Archive for November, 2010

in performance: mindy smith

mindy smith.

mindy smith.

“Please don’t let my performance deter you from buying my records,” said Mindy Smith only half jokingly as her Lexington debut concert wound down last night before a full house at Natasha’s.

To be sure, the Nashville songsmith displayed something of a split personality onstage. The persona that counted – namely, the one singing – could not have been more arresting. The other? Well, we’ll get to that.

By her own admission, Smith is not the cheeriest of folk stylists. “Wanna hear some sad songs?” she asked the crowd early into the 95 minute performance. “Good. Because that’s pretty much all I know.”

While tunes like Love Lost borrows from the finest of folk’s love-gone-wrong traditions, her music often mined a more powerful sorrow for tales of isolation (a stately, almost righteously sad Raggedy Ann) and displacement (a gorgeous encore version of the title tune to 2006’s Long Island Shores album). Even the evening’s lone suggestion of salvation, the show-closing Come to Jesus was performed, much like Smith’s popular cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene that came a few songs earlier, as a ghost story with light vocals that wailed and cracked as if the merest of autumn breezes would scatter them.

In fact, if you gave this performance a blindfold test, Smith’s high, harrowing and often despondent singing would suggest you were listening to Shawn Colvin.

The show’s lone serving of pure warmth? A holiday original from Smith titled Santa Will Find You, which was performed with a far a more welcoming sense of faith than Come to Jesus.

Veer outside of the music, though, and the show was a bit of a train wreck. Smith has an unapologetically skittish demeanor onstage that took to adding amusing though often disjointed between-song stories when she wasn’t adjusting her guitar to what seemed, to her, unsatisfactory tunings.

It was kind of like taking a drive where you hit one red light after another. The musical scenery along the way was thoroughly absorbing. Then everything stopped. More tuning. More rambling narratives. The performance evened out more in its second half. But one still got the sense that accepting Smith’s music meant honoring all the performance quirks that came with it.

“This is me,” she commented to the audience. “This is how I really am.”

in performance: the branford marsalis quartet

branford marsalis. photo by palma kolansy.

branford marsalis. photo by palma kolansy.

“Many of you weren’t even zygotes the last time we played here,” remarked Branford Marsalis last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts, referencing the fact that he had not played on a Lexington stage since the fall of 1989.

But the veteran saxophonist and bandleader wasted little time is reconnecting with the Bluegrass. Fronting a quartet consisting of an old friend (pianist Joey Calderazzo), an older friend (bassist Robert Hurst, a band alum from the ‘80s and ‘90s who was subbing for regular bass man Eric Revis) and a young protégé (the wildly inventive 19 year old drummer Justin Faulkner), Marsalis offered a 90 minute set that touched on swing, muscular bop, occasional abstractions and some expert balladry. It was all wrapped up in a performance that was tight in its sense of ensemble interplay, commanding in its solo firepower yet playful in its overall delivery.

Nearly all of these elements came into play during Thelonious Monk’s Teo. The composition was a showcase for Marsalis’ huge but lustrous tenor sax tone, but it was Calderazzo who piloted the music with a bright, boppish stride on piano. While several works had the quartet racing at a brisk tempo (Jabberwocky, a rare glimpse of Marsalis playing alto sax, and another Monk standard, 52nd St. Theme, which closed the set), there were also instances where the ensemble reigned in the fireworks. Sort of.

On the extraordinary Calderazzo ballad The Blossom of Parting, the mood settled enough for a lovely soprano sax introduction. But Calderazzo nicely shifted gears, performing an unaccompanied solo first with his only his right hand and then with a soft, spacious counterpoint from his left. Marsalis then returned to bend the melodic framework just enough to bring the music to a near Coltrane-ish climax. The tune was rightly afforded a standing ovation.

And then there were the neatly accessible moments, like the slow tenor sax glow that wrapped around You Don’t Know What Love Is and the animated percussive strut that peppered the encore of It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). Both tunes helped balance the modest eccentricities of the evening (like the seemingly shape-shifting swing of the new Marsalis original Endemia) to make this long-absent jazz chieftain seem right at home.

the future of jazz: branford marsalis, pt. 2

branford marsalis. photo by palma kolansy.

branford marsalis. photo by palma kolansy.

