A U.S. Army recruiting ad once suggested becoming a soldier “armed with an oboe.” Even this playful “Madmen”-style weaponizing of music is no excuse for seeing musicians as threats.
Officials gazing through a delusional cracked prism of fear too often bar them from America. “Visa problems” recently canceled shows at SPAC and Music Haven, forcing last-minute fill-ins including Fela! The Concert on Monday at SPAC, for example, in for YAMATO: The Drummers of Japan. This shameful xenophobia could have cost us the delights of the Turbans last Wednesday at Proctors (a Music Haven show) and the Garifuna Collective at Music Haven last Sunday.
The London-based Turbans blitzed through music from “manywheres,” as they put it, beats and words from eastern Europe through south Asia. They made sounds from home, but without borders, mapping a sonic span of dancy dazzle, dizzying beats, mostly incomprehensible (Pashtun?) lyrics and stirring uplift.
Beats spun tight, compressed, Middle-Eastern style, until they pumped out wider in centrifugal force, drawing dancers into the aisles. Melodies coiled on top, tugging everything faster. Clarinetist Oliver Doba and oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki (Max, hereafter) dueled hard to a thrilling draw. Doba wound up squawking through his mouthpiece, Max injected “Smoke on the Water” into a Mediterranean fantasy. Graybeard singer Mohammed Mahony, in a suit like birch leaves on dark water, called us to prayer of unity and everybody got the message, even singing words we couldn’t understand. Oh, yeah; Max closed this exciting show with a solo on triangle!
From Belize, the Garifuna Collective and its young opening act made music Sunday with a tighter geographic focus than the Turbans’ trans-Eurasian klezmer/Balkan-gnawa hybrid. Garifuna played African rhythms brought on slave ships to the Caribbean where Spanish influence blended in for a complex sonic pina colada.
Before the pros came on, nine teenagers of the Bodoma Garifuna Culture Band danced as much as they played. Women swirled wide skirts, guys bounced legs and hips, bodies steady under arms held high. They played pulsing percussion spiced with conch shell hoots. Like reggae, multibeats meant there was no wrong way to dance to it, so people did; the couple beside me rattled maracas so accurately they could have jumped onstage. A Bodoma guy jumped OFF the stage, but I digress.
The headliners started songs in chants or west-African chime-guitar, then built, in choruses and solos. They shifted and subsided or simply stopped, surging fast into a new cycle of voice-or-riff, beats, blastoff. They peaked with “Watina,” dedicated to their late leader Andy Palacio.
In both Music Haven shows, people gave themselves to the music, even when an epic plague of beetles dive-bombed us Sunday.
The only player in the Turbans who actually wore one was bassist Wayne Evans, from Utah.
More headgear: Dancing to the Garifuna Collective — amid black children, including a tiny blue-dressed girl with the best steps in the place, and headscarfed Muslim girls — was a happy guy in camo MAGA hat. That’s how this is supposed to work. That’s what music does. That’s America.
Reigning king of cowboy-hat country, super guitarist/singer-songwriter Brad Paisley — three Grammys, 11 albums, 32 Top-10 singles — stars tonight at SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center, routes 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs) with Chis Lane and Riley Green. 7:30 p.m. $117.50-$31.50 inside, lawn $31.50. 800-745-3000 www.spac.org
In “Songs of Our Native Daughters,” Rhiannon Giddens leads fellow African-American women banjoists Allison Russell (Birds of Chicago), Layla McCalla (Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Amythyst Kiah (recently at Caffe Lena) Friday at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany). MacArthur Genius Fellow Giddens recently played the Green River Festival and the “Today” show with music/life partner Francesco Turrisi, collaborator on “there Is No Other,” her third solo album. At the Spoleto Festival next year, Giddens will premiere her first opera. She trained as a classical soprano before reaching back to old-timey blues and country with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Now she spans the full range of African-American music through her own amazing talent, with ambition to match. 8 p.m. $55, $45, $40. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
With Solas, Seamus Egan forged a Celtic hybrid sound that he extends in his new Seamus Egan Project — Colleen Raney, vocals; Yann Falquet, guitar; Cory DiMario, bass; and Owen Marshall, stringed things — Sunday at Music Haven (Central Park, Schenectady). Local hero (Lifetime Achievement Eddy Award Winner) Kevin McKrell opens with his quartet: Arlin Greene, bass; Brian Melick, percussion; and Doug Moody, fiddle. 7 p.m. free. Rain site Proctors. www.musichavenstage.org
Also at Music Haven, jazz stars honor our late, great saxophone colossus Nick Brignola: David Calarco, drums; Gary Smulyan, sax; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Tim Ray, piano; John Lockwood, bass. 7 p.m. The SUNY Schenectady Faculty Jazz Combo, another all-star group, opens.
Music Haven action begins tonight when the Brooklyn-based Huntertones bring the funk. A co-presentation with Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and the Massry Center. 7 p.m. free
Also tonight, local heroes star at Alive at Five (Jennings Landing, Corning Preserve, Albany): Wild Adriatic, Jocelyn & Chris Arndt — terrific at Caffe Lena last month — and Hasty Page. 5 p.m. Free. Rain site: Corning Preserve Boat Launch under I-787. www.albanyevents.org
Two shows tonight by banjoists Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, and John Sebastian’s show Saturday are sold out. Tickets remain for Woodstock festival folkie (the original) Melanie’s two shows Sunday. 6 and 7:30 p.m. $45 advance, $50 door, $22.50 students and children. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org
Taj Mahal brought more than half a century of blues mastery to The Egg on Saturday in a confident, laid-back showcase of classic tunes backed by the same rhythm section he’s led for decades — Kester Smith, drums; Billy Rich, bass — plus guitarist and lap-steel player Bobby Ingano. A virtuoso “Sleepwalk” let Ingano shine, but didn’t really fit. Otherwise, satisfyingly, it was all Taj hits.
Smith’s relentless hi-hat and Rich’s tuba-like rounded notes pushed every tune, from the seductive salute of “Good Morning Miss Brown” to the psychedelic anthem “Take a Giant Step” 90 easygoing minutes of amiable shuffles later. Perched on a stool under a wide-hat shadow, surrounded by seven axes (a dobro that got the most work, guitars, uke and banjo), Taj dug through a deep bag of blues tricks: chiming licks; dropped, growled or repeated words.
Taj made it all look easy, especially when pianist John Simon played a few songs — the upbeat “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond” was his best — or when he cued Ingano’s zippy solos on electric guitar or lap steel.
“Stagger Lee” and “C.C. Rider” rolled straight-ahead, but “Wild About My Lovin’,” a gruff growl, charmed with a playful reggae bounce (that “Stagger Lee” shared), and “Queen Bee” grooved on a stop-and-go cadence with Taj’s most exuberant dobro solo all night.