I had the great fortune of seeing a true living Legend of Jazz Thursday night at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase and was able to speak to him before the first set. Pat Martino is one amazing man. He is also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I sat and asked him a somewhat unrehearsed collection of questions. I did know a bit about him so the questions were not exactly random.
One of the first things we talked about was his approach to taking words and turning them into melodies. Martino explains there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, seven notes in the major scale. That’s three groups of seven and one of five. You repeat the notes after you get to the seventh degree of the scale. Any word can become a melody. This tells you right away that you are not dealing with a traditional thinker here.
A word that popped up more than once in the conversation was precision. This is the way he seems to approach all aspects of life, not just music. Another key word was awareness. Awareness is a highly-overlooked concept for most people. Musicians who are tuned into what they are playing and the people they are playing with are going to end up on another level entirely. I consider Pat’s thinking to be extremely Zen in nature. “All there is, is now” was my favorite quote of his. It is very eye opening, really. The idea that the past and future do not truly exist is a reality most of us cannot accept. There is so much truth in that statement.
Another thing that struck me was how he talked about not being obsessed with music. That is another strong statement. This at first might seem a bit too casual for a musician to accept. How can a serious musician follow this? It is easy to get so caught up in your music that the rest of your life suffers. The rest of your life should be incorporated into your music. Balance is key to everything, another Zen like concept.
Now, let’s talk about the music. Pat currently plays in an organ trio. For those of you unfamiliar, that is organ, guitar and drums. There is no bass player. The organist handles the bass role most of the time. I personally love this type of trio. I am a huge fan of the Hammond B-3, an instrument that gives off one amazing sound - truly hard to duplicate. Pat Bianchi was the man behind the keyboard. He was Martino’s perfect compliment. He traded solos with Pat and provided superb accompaniment.
Carmine Intorre completed the trio on drums. Jazz drummers are amazing creatures. The way they think of rhythm is off the hook. Rhythm is probably the most overlooked piece of the musical puzzle. Nothing grooves without the groove. I have heard the quote that a live band is only as good as the drummer. Intorre kept it going without a bass to lock in with, great job.
Pat’s own playing was flawless. I don’t remember hearing a bad note. His solos were highly creative. The rhythm of his phrasing brings back that word precision. Here is a guy pushing seventy-three-years-old that can out play people in the prime of their life. Actually, he may still be in the prime of his life. This guy is using strings on his guitar that most guitar players could not use. I am talking some heavy strings, even for Jazz players. I think a lot of it is due to how the man approaches life. Most people his age are shot, just not much left. He seems to really value a healthy lifestyle. I think being, as he described it, “mostly vegetarian” helps a lot. A lot of artists sacrifice their own health in pursuit if their art. Your body and mind are truly your instrument, not your guitar. The Zen concept again comes to mind.
Jazz can seem to be a bit self indulgent at times, all the soloing and all. What it really is a conversation between musicians. That is not always easy to see. However, when musicians are of this caliber, it is. I’m sure a lot of people who go to see a guy like Martino go to see an amazing guitarist. I can count myself on that list but after talking to Pat, I felt like I understood the scene a whole lot more. He talked about how the scene was back in the hey day. It was a community, not just the musicians. Jazz is a very social environment. In some ways, it is musician’s music. The fans are certainly another element. It is an environment for thinking people. An outsider might consider this a snobbish line of thinking. What it really is, is an escape. Jazz is a way of diving into a pool of joy. A lot of intelligent people find it difficult to exist in the world. They need a place to escape. Jazz clubs were at one time filled with people like this. I find it kind of sad in a lot of ways that there really is a very small Jazz scene left. That to me tells you a lot about our society today.
I don’t want to end this on a downer. What I will say is don’t be afraid to think. Think outside the box. My conversation with Pat Martino was a bit of an epiphany to me. It’s okay to think and have your own ideas. You can live your life with a level of precision. This can be a pattern in your life, your music. Incorporating your life into your music is as important as bringing music into your life. I saw an amazing guitar player Thursday night, but I also met an amazing person. Thank You, Mr. Martino.
