NOW I'M FINE
January 14, 2016
Even though NYC has no snow at the moment, we can recall the grind of tires whirling, futilely, to release a car from an ice-bound trap. It’s a sound both desperate and determined. Keep that low growl in your mind’s ear, now feel your kundalini rise as those wheels finally get a grip and the car rolls free. That image is what lingers from experiencing Ahamefule J. Oluo who has mastered an emotional set-up for his sound, both dark and funky, bittersweet and transported. He creates an empathetic aura through his sobering stories delivered without schtick or self-pity. Two violins and a cello, with an occasional piano, offset the sad chapters of his story, making the pain tolerable in his strangely beautiful means to transcendence.
As he tells us, he was a child with no friends; he was a victim of medical incompetence; he was the son of a selfish, absent father. He seems to compose with no urge to fit into a genre or please an academic. Dressed in coat and bowtie, his large frame is topped by a cowlick. He drops his elegant demeanor, reminiscent of Duke Ellington, when his music hits a groove. He bounces on his heels as he conducts his brass, drum, voice, and drum ensemble with his big hands flapping as though he is bouncing balls off the back wall.
“NOW I'M FINE is presented as part of Mark Russell and Meiyin Wang’s 12th Under The Radar series, in collaboration with Joe’s Pub. The show comes from Seattle, from whence comes his collaborators: Samantha Boshnack, Evan Flory-Barnes, Naomi Siegel, D’Vonne Lewis, and singer/songwriter okanomodé SoulChilde. When okanomodé first enters, he wears black feathers over his otherwise bare chest. Each time he enters with another startling inspired look.
The stage for this unforgettable program has three arenas - downstage mic for the story-telling, a platform for the brass, drums, harp with a stringed rectangular to frame the singer, and stage-level, stage left for the strings. This architectural division clarifies the joy of the trumpets, which Ahamefule plays at one point with piercing virtuosity. He could have placed himself stage front as a trumpet soloist, backed by his band, but he has to tell you his story, so that you can be with him and understand the impetus behind the complex textures and drive of his music. A wise decision.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers