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'MUSIC ZOOM' (Italy), CD REVIEW: "Signs" by the Erika Dagnino Quartet

A very nice review of the new album by THE ERIKA DAGNINO QUARTET, "SIGNS", in the Italian language music periodical MUSIC ZOOM. Though my grandmother tried desperately to teach me, I never learned to speak the language so had to rely on Google for translation. Here is the not-necessarily perfect English version of the review:

"The art of poetry and the music together for some time flirt with interesting results often. Sometimes it is the poetry that undergoes major transformation mutating in the verses of a pop song, or as here, retains its identity and the verses are recited with fervor in the midst of the musicians' improvisations. Erika Dagnino not find some time. The poet writes Genoese long imaginative texts that tell of feelings in words that run stories in new ways to describe the performance of which is unpredictable. To accompany her in a club in New York there are three improvisers: the saxophonist and flutist Ras Moshe , Ken Filiano on bass and percussionist and vibraphonist John Pietaro . Europe lacks a real interest in these forms of improvisation, poetry and music, rap and free, while in the USA his poem, recited so passionately in Italian and English met immediately the interest of the public and the living community of musicians who resides in New York. She, on the stage, sudden verses Mentra everything takes shape with the saxophonist's solos or excited collective moments. The percussionist and vibraphonist (he studied with Karl Berger) is very interesting to create moments liquids into which the music flows without hesitation. If the bop was the soundtrack of the novels of Jack Kerouac Dagnino here is to give expression and voice direction to that which is the music of three improvisers of the big apple. The final improvisation closes a record in which the literary arts and music are a perfect meeting point, echo the contemporary. An echo that will hopefully bounce arrivals in Italy".
- MUSIC ZOOM, Sept 2013 (Sep 21, 2013)

Title: 'Signs'
Label: Slam 546 Country: UK

Featuring Erika Dagnino on poetry & voice, Ras Moshe on flute and saxes, John Pietaro on vibes and percussion and Ken Filiano on double bass. Italian poet and teacher, Erika Dagnino, has played at DMG on several occasions and always chooses good musicians to work with. The last time she played here a few months ago she was backed by Red Microphone, two of whom (Moshe & Pietaro) are on this disc. This is a studio recording and the sound is warm and well-balanced.

Whenever I've read Ms. Dagnino's poetry printed on the pages of CD booklets, I am impressed. The poems on this disc are printed in both Italian and English. The first track is all instrumental, free and mellow and sets the pace of things to come. Ms. Dagnino recites her words in Italian in a calm yet expressive voice. The sound of her voice and the words blend well with the somber, free-flowing and quietly unsettling music. Even without knowing what the words mean, a certain vibe is still apparent. In the second half of this piece, Erika recites in English so I have to listen more intently to hear what she is describing. It is rare for a poet to recite in two different languages within the same setting but it works well here. I like the music here since the balance and choice of instruments sounds carefully selected. The blend of tenor sax or flute, plucked or bowed bass and vibes or small percussion is consistently inspired and never overdone. The balance between the spoken word sections and instrumental passages is superbly balanced giving us a chance to consider the words more thoughtfully. There is a section of "Terza" where the words and music are both filled with suspense and mystery as if Erika is describing a rather disturbing dream. There is just enough breathing space here to allow us to recover from the occasionally dark moments which appear at unexpected intervals.
- Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG


"Interview: John Pietaro – musician, activist & producer of the Dissident Arts Festival 2013 – speaks out! "

-Interview by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi (DooBeeDooBeeDoo’s chief editor), August 20, 2013

Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi (S): John, let’s talk about your festival “baby” first: the annual Dissident Arts Festival 2013. Why and when did you start this festival?

John Pietaro (J): These days the annual Dissident Arts Festival features a lot of free jazz and new music that is thematic of progressive politics and urgent social matters. The radicalism can be overt but the statements are often symbolic, a revolutionary creativity. The Fest has matured. But I began it in 2006. It was Bush’s second presidential term and the nation was terribly polarized, the working class was under attack and illegal war with a first-strike policy had become commonplace. It was a bad time for everyone but the terribly rich. I have been an activist for a very long time, so I sought a way to make a big statement through the arts, particularly my medium of music. I have been a musician most of my life and spent much of that time performing jazz and new music, but I had been delving deeply into the cultural movements in the Left for many years, absorbing the repertoires of related music (everything from modern composition to work songs, punk rock to free jazz). Much of my research –and enjoyment– also comes from the social justice messages inherent in some of the great music, poetry, theatre, film and literature related to the larger concept of People’s arts. So I wanted to draw on the full spectrum.

I am a Brooklynite but in 2006 I had relocated to upstate New York for a several year period; my wife and I lived in the little Hudson Valley city of Beacon from ’05-‘10. There is a thriving cultural scene up there and I had been performing a lot of folk-oriented protest music at that point (LOL yes I sing a bit and play some banjo!). I thought, “What a great place to create a folk festival that is all about radical politics”. I could find no other annual fest that was particular to topical song, let alone one that sought to break down barriers of just what “folk” music is. Immediately I knew that I wanted to include jazz, punk-folk, roots music, choral works, poetry with improvised accompaniment and more, even if the main focus was on singer-songwriters in the folk-protest vein. I insisted on having a variety of faces on stage—different hues, cultures, ages, accents, and of course both men and women. To me the image of the folk singer as a white guy with a guitar was terribly exclusive and that would never do. So I reached out to everyone up there who would get this concept. And I knew it must be called ‘the Dissident Folk Festival’ to make a statement on both the politics and the sort of anti-cliché I was seeking. That name lasted only through the first year—it soon became ‘the Dissident Folk and Arts Festival’, finally simply ‘Dissident Arts Festival’ as it developed. That first year we had Pete Seeger leading a tribute to Woody Guthrie, Malachy McCourt came in as a guest speaker, the songwriter Lach (founder of the ‘Anti-Folk’ movement of the ‘80s), a chorus from the Pittsburgh Raging Grannies, my own ensemble at the time the Flames of Discontent, a tribute to Paul Robeson featuring a powerful vocalist named Kenneth Anderson and labor legend Henry Foner, plus various local poets, jazz musicians, bards and more. We had a blast over a full weekend. By year two, the focus had already begun to expand and we had a tribute to Bertolt Brecht!

S: What makes it different from other NY music festivals?

J: We live in the greatest city and its one filled with amazing musicians and other artists. It would be fool-hardy for me to say that my festival was better than any of the others but I can say that among all of the annual new jazz/new music festivals out there, the Dissident Arts Festival is the only one that ties this brand of forward-looking, experimental music to social justice issues. One of the earlier events which I draw inspiration from is the October Revolution in jazz organized by Bill Dixon. That amazing concert sought to revolutionize the audience through the music’s inspiration. And there were other similar events that were a part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s, as well as groups like the Composers Collective of New York in the 30s that used modernist composition as a tool to symbolize revolution and organize activism. But presently there appears to be no ongoing vehicle that presents music that is radical in every respect.

S: What’s the main theme of this year’s festival?

J: I choose a different theme each year, one which is immediately relevant, though the performers are not quite bound by it; this is an event which calls for true expression. But as I was putting the finishing touches on the line-up, I was haunted by news reports of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watchman of a white Florida town who chased down and then killed Trayvon Martin. This nation was quite literally built on inequity, we are the belly of the capitalist beast, and so divisiveness is a standard means separate people. The US may be a more tolerant place than it was 50 years ago but the stain of racism and classism lingers on and in many parts of the south, that stain is a bright blood stain. Here was a perfect example of the heritage of hate. And so it was decided that we need to make a statement about the terrible loss of Trayvon and the awful crime of his murder’s acquittal.

S: How did you chose the musicians and bands for this festival?

J: Every year I seek out some powerful performers. I am careful, in my search, to reach out to a wide variety of artists and by that I mean culture, color, gender and age as well as creative vision. Some of the folks on my original list were unavailable and some of the others who are on the bill now reached out to me. It’s a combination of sources but if the artist is deeply creative as well as rather unafraid to discuss socio-political issues and have spoken out in the past, I want them!

S: Who are the endorsers this time? And why? How do they support your event?

J: Well for one I am thrilled to have ‘DooBeeDooBeeDoo’ on board as an endorser—your mag has been highly supportive of several of my efforts, so thank you for that. Local 802 AFM’s Justice for Jazz Artists campaign has also lent us their support. The Rosenberg Fund for Children, an amazing organization founded by one of the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, has been there for us over the last couple of years, offering not only their name and helping with outreach, but a small financial contribution as well. Presently, their small donation is the only money that comes in as this is a grass-roots organization with no grants or gifts. And of course the Brecht Forum has happily housed and co-produced this event with me over the past four years, ever since I moved it to NYC.

Speaking of you being a musician and an activist: when did you start your music career?

J: Hard to answer this as I have been a musician most of my life and performance has been so deeply important to me—my musical self, my creative self is surely the biggest part of me. But on the other hand I have a day job (I work as an organizer in the labor movement) and derive an income from that. This allows me to play the music I want to as opposed to something more commercial. I have been playing this kind of experimental jazz for many years, since the late ‘80s, mostly in NYC though I did live outside for several years. When I returned here in 2010 I immediately felt into what I saw as the best part of the new jazz/new music circle.

S: Why did you chose the vibraphone as your main instrument?

