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Review: What Does the Fox Finder Say?

Furious Theatre Company visits England’s future

by CHRISTIAN ARAYA, Contributing Writer
Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 | 12:07 PM

Left to its own devices, this Orwellian pastoral play leaves you forgetting all about your sedentary existence. You are so close to the stage that you can smell the marsh, hear the rain pelts, and see clouds high above rural England’s rolling hills.

Sara Hennessy and Shawn Lee star in the Furious Theatre Company’s rolling World Premiere production of “Foxfinder.”

Taking place on a farm in a futuristic setting, the talented cast of characters is presented with individual challenges, as well as a government’s investigation as to why harvest has not met quota for the season. The investigation is led by a regimented agent—the “Fox Finder” (Joshua Weinstein), tasked with finding the root of the community’s problems at all cost, for country and glory.

Weinstein, to his credit, took the fox finder to a tenacious, methodical, and creepy place.

Dawn King’s storytelling really stirs a deep monologue about society and the place we have in it, as well as how we as individuals take responsibility for our actions. It’s so sharply crafted that it intertwines these themes seamlessly. (In fact, its success won King ‘Most Promising Playwright’ at the Off West End Awards in 2012.) The play’s social relevance has also led to its multiple productions in England, Sweden, and Australia.

Damaso Rodriguez’ direction was daring and visceral. His directing credits include work at Intiman, South Coast Repertory, Laguna Playhouse, A Noise Within, The Theatre @Boston Court, Oddyssey Theatre, and The Blank Theatre, and it’s all brought to bear at Furious.

The production’s sound effects, courtesy of Doug Newell, really create an eerie yet enchanting experience as they thread many of the transitions from scene to scene with electro sound bites that create their own feeling of auditory suspense.

Kristeen Willis Crosser’s set and lighting design works visually to help add to the strange feeling that you are on the set of one of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes. And you don’t want to leave.

We’ve have seen the future, and it’s Fox Finder.

The Furious Theatre Company is at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave, Pasadena. (626) 356-7529. www.furioustheatre.org.

Cool Jazz and Coffee

Grace Kelly hits the spot at Coffee Gallery Backstage

by CHRISTIAN ARAYA, Contributing Writer
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 | 12:41 AM

Grace Kelly’s performance at the Coffee Gallery Backstage the other evening, was more than just eloquent and casual—things got funky. The Coffee Gallery is a nice alcove for, you guessed it, coffee and baked goodies, with their back space converted into a cozy sanctuary for jazz and folk.

Grace Kelly at the Coffee Gallery Backstage

Think of an intimate and warm venue such McCabe’s in Santa Monica, except Coffee Gallery Backstage has walls adorned with cargo bags of coffee beans from around the world. It feels like you’re at a small airport in Uruguay, about to take a private plane in an adventure all over South America, with an untested pilot and a busted altimeter.

Back to Ms. Kelly.  Having performed in places such as New York’s Birdland, Carnegie Hall, The Newport Jazz Festival, and many more jazz stages around the globe, she shared her original compositions, and some covers, and also brought with her two talented backing performers—Michael Miller on twangy jazz guitar and Jerry Watts on a funky electric bass.

She would switch off between soprano and alto sax on her various tunes. Her cover of Henry Rollins’ “St. Thomas” was doused with some breezy sub-tropical rolls and raspy sax phrases. Her musical prowess extended into singing as her soft and tender voice told a lovely story in “Walking on Egg Shells”.

Another original composition that really made an impression was “Leaves”—a meandering of warm, breezy, and colorful sax tones which navigated around the stage.

The trio was actually playing together for the first time, but they sounded as if they knew each other for years. Miller’s artillery of pedal board magic created a layered dreamscape for a lot of Kelly’s love songs. His own solos were a labyrinth of harmony and latin staccato. Watts’ created a scat-a-tat dialogue with his bass a lá George Benson. All their individual nuances came together as they ended their set with some funky jazz, which the audience just couldn’t get enough of.

The Coffee Gallery Backstage is at 2029 N Lake Ave, Altadena, CA 91001. (626) 398-7917. www.coffeegallery.com. 

