Archive for May, 2014

critic’s pick 324: john mclaughlin and the 4th dimension, ‘the boston record’ and ralph towner/john abercrombie, ‘five years later’

mclaughlinAs elder statesmen in a world class league of guitar innovators, John McLaughlin, Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie have seen the instrumental music crafted under their care over the past four decades marketed under the somewhat deceptive banner of jazz. But on their newest releases, the ingenuity of their playing relishes in the blurring of stylistic borders.

The Boston Record finds McLaughlin, 72, in concert on sacred academic soil – Boston’s Berklee College of Music – with his favored fusion band of the past seven years, the 4th Dimension.

The tone of the playing is established at the onset with the fat, menacing power chords McLaughlin supplies to Raju and the heavy rhythmic ammo the rest of the band sets off. The music approximates metal until everyone shifts gears into a more nimble glide. Then the guitarist luxuriates in the kinds of winding, warp speed lines that have defined his musicianship since his groundbreaking early ‘70s recordings with the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Speaking of which, The Boston Record confronts the latter by updating the 1972 Mahavishnu gem You Know You Know. McLaughlin has seldom addressed the band’s music since its demise. But here, the tune is not so much a look back as a ragged and playful jam that stands on its own terms with the muscular rock/funk support of the 4th Dimension as a very capable foil.

five-years-laterFive Years Later, a collection of guitar duets by ECM guitar vets Towner, 74, and Abercrombie, 69, could be appropriately retitled Three Decades Later. Recorded in 1981, on the heels of an extraordinary performance at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall, the album has long been out of print. Remarkably, it is only now receiving its first domestic release on CD.

The lines of demarcation are fairly set on Five Years Later. Abercrombie plays primarily electric guitar, creating washes of atmospheric color, while Towner sticks exclusively to acoustic. Within his playing, classical influences mingle with percussive, folk-flavored incantations.

The resulting music is sublime but unsettled. Abercrombie’s electric chords chip off like falling icicles around Towner’s contemplative soloing on Late Night Passenger while the two spar with light, exacting agility during Isla. But the central theme of Caminata possesses more Eastern European inspirations (especially Mussorgsky) while The Juggler’s Etude is a pensive ballet with both guitarists conversing acoustically.

Separated by roughly 32 years but still representing the same artistic generation, these records are wildly different in every way except for the sense of adventure that is so inherent and visible in the playing. When listened to side by side, the decades separating them evaporate.

hello dolly

dolly

dolly parton.

A phone conversation with Dolly Parton is a very finite thing. So with a modest amount of time allotted for our interview, the decision was made to forego pleasantries and jump right into the questioning.

“Fine,” replied Parton, 68. “I’ll jump higher.”

She will, too. For the better part of a five decade career, Parton has made a habit out of leaping past most of her contemporaries. She has topped the Billboard country singles chart more than two dozen times and sent over 40 albums into the Top 10. Cumulative career sales of her records and downloads have been estimated at being in excess of 110 million copies. And that says nothing of her successes in film, stage and entrepreneurship.

As she prepares to hit the road in support of Blue Smoke, her 42nd studio album – a tour that includes a performance tonight in Richmond as part of St. Mark Catholic Church’s ongoing An Evening Among Friends series of benefit concerts – one might suspect the practice of making music has become so second nature to Parton that it is now devoid of spark and surprise. Parton will have none of that.

“Well, when you really love to write and love to sing, you never lose that. It just gets stronger through the years because you realize that is your gift. So you try to develop it and be stronger with it. But it’s always exciting to me.

“It’s like when I write a new song. I get so excited when I feel that certain kind of feeling. There is just something exciting about having something in the world today that wasn’t there yesterday, and it’s something I created, something I put there. I still get excited about the whole process.”

That process covers a lot of ground on Blue Smoke. Parton duets with Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers, covers songs by Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi but still devotes over half the recording to her own compositions.

One tune, If I Had Wings, reflects the country roots inspirations of Parton’s youth by recalling the folk standard Wayfaring Stranger.

“That’s the music I grew up singing, so it’s kind of embedded in my smoky mountain DNA. I notice I have a tendency to write a lot of that flavor into my songs. I still love those old melodies, those old spirituals and the old mountain ballads.”

With such lasting commercial success also comes the opportunity to give back. Tonight’s Evening Among Friends performance is one of two benefit concerts Parton will give before embarking on a month-long tour of Europe. The other will be for Parton’s Imagination Library and the Robert F. Thomas Foundation as part her longstanding campaign to promote childhood literacy.

