Archive for in performance

in performance: orchid quartet

Orchid Quartet. From left, Desiree Hazley, Molly Rogers, Kiara Ana Perico and Leah Metzler.

As an initial Friday evening greeting to a homecoming audience, Frankfort native Molly Rogers cued up some solo Bach on the violin as the other members of the Orchid Quartet sat armed and ready to join in at the Grand Theatre.

An artist infatuated for much of her career with film scores and themes (her many credits include touring with Oscar/Grammy winning composer Hans Zimmer), it was a good bet Rogers chose Bach’s familiar “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” not for its classical heritage but for its dual life as an aural moodpiece in a healthy number of ‘70s era horror flicks. Regardless, the opening passage, which Rogers tackled alone, had little in common with classical tradition or Hollywood. It instead was played with a giddy, gypsy air, revealing a loose but pronounced sense of folk drama. As the other members – co-violinist Desiree Hazley, violist Kiara Ana Perico and cellist Leah Metzler – entered, a more expected spirit of Bach took hold with an assured classical ensemble feel. But for that opening moment, Rogers was into something different altogether.

As the evening unfolded, the Orchid Quartet flexed its stylistic muscle generously. For instance, what do you follow Bach with? Why, Guns N’ Roses, of course – specifically, a stately cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” that transformed Slash’s trademark guitar riff into a largely minimalist string arpeggio that recalled, of all groups, Penguin Café Orchestra.

There were television and film themes galore sliced and diced into playful medleys, including one with a suitably dark mashup of the themes from “The Walking Dead” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to cement the program’s agenda. But what one was mostly left with in listening to the Orchid Quartet wasn’t so much the relationship between classical music and contemporary scores but a rather less obvious link between classical and folk.

The evening’s most generous classical offering, Dvorak’s “String Quartet in F Major,” underscored the work’s generous nod to folk melody and structure (hence the piece’s subtitle “American Quartet”) by echoing, in places, the Gershwin staple “Summertime.” That proved a curious reference as the group tackled “Summertime” directly and separately in the program’s second set, replacing the tune’s bluesy resignation with a ghostly folk dexterity. And what better song arsenal to pull from for this classical-folk skirmish than an elegant one-two punch of “Danny Boy” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Of course, all of this couldn’t help but play second fiddle (pun intended) to Rogers’ return to Frankfort. Now based in Los Angeles, she had it all on Friday – homecoming queen honors and the teamwork of three daring pals that transformed string quartet expectations into an inviting classical-folk travelogue.

in performance: brian krock’s liddle

Brian Krock. Photo by Desmond White.

Brian Krock wound down the live version of his quartet liddle at J. Gumbo’s Lex on Wednesday evening with the same kind of elegant exhaling that distinguishes the band’s newly released, self-titled album. Not coincidentally, it was the same composition that fueled the finish. The tune was “Please Stop,” a work that utilized a loop-like ambience from guitarist Olli Hirvonen that astonishingly recalled the mid ‘70s experimentation of Robert Fripp. With the electric atmospherics setting the mood, Krock soloed on clarinet with prayer-like spaciousness that made the piece sound like a requiem. Then bassist Marty Kenney joined in, bolstering the soundscape with an almost proggish feel.

It was a sumptuous conclusion to the performance, but also a mere snapshot among a two-set scrapbook of tunes liddle showcased on the J. Gumbo’s patio as the chill of a late spring evening set in.

Much of the liddle music came from the “liddle” album, including a fascinating take on Anthony Braxton’s “Composition No. 23b,” which began with surprisingly boppish animation before the playing gleefully splintered. Then there were the cyclical riffs Krock created on alto sax during “Knuckle Hair” that served as momentary fireworks before the ensemble sound deconstructed. That’s when Hirvonen took the wheel to summon the spirit of another guitar giant, the great Norwegian composer and improviser Terje Rypdal. The resulting music all but surrendered to rock-inspired mischief.

