Archive for in performance

in performance : cameron carpenter

cameron carpenter.

cameron carpenter.

The only costume change a very all-business Cameron Carpenter allowed himself last night at Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts in Danville was the between-set exchange of a long sleeve shirt covered in fashionable graffiti for a black t-shirt with the Centre logo embossed in glitter.

“I’ll be sure to wear this next week when I give a master class at Harvard.” Such was one of the pokerfaced quips the Julliard-educated, Grammy nominated artist peppered a two hour display of his remarkable international touring organ with.

While humor played a modest role in the performance, Carpenter’s plan of action was implementing a largely classical repertoire to showcase a self-designed instrument that was essentially a digital hybrid of a traditional pipe organ and the comparatively contemporary theater organ.

The instrument, along with several massive banks of speakers (including one augmented with large, horn-shaped resonators) cut imposing figures onstage and created rich waves of sound, especially on organ pieces like Bach’s Toccata in F Major, that circulated to fill every corner within the Norton Center’s Newlin Hall.

But as distinctive as the gadgetry was, it was Carpenter’s technical command and sense of playfulness that made the program so engaging. The show opening treatment of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and the second set-closer, Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4, were performed with scholarly cool, despite the compositional storm the latter brewed into, that made the music seem more inviting than imposing.

The more playfully devilish side of Carpenter’s performance profile emerged during Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture. Here, the Wurlitzer half of the international touring organ presented itself with an accent resembling a calliope. Together with Carpenter’s exact but highly animated phrasing, the piece took on an almost cartoon-like quality.

The program happily strayed from classical works, as well. A second set medley of George Gershwin tunes was designed, according to the mohawked organist, to “let my inner nerd run free, not that it hasn’t already.” But the performance turned decidedly summery for an encore of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse chestnut Pure Imagination that briefly brought to mind the subtle, lyrical playing of an altogether different organ pioneer, Booker T. Jones.

All that and a Centre shirt, too – kind of makes you wonder if Harvard will be hip enough to handle it all next week.

in performance: the hot sardines

the hot sardines. from left: joe mcdonough, evan "sugar" crane, jason prover, alex raderman, "miz" elizabeth bougerol, evan "bibs" palazzo, "fast" eddy francisco and nick meyers.  photo by leann mueller/decca records.

the hot sardines. from left: joe mcdonough, evan “sugar” crane, jason prover, alex raderman, “miz” elizabeth bougerol, evan “bibs” palazzo, “fast” eddy francisco and nick meyers. photo by leann mueller/decca records.

“We’re going to dedicate this one to your weather,” said Hot Sardines singer “Miz” Elizabeth Bougerol last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.

With that, the New York swing troupe devised a quiet killer of a jazz delicacy that seemed to glow from the inside out. It began with a serving of piano blues and bowed bass from bandleader Evan “Bibs” Palazzo and Evan “Sugar” Crane that lingered like a dark lullaby. Brass eventually oozed in before Bougerol gave the brewing music a stark but decidedly torchy turn. A trumpet coda from Jason Prover brought everything to a boil before a final ensemble blast let the air out and brought this subtle but deceptively intense display to a close.

The tune, fittingly enough, was Summertime. While this was perhaps the one tune in the 90 minute show least indicative of the Hot Sardines’ studious swing, it made for the most distinctive and captivating performance of the evening.

The rest of the program generated more of party atmosphere with a mix of standards penned or popularized by Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, Bing Crosby and others along with band originals that used pre-World War II swing and jazz as their home bases before taking a number of inventive stylistic strolls.

The wilder turns included an instrumental version of Blue Skies that became a fun performance vehicle for tap dancer “Fast” Eddy Francisco, a revision of The Jungle Book’s I Wanna Be Like You sung by Bougerol in French (but fortified with enough American jazz sass to make the resulting music sound more French Quarter than French) and a set closing Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen that curiously placed most of the band’s eight members on their backs on the stage floor, including reed player Nick Meyers. His concluding clarinet solo sounded like it had erupted out the venue’s basement.

The one member who did not wind up horizontal during the song was a very pregnant Bougerol. When asked by an audience member when her baby was due, the singer dryly replied, ‘Well, if we don’t get this song started…”

in performance: gregory porter

gregory porter.

gregory porter.

“I was baptized to the sound of horns,” sang Gregory Porter by way of introduction last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. While that was perhaps not the most telling verse to the nature of the Grammy winning artist’s talents (Porter is a vocalist and songwriter, not a horn player), it did reference the level of jazz culture the performance was steeped in.

In fact, the song that line was pulled from, On My Way to Harlem, was a reflection of the formative musicians (Duke Ellington) and writers (Langston Hughes) that obviously resonated with Porter and the community that helped cultivate them (“Marvin Gaye, he used to play What’s Going On right over there”).

On record, Porter stresses songs as well as style by addressing romance, family and spirituality with just enough of a traditional soul pedigree to recall the great Bill Withers. In performance, though, jazz takes over. Last night, Porter’s phrasing shifted from glorious lyrical understatement to gospel-level vigor to blasts of clear, unwavering baritone. With the help of a resourceful back up quartet, every style was spoken with a commanding jazz accent.

No Dying Love, Wolfcry and Hey Laura, three of the seven songs performed from the 2013 Grammy winning Liquid Spirit album, illustrated the cool side of Porter’s performance persona. No Dying Love sported expert ensemble color, the powerful but exquisitely controlled love affirmation Wolfcry was performed as an elegant duet with pianist Chip Crawford and the especially Withers-esque Hey Laura balanced the sleekness of Porter’s singing with flute support from Yosuke Sato.

The title tune to Liquid Spirit, however, was all revivalist release punctuated by a gospel groove and a piano breakdown from Crawford that was as volcanic as Porter’s singing was sweet.

Porter and band saved perhaps their most complete performance for last – specifically, an encore of Be Good (Lion’s Song) buoyed by a bass solo from Aaron James that seemed to sing with its own independent melody, warm and conversational rhythms from drummer Emanuel Harrold and a vocal turn from Porter full of poise, authority and effortless soul.

in performance: cyrille aimee

cyrille aimee .

cyrille aimee .

When introductions were made last night for Cyrille Aimee and her band at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre, you got the idea you were sitting in on a United Nations summit. One of the singer’s two guitarists came from French and Italian parentage, her drummer was born in England but raised in Sri Lanka and her bassist possessed a purely Aussie heritage. Then there was Aimee herself, the daughter of a French father and Dominican mother who lived in Paris, Cameroon and Singapore before settling into her current home – Brooklyn.

As globally inclined as those backgrounds are, they paled last night next to the world music accents that went into Aimee’s music. Billed as a jazz vocalist (as appropriate a title as any given her exact but understated phrasing and the trombone-like timbre of her scat singing), Aimee scanned multiple countrysides for her repertoire and the musical accents that brought them to live.

The bulk of the program centrally placed the singer between two distinct guitarists –acoustic stylist Adrien Moignard and hollow-body electric player Michael Valeanu. The resulting balance combined lyrical elements of Euro-flavored gypsy jazz and Brazilian music. Such a mix also proved a flattering backdrop for the gentle huskiness of Aimee’s singing during Bamboo Shoots (one of nine songs performed from her 2014 album It’s a Good Day) and a springboard for the concert’s more playful instances, like the car chase tempo driven by drummer Rajiv Jayaweera and bassist Sam Anning during Love Me or Leave Me.

Band and singer matched wits as well as technique during a pair of dramatically retooled pop classics. The first, The Doors’ People Are Strange, allowed Aimee to slow the psychedelic slant of the vocals so the tune could morph into a noir-style confession. Later, the Michael Jackson hit Off the Wall surrendered to a warm, richly rhythmic melody geographically situated somewhere between Brazil and Mali. The gliding subtlety of Aimee’s singing then completed an arrangement that recalled The Rhythm of the Saints-era Paul Simon.

An Aimee original One Way Ticket (inspired by yet another port-of-call, India) and a loose, lively reading of Duke Ellington’s Caravan brought the journey home, certifying Aimee as a spry but fearless global music ambassador in the process.

in performance: california guitar trio with tony levin

california guitar trio: paul richards, hideyo moriya and bert lams.

california guitar trio: paul richards, hideyo moriya, bert lams.

At the very heart of the California Guitar Trio’s music sits a happily unbreakable bond with prog rock mainstay King Crimson. Group members Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya met over 25 years ago while studying with Crimson chieftain Robert Fripp, were introduced to mass audiences as an opening act on Crimson’s storied 1995 comeback tour and have long maintained the exact and often cyclical nature of Fripp’s guitar work in their own playing.

