Record Rack: “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio” and “Ode to Thinking”

July 27, 2015

 

Brian Arsenalt

Brian Arsenalt

By Brian Arsenault

Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio  (Steve Barta Music)

Arranged by Steve Barta

But (Not Too) seriously, folks.  I am pretty far over my head reviewing Steve Barta’s new arrangement of Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio.

For one thing, I don’t know Claude Bolling’s 1975 original work. In ’75 I was more concerned about the direction of The Who and horrified at the popularity of The (self aggrandizing hipper than thou treacherous) Eagles.

For another, while I’m reasonably conversant with jazz up to a point, I don’t even know most of the vocabulary of the classical.

So here I am listening raptly to a reworking of a piece that bravely combines the two and, I’m told, had the misfortune of being popular so it wasn’t particularly well liked by critics of either genre. Additionally, in Barta’s update, a jazz trio is brought together with a string quartet and a full orchestra.

Sound intimidating? I thought so but therein is the remarkable thing. It’s immediately accessible to all. All at least who can journey from the joyous to the reflective, from lilting laughter vanishing quickly in the air to moments of sadness that are never maudlin. Beauty is what pleases, Acquinas said, and this album pleases on so many levels.

It’s theme music for a rainy Sunday morning that brings the brightness to the day. The album combines instruments and clusters of instruments that one seldom hears played together. Yet it never jars. Baroque flows into blues into a jazz rift and a symphonic echo. I think it must be complex to assemble and yet it flows into the ear as smoothly as air itself.

And how did I get this far into the review without remarking on the flute of Hubert Laws and the piano of Jeffrey Biegel? They can hear each other. They can “speak” to each other. They can interweave their charms and celebrate the many other fine musicians to be heard here. The notes and the silences both pure.

I was deep in my own thoughts and then suddenly the album was over. The room seemed just a little empty.

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Bobby Long

Ode to Thinking (Compass Records)

I’m sorry, Bobby. I’ve liked and reviewed an earlier album. I was impressed by your book of poetry. But good god, man, I got about halfway through your new album, read on to the lyrics of some of the later songs, and decided that good mental health required that I stop listening.

We’ve all heard and loved tunes about bad love affairs and the miserable state of the world, both realities no doubt. Yet if your lovers have all been as bad as you say perhaps you need to rethink your mutual selection procedures. And I need some insight into the misery of the world, not simply your seeming regret that most of us are stupid.

The blues were about how rough life can be but they were largely made to help folks feel better. On this album, you’re like a tourniquet closing off any sense of joy. That place you liked when you were young that burned down. No wonder you’re “not going out tonight.” Too depressed. And the purple prose (poetry) of the lover who will “drink my blood like wine.” Oh please. And anyway I think you missed that vampire as sexy thing.

I am not saying there isn’t intelligence in the verse. There clearly is. And you can turn a phrase with lyrics like an “empty wishing well” and “the CD players start to rust.”
But perspective please. Irony please. Humor please. Self taken less seriously. The age of consumptive poets is over. Or ought to be.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE

 


Live Music: Barenaked Ladies, The Violent Femmes, and Colin Hay at the Greek Theatre

July 27, 2015
Mike Finkelstein

Mike Finkelstein

By Mike Finkelstein

Last Tuesday night, a good old-fashioned triple bill pulled into town at the Greek theater, a triple bill headlined by Barenaked Ladies, and supported by the Violent Femmes and Colin Hay. It seems that in recent times, acts don’t interact much on stage during one of these tours. They simply go onstage in their respective bubbles and do their shows. This was happily not the way things would play out Tuesday night. Members of all three acts came and went throughout each other’s sets and there was clearly camaraderie between them. This made for a very entertaining night of shared music.

Colin Hay

Colin Hay

The evening began early, at 7 o’clock with Colin Hay, whom most of us who were listening to radio in the 80’s will remember from his days with Men at Work. There is something reaffirming about watching one guy with an acoustic guitar an hour before sundown playing masterfully to an audience that would only be accurately described as sparse. It didn’t matter to Colin, he sounded great and the audience dug it, giving him a standing “O” at the end.

