Paul Simon, Royal Albert Hall, London — evaluation

There were properly over 30 kinds of musical instrument on stage, from such humble staples as the tambourine to much more uncommon contraptions, at least to western ears, such as the single-stringed gopichand that Paul Simon was offered in India. Its twanging sound led him to dub it “the twanger”. “I have a way with words,” he told the Royal Albert Hall drily. His a variety of drummers resisted the urge to punctuate the remark with a “ba-dum ching”.

The show was the second of Simon’s two dates at the venue in support of his new album Stranger to Stranger, which finds the singer-songwriter, 75, in formidable form. Typically at gigs when a rock veteran unveils their most current material, punters locate an urgent excuse to go to the bar. Here it was a minor disappointment that only three new tracks have been played.

“The Werewolf” featured the gopichand and an infectious handclap beat in a tale of gothic US anxiousness, sung with reassuring wit by Simon, a genuine demonstration of his way with words. “Wristband” featured elastic bass-playing and deft vocals. “Stranger to Stranger” was a hazy shimmer of music with tenderly sung lyrics about the work necessary to preserve going: “It’s just tough operating/The exact same piece of clay/Day after day/Year following year.”

Simon’s present as a songwriter is the capability to make the challenging sound straightforward. The demonstration of this ability, aided by a crack band of nine, produced up for the modest distribution of new songs.

There was a profusion of notes and rhythms, a world of music arranged into supple melodies. Musicians moved between the scores of instruments, wielding gourds and cowbells, swapping piano or electric guitar for sax or trumpet. For the samba-influenced “The Clear Child” there were five drummers.

The trail led from Louisiana zydeco (“That Was Your Mother”) to the Amazon (“Spirit Voices”) and southern Africa (“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”). Simon &amp Garfunkel classics such as “The Boxer” sounded significantly less winsome, invigorated by the variety of musicianship. Simon rationed the high notes but otherwise his voice seemed to have hardly aged, a gentle lilt, nonetheless a token of optimism.

He devoted the 1960s satire of “Mrs Robinson” to the US election, which took spot the evening of the show, but otherwise forbore from political comment. His music inhabits a diverse space, a harmonious republic of sonorities. “Words and melodies, effortless harmony, old-time treatments,” he sang in “Stranger to Stranger”. For two and a half hours, in the hands of an old master, that remedy worked its magic.

Section: Arts

Dead Funny, Vaudeville Theatre, London — evaluation

From left, Steve Pemberton, Emily Berrington and Rufus Jones in ‘Dead Funny’ © Alastair Muir

I have identified for some years that Terry Johnson is a talented director, particularly of dark and clever comedies. Even so, I had never ever just before realised very how precise and gifted he is. In his revival of Dead Funny he can, and frequently does, turn the course of events or the mood of a scene correct around, pivoting on the merest inflection or the most fleeting pause.

It assists, of course, that he knows the play in such detail. Right after all, he wrote it, in 1994, and set it a couple of years earlier in the handful of days when comedians Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd both died. Fan group the Dead Funny Society hold a memorial party for Hill, only to find that the derisory turnout of 5 consists of two couples whose marriages are tested to the extremely point of destruction and a middle-aged man whose coming-out declaration in the midst of almost everything else seems utterly insignificant. The play enjoyed huge good results at the time but has been neglected as regards revivals. In Johnson’s own production, although, it stands revealed as each bit as enjoyable-however-discomfiting as the most mordant mid-period Alan Ayckbourn operate.

He also has a doozy of a cast. Katherine Parkinson is one of Britain’s finest purveyors of deadpan sarcasm. As the comedy dissident Ellie, she drips corrosive, frustrated dissatisfaction from every pore, and the one formal joke she tells is in such negative taste yet so completely delivered that we blush for shame even as we hoot. Rufus Jones as her husband, who requires Norman Wisdom more seriously than his marriage, is nearly as accomplished as Parkinson, despite the fact that his long suit is a sort of banal bombast. Ralf Little’s speciality is being amiably half a step behind, and Emily Berrington merely demands to take herself a small too seriously as the evening disintegrates around her, culminating in an practically totally unforced food fight total with classic custard-pie routines. Steve Pemberton is something but a fifth wheel, starting in major-crucial camp then steadily delving deeper as the tension mounts.

