Archive for October, 2015

in performance: dave rempis and tim daisy

tim daisy and dave rempis. photo by andrej chudy

tim daisy and dave rempis. photo by andrej chudy.

It was easily the most inconspicuous performance taking place on an afternoon/evening when Lexington was volcanically active.

Tucked away at the Farish Theatre of the Lexington Public Library, removed from American Pharoah’s historic Breeders’ Cup win (which took place moments earlier), its accompanying outdoor festival down the block at the Stephens Courthouse Plaza (which ran concurrently) and the Kentucky-Tennessee football smackdown at Commonwealth Stadium (with kickoff time a mere hour away), Chicago jazz innovators/improvisers Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy engaged in a continually arresting saxophone/percussion performance. Shoot, even the library had already closed for the day. You thought you were part of a secret society upon entering.

But while the hour long Outside the Spotlight performance may have worked well outside conventional bounds of harmony and melody, it was in no way exclusive in its presentation. Rempis and Daisy have been bandmates for close to two decades and have collaborated in numerous ensemble settings, so this duo outing simply heightened a longstanding musical dialogue.

Much of the music packed into a pair of lengthy duet improvisations began with minimal foundations. The first piece had Daisy constructing a drum outline on mallets with Rempis’ turns on tenor saxophone flushing out almost circular musical patterns with a strong compositional feel.

From there, it was tough to differentiate who was leading. It appeared to be Rempis for much of the evening, but Daisy’s responses on percussion – whether they were through an assemblage of scattered grooves, passages that had him tapping a small gong like a hand drum to give the musical a brief Eastern slant or bursts of interference created by tossing various bowls and percussion devices to the stage floor – regularly placed him in the driver’s seat.

Rempis largely dictated the concert’s pace, however. At times, he met Daisy’s playing head on to create a restless musical dialogue. That was especially evident during tradeoffs on alto sax with the drummer’s militaristic rolls on snare near the conclusion of the half-hour improv that began the performance to send the music through a discreet but pronounced blues detour.

In other instances, Rempis simmered the show’s overall drive and opened the music up, as in the way his baritone sax leads peppered the alternating groove – and its quick disassembly – during the evening’s second improv.

Best of all was a sense of musical communication so keen that (during the first improv) the music would halt in place for a beat before picking up again. At one point, it stopped for several seconds, leaving the audience – and perhaps even the duo itself – guessing as to whether the music would resume. To everyone’s good fortune, it did.

in performance: the count basie orchestra featuring diane schuur

diane schuur.

diane schuur.

Having already scaled the heights of soul, sass and swing during a 45 minute set with the Count Basie Orchestra, Diane Schuur turned the show’s cheer meter way, way up by serving a slice of sterling gospel last night at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts. The tune was Climbing Higher Mountains, a spiritual recast for then-modern times in 1972 by Aretha Franklin. Schuur’s own history with the tune is similarly extensive, having recorded it with the Basie Orchestra in 1987 on an album that won Grammys for both acts.

Last night’s version played out on Schuur’s own terms, though, with vocals full of jubilant clarity that reflected the singer’s still-potent range, decisive phrasing and innate ability to fashion any song or style into a session of jazz and blues.

It was a surprise turn only because so many continue to view Schuur strictly as a modern incarnation of Dinah Washington, an estimation underscored early in the performance by a version of the 1961 Washington hit I Just Found Out About Love, complete with the Basie band’s incomparable sense of swing, and a regally lush reading of Johnny Mercer’s Travelin’ Light (popularized by, among others, Billie Holiday). Both tunes also showcased Schuur’s three-and-a-half octave reach which sent the songs into the vocal stratosphere.

There were a few moments where Schuur’s otherwise assured pitch wavered and the vocal sheen that had adorned many of her recordings (particularly her ‘80s and ‘90s albums for the GRP label) sounded slightly diminished. Mostly, though, Schuur came across a vocal fireball that easily scaled the narrative demands of Iola Brubeck’s Travelin’ Blues and the swing-savvy heights within an encore version of Morgan Ames’ Deedles’ Blues.

The Basie band provided effortless and authoritative swing throughout the performance, but was able to showcase its own extensive history (the orchestra is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year) and internal musical dynamics during a fine opening set of its own.

