Friday, April 1, 2011

Savannah Music Festival Part 3: Three Amigos and the Energizer Bunny

Kenneth Routon recently attended the annual Savannah Music Festival and filed this report for Afropop Worldwide. Read his previous entries here

The Savannah Music Festival continued on Monday with “Percussion Summit,” a show featuring New Orleans jazz drummer, percussionist, and xylophone player Jason Marsalis, freestyle folk artist Joe Craven, and Norwegian classical percussionist and marimba player Hans-Kristian Kjos Sorensen. Described as a “percussion discussion” – that is, an improvised percussive dialogue promising to bring their disparate styles together in a novel cosmos of sound –, this was by far the most scattered, whacky, and massively disappointing show yet. At times, it felt more like an vapid academic conference on musical improvisation and a propaganda blitz on the biological ur-presence and existential hermeneutics of rhythm.

Don’t get me wrong, these are three enormously talented individuals. I first heard Jason Marsalis when he was playing with Casa Samba and the Afro-Caribbean jazz-inflected excavations of Los Hombre Calientes. When Los Hombres was at the height of their popularity, Marsalis promptly left to play with acclaimed jazz pianist Marcus Roberts. Joe Craven’s interest in conjuring the latent percussive and musical qualities of found objects – pickling jars, credit cards, bedpans, zippers, squeeze toys, hambones, car parts and so on –, as if he had just wandered into a flea market somewhere one day to record an album with whatever was available, would have made even the likes of Walter Benjamin proud. As a roots and world music singer and multi-instrumentalist, Craven has played with the David Grisman Quintet and Jerry Garcia, performed music and contributed sound effects to several Grammy-nominated projects, and is well-respected for his relentless educational work promoting the folk arts. Hans-Kristian Kjos Sorensen is a classically trained, internationally renowned percussionist who has worked with a staggering number of prodigious orchestras and musicians, in addition to receiving numerous accolades for his work.

But the grouping of these three talents was exceedingly awkward and their performance uneven, disjointed, and, at times, downright boring. That’s not to say the show didn’t have its moments. Marsalis played a memorable drum solo with mallets that he called, “Rhythm Is the Thing.” Craven sang a nice version of the haunting Appalachian tune “Julianne” on his bedpan mandolin, accompanied by Marsalis’ funky New Orleans-tinged backbeat. Sorensen performed a beautiful version of Gordon Stout’s “Mexican Dance.” Still, the show never really jibed. That is, until the Energizer Bunny (or was it the Duracell version?) made a surprise guest appearance. Rolling out a steady rhythm on his tiny snare drum, and accompanied by Marsalis on drums behind him, the Bunny raised the roof!

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