Archive for the ‘Music Reviews’ Category
The Denali Cooks were at the Loon last night, for a $10 cover and a bit of patience. The Cooks have never, ever started a show on time.
What? You haven’t heard of the Denali Cooks? Well, you do have to be of Certain Age. I.e., old. The Denali Cooks were just that: a group of young guys who worked as cooks in Glitter Gulch in the Nenana River canyon, outside of Denali National Park. After work, they’d get together to play at Lynx Creek Pizza and other younger crowd hangouts. The core members, lead singer and guitarist Larry Zarella, guitarist Dave Woody and keyboardist Jimmy Sandy, had considerable success around Alaska. Some of the band members settled for a while in Talkeetna.
Time, marriage and kids caused the group to drift apart. But they still get together once in a while, and the Cooks are doing a 20th Anniversary (20 years!) tour around Alaska now.
The Denali Cooks play a mix of covers, especially of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon songs (including amazing medleys), and their own compositions, some of which are very good indeed.
The usual fashionistas were there. Carhartts and Xtra Tuffs. And even a Duct Tape dress. A typical Blue Loon crowd, if perhaps a bit older than usual.
On the break, the drummer, Andy Mullen, did a nice solo song. He’s lives in the Mat-Su Valley, after moving from Girdwood. and he wrote a song about it. The chorus includes the lines,
My pickup, my Truck Nuts
My pit bull and my gun.
What more is there to say?
Also on the break, Larry Zarella did an excellent job on his classic, “Me and Jane.” A quintessentially Alaskan song, it’s about a guy forced to choose between his girlfriend and his dog. It seems she’s unhappy about the dog and
The way he sleeps on the bed
With is head on your side of the pillow
It turned out the choice was pretty easy.
In the second set, the band did an absolutely smoking cover of Bob Seeger’s “Turn the Page” that might have been their best performance of the evening.
It was a great show. Sure, its a garage band, but it’s a very good garage band, and it’s our garage band, and they are great fun. WC’s thanks to Dave Woody, Jimmy Sandy, Andy Mullen and Larry Zarella for bringing the gig back to Fairbanks.
Fairbanks Concert Association hosted Bruce Adolphe & Company at Hering Auditorium in Fairbanks Friday night. Bruce Adolphe is a composer, author, performer and popularizer of classical music. He was accompanied by classical pianist Marije Stroke and chamber violinist Mark Steinberg.
The first half of the show was Adolphe, at Fairbanks Concert’s Bosendorfer grand piano, closely engaged with the audience, performing a series of his Piano Puzzlers. They have been a weekly feature on National Public Radio’s Performance Today for more than ten years. It’s “Name That Tune” for classical music buffs. Adolphe creates a pop tune intertwined with a classic music piece. The two tunes might share a chord progression, or a brief melody line. The pop melody might be a show tune, something from Gershwin, of Rodgers & Hart, or even the Beatles. Adolphe’s pop tunes don’t get much more recent than the Beatles. And the melody line is blended into a classical piece. The challenge for the listener is to identify the pop tune and the classical piece. So you might have “London Bridge Is Falling Down” folded into a Prokofiev interlude.
You can try some for yourself, if you are so inclined.
WC is awful at it. “London Bridge” played at quarter speed – practically a dirge – with the melody mixed into Prokofiev makes both unrecognizable to WC. “Eleanor Rigby” folded into a Brahms sonata was completely unidentifiable, although several members of the audience got it right. But Adolphe was engaging, at pains to show in each case how it was done, breaking the runes apart. He brought a light humor and occasional bad pun to his patter.
He’s also an educator. His off-the-cuff, spur of the moment explanation of why the opening theme for “Peter and the Wolf” and why it works so well, how musically Prokofiev has Peter wander off into the meadow, was excellent.
After intermission, we had straight ahead concert music, a Brahms sonata sandwiched between two of Adolphe’s own compositions. To WC’s disappointment, Adolphe didn’t perform those pieces, although Stroke and Steinberg were more than adequate to the tasks. The first piece, “Coyote Scatters the Star,” was a story song of an American Indian myth. Steinberg’s violin was in the role of the trickster god Coyote; Stroke’s piano was in the role of First Man. Think of a shorter version of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” in a post-modern classical style. The performance was technically excellent; both Stroke and Steinberg are brilliant. But WC’s musical tastes are too strongly rooted in a melody line to find modernist or post-modernist music very interesting.
Next, we were treated to a lovely version of Johannes Brahms’ “Sonata for Violin in A Major, Opus 100.” Complex and delicate, it allowed both Steinberg and Stroke to strut their stuff. The performance was nearly flawless. Steinberg absolutely demonstrated the difference between violin music and fiddle music. Stepcrew gave us fiddle music, and it was well done, indeed. But Steinberg takes the instrument to places fiddlers can’t.
And the show closed with Adolphe’s “Three Secret Stories,” which are hard to describe. Maybe post-modernist tone poems? The third was quirky, with the piano and violin exploring different musical lines, and when the lines converged, repeating – sometimes loudly – the common chords. Perhaps WC is simply conditioned to more traditional music, or his musical appreciation is stunted and trapped in the Classical era, but the brilliant execution of “Stories” didn’t make up for the absence of more traditional melody lines. The third piece, in particular, kind of became a Piano Puzzler in its own right, as WC tried to understand the divergence/convergence.
The crowd loved it all, though. Sure, we’re rubes. We even clap between movements in a piece, a conclusive sign of an incomplete education, WC supposes. But what else can you expect from the hicks in the remote provinces? We had a good time, we appreciated the virtuosity even as we struggled to figure out what the hell the music was about.
