Shamans of the Avant Garde – Miro and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown

woman_bird_star_AS03162Art is never more obscure than when it invokes the language of the unconscious. Thankfully, we have guides – shamans who venture into the unknown and return, inviting us to join them . Avant garde artist Joan Miro is a shaman of symbolic art.  I saw his “Experience of Seeing” exhibit at the McNay Museum in San Antonio and entered the realm of the body/mind in order to see it.  Joan Miro acknowledges:

It is difficult for me to talk about my painting, since it is always born in a state of hallucination, brought on by some jolt or another – whether objective or subjective-which I am not in the least responsible for.

Joan Miro - BirdArt critic Waldemar George described it in 1929 “as the painting of a physical vacuousness that easily balances out its interior magic, with ties to cosmic sentiment and the intuition of mystery seen in the ancestors, like those who painted the caves of Altimara, whom he specifically mentions on one hand and to “congruent paintings, brought to life by strange homunculi and fantastical plants on the other. In this defining moment there came to be an encounter between the escape from speres and the attraction to the abyss.”
Miro, Joan-Head in the NightJacques Dupin elaborated, “There remains a space where things and beings can abide and encounter one another through a series of exchanges and metamorphoses, and this passing site is none other than the earth: neither sheltered from the risk from below, or the beckoning from above.”

Arthur Brown knows something of above and below, exhorting us to hold a vision in our heart, to face our fears and join him in the formless depths of Zim Zam Zim.

Miro’s paintings and found object sculptures beckon us to see space as a psychological landscape – to respond without preconception to what comes our way, as children do.

I will make my work emerge naturally, like the song of a bird or the music of Mozart, with no apparent effort, but thought out at length and worked out from within . . everything becomes strange, shifting, clear and confused at the same time. Forms give birth to other forms, constantly changing into something else.

ShamanArthur Brown invites us with many of the same numinous symbols as Miro: the spirit bird of our imagination, woman, sex and the fire of fear, rage and ultimate annihilation.  An existential burlesque that finally asks, “Who the fuck am I?” in this montage from his Strange Brew show in Austin (without his full band).

As we traipse from day to dreams, through all the stages of our lives and our imagination, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy dose of humor amidst the drama. So why do we even enter into the shape shifting realm of the unconscious?

Quoting Miro, ” As Kant said, it is the irruption of the infinite into the finite. A pebble, which is a finite and immobile object, suggests not only movement to me but movement that has no end. In my paintings, this translates into the spar-like forms that leap out of the frame, as though from a volcano.

That volcano is the fire of creation  in the heart of Zim Zam Zim.

80’s week @ #ATX music

In a rare twist of musical fate, I found myself transported back to  the dance crazy days of the late 70’s and early 80’s at 3 great gigs last week.  The Psychedelic Furs evoked brat pack nostalgia and did not disappoint the grey tsunami that packed the house @Emos‘s on a Wednesday night. They haven’t lost their sound or their enthusiasm, a real treat for their fans worldwide.

Two of Austin’s punk/new wave faves, The Skunks and The Standing Waves (playing with The Next) brought the fire and their new releases to venues old and new.  The Townsend, pictured below is a new club launched by Kathy Valentine (of  Go-Go’s fame) and her partners on Congress Avenue.

Definitely not in the tradition of Dukes Royal Coach Inn, which used to be just down the street, the elegant lounge sold out in the week before the Skunks raised the roof with an incendiary performance from guitarist John Dee Graham, muti-talented singer Jesse Sublett on bass, and drummer Bill Mansell rounding out the power trio.

180179_1895943761749_4744134_nThe Hole in the Wall is one of the few clubs from the era left standing, (along with the Continental Club), gritty enough for the return of the Standing Waves.  Where else am I going to hear the story from Tom Green, about losing his house (on Tom Green Street) because an Austin City council member used eminent domain to give him the boot?  Even the sadly not weird has a twist.  Perfect segue to the Standing Waves new CD Here Comes the Twist Again.