It was an interesting pairing of solo singer/guitar players last night at City Winery. I often check out artists I review that I don’t know before I go and see them. Often, I end up finding they can be quite different than the usual Youtube videos you see. This can be good or bad. A couple reasons for this. There is the energy of the room that cannot be captured on video or sometimes you end up checking out the videos that do not exemplify the band as much. In this case, both artists were better in person than video.
First up was Edward David Anderson. I would call him a bit of a story teller type of writer and singer. Most of his songs had entertaining introductions and good story lines. I found it interesting that he sat down and played bass drum while he sang and played guitar - a one-man band. His left foot seemed to be getting something like a tambourine sound. I could not see how he did that, exactly. After opening with a nylon string guitar that looked like it had survived a war, he switched over to banjo for a few songs. After that, he played slide on one of those cigar box guitars. He killed it on the cigar box playing a great version of Bill Preston’s “Go ‘Round In Circles”. I really liked that.
Edward was a very funny guy between songs as well. His own songs were great. I really liked one called “That’s My Dog”. He was not too serious and very down to Earth. I thought his music was very accessible, and the crowd was in agreement. He got a great response. He even did some Dylan-esque harp work and, believe it or not, some kazoo while plying guitar and bass drum.
After a short intermission, Seth Walker took the stage. He was sporting and old Gibson hollow body guitar at first. He plugged into a little tube amplifier. He was a little more Blues based, but not a bunch of twelve bar repetition. He had some really good songs, too. He was a switch from Anderson but it was a smooth transition, either one could have been headliner.
He switched to a steel string acoustic after a few songs, joking it was a borrowed guitar. His version of “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain” was just amazing. Willie Nelson would surely approve. He switched back to the old Gibson for the rest of his set. He also seemed to put a little humor in his delivery. This tends to work rather well in a club this size. The crowd was very relaxed. There was a lot of clapping on two and four during Walker’s set.
Anderson came up and joined Walker for the last couple songs. “Ophelia” was a knockout song I first heard The Band do years ago. It had that kind of Levon Helm vibe.
It was yet another great show at City Winery, which is a real nice place to see a show. The wine is excellent and so is the food. They also have a top-notch staff. The crowd was a nice mix too. I would highly recommend both the venue and the two artists highly. It was a great way to spend a Thursday evening.
It’s so easy to make comparisons with artists these days. He/she sounds like so and so, etc. My expectation before seeing Becca Stevens was to find a folk singer along the lines of the clichéd variety. I was surprised at what I found. I guess Stevens does somewhat fit into the folk category only because the industry likes to file music into genres. However, the folkie title is a bit too generic for her music.
Stevens is the singer/songwriter type for sure. That being said, I would consider her music to be more along the lines of eclectic pop sprinkled with some folk and almost Medieval overtones. During her recent performance in support of her latest release Regina at City Winery, I sat back, unsure of what to expect live. As l listened to Stevens’ set, I heard some very catchy melodies including those in “Queen Mab” off her latest album. Steven’s voice I might compare with someone like a Joni Mitchell, at least in terms of range, though her songs were quite different than Joni’s. I really liked the band she had, as well. Three musicians backed her up - drums, keys and bass. Stevens also played guitar – and well.
Steven’s ability to play guitar with such heart and technical prowess was jaw-dropping at times. I couldn’t help but notice several interesting chord voiceings and it sounded to me like she might have ventured in to some open tunings. Stevens did not perform any guitar solos. She is not that kind of player, and her music did not lack anything because of that.
Liam Robinson was the man on keys. He also contributed backing vocals. He played a grand piano, electric keys and accordion depending on the song. Robinson adds a very melodic element to the fold. The accordion was a nice touch and Steven’s performance had me wondering if it was not also used as a midi controller due to some of the timbres I heard.
Jordan Perlson played drums. A very solid pocket guy, he did not over or underplay either. He was part of what I would consider a very solid rhythm section. I consider dynamics a huge part of performing and he led the musicians in that direction very well. He knew just when to pull back when the time called. The balance of sounds has a lot to do with the man behind the kit. A live band can’t really be any better than their drummer, and in this case, they have a solid one in Perlson.
