Archive for in performance

in performance: tim easton

Tim Easton. Photo by Michael Weintrob.

“Hope the windows are up,” remarked Tim Easton as his splendid solo acoustic performance drew to a close Wednesday evening with the rains hammering down around The Burl

Sure, the week’s abundant precipitation prompted such concerns. But the evening storm was just one of the intentional accents of ambience that added to Easton’s remarkable corral of songs – works with conversive, country-esque invitation but bolstered by a highly literary human elements that played out with zero affectation.

Other examples? Well, a siren flew past as the introductory guitar strains of “Black Dog” opened the evening. Later, a roll of thunder greeted the Texas-inspired “On My Way.” Best of all, a passing train set up “All the Pretty Girls Leave Town,” which Easton had already placed within a suitably rustic framework by using a snippet of the Doc Watson-popularized “More Pretty Girls Than One” as an intro.

But the elements only enhanced an expert sense of songcraft that was already there. Easton spun songs like campfire sagas, even though the topicality of the themes varied greatly. He detailed the domestic wreckage at the heart of  “New Year’s Day” (not to be confused with a different tune of the same name that highlighted a fine solo opening set by local hero Maggie Lander) without undue sentiment in its delivery or inordinate blame to his departed partner in the song’s storyline. From an entirely different plateau came the show-closing “Don’t Spectate, Participate” a quiet but very assured call to the voting polls and, ultimately, to civil involvement.

Both tunes came from Easton’s new folk album “Exposition,” which was released last week.

None of this should surprise those familiar to Easton’s music. Now based in Nashville, but formerly with residences in California, New York, Ohio and abroad, he has been playing Lexington venues for over two decades. Wednesday’s repertoire mirrored that alliance with songs that ran from music off his 1998 debut album “Special 20” through a generous sampling of entries from his three most recent recordings – 2016’s “American Fork” (the beautifully crafted Americana reverie “Burning Star”), 2018’s “Paco and the Melodic Poloraids” (the rootsy flatpicking vehicle “Old New Straitsville Blues”) and the four tunes picked from “Exposition.”

Of course, the obvious audience favorite remained “Lexington Jail” (from 2003’s “Break Your Mother’s heart”). The song chronicled the aftermath of an ill-fated celebration foiled by “local constables” following a Lexington concert by Wilco in 1997.

“When they let me go, I just stood with my hands to the sky,” sang Easton. “I’ll be in Tennessee tomorrow, or maybe just lay down and die.”

in performance: festival of the bluegrass

NewTown: Jr Williams, Kati Penn, Travis Anderson and Mitchell Cannon.

It doesn’t matter how glorious the music becomes or how blissful the outdoor setting might be. Being a patron at a music festival in the rain can be an exercise in misery.

Given Friday’s near ceaseless showers, some compromises became necessary for a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Festival of the Bluegrass.

That meant a later than usual arrival time (apologies to evening opener Turning Ground) and an earlier than expected departure (sorry, headliner IIIrd Tyme Out). But the climate control also brought about an unanticipated opportunity to view exclusively two 80 minute sets by a pair of Kentucky acts that made braving the elements worthwhile.

When Dave Adkins took to the stage around 7:45 p.m., the rains were subdued but steady, so the Elkhorn City singer faced an uphill battle. Full of country boy vigor and a deep tenor vocal command that sported a gutbucket bottom end, the singer presented himself as something of a vintage country jukebox.

His 18-song set may have been bluegrass in its instrumental design. But the repertoire went reeling through vintage country eras beginning with an animated take on the 1965 Harlan Howard-penned Lefty Frizzell hit “(She’s) Gone, Gone, Gone.” It quickly worked backward. The hit parade then hit the ‘50s (Roy Acuff’s “Once More”) and even the ‘40s (Bill Monroe’s take on the gospel confessional “Cryin’ Holy Unto the Lord”).

But the lead inspiration in Adkins’ set was clearly Merle Haggard. Adkins went to the well for three late ‘60s Hag staples – “Sing Me Back Home,” “Today I Started Loving You Again” and, best of all, the giddiest take on “The Fugitive” you’re likely to hear without electric instrumentation.

There were a few instances where Adkins’ sheer jubilance got the better of him, making his booming vocals seem a touch overcooked. But his good-natured performance demeanor and expansive understanding of making vintage country songs thrive in a traditional bluegrass setting nicely compensated.

The rains subsided when NewTown followed with a radically different jukebox strategy. Like Adkins, the band – fronted by Lexington-based fiddler Kati Penn and husband, banjoist and co-vocalist Jr Williams – didn’t favor original material. But NewTown’s collective ear for outside music has proven especially keen in establishing its considerable stylistic, instrumental and vocal dexterity. Curiously, the source material came largely from a team of contemporary writers led by Lawrence County Americana sensation Tyler Childers for a sound that often possessed a traditional air. And by traditional, we mean music that it bypassed bluegrass’ regional roots in favor of the music’s overseas ancestry.