“It is my belief that if you are in a position to help, you should. That’s the Christian way I grew up in. I have a giving heart. I’ve been so blessed with so many things in my life, it’s the least I can do. So when I was asked to come to Kentucky and help St. Mark’s school and various charities around there, I said, ‘Well, sure. We’re close.’ And it makes my heart feel good. I like giving back because I’ve received so much.”

Of course, along with Parton the artist and Parton the philanthropist, there is Parton the celebrity – a country charmed creation that serves as the platform with which the singer presents herself to the world. The wigs, the make-up, the… well, physique – they are all a form of fun expression. Parton just hopes that her fans don’t let the image overshadow her accomplishments.

“I think it’s taken every bit of all that to make me who and what I am. I know I look totally artificial but I like to think I’m totally real where it counts. But my looks also come from a very serious place. I’m not a natural beauty. I didn’t have the things I wish I did when I was a girl growing up. The way I dress and everything, it kind of fits my personality.

“I know there are some people who don’t see any more than the boobs and the hair and the personality. But the people that have really followed me and have really cared, they know how seriously I take my work. They also know I don’t take myself so seriously. I have to enjoy this myself, too. This ain’t just for them – it’s for me, also. I have to live in this little person day in and day out and I’m just going to have to present it the way that it is. So I’m comfortable with my image.

“Some people say, ‘You’ve had to overcome your image.’ Well, I don’t know about that. I think it’s kind of walked hand in hand with everything else I do.”

An Evening Among Friends with Dolly Parton will be presented at 8 tonight at the EKU Center for the Arts. Tickets are sold out. Call (859) 623-2989 or go to  www.saintmarkcatholicchurch.com.

 

in performance: darlene love

DarleneLove_HerMySpace

darlene love.

While she embraced pop/soul tradition at every turn last night at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort, Darlene Love also flew in the face of the modern pop aesthetic.

In an age singing stardom is regularly dictated by autotuned, fast track success, Love remains a triumphant veteran from another era still in possession of a wondrously clear, powerfully resonant and unfailingly natural voice that has consistently defied age (she turns 73 in July) and the frequency of shifting stylistic climates.

For instance, she opened the two set performance with a trio of early Phil Spector-produced hits – He’s a Rebel, He’s Sure the Boy I Love and (Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry. The youthful inclinations of all three songs, which Love recorded over 50 years ago, might prove an impediment for many adult vocalists. But Love used all three as proud examples of the towering potency her singing still possesses.

There was an instance during The Boy I’m Gonna Marry, in fact, where she sang the word “imagination” like a full force gale. When Love tilted her head back and took a split second pause, you knew the vocal force to come was going to be massive. And it was.

But it was also jubilant. There was a steadfast, gospel-like fervency to much of the show. It was especially prevalent during a trio of hits by Marvin Gaye (one of the pop-soul titans Love once sang back-up for) that roared out of the starting gate with a celebratory Ain’t That Peculiar.

Love carried that joy over to her banter with the audience, as well. She admitted to holding no grudges over the recognition and revenue snuffed out of her early career by the now incarcerated Spector. But she also couldn’t resist getting a jab in. “Look where he is and look where I am.”

Picking a highlight from it all was tough, but a definite contender was the neo-torchy treatment of the Bill Withers hit Lean on Me, which Love redefined for herself in the 2013 Oscar winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. Last night’s version was powerful but poised, which made the tune a reflection of sharing and strength from an ageless pop colossus.

BoB brings the bluegrass

dale-ann-bradley

dale ann bradley’s thursday night live performance on june 12 is also part of BoB: best of bluegrass.

BoB is back. Yep, the second annual Best of Bluegrass has confirmed its full lineup of concerts for the week of June 9.

As was the case with its inaugural year, BoB encompasses a week’s worth of performances at a variety of venues throughout Lexington – the majority of them located downtown. Best of all, most of the shows are free and serve as an extended prelude of sorts for the full Festival of the Bluegrass, which opens June 12 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Here’s the full BoB lineup:

June 9: Special Consensus at the Lyric Theatre for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour (7 pm; $10). Lonesome River Band and Town Mountain at Natasha’s Bistro (8 p.m.; Free).

June 10: Newtown at Southland Jamboree (7 p.m.; Free). The Roys at Willie’s Locally Known (8 p.m.; Free). Blind Corn Liquor Pickers/Blind Ricky at Al’s Bar (8 p.m.; Free). June 11: The Misty Mountain String Band at ArtsPlace for Red Barn Radio (8 p.m; $8). Larry Cordle at Parlay Social (8 p.m.; Free). Steep Canyon Rangers/Local Honeys (9 p.m.; Free).

