Flamenco dance project unites music, art, poetry and story-telling

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By Timothy Gillis

There are so many cultural things to do around town that one is never at a loss for an evening of dance, music, poetry, storytelling, or art. But even in these artistic environs, it’s unusual to find them all combined in one show.

“El Lobo y La Paloma” (The Wolf and The Dove) is a flamenco dance performance choreographed by Lindsey Bourassa that will be held Saturday, June 3, in South Portland.

“This work was inspired by the loss of my own father but also includes the universal experience of loss — that of losing a loved one, a homeland, a freedom, a right, an identity,” Bourassa said last week from her Forest Avenue studio, which she’s owned since 2014. “It’s about the reconstruction of our relationship with our lost being through the process of grief and healing.”

In addition to the original dance stylings of Bourassa and dancer Megan Keogh, it features Arabic singer Talal Alzefiri, oud player Thomas Kovacevic, and the paintings of Khosro Berahmandi, a Canadian-Iranian artist.

Videographer Ali Mann gives the live performance a visual backdrop, with images of the recurring wolf and dove symbols, and Molly Angie designed simple but symbolically colored dresses that move from dark to light. The Iraqi poet Kifah Abdulla translated original verses, odes to the dead written by Bourassa and her father, into Arabic.

This dazzling line-up of cultures and art forms is supported in part by a project grant from the Maine Arts Commission. It’s the liveliest of creative performances, but it has its origins in a difficult grieving process.

In 2015, Bourassa’s father, David, was dying of pulmonary fibrosis. She had recently returned from a year of studying flamenco dance in Spain, and able so spend some treasured time with him before he passed. She subsequently resolved to create an artistic response, a way out of her grief.

“I’ve always made work based on life experience, so that was the starting point,” she said. “During the time he was dying, I came to believe in the possibility of building a spiritual relationship with those who have passed … the choice of Arabic music to accompany the flamenco dance reflects one branch of flamenco’s ancestry, which guides the unfolding of this story.”

The story Bourassa created involves a wolf and a dove, symbols she kept encountering in the months leading to her father’s passing.

“My father named the wolf his spirit animal,” she explained. “In studying the meaning of animal symbolism in diverse traditions, I came to discover that wolves represent pathfinders … (and) that the dove is a symbol of the maternal spirit messenger who comes to lead her children safely from struggle.”

Later, when going through her father’s things, she discovered poems he had written when he lost his mother. Bourassa decided to write poetic responses to his odes, crafting the eventual narrative.

When it came to choreography, she had several options to choose from. In flamenco, there are many styles of dance—maybe 45 styles, according to Bourassa—each with its own melody or feeling. She selected seven different flamenco and Arabic styles. Kovacevic then created oud music for the seven paired-poems (Bourassa’s father and hers), and Alzefiri “sang in a way that went with the music,” she said.

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Providing the sonic textures and backdrop needed for Bourassa’s flamenco show are oud player Tom Kovacevic and Arabic singer Talal Alzefiri.

The project was a return to the past for Alzefiri, who is from Kuwait City and moved to Westbrook in 2010. He grew up with a family of singers—his father, Ebra, and five uncles—and experienced music as part of daily life. When he left Kuwait, that all changed.

“I stopped singing when I came here,” he said. “I was focused on finishing high school and was facing a hard time with my grandmother’s death. I turned away from singing. But when I first saw this flamenco dance and the style they do it, it reminded me a lot of my culture and brought me back to my childhood. That’s when I really started to go back to singing.”

Alzefiri has even more to sing about lately. Last year, he got his United States citizenship, after a five-year process.

“It’s wonderful to finally have a piece of paper in my hand. Now I can travel,” he said. “And that’s the most beautiful thing about this project: Lindsey is a very hard worker—how she was able to bring so many cultures together.”

Cultures combine, and the performance whirls in and out of genres. Behind the unfolding works of music and dance, two poems are simultaneously narrated. These verses are layered atop video imagery of the natural world that is interspersed with digitally projected paintings.

