January thru September 2003 (Highlights) back
Cassandra Wilson : Sept 7th at Battery Park
The thing I like most about Cassandra Wilson is that she and I seem to have very similar taste in music. Almost every time she covers a song, it's one of my favorites. (if not, it becomes a favorite after she covers it) On Sunday she did Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay", Muddy Waters "Sail On", The Monkees "Last Train to Clarksville (actually Boyce and Hart), Johnny Mercer's "Skylark", and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March" among others. For her encore she performed Son House's "Death Letter". When Bob Dylan heard "Death Letter" a few years back, he declared Cassandra Wilson his favorite female singer. No argument from me. I love her deep smoky voice and her unusual arrangements.
At the show I met up with our old concert buddy Erin, whom Judy and I met at a Martin Sexton concert about six years ago when she was 14!! (Talk about precocious) After the show I also ran into concerteers Roberta, Richard and Ken, all of whom I see often at various shows.
The weather was beautiful, the sound was good, her band was great and the show was free. All things told, a pretty good deal. (Her band consisted of bass, percussion, guitar and harmonica) She mentioned that her new album comes out in October. I assure you, I will own it. :-)
Parsons Dance Co. with The Ahn Trio : Sept 5th at Battery Park
I have an aunt and seven cousins who live in North Carolina. Whenever I go down for a visit, one of them inevitably asks "So when are Y'all going to leave that rat race up north and move down here where it's peaceful". I always have the same answer. I say "Well, Judy says we can live anywhere I want .... as long as it's within 1 hour of Manhattan". It always gets a laugh because, although it does say something about Judy, they all know I feel exactly the same way. And tonight I was once again reminded why.
I had never seen the Parsons company, but one of my all time favorite dance pieces was choreographed by David Parsons and Peter Martin (of NYC Ballet) to the Barber Violin Concerto. It consists of a ballet couple and a modern dance couple dancing side by side in their respective styles and then switching partners so each couple was one ballet dancer and one modern. That was back in the '90's and I've been interested to see more of his work since. ( he also choreographed the George Harrison tribute with ABT this past year)
I had planned to see the Ahn Trio this past winter at Joe's Pub and unfortunately was not able to attend. So here was a chance to kill two birds with one stone. (and for free)
Speaking of birds, I arrived early and got a spot 20 paces from the stage, dead center. As I read the program, I noticed everyone around me looking up at a tree top. There was a twenty pound turkey up there. I don't mean that someone climbed up there after shopping and forgot their butterball, it was a wild turkey bouncing from limb to limb apparently looking for the best view of the stage. In case you don't know, you don't see many wild turkeys in Manhattan.
The show opened with the Chinese Folk Dance Company doing three pieces. The first was based on characters from the Chinese Opera tradition. It was extremely colorful and very familiar to me because those same characters are in one of my favorite movies "Shadow Magic".
In the second piece, the girls used their 10 foot long silk sleeves to create images of clouds and waves as they danced. Both pieces were done to traditional music and both were beautiful.
The last piece was a choreographed Kung Fu exhibition done to the music from "Once Upon a Time in China". The crowd loved it. (and so did I)
After an energetic solo performance to some interesting African music by South African dancer/choreographer Vincent Mantsoe, the Ahn Trio and Parsons company took the stage to perform two pieces together, Slow Dance and Swing Shift. ( the Ahns also played one piece without dancers between the two pieces)
During the first piece, I was watching the Ahns as much as the dancers. This is not the desired effect from a choreographers point of view, but they were so talented and beautiful that I couldn't help myself. They love what they do and are a joy to watch. Also the dancers costumes seemed especially drab after seeing the Chinese group, although they were obviously talented.
The dancers won me over completely with the next piece. The music was more upbeat, the costumes more colorful and the dancers and choreography fantastic. It was very exciting. The music for both pieces was composed for the Ahn trio by Kenji Bunch. I enjoyed both but particularly liked Swing Shift.
