Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Triangles, Like Songs and Minor Keys

There was lots of music calling to me tonight.

I started at the Listening Room where the poet was handing out programs and lamenting her cold, a remnant of a debauched long weekend with another poet.

I didn't need to tell her we reap what we sow.

Dropping off the cookies I'd volunteered to bring, a discussion ensued about the six that had fallen off the cookie sheet onto my kitchen floor.

A musician insisted I should have brought them anyway while another guy told a story of a slice of pizza landing cheese down on carpet and asking whether or not that was fair game.

My grandmother always said if you were hungry enough you'd eat anything, I shared, and one girl said, "Even if it has a hair in it?" I left them to it.

It was time to stake my territory but, lo and behold, somebody large was in my seat.


The funny part was that three different people came up to me before the show started asking what in the hell that woman was doing in my seat.

Dunno, but she was too big for me to take on, so I took the nearest available and made do.

Emcee Chris started after 8:00, as usual ("I got a text and an arm tug telling me I was late"), saying, "I'm pleased to introduce a really neat collaboration. Who says neat? A really cool collaboration, JJ Burton."

The trio included two long-time favorites of mine, guitarist Scott Burton, whose ponytail is now halfway down his back, and trombonist/knobs/percussionist Reggie Pace, he of Bon Iver fame, along with drummer/keyboard player Devonne Harris.

Scott said the project began when he was writing his usual cinematic guitar pieces to which DJ Jneiro Jarel (hence the JJ part) added beats and that collaboration had morphed into this three-piece we were seeing.

It was their first time playing out, not that you could tell given what stellar musicians these guys are (at one point Reggie was playing trombone with one hand and twisting knobs with the other) and after their first prolonged piece, Scott looked up, smiling and nodding at the other two as if to acknowledge how well it had gone.

Sitting in the audience listening to the elaborate soundscapes they were creating, we already knew that.

Sound came from drumsticks on cymbals, triangles and Scott's flying fingers for a truly impressive new sound from some old favorites.

After the break we got Josh Small and Bonnie Staley, both Listening Room alums, with Laura singing back-up for a set of country-tinged songs.

They began with one of Josh's, "Grace Inez" about his 80-year old grandmother followed by a 1938 song, "Hello, Stranger," a song Bonnie had always loved before discovering Josh did too.

Their three voices melded beautifully, talent on top of talent.

Josh's "Tallest Tree" he described by saying, "Most of my songs are self-absorbed and depressing and this one is no different. It's not a love song but it's surely a like song."

Well, if you can't find love, I guess like will have to do.

More covers followed - Gillian Welch's "Red Clay Halo" and Loretta Lynn's "Honky Tonk Girl," which Bonnie described as, "A good song about being sad and young."

"The next song is an original," Josh said, "But don't worry, it's wildly derivative. It's called "Family Farm," but that's disingenuous because we never had a farm. I grew up in Falls Church, Virginia."

The James Taylor-inspired song may have been about an imagined life, but was a solid winner for the voices singing it.

They closed with what Josh called "my rap-iest" song but Bonnie corrected him to, "Your most R & B-est, maybe," a better assessment of a song that blended country and soul.

As Listening Rooms go, the program was easily one of the most diverse ever, making it a music-lover's dream, even if they couldn't sit in their own seat.

But I'm not complaining.

After the Listening Room ended, a bunch of us hurried over to Grace Street for a special edition of Live at Ipanema.

It was kind of a big deal because playing was Nashville guitarist William Tyler, so people kept on coming.

A friend and I ordered pumpkin spice cake to celebrate the season and found bar stools with a straight shot view of the playing area.

Dave Watkins got the crowd warmed up with his dulcitar playing (which Tyler later called "inspiring") and yet again, I watched as first timers went from casually listening to wondering how Dave was making so much sound, a couple eventually coming around to stand in front of him and watch him work his looping magic.

By the time Tyler picked up his 12-string guitar and started playing, Ipanema was mobbed, probably even unsafely so.

People were everywhere, kneeling, sitting and standing to watch him play his instrumental guitar music.

He started by saying that a girl had come up to him before the show and said, "I love the books you're reading," a reference to his song titles which reflect just that.

It turns out that since there are no lyrics, Tyler likes to explain every song, where it came from, how it was written, to set the scene before playing.

So with his idea of "light reading," we heard "Cadillac Desert" about water policy in the West, "Poets and Saints" which he called a "cathedral psychedelic song for a non-existent religion" and once he switched to six-string, "We Can't Go Home Again," which he'd begun writing in Nashville and finished in Dublin after visiting his girlfriend's parents unannounced.

It was funny, when he started playing, the guitarists in the room just stood there slack-jawed, but soon they all moved and congregated directly in front of Tyler where they had an unobstructed view to watch this wizard of the strings.

"Geography of Nowhere" was born out of a 20-hour train ride where the same Turkish folk song played endlessly, "full of minor key melody," he explained.

When he got home, he tried to replicate elements of the song as best he could, making for an evocative piece.

After that, Tyler instructed us, "Everyone needs to sit down," and those who could, did, including himself.

Seated, he played "Missionary Ridge," but only after explaining that the name is that of a mountain range near a Civil War battlefield, one that continued, he said, to have a sense of being haunted.

The music was much the same.

After his set, people flocked to the back to buy his records and rave about the solo guitar they'd just heard.

Up front, people lingered and I chatted for a while with a girlfriend I hadn't seen in weeks before getting up to leave.

"Thanks for coming, Karen," one of the organizers called to me.

What idiot wouldn't take advantage of such excellent free music on a random Tuesday night?

Even seat-stealers couldn't resist.


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  2. Imagine me on Twitter! Who'd a thunk it?