Christian Araya also lives and blogs at christianaraya.com

Cheeseburger Review: Step Right Up

Counter Offers Burgers built to your specs

by CHRISTIAN ARAYA, Contributing Writer

Published: PasadenaNow.com Monday, January 13, 2014 | 2:14 PM

(Editor’s Note: The hits just keep on coming. Today, in our ongoing coverage of Cheeseburger Week, contributing writer Christian Araya drops us off at The Counter.)

With so many great cheeseburgers in Pasadena, and so many great places participating, we’ve been hard-pressed to choose our favorites. The Counter is a good example of that dilemma.

Our own designer concoction at the Counter

Their burger artisans waste little time at not wasting yours. On arrival, your eyes can’t help but veer to the glistening fried egg yolk and white that lays tantalizingly on the heap of 100% natural Angus beef, cheddar, and bacon. Just as noteworthy if not more so, is the substitution of traditional English muffins for burger buns. No brioche on this one. Call it a British Invasion.

But that was just our design.

The Counter offers a dizzying combination of patties, buns, toppings, more toppings, and sauces. Add to that 12 (!) different cheeses. You could easily conjure up a burger from any country or ethnicity in any one visit.

To make things even more interesting, The Counter created their own sweet and tangy house Siiracha sauce that gets right to the meat of the matter. Dip anything in that pool of hot sauce heaven–especially if it’s some of their thin and savory onion rings. If the clandestine sauce isn’t your thing, you can just as easily satisfy your desire to dip with their barbeque and ranch sauce (go ahead and double dip, we won’t tell). There are sauces for days here at the Counter.

How are you able to continue indulging in such a lavish manufacturing of refined culinary workmanship? What’s the perfect libation? Their Angelino IPA. Brewed right in the heart of Little Tokyo, it’s the perfect balance of light and dark.

Their Pasadena restaurant’s interior resembles a modernist loft dabbled with Warholian prints and frames lined up against the wall. It’s located in an alley, so it’s not the most noticeably easy place to find but it does add to the industrial vibe. Their staff is friendly, no bull and all cheese. The right kind.

The Counter is at 140 Shoppers Lane, Pasadena.(626) 626 440 1008.www.thecounterburgers.com

Credits: Pasadenanow.com, @TheCounter

New Location, Same Great Music

Grassi and Trio play out the year in cool style

By CHRISTIAN ARAYA

Pasadenans will well remember Red White + Bluezz. When former owner Andre Vener sold his interest in the club, the new owners thankfully saved the name and the concept of live jazz, and the new effort is proving to be quite the venue for new and  established jazz artists.  The restaurant’s new location at the Pasadena Playhouse is in ideal proximity to Colorado Blvd. and Old Pasadena for all your wintry-warm California promenading.

In fact, the restaurant/club  features daily jazz every evening, along with a jazz brunch on Sundays. You’ll find a major–and not so minor–list of French and Californian white and red wines. Your experience is ever so augmented by the homegrown culinary masterminds of Cordon Bleu. The sophisticated, yet casual enclave will surely tantalize the senses especially with the their choice in jazz musicians.

Just recently, we  saw Lorenzo Grassi and his trio as they hit all the right notes Saturday December 28th, at Red White + Bluezz.

Lorenzo Grassi at Red, White + Bluezz

Grassi, with bassist and drummer at his side, reverberated a breezy and enchanting repertoire that matched the intimate ambience set by white Christmas lights and exquisite service. You sit so close to the stage that during intermissions Grassi walks around and chats you up. Their song selections, including bebop as well as standards, was finely finished with blue notes, bass slaps, blistering chord changes, and an earful of voicings–all the essentials for a jazzy night.

The arpeggios, grooves, and damped rhythms were loud enough for you to still carry on a conversation with friends, family, or whisper sweet nothings while monochrome portraits of jazz greats lined the restaurant walls and seemed to listen in, approvingly.

Grassi’s ability to expand on standards must come from his involvement in eclectic projects which span genres such as trip hop, electro funk, and drum n’ bass. You could hear how these influences colored a lot of the bebop played that night.

Mr. Grassi is definitely one of the more promising contemporary jazz acts of 2014, and is a terrific example of the depth of artists performing at what could be your new favorite jazz hang, no matter where it’s located.

