Archive for February, 2008

critic’s pick 7

beat readerroots & grooves 

To insinuate saxophonists Maceo Parker and Ken Vandermark are distantly related musical cousins would be a gross simplification of their music’s vast stylistic breadth.

Parker, as the title of his new Roots & Grooves album reminds us, is an R&B oriented player who sees few stepping stones between funk and jazz. No doubt serving as one of the principal horn men behind James Brown helped in linking the two schools.

Vandermark, who doubles as clarinetist on his new Beat Reader, seems to favor the call of European improvisers who took tradition into their own hands around the same time Brown’s music hit big in this country. But Vandermark shadows tradition from numerous sources. As Beat Reader makes clear in its liner notes, the music draws inspiration from visual artists (especially photographers) as well as musical innovators.

Roots & Grooves is a solid two-chapter R&B overview that teams Parker with Germany’s WDR Big Band. Its first disc is a soul salute to Ray Charles while the second expands the earthier combo funk the saxophonoist should slap a copyright on. No one else plays this kind of groove with his sense of ease and command.

In an age where Charles tributes, well intentioned as they may be, have become dime-a-dozen enterprises, the WDR band proves an inventive lot. But then, this is the same outfit that gave the late Joe Zawinul, along with a good chunk of his sublime Weather Report catalogue, a convincing big band makeover on last year’s Brown Street. On the Charles tunes, especially the swimming sass that propels Busted, the mood is as inviting, warm and assured as Parker’s vibrant alto sax leads.

The funk disc boils over. To Be or Not To Be boasts tight brassy drama that recalls early ‘70s Tower of Power records while 17 minutes of Pass the Peas, complete with EWI (electronic wind instrument) breaks, guitar blasts and drum solos, is delirious overkill.

What remains so stirring about the current Vandermark 5 lineup is its resourcefulness. Though this isn’t the quintet’s first album since cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm joined, it is definitely the first to fully unlock the temperament his playing triggers within the band. Holm provides a scorched chamber accent at times and a path to giddy rhythmic fracture at others. And those are just two of the cool sounds abounding on Beat Reader.

Similarly, the compositions are as playfully learned as the musicianship. Immediately arresting is Any Given Number, which employs an introductory minimalist theme on reeds that initiates a beautiful blues excursion. Later, Speedway (a tune dedicated to Max Roach, but cut well before the drummer’s death last summer) offers a bouncy rumble that swings with a thoroughly instinctual blend of melody and menace.

Those lucky enough to locate initial pressings of Beat Reader with a bonus disc of The New York Suite (those editions are already out-of-print) are afforded an even deeper glimpse of the Vandermark 5’s remarkable group dynamic. Melody sits side by side with freeform improvisational passages that shift from the gloriously quiet to the wondrously severe. In the end, though, Vandermark’s link with Parker becomes apparent: both are artists following their own divine soul muse.     

in performance: chick corea and bela fleck

chick corea and bela fleckThe key to enjoying the music of veteran jazz pianist Chick Corea and progressive banjo stylist Bela Fleck is accepting the sense of fun and discovery that surrounds their performances and compositions. Technically, they have enough chops to mow down a forest. But the manner in which they put their joint instrumental prowess into motion trigers a rich sense of cunning.

So it was no wonder that for every warp speed solo, every light or dramatic flourish in their duo performance last night at Louisville’s Brown Theatre, there was also a sense of whimsy. Take Joban Dna Nopia, a tune that is almost textbook Corea with animated, lyrical phrases and modest Spanish accents that last night set up a feisty bit of banjo hot rodding by Fleck and a brief twilight blues interlude for the composer.

Half of the tune’s fun came in an introduction where Corea tried to instruct Fleck on the proper pronunciation of the title. When it became evident that no common language was being referenced, Corea gave in. The title was nothing more than an anagram for “banjo and piano.”

Such antics spilled over into the music, as well. On Mountain, a Fleck composition Corea embraced as a vehicle for “bluegrass piano,” two schools of interpretation went to work. For Fleck, the tune’s folky theme, which was reminiscent of Shady Groves, reflected not only Appalachian roots but distant beginnings in traditional British and Celtic music. Corea answered with a variation of the melody that was ripe with Bud Powell-style bebop.

But such cross genre pollination was what made these unexpected piano/banjo duets so fascinating. The colors Fleck brought forth often possessed keyboard like qualities – like a harpsichord, mostly – which helped shove the cartoon-like Spectacle close to ragtime territory and Children’s Song #6 into a muscular, speed-demon chase.

The concert repertoire stuck to 10 of the 11 tunes from the duo’s recent The Enchantment album. The lone holdout, A Strange Romance, was traded out for a Henri Dutilleux piano prelude. With a title roughly translated from French as Lullaby, the work was full of contained, but still threatening beauty. It was also the only piece Corea used sheet music for.

Fleck’s Flecktones staple Sunset Road closed the two hour, two set performance. And again, genres happily slammed into each other. Already a piece of light bluegrass fusion to begin with, Corea turned the work into a blues stroll before cracking it open for some subtle swing.