Congratulations to Fairbanks Concert Association on an excellent 2012-2013 season. WC is already looking forward to Hot Club of Cowtown, the opening show of the 2013-2014 Season, on September 13. Definitely the polar opposite of Adolphe in the spectrum of American music.
WC hopes his readers will forgive him if he cannot distinguish between Irish Step Dance, Ottawa Valley stepdance, Irish stepdance, and Tap Dance. But WC does enjoy the energy, skill and technical proficiency of Celtic dance, and StepCrew brought all of that and more to their Fairbanks Concert Association show on April 14.
WC has been privileged to see a decent sample of artists do tap dance, jigs, reels and more. In WC’s own mind, artists in Celtic dance ranked on a scale from One to Natalie MacMaster, who can fiddle, sing and dance a jig at the same time. But StepCrew has set a new, higher benchmark.
WC can and will write about it, of course, but first you need to see some StepCrew to get a sense of what this group is all about. Here’s a video of their piece, “Dogs in the Bushes.”
Backed by a fine band that flirted with rock and roll, they danced to furious fiddle tunes, slow laments and everything in between. They danced together, they did solo sets, they acted out skits and they even danced sitting down. It was a tour de force, if WC may use French in a review of Celtic music.
WC particularly enjoyed the seeing both Julie Fitzgerald and Dan Stacey dance while playing the fiddle.
The energy is absolutely incredible. The synchronization was superb, but at a couple of points the dancers even tapped in counter rhythms.
Much more than the band, StepCrew is three male dancers and three female dancers, with two male dancers and one female dancer on fiddle.
At several points, vocalist Alyth McCormack sang Irish ballads, usually in Gaelic, sometimes with a translation. And she sang one wordless tune that was made for dancing. Great fun, great energy and terrific talents.
The bottom line: better dancers than Natalie MacMaster, with a wider repertoire and of course the excitement of seeing three or all six dancers at once, challenging and egging each other on, added immeasurably. The fiddling was very good, but whether it is the difference in the music or a difference in skills, MacMaster’s fiddling is just a little better.
WC understands that individual members of the StepCrew tour a lot with The Chieftans. That would be a show to see; the Chieftans impeccable harmonies and step dancing and fiddling. What do you say, FCA?
An excellent show.
(All photos are from The StepCrew’s web site. Photographs at the show, alas, were not allowed.)
There are bands that are just fun. There are music genres that are just fun. In BeauSoleil’s Cajun music, you get the perfect combination of the two: a delightful group of talented musicians and irresistible music. Friday night, Fairbanks Concert Association hosted Beausoleil at Hering Auditorium and they did not disappoint.
Flash back to the winter of 1995-96. BeauSoleil, which WC had never heard before, was first at Hering Auditorium. And it was a terrific show. The next morning, WC and Mrs. WC were at the airport for a flight to some place warm. The band members were on the flight, and we had a chance to talk with them. Nice guys, passionate about their music and, as you might expect from folks from the south edge of Louisiana, excited to see snow and the northern lights and to experience sub-zero temperatures.
Flash forward to March 22, 2013. There are a half dozen BeauSoleil CDs on WC’s shelf. Everyone has less hair, and what’s left is grey. Michael Doucet (fiddle, accordion, vocals), in particular, has an impressively large, brown dome that seems to have emerged from an explosion of white hair. But the music is better than ever. Smoother, more polished and tighter. Michael’s voice is less a Cajun caller and more of a rich baritone. A very good band is even better. Jimmy Breaux and his terrific accordion were missing. He and his wife were having baby, which is a pretty good excuse. Michael played accordion – he’s very good – on a couple of songs, but WC missed Michael’s fiddle dancing around Jimmy’s accordion work. Still, the band has added Mitchell Read (bass, mandolin, banjo) on mandolin, and Mitchell’s playing was a treat. His bass solo on the Haitian-flavored “The Sweetness” was terrific. David Doucet’s guitar work was solid as ever, and his lead singing on a couple of songs was quite good. WC doesn’t remember David singing lead at the earlier show.
And the music was as delightful as ever. What’s striking about Cajun music is that it is so infectiously upbeat. Even a sad Cajun song has a backbeat, and you can dance to it. That’s remarkable, because the Cajun story is a sad one, a displaced people, exiled from Acadia (the present day Canadian Maritimes) to the swamps of Louisiana, and betrayed again when Napoleon sold the Louisiana territory to the U.S. The Cajuns might have invented the Blues; instead they created music that, when played well, makes it almost impossible to sit still. And BeauSoleil played it very, very well.
Michael Doucet gets credit for pretty much saving Cajun music at a time when it was dying. He travelled to the remote parts of the Cajun bayou country and encouraged the old singers to perform. He created BeauSoleil to popularize that music, adding elements of zydeco, creole, pop, jazz and world music to the rich gumbo of Cajun folk music. And over the course of 37 years of touring and recording, BeauSoleil has made itself, as Garrison Keillor has said, “The Best Cajun band in the world.”
It was pleasure and delight to hear and see them again. A most excellent show.
Grammy Award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo was captivating from the first note. Tenor leads in front of a strong bass chorus, the music was rich, polyrhythmic and utterly absorbing. Sometimes simple and sometimes quite complex – in a couple of songs there were three different melody lines – it was the quintessence of World Music.