There were numerous instances Friday evening when Penn’s fiddle lines exhibited an antique and almost Celtic flavor. There were even more song examples (Martin Gilmore’s “Laura Lee” being one) where ancient imagery boldly upheld the rustic instrumentation. No wonder NewTown’s most recent album was titled “Old World.”

The defining moments of the 16-song set came early when Penn and Williams guided NewTown through three masterful Childers tunes intercut with a sublime take on the late Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues” (one of the more human snapshots of Ireland offered by an American songsmith). The brewing destitution in the aptly titled “Hard Times,” sung with chilling candor by Williams, was quickly established by a Childers-penned checklist at the song’s onset (“I bought a house at the mouth of the holler, a ring at the pawn shop and a crib for the kid”). Then came the Clark tune, followed by Penn’s dizzying take on “The Crows and the Jakes” and the sobering, ancient tones of “Harlan Road” (which served as the title tune to a 2016 NewTown album)

Fortifying all this was an ensemble sound that revealed itself though taught, efficient instrumental breaks until “Gonna Take a Train” allowed all five band members extended solos that veered outside bluegrass convention into more jazz-like fields of improvisation.

It was a splendid outing by a Kentucky band that sounds more engaging and adventurous every year at the Festival of the Bluegrass.

With that, we bid adieu for the evening. Good thing, too. Within minutes of Newtown’s stage exit, the skies opened again.

in performance: paul mccartney

Paul McCartney performing last night at Rupp Arena. Herald-Leader staff photo by Alex Slitz.

Paul McCartney had the sold-out audience of 19,000 before him sized up pretty well as his tireless and irrepressibly fun concert headed into the home stretch Saturday evening at Rupp Arena.

Noting that performances of his Beatles classics usually triggered “a galaxy of stars” through the glow of cell phones from eager fans while the delivery of new songs amounted, in terms of expectation and interest, to “a black hole,” he unapologetically launched into “Fuh You,” the third of three tunes from his 2018 album “Egypt Station.”

Maybe the audience showed a sliver of sympathy for the seemingly orphaned tune or perhaps they were taken by the its bright pop melodicism which sounded like the direct descendent of a Beatles gem. Regardless, the cell phones came out and lit up Rupp like a Christmas tree.

My guess is something different – specifically, that the Rupp crowd took Sir Paul’s bait and illuminated the tune after the rock icon’s none-too-subtle hint.

The moment was one of many highlights in an evening that was, from beginning to end, a marvel. But it proved especially insightful in explaining what made the performance so special. It underscored how the concert, for all its unavoidably nostalgic lure, didn’t stay buried in the past. Oh sure, the better part of the program – a stunning setlist of 37 songs delivered in a 2 ¾ hour performance with no intermission – went heavy on Beatles favorites as well as popular relics from McCartney’s ‘70s albums with Wings. But there were also surprises. Lots of them.

For starters, there was “Letting Go,” a gritty, hook heavy slice of forgotten rock ‘n’ roll from Wings’ 1975 album “Venus and Mars” that ushered in a three-man horn section. The trio entered not from backstage, but down the lower arena stairs and played the entire tune in the lap of the audience.

Later came “I’ve Got a Feeling,” a similarly gritty (and overlooked) mid-tempo rocker from the Beatles’ 1970 swansong album “Let It Be” that still reveals an earthiness in tempo and groove. It was also cool to hear guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, along with drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. (who proved a powerhouse player, vocalist and all-around spirit for the entire performance) taking over the refrain originally sung by John Lennon.

Equally unexpected was “Queenie Eye,” a comparatively recent entry off of McCartney’s 2013 solo album “New” that, like “Fuh You,” was delivered with a keenly retro sense of fun spearheaded by the headliner’s natural sense of playfulness.

As for McCartney directly, he remains something of a wonder onstage. Two weeks shy of his 77th birthday, he looked fit, sang with surprisingly unblemished gusto (yes, a few cracks of age appeared, but nothing more than what most rock singers half his age reveal in performance) and flowed with the program’s length and drive as it were a casual stroll. A testament to his stamina was the encore segment, which had him ripping through a reserved but still immediate version of “Helter Skelter,” one of the Beatles’ most savagely electric works, after navigating a full 2 ½ hour set. McCartney didn’t look even remotely winded afterward either.

Undoubtedly the biggest audience expectation of the evening was how such a master song stylist would do justice to one of the most honored song catalogues in rock and pop history. To that end, McCartney didn’t disappoint, from the show opening glee of “A Hard Day’s Night” to an eloquent solo reading of “Blackbird” to a lean and effectively rootsy “Love Me Do.”

Curiously, the most poignant moment of the performance didn’t even involve one of McCartney’s own songs. Instead it was a take on late bandmate George Harrison’s “Something.” It began with an almost ragtime-ish feel on solo ukulele (a favored instrument of Harrison’s) before McCartney and the full band slowed the song to its familiar ensemble arrangement as a parade of video screen photos featuring the two Beatles, ending with a series of them laughing together in a studio, illustrated the memorial.