Johnson orchestrates matters into an evening of exquisitely agonising, embarrassing beauty. Thank heaven such a playwright and such a director found every single other, conveniently in the very same physique.

To February four,

Section: Arts

Agnes Martin, Guggenheim Museum, New York — evaluation

Agnes Martin at work in 1960 © Alexander Liberman Photography Archive/J. Paul Getty Trust

Sooner or later we all require to shut down or run away for a little while. Our frenzied, image-strobed, media-glutted existence demands the occasional dose of voluntary boredom. But the Guggenheim’s Agnes Martin retrospective suggests that escape can grow to be another type of imprisonment. Entering the exhibition feels like stepping out of the globe and into a sensory deprivation chamber. Outdoors, wisps of music and children’s tumult ricochet off the sun-speckled trees of Central Park. Inside, all is sepulchral silence. Chaste canvases advance a single right after the other along the spiral ramp, a parade of parallel lines, appropriate angles and shades of not-quite-white. Martin utilised this ruthlessly decreased simplicity to uncover freedom from life’s hoarse thrum. Whether or not you will also depends on what you are fleeing.

Agnes Martin’s ‘Buds’ (c1959) © Titze Collection

Over a career that spanned most of the 20th century, Martin spurned events, figures, trends and noise, retreating as an alternative to a repertoire of whitewashed mesh. She employed paint sparingly, was stingy with colour, and plotted out her surfaces with a ruler and pencil. The outcome was an utterly distinctive vision, a dance of horizontals and verticals that leaps from canvas to canvas, conjuring a flat, open kingdom. With their almost puritanical classicism, her paintings hold stasis and movement in ideal tension. They “have neither object nor space nor line nor anything”, she stated. “They are about light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness.”

Martin was born in 1912 in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, where the land is parcelled into fields and the horizon crosshatched by fence posts, wheat stalks and grain silos. But if the geometry of the plains embedded itself in her psyche at an early age, it merged with an urban matrix when she lived in New York, first as a student in the early 1940s, then from 1957-67. “I want people, when they look at my paintings, to have the same feelings they knowledge when they look at landscape,” she mentioned.

And yet to my eye, she is at one particular with the modern metropolis. Following a handful of hours’ immersion, I started to detect her spirit in the monochrome regularity of ventilation grilles, tiled subway stations, receding stairs, storefront shutters, and so on. She seemed to have brought forth a whole cityscape of shimmering grids.

I’m not generally sympathetic to Martin’s anaemic rigour, but in her 1961 series “The Islands” I glimpsed the elusive sublime that her devotees see in all her perform. Frail pencil lines divide up the 6ft-by-6ft canvas into a barely detectable lattice. Inside each box is a feather-light hint of colour: ochre, yellow, or eggshell. Such subtlety doesn’t show up in reproduction, but in the gallery the nine paintings glow like sunshine on sand.

In New York, Martin discovered some kinship with the Minimalists, but as curators Tiffany Bell and Frances Morris point out, she was not really a single of their quantity. The distinction lies in the good quality of her straight lines, which in “The Islands” and other operates flicker in and out of visibility. Sol Lewitt, one particular of her numerous admirers, drew (or instructed other folks to draw) steady, unbroken pencil lines that approached mechanical perfection. Martin, on the other hand, let them thicken, then disappear, then fade back into tenuous becoming. Get close adequate, and the extremely substance of her work threatens to vanish. This is the opposite of Minimalism, with its implacable shininess and assertive geometries.

In a text panel, the curators intimate that the handmade good quality of her lines and the emotive washes of paint nudged her back towards Abstract Expressionism. If so, she got only partway there. Her emotiveness is private, with none of the strutting drama of her male cohort. Barnett Newman’s “zips” aspired to a heroic presence they dared viewers to look away. Martin’s performs, on the other hand, flirt with non-existence. They appear as evanescent as a dying man’s breath on a handheld mirror.

In 1967, Martin herself vanished, or at least left New York City, which in the art planet at that time amounted to the identical factor. She spent 18 months cruising around in her pick-up truck, and wound up in New Mexico, where she constructed her personal log-and-adobe homestead by hand. She gave an assortment of reasons for dropping out of sight: the building exactly where she and a group of fellow artists lived on Coenties Slip was slated for demolition her pal Ad Reinhardt’s death had left her bereft she wanted an escape from her expanding fame. But as the text panels glancingly mention, Martin also suffered from schizophrenia.

