Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Antibalas-December 7, 2007 (Block Magazine)

Antibalas, one of the latest Brooklyn grown bands to reach international fame, hit the BAM Opera House stage as the headliner of their Takeover all-night party the first Saturday night of November. There was a line out the door and around the corner down St. Felix St. to get into the multi-faceted all-night party. Five bands, four films, three djs, art video installations throughout the building, and berlesque in between musical acts on the main stage kept the party going into the early hours of the morning.
Antibalas has played all over the world, from Japan to Portugal making stops throughout Asia and Europe along the way. They've performed all over the city as well from Central Park Summer Stage to Rikers Island Prison Facility, but they are and have been a Brooklyn band from the start. Bringing their pulsing afro-beat grooves to the BAM center stage was a new honor all its own.
"That opera house bestows honor on whoever's fortunate enough to play there," said Stuart Bogie, the band's tenor saxophone player and influential band member since 2001. He's seen the band grow extensively both musically and in fame since their founding by Martin Perna in 1998. Many critics have dubbed them as the torch-bearers of afro-beat, the genre pioneered by Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his band Afrika 70, however, none of the band members see themselves as catering to that role
"A lot of the critics have said our music has become more and more our own and less and less imitations of Fela's music. Which I think is totally wrong. I don't think the opposite is true, but I think that's the most invented trash I've ever heard. Antibalas didn't understand Fela's music when they started. They loved it and were inspired by it, but they weren't equipped to imitate it. They didn't have the technique. We have that now to a much greater extent."
Antibalas has released four albums to date. Their latest, Security, came out earlier this year and received widespread critical acclaim. Security represents the progression of Antibalas' sound in different ways. When I spoke with Stuart Bogie, he elaborated further on Antibalas' progression, "We're better at breathing with in the afrobeat style. Technically the dynamic element has grown a lot in our music. The swell, the push, the subtle ways of playing the ostenatos and patterns, so that they still dance with each other. Afrika 70 was very adept in that way."
Like most members of Antibalas, Bogie takes part in a number of musical projects, some with other members of Antibalas. One such project is Sway Machinery, an amalgamation of middle-eastern and African sounds and influences, of which Antibalas trumpeter Jordan McLean is also a member. Bogie has collaborated with an extensive list of musicians including Celebration, TV on the Radio, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Burning Spear, Sinehead O'Conner, The Wu-Tang Clan, Rana, Dub is a Weapon, Congo Ashanti Roy, and Tony Allen just to name a few.
Antibalas is almost entirely composed of Brooklyn residents. Bogie lives in Williamsburg, Amayo, the lead singer/percussion player lives in Greenpoint, and Martin Perna, the baritone saxophone player and band's founder lives in Bushwick. Their keyboard player, Victor Axelrod, lives in Park Slope. Gracing the stage at BAM's opera house adds some hometown love to the extraordinary list of venues all over Europe and the United States including a castle in Portugal, manor houses along the French Riviera, Bonnaroo, and the Filmore at Irving Plaza.
Antibalas shared the stage with Be Your Own Pet, The Exit, Heartless Bastards, and Dirty On Purpose. The ladies from Ubiquita NYC, DJ Reborn, DJ Moni, and DJ Selly, kicked out the jams for a rockin dance party in the upstairs ballroom accompanied by Vikter Duplaix. Films curated by the critically-acclaimed BAMcinématek were showing all night as well including a tongue-in-cheek Lindsay Lohan Mid-Career Retrospective and the violent, edgy cult favorite Pusher Trilogy by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn.
As always, Antibalas made sure to impart some inspirational anti-establishment words between songs. Jordan McLean implored the audience to stay in touch with the news as a new Attorney General is appointed. He also posed a question to the audience asking why it was so important for the United States to define its position on torture. Following in the tradition started by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Antibalas uses its music as a medium for anti-establishment protest.
Antibalas has enjoyed a steady rise in fame and critical acclaim since their formation in 1998. Almost ten years in, it will be interesting to see where the band goes from here. They've already traveled the world spreading and keeping alive the afrobeat tradition representing Brooklyn the whole way. It will be interesting to see if they can keep their momentum strong as they continue to evolve together and grow as musicians.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Medeski Martin and Wood Rock The Music Hall of Williamsburg-October 5, 2007 (Greenpoint-Williamsburg Gazette)

Medeski Martin and Wood, one of the hottest jazz trios in the world, played to a raucous, packed house at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last Thursday night. John Medeski on keyboards, Billy Martin on drums and percussion, and Chris Wood on double bass and bass guitar played a two set, one encore show that lasted approximately three hours from start to finish, leaving the sold out crowd still wanting more.
Medeski Martin and Wood, or MMW as they're known to their fans, have been playing together since 1991 in D.U.M.B.O., Brooklyn. Medeski and Wood, students at Boston's prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, decided to move to New York City, with intent to explore the late-night underworld of the city's burgeoning jazz scene. Bob Moses, who had performed with both John Medeski and Chris Wood, and was Billy Martin's instructor, introduced the three to each other. Their first performances together were at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village.
Throughout the early nineties, the trio toured and recorded their first albums. Their music, chemistry, and performance style were all cultivated through their routine of playing all the New York jazz hot spots, touring the northeast, and recording. The three formed a strong musical relationship as well as friendship in those years that stays with them today.
The three musicians were looking to create music that reflected who they were, individually and collectively. They experimented with contemporary hip-hop beats and other non-traditional sounds. Their aim was to stay as dedicated to their sense of creativity as possible and trust their instincts, "In the beginning, as it is now, we went by gut instinct," said Chris Wood. "We have a natural connection between us, as people and as musicians, and we just let things flow in whatever direction they went."
MMW is renowned for their ability to improvise, and that is exactly how they opened the show. They started by having a conversation with their instruments for the first ten minutes, exploring the sounds they were all capable of making. Eventually, Chris Wood initiated a groove with the bass playing a repeating line for the first time. Billy Martin then supported it on the drums, and they immediately established an extremely deep pocket.
That was the pattern the entire first set followed--they would improvise for a while, feel each other out, say what they had to say, and then kick back into a deep groove. What impressed me the most about the trio was their transitions. They would seamlessly change from a ten-minute long free improvisational conversation to a hard groove perfectly time after time.
Developing and playing together for the last sixteen years has allowed for them to play flawlessly in sync with each other. They know exactly how much space to give each other and how to feed off of one another. It was as if they would take turns rotating who would explore and who would keep the groove established. Most of the time it was John Medeski on piano exploring, but from time to time, he would play a riff on the piano or organ and let Chris Wood take an elongated solo. It was as if the two of them would keep the third on a leash while they wandered around investigating their sound.
Medeski and Wood both utilized acoustic as well electronic sounds extremely effectively. Medeski switched on and off between his grand piano, electric organ, synthesizer, and melodica frequently. He would even utilize them together in a call and response format. Wood switched between his upright bass and electric bass. Both utilized distortion effects as well, stretching the scope of sounds one might expect to hear.
The second set was more groove oriented than the first. It featured slightly less improvisation and more lively rhythms. Medeski did less exploring and more jamming, playing more consistently melodically as well as rhythmically. It was as if they wanted to push things and make people feel uncomfortable in the first set, and then they wanted to make everybody dance in the second.
Towards the end of the show, they covered two jazz standards. The first was "Mercy mercy mercy" a tribute to the recently deceased Joe Zawinul who wrote the song with Cannonball Adderly in the 60's. The second was "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles which they played during the encore. They played both songs in their own distinctive way making their own mark on the songs exactly as you'd expect.
MMW is one of the biggest names to play at the newly opened Music Hall of Williamsburg yet. They have an enormous following in Brookyln, their hometown. The crowd was pumped before the first note was played, and they left satisfied. My roommate, Jake Lewis, toured with MMW as a sound technician last summer, and he said the show rated as one of the best he'd seen them play. I own several of their albums, but it was my first time seeing them live. I was extremely impressed. Not only was their performance progressive and free, it also managed to keep a steady consistency and cohesiveness to it. MMW is a world-renowned act, so next time you get the opportunity, do yourself a favor and check them out.

