Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
On a metaphorical sea four rafters (a soldier, an explorer, a priest, and an archetypal female) became more than refugees -- they grew into symbols of rebirth and redemption in Teatro Avante's rendition of Colombian playwright José Assad's Cenizas Sobre el Mar (Ashes on the Sea). An enigmatic elixir of magical realism and theater of the absurd, the play, written by Assad in 1989 to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the so-called discovery of America, concerned four rafters who have been adrift at sea for 100 years. They are symbols of Latin America as a continent of people uprooted, at war, searching, creating and re-creating identities. The key to the play's success? The trinity of theater's most fundamental elements: script, set, and performance. Assad's wonderfully poetic text worked like waves, using the ebb and flow of fixed refrains to give it cohesiveness. Ingeniously, set designer Leandro Soto, an accomplished Cuban visual artist himself, wove together shells, rags, and rope in a circle on the floor, making the raft a blank canvas rather than the site for a real voyage. The actors managed to shape-shift yet remain recognizable. They were at once thumb-sucking and ornery children, raving madmen, soldiers, travelers, and lovers. Cenizas Sobre el Mar revived and reinvigorated the age-old symbol of the sea as the universal metaphor for life, travel, birth, passage, and death. We were lucky to have it wash up on our shores.
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.
Spend enough time on the Beach and it can seem as if every sound system marches in lockstep. In 1999 it appeared that the music police were practically forcing every restaurant in town to play the Gipsy Kings -- and nothing else. Meanwhile the clubs were filled with trance's aural whitewash, leaving dancers searching for more soulful fare. Things only got worse the following year: Restaurateurs picked up on clubland's latest fad, trading their in-house flamenco for ear-shattering trance CDs spun on a never-ending loop. Fortunately diners no longer need to ask their waiters to hold the glow sticks. House music has returned from hibernation in all its jazzy, loose-limbed, Afrocentric glory, cropping up in both eateries and nightspots. How long this respite will last is anyone's guess. Local DJs and club owners have embraced the genre's driving bass lines and four-on-the-floor rhythms more out of novelty than a love for the music's own merits. Still, this is dance music. Best not to analyze too much -- shake it while you got it.
What better source for the ethereal strains of orchestral music than an institution of higher learning? And with the recent death of the commercial classical format at the former WTMI-FM (93.1), but for the grace of University of Miami administrators there went any classical music on the Miami-Dade dial. Now we can tune in to "The Voice" (the station's handle) from noon to one o'clock on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for instrumental sounds ranging from baroque to futuristic. For example, two student DJs spun a show that included opuses from Dvorak, Bizet, Debussy, Philip Glass, and Aphex Twin, the brooding Chopin of modern experimental electronica. Isn't that what you're supposed to do at college, think outside the box of conventional categories? Besides, who among us can ascertain what will stand the test of time when the 21st Century grows old? The show's emcees guide listeners through this kind of cosmic trip that includes symphonic standards and pieces from recent films: Finlandia by Sibelius; Symphony No. 1: Lord of the Rings by Johan de Meij; La Dispute by Yann Tiersen; Let Us Sleep Now/In Paradisum from Benjamin Britten's War Requiem; Mad About the Angels from Symphonic Metamorphosis by Paul Hindemith. And WVUM is free of advertisements. Impressionism rocks, dude.
In a pop world where satisfaction is measured by how long a song sticks in listeners' brains, nothing is stickier than a Shufly hook. That's due to the songwriting duo of Scott Smith, whose short, sharp lyrics always seem truthful without every word being troublingly profound, and lead guitarist Mike Sharpe, whose melodies stroke rather than tax the brain. Smith and Sharpe have also had the good sense to seek solid backing in the form of percussionist Mario Palacios, drummer Paul Voteller, rhythm guitarist Mandy Rua, and especially bassist Matthew Coogan, an ensemble that adds depth and musical interest to the shiny surface presented by the frontmen. Just ask any of Shufly's rabidly faithful fans -- regular attendance at the sixsome's shows will leave you feeling "Wonderful."
The pop-radio wars have just begun. Dance-only upstart WPYM-FM (93.1) calls out the big dogs at Power 96 to put up or shut up. Power takes the bait and responds decisively. Sure it plays more commercials, and it saturates us regularly with hip-hop we've heard before, but Power still spins the better dance music, particularly after hours, and it gets bonus points for effectively mixing two very distinct and progressive urban sounds. It doesn't hurt to have competitors dropping Power 96's name so ridiculously often. Latin grooves still reign in the Magic City, but like it or not hip-hop is now and dance is the future. Power has them both covered and plenty of advertisers to keep it in business.
People sometimes wonder just how New Times selects "Best of Miami" winners. It is a highly scientific process devised long ago by a select committee of experts and requires the participation of more than 100 judges from around the world who take up residence in the Magic City for the entire year and do nothing but eat, drink, and listen to music, giving themselves over to every form of diversion and recreation without ever losing objectivity. There is also a lot of bullying by wannabe winners, but we ignore that. Relax, Lee. The judges love the Square Egg, especially those hailing from Hong Kong and Mombassa. What's not to love about a man who can deliver a rap smoother than his pate, celebrating the virtues of womanhood while slinking low on the down beat in just the way your mama warned you about. And the band? All that jazz-funk-hip-hop-blues-soul spooned together promiscuous-like, feeling up your backside, lapping at your ears. We need to be lobbied on this? Just let it flow, baby. The Square Egg will take you there.
Think of sound as a galaxy, a shimmering play of lights. Think of guitars, horns, and keyboards as so many sparkling arrows, so many zodiac signs, pointing to the glowing nebula of Rocky Ordoñez's and Erica Boynton's angelic voices. That is how you would see the sound that Christopher Moll, the band's big bang, has created. The six-piece ensemble is not just the brightest star in South Florida's indie firmament but also the surrounding pattern of light and dark, the whole flickering texture that leads the eye there. Our only complaint is that we don't get to See Venus enough.
BEST SPANISH-LANGUAGE PRODUCTION: Cenizas Sobre el Mar