Concert Review

Friday, March 7, 2014

Concert Review: The Greener Grass Band at Sticky Lips

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 4:04 PM

When asked, "What's up with the Filthy McNasty's?" the band's guitarist, Greg Cole, copped a big shrug coupled with a whaddaya-want-from-me? face. But put a guitar in the man's hands, along with a glass slide, and he knows exactly what to say.

Cole was guesting with The Greener Grass Band at Sticky Lips Thursday night. The room was in flux as I rolled up on the scene; dinner tables were being bussed and doggy bags were distributed as the late-night crowd transitioned into the room, libations in hand.

The Greener Grass Band is essentially a jam outfit with an obvious affinity for reggae. And with Cole parked and playing stage right, The Allman Brothers and ol' Slow Hand were prevalent as well. The band puts a lot of energy into its jams, with frequent dynamic emphasis as all on stage shouldered the groove and got down without over-playing or letting it get away from them. It was energy without the drama. Rock on.

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Concert Review: RPO: Christopher Seaman, Berlioz, Beethoven, and Bruckner

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 9:58 AM

In a season filled with guest conductors, it was nice to head to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Thursday night with calm expectations for a pleasant evening, lead by RPO Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman. The program selected by Seaman included a massive Bruckner symphony, a Beethoven piano concerto, and a short Berlioz overture. In all, the audience left rewarded for its optimism.

Seaman was the music director of the RPO from 1998 to 2011, and is now its conductor laureate. He leads the RPO in one concert per year, otherwise traveling the globe as a guest conductor and teacher with more than 40 years of experience at the podium. In 2013, Seaman published "Inside Conducting," sharing his insights and experiences.

The primary work of the night was the Symphony No. 6 in A Major by Anton Bruckner (Austrian, 1824-1896). Bruckner is not a household name, though he should be. So much goes on through the orchestration; even in its most brooding passages, the pieces includes short, light, and airy motifs. Bruckner wrestles with the realms of spirituality with a constant reminder not to lose faith.

Seaman and the RPO have a way of pulling off these kinds of scores that makes an audience member feel as if she's never heard it before. Seaman is a master of tempo selection and he breathes deeply through long phrasing, much in the way that I thrilled at guest conductor Jun Märkl's interpretation of Mahler's "Titan Symphony" earlier this season. This level of interpretation entrances the audience.

And, again as with the Mahler, I pass out gold stars to those masters of the trumpet in the RPO brass section. Their tone was clean and clear, and their unison was exemplary. In terms of entrances and pulse, it simply doesn't get better than their execution.

Also on the program was the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19 (German, 1770-1827). I've put the composer's dates into this review because it's interesting to consider how much music evolved from Beethoven to Bruckner. The concert is worth attending for the juxtaposition of those two pieces alone.

The program notes indicate that the RPO first performed this Beethoven piano concerto with Glenn Gould at the keys, and I marveled at the thought of what that performance must have held for its audience. Unfortunately, this was indicative of where my sense of last night's performance came up short when listening to pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Parker is comfortable as a guest soloist and with the work, but, for me, it was missing a playfulness that I really like in some of Beethoven's works. This piano concerto is one that should evoke the high-handed humor of the court, even as it edges with sarcasm. A work like this should leave the audience feeling like it just watched opera, particularly at points where the piano lines play with instrument lines to create something akin to a competition of the witty and the vain.

Finally, the program started with a nine-minute "Roman Carnival Overture" by Hector Berlioz. From its opening, it was a pleasant reminder of Seaman's masterful selection of tempo and orchestration.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra repeats the program Saturday, March 8, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information visit the RPO website.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Concert Review: Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess at Abilene

Posted By on Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Talk about a buzz; there was a big one coming from the Abilene hive Saturday night. I made the scene and wiped the steam off my cheaters to the dulcet tones of the Charlie Mitchell Quartet as it wound up its set by cruising through a creamy rendition of "Autumn Leaves." The group added a warm backdrop to the increasing chit-chat that reverberated off the walls.

Those walls were filled to bursting by the time headliner Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess piled into its little corner. Teams of swing dancers warmed up and stretched while putting finishing touches on the moves they were soon to bust. Jess and the Mess kicked in and the dancers were off with a whole lot more up and down than side to side on account of there being practically no room to even stand.

The New York City ensemble pumped and wailed in a style that in the 1920's was referred to as "hot music" -- a heady cocktail of Tin Pan Alley, bluegrass, Dixieland and a pervading salaciousness and attitude that rebelled against polite society (namely Prohibition and prudish sexual mores). And man, Carolina can belt. Rubbing her belly board, she sang sweet like Holiday, cute like Boop, and loud as if shot out of a Southern diplomat's bullhorn.

