Archive for October, 2013

faster than a speeding idol

scotty mccreery

scotty mccreery.

There is something of a superhero saga at work in the career of Scotty McCreery. You can almost hear the dramatic voice-over.

“By day, a mild mannered college sophomore…”

Well, technically it’s just two days – Mondays and Wednesdays. That’s when he attends classes in media studies at North Carolina State University.

“But on weekends, he becomes a country music star…”

Bolstered by taking top honors in the 10th season of American Idol, McCreery became an immediate celebrity. But unlike many of the show’s champions, his popularity continues to mount. Last year he was named the top new artist by Billboard magazine, the Academy of Country Music Awards, the American Country Awards and the CMT Awards.

“Able to leap the charts in a single bound…”

That’s not an exaggeration. His new album See You Tonight entered Billboard’s country charts last week at No. 1. Less than two years earlier, just after the Idol win, McCreery became the youngest artist (at age 18) to have a debut album (in his case, Clear As Day) hit the top of Billboard’s all-genre Top 200 chart during its first week of release.

Add to that his first run as a headlining concert act and an appearance as recently as last week on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and you get a sense of the other life this NC State student leads.

“It’s definitely a challenge balancing everything, but it’s fun,” said McCreery, who performs Friday at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. “We’re enjoying it, and I think it will be good for me in the long run. But it’s a lot that we’re trying to do right now. We’re just trying to have a good time with it all.”

A native of Garner, North Carolina, McCreery stood out immediately from the usual array of pop hopefuls on American Idol in 2011 largely because his age (then 17) didn’t match his tough-as-oak baritone singing or the versed phrasing that came with it.

Perhaps the most mature aspect surrounding McCreery at the time was the realization that American Idol wasn’t so much a star-making vehicle as a starting point. Getting the top prize was one thing. Turning his win into a lasting career was entirely up to him.

“I’m here, of course, because Idol worked out for me. I was going to try and make it in Nashville after college. That was kind of my original plan. Luckily Idol worked out.

Idol was the launch pad. It was the platform. It was never a career guarantee, but it was a platform for folks to get to know who you are and know your music. So it was a great thing in that respect. And I learned a lot from it. It was like a mini boot-camp for the music industry. They really teach you a lot in a short amount of time.

“I was young. I’m still young. But I’m also a little more mature now, I’d say. Still, that kind of foundation gave folks a good understanding of who I was as an artist and as a person.”

Initial roadwork for McCreery included a 2011 summer tour with his American Idol co-finalists and an opening act slot on an extensive arena tour with Brad Paisley that played Rupp Arena last year. All that set McCreery up for his debut as a tour headliner.

“The main thing we’ve done is try to learn from Brad and from the other tours, from knowing the show we’re putting on to the behind the scenes stuff and especially the way we treat people. Brad was really a class act and a really respectable guy, so that’s what we’re going for, because you hear the horror stories of acts that are just tough to work with. That isn’t what we want to be. We want to be easy to work with and have folks excited to be with us.”

If McCreery wanted to emulate the business acumen of pros like Paisley in setting up his current tour, he also knew what he didn’t want when it came time to make See You Tonight. Specifically, he sought to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” that hits artists under pressure to commercially surpass the success of a hit debut.

“For me, I think it was kind of the opposite situation. With this record, it was a lot more comfortable. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was a lot more comfortable just because we had so much time to work with. For the first record, we came out of Idol, went on the Idol tour and were trying to squeeze in a record while doing all that. That was tough. But with this one, we really had time. We sat down and really made sure we talked about what we wanted to do with this record and didn’t just start singing songs to get a record out really quick.

“The whole career has become very manageable. I don’t think it has really settled. But we’re kind of keeping the system in place. We are understanding the whole thing better.

“We come home for three days a week and then head out four days a week. It’s not difficult. You can’t help but worry about the little things. But we know the big stuff. We’ve got an understanding of what is time important and what is really urgent and what is not. We understand the whole industry a little better, so that’s making things easier. It’s still busy. It’s a 24/7 deal, but we keep learning how to handle it.”

Scotty McCreery performs at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College, 600 West Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets are $60-$85. Call (877) 448-7469 or go to

critic’s pick 302: van morrison, ‘moondance’ (deluxe edition)

moondanceOne has to wonder about the timing and arrival this fall of three new editions of Van Morrison’s 1970 classic Moondance. Usually, such reissue projects are tied to an anniversary of the original album release date, the recording sessions or some such milestone. These newly reconstituted versions of Moondance come with no such strings. They serve simply as an extended chronicle of Morrison at one of his first creative peaks (he was 24 when the album was cut in the fall of 1969) and a reflection of an altogether different pop era.