On Sunday I'm going to see jazz singer Cassandra Wilson in Battery Park for free. I wonder what my cousins are up to?
Lizz Wright and Terrence Blanchard : Aug 20th at The Blue Note
This was my third time seeing Lizz Wright since June and was the most enjoyable for several reasons. First, we arrived early and sat barely ten feet in front of the stage. This is how music should be experienced. We also had great company at our table. Sally, an educator from Australia, was in New York visiting family and filling every spare moment with jazz, museums and other cultural experiences. Mike, a BIG jazz fan from Canton Ohio, was with Chris, his 15 year old son who plays drums. Their 5 day itinerary included Hairspray, The Producers, The Blue Note, The Village Vanguard, Jazzfest at City Hall Park, The Frick or Guggenheim and so on. (the wife and sister were at Blue Man Group tonight) Mike and Chris turned me on to "The Bad Plus" whom I checked out when I got home. Called the worlds loudest piano trio they play originals and deconstructed covers of rock tunes such as Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit". The snippets I heard on-line were enough to stir my curiosity. Having such interesting personalities at our table certainly added to the evenings enjoyment.
Hearing Lizz from ten feet away with great sound was as satisfying as musical experiences can get. Her voice is powerful but warm and her songs very emotional. I will be seeing her as often as I am able for the foreseeable future. Some of the very few negative critics I've seen have called her album uneven or neo jazz rather than jazz because it contains some soulful ballads, a show tune and a gospel tune. They've even tried to draw a comparison to Norah Jones as if this is a negative thing. My reaction to that is "Get a Life". Both Norah and Lizz are young, incredibly talented, and amazing entertainers. Enough said.
Usually my reviews are a "stream of consciousness" affair with little research. I go to a show and then sit down and relay my experience. But having seen her three times, I think it's time to acknowledge her excellent band which consists of Jon Cowherd on piano, Doug Weiss on bass, E.J. Strickland on drums, Jeff Haynes on percussion and John Hort on guitar.
Her set included the standard "The Eagle and Me" along with mostly songs from her album and finished with her title cut "Salt" which may have been the highlight of the show. At intermission Judy went upstairs and ran into Lizz in the hallway. Judy told her how wonderful she was and Lizz told Judy that she loved her hair color. Judy came back to the table smiling. :-)
Trumpeter Terrence Blanchard is known for both jazz and his movie music. He's done the music for most of Spike Lee's films among others. (does Spike have his own TV channel now? :-) His one hour set was up-tempo and fun. Terrence took time to tell us a little bit about each player in his excellent band. At one point his guitar player, Leonel Loueke, was singing and doing a solo and his guitar and mic came unplugged. Terrence and the others looked on in amusement as Leonel continued singing and playing. ( in such a small venue you could still hear everything) After leaving him hanging out on the limb for about 60 seconds the band jumped in and took over while a tech jumped up and fixed the problem. I was very entertained by the whole sequence, impressive improvisation. (Leonel is from Benin West Africa as is one of my favorites Angelique Kidjo)
At the conclusion we thanked our tablemates for the pleasure of sitting with them and then went over and told Lizz how much we love her and that I get goosebumps when I hear her sing. She thanked us warmly and I told her she would be seeing us again. And she will.
Joe's Pub August 16th : Joss Stone & Raul Midon
The Big Blackout had cancelled just about everything in the city the last two nights, so all day I tried to call Joe's Pub but their phones were still out. Judy was slightly hesitant about going but I talked her into it. I said if they don't have food we'll eat somewhere else and if they're closed, we'll go somewhere else or go home (1940's singer Anita O'Day was across the street at Fez)
When we arrived at Joe's Pub, they said they had food but no ice, so they were putting glasses in the freezer and if we would wait a little bit, they would put our drinks in chilled glasses. Fortunately, the air conditioning was working fine and soon after they received a shipment of ice. Things were working out nicely and about to get better.
