Saturday, December 30, 2017

Concert Highlights for 2017

In retrospect, 2017 was a pretty low-key year for concerts for me. No shows at big venues, but a lot of interesting lineups in more intimate settings, mostly at Kuumbwa Jazz Center and Phil and Jill Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads. I culled a year’s worth of concerts down to a dozen particularly noteworthy musical events.

Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling. Kuumbwa 2/6/17. A unique pairing of Branford Marsalis’ fiery quartet and Chicago vocalist Kurt Elling was a rare treat, particularly in the friendly confines of Santa Cruz’ cozy Kuumbwa Jazz Center. Touring in support of Marsalis’ album, Upward Spiral (also a collaboration with Elling) the ensemble brought their A-game to a concert that featured classics like “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York” alongside more contemporary fare like Sting’s “Practical Arrangement” and the album’s title tune co-written by Reavis and Elling. Elling’s vocals packed a hearty punch, and Calderazzo’s and Marsalis’ instrumental excursions were dazzling but always in service of the material.

Still Dreaming with Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade. Kuumbwa 3/27/17, 2017. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Still Dreaming, a project that Joshua Redman organized in tribute to his father’s remarkable jazz ensemble Old and New Dreams, itself an ensemble formed by former Ornette Coleman sidemen that featured Coleman material alongside new compositions. The quartet, rounded out by pianist Miles, bassist Colley, and drummer Blade, did not sound derivative in the least as they breathed new life into the adventurous, open ended Old and New Dreams repertoire.

Dave Holland Trio with Chris Potter. Kuumbwa 4/6/17. I’ve never seen bassist Dave Holland deliver a bad performance, but this gig, featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks, drummer Eric Harland, and a guest slot by Holland’s old bandmate Chris Potter was exceptional.

Nels Cline. SF Jazz April 9, 2017. In 2016, guitarist Nels Cline released an ambitious double CD of orchestral arrangements of romantic ballads from a variety of sources. For this one-time-only performance, Cline flexed his muscles as conductor, arranger, and instrumentalist as he performed the album live featuring the entire cast of 22 musicians who played on the studio sessions. 

Chris Robinson solo. Kuumbwa Jazz Center June 20, 2017. For what was billed as his first ever solo concert, Robinson seemed completely at ease, performing a tasty blend of Chris Robinson Brotherhood tunes, Black Crowes songs, and covers, interspersed with some wild and wooly monologues. Los Angeles acoustic guitar duo Mapache played a very impressive opening set of finely crafted originals and gorgeous harmonies.

Chris Robinson and the Green Leaf Rustlers. Terrapin Crossroads 6/9/17. Between lengthy tours with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Marin County transplant Robinson found time to do three shows at Terrapin Crossroads with different lineups, playing a different genre of covers each night. For this show, Robinson was joined by electric and pedal steel guitarist Barry Sless, bassist Pete Sears, and drummer John Molo for a sublime mix of California country rock deep cuts from the Byrds, Burritos, New Riders and others. Apparently the band had as much fun as the audience, so they are doing another week of shows in January, augmented by Mother Hips guitarist Greg Loricano.

Brothers Comatose Shastice Park, Mount Shasta, CA. 7/17/17. On the way back from a road trip to Portland, we stopped for the night in Mount Shasta, only to discover that bluegrass quintet the Brothers Comatose were doing a free show in the town park. The group, which deviates from a traditional bluegrass format by introducing some judicious electric instrumentation, drew a couple of thousand revelers that matched the Brothers’ foot stomping, high-octane originals.

Country Joe McDonald. Freight and Salvage, Berkeley. 7/27/17. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the first Country Joe and the Fish album, Electric Music for the Mind and Body, record producer and bassist Alec Palao put together a band of talented generation-X musicians to recreate the psychedelic weirdness of that album, performed in its entirety with Country Joe McDonald providing vocals, acoustic guitar, and summer of love reminiscences. McDonald is apparently retiring from performing after a few December reprises of this show, so it was wonderful to hear him wind up a long and remarkable career in such grand fashion.

 Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band. Terrapin Crossroads 8/11/17. Although Bob Weir is raking in big bucks and playing stadiums with Dead and Company, he found time on several occasions to play more intimate shows with Phil Lesh, along with a couple of mainstage gigs at the Lock’n Fest and Sound Summit. This gig in the Grate Room at Terrapin Crossroads featured Weir guesting with Lesh’s Terrapin Family Band, and consisted of one long set that blended classic Dead tunes with material from Weir’s recent solo outing Blue Mountain. Weir and Lesh maintain a remarkable chemistry, which they will explore in more depth in a short tour of large theatres this coming spring.

Phil and Stu do Europe 72. Terrapin Crossroads 9/14-15/17.  Phil Lesh has focused most of his attention to working with the Terrapin Family Band this year,  but he has also maintained a strong musical connection with guitarist Stu Allen. For these two September shows, Lesh, Allen, Alex Koford, Grahame Lesh, and keyboardist Holly Bowling took on the daunting task of covering the two albums that compiled material from the Dead’s memorable tour of Europe in 1972. Given this ensemble’s tendency to extend material relative to the originally expansive Grateful Dead versions, these were two very long and enjoyable shows.

Crosscurrents. SF Jazz Center 10/22/17. Both tabla master Zakir Hussain and bassist Dave Holland are serving as Artists in Residence for the current SF Jazz season, so it was fitting that their joint ensemble, Cross Currents, was slated for a weekend run in the Center’s Miner Auditorium. The group, which was rounded out by Chris Potter and some of India’s best young jazz musicians, played a thrilling, eclectic set of east-west fusion music that defied easy categorization.

David Nelson Band. Terrapin Crossroads. 12/10/17. Veteran Bay Area guitarist David Nelson was out of action for over a year recovering from a fractured shoulder and colon cancer. In late 2017, Nelson started making a few guest appearances with his bandmates Pete Sears, John Molo, and Barry Sless with their newest band, California Kind (also featuring Katie Skaene and Rob Baracco). This show was the first official full show by Nelson’s wonderful band (rounded out by keyboardist Mookie Segal), and it was a triumphant return to form for the group, which has become one of the most talented and beloved groups in the North Bay.

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