Monday, December 31, 2012

Concert Review: Rock 'n' Roll Social Club, Turnip Stampede, Johnny Rawls

Posted By on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 at 9:07 AM

What Tala Vera lacks in size, it makes up for in vibe. Friday night was my first experience hearing a band on the heavy side at this downtown venue. While the music was perhaps a couple of clicks over too loud, the space still managed to contain the hard rock of both Rock 'n' Roll Social Club (featuring former members of Boneyard) and Minds Open Wide (ex-Kaged, et al).When the band first reformed it stuck with old material, but Social Club has penned a bunch of brilliant tunes that aren't just new, but seem to be heading in a new direction. I like it, I like it, yes I do.

Minds Open Wide plays a rather unnerving angular type of progressive rock -- this ain't background noise for you to get your serve on; it will not be ignored. Rhythmically it's hard to pin down, with its obtuse structures and stop-on-a-dime dynamics. It seems incredibly precise and undoubtedly hard to play. These cats are good, I'm telling you.

Despite the down-home, aw-shucks farm imagery its name conjures, Syracuse's Turnip Stampede adds a little big-city blues to its rural ramble and jam (perhaps we'll call it "jamble"). The band played late Friday night at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The closest comparison I can make would be Ten Years After. If you haven't seen the footage of the band's closing set at Woodstock, well then, you just have to in 2013. In the meantime check out Turnip Stampede as the band breathes new life into the stock hippie jam by giving it wings and teeth.

As the former bandleader for O.V. Wright and Little Johnny Taylor, Mississippi-born Johnny Rawls is steeped in blues tradition. And that's before you even talk about the man's own contributions to the genre. This is blues that skates on the soul/r&b razor. No matter how lowdown it's rendered, smiles crack, booties shake.

As I've said before, with the blues, I love as it wafts out of a joint like it did at the Dinosaur Saturday night. I hung on to Rawls' rhythm and smooth with the nicotine crowd and dug it until my chattering teeth drowned him out. I'll try this approach again in the spring when it's warmer. Eesh.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Concert Review: RoarShark, Moon Zombies at Monty's Krown

Posted By on Sat, Dec 22, 2012 at 9:16 AM

Though Friday may have been one of the first snow-flurry-filled nights of Rochester's winter season, inside Monty's Krown the musical temperature was anything but low. RoarShark opened up the night with a set of surefire surf rock, filled with that genre-defining wet, splashy reverb and tonal riffs that call to mind everything great about the beach (waves, babes, and sunny days) without forcing you to actually go there and deal with the sand and seaweed.

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The group forgoes a singer (except for a few screams here and there); this is a guitar world, and by God the guitars are going to rule it. Normally when a band goes without a singer I find that it's hard to latch on to a specific sound, but RoarShark's licks were meaty enough to sink your teeth into. The group's dual lead guitar/bass guitar solo lines easily filled the spotlight.

Then it was the Moon Zombies' turn to rise and take the stage. This group is funk, funk, funky, but with a heavier and solidified rock architecture that makes it a little louder and fiercer than you might expect from a funk band.

The group shifted from one planetary genre to the next, sampling some straight-up ska-skank tunes (Reel Big Fish's "Beer" was in there), to rhythmic and soulful systems, and even heavier rock explosions. Most of the flow was seamless, but there was still a little disconnect from song-to-song with so much genre shifting -- some people may find the band's grabbing of so many sounds divisive rather than inclusive. The keyboard managed to tie things together a bit, but tended to get a little lost in the more rock-laden pieces.

The band shied away a bit, especially vocally, on some of the songs where it seemed a little unsure of itself. But boy, when the group was on, it was firing all cylinders. It created a totally different vibe when it let loose, like on the closer for the roughly two-hour-long set, "Zombie Dance." The world may not have ended on Friday night -- too bad, Mayans! -- but if there were any dead people in the room, I'm pretty sure even they made it up on their feet for the last dance. And since the undead never really die, Moon Zombie has time to continue to flesh out and trim the fat from its set, making everything all the juicier for the living, the dancing, and the dead.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Concert Review: Lyric Chorale at St. Louis Church

Posted By on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Through a combination of choral music and projected images, the Lyric Chorale presented works inspired by the Virgin Mary in the setting of St. Louis Church in Pittsford on Saturday, December 15. The Lyric Chorale was generous in its offerings during a nearly two-hour program, including various settings of "Ave Maria," as well as Bach's "Magnificat in D Major." The original programming plus the performance created a special setting for the holidays.

