AUGUST 2007             back

  Bruce Hornsby w/Christian McBride and Jack DeJonette: August 25th at City Hall Park

Bruce Hornsby is one of the most versatile musicians on the planet. He's had mega hits on the radio, including That's Just The Way It Is and Mandolin Rain, toured as a temporary member of the Grateful Dead, as well as playing with a wide assortment of musicians from various genres, and even had his song There's Gonna Be Some Changes Made on a popular TV commercial for Lowes stores.

But none of that would have led me to conclude that his next move would be a bluegrass album with Ricky Scaggs followed by a jazz album with Christian McBride (bass) and Jack DeJonette (drums). But that's exactly what he's done this year.

This free show on the hottest day of the year featured songs from the jazz CD Camp Meeting which includes tunes from Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and Thelonious Monk, to name a few, as well as a couple of originals. The CD, the live performance and the company he keeps all confirm that he's a legitimate jazz artist with something unique to offer. I've seen more than one suggestion that he'll get Grammy nods for jazz and bluegrass this year. I wouldn't be surprised.

Deborah Cox is an R&B singer who's just released a tribute to Dinah Washington called Destination Moon. She did an impressive set of songs from the CD including the title cut and ended with one of her R&B hits Nobody's Supposed To Be Here . It was a good set and I especially like her version of New Blowtop Blues.  (New Blowtop Blues)

Also opening were Carl Allen (drums) and Rodney Whitaker (bass) and company with instrumental versions of Motown and Gospel tunes from their new CD Get Ready. An impressive jazz set which included Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues. A nice, and hot, time was apparently had by all. 

 

Minnie Driver: August 24th at Joe's Pub

The idea that actors should stick to acting and singers or musicians should stick to music has been reinforced over and over again by artists who have ill advisedly tried to make the transition. Still, when I saw that Minnie Driver was performing at Joe's Pub I was intrigued. I was aware that she had done some singing before getting her big acting break in Good Will Hunting, and the notion that people should stick to one thing is, after all, narrow minded nonsense.  So when Judy enthusiastically suggested that we go to this show, she didn't have to twist my arm.

Her status as an actress that I admire certainly helped get me to the show, I hadn't even heard her music when I decided to go, but it would have zero impact on whether or not I liked the music. With me, that is mostly an emotional response and even if you were a blood relation the music either reaches me or not.  

So when I say that this set was a delightful surprise, I'm not saying that she was pretty good for an actress, I'm saying that she's a talented songwriter, with a warm  inviting voice and a very impressive band. The set included all the songs from her new CD SEASTORIES, the title cut from her first CD Everything I've Got In My Pocket and a beautiful and mesmerizing cover of Stevie Wonder's Master Blaster (Jammin' ) which was arranged by her guitarist. Her original songs are an eclectic mix of alt-country, pop rock and soulful ballads with plenty of memorable melodies, good hooks and intelligent lyrics. There was not a weak link in the bunch.

Her charming personality also added to the enjoyment of the show. She joked that people in the market often say to her "You look just like Minnie Driver" to which she answers "Isn't she fantastic! I just love her. And she's so beautiful". Very funny! She also gave background info on the inspiration for some of the songs like London Skies which is about her dad or Cold Dark River which was inspired by a shirtless hunk in her fancy trailer park who was so impressive that he deserved a song. (London Skies)

You may have noticed that I have a tendency to see my favorite artists over and over. That is ultimately my greatest endorsement and you can be certain that you'll see Minnie Driver on the pages again. I can hardly wait!

 

Absinthe: August 14th  at Spiegeltent 

The history of literature and entertainment is filled with examples of the flashy, successful and easy to like sibling and the less successful or underappreciated sibling whose good qualities take longer to notice. William Holden and Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina and Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte in Rich Man, Poor Man are two examples.

I bring this up because Absinthe is like the heroin addicted and diseased sibling of Cirque du Soleil. Rather than performing in a multi-million dollar venue designed and built in Las Vegas specifically for the show, Absinthe performs in a temporary tent at the Fulton Fish Market. But the tent is beautiful and the collection of acrobats and contortionists is quite impressive, especially for those in front who often duck to avoid decapitation. Also, where Cirque du Soleil has an ethereal and elegant sensibility, Absinthe has its feet planted firmly in the mud with sophomoric bathroom humor that you hate to laugh at, but you can't help yourself.

Along with the assorted contortionists performing on a six foot diameter stage, there's a cross dressing knife juggler on a pogo stick, an Elvis impersonating singer and his beautiful assistant on roller skates and a burlesque show girl with a "moon like" balloon that she dances around with and eventually ends up inside of before bursting out at the end. Her act was so stupid that it was hysterical.

The co-hosts of the evening were the greasy and quite funny Mr. Gazillionaire who wandered through the audience making lewd jokes, his side kick, Penny, whose "little girl" persona made her lewd remarks all the more funny and a female impersonator who sang a handful of songs. Penny's re-enactment of a sexual encounter using sock puppets was one of the humorous highlights of the show but the singer bit off more than he could handle on a few tunes with a gospel tune and Janis Joplin's Get It While You Can both being painful experiences. He should chose less demanding material like his Marlene Dietrich tune which worked well.

