In a year bookended by Alejandro Escovedo with the Burn Something Beautiful Band January 6 at Club Helsinki and NRBQ next week at the Hangar (my third ‘Q show this year, which is almost enough…), I saw many cool shows, without even managing to pilgrimage to New Orleans for Jazz Fest.
Fortunately, New Orleans came to us this year: both Wynton and Branford Marsalis, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, the subdudes, Bonerama, the funky Meters, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, Beausoleil, Glen David Andrews, the Revelers, the Soul Rebels, Hurray for the Riff Raff and others.
As happily as I welcomed favorite artists, 2017 brought new-to-me discoveries including Betsaya Machado y La Parranda El Clavo, Darlingside, Alsarah & the Nubatones, Robbie Fulks, Yemen Blues, Blind Boy Paxton, and Amir ElSaffar.
Reaching past my regular beat, I saw the National Orchestra of Ukraine play a brilliant all-Russian program of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Stravinsky at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and the Philadelphia Orchestra play a sumptuous all-French evening: Berlioz and Saint-Saens, at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. And I caught a cool jazz show headlined by Joe Lovano in a new venue, the Senate Garage in Hudson.
Seeing familiar artists in new contexts was big fun including the jazz tag-team of the Chick Corea Elektric Band with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones — an outrageous twin-bill — jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas in a new band he calls DaDa People, E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent with Nashville hot-rods led by our own Eddie Angel, and Hudson, an all-star jazz crew of Jack DeJohnette, drums; John Scofield, guitar; Larry Grenadier, bass; and; John Medeski, keyboards.
Some area venues saw changes of leadership, while Caffe Lena (one of our oldest, smallest cool venues) and the Times Union Center (our biggest indoor showplace) unveiled improved facilities. The Albany Capital Center opened its doors; the Glens Falls Civic Center became the Cool Insuring Arena; and Schenectady’s former St. Mary’s Church became Renaissance Hall. Meanwhile, Music Haven launched ambitious facility improvements for next summer (and an indoor series at Proctors) while Alive at Five returned to its Jennings Landing location after improvements there; and the Eighth Step celebrated its 50th anniversary with two shows.
First, some awards, then some best-of lists.
Bob Dylan Troubadour Award (for best-written songs): Well, Dylan himself, of course, at the Palace Nov. 17; Robbie Fulks at Caffe Lena Sept. 28, and Rosanne Cash at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Oct. 14
Danciest Shows: the James Brown “Get on the Goodfoot Award”: Amadou and Mariam and JoJo Abot at Music Haven July 16; and Betsaya Machado y La Parranda El Clavo at Proctors Oct. 19
Strangest Shows: Loudon Wainwright III, Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche at The Egg Oct. 28: a painfully candid, errant troubadour, one of his exes, and their daughter: dysfunctional, maybe, but harmonious. Rodriguez at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Sept. 25. Star of the biofilm “Searching for Sugar Man,” the Detroit troubadour roamed from songs of his 1970s near-stardom to now, singing softly but carrying a big mystique.
The Hall also wins Best Boomer Week Award: Superb shows by Boz Scaggs (Sept. 12, with band) and Randy Newman (Sept. 16, solo).
Big Mystique Award: Bryan Ferry at Proctors March 30. “Long-awaited” doesn’t come close to the expectation the Roxy Music singer raised and redeemed in his local debut, at 72.
Best Opening Act: Front Country before Darlingside at The Egg Dec. 8 — they also get a Frequent Flyer Award: they played Made in the Shade of the Egg July 22.
Other Frequent Flyers: The Figgs, NRBQ, Victor Wooten, Eddie Angel, Hot Tuna, the Wood Brothers and — of course! — Sawyer Fredericks who played everywhere.
Most Intimate Show: The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall imaginatively transformed the small audience for Dave Douglas and his DaDa People quartet into part of the band by placing us all, like a single organism, on the stage Apr. 13.
Classic-Jazz-est Show: San Francisco Jazz Collective at The Egg March 30, playing mostly Miles Davis tunes
Outside-est Jazz Shows: Dave Douglas & the DaDa People Quartet at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Apr. 13; and the Victor Wooten Trio at The Egg Dec. 10
Biggest Jazz Show: Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival (Sunday) — highlights: Hudson, DeeDee Bridgewater, Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles, Blind Boy Paxton, and Jane Bunnett & Maqueque)
Most Educational Shows: Geoff Muldaur at Caffe Lena Apr. 28 and Blind Boy Paxton at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival June 25 offered deep background on their deliciously antique tunes.
Tops in pop/rock
My 2017 Top 15 pop/rock shows, chronologically:
- Alejandro Escovedo and the Burn Something Beautiful Band at Club Helsinki Jan. 6
- Los Lobos at The Egg Jan. 29
- The Last Waltz all-star revue (first set) at the Palace Feb. 2
- Red Baraat at The Egg Mar. 11
- Bryan Ferry, and Judith Owen at Proctors Mar. 30 — my top show of the year
- Geoff Muldaur at Caffe Lena April 28
- Garry Tallent at the Hangar May 9
- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at The Egg June 14
- NRBQ at the Hangar June 23
- Tedeschi Trucks Band, Hot Tuna and the Wood Bros at SPAC July 3
- Amadou and Mariam, and JoJo Abot at Music Haven July 16
- Boz Scaggs at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Sept. 12
- Robbie Fulks at Caffe Lena Sept. 28
- Rosanne Cash at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Nov. 14
- Richard Thompson at The Egg Dec. 12
Tops in jazz
Top 2017 jazz shows, chronologically:
- Pat Metheny at The Egg Jan. 18
- San Francisco Jazz Collective at The Egg March 30
- Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Apr. 27
- Highlights of the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival June 25: Hudson, DeeDee Bridgewater, Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles, Blind Boy Paxton, and Jane Bunnett & Maqueque)
- Chick Corea Elektric Band and Bela Fleck & the Flecktones at The Egg Aug. 5
- Chembo Corneil at A Place for Jazz Sept. 22
- The Don Byron Quartet at A Place for Jazz on Nov. 3
- The Victor Wooten Trio at The Egg Dec. 10