Archive for May, 2008

current listening 05/31

the black keysThe Black Angels: Directions to See a Ghost – From deep in the heart of Austin, Texas comes a slab of psychedelia so thick and dark you would swear it was fashioned by the most daring of drone-infatuated bands that spun out of mid ‘60s New York. But once the Angels move beyond the almost incantatory rhythms, you find lush guitar swirls, echo saturated singing and a touch of pop frenzy that, in the 16 minute album-closing opus Snake in the Grass, sound like The Doors had they hailed from the Bowery instead sunny L.A.

 Johnny Winter: Live Bootleg Series, Vols. I and II – Two more slices of Texas toasted music. But these single-disc sets reach back to the glory guitar blues and boogie days of Johnny Winter. While neither is particularly well annotated, the band lineup (bassist Jon Paris, drummer Bobby T.) suggests the music hails from the early-to-mid ‘70s. Pulled from Winter’s own collection of live recordings, the blues/rock sensibility here is cranky and unrelenting, despite a few odd dips in recording quality. But when Winter cools down, as on Vol. 1′s Stranger, the house party heats up all the more.

Pat Metheny with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez: Tokyo Day Trip Live EP – More varied than the Metheny Trio’s recent Day Trip studio album, this five track concert disc shifts the focus more to Metheny’s guitarwork, from a soft focus lullaby for guitar synthesizer (Tromso) to even quieter acoustic fare (Inori). But as the nasty rhythmic turns and rockish, percussive strut of Back Arm & Blackcharge kick in, you’re reminded of what an unexpectedly potent charge is brought to the stage by McBride and Sanchez. Too bad Metheny didn’t make this a full length live album.

Krzysztof Komeda: Astigmatic – The great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko recently played a New York concert devoted the music of his saxophonist mentor, Krzysztof Komeda. In a review for the New York Times, critic Ben Ratliff referred to the 1966 Komeda album Astigmatic as “one of the great jazz records of its time.” Having finally tracked down a copy, it’s easy to hear why. The record has a keen compositional base, but flirts with combo cool (duly aided by a young Stanko) and free-style improvisation. A major jazz discovery. 

Renaissance: Novella – Somewhere between the psychedelic fancy of the Moody Blues, the folk excavation of early Fairport Convention and the prog-rock extremes of Yes was Renaissance. 1977′s Novella was supposed to be the album that shot the band to stardom. It didn’t. But hearing this 2001 CD edition of the album is a fine, if not eccentric listen. Singer Annie Halsam, as always, is the show stealer. For all the epic song structure and sweeping orchestration of the 13 minute Can You Hear Me?, Halsam’s crisp, honestly regal vocals serve as Renaissance’s most transportive tool..

otto drive

James Otto has become considerably more accustomed to attending the Academy of Country Music Awards than the ACM has to having him there.

Over the past four years, as the linebacker-sized songsmith sought a second chance for a recording career that stalled in 2004, Otto was among the country faithful that attended the awards ceremony in hopes that it might someday honor his own music.

In some ways, the ACM event held a few weeks ago in Las Vegas was no different. Otto’s Sunset Man album was only a month old, so he wasn’t eligible for any trophies. But the singer did possess something no other artist in attendance could claim: the current No. 1 country single.

That’s right. The name on the top of the charts that week with the soul-spiced hit Just Got Started Lovin’ You wasn’t Chesney. It wasn’t Paisley. It wasn’t Toby.

It was Otto.

“This year, instead of everybody at the ACMs asking me if I was a wrestler or a football player, I got a bit of a different reception,” Otto said. “Having a No. 1, it turns out, didn’t hurt at all.

A co-founding member of MuzikMafia, the renegade team of singers and writers that gave rise to such independently minded major label artists such Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson, Otto took an initial stab at a recording career in 2002. He released a series of singles for the Mercury Nashville label that resulted in a 2004 debut album called Days of Our Lives. None of the records charted well. So back Otto went back to his compadres at MuzikMafia.

“When MuzikMafia started, I was the only one with a record deal,” Otto said. “Everybody else lost their contracts and were already going through what I was about to go through. Then when Big & Rich and Gretchen blew up, they stuck me on their stages and put me in front of all these people in order to keep eyes on me. That’s what MusikMafia has always been about. It’s about working for your brothers and trying to help them whenever you can. So even though my record deal didn’t work out the first time, they were going to make sure I at least got the attention to try and get another one.”

