Archive for December, 2011

led by example

the 'get the led out' lineup: duane lundy, robby cosenza, coralee, chris dennison and blake cox. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

the 'get the led out' lineup: duane lundy, robby cosenza, coralee, chris dennison and blake cox. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.


The plan was hatched about halfway through the fall when Duane Lundy of Chico Fellini and Robby Cosenza of These United States were sharing lunch.

It wasn’t a novel idea, especially. But it’s one that had not been attempted very often in Central Kentucky.  Lundy and Cosenza decided to round up some of their fellow Lexington artists for a New Year’s party where they would, for the evening, leave their own music at home. Instead, they would ring in 2012 by playing, celebrating and bashing about with music by one of rock music’s most profoundly inspirational bands: Led Zeppelin.

In short, they plan to do exactly what the title of the program they will be presenting Saturday at Cosmic Charlie’s promises: to Get the Led Out.

“I thought it might be cool to do a covers thing because we all spend so much of the time with our own stuff,” Lundy said. “A couple of times of year, it’s nice to sort of dip into that other pool. We had done something similar with (David) Bowie in Chico a couple of years ago. So I sort of flippantly said it would be nice if we could do some Zeppelin. I’m pretty sure we could pull together a good crew. But I knew it would be a bit of work.”

So Lundy and Cosenza – who would handle guitar and drum duties, respectively – enlisted Blake Cox (from Killer Meteor) on bass to round out the rhythm section and awarded the banshee vocals originated in Zeppelin 40 years ago by a young Robert Plant to Chico Fellini singer Christopher Dennison and vocalist Coralee from local Americana faves Coralee and the Townees. Veteran Lexington guitarist Willie Eames will help round out Get the Led Out with an opening set of acoustic Zeppelin music.

“I’m a huge Zeppelin fan,” Lundy said. “For me, that’s my desert island band. And so we went ahead and took the attitude of, ‘If you say you’re gonna do it, it will happen.’

“This music is really hard, though. I’ve known all this stuff for years, but it’s different when you sort of strap it on and go. The arrangements are very intricate. It’s just that we’ve just been brainwashed with it, particularly people of our generation for whom this music has just been a staple. It never goes away. So you just take it for granted that it’s something you can tackle. But then you get in with it and you realize why Zeppelin is still so formidable.”

The repertoire for Saturday’s performance will cover songs from six of Led Zeppelin’s eight studio albums (1976’s Presence and 1979’s In Through the Out Door didn’t make the cut). Lundy compiled an initial setlist and then relied on each of the participating artists to add selections of their own.

“We went after the ones we felt we had to play. And then we went after a couple that we wanted to do just out of our own selfishness. Everybody came to the table with one or two choices. Coralee was staunch about a couple she wanted to do. So was I. We’re the two biggest Zeppelin fans in the crew. The only song that we really wanted to do but because of the pace of the night, because it is New Year’s Eve, decided not to was Since I’ve Been Loving You.

“I’d like to reprise this show a couple of times throughout the year just to spend time with these people and play. So we will probably hit that one eventually. That one, we felt, might be a little heady for New Year’s Eve.”

“When I grew up in the ‘80s, Zeppelin still had a presence. Fortunately their influence did not get diminished by the number of bad bands that copped their style. Their music has always held up. It has never aged badly because Zeppelin never became a creature of the technological moment.”

Get the Led Out: A Night of Led Zeppelin. 9 p.m. Dec. 31 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Cover charge is $12. Call (859) 309-9499.

Lung cancer symptoms

critic's pick 208

During the early ‘70s, when soul and funk were experiencing the same stylistic growing pains as rock and pop, James Brown let his band have a run at the recording studio. Comprised of top-drawer session players, the ensemble that came to be known as The J.B.’s (wonder who came up with that name) provided the frenzied motion and stop-on-a-dime precision that complimented Brown’s performance intensity. Add in the talents of musical director Fred Wesley, a trombonist schooled in jazz, and you had a show band that could amply shine when its own studio time came up.