When you leave the Spiegeltent, the first thing you see are the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge against the dark sky. Cirque du Soleil can't top that.

 

Zap Mama & Angelique Kidjo August 12th at Summerstage

With a dichotomy which seems appropriate for this band, the term Zap Mama refers to both front person Marie Daulne and the band as a collective. When referring to Zap Mama you can say she or they and still be correct.

The group began as a five woman a cappella group performing the Congolese songs she learned from her mother but with vocal arrangements more influenced by European sensibility. Her mother had fled to Europe after Marie's white Belgian father was killed in a civil war just before Marie was born.

Eventually they were signed by David Byrne's label and their sound evolved, adding instruments, incorporating western sounds of R&B, reggae, funk and hip-hop, and collaborating with  a wide array of artists like Erykah Badu, Questlove and Michael Franti. 

This show was dominated by songs from their 2004 CD Ancestry in Progress, including Vivre, Bandy Bandy, Miss Q'N and Yelling Away and songs from their new CD Supermoon, the titles of which I'm not yet familiar except for Hey Brotha, which was one of the highlights of the show.

Marie is the creative force behind the group, doing a lion's share of the writing and arranging as well as lead vocals, but the contributions of the band and other vocalists should not be short changed. This is a unique and talented troupe and, hopefully, the new CD, which is their most R&B sounding effort to date, will bring them to the next level of recognition.

I've written about Angelique Kidjo so many times that if you're not familiar with her by now, then I apparently have no influence over you at all. To see how much I love this artist you should read my August 2005 review. This "force of nature" did songs from her recent release including the title cut Djin Djin, which features Alicia Keys, Salala which features Peter Gabriel and The Stones Gimme Shelter which features Joss Stone.

She also did songs from her African/Western trilogy including Iwoya which features Dave Matthews and fan favorite Tumba which she's done every time I've seen her. As is her custom, she invited audience members on stage to sing and dance. Of the large group that went up,some were pretty good especially one hip-hop dancer and some young kid who I'd say was about 8 years old. The crowd went wild for his dancing.

I was surprised that it was Angelique opening for Zap Mama rather than the other way around but since I'd only seen Zap Mama once before, and they were so good, I ended up being grateful to see them in the longer set. This was a great experience. Here's another look:

 

Crowded House: August 9th at The Beacon Theater  (Pete Yorn opening)

If you've been following my adventures, then you already know that a really good show puts me in such a great state of mind that I sometimes compare it to nirvana. So imagine how I feel in a week that began with jazz icon Dave Brubeck on Sunday, the beautiful and talented Lila Downs on Tuesday, who I'm practically in love with, and one of my all time favorite bands, Crowded House, on Thursday.  Not even George Bush could ruin this feeling, although I'm not about to test that theory.

I'll assume most know some history of the band (big hits Don't Dream It's Over , Something So Strong....) but if not, you can go to their website or myspace page.  I will say that the end result of their work falls somewhere near the Beatles or Squeeze but when they want to, they can rock harder than either of those bands.

What sets this reunion tour apart from The Police or Squeeze is that Crowded House has a new CD entitled Time On Earth , which has some really good material. This show included songs from that CD, Pour Le Monde and Nobody Wants To were the most notable, and a wide assortment of fan favorites including Private Universe, Don't Dream It's Over, Weather With You, Fall at Your Feet and Four Seasons In One Day, to name a few. (Pour le Monde)

The current lineup includes front man Neil Finn (guitars, piano and vocals), Nick Seymour (bass and vocals), Mark Hart (guitars, piano and great backup vocals), Matt Sherrod (drums and vocals) and sometimes member, Liam Finn, who's Neil's son and who opened the show with a short but impressive solo set. For his set he used tape loops, making them in front of us most of the time, sang, played guitar and drums all very impressively.

Some highlights from this show, besides the songs noted and several others, were Neil trying to call his dad in New Zealand before doing his dad's favorite song, I Can't Get Started (he got the answering machine), inviting an audience member up to play piano on Don't Dream it's Over (it wasn't clear if he knew the guy but he at least knew the guy played piano, and sitting next to music lover Joe, from Scotland with whom we had some great conversations. They also let Liam do his song I'm Losing Sleep after Liam admitted to borrowing liberally from the song Persuasion. It was a good song and I think the likeness to Persuasion was noticeable only because he mentioned it.

Rocker Pete Yorn, the second opener, did a one hour set of cover tunes from bands that had influenced him. Some of his fans who'd come to specifically see him, were not amused. One girl flipped him the double bird at the conclusion of his set, but I loved it!  His set included Springsteen's Dancing In The Dark, Warren Zevon's  Splendid Isolation plus covers of The Smiths, The Buzzcocks (both from Manchester according to Scottish Joe), Elvis Presley and The Stones, among others.  He really surprised me with a cool version of The Association's Never My Love.  (never my love)

We were walking down the sidewalk after the show, enjoying the buzz from the music, when I looked over and saw a couple walking beside us who seemed to be sharing the same buzz, although theirs appeared to be enhanced with alcohol.  The guy looked over at me and said "Can I say something?". I'm 6'6" tall so I get comments about my height several times a week, every week of my life. It's part of my normal experience. So I said "certainly" and he responded by singing the first few lines of "I Will Survive".  He winked and two steps later we went our separate ways at the corner, all laughing our asses off.

