Dr. Lonnie Smith with Mel Brown and Dan Faehnle at Jimmy Mak’s November 11, 2006


Just because you have muscle doesn’t mean you have to show it off, Dr. Lonnie Smith writes on his website.

That restraint may be the key to Smith’s longevity and current star status: not the sheer power of his Hammond B-3 organ, one of the world’s mightiest instruments, but the dynamic contrasts of his touch on the 425-pound monster.

You don’t have to kill a person all the time, he said from the stage. Just take it easy and you’ll end up groovin’ em to death.

And Smith’s dramatic leaps from whisper to shout, couched in the deep, soul jazz grooves of the classic organ trio, delighted the SRO crowd for Saturday’s first show at Jimmy Mak’s, where Smith was accompanied by iconic Portland drummer Mel Brown and former resident Dan Faehnle, a guitarist who has toured extensively with Diana Krall.

The supportive rapport that Smith quickly developed with his bandmates  turned what might have been a routine appearance into something like a joyful reunion of peers, though the three had met only 15 minutes before the downbeat.

These guys are bad, said Smith, who has played with a number of accompanists on his current West Coast tour. The reason I say that not to put anyone down but sometimes it’s just too much. And while Faehnle spun smooth, fluid lines in the style of soul jazz pioneers Grant Green and George Benson, and Brown laid down an impeccable groove, the organist looked at them, smiled and nodded, saying Yeaaaah, yeaaaah.

But from the moment he entered the room, in trademark blue turban and Indian tunic, his white beard bobbing as he bowed and shook eager hands, the spotlight belonged to Smith. The experience of his four-decade career was evident in easy audience interaction as well as the calculated pace of his 80-minute set. With more than 70 albums as a leader, and a revered figure now that the jazz organ has found its way into rap and jam band music, Smith enjoys an international reputation even bigger than when his Alligator Boogaloo became a jukebox hit in the late 1960s.

Often, music’s emotional impact is achieved through tension and release, and Smith is its master. At one point, he had the room straining to hear before unleashing thick, theatrical chords with melodramatic vibrato that he punctuated with bluesy runs, and catharsis was achieved.

Smith relies on the repeating figures and sustained chords that reflect the gospel roots of soul jazz. Using repetition that increased intensity, his laid-back but insistent sound reached a climax in the funky closing tune, Your Momma’s Got a Complex, when Smith locked the keyboard into a sustained chord while he stood to dance in delight.

The Lions of Batucada Tenth Anniversary Show August, 2006

It wasn’t a performance to sit back and watch.

With a roar of percussive power, the Lions of Batucada, Portland’s Afro-Brazilian style drum and dance ensemble, celebrated its tenth anniversary with two Saturday shows at the Wonder Ballroom. The group’s 32-member bateria, or drum section, propelled its 11 costumed dancers into perpetual motion, and the spectacle of samba the sound, flash and movement of carnival street parades was everywhere at once.

Turn away for a moment, and something new suddenly appeared.

Look! Four women dressed in elaborate blue costumes have filled the stage while the percussion section was building a tight rhythm. Wearing gold high-heeled platform shoes, their circular headdresses rose above like the ruffled crests of exotic birds. Their leggings, armbands and skirts were studded with tusks and covered with patterned beads, dyed feathers and tall ostrich plumes.

Then the beat shifted, and four more dancers, dressed in short red skirts, joined the others, huge red hats fluffed around their heads like feathery fros. Hips swiveled, bare arms waved, and a lone male dancer appeared among them, leaping and twirling in sparkly green pants.

Stationed in a swaying group on the ballroom floor below the stage, the bateria powered the choreography with an array of beats. Sticks and hands struck drum skin in a blur. Batucada the percussion section in samba comes from a Portuguese word that means beating.

Wait! Now the dancers in blue are among the audience, shaking hips and moving headdresses with undulating shoulders. Dancing children surround each one, and the atmosphere is saturated with rhythm.

Thirty minutes after the opening fanfare, the first number came to a crashing finale, but the Lions barely paused. The next ensemble piece, a samba that begins with chanting before drums summon the dancers, rumbled to the beat of the bass surdo and tall timba drums that support the sharply syncopated snap of the lead.

