Jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco scratched something off his personal wish list at Blues Alley on Thursday night: the chance to play alongside tenor saxophonist and former Miles Davis sideman George Coleman.
The engagement, which runs through tomorrow, is being billed as a tribute to the late Jimmy Smith, the great Hammond B-3 organist who died in February. DeFrancesco shared a recording session with Smith shortly before his death, and during Thursday's performance he often evoked the master's touch, especially when the tempo was swift, as on "Mack the Knife."
Throughout the show, DeFrancesco marshaled a dramatic assortment of B-3 sounds -- scribbling single-note runs, sustained pedal tones, resonating bass lines and jabbing chords that often simulated a big band horn section. The ties to Smith's recording legacy were all the more apparent when guitarist Jake Langley contributed the sort of blues-tinted lines and ringing octave runs associated with Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery.
Coleman, however, placed his own stamp on the music. The 70-year-old Memphis-born reedman still loves to explore the full range of his horn, from chirping tones to bellowing honks. It took a while for him to get his footing, but his interpretations of "My Foolish Heart" and "Laura" were soulful and self-assured. The latter tune, which alternated bossa nova and swing grooves, also provided a colorful showcase for promising 24-year-old drummer Carmen Intorre.
A feverish, all-stops-pulled-out romp brought the opening set to a close -- the sort of freewheeling performance usually reserved for the other side of midnight.
-- Mike Joyce
Ike Reilly and
Arranging a double bill must be a tricky thing. Surprisingly, Thursday evening at Iota started with the belligerent multi-instrumentalist with the rowdy fan base and ended with the rock-band founder gone acoustic troubadour.
Ike Reilly's local followers have been waiting for his show for a long time, and the frontman of Chicago's Ike Reilly Assassination didn't disappoint. Accompanied by only one sideman, Phil Karnatz (on guitar and drums), Reilly whipped up a maelstrom of enthusiasm. Part of it was the duo's fratty, pseudo-punk attitude, which occasionally spread to back-and-forth taunts with the crowd and a couple of aborted songs. "I'm not feelin' it," said Reilly after just a couple of lines of the delicate "Edge of the Universe Cafe," but soon he picked it up again.
Behind the attitude lies a gifted performer and lyricist. Reilly's songs perch on a precipice with a view of both innocence and experience, past and future.
Johnny Hickman's songs were more soft-spoken and thematically varied -- but every bit as powerful. "Another Song About the Rain," from Cracker's first album, offered a rich acoustic-guitar setting for Hickman's smooth, brooding voice. His humor was droll: In "Friends," a song he said he wrote to crack up Cracker bandmate David Lowery, he sang, "I've got the dirt on you, you've got plenty on me, so I pray we stay together all our days." And "Styling the Dead" managed to be simultaneously moving and absurd, as Hickman portrayed a mortuary cosmetologist. Many of Reilly's near-moshing cheering section had moved on by the time Hickman got going, but his set wasn't a letdown as much as a gentle transition into the subtlety of the late waking hours. It was only midnight when the show ended, but it felt like a gloomily romantic quarter to three.
-- Pamela Murray Winters
Mount Vernon Players
The genius of Victor Herbert has been in semi-eclipse for the better part of a century -- roughly since Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy stopped singing together. But its essential quality guarantees that it can keep coming back as long as there are singers with good voices. That quality is melodic grace, and it can be heard abundantly in the 20 numbers of "Sweethearts," now playing at Mount Vernon Place.
Only one of those numbers, the title melody, is likely to be familiar to many in the audience. It is a gorgeous waltz tune with vapid words: "Sweethearts make love their very own / Sweethearts can live on love alone." But the entire score brings out the vocal attractions of the Mount Vernon Players, and not merely the principals -- Laura Sarich, Jose Sacin, Austin Bitner, Denise Gulley and Joe Price -- but also the supporting players, particularly the women of the chorus. They not only sing beautifully but also act with verve and personality.
One must make allowances for the plot; like most American operettas before World War I, it deals with succession to the throne in a small (and imaginary) Central European principality, concealed identities and lovers' misunderstandings.
It doesn't matter; nor did the occasional hesitation of an actor looking for his lines at a press preview Wednesday. The tunes are what count, and they are wonderful and well delivered.
There will be repeat performances on weekends through June 19 -- Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
-- Joseph McLellan DC Improvisers Collective
Improvisation was the conceptual link between two quite different groups that performed at the Warehouse Next Door on Thursday: the DC Improvisers Collective and Japan's (by way of Seattle) Na. The local quartet drew heavily on jazz's improv tradition, while Na juxtaposed passages derived from rock, classical and even country music. Yet both shared one thing: guitarists who tested the limits of their instruments.
The DCIC, which headlined, was three-quarters of a standard avant-jazz group, dominated by powerhouse saxophonist Mike Sebastian. His bleats and trills usually overpowered the other sounds, including guitarist Jonathan Matis's more conventional playing. Yet Matis took the spotlight twice, first during a Sebastianless passage in which he placed his guitar on a stool and played it like one of John Cage's "prepared" pianos, attacking it with pencils and dulcimer hammers. He also asserted himself during the final piece, making a big noise with fuzz tone, and using slides (one of them actually a vibrator) with both hands. Because closing time was near, the DCIC played only a 30-minute set and seemed to have just begun demonstrating what it can do.
Na is a trio but played Thursday as a duo, singer-guitarist Kazu Nomura explained, because the drummer had to take a class. As Noriaki Watanabe knelt on the floor, playing keyboards and synthesizer, Nomura sang, played and strutted, sometimes dancing right out of his sneakers. The music ranged from rock riffs to madrigal melodies to atonal skittering, interspersed with squeals, crashes and howls, both instrumental and vocal.
-- Mark Jenkins