Category Archives: Music

Agave Baroque Makes ‘Heavenly’ Seattle Debut

A distinguished national early music group, Agave Baroque, made its Seattle debut last Tuesday night at Trinity Parish Church with a superbly played and sung program of music by a composer virtually unknown to most of us. The audience was sophisticated and knowledgeable on early music, but sparse, probably due to a combination of Chairman Xi’s visit, the beginning of Yom Kippur, and a plethora of performances in Seattle this latter part of September.

Non-attendees missed a fascinating concert. Isabella Leonarda was a 17th-century Ursuline nun who composed prolifically and self-published about 200 of her works in 20 collections during her lifetime. Agave Baroque has performed around the country (and recorded on Vgo) the program they played here, titled “Queen of Heaven: Music of Isabella Leonarda in honor of the Virgin Mary.””Counter-tenor Reginald Mobley joined the four instrumentalists, Aaron Westman and Anna Washburn, baroque violins; Gretchen Classen, baroque cello and Henry Lebedinsky, harpsichord and organ, for three sonatas and three solo motets.

Leonarda’s music is a welcome addition to the 17th-century repertoire. May we hear more of her. It’s original in content, harmonically interesting, beautifully designed and expressive. Two of the three motets sung by Mobley were published in her last collection when she was 80 and still with all her musical faculties as sharp as ever. The first, “O Maria, quam dulcis,” is one of praise for Mary, the second, “Venite, laetantes,” a rare instance of the librettist—quite likely Leonarda herself—putting words in Mary’s mouth inviting supplicants to join her to find peace, love and everlasting life. The last sung and longest, “Quam dulcis es,” was earlier composed and is an outpouring of love for Mary.

Mobley was an ideal exponent of these. The gentle, warm quality his voice gave to the words, and the exquisite timbre, knowledge and complete ease in encompassing the style, melismas, and baroque ornamentation conveyed their meaning. The strength of his middle and lower countertenor range is unusual. He never needed to revert to tenor on those lower notes, so that the whole range remained smooth.

The instrumental works could easily be sung, if there were words to them. Leonarda used much the same style as in the motets, with instrumental recitatives included in the different sections. Seattle is no stranger to top quality baroque instrument playing and these four players, not until now familiar to Seattleites, will be welcome whenever they appear, particularly if they bring such unusual programs as this.

Lebedinsky is also the mover and shaker behind the new Early Music Underground here, which aims to bring early music back to informal concerts in more casual venues like bars or house concerts, with refreshments—a bit like what Simple Measures does with a more modern repertoire. Their next performance is September 27 at Mercer Island’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church, with “Song of Songs,” music of J.C Bach and others, at which Mobley will be singing.

Cover Me: Local Acts Give Their Influences Some Love

Kris Orlowski and keyboardist Torry Anderson take on Gershwin with The Gershwin Sessions. (photo: Tony Kay)
Kris Orlowski and keyboardist Torry Anderson take on Gershwin with The Gershwin Sessions. (photo: Tony Kay)

It’s fun to hear bands do the odd cover song, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for full-on cover records. Not creative dead-ends like Rod Stewart’s wheezy-Muppet takes on American standards, mind you, but minor classics like David Bowie’s Pin-Ups and the Dirtbombs’ Ultraglide in Black. The best all-covers records don’t just serve as sonic love letters to influences: They often give artists a chance to relax, cut loose, and experiment. It’s good news for my fetish, then, that two local acts have crafted recent cover records of their own, and that both efforts are definitely worth checking out.

I’ve long been fond of the work of singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, whose warm and smoky voice has always added texture to his brand of folk-tinged pop. There’s an unassuming good nature about Orlowski, so the fact that he’s just finished up The Gershwin Sessions Volume One feels less like pretentious hubris and more like good old-fashioned artistic stretching.

Orlowski and his band have been moving towards a grander, more expansive sound over the last two years, and in its own easygoing way this six-song EP sees that adventurer’s spirit flowering. It’s a fair bet you’re not really gonna go wrong by covering one of the greatest pop songwriting teams in history, but Volume One frequently finds Orlowski’s ingratiating earnestness ascending to incandescence. He and his band hit it right out of the gate with the opening track, a terrific rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” sporting a James Bond movie-worthy swirl of strings and quasi-surf guitar driven along with an assertive stomp of a drum part. It’s one of those alchemistic covers that puts its distinctive stamp on an old chestnut without short-changing the original’s appeal.