Joseph Shabala, the founder and very much the leader of Ladysmith, has taken the South African isicathamiya form of music and mixed in jazz and gospel elements, and created a powerful musical form. From the poetic and lovely ”Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain” to the amusing “Yangiluma Inkukhu [the Biting Chicken]” and the sly “Yinhle Lentombi [This Lady Is Beautiful],” the songs were inventive, varied and consistently wonderful musicianship. Sometimes the lyrics were in English, sometimes in Bantu. It didn’t really matter. The music was the message and the a cappella music of Ladysmith is really the heart of that message.
The show was a bit of a revelation, too. Those synchronized dance moves in Motown acts like the Four Tops and the Temptations? Clearly, they have their roots in isicathamiya dance. The call and response elements in American gospel music and the blues? At least part of that style also traces to the South African forms showcased by Ladysmith.
Of course, you can’t talk about Ladysmith for very long without Paul Simon and Graceland coming up. Ladysmith freely acknowledges the relationship. They performed two Graceland songs, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and an enchanting version of “Homeless.” But in between, they sang a lovely tribute to Simon, reflecting on the day Shabala met Simon.
Shabalala shared the spotlight with two of his four sons, Thamsanga and Sibongiseni. Thamsanga is the youngest and the tallest, and has a lighter and airier voice than his father. At first, Thamsanga seemed to be quieter and more nervous on-stage. But he soon commanded attention with ease and danced with a loose-limbed pleasure that delighted the audience. His brother Sibongiseni seemed a more natural showboater but Thamsanga’s light tenor worked better in lead than Sibongiseni’s baritone. Either way, the future of Ladysmith is in good hands.
The music was impressive enough, but Ladysmith incorporates the physically exuberant competitive isicathamiya dance in its show. The combinations of foot-snapping, toe-stepping, high-kicking, hand-clapping synchronized movements of the isicathamiya form were wonderful but it was the improvisational, stunning and crowd-rousing solo dance improvisations performed with good-natured, competitive zeal by different members of the ensemble that brought the house down.
There were times during the show when the group stepped back from the microphones and, in their clear, unamplified voices and quiet, syncopated dance movements gave us a brief glimpse of brutally-worked, meagerly-paid South African miners finding comfort in song and syncopation, sung softly so as not to wake their sleeping overseers. At those times, the glamour and fame of Ladysmith Black Mambazo fell away and one saw the pure, sustaining power of their music to a people and their five-hundred-year struggle for freedom.
Ladysmith’s encore was a superb, revelatory version of “Amazing Grace,” sung first in English, in a call and response form, and then in Bantu. The song captured well Ladysmith’s theme of peace and love. That they can hold to such themes after the brutality of apartheid and worse, is amazing enough. That they can, for more than 50 years now, sings such songs with joy and enthusiasm is awe-inspiring.
A terrific concert. Thanks to Fairbanks Concert Association for bringing them to town.
WC and Mrs. WC left the Fairbanks Counseling & Adoption Taste of Art fundraiser early to catch the Fairbanks Concert Association‘s The Good Lovelies concert. And may WC at this point thank The Good Lovelies for saving WC a bunch of money on Taste of Art stuff that WC really didn’t need. Another strong positive was that Mrs. WC, dressed in 1920s flapper style for Taste of Art, was easily the best-dressed person at the concert.
But WC digresses. The Good Lovelies are a Toronto-based pop-folk group. They are a Juno Award-winning trio of young women who sing in tight, three-part harmony. They are also accomplished musicians, and each plays a variety of instruments. They are fun, just slightly cheeky and put on a fine show. To WC’s aging ears, they are a contralto, a mezzo-soprano and a soprano, although none of them is limited in vocal range.
The close harmonies came in odd places, not always at the points you’d expect. The second half of a stanza, for example, and not just in the chorus. When they brought their voices together, it was always crisp and tight, never ragged. Unlike some folk-pop singers, these three ladies are technically excellent.
But while the show was pleasant enough, Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore struck WC as more of a chick band, accomplished women musicians singing and writing songs mostly for women. When they did a Leonard Cohen song or a Bruce Springsteen song, WC found them a lot more interesting than when they did their own songs. Doubtlessly, this reflects a defect in WC’s character.
Their Alaska tour included Healy and Delta Junction, as well as Anchorage, Valdez and most of southeast Alaska. They apparently had a great time in Alaska, based on their blog posts, and on-stage comments.
A good show, but not WC’s favorite act of the 2012-2013 season. Ladysmith Black Mambazo next…
WC’s understands that a violin is used to play 300-year old classical music by composers likes Bach and Mozart. By contrast, a fiddle is a deceptively similar instrument, but is used to lay 300-year old traditional music, including Gaelic tunes. It’s the same instrument, you understand. In the case of the violin/fiddle source material defines the name. By contrast, a cello is a cello, whether it’s playing Beethoven or Highland reels. It’s confusing.
The Scots remove the confusion by calling the fiddle the “Wee Fiddle” and the cello the “Big Fiddle.” The Wee Fiddle and the Big Fiddle came to Hering Auditorium Friday night, in the persons of Alasdair Fraser (Little Fiddle) and Natalie Haas (Big Fiddle), sponsored by Fairbanks Concert Association and Acoustic Adventures.
It’s been WC’s privilege to see many different fiddle players, playing many different styles. But there’s no question that Alasdair Fraser is the most effortless fiddler WC has ever seen. Fluid, electrifying fingering that looks nearly effortless. He coaxed bagpipe-like laments and chants at one moment and jumped to stunningly performed reels in the next. Other fiddlers may watch their fingering; Fraser doesn’t need to. Not once, in the two sets, did WC see Fraser appear to work hard. And the evident delight he takes from his playing enriches every note.
