JUNE 2008             back

  Dianne Reeves & Al Green: June 27th at Carnegie Hall

This was another great double bill from The JVC Jazz Festival. Dianne Reeves has been one of my favorite jazz vocalists for many years and I've seen her often, but I had never seen the iconic Al Green who is arguably the greatest soul singer to have emerged in the 70's. There were plenty of free shows around the city on this date, but I couldn't pass up this opportunity. (Dianne Reeves promo)

Dianne opened the show with her quintet and performed a mix of songs from her new release When You Know, along with earlier works including Solitude and One For The Road from her work in George Clooney's movie Good Night and Good Luck. She said of working with George Clooney that for two and a half days she did whatever he wanted, however he wanted, for as long as he wanted and since then not a phone call, e-mail or anything. Very funny!

She told the story of how back in her school days the gorgeous captain of the football team once helped her up when she fell, touching her knee and asking if she was OK. She added that she went home that day and dreamed of the life they'd have together. Years later he spotted her in a store (she was thrilled that he recognized her from behind) and he introduced her to his partner...Bill. She added that Bill was fine too! That was her amusing intro for Just My Imagination from the new CD.

 Also from the new CD was the rollicking blues tune Today Is Going To Be A Good Day which she said was inspired by her mother who used to say things like "If you stay ready, you won't have to get ready" and added that her 84 year old mother never thought she'd live to see the day that a man like Barack Obama would be running for president. If Dianne Reeves was performing in this area again next week, I'd go see her again. Enough said!

Al Green and his troupe came out on stage in tuxes, winning the fashion duel of the week after Dianne Reeves and Lyle Lovett with their entourages performed in beautiful suits and evening gowns. I was actually shocked at the high notes he can still hit. I thought he must be pushing seventy because it seems he's been around forever, but it turns out he's 62 years old. Still, his voice was very impressive for any age. (Al Green video)

He performed a few tunes from his new CD, plus the songs that made him an icon of American soul music including Let's Stay Together, Tired Of Being Alone and Love & Happiness. Of course with "Reverend Al" you get part concert and part tent revival with his message of peace and love creating a beautiful vibe in the room.

In one part of the show he did a "Stars on 45" routine performing one verse from a long list of popular songs including You Are Everything, Sittin' At The Dock Of The Bay, Sugar Pie Honey Bunch, My Girl and several others. The audience loved it and sang along on them all. I personally would have preferred that he choose one or two and performed them in their entirety, but I seemed to be a minority of one. But regardless of that, it was a thrill seeing a musical icon who's music I've loved for decades, and who still has the chops to impress. Carnegie Hall is nice too!

 

Lyle Lovett & His Large Band: June 25th at The State Theater (New Brunswick, NJ)

It's a common topic of conversation to discuss the 10 albums you'd want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island. This site even has a page dedicated to my answer to that question. I never gave any thought to what band I'd want on the island, but about halfway through this concert, it dawned on me that Lyle Lovett and His Large Band would undoubtedly be my choice.

The reason is that over the course of the evening he and his his 10 piece band, three backup singers and full gospel choir navigated effortlessly through gospel, blues, jazz, swing, country, folk and bluegrass music. If we're going to be on the island a long time, I'll want lots of musical diversity. This collective is so talented and so versatile that I'm sure with an extended stay on the island, it wouldn't be long before I'd hear Led Zeppelin covers, Bach etudes and reggae music along with the usual fare.

This show was so satisfying from beginning to end that picking some highlights is almost arbitrary, but I can say the gospel tunes Church, I'm Going To Wait and I'm A Soldier In The Army Of The Lord all raised the roof and knocked my socks off! I Will Rise Up was the most emotionally stirring song of the show and I'm inclined to say that the jazz ballad You Were Always There, which Lyle co-wrote with Viktor Kraus, was  the most beautiful tune of the show. Of course, then I consider his cover of Guy Clark's Step Inside This House or the beautiful ballad Closing Time and I just can't say for sure. (Closing Time)

Country music and Texas were well represented with South Texas Girl, Don't Touch My Hat, That's Right You're Not From Texas and Long Tall Texan, and the most amusing tune of the night was probably the bluegrass song Keep It In Your Pantry. In introducing the song, Lyle had explained that one of the worst betrayals of your significant other is eating their favorite food when they're not around, especially if you call them and say "Guess what I just had?"

The show also included an array of usual suspects such as She's No Lady She's My Wife, If I Had A Boat, My Baby Don't Tolerate and I've Been To Memphis, along with his typical generosity in talking about his band individually and collectively.

The entire evening was peppered with his deadpan humor. He reminded us that The New Jersey Turnpike was the nation's first toll road and thanked us because Texas now has toll roads as well. He also observed that there are a good number of Catholics in this part of the country and was intrigued that Catholics have so many different folks to whom they can pray. He added "If you're not getting an answer to your prayers, you've got options".

I've seen Lyle perform a number of times and each time I've left the show with a sense of well being and satisfaction that keeps me coming back for more. It's safe to say I'll continue to enjoy his performances as often as I'm able, as well as continuing my crusade to raise awareness of his under appreciated talents. (I'm Going To Wait)

 

Lizz Wright/Raul Midon: June 19th at The Society For Ethical Culture

If you've grown at all weary of reading about these two artists on these pages. that's unfortunate, because I assure you this won't be the last time you see either of them. They both epitomize everything I look for in a performing artist, including unique talent, dedication, creativity, great collaborations and a determination to follow their own path, to name a few. It's because of artists like them that this site exists.

