Archive for January, 2016

gregg allman #1: beyond the brothers

gregg allman.  photo by danny clinch.

gregg allman. photo by danny clinch.

One year ago, almost to the week, Gregg Allman took to the stage at the Grand Opera House in Macon, Ga. for a performance that was both a homecoming and a rediscovery.

Some 45 years earlier, Macon served as the homebase of the mighty Allman Brothers Band, the ensemble that infused blues, Southern soul and jazz-like jamming into a musical genre that became generically known as Southern rock. But with singer/organist Allman having long since established nearby Savannah as his current home, the opportunity to perform again in Macon in 2015 doubled as a chance to re-introduce himself as a solo artist, especially as the legendary band that bore his name had called it a day a year earlier.

The performance resulted in Back to Macon, Ga., a CD/DVD recording that was released in August. The first album since the split of the ABB, Back to Macon retooled several of the group’s more established concert pieces (Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’), a few diamonds from Allman’s solo career (Queen of Hearts, I’m No Angel) as wells as a couple of R&B gems the singer grew up with (Brightest Smile in Town, I’ve Found a Love). But instead of recreating the twin guitar, triple percussion drive of the ABB, the new recording presented Allman as the head of a hearty Southern soul revue with a larger group that included a second keyboardist, a horn section and one ABB holdover, percussionist Marc Quinones.

“It’s very interesting having a larger band,” said Allman, 68. “I’ve got people that are like my teachers. They might be a little bit younger than me, but they are way more accomplished musicians. I just happened to pick the right ones. Everybody gets along beautifully and everybody has got the same goal.”

The latter quality, Allman intimated, was lacking in several of the ABB incarnations.

“It’s different from the Allman Brothers in that the Allman Brothers, after my brother died, never had a leader. Every organization needs a focal point. I mean, if it’s for nothing else, somebody to say ‘start’ and ‘stop.’ I’m just saying that it helps when the leader obtains a little bit of respect from all the rest of the band. That always helps.

“I’ve had a band on the side ever since the Laid Back record (Allman’s 1973 solo debut album). But this is by far the best arrangement of musicians I’ve ever played with.”

The other “brother” Allman referenced was older sibling Duane Allman, the groundbreaking slide guitarist who founded the ABB in 1969 only to die in a 1971 motorcycle accident just as the group was achieving stardom.

Did the elder Allman’s long absence from stewardship of the ABB contribute to the group’s seemingly final dissolve (the band also split for extended periods in 1976 and 1982) in late 2014?

“Let’s just say there were just too many head chefs in the kitchen.”

What Back to Macon also affirms is the emergence of a stronger, healthier Allman. A veteran of one of the more publicly excessive rock star lifestyles of the 1970s, Allman was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2007 and underwent a liver transplant in 2010. He has battled numerous ailments through the years, including respiratory infections.

“I still have my days, but for the most part I feel really good. I say prayers of thanks every day. I’m a very blessed and fortunate person, I really am. So far, I’ve had a beautiful life.”

Gregg Allman performs at 8 tonight at the Newlin Hall, Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. The concert is sold out.

Tickets go on sale Jan. 15 for Allman’s 7:30 p.m. performance on April 6. For info, go to ticketmaster.com. The Musical Box will post more of its interview with Allman a few days prior to that concert.

guitars and gurdjieff

fabio mittino and bert lams. photo by danny nguywn.

fabio mittino and bert lams. photo by danny nguywn.

Grab your passports, folks, we’re going on a trip. Well, not in the literal sense, perhaps. But the international pathways to be explored in Friday’s guitar duo performance at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café in Frankfort by Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino nonetheless constitute an overseas journey of sorts.

Here’s the travelogue checklist. Lams, one-third of the popular California Guitar Trio, hails from Belgium. His performance partner for a brief winter tour is a former student, Italian-born guitarist Mittino. Their favored repertoire tonight, which also fortifies their fine new Long Ago album, will be the works of Russian/Armenian composer/philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and his Russian/Ukranian protégé Thomas Alexandrovich de Hartmann.

Oh, yes, did we mention Lams and Fittino met in England while studying with British guitarist/King Crimson chieftain Robert Fripp? Those are the destinations that begin Friday in Frankfort.

