Saturday, September 01, 2007

Live Music Rocks My World: Alison Krauss and Branford Marsalis

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an Alison Krauss concert and a Branford Marsalis concert only a few days apart. New Orleans is known for its music and culture, so I figure a recap of the concerts (complete with YouTube videos!) is an appropriate topic for a Katrina blog, even if the concerts were in New Hampshire.

Jazz saxophone player Branford Marsalis performed at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center Spaulding Auditorium. Marsalis is a New Orleans native, and has worked closely with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild the Upper Ninth Ward and bring back the city’s musical culture. He is the son of Ellis Marsalis and the younger brother of Wynton Marsalis. Wynton, who I saw perform in fall of 2005, is probably the most famous jazz instrumentalist alive, but I personally prefer Branford. Wynton may well be a more talented musician, or at least a more creative artist, but Branford plays the saxophone and has a more amiable stage presence.

The two brothers and their work on musical education were a big reason why I joined the school band in 6th grade. I desperately wanted to play saxophone like Branford, but my lips just weren’t cut out for woodwinds, so I got put on the French horn. Anyways, I don’t have much to say about the concert other than it was really good, if a little short. I enjoyed the interludes where Branford talked to the audience and horsed around with his band. The bassist, Eric Revis, was amazing. He looked like a lizard darting all over the place as he contorted his body to match the music during fast parts and solos. The drummer, Jeff Watts, was also quite talented. He looked so mopey when he first came out on stage, but once he got his first solo (quite long and quite good!), his face just opened up, and he spent the rest of the concert looking like the happiest musician I’d ever seen. The pianist, Joey Calderazzo, also shined. Here are the program notes from the concert, and here is the student newspaper’s review of the event. BTW, I was in the third row, and it only cost me $5—yay student prices. :) Here’s a video I found of the Quartet playing part 2 of Coltrane's masterpiece on YouTube. It’s pretty heavy on the Calderazzo, so I’ve also included a lower-quality video featuring the Quartet itself. The best video I found is this one, but unfortunately the embed is disabled.





Earlier that week, I was lucky enough to see Alison Krauss and Union Station perform at the Meadowbrook Pavilion in Gilford, NH. Kraus has one of the most beautiful voices you will ever hear, so small wonder that she’s one of the leading bluegrass and country singer-songwriters out there today. Her lead guitar player and backup singer, Dan Tyminski, was also there, and I’d almost be willing to pay the full $28 just to see him. You may know him as the singing voice of George Clooney in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou.” (Krauss also sang on the film’s soundtrack.) A nice surprise was the dobro player, Jerry Douglas. I’ve since learned he’s highly accomplished and well-known on the bluegrass scene, but I hadn’t heard of him before this concert. He had some great solos when the rest of the band took a break in the middle of the concert. (For the record, the MS Word spellchecker does not recognize the word dobro, and that’s a sin.) Tyminski and Douglas are wonderful musicians in their own right, but they get much bigger crowds as part of Krauss’ band, and they do deserve big crowds.

The concert was a lot of fun, and I hope to see her live again some time. I was shocked at her personality, however. Her music is generally slow and often sad, but her behavior was incredibly silly! I guess it makes sense—most musicians mix up the fast songs and the slow ones at their concerts, but since Alison Krauss has few upbeat tunes, she has to achieve that balance with stage antics. I would try to describe to you just how goofy she is, but text won’t do it justice, I need tone of voice, and unfortunately, I can’t find a voice of her talking on YouTube, just singing. Trust, me though—her personality came as quite a shock to me and to the other three folks I knew at the concert. Suffice it to say that at one point, the phrase "You got your wheat grass crammed all up in there?" was used, coated in a thick Southern accent. At first, it was obnoxious and the jokes stupid, but she really grows on you, to the point where it’s warm, homey, and welcome, and you hate to see it go when the evening ends. I can’t find a review of the concert online, but here are several videos: her most famous song (“You Say It Best”), my favorite song (“The Lucky One”), and Tyminski doing Clooney (“Man of Constant Sorrow”).





2 comments:

John Shiraef said...

I completely agree. Just saw her tonight and she was an absolute cornball. The way she toyed with the other musicians was slightly awkward and uncomfortable but also very honest and "silly". She shared a story about her pet newt that ended up getting of the cage, climbed up on the fireplace, and got barbecued. I agree that she was quite warm, compelling, and adorable, but I am extremely biased. If she didn't have that voice and notoriety I'm not sure she could pull it off like she does. She is certainly easy to adore.

John Shiraef said...

I completely agree. Just saw her tonight and she was an absolute cornball. The way she toyed with the other musicians was slightly awkward and uncomfortable but also very honest and "silly". She shared a story about her pet newt that ended up getting of the cage, climbed up on the fireplace, and got barbecued. I agree that she was quite warm, compelling and adorable, but I am extremely biased. If she didn't have that voice and notoriety I'm not sure she could pull it off like she does. She is certainly easy to adore.