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Ink Notes – 2010
 
Pamela Rose
Jay Howlett
Liz Anah

Ink Notes - 2009
Lavay Smith & RHSL
tRIO
Sean Weaver
Richard Smith & Julie Adams
Deidre Lobo-D’Cunha
Wesla Whitfield & Mike Greensill
Caminos Flamencos
       Rust, Edelmann, Nagano
Daniel Castro Band
Golden Bough
Blue on Green
Verismo Opera
Triskela
Durst & Miller
Patti Wicks
Nigerian Brothers
Seaside Singers
Stern & Runnicles
Morning and Jim Nichols
       Skyline Concert Choir
Houston Jones
Celtic Sands
Mads Tolling Quartet
Norm Coleman
Carmen
Novo Tempo
The Eos Ensemble
The Woods Tea Company
Laurel Ensemble
Oakland Jazz Choir
       Tango No. 9
Patrick Ball
Slavyanka Russian Men’s Chorus
Stern and Nagano
LRM Comedy Workout Room
John Worley
Edgar Cruz & Antsy McClain
Use What You Got

Enter Ink Notes 2008
Enter Ink Notes 2007

CONCERT REVIEW

A night in Pacifica with Ms. Pamela Rose

March 6, 2010

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Pamela Rose

A great song delivered by the right person thrills – ladies and gentlemen, introducing Ms. Pamela Rose.  The singer-songwriter arrived on the Saturday night stage of Pacifica Performances Mildred Owen Concert Hall with her whistle-making band of musicians, Tammy Hall on piano, Kristen Strom on sax, Ruth Davies on standup bass, Jeff Massanari on guitar and Kent Bryson on drums.  With her oh-so-easy-on-the-ears vocal and her ability to really understand the story behind the song, the singer and her band presented a whole bunch of fabulous from Rose’s latest CD, “Wild Women of Song,” Great Gal Composers of the Jazz Era. What Rose does on her record, and in concert, is remind audiences, through top of the line music interpretation, just who some of the greatest hit makers of the Tin Pan Alley and classic blues eras were.  Doris Fisher, Dorothy Fields, Tot Seymour, Vee Lawnhurst, Alberta Hunter, Lovie Austin, Dana Suesse, Bernice Petkere, Maria Grever, Peggy Lee, Kay Swift, Ida Cox and Lil Hardin Armstrong – these composers and lyricists changed lives for the better with their ability to turn a phrase and guide a note.  But unlike their male counterparts, which included gents like George and Ira Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, Cole Porter and George M. Cohen, these ladies’ names did not always carry forward with their tune, and we as a populace have been short-changed because of it.  In concert, Rose takes their songs which include “Down Hearted Blues,” “A Fine Romance,” “That Old Devil Called Love,” “Can’t We Be Friends?” and “What a Difference a Day Made” – and intersperses them with narrative tidbits while a photo of the particular composer or lyricist is spotlighted on the overhead projection.  Because of Miss Rose’s desire to educate and entertain the great populace of blues and jazz citizenry, we are gifted to a glorious re-encounter of chart-making geniuses who helped pave the road that made so many sing.  (P.S. additional compositions by Rose, fan that flame just fine.)

Both in CD listen and in multi-media concert presentation, Pamela Rose’s “Wild Women of Song” is a score of musical stardust from a lady who thrills. (www.wildwomenofsong.com.)

Jean Bartlett is also the Arts Correspondent for the Pacifica Tribune

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RECORD REVIEW

Gravy Jukebox
Jay Howlett's “Carnival Lights”

February 14, 2010

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Jay Howlett
photo by Jennifer Kirkpatrick

It takes some truth to hone a song made by childhood, a knack for explaining big world discoveries with a child-like glee of wind racing against the cheeks.  But when Jay Howlett’s “Red Western Flyer,” (Track 1, “Carnival Lights”), plays out its storied lyrics all wrapped in the rhythmic musings of Americana virtuosity, it flies like big beaming fun all over again.

Released January 1, 2010, Jay Howlett’s “Carnival Lights” is a folksy, kettle-blues melting-pot, riding like a (clean) coal chugging train through prairie, mountain and city.  The record, produced by Jay Howlett and Russell Bond, features Jay on vocals, high string guitars, acoustic 6 and 12-string guitars and banjos.  It also presents a lineup of gifted contributors: Marty Atkinson on electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar and bouzouki, Joe Craven on mandolin and fiddle, Carol McComb on background vocals, Tim Seifert on drums, Rolfe Wyer on bass and background vocals, Dave Nachmanoff on accordion, Kevin Carr on Ulian pipes, Patrick Feehan on liberty carillon and keyboards, Kris Yenny on music box and – Iari Melchor, Kit Buroes and Amanda Kay Olson on background vocals.  All songs are written by Jay Howlett © 2009, Blah Blah Woof Woof Music and Media.

As a vocalist and writer, Howlett is not at all glossy – he is wry and indelible.  His steady voice and rich delivery brings to mind a chimney baritone, a familiar connection sitting on some back porch with Ricky Skaggs and Joe Brown, inspired, inspiring.

“Legend of the Parking Lot” is an all Drive-in, smart doo-wop rockabilly.  “Cornbread and Black-Eyed Peas” is Celtic-bluegrass sustenance, inviting everyone into the dance.  “Carnival Lights” is a Moulin Rouge caravan in I don’t know – Idaho. It’s smart, wonderfully congruent - fabulous.

Howlett’s “Six Years” is mythic, dusty Western cowpoke blues.  “Somewhere Like That” is observant country shuffle and “Calistoga Tractor Parade” is down home blues and celebrated silliness.  “Your Clown” is ponytails, Motown and rock country pop.  “Long Black Dress” is bluegrass revelation and Western Swing sensibility and “The Guardsmen’s Letter” is anthem folk.  The final cut, a re-shoeing of track seven, is an all-ribbing Howlett, Soggy Bottom Boys.

Phenomenal musicianship, vocals and storytelling, and a steady reason to dance – you could build yourself a movie around Jay Howlett’s roots-driven “Carnival Lights” or just put it in the dashboard and sing.

Pick up “Carnival Lights” at www.cdbaby.com/cd/jayhowlett3.

Visit Jay’s website at: www.blahblahwoofwoof.com/jayhome.html

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RECORD REVIEW

Great moments in CD release
Liz Anah “Fade To Black”

February 5, 2010

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Liz Anah
photo by Kevin Stokes

Not every record generates that innate sense of “hot property,” but from song one, that’s exactly the payoff of Liz Anah’s “Fade to Black.”  Produced by Elizabeth Pearlson (a.k.a. Liz Anah), recorded by Peter McConnell and mixed and mastered by Michael Romanowski – “Fade to Black” is the kind of boot-tapping record that pulls them all in: pop and punk rockers, acoustic dream heads - ageless denizens of hip.

The Liz Anah Band is: singer, songwriter Liz Anah on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Peter McConnell on electric violin, acoustic guitar and vocals, Sean Griffin on electric guitars and bass, Hans Winold on bass and David Fuller on drums.

The title track (Liz Anah/Peter McConnell) opens the set and it turns out to be a staple of the Liz Anah lyric: intelligent, independent and catchy with a straight shot.  It starts with a short acoustic reminder of early Paul Simon then eases into (what for me is) imagined shop talk between Chrissie Hynde and Sheryl Crow.

“Yes No Maybe” (Liz Anah/Peter McConnell) has oh so sweet guitar riffs and tough talk lyrics that define, cool girl rock.  “Belong” (Peter McConnell) is Beatles “Strawberry Fields” and late night valentines from the Kooks.

“Counting Sheep” (Liz Anah/Peter McConnell) is Appalachian rock for dancing shoeless feet. Wild horses carry the great gravelly hook and growl on “Doesn’t Feel Like Love” and the mop-top rock “Sorry” (Liz Annah/Peter McConnell) is wonderfully not sorry at all.  “True Colors” (Liz Anah and Peter McConnell) is contemporary go-go boots trucking to T-Bird wheels on Route 66 and the push-play “Little Fire” (Liz Anah) made the four people in my car stop talking and start quaking.

