Listening Listfully 2017

  Katzenfuge

 Time is up, year is done.

July 3 of 2018 will mark the ostensible 15th Anniversary of this blog. There were giants in those days, and I stared enviously up at their scabby brilliant knees. Who knows what I may push myself to do with this dear weary site in the coming year. I suspect there will be more poetry; I hope there will be something more frequently appealing as well.

So here we are again with "Listening Listfully", my catalogue of the album/EP-length recordings released in the past twelvemonth that most particularly tickled my fancy. Old school preferences underlie the thing: a preference for music arranged into "albums" or their equivalent, and a preference for buying and owning said music (in the hope its creators might actually be compensated for their creations) over smash-and-grab streaming. A random quantity of numbered choices in the mid-forties this year, followed by an unquantified miscellany because, as I said in 2016, "the List is like baseball: it could in theory go on without end."

I style this blog as an index of enthusiasms. These are personal favorites, as always, rather than "bests"—although I maintain that everything here is here because it is genuinely among the best things of the past year, and not simply because I have enjoyed it. The rankings become increasingly imprecise with each step down the line. I have provided commentary, of sorts, for the first fifteen on the list; it is a random stopping point, driven mostly by a desire to post this while it is still 2017 (at least in North America). There are inevitably many recordings of quality omitted, simply because I have yet to listen to them.

Flawed, entirely subjective, and internally contradictory as always, here begins the twelfth edition of The List: 

 

1.    Michael Vincent Waller - Trajectories

This is a beautiful recording. To hear it gives pleasure. Great, if quiet, pleasure. This music engages the lived and living world, and particularly the acts of receiving that world through the senses and of sifting through it in the mind, in dreams, or, if one insists, in the soul, and finds the essentials of that world to be, if only impurely, good and deserving of the engagement, and the engagement good and deserving of being shared. This is hardly the only task that music, or most any art, can choose to take on itself—this List, in any given year, is something of a demonstration of how many different things music can attempt to "do", including choosing to do nearly nothing—but it is a task that has always appealed to this particular listener. When I wrote about Michael Vincent Waller's first major collection, 2015's The South Shore, I invoked Baudelaire's phrase: luxe, calme et volupté. That still fits.

This collection focuses principally on works for solo piano, plus a pair of mid-length pieces for piano with cello. The pianist is R. Andrew Lee, best known for his recordings of adventurous minimalism and composers of Wanderweiser group. on the Irritable Hedgehog label. The cellist is Seth Parker Woods. The style and sensibility of the music is Waller's own, but it is easily associated with pianistic forebears such as Erik Satie (in particular), Harold Budd, and John Cage's "In a Landscape", with a dash of Gavin Bryars' string writing. Although it is not in general circulation (it was shared with supporters of one of his commissioning projects) Andy Lee has recorded a delicious collection of Satie and Satie-influenced piano, and that portion of his repertoire serves him well here. 

At the time of release, the composer and players presented a handful of live performances, including one I was able to attend in Santa Monica. The balding back side of my head is, blessedly, out of frame in this video of "Lines" from that set:

 

2.    Sam Amidon - The Following Mountain

In the opening moments of "Ghosts", Sam Amidon bellows "I'm all out of ideas!" He is mistaken. His work has been a fixture of this list for nigh on a decade now, and the ideas never stop. Built largely on gleanings from a single long guardedly improvisational recording session, the album is a slurry combining the folk, trad, banjo, fiddle, and shape note material one expects with Sam's longstanding interest in new music and in experimental and avant corners of jazz, with drummer Milford Graves as emissary and conduit. Sam Gendel [#6, below] and his saxophone bring additional savor. At this time, my personal favorite among Sam's albums, and a good précis of what makes all of them so rewarding.

 

3.    Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Bjarnason - Recurrence

The best full-orchestra album of 2017. Accept no substitutes. Composer Daníel Bjarnason conducts works by the current generation of Icelandic composers, including his own darkly surging "Emergence". (There is a superb version of that piece on his Bedroom Community debut, . This new version is better.)  Bjarnason co-curated (with Esa-Pekka Salonen) the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Reykjavik Festival in spring 2017, and most of these pieces turned up on one program or another. If any doubt remained, that Festival and this recording serve as compelling testimony to the creative variety and strength of Icelandic music at this time.

