A Good Week for Improvistatory Music: Bennie Maupin and Anthony Braxton

This week’s blog is written by Adam Kubota , Press and Marketing Coordinator at the Center for the Arts.

As many people in the community know, in addition to my work at the CFA, I spend nights playing the bass in various musical projects throughout the region. So, as a musician who improvises, as well as someone whose job it is to promote events at the CFA, I am happy to write about how two major figures in musical improvisation, Anthony Braxton and Bennie Maupin, are performing at Wesleyan this week.

On Thursday in Crowell Concert Hall, Professor of Music Anthony Braxton leads his Large Ensemble, which includes many guest performers. Professor Braxton is productive as ever these days having recently gone into the studio to record his opera Trillium E and is now looking forward to special performances this summer in celebration of his 65th birthday. To augment his lineup for Thursday night, Anthony has invited some major talents in the improvisatory scene including:

-Guitarist Tom Crean MA ’04

-Guitarist Kevin O’Neil, who received his MA from Wesleyan and his Ph.D from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom

-Guitarist/bassist and New England Conservatory faculty member Joe Morris

-Drummer Tyshawn Sorey, a rising force on the worldwide improvisatory music scene, a faculty member at the New School University and a current Wesleyan graduate student

I will also be performing and feel lucky to play with these musicians.

On Saturday night, clarinetist/saxophonist/composer Bennie Maupin will lead his trio at Crowell Concert Hall for a concert that is part of Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend. Performing with Mr. Maupin will be legendary bassist Buster Williams and drummer Michael Stephans.

Ethnomusicology Ph.D Candidate Bill Carbone wrote about it in this week’s edition of the New Haven Advocate and provides some excellent background on Mr. Maupin’s legacy:

Even among jazz fans, saxophonist, bass-clarinetist and flutist Bennie Maupin is not a household name. First recorded in 1965, Maupin was a tad late to the “golden age” of jazz, arriving about the time the Blue Note label’s cohesive, well-packaged sessions and stark, modernist album covers gave way to afros, electric guitars, altissimo saxophone wailing, funk and the mainstream music industry.

In 1969, Maupin joined a large ensemble led by Miles Davis at Columbia studios. After some masterful slicing and dicing at the hands of Teo Macero, the music from these first sessions became Davis’s seminal work Bitches Brew. Though much is rightfully made of the album’s layered percussion and electronic keyboards, the woody tone of Maupin’s bass clarinet is a perfect companion to Davis’s own warmth and is certainly one of the recording’s more haunting and defining elements.

At the same time, Maupin began exploring other territory in Mwandishi, a group founded by keyboardist Herbie Hancock. Mwandishi embraced popular African-American music culture elements and the avant-garde, often intermingling the two comfortably within extended jams. However, Maupin has undoubtedly been most heard as a member of Hancock’s next project, Headhunters. That band’s hard-grooving 1973 eponymous debut, which features the jam session classic “Chameleon,” is among a fistful of the best-selling jazz recordings in history. And I’ve only gotten to 1973.

Maupin, of course, continued performing and recording at a feverish pace. With the exception of a few late ’70s recordings, Maupin didn’t record as a leader until the 21st century. His four albums on Cryptogramophone Records are both inside and out; in short, they reflect Maupin’s assimilation of nearly four decades worth of music.

Bennie Maupin Trio
With Buster Williams, bass
and Michael Stephans, drums
Saturday, May 1, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$18 General; $16 Seniors/Wesleyan Faculty & Staff/Non-Wesleyan Students;
$6 Wesleyan Students

Anthony Braxton Large Ensemble
Thursday, April 29, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Free Admission

Earth Day 2010: Joining Art and Science

This Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, an annual day of environmental awareness. Events are happening all across campus, from a student-organized sleep-out on Foss Hill to a Connecticut trail maintenance outing this weekend to the bi-weekly farmer’s market that has become such a staple feature of campus life.

The CFA is also hosting several events. In recent years, we have become increasingly interested in exploring environmental issues. As you may know, with Feet to the Fire we began a campus-wide initiative to investigate climate change using art as a catalyst. Our intent was not only to shed light on a matter of urgent societal concern but also to experiment with how science and art intersect and inform one another.

In celebration of Earth Day and in the spirit of Feet to the Fire, the CFA and Environmental Studies have teamed up to present a panel discussing the role of the arts in illuminating environmental issues. Panelists include Marda Kirn, founder and executive director of EcoArts; Cassie Meador, member of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange; Godfrey Bourne, associate professor of biology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis and director of the CEIBA Biological Station in Guyana; and our own Barry Chernoff, professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program. We’ll also be premiering Paul Horton’s 30-minute documentary film Connections Within a Fragile World, about Chernoff’s and Meador’s co-taught course which took place in Guyana.

Environmental awareness is also featured in this weekend’s presentation of Reggie Wilson’s The Good Dance—dakar/brooklyn. While The Good Dance, which explores the secular and religious traditions of river cultures in Central Africa and the Mississippi Delta, does not take a specific stance on environmental issues, it does feature the striking visual image of over 300 plastic water bottles on stage. Continuing our collaboration with student environmentalist groups on campus, the CFA is collaborating with the TAP THAT! bottled water awareness campaign, a program of the Wesleyan’s Environmental Organizers Network (EON). During the Q&A sessions following the performances, EON will distribute the water from the bottles to the audience and provide information about bottled water in the lobby. After the performance, EON will reuse the bottles in an art installation in the Usdan Campus Center, after which all of the bottles will be recycled.

Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration:
Joining Art and Science to Engage Environmental Issues
Thursday, April 22, 8pm
CFA Hall
Free Admission

Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group:
The Good Dance—dakar/brooklyn
Friday & Saturday, April 23 & 24, 8pm
CFA Theater
Pre-performance talk by Allison Hurd ’11 on Friday, April 23 at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

For more Earth Day events happening this week, see the calendar organized by SAGES, Wesleyan’s Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship.

A Student’s Journey with The Good Dance

Reggie Wilson is a choreographer who has spent years traveling throughout Africa to research traditional and contemporary dance forms that inform the work of his Brooklyn-based company, Fist & Heel Performance Group.   Many of his friends and fans were thrilled when his latest work, a collaboration with Senegal’s Compagnie 1er Temps, The Good Dance: dakar/Brooklyn, was selected as the final event of the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival.  In her December 17 review, Claudia La Rocco of the New York Times writes:  “It’s hard to imagine going out on a higher note than this meticulously constructed, beautiful work”.

The CFA wanted to offer the opportunity to a student to follow this work in development and gave its first Creative Campus Internship to junior Alison Hurd.  Hurd assisted Wilson, choreographer Andréya Ouamba and their combined companies as they spent two weeks last summer in rehearsal at the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven which culminated in preview performances.  (Hurd was enlisted to run the sound board).   She then worked on the company’s archives at their Brooklyn office and this year, at Wesleyan, organized an advance visit by Wilson who met with students and faculty and toured the CFA Theater.

Here is what Hurd has to say about The Good Dance:

And here is an audio file of her interview with Reggie Wilson.

The Good Dance:  dakar/Brooklyn
Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group
Friday & Saturday, April 23 & 24, 8pm
CFA Theater

Pre-performance talk by Allison Hurd  ’11 on Friday, April 23 at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)