Stitching our Wounds with Golden Threads of Past, Future, and Self

The piece of salt given me at The Public Theatre’s production of salt.

My Friday and Saturday of this New York trip fused unseasonable physical warmth with the warmth of watching communities intersect, share, and watch out for one another. 

Hit six sets of the Winter Jazzfest Marathon Friday, trying to dip in on things that had been on my list and bands I had no experience with or expectations for. Three burned cataracts off my eyes, would not let me stay jaded or sit there with folded arms.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

I walked into SOB’s – the site of some of the finest R&B performances I’ve ever seen anywhere – smack into the last third of a dazzling performance by The Era, a Chicago footwork crew. The Era blended virtuosic pushing the limits of the body forms with a sense of shared experience, and empathy for their fellow dancers and their community, spoken word, clips of a documentary, and vital social commentary. Solos highlight the artist as an individual but build the greater whole.

For the last few minutes, as The Era introduced each other and took bows, their fellow Chicagoans Hypnotic Brass Ensemble took the stage, with the drummer laying down a beat and the horns – seven of whom are songs of the great ecstatic jazz artist Phil Cohran – coalescing behind them. That sense of community and love set the stage for Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s righteous, riotous explosion of joy. The finest funk wah-guitar I’ve heard live since Skip Pitts; thick bass lines and an almost unequaled rhythm section hookup set up blow-your-hair-back horns, gang vocals, and the dance party that’s unheard of at 7:30.

Rode that enthusiasm up 6th Ave to check in on one of my favorite bands I hadn’t seen in many years – since the week of my dear friend Mike Gamble’s wedding, I think – Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra. The 20th anniversary of this assemblage of downtown NYC jazzers was a tribute to refining and expanding an approach, to taking what matters to them from the past and never being afraid to fuck with it. 

Steven Bernstein and Catherine Russell sharing a look during MTO’s 20th Anniversary set

A paean to the joy of approaching standards like “St. Louis Blues” and “Careless Love” simultaneously as though they just heard them last week and taught them to one another and with all the historical knowledge of every great version that’s come before them. Just as strongly, it was another tribute (you’ll see a theme here) to their community. As he introduced every member of the band – including Catherine Russell, a vocalist for whom “special guest” isn’t even close to adequate – Bernstein had a witty story about how they came into each other’s lives and his palpable love for every person on that stage glowed even brighter than the blistering, surprising solos: “Curtis Fowlkes on trombone! I replaced Curtis in the Lounge Lizards, when he left I got that one solo;” “Peter Apfelbaum and I have been playing music since I was 11 – well, we didn’t really start making music till 12, that first year we were bullshitting;” “They told me I’d love [Matt Munisteri, electric guitarist] who played trad banjo; I said I don’t want to meet some motherfucker who plays trad banjo!”

That same sense of communal bond and simultaneous gazes on the past and the future suffused drummer Makaya McCraven’s Chicago-rooted supergroup. McCraven’s been making noise as one of our most exciting drummers who trusts improvisation enough to run it through a cut-up filter and expose it to every other tool at his disposal. I love his heavy, organic records. But I expected nothing to blow me away as much as the live set.

Makaya McCraven’s band with Marquis Hill soloings

Chicago’s always been one of the principal jazz scenes and they’re having a moment – big records out in the last year from what felt like every member of this Octet, off the top of my head: Junius Paul, Joel Ross, Greg Ward, Brandee Younger, Marquis Hill. This set helped coalesce that coming-out party, extended pieces full of tension and joy, grins exchanged between players but attacking the musical material with an enviable intensity. I texted a friend and said, “This is the kind of awesome, multi-layered groove machine I was led to believe Tortoise would sound like,” but this band doesn’t sound like anything except themselves.

Joel Ross’ machine-gun vibraphone arpeggios took a hi-hat heavy McCraven intro and built a bridge into a volcanic Hill trumpet piece, then subsumed by the whole horn front line at once. The entire band gathered around Brandee Younger as her harp washed over all of us. Ward and the tenor player (I apologize, he was spectacular, I just can’t read my damn handwriting – someone post in the comments so I can correct?) bubbling up uncanny harmonies between their horns. Every few bars brought a wholly surprising and perfectly right turn after turn. Friends and peers who built this language together, like the Yehuda Amichai poem, that baked in the same sun and froze in the same cold, lighting a path straight to the future.

Saturday, both plays I saw were excellent but salt stuck with me and resonating in time with everything else of these two days. Written by Selina Thompson and performed brilliantly by Rochelle Rose with razor-sharp direction from Dawn Walton, salt traces a journey into Thompson’s family history as an adopted black woman grown up in Birmingham, England.

Crowd at Drom for Secret Planet

That journey back to Jamaica and to Ghana excavates old wounds and finds new wellsprings of joy. Ugly slights and horrific mistreatment but also putting her story in the world’s context at large. Better than any performance I think I’ve ever seen, salt understands the crushing repetition of oppression, the way the boring and the horrific take each other as eager dance partners. And, though most of 2019’s year-end list for me dealt with why do we live and what we owe each other, nothing I’ve ever seen has done it better than Thompson, Rose, and Walton do it here. I walked out into the sunlight a blithering idiot (okay, more of).

Later that night, one of my favorite APAP adjacent showcases, Secret Planet, took over one of my favorite clubs, Drom, for the best version of it I’ve ever seen. Cochemea – who I knew best from his sideman duties with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – kicked us into a frenzy with instrumental soul, his variety of reeds backed by a band almost entirely composed of percussionists. Seven or eight people building riffs into surging tidal waves and delighting in the sense of play with one another.

Cochemea

That thread got picked up and danced with by Sunny Jain’s (from Red Baraat) new band Wild Wild East, merging featuring Jain at a trap drum kit instead of his usual dhol, fusing spaghetti western tunes, Indian pop, and thick ‘70s psychedelia with a band of sax, guitar, sousaphone, and dueling man-woman vocals. A tribute to exploration and migration wrapped up in a wild party.

Sunny Jain’s Wild Wild East

Alba and the Mighty Lions turned up the psychedelic salsa elements for giant, catchy songs in a rhythmically intense, barbed, rocking package. I didn’t stick around for the whole set only because I realized not eating in 7 hours and running on dancing and whiskey would go badly but I’d watch them again and again.