As was the case with the entire performance, it was tough to tell if Corea and Fleck seemed proud or simply bemused at the song’s new shape. But judging by the broad grins on their faces, the deconstruction and re-assembly process must have been a blast.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK TO CELEBRATE 75TH ANNIVERSARY

US Fed News Service, Including US State News June 13, 2008 The National Park Service’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park issued the following press release: website great smoky mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is celebrating a major milestone in 2009-the 75th Anniversary of its establishment on June 15, 1934. Park staff continues to develop plans to commemorate and highlight the Park’s biologically diverse natural resources, cultural history, and a whole host of recreational and educational opportunities. An interactive website that will give online viewers a virtual tour of the planned activities, an opportunity for visitors to share photos and stories of their experiences in the park, and a variety of information related to the 75th is now operational. The majority of the site is complete, but will continually be updated throughout 2008 and 2009.

The evolving website, www.GreatSmokies75th.org profiles a rich and diverse array of activities and events in the Park and throughout neighboring communities. The plans for observing this special occasion is the product of collaborative efforts with the Great Smoky Mountains Association, Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and local and state municipalities and tourism organizations.

Several major events are being planned in the Park, but are still in the early stages of development which include a Governor’s Proclamation ceremony the week of April 20, 2009, which will focus on the community and regional role that was vital to the Park’s creation; three events on Anniversary Weekend, June 13-15, 2009, to showcase the resources of Cades Cove, Sugarlands, and Oconaluftee; and rededication of the Park on September 2, 2009, at Newfound Gap.

In addition to in-Park events, over 75 officially-recognized community events and venues, meeting the themes of the anniversary celebration, can be found on the interactive monthly calendar. Ann Froschauer, 75th Anniversary Coordinate, said that “It will be the place for one-stop shopping to get involved and chart vacation plans and site visits to the Park and surrounding areas. In the future, a separate activity schedule will be available for Park events. Visitors can plan early and mark the dates for those activities that are of interest.” The Smokies Family Album featured on the website invites people to upload photos and share stories of their adventures and memorable moments such as family vacations and honeymoons in the Park at recognizable features-at Park’s entrance or trail signs, historic structures, or natural areas at waterfalls or balds. “There are already several photos and stories depicted which illustrate the notable experiences that people have had over the many years. These can serve as memoirs to share with family and friends,” Froschauer explained.

Another special feature of the website is a virtual time line which gives a history lesson on the significant contributions, people, places and events that influenced the creation and protection of this national treasure. With illustrations and text capturing the historic moments, visitors can navigate and learn about the hard work, personal sacrifice and successes in making the Smokies America’s most visited national park. From pre-park logging era in the early 1900s to the experimental reintroduction of the elk in the 2000s, the guide provides an in-depth look, decade by decade, at the evolution of the Park. this web site great smoky mountains

“In addition to the visitor activities, this occasion is an opportunity to highlight the Park’s achievements and examine current and future challenges for its protection so that we can establish a legacy of stewardship to ensure its continued health and vitality over the next 75 years,” commented Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. The Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association, the Park’s two major partners, are creating new opportunities to generate support for the Park by providing ways to make a lasting gift to the Park and future generations. These sponsorship possibilities can be seen on line. In the near future, people will have an opportunity to purchase, online and at Park visitor centers, memorabilia from a unique selection of anniversary merchandise as well as commemorative publications that demonstrate the rich history of the Park and surrounding area.Contact: Ann Froschauer, 865/436-7318, Ext.349.

Ann Froschauer, 865/436-7318, Ext.349.

all aboard for belleville

the belleville outfit

When Phoebe Hunt marked the day on her calendar, she thought she was simply noting another gig in another city.

To a degree, she was used to that. An industrious Austin, Tx. violinist, Hunt studied for two years at Mark O’ Connor’s prestigious fiddle camp and was a recipient of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin Award. Then after switching studies at the University of Texas from business to a degree in history with a minor in Spanish, she immersed herself as a performer in Austin’s vast live music scene.

But the concert at hand suggested an adventure. It began with a call from two Austin pals, singer/songwriter/guitarist Rob Teter and guitarist Marshall Hood. Then it entailed a drive to New Orleans to meet with bassist Jeff Brown (who had played with Teter and Hood in the now defunct DesChamps Band), pianist Connor Forsyth and drummer Jonathan Konya.

The performance was at a festival in yet another city. So after a few days of intense rehearsals and a resulting sound that began to mirror the gypsy flavored jazz and string fueled swing of decades past, it was on to Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

Now, here’s where the story gets a little intense. The players weren’t headed for some casual bluegrass or roots music festival. Hunt and her friends found themselves at MerleFest, one of the largest and certainly most respected Americana music gatherings in North America. Among the acts they would be sharing the bill with: Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Hammond, Bela Fleck, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice and the roots music giant who was the inspiration for the 20 year old festival, Doc Watson.

