are within reach of Philadelphia during the run of this show, it would be well worth the time and effort to come see for yourself. Cézanne and Beyond is currently scheduled to run through May 31, 2009 and is not scheduled to travel to any other museum.

Mondrian - Composition No. 11

Cézanne - The Forest

Cézanne - The Card Players with Pipes

Cézanne - Chateau Noir

Philadelphia Museum of Art website.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer - The Khyber, 4/03/09

My new favorite band is the best band I found at SXSW that I didn't actually see at SXSW. Philadelphia's Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer has been on tour supporting The Pink Spiders since SXSW ended, the tour concluded tonight at The Khyber in Philadelphia with an early start all ages show. At SXSW in attempt to survey all possibilities, I carefully scanned the band list in alphabetical order. With close to 1,900 bands on the list this took weeks, and by the time I got to the end of the list and heard Zolof's "Death or Radio" they had already played their SXSW showcase. So stretching a little bit of SXSW back to Philadelphia was imperative.

Listen to Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer - "Death or Radio"

Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer consists primarily of Vince Ratti and Rachel Minton and live they add a drummer and I think there was a bass player tonight too who I could not see within the tight confines of The Khyber's upstairs venue, and I use the word venue loosely. The Kiera Plan opened with a tight twenty minute set, apparently shortened somewhat due to the extra hour it took to hook up the Khyber's PA system to the microphones. Zolof seemed like they'd be a fun rock & roll band, their song has been spinning in repeat play in my head ever since I first heard it in Austin, and they did not disappoint.

At one point Rachel's keyboard went out, and The Pink Spiders came onstage to sing the keyboard part.

Zolof rocks loudly and tunefully and the combination of Vince's guitar, Rachel's keyboards and vocals, and their well-written songs makes for a great synth-based sound on record which comes across even more powerfully live. The crowd, squeezed into the small area in front of the stage, bounced up and down in unison with the band, and the mix of catchy songs, exuberant performance and crowd energy makes Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer about the most fun a rock band can be. Together with Philadelphia's The Hustle and Brooklyn's Via Audio, Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer is going to help keep me young.

Later in the set, Rachel called on Soupy, lead singer of The Wonder Years to come up and sing.

Soupy doffed his coat, sang, did some extreme jumping up and down, sang some more, then put his coat back on and left the stage before the song was over.

Zolof has a must-read bio that begins:

Vince Ratti met Rachel Minton in summer camp in 2000. Vince was the 2-1 favorite in the potato sack races and Rachel had made a name for herself as the braces and headgear wearing champion of the "who can swing the highest on the tire swing" competitions. They crossed paths for the first time at the Good Humor Ice Cream truck where they both ordered Sno-cones. "I like to rock" said Vince. "I like to rock too" said Rachel. At that moment Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer was born...

Read the rest of their story on the website. Apparently they have a sense of humor too.

Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer - Schematics (2007)

Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer's myspace.
Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer's website.