Category Archives: LIVE REVIEWS

Live Review: Pere Ubu, Cleveland, Sept. 19, 2013


Cleveland is a town with a long history of spawning important and wildly disparate acts. Devo, the O’Jays, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and the James Gang all emerged from here in one way or another, but no group ever seemed so organically rooted in the Sixth City’s industrial and post-industrial character as Pere Ubu. In its first hometown show since the release of 14th album Lady From Shanghai, David Thomas and Co. laid down a set heavy on material from the new record, with a few canonical numbers thrown in for the long-term fans. And if Thomas’ stage presence is so distant it’s sometimes like he’s not in the same room with the audience, the evening was loud and weird and energetic enough to honor the band’s history. Even his personal coolness seemed about right for the occasion; he remained seated for the entire show, warbling into his microphone, sometimes into a repurposed rotary phone handset, and nodding his head, eyes closed, as if he couldn’t have cared whether anyone showed up or not. Which, when you think about it, is about as rock ‘n’ roll as it gets.

Thomas has always been less a traditional frontman than an artistic director, shaping the sound and experience in a way that feels more controlling than spontaneous. All of which is to say that he’s “chilly” onstage compared only to an opening act of a more recognizable pop-music model, like This Moment In Black History, the Cleveland punk quartet whose early, sweat-slinging set slowly raised the energy level in the room until the stagefront was crowded and jittering in time to the band’s high-decibel performance. TMIBH singer/keyboardist Christopher Kulscar chided the crowd at the outset for hanging in the back of the smallish standing area—“You’re all back there on the grassy knoll!”—but as the band’s set unwound, and as Kulscar pogoed, jumped and high-stepped around his tiny Realistic synth with the low-end bass and drum rumble piling up throughout the room, the crowd slowly hooked into the volume and noise. Following the set, TMIBH left the stage to interact with the crowd in the Ballroom’s side bar and sit-down food service area, before the next act came up.

A word about the Beachland: Though it celebrates its 13th anniversary this year as a live music venue, the building’s been around since 1950, when it began life as Cleveland’s Croatian Liberty Home. This is a no-frills space with a smaller side stage (the Beachland Tavern) and a central performance area (the Ballroom) resembling the combination gym/auditorium in a medium-sized junior high school. There’s no bad place to stand, because when you’re inside the Ballroom, you’re standing more or less directly in front of the floor’s speaker rig no matter where you position yourself.

And that’s where we all were when Thomas appeared without announcement to play the second opening set as Gagarin, a laptop-noise-and-video-projection act, during which he intoned and declaimed into the aforementioned telephone handset. Gagarin is credited separately with providing various keyboards on Pere Ubu’s Lady From Shanghai, but tonight’s set was all Thomas frazzling and shouting into the receiver as if he were sending out radio updates from Venus. At one point a colleague in a rubber full-head rooster mask emerged onstage to Thomas’ left, to deliver him a small glass of brown spirits, moving slowly and striking minimalist interpretive dance poses, after which he left at the same pace he’d (eventually) arrived. It all seemed to make sense at the time—self-consciously artsy, a little mannered, but somehow absurd enough to keep from seeming precious. After a second short pause, Pere Ubu took the stage for a performance with very little air between the songs.

Pere Ubu’s current lineup is a five-piece—guitar, bass, drums, keyboard/theremin and voice—and you got the feeling early on that this is an incarnation of the band that has its internal responsibilities sharply assigned. As a group, even after several iterations, Pere Ubu has always been about music over stage presence, and although for much of his life, Thomas was a sizeable frontman, even in the band’s earliest days he always seemed to want to get out of the way of the music, or maybe to disappear himself inside it. Now, having just turned 60, Thomas is a smaller physical presence, and he moves with the precise, deliberate motions of a man who once carried that music on a taller, broader frame. Thomas positioned himself dead center onstage, flanked by band members from his own generation and the one that followed him (drummer Steven Mehlman, born in 1971, is currently the youngster of the group), and led his bandmates through the new record, which is as catchily peculiar as Pere Ubu’s always been. “Musicians Are Scum,” “Mandy” (with its clipped, hiccuppy refrain “Won’t-cha-come-out-to-plaaaaaay”) and the ominous “414 Seconds” were standout renditions, and though the crowd seemed equally split between those familiar with the new record and those who kept their radar on for the opening bass run of “The Modern Dance,” the entire set was received with respectful enthusiasm and gratitude.

Most of the audience response seemed quite beyond Thomas’ notice, though he did smile once or twice and even told a couple of very short stories about playing festivals with funk bands in Europe, during which he noted that drawing “the lay-deeeez” to shows was “ve-reh, ve-rehim-paw-tent” to a working band, as fanboys tend only to attract other fanboys. Still, it all sounded rather more good-natured than it probably appears in cold type, since Thomas has often described Pere Ubu as the longest-lived failure of a rock band in pop-music history. Somehow, despite locking into a sound that’s as high-art as that sort of thing comes in rock, the band’s enjoyed a shelf life longer than most groups even remotely similar in approach, of which there are admittedly very few.

And yes, toward the end of the evening, Pere Ubu played “The Modern Dance,” which is among the three or four songs most central to the band’s catalog, and a fine, raucous rendition it was. They also turned in “Misery Goats” and “Final Solution,” at which point the crowd, as they say, went wild. “And now,” Thomas said, “we come to my favorite part of the show: the end.” Thomas and Mehlman retired to the merch table, which Mehlman had been staffing pre-show, and spoke briefly with old Cleveland fans. But soon enough Thomas had done his due post-show diligence, and announced as much, rising from the table and retreating into the depths of the venue.

Outside on Waterloo Road, heavy street construction had chewed up an entire lane of blacktop as far as the eye could see in both directions. This wasn’t any simple pothole-patching or curbside refinement. Piles of gravel and broken asphalt mounded the street and encroached on the walkways, reducing what is ordinarily the Beachland Ballroom’s adjacent sidewalk and street to a zigzagging path of dirt and rock fragments constrained by orange barrels and yellow caution tape. For a longtime Pere Ubu fan, this was somehow the most perfect detail of the night: A band that emerged from the exhausted, broken detritus of the Rust Belt, and somehow converted those fragments into a fractured, dreamy sound that’s still utterly unique in American rock music, played a fine loud show, and then disappeared without saying goodbye into the Cleveland rubble. After a time, so did we.

–Eric Waggoner

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Live Review: The Replacements, Chicago, Sept. 15, 2013


Whenever the prospect of a Replacements reunion had been broached—usually by lazy interviewers who didn’t have more creative questions to ask founding members Paul Westerberg or Tommy Stinson—reactions generally fell into two camps: near-rapturous hope or resounding indifference.

Then there were those of us squarely in the middle. Would a Replacements reunion be worth our time? Seeing Westerberg and Stinson together on the same stage would surely be thrilling, but the new material released a few years ago was pretty underwhelming. And any LP or tour at this juncture really wouldn’t be the Mats, would it? Drummer Chris Mars, focusing on his art, isn’t interested. Guitarist Bob Stinson (R.I.P.), well, he’s unavailable, and now so is replacement guitarist Slim Dunlap, as he’s recovering from a debilitating stroke. (You can help Dunlap via the Songs For Slim project.)

After it was announced that the Replacements would, indeed, reunite—with drummer Josh Freese and guitarist Dave Minehan rounding out the quartet—for Riot Fest shows in Toronto, Chicago and Denver, the band’s first gigs in 22 years, decision time was near for the naysayers. The hesitation was still there until the setlist and videos from Toronto started showing up online—they opened with Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash’s “Takin’ A Ride,” for crying out loud.

