Friday, May 4, 2007

Music to my ears

I've seen a lot of music lately. Not a surprise, really, since I spent last weekend in New Orleans for weekend one of Jazz Fest. But I've also been listening to some other new (or new to me) music that's worth mentioning.

First - the bad. Last night, I saw Meshell Ndegeocello at the 9:30 club. I've always loved her unique and ever-morphing style, and was looking forward to the show. Unfortunately, Meshell phoned it in. The show was, from start to finish, a disjointed series of what amounted to radio-edits from her catalog. Nothing ever clicked, no effort was made to engage the audience or move outside the most basic interpretation of each number. On top of that, the sound was bad - the bass was smeared, overmixed and washed out the whole sound. You could barely hear the guitar and vocals. The entire uninspired show clocked in at barely over 45 minutes.

Well, that's out of the way, and I don't begrudge her despite my disappointment - everyone's got bad days. A commenter on her myspace page mentions allergies or something, so maybe she just wasn't feeling well. Following the show (which was over by 11:30) I walked back to Utopia to catch up with a friend there. En route from 9:30, I passed no fewer than 8 cafes and clubs with live music plainly audible from the street. It's funny how these things creep up on you. U street is by all rights the new center of the DC music scene, reclaiming some measure of it's cool from the 50's and 60's. I never really gave it a second thought until last night, when you could hardly walk out of earshot of one band before you heard the next one a few doors down.

We ended up at Cafe Nema where The Young Lions were playing their regular Thursday gig. Over the course of the set, they were joined by a few other musicians who seemed to just keep walking in off the street, instruments in hand. The band was rocking - and there was no shortage of surprises as the lineup kept morphing with each cat who walked in the door. Highly recommended. They also play every Friday night at Bohemian Caverns.

Speaking of Bohemian Caverns, I've caught the Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra twice at Bohemian on Monday nights, which appears to be the TWJO's new home. It's an intimate and unusual space, which has been graced by many legendary jazz performers in decades past (see the History page on their web site). The two nights I saw TWJO play, they put on completely different shows, with selections ranging from standards to eclectic original compositions. The performances were consistently excellent.

Back to New Orleans... Thursday night I caught Rotary Downs at d.b.a. on Frenchman. They put on a great show - largely consisting of eclectic tunes somewhere between alt-country and indie-rock. At the same time they aren't ashamed to throw in a few hooks which kept at least one song stuck in my head for a day afterwards. Good stuff - definitely worth the price of a CD after the show.

Kirk Joseph

On stage Friday I was largely camped out at the Congo Stage, which began with Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove. Kirk Joseph, formerly of Dirty Dozen, heads this outstanding funk/rock/jazz group.

When The Saints Go Rhyming In

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue took the stage next, producing a variety of funk-rock, hip-hop, not to mention a good dose of rock-n-roll as they exploited AC/DC's "Back in Black" - an interesting juxtaposition to the rapped-out "When The Saints Go Marching In."

The final act of the day was Soulive, by now an old-school jazz/jam band. However, both their lineup and style have evolved since I've last seen them, most notably with the addition of reggae singler Toussaint as a full-time vocalist. I wasn't familiar with most of the songs they played, presumably many of which will appear on their upcoming album, No Place Like Soul., but the new sound and style that Toussaint brings is fresh, funky and welcome.