Andrei Strizek

Music | Events Production | Writing

New review: "John & Jen" 2015 off-Broadway cast album

I just posted a review of John & Jen over at CastAlbums.org. This is the new cast album, with Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in the title (and only) roles. I saw the show back in February, and it was stunning; they are phenomenal actors and singers and that really comes across on this recording. I wish they hadn't written new orchestrations for the album because they are too much for this score. (The production earlier this year used the show's original orchestrations, without the percussion part, so just piano and cello.) I also think that this is Lippa's strongest piece of musical theatre, when looking at complete works - funny how it is also his first piece of musical theatre.

This is a wonderful recording and one that should not be passed up.

September 2015 in review

Books read (3):

  • Building Stories by Chris Ware
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Live performances (9):

  • On the Town at the Lyric Theatre (9/1/15)
  • Matilda at the Shubert Theatre (9/15/15)
  • The King and I at the Vivian Beaumont (9/16/15)
  • Renée Fleming & the Emerson String Quartet at Sub-Culture (9/16/15)
  • The Gil Evans Project plays Miles Ahead and Porgy & Bess at the Jazz Standard (9/17/15)
  • BRILLIANT: The Songs of the Brill Building Composers at the Duplex (9/18/15)
  • Spring Awakening at the Brooks Atkinson (9/24/15)

Other miscellany:

Ellnora 2015

I worked at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for over four years, as a stage manager/production assistant and events coordinator. While there I had the fortune to be a part of 2 Ellnora Guitar Festivals, a 3-day biennial affair that features about 30 performances in 6 of the building's venues. While I no longer work there, I was asked to come back this year to work the festival, because it is such a large affair.

Click through for the Ellnora 2015 gallery

Click through for the Ellnora 2015 gallery

Coming back was a sort of homecoming for me. I loved working at Krannert, and some days I spent so much time there that it was a second home, and I missed the building and the people who worked there, who have been like a second family. It's such a unique venue, particularly in the Midwest: 5 stages, including a 2100 seat concert hall that the Chicago Symphony used to record in, and continues to gets raves from artists all around the world; 250-300 events a year, ranging from top-notch professionals to burgeoning student ensembles and productions; a unique (and labyrinthine) architecture that fills a city block.

Ellnora 2015 is a great way to show off the building and its capabilities. This year there were 29 performances over the three days, and they included artists such as Sharon Isbin, the Punch Brothers, Bucky & John Pizzarelli, Los Lobos, John Scofield, and a 13-guitar performance of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint. After the opening night party, I was in Foellinger Great Hall most of the weekend, helping out other venues and PAs when I had the time. It was a great pleasure to work with the artists who played there.

Ellnora brings the Krannert and Champaign-Urbana communities together, so of course we take moments to document it in photography during some of our brief moments of downtime. I gathered a few pictures in the gallery here (some were previously posted on Twitter and Instagram [#KrannertLyfe]).

This year's Ellnora was a huge success, and I'm looking forward to 2017's festival!

August 2015 in review

Books read (8):

  • Amazing Grace (33 1/3) by Aaron Cohen
  • Urgent, Unheard Stories by Roxane Gay
  • Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
  • We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns
  • March, Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
  • March, Book 2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Live performances (9):

  • Cold Mountain at the Santa Fe Opera (8/5/15)
  • Santa Fe Desert Chorale at Cathedral Basilica, Santa Fe (8/6/15)
  • Significant Other at Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center (8/14/15)
  • Threesome at 59E59 (8/21/15)
  • Mamma Mia! at the Broadhurst Theatre (8/22/15)
  • John at the Signature Theatre (8/23/15)
  • Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (8/24/15)
  • Jonathan Cuevas Cello Duet Recital (8/25/15)
  • Allison Burns and Lulu Picart cabaret at the Metropolitan Room (8/31/15)

Movies seen (1):

  • The Wrecking Crew (8/16/15)

July 2015 in review

Books read (5):

  • The Museum of Literary Souls by John Connolly
  • The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March (art by Art Spiegelman)
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Live performances (4):