While Fripp may have formulated the alliance, longstanding Crimson bassist Tony Levin continues to uphold it. He has produced and performed on several of the CGT’s recordings and, when time permits (Levin has also served as Peter Gabriel’s bassist since the late ‘70s and co-leads his own band, Stick Men), tours as an auxiliary member of the trio. Last night’s sold out performance at the St. Xavier Performance Center in Cincinnati was one of the increasingly few dates to feature all four players and, my, what a delight it was.

The CGT’s usual stylistic dexterity was again on full display, both in terms of repertoire (original works, classical pieces, rock covers, surf tunes and an especially captivating jazz surprise) and instrumentation (three acoustic guitars capably augmented by pedal effects that mimic electric string instruments). As usual, technique was executed in a manner that was completely unassuming, from the dizzying completeness of Bach’s familiar Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the only piece of the evening performed without Levin) to the loosely animated surf favorite Walk Don’t Run to the very Fripp-eresque original Yamanashi Blues.

tony levin.

tony levin.

For all of the deep end power Levin has displayed onstage through the years with Crimson and Gabriel, he was a portrait of taste and understatement last night. On two beautiful CGT originals, Eve and the new What Spring Does With Cherry Trees, his playing on fretless upright electric bass eschewed the usual role of rhythm maker to become a fourth melodic voice for the group. Such harmony was seamlessly expressed on the gorgeously wistful Spiritual, a tune cut 15 years ago by another outstanding guitar/bass combination, jazz greats Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden.

The surf staple Misirlou brought the party to close with a cheery groove and a roomful of and syncopated handclaps. It was the sound of giants at play.

in performance: keb’ mo’

keb' mo'

keb’ mo’

“Put your clothes back on, baby. We’re going to the mall.”

That delicious little no sequitur spilled out of Keb’ Mo’ last night at the Lexington Opera House in the middle of Dangerous Mood, the one tune in the two hour program that approximated traditional blues. But even that was sung with a knowing wink. If it summoned the blues inspirations that defined a portion of the Grammy winning song stylist’s musical persona, it also reflected considerably more of his mood – relaxed, whimsical and a little fearless.

While Mo’ and his three member band stressed new material with a generous sampling of songs from his 2014 album BLUESAmericana, the performance very much played to the Mo’ we know. What he played wasn’t blues by any strict definition, nor was that the intention. It was a sleek meshing of pop and soul that could have passed as an Americana version of Steely Dan. From the warm, hopeful cast of For Better or Worse and Do It Right (both BLUESAmericana songs) to the modest urban R&B flow of 1996’s More Than One Way Home to the very suburban slant of 2004’s Shave Yo’ Legs, Mo’ was very much the pop soul everyman. He seemed to revel playing the part, too.

There were a few instances that weren’t so much an exception to the show’s amiable but precise feel as an extension of it. For instance, The Old Me Better, an amusing BLUESAmericana yarn about marital metamorphosis previewed as an acoustic yarn at Mo’s 2014 Opera House outing, was playfully beefed up last night by drummer Casey Wasner’s double duty turns on kazoo. The results turned the song into a sort of jugband shuffle. There were also several fine guitar solos from Mo’ throughout the performance, including one during The Whole Enchilada that nicely complimented his band’s cool, exact groove.

The encore segment was a bit odd, though. After She Just Wants to Dance brought more than a few engaged patrons to their feet, the wheels came off during a few unplanned tunes of Mo’s choosing that ground to a halt with BLUESAmericana’s finale song So Long Goodbye.

Mo’ admitted the concert technically ended She Just Wants to Dance and that the final skirmishes constituted a rehearsal. Okay. But are songs full of botched lyrics and cues really how you want to take a show home? Rehearsal or not, it was a surprisingly deflating end to a show that seemed to pride itself on its balance of precision and feel.

in performance: ken vandermark

ken vandermark.

ken vandermark.

Ken Vandermark wound up a five day, four city Kentucky residency last night at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacob Niles Center for American Music armed with only three instruments. There were no collaborators to shoot ideas off of and no rhythm section to serve as a backdrop (or safety net). The performance simply presented the veteran Chicago composer, bandleader and reed specialist playing in a totally improvised (“that means I don’t know what I’m going to do”) and unamplified environment. Alone.

