ASO & The Marcus Roberts Trio ***
In one of the most curious (and curiously depressing) developments of this year’s SMF, this closing day performance by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Robert Spano has failed to generate the same level of interest and anticipation as the group’s two previous annual appearances at the Festival.
Word on the street has it that this high-profile event (the only SMF show to take place in the 2,700-seat Johnny Mercer Theater, since Bonnie Raitt had to drop out of the lineup due to a family emergency) has only sold a fraction of the tickets needed to recoup its sizable costs. While that may be bad for the SMF’s books, it stands to be even worse for the impression it leaves.
Put simply: wide swaths of empty seats do not a hearty welcome make.
There’s plenty of stage whispers among the local music community about the root cause of this fairly unexpected turn of events — as the ASO’s prior visits were greeted with almost unmitigated glee and early ticket demand by both the area’s classical stalwarts and fine arts music dabblers who don’t regularly take in shows of this sort, but know a can’t miss event when they see one. It’s true that financial woes may be a contributing factor, but it appears the majority of local classical supporters simply aren’t interested in paying for ambitious programs of this sort (this show features the premiere of a new, specially-commissioned composition by Christopher Theofanidis as well as the great jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and his Trio joining the ASO for Gershwin’s Concerto in F).
Stranger still, some folks are actually grousing that they’ve “seen the ASO already.” Folks, it’s not like seeing Lee Greenwood, where you know in advance exactly what you’ll get every single time. The ASO is one of America’s finest ensembles, capable of ably interpreting most anything put in front of them. If you’re holding out for a tried-and-true installment of “The Greatest Hits of Classical Music,” consider checking your limited sensibilities for a night, giving something slightly offbeat a chance, and realizing the importance of supporting such a worthwhile booking. Listen & Learn: atlantasymphony.org. $45 - $75 at savannahmusicfestival.org or the SCAD Box Office. Sun., 3 pm, Johnny Mercer Theater (Special Pre-Concert Talk for all ticket-holders at 2 pm) - ALL-AGES.
Neko Case, Crooked Fingers ***
Connect Savannah proudly sponsors this buzzed-about double bill that reeks of indie cred. Best known for her role as a member of the Canadian alt.rock collective The New Pornographers, Case is a critics’ darling and fan fave who has steadily risen through the ranks of the alt.country world without sacrificing her integrity or her fierce independent streak. With an instantly recognizable voice that still manages to draw comparisons to everyone from Patsy Cline to Tanya Tucker to Wanda Jackson, the 38-year-old, Va.-born guitarist steadfastly plays by her own rules, refusing to sign with large record labels, and not shying away from releasing covers by an eclectic array of often unexpected musical influences alongside her own original compositions. She’s also gained a deserved rep as a jovial and engaging live performer, and this has gone a long way towards cementing her sizable, rabid —and, it should be noted, diverse— fanbase. Initially a drummer in several punk-oriented bands, she logged time on the Seattle music scene before moving to Chicago and falling in with the Bloodshot Records crowd at the epicenter of that city’s respected roots-rock and Americana community. For some time now, her records and live shows have leaned into an ethereal and bleak realm some have dubbed “country noir,” owing to its ability to evoke the same sort of eerie, distressed moods typically associated with darkly dramatic cinema (think David Lynch or the Coen Bros. at their least loopy). In an amazing testament to her growing popularity even in more mainstream circles, Case’s latest album, Middle Cyclone (released earlier this month) debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts in its first week — her first entry into the U.S. Top Ten. Opening the show will be Crooked Fingers, a Co.-based indie-rock band with a somewhat rotating lineup that is led by Eric Bachmann, whom some may remember as one of the driving creative forces behind ‘90s underground heroes Archers of Loaf. That Chapel Hill, N.C. band enjoyed significant college radio airplay, mostly for their ‘94 effort Icky Mettle. At press time, this show was almost sold out... Listen & Learn: nekocase.com, crookedfingers.com. $20 - $30 at savannahmusicfestival.org or the SCAD Box Office. Fri., 8 pm, Trustees Theater - ALL-AGES.
Savion Glover & The Otherz
It’s rare that so major a talent as Savion Glover graces a market such as ours even once a year, let alone twice. Yet, this will be the second local appearance by the internationally celebrated tap dancer and choreographer in just a few months (he last appeared in a free show under the auspices of the Savannah Black Heritage Festival).