Interesting touches pepper the production throughout Volume One. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” sounds almost prettily psychedelic as it starts out with Orlowski crooning sweetly over a gently-strummed electric guitar, until his voice reverbs into some lovely string orchestration. The stark piano and fuss-free drumming that join Orlowski’s voice at varying points of “Love Walked In” flirt with the gothic, while the quiet beauty of “Put Me to the Test” provides a ravishing companion piece to Orlowski’s recordings with the Passenger String Quartet. The biggest surprise overall turns out to be Orlowski’s singing, which is higher and more playful than in the past without sacrificing his engaging trademark rasp.

Singer/guitarist Tom Dyer doesn’t reach back into the American Songbook quite as far for the source material fueling History of Northwest Rock Vol. 1, his recording with loose-knit hired guns New Pagan Gods. Dyer, a 35-year local rock stalwart and head cheese at local indie label Green Monkey Records, dips into the well of first-wave Northwest rock and roll. The result is the joyous audio equivalent of the best sloppy-drunk sweaty house party you ever crashed.

Like any good band rocking a house party, Dyer and his bandmates play with grittily fun-loving chemistry, and that’s what makes this ragged little record sing. Lead guitarist Scott Sutherland contributes a versatile palate of six-string tones (spiky surf notes, flanged-out gothic brushstrokes, face-kicking punk power chords) unified only by their fuzzy roughness, while Dyer’s rough and ready voice booms over songs by The Sonics, The Wailers, The Ventures, and more. The rock numbers rock hard, and Stranger Genius Award winner Steve Fisk mans the production board with scrappy efficiency, doubtless with a beer in his hand and a smile on his face.

Some of Sutherland’s nasty solos sound like a dirty hand smearing mud on your face (in a good way), and Scott Vanderpool bashes at the drums with punk directness throughout, but the go-for-broke spontaneity thrumming through Vol. 1 results in some surprising side-journeys, too. Some of those detours, like a slightly faster funk-flavored “Louie Louie,” don’t quite work. But when Dyer and New Pagan Gods transform the fragile Fleetwoods ballad “Come Softly to Me” into a swooning hard rock shuffle guided by Dyer’s best wounded-thug voice, it’s proof positive that tipping sacred cows can be done with love.

The Gershwin Sessions Volume One drops on October 2; History of Northwest Rock Vol. 1 is available online and in stores now.

Kevin Ahfat Wins 2015 Seattle Symphony Piano Competition

This week has seen another of the Seattle Symphony’s new ventures under music director Ludovic Morlot, this one intended to encourage young pianists to study in depth and show their skills in French and American music, particularly works less often heard on the concert stage. The Seattle Symphony Piano Competition also filled the need to draw interested audiences in to hear competitors and to introduce them to music they might not otherwise feel compelled to come and hear.

Out of several dozen applicants, nine were chosen for the semi-finals last week. One dropped out a while back and one last weekend, so there were seven on Tuesday, the opening recital round.

Each played a Ravel piece, a work expressly commissioned for the competition by Portland composer Kenji Bunch, and a personally chosen piece. Out of these players, the jury chose five to return for the first concerto round Wednesday. Each had to prepare a French and an American concerto and perform with an accompanist in a piano reduction of the orchestral score. (Christina Siemens and Li-Tan Hsu gave remarkable performances of the orchestra reductions, each playing the same work with different competitors and their differing interpretations.) The contestants could choose which concerto to play in its entirety and the jury then directed them to play one or two movements of the other.

All in their early 20s, the three chosen for the final–Kevin Ahfat from Toronto, Kenny Broberg from Minneapolis, and Vijay Venkatesh from Laguna Niguel, California–performed their chosen concerto with the Seattle Symphony in Benaroya Hall Friday night, after which the winners were announced as well as an audience favorite.

The whole procedure has been absorbing to watch and hear, and the caliber of the players very high, with the players’ interpretations of the jazz-inspired Bunch work, Premonitions, fascinating in their variety. For this listener, it was Broberg who best found coherence in the work and seemed to comprehend it from the inside.

Venkatesh opened the concert Friday with Saint-Saens’ Concerto No. 2, in a performance with the orchestra which demonstrated profound musicianship as well as an unobtrusive technique which emphasized the atmosphere of the work. There was never a careless note in his performance, every detail shaped with thought for its place in the work and judicious use of pedal so that clarity came through in beautiful legato passages, full of tenderness and lucidity. At the same time the last movement felt light and easy despite lightning speed. This listener wouldn’t hesitate to go and hear him again, thanks to this moving, insightful performance.