A brief respite was provided by Grupo Capoeira, whose members performed the ritualized combat moves of this danced form of martial arts accompanied by a single-stringed berimbau and hand-clapping. And a song by Brazilians Jorge Alabe and Carlinhos Pandeiro de Oro (who played a child in the movie Black Orpheus) added variety, though its melody was also accompanied by the percussive roar that, all too soon, carried the Lions’ moving theater followed by its samba-ing crowd — down stairs and outdoors, where they brought the first show to a close on the sidewalk.

Jessica Williams in April, 2000


Listening to pianist Jessica Williams is a like riding a musical roller-coaster.

We plunge into cascades of fluid ornamentation, soar above them on majestic leaps, then fall, breathe and dash headlong again into an agile stream shaped sleekly into a welcoming groove. From quiet to roaring, double time to achingly slow rubato, Williams always brings drama and grace to jazz standards and her own memorable compositions.

She will perform work from her recent albums with drummer Mel Brown and bassist Dave Captein at the Old Church tonight in a tribute to the late bassist Leroy Vinnegar, one of her major collaborators whose last album, Boss of the Walking Bass, features both Williams and Brown.

Williams, 53, is a California resident who lived in Portland for 18 months in the early 1990s. With nearly 30 albums to her credit and the praise of legends such as McCoy Tyner and Dave Brubeck, she is one of the country’s top jazz pianists. A restless spirit, Williams is always making changes in her music and in her views of the industry.

Moving forward on both fronts, she recently announced a new record company her own Red and Blue label with two titles, It’s Jessica’s Time and Some Ballads, Some Blues and a new approach to her music.

Call her mercurial. No matter the twists and turns Williams takes, though, her essential core hasn’t changed. Her music remains beautiful, intelligent and rooted in the blues; and beneath her shifting views of the jazz business is a commitment to freedom, justice and the path with heart. One of the foremost interpreters of Thelonious Monk, she learned how to follow that path from him:

The lesson is, she writes in the liner notes to In the Key of Monk (’99), sing your song, your song and no one else’s, no matter how much resistance you encounter Follow your path Believe, with all your will, in the song you’ve heard in your heart Sing that song loud and long enough, and it will be heard. And it will change the world.


Williams talked about the new turns in her path in a telephone conversation last week shortly after her first public appearance in six months.


New label New Freedom

I’m selling on the internet now. I’ve got a loyal buying public and they come to my web site So at some point I’ll be coming out and performing exactly what I want because I can’t be told what to do by record company producers On a lot of the creative music I’ve been doing by myself for the past 10 years, I’ve used electronics, synthesizers, computers. I hadn’t been allowed to put that out. Now I can do it.


Out of the Jazz Business

Essentially, I’m out of the jazz field. It has been really hard even for the successful artist to make a living at this music . My problem with this music is, where do we all fit, those of us who don’t want to play in nightclubs the rest of our lives and lead that lifestyle and die 20 years before our time? I’m seeing guys die right and left. I’ve seen enough. I don’t want to continue to participate in this.


Less Performance

I’m not going to stop playing music, but it’s going to look very different. There’s not going to be much performance involved . It’ll be more like painting or writing and less like performance art. I’ve always felt that my art was about perfection, and working something until I got it right You want to give people things of beauty.


Listening to the Silence

I needed to stop for six months and listen to the silence. Native Americans referred to it as a vision quest. I’ve always played just what I’ve heard. I need to hear what it is I wasn’t hearing before, and I wasn’t going to hear it if I kept on playing the same stuff. Eventually, I know the music will start again.

Third Angle New Music Ensemble


Riffs World Premieres by Three Portland Jazz Artists

To segregate music is as ridiculous as racial segregation, says saxophonist and composer Rob Scheps about the division between classical music and jazz. There should be no ghettoization, there should be mutual respect.

For composer and pianist Gordon Lee, breaking down those barriers goes beyond personal preference: Fitting the classical tradition with the jazz tradition and other ethnic music is the noblest cause for the twenty-first century composer, he says.