One of Fraser’s missions is to restore the cello to its rightful place in Gaelic music. According to Fraser, originally it was the other half of a Scottish dance band until pianos and accordions elbowed it out. He made a very effective case.
Natalie Haas is a Julliard-trained cellist. She wasn’t born when Fraser was first winning Scottish fiddling championships. But she has performed with Fraser since she was 15 years old, and their playing is seamless. It’s more than Haas providing the big fiddle’s bass line for Fraster’s wee fiddle to dance around and through. They hand the melodic line off, exchanging leads. At some points, Haas provides a simple bass melody, but at other times her bow dances, jumps and struts through runs that are simply astonishing. And she can pull amazing melodies and harmonies from her big fiddle by plucking notes, too.
The tunes they played ranged from their own recent compositions through jazz-inflected traditional pieces to wholly traditional tunes from what Fraser called “that deep well of Gaelic music.” Stops along the way included highland reels, strathspeys, laments and even some moments of the ancient Gaelic music, before the Western scales came to dominate their sounds.
It was a wonderful concert, conjuring up visions of windswept heaths and fiddle tunes around campfires on the moors. Evocative and haunting, it was also extremely impressive musicianship. WC’s thanks to Fraser and Haas for a delightful evening.
WC’s sister-in-law Karen is a gifted musician and a music instructor. She and her husband Jim sang at the wedding of WC and Mrs. WC, many years ago now. Among the songs they sang was The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around,” a song they selected.
All this comes to mind because Reg Presley, lead singer for the Troggs, died February 4, 2013 in Andover, England. He was 72 years old. He was a high school dropout, a bricklayer, who became the raspy-voiced lead singer in a British invasion rock and roll band. Born Reginald Maurice Ball, the band’s manager changed his name to Presley and forgot to tell him. Best known for the early garage band grunge hit, “Wild Thing,” The Troggs could also do more sensitive songs. Like, “Love Is All Around.” Here’s a proto-MTV video of the Troggs singing the song:
R.I.P. Reg Presley, both a Wild Thing and a man who was married to the same woman for 52 years. Thanks for the great tunes.
Some years ago, WC and Mrs. WC were browsing a small independent bookshop nestled against a small music store. WC remembers the store being in Sand Point; Mrs. WC thinks it was Boise. But the sound system was playing a guy with an incredible, smooth, rich voice that compelled your attention. We asked the guy at the counter, and he said it was Peter Mulvey and the album was Knuckleball Suite. We bought album immediately, and played it over and over on the car stereo the rest of our Idaho trip. It was that good.
We knew both Furtado and Mulvey from earlier Acoustic Adventure shows, too. So this concert was a much-anticipated treat, and our early trip to Costa Rica was scheduled, in part, to let us get back to town in time for the show.
Tony Furtado opened with a solo set of 7-8 songs. The guy has, to use Mulvey’s phrase, pyrotechnic guitar skills. Terrific runs, contrapuntal playing on both a beautiful dark body Martin guitar and a banjo. On both his own songs and covers, he sang with a sweet, tenor that complimented his playing beautifully.
Mulvey then did a set of 7-8 songs and while Mulvey doesn’t have the guitar chops of Furado, there’s nothing wrong with his playing. But in Mulvey’s case, it’s that rich, compelling baritone voice. And, live, Mulvey is an animated, energetic singer, whose performing style reminds WC of the late, great Steve Goodman: just barely restrained. Among the songs in Mulvey’s set was a song about Fairbanks, with the chorus, “The windshields in this town have all seen better days.” To WC’s delight, Mulvey closed his set with “Knuckleball Suite.”
After a break, Furtado and Mulvey did a set together, performing an eclectic list of songs that included Woody Guthrie, Duke Ellington (blue progressions on a banjo) and the best cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” that WC has heard yet.
A fine show, by two fine musicians who obviously enjoy each other’s company and jamming together. WC’s thanks to both for a fun evening, and to Trudy and Mase for bringing them to town.
Pink Martini performed Friday night as a part of Fairbanks Concert Association’s 2012-2013 season. If you weren’t there, you should have been.
Because Pink Martini is a cocktail. It’s a mix of amazing musical ingredients. In their first set, they performed songs in English, Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. They performed their own eclectic pieces, of course, but also torch songs, old movie songs, Chinese New year songs, Duke Ellington standards, a Billie Holliday cover and “Auld Lang Syne” in Arabic, French and English. Oh, and Saint Saën’s challenging Caprice Brilan en si Mineur for violin and piano. And they did them all very, very well.
Pink Martini is also a cocktail mix of musicians. Thomas Lauderdale, the founder and music director, calls it a “little orchestra.” If so, the horns are Robert Taylor on trombone and Gavin Bondy on trumpet. Both are highly skilled; Taylor can tease delicate, subtle notes out of a trombone and Taylor’s trumpet playing was frankly astonishing. The strings are Lauderdale on piano, Phil Baker on upright bass, Dan Faehnle on acoustic guitar, and Nicholas Crosa on violin. Percussion players included Brian Davis on drum kit, Derek Rieth on congas and a variety of other drums and, at one point or another, most of the other members of the band. And China Forbes and Timothy Nishimoto as vocalists. All are superb musicians, and their long experience together has made them a terrific ensemble.
