July 2007

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Iva Bittova at Knitting Factory

Iva Bittová is an artist of many talents. As a singer and violinist, she's recorded improv, classical and adaptations of folk songs from her native Czech Republic. But it's in her solo concerts that the various aspects of her work all come together. And - with the exception of a brief appearance at the Bang on a Can marathon - her concert at the Knitting Factory (Jun. 13th) was her first solo show in New York City in close to a decade. While she mostly used traditional Czech songs as starting points, her adeptness at classical performance (she's recorded Bartók and Janácek and is featured on a new ECM collection of vocal works by the Slovakian composer Vladimir Godár) and improv (working most notably with Fred Frith) showed through in her playing and as an actor she knows well how to charm an audience. With just her violin - the microphone was there for only the occasional bit of punctuation - she moved around the stage and around the floor, delivering songs with what seemed to be utter spontaneity. The mood she projected would turn from childlike wonder to contemplative soliloquy in a heartbeat and just as quickly she would turn back to her instrument, turn the focus to 'high' art and duet with herself with remarkable precision, singing or whistling along with her violin. After a full 40 minutes and a much-demanded encore, she returned for a second encore, playing The Beatles' "Good Night , ending with Ringo's "Shhh . The audience didn't oblige.

Jazz Passengers at Prospect Park

Much of the full audience gathered at the Prospect Park band shell Jun. 16th may have wondered why they were listening to a half-dozen men playing, but not singing, songs made famous by Diana Ross and the Supremes. The crowd was, for the most part, there for the headliner, Kentucky-born Brooklyn resident Joan Osborne, best known for her 1995 hit "One of Us . But the Jazz Passengers began the night with a short set of of songs by the Motown superstars. The thin, watered-down soul of the Supremes would seem an odd choice for reworking into a jazz set, but Roy Nathanson is a remarkable arranger with a penchant for odd projects and he made the songs swing with one of the strongest Passengers lineups in years (longtime members Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Bill Ware on vibes and Brad Jones on bass were joined by drummer Reggie Nicholson and Jay Rodriguez on sax and flute). While they closed with the classic "I Hear a Symphony , the set wasn't restricted to hits. One of the strongest selections - "Remove the Doubt , the B-side of the single "You Keep Me Hangin' On - was reminiscent of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's pop covers and included a chorus of Fowlkes' soulful falsetto in an amphitheater still resonating from Aaron Neville's presence two nights earlier. The audience ate it up and Osborne followed through, opening her set with a well-received cover of Dusty Springfield's 1969 "Breakfast in Bed . When it comes to the classics, don't underestimate Brooklyn.

~ Kurt Gottschalk

Oscar Peterson Tribute at Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall, Manhattan's little-big room, was transformed Jun. 8th into an intimate club when a bevy of legends, young lions and aficionados alike turned out to honor Canada's favorite jazz son, Oscar Peterson. Unfortunately, the man himself couldn't make it, yet his formidable legacy was palpable in heartfelt musical moments - and there were many - evoked on his behalf. Anchored by an A-team rhythm section of Lewis Nash, Christian McBride and Russell Malone, the evening unfolded in a series of vignettes encompassing major aspects of the master's oeuvre: trio outings with pianists Hank Jones, Billy Taylor, Mulgrew Miller, Marian McPartland, Roger Kellaway and 20-year-old wunderkind Eldar; vocal numbers with Freddie Cole (Nat's sound-alike brother), Roberta Gambarini and the impeccable Dee Dee Bridgewater; as well as the artistry of Wynton Marsalis, Paquito D'Rivera, Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Houston Person, gypsy violinist Florin Niculescu and cellist Borislav Strulev, among others. The three-hour smorgasbord never lost its flavors (though some dishes were spicier than others), due in part to the panoply of provocative personalities - from venerated living legends to little known and undersung talents - and in part to a well-paced and wide-ranging bill of fare. With a notable absence of cultural and generational gaps (old vs. young bloods, classicists vs. modernists), it was, above all, all about Oscar. You could hear the love.

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