Summer jazz returns to Great Barrington
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 7, 2002) – While the fate of this summer’s Berkshire Mountain Music Festival apparently will be determined at next Tuesday night’s Selectmen’s meeting – whose outcome might well depend on the results of Monday’s election -- plans are moving ahead for the second annual Berkshire Jazz Festival, which will take place at Butternut the weekend of August 24-25.
Once again sponsored by JazzForumArts, the festival this year leans strongly toward the fusion and pop-jazz end of the spectrum. Headliners include Chuck Mangione, Spyro Gyra, Kevin Mahogany and the Caribbean Jazz Project featuring Dave Valentin and Dave Samuels. Also on tap are Maynard Ferguson, Mose Allison, David “Fathead” Newman, Hank Jones, Chico Hamilton and the Bob Mintzer Big Band.
Once upon a time jazz fans were viewed with the same sort of suspicion that the town fathers of Great Barrington cast on BerkFest concertgoers – that they were all a bunch of drug-addled criminals. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 30 years for the false perception that stands in the way of cultural and economic progress in this town to catch up with reality.
In the meantime, sober jazz fans seeking more information or tickets to the Berkshire Jazz Festival can call 914-631-1000 or visit www.jazzforumarts.org on the web.
Rick DellaRatta Trio
Speaking of jazz, tomorrow night the Rick DellaRatta Trio makes its debut at the Castle Street Café. DellaRatta, a native of nearby Schenectady, N.Y., is a bandleader and composer and, judging from his CD, Thought Provoking, one of the rare pianist/vocalists who is equally talented at both.
An alumnus of the New England Conservatory, DellaRatta has toured throughout the world and played many of the top jazz nightclubs and festival stages, including Sweet Basil, the Blue Note and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. His bandmates frequently include such players as Sonny Fortune, Billy Hart, Will Lee, Eddie Gomez and Lenny White. Saxophonist Dave Liebman plays on “Thought Provoking,” which includes a mix of original compositions and classics by Harold Arlen and Bill Evans.
DellaRatta’s gentle, whispery voice is like a cross between Chet Baker and Jimmy Scott, and his piano style ranges from Bruce Hornsby-style funk-pop to the angular experimentation of Thelonious Monk. In addition to his composition for jazz ensemble, DellaRatta has written a symphonic composition, “Permutata,” which was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra at the renowned Abbey Road Studios.
The Patiokings are one of the many bands who, in the wake of Medeski, Martin and Wood, are mining the soul-jazz territory for musical gold. The particular take this Pioneer Valley-based quartet brings to the music is connecting it organically with hip-hop. It’s a subtle trick, but the blend, as heard on the group’s CD, My Friends and I, is at once classic and contemporary.
The Fender Rhodes is lead singer Kjell Ostlund’s keyboard of choice, giving the music its vintage 1970s feel. Jesse Pollack favors a standup acoustic bass, sliding into the spaces left by drummer Sturgis Cunningham and percussionist Jon Moore. The sum effect is G Love and Special Sauce crossed with Isaac Hayes. The Patiokings performs tonight at Red (442-0313) in Pittsfield. Upcoming gigs include the Joga Café in North Adams on June 7 and the Dream Away Lodge in Becket (623-8275) on June 22.
Drive By Leslie
Speaking of keyboard-driven soul-jazz, organist Adam Klipple brings his funky outfit, Drive By Leslie, to Club Helsinki (528-3394) next Thursday, May 16. Klipple’s resume includes such stellar gigs as writing and performing with Joseph Bowie’s Defunkt and Michael Ray and the Cosmic Krewe, and he has also worked with Sun Ra Arkestra, Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Josh Roseman and Smokey Robinson.
Klipple’s New York-based band includes David Phelps on guitar, Gregory Jones on electric bass and Willard Dyson on drums. Klipple is a triple threat on Hammond B-3 organ, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer. The group’s eponymous CD includes 11 original compositions and a swinging version of Prince’s “1999.”
If the Sextons of upstate New York are any indication, apparently a wide-ranging musical palette – as well as musical talent -- runs in families. Martin Sexton is familiar to regional audiences for his bluesy folk style at area clubs and festivals. Now younger sister Colleen Sexton is making a name for herself for her mix of original, country- and pop-influenced folk songs and versions of hits ranging from Patsy Cline’s country classic “Crazy” to Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit “I Will Survive.”
Among Sexton’s strongest original songs are “Scarecrow,” about racism and hate crimes, including the murders of Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd, Jr. Sexton, a two-time Boston Music Award nominee, performs at the Railway Café in North Adams (664-6393) tomorrow night at 8. Gloria Jean opens.
Speaking of family ties, if rock ‘n’ roll had nobility, Shana Morrison would be royalty. To the manner born, Morrison first toured with her father Van Morrison’s Rhythm and Soul Revue in 1993. Since then she has worked with several bands, finally settling into a solo career. Her full-fledged solo debut CD, 7 Wishes (Vanguard), shows Morrison to be just as influenced by the American pop and rock music she grew up on – Joan Osborne and Sarah McLachlan come to mind -- as by her father’s unique blend of Celtic soul. Her father does show up, however, on a couple of tracks, lending vocals and harmonica to his daughter’s version of his “Sometimes We Cry.” Morrison is at the Iron Horse in Northampton on Tuesday.
Deep Natural (Mighty Sound)
Michelle Shocked calls her new music “new dub blues and gospel birdsong,” which is as apt a description as any for her timeless fusion of deep South blues, gospel, reggae, New Orleans and soul music. When combined it’s her own sound, an innovative blend of Shocked’s roots and influences – a second-cousin to the post-apocalyptic sonic landscape that Daniel Lanois conjured up for Emmylou Harris’s landmark “Wrecking Ball.” As always, Shocked delivers her songs as if she’s confessing to you personally, friend to friend. Soul-folk songs like “Forgive to Forget” are instant additions to her canon of anthems of spiritual independence, and the rollicking “Peachfuzz” will be a concert favorite. The album comes with a second disk of instrumental, dub versions of the songs. [5/5/02]
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
Wilco nearly one-ups Radiohead, making one of the oddest-sounding mainstream albums of the early part of the decade. Jeff Tweedy doesn’t quite have the voice to pull off such intimate tearjerkers as “Radio Cure” – you just don’t want to get that close to him – but when the band rocks out, such as on “War on War” and “Heavy Metal Drummer,” they make some of the most joyously melancholic, avant-roots-pop music since the Band’s “Music from Big Pink.” [5/5/02]
Until now best known as a songwriter for Nashville stars like Trisha Yearwood, Kim Richey comes into her own with “Glimmer,” on which she comes across as a fusion of Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow and Paula Cole. Producer Hugh Padgham (XTC, the Police, Sting) bathes Richey’s vocals and her poignant melodies in tasteful pop-folk arrangements, with usual suspects Shawn Pelton on drums, Zev Katz on bass, and Dominic Miller and Waddy Wachtel on guitars. [5/12/02]
Kim Richey is at the Larkin in Albany on Friday, May 10.
Here Be Monsters (Capitol)
English singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt combines the piano-pop sensibility of Ben Folds with the orchestral angst of early David Bowie. The result is sprawling, moody, luxuriously colorful cabaret-pop, ranging from the Brian Wilson-like “Hanging with the Wrong Crowd” to the U2-like “Apple of My Eye.” The 24-year-old Harcourt sometimes sounds like Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and will appeal to fans of Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley. [5/5/02]
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 10, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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