Archive for in performance

in performance: alan jackson/lauren alaina

Alan Jackson performing last night at Rupp Arena. Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

“I’ve come here to play you some real country music.”

Those were the rather comforting words Alan Jackson used to greet a crowd of 9,500 last night at Rupp Arena. But the veteran Georgia-born hitmaker didn’t exactly have to stretch his stylistic reputation to keep his promise. The just-shy-of-two hour set offered a confident, no frills and, at times, astonishingly laid back grab bag of ballads, shuffles and non-threatening party pieces. All were set to the lead of unassuming and conversational tenor vocals that have aged quite nicely over the nearly three decades Jackson has been sending songs up the charts. Ditto for his band, the Strayhorns, a troupe of quiet instrumental scholars with remarkable picking skills and an even a greater sense of taste in knowing when and when not to show them off.

What distinguished the performance from the dozen or so other times Jackson has played Rupp since his debut there as an opening act for Randy Travis in 1991 (all subsequent visits have been as a headliner) was how much the country music environment has shifted around him. With the touring retirement of George Strait, Jackson is now the genre’s reigning elder traditionalist. But the crown hardly sits heavy on him. From the assured swagger of the show-opening “Gone Country” to the sit-down solemnity of “Here in the Real World” to the easygoing sentimentalism of “Remember When,” Jackson dispensed songs with simple, unaffected candor and a host of between song stories that came across convincingly as back porch confessions of sorts.

Sometimes the music heated up, as in a nicely electric take of “Summertime Blues” keenly timed to counter winter doldrums. In other instances, it moved with pure honky tonk flair, as typified by the still sterling drive of “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.” Curiously, one of the biggest delights was a brand new tune, a sagely bit of reflection titled “The Older I Get” that Jackson performed for the first time last night. In less practiced hands, the song would have been dowsed in angst-heavy pathos. Jackson, however, performed it with a cool but very knowing assertiveness, making the work a striking new snapshot in his real world country canon.

Lauren Alaina opened last night’s Rupp show.

From stylistic standpoint, show opener Lauren Alaina sounded like she came from another galaxy. The 23 year old singer understandably favored a far more contemporary slant to her songs, most of which she wrote or co-wrote. Musically, a frequent coupling of electric banjo and loop-style percussion grooves underscored her songs. But what drove everything was a turbo-charge vocal wail that rather cleanly ignited songs like “Georgia Peaches,” “Next Boyfriend” and the self-image anthem “Road Less Taken.” The latter threw the career of this one-time “American Idol” runner up into overdrive last year.

But the show stopper was “Three,” a reflection of childhood aspirations dashed and realized. More specifically, it was Alaina’s honestly emotive introduction to the tune that sparked the set. The audience nicely kept her in check, however. Prior to shedding a few tears, she explained she had recently learned to play piano for when she performed the song. That triggered a good natured and very audible wisecrack from the audience – “So don’t screw it up.” That defused the drama, sent the singer into a fit of laughter and cemented a rather arresting moment within a very earnest set.

in performance: the lexington philharmonic with byron stripling

byron stripling.

The Lexington Philharmonic spent the final hours of 2017 in glorious disguise. With a guest conductor, a heavily altered instrumental design and an exclusively non-classical program, it operated very much as a jazz orchestra. Given the “Jazz Night” theme promoted for last night’s Opera House performance, that was to be somewhat expected. But instead of a standard pops-style presentation, this was a complete, evening-only makeover.

First off, musical director Scott Terrell yielded the conductor’s podium to Ohio jazzman Byron Stripling, whose boisterous spirit set the mood for the evening the moment he walked onstage. But by juggling duties as vocalist and trumpeter (the first with an operatic, deep and exact tenor; the second with similarly precise and expressive tonality), as well as serving as emcee and, to an extent, raconteur, Stripling’s time at the podium turned out to be somewhat limited.

