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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
It was my first-ever trip to The Thirsty Turtle in Victor to dig some ska band called Some Ska Band, led by the stingy-brimmed man of the saxophone and poison pen, Charles Benoit. The place was packed and pleasant as the band rocked steady at a comfortable gallop and volume. More than a few in the happy-hour crowd left as new ska fans. How cool. How rude?
I've been watching Break of Reality grow from metal-inspired coffee-shop upstarts to a chamber quartet powerhouse that filled Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre Friday night with a noisily enthusiastic crowd. The group's talent is rivaled only by its humility and the no-frills kick in the ass it gives nu-classical music. The sound was mighty big and the drums were a bit muddy (I preferred when the drummer worked the hand drum as opposed to the full kit), but overall it was majestic.
Walked over to Montage Music Hall after that to dig a multi-band punk bill. Trophy Lungs was delivering the blast-furnace three-chord joy as we made it through the door. The guitarist had obviously mastered the dead-string bar-chord octave slash, because that's pretty much all he did. No matter, it still sounded cool. The Off-Season followed and spent a good amount of the show airborne; the kids gave it right back. That's how you wind up with a good show, jack.
Saturday I caught the air-tight slapstick ska (that's right, more ska) of 5 Head on the Record archive stage. The sound was magnificent, with the band's charge-up-San-Juan-Hill horn section over the skittery bop of the rest of the band. Made me wanna jump, jump like a mack daddy.
Thursday night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert was the one to attend if you were in the mood for "big." Big, huge orchestra filling the stage.Big, 100-plus-voice choir on risers. And big-voiced soloists, front and center. It was a night of Beethoven's Ninth and a Boulanger Psalm.
The RPO was led by guest conductor Hugh Wolff. Wolff has recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies, and his interests range from Baroque to new compositions. Wolff's studies included conducting with Charles Bruck and composition with Olivier Messiaen. Having lived and studied in Paris was no doubt a contributing influence to Wolff's fine interpretation of the Boulanger.
The Rochester Oratorio Society shared the stage for the entire concert. The ROS is under the direction of Eric Townell. Founded in 1945, ROS pulls its voices from Rochester and a surrounding seven-county region. We would do well to realize that works like the Ninth Symphony can only be mounted because we have so much vocal talent in our region, making it both literally and financially possible.
Four soloists were featured: Kelley Nassief, soprano; Rebecca Ringle, mezzo-soprano; Vale Rideout, tenor; and Jan Opalach, baritone. Each one deserved the audience's applause, and I would welcome an opportunity hear each one in a solo recital so that I could sit back and enjoy the clear, warm sounds of each voice.
The first half of the program consisted of one work, Lili Boulanger's "Psalm 130, Du fond de l'abîme" ("Out of the Depths of the Abyss"). Eerie, unmistakably French, and hypnotic, it is a 30-minute work that must be seen live. If you've watched it on YouTube, you've completely missed the vibratory sensation that can only come through the live experience of the low register in which this work is couched. Low percussion. Long, low pulls across the bass and cello strings. And, the surprisingly low and resonant voice of mezzo-soprano Ringle. Ringle's tone was perfect for Psalm 130, and her emotional connection to the work was evident in every note.
I would expect that last night's audience turnout was enhanced by the billing of the Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, the only work on the second half of the program. Who doesn't love the Ninth? At more than an hour, I'm guessing that many in the audience were simply waiting for those special cello and bass notes signaling that we were coming toward the moment of the chorus bursting into the "Ode to Joy."
The performance of the Ninth Symphony won an immediate standing ovation, and so it should. Compliments across the board.
But, is it enough to mount a massive masterwork of classical music? Or should audiences still ask for more?
What felt to be lacking from go was a vision of the work as a whole - not as something singularly huge, but as something nuanced, surprising, and full of discoveries to be made. With a piece that long, the consistently high volume and tempo became anti-climactic. Where is there to go when a work is already so loud and so fast so often in the first movement, even though it is marked "Allegro ma no troppo, un poco maestoso" (meaning fast, but not too much so, and with a touch of majesty)? The dynamic tension is taken away by that approach, as surely as if a state dinner consists of course after course of luscious sachertorte, flown in from Vienna.
One of the most particular attributes of the RPO under current Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman is his ability to take the orchestra's string section to a level of volume that is so far beyond "piano" (soft) and with such clarity as to do the seemingly impossible. I've written high praise about this fantastic technique in more than one review over the years. But, last night, with the exception of passages consisting only of cello and bass, I would suggest that the RPO didn't go any softer than a mezzo piano. Bowing furiously in a work such as the Ninth Symphony is not the quest; it is achieving a full range of dynamics that allows for an enhanced, uniquely Beethoven, emotional experience.
I would also question, from a review standpoint, whether a season led entirely by guest conductors is by now presenting challenges for me on benchmarking performance. For critical basics like clean entrances and crisp attacks, is it a particular guest conductor or is it a progressing season without a consistent captain at the helm? Last night's orchestration was a packed stage, along with a guest chorus and four soloists, meaning that even for a full-time music director and conductor there would have been a critical mass of extra work to be done. All things considered, to my sensibilities, I'm going to put a question on whether large works can reasonably be programmed during a season of guest conductors coming off a protracted period of disquietude.
The RPO also performs the program Saturday, January 18, 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 19, 2 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets cost $15-$92. For more information call 454-2100 or visit the website.
My Mom always said if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all!
If you conduct a concert and if you think that the concert was good that…