music and then some

2009-Jun18-OnTheAirThe week started in downtown Burlington with the last sweet notes of this year’s Discover Jazz Festival, and it ended just as nicely: with Thursday evening’s recording session featuring music of Lake Champlain, and last night’s red-hot set of standards with Ray Vega’s new Quartet at the bakery in Richmond.

No doubt: I am very fortunate that both the professional and personal areas of my life are so frequently filled with music, and usually such different kinds. A day that starts with two hours on the air hosting beautiful classical music often continues in the afternoon as I listen to new world music in the barn while working in the Cumbancha/Putumayo database, and concludes later that same evening by catching live music somwehere: classical, jazz, world, or any variety of local performers. Very fortunate.

Both Thursday and Friday this week were days like that: hosting classical music on the air in the morning (commemorating “Juneteenth” on yesterday’s show); working at Cumbancha/Putumayo in the afternoon, and then enjoying live music in the evening.

On Thursday eve around 7,  the forces gathered in the VPR performance studio to record the last artist we’ll be including in the Champlain 400 music showcase. (The program is scheduled to air later this summer, as part of the station’s and the region’s wider Quadricentennial celebrations. You may remember my mentioning it here when the first showcase recording session took place over Memorial Day weekend, included the French Canadian fiddler/guitar duo of Lisa Ornstein and André Marchand, and singer/songwriter Alan Greenleaf. What a day that was!)

Robert & Deb recording in the VPR studio

Robert & Deb recording in the VPR studio

Singer, songwriter and historian Deb Flanders stopped by to share an intimate set of traditional and original songs largely reflecting the personal stories of the Lake’s Anglo settlers. Found and lost love, distant love, struggle and survival and despair and optimism…the 9,000+ songs and ballads that comprise the extensive collection of Deb’s great-Aunt, Helen Hartness Flanders represent a comprehensive narrative of  the collective and individual immigrant experiences. From the haunting ballad of The Butcher Boy to Deb’s original additions to the archive, Thursday evening’s music offered a quietly poignant, very personal cross-section of that vast experience.

Last night’s live music was a nothing short of a mainline into the other end of the intro/extroverted energy spectrum. Late in the week I found out that Ray Vega was going to be bringing his Quartet to Richmond’s On the Rise bakery. Having seen Ray just a couple of weeks ago with the new UVM Jazz Collective, I was ready for more and eager to hear him in a smaller ensemble setting.

The only complicating factor? I work on the Burlington side of the Richmond Bridge (where On the Rise is), but I live on “the other side” of it.

March, 2009: taking the backroads home

March, 2009 - at your own risk: taking the VT backroads home in mud season

A little history: in early March (yes, the start of ‘mud season’ here), the Bridge closed for structural repairs, necessitating any number of creative alternate routes around it on dirt roads for anyone living on ‘the other’ side. That is, anyone – like me – living at the southern end of Chittenden County and dependent on the Huntington Main Road (and the Richmond Bridge) to be connected to the rest of the county. Besides adding another 10 min. (minimum: that’s without school buses or heavy weather or excessive mud) to the daily commute to/from Burlington, the temporary closure effectively bifurcated the Richmond business district and severed the main route through town. The Bridge was scheduled to reopen in time for the annual 4th of July parade to pass through, but I read that the contractors  also had a tiered scale of financial incentives available to them to encourage an earlier completion.

So: back to last night. In considering whether or not I  would go to the bakery to see Ray Vega’s Quartet for their 8pm set, I also had to think seriously about driving home afterward – without the benefit of the Bridge – tired, through the winding (deer, fox, beaver and moose-filled) backroads to get home. It’s funny, I admit it. But a little less so when dodging the wildlife very late at night in the pitch dark. I decided to do it anyway and just be extra vigilant and careful on the drive home afterward. This is just something I never had to think about when I lived in LA, where heading home meant leaving the wild life behind.

I arrived in Richmond yesterday evening around 6 for a pre-concert pizza at the Bridge Street Café, and noticed right away the unusual amount of traffic at the top of the Street. Was the Quartet drawing all the traffic? Or the Friday afternoon Farmer’s Market? Or…?

Turns out the Bridge had just reopened! Two weeks early! I learned when I got to the bakery that when the day’s construction ended (at 6pm), there had been a brief ceremony and the Bridge reopened for business. Great news.

Then the music began. I was just thinking as the Quartet launched into their opener, Cedar Walton’s hard-driving Bolivia, that even if I had the longer (dark, beaverous) drive home to look forward to afterward, it would have been worth it.  They play for keeps, whether straight-ahead grooving or lingering over the delicious notes of a ballad like Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat? (the tune Ray dedicated to his wife, sitting at a table right in front: “This one’s for you honey.” And then, as an aside to the rest of the room: “Now I’ll really play the blues! ”  Love his humor. And his fluglehorn sound.)

Ray Vega Quartet at On the Rise bakery

The Quartet: Ray Vega (trumpet & fluglehorn), Tom Cleary (piano), John Rivers (bass) and Jeff Salisbury (drums)

They ended the set with a tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, in its 50th anniversary year: All Blues.

My week ended with smiles, friends, great coffee and a sunset-lit table in the corner, enjoying the Quartet. And a short, quick drive home thanks to the reopened Bridge.

In other words: anything but the blues.

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