AUGUST 2004 back
Ballet Hispanico and Emeline Michel : Aug 26th at The Delacorte Theatre
We got off the subway at 81st street and walked to the corner to cross the street to Central Park. At the corner was a very pretty young woman and Judy said to her "Are you a dancer". She confirmed that she was and Judy told her she could tell by the way she walked. We had a very nice conversation while walking to the theatre together and found out her name was Anna and she dances at the Met. It was a great way to start an evening of music and dance.
Ballet Hispanico was founded in 1970 by artistic director Tina Ramirez and fuses ballet, modern and Latin dance movements. For this show they performed a piece called "Nightclub" in which the three acts take place in nightclubs in the 1920's, 1950's and modern time. Each act had it's own choreographer and timely music. The pieces are more dance theater than ballet with a narrator giving some background for each scene.
The first segment, called Cada Noche...Tango, was choreographed by Graciela Daniela, whose work we've seen and enjoyed before, and used the Tango music of Astor Piazzola. That should have been a "Can't miss" combination but this piece didn't move me at all. At one point I leaned over to Judy and said "What was she thinking?" Drab lighting, long periods of little movement and no music, and lots of cigarettes being lit. Not my cup of tea.
The second act, Dejame Sonar, I absolutely loved. With Latin jazz and Latin hits of the 1950's, played by Tito Puente and others, the piece was colorful and alive. Choreographed by Alexandre Magno, the dancing was exciting and showed the depth of talent in the company. This was more of what I had hoped to see.
The third act by Sergio Trujillo was called "Hoy Como Ayer" and also had much to offer. With contemporary music by X Alfonso and dj St. Germain (among others), it had a Clark Kent looking guy allowed to cross the velvet rope, in a NYC after hours nightclub, to observe and then participate in a world unknown to him where the beautiful people dance the night away. All things considered, it's a good company and it was an enjoyable performance but you're not likely to see me sitting thru that Tango piece again.
Emeline Michel opened the evening with her Caribbean band doing music from Haiti. With two percussionists and a drummer, plus bass, guitar and keyboard, she had most of the audience moving in their seats to the rhythms of the Caribbean. She's got a nice voice and a beautiful personality which comes across easily thru her thick Haitian accent. Unfortunately, she did not have her great backup singer/violinist who was with her when I saw her at Joe's Pub. I hope that's temporary because she added a great deal to that show. Emeline is at Joe's Pub on October fifth to celebrate the release of her new CD. I might go to that.
Diana Krall w/Ollabelle opening : Aug 25th at Radio City Music Hall
Sometimes a concert is so good that I'm left with a feeling of well being that can last several days. This was one of those shows. Diana Krall can really sing, really play piano and is really beautiful. The only question remaining is "Can she cook?"
She performs jazz standards, contemporary covers and originals and is equally impressive with ballads, blues or swing tunes. This show included several songs from her recent release, The Girl in the Other Room, including the title cut, co-written with husband Elvis Costello, plus Mose Allison's Stop this World, Joni Mitchell's Black Crow and Tom Waits' Temptation. Her new album is a contemporary left turn from her more familiar repertoire of mostly jazz standards. She also performed Gershwin's S'Wonderful and Nat King Cole's You Call it Madness among others. I enjoyed them all.
The sound was absolutely perfect, the lighting was s'wonderful and Radio City is just such a beautiful venue that my friend Joseph, whose last time in Radio City was to see Gone With The Wind, said "We should come here more often." Just when you thought you couldn't ask for anything more, we realized that we were sitting right across the aisle from Donald Fagen of Steely Dan fame. Bonus points! I could tell he loved Diana because his head was bopping to every tune.
These tickets were freebies from WFUV. I got them before I knew Ollabelle would be opening. Talk about stepping in it! If you've been paying attention to this site, you know they're one of my new favorites. They seemed right at home on that big stage and seem to be getting better each time I see them. This jazz audience received their country, gospel and blues tunes very enthusiastically. For more details on Ollabelle read one of my many previous reviews.
