Mad Poets Blog post March 2016
Last Sunday’s performances at the Regency Café in Lansdowne, PA were pure pleasure. Featured were musicians Michael Asbury and Joseph Nocella, and poets Lili Bita and Robert Zaller, who are married to each other. The program was titled “A Love-in Event”, which was all the more appropriate as it took place on February 28th, two weeks after St. Valentine’s Day. Veteran Mad Poet and host of the monthly reading series known as “Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason”, Camelia Nocella, handed out Mardi Gras style love beads to attendees and presided over the festivities, which included an open mic reading.
Anyone who is even slightly interested in poetry and lives in the greater Philadelphia area has most likely read Zaller and Bita’s work, or better still, heard them read their poetry in one of the countless venues they have graced over the years. They’ve published multiple books – including Zaller’s translations of Bita‘s work from the original Greek – and had work appear in too many journals to list here. Both are long-term Mad Poets and members of the Overbrook Poets group. Writing about them in this blog is a bit like preaching to the choir, but seriously, if you haven’t heard them read, keep your eyes open and look for announcements of upcoming local poetry events. On Sunday, both poets delivered new material that dealt with matters political, with love and sex, and with events both Olympic and ordinary in scale, constructed on a foundation of history and philosophy. As always, they read with conviction and a flare for the dramatic.
A very pleasant surprise was the pairing of tenor Michael Asbury and keyboardist Joseph Nocella. They offered two sets of standards, sandwiched around the poets’ readings, from the Great American Songbook, including Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” and an original composition of Nocella’s. Asbury’s voice was bell-clear, with refreshingly exacting intonation, and he delivered the songs with originality and self-assurance. Despite his youth (he appears to be in his twenties) I would have guessed he has worked with a number of fine voice coaches, but he told me most of his training has been from singing in church and close listening to recordings. Nocella, who is married to the series’ host and organizer, possesses the true accompanist’s gift for allowing the soloist to excel. In part, this requires knowing when to push, when to back off, and how to frame a performance. His own composition (sorry I missed the title) featured surprising twists of harmony and a sophistication that reflects his familiarity with and understanding of Broadway, jazz and beyond.
Upcoming in this series at the Regency are poet Anna Evans and musician Kathy McMearty on Sunday, March 20th. All the offerings of “Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason” start at 2:00 P.M. The café, which offers a delicious and inexpensive menu and free parking (!) across the street, is located at 29 N. Lansdowne Ave., Lansdowne, PA 19050. Call 484-461-9002 or see http://regencycafe.com for more information.