May 2004                  back

Taj Mahal Trio : May 28th at The Blue Note

Taj Mahal is essentially a Delta blues man who, over the last 40 years, has explored the realms of jazz, gospel, electric blues, zydeco, Cajun, country, folk and even Hawaiian music. He plays about twenty instruments and won a Grammy in 1997 for his great album Senor Blues. He's had songs in major movies and collaborated with people like the Rolling Stones. And still, I come across more people that haven't heard of him than have. 

This performance showcased Taj the "Bluesman". It included several fan favorites like "Fishin' Blues", "Corrina" and "Stagger Lee" along with a bunch of songs involving his baby doing something really good or really bad and other songs about things being hard. He sang and played his electric guitar, except for one song on keyboard, and was accompanied by bass and drums.  It was an excellent set.

After the show, my sister, Christine, said that this was the best show she's seen with me. I was glad to hear that because I had wondered during the show if this was maybe too much blues for her. I suggested that she should join me for The Dixie Hummingbirds who are performing with Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of "The Band" in July at Rockefeller Park. She enthusiastically agreed.

 

Dance Brazil : May 26th at The State Theatre New Brunswick, NJ

For many years Judy and I had a subscription to NYC Ballet. About seven years ago we decided to drop the subscription and go see many different companies instead of the same company over and over. With all due respect to NYCB, it was one of the best ideas we ever had. This was another outstanding small company that was a joy to watch. I think the picture says a lot about this company. Strong and wild!

The company was founded in 1977 by Jelon Vieira  who, along with Loremil Machado, was the first to bring traditional Afro-Brazilian dance and Capoeira to the United States. Capoeira is a blend of martial arts movements blended with traditional Brazilian dance and has to be seen to be appreciated. It's very exciting!

This program included two pieces. The first was called "Mameluco" which is a term used for mixed race people in Brazil. It began with the dancers moving to some slow percussive rhythms and I remember thinking "Yeah, OK, now show me something". Shortly after that thought, the tempo increased, an acoustic guitar and Hammond organ joined the fray, then a saxophone, and the dancers proceeded to shut me up! I couldn't spot a weak dancer in the group. They were all strong, flexible and graceful and the choreography was very exciting.   

The piece was inspired by Darcy Ribeiro's book, O Povo Brasileiro, (The Brazilians) and choreographed by Matias Santiago.

The next piece was called "Missao" (Mission) and didn't waste any time getting my attention. This piece used four live musicians in the pit who played guitars, keyboards and lots of percussive instruments including xylophone. Halfway through the piece, I leaned over to Judy and said "Those musicians are unbelievable". She answered "I forgot the music was live"! (Now that's good!)

The program described Missao as a reflection on the all encompassing effort behind a personal mission. The personal mission of these dancers was excellence and it was most certainly an "all encompassing" effort.  Choreographed by Jelon Vieira with the music of Ney Sacremento, it was upbeat and exciting. This piece also included the Capoeira movements. I don't think anyone in the audience was still during this piece.

All very impressive. We will no doubt be seeing this company again.

 

Marc Cohn : May 18th at Crossroads Theatre

It's been my experience that when I mention Marc Cohn, nine out of ten people say "Who"? Then I say "Walking In Memphis" and most people say "Oh". The people who know him for only that one mega hit have no idea what they are missing. And if you don't know him at all, you should consider looking into him. He's one of my favorite singer/songwriters and an excellent guitarist and keyboard player. He doesn't tour often, but I'm guessing that I will likely see him in each of his next several trips through our area. I just love his shows.

He sites Jackson Browne, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell as early influences, although his style is a little more soulful. For this show, his only backup was the amazing Shane Fontayne on guitars and vocals.. Hearing these familiar songs in this stripped down arrangement was very enjoyable for me. It made it possible to really focus on the lyrics and melodies of the songs.

His set including an assortment of fan favorites from his three albums and included "Walking in Memphis", "Silver Thunderbird" and "Lost You in the Canyon" among others. He also played a song which didn't make it onto his second album. It was called "I Hear a Calling". He said he doesn't play it often because sometimes it makes his fingers bleed, but he was willing to bleed for us tonight. He got a nice roar out of the crowd for that! I don't know why it didn't make the album because it was an excellent song. He also played a song called "Let Me Be Your Witness" from his forthcoming album. It's the second time I've heard it and I think it's as good as anything he's done. I get goose bumps when I hear it. This song could be big for him.