And instead of skipping into such extraordinary company as a long-running ensemble, Hunt and company – who had dubbed themselves The Belleville Outfit – were playing their very first gig after a modest two days of rehearsal.

Now that’s what you call a band entrance.

“I think Rob had originally been offered the gig,” Hunt recalled. “He couldn’t say no. But it was also a case of, ‘Yes, maam. I have a band.’ And then he started calling everyone.  I didn’t really know about Merlefest. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do the gig’ and just wrote it on my calendar.”

The mix of jazz, country, blues, New Orleans soul and hot swing music seemed to flow readily at Merlefest for The Belleville Outfit (Belleville is French for “beautiful town” but is also the title of a tune by gypsy swing guitar legend Django Reinhardt that is part of the Outfit’s repertore). But then the inevitable question arose: “Now what?”

“That’s when we had to make a decision,” Hunt said. “I mean, the band had come together so quickly. The decision we faced was, ‘Are we gong to keep dong this? That’s when everyone decided to change their whole lives.”

That meant the Outfit’s New Orleans delegation gave up school (for now, at least) and relocated to Austin. That meant the band hit the road for the sort of woodshedding touring experience that young acts have to endure in order to establish a band sound, a group spirit and a devout fanbase.

The Belleville Outfit has already accomplished the latter in Lexington through shows over the last year at Natasha’s Café, where it will play again on Tuesday. Now comes the next phase, a hearty indie debut album called Wanderin’ that was released two weeks ago.

The music is an appealing sampler of Teter tunes that run from animated swing (Caroline) to leisurely country strolls (Ease My Mind) to Western-tinged blues (Been Here Before). Rounding out the recording are a pair of songs by the late Austin songsmith Walter Hyatt (including a version of Wonder Why that mixes tropical atmospherics, a mighty New Orleans rumble and Hunt’s assertive singing) and the dizzying fiddle swing of the 1946 Peggy Lee hit It’s a Good Day.

The latter could almost be a theme song for The Belleville Outfit. Its music has a pronounced drive, yet the feel is light. It may flirt with the blues, but the resulting attitude is seldom less than exuberant. And while it hints at swing, country and jazz sounds from the ‘40s and early ‘50s, nothing on Wanderin’ sounds like a museum piece

“This is fun music,” Hunt said. “Playing it at shows and making people happy, that’s what keeps us going. It makes you feel like what you’re doing matters.”

(above photo of The Belleville Outfit by George Brainard)

The Belleville Outfit performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Natasha’s Café, 112 Esplanade. Cover charge is $10. Call (859) 259-2754.

Loratadine (Claritin) vs. desloratadine (Clarinex) formulary interchange.(Brief Article) in our site loratadine side effects

Drug Utilization Review February 1, 2003 | Cooper, Sharon W.

Desloratadine (Clarinex), a major metabolite of loratadine (Claritin), is the newest medication indicated for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. It is often a misconception that new drugs are more beneficial than their predecessors. The information in the table on p. 6 has been provided in order to clarify the similarities between these two antihistamines.

The safety and efficacy of desloratadine is virtually identical to that of loratadine, the current formulary agent. Although desloratadine is currently less expensive than loratadine, the patent on loratadine expired in December 2002. Therefore, a less expensive, equally effective generic will be available soon. This will likely decrease loratadine’s price by 50% or more. It is recommended that loratadine continue as the formulary representative for this drug class. Desloratadine should be interchanged automatically to loratadine as follows: Clarinex 5 mg QD and Clarinex Reditabs 5 mg QD interchanged to Claritin 10 mg QD. this web site loratadine side effects

Cooper, Sharon W.

in performance: tim finn

Oh the decadence of having a learned rock ‘n’ roller in church preaching to the faithful on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning. But Aussie/New Zealander Tim Finn – mainstay tim finnleader of Split Enz, alumnus of Crowded House and half of the famed Finn Brothers – was anything but threatening during a 75 minute career retrospective concert last night at Louisville’s St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Assisted only by guitarist Brett Adams, a small kick drum kit inspired by the late Crowded House percussionist Paul Hester and a Steinway piano positioned so close to the audience that the singer could pretty much shake hands with those in the front pew, Finn offered a good natured recital of his worldly pop wares.

The older Split Enz music still possessed a cheery, rockish attitude but was otherwise revamped for the occasion. I See Red strutted to a Memphis rockabilly groove while the playful Shark Attack was beefed up with electric colors by Adams that combined Jimmy Page-style psychedelia with Duane Eddy twang.

A trio of tunes from Crowded House’s Woodface retained their compositional warmth within the leaner arrangements, although the least known of the three – the album-closing How Will You Go – also made a cunning transformation into a British, folk-flavored waltz reminiscent of early Fairport Convention.

Aside from an elegant reading of 1993’s Persuasion, the only Finn solo recording represented was last year’s Imaginary Kingdom. But the six tunes pulled from the album revealed the performance’s greatest stylistic and emotive depth.