A song like Men at Work’s “Overkill” works beautifully as a solo acoustic number. Hay has a very warm way of stroking the right blend of vocals and guitar to bring out the essence of a tune. His last tune, a fine little folk song named “Next Year People,” featured an appearance by Barenaked Ladies’ Kevin Hearn on accordion, and worked the theme of overcoming metaphorical drought. Hay’s set was short but sweet and he definitely earned that warm reception.

Next up were the Violent Femmes. There were shirts being sold at the merch stand, which advertised that the Violent Femmes have been making American music since 1981! Thirty-four years of longevity, even with a hiatus or two in there. Their backline and instruments were in place during Hay’s set and one really couldn’t help notice the humungous saxophone, a B flat tubax, located center-stage, wondering how it was going to figure in with the VF’s show (it sounded so low that it became a bit obscured in the mix). Sitting there so mysteriously, it had to be close to 8 feet tall looking like some sort of machine from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes

The Femmes hit the ground running with their most popular tune, “Blister in the Sun,” and with that, they had the rapidly expanding crowd on it’s feet and in the palms of their hands. The vibe onstage was a lot like one of those times where a group of street musicians has attracted a huge throng of people and are just killing it for the folks. At different times there were anywhere from six to ten players onstage, including the ubiquitous Kevin Hearn on accordion. Because the stage was arranged with all the stations next to each other, their were several different pockets of activity to swing the focus to. The VFs feature three unorthodox yet super-engaging instrumentalists in bassist Brian Ritchie, drummer Brian Viglione, and saxophonist Blaise Garza. All three performed with a lot of motion, but it always looked natural, not a put-on for the big stage. Ritchie is a tall guy with a big hat, a huge stage presence, and he usually plays an acoustic bass guitar, (a bass with a much deeper than normal body). Viglione plays a drum kit full of not-so-ordinary drums and he does it vigorously while standing. Garza was all over the stage and was never far from that towering tubax.

The 45 minute set blew by. Perhaps the best tune of their program was “Gone Daddy Gone.” The chords to this tune are pretty much “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” played backwards and forwards, but the VFs put their style all over the bare bones. Brian Ritchie had to play marimbas to give the song its signature sound, which allowed for Barenaked Ladies’ bassist Jim Creegan to come out and play Ritchie’s bass part like a champion. At the end of the marimba break, Ritchie reached dramatically over the whole set of marimbas to peel off the last run. It was a necessary move but it looked mighty cool, and it made for fine showmanship during a great song. And, of course, Kevin Hearn was up there with his trusty accordion.

Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies were top billed Tuesday night, though on this particular occasion the Violent Femmes may have had as many fans in the house and could have easily have pulled off headlining. BNL turned in a crisp set punctuated with clever little tidbits of between-the-tunes banter. Several of their songs I recognized, although I never knew it was them before. Before the night was over there were a whole string of tunes I wanted more of. “The Old Apartment” is a great tune, a 4/4 rocker with a weave of crunch, jangle, and open space about the powerful memories in a home from the past. The next tune was “Odds Are,” which built on the same quick strummed acoustic guitar sound but with catchier hooks and a near rap delivery of the verses. If it sounds good, use it.

Barenaked Ladies have two very engaging players in bassist Jim Creegan, and keyboardist/lead guitarist Kevin Hearn. Creegan was probably their most compelling figure. He’s all long legs, arms, and fingers and with his long antelope strides, he covered a whole lot of stage surface. Creegan also spent much of the evening playing a rockin’ style of standup bass. To get that much motion while tethered to such a large instrument is a bit of true showmanship. Hearn, for his part, pushed the tunes along on keys but when he played lead guitar he shined the brightest. He took “Pinch Me” to another level. And, considering that Colin Hay was already onstage singing with the boys, an already great song went a little higher.

The BNLs also like to deliver their lyrics in raps when the mood strikes them. And when they splice it together with a catchy guitar riff, the result is a fun song like “One Week.” Moments like these, when a familiar song becomes something bigger live, are the payoff for going to see live music. The show wound down with an off the wall medley of everything from the Cars to Queen and even a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” But, before this started they played their own wistful-yet-kinda-silly “If I Had A Million Dollars.” This song is so pretty in its simplicity, and with an exemplary sing along chorus, that it couldn’t help but satisfy.