‘Little Sister’ (1962) © Guggenheim Museum

You would in no way know from her rhetoric of beatitude that something was amiss. “When I very first created the grid I happened to be considering of the innocence of trees,” she remarked. “And this grid came into my thoughts and I believed it represented innocence, and I nevertheless do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied.” That focused blitheness carries more than into some of her titles, such as “Happy Holiday” and “I Love the Whole World”. She defiantly called her collection of writings The Untroubled Mind.

And yet even so tough she worked to banish demons from her consciousness, they infiltrated her hypnotically obsessive function. Martin waited patiently for inspiration, and when it came, she got out her ruler. Rather of trying to herd her into either the Minimalist or Abstract Expressionist camps, perhaps we should consider of her as an outsider artist, a loner who went off the, um, grid. When she returned to painting in 1973, she confined herself largely to horizontal lines.

If Martin remains a timely giant, it’s partly simply because her reticence gives an alternative, if not an antidote, to the world’s gaudiness and clamour. For her most adoring fans, the Guggenheim’s cornucopia of nearly-nothingness will be precisely the tonic they need to have. But I chafe at the clinical serenity, the aura of smug renunciation. Martin’s paintings do not always irritate me so: singly and in little groups, they give cool relief from far more raucous art. Here, they mass collectively in a whispering choir, imposing their intrusive intimacy.

To January 11,

Section: Arts

Film evaluation — American Honey: ‘Ridiculously exciting’

Watching American Honey, you really feel like a ball hurtling down a bowling alley. Americana — its tropes and kinds — supplies the skittles. The ball is the bus we’re in, bearing a “mag crew” across the land, young door-to-door hustlers selling magazine subscriptions. (Several of them are dropouts, dopeheads or minor delinquents grabbing a passing avocation.) And the bowler is British filmmaker Andrea Arnold.

Arnold comes to America soon after 3 films that explored a more native and individual kind of picaresque, the byways of English passion even though even those movies — Red Road, Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights — had a flair and impetus beyond the norms of Cinema Blighty.

Her new film is ridiculously fascinating. The subject might sound resistant to funkiness. “They live tough, adore hard, rock tough, they’re — ” subscription sellers? But the film grows into an epic in the Altman mode: a 163-minute celebration of the heightened ordinary, a dressed-down yet hopped-up Nashville, baring the lives and dreams of its characters as they bump or bang up against the each day. Music is omnipresent. It sets moods or counterpoints them. It blares exuberantly from city-escaped ghetto blasters as the kids improvise dances by the roadside. It sketches sadness, frustrations and the music of misfits.

‘American Honey’

The new girl on the crew, a mixed-race teen with a troubled life who parks the half-siblings in her care with their mum to take this adventure with a breadwinning band, is wonderfully played by first-time actress Sasha Lane. She is shown the ropes by Shia LaBeouf’s handsome, promiscuous hellion, a bearded, tattooed mini-hunk. Falling for her blend of feistiness and innocence, he shows her much more than the ropes. The whole film shows us far more.

It shows us a middle America in barely dormant ferment and discontent, instinct with the social-psychological volatility that will finish up conjuring a Donald Trump presidential campaign. It shows us capitalism on the hoof, in funny, sardonic scenes of doorstep huckstering. And it shows the stream of every day life, youthful life, in a way couple of other films have. The square-framed images, busy and handheld, are like sumptuously textured house movies. They are the work of Robbie Ryan, correct now the greatest cinematographer in the indie cinema globe. And the dialogue, cataracting its vim and vernacular, is by Arnold in — we’re guessing — element-collaboration with her varied and brilliantly gifted cast.

Section: Arts

Carole King, Hyde Park, London — evaluation

Carole King on stage in Hyde Park, London. Photo: Dave Hogan/Getty©Dave Hogan/Getty

Carole King on stage in Hyde Park, London. Photo: Dave Hogan/Getty

Carole King’s 1971 album Tapestry encapsulated what Joan Didion named “the morning soon after the Sixties”. It is such a behemoth that help artist Don Henley singing “Life in the Fast Lane”, an unexpected Tears For Fears cover, and “Hotel California” was a mere warm-up. “You can verify out any time you like,” Henley sang, like an ominous warning from Brussels, “but you can never leave.”