Soon came a new contract with Warner Brothers and Sunset Man, an album Otto co-produced with two high profile pals: Big & Rich’s John  Rich and Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus. The latter is the singer’s brother-in-law.

“I got to work with both of my families for this album,” Otto said.

While Sunset Man‘s April release had been carefully plotted, the success of Just Got Started Lovin’ You was something of a runaway train with a lot of tracks in front of it. As the first single of Otto’s second coming as a recording artist, it took a full 30 weeks to reach No. 1.

Needless to say, audiences were afforded plenty of time to get familiar with Otto’s sound. Lexington crowds became especially well versed as Otto played Heritage Hall last New Year’s Eve with Jason Aldean and at Austin City Saloon for a show of his own in late January.

“It’s been a slow climb,” Otto said. “But that’s just fine with us. It’s given time for the single to sink in a bit. I’m just surprised it’s had the gas to last this long.”

For Otto’s third Lexington outing in five months, and his first as a certified hitmaker, he will open a Southern rock hoedown tonight at Rupp Arena featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd and the artist that has served as a key inspiration: Hank Williams, Jr.

“I reason I started playing country music was Hank Jr.,” Otto said. “He was the guy who made country cool enough when I was 13 to go, ‘Man, is what I want to do.’”

(photo by Kristin Barlowe)

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hank Williams, Jr. and James Otto perform at 7 tonight at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $25-$69.50. Call (859) 233-3535.

 

keen observer

robert earl keenWell, here’s a Lone Star pal we didn’t expect to hear from again so soon. After all, a full decade passed between Robert Earl Keen’s final performance at the defunct Lynagh’s Music Club and his debut at The Dame last June. So to have him hang his hat Saturday at the mighty Opera House, along with an additional show tonight in Covington, is a bonafide summertime treat.

Keen is a champion Texas songsmith (his contemporaries include Lyle Lovett) and a performer that can pack masterful honky tonk gusto and stark literary detail into a show.

He hasn’t released a new album in three years. Likewise, his Dame performance, which sold out weeks ahead of time, featured only one new tune (a parable about a choice and unprintable description of an old flame’s new beau) out of 20. But what an extraordinary library of songs Keen still has to rummage through for his concerts.

While there is a jovial, offbeat and often raucous dressing to his music, Keen’s narrative gift comes from stories of balance – of dark vs. light, right vs. regret and the repercussions of a single human action in a run amok world.

Such a dichotomy is addressed directly in one of Keen’s most underrated tunes, Shades of Grey (from 1997′s Picnic, the album whose cover photo depicts Keen’s car in flames at Willie Nelson’s famed 4th of July festival in Austin). The song details the “ravin’ maniacs” a Christian-raised youth falls in with during a moonshine-soaked, cattle rustling bender and how, in the end, the makeshift gang gets off a very big hook.

Taking the balance to a more surrealistic extreme is the comparatively recent The Real Hank (from 2005′s What I Really Mean). The steel-guitar savvy serenade with Jordanaires-style backing vocals mirrors two bizarre visages of Hank Williams. One has the country legend playing a Philadelphia concert in drag, the other portrays him as a barroom ghost lamenting a modern age where “country music was full of freaks.” The song then rewinds to Keen as a teen on the highway to Abilene with a “commitment-free divorcee” by his side and an 8-track tape of Williams singing Hey Good Lookin’ blasting away from the dashboard.

If nothing else, the fact the tune clocks in under five minutes is a testament to Keen’s literary economy.

Of course, Keen’s longstanding fans will claim (and, to a degree, rightfully so) that nothing beats his earlier work, from the plaintive The Front Porch Song (written with Lovett) to a hit honky tonk holiday snapshot of family dysfunction (Merry Christmas from the Family) to the neo-Zen country swing of Five Pound Bass. There are also a dozen or so other Keen diamonds, many of which are captured on the sublime 1996 concert recording  No. 2 Live Dinner.

But why quibble? See for yourself as Keen spends Saturday night in the suitably regal setting of the Opera House and offers another balancing act of songs that reflect Texas-sized country and the very surreal world that surrounds it.