J: Though I too see vibes as my main ax, I am a percussionist and play many instruments: vibraphone, xylophone, drum kit, frame drums, hand drums, orchestra bells, small percussion instruments. I also sing. But the short answer is that the vibraphone is the only instrument that allows a percussionist to retain drum chops while also offering much of the breadth and expressiveness of piano. For me, the instrument has many of the characteristics of an electric piano and I enjoy allowing the bars to resonate and blur and smear. I do this often with great use of dynamics so that certain tonalities dominate at certain points, and then others move to the surface. I use a vibraphone without a motor as my training and a lot of experience was on the xylophone: I use rolls on vibes very much the way most percussionist do on marimba. But here it shimmers and widens in a way no other instrument can. Its an amazing voice. Its my voice. I love listening to other vibes players, especially Bobby Hutcherson and Red Norvo, but I have come to realize that its Bill Evans’ piano playing that has stood as the bigger influence to what I do on my instrument.

S: Are you a jazz musician?

J: This is such a relative term: yes, I feel strongly that I am a jazz musician and I have the opportunity to perform regularly with some powerful names associated with the music including Karl Berger and Ras Moshe. But then jazz is such an all-encompassing genre—just look at the leaps and growth it experienced in its first 50 or 60 years! Buddy Bolden could never have envisioned a Thelonious Monk would come along, let alone an Ornette Coleman. But while I have made jazz my primary focus, not only as a performer but as a historian of sorts too, I also play and enjoy non-jazz music. I cannot claim that I do not love the Beatles or King Crimson or Aretha Franklin or Talking Heads because I really do. And Hanns Eisler and Woody Guthrie and Stravinsky and Hindemith just as deeply. The West Coast studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew are among my heros. They played on most of the pop hits of the 1960s yet go unheralded. The music of all of these artists and so many more inspires me in so many ways that I can never have a singular focus. But when jazz reaches in, deeply, and then stretches out, it calls to me like nothing else. And jazz, in this respect, surely includes Coltrane, Ornette, Dolphy and Monk but also Bird, Duke, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5, Don Cherry, Gene Krupa, Paul Bley, anything Max Roach ever touched, Billie Holiday, June Christy, “Music Liberation Orchestra”, “Freedom Now Suite”, “No New York”, “Firebirds”……

Why did you become a (music?) activist?

J: I have always seen straight to the tradition of cultural workers – artist-activists, if you will. In Left politics the cultural workers were the creative army, the movement musicians and playwrights and singers and actors and poets and painters and film makers and dancers who would encapsulate the struggle through their art. They would inspire and symbolize and call to arms. So my social and political activism just naturally grew into a cultural activism. If we are going to make any serious changes for a People’s government here, the artists must be part of the fight.

S: Do you know of any other NY musicians who are music activists like you?

J: While most artists are generally progressive thinking, many choose not to present anything political, any hot topic, on stage or on record. But I am very happy to say that some of the musicians I have worked with have surely been unafraid to speak their minds. Ras Moshe, who is not only a collaborator but I would say now a very good friend, has been open in his radicalism for many years. And many of the others in his Music Now! Circle share his feelings and engage in events such as the Festival as a matter of course. You, Sohrab, are also among the radical musicians I am happy to work with. But many of the veteran musicians of color have a strong connection to the teaching of the Black Arts Movement, and folks who come to the event on Aug 24 will get to hear much of that. I am so looking forward to hearing Roy Campbell’s liberation pieces!

S: When and why did you join the musicians union Local 802?

J: I have been a member of the Musicians Union for quite a few years. I joined on principal as I am a labor movement activist. Admittedly I had let my membership lapse for a few years when I found it increasingly hard to afford, but I was inspired to take another look and re-join (after you invited me to some J4JA events). I am very pleased with the union at this time and will surely maintain my membership.

J4JAS: Do you support the union’s campaign “Justice For Jazz Artists?” IF yes why?

J: J4JA is a very very important initiative of 802. One of the earlier problems with the union is that it was almost entirely white male-run. And if you go back far enough, the focus was never on jazz but instead only on classical music and Broadway. Studio musicians of the 30s, 40s and 50s were often jazz musicians yet their Business Rep would have primarily been concerned with the radio work. This began to shift in the 70s and 80s but it was a slow move and many folks were turned off. J4JA is a testament to the union’s decision to reach out to jazz artists and commitment to an actually egalitarian vision.

S: Speaking of you as a New Yorker: who’s your favorite candidate for mayor? Will you join the union’s choice of Bill de Blasio?

J: I am not a registered Democrat—I am a Green Party member—so will not get to vote in the primary. But I do like de Blasio a lot. I supported him in the past and well recall when he first ran as a Council Member, he came to visit my then-workplace (day job) and we were very impressed by him. He is a real progressive. I was at the health care rally just today, in the Village just across from where St Vincent’s Hospital was, and he was fearless in his commitment to average citizens, not only with regard to stopping hospital closings but in his stance against the horrible runaway rent situation we have in this city. He has been a very good Public Advocate and among the candidates, I would like to see him as mayor. Naturally, my politics are quite to de Blasio’s left, so I cannot say that he or any Dem would be my ultimate choice. If there was the opportunity for a candidate with socialist values and philosophy to actually win such a race, I would be campaigning for him or her immediately. But in the here and now, all progressives need to fight the onslaught of the far-right, of the corporatist takeover, of the greed that has permeated our city and so much of the world. Its time for a turn-around and there is such a strong place for the arts in this struggle—particularly an art that is as revolutionary in its creativity as it is in its politics.

S: Thanks for doing this exclusive interview. Good luck with your “baby!”

J: Thank YOU my brother!

CD Review, 'Signs' Erika Dagnino Quartet

Title: Signs
Label: Slam 546 Country: UK
Format: CD Status: AVAILABLE $13.00

Description: Featuring Erika Dagnino on poetry & voice, Ras Moshe on flute and saxes, John Pietaro on vibes and percussion and Ken Filiano on double bass. Italian poet and teacher, Erika Dagnino, has played at DMG on several occasions and always chooses good musicians to work with. The last time she played here a few months ago she was backed by Red Microphone, two of whom (Moshe & Pietaro) are on this disc. This is a studio recording and the sound is warm and well-balanced. Whenever I've read Ms. Dagnino's poetry printed on the pages of CD booklets, I am impressed. The poems on this disc are printed in both Italian and English. The first track is all instrumental, free and mellow and sets the pace of things to come. Ms. Dagnino recites her words in Italian in a calm yet expressive voice. The sound of her voice and the words blend well with the somber, free-flowing and quietly unsettling music. Even without knowing what the words mean, a certain vibe is still apparent. In the second half of this piece, Erika recites in English so I have to listen more intently to hear what she is describing. It is rare for a poet to recite in two different languages within the same setting but it works well here. I like the music here since the balance and choice of instruments sounds carefully selected. The blend of tenor sax or flute, plucked or bowed bass and vibes or small percussion is consistently inspired and never overdone. The balance between the spoken word sections and instrumental passages is superbly balanced giving us a chance to consider the words more thoughtfully. There is a section of "Terza" where the words and music are both filled with suspense and mystery as if Erika is describing a rather disturbing dream. There is just enough breathing space here to allow us to recover from the occasionally dark moments which appear at unexpected intervals. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

'Ras Moshe’s Music Now Extended Unit Plays Howland Center June 29: Jazz Series Change of the Century continues in Beacon'

The Howland Cultural Center in Beacon continues its monthly series, Change of the Century – New Jazz for the 21st, with New York City-based multi-instrumentalist Ras Moshe and his fire music ensemble Music Now Extended Unit. The lineup for Music Now is never the same twice — for their Beacon performance, the ensemble includes vibraphonist/percussionist John Pietaro, pianist Chris Forbes, guitarist (and Change of the Century organizer) James Keepnews and drummer Andrew Drury.

The performance takes place at the Howland Saturday, June 29, at 8 p.m. Admission for each concert in the series is $15, and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets will be available at the door each concert evening only. For more information, visit the Facebook page for the concert series, The Howland Cultural Center is located at 477 Main St. in Beacon, and their telephone number is 845-831-4988.

CD Review: The Red Microphone's new album 'The Red Microphone Speaks!'
Artist: The Red Microphone
Title: The Red Microphone Speaks!
Label: self released
Genre: jazzy revolutionary music

by Matt Cole

Recently, I reviewed the CD release show for The Red Microphone‘s new album, The Red Microphone Speaks!. Having listened to the CD, I can safely say that The Red Microphone does just as well in the studio as live at putting together a very cohesive package of free, revolutionary-tinged music.

The Red Microphone consists of John Pietaro on vibes, percussion, and spoken word; Ras Moshe on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, and spoken word; Rocco John Iacovone on alto and soprano saxes; and Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic on double bass; with a guest appearance by Nora McCarthy, who adds vocals to “L’Internationale Reconstruct,” a re-imagining of “The Internationale” by Pierre Degeyter, Eugene Pottier, and Hanns Eisler (adapted by Pietaro). All are members of the Dissident Arts Orchestra, known for adding improvised live soundtracks to classic movies.

The Red Microphone Speaks! contains music from several sources; some of the pieces are free improvisations, others are songs from the rich Leftist tradition adapted by the band, and saxophonist Iacovone contributes an original piece (“Freedom Theme”) which opens the album. The band makes use of spoken word samples on numerous tracks: on “The Proof Is Overwhelming,” they weave a tight free improvisation under John Howard Lawson‘s protest statement to the ironically named House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. The improv is a good example of the way the band can patiently develop a piece; it starts out with a rich, overtony arco bass soon joined by flute, chimes, and percussion for the net effect of a slow, eerie, windy wet day to a busy (but not distracting) three way conversation between the saxophones and the vibes, over an ominous arco bassline. Overall, the music in this piece supports the spoken words very well, with the saxes punctuating and responding to Lawson‘s strong words, and the overall stormy vibe of the improvisation matching the feel of a time when freedom was under threat by powerful inquisitorial committees. The previously mentioned “L’Internationale Reconstruct” is another example of the use of found voices, with snippets of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Dalton Trumbo, and V.I. Lenin interspersed with pulsating drums, and gentle saxes and vibes yielding over time to a more frantic and outside collective sound before returning to the main “Internationale” theme.