My favorite part of her band was bass player Chris Tordini. He also sang along with Stevens and even pitched in with some short lead vocal lines of his own. His style was very diverse. Pick and finger styles were used along with some almost classical guitar style right hand work. Tordini complimented the dynamic drums and never overpowered the vocals.
The City Winery has a great system. I am not sure if the person running the board was the house guy or not. The mix was flawless, very unlike a lot of the clubs I hear in Chicago were all you hear is the bass and drums. I don’t care to much for that. I like hearing the vocals myself. I was not disappointed.
Becca seemed to have quite a following at City Winery, as many people were singing along with her songs. I may need to dive into some more listening from her catalog. I also thought it was very cool that she did some work with a band I highly respect, Snarky Puppy. Talented people do seem to attract one another’s attention so I shouldn’t be all that surprised. The surprise to me was that Stevens was billed as some type of roots musician. I didn’t hear that at all. I found the songs to never really sound dated. I think that title should be dismissed. I don’t like categories anyway. That always narrows the focus of the artist and the mind of the listener. Music should expand your mind, and Becca Stevens is a fine example of that notion.
For more info on Becca Stevens visit http://www.beccastevens.com/.
To check out the upcoming schedule at City Winery, visit http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/.
The Buffalo Theatre Ensemble brings a very thought provoking play to the stage. David Lindsay-Abaire penned this two-act performance and the small theatre was perfect for the story.
Finely directed by Connie Canaday Howard, Good People highlights a strong ensemble that exhibits a magical chemistry onstage. The story line was very well thought out and while I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, the theme, as one might guess from the title, was really about people. We are reminded in this story set mostly in the south end of Boston, that some are not as good as they appear and some are good without the appearance.
The lead character Margaret is played by Amelia Barrett. She is a working class single mother with a child who lives in a cheap apartment, living paycheck to paycheck. Margaret and her friends love to play Bingo. They help each other out. That’s what friends are for. Her friends include her landlady Dottie, played by Annie Slavinski. Benedict L. Slabik II plays her former boss, who is also a friend. Jean played by Kelli Walker rounds out the Bingo crew.
They call themselves “Southies”, referring to the south end of Boston. Their accents are much different than the stereotypical Boston accent you might think of when thinking of that area. It is almost like comparing different English accents. They also call the upper-class people “Lace Curtains”, which I thought was funny.
Margaret runs into an old flame, Mike, played by Bryan Burke. He has done rather well for himself. Now an endocrinologist, he lives in a nicer area. He has joined the “Lace Curtains”, but he, like most people, never escapes his roots. His wife Kate is played by Raina Lynn. There is some controversy over the color of her skin. The play isn’t about racial tension but the topic exists in a sub-plot. In some ways, this underlying theme drives the story as much as its main plot.
The first act is light-hearted and funny. It is served more as an introduction to the characters, all of which appear in the first few minutes apart from Mike’s wife Kate. You see the world they live in and how they think.
Act II is another story, mostly set in the house of Mike and Kate. Good People shows us that things are not always as they appear and that class to which one is associated has nothing to do with that of being a good person. That’s the moral of the story and the message is there without looking too hard.
The play is well-acted and thought out. The audience is never bored waiting for the plot to grow. It takes off from the start. Each acting performance is highly enjoyable as is the story and the message meaningful. I know a few “Good People” who could benefit from watching this performance. Art is a great teaching tool, even if the audience doesn’t always realize when it is happening. If you feel like you need a well-conceived night’s entertainment, this could be just the ticket. There are a few foul words in there, but clearly not meant to be offensive. This is a production that might just open your eyes a bit, while at the same time providing a few good laughs.
Good People is being performed at Playhouse Theatre in the McIninch Art Center in Glen Ellyn, IL through March 5th. For more show information click here.
Expectations for what you might see in a concert are not always what turn out to be the reality of the situation. On my way to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, I knew I was going to see two legendary guitar players in their respective fields. Let’s just say any preconceived notions I may have had regarding a strong showing by Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck were dismissed several times throughout this fine Sunday evening.