Sadly, it was impossible to fully enjoy the show, as the band seems to have an inordinate number of fans over six feet tall, and who don't know how to shut up. The band was boisterous but frankly not loud enough, resisting the urge to ratchet up the volume. Viewing deficits aside, the band played a fantastic show.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Concert Review: Air Traffic Controller, Mochester at Lovin' Cup

Posted By on Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 10:57 AM

With my valentine in tow, I traipsed out to Lovin' Cup Friday night to see two bands. One I knew rather well -- Mochester -- and one I had never heard -- Air Traffic Controller. This is where my curiosity and writing shines, according to my editor. And I have to agree; when I have no benchmark or anticipated response, I end up enjoying myself immensely.

Deriving its name from frontman Dave Munro's previous gig with the military, Air Traffic Controller took the stage fortified with a plethora of acoustic and electric instruments, with which all members of the band exhibited proficiency. I initially thought the band would be more folky than it wound up sounding. It was drenched in hooks, and fortified by the simple honesty found in Munro's lyrics sung in his reedy tenor.

The band ventured into stark territory, where it built tunes seemingly from the ground up a la The Head and the Heart or The Lumineers. And speaking of voices, bassist Casey Sullivan was a study in two parts. The notes would first leave her throat freely, only to be pinched at the end with a haunting vibrato. It was a subtle and beautiful approach that I'm not sure she's fully aware of -- it was that natural. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Scott kept it glued together with as much texture as actual notes, which served Munro's simple salvos exquisitely.

I've seen Mochester play barefoot before, but this particular night was cold, so the band took the stage in socks. I'm not sure why. Maybe the members forgot their stage slippers? Anyhow, here's a band that knows how to implement a twin-guitar attack. The crowd, sufficiently warmed up by Air Traffic Controller's set, seemed primed and ready, hollering out requests and generally digging the band. Mochester kicked ass even if it was without shoes.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Concert Review: Greyhound Bandits at La Casa

Posted By on Sat, Feb 15, 2014 at 8:57 PM

For some people Valentine's Day is about candy, hearts, chocolate, and love. For others it can be about pints of ice cream and sitting at home missing something they used to have, or never had at all. Or I guess it could come down to a combination of the two options.

My choice this year was Mexican food and music. City has already told you about the food offerings at La Casa (93 Alexander St.), but the South Wedge Mexican restaurant has started to add live music to the mix as well. For Friday night's Valentine's Day festivities the restaurant brought in self-described street-folk group The Greyhound Bandits.

After opting for a little more room than what was allowed by the initial doorway staging area, the trio (two electric guitars, one acoustic) decided to set up and sit down in a tight booth on the lower floor of the restaurant. The unconventional placement meant that the music was a bit hard to hear over the dining-room murmur, and it was even harder to tell exactly when and where the songs began and the jamming ended.

What resulted was players that looked lost, but not lost in the music. It was as if each musician was having a personal jam session in his head, instead of sharing one as a trio. The music as a whole seemed based more in the improvisational world than anything folk. One guitarist would solo while the other two pattered between chords, not really centering around an apparent theme or any solid idea as a base. I couldn't tell if these were actually pre-planned songs (one, with vocals, I'm guessing must have been) or just repeated chord changes and heads being soloed over until somebody in the group decided it was time for things to end, and for something else to start. Even with just three people, the group didn't seem to be on the same page musically, and the pieces didn't mesh together.

A restaurant gig is obviously going to have different expectations placed on it than on one performed on a stage, in a more traditional venue. And the atmosphere at La Casa was more geared toward background dinner music than anything else. But I don't think this band has yet found its niche, at least not based on what I saw Friday night.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Concert Review: "Echoes of the Middle Ages" at Memorial Art Gallery

A lovely collaboration between MAG and Eastman School of Music

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 10:03 AM

A sustained -- and deserved -- applause rang through the Fountain Court of the Memorial Art Gallery following Thursday night's concert, "Echoes of the Middle Ages," presented by the Schola Cantorum of Christ Church and organist Naomi Gregory.

The program, centered on the music and art of the 14th through the 16th centuries, was beautifully conceived and executed. The audience program listed the 11 musical selections with lyrics in their original languages and with English translation, along with a corresponding piece of fine art on display at the museum. After the performance in the Fountain Court, the audience wandered through adjoining galleries, locating the paired works of art. The one-hour concert extended into another hour enjoying the museum before it closed.

