Archive for August, 2010

the original kentucky thunder

ricky skaggs. photo by erick anderson.

ricky skaggs. photo by erick anderson.

It is perhaps an inevitable confession that comes with most every Ricky Skaggs concert these days – the admission that the majority of the world class acoustic pickers in his Kentucky Thunder band are actually from Tennessee.

No one on hand at last month’s HullabaLOU Festival at Churchill Downs seemed to mind, though. They knew the kind of roots Skaggs has in bluegrass music as well as within the Bluegrass state.

The Lawrence County native has been an accepted member of the Nashville country and bluegrass communities ever since he took a vital role in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band over three decades ago. That led to a solo hitmaking career that kept Skaggs on the country charts throughout the ‘80s and much of the ‘90s. That career, which earned him eight Country Music Association awards, also sported collaborations with such seemingly disparate artists as Bill Monroe and Elvis Costello.

Skaggs has never strayed far from his Kentucky heritage, though. His roots were proudly displayed in the vital string music he helped create in Lexington during the ‘70s with one of J.D. Crowe’s most celebrated New South lineups and, subsequently, the bluegrass band Boone Creek he co-led with dobro ace (and fellow Crowe alum/current Alison Krauss ally) Jerry Douglas.

So Kentucky Thunder it was and still is. Throughout the HullabaLOU set, which was performed in the midst of stifling early evening heat, Skaggs nimbly sifted through not only his own string music inspirations, but those of his expert players. Hearing him and his band ignite the Appalachian folk epic Cumberland Gap and embrace the sterling bluegrass stride of the Stanley Brothers’ I Hear a Choo Choo was a delight. But having Skaggs ride down some Django Reinhardt-inspired swing detours instigated by Kentucky Thunder fiddler Andy Leftwich was equally engaging.

The result was a performance from one of bluegrass/country’s most prolific artists. But it stands as merely one chapter in a career that has continually thrived on stylistic variety and musical daring.

Take, for instance, Skaggs’ new Mosaic album. It’s a not bluegrass record at all, but a spiritually-inclined work with heavy folk, rock, orchestral and even Celtic overtones. And to show he has plenty of pull in the pop world, Skaggs even enlists Peter Frampton for a suitably electric guitar break on My Cup Runneth Over.

Rewind to last year, though, and Skaggs was working in entirely different musical company – a company, in fact, of one. On the splendid Songs My Dad Loved, he recorded 13 tunes with varying shades of folk, bluegrass and country tradition in entirely solo (though frequently overdubbed) settings. Some tunes were penned by iconic songsmiths like Ralph Stanley and Roy Acuff. Several were purely traditional. A few were originals. All were recorded with Skaggs playing mandolin, banjo, bass, piano, guitar, mandocello and, on the sublime Colonel Prentiss, fiddle.

Those thirsting for recorded evidence of the studio fun Skaggs can conjure with Kentucky Thunder have several recent recordings to choose from. A personal favorite is 2006’s Instrumentals, which explores not only the Celtic and country influences that have helped trigger bluegrass but some of the jazz-inspired improvisational music that has come in its wake.

This leads us up to tonight’s Skaggs concerts at the Leeds in Winchester. Both are benefit performances for the Salvation Army’s Clark County Service Unit.

Indoor Thunder? No blazing Churchill Downs temps? Hearing one of bluegrass/country’s all-time greats in an intimate, indoor setting while doing some community good in the process? Sign me up for that. 

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder perform at 7 and 9:30 tonight at the Leeds Center for the Arts, 37 N. Main St. in Winchester. $30. Call (859) 771-9612.

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looking to fall: buster’s

sharon jones and the dap kings.

sharon jones and the dap kings.

We continue our look at the many sounds heading our way this fall by visiting the Distillery District where the spacious Buster’s Billiards and Backroom at 899 Manchester St. will be celebrating its first anniversary next month.

Buster’s will have the distinction of several firsts this fall – specifically, local debut concerts by Sharon Jones, The Hold Steady and Citizen Cope. More shows will be added to the club’s calendar regularly. But here’s the roundup of what will be on tap as the fall sets in.