About three seconds into the Chicago set, anyone who’d doubted whether a reunion was a good idea surely felt like an idiot. Opening again with an absolutely blazing “Takin’ A Ride,” it was as if no time had elapsed since the band’s heyday. The energy didn’t flag as they ripped through “I’m In Trouble,” “Favorite Thing” and “Hanging Downtown,” and during “I Don’t Know,” they even added part of “Buck Hill.” (Seriously?!) It being the Replacements—and, you know, the whole bit about having played one gig in 22 years—a bit of raggedness was to be expected: Westerberg made a couple of comments about being out of tune and forgot the words to “Androgynous” (after asking if anyone had witnessed Joan Jett’s set on Friday night), and “Little Mascara” was a bit of a mess. It didn’t matter a bit.

With curfew approaching—even though he’d earlier destroyed the stage clock—Westerberg abruptly walked off after “Bastards Of Young,” followed by bemused, and perhaps confused, Stinson, who merely shrugged. Roadies came out and strapped on their instruments, and for a brief moment, it looked like Westerberg might be creating an homage to the band’s final show in Chicago’s Grant Park on July 4, 1991, which ended with the Mats basically breaking up as crew members played what was left of “Hootenanny.” It would’ve been a perfect capper, but the band instead returned for “Hold My Life” and a version that “I.O.U.” as fierce as “Takin’ A Ride” an hour and a half earlier. The rain that had deluged the city most of the day, and which let up a couple of hours earlier, began to fall again; trudging through the mud to the exits, more than satisfied with what they’d just witnessed, not a single fan gave a damn.

There’s an infamous line in a New Rolling Stone Record Guide review of Sorry, Ma Forgot To Take Out The Trash, circa 1983—well, infamous to a small group of nerds who know about it—that dismissed the Mats with, “Who knows if we’ll ever hear from them again? Who really cares?” Decades later, the first question can’t be answered. The second one, however, is again a resounding, “We do.”

—Matt Hickey; photo by Katie Hovland

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Live Review: Guided By Voices, Chicago, Sept. 14, 2013


Despite the attempts to pigeonhole him—we won’t list them, you know what they are—the only predictable thing about Bob Pollard, apart from the quality of his art, is that he’ll change his mind. He reformed the classic-era Guided By Voices lineup in 2010 and played the hits at a few festivals. That’d be it, right? Nope. Rather, the suddenly resurgent GBV released three LPs in 2012, did some touring and delivered yet another record—the fine English Little League—earlier this year. Hey, maybe he’ll keep this thing alive for a while.

Or will he? Accounting for that unpredictability, this following guess could be way off base, but signs at the moment point to no. There’s no GBV record currently scheduled, or even rumored to be in the works, and the brain trust that feeds the faithful with information is keeping quiet. Is good ol’ mercurial Uncle Bob pulling the plug again?

Given all of that, prior to the Dayton, Ohio, legends’ Riot Fest set Saturday in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, you kind of had the feeling it might be the last time you’ll be enjoying this, or any, incarnation of GBV live, unless the half-assed speculation above is wrong. Then you feel stupid, because on a beautiful, sunny day with GBV about to play, it’s pretty silly to even ponder the possibility.

As cerebral and poetic Pollard often is on record, GBV shows have always been about the celebration of rock ’n’ roll, and the band’s 60-minute set was yet another affirmation. Kickstarted by a swig of tequila promptly at 4:45, Pollard led his crew (guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin Fennell) through 22 songs, including two—“Fair Touching” and “Teenage FBI”—that fanboys will note were not recorded during this lineup’s run. A blazing “No Transmission” highlighted the eight new songs, yawning stage security guy aside. (Long day, I’m sure, but come on, man!)

It’s debatable which favorite nugget received the loudest reaction, though it was probably “Game Of Pricks.” Or maybe it was “Cut-Out Witch.” Or “Shocker In Gloomtown.” Every last one inspired a group sing-a-long—it never gets old shouting along to “I Am A Scientist” and “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory”—and, in the appropriate case of “Smothered In Hugs,” a mass hug-in.

