Complexions Contemporary Ballet Is Moving to the Unexpected

Sharon Bradford

People don't usually associate ballet with the music of Prince and Stevie Wonder, but Complexions Contemporary Ballet isn't interested in replication. "We are not afraid to entertain," says Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder Desmond Richardson.

Hailing from New York City, Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by Richardson and Dwight Rhoden--two directors who both value multiculturalism as well as breaking artistic barriers. Their focus is to be continuously evolving, a group that changes with the culture and time. Their success in doing this has brought them such honors as the New York Times' Critics Choice Award.

Rhoden, the company's resident choreographer, has worked with The Joffery Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and The Dance Theater of Harlem.

"Dwight often begins his creative process with the music, which informs what he has to say...the current social climate also affects the work at times," says Richardson, former principal dancer with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, and Ballet Frankfurt. "I assist in the studio by workshopping movement before we teach it to the dancers," says Richardson, who also choreographs on occasion.

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Matthew Shipp Brings His Free Jazz to Houston, Sitting in With The Core Trio

Photo by Veronica Triplett, courtesy of The Core Trio
The Core Trio with Matthew Shipp

A lot of tinkerers want to fix Houston's jazz scene, but Matthew Shipp says there's no need to break out the toolkit for something that either isn't broken or requires a larger repair than all the city's musical handy men and women can muster.

"So many players come out of there to begin with. As far as national attention, obviously Robert Glasper and Jason Moran come to mind, and let's not forget the great Joe Sample. So, Houston is doing something right."

That's comforting to hear, particularly from someone with Shipp's jazz resume. A New Yorker and a leading figure in the current free jazz scene, Shipp isn't just turning a keen observational eye on the scene here, he'll be part of it, at least for a night, when he plays Ovations Saturday as a special guest of locals, The Core Trio.

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Houston author Rick Mitchell on Modern Jazz: "There's Too Much Good Music Out There!"

Categories: Books, Jazz

Photo by Pin Lim
Cassandra Wilson during the Da Camera's 2012/13 season at the Cullen Theater.

No matter how great you think your music room is, Rick Mitchell's is better. Way better.

The longtime local journo--who spent a decade as the jazz and pop writer for The Houston Chronicle and even longer as the Artistic Director for the Houston International Festival--settles into a comfy, well-used easy chair in the center of an area the size of a small apartment at his home.

The visages of Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Dizzy Gillespie, and - oddly - the boys from Hanson in their teen dream prime stare down at his stereo setup (featuring two 1972 huge Infinity speakers) and a full drum kit. Bookshelves groan with music tomes. And around him are shelves lined with thousands--maybe tens of thousands--of CDs, cassettes, and vinyl records, so many that they spill onto the floor, albeit in neat piles.

A good chunk of that music is jazz titles. Appropriate, since Mitchell is here to talk about his latest book, Jazz in the New Millennium: Live and Well (160 pp., Dharma Moon Press, $24.95/$9.99 e-book).

In it, he collects close to 60 profiles culled from his program notes and interviews of jazz musicians who have all performed at Da Camera of Houston's jazz series since 2000.

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The Girl From Ipanema - Still Turning (Jazz) Heads at 50

Categories: Jazz

David Drew Zingg/UME
Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, and Joao Gilberto at A&R Recording Studio, March 1963, during the recording of "Getz/Gilberto."

She may still be tall and tan and lovely, but the seductive figure strolling on the beach in "The Girl from Ipanema" is no longer young. In fact, she turns 50 this year. Or at least her recorded incarnation on Getz/Gilberto.

The hugely influential and groundbreaking record was perhaps the most successful melding of American jazz (with saxophonist Stan Getz) and the Brazilian samba and bossa nova sounds of South America (via singer/guitarist Joao Gilberto and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim). The band was rounded out by bassist Sebastiao Neto and drummer Milton Banana.

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New Miles Davis Live Box Set Captures the Dawn of Jazz Rock Fusion

Categories: Jazz

Amalie R. Rothschild/Columbia Legacy
Miles Davis grooves at the Fillmore East in the summer of 1970.

By the late 1960's, Miles Davis already knew that he was a legend of jazz, a sonic innovator, and one of the genre's most popular and challenging performers hands down.

But damn, what he really, really wanted to be was a rock and roll star. He saw all those white teens and young adults lining up to spend their money on tickets and records by those long-haired ofays who clanged guitars at ear-splitting volumes. What did they know about artistry, melody, and mood-shifting?

Miles Davis wanted that kind of commercial success, for himself, and for his music. Influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and James Brown, he felt was time to plug in, flip the switch, and spearhead the fusion of jazz and rock.

That phase of his live career is chronicled in the somewhat unwieldy-titled Miles at the Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 (Columbia/Legacy), in which the vaults have spewed forth the complete live sets from Davis and his band's June 17-20 stint at the Fillmore East.

A few bonus tracks include tunes from his April 11 gig that year at the same venue including a frenetic "Paraphernalia" and "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down."