For more info, go to or call (859) 368-8871.

September 1 – Disco Biscuits – The Philadelphia based jam band specializes in blending modern shades of electronica (trance, ambient and more) with organic indie rock grooves and, in the case of its recent Planet Anthem album, hip hop.

September 4: Chris Knight – The Pride of Slaughters, Kentucky is a consistent local draw with a devout Americana music following and a knack for dark, rural storytelling that puts him in the league of Steve Earle and John Mellencamp.

September 16: Big Head Todd and the Monsters – The veteran Denver rock troupe has shown remarkable staying power ever since its Sister Sweetly album became a staple of rock radio in the early ’90s. The band’s newest monster is the groove savvy Rocksteady.

September 17: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – For my money, this should be the hit of the fall. Jones is the new-generation voice of old-school soul with the horn-happy Dap Kings and a killer new album, I Learned the Hard Way, backing up her boasting.

the hold steady

the hold steady

September 29: The Hold Steady – Also out of Brooklyn is another Lexington debut. Hold Steady singer Craig Finn’s character-driven songs helped make Stay Positive a breakthrough album for his band in 2008. The new Heaven is Whenever is more studiously wistful, though.

October 12: Citizen Cope – Hey, is there a trend starting here? Renegade folkster Clarence Greenwood, aka Citizen Cope, hails from Brooklyn, too. Mostly, though, he has been a favorite of Louisville audiences and is just now getting around to playing Lexington.

robert randolph

robert randolph

October 1: Dave Barnes – A modern pop-soul stylist from the South (Nashville by way of South Carolina and Mississippi), Barnes’ popularity runs from indie pop to contemporary Christian circles. The title tune to his What We Want, What We Get album typlifies Barnes’ summery songs.

October 17:  Robert Randolph and the Family Band – Finally, the master of sacred steel music returns to Lexington. Randolph’s spiritual weapon is the pedal steel guitar, which he transforms into an instrument of pure electric jubilation.

critic's pick 137

A full decade has passed since we’ve had to meddle with the term Y2K. But thanks to the ever industrious Warren Haynes, we get to relive the changing of the millennium all over again by way of a glorious archival set from his blues and boogie fortified jam band Gov’t Mule.

Titled – what else? – Mulennium, this mammoth, three-disc live album takes us to the stage of The Roxy in Atlanta for a performance packed with surprise tunes and surprise guests. But it’s mostly another exemplary live session that chronicles not only Haynes’ typically resourceful guitarwork but his seemingly boundless love of all things rock ‘n’ roll. He is a vigorous soldier for his own versed sound. But as the millennium hits and Mulennium unfolds, we are also reintroduced to the often scholarly detail he provides the music and musicians around him.

For instance, Mulennium‘s second disc features a solid half dozen tunes with Little Milton. The Mississippi-born blues and soul great was 65 at the time of this performance (he died in 2005). Yet he sounds robustly youthful on Blues is Alright and sagely intense on I Can’t Quit You Baby. It’s also a riot to hear Haynes rip into It Hurts Me Too with Milton at his side. This multi-generational blues exchange is alone reason enough to pick up Mulennium.

But the fun hardly stops there. A half-dozen Mule originals that peak with a soulful and solemn rendition of Life Before Insanity open disc one. The lean, guttural jams that result remind us of the strength of the band’s original trio lineup (rounded out by drummer Matt Abts and bassist Allen Woody). But the songs are also a set up for the inevitable midnight countdown.

When 2000 arrives, Haynes celebrates not with one his own works, but with an ultra respectful cover of the King Crimson prog-psychedelic classic 21st Century Schizoid Man, complete with blissfully distorted vocals. This isn’t just some retro rock party piece decked out for the occasion. Haynes’ cover is an out-and-out tribute, a further reflection of his schooled musical roots.

The third disc is even more cover-savvy but looser. It’s also disturbingly fortuitous. Eight months after the concert, Woody would be dead. Further down the road, Bottle Rockets bassist Robert Kearns, who helps out on Mulennium during a show-closing version of Lynyrd Skynrd’s Simple Man, would join the warhorse Southern rock band after its bassist died.

