Week of July 6, 2014
I had a chance to see Maxwell at Heinz Hall. I couldn’t stay for the whole thing because the house mix was so boomy it flared my brain injury symptoms, but while there I enjoyed a great audience. The music itself left me a little flat — was hoping for better interpretation and less superficial gloss. The mix was super annoying in the house, but he’s a mighty incredible singer and the wardrobe malfunction was pretty amusing.
All in all I’d say I was disappointed. Not so good. His talent wasn’t served by the show and context….for as long as I was able to be there.
The first half of my year was interrupted by a re-aggravated brain injury and my own CD release, which meant I couldn’t get out and about much or be in computer screens to update my blog.
Now that I’m up for live music again I hope to pick up my blog where I left off. In the meantime a very short review of what I’ve seen and where I’ve been:
(top photo) Tony Grey and Brett Williams - James Street - This is a reason why jazz works in my city. Here’s a venue that enthusiastically supports it and players who bring it when they are on stage and crowds who turn out.
(photo 2) Avi Diamond - CD Release at AVA - AVA used to be located in another neighborhood and joined forces with The Quiet Storm, which also relocated, to form the new AVA. The food is exceptional. I went to see young women musician/songwriters. Opening the night was Velvet Heat, a mighty impressive jazz ensemble fronted by the mighty impressive Arianna Powell. Avi took the stage with a collection of players, most of whom I didn’t know, and presented her collection of songs. They weren’t really to my taste but I felt she’s creative in a Fiona Apple kind of way and young. My city and venues like AVA, owned by Justin Strong, are exactly the kinds of places where young artists can develop and grow. I was glad to support the new venue and a new artist.
(photo 3) Christopher Mark Jones - CD Release “Atlantica” - This man’s stage presence and songwriting as just so damn classy. The songs shuffle along with a maturity and grace and his jagged bluesy voice weaves stories and imagery in English and French. The album is super solid. He was joined by his band which includes Vince Camut on pedal steel (in the picture)
(photo 4) Clinton Clegg - Ok, this man’s voice and songs are among my favorite that my city has to offer! His performances are mature, funny, soulful, insightful, and a good time. He was joined by some of the players from City Love Story at the AcoustiCafe Open Stage.
(photo 5) The Gathering Field - this is a band that was hot in the 1990s and has reformed with frontman Bill Deasy. They are working on a new album and I wanted to check out a band in the Pittsburgh Winery to see how it sounded. A little scouting. :-) The band sounds solid as usual and packed the house.
(bottom photo) Heather Kropf - CD Release @ Pittsburgh Winery - So the venue was my pick for my release party. What a fun night! Here’s the first of what I hope will be a few live videos: http://youtu.be/342g3Rx73x0
For this week’s excursion I had the pleasure of doing an opening set for Matthew Ryan at the Hospitality House Concert series. The house is a large affair powered by solar panels with an urban farm/garden adjacent. One of the owners is a musician so the entire downstairs is littered with instruments, extra beds for traveling artists, and a few stray recording devices. The house concert involves potluck food and home brew and a sliding scale donation for students/artists.
Matthew Ryan apparently has a story of his own but he doesn’t bother too much with that in his songs. He’s too intent on telling the stories of others. Siting admiration for The Clash and Replacements, I could hear the rock n roll in his music and voice even stripped back. And lyrically it was like listening to high art. Not as a direct comparison but I thought of Springsteen and Dylan. Clearly Ryan is a writer first.
My city is lucky to have such an artist recently relocate to our area. The audience hung on every word.
Good? Um, more like great.
Week ? — So good! I checked out the Songwriter Circle hosted by Max Somerville at the Pittsburgh Winery. The guest songwriters were Guy Russo, Arianna Powell, Justin Endler, and Derek Krystek.
Something about the combination of artists headed by an obviously heavy weight host who was generous with his love and respect for everyone set the night up for a really human, authentic musical experience. I swear I teared up more than once.
Highlights were that each artist had at least one hit song or moment, Justin’s arty obscurity (and that Jeff Buckley/Jimmy Somerville voice!!) really offset the loveliness of Russo’s folk writing and Max Somerville’s soulful accessibility. Derek gets props for being the most vulnerable with his between-song banter, and Arianna is why I went. She is a fully formed guitarist at 23 and has incredible stage presence. I was curious about her writing and I wasn’t disappointed. While she’s a young performing singer with tons of room to grow, her songs are as cleanly and fully formed as her playing. They offer a simplicity and emotive rawness that obscures the songs’ intelligent and sophisticated foundations. She uses the rhythm and imagery of words creatively and for maximum emotional impact. Honestly, it was beautiful stuff and I hope to hear more.
