New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: concert

Beating the Heat With Baroque Subtlety at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

Tuesday night might have been the quietest yet the most dynamic concert at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park in several years. Harpsichordist and conductor Richard Egarr cautioned the crowd that they were in for a program of sometimes crazy, sometimes quirky material, and his comments were on the money, in the context of the very stylized world of 17th century British chamber music. Conducting animatedly from behind the keyboard, he led period instrument ensemble the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra through an often hushed, minutely detailed performance whose passion was in the subtleties.

Believe everything you’ve heard about soprano Rowan Pierce. The highlight of the night was a long, matter-of-fact but meticulously modulated lament from Purcell’s Fairy Queen suite, which she approached with a powerglide vibrato, completely in control yet emotionally bereft, over a poignantly waltzing, suddenly crescendoing backdrop.. She’s an old soul. There’s a lot to be said for classical singers being most empowered to channel emotion in their native tongue, and that may have had something to do with how vividly Pierce moved from a hint of goofy vaudeville in the second of three songs by the vastly underrated John Blow, to a very distant, very proto-circus rock menace, and then to the sorrowful interludes among the highlights of Purcell’s magnum opus which Egarr had cherrypicked for the second half of the program.

Christopher Gibbons, Egarr explained, had the misfortune to be the son of Orlando Gibbons, a name very familiar to any fan of British polyphony. Opening with the younger Gibbons’ Fantasy in A Minor immediately put the audience on notice that this would not be a sedate, predictable evening, the string orchestra nimbly negotiating the piece’s odd cadences and strikingly forward-looking harmonies.

The ensemble left no doubt that Matthew Locke’s Curtain Tune, from an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, was an opening-credits theme. Pierce’s seething restraint in Bess of Bedlam, the third of a trio of Purcell songs – better described as partitas – felt visceral, over Egarr’s spacious harpsichord, Adam Cockerham’s elegantly plucked theorbo and William Skeen’s looming, stark cello.

Among many other captivating moments, there was also a coy Purcell rondo ostensibly written for monkeys and an absolutely gorgeous guitar-and-harpsichord song, Lovely Selina, predating the Moody Blues and other pastorally-inclined balladeers of the rock era by two centuries.

For 114 years, from 1905 through 2019, the Naumburg Concerts in Central Park became one of the longest-running annual concert series in world history. Introducing this show, Christopher London, scion of the Naumburg philanthropic legacy, offered hope that 2021 will turn out to be the first of another 114. He didn’t assume any credit for the heroism of keeping classical music performance alive when it has never been more imperiled, but that credit is due.

Gallons of ink, virtual and otherwise, have been spilled over the greying of audiences for classical music, and the shortage of new generations to maintain it. But all that is a drop in the bucket in the face of the New Abnormal being schemed up by Facebook, and Microsoft, and the rest of the surveillance-industrial complex hell-bent on destroying the performing arts and moving all communication from the real world to a virtual one. That the Naumburg organization would seek simply to keep a universal human tradition alive is a braver move than founder Elkan Naumburg ever could have imagined. Although by all accounts, he would have been on the front lines fighting for it.

This year’s final Naumburg Bandshell concert is Aug 3 at 7:30 PM with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra and pianist Shai Wosner playing works by Mozart, Golijov and others. Show up early – an hour and a half isn’t too early – if you want a seat.

A Raucous, Redemptive Return For Gospel Wildman Rev. Vince Anderson at Union Pool

On Monday night Union Pool was packed with an energetic, characteristically diverse New York crowd who’d come out to dance to Rev. Vince Anderson’s distinctive, unhinged blend of oldschool gospel, funk and what could be called psychedelic soul. “How many of you are seeing live music for the first time since last year?” the wildman pianist asked them.

Only about half a dozen people raised their hands. Either this was a shy crowd, or New York is in a warp-speed operation to get back to normal. Obviously, we have to brace ourselves for the toxic schemes the lockdowners are cooking up in the lab for when cold and flu season gets here. But this show seemed to be a very good omen for the rest of the summer, at the very least.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night residency with the Love Choir, his rotating cast of some of the funkiest players around, ran almost totally uninterrupted from the summer of 2008 until the lockdown. Before then, there was a long run at Black Betty, and a couple of residencies at Pete’s. And in between, at Swift’s in the Village, and the dreaded Pianos, with brief stops at the Williamsburg Publik House and the Metropolitan. All that takes us back to around the turn of the century and Anderson’s legendary, marathon performances at the old Stinger club on Grand Street.