Three more Liz Anah written tunes “Eleanor Says,” “Double Time,” and “Unnecessary Spark” fill out the rest of this CD like rock and passion credibility.

This is a debut album kicking with sharp hooks and an arsenal of extremely satisfying vocals and string passages and real instrumentation clarity. Artist comparisons are only to give the as-yet “Liz Anah” virgin listener - a leg up. As far as starter albums go, this original, killer acoustic rocker, pretty much pops the pill on thrill. (www.lizanah.com.)

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Ink Notes

Blazing one hot mama trail ~ Lavay Smith &
   Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers
   Fire up Pacifica

November 21, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Lavay Smith by Katherine Miller

It is show time at Pacifica Performances and all the musicians look Sunday sharp with Saturday night grins and the occasional Borsalino-type hat.  They play a few rounds before their bandleader comes on stage and their musicianship is the kind-of sustained sweet that just buries the amateurs.  Members of the Red Hot Skillet Lickers are: band arranger and pianist Chris Siebert, Marcus Shelby on bass, Howard Wiley on drums, Scott Peterson on tenor sax, Jules Broussard on alto sax, Danny Armstrong on trombone and Mike Olmos on trumpet.  The band’s “Hard Times” just spills over with pot boiling sophistication.  When singer, composer and bandleader Lavay Smith strolls on stage, she grabs that steam and rides it like a vocal train on fire.  The lady can sing!  The thing about Miss Smith and her band is they just don’t look good, they deliver the goods.  Lavay Smith & Her RHSL performed tunes off their latest CD “Miss Smith to you!” – a pure, jump-for-joy listen. Basie, Ellington, Ray Charles, Hirsch & Rose, Smith & Siebert - these are all invaluable composers that Miss Smith and her band serve with an ebullience shined by the bright light of genius.  This is the kind-of medicine to keep the heart young.  Five stars.  (www.lavaysmith.com)

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Ink Notes

tRIO

November 14, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


tRIO photographed by Niels Horskier

Beautiful sun-kissed breezes over wave and sand, George Gershwin on midnight keys, cultivated clarity layered by smart, sensual artistry – when Thomas Clausen, Celia Malheiros and Carlos Malta, tRIO, played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances Mildred Owen Concert Hall from their recently released CD “After The Carnaval” there was no clutter, or clanging, no worries from the audience that any sky might ever fall – there was only peace.  tRIO is: Danish jazz pianist and composer Thomas Clausen; Brazilian-born, long-time U.S. citizen, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and singer Celia Malheiros; and Brazilian sax and flute player Carlos Malta.  It was a night where notes bloomed, vivid with color and all in the audience felt like stars.  Choros and sambas, mixed and cradled by touches of Liszt, Gershwin, Chopin, Rampal, West Africa and sugarcane - tRIO’s music is art enveloping.  All of tRIO’s music is composed by its members. It took many years before each musician met the other.  But theirs was a long-time discovery just waiting to sing.  (www.celiamalheiros.com/basic3.html)

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Ink Notes

Sean Weaver and his mentoring highway companions

November 7, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Sean Weaver

Like Jimi Hendrix, Sean Weaver can scorch on guitar.  He’s got flavor and dynamics and time machine interpretation of a music that emblazoned the guitar’s path to greatness, long before Weaver was even born.  He can shred through rock and climb all over the intricacies of old blues making songcraft grace.  He played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  He had one of the finest guitarists in the business, Jim Nichols, this night sounding sweet-fine on bass, to keep him good company as well as the very hip trap master Kent Bryson keeping the rhythms jumping and clean.  It’s no wonder Grand Ole Opry inductee Vince Gill calls Weaver a “monster” on guitar.  The “greats” like this guy because Weaver’s got all that “philosophy” on strings.  His gentle vocals do not have the weariness to deliver edge but the man can sing.  Expect his time is nearing for the GRAMMY call to fame.  (www.seanweaver.com)

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Ink Notes

Richard Smith & Julie Adams, kick-butt practitioners of guitar & cello

October 24, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Julie Andrews & Richard Smith

Richard Smith can play anything on guitar and does.  Honky tonk, 6-string stride, classical, cascading rag, smokehouse ticklers, military march, tango, propelling Memphis blues, Romany flamenco and Count Basie “Green.”  His wife, cellist Julie Adams, just matches his string talking with pizzicato, spiccato, glissando, vibrato and some down home thump plucking – plus she can sing.  They played the Mildred Owen Concert Hall Saturday night.  They infused big old fat fiddle and swing tunes with big old fat tones, they painted the romantics with vibrant coloration and when they needed to – they got down and dirty with grit.  Cole Porter, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Hoagy Carmichael, Scott Joplin, Muriel Smith and John Philip Sousa were just a few of the composers that climbed right out of the string talent of a couple of virtuosos and kicked butt.  Plus they are so silly, on purpose!  They could play at a stew shack or a big-named marquee and their audience will beam just the same.  Get yourself a ticket and a CD!  (www.richardsmithmusic.com)

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Ink Notes

Soprano Deidre Lobo-D’Cunha climbs a mighty program to deliver – majesty

October 3, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Deidre Lobo-D’Cunha

Soprano Deirdre Lobo-D’Cunha performed Saturday night at Pacifica Performances Mildred Owen Concert Hall.  She was accompanied by master pianist Charles Worth.

Her program was powerful and demanding.  It included: the soprano aria “Pie Jesu” (Gabriel Fauré), “Domine Deus” from “Gloria” (Vivaldi), “E Susanna Non Vien!” from “The Marriage of Figaro” (Mozart), “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” (Bernstein), “Vissi D’Arte” from “Tosca” (Puccini), “Vier Letzte Lieder” (Strauss), “On Mighty Pens” from “Creation” by Haydn, “Wishing You Were Here” from “Phantom” (Webber); and “Morrò, ma prima in grazia” from “Un ballo in maschera” (Verdi).

Lobo-D’Cunha moved easily through an inexhaustible range, capturing the emotion of each composer’s art, while warming her audience with her passion for music and her ease with both power and vocal tenderness.  Her voice is richly luscious and her approach to music is intimate, regal and balanced.  Brava!

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Ink Notes

Starry, starry Whitfield

September 20, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Wesla Whitfield


Mike Greensill

You hear a song by Gershwin or Porter or Berlin – and even though you’ve heard it one hundred times before, you stop what you’re doing and listen – because it’s one of the good old good ones.  And then you hear that same song sung by singer Wesla Whitfield and the song is totally new again, the feelings are part of you and the time is now not long, long ago.  Ms. Whitfield sang Sunday afternoon at Pacifica Performances Mildred Owen Concert Hall.  She took a song and shined each lyric like a star with her lovely vocal full of whisper, power and so often a smile.  Pianist and music director Mike Greensill, also Whitfield’s husband, carried the expression of those composer voices across the keys with his eloquent, flawless technique.  Dean Reilly joined in the mix doing his erudite storytelling on string bass and pocket trumpet.  Lyricists and composers brought to the table included: Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, Mack Gordon and Josef Myrow, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Ira and George Gershwin.  Songs included: “You Come From Rhode Island,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “Looking At You,” "Heaven, I'm In Heaven," and “Fascinating Rhythm.”  Beautiful interpreters of a song; can’t imagine there will ever be a more paradise version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Bali Hai” then that offered by Whitfield and Greensill.  (www.weslawhitfield.com)

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Ink Notes

Yaelisa & Caminos Flamencos – rare, riveting, rousing

September 12, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Yaelisa by Rose Eichenbaum

