Archive for in performance

in performance: peter rowan/john jorgenson bluegrass band (j2b2)

peter rowan. photo by ronald rietman

Given the thematic distances separating Peter Rowan and the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band (J2B2) on their newest recordings, one might assume the only thing their co-billed appearances earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour had in common would have been an arsenal of stringed instruments. In the end, though, one inherently shared sound brought both acts together.
Any supposed distance was suggested by the songs Rowan shared from his new “My Aloha” album, a record that explores links between Hawaiian and American roots music. If his performances had adhered more to the Honolulu recording sessions with noted native artists that made up the album, then, yes, this would have been an evening of contrasts. But as Rowan performed either by himself or with members of J2B2 as accompanists, what you heard was far more in line with the bluegrass-bred Americana music Rowan has cultivated for decades.
Sure, one of the newer tunes, “My Aloha (Appalachian Mountain Home)” reached out from one shore to another in its storyline to become possibly the only song ever written to reference Mother Maybelle Carter and Queen Lili’uokalani side by side. Similarly, “My Blue Hula Girl,” aided by J2B2 guitarist Patrick Sauber, sported a high, spirited Rowan vocal that suggested the yodeling that has frequented his more Americana inclined songs through the years.

john jorgenson. photo by piper ferguson.

Jorgenson’s crew, aided by veteran West Coast songsmith (and the bandleader’s one-time co-hort in the Desert Rose Band) Herb Pedersen, covered all the bluegrass essentials, from the three part harmonies that drove “Beautiful Sound” to the brisk instrumental sparring during “Ridin’ on the L&N” (with guitarist Jorgenson playing predominantly on mandolin). But other tunes – Paul Craft’s “Midnight Flyer,” the Emmylou Harris/Guy Clark eulogy “Bang the Drum Slowly” and even Pedersen’s oft-covered, road weary weeper “Wait a Minute” steered J2B2 closer to a very natural, folk-fueled country blend.
With all the promotional focus on new albums, it was a treat to hear Rowan toss in two of his signature tunes, “Panama Red” and “Midnight Moonlight,” as full collaborations with J2B2. Rowan could have sleepwalked through both works if he chose to and still won over the crowd. But whether it was the fresh instrumental fire Jorgensen’s crew triggered or Rowan’s own ageless performance vigor, both songs reflected a sense of onstage camaraderie that no stylistic or thematic demarcation could dilute.

The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band (J2B2) performs again on May 9 at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café, 235 W. Broadway in Frankfort (7 p.m., $25).

 

in performance: roughhousing

jack wright of roughhousing.

About the only hint of definition Jack Wright offered prior to last night’s Outside the Spotlight performance by Roughhousing at Broomwagon Bikes + Coffee was that the group was equally at home spelling its name with either one word or two. Beyond that, the free jazz trio was presented as a blank canvas that was soon painted with color and noise over two Derby evening sets played against the storefront’s windows, outside of which a spectacular post-rain sunset offered artful décor all its own.

A veteran saxophonist and improviser from Philadelphia, Wright was perhaps the most accessible voice within Roughhousing. With acoustic bassist Evan Lipson (who was also with Wright at his last OTS concert, an April 2015 date with the trio Wrest) and guitarist Zachary Darrup coercing a vocabulary of abstract and essentially unnatural sounds out of their instruments by slapping them, punching them and inserting all manner of devices over and under their strings, Wright sat quite placidly in the center conjuring more patient musicality from soprano and, eventually, alto saxophone. As each set was entirely improvised, any lyrical or even compositional sensibility was absent. But his tone was remarkably inviting all the same. There were a few dissonant honks and corrosive whispers, but mostly the reed music sounded like a fractured mantra with rolls of notes that bounced about briefly before being recalled, reshaped and sent on their way again. Wright varied his tone on occasion by playing the open bell of the sax against his leg. But the meditative feel of his playing never wavered.

