By Barry Bassis
The Lincoln Center Festival presented “Here But I’m Gone: A 70th Birthday Tribute to Curtis Mayfield” (1942-1999). He was an extraordinary singer-songwriter (of “People Get Ready,” “Keep on Pushin’” and the songs from the “Superfly” movie). Mayfield was tragically injured at an outdoor concert in 1990 when a lighting rig fell on him, leaving the artist paralyzed from the neck down. The concert began with the surviving members of the Impressions. The great Mavis Staples sang “This is my Country,” updating the message to the current presidential campaign. Bilal’s falsetto was reminiscent of Mayfield’s feathery vocals. Sinead O’Connor delivered impassioned renditions of “Billy Jack” and “Jesus” and Meshell Ndgeocello sang a seductive “Pusherman.”
During a long weekend in the Bay area, we caught the last performance of the season by the San Francisco Symphony. They were not performing the three B’s, but the fourth B: The Beatles. “The Classical Mystery Tour” featured Beatles look and sound alikes, who performed over two dozen classic tunes with the San Francisco Symphony. Even the real-life Beatles never gave any concerts with a full orchestra. Having watched Sir Paul singing “Hey Jude” at the Olympics, I can attest that the one in SF sounded more like the original recording. Unlike most orchestra concerts, at this one the audience occasionally sang along and the conductor, Sarah Hicks, was bouncing with the beat.
The next day, we attended the Oakland Art & Soul Festival. With six stages presenting simultaneous shows, it was hard to choose. We saw Oleta Adams’ performance of gospel mixed with jazz—she sings and plays keyboards and evoked memories of Nina Simone with her rendition of “Feelin’ Good.” That evening, we caught Ravi Coltrane’s quartet at Yoshi’s, the premier jazz club in Oakland (the club also has a branch in San Francisco). They played Ravi’s originals plus pieces by Thelonious Monk, Ralph Alessi and Paul Motian, ending with a powerful rendition of “I’m Old Fashioned.” While you can eat at the club, Yoshi’s also has a separate dining room featuring modern Japanese cuisine. Coltrane and his group—David Virelles on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass and E.J. Strickland on drums—will be at the Village Vanguard in New York from Oct. 2-7.
Jazz pianist Fred Hersch is happy with his current trio—John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums—and judging from his latest double CD set, “Alive at the Vanguard,” audiences feel the same way. This is Hersch’s third recording at the venue and it takes its place among the many extraordinary albums made there. The group plays works by Hersch as well as by his heroes or dedicated to them. For example, there is Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” and later a Hersch piece “Sartorial” dedicated to the master and “Tristesse” (for Paul Motian). Monk’s “Played Twice” ends the album; earlier the trio performs Hersch’s “Dream of Monk.” A couple of numbers recall Sonny Rollins’ classic recording at the Vanguard. Hersch and his trio will return there from September 11 to 16.
Shemekia Copland’s latest CD is titled “33 1/3,” a reference to the vinyl records she heard as a child and her current age. The album is not an exercise in nostalgia, but a successful effort to bring the blues into the 21st century, starting with “Lemon Pie,” about the disappearing middle class. Of course, there are songs about love gone wrong, notably “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo” with striking guitar work by Buddy Guy. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” is a steamy version of Bob Dylan’s song. Copland is a magnetic blues singer with a big voice and clarion diction. She will perform at City Winery on Thursday, September 27th.