In the choreographed music, rhythm and flow of artist Yaelisa and her Caminos Flamencos,  flamenco is not just motion.  It is wildly passionate, full of precision – strong and defiant with intricate percussive foot movements, hand clapping, stirring guitar accompaniment and expert cante jondo.  You hear Roberto Zamora sing and your glass fills – a rigorous, complex vino tinto.  The strings of music director and guitarist Jason McGuire “El Rubio” play and there is healing through 12 beat rhythms, flurried notes and aggressive tonality.  And you see Yaelisa and her company of dancers – dance: supple knee movements, strong, distinctive taps, sculpted hand movements which open like full bodied roses. The Emmy Award winning dancer Yaelisa, Artistic Director and choreographer of Camino Flamencos, performed with El Rubio, Roberto Zamora and members of her clearly masterful dance company Saturday night at the Mildred Owen Concert Hall and pulled the audience deep into their magic, defined by the soul and by the raw emotionalism of flamenco.  Breathtaking! (www.caminosflamencos.com)

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Ink Notes

Rust, Edelmann, Nagano – a pleasure guide to music making

August 22, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Friedrich Edelmann, Rebecca Rust

On Saturday night, a trio of musicians - bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann, violoncellist Rebecca Rust and pianist Joan Nagano, presented not a “product” of virtuosic music but rather a fulfillment of beautiful music shared with community.  Their program was as follows: “Trio G-Major for bassoon, cello, piano,” (Johann Paul Schiffelholz); “Apollon and Marsyas for bassoon & cello,” written specifically for married couple Rust and Edelmann by the late Czech composer Otmar Mácha (1922-2006); “Sonata Op. 6 for cello and piano” (Samuel Barber); “An American Ragtime for bassoon and cello” (Arthur Frackenpohl); and “Sonata No. 2 op. 58 in D-Major for cello and piano” (Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy).  Edelmann on bassoon is courtly, rich with very clean, eloquent lines – each note introducing the listener to the wonder of bassoon.  With a deeply moving involvement with color and shading, Rust on cello captures the blazing, the romantic and even, when required - the bouncy.  Nagano on piano is loaded with technique and dexterity.  She is never rushed in that she takes the time to draw the listener deep into passages but does not let them linger, instead, carrying them into the next “feeling” of the composer so that it is present, isolated, lovely.  Their music selections introduced their listeners into a literature of passions that could only be expressed - through music.  Best of all, they brought their audience to their table, as guests.  Five stars.

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Ink Notes

Pacifica play town blues with Daniel Castro and his band

August 8, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor

Every note counts when blazingly solid guitarist and clear-as-a-bell craggy vocalist Daniel Castro shares his blues – and from show start to end Castro is right into the business of making a whole lotta people happy.  He played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances Mildred Owen Concert Hall.  He drove out songs like: “I Don’t Need No Doctor (I Know What’s Ailing Me),” “I’ve Got A Sweet Little Angel,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Got My Mojo Working” and “Let Me Love You Baby” – like sheets of rain to a parched valley. Castro was joined by T. Moran on drums, Glade Ramussen on bass and Tommy Thompson on keys and like Castro, they are busting with talent.  Ramussen kicks out bottom notes with huge tone and killer agility.  T. Moran on drums keeps it going with a sensual steam rumble and Thompson, who can also stir out a right-on vocal, was just plain smoking virtuosic odyssey on keys.  All of them played the blues so good, that worries really were left at the doorstep, and standing ovations became the natural order of things.  Daniel Castro, a nice guy and gracious friend to his audience, is the real deal, an American blues master. (www.danielcastro.com)

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Ink Notes

Fire in the musical jar with the classic Golden Bough

August 2, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Kathy Sierra, Margie Butler
and Paul Espinoza
(photo by Irene Young)

The musicians of Golden Bough – lyric soprano Margie Butler on vocals, Celtic harp, penny whistle, recorder, bodhran and guitar; folk tenor Paul Espinoza on vocals, guitar, accordion and octave-mandolin; and folk soprano Kathy Sierra on vocals, violin and viola – sing of the stuff of which we all are made.  Hope, love, lost love, pride, silliness, and the important decision of whether to wear pants or a kilt!  They heated up the dance floor, Saturday night in Pacifica at the newly named Mildred Owen Concert Hall, with jigs and reels and hornpipes.  They warmed up the heart strings with music rich with land and history.  They spun mystery and dizzying magic with fire-lit longs such as “Zingaro” and “The Wizard,” both by Espinoza.  They sang songs from their latest CD “Celtic Love Songs” which were instrumentally lush and vocally àlainn.  It has been written, somewhere, that three-part harmony is simply a chord of voices with each voice fluctuating from a higher to lower octave – but an evening’s song will bloom forever when it’s the trio of Golden Bough.  Visit their website at: www.goldenboughmusic.com.

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Ink Notes

Across the rock and Celtic waters with a little bit of blues
Blue on Green plays Pacifica Performances

July 18, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Blue on Green (l to r) Jeff Roberts, Paul Clanon,
Peggy Johnston, Mark Macario, Mark Christensen
and Rob Wullenjohn.  Photo by Jeanne Bradshaw.

When Blue On Green founder Rob Wullenjohn sings, his notes can get nasally hip, like a tuneful Tom Petty in a tenor locomotive.  And like Petty, Wullenjohn is a welcome voice for people looking for something a little different in their rock – in this case, their Celtic Blues and Roll.  His band Blue on Green played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  Members of the band are Wullenjohn on guitar and vocals; Peggy Johnston on flute and vocals, Paul Clanon on upright bass, Jeff Roberts on guitar and Mark Macario on drums.  Their sound is relaxed virtuosity; a joy brew.  They take traditional Celtic and start it out toe-tapping or waltz-like before climbing into powerful blues slide guitar (Wullenjohn), low and clean chocolaty-fat rhythms (Clanon) and soaring mystic rock fluency on flute (Johnston).  P.S., Johnston can also sing.  Adding inventive storied beats (Macario) and a nice string balm of soul on the water (Roberts) the band makes reverent with tradition while raising its stripes to rock.  Like a pure pot still, Blue on Green is a fine Celtic pour.  (http://www.blueongreenmusic.com)

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Ink Notes

Verismo Opera presents
A grand and fiery production of “Il Trovatore”

July 11, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Jamie Bonetto

Before the audience even takes its seat to enjoy a night at the opera with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” book by Salvatore Cammarano, a fiendish old gypsy woman bends over the cradle of one of Count di Luna’s infant sons - and that son suddenly takes ill.  Suffice it to say, if that old woman had never given that little boy the possible “I-put-a-spell-on-you” evil eye – then lovers Manrico and Leonora would have joined hands in marriage and lived passionately ever after.  Additionally, the daughter of the old woman, Azucena, would not have been haunted by grief and given to explosions of monstrous, unable-to-take-back, whoopsie behavior.  However thanks to the maneuvers of the old gypsy and their subsequent consequences, the world has spent 156 years thrilling to one of the most magnificently scored operas of all time – and the story is hot!  Saturday night tenor Frederick Winthrop, who offered a tremendous, heart felt performance as Manrico – directed a small stage, grandly eloquent “Il Trovatore” at Pacifica Performances.  From beginning to end it was right on the money, specifically in this case, the doubloon.  The chorus rose to every technical challenge.  Vismaya Lhi as Leonora’s confidante Inez was regal and beautifully voiced.  John Minágro, with his lovely mahogany bass-baritone, played Count di Luna’s officer Ferrando.  Baritone Chris Wells as Count di Luna, Nobleman of Aragon, has such an impressively nuanced vocal timbre and strong stage charisma, that it is still difficult to believe that his character could be such a bad guy.  Coloratura soprano Jamie Bonetto can sing and she sang the demanding role of Leonora.  She has incredible breath control and a glorious understanding of how to deliver her vocal gifts in a way that raises the collective emotional temperature.  Maryanne Stanislaw has a sonorous mezzo soprano and she soared as the old gypsy’s daughter, Azucena.  Heroically climbing through Verdi’s elaborate passagework, she rode each note like a towering bonfire – truly lighting up an already thrilling production.  Bravo presentation of a Verdi classic.