[Both Daníel Bjarnason and Anna Thorvaldsdottír also have pieces on Los Angeles Percussion Quartet's Beyond, #8 below.]

 

4.    Miles Mosley - Uprising

Miles Mosley plays bass in Kamasi Washington's band, and much of this material comes out of the West Coast Get Down sessions that eventually resulted in Washington's epic Coltranesque epic, The Epic. In Washington's band, Mosley does most everything one can with an upright bass: plucking, bending, bowing, and more. Rather than a jazz-jazz album, Uprising is a floor-shaking contemporary soul/R&B session. Mosley is an appealing singer, on the lines of Stevie Wonder's grittier side. Just when you wonder where all the bass is, you realize that what you may have thought was electric guitar, including the Hendrixy solos, is the bass. Plenty of bottom here, in every sense. [More West Coast Get Down-adjacent music appears below, from Kamasi Washington (#9) and Natasha Agrama (#11).]

 

5.    Slowdive - Slowdive

 I rediscovered a hitherto unrecalled fondness for shoegaze this year. This, the first new Slowdive album in 22 years, sealed the deal. Bathe in it.

 

6.    Sam Gendel - 4444

and Sam Gendel - HAT TRICK

and Sam Gendel - Double Expression

Sam Gendel, largely on saxophone, is an important contributor to Sam Amidon's The Following Mountain [#2, above]. On 4444, his first album under his own name (largely featuring his trio previously recorded under the name of Inga), largely foregoes saxophone in favor of lithe, swirling, bossa nova flavored guitar songs. It remakes any space quite attractively while it is playing, and the occasional gesture toward sociopolitical concerns led me to characterize it on Twitter as "José González, with thorns".

The vocal-free HAT TRICK and Double Expression return the saxophone to the foreground. The former is a three-track EP of Gendel solo improvisations, with loops and electronics, very much in the vein of Jon Hassell; the latter is nearly two and a half hours of material recorded live, in duo and trio formats, on a single afternoon in an apartment and on the sidewalks of L.A.'s Silver Lake neighborhood. In all of these settings, Gendel's groove is true.

[Although he does not, I believe, appear on Aromanticism (#10 below), Sam Gendel also plays in Moses Sumney's touring band.]

 

7.    Aaron Roche - HaHa HuHu

Recommended, for recondite strangeness, for grit & sparkling lint, for indwelling beauties.

 

8.    Los Angeles Percussion Quartet - Beyond

There is a good argument to be made that the U.S. is currently in something of a Golden Age of Percussion Ensembles. In composition and in performance, the music on this two-disc set is roughly as good as contemporary percussion music gets. Chris Cerrone's "Memory Palace" never fails to move me as a solo piece, and this rearrangement for quartet is my favorite version yet. Andrew McIntosh's disc-long "I Hold the Lion's Paw" is an quietly immersive amble through a vivid series of interior landscapes, a trip unto itself. I strongly suspect that I will look back someday and decide I have underrated Beyond in this ranking.

 

9.    Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference

A six-part jazz suite with Washington and band building and trading themes and solos, the whole structure bursting to accumulated glory in its final long segment. Supremely satisfying.

 

10.    Moses Sumney - Aromanticism

Moses Sumney's falsetto. Draperies of diaphanous sound. Love and sex and happiness and their alternatives, stewed, steamed, and seasoned in yearning. Harp. Did I mention that falsetto?

 

11.    Natasha Agrama - The Heart of Infinite Change

Although Natasha Agrama has West Coast Get Down connections,  and has sung with Kamasi Washington's band, there is no sign of Miles Mosley (#4 above) on bass. Instead, one must make do with Thundercat or with the singer's stepfather, Stanley Clarke. The bass chair nicely signifies the heady mix of youth and experience on this record. The other old lion on hand, in his final session, is the late George Duke. A beautifully spare version of "In a Sentimental Mood," with just Clarke and Duke and an occasional fingersnap for accompaniment, is the second best thing here. Best is a reworking of Joni Mitchell's reworking of Charles Mingus's homage to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," expanded into a tribute to the song's entire line descent, its focus shifting from New York to Los Angeles, to dazzling effect.