These days the show starts a little earlier, at nine sharp, and the party doesn’t go all the way until closing time. Anderson has had formidable chops for years,, but it was obvious from this one that he’d spent plenty of time at the keys during the lockdown. He opened the show quietly and then slowly picked up the pace until he’d raised the old hymn Precious Lord, Take My Hand to the rafters. He had his core players with him: baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson, trombonist Dave “Smoota” Smith, guitarist Jaleel Bunton and drummer Chad Taylor along with a bassist who was chilling on the back in a chair when the show started but quickly rose up to fuel the slinky groove.

Like so many other performers, Anderson had turned to social media when live music was criminalized, and one song that had grabbed him during the lockdown was Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again, No More. He did that one after Fallen From the Pray, an anthem for apostates that sounded a lot like Dr. John – minus the New Orleans accent – this time out. Anderson was especially on fire for Get Out of My Way, the careening minor-key gospel anthem he’s used to open innumerable shows, finally bringing it down to a rapt series of solar-flare chords before the band stampeded out.

Meanwhile, the dancers moved further and further toward the stage as the crowd grew. In between songs, Anderson did a wry Q&A with the audience, revealed that it was edibles that got him through the lockdown, and put on a wildly applauded demo of yoga for people with a little junk in the trunk.

Then midway through Come to the River, an undulating midtempo number, he got serious: after everything we’ve been subjected to over the past sixteen months, this is our chance to lose everything that doesn’t work and start over, he reminded. And then baptized himself with a pint glass of water, shook it off into the crowd and the party started up again with a high-voltage singalong of This Little Light of Mine. Henderson channeled deep blues, Smith right alongside her while Bunton made it clear that Anderson wasn’t the only one onstage who’d been shedding these songs during the lockdown. Taylor is one of the most sought-after drummers in jazz, but luckily for Anderson he seems to have Mondays off.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night Union Pool residency continues on July 26 at 9

A Talented Country Band Deliver a Tight Saturday Night Set in Williamsburg

After the hottest Saturday of the summer, it’s raining hard in Manhattan. But the full force of the storm hasn’t reached Williamsburg yet. Inside Skinny Dennis, it’s so packed that it’s impossible to get to the bar.

On one hand, just getting to be part of any crowd at all after the sadistic divide-and-conquer of the past sixteen months should be reason to celebrate. Instead, it feels weird. Going from being the youngest person in the audience at Lincoln Center in the early spring of 2020. to being just about the oldest person at Skinny Dennis on a Saturday night a little more than a year later, is sobering. Especially if you’re the only sober person in the joint.

OK, maybe not the only sober person. The bartenders don’t seem liquored up, and Pierre Jelenc – who publishes the Gigometer, a resource this blog has relied on for years to find Americana artists and singer-songwriters playing out-of-the-way spaces – is in the house. His presence speaks well for the band. But maybe he’s here because the small room at the Rockwood, his old home base, doesn’t have music anymore.

Low Roller are onstage, and they’re talented. And tight: they obviously spent the lockdown refining their chops. Singers Veronica Davila and Ron Muga each play Telecasters for double the clang and twang of your usual honkytonk band. Their pedal steel player, hidden out of view past the drums, is excellent, choosing spots for washes of sound or high lonesome harmonies. Drummer Daryl Cozzi swings hard and bassist Derek Weaving plays a Hofner with a pick, at one point moving down the scale through an agilely flatpicked bluegrass solo in an unexpectedly low register.

They’re playing covers, taking turns on lead vocals; the whole band seems to be singing harmonies. Considering how much energy and inspired riffage they’re giving the material, it would be cool to hear them play their own songs. But Skinny Dennis is known as a cover bar, and nobody seems to mind. This could be a college crowd in the white part of Atlanta – or maybe in fact it is that exact same college crowd, except that they all live here now.