But this was a very different Philharmonic in operation. By deemphasizing percussion and much of the woodwinds outside of saxophones, the orchestra was dominated by strings and brass with the further unorthodox addition of a piano-bass-drums rhythm section to propel a very purposeful sense of swing. While that obviously changed the entire musical fabric of the orchestra, it didn’t compromise the program’s abundant joy and luster.

Though Stripling, Miche Braden and tap dancer Ted Louis Levy traded off vocal duties, one of the evening’s highlights was when the jazz orchestration was let loose on its own to explore to the gorgeous dynamics within Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” With so much of the performance devoted to Jeff Tyzik-arranged swing classics immortalized by Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Cab Calloway, hearing the Ellington chestnut’s more subtle beauty nicely showcased the range of the realigned Philharmonic.

Stripling, Braden and Levy all had numerous standout moments. Stripling effortlessly channeled the blues-packed drive of the Calloway signature tune “Minnie the Moocher” while Braden offered a more regal sense of sass with the help of a hearty also saxophone solo from veteran Lexington jazzman Miles Osland (who played an integral part in the Philharmonic’s jazz transformation throughout the program) on the Bessie Smith/Billie Holiday popularized “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.” Levy’s deft tap work also ignited a highly animated take on the Depression Era pick-me-up “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile.”

The vaudeville-style antics and attitude adopted between songs by the three guest artists wore thin at times, but that’s a minor quibble. The jazz age fun summoned by a performance that clearly took the Philharmonic way outside its comfort zone was largely shatterproof. Here’s hoping for another such detour before the next New Year is ushered in.

in performance: bela fleck and abigail washburn

Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck.

Sure, a festive spirit dominated the evening seeing as this was the year’s final performance for the evening’s featured artists, as well the last taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour before a winter break commenced. In keeping with the mood, husband-and-wife banjo all-stars Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn served up nine songs where the banjos did almost all of the work, from blends of old time and progressive styles to segments where the strings maneuvered through everything from dazzling lyrical runs to unanticipated bass patterns.

But let’s get to the highlight of tonight’s year-end WoodSongs taping at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, one that didn’t involve a single note of music. At the program’s half-way point, Mayor Jim Gray came to the stage and proclaimed Dec. 18, 2017 as Bela Fleck Day. The audience, needless to say, went nuts, especially considering that embedded within the banjo pioneer’s extensive dossier is the often forgotten fact that for two years (1979-1981) Fleck called Lexington home. So, yes, Christmas came a week early for banjo enthusiasts in a program already overflowing with glad tidings.

Perhaps expectedly, the music was a stunning product of players with differing generational styles – clawhammer and pre-bluegrass “old time music” (Washburn) and bluegrass-rooted inspirations that regularly reached through jazz and especially classical references to create remarkable displays of speed, deftness and technique.

The resulting mixture quickly surfaced in the set-opening “Railroad,” which tossed the familiar folk work song into a minor key, darkening melodic edges nicely as a result. That allowed the traditional purity of Washburn’s singing (deceptively delicate at times, robustly commanding at others) to anchor the tune while Fleck’s typically tireless agility let the tune take flight.

The following seven songs all came from the couple’s second and newest album, “Echo in the Valley” and displayed a richness in variety, delivery and emotive clarity. An instrumental medley of two traditional tunes (“Sally in the Garden” and “Molly Put the Kettle On”), with a ‘90s era Fleck original (“Big Country”) sandwiched in between, highlighted the traditional/progressive merger. Washburn’s gentle vocal intro on the following “If I Could Talk to a Younger Me” briefly downshifted the set to focus on quieter lyrical expression before Fleck again hit the accelerator.

From there, the evening took a dramatic side road by transforming the harrowing “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains” into a rugged blues complete with slide banjo colors from Fleck and vocals from Washington that patiently built into a boil. On the flip side, Washburn turned to percussion for “Take Me to Harlan” – specifically, clogging on an amplified floorboard in the manner popularized decades ago by the late John Hartford.

