Archive for May, 2011

in performance: wishbone ash

wishbone ash: andy powell, joe crabtree, muddy manninen and bob skeat.

wishbone ash: andy powell, joe crabtree, muddy manninen, bob skeat.

When you have a band like Wishbone Ash playing a venue like Cosmic Charlie’s, it can be tough knowing what to expect.

The facts: Wishbone Ash is a veteran British band known for a harmonious twin guitar sound that meshed folk, blues and prog accents starting in the early ‘70s. That means its most heralded work is over 35 years old with guitarist Andy Powell standing as the lone original member. When these sorts of bands spend what is seemingly their twilight years touring the club circuit, grinding out decades-old tunes for equally aging audiences, the prognosis for what they will conjure onstage is usually not good.

Luckily, Powell’s current Wishbone Ash lineup proved to a very spirited surprise during a well-paced and immensely inventive two hour set at Cosmic Charlie’s. The audience turnout was terrible. But the band soldiered on with Powell and guitarist Muddy Manninen navigating the tasty but tricky guitar turns of their early ‘70s material with consistently clean precision and whipping up an equally intriguing, though slightly more streamlined drive for newer works like The Power and Can’t Go It Alone.

The older material fell heavily around Wishbone Ash’s cornerstone album, 1972’s Argus. The show opened with Powell, Manninen and bassist Bob Skeat sounding as harmonious vocally as they would soon sound instrumentally on Blowin’ Free. Manninen stacked the deck though, coloring the tune with brief blasts of lap steel guitar.

But Argus didn’t solely uphold the past. 1974’s F.U.B.B. molded at least three or four ornate guitar jams into one mammoth run with Skeat, Manninen and drummer Joe Crabtree providing a solid band groove behind Powell’s lyrical solos. The title tune to 1977’s Front Page News album operated out of a more concise pop base until Powell nicely cranked up the guitar drive. And 1982’s Engine Overheat asserted its way into some muscular funk interplay.

The finale, 16 minutes of Phoenix (from the band’s 1970 self-titled debut album) shifted the focus to Manninen for two extended solos, including one full of slow, contemplative psychedelia before Powell and his trademark Flying V guitar took the tune home. It was an engrossing coda that did Wishbone Ash’s musical legacy proud while more than validating the current lineup’s contemporary performance worth.

in performance: kenny chesney/billy currington/uncle kracker

kenny chesney last night at rupp arena. herald-leader staff photo by matt goins.

kenny chesney at last night's rupp arena show. herald-leader staff photo by matt goins.

By now, it must be tough for Kenny Chesney to surprise his fans.

Last year, he put out the most introspective album of his career, Hemmingway’s Whiskey – a work that deviated considerably from his usual fun-in-the-sun country-pop. Yet the two tunes he pulled from that recording to open last night’s suitably summery concert at Rupp Arena – Live a Little and Reality – were arguably Whiskey‘s most overtly sunny sounding entries.

That made the concert, Chesney’s first at Rupp in over four years (he did, however, play a surprise club date at the now-demolished Dame in 2008), seem largely indistinguishable from the arena shows the country megastar performed here on an almost annual basis during the last decade.

Chesney fans, all 14,500 of them last night, didn’t seem to mind hearing what was essentially a modified version of the same setlist they’ve been given for years, from the video-savvy pop charge of Big Star to the tropical barroom cheer of Beer in Mexico.

Through it all, Chesney was physically tireless, bounding effortlessly from all corners of a massive stage to a walkway that sliced the arena floor into four sections, two of which were general admission pits. His vocalwork wasn’t nearly as robust. It never has been. But just when one sensed the energy starting to sag, as it did during Living in Fast Forward, Chesney picked the show, the crowd and his seven-member band up and plowed on as if the evening had just started.

So how do you surprise a crowd when it’s been given everything it wanted and expected? Easy. You surprise the host.

And how does one accomplish that? Like this: at the program’s half-way point, marked by the folkish, anthemic 2004 ballad Anything But Mine, out walked George Jones. The George Jones. There was no reason, no occasion. There was nothing to plug. It was simply a cameo by a certified legend that no one – least of all, Chesney – saw coming.