Alba and the Mighty Lions

Another full day I’m walking into, to badly paraphrase the Andrew Hudgins poem, “As if I’ll only – fat chance – live it once.”

Two Sides of the Big Band: Ryan Truesdell's Music of Bob Brookmeyer and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

Ryan Truesdell and band, Jazz Standard
Ryan Truesdell conducting The Music of Bob Brookmeyer

Curation is an act of love, when you’re doing it right. Trombonist John Mosca, longtime comrade of Brookmeyer said, while introducing “Ding Dong Ding,” which he played with the Mel Lewis band during its triumphant late ‘70s run, said “There’s no better curator or champion for Bob’s [Brookmeyer] music than Ryan [Truesdell].” 

Truesdell and his crack 18-piece band proved that again and again in their final set of a two-night run at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard on a blustery January night, a belated 80th birthday party for Brookmeyer, the great composer, arranger, and player who changed the shape of jazz, especially large group jazz, since the ‘60s. As much as jazz is the first American art form, the big band feels like a peculiarly American animal.

The music is a masterful evocation of what a big band could be at its heights, fresh and alive, and warm. Rippling shocks of chromatic heat revealed sublime beauty, more than once I felt I was peering into a blast furnace full of precious stones. But that visceral, massed sound always parted for the primacy of some of the sweetest melody you’ll ever hear – Scott Robinson’s river-of-life bass clarinet on “Django’s Castle; ” Drew Gress’ funky flamenco bass runs on “Verticals; ” John Mosca and Riley Muhlekar’s dance-battle brass on “The Fan Club; ” Gary Versace’s lilting piano, insistent on the intro and light as a lullaby at the end of “Ding Dong Ding.”

Truesdell wove a thread through pieces of Brookmeyer’s dating back to the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band until not long before he passed away. He gave us enough of that ranging sound world to feel like we got it. And, as a renowned arranger himself, he highlighted Bob’s ability to let people shine in his own compositions and to bring out the key facets in others. I’m a Cole Porter freak who grew up with a grandmother who idolized Sarah Vaughan. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve heard 100 versions of “Love For Sale” – that might be conservative. The version of “Love For Sale” they closed with, with the exquisite Wendy Giles on vocals – I missed Brookmeyer’s late Standards record, to my chagrin – made me feel like I was hearing it with fresh ears. I won’t say I was crying but I wouldn’t deny it under oath.

Beyond the musical mix, Truesdell nailed the mix of personalities in the instrumental blend, their connections to each other, and Bob as a person.  He let the players introduce songs with rambling, hilarious personal anecdotes, and cultivates an atmosphere that feels as though we’re lucky enough to be at a real birthday party, even including Brookmeyer’s widow. May we all be so lucky to have people who love us as much as the love in that Wednesday room.

Darcy James Argue and (part of) band
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society shone a bright light on another angle of the promise and beauty of the big band the next night at Jazz Gallery. I’m an unabashed stan for Argue’s work, discovering him through his blog and responding to Infernal Machines, seeing two premieres at BAM and hitting my yearend list many times. Appropriate for the week of APAP, he and his co-conspirators ran us through a whiplash-dazzling deep dive into the band’s rich catalog.

The band tore into this material with an uncommon passion and fire, fused to the wisdom of players who know the tunes in at a cellular level and the camaraderie that doesn’t come easy. Early gems like “Dymaxion,” brand new pieces including “Ebonite” commissioned by his hometown Vancouver Jazz Festival, “The Hidden Hand” from his epic Real Enemies, every pitch sailed over the fences.

Argue’s debt to Ellington paid off with tailored, perfect solos rising out of the landscapes he sculpted as though they couldn’t come from anywhere else. Highlights in that regard came in Carl Maraghi’s rippling bari work on “Dymaxion,” and Alexa Tarantino’s tough and supple soprano on “Ebonite.”

The highlight for me came with the most direct Ellington homage – Argue’s response to “Diminuendo in Blue,” “Tensile Curves.” This was my second journey through that piece, riddled with astonishing playing with particular attention to Ingrid Jensen and Matt Holman’s trumpets, Sam Sadigursky’s clarinet, and Sebastian Noelle’s guitar. It’s the rare tribute with heavy conceptual underpinning, where knowing the technical aspects deepen your appreciation without being required and the even rarer 40-minute composition that never flags or lets your attention drift.

Similar to the Brookmeyer (one of Argue’s teachers), the stage overflowed with love and respect for the players as people. My time following that band has turned me onto as many great players as those Ellington and Basie records I grew up with – Nadje Noordhuis, Jacob Garchik, Ryan Keberle, Sam Sadigursky, people whose other work I’ve sought and loved. These two shows got this trip off to the righteous start it needed, plugging back into the battery after some dark months.

Best of 2019 – Visual Art

Henry Taylor, Venice Biennale

“If you notice anything,
It leads you to notice
more
and more.”
– Mary Oliver, “The Moths”

In this year – by turns more magnificent than I could hope and immeasurably shitty – visual art continued to be a balm, a lifeline, and a reminder to wake up and try harder. I was lucky enough to catch 75 exhibits over 9 cities in two countries. I left this one ranked – unlike the two performance lists which I put in (mostly) chronological order – we’ll see if I stay comfortable with that.

Everything below is in Columbus unless otherwise noted. All photos have been taken by me for reference for discussion with no claim on the original work, unless otherwise noted.