In the end, I had the opportunity Saturday night to see two bands I’d always meant to catch up with, and one singer/songwriter whom I’ll always be up for seeing. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a Violent Femmes’ or Barenaked Ladies’ tune or two at the next campfire I happen to. The tunes are that good.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


The Song Scout: On “Dutchess” and Keeping the Boswells Alive

July 9, 2015

Roger Crane, The Song Scout

By Roger Crane

Unlike earlier vocal groups The Boswell Sisters were truly three voices singing as one, acting and interacting with each other as musicians and not simply vocalists. And each was a superb musician, Martha played piano, Helvetia (Vet) played violin, banjo and guitar and Connie played cello, sax and guitar. Although their career was short, roughly 1931-1936, compilations of their recordings can be found and selections including the noted “Heebie Jeebies,” the exceptional “River Stay ‘Way from My Door,” the charming “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye” and, of course, the chart topping “The Object of My Affection.”

The Sisters strong jazz flair was enhanced by the accompaniment of some of the top 1930s jazz musicians, including the Dorsey brothers, Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. Thankfully, various CDs are now available, but the Boswell Sisters deserve much more attention. Without question, they were musical innovators and many succeeding vocal groups — male as well as female — owe their musical shape to the pattern laid down by the Boswells. And even some solo artists; for example, Ella Fitzgerald, has named them as personal favorites and a major influence on her style. No dopey melismas, no shouting, no foolish vocal acrobatics, just swinging close harmony.

Duchess is a stellar vocal group formed in 2013 that owes its musical shape to the Boswells. It consists of three New York-based vocalists – Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou. Interestingly, all three are originally from north of the 49th parallel. Amy and Melissa are from Toronto and Hilary from Alaska. Why “Duchess?” Cervini explained to writer Dan Ouellette “We were actually looking at slang from the ‘20s and ‘30s when we were choosing a name for our trio. There were a lot of words for women that were diminutive or insulting, but “duchess” was simply another name for a girl. We liked that it was a nod to the past but also was strong.”

Although Duchess takes a loving nod to their classic vocal harmonies, Gardner says they do not consider themselves a Boswells “tribute” group. She clarifies that the Duchess’ vocals are not simply a retro-leaning nostalgia exercise. For example, they choose songs from as far back as the late ‘20s but also bring a fresh look to songs such as “Lollipop,” a bit of 1958 fluff recorded by the Chordettes.

While listening to Duchess, it is clear that – as a group and individually – they enjoy and respect the Boswells. But, as Gardner further explains, “We’re intrinsically camp. We’re three girls singing together in harmony, so it’s going to be a little campy and a little retro. It’s built in. It’s in the hardware. So you can fight that—like we’re doing something very serious and very important, or you can have a good time.

“Our idea of entertainment is to be silly and not needing to have a master’s degree to get a good experience out of a jazz show. I don’t know when all of that became a liability for people in jazz. It doesn’t have to. As Judy Garland famously said, ‘Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.’” Folks who have been blessed to see Duchess in live performances consistently mention the fun they exhibit.

Dan Ouellette in a May 2015 Down Beat article described Duchess as “harmonious frivolity,” which sounds very good to me.

The Duchess Site

The Boswells Official website

A breezy fan-based site for the “Bozzies


Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band At Walt Disney Concert Hall

June 29, 2015

Norton Wright

By Norton Wright

Los Angeles, CA.  It was SHOWTIME at Disney Hall on Saturday night as Gordon Goodwin’s 18-piece Big Phat Band performed like an inextinguishable stick of dynamite, exploding number after number in its featured hour-long set marking KJazz Radio’s third annual benefit concert.
The recipient of the 2015 GRAMMY Award for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble,” this band is ignited by its larger-than-life bandleader/composer/arranger /performer, Gordon Goodwin, who doubled as a voluble, high-energy Master Of Ceremonies clearly aiming to put on an entertaining show for the sold-out audience in the elegant and spacious Disney Hall. Goodwin combined his own good-humored anecdotes about his band, about the night’s “Swinging Tribute to Count Basie,” and about the star talents in his band who, in the old, big-band tradition, stride downstage to microphones to solo.

