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Pianist Andy Bey performed Friday night in Calumet Arts Cafe.

Calumet Arts Cafe:

Andy Bey
Andy Bey is the least-rushed musician in the world. Friday in the Calumet, it seemed to take him five minutes to get through the verse -- just the verse! -- that preceded "Someone to Watch Over Me." Sometimes, Bey stopped playing the piano completely, crooning an entire line a capella. He loves space, knows nothing of hurry. Now I see why listeners tell jazz musicians, "Take your time!" Bey really does.

Weird and unconventional, Bey harks back to old bluesmen. His falsetto howls recall the forbidding Delta guitarist Skip James. His spare piano playing can hint at Lightnin' Hopkins. And the way Bey's voice sometimes dips abruptly into a throaty, threatening moan . . . that's an ancient vocal effect that I don't think has been heard since Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf.

Everything Bey does is so subtle that the slightest background noise is unbearable. Here's where Calumet owner Mark Goldman's notorious "quiet policy" was really needed: Kids who streamed in during the last few songs, laughing and chatting, were an abomination.

Alone with the piano, Bey was his own band.

"We do this with a guitar, but he's not here," he said once, apologetically. "Neither is the bass player or drummer." He then eased into an unearthly "Satin Doll."

The evening was full of such oddly moving moments. Bey sang "Yesterdays" almost completely in treble howls, spelled off by repeated riffs played in octaves.

"Take the A Train," with nontraditional words about the beauty of New York, was a joy. "Love for Sale," sung over more riffs, struck notes of overwhelming pathos.

In "When I Been Drinking," Bey paid tribute to Big Bill Broonzy. "He was the greatest," he said.

"Brother Can You Spare a Dime" was a long, defeated, emotional affair. Bey's descending wails suggested Depression-era work songs.

And after that, Bey said, "We can't keep up this pace. We're going to slow things down."

Andy, take your time!

-- Mary Kunz

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