Natalia Goncharova, Palazzo Strozzi
  1. Various Artists, 2019 Venice Biennale: May You Live in Interesting Times (various locations, Venice) – It’s hard to compete with new – my memories of the first Whitney Biennial I was lucky enough to visit are stronger than my memories of this year’s (for more reasons than one) – so it’s not surprising I was so dazzled by my first Venice Biennale. That said, my eyes almost popped out of my head, from the main exhibit curated by Ralph Rugoff with the best overview of artists grappling with the current shifting, chaotic moment, to the various national pavilions haunting and inspiring, to the satellite exhibitions (a storefront dedicated to Sierra Leone knocked me over), this took me back to the best parts of that childlike state where everything’s new and I’m hungry for all of it.
  2. Barbara Hammer, In This Body (Wexner Center for the Arts) – Barbara Hammer’s work has always fascinated me and the Wex – led by its curator, Film/Video Studio Program Curator Jennifer Lange – outdid themselves with this exhibit put together up to Hammer’s death this year. The kind of grappling with mortality that doesn’t come easy, a fusing of rigor with the sensuality her work reminded us can never been separated from politics and society. I spent hours in the main installation, walking through X-Ray negatives bathed in a haunting film, I even went the day after my stepsister’s funeral, and it comforted and challenged me every time.
  3. Natalia Goncharova, Natalia Goncharova (Palazzo Strozzi, Florence) – This was a happy surprise for my first trip to Florence and a source of immense chagrin that the only thing I know of Goncharova previously was her costumes for Dhagliev. A cornucopia of classic high modernism practiced at a level almost no one could match. Masterpieces in dialogue with all the better known names of her time – Picasso, Chagall – while never feeling like she was trying on techniques. A time that felt like the end of the world mapped out and sung in a voice I couldn’t forget.
Joan Mitchell, David Zwirner
  1. Suzanne Lacy, We Are Here (SFMOMA and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco) – Suzanne Lacy’s a brilliant example of an artist who works directly with society, never content to only let her work be uplifting. This retrospective, spread across downtown San Francisco’s two main institutions, reminded me how vital her work still is and how inspiring her mission).
  2. Joan Mitchell, I Carry My Landscapes Around With Me (David Zwirner, NYC) – Joan Mitchell’s been one of my favorite painters since I first saw her work; some days, she’s easily my favorite of the Abstract Expressionists. This retrospective of her large-scale paintings at David Zwirner was earth-shattering for me; taking that fusion of abstraction and landscape many of us associate with Kandinsky and exploding it into other worlds. A crystallized moment of the 20th century and a reverberation through the foreseeable future.
  3. Jason Moran, Jason Moran (Wexner Center for the Arts) – Moran’s one of my heroes since I first heard Black Stars when I was in college. His appearance with the Bandwagon is one of my all-time top five concert experiences at the Wexner Center. This look at his – often collaborative – visual art was stunning. The detail-rich replicas of key spots from jazz history loom in the middle, heavy with history as tombs but also vibrating to be reactivated. His video work with Carrie Mae Weems and Stan Douglas hinted at secret histories. I had some issues with the selection of the live performance aspects – would have liked more things like the opening Ogun Meji – but I kept visiting and unpacking this.
Jason Moran, Wexner Center
  1. Various Artists, Everything is Rhythm: Mid-Century Music and Art (Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo) – 40s-60s contemporary art and music are obsessions of mine, still, and this multimedia presentation in the always excellent Toledo Museum was the best, most approachable tying-together of those threads I’ve ever seen.
  2. Lorna Simpson, Darkening (Hauser and Wirth, NYC) – I knew Lorna Simpson’s photography work a little but this selection of layered, gripping paintings felt revelatory. The light growing dim so you have to lean in and then the cold opens you up.
  3. Various Artists, Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections (Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit) – Private collectors in museum contexts are problematic but everything about this warmed me up, members of Detroit’s black community talking about collecting black art and fascinating examples of what draws them to it and keeps them going. A deep dive into the best parts of collection and curation – paying tribute, keeping voices alive, giving you something to pass onto your children.
Anselm Kiefer, German Abstraction After 1950, SFMOMA
  1. Various Artists, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything (Jewish Museum, NYC) – Various artists taking on Leonard Cohen, one of the most imagistic lyricists of the 20th century made this lifelong Cohen fan’s heart grow three sizes. The variety of work, from an amateur men’s choir doing “I’m Your Man” in multichannel video to an organ that played a word with each key to an installation where “Famous Blue Raincoat” synchronizes with a flood of iconography, there was so much to love here.
  2. Various Artists, Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection (Guggenheim, NYC) – Celebrating an anniversary, the Guggenheim turned to artists to contextualize the parts of the massive modern art collection and it’s the best use of the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building and the best use of a giant collection of holdings I’ve seen in years.
  3. Various Artists, German Abstraction After 1950 (SFMOMA, San Francisco) – This era – Kiefer, Richter, et al – is a personal favorite of mine and this was an embarassment of riches I couldn’t believe I was seeing all in one place.
Nancy Spero, MoMA PS1
  1. Peter Hujar, The Speed of Life (Wexner Center for the Arts) – I loved the John Waters piece that ran in parallel with Hujar, and I loved seeing the two dialogue with one another but the Hujar wrecked me every damn time. A reminder how potent portraiture can be in letting us see and a reminder to be grateful for our networks and the love around all of us.
  2. Simone Fattal, Works and Days (MoMA PS1, NYC) – An artist I knew nothing about before this trip to PS1 knocked me sidewise. Sculptures and watercolors working through the consequences of archaeology and imperialism, knowledge and the stories we tell ourselves. I needed far more hours than I had to properly appreciate this but it’s still with me.
  3. Walid Raad, Walid Raad (Paula Cooper, NYC) – Walid Raad’s alternate history work reminds us all how science fiction tropes can illuminate real world pain and challenge. His puzzles dare you to tease out the facts from the greater truth and complicate your own feelings as you work through them.
  4. Nancy Spero, Paper Mirror (MoMA PS1, NYC) – Spero’s work benefited from the volume and the jumble of this perfect PS1 show, words coming at the viewer like daggers but so many you can’t focus on any one, you have to give into the flood.
Huma Bhabha, Gagosian Rome
  1. Gordon Parks, The New Tide: Early Work 1940-1950 (Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland) – Gordon Parks’ social realist photography is always a wake up call to being alive and this tight, well-curated collection in Cleveland was exactly what I needed in a summer of too much feeling sorry for myself.
  2. Sondra Perry, A Terrible Thing (MOCA Cleveland, Cleveland) – Perry’s video work dug deep into infrastructure and invisible labor in a biting, potent critique that sung.
  3. Various Artists, arms ache avid aeon (CCAD’s Beeler Gallery) – Jo-ey Tang’s work with the Beeler Gallery is coming into its own; I love his specialty of slow exhibitions that evolve over periods of time and this look back on the fierce pussy collective, capped by a symposium that was the most energized I felt all year, was a dazzling, meditative explosion.
  4. Huma Bhabha, The Company (Gagosian, Rome) – In a trip spent gorging ourselves on old masters and antiquity, Bhabha’s sardonic looks at the modern age was the perfect palate cleanser.