And the show’s set list, like a cocktail’s ingredients, was eclectic. Although calling Pink Martini’s music “eclectic” is accurate, it is also hopelessly inadequate. China Forbes’ “Hey Eugene” is a Top-40 body slam of a guy who never called her back. Because this was a Christmas show, there were holiday songs, including “Little Drummer Boy,” reworked with polyrhythmic percussion that made the old chestnut much more interesting. “White Christmas” in Japanese. China Forbes’ heartbreaking cover of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” during the encore.
Given the breadth of Pink Martini’s music, it’s nearly certain some members the audience went home wishing they had heard more of one genre or another. WC would have liked to hear more Duke Ellington, or what Pink Martini might have done with Big Band sounds. But it’s hard to think of a song that could have been dropped, either. Some folks like their martinis dry; some prefer vermouth.
And, like any cocktail, Pink Martini is intoxicating. Shaken and stirred. Which describes the audience, after an evening of Pink Martini. Great stuff; makes you want more.
In 1973, WC’s then-girlfriend, the Cat Thief, talked WC into attending his first jazz concert. It was the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Chicago Opera House, and the show opened with the Brubeck/Desmond classic, “Take Five.”
WC was completely blown away. The soaring lead by saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, alternating with Brubeck’s piano chords in 5/4 time, made the piece a completely different experience than the chopped-down Top-40 pablum you hear on the radio. It’s fair to say WC has loved Dave Brubeck’s music ever since.
Among hard-core jazz fans, Brubeck was regarded as something of a light weight, and “West Coast Jazz” was probably the kindest thing jazz snobs said about him. But Brubeck was a superb artist live, an absolutely astonishing ambassador for jazz generally, and a genuinely delightful man in person.
Jazz is pretty personal, but if WC had to recommend two albums from Brubeck’s large body of the work, the first would be “Time Out,” recorded in 1959. It has the hit “Take Five” (composed by Paul Desmond in 5/4 meter and prominently featuring the original quartet’s gifted drummer, Joe Morello). And it has on it “Blue Rondo à la Turk” (composed by Brubeck in 9/8 time). It was the first jazz album to go platinum. And may have been the first album to feature songs not in any traditional time signature. The cover art is pretty cool, too.
Here’s “Strange Meadow Lark” from that album:
The second album WC would recommend is “In Their Own Sweet Way,” a Telarc album from 1997. It’s performed by a different quartet with the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, and later he began working with his musician sons Darius (a pianist), Chris (a bassist), Dan (a drummer) and Matthew (a cellist). Brubeck’s kids are every bit up to the task of playing with the master.
Brubeck told Time Magazine in its 1954 cover article on him, “One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear.” Brubeck lived that principle, His band was integrated almost from the start, and he refused to perform when the venue or forum wouldn’t allow racial integration. He refused to play in South Africa before it became national policy. He’s the pride of WC’s home town and a graduate of Stockton’s University of the Pacific.
WC saw Brubeck live perhaps half a dozen times – twice in Fairbanks – and always with pleasure and delight. The only regret is that he won’t see Brubeck teasing complex rhythms from a piano keyboard in counterpoint to a beautiful sax melody again.
Thanks for all the wonderful music, Dave Brubeck. And if you’ll excuse WC now, he’s going to listen to “Take Five” (a long version) now.
It was -20 F with a breeze, a cold night and a cold walk from the car to the house concert, but there was hot jazz on tap. The Metta Quintet played terrific mainstream jazz, with superb solos by tenor sax Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, alto sax Greg Ward and keyboardist David Bryant. They were backed by rock solid rhythm from Chris Smith on acoustic bass and Hans Schuman on drums.
Great jazz in a house concert is very cool. And these guys, especially Lefkowitz-Brown and Ward, are terrific musicians.
But The Metta Quintet is more than a terrific jazz band. They are also the performing band for JazzReach. Drummer Hans Schuman is the JazzReach Artistic Director.
Established in 1994, JazzReach is a nationally recognized charitable corporation dedicated to the promotion, performance, creation and teaching of jazz music. JazzReach and The Metta Quintet do innovative, live multi-media educational programs for young audiences, captivating main-stage concerts for general audiences and informative clinics and master-classes for student musicians and ensembles. And house concerts. JazzReach is dedicated to fostering a greater appreciation, awareness and understanding of jazz as a rich, vital, ever-evolving American art form.
As a part of its Fairbanks Concert Association-sponsored visit to Fairbanks, The Metta Quintet is performing in schools, the UAF Pub, the auditorium at Pioneer Park and in a wide selection of other venues throughout the Interior. And, as FCA Executive Director Anne Biberman put it, “Everything they do is utterly different. They approach each class they teach differently, every performance, every audience. I am blown away by their versatility.”
So was WC. A very special thanks to the five artists for their terrific outreach – their JazzReach – in Alaska. Catch this act if you can.
Last night, WC heard and saw the best guitar playing of his life. WC has been to hundreds of concerts and seen many world class guitar players. And it wasn’t even the featured act. Les Doigts de l’Homme, one of the three acts comprising The Footsteps of Django, had two truly extraordinary, virtuoso guitar players, Olivier Kikett and Benoit Convert. But this is starting in the middle.
The first act was Catalanian singer Norig Gajii and guitarist Sebastien Giniaux. Their three song set featured strong vocals from Gadjii in French and Romany, and very good guitar work from Giniaux. Gadjii didn’t really show her stuff until the encore, but the duo was fun, had great chemistry and showed a non-traditional form of gypsy music to good advantage.
