Monday, September 22, 2014

Gimme Shelter

If you've listened to any rock n roll music in the last four decades odds are you're at least passing familiar with Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones. Written in 1969, the song simmers with a sense of unrest, capturing the turbulent times. It's dark. It's foreboding. It's really good. And according to many, including Rolling Stone magazine, it's the band's best song:
"That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that," Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995, describing "Gimme Shelter." Like nothing else in rock & roll, the song embodies the physical experience of living through a tumultuous historical moment. It's the Stones' perfect storm: the ultimate Sixties eulogy and rock's greatest bad-trip anthem, with the gathering power of soul music and a chaotic drive to beat any punk rock. [Owen's note: not so sure about the punk rock thing, RS]
And wouldn't you know, it's also the inspiration behind a brand new work by composer Ravi Kittappa. Ravi and I have been good friends since we hit it off at the 2010 Bang on a Can Summer Festival and it didn't take me long to learn that he is a walking encyclopedia of rock history, with emphasis on the British Invasion. Even British bands that didn't so much invade. So it's no surprise that despite training at Columbia University with notable spectralist composer Tristan Murail and his penchant for infusing compositions with Indian Carnatic elements (be it via droning sruti boxes or electronic samples) that this is the second piece of his I've played that is a ripping good deconstruction of a song by a powerhouse British rock band. (The first was a crazed solo percussion/voice meltdown of War Pigs by Black Sabbath that requires its own due here one of these days...)

For his new piece Shelter, Ravi has created an open-ended composition--the target ballpark for the premiere is 15-20 minutes--from the first 42 seconds of the song. That's just the intro! Go ahead, give it a listen at this Youtube vid chock-full of appropriately 1960's iconography.

By the time Charlie Watts kicks in the drums we're Done Dundee, and that's what makes this piece work so well. Ever heard of doing more with less? Without giving too much away, Shelter is an ingeniously simple construction that interminably stretches the notes and rhythms laid down by the 'Stones with an improvisatory flair that allows the musicians to breathe and shape the time, gradually gaining steam all the while. And in this case, the musicians are the combined ensembles of interstellar Brooklyn percussion trio TIGUE and my beloved trio Concert Black. Although I'm sorely biased, it's an absolutely ideal assemblage of players for this project, given everyone's range of talents in executing notated music, writing it themselves, and improvising [read: jamming, man]. Sweet band, Ravi! Har.

And you can hear us give it a spin this very weekend! The world premiere is happening on Saturday, 9/27 at the Dimenna Center for Classical Music alongside two incredible pieces by Robert Honstein. Plus it's the season opener for Permutations NYC. In fact, it's the start of a beautiful new special friendship between TIGUE and Concert Black that will see coast to coast performances of Shelter and a split album of Honstein jams. As always, further bulletins as events warrant.

In the meantime, keep this close to your heart:

8pm sharp | Saturday, September 27, 2014
The DiMenna Center | Benzaquen Hall
450 W. 37th St. New York, NY 10018 
Tickets at the door $15 // $10 for students