in performance: henry butler

Henry Butler. Photo by David Richmond.

At several points during his scholarly soulful solo performance last night at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville, Henry Butler discussed his driving and prospective piloting prowess with the audience. At one point, he even suggested he might someday move to Kentucky to start a taxi service for inebriated revelers. His reasoning? That drunk customers would neither know nor care he was blind.

Such self-effacing remarks were part of the demeanor for this veteran New Orleans pianist and song stylist, but they were also a collective reflection of something more demonstrative – that the blindness Butler has dealt with since infancy has in no way hindered a performance career that has stretched on for nearly a half century or a level of musicianship that still sounded exact and playful during this 75 minute concert.

Butler’s repertoire through the decades has been far reaching, but the bulk of this performance stayed close to home with roughly half of the program focused on works from, or inspired by, three of his famed New Orleans piano brethren – James Booker, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint.

From Booker, he developed a left hand stride that syncopated “Les Près Des James” (a Butler penned tribute to Booker) and “Booker Time” with an effervescence that could viewed as a precursor to piano boogie woogie. From one time mentor Longhair, he offered a wild exercise in rhythm within “Tipitina” that employed deceptively nonsense lyrics (“Tipitina, oola malla walla dalla”) to enforce the tune’s immensely animated feel. “If you’re looking for meaning in these lyrics,” Butler said, “chill out.” Finally, from the mighty Toussaint, Booker exacted songcraft in the form of the pop/blues staple “Working in a Coal Mine.”

But there were also moments when Butler, and the striking profile he cast as his long spidery fingers hit the keys, let the music open enough to stroll away from Crescent City. That’s what happened in the show-opening original “Samba C,” which sounded like Chick Corea had his sense of jazz glee been rooted in the South. You also heard it as staples like “In My Solitude” and “Rock Island Line” took sudden dashes in and around their familiar melodies.

The most telling summation of all these traits, however, coalesced in an encore cover of the 1973 Billy Preston hit “Will it Go ‘Round in Circles.” It began as a slow, mournful and wholly unrecognizable blues with Butler’s usually buoyant singing held to a mere whisper. Then the music stopped, shifted gears and re-emerged as the party piece Preston always envisioned it as, but with a proud New Orleans accent Butler can proudly claim as his own.

Such a mash-up exemplified the studious but mischievous adventures that result when Butler takes the wheel.

in performance: st. paul and the broken bones

 

Paul Janeway leads the soul music charge of St. Paul and the Broken Bones last night at the Opera House. Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

As last night’s pop-soul parade by St. Paul and the Broken Bones headed for home at the Opera House, singer and frontman Paul Janeway discovered one of the more novel ways to exit and then re-enter the stage. In the midst of the anthemic “Broken Bones and Pocket Change,” the singer, having jettisoned his gold-and-glitter shoes, hit the stage floor and crawled under the drum riser. After a few neatly dispensed verses sung, in effect, in absentia, Janeway rolled back into view, wrapping himself in a stage mat along the way. And there you had one of the more curious concert snapshots in recent memory – an artist belting out a tune with sturdy high tenor detail but looking like he had been swallowed by a roll of carpet.

Admittedly, that was perhaps the most extreme moment in a 100 minute performance that marked the return of the celebrated Alabama band that played some of its first road gigs in Lexington at the old Willie’s Locally Known on North Broadway. But Janeway was an altogether different singer in this return visit, the first of a two night engagement at the Opera House (tonight’s second show is sold out). Gone were the throatier, raspier tones that surfaced when he would exert his voice. On display instead was a richer, cleaner and far more expressive set of pipes that Janeway immediately put to use on the show-opening “Crumbling Light Posts, Pt. 1,” an ambient, but gospel-hued meditation where his vocals rose from a confident high tenor to a very Prince-ly falsetto.