First, I assumed Buddy Guy would be opening for Jeff Beck. However, Beck took the stage first, opening with a track from his latest release Loud Hail. The song starts, vocals are heard, but no one on stage is singing. Then a woman dressed in what could be described as some kind of military uniform singing through a megaphone appears as she strolls down the aisle. She eventually gets on stage and joins the band. Now, this really wasn’t that strange for a Jeff Beck show. He has been dabbling in different genres most of his career.
Beck alternated between new album cuts and some of his classics like Freeway Jam. Somewhere around the fifth or sixth song a different vocalist appears and to the crowd’s approval, it was veteran Jimmy Hall who has worked with Jeff many times. Their performance of “Morning Dew” was highly inspiring and raised some goose bumps on Beck’s avid fans in attendance. “Morning Dew” was written during the turbulent 1960’s with a post apocalyptic theme. There seemed to be a bit of a theme during the show. I have always considered Jeff Beck to be a man of peace, and he conveyed this subtle message in his selections.
As for Beck’s guitar playing? Well, a musician in his league never disappoints in that department. Some people have claimed JB to be the best guitar player out there. Even though that I find that an impossible title to hold, he is certainly high on the list. Now here is a guy known for flashy guitar playing yet he doesn’t waste a note. We have had so many technically gifted guitar players come and go through the years, so what makes a guy like him so appealing? One word, melody. If someone claimed Jeff was the most melodic guitar player, I just might have to agree. Some say brilliant instrumentalists are often frustrated singers and when Beck plays, it is akin to a human voice. He doesn’t even use a pick anymore. This man’s music is what happens when you give someone an amazing ear uniquely interpreting each melody on a Stratocaster. Beck’s encore was his take on The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” to which he played the vocal lines on the guitar just like a singer. His voice is the guitar.
After Beck’s stirring set, I was sitting there thinking, “How is Buddy Guy gonna top that?” Buddy is Buddy, that’s what he is. He has been quoted as saying that’s all he can do is be himself. That’s just fine in my book. A true artist’s personality comes out in their art, no matter what the area. Guy is often manic but just so down to earth that you end up falling in love with the man before the show is over. He celebrated his 80th birthday just the day before. That’s correct, 80 years old! But Guy didn’t show his age and displayed the energy of a much younger man.
Guy’s attitude on stage is incredible. I have never met Buddy myself but have heard that off the stage he is a pretty shy guy. He’s just one of those artists whose true self only comes out when performing. Look out and be prepared as Guy’s shows are basically unscripted for the most part. He admitted he had no set list though his band was obviously prepared for what he was doing. His performance is almost like Buddy thinking out loud. He jumps from one thing to another.
I consider Buddy to be one of the last real showmen of the Blues. His roots go back to Muddy Waters. Those old Blues cats always know how to entertain. Buddy used to do a trick back in the old club days where he would use a super long guitar cord and go out into the audience while playing. Now a wireless system makes things so much easier. Guy walked off the stage and kept going though a good portion of the pavilion at Ravinia, twice passing my way.
Guy was joined by Beck on one song and another featured two of his kids, one on vocals the other on guitar. The last portion of his show was Buddy teasing the audience playing just bits of a bunch of old Blues songs that weighed heavily as his musical influences. A true entertainer leaves the audience satisfied but wanting more. This was definitely the case.
Did Buddy Guy top Jeff Beck? Well, maybe not by his guitar playing alone. The performance actually made you forget the opening act while he was on stage. Like the title of his opening number, Buddy was “Born to Play the Guitar”. Jeff Beck was too, but Buddy was also born to entertain. At 80-years-old, won’t be performing forever, my advice being to see him while you still can. He is really one of the only living links to the old Blues cats left. After him, it’s mostly the English Blues players like Clapton. And who is Eric Clapton’s favorite guitar player? Buddy Guy. On July 31, 2016, Buddy Guy was mine was too.
I have been a fan of Chick Corea ever since I picked up a Return to Forever album sometime around 1983. Twenty-three years or so later, I was finally able to see him perform – the venue being Ravinia Festival. Corea has been involved in the Jazz scene for fifty years or more and at seventy-five-years-young, he can keep up with someone half his age.