This British Summer time Time festival appearance was the initial time King had performed the album in concert in its entirety. As an overture, her band vamped via its melodies even though video messages from Tom Hanks, Elton John and two-thirds of Crosby Stills and Nash attested to its value. Then King strolled on, sat at the piano and hammered the opening riff of “I Feel the Earth Move”, and a sun-dappled Hyde Park felt like Laurel Canyon. Barrelhouse chords, Hammond organ skirl, breathy syncopated hesitations in the chorus: King ended the song bouncing up and down on the piano stool, hair flying.

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Tapestry is so loaded with memorable songs that it sounds like a greatest hits album. Right away following “I Feel the Earth Move” had been “So Far Away”, which King committed to James Taylor, and then “It’s As well Late”, with Toni Stern’s peerless opening line “Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time”, King playing sprays of jazzy blue notes with her appropriate hand. There is arguably a slight longueur in the middle of side 1, but a bouncy “Beautiful” contained the DNA of Elton John’s entire profession in a single bar.

By now King’s piano was blazing orange with the reflected light of the sun sinking over Lancaster Gate. “Way Over Yonder” played with gospel tropes, as the organ churned like magma. After the crucial alter in the last verse, the audience involuntarily twitched to turn the record more than — and indeed a giant video screen showed just that taking place. The audience sang along with “You’ve Got a Friend”: the crowd strained for the high note King herself was impeccable.

Subsequent was “Where You Lead”: King had dropped it from reside efficiency on feminist grounds, but now reinstated it in her reworked version for Gilmore Girls, joined by her daughter Louise Goffin, an amiably punchy singer. “Will You Really like Me Tomorrow?” has not aged nicely, but King sang it sweetly. She then revealed a sequinned leading as she strapped on an electric guitar for “Smackwater Jack”, right here a honky-tonk thrash with a 4-guitar frontline led by the veteran Danny Kortchmar. “This,” shouted King with the understandable pride of a lady who made her first recording in 1958, “is what 74 appears like.”

“(You Make Me Really feel Like) A Natural Woman” started with footage of the 1971 King nervously introducing the song and playing the very first verse: the real one joined in on the chorus and then took more than the rest of the song although her younger self blurred, but then the video sang the last line and acknowledged the applause, the older woman momentarily overcome.

Tapestry was, of course, the second act in King’s life, and the concert played out with reminders of the extent of her songbook. There had been Brill Constructing-era songs she co-wrote with her then husband, Gerry Goffin: snatches of “I’m Into One thing Good”, “It Might as Properly Rain Till September”, a hip-grinding “Loco-Motion” and a thunderous “Chains”, channelling the version by The Beatles. On her personal “Jazzman” her glissandi ricocheted off a free of charge-jazz saxophone solo “Up On the Roof” created the most of a summer time evening, and a final reworking of “You’ve Got a Friend” integrated the line “I enjoy you, England”, at a time when England demands all the close friends it can get.

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Section: Arts

Cannes Film Festival evaluation

Adriana Ugarte stars in Pedro Almodóvar’s dazzling ‘Julieta’

What a Cannes Film Festival. It has been an unruly jungle. Unruly and luxuriant. The movies have climbed over each and every other in excellence, every single new a single transcending the last as it reaches towards that gilded guerdon, that light-giving cynosure of legendary tree-forms, the Palme d’Or.

Am I overdoing it? Not truly. Considering that mid-festival, this 69th medley on the Med has got much better and much better. A very good Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper, gave way to a much better Jim Jarmusch, Paterson. A dazzling Pedro Almodóvar, Julieta, yielded ground — in well-known éclat — to an out-of-nowhere Brazilian film, Aquarius, whose screening ended with an ovation soon after beginning with a demo.

