Archive for in performance

in performance: hudson

Hudson. From left, Larry Grenadier, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield and John Medeski. Photo by Nick Suttle.

It took roughly five minutes for the members of Hudson to make good on the concept of an actual jazz supergroup last night at the Corbett Theater in Cincinnati.

First up was a drum solo from Jack DeJohnette, who, at age 75, played with the stamina of a percussionist half his age but, more importantly, the taste and intuition of a true musical sage. Next was guitarist John Scofield, a Miles Davis alumnus, like DeJohnette, although it’s the music he has pioneered under his own name over several decades that continues to define his true resourcefulness. At once, his tone was huge and clear as the band locked into a melodic drive that was subsequently reconfigured to Scofield’s sense of subtle yet pronounced immediacy. Then we had John Medeski, one third of the avant jam trio Medeski Martin & Wood, who orchestrated the group’s playing with churchy soulfulness on B3 organ. That left Larry Grenadier, a veteran of scores of jazz collaborations with the likes of Pat Metheny, Paul Motian and most notably Brad Mehldau, to ground the resulting music on double bass.

Perhaps best of all was the composition at hand. It wasn’t some obvious jazz standard, but rather an artful reworking of Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow.”

What all this translated into was the sound of four immensely gifted – and, within the jazz world, popular – instrumentalists reaching for what most so-called supergroups are seldom able to find. They played like an actual band. Admittedly, strong alliances already existed before Hudson solidified itself as a unit. Scofield and Medeski, for instance, have been recording together on and off for nearly two decades. As such, we saw the two playing off each other’s ideas repeatedly last night, especially during an encore cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that allowed the dynamics of both players to mingle within waves of collaborative cool that quickly built into a rockish boil.

But there was also considerable dexterity on display within Hudson’s original material, particularly two works by Scofield. The first, “El Swing,” employed dark, meaty piano rolls from Medeski that fell somewhere between the modal play of McCoy Tyner and the arty playfulness of Thelonious Monk. The other, “Tony Then Jack,” was actually where the true swing was served before DeJohnette took over on an extended run backed by Grenadier that showcased Hudson’s scholarly stylistic command as well as the supergroup’s unified sound and spirit.

in performance: noah preminger and the brandon coleman trio

Noah Preminger. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

Sitting at Tee Dee’s Lounge last night as New York saxophonist Noah Preminger channeled the tone and dynamics of another great tenor player, Warne Marsh, was exhilarating in the extreme. But the magic went beyond the moment as the evening’s two hour, two set performance with the Cincinnati based Brandon Coleman Trio inaugurated the new Origin Jazz Series, a program committed to staging eight monthly concerts by national, regional and local jazz artists in Lexington at alternating venues through next spring.

The performance at hand was an intriguing though not altogether realized one. Preminger proved a first rate soloist, one that found a tone both lustrous in its melodic appeal (as shown during the ballad “Before the Rain”) and meaty in its boppish drive (the show opening “Transfer”). There was also immense ingenuity within Preminger’s phrasing. Appearing consistently comfortable with a band he seldom plays with (although the combined quartet of artists performed several regional shows over the past week), his musicianship never sounded forced, unsteady or excessive.

Guitarist Coleman wasn’t quite as assured. His solos, though technically impressive, didn’t reveal much by way of vocabulary. There were modestly distorted runs reflecting a clever, prog-ish streak along with an appealing spaciousness that, at times, recalled the late John Abercrombie. But Coleman’s playing often went in circles, summoning little of the natural, conversational dynamics Preminger called upon so readily.

There were two nice exceptions, though, both of which bowed to the blues. A guitar/sax duo reading of “Trouble in Mind” allowed Preminger and Coleman to relax in alternating roles as rhythm and lead players, while the show closing “My Blues For You” enlisted venue owner and longtime Lexington guitar favorite Tee Dee Young to sit in on a slow blues serenade that seemed to unlock fresh rhythmic possibilities for Coleman.