Infused by piano, brass, subtle but purposeful guitar and, of course, the giddy high tenor of Morrison’s otherworldly singing, Moondance flew in the face of the pop psychedelia of the day. While a mighty funk groove is summoned during three takes on I’ve Been Working – a highlight of the album’s new five-disc Deluxe Edition even though the tune wouldn’t officially surface for another 10 months on the late 1970 follow-up His Band and the Street Choir – much of  this music is an altogether live sounding mix of folk, pop and soul.

Sometimes the blend produces deliciously unexpected results – like the harpsichord that races like a bullet train through Everyone, one of only two Moondance tunes not examined in the reissues through outtake versions (the album-opening And It Stoned Me is the other). On the soul side is the true discovery on the new Moondance editions of a calypso tune titled I Shall Sing. It reflects every bit of the spiritual bliss encircling the album’s cornerstone works, Caravan and Into the Mystic, even though the song sounds like a comparatively streamlined blast of brassy, party deck pop.

Speaking of Caravan and Into the Mystic, both are presented on the five-disc edition through a treasure trove of outtakes. All are remarkably insightful in regard to the music’s construction. These aren’t blueprint-style demo recordings. Since the bulk of the album was recorded live (save for much of the brass), the tracks are complete though sometimes understandably tentative performances that you can’t help but feel you’re eavesdropping on.

The five-disc Moondance Deluxe Edition was reviewed here, although it is essentially a luxury purchase for rabid die-hards. You still get a strong feel for all the extras on the two disc Expanded Edition, even though it trims the outtakes down to 11 tunes. And for those who simply want to soak in the newly remastered version of Moondance or, heaven forbid, have never experienced this glorious music in the first place, there is the Standard Edition which covers the original 39 minute album.

Regardless of which of these editions suits your budget and dedication, Moondance remains, nearly 44 years after its creation, a vital pop masterwork. How grand it is to bask in its glow again.

Lou Reed, 1942-2013

lou reed

Lou Reed

Terry Gross had a great Lou Reed tale to tell when she visited Lexington in 2002. As part of a fundraising event, the host of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air played what was, in essence, the aural equivalent of a blooper reel. Among the highlights was a recording of a perturbed Reed, who walked off the program, unwilling to reminisce about his days with the Velvet Underground.

That details the sort of respect Reed commanded – that one of the most respected on-air interviewers of our day would wear his rebuff like a badge of honor.

In his lifetime, Reed was a dark colossus. He addressed the more taboo sides of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll by simultaneously demonizing and romanticizing them. From the Velvet Underground staples Venus in Furs and Heroin in the ’60s to any number of stark, uncompromising albums in the’70s, including Transformer, Berlin, Coney Island Baby and Street Hassle, Reed rolled punk and glam, fashion and anarchy, into one renegade image.

I got to see Reed perform only once. That was when he played all of New York, the scorched 1988 album opus to his homeland, at Music Hall in Cincinnati shortly after the record’s release. In performance – as in any of the numerous concert recordings he issued – I got the sense of what a musical pioneer Reed also was. He created guitar sounds in bold, sculpted layers that often played a back-seat role on later albums to the increasing literary scope of his narratives.

Two of the best (and most overlooked) examples of the poetic cahoots that existed between Reed’s words and music were 1979’s The Bells (which enlisted jazz innovator Don Cherry) and 1982’s The Blue Mask (probably the best Reed record to feature the extraordinary guitarist Robert Quine).

Upon news Sunday night of Reed’s death earlier in the day at age 71 from liver disease, the album I reached for wasn’t Transformer or New York or any of his other classics, but a forgotten 2004 concert set called Animal Serenade. I wanted to hear something that placed the classics of Reed’s youth next to the dark meditations of his adulthood. Hearing Reed, who was 61 at the time, plow through a lifetime’s work with a wink and a snarl seemed like an affirmation. Now that he has taken a walk on what is truly the wild side, we are left with postscripts, all with an imprint that is unmistakably New York and all filled with dark, imposing beauty.

in performance: keefe jackson, tomeka reid and christoph erb/the uk free jazz ensemble

keefe jackson

keefe jackson.

