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Spanish Harlem Review,
Josh McDonald, Burlington Writers Workshop
There’s an old story about the time acclaimed humorist Mark Twain did a show in a small New England town. Despite the packed house and the telling of some of the funniest stories the legendary wit could come up with, there was nary a chortle to be heard from the audience. Curious to know what they thought of him, after the show Mr. Twain slipped around to the front door to hear what folks were saying on their way out.
“Fella was some funny,” they said to one another. “So funny, I had all I could do to keep from laughing.”
Similarly, when the Spanish Harlem Orchestra played at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, we stolid Vermonters had all we could do to keep from dancing.
In the end, the music won out. The SHO’s classic Latin Jazz stylings made it hard to keep still when the musicians themselves couldn’t. “They’re like the Latin Temptations,” my wife said, regarding the three vocalists with their black suits, tight harmonies, and synchronized dance moves. Even the horn players, when they weren’t playing, had trouble keeping still. It was infectious.
The horn section consisted of Mitch Frohman on saxophone and flute; Reynaldo Jorge and Doug Beavers on trombone; and on trumpet Hector Colon, with local favorite Ray Vega standing in for Manuel Ruiz. We’re used to seeing Vega as the headliner in his performances, so it was a definite change of pace for him to dial it back a bit and play with the more subtle nuances of his musicianship. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is all about the ensemble, and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight.
Rounding out the ensemble was the rhythm section: Geraldo Madera on bass; George Delgado on congas; Luisto Quintero on timbales; Jorge Gonzalez on additional percussion; and, finally, pianist and musical director Oscar Hernandez. These guys are the backbone of the group – the constant, relentless cadence is a large part of what gives Latin jazz its energy.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is dedicated not only to preserving the legacy of Latin jazz, but also to ensuring its future. They seek to spread this musical tradition beyond the geographical and cultural limits of Spanish Harlem. And if they can get an auditorium full of New Englanders to clap and dance, they must be doing pretty well.
Robert Randolph Brings Revival to Waterfront Tent
Brett Sigurdson, Burlington Writers Workshop
“Is it possible to leave a Robert Randolph & the Family Band concert without having a good time?”
I write this in my notebook as Randolph walked off the stage after his final encore at the Waterfront Tent on Thursday night. The sound of his pedal steel guitar lingered in the warm night air, offering a fading reminder of how the funk, soul, reggae, and gospel that came before electrified this crowd.
The show began with a promise. A drawing of a hand giving devil-horns—the cover of his latest album, Lickety Split—illuminated the stage as Randolph began noodling on his pedal steel, both beckoning the audience from the perimeter of the tent to the dance floor with promises of jubilation. He gave the promise credence as he busted into “Good Times (3 Stroke),” in which Randolph testified “Talkin bout the good time / We gonna have a good time” as the wah-wah-heavy music swirled around him. He continued to deliver on that promise from there on out, packing funky originals and tasty covers in a nearly two-hour, groove-laced set.
Randolph’s concerts are tailor-made for euphoria, as evidence by the sheer age range of people getting down on the dance floor: everyone from an elderly lady in a Robert Randolph T-shirt shaking her hips in a rolling walker to my four-month-old daughter getting down in my wife’s arms. It all comes down to the band’s instrumental recipe: take one part funk bass and guitar, add Hammond B3 organ and a drummer with a heavy one-two beat, and mix it all together with the slinky slide notes of his lap steel. But it also comes down to the way Randolph mixes those ingredients, how he plays with the tension of the music, how the high lonesome sound of his pedal steel provides a yearning sound that only the low end of his band can fulfill. And when it all comes together and mixes just right—which it did in almost every song that night—the music moves with the propulsion of a train, chugging forward wildly and ecstatically to orgiastic peaks punctuated by Randolph’s high-note slide screams.
At the center of it all is Randolph, a fascinating performer to watch.
For much of the concert he resembled a craftsman hard at work at a table, his focus intent on the project before him. Sometimes he peered so close to the strings he seemed to be smelling them. And then there were moments where the music became too much for him to sit and he jumped out of his chair to dance or sing. During one song, he fell on his knees as if in prayer while he held a long high note on the pedal steel. During another, he played a solo while laying on his back upon the chair, clapping his legs together to the beat.
