Amos Lee, “Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song” (CD review)

(originally published in Relix)

Amos Lee, “Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song” (Blue Note)

Soulful Americana, with smart folk and jazz shadings, is Amos Lee’s thing, and he keeps to that path with the first album recorded by producer Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris) at his new East Nashville studio housed in a former church.

The home-brewed sound of these tales of nostalgia, longing and love benefit from the guests, with Griffin providing harmonies on the reflective, mellow title track, inspired by the singer/songwriter’s trip to play Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, and Alison Krauss’ appearance on “Chill in the Air,” further blessed with Jerry Douglas’ handy dobro work.

There’s also the swamp funk of “The Man Who Wants You,” with its clavinets, chicken-picking guitars and honky keys, and the banjo and thumping upright bass of “Scamps,” a story of tricksters, hucksters and crooked politicians.

Suwanee Springfest (concert review)

(originally published at jambands.com)

Suwannee Springfest, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL- 3/20-23

For its 18th edition, Springfest, the annual cornucopia of Americana, bluegrass and roots music in woodsy, moss-fest

ooned Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, seemed to attract a larger group of younger listeners than in previous years. At least, that’s what it felt like when festival favorites the Avett Brothers – who impressed Live Oak crowds long before Scott and Seth ascended to arena tours – packed the Amphitheater for two hours’ worth of stomping acoustic-electric music that had fans pushing to the front and singing along with every word of every song.

The North Carolina-born siblings and their four bandmates again demonstrated infectious high-energy joie de vivre, showcasing some material from the last two years’ “Magpie and the Dandelion” and “The Carpenter” releases. They also turned in stirring versions of the title track from “I and Love and You” and that 2009 album’s “Kick Drum Heart” and “Laundry Room,” as well as a moving “Amazing Grace.” There were also rowdy covers of Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and traditional mountain song “Old Joe Clark” – the last two with a little help from Sam Bush, on fiddle.

The old guard and the younger crowd, though, on stage and off, handily mixed and matched in nearly 70 performances spread across four stages, with some acts playing twice. The Punch Brothers, whose leader, singer and mandolin wizard Chris Thile, has played the fest with Nickel Creek, turned in another of the weekend’s most impressive performances. The quintet excelled with airtight multipart harmonies, imaginative arrangements and locked-in acoustic synchronicity on “This Girl,” “New York City,” Seldom Scene favorite “Through the Bottom of the Glass,” a Debussy piece and, on the encore, a stunning, extended a cappella version of Dominic Behan’s “The Auld Triangle.”

This year’s Springfest was rangier than in the past, with a program encompassing the top-shelf bluegrass of Steep Canyon Rangers; the stomping country rock of Willie Sugarcapps, featuring singers-songwriters-instrumentalists Will Kimbrough and Grayson Capps; the laidback grooves of fest favorites Donna the Buffalo; the jaw-dropping mandolin work of Sam Bush, and his covers of Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, and Little Feat; and the songwriting brilliance and rugged twang-edged roots rock of Jason Isbell. Isbell’s bracing set included “Decoration Day,” “Traveling Alone,” “Stockholm,” and “Cover Me Up,” and shut down with a slamming “Super 8.”

Also making strong impressions were Tallahassee family group The New ‘76ers, featuring the Southern-fried soulful singing of Kelly Goddard; Asheville, N.C. newfangled string band Town Mountain, which dipped into jamgrass; Greensboro, N.C.’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival, its brass-edged rock ‘n’ roll played by young musicians perpetually in motion; prolific singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale; and Beartoe, with the Central Florida group’s three female backup singers echoing and engaging in call-and-response with front man Beartoe Aguilar on swampy blues and gospel-tinted rave-ups.

Springfest, Straight Ahead — Americana, Folk, Bluegrass, Country, More

A quick reminder: Suwannee Springfest, the annual extravaganza of Americana, folk, bluegrass, country, altcountry, and other related genres, returns to the Spirit of the Suwannee Park in Live Oak (north Florida).

I’ll be there for the 18th edition of the acoustic-oriented fest, with my family in tow. We’re really looking forward to seeing the Avett Brothers, the Punch Brothers, Jason Isbell, the Del McCoury Band, Donna the Buffalo, Steep Canyon Rangers, Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush, and a multi-genre supergroup, the Southern Soul Assembly, with J.J. Grey (Mofro), Anders Osborne, Luther Dickinson, and Marc Broussard.

