Lyle Lovett and his Large Band
Robinson Center Music Hall
Lyle Lovett fronts a 17-piece band that sounds like Duke Ellington collaborated with Ray Charles and played gospel-tinged country for fun. Comparisons to musical legends don’t cut it, though, because nobody writes songs quite like Lovett. His dry wit is a perfect aw-shucks complement to the tightest, most accessible Large Band in existence. They’re dead-serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously. And as ol’ Duke would say, Lyle Lovett is simply “beyond category.”
He of the high hair took the stage after the fashion of the best R&B revues, meaning he gave his band a chance to show off for a few numbers first. “The Blues Walk,” a punchy horn-driven swing instrumental by ’50s jazz icon Clifford Brown, was the warm-up to a surprising selection, the ’80s funk tune “Walk the Dinosaur,” sung by his talented quartet of backup singers. Blues chanteuse Francine Reed followed up with “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” reprising her show-stopping renditions of the tune at other stops here.
Lovett’s lush arrangements of his quirky, genre-bending tunes are very rehearsed and tightly executed. The rhythm section, led by veteran L.A. session drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Lee Sklar, is as good as humanly possible. While this pair may not be household names, their recording history is such that nobody hasn’t heard them: They’re on records ranging from James Taylor and Neil Diamond to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. In concert their masterful swing provided a solid foundation for the horn-driven Large Band. The Large Band also features a percussionist, a pedal steel player, two guitarists, a fiddle player, a cellist, and the brilliant Jim Cox on grand piano.
The band was fully assembled for the first and final portions of the two-and-a-half-hour show, and staples like “Here I Am,” “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” “That’s Right You’re Not From Texas,” “She’s Hot To Go,” and “M-O-N-E-Y” were sensory delights. Lovett chose more sparse instrumentation for many songs, however, especially slower tunes like “Nobody Knows Me” and “If I Had A Boat.” The audience was hushed and raptly attentive for the achingly tender “You Were Always There,” a moody lament for Lovett’s late father. The finale of the show was the hand-clapping, Can-I-Get-A-Witness gospel of the hilarious song “Church,” and, appropriately, “Closing Time.”
Through and through, Lovett and the Large Band’s slickness was tempered by his wry humor and vulnerable yet soulful vocals. He is a unique entertainer who can take a stage bulging with top-tier players dressed to the nines playing jazzy arrangements and still come off so off-handedly accessible and human.
— By Tim Jones
Corey Cerovsek, ASO Masterworks
Canadian violinist Corey Cerovsek got the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s 40th anniversary season off to thrilling start, bringing Brahms to life with an energetic performance that again confirmed the young soloist as gifted musician and a charming entertainer.
The first show of the Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks series on Saturday at Robinson Center Music Hall featured three lively pieces. As bookends to Cerovsek’s performance, Itkin chose Hector Berlioz’ “Roman Carnival” Overture, a vibrant jaunt featuring spry interplay among the cellos and violas and a near show-stopping finish, and Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 7,” a dark but lovely piece.
But Cerovsek’s turn on stage truly electrified. Cerovsek, who begin studying violin at age 5, has performed throughout the world for dozens of orchestras working with an array of conductors. At age 33, the young virtuoso has already accumulated a lifetime of critical accolades and an enthusiastic fan base.
As in past ASO appearances, Cerovsek drew a big crowd because of technical skill and obvious love for the music. His enthusiasm was on display Saturday evening, and it proved infectious. Cerovsek and the ASO delved into Johannes Brahms’ “Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77,” a sweeping piece that unfurls in three diverse movements. We’re not sure whether it was the urgency of the Brahms composition, the energy of the soloist or the thrill of the first show of the new season, but Itkin and his orchestra have rarely seemed so enveloped by the music, so in thrall to its reveries and colorful bursts to quick tempos and gorgeous melodies. At times, Cerovsek and Itkin seemed to be dueling, each hoping to one-up the other, shooting knowing glances and nods at one another before plunging headlong into Brahms’ dizzying themes.
And, of course, Cerovsek’s solos remained stunning, picking up Brahms’ motifs and running with them, subtle, graceful and lyrical when necessary but on fire when the piece called for more sensational adventures. Following a long standing ovation, the young talent treated the audience to a quick solo from the slow movement of Bach’s “Sonata in C Major.” More subdued than his fiery performance with Brahms, it proved the perfect coda for a searing performance.
— By Lance Turner