Pollard kept his always entertaining banter to a minimum, though when informed the band had 15 minutes remaining, he cracked, “We’ve got 15 minutes left. You guys are saying, ‘Do the good ones!’ Fuck you, we’re going to do the shitty ones.” Pollard also mentioned Blondie, up after GBV, a couple of times, commenting that he heard Debbie Harry “has a nice ass” and jokingly introducing the final tune, “Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy,” with, “I always wanted to say, ‘Up next, Blondie.’ We’ve made it!”

Which, naturally, brought to mind the line in “Echos Myron”: “And we’re finally here/And shit yeah, it’s cool.” Yes, it is—no matter what happens from here on out.

—Matt Hickey

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Images From The Pitchfork Music Festival


MAGNET contributor Michael Jackson attended this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and sent us these great photos. More after the jump.

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Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Report Three


It’s the 34th annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

What’s the name of that old Kraftwerk tune, “Musique Non-Stop”? That’s how it feels in Copenhagen, and I can’t wake up early enough to see even a fraction of the action. Still, the shows I’ve attended continue to be first rate. American tenor titan/Berklee educator George Garzone has been coming to Copenhagen forever and has a great rapport with the Danish musicians in town. Garzone played multiple shows here, and his gig at the Jazz Cup was bold and beautiful. Garzone comes straight out of the Coltrane bag but has his own sound and should be far better known in the U.S. than he is. I also caught him at an awesome late-night jam session with pianist Kenny Werner and drummer Joe Lovano , which was a sight to behold. Check out Garzone’s new CD, 40 Years On The Fringe, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of his band, the Fringe. Can you say veteran?

Ever curious, I went to see the David Murray Infinity Quartet with Macy Gray again, and they were great—way better than their Montreal show last week. The reason for this was that the Copenhagen crowd was much more responsive to Gray, and she returned their affection in kind. Highlights continue to be songs like “Relating To A Psychopath,” Ellington’s “In My Solitude” and the title track of Murray’s new album, Be My Monster Love. Rumor has it Murray got seriously lost in the catacombs of the Royal Theater after the show à la Spinal Tap. But have no fear, all turned out well as Murray, Macy and the band came to the jam session at the Jazzhus Montmarte, much to the excitement of all.

For some local flavor I went to an outdoor gig by Pasborg’s Free Moby Dick, led by drummer Stefan Pasborg who happens to be the godson of Danish drum legend Alex Riel. Pasborg played a killing set of heavy jazz versions of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” a Led Zeppelin medley and even King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The band encored with Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” and everybody loved it, including myself.

I finally wound up hanging with my old buddies Medeski Martin & Wood, and their show last night at The Royal Theater was a solid success. I love these guys, and all three of them are masters of their respective instruments. Even though they don’t tour as much as they used to, they have great individual projects going at all times. Keyboardist Medeski is headed off to play some European dates with John Zorn, and drummer Billy Martin has his band Wicked Knee and is doing some film soundtracks. Bassist Chris Wood is busting out all over with his brother Oliver in the Wood Brothers—watch for their new CD, The Muse, produced by Buddy Miller. Anyways, that’s MMW, a band you can trust.

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Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Report Two


It’s the 34th annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

Things have been moving quickly at the Copenhagen Jazz Fest, but one thing that I’ve found is American musicians love Copenhagen. There seem to be expatriates all over the place, and the interaction between artists continually blurs international boundaries. Two days ago, I stopped by the fabled Jazz Cup CD store and caught a sterling set by guitarist Doug Raney. Raney’s father was the famous American jazz guitarist Jimmy Raney, and Doug’s a chip off the old block who made numerous records for the Steeplechase label back in the 1970s. Doug moved to Denmark in 1977 and has never looked back. His set at the Jazz Cup was straight ahead, and Raney’s band members are all great Scandinavian musicians.