The story behind what is now the rather drably titled The Lost Album Featuring Watermelon Man is a tale indeed. Wesley cut an album that highlighted the jazzier inspirations of The J.B.’s without losing the huge, brassy groove that ignited Brown’s wildest hits. There was also a modest pop-soul sheen that made the music radio-friendly, had radio been so inclined to pay it any mind.

It wasn’t. It couldn’t. While an ornate, brass-fueled cover of the early Herbie Hancock hit Watermelon Man made its way out of the studio as a single in 1972 – as did a streamlined take on the then-current O’Jays single Backstabbers – the bulk of the sessions were shelved and, hence, “lost.” The J.B.’s recorded more as the ‘70s progressed, surrendering incrementally to the pop tastes of the times (as did Brown’s music) until they hit the commercial sinkhole known as disco.

Last month, the 1972 sessions were finally released as a semi-cohesive album. Now we get to hear what a crafty soul man Wesley was as a bandleader.

Watermelon Man starts the party with busy, brassy horn lines and a jubilant Brown sitting in on drums. It’s pretty textbook stuff for the Godfather of Soul and his bandmates with airtight grooves and an unrelenting funk drive.

But then things turn subversive. The personnel morphs considerably as Wesley recruits the cream of New York jazz session players, including drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Ron Carter, saxophonist Joe Farrell and the trumpet/sax sibling duo of Randy and Michael Brecker.

The stylistic shift is remarkable, with the Wesley ballad Sweet Loneliness easing along with lushly orchestrated horns and not a hint of groove. It’s as if Brown’s band had been caught moonlighting with Stan Kenton.

The music turns deliciously urban for the fusion-flavored Transmograpification (which could have served as a soundtrack for a Starsky and Hutch episode) and the big band-savvy Seulb.

Reworkings of pop fare like Everybody Plays the Fool and the aforementioned Backstabbers are less inviting simply because of cloying vocal additions. But for the most part, Wesley turns the Brown sound to pure gold on The Lost Album.

GameStop to Host Early Morning Game Launch Events for Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl

Wireless News April 20, 2007

Wireless News 04-20-2007 GameStop to Host Early Morning Game Launch Events for Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl

GameStop, a video game and entertainment software retailer, announced that it will host early morning video game launch events at over 3,000 of its U.S. GameStop and EB Games locations on April 22. this web site pokemon diamond pokedex

The events will celebrate the release of Nintendo’s Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl for the Nintendo DS.

Many GameStop and EB Games locations nationwide will open as early as 8 a.m., however, customers are encouraged to contact their local store to confirm the exact opening hour for the launch event. this web site pokemon diamond pokedex

Bob McKenzie, GameStop’s Senior Vice President of Merchandising, commented that, “Whether you are new to the world of Pokemon or a long-time fan of the franchise, the new Pokemon Diamond and Pearl video games are guaranteed to get you hooked.”

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sam rivers, 1923-2011

sam rivers.

Yesterday morning, I was speaking with a friend in Louisville. He was openly envious about the number of world class jazz performances Lexington has hosted over the years and how it towered over what Louisville has brought in. Among the many names mentioned that had performed here (and not there): Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Keith Jarrett, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

“Plus,” he added, conceding further defeat, “You guys got Sam Rivers.”

Unbeknown to us both, Rivers – the groundbreaking saxophonist that was a pioneer in everything from bop to free jazz to groove-oriented R&B – would pass away later that day at age 88.

The list of giants Rivers rubbed musical shoulders with was vast. Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, T Bone Walker, Cecil Taylor, Tony Williams, Joe Cocker and Wilson Pickett were but a few.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Beethoven or Bach or Duke Ellington or the blues,” Rivers told me prior to a two-day engagement at the Singletary Center for the Arts in February 2002. “The only thing that makes a symphony different from jazz is interpretation and phrasing. I hear relation in all the music.”

Rivers was best represented on record as an improviser. His mid ‘70s duet recordings with bassist Dave Holland are among his boldest musical experiments, although they have long been out of print. More accessible (in terms of purchasing, that is) are two splendid 1965 sessions for Blue Note.

One, Contours, placed Rivers (on tenor sax, soprano sax and flute) in charge of a band of budding all-stars that included Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Chambers. The others, Dialogue (recorded six weeks earlier), has him as part of another celebrated team (Hubbard, Chambers, Richard Davis and the great pianist/composer Andrew Hill) designed to support vibraphone great Bobby Hutcherson.

