Archive for October, 2017

in performance: o’connor band

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O’Connor Band. Back row: Joe Smart, Forrest O’Connor, Geoff Saunders. Front row: Maggie O’Connor, Mark O’Connor, Kate Lee O’Connor.

In a career where he has performed bluegrass, new grass, swing, classical music and more in myriad concert settings and band configurations, Mark O’Connor has more than earned the right to settle down with his family in a string band bearing his name.

In essence, that is what the pioneering fiddler and composer did by designing the O’Connor Band, a unit containing his wife, son and daughter-in-law playing a repertoire that leans to the kind of contemporary bluegrass where clean, melodic strides glide purposely into country turf.

That was certainy lpart of the intent behind the O’Connor Band’s performance last night at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium. By way of introduction, the bandleader, wife Maggie O’Connor, daughter-in-law Kate Lee O’Connor (all on fiddle), son Forrest O’Connor (on mandolin) and the exemplary support of guitarist Joe Smart and bassist/banjoist Geoff Saunders performed light, polite bluegrass-hued pop tunes drawn primarily from the band’s Grammy winning debut album “Coming Home.”

The construction and delivery of the songs (“Always Do” and “Old Black Creek,” in particular) were efficient with Lee O’Connor exhibiting a vocal charm not unlike that of Alison Krauss. The solos peppering the music, most of which father/bandleader O’Connor commandeered, consistently elevated the ensemble’s stylistic scope. But this was material that clearly strived for mainstream appeal within its family friendly makeup. It was when the O’Connor Band put its pop smarts on the back burner and called upon the deeper stylistic demands of its leader’s string music heritage that the performance really caught fire.

Curiously, the two works best exhibiting this reached back to the 1989 album “The Telluride Sessions,” which O’Connor cut with a pack of new grass all-stars dubbed Strength in Numbers. Equally odd was the fact neither work put had him touching a fiddle at all.

The first, “Macedonia,” placed him on mandolin aside son Forrest and guitarist Smart for a light dance melody that was more akin to Eastern European folk music than bluegrass or pop. The tour-de-force, though, was a 20-plus minute revision of “Slopes,” which divided the band into various solo, duo and group settings with O’Connor on guitar and Smart as a very capable-co-pilot.

The program ended on similar terrain with “A Bowl of Bula,” an instrumental from O’Connor’s 1991 album “The New Nashville Cats” that began as a twin mandolin romp and ended with three joyous, unison fiddles. It was a fitting coda to a program that wagered its appeal on inviting vocal tunes but delivered the instrumental goods in a big way once its audience was hooked.

foo fighters postpone tonight’s rupp concert

Tonight’s Foo Fighters concert has been rescheduled to May 1, 2018 due to a family emergency.

Looks like downtown is going to be considerably quieter tonight than originally planned. The Foo Fighters concert, scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. has been postponed due to what the band has called a family emergency. A reschedule performance date of May 1 has been confirmed.

A press release issued this afternoon said, “The band sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience and looks forward to returning to rock Lexington in May.”

This was to have been Foo Fighters’ first Rupp concert in over 17 years. Tickets for tonight’s show will be honored on the rescheduled date. Those unable to attend on May 1 can get a ticket refund at point of purchase.

While no other details were given for the sudden rescheduling, Foo Fighters performed as planned last night at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati. No additional cancellations or rescheduled dates have been listed on their website.

For additional ticketing questions, call the Rupp box office at 859-233-3535 or TicketMaster at 800-745-3000.

in performance: hudson

Hudson. From left, Larry Grenadier, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield and John Medeski. Photo by Nick Suttle.

It took roughly five minutes for the members of Hudson to make good on the concept of an actual jazz supergroup last night at the Corbett Theater in Cincinnati.