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Ink Notes

On a musical Silk Road with the Triskela Harp Trio

June 20, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Triskela

Once upon a Silk Road, traders from such places as China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Rome traveled across sea and land to sell their wares and to celebrate discovery.  While modernization and in some cases, isolation, turned that road from use to memory – imagine if there were a group of musicians traveling a like road – this one linking an entire world of music transferred to string, vocals, drum, penny whistle and flute.  This is what comes to mind at a Triskela Harp Trio performance.  They played Pacifica Performances Saturday night.  You saw Celtic harps, you heard: Afghanistan, the Caribbean, Ireland, Guatemala, Venezuela, Sweden, Mexico, the States and more.  Triskela Harp Trio is: Diana Stork on harp, bodhrán, flute and harmony vocals; Shawna Spiteri on harp, bodhrán and lead vocals; and Portia Diwa on harp, penny whistles and harmony vocals.  Their sound is pristine, ethereal, waltz, slip jig, Persian, Latin, thoughtful, beautiful folk with vocal layering and leads that fall gently to the heart.  Teed Rockwell joined the Trio on guitar, electric Warr guitar and world percussion.  A gifted musician, Rockwell offers an inspired, percussive undercurrent that weaves within the Trio’s sound – wave to sand, wind to night.  This incredible performance by the Triskela Harp Trio took listeners both into the world and up through the heavens.

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Ink Notes

Political satirist Will Durst and kick-butt septuagenarian
Lynn Ruth Miller save the world, one guffaw at a time

June 18 and June 19, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor

       
Will Durst and Lynn Ruth Miller

A funny thing happened in Pacifica, Thursday and Friday night at Pacifica’s Sharp Park Restaurant.  Will Durst headlined and Lynn Ruth Miller hosted a top-of-the-line comedy caravan, produced by Wayne Wright of Tahoe Comedy North – and Pacificans (and other Bay Areans) shot out of their weeknight lounge mode, one recliner at a time, to reaffirm that laughter can save the world.  Political satirist Durst is thoughtful, thought-provoking, politically astute and hilarious.  He’s the comedy king who actually stitched the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes.’  He has a knack for taking the most glaringly hey-did-anybody-besides-me-REALLY-get-today’s-headlines and parading it about stage in all its naked and comic truth.  “When everybody in America knows the name of the Secretary of the Treasury, that’s not good,” Durst pointed out.  He listed, among many other remarks, favorite George W. Bush quotes: “When in Rome, do as the Romanians do.”  “The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for ‘entrepreneur’.”  Because many politicians forget to put a plunger in their mouth before their every comment hits the print and air waves – Durst might well be, the busiest man in show business.  As to 75-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller, she speaks for every woman and man who has ever been stunned by those making it clear that they are extremely available for dating.  In Miller’s case however, not only have some of her dates been eyeball rollers but some have had to be rolled over to be sure they are still breathing.  Miller is 75 years of comedy observations, armed and firing, with bull’s eye precision.  Also featured were comics Michael Meehan and Anthony Hill and comics Nancy Lee and Grant Lyon performed in guest spots.  All smart and savvy, with a seriously proud streak of goofiness and all worth Googling – this was the kind of night that reminded if you can find the fun you can find the strength.  Four stars.

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Ink Notes

Pianist Patti Wicks and bassist Ruth Davies – deep in the dreams of jazz

June 13, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Patti Wicks, by Jimmy Katz

 
Ruth Davies

Pianist, composer and song stylist Patti Wicks has got one of those barrel-low and expressive voices that sounds like 2 a.m. at Cleopatra’s Needle in New York City.  Yeah.  Her fingers fall on piano keys like old familiars and she is as smooth on piano as any one jazz virtuoso can be without literally melting into the keyboard.  She played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances and she brought along standup bassist Ruth Davies to share her stage.  Davies, one of the finest, impeccably-credentialed standup bass players anywhere, has an innate sense of swing: always interesting, always building all the right string bridges between melody and rhythm – and always with a bass knack that flows.  Together Wicks and Davies played deep in the dreams of jazz.  The first half of the show was in Wick’s words: “potpourri.”  Loved the way Wicks arranged the theme tune from the movie 1944, “Laura,” it purred.  “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance” was torch and silk.  But it was the second set that particularly framed the Wicks’ magic.  Peggy Lee’s “He’s A Tramp,” “I’ve Got The World On A String,” an Eddie Higgins stroller and a little auditory excellence by jazz composer Clare Fischer – all these tunes were knockout reminders that Wicks on eighty-eights is loaded with lyricism, big draw sensitivity and finger-snap cohesion.  Not typical of a Wicks’ concert: she didn’t chat much with her audience and she was out the door without an encore.  Keep your seat longer next time, Ms. Wicks – you’ve got a whole world of fans.  (http://www.pattiwicks.com.) (http://www.ruthdavies.com.)

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Ink Notes

Enjoying the palm wine with Babá Ken Okulo and The Nigerian Brothers

June 6, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Nigerian Brothers

The music of West African highlife band, Babá Ken Okulolo and The Nigerian Brothers, is heard first by the body.  The tone is upbeat; the rhythm is inviting, pulsing and fun.  Their music reaches across desert, mountain, rain and sand; reminiscent of a Trinidadian-like calypso but with something more – a creative summer night’s after-work song, sweetened by West African palm wine.

Babá Ken Okulolo and The Nigerian Brothers played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  Members of the band are: Babá Ken Okulolo on vocals, calabash, talking drums, classical and regular acoustic guitar, congas and djembe; Soji Odukogbe on vocals, guitar and drum; Lemi Barrow on vocals and shekere; and Pope Flyne on vocals and congas.  Songs presented were about family, growing up, conscience, giving thanks and what could happen when you don’t obey the law.  Using intricately played: acoustic guitars, hand drums, stomping feet, trance rhythms, layered harmonies and storied lyrics – Babá Ken Okulolo and The Nigerian Brothers reminded their listeners that we are all blessed with all the time in the world; even if it is only for two hours.  (http://www.associatedentertainment.com/aec/Music/World-music/Nigerian-Brothers.)

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Bopping for Baroque
The Seaside Singers and the Friday Morning Ensemble party like it’s 1559

May 17, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Seaside Singers

Conductor, singer and musician Judy Tugendreich knows how to put on a show.  Sunday afternoon at Pacifica Performances she rallied the troops – the vocalists of the Seaside Singers and the vocalists and musicians of the Friday Mornings Ensemble – and threw down the gauntlet on letting the good times roll.  The program presented, “Spring: Songs of Love, the Birds and the Beasts,” offered first class performances of vocal chamber music selections, madrigals from the late 16th and early 17th centuries (Act I) and a 1950s journey into rockabilly, sweet charmers and Silver Screen hit makers (Act II).  Both time periods had their fashion fads and the performers didn’t hesitate to don the appropriate duds – noble for the first set, relaxed and carefree for the second.

Members of the Seaside Singers are: (sopranos) April Grant, Judy Heldberg, Teresa Hoskins, Julie Jones, (altos) Lesly Hargens, Ramona Lancaster, Bette Thomas, Vicki Abrahamsohn (tenors) Stan Cossettee, Kevin McGee and Sharon Sauer and (baritones and basses) Ray Descilo, John Lyon and guest member Tom Stafford.  The Friday Morning Ensemble, specializing in secular vocal music composition written during the Renaissance and early Baroque eras, is: Judy Tugendreich, Nancy Grant, Greta Hryciw, Al Miller, Jay Kreuzer and Dwight Taylor. Grant, Hryciw,  Miller, Kreuzer and Taylor also play recorders.

