Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Allen Toussaint at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 6/11/09

At age 70, Allen Toussaint is entitled to do whatever he wants. For his early 60s work as a New Orleans soul/pop producer, pianist and songwriter for Lee Dorsey and scores of others, he belongs in whatever hall of fame is big enough for someone of his stature (forget that stupid place in Cleveland who just inducted Journey and New Kids on the Block – or if they haven’t, someday they assuredly will). Despite grey skies and a very welcome chill in the air, Toussaint proved he still has his groove. And proof that good things sometimes actually come to those who wait: cover and drinks at his recent stand at the Village Vanguard with a dubious cast including Marc Ribot and Don Byron could have set you back something in the neighborhood of fifty bucks, while this show was free. With a five-piece band – guitar, rhythm section, percussionist and tenor sax – perfectly tasteful and in the pocket, Toussaint mixed familiar oldies radio standards, classic R&B, and a little funk along with a couple of lite FM hits.

Right off the bat, his chops were in full force. Toussaint isn’t flashy, never was – like many songwriters from his genre and his era, he doesn’t waste notes getting to the point, with a warmly chordal, staccato, even percussive attack. Nor is he a flashy singer, which was especially noticeable as the sound engineer fiddled with his vocals in the mix, but did a capable job nonetheless. He played the old stuff first: There’s a Party Going On, Here Comes the Girl and a long, tasty, fluidly soulful version of the minor-key We Got Love, which he wrote for Dorsey well over forty years ago. Then he did a medley including A Certain Girl, Mother-in-Law, Fortune Teller and Working in a Coal Mine. The Pointer Sisters’ hit Yes We Can Can was reinvented and vastly improved as yet another soul/funk number, as was another unfamiliar tune (at least to anyone who knows nothing about lite FM) apparently made famous by Bonnie Raitt.

Toussaint messed around, jazzing up some Grieg and Chopin before bringing back the groove with Get Out of My Life Woman (his most-covered song, he said, 35 times). Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Funky featured an impressively multistylistic guitar solo (his axeman had great chops, all too apparent on an ill-advised metal excursion during one of the early numbers). After over an hour and casual, warm takes of the oldschool soul tune Waiting at the Station (written for Aaron Neville, pre-Neville Bros.) and Something You Got (covered by every bluesman and woman in existence), raindrops started to appear and by then it was obvious that Toussaint wasn’t going to play anything from The River in Reverse, his superb (and perhaps career-best) collaboration with Elvis Costello. Then the band began the intro to the Glenn Campbell easy-listening hit Southern Nights, which made it easy to get up and leave. Something like that would leave a concertgoer feeling shortchanged at a pricy jazz club, but for free at lunchtime, who cares. This summer’s Thursday noontime outdoor shows at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, put on by BAM, aren’t much: Rebirth Brass Band will be there on July 9, with Malian guitar siren Rokia Traore on August 6.

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June 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Thomas Piercy, Claudine Hickman and Pablo Aslan Play Piazzolla at Caffe Vivaldi, NYC 5/23/09

It didn’t matter that there was no bandoneon in the band: the trio of clarinetist/arranger Thomas Piercy, pianist Claudine Hickman and upright bassist Pablo Aslan managed to silence the sold-out room (no easy task!) with a practically telepathic, emotionally rich program of both familiar and more obscure compositions by the legendary Argentinian composer, along with meticulous yet spirited performances of two pieces by French jazz composer/pianist Claude Bolling. Playing mostly with a strikingly clear tone, Piercy expertly worked the nooks and crannies of the songs’ innumerable permutations, only going full throttle when the piece demanded it (and one did). With a bright yet haunting precision, Hickman was every bit his equal and Aslan, who’s only been taking classic tango to new and exciting places for about two decades with his group Avantango, alternated between stately majesty, dark ambience and fiery verve, frequently using a bow.

The first two numbers, Tango del Diablo and Milonga del Angel were a study in contrast. Piercy’s arrangement of the ominous Tango Seis found him playing the original’s violin line with a jaunty effervescence, pulling back when the piece wound its way into eerie flamencoisms. The long, catchy suite Le Grand Tango could have been made showy or done with a sentimental feel but was neither, the trio content to let its sense of longing speak for itself right up to the end where Piercy finally cut loose with a visceral intensity.

The two Claude Bolling numbers gave the group a chance to relax and play more expansively. The first, Allegre was a showcase both for Hickman’s vivid, Brubeck-esque melodicism, contrasting with Piercy’s Bach-inflected precision. The second, Romantique bookended a brisk excursion pulsing along on Aslan’s jaunty basslines with two segments imbued with plaintive, Romantic beauty. They wrapped up the program with an exquisite take of the classic Soledad, Piercy’s clarinet soaring to the heights with unaffectedly raw anguish right before the end, and closed with the vastly more optimistic, insistent Michelangelo ’70. Piazzolla, ever the innovator, would no doubt have approved. Watch this space for future performances.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments