PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
April 3, 2007

The Road Less Traveled

by Jim Newsom

When editor in chief Tom Robotham first dreamed up the idea of a Port Folio Weekly music series as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, his idea was to spotlight musicians whose work went beyond the boundaries established by music marketers, and to put on a set of concerts that exposed artists deserving of wider recognition.

As the series enters its third year, it has become a much anticipated festival-within-a-festival. Once again this year’s lineup covers a broad swath, with the primary common denominator being the performers’ willingness to work outside the box and forge their own pathways.

Jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson certainly embodies that spirit. Initially hailed as one of the “young lions” of the straightahead jazz scene after he won the Thelonious Monk competition in 1993, his subsequent recordings showed him to be an adventurous musician bent on turning the tried-and-true inside out while adding his own quirky compositional touch to the mix.

If you go to his official website, you’ll discover that it is in French. Unlike the long list of jazzmen and women who are appreciated more in Europe and Asia than in their native USA, Terrasson is actually a native of France. The Norfolk show with bassist Ugonna Ukegwo and drummer Leon Parker is one of his few American appearances this year. It will be unlike any other piano trio performance you’re likely to see.

At first blush, you might think Cheryl Bentyne is not daring enough to fit into an “outside the box” series. But, as one-fourth of the exploratory vocal group, Manhattan Transfer, she has wrapped her pretty vocal cords around an audacious range of material. The group has been around so long, their boundary busting catalog may be taken for granted by now. But they’ve roamed far and wide, from bebop vocalese to standards to R&B, doo-wop, fusion, Brazilian, children’s music and nostalgic reworkings of the greats of old.

Bentyne’s solo discography includes the recent concept album, Book of Love, a tribute to jazz chanteuse Anita O’Day, and her impeccable journey through the Great American Songbook, Talk of the Town. She is one of the finest singers of her generation, a delightful entertainer and a playful interpreter with an impressive vocal range and feel for the songs she sings.

Fairport Convention pretty much invented British folk-rock. Inspired by American progenitors like Dylan and The Byrds, the original lineup built on that foundation by incorporating traditional songs and styles native to the British Isles, inflaming them with the excitement and electricity of ‘60s rock, and capping the whole package off with rich Anglo harmonies.

As part of the band’s fortieth anniversary celebration, founding member Simon Nicol is leading a drummerless acoustic version of the group on an American tour that will stop at the Granby Theater for this year’s PFW series. Besides Nicol on guitar and vocals, the trio includes violinist Ric Sanders and multi-instrumental whiz/prolific composer Chris Leslie. I saw the band a couple of years ago, and they’ve never sounded better.

Though they’ve usually been lumped into the “folk” file in record stores, The Roches’ unique songs and distinctive vocal blend have defied categorization from the beginning. The three sisters—Maggie, Suzzy and Terre—sang together growing up in New York City in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. In a recording career stretching back nearly thirty years, the threesome has touched many bases, and their idiosyncratic songs about everyday life have left many in stitches, others just scratching their heads in amazed wonderment.

Though they’ve been worshipped with cult-like adoration by those who have heard them, they’ve never gotten sufficient exposure to cross over to popular success. They just don’t fit neatly into anyone’s box. With Moonswept, their first new album in twelve years, just released, the girls are once again hitting the road together to share their stories of love and life with good humor and sweet harmonies.

The Port Folio Weekly Music Series:

Wednesday, April 25 – Jacky Terrasson
Wednesday, May 2 – Cheryl Bentyne
Wednesday, May 23 – Fairport Convention
Wednesday, May 30 – The Roches

copyright © 2007 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.