Author, poet, actor, riddle maker and educator Emmanuel Williams presided regally over the entrance into the first half of the ceremony/performance with an eloquent narrative of poetry and a saucy knack for riddle.  And then the music reigned.  Beautifully layered sonorities poured forth from a stage full of singers who clearly love being a part of the wonder of well-blended voices.  Renaissance recorders celebrated and punctuated the spirit and the style of the period.  There were also clearly gifted artists who stepped out from the well of voices to offer solo moments of bliss.

So often a choir stands separate from their audience but under the baton of Tugendreich, the Seaside Singers and the Friday Morning Ensembles clearly let us know – through costume, theatrics and dynamic melodic intimacy that we were welcome to the party – and what a party!  Four stars.

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Wake up and smell the coffee
Stern, Runnicles & Friends serve classical at the Sanchez – and it’s hot!

May 16, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Kay Stern

Somehow, somewhere – some potential audience members got to thinking that classical music performances meant stuffy atmosphere, old money, soul-clamping attire and flaring nostril snobbery.  Maybe that’s because it is too frequently written and talked about by people who know EVERYTHING.  Step aside you card-carrying gasbags!  You’ve nearly crushed classical music from the minds of the many (at least in the U.S.)  I want to hear Liszt tossed in the same radio jukebox that plays Linkin Park and Led Zeppelin.  I want to hear Beethoven blasting over the Safeway loudspeakers as I weigh my decision – Hershey’s kisses, with or without almonds.  I want classical composer Amy Beach to be on the list of catchy tunes on sale at Starbucks.

But hope is here. Kay Stern, Concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 1994, with an explodingly impressive and well-earned résumé and with the violin chops to make Joshua Bell or Josephine the Plumber blast out wolf whistles in appreciation, is making it her mission to “un-stuffify” and “de-mystify” the classical experience.  She and various classical musician friends, often in particular gifted concert pianist Joan Nagano, take chamber music to a great and hip neighborhood joint (for instance, Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley) and knock off the roof with classical music pieces that rock the audience to their feet.  All this leads to this ↓.

Saturday night, violinist Kay Stern with her boss and friend Donald Runnicles (he is the Music Director and Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra) put together a program of: Beethoven, “Piano Trio Op. 1 No. 1 in E Flat Major;” Marc Lavry “Three Jewish Dances for violin & piano;” and Brahms, “Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor Op. 60” (Werther Quartet) – and performed it to an audience that nearly imploded with listening joy at Pacifica Performances Sanchez Concert Hall.  Stern and pianist Runnicles were joined by Thalia Moore, Associate Principal Cellist of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.  Violist Elizabeth Prior, Associate Principal for the Marin Symphony, made the trio a quartet for the Brahms.

OMG! Sure, Runnicles is known for his soaring feats from the podium but who knew he could (and did) take his famous orchestral command and translate it to a surge of tremendous tone, color and articulation on the 88 keys of a concert grand?  Stern, fingering, bowing, charming – fast, intricate violin scales and wonderfully far-reaching arpeggios – additionally was able to effortlessly glide into the compassionate, the lyrical and the sublime and even at one point, a sort of classical hoedown klezmer as required by the Lavry compositions.  Moore played a gloriously rich humanity-voiced cello throughout and violist Prior, master-stringed every unspoken passion in the Brahms’ piece and then some.  The concert selections can be described as spellbinding, inspiring, exquisitely passionate and fabulous.  And speaking of fabo – Stern, Runnicles, Moore and Prior donated their rehearsal time and their performance fees to the nonprofit, Pacifica Performances.

What does it mean?  If Stern, Runnicles, Moore and Prior were given the same airwave time with their “stuff” as Linkin Park and Led Zeppelin were given for their “stuff” – then by golly, we might see Beethoven, Lavry, Brahms and more ka-ching the sales on the iTunes Billboard.

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On the wings of Nashville
Morning and Jim Nichols and friends serenade the Sanchez

May 9, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Morning Nichols


Jim Nichols

You can’t beat the combination of musicians (and marriage partners) Morning and Jim Nichols.  Each time they play Pacifica Performances Sanchez Concert Hall – they’ve never sounded better, never made their audience more spellbound over their bottomless well of musical ingenuity – which just means they are five-star naturals.  Last year the coffee-toned vocalist (Morning) and Chet Atkins-style guitar dazzler (Jim) brought along Grammy-nominated electric bassist Michael Manring, legendary drummer David Rokeach and squeeze-ly satisfying vocal pop-alist Nate Pruitt to sweeten up the sweet treats from composers such as Clapton, Harrison, Sting and the Gershwin brothers.  This year confident groove foundation bassist John Nichols, beautifully toned percussionist Kendrick Freeman and wonder maker Bobby Black on lap and pedal steel guitar joined the Nichols glory road – and what a journey.  Songs made famous by Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Hughie Cannon (Frankie and Johnny) and Sunday services (Down by the Riverside) gathered up all the eloquence of these virtuoso musicians for some crazy, profound talking of countrypolitan sound.  Can’t duplicate this performance but man oh man, it would be some kind of nice to hear these 5 artists together again – right now.

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Happening Haydn and other hits for a healthy earth with the Skyline Concert Choir

May 2, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Skyline Concert Choir

Dr. Jude Navari conducted his 26-voiced Skyline Concert Choir in a concert celebrating Earth Day, Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  Mozart’s “Te Deum” and excerpts from Haydn’s beloved “The Creation” (Part One) with extraordinary accompaniment by Elizabeth Ingber on synthesized organ and harpsichord and a strongly beautiful string quartet led by violinist Virginia Smedberg (particularly noteworthy, blow-out rich virtuosic tones by cellist Chris Yennie) heralded the first half.  The second half headed down a more secular road with tunes which included “Linden Lea” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Earth Song” by Robert Washburn, “For The Beauty Of The Earth” by John Rutter and “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens.  Elizabeth Ingber accompanied on piano.  It’s a joyful choir with the singers maintaining sterling articulation, sensitivity and an easy cohesion and a conductor who constantly embraces each piece his choir performs as a first-time experience in storytelling.  This makes for a celebration of both notes and words.  With the exception of the first bass singer, whose voice just isn’t strong enough for soloing, the soloists provided all the right touches of beguiling and tender delivery.  Vivid voices can produce powerful hymns to nature and with Dr. Jude Navari and his Skyline Concert Choir; the audience was carried along vocal field and flower to the dawn of a new day’s spring.

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There’s a banquet going on – Houston Jones serving up Americana

April 25, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Glenn Houston, Peter Tucker, Travis Jones, Chris Kee, Henry Salvia

With enough combined music credentials to knock Sting into the stadium (to purchase) his front row seat, the members of Houston Jones – Glenn “Houston” Pomianek on lead guitars and harmony vocals; Travis Jones on lead vocals, rhythm guitar and harmony vocals; Peter Tucker on percussion and harmony vocals; Chris Kee on standup bass, cello, guitar and harmony vocals; and Henry Salvia on keyboards, accordion, cowbell and vocals – rode right onto Pacifica Performances Saturday night stage on a steam train of no-nonsense, virtuosic, heart thumping beautiful, full-out Americana music.  They did outlaw swing and spiritual country, home coming gospel, blues, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll and folk with undercurrents of classical and even Broadway.  It was never too loud, it was never too quiet – it was always right to the sigh, smooth.  Quick quips on the talent: Pomianek on guitar, genius; Jones on vocal, sail to the soul sweet; Tucker on percussion, effortless perfection, Chris Kee on strings, inventive and brilliant; and Henry Salvia on piano, a kingpin, boogie-woogie Liszt.  The members pen the majority of their songs and it’s stuff you want in your record collection, especially if you pride yourself on being on the in-the-know side of what is hot.  (Check out www.houstonjones.com.)  Kathy N. Right & Nevapotacowboys opened the show with an all thumbs up suite of songs that mixed lullaby, zydeco, prairie strings and Ms. Right’s firelight vocals.  Lots of easy humor from both bands.  Turns out a pounding headache kept Houston from smiling, but man, oh man, his guitar playing sure made the rest of us beam.  Four stars.

