January 2004 back
Phil Roy : Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse Jan 24th
Two years ago I saw Phil Roy at the Bottom Line (The Bottom Line closed it's doors this week one month short of it's 30th anniversary. RIP). Alan Pepper of The Bottom Line had a free show with 25 or 30 artists each doing a song or two. The purpose was to get people to come back downtown after the September 11th attacks. It was a night to remember and Phil Roy's song was one of the highlights of that night.
As a member of WFUV, every thirty days I'm eligible for free tickets to an assortment of events. When they offered Phil Roy at The Stanley Kaplan Penthouse, I was as curious to see the venue as I was to see the artist. I wasn't overly familiar with his work except for a few songs they play on 'FUV and the one song I saw him perform, but that's the beauty of free tickets. You can take a chance on artists you may be curious about or not familiar with at all and you have nothing to lose.
This show was part of the "American Songbook" series at Lincoln Center. They are attempting to bring contemporary artists into that genre. (Last night Darius De Haas performed the songs of Stevie Wonder) Phil Roy's songs have been covered by numerous artists including Ray Charles, Aaron Neville, Pop Staples, Joe Cocker, and many others. Some have also appeared in various movies including "The Mask" with Jim Carey and "As Good As it Gets" with Jack Nicholson. It's only recently that he began recording and performing on his own..
The sound was great and the venue was beautiful with windows behind the stage overlooking skyscrapers and the Hudson River. Unfortunately, I can't say that the performance ever really grabbed me for more than a moment or two. A handful of songs I enjoyed immensely but many more left me unmoved. I've seen a number of incredible and polished vocalists recently and this was not up to that level. It's not that he's a bad singer, he's just not a great singer. The busload of fans who came up from the Philadelphia area were very enthusiastic and might disagree with me, but I feel his talent is more in writing the songs than in performing them. Some of my favorites were "This Business of Love" and "Hope in a Hopeless World" along with his best known song "Melt". He played acoustic guitar and had four backup musicians who did an impressive job. (New York musician Everett Bradley was on percussion and backup vocals)
After the show my friend Joseph said "You think my writing is dark, some of those songs made me want to put a gun to my head". That gave me a good laugh. (Although, he did add that he admires Phil for blazing his own trail) We left the show and went downtown to get one of the worlds best steak sandwiches at "Rio Mar", and found that they had gone out of business. That sandwich would have salvaged the evening. The Bottom Line and now Rio Mar. Bummer!
Globalfest : Joe's Pub Jan 10th (featuring 16 bands from around the world)
A. Kidjo Emeline Michel
Globalfest, which hopes to become an annual festival, was designed to be a showcase for 16 acts broadly described as "World Music". A large portion of the audience were members of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters who were in town for a conference. The performances took place in 3 different rooms at the Public Theatre and started at 20 minute intervals with each set approximately 40 minutes. The intention was that you could wander from room to room and, if you wanted, see 20 minutes of all 16 performers. Unfortunately, it was very crowded and if you left one room, you might have to get on line and wait to get back in. I had done my homework and knew exactly which acts I most wanted to see. It turned out that four of my top five were all performing in Joe's Pub so my friend Joseph and I decided to just stay put. (It didn't hurt that I had made a dinner reservation and had a table 6 feet in front of the stage) I'm sure I missed some very interesting and talented artists in the other rooms, but the show I saw was absolutely exceptional. Joseph said it was the best show he's seen with me. (he said that last time too :-)
We saw, in order of appearance:
Susheela Raman - One of the reasons I was here. An Australian of Indian decent she blends the traditional and classical music of India with blues, jazz, pop and world beat influences. She sings in various Indian dialects and English. It's my third time seeing her and the next time she's in NYC, I will see her again. Her album "Love Trap" is on my list of best of 2003. I also love her first album "Salt/Rain". I spoke with her after the show and she told me there is an alternative version of "Love Trap" available on French Amazon.com
Savina Yannatou - If I had not been afraid of having trouble getting back into Joe's Pub, I would have left and missed this act. Cuban singer Raul Paz and Lebanese singer and oud player Marcel Khalife were in the other two theaters and I was curious about both. I didn't expect that I would have any interest in Greek music. I was very pleasantly surprised. Her 6 piece band was excellent and her voice very versatile. Her songs were more Mediterranean than Greek, and much of it struck me as very avant garde with some of the vocalizations being bizarrely entertaining.