In both cases, the music engages in verses that regularly shift in temperament, tempo and melodic intent. But even at its trickiest (Mellifluous Cacophony from Contours), the playing still swings.

“Some years ago, critics were talking that the reason jazz lost some of its influence was because people couldn’t dance to it anymore,” Rivers said in our 2002 interview. “I took that seriously. These young people today may not know anything about jazz, but they get the emotion of it. And that emotional impact is what I want to project.”

on the sonny side

the 2011 kennedy center honors honorees. back row: yo-yo ma, meryl streep and neil diamond. front row: sonny rollins and barbara cook.

If you were to judge by the TV promos running over the past week on CBS, tonight’s broadcast of the annual Kennedy Center Honors boils down to the Meryl Streep and Neil Diamond Show with a few extra guests.

Never mind how Streep is one of the most accomplished and versatile screen actresses of our age and fully deserving of such notice. Never mind that Diamond seems a wildly peculiar choice for the program, especially given the pop and rock celebrities honored in recent years (from Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey in 2008 to Bruce Springsteen in 2009 to Paul McCartney in 2011 to – seriously? – Neil Diamond?) And never mind that two other honorees – world class cellist and all around musical journeyman Yo-Yo Ma and heralded Broadway/cabaret vocalist Barbara Cook – are undeservedly treated like also-rans in the TV spots.

No, we would like to give a quick tip of the hat to the evening’s remaining honoree – the great tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. At 81, Rollins is one of the last remaining members of a jazz vanguard that re-revolutionized the music in a career that has now lasted for more than six decades.

A famously self-effacing personality with one of the most alert sax tones of this or any jazz generation, Rollins has played Lexington on at least three occasions over the years as part of the Spotlight Jazz Series

During a brief meeting with him following his last local outing (in September 2000), Rollins turned the tables and asked a question of me.

“Tell me something, do you dislike it when people call you ‘Walt?’”

Rollins was very much in earnest. His full given name is Theodore Walter Rollins.

Caught slightly offguard, I said no, even though I form an almost immediate distrust of people who address me as Walt when I first meet them. I muttered something to Rollins like, “Well, I’ve been called a lot worse.”

Rollins didn’t blink. He didn’t alter his facial expression one iota. Instead, he looked me dead in the eyes and gave this polite but deadly serious reply.

“I hate it when people call me Walt.”

To play things safe, just call him Sonny. Should you require a more exact introduction, might I suggest a pair of albums released in 2011 sporting sets of concert music separated by nearly 45 years.

The first, Live in Munich 1965, offers a previously unreleased trio performance with bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson and drummer Alan Dawson (both of whom have since passed away). The recording quality is just a few notches about bootleg quality, but Rollins’ tenor tone is absolutely lustrous.

The second, Road Shows, Vol. 2, sports roughly 50 minutes from a 2010 concert at New York’s Beacon Theatre honoring the saxophonist’s 80th birthday. Over 1/3 of that time is taken up by a riveting take of the Rollins original Sonnymoon for Two performed in tag-team fashion with alto sax/free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman.

The tune will be part of a medley played by fellow sax giants Jimmy Heath, Joe Lovano, Benny Golson and Ravi Coltrane (and introduced by Bill Cosby) during tonight’s telecast.

The Kennedy Center Honors airs at 9 tonight on CBS-TV.

’twas the night after christmas

jim brickman.

Here is a question not often posed to productions that tour during the Christmas season: how do the mood and dynamics of a performance staged within a Yuletide themed program shift once Christmas has passed?

Take tonight’s Opera House concert by Jim Brickman. The show, part of the platinum-selling pop pianist’s “A Christmas Celebration” tour, falls on the day after Christmas.

Granted, most holiday friendly presentations, from regional performance of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker to mammoth touring enterprises like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, often extend their seasonal runs to (or near to) New Year’s Eve. But once Santa has made the rounds, the gifts have been dispersed and Christmas banquets have been consumed, isn’t there a noticeable depletion – if not complete deflation – of the holiday spirit?