In addition to sampling, The Red Microphone will also, on occasion, provide their own voices to a text. This is most notable on “God To the Hungry Child,” an adaptation of a Langston Hughes poem with music by Janet Barnes and John Pietaro. After an angular, swingy group improvisation, Ras Moshe recites lines from the poem, while Iacavone’s sax provides instrumental response to Moshe’s strong voice, and the vibes and bass give texture underneath.

As a whole, like at their show, The Red Microphone does a fine job of playing as a tight unit, able to move as one or complement each other while playing quite different parts; and finding a nice balance in letting each player make an idiosyncratic individual contribution to a very cohesive whole. The band also builds each piece well, with a good mix of patience and daring. Album opener “Freedom Theme” provides a nice example of these qualities, the song starts with arco bass long notes, soon joined by dreamy vibraphones and then saxes. Soon, though, the music becomes more urgent and free, and then morphs into a funky bass rhythm over which the vibes and harmonizing saxes play a ’60s -ish jazzy theme. “Freedom Theme” provides a notable example of a very interesting use of space and musical dialogue that appears on several tracks; the saxophones start to converse and counterpoint each other, and the vibes join in, playing a counterpoint to the ongoing shape that the already-in-counterpoint saxophones are making. Perhaps this can be thought of in terms of a cladogram, with the saxes as two species in one genus, and the vibes as the next genus over. At any rate, it is quite enjoyable to listen to and the players manage to pull this off even when playing somewhat orthogonally to each other. Another example of this can be found on the “Song of the United Front” (by Hanns Eisler, and adapted by The Red Microphone) in the middle section (between two head sections that combine a swing and march feel). Even when all the players are playing busily, they manage to avoid stepping on each other’s toes, a notable example of this can be found in the mid-section of “L’Internationale Redux.” However, the band is also able to make excellent use of wide spaces, as demonstrated in the beginning of album-closer “The Times.”

Individually, the players each make interesting contributions to the whole. Vibraphonist Pietaro is equally at home providing dreamy textures, rapid lead lines, or complementary counterpoint to the rest of the band. As an accompanist, he does an excellent job of filling the space that would often be filled by the left hand of a pianist, not unlike the rhythm guitar of Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Bassist Letman-Burtinovic gives the band a rock-solid bottom, and uses well a wide array of techniques, from arco overtone-rich long tones (“Freedom Theme,” “The Proof is Overwhelming”) to rapid-fire plucked notes (“One for Robeson”) to make a rich low-end palette. As noted above, saxophonists Moshe and Iacovone converse extremely well together, showing great listening skills and creativity, and are both able to take the lead individually as well. “L’Internationale Redux” provides a good example of the latter, with Moshe‘s jazzy tenor sax solo followed by Iacovone‘s optimistic soprano sax; while in addition to examples from earlier, the mid-section of “The Times” sees the former, with Iacovone and Moshe making intricate shapes together and staying together while playing freely and sometimes orthogonally to each other.

In all, The Red Microphone Speaks! is a fine collective effort created and constructed by a group of talented individual musicians; energetic, cohesive, and with a revolutionary bent that is strong and yet organic (and not at all overwhelming). It is an example of free music at its finest; of what happens when several musicians make a commitment to spontaneously create as one, while not losing their individuality.

Mar 21, 2013 1:12 PM
John, this music is MOVING me like nothing else i've mastered in years.

reminds me of the days when all i listened to was stuff from the ESP label, BYG (from France), and Karl Berger, my first real teacher and mentor.

this music of yours brings all musics TOGETHER. i fucking LOVE it!

-love, K
Kramer - Kramer, legendary downtown new music producer (Mar 30, 2013)

Concert Review
Date: April 17, 2013
Venue: ZirZamin (NY)

The Red Microphone CD Release Concert
by Matt Cole

I saw The Red Microphone for the first time at their CD release show at ZirZamin for The Red Microphone Speaks!, and was thus happy to see that they were a quartet consisting of four members of the Dissident Arts Orchestra, who had created a fine improvised soundtrack to Eisenstein’s classic Battleship Potemkin a few months back. Specifically, The Red Microphone consists of John Pietaro on vibraphone and percussion; Ras Moshe on tenor and soprano sax, flute, and spoken words; Rocco John Iacovone on alto and soprano sax, and Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic on bass.

It can be a challenge for musicians to play free music in sync with each other, but The Red Microphone manages to be a very tight, cohesive unit. The music started with a driving baseline and ethereal vibraphone sounds, and soon the two saxes came in playing in harmony, at times sounding like they were in different keys that nonetheless created a good sound, not unlike what Charles Ives might have written had he anticipated the free music of the ’60s or the Downtown flowering of the ’80s and beyond. The overall sound was rooted in modern avant-garde jazz, leaning towards the free end; the sounds of rock, hard bop, and even a hint of modern classical also could be heard in the mix. Right away, I noticed that there was a lot of communication between the band members, enabling them to move together as a single unit, changing rhythms, feel, and tempo with ease (or at least it looked that way to Yours Truly, watching from the audience). Themes would appear, bounce around, make an impression, and vanish into the ether like a pair of virtual particles in sub-Planck time. The band members took turns taking the lead, with tenor man/flautist Ras Moshe playing bluesy, uplifting solos with a definite undertone of urgency just beneath (and often breaking) the surface. Throughout the set, the band showed a talent for evolving pieces, with individual instruments coming in and out over time as the music grew.

Among the highlights of the evening was a very idiosyncratic version of the “Internationale.” Right after that, the band played an adaptation of Langston Hughes’ “God to the Hungry Child,” in which Moshe recited lines from the poem, while Rocco John Iacovone played responses on the soprano over John Pietaro’s spare vibes. Following this, the band did a free improv for the recently deceased President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, during which bassist Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic displayed an impressive array of techniques (cascades of soft plucked notes, arco bass, using the end of the bow to make notes, and using the body of the bass as a percussion instrument), yet never wavered from playing in service to the music. Towards the end, the band played a bar song of German revolutionaries in the ’30s, “Song of the United Front” which was written by Brecht and Eisler; this was a very jazzy rendition which featured a more-spare-than-busy alto solo by Iacovone over a free rhythm laid down by Pietaro and Letman-Burtinovic. Ras came in underneath, and then the horns melted out over an Arco, overtone-y bass and fast, dreamy vibes before coming back to the head.

It’s easy to play flashy free music with little communication and cohesiveness. It’s tough to play freely together as a unit and make it mean something. The Red Microphone did a fine job of the latter at their CD release show, and I look forward to reviewing the new CD.
CD REVIEW: 'The Red Microphone Speaks!'

Out of the thousands of Jazz LP’s and CD’s that I own, there is something truly special and important about the music on The Red Microphone Speaks. From the moment I hit play, I was glued to the chair. The blending of music and poetry is seamless and magical. It hits you right in the heart and makes you feel alive. The only word that comes to mind is striking.
– Nathan Yeager –
CD Review: The Red Microphone Speaks! Review by Bruce Gallanter


- The Red Microphone Speaks! (Dissident Arts; USA)

The Red Microphone features John Pietaro on vibes & percussion, Ras Moshe on tenor & soprano sax & flute, Rocco John Iacovone on alto & soprano sax & ocarina and Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic on double bass with Nora McCarthy on vocals for one track. Ras Moshe has played here at DMG perhaps more than any other musician for our Sunday night series and always organizes fine free ensembles. The only other musician I previous know from this disc is bassist Nicolas Letman, who played here a few weeks ago with Cheryl Pyle on flute and left us with four discs of different projects he is involved in.

The Red Microphone appear to be a politically oriented chamber jazz quartet who use themes of freedom, with texts by Langston Hughes, protests of the House of UnAmerican Activities and music by Hanns Eisler. Although the first piece is called "Freedom Theme", it is not really "free" but written, thoughtful and contemplative. The quartet perform the music from "The International" twice, the anthem of socialists and do a somber, haunting version for the first one and later a different version with the voices of Malcom X, Angela Davis and Dalton Trumbo added to the blend. I like that both saxes or flute often lay back and play their calm lines together, swirling softly around one another sublimely, occasionally in a dream-like state. Also what is great about this disc is that this is protest music which never shouts or screams, it is thoughtful and well-paced giving us a chance to think calmly about the way our freedom has been abused and manipulated by those in charge.

The Red Microphone will be playing here with spoken word artist Erika Dagnino on June 9th of 2013. It seems they are a perfect choice for this award-winning spoken word vocalist from Italy.

- Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
CD $10
Bruce Gallanter - Downtown Music Gallery (Apr 20, 2013)
Change of the Century Brings Contemporary Jazz to Beacon
March 17, 2013

‘Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny’ — Frank Zappa

By Alison Rooney

Outside of various precincts of New York City and a few other places, said James Keepnews, presenter of the new series Change of the Century – New Jazz for the 21st, it’s getting harder and harder to hear nontraditional “free jazz.” Free jazz is defined by Merriam Webster as “marked especially by an abandonment of preset chord progression and a lack of melodic pattern.”

