Thursday, August 4, 2011

...Even If I Don't Know Anything About Jazz

Category:  Concert Review

I'll start by admitting point blank that I know nothing about jazz.  I know some of the names, of course -- Charlie Parker, Louie Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald -- but I don't have any real knowledge of the music, its history, or anything else.  Give me two notes can I can tell you if something's real country music or pop wanna-be, but jazz?  I haven't even graduated kindergarten in my education.  So when I spent an evening at Katerina's in Chicago watching Harmonious Wail perform over two hours of spectacular music all I could say is "wow."  

L-R: Jeff Weiss, Sims Delaney-Potthoff,
Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, Mark Kreitzer

Harmonious Wail is a quartet from Madison, Wisconsin fronted by the husband and wife team of Sims and Maggie Delaney-Potthoff.  They bill themselves as a "gypsy swing jazz band."  I do know enough to know the term "gypsy jazz" is an ode to Django, the masterful French guitarist who influenced people ranging from Les Paul to Chet Atkins.  Sims fronts the band not on guitar but on mandolin, having taken lessons from the legendary Jethro Burns (who was also influenced by Reinhardt).  Maggie plays various and unique percussive instruments (such as a empty box that once held boxes of Purex laundry detergent and a pair of scissors).  Mark Kreitzer plays guitar brilliantly, and Jeff "Jeffro" Weiss is a young but gifted stand-up bassist.

The band, quite simply, is superb.  Maggie has a voice that can melt ice cubes then turn around and re-freeze the water.  "Torch?"  Maybe.  "Great?"  Absolutely.  She let loose on a combination of originals ("I Like to Feel My Bones," a song written after a car wreck, and the title song from their most recent CD "The Vegan Zombie's Lament") and covers ("My Favorite Things" and a show-stopping rendition of Steely Dan's "Home at Last").  Sims' mandolin playing showed his respect for his teacher (most notably when he let loose on "Tico Tico," borrowing heavily from the 1962 Homer & Jethro Playing It Straight arrangement) as well as the love for Django (they played "Djangology" and "Minor Swing").

My favorite quote about music comes from Sir Paul McCartney, who said in an 1974 interview, "I just like good music.  And, you know, you gotta search for it."  I may not know much about jazz but I do know that Harmonious Wail is a superb band with talented musicians and a gifted vocalist, and they deserve to be heard, regardless of how much you do or don't know about jazz.

Harmonious Wail's web site

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