Concert Review: THE RED MICROPHONE performing protest jazz music

Date: February 5, 2013
Venue: Shapeshifter (NY)

Text by Dawoud Kringle

On a cold winter night in Brooklyn,THE RED MICROPHONE brought its special brand of new revolutionary jazz & poetry to Shapeshifter Lab. Red Microphone consisted of John Pietaro (vibraphone, percussion), Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic (bass), Rocco John Iacovone (saxophones), and New York mainstay and master musician Ras Moshe (saxophones, flute, percussion). For the first set, Italian poet Erika Dagnino joined the group.

The vibes started with mysterious chords, saxophones answered. A conversation began between instruments. Poetry insinuated itself into
the music, its hardened sophistication daring you to listen. Instruments made comments, affirmations, and suggestions. At one point, the bass took center of music, then Ras took over, and his dialogue was joined by soprano sax. Suddenly, the poetry morphed from Italian into English, delivered in dramatic smoldering passion, underscored by Erika’s thick Italian accent.

The performance was a dramatic meditation on arcane philosophies and emotional catharsis. At times it was contemplative, at other times violent. But no matter how chaotic things got, the musicians were in perfect control. After the labyrinthine explorations the concert ended with a strange harmonic on the bass.

After a break, the group, (sans poetess) reconvened for the second set.

A flurry of melodies flew into the air, introducing the “Freedom Theme”, weave in and around each other. Then, the bass brought an osstinato to coalesce the chaos into a groove. As they progressed, the music changed into a variety if forms; but the grove was still there, even when it wasn’t. At one point, Ras took the lead; propelling the music into a celestial statement. He made way for John’s vibes, which reminded us of the groove while the bass and horns kept a quiet vigil. Then the song’s head reappeared, and they ended abruptly.

They continued with a jazz reworking of the ‘Internationale” the vibes setting the stage. The interpretation of the socialist anthem had an almost New Orleans sense of both somberness and playfulness. After a vibe solo, the vibes and bass fell away and the two horn players got into a fistfight, which ended in a mutual peace agreement, and the song drew to its conclusion.

They continued with a piece by “lost” composer Janet Barnes, “God Lives the Hungry Child” and with “Song of the United Front”. These socialist / leftist themes formed the basis of the set’s energy. The spoken word parts of the performance were very political. But the musical creativity and ingenuity were always a priority, and were never sacrificed for a political agenda.