Somewhere in the midst of a lengthy inaugural improvisation earlier tonight at Mecca existed a junction where the music created by three unlikely instrumental components met and vanished into space. By that, I mean it became impossible to tell where one idea began and another ended. Or meshed into another. Or harmonized. Or, in some cases, revolted.

The participants were two reed players that doubled on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone – Keefe Jackson of Chicago and Christoph Erb of Switzerland. Between them sat cellist Tomeka Reid, also of Chicago, whose vocabulary of plucked, bowed and tapped sounds served as the closest thing this Outside the Spotlight performance had to a mediator.

For the most part, the three players improvised independently, pausing only long enough for Jackson and Erb to switch instruments. Initially, the reeds were delivered through pops and percussive punctures over cyclical sounds on the cello that simulated fractured chamber accents in some passages and strident shotgun blasts of sound at others.

Then came moments where the instruments would mesh in almost accidental fashion, from the cello arpeggios Reid stewed under Erb’s bass clarinet colors early in the program to the sinewy support the two players (with Erb on saxophone) played under Jackson’s clarinet mediation at the show’s conclusion.

With the exception of heated exchanges at the onset of the third of the concert’s three untitled improvisations, the music retained a spacious, unhurried feel. Then again, the entire performance slowly shifted in shades of tonal color, pace, and temperament. Just as soon as you grew even modestly accustomed to Erb’s oscillating runs on clarinet in the program’s second improv, the music was passed to Reid and then decelerated, as if exhaling, into a quiet, brief solo before disappearing altogether. The cumulative sounds were as fascinating as they were indefinable.

Opening the evening was a brief performance of more orderly and orchestral improvs from the University of Kentucky Free Jazz Ensemble. Initially triggered by electric bass and brought to a thundering halt by harmonium-style keyboards and a massive drum clap, the set offered a nicely textured – and, at times, almost pastoral – quilt of flugelhorn, bassoon, percussion and piano. Oh yes, one improv began and ended with a chorus of coughs – a suitable compliment to the wintry tone of the music.


in performance: trio brasileiro

trio brasileiro

trio brasileiro: dudu maia, alexandre lora and douglas lora.

In describing the music that made up the third song in an exquisite 75 minute set last night at the Downtown Arts Center, Trio Brasileiro guitarist Douglas Lora used the tags “beautiful” and “uplifting.”

True to form, the resulting Sarue Bengala, a composition by the trio’s bandolim (mandolin) player Dudu Maia, lived up to the billing. It was a ballet of summery string melodies played at lightning speed, although the music that shot forth from the tune never sounded hurried.

The thing was, however, that just about everything the trio delved into was beautiful and uplifting. Devoted to the traditional Brazilian music known as choro, Trio Brasileiro constructed tunes that utilized bandolim as its primary lead instrument. In doing so, Maia played leads that were rapid, darting and exact in execution yet light and immensely lyrical in tone. Lora’s playing on 7-string guitar filled the bass role at several intervals while supplying countermelodies to Maia’s instrumentation at others. The guitarist’s brother, Alexandre Lora, supplied subtle percussion on the tambourine-like pandeiro.

At times, the trio’s melodies bordered on comparatively contemporary bossa nova rhythms, as on Perigoso. There were also occasions where the music subsided into classical pizzicato runs, as during the light but wildly intricate dual guitar and bandolim lines near the conclusion of Choro Pra Je. And for Tico-Tico No Fuba, the trio flirted with folk melodies for exchanges that were continually playful.

The bulk of the repertoire came from Trio Brasileiro’s debut album Simples Assim, a live studio recording cut last year in Brazil. The title, roughly translated, means “it’s that simple.” Along with a few tunes from a forthcoming collaborative record with the fine Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen, the trio indeed made all of its music seem simple, even though the warp speed string melodies were anything but that. Still, judging by the abundant smiles that regularly beamed from the faces of the three players during this final performance of its North American tour, choro music wasn’t exactly a chore, either.

verdi en masse

uk orchestra

the 300-plus members of the university of kentucky orchestra, the uk chorale and the lexington singers during a rehearsal earlier this week at the singletary center for the arts.

John Nardolillo likes to think big.