When he finished the song "Dig Down Deep", Judy had tears in her eyes. I asked her why that song made her cry and she said it wasn't that song, it was the whole set. A reaction like that can't be easily explained, it has to be experienced. Suffice it to say that his music can really "dig down deep".

I also enjoyed opening act Julian Coryell. Like Marc Cohn, he's a singer/songwriter who plays guitar and keyboard. His singing style is more reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. He opened by making some tape loops and singing harmony with himself which was fun but his most catchy tune probably won't get much radio play.  It was called "I'm Such an Asshole".

Before and after the show, we chatted with our friends Ed and Kim. Ed had told me that he found out about the show from this web site. Comments like that make this more fun than it already is.

 

Patti Smith : May 16th at Hoboken Music Fest.

I agreed to go to a dog show in Long Island on this day with the condition that Judy would get me to Hoboken by 4:45 PM to see Patti Smith. We had a nice visit with some of our dog friends and Judy dropped me in Hoboken with five minutes to spare. She didn't stay because we had the dogs with us. (Brea only likes folk music)

Patti Smith is one of those artists I've admired for a long time but never got around to seeing her perform. One of the original punk rockers, I always imagined her as a poet with an angry streak. I'm reconsidering that image. She's definitely a poet but at this show I found her warm, funny and quite charming and her songs were more reaffirming than angry. In "People Have the Power" she sang "The power to dream/To rule - To wrestle the world from fools". They're more words of encouragement than of complaint. In the same song she sang "I believe everything we dream can come to pass with our union". 

She performed several of her best known songs like "Dancing Barefoot" and "Gloria" and some from her new album, "Trampin", including the title cut and "Mother Rose" which she dedicated to her mother and anyone out there who has a mother looking out for them from above. It's a catchy and melodic pop tune as are several others on her new album. (of course, there are several rockers also)

Her band was excellent and she was in good voice. She did hit the occasional flat note but she sings with so much feeling and her words can be so beautiful or inspiring that it was obvious nobody cared. (including me)

It seemed like she really enjoyed herself. She said Hoboken is the only city in the world where she has movie star status. She had a police escort from the airport and Wolfgang Puck brought the band some food. She also urged everyone to vote. When someone shouted "I'm voting for you" she said "No, don't do that. If Bush wins then I'll get blamed". I think a good time was had by all.  

 

Jamie Cullum : May 11 at J&R Music

Jamie's album, "Twentysomething" is triple platinum in the U.K. but was just released in the USA today. I've heard him described as "Sinatra in sneakers" but he's no Sinatra. (No one ever is) But man is he good! I think a more appropriate description would be that he could be the love child of Harry Connick Jr. and Iggy Pop!

His material ranges from jazz standards that swing, but are seasoned with rock attitude, to covers of rock tunes and original material. At one point while singing Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You", he jumped up on his stool and sang "I get a kick" and then BANG!, his foot came down on the keys, "I get a kick" and again BANG!, he had jumped down and pounded the keys with his fist, "I get a kick out of you". It was wild and the audience loved it.

He performed with double bass and drums and all the jazz tunes were swinging. His covers of "The Wind Cries Mary" by Jimi Hendrix and "High and Dry" by Radiohead were fascinating. I loved them. And his original ballad "All at Sea" was beautiful, although the lyrics when explained were somewhat cynical. He said the girl in the song was no one, that it was about being in love with being single.

This show was broadcast live on WFUV and involved a little bit of interview time as well. Rita Houston asked him if he got his love of jazz standards from his parents record collection. It was interesting to hear that he discovered jazz from samples in hip-hop music and worked his way back to the originals.

When the performance was over Rita said "I've seen a lot in my forty something years, but I've never seen anything like that". I have to agree.

 

  Tribeca Film Festival Concert : May 8 at Battery Park (Macy Gray, Steve Winwood, Van Morrison, Bono...)

