Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lilly Bee & the Johnson Three, then Speakeasy

Speakeasy is absolutely the best for hard-driving rhythms. Saturday night at Patton Alley, the band was an endless defibrillator. It's true that they aren't subtle, but sometimes that's not what I'm looking for. The last time I heard the band, it was opening for JJ Grey at the Gillioz in August. They were playing a lot of deliberate noise in that performance. Saturday night, it was all groove.

Cheers for Lilly Bee and The Johnson Three for their debut gig, opening for Speakeasy. LBJ3 featured all-original songs, created collectively by group, that sounded like unfamiliar but great B-sides from Motown and other 60s-70s repositories. I like the way Melissa Henderson remained relatively calm while belting out these tunes. The sound was a little muddy, somewhat restricting our appreciation of her voice. Dan Maple's use of electric piano, making it sound much like a distorted guitar, reminded me of Keith Jarrett's work in Miles Davis' electric bands that made Live Evil and Live at Fillmore East — squiggly, smeary sounds. That was probably the only time Jarrett ever played electric piano, and the last time he ever did anything someone else told him to do.

Plus two smudgy cellphone photos ...

Shawn Eckels
Melissa Henderson

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cheers for Bella Donna

I really enjoy Bella Donna's agreeable blend of personalities and musical forces. The first set Saturday evening at Patton Alley Pub showed the band working as a BAND —
  • Mike Williamson's steadying influence on bass and in person.
  • Matt Guinn's jaunty early-jazz rhythms on guitar.
  • Drummer B.J. Lowrance's ability to hold back and work within the dynamics of the group. His restraint becomes apparent between tunes, when he idly taps the tom or snare and generates a surprising blast that's louder than anything he's played, yet really not all that loud. One of these nights he'll truly cut loose and leave the place a shambles.
  • Liz Carney's quirky vocal delays, darts and slants.
One of the highlights was "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," with an elegant solo by Williamson switching to cornet(?) and using a Harmon mute. The melancholy feel of the tune really came through the mute.

"How Could You," a tune I heard countless times when I visited one of the band's recording sessions, seems to have evolved yet again since then.

With Guinn's Django-like rhythmic drive, the band steered "Autumn Leaves" and "Summertime" toward early-jazz swing. Interesting how old-timey forms continue to reach new ears, but accompanied by different attitudes. Fifteen years ago, amid the craze for all things retro, acts like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers created caricatures of these styles. Nowadays, Bella Donna and others use the same music simply as worthwhile source material to integrate into a group sound.

Sadly, all this music was lost on many members of the audience. Shrieks, shouts and loud conversation competed with the band. I know I'm out of step here, but the distractions seemed uncalled for given the quality of the music — especially because there was another part of the pub where enjoyably noisy conversation could take place. I think this response illustrates the growing popular impulse to treat music as a commodity — similar to muted lighting, heating or air conditioning and beer as necessary elements of a night out. Or, on a personal level, the layering of music into other realms of experience (running, reading, working, killing time) through iPods and such, in which songs are automated into similar themes suitable for various activities and not recognized as distinctive works of art. I'm just suggesting that the art aspect needs more attention.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

MOJO rocks the Brew Pub

Missouri Jazz Orchestra (MOJO): "You 'N' Me"

Missouri Jazz Orchestra (MOJO) | Myspace Music Videos

Had a chance to hear the Missouri Jazz Orchestra on Friday night upstairs at the Springfield Brewing Company. It's a good room, sonically, to hear jazz, and it was exciting to experience the massive harmonies and interlocking parts stretched out across the sections.

The video embedded above is from the MOJO Facebook page. I think it shows a performance from the band's standing gig at Marty's Sports Bar on Campbell near Walnut Lawn. Note the guy in the funky shorts walking into the shot at the 0:25 mark and making a return trip at about 1:55. The sound is really good, though.

In any case, I am finding more jazz bands and more opportunities to hear jazz throughout the city, and I'm not the only one who's enjoying this trend. The Brew Pub was packed Friday night, and the applause was loud.

Footnote: Congratulations to whomever claimed the MOJO monicker for the band. There are many jazz bands that incorporate mojo into their names, but I'm surprised no Missouri unit has claimed the acronym.