Keepnews lamented: “This music used to have a cultural cachet, I mean Ornette Coleman was a guest on Saturday Night Live once. It’s less so now; it’s been marginalized by an American Idol culture. The music has much less credence to the world at large; now you have to seek it out, and it’s becoming lost to this generation. Nothing would make me more miserable than if people stopped listening to it. It’s powerful and needs to be heard.”

Keepnews intends to remedy this locally with a once-a-month series presenting contemporary jazz players at Beacon’s Howland Cultural Center. “These artists are going to be a living rebuke to the notion that jazz is a dying art form. They demonstrate the vitality of the music.” The series gets its title from a 1959 album by Coleman.

Four concerts, the first taking place on March 22 and continuing on through July at a minimum, will showcase a wide range of styles composed and improvisational, with a goal, said Keepnews, of “debunking any notion of jazz being an ‘old’ much less ‘dead’ music. Part of what I’m trying to convey is not just that this is worthy of your attention, but that’s it’s fun; bring young children — they ‘get it.’ At a minimum, any audience can recognize the standards and practices at work.”

Keepnews has been presenting this music “for the better part of 30 years.” A musician, writer and multimedia developer, he is on the board at Cold Spring’s Chapel Restoration, where, for the past few years he has endeavored, along with jazz violinist Gwen Laster, to bring contemporary jazz musicians (amongst other genres) to that venue, expanding the range of music heard there beyond more traditional forms. Keepnews called all of the Howland season’s musicians “paragons in an approach to playing without compromise.”

His detailed descriptions and assessments of the artists appearing in the first concert follow, along with information he provided for the latter concerts:

March 22: Trio X + Rosi Hertlein — “Acclaimed collective trio featuring multi-instrumentalist and Poughkeepsie native Joe McPhee, bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen, joined for this concert by special guest violinist and vocalist Rosi Hertlein.

“Since his emergence on the creative jazz and new music scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Joe McPhee has been a deeply emotional composer, improviser and multi-instrumentalist, as well as a thoughtful conceptualist and theoretician. With more than 60 recordings, McPhee has shown that emotional content and theoretical underpinnings are thoroughly compatible — and in fact, a critically important pairing — in the world of creative improvised music.

“As the 1990s drew to a close, McPhee discovered two like-minded improvisers in bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen. The trio premiered at the Vision Jazz Festival, but the concert went unnoticed by the press; McPhee, Duval and Rosen therefore decided that an apt title for the group would be Trio X. A number of Trio X recordings have since been released on the CIMP and Cadence Jazz Records labels.

“Dominic Duval is one of the finest bassists on the contemporary scene, having played and recorded with some of the greatest names in jazz and new music. Duval’s continuing tenure with pianist Cecil Taylor’s trio has cemented his reputation as one of contemporary music’s more important figures. Duval is comfortable in any number of genres, including modern classical, jazz and music, which defies classification. Duval leads and co-leads a number of ensembles himself, including the critically acclaimed C.T. String Quartet and the Dominic Duval String Ensemble.

“Jay Rosen has recorded with Mark Whitecage; Paul Smoker; Herb Robertson; James Carter; Anthony Braxton; Jaco Pastorius and many more. ‘Rosen is one of the most accomplished drummers around and his musical acumen is second to none’ — All About Jazz(1/06)

“Rosi Hertlein’s musical background is divided equally between the worlds of improvisation and contemporary classical. Her work in recent years includes ensemble works with Daniel Carter and performing as one-fifth of composer Pauline Oliveros’ New Circle Five. She premiered Cecil Taylor’s With Blazing Eyes and Open’d Mouth with the Sound Vision Orchestra and Taylor on piano. She performs with Reggie Workman’s African-American Legacy Project. She’s a remarkable improviser, in vocals as well as being virtuosic on violin; and she has a marvelous spirit. This will be a great launch for the series.”

April 26: Ingrid Laubrock/Tom Rainey — “Wife-and-husband duo of saxophonist and drummer sculpt real-time, fearlessly adventurous and stunningly executed sonic structures. I saw them in the city about a year ago, in a wholly improvised program, and I was blown away. You would think being a duo would give them a limited range, but what they did schooled me 12 ways. I’ve been talking to them ever since about performing in the Hudson Valley.”

May 31: Bad Touch — “An outstanding New York City collective quartet featuring alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Nate Radley, organist Gary Versace and drummer Ted Poor performs original works of remarkable textural variety and daring. They’re really invigorating in performance. Each contributes compositions — long form, which leaves room for a lot of incredible improvisations; the fifth member of the band is their compositions.”

June 29: Ras Moshe/Music Now Extended Unit: “A superb flautist and saxophonist with a political edge — he has often played at Brechtforum on the west side of Manhattan. He approaches music as a radical political process. John Pietaro now lives in New York City, but formerly lived in Beacon. He’s a brilliant percussionist and runs Dissident Arts. Pianist Chris Forbes comes from Chicago. He’s an under-recorded keyboardist — very glad he will have the opportunity to play the Howland Center’s Steinway. He’s ferociously talented — a virtuosic soloist whose is down to earth. Andrew Drury’s ability on kit is remarkable. He has an extended approach to the kit, using gongs, always rubbing some metals together — you never know what sounds are going to come out of him.” [Keepnews, a guitarist, will also be performing in that evening’s group.]

Each performance begins at 8 p.m. Admission for each concert in the series is $15, and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets will be available at the door each concert evening only. The Howland Center is located at 447 Main St. in Beacon and can be reached at 845-831-4988, or visit the series’ Facebook page.
INTERVIEW: John Pietaro (USA) by Erika Dagnino(ITALIA)

'Levure Litteraire', Issue 7, March 2013 (international arts journal headquartered in France)


ED: John Pietaro is a New York activist musician. He plays vibraphone, xylophone, drumkit, frame drums, hand drums, percussion, voice. He has performed with artists including Alan Ginsberg, Karl Berger, Fred Ho, Arturo O’Farril, Salim Washington, John Zorn, Pete Seeger, Amina Baraka, Blaise Siwula, Ras Moshe, Cheryl Pyle, Elodie Lauten, Carsten Radke, Rudresh Mahanthapa, and many more. Pietaro directs the ensembles RADIO NOIR ( , THE DISSIDENT ARTS ORCHESTRA, and THE RED MICROPHONE, a quartet of revolutionary musicians. He also performs with KARL BERGERS IMPROVISERS ORCHESTRA and free-lances in NYC. He is the founder of THE DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL and has spoken on arts activism at Left Forum and other venues. Pietaro writes for Z Magazine and many other progressive journals and wrote a chapter for the Harvey Pekar/Paul Buhle book SDS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (2007 Hill and Wang). He is currently writing an extensive history of protest arts and a book about the No Wave movement, and completed a volume of contemporary proletarian fiction.

Here we talk with Pietaro about what the Dissident Arts Festival represents in a collective situation. We look at this in the current struggle for freedom of the individual even within the goal of building a network of progressive forces. There is the need to value one’s individual sensibility and reality and dreams ( that of course are part of reality) in a world that seems to be going downward – and wants to keep to the people in the lowest common denominator , where the individual seems to be nonexistent and sometimes the society seems to become a system to put each one at a standard level to make the characteristic of each person banal in the name of homologation.

JP: I first conceived of the idea for the Dissident Arts Festival in 2006, after enduring years of the Bush presidency and dealing with the fallout of his right-wing policies. By day I work as a labor organizer, so I saw the effects of this conservative, anti-worker administration close-up. The National Labor Relations Board had been decimated by this regime and he and other conservatives were doing their best to defame unions whenever possible. The wealthy were getting tax breaks as the middle- and working-class were being cast aside. Bush was an incompetent, a failed businessman who openly befriended the kings of corporate America—the very force that had been greedily built up by the right-wing and were especially supported in those Bush years. We were engaged in an unlawful war, citizens were being spied on, social service programs were being slashed, women’s rights were being threatened, the poor were vilified and there was a terrible divisiveness throughout the country. As an artist of conscience as well as a Leftist, I recognized the need to speak up through radical creativity. I reached out to a variety of musicians as well as poets and guest speakers to create that first Festival . At the time many topical singers were involved, invoking the great body of work of the folk-protest movement, but jazz musicians were also present as were rock balladeers. Over the years the scope of the Festival has gone increasingly avant garde and while there were still some sing-songwriters involved this year, most of the artists were those who hold a presence in the free jazz and new music world. The 2012 Festival was truly the best one yet and it occurred in two venues, one in Greenwich Village and one in Brooklyn. Our reach grows further and the goal is to unify more and more artists—as well as audience members—under a collective umbrella of radical music.

ED: Here it can be interesting to connect and recall one of the latest interviews, in 1975, of the Italian intellectual, writer and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini who talked about his film taken from the Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, but set during the Republic of Salò in 1944-1945 (the readers can watch the documentary film ‘Pasolini Prossimo Nostro’ – Director : G. Bertolucci; Interviews: Gideon Bachmann)

In some points of the interview the Italian filmmaker declared that “today’s ideal is consumerism” – there he was talking about Italy in particular – “there is an enormous group extending from Milano to Bologna, it includes Rome and spreads to the South. It is an homologating civilization that make everything the same. So it is clear that the barriers fall that small group disband….a consumer ideology, you don’t…instead of having a flag, the clothes they wear are their flag. Some of the means and some of the external phenomenal have changed but in practice, it is a depauperation of individuality which is disguised through its valorization. […] ‘Permissive’ societies permit a few things, and only those things can be done.[..] Today 1975 it is a power that manipulates the bodies in a horrible way, it has nothing to envy to of Himmler’s or Hitler’s manipulation. It manipulates them , transforming their conscience, in the worst way, establishing new values which are alienating and false. The values of consumerism, which accomplish what Marx called genocide of the living, real, previous cultures. […] ‘I lower my head in the name of God’ is already a great phrase. While now, the consumer does not even know he lowers his head, to the contrary he stupidly believes he has not lowered it and that he has won his rights.[…]”.