The production represents an end and a beginning for Bourassa. She completed her Certificate of Professionalization in Flamenco Arts in Spain in 2012 at El Centro de Arte y Flamenco de Sevilla. When she returned to Maine, she wanted to start something.

“There was no flamenco in Maine, and I wanted to create something based on these rhythms,”] is because this is the reasoning behind creating Olas – to create something reminiscent of flamenco, but with local artists of diverse genres. Olas lasted from 2008 to 2016. El Lobo y La Paloma is my own work, a Bourassa Dance production, and departs from Olas. It was made in collaboration with several artists, three of which were also members of Olas (Megan Keogh, Tom Kovacevic and Molly Angie). Talal, Khosro, and Kifah are all new collaborators to my work.

The flamenco community in Maine is still small, but it’s growing. I’m trying to teach as true to the art form as I can.”

“El Lobo y La Paloma,” performance by Lindsey Bourassa | Sat 7 pm | June 3 | South Portland High School Auditorium 637 Highland Ave., South Portland

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Matisyahu’s undercard

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By Timothy Gillis

Rustic Overtones opens for Matisyahu at the State Theatre on New Year’s Eve in an all-ages show. For Dave Gutter, the band’s frontman, it has been a year of collaboration and fruition for projects that highlight his wordsmithing for others and influence on their musical careers.

“A lot of stuff I’d been writing the last three years culminated this year,” Gutter said.

Aaron Neville released “Apache,” with lyrics Gutter co-wrote with Eric Krasno based on Neville’s poems.

Of the release, Krasno said, “Working on the Neville record has been a dream gig.” On it, he worked with Gutter, imagining Neville’s life through at least 50 poems he had sent them.

“The cool thing for me was laying down music and melodies, like painting a picture. We created the sketch and Aaron would add the color. He was very involved in the process, something he had not done on his records in a very long time,” Krasno said. “The excitement level between all of us was high.”

Gutter pushed Krasno, the songwriter, to move to the front of the stage and sing his own songs, which resulted in Krasno’s debut album, “Blood from a Stone.” Krasno credits Gutter and other Maine musicians with helping him make the jump, giving him the necessary confidence in his own voice.

Another high note, literally, for Gutter was his work on a single from GRiZ’s new album. In addition to the novel song, Grant Kwiecinski, who at 25 is already an electronic funk icon, also introduced GRiZ Kush, the artist’s own strain of weed that is sold legally in Denver, Co.

“With the writing thing, it’s been a busy year,” Gutter said, but added that the creative, collaborative process dates back even longer. “We started that four years ago. So sometimes after you write the songs, the bands tour and play them, record them. Now we’re at a place where it’s looping around and seems current.”

Over time, Gutter’s vocal range has moved from sandpaper scratchy rock anthems like Paranoid Social Club’s “We All Got Wasted” to hauntingly mellow love ballads like those off his new album “Armies,” a duo endeavor with Anna Lombard.

His songwriting may have been overlooked comparatively, but industry insiders know he can crank out catchy bumper sticker lyrics and social commentary with music’s best. In a year that saw Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize for Literature, the establishment types are starting to appreciate songwriting as an art form.

For Gutter, a low note this year was the death of David Bowie. The Maine minstrel joined up with other local legends in a tribute to Ziggy Stardust held at the State Theatre right after news came down. He played “Sector Z” with Jeff Beam, Dominic Lavoie, and Mat Zaro.

A high point for Gutter, again literally, was when he and fiancée Kaitlyn Gradie had their engagement photographs taken on the side of a cliff in the White Mountains.

“We went to the top in the early morning dark,” he said. “They dropped us down with harnesses, and as the sun came up, they took the pictures.” Philbrick Photography provided the aerial hijinks on Cathedral Ledge. The couple plans to get married, perhaps in the new year, but they are waiting to announce a date, “waiting to throw a crazy party.”

More big news for the coming year: Rustic Overtones have begun work on a new album, one that will be a decidedly different product than in years past.

“It’s a collection of instrumentals I’m currently writing over,” Gutter said. “A world music vibe, heavily South American and Brazilian. I discovered some cool music from the late 60’s and 70’s, from Brazilian psychedelic rock bands. We love to make music like that, always trying to push forward.”