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Celtic Sands, great on CD, working on live

April 18, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Celtic Sands: Ben Roberts, Lara Gardner, and Jon Mendle

Musical strolls through a fantasy mist, Celticgrass (a bit of Americana thrown in with pieces of Ireland, Cornwall, Scotland and Wales), a little bit of gypsy and solid musicianship is at the heart of the trio Celtic Sands.  They played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  The band features: Lara Garner on harp, piano, whistle and bodhran; Jon Mendle on guitar and Ben Roberts on fiddle and mandolin.  They were joined several times by singer Trisha Callero, who has a quietly lovely, articulate soprano.  The Trio took their listeners through “Blue Bonnets Over The Border” and on the “Rocky Road to Dublin” and just in time for the “Donnybrook Faire,” among other roads, some more traveled than others.  While all members of Celtic Sands have a natural affinity for their various instruments, it was Lara Garner who lit up the stage each time she told her audience a story, each time her virtuosic fingers found tone and light on piano, harp, whistle and bodhran, each time she smiled while playing music that she loves.   But ye gentlemen of the Trio, while you may have your instruments down, you’ve got to engage your audience so that they know you are happy to be there.  Not-at-home faces make for not-at-home listeners.  Celtic Sands additionally gave their stage over to singer, songwriter, guitarist Peter Daldry for several songs each set – and he’s a corker with a strong stage presence and a grand way of singing and presenting a song.  Still, he could have used a nice clip and a pound from Garner on bodhran, and maybe even some fiddle and an extra guitar – making the whole show belong to Celtic Sands.  So don’t be too timid for your talent, Celtic Sands, just release the brakes and let the good times roll.

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Fusing smart jazz, Americana, rolling rock and kick-butt violin
The Mads Tolling Quartet

April 11, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Mads Tolling Quartet

Horn lines and furious 16th notes, barn stomping strings, washboard percussion and goose step pizzicato – never thought the violin could wail out such slamming hooks and riffs until violinist Mads Tolling (www.madstolling.com) took to the stage with the Mads Tolling Quartet, Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  Members of the Quartet are: Tolling on violin, Mike Abraham on guitar, George Ban-Weiss on upright and electric bass and Eric Garland on drums.  Theirs is a unique sound: old and new, innovative and highly listenable.  Guitarist Abraham is fluid revelation on guitar, smoking out vivid guitar arpeggios and easy, cool passion. Bassist Ban-Weiss has got all the savvy essentials needed to keep the string pump on articulated tone and style and drummer Garland divvied out rhythmic punctuations of jazz, rock, folk, blues, Bluegrass – Americana, with a nice foundation of soul.  As for Tolling, he might just be the fusion Paganini for the old/new electric audience.  With songs by Tolling, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, mixing in with big helpings of Latin jazz, Middle Eastern, Danish folk and Thelonious Monk – the Mads Tolling Quartet offers the kind of musical menu that meets with a collective jaw drop.  Wow!

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Norm Coleman laces up his spikes to deliver a man for all seasons

April 10, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Norm Coleman


Ty Cobb

The thing about real heroes is they are often full of flaws but they have something that sails them over the ordinary and into the legendary.  Ty Cobb played with the Detroit Tigers from 1905-1926.  You could pick any one of those seasons to long list all the reasons why he was meant to play the game but 1909 was the year he earned the Triple Crown and also topped the league in runs, stolen bases and at bats per home run – and to this date, nobody has topped his lifetime batting average of .367.  The man was meant to play ball.  But he was also a racist, incredibly bad tempered and not much liked by his fellow ballplayers.  This same man in his later years would create a college scholarship for Georgia youth open to students of every race and donate $100,000 to create a hospital system in Royston, Georgia.

Playwright and actor Norm Coleman (web.mac.com/normcoleman/Norm/Home.html) wrote a one-man show about this first inductee to Baseball’s Hall of Fame and it’s called “Ty Cobb – the greatest player that ever played the game.”  It ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Pacifica’s Spindrift Theatre.  Coleman, who is 73, put this project together when he was 70 and has since taken it successfully on the road to various stages in California, Florida and Georgia - including performances at the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Georgia.  Coleman’s “Ty Cobb” is a kind-of rough-voiced grandfather-type who says what’s on his mind with humor, straight-forwardness and a heart not so tarnished after all. With good writing and simple staging, Coleman’s “Ty Cobb” takes a complicated legend and turns the man and his memories into a flawed hero’s field of dreams.

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A couple of pink elephants flatten “Carmen”

March 28, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor

Mezzo-soprano Marsha Sims has a warm, rich articulate tone full of vitality and a natural fluid legato.  Her phrasing, her pitch and in this case her French, sauntered about the stage, present and seductive.  Sims played Carmen in the Verismo Opera presentation of the opera of the same name.  Performed Saturday night in Pacifica and directed by tenor Frederick Winthrop, Bizet’s “Carmen” had some lovely moments with the opera’s leading characters – Sims as Carmen, Nanette McGuinness as Micaëla (a magnetic stage presence and glorious soprano), the always capable tenor Frederick Winthrop as Don José and the handsome-toned baritone Chris Wells as both Zuniga and Escamillo.  The music ensemble conducted by Corey Wilkins was loaded with exceptional talent and pianist Gertrude Dubanski is quite simply, a genius.  But here’s the deal – there were two men in smaller roles that did not have the vocals needed to perform serious opera and their performances were a massive distraction.  Hint to all small opera companies – you can cut on props, costumes and scenery and the audience will still go with you anywhere as long as every voice is up to snuff.  Despite the eloquence of this Carmen’s pros, the pink elephants in the room stole the show.

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Essential listening, Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo

March 21, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo

Composer, guitarist and arranger Ed Johnson and his band Novo Tempo played Brazilian inspired and influenced sambas, bossa novas, baiãos and sighs Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  With Johnson on vocals and guitar the members of his band include: Jennifer Scott on piano and vocals, John Worley on trumpet and flugelhorn, Kristen Strom on sax and flute, Scott Sorkin on guitar, Rene Worst on bass and Jason Lewis on drums.  While together they have recorded several critically acclaimed CDs as Novo Tempo, each member of the band, all long-time friends, has a separate burgeoning career and two in the band, married couple Jennifer Scott and Rene Worst live in Canada.  What that means is there are not enough opportunities to hear them live – and what a shame that is because Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo provide one of those evenings that require a heavy hit on the time machine replay button.  Warm toned lines on trumpet, steamy passages on sax, intricate seaside piano, impeccable guitar expression, symphony-soloed guitar, deep watercolor bass and expressive, Amazon driven drums – and then there are the extremely plush vocals of Jennifer Scott and Ed Johnson that just wrap the listener in inestimable gold.  When Jennifer, Ed and the very vocally capable Kristen Strom shared harmonies on the Johnson arranged “A Certain Smile” – this was easily a peek at paradise.  So what if the members of Novo Tempo have to uproot their lives to play together more often – it works for me! (www.edbjohnson.com)

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Cream of the classical crop — The Eos Ensemble

March 14, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


The Eos Ensemble

A few years back violinist Craig Reiss, a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Associate Principal Second Violin of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, gathered a few musician friends together, nine, primarily from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, so they could play big symphony hall music in more intimate settings.  Reiss, always on the lookout for wonderful pieces that are not heard nearly enough, and uses of instrumentations that also are not heard enough – gathers these friends with him in trio, quartet, quintet or whatever it takes to pitch out the classics.  Saturday night at Pacifica Performances, the Eos Ensemble (in trio) played: “Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38” (Brahms), “Sonata for Violin and Cello” (Maurice Ravel) and “Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87” (Brahms).  Musicians were: Reiss on violin, Eric Sung on cello and Miles Graber on piano.

