Opera: Los Angeles Opera’s “The Barber of Seville”

March 2, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

With characterizations so vivid, musicianship so accomplished, and comedy so sublime that it raises the spirits, Los Angeles Opera’s The Barber of Seville is a triumph. The cast is splendid, from the smallest role to the knockout performance of Elizabeth DeShong’s Rosina.

At every turn, this Barber delivered. From the opening chords of Rossini’s bubbling score to the last note, we were held in thrall by the LA Opera Orchestra and Maestro James Conlon’s superb rendering of this beloved music.

Trevore Ross’ direction, after the original concept by Emilio Sagi for Teatro Real Madrid, was sensitive to every nuance of human behavior, so essential in achieving true comedy. Although Beaumarchais’ characters exist on a rarified plateau where the everyday turns into myth and Rossini’s opera buffa is revered, nevertheless it still takes a talented director and a great cast to bring the poetry of this work into hearts and minds.

In brief: Doctor Bartolo wants to marry his ward, Rosina, to get his hands on her dowry. Rosina is in love with Lindoro, who is Count Almaviva in disguise. Her old guardian keeps Rosina under lock and key, so Figaro must scheme to get Almaviva into the house. In classic fashion, Bartolo is duped and the lovers prevail.

“The Barber of Seville” Overture

The hilarity started with the overture as a horde of black suited Rossinis emerged from a trap door and began assembling the scenery. A classic Commedia dell’Arte street scene unfolded: a narrow avenue receding in the distance and flanked by buildings on both sides, covered in a wash of creamy carved stucco representing a simplified version of the architecture of Seville.

Everything in this production honored the opera’s roots in Commedia dell’Arte, the theatre of ordinary people, with its stock characters and insolent tricksters who outwit the masters and prevail. In glorious black and white, the costume designs of Renata Schussheim made reference to Harlequin-esque patterned suits, with graphic stripes, dots, and checkerboards. Humor was in every detail of the wardrobe, oozing into the personality and body language of the wearer. In fact, it was such a fully realized world on stage, with striking sets by Llorenç Corbella, that I had an overwhelming desire to jump in and join the fun.

Elizabeth DeShong as Rosina and Rodion Pogossov as Figaro.

And what fun! If the effervescence of Rodion Pogossov’s dapper Figaro could be bottled, no one would need Cava or Prosecco (we’re in Spain, after all, with music by an Italian). Honestly, this Russian baritone can move with the grace of Astaire and the charm of Chaplin. As wily as Figaro, Elizabeth DeShong’s Rosina was a gleaming presence – her feisty character bursting through with every note of her brilliant coloratura. Her disgust for Bartolo was palpable in every scene as was her girlish delight in Lindoro. René Barbera was convincing in his ardor as Lindoro/Count Almaviva, particularly touching in his first act aria, “Ecco ridente in cielo,” putting me in mind of the lyric tenor of Alfredo Kraus.

Alessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo

The Doctor Bartolo of Alessandro Corbelli was every inch the greedy cuckold, from his round belly clothed in horizontal stripes to his delicate prancing feet. He gave us the intricate patter of Rossini’s score, huffing and sputtering as needed. The part of Don Basilio, the music teacher, is often overshadowed by the more prominent principals of the cast, but in this production, Don Basilio was given room to expand, literally. As he stood on a tabletop, singing to Bartolo that the best way to discredit Almaviva is through scandal (“La calunnia e un venticello”), the tablecloth literally unfurled like a parachute. It billowed and rolled, oozing across the stage like the poison of scandal.

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Kristinn Sigmundsson as Don Basilio

With unadulterated glee, the Icelandic bass, Kristinn Sigmundsson brought megawatt vocal power to the aria and looked like a drawing come to life from the Nineteenth century pen of Daumier or Granville.

As Almaviva’s servant, Fiorello, Jonathan Michie was notable. And as the snuff-snorting, sneezing maid Berta, Lucy Schaufer was a slapstick delight. The men’s chorus, whether clamoring across the stage as serenading townsfolk or stomping into Bartolo’s house in military regalia, were excellent. With the addition of peasant women dancing Flamenco style in the streets, Seville was brought to life, becoming a character in its own right. The clever choreography of Nuria Castejón was on display throughout the opera. Dancers, whether acting as townspeople or servants, became the silent audience for the antics of Bartolo’s household.