In Portland’s Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Lee and Scheps have found a group whose mission matches their vision.

We want to get to know our next door neighbors better, says Ron Blessinger, the ensemble’s artistic director. The musical world is so varied that I can’t handle being tied down to one thing. So I’m lucky to be able to indulge my curiosity and highlight musical connections between classical music and other forms like jazz, the Oregon Symphony violinist continues.

Riffs Third Angle’s second program of its 20th season — intends to promote that jazz-classical fusion in a concert that will include world premieres of three pieces by Portland-based jazz artists Dan Balmer, Lee and Scheps.

The impulse is not new, and such collaborations, hybrids and mixtures of jazz with classical have attracted composers for nearly 100 years. When he visited George Gershwin in New York in the 1920s, the story goes, Maurice Ravel was mainly interested in hearing Duke Ellington. Woody Herman commissioned Igor Stravinsky to write The Ebony Suite for his big band; soundtracks by the likes of Henry Mancini and even scores for TV combine the genres; and jazz pianists Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock incorporated the harmony of Ravel and Debussy. Many jazz players have written for string ensembles or have used classical techniques with jazz instruments. The impulse to combine the two forms even gave birth to New Age music.

The three commissions on Third Angle’s concert program, along with the string quartet Cat O’Nine Tails, by New York jazzman John Zorn, illustrate the possibilities for such fusions and show us that the two forms aren’t as far apart as they may seem though such unions have often been uneasy for the players themselves.

An Uneasy Union

Classical musicians rely on written music, says Blessinger; if we’re not told exactly what to do, we get really insecure.

Jazz players, on the other hand, may be awed by the accuracy and instrumental command of their classically-trained peers and even feel a bit incomplete.

I have trepidation that I’m not up to the task, says Balmer, one of the city’s top jazz guitarists and a former member of the Tom Grant Band, who has composed several CD’s of original music and currently stars with Mel Brown’s combos. I tried to write a significant thing, but I’m not a classical composer.

Scheps, who has written for symphony and string quartet and was trained at the New England Conservatory, acknowledges the edge in sophistication enjoyed by classical music in the past. In some Ravel pieces, the harmony is so hip that the jazz pianists didn’t catch up until 1964, he says.

In the twenty-first century, though, it’s the affinities and not the differences that increasingly interest open-minded artists from both the classical and jazz camps.

I thought, OK, I’ll just write a song, that’s what I do, Balmer says about the process. That’s what classical pieces are anyway a song. They have the skill of orchestration, so they make a lot out of that song, but it’s basically chords and melody. His composition, Balmer believes, will probably sound like a Dan Balmer song played by cello, violin and vibes with solos by the jazz musicians.

Lee set himself a different challenge.

I’ve rearranged a Debussy piano prelude called Ondine for violin, viola, cello and flute and featuring piano as the improvising soloist. I’ve turned it into something to blow on, says the pianist whose experience includes orchestration of Ghanaian drummer Obo Addy’s suite for orchestra, choir and drum ensemble, as well as string quartet arrangements of Kaw-Creek jazzman Jim Pepper’s music. It’s at least twice as long as the original, the additional material is improvisational, and I’ve rearranged the theme also, he explains. Lee will also play the Debussy original.

While this collaborative process has taken Balmer and Lee outside their comfort zone as composers, their music, along with Scheps’ piece, Global Citizens, presents a performance challenge for Third Angle members Blessinger, Hamilton Cheifetz (cello), Brian Quincey (viola), GeorgeAnne Ries (flute) and Brett Pascal (percussion).

To bring the classical players into the spirit of improvising, I gave everybody instructions to do a specific thing, but to do it the way they want. It might say, Short little bursts,’ or High flutter.’ That gives them a chance to have more freedom but with a safety net.

The payoff for them?

When you start to think like a jazz player, you listen to Mozart or Beethoven in a totally different way, Blessinger says. You start to consider them as improvisers who take a chord progression and create music on top of that.