The sobering “Come All You Miners” and the more hopeful gospel standard “His Eye is on the Sparrow” were served as encores, underscoring the inspirational breadth of the set and the shared artistic vocabulary Fleck and Washburn have developed as a performance duo.

That the couple’s four year old son Juno joined them onstage for the finale as an onlooker rather than musical participant provided an inviting family accent. But let’s not forget the occasion, folks. This was Bela Fleck Day. Then again, that title pretty much applies to any day the foremost banjo innovator of our day returns to an old haunt of a hometown.

in performance: erika wennerstrom/mark charles heidinger

erika wennerstrom.

It took roughly 30 seconds for Erika Wennerstrom to establish the mood last night for her Soulful Space concert at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. While the solo acoustic framework of her 70 minute set, as well as its generally light melodic tone, suggested a folk scenario, the show opening “Gravity” had the Austin-by-way-of-Cincinnati songstress emitting a massive, arresting vocal moan. Together with the church’s astonishing acoustics, the results sounded otherworldly. The sound shaped the song’s opening line (“I want to grow old gracefully”), but it was the purity and immediacy of her voice that grabbed your attention. It was like country music from the Twilight Zone meeting folk musings designed in an echo chamber.

It wasn’t the fact that Wennerstrom’s repertoire leaned heavily on unfamiliar material – specifically, seven tunes from a debut solo album due out in March. It wasn’t the overriding themes of renewal and self-help prevalent within “Extraordinary Love,” “Letting Go” and “Be Good to Yourself.” Accomplished and uplifting as those songs were – and sonically removed as they were from the more intensely electric songs fashioned with her long running band Heartless Bastards – the most enticing aspect of this nicely direct and intimate show was Wennerstrom’s singing. It reflected modest country elongation at times and a beautifully clipped, punctuated vocal structure at others, especially within passages that sailed away from lyrics altogether into wordless refrains and codas that were more like conjurings at a séance rather than affirmations from a proven indie rock stylist.

Wennerstrom seldom veered from the musical aphorisms serving as vehicles for her mammoth singing. One notable exception was the show closing “Sway,” one of three songs pulled from the Heartless Bastards back catalog. That one suggested how the summery sentiments stressed so vividly in her newer tunes might be just a tad out of reach for some. Otherwise, this was an evening of Heartless Bastards-with-heart music filled with a very natural, unwavering vocal bravado.

Vandaveer chieftain Mark Charles Heidinger was a surprise addition to last night’s bill. Like Wennerstrom, his fine solo set was devoted to new songs, all of which were getting their initial performance run.

There were Dylan echoes within “Giving in to Gravity” and “Blood Will Always Be,” but the most obvious muse at play was Tom Petty. Heidinger used a cover the late songsmith’s “Square One” to preface his own “Status Quo” and form a medley of elegant but quietly devastating reflection. Hang that in your Christmas stocking.

in performance: kneebody

Kneebody. From left: Ben Wendel, Nate Wood, Adam Benjamin, Kaveh Rastegar and Shane Endsley.

Did anyone purchase candy for the show?”

That was the query of bass guitarist Kaveh Rastegar late into an engaging, inventive and refreshingly unassuming performance by Kneebody last night at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. No one raised their hands, but the crowd brought something far more complimentary to the 90 minute concert – a host of appreciative ears for this modern thinking jazz troupe from Los Angeles.

Though terms like “prog” and “fusion” have regularly been affixed to Kneebody’s music since the band formed in 2001, what the quintet displayed last night came across as more of a cross-generational jazz summit.

In the front line of tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley, the band had a strong traditional base. Both teamed for a host of appealing, jointly designed melodies, be they through the riffs that triggered “Profar” or the way the two bounced crisp lyrical phrases off each other during the intro to an encore version of “Nerd Mountain.”