Do you see the resemblance to the first Elvis in the picture above?
Johnny A & Willy Porter : Aug 22nd Asbury Park NJ
On what was certainly one of the nicest days of the year, Judy and I loaded Brea and Nikki into the car and drove down to Asbury Park to check out the free Guitarbeque Festival featuring these two great guitarists.
Willie Porter has been compared to Leo Kotke and I also hear some Michael Hedges in some of what he does. (If you don't know, they are two of the most respected and innovative artists to ever have picked up an acoustic guitar. Hedges died in a car crash several years ago at the age of 43 on the verge of commercial success)
Willy is a good songwriter who has a nice voice and does original material, except for a cover of Richard Shindell's "You Stay Here". Richard is one of my favorite songwriters which is what originally led me to Willy. On his new live album, "High Wire Live", Martin Barre, of Jethro Tull fame, joins him on that song. It was fun sitting under a blue sky with the pooches and listening to an excellent set. I got the impression that he was Brea's favorite.
Johnny A is Peter Wolf's former guitarist who, after Peter stopped touring about five years ago, put out his debut album of guitar instrumentals called Sometime Tuesday Morning. Wandering deftly between Blues, Rock, Jazz, Rockabilly, Swing, Country and Pop, it's very unusual for an artist to tackle so many genres in one project and even more unusual to be so proficient in all of them. On that first album, he does a beautiful version of Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman, which by itself is worth the price of admission. His new album is called Get Inside and on this one he does a jazzy cover of Jimi Hendrix The Wind Cries Mary and a beautifully haunting version of Johnny Rivers Poor Side of Town. Not everyone would be interested in a set of guitar instrumentals but this guy is an extraordinary guitarist who makes it interesting.
Junior Brown & Taj Mahal : Aug 20th at The Stone Pony
With his black suit, white shirt, black tie and white cowboy hat, Junior Brown looks like a country gentleman. And when he tells his ex-girlfriend in a song that he can't see her because "You're wanted by the po' lice (pronounced poe lease) and my wife thinks you're dead", you laugh and your suspicions are confirmed. And you would be right, he is a country gentleman. But then he'll play a rockin' blues version of Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker or Foxy Lady by Jimi Hendrix and you realize this Texan's heart is in the country but he can rock with anyone. He's a master guitarist who plays his own invention called a Guit-steel. It's half guitar and half steel guitar (see photo). He's got a new album coming out soon called "Down Home Chrome" which will have the Hendrix tune on it.
I had a lengthy conversation with Joe and Kim, a young couple from Harrisburg Pennsylvania, who came for the weekend just for this show. When Kim told Joe that two of his favorites were playing together, he thought that she must be mistaken, that Junior Brown is probably playing at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic city. She set him straight and he immediately decided "Road Trip"! The icing on the cake for Joe was that this show is part of the Guitarbeque Festival, which is a weekend of guitar music and barbeque. He loves barbeque. It was really nice meeting both of them. Somehow I suspect I haven't seen the last of them.
I also met Richard Skelly who hosts the Low Budget Blues Program on WRSU 88.7 on Thursday nights. In our brief conversation, I found out that he'd heard my show on WBGO when I guest hosted the Blues Hour two weeks ago. Small world!
I only stayed for a half hour of Taj's set. Taj is a delta blues man who has also dabbled in jazz, gospel, country and Hawaiian to name a few. I love him and he sounded great, but I was out late the night before and was so tired. Not to mention, that Junior's set started an hour later than I thought it would, so I thought I should get going. (Plus, I had seen Taj recently at The Blue Note) You can read more about Taj in that review.
