Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
For the purist, Miami has a wealth of fine jazz musicians who know their way around an Ellington composition or conserve the stylistic touches of Dizzy, Miles, or Coltrane. Jesse Jones, Jr., Melton Mustafa, Randy Gerber, and Paquito Hechavarria are just a few of the virtuosos who keep the flame of jazz alive in the city. Enter the young Turks in the Spam Allstars, a lanky crew of polyester hipsters who brandish trombones, saxophone, and timbales (the lineup changes often). Their regular Fuácata jams at Hoy Como Ayer are held together by the vinyl rhythms of Andrew Yeomanson (DJ Le Spam). Doubtless they are a party band, but their nonstop sets of extended improvisations mix African, Latin, and electronica influences into a concoction that defies all categories. And the Spams never fail to uplift and elevate their minions. While you'll likely never hear "A Night in Tunisia" at a Spam show, you will get a zinging set of polyrhythmic improvisations that are at the heart of jazz.
The Lincoln Theatre is intimate enough that everyone in the audience can watch artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas's expressions -- they tell the story. His enthusiasm and excitement about music are written all over his face, as when he introduced an evening of works by Soviet-era composers, part of the contemporary-music series he has put together for his youthful orchestra called Sounds of the Times. So you get lucky with a Shostakovich or two from a big, conservative orchestra. But three twentieth-century Russians in one evening? The series opened with a visiting conductor, Reinbert de Leeuw, who led the symphony through four modern French compositions, though Thomas's ardor for new music was clearly present. Then we had American Lukas Foss conducting his own work on his 80th birthday. Great stuff, but you don't have to wait for a special series like this one to come around. All season the orchestra plays fresh and fascinating concerts, from Mahler and Hindemith to Weber and Britten. Okay, so NWS has the dedicated funding that frees it from having to do Beethoven on the beach -- or anywhere else -- to stay in business. Still the mind for programming a gem like Sounds of the Times is rare, and Miami is lucky to have it. With visionary Thomas holding the baton we surely will be treated to more.
It seems shortsighted to begrudge the rain in a year following such a serious drought, but if the rain had to fall so infrequently, why did it always seem to pour on the Rhythm Foundation's outdoor summer concerts? Colombia's vallenato king, accordionist Alvaro Meza, was completely washed out of the 73rd Street bandshell and showers kept crowds away from a cardiac arrest-inducing performance by Congolese soukous star Diblo Dibala. And the elements had nothing to do with the terrible events of September 11, the global reverberations of which kept Senegal's superhero Youssou N'Dour not just off the stage at Level but away from our shores. Yet all was glory on the cloudless night when saxophonist Paulo Moura performed the old-time Brazilian ballroom music gafieira beneath the stars. And when the Rhythm Foundation teamed up with the Miami Light Project to bring Los Muñequitos de Matanzas to Miami for the first time in the Cuban folkloric institution's 50-year career, there was no greater pleasure to be found in this world or any other. Which just goes to show that the Rhythm Foundation can do more in a couple of shows than most presenters can manage in a full season.
She first dazzled the world, or at least her fifth-grade class, with her rendition of "Be a Lion" in an elementary school production of The Wiz. That might explain her courage. After scoring as a dance diva with "Miracle" in 1998, Henry has opted for a much more challenging career built not on the beat but on the shades of emotion the trained actress turned singer casts with her voice. As a songwriter -- even after September 11 -- Henry is not afraid to remind us of trouble in the home of the brave with her sizzling "Red, White, and Blues." Nor is she timid about identifying with the lowest of the low-down, looking at life "through the bottom of a bottle" in the heart-wrenching "Just Like Me." Henry is even a bit of a lioness when she performs standards, songs that before hearing her fearless reconstructions, we thought we knew. In her smoke and honey tones, "Georgia on My Mind" is all hazy afternoon seduction; John Lennon's "Imagine" is a Delta anthem; and an unplugged take on disco ditty "Bad Girls" is deeper than Donna Summer ever dreamed. Buoyed by the guitar wizardry of co-writer, collaborator, and straight man Lou Duzin, the visually and aurally striking Henry is the complete package: brash, brainy, brawny, beautiful.
The Lincoln Theatre is best known as the home of the New World Symphony (NWS), Michael Tilson Thomas's "training" outfit, who regularly blow their older Philharmonic peers out of the water. But as anyone knows who's caught a concert here when musicians of the NWS have hung their strings up for the night, the Lincoln is one of Miami's premier concert spots -- period. With stellar acoustics, comfortable seats, excellent sightlines, and a residual classical vibe that's stately without being stuffy, the Lincoln has provided a welcome home to visiting musicians as varied as Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez and Cuban balladeers Los Fakires. The lack of live music venues is a continual local refrain -- here's hoping the Lincoln's management takes advantage of the NWS's summer hiatus to keep picking up the slack.
Guitarist Josh Sonntag and singer-songwriter Catty Tasso make for the perfect rock-and-roll marriage -- literally. When Tasso advertised for an axe man on a Guitar Center bulletin board in 1999, Sonntag offered her not only a pair of the best plucking hands in town but also his hand in matrimony. The happy ending is Moxi, a band that weds Tasso's hard-hitting rasp to Sonntag's sophisticated stylings in a refreshing brand of intelligent yet accessible rock. With drummer Frankie Martinez and bassist Raul Ramirez as attendants, the pair has been further blessed by the extracurricular participation of Estefan Enterprises young-gun producer Sebastian Krys, who takes a break from pop-polish to deliver Moxi's self-titled debut CD with powerful punch. Moxi captures the burning intensity of the band's live shows, where Tasso's voice breaks in perfect union with Sonntag's guitar mastery. Distributed across the Americas by indie enabler DLN and supported by an upcoming tour, Moxi may make this our last chance to hail Moxi as a local band. Mazel tov.