 

12.    The Knells - Knells II

 Progressive rock. Medieval polyphony. Two great tastes that continue to go great together in the hands of Andrew McKenna Lee and band. Really, you should try this.

 

13.    Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now 

David Bowie played saxophone himself in the early part of his career. Donny McCaslin has the distinction of being Bowie's last sax player, as part of the jazz-based band assembled for Blackstar. McCaslin's latest with his own longtime band includes two Bowie-Eno covers: "A Small Plot of Land" from Outside and a gripping and granitic version of "Warszawa" from Low, the latter seemingly filtered through the lens of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman." The blowing and swinging and escalating choruses on the remainder of the album are also of top blowing and swinging quality.

 

14.    The Mynabirds - BE HERE NOW

Laura Burhenn, rocking the #Resistance. Quite aside from its politics, this album satisfies in ways one used to be able almost to take for granted in American Rock Records.

 

15.    Psychic Temple - IV

Another waking dream narrative of Southern California musics. Chris Schlarb is a wizard at this.

 

Further in the way of item by item commentary affiant sayeth not, at this point in time. Affiant reserves the right perhaps to return and scribble post hoc commentary on some or all of the entrants below, all of which are worthy of your attention.

 

16.    R. Stevie Moore & Jason Falkner - Make It Be

  

17.    World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda

 

18.    Nadia Sirota - Tesselatum

  

19.    ensemble, et al. - The Slow Reveal

 

20.    The National - Sleep Well Beast

 

21.    Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF - Cascades

 

22.    Jasper String Quartet - Unbound

 

23.    Del Sol String Quartet - Dark Queen Mantra

 

24.    Scott Wollschleger: Soft Aberration

 

25.    The Tape Disaster - Oh! Myelin!

 

26.    Qasim Naqvi - FILM

;

 

27.    Theo Bleckmann - Elegy

 

 

 28.    Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound - Not Two

 

29.    Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Courtenay Budd - David Del Tredici: Child Alice

 

30.    William Basinski - A Shadow in Time

 

31.    Kovtun - Infernal

 

32.    Choral Arts Initiative - How To Go On: Choral Music of Dale Trumbore

 

33.    Casey Dienel - Imitation of a Woman to Love

 

34.    The Dan Ryan - Guidance

 

35.    Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh - Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations

 

36.    Sufjan Stevens/Nico Muhly/Bryce Dessner/James McAlister - Planetarium

 

37.    Liew Niyomkarn - Nº 3

 

38.    Conrad Winslow: The Perfect Nothing Catalog

 

 39.    Daniel Corral: Refractions

 

40.    Flower Crown - GLOW 

 

41.    Herod - Herod Plays Kraftwerk

 

 42.    Crash Ensemble - Ghosts

 

~~~

Miscellaneous extras: 

First, a selection of electronics, drones, and declamations, with a cover photo by ... me.

Gavin Gamboa - La Bibliothèque Fantastique

 

Next, the late Julius Eastman, whose rediscovery continues apace, in a 1974 live performance by himself with S.E.M. Ensemble, and in a hotchachacha 2017 cover version by Horse Lords.

 Julius Eastman: Joy Boy

 

Horse Lords - Julius Eastman: Stay On It [from Horse Lords' Mixtape IV]

 

 Some more Brazilians (to go with #25 and #31 above).

 Dialeto - Bartok in Rock

Devilish Dear - These Sunny Days

 Juna - Marina Goes to the Moon

 

Some single-piece [i.e., non-album release] new music in the somewhat classical vein.

Jonathan Morgan - Nick Norton: Elegy II

Los Angeles Percussion Quartet - Matt McBane: For Triangles

 

A handful of further jazz-related choices.

Morgan Guerin - The Saga II

 Dwight Trible - Inspirations

 DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield - Hudson

 

And no musical year can end well without a pair of Gabriel Kahane releases: three solo piano pieces, featuring Timo Andres, and two new songs.

 

With that, this blogger wishes for you all a fine and musical 2018. As the sage says, things can only get better.

 FIN

 ~~~


The Short Line

The short line-

Old friends
What ends

Do we work toward?
Depends

Who is on board.
Amends

May need to be made
But who is repaid?

