Sunday, October 31, 2004

Welcome back, blogger

Sorry for the delay between posts, jazz and blues lovers. Over the past six months, I have been kept busy freelancing for the Sun-Sentinel and Jazziz magazine, as well as plugging along in my day job at City Link magazine. Anyway, it's season once again, and there have been some excellent shows in the South Florida area (at least the ones that didn't cancel due to all the recent meterological hoo-ha).

DAVE LIEBMAN. Ever-creative saxophonist Dave Liebman picked up a gig at Alligator Alley, having come down from his home in the Poconos to conduct a free-jazz clinic with Coral Springs-based drummer Abbey Rader at FAU. For his show at the Alley, Lieb was joined by local musicians Silvano Monasterios on piano, Leo Brooks on bass and former bandmate Jimmy Strassman on drums.

Lieb hefted tenor for most of the first set, putting his idiosyncratic phrasing to standards such as "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Body and Soul." For the second set, he switched to soprano, the instrument on which he's rightly considered a master, and the quartet welcomed James Brown's former, and Van Morrison's current, tenor player Pee Wee Ellis to the stage. Turns out Ellis played in bands in the '70s with Lieb and Strassman, and was in town for gigs at the Alley the following nights. Not quite as creative as Lieb, Ellis nonetheless offered a big, beautiful tone, and the band took a lenghty excursion through "All Blues" that proved a hightlight. With Lieb's huge album out on Telarc, Saxophone Summit with Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano, you might have expected the place to be jammed, but it was a Thursday night, and there was a presidential debate, and so turnout was light.

PATRICIA BARBER. What an unexpected treat! I had heard a couple of singer-pianist Barber's recordings and was unimpressed with what I thought was an overly mannered delivery and not particularly pleasant vocal. But she had been garnering raves from fans and critics whose opinions I respect, so I decided to check out her show at the Amaturo Theater a few weeks ago, and was completely blown away.

A completely unpretentious performer, Barber looked somewhat disheveled as she strode onstage, kicked off her sandals and bent low to the piano keys as if listening intently. Her face was a constantly changing canvas, her mouth agape with delight one moment, her eyes squeezed tight with emotion the next. As she sang, her fingers fluttered furiously in the air, involuntarily I imagine -- you can almost imagine her instructors over the years telling her, "Patricia, darling, that's sooo unflattering," and indeed, at times she tightly clasped her hands behind her back as if hearing the voices of those pestering pedagogues. The old couple sitting next to me voiced their exasperation. She: "Why does she have to make those faces?" He: "Maybe she's on something." Me, I was mesmerized.

Oh, yes, and the band was excellent, too. Barber brought along the same crew from her most-recent recording, Live, a Fortnight in France. Guitarist Neal Alger was a standout, going from angular Bill Frisell-like lines to airy acoustic strum à la Pat Metheny. Barber played most of the songs from the recording, including the lovely "Dansons la Gigue!" with lyrics adapted from a Verlaine text, and a slow, almost surreal version of "Laura" that made use of a whispery, Dietrich-like contralto. She also performed a few of her originals, bitter reflections of romance gone wrong such as "Gotcha" ("Are you surprised a battle-ax has an ax to grind?") and the staccato "Pieces" ("The jigsaw in you has left me asunder all over the room"). A take on the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" proved fascinating, all but unrecognizable in its reharmonization as the band stretched out in intriguing directions.

Wedged in between a tribute to Tommy Dorsey and Fats Waller and the Duffy Jackson Big Band on the Gold Coast Jazz Society's calendar, Barber was something of an anomaly for the organization, which tends to skew older. Nonetheless, accidental or not, Barber was a breath of fresh air and a good reminder that sometimes you have to see a performer live to truly appreciate her art.

COMING UP: Reviews of Chris Smither at the Bamboo Room and Chicago Blues on Harrison in downtown Hollywood. Plus, previews of Hollywood Jazz Fest and Riverwalk Blues Fest.

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