Can you tell us some thoughts about these themes?

JP: Sadly, it is often the goal of any government to secure some kind of control over its citizenry. Sometimes this is done by brute, oppressive force as in fascism. Other times it is done via a bastardization of a unifying philosophy: Stalin manipulated Marxism for his own sense of glory and gain. In the USA we have seem a homogenization of the populace at various points and through various means. The dictates of the fashion industry are a seemingly benign arm of conformism but how the fashion mogul would love to have everyone in their clothing! Advertising pushes us, pulls us and can become a background drone that can be inescapable. Here in the very bowels of capitalism, it is easy to recognize the power of the wealthiest corporate leaders and their sway on the public. Sometimes we are unable to purchase products the industry machine has forcibly made unavailable, sometimes we are tricked into making the purchase the corporate powers guide us to. These factors can and do lead to a rather faceless population, one devoid of a real sense of self and a thorough course of development. But even here in a nation with an intact Bill of Rights we have seen points where the manipulation, the coercion of a power goes much further. Usually those times have been in the shadow of an outside threat that a government can opportunistically magnify in order to frighten people into a willing homogenization. The best example in the USA would have to be in the late 1940s – ‘50s Red Scare—which actually lasted into the 1970s and was actually reinvented by Ronald Reagan’s Administration in the 1980s. But in those high years of the Cold War, American citizens were investigated by agents of the government, blacklisted, terrorized and humiliated. It was an age of fear and conformity and false patriotism (which begat nationalism and xenophobia) under the guise of national security. The House UnAmerican Activities Committee and the Senate Sub-Committee on UnAmerican Activities (where McCarthy became the rising star) as well as smaller, local governmental committees, tried artists, intellectuals, teachers , municipal employees and union leaders in public hearings in order to break their organizations and means of communication. This was the boldest example of in American history one could think of and the tactics of these bodies was dangerously close to the methods of the Nazis.

ED: To keep here, for these thoughts we are talking about, the line of his declarations, “[..]I think that no artist in any society is free. Being crushed by the normality and by the mediocrity of any society in which he lives, the artist is a living contestation. He always represents the contrary of that idea that every man in every society has of himself. In my opinion, a minimum, perhaps immeasurable, margin of freedom is always there. I can’t say to what point this is , or is not freedom. But certainly , something that escapes the mathematical logic of mass culture, for the time being. [..]”.

JP: Well, Bertolt Brecht also said that the artist is the ultimate whore. We sell off pieces of ourselves in order to eat and we almost always compromise our values in doing so. And John Reed argued that without dissent, there can be no radical democratic movement. We as artists get to speak out in a manner that others cannot. Even musicians who dedicate their career to commercial music, poets who write greeting cards for a living, visual artists who spend their days painting still-lifes to be hung in hotel rooms, we cannot lose the inner artist, the force within us that has allowed us to create in the first place. Like many, I have a day job but the music is in my head at all times and every night I can go home and play music, perform for the public, compose, go to jam sessions. This is something bigger than the individual yet it is purely of the individual as a means of expression. How does the rest of the world do it? How can they go home from their jobs and watch the ball game on TV, drink a beer and go to bed? The freedom is within us and we must constantly embrace it so that our art can be whole, so that we can produce an inspired kind of creativity that can enlighten others.

ED: Recently Pietaro has been working on a new project with local professional musicians in NYC and also from other countries. Can you talk us about the name ‘Radical Arts Front’ and what a collective like ‘Radical Arts Front’ wants to be?

JP : Just to clarify, a front in Left politics is not really with reference to a war zone: think of the United Front, the gathering of Left activists in the early 30s all in opposition to fascism. This collective allowed them to tear down the walls that separated communists, socialists, Trotskyists. Later it expanded to the Popular Front which included social democrats and liberals too. My idea for the collective is just that—a gathering of experimental, free jazz, new music, avant garde musicians who have strong convictions about a people’s movement, about equality, peace, workers’ rights, ecology and other progressive issues. Yes, many of us will be socialists in general, some Marxists, some engaged in a variety of Left parties and organizations—but others will be more general activists who have varying degrees of progressive thinking. This is why we are standing as a united front, albeit one united as much by our drive toward an advanced art as advanced socio-political philosophy

The October Jazz Revolution (October 20, 2012), a concert featuring some of the most revolutionary musicians in New York now, will be the first official event under the banner of the collective. And then one week later, there is a performance of the Dissident Arts Orchestra, playing a live improvised score for the German Expressionist film ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’.

I am not building a collective that will necessarily engage in meetings or require dues of any kind, it will serve as a resource for each musician involved. A collective such as this would enable us to seek opportunities, to have a list of musicians from which to draw from for gigs, quick access to referrals for gigs that may come up (especially if they are directly tied into social justice movements), and more than anything else, a banner under which we might be able to work, a brand which will help with public relations and outreach. My plan, if we have enough interest, is to seek out not-for-profit status and use it to seek out grants for concerts under this banner—-because the goal for me has always been to be able to pay musicians for events I organize. This will not only inspire more participation but growth of the entire concept of an artist-driven organization which reaches into issues beyond art’s sake. The big difference between what I am seeking to build and earlier protest music organizations is that those (such as People’s Songs) were usually comprised of folksingers. This collective will focus only on experimental, free jazz, new music performers/improvisers/composers who hold Left philosophies and engage in activism of any degree. Some may seek only a more defined kind of revolutionary activism, others may not wish to be associated with any kind of radical organization and most will fit somewhere in between. Whichever path the collective’s members choose, it would be great to be able to engage in this together and of course in concert with existing Left artists organizations such as Scientific Soul Sessions, Occupy Music and the like. As musicians of conscience, we all have a lot to consider.

Ultimately I would love to see this collective become a means to make funding available for a series of events that seek to bridge progressive and radical politics to forward-looking music. If you see yourself as an activist in any way, particularly as it applies to your music, do you also see the strength in a unified action? Events such as my Dissident Arts Festival need to grow, but I would like this umbrella to expand and help to produce a wide variety of concerts. A familiar banner over many of our events can allow us to attract more attention and increase not only our audience as well as our radical message. The politics are not bound by a particular school or philosophy, but suffice to say that the outlook is Left: ranging from outright revolutionary to general progressive and in every case, an organization to celebrate individual expression as well as a collective sensibility. For more information please visit my website:

-For contact and further information

Date: Saturday, February 16, 2013
Venue: 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts

Review by Matt Cole

On Saturday, 16 February, THE DISSIDENT ARTS ORCHESTRA, provided an improvised score to a newly restored version of Sergei Eisenstein’s seminal film Battleship Potemkin at the 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Led and conducted by THE RED MICRPHONE‘s vibraphonist/percussionist John Pietaro , the Orchestra included on this night Nora McCarthy on vocals, Cheryl Pyle on flute, Quincy Saul on clarinet, Rocco John Iacovone on soprano and alto saxes, Patrick Brennan on alto, Ras Moshe on soprano, tenor and flute; SoSaLa’s Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi (making his debut with the DAO) on tenor sax and vocals, Alon Nechustan on accordion, Javier Hernandez-Miyares on electric guitar, Laurie Towers on electric bass, Nicolas Let-man-Burtinovic on double bass, and Hollis Headrick on drums and percussion.

With such a large ensemble, even one who for the most part has played together consistently before, it’s always important to make sure that everyone’s on the same page, and conductor Pietaro performed this duty quite well. There were several cues that he could give, for example having the band play around a certain tonal center, or time signature; another cue had the band play the “Internationale” (generally when the red flag was raised); alternately, Pietaro could bring instruments in and out of the mix with a good deal of freedom for them to choose just what to play at the moment. The Orchestra rewarded this confidence by playing very well together over the course of the evening as a cohesive and synergetic unit.

The evening started with a pre-movie Overture, during which the band went through a shortened version of the overall shape of their music for the movie, albeit with different musical details, with Pietaro facilitating well from his conductors spot (when he wasn’t adding vibraphones or percussion to the soundscape). Iacovone’s soprano sax began the music, and the rest of the band added layers of overlapping long notes over pulsating waves of drums (quite appropriate for a battleship movie). On a micro level, there was actually a fair amount of movement for such a section, but the overall effect was that of long notes, and that’s a pretty neat trick. Soon thereafter, we heard vocalist McCarthy take the lead for the first time with a series of rich wordless tones over an urgent rhythm in 7. McCarthy demonstrated a very impressive tonal range, and soon the band came in with cacophonous interplay, starting with alternating pairs of instruments (e.g. alto-soprano, tenor-tenor) conversing, and then the pairs becoming threes and fours, until the whole band was involved. Then, out of this chaos a jazzy, swingy waltz emerged, at once out and yet locked into a hard swinging pocket. It was near this point that the advantage of having two basses became apparent, as one would lock down the bottom while the other played freely with the band. Finally, the band played some variations on the “Internationale.”