As far as the bigger picture goes, the Origin Jazz Series and its audience may need to look into fine tuning some traditions. The series organizers will have to consider whether the usual two-set club design is really what they want to go with for the other three performances scheduled at Tee Dee’s in coming months. Last night, the house was largely full at the start of the night, although an intermission sent a noticeable number of patrons packing. As for those patrons, they need to realize serious jazz is not a backdrop for idle chat. Several pockets of loud, intrusive conversation punctured the quieter moments of the evening. As Preminger so beautifully contradicted in the title of the Marsh tune, real jazz is not “background music,” but a call for attentive ears and buttoned lips.

in performance: drive-by truckers

Drive-By Truckers: Matt Patton, Brad Morgan, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Jay Gonzalez. Photo by Danny Clinch.

Here’s how the evening began. Fasten your seat belts.

The moment Drive-By Truckers took the stage at Manchester Music Hall last night Patterson Hood stopped in his tracks, pointed to the bar at the back of the venue and ordered all of the televisions in operation to be turned off. But what incensed him more than the TVs being on was who was on them – Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity. That triggered a profanity laden tirade from Hood who then encouraged the crowd to turn around, face the bar and shoot a unison greeting and hand gesture to Mr. Hannity that was, shall we say, not welcoming.

With that the Truckers put their cards on the table as to where they stood politically before a single note was played. But just in case there were doubts, the band then kicked into a show-opening tune from its 2016 album “American Band” that was topical to the point of being frightening. It was “Guns of Umpqua,” Hood’s reflection on the shootings that shook Umpqua Community College in Oregon two years ago to the day of Sunday’s horrifying gun-related deaths in Las Vegas. That the song was melodically one of the calmest works performed all night simply underscored the arching tragedy of both events.

How do you calm the masses after a one-two punch like that? Well, co-frontman Mike Cooley’s militia gone amok rocker “Ramon Casiano” and another Hood tune of the times, the hook-heavy “Darkened Flags at the Cusp of Dawn” (two more entries from “American Band”) followed. But in short order, Hood lightened, took in the feverish response of the crowd before him and confessed to the unavoidable joy that came from the resulting artist/audience chemistry. “This is the first time I’ve smiled in two days,” he said.

With that Hood, addressed the week’s other loss – Monday’s sudden death of Tom Petty. The Truckers didn’t so much eulogize the iconic Southern-born rocker as celebrate him at several points. Early in the show came a joyous reading of “The Waiting” that was remarkably faithful to the Byrds-like pop sway of Petty’s original 1981 version. But less obvious was the title tune to Petty’s 1985 album “Southern Accents” that prefaced “Ever South,” yet another Hood song from “American Band.” Set to a grim, militaristic beat by drummer Brad Morgan, the mash-up let the Petty tune speak to the stereotypes outsiders inflict upon Southerners while Hood’s song dealt with remaining steadfast amid stereotypes Southerners inflict upon themselves.

Given how Hood is, in effect, the Truckers’ emcee onstage, it can be easy to overlook Cooley’s contributions. In fact, the two frontmen traded off songs for the entire program. Cooley may possess a more modest stage presence, but his songs roared, especially during the electric jubiliance of “Marry Me,” the grittier reserve of “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” and the jolting “American Band” work “Surrender Under Protest” that placed him, Hood, co-guitarist/keyboardist Jay Gonzalez and bassist Matt Patton in a unified front line across the front of the stage.

Oh, and there was also a just-for-fun cover of Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen,” with Hood singing lead, to remind us Halloween is just a few weeks away. No doubt that was performed for those that thought the times weren’t scary enough already.

in performance: ballister

Ballister: Dave Rempis, Paal Nilssen-Love and Fred Lonberg-Holm. Photo by Geert Vandepoele.

The most immediately arresting aspect of the performance earlier tonight by the jazz trio Ballister at the University of Kentucky Niles Gallery was the audience – specifically, the fact there was one on hand that largely filled the room. That’s an accomplishment for the Outside the Spotlight Series this performance was part of. Over the course of an hour, the playing that erupted, subsided, splintered and regenerated was built around free improvisation that took the resulting music light years away from anything that could be considered mainstream. That’s been pretty much standard operating procedure for any OTS show, which perhaps explains why audience turnout is sometimes on the sparse side. But a full room tonight made up predominantly of college-age patrons unquestionably gave the performance’s already abundant sense of immediacy an extra, welcomed jolt.

