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Two To Tango: &More’s Donn T and Chill Moody

&More | photo by Dejanaya Spicer | courtesy of the artist

Two members of Philly hip hop royalty such as songstress Donn T and rapper Chill Moody would usually be found headlining their own shows and making their own records. Yet, for 2018 and 2019 — and beyond, in accordance with their wishes in this interview — the regal twosome will be known as  &More. The pair’s poignant, passionate debut is Ethel Bobcat, and that release’s celebration / live reveal is April 26 at Johnny Brenda’s. Continue reading →

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Philadelphia pianist and composer Orrin Evans gets loose and tight at the same time

Orrin Evans | via facebook.com/peeano88

Just days after Orrin Evans concluded his most recent European tour with The Bad Plus — the math-jazz trio whose membership he’s long befriended, then joined, in 2017 — the Philadelphia-based pianist was home, out-and-about, and driving to a solo gig with his own trio in Chicago. One would expect nothing less from the athletic, yet delicately nuanced and intricately introspective player and composer whose self-named outfit (to say nothing of additional Evans bands such as Tarbaby and Captain Black Big Band) fill his mind and schedule when he’s not Bad Plus-ing. Having just hit his actual birthday the day we spoke, Evans reflected on all that he has on his plate ahead of a week-long gig playing with Steve Wilson and Wilsonian’s Grain at famed NYC club Village Vanguard, then European dates next month.  Continue reading →

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Mott the Hoople ’74 packs the Keswick Theatre for what could be THE show to beat in 2019

Mott The Hoople | photo by Emily De Hart for WXPN | dehartvisuals.com

The theatrical, glam-era savoir faire that Mott the Hoople and its singing songwriter Ian Hunter brought to its even its roughest, rocking material has never been given its proper due. Hunter’s grand Spector-ian sweep, filled with honking sax, dramatically tinkling piano and a wall of chugging guitars — often told in his sandpapery croon as long stories, as if a mini-musical — predated Springsteen’s Born to Run moment by years. Everyone from the New York Dolls to Low Cut Connie have benefitted from Mott’s magic.

Now 79, accompanied by two of his latter day original Hooples (pianist Morgan Fisher, guitarist Ariel Bender) and his usual gutsy Rant Band, Hunter’s sweat-inducing suites and dramaturgical rockers packed the Keswick Theatre on Monday night. Continue reading →

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Beastie Boys Story is long, funny, and poignant, but still…

photo by Casey Landman

Did you ever have mixed feelings about a show as you were watching it, but couldn’t leave because much of it is your story?  Or the story of your friends from the 70s through the 90s, and is poignant, and often hilarious…and there’s this curiosity as to how this thing plays out despite occasional long dull lulls, unrehearsed awkwardness and frustrating hints that somebody wants to break out in song? Or rap? And of course you adore the performers on stage for the art they made and they men they became? And then Jonah Hill and Tim Meadows — the latter playing Bob Dylan at a party — stopped by?

Welcome to my review of Beastie Boys Story on Friday night at the Tower. As directed and filmed by their old pal and “Sabotage” director Spike Jonze for an unspecified film project, the Upper Darby gig always moved and felt like more of a soft opening for the upcoming Brooklyn shows — all developed, in part, as an audio/visual accompaniment to their autobiographical best seller Beastie Boys Book. Then again, as recounted toward Show’s finale by a now-grey-haired Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, he and Michael “Mike D” Diamond had not been on stage together as Beasties since “the last gig” at Bonnaroo, before the death of their beloved friend, band starter and force-for-good, Adam “MCA” Yauch seven years ago. Continue reading →

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Uptown, Everything’s Alright: Philadelphia’s legendary home to live R&B is looking to make a comeback

Uptown Theater | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Though born in the genteel era of the Great Depression, 2240 N Broad Street’s art deco Uptown Theater came to life and prominence in the latter 50s and through the 1970s as THE haven for raw R&B and sweet soul not named The Apollo.

Designed by architect Louis Magaziner as a metallic jewel box theater with a wide stage and stained glass amenities, and opened on February 16, 1929, the one-time movie and vaudeville palace became a valued commodity of the neighborhood’s then-growing African-American community under the ownership of Sam Steifel (he also owned Baltimore’s Royal and DC’s Howard Theaters), no to mention the management of Sid Booker, and the producing, promoting and booking of Georgie Woods from WDAS AM.

“Georgie was The Uptown,” said his longtime friend and fellow on-air jock / live show producer Jerry Blavatt. “If you were a great soul and R&B star — Smokey, Ray, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder the Four Tops — you played The Uptown while the labels made the most of your time in Philly by getting you on every radio station and television show. And why not? That venue was like a palace. Gorgeous.” Continue reading →

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There’s Rakim. And then there is every other rapper.

Rakim | photo courtesy of the artist

If William Michael Griffin Jr. — better known in the music world as hip-hop icon Rakim — had only made golden age rap anthems as Eric B. & Rakim such as 1987’s “Paid in Full” and 1988’s “Follow the Leader,” he would still be regarded as a hip hop avatar of free rhythmic flow and studied lyricism. Masculine without macho braggadocio, confident and spellbinding without over-talking, Rakim made, and makes, slow but forceful word jazz with a writerly éclat.

