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Illuminating a Musical Masterpiece: The Quad City Symphony, December 6 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Frederick Morden   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 13:37

In its December 6 concert, the Quad City Symphony checked off three important boxes – things every orchestra should strive for.

It included contemporary American music, in this case a world premiere from a local composer in University of Iowa professor David Gompper’s impenetrably obscure Sunburst.

It illustrated the role of the sensitive accompanist, showcasing six of the symphony’s own members in three pieces.

And finally and most impressively, it ignited and illuminated a musical masterpiece with sizzling passion and a refined artistic vision: The cohesive and insightful artistic ideas of Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith joined with the orchestra’s unrestrained musical abandonment in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s masterful Symphony No. 40.

Unchained from the Plot of His Own Life: Counting Crows, December 16 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 10:40

Counting Crows. Photo by Danny Clinch.

When Counting Crows visits the Adler Theatre on December 16, it will be a different band from the one that scored top-10 hits with each of its studio albums from 1993’s August & Everything After to 2008’s Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.

And for that, you can credit a lowly covers record.

It’s more complicated than that, but in a phone interview earlier this month, singer/songwriter Adam Duritz explained that interpreting the songs of others was one of two key ingredients to the band’s revitalization – which is in full bloom on this year’s Somewhere Under Wonderland album. The record also hit Billboard’s Top 10, and many critics have called it the band’s strongest collection since its August & Everything After debut.

Counting Crows’ new swagger is evident in its sets and on the album. Somewhere Under Wonderland’s longest song, “Palisades Park,” is its opening track and first single, and even before the record’s release it kicked off the band’s encores. “We played an entire summer of shows with an eight-and-a-half-minute song that nobody knew as the opening song of the encore, which is kind of crazy,” Duritz said. “We had the confidence to do it.”

Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings marked a sort of end for Counting Crows. Within a month of its release, Duritz revealed that he had depersonalization disorder – which he wrote in Men’s Health “makes the world seem like it’s not real, as if things aren’t taking place. It’s hard to explain, but you feel untethered.”

The announcement coincided with Duritz’s fatigue with the songwriting process that had sustained the band through 15 years and five very successful albums. “By the time we got done with Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings,” he told me, “I was kind of fed up with being locked into this autobiographical record-making. People start to expect a certain plot arc from you, and while you can write as well as you can write, you can’t change the actual plot of your life. I felt like I was not only trying to live my life to get my life together, but trying to live my life so I have a more interesting plot arc for the records. ... I was kind of tired of just talking about being crazy. It’s not all there is to me.”

Not-Too-Late Bloomer: Quad City Arts Visiting Artist J.M. James, December 12 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 12:06

J.M. James“I always feel like, in terms of my career, I’m a little bit behind,” says singer/songwriter J.M. James, whose public concert as a Quad City Arts Visiting Artist takes place on December 12 at Davenport’s Redstone Room. “You know, it wasn’t like I was writing songs and singing at 18. I didn’t have a band in high school, I wasn’t a 22-year-old trying to get my music out there ... . I didn’t do my first solo gig with my own stuff until I was, like, 27.”

Rekindling the “Fire”: Ben Sidran, December 9 and 10 in Davenport PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 09:16

(Editor's note: The venue for Ben Sidran’s December 9 lecture has changed since this article was published, and admission fees for both events have also changed.)

Ben Sidran is best known as a jazz pianist and producer; for his work with the Steve Miller Band (he co-wrote “Space Cowboy”); and as host of public radio’s Jazz Alive and VH-1’s New Visions series. But he also holds a Ph.D. in American studies, and his 2012 book There Was a Fire: Jews, Music, & the American Dream displays not only the storytelling gift and playfulness you might expect from an accomplished songwriter, but also an erudite and thoughtful mind befitting his academic credentials.

It’s the mingling of those different facets, however, that makes the book such a compelling read: a love of tales, a deep curiosity about history, the use of personal narrative to ground points in contemporary and emotional life, the creativity to unearth surprising connections, and the jazz artist’s willingness to follow a muse or idea wherever it might lead.

All those components will be evident when Sidran visits Davenport as part of the Jewish Federation of the the Quad Cities’ “Jews Rock” series: a solo lecture and performance based on his book on December 9 at Temple Emanuel, and a performance by the Ben Sidran Quartet on December 10 at the Redstone Room.

The Whole World Opened Up: The Soil & the Sun, December 4 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 13:25

The Soil & the Sun. Photo by Rotten Photography.

Given the expansive, spacious, and precise sound that Michigan’s The Soil & the Sun achieves on Meridian – the band’s third record – two things leap out from its history: that what’s now a seven-piece ensemble started as a duo, and that its first two albums were home-recorded by people who didn’t really know what they were doing.

Meridian – released in August – marks the first time the group worked with a producer, and the most obvious difference from its predecessors is in its choir-like group vocals, particularly on “How Long.” The band has retained its orchestral breadth and adventurousness, but with its soaring collective singing the album becomes something more celestial; songs dominated by gloomy clouds have given way to bright stars.

Working in a proper studio “was a little bit overwhelming, actually,” said frontman, primary songwriter, and co-founder Alex McGrath in a recent phone interview, promoting The Soil & the Sun’s December 4 performance at Rozz-Tox. “We had the whole world opened up to us, really for the first time. We had to exercise some restraint and not get too caught up in effects ... .”

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