June 12: Dale Ann Bradley at Cheapside Park for Thursday Night Live (5:30 p.m.; Free). Stone Cold Grass at Parlay Social (8 p.m.; Free). The Bartley Brothers at Redmon’s (8 p.m.; Free).

Many of these performances will be streamed live online and/or recorded for broadcast on KET-TV, WEKU-FM and WUKY-FM.

For more Bob info, go to www.bluegrasslex.com.

critic’s pick 323: the doors, ‘weird scenes inside the gold mine’

The-Doors-ReissueWhen The Doors’ Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine was first issued in late 1972, the band was no more. Frontman Jim Morrison, wrecked from years of drug and alcohol induced abuse, died in Paris the previous year. His bandmates – Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore – quickly recorded two post Morrison albums (Other Voices and Full Circle) that went nowhere, confirming that The Doors without Morrison as its commanding though combustible focal point were a non-starter.

Reissued this week for this first time on CD, Gold Mine has always been a curiosity because it was never designed as a greatest hits collection. There were hits scattered among the two-album set, but they were employed sparingly (Touch Me and Light My Fire didn’t make the cut, Break on Through and Riders on the Storm did). The thrust of the anthology was to plunge deeper into The Doors’ catalogue. That meant exploring the darker extremes of the band’s musical psyche.

That’s a greater task than one might expect, seeing as The Doors released only six albums (excluding concert sets and the post Morrison efforts) during its five year recording career. But for every hit the band got onto AM radio, two or three counterparts were embraced by FM. Each of the original Doors studio albums revealed a degree of that duality. On Gold Mine, it positively gleamed.

The breakdown on Gold Mine split the Doors’ songs into three categories – the obvious hits (Love Her Madly), the popular album tracks (L.A. Woman) and the obscurities (Horse Latitudes). The tunes were then reshuffled into no particular order except, perhaps, for musical flow.

For example, the sordid jazz drive of Break on Through, which begins the anthology, gives way to the trippy keyboard dervish of Strange Days. That, in turns, melts into harpsichord/guitar psychedelia of the overlooked Shaman’s Blues.

There are also buried treasures. Among Gold Mine’s discoveries are two forgotten, blues-directed B-sides – 1969’s brassy Who Scared You and a 1971 cover of Willie Dixon’s Don’t Go No Further. The crowning touch was the choice to use the band’s two most twisted epics – The End and When the Music’s Over (clocking in at 11 minutes each) as epilogues for its two discs.

What all this translates into is, in essence, a grand mix tape. Frustrated that the band would be remembered only for a smattering of radio hits, Gold Mine sought to unleash all of The Doors’ dark, poetic charm. While many of these songs have been heard over the decades in countless other reissues and anthologies, hearing them bond so readily on Gold Mine gives the full exotic extremes of The Doors a renewed presence and purpose.

love notes

darlene love

darlene love.

The first thing you notice in conversation with Darlene Love is the laugh. It’s deep, unforced and reflective of a spirit that is as jovial as it is resolute. Then you realize those are also the qualities that have fortified her singing throughout a tumultuous 50 year career that has made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee a true artistic survivor.

“What people have to understand is that if you’re getting more good than bad out of something, it’s always worth it,” said Love, 72, who performs Wednesday at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort. “But you have to keep on, you have to see to your goals and your dreams and keep moving forward.

“We all have bumps in the road. We have barricades. But my whole thing about that is this – a barricade is nothing but something you have to get over. That’s what I’ve done most of my life. Once you get over it, the joy on the other side is very fulfilling. So you just have to keep pressing on.”

Love established her reputation in the early ‘60s with a series of Phil Spector produced recordings. The first, the 1962 power pop-soul single He’s a Rebel, was made with the California girl group The Blossoms. But just as Spector’s famed Wall of Sound helped establish Love’s jubilant singing, the producer kept a tight lid on the recognition and exposure she received. He’s a Rebel, in fact, was credited to another group entirely (The Crystals) by Spector, thus robbing Love of any critical attention she should have received for what was the first record to feature her on lead vocals. Spector did the same thing with the similarly infectious, He’s Sure the Boy I Love. It was to have been Love’s debut solo single, but Spector released it as another ghost hit for The Crystals.

Love didn’t harbor resentment in our interview over such turns, preferring to focus instead on the innocence and joy that pervaded those early Spector records.