The concert was divided into two extended improvisations by Dave Rempis (on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones), Paal Nilssen-Love (on drums and percussion) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (on cello, guitar and electronics). The first was a 35 minute romp that began at a full boil and seldom relented. Rempis tore loose on alto while Lonberg-Holm underscored his bowed cello playing with often coarse scratches on the strings. But it was Nilssen-Love who stayed in the driver’s seat, initiating the ensemble drive with a thunderous crack on the kit and then propelling the music through a variety of brutal rumbles and fractured grooves.

The results were wildly engrossing if not earsplitting. The latter was a side effect of the room’s acoustics as Lonberg-Holm was the only one playing with even modest amplification.

A second 25 minute improv splintered the trio into a variety of solo and duo configurations and employed a greater vocabulary of dynamics and space. A baritone sax solo from Rempis, for example, sounded positively hushed compared to the voluminous outbreaks from the first workout. But the others opened up, too. Nilssen-Love created circular grooves with brushes on a snare before producing gong-like effects from a cymbal. Lonberg-Holm used the occasion for a lengthy excursion on guitar that yielded brittle electric runs that bore remarkable tonal similarities to his cello agitations.

In short, it was an evening of discovery. For Ballister, that translated into considerable conversational daring among its players. For the audience, it was the opportunity to experience a sense of jazz exploration that was uncompromising in terms of intensity and ingenuity.

ballister: the sound of sculpted energy

dave rempis.

Given the number of jazz and improvised music groups Dave Rempis leads (his website lists nine), one might wonder how sound and intent differ when it comes to Ballister, the free jazz power trio the Chicago saxophonist returns to Lexington with for a WRFL-FM sponsored Outside the Spotlight concert on Monday.

The sound? That’s readily apparent when listening to “Slag,” one of the two new Ballister recordings released this year (the other is the vinyl-only Belgian album “Low Level Stink”). The music is alternately immediate and aggressive. It’s sparse and spacious one moment and thunderously textured the next. On “Gusiarme,” the second of three extended improvised pieces making up “Slag,” Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love let the music drop to a bare scratch of a solo sax whisper before building to a full, abstract trio assault.

“I think the three of us are often trying to sculpt energy in this group, if that makes sense,” Remps said. “The sort of in-your-face nature of the band and the reputation we’ve gotten in doing that makes sense to us. All three of us throw ourselves very fully into the music. Part of it, for me, is definitely the physicality of that, of really pushing one’s self to extremes and limits just to see what can come out of that. That’s one thing this group tends to explore a bit more than some of my other groups.”

But what of the intent behind the music? That’s where Rempis says Ballister and his other ensembles – which includes Gunwale, the Rempis Percussion Quartet, Rempis/Johnston/Ochs and separate duos with drummers Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly, all of which have played Outside the Spotlight concerts here over the past decade – are largely on the same page.

“I don’t think that’s any different. The intent in the free improvised context is generally about communication and trying to create, basically, a group sound that flows together and incorporates the contributions of each of the individual musicians into a larger whole. We want to feel like a band as opposed to three people just trying to figure something out onstage.

“In terms of how it’s different from the other projects, I don’t know. I think a lot of the groups I’ve put together are based on mutual affinities between the musicians. I’m more interested in that and how the personalities come together rather than in trying to figure out, on a musical level, how this is different from that.”

To that end, Rempis is filled with praise for Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love, musicians he was collaborating with long before Ballister came together in 2009. The saxophonist cited not only their individual performance stamina and sense of musical invention, but their ability in helping to define a group spirit strong enough to fortify a sound built upon improvisation.

“Paal is a limitless source of ideas and energy, both onstage and off. He’s so dedicated to music and art and ideas and is so committed to every different situation I’ve worked with him in. That’s really inspiring, especially considering he’s somebody who’s playing 250 to 300 concerts a year with probably 30 different groups. It’s really amazing that he can sustain such a high level of commitment, interest and engagement.

