Sound Check

Songs for Our Father

LAST WEEK TWIN Cities jazz fans were treated to the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band's rendition of Duke Ellington's monumental suite Black, Brown and Beige. Now this week we'll have the opportunity to hear a different and just as important facet of the Duke's composing brilliance--his sacred music. VoicesIowa, a vocal sextet from Southwestern Community College in Creston, will sing some of the religious music Ellington composed during his final decades.

"He did some 100 sacred concerts around the world in the last ten years of his life," says Phil Mattson, the group's director and one of vocal jazz's most respected figures. "It was kind of a mission for Duke.'' (Ellington died on May 24, 1974 at age 75.)

Mattson, a native Minnesotan, is riding high after his group performed recently at New York's Carnegie Hall. They have also been honored by Down Beat magazine as Vocal Jazz Group of the Year in competition with dozens of schools in the U.S. But this swing through town marks something of a homecoming for the singer, who is revered by the Twin Cities ensemble he once tutored, Voice Trek. Born in Duluth and reared in Brainerd, Mattson was a two-time Grammy Award nominee in the Eighties as arranger-director of his own jazz group, the P.M. Singers. (He lost both times to the popular and not-always-jazz Manhattan Transfer.)

Mattson assures me that Ellington's sacred music is not all hymns--it was written in the jazz idiom, and as such will certainly swing. For his part, Ellington said he regarded this music as "the most important thing I have ever done,'' in his autobiography Music Is My Mistress (Doubleday).

"It has been said,'' he wrote, "that what we do is deliver lyrical sermons, fire-and-brimstone sermonettes, and reminders of the fact that we live in the promised land of milk and honey.''

Lest nonbelievers be turned off by sacred songs, Mattson says VoicesIowa will also sing pop and jazz standards, including, appropriately, "Body and Soul.'' (Bob Protzman)

 

VoicesIowa will perform Sunday afternoon, March 12 at the House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Richfield; (612)
866-8471.

Sweet Charity

THE BENEFIT IMPULSE is a dicey thing when it comes to organizing good rock concerts and albums. Music is too easily sacrificed on the altar of inclusiveness and good intentions--and the better the cause, very often, the more uneven the results. But for my money, one of the best world-music albums of 1999 also happened to benefit war victims, Balkans Without Borders.

Produced by the local label Omnium, the album featured Balkan tunes rendered in unmistakably modern and electric hues by acts ranging from Mike Watt to Sweden's Garmarna and Hungary's Muzsikás. Local Celtic new wavers Boiled in Lead capped the disc's 72 minutes, rounding out an inspired mixture of influences that would never have coalesced without a pressing cause.

Along these lines, Pop for Charity has gambled for the past year on the idea that humanitarian goodwill might boost local music, and vice versa. Since October of '98, founder Shayne Kramer has organized benefit shows for eight individuals and organizations, with each event upping the momentum and scale of the project. Now, on Saturday, March 11, he hosts a double-header concert (benefiting the Neighborhood Involvement Program) in the 7th Street Entry; (612) 338-8388. Bands donating their sweat include Cadillac Blindside, 12 Rods, and Hidden Chord at the 4:00 p.m. all-ages show. The Rods, the Hot, and Arch Stanton also play a 9:00 p.m. ID show.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention here a sprightly new CD of international indie-pop from Grimsey, the well-titled Do Not Fear the Future, which benefits local mental-health charities. Featuring our brightest retropop hopes the Autumn Leaves--plus Spain's late, great answer to Komeda, Le Mans--the album indicates, like all of the above, a basic decency lurking in our hedon-counting milieu. (Peter S. Scholtes)

Sound Check: Shill for K-TEL

NOT HOURS AFTER sending last week's column on Freddy Fresh to press did we receive a new techno compilation from the Minneapolis-based K-TEL featuring the St. Paul producer doin' his Fatboy Slim-jimmy on "Badder Badder Schwing." The third and best volume of the reissue giant's Digital Empire series, the double disc was co-produced by local techno legend Woody McBride, and as such should widely distribute some of the hard-to-find music pumped in these pages. (Check out McBride's appropriately named "I Feel Great," plus 22 other tracks from the likes of Moby, Esthero, and the Lo Fidelity All Stars.)

Dance fans take note: Now that affiliated hip hoppers, jazzbos, and poets have moved on to independent prominence, the live multi-scene mating ground known as Groove Garden Sunday is back to rekindle its distinct vibe--this time on a monthly basis, beginning Sunday, March 12, at the Loring Bar. The venue's two rooms are perfect for spreading out DJs (Andrew, Jennifer, Anomaly) and bands (rappers the Sureshot Brothers; J.G. Everest's new group, Cropduster). (Scholtes)

 
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