Monday, July 27, 2009

New Boston Duo debut at PI Coffee Roasters

Rainy Sunday morning in Amesbury. God knows what's happening on the other side of the river, in the voluntary madness known as Yankee Homecoming. Seems too much to deal with at this hour, any hour this side of noon.

No matter. We're comfortably settled in at the Carriagetown edition of Plum Island Coffee Roasters, the old J Bucks, which has been brewing up the good stuff — in our case a nice and much-needed Sumatra roast with a nice body and nutty finish — since last December. It's air-conditioned, there's a pleasant vibe and, the real reason we're here, the New Boston Duo is making its area debut.

Interesting confluence of perspectives and styles at work here: You've got Amesbury guitarist George Little, who started out as a folkie, writing, among other things, funny tunes about local subjects, like Mr. Donuts, the late, lamented purveyor of trans-fats, securing his "serious" music bona-fides in classical guitar and string performance, teaming up with fellow Longy School of Music violinist Elizabeth Burke to play ... jazz?

Yup. Standards, mostly, that have been reimagined, reinterpreted. Which, of course, is the beauty of standards. And, in the NBD's case, centered around "le red hot" gipsy jazz vocabulary and vibe. They seem most at home with dark colors and minor keys, like Django's classic "Minor Swing" and "Dark Eyes," a Russian Gipsy folk song he liked so well that he recorded it three times (as "Les yeux noirs"). They'll play "Only a Paper Moon" and "All of Me," and interestingly, spin it into "Bossa Dorado," the jazz manouche classic by Dorado Schmitt, mais bein sur) They also mix it up with tunes "Georgia," "Over the Rainbow" and "All My Loving," the Fab Four hit.
It's tricky terrain, of course — instrumentation, musical mindset and, at times, a set list that invokes Reinhardt and Grappelli, titanic forces in jazz, performing well-remembered songs in new, different ways. But Little and Burke aren't shooting for cover band status: They're playing in the style, but not aping it, and bringing something of themselves, their backgrounds, to the performance. The Sunday debut showed a good energy, good communication between two players who are clearly in sync, musically.

A pleasant morning. Seems strange, though, clapping on a Sunday morning, like an affront to God or something. Our Pilgrim forebears must be turning over in their graves. Outside, the rain has stopped, the sun is blazing. It's a steam bath. Little and Burke have packed up their gear and are taking off to the other side of the river, where Homecoming is in full swing. They'll do some busking, then Little is off to Maudslay State Park, where he is performing the music for Theater in the Open's production of "The Tempest," using arrangements of surviving songs from Robert Johnson — the 16th-century lutenist, not the Delta blues singer — as well as improvisation and other works by contemporaries of Johnson.

To get a taste of what the New Boston Duo sounds like, click here.

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