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Encores and Curtain Calls

Encores & Curtain Calls: Steamy singers, silky strings, naked Bach

“It’s easy to play any musical instrument; all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.”

— Bach

A cluster of interesting events from worlds popular and classical lies just ahead; nearest at hand is the continuation of the Ladies in Jazz series at the Arts Block, 289 Main St., Greenfield, with a return engagement by vocalist Samirah Evans in joint concert with female trombonist and vocalist who goes by ‘elizabeth!’ on Jan. 19, a Saturday, at
8:30 p.m.

In an evening comprised of two sets, the ladies will be backed by the David Westpahlen trio, consisting of David Westphalen on bass and trombone, Bob Merrill on piano and Tim Gilmore on drums.

A native Vermonter, elizabeth! has toured as a horn player with Michael Bolton and jazz drummer Matt Wilson.

The billing is unusual to say the least, as one rarely finds two featured female vocalists occupying a jazz stage at the same time. The evening calls for solos from both performers, as well as a pooling of their talents in a number of duets.

Both Evans and elizabeth! possess a strong sense of what might be called jazz theater, replete with a repertoire of inflections, gestures and facial expressions that land them directly in heart of the music, which emerges out of the classic swing-era jazz.

Jazz is nothing if not music with an attitude and both these ladies clearly have one; sensual, steamy, spontaneous and fun-loving, it will be interesting to see how their chemistry combines and hopefully combusts to create a novel musical symbiosis. From the handful of hearings I’ve had, I get the impression that both performers favor the uptempo and upbeat end of the jazz spectrum.

It’s not clear whether elizabeth! will be taking up the trombone but it would be fascinating if she elected to, as it’s relatively rare that one has the chance to hear solo jazz trombone and even rarer to hear it featured in conjunction with a vocalist.

Tickets may be available in advance, $12 at or 413-774-0150. At the door, $15 or $8 for students with a valid ID. (Editor’s note: Information about this concert has changed over time. There is a fundraiser at the Arts Block on the same date that starts at 7 p.m. Because of that, the starting time for the concert was changed to 8:30 p.m.)

Silky strings

And on Friday, Jan. 11, Chris Devine and Michael Nix, two of the three members of The Pioneer Consor t, will perform at the Great Falls Coffeehouse, Great Falls Discovery Center, 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls, at 7 p.m. On the billing is an entertaining blend of composed and improvised music — Argentinian, Brazilian, Neapolitan and American music, jazz, and original works — for violin, guitar, mandolin and banjar, a seven-string classical banjo.

While perhaps sacrificing some root-system strength on the lower end, the absence of the cello opens up a great deal more musical space in which the radiance of Divine’s fiddle and the subtle sounds of Nix’s guitar — which also possesses a rich and resonant low end — can be heard all the more penetratingly.

A particular fan of Divine’s extremely felicitous music making, and a lifelong guitarist myself, I’ve come to feel that there is a particularly intimate relationship between violin and guitar that both intrigues and refreshes the ear, almost endlessly.

The gossamer, web-like sound-strands of the guitar seem to me to provide the perfect underpinning — and at times, overlay — for the unraveling of the fiddle’s fluid arabesques. Everything is transparent, the two instruments clearly defined in space, with virtually no air clutter at all to negotiate. String instruments both, yes, but with a world of difference in how they’re played — one elegantly set in motion with drawn bow, almost as by an archer; the other galvanized by an almost percussive blow — otherwise known as a pluck — filling the air with a series of throbbing, quickly evaporating tones.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Coffee and homemade baked goods are available. The suggested sliding scale donation is $6 to $12, free for children. Information: 413-863-3221. 

‘Naked’ Bach

Meanwhile, on the classical end, there’s an unusual chance to hear Bach in his most challenging undertaking — composing for “naked,” that is to say, unaccompanied, solo violin, in an upcoming solo recital by Elizabeth Chang, professor of violin at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, to be held in Bezanson Recital Hall, Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m.

Why — you may ask — would such a composition be so challenging?

Well, I’ll tell you. Violins and violinists are, in very large measure, creatures and creations given to the playing of one single note after another throughout the duration of the piece. Sometimes you get to play what are called double stops, a rather silly term for what are merely double notes. Very rarely, triple stops are played. Once in a great while, they even risk quadruple stops.

But if any violinist, tempted to brag about his or her prowess, ever tells you about having played quintuple stops, you can be sure such an individual is in need of immediate care because the violin only sports four strings.

So then, over here we have a little, lonely violin — hoping for all the world for a really fine piece of music and without the support of the piano or missing string quartet components and over here we have Johann Sebastian Bach — the wizard, the Master of Musical Multiplicity.

And what does Mr. Bach do? Stick to sane single notes, garnished with an occasional double, triple or even quadruple stop? No way. He goes all out, Perhaps it was all those 20 children, or birthing a complete cantata every week (!), or simply eating, breathing and sleeping music for half a century; whatever it was, he was bound to be, well, a bit extreme.

But such extremity served him well. He took that little lonely violin and wrote for it is if it were indeed a grand church organ, juggling simultaneous undulating lines and levels of sound so inspired, intricate and ingenious that the very instrument that had loomed at the outset as his straitjacket becomes, in the end, his wings.

It is for this reason that many and many a music lover, when challenged to name his or her desert island work, has confessed that, beyond even the multiple delights of the Brandenburg concertos, the sumptuous majesty of the St. Matthew Passion and the ravishing Concerto for 2 Violins, it is Bach’s Chaconne in D minor for — yes — the little, lonely solo violin that takes the prize for sheer brilliance.

Strange, isn’t it? But really, not too strange after all. It is the very witnessing of Bach attempting and achieving the impossible that blows one away and makes it a hands-down winner.

Have a listen and see if I’m not on the mark.

Program: J.S. Bach: Solo Sonata No. 2 & Solo Partita No. 2, Stefan Wolpe: “Pieces in Two Parts for Violin Alone.” Tickets: $3 University of Massachusetts-Amherst students; $5 other students, children, seniors; $10 general public; free for UMass music majors and minors.

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at

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