Jukebox: As storms blow in, some of greats fade out

Cyrille Aimee, center, sang at Caffe Lena last Saturday with bassist Lex Warshawsky and pianist Ryan Hanseler.
Cyrille Aimee, center, sang at Caffe Lena last Saturday with bassist Lex Warshawsky and pianist Ryan Hanseler.

When I wrote obituaries here, an editor warned me that weather changes raise the death toll. I thought he meant season-specific hazards, like the snow-shoveling heart-attack death last winter of my Gibbons schoolmate then Stockade upstairs neighbor Frank DeMasi.

But no. Any change, in any direction, has this effect.

So it is with musicians lately, as storms coated the world like a big glazed donut.

We recently lost local hero percussionist-bandleader Eddie Ade Knowles, Canadian pedal steel player Buddy Cage, New York soul-funk guitarist Ronny Drayton — also, likely, others.

Knowles was among our most visible and vital greats. A professor, dean and vice president at RPI, he became a leader in percussion-powered Afro-centric music. When Knowles was board chair at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, he boomed exuberant stage introductions, welcoming us to “The HALL!” as the shrine it is. An original member of the late, great Gil Scott Heron’s Midnight Band, he played with many groups here, including Heard. Founder of Ensemble Congeros, Knowles welded an amateur crew into a rhythm powerhouse, one of the happiest bands around. At Discover Schenectady’s Summer Kick Off show last June at Music Haven, their beats took the whole park to Africa.

Cage moved from Ian & Sylvia’s folk-rocking Speckled Bird Band to California country-rock pioneers Poco, then replaced Jerry Garcia in the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Former Saratoga, now-Nashville troubadour Tom Mitchell (met up with him at the David Olney fest last month at Brown’s Diner) wrote on Facebook, “Buddy played pedal steel on my first album for Philip records in 1975. He was brought on board by my bass player/producer and his good friend, Tony Markellis. I’d heard his playing … and now here he was playing my songs!” Just off a Trey Anastasio Band tour, Markellis replied, “Buddy was one of the greats. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with him.”

A journeyman New York guitar giant, Drayton punched up songs by Nona Hendryx, David Sylvian, Material, Edwin Birdsong, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, 24-7-Spyz, James Blood Ulmer and many more. He had speedy zip, funk fire and dancey propulsion, and he cooked up riff recipes all his own. When he played here with the tremendous ex-LaBelle singer Hendryx at the GE Theatre and Music Haven, Drayton owned the stage.

Saturday at Caffe Lena, Cyrille Aimee sang her way into the front rank among young jazz vocalists who’ve performed here recently, including Jazzmeia Horn, Youn Sun Nah, Veronica Swift and Kandace Springs. In a sold-out show with pianist Ryan Hanseler and bassist Lex Warshawsky, French-born Aimee, 34, showed fearless youthful energy but never sounded rushed or ragged. She let songs speak through her, matching mature lyrical insight with honed technique. She moved the mic away when she belted and hugged it close to whisper, for example, just as Caffe soundman Joe Deuel eased Hanseler’s piano down in the mix for aggressive Oscar Peterson-like runs and brought him back up in quieter passages.

The trio built dynamics beautifully, songs starting with just bass or piano, then adding density and drive in waves. Warshawsky played in the pocket, New Orleans-style, dancing and strutting more than walking his basslines. Hanseler seemed happiest pumping the pulse, as in the exciting “Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” but went quiet-lyrical to charming effect in “Crazy in Love With You.”

Aimee sang precise but rich emotional nuance in early Stephen Sondheim show tunes, the upbeat “Live Alone and Like It” then “No One Is Alone” waltzing through karmic complications on tiptoe. She claimed standards as her own, with personality. “But Not for Me” erupted in skat bursts, teasing the beat; “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” bounced New Orleans-style. At the other end of the familiarity scale, she sent the band off to layer her voice in loops of electro-solo fireworks, gazing out shyly under her curls to verify she still had us: She did.

Aimee peeled the paint late at encore time, belting “Loud Talking Woman Blues” with the bawdy rasp of Bessie Smith or Maria Muldaur.

Tonight, the Mallett Brothers Band plays the Hollow Bar + Kitchen (79 N. Pearl St., Albany). The Maine-based sons of troubadour David, guitarists Luke and Will Mallett and bandmates look like southern-rock road dogs: Nick Leen, bass; stringed-things player Andrew Martell; Brian Higgins, drums — though Phish drummer Jon Fishman sometimes sits in; and guitarist Wally Wenzel. They recorded two of their seven albums live onstage, including their most recent, “Live in Portland, Maine.” Union Grits open. 8 p.m. $12. 518-426-8550 www.thehollowalbany.com

Vermont improvising rockers Twiddle headline a three-band jam-fest Friday at the Palace (19 Clinton Ave. at North Pearl Street, Albany); Wild Adriatic and Strange Machines open. Twiddle first jammed together at Castleton State College: Mihali Savoulidis, guitar; Ryan Dempsey, keyboards; Zdenek Gubb, bass; and Brook Jordan, drums. They make intricate but relaxed music with Phish-y uplift in songwriting. Jazz-spiced Saratoga groove-sters Wild Adriatic are Travis Gray, guitar; Rich Derbyshire, bass; Mateo Vosganian, drums; Scott Hannay, keyboards; and sax-players Mike and Vicky Oehmen. Boston’s Strange Machines get the long-distance award Friday: Mike MacDonald, guitar; Christian Perron, keyboards; Isaac Civitello, drums; and Craig Holland, bass. 7:40 p.m. $36 advance, $41 on Friday. 800-745-3000 www.palacealbany.com

Also Friday, Drew Emmitt (mostly mandolin) and Vince Herman (mostly guitar) strip their band Leftover Salmon down to a duo show at The Egg. 7:30 p.m. $29.50. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org

On Friday, Texas tornado Emily Wolfe — songwriter, singer, guitarist — plays WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany). Albany indie-rockers This Strange Paradise and solo singer-songwriter Tom West open. 8 p.m. 8 p.m. $20. 518-465-5233 www.thelinda.org

Al B. Sure! continues a run of modern-veteran soul stars Saturday at Rivers Casino & Resort (1 Rush St, Schenectady). The suave, smooth-voiced singer, producer and radio host exploded with his 1988 triple-platinum, chart-topping debut album “In Effect Mode.” 8 p.m. $25. 518-579-8800 www.riverscasinoandresort.com

Like Cyrille Aimee last Saturday, troubadour Tom Chapin’s late show Saturday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) is sold out. Tickets remain for his early (4 p.m.) show: $28 advance, $32 door, $16 students and children. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org

Tonight, the Caffe presents six guitarists onstage at once: the combined California Guitar Trio and Montreal Guitar Trio. 7 p.m. $35, $38, $19

And Friday, the Lovestruck Balladeers — an ace old-time strings and clarinet quintet — celebrate Valentine’s Day at the Caffe. 8 p.m. $18, $20, $10

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

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