In drummer Nate Wood, Kneebody had a potent core source for most of the material to work from, whether it was the rhythmic chatter scattered throughout “Carry On” or the crisp, rocking groove to “Uprising.” And in keyboardist Adam Benjamin, the band had the engineer of a vintage fusion sound rooted in leads and colors produced from a well worn Rhodes piano. But with a variety of accompanying pedals and effects, Benjamin also supplied the Morse code-like opening to “Unforeseen Influences” as well as the more ambient cosmos that served as a backdrop for Endsley’s playing during “Carry On.”

That left Rastegar, who was the efficiency expert of the band, to supply a foundation for all kinds of orchestrations – especially the solemn but soulful groove that anchored “Mikie Lee” and a subsequent bass solo that, with the help of a modest percussive drive supplied by Wood, emphasized groove over flash.

In short, this third performance in the inaugural Origins Jazz Series (and its first presentation of a national touring act) showcased an ensemble sound that followed the layered arrangements of Kneebody’s recent “Anti-Hero” album but with a density that was considerably more organic in design and execution.

Who needs candy when you have those kinds of treats working for you?

in performance: janet jackson

Janet Jackson. Photo by YuTsai.

Janet Jackson got down to business the instant the lights went down last night for her first Rupp Arena concert in over 16 years.

First up was a newsreel-style montage of images underscoring a world riddled by racism, violence and environmental strife. Then a screen lifted just enough for the singer, decked out in layers of matronly black, a cane and a steely glare that was projected large enough for all of the 4,000 patrons gathered at Rupp to see. Such a stance made Jackson seem less like a pop star and more like a headmistress. Similarly, the lesson she imparted was “The Knowledge,” one of the many socially charged meditations from her 1989 album “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.”

“Get the point?” she asked the crowd. “Good. Let’s dance.”

That little interlude was from “Rhythm Nation,” too, as did the following “State of the World,” which gave her current 56 city North American tour, of which Jackson is two weeks away from completing, its name. But by this point, the social vibe had already morphed into the first of four distinct sections that made up the concert – specifically, an intensely physical groove party that covered most of Jackson’s initial hits from her 1986 breakthrough album “Control.” The singer didn’t shy away from the physicality the segment demanded, either. At 51, Jackson moved, danced and strutted with the tireless vigor of an artist half her age.

The second segment calmed things somewhat and presented Jackson sitting alone onstage to sing more pop-inflected works from the early 1990s, including “Where Are You Now” and “The Body That Loves You.” The dance team that initially helped her set the show in motion eventually returned, but the mood and rhythm was purposely less frantic. In fact, one of the program’s most arresting moments came when Jackson and her dancers sat on the lip of a stage platform for the 1997 tune “Together Again,” displaying a cordial, communal atmosphere that was refreshingly casual.

The mood turned rockish for the third segment as guitar squalls eventually led to a brief cameo by the singer’s late brother Michael Jackson by way of the 1995 video for “Scream.” But the groove quickly reassembled for sister Jackson to close out the set with the still-affirmative title song to “Rhythm Nation.”

The fourth segment was the encore section that allowed the singer to loosen up long enough to introduce her band and dance squad before zeroing in on the more modernistic groove of “Dammn Baby,” the evening’s most commanding entry from her newest album, 2015’s “Unbreakable.”

What worked through all this was Jackson’s still beaming performance profile. She remained a compelling presence onstage through all the various emotive stages that made up the concert. She proved a formidable dance chieftain and social commentator but also a sisterly companion for her onstage entourage during the show’s lighter moments.

What didn’t work was the singing. Whether it was the program’s often fearsome ensemble sound, its reliance on groove over lyrical play or simply the delicate nature of Jackson’s voice, it was tough to make out much of anything that came out of her mouth. Given the show’s reliance on near constant movement, it was almost as this was an accepted loss from the onset.