First up was a drum solo from Jack DeJohnette, who, at age 75, played with the stamina of a percussionist half his age but, more importantly, the taste and intuition of a true musical sage. Next was guitarist John Scofield, a Miles Davis alumnus, like DeJohnette, although it’s the music he has pioneered under his own name over several decades that continues to define his true resourcefulness. At once, his tone was huge and clear as the band locked into a melodic drive that was subsequently reconfigured to Scofield’s sense of subtle yet pronounced immediacy. Then we had John Medeski, one third of the avant jam trio Medeski Martin & Wood, who orchestrated the group’s playing with churchy soulfulness on B3 organ. That left Larry Grenadier, a veteran of scores of jazz collaborations with the likes of Pat Metheny, Paul Motian and most notably Brad Mehldau, to ground the resulting music on double bass.

Perhaps best of all was the composition at hand. It wasn’t some obvious jazz standard, but rather an artful reworking of Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.”

What all this translated into was the sound of four immensely gifted – and, within the jazz world, popular – instrumentalists reaching for what most so-called supergroups are seldom able to find. They played like an actual band. Admittedly, strong alliances already existed before Hudson solidified itself as a unit. Scofield and Medeski, for instance, have been recording together on and off for nearly two decades. As such, we saw the two playing off each other’s ideas repeatedly last night, especially during an encore cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that allowed the dynamics of both players to mingle within waves of collaborative cool that quickly built into a rockish boil.

But there was also considerable dexterity on display within Hudson’s original material, particularly two works by Scofield. The first, “El Swing,” employed dark, meaty piano rolls from Medeski that fell somewhere between the modal play of McCoy Tyner and the arty playfulness of Thelonious Monk. The other, “Tony Then Jack,” was actually where the true swing was served before DeJohnette took over on an extended run backed by Grenadier that showcased Hudson’s scholarly stylistic command as well as the supergroup’s unified sound and spirit.

in performance: noah preminger and the brandon coleman trio

Noah Preminger. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

Sitting at Tee Dee’s Lounge last night as New York saxophonist Noah Preminger channeled the tone and dynamics of another great tenor player, Warne Marsh, was exhilarating in the extreme. But the magic went beyond the moment as the evening’s two hour, two set performance with the Cincinnati based Brandon Coleman Trio inaugurated the new Origin Jazz Series, a program committed to staging eight monthly concerts by national, regional and local jazz artists in Lexington at alternating venues through next spring.

The performance at hand was an intriguing though not altogether realized one. Preminger proved a first rate soloist, one that found a tone both lustrous in its melodic appeal (as shown during the ballad “Before the Rain”) and meaty in its boppish drive (the show opening “Transfer”). There was also immense ingenuity within Preminger’s phrasing. Appearing consistently comfortable with a band he seldom plays with (although the combined quartet of artists performed several regional shows over the past week), his musicianship never sounded forced, unsteady or excessive.

Guitarist Coleman wasn’t quite as assured. His solos, though technically impressive, didn’t reveal much by way of vocabulary. There were modestly distorted runs reflecting a clever, prog-ish streak along with an appealing spaciousness that, at times, recalled the late John Abercrombie. But Coleman’s playing often went in circles, summoning little of the natural, conversational dynamics Preminger called upon so readily.

There were two nice exceptions, though, both of which bowed to the blues. A guitar/sax duo reading of “Trouble in Mind” allowed Preminger and Coleman to relax in alternating roles as rhythm and lead players, while the show closing “My Blues For You” enlisted venue owner and longtime Lexington guitar favorite Tee Dee Young to sit in on a slow blues serenade that seemed to unlock fresh rhythmic possibilities for Coleman.

As far as the bigger picture goes, the Origin Jazz Series and its audience may need to look into fine tuning some traditions. The series organizers will have to consider whether the usual two-set club design is really what they want to go with for the other three performances scheduled at Tee Dee’s in coming months. Last night, the house was largely full at the start of the night, although an intermission sent a noticeable number of patrons packing. As for those patrons, they need to realize serious jazz is not a backdrop for idle chat. Several pockets of loud, intrusive conversation punctured the quieter moments of the evening. As Preminger so beautifully contradicted in the title of the Marsh tune, real jazz is not “background music,” but a call for attentive ears and buttoned lips.

in performance: drive-by truckers

Drive-By Truckers: Matt Patton, Brad Morgan, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jay Gonzalez. Photo by Danny Clinch.

Here’s how the evening began. Fasten your seat belts.

