Parts Unknown: Greenwich House Explores “Uncharted” Music

brandee younger, greenwich house music school, uncharted series
Harpist Brandee Younger, launched the Uncharted Music Series with a varied and experimental set.

What It Is…
Your Thursday evenings may require musical cartography skills if the folks at Greenwich House Music School (GHMS) have their way. Last year the over century old establishment cast an ear to the past with a series of shows that paid homage to the Café Au Go Go. That venue shared a neighborhood – New York City’s West Village – with the music school through most of the 1960’s. Hosting an array of performers from Lenny Bruce to Cream, the Café has achieved legendary status.

This time around the GHMS 8 week community concert series is titled Uncharted and aimed at exploration of parts unknown. Concert curator Jennie Wasserman, Associate Artistic Producer at San Francisco’s SFJAZZ, asked each of the featured artists to direct their performances to areas of their artistry that would normally not get aired. The relaxed living room vibe of the music school’s Renee Weiler Concert Hall, and an audience most likely predisposed to new experiences, certainly offers the “safe place to take risks” that Wasserman hopes to establish.

brandee younger, greenwich house music school, uncharted series
(L to R) Courtney Bryan, Brandee Younger and Mia Theodoratus debut new material at Greenwich House Music School.

What Went On…
On opening night harpist Brandee Younger was introduced by GHMS director Rachel Black who noted the GHMS faculty member’s impressive résumé, ranging from traditional jazz to hip-hop and pop. Younger, along with pianist Courtney Bryan and harpist Mia Theodoratus, took up the series’ challenge and skewed her set into the “discomfort zone.” Material included a piece by Younger so new it was yet to be titled, an Alice Coltrane cover, and work being prepped by Bryan for Prophetika, An Oratorio which will have its official debut at La MaMa later this month.
courtney bryan, mia theodoratus, brandee younger, greenwich house music school, uncharted series
Brandee Younger and Mia Theodoratus run through “Uncharted” charts at soundcheck.
Midway through the set, the harp duet “Orbits” offered delicate intertwining melodies that passed each other in purposefully loose meter. Composer Theodoratus prefaced the song’s first performance by explaining that she and Younger would be working off tiny LED blinker boxes, each set to a different tempo, an experiment that successfully evinced the elliptical nature of planetary travel. The boxes were scratch built by artist and musician Lary 7, who also recorded Theodoratus’s most recent album Electric Silver, released on Plastikville Records last October. Seven is himself the subject of a recent documentary Not Junk Yet, The Art of Lary 7, directed by Danielle de Picciotto.

In addition to the performance on stage, pen and ink artist Michael Arthur chronicled the event for GHMS archives and will continue to do so throughout the series. Keep an eye on his daily blog for Uncharted updates.

What’s To Come…
The GHMS Uncharted series promises to be a one of a kind experience. Concerts continue every Thursday evening through April 30, 2015 and the full line-up can be found here.


Sunny Boys: Dom Flemons & Eli Reed Team Up @ Greenwich House Event

Eli Reed and Dom Flemons Shake 'em on Down at Greenwich House Café au Go Go Revisited.
Eli Reed and Dom Flemons Shake ’em on Down at Greenwich House Café au Go Go Revisited.
Greenwich House Music School rolled out the carpet for a post Mardi Gras jamboree that had attendees clapping and testifying like an old time revival meeting. The show was the second in a two month long homage to the influential 1960’s Greenwich Village club The Café au Go Go. Instead of a full second line parade the instigators of this roof raising evening were two conservators of American roots music Dom Flemons and Eli “Paperboy” Reed. Along with their talents for performing in a variety of styles and on a variety of instruments, the two share a collector’s affection for the obscure gems discovered in dusty stacks of record crates. These root cellar relics ultimately inform their aesthetic as well as their repertoire.

Although performing as a duo for the first time, the two had an “old soul” symbiosis, choosing tunes that suited them both extremely well. The performances were loose and joyful, clearly a labor of love.

Utilizing the intimate setting of Greenwich House’s second floor theater to full advantage – literally like having someone play your living room – each took turns explaining the unique history of a song or the artist who recorded it. Flemons demonstrated the term hokum with the double entendre riddled tune “Keep Your Yes Ma’am Clean,” while Reed related surprise at finding a “5” Royales song had been covered by a classic bluesman. They agreed on most “likes,” a mutual confusion over just what lyrics go with which Jimmy Rodgers “Blue Yodel,” and admitted only a good natured divergence on preferring “Sonny Boy” Williamson I (John Lee Curtis) or II (Rice Miller.)

Over the course of the evening they juggled instruments from guitars and banjo to piano. There were dueling harmonicas (“harps” to bluesmen) featured on “Polly Put the Kettle On” and Dom pulled out the “peculiar” castanet-like “bones,” panpipe styled “quill,” and coaxed bass notes from an old cider jug to augment the sound. The set ended with “Do Lord Remember Me,” an a capella call and response that brought the audience to their feet to clap and sing along.

Eli "Paperboy" Reed Proclaims the Blues Gospel.
Eli “Paperboy” Reed Proclaims the Blues Gospel.
“Paperboy” is preparing for the release of a new album of original material and a European tour to support it. Check his official website for dates and details. When not promoting his own music he has been a regular fixture at Brooklyn’s Dig Deeper events. Along with unearthing the best Northern Soul dance tunes, the Dig Deeper promoters have routinely brought the artists who recorded them to the stage, often for the first time in decades. After the much lamented closing of Park Slope’s Southpaw club, the events have found a solid following at Littlefield on Degraw Street below Fourth Avenue.
Dom Flemons Pickin' Some Papa Charlie Jackson.
Dom Flemons Pickin’ Some Papa Charlie Jackson.
Dom Flemons, formerly of The Carolina Chocolate Drops and currently on solo tour through August, will be back in NYC in April for the Brooklyn Folk Festival at The Bell House. Although not in his arsenal of instruments that night Flemons related purchasing a large 6 string banjo at Brooklyn’s RetroFret guitar shop, similar to the one played by Papa Charlie Jackson (author of “Salty Dog” and “Spoonful Blues”) whose “Baby Please Loan Me Your Heart” the duo included in the set.

Flemons’ current album is American Songster. It’s loose field-recorded vibe and detailed annotation is about as close to a modern day Folkways record as you’re likely to find. It’s available on the Music Maker Series label, as are the current recordings of other Chocolate Drops cohorts, Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla.

The Music Maker Relief Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the “true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music traditions.” See their website for what you can do to help.
CaféAuGoGo_030614_08SkeletonPete Says…
In retrospect the event served not only as a wonderful night of music and unique pairing of two kindred souls but as a primer on the cross pollination of blues, folk, country, soul and balladry. Kind of like a live version of Barney Hoskyns’ book Say It One Time for the Broken Hearted. I hope Dom and Eli can find the right time in their schedules to do this again soon.

The Café au Go Go Revisited Series, conceived by Greenwich House Music School Director Rachel Black and compiled/curated by Jennie Wasserman, continues on Thursdays through April 24, 2014. Check the website for upcoming artists and ticket purchase information.