But the music of Mulennium existed before all of that. Today, it stands as both a hopeful, guitar charged document from an ever-crafty rock troupe and a richly celebratory overview from its peerless leader.

That fitness DVD may not be fit for you prana power yoga

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India) May 27, 2010 New Delhi, May. 27 — Before you head for the market to pick up a fitness DVD – in all likelihood endorsed by your favourite B-town beauty – think again. Giving the trend a resounding thumbs down, experts say different individuals have different needs and it is always wiser to consult instructors in person.

“A good yoga master knows which techniques can be safely taught via DVDs and which ones need supervision. I would personally never teach certain things on DVD as I know the problems one may face while doing difficult postures or very powerful breathing techniques,” celebrity yoga guru Bharat Thakur told IANS.

“As far as learning yoga from celebrities goes, it is like learning acting from me! I would advise against it,” he added.

Fitness expert Tasneem Zaki says DVDs can teach you the basics, but no two individuals are the same and require different sets of training.

“Not every workout is meant for every person. So when a client comes to me, I chalk out a fitness plan for him depending on his fitness levels and fat percentage. What would have worked for Bipasha Basu might not work for some other person,” said Tasneem.

Hollywood veteran Jane Fonda was the first to start the trend by releasing her maiden workout videotape in 1982 and after that a lot of Hollywood celebrities like Jessica Simpson and Carmen Electra have come out with their fitness videos.

In the last two years, some Bollywood beauties have also ventured to do the same — Shilpa Shetty was the first, then Bipasha followed and now item girl Sherlyn Chopra has joined the bandwagon with her fitness DVD.

The demand for fitness DVDs shot up after Kareena Kapoor acquired size zero for “Tashan” (2008) and gave credit to “power yoga” for her extra slim figure.

Delhi-based yoga instructor Zubin Atre says he has been getting unlimited inquiries from people who want to try “power yoga”.

“People don’t know what power yoga is but they will come to me asking to be taught power yoga because Kareena Kapoor swears by it and has lost oodles of weight,” said Atre.

In a way, Atre sees it as a positive change because people are now focussing on their fitness, courtesy these celebrities.

“In India, even though we have got yoga in legacy, the art form has reached out to people because of celebrities as they present yoga and fitness in a glamorous way,” said Atre.

But Noida-based yoga instructor Vineeta Gogia feels otherwise and says celebrities are not giving the right information about yoga.

“If you have observed, all these celebrities already have well-toned bodies and then they launch these fitness DVDs, raising the expectations of people from yoga and fitness centres,” explained Gogia. website prana power yoga

“They know their target audience and to cash in on it, they launch such videos,” she added.

So, are these DVDs mere marketing gimmicks?

“Let’s be honest. Today marketing and branding is the king. Granted that false expectations will happen, but the positive side is it motivates people to take up an ancient Indian health regime that is showing its benefit all over the world,” said Thakur.

“Yoga is also a business like any other and it is subject to the same pitfalls as any other product or service. I would ask people to learn from someone who has proved himself and someone they can trust. Yoga can tone up your body and it also helps in losing weight,” he added.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indo-Asian News Service. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at 123

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in performance: herbie hancock

herbie hancock.

herbie hancock.

In a somewhat expected promotional move, Herbie Hancock modeled his first regional electric music performance in decades after his newest album, The Imagine Project. It’s a suitably diverse recording that mixes genres and nationalities as readily as it does vocalists and composers. Its credo, Hancock told last night’s audience at Louisville’s Brown Theatre, was “peace through global collaboration.”

A fine sentiment, indeed, even if the cast of cross-cultural characters was pared down during the two hour-plus performance to Hancock, his five-member band and a few sampled effects from the recording itself. While the latter didn’t figure into play too prominently, there was major strength in the live participants.

Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes wailed like a West Coast Sam Cooke on A Change is Gonna Come while singer/violinist Kristina Train helped the ensemble loosen up with a decidedly Delta groove during the forgotten Joe Cocker hit Space Captain. The two vocalists also teamed for a nicely atmospheric duet take on Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up.

