Contemporary Music Review Print



American Dance Festival: The Musicians' Concert

June 21, 2006 - Durham, NC:


Exuberant! Creative energy flowed with abundance at the annual American Dance Festival musicians' concert in Baldwin Auditorium on Wednesday night, June 22. Introduced by Natalie Gilbert, Director of ADF Musicians, each of the nine offerings captured the passionate spirit of the 73rd year of the festival. Reflecting the international scope, it was an eclectic feast of music from the traditional La Jengla, performed by Vladimir Espinosa and a percussion ensemble, to the switched on John and Jefferson Rock Out! Playing with a sprinkle of wit and a serving of nostalgia, musicians who daily collaborate with talented young dancers, demonstrated that the kinesthetic response to music is as natural as it is contagious.

Gilbert introduced herself as Miguel Gutierrez, drawing an immediate chuckle from the audience! She shared a bit of history of the musical interlude, a tradition of the summer festival. It is an informal event, and the audience members were invited to participate through song and, later, through call and response clapping and vocal applause. And closing with a spontaneous dance-in, we were reminded of Martha Graham's own words to "keep the channel open to the urges that motivate you." Gilbert dedicated the concert to Director Charles Rinehart and to the dancers who gathered to cheer on their musical colleagues.

Jim Roberts provided segue to a series of little humorous melodramas including one by "Guy Noire," Dave Wiley. Roberts' tribute to Martha Graham, a piece he entitled Gift, was an apt beginning. He entered from stage left with a small mbira (African thumb piano); Roberts' clever duo for voice and percussion (including electric drum as personification of his muse) embodied the words of the choreographer and "mother of modern dance." Gilbert reappeared, this time performing Resonance, a delightful piece capturing the improvisatory quality of Satie's Gymnopedies. Her massage client, transformed as a percussion instrument, shared the stage, creating a comic skit that most certainly resonated with dancers in the audience. Wiley's Sans Souci, an eclectic gumbo for accordion, would please fans of Pauline Oliveros. With the sultry flavor of gypsy music (Wiley performs with a gypsy swing band and a Balkan folk-dance ensemble), it's a rich, dark, rondo-like piece with a dash of romanticism.

Claudia Howard Queen's funny testimony of her metamorphosis from hungry dancer to accompanist at the Chicago Dance Center touched my heart. Growing up immersed in the musical ambience of the dance studio, Queen says that she "learned to play through the panic method" in the plie class of the infamous Madame Fury. Her tenderly performed Fury's Lullaby provided a lovely contrast to the high-energy piece to follow, Off the Top of Our Heads, featuring Michael Wall, piano, and John Hanks and Ken Ray Wilemon on drums – like a machine, this ensemble rocked the audience with a virtuosic performance. Wall exploited the percussive characteristics of his instrument, incorporating chord clusters, touching the bottom strings of the piano, and completing the effect with his foot against the stage floor like a drum pedal. A flurry of dynamically linked sound events with just enough silence, Off the Top of Our Heads was impressive.

Wilemon then joined pianist Jefferson Dalby in a dazzling arrangement of Paul McCartney's Blackbird. With a mix of New York counterpoint and R & B, this duo plays together, hand in glove. Sandwiched between McCartney and Sly Stone were two fabulous ensembles performing Afro-Cuban style music, a rich multi-cultural genre that greatly influenced the American avant-garde and rock musicians in the 20th century. The two pieces, though quite distinctive, share musically similar features: intricate polyrhythms created by ostinatos, call and response chanting, and the creation of interesting timbres using traditional instruments of varying size and shape. Vladimir Espinosa's ensemble played bataiya, bataitole, bataokonkolo, chékere and conga drums, traditional instruments of the Yoruba people and the Congo. And Saleem's ensemble performed on djembe and doun doun drums of different sizes.

La Jengla, performed by Espinosa's ensemble, consists of three traditional Nigerian songs: "Songs for Eligua" (for the prince), "Bembe for Elegua," and "Palo Kimbabula." Espinosa's voice is lush and enchanting, leading the group with exquisite precision. Doundounba, arranged by Saleem, was colorful in texture with calls, whistles, rain stick, and a huge traditional aerophone. These are intoxicatingly beautiful pieces, and dancers bobbed their heads — and in one corner of the auditorium, two very young dancers (children of ADF faculty) left their seats in response to the seductive rhythms. The last set literally brought the house down as the audience poured down the aisles in affirmation to Charles Rinehart's invitation, "Let's give it to 'em!"

John and Jefferson Rock Out! The name says it all. The finale was devoted to rock band songs: "Wipe Out" (the Surfaris), featuring John Hanks on drums; "May I Have a Talk With You" (Howlin Wolf), with Willie Painter, vocalist; "Knock on Wood" (Eddie Floyed and Steve Cropper) , with Jefferson Dalby, vocalist; "Thank you (Fallentin Me Be Mice Elf Again)" (Sly Stone), with percussionist John Hanks taking a turn as a singer; and "Gimme Some Lovin" (Spencer Davis and Steve Winwood), with Dalby. My partner and I left smiling!