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Archive for the ‘Lawrence Brownlee’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE AND JASON MORAN-“There’s A Man Going ‘Round Taking Names” (Field Recordings, February 17, 2016). 

I know of Brownlee from a Tiny Desk Concert.  But this is a whole other order of magnitude.  He and pianist Jason Moran are playing a spiritual about death in an active crypt.

Brownlee’s voice is powerful and soaring, but full of anguish.  And Moran’s piano is so intense, especially at the end.  He plays the melody but he allows for a lot of overtones and echo to nearly overpower the music.

At the very end, he plays some high notes by literally chopping at the keys like a karate chop–powerful, sharp and dissonant.

Here’s the blurb for more context:

Opera singer Lawrence Brownlee is known for portraying kings and princes. But lately he’s been thinking about real people: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, to name a few.

He’s been thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and an old spiritual called “There’s a Man Going ‘Round Taking Names.” Decades ago, singers like Paul Robeson and Lead Belly recorded it. Brownlee, with jazz pianist Jason Moran, revives the old song to tell a new story for the 21st century.

“Jason and I chose this song because we felt it accurately captures a growing sentiment that’s in society today,” Brownlee says. “So many senseless deaths of young African-American men.”

A crypt, they thought, would be an appropriate setting to perform their version of the song. So we took our cameras and microphones — and a lovely piano — deep into the active crypt below the historic Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The 1915 structure at 155th Street and Broadway is a New York City landmark and a dramatic setting for occasional concerts, including a December 2015 recital by Brownlee.

“I know that the ashes of the parishioners of this church are here in this crypt,” Brownlee explains. “You can feel the weight of death, you can feel the sting. It adequately captures the atmosphere, the somber mood that we are trying to capture with this song.”

In this arrangement, an already solemn song becomes even more dark and agitated.

“What [Jason] has done with the piano part has made it build, and you feel the unrest, the turmoil, the tension that is underneath,” Brownlee says. “This is something that is painful and difficult to deal with.”

Woah.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Self-Portrait with Beach”

This is the story of an older couple who have been together for a while.

They go to the beach, she removes her top and asks “Is the body the house for the soul or are body and soul and one and inseparable.?”  He looks at her and says, “Your body is my soul.”

She laughs that his soul is bound for decay but he continues, ‘Nothing of you will decay as long as I am alive.”

Out of nowhere a man in white comes and offers his homemade beverages.  He says they have unique powers. (more…)

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80SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE-Tiny Desk Concert #308 (October 5, 2013).

Sometimes it makes sense tome when I don’t know a Tiny Desk Concert performer.  Lawrence Brownlee is an opera singer and therefore way outside of my comfort zone.  So what do we know about Brownlee?

These days, Lawrence Brownlee spends most of his time on the stages of the world’s great opera houses. That’s where you’ll find him singing Rossini and Donizetti. His supple, strong, high-flying voice can negotiate the tightest hairpin turns with grace and elegance; that, and his ability to command the stage as an actor, has won Brownlee the praise of critics worldwide.

But as much as he excels at opera, there’s a special place in Brownlee’s heart for African-American spirituals. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Brownlee sang gospel music in church, and now he’s returning to that tradition by releasing a new album, Spiritual Sketches — and singing selections from it here in the NPR Music offices.

Brownlee bases much of his operatic success on his sturdy church-music grounding. “I would say that the flexibility I have with my voice is in large part because I sang gospel in church,” Brownlee told NPR in 2007. “It’s a lot of improvisational singing with a lot of riffs or runs.”

The spirituals might be well-known, but through Brownlee’s voice, they shine in new, occasionally jazz-inflected arrangements by Damien Sneed. “There Is a Balm in Gilead” floats in a newly contemplative mood with the addition of a few blue notes and chromatic touches, while the spunky piano line Justina Lee plays in “Come By Here” seems inspired by great stride players like James P. Johnson.

But the heart and soul of this concert is “All Night, All Day,” a performance that swells with a potent combination of tenderness and operatic horsepower. The song speaks of a protective band of angels — angels that Brownlee told the audience are watching over his 3-year-old son Caleb, who’s just been diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder.

“It’s called ‘All Night, All Day,’ but I’ve renamed it ‘Caleb’s Song,'” Brownlee says. The soulful vocalisms with which Brownlee closes the song are gorgeous and tinged with anguish.

I don’t have much more to add–that was a thorough blurb.  His voice is indeed amazing.  But equally surprising is how gentle his speaking voice is–if you heard him speak before singing, you’d be leaning in to hear him talk and then he would blow you away with his singing voice.

A couple things about the pianist: He tells us that this was the first time that Justina Lee had seen the music for these songs (she plays it wonderfully).  But also that the piano sounds rather flat and spare compared to the fullness of his voice.  Was this a microphone problem?  It was just kind of strange.

But otherwise, this was a beautiful set.

[READ: August 20 2016] Around the World in 80 Days

I have never read Around the World in 80 Days.  I really enjoy Verne’s stories, I’ve just never read the novels.  So when I saw this adaptation, it seemed like an interesting place to start.

I don’t know how complicated the original story is but this adaptation makes the story seem fairly simple (except for the intentional complications, of course).

So the play starts with an introduction to Phileas Fogg–an insanely punctual man. We watch him do the same routine three days in a row.  Each day he leaves his house, plays whist (wins) and then returns home. On the third day, however, he has to fire his valet because the tea is not at the required 97 degrees.

He still goes to play whist of course but he is stopped by a man named Passepartout who wishes to be his new valet.  Passepartout has worked for exhausting/questionable people in past and he is looking forward to working for someone as calm and regular as Fogg. (more…)

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