So Precious lost much of the dance hall pop mood of its recorded version and offered the evening’s most realized rock ‘n’ roll. Winter Light all but melted into fine melodic icicles with Adams’ sharpened guitar atmospherics nicely complimenting Finn’s piano coda. Also, Unsinkable revealed the sort of family values that even a Saturday church crowd might find frightful. Finn revealed it was inspired by his young son who, after viewing Titanic, expressed the desire that he and his Dad, when seabound, “go down together.”

A pair of new, unrecorded tunes – the Strawbs-like Saw and the Tree and the more generously percussive Driving Blind – completed this smart, inventive and, yes, slightly righteous pop testimonial.

(above photo of Tim Finn by Darryl Ward)

It’s what they bargained for

The Boston Globe (Boston, MA) September 6, 1998 | Peter May, Globe Staff Since the NBA imposed its lockout July 1, negotiators from the league and the players union have had exactly one bargaining meeting. It ended in disaster, with the NBA contingent abruptly leaving.

Now the two sides are in arbitration over an issue that the league feels is, to quote Hamilton Burger, irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial. The union is in litigation mode, hoping to get an arbitrator to sock it to the owners where it hurts the most: in their portfolios.

Arbitrator John Feerick, whose split-the-baby mentality resulted in the disastrous Latrell Sprewell decision last season, is again hearing evidence. The issue is whether the players who have guaranteed contracts — as almost all of them do — should get their money during a lockout. It’s a novel concept, but with Feerick, anything is possible.

However, unlike the Sprewell mess, Feerick’s decision is appealable. If he finds that the players were wrongly denied their dough, NBA consigliore Jeff Mishkin will head to court and ask for a stay of execution, er, implementation. That could drag things out even more. Then again, if the NBA is to lose games, which seems unavoidable, better to do it in November and December when no one (including benefactor NBC) is paying attention.

The NBA disputes even Feerick’s jurisdiction in hearing the case. It insists his term as arbitrator expired when the lockout began. But the union filed its motion shortly before the lockout began, so it says Feerick’s role is entirely proper.

The NBA also feels that this dispute is not over basketball issues, but instead concerns labor law. The league contends that labor law allows the owners to withhold money as surely as a strike allows workers to withhold services. The players did not get paid during the 1995 lockout. Hockey players were not paid when they were locked out in ’94.

Testimony before Feerick may conclude Tuesday or spill over to one more session. There is time to file additional briefs, with a decision probably due by the end of the month. Then the fun should start.

