Archive for April, 2009

derby heat

rev it up: jim heath, aka the reverend horton heat, performs a post derby show at the dame on sunday. photo courtesy of the atomic music group.

rev it up: jim heath, aka the reverend horton heat, performs a post derby show at the dame on sunday. photo by the atomic music group.

There are few experiences that can match performing in the Bluegrass the day after the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps playing on New Year’s Day as opposed to New Year’s Eve would be similar. In both instances, the ballyhooed celebration has ended. In its place is a sort of prolonged, state wide hangover.

This weekend, it will fall to the high priest of psychobilly music, the Reverend Horton Heat, to whip Lexington back into party mode. But, hey, he will be playing The Dame on a Sunday. So when the Rev gets cranking on such time tested, turbo charged rockabilly fare as 200 Bucks and Wiggle Stick, you will undoubtedly feel the spirit.

But the Rev – Jim Heath, in everyday life – doesn’t live by psychobilly alone. Since the last official Horton Heat album, 2004’s Revival, he has cut an ultra-fun holiday record called We Three Kings. Then last year came a seriously cool left turn, a side band by the name of Reverend Organdrum and a recording titled Hi-Fi Stereo. The record put the psychobilly on hold to explore vintage R&B and soul-jazz grooves in an instrumental guitar, organ and drums setting.

“Usually I always try to find something to work on that’s a little different after every album,” Heath said last weekend by phone from Las Vegas. “Sometimes it’s just me trying to learn something new.”

“The Reverend Organdrum thing happened as we finished Revival. I was riding around getting into this Hammond organ stuff, listening to guys like Jimmy Smith. I always liked that R&B music with Booker T. and the MGs, too.”

The Rev already has his return mapped out, though. A new Horton Heat album with a decidedly more country sway has already been recorded. Its working title: Laughin’ and Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat

“Actually I was going to have an alter ego on this album until I realized alter egos are really stupid. I was going to have a country thing where I had a vocal style where the guy kind of cries through half of the verses and laughs through the rest of them. It was really exaggerated. There’s a little bit of that in there. But I didn’t get too corny.”

Of course, it could be argued that Heath already has the ultimate alter ego in the Rev. In the 20 years since Heat’s psychobilly music was born in the Dallas warehouse district known as Deep Ellum, Heath admits the Rev’s shoes have become a pretty comfortable fit. But when his stage time for the evening is done, he is also pretty happy to deposit them in a closet.

“It’s been so long that I’ve been doing this that maybe now I am more comfortable wearing them,” Heath said. “But I don’t really think about it too much. It’s just what I do, so it’s all cool. I actually prefer hanging around just being Jim than trying to be the Reverend all the time – especially when I’m offstage.

“But it’s pretty easy to get up for the gig and be happy with I’m doing. I mean, I’ve had regular jobs. I know what that’s like. This is way better.”

Reverend Horton Heat performs at 8 p.m. Sunday at The Dame, 367 East Main. Banderas will open. Tickets are $15. Call (859) 231-7263.

critic's pick 69

bob dylan: together through life

bob dylan: together through life

Everything seems to come with a price in the music of Bob Dylan.

Take the characters that inhabit Together Through Life, a quickly assembled set of new songs co-written by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and cut with jagged spontaneity by Dylan’s road band (and a few friends) last fall. Seemingly designed for hard times, they search like nomads for love and tranquility but have to crawl through deceit, even murder, to find anything remotely close to a promised land.

Fittingly, Together Through Life begins with a storm – a ruptured rhumba called Beyond Here Lies Nothin’. It professes love at the edge of doomsday – specifically, streets of busted windows that outline “mountains of the past.”

What a choice – Dylan’s love sung with dry-heaving devotion or oblivion.

Where does this rough and rootsy parade wind up? Why, with It’s All Good, which may go down as one of Dylan’s penultimate gag tunes. Good? Is he kidding? The song chugs along with a wary boogie groove as politicians flaunt corruption, killers stalk towns, neighborhoods crumble and misery engulfs the land. Even Dylan’s own profile takes a beating: “Talk about me, babe, if you must. Throw out the dirt, pile on the dust.”