There were several players that nicely replicated sounds and accents of key members from the orchestra’s golden era – specifically, the way Will Matthews echoed the brittle, rhythmic style of the groundbreaking swing guitarist Freddie Green and Bobby Floyd’s mastering of the light, giddy play designed by Count Basie himself. But tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence, whose solos explored the spacious Kansas City-style swing within Hey Jim and especially Moten Swing, made the Basie Orchestra more a platform for vibrant platform for orchestral jazz music’s still-vital possibilities more than a representation or recreation of its storied past.

shuur thing

diane schuur.

diane schuur.

One point of order is established within the first few minutes of a conversation with Diane Schuur.

“You can call me Deedles,” said the veteran singer and pianist, who performs tonight with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.

It’s not an exclusive club, mind you. An entire jazz generation knows the nickname. Aside from referencing the bright and exact tone of her singing and scatting, the moniker was also used as the title to her 1984 debut album. Throughout the three decades that followed, the name on her recordings – as well as the two Grammys she picked up – is Diane Schuur. But to the friends and fans she has made along the way, she is simply Deedles.

“I’m always Deedles and always evolving,” Schuur said by phone from her California home near Palm Springs. “Just because I’m in my 60s doesn’t mean my music won’t still evolve. And I’m not ashamed to say my age. I’m 61. I’ll be 62 on Dec. 10 and I am in a very good artistic place. But I think there is a lot more to do.”

Blind since birth, Schuur developed an early fondness for country music as a child growing up in suburban Seattle. But the vocal stylist who influenced her bold and remarkably clear singing style was a jazz titan, an artist Schuur is still regularly compared to – the preeminent ‘50s-era vocalist/pianist Dinah Washington.

“Oh, she was a great influence on me,” Schuur said. “She was the first influence, really. There is such a strident, joyful sound that came across in the way she delivered a song. Even with the blues there was a joyful kind of passion. It was just wonderful. I think people pick up on the fact that I have the same kind of thing.”

If Washington’s music helped guide Schuur’s sense of vocal passion and songcraft, two very different artists helped set her career in motion. The first was the genre-breaking jazz saxophonist stylist Stan Getz. The other was a vocal star who knew a sharp singer when he heard one – Frank Sinatra.

Schuur honors both artists on her most recent recording, 2014’s I Remember You (With Love to Stan and Frank).

“Stan was a very interesting individual. He could be the sweetest person in the world or he could be a curmudgeon. He used to tell me that less is more – in other words, try to bring simplicity, have the performance be understated, like he was in his playing.

“Frank and I performed in 1988 at a benefit his wife put on. Liza Minnelli wasn’t going to be able to make the date, so they asked me. So I went to Palm Springs – traveled there, I think, from somewhere in Oklahoma. It was my first trip to Palm Springs. Little did I know that I was going to wind up living there. We did the gig, Quincy Jones conducted the orchestra and it was a lot of fun.”

But the orchestra that brings Schuur to Danville tonight has maintained a longstanding partnership with the singer. The 1987 album Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra won Schuur her second Grammy. It teamed her with saxophonist, arranger and Basie alumnus Frank Foster (who took over the Basie Orchestra from Thad Jones in 1986) and the sublime Basie swing jazz guitarist Freddie Green, who died a week after the sessions with Schuur were completed.

“I was in Columbus, Ohio doing a gig that night at the Major Chord (a short lived jazz club that closed in 1989). A friend of mine called and said, ‘You just won the Grammy for Best (Jazz) Female Vocalist, second time in a row.’ Of course, I was just really thrilled. That night at Major Chord, Joe Williams happened to be in town and sat in. It was a very interesting time.

“I’ve worked with the Basie Orchestra through the years for the last couple of decades. Now we’ve got an opportunity to do so again in Kentucky. I’m pretty excited about it, too.”

The Count Basie Orchestra featuring Diane Schuur perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 West Walnut Street in Danville. Tickets: $39-$55. Call (877) 448-7469 or go to nortoncenter.com.

in performance: the travelin’ mccourys/town mountain

ronnie mccoury and alan bartram of the travelin' mccourys. herald-leader staff photos by rich copley.

ronnie mccoury and alan bartram of the travelin’ mccourys. herald-leader staff photos by rich copley.