The band indulge them in not one but two John Prine tunes, the second one an impressively low-key, seething take of Paradise, his environmentalist broadside about the Kentucky coal industry. The sound is surprisingly good, although it would be great to hear more of Davila’s soulful voice in the mix. Muga slings off a handful of slinky solos down to his low E string, almost as if he’s playing a baritone guitar. The rhythm section bubbles, the steel simmers overhead and the crowd are hell-bent on getting their drink on.

Such is the hottest ticket among all possible performances that a music blog can cover in New York on this particular Saturday night in July of 2021. Low Roller are at Mama Tried, 147 27th St. in Bay Ridge on Aug 5 at 7 PM; take the R to 25th St.

Familiar, Heartwarming Faces in Friendly New Places

Music in New York is in a really weird place right now. We’re in the midst of the biggest market correction this city has ever seen. Part of that, the abrupt destruction of so many independent venues and the complete annihilation of what was left of the rock scene, is tragic.

But part of this market correction is long overdue.

As this blog predicted as far back as the mid-teens, we’re seeing a quiet explosion of community-based, artist-run spaces, most of them quasi-legal or even less so. That’s where audiences went during the lockdown. The corporate model they replaced is dead in the water. Seriously: does anyone think that the Mercury Lounge, with its apartheid door policy where proof of taking one of the deadly needles is required to get in, is going to survive the year?

In the meantime, the surviving off-the-beaten-path places are thriving. If you work or live in the Financial District, you might know Cowgirl Seahorse. It’s a friendly taco-and-beer joint at the far edge of the South Street Seaport at the corner of where Front Street meets the extension of Peck Slip. Since reopening, they’ve expanded their original Monday night Americana series to sometimes twice a week, and who knows how far they could take that.

It was heartwarming to the extreme to catch honkytonk band the Bourbon Express there over the Fourth of July weekend. With their signature guy/girl vocals and Bakersfield-style twang, they were prime movers in the scene at the original Hank’s before that place finally bit the dust at the end of 2018. This latest version of the band is just a trio, husband-and-wife team Brendan and Katie Curley on guitars along with their bassist holding down the groove.

Brendan is a twangmeister, and so is Katie, but on vocals rather than guitar since she plays acoustic (when she’s not playing the concert harp on their albums). The resulting blend of voices is one of the most distinctive sounds in country: imagine Waylon Jennings duetting with Amy Allison. This set was mostly covers, which was unusual for them, but it showed their roots.

The best number of the night was Jukebox in My Heart, Katie’s fond tribute to the joys of vintage vinyl. A brief, no-nonsense version of Vern Gosdin’s Set ‘Em Up Joe was a perfect example of how deep these two dig for their inspiration.

Brendan ran his Telecaster through a flange for period-perfect 70s ambience in a countrified take of Danny O’Keefe’s 1969 pillhead lament Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues. Katie sometimes sings with a vibrato you could drive a semi-truck through, so it was almost funny that she held back on that during her take of Freddy Fender’s Until the Next Teardrop Falls. They made their way soulfully from the 50s through the 70s with songs by Buck Owens and Emmylou Harris, along with a robust version of Soulful Shade of Blue by Buffy Sainte-Marie and a totally Nashville gothic Jolene. With the easygoing crew behind the bar, shockingly good sound and a steady stream of delivery orders moving out the front door, it was almost as if this was 2014 and this was the old Lakeside Lounge.

Then the next weekend Serena Jost played a solo show at the Five Myles gallery in Bed-Stuy. In almost twenty years, it’s been a hotspot for adventurous jazz, hip-hop and dance as well as art that reflects the neighborhood’s gritty past a lot more than its recent whitewashing. Jost fits in perfectly. Most cello rockers don’t play solo shows, but cello rock is unconventional by definition and so is Jost. Throughout a tantalizingly brief show singing to the crowd gathered out front on the street, she aired out her lustrous, soaring voice, an instrument that’s just as much at home singing Bach cantatas as it is with her own enigmatic, enticingly detailed, riff-driven songs.