But aside from musicianship and performance bravado, what got me about this concert was Randolph’s openness to the crowd’s energy and participation. During a cover of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips,” Randolph summoned about a dozen female crowd members to the stage to boogie with him. In the next song, “Just Might be the One,” Randolph invited an audience member to the stage to play guitar. But when the man couldn’t get the flow of the song, Randolph rushed him off stage and placed the guitar near the front as an invitation to another. A man in a backward trucker hat and flannel shirt with cut-off sleeves ambled to the stage and picked up the guitar. At Randolph’s nod, the man ripped into a tight guitar solo, trading riffs with the band to the song’s rollicking finish. The man walked off the stage as mysteriously as he came on, giving high fives as he disappeared into the crowd, likely not needing to buy drinks the rest of the night.
In the end, the music and moments like this made the answer to my question inevitable: everyone was fated to have a good time. Is it any wonder Randolph chose to begin his encore with an instrumental cover of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy?” As the crowd left the tent into the beautiful buggy night, how could we be anything but?
Staples Electrifies Audience at Discover Jazz Festival
Brett Sigurdson, Burlington Writers Workshop
My wife and I had been buzzing about Mavis Staples’ performance at the Flynn MainStage in the month leading up to Friday night’s show. She was, in many ways, the soundtrack to the formative years of our relationship. Seeing Staples live, and possibly hearing her cover our favorite song, “The Weight”—this was bucket list stuff, and we were giddy as the lights began to dim.
Evidently, we were not alone.
The mostly full Flynn was electric with anticipation as Staples and her band took the stage. At 75, Staples moves gingerly. She was supported by an escort when she entered and exited the stage. But that voice. That voice with is soulful highs and growling lows, as if born of the pure, undiluted essence of joy and woe, is still a force, and she had it on full display in her opening songs, the Staple Singers’ “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” and her interpretation of the old spiritual “Wade in the Water.”
Staples took the audience to another level in her third song, a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” She and her band—Rick Holmstrom on guitar, Jeff Turner on bass, Stephen Hodges on drums, and Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle on backup vocals—found the gospel at the heart of the new wave song (which the Staple Singers covered on their 1984 album, Turning Point).
There were many such peaks during the show.
When I closed my eyes during “Respect Yourself,” for instance, I found the song retained all the vitality and fire of the Staple Singers’ rendition at the legendary Wattstax in 1973. And even when things didn’t go exactly as planned, Staples still shined. She and Randle used music stands so they could read the lyrics during a new song, “Fight.” This made Staples’ performance a bit clunky, and she declared to supportive whoops and cheers she’d know the song the next time she played Burlington.
In between songs, Staples engaged in some fun banter with the audience.
During her introduction to “I’ll Take You There,” she was interrupted by a fan who shouted something about Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, a contemporary of Pop Staples, who apparently played Burlington in the 70s. “You’re gonna make me forget what I’m doing,” said Staples, laughing. During the chorus of the song, she held the mic to audience members in the front row, beckoning them to sing along.
One of those audience members was Win Butler, lead singer of the Montreal-based band Arcade Fire. Staples and Butler have played together before, covering The Band’s “The Weight” together at the Outside Lands Festival in 2011. Staples was apparently surprised Butler was in attendance, and called him onstage to join her for another stab at the song during the encore.
There are moments from concerts I’ve seen that will linger forever, moments that embody the power live music has to thrill, and I think this is one of them.
Butler, dressed in all white and towering over Staples, was game to sing along, even if he stumbled over the lyrics to Rick Danko’s verse (my favorite, alas). As the rest of the band sang their respective parts, Butler and Staples slow-danced and he twirled her. When they broke, Staples motioned offstage for someone to take a picture. Clearly, she thought the moment was as memorable as we did.
The crowd was ecstatic by the final verse and Butler fell to his knees to bow down to Staples. It was a move that captured the sentiment of everyone in the Flynn. After the song, Butler disappeared—later to make another cameo that night with Future Islands at a Dealer.com party—and the audience rode the energy on its feet for one more song before the concert came to an end and everyone shuffled away into the rainy night.
Somehow, the rain didn’t seem to touch us.
