Damn Nazis Always Ruin The Party
The 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret takes place at the seedy Kit Kat Club in 1931 Germany where the dancers dance in their underwear and you can take one or two them to a back room. The rising Nazi party is laughed off as a minor aberration as men and women are encouraged to get totally libidinous. The songs are bawdy, the music is joyous, the choreography suggestive and there’s even an orgy where all you can see are shadows.
“This is Berlin!”
American novelist Cliff Bradshaw arrives with a copy of Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, so he can read about and try to “understand German politics.” He falls in love with a slutty singer, Sally Bowles, and becomes embroiled in the rising wave of Fascism, but not before experimenting sexually with other men.
The bi-sexual Master Of Ceremonies introduces numerous tunes as played by a swinging Euro nonet live onstage as the dancers shake their moneymakers. Act No. 1 ends with a party that is ruined by the entrance of a Nazi soldier.
The Bacchanalian party continues in Act No. 2 as the MC intones in no uncertain terms that whatever is happening in Germany “won’t happen here” so the music gets more frenetic and the dancing wilder. Just as in America during Prohibition, the threat of being shut down made the celebrants that much more edgy and wild. Of course (spoiler alert), The Kit Kat Club is, indeed, shut down by the Nazis in their quest to eradicate Jews and Gays. In fact, Cabaret ends with the MC finishing the last song of the night in prison garb before being shot dead. Fade to black.
I forgot how dark Cabaret is. As staged at The State Theatre in Easton Pennsylvania, the production was sublime, the sound unerring and the performances sterling. (These traveling roadshows of popular Broadway mainstays feature the kind of presentations equaling that of Broadway itself, especially in a terrific venue like the State.) I walked to my car in a daze, agog with the implications of what I had just witnessed, lost in thought about how America today under President Moron is inching towards Germany in the 1930s.
Johnny Winter’s main man, guitarist Paul Nelson, a hero in my eyes for keeping Johnny alive for a few more years, and a man I proudly call my friend, has produced Next In Live (VizzTone) by an incredible 19-year-old guitarist. The Tyler Morris Band rocks with a special kind of blues ferocity as if this Boston kid graduated from the Stevie Ray Vaughan school of soloing dexterity. Morris wrote nine of 10 and blisters his ax on every single track. With gruff soul vocals by Morten Fredheim and a band of professionals who are, in the words of Tina Turner, “funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter,” Next In Line might be a portentous title for this most promising of upcoming blues-rock guitar heroes.
Mississippi Mick Kolassa is a blues historian who backs up his bravado with actions like donating 100 percent of monies made from the release of the super-fine Double Standards (Swing Suit Records) to The Blues Foundation. He can growl with the best of them, play a razor-sharp guitar and, with the help of Memphis blues stud Jeff Jensen, has recorded 13 classic blues tracks with a full band (six of which are either by Tampa Red or Willie Dixon). All killer, no filler, and all duets, I’m partial to Otis Blackwell’s “Fever” with the sultry Annika Chambers, the 1923 Bessie Smith hit “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” with Tas Cru, BB King’s “Rock Me Baby” with Tullie Brae and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” with Eric Hughes. Almost impossible to pick a highlight but “Early In The Morning,” the 1947 hit by Louis Jordan & His Tympany 5, floats my boat bigtime.
For his fifth CD, Andrew Neu has brought together the cream of the Los Angeles crop of jazzers on a wildly entertaining Catwalk (CGN Records). Five saxophones, five trombones, four trumpets, vibraphone, piano, bass and drums all collide amicably as Neu arranged, conducted, wrote eight of 11, besides blowing his own sax and flute mightily alongside such stars as Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer and other studio stalwarts. Be it Latin, swing, funk, post-bop or big-band styles, Neu keeps the program lively, injecting Neu blood into such well-worn comfortable slippers as the 1939 Coleman Hawkins hit “Body And Soul,” Ennio Morricone’s 1989 “Cinema Paradiso” and Cole Porter’s 1929 “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Highly Recommended.
Sinatra Meets Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt [1910-1953], the legendary three-fingered gypsy guitarist, died when Frank Sinatra [1915-1998] was 38. Considering Sinatra’s sophisticated musical worldview, I’m betting he was a fan. Roch Lockyer is a guitarist/vocalist/composer/producer/arranger whose self-released When Frank Met Django debut is a totally delightful nine-song excursion that sounds as if it comes from long-ago and far-away. Lockyer has the kind of voice — jarring at first — that you just don’t hear anymore. Think Rudy Vallee, Al Jolson, Dick Haymes, Bing Crosby or the earliest of Sinatra recordings when he was still the boy singer in the orchestra of Harry James. It’s a voice for the ages that harkens back to earlier eras, and when combined with his deft lead guitar that emulates Django beautifully, a mood is created that is different, otherworldly, and perfectly gorgeous. Add empathetic violin, clarinet and bass (no drums) on material that Sinatra himself recorded from Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer to the Gershwins, this young man has succeeded in making an album that stands out amongst the plethora of 2018 vocalese.
The world needs the music and message of the Surabhi Ensemble. Their self-titled debut is a cultural touchstone bringing together the music of different global cultures in a free-wheeling folksy, jazzy, jammy good time. They’ve been at it in Chicago for eight years, fusing ragas from India with Arabic scales, Spanish Flamenco and Middle Eastern folkloric dance (two Surabhi members you do not get to hear on this great CD are dancers who add drama, action and flair to their live shows). The intent is a “positive message of togetherness” and, to that end, they’ve brought their sound and choreography to schools, hospitals, theaters, concert halls, festivals, refugee camps, neighborhood parks and cultural centers.
There is no describing this joyous sound in terms near enough for understanding. There are instruments being played that Western ears might never have even heard. Thanks to Ravi Shankar, we’ve all heard the sitar but have you yet to experience the veena, oud, talking drum or erhu? Add guitar, tabla, percussion, bass and violin and you’ve got one simmering boil of sound that is as righteous as it is comforting, entertaining, kinetic and totally unforgettable.