MARCH 2007             back

Jesse Malin: March 20th at Vintage Vinyl

Jesse Malin began playing punk rock as a kid in the early eighties before forming the glam/hard rock band D Generation which released three albums from the early to late nineties. In 1999, he went solo with a bunch of straight rock and roll songs more in the vein of Bruce Springsteen or Steve Earle. His friend Ryan Adams liked the new material and produced the album "The Fine Art of Self Destruction" which had a minor hit with Queen of the Underworld in the U.K.

Through most of this time and up thru his second solo CD "The Heat", I was unaware or later vaguely familiar with his work. His cover of Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" for a benefit album a few years ago raised his awareness factor with me considerably. When I heard that his new CD "Glitter in the Gutter" had guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen and Jakob Dylan and that he was performing a free in-store show at Vintage Vinyl on the CD release date, I decided I should investigate.

I should add that Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ is one of the coolest music stores around with live performances from a diverse collection of artists like My Chemical Romance, The Kennedys, Peter Tork and this show to name a few.  Jesse has actually played Vintage Vinyl for all his CD releases.

Jesse played acoustic and electric guitar and was backed by electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. The set, which was well over an hour, included lots of the new CD including Don't Let Them Take You Down, In The Modern World and Aftermath along with some older tunes like Wendy from his first CD, Swinging Man from The Heat and a solo acoustic cover of You Can Make Em Like You from Brooklyn band The Hold Steady.

I can't say that I'd run out to see him every time he comes around, but this was good old fashioned rock and roll and preferable to almost everything on commercial radio. I think, over time, I could warm up to him a bit more. He writes good songs and the set, including some political and social commentary, was fun. The CD version of Broken Radio, with Springsteen sharing vocals, is a great song and definitely worth checking out.

 

Edmar Castaneda Trio w/Andrea Tierra: March 14th at Sweet Rhythm

Even though it's Edmar's band, I liked this picture of Andrea Tierra (Edmar's wife) so much that I had to use it. I first saw Colombian harp player Edmar Castaneda as a guest artist with Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra and was so impressed that I went to see him again when he performed shortly thereafter with his own trio. You can find those reviews in the summer and fall of 2005.

When you say the word harp, most people think of classical music or angels. Of course it's a much more versatile instrument than most people think. It's used commonly in Mexican folk and Celtic music and makes occasional appearances in rock and pop music as well.  In fact, as fate would have it, Irish musician Loreena McKennitt is  playing a troubadour harp and singing Celtic folk songs on PBS as I'm writing this. Beautiful!

Dorothy Ashby was probably the most successful harpist to break into the world of jazz having played with jazz greats Louie Armstrong and Woody Herman and later with soul and pop artists Stevie Wonder, Dianna Ross and Bill Withers to name a few. But she was one of very few examples.

Edmar Castaneda takes the harp to a whole new realm. Backed by Marshall Gilkes on trombone and Dave Silliman on drums, the trio takes traditional Colombian folk music and rhythms and give them a bebop sensibility. It's an unusual combination for a trio, to say the least, but Edmar takes care of the bass lines with his left hand and melodies with his right while playing in a percussive fashion that emphasizes the Latin rhythms. With great Latin jazz percussion from Silliman and additional melody from Gilkes on the trombone, the end result sounds beautiful.

I was very curious to see the trio with a vocalist and was very pleased by the result. Edmar's wife Andrea approaches singing with the same passion that Edmar utilizes in playing. Her singing, along with her explanations of the songs, brought out cultural aspects of the music bringing another dimension to the show. I loved one story about a certain bird that flies into a home to announce a pregnancy and the three sisters who live there conclude that the bird must be there for the sister who's been bringing lunch to nearby workers. The video on the previous page is a good example of how they sound with Andrea. Click this link to see the trio without the vocals. (my video)

Edmar's been playing major jazz festivals around the world and getting attention from jazz elite like Paquito D'Rivera and John Scoffield so I suspect he'll be around for quite some time. I look forward to seeing him again and hope he continues to perform with his wife. I promise you this, if you go see him and afterwards someone mentions the word harp, you won't think of angels. 

 

Nanci Griffith: March 6th at The Blue Note

I talk to lots of people who've never heard of Nanci Griffith so I suppose an introduction is in order. A folk and country singer songwriter originally from Austin Texas, her first big splash came in 1987 when she covered Julie Gold's "From a Distance" which became a monster hit in Ireland and England making her a big star there. Almost no one in this country ever heard of that song until five years later when it became one of Bette Midler's biggest hits. It's since been covered by countless people and become part of our collective conscious.

Other artists have had a number of hits covering Nanci's songs including Kathy Mattea who took Love at The Five and Dime to #3 on the country charts which got Nanci a songwriting Grammy nomination. Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris's duet of Gulf Coast Highway and Suzy Bogguss' Outbound Plane were also both penned by Griffith. 

She's received five Grammy nominations and won the 1993 award for best contemporary folk album with her "Other Voices Other Rooms". She won again for an album she did with the Irish band The Chieftains. She's also played Carnegie Hall and The Grand Ole Opry which should give a hint of her status as a performer. By now you might be asking yourself "how did I not know any of this?"

This show included a handful of songs familiar to her fans like Kate Wolf's Across the Great Divide, which earlier this year she sang at former Texas governor Anne Richards' funeral, Gulf Coast Highway, which she dedicated to the victims of Katrina who are still struggling and, of course, From A Distance.

The bulk of the show featured songs from her new CD Ruby's Torch, a beautiful collection of torch songs from various composers. Included in this set were two Tom Waits tunes Grapefruit Moon and Ruby's Arms, the Jimmy Webb song If These Walls Could Speak, and Drops From The Faucet written by Frank Christian, a former member of her Blue Moon Orchestra. Also from the new CD was her original tune Brave Companion Of The Road, which she updated from her album Storms, and Bluer Than Blue which was a country pop hit back in the day for Michael Johnson, who also happened to be her guitarist for this show.

I'm very partial to a good version of almost any Tom Waits song, so they were highlights for me, but I really enjoyed all the new material. She opened the show with the story of how, years ago, she sat in the window across the street (Gerdy's Folk City used to be directly across the street) looking across at the Blue Note and thinking how she'd love to play there some day. She called this new CD her "Julie London" moment and thought it a good excuse to make her dream come true.

Along with Michael Johnson she was backed by upright bass, oboe, drums and her long time keyboard player James Hooker. For a short period of time she turned over the floor to Michael Johnson who did a couple of tunes including his parody of You Make Me Feel So Young which he called You Make Me Feel So-So. Very amusing!

This wasn't a case of Nanci Griffith going jazz, although there were some moments, but a case of the Blue Note going country. Either way it was a win/win situation. Nanci got to make a dream come true, the Blue Note packed the house with what I suspect was a good number of first time customers and a good time was had by all. Next week Steve Earl will also be appearing at the Blue Note.  Expect even less jazz from him.