I know that I’ve gone too long without an adequate intake of protein when I start craving hard-boiled eggs. When I felt a pang of hunger for Brahms intermezzi at a piano recital recently, I suspected that my musical diet was imbalanced. Thankfully, Thursday’s concert at BRIC House Ballroom celebrating the album release of singer Alicia Olatuja gave me the protein fix I needed.
I don’t know if it was from the air conditioning in the black box theater but I kept getting chills as I listened to Alicia Olatuja; not even the distracting lighting could detract from her gorgeous low register. Her band included her husband Michael Olatuja (bass), Ayana George and Rasul A-Salaam (vocals), Ron Blake (sax), Nir Felder (guitar), Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums), and Christian Sands (keys) looking dapper and sounding excellent as usual. Christian McBride also appeared as a special guest playing bass on a handful of songs.
I first heard and met bassist Michael Olatuja at one of the SESC centers in São Paulo with the Terence Blanchard quintet five years ago. When I caught the band again on the Rio leg of their Brazil tour, I saw Terence Blanchard’s expression change to that of a man who had seen a ghost upon noticing me sitting front and center of the concert hall. Michael, on the other hand, looked more like he had the Holy Ghost, and I distinctly recall the incredible joy with which he played. And I thought to myself at that moment that he must know Jesus.
The men’s and women’s rooms are at the back of the building, past the entrance to the ballroom and down the stairs on a lower level. There are eight stalls and four sinks total including one wheelchair accessible for each in the women’s restroom. The restroom was bright white with advanced plumbing technology like the lever that allows you to decide how much water to flush down the toilet. The motion-sensing faucet and soap dispenser worked without me having to wave my hands in front of the sensor multiple times.
In addition, the women’s room had dispensers for a product called Scenscibles® to dispose of tampons and pads in a clean way for both the person creating the waste and the person who will have to empty out the little metal trash bin later. I like to neatly wrap the used pad in the wrapper from the new pad like a burrito but if that is not an option the little pink bag would be a good backup. I’ve observed women feeling the need to be hush-hush about even mentioning the word tampon because it makes some men feel embarrassed. It would seem to be the men’s problem then and not the women’s. As one of my best friends from college says, “embarrassment is a choice.” So tampon tampon pad tampon.
Alicia Olatuja’s band ended with a catchy chorus of “Amazing Grace.” Having seen how vigilant the ushers were about seating attendees at the beginning of the show, I was already expecting church up in BRIC House and was not at all surprised at the closing song choice. To close this entry, here’s my friend Naméma from Kenya telling us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Swahili —
On the last day of last month, I went to check out the new concert series at 61 Local in Brooklyn. Upstairs to the restaurant, the small yet open-feeling room with exposed brick walls was the perfect space to showcase bassist John Hébert with dancer Angelle Hébert. That is, except for the splinters from the hardwood floors that got into Angelle’s skin.
I was lured to the show partly because its start time at 6pm. I needed to get home early so that I could continue my online search for acceptable orthopedic sandals before retiring to bed. Granny-chic in Birkenstocks was acceptable in Berkeley and heels were fine when I was driving around LA but Manhattan has presented the impossible challenge of looking sharp while walking around for miles in gross weather.
The two bathrooms are located on the first floor past the dining area by the broom closet and a door marked “do not enter” with a skull. The ladies room had that Brooklyn hipster vibe with a mustache painted onto the mirror above the sink. A stick figure girl and boy on signs made of paper towels were pinned to each door.
Having run into the Pride Parade on my afternoon-long detour down from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn, I was reminded that the signs may not be so cute to those who don’t fit within the two-sex system. In fact, if I were intersex, those signs might induce anxiety each time I had to use the bathroom. The restaurant’s restrooms are for individual use though, so it matters less whether you identify with the anatomy depicted on the sign or not.
Sensing the synergy that I anticipated from the brother/sister duo, I was surprised to learn that they had never performed together before. Their performance was full of sonic and motor tics that gave me an indeterminable itchy sensation, similar in that way to Yayoi Kusama’s pieces at the Whitney last summer. Speaking of which, I’m going to check out this year’s hit exhibit, Rain Room at MOMA, and get on the Cronut bandwagon while I’m at it. It’s going to be a long morning of waiting in line but I’ll make sure to wear sensible shoes.
In this period of eating pastries and museum-hopping with friends, I’ve taken up Chinese to feel slightly more productive. While I don’t expect to become fluent, I’ve been enjoying learning about the culture and practicing sounds new to my tongue. ChuánXī from mainland China, who is teaching me Mandarin, tells us how to say, “Excuse me, where’s the restroom?” –
“Should we sit in the first row?”