Starting off the triple bill on the evening of July Fourth was Ms. Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton. Theirs was a Jazz on the mellower side though some interesting cover material was chosen to perform. I have never heard Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” played in such a manner before. They also covered two different Rolling Stones songs, “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Gimme Shelter”. Arrangements on these particular songs were quite different than the originals as you might imagine. I must say Fischer’s voice was quite good. Her intonation was amazing. She and her band seemed to drop the word love in every song, very refreshing. After watching her performance, I can only conclude that Ms. Fischer appears to be a peaceful spirit in human form.
The second set was the headlining act, the Chick Corea Trio. Always surrounding himself with talented musicians, Christian McBride was on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Both complimented Chick’s piano playing very well. McBride was a very fluent soloist on upright bass and was somewhat reminiscent of Stanley Clarke in terms of chops, while maintaining his own identity. Brain Blade was equally astounding to say the least. Chick seems to have a knack for finding some of the best players around. I’m sure his reputation attracts the attention of some fine players who line up at the chance to share the stage with such a musical legend. Throughout the entire set Corea played a grand piano. Corea’s chops were so fluid, it’s hard to believe a man of that age still has the hands to pull that off. Fans were in awe during the whole set.
Then it was big band time. It was interesting to see Corea in the two different settings. Bass, drums and twelve horns accompanied Chick on the final set of the holiday evening. Corea called out the names of every song and gave credit to the person who did each particular arrangement. If you love horns, it was Heaven. He even touched on a Return to Forever song, making it sound like a fresh new song. Each of the horn players had at least one featured solo, as well. Trumpets, trombones, saxophones and even flute solos were of the highest caliber. Corea didn’t hold back on the last set either. I felt he got better as the night went along, almost as though he may have just been warming up.
Jazz is almost a lost art form. I have said that before. It is so nice to see music still being performed by real musicians. The only issue I sometimes have with Jazz audiences is that they applaud after every solo. I guess this is a tradition but I would prefer they would wait until the end of the song. Still, they are usually deserving of the recognition it’s just that sometimes you miss the start of the next solo because of the applause.
Take the opportunity to go see some live Jazz before all the great ones are gone. Ravinia is still to host some amazing Jazz acts this season. The tradition continues, but the real guys are all getting up there in age. At seventy-five, Chick Corea is at the younger end of the age spectrum.
It was a triple bill of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Indigo Girls and Shawn Mullins a cool Friday night in June, the perfect atmosphere for some hot music. And though the showed started early at, 6:30 PM, there was already a surprisingly good-sized crowd on hand well before the activities were to begin. For those of you who have not experienced Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, the park contains a massive picnic area that surrounds the pavilion where the stage is held. Some stay in the lawn area until the headliner hits the stage, others remain in the picnic area and just enjoy the ambience while listening to the concert to the speakers set up throughout. This show was no different.
The first thing I noticed when I first heard the Indigo Girls over twenty years ago was their vocal harmonies, an interesting blend. Amy Ray has a very deep voice for a female singer and Emily Saliers has the higher and much more versatile voice. This makes for an interesting vocal blend. My only issue with this is the repetition of this formula on every song though I am not that familiar with their catalog of work in its entirety. I found that even though their sound is quite unique, after a couple songs their sound could get a bit predictable. Having said that, the crowd certainly approved of what they heard, many of them singing along and dancing in place.
The Indigo Girls were backed up by three other performers, a multi instrumentalist, a violinist/vocalist and a singer/guitarist. Even with the augmentation of the line up, I still found a lot of their songs have few variables to the band’s overall sound. The tempo and harmonies were just extremely similar from song to song.
Shawn Mullins opened up the night with an acoustic guitar, his own voice and an accordion player. This exceptional baritone singer had a really folky vibe that was a great warm up for the crowd. The pavilion had a lot of empty seats still at that point as concert goers milled about the grounds, but the people that were watching his act really appeared to enjoy his music. Mullins’ sense of humor was also very refreshing.
The act of the night in my opinion was the one in the middle, Mary Chapin Carpenter. She had a typical five-piece band line up, drums, bass, keys and guitar. Backing vocals were provided by the bass and keys players. Now, I don’t know why, but Carpenter is a performer I can honestly say slipped under my radar. A real veteran, her performance was amazing, as Carpenter played a great variety of material - and played it to perfection. If I were to label her music I would say folk….no, country….no, Rock and Roll….all of the above. I hate categories because of their limiting definitions anyway. I like variety and her portion of the show was a great example of that. I really thought Mary should have been the headliner after watching her, but the Girls have a very strong following. It’s not right to say a certain performer is better than another, so I won’t go there. Rather, I simply found Carpenter the performer of the night.