Jazz Junior Review
JD Fox, Burlington Writers Workshop
“Anything can be jazz. As long as you know what the jazz language is, you can take any song and dress it up in jazz clothing.”
I love that quote, said by Christian McBride of the Christian McBride Trio midway during their performance Friday at FlynnSpace. It’s definition, theme, and aesthetics of jazz encased in a succinct, memorable statement that stays in the head like the Jazz songs they played.
Mostly kids came to listen to the Trio’s “Jazz Junior” show, with band members from Waterford High School taking up a whole wing. But plenty of adults attended as well. Altogether, the audience filled FlynnSpace to a three-fourths capacity that overflowed with enthusiasm.
Bassist McBride started the learn-about-jazz performance with a few plucks of his bass followed by a serious question: “Who likes Milky Way?”
Promising a candy reward to anyone who could tell him what his T-shirt (Tamla emblazoned on it) means, he expanded on an audience member’s answer by saying “Tamla was a record label that was very famous in the 60s and 70s [Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, et al.].”
He then plucked at his bass more deliberately and, along with drummer Jerome Jennings and pianist Christian Sands, launched their first song of the night: “Ham Hocks and Cabbage” from their album Out Here. Starting out deceptively simple, distinct notes pulsed as it sauntered into a jazz groove that became layered, more complex, and shifting in instrument emphasis and melodic content.
The shifting is important, with lots of give and take occurring throughout their lightly sprinkled with question and banter set; musical movements flowed not only between musicians, but also between musician and instrument, as if it were a sextet instead of a trio.
McBride didn’t just play his bass, he played with his bass; a collaborative effort, in much the same way that Fred Astaire danced with Ginger Rogers. McBride’s gifted fingers questioned, urged, encouraged, and implored. The bass couldn’t help but respond in kind, offering answers and follow-up questions of its own.
Communicating in this subtle, secret language, the two – one flesh and blood, the other string and wood – created more of an aural experience rather than just music. Likewise with Jennings on Drums and Sands on Piano, their anthropomorphic instruments sharing the stage with them.
Learning jazz by exposure, we heard the trio cum sextet play Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” jazz up Stevie Wonder’s “Send One your Love” and, McBride using a French bow on his bass, interpret “I have Dreamed” from The King and I.
It takes a lot of effort to make the creation of art look effortless; a lot of hard work to make it all sound like so much play. As if to emphasize just how easy it is to turn something into jazz – when you know its language, that is, and have become a fluent speaker – they ended the show by putting their distinctive spin on a familiar song as the audience sang its lyrics:
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star…”
Thrill Ride at the Flynn
Review of Chris Botti, Flynn Mainstage June 14
James H. Gamble, Burlington Writers Workshop
When I told my wife we were going to see a trumpet player at the Flynn Sunday night she was a little dubious. She didn’t know anything about Chris Botti. She’s not that into the trumpet. But I told her he’s supposed to be amazing and, as a music lover like me, she was willing to give it a shot. I had never seen him either. “Trust me,” I said. Yeah, she’s heard that one before.
Settled in our seats with an excellent view, her body language was still telegraphing “I’m here just so you don’t have to sit alone.” But I was confident. A few minutes later Botti took the stage in a somewhat unassuming fashion. Of course the crowd exploded, but he rather nonchalantly crossed the stage, horn tucked under his arm, and started playing along with his full band. Beautiful tones, nice little bit of syncopation.
At the piano, Geoffrey Keezer ran up and down the 88 a couple times. Solid base line from Richie Goods. Artful drumming by “new guy” Lee Pearson. Ben Butler interjected a number of dazzling riffs on the electric guitar. Andy Esrin, positioned almost surreptitiously upstage left, glued it all together with synthesized orchestration. All very cool sounding. All what you might expect in a professional jazz performance.
And then the first car of what was to be a rollercoaster of a night began to scream down the tracks. Next thing you know, Botti is slaying high C and then some. The band is rockin’ and the audience is visibly stirred. My wife leans over and says, “Okay, that was really good.” Progress.