Lispon, though a far more aggressive player, often seemed to play in tandem with Wright, especially through elongated, bowed lines that oddly complimented the alto sax passages near the end of the first set. In contrast, Darrup seemed in his own universe, using the guitar more as a percussive device. His ideas for coloring the trio’s soundscapes were discarded almost as quickly as they were triggered. Add to that a constant tinkering with the amplifier and what resulted sounded tentative and often intrusive – an uncertain electric jolt to a more naturally uneasy acoustic exchange that probably would have worked equally well, if not better, had guitar been jettisoned altogether.

 

in performance: jason isbell and the 400 unit/william tyler

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, from left: Jimbo Hart, Derry deBorja, Sadler Vaden, Jason Isbell and Chad Gamble. Photo by Danny Clinch.

There is nothing unusual in a national performer namedropping a regionally friendly reference to gain favor from the audience he happens to be playing to on a given evening. Jason Isbell didn’t really need that kind of ceremony last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. The very human narrative of his songs, their broad stylistic appeal and the effortlessly forthright manner in which they were placed on display more than heartened the sold out crowd. But Isbell, an Alabama native now residing in Nashville, still had a neighborly whopper of a yarn to share. While no amount of detail here would do it justice, the story dealt with meeting Kentucky native Wynonna Judd in a state of sobering flamboyance and then recounting the tale to an unsuspecting (and disbelieving) Supercuts barber in Richmond yesterday afternoon.

The saga was a detailed and curious interlude during a performance that roared very efficiently for 1 ¾ hours, from the opening electric rumble of “Go It Alone” to the full tilt encore finale of “Super 8.” The framework was very much rock ‘n’ roll, but with considerable dynamics and dimension, like the Cajun accents that offset the wayward characterizations of “Codeine,” the breezy but bittersweet lyrical momentum of “Alabama Pines” and the comparatively blunt jams that circulated through “Never Gonna Change,” one of three tunes pulled from Isbell’s more reckless days with Drive-By Truckers.

But the sentiments and, quite often, sensibility of Isbell’s tunes – especially recent ones from his “Southwestern” and “Something More Than Free” albums, which accounted for over half of the setlist last night – fell closer to country. Specifically, they hinted not so much at an embrace of rural heritage, but the fear of losing it. You heard it echo within the descending power chords of “Outfit” (another Truckers favorite) and in the more summery makeup of “If It Takes a Lifetime.” “I got too far from my raising,” he sang in the latter amid one of the evening’s gentler country melodies before a more personal sense of salvation took over.

In terms of performance, the entire blend was delivered with considerable clarity. Some vocal passages were blurred, especially at the start and conclusion of the performance. That was a modest annoyance, perhaps, as live rock shows go, but noticeable nonetheless because of the very complete sense of storytelling that runs through Isbell’s songs. But there were also times when you couldn’t help but follow the concert in purely musical terms, as when Isbell’s jolting slide guitar solo ignited “Decoration Day” or a stark acoustic intro set up the hurricane strength intensity of the vocal lead that fortified “Cover Me Up.”

Most telling of all was “Hope the High Road,” a cross between a Jackson Browne confessional and a vintage blast of John Mellencamp-style, Americana imbued rock. The song was one of two preview works off of Isbell’s new “The Nashville Sound” album, due out in June. The joke, of course, was that for all of the program’s inherent country inspiration, what resulted was far too earnest in design and intent to be mistaken for anything that has been spewing out of Nashville of late. Maybe what we heard last night in Richmond was a serious step in redefining that sound. Here’s hoping.

Guitarist William Tyler opened the evening with an inviting 45 minute set of trio-based instrumental music. While a few turns on acoustic guitar (including “Kingdom of Jones”) reflected a sense of Americana primitive that wasn’t far removed from the playing of such folk journeymen as John Fahey, a selection of electric compositions emphasized rhythm in arpeggio-like phrasings that bordered on minimalism. Then again, the set closing “The Great Unwind” began with Celtic-flavored solemnity before warping against a slight-of-hand groove that was more in line with the music of modernists like Bill Frisell. It nicely completed an intriguing, inviting preface to Isbell’s more expansive Americana joyride.

