Saturday, August 09, 2008

Lift the Bandstand

...was an exhortation, an admonishment, and a command given by Thelonious Monk to his then disciple, the young soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, who later rose to become one of the most influential jazz composers in his own right--it's also the title of an early film about Lacy by my friend the Emmy award-winning documentary film maker/producer/writer Peter Bull, for whom I'm currently scoring a feature length documentary about the myth of "clean" coal burning as a possible alternative energy source, a project under the auspices of the Center for Investigative Research.

Lacy, whose music I love and paid tribute to at a concert organized by Roswell Rudd last year here at Merkin Hall, was a total inspiration to me back in the day, along with Ayler, Mingus, Coltrane, Miles, and Ornette on the jazz side of things...

And this impulse to lift/ascend/elevate/raise high the roofbeam carpenters (JD in JC mode) the proceedings du jour have informed my every move, my every impulse in music is no accident that I titled one of my original solo guitar compositions "Rise Up to Be"--a piece of my art which I gave out of love to my friend and collaborator the 24 year old Jeff Buckley, to try and inspire him, to activate him to realize his full potential, to kick-start him and get him up off the shoals of a moribund LA music scene where he was foundering--and my solo guitar music impelling Jeff to "Rise Up to Be" became the instrumental basis for our anthem "Grace" :-)

And I write this because I have been similarly lifted up again in spirit this week by music and musical happenings that I want to to share with You, dear readers..

Last night Caroline and I caught one of the most joyful, soul-stirring, sexy/wicked and profoundly energizing musicals ever set forth on a stage--

and that would be "Fela!" based on the life and music of the great Nigerian band-leader/political activist/cultural icon Fela Anikulapalo Kuti--as influential in his own way as Bob Marley in effecting trans-oceanic shifts of consciousness and political awareness. This show is in previews now Off Broadway at the 37 Arts Theater--run, fly, if you're David Byrne bike it, get there by hovercraft if necessary--but go see this production immediately, it is the great choreographer Bill T. Jone's first directorial attempt, 6 years in the making, and it is successful on every count--a labor of love and a serious art statement that rocks and is tremendously entertaining, one that only inspired feelings of love from the packed house last night that came back from the audience to the performers on stage in wave upon wave of pure pleasure, dancing in the aisles--the stage set is magnificent, the theater has been totally redone in dayglo colors and Pan-African folk-art murals as The Shrine, Fela's nightclub in Lagos where afro-beat was born, a hybrid of James Brown funk, Latin jazz, and hard bop licks set to incantatory politically charged chants and wails of Fela and his crew (here a large ensemble of gorgeous/vibrant/sexy African-American dancers and singers shaking their asses and chanting down Babylon, excoriating multinational thief thiefs, racist colonialism, corrupt African political regimes, army and police brutality)...the Brooklyn based Antibalas provides note-perfect renditions of the Fela groove while adding their own thang to the proceedings (a great band!)...and in the lead, the handsome and charismatic African actor Sahr Ngaujah actually WAS Fela, he had his stance, voice, his dance, his swagger down cold (Caroline and I saw Fela live at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden in the early 80's, after his most recent release from a Nigerian jail cell, and Sahr Ngaujah's performance was so spot on it gave us both chills)...

The superb cast of dancers and singers under director/choreographer Bill T. Jones turned these songs into whirling phantasms of colour, movement, light and sound, fever dreams that transcended the concept of "production numbers"--you felt you were right there in a nightclub in Africa witnessing the greatest show on earth, the propulsive funky groove music and the heat being generated up on stage (such seductive, supple dancers and singers, bedecked in the most radiant of costumes) propelled you up out of your seat-- and artfully shocking tableaux such as the scene where soldiers of the Nigerian army storm Fela's Kalakuta Republic compound, rape his wives, and murder Fela's saintly mother, the pioneering feminist activist Funmilayo Kuti (movingly portrayed by Abena Koomson), by tossing her out a two story window, mobilized you to want to go out and do something positive, to try and change and make the world a better place (Obama!)...

It's only in its fourth day of previews, the show officially opens the first week of September for a limited run of 3 weeks--see it now before it sells out, I'm definitely going back again...I could easily imagine this show on Broadway spellbinding folks looking for a more globally profound, more sophisticated version of "The Lion King"--"Fela!" is a real consciousness-raiser about the ultimate stepping razor/rabble rouser/soul rebel who took on a government and won (his incendiary music lives on and is still extremely popular here and in Europe--and of course, in Africa), whose story should and needs to be told to a mass audience--the message of "Fela!" is more vital now than ever...

The other event this week that lifted my spirits way high with music was the debut of a new duo project with the great African-American jazz and blues vocalist Dean Bowman...we performed Wednesday night at the Issue Project Room out in Brooklyn run by lovely Suzanne Fiol, and performed a set of mainly blues-based spiritual music old and new, including music by Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Joseph Spence, the Staple Singers, Jewish sacred music, and much more. The full house was stomping their feet and clapping their hands rhythmically along to our encore "God is a Good Good God" by The Campbell Brothers, we could have played all night, Dean did a soulful take on my original song "Follow", and in the house was Felice Rosser from Faith, who will be singing with Gods and Monsters as our special guest on September 6th at the Bowery Poetry Club as part of the Howl Festival, also there was the director Michael Owen and his wife--a film crew making a documentary on my work for the director Doug Sloan caught our set, and we should have some clips up on Youtube soon--and we are just getting going, having a huge repertoire amassed for further vocal/instrumental exploration--stay tuned for our next appearance, under the name Chase the Devil...

Gary Lucas and Dean Bowman in the spirit, Issue Project Room Brooklyn, NY 8/6/08

photo by Michael Owen | Click to enlarge

Going out for breakfast now with C to our favorite new joint (breakfast all day and then some!)--Bourbon St. Southern Gourmet on Hudson Street corner of Charles St., it's recently opened and we'd never gone in before last weekend--but we had a hankering for New Orleans style food after our recent New Orleans hang with Peter Stampfel and his wife Betsy, so the other night Caroline and our friends the Pakistani pistol Shaista Husain and her guy Gus and Cineaste editor Richard Porton went in there for dessert after a typically sybaritic meal at Al Fama Portuguese restaurant down the street--and the red velvet and cream cheese and banana cakes were so fine (forget Magnolia Bakery, too many bloody tourists there anyway on their "Sex and the City" jag--these baked goods are the real deal) that we went back the next morning for a breakfast of fried green tomatoes and cheese grits and biscuits and eggs and the best apple-smoked bacon and sausage I've had in NYC...the place sports a great lunch menu as well and sells plenty of New Orleans foodie accessories, including about 58 different kinds of hot sauce--and Zapp's potato chips-- now on to sample the banana pecan pancakes, yummm!

Later this afternoon Peter and I are meeting down on the Christopher Street piers as The Du-Tels to film a video for our new track "Obama"--

this song is really pressing buttons, I sent an mp3 of our tribute to the only candidate who matters up to one of my favorite political writers and columnists, the lovely, witty and trenchant Maureen Dowd at the New York Times yesterday, who wrote back: "GREAT"!


Check it out on my myspace jukebox at




Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say everything you wrote about fela the musical and the legend is on point. Keep up the great work. I really enjoyed reading this article.
Keeping the legendary fela kuti alive through video.

8/23/2008 11:47 AM  

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