“Robert suggested that Fabio take some guitar lessons with me,” Lams recalled of his initial meeting with Mittino. “This was 20 years ago. Fabio is a lot younger than I am. He was really a kid then who travelled all the way from Milan twice or three times to take some lessons. Then we started playing together and gradually became friends.”

The music of Long Ago evokes exactly what its title suggests. Gurdjieff gathered melodies during travels through the Middle East, Far East and Africa. Often with de Hartmann’s assistance, the music was fashioned into pieces for piano. Initial exposure in North America to the resulting compositions came through artists like pianist Keith Jarrett. But Long Ago represents the first time Gurdjieff’s work has been so extensively transcribed for, and subsequently performed on, guitar.

“Most of this music came from what Gurdjieff heard during his early travels,” Lams said. “Gurdjieff’s father was a professional storyteller, so he was steeped in this oral tradition. He seemed to remember most of these melodies that he heard a long time ago. But he needed someone like de Hartmann to translate it, because Gurdjieff couldn’t really play very much. He could sing a little bit, play guitar with one finger and play a little bit on the harmonium, but he wasn’t a totally accomplished piano player or anything. It was de Hartmann who really brought that to us.”

For Milan native Mittino, an early fascination with Gurdjeff paralleled with the discovery of The Bridge Between, a 1993 album by the Robert Fripp String Quartet. That band was a progressively minded joint venture between the then-newly formed California Guitar Trio and two members (Fripp and stick player Trey Gunn) of the soon-to-be-relaunched King Crimson.

“I was studying with a classical teacher at the conservatory in Milan, but when I heard that CD by the Robert Fripp String Quartet, it just blew my mind,” Mittano said. “I thought, ‘Okay, I want to absorb and learn this language.’ I knew in order to do that, I had to go to the source. That was how I met Bert.

“The same thing happened with Gurdjieff. I heard this piano piece (Allegretto, which is featured on Long Ago) and it became one of my favourites. So I wanted to learn how to play this music. I discovered nobody transcribed it for guitar, so that was the beginning of my work on that music.”

There is a delicate intimacy to the Hindu, Kurdish and Armenian mazurkas, dances and folk tunes Gurdjieff and de Hartmann appropriated for the music that makes up Long Ago. While one can still sense the lyricism piano would lend to these works, the expression the tunes yield in a guitar duo setting becomes rich and often harmonious.

“The reason we play this music is simply because it spoke to us,” Lams said. “But we also like doing something that has never been done before. The guitar brings to this music a sort of new life because until now it has mostly been played on the piano. The piano is a beautiful instrument, but it has a very authoritative sound. When you play some of this music on the guitar, it has a much more intimate sound. Most people come to me after a show and say they were moved by it. They were touched by it. I think the guitar can do that in a different way.

“Still, there is something in this music, regardless of what instrument you play it on, that needs discovering. For us, it feels like we discover something new every night in front of the audience. It’s very exciting.”

Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino perform at 8 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café, 235 W. Broadway in Frankfort. $20. 502-875-3000. For ticket info, go to kentuckycoffeetree.com.

critic’s pick 307: king crimson, ‘thrak – 40th anniversary edition

thrakThe wheezy melancholy that kicked open Thrak upon its release in 1995 couldn’t have sounded less like King Crimson. It began like a string quartet playing on a cranked up Victrola but with a sort of easy animation that made the serenade sound like the soundtrack to a 1940s radio drama.

Then the avalanche hit. Two guitarists, two drummers and, in effect, two basses roared to life with an accelerated melody than alternated between thunderous, almost danceable rhythm and a chiming refrain that reached to a more ambient level of prog-related bliss. The resulting title of this album-opening detonation tune couldn’t have been more succinctly apt: VROOOM.

A newly remastered Thrak comes to us as one of the first official album releases of 2016. But don’t get too hung up on dates. Though just over 20 years old, the original Thrak brought King Crimson to life again after a decade-long hiatus. This new edition, boasting a wildly crisp stereo mix by Jakko Jakszyk (co-guitarist and vocalist of the current Crimson incarnation) and Robert Fripp (guitarist, founder, chieftain and the only mainstay member of the band’s many lineups) as well as several DVD audio impressions (including a 5.1 Surround Sound mix I got to hear over the holidays that is truly imposing in its clarity), comes with the subtitle of 40th Anniversary Edition. That refers to Crimson’s inception in 1969. The reissue series that began with the milestone anniversary of that event still remains several recordings short of completion.

