THE SECRET MUSEUM
Jim Webb & Michael Mooney
January 05, 2009
Live review: Bruce Dunlap, Claudia Villela & Art Lande
The unpredictable recent weather in Santa Fe was a precursor to what occurred at GiG Performance Space on New Year's Eve. GiG is an intimate ninety-five-seat room on Second Street, with great sound and acoustics that put you nearly onstage with the musicians. This concert was arranged on short notice by guitarist and GiG director/ founder Bruce Dunlap.
The evening started off with two passionate pieces from flamenco guitarist Chuscales, a Santa Fe resident from Spain who has played with renowned dancer Maria Benitez, among others. Brazilian vocalist Claudia Villela then joined Bruce Dunlap for several songs that featured Villela's amazing voice. She has a fresh and seductive delivery that combines elements of traditional scat jazz singing a la Ella Fitzgerald with a tropical style all her own. Her unique phrasing will suddenly jump into percussive sounds that you'd swear was a drummer splashing brushes off the cymbals, or a trumpeter in full flight. Bruce Dunlap is the perfect foil to Claudia's leaps into the unknown; he’s a master improviser who feels at home in any uncharted territory. Pianist Art Lande brought his dazzling technique down from Boulder, Colorado, and joined Dunlap and Villela in an impromptu trio that made like they’d been playing together their entire lives.
The second set opened with Lande's vocalist wife Aubrey leading the way on an extended piece that went in all directions. This Theater of the Absurd excursion began with a long Ken Nordine hipster-style spoken word intro, and continued with Aubrey and Claudia leaving the loose framework behind. Flights of unpredictable fancy emerged. Chuscales returned next with friend Gigi on box percussion and vocals for a spirited three-song mini set. Art Lande then had the spotlight to himself on two solo piano pieces celebrating the life of a recently deceased friend. G's Leaving had an upbeat, jaunty style that reminded me a little of Thelonious Monk. The second composition Sonoma showcased his impeccable technique, and making obvious the reasons he’s recorded extensively for ECM. Next, Claudia sat down at the piano for several of her new tunes, joined by Art on melodica and Bruce on guitar- both reading charts they'd never seen before, yet sounding as if they’d written them. The improvisation continued until a waterfall of notes from Bruce gently brought the segment to an end. Lande then commenced the opening notes of Amazing Grace and, after four hours of music, the evening came to a close.
This isn't the first time I've gone to GiG and encountered extraordinary sounds, but on this night Lande, Villela and Dunlap collectively created magic. When a musician’s sole goal is the search for beauty, the results that occur frequently make witnessing live music so rewarding. This was one of those nights. The uniqueness of Art Lande, Claudia Villela and Bruce Dunlap springs from a seemingly bottomless well of music. This performance on New Year's Eve at GiG reminded me of a billowing cloud appearing in the blue New Mexico sky, changing shape as it lingers, then slowly dissolving as it drifts away. Bruce Dunlap and friends led us into 2009 with peace, joy, and positive vibrations. What more could anyone really ask for?
Moab Rocks: The Dwellers
Our friend Charlie Clayton gave me an untitled CDR by an obscure duo named The Dwellers. Impressive in a slowcore inspired, 4AD-ish way, with a dash of Bonnie Prince Billy, these guys sound like their environment: stark, languid, occasionally vivid and surreal. There are moments of great beauty here. This disc is probably several years old; more recent stuff is posted on their myspace page:
I suspect The Dwellers are operating in a field of one out there in Moab (I wonder if they play out much), which, as we both know, is a slightly smaller town than Taos, and way further removed from any metropolitan area like Albuquerque, or even Santa Fe, unless you count Grand Junction (I don’t.) So how do they manage to rate a smart little group like this while all we get are tepid blues-rockers or the usual Friday night two-steppers?
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