Brickman doesn’t think so. And he should know. He has been presenting holiday tours that regularly run past Christmas Day for 16 years.

“It’s interesting,” Brickman said. “People always ask me, ‘You mean, you don’t finish your tour before Christmas?’ I always thought that was so odd. It’s like radio stations have this cut off right after midnight on Christmas where they stop playing Christmas music. It’s as if the holiday doesn’t exist anymore after that. I think that’s a bit harsh.

“What I find is that right after Christmas is usually a time when a lot of people are still off of work. Or if they are working, they’re still a little checked out. There is still a kind of joy in connecting Christmas to New Year’s and having that serve as part of the holiday season.

“That fits the tone of our show, too. It’s never been very Santa Claus is Coming to Town-centric anyway. The show is a nice combination of my hit songs and some beautiful holiday music. So there has never been this feeling of, ‘Whadaya mean Santa Claus is coming to town? He came to town yesterday.”

The focus of Brickman’s holiday tour this year is All is Calm, a new recording of Christmas hymns and tunes designed to defuse some of the pomp and stress of the season. As usual, Brickman’s piano music is surrounded by a light, pop friendly sheen. Vocals are occasionally added in, but the thrust of the album, as with all of Brickman’s recordings, is on melodic, pop-savvy instrumental music.

Still, Brickman doesn’t want audiences to get the idea he is opting for too silent a night on All is Calm.

“Calm has this connotation sometimes of being boring in some fashion,” he said. “It’s like, if there is not a lot of activity within the music, then it must be dull. But I think with all of the chaos of the season, an album like this can be an antidote. I’m quite proud of the fact that the music is intentionally peaceful.”

Curiously, before he became a million selling artist known for light, piano pop driven hits like By Heart and Valentine or as a collaborator with such diverse vocal stars as Anne Cochran (who will also be part of the Opera House bill), Lady Antebellum, Olivia Newton-John, Michael W. Smith and others, Brickman was penning commercial jingles. That led him to early recordings with the celebrated Windham Hill label, an organization specializing in a more ambient instrumental pop sound.

“In a sense, I was sort of the black sheep at Windham Hill,” Brickman said. “I grew to have a wonderful relationship with the people there. But at the very beginning, I think I wasn’t artsy enough for them. That’s always been my problem.

“I just have a very commercial sensibility. Stuff I like is very hooky and commercial and melodic. My songwriting is that way. My jingle writing was that way. So a lot of people compared what I was doing at Windham Hill with something by, say, George Winston (the pianist who helped shape the label’s sound during the ‘70s and ‘80s). His music was primarily atmospheric. That was the difference. I was always more of a melodist. I like melody. I don’t care for music that just wanders. That’s not appealing to me.

“If you had to reduce my music to its simplest form, it is basically pop songwriting. It just happens to be mostly instrumental. That’s what I’m known for.”

Today, Brickman has become something of an instrumental pop entrepreneur. He also hosts a weekly radio show (Your Weekend with Jim Brickman), has authored a pair of best-selling books (Simple Things and Love Notes) and has showcased his music in four PBS concert specials.

The pianist never doubted his music would hit big. His only initial concern was getting heard in the first place.

“I always hoped my audience was like me and that the music I liked, they would like. But the block was always if they were they going to get to hear it at all. This was music that had no media advocacy. There was no TV and no real radio exposure at first.

“Fortunately, being with Windham Hill, being part of that brand helped introduce me. I always felt there was a place for my music. And, obviously, I think there still is.”

Jim Brickman performs at 7:30 tonight at the Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short St. Tickets are $35-$75. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000.

best recordings of 2011

The continually evolving rampage of an esteemed guitar-drums duo, a thoroughly redefined glimpse of country music tradition, a resourceful return to form by a folk icon and rebel music born in the heart of the desert.

Disparate keepsakes from some pop music mantelpiece? Perhaps. They may indeed seem like strangers when viewed on their own. But weave them together and you have the fabric that links up the finest contemporary recordings of 2011.

For a change, it was a banner year for new music. Whereas in recent years, finding albums to make up a Top 10 list worthy of shouting out to the world took some serious searching, 2011 boasted a bumper crop of extraordinary sounds. Among the recordings that were barely squeezed out of the list this year were fine new works by Wilco, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket, Garland Jeffreys, Bill Frisell and Real Estate.