The moment Drive-By Truckers took the stage at Manchester Music Hall last night Patterson Hood stopped in his tracks, pointed to the bar at the back of the venue and ordered all of the televisions in operation to be turned off. But what incensed him more than the TVs being on was who was on them – Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity. That triggered a profanity laden tirade from Hood who then encouraged the crowd to turn around, face the bar and shoot a unison greeting and hand gesture to Mr. Hannity that was, shall we say, not welcoming.

With that the Truckers put their cards on the table as to where they stood politically before a single note was played. But just in case there were doubts, the band then kicked into a show-opening tune from its 2016 album “American Band” that was topical to the point of being frightening. It was “Guns of Umpqua,” Hood’s reflection on the shootings that shook Umpqua Community College in Oregon two years ago to the day of Sunday’s horrifying gun-related deaths in Las Vegas. That the song was melodically one of the calmest works performed all night simply underscored the arching tragedy of both events.

How do you calm the masses after a one-two punch like that? Well, co-frontman Mike Cooley’s militia gone amok rocker “Ramon Casiano” and another Hood tune of the times, the hook-heavy “Darkened Flags at the Cusp of Dawn” (two more entries from “American Band”) followed. But in short order, Hood lightened, took in the feverish response of the crowd before him and confessed to the unavoidable joy that came from the resulting artist/audience chemistry. “This is the first time I’ve smiled in two days,” he said.

With that Hood, addressed the week’s other loss – Monday’s sudden death of Tom Petty. The Truckers didn’t so much eulogize the iconic Southern-born rocker as celebrate him at several points. Early in the show came a joyous reading of “The Waiting” that was remarkably faithful to the Byrds-like pop sway of Petty’s original 1981 version. But less obvious was the title tune to Petty’s 1985 album “Southern Accents” that prefaced “Ever South,” yet another Hood song from “American Band.” Set to a grim, militaristic beat by drummer Brad Morgan, the mash-up let the Petty tune speak to the stereotypes outsiders inflict upon Southerners while Hood’s song dealt with remaining steadfast amid stereotypes Southerners inflict upon themselves.

Given how Hood is, in effect, the Truckers’ emcee onstage, it can be easy to overlook Cooley’s contributions. In fact, the two frontmen traded off songs for the entire program. Cooley may possess a more modest stage presence, but his songs roared, especially during the electric jubiliance of “Marry Me,” the grittier reserve of “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” and the jolting “American Band” work “Surrender Under Protest” that placed him, Hood, co-guitarist/keyboardist Jay Gonzalez and bassist Matt Patton in a unified front line across the front of the stage.

Oh, and there was also a just-for-fun cover of Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen,” with Hood singing lead, to remind us Halloween is just a few weeks away. No doubt that was performed for those that thought the times weren’t scary enough already.

tom petty, 1950-2107

tom petty.

Yesterday afternoon I came across a Facebook post from a friend in deep and understandable distress concerning not only the horrible shooting deaths of nearly 60 people Sunday night in Las Vegas but the ongoing divide within our country that remains a backdrop of such tragedy. The posting came with a simple plea: “Please, someone, give me some good news.”

No sooner than I finished reading that than three successive emails arrived, all concerning Tom Petty. Found unconscious at his home. Not breathing. No brain activity. His death, at age 66, was confirmed this morning.

We won’t try to equate the passing of an American rock ‘n’ roll colossus with what happened in Las Vegas. This isn’t a contest, just a sad footnote to an indescribably sad day.

The most immediate reaction to Petty’s death is simply shock. He had completed what was widely regarded as his final major tour as recently as last week (a trek that took him to Cincinnati’s US Bank Arena in June). You simply don’t expect an artist with such seeming invincibility to simply exit so suddenly. But when do such departures ever really announce themselves?

The overriding sense of loss, though, comes from the fact that Petty was part of a very small circle of American rock stylists whose music came of age in the 1970s by embracing essentials – a sense of rock ‘n’ roll vitality that largely sidestepped trends, a songwriting ability that embodied an everyman stance without unduly flaunting it and, let’s face it, enough of a celebrity profile to win him the kind of commercial appeal to fortify an enduring audience. It’s a short a list. Bruce Springsteen is on it. Bob Seger, despite a career that began to catch fire in the late ‘60s, is on it. The company thins out pretty quickly after that.