The musical selections were diverse and yet flowed naturally. Schola Cantorum began with three male voices in a "Kyrie" from "Mass of Tournai" (1349), performed a cappella. Every tone was pure and clear. The acoustics of the gallery provided a monastery-like effect.

From songs of the liturgy to songs to honor saints in the second section of the program, Schola Cantorum (singers included Michael Anderson, Adelaide Boedecker, David Chin, Mark Helms, Aaron James, Lydia Kirkpatrick, Thatcher Lyman, Reagan McNamee-King, Sarah McConnell, Prince Nyatanga, Derek Remeš, and Michael E. Ruhling) sang a lovely motet for St. Sebastian, "O beateSebastiane" (by Gaspar van Weerbeke, c.1445-c.1516). That opened into a free-flowing counterpoint. The third section, works for private devotion, included an intoned gospel reading of John 1:1-14 (the creation). Thatcher Lyman, the organ soloist in the Fountain Court, delivered a moving and well-articulated performance, and the responsive singers (who were unseen and in adjoining galleries) achieved the desired effect.

Another element of the concert was an organ piece for the Court of Philip the Bold (also known as Philip II, Duke of Burgundy), written in the modern day, but inspired by three motets of his day (1342-1404). Eastman DMA organ student Naomi Gregory spoke of her composition and of the tuning adjustments made to the Baroque organ to more closely mimic the sound of the late 14th century. Gregory's composition was at once witty and authentic.

Michael Alan Anderson, assistant professor of musicology at ESM, also spoke before each piece. Typically, I cringe at spoken interruptions during musical performances - my preference is to allow the music to speak for itself. But, for this program and in this setting, the remarks were historically and musically interesting, and also well delivered. The audience left with much to think about, considering that the evening started with remarks from Nancy Norwood, curator of European art at the MAG, and continued with Anderson's research, and included Gregory's composer's insights.

This was a truly inspired concert program in a perfect setting. I look forward to announcements of future collaborative concerts between ESM and the MAG. I will only give you the advance warning that already last night there wasn't a seat left in the house. Whatever program is next, get there early and plan to stay late. In the meantime, if you haven't already been to the Sunday afternoon Italian Baroque organ recitals, the 25-minute performances are at 1 and 3 p.m., and are included in MAG admission.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Concert Review: Falling Hollywood at Lovin' Cup

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Saw quite an interesting band Saturday night at Lovin' Cup. Interesting in its poppy meld of genres, interesting in the strength of its songwriting, interesting in its rhythm and lead guitar flip-flop, and interesting that all of that overshadowed the group's growing pains.

Hailing from Erie ,PA, Falling Hollywood came out with a reserved swing, with the acoustic guitar initially doing lead duty as the electric guitar provided the percussive chop. The band was devoid of any country twang, but initially brought to mind The Old 97's. The harmonies were right on -- and dead on -- throughout a fantastic set of original popified rock 'n' roll.

But as the band built up both in complexity and volume --- with both guitars electrified --- over the course of the nearly 90-minute set, it became clear that the bassist was either in the wrong band, or wasn't aware he was in a band at all. He clearly knew his way around his instrument, and as a performer he was engaging. But he overplayed everything, from scales to octave stunts. It proved very distracting from what otherwise was a good set, and it hindered what I feel would have been a dancing crowd (which still dug the band regardless).

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Concert Review: From The Skies, Aggressive Betty at Montage

Posted By on Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 11:51 AM

From The Skies was laying it down with a fierce brutality as I made my way into the Montage Music Hall Saturday night. I'm not the biggest metal fan --- I do like it, though --- but the sound fit my mood perfectly: cold and pissed. The music blasted out and up thick and angry to about 50 hardcore fans gathered around the stage as if it were a baggage carousel at the airport.

Headliner Aggressive Betty writes great, straight-ahead metal tunes (the band has been doing so for a dozen or so years) and delivers them unrelentingly. But the mix on stage Saturday was a little thin. I think that happens when the guitars are so loud that the soundman can't feed them through the P.A. I think the trick is to turn it down so you can ultimately turn it up.

At least I got to see a woman in her 60s (I'm assuming) head-banging front and center. My mom never headbanged at any of my shows.

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Friday, January 31, 2014

Concert Review: Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra "An Evening in Paris"

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Thursday night's performance by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra was essentially two concerts in one: the Stravinsky and everything else. The Stravinsky was pure RPO. The rest? It was billed as an "Evening in Paris," but a better headline would be an "Evening in Russia."