That leaves us with this critic’s pick Top 10 look at the best pop music that abounded during the past year.

1.  Black Keys: El Camino – Teaming again with producer Danger Mouse, the guitar/drums duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney streamline the sound of last year’s sublime Brothers, rough up the plentiful pop hooks and come up with a crunchy, cranky, ear-grabbing party. Highlighted by choir-like vocal ambience and booming guitar riffs, El Camino is an ultra-fun yet elemental beast.

2. Jessica Lea Mayfield: Tell Me – Mayfield sings like she belongs in a David Lynch movie. Her languid vocals are practically elastic as they stretch to embrace the bluesy, boozy melodies and noir-style guitar twang co-designed by producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Mayfield’s songs are equally entrancing – a vulnerable, vampish mesh of queasy, after hours sagas. 

3. Buddy Miller: The Majestic Silver Strings – Americana everyman Miller enlists a stellar crew of co-guitarists (Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz) and vocalists (Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Lee Ann Womack) to warp and rewire early country traditions. Dang Me as a dirge? The angelic Womack singing Ribot’s twisted Meds? Welcome to the music of an altogether new country.

4. Tinariwen: Tassili – Retreating again to the deserts of Southern Algeria after their northern Mali homeland was deemed unsafe for recording sessions, the nomadic musical renegades known as Tinariwen recruited members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and TV on the Radio along with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline for an album of sly, incantatory rebel songs.

5. Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What – On his best recording since 1990’s The Rhythm of the Saints, folk/pop icon Simon implements the world music lexicon that long ago became a mother tongue for his music to reflect on God, life, love, and mortality. But the resulting music possesses the same senses of sagely lyricism and melodic wonder that remain Simon trademarks.

6. Daniel Martin Moore: In the Cool of the Day – A master of administering quiet to the art of folk songcraft, Kentucky native Moore examines a selection of original, popular and traditional spirituals, with the Jean Ritchie-penned title tune leading the light-as-air charge. Moore delivers them all with whispery, meditative reflection. An elegant, elegiac recording of pure folk contentment.

7. The Decemberists: The King is Dead – Distancing themselves from the fanciful, prog-flavored works that dominated their last two albums, Colin Meloy and company head to the country for a predominantly acoustic, hootenanny-style session that still emphasizes The Decemberists’ gift of literary gab. An album of summery splendor released during the dead of winter.

8. Tom Waits: Bad as Me – Armed with a guitar team that includes Marc Ribot, David Hidalgo and Keith Richards, doomsday troubadour Waits conjures another rogues gallery of pop tales that run from ruinous snapshots of war’s aftermath to surprisingly introspective ballads. And then there are instances, like Get Lost, when Waits lets loose with serious, bone rattling jubilation.

9. Preservation Hall Jazz Band and The Del McCoury Band: American Legacies – New Orleans’ most established jazz traditionalists pairing with the foremost family band in bluegrass? Believe it. American Legacies finds often righteous common ground between the Crescent City brass and bluegrass strings of two stylistic varied but culturally like-minded ensembles.

10. Gillian Welch: The Harrow and the Harvest – Welch has tried a less-is-more formula before with mixed results. But with producer and longtime co-hort David Rawlings serving as her only accompanist, The Harrow and the Harvest offers an arresting glimpse of old-time folk and country as witnessed by very modern (and world weary) ears and eyes.

PSEG Foundation and Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education Award $45K in Grants

Manufacturing Close-Up February 11, 2012 The PSEG Foundation and the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education will be awarding a total of $45,000 in competitive grants to help increase the sustainability of New Jersey communities, through the “PSEG-ANJEE Learners in Sustainability” grant program.