Petty came to us at the unlikeliest of times. A Floridian who made his fortune after relocating to Southern California, he released three initial albums with his Heartbreakers band – “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” (1976), “You’re Gonna Get It” (1978) and the breakthrough “Damn the Torpedoes” (1979) – at a time when rock and pop were split between mainstream disco and upstart punk. Petty avoided the extremes of both by embracing a meat-and-potatoes rock design that sounded more Heartland than West Coast in terms of inspiration. The backbone of his enduring catalog – “American Girl,” “Listen to Her Heart,” “Refugee” and others – hails from those first three albums.

Petty also accomplished something few artists outside of Springsteen and Seger could. He rode new waves of popularity in ensuing decades.

“Full Moon Fever” – technically a solo album, but with a Jeff Lynne-produced sound largely in league with the Heartbreakers’ music – yielded the defiant hit “I Won’t Back Down” as the 1980s closed to become as popular as anything Petty cut during the preceding decade. Then in 1994 came “Wildflowers,” another record with another famed producer (Rick Rubin) that stripped away the Lynne-enhanced pop-veneer for some of Petty’s most elemental and endearing songs.

There weren’t many hits after that, but there didn’t need to be. Petty never made a bad album. Even his last two Heartbreakers works, “Mojo” (2010) and “Hypnotic Eye” (2014) possessed great songs even if their more relaxed feel provided Petty an elder status he largely shrugged off in performance. But those records are great listens and serve as proof of Petty’s ability to age with grace and vigor.

I saw him perform probably a half dozen times, none of them recently. Nothing compared to my first Petty show, however – a February 1983 outing at Louisville Gardens with Nick Lowe and Paul Carrack playing together as an opening act, all for $10.

Petty’s hit at the time was the synth-heavy “You Got Lucky.” But it was another then-new tune that defined the evening – a stubbornly assertive and anthemic non-hit called “One Story Town.” The reason was simple. It embraced fully the band that pervaded every corner of Petty’s music, right down to his singing – The Byrds.

Just thinking of that song puts a smile my face. Then again, that’s what great rock ‘n’ roll does – it makes your spirits soar, even at the saddest of times.

in performance: ballister

Ballister: Dave Rempis, Paal Nilssen-Love and Fred Lonberg-Holm. Photo by Geert Vandepoele.

The most immediately arresting aspect of the performance earlier tonight by the jazz trio Ballister at the University of Kentucky Niles Gallery was the audience – specifically, the fact there was one on hand that largely filled the room. That’s an accomplishment for the Outside the Spotlight Series this performance was part of. Over the course of an hour, the playing that erupted, subsided, splintered and regenerated was built around free improvisation that took the resulting music light years away from anything that could be considered mainstream. That’s been pretty much standard operating procedure for any OTS show, which perhaps explains why audience turnout is sometimes on the sparse side. But a full room tonight made up predominantly of college-age patrons unquestionably gave the performance’s already abundant sense of immediacy an extra, welcomed jolt.

The concert was divided into two extended improvisations by Dave Rempis (on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones), Paal Nilssen-Love (on drums and percussion) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (on cello, guitar and electronics). The first was a 35 minute romp that began at a full boil and seldom relented. Rempis tore loose on alto while Lonberg-Holm underscored his bowed cello playing with often coarse scratches on the strings. But it was Nilssen-Love who stayed in the driver’s seat, initiating the ensemble drive with a thunderous crack on the kit and then propelling the music through a variety of brutal rumbles and fractured grooves.

The results were wildly engrossing if not earsplitting. The latter was a side effect of the room’s acoustics as Lonberg-Holm was the only one playing with even modest amplification.

