Archive for March, 2019

in performance: boneshaker/timothee quost

Boneshaker. From left, Paal-Nilssen-Love, Mars Williams and Kent Kessler. Photo by Marek Lazarsk.

There is a certain irony in the fact that Boneshaker titled its new album “Fake Music.” Well, there’s parody at work, too, given the redacted text that serves as cover art. But when giving a listen to this Chicago trio, which offered a very inviting set Friday evening at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall for the Outside the Spotlight Series, you sensed at once how fake the “Fake” element was. Led by saxophonist Mars Williams and sporting two veterans of numerous OTS performances, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Kent Kessler, Boneshaker summoned a sense of jazz interplay and immediacy that was real, present and vital.

While Williams has long demonstrated an instrumental potency that borders on the volcanic, this performance was distinguished by considerable instrumental dynamics. In a single 45 improvisation that formed the foundation of the concert (although it was likely a mash-up of several singular pieces, as is the case on “Fake Music”), the trio took flight with the blues. But the music also remained open enough for the drive of Kessler and Nilssen-Love to fortify Williams’ more daring runs on tenor sax. From there, the sounds continually shifted from slow to brisk, from dense to sparse and from a hearty shout to a bare whisper. At times, that meant the trio broke off into various duet formations, highlighted by a quiet exchange between Kessler on bowed bass and Williams on alto sax.

The vocabulary was considerable, as well, whether it was displayed by Nilssen-Love doubling the rhythm on shakers for a Pharoah Sanders-like feel or Williams coloring sections with kalimba, percussive bells and even squeaky toys. That this entire collage returned to earth with a soulful but underscored groove cemented the trio’s broad sense of invention.

French trumpeter Timothee Quost opened with a half-hour improvisation that was better appreciated as a performance piece than a purely musical one. Playing on a novel makeshift stage in the bed of a pickup truck parked on the store floor of the Fun Mall, his performance was largely an abstract fabric of electronic pops and flourishes that seldom called on the trumpet’s natural sound. That, luckily, was placed on display when he joined Boneshaker at the show’s end, trading aggressive stabs with Williams and generally enhancing the trio’s already resourceful musical arsenal.

 

in performance: los lonely boys

Los Lonely Boys. From left, Henry Garza, Ringo Garza and Jojo Garza.

The club shows that introduced Los Lonely Boys to Lexington some 15 years ago were exhibitions of bluesy, electric exuberance – three brothers out of San Angelo, Texas serving up hearty power trio guitar rock with the spirits of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan never far from view. What it perhaps lacked then in invention was compensated for with boundless performance vigor.

On Wednesday night, before a sold out crowd at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, the brothers Garza – guitarist Henry, six string bassist Jojo and drummer Ringo (seriously, that his name) – delivered a set that, if anything, packed an even greater sense of affirmation and energy. But the difference this time was how securely the trio had found its rock, blues and soul sea legs. This was a band fascinated with the possibilities of power trio voltage, its own Chicano heritage and the sheer joy of stage performance. Though brief (the show barely clocked past 70 minutes), it possessed a level of drive and freshness that, frankly, was a little unexpected.

The Garzas threw down their psychedelic cards before the crowd at the show’s onset by opening with a searing cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou.” Henry Garza embraced the tune’s killer bayou guitar riff, but dragged it over to Texas terrain, making it more bluesy than swampy. Jojo Garza wisely avoided John Fogerty’s gutbucket vocal lead from the song’s original 1968 version, supplanting it instead with a rich, rootsy shout and an occasional cultural shift in the lyrics (“I can still hear my chihuahua barking”).

Henry and Jojo split lead vocal duties as the program tore through four consecutive tunes from the most recent Los Lonely Boys album, 2014’s “Revelation.” Here is where the band’s stylistic breadth came into play. “Don’t Walk Away” and “Blame It on Love” incorporated just enough of a pop flourish (especially within the percussive Latin strut of the latter) to make Los Lonely Boys sound vastly more orchestrated than a conventional power trio. Ditto for the funk accents, especially in Jojo’s bass work, that fueled “Give a Little More” and the lighter paced, conga-flavored groove of “So Sensual.”

