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Friday, March 9, 2012

BAMcafé Live All-Stars: Nora York

Photo: Nora York by Stephanie Berger
Cabaret music was once at the center of the American popular musical dialect, but the onset of rock and roll/rhythm and blues has largely driven the form into select corners of the nation’s songbook. As such, there’s an unrelenting gulf between its connoisseurs and the hoi polloi. These days, the typical haunts for cabaret are elite supper clubs, underground jazz bars, and downtown lounges. Negotiations for détente between the disparate worlds of cabaret and contemporary pop have yielded dubious results and real world commentary in the realm of cabaret music is well-nigh inviolable.

Nora York is the rare artist who has managed successfully to inhabit the cabaret milieu while subverting its sacred cows. Rock and roll and soul carry equal space on Nora’s palette as standards and show tunes, with composers such as Hendrix and Dylan being elevated into the otherwise restrictive Great American Songbook. She makes the lounge presentation a living, connective idiom, rather than long-tooth clichés and snobbish pretense. She has an uncanny ability to conjure themes and linkages, such as her meditation on the mutability between love and madness in her medley “You Go To My Head” married with “Manic Depression.”

Further, Nora commits the heresy of turning the lounge into a communal, democratized space, rather than a hallowed shrine to the inscrutable, standoffish diva. Engaging the audience, provoking, challenging, and removing stale atmosphere of sedate, passive ennui associated with most cabaret, Nora morphs the form into a snarling, furious, and wounded beast which she subsequently tames, heals and loves back to life.

Nora’s opus “Power/Play” emerged at the crux of tensions following the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 and America’s subsequent adventures into Afghanistan and Iraq. Threading her disciplines as an ingénue, actress, dramaturge, bandleader, composer, and multimedia collaborator, “Power/Play” is Nora’s emotive wrestling match with the wages of war, its engineers, and its cosigners. It is only appropriate, as part of BAMcafé Live All-Stars, that Nora returns with this particular work, as it was born from a BAM commission complementing the BAMcinematek series “From Hanoi to Hollywood.”

As both a personal friend and as a performer, it’s good to have Nora back home at BAM.

—Darrell McNeill, Associate Producer, Music Programming

Nora York appears at BAMcafé Live on Friday, March 9 at 9pm.

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