Archive for in performance

in performance: ross hammond

ross hammond 2

ross hammond.

It wasn’t so much a tour gig as a homecoming. In fact, a sizable portion of the audience on hand last night for Ross Hammond’s Outside the Spotlight solo guitar concert at Mecca consisted of friends and family, including his grandparents, father and 4 year old daughter.

But as informal and intimate as the 70 minute set was, what Hammond performed was a stylistically far reaching program that was expansive even by jazz terms. But given the music was performed without amplification on 6 and 12 string guitars with a mix of finger and flatpicking styles, the evening’s dominate sounds were rooted in compositional folk-blues traditions more than jazz

In its finest moments, the performance embraced all of that. The Creator Has a Master Plan transformed the meditative groove saxophonist Pharoah Sanders wrapped the tune’s original version in with slide driven accents on 12 string that made the resulting music fall in line with the wiry rural folk adventures of John Fahey.

From another plain altogether came the familiar hymn I’ll Fly Away, a staple of bluegrass and pre-bluegrass country repertoires that Hammond established with a rugged, punctuated rhythm before the tune’s melody line rang out with a decidedly Eastern air.

Then on the original Womuts!, elements seemingly borrowed from British folk tradition – especially, the pre-Pentangle records of John Renbourn and Bert Jansch – bookended slower, American-rooted passages on 12 string.

All three tunes, which will be featured on Hammond’s forthcoming solo guitar album Flight, might seem far afield from the standard practice of a jazz player. Likewise, an unaccompanied guitar concert favoring compositionally based works over openly improvisational music might seem an abrupt rerouting for an OTS show. To that thinking, Hammond offered two dramatically reworked excerpts from his Humanity Suite album, a sextet project encompassing swing, classical and free jazz elements. Last night, that music became a stark folk reflection on 6 string that highlighted spotless tone within a quiet but beautifully pensive folk framework.

The audience members seemed especially appreciative of the whole mix, but none so much as daughter Lola, who casually walked up and awarded her father with a hug late into the set. Now that’s what you call a rave review.

in performance: dawn landes


dawn landes.

Dawn Landes had to realize just how closely last night’s opening night audience at the inaugural Well Crafted Festival was following her performance. When she introduced a tune (the pensive Bodyguard) by saying, “This is a little song about a robbery,” a crowd patron, without skipping a beat, replied, “Were you involved?”

Granted, the folk/Americana accent of her songs and the often wistfully confessional nature of her lyrics are very audience-friendly attributes. Adding to that last night, though, was the performance setting. The Louisville-born, Brooklyn-based songstress was the last of four acts to perform in Meadow View Barn at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Mercer County.

In other words, the show was set in the most inviting and remote part of an already inviting and remote festival site. An atypically cool midsummer evening didn’t hurt either, but the barn setting provided an informal, intimate atmosphere for Landes’ music – especially tunes from her fine 2014 album, Bluebird.

Backed by a trio of Lexington pros dubbed the Kentucky Gentlemen – guitarist/pedal steel player Tom Hnatow, bassist Blake Cox and drummer Robby Cosenza – Landes delivered a 50 minute set that worked its way from songs of studious reflection, revelation and despondency to a finale of rockish celebration highlighted by a jacked up cover of Tom Petty’s Southern Accents.

The Bluebird tunes fell into the former class. Tryin’ to Make a Fire Burn Again, the best of the new selections, used Hnatow’s pedal steel accents as subtle embellishment to the uneasy grace of Landes’ singing, which recalled the subtle but dark emotive cast of Natalie Merchant’s early solo records.

Heel Toe turned such a sound on its side by setting the music to a jagged, neo-waltz melody. Pull such intensity back into a more traditional country context and you had the repressed emotive drive of Oh Brother which escaped in beguiling, mantra like choruses. And for pure country fun, there was a sisterly cover of Dolly Parton’s Longer Than Always with Lexington’s own Coralee, whose preceding set with her longstanding Townies band worked a emotively similar but stylistically different country soul vibe that sounded equally sweet at this barn party.

in performance: jerry douglas

jerry douglas

jerry douglas.

After winding his way last night at the KCD Theater in Louisville through a typically stunning solo dobro medley that culminated with the wistful Duane Allman classic Little Martha and a clever bit of live looping that provided invisible accompaniment, Jerry Douglas brought out his band and was set for serious business. That’s when the fun really started.