The Indigo Girls is still an act worth seeing. I think maybe branching out a bit may be in their best interest. Their fans would probably disagree, that’s okay. Their following is very loyal, and this could be partly due to their social position…just a couple girls doing it on their own for the most part. I should probably listen a little more clearly to the lyrics, that is probably where the variety of their material lies. I’m sure it is also somewhat difficult to provide a lot of different tempos and rhythmic variations when you play without a live drummer. Heading into the show, I wasn’t sure what their lineup was going to be since I have mostly seen Amy and Emily play as a duet.
The Indigo Girls closed the show with “Closer to Fine”, the song that really put them on the map. The crowd was probably louder than the Girls were at times during that song. That’s what it’s all about really anyway, communication. If you can get an audience to respond like that, mission accomplished. So, to sum it up my criticism of the lack of variety was clearly only in my eyes. Their audience didn’t view it like that. I guess for me Bob Dylan is the same way. To the average listener, many of his songs sound the same. Am I comparing The Indigo Girls to Bob Dylan? I guess in a way, their appeal is in the same vein. Just simple songs played with their own particular flavor. Folk music is what it says it is, music of the people. The people responded, that’s all that really matters, not the opinion of one critic.
Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis can take the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and turn it into a work of art. After watching and listening to him, I am sure of this. Eighty-years-old, he has the musical energy of a much younger man. He also brought to MacIninch Art Center a very talented group of musicians.
First up was Henry Johnson on guitar. The first thing I thought of was Wes Montgomery. For those of you not familiar with Montgomery’s style, Wes mostly played with just his thumb on his right hand. Henry switched between that and a pick which he must have held in his palm while using his thumb. Johnson’s other influences include Kenny Burrell and George Benson. As a fledgling jazz guitar player myself, I found him to be a tasty player and learned a lot watching him play.
Joshua Ramos was on bass. He switched between upright bass and a five string electric through the set. Ramos got some serious applause from his solos. He played with the fluency most lead guitar players might envy. Having said that, he stayed in the pocket when he needed to do so.
On drums was Charles Heath. Heath is an amazing jazz drummer, switching from sticks to brushes depending on the song. I found out he started playing drums at an early age and I am not surprised. He started working as a musician at the age of fourteen and earned a degree in music at Shaw University. His list of playing credits is quite long.
Then, of course you have Mr. Lewis, “the great performer”. Ramsey certainly lives up to the title. Though understandably a bit slow walking across the stage, it did not reflect his musical energy. He took Pop melodies to new heights. The Beatles’ “Here There and Everywhere” was my personal favorite. Another Beatles song he did amazing things to was “Hard Day’s Night”. Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” was very nice as well. I didn’t hear too many songs that one would consider jazz standards, except possibly his own compositions. Lewis did have a few hits in his heyday, most jazz musicians cannot claim that. The ability to take a familiar melody and turn it into something greater is truly an art. I overheard someone say how he never played one of the songs the same way twice. The jazz musical mind just seems to work like that. Lewis did not give you a heavily rehearsed, boring performance. It showed the listener how music can be spontaneous and structured at the same time.
The art of jazz is not as popular as it once was in America. You could tell this from the crowd. The average age was at least sixty, if I had to estimate. Personally, I find it so refreshing to see great musicians actually perform without the use of gimmicks. The raw energy of the performance was the key on this particular Saturday night.
If you have any interest in seeing real music played the way it was supposed to be played, go see it now before all the classic players are all gone. At eighty-years-old, Ramsey won’t be around forever. The music will live forever, but the performers will not. I don’t want to sound like a cynic, but I think a lot of this is lost in music today. Go support music being played by real musicians like The Ramsey Lewis Quartet. Good music elevates you mind, body and soul to new heights.
