WestChester County Weekly

Addicted to Love

More than 20 years later, Kitty Brazelton still proudly bares her New Wave soul

by Thomas Staudter


ack in the mid-'70s, when the nascent New Wave music scene was still an ideological and aesthetic battleground, Kitty Brazelton led a Philadelphia-based group called Musica Orbis that incorporated Dadaist impulses into musical performances and achieved some renown, opening for both Television and the Talking Heads at CBGB's.

The band's music was "for artists only," to borrow a line from one sage/scold. A quintet for the most part, the instrumentation in Musica Orbis included all kinds of hells, chimes and percussive implements, plus acoustic or electric bass, marimba, key-boards, flute and recorder, cello, drums and Brazelton's vocals. There were four national tours, an album called To the Listeners, and reviews from major newspapers and magazines.

Bridging into spatial design and concert hall installations, Musica Orbis's zenith probably was "Sound in Space," a 1977 show created in collaboration with some architect friends. A three-act show, "Sound in Space" had the band members first play their instruments while walking around the audience, then let the audience wander through a "forest" of microphones to complement the band's music. Finally, large white and red inflatable sculptures descended from the ceiling and surrounded the audience, now seated on the stage floor, while the band played a celestially-inspired soundtrack.

More than 20 years later, Kitty Brazelton still proudly bares her New Wave soul in Dadadah, a nine-piece rockarkestra she fronts, whose second album, Love Not Love Lust Not Lust, one of 1999's best releases, stays close enough to an avant-garde aesthetic to sound entirely new. And unlike some of her '70s peers who have become bland songsmiths along the way, Kitty still rocks. Ferociously.

"About 12 years ago I got into Alcoholics Anonymous and great things resulted from that," Brazelton remarked. "I got my doctorate in music from Columbia, married and gave birth to my daughter. But looking into all of that became a background for something I wanted to say.

A grad school friendship with jazz trombonist Chris Washburne led to the idea of forming a band that would feature horns, something new for Brazelton, and so in 1989 the two musicians began to seek like-minded collaborators. Elizabeth Panzer, "an exceptional harpist," Brazelton said, was recruited early on, as was Hui Cox, electric guitarist extraordinaire (and music director for Richie Havens). Original bassist Roland S. Wilson eventually defected the band for Wall Street, but a tour through the Midwest picked up drummer Dane Richeson and mad cello improviser Matt Turner.

Dadadah's early songs, premiered at the Knitting Factory and the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe in New York City in 1991, were released on their first CD, Rise Up!, in 1994, and by then the band had perfected "From Her Story," a 19-minute long, seven-part suite that examines Brazelton's self-professed "addictions." The ensuing years found the band completing the rest of the repertoire that constitutes Love Not Love Lust Not Lust.

The newer songs, like "Soul Kiss," "You're in Love" and "Beauty Wild and Curious," said Brazelton, "take up the theme of obsession but aren't attached to addiction per se. More at focus is love, the idea of dealing with the issue of obsession and then transcending it-something a lot of people relate to."

Kitty Brazelton: She still rocks. Ferociously.


hree years in the making, with painstaking 24-track analog studio recording and post-production time financed solely by credit cards, Love Not Love Lust Not Lust is an hour-long rollercoaster ride through extreme emotions and not-so-subtle obsessions, as articulated by Brazelton's high-charged vocals and a band that never crosses the same terrain twice. A mix of screaming hard rock, funk, jazz fusion and hook-laden songcraft, the most distinguishing aspect of the album's music is, once again, instrumentation. On Love Not Love there is plenty of room for the musicians to stretch out, and so they do, in the best communal sense. Keening electric guitar solos and amplified cello, distorted of course, spiral out of control while a harpist maintains some vestige of classicism. Meanwhile, the rhythm section turns on a dime and breaks into a high-step whenever possible, all of it punctuated and augmented by sax, trombone and French horn. Imagine Jefferson Airplane and the Family Stone morphed through Patti Smith and Tina Turner.