“Fred is a big part of what makes the group so interesting. He can play the role of a bass player and interact with Paal directly. He can play the role of a guitar player and add a lot of color to things. He can play the role of an electronic artist by placing noise and effects in the music as a palette for us to play against.”

Ultimately, what fuels Ballister is the same unified drive and meshing of personalities that sustain any band in any style. The improvised nature of the resulting trio sound makes its music distinctive, but a cohesive group spirit, not to mention an underlying friendship, is what continues to drive Ballister.

“Honestly, a lot of this music, for me, is based on personalities and the way people interact, not just as musicians but as people. In this band, there is very much a group mentality. Sitting in the van with these guys during the day, talking with them and getting their perspective on things, is incredible. These are people who are really well traveled and have played with so many different musicians. I learned so much from these guys. I really think we have a friendship and an understanding of each other that’s very brotherly.”

Ballister performs at 7 p.m. Oct.2 at the John Jacobs Niles Gallery and Center for American Music, University of Kentucky (inside the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library). Admission is free. For more information, go to daverempis.com/ballister-1

in performance: john doe

John Doe. Photo by Autumn DeWilde.

When you have spent the last four decades anchoring what has been one of the most celebrated punk rock bands to emerge from the West Coast, a degree of stereotyping is perhaps unavoidable. But what John Doe managed to do last night during an intimate solo acoustic concert at the Green Lantern was affirm what his career outside of the punk brigade X taught us long ago – that under the rock ‘n’ roll exterior is an artist with a far reaching affinity for folk, country and roots music capped by a singing voice reflecting ageless clarity and strength.

Those wanting X tunes got a few treats – namely, “The Have Nots,” “The New World” and an encore of “Poor Girl.” All might have been sonically tempered by the unplugged setting, but none lost their urgency, especially the way blue collar angst still percolates within “The Have Nots” (“Dawn comes soon enough for the working class”).

But the more aggressive moments of the set actually came from newer tunes off of Doe’s 2016 Arizona folk-rock sojourn “Westerner.” “Get on Board” chugged along with a lean, rootsy assuredness mirrored by lyrics emphasizing a shared destination for all passengers (“There’s no VIP or platinum reserved, ‘cause everybody’s on board this train”). For sheer stamina, though, the “Westerner” tune “My Darling, Blue Skies” proved the most arresting rocker of the evening by breaking free of any acoustic stigma to trigger a Bo Diddley-worthy drive.

The rest of the program was fascinating mix of Doe originals (a neatly scaled back “A Little Help”), covers (a powerfully emotive take on the Replacements gem “Here Comes a Regular” that led into a nicely roughed up reading of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”) and folk-directed staples cut by the X-spinoff troupe The Knitters (a suitably disquieting version of the murder ballad “Little Margaret” and the show closing encore of the Dave Alvin co-write “The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball”).

But the most moving moment of the performance came when Doe addressed his participation in the Harry Dean Stanton Fest, the event that brought him to Lexington in the first place. In tribute, he performed the lovely “Cancion Mixteca,” a century old Mexican folk song Stanton sang in the career-defining, Wim Wenders-directed film “Paris, Texas.” The song was topical not just for its connection to the Kentucky-born film actor, but for its sense of cultural displacement. In Doe’s hands, though, it was simply a loving tribute from a punk rocker who could sing soft without going soft.

John Doe will participate in a Q&A session following a free screening of “Slam Dance” as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest at 3 p.m. today (Sept. 30) at the Farish Theater of the Lexington Public Library, 140 E Main.

in performance: rufus wainwright

rufus wainwright.

Picking a point in Rufus Wainwright’s sublime solo performance last night at the Opera House where the music reached an emotional zenith will likely prompt generous debate. My vote, though, goes to the tune that kicked off a three-song encore segment. Titled “Going to a Town,” the work allowed the politics that had been largely personal up to that point to cover the country. “I’m going to a town that has already been burnt down,” Wainwright sang with the same undistilled drama that fueled the rest of the performance. “I’m going to a place that has already been disgraced. I’m gonna see some folks who have already been let down.” But the last line of the verse, the confession of an artist with dual citizenship in the United States and Canada, pinned down the song’s pensive deflation like a coffin nail. “I’m so tired of America.”