“You figure I recorded these songs over 50 years ago – well, the majority of them I’m still singing in my show. The whole idea is that it still feels good to me to sing these songs, because I call them feel-good songs – you know, (Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry (a 1963 Spector-produced single). All the things you say when you’re young. You didn’t think about the man you were going to marry. It was, ‘I met this boy and we’re going to get married.’ They make me feel good also, so that feeling is conveyed to my audience.”

If Love’s deserved fame was kept at bay by Spector in the early stages of her career, it was upheld and profoundly promoted in recent years by two unlikely supporters.

The first was filmmaker Morgan Neville, who chronicled Love’s career, as well as the stories of several other veteran singers who attempted the transition from established back-up singer to lead vocalist in the Oscar winning 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.

“I have a lot of fans that, when they saw the movie – with their parents, maybe even their grandparents – were like, ‘Wow. Here is somebody we’ve heard all our lives but have didn’t have a clue who she was.’ They never pictured Darlene Love like that.

“Morgan Neville found out things even I had forgotten about,” Love said, erupting again into a buoyant laugh. “For instance, I didn’t remember singing River Deep Mountain High with Tom Jones on TV. But I forget some of these things after 50 years. So they really took time to dig down deep into these stories They did their homework.”

The other hero in the latter stages of Love’s career has been David Letterman. Love’s performance of the Spector-produced holiday classic Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) has been an annual tradition on the comedian’s late night shows since 1986, when he was still affiliated with NBC.

“This all started with the little show we did at The Bottom Line in New York called Leader of the Pack. Paul Shaffer invited David down to see it. He liked it, but the one particular thing that stood out was that Christmas song. And on his TV show one night, he said, ‘We need to get her on the show to sing that. That’s the greatest Christmas song I’ve ever heard.’

“I thought I’d maybe do it that one year. Then he said, ‘No. We want you on next year, too.’ Then it turned into 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, and here we are.”

With Letterman retiring in 2015, this year’s performance – her 28th yearly appearance –will be bittersweet. Still, Love can only look the up side.

“You know, ‘I’m going to call him and say, ‘You sure you can’t make it a nice, round number like 30?’

Of course, what followed the remark was the greatest music of all – more laughter.

Darlene Love performs at 7:30 p.m. May 21 at the Grand Theatre, 308 St. Clair St. Tickets: $40-65. Call (502) 352-7469 or go to www.grandtheatrefrankfort.org.

in performance: big bad voodoo daddy

voodoo daddy

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: Dirk Shumaker, Glen “The Kid” Marhevka, Kurt Sodegren, Scotty Morris, Karl Hunter, Joshua Levy, Andy Rowley.

Two songs into Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s immensely fun and musically good natured performance earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre and you were hit by a drum roll that had Kansas City swing written all over it, a squadron of brass players tossing out unison melodies with the dizzying swiftness of a car chase and a playful run on piano that sounded like it was spilling out of a nearby juke joint.The resulting tune, an efficient balance of animated jazz sass and performance frenzy, was aptly titled The Jitters.

That was merely one snapshot from the 90 minute show, which also offered a mix of New Orleans jazz and soul (a gutsy move, coming two nights after a splendid outing by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the same stage), Cab Calloway-inspired swing and deftly arranged originals.

Above all that – above, even BBVD’s expert musicianship – was the cordial mood the band set up. After 21 years of performing together without a personal change, the seven member Voodoo Daddy lineup (augmented last night by two additional horn players) still looked like it was having a blast onstage.

Sometimes that mood was reflected in the playing, like Andy Bowley’s baritone sax riff that belched like a bullfrog throughout Diga Diga Do. In another instance, it was simple human expression, like the massive smile and tip-of-the-hat bassist Dirk Shumaker offered the Lyric crowd as soon as he walked onstage. And it was displayed generously by frontman Scotty Morris – a somewhat reserved singer with expert phrasing and an inviting, natural for flair for playing host.

Then there were the purely musical joys. For Devil’s Dance, one of six tunes pulled from BBVD’s 2012 album Rattle Them Bones, trumpeter Glen “The Kid” Marhevka soloed with sharp, lyrical jabs over a band undercurrent that included the curiously harmonious blend of four string banjo (from Morris) and piano (from band arranger Joshua Levy). An even greater ensemble groove was summoned during a rumba style reading of the Crescent City party piece Zig Zaggity Woop Woop.

