Archive for May, 2019

leon redbone, 1949-2019

Leon Redbone. Photo by Patricia De Gorostarzu.

To appreciate the sensibility of a performer like Leon Redbone, you need only read the obituary posted currently on his website. For all the shades of vintage folk, blues, jazz and antique pop that colored his music and the similarly vintage parlor airs he maintained during his performances, the singer possessed a wicked sense of humor. With notices in the press around the globe announcing his death on Thursday came the revelation of his age – something the mercurial Redbone never revealed during his life. He was 69. But the website obit tossed fact and reason to the wind, stating he had “crossed the Delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127.”

My first reaction to reading this, aside from immediate laughter, was that Redbone had undoubtedly penned the tribute himself long the hour came to bid adieu.

All this enforces as unlikely a profile as you will find in a pop artist – one that bowed not only to the songs and sentiments of a seemingly ancient stylistic age but to the entertainment traditions that superseded them. He may have serenaded us with the songs of Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Johnny Mercer and other classicists in a vocal style best described as a mumbling croon. But Redbone was pure vaudeville in most other performance respects, whether it was through the playful gasps, shouts and train wreck scatting that adorned his version of “The Sheik of Araby” (from perhaps his best known album, 1977’s “Double Time”) or the instance when he played the long-defunct Breeding’s on New Circle Road during the early ‘80s and snapped a photograph of the crowd in front of him. “I’m doing this so I can remember each and every face.”

What made Redbone’s pop celebrity status especially odd was, what else, timing. The fact his artistic mindset seemed rooted in the ‘20s and ‘30s was one thing. But he became a performance regular on the early seasons of “Saturday Night Live” and turned archaic masterworks like “Shine on Harvest Moon” into a rock radio staples at a time when the punk revolution was at its peak. In fact, Redbone’s commercial apex – from 1975 to 1979 – mirrored the heyday of punk’s zenith almost completely.

Mainstream fascination with Redbone faded somewhat from the ‘80s onward, although he remained a prolific recording artist and performer until failing health brought on retirement in 2015. During the latter half of his career, he would play Lexington numerous times, especially the Kentucky Theatre. Redbone’s manner was always elegantly reserved with an artistic stance that paid full reverence to the vintage songs he was interpreting. But he also remained open enough for plenty of kitschy fun.

“Basically, I just try to capture a sentimental, melancholy moment,” Redbone told me in an interview prior to a 1999 concert at the Kentucky. “Most of the tunes I do are pretty much steered to that. Early Jimmie Rodgers recordings, for example, which also capture that mood, have inspired me in that regard. But the sense of timelessness has ultimately become unnecessary in modern music. That sort of subtle and genteel moment is nearly disappearing. So, consequently, music doesn’t really have that kind of sentiment anymore.”

in performance: orchid quartet

Orchid Quartet. From left, Desiree Hazley, Molly Rogers, Kiara Ana Perico and Leah Metzler.

As an initial Friday evening greeting to a homecoming audience, Frankfort native Molly Rogers cued up some solo Bach on the violin as the other members of the Orchid Quartet sat armed and ready to join in at the Grand Theatre.

An artist infatuated for much of her career with film scores and themes (her many credits include touring with Oscar/Grammy winning composer Hans Zimmer), it was a good bet Rogers chose Bach’s familiar “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” not for its classical heritage but for its dual life as an aural moodpiece in a healthy number of ‘70s era horror flicks. Regardless, the opening passage, which Rogers tackled alone, had little in common with classical tradition or Hollywood. It instead was played with a giddy, gypsy air, revealing a loose but pronounced sense of folk drama. As the other members – co-violinist Desiree Hazley, violist Kiara Ana Perico and cellist Leah Metzler – entered, a more expected spirit of Bach took hold with an assured classical ensemble feel. But for that opening moment, Rogers was into something different altogether.

As the evening unfolded, the Orchid Quartet flexed its stylistic muscle generously. For instance, what do you follow Bach with? Why, Guns N’ Roses, of course – specifically, a stately cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” that transformed Slash’s trademark guitar riff into a largely minimalist string arpeggio that recalled, of all groups, Penguin Café Orchestra.

There were television and film themes galore sliced and diced into playful medleys, including one with a suitably dark mashup of the themes from “The Walking Dead” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to cement the program’s agenda. But what one was mostly left with in listening to the Orchid Quartet wasn’t so much the relationship between classical music and contemporary scores but a rather less obvious link between classical and folk.

The evening’s most generous classical offering, Dvorak’s “String Quartet in F Major,” underscored the work’s generous nod to folk melody and structure (hence the piece’s subtitle “American Quartet”) by echoing, in places, the Gershwin staple “Summertime.” That proved a curious reference as the group tackled “Summertime” directly and separately in the program’s second set, replacing the tune’s bluesy resignation with a ghostly folk dexterity. And what better song arsenal to pull from for this classical-folk skirmish than an elegant one-two punch of “Danny Boy” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Of course, all of this couldn’t help but play second fiddle (pun intended) to Rogers’ return to Frankfort. Now based in Los Angeles, she had it all on Friday – homecoming queen honors and the teamwork of three daring pals that transformed string quartet expectations into an inviting classical-folk travelogue.

in performance: brian krock’s liddle

Brian Krock. Photo by Desmond White.

