Tributes this week honor two supremely influential and creative singer-songwriters: Joni Mitchell Friday in the Jean Stapleton Theater at Hudson Valley Community College (80 Vandenburgh Ave., Troy); and Laura Nyro Saturday at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady). The shows mark the 50th anniversary year of Mitchell’s debut album “Song to a Seagull” and Nyro’s “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession,” her second.
“The Music of Joni Mitchell” brings an all-star revue to the stage, armed with songs from Mitchell’s 21 albums that span troubadour sparseness to bold big bands. Mitchell made the most sophisticated singer-songwriter music of the folk revival, built an all-star combo featuring Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny and other jazzbos, recorded with bebop immortal Charles Mingus and once toured with just drummer Brian Blade. My worst mistake in decades of reviewing live shows, and still the reason I hate nights with two important shows, was going to see KC and The Sunshine Band at SPAC instead of Mitchell with her jazz band at Tanglewood, but I digress.
Bassist Scott Petito formed this revue, featuring Gail Ann Dorsey, bass; Veronica Nunn and Leslie Ritter, vocals; Jay Collins, reeds; Danny Blume, guitar and bass; Roberto Rodriguez, drums; Travis Shook, keyboards; and Rachel Z, organ. 8 p.m. $10; free for HVCC students with ID. 518-861-4042 www.hvcc.edu/culture/events/html
Petito also co-stars in “Spero Plays Nyro” by the Christine Spero Group at the Van Dyck (238 Union St., Schenectady) on Saturday.
Singer/pianist Spero and bassist Petito play Nyro’s jazzy/Broadway blues with drummer Peter O’Brien and reed player/percussionist Elliot Spero. Some late-career live sets show Nyro alone at the piano, the format of her shows at The Egg and Berkshire Performing Arts Center (BPAC). However, she was a composer of symphonic ambition and recorded often with Charlie Calello, who crafted arrangements of orchestral architecture that her human trumpet voice (her father was a trumpeter) rode with airy ease.
“I’ve created my own little world, a world of music,” Nyro told Billboard in 1970, a world she invited me into when I saw her at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Not the disaster some reported, it seemed the national debut of a hypnotic talent with pen, piano and voice. Her records projected a cinema soundtrack of New York with scenes of Broadway, Brill Building pop, uptown R&B and late-night jazz. Her “Gonna Take a Miracle” of Philly soul covers co-starred Labelle, and she turned down a chance to lead Blood, Sweat & Tears after Al Kooper left.
After a long hiatus, she made her “Mother’s Spiritual” comeback album and played Tanglewood with a big band. I phoned her publicist 22 times; the only writers who got interviews were at Rolling Stone, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and me at The Gazette. The publicist offered 20 minutes, we talked for two hours, but Nyro wouldn’t tell me if she modeled the character Captain St. Lucifer in “Mama Mama” after friend Miles Davis.
OK, I digress, but I loved Nyro, whom I got to meet backstage at BPAC. Her death of ovarian cancer in 1997 — at 49, the same age her mother died of the same disease — hit me hard. By all accounts, including Calello’s, Spero plays and sings Nyro’s songs well. So did an all-star crew Billy Childs assembled on “Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro” (2014), but I digress again.
Spero won the USA Songwriting Competition/Jazz category and her “My Spanish Dream” album explores her Caribbean, jazz and pop roots.“Spero Plays Nyro” — 7:30 p.m. $18 advance, $22 door. 518-348-7999 www.vandyckounge.com
JAZZ THEN; JAZZ NOW
The Empire Jazz Orchestra paid fond, swinging tribute to retiring maestro Bill Meckley last Tuesday at Schenectady County Community College, honoring Meckley’s 25 years leading the 19-piece band of SCCC faculty members and alumni, including Brett Wery, Brian Patneaude, Cliff Brucker and Keith Pray.
Guests popped in and out: Vito Speranza’s trumpet hit all the (really!) high notes of Duke Ellington’s “Portrait of Louis Armstrong”; Colleen Pratt sang “Johnny One-Note” to warm effect and “My Romance” even warmer; Brucker (vibes) and Leo Russo (tenor) surfed “The Dolphin” in a fluid romp. Regulars got lots of love, too, especially Dylan Canterbury’s electric trumpet exploration and guitarist Mike Novakowski’s sitar emulation in Don Ellis’s “Turkish Bath.” Meckley was the star, though, praised in a video of musicians’ tributes, leading his band with muscular aplomb and urging the packed house to catch other area big bands led by Keith Pray (an EJO member who got some solo time Tuesday) and Phil Allen, who was in The Egg’s Swyer Theater Sunday for the Brad Mehldau Trio.
So were many other musicians, including pianist Lecco Morris, who assured me I was in exactly the right spot in the entire universe that night for Morris’s “favorite living musician.”
Over 35 albums — “After Bach” and “Seymour Reads the Constitution” this year alone, so far — Mehldau has crafted an ever more persuasive and powerful blend of classical structure with jazz freedom, of head and heart.
Meldau played it cool, mostly; questing solo piano pulling bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard into tunes old and new, some so fresh they’re untitled. Master of touch, technique and taste, Mehldau seldom revved past allegro, so lightning arpeggios grabbed with arresting force. He sometimes comped with his right hand and freelanced with his left. He gave Grenadier and Ballard plenty of space, and helped with crisp commentary or fed them ideas they instantly translated in their own languages.
Sonny Rollins’s stirring “Airegin” swaggered with the strongest stride, but Mehldau’s extended Jarrett-like improvisation on a new ballad provided the 90-minute show’s most expressive and deepest playing. They encored with “Hey, Joe” — yeah, the rock song, Ballard double-timing for plenty of pump and Mehldau circling around the melody like a happy hawk riding a thermal. When they were hot, they were HOT!
Trumpeter Chris Pasin and his Ornittequette (best band name all week) celebrate the spiky, out-there music of the late, great Ornette Coleman — saxophonist, composer and free-jazz pioneer — tonight at the Spring (110 Spring St., Saratoga Springs). Ornettiquette features Adam Siegel, alto sax; Michael Bisio, bass; and Harvey Sorgen, drums. $15 advance, $20 door. 518-587-6433 www.springstreetgallerysaratoga.org
Cuban human cello Dayme Arocena sings Friday at The Egg, a strong-voiced singer-songwriter-percussionist with a sparse, strong trio: Rafael Aldama, bass; and Jorge Luis Lagarza. 8 p.m. $28. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
Also at The Egg, the Fab Faux’s Beatles tribute “The White Album” Saturday is sold out.
GOV’T MULE AT PALACE
Hyperactive guitarist Warren Haynes brings his main band Gov’t Mule to the Palace (19 Clinton Ave., Albany) tonight. Like Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio (touring these days with a trio co-starring Saratoga bassist Tony Markellis), Haynes has many bands and learns from all of them.
Formed in 1994 as an Allman Brothers side project, the Mule has grown ever more soulful and funky over time, likely the influence of his big, newer Warren Haynes Band featuring New Orleanians George Porter Jr., Ivan Neville, Terence Higgins or Raymond Weber, Ruthie Foster and sometimes some horns. These days, Gov’t Mule is Haynes, Matt Abts, drums; Danny Louis, guitar and keyboards; and Jorgen Carlsson, bass.
Their new album “Revolution Come … Revolution Go” has a political focus and a soulful sound. Compatibly forceful newcomers Blackberry Smoke open; their debut “Find a Light” forecasts headline status for the versatile quintet, and soon. In fact, they play Upstate Concert Hall May 19. 7:30 p.m. $54.50, $44.50, $34.50, $29.50. 800-745-3000 www.palacealbany.org