Two freebie concert series that start this week — Music Haven and Upbeat on the Roof — arguably start at the top, with perhaps their strongest offerings.
Guitarist Bombino launches the Music Haven concert season Sunday in Central Park, fitting writer-musician-producer Al Quaglieri’s claim in Metroland years ago that the best music often comes from the world’s most miserable places.
A Tuareg from Niger, Bombino is twice a refugee and makes music of the Sahara, where wars overlap. His very African blues clatter in layers that shift and echo. Resonant guitar rides high; repeats build energy and variations release it, drums and bass rock, keyboards and percussion punctuate. It grooves like blues, it dances like reggae, especially the hyper-rhythmic “Tehlgren” on his (latest) “Deran” album, while “Takamba” also on “Deran,” echoes the Grateful Dead in its stutter beat and soaring guitar. Hearty vocals use repeats to generate centrifugal force. We know they mean every word, even if we don’t understand any.
The message: Sympathy for the displaced, and the life-saving power of maintaining identity and connections despite migration. Some vocals pack the hypnotic authority of chants; others soothe and sympathize, while the sheer massing of harmonies conveys a powerful emotional unity. It’s passionate and persuasive.
Every artist at Africa Now! in New York’s Apollo Theater last spring, hailed as Bombino’s U.S. breakthrough, has played here under Music Haven auspices, or will: JoJo Abot and Alsarah & the Nubatones last year, Mokoomba at Proctors next April.
Innov Gnawa open, an interactive band blending Moroccan trance-blues with jazz. 7 p.m. Free. Rain site: Proctors. www.musichavenstage.org
Also at Music Haven, on Tuesday the Empire Jazz Orchestra plays its last show with retiring dean of the SUNY Schenectady County Community College School of Music Dr. William Meckley. This follows “Finale,” a fond and swinging on-campus spring farewell to Meckley. Called “Encore,” this features Kevin Barcomb, Jim Corigliano, Brian Patneaude, Keith Pray and Brett Wery (who succeeds Meckley as dean), reeds; Jon Bronk, Dylan Canterbury, Terry Gordon, Steve Lambert and Scott Thompson, trumpets; Gary Barrow, Dan Cordell, Ken DeRagon and Ben O’Shea, trombones; Otto Gardner, bass; David Gleason, keyboards; Bob Halek, drums; and Mike Novakowski, guitar. Guest soloists Cliff Brucker, vibes; Leo Russo, tenor sax; Vito Speranza, trumpet; and Colleen Pratt, vocals, will perform with the Orchestra. 7 p.m. Free
Sunday’s show marks the debut of the newly-improved/expanded Music Haven with permanent stadium seating in front of the stage and grassy terracing on the hill behind it; also a new sound system. Food and drink will be available.
Upbeat on the Roof starts its 18th free-show season tonight on the roof of Skidmore’s Tang Teaching Museum (815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs) with rising-star young Albany singer-songwriter Girl Blue (Arielle O’Keefe). “Fire Under Water” from her EP “I Am Not A Star” – she’s wrong about that! – has drawn more than a million Spotify plays. 7 p.m. Free. Rain site: inside the Tang. 518-580-8080 www.skidmore.edu/
Astounding the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival with her free-jazz trio TEN June 24 was impressive enough, but then encored June 26 at Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center in a Duke Ellington tribute with a quintet.
TEN explored forward from fusion and bebop, while Carrington’s quintet followed a venerable song-map: Ellington’s blues-based trio album “Money Jungle,” which Carrington re-imagined on her Grammy-winning album of the same title and onstage at Skidmore.
Firmly in the driver’s seat at her drumkit, Carrington guided the music with rhythm, steering from song to song through arrangements that encouraged tenor and electronic wind instrument player Mark Shim and pianist Santiago Bosch to dialog while bassist Jared Henderson mainly supported the beat. Like a jam band, they seldom stopped until four songs in with “A Little Max” (for Max Roach, drummer on Ellington’s “Money Jungle;” Charles Mingus played bass on the session). “Warm Valley” relaxed from the muscular bop uproar earlier, into ballad territory, Shim especially eloquent on tenor and Bosch cleverly echoing. Then “Wig Wise” rode an abrupt cadence hard and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen played her way onstage in “Switch Blade,” ingeniously muting her horn at times, reaching high and blurring melodies with broad smears.
Introducing Tuesday’s encore “Come Sunday,” Carrington praised singer Mahalia Jackson’s version, hoping she could hit a single drum strike with the meaning, power and strength of Jackson’s singing. She did, a lot.
HONORING THE BAND
Woodstock area rockers Professor Louie & the Cromatix will play music of The Band Friday, with John Simon along to discuss producing The Band’s albums and other recollections from his “Truth, Lies and Hearsay — A Memoir of a Musical Life in and Out of Rock n’ Roll.” Leader Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz produced projects for The Band late in their career. He plays keyboards in the Crowmatix, with John Platania, guitar; Gary Burke, drums; Miss Marie, vocals; and Frank Campbell, bass. The 7:30 p.m. show is a fundraiser for WEXT. $25, 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org