Friday, July 04, 2014

Mark Redmond: A curator of jazz at The Green Room in Somerville.

Jazz at Somerville's Green Room

Mark Redmond: A curator of jazz at The Green Room in Somerville.

Mark Redmond looks more like a lumberjack than a jazz aficionado.  This tall, imposing man with a thick beard joined me at my usual table in the back of the Bloc11 CafĂ© in Union Square to talk about his relatively new series: “Jazz at The Green Room.” The Green Room is at 62 Bow St. in Union Square and was founded by Somerville musicians and vocalists Michael and Anney Barrett. The space, according to Redmond, was a former dry cleaning establishment. It hosts a variety of events that lean toward the classical side, but not exclusively.

Redmond said Union Square Somerville is a great place for his venue. The Green Room is an “intimate” space which Redmond feels is a perfect fit for the intimate art of jazz. He likes the vibrant scene here in Somerville, with places like Sally O’Brien’s, Bull McCabe's, P.A.’s Lounge  and others in close proximity. “All these places cater to a variety of musical tastes,” Redmond said.

Redmond told me that his series started in late November of last year. He has hosted many jazz musicians, including a number from Somerville.  Garrison Fewell, a Somerville resident and a noted jazz guitarist and educator, as well as Somerville denizen Jean-marie-Corrois, an accomplished drummer, have been on stage. Another Somerville resident of note is saxophonist Russ Gershon, founder of the famed Either/Orchestra and impresario of the Accurate Records label. He and the pianist Rusty Scott played for Redmond and said of the experience: “The Green Room is like a nano-concert hall—intimate, creative, great sound and good piano.” Other musicians of note who have featured there are Bert Seager, who teaches at the New England Conservatory, as well as Somerville vocalist Laura Grill, who recently appeared at Somerville’s Joe’s Jazz & Blues Festival.  Matt Glaser, a violinist who directed the string department at Berklee for decades and founded their American Roots Music department, will bring a trio in the fall.

Redmond told me he has had a long love affair with jazz. He used to listen to his father’s albums when he was a kid. He listed some of his early influences as: Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans and other classics. I asked Redmond about the genres of jazz has he hosted. He said: “I’ve booked folks who play straight-ahead traditional jazz, avant garde stuff, bebop, Gypsy Jazz. I like a variety of music—I like the energy and creativity it brings.”

Before the interview I did a little research on Redmond. I noticed he works as an existentially-oriented psychotherapist.  Visions of Sartre, the meaningless of existence, and the connection to jazz ran through my pretentious head.  But Redmond, a straight-no-chaser sort of guy, said: “I don’t know about the connection between the two, but live music, that sacred place in time, the energy, the movement, is a vital element for me.”

The good news is that The Green Room is owned by the Barretts—so when the gentrification of Union Square is complete they won’t be forced out by the skyrocketing rents that will displace many others.

Redmond has several events scheduled this summer and into the fall. They are usually held on weekend  evenings, and the admission is ten dollars. To find out more about his series:

 Jazz at The Green Room

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

SINGER/SONGWRITER JENNIFER MATTHEWS: An artist of the road, heart and life.

Jennifer Matthews  (Photo by Syed Zaman)

SINGER/SONGWRITER JENNIFER MATTHEWS: An artist of the road, heart and life.

By Doug Holder

Jennifer Matthews doesn’t walk into a room; it is more like she drifts in like some stray, haunting riff from a distant, deep, deep blue guitar. Matthews, formerly a Somerville resident is an accomplished musician who defies categorization. She told me at the Sherman Cafe as we consumed some tea and scones that she considers herself  "A singer, songwriter and roots/ rock&roll musician.” By “roots” Matthews means she use an acoustic mandolin, foot stomps, hand claps, and her signature acoustic blue guitar. She and her guitar are in a committed and monogamous relationship for the past 12 years. She was shown the guitar at a music store and was not impressed with it at first. She told the clerk, “But it is a Blue guitar!” He told her: “Play it.” And like many affairs of the heart, she reluctantly, but hopelessly fell in love. And this guitar is a perfect conduit for her brand of music.

 There is a word in Yiddish “luftmensch” which means an “air person”—a person who drifts around—is the opposite of materialistic— he or she moves freely with her intellect- seeks the spiritual— tastes philosophy-literature, a range of subjects and interests. This defines Matthews and her music. Her music addresses the ontological questions, the long journeys, the joys and the ephemeral nature of love, with always a look what is beyond this material dimension. Her ever-present wanderlust has taken all over Europe, Alaska, Austin, Texas, and to an off- the- grid, hand built Earthship house in the Ortiz mountains outside Madrid, New Mexico. According to her website, from 2006 to current times she has been touring locally and abroad. When she was in Rome in 2010 she released a DVD “ Live at the Piper Club Rome.” This was one of the venues she played at during her stay in Italy.

Matthews is releasing a 7th CD  "Tales of a Salty Sweetheart."  She has engineered this album herself and it was mixed by Phil Greene ( 25- time Grammy Award-winning engineer) who according to Matthews told her, “Tales of a Salty Sweetheart is one of my favorite records I have mixed in the last 10 years.” Matthews had a number of musician preform on this album including Russell Chudnofsky who played the Dobro slide guitar. The CD will be released by the label Thundamoon Records founded by her manager Rose Gardina, who also founded the Boston Girl Guide website and magazine.

Matthews, who is studying  at Salem State University for her degree in English, said when she writes lyrics she literally locks herself in a room. She smiled "I can’t be disturbed.” And like the poem finding the poet ,the song finds Matthews. Matthews says she is in touch with her “inner voice.” Her lyrics can be ethereal and transcendent and she counts Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan as spiritual masters who have influenced both her lyrics and music.

Matthews, who lives just across the border from Somerville, but often plays in our city, plans to have a media campaign that will reach college radio stations both locally and nationally. Matthews has lived the life of an artist. At time it was a hand to mouth existence—as  Dylan sang  --“better pawn it babe,” and she did at one time, no doubt.  I remember her telling me a story of when she was a little girl. Once she jumped up on a table and started singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in front of her friends. I can still see that girl in the woman and I have to believe she is somewhere near that place now.

For more information about upcoming events go to:Jennifer Matthews

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

My South By Southwest A Cast Iron Tempo Recollection By Elizabeth Akin Stelling

My South By Southwest
A Cast Iron Tempo Recollection
By Elizabeth Akin Stelling
Red Dashboard LLC
Princeton, NJ
ISBN- 13:978-1494475451
116 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

I rode in with a posse of northeastern elites ready to make short work of any outlaw poet espousing a “cowboy” perception of all things human. Reckon us artsy-fartsy, highfalutin folk can’t abide shit-kickers, firing their guns in the air after writing a poetic memoir extolling the timeless and utterly personal importance of beans and cornbread.

 Days after discarding the unused hangman’s rope and reading My South By Southwest, Elizabeth Akin Stelling’s collection of poems set in rural Texas, in its entirety for the second time I became a believer in, if not cowboy poetry, at least Stelling’s version of this genre.

Stelling writes with an odd poetic cadence. She mixes the expected caricature of popular movie legend with realistic country diction and then infuses it with jaw-dropping moments of complexity. The book’s front and back covers and its illustrations unabashedly build on the cartoon look. But through it all Stelling’s honesty blasts onto the pages with the withering candor of a west Texas sun.

The book begins with a prologue poem entitled Texas Skies.  The piece is pure enchantment. White clouds shape themselves into dessert plants like mesquite and prickly pear, and then reform themselves into a woman encountering her universal cowboy. Flirtation follows with the predictable “scoot across a sawdust dance floor.” The poem ends transitioning from the messy personal to big picture beauty,

at night’s end,
morning light exposes a scene,
of rustled bed sheets and blankets
in a musky room
    filled with far-flung recollection.

Down the road,
a prettier site to behold:
a backdrop of a country town,
under a big top called Texas,
    a blue one
dotted with pretty white clouds,
scattered and taking on shapes,
always reminding
    of so many boundless things.

In Stelling’s poem, There’s A New Sheriff In Town, she describes her chemical makeup as a toddler in pretty funny terms and how it matches her Texas surroundings. The poem opens this way,

I drove my mother crazy
with my finger-sucking
(left-hand index barrel).
She would place me in a crib jail
and look down.
My “nasty habit” she called it,
crossing her chest
as if  praying to ward off evil.

Her sister advised her
“buy really hot sauces”
like mustard, green chilies
dip my finger in them,
then when she lay me down
to sleep, guaranteed,
I wouldn’t touch them.

Aunt Grace was wrong.
The hotter the better.  

Emotions attach themselves very readily to food I’ve noticed, remembered emotions from childhood even more so. Stelling makes good use of this phenomenon in her poem Corn-bread and beans. The poet details a family going through tough times. A mother prepares poverty’s breakfast in a cold house. The ending tugs at one’s heart,

Tears streamed.
    Each felt the sting—one, two, three
cutting of onions,
a front door slamming
and a father gone.

Leaving them—one, two, three, four
    frail bodies for eternity,
with a smell,
the burning aftertaste,
and a craving
for cornbread and beans.