Best of 2019 – Recorded Music

  • The Delines, The Imperial – This album was the moment where The Delines outstripped both predecessor bands, Richmond Fontaine and Damnations TX, for me – and that’s saying something because they were two of my favorite bands of all times. Willy Vlautin’s writing the kind of torch songs Amy Boone was born to sing with sympathetic, keening backing highlighting Cory Gray’s keys and Tucker Jackson’s steel.
  • Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, Glitter Wolf – Allison Miller’s been one of my favorite drummers since I first caught her subbing for Kenny Wollensen in Steven Bernstein’s MTO and her compositions blow me away. This is her strongest collection yet with the rhythm section hookup between Miller, Todd Sickafoose on bass, and Myra Melford on piano sliding into a rare telepathy with stratospheric frontline playing from Ben Goldberg, Jenny Scheinman and Kirk Knuffke. A record as full of joy and curiosity as any I heard this year.
  • Moor Mother, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black HolesMoor Mother digs deeper into universes only she could create on this intriguing, mesmerizing record. A head-nodding, grimy, noise-soaked paean to all the reasons to stay alive and fighting.
  • Angel Bat Dawid, The Oracle – This lo-fi solo record (there’s only one guest drummer throughout) was a powerful debut statement from Angel bat Dawid and took me on journies of joy and discovery, tied in with the history of Chicago jazz and fire music but with a voice that could never be mistaken for anything else.
  • Steve Earle, Guy – Earle’s last record, So You Want to Be an Outlaw was a poignant look at the potential of a scene and the way it starts to confine you, a goodbye and embracing his youth. This tribute record to one of the greatest American songwriters and a personal mentor to Earle, Guy Clark, uses exactly what Earle wants from that era and takes on these tunes with the kind of irreverence that affirms why they’ll live forever – whether he’s opening “Dublin Blues” into a riotous stomp, rearranging “Out in the Parking Lot” ZZ Top style (and drawing connections to Earle’s own “Devil’s Right Hand”), or drawing out all the poignancy of “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” Earle and band are clearly having a hell of a time.
  • Ryan Jewell Quintet, Vibration! – One of the great Columbus exports to the world in a victory lap with his perfectly calibrated jazz quintet.
  • Raphael Saadiq, Jimmy Lee – One of my favorite songwriters with his darkest, thorniest, most personal record yet. The hooks are just as strong but sometimes Saadiq makes us dig for them.
  • Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains I still don’t quite know what to say about this staggering David Berman reappearance with perfect backing from Woods. It’s impossible to separate this – at least yet – from the autobiography surrounding it but I’m more glad than I can express for these songs.
  • Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise – Jaimie Branch, the most exciting new trumpet voice in a while, followed up her stellar debut with this knottier, wilder, stranger record. Featuring the fantastic rhythm section of Jason Ajemian on bass and percussion and Chad Taylor on drums along with Lester St. Louis on cello and percussion and a series of stellar guests who followed these tunes down every dark alley and through every hairpin turn.
  • Chuck Mead, Closer to Home – Chuck Mead, your favorite Americana artist’s favorite Americana artist since the days of BR549, took a moment to pay tribute to the rich tradition of Memphis – including some of its finest players such as John Paul Keith and Mark Andrew Millar – with his most consistent solo record yet.
  • Craig Finn, I Need A New War I’m not sure if you told me in 2019 I’d be so moved by a new Craig Finn record, I’d have believed you. But with I Need a New War he honed and perfected the formula of the last two for a gorgeous, glowing look at people trying their best, in fits and starts, and sometimes not trying their best but knowing it and hoping they’ll get another chance. Probably the record I played most often all year and kept finding comfort in.
  • Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising – Weyes Blood continues her more streamlined trajectory with the rapturous Titanic Rising. Poems to longing, dread for the future, all set in backgrounds that unsettle and feel perfect.
  • Brian Harnetty, Shawnee, Ohio – One of Columbus’ best composers’ most fully realized works. Grown out of a residency in its eponymous city, Harnetty builds tribute landscapes to the memory of a place still holding on, archival material stands on its own with gripping chamber music in a way few others achieve. I interviewed Harnetty for a preview when the Wexner Center premiered the work live, I’ve been a fan and friend for years, and I’m still finding new things to marvel at in the record.
  • Mark Lomax II, The 400 – Another of Columbus’ best composers made a truly massive statement with Lomax’s 12-album length look at the African diaspora. Settings his fans are used to – the Ogun Meji duo with Eddie Bayard is still the best free jazz in town – mix with more expansive work like the Urban Art Ensemble, the cello quartet Ucelli and, in my favorite piece, the Atlanta percussion ensemble Ngoma Lungundu. A sprawling, engaging, focused work that would reward anyone interested in contemporary music.
  • Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy! Jamila Woods’ grappling with her antecedents is as catchy as it is brave. An uncanny record full of tracks named after Baldwin and Basquiat and Miles that does the subjects justice without drifting into pastiche or sacrificing Woods’ individual voice. Breathtaking.
  • Kris Davis, Diatom RibbonsI’ve been a fan of Kris Davis for a long time, I think going back to the first time I saw Paradoxical Frog, and with every release she surprises me but I had to hold onto my seat for Diatom Ribbons. A Rauschenberg-worthy combine of both the contemporary world and the human heart with a stellar cast of players including JD Allen, Tony Malaby, Marc Ribot, Nels Cline, Trevor Dunn, and Teri Lynne Carrington.
  • Nathalie Joachim/Spektral Quartet, Fanm d’Ayiti Composer/flutist/vocalist Nathalie Joachim teamed with an adventurous string quartet for a stirring, gorgeous tribute to the women of Haiti. One of the warmest,most rewarding records I heard all year, still rolling through my bones.
  • Carolina Eyck, Elegies for Theremin and Voice – A composer/performer new to me with a record I couldn’t get out of my head. Intimate, intricate, layered topographies of loss that often reminded me of Christina Carter’s early solo work.
  • Jesse Malin, Sunset Kids – Jesse Malin, going back to D Generation, always has a couple songs that destroy me, that are my favorite songs of the year. And he’s defined a chunk of New York in my brain that syncs with my 20 years of regular visiting. But Sunset Kids is the first Malin record that sounds like no one else could have made it, all the friends (with special attention to producers Lucinda Williams and Tom Overby) helped distill his approach so he’s still tipping his hat to all his influences singing purely and cleanly in his own voice. From the Xpensive Winos-esque stomps “Meet Me At The End Of The World Again” and “Dead On” to the buoyant ebuillence of “Strangers and Thieves” through the wistful sweetness of “Shane” and “My Little Life,” these are vital dispatches from a lifer who still has plenty to say.
  • Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, Cristal – One of the finest big band composers gets better and better on this sparkling collection of beguiling tunes. Jeff Ballard’s drums never sounded better than they do driving with Fernando Huergo’s thick bass and Klein’s glittering piano, fused to blue-flame front line work especially from Chris Cheek and Paul McHenry on reeds.