By that time, the sides may be back to where they should be: at the bargaining table. Word has it both sides have agreed on the size of the table, the brand of coffee to be served, and the size and color of the window dressings, and may actually talk again as soon as this week. A new beginning Assuming sanity prevails, a risky assumption given the principals involved, there is a new wrinkle to the NBA schedule this season. For the first time in more than a decade, the season won’t start on a Friday and end on a Sunday. Instead, the games are scheduled to start on a Tuesday (Nov. 3, election day) and end on a Wednesday (April 21). The change was made primarily to accommodate NBC, the former Official Network of the Chicago Bulls. The network will be able to air more games, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. It also will have two sets of weekend games in the usually forgettable first playoff round, which will now be a best-of-five series spread over two weeks. The new schedule also will, in all probability, eliminate back-to-back playoff games (a second-round problem) and similarly do away with head-to-head conflicts between TBS and TNT in the postseason. NBA schedule czar Matt Winick said he couldn’t remember the last time the season didn’t end on a weekend, but speculated it was probably in the 1970s. The concessions to NBC and TNT/TBS were unavoidable due to the astronomical sums they are paying in rights fees, he suggested. The Celtics, meanwhile, don’t get the cushy start they got last year, when they played 16 of their first 25 at home (and two of the roadies were in Toronto). This time, 14 of their first 26 are at home, although among those 14 are annual titans Golden State, Vancouver, Toronto, Denver, Sacramento, and the Clippers. (Draft picks 1-5 and 7 last June. Get your seats early!) However, they also have to take the Texas three-step in the first week of December. The Bulls, whatever their appearance, make their first appearance Nov. 11, while Larry Bird and the Pacers stop by for the first time Jan. 8. One of the real schedule jaw-droppers is a Sunday prime-timer (5:30 p.m. start) April 4 against the Nets in the FleetCenter . . . It didn’t take Dino Radja long to decide that the grass was greener where he was last year. The former Celtic re-signed with Panathinaikos — he earlier had exercised an opt-out clause — for one year. The deal-clincher: Radja is basically exempt from practices. “His knees are shot,” agent Marc Fleisher said of his Split-raised bread winner. “He gave serious thought to retiring, and as it is, he’ll probably play only one more year. There was no way he could get through an 82-game {NBA} season.” Fleisher said Radja was intrigued by the prospect of joining the Bulls or Knicks for their respective playoff runs last year, but nothing came of it . . . Another client of Fleisher, Yugoslav Dejan Bodiroga, was the Most Valuable Player in the recently concluded World Championships. Bodiroga, who will also play for Panathinaikos, is the property of the Kings, who selected him in the second round of the 1995 NBA draft. “There were three teams that I know of that expressed an interest to trade with the Kings for his rights,” Fleisher said of the versatile 6-foot-8-inch forward, who is in his mid-20s. “I don’t think he’ll go {to Sacramento}. I think he wants a bigger market.” Fleisher said Bodiroga could well jump to the NBA for the 1999-2000 season . . . The phone rang early one morning recently at the Ford home on the Jersey shore. Things were going well for Chris Ford; he was still the coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and he had just sold one of his summer homes. He liked the chances for the team this season. But by the time he hung up with Bucks general manager Bob Weinhauer, he was an ex-coach and was soon scrambling to get his kids into Boston-area schools while making plans to move back here to the family manse in Lynnfield. There’s only one way to describe Ford’s reaction to the firing: utter surprise. He had no inkling it was coming. “That’s true,” he said last week. “I was very surprised.” There had been rumors all spring and up to the lockout that he was on thin ice. “But I thought because we were well into August that it had all worked out,” he said. Conspiracy buffs had long thought eventual hiree George Karl to be in the mix, due mainly to his friendship with Rick Majerus, who is this tight with Bucks boss Herb Kohl (who prefers to be known as The Senator). There also was talk that Al McGuire was pushing Kohl to hire Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins. Ford will draw a salary this year and figures he has some serious family time/satellite dish watching ahead. “I’ll see what’s out there,” he said. “There are some openings, but I don’t know how open they really are. But you never say never. Right now, my immediate plans are to get settled in and wait for the {moving} truck, which gets here Tuesday. Once we get settled, I’ll see what’s out there.” If Ford, or the NBA, stays out of action, he will get the chance to see his daughter, Katie, play college hoops for that renowned Division 3 juggernaut, Williams College . . . Sacramento, the Clippers, and Denver all have coaching vacancies. If the three teams pooled their available talent, they might be as good as, oh, Cleveland. The name of Kurt Rambis is out there for both California openings, though we’re not sure if it’s because Rambis can actually coach or that his agent, Lon Rosen, is, as they say, working both sides against the middle. Sacramento owner Jim Thomas is a certified Laker wannabe, and that may help Rambis. However, Thomas is due to relinquish his majority share in ownership to the Maloof family, the same one that owned the Rockets when Houston played the Celtics in the 1981 NBA Finals. Worst-case scenario Mention the name Olden Polynice around the NBA, and most coaches or general managers who’ve had to deal with the loopy free agent center will reach for the extra strength Tylenol. So it wasn’t without a chuckle that we saw that a clause in a 1994 contract signed by Polynice was submitted by the union as evidence in the guaranteed contract arbitration case. website nba schedule 2012 this web site nba schedule 2012

In the contract, there is classic lockout language. “The Kings insisted on it,” said Polynice’s agent, Keith Glass. “I don’t even remember why. {There was talk of a players’ strike in the summer of 1995.} I was shocked, and I highlighted it.” The NBA says it isn’t concerned; the league contends the clause dealt with money Polynice would have to pay back from a $500,000 advance he took on the contract.

Glass no longer represents Polynice, but he is supportive of the union and its fight. “In the next millennium,” he said, “when historians study the 1990s in America, they will be scratching their heads over two things: Why do men have to pay their ex-wives and why is there a salary cap?” Peter May, Globe Staff

current listening 02/16

“new seasons”Among the past week’s off-hour spins:

+ The Sadies: New Seasons – Another reason why Toronto’s Sadies are my favorite alt-country band. Imagine the rootsy heart of the Clarence White-era Byrds beating in the psychedelic frame of the Gene Clark-era Byrds. Seriously cool country music.

+ Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters – Watching Herbie take the big prize at last week’s Grammys and subsequently tick the pop mainstream off inspired a fresh listen to his 1973 funk/fusion masterwork. One of the keyboardist’s dozen or so career milestone records.

+ Philip Glass: A Descent into the Maelstrom – The first time I saw the Glass Ensemble perform, about 22 years ago, it played this score of righteous arpeggios afloat in an ocean of synthesizers and winds. Philip Glass taking on Edgar Allan Poe – now that’s scary.  

+ Nik Bartsch’s Ronin: Holon – Fine new ECM jazz from Swiss pianist Bartsch that blends crisp grooves, impressionistic European backdrops and a compositional craftiness that falls between Chick Corea and The Bad Plus.

+ Fairport Convention: Live at the BBC – A sublime four-disc, import only assemblage of radio performances by the seminal British folk-rock band. The late Sandy Denny sings like a doomed angel while a young Richard Thompson masters the Dickensian blues.

king finn

king finnIt’s no wonder Tim Finn named his newest solo album Imaginary Kingdom. It boasts a pop sound every bit as royal as his finest music with the star Aussie bands Split Enz and Crowded House. But the king surrounds himself with a more modest court these days. Sure, Imaginary Kingdom got its start, in essence, in Hollywood with a slice of lovely chill titled Winter Light. It was penned for the 2005 soundtrack to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But the bulk of Imaginary Kingdom‘s fine pop delicacies were designed with far less fanfare.

