Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hugh Fox, POTPOURRI Piano Compositions, 1987

Piano Compositions, 1987
A DVD, self-produced by Fox
Reviewed by Lo Galluccio for Ibbetson St. Press

What can you say about an artist like Hugh Fox, an archeologist, poet, top-notch reviewer, chronicler of his times, who you find out, years later, is also an accomplished pianist who studied violin and composition (on piano) with P. Marinus Paulson at the Curtiss Music School in Chicago, as well as voice and opera with the ALL CHILDRENS' GRAND OPERA, a group run by
Zerlina Muhlman Metzger from Vienna? Well, you can say, wow.

Only Hugh, with his passion for self-transfiguration as well as a generous spirit toward many spheres, could produce such an iconoclastic DVD of his own playing that sways as if it’s been shot on the deck of “Night at the Opera”….

He mugs it up in a fey blonde mode for the camera and deftly plays runs of notes that I, a primitive avant-garde pop and jazz vocalist, am hard-pressed to figure out. I’m astounded thinking about all the time this guy has spent in front of a metronome, at the slender fingers and the way they trip over the keys. Monk he ain’t. But Fox can definitely spin you around from waltz to march with humorous wit on top. And he’s to date penned about 80 books and 100’s of reviews of works by other writers. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to practice your scales.

In this 1987 video creation, against a drab cement wall that says JOB in one spot, Hugh Fox enchants with a series of melodic compositions on an old wooden piano. He’s in a sailor shirt and cap and starts in with a lovely Chopanesque piece.

Where is he, one asks as the camera angles to his hands, across the black and white ivories, through chord progressions and even glitches in the tape here and there that cause fast repeats and begin us on our journey through a special Hugh Fox concert. It’s low key but highly comedic in a wry and brilliant way.

“Okay, kid,” he raps, “you wanna little waltz, you wanna little march, a ghostly march?”

“Midnight,” he explains and the ghost begins to come upon us. “Creepy ghost,” the often child-like Fox says. What follows is a rendition on the piano of the beautiful ghost of Lady Godiva on a horse. This is not so much a piano recital as a puppet show of sonic voices as famous characters, a high-blown but almost commedia del art morality play. As he imitates, he’s silly and engrossed like a child playing improvized games we watch with fascination.

“In a terrible minor key,” Hugh then introduces us to the ghost of Henry VIII -- famous for killing off his wives and starting the Anglican church. “What a terrible guy he says,” holding his head – “Oh, he cuts their heads off,” as he pings a high note…

Back to our narrative – then comes in the ghost of Thomas Moore who in a perfect 4/4 sonorous march both holy and upright, is trying to convince old gout ridden Henry the VIII to change his bad ways. Henry’s already got Anne Boleyn’s head on a pike staff and the other heads are about to roll.

Hugh’s playing remains in sync with Phillip II, a new character he introduces, who comes to the New World with Christ the savior and whose motif is like, well, it’s very much like Thomas Moore’s. This in turn brings back Henry VIII's villainy and then we are led back musically to the ornate Spanish triplets of Phillip II:

Then Dawn
Henry VIII
Henry VIII

Finally the angels of the day in golden major scale crescendos and tiny bright waltzes finish the section off.

After a long and funny stare into the camera, and a note in his hand, Fox renders a grand finale with another beautiful progression. The room is lemon yellow and back-lit now – or have we switched location to a practice room elsewhere?

Like a splurge of gentle white fireworks against a 4th of July sky, Fox concludes with a short ode to Buckner in the finale which is topped off by his banging out Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with crazed verve.

This concludes the first part of this 1987 Potpourri DVD of piano compositions. The second half is devoted to the reading of a handful of poems. While I am a huge fan of Fox’s poetry – it’s multi-lingual, mystical and metaphysical edge – I was about spent watching the music portion of the tape. This is not a reflection on Hugh, but more on my own human attention span. For me instrumental music as a performance art and spoken text are two very different mediums and one needs to treat them differently. However, as an example of Fox’s brilliance, I did catch and capture this one line, read on a couch
Somewhere, maybe from his home in Michigan;

“There ought to be places you can listen and still move.”

When you think about this deceptively simple observation, you realize how true it is. Despite the age of the I pod, we need more chances to move with and in the medium of finely wrought poetry and music. Not just with headgear attached to our eardrums, but with the wavelengths resounding once again in recital halls and concert chambers, lounges and living rooms, where we can still move around, dance, live.

If you are interested in Fox’s work, I highly recommend one of his latest poetry collections on Higgenaum Press, a book called, “Defiance.” It inspired me to write a poem called, “In the Eye of the Beholder” which is up on my new blog: Viva Hugh Fox. We need his gusto and his genius. He’s one of the rare ones who can risk making a fool of himself for the sake of entertaining and who can intertwine high and low brow art. As quick to tell a story about a cherished friend, as he is to compose a theme to the ghost of Henry the VIII, we should treasure all that Hugh’s done and continues to do in his career. For more information on his career and his poetry also see.

Lo Galluccio/Ibbetson Update

Lo Galluccio/Ibbetson Update/Nov 2007

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