Following his rise to power in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini's efforts to rid Iran of Western-influenced pop initially fostered a resurgent interest in Persian classical music. Khomeini's ambivalence and suspicion toward music, however, resulted in inconsistent policies that eventually pressured many traditional musicians to seek audiences outside Iran. Currently, traditional music enjoys official acceptance in Iran, and Soheil Zolfonun's work consciously strives toward heightened spirituality, even though the secular roots of Persian classical lyrics have ensured a shaky relationship with Islamic leaders throughout the history of the form. Indeed, only in the 20th century did this music shift from being the exclusive domain of the royal courts to any sort of street-level awareness on the part of the average Iranian. As such, Zalfonun brings with him an artistic tradition that has long been difficult to access within both the U.S. and Iran. He lives in Iran, and his only two recordings available here feature him as an accompanist to his father, Jalal. Like Jalal, Soheil plays a four-stringed lute-like instrument named the setar (not to be confused with the Indian sitar). Persian classical is highly improvisational, but players must follow complex, traditional rules of modulation (called the Radif), and phrasing generally reflects the venerated status of poetry in Iranian culture. Known for his energetic physical approach to the instrument, Zalfonun is accompanied on percussion by tonbak and daf player Shahram Mazhari, who also leads the less esoteric folk ensemble Naghmeh. They'll perform at Blair School of Music's Turner Recital Hall.
Califone Electronica can sound at home superimposed upon the ethereal soulfulness of American roots music, but Califone virtually erase the seams between the two. In fact, this revolving-door collective of Red Red Meat alums go way further than that by demonstrating a malleability of style in general. It wouldn't be inaccurate to call their latest album, Heron King Blues, a folk or Americana record, but that just shows the band's ability to slip unnoticed into one musical camp after another. On one piece, for example, they invoke a Funkadelic groove out of nothing but backward-sounding guitar, Wurlitzer and piano. Just as compelling is the band's ability to cast the illusion of economy. Not unlike the bird of the album's title (which actually refers to a half-human, half-heron creature of leader Tim Rutili's recurring phobic nightmares), Califone's music often appears to sit still, but closer inspection reveals teeming, even busy arrangements. Because every instrumental part is bound tightly to a tiny parcel of space within the whole, the overall effect feels more pensive than somber. Free in their own space rather than haunted by it, Califone wring a distinctively powerful emotionality out of their tentative, rather un-dramatic approach. Mercy Lounge
Scott Bazar From the unlikely experimental music town of Panama City, guitarist Bazar has found his way into the thickets of improvised music. He appeared at the Birmingham Improvisation Festival this spring and apparently gave one of the best performances in a weekend of music from the leading voices in experimental music. Word is that his solo electric guitar improvisations involve a relentless cross-cutting of sonic effects from multiple pedals and objects, accompanied by an animated film he put together that is equally hyperactive. This is the second installment of the Out Guitar Series, organized by Brady Sharp of Voight-Kampff Music. Also on the bill are Beth Cameron (of Forget Cassettes) and Leah Paxton performing as Clark & Murphy, as well as the American Trilogy project of Sharp, Duane Denison and Brian Kotzur. 5 Spot
The Dirtbombs/The Forty-Fives The Dirtbombs are the elder statesmen of the now internationally renowned Detroit garage scene, but bandleader Mick Collins hasn't been coasting on his reputation. The band's most recent album, Dangerous Magical Noise, frequently returns neo-garage to its frayed, primitivist origins, making rock sound scary again. It ain't sophisticated, but it's refreshingly unpretentious. Atlanta's The Forty-Fives are a little more polished than The Dirtbombsthey're sort of the British Invasion-derived Nuggets II to The Dirtbombs' Nuggetsbut they still play rough. The Forty-Fives' upcoming album High Life, High Value is an explosive collection of riffy retro rock in the mode of MC5 and The Stooges. Both bands share a producer and an aesthetic; packaged together, they promise a night of sweat and frenzy. The Mercy Lounge
King Wilkie The initial press releases for this band hollered "gimmick": Liberal-arts Northerners discover traditional bluegrass and move to a Virginia farm to live the bluegrass life, three-piece suits and all. But King Wilkie have done everything right. Three years, many miles and a few personnel changes later, the band stand on their own as professional entertainers. Newer members Abe Spear (banjo), crooner John McDonald and fiddler Nick Reeb not only have competence and flair; the band's new album, Broke, takes a giant step forward with a batch of plain old songs from mandolinist Reid Burgess and guitarist Ted Pitney, as well as oldies like Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel No. 7." There's barely a breakdown in the batch, but the harmonies make up for that in excitement. Station Inn
