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Jazzed up Assemblage Art

Los Angeles
Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater
02/03/2011 -  and 4, 5 February 2011
George Herms: The Artist’s Life
Diana Briscoe (vocals)
Bobby Bradford Mo’tet: Bobby Bradford (cornet), Vinny Golia (saxophone), Roberto Miranda (bass), Chuck Manning (saxophone), Chris Garcia (drums), Don Preston (piano), Michael Vlatkovich (trombone), Ken Rosser (guitar) – Theo Saunders Group: Theo Saunders (piano), Azar Lawrence (saxophone), Henry Franklin (bass), Chuck Manning (saxophone), Dave Dalston (trombone), Ramon Banda (drums)
George Herms (director, writer and narrator), Wilder Herms and Guglielmo Cuellar (Blue Kanji), Rick Cole (Buoy and Staircase Wrangler)

(© Steven Gunther)

It was an age of avant-garde hedonism, a time for stretching the boundaries of tradition in a free form of self expression. George Herms’ life amongst beats and hippies facilitated a free canvas of innovation and artistic ingenuity that is distinctly his own. Being the perennial collector of limitless archived documents has enabled Mr. Herms to narrate his personal life in a rather unconventional manner.

The Artist’s Life is a sort of modern day abstract operatic La Bohème: the genesis of Herms’ assemblage art, bohemian lifestyle, love of family and fellow artisans and heart-tugging dealings with those passed away who greatly influenced or affected his life, the likes of legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, wife Louise, and Walter Hobbs.

(© Steven Gunther)

In the traditional sense, one can consider this an opera in one act, loosely strung along by a series of roughly nine vignettes that help us better understand the artist. Musically, the foundation wrests between Bobby Bradford’s famous Mo’tet and the Theo Saunders Group, typifying an improv concert. In one musical section band members take turns being the soloist. Additionally, many of Herms’ salvaged “finds” act as working props, including a metal spiral staircase and a larger-than-life buoy, both used to create randomized notes by being struck with a set of wooden two by fours. It’s quirky, catchy and creative!

Being a fellow artist championing recycled objects, I can personally appreciate the works he’s created as a result of dumpster diving. The ideas are limitless and very clever, but deeper fundamentals exist. The cited excerpts taken from Herms’ personal diaries is like an abbreviated secco recitative found in Mozart’s Idomeneo. Meanwhile lead and solo soprano, Diana Briscoe, sings the hymnal Blessed Assurance to the sounds of Roberto Miranda’s bass and Herms’ spontaneous buoy dings.

The stage abounds with many inventions, reminiscent of Louise Nevelson, yet Herms utilizes household objects to a greater degree. It’s as though we’re in a museum accompanied by a scholarly docent. Musical instruments are incorporated, demonstrating that the two disciplines of music and visual art connect harmoniously.

The REDCAT theater works well for this production, and it is acoustically sound. The Artist’s Life will enable one to take a journey into the past and delve deeper into the psyche of this talented man. George Herms breaks up life into three sections: birth, life and death, summing it up best, “give it your best shot regardless of your age.” We can all learn by his lesson.

Christie Grimstad



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