From the studio to the stage, the band continues to break barriers. “We resurrect all of our music when we play live,” he said of the upcoming State show, “and we’ll have fresh new versions with a different feel.”

Gutter has not played with Matisyahu before but knows several of the guys from his band, having met them through Krasno. “I’ve never even seen Matis live, so I’m looking forward to do my set and then just chill, hang out with the drunk guys who know every word to your songs.”

 

Details:

Matisyahu w/ Rustic Overtones & Alec Benjamin

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$20 Early Bird / $30 Advance / $35 Day of Show

This event is ALL AGES

Mallett Bros go back to Maine roots

By Timothy Gillis

Coming off a whirlwind tour of the United States this past year, playing as many as 190 shows, the Mallett Brothers say it will be “cool to cap it off at home,” on New Year’s Eve at the Portland House of Music and Events.

“In 2016, it turned into gigging harder than ever,” Luke Mallett said, “playing five days a week throughout the summer. We’ve gone to Texas twice, back and forth to Colorado.”

After several years as a tight, cohesive group, the band has been practicing overtime to fit in two new musicians – Adam Cogswell on drums who replaced Brian Higgins and Andrew Martelle, formerly of North of Nashville, on fiddle and mandolin.

“In seven years, we’ve gone through more than one lineup change,” Luke said. “When we lost Brian and started with Adam, it took some adjusting. With these two new additions, we now have even more renewed energy when we play live. Martelle is a great element to add. Having a fiddle brings things to life.”

The band is based around Luke and Will Mallett, on vocals and guitar. Along with the new additions, Wally plays guitar and dobro and adds vocals. Nick Leen plays bass guitar. Their release last year, “Life Along the River,” garnered widespread acclaim and raucous crowds.

What may surprise their loyal following is a secret work they’ve been honing for several years now. Expected to come out in February of 2017, “The Falling of the Pine” is a return to their musical roots with a typical added flourish. It is inspired in part by their time in the Maine woods while working on their last album and a book Will found on his parents’ bookshelf. “Falling of the Pine” offers up ten tunes based on lyrics discovered in that book, Minstrelsy of Maine, a 1927 collection of folk songs and logging lyrics written by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm of Brewer. The band met each day for a few hours, delving into some of this rich Maine history for the new material.

“We’ve been working on it long enough. It took us quite some time,” Luke says of the upcoming LP, for which they added the musical score to the words. “We picked at this in between (live shows and other studio work). We’ve got the record finished, the artwork back, and we’re feeling close.”

The band plans a Maine theater tour for the spring, playing in some opera houses as well in a fitting backdrop for the traditional tunes. Coveting the value of the stories behind the songs, Falling of the Pine” is the band’s first record for which they will release a booklet of lyrics. “We’ve been asked for years to do that, and finally thought – this is the one. It has the lyrics as well as quotes from the author,” Luke said.

The Mallett brothers come from a family with a strong folk tradition. Their father, Dave, has churned out Maine folk songs and ballads for four decades and featured on their last album. Their mother, Jayne Lello, worked with a University of Maine professor, Sandy Ives, back in the 1960’s, collecting and archiving traditional songs when she first learned of Minstrelsy. Although the researching duo created some vinyl versions of the songs, the Mallett Brothers were keen to keep away from their influence and, in the folk tradition, rework the music.

“They were singing some of these songs in the traditional Irish folk way. Our mother has a copy. We heard it and knew about it, but we tried to avoid it,” Luke said. “We had a pretty good idea anyway, but we started from scratch. We wanted to match the feeling of the lyrics to the instruments we are playing now and the general feel of the whole thing. It is different, definitely not a traditional record. We did traditional songs in a non-traditional way.”

Excitement brims for the new work with the old songs, but the singer took a moment to reflect on the hubbub of the outgoing year. He said a high note was playing at Floydfest in July.

“It sets the bar for festivals,” he said. “It’s smaller than some, tucked in the mountains in Floyd, V, in Blueridge. It’s a real scene – a collection of music lovers like I’ve never seen. The people are cool, and the bands they brought in offer a lot to up-and-coming bands.”

Turning their sights on the year-ending show, the band is thrilled to be billed with Samuel James and his full band. They see the “grit and gravel” performer as a perfect fit for their folksy, countrified sound. “We have been trying to put a show together with him for five years, and it just finally worked out.”

The Year the Music Died

By Timothy Gillis

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The passing year has been a tough one for music fans, kicking off the year with the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey in January. Then followed Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire; Beatles’ manager George Martin; Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; and Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest. The snow was just melting when we got news of Merle Haggard succumbing to double pneumonia, and then the Purple Reign came to an end with the death of Prince. The musical year crawled to its close with sad news for fans of folk singer Glenn Yarbrough, jazz singer Bobby Vee, Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings, and rock icon Leonard Cohen.

Muhammad Ali died in June, and although not technically a singer, his persona and clever couplets inspired songs as far-flung as Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Free No. 10” to LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

One of the foundational components of music is inspiration and tribute, and often the death of a hero can push a musician or band to greater heights. It’s as if even little people can see further when standing on the shoulders of giants. To me, that’s what makes Tribe’s new album “We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service” so special. Recorded before Phife Dawg’s death in March, it’s the first studio album for the band in nearly 20 years. It’s got a great genre blend of hip-hop, jazz, rap, and Elton John! But the political power of its lyrics makes it the right album for these times. The hook from “We the People” sounds like all-too-real campaign slogans.

All you black folks, you must go

All you Mexicans, you must go

And all you poor folks, you must go

Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways

So all you bad folks, you must go

Let’s hope 2017 will ring in more great music, and fewer felled stars. What better way to keep these musicians alive than by stuffing stockings with their CD’s?

And here are a few more recommendations from the worlds of retail sales, dance, and public relations.

Juliana Todeschi of Calabro Music Media touts Holly Bowling’s upcoming record, “Better Left Unsung.” Released this week on Royal Potato Family records, it’s a collection of classical music interpretations of Grateful Dead tunes.

Emma Holder, dance instructor and host of WMPG’s radio show “Shaken and Stirred,” said “Gaadi of Truth” by Red Baraat, out of Brooklyn, is “fun. Very danceable and upbeat. So is the new release by Slavic Soul Party, called “Slavic Soul Party plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite.” It’s new meets vintage with a Balkan twist.

Ryan Howard, head clerk at Bull Moose Record Store in South Portland, says the New Year will bring a wide range of new releases. Brian Eno’s ambient album “Reflection,” eclectic alternative rock band The Flaming Lips with “Oczy Mlody,” and metal stars Sepultura’s “Machine Messiah” are all out in January 2107. And of course a gift card can help your recipient be first in line to snag the new cuts.

Home on the Grange

 

Guitarist gets political vibes from community group

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By Timothy Gillis

It’s the 25th anniversary of “Nevermind,” the seminal Nirvana album that pushed grunge music into the mainstream.

The band’s bassist Krist Novoselic, of Washington State, is touring the northeast, singing and speaking on behalf of ranked-choice voting, to help raise money and awareness for the initiative (Maine’s Question 5), and to trade on Nirvana’s enduring popularity to reach out to millennials.

He arrived in Portland over the weekend to speak with the press and practice with some local musicians ahead of a fundraiser concert, held this past Monday night at Bayside Bowl. He warmed up with Scott Girouard, Mike Maurice, Chuck Prinn, and Estelle Poole, and Bridgette Semler. They created an original piece of music called “Krispy.”

“It’s a pure jam,” Novoselic said. “We met each other, said “Hello. How are you?’ then got instruments set up and started to make noise. We’re working together and everybody’s strengths come forward. The energy came together. It can be cold jamming with new people. You’ve got to give it a couple minutes before it works, and it did. It’s a blistering tune, a punk rock song.”

He’s been to Maine once before, in 1993, with Dave Grolh and Kurt Cobain while mastering “In Utero,” Nirvana’s third and final album, with ten time Grammy-winner Bob Ludwig, owner of Gateway Mastering.

