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Time to dust off your dancing shoes

Ed Byrne & Carlos Clinton bring Latin jazz to the Arts Block Friday

A couple of weeks ago, The Arts Block, 289 Main St. in Greenfield, celebrated its second anniversary. During these past two years, one of the goals that club owner Ed Wierzbowski established for the venue was to make it the go-to spot for dancing and he seems to be accomplishing this.

On the night of the club’s anniversary celebration, one of the four bands performing was Arts Block regulars John Sheldon and Blue Streak. As Sheldon laid out some fancy fret work on his acoustic guitar and Joe Roderick wailed away on the sax, the dance floor filled with swaying, shaking bodies.

Sheldon routinely performs at the club as do other dance-friendly bands like the afropop band Fenibo and the delta blues group Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers. And now the club has established a Latin jazz dance night, to be held on the second Friday of each month. The music will be provided by the Latin Jazz Evolution, an instrumental ensemble led by Greenfield resident, trombonist Ed Byrne and his partner veteran percussionist, Carlos Clinton. This month’s show will be Friday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m.

Latin jazz dance is known for its fiery hip action and sexy flair and has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks, in part, to popular television shows like “Dancing with the Stars.”

The Latin Jazz Evolution has been performing together for a couple of years and Byrne claims that with each show the band gets better. Byrne is a Grammy-winning musician who holds a doctorate in musical arts and is also a composer, arranger and teacher. He has worked with many of the leading musicians in both jazz and latin music; everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Charles Mingus. His bandmates in the Latin Jazz Evolution are also accomplished musicians who are some of the finest in their fields.

The Latin Jazz Evolution septet is comprised of trombone, violin, tenor or soprano saxophone, keyboards, Ampeg baby bass, congas, and timbales. The band blends jazz over Latin rhythms to create music that is complex yet zesty enough to make it perfect for dancing.

After listening to the band’s debut album, “Conquistador,” I can tell you this music features superb musicianship including some amazing trombone work from Byrne and the kind of pulsating rhythms that inspire movement. The disc, released in August, features eight of Byrne’s original Latin jazz compositions including a new version of his Grammy-nominated song, “Fenway Funk.” The band is hoping to draw more Latin dancers to these shows, but don’t stay away if you are not a dancer because Latin jazz is also highly enjoyable listening music and there is plenty of seating available at the Arts Block. This is music that is challenging enough for jazz fans but accessible enough for those who don’t like jazz.

“The band is super hot, with a Latin groove-mambos, cha cha, rumba, boogaloo, bolero,” said Byrne. “Come and dance to authentic Latin (Cuban) rhythms — or just listen. This band is intense.”

Advance tickets are $7 and available at www.theartsblock.com, $10 at the door.

Dr. Gasp brings Halloween to Mocha Maya’s tonight at 7 p.m.

You can tell by all the decorations and pumpkins that are popping up on doorsteps that Halloween is fast approaching. People just love this time of year and if you already find yourself in a ghoulish mood, head to Mocha Maya’s on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls, tonight at 7 p.m. for the Dr. Gasp show. Dr. Gasp is the haunted alter ego of Dan Blakeslee of Somerville, He plays a twisted brand of folk music and sings scary silly songs like “The Pumpkin Thief” and “The Vampire Fish.”

Tonight’s show is part of Dr. Gasp’s “Misshapen Jack-O-Lantern Tour. A 31-date tour that makes a connect-the-dots jack-o’-Lantern face on a map of New England.

Blakeslee has been setting aside his usual gig as a folk singer and illustrator to step into his Dr. Gasp persona every October for the past 10 years. This spooky side of his musical personality all came about by chance.

“I was playing a show at a venue in New Hampshire two days before Halloween and wanted to write a song to go along with the holiday. ‘Witchtrot Road’ was written and performed that evening. After playing the song, I apologized to the audience on its goofiness when a friend from the back of the room shouted, ‘I want to put that out on vinyl next year!’ So, the following year I wrote a couple more Halloween themed songs and my alias Doctor Gasp was born.”

He has released an album of these Halloween songs called “Halloween Special.” Blakeslee said his compositions were inspired by old-time cult horror films, songs like Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” and even the cavernous voice of Paul Frees, who was Disney’s Headless Horseman.

Of course, Dr. Gasp performs in full Halloween costume and he encourages all those attending to do the same. Children are very welcome to this show!

And do get there early to catch the opening act, Wooden Dinosaur, an indie folk band from Brattleboro, Vt., that is led by Michael Roberts, who is also a part-time member of the David Wax Museum. Roberts, who writes all the band’s material, will be performing solo for this show. Wooden Dinosaur released an excellent album earlier this year called “Spaces” and it finds the band dabbling in a Bob Wills-inspired country sound. Expect Roberts to play material off that album as well as some new songs at this show. I don’t expect he will be wearing a Halloween costume, but some of Roberts’ lyrics are on the dark side. He sings lines like “Cemetery’s gonna take you in some day,” on “Don’t Take it Hard” and also has a song called “Talking About Death,” so he should serve as a fine opener for Dr. Gasp.

This is a free event, but tips for the performers are always encouraged.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com

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