There were several new, unrecorded compositions, as well, which Krock said he hopes to incorporate into a live recording at the end of liddle’s current tour. Among them was “I Am a Worm,” a treatise on clarinet/guitar-led grooves that neatly dissolved into a series of band skirmishes deflating under keen bowed bass lines from Kenney.

Curiously, the performance also began with the same music that introduces the “liddle” album – namely, a giddy tune titled “(flip)” that bounced about the patio with Zappa-like abandon before briefly relaxing enough for the music to shift between Krock’s tightly efficient improving on alto and Hirvonen’s arsenal of jazz-friendly power chords.

All in all, a fun and engaging evening of forward-thinking jazz in an inviting new venue setting.

in performance: california guitar trio and montreal guitar trio

California Guitar Trio and Montreal Guitar Trio, from left: Bert Lams (CGT), Sebastien Dufour (MGT), Marc Morin (MGT), Hideyo Moriya (CGT), Glenn Levesque (MGT) and Paul Richards (CGT).

On paper, the blend of the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio would seem an oil-and-vinegar proposition. The CGT is a classically disciplined and stylistically adventurous group whose often Zen-like stage persona mirrors a natural musical curiosity triggered decades ago under the tutelage of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. The MGT is more purposely brash, seemingly inspired by the percussive might of flamenco and myriad folk inspirations (its newest album, “Danzas” is essentially a meshing of all that with an occasional jazz flourish).

But onstage, and on the fine new “In a Landscape” recording, a rich, playful and ultimately complimentary camaraderie emerges. On Friday evening at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville, the two (mostly) acoustic trios began by playing separately to introduce their specific musical platforms. The MGT went first with the dramatic, dizzying meshing of Al Di Meola’s “Mediterranean Sundance” and Paco De Lucia’s “Rio Ancho” with the CGT countering with a typically effortless genre-hopping excursion that took the group from the Dick Dale tribute within “Misirlou” to the contemplative Paul Richards original “Euphoria” to the classical majesty of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”

But it was the closing set where both trios teamed that the sparks really flew. Aside from the almost Croatian sounding “Breizh Tango” (with MGT member Glenn Levesque briefly switching to mandolin) and a profoundly giddy, folk dance-informed take on Ennio Morricone’s theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (with MGT members Sebastien Dufour and Marc Morin switching to charango and accordion, respectively), the collaboration focused on music from “In a Landscape.” And, musically, the resulting landscape was vast and varied.

Levesque’s “New Horizons” possessed a reserved, cinematic grace with a chattering percussive foundation while CGT mainstay Hideyo Moriya offered the dark textures and fierce, rolling tempos of the original “Fortune Island” (along with a stark spoken intro explaining his personal investment in the song’s inspiration that brought immediate quiet to the audience).

Both trios have reputations for mutating cover material to fit their string-savvy means. Here, there did so again, but in very respectful fashion with a serene yet modestly melancholy version of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” and a faithful, show-closing update of the David Bowie staple “Space Oddity.” Both tunes added strong vocal leads from  Levesque, to make this adventurous six-man guitar squad part fusion band, part pop/folk group and part classical ensemble. The blending of those traits, along with the trios’ wonderfully disparate onstage personalities, made the program something of a boundless guitar joyride.

in performance: pink

Pink, during an earthbound moment Thursday night at Rupp Arena. Herald Leader photo by Alex Slitz.

Oh, that Pink. She thinks she is sooooo above everyone else.

Well, for an impressive portion of a carnival-worthy performance Thursday evening at Rupp Arena, she was – about 30 feet above. No sooner did a set of massive curtains part (take a wild guess what color they were) than the pop juggernaut was seen swinging on a makeshift chandelier, crawling up, down and upside down with the agility of a spider as an eight member band and a very physically fortified dance squad kicked the program off with, fittingly, “Get the Party Started.”

