March 20, 2003

Good Kitty, Bad Kitty

Holy Ramones! Composer-performer Kitty Brazelton makes chamber music with the punch — and the volume — of punk

If you weren't thinking, you'd call Kitty Brazelton contradictory. She's a composer, but one who has a riveting stage presence. She said to me "God bless acoustic music," yet she's one of the few electro-acoustic musicians I have heard who is doing anything compelling with computers.

And she must surely be the only doctorate from that bastion of uptown contemporary compositional orthodoxy, Columbia University, to have ever performed at the famed punk club, CBGB's ("... with Joey Ramone in the front row, his long legs stretched out," she recalls).

No, it's better to call Kitty Brazelton omnivorous, which is just about the only way to describe What Is It Like to Be a Bat, the performing group she co-leads with vocalist Dafria Naphtali and which will be appearing Saturday evening to close the Erie Art Museum's 2002-03 Contemporary Music Series.

On another level, she's a fitting conclusion to the 20th anniversary season of the series, which has presented performers from jazz, world music, blues, new music, and things that are beyond category.

That last category is the only one sufficient for What Is It Like to Be a Bat, a chamber trio whose instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums, may remind you more of Hendrix than of Haydn. Oh, and as Brazelton gleefully told me, "It's loud. It's rock, and I love this for it's loudness."

But The Bat also incorporates computer-generated and modified sounds, both pre-recorded and real-time. Both Brazelton and Naphtali compose extensively with and for computers. Both sing, Naphtali with a classically influenced purity and Brazelton with the grit of the rock 'n' roll singer she was at the beginning of her career in Philadelphia. Percussionist Danny Tunick, a laptop composer, came up drumming in punk bands.

Only musicians of such wide vision could realize the two pieces on the program. "Can You Sing 'Sermonette' with Me?" from 1997 is a compelling amalgam of Renaissance and rock music (two seminal influences on Brazelton's musical development) with live interactive audio processing and presented with the ferocity of the Clash.

"Five Dreams: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" is a sort of "Vagina Dialogues" between Naphtali, a newlywed at the time of the composition, and Brazelton, a matrimonial veteran.

Brazelton's vinegary "I Told Ya So" portion of the half-hour composition is a sort of operatic Mad Scene of marital discord. It's scary and hilarious at the same time. But then, reducing "Dreams" to simple duality is too reductive for such a rich, layered composition. This is a piece that will make you think, whether you're married or not.

For a composer so heavily involved in computer music, Brazelton has a healthy dose of skepticism.

"Machines need to have the same standards apply to them that an oboe does," she said. "I think it's important for electronic music to come of age."

Brazelton doesn't think that has happened yet. "There's no way they're interesting as humans."

And certainly not as interesting as the omnivorous and thoroughly unclassifiable Kitty Brazelton.

—John Chacona

What Is It Like to Be a Bat — with Kitty Brazelton, Dafna Naphtali, Danny Tunick, John Brauer — will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Erie Art Museum Annex, 423 State St. Tickets are $12, $10 for Erie Art Museum and JazzErie members, $6 for students and seniors, and are available by calling the museum, 459-5477, or by visiting the Web site, www.erieartmuseum.org.

For More on Kitty Brazelton, visit the Web site, www.kitbraz.com.

related links:

"What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" the band

"What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" the CD

Tzadik, the label

Other CDs by Kitty Brazelton

Kitty Brazelton, composer