But when it came time to uncork the past, the concert could have well been titled The Re-Imagine Project. With Phillinganes as an able second keyboardist, Hancock was free to fortify the show-opening fusion nugget Actual Proof with limber runs on grand piano that fed off the rockish drive of drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.

Then there were the quieter, almost pastoral passages on piano that Hancock used as preludes for Court and Spark (the only tune performed from his Grammy winning River: The Joni Letters album) and, in longer form, a melody of tunes predominantly pulled from his ‘60s Blue Note albums. Snippets of Dolphin Dance and Speak Like a Child nicely bookended a lushly orchestrated Round Midnight while 1964’s ultra cool Cantaloupe Island was spruced up with crisp rhythmic turns by Colaiuta and substitute bassist Pino Palladino (on loan from The Who, no less).

The funk staple Chameleon still laid out the game plan best with its fat, synthesized bass hook and jubilant keyboard colors. Playing it last night as an encore, the 70 year old Hancock was all smiles, locking in again to that global party groove that has been at his fingertips for ages.

richie hayward (1946-2010)

little feat in 2008: bill payne, richie hayward, kenny gradney, fred tackett, paul barrere and sam clayton.

little feat in 2008: bill payne, richie hayward, kenny gradney, fred tackett, paul barrere and sam clayton.

Up until this time last year, Little Feat always had Richie Hayward to rely on. You could say, with all puns and good intentions withstanding, he served as the very legs of Little Feat. Whether it was through the elemental and often askew rock the veteran West Coast band delivered as a quartet in the early ‘70s or the denser, funkier, jazzier and altogether larger music it created from 1973 on, Hayward provided Little Feat much of its very might.

In August 2009, Hayward bowed quietly out of the group after being diagnosed with liver cancer. His intentions were to regain his heath and return to the band he helped pilot for so long. Sadly, that never happened. Hayward died from complications from pneumonia on Thursday. He was 64.

richie hayward

richie hayward

Usually, when one reflects back upon a decades-long career, selecting a single highlight is nigh-impossible. But my Hayward highlight lights up like a neon Christmas tree every time I think about it. It’s the live version of the Lowell George epic Fat Man in the Bathtub released on 1978’s Waiting for Columbus album. Mischievous percussion and chunky guitar riffs introduce the performance, hinting at the groove to come. Then Hayward enters with all guns blasting. He thunders away with a second-line beat that sends these LA rockers straight to New Orleans. This may be the single greatest recorded tune in the entire Little Feat catalog.

A distant second choice: 1977’s Day at the Dog Races, a very atypical Feat excursion from Time Loves a Hero that distanced itself from George’s mentoring vision and authoritatively approximated ‘70s era jazz fusion. Hayward was cool and confident within every tricky groove.

While Little Feat was Hayward’s priority and passion, he worked regularly outside of the group. During the eight year period Little Feat had disbanded following George’s death, the drummer wound up with several intriguing projects. A personal favorite was Robert Plant’s underrated 1985 solo album Shaken ‘N’ Stirred.

Little Feat comes knocking in Lexington again soon. They will open the Alltech Fortnight Festival, the primary performance arm of the World Equestrian Games, with an Opera House concert on Sept. 23. Hayward’s drum tech, Gabe Ford, now mans the drum chair. Obviously, it won’t be the same. But just as George’s spirit will always have its place in the band’s celebratory sound, so will Hayward’s jubilant beat be part of the drive keeping Little Feat forever on the rock ‘n roll good foot.

summer album of the week 08/14/10

herbie hancock: man-child (released august 1975)

herbie hancock: man-child (released august 1975)

In honor of Sunday’s Herbie Hancock concert in Louisville, we offer this little gem. Admittedly, in the scope of Hancock’s prolific and adventuresome career, an album like Man-Child is understandably underappreciated. Released in the thick of the keyboardist’s funk and fusion period, it possessed neither the spaciousness of his sublime Warner Brothers records nor the electric innovations that drove the groundbreaking Head Hunters. And let’s not even get into comparing Man-Child to Hancock’s extraordinary Blue Note jazz albums of the ‘60s. But popping Man-Child into the car stereo during a recent summer road trip revealed all kinds of delights. The opening Hang Up Your Hang Ups (still a cool title) is indicative of the mood with its punctuated guitar hook, killer horn chorus and keyboard colors that both ignite the tune’s groove while orchestrating its sleek melody. A jazz masterwork? Not at all. A slice of sunny instrumental funk ideal for summer fun? Absolutely.

