MARCH 2008             back 

 

The Ahn Trio: March 31st at Highline Ballroom

The Ahn Trio are twins Maria (cello) and Lucia (piano), and much younger sister, as she likes to say, Angella (violin). Born in Seoul Korea, and classically trained at Julliard, they recognize no sacred cows in music nor any boundaries between the arts. They are as comfortable with Ravel, Dvorak and Shostakovich as they are with Richard Rodgers, Jim Morrison or the many contemporary composers and artists with whom they collaborate. They've also collaborated with choreographers, DJ's, pop musicians and painters, among others. There is no denying that they help introduce the concept of "hip" into the classical world.

This show was a CD release party for Lullaby For My Favorite Insomniac and featured mostly works from that CD including Michael Nyman's The Heart Asks Pleasure First, Astor Piazzolla's Oblivion and the title cut composed by their long time Julliard friend, Kenji Bunch. All beautiful! (Nyman piece)

The set also included a version of Richard Rodgers My Funny Valentine which began in traditional mellow fashion and then, two minutes into the song, introduced pop and hip-hop artists Taku, Ra.D and Sickboi who gave it an up-tempo contemporary twist that could never have been imagined by Richard Rodgers. Traditionalists might have found it disturbing, but I liked it.

In the middle of their set they took a short break to let DJ Spooky take the stage to do some electronic mixes with their music. They've billed this in the past as classical music meets the electronic age. It was very hypnotic and really beautiful.

 

10th Anniversary: March 24th at The Living Room feat. David Poe, Vienna Teng, Kelly Jones, Pal Shazar, Jim Campilongo & Jim Boggia (pictured above)

This show was part of a two week celebration of The Living Room's 10th anniversary in which they invited back some of the many artists who've passed thru their doors in that time. Over the course of the celebration Norah Jones, Ollabelle, Ron Sexsmith and Joseph Arthur will be just a few of the numerous performers.

Pal Shazar opened the evening with a set of songs most easily compared to punk poet Patti Smith. Her lyric "Is it too much to ask to find a prince among men?" was just one of many that stayed with me long after her set. She was backed by electric guitar, as well as playing some guitar herself, and was joined by her husband Jules Shear (with beagle Cosmo) for back up vocals on a few songs. Jules was on of my favorite singer songwriters in the nineties.

Kelly Jones was up next with a set of original country and country flavored pop tunes. I had been unfamiliar with her and was very impressed and entertained. Falling somewhere between Sheryl Crow and Iris Dement, one of her more pop sounding tunes had the same fun sensibility as the title cut from the Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do. She also did a cover of Dusty Springfield's I Only Want To Be With You, that really hit the mark.

Jim Boggia is a Philadelphia singer songwriter that a friend of mine has been talking about for quite some time. I finally got to see him perform and I loved his set. Good guitarist, good voice and good songs. His Listening To NRBQ sounded quite a bit like NRBQ and he had the crowd whistling along with No Way Out. A very enjoyable set. (No Way Out)

David Poe with Sim Cain

I've written about both David Poe and Vienna Teng many times, including very recently, so I'll just add that it was a pleasure to see them back to back in such an intimate setting. I wasn't able to stay for Jim Capilongo as it was a Monday and almost midnight, but I wrote about him briefly in January at The Royal Albert Hall tribute concert. He's a versatile guitarist who often plays with Norah Jones. Check the Living Room schedule for some great shows over the upcoming week.

 

Lizz Wright: March 18th at Highline Ballroom

It's been almost five years since I first saw Lizz Wright perform. She was barely 23 years old at the time, but she had one of the warmest and most beautiful voices I had ever heard. Between then and now her journey has taken an interesting path. She's also evolved from a very talented but obviously shy young woman from Atlanta into a seasoned performer who can command any stage in the world.

 Her first CD, Salt, was a collection of jazz tunes, a handful of original soulful ballads and a traditional Gospel song. Her second CD was called Dreaming Wide Awake, and much like Cassandra Wilson, it mined the world of folk and popular music with covers of Neil Young (Old Man), Joe Henry (Stop), Jesse Harris (Without You) and Chester Powers (Get Together) among others, with only a few original tunes. One of those originals, Hit The Ground, marked the beginning of her songwriting collaboration with Toshi Reagon.