The sound of such romanticism is fleeting and fascinating in an almost Tom Waits-like way. Instead of the warmer, minstrel-like facades of 2001’s Love and Theft or the more deliberate stillness of 2006’s Modern Times, Together Through Life colors stories of truly desperate love in brittle electric shells that at times sound like vintage Mississippi blues records. The drive then intensifies thanks to cameos by longtime Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell and swings to troubled bordertowns with accordion strides from Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. The album is, in many ways, a rural record that travels through some very troubled recesses of the South.

But there is a wonderful immediacy to this music, too. Together Through Life is the fourth studio album of new songs since Dylan became vital and relevant again in 1997. It is also the least approachable. Even when the accordion orchestration lightens on If You Ever Go to Houston, the mood remains tense. Dylan’s Houston is decidedly not set in the present day. It is an outlaw town that calls for tight gun belts and detached cunning.

Wild humor lives along these mean streets, too. My Wife’s Home Town is set, unsurprisingly, in hell where women goad their willing husbands into murderous deeds (“I lost my reasons long ago; my love for her is all I know”). But when we hear Dylan’s hoarse cackle as the song fades, one has to wonder who the real devil here is.

Half vaudevillian, half ravaged troubadour, Dylan works more in a circling pattern on Together Through Life than on his last three critically lauded albums. While the bluesy, bordertown feel is thoroughly absorbing, Together Through Life is, lyrically, like a walk in the desert. This music is arid, ominous and unrelenting. And forget salvation as its reward. Dylan is simply looking for a little human emotion on these songs.

Ultimately, though, Together Through Life, is not a weighty album. In fact, Dylan all but grins like a Cheshire though his new music. There may indeed be “nothin'” up ahead. But Dylan offers enough wicked desperation from the here and now as compensation.


US Fed News Service, Including US State News January 19, 2012 MORGANTOWN, W.

Va., Jan. 18 — West Virginia University issued the following news release:

The West Virginia University community now has one more opportunity to reach major cities without driving or flying. go to web site megabus promotion code

As of Jan. 13, WVU’s Mountaineer Station is the site of a new stop in the Megabus service, a discount bus service that connects riders to major cities on the East Coast.

Introductory fares are $17 each way a person to Pittsburgh or Washington, D.

C. Some fares as low as $1.50 a person, but to take advantage of this rate, the reservation should be made as early as possible.

The trips to and from Pittsburgh travel between Mountaineer Station, the intermodal center on WVU’s Evansdale campus, and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Trips to and from the nation’s capital go through Union Station, a transportation hub off the National Mall with connections to Amtrak, Maryland and Virginia rail service, and the D.

C. Metro system.

Those seeking eco-friendly transportation have another reason to ride Megabus. The company’s goal is to take passengers out of their cars and to use more environmentally conscious transportation. In December 2009, the company received the Green Coach Passenger Miles certification, which means the company met or exceeded an average of 148 passenger miles per gallon. The company continues to work on increasing its environmental stewardship.

“Megabus is another service that the University is encouraging to provide a variety of transportation opportunities to not only University students and employees but also to the Morgantown community,” said Hugh E. Kierig, director of Transportation and Parking. “Megabus complements the Grey Line service offered by Mountain Line to the Pittsburgh Airport and the Pittsburgh Greyhound Terminal.” Here is the current schedule for Megabus trips entering and leaving Morgantown: this web site megabus promotion code

* Buses from Morgantown to Pittsburgh leave Mountaineer Station at 2:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. and arrive in Pittsburgh at 4 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. respectively * Buses from Morgantown to Washington, D.

C. leave Mountaineer Station at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and arrive in Washington at 5 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. respectively Lindsay Willey, 304/293-2381,

in performance: beausoleil avec michael doucet

beausoleil: jimmy breaux, billy ware, tommy alesi, michael doucet, mitchell reed, david doucet. photo by rick olivier,

beausoleil: jimmy breaux, billy ware, tommy alesi, michael doucet, mitchell reed, david doucet. photo by rick olivier.

Cajun music has been, by design, a reflection of very literal motion. In essence, it was born out of the forced migration of French speaking settlers from Canadian regions in and around present day Nova Scotia to Southern Louisiana in the mid 18th century.

But last night at the Kentucky Theatre, with an eager audience held tight in its seats, BeauSoleil’s brilliant acoustic Cajun waltzes, two steps and jigs suggested a more congenial motion – namely that of feet on a dance floor.

