Saturday, December 12, 2009

Where I was last Saturday

Playing right now: Nellie McKay - Normal As Blueberry Pie (A Tribute to Doris Day)
It's kind of a strange introduction to Nellie McKay - picking up her Doris Day tribute album before getting any of her original albums, but this is pretty good. She has a great voice, naturally the songs are good, and even the ones with the perky-gal-swwwwwwingin'-with-a-band don't sound too treacly.

This time last week I was sitting in the very last row of seats at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre here in Pittsburgh checking out Steve Nelson. Originally from Pittsburgh, this vibraphonist left in the late '70s and went on to play with people like Grant Green and David "Fathead" Newman before eventually hooking up with Dave Holland in his incredible quintet, which also included Chris Potter.

While Holland's band spent a lot of time making songs in odd tempos swing like crazy, Nelson's own work is a bit more traditional but still really exciting. Among the pieces he played, his quartet tore through a fast version of Jobim's "Wave" wherein Nelson kept finishing phrases with a distinct clip to them. Mulgrew Miller - a long time friend and collaborator of Nelson's - played whole chords in his solo that he turned into melodic ideas. As far as I'm concerned, a musician has to really have it together to pull of a convincing version of "'Round Midnight," and Nelson did, with double-time phrases that he kept pulling back into regular time, and a cadenza that lasted about 30 seconds before the rest of the band came in for the final chord.

The Kelly-Strayhorn was packed to the gills that night. Part of that could be due to the fact that (from what I heard) 65 people in the audience were members of Nelson's family, but regardless it was great to see that many people at jazz show that was put on by an independent organization like the Kente Arts Alliance. Last year at this time, they brought Billy Bang which was also an amazing show, but which didn't draw as well as this one. Hopefully more people will come out in the future for these kinds of shows, whether they know the musician's work already or whether it's new to them.

When that show was done I wandered over to Sonny's Tavern (with a stop in between at Crazy Mocha for a 10:30 spot of joe) to catch the Beagle Brothers' four-year anniversary show. It wasn't as packed as I thought it would be, but they were still tearing it up. And cutting up.

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