NOVEMBER 2008             (back)

alice smith Alice Smith: Nov 25th at The Blue Note

 Alice Smith is a bluesy, soulful singer-songwriter with an incredible vocal range who raised the hairs on my arms more than once during this show. Although her performance of the popular standard Just In Time, did bring images of Billie Holiday to mind, this show was one of a series of shows designed to expand the Blue Note audience beyond only lovers of jazz. (Alice Smith video)

Backed by a single guitar she performed songs from her impressive debut CD For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, a few songs from an upcoming CD and covers of Bonnie Raitt and Ray LaMontagne.  Her songs and vocal style hint at India.Arie and Joan Armatrading, but her range surpasses them both. I overheard one guy in the audience quip in an obvious understatement "I think she has a future". (Alice Smith live)

I saw her with her band earlier this year and was impressed, but with the single guitar and a quiet room, I was even more impressed. My favorite of the night was Do I from the debut, followed closely by just about everything else. (Do I)

Her friend and sometimes collaborator Citizen Cope was in the audience and my friend and I got a chance to convey to him our appreciation of his music. He's been on the pages a few times before and his 2005 release made my top ten list. He asked how we liked Alice's set and seemed very pleased by the reaction. I'm looking forward to her next release and it's a safe bet that I'll be at another of her shows in the future. Possibly the Highline Ballroom in January!


Garth Fagan Dance: Nov 8th at The Joyce Theater

This is simply one of my favorite dance companies. It's a marvel how effortlessly they seem to move from jazz to classical to Afro-Caribbean, and the longevity of their dancers is also astonishing, and a testament to Garth's rigorous training. Garth is best known for choreographing The Lion King, but his own company has been gathering critical acclaim for several decades, and judging by the collective talent of the younger dancers, they'll likely be impressing audiences for several decades to come.

This program included Garth's new piece called Phone Tag, Thanks & Things, which was performed to piano music by Bongani Ndodana along with a sprinkling of messages left on Garth's answering machine. One was Wynton Marsalis saying they should get together while he's in town and another was a friend telling Garth to turn on The View right away because Michelle Obama was on. A very moving moment was the message left by dancers Nicolette Depass and Bill Ferguson about their new pregnancy. It was especially moving because at 5 months pregnant and definitely showing, Nicole is still dancing (with doctor's OK) and Garth worked her pregnancy into the piece.

Also on the program was Light (an excerpt from Life: Dark/Light) with music by jazz violinist Billy Bang. On a program that was somewhat subdued, this lively piece was the most fun for me.



War: Nov 5th at BB Kings Blues Club

If you're of a certain age then it's not possible to be unfamiliar with Cisco Kid, Spill The Wine, Why Can't We Be Friends, Slippin Into Darkness or The World Is a Ghetto to name a few.  All were big hits in the seventies for this Latin/funk/rock/jazz  fusion band. (Slipping Into Darkness)

Like many bands who make a career playing hits from 3 or 4 decades ago, many of their original members are long gone, several formed a splinter group called the Lowrider Band, but original vocalist/keyboardist Lonnie Jordan still fronts the group and with the help of a great bunch of musicians still manages to recreate the power and spirit of the songs many of which are social or political in content.

The show opened with lots of vocal help from the audience on Cisco Kid and then sailed thru a set of songs familiar to almost everyone. Surprisingly, the didn't do The World Is a Ghetto, but touched on most of the other fan favorites. One little jam session also included some amusing tangents from Black Sabbath and Santana among others.

The group had their first big break when Eric Burdon, who had recently departed The Animals, hooked up with a funky group of California musicians calling themselves Eric Burdon and War, and had a mega-hit with Spill The Wine. Burdon left the group shortly thereafter but they went on to rack up an impressive string of subsequent hits on their own.

The group has a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nomination for next year and plans for a reunion with Eric Burdon, but it remains to be seen if more of the original members will be involved with those plans. One interesting historic fact is that War was the group that Jimi Hendrix jammed with the night he died.



  Matisyahu: Nov 2 at The Wellmont Theater (Montclair, NJ)

Several years ago my television just happened to be on Star Search and the host introduced a Hasidic Jew & reggae artist named Matisyahu, and I thought "this has got to be funny". Well, he was so good that he proved on the spot that being a legitimate artist has to do with what you feel and not with who you are or where you're from. Matisyahu was obviously feeling the music. See for yourself: (Matisyahu live)

He subsequently signed a record deal, released some really good CD's and has become fairly popular (he has six dates coming up soon in Manhattan and Brooklyn). His music is a contemporary reggae with rock and hip-hop influences and sometimes spiritual lyrics. Reggae music frequently has spiritual lyrics so, in a weird way, it almost seems natural that a Hasidic Jew would be drawn to it. 

The opening act was a hip-hop/hard rock group called Flobots, who I probably should not have liked, but somehow I did. They didn't shun melody, as can happen with groups like that, and they had a energy that was compelling. I'm surprised to hear myself say that I'd consider seeing them again.

This show was at the new Wellmont Theater that just opened last week. Steely Dan, Tony Bennett, Martin Sexton and Al Green are just a few upcoming shows from their impressive lineup. The balcony had several hundred seats and downstairs was standing only, although I understand they'll put folding chairs down for appropriate shows. The sound was not great but excessive volume could have been the problem, besides, my tickets were free from 90.7 WFUV so I shouldn't complain.