“Downtown – that’s where it’s happening,” remarked Ronnie McCoury as a different Bluegrass environment for bluegrass music settled in last night for the Breeders’ Cup Festival.

Instead of the usual summer string band setting of rural concert landscapes and rampant humidity, last night’s double-header featuring The Travelin’ McCourys and Town Mountain brought sterling bluegrass to the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza smack in the middle of downtown. Gone also was a 36 hour soaking that forced Tuesday night’s Breeders’ Cup Festival set by The Suffers indoors. In its place was a brilliant fall evening.

Not that the McCourys didn’t temp fate a little. A realigned version of the heralded Del McCoury Band with the progressively minded guitarist Cody Kilby taking father Del’s place and sons Ronnie and Rob McCoury (on mandolin and banjo, respectively) upholding the family name, the ensemble opened with Walk Out in the Rain. Luckily, this Bob Dylan rarity popularized by Eric Clapton in the late ‘70s wasn’t a case of art imitating climate. But it did put The Travelin’ McCourys’ understated but virtuosic playing, along with crisp three part harmonies delivered by Ronnie, bassist Alan Bartram and Ashland-born fiddler Jason Carter on proud display.

As is the case when they play with patriarch Del, the McCourys are bluegrass Rembrandts. Last night, the musicianship was confidently exact, colorful and daring with a gorgeous tone established by each of the five players. But where the Del McCoury Band favors bluegrass tradition, The Travelin’ McCourys open the sound up. Last night’s performance sported tunes penned or popularized by Bill Monroe, Jerry Garcia (in and out of the Grateful Dead), Waylon Jennings, John Hartford and a pair of fine originals co-written by Bartram (including the aptly titled road anthem encore tune, Travelin’).

Particularly intriguing was a David Grisman-derived jam that shifted the focus to jazz phrasing with a Bartram bass line that would have sounded right at home on an early ‘70s Santana record, and a two-song Hartford medley (Natural to Be Gone and Back in the Goodle Days) that nicely recalled the composer’s animated yet restlessly rustic musical spirit.

adam chaffins and robert greer of town mountain.

adam chaffins and robert greer of town mountain.

The preceding set by Town Mountain operated from another stylistic base altogether. The bulk of the fine 75 minute performance drew on tradition. But instead of the usual bluegrass displays of warp speed solos, the band’s distinction was rooted in ensemble rhythm with echoes of early rock ‘n’ roll, swing and, of course, Appalachian inspiration.

As a result, new tunes like Ruination Line sounded like a speakeasy-era blast of string band propulsion underscored by the urgency of Robert Greer’s singing and the band’s steadfast rhythmic grind.

In similar fashion, the mid ‘80s Bruce Springsteen hit I’m on Fire, which has been part of Town Mountain’s repertoire for years, truly sounded like “a freight train rolling through the middle of my head” with the band supplying locomotive-like rhythm and fiddler Bobby Britt adding a low, wistful solo that served the proverbial train whistle roaring into the night.

What a glorious sound to hear ringing through the streets of downtown Lexington on a late October evening.

critic’s pick 298: john scofield, ‘past present’

john scofieldThere are probably a dozen different inferences you could take away from the title of John Scofield’s newest recording, Past Present.

It could be the return to animated and immediate jazz the guitarist was known for prior to when contemporary alliances with Govt. Mule, Medeski Martin & Wood and Phil Lesh introduced his music to a new generation of predominantly rock and jam audiences. There is also the matter of the band backing Scofield on Past Present, which harkens back to a trio of outstanding Blue Note albums he cut roughly 25 years ago. Finally, there is the whole sense of musical invention that cuts to the core of Past Present. Its nine tunes, all Scofield originals, may suggest a glance backward to a sound and band from years ago. But a flashback it isn’t. Past Present couldn’t sound retro if it tried.

The album makes two lasting and commanding impressions from the get go. The first deals with the musical simpatico between Scofield and his principal foil from the ‘90s band largely reassembled here – saxophonist Joe Lovano. The two converse with remarkable fluency throughout Past Present, especially on the immensely animated Hangover, trading swing riffs and playing off each other’s bright phrasing (especially in the way Lovano’s tenor melody cracks as if he were laughing at a joke). The tune is also a blast because its catalyst is the other returnee from Scofield’s ‘90s band, drummer Bill Stewart. A player of deceptive intensity, Stewart set the tune’s colorful pace with an introductory roll and remains in the rhythmic driver’s seat for much of the album.