In recent years, the onetime founding member of Rasputina has found a much more minimalist focus, perfect for playing solo (she switched to acoustic guitar for a couple of numbers). Still, it was the most epic, ornate material that was the most breathtaking, most notably a subtly undulating, singalong take of the big, triumphant anthem Great Conclusions and an aptly majestic, absolutely gothic, sometimes stygian new song inspired by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Jost spent the lockdown by writing up a storm of new material, something we’ll hopefully get to see more of, most likely at spaces like this one.

A Welcome, Outdoor Return Gig by a Familiar, Edgy New York Klezmer Powerhouse

Isle of Klezbos and Metropolitan Klezmer are the Parliament/Funkadelic of erudite Jewish party music. No, they don’t play funk – although they’re very danceable. And Isle of Klezbos are back in action, with a gig this July 22 at noon at St. Marks Park at Second Ave. and 10th St.

If not funkiness, what do the two klezmer bands have in common with P-Funk? Like George Clinton’s crew, they’re basically the same band. It didn’t start out that way. Clinton’s genius was in double-dipping a record label (albeit for double the studio work, so it was actually a fairer deal all around). Isle of Klezbos began as the all-female offshoot of the well-loved, theatrical, latin-tinged Metropolitan Klezmer, bolstered by a couple of ringers. They eventually became so popular and so good that at one point it looked like they’d eclipsed the original project. Then the Klezbos (would it be ridiculous to use Klezbo in the singular?) took a backseat to Met Klez again. Either way, both bands can absolutely sizzle onstage, and they were playing lots of outdoor shows years before the lockdown

Over the past decade or close to it, Met Klez earned plenty of coverage here, The last time anyone from this blog was in the house at one of their gigs, it was for a careening and tantalizingly abbreviated late-night set at Drom in January of 2020. Isle of Klezbos are also hardly strangers to the front page here. Their Live in Brooklyn album got the thumbs up in 2014, as did a subsequent Bryant Park gig. The show a little later that year at their frequent summertime haunt, the community garden on 12th Street in the East Village, was even more fun.

That one involved beer. Their gig in the garden the following year, over the Labor Day Weekend, did not, but it was just as entertaining, maybe because moving toward the front of the space to watch the band instead of hanging in back with the brew crew meant trading up to a more sophisticated kind of entertainment.

Was this the year the PA blew out and the band had to play all-acoustic? See a band enough times and everything starts to conflate unless you write it all down…or make a field recording.

Some highlights that still resonate after all these years: sax player Deborah Kreisberg’s plaintive solo during one of her originals, a quasi-cumbia; an epic take of drummer and bandleader Eve Sicular’s towering triptych, East Hapsburg Waltz; and accordionist Shoko Nagai’s quiet, moody rivers of minor chords. Trumpeter Pam Fleming led the group through an undulating reggae tune (she used to play with Burning Spear) and later, if memory serves right, her chromatically edgy, Middle Eastern-flavored Revery in Hijaz. Other players have filtered in and out of the band before and since: it will be fun to see who’s been engaged for the Second Avenue park show.

Revisiting a Hot Night in Queens with Supermambo

The sun was a blowtorch defying the Manhattan skyline, blasting from between buildings as it slowly sank the night that Supermambo most recently played Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City.

Bandleader Felipe Fournier is a vibraphonist. Leaping around, his mallets a blur as his volleys of notes rang out and then receded, was the heat going to be too much? He’s from Costa Rica: maybe he built up a tolerance down there, because he didn’t seem the least bit affected. If anything, the summer sun that evening in August of 2018 fanned the flames of what turned out to be a show that was as interesting as it was adrenalizing He’s bringing the band and their high-voltage blend of classic salsa and jazz back to the park on July 20 at 7 PM. There are two ways to get there: take the 7 to Vernon-Jackson and follow 48th Ave. straight to the river, or the G to 21st/Van Alst, take 45th Ave. as far toward the water as you can and then make a left.

