Kenneth Noland, 1924-2010: A Tribute (Guggenheim, 1071 Fifth Ave., up through June 20). Four carefully chosen canvases painted between 1959 and 1981 by one of the masters of the now-unfashionable Color Field style of abstract expressionism. Needless to say, Noland is sorely in need of a full-scale retrospective, but this anti-blockbuster show contains the root of the matter (TT).
Archives for May 2010
Mitchell’s Christian Singers, Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 1 (1934-1936) (Document). The rough-hewn, sometimes startlingly dissonant a cappella harmonies of this vocal quartet, which traveled from North Carolina to Carnegie Hall in 1939 to sing at John Hammond’s first From Spirituals to Swing concert and subsequently got written up in Time, have since caught the ears of everyone from Bob Crosby to Maria Muldaur. The first volume of Document’s comprehensive reissue of the group’s 78 recordings contains its best-known side, “Traveling Shoes,” plus plenty of other gospel songs that swing and shout like nobody’s business (TT).
Johnny Hodges: The Small Group Sessions 1941-1952 (Phantasm, three CDs). A wonderfully handy new collection of key recordings by Duke Ellington’s unflappable alto saxophone soloist, a universally admired yet inexplicably underrated instrumental master who was equally adept at sensuous balladry, hard-swinging riff tunes, and deep-dish blues. From start to finish, this set is packed full of unpretentious, deeply satisfying jazz (TT).
Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England (Oxford, $45). This disquieting study of England’s most respectable prejudice argues all too convincingly that British anti-Semitism has not only failed to wither away but is currently experiencing an alarming upsurge. Not a pleasant read, but an indispensable one (TT).
John P. Marquand, So Little Time. All but forgotten today, this 1943 study of a disappointed playwright who married up and sold out is also a powerfully evocative snapshot of America on the eve of World War II. It’s not a great book by any means, and Marquand would work the same turf more effectively in Point of No Return and Women and Thomas Harrow, but I can’t think of another American novel that does a better job of suggesting what it felt like to watch the world sliding toward catastrophe (TT).
That Face (City Center, closes June 27). No matter how suspicious you may be of prodigies, make an exception for Polly Stenham’s first play, a a tale of a grossly dysfunctional upper-middle-class family that she wrote when she was just nineteen years old. The New York premiere of That Face, presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club, is a superlative piece of work, staged with shrieking tautness by Sarah Benson and featuring memorable performances by Laila Robins and Cristin Milioti. Only time will tell whether Stenham has staying power, but this play bodes well for her future (TT).
Stagecoach (Criterion Collection). A “B” movie raised to the level of art by the impeccable direction of John Ford, this 1939 film defined the Hollywood Western and made John Wayne a star. Now it’s been remastered as handsomely as modern technology permits (the original negative no longer survives) and fitted out with all sorts of Criterion Collection-style extras. In any form, Stagecoach is a cinematic landmark–and one of the most purely enjoyable American films of the Thirties (TT).
An excerpt from Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy, performed by the Bay Brass Ensemble at the Stanford University Memorial Church:
“It was horrible to think of a man so young and able dying so uselessly. In that moment Nellie found that war itself is understandable. It’s the things that go along with it, things that happen to people you know, that are incomprehensible, and have been in all ages.”
James A. Michener, Tales of the South Pacific
“The world would doubtless be a poorer place if nobody could see Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ or listen to the Hallelujah Chorus for a full year. But imagine the effect that such a moratorium would have on our responses to those works come next May. Wouldn’t you like to be able to recapture the immediacy with which you first made the acquaintance of Charles Foster Kane once upon a half-remembered time?…”