“I did a bunch of demos with piano, Hammond organ, vocals and tambourine,” said Finn, who performs a “semi-acoustic” Saturday concert in Louisville accompanied by guitarist Brett Adams (Ray Smith of Central Kentucky’s Tula will open). “But you always want to hear what it’s like to expand things.”

While Imaginary Kingdom may not be the kind of cross-continental hit Split Enz enjoyed in the early ‘80s or as commercially visible as his lone album with Crowded House (1991’s Woodface), it has helped Finn re-connect with an audience way above the great Down Under. The album also boasts a quieter elegance that is in keeping with 2004’s sublime Everyone is Here with Neil Finn, his younger brother and bandmate in Split Enz and Crowded House.

But it was the sudden end of a Finn Brothers tour that triggered Imaginary Kingdom‘s most openly emotive song. In March 2005, Split Enz/Crowded House drummer Paul Hester committed suicide at age 46. Having arrived in London for three sold out performances at the Royal Albert Hall when the news hit, the Finns cancelled their entire European tour and flew to Australia for Hester’s funeral. Tim Finn then retreated to his native New Zealand and composed the lovely requiem Salt to the Sea.

“We were devastated,” Finn recalled. “Neil and I did those three shows and flew straight back. So our grief and shock were compounded by jet lag. It was just a nightmare. Nobody knew what to do or say.

“Paul was a lodger in my house in Australia when he was with Split Enz. So the song just made me think of the early days of our friendship.”

In the wake of the farewell to a member of the Finns’ extended musical family came the more heartwarming rise of a closer relative, namely Liam Finn  – Neil’s son, Tim’s nephew – who recently released a North American debut album called I’ll Be Lightning. There are echoes of the elder Finns’ vocal finesse in his singing. But Liam Finn (who performs at the Mad Hatter in Covington on March 28) boasts a bawdier, brasher pop sound all his own. And Uncle Tim, for one, couldn’t be more proud.

“When Liam was five, he would come out when the rest of us were having a jam, a party or anything with friends and guitars around. We would bring out a snare drum and Liam would play the backbeat with this deadly serious look on his face. He’s always been a musician in his heart and soul.”

Finn plans to stick to his intentions of making quieter, sparser music on his next album, which he will record this spring with help from Adams and a pair of Split Enz alums, keyboardist Eddie Rayner and violinist Miles Golding.

“There won’t even be drums. It will just be a chamber-pop sort of thing. I love that kind of sound.”

(photo of Tim Finn by Darryl Ward)

Tim Finn performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1960 Bardstown Road in Louisville.  Ray Smith will open. Tickets are $20. Call (502) 456-6394.

in performance: phil vassar, keith anderson and jennifer hanson

phil vassar“Sometimes you’ve just got to do song about a hot tub,” shouted a jubilant Phil Vassar (right) late into his 90 minute, mostly acoustic performance last night at the Opera House. Absolutely. With outside temps in the teens, why not transform the Opera House into a West Coast piano bar and stir things up with a saucy come-on tune like I’ll Take That as a Yes (The Hot Tub Song). Though it meant leaving any semblance of country tradition out in the snow, the pianist/singer displayed a performance vigor that was tough not to get swept up in.

Employing guitarist Jeff Smith as a foil and sidekick as much as a harmony singer and accompanist, along with barreling runs on a Yamaha Baby Grand, Vassar had little interest in keeping things neat and tidy onstage. When an impromptu stab at the Grease hit Summer Nights ignited an immediate audience sing-a-long, Vassar followed the tune to a spirited and unapologetically messy conclusion. When an audience member called out for Amazing Grace (not the spiritual staple, but a romantic remembrance cut by Vassar in 2004), he obliged. And if Vassar felt like blasting the record label he recently split from, then he would let the rants rip between songs.

But the mood remained pretty light all night long, especially when some unlikely (and perhaps unintentional) inspirations shadowed the songs. The 2000 Vassar hit Carlene, for instance, deflected country accents to instead recall the breezier, queasier pop stride of Ben Folds while a Springsteen-ian nerve was struck during the set-closing version of Bye Bye (a Vassar tune that was initially a hit for Jo Dee Messina). It was great fun all the way around

Like Vassar, show openers Keith Anderson and Jennifer Hanson, are songwriters about to release new albums on new labels this spring.

Anderson played the role of party boy, dropping numerous references to Kentucky bourbon in a 45 minute set that let pop ballads (the new I Still Miss You) mingle with novelty redneck anthems (XXL, which strutted into Hank Williams Jr. honky tonk turf) and his own spin on John Mellencamp-esque smalltown life (Podunk). It was a strong, audience friendly performance for what Anderson termed “the Lexington Opry House” even if the material quickly spun itself into a derivative rut.