North Carolina-born Americana songsmith Matt King will open both of Keen’s concerts this weekend.

Robert Earl Keen and Matt King perform:

* at 8 p.m. tonight at the Madison Theatre, 730 Madison Ave. in Covington. Tickets are $28. Call (859) 491-2444.

* at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $25 in advance and $27.50 day of show. Call (859) 281-6644 or (859) 233-3535.

in performance: blind melon

One of the more unlikely entries in the rock revival sweepstakes of late was the 2006 reformation of Blind Melon. Known as one of the more radio-friendly entries in the early ‘90s grunge boom, the California band had a commercial lifespan that lasted for two albums and roughly four years before dissolving after the drug overdose death of lead singer Shannon Hoon in 1995.

That the renewed Blind Melon – with all its principal members on hand plus Rain Fur Rent singer Travis Warren in Hoon’s place – landed last night at The Dame was perhaps even more improbable. The show was booked a mere two weeks ago, so word never got rolling locally for the performance.

But this curious bit of pop nostalgia proved to be surprisingly lively. No disrespect intended, but Blind Melon in its heyday seemed caught in an identity crisis. The Melons yearned for rock radio accessibility, but were way too hippie in their sentiments to be a grunge troupe and far too heady and loud (at times) to qualify as a jam band.

Warren proved quite capable in forging Blind Melon’s stylistic loose ends into a cohesive whole. He came off as a more muscular singer that convincingly replicated Hoon’s hippie folk tenacity on Change as well as the more headstrong drive of the show-opening Galaxie. Though a more focused frontman than Hoon, Warren possessed enough vocal bravado to make him eligible for rock star status.

That was especially true in the more pop conscious material from Blind Melon’s new comeback album, For My Friends. On Wishing Well, which strongly recalled Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, right down to Christopher Thorn’s Jimi Hendrix-flavored guitar psychedelia, Warren wailed with impressive volume, range and confidence. But he was also up to meatier tunes like Hypnotized, a song supposedly inspired by Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan, although its glossier angst was more in line with a ticked off Bon Jovi.

The rest of the Melons, especially Thorn and co-guitarist Rogers Stevens, clicked very nicely for a band that was out of commission for over a decade. Indicative of Blind Melon’s renewed sense of performance invention was a psychdelic rumble designed by the two guitarists but piloted mostly by the smartly paced drumming of Glen Graham. It served as an engaging prelude to band’s 1993 breakthrough hit, No Rain.

No, this wasn’t the stuff of legends. But for 90 minutes, Blind Melon connected solidly with its storied past, wrote a fresh chapter for itself with new material and brought to life a merry rock ‘n’ roll beast. And for a band that, until recently, was no more that scattered ashes, that’s a pretty swift trick.

(above, Blind Melon 2008: from left, Rogers Stevens, Travis Warren, Brad Smith, Glen Graham and Christopher Thorn)

 

 

critic’s pick 21

“This is a story which is based on a true story which is based on a lie,” speaks T Bone Burnett at the onset of his new Tooth of Crime album. Under the chilly narrative, a sullen but soulful drum groove beats to a broken march while guitar twang flirts with the sorts of horn charts you would expect in a film noir classic where cars cruise and crash in the dead of night. The name of the tune: Anything I Say Can and Will Be Used Against You.

Yes, this is the same Burnett that became roots music ambassador to the world; the producer who spun platinum out of old timey country on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, took sacred harp singing to rock arenas with Cold Mountain and concocted an improbable hit by recording Robert Plant with Alison Krauss.

But on Tooth of Crime, Burnett muses more like the devil. “People tell me I look like hell,” he sing/speaks with a high, arid voice that stops just short of a whine during Anything I Say. “Well, I am hell.”

Wow. Guess that means we won’t be seeing Burnett on CMT Crossroads again anytime soon. But shock therapy Tooth of Crime isn’t. Most of the few albums Burnett has made under his own name since 1992′s The Criminal Under My Own Hat have been scrutinies – confessions, almost – of an unsettled conscience. Tooth of Crime simply ups the turmoil as both a literary and musical exercise.