Supermambo started out as a Tito Puente cover band: Fournier took his inspiration from the fact that Puente got his start playing vibes before he switched to timbales. Since then they’ve been playing originals as well as imaginative arrangements of classic jazz tunes. The most stunning number of the night was a real unexpected one, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, reinvented as a long, serpentine jam that seemed to leave the original 5/4 beat behind for the sake of the dancers about midway through. Both Fournier and trombonist Rey David Alejandre had fun working variations on that famous riff, finally bringing the song full circle and ending surprisingly somberly. It’s impossible to remember who was in the band that night: a listing from around that time at Terraza 7, one of the group’s main bases, includes Camilo Molina on congas, Joel Mateo on drums and Dan Martínez on bass.

The Puente material wasn’t all big hits, which was interesting, maybe due to the fact that he didn’t get famous until after he’d left the vibraphone behind. The bass bobbed and weaved, the trombone loomed in and punctuated the songs’ expansive tangents as Fournier rippled up a storm over a river of turbulently undulating beats. May the park be a little cooler or at least breezier this month than it was that night.

The Overlook Champion Exhilarating, Riveting Works by Black Composers

Tuesday evening at the Hispanic Society of America, violinist Ravenna Lipchik of the Overlook flashed a knowing grin to her violist bandmate Angela Pickett, seconds before the string quartet launched into the third movement of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Fantasie-Stücke. With a passionate, syncopated pulse, a breathtaking melody burst out from the strings of the four women gathered in the front of the basement-level gallery space. This wasn’t exactly a witchy tarantella, or a slashing Balkan dance, but it had elements of both, blended into a breathtaking High Romantic triumph that quickly became the most exhilarating interlude anyone in New York has played for an audience this year.

Wow.

Admittedly, by normal standards, the number of concerts in this city this year has been the lowest on record since probably the 1700s. Still, this was a reminder of everything that was stolen from us during the lockdown – and what we need to get back, and this new string quartet are at the front of the pack leading the way.

The Overlook dedicate themselves to resurrecting material by undeservedly obscure black composers, and championing this era’s crop. Coleridge-Taylor’s five-part suite – recently recorded by another paradigm-shifting group, the Catalyst Quartet – was the legacy piece. Until recently, this once famous composer, conductor and contemporary of Dvorak and Brahms was largely forgotten outside of the organ demimonde. Judging from the rest of his work that’s recently been revived, he’s long overdue.

Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music is more Slavic than Dvorak and has the same kind of playfulness and intricacy as Razumovsky Quartet-era Beethoven, combined with sometimes stark, sometimes stirring elements of African-American blues and gospel music. This piece had all of that, a gorgeously bittersweet theme and variations along with a devious return to that blazing dance before a somewhat more mutedly heroic coda.

The ensemble – which also includes cellist Laura Metcalf and violinist Monica Davis – bookended the piece with two more recent but equally fascinating works. Guest Tanya Birl-Torres introduced Leila Adu‘s If the Stars Align with a brief meditation suggesting we connect to a comfortable space in between the earth that grounds us, and the world above which gives us life.

Adu is better known as a singer of ornate, soaring art-rock, in a Kate Bush vein, so this was a revelation The music was deceptively simple, built around a series of subtly, increasingly complex gestures that grew into a more complex web, following a steady counterpoint, a series of handoffs and catch-and-follow. There was also a bustling, vividly urban interlude complete with sirens and busy crowds, as well as a flurrying intensity with echoes of Kurdish folk music.

Birl-Torres also served as narrator during the hazy, enigmatic introduction to the concluding work, Shelley Washington’s Middleground. The quartet dug into the piece’s insistent minimalism, akin to a similarly rhythmic but somewhat gentler Julia Wolfe, expanding a steady interweave, its close harmonies and short, emphatic gestures echoing the night’s first piece.

The Overlook’s next scheduled performance is Sept 12 at 4 PM with music by Eleanor Alberga, Florence Price, and Chevalier de Saint-Georges at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, 65 Jumel Terrace about a block south of 162nd St. in Washington Heights, The concert is free; take the A/C to 163rd St.

