Archive for in performance

in performance: california guitar trio/montreal guitar trio

montreal guitar trio: glenn levesque, marc morin and sebastien dufour.

montreal guitar trio: glenn levesque, marc morin and sebastien dufour.

If you were to judge last night’s perfectly wondrous joint performance from the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio at Natasha’s by its first set, you would swear each group hailed from opposing universes of style and performance temperament. The beauty of such as an estimation, though, was that it turned out to be at least partly correct.

The first set was where each trio played separately. The MGT, which was making its Lexington debut, opted for a physical and percussive command that veered off into world music accents of flamenco drive, Latin lyricism and Eastern European fancy that culminated with the raga-like drama and texture of Garam Masala.

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

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

The CGT, a near-annual visitor to local venues for over a decade, again appeared relaxed and unassuming but used its five-song introduction last night to sail effortlessly through surf, Bach, originals rich with compositional finesse and its now-popular mash up of the cowboy classic Ghost Riders in the Sky with The Doors’ epic swansong hit Riders on the Storm, aptly dubbed Ghost Riders on the Storm. The seemingly disparate melodies meshed as readily as the medley’s title.

The latter piece seemed to preview the game plan of the second set, where the two trios played as a sextet. The differences in technique were spelled out in the combined group’s very design.

CGT members Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya all stuck exclusively to acoustic guitars while the MGT players frequently switched to electric bass and accordion (Marc Morin), charango (Sebastien Dufour) and mandolin (Glenn Levesque). The combination transformed the high-spirited Breizh Tango into a Greek dance, Penguin Café Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile into a minimalist meditation and Radiohead’s Weird Fishes into a folk-prog séance that left artists and audience with a few beats of glorious silence at its conclusion before applause erupted.

The show closing treatment of Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly even went so far as to combine arrangements the trios have recorded on their own – one studied and introspective, the other more openly buoyant. It was a blissful union of two guitar groups united in senses of playfulness and discovery.

in performance: vandaveer

J. Tom Hnatow, Mark Charles Heidinger (Vandaveer ) and Rose Guerin.

J. Tom Hnatow, Mark Charles Heidinger (Vandaveer ) and Rose Guerin.

Vandaveer refers to his current cross-country trek as a “living room tour,” meaning it is devoted exclusively to house concerts as opposed to club or theatre dates.

On the surface, last night’s performance at the Shangri-La Productions studio might have stretched that definition. It wasn’t a living room, even though the folk stylist – better known around these parts as former Lexingtonian Mark Charles Heidinger – admitted he has done his share of living within the studio walls, having recorded several times there.

The sense of house concert intimacy was nonetheless pervasive. The 100 or so patrons that filled the studio were actively attentive to the spacious and often contemplative songs Heidinger, harmony vocalist Rose Guerin (“Lady Vandaveer,” as she was dubbed) and guitarist J. Tom Hnatow served up, from the “terribly uplifting” confession of a self-promoted apocalypse within The Nature of Our Kind to the sunny but sobering Love is Melancholy (But It’s All We Got). The latter was a preview tune from a forthcoming Vandaveer record cut at Shangri-La.

On one hand, the performance was a homecoming with numerous friends, fellow musicians and family members of Heidinger’s in attendance. As such, longtime pal Robby Cosenza joined in on drums for the last portion of the set with vocalist Coralee teaming with Guerin for vocal support on a spirited cover of John Prine’s familiar but still-topical Paradise.

But the evening was also a farewell to Shangri-La’s National Ave. home. Though the studio is merely relocating to another Lexington locale within the next few weeks, the evening couldn’t help but seem like a parting shot of sorts. Heidinger dubbed the mood as “bittersweet and nostalgic.”

That hardly intruded on the show’s overall intimacy, which was strongly enhanced by the guitar atmospherics Hnatow added on steel, pedal steel and electric guitars, as well as Guerin’s singing, which grew more robust as the 90 minute set progressed.

Heidinger remained a steadfast, good natured skipper throughout, whether he was in the throes of the uneasy faith circulating in Beverly Cleary’s 115th Dream (“I’m on your side… most of the time”) or leading the crowd through an incantatory vocal coda during the closing Dig Down Deep that provided an almost churchy solemnity to the show’s living room feel.

in performance : rhiannon giddens

rhiannon giddens.

rhiannon giddens.

“Please continue to make noise whenever you want,” remarked Rhiannon Giddens four songs into her astonishing Opera House performance earlier tonight.

The call came in response to the singer’s transportive delivery of She’s Got You, the Hank Cochran country classic and a decades-old hit for Patsy Cline. As was the case for much of this extraordinary evening, Giddens took the tune to another country altogether. Her band – the current line-up of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the African-American string band responsible for much of Giddens’ previous visibility, plus a rhythm section and backing vocalist – reimagined the song with an earthier, swampier sway. But the singer’s gorgeously clean and complete intonation underscored the lyrics’ inherent torch song legacy.

Similarly potent was Waterboy, popularized initially by folk giant Odetta, but delivered by Giddens with a field holler intensity that sounded in no way revivalistic. Her vocal command was pure, involving and beautifully immediate.

The scope of the setlist was remarkable, as well. With 8 of the 11 songs from Giddens’ debut album Tomorrow is My Turn serving as its centerpiece, the show opened with a pair of tunes (Spanish Mary and Hidee Hidee Ho #16) from Lost on the River, a 2014 collaborative album credited to The New Basement Tapes that fashioned new music for unpublished Bob Dylan lyrics (or, as Giddens described them tonight, “a couple of songs I wrote with Bob Dylan in the ‘60s”). The program concluded 90 minutes later with two works by gospel-charged rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, including the powerfully jubilant Up Above My Head.