Los Angeles-born Hanson struck up an appealing ‘60s pop flame with Beautiful Goodbye before switching to mandolin for the folkish flow of Leave the Pieces (an original that hit big for The Wreckers). But Hanson only managed to squeeze a total of four songs into a half hour set that went way heavy on the chat. You left knowing more about her “Texas redneck” husband that you did about her music.

the icehouse underground

My two cents on the “closing” of the Icehouse:

Underground art has long been the ugly ducking, evil stepchild and all-around miscreant of the pop world. Yet it has shown a survival instinct many commercial artists can’t begin to muster. It thrives because of the sheer need of the art at hand to be heard, seen, or experienced.

When a commercial music venue closes, the reason is usually simple: money. That’s not so much an issue with the Icehouse or any of the venues Ross Compton has used to bring in a parade of indie jazz and pop artists in recent years. Some draw respectable crowds. Most bring in just a devoted handful. None of the venues served alcohol, so there was hardly a buck to be made. And certainly no one was accosted by luxury when they attended these concerts. True to its name, the Icehouse doesn’t even have heat. Such is the school of survival. I’ve seen people huddling around space heaters at these shows. Shoot, I’ve been one of them.

My point is this: any active arts scene needs art that falls off the radar. Call it fringe. Call it subversive. Call it underground. I call it balance, pure and simple. Along with the large commercial attractions that bring in the masses and make the mega bucks are the underlings that create art, as the cliché goes, for art’s sake. To them, invariably, go the table scraps. Most of the fringe folk are happy and appreciative to get them, too.

I know Ross well enough to realize he isn’t expecting charity for the shows he organizes. I also know keeping an underground scene active takes more than the work of a single person – and for a long, long time, Ross has done the better part of his work alone. So this might be a golden opportunity for city officials and patrons that speak of a vital and productive arts scene in Lexington to pitch in.

Maybe those developing some of the city’s prospective arts/youth/entertainment districts (like the warehouse row on Manchester St.) might be willing to donate a venue, room or space.

Maybe you yourself have (or know of) a gallery or performance space that might accommodate an appreciative, alternative and diverse audience that is interested more in the spirit of active artistic creation than another beer-soaked social setting? Now is the time to speak up.

It doesn’t take much. A room clean enough to be audience friendly and warm enough in winter to where audience members can be entertained by something other than the sight of their own breath is all people like Ross need. The resulting art will create its own vibe and atmosphere.

Of course, the art will survive regardless. But how encouraging it would be if Lexington, consumed has it has been for years with growth, might lend a modest hand. Just because the art in question hails from the underground doesn’t mean it won’t welcome a glimpse of the sun.

country piano man

phil vassarIn classical music, the piano is sovereign. It is a prime compositional tool as well as a performance platform for orchestral elegance and invention.

In rock ‘n roll, the instrument is an organic voice of rebellion. You don’t even have to plug it in. From Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis to Elton John and Billy Joel, the piano has summoned echoes of boogie woogie, blues, jazz and a world of danceable joys.

But what about country music? In a genre that has thrived through its portability, the piano is too cumbersome. Too stately. It always has been. Imagine Roy Rogers riding into the sunset on Trigger with a Steinway strapped to his saddle.

Well, don’t tell that to Phil Vassar, the country star that lit up the charts with a wave of hits he wrote for such artists as Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw before his own name hit the marquee. More than any contemporary country artist, Vassar has found a new place for the piano in modern day Nashville.

“Nashville is such a guitar town,” Vassar said during a recent phone interview from Philadelphia. “I think that’s why it took me so long to get a record deal in the first place. People are used to seeing country artists sitting on a stool playing guitar.

“But I’ve always appreciated the piano as a percussive instrument, not strictly a classical one. I’m a blues and rock ‘n’ roll player at heart. I learned from Jerry Lee Lewis not Van Cliburn.”

So confident is Vassar that the piano can carry a country show that he has embarked on a stripped down winter tour of theatres. Aside from the piano, his only accompaniment will come from longtime guitarist/bandmate Jeff Smith. There will be no flashy video screens. No multi tiered stages. No massive band that sounds more like ZZ Top than an honest honky tonk assembly.

“It’s like being in your living room,” Vassar said. “You go onstage, start a conversation with the audience, talk about how and why you wrote the songs. It’s complete freedom. It really is. You’re not confined to a set list or anything like that.

“The wild thing is that this is how I started out. I did five hour shows, just me and a piano, for many years. That kind of experience really prepares you for a tour like this because these are not laid back shows we’re doing. If someone shouts out for a hit, I’m ready. If someone shouts out for an Elton John song, I’ll play that. I’ll play anything.”

A native of Lynchburg, Va., Vassar moved to Nashville in hopes of a country career in 1989. But it was his songs, not his versions of them, that initially caught the attention of artists and record executives.

While one of the first singers to record a Vassar song was veteran pop crooner Engelbert Humperdinck, his music was popularized starting in the late ‘90s by Jackson (Right on the Money), McGraw (For a Little While and My Next Thirty Years), Jo Dee Messina (Bye Bye and I’m Alright) and others.