State Assemblyman Joe Lentol Secures Grant Aimed at Helping Local Artists-October 5, 2007 (Greenpoint Gazette)

Rising housing costs are causing artists to be priced out of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. One popular way to fight for your cause in North Brooklyn is ally yourself with a community organization or non-for-profit and if you're lucky, a local politician. Such is the thinking of the thousands of local artists who are members of Fractured Atlas, a national non-for-profit organization that provides services and support to artists and arts organizations, who recently received a grant from the state government championed by Assemblyman Joe Lentol.
Greenpoint and Williamsburg are home to some of the best artists in the country. Museums, concert halls, art instillations, and film shoots are all commonplace on almost any corner. With housing costs escalating, however, Greenpoint and Williamsburg are becoming less and less of a destination for artists. What attracted artists to the area to begin with, cheap housing, has been replaced by some of the highest rent in all of Brooklyn.
That's exactly the consensus that was reached last October at a community outreach meeting held at Galapagos Art Space. Assemblyman Lentol and Fractured Atlas co-sponsored the event along with Robert Elms of Galapagos. Adam Forest Huttler, the executive director of Fractured Atlas, described the event that set things in motion, "We began modestly, we co-hosted the event at Galapagos. We expected 20-30 people to show up for a panel discussion on economic development in the area. The place was packed, wall-to-wall, with angry artists waiting to be heard. It was a great event."
Both Lentol and Huttler acknowledge the event as the catalyst for the action. Huttler elaborated, "It became pretty clear that night that the community was desperate for someone to get everybody organized and provide a vehicle for success. We also know we had a very sympathetic ear in Joe Lentol who's a great guy, a powerful state assemblyman who's represented the district for decades, and comes from strong ties to old Williamsburg but has also developed strong relationship with new residents."
Lentol had this to say on the artists' role in the community, “The artists have been in Williamsburg for a long time now. They have become an essential part of our community, and by helping Fractured Atlas, we can help the artists.”
What does Fractured Atlas plan to do with the money? They are using it as a kick-start to their fundraising campaign for a massive outreach and organization project they are currently undertaking. They are in the words of Huttler, "going door to door" mapping out all artists and art-organizations on a publicly accessible map, and asking what their biggest issues are. They are also simultaneously conducting a sweeping voter registration drive to force more politicians to pay attention to them.
They are in effect setting out to organize the artists of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, "We have seen a lot of cases in the past where certain groups have hit a wall of much more organized and focused opposition from other groups who have been there for a long time. We're trying to work with as many local groups as possible who have our common goal in mind to form a unified powerful voice for the artists."
In a community with as many community organizations and non-for-profits dedicated to letting their voices be heard and seeing their interests met, local artists need Fractured Atlas to act as their loudspeaker. Not only will Fractured Atlas speak for the artists, they will help them network, give them a forum for discussion, help promote and market them, help them find health insurance, etc. etc.
If you've never heard of Fractured Atlas before, their website ( has a ton of easily accessible information about donating or becoming a member. They have a benefit coming up November 8th, but they are always accepting donations and new memberships. If you love art and want to see it stay in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, do what Assemblyman Joe Lentol did, give to Fractured Atlas.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Citywide Bike Safety Campaign Inspired by Death of Greenpoint Woman-September 28, 2007 (Greenpoint Gazette)

In September of 2005, Liz Byrne was struck and killed by a truck while riding her bike on McGuiness Blvd. in Greenpoint. Last week, two years after the tragic accident, due to an initiative spearheaded by Byrne's sister, a publicist from Seattle, Washington, New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan joined NYC Deputy Health Commissioner Lorna Thorpe, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, and other representatives from the NYC Bicycle Safety Coalition to kick off the 2007 LOOK bicycle safety campaign.
Created pro-bono by the international advertising agency Publicis for which Byrne worked, the LOOK campaign aims to prevent collisions between motorists and cyclists by educating the public about bicycle safety and encouraging cars and bikes to share the road. LOOK campaign advertisements will run on bus stop shelters, bus tails, phone kiosks, taxi tops, at gas stations and on postcards that will be placed in restaurants around the city. The ads will be featured in Time Out NY and New York Magazine, and radio advertisements will be broadcast on local stations.
"At DOT we've committed to expand the City's bicycle network at an unprecedented pace, and today we're asking all New Yorkers to do their part to make our streets safe," said Commissioner Sadik-Khan. "The idea behind this campaign is simple - we're asking everyone to accept the responsibility to look out for each other on the city's streets."
The LOOK campaign was developed for the NYC Bicycle Safety Coalition following the 2006 release of the first comprehensive analysis of bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries in New York City. The report showed that nearly all fatal crashes were the result of poor driving or bicycle riding behavior, particularly driver inattention and disregarding traffic signals and signs. This LOOK campaign was designed to combat that.
In addition to improving motorist and cyclist awareness, the City, last year, committed to doubling the number of on-street bicycle lanes and paths in three years, improving data collection, analysis and reporting of bicycle injuries, and increasing enforcement to keep cars from parking in bicycle lanes.
"Nearly 3,500 NYC bicyclists were injured by cars between 1996 and 2003, and 225 were killed," said Lorna Thorpe, the Health Department's deputy commissioner for epidemiology. "The City is making tremendous strides toward a safer cycling environment, but motorists and cyclists have critical roles to play."
"Improving bike safety is a two-way street," said Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. "Drivers need to know that bikers have a right to the road and bikers need to know that drivers are looking out for their safety. That's why we all need to work together to take simple steps to share the road and keep our city streets safe."
"These forceful ads will prevent collisions, save lives, and affirm cyclists' responsibilities and rights to the road," said Paul Steely White, Transportation Alternatives' Executive Director.
The advertising campaign stemmed from a collective effort to not let Liz Byrne die in vain. “The ‘Look’ campaign would not have been possible without the family and friends of Liz Byrne. Thank you,” Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives said. “Thanks to the dedication of Liz’s family and friends, these powerful images will instill everyone with a simple message: look out for one another.”
"All road users must share the responsibility of following traffic laws and exercising caution for safety's sake," said Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York. "The LOOK awareness campaign will provide the timely reminders we all need to make safety our number one priority when we're on the road."
LOOK represents a collaboration between T.A., the New York City Bicycle Coalition, the City Departments of Transportation, Health and Police, the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate. "The Police Department encourages motorists and cyclists alike to be aware of their surroundings and to heed traffic regulations for both the sake of safety and courtesy," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
LOOK is an unprecedented campaign both in its scope and its collaborative nature. Multiple organizations both governmental and from the private sector are coming together to put a stop to bike-related traffic accidents so that tragedies such as the one with Liz Byrne can be avoided in the future. By "looking" out for each other, hopefully that wish can become a reality.