 

in performance: peter evans septet

Peter Evans Septet, from left: Levy Lorenzo, Peter Evans, Jim Black, Tom Blancarte, Mazz Swift, Ron Stabinsky and Sam Pluta.

“Start living.” That was the advice Peter Evans gave at the onset of his Outside the Spotlight performance earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. Depending of your perspective, such a preface could be seen a sign of assuredness or an invitation to arrogance. Perhaps fittingly, the music the New York trumpeter unveiled in the 80 minute program that followed was a bit of both.

To begin with, the entire concert consisted of one extended, untitled (or, at least, unannounced) piece that balanced composed sections with improvisational passages that ebbed and flowed with the sometimes weighty involvement of the former approach and the more intriguing spaciousness of the latter.

The primary exponents introduced early in the set were electronics – the kinds of oscillating, neo-industrial colors that gave the performance a seething pulse at some points and a more intrusive, robotic feel at others that flew in the face of the more organic improvisations. That two of the septet players were devoted to these designs – Levy Lorenzo (who doubled on percussion) and Sam Pluta with a keyboardist, Rob Stabinsky, who regularly dabbled on synths – might suggest textures of sounds were in the making. But with few exceptions, the electronics had a largely leaden feel.

In direct contrast was violinist Mazz Swift, bassist Tom Blancarte and, to a lesser extent, Evans himself, whose collective sounds morphed more readily as the work flirted between dissonance and groove. Swift was masterful at this, blending unobtrusively with the electronics but also creating an appealing harmony with Blancarte when the latter played with a bow.

It was especially interesting hearing Evans in this kind of setting, as the sounds he summoned on trumpet and piccolo trumpet (often in quick succession) seldom sought out the horns’ expected tonal range, favoring percussive punctures and breathy scratches just as often. But as the piece began to wind down, Evans let loose and soloed off a groove established by Swift, Blancarte and Lorenzo (on, of all things, triangle), largely shedding the cold electronic stagnation that often loaded down the septet for music that was lighter and more approachable, but no less adventurous.

After the many lulls, builds and deconstructions, the piece came to no apparent conclusion and stopped cold.

“We hoped we helped you,” Evans offered as a parting message, ending the evening in a manner just as offsetting as the one that started it.

 

in performance: california guitar trio

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

“You are about to witness a very strange thing,” remarked Paul Richards as he, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya – collectively known as the California Guitar Trio – were about to embark on a journey down what was being promised as an unexpected musical offramp.

But little about the CGT could be considered an expectation – not the unassuming stage demeanor that offset a wildly versed and versatile technical command and certainly not the instrumental makeup of three acoustic guitars that last night at a packed but still intimate performance at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café in Frankfort mixed slyly subtle original works with tunes popularized by The Beatles, The Ventures, Ennio Morricone, The Shadows, J. S. Bach, Dave Brubeck and more. Not even the trio’s seemingly non-descript moniker revealed much. Though the CGT formed in California in 1991, its members hail from Utah, Belgium and Japan.

So what constituted “strange” in Richards’ estimation? Try the realization of the CGT taking on country music. But what unfolded wasn’t country by any contemporary definition. Instead, the resulting “Buckaroo” – the Bob Morris instrumental that became a huge 1965 hit for Buck Owens – stretched its vintage Bakersfield feel to approach jazz and swing. As with everything the CGT served up during its 90 minute program, the rendition was harmonically and compositionally complete without any semblance of a traditional rhythm section present as aid.