While Janeway and company revisited a few choice favorites from their 2014 debut album “Half the City” (including a buoyant “Grass is Greener,” which emphasized the extent to which the Alabama-bred Broken Bones’ ensemble sound is stylistically rooted in Memphis soul), the performance gave heavy preference to the 2016 sophomore record “Sea of Noise,” a denser, darker work from which the band played 11 compositions.

Among the highlights were the cool, big beat crooner “Brain Matter” (which, oddly enough, used an abridged cover of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” as an intro), the organically funkified “Flow with It (You Got Me Feeling Like)” and the sunnier “Tears in the Diamond.” The latter showcased the most detectable current inspiration in Janeway’s singing, Al Green.

Even with the Broken Bones’ history in Lexington, it is understandable to be wary of an all-white soul band from the South. But Janeway and company were no imitators of an often co-opted musical tradition. The set-closing “Sanctify” and the show-closing encore of “Burning Rome,” both wonderfully paced slow soul pieces, amply borrowed from rockish accents supplied by guitarist Browan Lollar and the vintage R&B orchestration of a three-man horn team.

The results could also be viewed as a vindication of sorts. In a week where Alabama has taken a beating in the headlines for the doings of an altogether different representative, Janeway can be viewed as something of a cultural hero. Come to think of it, he might just be the kind of write-in candidate his home state needs. Everyone says we need new voices in Washington. Well, Alabama, here’s your chance to send one.

in performance: “the gift of a golden voice” – the leonard cohen tribute concert

leonard cohen.

Derek Spencer couldn’t help but comment on the “rowdiness” of the capacity crowd before him at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd for last night’s Leonard Cohen tribute concert titled “The Gift of a Golden Voice.” The joke, of course, is that the audience had greeted the Beattyville native – and all of the baker’s dozen of acts gathered for the event – with attentive quiet. Cohen’s music demanded nothing less.

A joint endeavor between First Presbyterian Church’s Music for Mission series and the ongoing lineup of Soulful Space concerts presented at Good Shepherd, the program was a rich and stylistically far reaching overview of the songs and poetry of the Canadian songsmith who died a year ago this week.

Is a church – any church – a proper setting for Cohen’s songs? Judging at least by the music chosen for this program, one would have to answer in the affirmative. Some of his works chosen were overtly religious, like the title tune to his final album, “You Want it Darker” – a requiem of sorts performed with meditative unrest by Doc Feldman, but countered by stunning high end harmonies of Hebrew verse (and a chorus translated from Hebrew) by Art Shechet. Others, like “The Land of Plenty,” also from “You Want It Darker” and performed with stately assurance by Marilyn Robie and the chamber-folk flavored ensemble Nevi’im, cast religious imagery in less obtainable and more topically sobering terms (“For the millions in a prison that wealth has set apart, for the Christ who has not risen from the caverns of the heart”).

Mostly, though, “The Gift of a Golden Voice” charmed in simpler ways – namely, in how the program showcased how wildly adaptable Cohen music can be. Last night there was a chilled, solo electric version of the classic “Suzanne” from Colin Fleming, a striking “Amen” from Four Leonards (and a Fifth) that grew from Cowboy Junkies-like cool to a roaring blues manifesto and a very intriguing take on “Anthem” by JoAnna James that unlocked the deceptively hushed tone of her singing with a playful string arrangement that eventually relaxed so one of Cohen’s most radiant lyrics could be placed front and center (“There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light get in”).

The only times the program was thrown off balance was when an artist devised an arrangement or delivery that placed their voice above Cohen’s. The Paper Moon Jazz Trio conjured a lively sense of blues based swing that, while technically impressive, proved an ill fit for the uneasy grace inherent to  “Bird on a Wire.” But on “Everybody Knows,” the group’s sense of sleek sass floated along quite naturally with the song’s whimsical doomsday vision (“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed; everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost”).

