back APRIL 2007
Norah Jones: April 18th at The Theater in MSG
If you thought that maybe Norah Jones' 8 Grammy awards were beginners luck or that she was a flavor of the month, then let me and the sold out crowd at The Theater at Madison Square Garden be the first to tell you how wrong you were on that one. This show had everything you could ask for and then some.
Her voice was strong and beautiful, her band was not only "Handsome" but talented as well, and her song selection had something for everyone. She played a handful of songs from all three CD's including her covers of Hank Williams (Cold Cold Heart), Tom Waits (Long Way Home) and Hoagy Carmichael/Ned Washington (The Nearness Of You) plus covers of the Dixie Cups and Willie Nelson.
The highlights from the new CD were the New Orleans flavored "sinkin' soon", which had a guest appearance from trombone player J. Walter Hawkes who rocked the house, and "my dear country" which makes some references to our current president and drew enthusiastic responses from the audience. The title cut "not too late" and "rosie's lullyby" were both beautiful and memorable.
Her band consisted of her usual suspects including Adam Levy on guitar and banjo, Lee Alexander on acoustic, electric and upright bass, Andrew Borger on drums and assorted percussive items and Daru Oda who sang backup and played an assortment of instruments including keyboards, bass and flute. She even whistled for one tune from the new CD called "little room".
(a better picture from the last time I saw her)
Throughout the evening Norah juggled pianos and guitars and performed solo, as a sextet and everything in between. Some tunes also received new treatments like "Come Away With Me" which was performed with only her and Adam on guitars or the Jesse Harris tune "I've Got To See You Again" which was even more jazzy than on her debut CD. Of course, she saved Jesse's "Don't Know Why" for her encore. Her cover of 1965's "I'm Gonna Get You Yet" by The Dixie Cups was the surprise thrill of the night.
Some people might prefer not to mix their jazz with country, rock and lullabies, but this was practically a "dream concert" for me. Besides the eclectic mix of great songs, a great band and her beautiful unassuming personality, the sound and lighting don't get any better. And as if all that was not enough, my tickets were free thanks to my membership at WFUV 90.7 FM (wfuv.org) Life is Good!
Lura: April 13th at Pollak Auditorium
Magnificent! I could just stop there but the morning after I'm still too filled with enthusiasm to leave it at that. I first saw Lura last year at Globalfest and was so impressed that I bought her CD/DVD at the show and made Judy watch it the next day. She agreed that this was a rare and exceptional artist who we both had to go see as soon as possible. As luck would have it, she was booked at S.O.B's about a month later and, needless to say, we were there. You can see that review in February 2006.
Born in Portugal, she later became infatuated with her Cape Verdean roots (ten islands off the coast of Senegal) and especially the music which incorporates influences from Africa, Brazil, Cuba and Europe. She's a world class vocalist backed by great musicians, the most notable being her music director "Nando" Andrade on piano. The band also included guitar, bass, drums, percussion and violin.
Her CD, "di korpu ku alma" (of body and soul), was one of my favorites of 2005 and her new CD, "M'bem di fora" ("I'm from far away" or "I'm from the country" depending on who you ask) is already one of my favorites of this year. She performed numerous selections from each including "Vazulina" and "Na Ri Na" (both sing-alongs) from the first and "Bida Mariadu" and "Ponciana" from the new one, all sung in Portuguese
Her English has improved quite a bit from last year and she conversed with the audience several times. Before performing "Fitico di Funana", she told us how the Funana dance was banned by the colonial government for being too erotic but was resurrected with Cape Verdean independence in 1975. She then showed us how to do it and made us stand and dance while she sang. Unfortunately, no one in the audience danced it as well as Lura. In fact she's an exquisite dancer who's dancing adds tremendously to the show. When she ties a wrap around her hips and starts gyrating it's hard not to be impressed, amused and completely captivated.
The theater, which holds about 600, was less than half full but you would never know from the performance. She could not have had more energy if she had been performing at the World Cup finals. A true professional. This morning I was still on such an adrenaline rush that I called some friends in New York and convinced them to see her at Symphony Space tonight.
Although I mentioned this show to at least a dozen friends, only our friends Harry and Heli joined us and they loved it. Heli even bought the new CD. In retrospect, I wish I had dragged everyone I know to this show, something I've been known to do on rare occasion. They'd all have thanked me afterwards. Here are some more pictures that were too good not to use:
CeU: April 10th at Joe's Pub
It's very rare that I go to a show where I'm not at least fairly familiar with the music before I go, but I had read some things about this young Brazilian singer and had an instinct that I'd really like her, so I took a chance. The last time I did that was with Raul Midon in 2003, and if you're a regular here you know he became one of my favorites.
