Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Local Notes #3

  • On Friday, the 28th, we had an opportunity to see two entertaining bands on the "Downstairs Live" stage at the World Cafe in Philadelphia: Golem and Toubab Krewe. (Muchas gracias to Krewe kora-and-12-string-kamelengoni player Justin Perkins for the tickets!) The opening act, Golem, is an irrepressibly lively five-piece klezmer band, led by Annette Ezekiel on vocals and accordion. "This is not your father's klezmer band," according to a review in Jewish Weekly, posted on the band's website, "[u]nless, of course, your father was Sid Vicious." The band's repertoire is a spun-out and recoiled mélange of Jewish, Gypsy and Slavic folk songs, collected and reworked by Ezekiel and her cohorts somewhere between Lower East Side bagel shops and summers in Eastern Europe. Ezekiel and fiddler Alicia Jo Rabins (decked out in shimmering, bright red mini-tunics and long leather boots for Friday's performance), tromboing-boinger Curtis Hasselbring, drummer Tim Monaghan and upright bassist Taylor Bergren-Chrisman put some furious, crazy and intense musicianship on display, while muttering vocalist Aaron Diskin adds some Yiddish burlesque flavor to the whole affair. Toubab Krewe -- an Asheville, North Carolina-based fusion instrumental jam outfit, blending West African sounds (learned while studying with masters in Mali, Guinea and the Ivory Coast) with various facets of Southern-tinged rock 'n roll -- took the stage around 10pm, and they were worth the wait. On many of their tightly-meshed numbers, while Perkins bangs and plucks away on electrified West African gourd-harps (creating a sound that swings from steel-string axe-work to the effect of a light breeze on backporch chimes), percussionist Luke Quaranta, who plies a collection of traditional West African percussion instruments, and drummer Teal Brown, engage in some startling, fascinating cross-talk; and guitarist Drew Heller and bassist David Pransky (an ex-mandolinist) provide a supple, silky bed of electronic sound. Heller and Brown deserve special mention; Heller's guitar is surely accessible to uninitiated American rock audiences, but it straddles the soldered core of the group's sound by introducing us to the lightning, flat-pick sound of West African masters such as Zani Diabate, and Heller's own teacher Lamine Soumano. Brown may sit at the back of the group, but he is, in a sense, the Krewe's ringmaster, leading the band with a wide, white grin in some cliff-hanging tempo shifts while flashing in and out of straight-ahead rock drumming and West African rhythms. As the World Cafe's David Dye says, "Toubab Krewe are where Ali Farka Toure and Led Zeppelin meet." Check out their eponymous 2005 release when you get the chance -- regrettably, it is hard to find.

  • In sporting news ... the "Augustinian Shoot-Out" -- a four-day high school basketball tournament comprised of squads from nine elite North American Augustinian high schools -- came to a successful conclusion on Sunday the 30th. Participating in the tournament, which was held at St. Augustine College Preparatory School in Richland, New Jersey, were the hosts, the Prep Hermits; the Saints of St. Augustine High School in San Diego, California; the Friars of Malvern Prep in Malvern, Pennsylvania; the Wildcats of Villanova Prep in Ojai, California; the Mustangs of St. Rita of Cascia in Chicago, Illinois; the Celtics of Providence Catholic in New Lenox, Illinois; the Commandos of Cascia Hall in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and the Knights of St. Thomas of Villanova College in King City, Ontario, Canada. We were on hand to see the Prep Hermits' JV squad, featuring our own Ryan O., beat the Varsity squad from Ontario on Friday morning, 63-35. As St. Augustine himself sayeth, "The argument is at an end."

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