After Raney’s show I strolled down the street to the Café Sommersko to hear Boston-bred saxophone legend Jerry Bergonzi. Bergonzi has been coming to Copenhagen for years, playing with a band of great Danes including pianist Carl Winther, bassist Johnny Aman and drummer Anders Mogensen. After Bergonzi’s burning set, I walked over to the Jazzhouse and witnessed the amazing spectacle of drummer Marilyn Mazur’s Spirit Cave. Mazur was born in the U.S. but moved to Denmark at age six. Her Spirit Cave project was bombastic/fusion-fantastic with Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær playing through a range of electronic processing. Mazur herself was a whirling dervish, banging around on a huge drum set, gongs and an arsenal of percussion—their sound was huge and very exciting.

Last night, I went to the Betty Nansen Theater, where the Valby Summer Jazz organization presented the international premiere of Joe Lovano & Benjamin Koppel Mezzo Sax Meeting. The mezzo-soprano saxophone is a new instrument—created by a Dane, of course. Danish saxophonist  Koppel was the first musician to get one, and after American sax veteran  Lovano saw it, he acquired one, too. Together, Lovano and Koppel presented this showcase for their new instruments—supported by American pianist Kenny Werner, Swedish bass legend Palle Danielsson and drummer Audun Kieve. The saxophones sounded great, and the band’s playing was totally inspired. If things keep going like this, I’ll have a hard time coming home myself!

—photo by Jannik Knudsen

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Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Report One


It’s the 34th annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

As they used to say in NYC, welcome to the jazz capitol of the world—except I’m not in Manhattan, I’m at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. And here in Denmark, jazz is serious business. This annual festival has been happening (officially) since 1979 and runs for 10 solid days with more than 100 participating venues and more than 1,000 concerts. It showcases the best in European jazz as well as many American artists and makes very little concessions toward non-jazz programming. Although I was jetlagged and already supersaturated musically coming from the Montreal Jazz Fest, I couldn’t help but be immediately drawn into this amazing city and its straightforward jazz hospitality. At the venerable Jazzhouse venue, I witnessed a typical Danish/American jazz collision with a quintet led by pianist/composer Søren Kjærgaard. Kjærgaard is an avant-garde player, but his band features the legendary Andrew Cyrille on drums, and any time Cyrille is playing, you know it’s for keeps. Also featuring saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo, bassist Thomas Morgan and singer Maria Laurette-Friis, Kjærgaard’s band levitated in unison—playing within a structured/improvisatory format that was hypnotically soothing and wholly inspirational. Leaving the Jazzhouse fully satisfied, I wandered over to the renowned Jazzhus Montmarte to check out their late-night jam session. Led by American drummer Lee Pearson, the music was good, and I noticed a few recognizable musicians, including bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist David Sánchez, pianist Kenny Werner and drummers Jonathan Blake, Billy Hart and (Danish legend) Alex Riel. Point being, if those bad boys are all hanging around, there something must be going right. Stay tuned.

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Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 8


It’s the 34th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

It was just another hot July night at the Montreal Jazz Fest, and although it was the Fourth of July back home, fireworks and barbeques were the furthest thing from my mind.

Now if Italian pianist Enrico Peiranunzi lived in America, he’d be a bona fide jazz star. Not that the man isn’t already known the world over, but for a superlative player who’s made more than 60 albums as a leader, he’s still criminally overlooked in the United States. Peiranunzi plays jazz and also classical piano, and sometimes mixes the two idioms. He also has a particular fondness for movie music, and for good reason—in the 1980s he worked as a session musician and played on the soundtracks of numerous films by the likes of Fellini and even  Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America. At the Cinquieme Salle, Peiranunzi dazzled his audience with a solo performance of grand proportions. He played music from Fellini films as well as compositions by Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone, and reprised his original soundtrack work on Cinema Paradiso. (look it up!)

Of course, the maestro played several original compositions, but it was when he performed and then improvised on the classical works of Domenico Scarlatti (son of Alessandro) that I understood we were in the presence of a true virtuoso. Peiranunzi’s albums are consistently top-notch and often feature talented American musicians as his supporting cast. Try some, by some, etc.

The fact that I could stroll out of such an amazing performance and the walk into a Betty LaVette concert was just icing on the cake. Ms. LaVette is on roll, going from strength to strength these past few years, and her choice of material is unerring. She did a slow burn on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and absolutely killed with \ Who epic “Love, Reign O’er Me” from Quadrophenia, as well as the final dramatic tune on LaVette’s own Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook.

