Bret McCabe


Local music venues face uncertainty as pandemic wears on

The exterior of jazz club Keystone Korner. Image via Facebook.

Jazz impresario Todd Barkan has been putting together concerts for nearly half a century. In 1972 he acquired the Keystone Korner club in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood and turned it into one of the decade’s premier jazz venues. He relocated to New York in the 1980s to produce albums, work with the Boys Choir of Harlem, and, in 2001, became Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic administrator. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2018, and in 2019 he revived his Keystone Korner club in Baltimore’s Harbor East neighborhood.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t care one bit about those career achievements, however. “I’m one of the most elder and experienced jazz presenters in the world, but that doesn’t help me in this situation,” Barkan says by phone in September, adding that, at 74-years-old, “I’m facing by far the most difficult challenge in my entire life in music.”

Baltimost: Baltimore Museum of Art

Baltimore Museum of Art
Baltimore Museum of Art. Photo by Ethan McLeod

Baltimore Museum of Art

With the recent opening of "Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art," Christopher Bedford begins delivering on the mission realignment he outlined for the Baltimore Museum of Art after becoming the director in 2016: to spotlight underrepresented artists sidelined by art history's account of America's postwar creative boom. "Generations" showcases the innovative ideas and pioneering work of artists such as Norman Lewis, Alma Thomas, Kevin Beasley and Lorna Simpson, and extends a critical invitation to understand how these artists responded to the same political and cultural crises that prompted people such as Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg to represent the world following the global cataclysm of World War II.

"When you add to the current roster of exhibitions this fall, what you'll see is a very fulsome expression of our vision for the museum," Bedford says, alluding to current and upcoming exhibitions, which include a solo show of sculptor Melvin Edwards, a Mickalene Thomas public art commission being installed in the East Wing, and a showcase of American Women modernists.

Recharting a museum's mission is like changing the course of an ocean liner. In addition to mounting such shows as "John Waters: Indecent Exposure" and reinstalling the Contemporary Wing to put underrepresented artists back in conversation with art history, the museum sold off five works by ostensible 20th-century masters to raise funds to acquire artwork by women and artists of color.

Walking through the BMA now is a dramatically different experience than it was three years back, and the museum has only begun to turn its ideas into realities. "I would also say, and this is true on the part of the trustees and the staff, the work to achieve that vision is never done," Bedford says.

"Every season will require that amount of work, that amount of inventiveness, again and again and again, in order to reach the same bar. So ["Generations"] is both a moment of culmination and commencement. I think we're making a commitment to ourselves and to the city to keep going in exactly this way, because that's the promise I think we extended."

Back to main Baltimost page

Baltimost: Cocina Luchadoras

Cocina Luchadoras. Photo by Ethan McLeod

Cocina Luchadoras

If you pop into this Fells Point corner noshery to chat with owner Rosalyn Vera, you might have a hard time holding her attention. Not that she doesn't want to say hello or talk about the family memories and cooking that inform her spot's homey atmosphere and soul-nurturing fare. It's simply that customers continually stream through Cocina Luchadoras' door, keeping the compact kitchen and staff busy.

In the mornings, it might be street workers and laborers coming in to grab breakfast. After work on weekdays, it's people grabbing dinner on their way home or neighborhood residents stopping to sit at the outdoor picnic tables. A wide variety of Baltimoreans pop in on weekend afternoons, enjoying the vibe while waiting for their meals. You'll see Vera, often in an apron, through the cutout into the kitchen working with another woman making the food while another young woman takes orders.

As Vera told Baltimore magazine's Local Flavor podcast, she was born in the New York area to Mexican immigrants, spent some time growing up with her grandmother in Mexico City, and food and family have always been central to her identity and values. Back in the winter, a sign in the restaurant criticizing the president resulted in her receiving death threats; her customers responded with overwhelming patronage and support.

In recent memory, a true Baltimore local hang means a place that both black and white people, middle and working class, like to frequent. Cocina Luchadoras—a name inspired by hard-working women wrestlers—adds Baltimore's Latinx population to that mix, and if it's a harbinger of Baltimore's increasingly multiethnic future, bring it.

So don't be too bummed if Vera's too busy to chat. Order a torta—don't sleep on the kitchen's piquant carnitas—grab a bottle of Jarritos' mineral water out of the small fridge, and take a seat in the seating area. Enjoy the Tejano music coming from a pair of speakers. Smile at the tapestry featuring Frida Kahlo wearing a Daft Punk T-shirt. And wait for the toasted, Mexico City-style tortas to arrive wrapped in foil and paper, and try not to pass out after taking that first bite.

Back to main Baltimost page

Music review: New albums by Lower Dens, Joy Postell, Ami Dang and Height Keech

Jana Hunter of Lower Dens. Credit: Torso.

Lower DensThe Competition” (Ribbon Music)
A number of things have changed about the world and human existence in the four years since Lower Dens’ “Escape from Evil” came out. In hindsight, “Evil‘s” at-times anxious and excited considerations of the heart’s impulsive and earth-moving feelings sound downright quaint. “The Competition,” singer/songwriter Jana Hunter and drummer Nate Nelson’s latest, is a more poignant and confident consideration of what an “escape from evil” might mean in 2019.