Hearing the N Word In 1966 breaks through the surface texture of this collection. This poem delivers complexity, pathos, and a bit of thought provoking irony, all in five stanzas. The poet hits all the right notes. She has to. The poem begins harshly,

My father said nigger under his breath
toward some boys, coloured, and both
walking with scraps of lumber. They were dragging
wood along the school fence.
Huckleberry Finn did this jig,
And had fun.

Asking if daddy knew them,
supposing he worked with their fathers—
I was told to shut up
to remember  my place.

Here’s another brief selection from the same poem, highlighting childhood pathos,

Sandra and I came walking down the street.
In a rage Momma flew out our front door,
telling me to go into the house. Watching
through the screen door, I saw my friend’s tears.
Her unkempt afro swung around, then
she had to walk back four blocks
to an empty school.

Not only does this poet have a good ear but she understands the times and how societal bigotry infests otherwise decent people. It’s not that the poet’s persona is throwing her parents under the bus, but rather she seems intent on presenting an honest picture and setting up an ironic twist in the final stanza.

Kit Carson’s name graces a stray boulder and Geronomo metamorphosizes into a wooden Injun in Stelling’s poem Outlaws Still Border Texas. Tourism pleads its case from desolation. On a family road trip the poet notes a number of these incongruities. The poem ends not unreasonably,

“Goyahkla” means “The one who yawns”;
it is one of many trading posts
and totem pole—
riddled smoke shops
along the old Chisholm trail.
When I listened to the wind blowing through my long
auburn hair as Daddy drove,

I thought I heard the Great Spirit
call out: How
on earth did this blasphemy
make it this far?”
Wasn’t this supposed to be
a new frontier?

Beginning her poem, History Calls Out, “A Bullet Gone Wild, Stelling quotes the gunfighter Bat Masterson, who said, “If you want to hit a man in the chest aim for his groin.” I know a bit about Masterson. He later became a sportswriter in New York and railed against the barbarity of football. Somehow that seems appropriate. Stelling mixes a dreamed up meditation with gross reality. Here’s the heart of the poem,

When a man walked out into the street,
his gun packed as tight as possible,
in his belt and not far from his crooked
finger, it might have appeared aggression
looked you square in the eye.
Walk and draw was still a dream.

Civilized men kept a one shooter
deep in the pocket of his trousers.
To prosper, whiskey, and boredom
Brought out the best in a man
In the wilds of the frontier.

Together, the blend of honesty and humorous caricature charm these poems of cowboy sub-culture. Try ‘em out. You’ll like ‘em. Maybe you’ll like ‘em alot. And, dagnabbit, keep your spurs on and watch your back.

**** This review originally appeared in the Fox Chase Review.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Somerville Writer Mitch Evich: A Geography of Peril: Essays About Growing Up in the Northwest.

Somerville Writer Mitch Evich: A Geography of Peril: Essays About Growing Up in the Northwest.

By Doug Holder

Somerville writer Mitch Evich has lived in our burg for many years, but he is originally from the Pacific Northwest. I  had the pleasure of interviewing him years ago about his novel The Clandestine Novelist.  Now Evich has landed with a new collection of essays. A good portion of his collection deals with salmon fishing, and its trials and tribulations. I must admit that my extent of knowledge of the heroic salmon is limited to the Nova on my morning bagel. But after reading Evich’s  A Geography of Peril… I have a better idea of what the agonies and joys are of the life of a fisherman. Evich grew up in Washington State in the 60s and 70s, worked on his dad’s boat the Independence and was privy to frustration of the oh what a tangled web we weave of fishing nets, the endless repairs of the ship, the diminishment of the fishing industry due to the successful claims of native Americans for 50% of the overall catch from salmon runs, and the endless uncertainties of making a living from this seasonal and mercurial business. Here is an evocative passage in which Evich describes his memory of the boat, his dad, the unraveling of the nets, and the fish when he was a mere lad of eight:

“When I awoke…it was to the grind of machinery, the clanging of brass rings, and the squeak of corks as the seine spooled around the enormous steel drum, seawater pattering against the drum’s drainage well. My dad served as a spotter as I climbed the ladder at the back of the cabin, and then he positioned me, with my legs dangling beneath a very low railing, so I could safely watch the machines and the men at work. The oval-shaped ring of corks, longer than a football field, slowly shrunk. After a while a row of the brass rings emerged above the surface of the water, and two men struggled to thread the cluster of rings with a large steel contraption shaped like, and called, the ‘hairpin.’  Once the rings were out of the water, whatever salmon were in the net were trapped. Some minutes later, twenty or thirty of them landed, flapping and gasping on the fish hold covers.”

Evich goes into his family history, his high school football career, his forays into journalism after college—and all of this is informed by the siren call of his boyhood home.

****  A Geography of Peril is published by Village Books in Bellingham, WA.