The concert’s entire program (also included are David Schiff’s Satin and Charlie Parker’s Cheryl) presents a variety of approaches to blending the written and the improvised. For ultimately, it is improvisation the spontaneous composition that is the jazz artist’s stock in trade that separates classical from jazz players today. Ironically, improvisation was not unknown to luminaries of the European tradition such as Beethoven, and has only disappeared from the classical repertoire during the past 150 years.

The focus on improvisation has made jazz into a soloist’s art. And that hard-earned pleasure is difficult for the jazz performer to forego.

I really tried to make it more of a situation where the five of us can make music as equals, says Scheps. (But) I like to have my ego out there sometimes wailing.

Maybe that ecstatic self-expression is what jazz does best. But what it can do in combination with classical music has not been fully explored yet, as exciting new soundscapes for a truly global melting pot begin to appear.

Available on CD

Dan Balmer: Go By Train (Alternative Jazz); Change of Heart (Alternative Jazz); Through These Years (Alternative Jazz).

Gordon Lee: One, Two, Three (Diatic Records); Flying Dream (Origin Arts 2); Rough Jazz (Ph.D Records)

Rob Scheps: Magnets! Live at the Earshot Jazz Festival (self-produced); King on the Road with Nancy King, Glen Moore, Rob Scheps (Cardas Records); Bluestruck, with Terumasa Hino and John Scofield (Blue Note Records)

Third Angle New Music Ensemble: Robert Kyr: Violin Concerto Trilogy (New Albion Records); Chamber Music of Bryan Johanson (Gugliano Records).

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter at the Elsinore Theater in Salem November, 2000


A mutually rewarding relationship between performer and audience depends on the delicate balance between art and entertainment. Artists must have the freedom to innovate, to challenge themselves and their audience in order to create fresh, vital work. But with that freedom comes the responsibility to bring audiences along with them, to make their new discoveries accessible, to delight as well as challenge.

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter did not maintain that balance in their sold-out duo performance at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem on Saturday night.

From the lofty eminence of their historic roles in jazz over the past 35 years, Hancock, 60, and Shorter, 67, may not see the art-entertainment equation the same way their Salem audience did — more than one-quarter of the house had left before the conclusion of the 90-minute concert of highly abstract, improvisational music. Those listeners missed some moments of great beauty, though, reminding us that audiences must also be prepared to extend themselves to appreciate the unfamiliar.

Young stars before they came together in the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s, pianist Hancock and saxophonist Shorter helped Davis pioneer jazz-rock fusion in albums such as In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Both went on alone to break new ground in fusion and contemporary jazz with an impressionistic and intuitive approach to improvisation they learned from Davis. That style opened up new possibilities for creative interplay and informs their duet performances today.

But Davis had earlier pioneered another development in jazz when he turned his back on the audience, announcing that jazz musicians were artists, not entertainers, that their role was not to please listeners but to create art of the highest order; fans could take it or leave it.

From Hancock’s off-the-cuff and unenlightening opening remarks, the duo’s Saturday show followed the Davis model. Though they didn’t literally turn their backs, the first piece a somber, spontaneously improvised 25-minute meditation with no discernable rhythm or repeating motifs set the bar pretty high for their audience. They neither spoke about the music nor announced any of the tunes.

The concert might have had a different effect had they begun with the second piece, Hancock’s Aung San Suu Kyi, whose repeating melody lines and percussive rhythm created a joyous dancing dialogue between piano and soprano sax. That conversational interplay produced great moments in each of the subsequent pieces, including Shorter’s Footprints and Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, both of which offered a familiar base from which the audience could more easily follow the duo’s excursions.

Alan Jones and the Leroy Vinnegar Suite October 2001


At first, it was personal for Alan Jones. His life and work had been so touched by Leroy Vinnegar, that he set out to make an album celebrating the late, legendary jazz bassist.

“But as I was writing it, and people heard about the project,” recalls Jones, 38, a Portland-based drummer and composer, “everyone was saying, ‘Yeah, Leroy, Leroy, Leroy,’ and it became clear that he is an archetypal figure; all the stuff I learned from him, other people have learned from him, too.”

Vinnegar, who died in 1999 at age 71, really was a towering presence. The first thing you’d notice was the full head of white hair above the crowd that often surrounded him. Then his smile would draw you into the embrace of his two huge palms, and you’d feel warm and safe and welcome.