If that suggests a sterile concert environment or, in the opposite extreme, an opportunity for very capable improvisational skills to become a weighty indulgence, rest assured that neither surfaced. Performing two untitled improvised pieces each on tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone and B-flat clarinet, Vandermark conjured music that sounded predominantly composed (it wasn’t) and soloed with an exactness that revealed remarkable variance and unexpected harmony. In doing so, the openly free passages sounded all the more volcanic.

Opening on tenor, Vandermark discovered a cyclical riff that he interspersed with short jabs of boppish counterpoint that created, in effect, a solo conversation. A brief turn of classically hued clarinet followed before Vandermark turned to the beastly baritone.

Initially, he brought the instrument to life with puncturing, shotgun-like blasts played so briskly and with such respiratory-like voicing that the resulting music sounded like funk. Vandermark hardly came up for air during the improv, as well, making his playing sound as fluid as it was playful.

Returning to clarinet for a longer improv on clarinet that was dedicated to Pee Wee Russell, Vandermark unfurled the tune with torchy echoes of the blues. The music’s introspective nature soon gave way to potent wails and sweeps that strayed purposely from the blues without ever forsaking them.

A second baritone adventure opened with a suitably rustic drone but soon reached for registers far above the earthy tones usually associated with the instrument. The program then concluded where it began – on tenor sax. But this time the playing took off with galloping clusters of scorched riffs repeated like a mantra. Eventually, the music burst open with fractured runs, some almost melodic, bouncing madly as if they were ricocheting off each other.

Such was the vocabulary of three instruments and an improviser possessing the cunning to make each sing with immediacy and invention.

in performance: lee ann womack

Lee Ann Womack .

Lee Ann Womack .

“I don’t know if you’re in my living room or if I’m in yours,” remarked Lee Ann Womack last night as she took in the intimate but still sold out confines of the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre.

It was an understandable estimation as the majority of the country star’s Central Kentucky concerts over the years have been relegated to show opening sets at Rupp Arena. Here, she was able to carry on in a more conversational manner. For instance, the living room comment earned a quick reply of “Yours” from an audience member, to which Womack answered back, “In that case, welcome.” Just try that kind of bonding at Rupp and see how far you get.

The intimacy of the Weisiger environment also suited the largely traditional aspects of Womack’s music, especially the Americana slant of her 2014 Grammy-nominated album, The Way I’m Livin’.

Easily her best reviewed recording in a decade, The Way I’m Livin’ was featured prominently during the 1 ¾ hour performance. Specifically, that translated into a setlist that boasted 9 of the record’s 13 tunes. Highlights included electric and sleekly spiritual readings of Mindy Smith’s All His Saints, Julie Miller’s Don’t Listen to the Wind and Western Kentucky native Chris Knight’s Send It on Down along with the equally light but decidedly more earthbound tone of Bruce Robison’s Nightwind and the Neil Young Harvest heartbreaker Out on the Weekend.

But the Livin’ song that set off the biggest spark proved to be Hayes Carll’s Chances Are, a quietly solemn country wailer that showcased the vivid sadness, clarity and strength of Womack’s still-effortless singing.

There were also loads of career defining hits that predated the selections from The Way I’m Livin’, including the Dolly Parton-esque show opener Never Again, Again and a slice of honky tonk despair with a sense of weariness sewn right into its title: Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago.

But it was the newer material that provided a sense of subtle urgency, if not complete reinforcement, to Womack’s traditionalist roots while enhancing an overall performance intimacy that seemed to delight audience and artist alike.

in performance: miranda lambert/justin moore/raelynn

miranda lambert performing last night at rupp arena. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

miranda lambert performing last night at rupp arena. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

There were three clear instances last night at Rupp Arena that nicely defined the lasting crossover appeal of Miranda Lambert.

Probably a lot more bubbled within and briefly out pf the refreshingly steamlined show the newly-dirty blonde country singer put on for a hearty crowd of 13,500. There were rugged electric rockers like Kerosene and Baggage Claim that reflected much of the concert’s tempo as well as broad melodic strokes within songs like Over You that had more in common with the ‘80s pop of Phil Collins than anything that even today could pass for country music. But three times during the course of the night, the distinction and depth of Lambert’s performance became startlingly clear.