Lyrically, Tooth of Crime began life as accompaniment for a Sam Shepard play of the same name. In Shepard’s story, fame and artistic survival, especially as they apply to rock ‘n roll, are played out on a very real and physical battlefront. But Burnett’s album evolved into a project of its own over the past decade. Some songs, like the gangland march Here Come the Philistines (“I hear your lies symphonically”) were pulled from the stage production. Others, including the darkly acoustic Blind Man (with Burnett’s ex-wife, Sam Phillips, at her Nico-ish best) are newer odysseys.

Musically, Tooth of Crime has wicked fangs in the rich, jagged distortions of guitarist Marc Ribot. Burnett is no slouch as a guitarist himself and nicely adds to the album’s twisted cool. Ribot, though, goes for the throat as much as this sometimes Brecht-ian carnival will allow. He provides short electric jabs that pepper Dope Island, a David Lynch-style duet between Burnett and Phillips set in a “scorched and doomed” land. On The Rat Age, Ribot offers a nocturnal twist that two-steps around twilight zone horns. Even in the face of Burnett’s doomsday narration (“I’m sober on the grapes of wrath while running down the psycho path”), the brass manages to sound quite funky.

Then we have the stylistic extremes. Tooth of Crime enters a dream state with Kill Zone, which was written nearly two decades ago with Bob Neuwirth and, shortly before his death, Roy Orbison. The pop sweep is huge, although it sounds more like Let It Be-era Beatles than an epic Orbison serenade. Tooth of Crime later artfully abscesses on Swizzle Stick, a tune punctuated by Ribot’s Mississippi-style guitar stutter and Burnett’s machismo-heavy meditations (“I can stir you like a bloody mary”).

The closing Sweet Lullaby, the only song where Shepard is given a writing credit, brings Burnett back to the salty earth where he is seemingly most at home. The wheezy vocals fade and warp like an escaping gust of wind while the guitars engage in rustic, wiry dialogue. Of course, the lullaby, like all of Tooth of Crime, isn’t sweet at all. It’s rather a document of deep, intoxicating and often indefinable mystery.

(above photo of T Bone Burnett by Jesse Dylan)

 

in performance: 2 foot yard

At the onset of a piece entitled Rooting for the Shy Librarian, violinist Carla Kihlstedt designed lovely adagio phrasing for solo violin that, had she and the rest of 2 Foot Yard not already had other musical motives in mind, could have swelled into an elegy of cinematic proportions. But Kihlstedt quickly added vocals – wordless singing, actually – that seemed to approximate heavy breathing as the violin lead began to ease into fractured swing. The full trio then snapped to life, the vocal chorus sharpened into the sort of minimalist alarm that would do ‘80s-era Philip Glass proud and the overall feeling turned electric before shrinking back into its hushed shell again.

The librarian, it seemed, was a touch repressed.

Such was the very rich, adventurous music that 2 Foot Yard explored in what became an unintentionally intimate performance. Threatening storms (which, as luck would have it, never materialized) turned CD Central’s Memorial Day parking lot concert into a series of in-store sets with the audience standing almost face to face with the artists. 2 Foot Yard’s late arrival, which amounted only to a 40 minute delay in its start time, further explained why its set barely clocked in at half an hour. But the trio explored considerable stylistic terrain in that time.

Kihlstedt (of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Tin Hat Trio) nicely set up the percussive punctuation of Seven Houses, where band members flirted with soul and chamber accents in between a near tribal strut tapped out with violin bows and drum sticks.

Shahzad Ismaily (who hopefully will receive due accolades when his album with Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog surfaces next month) proved to be the utility man of the day. During Crisis, he fired up a very workman-like funk groove on guitar with his fingers while simultaneously propelling the beat on bass drum and hi-hat cymbal with his feet.

Cellist Marika Hughes, aside from helping the trio shift from chamber style references to nicely ruptured areas of Americana, doubled as a dynamite harmony vocalist.

All of 2 Foot Yard’s transformative prowess came into play on the set-closing treatment of the Carter Family’s 50 Miles. Kihlstedt and Hughes created a vocal lead full of regal reserve while violin slowly shed its chamber skin to merge with the tune’s inherent Appalachian charm. Still, the song sounded as much like a chant as anything else.