Jim Watt Leads a Riveting Jazz and Painting Performance to Benefit Musicians Imperiled During the Lockdown

Thursday night at Collab in Bushwick was a rare opportunity to watch painter Jim Watt creating art out of thin air. Beyond public murals, sidewalk art or the occasional landscaper dedicated to capturing a scene alfresco, painting is typically a solitary craft. What made the evening even more fascinating was that Watt was engaging with an allstar improvisational jazz quartet, in a multimedia spectacle that resulted in about twenty black-and-white Japanese Sumi ink washes, each of them projected on a screen behind the band as Watt worked, methodical but unhurried.

The night was part of Watt’s ongoing 1000W project, where he hopes to raise a hundred thousand dollars to benefit musicians imperiled by the lockdown through sales of these works through his dealer, Jim Kempner Fine Art. Filmmaker Danny Clinch is also working on a documentary about the project.

Watt’s setup was simple: two brushes, one in a container of ink and one in water, which he didn’t bother to change as it grew cloudier. Occasionally, he’d reach for a cloth when he felt the need for a broader brushstroke or smudge.

Bleed is the key to this Japanese technique. The most spectacular moment of the night was when he sketched out a geometric figure with his water brush, invisible onscreen until with one deft stroke of ink, the design filled up in seconds flat. With magic like that, who needs electronics?

Some of the designs were distinctly figurative, notably apartment buildings and a profile that resembled an Egyptian hawk hieroglyph. Other washes were more simple and geometrically-oriented. To what degree was interplay with the musicians involved? Watt was definitely the ringleader here. Drummer Alvester Garnett began the night solo, responding to Watt’s initial, stark design and then a murky, dense one by rising from suspenseful washes of cymbals to a shamanistic tom-tom tableau.

The rest of the band – guitarist Bill Frisell, trumpeter Antoine Drye and bassist Barry Stephenson – then joined the festivities, rising and then falling away as Watt would finish up and then move on to the next drawing. A mysterious pedalpoint fleshed out with lots of bass chords figured heavily in the first set, where the band were  most closely keyed into the visuals unfolding on the screen. Drye’s austerely resonant, often mournful, blues-drenched washes maintained a contrast with Frisell’s thoughtfully spaced jangles and pings and chordlets. The exchanges between band members grew more vigorously conversational as the night went on.

They began the second set by seemingly conjuring up an early 60s Prestige style postbop swing shuffle, Frisell spicing it with a handful of devious quotes. After that, the guitar icon led the group down a noir alleyway, his desolate clangs drawing a hauntingly wafting solo out of Drye before Garnett shifted gears into funkier, spikier terrain. Then, subtly caching a clave into a slinkier groove, he drove the atmosphere to an almost aching, distantly troubled, Bob Belden-esque vamp before ending the night on a calm but similarly saturnine, blues-infused note. While concerts and public gatherings in general have been in painfully short supply in this city until the past couple of weeks, this was unquestionably one of the best of the year so far.

A Far Cry Storm Back into Action at the Naumburg Bandshell

From 1905 through 2019, the Naumburg concerts in Central Park became one of the longest-running annual series in the history of music. It has been as much of a godsend to witness the return of these performances this year as it was tragic to lose them in 2020. Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell, huddled under their umbrellas in relentless rain that finally grew to monsoon proportions, a crowd of about a hundred undeterred concertgoers thunderously welcomed back a familiar presence on the stage here, seventeen-piece string ensemble A Far Cry.

They were just as happy to see the audience. This was the group’s first concert since February of last year. Violinist Jae Cosmos Lee mentioned that they’d played their share of webcasts and broadcasts, as just about every other ensemble that managed to stay together during the sixteen-month lockdown here in the northeast ended up doing. Still, he confided that his most sobering realization during that time was how crucial the relationship between performers and audience is. “Without you, all this would be…” he searched for a word, “Nothing!” This wasn’t just Sergeant Pepper trying to take all the girls home. This was sincere.

That energy was more electric than the sky overhead: Lee enthused that this was the group’s most exciting moment onstage, at least since a show in Slidell, Louisiana where it was “raining sideways” and one of the violinists burst into a solo version of Orange Blossom Special while her bandmates waited for the sky to clear.