Then the movie started. A lot has been written about Battleship Potemkin, so as someone who hasn’t taken a film class since about 1990 (my big paper was on the Rocky Horror Picture Show), I won’t add to that. The film was shown on 3 screens, forming 3 sides of a square—the main one was for the audience, and the other two served to help the band members (arranged in a ‘U’ shape underneath the screen) see the action on the screen and tailor their playing accordingly. The band did an impressive job of enhancing the silent drama on the screen, providing an urgent, off-center beat and jazzy tonals when the crew of the ship begins to mutiny over maggot-infested beat. (It was at this point that I noticed the band pulling a neat musical trick of playing a 2-2-3 rhythm and then seamlessly morphing it into a 3-3-2.) When there was drama and potential execution on the deck, the band slid into a loose and swingy waltz, and went free and chaotic during the deck fight which ensued (side note: the head priest on the ship reminded me of the old man guarding the bridge of death in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). One of the musical highlights of the evening came during the funeral scene for the hero, who had died leading his shipmates in revolt against their cruel and clueless officers, as the band played a slow dirge, free and very together, with a hint of waltz underneath. Over this, McCarthy sang, and Saadat chanted in Farsi. Conductor Pietaro did a nice job over the course of the soundtrack of bringing instruments in and out, providing good dynamic contrasts. As the film ended, with the red flag flying over the Potemkin and the other ships’ sailors joining in, the band played the “Internationale” one last time.

In all, this was a quite impressive multimedia presentation by THE DISSIDENT ARTS ORCHESTRA. The musicians played well together, making a cohesive work from improvisation, their ears, and their able conductor, and making the music enhance and otherwise go quite well with a truly classic film that has to rank as one of the most important in the entire film canon. The DAO plans more such mixings of old classics with new, improvised music this year; it is recommended that fans of film and improvised music make an effort to seek them out.

Related post: Concert Review: THE RED MICROPHONE performing protest jazz music
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 To the Hungry Child” and with (Hanns Eisler's) “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.
Concert Review: Karl Berger's Improvisers Orchestra
"Improvising a Film Noir"
by Delarue

Karl Berger’s Improvisers Orchestra’s performance Thursday night at El Taller Latinoamericano was a Halloween show of sorts, a feast of lush, slowly crescendoing, apprehensive sonics punctuated by bracing cameos from some of New York’s most engaging improvisers. Since 1972, when Berger fouunded the Creative Music Foundation upstate, pretty much everyone who’s anyone in jazz improvisation has had some assocation with him. This tantalizingly brief performance, by their standards anyway (clocking in at just under an hour) was typical in terms of consistent magic and intuitive interplay. LIke the Sam Rivers Trio reunion album recently reviewed here, it was amazing how cohesive and seemingly through-composed the performance seemed despite the group having only batted around some ideas for maybe an hour beforehand. It was a film noir for the ears.

In their own unselfconscious way, this ensemble is one of the world’s most exciting in any style of music, when they’re on – which they almost invariably are. Lately, the Stone has been their New York home, so it was good to see them in somewhat less confining surroundings (with 20 members, that doesn’t leave much room for a crowd at the Avenue C space). If you’ve ever wondered where improvisational conductors like Greg Tate and Butch Morris got their inspiration, look no further than Berger, who had plenty of fun methodically pulling solos, and motifs, and an endless series of crescendos out of the orchestra. As it peaked, this show could have been the Gil Evans Orchestra jamming out something from the legendary 1962 Individualism album. or a late 50s John Barry score in a particularly harrowing moment.

The theme of this show was tense, close harmonies, deftly balanced between highs and lows, reeds and strings. Berger smartly employed Hollis Headrick’s bongos, echoing ominously throughout the room, to amp up the suspense factor. Intense drummer/percussionist John Pietaro utilized the vibraphone set up at the back of his kick drum for extra melodic bite, while drummer Lou Grassi took command of swing interludes and blustery cymbal ambience. Bassist Lisa Dowling played the entirety of the show with a bow, an apt decision since it kept her minimalist menace audible even as the music rose to epic heights. Tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum and vocalist/poet Ingrid Sertso took charge of continuity between segments; strange as it may seem to rely on spontaneous spoken word to maintain a groove, Sertso pulled it off with a surreal nonchalance. “Murder is murder is murder,” she intoned softly at one point.

A flurry of teeth-gnashing, tremolo-picked mandolin, a gracefully sepulchral downward swoop from Sama Nagano’s violin, a richly plaintive soprano sax interlude from Catherine Sikora, frenetically aghast slashes from the baritone saxophone, haunting Ken Ya Kawaguchi shakuhachi and alternately tuneful and droll trumpet from Thomas Heberer all followed in turn over the wary ambience behind them. Berger finally wound up the set by introducing a relatively obscure Ellington theme with his melodica, which the ensemble was quick to pick up, yet held back from completely embracing, lending it the same rich unease that had permeated the first forty-five minutes of the show. As large-scale improvisation goes, it’s hard to think of anything as gripping and altogether fascinating to watch as this was. Berger and the rest of the crew will be at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus sometimes in November; watch this space. And the Creative Music Foundation has an archive of performances dating from the 70s, featuring artists like Rivers and Morris, which they plan to share with the public at some future date.

17 Frost Gets Radical
by Michael Cesarczyk

“Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six gun,
And some with a fountain pen.”

Woody Guthrie wrote these lyrics to “Pretty Boy Floyd” during the Great Depression, a time when high unemployment and dust bowl storms shattered the country’s confidence in a better future. And while our current financial crisis might not be as dire, many believe it was caused by the same suspects: unregulated markets, overoptimistic banks and predatory elites. It’s a view that’s been shared by many of America’s greatest musicians, including Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, and will continue to be voiced in North Brooklyn with the 2012 Dissident Arts Festival at 17 Frost Theater of the Arts on Friday, August 17.

Originally started as the Dissident Folk Festival in 2006, the annual event has served as a “platform for cultural workers to sing, recite, improvise, act and orate against war and inequality,” according to its founder and producer, John Pietaro. Though initially a “call-to-arms” to the folk music community of upstate New York, the festival has since stretched the boundaries of protest art. While giving tribute to past masters like Woody and Paul Robeson, and inviting legends like Seeger, Pietaro has also showcased a who’s who of more radical performers: Lach (founder of the anti-folk movement), hip hop ensemble ReadNex Poetry Squad, the Pittsburg Raging Grannies, and poet Louis Reyes Rivera. Progressive political figures, such as former Green Party gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt and labor leader Henry Foner, have been featured as well.

Karl Berger and Ingrid Sistero / Photo Courtesy: John Pietaro

For this year’s festival, Pietaro plans to incorporate even more experimental music and art. The 2-day, 2-borough event begins at 17 Frost with a “Radical Songwriters Forum” from 8-10pm. Topical troubadours will include Ann Arbor-based Joe Kidd, contemporary ballader Donald Johnson, and Faster, a soprano sax/voice and avant guitar duo that covers “the experimental side of social parody.” From 10pm to midnight, visitors can watch Fritz Lang’s sci-fi classic “Metropolis” with a live improvised score by the Dissident Arts Orchestra. The nine-piece, featuring Pietaro on percussion and 17 Frost Creative Director Javier Hernandez-Miyares on guitar, will accent themes of social struggle in Lang’s dystopian tale of oppressed workers.

For Hernandez-Miyares, giving North Brooklyn access to the festival goes hand in hand with the goals of 17 Frost, a gallery and performance venue dedicated to local arts education. “Frost is a space that promotes alternative voices that are often out of the mainstream, and we especially like music that provokes thought and awakens consciousness. Cultural events to challenge the senses are what every neighborhood needs.”

The festival continues on Saturday at the Brecht Forum with a screening and discussion of Iara Lee’s 2003 documentary “Cultures of Resistance,” and a concert ranging from improvisational world music by Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso to the “dissident swing” of Radio Noir, among many others.

“Sure, it sounds like usual PR to say that this is the best one yet, but this time it’s absolutely the case,” wrote Pietaro in a recent post on “And in the shadow of a series of uprisings…it couldn’t be a more important time to fuse our activism and our vision.”

For more information, visit
THE VILLAGER, New York City, Aug 11, 2011

Poetry, music, film dismantle barriers, trigger action
Dissident Arts Festival celebrates the radical Left


“The arts are a weapon for social change!” — urges Lower Manhattan’s “Dissident Arts Festival.” In the name of social justice, dissidents and cultural workers will gather for this evening of progressive poetry, music and film — in celebration of radical Left culture (and in solidarity with the struggles of workers and the globally oppressed).

This year’s sixth annual festival will begin with a screening of long-blacklisted labor film “Salt of the Earth” (followed by discussion by film artist Kevin Keating). Then, musical performances from radical poetry/jazz ensemble Upsurge!, post-modern jazz band Secret Architecture, 1930s-meets-contemporary-improv band Radio Noir, jazz violinist and vocalist Gwen Laster, singer/songwriter Judy Gorman and labor/peace choir The NYC Metro Ragin’ Grannies. Political satirist Dave Lippman and poets Steve Bloom, Jackie Sheeler, Angelo Verga, Rashidah Ismaili, Robert Gibbons and Sara Goudarzi will also take the stage. Folk-protest songs, improvisation and contemporary composition will tear down boundaries and bend rules — calling dissidents to take action.

At the Brecht Forum, center of Left education and culture (451 West St., btw. Bank & Bethune Sts.). Aug. 13, 4-11pm. Sliding scale admission: $6/$10/$15 (free for Brecht Forum subscribers). For info and a schedule of events, call 212-242-4201 or visit

TheVillager Newspaper

Reader Services
Concert Review: Dissident Arts Festival


By Gabe Falsetta

The sixth annual Dissident Arts Festival was held in New York City at the Brecht Forum.

John Pietaro, a labor organizer and musician, along with poets and activists John and Steve Bloom, brought the festival to New York City last year from Beacon, N.Y., where it originated.