As we waited for our food, Raul's wife, Kathleen, recognized me from the last show and came over to say hello. We chatted for a while and I gave her a compilation tape of some of my favorites including Lizz Wright, Angelique Kidjo, Martin Sexton, Raul Malo and others. I look forward to their reaction.
I've already reviewed Raul Midon twice this year, so at the risk of being redundant, I'll say again that he is an extraordinary guitarist and a powerful singer. He does mostly original songs but his cover of Stevie Wonders "Be Sure You're Sure" was wonderful and reminds you of how similar his style of singing is to Stevie's. And he finished the show with Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come", which I would put right up there with the original version and The Neville Brothers version as being a powerful moving experience. He's at The Bottom Line on Sept 6th as part of a Required Listening show. I will likely go again.
About three years ago, a young soul singer named Alicia Keys played Joe's Pub shortly before bursting out big time on the music scene. Then about a year and a half ago, young jazz singer, Norah Jones, did the same thing. It's very difficult to predict anything in such a fickle business but it's possible that Joss Stone may be the next young artist to play Joe's Pub just prior to exploding onto the music scene. She's an amazing soulful singer with a powerful voice, great soulful and funky band and the bonus of good looks. Her debut album, The Soul Sessions, comes out in a month and is co-produced by soul legend Betty Wright and features appearances by the Roots and Angie Stone among others. Besides having talent she seems to have the right kind of people behind her and that can't hurt. And she's only 16 years old!
Her band (guitar, bass, drum, keyboard and two backup singers) was truly awesome but my only negative observation was that they were too loud. Joe's Pub has great sound and that type of volume is not necessary. Sometimes volume can drown out musical shortcomings but in this case it interfered with musical excellence.
Susheela Raman : July 28th at Virgin Megastore THEN Laura Bell Bundy and Amber Rhodes at Fez
I usually prefer to go to shows with Judy or , if she can't make it, one of my friends. (Les and Joseph are regulars, and Cass Gorka before he moved to Pa., and several others are occasional) But often when I go by myself I end up with the best stories. (example Feb 7th review)
I arrived at Virgin about 5:30 for a 6 o'clock performance by Susheela Raman. All the tables were occupied but several had only 1 person, so I picked the one with the pretty girl and asked if she minded if I sat. (what??) She was a little shy about her English but it was actually very good. She had been listening to a CD and told me it was Radiohead. Talk of music eventually led me to give her my hoppersmusic card. When she saw "Music and Dance" on the card she told me she was a dancer and had danced at Lincoln Center yesterday!! Her name is Nian-Nian Zhou and she dances with Shen Wei Dance Arts. In the Times, Anna Kisselgoff called the company superb and one of the highlights of the Lincoln Center Festival 2003. It was a pleasure chatting with her and I will certainly check out Shen Wei Dance Arts when they return to NYC.
Susheela did a beautiful 30 minute in-store set and signed CD's afterwards. She blends traditional and classical Indian music with blues, jazz, pop, African and various other influences. It's a unique sound which has grabbed me and won't let go. The eastern melodies with western rhythms are powerful and hypnotic. Her two excellent albums are "Salt/Rain" and "Love Trap". I bought them both.
I hadn't heard the music of Laura and Amber but the blurb on the e-mail from Fez described their music as feel good pop goodies and that Laura had played Amber Von Tussle in the play "Hairspray". I took one look at the picture and thought "that sounds like fun". I arrived before doors opened and sat at the bar next to Amber Rhodes parents Jim and Peggy. They had driven up from Kentucky to see their daughter perform. (No artists would ever fail if they all had support like that.) We had a nice chat and they filled me in on some of the girls background which was fun.
Laura and Amber are both beautiful, funny, sexy and can sing. Their harmonies are beautiful and the songs are most definitely catchy. ( I thought "this could be the single" about 5 times) They introduced the songs as country pop but without a fiddle or steel guitar they sounded more like pop/rock tunes with only a hint of country. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that the songs are well crafted with good melodies and good hooks, the girls can really sing, and the band (two guitars, bass, drum and keyboards) does an excellent job. All in all a great time.