Who is
Dismissed?

Whose words
Do we twist?

And who's ignored?
Let's postulate

Amid the mists
That life is hard

The times suggest
There's no reward

And young things end
As old, friends


The Bridal Veil Falls in Autumn

The Bridal Veil Falls in Autumn

Wick’d by wisps of air
Or spread akimbo
By the press of wind
Across the faceted cliff face
Skewed in descent
The creek-rush waters
Fall as water falls
That has no choice

They are fewer now –
Those still, infinitous drops that drop en masse
From the precipitating lip –
Than they were in spring
Fewer yes but clearer to the eyes
Of we who tip our sockets up to see

In places such as this it seems
We are not out of Eden yet
Yet we are
At all times walking
Toward Eden’s sole and outbound gate

Wickèd the heirs
Of whate’er has made
Such a space out of space
Waking in error
Where an angelic blade
Keeps that portal in place

We will reach it too, too soon
But likely not tomorrow

Look up and up and
Drink the air before you
Walk back down the tarmacked trace
To your lot

And still the falls
fall in the fall
never still
though not at their full
they never falter
Still the falls
fall for free
for all
in their fall
they never alter

Meantime the air drinks deep
From vaporizing waters
Watched by other fallen folk
Who stand and point and press
Until they too withdraw

~~~

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.

Photo by the blogger.


Steal Away, Dandy (song)

Steal away dandy


A plate of cold deviled eggs looking back at me
like that old devil moon.
And I hold a beveled glass full of Beaujolais
and a runcible spoon.
    An ice cold Grüner
    In a frosted schooner
Is your potation of choice on this island Earth
where we all stand marooned.

    When the stereo blasts “O Fortuna”,
    It's a wonder you didn't leave sooner:
    Steal away, Dandy,
    Don't let those French doors hit you too hard.

At the end of the drive there's an Uber-mensch
with a smile and a lift.
As he hands you an ale and an allen wrench,
it seems a natural gift.
    Ill at ease with the notion
    Of Eternal Devotion,
With a gesture you're moving at speed to the beach
As a swallow is swift.

    Still the stereo blasts “O Fortuna”,
    Bottles empty and I should have seen sooner:
    Steal away, Dandy,
    Don't let those French doors hit you too hard.

I've heard Arnold once heard it, and Sophocles,
both long withdrawn from the world.
That sound you don’t catch catches you:
a kaleidoscope tumbling curl.
    There is one wave in seven
    Lofting hell-bent to heaven.
Washed by sea wrack and sand and you envy the grit
In the heart of the pearl

    You wonder what Life means to teach you
    When the rescue lines cannot  quite  reach you:
    Steal away, Dandy,
    Adrift a few yards too far from the shore.

(Hey now hey now:
don't dream it's Dover….)

~~~

Note: The attentive reader might well deduce that this set of verses is meant as a pastiche/homage to the lyrics of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. And that attentive reader would be entirely correct. With the recent passing of Walter Becker, I found myself drawn to listen to his first solo record, 11 Tracks of Whack (1994), and realizing just how much of the Steely Dan sound should properly be credited to him. I also, at some point, discovered that the first two lines of this thing had formulated in my mind. So I set to work to write a full set of lyrics "in the style", and here they are. There is a melody to all this that exists in my head, drawing from the lope of "Home at Last" with a dollop of Fleetwood Mac's "Hypnotized".  Should we ever meet, I will venture to sing it, unaccompanied, but will forebear for a price.