Wrapping it all up was So Long Farewell Goodbye, a punch-drunk parting shot where vocal duties and solos were juggled among the members. On one hand, it was pure campy fun. But it also reflected the honest good spirits – the real Woop, if you will – that dominated this richly fun swing celebration.

voodoo man

bbvd

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: Joshua Levy, left, Dirk Shumaker, Kurt Sodegren, Andy Rowley, Karl Hunter, Glen “The Kid” Marhevka and Scotty Morris. Photo by Don Miller.

After two-plus decades of songs and swing, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is putting on the brakes.

Don’t take that as a sign that the longstanding West Coast Band is slowing the pace of its vintage flavored swing music or the performance drive that brings it to life onstage. It’s just that after an especially active run of touring and the concurrent recording of three successive (yet very distinct) albums, this Voodoo bunch is ready to modestly decelerate.

“I think right now we’re just trying to regroup a little bit,” said BBVD trumpeter Glen Marhevka. “We’ve been working really hard the last few years with the last three records and everything. But I think we’re at a good place. We’re retooling right now after taking a little bit of time off in April. Now we’re trying to take things a little bit slower. Not that we were killing ourselves, but I think the break has put everybody in a good place.”

The band’s run of activity began in 2009 with How Big Can You Get?, a record devoted to the ‘40s-era swing of vocalist/bandleader Cab Calloway. For Marhevka, the album was something of a full circle project. He got to see Calloway perform in his youth, but didn’t gain a more scholarly appreciation for his music until adulthood.

“I was listening more to the ‘50s and’60s quintet sound – Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, that kind of thing. I heard Cab Calloway when my parents took me to hear him play. I remember that was such a great night to listen to his music. But when I got to be in my late teens and early 20s, I was more about progressive jazz.

“Still, once you learn how to swing and play jazz, it applies to all of those idioms, from the early 1900s all the way up to the modern day. Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, these were all things I listened to a little bit growing up, but hadn’t studied all that much at first. But it’s all coming from the same place.”

Next up was 2012’s travelogue/time capsule album Rattle Them Bones, which traced jazz/swing history through Kansas City and New Orleans, winding up with a brassy rewrite of Randy Newman’s Lonely at the Top. The record also allowed Marhevka to double as director for the quirky, campy music video BBVD shot for Why Me?, an original swing piece penned by band founder/vocalist Scotty Morris.

“We got all those vintage microphones together that a friend let me borrow. Then we got tons of instruments together – tubas, all kinds of stuff. And it was just a fun day. We just shot a bunch of cool, funny stuff. There were some great moments along the way, too, like when Scotty’s fake mustache fell off. That totally captured a real moment. We wanted to make the video a little tongue in cheek but also a little arty.”

Finally, there was 2013’s It Feels Christmas Time, BBVD’s third holiday recording. The band was to have showcased the record last December at the Lyric, but the performance was cancelled. While this week’s Lyric return will focus on the entire BBVD catalog, except for holiday music, the band will be back to show off its seasonal swing with a just-announced Christmas concert at the EKU Center for the Art in Richmond on Dec. 12.

“It was nice to do the Christmas album that came out last year because we were able to add repertoire to the show,” Marhevka said. “We usually go out with a Christmas program each year, so it was great to add some variety to the show – you know, take some tunes out and add some new stuff. It’s all a pretty fun process.”

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performs at 7:30 p.m. May 16 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third. Tickets sre $34.50. Call (859) 280-2218 or go to www.lexingtonlyric.com

beethoven time

Beethoven

ludwig van beethoven.

Drama and familiarity – in any kind of performance setting, they become an unrivaled combination. Place them both at the end of a concert season and you have the makings of a monumental parting shot.

That is what the Lexington Philharmonic has planned tonight for a sold out finale to its 2013-14 season at the Singletary Center. It will bid adieu with one of the most popular, commanding and critically lauded works in any classical repertoire – Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

“We don’t say Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony,” said Philharmonic music director and conductor Scott Terrell. “We say Beethoven 9 because it’s so famous. There is no way Beethoven 9 is not an event. It’s not just any piece. It’s that piece.”

A choral symphony that will tonight team the Philharmonic with 150 vocalists from the Lexington Singers, the Lexington Chamber Chorale and the Kentucky Bach Choir along with multiple featured soloists, Beethoven 9 was completed in 1824 and has long been one of the world’s most frequently performed symphonies. Its most familiar passage, built around the Friedrich Schiller poem Ode to Joy, is sung during the symphony’s fourth movement.

But it is the music’s inherent drama that most fascinates Terrell, along with the opportunity to discover what drove Beethoven to create such a masterwork.