Raul Midon, Nellie McKay, & Jamie Cullum : Aug 19 at The Delacorte Theatre in Central Park
This show was part of a new series called Joe's Pub in the Park. The Pub, which is without doubt my favorite place to hear music, is sponsoring two weeks of music and dance in the theatre where "Shakespeare in the Park" usually takes place. Half the shows, including this one, are free and the other half are usually $40. (I think Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson doing solo sets on the same bill is worth $40) The catch for the free shows is that you must go to the theatre at 1:00 pm on the day of the show and stand on line to get your two tickets.
Living in New Jersey makes getting tickets a complicated affair for me, so I am eternally grateful to Kathleen Midon who, knowing how much I support Raul, put me on the guest list. I've seen and enjoyed all these artists before and putting them together was a stroke of genius. They are all extremely talented in completely different ways.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist, Raul Midon, opened the show and, at the moment, would be the least well known of the three. I believe that will change by sometime next year when his new album, produced by the legendary Arif Mardin, is released. I have four or five previous reviews of Raul that you can read if you'd like more details but there is one thing I'd like to add. A few times while he was playing, I scanned the audience to see the reaction. It was quite a sight. People of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages all completely transfixed on the stage. I'm sure a large portion of the audience had no idea who he was, but they couldn't take their eyes off him. Many had little smiles on their faces. When he finished, they exploded with their approval! There will be no stopping this guy.
This was the third time I've seen Nellie McKay. She's a singer/songwriter and pianist whose songwriting skills go way beyond her 19 years. Her stage persona is of a ditsy blond (Goldie Hawn from Laugh-In meets Doris Day) and her songs are very funny in an unsuspecting way, but I have to believe that anyone who can compose such melodic songs with so many surprising tempo and key changes along with such interesting lyrical twists has to be more clever than she lets on. I wouldn't call her a great singer but she does a good job on some complex vocals.
After telling us that she recently saw the Spanish language movie "Maria Full of Grace", but won't know if it was good until her mother sees it, she announced that this next song has some Spanish in it. It was a beautiful ballad and when she got to the part of the song that was in Spanish, you had the feeling she was singing something romantic or profound. My friend Mabelle told me she was singing "I'm missing one piece of my luggage". She did another song in Japanese and when the wind blew away her lyric sheet she paused to retrieve it and said "I'm sorry. I know you're all thinking, What did he do in the bar?"
When she kept forgetting the lyrics for her song Davey, she said it was because she keeps thinking how disappointed she is that Craig Kilborn is going off the air. She added "Now that that's off my chest, I shouldn't have any more trouble with this song". I think the title of her debut album gives you some insight to her sense of humor. In response to Norah Jones' album "Come Away With Me", Nellie called her album "Get Away From Me". On the way out of the park, I ran into her and told her how much I enjoyed the three times I've seen her. She thanked me like a seemingly normal person. :-) (Up close she was really beautiful!)
Jamie Cullum is a young 20-something Brit who could be thought of as a cross between Harry Connick Jr. and Jerry Lee Lewis. Along with some originals, he'll do standards like I Get a Kick Out of You or Blame it on My Youth and then cover Jimi Hendrix (The Wind Cries Mary) and Radiohead (High and Dry). But just because he's playing a standard doesn't mean he won't bang the keyboard with his foot, forehead or stool! He brings lots of energy to everything he does. I especially liked his covers and all the swing tunes. He was accompanied by bass and drums and when they would swing, they really seemed to be in their element and having the most fun.
Angelique Kidjo w/ Dub Trio opening : Aug 11th at South Street Seaport
Why no picture of Angelique? Rained Out!! I arrived in time to hear one song of the sound check. She and her band sounded great but that was to be her entire show. Bummer!
The Dub Trio did get to play a short set of Reggae instrumentals before the rain started. They sounded good but would be more interesting with vocals.
I had a good time anyway. I ran into Candice, whom I met at Lyle Lovett, and her friend Thais. I also ran into Candice, whom I met at Mavis Staples, and her friends Brandon and Rene. (I didn't meet any new Candices, probably because of the rain) I introduced both groups and we were in the middle of a nice conversation when the sky opened and we scattered. All parties were big music lovers so I suspect we'll all cross paths again.