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Helen Sung Headed Back to Houston to Sing at Cezanne Jazz Club This Weekend

Categories: Jazz

Classically trained Houstonian Helen Sung, who's on her way back to Houston to sing at Cezanne Jazz this weekend, was bitten by the jazz bug early on in her musical career - an event that dramatically changed her vision on music.

"I thought I wanted to be a concert pianist and was finishing my undergraduate degree in classical piano performance at the University of Texas at Austin when a friend invited me to a Harry Connick, Jr. concert," she explained via e-mail.

"He was appearing in Austin with his big band, which was entertaining, but in the middle of the concert he sat down and played some solo piano pieces. I remember wanting to jump out of my skin - here was a guy playing the piano in a way I had been taught all my life not to do, playing music that was so alive, so vivid and thrilling - it was a visceral experience. After that, I immediately enrolled in an Intro to Jazz Piano class with some friends, and then it was no looking back: I listened to whatever I could get my hands on, read whatever books I could find, begged the UT jazz piano professor for lessons, enrolled in jazz courses...I really wanted to understand everything about jazz and be a part of it."

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New Standards: My Houston Must-See Jazz Acts

Categories: Jazz, Music

Photo by Sergio Santos, courtesy of The Victor
The Victor
The first jazz band I ever heard live was Robert "Doc" Morgan's small jazz ensemble at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. I was a sophomore at HSPVA and a friend invited me to a show at the old Holman campus.

We had some jazz records at home - John Klemmer's Touch and The Crusaders' Those Southern Knights come to mind - but I'd never sat in an audience and witnessed the music unfold before me. It was a revelation.

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Jazz Masters of Houston: Hubert Laws

Above: Hubert Laws exhibiting his incredible facility at classical music with a jazz touch

While Houston is loaded with talented musicians, flautist Hubert Laws is probably the only one who performs annually at Carnegie Hall. A child prodigy born into a family of musicians in the Studewood area, Laws has gone on to be considered, along with Herbie Mann, the modern master of the instrument.

Courtesy of the Defender
The young Crusaders in Los Angeles circa 1959.
After proving his knack for flute at 13 when he filled the flute chair in the high school orchestra, Laws was already well on his way in his performing career when, in 1960 at age 20, he came to a crucial fork in his road. Laws' decision: Whether to continue playing jazz with the up-and-coming -- and eventually historic -- Jazz Crusaders or to attend Juilliard.

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Top Five Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: A Look at the Texas Landscape, Mr. Barbecue comes to Town, Peter Pan Soars Again and More

The Source of the Brazos by WIlliam Young
We'd expect to find images of cactus, rugged landscapes and ranch hands in an art exhibit called "The Texas Aesthetic VI: Lone Star Heritage in Contemporary Texas Painting," our pick for Friday. Currently on display at Williams Reaves Fine Art gallery, "Texas Aesthetic" has plenty of those. It also has a few surprises. There's William Montgomery's No Place to Hide II (Surveillance Blimp), showing a silver blimp floating above a river that winds through craggy mountains and vast barren desert. Except for the hovering blimp, it's a scene that could have been painted 100 years ago. With the surveillance craft in place, Montgomery pulls it firmly into the present. There's also William Young surrealist piece The Source of the Brazos, which shows three birds sitting on a tree branch floating in the air. A teapot hangs from the unanchored branch, pouring water out on to the red dirt below which forms a stream that becomes the Brazos River. Some 16 regional artists participate in "Texas Aesthetic," the gallery's sixth annual exhibit focusing on contemporary artists.

Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, by appointment Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Through July 13. 2313 Brun St. For information, call 713-521-7500 or visit the gallery's website. Free.

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Top Five Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Dance Salad 2013, the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, Misha Penton: Selkie, a sea tale, Dave Attell and Anime Matsuri

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In Transit by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's curated version of In Transit by the Compañía Nacional de Danza/National Ballet of Spain is just one of a slew of premieres seen at Dance Salad Festival 2013, which runs Friday and Saturday. The piece was inspired by Ochoa's frequent stops in airports. Ochoa has a second piece on the program, L'Effleure, a solo she created for dancer Rubi Pronk, who performs it here. Pronk also appears in Kurt Weill by Krzysztof Pastor, artistic director of the Polish National Ballet. (The group is back in the United States for the first time since 1980.) Mauro Astolfi's Dangerous Liaisons is performed by Rome-based Spellbound Contemporary Ballet.

Nancy Henderek, the festival's artistic director, travels around the globe in search of new and exciting work to bring to the event every year. One of her most notable finds this year was an evening-length work called PUZ/ZLE by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. After seeing it per-formed in a rock quarry in France, Henderek worked with the choreographer to bring a section of it to Dance Festival. "This is the first time that PUZ/ZLE has been to the United States in any form and we're getting a [version] that hasn't been seen anywhere else in the world. That's very exciting, to be able to work with this world-renowned choreographer on something special just for us," Henderek says. Musicians from Lebanon, Japan and Poland provide live musical accompaniment for PUZ/ZLE. "They're even going to create some new music for Houston."

See Dance Salad Festival 2013 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit the Dance Salad Festival website or call 877-772-5425. $20 to $50.

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