After the set I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Amber which I really enjoyed. Then on the way out of the lounge I walked past a girl sitting by herself reading her lap top who looked familiar. It was Julia Roberts. A cool ending to a fun evening.
Lizz Wright opening for The Crusaders w/Randy Crawford and Ray Parker Jr. : June 28th Avery Fischer Hall
Let me recap my week. 19 year old Peter Cincotti, 23 year old Norah Jones and now 23 year old Lizz Wright. I am very happy and relieved to report that the future of good music is secure!
Due to so many things going on I wasn't sure I would attend this show until 5pm. I rushed into Hoboken and found the path was waiting just for me, then ran upstairs on 6th ave and got a cab in 4 seconds. The driver was from the Sudan where using brakes is against their religion so we got to Lincoln Center in a matter of minutes. I walked up to the front of Avery Fischer Hall where a guy named Mike was selling his extra ticket in the front row at slightly below face value!!
We went in and sat down and I may have experienced nirvana for the second night in a row. I can not tell you how impressed I am with this girl. She may not win as many Grammys as Norah Jones but she is every bit as deserving. She did a group of songs from her debut album, "Salt", and a version of "Nature Boy" which she sang with her own phrasing. I can't single out a highlight because I was mesmerized from beginning to end but I also can't get her song "Salt" out of my head. She will be around a long long time.
And just when you think life can't get any better The Crusaders come out for their set and get the whole house groovin' to their funky soulful jazz. Half way thru their set they brought out Randy Crawford and she sang "Rio de Janero Blue", a song I remember from my 1977 Richard Torrance album, and followed with John Lennon's "Imagine". Where Lizz's voice is low and sultry and might be compared to Sarah Vaughn or Jill Scott, Randy's voice is higher pitch, maybe closer to Nell Carter, and was also completely enjoyable in an apples and oranges kind of way. She's a great singer.
After two more songs from Randy, Joe Sample, who chatted with the crowd all evening, says "I know some of you are wondering if that is really Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, so we're going to prove it". Ray comes out to the front microphone and sings his best known song "Ghostbusters" but has the house yell "Crusaders" instead of Ghostbusters at the appropriate time. Fun, Fun, Fun!!
It was a pleasure seeing the show with my scalper, Mike, whom I think enjoyed the show at least as much as me. :-) One final piece of trivia. I learned from the program that India.arie is the daughter of former basketball player Ralph Sampson.
Norah Jones : June27th PNC Arts Center
Some people reach a state of nirvana from meditation. For others it's the cigarette after making love or that first sip of a perfect vintage wine. It happened for me last night when Norah Jones and her band performed a new song written by Adam Levy called "In the Morning". It was only very slightly more bluesy and up tempo than most of her music but as it started to carry me away I began to hear early Led Zeppelin!! I'm guessing that I was the only person there thinking Robert Plant at that moment but you'll have to wait for her new album to come out, or go see her in concert to determine if I'm out of my mind. :-) Either way, I was swept away to another place where music rules and all is well. That song was the highlight of the show for me in a show that had one high after another.
She and her band performed just about her entire album plus half a dozen new songs and several covers including the Rolling Stones "The Worst" and the Everly Brothers "Sleepless Nights". From the new material performed I can already see her new album will be excellent. (I'm not sure when that's due yet. I'll keep you posted) The new material is an eclectic mix of blues, jazz, pop, ballads and even a bluegrass sounding tune, Creep on In, which had a great mandolin solo. She finished the show with a soothing version of "Tennessee Waltz".
Before the show I had some extra tickets to sell. I sold them to a couple named John and Lisa whose friend had sent them tix for the show but when they arrived they were told the tickets were only for parking. Apparently, their friend got taken. When I went in and sat down I started chatting with them and discovered they were from Rahway which is just up the road from me AND that we had been at quite a few of the same shows recently including Susan Werner and Richard Shindell at the Bottom Line and Toshi Reagon and Lucy Kaplanski at Union County Art Center. I also chatted it up with the beautiful couple in front of me. An Italian/Philippino girl, born here and very American, who looked like Tia Carreres younger sister and her pretty Italian American friend. I had wanted to get their names but they scooted out just before the encore.
