? As soon as Staples strolled out on to the stage at Town Hall on Halloween, she lifted everyone in the room with her blazing voice: in the midst of her songs she would bellow the lyrics out with the force of a mighty gale, while in between those songs she spoke with a pastor's tone, raising emotions and hope from those who had come to see her, and spending only brief moments catching her breath. She thrived in an air of accumulated inspiration; her faith and her drive have clearly only grown stronger in the decades since her family sang as the musical accompaniment to the Civil Rights Movement.
Unlike most singers of her stature, Staples didn't use her time on stage as an opportunity to parade through her most well known songs, but instead focused on newer material, specifically from her recent album You Are Not Alone, gracefully finding new words and melodies for the same tireless message. After an opening gospel number that she sang a cappella with her glowing team of back-up singers, Staples and her tight, rocking band charged into a rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Wrote a Song for Everyone" and the show rolled right on into soulful bliss from there.
certainly isn't a blatantly aggressive saxophonist like many of the reedmen who focus on free improvisation. He tends more to just sit there floating out thoughts like the enticing street prophet found in the corner of a coffee shop. He paws around like a stray dog, unafraid of drifting, half-words, and extended silence. Performing two extended pieces of free improv at the Chapel Performance Space with pianist Gust Burns and percussionist Mark Kaylor, Wright acrobatically snorted and dribbled his way through the trio's explorations, every now and then looking up with an innocent "Who, me?" expression, snorted, like a pouting rhinoceros. Wright practically sweated improv wisdom, deploying techniques such as playing without a mouthpiece and using his thigh as an impromptu mute.
Like Wright, Burns also takes a somewhat unexpected approach to his instrument. He rarely invested his playing in dynamics-based attacks, instead preferring to scribble along in a rather authorial fashion, playing out a full line as if he were composing a sentence and allowing his readers to determine the tone with their own sense of discretion. With his piano positioned in the shadows at the side of the stage, Burns spent the concert plotting in whispers, bringing the pot to a boil. Kaylor was the great rationalizer, who voiced his conclusions in terms of scrapes, bonks, and puffs.
supplied upright bass and drums. The proceedings began innocently enough with a cruise through Strayhorn's "Upper Manhattan Medical Group," but from there submerged into a more contemplative, rolling number that quickly did away with the opener's peppy tempo. These first two pieces served to introduce the group's intent to turn over more than just a couple of the stones that their unusual ensemble presented them with. Despite the presence of two other Ellington Orchestra standards no two pieces could be said to have shown the same attitude.
While Horvitz and Kjaergaard were occupying the two grand pianos with an enticing game of table tennis (or perhaps checkers), Flory-Barnes and Lewis seemed to be enjoying a private rhythm party in their corner of the stage. An adventurous suite in the middle of the performance brought the best out of everyone, coaxing the players' abilities out with a toss-up of tempo changes, obstacles, and turnabouts. It was a cat-and-mouse affair, a cartoonish chase scene that took all of the wit and focus that the players had to offer. After all this, the performance seemed to fade to a close with the next piece's gentle conclusion, but there was just enough time for Strayhorn's conveniently named "Johnny Come Lately."