The other impression deals with Scofield’s sense of groove. Maybe it’s the work he has engaged in with younger, less jazz-specific artists in recent years (he jams with effortless glee alongside the avant-jam trio Medeski Martin & Wood on last year’s splendid Juice album). But his construction of the rubbery rhythm to the Past Present opening tune Slinky, as well as the way it quickly engages into sly but giddy unison with Lovano before backing into a solo with obvious reverence for the blues, is a journey unto itself. The same goes for Get Proud, with a guitar groove born out of soul and blues that bounces about through the entire tune.

There is also a less specific influence at work. The guitarist has mentioned in interviews that several tunes on Past Present are indirect references to his son Evan, who died from cancer in 2013 at the age of 26, and boast titles taken from phrases adopted by the younger Scofield. One, Mr. Puffy, was Evan’s description of himself while undergoing chemotherapy.

But the music isn’t dour at all. Mr. Puffy is a spring-like embrace of melody and subtle swing, an affirmation by a team of longstanding pals at peace enough with the past to celebrate the present.

dead man’s mountain

Town Mountain: Phil Barker, Jesse Langlais, Bobby Britt and Robert Greer. Photo by Sandlin Gaither.

Town Mountain: Phil Barker, Jesse Langlais, Bobby Britt and Robert Greer. Photo by Sandlin Gaither.

What happens when a bluegrass ensemble with national notoriety works on a new studio project but hopes to remain visible in the record buying marketplace pending its completion? Easy. It puts out a live album, hence the 2014 issue of Town Mountain’s exuberant concert recording, Live at the Isis, cut on the band’s home turf of Asheville, North Carolina.

Now, what happens when said band sits on said studio record, now completed right down to post production and cover art, with no confirmed release date? Why, it puts out a Dead album.

In one of the more novel stop-gap moves by a band in any genre, Town Mountain is filling the time it takes to search out a record label home for its newest studio set by re-releasing a two-song EP disc on Nov. 13 called The Dead Session. It consists not of new original works showcasing the band’s heavily rhythmic, traditionally minded bluegrass or even revisions of traditional Americana string band tunes. In instead offers a pair of honky tonk-hearty renditions of two songs by one of Town Mountain’s favorite non-bluegrass inspirations: the Grateful Dead.

“We always make jokes about it, but the two things everybody in the band can almost always agree on are Mexican food and the Grateful Dead,” said Town Mountain guitarist and principal vocalist Robert Greer. “Everybody in our band is a really big fan of the Grateful Dead and has been for years. So it was kind of a no brainer to go in and do this. I don’t remember whose idea it was initially, but everybody jumped all over it like white on rice.”

The two songs making up The Dead Session are Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo, a Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition that dates back to the Dead’s 1973 album Wake of the Flood, and Big River. The latter isn’t a Dead song, per se, but a Johnny Cash hit from 1958. Still, it became such a staple of Dead shows that it was largely viewed – along with other regularly covered classics like Not Fade Away, Turn On Your Love Light and Iko Iko – as part of the band’s song catalog.

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo proved a challenge because it’s extended refrain is so detached from the song’s primary melody that it sounds another tune altogether.

“I listened to Mississippi Half-Step for years before I realized it wasn’t a medley. It was all the same tune. But I love the whole thing. It’s probably my favorite Grateful Dead tune. It was a lot of fun to actually have a drummer in there, too. You need a drummer on that tune and not just somebody slapping a train beat on a snare.

“Now, Big River was a Cash tune and a classic. Bob (Weir) sang that with the Dead. But we do it as just a stompy bluegrass thing done very much in a Jimmy Martin style. Mississippi Half-Step follows pretty much the same rhythm patterns the Dead used. It’s by no means a bluegrass rhythm or structure, though. I’m not sure that those songs were consciously decided for those reasons. We just liked both of them a lot.”

Aside from appealing to the younger, jam-friendly audiences that constitute a healthy portion of Town Mountain’s fanbase The Dead Session also takes the sting out of the waiting game the band is currently playing as it searches for a record label to issue its first full studio album since 2012’s Leave the Bottle.