“With Nirvana, we came out of the punk rock music scene; we weren’t mainstream,” he said. “Next we were the biggest band in the world. Rock-and-roll was vital again. We just changed the rules a little bit.”

Since 1996, Novoselic has been working to change the rules of politics, as well. He became involved to work against anti-music laws in his home state.

“There was a teen dance ordinance in Seattle,” he said. “If you were an adult, from 18 to 20 years old, you couldn’t go see most small scale rock shows. There was also an erotic music law, a censorship bill in the state legislature.”

He was a principal in the formation of JAMPAC, the Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee, which argued that music is an asset that adds economic viability to a community. “I worked with lawmakers, bands, promoters, clubs – and fans, from whom I got my civic education,” he said. “We discovered terrible flaws in the system, with uncontested or uncompetitive elections, protected seats, winners without a clear majority.”

Novoselic joined the board of FairVote (formerly the Center for Voting and Democracy) in 2005 and became chair in 2008. FairVote worked with Portland officials in 2011 when it adopted ranked-choice voting for mayoral elections.

“San Francisco has started using it, Oakland, Berkeley. Minneapolis, St. Paul. Sarasota, Fl. Cambridge, Ma. has been using it for decades. There are 2.4 million voters in cities that use ranked-choice voting,” he said. “It’s an old system. It’s been around for 100 years. I want voters to recognize the value of ranked-choice voting. It’s not some new, crazy idea. It’s established and proven, and has a lot of potential.” He cited the impact Ralph Nader had in the 2000 election and Ross Perot in 1992, and that in the last eleven gubernatorial races in Maine, nine of the winners did not have more than 50 percent of the vote.

Grassroots Efforts

Novoselic and his wife Darbury own a farm in Washington. They joined Gray’s River Grange in 2003, and he later became the grange master.

“It’s a community group. One of its early tenets, in 1867, proclaimed that woman was equal with man, and could be grange master,” he said of the grange, which is in favor of public utility services, a rural post service, and election reform. They maintain a local cemetery and two parks, give money to food banks, and sponsor a spelling bee.

“There’s a wealth of tradition, ceremony, and pomp,” he said. “A positive message about the individual’s role in the community.”

Novoselic supports Gary Johnson in the national election, but says, “Each person should vote for who speaks to them, not necessarily (from) a major party or who raises the most money. Ranked-choice voting is less negative. It encourages politicians to reach out. The way the system is now pushes towards contention.”

Rock the Vote is an effort to make voters aware of the candidate choices, their backgrounds and beliefs, as well as local and national ballot measures. Krist hopes to Rank the Vote, and spoke about how music and politics often intersect, highlighting that whether you’re in the audience or the voting booth, there’s always something for everyone. With ranked-choice voting, we will feel better about the winner.

“Music can do two things. It can be transcendental or pigeonholed and pasted into a lifestyle. It depends on what is intent of the artist, and what are the needs of the listener,” he said. “If you hear glorious literature in Bob Dylan (like I do), that’s great. If you want just a great rock song, you’re going to find it.”

Harmonic Convergence

By Tim Gillis

What started off as a dreaded delay on a flight to New Orleans turned into a savvy career move for Port City Sound, a local barbershop quartet en route to the Barbershop Harmony Society’s annual national midwinter meeting.

“There was an equipment problem on the plane. They were having problems with the radio,” recalled Jim Simpson, who sings bass. “We were sitting there on the tarmac. The flight attendant came over and said ‘I understand you guys are a barbershop quartet; how about some entertainment?’ And we’re never shy about singing.”

Simpson, Walt Dowling (lead), Fred Moore (tenor), and Jim Curtis (baritone) burst into “Any Time at All,” a love song that features a Dowling solo, and “Under the Boardwalk,” while the flight attendant recorded a video of them. The resulting YouTube post has gone viral, with more than 3.5 million hits and mentions in the Huffington Post and New York Daily News.

The guys from Port City Sound are members of the Downeasters Chorus, a group of 65 local singers. The chorus is affiliated with the BHS, an international group with more than 23,000 members. The Downeasters have several established quartets, including Exchange Street, Senior Discount, Back Bay 4, Porch Time, and Curtain Call.