Ellis Hooks : Aug 4th at Madison Square Park
I had a great plan for this evening. I'd go to the South Street Seaport to see Ollabelle, who were opening for Steve Forbert at 6 o'clock, and then I'd jump on the subway and head up to Madison Square Park to see Ellis Hooks at 7 o'clock. Unfortunately, they slipped in a third act at the Seaport so Ollabelle went on 45 minutes late. After their great set (see below), I decided to catch as much of Ellis as I could so I jumped on the subway and ended up seeing about half an hour. I'm glad I did.
When I arrived, he was singing a funky tune that brought to mind a young James Brown. Next up was a soulful ballad that had a romantic "last dance of the night" kind of feel. He's got a good voice which can go smooth or raspy and can evoke James Brown or Sam Cooke. In fact, he ended the set with Sam Cooke's Twisting The Night Away". He's got lots of personality and came out and sang and danced with audience members several times.
The story on this guy is that Diana Ross heard him singing in Central Park and was so impressed that she gave him her agent's card. He didn't feel he was ready and waited a few years before trying for a record deal. His recent release Uncomplicated is an album of old fashioned soul music. It's an appropriate title since it's mostly guitar. bass and drum fronted by a soulful voice (a different sound but the same general feeling as Ricky Fante). You'll be hearing more about him in the not to distant future.
Ollabelle : August 4th at South Street Seaport
If you've been following my adventures, then you're already familiar with this group. They do Country, Gospel and Blues with all members of the band singing harmony and each taking a turn at lead vocals. Five of them also play various instruments and the sound they make can be quite glorious.
The story goes that when T-Bone Burnett (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?) heard their demo, he flew to New York and signed them immediately. They have since toured with the artists from "Oh Brother...." (Allison Krauss, Ralph Stanley...), opened for Roseanne Cash and now are touring with Diana Krall, who I'll be seeing in two weeks at Radio City Music Hall. (Looks like I won't have to wait long for my next Ollabelle fix!) With their deep talent and this type of exposure, I suspect they'll eventually be headlining big venues themselves.
Their sets include old blues songs and spirituals (John the Revelator, Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus...) along with some original material (Get Back Temptation, Two Steps...) and a cover of the Rolling Stones I Am Waiting which sounds like it must be from fifty years before it's time. Their sound is timeless and would have been popular a hundred years ago and might still be a hundred years from now!
Besides hearing a great set, I also ran into Mabelle, who I had met at another Ollabelle show, and Louis who goes to many of the same shows as me. It's always fun to run into other people who enjoy live music as much as I do. I also had a very nice chat with Fiona McBain, of Ollabelle, and told her about my recent experience on WBGO. (see July ) Besides being beautiful and talented, she's also very sweet.
Sonny Landreth : August 3rd at South Street Seaport
By night I'm a music junkie but by day I inspect exports, on a freelance basis, for three companies who represent about a dozen foreign governments. One of the perks is the flexibility of scheduling my own work. This lunchtime concert was part of the Bloomberg Blues series. I scheduled some work in Hoboken and Jersey City and just before lunchtime I jumped on the ferry which dropped me right at the concert. (A tough job but someone has to do it!)
Sonny Landreth is a Louisiana born and bred singer songwriter and slide guitarist and still calls Louisiana home. He plays Blues and Zydeco and sites Robert Johnson, Clifton Chenier, Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore (Elvis's Guitarist) among his many influences. His style of playing slide while he taps strings on the fret board is unusual and not quite like any of his aforementioned influences. His 2003 album The Road We're On was nominated for a Grammy for best blues album.
I didn't get to stay for the entire set but what I heard I enjoyed very much. The show was slightly delayed because the equipment truck was stopped and searched a few times due to the heightened security in the city. After about forty minutes, I had to get back to work. The people of Ecuador are depending on me!