Joking that he has entertained most of the parents of the audience on hand at Rupp, Jones launched into an impromptu version of I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair with Chesney’s band cautiously following him. He then left as unassumingly as he entered before Chesney called him back to sing Jones’ heartbreak classic He Stopped Loving Her Today.

The performance was ragged, frail and tentative to the point of almost collapsing. It was also gloriously spontaneous, which more than compensated. In an age where country music has lost much of its sense of risk, this obviously heartfelt meeting between two generational stars with a bonafide thrill.

A preceding 50-minute set from singer Billy Currington relied largely on the rockish turns of I Got a Feelin’ and the modern honky drive of the opening That’s How Country Boys Roll.

There were a few misfires, too, like a time-killing funk cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. But Currington bounced back when he decelerated and allowed the cooler country calm of People Are Crazy (far and away his finest bit of country storytelling) and Must Be Doin’ Something Right to close the set.

Apologies go out to opening act Uncle Kracker. Massive and unexplained patron congestion in the Lexington Center lobby last night before the show translated into waiting times of 30 to 40 minutes for anyone entering the arena. The show, however, went on as scheduled.

We were able to catch the set-closing performances of the Kid Rock mash-up hit All Summer Long and Kracker’s own seasonal single Smile that, like Chesney’s show, didn’t exude much by way of vocal firepower. But the mood and performance spirit seemed earnest and inviting. Too bad we couldn’t hear the whole set.

Few patrons caught in the pre-show audience jam seemed perturbed, though. In fact, there were more grumbles about being late for the beer lines inside Rupp than for the show itself.

kracking up

uncle kracker

uncle kracker

The year was 2004. That was when one of the true odd couples of contemporary music took over the charts.

Leading the way was a suitably summery hit by champion country music beachcomber Kenny Chesney called When the Sun Goes Down. Of the many tropically themed Nashville hits he has scored over the past decade, this was the one that played directly to the Jimmy Buffett contingency Chesney was so obviously eager to add to his rapidly mounting fanbase.

But his duet partner for the single wasn’t some video-friendly Nashville pop bombshell or an established celebrity artist that would provide Chesney with even greater star power than he already possessed. No, it was a street savvy, rock and rap-bred artist out the little known country metropolis of Detroit. His name was Matthew Shafer. But audiences already knew him as Uncle Kracker.

Thus began one of country’s most unlikely alliances, one which continues this weekend when Uncle Kracker serves as one of two opening acts (country-pop vocalist Billy Currington is the other) for a Saturday stop on Chesney’s Goin’ Coastal Tour at Rupp Arena.

“It’s a fun tour,” Kracker said. “But it’s really weird, too. Starting seven years ago, I did a guest appearance on a song with Kenny. And, thank God, the thing did really good. So we did probably two or three tours after that with me along as a kind of special guest. But it feels weird because that was all several years ago

“Now I’ve got a record of my own out on country radio (the crossover single Smile, which became Kracker’s first solo country hit last fall). So I don’t feel so much like a charity case anymore. Now, it’s like I’m an opening act with a purpose.”

To underscore exactly how unexpected the Chesney collaboration was in 2004 and Kracker’s own acceptance within Nashville circles, consider who was one of his earliest musical allies: Kid Rock.

The two, in essence, grew up together with Kracker serving as DJ in Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker touring band for many years. That, in turn, led to Kracker’s Rock-produced debut album Double Wide, a top 5, multi-platinum selling work that spawned the massive radio hit Follow Me.

A second album, No Stranger to Shame, followed in 2002 with a hit cover of the 1973 Dobie Gray pop-soul staple Drift Away. But it was Kracker’s third album, Seventy Two and Sunny, that set its sights on Nashville. The record didn’t initially click with pop or country crowds. But it didn’t need to. When the Sun Goes Down did the trick later that year.

“I guess I never really sat down and said ‘I’m going to write a rock ‘n’ roll song’ or ‘I’m going to write a country song.’ I sit down to write songs just so I can write songs. How they really sound is how they sound. It just never dawned on me that they would throw me into the country side of things. It just came out of left field. But I love it there.”

Kracker’s fourth album, 2009’s Happy Hour – or more precisely, a 2010 EP disc boasting “country remixes” of tunes titled Happy Hour: The South River Road Sessions – cemented a country audience. The jubilant Smile became a hit on pop and country charts while a second single aimed at country radio, Good to Be Me, teamed him again with Kid Rock, who has also forged a devout Nashville following.

