Friday, November 30, 2012

Concert Review: Roc the Town 3.0 at Lovin Cup

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 10:57 AM

When it comes to hip-hop, I usually let my curiosity -- or my ignorance -- be my guide. But I didn't need to suspend my comprehension as much as I thought I might at Lovin' Cup Thursday night for Roc the Town 3.0. It was a non-stop barrage of MCs working it out over beats emanating from DJ Tim Tones' turntables.

Artists like Show Money, Los Monroe, Dungen, JD Riggz, and Moses Rockwell utilize a style that flies in the face of conventional music. In rock music, the beat is behind the music. These dudes rap behind the beat, sometimes way behind it. Call it slow-motion syncopation. It physically feels weird, especially when it manifests into a foot tap, hip shake, or head bob. It's fascinating, captivating, and unavoidable with its subsonic rumble and quake.

The joint was packed with the converted and convinced who interacted and participated with the MCs. I'd like to see some genre-busting with this scene and humbly bring its attitude, innovation, and style to something like the ROC City Pro Jam and help blow minds up and doors off.

Friday, November 23, 2012

CONCERT ANNOUNCEMENT: Indigo Girls coming to Rochester

Part of new Greentopic music series

Posted By on Fri, Nov 23, 2012 at 11:24 AM

Folk-rock duo Indigo Girls will be coming to Rochester in March, as part of a new music series run by Greentopia.

The concert will take place Saturday, March 2, at the Hochstein School of Music. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets cost $36.50.

Tickets go on sale Friday, November 30, and can be purchased through the Greentopia office, or at or, as well as in person at Record Archive or Abilene.

For more information check out Greentopia's website.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Concert Review: The Fools at Dinosar Bar-B-Que

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 12:02 PM

I'm not fooling when I tell you that The Foolsain't foolin'. Sure, the name might come off as dismissive, but these fools positively rocked my ass Thursday night at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, where more heat was coming off of Mickey Ames' guitar than from the smoker out back. This long-haired cat is in the Rochester electric church; the local pantheon of guitarists like Dave Riccione, Steve Grills, Greg Townson, Bill Rebis, Todd Krasz, Gordon Munding, Steve Green, Brian Mason, Bobby Henry, Kurt Johnson, etc., who nightly drag Rochester rock 'n' roll fans across their laps and spank 'em.

The Fools rock and wail with a Bay-area boogie reminiscent of a time when starships were still airplanes, and the blues were something you had for real. Singer Mary Ellen Hayden sings with serious balls through serious pipes not unlike the late Miss Joplin. The band was funky and rocking and an overall blast. Dig it as soon as you can, fool.

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Concert Review: RPO's Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique"

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 10:22 AM

The headline number from last night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert, conducted by Arild Remmereit, was the 45-minute performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in b-minor, Op. 74 (the "Pathétique"). Unfortunately, instead of being a headline in all caps, it came in lower case as a missed opportunity.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1940-1893) is one of the most celebrated Russian composers. His orchestrations are so brilliant that the music can take performances featuring a lower level of execution and still elevate them to higher place. He is the master of gorgeous melodies, themes, and fragments of notes spread throughout each section of an orchestra, and ensuring that those notes sound clearly above the orchestral accompaniment. Tchaikovsky died a mere nine days after he conducted the premiere of his symphony in St. Petersburg. What more reason do you need to tap into the depths of your emotions when listening to or performing that work?

I mention all of this about Tchaikovsky and this piece for two reasons. The first and most important being that if -- as I felt happened last night -- the conductor and the musicians do not pour their hearts and souls into the performance, a great work can sound surprisingly flat. Breaks in French horn lines.Warbling in sustained trombone tones.Charging through a tempo marking of "Allegro con grazia" (fast, but with grace). A Finale marked "Adagio lamentoso" (stately, lamenting) that grew too big too quickly and lost its poignancy. Every element available through Tchaikovsky's pen seemed like an unfulfilled opportunity.

I secondly raise the mastery of the Tchaikovsky score because it followed a performance of the Piano Concerto in c-sharp minor, Op. 45 by American composer Amy Beach (1867-1944) that simply couldn't measure up in that setting. The Beach composition repeatedly put the piano front and center, into repetitions of single octaves split as one note in each hand, simultaneous octaves in each hand, two-note trills one octave apart, and literal scales. While the pianist, Saet Byeol Kim, appeared to do what she could with the score, it became difficult to assess whether it was the repetitive notes of the score or the execution that created walls of sound.

Also, in comparison to the Tchaikovsky, one could ask whether all of the business (for example, in the second Scherzo movement) developed the work. With the Tchaikovsky "Pathétique," you can scarcely imagine leaving out a note, even though it is a more complex work than the Beach. The challenge the Beach seems to present for an orchestra, and especially for a pianist, is how to express subtle gradations of sound, so that if you have 10 or 20 octaves in a row you have sound that rises and falls or flutters or cycles, or in some way contributes to the musicality of the performance.

