Daily Archives: March 23, 2010

The other side of sax

Euphonique Saxophone Quartet performs at NYC's Church of the Epiphany on March 21: Michael Bomwell, soprano, Loren Stillman. alto, Ken Thomson, baritone, and Justin Flynn, tenor. (Copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Euponique Saxophone Quartet provided some great entertainment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side on Sunday. They played a lively program of classical transcriptions mixed with new pieces, showcasing the versatility of a family of instruments that many casual listeners associate primarily with jazz and popular music.

Euphonique is the brainchild of Michael Bomwell, a versatile player (playing the Kenny G-associated soprano sax in Euphonique) who has one foot in the traditional world of saxophone, given his involvement with the Motor City Horns and experience with Clarence Clemons. The quartet’s baritone player, Ken Thomson, is the amazing, energetic saxophonist/composer from Brooklyn who plays in Gutbucket, Alarm Will S0und and the Asphalt Orchestra (and more) and teaches at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival. To more Brooklyn-based saxophonists/composers Loren Stillman, on alto, and Justin Flynn, on tenor, round out the quartet.

Sunday’s program honored J.S.  Bach’s birthday this month, kicking off with an arrangement of Bach’s Sinfonia to Cantata 29, arranged by Larry J. Long, the organist at The Church of the Epiphany, which hosted the concert. Long joined the quartet on this opening number and returned to the console later in the program to play the world premiere of  Epiphany, written for the occasion by Darin Lewis.) The group also performed Bach’s Prelude and Fugue (BWV 857) from The Well-Tempered Clavier and Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben, followed by contemporary composer Alexander Hamlin‘s piece, Dance #244449, inspired by the Bach aria.

The ensemble also honored the tradition of American saxophone music, performing “Quartette (Allegro de Concert)” by Caryl Florio, which was premiered by the New York Saxophone Quartet in 1879 and is billed as the first original work for saxophone quartet by an American composer.

Euphonique also dipped into the string repertoire with a version of Four, for Tango, originally written for Kronos Quartet by the Argentine Tango composer and bandoneón player Astor Piazaolla. The saxophones brought to the fore interesting textures not apparent in the string version.

Karen Elson conquers NYC

Karen Elson and her band at Manhattan's (Le) Poisson Rouge, including (to her right) Rachelle Garniez on accordion and vocals and brother brother-in-law Jackson Smith on guitar. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Call me jaded, but my expectations for Karen Elson‘s NYC solo debut at (Le) Poisson Rouge last night were not extremely high.

I expected a short, but entertaining set of competent singing and playing. But what I got was much better than that. Supermodel Karen’s vocal chops are as shimmering and lovely as her amazing good looks.

Cover art for Karen's album, The Ghost Who Walks.

While it remains to be seen whether Karen (the willowy redheaded model also known as Mrs. Jack White) has staying power as a solo artist, she showed us that she certainly has the chops.

She performed 13 tunes, backed by a five-piece band that included Jackson Smith (daughter of punk goddess Patti and Karen’s brother-in-law, by way of his marriage last year to Meg White, Jack White’s ex-wife) and the super-talented accordionist/vocalist/keyboard player Rachelle Garniez, a longtime cohort from the downtown NYC cabaret group The Citizens Band. All but one song is from her upcoming album, The Ghost Who Walks, out May 25 on Jack White’s Third Man/XL Recordings. She also did her interpretation of “Milk and Honey,” a tune written by a New York folkie, the late Jackson C. Frank, and made more famous via covers by Nick Drake and Sandy Denny.

Karen Elson at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

The crowd at (Le) Poisson Rouge was not the usual NYC music audience. There were clearly a lot of people there from the music industry and the fashion world, including magazine editors like Vogue’s Grace Coddington (a famous redhead like Karen) and photographer Annie Leibovitz. Most everyone it the sold-out house seemed pretty respectful and paid attention to the music — something that’s often not the case when it comes to curiosity shows like this one.

Those who attended last night hoping that Karen’s husband would show up were disappointed. There was no sign of Jackie White, of Jesse and Jackson’s mom, or Jackson’s wife. But that was a good thing, keeping the focus on the music.

The opening act was an unannounced duo of a woman on keyboard and man on xylophone. Since they never introduced themselves and barely said a word during their largely instrumental set, I’m willing to bet that many people in the audience had no idea that they were hearing from Jesse Smith (daughter of Patti) and her musical partner Michael Campbell. They are an enormously talented duo. But their performing style and dour stage presence don’t make for an interesting set. Their music would be great for meditation or as a sonic backdrop, but their lack of dynamism hampers their ability to present themselves as a strong live act.

Please click through to the jump for more, including Karen’s set list.

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