Also, it was a little disappointing to hear so many of Jackson’s vintage hits sliced into truncated versions and shoehorned into medleys. Granted, she has 30-plus years of material to fit into a program, and, yes, we’re all still part of the Rhythm Nation. But maybe chilling just a little to let at least a few of these still vital songs to play out a bit more would better service everyone – artist and audience alike.

in performance: kamasi washington

kamasi washington.

“Diversity is something to be celebrated.”

That was the message of Kamasi Washington, one of the most celebrated young jazzmen of his generation, as his time-tripping performance last night at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati headed for home. To bolster his words, the tenor saxophonist and an industrious seven member band that included his father, launched into “Truth,” a 15 minute treatise that combined the themes of five different tunes from his recent “Harmony of Difference” EP into a spacious, organic soul-jazz proclamation.

Washington has been a cultish sensation since the spring of 2015 when two key recordings established his distinction as a jazz artist while simultaneously redefining what that title even meant. His saxophone work on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” gave him almost immediate credibility among the pop and hip hop mainstream when the record was released that March. But it was Washington’s own “The Epic” – a sprawling three hour, three disc manifesto of bop, funk, soul and spiritually inclined pop issued two months later – that made jazz critics take notice.

Undeniably jazz in design and execution, “The Epic” avoided many of the music’s trademarks. There was swing, to be sure, but much of the music operated with a more rock and soul sense of groove, all of which played out during the Cincinnati performance. Thematically, “Leroy and Lanisha,” was introduced as a Peanuts-inspired piece that re-imagined the iconic comic strip being set in Washington’s California hometown of Inglewood. But with father Rickey Washington guesting on soprano sax and longtime trombonist Ryan Porter aiding in the orchestration of the band’s front line, the groove was largely left to keyboardist Brandon Coleman to percolate through clavinet-style riffs that, once locked in, sounded less like jazz-funk and more like 1980-era Talking Heads – a neat trick, since Washington’s group did not include a guitarist.

What has likely made Washington such a critical favorite over the past two years (the New York Times in 2016 dubbed him “the most talked-about jazz musician since Wynton Marsalis arrived on the New York scene three decades ago”) hasn’t been so much an allegiance to jazz tradition but a willingness to expand on its lyrical, rhythmic and even spiritual possibilities.

The Cincinnati performance emphasized all of that, but in a very old school way. It possessed the feel of urban-inspired jazz from the early 1970’s by touching on very modest electric embellishments (mostly though the Rhodes-style keyboard colors supplied by Coleman) and reserved vocal embellishments (supplied by a choir on “The Epic” and “Harmony of Difference” but by the singular voice of Patrice Quinn onstage). What resulted recalled the music Blue Note Records issued around 1971, when its preference turned away from the bop of a previous generation to R&B-enhanced pre-fusion music. Think Bobby Hutcherson crossed with Sun Ra, but with saxophone leading the way and get a sense of where Washington is coming from.

The Cincinnati show was also remarkable for its ensemble feel. Washington may have been the leader, but solos were often catered more to a group-devised groove as opposed to any individual grandstanding.

That was especially evident during “Humility” (which, along with “Truth,” came from “Harmony of Difference”). Here, father-and-son Washington along with Porter, summoned a joyously fierce brass charge that played neatly off of a driving piano lead from Coleman that possessed the percussive boldness of early ‘70s era McCoy Tyner. As a result, funk and soul were de-emphasized in favor of driving swing.

While Washington’s embrace of diversity was underscored through the performance’s stylistically broad jazz scope, it was placed on full thematic display in the show-closing “The Rhythm Changes.” As sung by Quinn, the lyrics served as internal and social affirmations, even though the last word went to Washington with a tenor sax solo that bounced about with boppish freshness and unassuming, cordial accessibility.

Kamasi Washington performs in the region again at 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd. in Louisville. Tickets: $32-$95. Call 502-584-8088 or go to headlinerslouisville.com/event/kamasi-washington.

in performance: henry butler

Henry Butler. Photo by David Richmond.