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The director and actors, possessing scaled the Palais methods, held out paper indicators every single blazing a slogan. “Coup d’état in Brazil”, “Brazil is no longer a democracy” . . . Flashbulbs blazed. Festival chief Thierry Frémaux bustled un­happily, his keep-politics-off-the-red-carpet policy clearly in peril. The stunt was repeated inside the auditorium. Far more unhappy Frémaux. Meanwhile the audience loved it — controversy! — even if some didn’t fairly know who the polemicists had been supporting or attacking. Anti-Rousseff? Pro-Rousseff?

No a single soon cared. Brazil is a paid-up political disaster zone appropriate now, what ever side you are on, and Aquarius, written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho — not a household name, till now — pays mischievous homage to the cancerous growth of social despair and demoralisation.

It’s all about corruption, decay (moral and material) and the final excellent people standing. Veteran star Sônia Braga plays the proud widow refusing to sell her house, the final apartment in an ocean-view block becoming gobbled up for demolition. Her household begs her to decamp. The developers make threats. Noisy parties, verging on orgies, are staged above her ceiling. Then — last act — there’s a lulu (no Brazilian leadership puns intended) of a spend-off, a single of these curtain moments that get audiences
rising to their feet in exulting glee.

It’s very a festival for Latin cinema. Q: Who is the most talented living film-maker by no means to have won the Palme d’Or? A: Pedro Almodóvar. The Spaniard started his profession as a post-Franco prodigy of libertine baroque — camp, cheeky and hyperbolic (Females on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) — and has given that morphed into the most subtly achieved, voluptuously nuanced stylist in Europe, possibly the planet.

Alice Munro’s quick stories, like Almodóvar’s films, limn an daily world of enigmatic motivations, buried passions and transforming epiphanies. Julieta threads three Munro tales collectively close to-invisibly. You can not see the joins in the narrative about a lady (played at various ages by three diverse actresses) hankering for the daughter who has cut off all communication. Julieta’s journey across years is sketched in chapters at as soon as bold, vivid and wonderfully subtle. A fateful train trip a adore affair a family members residence rocked by a sea that is each cradle and grave that doted-on daughter whose sudden apartness comes like a silent bomb.

Individual moments are incandescent, mysterious or headlong with portent. On the red kitchen wall behind a quarrel scene, the huge white clock hands resemble crossed swords. A enjoy scene on a moving train is reflected in a night window so that the coupling’s blurred, febrile grace rhymes visually with the image, still fresh in our minds’ eyes, of a stag bounding magically however ominously via the train-side snow. Almost everything connects every little thing casts a spell. Close to the end the director cranes the camera above a lake-and-mountain landscape, at when to hold its majestic, indifferent beauty and to withhold a dénouement which — he is surely right to feel — have to be left, for its full energy, to be intuited and imagined by us.

Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas’s ‘Personal Shopper’

Individual Shopper is not in Almodóvar’s league, but it’s way above the league of the idiots — a dozen or so — who booed it. Possibly they were Twilight haters. Star Kristen Stewart has a part exploiting her nervy, sleepless eyes and murmurous lilt of voice. This is a ghost story: sort of. Her character is beguiled towards fulfilment or fatality by an unknown texter, probably her dead brother. Is he — let’s hazard a delirium of decoding — her “personal shopper”, a proxy agent of her desires and dreams, just as her own job, or one of them, is to be retail handmaiden to a celebrity French diva?

Perhaps the booers couldn’t stand being teased. This Assayas is the one who first blooded Stewart as his muse in Clouds of Sils Maria . In his new period as a picture-maker he peers tauntingly, at occasions bewitchingly, into the crack in between this world and the subsequent.

The ideal films of Jim Jarmusch look to doze their way into your soul. He’s a Zen charmer. Just when you think his stories are asleep — like Paterson’s slow-pulse tale of a poetry-writing bus driver (Adam Driver) whose verses are for no a single but him, his wife and his earthly sense of soul and self — you realise they’ve crept inside you and curled up for life.

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in ‘Paterson’

Somehow he makes prosaic Paterson, New Jersey, seem a location for poetry and revelation. (It was property to Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams.) Somehow also he makes a dog, a mastiff named Marvin, the most memorable deus ex machina in Cannes. He’s currently favourite for the 2016 Palm Dog, annual gong for screen canines.