Red White + Bluezz is at 37 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101. (626) 792-4441. Live music at 6:30 p.m. daily, with jazz brunch 10:30- 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.  www.redwhitebluezz.com

Credits: @redwhitebluezz,  Pasadenanow.com, Lorenzo Grassi,

Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe Hits Bull’s Eye

Shut up and take my money, Devonté Hynes a.k.a. Blood Orange does it again!

"Cupid Deluxe"

Cupid Deluxe follows the dance moves of Hynes’ debut album Coastal Grooves which received a lot of attention from low brow audiophiles and press alike. As a whole the albums is tinged with a myriad of artistic collaborations.  It is less linear and more of an abstract painting–like something that Basquiat would put together in a warehouse.

Hynes’ Chamakay creates soft tribal rhythms that sound like tropical rain fall. Haunting yet creamy vocal duets stream across the album’s love-themed sky like comet tails. And if you listen closely you can hear sensual sax lines and echoing hooks.

Beats and synth-grooves (by means of a vintage TR-505 drum machine)  drape most of the album like a downtempo homage to 80’s acid house. Retro slow jams like “You’re Not Good Enough” help paint this picture as the outro exposes you to a jazzy New York background (and the girls in polkadot dresses go doo do doo do doo do do doo…).

Guitar riffs and slap-bass lines keep things pulsing (listen to “Uncle ACE” and you too will get funky). To keep it fresh Clams Casino adds rap production while Despot and Skepta lay down some rhymes. By the time you get to”High Street” you know you’re listening to something dope.

Often times you can hear influences such as those of a young Michael Jackson or Bruno Mars, instilled with the seductive qualities of Marvin Gaye and a vogue Usher. The production style might also remind you of Quincy Jones but the album really does stand on its own. What’s more encouraging is the fact that Hynes concocted the bulk of these tunes on his own then veiled them with angelic voices of singers such as Samantha Urbani and Caroline Polachek.

With songs of this artistic quality and far reaching creativity who needs pop divas?

Get Active at the El Rey

Active Child is set to fan a spectrum of digital earthtones at the El Rey Theatre, in the heart of Miracle Mile, Saturday November 23rd, 2013.

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Every club is a playground with Active Child.

When you listen to Active Child’s ambient layers, you’ll visualize LA’s twinkling city lights atop the Hollywood Hills–er–yeah, like something out of a Julius Shulman photograph. Or you’ll easily find yourself taking an audio tour of the Sistine Chapel with renaissance minimalism, lasers, and cavernous electropulses (take it from the robed monk doing the Da Vinci code on the dance floor). His downtempo beats will bring up M83 in your memory synapses.

The Show opens with JMSN and Lawrence Rothman. Active Child’s set will be fully loaded with string quartet, choir. and mythological arrows.

Check out his homepage for sample tunes.

Credits: The Arroyo Seco Journal, @ActiveChild

Rock Royalty Run Amuck at The Avalon

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Chaos with a cause. The Kings of Chaos rock the Avalon

November 18th, 2013–If there’s one thing that is worth fighting for it’s your freedom. But what about those that can’t fight for their own freedom? Should we fight for theirs?

Ric O’Barry might be known as the man behind the ‘discovery’ and training of america’s most loveable finned movie star, Flipper, but he would refuse to be associated with such a memory. In fact, ever since T.V’s most recognized dolphin passed away in his arms he has taken it upon himself to battle an industry of animal abuse and another that keeps dolphins captive for amusement. To do this he started Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project.

He also laid the foundation with 2009’s The Cove documentary. It was at a protest in Taijii, Japan that Ric O’Barry met Matt Sorum (former drummer of Guns ‘n Roses) where they found out that they shared the same cause. Their collaboration ensued as they teamed up for a benefit concert at one of Hollywood’s most historic and lush venues–The Avalon.

Along with Sorum were fellow super group rockers Slash (Guns N’ Roses) , Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction, Velvet Revolver), Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol, Michael Jackson),

Sorum started the set off with a twangy rocker ballad which eased into Hughes playing Deep Purple’s “Mistreated” with gnawing aye-aye-aye’s and high pitched octaves. Then Taylor comes out, and together with Stevens, they take the crowd by storm with tracks like “Rebel Yell” and “Smoke onthe Water.”