Branford Marsalis is surprisingly generous in appraising the jazz he presented on record over the years. He gives high marks to his trio albums – especially 1991’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, the 1993 concert album Bloomington and 1996’s The Dark Keys. He also favors a pair of 2004 works – a CD/DVD recording of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and the splendid quartet album Eternal.

Also remembered favorably is the 1990 quartet recording Crazy People Music, a record Marsalis said captured a creative growth spurt. It remains a favorite of fans and prospective students, which Marsalis says isn’t always a good thing.

Crazy People Music was kind of a breakthrough record. We were starting to pull away from the typical post bop stuff. We weren’t really free of it yet, which is why when I go to universities, a lot of kids want to play songs from the record. It makes them feel comfortable. Well, one of my goals is to get them to a place where we’re playing music that doesn’t make them feel comfortable.

“For me, it was when I started listening to people like Ornette Coleman and certain elements of John Coltrane – things that didn’t make me feel comfortable at all – that I really started to expand as a musician.”

So what will be on Marsalis’ mind when he prefaces Saturday’s performance with a Friday master class for University of Kentucky students?

“We have an obligation to pass on information to younger people. I was raised to believe that. As long as students are diligent and serious, it’s all going to be cool. Ultimately, though, they can’t just ape everything that I do or say. They have to figure this stuff out for themselves.

“But I definitely want to give them perspectives that are different from the ones they’re used to.”

Asking Marsalis to examine the state of jazz music today is something akin to tapping a volcano.

He champions the players he performs with, which on Saturday will include longtime pianist Joey Calderazzo, the return of his ‘80s/’90s era bassist Robert Hurst (a fill-in for regular Marsalis Quintet bassist Eric Revis, who is performing this month in Europe with Kurt Rosenwinkel) and 19 year old Philadelphia drummer Justin Faulkner (who replaced Marsalis mainstay Jeff “Tain” Watts last year). But expand the question to the overall health of jazz and the saxophonist sees music increasingly devoid of one key characteristic – swing.

“I think the jazz scene is overrun by technocrats and the kind of technocratic thinking where the music is personal to the point of introversion.

“The feeling of swing was the one thing that kept jazz in line with popular culture because the swing beat came out of the period when jazz was dance music. Today, you have musicians using strange chords and chord sequences for music that has no groove. And then people wonder why laymen don’t like it.

“I made it a habit in my late 20s to talk to people who were maybe 25 years older than me that had gone to jazz concerts and asked them what they liked about them. And it was amazing some of the responses I got. Most of them were visceral. They talked about what they saw more than what they heard. And when they weren’t talking about what they saw – and this was very interesting to me – they talked about what they felt.

“You can read a lot of interviews with relatively successful jazz musicians right now and ‘how the music feels’ never comes up in conversation. It’s all guys talking about paradigms and five or seven note clusters and harmonic conversions.

“If that’s what the music has become, then, man, it’s hopeless.”

The Branford Marsalis Quartet performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are $28, $32, $37. Call: (859) 257-4929 or go to www.singletarytickets.com.

growing up in public: branford marsalis, pt. 1

branford marsalis.

branford marsalis.

From his touring days with the iconic drummer and bandleader Art Blakey three decades ago to his current work with his own quintet, Branford Marsalis has had a keen understanding of the relationship – or lack of same – between jazz and pop music.

There have been instances, of course, where he has flirted with the latter, as with his ‘80s and ‘90s collaborations with the ex-Police popster Sting. There was also a noted occasion where he attempted, briefly, to bring jazz – not watered down, pop-coated jazz, but seriously designed swing – to the very non-jazz environment of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as bandleader.

But at ago 50, having spent roughly 2/3 of his life growing up in public, Marsalis remains something of a jazz talisman. He remains proud of where it’s been and more than a bit wary of where it’s going.

“I was always very cognizant of the reality of where I was,” said Marsalis, who performs in Lexington for the first time in 21 years at the Singletary Center for the Arts on Saturday. “Even when I was doing interviews a long time ago, I did not foresee a formula by which you could use jazz to become pop culture relevant. That window had closed. But now I’m completely content with the decisions. That’s the legacy, post-Jay. If you make a decision to play the music, just play it.

“So it’s cool. It’s all cool.”