The first half of the program consisted of 12 choral works, including a lovely performance of "O Viridissima Virga" by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), featuring soprano soloist Elizabeth Phillips. Also nicely done was "O Maria, Diana Stella," listed in the program as a 15th century lauda.

The Bach "Magnificat" made up the second half of the program, and I must commend bass Joe Finetti for his performance of the aria "Quia fecit mihi magna" ("because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name"). Finetti's tone was clear, his articulation excellent, and his emotional delivery moving.

The Lyric Chorale, now in its 10th year, is a choral group that performs a range of music, from classical to pop and jazz. It is a 40-voice community chorus, and is the artist-in-residence at St. Louis Church. Chrisanne Yule is the director of the Lyric Chorale, and conducted Saturday night's concert. She holds her undergraduate degree in chorale music education and organ performance, a masters of music in organ performance from the University of Michigan, and a certificate in harpsichord and early music from Florida State University.

I would offer two comments originating from Yule's remarks at the start of the program, relative to the group's efforts to design a program that the audience could experience as a meditation, including, for example, not clapping in between songs. First, I might dim the lights and light some candles. This would allow the projected images to show more clearly and draw the audience's attention, and it would allow a docent to raise the lights at the end of the first half to clear the brief audience confusion as to whether it was time to clap.

Second, and more to the point of the performance, I might take an approach to singing that was more gentle and reflective of the text and the composers' intentions. The acoustics at St. Louis are live and the group and its soloists suffered no difficulty in projecting to where I was sitting very near the back. While there was glory to be proclaimed, particularly in the first, fourth, and seventh parts of the "Magnificat," high notes should not always equate with the same driving fortissimo. To allow compassion into the voice would create a harmony with the depictions by many artists of the face of the Holy Mother with her infant son, selected to be projected to the audience.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Concert Review: RPO "The Four Seasons"

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 10:43 AM

The temperature at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre rose considerably Thursday night, owing to the sheer madness of the bowing of Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster Juliana Athayde, as the violin soloist for Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Athayde attacked the score with a determination to seize its glory, and, in doing so, she made each note sparkle, no matter how fast, light, or quiet.

The setting for the RPO performance consisted of a "tiny" orchestra of some 15 violins (including Athayde), five violas, four cellos, two bass, and a harpsichord. I think of the "Four Seasons" as more of an intimate work, designed to be performed in a far smaller setting than the 2,300-seat Kodak Hall.

Thursday night, however, there was a powerful synergy between Athayde and guest conductor JoAnn Falletta, and their chemistry caused all the musicians to reach to keep up with the tempi and wide dynamic range of the soloist and conductor. There was significant eye contact, body language, and expression upon everyone's faces, which reflected the superb blend of sound and authentic interpretation.

Falletta holds numerous posts, including as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. She is also principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has nine Grammy nominations and two Grammy awards to her name.

Athayde has been concertmaster of the RPO since 2005. She holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the Cleveland Institute of Music. She is an associate professor of violin at the Eastman School of Music and a visiting teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

The first half of the program was also most enjoyable, consisting of the "Capriccio sinfonico" by Giacomo Puccini and the Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 (the "Italian") by Felix Mendelssohn. Falletta -- without scores -- conducted with her feet firmly planted on the podium and the whole of her body emoting her directions to the musicians. Everyone was so settled into the program that the audience let out an audible sigh at the end of the Puccini.

The one comment I would have about the Puccini and the Mendelssohn is this: the RPO has a further bit to give to these works. The works were solid, but, I would argue, a smidge too comfortable. If on Saturday the RPO can give Falletta in the first half of the program what it gave Falletta and Athayde in the second half of the program, you will have a performance that will put the gold star in the holiday sky.