What Pink executed from that point on was a spectacle that was almost continually in motion. Set pieces, including a pack of warped streetlights that looked like were hoisted from a Salvador Dali painting, were tugged about the set during “Beautiful Trauma,” a four poster bed again set the singer airborne for the monster hit ballad “Just Give Me a Reason” and a creepy excursion through the nocturnal outdoors during “Try” became the visual blend of “Into the Woods” crossed with Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bette.” Yes, it was that strange and stunning.

All of this, though, only provided a taste of how the production aspect of the concert played out. In many ways, Pink herself was the show’s keenest special effect by serving as ringmaster for this very engaging pop circus, exhibiting a Herculean level of physical stamina in the process. She also, when the show decelerated enough from the visuals to let you focus squarely on the music, emerged as a vocalist with equally tireless bravado.

In fact, it wasn’t until late in the evening that Pink took enough of a breather to actually converse with the audience of 17,000. That fell in the middle of an extended run of tunes from her 2017 album, “Beautiful Trauma” – in particular, “For Now” and “Barbies,” works she co-penned with show opener Julia Michaels. The later sported a stripped-down quartet version of her band backing her on the lip of a ramp that circled through the arena floor.

There was also the matter of the persona Pink presented onstage. At work here was a mother of two who will turn 40 later this year, so there was no mistaking the very real empowerment she was representing. Sure, there was a sexual element to some of the show, as in yet another aerial sequence that sent the singer and a male dancer into a series of gymnastic embraces in mid-air during “Secrets.” But that was just one element of many. Just as commanding was a film clip sandwiched between “Just Like Fire” and “What About Us” that spoke about gender and social equality in very matter-of-fact terms.

But there was humor, too. “Revenge” was prefaced by another film, a claymation clip for a nightmarish theme park called “Revenge Land” that was great fun. Then as the song played out, a towering puppet version of Eminem (Pink’s collaborator on the recorded version of the song) journeyed down the stage runway. That sent the singer, where else, back into the air so she could punch the Kong-sized rapper right in the kisser.

Wrap all this up and what you had, aside from an immensely entertaining production, was a very distinctive slant on the conventional female pop star. With a touch of age and worldliness working very much in her favor, Pink was far removed from the typical, video-savvy dance-pop pin-up. Instead, she came off more as the cool mom – the kind that let you stay up late and maybe told a saucy joke but never took her eyes off you.

in performance: regina carter and xavier davis

Regina Carter.

The depth and imagination of Regina Carter’s playing Friday evening at First Presbyterian Church came not in her stunning technical command on violin, her equally arresting tone or even her extraordinary phrasing – although all of those attributes certainly propelled this final performance in the current seasons of the Music for Mission program and Origin Jazz Series.

No, what fascinated above all was the communication she established with longtime pianist Xavier Davis. Near the duo program’s intermission, the two slipped out of their otherwise traditional and complimentary roles of featured artist and accompanist by engaging in a level of sparring where each player pushed the other. There were hints of gospel and swing, but mostly it was an exchange of immediacy – a series of skirmishes, skips and slaps that established a playfulness and communal spirit that countered the concert’s abundant musicality. Carter and Davis seemed thrilled by the dialogue with each beaming broad smiles as the set closed.

Such conversing took on many forms throughout the performance. On Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” the duo’s mutual lyricism grew achingly subtle with classical, gypsy and, of course, tango flourishes. For the Stevie Wonder staple “Higher Ground,” the music grew out of funky left hand piano rumbles by Davis that distantly echoed the mischievousness and bent rhythms of Bud Powell while Carter went on a field trip, incorporating an almost Eastern accent at times into the groove. And on the show-opening take on “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” (inspired by Nat King Cole’s 1957 version with violinist Stuff Smith), the duo format for the evening was discreetly established in the luxurious pace and tone of Carter’s playing along with the remarkably keen and complimentary support Davis supplied in his comping.

Want more? How about a summery and suitably conversational version of Hoagy Carmichael’s somewhat obscure “Judy” that Carter introduced by playing a recorded snippet on her phone of the composer singing the tune. The song later faded to a beautiful piano whisper from Davis that set the stage for Carter’s reentrance with a delicate, distant tone that resembled a whistle more than a violin.