With the orchestral storm of Act Two, what was once a black and white world turned into a rain of color as confetti and lighting effects simulated a downpour. From that moment on, everyone’s costumes burst into delirious pinks, reds, greens, and yellows.

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The finale of “The Barber of Seville.”

No Rapunzel trapped helplessly in a tower, Rosina, at the end of the act, made ready to flee with the count. With Almaviva disclosing his true identity and Bartolo consoled with the offer of Rosina’s dowry, the lovers, amidst a riotous celebration of dance and song, ascended in a hot air balloon, waving to a grateful audience. I resisted the temptation to wave back. It was an infectiously joyful night at the opera.

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The LA Opera production of The Barber of Seville opened Feb. 28 and continues through March 22.

Cast:
Figaro: Rodion Pogossov
Rosina: Elizabeth DeShong
Count Almaviva: René Barbera
Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli
Doctor Bartolo: (March 22) Philip Cokorinos
Don Basilio: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Berta: Lucy Schaufer
Fiorello: Jonathan Michie
Officer: Frederick Ballentine

Production:
Conductor: James Conlon
Production: Emilio Sagi
Director: Trevore Ross
Scenery Designer: Llorenç Corbella
Costume Designer: Renata Schussheim
Lighting Designer: Eduardo Bravo
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
Choreographer: Nuria Castejón

Photos by Craig T. Mathew courtesy of L A Opera

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 


Highlights of the Weekend: In Los Angeles

February 27, 2015

By Don Heckman

Stanley Clarke

 

– Feb 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Stanley Clarke and Friends. Bassist Clarke’s “Friends” aren’t identified in the program for this gig. But Clarke, a world class artist with a stellar resume, can be counted on to surround himself with players capable of functioning at his Olympian jazz levels. In other words, expect the best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Bel Air Wine Festival’s Celebration Day of Wine, Music and Eight Charities. The afternoon gala starts at 1pm and finishes at 5pm. The evening portion of the day is 6pm – 10pm and will include a delectable dinner. The wine festival features wines from all corners of the globe, food prepared by Vibrato’s chefs and world class live entertainment. Hang Dynasty, whose members have worked with everyone from the Steve Miller Band , Stevie Wonder and Elton John to Pink Floyd and Ringo Starr will perform. There will also be a live auction during the evening gala. 100% of the Festival’s proceeds go to eight charities. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Ballet performs one of the great classics in their repertoire, The Sleeping Beauty. Valley Performing Arts Center. . (818) 677-8800.

The LA Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty"

The LA Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty”

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Venice Baroque Ochestra with mandolin soloist Avi Avital. Call it an evening of Vivaldi, performed by an ensemble, and a soloist adept at the special demands of Baroque era music. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. One of the Southland’s great large ensembles, the NWS once again displays its far-ranging stylistic mastery in a program featuring Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27, Saint-Sean’s Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Piano and Orchstra Opus 22, and Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 For Small Orchestra. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  (805) 449-2100.

Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) Wilson Phillips and Billy Ocean. It’s an offbeat combination, but one with a lot of apeal. The hit-making vocal sounds of Wilson Phillips and the r&b grooves of English born singer Billy Ocean. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

Julian Lage

Julian Lage

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Julian Lage Trio.  Guitarist Lage, a prodigy as a teen-ager, has matured into a world class jcazz artiat.  And here’s a booking not to miss, in which he’s backed by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Eric HarlandThe Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

– Mar. 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with The Ron Jones Jazz influence Orchestra. Entertainment world multi-hphenate MacFarlane is an actor, writer, producer, animator and, in recent years, a singer. He’s backed by the lush sound and solid swing of Ron Jones jazz Influence Orchestra. Click here to read a recent iRoM review of a MacFarlane vocal performance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.


Opera: UCLA Opera’s “The Two Figaros” at Freud Playhouse

February 22, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles is in the midst of a citywide celebration of all things Figaro. Courtesy of the LA Opera we have The Ghosts of Versailles, soon to be followed by The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Even LA Theaterworks jumped into the mix with a semi-staged production of The Guilty Mother, Beaumarchais’ lesser-known sequel to his two more famous creations. But the delightful surprise of this feast of Figaro is a little known opera by Saverio Mercadante, The Two Figaros (I due Figaro) as performed by the students and faculty of Opera UCLA and the UCLA Philharmonia.