Throughout this particular downpour, the music was transcendent in the purest sense of the word. They opened with Grieg’s Holberg Suite, bristling with dynamics, from the stiletto staccato of the first movement, black velvet resonance from bass and cellos in the anxious second part, and a lithe pulse throughout the baroque-tinged dances they wound it up with.

Joseph Bologne, a.k.a. Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a slightly older and very colorful contemporary of Mozart, is all the rage now, represented on this bill by a kinetically stately take of his 1778 Sinfonia Concertante Op. 13, No. 1, which has actually never been recorded. Maybe A Far Cry can jump on that bandwagon too.

The two pieces de resistance among many were a couple of Jessie Montgomery works. She’s one of us, Lower East Side born and bred, and the group did her justice with a plucky, emphatically circling, meticulously playful take of her 2012 work Strum for String Orchestra. And they luxuriated in the wealth of subtly cached microtones and slowly glissandoing swells in Source Code for String Orchestra, from a year later.

Silouan’s Song, a 1991 Arvo Part composition, made an apt segue with its somber, spaciously paced minimalism. The group closed with the High Romantic joy and angst and ultimate triumph of Teresa Carreno’s 1895 Serenade for Strings: a love song, a passionately wary waltz that offered a fond nod to Chopin, moments of pensive calm ceding to a heroic coda that simply would not be denied. Meanwhile, the cadences of the storm overhead seemed to be keeping pace with the music to the extent that the crowd started laughing whenever there would be a pause, or a crescendo capped off with a thunderclap or an explosion of rain.

This year’s Naumburg Bandshell concerts continue on July 20 at 7:30 PM with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra playing works by Purcell, John Blow and others. The recently renovated bandshell is a little closer to the west side; take the 72nd St. entrance and get there early – an hour and a half early isn’t too early – if you want a seat.

The Bourbon Express Bring a Honkytonk Party to Lower Manhattan This Weekend

This may be the weirdest and scariest year in the history of live music, but not everything that’s happening is weird and scary. And some of those weird happenings are actually reason for a lot of optimism. For example, what’s the likelihood that a fantastic hard honkytonk band – with a singer whose original axe is the concert harp – would be playing a cozy taco-and-beer joint at the northern edge of the South Street Seaport over the 4th of July weekend?

No joke – the Bourbon Express are making a return to the stage at the friendly, laid-back Cowgirl Seahorse at 259 Front St. this July 5 at 7 PM. There’s no cover, although tips for the band are always welcome.

The last time this blog was in the house at one of their shows, it was in the spring of 2018 at the old Hank’s, where they were playing the album release show for their most recent one Cry About It Later. What a fun evening that was – what’s better than a hot night with a cold pint in one hand and a pretty girl snuggled up next to you while a good country band is cooking onstage? It’s the kind of memory we used to take for granted – and maybe we need to remind ourselves that moments like that need to be more than just memories.

That the Bourbon Express kept the crowd on their feet after a sizzling, twang-rich set by the jangly, psychedelic Girls on Grass speaks volumes. Lead guitarist Brendan Curley is a master of twang himself, and fired off one incisive, tantalizingly short solo after another on his Telecaster. Meanwhile, frontwoman Katie Curley showed off her own chops on acoustic guitar in front of the band, singing with more power and edge than ever. And her songs were really funny.

The best one of the night was Five to Nine, an exasperated and spot-on gig economy-era narrative told from the point of view of a girl whose entitled boss seems to think he can pester her about work at nine at night after she’s been on the clock all day. This was two years before the lockdown, but Curley totally nailed the kind of dynamic you get when authority figures who don’t have the balls to confront you in person are at the other end of the Zoom connection.

Other songs were funny for different reasons. Curley celebrated the joys of daydrinking and cooking with a glass of wine in hand in Dilly Dally, and the oldschool, retro 50s flavored Blame It on the Hangover. The rhythm section swung hard and the crowd kept drinking: Hank’s was in Brooklyn, and the bandleader is from Seattle originally, so the band don’t exactly channel a deep south vibe. Instead, Curley’s aphoristic lyrics and soaring voice were closer to something coming out of Bakersfield around 1965. Considering how many bands have been scattered across the country, and the world, by the lockdown, it’s awfully cool to see this group still together and playing.