A Contrast in Styles, Approaches, & Heart. The Mike Moreno Quartet & The Crankie Show

In this amazing, imaginative town we live in and around, we are wildly fortunate enough to have rich choices in the art we appreciate and make, in the music we listen to and create, and in the diversity of those with whom we surround ourselves. We can burn the candle at both ends, so to speak, when it comes to running the gamut of styles, approaches, and methodology. We can have it all.

Such was the musical and theatrical encounters many of us experienced the last weekend. Two vastly dissimilar shows, two somewhat overlapping audiences (many members moving from one to the other), two very different venues, and two enormously different interpretations of two distinctly individually creative outlets…

The first was the jazz group, The MIKE MORENO QUARTET, at Carnegie Hall. A fine group of incredibly focused and technically perfect musicians, they were the young lions of modern jazz, with precision and perfection in the rendering of one after another original jazz tune. With the animated drumming of Ted Poor, Matt Brewer on bass, and amazingly vibrant and gifted piano stylings of New York-based performer/composer/former child prodigy Taylor Eigsti, the quartet was precise and dexterous. Each one seemed calmly centered in their own musical box, almost oblivious to the others around them, yet it gelled as one ensemble. I recalled wondering how they could stay so clearly on their individual paths with all those notes and rhythm going on around them! The cadences were complicated and oddly sequential. Many original tunes were performed, but the occasional oddly placed jazz standard, such as Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” ( Nigeria spelled backwards, by the way) and Johnny Mandel’s “A Time for Love” grounded me a little more with music I could better relate to. Does this make my understanding of jazz seem adolescent and naïve? Maybe to some, but I know what I like, that’s all. So in my opinion and that of several audience members I spoke with, there was a bit of a disconnection between performers and audience. Perhaps part of it is that, when writing about a performance, I want a little help from the musician telling me a little about what inspired certain music, how it came to be that they chose it, who the composer is, what the titles are, and so on. With his almost shy way of introducing tunes, or not, with near mumbling of names which I often couldn’t quite make out, Moreno was hard to read. I realize that the music was meant to stand on its own, but sometimes I want to love the performer through his stage presence and personality and connection with me on an emotional level, as well. I wasn’t really getting that, and I know this is my humble viewpoint, by my mind wandered, despite the liquid perfection of his playing, the fluidity of the style, and the lingua franca of modern jazz vernacular. I know he has played with the amazing LIZZ WRIGHT, on of my favorite singers, and that he was on a Grammy-nominated rap (what, rap?!) album, Q-TIP’s The Renaissance. These must have been interesting endeavors. So, please listen for yourself. And I’m sorry it didn’t speak to my heart the way music often does. Each to his own. Check out www.mikemoreno.com.

The opposite end of the spectrum of both music and style (as well as original presentation) was the CRANKIE SHOW, featuring singers/songwriters/storytellers/historians and child-mesmerizers ANNA ROBERTS-GEVALT and ELIZABETH LaPRELLE. Even though LBSPY’s Leah Deitz had already written a great pre-performance article about them, after having seen their spell-binding performance at THE BEAN, I felt I needed to write about them also. The performance coincided with the night our neighborhood children were trick-or-treating, so in they came after, these candy-laden, bedraggled and windblown dragons, unicorns, punk-ettes, tiny wolves and a tuille-skirted jack-o-lantern girl after my own heart. The music was beginning, and I found myself holding a precious elf on my lap while the stories began.

Two girls, two lone girls, playing sparse and empty music with their perfect harmony complete with the Appalachian twang so far from the jazz of the night before, but deeply true in heart and spirit. Banjo, fiddle, and such, the occasional guitar, but what enchanted us all was the actual “crankie stories”, which were word and/or music accompanied by the hand-cranking of backlit paper or fabric scrolls through a seemingly magic box, all silhouetted, both crude and elaborate, wildly creative and visually mesmerizing. It seemed to draw attention to the power of the stories, which were not always epic adventures or wildly exciting plots (there was one lovely one about a lady and her garden that began, “She told me her first memories are of flowers, women sharing seedlings, roses and zinnias, and snow on the mountain”.) Ordinary but exquisite. And their voices were reminiscent of GINNY HAWKER, the late HAZEL DICKENS, her former cohort ALICE GERRARD. I could not help but think how they reminded me of my grandmother when she would sing. You always knew where she was by the singing, whether it was cooking or working in the garden or tending the blueberries or making her broken flowerpots into overturned houses for the toads. Always, she was singing. Anna and Elizabeth brought these thought back to me with their rich sense or history. For information about their new album SUN TO SUN:13 SONGS from VIRGINIA and KENTUCKY , you can find them here: http://www.facebook.com/annaandelizabeth. They have links to school programs they do, to their crafty wiles, and other projects. Here’s one thing I came from there with, besides the inspiration: Sometimes if you want to know something, you should just go into a town and say, “Who are the fiddlers in this town? Who are the artists? Who are the storytellers?” This is the heart of discovery.

So the contrast? One night, so many notes; the next night, sparse and empty. One night, intricate and complex rhythms; the next, a simple tapping of two girls’ feet to keep time. One night, an audience of appreciators and aficiandos to velue the emperor’s flawless new music: the next night, simplicity and heart and wonder in the discovery of one’s own tender spirit. Sometimes it’s hard to read your audience when you go to that dark place the music or art leads you. It’s all the same way of channeling what is inside you, with markedly different results when you put your soul out there like that. It’s the bravest thing ever. I am so thankful for the choices.

– Susanna Robinson-Kenga, LBSPY #20

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