It’s Good to Be Bad

January 14, 2009

images1Progressive jazz trio The Bad Plus has gotten a lot of good press over the past several years. They’ve carved out their reputation playing deconstructed covers of pop tunes like “Knowing Me, Knowing you” by ABBA and “Everybody Rules the World” by Tears for Fears. However, bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King are serious composers as well—a talent that they spotlighted at their concert at the historic Village Vanguard club on January 2, the second of a four gig engagement.

These guys are intellectual and they want you to know it. Their music melds a complicated, dissonant classical aesthetic with a rock beat, but the beat is not steady. The time signatures shift wildly within a single piece and their approach is decidedly inaccessible to a jazz novice. The musicians are obvious fans of 60s’ free jazz and Ornette Coleman in particular. However, Coleman’s warm, rich saxophone playing always keeps the listener rooted in the music, whereas The Bad Plus’ trio of three rhythm instruments is cold and distancing. This trio demands a vocalist, or at least a horn player.

The band launched their set with an interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s composition Apollo—certainly not a breezy beginning. Then, they quickly moved on to their own works: “You Are” composed by Anderson and “Bill Hickman at Home” by Iverson. In both pieces, the lead piano melodies are tender and rather beautiful but are overpowered by loud, enthusiastic drumming. The combination just doesn’t seem to work.

However, the crowd at the Vanguard was up to the challenge of high art on a Friday night. Polite and attentive, the audience applauded during lengthy bass and drums solos and even demanded an encore. Finally, when the band ended with a swinging version of the standard “Have You Met Miss Jones?” you wondered why these guys couldn’t just lighten up and play some jazz.



January 14, 2009

images-21Kevin Bacon is prolific. With over 55 films to his credit, there’s even a game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” where players try to link any Hollywood actor to Kevin Bacon in as few moves as possible. However, according to his older brother and band mate, Michael, Kevin is an exceptional songwriter as well. The Bacon Brothers showcased their folk-rock sound in a short set at The Duplex on January 5, a tiny, West Village cabaret theater seating only 75 people.

The Bacon Brothers were special guests of singer/songwriter Julie Gold, a resident performer at the Duplex. Gold is famous for writing “From a Distance,” a song that Bette Midler recorded in 1990 that reached number two in the Billboard charts.

Seated at a baby grand, Gold launched the concert with four original compositions featuring her talented backup singers, Emily Bindiger and Margaret Dorn. A warm and generous performer, Gold shines in the small black box theater, with a style reminiscent of Carole King. Her voice is rough and untrained, yet rich and expressive. At times, she struggles to hit the high notes, but she sings with such sincerity and emotion that it doesn’t really matter.

After a brief introduction by Gold, The Bacon Brothers took the stage and played four songs in a stripped-down set, featuring acoustic guitar and cello and Kevin on lead vocals. Gold, who is from Philadelphia, has collaborated with Michael Bacon (also from Philly) since the late 60s’ when she met him as a teenager.

Despite the whiff of campiness at seeing the star of Footloose, A Few Good Men, and, most recently, Frost/Nixon performing at a gay club, Kevin Bacon’s performance was seriously enjoyable. Like a younger Jackson Browne, he’s a capable lyricist and singer with an easy stage presence. And who in the audience wouldn’t want to say they were just one degree away from Kevin Bacon?

American painter Elizabeth Peyton is fascinated with pretty boys. Her current exhibit, “Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton” at New York’s New Museum, features her delicate portraits of mostly boys who look like girls. Covering two floors, the exhibit is a survey of her work over the past fifteen years, the first such exhibit in her native country.

Peyton’s portraits of her subjects—a mix of popular cultural figures, her friends and lovers—are mostly small oil paintings on canvas and wood board.  All the faces look eerily similar and female, with their cat-like eyes and salon-fresh eyebrows shaped in a perfect arch.

Peyton first attracted attention in the mid-90s’ with her portraits of Kurt Cobain, painted shortly after his death in 1994. These paintings are like little love letters, beautifully rendered in an impressionistic style, as if a young girl painted them to hang on her bedroom wall.

images2Her subjects are either famous or intense objects of affection. The exhibit features several portraits of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, Patti Smith and Keith Richards.  All of these works were painted from photographs in sensuous colors.  She also has a self-portrait in the exhibit, and the similarities between Peyton and her subjects are obvious. She has the same androgynous look—the same beautiful but almost blank face. She looks relaxed and confident.

In 2004, Peyton began painting live models and these paintings stand out from her previous works. The colors are more muted and washed out, and there seems to be more movement to the paintings.  Her most recent paintings are still lifes of flowers and album covers and lively New York street scenes.