Best of 2019: Theatre/Dance/Opera

“Setting my palms into the mud
at the base of a gnarled vine,
I pressed them together
and whispered “speak.”
But the vine’s silence just grew
into the silence of the dead
who once tended it.

Then I saw exactly how
it was beautiful—
how it held its world whole
beneath its fog-slick bark,
while the things we ask
to hold us leave us
spent.”
-From “Where the Zinfandel Pass Their Seasons in Mute Rows” by Jane Mead

The pleasure of being in a room with performers, sitting with someone else’s voice, the feedback loop between audience and the stage, all resonated more strongly and felt more vital than ever this year. I saw a little less theatre – only one New York trip instead of the usual two and the Italian trip coincided with the opera houses being dark – about 55 performances between three cities – but still had a hard time carving out these fifteen performances.

Each one of these showed me something I didn’t know before, sent me spinning out into the night, made me desperate to talk to someone about them, and usually made me pound my fist into the heavy desk at the impossibility of coming close to doing it justice the next morning. These are in chronological order, instead of ranking, and are in Columbus unless otherwise specified. All art was provided by the companies for promotional use, either sent to me directly or on their site.

Available Light’s Appropriate

Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by David Glover (Available Light) – Available Light crushed this year by bringing the best writing for the American stage to Columbus and executing on it with jaw-dropping alacrity. The two David Glover-directed plays were standouts and Appropriate started my year of theatre-going with the thunderclap of a warning-shot pistol. I called it “An acidic, invigorating evening that will make you laugh, make you hate yourself for laughing, make you hate yourself for giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but acknowledge the horrible, beautiful nature of being human.” Standout performances – in a cast full of winners – included Kim Garrison Hopcraft’s righteous fireball of desperation, Philip Hickman and Beth Josephsen’s metal-grinder of a struggling marriage, and Jordan Fehr’s devastating look at the difficulty of atonement. My review for Columbus Underground.

Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book), directed by Brandon Boring (Imagine) It’s rare for a production of a play I love as much as Into the Woods to shock me back into myself. Director Brandon Boring’s risky choices to go off-mic – with all credit to the strong, sympathetic singing of the cast and the nuanced work of musical director Jonathan Collura and his chamber orchestra – and work up an immersive set in a tiny room known for sound problems paid off big in this jaw-dropping, real, funny take. As I said for Columbus Underground, it “took me back to the same place of childlike delight as my first encounter. I found tears coming to my eyes at exactly the places they should have been.”

The Flood by Korine Fujiwara (score) and Stephen Wadsworth (libretto), directed by Stephen Wadsworth (Opera Columbus and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra) – The Flood pointed to a rich, challenging future for two of our best institutions. An original work grappling with a painful chunk of Columbus history, the Franklinton flood, moved me in more senses than just my coming from a family who settled in The Bottoms and ended up on the Hilltop. Fujiwara’s sparkling, layered, complicated score was executed brilliantly with astonishing performances from Lacey Jo Benter, Meröe Khalia Adeeb, and Daniel Stein, among others. I reviewed this for Columbus Underground.

Netta Yerushalmy’s Paramodernities

Paramodernities by Netta Yerushalmy with texts by Thomas F. DeFrantz, Julia Foulkes, Georgina Kleege, David Kishik, Carol Ockman, Mara Mills, Claudia La Rocco (presented by the Wexner Center) – It’s rare I see something that makes me say “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” It’s even rarer I’m in the theatre for over four hours still hungry for more when the lights come up. Yerushalmy’s wild grappling with the history of modernism, scoring dances to lectures set my brain and every part of my body on fire. I walked out wanting to grab everyone I knew by the shoulders and shake, “Why weren’t you there? You missed something special.”

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, directed by Elizabeth Wellman (OSU Department of Theatre) – I was bummed to miss DeLappe’s play twice at Lincoln Center (once sold out by the time I got word, the revival opened the day I was flying home) so I was overjoyed OSU took it on this season and it did not disappoint. Elizabeth Wellman’s bone-deep understanding of patterns, their necessity for us to grow up but also their ability to weigh us down, sparkles here, with ferocious performances from Vayda Good and Mehek Sheikh anchoring a top-notch cast. I reviewed this for Columbus Underground.

Red Herring’s Waiting to be Invited

Waiting to Be Invited by S. M. Shepard-Massatt, directed by Patricia Winbush-Wallace (Red Herring Productions) – Red Herring’s ambitious play-a-month schedule this year yielded far more hits than misses. One of my favorites was Shepard-Massatt’s look at the early civil rights movement, directed brilliantly by Patricia Winbush-Wallace, with a stellar, perfectly balanced cast of Winbush-Wallace, Julie Whitney Scott, Demia Kandi, Harold Yarborough, and Josie Merkle. I reviewed it for Columbus Underground.

King Lear by William Shakespeare, directed by Sam Gold (Cort Theatre, NYC) – My favorite Shakespeare in an uneven – the reports were not wrong – at times gaudy and overwrought version, still had pleasures enough to make this list. Foremost among them, Glenda Jackson – I feel like I’ve seen the defining Lear of my generation, terrifying, imperious, wounded; I can count on one hand the performances I’ve seen on a stage that matched hers. Similarly, casting Russell Harvard, a deaf actor, as Cornwall paid off massively especially in the moments before the assault on the Earl of Gloucester (a brilliant James Houdyshell) with a frenzied argument between Corwnwall and his aide/interpreter, Michael Arden, in sign language.

Hillary and Clinton by Lucas Hnath, directed by Joe Mantello (John Golden Theatre, NYC) – A slice of life/secret history about the back rooms of the primaries for the 2008 election. Hnath’s uncanny ability to understand the rhythms of the way we speak to each other in different rooms and with different intentions sang through the amazing performances of Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow, Peter Francis James, and Zak Orth.