“We’re best friends,” Kracker said of his ongoing alliance with Rock. “We have been for a long time. He helps keep me inspired, to tell you the truth. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people like him and Kenny. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re the biggest guy in the room, it’s time to get out of the room. So it’s good to be around people like Chesney. You will always know which way is up.”

But record titles like Smile and Happy Hour are more than genre-satisfying tags designed to generate record sales. In the world of Uncle Kracker, they are credos for living life, a measurement of an upbeat attitude that seems to permeate every aspect of his artistic existence.

“I think it has to be that way, you know? In every job there is, attitude is everything. I went through some tough periods, some slick spots here and there. I went five years where I didn’t even put out a record. I was just getting so burned out – not burned out in the sense of, ‘This is so tiring,’ but burned out as in, ‘This is getting to be so boring. What am I doing out here?

“When you get to that point, it’s time to start bopping around to keep things interesting and fresh. And that keeps the attitude in place.

“Look, I’m just happy to have an audience, no matter where it comes from. And in Lexington, I’ll be happy to be the warm-up act. I’ll be the little monkey that juggles until the big act comes out. It’s all about entertainment. I have fun onstage, so the big thing for me is to make sure the people who come have fun, too.”

Kenny Chesney/Billy Currington/Uncle Kracker perform at 7 tonight at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $26.50, $44.50, $75. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or go to

in performance: r.b. morris

r.b. morris

r.b. morris

“I have a voice so forgettable that I frighten my mother all the time.”

Such was one of the many stray confessions and non-sequiturs that peppered the first of two solo sets by Knoxville songsmith R.B. Morris last night at Natasha’s. To an extent, it was a telling remark, as well – one that was whimsical, clever, homespun and more than a little self-deprecating. While it popped out of nowhere like a one-liner from a comic desperate for feedback, it seemed suitable for the gift of narrative gab that informed Morris’ songs.

And the songs themselves were clever indeed, from the honest Southern country sway of You and Me to the sly but light groove that underscored Hell on a Poorboy.

Morris’ repertoire operated from a similarly intriguing smorgasbord of themes that utilized a number of literate Southern-style strategies. That was especially true of two in-progress tunes written about strolls along Bardstown Road in Louisville (a love song of sorts, as that was where Morris met his wife, although the work was steeped in bohemian imagery) and a curious protest-style parable that touted science as salvation.

Morris also offered three brief readings (The Deal, Tsunami and the tastefully restless Take That Ride) from his catalog of poetry. The atmosphere at Natasha’s, and the crowd’s meager size (about 25) suited the readings just fine even though Morris seemed almost apologetic after they were completed (“Do you realize you just applauded for poetry?”).

Therein was the performance’s only real flaw – a sluggish (and, at times, almost glacial) pace that made the 75 set seem much longer that it was. Such slo-mo momentum robbed some of the set of much needed vitality while many of the self-mocking remarks (some of which were longer than the songs themselves) seemed unduly oppressive.

The fact the air conditioning at Natasha’s was on the fritz on an evening of record May heat didn’t help. Neither did Morris’ decision to take an intermission around 10:30, which sent many patrons from the slim crowd to the exit – including me.

Morris’ music has a lot going for it. But his shows need to both accelerate the pace and chill on the self-despondency. That kind of tune-up ought to fill more seats and then keep them filled once his fine songs get to work.

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confessions of a prine time player

r.b. morris. photo by tinah hutsman.

r.b. morris. photo by tinah hutsman.

Some individuals seem like they were all but born onstage. Take 1 year old Oona Pearl Morris. She made a grand entrance last month at the Singletary Center for the Arts on the shoulders of her father, Knoxville songsmith R.B. Morris.

It was dad’s gig, though. Well, to be honest, it was John Prine’s show. The elder Morris was, as he has been numerous times over the past two decades, Prine’s opener for the evening. But judging by the applause and generous vocal sighs at the Singletary, young Oona Pearl was the show stealer.

“That was my little girl,” father Morris said proudly. But she has several years and several thousand miles to go before she catches up with the kind of roadwork her dad has clocked.  And even with several recordings, books of poetry and a stage play credited to his pen, the name of R.B. Morris still ignites mostly cult-sized recognition centered around Prine fanatics and loyal Knoxville listeners.