A second 25 minute improv splintered the trio into a variety of solo and duo configurations and employed a greater vocabulary of dynamics and space. A baritone sax solo from Rempis, for example, sounded positively hushed compared to the voluminous outbreaks from the first workout. But the others opened up, too. Nilssen-Love created circular grooves with brushes on a snare before producing gong-like effects from a cymbal. Lonberg-Holm used the occasion for a lengthy excursion on guitar that yielded brittle electric runs that bore remarkable tonal similarities to his cello agitations.

In short, it was an evening of discovery. For Ballister, that translated into considerable conversational daring among its players. For the audience, it was the opportunity to experience a sense of jazz exploration that was uncompromising in terms of intensity and ingenuity.

ballister: the sound of sculpted energy

dave rempis.

Given the number of jazz and improvised music groups Dave Rempis leads (his website lists nine), one might wonder how sound and intent differ when it comes to Ballister, the free jazz power trio the Chicago saxophonist returns to Lexington with for a WRFL-FM sponsored Outside the Spotlight concert on Monday.

The sound? That’s readily apparent when listening to “Slag,” one of the two new Ballister recordings released this year (the other is the vinyl-only Belgian album “Low Level Stink”). The music is alternately immediate and aggressive. It’s sparse and spacious one moment and thunderously textured the next. On “Gusiarme,” the second of three extended improvised pieces making up “Slag,” Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love let the music drop to a bare scratch of a solo sax whisper before building to a full, abstract trio assault.

“I think the three of us are often trying to sculpt energy in this group, if that makes sense,” Remps said. “The sort of in-your-face nature of the band and the reputation we’ve gotten in doing that makes sense to us. All three of us throw ourselves very fully into the music. Part of it, for me, is definitely the physicality of that, of really pushing one’s self to extremes and limits just to see what can come out of that. That’s one thing this group tends to explore a bit more than some of my other groups.”

But what of the intent behind the music? That’s where Rempis says Ballister and his other ensembles – which includes Gunwale, the Rempis Percussion Quartet, Rempis/Johnston/Ochs and separate duos with drummers Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly, all of which have played Outside the Spotlight concerts here over the past decade – are largely on the same page.

“I don’t think that’s any different. The intent in the free improvised context is generally about communication and trying to create, basically, a group sound that flows together and incorporates the contributions of each of the individual musicians into a larger whole. We want to feel like a band as opposed to three people just trying to figure something out onstage.

“In terms of how it’s different from the other projects, I don’t know. I think a lot of the groups I’ve put together are based on mutual affinities between the musicians. I’m more interested in that and how the personalities come together rather than in trying to figure out, on a musical level, how this is different from that.”

To that end, Rempis is filled with praise for Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love, musicians he was collaborating with long before Ballister came together in 2009. The saxophonist cited not only their individual performance stamina and sense of musical invention, but their ability in helping to define a group spirit strong enough to fortify a sound built upon improvisation.

“Paal is a limitless source of ideas and energy, both onstage and off. He’s so dedicated to music and art and ideas and is so committed to every different situation I’ve worked with him in. That’s really inspiring, especially considering he’s somebody who’s playing 250 to 300 concerts a year with probably 30 different groups. It’s really amazing that he can sustain such a high level of commitment, interest and engagement.

“Fred is a big part of what makes the group so interesting. He can play the role of a bass player and interact with Paal directly. He can play the role of a guitar player and add a lot of color to things. He can play the role of an electronic artist by placing noise and effects in the music as a palette for us to play against.”

Ultimately, what fuels Ballister is the same unified drive and meshing of personalities that sustain any band in any style. The improvised nature of the resulting trio sound makes its music distinctive, but a cohesive group spirit, not to mention an underlying friendship, is what continues to drive Ballister.

“Honestly, a lot of this music, for me, is based on personalities and the way people interact, not just as musicians but as people. In this band, there is very much a group mentality. Sitting in the van with these guys during the day, talking with them and getting their perspective on things, is incredible. These are people who are really well traveled and have played with so many different musicians. I learned so much from these guys. I really think we have a friendship and an understanding of each other that’s very brotherly.”

Ballister performs at 7 p.m. Oct.2 at the John Jacobs Niles Gallery and Center for American Music, University of Kentucky (inside the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library). Admission is free. For more information, go to daverempis.com/ballister-1


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