Tent

IMG_20170813_212937_processed


An emptied tent in an open field
On a slanting brushland
beyond the dunes
This is my heart
This is my heart

A peg wrenched loose by a skewing pole
And a wrinkled door flap
flotsamed by gusts
This is my heart
This is my heart

Dust cast off crusts and a shredded rug
Of a homely pattern
shunted aside
This is my heart
This is my heart

A bowl with a dried on smear of broth
And no table under
no spoon nearby
This is my heart
This is my heart

Look at this: spare and indelicate
An envelope fabricked
of yearning air
Enter my heart
Enter my heart

An emptied tent in an open field
Vacancy draped atop
unyielding earth
This is my heart
Enter my heart

Empty   my heart

~~~

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.

Photo by the blogger.


Vitriel

Vitriel

 

Removing the mirror leaves two spaces empty:
The space before, a space behind,
And yet a third: the space between
What is seen and what is there to be seen.

Behind the wall that stood behind the mirror
Another absent mirror stands implied.

Before the wall that stands disclosed
Where once a mirror tossed transverted vistas
Back to its observer in its obverse world
Essay it as you saw once in a film:
Extend a gloved hand or hesitant finger
To probe through absences of images of what was where to find a way to there
By a push and a press
At the melting emptiness
With palms and inner knuckles then a wrist
A sleeve an elbow soon enough a shoulder and
In one membranous pop perhaps yourself.

Be still as limpid sheer reflective water
Be sure as you are still as you approach
The tensing surface of that vacancy
In transit toward
Another side an other side aside
Astride a sliding shine of faceted glass
And as
Silvered glass may pass for mercury
Hermetic ceilings lower in suspense
A wingèd heel extends its healing wing
And then is flown.
Persistent vision’s memory insists
Though silvered glass might pass that you will not.

The mirror would not yield if it was there
Its emptied place yields less
The vacant wall yields least of all

~~~

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.

Photo by the blogger.


Lenticular

Lenticular


A lens of air and vapor held in air
shaped by air
suspended in air
Perceived from earth by way of light
through air
through albumen

through surging ions and shifting envelopes
Earth and æther
Either/Or
Auroral order overboard
A cloud

Unknowing
Wand'ring lonely
An unhoused king of importunate space
Inflowing
Faded finery
Adherent arcing tortoise carapace

Wing of swift, wing of swallow
Your shining copper shield, Achille
Nothing strikes right
In this striking light

A lens of air and vapor
held in air
Perceived from earth by way of light
through surging ions
Earth and æther
Swiftly swallowed
Albumen

A strike a stripe
a lens
all blends
Lenticular

~~~

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.

Photo [we know: not in fact a lenticular cloud] by the blogger.


Power and Light
[Updated! With Video!
And Exclamation Points!]

Powerandlight

The Knoxville Gay Men's Chorus will  be celebrating its 5th Anniversary with its Spring Concert on Saturday night, May 20. In amongst songs made famous by Simon and Garfunkel, Madonna, Cindy Lauper, and the Pointer Sisters, the concert will include the premiere of a new piece composed by Dave Volpe: "Power and Light". In 2014, Dave was the composer of "Nebula of Angels", which was commissioned and premiered in Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the 35th Anniversary concert of the Los Angeles Gay Mens' Chorus.

This fool provided the text for "Nebula of Angels," and when Dave Volpe received the Knoxville commission he graciously requisitioned another pile of words, in a celebratory/anthemic vein, and it was this fool's pleasure to oblige. I have yet to hear a note of the music Dave hath wrought this time, and I will not be in Knoxville when the final product is rolled out, but here, for whatever delectation they may provide in the absence of Dave's music, are those words as I compiled and piled them.

