Monday night, Sept 29, I gave myself the musical gift of seeing two cabaret events at the Duplex Theater on Christopher Street. The first was another monthly night of Scott Alan’s Monday Nights New Voices, featuring the Guest Composer Adam Gwon. The second was the New York Theater Barn’s monthly fundraising cabaret, which featured the two-woman musical group Band Practice and the songs of composer Daniel Maté.

MONDAY NIGHTS NEW VOICES

I’ll tackle MNNV first. For those who don’t know this monthly event, or who haven’t read my blog post about last month’s event (shame on you), Monday Night’s New Voices is produced by Scott Alan and is designed to highlight a special guest composer for the night. A small group of talented but relatively unknown singers get up and (hosted by a new guest host each event) take the stage with their own musical selection. For the second half of the show, the guest composer him or herself gets up to play the piano and introduce his or her songs, while the singers come up and sing them. It is a brilliant way for both new composers and new singers to be introduced into the cabaret world, get exposure, network and publicize themselves.

Last night, the host of the evening was Megan McGinnis, who recently stared as Éponine in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. Barbara Anselmi once again music directed the first half. The new voices were Jamie Cepero, Matt DeAngelis, Demi Fragale, Jake Glassman (all of only 16 years old!) and Molly Hager.

All the singers in this part of the night were excellent. Top-notch vocal prowess all around. And, while listening to Adam Gwon’s original music & lyrics, I couldn’t help comparing him at times to Stephen Sondheim (in syncopation and lyrics) and Jason Robert Brown (real life concepts and ideas set to song).

That short hour – which blazed by so fast – was just another reminder of why I love song and cabaret and discovering new music, and why I hope to be able to sing myself at the next MNNV showcase.

I had one hour to wait until the next event. I congratulated the MNNV crowd and talked a bit with a British student/current tourist who knew people involved with the London version of the MNNV monicker. I think, however, they’re calling it the Sunday Nights New Voices. Scott Alan is a part of the whole phenomenon as well.

NEW YORK THEATER BARN FUNDRAISER

My friend Reed Prescott is the Events Coordinator for NYTB, so his plate was full that night. I was seated and the first half of the evening started.

Two women came on stage, the “band” members of the band Band Practice. These ladies, Sara Curtin and Caroline Beck, write their own music as well as perform covers. They play guitar, violin, ukulele, and what I think was a mandolin of some sort. They switched between instruments effortlessly. Their voices complimented each other gracefully – both have a songbird quality to their vocals, both were able to go into a heavy alto and rise to a high beautiful soprano with ease. They alternated lead & harmonies and had obvious friendship together. I was amazed to learn that this was their first performance together, having only put the band together two months ago!

Their music was very folksy in nature, but the original lyrics of their songs ranged from old and quaint to modern bitter-speak. Their folksy personalities (Caroline gave a great explanation of how her Mother bought an iPhone just to be able to watch her daughter perform on YouTube, which she believed to be a huge network a la ABC/NBC) matched their singing. I suggested they send their information in to Garrison Keillor & Prarie Home Companion (and it’s good timing, because Garrison is reading parts of his book, Liberty, at the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center tonight).

I COME IN PEACE: the songs of Daniel Maté

The next half of the show turned itself over to Daniel Maté, a singer/songwriter who dedicated the evening in memory of his grandfather Andór Maté, who would have been 98 years old that night. Music direction and accompaniment was by Christopher D. Littlefield. Daniel sang several songs himself, while featured singers were Will Aronson, Danny Gardner, Brandon J. Ellis, Tina Lear, Carey McCray, and Mary Ann Schaub.

From the get-go, you could tell that there was a lot of intelligence and modern fire behind his songwriting. The first song (“I Come In Peace”) told the story of a Canadian traveler hoping to ingratiate himself into the United States via a Border Patrolman, and having to feel he must do a medley of Canadian-written songs to prove himself Canadian. Another was sung through the voice of a 10-year old boy who didn’t understand why his father objected to his choice of dressing up as a suicide bomber for Hallowe’en (“Ali Abu Jeffrey’s Great Escape”). One got us into the mind of a bar-hopping guy out to grab some tail (“Kissing Women Left & Right”) while another delved into the mind of one yearning to meet that successful, popular, confident version of himself (“Parallel Universe Me”).

This all felt very personal work, an extension or perhaps explanation of the things going on in Maté’s mind. Some songs were painfully funny explorations of relationships (“I Don’t Think of You,” “Three Sisters”), and others (like “I Love To Start Shit With You”) were just wonderful excuses to utilize many twists of the English language. I appreciated his work for the danger they invoked – it’s exceptional to put one’s neck out by commenting on modern giant panic-inducing buttons like suicide bombings and living in a paranoid society, and then be able to combine it with humor and intelligence. Then jump to a love song. Then back again to a heady conversation about a mind overstimulated with thought (“You Make My Brain Work Right”). But he makes all his songs act-able and not too heady for the average audience listener to imbibe (audially-speaking). His work challenges audience participatory thought (a blessing and a curse – just ask Stephen Sondheim) and a lot of digestion after.

Count me in as a fan.

Click the above programs to read the full song list