That would have been a perfect ending to the evening but then we got in the car, turned on 96.3 WQXR and they were playing Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which is Judy's favorite ballet of all time and one of our favorite pieces of music in the world.  It lasted for our entire ride home adding fuel to the buzz which, to tell the truth, hasn't worn off yet.  

 

Lila Downs: August 7th at Speigeltent

I've written about this beautiful and talented Mexican-American artist several times before. Her shows are filled with singing, dancing and conversation, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish, but it's her joy and enthusiasm in performing that are so infectious, ultimately altering your own state of mind in a positive way.  Her voice covers multiple octaves ranging from "Yma Sumac like" high notes that come close to breaking glass, to her low contralto where you'd expect to find Cassandra Wilson or Nina Simone.

Her song selection is equally diverse, going from traditional Mexican folk tunes to Reggae, Jazz, Cuban rhythms, psychedelic rock, pop, folk and R&B sung in Spanish, English and sometimes native Mexican Indian dialects. Her band uses various horns, accordion, harp, 2 percussionists, bass and guitar and Lila occasionally picks up a guitar or drum herself. This show featured horn players Mike Bolger and Brian Lynch as well as Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda who I've reviewed here several times before. He's an amazing talent who's becoming better known with each passing month.

The Speigeltent is a temporary venue at the South Street Seaport that tours the world and sets up for the summer in New York City. I got my tickets for free from 90.7 WFUV because of my membership in the public station. What's funny is that they don't even play Lila Downs, so even though I thought I had called too late, I got the tickets anyway, probably because most people who listen to that station are not familiar her work. I'll do what I can to change that!  I think seeing this video, or these pictures, would be a good way to start. (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) 

                              

 

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: August 5th at Damrosch Park Bandshell

Dave Brubeck is 86 years old and still writes, tours and records music. When he took the stage he announced that they'd be playing at The Newport Jazz Festival soon and had been asked to play the first song he ever wrote. He added that they were going to play it now, so that when they got up there, they'd remember how it goes.

Dave Brubeck is one of the great innovators of jazz, experimenting with an assortment of time signatures beyond the typical 4/4 or the occasional waltz. His 1959 hit "Take Five", in 5/4 time, is one of the most recognizable songs in jazz history and helped bring jazz back into popular consciousness. 

His quartet tonight included Bobby Militello on sax and flute, Michael Moore on bass and Randy Jones on drums. Their set included Stormy Weather and Somewhere Over The Rainbow to name a couple and of course ended with Take Five. One beautiful piece that featured flute and piano was vaguely familiar but I can't put my finger on the title. It sounded classical, or maybe cinematic, and by the crowds reaction I'd say it was one of their favorites as well as mine.   

The park was filled to capacity on a beautiful evening and experienced a set that would be good at any age. I don't know how much longer he'll perform, judging from tonight no end is in sight, but if you think maybe you'd like to see him perform, sooner might be better than later.  

 

Regina Carter Quintet: August 1st at Madison Square Park

Regina Carter has already established a place in musical history as the first jazz musician, and first African American, to be invited to play the renowned Guarneri del Gesu violin once owned by classical virtuoso and composer Niccolo Paganini. She then used the violin to record her 2003 release Paganini: After a Dream. She's a classically trained violinist who's taken master classes with Itzak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin, but the Detroit native also loves R&B, swing, folk, funk and jazz and has performed with artists that range from Kenny Barron and Cassandra Wilson to Billy Joel, as well as an assortment of orchestras. She also recorded music for the Ken Burns "Jazz" documentary.

Her 2006 release I'll Be seeing You : A Sentimental Journey, is, except for one original tune,  a collection of songs from her mother's youth including tunes from Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and W.C. Handy. The CD was a tribute to her mother, Grace, who'd passed away not long before.

This very eclectic show included Edvard Grieg's Anitra's Dance, Maurice Ravel's Pavane For The Dead Princess, a swinging version of Little Brown Jug, Ella Fitzgerald's A-Tisket A-Tasket, Regina's original tune How Ruth Felt and Ray Charles' Georgia.   

As a 2006 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, her status as a musical heavyweight should be clear and her amazing band, appropriate for her stature, includes Xavier Davis on piano, Matthew Parrish on bass, Alvester Garnett on drums and a clarinet player whose name I missed. Paquito D'Rivera plays on the CD, but this younger guy was very impressive as well (Found out after the fact that the clarinet player is Darryl Harper). You've no doubt heard her work with other artists, whether you realize it or not, but it's time you familiarized yourself with the work this extraordinary artist has done on her own behalf.