Marsalis hails from one of the most musically learned families in one of the most musically fertile regions of the country. His father is the celebrated pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis. His three younger brothers – trumpeter Wynton, drummer Jason and trombonist Delfeayo – are all acclaimed artists that have explored, honored and continually drawn from the musical traditions of their New Orleans upbringings to forge their own jazz voices.

A concert album released over the summer credited to The Marsalis Family titled Music Redeems, features a rare performance reunion of father and sons. The record also serves as a benefit for the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, an education facility designed to serve and nurture the next generation of New Orleans artists.

For the saxophonist, such family concert settings (another Marsalis Family recording was issued in 2007) are more about “the vibe” than the music and allow him to enjoy sibling relationships that are often very different than they were during childhood years.

“Delfeayo, for example, is five years younger than me,” the saxophonist said. “So by the time he entered high school, I was gone. High school years are very different. When you’re 14 years old, you don’t want to hang with your 9 year old brother. And when you’re 19 years old, you’re definitely not going to hang with 14 year old brother. So our relationship is more as adults than as kids.

“But these concerts are fun. The music is swinging and we’re all having a good time. There is a real symbiosis there. And it’s not just because we’re from the same family, but because we all learned to play in New Orleans the same kind of way.”

Following his early ‘80s tenure with Blakey, Marsalis took the saxophone spot in brother Wynton’s early quintet before devoting full time to his own music. Again, there were projects that detoured from jazz, like extensive world tours in 1985 and 1987 with Sting.

Ask Marsalis about his work at the time off the jazz bandstand and he is almost playfully critical.

“It’s cringe inducing, first of all. I recently walked into a UPS store – and stuff like this happens a lot now; it’s bizarre – and the young kid working there said, ‘I saw you on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (Marsalis once gave a cameo acting performance on an episode of the Will Smith comedy series). I said, ‘That wasn’t me.’ And they say, ‘It was you. I know it was you.’ I said, ‘Oh, it was me, but it wasn’t me. I’m not that guy anymore.'”

We will post the second part of our Branford Marsalis interview on Saturday. There he will discuss his past recordings, the state of jazz music today and the obligations of jazz education.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are $28, $32, $37. Call: (859) 257-4929 or go to www.singletarytickets.com.

seriously, though…

steve martin is heading to lexington next summer to play bluegrass in the bluegrass.

steve martin is heading to lexington next summer to play bluegrass in the bluegrass.

The Troubadour Concert Series is on a roll. Just a day after announcing Randy Newman’s first Lexington concert since 1978, we now have word the series is presenting Steve Martin’s first local performance since 1977.

But the famed comedian and actor is not playing this visit for laughs. The performance is part of an ongoing set of dates spotlighting Martin’s instrumental abilities on the 5 string banjo, his devotion to traditional bluegrass and his alliance with the sterling young string band known as the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Martin will perform music from his Grammy winning The Crow album on June 21, 2011. The concert’s venue is still to be announced as is all ticket and on-sale information.

A banjo player since his teens, Martin has steadily re-devoted himself to his music over the past decade. He partipated in an all-star jam session version of Foggy Mountain Breakdown for 2001’s Earl Scruggs and Friends album and introduced The Crow‘s title track to audiences on progressive banjoist Tony Trischka’s Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular  in 2007.

The Crow was released in 2009 and won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album last February.

Consumers Find More Ways to Save via Downloadable Coupons on Redplum.com.

Marketing Weekly News December 31, 2011 Valassis (NYSE: VCI), one of the nation’s leading media and marketing services companies,announced that coupon-to-card/ID functionality, delivered via its award-winning proprietary technology platform, has been extended to redplum.com where consumers can easily download coupons direct to their store card/ID good at nearly 20 regional grocery chains representing over 4,000 stores. freecouponsbymailnow.com free coupons by mail

On redplum.com, this functionality is known as “Clip-free Coupons.” Clip-free Coupons offer consumers an additional way to save, and for retailers, benefits include: greater visibility and awareness for special offers, including private label promotions in their stores and opportunities for new customer acquisition and activation to their store loyalty programs. site free coupons by mail

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers also benefit from the additional consumer engagement; enhanced security; ability to integrate Clip-free Coupon downloads into brand exclusive programs; and incremental insight into digital coupon usage behavior as consumers download and redeem select offers via their retailer shopper cards/IDs.