The second act was Les Doigts de l’Hommes. WC’s French is as bad as his Romany, but roughly, “The Fingers of Men.” From the very start, the spectacular runs, unbelievably fast fingering and improvisations were stunning. While both Kikett and Convert are superb guitarists, their styles are quite different. Kikett has a hard hitting, incisive style, while Convert’s is more effortless and fluid. Despite the differences in style, they exchanged the lead dozens of times, flawlessly, sometimes faster than WC could keep up. Combined with the fine rhythm guitar work of Yannick Alcocer and rock-solid bass work of Tanguy Blum, they had a rich, wonderful sound. Two of the Django Reinhardt pieces, in particular, were stunningly well done. The blues-inflected Django piece was wonderful.
The third act was Lulo Reinhardt’s Latin Swing Project. Lulo is the grandnephew of Django, but has taken his granduncle’s music further and in different directions. For example, “Lulo’s Tango” was a lovely Django-inflected traditional tango, with plenty of room for his band to do solo stretches.
The Latin Swing Project is Reinhardt and violinist Daniel Weltlinger (Australia), bassist Harald Becher (Germany), drummer Uli Krämer (Germany) and keyboardist Sean Mackenzie (Australia). And together they are a straight ahead, gypsy swing band that’s not afraid to experiment with fusions of gypsy music and American blue, African rhythms and Austrian waltzes. It was striking how much fun the band seemed to be having on stage, and the easy camaraderie among the members.
Lulo closed the show with all three acts on stage, including vocalist Norig Gajii. And in the final song – and WC is sorry but they didn’t give us a title – Gajii really cut loose. A Romany ballad, WC believes, with all three bands behind her Gajii demonstrated a mastery of Gypsy style. A great end to a terrific show.
Serious props to Fairbanks Concert Association. Folks who missed this show should be kicking themselves. Outstanding!
Saturday night WC listened to a two hour, a cappella concert. Most of the songs were in Latin or Middle Italian. The only instruments were the voices of the four men on stage. And WC loved every minute of it.
New York Polyphony is Geoffrey Williams, Countertenor; Steven Caldicott Wilson, Tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, Baritone and Craig Phillips, Bass. Together, they rank among the foremost classical men’s vocal quartets.
Saturday night, until the last song and encore, they didn’t do any song that wasn’t at least 450 years old. Some were church liturgies; some were pretty racy (at least in translation) for our understanding of, say, the late 1400s. Certainly Francisco Guerrero’s (1528-1599) adaption of Solomon’s “Song of Songs” has its moments. Or Pyamnour’s “Qualm pulchra ea,” with the line “There I will give my breasts to you.” It’s all enough to make you re-think you view of the Middle Ages.
The second half of the show was given over mostly to Italian and French madrigals. These were the pop songs of 16th Century, secular music complete with melodic hooks and amusing lyrics. Excellently done. The closing harmonies on the two Giovanni Nola pieces, in particular, brought the disparate voice together in an astonishing conclusion.
But New York Polyphony is more than the Medieval and Renaissance period songs that are their bread and butter. The group has outstanding harmonies, brilliant arrangements and superb individual work. Their encore song, “Sweet and Low,” a Tennyson poem set to music in 1863 by Sir Joseph Barnby, was magical in Polyphony’s hands.
Special marks to Geoffrey William’s amazing countertenor singing. Absolutely amazing that a man’s voice can have such a range.
Equally impressive, the group performed some of their songs as trios, with various members stepping back for specific arrangements.
WC is no scholar of classical music. The mysteries of polyphony are just that: mysteries. But the musicianship of New York Polyphony was evident even to WC’s uneducated ears. A remarkable concert, great fun and a vivid demonstration of the scope of music in the United States today. Remember the previous concert was Riders in the Sky, who are about as far from classical music as you can get and still be singing. Props to Fairbanks Concert Association for the amazing range of artists it brings to Fairbanks.
An excellent concert. Bravo.
Fairbanks Concert Association opened its 2012-2013 season with the high-powered Parsons Dance, a contemporary dance company of extraordinary talent, choreography and creativity. And Parsons Dance lived up to expectations.
If there is a signature theme to Parson Dance’s pieces, it is exuberance and energy. Every piece, without exception, is animated, filled with effervescence and enthusiasm. And that enthusiasm sets Parson Dance apart from other modern dance troupes.
The show included the charming and creative “Hand Dance,” in which only the dancers’ hands are lit and, to a jazz version of Orange Blossom Special, the dancers’ hands, and only their hands, “dance.”
The signature piece is “Caught,” in which the dancer is captured in mid-air, in execution of perfect jumps, by a flashing strobe, a stunning effect. The dancer appeared in mid-air, or in a full extension aerial split, or even walking across the front of the stage, two feet off the ground. The timing in the piece is simply exquisite. While there are videos of it on the web, the low sample rate sucks most of the energy and half of the images out of the pieces. This is something you have to see live.
Special props to lighting designer, Howell Binkley. The lighting was an important, integral part of the performance. It can’t be easy recreating lighting on the road. This was wonderfully done.
While the dancers were uniformly excellent, their styles and movement were each slightly different. Parsons Dance allows dancers to express themselves within the pieces, not fit to some specific style or standard. Part of the fun was seeing the individual personalities of the dancers, expressed effectively but without interfering with the synchronicity of the group as a whole. It’s subtly and effectively done.
Great fun, a great opening and fine groundwork for the 2012-2013 season.
