BWW Review: The Pure Joy of MUSE-IQUE's Summer of Sound: GLOW/TOWN
It's official. I have a new favorite thing, and it is called MUSE/IQUE. You would too if you'd been in the audience for GLOW/TOWN, the third in a 3-part series celebrating Motown and its roots Saturday night at Caltech. From the structure of the program to the sophistication of the environment, Artistic Director Rachael Worby and company have created a musical experience in a class by itself.
Staged outdoors in a completely made up space on the lawn of Beckman Auditorium, MUSE/IQUE is the epitome of smart entertainment. It reaches the senses on multiple levels, appealing to the intellect as well as the heart, while engaging the audience in the pure joy of the music. In this setting, any preconceived notions or stodgy expectations get blown apart. The party is written in the music and it moves you from the inside out. All you have to do is show up.
This summer, MUSE/IQUE's series explored the road to Motown and what it represents in the fabric of America. The two earlier concerts looked at Motown's connection to Latin rhythms and movement, and the evolution of Gospel music and its impact on Detroit in the sixties. In GLOW/TOWN, Worby connected all the dots by shining a breathtaking spotlight on the essential musical forms that ultimately manifested in Berry Gordy's Motown Sound: jazz, blues, soul, and early rock 'n roll, with a bit of pop thrown in for good measure.
She is incredibly effective as a guide, both conducting the orchestra and also sharing the music's back story. Using well-chosen, often little-known, gems of information, Worby can unlock a piece and create an enticing context for the listener whether or not they have any prior knowledge of the music. It is one of MUSE/IQUE's most intriguing elements. She also knows how to stack the deck when it comes to special guests.
On this particular night, Hamilton fans had to make do with seeing his understudy on stage because Joshua Henry, currently starring as Aaron Burr at the Pantages, was one of two featured artists performing with MUSE/IQUE. The other was tap phenom Savion Glover, considered the best tap dancer in the world by....well....everyone. And rightfully so. Sparks flew as these two remarkable musicians gave their heart and soul to the rhythm and the music, forging a bond between audience and artist that can only be achieved in a live performance setting.
It didn't matter in which style he was singing, Henry burned up the mic in all of them. His version of Bricusse and Newley's "Feeling Good" recalled the depth, danger, and defiance no one has been able to replicate since Nina Simone recorded it in 1965. He slipped into the soul shoes of Reverend Al Green for "Love and Happiness" and an infectious love groove culminating in a call and repeat with Glover that reverberated absolute joy with every pass back and forth. Please let a recording of the duo performing that song emerge because it was sensational.
They pulled off the same magic during the tribute section to Thelonious Monk ("Round Midnight" and "Misterioso"), Glover dueting first with the clarinet in a laid back rhythm, whisper soft, both musicians completely simpatico. Then the orchestra turned sexy, Glover hit on an acapella ripple effect in his footwork, and began a playful volley back and forth with Henry, who displayed some fierce scatting on Alan Steinberger's arrangement. By the way, all of Steinberger's arrangements are outstanding.
Henry continued to build the night's momentum through Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," into the main Motown set, making it hard to imagine there is anything he can't do vocally. He has a powerhouse set of pipes and the charisma of a comet. From the smooth groove of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me" to the wailing wonder he let loose on The Miracles' "Please Don't Leave Me Girl" to the joy he imbued in The Temptations' extraordinary hit, "My Girl," it was electric. By the time he reached Stevie Wonder's "For Once in my Life," the night had turned into one big dance party with audience members unable to sit still any longer. Yes, we were all in the aisles.
And always there was Glover, moving in and out of program, displaying the rapturous kinship between his body and the rhythm. Tapping in counterpoint with the upright bass during Duke Ellington's "Giggling Rapids" from The River Suite was as thrilling a jazz expression as any purely instrumental version you've ever heard. Worby later surprised Glover with a video clip of a "tap off" he'd had with Jerry Lewis during Jerry's MDA Telethon twenty years ago, adding an endearing wink to a night packed with brilliance.
Another highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Jed Feuer's orchestral piece "Harambe" which means "all pull together" in Swahili. As prelude, Worby talked about how live music has the distinct power to pull us all together. Listening to his piece, you could feel Feuer's vision. From the first poignant notes of the strings to the surging epic quality of its melodic themes, it was a gorgeous display of harmony in motion. The oboe solo, the violins, the way it made me think of living in Boulder and listening to Rifkin on Pearl Street so many years ago... if music can achieve peace in the world, this is the kind of composition to facilitate it.
MUSE/IQUE packed so much sexy, civilized, and stimulating artistry into the night that the 90-minute program literally flew by. You know those times you check your watch during a lull in a performance to see how much is left? There was none of that going on here -- only a sea of people wrapped in the sheer joy of the music.
MUSE/IQUE's Summer of Sound may have ended but you can experience the unique style of MUSE/IQUE this fall with their Uncorked Series (Tagline: A traveling party. Unconventional spaces. Fearless artists.)
The first concert takes place on October 15th and is called ROCK/ANTHEM featuring iconic songs and the FREEDOM of togetherness. On November 12th, it's FANCY/FREE, a celebration of Leonard Bernstein's 100th and the FREEDOM of music. Tickets will be available shortly on their website at www.muse-ique.com. After seeing what they did with Summer of Sound, you can bet my calendar is already set.
Photo credit: Ben Gibbs
Here's a taste of what you missed.