The stylistic moods would shift regularly, from Moriya’s spacious and gorgeously contemplative title tune off the trio’s new “Komorebi” album to a take on the 1962 Shadows’ surf hit “Wonderful Land” (complete with the choreographed “Shadow walk” that took the three even further away from their often stoic stage stance). But the CGT’s internal chemistry revealed itself time and time again, whether it was in the way Richards, Lams and Moriya effortlessly juggled lead melodies during original compositions like “The Marsh” and “Cherry Trees,” the manner in which the Bach “Prelude Circulation” was passed from one player to another a single note at a time or the blending of Astor Piazzolla tango inspirations with the modern minimalism of Philip Glass on the ultra clever mash-up “Glass Tango.”

But there were also remarkable dynamics at work. The evening’s most moving moment was also one of its quietest – a pastoral delivery of “Spiritual,” a Josh Haden work recorded by his late father, the great jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Working off a Lams solo that bowed briefly to the blues, the song moved with a slow, cyclical feel peppered by melodic phrases that sounded like chimes and/or chants. What emerged was a piece of subtle, sonic beauty that completely hushed the audience, especially as the tune concluded with an eerily natural sounding fadeout. It was a blissful gem of a moment slipped within a performance full of reserved and, yes, “strange” brilliance.

 

in performance: ben vereen

ben vereen.

In referencing a career retrospective video that prefaced his “Steppin’ Out” performance last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, Ben Vereen seemed almost apologetic. The opening turned back the years to when the singer/dancer/actor’s younger self was deftly moving and grooving in Broadway musicals, cabaret outings and even television programs.

“All that dancing and carrying on you saw there… there will be none of that tonight,” Vereen said later in the evening. Turned out that wasn’t much of an issue.

At age 70 and with back surgery just a few months behind him, Vereen had earned the right hold off on the hoofing. But that hardly meant the veteran performer settled for a subtle evening. Backed by a jazz trio, Vereen offered songs and stories as “gratitude” for audience support during his 50-plus year career in a performance that ran tirelessly for two hours without an intermission.

This newest version of “Steppin’ Out” is essentially a large scale cabaret show with equal measures of song and talk. But there were curious differences in the program and typical cabaret sets. Opening with “Magic to Do,” a signature tune from “Pippin,” which earned Vereen the second of his two Tony Awards, the set was surprisingly loose in design. But the rest of the show wasn’t entirely the kind of overview the opening video suggested. There were obvious nods to his Broadway tenure, from a medley of tunes featured in “Hair and “Jesus Christ Superstar” to an efficiently moving “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” which Vereen served in a decade ago. But some of the music and a lot of the talk strayed from his own career to broader streams of inspirations. Just one quick tale from his work with Bob Fosse? That seemed a bit of a crime, but Vereen seemed to connect with the crowd through stories of personal and professional survival. Guess we can add the title of motivational speaker to his extensive list of occupations.

The show highlight was entirely unexpected – a duet of “Misty” with drummer Marc DiCianni adding lone accompaniment mostly through hand percussion. In was a moment of reflective, reserved beauty in a show that displayed its emotions as openly and brightly as a Broadway marquee.

in performance: justin hayward

justin hayward.

Pockets of patrons within the audience at the Lexington Opera House last night let out a chorus of groans when Justin Hayward remarked how his favored decade within a 50 plus year tenure as a member of the Moody Blues was the 1980s. His reasoning? Simple. “That’s the period I can remember.”

Truth to tell, the storied repertoire of his fabled band – “The Moodys,” as he tagged his mates – made up only half of this engaging 90 minute performance. As this was a performance billed under his name, Hayward, 70, balanced ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s tunes from the past with comparatively newer material cut as a solo artist. In doing so, the performance featured not a band but a pair of accompanists – guitarist Michael Dawes (who also opened the evening with a set of layered, percussive instrumentals that recalled Michael Hedges) and keyboardist/harmony singer Julie Ragins.

Such a configuration understandably gave the program a lightness that both suited Hayward’s voice – still clear in tone but a touch thinner with age – and the material itself, which leaned heavily on ballads. Among the more arresting solo entries fitting this bill was 2013’s “The Western Sky,” a song that recalled the more modestly sentimental flair of the Moody Blues’ early ‘80s music. But the show stealer was 1978’s “Forever Autumn,” a tune paired down from its orchestral blueprint version on Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” adaptation into a bittersweet folk-pop reverie.