Oh, and how about a gentle and spacious reading of “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” that ended the show by gliding into a requiem-like “Danny Boy” and a beautifully stoic “Amazing Grace” where the pastoral quiet of the church served as a silent but profound participant. You get the picture, right?

in performance: the chicago plan/keefe jackson, christoph erb, jason roebke and tim barnes

Steve Swell of The Chicago Plan. Photo by John Rogers.

Jazz became a music that literally brought people together – well, at least the ones onstage Tuesday evening at the University of Kentucky’s Niles Gallery – as the Outside the Spotlight series concluded a mammoth month-long run of five concerts on Tuesday evening.

It began with two esteemed reed players – Keefe Jackson from Chicago and Christoph Erb from Switzerland – at opposite ends of the Niles Gallery stage area. Jackson was stage left, using a chair as a resting perch for his left leg as he shot out short, punctured phrases on tenor saxophone. Erb was seated stage right, his soprano sax pointing to the ceiling as if the instrument possessed sonar abilities. That began a rumbling exhortation with bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tim Barnes that sounded like a locomotive coming to life. Once its did, the quartet – which was in the midst of its first gig a group, although smaller pairings of the players have collaborated in the past – ripped through three extended improvisations. Each shifted in tone from subtle dissolve to thunderous deconstruction.

All of it was remarkably inventive, from passages where Barnes dragged a pair of china cups across the wooden gallery floor for percussive effect to a high octave drone from Erb (this time on tenor) that produced an oscillating, almost electronic effect. By the close of the third improv, Roebke moved his double bass directly behind Barnes as Jackson gradually edged over to Erb’s side, sandwiching the four players within inches of each other as the music took on a stark, funereal tone.

The co-billed quartet The Chicago Plan, a unit fronted by another pair of cross-continental horn men – Steve Swell from New York and Gebhard Ullmann from Germany – finished off the program with music that worked from primarily composed material laced with generous doses of free improvisation. Two familiar OTS teammates, cellist Fred Lonberg Holm and drummer Michael Zerang – completed the lineup.

Opening with Ullman’s “Variations on a Master Plan # 1,” (what a pity, as the band’s fine, self-titled debut album only features the second and third parts), the four used a spacious, muted trombone run from Swell to trigger general group frenzy before Lonberg-Holm kicked into a turbulent groove. The results bordered on New Orleans style street funk (mostly through Zerang’s drumming) before imploding and reassembling.

The rest of the set possessed a darker sentiment – hence Swell’s set-closing “Composite #3,” a requiem of sorts for the 50 victims of the March mass shooting in New Zealand. Both Ullman and Swell settled in for meaty solos that underscored the tune’s inherent drive. But as Ullman guided the music home on bass clarinet, the remaining three players provided an almost elegiac trio backdrop where chamber style composition was countered by an anticipated reality check of ensemble fracture.

in performance: keigo hirakawa trio

keigo hirakawa.

It was until a set closing version of “Stardust” that Keigo Hirakawa took a musical breath. Up to that point, his swiftly paced and even more briskly executed performance Saturday evening at Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Lounge (specifically, the first of two sets in this Origins Jazz Series presentation) darted along with a light, effortless but unrelenting drive.

In terms of flow, this Tokyo-born, but Dayton-based pianist, was like McCoy Tyner, but without the latter’s muscular, modal intensity. Nearly every corner of the seven compositions he played were filled with melodic swing and boppish mischief. It was technically dazzling, from the full – make that, very full – runs that distinguished the set opening “Myth of Poseidon” to the discreetly forceful fluidity and rhythmic playfulness that sparked the closing “Unmarked Path.”

But it wasn’t until “Stardust” that one sensed just how exhausting the performance was at times. There was likely a classical upbringing at work in Hirakawa’s playing to go along with an obvious and good-hearted playfulness. On an earlier cover of “Summertime,” Hirahawa threw out the playbook entirely, utilizing a tasteful bossa-flavored groove before slamming on the accelerator. On “Stardust,” though, you got a sense of space and dynamics that reached beyond the technical acceleration.

