Ziva's Spanish Dance Ensemble
The soloist is at the heart of flamenco, for the solo is where the dancer reveals the heat, passion and sensuality that have contributed to the form's enduring popularity. Saturday night at Joy of Motion's Jack Guidone Theater, Ziva's Spanish Dance Ensemble exhibited all the accouterments of the style--the skilled handling of fans, castanets, shawls, flowing skirts and the staccato footwork that are flamenco's hallmarks.
This four-year-old troupe, comprising mostly students of local flamenco dancer-teacher Ziva Cohen, can present a convincing program, but it was overshadowed by the solos for Cohen and her only male counterpart, Shahram Tehranian. For "Carmen Suite," set to music from Bizet's opera, Cohen's brief solo served as an introduction to her subtle and exacting skills. In the program's second half, "Alegrias," with Gypsy roots in turn-of-the-century Cadiz, showcased the dancer's classic lift, proud bearing and easy change from somber to sultry, graceful to sharp-edged.
Tehranian's slight build belies the power and passion that drive his percussive footwork. "Garrotin," a traditional dance of northern Spain, displayed his fierce control over the rhythmic variations in the style. The balls of his feet pounded into the wooden floor while his heels battered out separate syncopation. Tehranian returned for a section of "Seguiriyas," another Gypsy dance, to whip around in a series of blindingly quick turns and pivots.
Guest artist Tehreema Mitha performed a classical Indian dance, "Tillana," in the Bharatanatyam style. The slow evolution from sustained poses to rhythmic pounding of her bare feet opened a new window on the flamenco style, and "Tango Oriental" felt sexy and seductive. The Moorish influence could be found in Christina Dean's undulating torso and hips and her sweeping turns as layers of scarves whirled about her.
The ensemble closed the program with "Juerga," a bright, lively jam session. Guitarist Torcuato Zamora, onstage for the second half only, and singer Maria Ines Lopez accompanied the dancers in pairs for a sevillanas, an Andalusian couples dance. Then the dancers took turns showing off their favorite phrases to appreciative calls of "Ole!" from the audience.
Down to the Bone at Nation
Not too many rare-groove bands survived after the acid jazz scene fizzled out and gave way to drum 'n' bass and electronica. What had been an intriguing blend of rootsy funk and contemporary hip-hop is now an aggressive but bloodless variation of smooth jazz. But Saturday night at Nation, the British ensemble Down to the Bone proved that the dance-floor guerrilla movement still can thrust a crowd with irresistible grooves.
Down to the Bone is a crackerjack collection of studio and tour musicians who have played with the Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai and Simply Red. And while it doesn't have the almost mandatory urban earth goddess or white-boy soul crooner as front person, it delivered a funky set of anonymous instrumentals (mostly from its top-charting 1998 album, "From Manhattan to Staten") under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Paul Weimar.
The band's danceable beats, scratching guitar riffs and soulful saxophone wails plumbed all the reasons acid jazz yielded so much sonic optimism during the early '90s as it influenced young R&B musicians to forgo studio wizardry and simply learn how to play their instruments. But aesthetic limitations and flaccid compositions also showed why acid jazz was nothing more than a novel revival of '70s funk.
As with most ensembles of this ilk, Down to the Bone's strong musicality doesn't go past retro. But the thin crowd didn't seem to notice on "Staten Island Groove," featuring Adrian Ravelle's biting alto sax, and "Zodiac," a showcase for Neil Angilley's keyboard dexterity.
Najma at the Freer Gallery
A pleasant breeze cooled the crowd outside the Freer Gallery Saturday evening, but the featured attraction, Indian singer Najma, repeatedly lamented the heat. This complaint seemed incongruous coming from an Indian, but Najma is Indian in style and heritage only. She was born and bred in Britain, a background that explains her eclectic approach. The orange-clad singer's performance stressed songs from "Forbidden Kiss," her 1996 album of Indian movie-musical standards, but also included music derived from the Indo-Pakistani folk and classical traditions, as well as a country-rock ballad written by J.D. Souther.
Najma was backed by Church of Betty, a New York rock band whose leader, Chris Rael, produced, co-arranged and played on "Forbidden Kiss." The quintet was certainly amenable, even improvising a Bo-Diddley-goes-Bombay vamp for an encore after they'd played all the songs they had rehearsed. Still, it was the group's tabla player, Deep Singh, who seemed most in sync with the singer's music. The most striking songs were the ones that sounded truest to their Indian models, notably "Improvisation," during which the band reduced its contribution to a delicate drone and Najma essentially dueted with Singh's tabla.