A tale of two scenes

From Richmond to New York and back, Lucas Fritz enjoyed performances from four very different bands over the course of a weekend.

Music is alive. It is a way for an artist to release emotions in an aural way in hopes of reaching an audience. Hearing live performances offer many advantages to the listener that a CD or mp3 just cannot come close to.

If you don’t find yourself at The Camel for No BS! Brass’s monthly stint, you clearly don’t know what’s what in RVA Music. Last weekend I found myself among the masses filing into The Camel’s music room to dance, scream, drink, party, and hear some great music. Regularly No BS! invites other bands share the stage with this month being particularly special: The Jeb Bishop Trio performed.

On tour from Chicago, Jeb Bishop is not only a trombonist/composer/arranger but also a well educated man with a graduate degree in Philosophy. His creative and intellectual influences are apparent in his compositions.

As people kept stealthily pouring in, Jeb and the rest of his trio (bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly) took the stage to begin the set with a free improvisation over top of feedback and other raucous noises. Once Frank dropped in with the beat, Jeb dropped the dials, picked up his bone, and began blowing. Bone propelling the drums. Drums propelling the bass. Bass propelling the Bone. The three musicians seemed to never miss a thing the others said as the set progressed.

The audience — including many No BS! members — enjoyed from booths, tables, or sitting Indian-style in front of the stage with looks of amazement and exclamations of encouragement giving the group energy.

Anticipation built as Jeb and company vacated the stage and guys in the all too familiar No BS! tees unpacked and headed for the stage. Without warning or room to walk in the Camel, the band started with one of its heaviest tunes, “Iron Palm.” Screaming. Jumping. Dancing. Fist pumping, the crowd went nuts. I find myself without words to describe the electricity of the room.

Two sets, one sweaty shirt, two tired legs, and a few beers later, Reggie Pace (co-leader and founder of No BS!) thanked everyone for coming and the night came to a close. A quick bike ride home, change of clothes, and I was headed to the good old Greyhound station on Boulevard to catch my 3:15 am redeye bus to New York City, continuing my musical excursion.

* * *

The bus arrived a little after 9:30 am at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42 Street in midtown Manhattan, giving me a good chunk of the morning and afternoon to lollygag around and meet up with old friends. Being in NYC on the anniversary of 9/11 was a very moving experience. The whole mood around the city was quite a somber one.

The first stop on my agenda was an actual musical, Fela! The Musical at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre on 49th and Broadway. The play is set in Lagos, Nigeria, where Fela grew up. The stage was full of booty shaking, traditional African dancing, and a wonderful backing band, Antibalas, an afrobeat band based in Brooklyn. The pacing of the show was very peculiar, taking place entirely during the last concert that Fela gave in his hangout/concert venue known as “The Shrine.” Would it have been too much to ask for a change of scenery? It is broadway you know. Or how about a little more action besides only choreographing dances to Fela tunes?

A whopping two hours and forty five minutes later, I was led back into mid-town Manhattan mentally, musically, and physically exhausted, but ready for the next adventure: Rene Marie’s quartet.

I arrived at the Jazz Standard on the Lower East Side forty five minutes early, just in time to see Rene and pianist Kevin Bales sit down at the baby grand to work out a few last minute harmonies. I patiently sat until 7:30 when the lights dimmed and Rene walked out with Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan, and drummer Quentin Baxter, starting without a word into an original tune of hers called “Vertigo,” originally recorded on the album of the same name. She takes a mumbling scat solo, imitating a conversion with only herself.

The intimacy of the Jazz Standard’s small room, tightly packed tables, and the closeness of everyone to the stage added to the already high emotions of it being 9/11. On top of all that, Rene’s soft spoken dialogue with the audience between tunes grabbed the attention of every single person and jerked at every single one of our emotions. Her set continued with a wonderful homage to her home in Warrenton, VA, titled “Many Years Ago.” Wiping tears from her eyes, she began to speak of 9/11 and how meaningful it was for her to be performing in such a great city on such a historical day. Trying to regain her composure, she began the most beautiful — and most emotionally moving — tune of her set, a medley of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and “Lift Every Voice.”

If there was a dry eye in the room, it was because their soul was nonexistent.

Speaking with Rene after the set was wonderful. Her kind words of encouragement for me to continue with my studies with her “favorite composer” Doug Richards motivated me in different ways than I ever have been before.

Leaving the Jazz Standard, my mind was running a mile a minute, trying to take in all that I had just been a part of. No time to ponder now!!! I had to make it back to Times Square so I didn’t miss the beginning of Kurt Rosenwinkel and the OJM orchestra, the final stop on my musical pilgrimage.

My first view of the Iridium’s stage revealed all kinds of interesting woodwind doubles. Rosenwinkel was currently in the middle of a five-night-long CD Release party with the OJM Orchestra, a Portuguese big band directed by Carlos Azevedo and Pedro Guedes. The group opened the set with a very dense arrangement of “Skylark.” Rosenwinkel played the melody and blew on it with his very distinguishable tone.

Each subsequent tune after “Skylark” was an arrangement of a Rosenwinkel tune by either Azevedo or Guedes. The use of mutes in the brass section coupled with the creative doubling choices in the woodwinds led to very colorful timbres, even though the sound system (whether intentionally or not) was pumping way too much piano and guitar through the house speakers and unfortunately overpowered horns. Whether it was the desired effect of just a malfunction all too common to those of us who play in clubs, Rosenwinkel sounded wonderful soloing over the tunes and the show as a whole was wonderful.

Great music is happening everywhere. If you seek it out and are lucky enough to find such a moving performance as the great dance party that No BS! brings to the Camel or Rene Marie singing from her soul at the Jazz Standard, you will feel things that recordings, YouTube, iTunes, or Rhapsody cannot give you.

But in the words of the great LeVar Burton from his Reading Rainbow days, “Don’t take my word for it…”

photo by Christopher Isherwood

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Lucas Fritz

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