ARTICLE: "Audience Jumps To Trio's Grooves" (Medeski, Martin and Wood)
"Each band member lept nimbly from instrument to instrument, influence to influence, mood to mood. Yet John Medeski stood out as a mad wizard of sorts, alternating among a Hammond B3 organ, Moog synthesizer, Wurlitzer electric piano, melodica and an acoustic Steinway—often playing two or three at once.
It was in service of a performance that ranged from radical to reassuring, with stretches of avant-jazz exploration answered by the salve of roaring, organ-led rave-ups.”
Photo by Ogden Gigli of Luke Doucet performing at Mission Bar and Tapas
"It wasn’t a bad idea to reconfigure Bruce Springsteen’s "I’m On Fire"—an ominous mumble about sexual obsession and seething guilt—into a country music arrangement, but Doucet’s vanilla vocals drained the song of any heat."
ARTICLE: "Medeski, Martin and Wood: After 18 years, the band revels in its unique brand of music"
“It ends up in the jazz department because it’s instrumental music,” barnstorming keyboard wizard John Medeski says in a telephone interview from Woodstock, New York. “But is Kenny G jazz? Good God, help us. You can say it’s about the instrumentation: jazz is instrumental music with horns, some harmonic instrument, drums and bass. But where does that put Cecil Taylor, or Albert Ayler? It’s so personal, what these things mean. Or is jazz a spirit? Is jazz a process?”
Something about watching Lauren Ambrose rule the room with a microphone in hand tonight—proving not merely a capable but indeed a fully convincing frontwoman for a hot jazz band—finally brought home for me my folly in missing her universally acclaimed turns as those iconic Shakespearean heroines at the Delacorte Theatre (in 2007 and 2008, respectively).
Watching her stomping out time with her booted foot, glancing back and smiling at the banjo player as he frailed like the lights were about to go out, while a room full of bar patrons bumped and wriggled in a joyful ruckus…it sent the most obvious of lessons to my head, where it stayed lodged: Jesus she is talented. Yeah, no kidding. And in company with a generously gifted band, the result was a highly potent and hugely enjoyable dose of Charleston-right-into-the-swimming-pool abandon.
I’m among those who count Six Feet Under as among the finest television series I’ve seen. This impression is reinforced every time I choose not to pull it off the DVD shelf, because I don’t feel up for the level of emotional and psychological commitment required to fully engage with it. (Plus there’s always the risk of the odd existential meltdown.) In that series, Ambrose presented her Claire Fischer so thoroughly convincingly, it was hard not to assume one was watching the actress and the character growing up simultaneously in front of the camera.
But when I heard she’d be fronting a band for a tuneup gig at hole-in-the-wall (in the best of ways) bar Brick House Pub in the village of Housatonic before the combo’s proper live debut at Joe’s Pub in New York this Sunday, I weirdly assumed it would be a night of torch songs and wondered if the term “vanity project” would apply. (I missed, among other random club sightings, her recent performance in the Michael Jackson tribute at once-and-future bar Club Helsinki, so didn’t know she is indeed a gifted vocalist.)
Fronting a septet dubbed The Leisure Class and composed of Kip Beacco on clarinet and guitar, Evan Palazzo on piano and accordion, Lyon Graulty on baritone sax, Any Bean on banjo and vocals, Brian Kantor on drums (including a suitcase re-possessed for bass drum duties) and Matt Downing on bass, Ambrose led the charge through a wittily composed set full of New Orleans jazz and ragtime flavors.
The band was extremely tight, versatile, and decked out smartly with many a tie and fedora. The set included a wild, swingy stomp through Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” in addition to a generous helping of vintage tunes like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”
Most unexpected was a straight-up take on "New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down," from LCD Soundsystem’s landmark 2007 album Sound of Silver. With the irony of the original kicked soundly to the curb, the song was revealed as a slow-burn thriller, with Ambrose giving her pipes a full workout and the band bringing its escalation of intensity home soundly.
If this band isn’t going to lead a hipster revival of New Orleans-flavored jazz dance music, then no one is. And this was a tune-up gig.
New York peops, get to Joe’s Pub on Sunday. The rest of us can stay home, and perhaps take on that looming existential crisis after all. For now, the one hour’s traffic of that barroom stage is ringing pleasantly in my ears.
ARTICLE: "Searing Talent Rises Above Rough Edges" (Rickie Lee Jones)
"The constant throughout was Jones’ eloquent power, be it her stab-you-in-the-heart vocals or the depth of her material, which was shown well in a series of relatively stripped-down arrangements. Yet at times it felt like band practice, with Jones frequently instructing a band member to sing or not sing, or change the tempo, or lay back."