~~~

POWER AND LIGHT
 

Out of our watery refuge

And into the unsettled air

The earth and the fire await us

In their time
 

Adrift in the wake of that secretive sea

An inner spark lights the fuse for flight

Striking a match, the heart is still grounded

Stoking our personal flame

and generating
 

Power and Light

Power and Light

The club and the fist are no match for the bliss of

Power and Light

We are sowing Power and Light

Power and Light

Power and Light

The lift and the laughter lasting hereafter

Power and Light

Warm and glowing Power and Light

Under the star-shadowed nightfall

And into each uncertain day

The labyrinth lies before us

Every time

At risk in a mist amid pitfalls and traps

Our inner spark lights the fuse for flight

Passion and voice, as beams in that darkness

Arcing like coals to the torch

and resonating
 

Power and Light

Power and Light

The leap from the shoot to the trunk to the fruit

Power and Light

We are sowing Power and Light

Power and Light

Power and Light

Exploring, divining the glory that’s shining

Power and Light

We are showing Power and Light
 

Our lives will not be silent

We will never shun the fight

For hearts and hopes and love and freedom

Standing striding echoing on

Tracing, replacing all that is gone

More than before reaching up and beyond

Renewing the world with the force of a song

Refilling the world with

Power and Light
 

Power and Light

Power and Light

The club and the fist are no match for the bliss of

Power and Light

Warm and glowing Power and Light

Power and Light

Power and Light

The lift and the laughter lasting hereafter

Power and Light

We are sowing Power and Light

~~~

© 2016-2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.
Photo by the blogger.

~~~

Update - May 23, 2017:

A good soul in Knoxville has uploaded video of the premiere performance. Behold!

 


a musical box

Musical box

slow light
draping
the spiked cylinder
the gears’ teeth
the spinning vane
the torquing key and vertiginous spring
from whence this once
and once again
springs Lohengrin
or Brahms perhaps
some music anyway
some old and toothsome sound
come round
again and still again
unlocking still
and yet again
the unlocked stillness
teething sweetly
teasing out the inner ear

[jocular cochlear jiggery pokery]

tricking and trickling
out from the
tight grained
tight wound
spring loaded
shine varnished
mite box of musings

or muses
what use is
a box without

soul love
and slow light

 


indifference, like shells

Blue

O rare and clarifying day, 

    good day:

Your raiment of the moment washed in blue

Illumes a softened, sadder rumination

Among despairing men

Who watched each hair go grey.

 

Whichever course they plot they face the sun

In unimpeding drifted winter air

Lashes, squinting eyelids: unavailing

Against that ageless burst

Frigid, Promethean.

 

Out many miles from shore a sudden shower

A sodden shudder weeping on the sea

Mere meters wide

    a drenching isolation

A pure vertical rain

Repeating every hour

 

This shined and shattered shaft of splint’ring light

That draught of water from a cloudless sky

Alludes to sullen shoulders wracked with sobbing

A smudged and doubtful map

Disperses lines of flight

 

O rare and clarifying day,

    good day:

Your raiment of the moment washed in blue

Aloft a soft'ning shy manifestation

Engrained with faded care

Dispensing with dismay.

 

 

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


The Mouse Man Cometh
[The Perfect American - Long Beach Opera]

Perfect-TD-118

"Walt Disney", as a name, has never gone away, although it was 50 years this past December 15 since Walter Elias Disney the man expired. It is likely difficult for anyone much younger than 60 to understand what a constant and continuing presence Disney the man had in U.S.life and culture straight up to the moment of his death. Philip Glass's twenty-fifth opera, The Perfect American, which on Sunday received its belated U.S. premiere via Long Beach Opera, explores and (as it were) reanimates the man in the most appropriate way: by spinning him through a mirror-fragmented jumble of stories.

Adapted, by librettist Rudy Wurlitzer, from a novel by Peter Stephan Jungk (Der König von Amerika), The Perfect American takes place during the final months of Disney's life, imagining him hospitalized and lighting out for the territory of dreams and occasional nightmares, recalling versions of his past, confronting his history, his strengths and weaknesses, what he was and became and might be in the future. Citizen Kane-like, it freights its protagonist's earliest years - here, Disney's childhood in Marceline, Missouri, in the company of his indispensable brother, Roy - ceiling-high with significance and meaning.

