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Weekend Preview May 19-24
Bob Dylan tributes, Deborah Voigt, Tom Paxton, Bill Kirchen, John Kirk and Trish Miller

Celebrating Bob Dylan's 70th Birthday in Style
Paying tribute to the greatest rock songwriter ever

FILM REVIEW: In a Better World and Of Gods and Men
Review by Seth Rogovoy

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Deborah Voigt Headlines Mahaiwe Gala
Opera star to sing arias, show tunes on Saturday, May 21

Famed Spiritual Teacher to Speak on Nonviolence
Mother Maya in free talk at Sruti Yoga in Great Barrington, Mass., on Friday May 20 at 7pm

Special Effects Wizard to Be Honored by Film Festival
Doug Trumbull to be Feted by BIFF

Weekend Preview May 12-16
Cultural Highlights of the Berkshire Weekend

Talk about a small world
Elaine and I grew up together, but only just recently met....

Berkshire Living to Cease Publication
A Farewell from Publisher Michael Zivyak

twiGs Branches Out
Lenox boutique launches new e-tail site

[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

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[MUSIC REVIEW] Nnenna Freelon at the Colonial and Jen Chapin at Club Helsinki

Listen to Seth's audio review of Nnenna Freelon and Jen Chapin as broadcast on WAMC Northeast Public Radio:
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Pittsfield, Mass.
December 1, 2006

Great Barrington, Mass.
December 3, 2006

Review by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, BERKSHIRE LIVING

(Great Barrington, Mass., December 4, 2006) -- In jazz-pop circles, Nnenna Freelon is a big name, and for good reason. She's a marvelous and attractive entertainer, something of a diva boasting a voice with a variety of textures and long, smooth phrasing to match. She can scat-sing, improvise lyrics, and even tells a good story or two, seemingly right off the top of her head.

Freelon's concert at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield on Friday night was billed in large part as a tribute to Billie Holiday, based on her most recent album, last year's Blueprint Of A Lady: Sketches Of Billie Holiday. Freelon did tackle several well-known Holiday tunes, including “Balm in Gilead,” “Willow Weep for Me,” and her two signature tunes, “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.”

Freelon, who has a large, clean vocal instrument, wisely avoided any temptation to mimic Holiday's well-weathered girlishness. Her rendition of “You've Changed” probably owed more to Nancy Wilson's smooth, polished style; her “God Bless the Child,” like several numbers, was given a contemporary feel, with a funk undercurrent and a fusion-like arrangement for her rhythm-heavy band, featuring piano, bass, drums, and percussion.

Freelon sang “Strange Fruit” solemnly and soberly, painting the air with elaborate hand gestures reminiscent of Betty Carter. Curiously, instead of letting this powerful song that presents a brutal portrait of a Southern lynching stand on its own, Freelon tacked on a segue into a happy, upbeat rendition of “Willow Weep for Me,” which, while thematically connected by the central imagery of a tree, was a somewhat jarring musical and emotional juxtaposition.

But Freelon was an expert entertainer, winning the audience over on the basis of her charm and the perception of intimacy, even singing an impromptu “Happy Birthday” to someone in the audience named Vanessa.

Perhaps out of some sense of cosmic justice or irony, on Sunday night Club Helsinki in Great Barrington presented a singer and songwriter who, although she pays no overt tribute to Billie Holiday and sings all her own material, has much more in common organically with Lady Day, both vocally and in spirit. While Chapin is by no means a reincarnation of Holiday, her voice is naturally pitched closely to Holiday’s and comes with the hint of a Holiday-like rasp. While Chapin isn't a jazz singer per se – she's a singer-songwriter whose songs are best described as urban folk-soul –- she surrounds herself with jazz musicians and boasts a natural sense of swing and a dark, poetic moodiness.

In her performance at Club Helsinki, Chapin, accompanied by husband Stephan Crump on bass and Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox on guitars, delivered a string of her own songs touching on love, motherhood, politics, and urban life, with a dynamic intensity and artfulness that takes her out of the realm of folk singer-songwriter and into a unique place where jazz meets contemporary song. She also surprised with three cover tunes, including Van Morrison's “Into the Mystic,” Stevie Wonder's “You Haven't Done Nothin’,” and a song by her father, Harry Chapin. She made each her own, and as good as her own songs are, she should definitely consider doing an entire album of cover songs at some point.

In all, two terrific singers this weekend in the Berkshires, each in her own way touching upon the legacy of Billie Holiday, while both advancing their own unique songs and styles.

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