Such a clever, rootsy turn from abstraction made 2 Foot Yard sound, on the modest corner stage of a record store, as big as all outdoors.

(above, clockwise from left, Marika Hughes, Shahzad Ismaily and Carla Kihlstedt. photo from 2footyard.com)

cookout concert

Just a reminder that if your Memorial Day weekend is still one cookout away from being complete, then head over to CD Central at 377 S. Limestone where Steve Baron and crew will serve up another holiday of free music, cheap eats and a few bargains on assorted musical goodies.

As to the former, the lineup is thus:

Noon: Up first is the homegrown indie folk/pop of The Rainjunkies. Sparse but spacious melodies with a modest country strut and the similarly light vocal fabric of singer Abby Lane make up the band’s attractive, atmospheric Americana mix.

1 p.m.: Things get electric with the big jangly guitars and very Morrissey-like vocal melodrama that make up the music of fellow localites Varsovia. Touches of reverb and percussive frenzy flesh out the band’s overall ‘80s ambience.

2 p.m.: Time to wake up the neighbors with Lexington hardcore band Through Trials. The quintet sports a massively crunchy sound, lyrics that are as positive as the music is pensive and, if you take a peak at its MySpace page, a record label logo to die for.

3 p.m. – The lone out-of-town guest is 2 Foot Yard, a bi-coastal trio made up of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum/Tin Hat Trio violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt, Charming Hostess/Vienna Teng cellist Marika Hughes and drummer Shahzad Ismaily. The latter will be featured next month on the much anticipated (by me, at least) debut disc from Marc Ribot’s monster funk trio Ceramic Dog.

4 p.m. – Winding things up is The Middle Fork, an inventive local trio that blends avant-funk, metal-charged guitar blasts, a generous dose of unobvious pop and a wicked sense of humor.

Call (859) 233-3472 for more information.

 

in performance: najee

The reason so many smooth jazz recordings sound like aural backdrops for forecast spots on The Weather Channel is not far removed from the conciliatory attitude surrounding much of what passes for country music today. The obvious stylistic differences not withstanding, both genres seem far more infatuated with the crossover appeal generated by the obvious pop inferences in their playing than any sort of rootsy vibe that made their music jazz – or country – to begin with.

Luckily for saxophonist Najee, even the broad pop accents exhibited during his concert last night at the Opera House didn’t begin to explain the stylistic reach of his music. Onstage, Najee – a multi reed/wind player who stuck to alto and soprano sax as well as flute – dispensed with the canned vocal and percussive effects of his recordings and placed the meatier, lyrical depth of his playing front and center.

There were pop references by the barrelful in his compositions, nearly all of which bloomed into bright summery melodies that, freed of the glossy but stiff electronic feel of his albums, produced a more organic sense of cheer. And, yes, there was an unquestionable nod to instrumentally inclined R&B, although not as big of one as you might expect.

The steady support of electric keyboards and synthesizers by Will Brock seemed like a nod to the mid ‘80s fusion era that Najee’s music emerged out of. As result, the clavinet/synth strut that percolated through Come What May bore a suggestion of P-Funk while the mix of keyboards and Victor Williams’ percussion during covers of two Stevie Wonder tunes (I Wish and the far funkier Contusion) sounded more like the heavily electric music Miles Davis cooked up in the late ‘80s than R&B.

Then there were moments that circumnavigated the smooth jazz map altogether, like a brief flute and percussion exchange that sounded for all the world like vintage Herbie Mann, and a rockish take on The Beatles’ Come Together that was neither smooth or jazzy.

Guitarist Chuck Johnson, a flashy and, at times, theatrically inclined player initially threatened to shatter the appealing cool of the performance But he wound up expanding its stylistic scope even more by handling the headstrong soul vocals of All I Ever Ask (created on record over 16 years ago by Freddie Jackson) and the more playful sass of Moody’s Mood for Love (a trademark tune of pioneering jazz saxophonist James Moody).

It was all grand entertainment. But in the end, the definitions of what was and what wasn’t jazz didn’t matter much. When Najee took a seat on a centerstage stool and played the subtle but soulful soprano lead to Noah’s Ark, a tune composed for his son but offered last night as a prayer for peace, the mood was infectious. Smiles lit up the audience and, in befitting a performance that fell in the middle of Memorial Day weekend, a touch of summer slipped into the room.

the veteran najee

During a recent concert tour of Indonesia and South Africa, saxophonist Najee came to realize audiences abroad were as receptive to his sleek blend of jazz, pop and instrumental R&B as those back home.