Brian Krock wound down the live version of his quartet liddle at J. Gumbo’s Lex on Wednesday evening with the same kind of elegant exhaling that distinguishes the band’s newly released, self-titled album. Not coincidentally, it was the same composition that fueled the finish. The tune was “Please Stop,” a work that utilized a loop-like ambience from guitarist Olli Hirvonen that astonishingly recalled the mid ‘70s experimentation of Robert Fripp. With the electric atmospherics setting the mood, Krock soloed on clarinet with prayer-like spaciousness that made the piece sound like a requiem. Then bassist Marty Kenney joined in, bolstering the soundscape with an almost proggish feel.

It was a sumptuous conclusion to the performance, but also a mere snapshot among a two-set scrapbook of tunes liddle showcased on the J. Gumbo’s patio as the chill of a late spring evening set in.

Much of the liddle music came from the “liddle” album, including a fascinating take on Anthony Braxton’s “Composition No. 23b,” which began with surprisingly boppish animation before the playing gleefully splintered. Then there were the cyclical riffs Krock created on alto sax during “Knuckle Hair” that served as momentary fireworks before the ensemble sound deconstructed. That’s when Hirvonen took the wheel to summon the spirit of another guitar giant, the great Norwegian composer and improviser Terje Rypdal. The resulting music all but surrendered to rock-inspired mischief.

There were several new, unrecorded compositions, as well, which Krock said he hopes to incorporate into a live recording at the end of liddle’s current tour. Among them was “I Am a Worm,” a treatise on clarinet/guitar-led grooves that neatly dissolved into a series of band skirmishes deflating under keen bowed bass lines from Kenney.

Curiously, the performance also began with the same music that introduces the “liddle” album – namely, a giddy tune titled “(flip)” that bounced about the patio with Zappa-like abandon before briefly relaxing enough for the music to shift between Krock’s tightly efficient improving on alto and Hirvonen’s arsenal of jazz-friendly power chords.

All in all, a fun and engaging evening of forward-thinking jazz in an inviting new venue setting.

in performance: california guitar trio and montreal guitar trio

California Guitar Trio and Montreal Guitar Trio, from left: Bert Lams (CGT), Sebastien Dufour (MGT), Marc Morin (MGT), Hideyo Moriya (CGT), Glenn Levesque (MGT) and Paul Richards (CGT).

On paper, the blend of the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio would seem an oil-and-vinegar proposition. The CGT is a classically disciplined and stylistically adventurous group whose often Zen-like stage persona mirrors a natural musical curiosity triggered decades ago under the tutelage of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. The MGT is more purposely brash, seemingly inspired by the percussive might of flamenco and myriad folk inspirations (its newest album, “Danzas” is essentially a meshing of all that with an occasional jazz flourish).

But onstage, and on the fine new “In a Landscape” recording, a rich, playful and ultimately complimentary camaraderie emerges. On Friday evening at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville, the two (mostly) acoustic trios began by playing separately to introduce their specific musical platforms. The MGT went first with the dramatic, dizzying meshing of Al Di Meola’s “Mediterranean Sundance” and Paco De Lucia’s “Rio Ancho” with the CGT countering with a typically effortless genre-hopping excursion that took the group from the Dick Dale tribute within “Misirlou” to the contemplative Paul Richards original “Euphoria” to the classical majesty of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”

But it was the closing set where both trios teamed that the sparks really flew. Aside from the almost Croatian sounding “Breizh Tango” (with MGT member Glenn Levesque briefly switching to mandolin) and a profoundly giddy, folk dance-informed take on Ennio Morricone’s theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (with MGT members Sebastien Dufour and Marc Morin switching to charango and accordion, respectively), the collaboration focused on music from “In a Landscape.” And, musically, the resulting landscape was vast and varied.

Levesque’s “New Horizons” possessed a reserved, cinematic grace with a chattering percussive foundation while CGT mainstay Hideyo Moriya offered the dark textures and fierce, rolling tempos of the original “Fortune Island” (along with a stark spoken intro explaining his personal investment in the song’s inspiration that brought immediate quiet to the audience).

Both trios have reputations for mutating cover material to fit their string-savvy means. Here, there did so again, but in very respectful fashion with a serene yet modestly melancholy version of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” and a faithful, show-closing update of the David Bowie staple “Space Oddity.” Both tunes added strong vocal leads from  Levesque, to make this adventurous six-man guitar squad part fusion band, part pop/folk group and part classical ensemble. The blending of those traits, along with the trios’ wonderfully disparate onstage personalities, made the program something of a boundless guitar joyride.

in performance: pink

Pink, during an earthbound moment Thursday night at Rupp Arena. Herald Leader photo by Alex Slitz.