Evolution’s The View Upstairs

The View Upstairs by Max Vernon, directed by Beth Kattelman (Evolution Theatre Company) – My favorite thing in a particularly strong season from Evolution this year. An original musical about the moments before the Upstairs Lounge arson, amplifying that tragedy by being about what brings people together for solace, especially people who are denied it elsewhere. Incredibly moving, warmly directed by Beth Kattelman and with a stellar leading role by Jonathan Collura who I did not know was a late addition until a friend told me that at a party weeks later. I reviewed it for Columbus Underground.

Fine Not Fine written and directed by Andy Batt (MadLab) – Andy Batt’s return to his former home as artistic director delighted me as it brought me to tears. I said at the time it “grapples with the most basic question of humanity: why do we keep living? What makes us want to keep living? It finds a magical strength in the lack of easy answers and in the absence of a magic bullet; in the very difficulty of the road ahead of us all. And it reminds us we don’t have to be alone in that struggle.” I reviewed it for Columbus Underground.

Available Light’s Dance Nation

Dance Nation by Clare Barron, directed by Whitney Thomas Eads (Available Light) – With every play Clare Barron stakes her claim on the title of best American playwright. This look at a teenage dance team boasted crackling direction and choreography from Whitney Thomas Eads and fantastic performances all around. I said at the time, “I’ve seen nothing that felt as much like adolescence – raging, wildfire emotions; the fracturing of friendships that used to feel like home; not everyone is special at the thing you most want to be seen for – as Dance Nation.” I reviewed it for Columbus Underground.

Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Ekundayo Bandele (Hattiloo Theatre, Memphis) – I’ve long admired Hattiloo Theatre’s mission. While plays have never been the primary factor in getting me to Memphis regularly, I’ve always been impressed they seem to sell out by the time I start planning. I finally rectified that error with a fiery, intense production of this rich Guirgis drama.

The Humans by Stephen Karam, directed by McKenzie Swinehart – Red Herring ended their run at the Franklinton Playhouse with this nigh-perfect take on Karam’s Tony-winning family drama. Orbiting around the devastating father-daughter dynamic of Christopher Moore Griffin and Becca Kravitz, I said at the time, “Swinehart treats what could be heavy, ponderous material with a light touch, letting her characters breathe and taking full advantage of Edith D. Wadkins’ jaw-dropping set. Love for these characters, even at their most broken, animates this The Humans, searing it into the audience’s brain.” I reviewed it for Columbus Underground.

Short North Stage’s West Side Story

West Side Story by Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (music), and Stephen Sondheim (lryics), directed by Edward Carignan (Short North Stage) – Carignan took this American classic and stripped it down to its raw emotion and primal darkness in this brilliant collaboration with Columbus Children’s Theatre. A shocking, wild take that preserved everything I love about this show I know so well and made me see it anew.

7 by Radouan Mriziga (presented by the Wexner Center) – Mriziga’s take on the Mershon Auditorium brought overload from every corner with voices and symbols, history being rebuilt and seen from various angles. I’d also like to take this moment to shout out the Wex’s recent commitment to accessibility, I saw people enjoying this who would have felt uncomfortable or made to specifically ask for basic accommodation at these kind of immersive performances in the past. It was fantastic to see the beginnings of that change.

Best of 2019: Live Music

In a year when I swung wildly between the longing to retreat at full steam into my shell and desperate, frenzied attempts at connection, it sometimes got harder to find solace in music. But whenever I’d get discouraged, live music was still there and reminding me why it’s been such a force in my life all these years. In the same way gratitude and attention helped pull me back – even if sometimes only for a little while – I found some of the greatest joy in old forms given surprising faces, artists I’d loved for years scaling a new Parnassus or two, further refinement and sharpness of voices.

140 shows in eight cities and narrowing it down to these 20 (with another 10 sets from various festivals) was as hard as ever. I found it interesting that old standby Dick’s Den got the most of my business, hitting an average of twice a month; Ace of Cups continues to ease into Bobby Miller’s booking as he lines up perfectly with the room and saw me 15 times this year; I finally got off my ass and made the amazing booking (for my taste mostly from Jen Powers but also from other dedicated souls) at Dirty Dungarees a priority with 8 stops. Rumba Cafe, The Johnstone Fund for New Music’s shows at Short North Stage, the Wexner Center, and Natalie’s all made their usual strong showings.

None of us know what’s in store but I’m excited again – for plans already booked (NYC for Winter Jazzfest, and other APAP-adjacent fun and again for my birthday, a reunited Bikini Kill in Detroit) and the continued synchronicity of my community. Some of what has me pumped: the most exciting cultural opening of the year, Scott Woods’ Streetlight Guild is already more than delivering on its promise; I’ve seen the new Natalie’s space in Grandview and it’s everything they do well on a larger scale; Filament perfected its mix of exciting touring acts and local conjurers to create the best intimate listening room in town; my first trips to the renovated Snowden-Gray Mansion revealed a brilliant room for exciting, traditional jazz; word on venues I haven’t made it to yet like BluNote Cafe and Savoy Club has me hungry to visit them.

All photos are taken by me unless otherwise stated. Everything below is in Columbus unless otherwise stated.

Mark Lomax II and Urban Art Ensemble, Lincoln Theatre

Mark Lomax II and Urban Art Ensemble: “The 400 Premiere,” Lincoln Theatre presented by the Wexner Center for the Arts (01/26/2019) – This spellbinding evening represented the culmination of Mark Lomax, Columbus’ finest living composer’s most ambitious project to date. As though 12 full-length, wide ranging albums tracing the African diaspora from the ma’afa into the future wasn’t enough, Lomax arranged a suite for the Urban Art Ensemble including almost a half hour of brand new material. Blistering performances and the finest integration of strings with jazz I’ve ever seen, this kept me floating for days, from a composer and drummer I’ve been watching for 20 years.

Punch Brothers with Gabriel Kahane, Southern Theatre (03/20/2019) – Two artists with a foot in western chamber music and a foot in vernacular forms gave us expansive, open-hearted takes on staying engaged and in touch with the world. Kahane’s solo set focused on the Book of Travelers material with digressions into the rest of his work including a setting of the “That’s Not Your Man” tweets about Ohio-born president Rutherford B Hayes and a wrenching “The Ambassador.” The Punch Brothers continued their mission of refinement and complication with righteous, mysterious pieces like “Three Dots and a Dash,” and wistful snapshots like “New York City” and “Julep.”