Groupon sues sales staff who quit to join Google

The Independent (London, England) October 26, 2011 | STEPHEN FOLEY Google made a $6bn takeover offer for Groupon last winter but, when that was rebuffed, it set up its rival “daily deals” service called Google Offers – and, according to a lawsuit filed in a Chicago court, poached two key managers who left Groupon in September with confidential information. Michael Nolan, who worked for Groupon for two years, and Brian Hanna, who joined in January, are the subject of the lawsuit. Both worked in Chicago. Google is not a defendant. in our site groupon sandiego

“In their new positions with Google Offers and/or Google, Hanna and Nolan will provide the same or similar services as they provided at Groupon” requiring them “to employ confidential and proprietary information that they learned while employed at Groupon”, according to the complaint. site groupon sandiego

Groupon is seeking a court order to prevent its former employees disclosing information such as customer lists and sales and marketing plans that it says would “irreparably” harm the company if used.

Google, with its huge sales and marketing infrastructure, represents one of the most serious competitors to Groupon, which has seen an explosion in the number of copycat firms.

Concern about the competitive landscape is dogging Groupon’s attempt to float its shares in the US. It said last week it planned to raise up to $540m at a price that values the company at $11.4bn.


the maiden voyager at 70

herbie hancock. photo by eamonn mccabe.

herbie hancock. photo by eamonn mccabe.

A pronounced air of anticipation follows Herbie Hancock wherever he performs. Mostly, that’s because unless one examines the program notes for his concerts beforehand, we never really know which Herbie is going to hit the stage.

Will it be the artfully industrious pianist and composer who cut numerous groundbreaking solo albums for the Blue Note label, including 1965’s still-extraordinary Maiden Voyage, in and around his ’60s tenure with Miles Davis’ legendary quintet?

Will it be the funk/fusion architect who pioneered new voices for jazz phrasing with his electric Head Hunters album in the ‘70s and again with street savvy turntable music via Rockit in the ‘80s?

Or perhaps it might be the multi-generational, Grammy-winning jazz journeyman whose recent studio albums have enlisted numerous star vocalists to forge new voices for jazz, pop, soul and world music.

Before settling all of that, we should probably point out that the single most anticipated aspect of Hancock’s Sunday performance in Louisville is that it’s even happening. The show was announced with little fanfare in the middle of the summer. Almost no word of the concert has snuck down to Lexington.

That’s astonishing because Hancock has been especially visible in recent years, beginning with his surprising Album of the Year win at the Grammys in 2008 for his Joni Mitchell tribute album River: The Joni Letters.

But the fanfare has been especially strong this year. Hancock turned 70 in April and kicked off celebrations that included a massive tribute concert at Carnegie Hall titled Herbie Hancock: Seven Decades – The Birthday Celebration. Its guest list boasted longtime jazz pals Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette as well as the husband-and-wife rock-and-soul team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. The program will be repeated at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 1. – an apt booking as Hancock, among his many current musical duties, serves as Creative Chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In between the festivities, there has been, of course, work – namely an ongoing world tour with Hancock’s current band of guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, second keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and singer Kristina Train.

So having Hancock slip into Louisville on Sunday with so little fanfare is pretty remarkable. This will mark his first Kentucky outing since a sold out November 2003 concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts. That show was notable because it fell one night before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played Rupp Arena. Several E Streeters, in fact, were heavily rumored to have part of that audience.

Sunday will also be the first time Hancock has played a predominantly electric show since a September 1976 outing at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum – a performance given when Hancock was still very much at the forefront a new generation jazz fusion movement.

So that leads us back to our original question. Which Herbie will play Louisville this weekend? The answer is, not surprisingly, all of them. Hancock is currently promoting his new album, The Imagine Project, which is far from a jazz project. But the piano orchestration coloring the album’s take on Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up more than once brings Maiden Voyage to mind.