Obviously, this weekly taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour wasn’t a barn dance. And, yes, watching BeauSoleil founder and fiddler Michael Doucet lead his band of 30-plus years through the regal and highly joyous music of Cajun and Creole cultures was a delight. But exiting the Kentucky last night, a patron succinctly summed up exactly what the WoodSongs set lacked: “Cold beer, hot food and a dance floor.”

OK, so the party element of this Cajun celebration was on the contained side. But that hardly muted the cultural and historical riches of BeauSoleil’s music. In the former category was 451 North St. Joseph St., where bassist Mitchell Reed opted to play double fiddle with Doucet in the animated style of the tune’s famed Cajun composer, Dennis McGee. Accenting the groove were the modest but seasoned sounds of accordion, snare drum and triangle along with guitarwork courtesy of the bandleader’s brother, David Doucet.

But history, sometimes very dark pages of it, triggered the set’s most stirring tunes. On L’Ouragon (The Hurricane), wistful fiddle lines illuminated a more ominous shuffle on a Doucet original inspired not by Katrina but by an unnamed 1893 hurricane that took 1,600 lives in Louisiana.

Less dire but equally emotive was Recherche d’Acadie (In Search of Acadie), a meditation on migration suggestive in its slower passages of a more funereal mood.

While such tunes introduced a sobering measure of real life into the set, the majority of Doucet’s music possessed an effervescence that made sitting stationary in a theatre seat something of a challenge.

Kolinda, for instance, sported a vocal bounce from Doucet that was as animated as his fiddle playing while a Cajun-ized take on Julie Miller’s Little Darlin’ added some Appalachian fire to BeauSoleil’s Creole drive. Best of all was Marie, a traditional tune that steered closer to New Orleans for a poppish flavor that generously referenced Fats Domino.

But the latter song’s fiddle solo, steeped in some otherworldly tuning that made the strings wheeze when they weren’t swinging, outlined precisely the musical culture and environment Doucet has spent his entire adult life preserving.

Last night, from the politely seated environment of WoodSongs, Doucet’s sounds of soul and spice didn’t sit still for a minute.

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(To view the full report please click here:

Admission to MICEX will add liquidity. On Monday, 6December, TNKBP Holding’s shares began trading asunlisted shares on MICEX (TNBP RM) and the RTS (TNBP RUand TNBPG RU). Previously, they were only traded on theRTS. On the first day of trading, the combined value tradedon the two exchanges was about $2 mln, more than 90% ofthat on MICEX. This equals 0.1% of the market value ofTNKBP Holding’s 5% free float. For comparison, GazpromNeft’s average daily value traded on MICEX ($4.3 mln in2010) is 0.5% of its free float’s value. Gazprom Neft’smarket cap equals 44% of TNKBP’s and its free float is alsosmall at 4%. If Gazprom Neft is any indication, there is apotential for a fivefold increase in TNKBP Holding’s dailytrading volume to $10 mln. We also do not rule out TNKBPHolding’s inclusion in a major Russian index in 2H11. see here bp stock price

SPO looks unlikely. From our recent discussions with thecompany, we have concluded that its controllingshareholders have no compelling motive to reduce theirstakes and increase the free float over the short to mediumterm. This contrasts with Gazprom Neft’s situation, asGazprom could raise $4 bln by selling the 20% stake itbought from ENI in 2009, without losing its 75% majority.Over the long run, however, TNKBP Holding’s majorityowners believe that all financing options are possible,including a new share issue. URALSIB Capital, 8, Efremova St, Moscow, Russia,119048, phone:+7(095)788-0888 fax: +7(095)785-1206

in performance: jason mraz/anya marina

jason mraz

jason mraz

“We need for you to be cool,” said Jason Mraz as he walked onstage last night to introduce opening act Anya Marina. It was, as he elaborated, a request both literal and figurative. After all, the sold out crowd of 3,500 had assembled in Memorial Coliseum – a facility without air conditioning.

