DECEMBER 2009       back

Pink Martini: Dec 10th @ Town Hall

 This is the second time I've seen this Portland based big band and once again it was a complete thrill. The 21 piece orchestra (actually the number can vary greatly from show to show) is fronted by beautiful singer China Forbes and guided by arranger, composer and pianist Tom Lauderdale.

They recognize no musical boundaries as their repertoire includes songs from movies and TV (special guest Emilio Delgado from Sesame Street joined the group to sing Sing from that show) and a wide assortment of songs from France, Brazil, Japan and Turkey to name a few, as well as original material, some of which is inspired by and actually samples some classical pieces.

They sang an assotment of songs from the previous three releases including crowd favorites Hey Eugene, Brazil, Una Notte a Napoli and the amusing Russian/Italian hybrid Dosvedanya Mio Bombino written by Forbes and her sister. (video)

From their new release, Splendor In The Grass, they performed the title cut, Tuca tuca, and several others including And Then You're Gone followed by But Now I'm Back which had lead vocals from special guest NPR personality Ari Shapiro whose look and sound vaguely reminded me of a young Frank Sinatra. And yes, as the last two songs would imply, there is often a "tongue in cheek" attitude with some of the material although, for the most part there is an obvious great respect for the material.  

 

Corinne Bailey Rae: Dec 7th @ Hiro Ballroom

You may have read below about my scheduling fiasco which resulted in me having 2 different shows on this evening, but to make matters worse, this show was advertised to begin at 9:00pm but actually started at 8:30pm. Shows in NYC very often start later than advertised but it's unheard of to start early.

We arrived at 8:50 and I found out after the fact that we missed about seven songs. This show was being recorded for future broadcast on The Artists Den, a PBS music show, so we'll have the opportunity to see what we missed.

Corinne has a new CD, The Sea, coming out in January and she performed a bunch of selections from that along with a few of her popular tunes. I got to see Put Your Records On and It Could Happen To You but missed Like A Star. I also missed one of her new songs called Paris Nights but because of a technical recording glitch she had to perform it again at the end of the set. Most of the tunes were soulful and/or funky but Paris Nights was a real rocker. I'm glad I got to see it. Some other songs from the second half of the set included Blackest Lily, Diving For Hearts and I'd Like Too Call It Beautiful. The most pleasant surprise was her cover of Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix. (Little Wing)

Corinne has been out of the spotlight for a couple of years following the death of her husband but I have the feeling she's coming back in a big way. (It Could Happen To You)

 

Jill Hennessey: Dec 7th @ Housing Works Book Cafe (Opening for Rhett Miller)

Sunday afternoon we had some great beef stew at home, jumped into the car and drove into the city to see this show, only to find out that this show was Monday! An unfortunate consequence of our mistake was that we had to miss Rhett Miller's set because we already had tickets to see Corinne Bailey Rae on Monday.

Jill Hennessey is best known from her acting roles on Law and Order and Crossing Jordan but earlier this year she released her debut CD, called Ghost In My Head, and has been playing gigs in support of the release. We had recently heard her on Mountain Stage and were impressed, so when I heard she'd be opening for Rhett Miller I jumped right on it, before looking at a calendar!

Playing acoustic guitar and backed by Robbie Gjersoe on electric guitar and vocals, Jill sang selections from the CD including a country pop rockers 10,000 Miles and (Oh Mother), a gentle ode to her dancer friend, called Erin, and a country ballad called 4 Small Hands. There's an element of The Indigo Girls in her music, which is interesting because that's who she appeared with on Mountain Stage, and the vibrato in her voice at her lower register sometimes reminded me of Melanie (Lay Down Candles).

The title cut has the feel of a power ballad that hard rock bands do to show their melodic side. I liked that one a lot and I think it has some commercial potential.

The surprise of the night was her version of Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues, one of my favorite songs of all time. She said it was her dad's favorite Christmas song (not in the traditional sense!). Rhett Miller joined Jill and Robbie for that one in what was a mostly sloppy but completely and thoroughly fun and satisfying experience. We later commented that even though we were a little late for Corinne Bailey Rae we would not have wanted to miss The Pogues cover for anything.

 

Vienna Teng: Dec 3rd @ Joe's Pub

If you've been paying attention, then you know I've seen the artist a number of times over the last five years and each time she impresses me more and more. This show was being recorded for a "Live" CD release so you'll have to opportunity to verify my report and judge for yourself. And I'll have the opportunity to relive the experience and maybe hear myself singing and clapping on the audience participation tunes.

Backed by long time collaborator Alex Wong on percussion, guitar, weird sound making devices and vocals, and, for a handful of songs, Ward Williams on cello or guitar, the set featured mostly songs from her 2009 release, Inland Territories, and her 2002 debut CD Waking Hour.

From that debut CD she opened the show with Gravity, slipped a rousing version of The Tower into the middle of the set and closed the show with the audience singing along on Soon Love Soon. That last one sounded so beautiful that I can't wait to hear in again on the CD. 

From her recent release she performed In Another Life, St. Stephens Cross, No Gringo, Augustine, The Last Snowfall which featured Ari Hest on vocals, Stray Italian Greyhound and Grandmother Song which answers her grandmother's lament that this is no way to make a living. (The Last Snowfall)

Other songs included Alex's In The Creases on which he sang lead and Vienna sang harmony. It was a really beautiful torch song. Vienna also added Blue Caravan from 2006's Dreaming Thru The Noise. (Blue Caravan)

With occasional use of tape loops to layer vocals, Alex and Ward adding various instruments and vocals, Ari Hest stopping in to add his efforts (he was off to Europe the next day) and Vienna's charming stage presence, this was a totally enjoyable show and should translate into a great CD. You can judge that for yorself.