Gordon Goodwin and The Big Phat Band

When a band has the likes of Andy Martin’s trombone, Wayne Bergeron’s trumpet, Brian Scanlon’s tenor, Bernie Dressel’s drums, and Kevin Axt’s bass, the soloing is fiery and precise. Sal Lozano’s clarinet on “Rhapsody In Blue” put the audience away, and alto saxist Eric Marienthal’s solos built beautifully from the soulful and unhurried to the electrifying and urgent.

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

An array or surprises helped shape the show. Grammy Award winning guitarist icon, Lee Ritenour, dropped in halfway into the band’s performance. His opening comments, “This band is burning!” said it all.

And he said even more, playing with incredible dexterity his newest composition titled “L.P.”, a tribute to the old, guitar master, Les Paul.

Gregg Field, the producer of The Big Phat Band’s last two recent records, sat in on drums for a couple of numbers, driving the band with a hard-swinging command and reminding us that great, jazz musicianship can also make for great jazz CD producers.

Building toward his show’s finale, Goodwin had some fun. He explained that the band was going to try a “head arrangement” and that he had no idea what riffs the woodwind section, the trombone section, and the trumpet section might have in their heads and  would choose to play behind the soloists. The musicians in each section, ham actors all!, made a big show of their supposed confusion in deciding what riff each section would undertake.

Gordon Goodwin

Gordon Goodwin

Needless to say, their selections were well chosen and the blues number proceeded, as one after another, each section kicked in its selected riff neatly dovetailing their selection with those of the other sections backing the soloists who in turn were having a wailing good time!

For the finale, Goodwin joked that the chemistry of musicians in a big band is rife with competition. As an example, the band’s entire trumpet section — Dan Forneo, Wayne Bergeron, Willie Murillo, and Dan Savant — came downstage to a set of microphones and battled each other in a cut session, with each appearing to want to outdo the others with furious fingering and stratospheric notes. The result was a display of dazzling improvisations that had the crowd on its feet. But when these trumpeters, understandably proud of their display of chops, turned to return to their section seats, they discovered that the entire woodwind section — Brian Scanlon, Kevin Garren, Adam Schroeder, Sal Lozano, and Eric Marienthal – were all playing flutes and piccolos in a riff clearly designed to outdo the trumpets. The trombone section — Craig Gosnel, Francisco Torres, Ryan Dragon, and Andy Martin – followed suit with their own bone licks challenging the trumpet section’s  show of force. The trumpeters in mock dismay returned to their seats, and the crowd in Disney Hall went wild!

The night had been more than the performance of a great band – it had been a genuine SHOW shaped by a first-class showman, Gordon Goodwin.

Sara Gazarek

Sara Gazarek

It should also be mentioned that the evening had opened with jazz songstress, Sara Gazarek and her trio, the always amazing pianist Geoff Keezer, fine bass soloist, Dave Robaire, and Dan Schnelle’s tastily discreet drums.

An emerging star, Gazarek radiates good-natured likeability. On this night, however, her ever-smiling rendition of her song selections could have benefited from a more varied and thoughtful approach. Her medley of “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” was sung jazzily and happily. But lyrics from the former: “Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go, Singing low, Bye bye blackbird” — and  from the latter:“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life” – suggest an interpretation with more gravitas, soul, and emotional unease than Gazarek chose to undertake.

Though Gazarek is very pretty, especially in her short-skirted dress revealing legs rivaling those of Betty Grable, such stage presence can detract from what is most important – that is, her approach to the song, her take on its lyrics, why the song is important to her. There were times on Saturday night when the ever-happy Gazarek gave the impression that she was presenting great jazz pipes and phrasing – but with little meaning.

And a final bug-a-boo for this writer. When an artist is on stage, every visual moment counts with the audience. The growing practice of singers these days to guzzle bottled water after completing a portion of a song can indeed break the mood of a piece and the audience’s emotional commitment to the singer and the song. In opera, if the diva upon completing “Un bel di” breaks out of character to gurgle a bottle of water on stage, the meaning and mood of the aria will surely be damaged.
In her performance Saturday night, Gazarek took on-stage water breaks several times to the detriment of her performance… If a singer needs water on stage, Judy Garland had a good answer: pre-position a big, water-filled wine glass on the nearby piano and use it as needed. The wine glass has a touch of class and allows the performer to drink while staying in character, perhaps even toasting her band or toasting the audience.