The festival featured film, poetry and song. First on the bill was one of the most highly regarded labor films ever made in the U.S., Salt of the Earth. Documentarian Kevin Keating (Harlan County U.S.A., and Giuliani Time), who led a discussion on the movie, said, "The audience loved the film. Everybody was stunned, I think. I don't think anyone in the audience had seen it before. The film was made by communists and that power came through in the film."

Singer/songwriter Judy Gorman did a great rendition of Pete Seeger's Talking Union.

The Raging Grannies also showed up and made a lasting impression. Carson Chutters, a New York teacher said the Grannies "were wonderful. It was really exciting to hear them. I'm an educator. I work with eight- to 12-year-olds. I'm always looking for ways to integrate and make music more accessible to people who don't always have exposure to these ideas, and I especially think that the music and lyrics and the way they were talking about these really complex issues made it really easy and fun to participate ... What a wonderful way to start engaging than signing a really exciting song and getting into it."

Poets Steve Bloom, Sara Goudarzi, Mary Ellen Sanger, Angelo Verga, Jackie Sheeler and Robert Gibbons read some of their works to the delight of the audience. Satirist Dave Lippman provided the audience with belly laughs "protecting greed" and other acts.

A jazz and spoken word ensemble from San Francisco, Upsurge, blew the audience away with their powerful music and lyrics, which condemned Wall Street and the greedy banks. The leader of the group, Raymond Nat Turner, said, "This is a perfect showcase for what we've been doing for 20 years in the Bay Area." This was the group's first performance at the festival.

Summing it up, festival organizer John Pietaro said, "This is the second year of the festival in New York City. People we get each year have a following. Kevin, who was with us last year, Gwen Laster, who performed at Obama's inauguration, Upsurge, from San Francisco."

"The goal is for Dissident Arts to become a real organization, not just a yearly concert but a regular series of things influenced to some degree by Pete Seeger's people songs, the composer's collective in New York in the 30s, and Aaron Copeland," said Pietaro.

He concluded. "We need to have a broad coalition of people who are tired of capitalism and certainly tired of the military industrial complex that we've been living in."
ROLL MAGAZINE, October 2008
Performing Arts:

…Should you find yourself in Beacon Columbus Day weekend, Saturday October 11, make your way to the “back end” of Beacon to the famous Howland Cultural Center ( where self proclaimed “rabble-rouser” John Pietaro—of The Flames of Discontent—hosts his annual Dissident Folk & Arts Festival. John is unabashedly pro-union, progressive, and politically active, and along with his own band he presents Bev Grant & the Dissident Daughters, Hope Machine, Chris Ruhe, The Hudson Valley Playback Theatre, the Slink Moss Orchestra, Zenote Sompantle, Hip-Hop poet Ol Soul, and radical poets Addision Goodson, Lawrence Soebel, Robert Milby and Sana Shabazz.
Roll Magazine, Oct 2008 (Oct 8, 2008)


Once upon a time in the homeland, topics like peace, justice and an entirely
irresponsible pursuit of personal happiness were topics of public interest
which are now, fortunately, being permanently rooted out and eradicated, bit
by bit, by a dedicated group of lawmakers now serving in Congress and the
U.S. Senate. As globalists under Moloch, we, of course, celebrate the nation’s joyless turn to totalitarian world rule in the near future, dedicated to efficiency, but we must caution against complacence for the battle is far from over.

There are still some rabid radicals, according to a balanced newsman I heard
this week, who would like to re-introduce such discredited and threatening
ideas as individual rights, fair trials, reckless gambling with future
results like elections without controlled candidates and other such
insidious nonsense- even, heaven help us, a return of "truth" to
the public arena- how’s that for a shuddersome notion? Such rubbish can truly interfere with the installation of a productive and profitable slave state,
which is why I’m alerting you to an event our agents have informed us of,
scheduled for 7 pm SHARP on Saturday, July 12th at The Colony Café in that
bothersome and unlikely town the rabble insist upon calling Woodstock

The event in question is described as the Second Annual Woody Guthrie
Birthday Hoot, named after a songwriter, artist, activist named Woody (July
14, 1912-October 3, 1967) who did a lot toward forming the preset for what would become a musically-embedded Woodystock Notion with unnecessary ideals of social justice, beauty, ethics, humanity and other outmoded and useless values. He would go around singing and organizing for absurdities like unions, fair pay for workers , racial and religious tolerance and other obstacles to sensible rule, with a sign on his guitar which said "This
machine kills fascists"- this in an era when the honored Benito Mussolini
boasted the glories of a state with blended rule by corporations and
government that we have since so carefully adopted without using Duce’s
designation of "fascism" aloud. I shouldn’t need to remind you how painfully
slow and tedious the calculated taming of Guthrie’s sort of influence has been by marketplace forces over the past decades. Without mass media and Moloch’s good will, our designs for mankind could have been in real trouble.

However, the sway of Guthrie and his ilk has yet to be totally stamped out.
Even reality shows haven’t succeeded and, in more recent years, although we’
ve managed to largely suppress the singing of his song "This Land Is Your
Land" in schools, quite a few songs by, inspired by and even ABOUT Guthrie
have been plaguing us. Songs by bounders like Joel Rafael, Country Joe
McDonald and many others, call upon his ghost. Steve Earle pleads for
Guthrie to return in "Christmas In Washington," no doubt to interfere
with decisions best left to the Board and the orchestrated compliance of a mute, disinterested or deceived and obediently cowered populace. But the ominous legacy builds with this kind of music; songs like "Woody and Jack" by
Woodstock songwriter, Tom Pacheco, which he wrote after talking to a Guthrie
co-conspirator "Ramblin’ Jack" Elliot, or another little dart he’s never
recorded called "What Would Woody Think?"

Fortunately, Pacheco doesn’t seem to be on the playbill but, to find out
what WAS planned for the evening-from 7 to 9:30-wherein participants will
compose a dreaded "free speech zone" and other freedom cult members will
devote themselves to a disreputable but still legal activity called "having
fun"-I disguised myself as a reporter and called the Hoot’s organizer, John

"When I book these shows, I always try for a mix of styles, sounds and
feelings to keep the hootnanny form alive with a combination of ingredients
in the true spirit of it," said Pietaro in his Beacon, N.Y. home. A labor
organizer and social activist, himself, besides performing as The Flames of
Discontent with his rhythm-stirring wife, Laurie Towers- who often finesses
out a lead electric bass solo against his banjo, Pietaro said they would be
presenting a number of Guthrie’s lesser-known songs, like a rockabilly
version of "Round & Round Hitler’s Grave," an anti-death squad number
called "Hang Knot" (have they no respect for all of the money that goes into
training and conditioning organized lynch mobs?) and an original composition
drawn from Guthrie’s prose writings.

There’ll also be a rendition of Guthrie’s "Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los
Gatos)" which may spark some unwanted sympathy for the immigrant workers we’ve cultivated as scapegoats for job outsourcing and our campaign to lower
wages worldwide to increase the take at the top. This kind of song of human sympathy spits in the face of our efforts to use economic and xenophobic levers to deflect attention from what we’re paid to do with a bit of some good old-fashioned group hatred. This while trouble-makers like Jim
Hightower are blowing the whistle with observations like "in the last 15
years, Mexico’s long-standing system of sustaining its huge population of
poor citizens (including small self-sufficent farms, jobs in state-owned
industries and subsidies for such essentials at tortillas) has been scuttled
at the insistence of U.S, banks, corporations, government officials and
‘free-market’ ideologues. In the name of ‘modernizing’ the Mexican economy,
such giants as Citigroup, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and GE-in cahoots with the
plutocrats and oligarchs of Mexico-have laide waste to that country’s grassr
oots economy, destroying the already-meager livelihoods of millions." So,
home-loving Mexicans HAVE to head North- which makes them harder to blame.

If people start LISTENING to this kind of trash because of some misguided
song-inspired sympathies and looking more closely at NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO
and so on, it could give the whole game away and it’ll take FOREVER to
establish a decent, equal-opportunity slave state.

Another act is just as bad- Hope Machine, with songwriters Steve Kirkman
from North Carolina, Fred Gillen, Jr. from the Hudson Valley and a young
banjo intern from the Woody Guthrie Foundation Coalition run by Arlo Guthrie
’s sister, Nora, and other co-conspirators keeping the Woodystock tradition
alive. The group’s name is not a spin-off of Gillen’s tune "Killing
Machine"about a troubled soldier returned from Iraq (that noble enterprise
which has enabled us to liberate trillions from public funds safely into
corporate hands), looking for work. It comes from Woody Guthrie’s statement:
"The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling
to the bottom of the heap of evolution-because, largely, all a human being
is, anyway, is just a hoping machine." Of course, since the dictionary
definition of "conspiracy" is actually "hoping together," this is an instinct which must be suppressed if we are to soon re-evolve via the
unnatural selection theory of Survival of the Richest.

Another act will be a pair of performance pieces by famed Sultan of Sonic
Soul, Gus Mancini, gunning on saxophone and keyboards with writer, poet,
actress and performance artist Patti "Sweet P" Martin determined to awe
the audience with words.

Rounding it out will be a good friend of Woody’s associate Pete Seeger,
Chris Ruhe, a singer-songwriter, cultural organizer and member of the Beacon Sloop Club who also has an environmental activism radio show on Vassar College radio and tours frequently internationally. You know the type- a busybody who thinks the environment is a common heritage instead of a corporate possession. But, as Robert Anton Wilson once observed "Read your
lawbook, son, ownership is the right to use or abuse," and we’ve certainly
proved who REALLY owns the environment, haven’t we?