Next came Ahfat with Samuel Barber’s Concerto, Op. 38, less frequently heard perhaps because it is less instantly appealing at first hearing, and technically tricky, though it needs less nuance in its presentation than the Saint-Saens. Ahfat seemed totally comfortable with it, sailing through the ferocious speed and thunderous notes of the first and third movement, and creating fine phrasing for the slower more contemplative second. His playing approach was decisive, appropriate for the work, though there seemed a few muddy moments.

Last came Broberg in Gershwin’s Concerto in F, always a work instantly pleasing to the audience with its sense of fun which Broberg displayed with ease. This is more a concerto for orchestra with piano than a true piano concerto, thanks to the chances given for orchestra soloists to shine also, including principal trumpet, flute and violin. There were times where he didn’t quite seem to feel the connections, the flow between sections where his entry felt a bit jarring, but overall it was clear he has a real flair for the jazzy side American music.

Morlot, conducting the orchestra, stayed closely with all the young soloists, seeming to watch over them to give them the best support he and the orchestra could.

He was on the jury, as was principal cellist Efe Baltacigil. It is surely unusual for jury members to be playing or conducting in a competition final and it must have given them both a chance to see from the inside how these pianists could work with orchestra. The other jury members included Simon Woods, president and CEO of the SSO, Samantha Pollack of Washington (D.C.) Performing Arts, Monica J. Felkel of Young Concert Artists, James Egelhofer of First Chair Promotion and the jury chair, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet who will also be artist–in-residence at the SSO this season.

Woods announced the jury’s choice of winners after Friday’s performance. First prize, which includes a concert with the SSO this season and a cameo appearance at the SSO’s Opening Gala tonight (Saturday), went to Ahfat, with Broberg and Venkatesh tied for second. All three receive a financial prize and career help. Broberg, with the Gershwin, won the audience prize.

All in all, an exciting week.

Kelsey’s Five Favorite Bumbershoot 2015 Moments

1_Ellie Goulding
2_Kris Orlowski
3_Hey Marseilles
4_Robert Delong

British babe Ellie Goulding wore Moschino and ended a beautiful Monday evening.

Local singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski moments before he passed matching mustaches into the crowd.

Local singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski moments before he passed matching mustaches into the crowd.

Matt Bishop of Hey Marseilles played songs off their upcoming album.

Robert DeLong hired face painters to decorate the crowd.

23-year-old Hozier smiled all the way through his packed set.

1_Ellie Goulding thumbnail
2_Kris Orlowski thumbnail
3_Hey Marseilles thumbnail
4_Robert Delong thumbnail
5_Hozier thumbnail

Tony’s View of Bumbershoot 2015, Day Three

Nathaniel Rateliff.
Tired Bumbershooter.
The Bots.
Kris Orlowski.
The Grizzled Mighty.
The Grizzled Mighty.
Brothers from Another.
Brothers from Another.
Built to Spill.
Ellie Goulding.
Ellie Goulding.

Nathaniel Rateliff belts it out during Day Three of Bumbershoot. (photo: Tony Kay)

Bumbershoot will seriously take it out of you, man. (photo: Tony Kay)

A nice, well-mannered young man: Borns at Bumbershoot 2015 (photo: Tony Kay)

The Bots go all Jimi Hendrix. (photo: Tony Kay)

Kris Orlowski and his very marketable mustache. (photo: Tony Kay)

The Grizzled Mighty's Ryan Granger, in all his hair-flipping guitar-strangling grandeur. (photo: Tony Kay)

Lupe Flores hurts her drums severely. (photo: Tony Kay)

Peaches emerges from the Death Star to throw down some ribald dance jams. (photo: Tony Kay)

DeVotchKa's Nick Urata, gypsy prince. (photo: Tony Kay)

Brothers from Another do the Carlton Dance. (photo: Tony Kay)

(photo: Tony Kay)

Doug Marsch of Built to Spill spills his soul. (photo: Tony Kay)

She's the Queen of the World, in a Daffy Duck hockey jersey: Ellie Goulding at Bumbershoot 2015. (photo: Tony Kay)

(photo: Tony Kay)

Nathaniel Rateliff. thumbnail
Tired Bumbershooter. thumbnail
Borns. thumbnail
The Bots. thumbnail
Kris Orlowski. thumbnail
The Grizzled Mighty. thumbnail
The Grizzled Mighty. thumbnail
Peaches. thumbnail
DeVotchKa. thumbnail
Brothers from Another. thumbnail
Brothers from Another. thumbnail
Built to Spill. thumbnail
Ellie Goulding. thumbnail
Ellie Goulding. thumbnail

The elements finally cut Bumbershoot 2015 a break yesterday.

