Artists of the Year

Makers who mattered in 1995

Rob Nelson is film critic at City Pages.

DANNY BURACZESKI

by Joan Freese

While Minneapolis-based choreographer Danny Buraczeski has worked steadily in professional dance since college, suddenly, at age 47, he's enjoying a meteoric ascension to national recognition as a bonafide jazz master. From his acclaimed debut at the Joyce Theater in New York, to a sold-out season at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, tours of the east and west coasts, and a summertime run at the venerable Jacob's Pillow (during which extra performances were added to keep up with ticket demands), 1995 was chocked full of stellar occurrences for Buraczeski and his troupe of nine dancers. These successes were topped off with savory commissions from the Boston Ballet (the work, an abstract piece set to four jazz trumpet tunes, will debut in March 1996) and from the Library of Congress, which will pair Buraczeski with legendary jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna. The latter honor is pretty much nonpareil in contemporary dance; the only other choreographer to enjoy such recognition was Martha Graham, who partnered with Aaron Copland in 1944 to produce Appalachian Spring.

Buraczeski's belief is that true jazz dance should be linked to authentic jazz music and to the traditions of the cakewalk, Charleston and lindy hop (or swing). This differentiates him from typical jazz choreographers, whose spandex aesthetics make them more appropriate for MTV than for serious concert dance. But while Buraczeski is a confirmed classicist, he's hardly highbrow. He understands audience dynamics, and crafts dances that are both entertaining and accessible. Even though his star is still rising, there is little doubt that the artist will look back fondly at 1995. It was, after all, a very good year.

Joan Freese is a Minneapolis writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

JIM RUIZ

by Simon Peter Groebner

1995 was the year the world finally began to notice Jim Ruiz. The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group--Jim, his wife Stephanie, his brother Chris, and assorted backup--began the year playing their jazzy, poppy urban fables in quiet local obscurity; the year ended with national press and a tour of Japan.

It was also the year for those zany cocktail parties to come back in vogue. But although I did hear the band's music at two semi-formals, call this trend a coincidence. Jim Ruiz is no saucy, swingin', heartbreakin' lounge singer. He's more apt to disarm the Cocktail Nation's cool detachment with his genuine, awkward modesty. Oh Brother Where Art Thou? defines a decade of Ruiz's life -- from his wilder days as bassist for Ed Ackerson's mod band the Dig, to the painful "streetside accident" in which he lost original fiancée Rena Erickson, to the eventual triumph of his marriage, life, and music.

Still, Ruiz isn't big on self-promotion, and is remarkably shy about hometown success. The sharpest Ruiz Group show I saw this year was actually at the Fez in New York City. Ruiz wore a white tuxedo, and they debuted a song called "Bobby Stinson's Guitar," about a used instrument that now belongs to Ruiz. It's maybe the best tribute I've heard to the fallen Replacement, and the packed house was transfixed. Now when can we get a feeling like that back at home? I'm betting it's only a matter of time.

Simon Peter Groebner cohosts "Off the Record" for Radio K and writes on local music for City Pages.

JAY FARRAR AND JEFF TWEEDY

by Laura Sinagra

It's been the perfect metaphor for the perfect breakup. Far from one of those bloodless "amicable" splits, the Uncle Tupelo dissolution has packed some tasty drama while avoiding any embarrassing acrimony--a lesson to us all about picking up and moving on. Productivity has defined the course this year for the country/post-punkers, who toured with new bands for spillover crowds, capitalizing on their individual strengths and quelling disputes over who was the Batman and who the Robin of the former outfit (though it seems everybody's got an opinion). And while jovial Jeff Tweedy's Wilco ("will comply") won the initial sprint with their fresh pop blast A.M., Farrar's fall release with his band Son Volt, Trace, proved well worth the wait, playing nighttime reflection to Tweedy's morning rollick.

Of course, Farrar (who has pared his crew down to drums by close friend and original UT member Mike Heidorn and beautiful bass and multi-instrumentals by the local Boquist brothers) has always found poetry--however bleak--in the factory belt, scraping elemental lyricism from rust, nicotine and waiting, big machines and flat expanses. Tweedy (who has expanded into Golden Smog's Jayhawkery and other high-profile chumming) has spun gold from a rocking tunesmithery that always relied more on energy than empathy. As such, this year saw the fully actualized best of what infused Uncle Tupelo with its trademark tension. But as with many splitting couples, what the two consider irreconcilable differences seem, to the outsider, outweighed by complementary sympathies. From cover art to covered issues, both Trace and A.M. betray nostalgia for the warm old analog days, a sweet affection for lonely instruments, redemption in recording, communication, creation. A reunion down the line? In light of the powerful selves here, it's an overwhelming prospect.

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