So, fellow globalists, here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll be there at 7
sharp to observe and take notes on what these upstarts are doing. Our
long-range economic assault is working perfectly with the "Enron loophole"
legislation of 8 years ago driving up the price of oil through new
speculator markets trading from Europe and Dubai, overseen by Goldman Sachs,
Stanley Morgan and the rest of the boys and the ethanol scam by the
Agra-giants & GMO folks increasing the price of food by as much as 75%,
according to a secret World Bank report just leaked to the British
newspaper, 'The Guardian', we’ve got them by the throat. Everything
is in place for the final stage in the removal of the greatest obstacle nation
to the new world plan. Everyone is doing their jobs splendidly and we’ll be
there to pick up the pieces and place them comfortably in the New American
Union as part of new global economic order that good ol’ Zbiggy and the crew
have designed.

We can’t have these Guthrie folks waking too many people up, so show up and let’s see what they’re up to!

-Irv Yarg
"John Pietaro, Laurie Towers and company have recreated the mood of the 1950s Witchhunt...and just in time for the latest waves of intended repression. While a large swath of liberal opinion, a half century or so ago, joined the Cold War crusade, eager to grab a share of the swag that would be handed out to cooperative intellectuals and artists, a larger number of dedicated artistic activists held to their positions and took the blows, determined not to give the McCarthyites the satisfaction of wiping out dissent entirely. Pietaro and Towers recall the fight-back that looked ahead to the revival of social movements during the 1960s. Likewise now, with musical verve and lively lyrics, the Flames of Discontent call us to the colors of the the hopes that they will be Red" -
Paul Buhle, noted historian and author - CD Review: Paul Buhle (Jan 21, 2007)

A musical duo from Beacon Saturday will host a May Day celebration in New Paltz that tackles health care, labor and immigration issues.
The May Day Jam will feature music by Flames of Discontent of Beacon and feature performances by the Readnex Poetry Squad, a quartet of young poets that has toured internationally and opened for the band Rage Against the Machine, and musician Zenote Sompantle, who specializes in acoustic Mexican revolution songs.
The May Day Jam is also set to feature speakers who will discuss organized labor, the rights of immigrants, the rights of women, student activism, peace, reform of the health-care industry and other social justice issues.
"I think it's really important that people do not forget the legacy of May Day," said John Pietaro of Beacon, a member of Flames of Discontent, professional labor organizer and organizer of this event. "May Day is an American workers' holiday."
Fighting for a cause
The origins of May Day - a May 1 holiday around the world in honor of workers - can be traced to a three-day strike in Chicago in 1886. Workers there took to the streets to demand an eight-hour workday. Rioting, deaths and the emboldening of unions followed.
May Day is observed internationally as an official holiday, but not in the United States. The link between the labor movement and music is strong. Fishkill resident and folk singer Pete Seeger has spoken often around the Hudson Valley about performing with Woody Guthrie for striking workers on picket lines and at labor rallies.
"The music not only gives me inspiration ... ," Pietaro said, "... the music makes it emotional."
One of the speakers scheduled to appear is another person who linked up music with social issues.
Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin of Ulster County is the widow of Mickey Ruskin, creator of the legendary restaurant, bar and nightclub, Max's Kansas City, in Manhattan. Sewall-Ruskin in 1996 founded the Max's Kansas City Project, which provides "emergency funding and resources to financially distressed individuals in the creative and performing arts for housing, medical and legal aid," according to
"I think of the labor movement," Pietaro said, "as part of the bigger struggle for social justice in general."
"May Day Jam: A Concert for Labor, Social Change & Healthcare Reform" is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at the Muddy Cup Coffeehouse, 58 Main St., New Paltz.
A $5 donation is encouraged. Call 845-255-5803 or visit and
John W. Barry is the music writer for the Poughkeepsie Journal. Write him c/o Poughkeepsie Journal, P.O. Box 1231, Poughkeepsie, NY 12602, call 845-437-4822, or e-mail

"Upstate Writers Strike Support Rally Draws a Big Crowd"

At least 100 union members turned out to support striking screenwriters at a rally held in the historic Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie on Friday.

The crowd included more than 50 Hudson Valley-based members of teachers’ union NYSUT as well as union sheet metal workers, commuter railway workers, communications technicians, stagehands, musicians, Actors Equity members and local Writers Guild members.

Bardavon director Chris Silva welcomed the group warmly, stressing the theater’s long history of supporting writers, from Mark Twain to Bob Dylan.

Musicians’ union member and labor organizer John Pietaro kicked off the rally with a Pete Seeger-ish banjo and rousing chorus of "Solidarity Forever."

Hudson Valley Area Labor Fed. AFL-CIO organizer Jen Fuentes addressed the assembled crowd, saying, "The issues at stake and the stand the writers are making are important, because in the labor movement, we are never afraid of a David and Goliath battle ... We will stand behind them 100 percent."

Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner presented the strike issues succinctly and with humor, noting "the guy who manufactures the plastic box for the DVD earns more per copy than the guy whose head the movie came out of."

The entire crowd moved onto the street outside the theatre, holding up signs, greeting patrons as they entered for a sold-out screening of "The Blues Brothers," and handing out Writers Guild informational flyers. Spirits were high in spite of temperatures in the low teens, and as audience members streamed into the theatre, several cars slowed down to honk in a show of support.

CD Review, ‘Quick Pick’:

THE FLAMES OF DISCONTENT, “Revenge of the Atom Spies” (Hidden Agenda Records)

If you’re looking for passion and commitment from an artist in the service of a decidedly leftist/populist social message, here’s Beacon musician, activist and organizer John Pietaro. With his band The Flames of Discontent (with bassist/vocalist/wife Laurie Towers and percussionist Rafael Figueroa), Pietaro (on guitar and banjo) starts with Joe Hill (“Stung Right”) and Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons” before segueing into his own updated Seeger-styled “September’s Divide”, and a defiant letter from author Lillian Hellman to the House Un-American Committee, setting an ardent tone for the CD. The stripped-down duo/trio sound like they’re rehearsing in the union hall, and Pietaro means every word he sings.
ALMANAC WEEKLY, October 4, 2007

Fanning the Flames: Dissident Folk Festival Revisits Howland Cultural Center in Beacon Next Saturday
by Bob Margolis

In the Boy, we need this more than ever file, please find the second running Dissident Folk Festival, under the organizing of John Pietaro and the Howland Cultural Center. Now called the Dissident Folk & Arts Festival 2007, the event returns to Beacon's Howland Center on October 13.
Pietaro is one who has mastered the art of speaking clearly about just what he is up to and why: The Festival has a primary goal, and that is to showcase protest arts in this climate of continued governmental oppression. While we in the US cling to a Bill of Rights, the Bush Administration has systematically sought to outlaw dissent, even as this Imperial Presidency has granted itself unprecedented power. So it’s time for the cultural workers to speak”. A full-time organizer, Pietaro also fronts the Flames of discontent—the rare socially relevant group that not only speaks truth to power, but does so without ignoring melody, craft or humor.
Pietaro is dead-on when he addresses the need not to be monochromatic when presenting music with a message. “We need to break down the barriers around what some may say is the sacred space of ‘folk music’ and ‘folk festivals’. For me there’s nothing more boring than an entire festival of only of only singer/songwriters brandishing a lone voice and an acoustic guitar; there needs to be a musical mix, from acoustic folk-oriented sounds to snarling punk-folk to world music to Berlin cabaret songs to jazz and more—plus spoken word artists. And we’ll even have a small exhibit of protest photography by the brilliant pairing of John Economos and Maxine Smith (‘Econosmith’) surrounding our stage…There’s nothing more intolerable than a series of homogenous performers, especially if the event is packaged such as ours. That picture is anathema to anything ‘dissident’. I knew from the start that that the concept of the protest singer as a white guy with an acoustic guitar must be pulled inside-out in my Festival. Sure, we’ve got a few white guys with acoustic guitars; but I insisted on having a broader array of faces, cultures, ages and accents up there, too. Its necessary, otherwise we are just engaging in the same exclusionary practice the right-wing has turned into a way of life. In this regard, this event—the only such protest music festival in this country—also expresses a level of dissent from the common ‘folk’ imagery, both culturally and musically”.
Kudos for programming in a number of specific themed events: a tribute to Bertolt Brecht, a workshop on Woody Guthrie and a presentation on New Orleans today are all on the bill, which includes music and spoken word, culminating in the sounds of violinist Gwen Laster.
Any activist worth his or her stripes must know the historical context of their movements. Mr. Discontent is no exception. “Throughout history, popular movements and uprisings have depended upon the voices and visions of musicians, writers, painters, poets, actors and dancers to fan the flames of discontent (so to speak), and festivals or pageants such as ours are nothing new. So last year I held the inaugural Festival, which was a full weekend. My only compromise for this year is to make it a single day…There’s no lack of drive or conviction; in fact, its only that much stronger with each news report of more outlandish Bush actions. This man appears to be trying to not only humiliate this nation in the eyes of the world but, ironically, causing more global hatred of the United States and seemingly giving birth to new legions of terrorists. So we will gather our forces and offer a realization of our freedom of speech, our right to organize and our right to dissent”.
Go get ‘em!. The event runs from 1PM to 11Pm at the Howland Cultural Center at 477 main Street in Beacon. For info call (845) 831-4988or visit Tickets are $10. ; all proceeds will be donated to the Howland Center’s geothermal heating system project. This isa Faniekl Pearl Music Day event.
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