Amazingly, Dadadah is merely a fraction of Kitty Brazelton's day-to-day preoccupations. A wife and mother, she also toils in academe as professor of music history at Columbia University and NYU. And her musical career extends far beyond her rockarkestra: Brazelton heads a punk-digital music trio as well, and last year she won critical plaudits for her participation in "Hildegurls," a modern re-setting of music composed by a German nun from the 12th century commissioned by Lincoln Center. She has composed countless "new music" works for orchestras, chamber groups and choirs, and has performed at major music festivals and concert halls around the world. Her work in Dadadah, comparatively, may seem at first to be low-brow because of its hard rock riffs, but ultimately it just presents the composer's strong visceral side.


The eight-minute-long "Soul Kiss" is an intricate tour de force that starts with harp and guitar before the horns kick in; after three minutes the music breaks down into a free-for-all from which emerges an otherworldly guitar solo that would do Terje Rypdal proud. The original horn riff reappears after a dream-confessional coda with harp, and Brazelton simply empties out her rock'n'roll heart at the end. I've heard nothing like "Soul Kiss" since art-rock and punk were daringly wed in the I970s, and when I found out that Dadadah was in heavy rehearsal for two upcoming performances of music from the new album, including "Soul Kiss," at the Culturemarket Festival in January, I felt young again.


She also began a long songwriting partnership with rock guitarist Joey Scarperia, and at the behest of rock critic and provocateur Lester Bangs returned to the stage to sing "in the people's bands," first auditioning for New Jersey bar bands. Ready again to seize her own fate, she formed the hard-rocking Hide the Babies, a popular New York post-punk act which had a crowd-pleasing hit called "I'm Not a Virgin." Madonna's management company, feigning interest in Hide the Babies, kept a demo tape of the band's songs long enough to rip off the. lyrics for "Like a Virgin." Brazelton said, "And afterwards we had to stop playing our song because even our own fans thought we'd taken it from Madonna."

"Even today I wouldn't want to trade places with Madonna," Brazelton claimed. "I think, in the end, it's people who come up with ideas who win, and I've always been a person with ideas."

Graduate study brought Brazelton to new vistas, as evidenced by her wide range of compositional styles and settings; her most recent work has been in the field of computer-generated music in a rogue trio she calls What Is It Like To Be A Bat? Brazelton thinks her next CD will be work from this "digital punk group"–her good credit willing.block


razelton, by some miracle of the muse, seems eternally young. Born Catherine Bowles Brazelton, the daughter of pediatrician/child-rearing guru T. Berry Brazelton and Christina Lowell, first cousin to poet Robert Lowell, she grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and attended Concord Academy in Lincoln, a leafy suburb of Boston. In her teens she studied flute and voice. A growing rebellious strealt interrupted her college years at Swarthmore, and instead of graduating with the rest of her class in.. well, let's just say she received her sheepskin while still in her 20s.

Abandoning college, Brazelton became a topless go-go dancer in Chester, Pa., and chummed with the Pagans, a Philly motorcylce gang. All along, though, she kept up an interest in music. She played the flute in Battleship, an acoustic jazz group influenced by John Coltrane, then joined Phaedra, an acid-rock band, in time to appear at the Fillmore East opening up for the Velvet Underground. In the early 1970s she left Phaedra with the band's drummer to form Musica Orbis. "My first band," she said nostalgically. "The music we played–it wasn't not rock."

After trying to catch on as a singer-songwriter, Brazelton settled in New York City and started teaching at Manhattan Community College.

Kitty Brazelton and Dadadah will perform "Love, Lust & Beyond" at the fifth annual Culturemart Festival on Friday, Jan. 7 at 10:30 p.m. and on Saturday, Jan. 8 at 2 p.m. at HERE, 145 Sixth Ave. (at Spring Street), Manhattan. Admission is $10. Call (212)647-0202 for more information.


aking a few moments from grading student essays last week, Brazelton explained how the formation of Dadadah coincided with other parts of her life's story.


related links:


"Love Not Love Lust Not Lust"

Kitty Brazelton, Bandleader

large electro-acoustic ensembles

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