But there was still ample guitar fire from Henry to keep the show moving at a solid, rocking pace, from the intriguing Santana-like coda to “I Never Met a Woman” to the bass and drum-led jam that ignited a giddy cover of the Steve Winwood staple “I’m a Man.”

The evening concluded with the band’s breakthrough 2004 hit “Heaven.” Here, 15 year old Ringo Garza Jr (the drummer’s son) joined in, playing guitar confidently with his dad and uncles, adding to a pop-soul vibe already inherent in the tune.

It was a telling moment, as the three elder Garzas got their professional start decades earlier under the tutelage of their father. Sewing a family thread into music that has grown richer over time enforced the only false aspect of Los Lonely Boys – its name. The communal spirit revealed last night was way too fun and inviting for anyone at the Lyric to feel like they were even remotely alone.

in performance: mumford & sons/cat power

Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons performing Tuesday night at Rupp Arena. Herald-Leader staff photo by Matt Goins.

The dichotomy sitting within the music of Mumford & Sons revealed itself the moment the lights went down Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.

After a preshow arsenal of vintage soul favorites from Aretha Franklin, The Contours and The Four Tops blasted through the venue to put the crowd of 8,500 in a celebratory mood, Marcus Mumford and an expanded eight member version of the British pop-folk brigade took to the stage with the first two tunes from their recent “Delta” album. The songs, “42” and “Guiding Light,” quickly iced over the any impending party mood with an atmospheric disparity that was rather chilling.

The two works are essentially companion pieces. The first seeks a path out of darkness, the second finds it. It was an opening that left the Rupp crowd transfixed, seated and somewhat deflated.

But then the party started. With “Little Lion Man,” Mumford & Sons turned back the calendar a full decade to the stomping, folk-informed pop sound rich with fiddle and banjo that first opened the world’s ears to the British band. The audience shot to its feet as if a switch had been thrown.

The band shuffled back and forth between regions of dark and light for the rest of the performance. The latter mostly won out, whether it was through the more elegiac and acoustic inclined “Beloved,” the drummer-less rhythmic drive of “Roll Away Your Stone” or those more rocking instances where Mumford and banjoist Winston Marshall opted for electric guitars, as during the high voltage charge of “Believe.”

Perhaps the most fascinating blend of the two extremes surfaced during “Picture You,” which blew in with synthesized layers of finger popping cool before yielding to the full ensemble charge of “Snake Eyes.”

This was a visually arresting performance. Presented in the round (well, actually on a rectangular stage in the middle of the rectangular Rupp floor), it allowed the band to perform under two massive banks of lights that regularly descended near the stage like probing spaceships.

But the staging also allowed for intimacy. During an encore set, the band gathered around a single microphone for a brief set highlighted by the almost gospel-esque “Sister” that revealed Mumford & Sons at its most appealing and familial.

Mumford proved utility man of the evening, as well. Aside from diverting to drums and percussion for a few tunes, he also sat in for roughly one-third of a fascinating opening set by Chan Mitchell, better known by her professional nom de plume of Cat Power.

A recording artist for over two decades, Mitchell still plays with the wonderment – and, at times, distance – of a hopeful newcomer. The set opening “Cross Bones Style” and later entries such as “Robbin Hood” were wrapped in a spacious electric wash for which her vocals operated more as an additional color as opposed to a lead voice. Singing often with two microphones and wandering in and out of stage shadows, Mitchell echoed the dark chanteuse ambience of artists like Nico while her songs were seldom inhibited by standard verse/chorus structure. They instead unfolded more as ongoing meditations.

There were curious elements of accessibility thrown in, like snippets of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” and the folk staple “He Was a Friend of Mine.” Similarity, Mumford’s extended cameo brought a broader pop palette to original works like “Manhattan” while offering a hint of the dark/light dichotomy the evening’s headliners would soon explore in detail.

in performance: ross whitaker

Ross Whitaker.

Approximating the jazz tone and temperament of John Scofield is no easy task. One of the most versed and recognizable jazz guitarists of the past four decades, his electric playing cruises effortlessly through bop, blues, funk and fusion but isn’t afraid to dig into dark corners during the ride. That’s why underneath all the lyrical candor in Scofield’s music sits a restlessness that toys with tempo and phrasing to create a sense of woozy fascination. Then again, when a tunes calls for it, his playing can tear like a torpedo through the mightiest senses of swing and groove.