“Everybody comes at Beethoven 9 with a different point of reference,” he said. “A lot of people know the piece. But like The Messiah, there have been many, many interpretations of Beethoven 9. For me, the issue has not necessarily been the logistics of putting it together with the chorus. The bigger challenge for me is getting people to buy in to the way I view the piece that the composer intended.

“This is the first time I’ve conducted the piece, so that’s sort of a big deal. You don’t quite realize how incredible a work it is until you begin to organize your thoughts around it. It’s an astounding piece of music. It’s a bit daunting, as well. But sometimes you have to do these interpretations for the very first time. That’s the excitement of it.

“But I firmly believe that in this particular symphony you need to be absolutely in line with what you think Beethoven is after dramatically – where he was in his life, his deafness that had set in, his struggling with the whole symphonic form late in his life. In the end, it’s a question what he was after.”

Enhancing the majesty of Beethoven 9 will be its placement in a program full of contrasts. The symphony will take up all of the concert’s second half. The first will be dominated by the more ethereal Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov (Golijov’s 2004 opera Ainadamar will be part of the Philharmonic’s 2014-15 season). Opening the evening will be another classical staple, but one far lighter and briefer than Beethoven 9 – Claude Debussy’s agelessly lovely Claire de Lune.

Beethoven 9 offers an intense sound world that doesn’t relent. So I thought what was really important was balance in the overall program. So with Golijov, there is less angst than with Beethoven. But it’s also a sonic world that you can’t just dive into right out of the gate. From the listener’s point of view, you need something to serve as a sort of wine to start the evening with, as it were.

Claire de Lune serves the purpose of just letting everyone exhale before we start what will be a pretty exciting but emotionally intense evening.”

Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra performs Beethoven 9 at 7:30 p.m. May 16 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are sold out, but the performance will be broadcast live tonight at 7 and again at 8 p.m. on May 18 on WKYL-FM 102.1. To be put on a waiting list for tickets, call (859) 233-4226. For more information, go to www.lexphil.org.

in performance: preservation hall jazz band

 

10551-592-pres_20hall_204

preservation hall jazz band.

The only opening fanfare the Preservation Hall Jazz Band accorded itself last night at the Lyric Theatre was limited to roughly a half-dozen brisk foot stomps on the stage floor by trumpeter Mark Braud. That was the only count off the veteran New Orleans troupe needed to bring the joyous, harmonious swing of Dippermouth Blues to life. The ensuing sense of celebration didn’t cease until the house lights came up 80 minutes later.

Last night’s thoroughly enjoyable performance did more, however, than underscore the PHJB’s scholarly command of New Orleans tradition. This seven-man lineup (which didn’t include Preservation Hall chieftain Ben Jaffe, who doesn’t tour full time with the band) displayed a broader stylistic view than the more ragtime and Dixieland-leaning versions from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Sure, there was tradition to spare in staples like Basin Street Blues and Bourbon Street Parade. Similarly, ample sass and soul dwelled within the musicianship. The most audience friendly example had to be Ronell Johnson, a linebacker-sized musician who may just be the happiest sousaphone player on the planet. With elephant-like blasts from his mammoth horn and a very literal swing in his step that kept him in constant motion, Johnson was a joy to watch.

But this PHJB also owes greatly to blues and bop. Bringing those elements to life weren’t an arsenal of jazz standards, but a generous sampling of original material from the band’s 2013 Jim James-produced That’s It! album.

On August Nights, the band whittled itself down to a quartet (two tenor saxes, piano and trumpet) with a noir style vocal from Clint Maedgen that was more vintage New York than New Orleans in flavor. Similarly, Yellow Moon sent the band into more tropical waters with a fluid groove that approximated rumba. A lighter, slower variation of such rhythm propelled clarinetist Charlie Gabriel’s playfully hapless singing on I Think I Love You.

There were traditional touches in the new songs, too, like the hip-swiveling camp trombonist Freddie Lonzo injected into the Louis Jordan-like Rattlin’ Bones. But even when it looked like the PHJB was going to end the show with a perfunctory When the Saints Go Marchin’ In, the ensemble served up the title tune from That’s It! as a finale. The piece was a brief, exhaustive blowout of tune that began with the unrelenting drive of drummer Joe Lastie Jr. and ended with mad dashes on trumpet from Braud.

If the bulk of this program enforced the vitality of traditional New Orleans jazz, the That’s It! music was a honest affirmation of the invention and possibility such sounds possess today.

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