Petula Clark/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/Dec. 26, 2017
Born in Epsom, Surrey, England, Sally Clark’s stage name was invented by her father; he joked it was a combination of the names of two former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla. Petula Clark began singing as a child in 1942 on BBC Radio during an air raid in World War II. Nicknamed the “Singing Sweetheart,” she performed for King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and was considered a mascot by the British Army, whose troops plastered her photos on their tanks for good luck as they advanced into battle. She hosted her own television show and appeared in feature films beginning in the 1940s, and started her singing career in the 1950s recording in German, French, Italian and Spanish. Americans came to know her when she rode the British Invasion during the early 1960s; the number one “Downtown” was the first of 15 consecutive Top 40 hits Clark achieved in the United States. Clark’s most recent English language album, From Now On, was released in October 2016. Clark is presently based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Petula Clark’s career in entertainment has spanned eight decades, but at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill the 85-year-old vocalist limited her retrospective to her music and adventures from the 1960s while also introducing songs from her most recent album. Significantly autobiographical and presented as cabaret, Clark relayed charming anecdotes prior to most songs, telling of her interactions with Fred Astaire in the musical film, Finian’s Rainbow, Charlie Chaplin on the soundtrack to the film A Countess from Hong Kong, Glenn Close in the stage version of Sunset Boulevard, and John Lennon, with whom she sang backup on “Give Peace a Chance.” Backed by a quintet, Clark sang her hits and cover songs. Her vocals were limited in range, but she knew what to do with it, lowering her pitch when the original versions rose too high. She changed “My Love” into a country hoedown, combined “I Know a Place” and “A Sign of the Times” into a medley, and engaged the audience in a singalong for “Downtown.” One may never again hear a swinging octogenarian with such a high-flying spirit.
Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/Dec. 28, 2017
Only a handful of the leaders of the golden age of salsa (1969-1979) remain alive, and 10-time Grammy winner, Eddie Palmieri, is perhaps the best known. Born in Spanish Harlem and raised in the Bronx by Puerto Rican parents, the 81-year-old Latin jazz pianist, composer and band leader has been performing for more than 70 years. As a youth, Palmieri played piano at talent shows at age eight, debuted at Carnegie Hall at 11, played timbales in his uncle’s orchestra, at 13, and formed his first band at 14. At 25, he revolutionized the Latin music scene with Conjunto La Perfecta, where Palmieri replaced Latin music’s traditional trumpets and violins with two trombones for a heavier sound, and blended the rhythms of his Afro-Caribbean heritage with the complexity of his jazz influences: Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner. After the breakup of La Perfecta, Palmieri expanded into soul, funk, and rock and adapted them to his New York salsa and jazz fusion. Palmieri continues to record and perform both for jazz and salsa audiences. His most recent album is Sabiduría/Wisdom, was recorded five years ago but was released on April 21, 2017.
Eddie Palmieri recently has been performing jazz venues with the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet, but at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill he returned to full-on salsa dance music with the 15-member Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra. From the first notes, this set was high-powered big band salsa, driven with descargas (improvised jam sessions) on old gems like 1964’s “Muñeca.” Palmieri’s leadership on piano, three vocalists, and first-rate horn and percussion sections kept the music percolating with Caribbean rhythms for a fiery salsa that was loud and tight. With so many instrumentalists contributing their best shots, it was sometimes challenging for a listener to focus on individual contributions, but the overall sound was bright and the effect was dance-inducing. Palmieri’s big band never fails to get a party started.
Television/The Bowery Ballroom/Dec. 31, 2017
Tom Verlaine (Tom Miller renamed himself Verlaine after the French poet) and Richard Hell were schoolmates in Hockessin, Del., and separately moved to New York in the early 1970s, both aspiring to be poets. In 1972, they formed the Neon Boys, consisting of Verlaine on guitar and vocals, Hell on bass and vocals and Billy Ficca on drums. In 1973, they recruited Richard Lloyd as a second guitarist, renamed themselves Television, and helped birth New York’s alternative rock revolution. Hell left the band in 1975 to co-found the Heartbreakers, later forming Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Fred Smith, briefly of Blondie, replaced Hell as Television’s bassist. Television achieved critical acclaim but not commercial success, and split in 1978. The band reformed in 1992 and released its third and most recent studio album, Television. Jimmy Rip replaced Lloyd in 2007.
Concluding a two-night engagement at the Bowery Ballroom on New Year’s Eve, Television celebrated by performing most of its debut album and improvising songs and poetry on the cuff. On a dimly lit stage under static red and blue lights, the accent was on the unpredictability of the music. The band started as it often does by turning tuning into a spontaneous, cerebral introduction to the set. As it flowed and floated, perhaps even the musicians had no idea how long it would last. This led to the more structured “Prove It” and “Elevation,” both of which featured the band’s trademark interlocking guitars, blurring the distinction between lead and rhythm guitars. True to his name, Rip provided the more conventional shreds while Verlaine usually added the more eclectic scales and leads. Verlaine seemed pensive, as the tense garage-rooted music increasingly spiraled into heady intellectual jams featuring lengthy, interweaving instrumental sections. Chiming guitars and angular rhythms gave way to fluid leads as the two guitarists spurred each other to experiment further with their craft, possibly leading the audience to ask, “Where is this going?” Neither the venue nor the band was well prepared for midnight, however. There was nothing resembling balloon drops or confetti cannons; Rip counted off the last 10 seconds and support act Eleanor Friedberger sang a completely inaudible “Auld Lang Sine.” Sloppy as it was, the Television concert was one of the best places to be to end 2017 and launch 2018.
Joseph Arthur/City Winery/Jan. 1, 2018
In his early teens in Akron, Ohio, Joseph Arthur inherited an electronic keyboard from his aunt and began writing and playing music. At age 16, he played bass in a blues band called Frankie Starr & the Chill Factor. In the early 1990s, Arthur relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, and sold guitars at a musical instruments store by day and played local clubs and recorded home demos by night. One demo caught the attention of Peter Gabriel, who then helped launch Arthur’s career by financing Arthur’s debut album. Arthur has played in several short-lived and commercially unsuccessful supergroups: Holding the Void with Pat Sansone of Wilco and the Autumn Defense in 2002-2003, Fistful of Mercy with Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison in 2010, and RNDM with Pearl Jam‘s Jeff Ament in 2012. Arthur is also a painter and designer, and in 2006 published a visual collection of his artworks in a book entitled, We Almost Made It. Arthur’s fourteenth and most recent album, The Family, was released on June 3, 2016.
Returning to City Winery for his eighth annual New Year’s Night residency, the Brooklyn-based Arthur once again played solo. In past performances he built his songs by looping guitar, percussion and vocal lines live, but this time almost all the tracks were pre-looped. Nevertheless, he ingeniously created a layered sonic palette by singing and playing guitar along with and adding to the prerecorded tracks. His lyrics were poetic, often brooding introspectively with emotional and spiritual struggles, and he sang them with brawny confidence, sometimes harmonizing with himself via loop effects. On this particular evening, Arthur was especially jovial, charmingly engaging his audience with amusing reflections between songs. Arthur also drew on a canvas, saying he hoped to sell the painting so he could use the money to escape the cold and fly to Mexico. Arthur’s performance was unique and splendid, a terrific model for how to stage a one-person show imaginatively.