October 2005                back 

Virginia Rodrigues : Oct 29th at The Blue Note

Virginia Rodrigues has a voice that's somewhere between a soulful alto and an opera-like soprano with a singing style which is warm, easy and emotional but without the flashy vocal pyrotechnics so common in popular music today.

Since being discovered by Brazilian icon Caetano Veloso in a local theatre group, she's released three CD's the most recent of which is 2003's Mares Profundos, which is a collection of the famous Afro Sambas written in the 60's by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes.  These songs take the sounds of traditional Afro Brazilian religious culture and blend them with the modern sounds of bossa nova. This show consisted primarily of material from that CD. Backed by Pedro Braga (acoustic guitar), Jose Canuto (flute/sax), Ronaldo Silva (percussion) and Iura Ranevsky (cello) the simple arrangements helped the emotion of the songs come through clearly.

After the set, my sister Christine, who joined Judy and me for my birthday, said some of the songs had so much longing and sadness that she wished she understood Portuguese. Back in the car I showed her the CD with the lyrics. With song titles like Sadness and Solitude and Consolation, it's clear that you don't always need to know what someone is saying to know what they're feeling. A lyric from Time To Love goes "There is nothing as sad as a quiet life / Repenting / And accepting / And protecting yourself / Against falling in love again."  Not hearing Virginia Rodrigues sing might be almost as sad.  Christine just put Mares Profundos on her birthday wish list.

 

Edmar Castaneda : October 26th at Kitano Hotel

How do I find these guys? I get asked that question often. The short answer is "It's what I do". The long answer involves radio, print media, the internet, networking and the fact that I go to so many shows that I'm exposed to lots of opening acts and guest artists. That last example is how I found this amazing talent. This summer I went to see the Chico O'Farrill Latin Jazz Orchestra and they brought out Edmar as a guest artist. It took only a few moments of listening to realize that I had just discovered another incredible and unique talent. 

Several days later I was telling my friends, Anita and Maria, who are interested in all things political or creative, about this new Latin Jazz harp phenomenon and Maria mentioned that if I go to see him again, to let them know. When I saw that he was performing at The Kitano, which is 66 of my steps or 88 of Anita's steps from their apartment, it was the perfect opportunity.

Along with our mutual friend, Joseph, we walked over to the Kitano, sat down and ordered drinks and within 10 minutes the music started. After one song, Anita leaned over and said "I can say unequivocally that I love this guy". Anita is one of the most insightful and colorful people I know, so I'll let her insights explain this performance.

She said the harp is an evocative instrument generally used to look back musically whereas jazz lives in the moment and looks forward. She added that Edmar's great accomplishment is the fact that he's turned the instrument 180 degrees and made it look forward. A thought provoking and colorful observation. She added that the Colombian Harp is somewhat smaller than a traditional harp allowing him to almost wear it like a guitar, giving his playing more intimacy, rather than playing at arms reach.

His trio includes Marshall Gilkes on trombone and Dave Silliman on percussion but for this performance, they also performed as a quartet bringing up Colombian pianist Hector Martigion with great effect. All were good musicians and Hector was particularly impressive, but the trombone did at times overpower the harp. I don't know if that can be completely avoided, especially in such a small room. You can learn more about this talented young artist at his web site which has the obvious web address.

During the long walk home, Anita said "I'm obliged to you for bringing us to this show, I really learned something tonight".  As I always learn something when I'm with Anita and Maria, I was happy to return the favor. When I got home and showed Judy the above picture she said "It looks like a painting". I hadn't noticed but I think she's right.

 

The Strawbs : October 19th at Satalla

A little over a year ago I was talking to a new bartender at Joe's Pub, a young British girl who had been working there a couple of months. I asked her what was the best show she had seen since working there and she answered "an English band called The Strawbs". She added how surprised she was because she was from England and they were so good, but she had never heard of them. Of course, in their heyday she'd have been a wee lass, and truth be told, most people my age haven't heard of them either. 

