It was a busy week on the culture front with a tribute to jazz great Bill Evans by Bill Charlap, the opening of Cirque du Soleil's newest show Banana Shpeel and Manhattan Theatre Club's That Face, and an exhilarating performance by LCD Soundsystem.
Bill Charlap led a talented group of musicians last Saturday night at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall celebrating the music of Bill Evans, who redefined what a jazz trio could be and was a driving force behind Miles Davis' classic bebop album Kind of Blue. The house orchestra played a rich arrangement of Bill Evans' signature track from that album, "Blue in Green," but it was nonetheless a little jarring to hear so much brass. This was true of many of the songs. They were great on their own but somehow didn't feel right. Bill Evans' collaborator Jim Hall, though, more than made up for this gap in authenticity by playing several songs with Charlap. He has such a light touch with the guitar that it's almost like hearing another instrument. I hope I have a chance to hear him play again very soon.
Cirque du Soleil's latest show, Banana Shpeel, has anything but a light touch. The show blends garish Vegas elements with superbly, if freakishly, talented performers such as foot juggler Vanessa Alvarez and a contortionist trio. The show takes a while to pick up momentum and was weighed down in the first act by too much second rate vaudeville shtick, but the second act was particularly strong with a gravity-defying hand balancing act by Dmitry Bulkin and a delightful Chaplinesque performance by Claudio Carneiro, who picks a woman out of the audience to woo each night for our delight. This was my first Cirque du Soleil show and I was a little nervous having heard about bad reviews in Chicago, but I'm happy to report that they pack a lot of fun into a couple hours.
Polly Stenham's That Face depicts a dysfunctional family in such nuanced and graphic detail that it's often painful to watch. From the opening moments of boarding school students terrorizing/initiating a younger girl to the final moments of hysteria, there's hardly a moment of rest from the intensity that recalls early Neil LaBute. What's most interesting about Stenham's writing is that she never has her characters justify what they do. This allows for fully realized performances by an excellent cast led by Laila Robbins and directed by Soho Rep artistic director Sarah Benson. David Zinn's fragmented set is perfectly fitting, providing an ideal setting for this work that stayed with me long after I left the theater. It's great to bring a few friends to sort out the chaos with afterward.
And finally, LCD Soundsystem launched a four-night residency at Terminal 5 on thursday night for their New York friends and fans. Frontman James Murphy kicked off the show expressing how happy he is to be playing his home city and how he's looking forward to sleeping in his own bed and making himself coffee in the morning - ah, the life of a rock star! The nearly two hour set that followed was thrilling. LCD is one of those rare bands with a transcendent live experience. They can keep as tight a groove as any but also slip in perfectly timed wailing solos, and there's an all around sense of joy that spills out into the audience. Highlights included "All My Friends" with an added guitar riff, and the soulfully rousing "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down." That song closed the show with hundreds off white balloons falling from above and a final sonic blast to send us off into the warm night.