On stage, visual class matters.

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To read more posts by Norton Wright and view his jazz-inspired paintings, click HERE.


Ballet: Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg Performs “Rodin” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

June 16, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Famous artists in torment are a subject of fascination in the popular imagination. Make it two tormented artists in a romantic relationship and the appeal doubles. Biographies, films, and even novelizations of the lives of, for example: Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre abound.

In this vein, Boris Eifman, the Russian choreographer known internationally for his heavily plotted, narrative ballets explores the intense relationship of the sculptor Auguste Rodin with the artist Camille Claudel. It is a subject ripe for the Eifman technique, which interweaves classical ballet movement, modern dance, and in the choreographer’s words, “ecstatic impulses” all at the service of psychological dance theatre.

In Rodin, we travel back and forth in time, largely between the mental asylum where Camille was incarcerated and Rodin’s workshop. Architecturally, the set by Zinovy Margolin is a marvel of lines and planes reminiscent of Russian Constructivist theatre sets of the early twentieth century. The angles, multi-levels, and platforms provide the backdrop for the workshop, the asylum, and various other locations such as the dance hall of Act Two.

Set to a selection of late nineteenth, early twentieth century French music by Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Debussy, and Satie, which is woven seamlessly throughout, the ballet has many moments of breathtaking beauty, imaginative choreography, and penetrating insight, all superbly danced by Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin, Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille, and Yulia Manjeles as Rodin’s lifelong companion, Rose Beuret.

Like the clay with which Rodin and Camille sculpt their forms, the choreography in Act One is tied to the earth, reminiscent of Martha Graham’s elemental movements. Echoes of Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography also haunt the piece, and awareness of his declining mental state adds another layer of meaning.

Art and sensuality seem inextricably mixed, particularly in the sensuality of the clay as depicted in Rodin’s “modeling” of form. In a mesmerizing scene, Rodin stands before a group of semi-nude male figures crouching on a rotating circular table. As Rodin pushes, twists, and strokes these figures, he seems to draw form out of this mass of bodies. Slowly a limb extends or a knee juts out, until the figures stand erect, becoming Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. The magic is achieved by Eifman’s choreography, Gabyshev’s raw physical power, and the sculptural lighting of Gleb Filshtinsky.

Notable in Act One is a dance for the asylum inmates, women dressed in cream colored nightdresses and lace sleeping caps, who dance holding pillows, which in turn become babies cradled in their arms, toys they play with, or a repository for their tears. At some moments one thinks of the spectral Willis of Giselle, the victims of their sweethearts’ indifference, at another, the children at play in The Nutcracker, rocking their dolls or frolicking about the Stahlbaum house. Both instances help in heightening dramatic tension.

In a dream sequence, which serves as a counterpoint to the earthier and more tortured dancing of Act One, couples dressed in silky charcoal grays, beautifully conceived by costume designer Olga Shaishmelashvili, dance with classical elegance to Saint-Saëns Dance Macabre. More confused however is the dance of the workshop assistants at the beginning of the act, which looks like a nod to the cowboys of Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo or the sailors of Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free – cute and lively, but a bit out of place in a French sculptor’s workshop.

All in all, Act One is a gem of dance drama. Even the tortured, angst driven dancing manages to stay just on the right side of romantic sentimentality. Gabyshev’s Rodin as consumed artist and sexual predator has an iconic reality to it. Andreyeva’s Camille as Rodin’s ambitious, sensual, yet unstable student and fellow artist is a passionate performance. And Manjeles is majestic as the long-suffering Rose.

Act Two begins with another striking effect: Rodin creating the Gates of Hell. On metal scaffolding representing an immense doorway, dancers configure into positions reflecting Rodin’s famed relief sculpture.