“This advanced technology is a prime example of the sophisticated multi-media solutions we offer our clients to reach today’s consumers who are looking to find value how, when and where they want,” said Alan F. Schultz, Valassis Chairman, President and CEO.

“i’m surviving out here just fine”

midy smith. photo by traci goodie.

midy smith. photo by traci goodie.

“I’m not supposed to be buying anything,” admits Mindy Smith during a stroll in Hudson, New York last week. Judging by the brief interruption in the conversation and a short verbal exchange heard in the background of the telephone line, it’s obvious some level of commerce has taken place. But Smith isn’t acknowledging exactly what.

In a way, the mysterious transaction reflects her songcraft. Through the four albums she has released over the past seven years, she has revealed herself as a deeply introspective songwriter that employs elements of folk, country, Christian, Americana and, more recently, pop to get her songs across. The stories within those songs are deeply personal, too.

“They are all my own experiences,” she said. “I write to pour out what it is I’m experiencing at the time.”

But Smith knows how to respect boundaries. Her songs will often hint, even tease, at the details of a story. Yet there’s always an element – a resolution, a reasoning, something – that is omitted to keep you guessing. Take What Went Wrong, the leadoff tune of her very pop-oriented 2009 album Stupid Love. She gives you a check list of remedies for a busted romance, from pouring over old memories to pouring “another round.” But in the end, nothing explains what indeed went wrong.

“At some point, it just becomes evident that not everybody agrees with certain things other people do or what they have to go through in their lives. But sometimes it is also good just to have some privacy, you know? Sometimes you’re just dodging people’s expectations. I do my best to do that.”

Such a juggling of expectations was emphasized on Smith’s fine 2004 debut album, One Moment More. Considerable anticipation for the album has been cooked up way ahead of its release as the New York-born Nashville stylist had already grabbed Music City ears with a cover of the Dolly Parton classic Jolene. It was featured on the 2003 all-star Parton tribute record Just Because I’m a Woman and again on One Moment More.

But when One Moment More hit stores the following January, the single that created the biggest stir was a confessional called Come to Jesus. Naturally, Christian music stations felt they had a new star. Spiritual inspiration, though, is simply one of the many influences Smith draws on for her songs. She no more feels like being labeled a Christian singer than she does being tagged a country or pop artist.

“My faith? Sure, it’s an inspiration. But my thing is more about figuring out how to get to something that is just totally sucking, you know? That’s what Come to Jesus was about. It dealt with a time in my life that was really about nothing but struggle and hard times.”

A very different kind of struggle faces Smith, along with legions of other artists, these days. And in this instance, she isn’t about to hold anything back. It’s the level of internet piracy – meaning, illegal downloading – that has devastated the music industry and made earning even a modest paycheck for recordings impossible.

“There is just this sense of entitlement some people have when they think they should get your work for free. And they’re adamant they get it for free. Now granted, I’ve kind of thrown in the towel with that issue because I can’t begin to figure out how to make it work.

“The only way I can keep this thing going is through live performances. Luckily for me, I enjoy performing. Hey, I’m used to living hand-in-mouth anyway. So I’m surviving out here just fine.”

Mindy Smith with Melanie Johnson perform at 8 p.m. Nov. 14 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 at the door. Call (859) 259-2754.

randy newman to play the opera house

randy newman.

randy newman.

Rumor is now fact. Randy Newman is confirmed to play his first Lexington concert in 33 years. He will present a solo acoustic concert, accompanying himself on piano, at the Lexington Opera House on Feb. 23.

If you have attended any of the Troubadour Concert Series shows or WoodSongs tapings this fall, you probably heard initial word on the performance. But we now have an on-sale date and time: 10 a.m. Nov. 19 through TicketMaster. Tickets will be $45.50 and $55.50.

Newman has been leading something of a double life creatively over the years. He is a prolific – not to mention Oscar winning – film score composer who has written soundtracks for all three Toy Story films, The Natural, Avalon, Seabiscuit and dozens of other movies. A personal favorite: his parlor-style score for the underrated 1981 film adaptation of Ragtime.

But pop songs established his reputation over 40 years ago with subject matter that has proved topical, sardonic, whimsical, savage and elegantly emotive. Newman can sing about America’s political standing in the world one moment and then offer an intoxicated romantic confession with equal, everyman conviction.

