From j.b. spins blog, New York, NY
November 9, 2008
By Joe Bendel
MIAAC: Frontier Gandhi & David Amram
David Amram is a difficult musician to classify, frequently blurring the distinctions between jazz, classical, and world music. He has also composed scores for several memorable films including John Frankenheimer's Manchurian Candidate, Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass, and Robert Frank's Pull My Daisy, featuring the "narration" of Jack Kerouac. Given his past collaboration with Kerouac and experimentation with world music, it is not surprising Amram had a strong affinity for T.C. McLuhan's new documentary The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace, which had its American debut at the MIAAC Film Festival last night, followed by a special concert performance by Amram himself.
McLuhan's documentary reverently tells the story of Ghaffar "Badshah" Khan, Mahatma Gandhi's Islamic contemporary and close colleague in their campaign for Indian independence. Khan's early advocacy of non-violence is presented as a remarkable development, since he was a devout Muslim Pashtun from what was then Northwest India, a region long associated with war and strife—think of the Khyber Pass. As Frontier explains, both men developed similar non-violent ideologies separately, but joined forces to become the Odd Couple of the Indian independence movement. One was short and Hindu, the other was tall and Muslim.
As a native of the North-West Frontier Province, independence did not exactly work out the way Khan had hoped, eventually finding himself a resident of Pakistan following the national referendum of 1947. Frontier is strongest when addressing Khan's post-independence years in the wilderness, when he was all but forgotten in India and unwelcome in Pakistan, spending most of his time in Afghanistan.
Great effort clearly went into the making of Frontier, including interviews with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (who also happens to be Pashtun) and then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Amram's music is quite tasteful and appropriate throughout. Featuring the great Badal Roy on tabla, it incorporates his world and classical chops, but jazz is not an appreciable part of the compositional mix. However, his concert afterward would be a different story.
Amram developed a special program integrating music from around the globe, with an unusual quartet of Avram Pengas on either guitar or Greek bouzuki, his son Adam on congas, and daughter-in-law Teresa Colamonaco on tambourine (an instrument Amram spiritedly defended at one point), with the leader on just about everything else. He started on flute with a raga dedicated to Roy, before shifting to piano for a slow blues. Amram had a plethora of exotic instruments spread across the stage for pieces dedicated to various forms of traditional music, including the shanai and dumbek representing Egypt, the Lakota flute for a piece originally composed for the Philadelphia orchestra, and a surprisingly bluesy number featuring the bouzuki and traditional Chinese woodwind. However, the highlight of his set was a rendition of a jazz waltz he composed for a production of Arthur Miller's After the Fall, which he started at the piano, but concluded playing two penny whistles simultaneously, Rahsaan Kirk-style.
Amram performed a great set, clearly inspired by McLuhan's preceding film.
From The Miami Herald, Miami, FL
April 1, 2008
By JOSE PAGLIERY
Beat poet and musician graces stage
Tears nearly came to local bass player Pepe Aparicio's eyes when he saw David Amram. As the Beat culture goes, one doesn't forget a face. And after more than 35 years since their last gig in New York, Amram still recognized Aparicio.
"He's a Renaissance man, man. This guy does it all. He has no prejudices against music, whether it's rap, folk, classical, rock," said Aparicio, who plays with the Afro-Cuban band, Oriente. "They don't make them like David anymore. He's one of the last of his kind."
Minutes earlier, the pounding and meticulous strumming of the stand-up bass accompanied the slow, swooping melody of Amram's trumpet solo.
The lights were yellow and low at Tobacco Road a week ago Thursday night, and with good reason -- Amram was in town.
To Miami's poets and new-age beatniks alike, it was the closest thing to having Beat poet and travel extraordinaire Jack Kerouac on stage at the local bar.
Through the efforts of Florida Center for Literary Arts at Miami Dade College, Miamians got to witness a rare moment in their city, with a cool and calm Amram gracing the bar's low-set stage. "When the times get tough, the artists get tougher," Amram told the quiet and smiling crowd that filled every spot on the bar's second floor.
The man onstage, with his short, wild, gray hair and fading voice, once had jazz great Dizzy Gillespie crash in his cramped Washington, D.C. apartment. After spending time with legendary symphonic conductor Leonard Bernstein, he composed theater and film scores. When hanging with Kerouac, he fiddled with his French horn.
His 1952 jam session with jazz great Charlie Parker, he recalled, "literally changed [his] life, with Charlie's spontaneous flights of fancy." Amram will be at Books & Books in Coral Gables at noon April 12 for the release of his newest book, Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat.
With his long list of historically profound associations, Amram calls himself an "advocate for the arts and ambassador for culture." He hopes to introduce today's youth to a different form of thought, much like Amram and his comrades did in the '50s with the Beat movement.
Amram walked around the room after the show, greeting fans and discussing art in today's world. Annelise Berish, an MDC nursing student from Pinecrest, was excited to finally meet an artist from the generation that so deeply influenced her poetry.
She even named her 18-month-old son, Cole Maddox, after jazz legend John Coltrane. "Everybody's so stressed out all the time. It's refreshing to be in the presence of someone who's so laid back and pure of heart," Berish said.
Lugging his French horn, large duffel bag and handbag at his sides, Amram shuffled downstairs to the first floor of the bar, his beads jingling from his neck, reflecting on why he came to Miami.
"I hope it'll inspire them to celebrate their own lives, their families, their own life stories and to develop that," he said. "It's not that hard to do, and it doesn't cost anything."