Unfortunately, problems arise as Act Two progresses when the proverbial kitchen sink syndrome derails the ballet. What had been a precisely structured examination into the life of art, tackling issues of creativity, recognition, fame, love, and madness turns into a pastiche of nineteenth century dance references and an unnecessary heightening of the angst ridden choreography. A harvest wine dance à la Giselle, with girls in brightly clad peasant dresses, grows out of nowhere (justified by Rodin’s dreaming of his first meeting with Rose), followed a bit later by a Parisian dance hall cancan scene when Camille leaves Rodin for the bright lights of the big city. Both are crowd-pleasers, no doubt, but Eifman’s showmanship here gets in the way of his artistry. Further compromising Act Two is the overstated tension within the love triangle of Rodin, Camille, and Rose. The tortured dancing grows repetitive and dilutes the undeniable power of the first act.

Where Eifman succeeds in Act Two is in turning the hammering of stone, done first by Camille, and then in the ballet’s final scene by Rodin, into blazing dance movement. His back towards us and bare chested, Gabyshev works away at the stone, his body torqueing side to side; and we are left with the image of the artist as Hephaestus forging life out of the furnace of human will and desire.

Photos by Gene Schiavone courtesy of Eifman Ballet.

Dancers:

Rodin: Oleg Gabyshev
Camille: Lyubov Andreyeva
Rose Beuret: Yulia Manjeles

Production:

Choreography: Boris Eifman

Music: Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie
Sets: Zinovy Margolin
Costumes: Olga Shaishmelashvili
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky, Boris Eifman

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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: The Doobie Brothers and Don Felder at the Greek Theatre

June 10, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

At the Greek Theater Saturday night, the Doobie Brothers and Don Felder brought the instant name recognition that two set lists-worth of big FM hits from the 70’s will fetch, and put them on display for a large, enthusiastic audience at the Greek Theater. The hits rolled pretty much all night long.

The Doobie Brothers were/are a classic case of what it used to take to make it in the music business. It took considerable instrumental chops, still more songwriting ability, and a knack for adapting to and even influencing popular tastes as you went. The tunes had to remain fresh enough to keep people listening. The Doobies’ first smash hit was “Listen to the Music,” in 1973, which featured a funky inverted guitar riff with a soaring sing along chorus. It, like all the tunes this evening, was given a straight run through the changes, which allowed for the same tasteful breaks as the original recordings.

Throughout the mid-70’s the Doobies worked the guitar band angle beautifully. At the time, a Doobie Brothers album would showcase the possibilities of tastefully arranged electric rock and soul songs mixed with original acoustic tunes rooted in open tuning blues, bluegrass, folk and traditional jazz. Then as now, guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnson offered the whole package, as both were strong rhythm and lead players, sounded compelling when harmonizing their vocals, and both were prolific in writing personally stylized signature songs.

The Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers

 

On Saturday, along with soul songs and funky shuffles like “Eyes of Silver,” and “Long Train Runnin’” we got crunching rock like “China Grove,” and the encore of “Road Angel.” Road Angel featured rockin’ boogie changes and harmony guitar lines – a classic, crowd pleasing mid-70’s guitar styled approach to the arrangement. But, the most interesting portions of the set list had to be the inclusion of the acoustic/folky “Fresh As the Driven Snow,” and “South City Midnight Lady.”

These songs were not FM hits but they were on 1973’s The Captain and Me, a mega million selling album in its time, which is why everyone recognized them as an unexpected gift. The former has a great build towards the end, which gathers speed and power as it moves seamlessly from folk to rock. The DB’s played it so well, right down to John McPhee’s pedal steel guitar, that it took us all decades back in time for a moment or two.

As the 70’s progressed and wound down, popular tastes evolved towards R & B and the Doobies, always well-connected musically, worked the musical turnstile that was Steely Dan in those days. They recruited both ace guitarist Jeff Baxter and singer Michael McDonald into their fold to take them in this direction. McDonald was a white soul singer with a very unique voice and they rode his sound to some huge hits. As Baxter and McDonald were not part of the lineup Saturday, the band only played one of these songs, “Taking It To The Streets,” (of course, they had to) but without McDonald’s vocal it did sound a bit hollow.

Personally, I had hoped the set list would go in the direction of the B-side cuts on albums like The Captain and Me and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. I’m glad they went this way. It was a most welcome surprise to hear that material live.

