Washington Musica Viva

 

St. Columba Church, Washington DC

March 20, 2004

 

The second Evolutions: American Chamber Music Meets Jazz program took place March 20 with Carl Banner & his Musica Viva guest ensemble playing three jazz-influenced classical music compositions followed by John Kamman and Afro Jazz Explosion improvisations led by vocalists Armand Ntep and Grace Chung.

You can depend on Carl Banner, producer of Washington Musica Viva, to entertain and enlighten his audience. Start with his selection "Music for a Farce" by novelist-composer Paul Bowles; "Love After 1950," a contemporary poetry song cycle by Libby Larsen, and "La Revue de Cuisine," a Dadaist
kitchen fantasy by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. It's clear Banner loves the music he chooses to play (he is the pianist) and wants his audience to understand something about each piece. In a few words, he whets the appetite and then gets to the music.

"Music for a Farce," played masterfully by Chris Royal on trumpet, Rhonda Buckley on soprano sax, Banner on piano, and Marty Knepp on percussion, is an evocative chamber ensemble in eight parts. Originally written for the troubled play Too Much Johnson by Orson Welles and John Houseman, "Farce" conjures venues like the circus, dancehall, a smoky bar, a cabaret, and a marketplace like the souks Bowles frequented in Tangier where he lived most
of his life. Whimsy, ticking clocks, a screaming heroine suggest themselves in the music that runs the gamut from lyrical to jazzed to dissonant. The music gave Chris Royal the opportunity to deliver a standout performance.

Larsen's five-part song cycle included poetry by such poets as Rita Dove and Muriel Rukeyser. Song 3,"Big Sister Says, 1967" is a honky-tonk number that mezzo soprano Karen Friedman delivered with punch. "Beauty hurts" are the
opening words. Under the vocal line, a Jerry Lee Lewis riff plays. It's a wild ride that Banner and Friedman delivered well. Song 5 "I Make My Magic" is described as Isadora's Dance and one assumes this is Isadora Duncan. What is fascinating about this piece is the complex musical counterpoint that includes what Carl Banner calls turbulent figuration and sunlit glissandos. Banner's performance was outstanding and one should know that he said he practiced this piece as much as he practiced the rest of the music he
played.

The last entrée on the classical side, "La Revue de Cuisine," has an odd story that accompanies this ballet work. It concerns a fight between cooking pots. Musically the composition includes trumpet fanfare (another opportunity for Chris Royal to display his skills), plucked violin (good work by Hasse Borup) that resounds again a piano produced oom-pah (Carl Banner), and an ominous minor prelude that gives way to tango (enhanced by the sounds of bassoonist Ben Greanya, saxophonist Rhonda Buckley, and
cellist Amy Leung).
Charleston melodies weave in and out. To cap the performance as well as keep the musicians together, guest conductor Masa Mitsumoto provided his own element of dance movement.

Banner's opening remarks indicated that even in classical music there is an element of improvisation but largely what the audience heard was a well-rehearsed concert by musicians who enjoyed each other¹s contribution.

Reviewed by Karren L. Alenier