Wow. One weekend of 80 degree temps and we’re already undone by the heat. Well, not really. Listening to Mraz’s ultra sunny folk-pop, even in a sweaty indoor setting, was akin to a trip to the tropics. The 90 minute set used splashes of standardized soul against grooves established by Mraz on acoustic guitar and longtime ally Toco Rivera on percussion. Then there was the matter of Mraz’s very unforced sense of good cheer. While often bordering on simple blind optimism, there was little to fault in the wide eyed romanticism of Lucky (sung as a duet with Marina), the group chant that the singer initiated as a sort of meditative lead-in to A Beautiful Mess, and even the light funk procession of The Dynamo of Volition.

As chapters of a hippie dream, the tunes all coalesced nicely with help from a very portable three man horn section that relocated itself deep in the upper decks of the audience for Live High. Only the jam band-style psychedelia of Unfold, with beefy brass support from tenor saxophonist Carlos Sosa, hinted at something darker than Mraz’s endless summer pop.

Of course, the blissed out mega-hit I’m Yours fully ignited the crowd. Built upon neo-reggae grooves and intriguing group harmonies, the tune quickly surrendered to its Jamaican ancestry and became a loose, infectious cover of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.

There were a few surprises along the way, as well. First off, Mraz largely ignored his first two albums. An encore of Mr. Curiosity, with Mraz singing in a peculiar but potently operatic tenor, and the Phil Collins pop-soul flavored The Remedy were among the very few exceptions. The real curve ball, though, was a cover of the Rick James funk staple Mary Jane. To absolutely no one’s shock, the song was transformed into another easygoing pop serenade tailor-made for the summer season that awaits this largely student audience in about two weeks.

anya marina

anya marina

Marina’s opening set tossed in a distinctive cover, too – of T.I.’s Whatever You Like. That suggested her 25 minute opening set was perhaps naughtier than it really was. In actuality, the Southern California singer’s pouty vocals were augmented only by solo guitar and drum samples during such original fare as Vertigo and the nicely percolating Move You. Audience patrons were politely receptive but restless. It was as if Marina became the only thing that stood between them and a serious blast of summer. And woe be to the singer that even threatens to block the sun from its hippie minions.

the genuine cajun

michael doucet accepting the grammy award in february for best zydeco or canjun music album for beausoleil's "live at the new orleans jazz and heritage festival." photo from getty images.

michael doucet accepting the grammy award in february for best zydeco or cajun music album for beausoleil's "live at the 2008 new orleans jazz and heritage festival."

The carnival barker voice that begins the new BeauSoleil album, Alligator Purse, suggests the music that follows is a genuine and rare commodity.

“Folks, this is genuine Cajun breakdown music as heard in Evangeline Country. Let’s go, boys.”

What follows is two minutes of what BeauSoleil (pronounced bo-so-lay) does best: crisply authentic Cajun music that is traditional to its two steppin’ bones but performed with an acoustic zest that continually keeps the music fresh and vital.

The tune, 451 North St. Joseph St., is one of the earliest recorded tunes by one of the earliest recorded Cajun fiddlers, Dennis McGee. The man making the strings sing in BeauSoleil is Michael Doucet (pronounced doo-say), a friend and protégé of the late McGee and easily the most tireless, visible and popular Cajun artist of our day.

To hear one generational master of Cajun music so devoutly and lovingly paying homage to another is pretty powerful stuff, especially in age where Cajun culture, as with most any appealing ethnic heritage, has been co-opted and commercialized.

To Doucet, the commodification of Cajun artistry is all but inevitable in the 21st century as ethnic boundaries continually shrink.

“It is what is it is,” said Doucet, who brings BeauSoleil back to Lexington for a Monday performance for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. “In the 1900s, all of the civil parishes in Louisiana had their own style. You could always tell where someone came from.

“Today, that regionalism has almost totally gone away, even though 22 of the parishes still have some Acadian ancestry. Everything is almost totally homogeneous now.”

Well, maybe not everything. Remember, that voice at the onset of Alligator Purse promises “genuine” Cajun music. And on that count, the album, as did the previous 28 recordings BeauSoleil has cut over the past three decades, delivers the goods.

While Alligator Purse‘s Cajun heart is solid, there are also shifts in the BeauSoleil game plan this time in terms of concept, repertoire and even the musicians that make up the record.