After taking the University of Kentucky Orchestra to China for a summer tour, he dived into a season that will guide the orchestra, of which he is music director and conductor, through a performances with the internationally heralded pianist Lang Lang and a concert featuring GustavMahler’s Symphony No. 2.  Even as he discussed those events last week, he was set to take up the baton for the second week of the UK Opera Theatre’s production of Les Miserables at the Opera House.

But for sheer enormity, nothing will beat what the UK Orchestra has planned for its performance tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts. The program will be devoted to Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, an extended work that will team the orchestra with the UK Chorale and the Lexington Singers. The head count of musicians and vocalists required to execute the piece: roughly 300.

“We have a little history of doing these kinds of works,” Nardolillo said. “We’ve done the Berlioz Requiem, which is also huge. We’ve done several really large scale collaborations with UK choirs and the Lexington Singers. We did a project with the Boston Pops at Rupp Arena with about 175 musicians in the orchestras and 500 in the choir. And of course there was the opening ceremony of the World Equestrian Games where we had a large orchestra. There were 500 in that choir, too. So we’ve done some big ones.

“Now, the Verdi Requiem was written for a huge space and for large choruses. But what’s interesting is that its most beautiful moments are soft and quiet.”

Premiered in Milan in 1874, the Verdi Requiem was something of a resurrection. It was initially envisioned a collaborative tribute between several Italian composers in honor of Gioachino Rossini. When the project collapsed shortly before its premiere, Verdi began work on a full scale Requiem of his own as a tribute the Italian writer and poet Alessandro Manzoni. As Verdi is perhaps best known for his operas, the resulting Requiem bore strong operatic accents.

“Verdi was a man of the theatre, and his most famous works are his operas – La Traviata, Il trovatore. Even in approaching the Requiem, he is writing from the standpoint of the drama. There are four very important vocal soloists in the piece – soprano, mezzo, tenor and a bass. These are the size of opera roles, so we had to have spectacular voices.”

For soprano, UK turned to one of its own. Cynthia Lawrence, Endowed Chair in Voice at the university’s school of music, has performed at the Metropolitan Opera (as Madame Butterfly and Tosca, among other roles), toured globally with Luciano Pavarotti and has compiled a wildly extensive list of performance credits that include several of Verdi’s most famous operas (including La Traviata).

“For a vocalist, the Requiem is every bit as challenging as any of Verdi’s operas” Lawrence said. “Verdi understood the voice so very well that he asks all of the singers, not just the soprano, to be in top vocal form and use their complete dynamic range. You will probably hear extreme pianissimos from the choir and the soloists as well as some grand, hair-raising fortes and sweeping lines. So he kind of condenses everything into one expression of the Requiem.

“I like drama, and Verdi does drama very well.”

Lawrence’s connection to the Verdi Requiem is also quite personal. She first sang it as memorial to one of the strongest supporters of her career, her grandfather.

“It was going to be a celebration of his life. Unfortunately, he passed away just before we began the rehearsal process. So it became a memorial. But the other aspect of it is that I have sung so many Verdi operas. In going back over the piece, I’ve discovered so much more about the music. No wonder this piece endures and is so amazingly exciting for everybody who sings it, performs it and hears it.”

Much of that excitement stems to being able to share such a majestic work not only with an audience but with her students, several of whom will perform as part of the chorus in tonight’s concert.

“As some of my students will be in the chorus, they’re going to see me working,” Lawrence said. “We talk about that in master classes and in lessons a lot. ‘How do you deal with an orchestra? How do you deal with the rehearsal process?’  And they are going to see me doing it upfront and personal all week and experiencing it. There is no substitute for that.”

Nardolillo similarly welcomes the opportunity for the UK Orchestra to witness the Verdi Requiem from a creative rather than strictly academic standpoint.

“One of the things I love about my job here is the opportunity to put this music in front of young musicians who have never heard it before” he said. “The process of discovering a real masterpiece can change your life. I love that. I love working with the singers and I love the opportunity to present a great work of art for our audience.

“And this really is a stunning work of art that moves your spirit and your soul. It speaks to the most basic questions of the human condition.”

The Verdi Requiem will be performed by the University of Kentucky Orchestra and Chorale and the Lexington Singers tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Admission is free.

in performance: vc/dc

vc-dcLate into the last of three fascinating, untitled improvisations last night at Mecca, a distant crackle surfaced in the music of the Norwegian/Chicago quartet VC/DC. One hesitated to call it a glitch in the sound mix, as there was no sound mix. But given that two of the four group members used modest amplification, it was easy to chalk up the meager disturbance to an unsettled monitor and speaker. But, no, the crackle was one of the very purposeful vocal accents utilized by Stine Janvin Motland, a stylist who carried enough cunning and creative phrasing to blend in expertly with such improvisational greats as clarinetist Frode Gjerstad and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (VC/DC’s lone American).