“Veteran artists tend to do very well in those territories – you know, the ones that have been around for awhile.”

Veteran artists. Najee used the term as if he were talking about a class of players far removed from his own artistic turf. But given how his debut album, the Grammy nominated Najee’s Theme, came out over two decades ago and that his subsequent string of gold and platinum selling recordings roamed the charts back in the early ‘90s, you have to acknowledge that Najee is now a bit of a veteran himself.

“Absolutely,” he said. “And thank goodness for that.”

In town tonight for his first-ever Lexington concert, Najee has seen commercial trends, the industry and audience that sustains them, even the very tag used to describe his music (“smooth jazz”) shift. But his popular appeal has never wavered.

“Initially, there wasn’t even a market for the music I played,” said the saxophonist born Jerome Najee Rasheed by phone by from his current home outside of Orlando, Fla. “In fact, when Najee’s Theme came out, I didn’t even consider it jazz. It was really an R&B record with saxophone, a collection of demos. But it became a platinum album and a career was born.”

Versed on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones as well as flute, the New York-bred Najee came to appreciate R&B-savvy jazz through the ‘70s recordings of crossover sax men like Grover Washington, Jr. and David Sanborn. Washington’s music proved especially inspirational.

“I remember hearing Grover Washington in 1973 when I was in high school. My saxophone teacher brought in the album (Soul Box) that had Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life on it. He was playing alto saxophone and I said to myself, ‘Wow. If I could only play like that.’ ”

After an initial tour playing behind soul vocalist Ben E. King the summer after graduating high school, Najee received his big break: a seat in the touring band of R&B diva Chaka Khan. It was an introduction to the performance life of a working musician as well as an education in playing alongside an established hitmaker.

“Chaka was the first real superstar of that time that I had the opportunity to be around,” Najee said. “I got to observe how an actual tour functioned and about how a superstar actually lived on the road. I also met people who helped me start my career as a solo artist. For me, it was a life changing experience.”

After Najee’s Theme hit big in 1986, the saxophonist took his instrumental music to large audiences as opening act to then-top selling R&B acts like Freddie Jackson. A fanbase of his own soon developed. The music industry took note that Najee was becoming an even bigger hit with what was being termed “urban contemporary” audiences than with mainstream jazz crowds.

“At that time, Freddie Jackson was playing arenas and big venues. So I went from being an unknown instrumentalist to a sort of a celebrity. Then publications like Billboard started a contemporary jazz chart. Najee’s Theme was No. 1 there for 13 weeks.”

As the years went on, Najee’s popularity bloomed. Though he responded with often adventurous recordings that included a 1995 instrumental interpretation of Wonder’s Songs from the Key of Life, Najee’s saxophone and flute tones were consistently bright and upbeat.

“I’ve always tried to find my own angle as an artist,” he said. “I’m really motivated by a lot of different types of music. Still, you always want to do something that reminds the audience of what you’ve done in the past but at the same time lets you evolve. I try to create music that is interesting to me first. Then I test it against people who may not be jazz lovers, or maybe even those who are, and see what works.”

Today, the mildly dubious smooth jazz label affixed to artists like Najee is very much a double edged sword. R&B audiences readily accept it as a variant of the instrumental groove sound they’ve supported for years. Jazz die-hards almost universally abhor it as commercially bound mutation of the music’s improvisational heritage.

Najee confidently considers himself a true jazz artist, and with good reason. In addition to his own R&B-inclined records, he has collaborated with a host of jazz pioneers. Among them is the late jazz organist Charles Earland. The saxophonist was a key contributor to a progressively minded recording session cut only two months before Earland’s death in 1999. It was released posthumously as If Only One Night.

Najee also had a chance meeting with a true jazz veteran, saxophonist James Moody, in a New York music instrument shop. That prompted Najee to cover the signature tune Moody’s Mood for Love on his most recent album, 2007′s Rising Sun.