Preceding the Doobies Saturday was none other than Don Felder, ex-Eagle and one polished performer, if there ever was one.

Don Felder

He may be well into his 60’s but he could pass for mid 40’s. Great hair, great teeth and still has his chops down. His band took the obligatory string of Eagles hits and a couple of solo hits like “Heavy Metal,” and with some top notch harmony singing, they basically reproduced each of these uber-familiar FM staples nuance for nuance. From “Victim of Love” to “Tequila /Sunrise,” to “Witchy Woman,” to “Hotel California,” every detail was accounted for. The band even used two talk boxes simultaneously at one point. But it sounded dead on…which is the point of playing those tunes live.

Saturday evening was a satisfying night for us 50-somethings to relive happenings 40 years ago. Music will do that for a person better than anything else. And, as long as the bands that defined rock radio in the 70’s can show up to play, their slightly younger audiences will continue to buy tickets to watch and listen to the soundtrack of their youth.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Music: Jeremy Siskind and The Housewarming Project at the Old Siskiyou Barn

June 8, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. I expected another memorable musical experience Saturday night when I looked at my schedule. And with good reason. For the past few weeks, I’ve heard and enjoyed a series of compelling evenings of music in concerts produced by the Siskiyou Music Project.

Saturday’s performance by Jeremy Siskind and the Housewarming Project – another musical group well-chosen by the SMP’s Artistic Director Ed Dunsavage — was no exception. It reached, in fact, beyond music, into a transformative event in which the players, the music and the location blended into an intimate togetherness, drawing its listeners into a kind of complete experiential participation.

The location was to me, as an Ashland newcomer, utterly gripping. It’s called the Old Siskiyou Barn. And that’s exactly what it once was.

The Old Siskiyou Barn

But now, despite its location in the woodsy mountain area south of Ashland, it has become a beautifully restored performance space (check the photo) with embracing acoustics, the earthy fragrance of ancient wood and the opportunity to experience the music up close and personal. Surrounding the Barn are banks of wild flowers, grassy green picnic areas and three ponds streaming with mountain waters. No wonder it is one of Ashland’s most popular performance areas, for local talent, as well as touring, stellar artists.

Saturday’s headliner, The Housewarming Project, was a trio led by pianist/composer Jeremy Siskind. His two creative companions were singer Nancy Harms and multi-woodwind player Lucas Pino.

The Housewarming Project. (Jeremy Siskind, Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino.)

The combination of a piano, voice and a collection of woodwind instruments doesn’t seem, on the face of it, to contain any unusually creative potential. Which might be the truth, if the players were anyone other than Siskind, Harms and Pino.

The music they offered on Saturday was utterly unique. Virtually all the selections – with the sole exception of a few standards – were composed and/or arranged by Siskind. A gifted pianist/composer, Siskind’s collection of material reached across a far range of material: cabaret tunes, a song calculated to be – in Siskind’s description – “a Paul Simon kind of song,” another inspired by Jack Kerouac, other works based on lyrical poetry with titles such as “Hymn of Things,” “Theme For A Sunrise,” “The Trees Don’t Need To Know,” and more.

Add to that the unlikely choice of an old Ink Spots tune called “Whispering Grass,” and standards “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and a newly harmonized take on “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Jeremy Siskind

Jeremy Siskind

 

It was a fascinating musical menu. But the magic here was what Siskind did with each of these songs, and what Harms and Pino did with their interpretive soloing.

 

Harms’ honey and bourbon sound blended intimately with the colorful tonal variations of Pino’s clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone playing.

Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino

Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino

Supporting them, Siskind’s pianistic work took full advantage of the piano as an orchestra in itself, from whispered high notes arching through Harms’ coloratura head tones to unison bass passages with Pino’s dark low notes.

As with previous Siskiyou Musical Project events, we headed for home with resonating echoes of appealing music still ringing in our ears. And looking forward to the next opportunity to experience another SMP musical evening in the embracing surroundings of the Old Siskiyou Barn.

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Photos of Old Siskiyou Barn, Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino by Faith Frenz.

Photo of Jeremy Siskind courtesy of jeremysiskind.com


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