There have, alas, been other kinds of dog at Cannes. Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is all style and no substance, throwing its chiaroscuro and camera arabesques at a clunky Korean­isation of Sarah Waters’s gothic thriller Fingersmith. Loving, from Jeff Nichols (Mud, Midnight Special ), is a pie-eyed plodder primarily based on a accurate story: that of the Virginia couple whose mixed marriage challenged miscegenation laws in the Kennedy 1960s.

Much better news on the fringe. The funny and enchanting Swiss model-animation film Ma Vie de Courgette, a debut function from Claude Barras, is about the angst and antics of an orphanage boy. It was a hit in the Directors’ Fortnight, which also showed the very first ever film from an Afghan lady director, Wolf and Sheep. Depicting life in and about a remote mountain village, it rates nine for ethnographic appeal, five for dramatic interest. But hooray for the reality of a 20-year-old woman — her age when she started the project — throwing off patriarchal constraints to make a feature film and bring it to Cannes.

With two days left, the Cannes competition powers on. Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, stage-derived yet defiantly cinematic, focuses an expressionistic gaze on a torrid family reunion, starrily played by Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Gaspard Ulliel. Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce it is like a Gallic Extended Day’s Journey Into Evening.

Cristian Mungiu’s Baccalauréat is the third of this Romanian’s quietly coruscating moral tales to bow at Cannes. The final was Beyond the Hills — passions and a Passion in a convent — and before that the Palme d’Or-winning Four Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days. Now it’s the troubling, powerful tale of a tiny-town family venturing into petty corruption when anything must be done, some dodgy favours must be referred to as in, when an eve-of-exam daughter is disadvantaged, to put it mildly, by an attempted rape the day just before.

We reside in a globe where assaults on freedom are multiform and multitudinous where those on individuals are as pernicious as these on groups or nations and exactly where — thank providence for the Cannes Film Festival — the searchlights of art and cinema can shine an insistent, indefatigable light on liberty’s abuses and liberty’s value.

Ends May 22,

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Section: Arts

Everyone Wants Some!! — film evaluation: ‘Winning charm’

'Everybody Wants Some!!'

‘Everybody Desires Some!!’

The exclamation marks are a double jab in the ribs. But if you can bear the assaultive title — borrowed from a Van Halen song (a buddy tells me) — you can bear, even relish, the rest of Richard Linklater’s Everybody Desires Some!!. The maker of Boyhood naturally wanted to make Boyhood’s obverse. For an epic elegy about increasing up, study a hell-raising haiku about not developing up. In fact it is a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, Linklater’s earlier canonic youth comedy.

The charm is winning. It is that of a social-anthropological Luddism — wry, heroic and cheeky. The 1980-set story tells us, with a broad grin of evangelising nostalgia, that male energies have barely advanced in sophistication considering that 1980BC (go over, or not) and that sports males, specially, see college/university as a way to devise their own education. Beer, girls, parties much more beer, girls, parties. Quickly-track badinage. Plus games and pranks of outwitting, to prepare for the greater game of outwitting known as adulthood.

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The cast is terrific and the script has a framing vision of a moment in time. The half-dozen central jocks — baseball “scholars” tasting the turn of a decade — are led by Blake Jenner’s bemused hunk of a freshman, beautifully played, an Isherwood-in-Berlin in Texas, and Glen Powell’s mischievous, seen-it-all senior, his fledgling moustache like antennae to a new zeitgeist.

The hippy age is about to turn into the yuppie age. These guys are Horatios on the bridge of modify, producing certain human continuity, and youthful he-man continuity, holds fast as lengthy as it can. For somebody humming significantly the identical tune from film to film, Linklater has an amazing versatility. The romantic wistfulness of the “Before” trilogy the funky animation of Waking Life College of Rock’s higher-fiving populism Boyhood and in Dazed and this film, an irresistibly peppy vision of the previous as playground for the growing soul.

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Section: Arts

Cheltenham Jazz Festival — evaluation

Christian Scott at the Chelteham Jazz Festival. Photo: Spencer McPherson©Spencer McPherson

Christian Scott at the Chelteham Jazz Festival. Photo: Spencer McPherson

“This one’s going out for Donald Trump,” vocalist José James announced midway by means of his Saturday lunchtime set. Three verses of sharply worded rhyming followed the opening line “No a lot more political monsters” then came syllable-crunching wordplay on “We’re living in a po-lice-state”, and oblique, beautifully sung references to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, swirling out of a mist of vocalese and jazz assistance.