“The thing is in the can,” Greer said. “It’s done. It’s mixed. It’s mastered. The artwork is done. We’re all so ready to share it with everybody, but we can’t do that until we know exactly what we’re going to do. We don’t have a release date for it or anything. The label will decide that or, if we end up doing it ourselves, we’ll decide. But it won’t be out until 2016, probably in the spring.

“We’re basically in limbo waiting on this thing to come out, so it could be a time of frustration. But I’m glad to see we’re not experiencing that. I’m proud of each member keeping their head down and not worrying about what’s going on around us. We’re always going to keep doing our thing and coming back to areas we’ve spent time developing in, like Lexington, and seeing that work pay off.

“So everything is going well, but it will jump into another gear, of course, when the album comes out. There is a lot to be excited about in the future of Town Mountain for sure.”

The Travelin’ McCourys, Town Mountain and The Wooks perform at 6:45 p.m. October 28 at the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza, Main and N. Limestone. The free performance is part of Breeders’ Cups Festival.

guitar party

ben lacy and tee dee young. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

ben lacy and tee dee young jamming at young’s club on second street. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

At the very moment that the University of Kentucky succumbed to Auburn on national television last week, an occasion marked by the collective groan from those watching the football game from the lounge at bd’s Mongolian Grill, Tee Dee Young and Ben Lacy sit down nearby and chat like they are lifelong friends.

But they aren’t.

Young and Lacy are two of Lexington’s most versed and versatile guitarists with decades of local performance experience and considerable national and international touring to their credit. Young has long served as Lexington’s prime ambassador of the blues, although his shows can easily incorporate touches of r&b and funk. Lacy is the technical pro – a one man troupe that plays lead and bass lines simultaneously and dabbles in everything from pop and rock covers to jazz and jam instrumentals.

So despite hailing from very different stylistic camps, it seemed only fitting the two guitarists would share a prominent outdoor concert bill for the Breeders’ Cup Festival. That, in turn, would suggest they are also longstanding pals. But when asked how long they have, in fact, known one another, both dissolve into an immediate fit of laughter.

“We don’t even know each other that well, which is weird because we both play out all the time,” Lacy said. “It’s good to cross paths for something like this.”

“I heard you at the Lyric Theatre for the Lexington Music Awards,” Young replied. “Ben’s great,” Young replied. “He’s a great guitar player. I went online after that and listened to him do a few songs and thought, ‘No one’s doing what he’s doing. He’s unique.”

Lacy paused a second to consider the compliment. “Unique,” he said. “I like that word.”

The admiration is reciprocal as Lacy is also at the ready to pour on the praise for Young, whose Monday night shows and jam sessions at his East Second St. club have long been one of Lexington’s foremost weeknight music traditions.

“Tee Dee is awesome,” Lacy said “Tee Dee is a killing guitar player. He brings that blues essence, that smoking guitar sound and is a hell of an entertainer on top of that. It’s a rare trait to do both of those well. You’ve got cats that can entertain pretty good but can’t really play. He does both and is an awesome singer, too. Tee Dee is a triple threat.”

A Lexington native, Young has been a guitarist since his teens and has been holding court at his club, Tee Dee’s, for over 30 years. But his music has often spread beyond local stages. He has shared bills with giants like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Albert King over the years and has competed in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. He will take part in the latter for the fourth time early in 2016 with a tour of Europe already confirmed for later in the year.

Here at home, though, he views the Breeders’ Cup Festival show with Lacy as a form of musical solidarity as well as a way to properly promote local talent at time when a lot of outside guests will be flocking in and around downtown.

“I think all the musicians in town should come together and be one big family,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter what style they play. Musicians are musicians. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Lacy took up the guitar at age seven and, as his bio proudly states, quickly got on the wrong side of a classical guitar instructor after stating the teacher was out of tune. Despite appearances in various duo and collaborative settings – as well as concerts with guitar luminaries like Al DiMeola, Larry Coryell and Phil Keaggy – Lacy is perhaps best enjoyed on his own. There his singular approach to harmony, melody and bass designs – the combination of which regularly suggests multiple players at work – can be experienced.