  • Little Shop of Horrors at New York City Center (7/2/15)
  • The Wild Party at New York City Center (7/17/15)
  • It Shoulda Been You at the Brooks Atkinson (7/19/15)
  • George Abud at 54 Below (7/24/15)

Movies seen (1):

  • Cold Mountain (7/25/15)

June 2015 in review

Books read (6):

  • The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin
  • Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. Sountrack (33 1/3 series) by Andrew Schartmann
  • I'm Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves by Ryan O'Connell
  • Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga
  • Intimacy Idiot by Isaac Oliver

Live performances (12):

  • It's Only a Play at the Jacobs Theatre (6/2/15)
  • Maria Schneider Orchestra at Birdland (6/4/15)
  • Preludes at Claire Tow Theatre (6/5/15)
  • Fun Home at Circle In the Square (6/9/15) (Post-Tonys performance!)
  • Fun Home at Circle In the Square (6/10/15)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Barrymore Theatre (6/11/15)
  • On the Twentieth Century at the American Airlines Theatre (6/12/15)
  • The King & I at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre (6/13/15)
  • An American in Paris at the Palace Theatre (6/14/15)
  • Tori Kelly at the Best Buy Theatre (6/23/15)
  • Shows For Days at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre (6/27/15)
  • Hand to God at the Booth Theatre (6/28/15)

Other miscellany:

  • Music directed The Melody Lingers On at 54 Below (6/20/15)
  • Attending special announcement from Jazz at Lincoln Center for Blue Engine Records at Jazz at Lincoln Center (6/30/15)

Thoughts after seeing the Maria Schneider Orchestra

Some non-analytical, off-the-cuff thoughts after seeing Maria Schneider and her eponymous orchestra perform at Birdland on June 4th, celebrating the release of her new album The Thompson Fields.

*****

Image via Texas Public Radio

Image via Texas Public Radio

I’ve been a fan of Maria Schneider for … 15 years? Probably closer to 20, now that I think about it. My dad introduced me to her after he got Coming About. As usual, it took me a little while to latch on to her style and to understand what she was doing. (I was in early high school at this time, trying to learn as much about music as possible, but my ears were much more inclined to hard boppers like Horace Silver and late 50s Miles Davis or Count Basie and Duke Ellington than Maria Schneider.)

*****

Can we talk about how she won a Grammy for Concert In the Garden, how that album was completely crowd-funded - one of the first jazz albums to do so, and a trend-setter in that regard - and lead to a successful record label that's almost completely crowd-funded?

*****

My favorite piece of her’s depends on when you ask me. Sometimes it’s “Hang Gliding.” Others, it’s “The ‘Pretty’ Road.” Or “Cerulean Skies.” Or “Bulería, Soleá Y Rumba.” You catch my drift.

But there are moments in songs that give me chills or make me want to jump up and down with glee whenever I hear them:

  • The reed parts in “Dança Ilusória,” particularly after the trombone solo, around the 6:30 mark.
  • The “Rumba” in “Bulería, Soleá Y Rumba,” which modulates its melody up by a minor 3rd as it progresses.
  • The alternating 3/2 and 12/8 feel in the “Bulería” portion of “Bulería, Soleá Y Rumba.” Steve Reich used a similar idea in the last movement of his “Electric Counterpoint,” and there’s something about that shifting of beats - even though the number of eighth notes stays consistent - that gets inside me in the best way possible.
  • The part after Ingrid Jensen’s solo in “The ‘Pretty’ Road,” that is the epitome of Maria Schneider: dense harmonies, mixed orchestrations, melodies on top of and handed off to various sections, long lines supported by vibrant countermelodies …
  • The backgrounds behind the tenor solo, and then coming out of that solo, in “Hang Gliding.” And its 11/8 meter.
  • Frequent moments when she has sustained tones supported by angular countermelodies.

