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P(l)aces: one more fan's account

Saenzjul@aol.com
Mon, 2 Feb 1998 04:17:46 EST

I was thinking back today on the recent MATA performance of P(l)aces and on
how powerfully it expressed Randy's personality -- genius, sense of humor, and
all. As usual, Rico was right-on when he said in his review (1/20/98) that
the piece was "distinctly Randy with sublime moments and the final
unmistakable trademark - wit." At times the piece reminded me of the cartoon
where the characters chase each other through a long corridor, zigzagging from
room to room, but in this case, with each room housing its own pickup band
playing different tunes in different styles, and with at least one room --
judging by the power tool -- under repair.

The performance was a perfect example of how Randy's musical palate was
limitless. I'm pretty sure I heard snatches of something like a reggae
version of "Wild Thing," against a backdrop of the Ghanaian drumming rhythms
Randy studied at CalArts, followed by strains of Johnny Cash. In fact, it's
hard to believe that any one piece can contain a sample of Public Enemy's
Chuck D. and a musical quote of Johnny Cash. (I always thought country music
would have been the most unlikely source for inspiration for Randy. But on
the other hand, I remember Randy playing a Bruce Springsteen record at 78 to
show how much it sounded like Dolly Parton, potentially revealing the country-
music origins of arena rock.) P(l)aces' mix of different styles reminded me
of one of Randy's later visits to D.C., when he found this excellent jukebox
(with Jonathan Richman, Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker, P-Funk, and James Brown
all on the same machine). We had been driving around forever looking for a
decent place to grab a bite and have a drink and finally found this place just
around closing time. Randy talked the owner into letting us in and then, upon
seeing all the jukebox's selections, he put around $10 into the machine. A
good portion of it went toward playing every other track of the James Brown
CD. Unfortunately, not long after we sat down, the owner tried to close up,
but Randy convinced him that he had to let us stay -- at least through another
few songs -- since, after all, we had just spent all this money. The owner
grudgingly agreed, but the second we finished eating, shut off the jukebox and
sent us out.

Also as Rico mentioned, P(l)aces features smoothly intertwined themes and
melodies, weaving in and out of each other and moving from foreground to
background. The way P(l)aces evoked Randy's taste for overlapping melodies
reminded me of a time I tried to play jazz standards with Randy. Randy was
visiting his folks in Washington. I had brought my bass over and thought it
would be fun to play through some standards. Randy played an upright piano in
the foyer. I thought everything was going OK, until after about two songs,
Randy suggested that instead of both of us reading off the *same* page in the
music book, one of us should play the tune on the left-hand page, while the
other played the tune on the right-hand page. The music book happened to be
open to "Bluesette" (by Toots Thielemans, in B-flat major, 3/4 time) and
"Blues for Alice" (Charlie Parker, F major, 4/4) -- a particularly disparate
pairing. I just couldn't keep up -- maybe it was the 3 against 4 -- so we
moved to something easier, "How High the Moon" (G major, 4/4) and Jobim's "How
Insensitive," (D minor, 4/4 bossa nova). While none of the changes really
sounded exactly "right," nothing really sounded particularly "wrong," in fact
some of the harmonies sounded inadvertently rich. Moreover, both songs
changed from verse to chorus at the same time, making the whole thing sound a
little more accessible.

Oddly, for all the fun and games in P(l)aces, the melody that I still can't
get out of my head is one of the simplest -- a slow three-note theme that the
horns played from time to time and that sounded like a wistful marching tune.

My hat goes off to Lisa Bielawa for reconstructing the score and, along with
Eleanor Sandresky, for bringing such an awesome piece of music and performance
to life; to Beatrice Affron, whose conducting kept the riot moving; and to the
performers -- especially the poor timekeeper -- who all rocked.

And to Randy: I can't believe it's been two years. I miss you more than
ever. Julian.