“The artistic life is definitely what it is for me,” said Morris, who returns to Lexington for a rare headlining show this week at Natasha’s. “Totally it is. My wife is an artist, too. She’s a sculptor, metalworker and blacksmith. So she works on commissions and stuff. I still make a living out of playing live. Together, we’re raising a young family and keep doing what we love doing.

“It’s not like a big living. And we’re certainly not getting rich in the monetary sense.  But it’s a very rich life overall.”

Lexington’s exposure to Morris’ music has largely been through his numerous show-opening gigs for Prine. He played the old Lynagh’s Music Club around the time his Take That Ride and Zeke and the Wheel albums surfaced in the late ‘90s. Morris has also been a guest of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. But much of his fanbase stems from the numerous times he has shared local concert bills with Prine, an artist whose literary approach to songwriting often mirrors Morris’ approach to composing.

“There’s no doubt about it” Morris said. “I may open the show. But those audiences are there to hear John Prine. But they are very much a songwriter’s audience. To be a John Prine fan is to really love a great song. And as John is a master songwriter, you’re talking about an audience that has been schooled in great songs. And at these shows, they are in the mood to hear great songs. So it is a great, great experience to play for Prine’s audiences.”

In many ways, Morris’ songs follow a great tradition of storytelling writers. Though he has performed throughout Canada, Mexico and, of late, Europe, a sensibility of songwriting born out of playing alongside Appalachian bands and old time players still figures prominently in his music.

And sometimes, one of his songs finds its way to an established voice. Veteran pop chanteuse Marianne Faithfull covered the Morris song Empire on her new Horses and High Heels album. Prine interpreted the same song as a bonus tune on 2005’s Fair and Square.

“Songwriting is a bit of a mystery to tell you the truth,” Morris said. “There is a certain amount of craft and tradition that one is schooled in at work. In other words, whenever somebody is saying something, you can immediately visualize it in your mind. You can shape it into a song, so-to-speak. And when somebody tells a story, you can move through with certain images because of your knowledge of the song’s craftsmanship.

“But it’s hard to know what totally triggers the writing because you’re also playing against that craft at times. I think it was Jack Kerouac that once said, ‘Craft is crafty.’ So you just learn to keep an eye on that. You want something fresh and honest to supersede the form even though the song often anchors that form and familiarizes it for people.”

Morris newest recording – Spies, Lies and Burning Eyes – is a mix of the new and familiar. The album was recorded mostly in East Nashville with a pack of longtime friends including guitarists Kenny Vaughan (whose credits include Lucinda Williams and Marty Stuart) and Hector Qirko. But the themes and musical moods also journey to new territories The songs abound with European inspirations (as in Amsterdam and Buddha in European Clothes) while the music reflects less of the folkish vibe of Morris’ concerts and more of a sleek, electric groove.

“It’s different than a lot of records,” Morris said. “It’s certainly different than a lot of Americana records or folk rock records. “Those sessions in East Nashville were just amazing. They had a great feel, which made the whole record sound really live and really open.

“That said, there is also this power to playing solo at my shows. It’s a different sort of moment that’s created between the audience and the songwriter. It’s a different kind of space.”

R.B. Morris performs at 9 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 259-2754.

GSI Global Marketing Services.(AGENCY BUSINESS REPORT: MARKETING SERVICES) web site zulily coupon code

DM News June 1, 2011 [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Principals Chris Saridakis, CEO; Reuben Hendell, chief strategist (pictured) Ownership GSI Commerce (sale to eBay pending) Offices 12 globally; 10 in US Subsidiaries TrueAction Network, Silverlign, eDialog, PepperJam, Fetchback Global revenue $189.6 million Capabilities “It’s the first year that we put [these services] together in a strategic way and created an ability to deliver them as solutions to the clients,” says GSI’s Reuben Hendell, CEO of global digital agency services at GSI Commerce and chief strategist at GSI Global Marketing Services.

Those capabilities were attractive enough to eBay, which announced plans to acquire GSI Commerce in late March.