By 2000, Vassar released a debut album that yielded five singles, including a No. 1 hit called Just Another Day in Paradise. Since then, his Top 5 singles have included American Child, That’s When I Love You, Last Day of My Life and, in 2004, a second charttopper called In a Real Love. The latter recalls the rootsy pop of another piano playing Virginian, Bruce Hornsby..

Vassar stressed he was an entertainer before becoming a songwriter. But the pianist also confessed having other artists fashion hits out of songs he wrote paved the way for his own recording career.

“It really did. I was kind of in the middle of it all and didn’t really know what to expect with my records. A lot of my friends in Nashville were artists that were getting signed before I was. And they were having hits with my songs. That helped because people at radio knew who I was through those songs, so they were at least familiar with me in that way.

“A lot of times, being a songwriter doesn’t translate into being an artist. But I felt I was an artist before I became a writer, so I was one up on everything.”

So, for an artist turned songwriter turned artist, what triggers a great country song? For Vassar, it’s all about being open and alert enough to recognize the right inspiration when it hits.

“Between your own life and your friends’ lives, ideas just get thrown at you everyday. Most of them you just kind of let go right by. Sometimes, though, if you’re smart enough, you stick your net out and catch one. And you write that idea down.

“I’ve written them on napkins, I’ve written them on my hand. You just have to be smart enough to write that stuff down when it hits you.”

Phil Vassar, Keith Anderson and Jennifer Hanson perform at 7:30 tonight at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $24. Call (859) 233-3535, (859) 281-6644.

Recipes make the best relics.(on being southem)

Mississippi Magazine May 1, 2011 | Maples, Nancy Jo Recipes are heirlooms that any Southern gal can inherit, regardless of social status. A few fortunate folks are endowed with historical collections of silver or china passed down for generations. Meanwhile, the rest of us are usually bequest sentimental pieces of ceramics that we hope our descendants don’t discard too quickly after we are gone. Recipes, however, offer an unintimidating legacy.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Recipes don’t clutter, and they can be duplicated over and over and over so that every child, every grandchild, every cousin, and every niece gets a piece. Think about this: If Grandma only has one silver platter and seven granddaughters, six of those seven will be left empty-handed. However, if Grandma has no platter, except perhaps a ceramic one with a chip on one side, but instead hoards an outstanding recipe for cornbread dressing with a “secret” ingredient, then Grandma can bequeath that recipe to all seven. In turn, those granddaughters will leave it to their granddaughters and so on. That recipe is probably titled “Grandma’s Cornbread Dressing,” and the name will never change because Grandma after Grandma will pass it down. greenbeanrecipenow.com green bean recipe

Some recipe names do change, although we still consider them heirlooms or hints of our heritage. When friends or cousins give away recipes, the ingredients and cooking instructions usually stay the same, but quite often the titles change. For example, my sister Gina, who lives in Brookhaven, obtained a delicious green bean and onion recipe from her in-laws in Natchez. Of course, in Natchez that dish is known by one name. Yet to my friends and family who have been served these beans in Union and in Lucedale, the dish is Gina Beans. I’m sure the next recipients of this green bean recipe will rename it to identify whoever gave it to them. see here green bean recipe

I know this because Melinda, my first friend in Lucedale, shared with me a delightful recipe for yellow rice and baked shrimp that she got from her husband’s mother. I call it Shrimp Melinda and everyone in my circle of family and friends knows what to expect when served Shrimp Melinda. I passed the recipe on to Gina, who passed it on to folks living in Natchez and in Brookhaven. Well, move over, Melinda. On the southwestern side of Mississippi, this dish is referred to as Nancy Jo’s Shrimp. Throughout the years, I have collected my own keepsakes that may one day seem meaningless to my children; however, that shrimp recipe is an heirloom.

SHRIMP MELINDA

1(10-ounce) package yellow rice with saffron 1 stick margarine 1 large white onion, chopped 1/2 bell pepper, chopped 1 small carton fresh mushrooms or 1 (4-ounce) can mushrooms 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies (optional) 1 (10-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup 1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained 1 cup grated Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses 1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined Cooking oil spray

Cook rice according to directions. Set aside. In a separate pan, saute onion, pepper, and mushrooms with margarine until vegetables are tender. Add remaining ingredients (except shrimp) and bring to a boil Add shrimp, reduce heat, and simmer until shrimp turn pink. Mix rice with shrimp sauce and place in 9×13-inch casserole dish greased with cooking oil spray. Bake for 30 minutes.

Yield: 6-8 servings Maples, Nancy Jo

ben ratliff on herbie hancock

Ben Ratliff of The New York Times is one of my favorite writer/commentators on jazz and popular music. Here is a piece from this morning’s NYT that tries to make sense of the surprise/jubilation/uproar over Herbie Hancock’s Album of the Year win at Sunday’s Grammy Awards. The article balks a bit when trying to sum itself up, but Ratliff’s observations on jazz’s biggest Grammy win in decades are very insightful. Well worth the read.

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