Like LaVette says, it took her 50 years to become an overnight success. While most of her old Detroit show-biz peers are retired and living in nursing homes, she’s still singing her ass off and was totally adored by the Montreal audience—which sounds like the best revenge to me.

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Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 4


It’s the 34th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

Veteran saxophonist David Murray is all about the project. Always changing, and always challenging both himself and his audience, the versatile jazzman has finally found something artistically novel and commercially viable—and that certain something just happens to be Macy Gray. Pushing his latest CD (he’s released well more than 125 discs), Be My Monster Love, Murray is now touring with Macy and filling concert halls simply on the strength of her good name.

When they first debuted this material during the Winter Jazz Festival in NYC, Murray had surrounded Gray with a big band of avant-garde musicians, which proved cumbersome and a little imbalanced. But for their big summer tour, Murray has instead employed  the much smaller, much more focused Infinity Quartet to support the iconic diva. The smaller band also makes this endeavor much more profitable, by the way, and last night at the Montreal Jazz Festival, this proved to be a most winning combination. In between some powerful jazz interludes by the band, Gray came and went from the stage, changing glittering costumes to suit her status as an unqualified star.

Macy’s standout tunes from the record include the swinging, humorous “Relating To A Psychopath” as well as the CD’s title track. The hardcore jazzmen in the Infinity Quartet—Thornton Hudson on piano, bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Nasheet Waits—were actually perfect sidemen for Gray, and it will be nice to see them progress together as the tour continues. Most interesting was Gray’s dramatic take on  classic Ellington ballad “In My Solitude,” with Mr. Murray providing dramatic counterpoint on tenor sax—kind of like what Lester Young used to do with Billie Holiday. Gray was amiable and charming throughout and did her best to get the Montreal crowd up on their feet. Now, if only David Murray could stick with the project for more than one touring season and further develop the fascinating rapport he’s established with Macy Gray. Then things could get really interesting.

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Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 3


It’s the 34th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

The Montreal Jazz Festival keeps on rolling along, and I must admit they’ve been featuring plenty of world-class jazz to balance out the more populist programming necessary for such a huge, 10-day affair (like George Benson and Boz Scaggs).

Sunday night’s entertainment included the final installment of Charles Lloyd’s Invitation Series, where the veteran saxophonist engaged in improvisational duets and trio work with pianist Jason Moran and guitarist Bill Frisell. This was the first time Frisell had ever performed onstage with Lloyd and Moran, but not surprisingly, he fit right in. The ever-eloquent Mr. Lloyd spoke admiringly of “Brother Bill,” which reminded him of working with the notable Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, way back in 1961. Their gentle set was completely from the heart, and  Lloyd stood out on saxophones and flute. You should check out his extended discography, it’s pretty amazing.

Returning New Orleans hero Trombone Shorty played a solid, hard rocking dance set at Club Soda—singing old-school jams like “St. James Infirmary,” and “I’ve Got A Woman,” as well as Allen Toussaint classic “On Your Way Down.” The bottom line is that Trombone Shorty puts on a crowd-pleasing show. His band includes a horn section, a shredding guitarist and one monster drummer. Besides the trombone, Shorty also plays trumpet with great verve and exuberance. This was a party y’all—what else?

My evening concluded with a late-night set by pianist Jacky Terrasson accompanied by wonder-bassist Ben Williams and drummer Justin Faulkner. Although this particular trio hadn’t played together in a year, they were totally in sync and nearly telepathic. Terrasson is a bright, facile modernist who playfully jumped from standards like “Bésame Mucho” to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and closed out with a tough, stuttering version of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.” Terrasson’s quirky playing, references and attitude are right in line with keyboard stars like Brad Mehldau or Robert Glasper, and he’s already been making records for more than two decades. It’s only a matter of time before he reaches a much larger audience. Don’t wait.

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