|Ranelin photo by Joe La Russo|
at the Pantages, November 8
A failed marriage, an arrest for drunk driving, dismal record
sales and a flop Supremes reunion excursion — the last few years have been brutal
on Diana Ross. But the L.A. stop on her small-venue tour showed her better than
ever. Fit and glamorous (though she referred to herself as “an old broad”
at one point), Ross performed for over two hours, combing from every phase of
her 40-year career.
There were full renditions (no medleys) of Supremes tunes, RCA-era
solo hits (“Mirror, Mirror”), the surprise inclusion of “Ease
On Down the Road” and all the biggies — “Touch Me in the Morning,”
“Love Hangover,” “Upside Down,” “The Boss,” the
classic conjoining of “Theme From Mahogany” with “Ain’t No Mountain
High Enough,” etc. As she soaked in the crowd’s nightlong roars, Ross’
warmth and appreciation were palpable.
Highlighting a thematic thread of resilience (“I Ain’t Been
Licked,” “I Will Survive”), the evening’s biggest surprise was
Ross’ voice. Her breathy, nasal vocals have long been met with scorn by rock
critics, especially when held up against the instruments of Aretha, Chaka and
Gladys. But the charismatic diva now has an emotional and experiential grit
that elevates her above many such powerhouses. On a riveting version of the
Four Tops’ “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” — originally covered on her
1971 album, Surrender — she transformed the classic floor-stomper into
a slow-burn testimonial that brought the crowd to their feet. A Lady Sings
the Blues segment, complete with jeweled gardenias and sexy white gown,
found the chanteuse leaning into the music, crouching to hit a note, and the
resultant passion provided a startling revelation: The bug-eyed girl from the
Brewster Projects has earned some serious jazz chops. And, of course, the hair
was fucking insane.
FOURTH ANNUAL SHORTLIST CONCERT
at Avalon, November 15
The Shortlist Music Prize claims to recognize “artistic merit
and creative integrity over sales” and highlight “influential emerging
artists.” The politely full Avalon witnesses four of this year’s nominees.
The opener, Nellie McKay, is intriguing and bizarre, charming
and vaguely disturbing. In erupting pink fairy dress and Stepford blond bouffant,
she executes her crooning and keysmanship with venom, melancholy, wit and frustration.
Constantly morphing, McKay visits Astrud Gilberto’s curvaceous Ipanema breeze,
Fiona Apple’s panda-eyed jazz and cartoon Dollywood country amid vaudeville
frenzies and runaway roller coasters of haunted-carnival kitsch. Equal parts
Cyndi Lauper and psycho secretary, she unleashes classical flurries and breathlessly
busy, quasi-rapped passages of poetry both comic and cutting. Though her bite
is intermittent, McKay’s mark stays for days.
Dizzee Rascal, the unintelligible Brit rapper who won the U.K.’s
similar Mercury Prize last year, is neither dour nor dazzling. With a matching
baggy-jeaned sidekick and a charisma-free DJ, Dizzee underwhelms; more doppel-gangsta
than as-advertised innovator, he renders his rhymes irrelevant with a bickering,
bulbous timbre. He gets some hands in the air, but we just don’t care.
Eagles of Death Metal are a pathetic spectacle who wouldn’t have
a prayer if one of their two drummers wasn’t QOTSA main man Josh Homme. Heavy
metal’s potential for ironic humor is hardly news, and this embarrassing in-joke
shouldn’t be forced upon the innocent.
Brooklyn’s self-consciously smarty-arty TV on the Radio scoop
tonight’s prize after arriving accompanied by rampant word-of-mouth rep. Dapper
vocalist Tunde Adebimpe shimmies like a preacher in a speakeasy through TVOTR’s
kaleidoscope of after-hours soul-rock, movie-soundtrack suavity, Bad Brains–y
punk, gospel elation and electronic modulation, all glinting with Chia Man guitarist
Kyp Malone’s icicle falsetto. Removed from the heat of press-powered flattery,
though, TVOTR’s something-for-everyone stylistic soup isn’t so tasty.
PHIL RANELIN, NATE MORGAN, DAVID ORNETTE CHERRY
at Westminster Presbyterian Church, November 19
The occasion was a tribute to Hampton Hawes, and it’s always nice,
if weird, to see someone like this freethinking bop pianist glorified by the
city with his own honorary Day — 27 years after, at age 48, he ended a lifetime
of neglect and imprisonment. Though a number of tonight’s performers knew Hawes,
only a brief demonstration toward the end made a specific connection. Regardless,
here in the church where Hawes’ father had led the congregation, the spirit
David Ornette Cherry, son of avant ambassador Don Cherry, opened
with a chain of meditative solo piano expressions. Cherry rolled like a big
river, unfolding generous whorls, clustery dissonances, bluesy humoresques and
celestial glissandos that recalled Horace Tapscott, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious
Monk and Alice Coltrane. An inspiring devotional experience amid the hymnals
and the scent of spent perfume.
Nate Morgan mastered the chimey piano with his quick, sensitive
touch, laying on a taste of his new Journey Into Nigritia — soul elevation,
a hint of Latin, a flavor of Tyner. One of our most complete keysmen, Morgan
shrugged into loose interaction with bassist Ryan Cross (inventive solo) and
drummer Michael Stephans (rattlesome swing), and the folks in the pews made
Artist-in-residence Phil Ranelin loped up to take a solo spin
on trombone; his clean technique and sweet tone eased us through an impressionistic
improvisation that included genuflections to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Gathering Morgan, Cross
and Stephans around him to lilt peace and revolution from his exceptional new
Inspiration, he demonstrated that you don’t need a big group if the material’s
this strong. And when Ranelin phased into shivery slide vibrations — only a
trombone can do that. We heard the Word. Amen.