One final note: I was far from the only person in the audience who was curious and pleased to hear the "Introduction to Khovanshchina" by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov). A mere five minutes, this enchanting piece left the people chattering in the balcony, wanting to hear more.

The RPO will repeat the program Saturday, November 17, at 8 p.m. in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$92. For more information call 454-2100 or visit

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Concert Review: Celebrity Organ Recital Series feat. Ken Cowan

Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 at 10:40 AM

It was an organ concert to show off the vast array of available sounds of the newly restored Skinner Organ at St. Paul's Episcopal Church -- all 55 stops, 68 ranks, and 4,596 pipes -- and organist Ken Cowan brought his unique approach to the job. Throughout Sunday's concert, a camera displayed Cowan on a projection screen so that the audience could watch his two hands and two feet work across four keyboards, four expression shoes, and the full pedalboard, as he set about pulling and pushing stops and flipping couplers. It was a sight for the eyes, as well as sound for the ears.

The program for this installment of the American Guild of Organists' Rochester Celebrity Organ Recital Series featured works from a global array of post-1810 composers on this American organ built in 1927. For each work, Cowan made innumerable decisions on how to present the work, using the full array of options of this particular organ. The seven works of the program plus one encore sounded unique to Cowan's interpretations of the music and mechanics of the instrument.

Perhaps most demonstrative of the organ in the particular acoustics of this church was the "Étude Héroïque" by Canadian composer Rachel Laurin (b. 1961). The composition also allowed Cowan to showcase his own dexterity, brisk execution, and virtuosic tendencies.

A section of a work that was particularly striking was the fugue section from the "Fantasy on the Chorale 'How Brightly Shines the Morning Star'," Op. 40, No. 1 by German composer Max Reger (1873-1933). The fugue departed from the overall tone of the concert, which was otherwise filled with dissonances, minor keys, eerie intervals, and edgy colorings, and wound its way into a grand and major ending.

Cowan received his Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia) and his master's degree and artist diploma from Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He is a native of Thorold, Ontario, Canada. Cowan is the recently appointed head of the organ program and a keyboard faculty member at the Shepherd School of Music at RiceUniversity (Houston, Texas).

Cowan offered various remarks throughout the program, and there was an outstanding program booklet that provided an extensive history of the organ.

Taking all of this information and the full performance into consideration, I might comment that allowing the works to breathe through slight down-tics in tempo and phrasing would have allowed Cowan to better achieve his stated performance goals.

For example, the "Danse Macabre" by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was an arrangement by Cowan. In his remarks, Cowan explained the entire story that was to be conveyed by the piece. Taking just the ending, Cowan's performance brought the ghoulish voices to their climax. But, instead of giving a beat or two (or three) of silence to let the noise echo away and the suspense to build, the very next beat brought the reedy crowing of the cock to signal daybreak. Then, the very next beat signaled three ghouls rushing off, one after the other. There was an opportunity for the first to express a unique, languid character, to pause, and the next two, smaller creatures, to scuttle and scurry. Where the organ itself has so many voices from which to choose, one might rather allow them to organically shape a performance, particularly a performer's own arrangement.

The Rochester Celebrity Organ Recital Series continues on Friday, February 8, at 8 p.m. at the Sacred Heart Cathedral with organist Stephen Tharp. More information is available on the AGO website at


Friday, November 9, 2012

Concert Review: RPO: Copland, Bernstein, and Tyzik

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 9:47 AM

Last night's concert by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Jeff Tyzik was fabulous, and you shouldn't miss the program when it is performed again this weekend. The concert had all the right elements: a cohesive program, modern American composers, an amazing soloist, a world premiere work, and Tyzik at the podium with the RPO.

Each one of the four featured compositions was by a contemporary American composer: Michael Daugherty (b. 1954), Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), Aaron Copland (1900-1990), and Tyzik (b. 1951). There is a certain je ne sais quoi about great American orchestral works that reflect our nation's huge landscapes, our smoke-swirled jazz influences, our own non-homogenized rhythms and ways of moving about.

The flow of the program wasn't just the result of the right composer combination; it was also the right composition combination. Listening to the final composition, Tyzik's "Images," there were note combinations and passing measures that took me straight back to each one of the earlier three works.

I want to jump right into some comments on the Tyzik composition, "Images: Musical Impressions of an Art Museum." The work is a suite of seven pieces, totaling approximately 45 minutes, each one inspired by a work of art at Rochester's own Memorial Art Gallery. It was a piece commissioned by Bob and Joanne Gianniny, who have previously commissioned Tyzik (you can read more about the origin of the piece by clicking here).

