Minor keys are like hot sauce on open wounds. When you want to kick that urge, that emotion, that thrill, that chill up a bit, nothing's finer than going minor. Then there's Rochester acoustic blues aficionado and virtuoso Fred Vine. Armed with a dreadnaught and a National Steel, Vine swings from the minor vine as the tunes dictate, but he maintains the music's ominous burn when he sails into major territory. It's all in the man's fingertips.
His finger style was loose yet flawless Thursday, January 31, at the Little Theatre Café. With legendary string bassist Brian Williams holding down the rhythm and walking the line, Vine struck me as a displaced ragtime piano player as much as he did a guitar slinger. The duo picked and plucked a handful of ragged gems as the audience nursed heat from coffee mugs. Waters got Muddy, as Vine and Williams traversed the dirt between The Delta, Chicago, and the snowy East Avenue corridor.
After my wife and I dined as Mario's guests Friday night, we headed to Abilene for a nightcap, which turned into a blasting cap with The Fools. Maybe it was the Rory Gallagher rave-up that spun me out right away, but I really dug the band's set -- a blend of blues and atmosphere on the rocks.
I flew out into the upstate tundra to Lovin' Cup Saturday night. It was so cold I actually saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets. Anyway, Low Flying Planes was on stage to keep us warm with its hot rock. This is a band that flies the original flag for the most part and shows huge potential as it comes into its own. Tonally speaking it could stand to smooth things out a bit, but the set rocked otherwise. This Life followed with its cerebral, piano-driven alt-rock. The band has a serious slant amidst its clever compositions and people seemed torn between dancing and listening. You can do both, you know.
Friday night, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra POPS presented “New York Cityscapes,” a work in five parts composed by conductor Jeff Tyzik, accompanied by the original choreography of Jamey Leverett, artistic director, for the Rochester City Ballet. The performance will be repeated Saturday at 8 pm.
The performance was so exciting that all I can say is that it’s an experience you are going to have to go to hear -- and see -- for yourself.
In “New York Cityscapes,” Tyzik trumps Leonard Bernstein. The evening’s overall program included three dance episodes from Bernstein’s “On the Town,” providing a fresh reminder of all that’s great about the composer, from quirky rhythms to unresolved melodies to uncomfortable interval pairings. But where Bernstein’s music can grind one down into the grit of the gutter, Tyzik’s use of many of the same musical elements goes deeper into the heart and soul to portray what is persistent and enduring about city life. Tyzik finds the silver lining that eluded Bernstein.
“New York Cityscapes” breaks down into five parts, “Ragtime Redux,” “Tango,” “Traffic Jammin,” “African Dance,” and “Tarantella.” Each part was distinct, yet all captured the pulsing undercurrent of New York City. The stop-start of heavy traffic, punctuated by impatient drivers and yellow taxicabs. Pedestrians with different footfalls, ranging from harried businessmen to chatting window shoppers. Steam hissing up from grates. Just as when a person is in NYC, in “New York Cityscapes,” the listener hears all the singular rhythms that should, but somehow don’t, collide.
The brilliance of pairing Leverett’s choreography with Tyzik’s composition cannot be overstated. My fear going into the program was that the choreography might take the approach of working along the metronome meter of the compositions (I listened to them online at Tyzik’s website). Instead, Leverett took the far more complicated approach of using a troupe of dancers to express the complexities of rhythm, tone, and instrument solos so brilliantly captured by Tyzik.
Tyzik and Leverett’s approach was enhanced by the simple, elegant costumes. The unusual green color, the daring line of the bodice that appeared suspended upon the ballerinas’ chests, and the ever-fluid fabric, all of which evolved from one section to the next, enhanced all of the wildly divergent body movements of the dancers.
Credit should also be given to lighting. There was very effective use of focal lights, while the colors and hues of the rest of the stage further extended that undertone of around-the-edges-activity in a busy city.
And, I’m not telling you the whole story if I don’t emphasize the excellent execution of the musicians of the RPO POPS. At every staccato, accent, swell, and sforzando, the musicians worked hard for the kind of clear, clean, and difficult execution demanded by the pieces. As compared to my regular beat with the RPO “proper” for classical symphonies, I had to smile at how much fun the musicians were having on stage. I caught several unable to refrain from dancing in their seats, and, in particular, the brass section plus clarinet were hitting high notes and rifts with abandon. A gold star to the pure sounds of the trumpet, which soared.