Williamsburg Jazz Fest Blooms at Rose's-September 28, 2007 (Greenpoint-Williamsburg Gazette)

The Williamsburg Jazz Festival kicked out the jams for another night last Friday with three great bands--Mark Guilana's "Thing," the Pheeroan Aklaff Duo, and Greg Heffernan's Sauce. Admission was ten dollars at Rose's on Grand St., right in the heart of Williamsburg. While it was the first night of the festival to charge more than a one drink minimum, concert-goers got their money's worth and then some.
While some of the acts from previous nights such as Aviv Cohen's Pocket pushed the envelope by using non-traditional instruments or played what some might call "free jazz," Friday night's festivities took things up a notch. Each band played progressively more aggressive or experimented more. Each band outdid its predecessor providing an increasingly aggressive, experimental sound.
Rose's provided an intimate atmosphere. It was crowded but not packed, allowing for a nice crowd while still allowing for adequate breathing room. The bar had some great beers on tap for five dollars--Hoegarten, Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada. The kitchen was in full service for the evening as well, so concert-goers could enjoy a nice meal with their jazz.
The first band of the evening, Mark Guilana's "Thing," had an aggressive sound. Mark Guilana, the drummer and band-leader, kept a solid groove and seemed to know how to get just the right sound out of every inch of his set. Playing in a trio, he often dominated the stage, stealing the attention away from his bandmates. They rarely kept a consistent melody, so everyone had a ton of room to let their voices be heard.
The trio was rounded out by Nir Felder on guitar and Panagiotis Andreou on electric bass. The group seemed to lack cohesiveness. They seldom played with any melodic continuity. They all seemed to solo at once which provided an interesting sound but lacked a consistent thematic drive. The guitarist Nir Felder wasn't on the same level as his bandmates musically, but everyone was outshined by Mark Guilana whose aggressive style dominated the performance (I was almost hit by a flying drum stick during one of his solos).
As aggressive as Mark Guilana's style was, he was weak when compared to the night's second performers--Pheeroan Aklaff and Mixashawn. They performed as a duo with Pheeroan on drums and Mixashawn switching between tenor sax and mandolin. The duet grew to a trio for two songs when a friend of Pheeroan's sitting in the crowd equipped with his trumpet, Rasul Siddik, jumped on stage and started blowing away.
Pheeroan Aklaff is an avant-garde free jazz musician who originally hails from Detroit, Michigan. According to his website, "His desire to perform music professionally was driven by sensing the power of music as a catalyst for collective transformation. His concern with national decline grew with the Detroit 1967 riots, the King and Kennedy assassinations and losing his cousin to the Vietnam War. These impressions led him towards activism, and the musicians who articulated responses to such in their work. His High School days as an influential student organizer of the Free Angela Davis committee, a member of the Pan-African Congress, and listener of John and Alice Coltrane was encouraged by his famed Detroit teacher Chester Littlejohn."
He attended Eastern Michigan University and began to study the drums. He then relocated to New Haven, Connecticut where he started to collaborate with other avant garde jazz performers such as Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Michael Gregory, and Henry Threadgill. In the early eighties he relocated again to Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire where he explored urban popular music with Frank T. Fairdax and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Since then he has travelled all over the world performing and recording. He currently holds teaching positions at Wesleyan University, Elisabeth Irwin High School, and New School University, is a founder of Seed Arts Inc. a non-profit organization for the promotion of healing arts and international awareness, and an Advisory Board member of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.
Pheeroan's performance Friday night lived up to his billing as a free jazz pioneer. He combined vocal outbursts with aggressive dueling solos between him and Mixashawn on sax or mandolin. While the night's first act had no cohesion, Pheeroan and Mixashawn were bound together by their unending aggression channeled through their respective instruments. Long hard-driving solos poured out of each of them, neither of them stopping for a second. Pheeroan had an endless bag of sticks and mallets from which he kept drawing as he was constantly breaking them (he broke three sticks and a mallet in thirty seconds during one roaring solo). Mixashawn employed circular breathing to uphold his unending stream of musical aggression and hysteria.
Pheeroan described his approach as such, "There's a wall between you and your expression that could be seen as many things. If you are interested in designing yourself to be presented a certain way and get a certain response, you might be there for a while or you might have a wonderful spurt. The everyday experience of pushing your personal envelope of getting past your own experience is what I live for."
The third and final act of the night. Greg Heffernan's Sauce, made its own distinctive mark on the night. The Sauce performed as a six-piece ensemble with Heffernan the band leader playing cello and controlling the laptop computer that was playing an electronic sampling track, Myk Freedman on lap steel guitar, Todd Neufeld on rhythm guitar, Ohad Talmor on tenor saxophone, Rich Stein on percussions and Josh Myers on upright, and electric bass.
The Sauce had a very unique sound in a night full of characters. They knew how to blend electronic sound perfectly with acoustic. Lots of different colors and sounds were present in the wide array of instruments and effects. They established a deep groove without employing a drum set. For a group so big and diverse, they knew how to seam together very well. Their solos were well defined in an extremely crowded ensemble. They focused less on individuality and more on unity. The upright bass played a big part in keeping everything locked together nicely. Rich Stein added the perfect amount of character as well.
They had a sound that made you not quite know where you were. Their instrumentation provided elements of quite a few styles and characteristics. Every time I looked the drummer was employing some different kind of instrument (brushes, sticks, djembe, floor tom, shakers, strange percussion instruments I didn't recognize). An electric drum track provided an elevator jazz element combined with live percussion that brought the audience into the performance. The guitarist and sax player navigated the intricate rhythm section and glided over it. The guitar treaded more lightly than sax. Their sound reminded my friend Molly of belly-dancing music with a Cajun twist supplied by the cello and slide guitar.
The 5th Annual Williamsburg Jazz Festival concluded Saturday night at Laila Lounge on North 7th with festival-organizer Rick Parker's band the Rick Parker Collective, the Yosvany Terry Quartet, and For Living Lovers. As I've written before, the Williamsburg Jazz Festival is the best deal for quality live jazz you will ever find in New York City. This year, the jazz was great, the venues were nice, and the crowds were lively. Next year's festival will come sooner than you think, so start getting ready now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Aviv Cohen's Pocket from the Promised Land Hits their Groove at Spike Hill-August 21, 2007