“We are pleased to be entering the second year of our grant partnership with PSEG,” said Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education President Dale Rosselet. “This is an excellent opportunity for educators to work collaboratively to enhance science instruction and environmental literacy in the Garden State.” Officials noted that the goal of the grant program is to create partnerships between non-formal environmental education providers and K-5 pre-service or practicing teachers. Partnerships will provide teachers with the knowledge, skills, and curricular materials to implement environmental education in their teaching year, using the 2009 NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards in Science and authentic assessment methods. go to web site princeton regional schools

Eligible applicants can include public, private and charter elementary schools; colleges and universities with teacher education programs; informal education facilities and institutions, such as museums, zoos, nature centers and parks; after-school and early childhood education programs; and consultants, businesses and corporations. website princeton regional schools

Examples of projects that could be funded are: teacher institutes sponsored by a nature center or museum; programs introducing pre- service teachers to sustainability and environmental education and science education, or partnerships between non-formal institutions and after-school programs, environmental or science clubs, or other school-affiliated programs. Recipients of the 2011 grants included Tenafly Public Schools, Princeton Regional Schools and the Educational Information & Resource Center in Gloucester County.

Officials noted that grants of $5,000-$15,000 are available in each of three New Jersey regions.

PSEG is a New Jersey energy company.

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10 from 11

brothers scott and seth avett performing at rupp arena in october. photo by herald-leader staff  photographer mark cornelison.

brothers scott and seth avett performing at rupp arena in october. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

Let’s take a look back at the year that was by way of 10 concert snapshots. This isn’t a Top 10 list, nor is it an attempt to categorize what was “the best” in the way of concert experiences during 2011. This is merely a gallery of 10 remembrances from 10 fine performances staged in 10 Lexington venues (well, actually 11 if you read closely) held over the past year. All are presented in chronological order.

+ Nellie McKay at Natasha’s (January) – Before a crowd packed together like strangers on a rush hour bus, McKay offered a repertoire that included the savagely tongue-in-cheek I Wanna Get Married, covers of hits by such disparate artists as Tom Waits and Ella Fitzgerald and a few well-aimed socio-political stabs like Mother of Pearl. But the serene and lavish Fitzgerald gem Midnight Sun iced off this deliciously askew cabaret.

+ Randy Newman at the Opera House (February) – Known today primarily as a film score composer, Newman reasserted his songwriting smarts with a solo piano performance that was alternatively frightening and hysterical. Sometimes a master satirist but often a chronicler of stark, severe human frailties, Newman offered remarkably emotive songs served with unapologetic candor.

+ The Dead Kenny G’s with Freekbass at Cosmic Charlie’s (March) – How can you not love a trio of avant-garde rock/funksters with serious jazz chops that don curly-cue wigs and call themselves The Dead Kenny G’s? As if the band’s monstrous modern fusion music wasn’t fun enough, Cincinnati’s Freekbass sat in to bring the fractured, furious grooves of The Dead Kenny G’s to seriously disturbing life.

+ The Drive-By Truckers at Buster’s and CD Central (April) – For an entire spring weekend, the dark, soulful Southern electricity of the Truckers took over Lexington. It included two successive nights at Buster’s, where the band ignited the seedy guitar-rock charge of its Go Go Boots album, along with an acoustic in-store set at CD Central by Truckers Patterson Hood and Jay Gonzalez. What a treat.

jim james with my morning jacket at memorial coliseum in april. photo by mark cornelison.

+ My Morning Jacket with Ben Sollee at Memorial Coliseum (April) – For its first Lexington concert outing in over nine years, Louisville’s MMJ offered a tireless 2 ½ hour career overview with Kentucky cello popster Sollee as show opener and onstage collaborator. Previews of MMJ’s then-upcoming Circuital album were highlights, although the show had the feel of a reunion between estranged Kentucky neighbors.

+ Ken Vandermark and Tim Daisy at the Downtown Arts Center (July) – Two cornerstone members of Chicago’s fertile indie jazz community, and mainstay visitors to Lexington’s Outside the Spotlight series, returned for a hearty set of reed and percussion duets. Shades of the great John Coltrane/Rashied Ali collaborations from the late ‘60s were suggested. But the duo’s keen performance dynamics were consistently distinctive.

+ Bill Bruford at the Drum Center of Lexington (October) – Technically, this was a non-performance – a fascinating discussion by retiree drummer Bruford that covered work with Yes, King Crimson, his jazz band Earthworks along with numerous artistic and commerce-related observations associated with a 40-plus year musical career. Presented in the Drum Center’s showroom, it was like having a prog-rock legend over as a dinner guest.

