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Ron Reis

Ron Reis

Wednesday, 06 July 2016 11:57

Jazz Holiday with the Great Chick Corea

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.

 

Sunday’s show at Ravinia in Highland Park was a triple bill. First up was Doyle Bramhall II. Bramhall’s father is known for his association with Stevie Ray Vaughan. That said, his music is very much in the vein of Vaughan and Hendrix. His outfit was a hot four piece band - two guitars, bass and drums with Bramhall handling the vocals. The set was short and sweet - about 30 minutes - though they we’re the perfect warm up for the acts to follow.

Next up was Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. We’re talking old school R&B at its finest with two guitars, three horns, drums, bass, percussion and the amazing voice of Sharon Jones. To say Jones was “amazing” doesn’t even do her justice. She is truly an astounding performer. A 59-year-old cancer survivor, she displayed the energy of a hyperactive child. The band also shared this energy. Jones’ voice was still very strong and I simply cannot believe she is not more well-known than she is.

Headlining the show was the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The band is led by husband and wife team Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Trucks is possibly one of the finest slide guitar players on the planet. Derek started playing at a very young age. This 36-year-old already has quite a resume. In his years as a musician, this young man has shared the stage with many music legends. His tenure with the Allman Brothers Band alone commands respect.

Susan Tedeschi is a well-respected blue guitar player and singer. Her speaking voice is no comparison to the power that comes out when she sings. Tedeschi and Trucks perform as a twelve piece band, including two drummers, bass, three horns, three backup vocals, and keys/flute.

Their set was a bit too short for my taste so I guess they do their job in leaving the fans wanting more. For the encore, Bramhall and a few members of the Dap Kings joined in. The band’s closing number for the night was Sly Stone’s “I Wanna Take You Higher”. It was almost like a religious experience with Susan and Sharon Jones preaching the gospel of funk.

“Boom Shakka Lakka Lakka”

“Boom Shakka Lakka Lakka”

Truly spiritual in the purest sense of the word. To me, Sharon Jones stole the show. One of the best concerts I have ever attended and the prefect venue for such a show at Ravinia. If the Wheels of Soul Tour passes by in your area, get yourself a ticket. You might want to pack your dancing shoes.

"I was so much younger then - I'm younger than that now."  This is from the chorus of the opening song, "My Back Pages" by Bob Dylan. Those words were pretty much the theme of the evening during the solo performance by Roger McGuinn, the founder of The Byrds, at the Elgin Community College Arts Center.

To begin, picture this - room is dark just before hearing McGuinn's classic twelve-string Rickenbacker begin to hum. The spotlight soon after hits a man stage left who looks much younger than most 72-year-olds, as youthfulness has graced the legendary performer over the years. McGuinn kicks into a jam and we are off. After the opening number, McGuinn relocates to center stage where he sits for story time. Each story was as fascinating as the last as he shares his life freely with the audience. McGuinn played and sang throughout the night, introducing each number with an associated memory.

And what a history this man has had! The music naturally helped move each story along in a way that led us to a whole new experience. Alternating between guitars, his arsenal included both seven and twelve-string accoustics. He also played his Rickenbacker and performed one song on the banjo. He played two sets with a brief intermission sandwiched in between, making fans eager to see how McGuinn would top the first act. He did. The second set opened the same as the first and we were off to more magic from a true contributor to our pop culture as we know it.

It was nice to see a musician who has held up so well over the decades, both physically and on an entertainment level. Seeing him perform live really gave me an aprreciation as to what an outstanding guitar player he truly is. The Byrds are often thought of as an electric folk band, but Roger is clearly a bit deeper than that. McGuinn also showed his sense of humor in between one song after another. One thing for sure, McGuinn is still a highly entertaining performer.

 

The story goes on for this man of many talents. McGuinn has accomplished a lot in his lifetime and from the looks of it, plans to keep going. And I think that his fans hope that will be the case.  

 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 00:00

The Weight Does The Band Right

Former members of The Band, Levon Helm Band and the Rick Danko Band were playing songs popularized by The Band last Friday night at the Elgin Community College Arts Center. It was very nice seeing such well-seasoned players serving up some fine music. This talented musical outfit is simply called The Weight.

Five piece band like the original, there were only a few differences. For one, there was no change in the drummer seat. In the original lineup Levon Helm would often jump on the mandolin and Richard Manuel would occasionally sit behind the kit. Friday night’s show had two keyboardists were playing the entire time, swapping places behind an electric piano and a Hammond B3. The guitar player was also covering the mandolin parts.

The musicianship was flawless. The vocals were very good, but naturally a slightly different blend than the Helm/Danko/Manuel harmonies of the past. Still, there were moments when you could close your eyes and take a trip back to yesteryear.

The Weight opened up with “Stage Fright”, a classic from the album of the same name. About half of the songs from the self-titled Brown album were covered. But they saved the big hits for the end, beautifully executing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “The Weight” and “Up On Cripple Creek”. Ending on a high note, The Weight jumped into encores “Rag Mama Rag” and the Bob Dylan penned “I Shall Be Released”.

Everyone present in the crowd seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show. However, there were too many empty seats for the caliber of entertainment presented. You should have been there.

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