Newman’s last Lexington outing was an April 1978 concert at the University of Kentucky Student Center Ballroom. His most recent non-soundtrack album is 2008’s extraordinary Harps and Angels.

night of the punk cabaret

the dresden dolls: amanda palmer (left) and brian viglione.

the dresden dolls: amanda palmer (left) and brian viglione.

Amanda Palmer had thoughts of an anniversary in mind even though the performance activity status of what she was celebrating was essentially in limbo.

Nonetheless, the 10 year mark in the existence of the self-described “punk cabaret” act known as The Dresden Dolls, the duo project she co-founded with drummer Brian Viglione – was at hand. Of late, though, Palmer was busy with a solo career and stage work that took her far from the valley of the Dolls, leaving many fans wondering if the band had discreetly called it quits.

“Mostly, it was just like a good symbolic time to do another tour because of the 10th anniversary,” Palmer said.. “Brian and I have gone on to do solo work. But the band remains such a significant part of our history. No matter what happens, whenever he and I get together to play there is something magic and special that is just irreplaceable. So not recognizing the band 10th anniversary would just would have felt wrong.”

The story goes that the label of “punk cabaret” was adopted by the Boston based duo because Palmer feared the dark undercurrents of its songs and the theatrically inclined demeanor of its concerts would get pinned with some variation of the term “gothic.” But listen to the fractures of playful piano and drum rolls on Dresden Dolls favorites like Coin Operated Boy or the lyrical frenzy of Bad Habit and you hear undeniable elements of traditional dance hall cabaret music at work.

The punk element rears its head in perhaps more obvious ways with wild shifts in vocal and musical temperament. Palmer can sing with animated accessibility or gale-force intensity. But she views the complete notion of “punk cabaret” as much as an aesthetic as a musical tag.

“Like punk itself, punk cabaret isn’t about the Dresden Dolls and isn’t about Amanda Palmer. It isn’t about anything really, except a state of mind that is total freedom. If Brian and I died tomorrow, I would hope the punk cabaret would continue. It’s more like a credo of being yourself and following your artistic passion.

“I mean, my own influences are broad. You can hear a lot of everything in there from The Beatles to musical theatre to The Doors to Kurt Weill. It’s anything and everything I’ve ever listened to. But it’s still about that same kind of freedom. I never sat down to write songs by saying (adopting a formal, professorial voice), ‘Well, what I really want to do is a write song that is part punk and part cabaret.’ I just write.”

The Dresden Dolls have no impending recording plans and haven’t released any new music since the 2008 EP disc No, Virginia, which consisted of music omitted from 2006’s full length album Yes, Virginia.

“The band is a process of continual unfolding,” Palmer said, referring to the duo’s future. “But I’m always happy to do what The Dresden Dolls have always done, which is see where the mood takes us. That way, we just follow our impulses.”

Curiously, one of the projects Palmer was most recently involved with outside of The Dresden Dolls was a starring role in the American Repertory Theatre’s production of Cabaret, where she played not the heroine Sally Bowles, but the more Faustian Emcee during a 43 show run.

“It was actually very hard to walk away from that because it was beyond a success. It was a fantasy of mine for years and years and years to do that show. From the designers to the director to the choreographers, the whole show just went off like a frog in a sock.”

The Dresden Dolls with Chico Fellini and The Ford Theater Reunion perform at 9 p.m. Nov. 14 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester. Tickets are $25 in advance, $27 day of show. Call (859) 368-8871 or got to www.bustersbb.com.

BARGAIN HUNTER STOCK UP ON OFFICE GOODS.(VALLEY INC.)

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA) February 11, 2008 Byline: JULIA SCOTT DEPOT DEAL: Get $5 off $25 or more at Office Depot through Saturday. Print out a coupon at www.insidesocal.com/bargain for the discount.

Caveats: Not good on computers, printers, cameras, TVs, monitors, software, memory and a few other items. here proflowers coupon code

LINCOLNISH LUNCH THAI: Little Orchids Restaurant has a $5.95 lunch special, $1 more than a Lincoln Lunch. That’s pretty good for Thai food. It includes rice, an entree and one side (salad, soup or two pinkie-size egg rolls). Extra sides are $1.

I had red chicken curry with a generous ball of rice, and it was delicious. The super-crispy won tons were so hot I almost burned my tongue.

My friend’s chicken in curry sauce with green beans was also very tasty.

