REVIEW: DBR @ Tri-C Metro Black Box: Musical Event of the Year?

REVIEW: DBR @ Tri-C Metro Black Box 2/26/11

Musical Event of the Year?

At 8AM on Monday, August 18, 1969, Jimi Hendrix woke the massive crowd at Woodstock with his now-classic rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. A year later, Hendrix was gone, and a year after that, a young man was born in South Florida of two Haitian parents. By age 5, Daniel Bernard Roumain figured out he wanted to play the violin, a decision, he said, that could get a young black boy beat up. Little did anyone know that the spirit of Hendrix would one day be manifested in the minds, the fingers and the work of Roumain, known as DBR, and that forty years hence, people who heard him play his violin would rise up, not to strike him down, but to offer a standing ovation as they did not once but twice during his concert event at Tri-C’s fabulous new black box space on the Metro Campus in the Center for Creative Arts on 2/26/11.

Accompanied by DJ Scientific, (Christian A. Davis) who beatboxed on the mic, spun sick grooves and scratched away at two turntables and an Apple laptop, the classically-trained DBR layered his two effects-laden electric violins on top of Scientific’s meticulously mixed samples, often using super-clean 48 kHz digital master files, pumped through the Black Box’s state-of-the-art 5.1 digital sound system. The genius of this set-up was the mash-up of a totally tricked-out room and an artist who knew how to jump on it. The imaginative LED lighting array, directed by Leslie Coffey, and the live digital sound mix by Thomas Jeffries had an appropriately experimental feel, creating a “live” improvisational space that so many performers lack the confidence to play in, instead preferring to regurgitate well-rehearsed and polished routines to an audience trained to know what they like and like what they know. Rather, DBR diverged from the printed program and at times, his own agenda, and took the willing audience on a cathartic journey.

In a perfect melding of emotional and relevant fantasies and digressions on themes of family, politics, and contemporary life, DBR (he prefers to be called Daniel, but DBR is so much more appropriate) humbly stood tall in the center of the black box, surrounded on all four sides by his “accompanist” DJ Scientific, the audience and Tri-C technical assistants, and did what so few artists dare to do. More than just letting his hair down, DBR had recently shorn his meter-long dreadlocks just weeks earlier, inspired by the birth of his first child and his own 40th birthday, and he used that that act as a reverse Samson moment to give himself the strength to peel away even more layers separating him from his audience, his family, his work and his message. With works entitled, Sonata for Violin & Turntables, Simone (his mother’s name), JMDL (his father’s initials which he finally learned late in life), Etudes4Violins&Electronix and Spaceships Over Haiti, DBR pushes classical music beyond it’s comfort zone, and infuses Hip-Hop with a sensibility that rises above the street.

So instead of a grand entrance, DBR began talking with the audience before the first note was struck, and never stopped. Part “schtick” (his word), but more extemporaneous and heartfelt than most performers, DBR’s between-number patter broke down the imaginary fourth wall that usually both elevates and isolates artists on a stage. Instead, DBR went deeper with each selection, explaining the genesis of each piece, even previewing sections on his handmade six-string violin for better comprehension. He treated the audience, seated mere inches from him and his array of guitar effects pedals, as collaborators, inviting them into his “living room,” and dispensing with the cliched convention of an encore by noting that never has an audience not asked for one more song at the end of a concert. His first encore took My Country ‘Tis Of Thee, and improved it to Our Country ‘Tis Of Thee, an emotional political cry. His final number, Amazing Grace, performed unplugged in lighted areas at four corners of the space (which he said represented the various campuses of Tri-C), built to an emotional and cathartic climax, with the raw sound of bow scraping against strings bouncing off the concrete walls, and included a quote from The Star-Spangled Banner, with DBR at one point kneeling in front of an elderly black woman in the audience, while she smiled and clasped her hands.

One reason this project could be called the musical event of the year, is the remarkable ability of DBR and Tri-C to attract a wide range of audience and collaborative partners and to offer a glimpse as to how classical music could, if it chooses, find new relevance and a transfusion of new blood. A four-year old African-American boy, in attendance with his parents and grandparents, was encouraged by DBR, who told the boy, “We’re going to jam someday…” Dozens of elementary and high school kids were in attendance, and by the look in their eyes and their comments afterwards, it was obvious they had never seen anyone play a violin like DBR, and they totally dug it.

Why do we lament the aging audiences and increasing irrelevance of classical music, when the answer is right under our noses. One might make the case that DBR could be in residence at classical music institutions such as The Cleveland Orchestra year-round, working on commissions to be premiered at Traditional classical music venues, attracting young multi-ethnic audiences and the next generations of performers. Fortunately for Cleveland, DBR is comfortably collaborating with Tri-C artists, faculty and students, as well as a wide range of the Cleveland community, artists and technical personnel. His repeated comments during the concert about the quality of Tri-C personnel, facilities and opportunities spoke volumes to the vision of the Center For Creative Arts.

DBR has worked with artists ranging from Philip Glass, to Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lady Gaga, and DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, and is known to Clevelanders from his collaboration with video wizard Kasumi during IngenuityFest. He was in town all week on a residency to create the year-long Gilgamesh Project, an open-ended commission by Tri-C to be premiered sometime next year. He’ll be back in a few months, and back again next year. We’re dying to see what he and his new best friends come up with. Our suggestion: be there.

Listen to the exclusive Cool Cleveland interview with DBR here.

The next performances from Tri-C Presents include Take 6 on March 19, and the upcoming Tri-C Jazz Fest, April 28 to May 8

Review, photos and interview by Thomas Mulready

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One Response to “REVIEW: DBR @ Tri-C Metro Black Box: Musical Event of the Year?”

  1. Sherrie

    It was indeed the musical event of the year, of a lifetime. Your review nails it. What a profound experience.

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