Initially, the Moody Blues songs sounded a touch safe. “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Lovely to See You,” both dispensed with early in the show, were presented in swift, truncated versions. But in the biggest back catalog surprise of the evening, “Watching and Waiting” (the finale tune to what arguably remains the band’s finest album, 1969’s “To Our Children’s Children’s Children”), the dark melancholy of the Moodys beautifully emerged.

Hayward’s signature tune, 1967’s “Nights in White Satin,” closed the set. If there was a career hit one might suspect would be given perfunctory treatment simply by the fact the song has been performed so often, this would be it. But Hayward fully invested himself in this lean trio arrangement. With Dawes recreating Ray Thomas’ familiar flute solo on steel string guitar, Hayward’s voice sounded strong and assured, making the work sound not just valid and emotive, but unexpectedly youthful.

 

in performance: rene marie and experiment in truth

rene marie. photo by john abbott.

After an extended suite-like composition called “Lost” took her from bossa-driven bass to subtle swing to multiple codas of the blues, jazz songstress Rene Marie took a moment at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville last night to collect her thoughts and catch her breath. While regrouping, she encouraged patrons to ask questions of her band.

“Where did you all meet?” was one query.

Marie answered in a deadpan whisper, a marked contrast to the steady exuberance she displayed during the one hour, 45 minute performance. “In a bar.”

The audience, almost expectedly, laughed at the matter of fact reply. Though it turned out to be the truth, the fact such an alliance was struck up so casually seemed to fly in the face of the music that wound up on display. Indeed, among the many extraordinary aspects of the concert was the musical symmetry Marie shared with pianist John Chin, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Quentin E. Baxter, collectively known as Experiment in Truth. All were accomplished instrumentalists who drove the music’s giddiest extremes, the most buoyant of swing passages and the most intimate levels of phrasing. But it was how all four players clicked together that triggered the biggest and most natural fireworks.

You heard it in the way Chen’s bright, artful solo complimented Marie during “If You Were Mine.” It surfaced regularly in the fat, rubbery bass sound Bailey conjured at the onset of “Stronger Than You Think.” Similarly, such simpatico was apparent in the summery, percussive support Baxter designed for the Italian homage “Certaldo.”

Marie, of course, was always the ringleader. A singer of considerable range, she was not a belter, choosing instead to cater her crisp vocals to the songs’ specific emotive casts. The combustible confessions at the heart of “Go Home,” for instance, took passages of hushed vocal grace to bursts of high register desperation. But for the finale of “Joy of Jazz,” her bright and beautifully clear tone matched the trio’s South African inspired groove.

It should be noted that with the exception of a gorgeous take on Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” which was included as a eulogy for her mother-in-law who died earlier yesterday, the concert was devoted exclusively to original material from Marie’s 2016 album, “Sound of Red,” which is up for a Grammy Award next month.

To offer a repertoire of largely unfamiliar compositions was an atypically bold move for a singer devoted to straight up jazz. But the resulting performance was so technically and emotively engrossing that Marie’s songs quickly became as accessible as the obvious simpatico the singer shared with her remarkable band.

Not bad for a bunch of artists who met in a bar.

 

in performance: david parmley and cardinal tradition

david parmley performing last night at meadowgreen park music hall in clay city. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