In addition to traditional two steps and rich Doucet originals, the album shifts course slightly to include songs by Americana favorite Julie Miller and the veteran Tulsa song stylist J.J. Cale. Helping out the six member BeauSoleil lineup is a series of guests that include Natalie Merchant, folk/pop pioneer John Sebastian, The Band’s Garth Hudson, avant garde trombonist Roswell Rudd and, in one of his final recorded performances before his death last summer, guitarist Artie Traum (in an exclusively choral role).

“We have been introducing a lot of people over the years to this vast repertoire of Cajun music,” Doucet said. “This time we just wanted to have fun. So I kind of went back to some to my teenage years – not just to the French music, but to some of the rock as well as soul and swing origins of swamp pop.”

Miller’s Little Darlin’ is the most immediately infectious of the contemporary entries. Its ripe fiddle stride might reveal an Appalachian accent to Kentucky ears. But once a percussive shuffle kicks in behind the harmonies of Doucet and Merchant, there is no mistaking the land BeauSoleil speaks of.

“When I first heard Little Darlin’ I thought, ‘Wow. Julie has been listening to Cajun music.’ Some of the ballads we play tell everything – the good, the bad, the whole story. But with some of the French songs, a lot of the innuendos can be tough to translate. But there’s no need to translate anything on this one.”

Rudd takes BeauSoleil a mile or two closer to New Orleans on Les Oignons, a tune cut by, among others, the great Crescent City clarinetist and saxophonist Sidney Bechet in 1949. Rudd was introduced to Doucet, along with Merchant and several of the other Alligator Purse guests, in 2005 at a benefit called Build the Levee designed to help victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“He was kind of reticent at first,” Doucet said of Rudd and his involvement with Alligator Purse. “He didn’t want to rehearse much. But in the studio, we had the best of times.”

While these sounds, songs and friends make Alligator Purse a worthy addition to a remarkably consistent recording catalog, the full joy of BeauSoleil is never fully unleashed until it locates an environment with a stage and a dance floor.

“There is always that exictement,” Doucet said of when a BeauSoleil concert commences. “But for me, it’s never better than when people are dancing. When everyone is involved in this big, swirling room, it just lets you loose. And as long as people keep digging it, we’ll still be doing it.”

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet performs at 7 p.m. Monday at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 252-8888.

his rocket has arrived

jason mraz. photo by justin ruhl.

jason mraz. photo by justin ruhl.

It was almost five years ago that Jason Mraz last stepped on a Lexington stage.

At the time, the folk-pop songsmith was beginning to wind down after a year of touring that introduced his relentlessly sunny tunes by way of a hit debut album titled Waiting for My Rocket to Come.

The performance was offered as freebie at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall for students during what is commonly called “dead week” – the brief purgatory between the end of classes and the beginning of finals. But judging by the bright vibes emanating from Mraz’s music, summer had already begun.

On Sunday, Mraz returns to UK. He’s a much bigger deal now with a wildly popular third album called We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things and an inescapable, tropically flavored radio hit, I’m Yours.

Needless to say, Mraz will be playing a vastly larger room this time, too. Instead of Memorial Hall, he is headed for a sold out performance at Memorial Coliseum.

But the mood of the music will be the same. In a phone conversation last week from Melbourne, Australia – a region where We Sing conquered the charts as readily as it did in North America, the singer confessed he sings his songs the same way he lives his life – with a ton of sunshine.

“It’s a reflection of my own demeanor because that’s how I choose to live,” Mraz said. “I practice gratitude for every little thing that I can. But it is a practice. It’s a challenge. I’m human. So some days you do wake up with the blues and you’ve got to figure out how to fix that.

“It’s through those life practices that I keep positive and upbeat. This is what has trickled into my music. If I discover something that helps me stay refreshed and loving, then I can’t wait to put that into my music.”

A Virginia native of Czech descent, Mraz briefly studied musical theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy before moving again to Southern California. After settling in San Diego, he began showcasing songs in local coffeehouses. Waiting for My Rocket to Come was released in 2002 with Mr. A-Z following in 2005. And with those recordings came touring. Tons of it – so much, in fact, that Mraz disconnected for nearly a year from the road before making We Sing.

“I was basically on the verge of, well, boredom from having toured so much,” he said. “I also wasn’t sure what I was going to be writing about next. Tour life is great. But I feel I need real life experience if I’m going to be making a new record. I didn’t want to write like a songwriter who exists only in the music industry. So I took that break so I could go live my life somewhere, somehow.