Based on time playing saxophone (he’s a Coltrane fan), there is often that sheets-of-sound approach that Trane made his spiritual / ritual trademark on Impulse! recordings of the 1960s: something more chilled, stoic and stately than early rap’s frenetic attack mode. The same thing is true of Rakim’s solo output: 1997’s The 18th Letter, 1999’s The Master, 2009’s The Seventh Seal. And it’s a feel that will surely follow into his live work with the Orleans parish funk jazz ensemble The Soul Rebels and their joint program at Ardmore Music Hall on March 28.

We caught up with Rakim late one night in Brooklyn, busy working on a new book for Harper Collins (which he couldn’t discuss), and planning upcoming recorded material. Continue reading →

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Two To Tango: Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and Meow Meow

Meow Meow and Thomas Lauderdale | photo via World Cafe Live

Before collaborating on an inter-twisting new album, Hotel Amour, and intertwining set lists the likes of which bring them to World Café Live on March 26, Pink Martini leader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale played accompanist and bestest bud to the toast of the Australian cabaret scene, Melissa Madden Gray, otherwise known as Meow Meow.

For the last 15 years, when Lauderdale wasn’t busy touring the land or hitting recording studios for Pink Martini’s space-age bachelor pad lounge orchestrations, he was tinkling the ivories for the kittenish chanteuse. Now fully united and integrated, the pair discussed their origin story from two parts of the globe during one conversation, with Lauderdale in his home of Portland and Meow calling from London.

Continue reading →

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Up Up with People: Philly’s LiveConnections adds inclusion to its public service mission statement

Movement artist Shavon Norris and students from Our Lady of Confidence create movements that will accompany the lyrics of LiveConnections’ new, fully accessible choral music | photo by LiveConnections staff

Melinda Steffy, Executive Director of LiveConnections, sounds winded when we speak. Not because she has scaled a thousand steps and is catching her breath. Rather, it is because Steffy is crossing T’s and dotting I’s on every detail going into A Song Everyone Can Sing: a Community Sing,  a grand communal event on Sunday, March 10, at the Temple Performing Arts Center that acts as the centerpiece of LiveConnections’ 10th season.  Along with its usual mission of community building and inspired education through the act of collaborative live music making, the not-for-profit LiveConnections — founded in 2008 by Hal Real from World Café Live, a home to the LiveConnections Presents concert series — brings accessibility and inclusion into its socially responsible mix with A Song Everyone Can Sing. Continue reading →

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Guitarist-composer Matt Davis is at home with Big Family

Matt Davis’ Aerial Photograph | photo courtesy of the artist

Limiting smoldering guitarist and kinetic composer Matt Davis and his floating membership ensemble, Aerial Photograph, to “jazz,” is like trying to make ice on a roller coaster: its fluidity cannot be contained due to its insistent motion, both literal and figurative. “I call it ‘jazz-adjacent,’ for better or worse,” said Davis, who came up through “the tradition,” and mostly continues to follow that lineage. Thinking of his newest album, Big Family, and its bent lines of improvisation, this is hardly you standard sense of swing, bop, or balladry. “The name ‘jazz’ is a drag, if only for the reason that it just doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s more of a tradition and lineage than a style. How else can Robert Glasper and Eddie Lang be in the same aisle?”

At turns elegant, eloquent, immersive and deeply involving (to say nothing of Gil Evans-esque in sound and theory), the one-time Philadelphia musician/teacher and his ever-changing crew have long filled his albums and live shows with gentle stories of familys at rest and in transition — his own, those of immigrant communities, or members of the military, as with his newest song, “Air Mail” — and of the more provocative elements of how these knit-together households act toward each other and the world around them.

There’s a reason that Davis has called his new album Big Family, a record he’ll debut at a live release party/event at The Rotunda on March 1. Continue reading →

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It’s Shallow: A humdrum year in Oscar’s musical nominees

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born | still from video

For all of the so-called advances made by alterna-world music makers such as Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor team, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and Bad Seeds’ Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, when it comes to Oscar-nominated film scoring and orchestration, the same wealth of weird feeling and oddball aesthetics has not been afforded to the Academy Awards’ Best Original Song category.

Sure, 1993 gave us two songs from Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (the film’s musical bookends from Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young), with one victor in The Boss. The 1998 Oscars welcomed the tender-hearted Elliott Smith and his acoustic guitar quietly singing “Miss Misery” from Good Will Hunting, Björk got nominated for “I’ve Seen it All” for her Dancer in the Dark starrer in 2000. Hip hop tracks such as “Lose Yourself” and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” got actual Oscars in 2002 and 2005, respectively. If you want to stretch that which is alternative (and Bruce and Young do that already) and lump classic rock white guys into the mix, Sting, Dylan and U2 also got noms for merely OK songs. That’s about it, though, when it’s come to Oscar-nominated tunes from artists we think of as beyond the mainstream. Or, at the very least, not David Foster.

Not a great track record for modernist music such as rap, indie and electronica. It’s even worse when you consider that the 2019 lot for Oscar’s Best Original Song category — at a time of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo — is littered with mediocre white men, and may be the most un-original list of possible winners since Randy Newman started working for Disney (OK, I love Newman, but not his drunky, treacle-spun film songs). Continue reading →