Timothy Holley and Karen Walwyn, Wexner Center for the Arts (04/07/2019) – One of many highlights of Mark Lomax’s Wex residency was this presentation of renowned cellist Holley and pianist Walwyn. That afternoon they took us on a journey through African-American composers that opened my eyes with stirring pieces by Florence Price, Trevor Weston and more.

Dale Watson, Woodlands Tavern

Dale Watson and his Texas Lonestars, Woodlands Tavern (04/19/2019) – The reigning king of the neo-honky tonk movement came up from Texas for a reminder that classic forms are as alive as you want them to be. Watson paints his stomps and waltzes in bright neon instead of sepia and one of the few times I’ve ever seen someone ask for requests from the audience and mean it as when he looked directly at me after I shouted for “I Hate These Songs” off the first of his Hightone records I bought 20 years ago, said, “Okay, we’ll do that one,” and launched into a perfect, aching version of that ode to music’s ability to embody all our pain.

Kath Bloom, Dirty Dungarees (04/30/2019) – Kath Bloom – who I grew up with the collaborative records with Loren Connors – gave a wrenching, perfect low-key set that resonated with everything I’ve always wanted a singer to be. A bone-deep love for the past fixing her eyes firmly on the now and a reminder that we can all keep getting better at things if we work hard enough and care enough.

IDLES with Fontaines DC, Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland (05/14/2019) – The most exciting rock and roll show I’ve seen in a while and the best summation of what rock and roll can do if we trust it, how it can still be a system to unlock new horizons instead of a system to box us in and keep us adolescent. IDLES are maybe the most exciting live band working today and their stew of hardcore rhythms, churning atmospheric guitars and hints of Birthday Party sardonic wit and Fontaines DC are coming up behind. A sold out crowd I was happy to be in, not tolerating, full of palpable love for the world, the kind of love where you want it to be better.

SIGNAL Ensemble with Brooklyn Youth Chorus: “Richter Reich Part,” The Shed, NYC (05/30/2019) – Two of my favorite composers given life in an immersive installation of one of my favorite visual artists, this was meant for me, and it delivered in spades.

Meah Pace, Rubenstein Ballroom at Lincoln Center

Meah Pace, Rubenstein Auditorium at Lincoln Center, NYC (05/30/2019) – Another case study in someone making old forms feel new and completely their own through intense commitment. Meah Pace turned out a version of “Gimme Shelter” that made me forget any I’d ever heard before and got a relatively staid crowd in this Lincoln Center auditorium dancing and cheering, and her own songs like “Promised Land” held their own. Probably my favorite surprise all year.

Tav Falco and the Panther Burns, Le Poisson Rouge, NYC (05/31/2019) – I’ve been a huge fan of Falco’s for years but I’d never gotten to see him live. This did not disappoint – his jagged, art-damaged takes on country blues and bubblegum even led him going back to standards like Dean Martin’s “Sway” and a poignant take on the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go Round the Roses.”

Joanne Brackeen, Mezzrow

Joanne Brackeen/Lonnie Plaxico Duo, Mezzrow, NYC (06/01/2019) – Another legend I’d known from records but never seen live, Mezzrow was the perfect room for Joanne Brackeen’s fluid, sparkling take on the piano. Lonnie Plaxico – whose electic, electric records for Blue Note in the late ’90s/early ’00s were huge for me – was the perfect duet partner, sticking to upright on classics like “Autumn Leaves” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.” A perfect New York summer evening.

Daddy Long Legs, Rumba Cafe (07/11/2019) – My first time checking in with Daddy Long Legs live since a fantastic show where they backed R&B oddball T. Valentine at the Lakeside Lounge (RIP) and they’ve grown into one of the best bands working. Two guitars and drums attacking the sound made famous by the ’60s Stones with the fire of conquering generals.

The Mavericks, Rose Music Center

Los Lobos and The Mavericks, Rose Music Center, Huber Heights (07/20/2019) – Rose is the perfect venue of its size and Ohio is richer for having it. This double bill made in heaven found the Mavericks (augmented by accordion, percussion and a full horn section) celebrating their 30th anniversary and Los Lobos 35 years from their breakthrough How Will the Wolf Survive album. Two muscular, swinging party bands, unabashedly Latinx, and the perfect thing for a summer night.

Davila 666, The Summit (07/24/2019) – Davila 666 returned after years of solo projects and reminded me why they’re one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. Songs I hadn’t heard in almost a decade, in a language I don’t speak, proved their hooks are still burned into my brain, daring me to sing along and dance like a madman. This was the perfect thing for Anne’s birthday to fall at midnight.

Amanda Shires, The Basement (08/15/2019) – Shires’ own records and bandleading get better and better every time I’m lucky enough to see her. In a Basement almost too crowded, she brought me to tears with a Songs:Ohia cover and made me swoon and shake with her originals. One of the greats.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Rumba Cafe

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists with Control Top, Rumba Cafe (08/21/2019) – It had been too long since I saw Ted Leo, his Pharmacists’ current lineup was the best Clash-style rock I’ve ever seen, hints of The Jam and Nick Lowe, classic Thin Lizzy and The Kinks. A fireball of joy and pain and grooves. Philly’s Control Top blew me away with tight songs, thick bass lines, and sparking, grim guitars.

Central Ohio Discovery Ensemble with composers Jennifer Jolley, Linda Kernohan, Mark Lomax, Jennifer Bernard Merkowitz, Michael Rene Torres, Charlie Wilmoth; and poets Scott Woods, Barbara Fant, Jennifer Hambrick, Louise Robertson, Dionne Custer Edwards, and Jeremy Glazier: “The Big Score,” Columbus Performing Arts Center (09/08/2019) – This collaboration is exactly the kind of thing I want more from Columbus. I was talking with one of the performers and said Jack and Zoe Johnstone have filled an immeasurable gap in Columbus, the one genre we were largely missing was new chamber music. This mix of some of our most interesting composers with some of our finest poets was a homerun 85% of the time and was always swinging for the fences.

Midnight Hour, Strongwater

Midnight Hour, Strongwater (10/03/2019) – This cinematic, sultry collaboration between Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad was perfect. A crack band highlighting Green on Red’s Jack Waterston on guitar and vocalists Loren Oden, Angela Munoz, and Saudia Mills, this moved from silky soul to rippling jazz to grinding funk.