The Chocolate Drops had their say, too, from the jagged cello lines of Malcolm Parson (essentially the lead instrumental voice within the band’s all-acoustic makeup) to multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins’ ultra-funky vocal charge on Blind Willie Johnson’s Can’t Nobody Hide from God to the Celtic-Appalachian chatter of bones by Rowan Corbett that peppered the rich roots intensity of Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man? to Giddens’ own turns on banjo and fiddle.

Fascinating as all that was, the evening belonged to Giddens the vocalist. In an age where pop singers are cranked out as auto-tuned celebrities with little or no personal investment in the material they interpret, Giddens is a gift. There was no fabrication or forced intent in her delivery. What was on display tonight was the performance of an artist on the cusp of a true critical and commercial breakthrough with a voice that was regal, confident and, at every turn, breathtaking.

in performance: asleep at the wheel

Asleep at the Wheel. Standing, from left: David Sanger, David Miller, Eddie Rivers, Jay Reynolds. Seated, from left: Emily Gimble, Ray Benson, Katie Shore. Photo by Wyatt McSpadden.

Asleep at the Wheel. Standing, from left: David Sanger, David Miller, Eddie Rivers, Jay Reynolds. Seated, from left: Emily Gimble, Ray Benson, Katie Shore. Photo by Wyatt McSpadden.

You could have had the worst Monday known to mankind and it would not have mattered, providing you were on hand earlier tonight as Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel turned the Lyric Theatre into a Lone Star dance hall.

Born not in its four decade old home of Austin but in rural West Virginia (“the suburbs of Paw Paw,” as Benson put it tonight), Asleep at the Wheel is a multi-generational ambassador of Western swing – a light, elegant but driving sound that blends the seemingly incongruous camps of country and jazz.

During its featured set tonight for the 800th taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, Benson remained the sheriff of swingtown as well as an ageless cheerleader for Asleep at the Wheel’s richly animated songs. But if anything defined the band’s country-jazz mash-up, it was the jubilant instrumental harmony created by clarinetist/saxophonist Jay Reynolds, fiddler Katie Shore and especially lap steel guitarist Eddie Rivers. All were spirited soloists, but when they combined forces on bright melody lines, the trio made Asleep at the Wheel sound like a full swing orchestra.

Then again, there were several instances when the band became exactly that. Once the Quebe Sisters (a fiddle trio from Fort Worth that played like swing scholars and sang like the Andrew Sisters) and their rhythm players joined in, the ensemble grew to a dozen players. That gave Western swing classics like Navajo Trail and Miles and Miles of Texas a huge, sweeping sound that enveloped the theatre.

The thrust of the performance was Still the King, Asleep at the Wheel’s third and newest tribute album to Texas swing patriarch Bob Wills. Benson has long been a natural for Wills’ fiddle-savvy music as well as its inherent sense of playfulness, which was expertly emphasized on the mischievous I Hear Ya Talkin’.

But not even the iconic Wills could contain Asleep at the Wheel’s massive sound. When Benson, Rivers and a monstrous blast of boogie-woogie piano from Emily Gimble ignited on Route 66 (along with giddy vocal tradeoffs from Benson, Gimble and Shore), the music became as big and robust as a Texas twilight.

in performance: natalie macmaster and donnell leahy

natalie macmaster and donnell leahy.

natalie macmaster and donnell leahy.

The promise by Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy to transport a Sunday afternoon audience at the EKU Center for the Arts to Cape Breton, the Canadian headquarters of Scottish inspired fiddle music, didn’t initially sound too fetching to some in attendance.

“Canada? Really? After this week?” remarked one patron seated nearby who was likely still in thaw mode following the 18 inches of snow that buried Richmond three days earlier. But much like the abundant sunshine and 50 degree temps that were defrosting the city yesterday, the mix of contemporary and traditional jigs, airs and reels offered by MacMaster and Leahy made Cape Breton seem especially inviting.

Presenting a program titled Visions from Cape Breton and Beyond, the husband and wife duo offered an understandably varied representation of the island’s fiddle traditions. MacMaster is a Cape Breton native and one of the great modern champions of her homeland’s dance hall inspired music. That was especially evident during vibrant string blasts supported only by piano. Leahy grew up in Ontario with a mother who was a Cape Breton step dancer. So, needless to say, everyone’s feet were flying yesterday, from the stars of the show to three of their six children (all of whom were also wickedly adept fiddlers for their young ages) to band members.

Of course, the program did mention the music would venture “beyond” Cape Breton. As such, several medleys were full of multi-stylistic charm. The show opening St. Nick’s, merrily shifted between Celtic flavored fun and Americanized swing while The Chase allowed in classical and even gypsy flavored accents.

But the most richly emotive tune was also the one truest to Cape Breton itself. During the centuries old Scottish air Hector the Hero, MacMaster downshifted to explore a melody of simple, sterling beauty. Fittingly, a simultaneous video backdrop depicted Cape Breton not as some coastal branch of the Great White North, but as a retreat of rolling green countryside that could have passed for Scotland itself.

The visuals, and the lovely music they accentuated, may have been intended as a beckoning from a far away land that suggested an even farther away land. Yesterday, though, it was hard to view Hector’s mix of green hills and plaintive fiddle lyricism as anything other than an invitation to spring.

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.

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