Our heart rates effectively elevated, Botti slows things down a little, bringing out violinist Lucia Micarelli. She immediately charms everyone with her melodious sounds and virtuoso bow work. And then, gradually, he builds up speed again. Throughout the night Botti mixed it up with some contemporary numbers and original compositions, as well as standards and pieces from his Italia recording. I glance over—My wife’s got that immersed look on her face and I just get right back into the performance.
What I found particularly remarkable was when Botti took a break while someone in the band soloed, he didn’t just stand idly by. He was fully engaged with his fellow performer—watching, tapping his foot, bobbing his head, really into it. In fact, on more than one occasion he started clapping for the soloist before the audience, as impressed as all of us.
Just when you think you’re in a groove for the night, he switches it up again—this time bringing out vocalist Sy Smith. Smith is vivacious with a voice that’ll have you eating out of her hand one minute and begging for mercy the next. She kills it on stage and then descends with Botti into the audience, making us all part of the show. You could feel the electricity. Turns out this was just the beginning of the full charge to come.
After thoroughly wowing and wooing us, Smith exits and Botti brings back Micarelli. He introduces her with a brief commentary on the life of a concert violinist and then sets her loose, no horn required. She leads us through some spectacularly beautiful classical-sounding piece (I couldn’t tell you what it was, but it was beautiful). Slowly but surely she builds up speed and volume to the point I was sure she’d break a string. Then, just when you’re certain either the instrument or the whole stage is about to burst into flames, she lays down a heavy chord in perfect synchronization with the band (sans Botti) and they blast into Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Totally didn’t see that coming. Needless to say, she took the house with that one. Wife is speechless.
Change of pace again to bring this ride to an end. Botti brings out singer George Komsky for a couple of Italian numbers, including the theme from Cinema Paradiso. Botti, like all successful leaders (musical or otherwise) really knows how to surround himself with greatness.
Finally, after a leaping ovation Botti and his band returned to the stage for the encore. He closed the night (aptly I think) with “My Funny Valentine,” the song that inspired him to take up the trumpet when, at the age of twelve, he heard Miles Davis play it. Very nice. At this point my wife is leaning her elbows on the seat in front of her, chin in hands, completely smitten. Success.
The evening was perfectly formed, and for this audience member at least, rolled by all too fast. Of course that happens when you’re completely immersed in a performance. Something tells me we’ll be listing to a lot more trumpet in our house now.
Chris Botti will open the festival on the Flynn MainStage on Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 8pm. Tickets are available at the FlynnTix Regional Box Office at 153 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401, by calling 802-86FLYNN or order online here. Below is a preview as a part of the festival’s partnership with the Burlington Writers Workshop.
Contribution by James H. Gamble, Burlington Writers Workshop
The word “expressive” is commonly used when describing Chris Botti’s trumpet playing. It seems an apt term. Listening to his interpretation of “Prelude in C Minor,” what strikes me most is not the drama of the piece (although Chopin can be dramatic), it’s the care and devotion he gives each note. I mean, really, each and every note. It’s as though in that fleeting moment it is the only note in the world.
It’s a lot of tenderness for a jazz musician. Although that’s a pretty limiting classification for someone so diverse as Botti. Consider that his 2012 album Impressions won the Grammy for “Best Pop Instrumental Album.” This is a guy who’s not afraid to mix it up. He toured extensively with Paul Simon in the ‘90s, and he’s performed with the likes of Sting, Steven Tyler, and John Mayer. On Impressions he collaborates with a range of artists, from tenor Andrea Bocelli to country star Vince Gill to rocker Mark Knopfler. Wow.
But make no mistake, Botti has jazz in his bones. He was inspired to take up the trumpet at the age of twelve after hearing Miles Davis. Later, he studied with the highly regarded jazz educator David Baker, the great trumpet teacher Bill Adam, jazz trumpeter Woody Shaw, and jazz saxophonist George Coleman. And in his early career he honed his skills in the company of Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, and Natalie Cole. We should not be surprised that he’s had four #1 albums on Billboard’s Jazz Albums listings.
Anyone lucky enough to see Botti when he hits the Flynn Mainstage on June 14, wrapping up the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, is in for a special treat. What’s fun is anticipating all the possibilities. It could be jazz, it could be pop; maybe a little classical, folk or Latin. It won’t matter. With Chris Botti, whatever genre he chooses will be his own. And however he chooses to express it, we will be impressed.
