Sylvain Sylvain, formerly of the New York Dolls, brought his solo act to the Continental in a late Friday gig. Incubus combined rock and hip-hop in a late Saturday date in the Showplace Theatre. Monk on Monk, a tribute to Thelonious Monk, was presented Saturday in Rockwell Hall at Buffalo State College, and jazz clarinetist Don Byron performed with NOJO late Saturday in the Calumet Arts Cafe.
"Monk on Monk"
"Real Monk people are like Elvis people. You think you know everything, and sometimes you don't," T.S. Monk told us Saturday in Rockwell Hall at Buffalo State College.
He went on to prove he was right, leading a "tentet" in two sets of music by his father, the jazz piano giant Thelonious Monk. It was a joyful evening, as full of surprises as Thelonious -- as his son referred to him -- was himself.
T.S. Monk has inherited his father's handsome features and powerful physique. Unlike the reticent Thelonious, though, this man can talk. Bounding from his drums and the podium, he explained pieces with irresistible warmth. "This is not a cultural awareness session. This is not a history lesson," he said, as the big crowd laughed. "This is foot-stomping music."
The opener, "Epistrophy" -- Thelonious' signature theme -- set the tone for the night. Pianist Ray Gallen played the jagged shards of melody with Monk-like assurance. Saxophonist Willie Williams and the rest of the horns supported him with the happy syncopations Thelonious loved so much.
Speaking of horns, finding a French horn part of the ensemble was unusual. But there it was, and Jeff Stockham of Syracuse poured out pretty bebop solos on the instrument.
Wonderful moments filled the night. Monk euphorically pounded the backbeat of "I Mean You," and at the end of the piece, the horns wound down gradually, like sparks falling after a fireworks display.
The cool sunny "Bright Mississippi" culminated in a delicate solo by bassist Gary Wang. Gallen articulated the tender "Ruby, My Dear" against a beguiling horn backdrop.
And one of the high points: The crowd thrilled to "Two Timer," a stomping, blues-laden Thelonious original never before recorded.
Between exertions, Monkl told stories of his father trotting him around to hang with Bud Powell, Duke Ellington, Sun Ra and other legends. "He took me everywhere," he beamed. For me, these reminiscences struck the only puzzling note of the night. In the documentary "Straight No Chaser," I remember Monk talking with apparent sadness about how emotionally unavailable his father was. Clearly, however, they must have had their good times, too.
And "Monk on Monk" was an evening of joy. "I'm having a ball," Monk exalted. So were we.
-- Mary Kunz
Someone should have screamed those words to guitarist-singer Sylvain Sylvain shortly after he began performing Friday in the Continental. But no one did. Instead, we all stood there watching -- dumb-struck, waiting for it to get better and convincing ourselves nothing was wrong.
But something was wrong -- Sylvain was faltering on stage, and we, once again, were the victims of hype.
The first offense? Formerly a member of the 1970s glam-rock outfit the New York Dolls, Sylvain and his cohorts turned music industry heads with their teased hairstyles, platform shoes and lipstick smiles. To devotees, the tradition-bending band pioneered the punk scene, but to others, the Dolls merely hyped a scene already in progress.
Sylvain reintroduced the hype Friday when he previewed his show with video clips of his former band, complete with concerts, interviews and limousine rides. But the glamour of the past remained on the screen as Sylvain -- now middle-aged, maritally content and no longer hungry for recognition -- quickly squashed his self-built expectations. Without the vaudeville antics of Dolls' singer David Johansen, Sylvain's performance fell flat, leaving one to plead for lipstick, hair spray -- any gimmick from the past.
To counter his descent into the ordinary, Sylvain used as a backing band the young, attitude-spewing trio Bop Dead from Cleveland.
Although a version of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" seemed more like a wedding dance ditty than a bygone gem, spirited performances of the Dolls' tunes "Pills" and "Trash" made the show worthwhile.
In addition to his past, Sylvain faced another hard act to follow -- opening band the Dollywatchers. Loaded with local music veterans Terry Sullivan and Kent Weber, the band shot through its punk tunes, killing mediocrity and bringing to life the urgency of the moment.
-- Michele Ramstetter
Calumet Arts Cafe:
Don Byron and NOJO
Clarinetist Don Byron's jazz playing is potent enough to stop a 90-mph slap shot. His improvisational skill is refracted through a focused intensity that demands attention.
After a potent solo that silenced a roomful of nattering diners in the Calumet Arts Cafe Friday, Michael Occhipinti, co-leader of NOJO, called him "the Dominic Hasek of the clarinet."
Byron may not be able to stop time -- or slap shots -- but he can make it slow down enough to enable a sensitive listener to hear the colors inherent in both sound and silence.
The avant-garde musician was in town as featured soloist with NOJO, an innovative 16-piece jazz orchestra from Canada that performs the original compositions of its co-leaders, pianist Paul Neufeld and guitarist Occhipinti. The encounter was Kismet.
Byron's work is already well-known to fans of omni-jazz. The thirtysomething clarinetist leads a freebop band, works with poets, rocks with Vernon Reid's Masque, scores for silent film and, most notably, has updated Mickey Katz's crazed klezmer music.
Unlike the big bands of the '40s when arrangements focused on section work augmented by brief solos, NOJO features many soloists who help extend the tonal colors of the original compositions.
Neufeld facetiously describes the 16-piece band as "a small group with a lot of horns." Humor and strong soloists are very much at the heart of the band's personality.
A highlight of the two-set concert included "Mainland," which featured Byron's crowd silencing solo as well as outstanding work by Ernie Tollar on alto and Kevin Turcotte on trumpet.
"Zawashorius" was a tribute to Weather Report, complete with a tongue-in-cheek reference to "Birdland" in the arrangement and great solos by Byron, Tollar and Turcotte.
Occhipinti's homage to the great blues guitarist Robert Johnson included a slyly humorous allusion to Booker T and the MGs' "Green Onions."
NOJO is band of young turks with a fresh approach to band playing that encourages multiple soloists to improvise in contexts that are challenging and complementary.
-- Jim Santella
The influence of the hip-hop nation on today's rock bands is becoming apparent, as groups like Sugar Ray, 311 and Korn have experimented with rap music.
Pounding, hard-core rock music, combined with the beats and scratches of a disc jockey, create an interesting, and popular, mix.
Incubus, the latest group to fuse hip-hop into its formula, performed a solid show Saturday night in the Showplace Theatre. The band has been compared to many others of this genre, making it difficult to establish originality.
D.J. Lyfe, the band's "disc jockey," took the stage first, cutting and scratching as the rest of the group emerged. Front man Brandon Boyd led the way, screaming the lyrics to "Redefine."
Incubus features unorthodox, yet effective, drummer Jose Pasillas, who played with robot-like intensity, seemingly hypnotized.
The band slammed its way through "Idiot Box," a track devoted to the evils of television. Incubus kept its intensity at a high level all night, as Boyd thrashed about to the tracks.
Boyd went wild as the group blasted into "Favorite Things" and slowed as it eased into "Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song)."
The band took this time to shine, as guitarist Mike Einziger ripped off a bluesy riff. The hypnotic sound lulled the crowd, as the group turned the energy back up for "Nebula."
Far, led by passionate front man Jonah Matrangn, set the tone for a wild evening. Matrangn went to the crowd on several occasions, singing face to face with fans.
-- Jeremy Nickerson