Figaro, following in the scheming footsteps of Hermes, the trickster god and his protégé Harlequin, immediately became an iconic character. It’s no wonder that Mozart and Rossini tried their hands at Beaumarchais’ material. In fact, Figaro was so potent a creation that a French actor and author, Honoré Richard Martelly, penned a sequel to the plots set by Rossini and Mozart. The play was so full of mirth and cunning that it was ripe source material for yet another opera.

Saverio Mercadante took to the challenge, employing the talents of librettist, Felice Romani. Mercadante, who composed fifty-nine operas, was as highly regarded as his contemporaries, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi. Unfortunately his reputation plummeted after his death in 1870 and today his works are rarely performed. But there is plenty to admire in this opera buffo, which was composed in 1826 and premiered in 1835. Though some passages seem extracted directly from Rossini’s operas, there are a number of arias of bel canto beauty, fiery cabalettas, and thunderous ensembles, along with Spanish touches à la Boccherini, which lend charm.

"Two Figaros"

“The Two Figaros (I due Figaro)”

The usual suspects are here: Count and Countess Almaviva, Figaro and his wife, Susanna, and the always lovesick, Cherubino. Rosina and her husband, the count, have a daughter, Inès. Figaro, in league with Don Alvaro, has persuaded the count to give Inès’ hand and dowry to Alvaro, who has promised to divide the spoils with Figaro. Inès, however, is in love with Cherubino, no longer a teenager and now a colonel. Cherubino sneaks into the household, presenting himself as a servant whose name he says is also Figaro – hence two Figaros.

 Joanna Lynn-Jacobs as Countess Almaviva, Annie Sherman as Inès, Terri Richter as Susanna

Joanna Lynn-Jacobs as Countess Almaviva, Annie Sherman as Inès, Terri Richter as Susanna

With the three women in the household plotting together to wed Inès to Cherubino, and Almaviva and Figaro favoring Alvaro, a battle of wits ensues. The outcome? After whispered conversations, characters hiding in closets, multiple disguises, feigned tears, and stolen kisses, Cherubino prevails. It turns out Alvaro is none other than Cherubino’s servant in disguise. With the ruse revealed, Count Almaviva relents and gives his blessing to the young couple, even forgiving the deceitful Figaro. With the addition of Plagio, a young playwright, to document the goings-on, we have all the ingredients of a satisfying opera-buffo.

On the stage of the intimate Freud Playhouse, a whimsical interpretation of Almaviva’s villa and courtyard outside Seville was prettily brought to life with tiled staircases, stuccoed walls, potted palms, floating clouds in a Mediterranean sky, and period costumes worthy of any grand opera house. The winning cast of students (and a handful of professionals) both on stage and in the pit, conducted by Joseph Colaneri, conveyed the exuberance of Mercadante’s score with surprising artistry. And under Peter Kazaras’ able direction, the comedic hi-jinks were delivered with spot-on timing.

Teri Richter was both piquant and imposing all at once, her character as the imperturbable Susanna sung with a bright and flexible coloratura. The count was superbly performed by LA Opera tenor, Arnold Geis, his supple voice able to navigate both highs and lows. In the second act, we moved into Donizetti territory and the duet sung by Geis and Richter shone with complexity both musically and dramatically and was, perhaps, the highlight of the evening.

As Figaro, Gregorio Gonzalez was a winning trickster, infectiously conspiratorial in his recitatives and robust in the cabalettas, though the lower end of his baritone was often overpowered by the orchestra. Annie Sherman as Inès was consistently adorable, funny, and musically adept at the intricacies of the soprano role. Meagan Martin’s Cherubino had all the necessary swagger and guile, but she had difficulty projecting in the lower registers. The Countess of Joanna Lynn-Jacobs sung her mezzo part with warmth and color. The part of Plagio, well sung by an endearing Ian Walker, had a guileless sincerity to it, making me wonder if someday he might make an engaging Papageno.

Take a group of young, talented, and enthusiastic musicians and singers, add a good director and a sensitive conductor, then set the opera on an intimate stage. It’s a recipe for a delightful evening well spent.

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Cast (for Feb.15 and 20, alternate cast Feb. 13 and 22)
Count Almaviva: Arnold Geis
Countess Almaviva: Joanna Lynn-Jacobs
Inès: Annie Sherman
Cherubino: Meagan Martin
Figaro: Gregorio Gonzalez
Susanna: Terri Richter
Don Alvaro: Gregory Sliskovich
Plagio: Ian Walker
Servo: Myron Aguilar

Production:
Composer: Saverio Mercadante
Librettist: Felice Romani
Conductor: Joseph Colaneri
Director: Peter Kazaras
Scenic Designer: Adam Alonso
Lighting Designer: Ginevra Lombardo
Choreographer: Kevin Williamson

Photos by Jeff Lorch courtesy of U.C.L.A. Opera.

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 


Live Chamber Music: The Hugo Wolf String Quartett at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall

February 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. The utterly irresistible appeals of string quartet music returned to Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall on Friday night and Saturday afternoon in another prime presentation by Chamber Music Concerts.

The program was delivered by the extraordinarily gifted players of Vienna’s Hugo Wolf String Quartett. In the two hours of the Friday night performance, they offered an exemplary overview of more than two centuries of string quartet music at its most intriguing.

The Hugo Wolf players – violinists Sebastian Gurtler and Regis Bringolf, viola player Thomas Selditz and cellist Florian Berner – each a virtuosic artist in his own right, have been together as an ensemble for more than two decades, performing in major venues around the world. And their musically symbiotic relationship, combined with virtuosic technique and interpretive excellence, produced convincing versions of works reaching from Franz Joseph Haydn to Franz Schubert, climaxing with the premiere of a contemporary quartet commissioned by the Wolf Quartett from Austrian composer Gerhard Winkler.

The Hugo Wolff Quartet

The Hugo Wolff Quartet

The program began with Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 33, often described as “the Joke Quartet.” And with good reason. Haydn was one of the important founders of the Classical string quartet structures. With this composition, however, he chose to insert some atypical, intentionally humorous twists in the harmonic scheme, clearly hoping to surprise his listeners. Add to that his use of long pauses and sudden bursts of a brief, repetitious melodic fragment. The result, for his 18th century audiences, as well as Friday night’s listeners, was amused bursts of laughter. “Don’t take everything too seriously,” he seemed to be saying in this immensely entertaining work, which was performed by the Wolf Quartett with vigorous enthusiasm.

Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, subtitled Death and the Maiden offered a far different musical mood. Composed in 1824, a few years before his death in 1828, its subtitle traces to a song he wrote in 1817. Both the quartet and the song reflect the illnesses Schubert was experiencing, along with his obsession with what he viewed, correctly, as the approaching end of his life at the early age of 31.

Understandably, his D minor Quartet is a work filled with emotional density, often juxtaposing dark, intense passages with unexpected moments of soaring lyricism. The Wolf Quartett players’ interpretation was gripping, capturing the diverse emotions with a convincing blend of affective expression and technical mastery.

The Winkler composition, identified only as String Quartet offered far different challenges. The concert’s program guide refers to his frequent use of multi-media interaction in his works, often using electronic media. In this work, however, the Wolf Quartett instrumentalists are asked to create the sort of complex textures and dense dissonant sounds often provided by electronics along with the spontaneity associated with indeterminate notation. The result was a stunning collage of sounds, played with brilliant technique by the Wolff Quartet. While the piece offered none of the Classical musical structures usually associated – even in many contemporary works – with string quartets, it was nonetheless a fascinating showcase for the Hugo Wolf String Quartett.

It’s worth noting that the Gerhard Winkler identified in the program guide as the composer of String Quartet, presumably is not the German composer, Gerhard Winkler, who was born in 1906 and died in 1977.  It’s unclear, either in the program guide or in Google, whether or not they’re related.

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Photo by Nancy Horowitz courtesy of the Hugo Wolff Quartet.


Live Music: Caesar Jazz Balladeer at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

February 12, 2015

By James DeFrances

Los Angeles.  Last Thursday at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Caesar Jazz Balladeer caught the attention of clubbers in a new way. His angle on the standards was as unique as his proximity to Los Angeles. Only in town for Grammy festivities, Caesar – who lives in Rhode Isand – left his mark on the Southland in the form of three separate performances throughout the course of the Award show weekend.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Pat Senatore

He kicked off his weekend of musical happenings with this night at Vibrato. At first the crowd was thin, but the room filled up quickly and the audience was ever attentive.

Caesar began by explaining on stage how this night almost actually didn’t happen due to a cold medicine snafu he encountered the night before which resulted in an emergency room visit. But ever a resilient fighter, Caesar managed to make a full and speedy recovery with the help of epinephrine. And everyone seemed pleased that he not only was feeling better, but was up on stage doing his favorite thing, performing.