Oh, that Pink. She thinks she is sooooo above everyone else.

Well, for an impressive portion of a carnival-worthy performance Thursday evening at Rupp Arena, she was – about 30 feet above. No sooner did a set of massive curtains part (take a wild guess what color they were) than the pop juggernaut was seen swinging on a makeshift chandelier, crawling up, down and upside down with the agility of a spider as an eight member band and a very physically fortified dance squad kicked the program off with, fittingly, “Get the Party Started.”

What Pink executed from that point on was a spectacle that was almost continually in motion. Set pieces, including a pack of warped streetlights that looked like were hoisted from a Salvador Dali painting, were tugged about the set during “Beautiful Trauma,” a four poster bed again set the singer airborne for the monster hit ballad “Just Give Me a Reason” and a creepy excursion through the nocturnal outdoors during “Try” became the visual blend of “Into the Woods” crossed with Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bette.” Yes, it was that strange and stunning.

All of this, though, only provided a taste of how the production aspect of the concert played out. In many ways, Pink herself was the show’s keenest special effect by serving as ringmaster for this very engaging pop circus, exhibiting a Herculean level of physical stamina in the process. She also, when the show decelerated enough from the visuals to let you focus squarely on the music, emerged as a vocalist with equally tireless bravado.

In fact, it wasn’t until late in the evening that Pink took enough of a breather to actually converse with the audience of 17,000. That fell in the middle of an extended run of tunes from her 2017 album, “Beautiful Trauma” – in particular, “For Now” and “Barbies,” works she co-penned with show opener Julia Michaels. The later sported a stripped-down quartet version of her band backing her on the lip of a ramp that circled through the arena floor.

There was also the matter of the persona Pink presented onstage. At work here was a mother of two who will turn 40 later this year, so there was no mistaking the very real empowerment she was representing. Sure, there was a sexual element to some of the show, as in yet another aerial sequence that sent the singer and a male dancer into a series of gymnastic embraces in mid-air during “Secrets.” But that was just one element of many. Just as commanding was a film clip sandwiched between “Just Like Fire” and “What About Us” that spoke about gender and social equality in very matter-of-fact terms.

But there was humor, too. “Revenge” was prefaced by another film, a claymation clip for a nightmarish theme park called “Revenge Land” that was great fun. Then as the song played out, a towering puppet version of Eminem (Pink’s collaborator on the recorded version of the song) journeyed down the stage runway. That sent the singer, where else, back into the air so she could punch the Kong-sized rapper right in the kisser.

Wrap all this up and what you had, aside from an immensely entertaining production, was a very distinctive slant on the conventional female pop star. With a touch of age and worldliness working very much in her favor, Pink was far removed from the typical, video-savvy dance-pop pin-up. Instead, she came off more as the cool mom – the kind that let you stay up late and maybe told a saucy joke but never took her eyes off you.

in performance: regina carter and xavier davis

Regina Carter.

The depth and imagination of Regina Carter’s playing Friday evening at First Presbyterian Church came not in her stunning technical command on violin, her equally arresting tone or even her extraordinary phrasing – although all of those attributes certainly propelled this final performance in the current seasons of the Music for Mission program and Origin Jazz Series.

No, what fascinated above all was the communication she established with longtime pianist Xavier Davis. Near the duo program’s intermission, the two slipped out of their otherwise traditional and complimentary roles of featured artist and accompanist by engaging in a level of sparring where each player pushed the other. There were hints of gospel and swing, but mostly it was an exchange of immediacy – a series of skirmishes, skips and slaps that established a playfulness and communal spirit that countered the concert’s abundant musicality. Carter and Davis seemed thrilled by the dialogue with each beaming broad smiles as the set closed.

Such conversing took on many forms throughout the performance. On Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” the duo’s mutual lyricism grew achingly subtle with classical, gypsy and, of course, tango flourishes. For the Stevie Wonder staple “Higher Ground,” the music grew out of funky left hand piano rumbles by Davis that distantly echoed the mischievousness and bent rhythms of Bud Powell while Carter went on a field trip, incorporating an almost Eastern accent at times into the groove. And on the show-opening take on “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” (inspired by Nat King Cole’s 1957 version with violinist Stuff Smith), the duo format for the evening was discreetly established in the luxurious pace and tone of Carter’s playing along with the remarkably keen and complimentary support Davis supplied in his comping.

Want more? How about a summery and suitably conversational version of Hoagy Carmichael’s somewhat obscure “Judy” that Carter introduced by playing a recorded snippet on her phone of the composer singing the tune. The song later faded to a beautiful piano whisper from Davis that set the stage for Carter’s reentrance with a delicate, distant tone that resembled a whistle more than a violin.

Oh, and how about a gentle and spacious reading of “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” that ended the show by gliding into a requiem-like “Danny Boy” and a beautifully stoic “Amazing Grace” where the pastoral quiet of the church served as a silent but profound participant. You get the picture, right?

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