*****

I can say that my favorite album is Concert In the Garden, but I also love Sky Blue and The Thompson Fields immensely. I think I wore out Concert In the Garden the summer of 2005, playing it in my car and at home almost non-stop. I can sing any and all lines on that album, if you ask me nicely.

*****

The set list from when I saw the band was a mix of old and new:

  • “Dance You Monster To My Soft Song”
  • “A Potter’s Song”
  • “Gumba Blue”
  • “Lembrança”
  • “The Thompson Fields” (about “everything that’s beautiful about being from a small town in the Midwest”)
  • “Arbiter’s of Evolution” - with the tricky beginning where you have no idea what the time signature is, and then you realize it’s been 4/4 the entire time and you exclaim, “What?!”

*****

She has filled her band with some of the best musicians around, each one a superb soloist and excellent ensemble player.

*****

Scott Robinson is the only person who can make the alto clarinet sound good. (Check out “Walking By Flashlight” from her new album.)

*****

Scott Robinson came to my high school once or twice, with Frank Mantooth’s big band. (Mantooth wass another superb composer and arranger, who’s untimely death left a void in the jazz world.) Robinson wasn’t on Mantooth’s Sophisticated Ladies album, but he took the bari solos while at SPHS, and sounded incredible (obviously). One of these times was also when I had dinner with baritone Kevin Mahogany, sitting in a home ec room, eating spaghetti made by band moms.

*****

I think that her being from the Midwest (southern Minnesota) has not only affected her sensibilities - she has the air of being one of the most pleasant and down to earth people ever, and that’s saying a lot because so much of the jazz world shares her humility and humor - but also the quiet beauty of her music. It’s not forceful or brash; it has that false simplicity, an impression of effortlessness, that gives way to a relentless energy and drive - sometimes it’s apparent and sometimes it’s simmering just below the surface.

*****

Schneider looks like a painter when she conducts, brushing broad strokes on the canvas of her band.

*****

No, better yet: she looks like a dancer. Those who say contemporary jazz is not danceable need to watch Schneider lead her band.

*****

When you see her live, you can see the look on her face during the bass solo of “Lembrança.” Appreciation. Pride. Trust. Gratitude. To have that feeling while hearing your music performed must be incredible.

*****

She is beautiful. Her music is beautiful.

*****

She’s not the first to use an non-standard instrumentation with a big band, but, in my opinion, she orchestrates better than most anyone else out there. (Even, dare I say, better than Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer, two of her mentors.) Especially since she started adding wordless vocals as another instrument in her band. Alto flute, alto clarinet, oboe, accordion … She makes her big band sound like a full-fledged chamber orchestra.

*****

Make sure to listen to Winter Morning Walks if you want to hear her music performed by an actual chamber orchestra (and sung superbly by Dawn Upshaw).

*****

I am not a composer. I have no real desire to be one. But if I were, she would be one of my role models. I would consider myself lucky if I could write 4 bars as good as she does.

*****

I love that her band is still thriving. They started seemingly eons ago, performing Monday nights in New York, which turned out to be a great workshop for her new arrangements and compositions. She's a slow writer, compared to some other contemporary composers, so we're not always blessed with a new album or live performances. I think that makes me cherish a new album or concert even more than usual.

*****

If you haven't heard any Maria Schneider, remedy that as soon as possible. Then send me a message and let me know what you think!

May 2015 in review

  • Living on Love at the Longacre Theatre (5/2/15)
  • Doctor Zhivago at the Broadway Theatre (5/9/15)
  • Zorba! at City Center Encores! (5/10/15)
  • Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at The Bell House (5/10/15)
  • Fred Hersch & Brad Mehldau at The Jazz Standard (5/19/15)
  • The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre (5/22/15)
  • John Rutter and the New England Symphonic Ensemble at Carnegie Hall (5/25/15)
  • Songs From An Unmade Bed at SubCulture (5/26/15)
  • The Drama Desk Awards at Town Hall (5/31/15)

Movies (3):

  • Atari: Game Over (5/23)
  • Stripped (5/24)
  • Grand Piano (5/29)

Other miscellany:

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