In musical terms, Wainwright had, as the very topical saying goes, taken a knee. But the tune was written and recorded over 15 years ago. Go figure.

Curiously, this song’s weariness fell near the end of a performance that included considerable globetrotting. For instance, Wainwright prefaced “Gay Messiah” (one of several quiet but powerfully emotive tunes from the two-volume “Want” albums) with a confession that the tune had earned him the title, courtesy of the Italian press, of “Lo Scandaloso.” Then there was the French-sung “Les deux d’artfice t’appellent (The Fireworks Are Calling to You),” a solo piano version of the closing aria to Wainwright’s 2009 opera “Prima Donna.” Most enchanting of all was an impromptu cover of Bola de Nieve’s Afro-Cuban serenade “Drume Negrita,” a souvenir of sorts from concerts Wainwright gave last weekend in Havana.

The latter, like many tunes in the evening, proved wonderful vehicles for the astonishing clarity of Wainwright’s singing. At times, as on “Gay Messiah,” his vocals soared into a pristine soul falsetto. On “Jericho,” they bloomed into an effortlessly rich tenor. But at its most captivating, the singing sank to a dark, spacious whisper, as on “Zebulon,” which served as a ghostly lead-in to “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” The latter, long a favorite of Wainwright crowds, bounced about with child-like abandon before a growing dissonance made the song jump the pop tune tracks altogether.

Capping it all were two Leonard Cohen classics – “So Long Marianne,” where Wainwright’s singing flew with regal drama into the stratosphere, and an encore version of the signature tune “Hallelujah,” performed as a stately, respectful nod from one master Canadian songsmith to another.

in performance: jazz at lincoln center orchestra with wynton marsalis

wynton marsalis.

For all of the power in numbers the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra packs, its performance last night at the Kentucky Center for the Arts’ Whitney Hall in Louisville began with a slice of hushed sunshine. Instead of the full ensemble’s might, trumpeter/founder/artistic director Wynton Marsalis and pianist Dan Nimmer engaged in a duet exchange honoring Jelly Roll Morton. Unlike the precision and drive the Orchestra would dig into just minutes later, this summery opening dialogue was loose and playful but still full of the same scholarly assurance that has long been a trademark of all Marsalis-led projects. But this warm-up also let the audience in on how accessible the music that followed would be.

Nearly two hours later, the Orchestra had journeyed through works by Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, a few more Morton selections and original compositions by the band members. Tradition was stressed, and with good reason. The Orchestra remains today’s most learned and proficient touring organization in terms of reviving the jazz repertoires of multiple eras. But never did any of the performed works come across as museum pieces.

Ellington’s “Big Fat Alice’s Blues” (from the 1965 album “Concert in the Virgin Islands,” a record that, as Marsalis proudly pointed out in his introduction, was actually cut in New York) was a gorgeous vehicle for the alto sax blues lead of Sherman Irby with only segments of the Orchestra (the rhythm section and the reeds, specifically) adding color.

The Afro-Cuban heritage of Gillespie’s “Fiesta Mojo” was funneled into samba patterns neatly triggered by trumpeter Marcus Printup and saxophonist Dan Block (on flute for this tune) while a segment of Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite” expanded the 1958 piece, originally recorded as a trio work, into the evening’s finest exhibition of the Orchestra’s full dynamic range and the striking saxophone animation of Walter Blanding.

Marsalis, who with each passing year becomes more like a modern day Gillespie for his between-song chats alone, asserted himself nicely in “Let My People Go.” The tune was essentially a movement from “God’s Trombones,” a suite composed by Orchestra trombonist Chris Crenshaw after the poetry of James Weldon Johnson. The full ensemble touched alternately on lyrical warmth, sass, swing and the blues. Marsalis, resourceful as always, packed all of that into a single, hair-raising solo.

in performance: randall bramblett

randall bramblett.

Let’s get the nasty part of the evening out of the way first.

