Phabulous Phoebe Legere

Hazie Maze at Club Helsinki on Friday night

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 22, 2003) – Singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and multimedia artist Phoebe Legere has a restless creative sensibility, and as a result you never know what to expect. Recent recordings include “Children of the Dawn,” a musical investigation of her Native American roots – she’s part Penobscot and Micmac -- credited to Phoebe Songbundle and Kenneth Little Hawk. Legere also plays Cajun- and swing-influenced music, jazz standards, and experimental opera.

At Club Helsinki on Sunday at 8, Legere performs with her new electronic piano trio, Plutonium, featuring bassist Tarik Shah and drummer Honey Boy Otis. “I keep trying to make white folks play the rhythms I want to hear, but I have decided to stop beating my head against the wall,” said Legere in a recent interview. “Also, this time no electric guitar. I’m sick of screaming. I’m sick of war-mongering guitar players and their iconic macho posturing. I want to sing more sweetly, more gently.”

Legere, who is currently Artist in Residence at the M.F.A. Computer Arts program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, is planning a “calendar show” for Helsinki. “I will be doing favorite songs that evoke the different months of the year,” she said. “With these fine, New York City African-Americans and with a new confidence about the future of music -- a new optimism -- I will be playing my own Legereology music with a band of musical geniuses, improvising using my own tunes as ‘head arrangements’ and then taking off into the unknown from there.” She also promises to sing a new song by Brent Michael Davids, “a full blood Stockbridge Mohican and a fine young composer.”

Friday night at 9, Helsinki presents the sexy, electro-funk of Boston-based septet Hazie Maze, featuring the bluesy yet kittenish vocals of lead singer Amee Jana (think Madonna meets Janis Joplin) and a two-man horn section. The group’s new album, “Bring Us Together,” combines a classic r&b vibe with state-of-the-art trance and electrobeats. Sounds like a party.

Michael Musillami

Speaking of guitarists, Michael Musillami first gained recognition playing in organ combos. Now, his experience playing funky soul-jazz is never far from the surface, even when the accomplished improviser, bandleader and composer is at his most esoteric. Musillami is a skilled arranger and eloquent soloist who never loses sight of his bandmates, a flaw that all too often afflicts his fellow axe-men. Rather, he favors a pianistic approach.

He also surrounds himself with top-notch musicians, as will be the case on Saturday night at the Castle Street Café in Great Barrington, where Musillami’s quartet will include pianist Ted Rosenthal, who first achieved fame as the winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. Since winning the award in 1988, Rosenthal has performed and recorded with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Wynton Marsalis, Art Farmer and James Moody, in addition to releasing seven CDs as a leader, including last year’s astounding work, “The 3 B’s: Ted Rosenthal Plays the Music of Bud Powell, Bill Evans and Beethoven” (Playscape), beautifully showcasing Rosenthal’s extensive talents, particularly on several improvisations built on Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata.

Musillami’s quartet, which kicks off its first set at 8:30, also includes drummer George Schuller, whose resume reads like a who’s who of cutting-edge jazz, including work with Lee Konitz, Matt Darriau, Roy Nathanson, Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas, and bassist Dave Shapiro, who played with Woody Herman, Chet Baker and Howard McGhee.

Folk in Pittsfield

What’s that I hear now ringing in my ears? I’ve heard that sound before. It’s the sound of acoustic guitars resonating all over Pittsfield on Friday night, when there will be a mini-folk festival of sorts at La Choza, and when a world-famous practitioner of the acoustic guitar arts plays at the Berkshire Museum.

Veteran folk-rock headliners Aztec Two-Step headline at La Choza along with award-winning singer-songwriter Amy Fairchild and newcomer Christina Abbott. For over 30 years, Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman have been performing as Aztec Two-Step, noted especially for their sweet harmonies and their literate, literary approach -- one of their best-known songs is called “The Persecution & Restoration of Dean Moriarty (On the Road).” Fowler, incidentally, is a Pittsfield native – Pittsfield, Maine.

Amy Fairchild has been enjoying a great new year. In addition to landing on this critic’s Top 10 list of best CDs and concerts of 2002, last week Fairchild – who got her start in Northampton and who recently relocated from New York to Boston -- won the Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the Pop category. The prestigious award included $2,000 in cash, $5,000 worth of studio equipment and a $5,000 publishing contract.

Fairchild, who won for her song, “Falling Down,” now vies with the winners of the other categories for the overall Song of the Year prize, which comes with a check for $20,000. Fairchild’s album, “Mr. Heart,” also won the Barefoot Rock Indie Album of the Year and Best Female Artist awards, beating out such heavy-hitters as Steve Earle, Jeffrey Gaines, Jonatha Brooke and Aimee Mann.

Relative newcomer Christina Abbott is already making waves, having opened shows for the likes of Lucy Kaplansky, Vance Gilbert and Debbie Gibson. Still in her early 20s, Abbott has garnered comparisons to Erykah Badu and Ani DiFranco for her soulful, funky, sensual, folk-rock vocals and original compositions.

Also in Pittsfield on Friday night, guitarist Bob Brozman will take a break from his weekend residency at the Traditional Acoustic Music Workshop at Shaker Meadows in New Lebanon, N.Y., to perform at the Berkshire Museum at 8. Brozman is a master of many styles – including blues, ragtime, jazz, Gypsy, swing, calypso and Hawaiian -- and a master of many different guitars, including steel resonating guitars. In fact, he is the author of the definitive “History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments.” In concert, as heard on his recent album, “Live Now,” he is a one-man band taking his audience on a journey around the world via music.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on January 24, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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