Six and twelve string guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke brought his show to Fairbanks Friday night, selling out the
Pickle Barrel Pioneer Park Civic Center. Kottke’s nearly two hour long show featured selections from old and new albums, ranging from a wonderful, bluesy version of “Corina, Corina” to Duane Allman to an encore featuring Eddie Reeves’ and Alex Harvey’s “Rings.” And a wide selection of his own compositions.
WC first saw Kottke live in 1972 or 1973 at a bar in Wilmette, Illinois. We were both much younger and had more and darker hair. Back then, Kottke played a more percussive, finger-picking style. But even then the man could set a guitar on fire, with spectacular runs. While he can and did play slide guitar, he can also get slide notes with just his fingers. And his dexterity is amazing. He commonly plucks notes with his two middle fingers on his left hand while chording with the other two fingers and thumb. That night in Wilmette, in response to a rowdy crowd, he played “My Guitar Gently Weeps” left-handed, just to show he could.
Then and now, Kottke filled the breaks between some songs with stories, some of them bizarre, and one liners that sometimes link to the stories and sometimes are complete digressions.
“I rolled a nurse for these shoes.”
“Sometimes my feet just go slipping off on their own.”
“He came out for an encore but I think all he did was tune the guitar.”
His stories Friday night included his German grandparents, a man with half a cerebellum, learning to play his first instrument, the trombone and many more. But mainly a Kottke show is about beautifully played, eclectic guitar music.
In the mid-1980s, Kottke’s aggressive playing style led to severe tendonitis. To keep playing, he had to switch to the more classical style that he uses now. WC wants to be clear about this: at the midpoint of his career, Kottke taught himself to play guitar a completely different way. And still remained a virtuoso. And he showed it Friday night.
It was a delightful evening. Thanks to Leo Kottke for coming to Fairbanks again. And thanks to Mace and Trudy’s Acoustic Adventures for sponsoring the show.
Saturday night’s Mountain Stage show in Fairbanks didn’t quite match the outstanding Friday night event, but it came close. National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage recorded its second Fairbanks show on Saturday night. And once again, the West Virginia-based show featured an incredibly diverse range of music.
Saturday’s show opened with Steve Brown and the Bailers, a popular local band.
The locals did a very nice set, flashing some hot licks and nice harmonies.
Bearfoot is originally from Alaska, but when the local folks made good they moved to Nashville. The reconstituted band still has founding member Angela Oudean and Jason Norris. While you can still hear Bearfoot’s bluegrass roots, to some extent it has moved more to an Americana sound. The harmonies and instrumental work are still as sweet as ever.
Local legends Pat Fitzgerald and Robin Dale Ford (Stir Crazy, The Flyers, The Firewalkers and currently Dang!) did a very nice set, backed for half of their songs by the very good Mountain Stage Band. WC has a soft spot for Robin and Pat: they performed at WC’s and Mrs. WC’s wedding reception.
Long-time Fairbanksan Susan Grace channeled Pete Seeger for a couple of songs, getting the crowd involved in the singing. Susan carries on the true folksinging tradition: songs that teach, songs that protest, and songs that celebrate.
Tift Merritt in a straight-ahead Nashville country western singer. While she is well-known in C & W circles, popular and has decent record sales, she pretty much failed to connect with the audience at Davis Concert Hall. And she knew it, too. They can’t all be winners, and any artist can have a bad night. But WC didn’t come to the show expecting Susan Grace to get more applause than Tift Merritt.
If your eyes aren’t watering from David Lindley‘s wardrobe against the weird backdrop, you must be wearing dark glasses. But the talented multi-instrumentalist wowed the crowd with his performance on an Irish Bouzouki (shown here) and some kind of laptop slide guitar. His set included an excellent cover of the late Warren Zevon’s furious “The Indifference of Heaven.” Lindley’s voice has kind of run down into a Tom Waits-style growl, but when he sang,
Falls on me
All life folds back
Into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of heaven
you could feel the passion. Lindley is much too good a stage performer to leave his audience depressed, so he closed with the hysterically funny “Little Green Bottle,” a “drug song” about Excedrin Extra-Strength PM. Lindley’s song had even the sound engineers laughing helplessly.
WC has left a lot of the two shows out. Songs by the Mountain Stage Band itself, including a very nice cover of Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55″ by Julie Adams, and the finale songs both nights.
Altogether, it was something like six hours of good to great music across two nights. Wonderfully eclectic, amazingly talented and terrific fun. Thanks again to UAF’s Summer Sessions for bringing the shows to town, and to Mountain Stage for traveling all the way from Charleston, West Virginia.
Mountain Stage’s shows are available streamed on the internet. NPR puts up one act a day. The streamed versions start to go up after the show is broadcast. Saturday night’s show is set for broadcast the first Saturday in October.
WC is an unabashed fan of live music. And Saturday afternoons in Fairbanks, when the radio is on, he’s usually listening to the eclectic collection of artists that appear on National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage. Since 1983, the West Virginia-based show has broadcast live concerts featuring an incredibly diverse range of music.
Friday night, Mountain Stage came to Fairbanks for the first of two shows. After a couple of decades of listening, you form mental pictures of the host, Larry Groce, and the members of the house band. WC’s mental images were complete wrong. Meet Larry Groce, the co-founder of the show and emcee, as well as the guy who gave us Junk Food Junkie, although he prefers not to talk about that.
For folks who have never listened to Mountain Stage, the typical show has 4-6 acts, each performing 2-5 songs, usually with one or two songs by the house band. There were five acts at this show. The first was Melissa Mitchell, from Anchorage, a young woman with a wonderful voice and a talent for songwriting.