Let's begin with the performance of the Suite from "The Firebird" (1919 revision). A ballet work in five parts, we last heard this performed by the RPO just two years ago. It was written by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. Guest conductor Fabien Gabel may have talked to me last summer about Stravinsky living for a time in Paris, but this work is Russian to the core.

With five pieces on the program, "The Firebird" was last, and snapped me back into Kodak Hall. The preceding works by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, and Ravel had not gone off particularly well. Then, abruptly, the entire RPO was fully present in its performance, attentive to the conductor, and making clean entrances. A full range of dynamics was provided. Ritardandos were expressive. The arcs of the themes were long and luscious.

The French composers? Had I not heard the Stravinsky, I might have said otherwise. But, with it in mind, my simple comment is that the RPO did not grasp the French composers, and possibly not the guest conductor.

It began with Claude Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun." Gabel had told me that for that piece, he can generally give the flute the freedom to begin and simply take the musician's inspiration from the opening lines for the interpretation of the work. Unfortunately, the opening did not put me into the French romantic "esprit." It felt thoughtful and measured, and that is where the whole piece, and the other French works, seemed to go.

The problem can most clearly be explained by the deliveries of the ends of phrases and the beginnings of the next beats. The French line holding a diminuendo and ritardando is a slow sigh, a beat of the heart of stillness; the inhale, and - then - the downbeat, and you go merrily on your way. You don't count Debussy. You breathe Debussy. The result of counting meant that entrances were smatterings of notes, instead of clean, spring air in a public garden in Paris.

Where it really created problems was for the Concerto No. 3 in B minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61. It's a 30-minute work in three movements. Saint-Saëns, the composer, has such a distinct sound, and violinist Philippe Quint was the embodiment of it. Quint offered a range of bowing techniques, from the lightest possible touch on the highest notes, to the physical collision of the bow coming down and the violin coming up for heart-wrenching sounds. Both Quint and his 1708 "Ruby" Stradivarius violin were impressive.

But the RPO was just not with Quint. It's not that the RPO is not capable of performing at Quint's level. The orchestra has certainly turned out a list of violin concertos both with RPO concertmaster Juliana Athayde, and with others like Augustin Hadelich, Stefan Jackiw, and Lara St. John. Last night, for whatever reason, the RPO's timing on the ends of phrases and entrances was off, and the orchestra was not anticipating Quint's phrasing, including his crescendo with accelerando. To circle again to the imagery of Paris, Quint's interpretation in certain lines and passages was the quickening of the French footfall upon seeing a friend across the way and being happy to greet them, as opposed to the Rochester manner in which we see someone and wave and keep going because the weather makes us want to get inside.

Just a quick head's up on the concert schedule. Do not miss the next RPO concert on February 6 and 8. The concert will feature some Gershwin and some Ellington, and also, Joseph Schwantner's "New Morning for the World - Daybreak of Freedom," which includes text from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It's the only February RPO concert.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the program again on Saturday, February 1, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. $15-$82. 454-2100, RPO.org.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Concert Review: Steve Pavia, Mad Cow Tippers at Monty's Krown

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 10:25 AM

If the profane brilliance I've read in his Facebook posts is any indication, Steve Pavia is this town's Charles Bukowski: a tragic, self-effacing figure; a no-club lone wolf; a lonesome stranger with a lonesome guitar.

Pavia was a stalwart fixture on the scene back in the day, as they say. Many years ago (I'm figuring the late 1980's) Pavia --- as Stevie Boy --- cut a howlingly sinister disc called "I Get Dangerous," a lo-fi rockabilly 45 with Personal Effects alum Bernie Heveron on the dog-house bass.

After pulling a Houdini act that lasted something like 10 years, Pavia is back with his guitar, his witty sarcasm, and his literary cool. I caught him and his big orange guitar Friday night at Monty's Krown. He hit it raw and wired, but unfortunately couldn't derive the same pleasure the crowd did, because he couldn't hear what the crowd heard. What we heard was Pavia's percussive slash and chop beneath urgently growled vocals. It was immediate, primal, and Frigidaire cool. Nobody in the room cared if he couldn't hear it or not, just as long as they could.

The Mad Cow Tippers --- 1/3 Rochester, 2/3 Ithaca --- followed with some loud, twangin', and tasty cowpunk. The trio opened with the theme to "Peter Gunn," which easily has the coolest, most ominous bass line in music history. The joint was immediately turned into Mancini's Krown. The band was bare-boned, raw, and rough-edged. I'm not sure if they could hear, but we sure could.

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