The evening concluded with a collaborative version of “Hallelujah” – a proclamation not just of faith, but of humanity and lost souls. Hearing the audience sing the tune’s single word title chorus in such a serene setting was undeniably moving. There must have been a crack somewhere in the Good Shepherd walls as the song played out because an ample supply of light found it way in from the cold November night.

in performance: brockowitz (zach brock and phil markowitz)

Phil Markowitz.

Sometimes a title says it all. In the midst of an absorbing duo concert with Lexington-born, New York-based violinist Zach Brock, pianist Phil Markowitz introduced a piece as a kind of “wacky scherzo.” True to form, the tune’s devilish timing fueled music that grew out of playful instrumental dialogues and brief melodic outbursts (usually by Markowitz) before traveling down the harmonic equivalent of a dark alley.

The tune’s title? “Schizo Scherzo.”

Zach Brock.

Truth to tell, the tune’s mischievous spirit dominated the entire 90 minute concert last night at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacobs Niles Gallery and Center for American Music. Over the course of 10 pieces, Brock and Markowitz, who tour under the joint moniker of Brockowitz, engaged in musical conversations that purposely ran off course. The Markowitz original “Ethers,” for instance, may have had been introduced by a light, sly piano solo from its composer, but the work’s overall modernist design often tensed and relaxed with frequent conversational turns by both players. The intriguing thing was, though, that their exchanges weren’t always reactionary. Brock’s entrance on the tune was quiet yet disarming, but in no time, lyrical phrases were just as apt to be met with a hint of dissonance as they were a harmonic phrase that was more expected or complimentary.

Throughout the program, tempos, temperaments and sometimes the very tones of both instruments shifted without provocation. Then again, there were times Brock and Markowitz embraced tradition. The set began and ended with the Duke Ellington standards “Come Sunday” and “In a Sentimental Mood” that respectfully addressed their mutually gorgeous melody lines while deviating into numerous sideroads of blues joy.

Perhaps the most revealing work of the night was Brock’s treatment of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” It wasn’t because the tune has been commonly associated with John Jacob Niles, who the venue at hand was named for (a coincidence, according to the violinist). Instead, the arrangement underscored the varied temperament of the concert with runs that were alternately atmospheric and sunny that consistently illuminated the tune’s rustic folk heritage. It was living proof, that when it came to determining the mixtures of moods distinguishing these two remarkable players, one man’s soulful was another man’s schizo.

in performance: justin moore/dylan scott/ashley mcbryde

Justin Moore onstage last night at Rupp Arena. Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

The chink in country music’s seemingly indestructible armor was exposed last night at Rupp Arena. Traditionally, a can’t miss hit when it comes to packing in huge crowds, the genre revealed perhaps its only commercial weakness in a triple bill performance headlined by Justin Moore – the fact it was booked on a weeknight. The result was a turnout estimated at barely 3,000. That’s proverbial chicken feed compared to what touring country shows usually rake in locally.

It was also a shame. Moore, one of the few young traditionalists on the arena circuit, turned in a refreshingly direct performance that was no-frills in all ways except for the Pink Floyd-ian lighting effects. His unassuming vocals proved flexible enough to fuel the electric drive of “Backwoods” before later easing into the very natural honky charm of “Kinda Don’t Care” (the title tune to Moore’s most recent album). Even when his program veered into modernistic fare – “Somebody Else Will,” for instance – Moore looked and sounded remarkably at ease.

At the risk of seeming jingoistic, part of Moore’s resourcefulness came from his band, which was bolstered by a pair of home state natives – lead guitarist Roger Coleman (of Pike County) and keyboardist Kory Caudill (of Prestonsburg). Props to Moore for showcasing both in a playful instrumental skirmish that capped off “Kinda Don’t Care.”

Dylan Scott.

Dylan Scott preceded Moore with a comparatively standardized set assisted by a somewhat unusual backing band design – a power trio limited to just guitar, bass and drums.