“But I also went back to the coffeehouses I used to play in San Diego and began playing there again every Sunday night for that entire year off so I could still keep music in my life and keep the challenges as writer and performer present. The rest of the week I was writing, recording, surfing, working on my garden, raising my cat and enjoying everything I worked for.”

But before work began on We Sing, Mraz considered reworking a song he had issued in 2005 on the EP disc Extra Credit. As reflective as any tune Mraz had cut in the past of the sunny optimism that pervades his music, it had already become a concert highlight. The song was an acoustic based reverie called I’m Yours. Over the course of a year – from February 2008 to February 2009 – it topped or nearly topped almost a dozen different music industry charts.

“For me, when I analyze it, I can hear myself letting go on that song,” Mraz said. “The whole song happened in a spontaneous moment – probably in about 20 or 30 minutes. Then I recorded it quickly. I refer to still it as my happy little hippie song. So I said, ‘This is nice. This will be fun to play live.’ And that was it. I left it at that and it just grew.

“What I was able to watch from the stage every night was that people would sing it to each other. That’s when I knew it was much bigger than me. Wherever those words came from, the song resonates with a lot of people. It’s not a song that you have to a Jason Mraz fan to understand.”

Jason Mraz performs at 8 p.m. April 26 at the University of Kentucky Memorial Coliseum. The concert is sold out.

in performance: habib koite

habib koite

habib koite

Early into his two-set performance last night at Berea College’s Phelps-Stokes Auditorium, the celebrated Malian singer/guitarist Habib Koite confessed the word “Berea” in his native Bambara language translated into “a piece of wood.”

Not exactly the icebreaker of the year. But while his remarks may have only elicited a few chuckles from the curious audience, the light but heavily atmospheric rhythms Koite created were immediately inviting. Within the performance’s opening minutes, a pack of students at the stage right corner of the auditorium were dancing with the sort of abandon one might witness at a Dave Matthews Band concert. But the communion went much further than that.

After strolling into the audience to offer an up-close glimpse of acoustic guitarwork that matched lyrical West African accents with almost jazz-like phrasing, Koite met up with a half-dozen or so children dancing near the students. The singer then fell to his knees so as to meet his very young audience at eye level. The exchanges were priceless. From the children came merry hesitancy and then blissful acceptance, as though they had been given official permission to dance like living cartoons. From Koite, the electric smile he flashed as he played to his newly won fans told the whole story.

For everyone else, the music Koite and his five member Bamada band summoned was immensely accessible. The rhythms were led by Koite’s guitarwork, but augmented by the marimba-like balafon and, during the second set, violin (both played with understated authority by Keletigui Diabate) along accents of talking drums and tama (from Mahammadou Kone).

That the resulting sound was so audience friendly was something of a surprise. Often ethnic music is heavily Western-ized or dolled up with pop confections to make it agreeable to an unsuspecting crowd. Admittedly, Koite’s songs are homogenous to a point. But the influences didn’t seem to go further north last night than Spain or further West than the Caribbean.

As a result, tunes like Africa and Fimani offered sunny but serious grooves that neatly underscored the chant-like punctuation of Koite’s singing. And, yes, by evening’s end, Koite even discovered a talking point that trumped Berea’s “wooden” translation – namely, his band’s accommodations at the recently reopened Boone Tavern.

“It sure is not like Motel 6,” Koite commented. And so it was that Mali and Berea were able to share some of their greatest cultural riches with each other.

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the soul of another culture

habib koite

malian singer/guitarist habib koite performs tonight at berea college.

Perhaps the most immediate and obvious question that surfaces when Habib Koite performs on American stages is one of language. How can one of today’s top selling world music artists communicate when he sings almost exclusively in Bambara, the principal language of his Malian homeland, and French?

For Koite (pronounced kwa-tee), who performs a free convocation concert Thursday at Berea College, such seeming obstacles are almost second nature. Once his current United States tour concludes this weekend, the singer, guitarist and bandleader will head overseas for spring performances in Switzerland, Germany, Zimbabwe, The Netherlands, Belgium, Algeria and Poland.