Aubrey Ghent Ghent began playing the lap steel guitar at age 6; by age 9, he was performing in public. The son of an influential sacred steel guitarist, he had one reviewer proclaiming, "If ever the hand of God touched a performer, then this is it. What Hendrix was to guitar, Aubrey Ghent is to lap steel." A Nashville resident, Ghent is a minister and singer as well, and his rich baritone can carry across a congregation; his mixing of blues and gospel on a track like "Don't Let the Devil Ride" can summon an audience to their feet. Sacred steel remained largely behind the doors of the denominations of the House of God until 1994, when Ghent played the National Folk Alliance Festival and became the first sacred steel guitarist to appear before a wider audience in decades, paving the way for acts like Robert Randolph's pop-leaning Family Band. The genre hasn't lost its presence within the church, though, and Ghent's performance this weekend should be riveting for both its virtuosity and its charismatic spirit. Arts Center of Cannon Couny, Woodbury
Rock Sin Fronteras Till now, there hasn't been a communitywide musical event to reflect the cultural impact of Nashville's flourishing Hispanic community. That's set to change, as the "Rock Sin Fronteras: Rock + Ska = Kultura" tour comes to Hillsboro Village this week. The show, which features two of L.A.'s hottest Hispanic bands, Chencha Berrinches and Curanderos, is a cutting-edge cultural amalgam that ought to rock like hell. Drawing their name from a cranky Guanajuato crone who's become a kind of patron saint to Mexican punks, Chencha Berrinches are a seven-piece horn band that perform a freewheeling musical hybrid known as "Mexiska," which combines Latin, ska, punk and pop elements. Curanderos borrow from flamenco and cumbia, and sing mostly in Spanish, but also owe a significant debt to English post-punk bands like New Order and Psychedelic Furs. Opening the show are local ska outfit Off Duty Ninjas and grim-rockers Lost Generation. Belcourt Theatre
Paul V. Griffith
Alan Jackson/Martina McBride A decade ago, country music's reigning male and female vocalists of the year would have staged separate blockbuster concerts. But like everything else musical these days, tickets are a tough sell, and the most successful tours come value-added by stacking the bill with star power. The winner is the fan, especially if the show teams two of Nashville's classiest, most enduring modern stars. Jackson and McBride arrive while at the top of their craft, with Jackson showing others how to handle stardom with grace and artistry, and McBride having channeled the voice everyone else wants into material that balances meaning and insight with lighthearted fun. Gaylord Entertainment Center
Patience Moore As artists like They Might Be Giants and Dan Zane of The Del Fuegos have proven, children's music needn't be the domain of purple dinosaurs and other cloying creatures, nor does it require dreadfully inane melodies that grate on parents' nerves. This Nashville singer-songwriter, a.k.a. The Cowboy Girl, enters the playpen with her double CD Buckaroos Sleep Too! The first disc, "Playtime," favors percolating honky-tonk and Western swing, and "Quiettime" focuses on soothing arrangements and campfire fare. Moore has a lovely voice that's sure to comfort the kids, but the A-list players, including Moore's husband Van Manakas on guitars and mandolin, put plenty of fire in the tracks and should keep adults entertained. Ranger Doug from Riders in the Sky joins Moore for two duets, including the bouncy title track, which manages to make getting ready for bed sound like fun. A portion of the proceeds from this CD-release party benefit Saddle Up, a therapeutic horseback program for children with disabilities. 11 a.m, Davis-Kidd Booksellers
Dyke Verse City Ami Mattison's fiery politics and funky style have made her a star on the spoken-word circuit. On her last trip to Nashville, the Atlanta-based performer brought down the house at the Lipstick Lounge. This time through town, she's teamed with fellow spoken-word performer Amanda Kail (like Mattison, a former member of the Cliterati collective) and indie-rocker Sonia Tetlow (formerly of the band STB) to form Dyke Verse City, a kind of feminist Ramones combining mock-rock anthems with scathing political and social critique. "We wanted a sort of Rock 'n' Roll High School feel, but with some serious content," Mattison says. Lipstick Lounge
The Von Bondies For all its initial acclaim, The Von Bondies' sophomore LP Pawn Shoppe Heart suffers from growing pains, as the Detroit garage-rockers struggle to find the value in dirty guitar licks and primal rhythms in the year 2004. Kudos to the band for grappling with the questions, but the slicked-up neo-garage on Pawn Shoppe Heart doesn't really provide the answer. As potent as some tracks are, and as devastating as Jerry Harrison's production is throughout, these minimalist angst anthems still sound like retreadsmuscular retreads, but retreads nonetheless. Still, there's nothing wrong with dark, groovy rock as an end in itself, and while The Von Bondies ponder how to become relevant, it doesn't hurt that they've tightened their act and sharpened their chops. Exit/In