James Robinson – Soulful Sundays at C-Boys Heart and Soul

C_Boys_heartMy friends and I caught James Robinson and his band in rehearsal mode at C-Boys Soulful Sunday before their gig at the Bitter End in NYC.  This is a clip of Billie Holliday’s Blues for a Day from their September 6th show. Featured performers include Rudy Eccles on bass, Joe Atkins on congas, Chris Clark on drums, and a “cat name Mathew” on guitar.

Cupid, Sam Cook‘s classic love song showcases James’ way with a soulful ballad, and makes it easy to recognize another big influence in  Donny Hathaway.  Like Hathaway, he aspires to record a live album at the Bitter End. From the September 20th show:

I was very fortunate to catch the multi-talented Chandra Washington perform an impromptu jazz poem, backed by a tight rhythm section and that cat Mathew and his mellow guitar.  It would be great to expand this jam with more jazz and spoken word artists.

You can catch James Robinson at C-Boys Soulful Sundays on the first, second and third Sundays of the month. And if you’re in Kansas City for the 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival on October 12th, keep an eye out for him performing with saxophonist Dennis Winslett and percussionist Kahil El Zibar.  Looking forward to hearing more from this versatile and talented musician and his band.

Taft with Mother Falcon at The Empire Control Room

Taft puts it all out there.TaftBW He is fully, unselfconsciously himself and has become a powerful, authentic voice in the Punctum Records artist collective.  Taft’s debut album Grove Redundant, released earlier this year, was produced by Brian Bender at Motherbrain Studios in Brooklyn.

I’ve known Taft as an artist for many years, he’s family. I’m glad he has not abandoned the visual arts entirely, staying involved as a member of the Studium and serving as the Creative Manager for the collective.  Musically, he’s transforming with every performance.

The noisy crowd at The Empire and the lack of a perch made these videos a little hard to shoot. The show, also featuring Mother Falcon, was so good I’m including them here to give you a taste of what you don’t want to miss, live. Taft is playing with several horn players from Mother Falcon in the clip below. He is fearless.

I didn’t see as much of Mother Falcon as I wanted to, but I’ll be sure to catch them again soon. Great Austin musicians, keeping it real, pura vida!

Jackie Venson – more than Austin’s next guitar hero

Jackie Venson_BWJackie Venson got back from a successful tour of Europe to play an inspired set at the One 2 One last Sunday. Billed as a Midsummer Night’s Groove, she turned up the heat in South Austin, ably assisted by band mates Rudy Eccles, Rodney Hyder, Ray Prim, KJ Hines, and Kevin Prince. The Austin Am Statesman and the Austin Chronicle give good back stories on her classical piano training, Berklee college of music pedigree and her conversion to the blues, guitar that is.

She’s got several styles, more than one speed, a voice like honey and clearly enjoys playing as much as her band does. Always a sucker for a melodic, funky bass, Rudy Eccles did not disappoint. Veteran Austin musicians, Ray Prim and Rodney Hyder kept the groove going, while KJ Hines and Kevin Prince brought edge to When I Fall.

What struck me more than the packed, multi-age crowd and Jackie’s guitar pyrotechnics was the soul in her groove and in her lyrics. And the flow between the bass, her piano and guitar and the drums. Was it witchcraft?

The train has left the station, it’s all happening Now for Jackie Venson.  See them soon, for they will blow you away.

Howl – X meets gen Y Austin punk

Howl at Trailer Space Records, garage punk revival, round 3?

Trailer Space Records showcases bands among the vinyl, earning the Chronicle’s “Best Punk Reanimators” award in 2012.

Scratch Acid, the Butthole Surfers, Skunks, the Huns, and the Big Boys, were a lot crazier, but then this generation can’t dance to the Dead Kennedys on the piano at Esther’s Follies. Still, glad to know we can find a (re)insurgence in unexpected pockets around town.