Additionally, Head Hunters classics like Chameleon have been popping up on setlists this summer. That means the fusion angle will be covered. And with Loueke, Phillinganes and Wilkenfeld juggling vocal duties with Train, there will be plenty of firepower for tunes from River and The Imagine Project.

So there you have it. Seven decades. Three Herbies. One evening. Be there.

Herbie Hancock performs at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway. $37.50, $57.50, $69.50. Call (502) 584-7777.

looking to fall: the norton center for the arts

There have, admittedly, been few suggestions of autumn in the stifling dog days of mid August. But having spent the last few evenings pouring over schedules of what will easily be the busiest concert autumn in recent memory, it seemed like a good idea to starting previewing and planning for what’s heading our way.

So over these next few weeks, The Musical Box will unwrap a few fall colors by looking briefly at the soon-to-be-colliding concert seasons at our doorstep.

We begin with the goings on this fall at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Newlin Hall at Centre College in Danville. While many other concert seasons this autumn will feature a striking number of Central Kentucky debut performances, the Norton Center is sticking primarily to the familiar with some very prominent returnees.

As always, the Norton Center’s season is rich in classical and dance offerings. We’re sticking to the pop entries here. For a glimpse of the venue’s full season, go to or call (800) 448-7469.

Here, at-a-glance, is what will be cooking in Danville starting in September.

frankie valli

frankie valli

+ Sept. 17: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – To some, Valli’s ageless stratospheric singing remains a cornerstone of radio pop from the 60s. But with the ongoing popularity of the Valli neo-biopic stage show Jersey Boys, the singer has become something of a Broadway celebrity, as well.

tony bennett

tony bennett

+ Oct. 4: Tony Bennett – The first of the Norton Center’s returning heroes. Bennett, who turned 84 last week, remains nothing less than a class act – a singer of boundless enthusiasm and beaming attitude. A jazz artist at heart, he is a masterful pop stylist whose singing is only outdistanced by his regal artistic taste.

punch brothers

punch brothers

+ Oct. 7: Punch Brothers – When this expert new generation string quintet played here last year, it commanded an audience that included Mark O’Connor, Scott Terrell and The Decemberists. Now aided by its sly new Antifogmatic album, there is no telling who will show up for the mix of bluegrass, jazz, pop and chamber inspirations.

aretha franklin

aretha franklin

+ Oct. 22: Aretha Franklin – Another major league returnee, Franklin remains soul music’s most enduring diva with a catalogue that includes Think, Respect and Chain of Fools. And, yes, the pairing of Sister Aretha with three hapless college youths in a recent Snickers commercial was comic genius.

al green

al green

+ Oct. 30: Al Green – Sunday morning meets Saturday night as Reverend Al returns to the Norton Center. As recently as last month, Green was in Louisville whipping up a soul revival at Churchill Downs’ HullabaLOU Festival with an R&B recasting of the Bee Gees’ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart that was steamier than the sweltering evening temps.

blue man group

blue man group

+ Nov. 22 and 23: Blue Man Group – New to the Norton Center but with two Rupp Arena shows to its credit, Blue Man Group continues to employ richly percussive beat music and unexpected cover tunes (like the Donna Summer disco hit I Feel Love) to color shows steeped in inventive theatricality and an alien-like sense of wonder.  

All performances will begin at 8 p.m. except for Franklin. Her showtime will be 8:30.

memoir of a gathering storm

Music DVDs tend to try my patience. Only seldom do they provide any serious clue to the intensity or innovations of an actual performance, operating instead as cloying snapshots. But in an historical context, when a great band from the past is presented in concert, DVDs become archival finds – unassuming keys into the workings of an artist.

And so we have a magnificent new find: a 1971 television performance presented initially for Germany’s famed Beat Club program by the groundbreaking jazz fusion ensemble Weather Report.

Titled simply Live in Hamburg 1971, it presents to us the earliest available live glimpse of the band. This was far from the beefy fusion and electronics showcase that marked Weather Report’s music, exemplary as it was, in the latter part of the decade. It instead presents a group that is less than a year old and still clinging to the atmospheric and heavily improvisational air initiated by Miles Davis’ landmark In a Silent Way album.