+ Richard Thompson at the Kentucky Theatre (October) – This solo acoustic return to the Kentucky drew upon masterful guitar technique that revealed the harmonic depth of a small string ensemble. But the songs boasted Dickensian imagery along with numerous contemporary references (like the Occupy Wall Street movement). It revealed again that as a songsmith, performer and guitarist, Thompson is, quite simply, peerless. 

+ The Avett Brothers with Jessica Lea Mayfield at Rupp Arena (October) – In and of itself, this wasn’t one for the record books, especially since the Avetts’ bluegrass-punk hootenanny was without the services of bassist Bob Crawford. But given how the rest of Rupp’s non-country calendar was given over to such drab pop artifacts as Three Doors Down and Styx, this big house outing by the Avetts was an artistic oasis.

+ Pink Martini with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra at the Singletary Center for the Arts (December) – Centering on a pop repertoire that spanned the globe (from Brazil to Croatia) and multiple stylistic universes (from Ravel and Verdi classicism to Judy Garland and Doris Day pop), Portland’s tropically inclined Pink Martini utilized the always industrious UK Symphony as a full orchestral resource for music as epic as it was elegant.

in the christmas spirit

charlie brown gets in touch with his inner yule during a scene from 1965's "a charlie brown christmas."

It all leads up to this. Two and a half months of commercial badgering (although I must admit to getting a kick out of the Target TV spot with Santa running through the parking lot in slo-mo), caustic debates on the PC-aspect of wishing one ‘Merry Christmas’ (both sides, quite frankly, need to get a grip) and the realization that one’s budget seldom equals his/her level of holiday spirit (nor should it, perhaps).

Christmas comes every year, whether we are ready for it or not. Helping me to navigate through the home stretch of holiday stress these last few days have been my longtime favorite holiday albums – John Fahey’s solo guitar classic The New Possibility, Booker T. and the MG’s’ ultra-cool In the Christmas Spirit, Phil Spector’s glorious seasonal pop-fest A Christmas Gift for You and, of course, Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Their appeal is comforting and nostalgic, much like the holiday season itself.

May you discover your own sounds of the season this Christmas and your own tidings of joy, in whatever way you choose.

critic's pick 207

The first thing you have to adjust to on violinist Mark O’Connor’s new holiday release is the title: An Appalachian Christmas. The name seems to conjure the sort of old world imagery that certainly seems in keeping with holiday tradition. Apply that to music, though, and you might expect a sort of antique acoustic sound that relies exclusively on pre-bluegrass country expression.

That’s not really O’Connor’s game plan here. Admittedly, he helped reshape an Americana/chamber hybrid sound with his Appalachia Waltz album over 15 years ago. That landmark work is echoed twice on An Appalachian Christmas.

First, there is a brief reunion of the original Appalachia Waltz Trio – O’Connor, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and double bassist Edgar Meyer – on a slight, stately reading of Stephen Foster’s Slumber My Darling that comes iced with the delicate, wintry vocals of Alison Kraus. The second is an update of Appalachia Waltz’s title tune reworked as a lovely duet between O’Connor and guitarist Sharon Isbin. Both songs possess a stark beauty that revels in the music’s relaxed tempo, its rich but understated instrumental harmony and, of course, O’Connor’s exquisite tone that meshes robust classicism with an almost impressionistic folk glow.

But these songs represent only two holiday portraits on an album that regularly strays far from even the most expansive notions of musical Appalachia. Winter Wonderland and The Christmas Song spotlight O’Connor’s long-running Hot Swing Trio (highlighted by the gypsy accents of guitarist Frank Vignola) along with jazz-infused vocals from cabaret songstress Jane Monheit. It’s a fine and festive moment, but one that perhaps better befits a Manhattan jazz club that any Appalachian arena.

The same goes for Away in a Manger and Amazing Grave, both of which enlist the aid of Renee Fleming. Like O’Connor, Fleming is a classicist with a stylistically open mind, although the operatic detail of her singing, even went placed alongside the decidedly country fiddle lead of Amazing Grace, takes us very much into formal concert hall territory.