The Georgia-born singer’s material didn’t score bonus points for originality, from the set-opening “My Town” (not the Montgomery Gentry hit) to the closing “My Girl” (not the Temptations classic). Most of the fare was pop to an almost 1980s-ish degree, which Scott injected with considerable physicality, efficient though hardly remarkable vocals, and a torrent of between-song banter that touched upon what we must assume to be subjects indicative of modern country-pop – specifically, WalMart and Eminem.

Ashley McBride.

Frankly, the most engaging surprise of the evening was show-opener Ashley McBryde, whose thematically far-reaching six-song set examined small town life with weathered picture post card imagery (“Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”) that sometimes morphed into unapologetically dark portraits (as in “Leroy,” which outlined the kind of country cooking that comes not from a kitchen stove, but a meth lab).

Admittedly, this bill didn’t possess the kind of marquee power that many past Rupp shows have, which likely added to the sparse turnout. Regardless, it was a revealing glimpse of three very different artists in a genre too often ruled by stylistic sameness.

in performance: ben folds/tall heights

Ben Folds.

Try this for a novel Halloween encounter. Imagine being at the Opera House around 10:15 last night when a stagehand in a skeleton costume led the audience in a countdown that culminated in a battalion of paper airplanes showering the stage.

Much like the entirety of Ben Folds’ immensely entertaining performance, the resulting effect wasn’t really in keeping with the standard creepiness of the day. Instead, it represented the zenith of a concert that prided itself on audience involvement.

For two hour-long sets, Folds dug into expertly crafted tunes from throughout his career while accompanying himself with piano rolls that reflected, at various intervals, classical mischief, Southern-flavored barrelhouse bravado and, above all, richly versed pop lyricism. But all of that was a collective backdrop for an astonishing artist-audience rapport that was established almost from the instant Folds began the evening with the unassuming pop sway of the title tune to his 2015 album, “So There.”

For the remainder of the first set, Folds fleshed out songs with a piano vocabulary often built around ham fisted slams with his left hand that recalled more than once the very early records of Elton John. In some instances, the songs were allowed to stand on their own, as in the tale of a teen banished to the company of his intoxicated elders in “Uncle Walter.” In others, Folds served as conductor, briefly teaching multiple harmony parts for the audience to sing alongside him, as in the deceptively animated “Bastard.” Then there were the songs the audience knew so well they added remarkably complete backing vocals and responses without being prompted, as on “Landed.” Through it all, Folds proved a merry headmaster whose tireless performance profile was part vaudeville cheerleader and part indie rock upstart.

The curious mix of the two guises hit a crescendo with the set-closing “Steven’s Last Night in Town,” where Folds left the piano to play a drum solo on a kit that was quickly assembled around him by stagehands as he played.

The second set was where the paper airplanes came in. Each one that landed onstage contained a song request from an audience member, an extension of the set’s purposeful spontaneity. Folds didn’t have to stretch much, though, as none of the picks were particularly obscure. But the resulting repertoire presented an even greater sense of dynamics and stylistic breadth than the first set.

The choices ranged from the fragile love song “Luckiest” (one of six tunes performed during both sets from Folds’ 2001 album “Rockin’ the Suburbs”) to the percussive piano romp “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” that leaned heavily on rock ‘n’ roll basics. There was also a tune Folds made up on the spot about attending a horse sale in Lexington with William Shatner that used an unintelligible audience remark shouted from the Opera House balcony as a chorus.

The Boston trio Tall Heights opened the evening (and returned to sing with Folds on the lovely “Still Fighting It”) with a distinctive pop blend built around cello, acoustic guitar, drums and considerable humor. The members also displayed an original sense of Halloween spirit. All three dressed up as Folds for the evening.

in performance: o’connor band

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O’Connor Band. Back row: Joe Smart, Forrest O’Connor, Geoff Saunders. Front row: Maggie O’Connor, Mark O’Connor, Kate Lee O’Connor.