“I’m going to make sure we come out rocking,” Lacy said of his Breeders’ Cup Festival performance plans. “I want to make sure we’re out there swinging. We don’t want anything too mellow. There will be a lot of funky improvs and some rock stuff, and Tee Dee’s got the blues covered, obviously. I mean, you’ve got to love a good outdoor show. It’s going to be high energy, high octane and a lot of fun.”

Tee Dee Young and Ben Lacy perform at 6:45 tonight at Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza, Main and N. Limestone as part of the Breeders’ Cups Festival. The performance in free.

in performance: the alejandro escovedo combo

alejandro escovedo. photo by charles cherney.

alejandro escovedo. photo by charles cherney.

Before he played a single note last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Alejandro Escovedo spoke at length about his love for Lexington. He recalled performances – and post-show celebrations – at the long defunct Lynagh’s Music Club, recording sessions at the more recently vacated St. Claire studio and the audience support that has made this champion Texas song stylist a huge local favorite for the better part of two decades.

The crowd, which largely filled the venue’s upstairs Recital Hall (the concert was initially booked at the larger Concert Hall downstairs), took it all in and poured obvious affection back out as naturally as a hometown turnout might.

What took place in and around this reciprocal lovefest was a program that focused largely on Escovedo songs from the last 15 years and his current “Combo” band that covered both the chamber-like reflection of his more introspective music (thanks to the return of cellist Brian Standefer, a veteran of Escovedo’s first Lynagh’s show in 1996) and the more pop-savvy rock ‘n’ roll of recent albums.

Curiously, the evening began with a song of displacement called Bottom of the World inspired by the urban sprawl than has engulfed Escovedo’s former hometown of Austin (he now lives near Dallas). The music possessed a wistfulness that brought Neil Young’s Powderfinger to mind, but with a cello accent from Standefer that was both elegiac and discreetly rhythmic.

Later, on Can’t Make Me Run, Escovedo plugged the band in by switching lead and rhythm guitar duties with Billy Masters, creating an ambient squall that nicely washed over a spacious, funky but very exact groove.

This was not a night for Escovedo nostalgists. Five Hearts Breaking was the only ‘90s tune performed. Oddly enough, there wasn’t any new music, either. Bottom of the World and Can’t Make Me Run constituted two of the four songs played from his most recent album, 2012’s Big Station. But there were several appealing transformations, including a lyrical and internalized Down in the Bowery that still highlighted the song’s inherent tension (“Everybody has to dance the blues sometimes”). There was also the still-arresting cover of Ian Hunter’s I Wish I Was Your Mother performed by Escovedo without vocal amplification from the lip of the stage, as he did so many times at Lynagh’s.

Escovedo will focus on the construction a new album in 2016. For now, though, this absorbing and selectively electric overview of his more recent musical past will serve as an inviting refresher course in the emotive and stylistic depth of what has already been a brilliant career.

in performance: randall bramblett band

randall bramblett.

randall bramblett.

One the many performance virtues of the current Randall Bramblett Band – a unit now together long enough that its sense of onstage communication is as natural as it is obvious – is the ability to reassemble numerous traditional resources (blues, R&B and, at times, even jazz) into cheerfully original musical portraits.

Take, for instance, the run of five songs performed in succession from the new Devil Music album that made up the heart of a highly spirited concert last night at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville. Several employed loops and samples as catalysts for rich, organic grooves in much the same way the tunes unfold on the recording. There were roots underpinnings to all of this music, from the roaring swing of Reptile Pilot to the seedy falsetto soul of Angel Child to the heavy Southern funk thread that ran through Devil Music’s title tune. But what resulted were grooves very much of Bramblett’s own making.

Jumping (often literally) between keyboards and saxophone and utilizing conversational, soul scratched singing, Bramblett was less the leader of these back alley jams as a tour guide. The other ensemble members – drummer Seth Hendershot, bassist Michael Steele and especially the ultra tasteful guitarist Nick Johnson – proved resourceful allies in presenting the expansive Devil Music tunes (along with several older works, including a 10 minute neo-psychedelic update of 2001’s God Was in the Water that opened the show) as powerfully soulful performance pieces. Reptile Pilot, in particular, sounded like a full swing orchestra was at play even though last night (as on the album), Bramblett was the only horn player at the helm.