So charismatic and respected was he that Vinnegar quickly became the figurehead for jazz in Portland during the 13 years he spent in the city.

“He was a magnet for anyone who cared about real jazz,” says Jones. “Anywhere I went, if Portland came up, Leroy’s name came up with it.”

In 1995, the Oregon Legislature proclaimed May 1, “Leroy Vinnegar Day,” in part to acknowledge his role in revitalizing the local scene by drawing younger crowds to his nightclub gigs. There, the grand, wild sounds of classic bebop moved his new listeners in much the way it had inspired an earlier generation in Los Angeles during the ’50s and ’60s, when Vinnegar played on over 800 recordings, performed on TV studio sessions, and helped define the style known as “the walking bass.”

Until his death from heart disease, Vinegar continued to play and record regularly. He’d go into the hospital regularly, too, and was using oxygen 15 hours a day. As soon as he’d get out, though, he’d be back on the bandstand.

“He’d barely be able to make it,” recalls Jones. “But never a word of complaint. It was his decision to do it, and he accepted that responsibility. That’s something else I learned from him.”

Indeed, Vinnegar made it his business to provide a variety of lessons to his younger colleagues. And though he was pleased by his accomplishments — “I’m proud of my career, man,” he said; “I’ve done everything that a musician could ever do” — Vinnegar was far from through. Everyone who played with him learned something valuable.

And those who worked closely with Vinnegar also saw the complexities that weren’t always visible — the impish playfulness, the stern refusal to tolerate poor musicianship, and the enduring sadness.

Jones captures all of that and more on his new CD, “The Leroy Vinnegar Suite.” With snippets of Vinnegar’s rumbling voice between many of the tunes, the bassist’s presence pervades the album. He even plays on two of the tracks. But Jones’ goal, he says, was to “start from what Leroy would do, capture the spirit of what he was after, and let it roll from there.”

In the process, Jones, who wrote the score for Michael Curry’s “Spirits,” has given further evidence that he is one of the country’s most promising composers of acoustic jazz. Adept at combining styles and eras and extending them into an unpredictable future, his elegantly muscular compositions — performed with passion and precision by the members of his Sextet– evoke the grandeur with which Vinnegar endowed his music.

“Dedication,”for instance, captures Vinnegar’s spacious restraint in a beautifully memorable melody. Most effective as a tribute, however, is the brief “The Walker reprise,”in which Jones superimposes a tape of Vinnegar telling a painfully humorous tale about trying to buy a Mercedes, over a stark, unaccompanied melody played by three horns.

Jones allows the bassist the last word on the CD, too, where Vinnegar can be heard giving comfort and encouragement to the band: “Straightahead, alright, straightahead,” he rumbles. “It’ll be OK, alright, man.”

Jones’ new album reminds us why it is that, two and one-half years after his death, wherever jazz musicians gather, it’s always “Leroy, Leroy, Leroy.”

Les McCann March, 2005


“The thing about this business,” says Les McCann, “is it’s a reality show, and we’re live when you get it.”

Singer and pianist McCann, who will play tonight and Saturday at The Blue Monk, is recalling his 1983 performance at the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz, where a stolen car slammed into a transformer, suddenly cutting power to the festival stage. The funk jazz pioneer knew exactly how to handle it.

Using only his voice, hand claps and a drummer, McCann entertained the big, restless crowd sprawled across the football stadium until power was restored nearly an hour later.

“There’s always something goes wrong, always.” He’s speaking by phone from his home in Van Nuys, Calif. “So you learn to deal with it and go with it, or you get mad and walk off. But with all those people, you don’t want to walk unless there’s no way to communicate at all.”

Now 70, McCann has found ways to communicate with audiences despite the vagaries of life and the road for nearly 50 years. His most notable performance under pressure came at the 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival, where his hit album, “Swiss Movement,” containing “Compared to What” and “Cold Duck Time,” was recorded live in an astonishing, impromptu set that featured saxophonist Eddie Harris and bassist Leroy Vinnegar.