After dealing with two days of dodgy weather, festival staff must’ve heaved a collective sigh of relief when a picture-perfect late summer day greeted them Monday. The glittering blue skies and warm-but-not-oppressive temperatures provided an inviting backdrop for the music acts, and if what I saw wasn’t as consistent as Days One and Two, it was pretty enough outside for me not to care too much.

The Great: A late bus ended up doing me a favor, forcing me to catch a boisterous set by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats on the fly. Rateliff and company play the kinds of songs Charlie Rich used to, back when Rich was pollinating country with the growling swing of classic soul and blues. I haven’t heard the Night Sweats’ self-titled Stax Record release, and part of me doesn’t want to: I can’t imagine a recording capturing the lightning in a bottle that was their jumping and energetic Starbucks Stage performance. Potty-mouthed rap-pop provocateur Peaches delivered Flash Gordon theatrics with tongue-in-cheek Parental Advisory bluntness and some fierce dance grooves. DeVotchKa’s Nick Urata, meantime, still sounds like David Byrne’s passionate gypsy-prince kid brother, and his band played the heck out of a well-chosen set of old and new tunes.

Ultimately, the two sets that most truly rocked my world during Day Three of Bumbershoot came courtesy of a couple of two-person rock acts. The Grizzled Mighty have rocked my world several times over the last three years, and the Seattle duo delivered the brass-balled rock crunch with reassuring efficacy yesterday. Singer/guitarist Ryan Granger played with even more confidence and fury than usual, strangling out blues licks as new-ish drummer Lupe Flores beat her kit to a whimpering pulp. Finally, California siblings The Bots bashed out what just might have been my favorite music set all Bumbershoot long. By themselves, singer/guitarist Mikaiah Lei’s Hendrix-influenced fretwork and brother Anaiah’s primal time-keeping were bracing enough: Their incendiary, nearly spastic live energy was jaw-dropping.

The Really Good: “There’s been some dialogue about my mustache,” Kris Orlowski said with wry bemusement during yet another solid Bumbershoot set (he’s played the festival at least twice previously), before heaps of fake mustaches began circulating through the crowd. That’s marketing, people. Orlowski continues to move further away from his neo-folk origins, and he applied the ragged warmth of his voice to great live effect Monday: His full-blown epic rock songs felt arena-ready in the best way. Built to Spill closed the Starbucks Stage out with their patented dueling, dive-bombing, and textural guitars, while Seattle hip hop outfit Brothers from Another (all attired like Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) served up playful party jams to an appreciative crowd.

The Rest: The two least-interesting acts I saw during Bumbershoot Day Three were the two that seemed to most delight that abstract, fresh-faced collective known as The Kids. Said collective went apeshit over waifishly dreamy LA-based singer Borns’ slick dance-pop/indie rock hybrids, and his airily androgynous voice proved an admittedly unique instrument. Too bad the actual melodies evaporated on contact with these ears. Ellie Goulding’s brand of up-with-people dance-pop, by contrast, closed out Memorial Stadium with more forceful beats and an impressive light show, but stick-to-your-ribs melodies likewise remained elusive. Then again, Granddad’s not the target demographic for this stuff, so it’s probably not you, Borns and Ellie Goulding: It’s me.

Crap! I Missed It: The Moth and the Flame’s drama-drenched indie rock; Lonesome Shack’s stripped-down fuzz-blues; Seattle rapper Nacho Picasso’s surely-energetic live set.

Chris’ View of Bumbershoot 2015, Day Three

Monday opened, for me, with the Lady Parts Justice event at the Bagley Wright Theatre. It was hosted by Lizz Winstead, comedian/writer/”Daily Show” creator. The event was to kick off the new app from Lady Parts Justice, Hinder. It looks like more of a website that is mobile-friendly, but it does provide a valuable service in showing you the steps anti-choice politicians are going through to restrict access to family planning services. Winstead made a quite funny (and likely true) joke about how she thought 2pm would be the best time for their show because everyone would probably be too fucked up by 5.

The show itself, at 90 minutes was the longest thing I saw at Bumbershoot all weekend, was enjoyable. It had a diverse group of comedians. I particularly enjoyed Joyelle Johnson and Leah Bonnema. Hari Kondabolu was a surprise guest, and he was great (as expected) but he did the same set, more or less, that I saw yesterday in the Super Secret Comedy Show (but it was very funny). One thing I did realize was that his story about being told to go back to America took place in Denmark, not Amsterdam, as I noted in Sunday’s recap). Helen Hong and D’Lo Kid. D’Lo had a funny joke about being trans, so he’d be having a same-junk marriage instead of a same-sex marriage.

Continue reading Chris’ View of Bumbershoot 2015, Day Three