Russell Malone, Stacey Kent, Jackalope bring variety of jazz to the region

Stacey Kent

by Seth Rogovoy

Jazz fans in the greater region are being well-served this weekend with a potpourri of sounds, ranging from Russell Malone’s pop-influenced electric guitar at the Williamstown Jazz Festival to Jackalope’s avant-gardisms at Bard College to Stacey Kent’s tribute to the great male vocalists at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio in Albany.

On his brand-new album, “Playground” (MaxJazz), Malone – who performs on Saturday night at Chapin Hall at 8:30 in a duo concert with pianist Benny Green – offers an accessible mix of original compositions, tunes by Billy Strayhorn and Jerome Kern, and a few pop confections, including “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters and Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” The former sideman to Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr. boasts a clear, fluid approach in the style of Wes Montgomery and a broad vocabulary – he lends “We’ve Only Just Begun” a Latin vibe (throwing in some Burt Bacharach along the way), while his composition “Mandela” builds its impressionistic portrait over a bluesy funk riff.

Sarah Lawrence graduate Stacey Kent salutes the likes of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Nat King Cole, as well as Paul Simon, Ray Charles, James Taylor and Burt Bacharach, on her new CD, “The Boy Next Door” (Candid). The pop-jazz singer, who sounds like a cross between Peggy Lee and Billie Holiday on the album’s 16 tracks, including Dave Brubeck’s “Trolley Song,” Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad” and Chet Baker’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” celebrates the release of “The Boy Next Door” at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio’s Linda Norris Auditorium on Friday night at 8.

For those who prefer their jazz with more edge, Saturday night’s free concert by Jackalope at Bard College’s Olin Hall in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., might be the ticket. As heard on the recent CD, “Saltier Than Ever” (Challenge), the trio -- featuring guitarist John Abercrombie, saxophonist Loren Stillman and drummer Bob Meyer --performs in the tradition of the Jimmy Giuffre-Paul Bley-Steve Swallow trio or the Paul Motian-Bill Frisell-Joe Lovano group, alternating composed melodies with group improvisation. Abercrombie, who has performed with the Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham and the Doobie Brothers, and Stillman, who studied saxophone with Harvey Pittel at Tanglewood, work telepathically, dancing and singing together and finding tonal correspondences on their respective instruments.

Pete Pidgeon and Arcoda

Pete Pidgeon majored in jazz at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he first formed his band, Arcoda. That presumably accounts for the jazzy vibe running through his group’s unique brand of jam-rock as heard on “At First Sight” (Fowl River) – think Steely Dan crossed with the Grateful Dead. The group -- which performs at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington next Thursday, April 29, at 8, as part of the monthly “Off the Beat-n-Track Presents” series -- includes Berkshire native Ben Hoadley on bass, as well as a three-piece horn section featuring members of Soulive, Lettuce and John Brown’s Body. The Berkshires’ own Tom Ingersoll warms up the crowd for Arcoda.

Other jazz events in the region include violinist Alfredo de la Fe, fronting a Cuban dance party, on Friday night at 8 at Mass MoCA in North Adams, the Lee Shaw Trio, at WAMC on Saturday night, and cabaret singer Joyce Lyons in the Bok Gallery at TriArts at the Sharon (Conn.) Playhouse on Saturday night.

Albert Cummings

Blues is cousin to jazz, and Albert Cummings is the Berkshires’ answer to Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you don’t believe me, ask Vaughan’s old Double Trouble bandmates, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, who have taken the singer/guitarist under their wing. They produced Cummings last CD, “From the Heart,” and Shannon is currently helping Cummings record his follow-up CD – his first in a multi-record deal with Blind Pig Records. The CD will be produced by Jim Gaines, who worked with Vaughan as well as Carlos Santana and Huey Lewis. Cummings takes a break from recording and his day job building houses to play a show at Club Helsinki on Saturday night at 9.

Blues fans might also check out “Songs, Blues and Ballads,” a free concert with Michael Erkkinen, Eilen Jewell and Marjorie Thompson on Sunday at 2 at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic.

Bob Schneider

On his new CD, “I’m Good Now” (Vanguard), Austin-based singer-songwriter Bob Schneider adopts a heartland rock style that should appeal to fans of the Wallflowers and Counting Crows. The former Joe Rockhead frontman celebrates the release of his new CD at the Iron Horse in Northampton next Wednesday, April 28, at 7. Charlie Mars and Endochine warm up the crowd for Schneider.

[WAMC, 800-323-9262; Bard College, 845-758-7425; Williamstown Jazz Festival, 800-214-3799; Club Helsinki, 413-528-3394; Mass MoCA, 413-662-2111; TriArts, 860-364-SHOW; Iron Horse, 413-586-8686]

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 23, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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