Thursday, October 22, 2009

Somehwere There's Music: Storytellers and the Poetry of Jazz

© Andrea Canter
The past week offered the perfect opportunity to explain jazz and blues as musical storytelling, or even poetry. Three cases in point, from visitors and locals:

Mose Allison at the Artists Quarter (October 16). Yes, he pretty much plays tunes from the same two dozen songs, year after year. But at 81, we can overlook Mose Allison’s unchanging repertoire and just sit back and enjoy that gravely voice and still-swinging piano, listening to lyrics that are as timeless as they are clever (“Your Mind Is on Vacation,” “Fool’s Paradise,” “Certified Senior Citizen”). And if he leaves out our favorite (“Monsters of the Id”), we pout!

Soul Café at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church (October 18). I first encountered this sublime melding of jazz and poetry about five years ago, when Soul Café (Steve Blons, Brad Holden and Laura Caviani) were monthly performers in the Art Gallery at HAUMC. The idea was to present music complemented by poetry readings, usually around a theme or a specific poet or composer. The trio has been on hiatus over the past year, occasionally reuniting for an evening as they did last weekend. The theme, appropriately enough given the weather, was “Seasons of Change,” and the poems and music took us through the year’s cycle, beginning with “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” followed by “Autumn Leaves” and an appropriately depressing poem of Billy Collins read by KBEM’s Michelle Jansen. Still the music sustained a more pleasant mood, buoyed by a guitar and sax duo. Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall” benefited from Laura Caviani’s arrangement that takes off on a riff from “Poinciana,” while “Joy Spring” and later “Summertime” brought us full circle, ending with “Autumn in New York” (emerging after the first few notes of “New York, New York”). The back and forth of spoken words and jazz trio is always an engaging format where the involvement of the performers with their audience is a natural part of the evening. The instrumentation of piano, sax and guitar seems perfectly suited to the art of Soul Café.

Tuck and Patti, at the Dakota (October 21). Together performing (as well as life partners) for three decades, the vocal/guitar jazz duo Tuck (Andress) and Patti (Cathcart) met at an audition in Las Vegas, began performing as a duo in California in 1981, and now have fifteen albums and a world of fans to their credit. Tuck (guitar) and Patti (vocalist/composer/arranger) have forged a partnership unequaled in modern music, applying a simple formula: Says Tuck, “Patti writes and arranges; I am just the orchestra.” And that’s more than a loose analogy. On stage at the Dakota this past week, Tuck Andress was indeed the orchestra with merely two hands, ten fingers, and six strings, his multi-part harmonies, wide arsenal of attack strategies, and elastic dexterity often conjuring a trio or quartet accompaniment for Patti’s equally agile, elegantly down-home vocals. Essentially Patti sings a cappella over Tuck’s improvisation, and ultimately we are hearing two improvisers who can sense each other’s next move as if sharing one heart. And it works. Their collaboration yields the sound of two guitars, two horns, one of each, mirror images, always on the same emotional plane, be it the superbly upbeat “Learning How to Fly” or the delicately sweet “Takes My Breath Away.” And we were breathless. (Watch Jazz Police for full review,

Photos: Mose Allison, a "certified senior citizen" when he played the Twin Cities Jazz Festival a few years ago; Soul Cafe (Brad, Laura, & Steve); Patti Cathcart and Tuck Andress at the Dakota (Photos by Andrea Canter)