“I’m a jazz artist,” Najee said. “I play jazz. And I’ve never made any apologies about my music. I always believe that the one thing that makes a successful music career is having something people want to hear, purchase and support. If people don’t come to see the artist in performance, if they don’t buy the records, we have a dead industry. As an artist, I understand the position of the pure jazz thinking. But I also think the market is suffering as a result of that thinking.

“The market has changed for everyone. As artists, we have to find new avenues to keep ourselves in the marketplace in a competitive way that is also fresh for the audience. People, I think, are looking for something new in this genre called smooth jazz. We have been given an opportunity to creatively find a way to reach that audience.”

Najee performs at 8 tonight at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $42.50-$50. Call (859) 255-2653.

 

hammers and upshots

If June indeed sees the end of The Dame as we know it, we can take solace that the club will go out swinging and rocking in true prize fighter fashion. Just look at the typically diverse fare on tap for the holiday weekend.

Tonight, Nine Pound Hammer is back to bust things up with blitzkrieg cowpunk tunes from its new Sex, Drugs and Bill Monroe album. Singer Scott Luallen and guitarist Blaine Cartwright have been fronting various Hammer lineups for over two decades. But don’t think their music has settled down any. Everybody’s Drunk, one of the highlights of Bill Monroe, ups the country factor a notch to give the band’s still-thunderous guitar attack a meatier and, dare we say it, more homespun intensity. I’m Your Huckleberry, on the other hand, sounds like Sons of the Pioneers meeting Black Flag. The band also revs up the early ‘80s John Anderson country hit Black Sheep.

Veteran Lexington drummer Brian Pulito and former Taildragger bassist Mark Hendricks complete the current Hammer crew. (From left, in above photo: Hendricks, Pulito, Luallen, Cartwright.)

Hammer heads should also the band will warm up for tonight’s show with a free 5:30 p.m. in-store performance at CD Central, 337 S. Limestone. Call (859) 233-3472.

Then on Saturday, the tone cools at The Dame for the local jazz and groove music of The Upshot Trio. Since opening there two summers ago for Brian Auger, the veteran British keyboardist who has made a career out of forging new groove possibilities out of jazz and pop fabrics, the Trio (guitarist John Arstingstall, bassist James Ross and drummer Patrick Creel) has built a solid repertoire of lyrically based jazz-funk originals and occasional covers.

The original music was neatly spotlighted on last year’s Cocktail Funk album, a crisply performed sampler of lean instrumental exchanges that are pretty jazz-savvy compared to the band’s more spacious and groove-dominate live shows. A personal favorite from the album: a lively bit of modest but frenzied trio funk called Man Eating Plant.

Those checking out Najee’s Saturday’s show at the Opera House might want to stop by The Dame for a nightcap after his concert concludes. The smooth jazz saxophonist’s music steers closer to sleekly produced R&B. But the modern jazz link is still there. And for a $3 Dame cover charge? Shoot, you’ll pay more than that for a cocktail at the Opera House.

Nine Pound Hammer performs at 9 tonight at The Dame, 156 West Main. Tickets are $7. Snakeout and Ponty’s Camper will open.

The Upshot Trio plays at 9 p.m. Saturday at The Dame. Admission is $3. Call (859) 226-9005. Tommy and the Try Tones will open.

OpenTable Names Diners’ Choice Award Winners

Wireless News April 2, 2012

Wireless News 04-02-2012 OpenTable Names Diners’ Choice Award Winners Type: News

OpenTable, a provider of online restaurant reservations for diners and reservation and guest management solutions for restaurants, announced the 2012 Diners’ Choice Award winners for Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the United States.

In a release, the Company noted that these awards reflect the combined opinions of nearly 5 million reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 12,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Winning restaurants are scattered throughout 18 states and Washington, D.C.

California is king of the hot spot restaurants, taking 25 places on the list of winners. New York comes in second, with 20 winning restaurants. Florida places third with 15 winners. Illinois accounts for 11 honorees, followed by Nevada with seven standouts and Texas with six. Georgia restaurants earned three places while Tennessee boasts two. Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington D.C. are also represented.

“Going to any of these dining hot spots feels like you’re at the hippest party in town, only you don’t need an invitation just a reservation,” said Caroline Potter, OpenTable’s Chief Dining Officer. “Beyond the buzz of innovative food and cocktails, each restaurant has electricity in the air that creates communal excitement. Diners feel like they’re part of an exclusive experience.”