In the end, I found the performance inspirational and highly rewarding. The reward was an emotional sense of elevation. Music is the ultimate escape. For one hour and forty-five minutes I had no problems in my life. Even after coming back to reality, I felt better. I wish to thank “the great performer” for this. Ramsey Lewis is simply amazing and it was great to see and of course hear him.
Ramsey Lewis Quartet
March 12, 2016-7:30 PM
MacIninch Art Center
College Of DuPage
Glen Ellyn, IL
Five time Grammy Award winner Robert Cray brought his band into Glen Ellyn, IL to play some Blues. Roberts’s career spans forty years. The Robert Cray Band made its debut in 1980 and some of his members has lasted almost since the band began. Richard Cousins on bass has been with him as long as I can remember. Dover Weinberg is on Hammond Organ and keys and Les Falconer completes the line up on drums.
Cray is just as amazing at the age of 62 as he ever was. Such a sweet, yet powerful voice. His guitar playing is nothing short of spectacular. No gimmicks from this Master of the Stratocaster. Cray goes straight into the amp (with a wireless system) and plays The Blues the way they are meant to be played. However, he is a bit more sophisticated than his predecessors.
He opened up strong and finished strong, leaving you wanting more. Part of this may be that it was a very short set. An hour and fifteen minutes was great but I would have liked a little more. That seemed to be the general consensus from the crowd, although they were more than satisfied with the performance.
Cray’s band was so tight and in the pocket. The kind of groove this band lays down only comes from experience…no other way. You couldn’t help clapping or tapping your foot the whole time. Cray really has his own voice musically to the point it is not very easy to compare him directly with other Blues artists. A few people yelled out “Muddy Waters” and “Howlin’ Wolf” which I didn’t really understand but Robert took it just fine. Great to have a sense of humor about things like that. The man is constantly smiling. He really seemed relaxed and at peace, not an artist chasing demons.
The Robert Cray Band proves you can play the Blues and keep it sounding fresh. They groove without playing a bunch of twelve bar shuffles with one sounding like another. Cray was relaxed, the band was relaxed and the audience was relaxed. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He had the attention of everyone in the room. Once again, my only real complaint would be the length of the show. He was the epitome of leaving you wanting more. Satisfied, yet still hungry. The show was over in ten minutes. At least that’s how it felt to me. My hands hurt from clapping along. There should have been a dance floor.
Robert Cray Band
Belushi Performance Hall
McAninch Arts Center
College Of DuPage
Jackson Browne is a veteran singer/songwriter who has a very impressive resume. He is also known for always having some amazing musicians in his corral. In the musician department, last Saturday night’s show at Ravinia was up to par and then some.
First up is guitarist/vocalist Larry Campbell. Campbell has played with everyone from Levon Helm and Bob Dylan to Sheryl Crow just to name a few. A true country picker from New York, believe it or not, Larry really dug in and played some tasty country licks. He and his wife Teresa Campbell opened the show fronting Jackson’s band. Teresa is a straight up country singer. Together they had and old school hippie country vibe that really got the crowd in the mood.
The rest of the band included Bob Glaub on bass, Mauricio Lewak on drums, Jeff Young on keys and vocals, Althea Mills on backing vocals and Greg Leisz on lap and pedal steel guitar and mandolin.
The opening set was short and sweet. Campbell and Williams did a killer duet version of Samson and Delilah, an old Rev. Gary Davis song. I really wish their set was longer. Williams has one of those voices that makes you want to hear more and more.
After a brief intermission, Browne took the stage fronting the band. I can honestly say the band carried the show for the most part. Jackson looked tired and road worn. I don’t know of his performance was reflective of his 66 years or just an off night. I could feel a lack of energy from the crowd as well. The best response was for the players in the band rather than Browne himself.
I also think material choice could have been better. A casual JB fan would have only recognized three songs at the end of the night. After a still somewhat entertaining performance, “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” concluded the set with “Take It Easy” as the encore. Jackson also went off on a tangent in the middle of the set. He was very passionate about environmental issues but, unfortunately, he lost the crowd for a while.
Overall, the band was great and was filled with some incredible musicians. I think better song choices and a little more energy from the front man would have gone a long way to better the show. I will say I walked away a fan of Campbell and Williams. Their set really knocked me out.
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