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Jukebox: African revue reminds of amateur exuberance

Jukebox: African revue reminds of amateur exuberance

At Union College, “Dance For a Cause" gave us a warm idealism and bursts of hot talent
Jukebox: African revue reminds of amateur exuberance
Soul diva India.Arie is at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Sunday.
Photographer: photo provided

African Print in Motion last Friday at Union College raised funds for students’ generous African relief projects and the spirits of a happy crowd on a rare rainless night. Students whose names echo those on Afro-pop albums I love organized and presented the revue. Subtitled “Dance For a Cause,” it gave us a warm idealism and bursts of hot talent.

Uneven by definition, it engaged with sincere soulfulness, or skill, or both — and with the exuberant, everybody-up dance lesson that evoked more spunky energy than precision. Ellie and I sat among students and faculty and their children, alongside former Peace Corps volunteers who remain active helping education and other programs in Liberia and support everything African hereabouts. Gradually, I shed my critic’s hat to enjoy the soulfulness and skill I most seek and admire in any music. It must mean something and be made well. Songs by Emmanuella Oppong (solo) and Oppong with Oluwadamilola Oluwadara, Huguens Saint-For and Oumou Zakaria; dances by Shreya Srivastava (regal in a pink sari), the Hip Hop Club, the African Dance Club, the Latinx Dance Club and (especially!) Portia Taylor; plus readings (from their phones) by Delano McFarlane, Jocelyne Akamaliza and (especially!) Unglid Paul stood out and would have impressed anywhere.

I’ll remember them, as I still remember a vivid fragment from a talent show decades ago at Schenectady County Community College.

A young woman student took the makeshift stage in the campus coffeehouse, launched a wobbly guitar riff, sang at first in the wrong key, turned red, stopped and restarted. I remember only her chorus: “Something to recall, something to write a song about.” And I recall that, I think, only because she so clearly meant it, in a sincere statement of artistic intent.

Appreciating these performers as young amateurs brought a slow-simmering recognition that felt complete only days later when I mused that, just as all musicians start as fans and the best ones stay that way, most of the local musicians we enjoy and admire here, year in and year out, are amateurs — but in the best sense. Elbowing aside irrelevant implications of competence and compensation, I prefer a meaning from the original French: “one that has a marked fondness, liking, or taste.”

Incompetent by most measures, that SCCC student’s song stayed with me nonetheless. As for compensation, I wonder if only tuxed-and-gowned wedding and cover-band performers actually make a living by making music here.

We all know, from watching them onstage, that artists who make original music all radiate a love for what they do. It draws us into the feelings they express for us. I imagine that almost all area musicians we see in clubs, coffeehouses, street fairs and festivals rely on day jobs.

So, pay at the door and hit that tip jar on the way out. And tip your server.

Top area jazz pianists David Gleason, Robert Lundquist and Wayne Hawkins team up in a new trio dubbed Trifecta tonight at Jazz at the Spring (Spring Street Gallery, 110 Spring St., Saratoga Springs). All three base their virtuoso talents in serious training and all three teach. All play as both sidemen and bandleaders.

Gleason trained at Tufts and has taught at Schenectady High School, SUNY Schenectady and RPI. He leads the Latin-jazz combo Sensemaya and plays regularly with Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble (See VAN DYCK ANNIVERSARY, below). Gleason also played Jazz at the Spring last fall, a cool show with his Art D’Echo Trio: Pete Sweeney, drums; and Mike Lawrence, bass.

Lundquist graduated from SCCC (now SUNY Schenectady Communiy College) and the Crane School of Music, and earned an MA from The College of Saint Rose, where he now teaches. His bands New Regime and Troika have played high-profile local gigs including Albany’s Riverfront Jazz Festival, and he’s played with regional and national stars including Harry Allen.

A prolific composer with more than 30 album credits as leader and sideman, Hawkins teaches at the University of Kansas and plays solo, with trios and orchestras.
This monthly series also spawned another novel combo: the PEM Tiny Band of Phil Allen, valve trombone; Ed Green, cello; and Mark Kleinhaut, guitar. Fans bring open ears there and welcome the unusual, this time likely wondering, “How will THAT work? Three pianos?” Really well, I bet. 7:30 p.m. $15, brownpapertickets.com.

Grammy-grabbing soul diva India.Arie closes the Troy Music Hall (30 Second St.) season Sunday, 12 years after playing the most emotional show I’ve seen at SPAC’s jazz festival. Becoming the music completely, a fearless writer on identity and possibility, she sang soaring meditations on blackness and womanhood. Since then, she toured with Stevie Wonder in his “Songs in the Key of Life” Tour (2015) and released “Worthy,” her seventh album and first in five years in February. Singer-songwriter Javier Colon, first-season winner on “The Voice,” opens. 7:30 p.m. $59.50, $49.50. 518-273-0038, troymusichall.org.

Annie & the Hedonists celebrate their new (fifth) album Friday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). “Bring It On Home” narrows their usually sprawling song list some, concentrating on blues and jazz. The core band of Annie Rosen, vocals; Jonny Rosen, guitar; Peter Davis, reeds, keyboards and stringed things; Don Young, guitar and bass; and Jerry Marotta, drums, expands on this album, adding guests John Sebastian, harmonica; Randy Reinhart, cornet; and Dave Davies, trombone. Marotta will miss Friday’s show, recovering from knee surgery, but Reinhart and Davies are both on the gig.

Saratoga Springs’ own seven-time Grammy winner (for producing or engineering) Joel Moss produced; I don’t think I’ve been in the Caffe anytime recently when he wasn’t. While Annie & the Hedonists play regularly at the Saratoga flat track and many outdoor festivals, the Caffe seems perfect for really hearing their new music: 11 vintage tunes and a Moss/Davis original blues. 8 p.m. Reinhart opens. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children. 518-583-0022, caffelena.org.

The Caffe begins its “Farm to Folk” off-site series Sunday at Pitney Meadows Community Farm (223 West St., Saratoga Springs). Presented outdoors in good weather (remember that?) and in the hoop house if it’s wet, Sunday’s show features the versatile Rich Clements Band, the gypsy swing band Useless Cans and Angelina & Carolyn, an acoustic duo. 1 p.m. Free. The series continues June 9 with Zan & the Winterfolk.

Next week, the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady) begins celebrating the McDonald family’s 10 years of operating the venerable restaurant, brewpub and music club. On Tuesday, Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble gives the festivities a brassy jump-start with its monthly big-band (17-pieces!) blast, featuring special guest trombonist Alan Ferber from New York. Pray’s mighty band has played Ferber’s arrangements for years, and they recently added Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” to their book. It’s way hipper than you might think. 8 p.m. Hit the tip jar! Tip your server! 518-348-7999, vandycklounge.com.

Then on Wednesday, the Van Dyck offers a free customer appreciation show by the McKrells, long revered on regional club and festival stages — and Carnegie Hall. Kevin McKrell ringmasters this Celtic-Americana circus with fervent vocals, rhythm guitar and jokes so dry they could use a tall one; along with John Kribs, guitar and banjo; Orion Kribs, mandolin; Arlin Greene, bass; Brian Melick, percussion; and Doug Moody, fiddle. 8 p.m., dinner service from 6:30. Free.

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