One instance came midway through her 90 minute set via the 2011 tune Mama’s Broken Heart. The title suggested country tradition. But last night’s performance presented Lambert’s seven-member band constructing a neo-reggae groove that simmered until the singer delivered a suckerpunch chorus full of comparatively punkish vigor. The resulting music wasn’t country, but the mash-up certainly rattled the concert’s anthemic country-pop core.

Another surfaced with the 2009 hit The House That Built Me, a slice of domestic and reflective pathos that would have turned shallow and sentimental in less capable hands. While Lambert is far from the most technically dazzling singer in the world, she proved a powerfully intuitive one here by conjuring a sense of very credible country drama with vocals full of torchy reserve and elegance.

Opening acts Justin Moore and RaeLynn preceded Lambert with sets that differed remarkably. Moore was the traditionalist of the evening, able to turn what could have been an audience pandering cover of Home Sweet Home (by that classic country outfit Motley Crue) into a slice of rural solace that, stylistically, sounded unexpectedly honest. The power ballad If Heaven Weren’t So Far Away was similarly winning. But the more amped up the set got, the more generic and shopworn Moore sounded.

RaeLynn was all about chirpy Disney-style pop, right down to her version of All About the Bass. The set was proficient but innocuous – a perhaps fine G-rated outing for kids attending their first concert, but strictly empty calorie pop to most anyone else. But country? This? Forget it.

That brings us to the evening’s other point of clarity. Three songs into RaeLynn’s set, a family arriving late to my left took in roughly five minutes of the sugary songs on display, turned my way and asked, ‘Where’s Miranda?’ Without waiting for a reply, the entourage left and returned five minutes before Lambert’s set began. Now that’s star power.

(To view Rich Copley’s photo gallery of the concert, click here.)

in performance: jorma kaukonen/lowell levinger

jorma kaukonen.

jorma kaukonen.

Sitting side by side last night at the Lyric Theatre for the first 2015 taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, Jorma Kaukonen and Lowell Levinger couldn’t help but be viewed as contemporaries of each other. Kaukonen was the folk-blues guitarist that helped light the psychedelic fuse of the Jefferson Airplane 50 years ago. Clevinger (“Banana” to his fans) was the bluegrass reared artist that served as lead guitarist for folk-rock favorites The Youngbloods up until their demise in 1973 (the same year the Airplane was grounded).

Both artists, however, returned to their primarily acoustic roots long ago. Last night, armed with only one instrument each and (save for one tune we will discuss in a moment) no accompanists, their well-schooled Americana pedigrees warmed up an otherwise blustery winter evening. Each had new recordings to promote that are still a month away from release, but their performances nonetheless possessed a welcome familiarity.

Kaukonen pulled four of his five tunes from his forthcoming Ain’t In No Hurry. While the set was novel only in the conspicuous absence of songs by one of the guitarist’s most frequented inspirations, the Rev. Gary Davis, the gospel-folk-blues measure of Kaukonen’s acoustic playing sounded largely unchanged since the ’70s.

The blues staples Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out and Brother Can You Spare a Dime possessed the leisurely sway of Hesitation Blues (another standard Kaukonen has essentially made his own over the decades). On the other hand, In My Dreams and Ain’t in No Hurry’s title tune (both new originals), quietly opted for an almost romantic glimpse of folkish fancy that recalled Kaukonen’s 1974 solo debut album, Quah.

The guitarist also stepped back in time for an encore version of Blind Blake’s Never Happen No More that retained all the lyrically hapless and musically greasy charm Hot Tuna draped the song in 45 years ago.

Levinger split his four songs between blues-reared reflections from the recent Down to the Roots album (Married to the Blues, Love is a Five Letter Word) and retooled favorites from an upcoming record of Youngbloods tunes (Get Together, Darkness Darkness). WoodSongs seemed a little overly determined to pump up Get Together as a reborn peace anthem by making it a collaborative performance that included Kaukonen, host Michael Johnathon and a small entourage of singers and instrumentalists. Well intended as the summit was, the end result smothered the tune’s inherent and enduring simplicity.

Far more appealing was Levinger’s playing on a 5 string tenor guitar shaped like a mandolin (and largely tuned like one). The resonating sound he conjured – a rustic mix of steel guitar and banjo – was wondrously rootsy indeed.

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