The second night of the 5th Annual Williamsburg Jazz Festival jammed to the beat of Aviv Cohen's Pocket from the Promised Land Monday night at Spike Hill. The festival kicked off the previous night with festival-founder Jesse Selegnut and supporting band Noir's performance at Surf Bar. Aviv Cohen's Pocket performed as a special trio with Yotam Silberstein on electric guitar, Dana Leong on cello, and Aviv Cohen on drums, a break from their usual formation with Jason Lidner on organ.
Spike Hill served as the venue for the Jazz Festival's second night after it opened at Surf Bar Sunday night to a packed house. Spike Hill was crowded as well with a lively crowd of jazz fans. The bar is divided into two sections--a bar room and a room with a stage. Some of the noise from the bar room leaked over to the venue side only when the music was soft. The crowd at Spike Hill loved Aviv Cohen. While I was interviewing him in between sets, three different people interrupted us to tell him how much they loved his music.
Aviv Cohen is originally from Jerusalem, Israel. He moved to New York two years ago to pursue his music career and lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. While he is predominantly a jazz drummer, his influences range from hip-hop to electronic drum and bass to African music back to jazz, all of which are apparent in his aggressive playing style. He commands a certain attention and presence on stage. Not only does he solo frequently, his sound had little competition in the trio.
The Pocket's performance pushed the envelope. From their instrumentation to their style, their sound is truly unique and original. Elements of funk, free jazz, reggae, rock n' roll, and electronic music were all present in their presentation. Their music was filled with long grooves, and as advertised, an incredibly deep pocket. Dana Leong's cello had just the right amount of distortion from his effect pedals to bring a deep bass when plucked and a colorful melancholy bow.
While the fist set was outstanding, the second set took things up a notch when Assaf Yuria was invited onstage to play his tenor saxophone. His presence in the three numbers on which accompanied only enhanced the funky jazz dynamic of the performance. He rounded out the ensemble perfectly. His aggressive improvisatory style meshed with The Pocket perfectly, and his chops filled a melodic void. Yuria, Cohen, and Silberstein are all childhood friends. They represent the wave of young Israeli jazz musicians migrating to New York.
Their sound was so sly. All the instruments were perfectly in sync with each other playing intricate rhythms and executing changes. They seemed to creep to a steady beat, extremely effectively using space. While playing as a trio, the band had a minimalist style that allowed the instrumentalists to let their voices be heard, not outshined by each other.
Dana Leong especially benefited from the transparent sound since the cello isn't the loudest instrument in the world. Being able to hear him so clearly drastically improved the sound of the entire ensemble. The cello provided a beautifully unique sound. When plucked, it resembled a bass, but when bowed added a the voice of the classical cello that added a non-traditional element to the jazz ensemble. Leong's cello was amplified and distorted by his effect pedals to add another electronic dimension to the mix.
With the cost of admission being one drink minimum per set, the Williamsburg Jazz Festival is the best deal for quality live jazz in New York City. The cost of admission doesn't rise until Friday night when ten dollars gets you four hours of live jazz at Rose Live Music and then again Saturday night at Laila Lounge. Don't miss the opportunity to hear world-class live jazz for a fraction of the price one might pay at the Blue Note or Jazz Standard.

Tango Intervention Hits the Williamsburg Bridge-September 21, 2007

When the Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1903, thousands of immigrants living in deplorable conditions packed into tenements on the Lower-East Side walked across the bridge to a new life in Williamsburg. They migrated to Williamsburg for economic reasons, changing the cultural landscape of both Williamsburg and the Lower-East Side. Sunday afternoon, thirty tango dancers made that same migration across the bridge, tangoing the 2.1 miles in a performance art instillation organized by Robert Lawrence, a professor of art at the University of South Florida.
Lawrence chose Tango because of its historical significance as a dance of immigrants. It originated as a combination of many different influences brought by immigrants from Europe in Buenos Aires combined with ancient African dance forms. Robert Lawrence explained, "Tango is a dance of immigrants, great migrations, colonization, globalization and hybridization of cultures. Tango is born and shaped by the forces of migration and re-migration. It was conceived in the rich soup of creole mixes that followed colonialism, and since then it has been groomed by the cultural hybridity of historical and contemporary globalization. There is a way of looking at this social dance where you can see clearly that every step, every gesture, every note is informed by these historical, political and economic forces beyond the control of individuals. Simultaneously it is also an intimate conversation between two individuals, and a path created between the past and the future."
Tango has migrated all over the world from its birthplace in Buenos Aires, Argentina starting in the early years of the 20th century when dancers and orchestras from Buenos Aires traveled to Europe. The first European tango craze took place in Paris, soon followed by London, Berlin, and other capitals. Towards the end of 1913 it hit New York.
Robert Lawrence has conducted several "tango interventions" in several American cities including Seattle, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Chicago, Illinois. The idea originally came from one of his students, Preston Poe, who is now a professor of art at Salisbury University. Poe organized a jug-band intervention while conducting research, and that spawned the idea to use tango in an intervention format.
Lawrence employs the internet as a tool extensively in his work both as a means of recruiting people and a way to educate people, "Over the last ten years all my work has had a physical component at an outdoor site or gallery, and an internet component which both acts as documentation of what's in the gallery or on the land and informs the public as to what's going on. If someone sees this project, they see 24 people dancing where they're not supposed to be dancing. If they look on the website thats posted on the dancers backs, they read up on the historical background and the significance of what's going on."
The tango intervention pushed the envelope of what to expect while walking or biking across the Williamsburg Bridge, as well as the endurance of the dancers involved. The bridge itself is 2.1 miles long and the dancers tangoed almost the entire way. Lawrence explained, however, that much of tangoing closely resembles walking, "Tango is a lot like walking, but in tango a walk is much more than a walk. The cliche in tango is that it takes 15 minutes to learn a figure (a turn or a spin), but it takes 15 years to learn how to walk."
The tango intervention had many aims and goals. Lawrence hoped to interrupt business as usual, recreate stereotypes and then undermine them, and be apolitical in performance and political in evaluation. Lawrence also wanted to, "demonstrate how immeasurably rich life is. There's meaning hidden in places where we would not expect it. I'm interested in giving a historical context to contemporary geography, to what people think the Williamsburg bridge is. I want to show people the meaning of the the bridge is deeper then what we think it is."
Most of all, the tango intervention was a testament to the strength of the New York tango community. Almost all of the dancers were simply people who got an email from their weekly tango list and came to dance their favorite dance. Pat McShane came on Sunday after receiving an email about the event. "Tango's my main hobby right now. I got into it through dancing Flamenco when my partner suggested I try tango. I dance with a group called Tango Porteno that takes a boom box and a group of dancers and hits places every Sunday night. I'm having a great time today, we should do it again."
Lawrence plans on doing exactly that--organizing future tango interventions. With the turnout as great as it was for the first planned event, one can only imagine how many people might show up next time after all the participants spread the word about this intervention. Everyone involved had a great time, and the fun continued after the intervention was over when Lawrence bought us all a drink at the Lodge, a pub on the corner of Havemeyer and Grand. For anyone interested in participating in future interventions or information about Robert Lawrence's work, go to or

New EPA Study on ExxonMobil Newtown Creek Oil Spill-September 21, 2007

To anyone who lives in Greenpoint, the Exxon-Mobil oil spill of 1950 is old news. What you might not know is that the spill is much larger and far more damaging than earlier established estimates. According to a study compiled by a team of United States Environmental Protection Agency biologists, engineers, hydrogeologists, geologists, risk assessors, attorneys and EPA contractor geologists and engineers, the spill could be twice as big as originally thought and leaking toxic vapors into Greenpoint residences. City Councilman David Yassky called the report "a searing indictment of ExxonMobil's complete failure to clean up the toxic mess they created."
"The ugly truth is that an estimated cleanup at this rate won't be completed until 2026; the ugly truth is that homes in this area are without a doubt being impacted by this spill," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, who commissioned the report along with Rep. Nydia Velazquez.
Greenpoint has been heavily industrialized and the site of various petroleum industries for more than 140 years. Large quantity petroleum storage and refining began in the 1860s. By1870 more than 50 refineries were located along the banks of Newtown Creek. This tidal-area of salt marshes along the creek was severely impacted and saturated by the waste discharges of the industries and refineries in the area.
The first signs of an oil spill entering Newtown Creek were detected by the U. S. Coast Guard in 1978. A subsequent investigation concluded that the area of the spill under the Greenpoint area was in excess of 52 acres. The total spill volume, as estimated in 1979, was approximately 17 million gallons (Mgal) of petroleum product. New studies suggest the amount of spillage is closer to 30 million gallons.
The study also showed high levels of hazardous methane gas were found during vapor samplings at nearby commercial establishments. A sampling of 45 properties in the spill zone found "chemicals were detected at all locations in each home, but not in a pattern that would typically represent a vapor-intrusion phenomenon."
"This report confirms what we have been saying all along," said Basil Seggos of the Riverkeeper organization, which has been at the forefront of the fight in the cleanup effort. In July, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued ExxonMobil over the lack of action in the cleanup effort. Homeowners have also filed two class-action suits, and another suit has been brought by Riverkeeper. The report is expected to bolster the suits.
"We recognize that there is more to be done there, but we have to also recognize that significant progress has been made," oil company spokesman Barry Wood told the New York Daily News. "ExxonMobil has accepted responsibility and we're going to be in Greenpoint until the job is done and the job is done right."
The report called for more studies to be done to gather more information and discover the best strategies to complete the cleanup. The EPA study asked more questions than it answered, but if nothing else, it is drawing more attention to the issue, increasing the scrutiny from the public eye. While it is encouraging to see local politicians commission a study to gather information and make recommendations, talk is cheap. This problem has been around for decades, and like my father always told me, actions speak louder than words.