Unlike many of the shows I attend, most people have probably heard of these performers. I generally avoid outdoor "festival" type concerts because usually they're too crowded, the sound is awful, standing or sitting on grass and dirt is not as appealing as it once was, and according to Murphy's Law, it will always be raining, freezing or unbearably hot. I made an exception for the Tribeca show because the lineup was just too amazing and the show was FREE!

I arrived too late for the opening act, The Black Eyed Peas, a young hip-hop group that is more musical than many rap acts. I'm sorry I missed them.  They're not the type of group I would normally go see and I would have appreciated the experience. I arrived just as Macy Gray was being introduced. She did a great soulful set and had the crowd moving and singing along especially on her cover of the Beatles "Come Together".        

Next up was Steve Winwood who sounded great and did a retrospective set of songs from various parts of his career including "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" from Traffic, "Gimme Some Lovin" from The Spencer Davis Group and "Back in the Highlife" from his solo career plus his great cover of "Why Can't We Live Together". He alternated between keyboard, guitar and mandolin, his band was great and the set was funky.

Winwood's set was followed by Robert De Niro, who thanked everyone for supporting the Tribeca Film Festival.  He then introduced Bono who was there to speak briefly about the AIDS crisis in Africa. He's such an eloquent speaker that listening to him speak is somehow as enjoyable as listening to his music. He said that he's a big fan of America and that he had recently read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He said he believes that America is more an idea than a country. The idea of freedom, justice and equality as defined by those brilliant documents. He called for us to recognize that equality is for everyone and that the people of Africa have as equal a right to live as we do. This isn't some celebrity touting the cause of the month, this is a man who has been to Africa many times, met the Pope and got Jesse Helms to change his attitude concerning AIDS.  Very inspirational.

The final set of the evening was a blues and swing set by Van Morrison and his great band consisting of two horns, bass, keyboard, drums and guitar. Van played guitar, some sax and harmonica and sounded as good as ever. The set included "Into The Mystic", "That's Life", "Mama Told Me There'd Be Days Like This" and probably his biggest hit "G-L-O-R-I-A" among others.  A great night of music and in a nod to Murphy's Law, the temperature dropped into the forties by evening's end. Everyone was cold, but nobody seemed to care.

 

Tribeca Film Festival - Bedtime Stories

The Tribeca Film Festival breaks up its short film entries into various headings, such as "Beyond New York" which is a series of shorts from the other four boroughs or in this case, "Bedtime Stories" which is a series of quirky and maybe scary stories suitable for late night viewing. None were particularly scary but several were very funny. We very much liked six of the seven shorts that we saw but I'm only going to discuss my two favorites.

We chose this series because our friend, Ann Marie Milazzo, wrote the music and lyrics for "Pretty Dead Girl". Originally written as a musical play, Ann Marie teamed up with director Shawn Hu who turned it into a twenty minute short film.

It's a story of a young doctor who falls in love with the beautiful dead girls who pass through the morgue and the nurse who loves him, but he never notices her.  It's a topic which could lead down a dark, tacky or tasteless road but it's handled so cleverly and with such imagination that it's a funny delight. When the nurse spies him dancing with a corpse, she sings "My love is crazy" while his psychoanalyst does a song and dance routine telling him "it's better when they're warm". Just as he decides to give "the living" a try, she decides to take some poison so she can be the lucky girl on the slab. Fortunately, she doesn't take the full dose and it only simulates death. When she wakes, the young doctor sings to her "There is something you should know, there's a tag on your toe". The music was very engaging and the entire project very entertaining.

When is the last time you laughed so hard that your side ached? "A Funny Thing Happened at the Quickie Mart" was also approximately twenty minutes long and I laughed not only throughout the entire short but throughout most of the next day! It's the story of a young good looking guy who makes eye contact with an attractive girl in the quickie mart. She smiles at him and you begin hearing his thoughts. It starts with him thinking "I think she smiled at me" and wanting to get her phone number and escalates to her thinking he's a psychotic maniac who wants to rape and murder her as each thing he says comes out wrong and each attempt at correction makes the situation worse. It's funny because the audience knows he has no sinister intent, he's just a complete knucklehead. This comic masterpiece was directed by David Yorovesky.

Because these are short movies in a film festival, you may never get the opportunity to see them, but if I find they are being shown anywhere, or if Pretty Dead Girl realizes it's stage ambitions, I will report it on this web site.