At several points during his scholarly soulful solo performance last night at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville, Henry Butler discussed his driving and prospective piloting prowess with the audience. At one point, he even suggested he might someday move to Kentucky to start a taxi service for inebriated revelers. His reasoning? That drunk customers would neither know nor care he was blind.

Such self-effacing remarks were part of the demeanor for this veteran New Orleans pianist and song stylist, but they were also a collective reflection of something more demonstrative – that the blindness Butler has dealt with since infancy has in no way hindered a performance career that has stretched on for nearly a half century or a level of musicianship that still sounded exact and playful during this 75 minute concert.

Butler’s repertoire through the decades has been far reaching, but the bulk of this performance stayed close to home with roughly half of the program focused on works from, or inspired by, three of his famed New Orleans piano brethren – James Booker, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint.

From Booker, he developed a left hand stride that syncopated “Les Près Des James” (a Butler penned tribute to Booker) and “Booker Time” with an effervescence that could viewed as a precursor to piano boogie woogie. From one time mentor Longhair, he offered a wild exercise in rhythm within “Tipitina” that employed deceptively nonsense lyrics (“Tipitina, oola malla walla dalla”) to enforce the tune’s immensely animated feel. “If you’re looking for meaning in these lyrics,” Butler said, “chill out.” Finally, from the mighty Toussaint, Booker exacted songcraft in the form of the pop/blues staple “Working in a Coal Mine.”

But there were also moments when Butler, and the striking profile he cast as his long spidery fingers hit the keys, let the music open enough to stroll away from Crescent City. That’s what happened in the show-opening original “Samba C,” which sounded like Chick Corea had his sense of jazz glee been rooted in the South. You also heard it as staples like “In My Solitude” and “Rock Island Line” took sudden dashes in and around their familiar melodies.

The most telling summation of all these traits, however, coalesced in an encore cover of the 1973 Billy Preston hit “Will it Go ‘Round in Circles.” It began as a slow, mournful and wholly unrecognizable blues with Butler’s usually buoyant singing held to a mere whisper. Then the music stopped, shifted gears and re-emerged as the party piece Preston always envisioned it as, but with a proud New Orleans accent Butler can proudly claim as his own.

Such a mash-up exemplified the studious but mischievous adventures that result when Butler takes the wheel.

in performance: st. paul and the broken bones

 

Paul Janeway leads the soul music charge of St. Paul and the Broken Bones last night at the Opera House. Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

As last night’s pop-soul parade by St. Paul and the Broken Bones headed for home at the Opera House, singer and frontman Paul Janeway discovered one of the more novel ways to exit and then re-enter the stage. In the midst of the anthemic “Broken Bones and Pocket Change,” the singer, having jettisoned his gold-and-glitter shoes, hit the stage floor and crawled under the drum riser. After a few neatly dispensed verses sung, in effect, in absentia, Janeway rolled back into view, wrapping himself in a stage mat along the way. And there you had one of the more curious concert snapshots in recent memory – an artist belting out a tune with sturdy high tenor detail but looking like he had been swallowed by a roll of carpet.

Admittedly, that was perhaps the most extreme moment in a 100 minute performance that marked the return of the celebrated Alabama band that played some of its first road gigs in Lexington at the old Willie’s Locally Known on North Broadway. But Janeway was an altogether different singer in this return visit, the first of a two night engagement at the Opera House (tonight’s second show is sold out). Gone were the throatier, raspier tones that surfaced when he would exert his voice. On display instead was a richer, cleaner and far more expressive set of pipes that Janeway immediately put to use on the show-opening “Crumbling Light Posts, Pt. 1,” an ambient, but gospel-hued meditation where his vocals rose from a confident high tenor to a very Prince-ly falsetto.

While Janeway and company revisited a few choice favorites from their 2014 debut album “Half the City” (including a buoyant “Grass is Greener,” which emphasized the extent to which the Alabama-bred Broken Bones’ ensemble sound is stylistically rooted in Memphis soul), the performance gave heavy preference to the 2016 sophomore record “Sea of Noise,” a denser, darker work from which the band played 11 compositions.