Raul opened the show solo acoustic and performed songs from his two CD's along with three new tunes, one of which he said had never been heard by human ears other than his own until this show. He talked about how much he loves New York and urged us to go on youtube to verify that he never says this about other cities.  After some particularly impressive guitar work, he joked that he'd only been playing guitar a few months. (first new tune)

I've talked about his music so often that I don't think details are necessary at this point. I'll just add that it's been a thrill watching him grow as an artist and performer over the last five years. If you don't know him, read my previous reviews or watch my videos of him from several different shows. I suspect that you'll then ask yourself how could it be that you didn't know such a great talent.

I've also had the pleasure of watching Lizz Wright develop over that same period of time. Her evolution has been more dramatic starting, for the most part, as a jazz singer who wrote a couple of songs, to a soulful, jazzy, rootsy pop singer who co-writes, mostly with Toshi Reagon, a good portion of her material. At this point she's more likely to cover Bob Dylan than Duke Ellington although everything she sings hints at a history of singing in church. She's also developed a great stage presence, becoming noticeably more comfortable on stage than she was 5 years ago.

This show included covers by Neil Young (Old Man), Joe Henry (Stop), Ike Turner (I Idolize You) and Led Zeppelin (Thank You). Some of my favorites from her new CD, The Orchard, were Speak Your Heart, This Is and Hey Mann which was written by Bernice Johnson Reagon (Toshi's mom). She also performed Salt, the title cut from her first CD, accompanying herself on piano which I had not seen her do before. (This Is)

In the end, this was a dream double bill for me. Take a look at their videos and I think you'll understand why. And, count on seeing them here again.

 

The Puppini Sisters: June 17th at BB Kings Blues Club

This London based trio has adopted the fashion and vocal styles of WW II musical icons The Andrews Sisters. Using a mix of shtick and true homage, they perform some tunes associated with the sisters like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, some well known tunes from the period such as Duke Ellington's It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, Java Jive and the Latin standard Sway, as well as some interesting reworking of contemporary tunes hinting at what The Andrews Sisters might sound like if they were performing in the new millenium.

Some of the contemporary tunes from this show included Blondie's Heart Of Glass and Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights which was the highlight of the show for me. (Wuthering Heights) Another enjoyable tune was the amusing and bluesy Jilted from their 2007 release The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo. (Jilted)

Their repertoire also includes Panic by The Smiths, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive and The Bangle's Walk Like an Egyptian, to name a few. I think it's safe to describe the material as eclectic!

The Puppini Sisters, not actually sisters at all, consisting of Marcella Puppini, Stephanie O'Brien and Kate Mullins, were backed by guitar, upright bass and drums and occasionally picked up a violin, accordion and melodia themselves. Their early popularity began in the gay bars of Europe but they're well on the way to becoming an international success with broad appeal. 

 

Ed Palermo Big Band: June 11th South Street Seaport

Ed Palermo and his big band have made a name for themselves over the last 10 years mostly by performing the music of Frank Zappa with big band arrangements. This show had a good share of the Zappa music, but also mixed in Cannonball Adderley, Los Lobos, The Chieftans, Santana, Duke Ellington and King Crimson among others.

They've released two CD's of Zappa music and have a third in the works. This show, on a beautiful spring evening near the water, was sponsored by the best jazz station in the world, WBGO in Newark, NJ. Disc jockey Gary Walker introduced the band after talking about the genius of Frank Zappa and reminding us of a Zappa quote "Jazz is not dead, but it sure smells bad". Zappa certainly did his part to keep jazz alive and forward looking, and it's very satisfying that there are people out there like Ed Palermo keeping his legacy alive.

   I think my two videos really capture the vibe of the evening. Just add a captivated audience and a few people swing dancing and you've got the whole picture. Here's one: (my video)

 

Jakob Dylan: June 10th at Blender Theater

There are plenty of artist's children who take advantage of the family name to establish careers that receive various degrees of notice only because of their name. Jakob Dylan is not one of those children. He's a talented songwriter who surrounds himself with talented musicians and I believe his success with The Wallflowers would have been achieved even if his name had been Jakob Schwarzenegger. OK, maybe that's not the best example, but you get my point.

This was the release day of his new solo CD Seeing Things, and I suspect his ever growing legion of fans will continue to grow on the strength of this effort. The Wallflowers always reminded me more of Tom Petty than of his dad, but this new release is more acoustic and has more roots flavor than his previous work, sometimes reminding me of Bruce Springsteen's acoustic work. The show consisted of most of the songs from the new release along with Wallflower tunes like Three Marlenas, I Wish I Felt Nothing and The Beautiful Side Of Somewhere.

My favorite from the new release was the haunting Will It Grow and he and his band, The Gold Mountain Rebels, also impressed me with new tunes Evil Is Alive and Well,  This End Of The Telescope and the single Something Good This Way Comes. He also performed a few solo acoustic tunes including War Is Kind and Mourning Train. (War Is Kind)

This was one of the hottest days in NYC with temperatures and humidity in the mid 90's but it was even hotter inside. No, I mean that literally! There was no air conditioning and the temperature had to be over 100 degrees inside. I drank three bottles of water and two cokes and never visited the restroom. Some people may have had a little too much to drink either because of the heat or maybe force of habit, causing some inappropriate behavior such as yelling out stupid stuff during a song like Mourning Train, but overall, excessive heat nor bad behavior could not diminish my enjoyment of a great talent.

Jakob made numerous comments about the heat but also added several times that there was no place he'd rather be at this very moment. I think the audience felt the same way.