No sooner did drummer Doug Belotekick off the Southern fried fusion of We Hide and Seek than the multi-Grammy winning instrumentalist dropped his pick into the base of the dobro. What resulted wasn’t a look of panic on Douglas’ face or even a call for a quick time out to regroup. Instead, he flashed a broad grin, shrugged his shoulders and plowed right into the tune’s blend of reflective lyricism and barnyard groove. After a hearty round of soloing, Douglas shook his instrument from every angle until the pick fell out. That bit of onstage utensil retrieval earned the dobroist his first ovation of the evening.

Unlike his Lexington concert last November, which was devoted exclusively to solo dobro music, last night’s Louisville outing showcased a band that efficiently brought to life many of the multiple stylistic personalities that have long coexisted within Douglas’ playing.

For the jazzers, there was a remarkably faithful version of Joe Zawinul’s A Remark You Made where Douglas used the dobro to rethink the lead melody introduced by saxophonist Wayne Shorter on the song’s original 1977 version by Weather Reporrt. Or at least that’s what happened until the musical pecking order for the band was playfully reshuffled as the song progressed.

Those preferring something earthier were able to indulge in pair of Celtic flavored reveries (the Douglas originals Gone to Fortingall and Sir Aly B), a prime slice of new grass fun (Edgar Meyer’s Unfolding) and a bit of rootsy Crescent City-style party music (Leadbelly’s On a Monday).

There was even an electric adventure that bordered on rock ‘n’ roll. On a reworked version of So Here We Are, a trio piece from his 2012 album Traveler, Douglas plugged into lap steel guitar and jammed away on an amped-up romp still rooted in the dobro’s wily, wiry aesthetics.

in performance: pat metheny unity group


pat metheny unity band: chris potter, giulio carmassi, ben williams, antonio sanchez and pat metheny.

Pat Metheny may just be the closest thing the contemporary jazz world has to a slight of hand magician. During a tireless 2 ½ hour performance last night at the KCD Theater in Louisville, not everything was what it seemed. He conjured acoustic sounds from an electric guitar and later squeezed electric firepower out of an acoustic guitar. Oh, and those keyboard and percussion sounds the audience heard chattering away for most of the night were actually the non-man made products of the Rube Goldberg-like Orchestrion.

Even the evening’s repertoire was a surprise. With two albums under his belt by two different versions of his Unity Group, one might suppose Metheny would go the route of the typical jazzer and discard material that could be viewed as a product of the past. Well, that wasn’t the case either.

After a show-opening exhibition on the double-necked harp guitar, the founding members of the Unity Group – saxophonist/bass clarinetist/flutist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez – ran through a quartet of meaty mainstream tunes – two of which, The Bat and Folk Song No. 1 came from Metheny’s seminal 80/81 album (the guitarist’s first recording away from the fusion fold) with the others, Roofdogs and Come and See, hailing from his current troupe’s 2012 debut album, Unity Band.

The name change from Unity Band to Unity Group for the new Kin album is more telling than it appears. The new lineup, which added Italian multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi to the quartet, brought a heightened lyricism and orchestral sheen to the music that often recalled the guitarist’s career defining Pat Metheny Group. But Carmassi was often an invisible presence, figuratively and literally, last night. He seldom soloed and was hidden from much of the audience’s view behind Sanchez. And while he is credited with playing over a dozen instruments on Kin, the majority of what would have been his onstage duties were handled by the Orchestration.

As much a living science experiment as anything else, the Orchestrion is a computer triggeed assembly of instruments – mostly percussive devices along with two cabinets of bottles and jugs that were used as homemade chambers for keyboard sounds. Together with the fiercely organic sounds of the Unity Group, Kin tunes like the gospel flavored Born and the anthemic On Day One, as well as the bolero-like 1982 PMG staple Are You Going With Me?, possessed a sound that was truly epic in scope.

Metheny nicely scaled back the program, though, for a series of duets with his bandmates, including a spry bit of sparring with Williams on 1976’s Bright Size Life. Perhaps the grand antithesis of the Orchestrion-directed music was an extended encore medley of melodies from throughout his 35 year that began with Phase Dance and concluded with Last Train Home. The trick? For once, there was none. Metheny served up the history lesson alone on unembellished acoustic guitar.

in performance: john fogerty

john fogerty

john fogerty.

 At this stage of his career, John Fogerty would have every right to let the swampy, textured rock and soul hits he fashioned over four decades ago as chieftain of Creedence Clearwater Revival, as well as some of the more streamlined tunes penned since then, to stand on their own. But last night at the PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati, there he was, racing from one end of the stage to the other, guitar in hand, egging his audience on as the 1970 Creedence classic Up Around the Bend roared through the concert grounds.

In a way, it was quite endearing to find the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer still playing the role of cheerleader for one of the most distinctive catalogues of any pop era. But it was also encouraging to witness Fogerty, at age 69, still in possession of enough vocal and physical stamina to fuel such performance vigor in the first place. While the years have mellowed some of the dark, roots-driven tone of his singing into an appealing and manageable tenor, nothing in this two hour performance resembled a golden age rocker going through the paces. This was instead a living portrait of an artist still deeply and effortlessly involved with even his most familiar music.

What music it was, too. The concert opened with eight Creedence songs – seven hits led by Travelin’ Band and Green River along with the Cosmo’s Factory epic Ramble Tamble. The latter was especially arresting as it showcased the program’s two most dominate instrumental voices – Fogerty’s guitarwork, which revealed a level of range and invention the heavily rhythmic musicianship of his Creedence days only suggested. The other belonged to drummer Kenny Aronoff, whose playing reflected elements of New Orleans groove that made it a natural fit for the Southern inclined Creedence hits. But the down beat in Aronoff’s playing was also exact, tireless and potent to the point of being atomic.

Beyond that, one could wax on for hours about the setlist alone. At the midway point came Suzie Q with its glorious feedback-enhanced guitar solo. A few songs later we heard Mystic Highway, the show’s newest work, which tempered the Creedence mystique with an Americana reality check. Best of all, perhaps, was Who’ll Stop the Rain, Fogerty’s faithfully performed remembrance of playing Woodstock.
“Everybody else got naked and stoned,” Fogerty said of the legendary festival. “But I actually remembered it.”


in performance: dave alvin, phil alvin and the guilty ones


dave alvin and phil alvin.

“I know you’ve been covering your ears all night,” said Dave Alvin to a patron seated next to a sizeable speaker last night at the Southgate House Revival in Newport. “But I should really warn you that things are about to get ugly.”

Up to that point, the performance the Grammy winning songwriter and guitarist was showcasing with elder sibling Phil Alvin was something of a roots rock jamboree. The initial repertoire dealt with the more acoustic driven works from their fine new Big Bill Broonzy tribute album Common Ground (All By Myself, Key to the Highway and especially the ragtime flavored instrumental Saturday Night Rub) as well as lighter fare from the brothers ‘70s and early ‘80s tenure in The Blasters (Jimmie Rodgers’ Never No More Blues) and brother Dave’s solo catalogue (the still regal King of California, which was dedicated to the Alvins’ mother). And, frankly, one could have walked home from that expansive segment and considered the evening a win.

But the “nasty” aspect had Dave switching to electric guitar and piloting the vastly rockier aspects of this highly roots conscious outing.

For the Broonzy songs, that meant riding the crest of lean, wily grooves that unfolded during Southern Flood Blues and pumping up the rockabilly sass of Truckin’ Little Woman. For the Blasters tunes, that meant serving up a big, chunky slice of roots rock fun during Border Radio and igniting the gospel-esque stride in their 1981 version of Samson and Delilah. And to prove the great Broonzy wasn’t the only inspiration at work, brother Phil delivered the ‘50s-era James Brown hit Please Please Please with the kind of combustible vocal vigor that stood in contrast to the ultra-reserved stage presence he maintained throughout the 2 ¼ hour performance.

The show wasn’t some makeshift Blasters reunion, either. In that band, the boundaries were clearly set (Phil sang, Dave wrote and played guitar). Last night, the brothers were equal partners. And while Phil’s ageless rockabilly tenor was obviously the more buoyant vocal utensil, Dave’sfolk-directed singing (especially during the anthemic Dry River and Fourth of July) nicely balanced a roots-hearty rock ‘n’ roll show fueled by extraordinary musical instinct and undeniable brotherly love.

in performance: chuck mead and his grassy knoll boys


chuck mead.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                “Don’t forget about the big dance floor down here,” said Chuck Mead, motioning to the crawlspace in front of the stage at Willie’s Locally Known last night already occupied by a string of sizeable stage monitors.