I will assume that you've guessed that I had heard of them. I've been a fan well over 30 years and Judy and I used their song, The Winter Long, as our wedding song in 1980, but amazingly, I had never seen them in concert before my conversation at Joe's Pub. As this was the fourth time that I've seen them since then, I think that oversight has been remedied.

You can find lots of info on The Strawbs in my last three reviews, but there are a few things I'd like to add. One thing is that it was a thrill hearing The Winter Long the day after our 25th anniversary. An added bonus was keyboardist John Hawken, who wrote the intro for the song, joined the band for that song and one other. We also met another couple, Bill and Beverly, who used another Strawbs song, So Close and Yet So Far Away, as their wedding song 27 years ago. Great minds think alike!

They played several tunes that we hadn't heard in previous shows with The Hangman And The Papist being one that knocked our socks off. Their shows include great guitar work and great songs plus beautiful harmonies and wonderful storytelling from Dave Cousins.  I wonder where they're playing next October?

 

Loser's Lounge Tribute to Stevie Wonder : October 13th at Joe's Pub 

I've reviewed many of the Loser shows in the past, but for those who are unfamiliar with them, here's a quick explanation. Essentially, they chose artists who have lots of familiar songs, i.e. Neil Diamond, Queen, The Kinks, The Beach Boys...., and do an evening of their music with twenty or so different singers each performing one song backed by the rock band The Kustard Kings.  The singers are invited from a long and ever growing list of performers from other bands, Broadway, solo artists and sometimes singers who are not necessarily singers at all.

The band always does a great job and the vocal performances usually range from the "astounding" to the "not so good but somehow entertaining anyway". As this show came down the home stretch, I felt that it had fewer of the "mind blowing" performances than some previous Loser shows. One exception was Jedediah Parish who's version of It's A Shame blew the doors off the place. Another was Sean Altman's version of Tears Of A Clown which most people, including me, didn't realize was written by Stevie Wonder.

New loser Sherryl Marshall gives a winning performance 

There were several others which may have been very good but they didn't cross over into "Oh My God" territory. Then back up singer Sherryl Marshall stepped up to the mic and did a version of I Wish that was awe inspiring. Just as I was thinking that I could go home happy and satisfied, up stepped Carlton Smith whose rendition of Livin' For The City was at least as impressive. Like a fire and brimstone preacher, he had the audience singing, standing and clapping while he spread the word according to Preacher Carlton, even boldly adding an original verse to the song. It was electrifying. Either performance made the evening worthwhile but the two of them together made the evening special.

After the show I had a brief conversation with harpist Erin Hill, who did a beautiful job with a lesser known song called If It's Magic, and told her about one of my new favorites, Latin jazz harpist Edmar Castanada. She wrote down his name and I suspect she'll check him out. I also bought Sean Altman's CD Losing Streak which is a compilation of his performances with the Loser's Lounge over the years. I listened to it on the way home and loved it.     

 

AnnMarie Milazzo of E.V.O.C.

East Village Opera Company : October 6th at Joe's Pub

We're going down to Ocean City Maryland first thing in the morning, so this will be short and sweet. We saw E.V.O.C. in June and you can go back and see a detailed review of that show if you're interested.

 The fact that we returned to see them again should tell you something. The extraordinary voices of AnnMarie Milazzo and Tyley Ross are the primary reasons to see this troupe. The E.V.O.C. takes familiar arias and duets from operas and gives them contemporary treatments with rock, R&B and even disco arrangements. This show was celebrating the release of their new CD, which we picked up after the performance. Two of the songs on it I could easily imagine on commercial radio. Henry Purcell's When I Am Laid In Earth, which was written in 1689, sounds like a rock anthem and Puccini's O Mio Babbino Caro, from 1918, is done as a sultry R&B  ballad. Both knocked my socks off in concert and on the self-titled CD. Check them out.

I'm off to the beach!