Vusi Mahlasela - Another reason I was here. I had only just become aware of Vusi and was very much looking forward to seeing him. He's on Dave Matthews record label and sang on one of Dave's albums. I would describe him as the South African "Simon and Garfunkel" in one body. For me, his guitar playing and songwriting are comparable to Paul Simon with a voice on a level with Garfunkel. Of course, the sound is definitely African and he sings in both English and some African languages. His album also has wonderful vocal arrangements with lots of backup singers. For this show he played solo acoustic and had us mesmerized. He sings about apartheid, fighting injustice, love, and forgiveness with such a beautiful voice that, at home, he is simply known as "The Voice". His album, also known as "The Voice", is on my best of 2003 list. Joseph was so impressed that he bought the album. We chatted with a representative from his record company and gave him a hoppersmusic card. He's at Joe's Pub again this week. HMMM
Angelique Kidjo - Originally from Benin in West Africa, she now lives in Brooklyn via Paris. Judy and I have met her on several occasions and she is so warm that it's inspirational. We love her and her music. With just a percussionist, guitarist, and backup singer (our friend Ann Marie Milazzo) she fills the room with excitement. (Later in the set she added a keyboard). She also sings in English and two of her Benin dialects and sometimes French. Her album from two years ago, "Black Ivory Soul", is simply one of my all time favorites. She said she's working on a new album and did one song from that. Beautiful! Sounds like another winner. Her music combines African, South American, and American influences. Joseph thought Angelique, Emeline and Vusi shared his "favorite of the night" award in a three way tie. (I'd add Susheela and have a four way tie) They are all uniquely talented.
Emeline Michel - I had previously only heard one song of hers and loved it so I was very curious to hear more. She turned out to be the Haitian Angelique Kidjo. Her voice is beautiful, as is she, and her music exciting and alive. I would go see her again. (and probably will) Her 6 piece band (I think?) was excellent and included her backup singer playing some exciting violin. The music was mostly up-tempo Caribbean pop. (I use pop with a flattering intent to indicate infectious, melodic and catchy). I will be seeing her again!
Some of the other acts I was unable to see include Mariza (Portugal), Diego Amador (Spain), Les Yeux Noirs (France), Dervish (Ireland) and Tania Libertad (Peru). This was a night to remember.
New Jersey Symphony : Jan 8th State Theatre N. Brunswick NJ tribute to Antonin Dvorak
The NJ Symphony is doing a series of concerts to mark the 100 year anniversary since Dvorak's death. The highlight of this program was the Cello Concerto in B minor, one of Judy's favorite pieces of music. It also included the 7th Symphony and two of the 10 "Legends" he composed. No.8 in F major and #10 in B-flat minor.
I don't consider myself to have much expertise in classical music. But I've seen live orchestras perform many many dozens of times (if I include City Ballet performances) and I know what I like. All I'll say about this performance is that the Cello Concerto and the two Legends were beautiful. The 7th Symphony was powerful but didn't grab me like the 8th and 9th normally do.
What I do want to say though, is that I think there are certain things every person should do at some point in their life. Seeing a live performance of a symphony orchestra is one of those things. Hockey fans will always tell you that until you've been to a live hockey game, you can't understand just how exciting it can be. It's the same with orchestral music. The power and beauty can be a very emotional experience. I also include the opera, the theatre, and peanut butter with crispy bacon on toast (lettuce optional) as other things you need to try at least once in your life.
But one piece of advice. If you have very little idea of classical music or opera, don't just select one at random because of the date or location. Talk to someone who knows (or e-mail me) for suggestions. I assure you that there are some pieces that you will be unable to sit thru. You need to be directed towards works that are a little more accessible. Imagine if you had never been to a movie and just picked one at random. Maybe "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Gigli". You might never go to a movie again. You'd never know that "Gone With the Wind" or "Forrest Gump" existed. (The sandwich you can handle on your own)