A few couples squeezed into other available spaces to two-step (or something close to it) to the self-described “big country show” Mead brought to town. But those content to sit back and soak in the litany of traditional and roots-driven sounds the singer and his trio, the Grassy Knolls Boys, summoned certainly didn’t miss out. As a friend once told me, “You can dance to anything.” And indeed, the expert level of vital, vintage fare Mead was dishing deserved active listening from its audience.

Mead had a new album to promote, a fine Kansas-themed record call Free State Serenade that dominated roughly half of the 75 minute set.

The show-opening combination of Knee Deep in the Wakarusa River and The Devil By Their Side (which also serve as the first two tracks on Free State Serenade) were, to borrow a term from the latter tune, “cornfield shuffles” that centered around the continually spry pedal steel guitar colors of Carco Clave, a lightly toned but swiftly paced rhythm section and a vocal lead from Mead full of country reverence but also a hint of wry humor that helped seal the deal on this music.

Such a game plan further unfolded in the UFO parable Ten Light Years Away. Mead prefaced the tune with a story detailing the flatness of his home state (“There would be about six trees between you and Canada”) before the song outlined the prospect of an actual extraterrestrial landing there (“That ain’t no Chevrolet”).

The rest of the show was equally roots-driven, but drew on a wider range of source material. Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys took highly appealing stabs at tunes popularized by Buck Owens (Hello Trouble), Ray Price (Crazy Arms) and Del Reeves (Girl on the Billboard), as well as several appealing flashbacks to the singer’s tenure in the country roots band BR549. From that bunch, the beer-soaked neo-ballad Lifetime to Prove best reflected the soul, sass and solemnity that drove this Saturday night country revival.

in performance: mic harrison and the high score


mic harrison. photo by annie clark rankin.

The clock was closing in on midnight at the Green Lantern as the crowd dwindled down to a small handful of patrons. Even the evening’s headliner admitted this was the latest start time he had been given for one of his shows in about four years.

But Mic Harrison and his longrunning Knoxville band The High Score carried on last night as though they were basking in prime time. Their show was fueled by a fine catalogue of elemental original tunes with a high garage rock quotient and a stylistic reach that stretched from honky tonk to surprisingly immediate post-punk jaunts. But Harrison put one in the win column with his stage demeanor alone. Despite the miniscule turnout and the late hour, his performance attitude reflected an unflinching love for his work and music. That made an already vital set sound all the merrier.

The show opening Wiser the Whiskey set the pace and temperament of the hour long set with a front line of three guitarists and a bassist, all of whom doubled as vocalists. While Harrison’s general vocal cheer recalled the mischievous immediacy that highlighted the late’90s records of the Bottle Rockets, some of the heavy lifting was left to guitarist Robbie Trosper. His meaty rhythmic jabs fortified the song’s loose groove and carved room for some serious instrumental shredding.

Elsewhere, the tunes themselves underscored – and then tinkered with – the show’s roadhouse vibe. Hey Driver, for instance, was a vintage-style trucker song with an inviting backbeat supplied by drummer Brad Henderson while Ruin of My Days (from the Harrison and the High Score’s fine 2012 album Still Wanna Fight) was a vastly involved suite that slipped a slice of ensemble psychedelia in between two passages of heavy honky that sounded like Status Quo on a rural country holiday.

The set also reached back for a pair of tunes from Harrison’s ‘90s tenure with the Knoxville power pop troupe The V-Roys (Sooner or Later and No Regrets) and two well chosen covers (Tom Petty’s Listen to her Heart and an exhaustive, show-closing take on Bob Seger’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man).

All in all, an enthusiastic, well balanced and highly intuitive performance sent to us from the other side of the Tennessee border. Too bad so few folks from the homestead showed up for the visit.

in performance: kenny vaughan

kenny vaughan

kenny vaughan.

On most Saturday nights, you’re likely to find Kenny Vaughan on the road, ripping through a country roots repertoire as guitarist for Marty Stuart. Last night, though, Vaughan was on his own at Willie’s Locally Known – and we do mean “on his own.”

With his bassist succumbing to stomach flu earlier in the day and his drummer taking another Nashville gig as a result, Vaughan performed as a true solo act. But if anything, that only heightened the stylistic breadth of his playing while giving the crowd an intimate and in depth look at one of Nashville’s premier fretmen at work.

Those expecting the kind of vintage county fare that Vaughan ignites with Stuart were rewarded with the Buck Owens-like groove of Country Music Got a Hold on Me (and a truly fearsome blast of warp speed picking that served as its coda) and the George Jones-like drive of Who’s on the Other Side of That.

But Vaughan’s setlist was hardly content to spend the evening rolling in the country. The 90 minute performance opened with the clean jazz stride of Mose Allison’s Ask Me Nice and concluded with a hearty encore of the Little Walter blues jam It Ain’t Right. The latter was one of three tunes that sported help from Lexington guitar maker Chad Underwood. The rest of the show employed loop-like pedal effects that captured and played back riffs and grooves. That effectively allowed Vaughan to serve as his own rhythm guitarist.

Such a practice has become increasingly popular among solo artists. But Vaughan’s use of such technology was judicious. It wasn’t implemented to create layer upon layer of melodies, as is the want of some guitar stylists. Vaughan used the effects primarily as a lean, rhythmic supplement to solo over during Ghost Riders in the Sky and as a harmonic device within the nocturnal jazz-blues soundscape of Mysterium.

Technology, stylistic daring and pure instrumental prowess combined during the new Vaughan instrumental Blues for Bill (a jazz centerpiece colored by a splash of psychedelia that was named after the guitarist’s one-time teacher, the then-unknown Bill Frisell) and an exquisite acoustic guitar reworking of Bill Monroe’s My Last Days on Earth. Vaughan dedicated the latter to Tommy Ramone, who died a day earlier.

Linking Monroe and The Ramones? No one but Vaughan would have attempted such a feat or made the results sound so honestly and simply poignant.

in performance: john hiatt and the combo/therobert cray band

john hiatt

john hiatt.

Their respective careers were set in motion decades ago, so it’s understandable that a double-bill performance by John Hiatt and Robert Cray would carry equal levels of expectation and nostalgia. But last night at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, both artists scored creative high points with either recent material or hearty reworkings of chestnut favorites.

The former attribute shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given how prolific both have been of late. Bluesman Cray has released seven albums of new music (excluding several fine concert recordings) since 1999. Veteran songsmith Hiatt has issued nine. He even seemed bemused last night by the fact. “Somehow,” he remarked, “they still let us makes records.”

Hiatt and his longrunning band The Combo – fortified by Louisiana drummer Kenneth Blevins, who has been playing with Hiatt on and off since his late ‘80s days with The Goners, and longtime Patty Griffin guitarist Doug Lancio – opened an 80 minute set by leaping head first into the deep pocket groove of My Business. Pulled from 2012’s Mystic Pinball album, the tune’s slyly lyrical sensibility, swampy rhythmic stride and plentiful, efficient guitar hooks defined the electric state of Hiatt’s current music. Such a fact was underscored by the coarse stride of Wind Don’t Have to Hurry (with Lancio adding brittle accents of banjo) from the forthcoming Terms of My Surrender. But the new record’s title tune veered off into the sort of light, antique jazz/minstrel plain Bob Dylan began exploring on Love & Theft.

There were oldies galore, too. The standout there was a retooled Cry Love that was set to an acoustic jamboree setting with Lancio taking the wheel on mandolin.

robert cray

robert cray.

Similarly, Cray’s performance was by no means anchored to the past. His new In My Soul bends generously to the ‘60s style pop, soul and R&B inspirations that have always been as prevalent in Cray’ music – especially in the spotless tone of his singing – as the obvious blues callings. As such, the guitarist devoted six songs during his 70 minute opening set to the album.

Some were coolly paced ballads fashioned as vehicles for the expert phrasing of Cray’s vocals. Into that column fell Fine Yesterday, a slice of summery but bittersweet Philly-style soul. What Would You Say later emphasized his ultra clean but never antiseptic guitarwork while the Richard Cousins instrumental Hip Tight Onions shot the spotlight over to keyboardist Dover Weinberg for a finger-popping, Booker T-flavored groove. Topping all of the new material, though, was Deep in My Soul, a desperate, anthemic affirmation where Cray sailed effortlessly back into the blues during a gorgeous coda solo.

The latter also held true for one of Cray’s breakthrough hits, Because of Me, which indulged in a leisurely but solemn slow fade solo that brought the quiet intensity of blues giant Otis Rush to mind.

Sadly, there were several inebriates in the Cincy crowd that used such a moment of chilled beauty to whoop, holler and needlessly call attention to themselves. Booze and social decorum – never shall they meet.

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