Perfect-TD-263

Dramatically, it works more often than not, producing a nuanced and faceted Portrait of the Artist as a Messy and Perhaps Unknowable Human Being. Reports from the world premiere in Madrid in 2013 focused in on the critiques, particularly the conclusion of Act 1 in which Disney voices an array of [sadly standard for their day] racist views, and is set upon by his own Audioanimatronic simulacrum of Abraham Lincoln. The racist attitudes are there, certainly, as are Disney's willingness to battle union labor and to bare knuckle it against anyone who stood in the way of his sometimes self-important creative vision. But if these flaws are not forgiven - and they are not - they play off against what their human carrier accomplished: not a business empire built on shabby real estate deals or moving other people's money around, but an empire built on finding, feeding and fulfilling the dreams of others. Disney is seen here (though the comparison is never made overtly) as a figure akin to Wagner, whose creative work is not ultimately poisoned by his sometimes deplorable personal qualities. 

At Long Beach, director Kevin Newbury and his design team have confined the entirety of the literal action to Walt's hospital room and the theater of the patient's mind. When Walt casts back on his fondness for trains, hospital beds become trains. When he faces a vision of an owl that he killed in a panic as a child - the only time, he insists, that he ever killed anything - it appears as a child patient's stuffed toy and as a costume constructed from medical paraphernalia. Silhouettes of Marceline, Missouri, and of a classic Disney castle are constructed of bottles, clipboards, and the like, a surgical lamp casting their shadows on suspended bedsheets.

Perfect-TD-511

Philip Glass is easily and unreasonably stereotyped as nothing but a peddler of arpeggios, based on his earliest work. There was more to him then, and there is much more to him now. Glass has developed a genuine "late style" that incorporates all those swirly arpeggios and repetitions in company with a restrained  but potent approach to melody (melody!) and an array of punctuation tricks in the percussion section. It is a richly whipped brew, riding long and dextrous rhythmic lines. It is also, perhaps surprisingly, a solid ground over which to sing, allowing the audience to actually hear and decipher the words and the singers to deliver them with dramatic point. The chorus, out of keeping with the usual Glass approach, is positively folksy: they sing "happy birthday," they quack and hoot, and they sing comforting bromides about dreams coming true much as the choruses do in the classic Disney pastorals.

Perfect-TD-237

Disney's Lincoln automaton, resident at Disneyland for over 50 years, was originally created for the 1964 New York World's Fair, where it was the centerpiece of the pavilion of the State of Illinois. (The best thing in the Disney studio's otherwise misfiring Tomorrowland was its loving recreation of elements of the Fair.) Disney and his "Imagineers" provided animatronic creations to a total of four pavilions in 1964: Lincoln for Illinois, the "Carousel of Progress" for General Electric, dinosaurs and cavemen for Ford and, most inescapably, "It's a Small World" for Pepsi. Pepsi's Moppets of the World make no appearance in The Perfect American, but Walt compares himself favorably to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and Lincoln, as noted, looms large.

References to elements of Philip Glass's own past work are everywhere as well. Walt's love of trains, in particular, readily triggers memories of the trains in Einstein on the Beach; his yen to build things suggests Akhnaten; the collective, often mechanical effort on the part of animators, and the push against it, echo the tension between natural and mechanized worlds in Koyaanisqatsi; an owl appears prominently in Glass's portion of Robert Wilson's the CIVIL warS, as does Lincoln,whose concern for equality and racial justice Glass returns to in the recently revised Appomattox (which one can hope will find its way to southern California someday soon). The Perfect American seems at times as interesting a survey of the composer's creative history as it is a survey of Disney's.

Perfect-TD-054

The character of Walt Disney is on stage from start to penultimate scene (and after that, receives in this production a charmingly homespun apotheosis, waving us goodnight in a manner recognizable to anyone who grew up on The Wonderful World of Color). Justin Ryan as Walt hits all the necessary notes, musically and dramatically, only occasionally veering toward overselling the part. He is persuasive as a driven and powerful man who would rather return, if he could, to a simpler world of his boyhood. As stalwart brother Roy, Zeffan Quinn Hollis is duly stalwart; at Sunday's premiere, he doubled up as the duly righteous voice of robo-Lincoln. Suzan Hanson as Lillian Disney brought to the part some of the grounded dignity she previously displayed as Marilyn Klinghoffer, particularly in the late scene when Walt's death from lung cancer is revealed as inevitable. Jamie Chamberlin, previously one of LBO's twin Marilyn Monroes, charmed as the fictitious Walt's personal nurse Hazel George, whom he addresses as "Snow White".*