Elsewhere, An Appalachian Christmas favors contemporary Nashville with the sleeker country preferences of Now It Belongs to You, which is sung and composed by Steve Wariner. Ol’ Blue invites James Taylor to the party for a plaintive canine eulogy while Sleigh Ride reverts back to the one-man-band recordings O’Connor cut in the ‘80s with the violinist overdubbing his own contributions on mandola, mandolin, banjo, bass, percussion and more for music that leans toward jazz with a suggestion of bossa nova.

None of this should deter you from hopping aboard O’Connor’s holiday express. This is a crisp, expressive seasonal vehicle with consistently world class instrumentation. Just don’t expect the train to stay parked in Appalachia. Like ol’ St. Nick, O’Connor has considerable ground to cover in a single outing.

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way beyond mediocre

ximena sarinana. photo by emily shur.

Early into her still-young career – back when she first studied music after years of acting in films and Mexican telenovelas – Ximena Sarinana learned to keep an open ear and an open mind.

Her initial schooling began with jazz. But the songstress absorbed most every sound her eager intellect could soak in.

“Jazz came first,” she said. “That was the vehicle for knowledge. But I soon branched out to hear a lot of Brazilian music and a lot of tango. I was obsessed with Astor Piazzolla (the late, legendary Argentine tango pioneer) for awhile. And I absolutely loved Peruvian music and the music of Uruguay. And of course, I listened to jazz and classical music.

“I listened to new things and old things, as well. That made me a bit open minded when I began searching for the sounds, the chords and the melodies for my own songs.”

Such inspirations surfaced in the form of a very versed pop album in 2008 that bore a title that could not have been less indicative of the songs it contained: Mediocre. Luckily, her Mexican homeland and a rapidly growing United States following didn’t judge the album by its name. The 12 tunes that made up Mediocre, all of which were sung in Spanish, earned Sarinana a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album along with two additional nods from the Latin Grammys.

Then came a growth spurt – a huge one, in fact. For her 2011, self-titled follow-up album, the singer (pronounced he-may-na sah-ree-nyah-na) relocated from her native Guadalajara by way of Mexico City to Los Angeles, wrote or co-wrote nearly all of her material in English (Sarinana has been bilingual since childhood) and set upon cultivating a fanbase that Mediocre triggered.

“It was a very challenging time for me and a very challenging record to make,” said Sarinana, 25. “I was essentially starting from scratch in a different territory in a different country with a different language. But I was really excited to be working in L.A., which is kind of the hub of the American music industry. That made me want to push myself as much as possible to put out a really good quality record.”

Teaming with producer and co-songwriter Greg Kurstin of the jazz-accented duo Bird and the Bee, Ximena Sarinana luxuriates in its broad pop scope and often confessional themes. The album-opening Different ignites with a chirpy, whistling Brazilian melody, an immediately infectious vocal chorus and lyrics (“I’m a light leader in the making”) that exude a light but unapologetic confidence.

In contrast, Tomorrow reflects a more romantic but less assured emotive stance (“I’m such an easy target to deceive”) that juggles radio friendly pop with modest soundscapes of electronica.

“For me, songwriting is all about self-analysis,” Sarinana said. “I try to take inspiration out of everything I listen to, everything I watch or read, and try to run with those concepts. I’m a believer in how everything happening in your life is happening for a reason. So I’m very self-analytical about things and try to put what is going on in my life out there in the form of songs.”

Before music became the focus of her career, Sarinana spent considerable time in front of a camera as an actress. The daughter of the noted Mexican film director Fernando Sarinana and his screenwriter wife Carolina Rivera, she began acting for movies and television at age 11. But even as musical interests grew, Sarinana said her parents remained supportive.

“For me, music and acting were the same thing. They were the things I loved doing and was encouraged to do. My parents never said no. I mean, they had their limitations. I had to get good grades if I wanted to continue acting. I had to be responsible for my homework if I wanted to go to music school after school. But they gave me that voice as a child to express myself.

“So, creatively speaking, I’m always ready to try something new. As with everything in life, once you take a step forward, you want to take more steps and more steps.”

Ximena Sarinana with Graffiti 6 perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 21 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Call (859) 309-9499.

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