There was a lovely unity between pianist Graber and cellist Sung on the Brahms’ Sonata.  Sung made glorious use of every intricacy of his instrument’s baritone register and Graber’s piano was graceful and reflective. Inventiveness, color, texture and wind strings took violinist Reiss and cellist Sung through the Ravel movements of late night blustery streams, gypsy jazz, theatric shadows and rodeo cello and violin.  Brahms may have been older when he wrote his “Piano Trio No. 2” but he certainly did not hang back from challenging his musicians and his listeners to a thrilling day on the planet. Reiss, Sung and Graber played through richly complicated insights and demands with a complete commitment to Brahms. Bravo!  With the Eos Ensemble, there is a generosity between musicians which makes their intimate conversation of music all the more beguiling. (www.eosensemble.com)

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The Woods Tea Company and/or
  Irish pub and acoustic Celtic bluegrass, sea shanty,
  kind-of folk band from Vermont

March 7, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


The Woods Tea Company

If you took Emmylou Harris, Garrison Keillor mixed with Kenny Rankin, Doc Watson and Everett Ulysses McGill – changed their names and their faces but kept that certain something that kept sending you back to compare them to the aforementioned well then, you’d pretty much have Patti Casey, Howard Wooden, Mike Lussen and Tom MacKenzie OR the members of the very talented, Woods Tea Company.  Here’s a list of some of the instruments they know their virtuosic way around.  Patti Casey on vocals, including yodel, guitar, flute, pennywhistle and clogboard.  Howard Wooden on vocals, bass, guitar and bodhran.  Mike Lussen on vocals, five string banjo, bodhran, bouzouki and guitar.  Tom MacKenzie on vocals, hammered dulcimer, banjo, guitar and ukulele.  They played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  They did traditionals like “This Little Light Of Mine,” “The Cat Came Back,” “There Were Roses” and “Glencoe Schottische.”  They did songs from their own individual compositional notebooks like “Ghost of Pekin Brook” and “My Monday” (Tom MacKenzie), “Handsome Patrick” and “Old Man” (Patti Casey).  They told silly stories between songs and made their audience answer geography questions, clap in time and sing choruses, loudly.  They even made their audience tear up when their 4-part harmonies layered notes like four lilies on the water.  They are so extraordinarily worth seeing and hearing (yes, you might also catch them on NPR) that my advice is to fly out of your lounge chair and get yourself a ticket to these fun-making toe-tappers who roll out music like a dream.  (www.woodstea.net)

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In a garden of classical magic – the music of the Laurel Ensemble

February 28, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Laurel Ensemble

Saturday night at Pacifica Performances, beautiful pooling piano notes opened Maurice Duruflé’s “Prelude, Recitatif et Variations for Flute, Viola and Piano.”  Then, rich streams of viola poured like sun through morning leaves with flute adding its voice as elegantly as a fawn lilts to pasture.  This lively, fluid and supple exchange between the flutist, violist and pianist of the Laurel Ensemble, traveled through musical light and shadow, fully engaging and transporting its audience with joy.

Jennifer Higdon’s “Piano Trio” was the second piece of the evening.  This featured the pianist, violinist and violoncellist of the Laurel Ensemble.  A contemporary, classic-form composition, the three musicians rode the emotional wave of the piece’s first movement “Pale Yellow” with lovely attuned virtuosity.  On the second movement, “Fiery Red,” the instrumentalists near-blew the roof off as they string-marveled every thrill of Higdon’s brilliant score.

The Laurel Ensemble, made up of six fabulously gifted musicians – Sarah Holzman on flute, Christina Mok on violin, Jenny Douglass on viola, Lori Lack on piano, Ann Lavin on clarinet and Krisanthy Desby on violoncello – is a seat in the garden of musical magic.  For those in a Laurel Ensemble audience, there simply is no better place to be.  Five stars.

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In the land of vocal cool with the Oakland Jazz Choir

February 21, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Oakland Jazz Choir

Got their smiles on, their finger snaps, their eloquence and their abilities to take vocal scat to a soar – this is the 13-voiced jazz swing makers called The Oakland Jazz Choir.  The Choir sang out Saturday night from the legendary stage of Pacifica Performances.  They took their listeners on a big night jam session where rich and textured and, quiet and rolling harmonies met such savory hit makers as Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillepsie and Pat Metheny.  Among other hmmm, hmmm’s, their vocal strolls inside of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” just busted the beams with grooves.  Accompanied by three jazz masters: arranger, pianist Walter Bankovitch, Fred Randolph on bass and Greg German on drums and with a number of vocal aficionados really grabbing the reins on cool – jazz entrusted itself to the men and women of the Oakland Jazz Choir and came out singing.

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Valentine Kisses from Tango No. 9

February 14, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Tango No. 9
Photo courtesy of Anne Hamersky

When the band Tango No. 9 plays, a door past and present opens to reveal a smoky nightclub passion, intimate and classical.  Their instruments, violin, piano, accordion, bandoneón and trombone provide a rhythmic precision embrace between a man and a woman – revealing everything all at once behind hidden glances that deny it all.  Members of Tango No. 9 are: Catharine Clune on violin, Joshua Raoul Brody on piano, Isabel Douglass on accordion and bandoneón and Greg Stephens on trombone.  Tango No. 9 played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  They played the stories of the gauchos of Argentina and the women who adored them for a time on the dance floor.  They played tangos that went off to see the world then came back to Buenos Aires newly loved through the eyes of Parisians, Russians, Italians and more.  They played Piazzolla, Castriota, Joshua Raoul Brody and Greg Stephens.  They played a sublimeness that is the result of instrument virtuosity mixed with innate musical contentment.  Guest artists tango dancers Mila Salazar and Larry Biggs turned up the heat with their dance floor commitment to eloquence.  And then there was guest artist singer Zoltan Lundy.  Dressed to the nines, and with a beautiful romantic vocal that cascaded along each ear in sweetness, Mr. Lundy sent the ladies in the audience in search of hand fans and the men to primp and brush in their debonair.  Sophisticated, curvy, loaded with notes that touch like kisses, Tango No. 9 is quite simply, all that.

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Storyteller Patrick Ball presents: The Legend of Tristan and Iseult

February 7, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Patrick Ball

Saturday night, Patrick Ball’s Pacifica Performance audience drank deep from his storyteller’s draught and learned the tragic but intoxicating tale of Tristan and Iseult.  Ball was accompanied by the stirring ethereal vocals of Shira Kammen who additionally played the vielle and medieval harp with uncommon skill.  The true and strong-voiced Tim Rayborn also accompanied seamlessly with his vocal, lute psaltery and medieval harp.  The talents of Kammen and Rayborn wove beside and within Ball’s legendary narrative in a way that wind and sun embrace sea and shore.  For his part Ball spoke eloquently and richly, hands at times playing his Celtic harp and all the time breathing with words – life into an old and famous tale of lovers locked in a fate where mercy and fairness leave neither crumb nor flowing cup. It was Ball who adapted this tale for his Theater of Legend.  While the medieval story itself has garnered centuries of scholarly discourse, in Ball’s spoken delivery Tristan and Iseult, in all their ancientness, were as real and as relevant as any current heart that has known and lost – love.  Perhaps the true testament to the evening was the utter silence from a full-room crowd that waited beside the fire of Ball’s every word.