The fest officially starts today and continues until about 8 p..m. on Sunday, with the majority of the headliners slated late afternoon or evening on Friday and Saturday.

Complete details are HERE.

Suwannee Springfest, Live Oak, FL (concert review)

(recently published in Relix; direct link)

Suwannee Springfest, March 22-25, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL

Hippies and hillbillies, and plenty of other folks who wouldn’t fit anyone’s stereotype of a fan of non-commercial music, gathered in the north Florida woods for the 16th annual Springfest, held on a sprawling, scenic campground near the Suwannee River. On tap: another laidback weekend of acoustic music and bluegrass, with strains of rock, blues, jazz, jamband, and even a novelty act (the manic Tornado Rider, with his strap-on electric cello).

A steady rain on much of Saturday dampened spirits a bit, but the fest nevertheless presented untold hours of music on a half-dozen stages over four days. Hardcore pickers were out in force, with much instrumental virtuosity on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and upright bass demonstrated by multiple musicians, including a large contingent from Colorado. The Emmitt-Nershi Band, one such act, turned in favorites including “Restless Wind,” “Wait Until Tomorrow,” and “Colorado Bluebird Sky.”

Also plying multiple strains of music via traditional instruments were Greensky Bluegrass, who worked Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” into their set; the Infamous Stringdusters, with such tunes as the hard-stomping “Get It While You Can”; and fiddle man Darol Anger & the Republic of Strings, who capped their lively performance with a version of “Uncle John’s Band” begun a cappella. Similarly, headliners Yonder Mountain String Band turned in infectious versions of “Rag Doll,” “Blue Collar Blues” and “Southern Flavor”; and during their superjam, with as many as 19 on stage at once, they slipped into the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better.”

The plugged-in bands, including fest regulars Donna the Buffalo, were impressive, too. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s rootsy rock crunch fueled originals and memorable covers of New Orleans staple “Hey Pocky Way,” Hendrix’s “Stone Free,” and Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.” Concertgoers were particularly keen on Great American Taxi, led by singer and guitarist/mandolin player Vince Herman. The quintet, its sound and vibe on “Poor House,” “Fuzzy Little Hippie Girl” and other tunes referencing such influences as the Dead, the Band, and Bob Dylan, welcomed Atlanta singer-guitarist Donna Hopkins on stage for a rousing “Everything Money Can’t Buy.” Her voice — bluesy, soulful, and raspy — was among the most powerful and memorable heard at the fest.

Tampa Bay Area Music Calendar (An Entirely Subjective and Selective Listing)

(Feel free to send concert info, including corrections/updates. This list is not intended to be comprehensive.)

  • Donna the Buffalo, Jan. 7-8, Skipper’s
  • Byron Stripling and the Florida Orchestra: Louis Armstrong tribute, Jan. 7-9 (Straz Center, Mahaffey Theater, Ruth Eckerd Hall, respectively)
  • Michael Ross Quartet, Jan. 9, Palladium Theater
  • Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Jan. 13, Crowbar
  • Marcia Ball, Jan. 14, Skipper’s
  • Mofro, Jan. 15 (w/Daryl Hance) and 16 (w/Damon Fowler), Skipper’s
  • Infinite Groove Orchestra (CD release show), Jan. 15, The Local 662,  St. Petersburg
  • Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Jan. 15, New World Brewery
  • Galactic, Jan. 20, Ritz
  • Drive-By Truckers, Jan. 21, Ritz
  • Terrance Simien with the Gumbo Boogie Band, Jan. 21, Skipper’s
  • SPC Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra with Denise Moore, Jan. 27, SPC Music Center
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Alex Berti Trio, Jan. 28, SPC Music Center
  • McCormick Marimba Festival, Jan. 28-29, USF Music Recital Hall, Tampa
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Ronnie Burrage Trio, Jan. 29.  SPC Music Center
  • Robin Trower with Sean Chambers Band, Jan. 29, Jannus Live
  • Pinetop Perkins & Willie “Big Eyes” Smith with Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Feb. 4, Skipper’s
  • Diana Krall, Feb. 4, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Yonder Mountain String Band, Feb. 5, Jannus Live
  • Dark Star Orchestra, Feb. 12, Straz Center
  • Willie Nelson, Feb. 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Whitney James, Feb. 19, Palladium
  • Arturo Sandoval, Feb. 24, Ritz Ybor
  • Ira Sullivan, Feb. 27, HCC Performing Arts Building, Ybor
  • Old 97’s with Those Darlins, March 2, Skipper’s
  • G. Love and Special Sauce, March 12, Jannus Live
  • The Avett Brothers, March 25, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Acoustic Africa, April 10, Straz Center

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VENUES AND PRESENTERS

Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association

Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater

Crowbar, 1812 17th St. N., Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 241-8600

Dali Museum, 1000 Third Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 823-2767

EMIT series; (727) 341-3463

Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 893-7134

Hillsborough Community College Performing Arts Theater, Palm Avenue and 14th St., Ybor City

Jannus Live, 1st Avenue N. & 2nd Street N., St. Petersburg; (727) 565-0550

La Grande Hall @ Yamaha Piano, 6710 Ulmerton Road #101, Clearwater

Mahaffey Theater @ Progress Energy Center for the Arts, 400 First Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 892-5798

Marriott Hotel, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg

Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg; (727) 896-2667

Musicology, 2576 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater; (727) 723-1000

New World Brewery, 1313 E. Eighth Avenue, Ybor City, Tampa; (727) 248-4969

The Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College, 253 Fifth Avenue. N., St. Petersburg; (727) 822-3590

The Ritz Theatre, 1503 E. Seventh Avenue, Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 247-2555

Royal Theater, 1011 22nd St. Petersburg; (727) 327-6556

Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 791-7400

Sacred Grounds Coffee House, 4819 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 983-0837

Skipper’s Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa; (813) 971-0666

The Studio @620, 620 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 895-6620

Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa; (813) 229-7827

Tampa Bay Blues Festival, Vinoy Waterfront Park, downtown St. Petersburg; (727) 502-5000

Tampa Jazz Club

USF Monday Night Jazz Series

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2010

Vincent Sims and the Sidewinders: A Tribute to Blue Note – Aug. 13, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Sunday Jazz at the Royal Theater: Ron Gregg Trio featuring Billy Pillucere and Richard “Stretch” Bruyn with Jeremy Carter – Aug. 15, Royal Theater, 4 to 8 p.m. (open mic for musicians and vocalists)

Natalie Merchant – August 24, Ruth Eckerd Hall

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers + Joe Cocker – Sept. 16, St. Pete Times Forum

Hammond B3 Summer Spectacular: Joe Crown Trio with Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste + John Gros + Dave McCracken: – Aug. 21, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Kings of Leon + The Black Keys + The Whigs – Sept. 18, USF Sun Dome

Rush – Oct. 1, Ford Amphitheatre

Clearwater Jazz Holiday (lineup TBA) – October 14-17, Coachman Park

Ybor Jazz Fest – Nov. 3-7, HCC, Ybor City

Roger Waters: The Wall – Nov. 16, St. Pete Times Forum

 

Bonnaroo’s Killer Lineup: Phish, Wilco, David Byrne, King Sunny Ade, Bruce Springsteen, Al Green, Gov’t Mule

Some of the country’s big ‘n’ eclectic rock/jam festivals, like Langerado in South Florida, are calling it quits this year. Or, at least, taking a break until 2010.

Bonnaroo, though, is standing strong, with a recently announced lineup that includes a huge gift to fans of a certain highly revered jamband.

Yep, Phish, reuniting in March to play three dates in Virginia, is headed to Bonnaroo, June 11-14 in Manchester, Tennessee.

Trey and Co., slated to play two shows – count ’em – at the music-and-camping fest, are at the top of the bill, along with a long list of acts boasting serious music muscle.

The lineup includes Wilco, David Byrne, Wilco, the Rev. Al Green, Elvis Costello (solo), and the seriously over-exposed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. More: Gov’t Mule, Erykah Badu, TV on the Radio, Band of Horses, Ben Harper, Merle Haggard, moe, Bela Fleck & Toumani Diabate, Galactic, Booker T & the Drive-by Truckers, David Grisman, Lucinda Williams, Gomez, Femi Kuti, Alejandro Escovedo, Cherryholmes, the Steeldrivers, and – yes – Nigerian juju star King Sunny Ade. More TBA.

By any measure, it’s a killer bill.

Jazz Bassists on Parade: David Finck, Ben Wolfe, Anne Mette Iversen, Bill Moring

Jazz sessions led by bassists long ago stopped being the exception to the rule.

Notable bass-playing sidemen — from Ron Carter and Dave Holland (Miles Davis) to Charlie Haden (Ornette Coleman), from Christian McBride to practically every four-string anchor who’s backed Chick Corea, including Stanley Clarke, John Patitucci and Avishai Cohen — successfully graduated from character actor to lead roles, applying distinctive, readily recognized tonal conceptions and compositional approaches to their own projects and tours.

Last year was no exception, with a flood of fine bass-led CDs, including the eclectic Esperanza (Heads Up), a mix of jazz, Latin, Brazilian, pop and funk from rising star Esperanza Spalding, also an affecting singer; Richard Bona‘s rambunctious, live Bona Makes You Sweat (Decca); Charlie Haden‘s Americana-rooted  Rambling Boy (Decca); and  Todd Coolman‘s Perfect Strangers (ArtistShare), an unusual project incorporating tunes penned by little-known composers (see my earlier post).

Also notable were a pair of ambitious sets of compositions and arrangements — Windy City musician Larry Gray’s 1,2,3 (Chicago Sessions), a trio recording with guitarist John Moulder and drummer Charles Heath, and Roberto Occhipinti‘s jazz/Latin/Brazilian/classical project Yemaya (ALMA).

I reviewed several of the above for major music publications.

Herewith, a quartet of other bass-led CDs deserving of greater attention:

david-finck1The David Finck Quartet, Future Day (Soundbrush) — Finck, a reliably supportive presence on sessions by Latin and Brazilian jazz artists, offers a singing tone and typically sturdy rhythm work on this top-shelf collaboration with vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Joe La Barbera.

The swing, on tunes like “Four Flags,” with aggressive solo turns by guests Jeremy Pelt, on trumpet, and Bob Sheppard, on tenor sax, is clean and hard driving. Locke, throughout, is a wonder – casually virtuosic and, on the gorgeous “For All We Know” and elsewhere, he turns in improvisations marked by clever twists and unexpected phrasings.

The arrangements, too, offer pleasant surprises, including a 5/4 version of “Nature Boy” (a redesign suggested by La Barbera);  a haunting take on Wayne Shorter’s “Black Eyes”; and the closing “Firm Roots,” by Cedar Walton, with more bracing improvisations  by Finck and La Barbera.

(Finck’s next appearances: April 25, San Raphael , California with the Manhattan Transfer; April 26, Denver, with the Manhattan Transfer; May 16, Washington DC with Sheila Jordan; May 22, Cambridge, Mass with Steve Kuhn Trio; May 29-June 1, Blue Note New York with John Faddis)

ben-wolfeBen Wolfe, No Strangers Here (MaxJazz) — Wolfe, best known as an eminently reliable, steady-beat wood chopper for the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis, mixes and matches his quartet (tenor and saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Luis Perdomo, drummer Greg Hutchinson) with a string quartet and several guests on a set of dynamic originals.

The strings blend gorgeously with the band on the vintage-sounding, slow-swimming title track (and elsewhere), and Branford Marsalis raises the artistry of the proceedings even higher, playing soprano on the strolling “Milo” and tenor on “The Filth,” a dirty, twisting blues. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford also makes impressive guest shots, on the start-stop contours of opener “The Minnick Rule” and the aptly titled closer “Groovy Medium.”

anne-metteAnne Mette Iversen: AMI Quartet with 4Corners, Best of the West/AMI Quartet, Many Places (BJU Records) — Band meets string quartet, too, on Best of the West, a heady jazz-meets-classical outing led by Danish-born NYC bassist Anne Mette Iversen. New York/New Orleans tenor saxophonist John Ellis turns in a wonderfully buoyant conversation with the rhythm section and strings on the opening “North” and the searching “North West”; and Iversen’s sensitive work as an improviser is showcased on “North East.”Synchronicity is the byword for this set of intense, often intensely beautiful music.

Also included in this two-disc release is Many Places, which has the same quartet, absent of the strings, sounding considerably more loose and relaxed, and turning even more creative. The bright, swinging “Out the Atlantic” and the delicate “The Square in Ravello” are just two of many gems composed by the leader.

billmoringBill Moring & Way Out East, Spaces in Time (Owl) — The two-horn line of trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist Tim Armacost frontloads Moring’s second CD with plenty of grit and heft, starting with funky opener “Sweat,” penned by Walrath.

Moring shows off his talents as a composer on the ballad-to-Latin piece, “Mary Lynn,” which opens with bowed bass and has Walrath turning in a muted solo; the pensive ballad “A Space in Time,” glued together, like other tunes, by Steve Allee’s electric keys work; and the chunky “iHop,” cued open with a grinding bass line and drummer Steve Johns’ chunky backbeat. The quintet drives furiously on Ornette Coleman’s “The Disguise.”