Throughout an all-too-brief 45 minute set (the latest installment in the Outside the Spotlight Series), Motland used myriad vocal sounds to match the music’s spontaneous creation and execution. Quite often, what came out of her mouth didn’t approximate a human voice at all. Sometimes it sounded like Morse code. Sometimes it sounded like a gust of wind. And there several instances where the tone of Motland’s voice, whether intentionally or not, mimicked Lonberg-Holm’s electronically enhanced cello lines so closely that it was tough to tell what sound was emanating from which player.

I have to admit to approaching this program with some trepidation. I found Motland’s decidedly abstract vocal work to be intrusive on VC/DC’s 2011 debut album. Based on that recording, it was easy to think she was going to go totally Yoko Ono on the music at Mecca. But a strong group sound has developed since that first record. You heard it somewhat on the band’s sophomore album Insult. It was far more in evidence last night.

What was immediately striking was that no one soloed throughout the set. There were several passages where players would drop out, but never was one artist left to go it alone. It was also clear that Gjerstad – whose preference for fiercely intense playing but leisurely paced ensemble excursions, a combination also adopted by VC/DC – was the band’s guiding force.

Sometimes there would enough symmetry for a groove, especially within the snare percussion offered late in the set by drummer Stale Liavik Solberg. In other instances, Gjerstad would slice through the solace of the more contemplative passages with blasts on bass clarinet that could shatter glass. And, as with the best OTS shows, silence became a welcome ally, creating codas that lasted only a beat or two but operated like punctuation at the end of an oratory. It was a device, equally spontaneous in nature, that made the music preceding it sound all the more astounding.


frode gjerstad

frode gjerstad returns to the outside the spotlight series with VC/DC tonight at mecca.

Forgive the late notice, but if you are at all a fan of the Outside the Spotlight series that has been bringing world class improvisational and free jazz-based concerts to Lexington since 2002, then set aside tonight and Sunday evening. OTS founder Ross Compton has two fine performances on tap that will likely close out the series for 2013.

Tonight brings Norwegian clarinetist Frode Gjerstad back to Lexington. This time, though, his band will be the industrious quartet VC/DC. It features cellist and OTS mainstay Fred Lonberg-Holm along with two additional ambassadors from Norway – drummer Stale Liavik Solberg and vocalist Stine Janvin Motland.

Don’t mistake the presence of a singer as any kind of mainstream concession. Motland is credited on VC/DC’s two albums, the newest of which is Insult, not with vocals but with “voice.” As such, her wordless singing works as a fourth instrument in the band’s majestically fractured improvisations.

On Tap Sunday will be the trio of reed player Keefe Jackson and cellist Tomeka Reid, both regulars of the same fruitful Chicago improvisational music community Holm currently calls home, and Swiss bass clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Christoph Erb.

Jackson has been a frequent OTS visitor over the years, having played here as a member of the Chicago Luzern Exchange, The Aram Shelton Quartet and Fast Citizens (the latter is a unique Chicago collective that alternates leadership roles with each album; Jackson led the debut lineup of the band). Erb, on the other hand, has devoted an entire series of recordings on his Veto label to summit projects between Chicago and Swiss artists.

The Jackson-Erb-Reid Trio is largely an outgrowth of a two cello/two bass clarinet group that recently issued a recording called Duope. Curiously the fourth ensemble member on the album is Holm.

Both concerts will be held at the Mecca dance studio at 948 Manchester St. Both have a start time of 8 p.m. Both come with a suggested donation admission of $5 (still a ridiculous bargain). Both are not to be missed.

critic’s pick 301: john abercrombie quartet, ’39 steps’ ; ralph towner/wolfgang muthspiel/slava grigoryan, ‘travel guide’

39 stepsAbout four minutes into Ralph Towner’s new Travel Guide album, you hear the decidedly autumnal cast of acoustic guitar work undercut by light, electric counterpoint. If you know Towner’s work, you would swear the second guitarist was his old ECM running buddy John Abercrombie. The unexpected but quite harmonious blend of Towner’s classically accented acoustic play and Abercrombie’s more restless electric instrumentation was one of the ECM label’s most beguiling sounds. It was warm and wintry, intimate and orchestral, all at the same time.