Gillian Welch opened with her musical partner David Rawlings as a duo of guitars and vocals. I didn't catch her entire set but what I heard was beautiful melodic country tunes. "Revelator" was particularly haunting. The audience was very receptive to her and I enjoyed her quite a bit. All in all an excellent experience. Even the sound was good which is not always the case at this venue. (20th row center may have helped)
James Brown : May 27th at Battery Park
When I was a teenager James Brown was on tv
and my mother came in and asked "You like this Guy?" To tell the truth at that
time James Brown was almost as foreign to me as he was to my mom. Over time I
came to think of him as a great American treasure. With an absolute kickass
band, 4 backup singers, 2 girls doing gyrations that would cripple the average
person and James running the whole show, it was exciting.
My friend Les and I came over on the ferry from Hoboken, our favorite way to get into the city, and afterwards headed up to Joes Pub to see the show listed below.
Raul Midon - Joe's Pub May 27th
Les and I left Battery Park after James Brown and jumped on the #6 subway up to Bleeker street and walked to Joe's Pub. I hadn't heard his music yet but had read some very intriguing reviews of him. He's a blind jazz, Latin and R & B guitarist from Miami whom some were comparing to Stevie Wonder. Then I saw he was playing Carnegie Hall with Cassandra Wilson and others as part of the JVC Jazz Festival and thought I should check him out. After 1 song Les and I looked at each other and laughed. We had done it again. This guy is AMAZING. The vocal comparisons to Stevie Wonder are apparent although his music is jazzier. (the comparisons have nothing to do with being blind)
He played solo and with assorted combinations of piano, violin and congas. His ballads were beautiful and his guitar playing is fantastic. Very innovative. Plucking notes, strumming chords and banging the strings for percussive effect seemingly simultaneously. He told a story of how at 9 years old he "borrowed" one of his dad's Charlie Parker records and when he heard it said "What Is That!" He then told his dad he wanted to hear all the albums that sound like that and so began his love affair with jazz. He then proceeded to play a song and do a trumpet solo with his lips. Virtual trumpet!!
Afterwards we went backstage to tell him how much we enjoyed the show. A number of people were speaking with him at great length so we decided to leave. Just then a beautiful black woman walked passed and I said "are you on CSI"? It was Tamara Tunie who plays Medical Examiner Warner on Law and Order SVU. She said people always remember that she plays a medical examiner but often forget on which program. (Jill Hennsey, CSI, Six Feet Under-whoever thought that playing coroners or morticians would become a glamour job on tv?) I told her how I had recently met Stephanie March at a "Loser's Lounge" tribute just down the block at Fez. She was not familiar with the Losers so I gave her a brief intro. She was very sweet and it was a great ending to the evening. _______________________________________________________________________________
Angelique Kidjo - APRIL 12th at BB Kings Blues Club
From Benin in West Africa, she is one of my favorites. Her latest album "Black Ivory Soul" is a mix of Brazilian and African sounds and is one of my top 10 for last year. It includes a cool duet with Dave Matthews. Her greatest hits album is also excellent with more of an African sound and great versions of Hendrix "Voodoo Chile" and Gerschwin's "Summertime".
Her live shows are energetic. She makes you dance, jump and sing and you can't help but have a good time. (she literally makes everybody jump up and down throughout one song) Judy and I met her last year before a concert at Fordham and we chatted for half an hour. She is one of the warmest and most positive people we've ever met. I wish I lived next door to her. After chatting, she left for her sound check and then returned half an hour later to introduce us to her husband. It was very sweet.
