Art of Time Ensemble’s Words & Music reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

You might expect to hear Cesar Franck’s exquisite “Violin Sonata in A Major” performed by Mayumi Seiler of Via Salzburg with Andrew Burashko on piano at an Art of Time concert. And repeated visits to Art of Time concerts might have opened your mind to be delightfully expanded by readings between movement of passages from Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” that put into words the effect of listening to just such a Sonata. But I challenge you to imagine the great and wonderful surprise it would be to enjoy as the next course Ted Dykstra’s ass-on-the-Yamaha tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis rocking boogie woogie “Golly Miss Mollie.” Oh Yeah!!!![CLICK HERE FOR AN ENLARGEMENT]

There is a stillness in Justin Rutledge’s work that holds my attention. He presented some work he’s done with the words of two authors: Guy Vanderhaegue, whose book of stories “Man Descending (1982)” provided inspiration and a title for Rutledge’s 2008 album; and Michael Ondaatje, whose character – Cooper — in his recent Novel “Divisadero” is the subject of Rutledge’s second song. Both songs were performed beautifully with Rutledge singing slowly and quietly over his simple guitar arrangement backed by the wail of a pedal steel guitar. His work is as solid and sincere as the writing that inspires it. [CLICK HERE FOR AN ENLARGEMENT]

Ondaatje impressed with his reading of passages from “Divisadero”. He reads without display, so you feel the tension that binds his words like atoms in a molecular chain. You feel the movement of first love blooming in freedom and the implacable forces that overtake and destroy it to make something more iconic, if not more lasting. The tension Ondaatje generated was discussed, so to speak, among the members of a chamber ensemble of first rate musicians including Julia Wedman (violin) and Kate Haynes (cello) of Tafelmusik; Max Christie, principal clarinet of the National Ballet Orchestra and just about every top new music ensemble in this town; NJA 2008 bassist of the year George Koller; new music specialist Michael White on trumpet; and Burashko himself on piano. They played a composition by Gemini award winning composer Robert Carli that concluded by dissolving your mind into space.

Speaking of minds in space, can Allen Ginsberg still howl for us? Yes he can, through the ubiquitous Ted Dykstra, his hair unwigged and slicked back taking us along on Ginsberg’s cosmic dithyrambic rant. Perhaps for many now, 53 years after publication, the opening lines are merely an historical curiosity: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked….” Perhaps not.

But you can hear that the words of Ginsberg’s song, his phrases have entered the realm of immortal literature, where they sing to the heart and make people laugh in recognition of their raw truth:

“who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot
for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks
fell on their heads every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccess-
fully, gave up and were forced to open antique
stores where they thought they were growing
old and cried….”

Dykstra’s reading (which could have been much slower and more deliberately phrased) was supported by a darkly brilliant hellishly free-jazz composition played by a quartet led by composer Jonathan Goldsmith at the piano. Honorable mention to Gregory Hoskins who got the evening started by singing a slow high lovely version of the Mercer/Van Heusen 1939 tune “I Thought About You”, famously sung over the years by lyricist Johnny Mercer, Billie Holiday, and Sinatra. Hoskins, who performed with a fine band that featured electric violin virtuoso Hugh Marsh, after Michael Ondaatje had just read the lyrics, proved to me at least that some words aren’t much with out music.

Much appreciation goes to Andrew Burashko who continues to magnetize great musicians and great ideas about musical culture that rub against the grain of politicians who discount the power of the arts in our time.

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