Monday, March 21, 2011

Triple Music Weekend

As I've said before in this blog, Champaign-Urbana is a great town for live music, and this weekend was another example. We went to three different gigs, each very different and each very enjoyable.

On Saturday night we went to the Iron Post for Desafinado, our favorite Brazilian samba group. The group has changed its membership a bit recently because of some folks moving away and others being busy with family things. This time the group included Elis Artz on vocals, George Turner on guitar, Tom Paynter on piano, flute, and melodica, Giraldo Gonzales on congas, Karim Yengsep on bass, and Luciano Tosta on mandolin, guitar, and various percussion instruments.
Desafinado is experimenting with some new tunes, as well as continuing with well-known Brazilian favorites such as "The Girl from Ipanema," sambas by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the theme from the film Black Orpheus, and Aquarelles de Brasil. They played two sets and we loved all of the songs!
 Elis sings in Portuguese in a most expressive and spirited way, so the meaning of the songs comes across even if you don't speak the language. Her performance just keeps getting better and better. She says she had a few voice lessons last year in Portugal and a few here in town (she was a total novice to performance when she started with this band) and the results really show! Her voice is stronger and her range is greater (and she's more confident as well). But the beauty of the singing is how totally natural it is and how perfectly it expresses her feelings for the songs she is singing.
The rhythms of the Brazilian beat are, of course, part of the magic too. And there was plenty of variety in the musical sounds coming out of the group. The foundation of the infectious beat itself is the conga. Giraldo has three congas and he certainly knows just what to do with them. It's an essential part of what makes you keep time on your tabletop, just like they do in Rio or Sao Paulo ...
Many of these pieces have beautiful and intricate melodies that are perfect for leading into George Turner's expert guitar improvisations. I was so happy to see George playing his acoustic this time and Karim Yengsep his acoustic bass (including some lovely bow work). I've heard them use the electric instruments well too, but to me this music is best acoustic.
Tom Paynter is an incomparable musical talent, and he really had a chance to let loose and show it at Saturday's gig. He had use of a genuine grand piano for a chance, a Baldwin, as well as his flute (and a wooden or bamboo flute for one number) and his melodica (a sort of combination of accordion, keyboard, and harmonica with a unique sound). He manages to play all three at the most appropriate times in hauntingly lovely ways.
A couple of the new numbers were songs from the Northeast of Brazil, from Paraiba where Elis and Luciano are from. The sound of this regional music is very distinctive and really interesting. Luciano adds to the range of sounds with his mandolin, small electric guitar, and lots of cool percussion such as triangle, wind chimes, gourds, whistles, shakers, and bongers (is that a word?)
Karim plays with such intensity and passion on the acoustic bass that you can't help feeling the deeper tones within the songs. The wonderful thing about this group is the way they really do play together, their "esprit de corps," as the French say: the spirit, the sense of connection and being totally immersed together (including the audience) in the music and culture being expressed.

Of course, the evening was great fun most of all because of the best company at my table, my sweet husband David.
Bossa Nuevo
The next afternoon, on Sunday, we went to the Urbana Free Library to hear Bossa Nuevo play.
In the past, this group has performed some of the same Brazilian tunes as Desafinado, but since their singer, Holly Holmes, has gone to Brazil to study, the band decided to expand their repertoire to include tangos and other interesting arrangements of lesser-known compositions by modern composers. There is some overlap in the membership with other bands we enjoy. George Turner (on electric guitar this time) is also in this group, as well as Karim Yengsep on bass.
 Behind George, hopefully you can spot the beautiful and talented jazz pianist Lara Driscoll. We used to hear Lara play with a number of local musicians at V. Picasso, which sadly is closed now. She also plays in some other groups, including with Mikael Templeton, who graced Bossa Nuevo with sterling performances on four horns: alto and tenor sax, clarinet, and flute.
The beat is entirely different for these Argentian tango pieces and quite interesting.
Cody Jensen on percussion, a new musician to us, did a great job and was playing with Andy Miller on bongos, whose virtuosity we've enjoyed regularly in the Cuban guahira son band called Sandunga.
I especially liked the tangos by composer Astor Pizzarelli. There was one long modern piece that was a bit different in tone from the rest of the concert, but the other musical numbers were definitely in the realm of Latin jazz.

The Music of Django Reinhardt
The third gig of the weekend was Sunday evening at the Iron Post with the regular once-a-month appearance of a band called The Music of Django Reinhardt. This group's membership is pretty fluid too and various musicians sit in if they're in town. But the music is always great and lots of fun for those of us who recognize songs that are seventy years old!
The two "regulars" are the leader of the band Jordan Kaye, guitarist par excellence and a guy with an enormous sense of humor, and his happy sidekick and terrific bass player Josh Houchin.
A nice surprise tonight was the goofy but delightful singing that Josh and Jordan did (evidently they always sing when they play with the Prairie Dogs and do bluegrass and country). Also, Chris Reyman was there for the second set with his wild and lively accordion.
But Paul Asaro's amazing performance on the Baldwin was not to be missed! Paul is not always with the group because he tours nationally, currently with Leon Redbone. He is a master of stride jazz piano, an incredible technique requiring extreme two-handed dexterity to say the least, and he seems to know every early jazz piece ever written. Most of the songs that Django played were from the forties, often performed by jazz bands in occupied Paris.
This group does some standards from the time that are well-known and much-loved, such as "Stardust," "Honeysuckle Rose," and "Ain't Misbehavin,'" but they also perform some Django originals such as "Nuages" and "Manoir de Reve" (Django's Castle).

It was a small audience because of U of I spring break and a warm evening with lots of folks probably out riding bikes and kicking soccer balls, but the show was much appreciated. What a great town for live music!


  1. Susan!
    Thank you very much for coming out for Desafinado! Your comments are very nice and king, my friend!
    I hope to see you soon for the blue earrings as well!!