James is a major figure amongst the growing quantity of musicians who blend hip-hop, classic black music and jazz extemporisation into a potent modern aesthetic. Musically, if not politically, he established the central theme of a festival whose primary jazz strand was dominated by the rhythms and textures of urban America.

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Earlier in the set, James had delivered a Bill Withers medley that riffed on “Who Is He (And What Is He to You)?” and morphed “Grandma’s Hands” into “Ain’t No Sunshine”. In a outstanding overall performance, he simulated the scratches of a hip-hop DJ, pulled words apart and worked up a sweat with bass guitarist Solomon Dorsey.

But for the most part, the American presented original material. Some songs, such as the ballad “Let it Fall” and the hook-driven “Trouble”, were delivered straight. Mainly, though, James and his band deconstructed black American music with the flow of improvised jazz, switching simply from classic soul to the bleak textures and precise beats of hip-hop. The encore featured Takesho Obayashi’s gospel-infused keyboards and was devoted to Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. As it twisted and turned, James and his excellent trio conjured a lot of their spirit.

Later, US saxophonist Marcus Strickland and his band Twi-Life presented a set based on their recent CD Nihil Novi . Strickland is a powerful musical presence with a centred tone thickened by hints of electronica and an articulation as sharp as a snare-drum crack. The band opened with a pre-recorded monologue which had as its theme the artist as truth-teller and was supported by a piano figure that captured the bittersweet feel of a Dr Dre production.

Strickland stuck mostly to tenor sax and delivered his compositions in clumps of three. Clear-cut melodies acted as indicators, textures changed, and bursts of concentrated power raised the temperature of an currently heated functionality. There had been individual dedications — “Mingus”, a warm individual tribute to the late bassist the ballad “Truth”, name-checked for Prince — and three compositions featured solid R&ampB by guest vocalist Jean Baylor.

With the rhythm section as assured as the leader, this was a classic combo performance, albeit with a thoroughly modern vibe. Bassist Karl Miles was outstanding in the holding function, combining rhythmic drive with melodic flair.

1 of the quirks of this year’s festival was the pop-up performances of Alex Hawkins’s “Enviroment Music”, scored for trumpets and strings. Scattered throughout the various auditoria, the musicians involved would preface the principal acts with their ethereal drones and chirrups. Somewhat strange when encountered ahead of Jazz Jamaica’s orchestral tribute to Bob Marley, they reappeared as the calm before the storm before Tim Berne’s visceral Saturday night set in the intimate Parabola Theatre.

Brooklyn-primarily based alto saxophonist Berne has a relaxed, wisecracking stage persona that is somewhat at odds with the orchestrated higher-power abstractions of his music. This set presented four of his convoluted themes played in unison by Berne and clarinettist Oscar Noriega.

The opener, “Surface Noise”, was introduced by a smash of Ches Smith’s cymbals it was followed by “Spare Parts”, “Third Operation” and “The Imperfect Ten”, set up respectively by a slow rumble of piano, ululations of sax and clarinet, and a whisper of breath. In every single case, the band coalesced into a looped, Byzantine melody and progressed through a full spectrum of improv.

Impressively, Berne structured every single piece to stay away from repetition and developed a robust group sound that produced the most of his musicians’ talents. Smith is an outstanding percussionist/vibraphonist and new recruit Ryan Ferreira adds a variety of distortions and resonances on guitar. At one particular moment he would add crunch to the front line’s furious phonics, at yet another the resonant echo of a 1950s film noir soundtrack. Berne calls his band Snake Oil — a significant case of underselling.

Sunday opened with a tribute to the late British pianist John Taylor, who celebrated his 70th birthday at the festival final year, and had been due to play this year with the trio Meadow. Right here, the remaining two members — airy-toned saxophonist Tore Brunborg and supple percussionist Thomas Strønen — presented new music with guest bassist Anders Jormin. Together they delivered the folk-derived melodies, gentle rhythms and uncluttered structures of Nordic jazz in a moving and tranquil tribute.