In a career where he has performed bluegrass, new grass, swing, classical music and more in myriad concert settings and band configurations, Mark O’Connor has more than earned the right to settle down with his family in a string band bearing his name.

In essence, that is what the pioneering fiddler and composer did by designing the O’Connor Band, a unit containing his wife, son and daughter-in-law playing a repertoire that leans to the kind of contemporary bluegrass where clean, melodic strides glide purposely into country turf.

That was certainy lpart of the intent behind the O’Connor Band’s performance last night at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium. By way of introduction, the bandleader, wife Maggie O’Connor, daughter-in-law Kate Lee O’Connor (all on fiddle), son Forrest O’Connor (on mandolin) and the exemplary support of guitarist Joe Smart and bassist/banjoist Geoff Saunders performed light, polite bluegrass-hued pop tunes drawn primarily from the band’s Grammy winning debut album “Coming Home.”

The construction and delivery of the songs (“Always Do” and “Old Black Creek,” in particular) were efficient with Lee O’Connor exhibiting a vocal charm not unlike that of Alison Krauss. The solos peppering the music, most of which father/bandleader O’Connor commandeered, consistently elevated the ensemble’s stylistic scope. But this was material that clearly strived for mainstream appeal within its family friendly makeup. It was when the O’Connor Band put its pop smarts on the back burner and called upon the deeper stylistic demands of its leader’s string music heritage that the performance really caught fire.

Curiously, the two works best exhibiting this reached back to the 1989 album “The Telluride Sessions,” which O’Connor cut with a pack of new grass all-stars dubbed Strength in Numbers. Equally odd was the fact neither work put had him touching a fiddle at all.

The first, “Macedonia,” placed him on mandolin aside son Forrest and guitarist Smart for a light dance melody that was more akin to Eastern European folk music than bluegrass or pop. The tour-de-force, though, was a 20-plus minute revision of “Slopes,” which divided the band into various solo, duo and group settings with O’Connor on guitar and Smart as a very capable-co-pilot.

The program ended on similar terrain with “A Bowl of Bula,” an instrumental from O’Connor’s 1991 album “The New Nashville Cats” that began as a twin mandolin romp and ended with three joyous, unison fiddles. It was a fitting coda to a program that wagered its appeal on inviting vocal tunes but delivered the instrumental goods in a big way once its audience was hooked.

foo fighters postpone tonight’s rupp concert

Tonight’s Foo Fighters concert has been rescheduled to May 1, 2018 due to a family emergency.

Looks like downtown is going to be considerably quieter tonight than originally planned. The Foo Fighters concert, scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. has been postponed due to what the band has called a family emergency. A reschedule performance date of May 1 has been confirmed.

A press release issued this afternoon said, “The band sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience and looks forward to returning to rock Lexington in May.”

This was to have been Foo Fighters’ first Rupp concert in over 17 years. Tickets for tonight’s show will be honored on the rescheduled date. Those unable to attend on May 1 can get a ticket refund at point of purchase.

While no other details were given for the sudden rescheduling, Foo Fighters performed as planned last night at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati. No additional cancellations or rescheduled dates have been listed on their website.

For additional ticketing questions, call the Rupp box office at 859-233-3535 or TicketMaster at 800-745-3000.

in performance: hudson

Hudson. From left, Larry Grenadier, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield and John Medeski. Photo by Nick Suttle.

It took roughly five minutes for the members of Hudson to make good on the concept of an actual jazz supergroup last night at the Corbett Theater in Cincinnati.