What is important, though, is getting a chance to hear Thrak again with fresh ears and a several hearty tweaks. It’s an album full of glorious racket that brought together Crimson’s full 1980s lineup – Fripp, drummer Bill Bruford (a holdover from the band’s early ‘70s roster), bassist Tony Levin and Northern Kentucky native Adrian Belew as a second guitar piledriver – with a pair of players Fripp had more recently collaborated with – former Mr. Mister drummer Pat Mastellotto and stick player Trey Gunn.

What resulted was perhaps the most musically diversified record in the Crimson canon. VROOOM and its hot-wired reprise piece VROOOM VROOOM recalled the power chord strut of such earlier Crimson epics as Red while the title tune let Bruford and Mastellotto loose on a furiously exact percussion rumble. Then there was Belew, who offered a pair of gorgeous neo-ballads (One Time and Walking on Air) that blended his flair for Beatle-esque reflection and Fripp’s guitar ambience. Topping it all was Dinosaur, a giddy Belew-led rampage that groved with youthful vitality even as its lyrics mocked Crimson’s weighty legacy (“I’m a dinosaur, somebody is digging my bones”).

Thrak sounded great then and roars with even more beastly clarity in this retooled and ultimately ageless-sounding edition.

in performance: lexington philharmonic with the brubeck brothers quartet

the brubeck brothers quartet: dan brubeck, mike demicco, chuck lamb and chris brubeck.

the brubeck brothers quartet: dan brubeck, mike demicco, chuck lamb and chris brubeck.

There were certainly tip-offs last night at the Opera House that the Lexington Philharmonic and conductor Scott Terrell were preparing to operate, in terms of style and repertoire, from a different base than usual. The first sign was the greeting that announced showtime – a lone trombone playing the melody line to the Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond staple Take Five. The other was instrumentation assembled across the front of the stage. It belonged not to any classically derived guest soloists but to a jazz combo that would largely dictate the music to come.

What played out was an immensely enjoyable New Year’s Eve collaboration between the Philharmonic and the Brubeck Brothers Quartet. The latter was led by Chris and Dan Brubeck, two of the four sons of legendary father Dave, who had performed on this very Opera House stage two decades earlier.

Admittedly, being family to an artistic titan is hardly recommendation enough for anything other than a simple performance tribute. But the younger Brubecks also clocked many years on the road and in the studio with their esteemed father, so their artistic investment in his music has been considerable. As such, their claim as heirs to his compositions, and especially his mischievous implementation of time signatures, isn’t only justifiable, it’s a creative impetus to find new arrangements and possibilities for what can largely be termed Brubeck Music.

That was the cheerful gist of the concert, which delved into late career Brubeck works like The Basie Band is Back in Town (with a Chris Brubeck arrangement that favored Kansas City swing over his dad’s artful turns) as well as the richly percussive patterns of Jazzanians. Both showcased Dan Brubeck’s ultra tasteful drive on drums, a propulsion that modestly piloted most of the concert as much through clean, efficient fills during group and orchestral displays as through his solos.

The second set favored more established Brubeck fare, beginning with an animated Unsquare Dance. Chris Brubeck’s arrangement made the Philharmonic strings, along with his own efficient playing on fretless electric bass (he also performed, intermittingly, on trombone), willing accomplices to the tune’s improbable 7/4 time signature. The lyrics penned for the work were less engaging, although the command in the second verse to “asymmetrically swing your partner” was a hoot.

The extended Brandenburg Gate Revisited, the most orchestral Brubeck composition of the evening (the others were mostly retooled quartet works), brought out the best in the Philharmonic as it shifted from third stream variations to intervals of combo swing. Equally engaging was the dramatic role the orchestra played in bolstering the wildly playful melodic skirmishes within Blue Rondo a la Turk.

In its most elemental and engaging moment, though, the performance came down to an unaccompanied exchange between the brothers during a 12 minute revamping of Take Five. For a few brief moments, what was at work was a two man rhythm section of electric bass and drums glorifying the groove without any hint pretense or over-embellishment. It’s a good bet father Brubeck would have gotten a charge out of it.

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