It would be challenging to imagine a higher contrast with the polyrhythmic thrust of Christian Scott. The New Orleans-born trumpeter’s latest CD, Stretch Music , is laced with samples, sequencers and sparse funky beats. He reprised some of this material at his late afternoon set, but, he told us, this was a new band producing its debut, and some jazz classics would be thrown in. As a result Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane” and John Coltrane’s modal blues “Equinox” sat alongside characteristic Scott themes.

The contrast amongst the vintage numbers, with zip-and-ping drums driving strutting walking bass, and the newer ones, with their hip-hop inflected backbeats and bends, was plain to hear. But so also were the connections between jazz and the modern mainstream.

Scott adds technical edge to the plaintive melancholy of Miles Davis, and here identified the best foil with alto saxophonist Logan Richardson. It was a wonderful set from a band whose tight handle of light and shade belied its apparently impromptu nature.

The evening ended with an upbeat set from veteran saxophonist David Sanborn, an early mixer of urban rhythms and modern day jazz. Here he whizzed by means of back-catalogue favourites — “Mputo” and “Camel Island” stood out — and covered Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star” and D’Angelo’s “Spanish Joint”.

Politics surfaced once again right here, when Sanborn introduced his bittersweet, blues-laced instrumental “Common People”, with a passionate monologue bemoaning America’s self-serving political elite. “It’s the very same over right here,” I heard somebody whisper nearby. With an audience plainly on the same wavelength, good results was guaranteed.

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Section: Arts

Joy — film evaluation: ‘A wry swipe at American optimism’

Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell's 'Joy'

Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell’s ‘Joy’

Something is running around, difficult to catch, in David O. Russell’s Joy. At initial you want to trap it, or zap it, with one of the multi-function mops patented by the inventor heroine (Jennifer Lawrence). You realise, eventually, what it is. It’s the film’s mis­chievous subtext. It is the answer to the question, “Why are we watching this feelgood, even hokum-ish story, primarily based on true events, about a self-created lady who marketed a household tool?”

Russell is a mischief-maker. Three Kings was a war film as opposed to a war film, a lot more a black comedy in a fire-zone. Silver Linings Playbook was a feral fairy tale. Joy, like his last film American Hustle, is about the American dream. But with Russell the American dream is an antic, elusive issue, far more like the oneiric tatters that form a dream as you slip in or out of it.

Far more

Nigel Andrews

Joy’s first hour is loose, ludic, exhilarating. Right here, largely beneath one particular roof, is a working-class dynasty that is all proximity and no relating. Joy, primarily based on real mop inventor and later millionairess Joy Mangano, is a struggling blonde scatterbrain dreaming up hit-or-miss gizmos (wonderfully played by Lawrence). Mum (Virginia Madsen) lies on bed all day watching soap operas. Semi-estranged dad pops in and out, played by Robert De Niro in his twangy, vibrant-loser Woody Allen style. Add Joy’s husband, who wants to be the subsequent Tom Jones, and granny (Diane Ladd), who delivers the script’s best line. “You were born to be the unanxious presence in the space,” she tells Joy.

Even when the film sails close to accurate-story triteness, teledrama-style, the director as ironist is at function. As Joy goes ahead of the purchasing channel cameras, nervously wielding her mop below the lights although chirruping of single-weave cleaning heads detachable for machine-washing, I thought of a famous painting by Richard Hamilton — that pop-art paragon and paradigm of the 1950s — titled “Just what is it that makes today’s houses so different, so attractive?” Russell achieves the exact same blend of consumer cheesiness, collage exuberance and bizarre bliss-out. And when Bradley Cooper turns up playing the tycoon as dream hero, a suave comic-book hunk, you can add Roy Lichtenstein to Richard Hamilton.

Postmodern wryness is a risky style. It is via faith as considerably as cause, at times, that we credit Russell with intending a wry swipe at American optimism simultaneously with a loving handshake. You need two hands for that or 1 hand more quickly than light. In some scenes we sense that second wizardry. There is a corporation waiting area, huge, modernist and Valhalla-shadowed, that resembles an Ayn Rand dream or nightmare. As imagery it is each awesome and lunatic. And watch for Isabella Rossellini as De Niro’s new consort, a witchily glamorous business boss with a sly, unerring instinct for hindering the young although pretending to help. It’s this actress’s best, and spookiest, role considering that Blue Velvet.

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Section: Arts