Accounts Top clients include Toys “R” Us, NFL, NHL and Levi Strauss. Account wins last year included RadioShack, the NBA and Sports Authority for TrueAction; Zulily and Virgin Media at eDialog; and BJ’s Wholesale Club at PepperJam. web site zulily coupon code

Staff Staff grew to 1,012 in 2010 from 745 in the prior year, with top hires including CEO Chris Saridakis and Hendell, who reports to Saridakis but also leads the TrueAction and Silverlign companies.

Performance Hendell says the company is seeing strong organic growth as clients look to expand through digital channels. GNC, one of GSI’s largest clients, added social, mobile and display marketing to its e-commerce assignment.

GSI opened offices in Tokyo and Singapore. In the coming year, it will need to navigate the eBay acquisition.

critic’s pick 175

“My heart for you is like a sinking ship,” sings Anna McGarrigle in the midst of her outstanding 1975 self-titled album debut with sister Kate McGarrigle. “And my heart is on that ship, out in mid ocean.”

The song is Heart Like a Wheel, which was introduced a year prior as the title tune of a career-redefining album for Linda Ronstadt. But nothing compares to the almost elegiac beauty the McGarrigles summon on two versions of the song that highlight the new three disc compilation Tell My Sister.

The first is a parlor style reading colored by guitar, banjo and organ. It comes from Kate and Anna McGarrigle, which is re-released in full on this new package along with all of the siblings’ 1977 followup Dancer with the Bruised Knees. The second is the real treat – a lone piano reading featured on a third disc of immaculate sounding demos.

It gets better from there: the bittersweet (Talk to Me) of Mendocino (also covered by Ronstadt), the wryly romantic Southern Boys and the riverboat-style serenade Come a Long Way – all of which are reprised with lean, intimate urgency on the demo disc. It all makes for an album that is part primer and part requiem, as it comes to us just under two years following the death of Kate McGarrigle from cancer.

Ironically, the songs of Tell Me Sister could not be more homespun and affirmative, even when its heart is cast at sea.

It’s hard to say whether or not it was coincidence that Loudon Wainwright III’s five-disc anthology, 40 Odd Years, hit stores the same week as Tell My Sister. Wainwright was married to Kate McGarrigle. Their children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, have been part of a distinctive pop-folk generation for several years.

Regardless of whatever marketing strategies were at work, 40 Odd Years is a goldmine of material. The first three discs make up a comprehensive anthology that emphasizes Wainwright’s natural ability to spin a twisted tale (1973’s Dilated to Meet You with Kate McGarrigle) to sagas of lovely but dark family themed introspection (2001’s heartbreaking White Winos).

But the final two discs are real treats – an audio CD of unreleased nuggets that include another Kate collaboration (a boozy reading of Dorsey Dixon’s Weave Room Blues) and a romp with the great Celtic band Boys of the Lough (The Hardy Boys at the Y), along with a 3 hour-plus DVD full of TV and live performances dating from a 1975 set for the debut season of Saturday Night Live to 2010 performances with Joe Henry and other pals.

It makes for a portrait of a folk original that is as joyous as it is justifiably expansive.

the living lute

paul o'dette

paul o'dette

As with most great artists, Paul O’Dette experienced something of an epiphany that drew him to his chosen instrument.

He tried piano first, but that didn’t take. Then came more enthusiastic studies on the violin until a teacher shackled his sense of discovery, sending him straight into the rebellious ranks of rock ‘n’ roll and the electric guitar. A thirst for greater technique led to classical guitar.

Then O’Dette heard it – the lute, the multi-stringed instrument with the gloriously fanciful tone that, for many, defines the sound of Renaissance music. During the 16th century, the instrument serenaded kings while its practitioners were held in as hearty esteem as any poet, philosopher, artist or architect of the day.  

“I found a recording of Julian Bream playing lute music from the Royal Courts of Europe,” O’Dette said. “As soon as I heard the sound of the instrument, I was transported. There was something about the character, the color, the whole mystery of the sound of the instrument that grabbed me and said, ‘This is what you must do.'”

O’Dette is a bit of a Renaissance man of Renaissance music. He serves as professor of lute and director of early music studies at the Eastman School of Music, organizes the esteemed Boston Early Music Festival, works as avid researcher of lute music and conducts and directs everything from Baroque orchestras to Baroque operas.