This Valentine’s weekend, several of these guerrilla groups of lovesong singers will be delivering music and roses around town.

The quartets will play Cyrano de Bergerac and serenade loved ones. They’ll perform at local businesses whose bosses want to brighten the workers’ day and at senior centers where the golden oldies they croon are in high demand. On Saturday, Valentine’s Day, they’ll deliver to residence doorstops and at restaurants towards the evening. Port City Sound will perform at the Salt Water Grille in South Portland on Saturday night.

“It’s a surprise singing Valentine,” said Tim Wyant, another barbershopper. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s a nice surprise.”

Wyant sings tenor with Porch Time. For the Valentine festivities, he’s assembled two other members from the quartet called Fore River Four – Jim Johnston (baritone) and Dave Marstaller (bass). “And we have a ringer at lead, David Cole,” he said.

They plan to perform “Heart of my heart” and “Let me call you sweetheart” for the Singing Valentine offer – two tunes and a rose. At a regular barbershop performance, each quartet will sing its own repertoire of up to 40 songs. They take requests, although most people in the audience ask for love songs.

In 1984, Wyant answered an ad about singing in a barbershop quartet, “and I’ve been singing for ‘em ever since,” he said. “It’s a real mix, the people who do this. Some have singing professionally for years; others join as complete newbies and start singing from scratch.”

Barbershopping started in 1930s and became huge in the 1950s. “Like the bridge clubs, though, the demographic is aging. Kids today are more interested in gadgets,” he said. But there is a renewed interest on college campuses in a cappella groups, and men’s choruses are starting to get a lot more college age members. The Downeasters boast a few youngsters, although one dropped out this past year to play football.

“We have two high school kids in the chorus,” Wyant said. “Tom Peterlein (of New Gloucester) and Sam Holmquist (of Gray). We’ve got them singing in the center in the front row. They’ve got great face, involvement, delivery – all the non-vocal parts of a singing performance, and they’re both good singers.”

Claudine Weatherford, Wyant’s wife of 33 years, tolerates his singing, he said. “But I wouldn’t be so bold as to say she likes it.”

(l to r) George Feinberg, Mike Soper, Miles Hunt, and Ryan Norfleet of Exchange Street

(l to r) George Feinberg, Mike Soper, Miles Hunt, and Ryan Norfleet of Exchange Street

Exchange Street, another of the quartets making the Valentine’s Day rounds, practiced this past week at a member’s home in Scarborough. Ryan Norfleet, the tenor, welcomed me in to meet the group. Miles Hunt (lead), Mike Soper (bass), and George Feinberg (baritone) were warming up in the living room. Norfleet’s kids were reading quietly on the couch in the den.

Their coach, Chris Howard, has been working with Exchange Street for about a year now. “I sit in and offer advice where I can – individual fixes as well as being able to make suggestions from my perspective as someone from the audience,” said Howard, who at age 29 is younger than the members of the quartet and one of the youngest in the Downeasters. “One of the things I really enjoy about working with them is they show up to rehearsal every week with a main goal of getting better,” he said.

Hunt, an attorney, has been in the Downeasters for six years. “Singing is one of my outlets. It’s a wonderful hobby to have,” he said. “You meet a lot of people. It’s like a big brotherhood.”

The Downeasters are all male. Harmony Incorporated and Sweet Adelines are all-female chorus groups. “They do a lot of shows together, all in the barbershop style,” Hunt said.

After the Valentine’s Day gig, the chorus turns its focus on prepping for the Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus Competition, held this July in Pittsburgh, Pa., rehearsing once a week in Cumberland under the direction of Jack Baggs. (For more information, visit http://www.downeasters.org.)

This will be just the second time a team from Maine has been in the competition.

“Eight to ten thousand people converge on the city for a week. People come from as far away as Sweden, New Zealand, Spain,” said Hunt, who also competed with the 2010 team. “They’ll be barbershoppers singing all over the place – street corners, restaurants, everywhere you turn.”