In This Place – the poetry of Constantine Cavafy

Many thanks to Eric Banks of Conspirare for introducing me to Constantine Cavafy, a Greek poet who lived primarily in Alexandria and Instanbul in the early 20th Century. From

Perhaps the most original and influential Greek poet of the 20th century, his uncompromising distaste for the kind of rhetoric common among his contemporaries and his refusal to enter into the marketplace may have prevented him from realizing all but a few rewards for his genius. He continued to live in Alexandria until his death on April 29, 1933, from cancer of the larynx. It is recorded that his last motion before dying was to draw a circle on a sheet of blank paper, and then to place a period in the middle of it.

Cavafy’s poem below is the inspiration for this tribute to our field, which is where I am “In this place”

In this place (1929)
This is my home, the heart of my neighborhood,
The houses and cafes of my quarter,
These are the buildings that stand all around me,
And the streets that I wander every day;
In this place, year after year.

I have recreated these surroundings
In my joy and in my sorrow:
Through a lifetime of experience,
And in abundant detail.
This place has been entirely transformed
Into pure emotion, for me.

While Cavafy often writes from an urban perspective, his love of nature shines through in The morning sea, reflecting his sauntering eye and heart, as these photos reflect mine.

The morning sea (1915)

Let me stand here.
Let me enjoy this view for a while.
The morning sea
And the cloudless sky;
The brilliant blue
Against the pale yellow shore;
these colors are utterly beautiful,
As they shimmer in the sunlight.

Let me stand here.
Let me pretend that I can take this all in.
(I will tell you honestly
That this is what I saw when I arrived.)
And I will not be distracted
By my daydreams,
By my memories,
And those images of my past delights.

The first verse of this next beautiful poem is one of the most sublime of any I have encountered.

Beside an open window (1896)

On this clear autumn night,
Beside an open window,
For hour after hour, I remain,
In the perfect, voluptuous quiet.

The rain drips lightly from the leaves,
A sigh from this delicate universe
Resounds within my own vulnerable nature;
It is a sweet sigh, and rises up like a blessing.

My window looks out upon an unfamiliar world.
A murmuring spring evokes memories
That are fragrant and indescribable to me.

Near my window, a pair of wings flutters by;
The dewy spirits of autumn
Approach and encircle me,
And in the purest of languages, they speak.

I begin to feel a vague and widespread hope;
And in the sacred silence of creation,
My ears encounter faint and distant melodies,
I hear a crystalline, mystical music,
From the chorus of the stars.

2015 Baton Rouge Blues Festival


My family and I converged in Louisiana to celebrate my birthday at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. The lineup featured 5 blues stages, including: Swamp, Foundation, Soul of Baton Rouge, Back Porch and Busking outdoors. Due to anticipated thunderstorms, everything was moved indoors, so some of the charm was definitely lost. But where else would we get a day of the blues in so many hues?

Walking over to the convention center we got to see a bit of Baton Rouge, including some majestic dancing oaks.

Chubby Carrier and the Swamp Bayou Band rocked the swamp stage

while Alex Abel and Jordan Farho of The Chambers (17 and 19 years old) played hard and heavy upstairs on the Back Porch

Son Little (Roots and RJD2) played a short but sweet set and made a few new fans, including NPR, who put him on the Songs we Love list

There are far too many acts to review, but I’ve included video snippets from some of my favorite performances and and some classic photos.

Hometown icon, Lazy Lester took us to church

and would have stolen the show except for the amazing grace of (what ever happened to) Arrested Development

Charles Bradley would have fared better playing between Lazy Lester and Arrested Development. Still, The World is Going up In Flames is nothing but the blues.

A little bit of All Right

As an Austinite, it’s my good fortune to enjoy a lot of good music any time of the year. So, waiting until the last few hours of SXSW to enjoy a few of Alejandro Escovedo’s friends at one of my favorite venues, the Continental Club was a good way to prep for the long anticipated Baton Rouge Blues Festival in April.

Big Sugar rocks that NOLA vibe with a funky, reggae beat, definitely all right.  The Iguanas are another LA favorite at the CC.

LP3 and the Tragedy brought their So Cal Americana sound  with strong harmonies from Louie Perez III on lead guitar and Ruby Rosas on bass, rocking a nifty green sequined dress.

LP3andtheTragedy I was on my way out and didn’t catch much of their act, but I liked what I saw.

The band I enjoyed the most was an indie punk band from Kansas City, MO – Pedal Jets.  Always a sucker for power chords and Iggy Pop vocals, I can appreciate these seasoned stage warriors hitting their stride 30 Pedal_Jetsyears after their debut in 1984.   From their website:

Originating in Lawrence, Kansas in 1984, the Pedaljets returned to the studio in 2012 to start work on the critically acclaimed “What’s in Between.” The album was mixed by John Agnello (Okkervil River, Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., etc.) at Headgear Studios, Brooklyn and packaged in the inventive design-work of The Sea and Cake’s Archer Prewitt, each song is at once vintage Midwest in-your-face rock and a totally new approach to what is timeless, resonant and beyond conventional formulaic alternative pop and rock. The guys have learned something after all these years. What the hell… From their beginning, the Pedaljets toured the country nonstop, often opening for the likes of Hüsker Dü, Flaming Lips, The Replacements, Meat Puppets, and other usual suspects of 1980s alternative/punk America, releasing two albums—Today Today (1988) and Pedaljets (1989), both albums receiving solid national attention and acclaim.

I look forward to seeing them again, maybe in Kansas City, a cool town with a great art scene.

Alejandro Escovedo tests String Theory at Strange Brew

TrioIt’s been awhile since I’ve seen Alejandro Escovedo live so I jumped at the chance to see him in an intimate venue, lougeside at Strange Brew.  As I suspected, it was an acoustic show, with Warren Hood accompanying him on violin and the incomparable Brian Standefer, a long standing member of Alejandro’s orchestra, on cello. The room was packed, both sitting and standing and judging from the applause, with long time fans. I’ve seen the True Believers, Buick McKane, Alejandro’s Orchestra, Rank and File and the Sensitive Boys.  In every case, he rocked – which he does just fine with a cello and violin, as his orchestra shows in this video from Bonnaroo in 2009.

So how did he get that edge with only an acoustic guitar, violin and cello? They all took turns being the drum.  Granted, Alejandro’s rhythm guitar (and guitar body) did most of the time keeping, but the violin and cello provided an amazing array of textures and back beats.Brian_Standefer Syncopation aside, the silver string posse (whom Alejandro thanked profusely and often) drove us to our feet by their sheer virtuosity and the tripped out intensity of their soaring riffs. They were possessed by the music, reminding me of another time I saw someone so spellbinding.  I caught harmonica player Sugar Blue playing with Willie Dixon at the old Club Foot (now long gone) in a jaw dropping performance – Pan personified.
GuitarWarren Hood is a more recent addition to Alejandro’s roster.  I haven’t yet seen him with his fusion new grass band, the Hoodlums but have fond memories of seeing his father, Champ Hood play with equal versatility.  Susan Voelz is the rock violinist who normally tours with Alejandro, but I am so glad to have seen Warren and Brian Standefer throw down.WarrenAlejandroThe battle of the strings was fierce, truly mesmerizing. I didn’t take any video footage but sure wish I had.

Of course, there were the stories. With a mixture of songs like the raucous “Everybody Loves Me” shown above, the taut, political lament “Sally Was a Cop” and soulful ballads like Arizona, the small listening room was a perfect setting for the journey we took with Alejandro.  From the time he left San Antonio with his family as a child (he is the 7th of 12 children) to growing up in California, then as a punk rocker living in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC with the Sex Pistols, and back to Austin, we were part of his crooked frameAlejandroWe remembered days when the flow of migrants in an out of Mexico was easier, when his father left Saltillo to find his parents in California.  Alejandro’s wife Bobbi’s suicide and his own near fatal illness were part of a story that connected the styles, times and vagaries of Alejandro’s Hard Road.  All the stories kept coming back to the way music healed him emotionally, when medication, therapy and alcohol  could not.  Truth, a passionate heart and the poetry of life are the real gifts of this artist and why we keep coming back to see what’s new in Alejandro’s story.Alejandro Escovedo