The first half of the program was five familiar dance pieces plus variations on five movements from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite.” From Jacques Offenbach’s “Can Can” to Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” with each piece on the first half of the program, the audience contentedly murmured and applauded these favorites.
So here’s what I come down to: the entire concert was a not-to-be-missed experience. While the first half will give you familiar favorites by our outstanding RPO POPS musicians under the baton of Tyzik, it’s the second half through Tyzik’s “New York Cityscapes,” presented with the Rochester City Ballet, that gives you the future of this genre of music.
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Rochester City Ballet will also perform this program Saturday, February 2, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information call 454-2100 or visit rpo.org.
Singer/saxophonist Grace Kelly took the stage at Hochstein Performance Hall Saturday night surrounded by three Clark Kents: Pete McCann on guitar; Evan Gregor, bass; and Jordan Perlson, drums. All three bespectacled men wore drab, everyday clothing, which served to focus most of the attention on Kelly in her chain-link miniskirt. She looked great, but it was a bit disconcerting to watch a beautiful 20-year-old woman who seemed to have the musical soul of a 1950’s hard-bop sax player. Let’s just say Hank Mobley never had to worry about straps falling down.
The Exodus To Jazz series, which had to cancel several concerts due to poor ticket sales just a few months ago, drew an enthusiastic audience of 426 for the Kelly show, its second-largest ever. Kelly gave patrons an excellent concert, mixing her saxophone prowess with jazz vocals and examples of her contemporary songwriting. The songwriting was the only uneven element, ranging from the beautifully composed “Eggshells” to the cliché-ridden “Don’t Box Me In.”
The good news is her new material is her best. “Autumn Song,” an instrumental meant to evoke leaves changing colors and falling from trees, actually kind of conjured up that image. A New Orleans-style blues march nicely captured the flavor of early jazz. And her ability to win over an audience with her playful personality has never been stronger.
Rochester jazz fans have had a rare opportunity with Kelly. She performed at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival in both 2010 and 2011, so many in the audience were seeing her for the third time in three-and-a-half years. We’ve watched as she’s grown from a teen-aged wunderkind into a formidable, mature saxophonist. Still, mixing in some sexy pop-star tropes (one of her main career role-models is crossover artist George Benson) creates some interesting dichotomies. For instance, when Kelly plays a particularly slithering run on her alto sax, she is also slithering.
Kelly mixed it up nicely throughout her sets, shifting between full-band instrumentals and vocal tunes. On her free-scatting rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” in which she riffed about how good it was to be back in Rochester, she was accompanied only by Gregor on bass. She also pared down the sound with a fine saxophone and bass version of Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight.”
But the highlights of the night for me were two classics transformed by Kelly into irresistible funk. Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” received a gritty treatment punctuated by Kelly’s best solo flight of the night. The final tune, George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” sounded more like the “Theme From Shaft” due to McCann’s ubiquitous wah-wah guitar. But it somehow worked. By then all of the Clark Kents had made full transformations into musical supermen. McCann was especially versatile, ranging from Grant Green-style legato runs to Jimi Hendrix-like pyrotechnics. “Summertime” wasn’t actually the final tune, because a standing ovation brought Kelly back for a beautiful rendition of “Over The Rainbow.”
After shutter-buggin’ with Violet Mary (watch out, a new LP is on the way), I headed over to the California Brew Haus Saturday night, where an all-day hard-rock line-up had been pummeling away since 4 in the afternoon. I don’t know about you, but an all day rock ’n’ roll show can leave my head felling like green Jell-O.
I arrived about 10 p.m. or so to catch Cosmic Shakedown, a trio from the mean streets of Buffalo. The band was straight-ahead hard rock except for the way-cool hooks it centered two songs around. It was reminiscent of the thump-and-twang skeleton laid forth by Son House, or more recently by Jack White or The Black Keys. I dug it and will dig it again.
Cleveland’s Ionia followed, preceded by a lot of what struck me as disingenuous posturing. The band sounded good and was tight, but the music came off contrived and overwrought. I don’t know; maybe my head was gelatin at that point, too… Besides, the Mirage is under new management, and there was a steak sandwich at home calling my name like that Mickey and Sylvia tune.