From a personal perspective what struck me most was how different this generation of song makers are from mine. Gen Xers (me) and Millennials are really different. And it’s a good difference; I came away feeling like the creative heart of my city is in pretty damn good hands.
So yes, this was a good week.
Week #7: I headed down to Club Cafe to hear Caroline Smith and was happily surprised to hear two opening acts from my city that I’d never heard of before. Lyndsey Smith in the video was the second opener and I loved her voice and song selection. I was really happy to hear an Anita Baker cover, and the original song she did was beautiful. I’ll have to be sure to catch her with her band Lyndsey Smith & Soul Distrubution.
Major props to her for getting up there in heels and singing while far along in a pregnancy!
Week #6: this week held 2 brand new things for me (new ensemble, new venue) and one brand new thing for my city. Silk Sound a 6-piece Asian-American jazz band, performed their debut (and as of now, only) concert at Bellefield Hall. They played seven pieces, traditional melodies and original compositions, weaving Asian sounds with Jazz forms.
I could hear the newness of the group and sense their commitment and investment. The music was better than the room or the mix in the sound system. I had expected - without anticipating - that I might be emotionally undone by the music: Asian music and Jazz are on my list of favorites. If they ever add Persian I might just leave my body.
But I digress. The point is that I did not find it to be spectacular. There were some beautiful tones and moments, some lively conversation, some incredible emotion (Mimi Jong on Erhu can capture more feeling in a single note than I hear nearly ever by anyone in my city) and clear intention and presence by the musicians.
But it felt new and was inadequately mixed for the room. I had to listen past both of those things and couldn’t quite relax. In this way did the concert fall short. I expect it was actually much better than what I heard from where I was sitting.
I would like to hear their 5th or 6th concert in a great space with a great mix.
It’s qualified, but on the whole week 6 was very good.
Week #5: sometimes music is funny, and being good has nothing to do with being good. Dicey Stewart & Paprika LaRue are a comedic lounge act in my city (although they would consider themselves a world-traveled hit). With egos the size of a giant rubber duck and fashion to match, they order their stageboy around and reinterpret show tunes and pop songs (Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues) to an accompanying pianist.
Their shows indicate a dedication to humor, craft, and detail. There is some inconsistency as to the success of each number, but there are usually a handful that are so brilliantly hilarious that it makes the show worth it. They pack the house every time, which is a testament to the the value of laughter and entertainment with a capital E.
This act may not tickle everyone’s funny bone, but for those who’s it does it’s an annual spectacle worth attending.
Not good, but so good.
Week #4 - A songwriter circle at Pittsburgh Winery with host Morgan Erina, Chet Vincent, Judith Avers and Kevin Garrett (in video).
I finally made it to the Winery after seeing a solid line-up of artists advertised for a few months. I thought I’d check out the Valentine’s Day show.
The space has a really nice feel tucked away in the basement with strong reds and stringed lights. I felt as if I were coming to a happening rather than just a show. I helped myself to a glass of their white wine and found a seat.
The line up was a really sweet pairing of ethereal and soulful voices, songs ranging from old-school folk, to contemporary singer-songwriter, to astute rock, to soul. Although the artists rarely jumped in to play on other people’s songs like many songwriter circles, they held their own with humorous banter and chemistry in between the tunes.
A snapshot of Kevin Garrett is my video choice. He’s from Brooklyn so technically it’s not a “band from my town” but his songwriting, playing, and vocals were so damn sic, sick, sique — aw hell, however you spell it — that I couldn’t resist posting a clip.
On the whole, Week #4 is good. I seem to be on a roll.
I took a friend out for his birthday to see Texas Tex, Jim Relja and the regulars at Thunderbird’s Space Exchange this past week. Pete Freeman, pedal steel, called it Outlaw Country, and I have to say there is something about this music that makes sense to me and makes me happy. It’s a fine line though…just a small shift in any direction or derivation from the classics and I lose interest at a soul/gut level. A few songs went there off the Making-Me-Happy wagon, but for the most part it was right in line with what great bar music should be. As one patron told me during the break, “I hear this kind of music and all my troubles melt away.”
There were some volume issues between instruments and some weak links from time to time, but the spirit was strong and apparently the spirits were strong, too, with the lead singer as the night wore on.
A highly enjoyable live music experience. Week 3 is good.
Week #2 - I was invited to see the Symphony in my city play the works of John Williams at Heinz Hall.
Aside from being yelled at by the usher for taking this photo, the concert was peppered by humor and costumes. I now think all concerts should be conducted by wizards like Professor Dumbledor.
Is it good? Yes. The venue, pacing of the program, and musicianship was class - a great way to keep warm on a snowy Sunday afternoon.