And then there is the no-small-matter of his reputation as an instrumentalist. Simply put, O’Dette is considered one of the finest – and, by many critics, the very best – lute player on the planet. An oft-quoted review from the Toronto Globe and Mail describes O’Dette’s playing as “the clearest case of genius ever to touch the instrument”

In conversation, O’Dette is far too unassuming to ingratiate his playing in such a way. He speaks in justifiably scholarly terms on the instrument, its history and the music that brings it to life. But what comes across in even clearer terms is the sheer animation in his voice when he discusses the lute, its place in a past world and the excitement it still triggers for him in solo performances.

“It’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me stay up all night,” O’Dette said. “The genius of this music, the sophistication, the depth of it is of the level of the Leonardo da Vincis and the Michelangelos.

“The court lute players in the16th century were in the same circles as all the greatest painters and literary giants. They were getting paid more that Leonardo da Vinci was, too. That’s how great the greatest were and how influential they were at the time.”

But then that was the 16th century, a time was when the lute enjoyed such immense popularity that technical proficiency on the instrument couldn’t help but flourish. With obviously fewer lute artists today, O’Dette is devoted to creating the kind of positive profile needed to maintain a similarly respectful level of musicianship.

“There is no question that the lute was the most important instrument of the 16th century,” he said. “It was the instrument that all educated members of society learned how to play. And because there were so many people that played it, the performance level was very, very high.

“Any time you have a pursuit of any type that a large number of people practice, the level of proficiency is going to go up. Think of the level of college basketball today. It’s unbelievably high because thousands of kids devote hours and hours to it. And they have lots of great role models.

“Now imagine living in the 16th century. Instead of wanting to become college basketball players, people wanted to become the best lute players in the world. There was such amazing competition and lots of incredible role models. And that always raises the standards.”

O’Dette’s solo lute performance on Wednesday at the Singletary Center for the Arts – a benefit for the University of Kentucky Guitar Program Scholarship Fund, as well as his first Lexington concert since 1987 – will be devoted to three such “role models.” Specifically, his repertoire will center on works by artists O’Dette considers the three greatest Italian lutenists of the 16th century (“men who were compared to Orpheus at the time”).

The artists in question, as described by O’Dette, are:

+ Francesco da Milano: “Probably the most famous instrumentalist of the 16th century. His music has very clean lines and clear symmetrical phrases. It’s elegantly crafted with a lot of virtuoso passage work.”

+ Alberto de Ripa: “Alberto was far more impressionistic. His music had more to do with texture, color and sonority. It experimented a lot with voicings for chords using different registers of the instrument.”

+ Marco dall’Aguila: “Marco’s music is far less well-known. It’s also very medieval sounding – a little less civilized on one hand and more emotional and impassioned on the other.”

“To me, this music is supposed to sound completely new, self-evident and revelatory all at the same time. That’s what it is all about. It’s about rediscovering music as if you have never experienced it before.”

Paul O’Dette performs at 7:30 p.m. May 11 at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall. Tickets are $10 (students), $15 (public). Call (859) 257-4929 or go to

in performance: the nick mazzarella trio

the nick mazzarella trio: nick mazzarella, anton hatwich and frank rosaly. photo by kate joyce.

the nick mazzarella trio. from left: nick mazzarella, anton hatwich and frank rosaly. photo by kate joyce.

The vibe could not have been more unassuming.

Just to the right of the floor space at Collexion that Chicago’s Nick Mazzarella Trio converted into an impromptu stage sat a table saw. To the right of that was an elevated, overturned canoe. All that was missing to complete the basement feel for this unlikely performance space was a mounted moose head and a bowling trophy. But on this grey, cool Derby night, such a makeshift setting seemed to bring about an unexpected intimacy from the two 35 minute sets the trio summoned.

Schooled in the same fruitful free jazz community as many of the other Chicago artists that have visited Lexington for the long-running Outside the Spotlight Series, alto saxophonist Mazzarella also favored foundations within the 10 tunes his trio performed that were rooted in composition, swing and melody.

That’s not to say the trio – rounded out by OTS regulars Anton Hatwich on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums – didn’t relish in deconstructing those tunes so that blasts of broken rhythms and often volcanic free-style improvisation could take over. The show-closing Clockwork, in fact, relished in the kind of boppish swing that recalled sax giants like Benny Golson and Blue Note-era Dexter Gordon. But even as the groove steadily mounted and the solos began to splinter – especially thunderous blasts from Rosaly and a sax lead from Mazzarella that began with sunny lyricism before morphing into passages of stormy contortion – the swing remained secure.