Based on this methodology, the following restaurants,, comprise the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the U.S. according to OpenTable diners. The complete list may also be viewed at opentable.com/ hotspots.

Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants (listed in alphabetical order)

-25 Lusk San Francisco

-Abe and Arthur’s New York

-Asellina Ristorante New York here beauty and essex nyc

-B.B. King’s Blues Club Memphis

-The Bazaar by Jose Andres Los Angeles

-Beaumarchais New York

-Beauty and Essex New York

-BOA Steakhouse West Hollywood, Calif.

-Bond Street Social Baltimore

-Broadway by Amar Santana Laguna Beach, Calif.

-Buccan Palm Beach, Fla.

-Buddakan New York

-Burlap San Diego, Calif.

-Campo Reno, Nev.

-Catch New York

-Chino Latino Minneapolis

-Cleo-SBE Los Angeles

-CO-OP Food and Drink New York

-The Darby New York

-Del Frisco’s Grille Dallas

-Departure Restaurant and Lounge Portland, Ore.

-Do Restaurant at the View Atlanta

-Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa Dallas

-Drunken Fish Kansas City, Mo.

-Enso Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar Charlotte, N.C.

-Fig and Olive West Hollywood, Calif.

-Geisha House Hollywood, Calif.

-Gilt Bar Chicago

-Girl and the Goat Chicago

-GT Fish and Oyster Chicago

-Hub 51 Chicago

-The Hurricane Club New York

-Imperial No. Nine New York

-Ink Los Angeles

-Jaleo-The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Las Vegas

-Katana West Hollywood, Calif.

-Katsuya-Brentwood-SBE Brentwood, Calif

-Katsuya-Hollywood-SBE Los Angeles

-Katsuya-LA LIVE Los Angeles

-Katsuya-Laguna Beach-SBE Laguna Beach, Calif.

-Koi West Hollywood, Calif.

-Lavo Las Vegas

-Lavo NYC New York

-Linger Denver

-The Lion New York

-Lost Society Washington, D.C.

-Lulu California Bistro Palm Springs, Calif.

-Manhattan Beach Post Manhattan Beach, Calif.

-Marble Lane New York

-Maudes Liquor Bar Chicago

-Meat Market Miami Beach

-Mercadito Chicago

-Mercato di Vetro West Hollywood, Calif.

-Mr. Chow-Beverly Hills Beverly Hills, Calif.

-Mr. Chow-Miami Miami

-N9NE Steakhouse Las Vegas

-Nada Cincinnati

-Nikko Japanese Restaurant Charlotte, N.C. see here beauty and essex nyc

-Nisen Woodbury, N.Y.

-Nobu Miami Miami Beach

-The Office Delray Beach, Calif.

-Paris Club Chicago

-Picca Los Angeles

-Prato Winter Park, Calif.

-Prime Italian Miami Beach

-Private Social Dallas

-The Pump Room Chicago

-Red Ginger Traverse City, Mich.

-Red Lantern Boston

-Red Rooster Harlem New York

-Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar Boca Raton, Fla.

-Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

-Roka Akor Chicago

-Searsucker San Diego, Calif.

-Sino Restaurant and Lounge San Jose, Calif.

-The Standard Grill New York

-The Stanton Social New York

-STK-Los Angeles West Hollywood, Calif.

-STK-Miami Miami

-STK-NYC-Meatpacking New York

-STK-The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Las Vegas

-Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill Miami

-Sunda Chicago

-Sushisamba Dromo Miami Beach

-Sushisamba Strip Las Vegas

-Tao New York

-Tao Restaurant and Nightclub Las Vegas

-Tavernita Chicago

-Toku Modern Asian Manhasset, N.Y.

-Triniti Houston, Texas

-Trio Restaurant Palm Springs, Calif.

-Twist Atlanta

-Two Urban Licks Atlanta

-Uchi Houston

-Uchiko Austin, Texas

-Virago Nashville

-Wang’s in the Desert Palm Springs, Calif.

-Yardbird Southern Table and Bar Miami Beach

-Yolo Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

-Zuma Japanese Restaurant Miami

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