We settled on the second of the five rows in the front section, as that would require only 80% focus on the music, according to Jack. Jack provides emergency tech support for us and restored the blog when I inadvertently made the entire site crash. He once again saved the day by assessing that the requirements of front row seating would be incongruent with our 80% brain capacity to pay attention to the band, after an early morning of Black Friday shopping and an even earlier morning at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a day prior.
Though waiting for over three hours with popsicle toes, surrounded by angry people wanting to see oversized balloons of Hello Kitty and SpongeBob was worth doing once, parades are more fun when viewed on television—but not so with musical performances. Live performances are incomparable to recordings and I was excited to see four different bands live Friday night for the OutNow Records release party.
I was particularly interested in seeing drummer George Schuller again, remembering his gig years ago at Korzo in Brooklyn and thinking to myself that I would want my group to sound like his. RIBBS, the quartet he performed with this time sounded nothing like my memory of his group. The Yoni Kretzmer 2Bass Quartet that followed them had bassist twinsies with matching beanies, glasses and earth tone tops. 9 Volt, the last group we stuck around for rocked.
Jack photographed the men’s room for us. The men’s room seems a bit cramped, with similar square footage as the women’s room but partitioned off into three sections for the toilet, urinal and sink.
The women’s room felt open, bare and white, like the rest of ShapeShifter Lab. It had no mirror but perhaps they are still working on finishing up the restroom, as it is a somewhat new venue. The flower-shaped tiles on the spacious cement floor was a nice touch.
At ShapeShifter Lab, you can choose to sip on tea and use the free Wi-Fi at one of the back tables by the bar while listening to live music—like a jazz café of sorts. Or you can sit in one of the rows and admire the color changing light against the white brick wall behind the performers. Dress warmly because it gets chilly in there. I suppose the cool air is a part of its Brooklyn converted warehouse space charm.
I’m glad our West Coast emergency tech support, as well as another college friend Amy, could join us for this assignment. I love Jack and Amy so much that I may start an indie rock band named after them.
Dorjee from Tibet tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Tibetan –
You’re not in Manhattan anymore, Dorothy …
It was just like the scene where she opens the door and steps out into Oz in full Technicolor, only I stepped into a huge restroom of black and white tiles. And I wasn’t wearing a blue gingham dress.
My jaw dropped at the sight of the seven stalls and three sinks in the clean women’s restroom, then once again at the separate wheelchair accessible ladies room. I had ample time to inspect the bathrooms before the SIM (School for Improvised Music) Big Band concert last Tuesday because everyone from the Facebook invite admin to the venue employees thought the show began at 8pm, except for the band, who thought it started at 8:30pm. The performance actually didn’t start until 8:38pm so everybody was wrong.
The Roulette in Brooklyn, it turns out, is more of a concert hall than a jazz club. They had a nice stage and balcony seating, with decor reminiscent of a Korean dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s office or a trendy Thai restaurant where the waiters wear dress shirts with ruffles.
I was particularly excited to hear saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo, one of the most inspirational and incredible musicians I have met. The alto player, wearing his little blue (and plaid) suede shoes, led the opening piece of the hour and forty-two minutes long set. The 17-piece all-star band, playing with synergistic energy, concluded the first piece and the audience responded with a “dot dot dot … question mark?” as my voice teacher would say.
“That was a song,” Andrew D’Angelo kindly informed us and we clapped enthusiastically on cue.
I liked that different musicians took turns conducting the big band tunes and enjoyed seeing SIM faculty, like Ralph Alessi and Andy Milne, for the first time since I attended their workshop a few winters ago. On my visit, I was impressed by the vast yet tightly knit music community in the city; I spotted Ravi Coltrane (also in the SIM big band), followed by another saxophonist, Peter Apfelbaum, while sitting around in the small music room of a local restaurant after a friend’s gig. Still, New York seemed to be full of cold people in cold weather and I knew I would only want to come again if I moved here and got plugged into a community.
And what wonderful communities I have found. Even so, I need a change of scenery and am due for a trip home to California. My sister messaged me over the weekend to let me know that she and my mom were “lying in the front yard on giant pieces of bubble wrap” because they were locked out of the house. I hope they have some bubble wrap left for me when I get home. Also, I am thrilled to be able to present a deluxe Los Angeles edition on the jazz club dearest to my heart during my brief visit. Brooklyn today and LA for the next issue—what’s next? JAZZ TOILET INTERNATIONAL?
The bari sax player from the big band, Israeli-American Michaël Attias tells us how to say, “Please, where’s the restroom?” in Hebrew —