Williamsburg Jazz Festival-August 14, 2007

The 5th annual Williamsburg Jazz Festival kicks off this Sunday night at 8pm when festival founder Jesse Selengut and his supporting cast Noir take the stage at Surf Bar. The festival lasts the entire week with live jazz every night at five different Williamsburg venues. The Williamsburg Jazz Festival has garnered critical acclaim both for its quality of music and dedication to promoting arts in Williamsburg. This year's festival is the biggest and best yet.
The Festival has grown from a small concert series to a renouned music festival in four fast years. Festival founder, Williamsburg musician, Jesse Selengut recapped the festival's growth, "When we started it, we were just getting our feet wet. We didn't have any contacts or any money. By year two we had some sponsorship and we were able to get some big-name headliners and that put us on the map. Each year it's gotten bigger. It's been a big success from a music standpoint, attendance, ticket sales, energy, it's been great. We're real excited."
The festival's mission is "to bring you great music, to honor great artists where they live and to re-invigorate our culture with honest, impeccably crafted, present tense artistic expression." With the lineup set for this week, they will have no problem accomplishing exactly that. Selengut reflects on past festival performances, "Great music is about communicating ideas in sound. It's about connecting with the listener in a personal, immediate way. Were you there when Van Gogh painted 'La Sieste?' Me neither. But I was there at Galapaos when Donny McCaslin took his saxophone and carved a hole as wide as the sky into the Williamsburg night. I was present when Mike McGinnis constructed pristine acrhitecture out of thin air. These were materpiece performance right before our eyes. Everyone felt it and knew: 'That was amazing and will never happen again.' It was a perfect moment at the nexus of inspiration, craft, skill. Better still, hundreds of people were there to hear it. That's our mission."
The Festival's opening night goes down at Surf Bar. Located at N6th and Bedford, Surf Bar boasts a great seafood menu with a beach style atmosphere equipped with sand covered floors. It's easy to get to as well, one block away from the L-train stop at Bedford and North 7th. Admission is free.
Monday night's festivities take place down the street at Spike Hill, a classier establishment than the previous night. Aviv Cohen’s Pocket from the Promised Land will be supplying the jazz while Spike Hill's bar serves 12 beers on tap, over 50 different bottled beers and microbrews, a great selection of fine single malt scotch and a full range of cocktails. Aviv Cohen' s Pocket from the Promised Land brings their experimental, electronic sound all the way from Jerusalem, Israel. Admission is free.
The music continues the next night a few blocks further up Bedford Ave. at My Moon Restaurant and Bar with Williamsburg artist Gavin Fallow Quartet featuring Greg Ruggiero, Pete Rende, and Jordan Perlson. My Moon is an exquisite venue situated in a converted warehouse space. They have a full dinner menu and wine list to compliment the evening's music. Admission is free.
The action returns to Surf Bar Wednesday night when Williamsburg artists Tin Pan Blues Band featuring Jesse Selengut, Clifton Hyde, Tuba Joe, and Adrian Mira take the stage. Tin Pan Blues Band bring audiences back to the days of the early 20th century with their old-school jazz style. They harken to the days of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton with their raw, gritty, old-fashioned sound. Admission is free.
Thursday night action returns to My Moon where James Carney Group with Josh Roseman, Chris Lightcap, and Tom Rainey will perform. Thursday is the last night that admission to the show is free. The music starts at 8pm.
The music continues Friday at Rose Live Music (located at 345 Grand St.). While the ten dollar admission price is ten dollars more than festival goers will have had to pay any other night, three top-of-the-line performers will grace the stage. Try finding that for ten dollars anywhere else in the city. The night starts off with Mark Guiliana Trio featuring Nir Felder and Panagiotis Andreou at 9pm. Then at 10:30, the Pheeroan akLaff Duo with Mixashawn play a set. Then, if you can stand any more jazz in one night, at midnight Greg Heffernan's Sauce with Myk Freedman, Ohad Talmor, Todd Neufeld, and Josh Myers close the evening's music out.
Saturday night marks the closing performances of the festival at Laila Lounge (113 North 7th). The night begins at 8pm when Williamsburg artists Rick Parker Collective featuring Xavier Perez, Sam Barsh, Gavin Fallow, Kyle Struve jazz it up. They are followed by Yosvany Terry Quartet with Osmany Paredes, Yunior Terry, and Justin Brown at 9:30. The final performance of the festival starts at 11pm when Brandon Ross's For Living Lovers featuring Stomu Takeishi and Tyshawn Sorey start. The admission is ten dollars for Saturday night's festivities as well.
The Williamsburg Jazz Festival is getting bigger every year. Take advantage of the free admission and availability of seating while you can. Even when you have to pay ten dollars to get in on Friday and Saturday night, that is a steal for the quality of music you will hear. In ten years, the Williamsburg Jazz Festival could be internationally famous, known as one of the best jazz festivals in the world. Go now, support Williamsburg artists, and hear some great music. You will not be disappointed.

Restaurant Review-Sapporo Haru-September 7, 2007

Sapporo Haru Japanese Restaurant
622 Manhattan Ave.
Mon.-Thurs. 11am-11:30pm, Fri. & Sat. 12:30om, Sun. Noon-11pm

Are you in the mood for sushi? If you live in Greenpoint, you have a plethora of restaurants serving Japanese cuisine from which you can choose. Sapporo Haru, on Manhattan Avenue near Nassau, would make a great choice. Its name literally translates to Springtime in Sapporo, the fifth largest city in Japan, and although their sushi bar serves a wide array of tasty sushi and sashimi, their menu also includes a wide range of Japanese cuisine including soups, salads, noodles, tempura, teriyaki, and hibachi dishes.

On a beautiful summer day like the day my colleague Alice Shin and I went to Sapporo Haru, sitting in the backyard outdoor garden area is delightful. There are several tables in the patio area which are shaded by overhanging trees and awnings. The interior dining area is nice as well. It is an intimate setting with Japanese prints hanging on the wall and paper lanterns from the ceiling. They utilize a clean modern motif with hardwood floors, chairs, and tables. Everything has a glossy finish making the colors in the art and food stand out.

When it came time to order, I took an easy way out. I ordered the Maki Special, two sushi rolls with miso soup. I chose the yellowtail and spicy crunchy salmon roll. Both were delicious. The spicy salmon roll could have been spicier, but I was definitely satisfied. Alice made a far braver selection: the chirashi lunch special which is 12 pieces of raw fish over oshinko rice served with a miso soup appetizer. The twelve pieces of fish consisted of three pieces of mackerel, tuna, salmon and white tuna. The tuna and salmon were great—fatty and tasty, but the mackerel tasted just "ok" almost as if it was partially cooked. According to Alice, it did not taste fresh because it tasted, "a little too salty, a little too oily, and a little too fishy." Japanese pickles were also mixed in with the rice to provide an acidic taste alternative. Our waitress brought over a chilled sliced orange with our check which provided a refreshingly delightful end to the meal.