Performing in so many countries in such rapid succession with rhythms that mix African tradition and melodic innovation means the world can’t help but become a smaller, more conversational place.

“The question I sometimes ask myself is, ‘Why do people continue to come to hear me?’ Koite said. “But it’s great. It’s great. I’ve discovered people always want to meet other cultures. Some people come for the melodies. Some come for the rhythms, to feel the soul of this culture. They come to travel through the music.”

A native of Senegal, Koite grew up in Mali versed in the musical tradition of the storytelling, nomadic griots. While Koite’s music reveals strong griot influences, it is more a product of the various cultures in and around Mali. Dubbed “pan-Malian” by some writers, the lightness of percussive and melodic colors also suggest flamenco and Afro-Cuban music.

The flamenco references are especially prominent in the way Koite plays guitar. He uses open tunings that simulate the kamale n’goni, a small, four stringed instrument favored as much by hunters as musicians in Mali. Koite’s singing echoes the string’s understated but pronounced lyrical drive.

Such inspirations abound on Koite’s most recent recording, a 2007 Cumbancha release titled Afriki (the Bambara translation for Africa).

“I was born in Senegal, but I heard many kinds of ethnic music in Mali,” Koite said. “I was very curious growing up to meet the music of my country. Much of it was in different ethnic languages. So when I started to play Malian music, it wasn’t too easy for me. But I had a good ear. I listened very well.

“But if I wanted to take the music from these spots, I needed to learn some of their language. I wanted the respect of those speaking that language. I wanted the people of these spots to be proud of the music I do. With some of the (traditional) songs, translating the lyrics was not easy. But it is the job I do. I don’t do it for one person. I do it for many people who come to hear me.”

In and out of Mali, Koite has picked up important musical allies. He received his introduction to major musical festivals by playing alongside the acclaimed Malian kora master Toumani Diabate in the early ‘90s. Later in the decade, he was featured on a tour assembled by the world music record label Putumayo dubbed Acoustic Africa that also featured South African vocal star and activist Vusi Mahlasela. But Koite has also been championed by such American music celebrities as Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.

“I don’t sing in English, but I’m all the time invited by countries where it is spoken to play there,” Koite said. “I find the spirit of these people to be very open.

“When I open my eyes, I see my world. The people all come from different countries, but they stay together and learn many things from each other. They are always open to meeting others who don’t come from their own culture.

“That’s the common point in the world I see – the people who come to meet people.”

Habib Koite and Bamada performs at 8 tonight at the Phelps-Stokes Auditorium of Berea College. Admission is free. Call (859) 985-3000.

critic’s pick 68

In the notes to Five Peace Band, one of his three new collaborative concert recordings, Chick Corea writes that the music within is “humbly offered (but not so humbly played).” What a telling phrase for such an ageless musical thrillseeker.

return to forever: returns

return to forever: returns

Reuniting Corea with the acclaimed quartet version of Return to Forever, the band that became a defining ensemble voice for ‘70s fusion music, is Returns. When the keyboardist reteamed with bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al DiMeola and drummer Lenny White last summer, RTF became a jazz reunion of arena-rock proportions. That seemed only fitting, as much of the playing on Returns is driving and spacious enough to fill the largest of music rooms.

While there is an overall leaner band sound on Returns than on RTF’s seminal mid ‘70s records, a luxuriant electricity dominates the music, as on the dark synthesized hum of Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant and the muscular funk of Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. But Returns is best when it pulls free of the past, as in the way DiMeola’s acoustic guitar medley is bookended by bright duets with Corea on piano or when White’s Sorceress breaks down into a slow blues and boogie grind. It all makes for a fusion reunion that defuses weighty nostalgia to stand more as an electric communion among old friends.

corea/mclaughlin: five peace band

corea/mclaughlin: five peace band

Five Peace Band, which hits stores next week, is essentially a project pairing Corea with another fusion forefather, guitarist John McLaughlin. But this concert compilation of an inaugural European tour last fall isn’t as indulgent as such an alliance might suggest.

McLaughlin fires off warp speed guitar runs during the opening Raju to remind you he is the colossus that led the Mahavishnu Orchestra while Corea was plugged in with RTF. But the ferocity soon spreads out. Once the fire reaches saxophonist Kenny Garrett, the fusion fades and a torrent of hard bop ensues. Corea is the commando here, though. His new 27 minute opus Hymn to Andromeda unfolds with dark piano rumbles and the colors of all-star bassist Christian McBride before all of the Peace-makers get to stretch out.