The trio also gracefully downshifted at times, whether it was for the atmospheric neo-blues ballad Sundown or several instances where the trio spoke in expressive conversations restricted to only two players. The vibrant bass/drums dialogue during Do Not Disturb was indicative of the latter.

And while all three players continually juggled inventive but accessible solos and exchanges, Hatwich’s adventures on bass were especially inviting. While capable of supporting numerous swing inferences and alert improvisational notions, Hatwich’s playing was continually appealing, from his bowed bass intro to 400 to the light, spacious support he provided the show-opening This is Only a Test.

High spirited free jazz with a bold compositional and melodic base – what a concept. Now let’s get cracking on that moose head.

derby jazz

the nick mazzarella trio: frank rosaly, anton hatwich and nick mazzarella. photo by kate jacob.

the nick mazzarella trio: drummer frank rosaly, bassist anton hatwich and saxophonist nick mazzarella. photo by kate joyce.

The Saturday night after Derby afternoon is one of the few weekend evenings where the hangovers kick in before the sun goes down.

So for a soulful, adventurous but unimposing coda to Derby Day festivities, try an evening of world-class jazz courtesy of the Nick Mazzarella Trio and the long-running Outside the Spotlight Series.

Saxophonist Mazzarella, interestingly enough, is new to the OTS series, even though his bandmates – bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly – are esteemed veterans. But the cumulative sound the trio packs on its indie debut album, Aviary, may surprise many longtime OTS patrons.

Even though there is a generous sense of improvisational give and take throughout the album, Aviary‘s six tunes are quite accessible when compared to the more abstract extremes OTS performances usually extend to. Mazzarella’s compositional sense is heavily melodic while the expert lyricism he summons on alto sax is economical (the album clocks in at 31 minutes) and warm.

Two sax voices, in particular, surface in Mazzarella’s fine playing. The first is the great Yusef Lateef, whose work is reflected in the meaty, expressive alto leads that guide the neo-boppish stride of the album-opening Quarantine and the very focused melodies placed atop the limber, lyrical Pistachio.

The second inspiration is Sonny Rollins. Admittedly, Rollins is a tenor sax titan. But his love of bright, Caribbean-flavored melodies informs – at least, in part – the summery compositional punch of Pescador.  The Rollins touch also surfaces on Aviary‘s equally playful title tune before it spins off into spacious improvisations that emphasize keen group interplay.

Hatwich and Rosaly continually compliment Mazzarella’s sunny sax expression throughout, although their contributions shine brightest on Eternal Return. There, bass and drums operate more as orchestral colors than as devices of a conventional rhythm section.

It all makes you wish Aviary wasn’t over and done with in the course of a half-hour. But the attributes of swing and soulful accessibility that confidently pilot Aviary should also be seen as welcome mats for those unfamiliar with the OTS series.

Do you dismiss jazz as either half-baked dinnertime muzak or inapproachable abstraction? Do you see it as something where the music has to possess the potency (and size) of a big band in order to properly swing? Then try tonight’s show by the Nick Mazzarella Trio. If Aviary is any indication, its music should be full of lean, inviting but still-substantial soul. Sounds like a cure for the post-Derby blues to me.

The Nick Mazzarella Trio performs at 8 p.m. May 7 at Collexion, 111 ½ E. Loudon Ave. Admission is $5.

the electrified ben sollee

ben sollee performing at last month's my morning jacket concert at memorial coliseum. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

ben sollee performing at last month's my morning jacket concert at memorial coliseum. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

The electric finale My Morning Jacket sealed Smokin’ from Shootin’ with last month at Memorial Coliseum was both a career culmination and a new beginning for Ben Sollee.

In terms of a zenith, it was a glimpse of rock ‘n’ roll heaven. As the tune wound down, the Lexington cellist was on his feet with his instrument held high – almost at chest level – tapping out a coda to compliment the Louisville band’s sonic squall.