First up was a drum solo from Jack DeJohnette, who, at age 75, played with the stamina of a percussionist half his age but, more importantly, the taste and intuition of a true musical sage. Next was guitarist John Scofield, a Miles Davis alumnus, like DeJohnette, although it’s the music he has pioneered under his own name over several decades that continues to define his true resourcefulness. At once, his tone was huge and clear as the band locked into a melodic drive that was subsequently reconfigured to Scofield’s sense of subtle yet pronounced immediacy. Then we had John Medeski, one third of the avant jam trio Medeski Martin & Wood, who orchestrated the group’s playing with churchy soulfulness on B3 organ. That left Larry Grenadier, a veteran of scores of jazz collaborations with the likes of Pat Metheny, Paul Motian and most notably Brad Mehldau, to ground the resulting music on double bass.

Perhaps best of all was the composition at hand. It wasn’t some obvious jazz standard, but rather an artful reworking of Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.”

What all this translated into was the sound of four immensely gifted – and, within the jazz world, popular – instrumentalists reaching for what most so-called supergroups are seldom able to find. They played like an actual band. Admittedly, strong alliances already existed before Hudson solidified itself as a unit. Scofield and Medeski, for instance, have been recording together on and off for nearly two decades. As such, we saw the two playing off each other’s ideas repeatedly last night, especially during an encore cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that allowed the dynamics of both players to mingle within waves of collaborative cool that quickly built into a rockish boil.

But there was also considerable dexterity on display within Hudson’s original material, particularly two works by Scofield. The first, “El Swing,” employed dark, meaty piano rolls from Medeski that fell somewhere between the modal play of McCoy Tyner and the arty playfulness of Thelonious Monk. The other, “Tony Then Jack,” was actually where the true swing was served before DeJohnette took over on an extended run backed by Grenadier that showcased Hudson’s scholarly stylistic command as well as the supergroup’s unified sound and spirit.

in performance: noah preminger and the brandon coleman trio

Noah Preminger. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

Sitting at Tee Dee’s Lounge last night as New York saxophonist Noah Preminger channeled the tone and dynamics of another great tenor player, Warne Marsh, was exhilarating in the extreme. But the magic went beyond the moment as the evening’s two hour, two set performance with the Cincinnati based Brandon Coleman Trio inaugurated the new Origin Jazz Series, a program committed to staging eight monthly concerts by national, regional and local jazz artists in Lexington at alternating venues through next spring.

The performance at hand was an intriguing though not altogether realized one. Preminger proved a first rate soloist, one that found a tone both lustrous in its melodic appeal (as shown during the ballad “Before the Rain”) and meaty in its boppish drive (the show opening “Transfer”). There was also immense ingenuity within Preminger’s phrasing. Appearing consistently comfortable with a band he seldom plays with (although the combined quartet of artists performed several regional shows over the past week), his musicianship never sounded forced, unsteady or excessive.

Guitarist Coleman wasn’t quite as assured. His solos, though technically impressive, didn’t reveal much by way of vocabulary. There were modestly distorted runs reflecting a clever, prog-ish streak along with an appealing spaciousness that, at times, recalled the late John Abercrombie. But Coleman’s playing often went in circles, summoning little of the natural, conversational dynamics Preminger called upon so readily.

There were two nice exceptions, though, both of which bowed to the blues. A guitar/sax duo reading of “Trouble in Mind” allowed Preminger and Coleman to relax in alternating roles as rhythm and lead players, while the show closing “My Blues For You” enlisted venue owner and longtime Lexington guitar favorite Tee Dee Young to sit in on a slow blues serenade that seemed to unlock fresh rhythmic possibilities for Coleman.

As far as the bigger picture goes, the Origin Jazz Series and its audience may need to look into fine tuning some traditions. The series organizers will have to consider whether the usual two-set club design is really what they want to go with for the other three performances scheduled at Tee Dee’s in coming months. Last night, the house was largely full at the start of the night, although an intermission sent a noticeable number of patrons packing. As for those patrons, they need to realize serious jazz is not a backdrop for idle chat. Several pockets of loud, intrusive conversation punctured the quieter moments of the evening. As Preminger so beautifully contradicted in the title of the Marsh tune, real jazz is not “background music,” but a call for attentive ears and buttoned lips.

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