The fare is consistently good and comes quickly. Service can be curt, but the place is clean.

Get the lunch special Tuesdays through Saturdays before 3 p.m. It’s at 21614 Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills. Call 818-883-4848.

HD DVDs $15: Nearly 100 HD DVDs are half off at Barnes & Noble, starting at $13.50 for members and $15 for regular folks like me.

Get an extra 25percent off with a code at www.insidesocal.com/bargain.

Before the discount, nonmember prices are $20 for “Brokeback Mountain,” $15 for “Lost in Translation” and $15 for “Ray.” (As a comparison, “Brokeback” is $30 at Circuit City.) Many other HD DVDs fall in the $25 to $35 range. It’s unclear how long the sale lasts.

FRIDAY’S $5 OFF $15: Get $5 off a tab of $15 at T.G.I. Friday’s until Feb. 29 with a printable coupon at www.insidesocal.com/bargain. Caveats: for dine-in only, not good on booze, one per party, cannot be combined with other offers, including the three-course menu.

SALON SALES: Divine Salon in Burbank is offering 30percent off all salon services and 50percent off products for new customers. Mention the Bargain Hunter to get the deal, which ends March8.

The salon is hurting from the writers strike and wants to entice new clients. Visit it at 2701 W. Olive Ave. in Burbank. Call 818-913-2793.

RIVAL ROSES: Here are two deals on roses just in time for Valentine’s Day. Costco will deliver three dozen roses in a vase to your sweetie for $60, but nonmembers pay a 5 percent surcharge. proflowerscouponcodenow.com proflowers coupon code

Orders must be placed by 3 p.m. today.

ProFlowers.com will sell you one dozen red roses in a vase and throw in a box of chocolates for $40. Delivery is about $20 extra. To get the discount code, visit www.insidesocal.com/bargain.

FURNITURE SALE: Pop’s Unfinished Furniture is going out of business and has great prices on TV hutches, cabinets, dressers, buffets and more. All sales final. Visit at 22223 Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills. Call 818-700-4500.

FREE BURRITO: Get a free burrito at Chipotle when you buy a $10 gift card before Tuesday. Save the receipt showing you bought the card, and bring it in Wednesday or Thursday to get a free burrito.

MORE DEALS: I couldn’t cram it all in this week, so visit www.insidesocal.com/bargain for a cheap lip-gloss recommendation, a 20 percent off coupon for Barnes & Noble, discounted newspaper rates and a lowdown on $6 pies.

critic’s pick 149

Oregon is an ensemble that has fallen off most musical radars. That’s providing, of course, that it ever caused a noticeable mainstream bleep in the first place.

An outgrowth of the Paul Winter Consort, Oregon was initially a jazz group with a world music heart. After the 1984 death of co-founder/percussionist/tabla player Colin Walcott in a European auto crash, Oregon regrouped, first with the similarly global minded Trilok Gurtu and later with a more streamlined drummer, Mark Walker. The myriad dialects then began to fall by the wayside in favor of luminous jazz structures as guitarist/keyboardist Ralph Towner started coloring Oregon’s music with synthesizers. It was, in essence, a new Oregon for a new era.

In Stride now comes to us, a full 40 years into Oregon’s lifespan, as the one band’s most concise jazz adventures to date.

It a lovely and crisply autumnal work, as well. The band’s signature sound – the mingling of Towner’s classical guitar with the bright reeds of Paul McCandless sets the tone on the album opening Hop-To-It. Soprano sax bounces about a gliding melody and beaming shuffle piloted by Walker. Towner and founding Oregon bassist Glen Moore are especially wily musical souls here, propelling the song’s vastly animated foundation right down to the point of playful, bluesy fracture.

Summer’s End, however, operates from a vastly different and somewhat surprising terrain. Towner switches to piano for a warm, deliciously understated piano intro with a light, brushed shuffle and neatly punctuated bass. The enveloping trio prelude sounds less like a Towner tune from an Oregon record and more like the emotive piano set-up Bill Evans gave to Flamenco Sketches on Miles Davis’ immortal Kind of Blue album. McCandless sits the tune out, allowing the trio sound to cool like a lullaby. Provide even learned Oregon fans with a blindfold listen to the song and it’s highly doubtful they would peg it as one of the group’s works – or even one of Towner’s.

