“I do old things in new ways,” said trumpeter/singer Bria Skonberg Friday at Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center, “and new things in old ways.” The Canadian jazz artist’s retro-nuevo approach also worked for rocker Willie Nile last Thursday at WAMC’s The Linda.
Nile led the same blunt-force band Thursday as in the most recent handful of his nine or 10 shows at The Linda; he’d played one on crutches, he reminded us. Nile, guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano and drummer John Weber made straight-up rock ’n’ roll with no frills or fat, charged with a powerful sound no more innovative than a locomotive but every bit as irresistible.
Starting with Nile’s own songs, rocking strong, they celebrated rock ’n’ roll energy itself in “Forever Wild,” Run,” “Bleecker Street” and “This Is Our Time.” However, these vintage-sounding tunes increasingly addressed contemporary issues with right-now urgency. Citing a recent Riverkeeper benefit show in New York backing Debbie Harry,
Nile led the band into a raucous romp in Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” but immediately returned to crisis mode in “All Dressed Up and No Place to Go” protesting environmental destruction; then “Heaven Help the Lonely” bemoaned homelessness.
Weber’s snare shots started above his head to power the rockers, while Hogan soloed over the moon; bassist Pisano often played more notes than anybody, double-timing against the kick drum. When they slowed a bit — “She’s Got my Heart,” Nile’s slowest, tenderest tune — Hogan used his prettiest tones and most lyrical phrasing. Noting they’d made an album of Dylan songs in two days, Nile powered up next with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” swinging for the fences, confident and raw. Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” and Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” also went the distance before Nile put the place right into his pocket with “One Guitar” — an anthem, a mighty mission statement.
Skonberg started her Zankel show Friday in playful swing: “From the Moment On.” First singing this romantic antique, she then played it on trumpet with Louis Armstrong’s big-hearted openness. Sidney Bechet’s “Egyptian Fantasy” held the vintage mood, Skonberg making wah-wah effects with plunger mute before soloing out bold.
Singing and playing balanced beautifully. Ending a verse in Nat King Cole’s revenge/love song “You Were a Little Too Late,” she sang a defiant “Huh!” before singing in the same feisty fashion through her trumpet. It wasn’t all antique show, however: Her own “Hip Chick” surged hard-fusion style, ala 1970s Miles or Herbie; and when drummer Darrian Douglas reinforced abrupt trumpet blasts with snappy snare shots, the effect was riveting. Skonberg paced the show for maximum drama. Leonard Cohen’s dreamy “Dance Me to the End of Time” at first seemed an elegant change of pace, but its fluttery beauty turned deeply melancholy as Skonberg’s trumpet sang in a more yearning poignancy than even her voice. Wind danced the trees outside in tempo and silver light as Devin Starks bowed his bass softly, sporting a cumulus ’fro. Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” brought us back to earth, but injecting bits of “Black and Tan Fantasy” (Duke Ellington) into “Blackbird” (Paul McCartney) offered the same transforming, imaginative dazzle as “Dance.”
As at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall with the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour, Skonberg honored pioneering trumpeter/singer Valaida Snow with a swinging singalong. The departure-less encore that followed, “So Is the Day,” felt like cooling sorbet, a sparse and torchy, haunting and devastating dessert after a savory feast. Pianist Will Delisfort went all Chopin here, a lovely effect.
Skonberg’s easy warmth really connected in a wonderfully innovative/antique show full of charm and invention.
Sunday, Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) honors longtime Saratoga-area recording engineer/producer and composer Charlie Eble, while The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) celebrates singer, journalist, visual artist and co-publisher of Nippertown.com Greg Haymes. Both died of cancer, Eble in 2017 and Haymes this spring.
At the Caffe from noon to 6 p.m., more than a dozen musicians including Chuck Lamb, Bob Warren, Garland Nelson, Ariana Gillis, and Rick and Sharon Bolton will perform in a fundraiser to launch the new Charlie Eble Tech Internship for students of audio engineering. Concert noon, $25. Concert plus 7 p.m. buffet at Mama Mia (185 Ballston Ave., Saratoga Springs) $45. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org
“Greg Haymes — Remembering a Life of Words, Art and Music” will also feature music and recollections by bandmates, friends, fans and colleagues. 4 p.m. Free. Reserve a place by email to [email protected]
Caffe Lena also presents Damn the Torpedoes, a rocking tribute to Tom Petty, on Friday (8 p.m. $25 advance, $28 door, $14 students and children) and Seattle’s Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio plays soul-jazz Saturday (8 p.m. $25, $28, $14).
Meanwhile, The Egg also presents the Prince tribute crew Purple Reign tonight (7:30 p.m. $57, $47), the Rock/Elvis/Beatles show Friday (7:30 p.m. $25, $20) and the classical-hip-hop fusion of Black Violin — a big hit at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last fall — also on Friday. (7:30 p.m. $39.50, $34.50).
Gurf Morlix plays the Argyle Brewing Company (6 Broad St., Cambridge) Saturday, a return by the emerging-veteran Texas (Buffalo-born) troubadour. If his quite marvelous name seems unfamiliar even after area shows at Caffe Lena, Valentine’s, the Hangar and more, it’s because he’s mostly made his mark behind the scenes. In the control room of recording studios or playing behind stars onstage, he’s helped Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen, Mary Gauthier and others make magic music. His current touring life and album making — “Impossible Blue” is his 10th — marks an emergence as a formidable force on his own terms. He makes stark, simple songs of strong bones and the muscle of deep feeling, understating like a master. You want a spot in his saloon. 8 p.m. $20 at tables, $10 general admission. 518-692-2585 www.argylebrewing.com
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]