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WHAT'S HAPPENING : MUSIC.

Rhythmic nomads: In Europe, the pairing of Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal with Jamaican guitar great Ernest Ranglin would sell out concert halls.

Today, they appear in two free shows at California Plaza's Watercourt downtown. For world music fans, it's nothing short of an event.

Maal, who is among Africa's greatest singers, offers a splendid mix of traditional rhythms with high-tech instrumentation. His set ranges from spare acoustic material that resembles Delta blues through rock and reggae-tinged numbers.

Maal will be joined by Ranglin, a jazz-r&b guitarist who helped invent ska and, by extension, reggae while working sessions with the Skatalites in the '60s and in the pioneering Studio One house band.

Both artists have just released albums on Palm Pictures, a new label headed by Island Records maverick Chris Blackwell.

Maal's ``Nomad Soul,'' featuring cameos from reggae star Luciano and Sinead O'Connor's backup singers the Screaming Orphans, follows his critically acclaimed 1994 effort ``Firin' in Fouta.''

Recorded in Senegal, Ranglin's ``In Search of the Lost Riddim'' gets much of its spark from West African percussion.

The Watercourt is at 350 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. There will be a short acoustic set at noon and a full show at 8 p.m. Admission is free. Information: (213) 687-2159.

- Fred Shuster

Kitchen quartet: The members of Spanish Kitchen call their music ``mystery pop,'' a phrase that accurately reflects the quartet's unusual blend of melody and smoky atmosphere.

The band, which has been gigging locally for five years and borrows its name from a '60s Los Angeles nightspot, is currently working on new material with Knack guitarist Doug Fieger.

Spanish Kitchen appears tonight at 14 Below in Santa Monica along with the Negro Problem, Baby Lemonade and PG-13.

The group came together when ex-Balancing Act guitarist Willie Aron answered a Recycler ad placed by singer Simon Glickman. Bassist Miles Lally was drafted after he spotted a notice posted at a local music store, and drummer Perry Ostrin was recruited in 1994.

14 Below is at 1348 14th St., Santa Monica. Show time is 9 p.m. and admission is $6. Information: (310) 451-5040.

- Fred Shuster

comedy

Good under pressure: It sounds like something you'd do on a drunken dare: Get up in front of a roomful of strangers and make up an original comic ditty, on the spot. Oh and, by the way, the song has to be really funny, not just laugh-because-you-feel-sorry-for-the-singer funny.

Mission impossible? Not if you're the Impromptones. These four guys - James Thomas Bailey, Jeff Davis, Joe Whyte and piano player Michael Pollack - have hewed a musical niche all their own. Relying on quick wit and spot-on comic timing, the Impromptones make up all their material, off the cuff and in harmony, no less. When they're not making impromptu music, they're filling in the show with ad-libbed comedy routines.

The quartet will be showcasing its act every Monday through Aug. 31 at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd. Tickets are $10 with a two-drink minimum. For reservations, call (800) 905-2844.

- Reed Johnson

art

Look back at Harlem: Eighty years ago, a few square miles of Upper Manhattan between 130th and 145th streets erupted into ``the Mecca of the New Negro.'' The Harlem Renaissance was born, and American culture would never be the same.

Now that legacy is getting a second, revisionist look in a new multimedia exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Organized by London's Hayward Gallery, ``Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance'' depicts Harlem as a unique crossroads where the European avant-garde met an emerging pan-African consciousness, shaped by the political chaos of World War I and the crack-up of European colonialism.

While the Harlem Renaissance is generally regarded as a literary and musical movement, the exhibition takes equal note of Harlem's visual arts community, exploring their influence on North American modernism and vice versa. Painters Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Jones and Jacob Lawrence; sculptors Richmond Barthe and Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller; and photographers James VanDerZee, Doris Ulmann and Carl Van Vechten all receive their due, as does prolific filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, who directed more than 40 feature-length ``race movies.''

The exhibition runs through Oct. 19. LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Blvd. between Fairfax and La Brea avenues. Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information, call (323) 857-6000.

- Reed Johnson

film

Laughs by the gross: If you haven't seen the Farrelly brothers grade-A crude comedy ``There's Something About Mary,'' you've probably heard about some of its more notorious scenes. Ben Stiller getting his privates caught in his zipper. Cameron Diaz's pet terrier getting electroshock treatment. Cameron Diaz's hair getting some rather shocking gel treatment. But even if you've seen some of the film's golden moments on commercials and trailers, you should still check out the movie because there are a dozen funny sketches that CAN'T be shown on TV. ``There's Something About Mary'' is original, outlandish and wonderfully offensive. You will laugh - repeatedly and out loud - and probably hate yourself for it on the drive home.

- Glenn Whipp

CAPTION(S):

4 Photos

Photo: (1) Senegalese singer and instrumentalist Baaba Maal performs today.

(2) Spanish Kitchen, the band that borrows its name from a '60s Los Angeles nightspot, appears tonight at 14 Below in Santa Monica.

(3) ``Les Fetiches'' (1938), an oil on canvas, is part of the LACMA exhibit ``Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance.''

(4) ``Harlem Girl'' (1925), a work in pencil, charcoal and pastels.
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Title Annotation:Review; L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 7, 1998
Words:932
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