The spirit of Miles Davis (an employer of Corea and McLaughlin in the ‘60s and of Garrett starting in the late ‘80s) is summoned for the swing and bounce of Jackie McLean’s Dr. Jackle. But on the mix of the pastoral In a Silent Way and the groove laden It’s About That Time, with McLaughlin finally in the driver’s seat, the Five Peace Band reaches for the riot gear with a jam that is loose, jagged and wildly soulful.

chick and hiromi: duet

chick and hiromi: duet

The mood lightens for Duet, the aptly named piano summit between Corea and Japanese keyboard sensation Hiromi Uehara (billed here as simply “Chick and Hiromi”) recorded at the Blue Note in Tokyo. Uehara isn’t as industrious a foil as McLaughlin or the rest of RTF. But she unlocks a lighter yet still intuitive spark in Corea’s playing, whether the duo is tackling standards by Bill Evans and Antonio Carlos Jobim or neglected Corea works (especially the gorgeously impressionistic glimpses of Old Castle).

Within this often contemplative piano dialogue sits a few delicious imperfections – namely, the tinkling of glasses in the background that reminds you Duet was cut not in concert hall like Returns and Five Peace Band, but in a jazz club. And that is indeed a humbling accent to an epic piano sound.

in performance: the flatlanders

the flatlanders: butch hancock, joe ely, jimmie dale gilmore.

the flatlanders: butch hancock, joe ely, jimmie dale gilmore.

When it came to summarizing the topography of the Lubbock terrain that became home for The Flatlanders, Joe Ely evoked a quote last night from another famed Lone Star songsmith, Terry Allen.

The latter claimed “if you look far enough, you can see the back of your head.”

Of course, such commentary was offered as explanation at the weekly taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre for how the all-star Texas trio of Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore earned their name. But whether intended or not, there was something more telling about Allen’s remark as its related to The Flatlanders as opposed to Lubbock itself. Judging by its WoodSongs set, which devoted seven of nine songs to music from the trio’s fine new Hills and Valleys album, The Flatlanders could see into your head but good.

The new material revealed an unavoidable restlessness and reckoning last night. It was fairly obvious in the modern day Dust Bowl imagery of the set-opening Homeland Refugee. “For everything this world is worth, we’re just migrants on this earth,” sang Ely in a voice of eery, almost dusty calm.

But during Gilmore’s lead on After the Storm, things really turned inward. Still armed with a voice full of plaintive, almost desolate reflection, he sang of love and loss. But that seemed almost requisite. The song centered on complete displacement, of a life emptied. “Still waiting for the help that never came,” Gilmore sang. What a line. What a delivery.

Hancock’s performances were more anecdotal, whether it was through the refreshingly unsentimental Thank God for the Road and its regal borderline charm or the way he replicated giddy Tex Mex accordion accents on harmonica under Gilmore’s vocals during No Way I’ll Never Need You.

Woody Guthrie’s Sowing on the Mountain balanced the folk reverence with a hint of Armageddon, although the way the three singers traded verses made the tune seem more like a back porch testimonial.

The evening concluded with a nod to the patron saint of progressive Texas Americana music, Townes Van Zandt. And, sure enough, his White Freightliner Blues abounded with images of escape (“I’m goin’ out on the highway; listen to them big trucks whine”). But the sense of modest abandonment surrounding The Flatlancders’ performance – which was nicely enhanced, as was the entire set, by Rob Gjersoe’s ultra tasteful guitarwork – pinpointed the celebratory roadhouse feel Van Zandt also packed into the tune.

In the end, something else seemed to ring true about the Allen quote. If you can indeed see all the way to the back of your head from the streets of Lubbock, then you can see clear around the globe, to boot. Last night, The Flatlanders may have employed the poetic devices of master Texas songwriters. But the wonderful songs they showcased couldn’t have been more worldly.

The Flatlanders perform again at 8 tonight at The Southgate House, 23 East Third St. in Newport. Jenny Scheinman will open. Tickets are $25. Call (859) 431-2201.

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