Bassist Eddie Brookshire and drummer Jeff Mellott had nuance to spare, especially Mellott, whose playing was full of light, but commanding color, whether it was through the tasteful propulsion underneath the piano attack on “Whatchamacallit” or the way he navigated through the turns and gradual melodic launch of “Home Somewhere.”

Brookshire’s playing was exquisite – what could be heard of it. Hirakawa played an electric piano, but with a sound that mimicked a grand as opposed to, say a Fender Rhodes. Still, the modest amplification and busy piano comping robbed the audience of the attractive detail in Brookshire’s soloing. It was only during the first half of “Summertime” that some of the rubbery depth of the bassist’s playing could be appreciated.

Obviously, an electric keyboard was favored for its portability, but a modification to the volume might have helped bring out the complete color of this fine trio. Hirokawa may have been the pilot, but this was a group where everyone deserved to be fully heard.

in performance: rempis/lopez/packard

Brandon Lopez, Dave Rempis and Ryan Packard, Photo by Erika Raberg,

With every band that brings Dave Rempis to Lexington – and in the 17 year history of the Outside the Spotlight series, there have been a dozen or more – has come an almost expected level of musical combustion. The Chicago saxophonist brings not only a fierce physicality to his playing, but a level of fearlessness within the intensity of his improvising that makes the temperament of his musicianship all the more volatile.

That was certainly the case with a new trio he brought to an OTS performance at the Kentucky School on Tuesday evening. Aided by New York bassist Brandon Lopez and Chicago drummer Ryan Packard (last seen here as part of another Rempis trio, Gunwale, in 2016), the saxophonist summoned the trademark volcanic intensity, whether it was through bold, corrosive jabs on alto saxophone, the scalding wail he worked up to on tenor or the layers of baritone color that filled the Kentucky School like an approaching fog.

But the difference in the Rempis/Lopez/Packard trio proved to be dynamics. Part of that came from the rest of the group, be it the fractured ambience Packard added on melodica and some primitive electronics (like a single amplified speaker that created a variety of curious distortions when placed on a drum head) and the extensive bowed bass vocabulary Lopez would regularly call upon over the course of the hour-long set’s three extended improvisations.

Mostly, though, what distinguished this group were the ways those dynamics mingled with Rempis’ playing. That especially came into focus during the program’s final improv, highlighted by a drone-like unison of bowed bass and baritone sax that became oddly but beautifully harmonic. Then the finale blissed out with Packard reducing the percussion to quietly tribal rhythms implemented by mallets before the entire set came to a spacious, almost meditative landing.

Rempis confided after the show that snippets of Thelonious Monk tunes and even a portion of the standard “April in Paris” where slipped in at various points, but none were outwardly detectable save for a general Monk-like playfulness in the ensemble interplay. What was instead apparent was a tireless improviser in full muscular form. But this time, he also showed just how intense a little hushed unrest can be alongside all the fireworks.

in performance: tim daisy and raleigh dailey

Tim Daisy.

About half way through a 20-minute duo improvisation, Tim Daisy let loose with a detonation on a drum head – a swift, sudden pronouncement that instantly shifted the mood and pace of what had been, up to that point, a loose and playfully fragmented exchange with pianist Raleigh Dailey. The effect and functionality of this outburst was like thunder. It was sudden, dramatic and tore open a space for the rains that followed. In this case, the storm was an exchange that briefly flirted with swing before later subsiding into percussive interplay that placed both players on mallets. For Daisy, that meant concocting almost tribal, code-like rhythms on drums. For Dailey, that meant transforming a grand piano into a more basic (but less obvious) percussion utensil as he rattled the mallets off the inside frame of the instrument.