Things got all shook up Thursday night as Albany's Lustre Kings hosted its annual Elvis Birthday Bash at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, where a host of Rochester rockabilly glitterati tore into their equivalent to the great American songbook. Doghouse bassists Brian Williams and Big Mike Woolhaver spanked the bottom end, the Bradley brothers -- Todd (bassist in the Hi-Risers) and Mark (saxophonist for the Essentials, Salamanders) tore it up Memphis style, while flipped-southpaw guitar-slinger Bobby Henrie played the part of blue-suede Britannica, digging up early Sun Records gems as well as cinematic cuts from The King's stab at Tinseltown.
The dance floor was flipped out and flooded with fleet-footed boppers, jitter-buggers, jitter boppers, and one guy who turned the joint into the Dinosaur Dojo by copping to some of The King's karate moves. I even summoned my inner DA and sang a couple to remind my wife who The King really is (as if she ever had any doubt). Thank you; thank you very much.
It's time to double clutch and jam the gears, cut the apron strings, and kick out the jams, m****rf***ers! The Roc City Pro Jam -- the now-weekly open jam that rotates venues -- has reached its plateau. Or maybe its ceiling, depending on how you look at it. This is a wonderfully organic event that takes on a professional-player edge without getting too high tone. Anyone can get up and play, but you've got to step high. The level of talent runs high here. The problem is, basically, there ain'tno words. Each jam is groove or beat-centric to exalted heights, and within these goalposts it shines supernova bright. But to avoid the comfort and bloat from this position, some melody needs to be introduced. It could be freeform freak-out, classic Sinatra, Gregorian chant, anything, but it's structured where there's an additional challenge and the endings don't resemble a plane overshooting the runway.
I came to this realization Tuesday night while killing Kenny with a pinball and after dominating the slot-car track at Rock 'n' Roll Ron's while the jam shook the walls at a packed Skylark Lounge. Members from local bands like The Goods, AudioInflux, the Teressa Wilcox Band, and Teagan and the Tweeds all got up and played in various configurations. And it seems some are inching in a more structured direction already as several saxophones wailed wantonly around more than just righteous riffs. My suggestion to the wigs that run this shindig is to give the recently assembled ensembles a chance to get their assorted ya-ya's out, rocks off, and grooves on, but throw them a curve ball. Spin the wheel and predetermine the groove the group has to adopt. Metal mavens? Give them a reggae beat. Long-winded jammers? Assign them a three-minute pop tune. And so on. Remember, it's all one big song, and we're all just trying to carve out our own little piece.
Ventured into the unavoidable void of the west side on Friday, where broken bottles twinkle like suicidal stars and women on the financially motivated stroll ask for the time as a ploy for money. It's bleak, I tell you. But within this shabby Shangri-La beat the hearts of two excellent venues pumping out real American music to those who live there, and those that come from the surrounding burbs to get down.
With the wife and her sidekick in tow, we hit Sandra's Saloon on Smith Street, where the Mike Snow Band was laying down a flurry of country and western in this beautiful urban honky-tonk. Snow draws from the Willie and Waylon and George and Buck songbooks of rural bang 'n' twang, and he is the most country-ist cat this town has to offer since Dave Donnelly died in 2011. What a voice.
As if that weren't enough, we climbed into the midnight caboose and headed over to Smokin' Joe's on Lyell for some down and dirty blues from Dan Schmitt & the Shadows with special guest Joe Beard. The place was packed. The steam heat fogged the windows like a Roman bath house on Valentine's Day. Schmitt solos with and around lush chord patterns. The music swings for sure, and it jumps, too. It served as a perfect back to Beard's forth: a bare-bones tone that is both soothing and sinister. And though Beard intoned, "I feel like a stranger in my own home town," there was nowhere else any of us needed to be but right there at Smokin' Joe's with the blues and the Shadows and the steam.
The good folks at Gig Link threw an all-day party Sunday at the Firehouse Saloon on South Clinton to benefit the families of the victims of the Christmas Eve shootings in Webster. The place was already jumping by the time I made the scene. Funk Nut was rocking a deep-dish groove full of jazz, soul, and funk. Moon Zombies followed with a multi-media extravaganza that at times resembled a tantrum. Again this was funk, but with a breakneck edge and abandon. The band stomped around as if it were trying to get the flubber on their soles to kick in. Give it time and I predict this band will be playing air born.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don't forget Little Ann!
It is shameful when a reporter reviewing a concert doesn't know the spelling of the…