“We didn’t have a chance to rehearse,” he recalls, “I’m yelling out the chords to the guys as we’re going. And Eddie (Harris ) and I were walking around town the night before looking for a musician to play trumpet with us; then the police came to arrest me the next day .” He laughs, remembering how he’d pilfered the bankroll of a drunken stalker to stop the man from drinking. He returned the money.

Since then, McCann has been forced to deal with more serious obstacles, including a stroke 10 years ago that paralyzed his right side.

“For a year and a half I was playing with my left hand only,” he says, “counting on my horn player to do all the hard work. I’ve regained about 55% of the use of my hand. I don’t think about it anymore. My main thing is my inability to walk,” he adds. A walker and wheelchair help him get around.

That kind of adaptability was hard won, learned on the road as well as during his years as a young, ambitious jazz man in Los Angeles in the early 1960s, when he was the biggest seller for the Pacific Jazz label.

“Those were difficult years, the learning years, the hard times and also very valuable times,” he says. “You don’t know nothing, you think you know something, you’re dealing with guys who are great like Leroy — Leroy had a great big attitude along with his big body. You can look back and say, those were gifts in my life. That’s how I learned how to get tough myself.”

He’s grateful for those lessons today, because they taught him how to thrive in the reality show of music, taught him that, on stage, “when you get it, you better go with it, because that might be all you get.”

Red Holloway at DePriest Family Jazz Concert August, 2005



“We want this to be educational,” says drummer and bandleader Akbar DePriest about the Family Jazz Concerts he’s been leading in Portland since 1991. “We want to get the youngsters in and expose them to the music.”

With an increase to three concerts a year and a bump in the age for free admission up to 17, DePriest is renewing his efforts to present jazz and blues outside nightclub settings. He also wants to pass along the rich heritage he absorbed as a youth in the music scene on Central Avenue in Los Angeles and during a career that began on the chitlin’ circuit with Big Maybelle, blossomed in Chicago with the likes of Rashan Roland Kirk and Eddie Harris, and continued on the stages of Europe and, later, in Denver, where he ran his own nightclub. He moved to Portland in 1987.

That varied experience helps explain why DePriest, who passed away at age 77 in 2007, doesn’t want to see jazz separated from its blues roots.

“We want the youngsters to hear jazz and blues in the same setting,” he says, “so they will hear it coming from the same source. When I came up, T-Bone Walker and Duke Ellington would play on the same stage; we got the blues and jazz on the same plate.”

And who better to demonstrate that jazz-blues connection than saxophonist Red Holloway, 78, who will headline the next DePriest Family Jazz concert on Saturday, August 20.

“Red is known for both blues and jazz,” says DePriest, who often crossed paths with Holloway in Chicago and Los Angeles. “Red was the main man at the Parisian Room and brought all that jazz into Los Angeles. He also had big bands and was like an educator down there.”

Holloway came to fame in the early 1960s while touring with B-3 organ legend Jack McDuff, and he made many recordings with R&B greats while maintaining his jazz reputation with stars such as Sonny Stitt and Clark Terry. Holloway, a California resident, has become a Portland favorite and appeared at a DePriest concert here three years ago.

Also accompanying Holloway will be bassist Dennis Caiazza and pianist Jof Lee, a frequent associate of DePriest since they first met in Denver 30 years ago. And that familiarity will help the rhythm section keep up with the unpredictable Holloway, who “plays the room,” DePriest says, rather than following a set list. But that’s not difficult when you know where the music’s coming from.

“I say that gospel is the mother, blues is the father, and jazz, because of all its varied expressions, is the offspring,” says DePriest with a laugh. “It’s the evolution of the art form that brings us to where we are today.”

Compay Segundo and Ladysmith Black Mambazo



At the end, the audience was chanting his name in time with his most famous song. Compay, Compay, they called, as Cuban guitarist and singer Francisco Repilado, better known as Compay Segundo, shuffled in a dance step and another musician called out a list of his accomplishments.

The song, Chan Chan, from the best-selling world music album of all time, The Buena Vista Social Club, is just a simple folk refrain. But the rhythmic drive of the seminal Cuban style, the son, and the dark power of the song’s hypnotic chord progression transform it into high drama.