The typically inviting environment of Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City was even more intimate than usual last night. The combination of single digit temps and a televised University of Kentucky basketball game likely kept away many of the faithful that usually devote Saturday nights to live bluegrass music at the venue. All we can say is being homebodies was their loss. Last night offered the return of David Parmley. The veteran guitarist and singer has been off the road since 2008 but returned last year with a ensemble full of sterling singing and scholarly instrumental fire called Cardinal Tradition.
The name references the great Bluegrass Cardinals, the band Parmley toured in beginning at age 17 with his father. Cardinal Tradition built upon the former group’s sterling vocal blend with Parmley’s deep tenor leads coloring the Louvin Brothers’ “Are You Missing Me” (with harmonies provided by bassist Ron Spears and mandolinist Doug Bartlett) and Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors.”
Cardinal Tradition also sported a profoundly clean and confident instrumental charge underneath all the vocal firepower. That was especially impressive given how the band’s fiddler Steve Day was sidelined only days earlier by a back injury. In his place was Steve Douglas, whose credits included tenures with such bluegrass stalwarts as Jim & Jessie and the Osborne Brothers, along with a legion of country music notables. His playing was as robust as it was effortless. But what was most astonishing was when Bartlett switched from mandolin to fiddle, providing Cardinal Tradition with a twin string sound that deftly navigated the treacherous traditional turns of “Monroe’s Hornpipe” and glided crisply through the Texas country lyricism of Bob Wills’ “Faded Love.”
Need more reasons to count Parmley and his band as the great new traditionalists of bluegrass? Then toss in Dale Perry’s deft turns on banjo during “Cripple Creek,” the patiently paced balladry of Randall Hylton’s “32 Acres” and perhaps the cheekiest version of “Long Black Veil” you’ve ever heard, with the verses staying true to song’s dark stoicism and harmonies illuminating a giddy undercurrent that enforced Cardinal Tradition’s resilient band spirit.

in performance: lexington philharmonic with hilary kole.

hilary kole.

hilary kole.

The James Bond mood at last night’s sold out “Casino Royale” performance by the Lexington Philharmonic was placed into action as soon as the lights dimmed at the Opera House. Instead of the usual stoic calls for silenced cell phones, a recorded voice identifying itself as Bond superior “M” informed patrons their “assignment” was to cease all use of “world altering or covert electronic devices.”

Of course, in the fully realized world of 007, the absence of gadgetry would mute the fun factor greatly. But as it was, the concert’s mission of paying tribute to the scores and hit theme songs from the 55 year old spy movie series offered ample intrigue. Aided by New York vocalist Hilary Cole, the program covered music from nearly the entire Bond canon, from 1963’s “From Russia with Love” to 2012’s “Skyfall,” tracing with it a considerable slab of pop history.

First things first. The orchestra sounded splendid. In what may be one of the few exclusively pops oriented concerts since conductor/music director Scott Terrell’s arrival at the Philharmonic, the orchestra revealed an impressive grasp of drama and dynamics. This was most evident in instrumental works that delved far beyond the obvious pop themes of Bond films into the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s scores of John Barry. For instance, “Ski Chase,” which was essentially a variation of the theme to 1970’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” employed a simple, repetitive melody that steadily brought out deeper shades of colors from the winds and strings as it progressed. Ditto for “Dawn Raid at Fort Knox,” a bolero-like manipulation of the theme music from the 1964 Bond epic “Goldfinger.”

Barry’s music has been so pervasive in Bond culture that it was intriguing last night to hear fragments of it pop up in later themes he didn’t compose, like 1989’s “License to Kill,” which directly lifted the horn line from the “Goldfinger” theme.

Cole proved to be a serviceable, amiable but ultimately unremarkable singing presence. She revealed lovely tonality and phrasing, especially in some of the more formulaic theme songs (“For Your Eyes Only,” “Nobody Does it Better”) but was either under amplified or, more likely, simply not in possession of the kind of vocal firepower needed to sell and bolster “Goldfinger” or the more rock and soul inclined themes to “Live and Let Die” and “Goldeneye.” Also, her between song chat, good natured as it was, was often scattered or, in some cases, inaccurate. For instance, Shirley Bassey didn’t sing two Bond themes, as Cole stated, but three – “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever” and “Moonraker.”

Still, this was a grand idea for an audience-friendly pops program from the Philharmonic. One hopes this New Year’s Eve tradition, now in its third year, will continue not only as an alternative to the orchestra’s rigorous classical repertoire, but as a reflection of its considerable stylistic breadth.

 

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