Of course, the true ingenuity behind Bramblett’s songs is the fact they are as arresting thematically and lyrically as they are musically. Devil Music’s title tune, in particular, tapped into the very real rebuff of blues giant Howlin Wolf by his mother (“You can’t change a sanctified mind, but the need of a mother’s love can’t be denied”) while the sexual tension within Reptile Pilot exploded with a sense of scatterbrained ambiguity that mirrored the melody’s boppish celebration (“I’m smart as whip, I’ve got my degree; I’m dumb as a brick, I can’t easily see”).

Such is the fun that ensues when that ol’ devil music is unleashed.

time it is a-changing

time for three: nicolas kendall, ranaan meyer and zach depue. photo by leann mueller.

time for three: zach depue, ranaan meyer and nicholas kendall. photo by leann mueller.

The notion of stylistic diversity within any musical genre is no longer a distinction or bragging right – at least not to the members of Time for Three. To them, it’s just a given that stretches from the audiences the boundary-busting string trio performs for right through to artists defining contemporary music in and out of the classical world.

“Music is all about twelve notes, half steps and rhythm that is instinctual in a world where the i-pod is a mixture of genres,” said Time for Three bassist Ranaan Meyer. “I challenge anyone to find one person, even the most purely musical person in the world, that only listens to one genre. Even if they think they only listen to one, they probably don’t. They’re probably just unaware that they like more than that.”

That explains why Meyer, along with violinists Nick Kendall and Zach De Pue command a repertoire than includes works by Americana giants like Aaron Copeland, commissioned concertos and interpretations of songs from such contemporary artists as Leonard Cohen and Kanye West.

The blend brought the three players, who met as students at the Curtis Institute for Music in Philadelphia, to the Lexington Philharmonic for a March 2012 performance. They return for the orchestra’s Americana Soundscapes concert tonight at the Singletary Center.

“We tend to rule our own world with a communal sense of organic development where it’s not about feeling restrained,” Meyer said. “It’s actually the opposite of that. It started from day one when we began to jam. We were just doing it for fun. I never thought it was going to be a profession. I never thought we were going to become a band where we would play a classical piece and then put a bluegrass groove under it, etc.

“We were just being silly at times because we were experimenting. All of a sudden, we were saying, ‘Whoa. This actually sounds good.’ So Time for Three for 15 years has lived in this sense of incubation where we have a sense of freedom, and that freedom has just created something where we can’t even consider going any other way. For us, this is what is normal.”

The meat of tonight’s concert with the Philharmonic will be the trio’s second commissioned concerto, Chris Brubeck’s Travels in Time for Three. The composer, son of iconic jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, developed much of the work out of watching and even recording Time for Three in performance.

“Chris and I got together for several days of jamming and just letting the music organically develop. After that, he had the theme of the piece. I remember vividly during the third movement when I started to read my bass part. I said, ‘Chris, this is really hard.’ He said, ‘Dude, you played that. I transcribed exactly the solo you played into my recording device and put it on paper. That came from you.’ There were many instances like that, where we were just shocked. It was like, ‘Really? We actually did that?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So that felt really great, like the piece truly was ours.

“That said, Chris comes from a rich tradition of jazz and American roots music and he really put that into this piece. I’m not sure if he thinks of it this way, but I view it as Time for Three getting in a time machine and going through all these different eras of music of our country, from the Celtic music traditions all the way into the development of jazz and Jelly Roll Morton, etc. as it travels into New Orleans and into bebop, hard bop, funk and almost everything in between. It really is this incredible fusion of modern day American music.”

As forward thinking as Time for Three has been, the Lexington concert will also mark one of its final dozen or so performances with De Pue, who will soon depart the group to work as concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony. His successor, violinist Nikki Chooi, has already been performing on the trio’s current tour. The Friday concert, however, will highlight a last look and listen to the founding lineup.

“Nikki is the new rookie who is 10 years younger than us and just has this spark and energy. He can, sort of speak, run faster than the two older guys. We’re all learning from each other in a new way. It’s like going from one marriage to another marriage. We appreciate the times that we’ve had with Zach, but we’re moving on. The differences with us, though, are that these marriages are all amicable.”

The Lexington Philharmonic and Time for Three perform at 7:30 pm.tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Rose and Euclid. Tickets: $25-$75. Call (859) 233-4226 or got to lexphil.org.

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