That would pretty much describe the songwriter as well, who rose from the depths of folk history to the international stage in the past five years.

The living embodiment of traditional Cuban music, at 93 years of age Repilado led his eight-piece group on Saturday night in a world music double bill that also included South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the Portland Art Museum’s Grand Ballroom.

From a strictly musical point of view, Repilado’s performance was shaky, especially at the beginning. Although his voice remains a strong and expressive baritone, his instrumental contribution on the armonico, a hybrid guitar he invented in the 1930s was a limping, often discordant ghost of his formerly supple fretwork.

But Repilado retained his charismatic appeal even as his dexterity and hearing failed him.

Musically, his performance was saved by three clarinetists and the strength of his other musicians.

Now comes the surprise, Repilado announced in Spanish after a series of songs whose sweetly nostalgic harmonies and stately gait were often marred by his intonation and timing problems, including a danza from the nineteenth century and the bolero Mi Linda Guajira.

Two clarinetists then appeared, playing as they strolled through the audience. Joined later by a third on bass clarinet, their mellow, woody sonorities added the color and depth needed to carry the star.

Reaching their peak on the classic bolero, El Dia Que Me Quieras, the woodwinds’ vibrant melody and counterpoint passages were embellished by smoothly choreographed dance moves that echoed the rhythmic sureness they added to the group.

Choreography is half the appeal of the 10-man Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who burst onto the world stage with Paul Simon’s Graceland in 1986. Their elaborate high kicks, hand gestures and other synchronized moves delighted the crowd, while their deep three-part harmonies pumped like a single breath.

They too received an unbridled standing ovation. While the South Africans provided the most polished entertainment, however, Repilado’s reception showed that the audience had come not just for music but to pay homage to the man and the culture he represents miraculously still vital after all the years.

Tango Explosion! — Fear No Music and Tango Pacifico with Alex Krebs


Like all great musical traditions of the Americas, the scope of tango is broad, its history rich. A sample of that tradition from a contemporary electro-acoustic tango to the early twentieth century’s Gallo Ciego — was on vivid display when the innovative chamber ensemble Fear No Music joined with Tango Pacifico for a concert Friday night at the Wieden + Kennedy Building.

The friendly informality and passionate musicianship of the combined groups, their informative comments, and the dancers who glided around the floor, all helped make the music accessible to the enthusiastic audience.

Both hard and soft, tango is a music of mood swings. It shifts from bold body rhythms to sweet melodic passages, from sentimental to aggressive, from romance to the thrust of a knife as in La Punalada (the stab of a dagger), one of the 11 traditional tangos presented during the program’s second half.

The defiance of tango’s working class roots in late nineteenth century bordellos, its legacy of tough guys and the women who wronged them, can still be heard in the music of Astor Piazzolla, three of whose compositions opened and set the tone for the evening.

But Piazzolla transformed tango when he returned to Buenos Aires from Europe in 1955, armed with a stick of dynamite in each hand jazz improvisation in one and modern classical harmonies in the other. Making liberal use of counterpoint, Piazzolla moved tango from the dance to the concert hall. His Escualo, for instance, performed by violinist Erin Furbee, cellist Adam Esbensen and pianist Mika Sunago, is full of shifting, syncopated rhythms, unexpected breaks and jumpy narrative development.

The program also included a selection from Danzas Argentinas, by Alberto Ginestera. Evoking the sweet sadness of the pampas that lies behind tango, this beautiful piece was followed by two tangos from contemporary Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne, performed by violist Joel Belgique and pianist Sunago.

Composer Joe Waters also added Seduction: I Want to Make Love to You, which in a fugue-like structure used tango techniques and the theremin, an electronic instrument sounding like a slithering string section, which gave the piece a cartoon-ish edge.

Even the less daring pieces displayed the music’s great variety, ranging from strong, Habanera-flavored milonga rhythms to lovely ballads such as Piazzolla’s haunting Soledada. And though dancers usually dislike Piazzolla, the clarity and purpose of the combined ensembles lured them to the floor, moved no doubt by the emotional depth that underlies all great tangos.