Towner pens all but three of In Stride‘s compositions. The other three Oregon members take care of the rest. Moore’s The Cat Piano is, understandably, a bass showcase performed as a rhythm section duet with Walker. As such, there is no actual piano in it, just a percolating, shape-shifting blues groove. Walker’s Nacao moves smartly at a sunny but militaristic clip while McCandless’ Petroglyph is built around oboe and piano enough to be the only In Stride tune that seriously recalls the Oregon of old.

Possibly the best thing about a band with a history so extensive but commercially obscure is that those unfamiliar with its music can jump aboard at any point and appreciate its light, spacious and continually engaging sound. In that sense, the notion of forward motion on In Stride becomes all the more welcoming.

zach brock’s number is up

zach brock.

zach brock.

Having found a collaborative niche for himself within New York’s vast jazz community, the next grand artistic step facing Zach Brock was finding a way to promote his own name and his own music.

To a degree, the Lexington-born violinist already knew the path. He had released a series of fine indie recordings while based in Chicago with his contemporary minded troupe, The Coffee Achievers. All picked up favorable critical notice as Brock’s career moved him to New York in 2005 and sideman duties alongside such luminaries as veteran bassist Stanley Clarke and gypsy swing guitarist Frank Vignola, among others.

“The main sticking point for me was the fact that since I’ve been in New York, I had not really done anything as a band leader,” said Brock, who introduces a new violin trio to his hometown with a Natasha’s performance on Saturday. “I’ve been doing so much sideman work. And I have loved every bit of that. It’s been very rewarding and a great learning experience. “But over the last couple of years. I’ve started to feel this nagging urge to be out there working on my own music again.”

Thus began The Magic Number, Brock’s new violin, bass and drums band. It was a format that seemed remarkably direct and simple, even though few, if any, recordings exist of trios with a similar musical makeup.

“Within a jazz context, I was thinking of albums like Sonny Rollins at the Village Vanguard,” said Brock. “There was just a lot of open space with those kinds of trios. But the violin doesn’t have to play like a horn. I can play more than one note at a time. But I can’t do, say, what a guitar can with all of those big chords. So you have to get into inferring things more than spelling them out. It forces me to choose what notes can bring out the color of a chord.”

With that, Brock enlisted a longtime pal, bassist Matt Wigton, and drummer Frederick Kennedy to come up with The Magic Number. They released an EP disc last year that reflected a broad musical vocabulary – from swing to rockish drives to bright, post-boppish lyricism.

“Trying to do a trio project with violin where there is no piano, no guitar, no chordal instruments at all, is a challenge. It’s really important to have a solid, almost telepathic rhythm section – the kind of rhythm section where the players fill in the ends of sentences for each other. I’m lucky to have these guys. They definitely lighten the burden of what I have to do on violin.”

Then there was the matter of making a full album with his new group. Brock wanted the thing all artists desire for in their music – creative control. But with almost any record deal he faced, be it with labels big or small, some level of commercial compromise was inevitable.

So there was the question: How does an ambitious young jazzman find the route to introduce his newest musical voice to the world without having to put a muzzle on it?

The result came via a “micro-funding” website called Kickstarter. There, Brock spelled out his plans to record his novel violin trio and then appealed for online donations to make The Magic Number a recording reality. As a result, he raised $8,000 to cut an album.

“I think there is just something about having a solid creative goal, especially when you’re tied to a budget,” said Brock. “It can be a blessing to not have the option of using credit card a, b or c to fund your record. The situation was, ‘I have X amount of money. How do I make this work?”

The album, titled simply The Magic Number, should be out in time for the Natasha’s performance. And while sideman work with Vignola and collaborative New York ensembles like The Mahavishnu Project (a tribute ensemble devoted to the music of the ‘70s-era fusion band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra) will continue to figure prominently on his work calendar, so will the music Brock bends to his own bow.

“It’s just important for me now to work with this trio. I want to go from this new record coming out to booking as many concerts as I can to developing music with this group. We’re kind of lean and mean and are ready to drive up to Canada for a show or down to Kentucky and, of course, all places in between. I just want to be playing as much as possible.”

Zach Brock and the Magic Number perform at 9 p.m. Nov. 6 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Admission is $15. Call (859) 259-2754.or visit www.beetnik.com.

Next entries » · « Previous entries

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | About Our Ads | Copyright