But the song – one of three instances where My Morning Jacket called Sollee onstage to collaborate – also capped off what was, in essence, a new career chapter. Earlier in the evening, he opened the show with a trio set of his own and remarked on the differences between playing to the 2,500 fans at hand and the handfuls of patrons that showed up to hear him at area coffeehouses just a few years prior.

In short, it was a celebration of how far the classically trained Sollee, 27, has taken the cello in a popular music context as well as the distance his indie fanbase has been willing follow his sounds and songs.

“It was a fun experiment,” Sollee admitted a few days later by phone from Frankfort. “It was also really good to do it not with some anonymous big band that you have to be an opener for, but with friends and fellow Kentuckians.

“It was an opportunity to dive in, fill up the space and try something new. I had a great time.

Actually, Sollee was trying out a lot that was new at the Memorial Coliseum show. He was giving Central Kentucky its first live listen to songs from his forthcoming Inclusions album and to a new band that included Austin, Tx. violinist/vocalist/bassist Phoebe Hunt (formerly of the Lone Star swing/pop outfit The Belleville Outfit) and Frankfort drummer Jordon Ellis (who figures prominently in the textured sounds that dominate Inclusions).

“We did a little tour with these songs in February to test everything out,” Sollee said. “There was already a great band spirit. There was this air amongst us that whenever we took this music to the stage, we were just going to let it live. That’s an important thing to me, because there is no one way to perform these songs. Yet they exist on their own terms depending of who I’m playing with.”

The 11 songs making up Inclusions were actually born out of collaborations with a very different trio – specifically, one that placed Sollee in the company of two nationally recognized DJs.

“DJ 2nd Nature and DL Jones helped present me with the idea of a sound collage” Sollee said. “As a classically trained player, everything I knew about music was based solely in creating a sound from scratch. With DJs, it’s about taking existing sounds and re-arranging them. So you’re using people’s basic mixes and changing them up so the music is your own. That was a real eye opener for me.”

While their recorded collaborations didn’t surface on the final version of Inclusions, Sollee generously thanked the DJs atop a list of album credits for helping him “crack the code” in the recording’s overall sound.

You hear some that layered effect in songs like Electrified (a highlight of the Memorial Coliseum set) and in the criss-crossing brass (on the aptly titled Introduction) that leads into the bright processional Close to You. The emotive outlines, however, continue the upbeat storylines expressed on Sollee’s 2008 breakthrough album Learning to Bend. Similarly, the foundation of each tune, no matter how pop-friendly or soulfully rockish, is rooted in one of Sollee’s first musical loves: folk.

“I have this admittedly rose-colored, optimistic view that pretty much everything is folk music – the music of the people. But I’ve found when it comes time to market an album, you get people tossing labels at you like ‘orchestral pop’ or ‘pop cello,’ which, to me, don’t make any sense.

“I feel like Inclusions is a folk record. When we had conversations with publicists and managers, they kept saying ‘But we want to relate you to what else is out there.’ I just wanted to show, through the prism of the cello and growing up in Kentucky, that this is what modern folk music feels like. It sounds like the people and places in my life. And I love it for that reason.”

Another distinguishing trait of Sollee’s music is the sense of community it strives to embody. Such a spirit was expressed vividly during a 2010 tour with fellow Kentuckian Daniel Martin Moore and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James (using his side project alias Yim Yames) that spotlighted the blight of mountaintop coal removal. That topic also triggered the Sollee/Moore album Dear Companion.

The community sensibility will surface again at Sollee’s Thursday concert at the Kentucky Theatre. Partial proceeds will go to the Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop. An avid bicyclist, Sollee has used pedaling as an exclusive means of transportation on some tours.

Sollee attributes much of that community awareness to his tenure as a teen on the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, where he played regularly as part of the house band.

“I practically grew up in the stage band, watching all these musicians come through. Some were tired and haggard and griped a lot about the industry. Some were at very successful points in their career. Some were just starting out.

“When I started to tour a lot and couldn’t do WoodSongs anymore, people kept telling me, ‘Don’t turn your back on this experience. Don’t ever forget about it.’

“That’s something that stays with me a lot.”

Ben Sollee and the Agape Theater Troupe perform at 7 tonight at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 231-7924. Solllee will also perform a free in-store concert at CD Central, 377 S. Limestone at 12 noon today. Call (859) 233-3472.

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