Being as it is not the Big Opera Company in town, Long Beach Opera is only able to mount two performances of The Perfect American. The remaining date is Saturday, March 18, and tickets are certainly to be had. (These performances are in the cavernous Terrace Theater, so the number of potentially available seats is not small.) Let your conscience be your guide. It is whispering that you should go.

~~~

Photos by Keith Ian Polakoff, used by kind permission of Long Beach Opera.

*Correction: The original version of this post referred to Hazel George as a fiction. Assorted fact checkers, including the singer, have pointed out that Hazel George was very real and that she was a remarkable, if hidden, figure in Disney's creative life.


A Figure of Speech


A figure of speech4

1

The figure standing always on the beach

Even when there is no sand

Even when there is no sea

Even then there always is the beach

An even sheen of water without water

An even shine of sand    without sand

The line and the limit    always there the line and limit

The shifting line   the long withdrawing sigh    the boring advancing roar

This far no further no no no   no further no  no further

Futile     unavailing   still and all

And always still   so still   the figure stands

 

2

The figure standing always on the beach

Does not disturb a grain of the never present sand

Does not divert or shift a wave adventuring out of the never present sea

Does not assert a space on the ever present beach

No grain is moving nothing ever moves

No wave is breaking nothing ever breaks

The shift and the sheer  always suggested the shift and sheer

This slicing light   the spark and the kindling   the dim implicit flame

More light is need need needed   kneading light

Futile    unavailing   still and all

And always still  so still   the figure stands

3

The figure standing always on the beach

Informed by light takes nothing from the sand

Refined by shadow cares not for the shimmer of the sea

Above the beach the sky   the sky is a desert sky

Above the sky the clouds   the clouds are jungle clouds

Above the clouds the light     the light like words made light

A plane like paper     spread like parchment     clothing the limit

Sprinkling glints      brazen Klimtische gold    a span of flattened wrinkles

One sees these things by hearing them   by picturing pictures of words

Futile     unavailing   still and all

And always still   so still   the figure stands

 

And an absent unseen seer evocates

The figure standing always on the beach

 

~~~
[Photo (which is unconnected to the poem) by the blogger.]

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


Burred

Burred

 [she says]

 

Hollow my bones

Inject them with air

Marrow once out, atmosphere fill me

With latticework socketed pockets of sky

Laced amid faceted boxes of calcium

 

Each wall translucent

Veined and accented

                                        paper thin agate

Skylight beneath an encircling sheath

 

Calcified, drift-white

                                        bored out

                                        burred clean

hollowed out zones

                                        Emptied and filled

Essence ineffable rudely infused

A plenum a vacuum awash with a way

 

Envelope

Bonded to tendon to muscle to flesh and to

Skin under

Feathers and pinions

 

Clockwork and talons

Engaged or imagined

[she postulates rising]

                                        Rising is purpose

[she execrates falling]

                                        Falling is not possible

Each move beneath

directs itself up

to a still

             farther starting point

poised to plunge higher

 

~~~

 

[she says]

 

The earth and air were not made to be neighbors

Cast athwart one to the other smashed hastily

 

Lean into potent uncertain futurity

Push off on high on invisible potency

Riverine flow

Crystalline luxe

Cerulean   

                Void 

~~~

 

I spread I flap and I flail almost floating

A gasp then the chirping         

                                       songs and screams

A fall

aflutter

                                       fleet and fleeing

Fascinated plummeting   

                                       alive and leaving….     

 

                                                Casting off

                                                Casting off

That caged and perching life

That human beastly scuttle

For this

 

                                        fleet and fleeing

                                        alive and leaving

                                        arc and contour

 

I will fly and I will rise

                                        until the darts strike home


[more she says not]

 

~~~
[Photo (unconnected to the poem) by the blogger.]

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.