Speaking of the performance, I just couldn’t help but think of how much Nat “King” Cole must have inspired Caesar. There were hints of Cole in Caesar’s body language, his phrasing and above all his set list. Songs like “Nature Boy”, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Mona Lisa” and “Unforgettable” were just a few of his odes to the memory of the late, great Cole.

As my date Bria and I dined on some tasty pine nut-infused bow tie pasta, we watched Caesar accelerate through some of the great classics and standards from the Great American songbook of the 20th century. And with the help of his wireless microphone he was able to make close contact with all corners of the room, a tactic I have only ever seen Robert Davi employ at Vibrato.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Tom Ranier, Pat Senatore, Kendall Kay and Alex Otey.

Caesar’s warm and friendly vocals and permanent smile made him hard to resist. Backed up by Tom Rainier at the piano, Pat Senatore on bass, Kendall Kay on drums and Alex Otey on trumpet, the only direction for him to go was up. And that was what he did!

It was a night of positivity, fine music, great food and looking ahead to the Grammy festivities. Caesar’s new album which is on sale now — titled “Jazz Standards for Today’s Audience” – is a must have for your collection!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


Live Music and More: Allessandra Belloni’s Tarantata Spider Dance at Redcat

February 6, 2015

by Jane Rosenberg

With her compelling stage presence, throaty mezzo, and raging tambourine, Allessandra Belloni is a force of nature. Through Southern Italian folk music, chant, and dance, Belloni and her company explored the sound and movement world of tarantella trance dancing at Disney Hall’s Redcat.

Allessandra Belloni

Allessandra Belloni

Tarantella traces its roots back to Greco-Roman times. The purging of a woman’s thwarted desires through ecstatic trance dancing, accompanied by vibrant percussion, was precipitated by the bite of the tarantula or “spider love bite.”

In Belloni’s contemporary manifestation, dancers spin, shake convulsively, and writhe on the floor. If this sounds like a personal exorcism of sorts, it is; and this is where the problem of performance sets in. As a healing rite it may have its benefits, or as a fascinating demonstration of an ancient folk tradition it’s effective. But as a two-act dance drama, strung together by narration, it fails. Dancers mime or perform choreographed routines that seem stilted rather than ecstatic. Only Belloni and one of her lead dancers are up to the task.

Belloni’s virtuosity on the tambourine is without question. Along with traditional instruments played onstage by an ensemble of musicians, her music director, Joe Deninzon adds modern electronic dance beats. I suspect this is the reason Belloni’s expressive voice is over amplified with an unfortunate loss of complexity and subtlety.

To be in Belloni’s presence, without the interference of electronic music, amplification, or the distraction of other performers, to my mind, would be the perfect way to sample the tarantella and connect to the true meaning of the spider dance.

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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children

 


Live Music and a Lot More: MY DAY AT THE NAMM SHOW

January 28, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

Anaheim, CA.  For anyone who appreciates music, the NAMM show is a scene you simply must make once in your life, maybe more. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convenes twice annually, once in the winter at the Anaheim Convention Center and once in the summer, in Nashville. It has become more than a convention, and is now a four day event attended by thousands, with awards given to distinguished artists and manufacturers, concerts all day outdoors on a huge stage, celebrity signings, ongoing celebrity jams, intriguing food trucks, plenty of free stuff, and a whole lot of entertaining people to watch.

I was struck by how many people appeared to be dressed in their rock star costumes. These folks must look like they are on or near a stage every day. The multi-color hair and bizarre tats and piercings are a long-term proposition, a commitment. Of course, that’s rock and roll and we do love it. There were even people in costumes running around simply to provide photo ops, but that felt schticky, a little like Hollywood and Highland.

NAMM floor is a busy place, man!

Entry to NAMM is exclusive. Everyone who gets in must apply for and receive a badge to get through the doors. Physically getting to those doors isn’t so easy, either, as parking is at a premium. I had to park about a mile away from the site, and hoof it in. But it was a gorgeous day and I was with many other like-minded souls so it was cool…and free. Inside the convention center, vendors build a four story musical city, a multi-tiered grid of all conceivable music gear. And sometimes getting from one side of an aisle to the other is not unlike jaywalking in New York City. One must be alert as there are throngs of folks in constant motion on the NAMM floor.