Her new release, The Orchard, is dominated by songs co-written with Toshi Reagon along with a few covers like Ike Turner's I Idolize You, Led Zeppelin's Thank You and the Mel Tillis song Strange which was recorded by Patsy Cline. The jazz, gospel and R&B roots are evident in everything Lizz does.  In fact, I don't think she's ever sung a note that wasn't soulful, but the material has shifted decidedly towards folk, rock and popular music. I suspect that some jazz enthusiasts  are lamenting that fact, but I am not one of those people.

The new CD also used an eclectic mix of artists like Chocolate Genius, Oren Bloedow and Glen Patscha of Ollabelle, Toshi Reagon, Larry Campbell and Catherine Russell, among others. If you've been following my adventures, you know who these people are so I'll just say that they're, for the most part, not jazz musicians. Russell, Reagon and Bloedow also played with Lizz for this gig. 

The show featured almost all the songs from the new CD with a few older tunes sprinkled throughout. If I had to pick some highlights, and I basically loved everything, I'd go with the slightly funky Leave Me Standing Alone which Toshi said was written so Lizz could do an "angry rock chick" song, the stunningly beautiful Speak Your Heart, the Zeppelin cover which had the backup singers looking like they were in a state of nirvana, and Hey Mann which she did during the encore accompanied only by Toshi on acoustic guitar. Hey Mann was written by Toshi's mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and was so beautiful that it brought Judy to tears. (Speak Your Heart)

Brandon Young

Often times I write up a show and don't mention the opening act. The reason is that opening acts are a "hit or miss" proposition and they miss probably more often than they hit. I have no interest in wasting my time telling you who you shouldn't see. If they have nothing to offer, they'll go away without any help from me, so I only talk about the ones I like. Brandon Young falls into the "I need to tell you about this artist" category.

Playing guitar and backed by bass, he sang a handful of original tunes and one hymn which he performed a cappella. His soaring vocals were immediately reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and his voice was strong enough to do that style justice. At the conclusion of Lizz Wright's set, which was practically a religious experience, I could still remember some of his hooks and melodies. That's an impressive feat and leads me to believe that we haven't heard the last of this young artist.You Can Be The Light and Elastic are two memorable tunes which you can hear on his myspace page.  Here's one from this show:

 

339459662_l.jpg Pink Martini image by Renna_02 Pink Martini: March 3rd at McCarter Theater

Pink Martini is a big band (or small orchestra) fronted by vocalist China Forbes, who Jon Pareles of the New York Times once described as an unpretentious pitch-perfect chanteuse. Their music covers a large swath of styles and languages, mostly from the era of romantic Hollywood musicals, but also includes jazz, classical and original material as well as songs from Italian, Japanese and other foreign films.

The title cut from their 1997 debut, Sympathique, (aka Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler or I Don't Want To Work) won numerous accolades in France and began their ascent on the international scene with concerts all over the world including prestigious appearances at the Cannes Film Festival, The Kennedy Center and The Hollywood Bowl.     

I've been aware of them since their 2004 sophomore release Hang On Little Tomato, but in those pre-youtube days I never had the opportunity to spend much time with their music. This past fall I saw a PBS broadcast of a Pink Martini concert and was very impressed and immediately thought my dad and step-mother would like this, so I bought tickets for this show so we could attend together. It turned out to be a great idea.

Forbes performs in a 2006 concert with Pink Martini. The evening began with a version of Ravel's Bolero which pianist and founding member Tom Lauderdale joked broke a French law, passed after Bo Derek's movie "10", that mandated Bolero must always be performed as written. Then China Forbes came out and performed the 1934 Carmen Miranda song Tempo Perdido. The set also included Amado Mio from the Rita Hayworth movie Gilda, a surreal version of Que Sera Sera which I thought would work well in a low budget horror movie, songs in Japanese, Portuguese, French, Spanish and some originals like Eugene, the title cut from their new release,  Lily, City of Night and the Russian/Italian Dosvedanya Mio Bombino written by Forbes and her sister. (Hey Eugene)

There were also some jazz and swing tunes including Harry James Concerto for Trumpet, and at one point they tried to do a Talking Heads song for a friend in the audience who was having a birthday and loved the Talking Heads, but nobody in the group knew one. A good indication that their collective heads have never been focused on contemporary music.

 I knew from my dad and step-mom's bobbing heads that they were having a good time and after the show my dad said it took all his effort to keep from getting up and dancing in the aisle. I hope that when I'm 81 years old, good music still makes me feel like dancing! I expected to enjoy this group but I have to admit that I was much more impressed than I had anticipated and I will most certainly see this group again. Here's a video of Pink Martini dubbed over Rita Hayworth singing Amado Mio in the movie Gilda: (Amado Mio)