CeU's music is rooted in Samba but flavored with R & B, world-beats, hip-hop and jazzy electronica, making it sound very contemporary. Brazilian musical icon Caetano Veloso called her the future of BPM (Brazilian Popular Music). It's laid back and melodic but with drummer Serginho Machado and percussionist Bruno Buarque laying down samba and soul rhythms and DJ Marco embellishing with electronica and hip-hop, every song begged for dancing. The balance of the band consisted of Guilherme Ribeiro on keyboards and Lucas Martin on guitar and sometimes bass. A young and talented group.
She sang mostly in Portuguese (my Portuguese friends would say she sang in Brazilian) with a few tunes in English. One English number was a cover of Bob Marley's "Concrete Jungle" which was a thrill for me. I'm guessing most of the songs were from her self-titled debut CD but I'm not sure of their titles except for one called "Rainha". My Brazilian is not so good. My instincts turned out to be correct because I loved this set from beginning to end and I will certainly plan on seeing her when she returns to New York. Until then I think I'll pick up her CD.
Martin Sexton: April 6th Nokia Theater
If you've been following my adventures then you know that Martin Sexton is one of my favorite artists. I've seen him perform countless times, including two months ago at Joe's Pub, but he's got a new CD, a new band and was playing the Nokia Theater, which I hadn't been to before, so I was compelled to see him again (like I needed an excuse to go again).
He's one of the most versatile vocalists you'll ever hear, a virtuoso guitarist with a unique technique and an eclectic, though not prolific, songwriter who tackles a wide assortment of styles which could be broadly described as Americana.
On stage he can be a preacher or sinner, a hobo, family man, deliriously joyous, completely desperate, madly in love, broken hearted and now, judging by the hat, a truck driver. Whatever persona he inhabits, you get the feeling that he's speaking from experience. The songs are delivered with such conviction that you assume he can't be talking about someone else. There are few artists I know who can deliver the emotional impact that you experience at one of his shows. It's why I go so often.
For this show, his new band added Rob Somerville on saxophone and four back up singers who performed on a handful of songs rather than three singers who performed on only one song at Joe's Pub. He relied heavily on selections from the new CD including I'm Here For You, my new favorite song There Go I, Wild Angels, Happy and Billy Preston's Will It Go Round In Circles, among others. He also slipped in some Sly Stone and a bunch of fan favorites like Faith On The Table, Young and Beautiful and the show opener Can't Stop Thinking About You. He closed the show with the Black Sheep/Lovelight medley.
The venue was beautiful and with capacity over 2000, 600 seats and 1500 standing, it was likely one of the largest crowds he's headlined. The biggest negative was the sound guy had his voice way too far back in the mix. The band thing is new and still evolving so a few kinks will likely be worked out as they go along. I might have suspected that the sound was a problem with the room except that opening act Jonah Smith sounded pretty good. Excessive talking in the audience is also a peeve of mine but I expect it at a standing venue. See for yourself: (There Go I)
Actually, as opening acts go, Jonah Smith was impressive. Playing keyboard and backed by guitars, bass and a great drummer, he initially reminded me of Levon Helm singing with The Band but eventually seemed more like Bruce Hornsby vocally and stylistically. Then, just when I had him figured out he did a funky tune that vocally brought Al Jarreau to mind. He also brought out a female vocalist named Maya for a few tunes making for an interesting and diverse set. See for yourself:
Les Nubians: April 1st at S.O.B.'s
Les Nubians are French sisters Celia and Helene Faussart, whose 1999 debut album "Princesses Nubiennes" was essentially a collection of laid back R & B tunes with sensuous dance beats, hints of African influences and beautiful harmonies sung in mostly French and some English. It spawned the international dance hit "Makeda" as well as a couple of lesser hits "Embrasse Moi" and "Tabou".
Their 2003 release "One Step Forward" took an even more international approach adding reggae and touches of hip-hop to the stew, not to mention an inspiring positive attitude, eventually becoming one of my favorite CD's. They don't play in NYC often so when I saw that they were coming to S.O.B.'s, I marked my calendar and even cut my weekend plans short to get home in time for the show.
Backed by keyboard, guitar, bass and drums they performed several selections from "One Step Forward" including "Insomnie", J'veux d'la musique (I Want Music) and the title cut and, of course, their big hit "Makeda". They were also joined for one song by a male spoken word artist (missed his name, sorry) who gave Helene a rose and spread rose petals at their feet as the girls sang. It was actually very charming and one of the highlights of the evening.
I have to admit that although it was a thrill seeing Les Nubians, musically they came up a little short. Celia's vocals, she's the more petite one, were all over the place and many of the harmonies were way off the mark. I shot a few videos but they're too painful to watch so I'll include a youtube video here to show what they're supposed to sound like. Despite that, I'd see them again. I love their music and the band was excellent. I would hope for better vocals next time.