Music review: New albums by The Holy Circle, Lafayette Gilchrist, Eze Jackson and Multicult

The Holy Circle. Handout image.

The Holy Circle “Sick With Love” (Deathbomb Arc)
Synthesizer-based pop mood swings have gone through a litany of derided genre tags over the past four decades; one person’s synth-pop may be another’s dream pop and still another’s new wave. So let’s step right into this kiddie pool: If dream pop is your thing but Beach House sounds like musical Goop, have I got a band for you.

Take in the Sondheim finalists’ work showing how economic realities impact culture, skip the marketing panels

Cheeny Celebrado-Royer’s work in the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize Finalists Exhibition. Credit: Tiffany N. Thompson from the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts.

Cheeny Celebrado-Royer‘s motorcycle has a flat. Sure, the two-wheeled vehicle is constructed out of upcycled cardboard tape, and twine, but its rear wheel is toast. It’s not merely deflated, but the rim’s got a flat spot like it was carrying an oversized cargo and hit a pothole at speed. Cyclists, of the human- or machine-powered variety, will see that flat spot and internally groan. An ordinary flat tire is quick, easy and cheap to fix. A rim with a flat spot means replacing or rebuilding the wheel, an investment of time and money. And if the two-wheeled vehicle is your main form of transportation—or what you use to work—it’s not something you can put off.

Joyce and Elizabeth Talford Scott’s exhibition ‘Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars’ feels potent, if out of place within BMA

“Plantation” (1980), by Elizabeth Talford Scott. Image courtesy of Baltimore Museum of Art/Estate of Elizabeth Talford Scott.

Joyce Scott’s “Inkisi #2” is one of her sculptural works that sneakily knocks you out. It’s a wooden figurine from Nigeria that Scott clad in a billowing tiered skirt made of cast glass, beads of clay, plastic, thread and wire. Scott sewed some of the beads together to become faces on large medallions that hang among the skirt’s folds. Strings of beads end in some relic—a hand, an animal shape—that suggest some aspect of a spiritual practice.

Interspersed among the folds are columns of coke-bottle green glass that end in a bell-shaped bulge. Stare into the face of the figurine and you start thinking its features suggest a knowing smile. Phalluses, icons, prayer, wit, “Inkisi #2” hits the eyes like a totemic relic even though it vibrates with a contemporary tension. Past and present converge in an object that feels like it has something to say to you about the here and now.

Slyly funny, sexually frank, historically complex, politically astute and above all, visually striking, “Inkisi #1” greets visitors to the intimate gallery space at the Baltimore Museum of Art where a small assortment of Scott’s works are paired with those of her mother, Elizabeth Talford Scott. Titled “Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars,” the exhibition spotlights the artistic potency of a creative family.

FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture takes the Monument Quilt to the National Mall

A mock-up of the Monument Quilt on display at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Stackable, green plastic storage bins with lids crowd the entrance of an Episcopal church in Bolton Hill on a recent Saturday. They’re labeled with numbers written on a piece of white duct tape. These numbers are grouped in fives—”1-5,” “6-10,” “71-75,” etc.—and need to be sequentially ordered.

Some bins are being organized in the outer aisles around the church’s pews. Some are stacked and need to be sorted. And others still need to be unloaded from the U-Haul parked out front. Each bin should contain five four-foot-square pieces of fabric sewn to a four-foot-square stretch of Tyvek. There are one, two, three, four, five—uh, hundreds of bins.

Abdu Ali finds a new level of confidence on ‘FIYAH!!’

Image courtesy of the artist.

The Abdu Ali who appears on their self-released new album “FIYAH!!” both is and isn’t the artist you may have fallen for on their previous mixtapes and EPs, and in blistering live performances.

The insistent intelligence of Baltimore club remains the music’s rhythmic foundation, as does Ali’s gift for speedy, declamatory rap. Also still there is a polymath’s thematic interest in stretching the limits of genres, be they of music or politics or identity.

What’s new is the sense of space in the songs and a comfort level with a variety of vocal performances. Ali reveals the subdued and vulnerable, witty and celebratory registers of their voice, and you get the suspicion that as boundary breaking as their music has been, the creative river of ideas that informs their art ain’t just wide, it’s deep.

Eze Jackson combats holiday season stress with Dirty Christmas

Image via “The Whole Bushel” on Facebook

Versatile Baltimore MC and Real News Network reporter Eze Jackson stands in the local nonprofit news organization’s recording studio looking over some lyrics he’s penned in a spiral notebook.

As studio manager Dwayne Gladden and audio engineer Stephen Frank go over a few things in the control booth, Jackson nods his head along as he mentally reads through his lines, jotting down a few notes in the process. I’ve dropped by to chat with Jackson about his fourth annual Dirty Christmas party taking place at the Metro Gallery Dec. 29, but first he needs to hop into the booth to record a short experiment, an attempt to bring Jackson’s considerable hip-hop gifts to the kinds of news stories the Real News covers: economic inequality, climate change, political corruption.