Jack Wright Trio Reed player Wright is one of the crucial figures in the U.S. experimental improvisation scene due to his energetic style and wide sonic palette, his openness to playing with other people and his longevity; he's been touring and recording for 25 years. Two musicians from Berlin will join him for his first Nashville appearance. Sabine Vogel is a classically trained flautist who cultivates extended techniques and works with leading composers and improvisers. Percussionist Michael Griener has played with traditional jazz players like Tal Farlow and Herb Ellis, as well as many of the foremost European and American improvisers. Griener and Vogel are associated with the "low decibel" scene in Berlin, which works in an intense way with subtle shifts of sound and silence. Wright has a more assertive style, but he has had collaborated productively with other members of the less-is-more crowd. This threesome played together for the first time in fall 2003, so their set should reflect the excitement of a fresh musical relationship. Springwater
The Greencards This work-permit trio of two Australians and an Englishman have been drawing attention in Austin, Texas, with a sprightly blend of string music and singer-songwriter tunes. Mandolinist Kym Warner and fiddler Eamon McLoughlin are superb players, and they interact with casual precision with bassist-singer Carol Young. Their instrumental chops and harmonies are superb, and their stage demeanor has a laid-back ease that counteracts the polite formality of most bluegrass acts and the indulgent pretensions of most acoustic jam bands. Voted Best New Band at the 2004 Austin Music Awards, The Greencards not only love traditional American music, they're leading it down one of its future paths. They're also playing the Western Beat Revival Tuesday at the Exit/In. Douglas Corner
"Rachmaninoff & Mahler"/Nashville Symphony Orchestra Rachmaninoff's perennial Vocalise (presented here in its arrangement for full orchestra) and the well-worn Rhapsody on the Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra are surefire crowd-pleasersand there's the danger. It's easy to over-blow Rachmaninoff or allow the music to lapse into a slush-fest. Fortunately, the distinguished Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker usually can be counted on to balance romantic lyricism with good taste, thereby avoiding interpretive distortions. The second half of this program features Mahler's Symphony No.1 in D Major (Titan). Mahler's huge and visionary symphonic structures demand a conductor with similar vision, focus and discipline. The trick in No. 1 is to integrate the composer's youthful exuberances, rustic high jinks and novelty effects without the whole thing coming across as vulgar and disjointed. Conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn is a seasoned Mahlerian and is sure to relish the challenge. Nonprofit organizations submitting advance requests to the NSO in writing will receive free tickets to Friday's concert (a maximum of two per staff member). There will be two performances, 8 p.m. May 28-29 at TPAC's Jackson Hall.
Home For 15 years, Blue Moves Modern Dance Company has consistently provided Murfreesboro and Rutherford County with adventuresome dance programming. The troupe's spring performance features eight original choreographic works that revolve around diverse themes, from domestic abuse to the joys of summertime in the South. Shelbyville native and former company member Julie Shavers, now an actress and playwright residing in New York City, will make a special guest appearance. Home runs for one show only, 5 p.m. May 23, at Tucker Theatre on the MTSU campus. Phone 687-4286 for more information.
Palisades BroadAxe Theatre's world-premiere presentation of Jeremy Childs' latest play offers yet another glimpse into the coolly strange mind of the gifted Nashville writer/actor. Childs directs a top-notch cast, including Sara Sharpe, Josh Childs, Matt Mellon, Marlon Styles and Rachel Agee. The play opens May 20 for a two-week run at Bongo After Hours Theatre. Phone 361-9669 for tickets.
Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller After decades in the music biz, songwriting partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller continue to run an office on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, where they probably spend their days counting royalties from the amazing string of pop/R&B classics they turned out mostly in the '50s and '60s. Their catalog is enormous and includes "Hound Dog," "Spanish Harlem," "Stand By Me," "Love Potion #9," "On Broadway," "Kansas City," "Charlie Brown" and too many others to mention. These tunes and others form the basis for this toe-tapping revue, which is presented by Circle Players May 21-30 at TPAC's Johnson Theater. Brad Staats directs, and John Todd supplies the musical direction. For tickets and show times, phone 255-ARTS.
What's New in Contemporary Folk and Outsider Art/Tag Art Gallery Like the label "alternative music," "folk art" and "outsider art" have been defined, redefined and misused, rendering the terms cliché. Since psychiatrist Hanz Prinzhorn began collecting art by mentally ill patients at the turn of the century, the genre has grown to encompass self-taught, visionary, intuitive and marginal art, as well as people who simply call themselves folk and outsider artists. So should artist Chad Poovey's wood carving of Bush and Cheney dressed in chicken costumes be labeled folk art? Are the obsessive, paisley-like ink drawings of Oak Ridge schoolteacher Robert Simon outsider art? TAG Gallery's latest exhibit features these two artists and six others who fit somewhere within this slippery categorization, whether because they self-consciously stand on the margins of society, or they simply happen to be untainted by high culture and technical art training. However much confusion is created by the words "folk" and "outsider," the body of art work at TAG is accessible, fun and lightheartedperhaps something we could all use a dose of right now. The opening reception happens 7-9 p.m. Saturday, May 22.