Those who may have taken in that last concert should know that this particular show (sponsored by Connect Savannah) is said to feature an entirely different program, though, as it features Glover’s jazz band The Otherz, plus fellow tappers Marshall Davis Jr. and Maurice Chestnut. The Tony Award-winning dancer is widely considered to be the very best in his field, and follows in the tradition of such other superstar tappers as Gregory Hines, the Nicholas Brothers and others from bygone eras. Routinely termed a “genius” by critics who are not wont to offer such praise lightly, it would appear that if you are even remotely interested in the history or the evolution of this uniquely American form of percussive, syncopated dancing that’s heavy on jazz-like improvisation and musicality, that this show is a wondrous opportunity. Listen & Learn: saviongloverproductions.com. $25 - $75 at savannahmusicfestival.org or the SCAD Box Office. Fri., 8 pm, Lucas Theatre - ALL-AGES.
The Josh Maul Blues Band
You can’t go wrong with this completely free, outdoor show by one of the area’s finest electric blues combos. While maintaining a somewhat lower profile than other regularly gigging area club and festival acts such as The Eric Culberson Blues Band and Bottles & Cans, guitarist Maul’s group is a versatile, polished and skillfully entertaining outfit that draws on an unusually wide variety of iconic band leaders for musical inspiration. You’ll hear echoes of the icy sting of Tx. gunslinger Albert Collins in Maul’s playing, as well as the more jazz-influenced work of Tab Benoit, the fiery fretwork of Jimi Hendrix and the soulful, blues-rock hybrid of Britain’s Robin Trower. This is an upbeat, funky and fun group that deserves wider recognition. Hopefully this unexpected nod by the notoriously picky SMF will earn the power trio some new fans. Listen & Learn: myspace.com/joshmaulbluesband. Thurs., 5:30 pm, City Market Courtyard. Free for ALL-AGES.
Piano Showdown: Palmieri, Butler, Seely & Goldberg ***
One of the Savannah Music Festival’s regularly scheduled annual events, the Piano Showdown is an intimate, nightclub-style showcase of keyboard luminaries that never fails to delight. The notion of combining the solo talents of four killer pianists —each of whom is known worldwide for an exemplary take on a particular style of jazz-based playing— into one multi-faceted concert is both novel and illuminating. Anchored by the longtime SMF standout Eddie Palmieri (in what’s being billed as an exceedingly rare solo performance), this 90-min. blast of percussive melodicism will likely be a thrilling event for young and old alike. The Grammy-winning, NYC-born septuagenarian Palmieri (who played Carnegie Hall at the age of 11!) has issued landmark records and led acclaimed bands for decades. His unique approach to his instrument is rooted around mixing the festive Latin rhythms of his Puerto Rican heritage with the more straightforward jazz approach of such esteemed ivory ticklers as McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk — and the trombone-heavy sound of his highly influential 1960s band Conjunto La Perfecta paved the way for salsa phenom Willie Colón, among others. Blind since birth, La. legend Henry Butler was dubbed by the great bluesman Dr. John as “the pride of New Orleans,” and is perceived by many as one of this generation’s premiere exponents of the classic Big Easy piano style, often mentioned alongside such luminaries as Jelly Roll Morton, James Booker and even Professor Longhair. This show marks his Savannah debut. Detroit-born Bob Seely is another repeat visitor to the SMF who has dazzled audiences in the past with his astonishing facility at the bench and his seemingly complete mastery of the boogie-woogie idiom, as pioneered by his friend and mentor, Meade Lux Lewis. Once an accompanist to the legendary blues vocalist Sippie Wallace (Bonnie Raitt’s idol), this Grammy nominee is —as much as anyone working today— keeping the tradition of stride piano alive in this new century. Aaron Goldberg, the youngster of the bunch, is a highly respected artist best known for his work with ace sax man Joshua Redman. He’s also toured with the Wynton Marsalis Quartet. Listen & Learn: eddiepalmierimusic.com henrybutler.com, boogiebob.com, aarongoldberg.com. $50 at savannahmusicfestival.org or the SCAD Box Office. Wed., 6:30 pm, 8:30 pm, Charles H. Morris Center - ALL-AGES.