Among the highlights were the cool, big beat crooner “Brain Matter” (which, oddly enough, used an abridged cover of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” as an intro), the organically funkified “Flow with It (You Got Me Feeling Like)” and the sunnier “Tears in the Diamond.” The latter showcased the most detectable current inspiration in Janeway’s singing, Al Green.

Even with the Broken Bones’ history in Lexington, it is understandable to be wary of an all-white soul band from the South. But Janeway and company were no imitators of an often co-opted musical tradition. The set-closing “Sanctify” and the show-closing encore of “Burning Rome,” both wonderfully paced slow soul pieces, amply borrowed from rockish accents supplied by guitarist Browan Lollar and the vintage R&B orchestration of a three-man horn team.

The results could also be viewed as a vindication of sorts. In a week where Alabama has taken a beating in the headlines for the doings of an altogether different representative, Janeway can be viewed as something of a cultural hero. Come to think of it, he might just be the kind of write-in candidate his home state needs. Everyone says we need new voices in Washington. Well, Alabama, here’s your chance to send one.

in performance: “the gift of a golden voice” – the leonard cohen tribute concert

leonard cohen.

Derek Spencer couldn’t help but comment on the “rowdiness” of the capacity crowd before him at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd for last night’s Leonard Cohen tribute concert titled “The Gift of a Golden Voice.” The joke, of course, is that the audience had greeted the Beattyville native – and all of the baker’s dozen of acts gathered for the event – with attentive quiet. Cohen’s music demanded nothing less.

A joint endeavor between First Presbyterian Church’s Music for Mission series and the ongoing lineup of Soulful Space concerts presented at Good Shepherd, the program was a rich and stylistically far reaching overview of the songs and poetry of the Canadian songsmith who died a year ago this week.

Is a church – any church – a proper setting for Cohen’s songs? Judging at least by the music chosen for this program, one would have to answer in the affirmative. Some of his works chosen were overtly religious, like the title tune to his final album, “You Want it Darker” – a requiem of sorts performed with meditative unrest by Doc Feldman, but countered by stunning high end harmonies of Hebrew verse (and a chorus translated from Hebrew) by Art Shechet. Others, like “The Land of Plenty,” also from “You Want It Darker” and performed with stately assurance by Marilyn Robie and the chamber-folk flavored ensemble Nevi’im, cast religious imagery in less obtainable and more topically sobering terms (“For the millions in a prison that wealth has set apart, for the Christ who has not risen from the caverns of the heart”).

Mostly, though, “The Gift of a Golden Voice” charmed in simpler ways – namely, in how the program showcased how wildly adaptable Cohen music can be. Last night there was a chilled, solo electric version of the classic “Suzanne” from Colin Fleming, a striking “Amen” from Four Leonards (and a Fifth) that grew from Cowboy Junkies-like cool to a roaring blues manifesto and a very intriguing take on “Anthem” by JoAnna James that unlocked the deceptively hushed tone of her singing with a playful string arrangement that eventually relaxed so one of Cohen’s most radiant lyrics could be placed front and center (“There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light get in”).

The only times the program was thrown off balance was when an artist devised an arrangement or delivery that placed their voice above Cohen’s. The Paper Moon Jazz Trio conjured a lively sense of blues based swing that, while technically impressive, proved an ill fit for the uneasy grace inherent to  “Bird on a Wire.” But on “Everybody Knows,” the group’s sense of sleek sass floated along quite naturally with the song’s whimsical doomsday vision (“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed; everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost”).

The evening concluded with a collaborative version of “Hallelujah” – a proclamation not just of faith, but of humanity and lost souls. Hearing the audience sing the tune’s single word title chorus in such a serene setting was undeniably moving. There must have been a crack somewhere in the Good Shepherd walls as the song played out because an ample supply of light found it way in from the cold November night.

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