New York Times, July 20,1979 pg.C3
by Robert Palmer
If the people at the Squat Theater have their way, West 23d Street is going to be a major location to hear blues, jazz, new rock and new classical music in the weeks and months to come.
Normally the little theater, at 256 West 23d Street, just east of Eighth Avenue, is home base for the Squat Theater troupe, an irreverent collective of Hungarian actor-dramatists. But the troupe tours much of the year, and recently some of the Squat people decided the former site of Cavanaugh's Restaurant was going to waste.
They struck up a friendship with Rasa Artists, a growing enterprise that has been primarily devoted to managing the careers of jazz musicians such as Sam Rivers and Leroy Jenkins, but bas also been bringing a few blues artists of unusual merit into Manhattan. The result is already New York's most promising new blues' and jazz concert series. The folks at Squat and Rasa say it's just the beginning.
Tonight at 8:30 and 11 P.M., too Chicago blues guitarists who play exciting dance music in a 1950's juke-joint idiom will be performing at the Squat Theater. J. B. Hutto, known for two fine albums on the Delmark label, moved to Chicago from Augusta, Ga., in 1941 when he was in his teens. He soon fell under the spell of several recently arrived Mississippi bluesmen, most notably the late Elmore James, and today he is the foremost living exponent of Mr. James's riveting slide-guitar style.
An Unusual, Four-FingerStyle
The second of the two, Frank Craig, who goes under the name Left Hand Frank, has been playing the blues in Chicago since the early 50's, when his family moved there from Greenwood, Miss. He has turned in pungent, highly original performances with some of that city's top blues bands, playing lead guitar in an unusual, four-finger, picking style, but he never made a recording until late last year, when his group contributed four selections to Alligator Records' superb "Living Chicago Blues" series.
Tickets for tonight's shows, which promise to deliver some of the earthiest, most idiomatic electric blues and boogie heard in the city in some time, are $5. And for those who are so inclined, there's room to dance. For more information, call 691-l238.
Tomorrow and Sunday night, Mr. Hutto and his New Hawks and the Left Hand Frank Blues Band will be joined by Big Walter Horton, the blues harmonica virtuoso, backed by Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones.
Mr. Horton, who was born in Horn Lake, Miss., in 1918 and recorded with the Memphis Jug Band and other blues artists before moving to Chicago, is a brilliant but moody musician. When he doesn't feel like playing, he can be very ordinary. When he does, he is the most gifted living exponent of harmonica blues. How he will feel this weekend is anyone's guess, but with three bands on the bill the shows promise to be rewarding anyway. Tickets will be $6, and shows are at 8 and 11:30 P.M.
The series at the Squat Theater began last weekend with the Chicago blues pianist Sunnyland Slim, another welcome and seldom-seen visitor to New York. The show was relaxed but not too relaxed; with blues the balance is often delicate, and although a tense bluesman is usually not a good performer, neither is a bluesman so relaxed that his music loses its cutting edge. Seating is informal -chairs or, if one prefers, bleachers in the back or, if people aren't dancing, the floor. There's a bar as well. The atmosphere is something between a theater, a club and a dance ball, which seems just about ideal for this brand of music.
Dollar Brand Coming In
But the blues aren't all the people at the Squat Theater have up their sleeves. Next Tuesday through July 29, the South African jazz pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim formerly known as Dollar Brand, will be appearing with his exceptional big band, which draws on Duke Ellington,Thelonious Monk and South African music and has an appealing sound all its own. Aug. 3 and 4, the jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins will be leading his mixed quintet of strings, woodwinds and brass in a program of original music, and Aug. 5, the seasoned tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, a mainstay of Thelonious Monk's band for many years, brings in his Brazilian flavored group, Cinammon Flower, with the pianist Dom Salvador and the trumpeter Claudio Roditi in the lineup.
Later next month the Squat Theater hopes to present the Golden Eagles, members of a black Mardi Gras society from New Orleans, who sing call-and-response chants to swaying Afro-Caribbean rhythms, on a bill with the Bahamian singer-songwriter Exuma. There will be more new jazz as well. All events are at 9 P.M. and 11 P.M.
"I am hoping," says the Squat Theater's Janos Gat, "that bringing in musicians of the highest quality will make us do some things we wouldn't be able to do otherwise. I'm hoping it will be an inspiration."
Squat Theatre Digital Archive concept/design by Klara Palotai 2003-2005© Rocha 2