The RPO performs the same program Saturday, December 15, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall. For more information or tickets visit the RPO website.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Concert Review: Chamber Music Society Rochester presents The Argos Trio

Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 3:23 PM

How's this for a fresh classical concert idea: stage a concert at the Memorial Art Gallery on a Sunday evening, when it is otherwise closed, and during intermission, offer tours of gallery exhibitions to the audience. Sounds good? It is, and it is being brought to you by the Society for Chamber Music in Rochester, most recently with a concert performed by the Argos Trio.

Candidly, I didn't even realize the format of the concert until I got there on Sunday, December 9. I put it on my "must-go" list simply because the word "Rachmaninoff" appeared in the concert billing. If you like classical music and you like art, this concert format gets a two-thumbs up.

The Argos Trio is a combination of violin, cello, and piano. Liana Koteva Kirvan, violin, is originally from Bulgaria, most recently having received her master's degree at the Eastman School of Music. She has been a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra since 2001. Her husband, Lars Kirvan, cello, is also a member of the RPO (since 2008), having earned his bachelor's degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Lars has performed with the New World Symphony Orchestra and was recently invited to join the World Orchestra for Peace. At piano is Chiao-Wen Cheng, from Taiwan, who is currently finishing her doctorate at ESM.

On the plus side of the concert, Liana demonstrated a genuine strength for the first of two pieces on the program, Beethoven's "Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in c minor, Op. 1, No. 3." If anything, I would say that with the level of synchronicity within the Argos Trio, allowing the violin to give more direction on the shape of the work, especially the rhythm to match the dynamics, would benefit the piece. Liana performed on an Italian violin, built in 1798, which she explained in the pre-concert chat was currently on loan to her. The instrument added an elegance underneath her graceful hands and clean technique. One could well imagine her sitting at court in the day, back in 1793-1794 when this piece was composed, so true was her interpretation of the work.

Also on a positive note, Lars loves Rachmaninoff, a passion that came pouring forth from his cello from his opening notes in the "Trio élégiaque No. 2" in d-minor, Op. 9. In the pre-concert chat, he said his cello, built in 1886 based upon a Stradivarius pattern by a French maker, had a big sound. While I did not hear that in the Beethoven, it suddenly came forth in the Rachmaninoff. As with my remark on Liana taking some lead in the Beethoven, I would have liked to hear Lars taking the lead in the pacing and breathing of the Rachmaninoff. Indeed, "élégiaque," or, in English, "elegiac," means to have a mournful quality - a sound arguably defined by the tones of a beautiful cello. Particularly in passages where the violin and the cello engage in what could be described as a lovers' duet, Lars and Liana have an opportunity to merge their life experience with their music and could push the trio's performance to another dimension.

What held back the performance for me was a combination of three factors. The acoustics were very straight and short in the MAG auditorium, and caused the piano at times to overwhelm the violin and cello. The physical strength of the pianist created passages that more resembled a solo recital. And, the too-steady pace of the piano, which, it appeared, was the driver of the beat for the trio throughout the concert, even where the violin or the cello was on the verge of bringing forth greater romanticism through their phrasing.

The Society for Chamber Music in Rochester, now in its 36th season, has three more concerts this season: the Antara Winds (January 27 at MAG), a "Scandinavian Sampler" (March 17 at MAG), and "An Evening with the Yings" (April 28 at Hochstein). Find out more at www.ChamberMusicRochester.org.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Concert Review: Black Lillies, Bill Kirchen, Hollis Brown, Sister Sparrow

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 at 12:01 PM

The Salamanders had an album out a while ago called "Livestock in the Livingroom" (and by "a while ago" I mean 1992), and that's kind of how I feel when I'm digging a show at Abilene, corralled in with all my roots-rock brethren and sisteren. Tuesday, December 4, was no different as Nashville's Black Lilies brought a definite pump and groove to its acoustic-centered rockacana. It was beautiful and had a perfect electric tingle brought on and brought out by the steel/guitar player as he wrung out well-balanced notes and made them boogie and cry along with some of the livestock in attendance.

Friday night was the thriller for me as twang-master Bill Kirchen swing, swang, and swung his guitar like a six-string battle axe in front of a nearly overflowing Lovin' Cup. He was particularly on fire with his trademark call-and-response fluidity and charming self-deprecation. And since I've surrendered my guitar to disease, Kirchen invited me up to sing some Leiber and Stoller with him and the band. It meant more that he will ever know. What a class act.