Accompanied by Girdwood’s Sean “Spiff” Chambers and on two numbers by the excellent Mountain Stage Band, she was very, very good. WC has seen a lot of Alaska’s artists, but Melissa Mitchell had escaped his attention. Until now. There may be a house concert come spring.
Tim Easton is very nearly an Alaskan. WC has seen him several times, and his grunge-folk style is very appealing. Accompanied by Megan Palmer on violin and harmony vocals, Tim put together a fine set. WC is skeptical that a couple of Tim’s songs – The Festival Song, for example – will make it onto the airways, but he has an easy rapport with the crowd that make his live shows a lot of fun.
Anchorage-based The Whipsaws is a straight ahead rock band. The members were pretty nervous in the first song, but settled down about half way through the second song. WC as particularly impressed with the drummer, James Dommek. The best moment in their set may have been when lead singer Evan Phillips turned toward the off-stage Larry Groce and said, “I didn’t know it was okay to play rock and roll on Mountain Stage.”
The fourth set was by Portland, Oregon’s Horse Feathers. If you can visualize folk-rock chamber music, you’ve got the sound of Horse Feathers.
It’s interesting music, partly experimental (they played saws at one point), partly classical and rooted in folk and blues rhythms. WC’s only criticism of Horse Feathers is that it would be okay for the band members to look like you are having fun, and not to be so Terribly Serious.
The evening was capped and closed by Hot Club of Cowtown. If you can imagine the offspring of Django Reinhard and The Texas Playboys, steeped in the bar band traditions of Texas, you’ve got Hot Club. Hot jazz and western swing.
Elana James on violin, Whit Smith and Jake Erwin on slap bass blew all of the dust off the ceiling and probably loosened rivets in the roof. Incredible musicians, they bring amazing energy to their live act. The slap bass player, Jake Erwin, is simply astonishing. They are almost a different band than their recordings. Easily the hit of the night, they were a fine closing act to a show that was a lot of fun.
The Mountain Stage house band was very impressive. Its job is to make the guest acts who use it sound great. That takes a special kind of musicianship, and, as you’d expect after almost 40 years, these guys have it.
Thanks to UAF Summer Sessions for bring Mountain Stage to town. A lot of fun, great music and a wonderful evening.
But wait, there’s more! Mountain Stage is recording a second show Saturday night. Stayed tuned.
Mountain Stage’s shows are available streamed on the internet. NPR puts up one act a day. The streamed versions start to go up after the show is broadcast. Friday night’s show is set for broadcast next month.
Readers may recall WC caught Brandi Carlile and her very good band at the Loon last year. The lady can rock, and her band can seriously rock. Despite the problems with the Loon as a concert venue, it was a fine show.
So WC looked forward to Carlile’s solo show at Hering Auditorium last Thursday night with mixed feelings. A far better venue, but the lady is a rocker, and her band is pretty special.
So it was unsurprising that the show was a bit of a mixed bag. WC really missed that band on some of the songs, especially some of the songs from her earlier album, “The Story” (Amazon link). But on the ballads, Carlile’s voice and very good guitar work were great. WC described Carlile as the gifted and talented love child of Patsy Cline and Eddie Vedder. When the songs called on the Patsy Cline genes, she was terrific. When the Eddie Vedder genes got involved, WC really missed the Hanseroth twins.
Hering Auditorium sports a huge Bösendorfer concert grand piano. It has a reputation for being difficult to play. The keys in the lowest octave have to be hit pretty hard to achieve that dark, rich tone. It messes up a player’s rhythm. And on the first two songs Carlile struggled a bit, but she was more used to it in some of the later songs. Not that many pop performers would even try to play it, so WC gives her props for the effort.
Carlile is terrific on Patsy Cline songs. Her version of “Crazy” raises the hair on the back of your neck. And she can do a credible old time gospel song, in this case “His Eye on the Sparrow.”
Her guitar chops are very good. She played an open-tuned Martin dark body, a traditional Gibson and what WC thinks was a tenor guitar. Much better than expected.
And she has an easy, warm relationship with a crowd. The 1,000 or so people at Hering were boisterous, but she was comfortable with it, and seemed to draw a lot of energy from the raucous bunch. Her song lyrics are okay to good; her music good to very good.
All in all, a pleasant evening, with an artist willing to work outside of her comfort zone, and bring it off well. Thanks to Anchorage’s Whistling Swan Productions for bringing Bradni back to Fairbanks.
For a few years now, WC and Mrs. WC have hosted house concerts. We invite friends over, pack them into the living room, and share with them a terrifically talented singer-songwriter they’ve never heard of. It’s hugely fun. You get to hang with your friends, listen to outstanding music and talk with amazing artists.
Last night Beth Wood sang at WC’s house.
Energetic, charismatic and talented, her classically-trained voice and megawatt smile utterly charmed the audience. Her songwriting, singing and playing skills are superb. Serious ballads and light-hearted zingers, she has a wide range of styles and can’t be classified.
The trick, of course, is finding artists like Beth Wood. For that, you need to know someone like Bud Johnson, host of Acoustic Accents, based in Tok, Alaska. A long time ago, Bud Johnson was at a barbecue hosted by Mrs. WC, looked at the living room and said, “This would be a great place for a house concert.” The result has been a series of outstanding singer-songwriters live in the living room. Capped by the delightful Beth Wood.
WC sends special thanks to Bud Johnson, the 60 plus friends who were kind enough to stop by and, especially, to Beth Wood. It was a terrific show.