If I have a comment about "Images," it is about the order of the pieces and the inclusion of one that seemed misplaced for the suite and the program. When I interviewed Tyzik, I had asked how he was able to bring together such vastly different works of art into a cohesive piece of music. His response had been that these were works he had chosen and he had his own style as a composer, and that should be sufficient to make it work. Maybe. And you might talk to five people in the audience and get five different comments. But here are my thoughts:

First, the sequence of the program insert showing the artwork should be in the same sequence as the performance. The art is being used to illustrate the impending orchestral performance; it's shouldn't just be tossed on a page to advertise the art. Also, the orchestra might reconsider whether to project a huge, static photograph of the artwork with typewritten title and artist, as it tended to feel more like an art lecture rather than an extension of the composition.

Second, if you look at the art and you read through Tyzik's extensive program notes, the piece "Harlem Street Scene" might not belong in the overall composition. It's the one place in the "Images" work and, indeed, the entire program, where Tyzik used the word "fun." It's a fabulous little piece. It's a Dorsey-esque, get-you-in-the-aisles-and-dance, feel-good number. But the four pieces before it and the piece immediately after it are intense works about killing, horror, nightmares, and the living moving with an urn of ashes.

I was also not sold on the use of massive, still images to accompany not only Tyzik's "Images," but also the other three compositions in the program. For example, the program notes include words from Daugherty about his own composition, "Route 66," which read, "Route 66 is a musical reflection on America, as seen through my rear view mirror. Warning -- objects in mirror are closer than they appear." Thursday night, projecting a single photograph, without any car parts and definitely without the rearview mirror angle, shot standing on the center, yellow line, and with a static landscape, did not fit the edgy mood of the music, which was otherwise brilliantly conveyed by the RPO.

All that said, I want to sing the praises of Kenneth Grant on the clarinet in Copland's "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra." I already knew Grant was great; I gave him a "Best Of" critic pick two years ago. Last night he outdid himself. Forget any plane tickets you might have for New Orleans to hear a wailing clarinet. Get yourself down to Gibbs Street and listen to Grant play.

Final word, and it's on Tyzik as a conductor. He's superb. Every bit of his 19 years working with the RPO came rushing through during Thursday night's performance. Tyzik clearly knows what he wants to hear and how to shape the RPO to achieve that sound. The RPO clearly knows what to expect when Tyzik is at the podium, and the musicians look and sound comfortable and confident under his leadership. This was my first time hearing Tyzik the composer and Tyzik the conductor, and I am hooked on both.

The RPO will repeat the program Saturday, November 10, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$92. For more information call 454-2100 or visit

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Concert Review: ZZ Top at the Main Street Armory

Posted By on Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 10:53 PM

Rochesterians love their synchronicity. And no, I’m not talking about the Ice Capades, I’m going on about ZZ Top, which delivered a primal killer-diller rock ’n’ roll display Friday night at The Main Street Armory for around 3,000 fans. The band strolled out onto a relatively sparse stage summa cum loud and immediately launched into three classics: the band’s version of Sam and Dave’s “Thank You,” “Waitin’ On The Bus,” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” (Speaking of Jesus, he had a couple of his loudmouthed minions out front beating their bibles and warning us about the lake of fire we would all be bathing in thanks to ZZ Top.) The trio took the chill out the damp night with rumbling hellfire and a swaggering, laid-back back beat and that aforementioned synchronicity. Whether it was a casual leg-wiggle or a fuzzy guitar’s 360, the crowd went bananas when guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill pulled the old soft shoe a la Hope and Crosby.

Gibbons’ guitar tone was thick and swampy as he sung in a lowdown growl so husky it could have been pulled by a dog sled. A little trivia for you tone hounds: Gibbons plays on .07 gauge strings, even though they sound big enough to be suspension-bridge cables. It seemed to me there were too many drums for the simple rhythm and swing the band churns out, even on thundering classics like “Heard it On The X.” The band dug generously into its lengthy catalogue, including its popular 80’s electronic-ified stuff like “Legs” and “Sharp-Dressed Man,” which frankly I dig the least. Thankfully, the Texas trio’s new album “La Futura” leans back into that comfy boogie we all like wallowing in, just like a big ol’ lake-of-fire bubblebath.

Tommy Brunett opened the show and knocked out an immaculate infield homer with a brief set of honkified rock ’n’ tonk. The crowd was receptive and clearly drove the band (now with guitar meister Mike Gladstone upping the six-string ante) into an immediate, full-set crescendo. Good on ya, Tommy.

Fellow wordsmith, saxophonist, and dark soul Charles Benoit brought his rocksteady pals in Some Ska Band to do just that at Tala Vera Saturday night. The joint was saturated and sardined to capacity as the band put its fingerprints on Two-Tone and Studio One classics from the likes of Toots and the English Beat. The band is loose in its newness, but comfortable in its knowledge and obvious love of ska, even though the style may have its own horn-filled fire lake.

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