Thursday, October 12, 2023

Kevin Courrier: Five Years Gone

Kevin Courrier (1954-2018)

Five years ago today, on October 12, 2018, Critics At Large lost one of its leading voices, Kevin Courrier. Kevin was a writer, a critic, a teacher, a friend, a mentor, a prod and an inspiration. He led our site as a community of fellow travellers, his only goal to help each of us, in whatever way he could, in our respective journeys, not only as writers but as human beings. Kevin was a lover and a fan of all products of human creativity, with a special love of music, film, and television – and he approached all of it with wit, insight, humility, heart, and a uniquely critical eye. His expansive writing (articles, essays, books, and reviews) made his readers want to experience it all through his singular point of view. When he passed away, the world – my world – lost a light that has never been replaced. 

On this day, I thought I would share something from decades before I had met him, from his time as radio producer and host for CJRT-FM in Toronto. Here, in this interview with Leonard Cohen from 1984, we not only get a deep sense of Kevin’s sensitivity and intelligence, but one thing perhaps I miss the most: the gentle strength and presence of the man. And, most importantly, here we get a record of Kevin’s voice – a voice I would give anything to hear once again, in person, across a table, for one of our always far-too-long dinner conversations. 

Mark Clamen 

Critics at Large

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Tania Giannouli: The Future is Always Arriving

“Silence is the potential from which music can arise.” – Keith Jarrett 

Meteors are among the rarest objects on earth and have left a pervasive impact on our planet and civilization. Arriving amidst thunderous blasts and flame-streaked skies, they were once thought to be messengers from the gods, embodiments of the divine. Prized for their outlandish qualities, they are collectible as objects of art, desire and literary muses. The scientific community had only a reluctant embrace of their interplanetary origins but now has surrendered to one of their key attributes, the power to awaken a precious and near-forgotten human trait – the capacity for awe. The astute reader will see exactly where I’m going with this apparent digression: Tania Giannouli is a musical meteorite. The great jazz innovator Ornette Coleman once summed up an ideal approach to music. “The theme you play at the start of a number is the territory. And what comes after, which may have very little to do with it, is the adventure.” What a perfect place to begin to trace the trajectory of Giannouli, a talented composer, pianist, and, most importantly, solo performance artist.

Solo, the newest record release by this talented Greek musician, is also the next step in her ongoing journey into the origin of human-made sounds in a visceral location: an aural landscape situated somewhere equidistant between the heart and the mind. She is also a meteor inspired by a lengthy lineage ranging from both jazz and musique concrète to Scriabin and Tatum, yet I hesitate to say ‘influenced by’ simply because her approach is so distinctive that it reveals more of an open dialogue with the diverse constellation of composers who have nourished her unique sound. The muscularity of that sound shares a certain vibration with Keith Jarrett (especially with her latest venture into solo piano performance) while the depth of the sonic soul behind it has an alignment with the serial meditations of Terry Riley and LaMonte Young. If Sun Ra and Carla Bley went on a blind date with Cecil Taylor and Joanne Brackeen, their mythical love-child may have been named Tania.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Lunar Eclipse: Facing the Darkness

Reed Birney and Karen Allen in Lunar Eclipse. (Photo: Maggie Hall)

The new play by Donald Margulies, whose wide range of works includes Sight Unseen, The Model Apartment, The Country House, The Loman Family Picnic and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends, is Lunar Eclipse, currently in production at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. It’s a two-hander about an aging Midwestern farm couple, George (Reed Birney) and Em (Karen Allen), who sit together in a field and watch a lunar eclipse while they review their life together. As a workout for a pair of performers, it’s skillful – Margulies knows how to shape scenes for actors, and over the years I’ve seen some gifted ones go at his dialogue with considerable success. What I’ve never been convinced of is his ability to get far beneath the surface of a dramatic scenario, though some of his plays (Time Stands Still, Collected Stories) are more compelling than others. Lunar Eclipse is banal, but banality isn’t the worst crime in the American theatre, and the honesty with which he’s drawn his two characters holds you, even when the shifting of topics seems to click in like an old clock rounding the hour and the offstage voice signaling the phases of the eclipse underscores the conversational chapters. (I would have cut the voice-over.)