Since so many manufacturers are represented under one roof, you can explore any curiosity on the spot, at the source. This worked out well for me. I cruised into the plush-carpeted Rickenbacker display, giddily strummed several of the shiny guitars, and inquired as to how pros actually deal with restringing their (in)famous 12-strings. These beautiful beasts are a well-known source of aggravation because the whole guitar must be unstrung and laboriously restrung even when one only string is a problem. But I was let in on the masking tape and long nose pliers solution to make things more efficient. Still, the ultra inconvenient “R” tailpiece will endure, as its design is classic and a part of an enduring image. Of course, the equally cool Ricky basses, have a much more string friendly design and will also stay the same.

The Rickenbacker 12 String

Before going to the NAMM show I wasn’t aware that guitar straps actually come in sizes like shirts do. So within a short exchange of dialogue I had learned about strap sizing. I also learned that there are several names for the extension adjustment strap on a leather guitar strap (“tongue” was the best that I heard), that they are sold separately, and can extend a strap by as much as 12 inches. The big idea was that huge vendors only carry some of many things. There is more variety available if one goes straight to the manufacturer, online or in person, than if one goes to a big distributor.

I had a feeling there would be some pleasant surprises nestled into the NAMM grid. Would you believe that somebody developed a product that allows you to actually be heard playing air drums? Yes, a special high-speed camera program gauges your movements, anticipating which drums you are reaching for and attaches sound. Voila, you can be heard. It was uncanny to watch, like some sort of illusion.

Fenders at NAMM. Surf all day, record all night… sounds like a plan!

One thing about the NAMM show, it borders on a muted din most of the time. There are so many displays where you can pick up an instrument to play and whether it was pianos, trumpets, or drums, there were usually a good dozen artists and regular folks just bashing away ecstatically. It’s a great way to make that much noise. The drum neighborhood at the end of the day was particularly lively. Big jam sessions up and down the block at every booth.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the NAMM show is that there are small concerts going on all the time in the booths. And a lot of these gigs are phenomenal. Sometimes it’s one person playing over a pre-recorded backing track. Other times it’s a whole ensemble.

Albert Lee bringing it at Music Man

These jams can get crowded but wow, if you have a good spot you’re in for a treat. I got lucky three times. Albert Lee was tearing it up at Music Man, and then I happened over to Godin guitars where Jose Roberto Hernandez and his friends were doing a sublime job of it. Beautiful guitar work from Hernandez, violin, acoustic bass guitar, and three hand percussionists made for some amazing, layered, poly-rhythmic music. Words won’t do it justice. On the other hand, I really couldn’t get a view of John Popper at Fender or of Doug Wimbash at Burgera.

All star jam in honor of Slash with Skunk Baxter, Richie Sambora, and Orianthi.

The best jam I saw was by far at the Mark Bass booth. If you can believe it, about thirty of us got to watch as guitarist Frank Gambale and six string bass ace Alain Caron strutted their chops and soared into the stratosphere together. The grin on our faces, and on theirs, was ear to ear. One person in the crowd actually had to steady the keyboard from falling off the corner of the amp it was perched upon. It was that casual, and yet that good.

Up on the third floor the heavy hitters of guitar set up shop with lavish booths and lots of decor. This would be Fender, Gibson, ESP, Schecter, and Paul Reed Smith. ESP in particular, had some sculpted guitars that looked as impressive as they were close to unplayable for more than an encore…or a photo session. Paul Reed Smith exhibited some wild inlay work, too.

Elaborate inlay work at Paul Reed Smith

Gibson had a whole table of headphones and Les Pauls to play privately, much like you would see in the Apple store. They seemed to be pushing their self-tuning guitar heads, but hey, the one I played just got confused and like in some silly sci-fi movie, the tuning heads spun about, taking the guitar nowhere close to being tuned. Hmm…

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar ...to ourselves.

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar …to ourselves.

At the big name booths I saw a whole lotta desks in sound-proof offices for making deals. People were here to deal and there was plenty of that going on. You literally couldn’t walk across the Martin Guitar booth without an obstacle course of office furniture. And interestingly enough, when I played one of their $6000 guitars, there was so much general commotion that I could scarcely hear what I was playing. It happens.

At six o’clock the lights dimmed as I was being serenaded with Norteno music and learning about Bajo Sextos and Bajo Quintos. That was a great little session. The show was over and it was time for most of us to trudge to our cars, while in the banquet rooms the VIP’s were just warming up for a night of music and awards. Just another day at the NAMM show. I was happily drained on the way home.

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Photos by Mike Finkelstein. 

To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


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