Rubblebucket will perform at the Waterfront Park Tent on Saturday, June 13, $25; Doors and VT Nectar’s Grill at 5pm; Music at 6pm; Pimps of Joytime to open. Tickets are available at the FlynnTix Regional Box Office at 153 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401, by calling 802-86FLYNN or order online here. Below is a preview as a part of the festival’s partnership with the Burlington Writers Workshop.
On this ride I’m the Captain
All my friends call me Shackleton
By Michelle Watters, Burlington Writers Workshop
Thirteen years ago I attended The Horde Festival. It was only my second live show, the first one being The Black Crowes. I was seventeen and couldn’t wait to see Lenny Cravitz in his leather pants.
Unfortunately that never came to be because I dropped acid for the first time.
The only band I can recall seeing is Rusted Root. Then the acid kicked in and Jesus himself sent me messages through Rusted Roots drumbeats. I got stuck in a port-a-potty and time stood still. I lost my shoes and somewhere along the way my jeans. By the end of the show I was in the parking lot: confused, in just my underwear, and being felt up by a Frenchman; at least I think he was speaking French. After that, I never wanted to go to a concert again.
Fast forward. I hear about Rubblebucket coming to town.
The name itself works magic on my tongue. I find myself saying, “Rumblebucket, Rubberbucket, Rubblebucket…” it wants to be a tongue twister. What is a Rubblebucket anyway? Something in a tornado emergency kit?
A poet’s mind is never at rest when it comes to unusual wordplay. I’m not the savviest music aficionado. I don’t know what’s cool or if the word “cool” is even used anymore. I listen to easy listening seventies music like a daily anti-anxiety pill along with some early eighties thrown in like a cup of coffee. I consider my knowledge of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn to be cutting edge.
I was five when MTV first aired, my face inches from the television as I watched the first music video, The Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star. I didn’t know then that it would be a big part of music history but I knew the feeling I got when a good music video came on.
The good ones told stories, had interesting visuals, and a beat I could wiggle to.
Fast Forward. I’m on YouTube to checkout Rubblebucket’s music video Carousel Ride. Annakalmia’s angelic voice sings against the background of an electronic beat. I feel like I’m watching old MTV again. Somehow they have made music videos fresh.
The lyrics are more like poetry than a pop song.
I think I was a bird in another life
Maybe that’s why I’m prone to flight
And I do like heights
When all the strongest winds are blowing my way
Then the reaper comes to take my breath away
The video itself has a retro feel channeling the I Love Lucy show’s chocolate factory episode. Chocolate soldiers drop off a conveyer belt. A factory worker eats melted chocolate and smears it on his face. At the end, in a bizarre fantastic twist, the factory workers help what I can only describe as an anus made of flowers escape from a cage where it is being pumped full of thick pink liquid in IV bags.
On further inquiry and after finding out Annakalmia is a survivor of ovarian cancer, I deduce the big flowery thing is supposed to represent an ovary and the factory the big business of cancer treatments.
In their video Came Out of a Lady, they sport neon colors and have their heads, arms, and legs emerging from nylon, tent-like structures. The sound of Trumpets give the song a fast jazzy feel. The retro feel and playfulness are reminiscent of Devo’s Whip It with a smidgeon of Boy George’s Karma Chameleon. Again the depth of the lyrics are just damn good poetry.
I used to walk by the stream at night
With silver shadows everywhere
My brain like an exploding light
And wonder if it was worth my time
To sing these sings and do these things
And stumble at the every time.
All the songs on Rubblebucket’s album Survival Sounds have a playful quality combined with powerful and eloquent lyrics that tell a story about doubt, fear, survival, and, most prominently, joy.
This will be a show where acid need not apply. It will be better than chocolate (or a close second). It will definitely be better than being trapped in a hot port-a-potty.
Rubblebucket did awesome covers of The Doobie Brothers What a Fool Believes and The Beatles My Michelle. I was named after the latter and I love The Doobie Brothers. So clearly this being my first concert in so long is kismet.
Rubblebucket is like riding a unicorn in the sunset, trumpets blaring rainbows. Saturday June 13th at The Burlington Waterfront. Be there with bells on.