Last night, Willie’s Locally Known became a sports bar – a surprising and disagreeable turn for those who plunked down a cover charge to hear a Randall Bramblett concert that was to have started at 9:30 at what they thought was a live music venue. Instead, Willie’s held off on showtime until after the demoralizing end of the Kentucky-Florida football game, sending the paid attendees into an at-times vocal furor that included a nearly five minute protest of clapping and jeering for the show to start at its appointed hour. That prompted Bramblett to personally apologize to patrons at each table for a delay he was in no way responsible for.

Priorities, people. If you’re running a business, know your clientele and then respect it. On all counts last night, Willie’s, normally a reliable and relaxing music spot, dropped the ball.

Now, on to the highlight reel. Once Bramblett and his remarkably resourceful band hit the stage at 11:10, the evening couldn’t miss. Out of a venue fumble came a performance touchdown by way of a two hour run of world class funk, soul, blues and swing from one of the most alert Southern songsmiths of our day.

Opening with “Pot Hole on Main Street,” the first of four tunes pulled from the new “Juke Joint at the Edge of the World” album, Bramblett set into motion a groove built around a churchy organ-style groove and a tenor sax break sent into exquisite distortion by pedal effects. “Garbage Man,” another “Juke Joint” entry, followed by utilizing the band’s other primary soloist, guitarist Nick Johnson, and a Fender Rhodes-flavored keyboard run from Bramblett. The latter’s sly word play also earned bonus points for rhyming “Simon and Garfunkel” with “cry uncle.”

From there, the quartet – keenly rounded out by bassist Michael Steele and drummer Seth Hendershot – shuffled boppish glee (during “Used to Rule the World”), brassy swing (“Reptile Pilot”), falsetto-savvy soul (“Angel Child”), jazzy playfulness (“King Grand”) and, in the closest thing the show presented to a ballad, disquieting reflection (“Detox Bracelet”).

That it was all presented with a band sound as immaculately tight or confidently loose as the song at hand called for was a testament to the players’ collective instrumental smarts. That such command was then executed with a sense of abundant performance fun and animation in the face of an evening that, given its start, could have dissolved into irretrievable chaos, revealed Bramblett and his bandmates as total champions.

 

in performance: mary chapin carpenter

mary chapin carpenter.

Time seemed quite the preoccupation for Mary Chapin Carpenter last night at Equus Run Vineyards. Her sterling 90 minute performance often referenced time as a commodity continually slipping away. She recognized songs from her catalog that were country hits 25 years ago (specifically, her cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses”) as well as band members that have clocked tenures on the upwards of three decades (specifically, keyboardist Jon Carroll). Both mentions casually paralleled the passage of time as it related to age. Then again, Carpenter wasn’t always obvious when making her point.

For example, she opened a concert centered largely on elegantly reserved and introspective folk-pop with a protest song – in this case, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” a tune born in 1964 that still speaks with eerie relevancy. But the topicality was underscored when Carpenter followed with her own “Stones in the Road,” a work, recorded at the dawn of the Clinton era that looked uneasily back the Reagan/Bush years that preceded it. Though more poetic that overtly political, any sense of fleeting time vanished when the singer updated a verse with a quip about a statesmen whose sense of social remedy is revealed when he “posts another tweet.” So much for nostalgia.

On second thought, the performance was loaded with familiar Carpenter songs, from chronicles that balanced poignancy and melancholy (“This Shirt,” “The Age of Miracles” and the exquisite “Goodnight America”) with a delicate lyricism that still proved sturdy enough to buoy her low, hushed singing. But the show’s poppish feel nicely accelerated when Carpenter and her four member band dug into the spunkier drive of “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and Dire Straits’ “The Bug.”

The most direct commentary on the passage of time, however, came from perhaps the evening’s least familiar work – a tune from Carpenter’s recent “The Things That We Are Made Of” album called “The Middle Ages.” Performed with whispery grace, the song’s timeline was more personal than historical with a snapshot that both begrudgingly and lovingly focused on mid life. More exactly, it was a song of arrival and realization.

“Now you see what it is that you would have changed if only you’d known,” Carpenter sang.

The times, it seemed, aren’t all that have been a-changin.’

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