Lexington guitarist Ross Whitaker took it upon himself to explore and interpret a sizable chunk of Scofield’s catalog – 32 years’ worth, to be exact – for an Origins Jazz Series concert Saturday evening at Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Lounge. The results offered a musical overview that was as complimentary to Scofield’s stylistic breadth as it was comprehensive.

To his credit, Whitaker didn’t rush the music or force its intent. Scofield has never been intrigued with flash or speed. As such Whitaker, took his time in offering a faithful take on Scofield’s high, wiry tone. It unfolded with modestly aggressive but abundantly playful clarity on “I’ll Take Les,” coalesced for the more outwardly boppish “Eisenhower” and eased for the gentler, bossa nova-flavored “Keep Me in Mind.”

Working with tenor saxophonist Doug Drewek and trumpeter/cornetist Sam Flowers helped color the more expansive extremes of the concert, from the hushed phrasing of “Still Warm” (a tune that reached back to a 1986 Scofield album of the same name) to the blues/soul lullaby “Uncle Southern” (the performance’s newest entry, coming from Scofield’s 2018 recording “Combo 66”).

Then there were times Whitaker’s patiently paced musicianship openly embraced groove. On “Hottentot,” one of Scofield’s numerous collaborations with the avant funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood, the bounce in his playing turned more jagged as the ensemble sound became more rhythmic. Since horns didn’t figure into Scofield’s original version, it was both refreshing and inventive to hear them play off the composition’s central guitar hooks so readily. The jovial sound that resulted sounded less like Medeski Martin & Wood and more like James Brown.

 

in performance: los lobos

Los Lobos. From left: Conrad Lozano, David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin, Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez. Photo courtesy of Paradigm Music Library.

Now here is an audience cheer you don’t often encounter at your everyday rock ‘n’ roll show.

“Everybody cumbia!”

That was the invitation from guitarist Cesar Rosas as Los Lobos headed into the home stretch of a jubilant career overview concert Thursday evening at Manchester Music Hall.

Of course, with Los Lobos, even seemingly foreign sounds as cumbia are no more presented as novelties than they are as purist reflections of musical tradition. As such, the Columbian dance rhythms at the heart of “Chuco’s Cumbia” mingled with shades of rockish psychedelia, courtesy of the myriad guitar voicings of Lobos co-frontman David Hidalgo and the boppish glee of baritone saxophonist Steve Berlin. So, in short, expecting an audience to break into cumbia-inspired dance was as unlikely as it was thinking Los Lobos wouldn’t liberally borrow from a pantry full of ethnic accents.

Ironically, the 90 minute set began on pretty traditional terms with the same four players that began Los Lobos in 1973 – Rosas, Hidalgo, Louie Perez and Conrad Lozano – taking to the stage alone with a sampler of acoustic tunes that accelerated from the brisk and brittle Mexican folk stride of the show opening “Canto A Veracruz” to the Tex Mex drive of “Mexico Americano” with Berlin and drummer Bugs González entering the lineup.

From there the cross pollination began as the show turned to rock ‘n’ roll. Rosas piloted the giddy, roots-savvy “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” while Hildalgo took charge on a majestically orchestral “Angel Dance” as well as a keenly noir-flavored “Kiko and the Lavender Moon”.

A few kindred inspirations were also channeled. A set closing cover of the Grateful Dead staple “Bertha” surrendered fully to jamming instincts revealed more sparingly earlier in the performance, while the hit 1987 cover of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” (presented as a festive mash-up encore with the vintage Rascals hit “Good Lovin’”) offered the band’s most recognizable and accessible nod to its Latin heritage.

It was all good fun, even though everyone onstage – save for the continually grinning Lozano – looked like pokerfaced dads as they played. But don’t judge Los Lobos by its stage presence. All you needed to hear was the block party pairing of the Tex Mex romps “Anselma” and “Let’s Say Goodnight” late in the set to understand just how hard at play these rocking patriarchs truly were.


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