Sometimes you have to light a fire under a musician to get them to elevate their game. Sunday afternoon on the Lincoln Center plaza, it was as if somebody, i.e. Mr. Sun, had taken a blowtorch – or a steam pipe, at least – to klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd and his wryly named band the Honorable Mentshn. Onstage, Winograd is usually all business, generating thrills with his horn and his often sublimely catchy, subtly witty tunesmithing. This time, he was in rare form as a raconteur.
Maybe that was the heat…or maybe he was still riding the high of a return from his latest European tour. A heckler in the crowd suggested he take off his coat. “Dad, be quiet, I told you to stay in the car,” was Winograd’s response. Later, he alluded to how sardonic the title of his new album Kosher Style is: see, at a kosher-style restaurant, you can get a brisket sandwich with mustard and a pickle, but they also give you a piece of cheesecake at the end.
And this show was a feast, drawn mostly from the new record. Winograd was at the top of his game with his whirlwind trills, leaping and bounding through slashing chromatics and bracing minor keys with typically unwavering, crystalline, wind-tunnel focus, no matter how fast the music became. Trumpeter Ben Holmes had a similar, meticulously modulated resonance, often in tandem with trombonist Dan Blacksberg. The group’s bassist fingerpicked rather than using the traditional bow, while drummer Dave Licht switched from sticks to mallets and back, flickering his hardware, vaudeville style and then stomping with abandon through the colorful rhythms of one of the new numbers, Theme from David and Goliath.
Pianist Carmen Staaf got to employ her jazz chops most clearly in a moody, muted, especially plaintive take of Scenes From a Kosher Restaurant. The afternoon’s opening number, Bar Mitzvah Bulgar, was a blast right from the ridiculously catchy first few riffs. Likewise, the slower Dinner in Bay Ridge was a launching pad for a succession of brief, slashing solos from the horns, with a nifty interweave at the end. With its blend of gravitas and fire, It Pays to Buy the Best was a shout-out to Manischewitz, Winograd informed everyone They balanced out the somberness of a couple of slow horas with a boisterous diptych of wedding tunes to wind out the show.
This was part of the annual Heritage Sunday program assembled by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. Over the last few years, it’s always been one of Lincoln Center Out of Doors‘ most consistently entertaining events, and this was no exception. A Puerto Rican bomba ensemble had opened the festivities. The afternoon closed with a serpentine and often hypnotic if somewhat abbreviated set by Inkarayku, who reinvent old cumbias and Andean panpipe tunes from what’s now Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Watching them bounce their way through their relentlessly catchy set in their matching purple ponchos while a series of circle dances spontaneously erupted in the crowd by the edge of the stage was a reminder of where the first wave of classic psychedelic cumbia bands like Los Destellos and Juaneco Y Su Combo got their inspiration. Inkarayku’s take on cumbia and ancient mountain melodies is more acoustic, although this particular edition of the band also featured a string synth player who doubled on traditional flute.
Singer/syndrum player Romina Cárnica Navarro delivered a lilting, catchy number in the original Quechua language; otherwise, when the tunes had lyrics, they were in Spanish. Frontwoman Naomi Sturm’s high harmonies were grounded by flute player Carlos Moises Ambia’s expressive, dramatic baritone while charanga player and lead guitarist Andres Jimenez’s spiky lines intertwined with acoustic guitarist Adam Negrin’s bright chordal work. Bassist Erico Benavente’s trebly groove kept the dancers twirling.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues tonight, July 31 at 7:30 PM out back in Damrosch Park with a group led by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington saluting the pioneering women of jazz and early rock. The eclectic lineup includes but is not limited to vintage Americana maven Rhiannon Giddens, Afro-Cuban singer Xiomara Laugart, legendary AACM singer/organist Amina Claudine Myers and formidable jazz vocalist/bandleader Charenée Wade.