The DVD is a crisp video chronicle of what is nearly the band’s original lineup in concert. Only Airto Moreira is missing, having been recently replaced by the outstanding Dom Um Romao. In the Weather Report timeline, Live in Hamburg 1971 presents a band preparing its second album, I Sing the Body Electric, with a young Alphonse Mouzon nearing the end of his tenure. Czech-born Miroslav Vitous still handles bass – acoustic as well as electric – alongside the members who would become Weather Report’s chief meteorologists – keyboardist Josef Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (both veterans of In a Silent Way, by the way).

The Hamburg studio is stark and applause-less, providing the 48 minute performance with a profound intimacy, from Mouzon’s merry grooves on the opening Umbrellas to Shorter’s very studied lines on tenor and soprano saxophone during Waterfall. His solos eventually collide exquisitely with the organic grooves set forth by Vitous’ acoustic bass bounce and Rumao’s eager percussive chatter.

Zawinul, as always, is the wily one. His keyboard arsenal is limited mostly to Fender Rhodes piano, which provides a light but ominous ambience that bubbles like lava under the very Miles-esque propulsion of Seventh Arrow. But at the beginning the 10 churning minutes that make up the improvisations surrounding Dr. Honoris Causa, Zawinul summons darker, punctuated keyboard drive – an evil twin, almost to the Rhodes’ animated lyricism – that could pass for clavinet if the resulting music wasn’t so thick and, well, nasty.

Zawinul and Rumao have since left us. But their abundant musical cunning abounds on this magnificent bit of musical time tripping, a slice of artistic invention that lands us back in the eye of a jazz hurricane already in devilish, unstoppable motion.

critic’s pick 136

“I’m a seeker of the truth,” confesses Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. the longstanding New Orleans musical shaman known as Dr. John, at the end of his splendid new Tribal album. “And the truth is the answer to everything.”

This little prayer of peace, aptly titled A Place in the Sun, struts along with the cheery alto sax support of another great Crescent City musicmaker, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, to seal Tribal‘s glowing sense of hope. It’s a far cry from the Dr. John who all but went looking for scalps in Washington in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There is a still some political steam to blow off during Big Gap, although its attitude seems more socially/economically inclined. Then there’s Lissen at Our Prayer, but it’s more environmentally conscious (and written well ahead of this year’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico).

No, Tribal is a snapshot from a New Orleans on the mend. It borrows equally from the psychedelic gris-gris grit of early Dr. John albums like 1969’s Babylon (but with fewer leanings toward funk) and Rebennack’s underappreciated late ‘70s collaborations with the heralded songwriter Doc Pomus (in particular, 1978’s great City Lights).

What results is a record with an unmistakable New Orleans accent that is sleek as opposed to slick and exact as opposed to glossy.

The album opening Feel Good Music is exactly that – a sly but merry parable with a luscious, rolling piano line, percolating organ colors and neatly propulsive percussion. Rebennack still sings with voodoo relish, but the mood is warm and inviting.

Change of Heart is initially cooler and churchier in feel. But the rich layers of organ and gospel-like piano, along with Rebennack’s joyous singing, make for a divine blast of Crescent City R&B. Fittingly, Tribal is dedicated to the great Louisiana soul singer-songsmith (and longtime Rebennack pal) Bobby Charles, who died in January.

Curiously, some of Tribal‘s most immediate and emotive music is conjured on a track Rebennack doesn’t sing on. For Music Came, chant like vocals led by bassist David Barard recall the earthy ‘70s soul funk of Les McCann – only cooler and more percussive.

“Way down deep from the depths of sorrow, music came,” sings Barard in the tune’s chorus as Rebennack and, again, sax man Harrison, jam away in the background as though it was 1971.

What a fitting tribute – musically, as well as lyrically – to the resiliency of the New Orleans spirit. And what a beautifully typical sentiment to be shared by one of the city’s great cultural heroes whose respect and regard for his homeland remain proudly undiminished.

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