This article appeared in the Feb. 26, 2004 Jewish Advocate.
Revolutionary rhythms for Mardi Gras
By Susie Davidson
Beads and beignets could be in the mix, but high-energy funk and thumping brass definitely will be part of the post-Mardi Gras party next Thursday, Feb. 26, at the Natick Center for the Arts. The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, which performs in costume and asks audiences to dress up or down as well, will be on hand with their urban mix of tribal and New-Orleans funk.
Somerville resident and bandleader Ken Field, the group’s saxophonist, flautist, percussionist, and composer, has performed in the US, Canada, France, Spain, Portugal, and Japan, and was Composer-in-Residence at Wyoming’s Ucross Foundation, the Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. Since 1988, he has been a member of the avant-electric outfit Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, originally a spinoff of the legendary Boston punk rock group Mission of Burma. He has also released the 1996 solo record “Subterranea,” which was heard in over 160 international radio programming including NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “Pictures of Motion,” a second solo release with liner notes by WNYC Music Director John Schaefer, and “Tokyo in F,” a live Tokyo concert recording. He also heads the Ken Field Alto Saxophone Project, which has toured the US and features multiple alto saxophones.
Nominated as one of Boston's best by the Boston Phoenix, The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble’s debut CD “Year of the Snake,” which features music by Field, Sun Ra, John Scofield, James Brown, and others, was also listed as a 2003 top ten release in the New Orleans Gambit Weekly and number four of the year on NPR affiliate WNYC. The disc, which sold out its first pressing in only two months, has appeared on radio playlists across the US and in Europe, including Radio Popolare in Milan, Italy. Its liner notes were penned by two-time Grammy-winning New Orleans music producer Scott Billington.
Field, who is married to animator Karen Aqua, has been featured in The New York Times, Saxophone Journal, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Tower Pulse, Billboard, Cadence, The Wire, The Orlando Sentinel, and other publications. His credits include playing for President Bill Clinton, with former J. Geils frontman Peter Wolf and alongside myriad other national and internationally-acclaimed reggae, funk, R&B, rock, jazz and world beat artists. An award-winning composer for animation, film, and video, Field’s music, in collaboration with Aqua’s work, is heard regularly on the internationally-broadcast children's television program Sesame Street. His soundtrack work has been broadcast on HBO, the Movie Channel, the Sundance Channel, and PBS. With Aqua, Field was in residence in Utah in 2000 with the NEA and the white House Millennium Council-sponsored Artists & Communities: America Creates for the Millennium.
“The music I've been playing with the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, based on hymns used as funeral dirges in New Orleans by brass bands accompanying the casket to the burial ground, remind me of the rituals and prayers surrounding death that I learned in Hebrew School and at my conservative synagogue in New Jersey,” said Field. “There is a combination of reverence for the life of the departed with a celebration of that life, and of the miracle of life in general, that makes me feel that there is more to this music than meets the ear.”
Field’s native New Shrewsbury, New Jersey (now renamed Tinton Falls), was the home of Count Basie, and is near Long Branch, the home of Bruce Springsteen. “I attended Congregation B'Nai Israel in nearby Rumson, where I was Bar Mitzvahed,” he said. Field’s mother Gladys, a mathematician also worked as an arts and crafts director at a local summer recreation program, and studied computer programming. Father Norman, a scientist and educator, was a staff physicist at Ft. Monmouth for many years. “Since his passing I have organized an annual science lecture in New Jersey (http://kenfield.org/lecture) in his memory,” he added. His parents were both New Yorkers whose families were from Eastern Europe; sister Joan Lakin is President of Mishkin Israel in Hamden, Connecticut, brother Richard Field lives near New York City, and sister Elaine lives in Wilmington, Delaware.
Field will again play with The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble at the Puffin Forum in Teaneck, New Jersey on Feb. 28.
Tickets are $10/$12 for A Post Mardi Gras Party, with Ken Field's Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, at The Center for Arts, 14 Summer St. in Natick, on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. For information, please call 508-647-0097 or visit http://www.natickarts.org. For information on the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, please visit www.RevolutionarySnakeEnsemble.org.