The concert concluded as it began with, coyly enough, the “Abbey Road” non-hit coda tune “The End.” A recorded snippet of the song brought McCartney to the stage. A full performance version sent the audience home with its lone verse reading like a time-honored mantra.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Those are words that defy age and trends to enforce a sense of pop affirmation McCartney’s program overflowed with.

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?

in performance: the chicago plan/keefe jackson, christoph erb, jason roebke and tim barnes

Steve Swell of The Chicago Plan. Photo by John Rogers.

Jazz became a music that literally brought people together – well, at least the ones onstage Tuesday evening at the University of Kentucky’s Niles Gallery – as the Outside the Spotlight series concluded a mammoth month-long run of five concerts on Tuesday evening.

It began with two esteemed reed players – Keefe Jackson from Chicago and Christoph Erb from Switzerland – at opposite ends of the Niles Gallery stage area. Jackson was stage left, using a chair as a resting perch for his left leg as he shot out short, punctured phrases on tenor saxophone. Erb was seated stage right, his soprano sax pointing to the ceiling as if the instrument possessed sonar abilities. That began a rumbling exhortation with bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tim Barnes that sounded like a locomotive coming to life. Once its did, the quartet – which was in the midst of its first gig a group, although smaller pairings of the players have collaborated in the past – ripped through three extended improvisations. Each shifted in tone from subtle dissolve to thunderous deconstruction.

All of it was remarkably inventive, from passages where Barnes dragged a pair of china cups across the wooden gallery floor for percussive effect to a high octave drone from Erb (this time on tenor) that produced an oscillating, almost electronic effect. By the close of the third improv, Roebke moved his double bass directly behind Barnes as Jackson gradually edged over to Erb’s side, sandwiching the four players within inches of each other as the music took on a stark, funereal tone.

The co-billed quartet The Chicago Plan, a unit fronted by another pair of cross-continental horn men – Steve Swell from New York and Gebhard Ullmann from Germany – finished off the program with music that worked from primarily composed material laced with generous doses of free improvisation. Two familiar OTS teammates, cellist Fred Lonberg Holm and drummer Michael Zerang – completed the lineup.

Opening with Ullman’s “Variations on a Master Plan # 1,” (what a pity, as the band’s fine, self-titled debut album only features the second and third parts), the four used a spacious, muted trombone run from Swell to trigger general group frenzy before Lonberg-Holm kicked into a turbulent groove. The results bordered on New Orleans style street funk (mostly through Zerang’s drumming) before imploding and reassembling.

The rest of the set possessed a darker sentiment – hence Swell’s set-closing “Composite #3,” a requiem of sorts for the 50 victims of the March mass shooting in New Zealand. Both Ullman and Swell settled in for meaty solos that underscored the tune’s inherent drive. But as Ullman guided the music home on bass clarinet, the remaining three players provided an almost elegiac trio backdrop where chamber style composition was countered by an anticipated reality check of ensemble fracture.

in performance: keigo hirakawa trio

keigo hirakawa.

It was until a set closing version of “Stardust” that Keigo Hirakawa took a musical breath. Up to that point, his swiftly paced and even more briskly executed performance Saturday evening at Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Lounge (specifically, the first of two sets in this Origins Jazz Series presentation) darted along with a light, effortless but unrelenting drive.

In terms of flow, this Tokyo-born, but Dayton-based pianist, was like McCoy Tyner, but without the latter’s muscular, modal intensity. Nearly every corner of the seven compositions he played were filled with melodic swing and boppish mischief. It was technically dazzling, from the full – make that, very full – runs that distinguished the set opening “Myth of Poseidon” to the discreetly forceful fluidity and rhythmic playfulness that sparked the closing “Unmarked Path.”

But it wasn’t until “Stardust” that one sensed just how exhausting the performance was at times. There was likely a classical upbringing at work in Hirakawa’s playing to go along with an obvious and good-hearted playfulness. On an earlier cover of “Summertime,” Hirahawa threw out the playbook entirely, utilizing a tasteful bossa-flavored groove before slamming on the accelerator. On “Stardust,” though, you got a sense of space and dynamics that reached beyond the technical acceleration.

Bassist Eddie Brookshire and drummer Jeff Mellott had nuance to spare, especially Mellott, whose playing was full of light, but commanding color, whether it was through the tasteful propulsion underneath the piano attack on “Whatchamacallit” or the way he navigated through the turns and gradual melodic launch of “Home Somewhere.”

Brookshire’s playing was exquisite – what could be heard of it. Hirakawa played an electric piano, but with a sound that mimicked a grand as opposed to, say a Fender Rhodes. Still, the modest amplification and busy piano comping robbed the audience of the attractive detail in Brookshire’s soloing. It was only during the first half of “Summertime” that some of the rubbery depth of the bassist’s playing could be appreciated.

Obviously, an electric keyboard was favored for its portability, but a modification to the volume might have helped bring out the complete color of this fine trio. Hirokawa may have been the pilot, but this was a group where everyone deserved to be fully heard.

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