02 June 2014

Make: 30, 31

I closed out Make Month with two consecutive concerts. The first was Jason Moran with the Kenwood Academy jazz band and Theaster Gates at Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The second show was Paul Baribeau at Township. Both were wonderful and moving experiences, each very different from one another.

Jason Moran taking the stage with the Kenwood high school jazz ensemble
When I heard that Theaster Gates was participating in a performance at CSO with a jazz musician my dad loves, it seemed like the perfect fit. We agreed that we must attend the concert, knowing that it was going to be an awesome and unique performance. My dad was in the inaugural year the Kenwood Academy jazz ensemble formed, and he also loves Jason Moran - a creative and innovative jazz pianist. Theaster Gates designed the set, and helped orchestrate the performance as a whole, having teamed up with the likes of Moran to create a musical experience unlike anything I have ever had the privilege to hear. 

One of the more memorable moments was when Moran ascended a large chair contraption on the left of the stage, his feel dangling over the edge, playing an almost inaudible musical box amplified by a single microphone. A single spotlight cloaked him with an eerie light, while Gates sat at his feet, crooning the words "There's blood on my hands," a haunting tune that shook me to my core, recalling recent violence in the news and in my city. But then, when the music box came to a close, the entire ensemble began to play, recalling the melody with a fullness that brought the tinny tune to life. 

Moran's compositions highlighted the range and talents of the high school ensemble, playing off of the formal jazz structure taught at the high school level, as well as embracing the marching band and drum line aesthetic. Some songs were deep, dark, rich and soulful. Others were simply funny, with a poppy catchy riff echoed through the two basses, the multiple styles of piano playing, and the full jazz band. Watching the students perform, seeing Gates' space come to life, watching Moran dance from instrument to instrument in his Adidas - you could just feel the energy wafting through the space of theater. 

But there was also a deeper undertone to the energy - that of loss. Two young men who were to be part of this once in a lifetime performance lost their lives to gun violence in recent months and weeks in Chicago. The loss of these two individuals was felt not only in the introductory moment of silence we participated in, but in the sad and soulful songs, in the darkness and quiet, and in those brief moments of silence between the music.

Paul Baribeau being my hero in his little shorts
The Paul Baribeau concert was a complete 180 from Jason Moran on Friday. Just one dude, one guitar, and very literal meaningful lyrics in a room full of die-hard fans. We screamed and sang in unison, some of us with eyes closed, sharing in our mutual adoration for this humble funny human who like us, has felt hurt at one point or another. This was the third or fourth time I'd seen Paul, but this time felt different. He had a relaxed energy, the tension that I often felt surrounding him had been lifted. He seems to have done a lot of healing and growing in the last few years, which was incredibly moving to witness. I'm so glad I've gotten to know him through his music, and that I can be part of the strange and small community that has attached ourselves to him. 

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