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A veneration of voices, the Slavyanka Russian Men’s Chorus

January 31, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Slavyanka Russian Men’s Chorus

There are many adjectives that come to mind when describing the vocal magic of the Slavyanka Russian Men’s Chorus under the guidance of Director Gregory A. Smirnov – and among these words are soothing, exalted, seamless, expressive, pleasing, thought provoking.  But there is also something visual.  From the unified rise and fall of the Chorus’s first piece of music, “Otche Nash” or “Our Father,” suddenly the sight of a lighted chapel in the dark of a shadowy forest fills the mind’s eye and offers welcome and warmth without demand.  The a cappella Chorus performed Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  The Chorus, which offers songs in Russian, Armenian, Croatian, Georgian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Slavonic, Slovenian and Ukrainian, traveled through a richness of sacred and secular music with glorious shades of bass, baritone and tenor that took the audience on a ride over snow-covered mountains and rivers which run, rich and free.  The legendary and charismatic bass-baritone Bojan Knezevic was guest solo artist on the Pavel Chesnokov written, Gregory Smirnov arranged “Nyne Otpuschayeshi” and also on “Velichaniye” (Alexander Mikhailovich Dodonov, arr. Gr. Smirnov).  His deeply powerful voice, majestic and articulate rose like a wave with the lush precision of Slavyanka beside him – it was as if Heaven entered the room.  Slavyanka (www.slavyanka.org), is a beautiful sound and a beautiful gift.

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Sunday in the Spindrift with Stern and Nagano

January 25, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor

Violinist Kay Stern
Violinist Kay Stern

Pianist Joan Nagano
Pianist Joan Nagano

Like many worthy arts organizations, one of the best community theaters in the Bay Area, Pacifica Spindrift Theatre, needs funds. Hearing the call; a couple of profoundly talented classical musicians, violinist Kay Stern and pianist Joan Nagano, signed up to donate a concert for the Pacifica Spindrift Players (PSP) very special one time performances (VSOP).  Stern, currently Concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra has many television and radio appearances under her belt including: PBS’s “Live from Lincoln Center,” CNN’s “Women Today” and Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”  Internationally acclaimed pianist Nagano has been the focus of programs heard at least on KQED and KPFA-FM radio.  Their program for the Spindrift consisted of: “Sonata No. 12 in E major” (Giovanni Battista Pergolesi), “Cantabile in D major” (Niccolo Paganini), “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Summertime” and “Prelude No. 3” (George Gershwin), “Three Jewish Dances” (Marc Lavry), “Sonata No. 3 in C minor, op. 45” (Edvard Grieg) and “Czardas” (Vittorio Monti).  Stern’s touch on violin is graceful, precise, loaded with impossibly impressive technique and pure tones – and is a beautiful gift.  Nagano’s fingertips embrace the rapture of the piano and flawlessly glide through delicate nuance and thundering passage with heart sighing sophistication.  Electric and so very personable, the Stern, Nagano partnership is (and their program was) a ticket to right.

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Grin and enjoy it! LRM’s Comedy Workout Room powers out laughs

January 24, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


LRM Comedy Workout Room
Dan, Lynn, Mike, David, Jim, Tessie and Norm

Paul McCartney may be singing perky about “when he’s 64,” but I like the Lynn Ruth Miller slice of that aging pie.  This 75-year old former school teacher who grew up to be a writer, journalist, painter and actress – hit the comedy circuit when she was 71 and has since been throwing out knee-slapping silliness to fired-up audiences from California to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Who has time to wonder about life as a retiree when you are lining up your mantel with comedy awards, the most recent a People’s Choice Award from the Branson Comedy Festival, and your foot is on the gas pedal to your next headlining gig?  When Miller (www.lynnruthmiller.com) decided to team up with another Bay Area marvel – producer, director, stage, film and television actor David S. J. Guilmette (www.davidguilmette.com) and co-produce ‘Lynn Ruth Miller’s Comedy Workout Room’ where ‘Bay Area Headliners Try Out New Material on You!’ – ka-ching went the audience meter for a fabulous night on the town.  Saturday night Miller and Guilmette brought comics Dan Edwards, Tessie Chua, Mike Moto, Norm Goldblatt and Jim Giovanni to deliver real-life funny bone humor, minus lazy expletives, to Kevin Ramsey’s Sharp Park Restaurant in Pacifica.  With Executive Chef Ramsey providing a lip-smacking feast to those who bought dinner with their laughs – the audience showered the comics with love and affection.  As to the comics, they served up: intellectual hardy hars (Edwards), friendly explosive silliness (Chua), relatable human snortles (Moto), Einstein nerd wackiness (Goldblatt) and creative impressionist harebrained brilliance (Giovanni).  Then there was Miller.  She ended the show by stripping down to her blinking disco granny under-alls, or as she calls it, her gardening outfit, causing her crowd to scream with cheers.  There is something so right about laughing so hard.  Watch the ‘funny’ papers to see when Miller and Guilmette will host their next proud-to-be-there laugh-a-thon.

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Into the bliss with trumpet, flugelhorn and post horn artist John Worley

January 24, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


John Worley
Photo by Derek Chung

Trumpeter, flugelhornist, post horn artist John Worley likes the sound of such hard bop giants as Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.  So he called in three distinctive bari saxophone players, Aaron Lington, Fil Lorenz and Geoff Roach and the members of his WorlView 4.0 quartet, pianist Murray Low, bassist Tom Bockhold and drummer Paul Van Wageningen – to form John Worley and Bari Bari and to see what they could make of this ‘cool jazz’ all plumped up with its elements of gospel, European and African influences.  The septet played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances and they just poured out the sophisticated side of ‘having a ball.’ Offering up tunes by Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Duke Pearson, Dizzy Gillespie, Shorty Rogers, Pepper Adams and more, John Worley and Bari Bari opened up the envelope with swing, eloquence, presentation and masterful musicianship that gave all members of their whistling audience, permanent bragging rights.  Not everybody can take complex harmonic structure and melody and turn it into so-easy-on-the-ears poetry.  Mr. Worley, you, your personal affinity for sublime virtuosity on your instruments and your mighty band need to take a bow. (www.johnworley.com)

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O Brothers, here thou art – a highway of great songs with
Edgar Cruz and Antsy McClain

January 17, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Edgar Cruz


Antsy McClain

Edgar Cruz (www.edgarcruz.com) is essentially full flight command on acoustic guitar.  The fate of rock, classical, and the quick syncopated rhythm of ‘mariachi’ guitar – falls beneath his fingertips with all kinds of angles of beautiful persuasion.  He played Saturday night at Pacifica Performances.  He played (the short list): “Judy Blue Eyes,” “Malagueña,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Bolero,” “Cancion del Mariachi,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Painted Black,” “Classical Gas” and “Hotel California” and crafted each song like an auditory string of priceless pearls.  He invited a guest – friend, singer, songwriter, guitarist Antsy McClain of the Trailer Park Troubadours (www.unhitched.com) to share his stage, round robin.  McClain, with his Buddy Holly swagger, his ‘garden-party’ Ricky Nelson kind of vocal and his slap-you-in-the-head excellent, sentimental and relatable tunes about real living, sang his own songs and made his crowd whistle and holler for more.  Two distinctive stars, one stage and one helluva night for people who love to be in the audience of music masters.  Five stars.

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Agardi, Bastiaans, Mays and Stafford use what they got to swing tune the New Year

January 10, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor


Clockwise from top left: Tory Agardi, Thomas Stafford,
Casey Jones stiaans and Estelle Mays

Producers Christopher Copeland and Victoria Agardi and musical director Dwight Okamura put their heads together to bring a little slice of the cool and the hot to Pacifica Performances Sanchez Concert Hall.  Their show, very much a finger-snapping, sashaying jazz/cabaret review, hit the stage lights on Broadway, blues and jazz standards with solo, duo, trio and four-part vocal pleasers.  Called ‘Use What You Got,’ it starred soprano Estelle Mays, mezzo-soprano Tory Agardi, alto Casey Jones Bastiaans and baritone Thomas Stafford.  Short vocal praise phrases?  Mays, sublime soprano.  Agardi, Broadway melter.  Jones Bastiaans, Montmartre smoky. Stafford, dapper, ‘s wonderful.  Intended as only a one night deal, the show’s main purpose was to share the vocal chords of some really fabulous Bay Area talent and to remind audience members, you can chase away the worries with a beautiful song.  Mission accomplished.  With a bit of scripted dialogue and perhaps a few more numbers to make use of the full quartet’s harmonies, ticket buyers might well take this into a satisfying run.

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