Travel Guide, however, is something of a tease. Towner’s new electric companion is Wolfgang Muthspiel, a player who chooses to match Towner’s patient, playful tone rather than play off it as Abercrombie used to. There is a third player in the mix, Slava Grigoryan, who also plays classical but additionally offsets the balance on baritone guitar. It’s not hard to pick Towner out of the mix, though. His playing simply glides, from the lean but mysterious lyricism of Museum of Light to the rich lyrical clusters of Windsong that recall Towner’s ongoing work with the multi-stylistic jazz troupe Oregon.

So where is Abercrombie when Towner’s new trio project spins further atmospheric variations on the ECM sound? Not sitting idly by, that’s for sure. Like Travel Guide, there is a modest harkening to the past on his new quartet album, 39 Steps.

travel guideCuriously, the first sound you hear isn’t guitar but lone piano chords that bring Towner to mind. Towner has doubled throughout his career as a highly intuitive pianist, even though there is limited use of the instrument on his solo work (on Travel Guide, piano is absent entirely). The piano voice on 39 Steps belongs to Marc Copland. While he has collaborated several times with Abercrombie (though mostly on Copland’s own recordings), he is new to the Quartet – a group that has been without piano altogether for decades.

Copland tempers the proceedings considerably, making 39 Steps one of Abercrombie’s most serene works. The contemplative mood is established in the album-opening Vertigo (one of several pieces bearing Hitchcock-ian titles) as guitar and piano engage in a light ballet accented by the animated drum fills of Joey Baron. The mood carries over into the boppish ballad As It Stands before relaxing into the elongated flow of Spellbound. The quartet steps up the pace in increments on Shadow of a Doubt, leaving 39 Steps’ title tune as the record’s most ominous and spacious journey.

Does all of this mean we will hear Abercrombie and Towner cut another duet recording? Seeing as the last one, Five Years Later, is now three decades old, such a prospect seems unlikely. But how fun it is to hear the two echoing each other on recordings where new alliances cross paths with old inspirations.

in performance: steve winwood

steve winwood

steve winwood.

Few pop stylists have seen their career reborn more frequently than Steve Winwood. But throughout the various solo, band and collaborative projects it has employed, Winwood’s music – a distinctive and refined version of British r&b filtered through various shades of rock, folk and prog – has remained remarkably consistent. He proved why in very short order last night at the Louisville Palace.

For starters, there was the voice – a high, expressive wail born out of vintage soul that last night sounded remarkably unaffected by the ages. At 65, Winwood hit at the upper range of vintage fare like Had to Cry Today (a forgotten gem he cut with the short lived 1969 supergroup Blind Faith) and contemporary works such as Fly (one of the two songs performed from Winwood’s most recent recording, 2008’s Nine Lives) with ease. Fortifying those works was perhaps Winwood’s second most recognizable voice – a command of the Hammond organ that seemed conversational and almost casual in execution. But it provided an orchestral, organic bedrock of sound, even on the more processed and synthesized 1986 hit Higher Love, the only work offered from Winwood’s ‘80s and’90s commercial renaissance.

That led to the songs themselves. While Winwood’s recording career is nearing the half century mark, the show’s repertoire (save for Higher Love and the two Nine Lives tunes) was pulled from a wildly fruitful seven year perod (1965-1972) when Winwood leapfrogged between three cornerstones bands of the day – the Spencer Davis Group (the celebratory show finale of Gimme Some Lovin’), the aforementioned Blind Faith (an elegiac Can’t Find My Way Home) and the mighty Traffic (a jazzed up Low Spark of High Heeled Boys).

The Traffic inspiration extended to the very makeup of Winwood’s current band. Its keyboard/guitar/sax and flute/drums/percussion design essentially replicated Traffic in its later years. That allowed a relative obscurity like Rainmaker to open the show with a sense of psychedelic cool while a true Traffic anthem, Dear Mr. Fantasy, made for a hearty jam-style encore that placed Winwood on guitar for a solo that rivaled the ingenuity of his old Blind Faith bandmate, Eric Clapton.

Through it all, Winwood couldn’t have appeared less like a rock star. But the unassuming performance manner only enhanced the authority and spirit of a truly ageless rock ‘n’ roll journeyman.

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