Angel bat Dawid and Tha Brothahood, Wexner Center for the Arts (10/10/2019) – Angel bat Dawid embodies the soulful fire music tradition of Chicago and rides it into space. Her ringing clarinet and vocals have an incantatory power that levitated me right out of my seat and her crack band switched between reeds, percussion, electronics, Art Ensemble of Chicago-style but completely modern and singing these praises for today. The set that gives me the most hope for the future of jazz and the future of music at the Wex.

Fantastic Four, PJ’s Lager House

The Fantastic Four, PJ’s Lager House, Detroit (11/29/2019) – A quintessential Detroit night, the contemporary lineup of an underrated soul combo who recorded for labels like Motown and Westbound churning through Northern Soul classics like “The Whole World is a Stage,” “I Love You Madly” and “I’ve Got to Have You” in a tiny rock club with a cooking five piece band behind them. Passing tradition on in the right hands.

Reverend Horton Heat with Dave Alvin, New Bomb Turks, and Voodoo Glow Skulls, Majestic Theatre, Detroit (11/30/2019) – I don’t think I’d seen the Reverend Horton Heat in 15 years – whenever that tour with Supersuckers and Split Lip Rayfield (RIP) was – though they were the band I saw most often for many years. Our friends and hometown heroes New Bomb Turks plus the promise of Dave Alvin sitting in with the Rev got us to Detroit for our anniversary and this so far exceeded expectations I can barely describe it. Voodoo Glow Skulls had a crazy-fun opening set that made me nostalgic. Turks burned through a furious set that showed they haven’t lost a step in all these years. And the Reverend, augmented with a great piano player and a great, swinging drummer formerly of Brave Combo, had everyone in the palm of his hand. Watching he and Dave Alvin trade solos on classic Blasters tunes like “Marie, Marie” and “Long White Cadillac” reminded me why I loved live music in the first place and why I love it still.

Reverend Horton Heat and Dave Alvin, Majestic Theatre

Favorite Festival Sets:

Anbessa Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art

Heron Oblivion, Melted, Bluestone (02/24/2019)
Rachel and Vilray, New York Guitar Festival presents Memphis Minnie: In Search of the Hoodoo Lady, Brookfield Place, NYC (05/31/2019)
Anbessa Orchestra, Summer Solstice Fundraiser, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland (06/22/2019)

Sheer Mag, Burger Boogaloo

Amyl and the Sniffers, Burger Boogaloo, Oakland (07/05/2019)
Sheer Mag, Burger Boogaloo, Oakland (07/05/2019)
The Scientists, Burger Boogaloo, Oakland (07/06/2019)

Sweet Knives, Gonerfest

VIVO String Quartet, “Black Angels,” VIVO Music Festival (08/30/2019)
Sweet Knives, Gonerfest, Memphis (09/26/2019)

Kelley Anderson, Gonerfest

The Oblivians with Quintron, Gonerfest, Memphis (09/27/2019)
Kelley Anderson, Gonerfest, Memphis (09/27/2019)

Hot February Weekend for Culture in Columbus

January is no longer a dead-zone for theatre in this town. The 800-lb gorilla of Hamilton is burning up the Ohio Theatre (and, by all accounts as I didn’t get invited to the press night, more than living up to the highest of expectations). If you didn’t get a ticket or you’ve already seen it, let me point you toward two other magical theatrical experiences I wrote up for CU, running for one more week. All images below from marketing materials, none were taken or any rights claimed by me.

Available Light’s Appropriate

On the strength of their two productions of his Obie Award-winning plays, An Octoroon and, now, Appropriate, Available Light has established themselves as one of the pre-eminent companies for the work of one of the foremost chroniclers of the American sickness, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

In my review of Appropriate, masterfully directed by David J. Glover, for Columbus Underground, I called it “an acidic, invigorating evening that will make you laugh, make you hate yourself for laughing, make you hate yourself for giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but acknowledge the horrible, beautiful nature of being human.” Almost two weeks later, it’s still haunting me; it hasn’t let me go yet. Showtimes and links to tickets at the bottom of the linked article.

Imagine Productions’ Into the Woods

On the lighter side, Imagine Productions not only tackled the Sondheim-Lapine modern classic Into the Woods, the troupe also danced with it, only breaking a sweat for effect. This Brandon Boring-directed production was pure, delightful enchantment without ever being saccharine.

They even fixed the persistent sound issues with the Columbus Performing Arts Center’s smaller room, with a supple chamber-orchestra led by Jonathan Collura and a strong cast who could all go off-mic without sacrificing any impact. I wrote about my impressions at Columbus Underground. Showtimes and links to tickets at the bottom of the linked article.

Jon Young, 10 Paces at No Place Gallery

I can’t imagine anyone reading this isn’t aware of the Wexner Center’s killer Winter lineup of exhibitions, John Waters: Indecent Exposure, Peter Hujar: Speed of Life, and Alicia McCarthy: No Straight Lines. On the off chance you’re living under that rock and this is the first you’ve heard about it, let me direct you to the Friday preview (Facebook event).

But in a similar counter-programming, a smaller and fascinating show opens at No Place Gallery, the current main spot for meaty, left-of-center exhibitions: 10 Paces by St. Louis-based artist Jon Young. Opening Saturday (Facebook event). His mixed-media pieces grapple with American myths, particularly the West, and I can’t wait to see them in person.

Devin Copfer, pictured at second violin, appears at Filament’s Let’s Roll Snake Eyes

On the musical tip, Gerard Cox’s listening room Filament consistently brings listening experiences not found anywhere else in Columbus (and found rarely even in larger cities). His small room dedicated to the plethora of flavors of improvised music connected to the Vanderelli room does what it does best this weekend, focusing on community and sound, with his Let’s Roll Snake Eyes mini-festival focusing on solo and duo performances. Cox’s wide net grabbed a range of gifted performers including the duo of Devin Copfer (who blew me away in Mark Lomax II’s 400: An Afrikan Epic last week) and Alex Burgoyne; guitarist LA Jenkins with bass virtuoso and institution Phil Maneri; and solo acts like Stephen Haluska, harpist from Cleveland; and many more. Facebook Event and Andrew Patton’s writeup in JazzColumbus.

Take advantage of the weather breaking and get out to see something. Maybe more than one thing.