Six of One City

Well, it’s evil, but as necessary, in the historical inevitable; we have to gather together what we think is best in a cultural community, to represent, like Roman archons, and to preserve, like gewgaws in a time capsule. I have been cobbling together lists of my favorite musicians since I was 13, when Pink Floyd topped my one hundred rock bands, followed by Yes and The Who. The Beatles had broken up six years before, and even the great solo work of the members was waning. Anyway, I like to make lists, and six is a good number I have found.

Can we be objective in such an endeavor? No, of course. Even Einstein said the mass of objects is never stable; that said, some things are heavier than other, and there are six musicians in the Boston area who have made more of an impression on my mind than the others. The list may change, to be sure, and in some ways I hope it does, and expect it will, at other points of time. But here are my six favorites, today.

Kate Lee & Arkm Foam

Adam, as I call Arkm in the vocative, is the president of JP, mature beyond his years, having already organized a benchmark cultural event last summer in Woodstock, which I will never forget. He and Kate Lee are one mind, like The Beatles. And like The Beatles they are visionaries. Their human presence is so great it can eclipse their musical contributions, but check out Illusion of Porpoise, their inside/out trip band as heavy as The Holy Modal Rounders. Adam is an electronics whiz, and Kate is a singer/songwriter as touching as Carole King; but to really experience them you have to be tuned in to how much they help their friends with their musical projects. Music for them is cosmic, the lines between musicians are fictive like changing state borders; and even we as listeners are part of what they do.

Andrea Pensado

Argentina Bred, Pensado is a fiery Latina, with a puritan streak that agrees with New England. Think of baked Alaska, hot and cold. Her music is like hot and cold medicine, homeopathic, like primal scream therapy. It is intense. It took me four months to understand what she was doing when I met her a few years ago. She does in music what a cryptic writer like Jorge Luis Borges or Kafka do in fiction – and, as I have said to her, Borges is a mirror and Kafka is a hammer. She is the mirror after it has been smashed by the hammer.

Peter Negroponte

Peter has a keen, cerebral mind, which he uses in demolition and slash-and-burn artistic endeavors. Guerilla Toss, which he leads, plays the most exciting shows on the house scene, here, and, from what I’ve heard, in the underground world across the country.

Dave Gross

Dave has a soul like Coltrane’s – ever searching, no matter how much pain it brings him. His solo work is unnerving and exhilarating, sensitive and surprising. And like Coltrane, in his group projects, other musicians play above themselves, finding new inner dimensions. He performed an open composition of the late great Lou Cohen’s at the latter’s funeral, and it turned an occasion of mourning into something light and happy.

Yoko Miwa

Yoko Miwa plays beautiful music, which is loyal to tradition, but in such a way that her prodigious innovation can be missed like the forest for her trees. I follow Miwa regularly, when she plays her regular dates at Ryles, and I spent a whole spring as her exclusive listener in the late afternoon solo performances she did on Tuesdays at Les Zygomates in downtown Boston, dedicating a book of poetry to her inspired by her music. Other new pianists have started working modern pop and rock into their repertoires, but few, if any, with her passion and depth.

Forbes Graham

Forbes is dark and mysterious, and deep. Though my knowledge of Coltrane is broader, having listened to him since ’78, when I was fourteen, his is deeper. At a wedding, we speculated what Coltrane would be playing if he had lived. I mentioned Indian music, and Forbes extrapolated that into a conjecture of the master spinning new sounds from other, organized non-Western traditions. Forbes has exquisite, classical timbre, but he uses it to take music into other galaxies.


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