From denverpost.com - Reverb blog, Denver CO
"I Speak Out" @ Denver Public Library
Written by erin barnes, Feb. 28, 2008
I resent it when bands instruct me to "wave my hands in the air," and furthermore I become increasingly uncomfortable if they add "like you just don't care." Who are you, sir, to tell me what to do with my hands, or to pontificate about my level of involvement?
Call me a party pooper, a scrooge, or some evil killer of youthful solidarity, but I feel embarrassed to participate in such displays. I guess it's the bratty individualist in me, but I want to raise my hands when I deem worthy, not like some Pavlovian urban hippie clone.
However, I do love me some hip-hop, and have heard that spoken word and its larger umbrella of hip-hop are the wave of the future. This sentiment reigned as sociologist Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D., introduced Saturday's jam session between Flobots and David Amram as an event on par with Bob Dylan going electric. Her earnest projections aside, this show, called "I Speak Out," was going to be interesting: An old Beat legend turned composer, some spoken-word poets and a new buzzing Denver band performing for an odd assortment of die-hard Flobot fans, parents trying to show their kids something both cool and possessing of a good message, old burnout Beat men, youthful slam enthusiasts and … us. All of this in a place notorious for the harsh shushing of elderly spinsters: the library. It was a live show in the Denver Public Library, and it was (probably illegally?) packed to double the capacity.
Sprenger then introduced David Amram as the greatest living composer, and when he got on the mic, he said, "I don't know about the greatest, but I am living." I immediately liked him. "In this library, Neal Cassady came to give himself an education," he told us.
I wondered if those kids, dragged along by their parents, appreciated how exciting that statement was, how cool David Amram is. If I were a kid, I would probably view Amram as a joyful, lovable, jazzy old grandfatherly figure. I certainly wouldn't understand how breathlessly excited, how god damn special Denver should feel for catching the eye of such men like him and Kerouac. Amram talked about how he and Kerouac had only seen the West in films — films made by people who had probably never been here. As a Colorado native, I feel a certain thrill reading the words "Larimer" and "Rocky Mountains" used in poetic and literary devices, in works like "On the Road." But my imaginings of Neal Cassady take place less in the library and more on Larimer Street, up to no good.
So David Amram rattled off an epic running dialogue interspersed with snippets of life as Jack Kerouac's friend; advice on music via Max Roach via the son of Thelonius Monk; he talked to the intergenerational love we were vibing, how kids are the future and the present is now, and haven't you heard of spoken word? Then he and two musicians started off with some jazz, Amram on keys.
Flobots at the Gothic Theatre earlier this month. Photo by Brian Carney.
Jazz drumming might sound like noise. The key is to try and continue the original time signature in your head while they're venturing into outer space, shuffling out seemingly chaotic rhythms and different time signatures that circle around and ultimately land back on earth, in ¾ time or whatever they were in, as if that venture was purely in the listener's imagination. That drummer had that earthy basic rhythm in the back of his mind, his feet firmly planted on the ground, the entire time. Wow.
Then the spoken word artists came on, Panama Soweto, (Meggan Gould???) from Denver Minor Disturbance Slam, Isis, and geekhipster slam poet Ken Something or Other. I'm not gonna lie. I'm not the target audience for slam poetry, if only for the aesthetic. How many more slam poets will step onto that stage with their diverse looks and claims of counterculturalism, only to hurl the same dart at McDonald's and Wal-Mart in the same spoken word accent? And if I criticize spoken word, I feel like I'm criticizing the message, which is conflicting to me because I generally agree with that message.
That said, the group on Saturday put on the best spoken word performance I've seen. They hurled darts at McDonald's and Wal-Mart, but they were more like interweaving missiles, sharp and delivering powerful blows. As a writer, I truly admired their cleverness, their abilities; although I probably would have just preferred to read their poetry on my couch with a cup of tea.
After what seemed like a pleasant eternity, Sprenger urged everyone to ("Quietly! We're in a library") move all the chairs aside for Flobots to come on. Suddenly it felt like a club packed with cross-cultural high school kids, all dancing ferociously and singing along to every word of Flobots. It was not quiet.
I last followed guitar player Andy Guerrero when he worked at Independent Records, playing in Bop Skizzum. I guess that was a while ago, but it feels like I turned around for a second, and now he's commanding an army of socially-conscious, positive hip-hop indie rock violin-tinged music lovin' kids.
Besides their crispness and energy, their ability to inspire the crowd so suddenly, Flobots' music impressed me with their simple minimalism. Much of the time, they played with a drum set, a violin and a rapper, but it wasn't what I would call "sparse." The spaces just allowed for more room in the music to dance. My companion Father Guido noted how they're like Denver's Gym Class Heroes. I thought they should open for Saul Williams. Would probably get his audience primed.
David Amram got onstage with the Flobots, contributing some double-flute action. Then Jonny 5 handed off the mic to Amram for some free-styling. It was part-grandpa, part-emcee, as Amram meandered through topics like "Here we are, at the library," but found his footing on firm hip-hop ground in the end. Then he pulled the sheets out from under Jonny 5, working into his freestyle something about how he'd now be scatting with Amram. I couldn't tell if it was planned or not. So Jonny 5 started scatting, and he did an alright job. It wasn't until then, when I saw someone from my generation attempting to scat, that I realized just how much Amram was stretching his musical horizons at that moment. And then, if that weren't enough, Jonny 5 and Amram started this back-and-forth scat-off. It was impressive, the both of them. And I didn't "put my hands in the air," but I did clap a lot, not just with my hands at chest level, but above my head. That should count for something.
Erin Barnes edits the Donnybrook Writing Academy.