Such was the sense of adventure undertaken Friday evening at the Niles Gallery on the University of Kentucky campus. This was home turf for Dailey, a familiar local jazz ambassador and educator with a sterling track record as an instrumentalist, arranger and composer, although he has been afforded few onstage opportunities to roar purely as an improviser. For Chicago drummer Daisy, Lexington long ago became a second performance home through numerous appearances in the Outside the Spotlight Series in over a dozen different ensemble settings (although this outing marked his first local visit in roughly two years).

Together, each played to their strengths – Daisy, as a tireless improviser constantly shifting between various brushes, sticks, cymbals and gongs in seemingly frenzied displays that regularly fell into an astonishing sense of drive and order. Dailey, a versed classical player, didn’t shy away from his background by utilizing a piano vocabulary both vast and versatile, from single note flourishes that countered Daisy’s wilder forays with almost minimalistic calm to broader, colorful flourishes that often reflected, despite their improvisational design, a compositional accessibility.

The duo improvisations constituted the second of the evening’s two sets. The first let both players go it alone. Daisy’s improv opened and closed with almost prayer-like rumblings on mallets interspersed with splinters of rhythms augmented by the curious electric static of a transistor radio – a device that laid in pieces on the gallery floor at the end of the evening. Dailey, again drawing on classical inspiration, used space and pace to guide his segment. While he didn’t draw upon free improvisation as regularly as Daisy, he offered numerous harmonic surprises. Among them was a fascinating one-man dialogue where Dailey’s left hand fueled a bright but subtle melodic stride while the right reached inside the piano to scratch the strings with a bottleneck slide.

It should be noted that the evening’s final duo improv was dedicated by Daisy to the great Kentucky visual artist Henry Faulkner and his famed “bourbon loving goat” Alice. Daisy was long ago accepted as a kind of honorary Lexingtonian, but nothing reaffirms one’s neighborhood appeal more concretely than acknowledging (and embracing) the local, folkloric legacy of a true artistic eccentric.

in performance: friends & neighbors

Friends & Neighbors. From left, Andre Roligheten, Oscar Gronberg, Jon Rune Strom, Thomas Johansson and Tollef Ostvang.

For a band from Norway, Friends & Neighbors began its Outside the Spotlight concert Saturday at the Kentucky School sounding remarkably American. Well, it did for about a minute or so.

Maybe it was a bit of a tease or simply a touch of tradition at play, but the introduction to the concert-opening ballad “Influx” employed the band’s traditional quintet instrumentation (trumpet, sax, piano, bass and drums) to provide a spaciousness that would not have been out of place in Miles Davis’ classic groups of the early and mid ‘60s. The atmosphere was cool and open while the band interplay seemed conversational. But Friends & Neighbors never fully boarded the flight to America. The tune, one of six pieces in an hour-long program devoted the new “What’s Next?” album, preferred to stay in a state of musical wanderlust, maintaining a setting where short bursts from trumpeter Thomas Johansson and tenor saxophonist Andre Roligheten colored a canvas where fragments of melody and a few boppish turns were enhanced in almost dance-like fashion by pianist Oscar Gronberg. The result was music that, despite the initial greeting, sounded solidly European.

Given its references to more free-oriented jazz (the band’s name comes from an overlooked 1972 album by Ornette Coleman), the rest of this very enjoyable set regularly operated from a strong compositional base, whether it was through the Monk-ish piano accents and deliciously fractured trumpet swing on “Mozart” or the way bassist Jon Rune Strom propelled the closing “Headway Heat” as much through the tension and tone of his playing as through groove.

Moments of pure abstraction were pretty much absent. Instead, “Kubrick’s Rude” let a bouncy, circular horn pattern play off a piano melody that sounded playfully classical while “Reflection” revisited the same hushed, ensemble spaciousness of “Influx.” Roligheten’s took a few modestly scalding turns on the latter, but that was as corrosive as this inviting performance got.

Adding to the charm of the evening was the setting. The performance was held outdoors at what was the Beer Garden at Al’s Bar (now part of the still-under-construction Kentucky School). The coolness of an early spring Saturday made Friends & Neighbors’ Euro-flavored music sound all the more, well, neighborly.

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