Hans and Gieves, "Loop"/ Gallery at the Belcourt The gallery in the lobby of the Belcourt Theatre is presenting "Loop," a collaborative project between painter Hans and photographer Gieves. The premise of the project was to create unique pieces both informed and influenced by each medium's formal qualities. They began by choosing one of Gieves' photographs, from which Hans would paint in response, and Gieves would then "loosely translate" back into a photo, and so on. They engaged in this cyclical process until they'd created a sound compositional construct, the combined results sometimes appearing merely complementary, at other times achieving amalgamation. The pieces also have some loose conceptual undertones through recurring themes such as the domestication of the natural, and interior/exterior compartmentalization. Taken as a whole, the body of work feels tempered in its attempt to explore "the possible intersections between these two mediums," at times taking on questionable sculptural approaches, such as incorporating fabricated steel and Plexiglas. However, there are a few successes, as when the artists layer enamels on top of digital prints, an effect that begins to blur the areas between the ink of the mechanical representation and the paint symbolizing the artist's hand. As viewers, we are drawn into the identifiable spaces represented in the digital format, but are then sent into an entirely different plane by the abstracted quality that Hans transitions in specific regions of the work. Rather than a simple, visually abstract photo or a photorealist painting, these are crossovers of the literal layered with the vaguewhere the true intersection of possibilities begins for the audience to enter and reevaluate. The show runs through June 18.
Anna Tomczak/Striped door gallery Florida-based photographer Tomczak uses a large-format, 20-by-24-inch Polaroid cameraweighing more than 200 poundsto create her unique, painterly assemblages. This Saturday at 7 p.m., she'll be giving a talk about her work at this downtown gallery, at 522 Third Avenue South (entrance on Second Avenue). See the related story to find out more about the Striped Door and its new gallery director, Virgina Cannon.
Reading & Writing
Lauren Winner Winner's 2002 memoir, Girl Meets God, documented her conversion from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity. In Mudhouse Sabbath, her most recent book, she reflects on how Christian belief is enhanced by Jewish ritual activities such as Shabbat (Sabbath) and Hadlakat Nerot (candle lighting). Winner's expansion of Hebrew tradition is touching and uplifting, but it is also a risky business, given much of Christianity's long-held view that Judaism is somehow incomplete. Winner discusses Mudhouse Sabbath 6:30 p.m. May 20 at the Downtown Library, 615 Church St.
Paul V. Griffith
Lisa Smid A regular on the Nashville poetry circuit, Smid is about to relocate to New York City. Before she goes, however, she'll be giving a final Music City reading in which she'll debut her latest collection of poems, Leaving Nash Vegas. Smid's poetry, while concerned with both natural and human-made landscapes, seeks mainly, as she says, "to show us how we become exiles and dreamers in our own backyards." Smid will read at Bongo After Hours Theater 4 p.m. Sunday, May 23. The event is free and open to the public.
Night in White: "Zootopia" Fire breathers, tarot card readers, burlesque dancers, African drummers, wild animalsno, it's not a Fellini retrospective. It's "Zootopia," the annual Night in White fundraiser for Nashville CARES, Middle Tennessee's leading HIV/AIDS service organization. In addition to the carnival-on-steroids atmosphere, Kristine W. will take the stage. The international dance music star knows a thing or two about struggling with a life-threatening illness. She was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2001, but thanks to a stem cell transplant several months later, she's been in remission since. If you've ever been to an Artrageous event, you know that these folks can throw a party. The debauchery goes down starting at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere.
Shrek 2 DreamWorks follows up its 2001 hit with this sequel based on the characters from William Steig's children's book. Mike Meyers and Cameron Diaz return as the title character and his bride, the Princess Fiona. Adventures ensue, along with wisecracks from Eddie Murphy as the Donkey. Opening Friday at area theaters.
Monty Python's Life of Brian For those people who thought The Passion of the Christ wasn't all that much fun, the Belcourt screens a new 25th anniversary print of Monty Python's 1979 religious satire. Ensemble member Graham Chapman plays Brian Cohen, the reluctant messiah from Judea whose life uncannily mirrors that of Jesus Christ. Opening Friday.
Stateside Jonathan Tucker plays a rich kid enlisted into the Marine Corps who comes up against drill instructor Val Kilmer, before falling in love with an impulsive singer-actress, played by Rachael Leigh Cook. Writer-director Reverge Anselmo is himself a former Marine, so expect gripping, true-to-life drama and lots of hoarse shouting. Opening Friday.
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