I left the Cup on a cloud and floated over to Sticky Lips Juke Joint, where The Filthy McNastys were laying it down and stomping on it before picking it back up again. A few folks fought the urge to dance, and lost. The twin-guitar attack of Gregg Cole and TC Cummings was monstrous as they traded off slick and slippery slabs of salacious slide guitar. There's a little throwback going on here, and I'm not the only one to make an Allman Brothers reference -- not just from the guitars, but from the rhythmic groove and vocal growl as well. A totally red-hot, no-shit band.

Saturday night's performance by New York City's Hollis Brown at Water Street Music Hall was captivating for the most part -- with the exception of a few ill-placed covers -- and reminded me quite a bit of Whiskeytown. The band was in a unique position, as nobody knew what to expect. These guys will definitely draw the next the next time they hit town, as I witnessed hips and feet and legs responding to their sound -- not because they were supposed to, but because they felt it.

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds was the big draw of the night and opened its set like a firing squad. Horns and horns and a harmonica I couldn't hear laid the way for Sister Sparrow's bouncy alto and boundless energy. It was effortless R&B-tinged funky soul without cliché or pretense. But it was huge. Size is everything.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Concert Review: Hook and Hastings Organ Debut Concert

Posted By on Sat, Dec 1, 2012 at 1:46 PM

Friday night’s inaugural concert of the Hook and Hastings organ at Christ Church was a solid two hours of musical selections from J.S. Bach to the present and including a cellist, a harpist, dancers, and a choir.To an audience so packed folding that chairs were brought out to accommodate the crowd, this marvelous instrument filled the air with a tone that was clear and dynamically far ranging. This Hook and Hastings organ is both perfectly suited for the acoustics of Christ Church and for fast hand and foot work.

The Hook and Hastings organ, from 1893, has more than 1,850 pipes and more than 15,000 parts. It comes to Rochester from Maine, where it has been in storage for approximately 10 years, following the closing of its preceding parish. It joins the Craighead-Saunders organ, already at Christ Church, and the Italian Baroque organ at the Memorial Art Gallery, to become three of the many outstanding organs in the greater-Rochester area overseen by the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative.

Of the 11 program offerings on Friday night’s bill, three clearly stood out as being perfect combinations of instrument, settings, composition, and organist.

First, there was the beautiful “Prière,” Op. 158 (“prayer”) by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). David Higgs at the organ with Rosemary Elliott on cello was a moving combination of musicians that was perfectly in tune to the music and to each other. Their phrasing of long lines was exquisite. Higgs is a professor of organ and the chair of the Department of Organ and Historical Keyboards at Eastman School of Music. Elliott teaches at ESM, and hails from London, where she taught at the Royal College of Music.

Second to hit the mark was organist Edoardo Bellotti, during the third of three fantasies from “Troisième Fantaisie,” Op. 157, by Saint-Saëns. Bright lines of notes, driving to strong, accented chords seemed the moment the organ was waiting for to show off its ability to express clean, clear sound without vibrato or echo. This piece, in particular, was the proof that a skilled musician can execute fast notes without having them turn into acoustical bouillabaisse for mechanical or architectural reasons. Bellotti is a visiting professor to ESM from the Hochschule für Künste (Bremen, Germany).

And then, there was the magnificent “Valediction” by David Conte, performed by David Higgs on the organ and members of the Christ Church Schola Cantorum and Choir, directed by Stephen Kennedy. The composition itself was everything you could ask for:soaring high vocal notes, rich tenor and bass harmonies, sustained organ chords, and organ notes deep enough to vibrate the floor under the audience’s feet. There is not enough I can write about the artistic excellence that shone forth from these musicians, the instrument, and the composition, except to say what I couldn’t shout out in church:bravo!

Conte is an American composer and organist, and studied as a Fulbright Scholar in Paris under the legendary composer, conductor, and teacher Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979). He is a professor of composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

To learn more about EROI and other organ recitals sponsored by the Eastman School of Music, visit the EROI website.

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