We're also friendly with her backup singer, the lovely and talented AnnMarie Milazzo, whom we know from the "Downtown Messiah". After the show we said hello to Angelique and reminded her that we had met at Fordham and she exclaimed "I knew I knew you from somewhere" and gave us both big hugs. Then we chatted with AnnMarie for a little while before going outside with our friends Kevin and Sherri who had met us at the show. Danny Glover, of Lethal Weapon fame, came walking out of BB's and I said to him "she's somethin' else isn't she?" He answered "Your not kidding" and then proceeded to sign autographs for a bunch of kids while he waited for his car. He was very cool with the kids. A good time was had by all!
The Allman Brothers Band - March 25th at The Beacon Theater
Another pair of freebies from
wfuv. Les and I ate across the street at Big Nicks. Great hamburgers. We sat
next to three beautiful black women. Somehow we didn't think they were going to
the see the Allman Brothers. (and we were right)
When the lights went out a mushroom cloud of cannibis smoke rose from the orchestra and the Allmans proceeded to do their southern rock and blues thing. The best part of the show was realizing how many tie-dyed hippies are still roaming around New York! It was a nice trip down memory lane.
Losers' Lounge Tribute (Bee Gees) - Feb 7th at Fez
With the songs of the Bee Gee's and the talent of the Losers this was bound to be a fun night. Due to various circumstances, I ended up going by myself. But that's Ok because I got a great story out of it. I sat at the end of a table so I would have some leg room. A few moments later the hostess sat 2 women across from me. I recognized one as Stephanie March from "Law and Order SVU" which I watch. Not wanting to be a pest I left them alone to their conversation. Stephanie started asking her friend questions about the show which her friend couldn't answer so as a long time loser I filled them in on the details. In the course of conversation it came out that I was going to see Garth Fagan the next night. Stephanie's friend (I can't remember her name because I'm writing this way after the fact) said she knows Garth because she helped cast The Lion King. This led to more talk about dance, music and performing. Just a week earlier Judy had commented to me how she loves Stephanie's scenes with Judith Light. When I mentioned this she lit up and said working with Judith was one of her best experiences on the show.
At the end of the show we had to wait quite a long time for our check so her friend finally went to look for our waitress. She returned a few minutes later and said the waitress thought we were all together so my tab was on their bill and was paid already. I pulled out some money to pay her back for my share and she said it's "on her" as a thank you for how much I support the arts! Brought the story to a whole new level. :-)
Oh yeah, the show was great. Josh Tyler, Sean Altman and the Losertones, David Driver with Spencer Kayden and most everyone else did a very impressive job. Julia Greenberg, Stephanie Seymore and Tricia Scotti form a girl group "Ladyville" and did a MIND BLOWING version of "Emotion". The Bee Gees would have been impressed.
Required Listening - January 18 at The Bottom Line (featuring Mulebone UK, Jesse Harris and the Ferdinandos, Jess Klein and Josh Joplin)
Required Listening is an ongoing series where the Bottom Line, in association with WFUV, presents 4 artists who each do a half hour set. The first time I saw Martin Sexton was at a required listening in 1996. Tonight featured Jesse Harris, Mulebone UK, Jess Klein and Josh Joplin.
Jesse Harris wrote several songs on Norah Jones album including the single "Don't Know Why". He and his band, The Ferdinandos, did and excellent set including one song from Norah's album "I've got to see you Again". He's not on Norah's level of vocal ability and his presentation is more pop/rock than jazz but he did a very entertaining set and is definitely enjoyable in his own right.
Mulebone Uk was the high point of the evening for me. Hugh Pool stands 6'6" tall with Leon Russell like hair and plays guitar, harmonica and lead vocals. John Ragusa has a shaved head and plays various flutes, conch shells and mouth harp. Their bluesy roots music is reminiscent of Leon Russell and Hot Tuna. They absolutely rocked the house. What an exciting act. Catch them if you can. (I had seen them at the Downtown Messiah and came to this show to see them again)
Jess Klein and Josh Joplin were both enjoyable. They both had some catchy folk/pop/rock tunes along with good vocals.