There were more head bangs, pelvic thrusts, and fist pumps that you could count on two hands. Next thing you know Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers) jumps out, shouts out to all the ladies, tantalizes the gents, and electrifies AC/DC’s “Dirty Deed Done Dirt Cheap.” Afterwards, Hughes comes back out as they regroup and cover some classics like Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” and “Immigrant Song.” Just when you think they’re done rockin’ guess who comes a knockin’?

Special guests Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and Billy Ray Cyrus (“Achy Breaky Heart” and Miley Cyrus) appear. They play Queen’s “Tie your Mother Down” with all the original grit, teenage angst, and rebellion. By the time they play their last song, Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City”, you can’t help but wonder how come the stage didn’t explode with so many rock stars in one place.

Credits: thearroyosecojournal.com, @Dolphin_Project, @kingsofchaosusa

What a Fool Believes: A-Track and Danny Brown Rock the Parking Lot

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Danny Brown and A-Track kick it to the curb, literally. 

Fool’s Gold Day Off at the east side parking lot of The Shrine Auditorium was bumpin’ and fist pumpin’ this past weekend. By nightfall,  the parking lot was almost filled to the curb with crunkers, hipsters, ravers, punks, (bubble in all other relevant subcultures here).

Remember your public school yard? Yeah, exactly like that (including the occasional skirmishes over some off-the-cuff remark. Ah, the good old days).

Though unlike public school, there was food that was easily identifiable and comestible. Long lines led the way to two catering trucks parked and dishing out the pizza, tacos, and burgers to the masses with the munchies (an essential for any electro-hip-hop event).

The opening acts served expletive entrées as partygoers leaned like cholos, did the running man, and all of the above to the blend of rappers’ old school and new school styles.

Iamsu and Jay Ant were catalysts for those party time beats, kickback-style. They came down from the Bay Area’s independent hip hop scene with some fresh sounds. Iamsu’s tone is non-chalant but his rhymes are raw–you know– girls, making it big, and money. Jay Ant’s style is a slightly more down to Earth. They had a good yin-and-yang effect which made their set interesting to a certain degree (the sun was still up and people were barely settling in). It was like combining water and fire (what do they make? Steam and vapor. And what comes out of that? A ninja. That’s right, a ninja). The transitions between acts went smoothly as their in-house DJ kept everyone grooving.

The great thing about the music industry today is that it’s relatively easier to make a name for yourself. That’s one of the perks of the internet age, and in a way an asset to major record labels. Freddie Gibbs used that to his advantage and much to his credit he’s the perfect example of how you can create a following and help your music career via the web. The New Yorker writer Sasha Frere-Jones would “put money on [him] right now”. His flow is real, it cuts to the chase, and you can tell he raps from personal experiences. People were nodding their heads and digging the vibes with their hands in the air. His set was a good segue into DJ Quik.

The man that pioneered West Coast rap with the likes of Easy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre. DJ Quik  talked about the hood and gangs without really over-glamorizing them. That’s why he stood out so well and once you heard him sample old school tunes you were hooked. That night he was on target with the beats, legato rhymes, and what he was always about–party jams (like this). He kept it real and definitely got the party going for A-Track.

With a catchy electro facemelter like “Tuna Melt” and rhythmically fiendish remix like that of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll”, A-Track easily cranked Fool’s Gold Day Off up to 11. You couldn’t count the number of Harlem Shakes on one hand. At some point you could see a three story shoulder ride (that’s one person carrying another person carrying another person on their shoulders. Whoa! Elevator, going up!). It was a solid set but the overall line-up of the event seemed a bit off-handed. Their in-house DJ and A-Track conducted beats on the dance floor before Danny Brown’s appearance (contrary to the schedule). The tension and high BPM’s of electro are going to overshadow rappers and MC’s (think crescendo not diminuendo).  By the time Danny Brown went on stage people had already lost a few lbs. from dancing. An injustice to his underground hardcore style which is meant to be savored like a chilled 40 in a paper bag.

When you hear Danny Brown you can’t help but think of Ol’ Dirty Bastard (O.D.B.). Their styles are so similar you would think that they were long lost relatives. When you hear him you see hood life scattered in all the confrontation and vulgarities–pretty dank, as they’d say. No one could ever really replace O.D.B. but it is fun to see how his style has managed to reincarnate itself into underground hip hop today.

Credits: thearroyosecojournal.com, @FoolsGoldRecs, @Atrack, @XDannyXBrownX