Sunday, May 14, 2017

5.13.2017, Oak Cliff

It takes a lot to get me out of mi casa these days, let alone my zip code, and not just because my fellow Americans frighten me. But when I get wind of a bill with two of my favorite acts, and one I'm anxious to check out, at a new spot in Oak Cliff (still my favorite part of Dallas), I'm willing to venture out. Matt Hickey, taking a breather from goat-wrangling and mixing the new Brokegrove Lads shit, was along to navigate. (True to type, we still got lost, but only just, and I learned that there's a Buddhist temple in South Oak Cliff.)

Chateau Virago is a new performance space in the South Oak Cliff home of Andy and Alicia EV Borman. (Like their Facebook page to see show notices.) When they started at the beginning of this year, EV says, their intent was to present one show a month, but things have become a little busier than they planned. The performance space is well-appointed, with more attention to lighting than one often sees at house shows, and sound tech Justin Longorio  (also EV's bandmate in a unit that bears his name) was attentive to the performers' needs.

Sarah Ruth Alexander opened the evening with a set of spoken word and vocal alchemy. Accompanying herself on hammered dulcimer and electronic effects, she played a recording of the choir at her family's church, did some readings (from her "little girl diary" and the poetry of William Carlos Williams), got the audience to sing a simple, wordless repeated theme while she extemporized on top, responded (with voice and Kaos pad) to sounds of a squeaky door and the household dogs and cats (confined in an adjacent room for the evening), and performed a new piece that she recorded at the Echo Lab earlier this year. First she played the theme on dulcimer, then repeated it with effects, then played two unmixed, unmastered recordings of the piece, one a piano rendering by Paul Slavens (accompanied by percussionist Beth Dodds), then a thunderous, powerful version on which she's accompanied by Pinkish Black and Frank Cervantez (Sub Oslo, Wire Nest). Sarah Ruth's been on a roll since her Words on the Wind cassette release in 2015. Here's hoping she can find an interested label to release her new work.

Spent some time catching up with old friend Dennis Gonzalez before his new band, Ataraxia, celebrated the release of their new double LP Ts'iibil Chaaltun. Dennis clued me in on recent events with La Rondalla, the free music school -- to be clear, that's music instruction for kids, offered at no charge, not instruction in free music -- that he's operated in Oak Cliff since 2010. Recently, La Rondalla students performed with Edie Brickell during a series of reunion shows she played with the New Bohemians (whose guitarist, Kenny Withrow, teaches at La Rondalla), and Edie agreed to help the school out with a much-needed infusion of cash. Drew Chapa, another La Rondalla instructor, performed a through-composed solo piano piece in between Sarah Ruth and Lily Taylor's sets. Taylor's a performer I've meant to check out for awhile, and she offered a very different approach to solo vocal performance. She has a rich, powerful, gospel-soul inflected voice, and surrounds it with lush, gorgeously-textured settings.

I've already written about Ataraxia's record. Their live performance was also a stunner, revealing a mature band dynamic that was still developing when I saw them last year. Drew Phelps' tendency to dance around the One on bass, combined with Jagath Priya's to flow around it like water over rocks, means that the pulse in their music is often unstated, which requires the listener to engage with it differently than if the groove were more in-your-face. This leaves Dennis a wider field in which to frolic, and truly, I don't know when I've seen him having more pure enjoyment on stage. Beyond that, Drew Phelps played his ass off. And after a year, these guys are just getting to know each other musically. I'll be looking forward to hearing where this collaboration ventures next.


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