Sapporo Haru's menu is enormous. There are a multitude of different styles and flavors represented that will cater to any Japanese cuisine enthusiast's tastes. Their menu includes thirty-seven appetizers, fifteen of which are sushi, six soups, and eight salads to start. They have six noodle soups and seven bento boxes, or combination plates. They have fifteen Teriyaki dishes, four Tempura, and four Hibachi. Their sushi menu is extensive as well. They serve thirty-two different sushi rolls and twenty different "Chef's Special" rolls. Their alcoholic beverage menu includes beer, wine, and hot and cold sake. They even have five different options for desert.

We both ordered from the lunch special menu, so our meal only came to approximately twenty dollars before the tip. My sushi and soup cost $7.25 and Alice's Chirashi and soup cost $11.50. You can find cheaper sushi if you are on a tight budget, but you can definitely find more expensive sushi as well. The décor is nice and the food is tasty. The service was excellent as well. Having been to several of the sushi/Asian fusion restaurants in the neighborhood, I can confidently say Sapporo Haru is one of the best. It is great value for its price, and there are few places around where you can find such a wide array of styles and flavors of Japanese food.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Restaurant Review-Brooklyn Label Brunch-August 22, 2007

Brooklyn, NY 11222
phone: 718-389-2806
Hours Monday-Wednesday 7am-11pm
Thursday, Friday 7am-12am
Saturday 8am-12am Sunday 8am-4pm

Sunday is the first day of the week, a chance for a new beginning. What better way to start out a new week than with a big Sunday Brunch? If you are in Greenpoint, you owe it to yourself to find your way to Brooklyn Label, one of the best places for brunch in the city. Their delicious breakfast/brunch menu was nominated for Time Out NY's 2007 Eat Out Award, recognizing the quality cuisine the Greenpoint coffee house has to offer.

Located on the corner of Java and Franklin, Brooklyn Label is in the heart of Greenpoint, a stone's throw away from the East River and the subway stop at Greenpoint and Manhattan Avenue. The atmosphere is of a bustling coffee shop, but Brooklyn Label has the best food of any coffee shop to which I've ever been.

The owner, Cody Utzman, came to New York three years ago with the intention of opening a restaurant. He was living on the Lower-East side and quickly realized that would not be a good fit. Some friends of his turned him onto Greenpoint, and he quickly fell in love with the neighborhood. Not only did he choose the area to open a restaurant, he moved here too. He wanted to open a restaurant that could keep up with the influx of young people into Greenpoint, like himself. "Really what it comes down to is what does the neighborhood need? A lot of the services in the neighborhood haven't caught up with all the new people moving into the neighborhood. Most places shut down around 9-10 o'clock. We're open from 7 in the morning until Midnight 7 days a week."

The opening of Brooklyn Label did more than add a great new coffee house to the neighborhood. All of the employees are Greenpoint residents, and the vast majority of the food Brooklyn Label prepares comes from local businesses such as the Rseszokow Bakery, and the Polish Meat Market next to the Garden on Manhattan Ave.

Brooklyn Label opened on January 2nd of this year. One Sunday in March, they decided to serve a special brunch menu. Without advertising it at all, 170 people came in that Sunday. That inspired Utzman and his chefs to make the brunch menu a permanent institution. Now they serve 500 people every Sunday, and their brunch menu caught the attention of the editors of Time Out NY magazine nominating Brooklyn Label for their 2007 Eat Out, Best Brunch/Breakfast Award.

When it came time to order, I had a very difficult time deciding between the French toast, made with locally baked Rseszokow challah bread, lots of pure casmian cinnamon, cranberry-pecan butter and pure maple syrup, and the waffles, which come topped with fresh seasonal fruit, pulugra butter, pure maple syrup and fresh whipped cream. I ultimately chose the French toast with a cup of coffee, and I was not disappointed.

Although it was rich, the French toast was delicious. It was light even though there were two thick slices of challah. The cranberry-pecan butter added a nice fruit presence while still maintaining the meal's sweet flavor. If you get bored eating only French toast, side dishes of fruit, hash-browns, eggs, bacon, and sausage are all on the menu, but I could not imagine eating anything more than the two massive, rich slices of French toast.

The girl sitting next to me at the bar seemed to be enjoying the "Brooklyn Label Granola" which includes toasted organic oats, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, raisins, chopped walnuts, and sunflower seeds served over yogurt or milk. If you get to Brooklyn Label late and are only in the mood for lunch, the brunch menu has chili, soup, and a cheeseburger to offer as well.

Possibly the best thing about going to Brooklyn Label for breakfast or brunch is the full coffee bar. If you need an espresso, cappuccino, laté, or any other specialty caffeinated beverage to wake yourself up on a hung-over Sunday morning, you can get it at Brooklyn Label. Or if a regular cup of Jo is all you want you can get a bottomless cup of the house blend for two dollars.

While Brooklyn Label is not cheap, my meal came to 15 dollars with the tip; you get what you pay for. You're not going to find gourmet food and coffee like this at some greasy spoon diner where you can get Sunday brunch and coffee for a few dollars. Brooklyn Label is a destination for a nice meal in a relaxed café atmosphere where the food and coffee is gourmet. When I was there at 2pm, it was packed, but a table shouldn't be more than a ten minute wait.

I had fairly high expectations for Brooklyn Label, and they were exceeded. If you want to make your mouth water you can check out their menu on their website at The brunch menu is their pride and joy, but their lunch/dinner menu has all kinds of appetizing salads and sandwiches. I highly recommend Brooklyn Label for brunch on Sunday, breakfast any other day of the week, or a late anytime. They have free Wi-Fi internet access, and they serve food from 7am until 12 midnight. It's only a short walk from the Subway stop, and it's even worth dealing with the G train.

