Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shakori Highlights: The Beast

UPDATED! with CD review, see below...


Is anything hotter than The Beast these days? Advance copies of next week's CD release, Silence Fiction, can be snapped up now at their Shakori sets. Catch them again Saturday at 4:15 pm.

The Beast sings the gospel of "Interfaith Dialogue" at the Meadow Stage on Friday

The Beast
's intensity is as taut yet agile as Pierce Freelon's physique, which was partially bared Friday night as he pounced around stage like Rilke's panther unleashed, and even sent a loaned hula hoop careening around his waist at one point.


But The Beast isn't driven by Pierce's undeniable physical charisma alone. Creativity is instrumental, pun intended: this band takes it to another level, complementing Pierce's unbounded thought universe with mood swings and tempo changes that open up these tunes like nested boxes, or turtles on top of turtles on top of more turtles. (Hint: It's turtles all the way down.)



More to come...

UPDATE 10/12...

Silence Fiction
drops 10/16

This will make me sound crazy, but while listening to The Beast's new Silence Fiction CD on my way to the Farmer's Market today, I wept. I was walking around the produce stands, picking out apples and eggplants, with tear-streaked sunglasses. Had anyone asked me what was wrong, I would have said: "I just listened to a really great album."

Let's get to the bottom of this. The musicians of Orquesta GarDel are close to my heart, and hearing the amazing way they are integrated into this production was both moving and really satisfying.

Bringing the Triangle's premier salsa band in to the studio to record "Translation" was a natural extension for GarDel co-leader and Beast arranger Eric Hirsh. I love that song's point of view character, who isn't a cultural insider, but just stumbles into a club with his date on "salsa night." The authentic sound texture emerges like a memory and takes over the song, just as it shapes the couple's insouciant romance. The "translation" that matters isn't getting across a few phrases of Spanish, it's the message that love and culture are both border-jumpers. Once they surround you, they will transform you.

That brings us to another point. The Beast's music stirs emotions as well as thoughts, especially when I contemplate how Pierce's rhymes and Eric's arrangements complement each other. Pierce raps about freedom, and Eric freely alludes to all the different musical styles under his belt, from classical to Afro-Cuban. Beethoven or bembe, nobody cares the places we go.

This whole crazy tapestry of languages makes me wild. The Beast is speaking.

The core musicians in this combo know each other so well that the interaction is smooth and palpable, even through tricky gear shifts. Stephen Coffman's drumming is both powerful and shimmery. I also love the funky bass wisdom of Pete Kimosh, who has made so many of my nights danceable with his stylish tumbao (that's a Latin bassline, y'all) in GarDel.

At Shakori, two more Gardelites Andy Kleindienst and Tim Smith formed a horn section for the latter half of the Friday set, and Tim contributed vocals on an uplifting Al Green cover.

Andy & Tim

And speaking of Tim, when was the last time the Tim Smith Band played Shakori? (2 and half years ago, since you asked.) Seems he's always out there gigging with someone else; hope they invite him back with his own band one of these days.

I've heard Silence Fiction at least a half dozen times now, and The Beast is still speaking to me. How on earth are people supposed to wait until Friday's CD release party at Duke Coffeehouse?! If you must hear it before then, try WXDU 88.7 FM; my promo copy went into rotation tonight.

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