Fu Arkist Ra Returns to Zebulon-August 22, 2007

I thought I was ready. I thought I had prepared myself for what I was about to see last Saturday night at Zebulon when Fu-Arkist-Ra, an afrobeat-experimental-jazz band, shook the foundations of Zebulon to its core. I fully expected to see an amazing energy-packed show that would keep the crowd engaged and dancing the entire time. I expected the music to be unique and artistic. I thought I had an idea of what to expect, but I had no idea. I could have never expected or foreseen what took place that night.
I could have never expected to see a show that left the entire crowd dancing and singing for ten minutes after the band stopped playing. I had no idea the bar would be so packed, people were hanging from the ceilings, standing on chairs, and basically standing on the stage. I knew people would be dancing, but I did not expect people to not stop grooving and dancing to the music from the first note that was played until after the show was over. I knew I was going to see a great show, but I had no idea I would see the best live musical performance I have ever seen.
Fu-Arkist-Ra is a side project of Duke Amayo, the lead singer of Antibalas, a brooklyn-based afrobeat band whose fame is growing to international stature. He describes his music as "an explosive blend of African spiritual rhythms, traditional Chinese lion rhythms, highlife, funk, and jazz, infused with passionate activism." Amayo is originally from Lagos, Nigeria, the largest city in Africa, from which Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the creator of afrobeat and arguably the most famous African musician of the 20th century, also comes. He came to the United States at the age of sixteen looking for an athletic scholarship to an American University. He was successful in his pursuit when he was awarded a football scholarship to Howard University where he graduated with honors with a degree in Architecture and Commercial Arts.
Amayo is also a Sifu, or master of Kung-Fu, he brings a lot of the same approach from martial arts to his music. Anyone who has seen Amayo perform either with Antibalas or Fu-Arkist-Ra knows his energy and delivery style is unmatched in its aggressiveness and passion. I was curious where he gets his inspiration and passion from. He told me he uses the same methods of preparation for his kung-fu as he does his music, "the rituals I do before I go on stage are like martial arts for me. I do breathing exercises, push-ups, meditation."
The variation and spontaneity of his performances is also something that inspires him. He never seeks to play a song the same way twice, "It's like doing a martial arts form. There's a million different ways I can approach it. That's my approach to composition, that's the jazz element of it, that no two performances are the same. One song can become a million different songs."
The members of the band and instruments represented fluctuate from performance to performance, and one of the most dynamic aspects of the band is its instrumentation. Saturday night, the instruments employed were drums, bass, electric piano, saxophone, flute, cello, djembe and chakara or shaker. Not all of the musicians could fit on the stage, so the crowd-musician interaction was extreme.
The name "Fu-Arkist-Ra" is a highly symbolic philosophical name. It has a layered meaning: FU (foo). 1. Philosophically rooted in Kung Fu. 2 The art of excellence. 3. Building from within thyself. Arkist (ark ist).1. Musical bridge builders. 2. Spiritual connectivity to the temple of the mind. 3. A keeper of the Underground Spiritual Movement of Afrobeat. 4. An aspirant of the highest order of compositions. RA (ra) 1. [Egyptian] Sun God Ra. 2. [Yoruba] Derived from the word Irawo meaning: a star that appears when the RA (the sun) has set.
Fu-Arkist-Ra is coming back to Zebulon on the 31st of August. If you are a live music lover, afrobeat fan, jazz fan, or simply need something to do next friday night, do yourself a favor and check these guys out at Zebulon. They will rock you hard and long leaving you dancing long after the show is over. I guarantee it will be a concert you will not soon forget.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Restauran Review-Erb Thai-August 15, 2007

Erb Everyday Thai Restaurant
681 Manhattan Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Are you tired of eating bad Thai food? Do you love Thai food and trying new Thai restaurants but hate being disappointed with bland greasy food that doesn't deserve the right to advertise itself as being authentically Thai? Well I am, and if you're not you should be. That's why I'm letting everyone in on Erb Thai Restaurant.
Thai restaurants are abundant in most parts of New York and Greenpoint is no different. On Manhattan Ave. alone, there are several choices if Thai is your ethnic food craving. What sets Erb Thai apart from the rest of the Thai restaurants in the area is its authenticity. The owner is a Thai immigrant who came to America in 2000 for college. He saw how popular Thai food is in New York and decided to open a restaurant. The owner's family owns and runs a restaurant in Thailand, so he uses his family's restaurant back home as a model for success.
Everything on the menu is prepared the same way as it would be prepared at a restaurant in Thailand. The owner wants Erb Thai to be known as an authentic Thai Restaurant, not a Thai-American fusion restaurant. Staying true to Thai food's authentic taste is a priority. That includes cooking with authentic spice. Anyone who has been to Thailand knows authentic Thai food is significantly spicier than any Thai food one might find in the United States. While Erb Thai does not cook its food authentically spicy all the time for fear of spoiling an unknowing customer's day, if so desired, they can cook your meal authentically spicy upon request.
I went to Erb Thai for lunch with my two co-workers Kevin Dugan and Kerry ___. Erb Thai has a lunch special menu from which all of us ordered. Kevin had spicy basil leaves and tofu, sauteed with chili, peppers, and onions a dish served with a choice of beef, chicken, tofu, shrimp or vegetables, Kerry had Red Curry with chicken, coconut milk, mixed vegetables and basil leaves, and I had a Basil Eggplant with chicken dish sauteed with chili, peppers, onions, and basil leaves. All fifteen meals on the lunch special menu are $5.95.
The regular menu has thirty-four different options for an entree including six vegetarian dishes. Add that to six soups, seven salads, and twenty-one other appetizers for the rest of Erb Thai's menu. That's not including the six deserts.
The food is delicious, the price is very reasonable, and the atmosphere is great too. The dining room is smallish, but if you are ever worried about getting a table, you could order in since Erb Thai delivers all over Greenpoint. If you have never tried food and would like to, or you are a Thai food connoisseur, you will love Erb Thai. Even if you already have a favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant, give Erb Thai a try--not only will you get a change from your normal Thai food, you might find a new favorite Thai restaurant in the neighborhood. It's great for vegetarians, and it's definitely worth a try.

Antibalas Rocks Out at Governor's Island-August 8, 2007

Antibalas, a band out of Bushwick, Brooklyn, proved why they are one of the most up-and-coming acts on the planet last Saturday at Governor's Island when they played to a lively crowd of several hundred people under the sweltering sun. The band released their forth album, Security, earlier this year to rave reviews and set out on a nation-wide tour thereafter. As if that was not enough, they toured Europe and played in Amsterdam, London, and Paris to name a few.
Antibalas is a twelve piece Afrobeat band styled in the tradition of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Afrika 70. Fela is arguably the most legendary figure of African Music of the 20th century. He was a radical political icon in Lagos, Nigeria from the time he became famous in the 1970's until his death in 1997. His music was, and still is, immensely popular throughout West Africa and has become extremely popular throughout Europe and the United States. His music was so unique and original, he had to give it its own name, Afrobeat.
Much like Fela, Antibalas' music is known for its funky rhythmic backdrop facilitated by the guitars and bass, its hard driving horn lines played by the powerfully large horn section, its Latin influenced percussions, and politically charged, anti-establishment message delivered through their song lyrics. The band members consist of Martin Perna–Baritone Saxophone and founder of the band, Duke Amayo–Vocals, Congas, Victor Axelrod–Organ, Electric Pianos, Clavinet, Electric Celeste, Synthesizers, Eric Biondo–Trumpet, Stuart Bogie–Tenor Saxophone, Marcus Farrar–Shekere, Vocals, Marcos J. Garcia–Guitar, Vocals, Aaron Johnson–Trombone, Nick Movshon–Bass, Luke O'Malley–Guitar, Jordan McLean–Trumpet, Flugelhorn, and Chris Vatalaro–Drums.
Almost all of the band-members live in Brooklyn. Even Amayo, the band's lead singer, lives on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint although he is originally from Lagos, Nigeria. Amayo serves as the band's strongest link to Fela and his music. If the rest of the band members ever need any information about Fela they could not simply get from his music, they could ask Amayo as he grew up in the same neighborhood as Fela in Lagos and went to Fela's nightclub, The Shrine, on a regular basis.
I had the privilege of sitting down with two of the band members for an interview before the show on Saturday, Martin Perna and Stuart Bogie. My first question was how their music has been received throughout their recent tours. Martin responded, "When we go to France and we do an interview, they bring a lot, like we dont have to explain anything. Here in the United States we have to explain our whole genre and our influences where it comes from, but if someone's playing hiphop or blues or rock, they just jump into it and ask. 10 years after we started playing this music, we just wonder when people are going to figure it out. Although on the other side of it, there is so much different music in the U.S."
I was curious as to who Martin and Stuart would call the band's biggest influences besides Fela. Stuart's response was not entirely surprising, "I think everybody likes different stuff in the group and it's real difficult to pinpoint any one thing. Our biggest influences are each other." I was also curious to see if they viewed themselves as the contemporary embassadors to Afrobeat, as many critics are giving them that label. Stuart responded, "Music's that's circulated all over the world, and re-issued, and inspires musicians all over the world doesn't need an ambassador. Fela made it, he called it Afrobeat." Martin also added, "I think maybe in a defacto way we have just because we have been playing the music for ten years, but it's nothing that we would ever request. It's something that someone else has to give you, and even then it's like a fruitcake or something. Like what do we do with this thing, nobody's going to eat it?"
Fela Kuti was not just a political figure through his music; he was an organizer, a national hero, and he actually ran for president at the height of his popularity under his own political party. I was curious if the band had any political aspirations of their own. "A lot of us are politically active outside the group in how we donate our money and projects we start," Stuart said. Martin added, "I'm doing that right now, I'm hoping to start the first bio-diesal factory in Brooklyn. We start construction in December, and we'll be in production by March. I used to teach at a high school in Williamsburg, and we did a lot of research on environmental racism and how there are higher incidences of asthma in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg area and a lot that has to do with truck traffic because a lot of trucks are burning diesel fuels. We just want to get other people involved because you can only do so much for the community."

Restaurant Review-L.A. Ristorante-August 1, 2007

If there is any debate as to where to find the best deal for lunch in Brooklyn, L.A. Restorante and Pizzeria quells the argument. Whether you are looking for a quick couple slices and a drink, or you are interested in sitting down for a hot, homemade Italian meal with your coworkers at lunchtime, L.A. is the place to go.
Most people know L.A. as the neighborhood pizzeria and Italian restaurant, but for those who are unfamiliar, L.A. is a quaint, charming Italian eatery and pizzeria on Manhattan Avenue three storefronts away from the subway stop on the corner of Greenpoint and Manhattan Avenue. They are best known for their pizza, but their menu also includes a wide range of Italian meals. Helping to disparage the myth that all Italian food is served with red sauce, they serve veal and chicken milanese, marsala, francese, and sorrentini. They also have a wide range of seafood dishes including shrimp, filet of sole, calamari, clams and mussels.
What sets L.A. apart from the rest of the crowd, however, are their lunch specials. From 11A.M. to 3P.M. every weekday, they have a special lunch menu that simply cannot be beat. Meals like chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs, veal parmesan, and spaghetti with sausage are all available for five-six dollars. Included in that price is a soda, fresh Italian bread hot from the oven, and a choice of salad or pasta side dish. For those desiring a hearty salad at lunch time, a cherry salad is also on the menu.
The service is great, the owners, husband and wife Emilio and Raffeala Gallo and their partner Cono Manzolillo, are all friendly and accommodating, and the food is not only delicious but authentically Italian as Mr. and Mrs. Gallo are both originally from Salerno Italy. As someone who grew up with an Italian grandmother who set the bar extremely high for my standards of Italian food, I give L.A. Restorante and Pizzeria a glowing recommendation for lunch, dinner, or simply a quick slice of pizza. If you happen to make it for dinner, ask to be seated in the back room. The food and the atmosphere will make you feel as if you have been transported to Southern Italy.

An Alternative Plan for the "New Domino"-August 8, 2007

When Community Preservation Corporation Resources head Michael Lappin made the plans for the "New Domino" project public, he simultaneously pleased and disappointed the community. Many Williamsburg residents appreciated the plans to install affordable housing, while others worry about upholding the historical integrity of the site. Some worry about transportation issues that will arise once the construction begins, while the developers simply see the money they can make selling the finished waterfront properties several years down the road.
One group of community members have seen a different vision of what they would like to see done with the old factory site. A group of artists and investors led by Brooklyn artist Greg Stone and gallery owner Joseph Amrhein have made public their wish to see the site converted to an art galley. Many would expect the artists of the community to make such a request, but these artists are making more than a simple plea for the arts: they are pointing to a remarkable success story across the pond in London's Tate Modern that points to immeasurable potential in the Domino site.
The Tate Modern in London is a world-renowned art gallery that stands in a converted industrial site once home to the Bankside Power Station. The London galley is the city's third-biggest tourist attraction and brings in $200million on a yearly basis. It has led to the creation of over 3,000 jobs, and the rejuvenation of the part of the city with a large ripple effect bringing in economic development in the form of restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area.
Of the many things standing in the way of the artists' vision becoming a reality, the CPC and Isaac Katan's $1.3billion plan is the biggest. The property is privately owned, and the CPC's plan to convert the plan to low-income housing has already been submitted for approval to the city council. There is, however, room for a compromise.
The building the artists see as most desirable is the same building the developers see as most unfit for residential conversion--the sugar refinery. As the building with the most character and historical significance, it is one of the buildings on the property with the highest likelihood to have its facade preserved. It would be a great way to appease multiple parties if the refinery were to be converted to an art gallery while the rest of the land on the property could be used for the high-rise buildings planned to be erected by the CPC.
The Tate Modern not only serves as a perfect example of what could be done, but what should be done with the Domino Sugar Factory site. The entire community stands to benefit from a world-class art gallery filling the vacated space and would only make the real estate more valuable to the developers. Williamsburg has one of the most burgeoning art communities in the country. Why not follow the blueprint of one of the most famous art galleries in the world to bring international notoriety to an already growing art scene?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"New Domino" Unveiled-August 1, 2007

The mystery surrounding the impending development and transformation of the Williamsburg Domino Sugar Factory was revealed when Community Preservation Corporation Resources head Michael Lappin gave an on-site press conference last Tuesday. The CPC bought the property in 2004 in conjunction with Isaac Katan for $55,831,875 and plan on undertaking a project estimated to costed $1.3 billion and take 6-8 years to complete.
Public debate has centered on the site since Katan and the CPC purchased the property. Before the plans were made public, multiple preservationist organizations such as the Waterfront Preservation Preservation Alliance of Greenpoint and Williamsburg weighed in on the project publicly, "The Domino Sugar Refinery is one of the last major industrial sites on Williamsburg's waterfront. WPA supports the redevelopment of the site, provided that architecturally and historically significant buildings such as the refinery, Adant House and Power House are preserved as part of the redevelopment. We believe that a comprehensive preservation program, combined with high-quality new design and affordable housing will best serve the Williamsburg community."
One thing the CPC definitely plans on doing is using the space to provide affordable housing. In the outlined plan, 660 units, or 30% of the 2,200 housing units to be built on the 11.2 acre site will be set aside for "below-market" priced housing. 100 units will be for families making $21,000 a year, 330 for families making $40,000, 100 units for seniors who make 50% of the median income of the community, and 130 affordable units for families earning in the $90,000 a year range. The units will be spread throughout multiple towers of varying heights, the tallest reaching up to forty stories.
The project also calls for 120,000 square feet to be used as commercial space and 100,000 square feet set aside for community space. Under the plans, the central refinery building will be preserved. Developers plan to "in effect scoop out of the insides of the building," and possibly build an addition to its roof said Lappin. At this point, it looks as if the classic "Domino Sugar" sign will be preserved as well although the building across which it reads will not be. The sign will most likely stretch across a free-standing structure or a new building.
The development marks "the first time in several generations that this part of the waterfront will be open to the public," Mr. Lappin said, denoting 4 acres of publicly accessible open space, as well as a new pier for water taxi service connecting the development to neighboring sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Developers are optimistic the public review process will be completed by mid-2008 and break ground by the end of that year.