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Courtesy Ingrid C. Hertfelder
James Carter Trio
Courtesy Nathan Nicholson
Saturday, April 20, 2013
The Roanoke Valley has developed such a nice music scene over the past three years that it is nearly impossible for a music lover to complain that there is nothing going on. A variety of genres is represented just about every week, and today will be the same — amplified, even.
Down by Downtown, in Roanoke, has staged a wide selection of acts in a festival that began Wednesday and ends today. Among the final shows is James Carter Organ Trio, a brilliant soul-jazz outfit that plays two sets at Jefferson Center tonight.
Growler’s American Grill & Venue, at Towers Shopping Center, is rarely afraid to bring in a big act, and tonight it hosts Tim Reynolds & TR3. Reynolds, who was Dave Matthews’ guitar teacher and now plays in the Dave Matthews Band, is a shockingly good guitarist.
And Blue 5 Restaurant is hosting hit country music songwriter Gary Nicholson, in his Whitey Johnson bluesman persona.
When I wrote this column, country music legend George Jones was atop the list. But Jones was hospitalized on Thursday night, and his Salem Civic Center show was postponed. It was rescheduled for May 9.
Here are my thoughts on each of tonight’s shows.
James Carter Organ Trio
This is not James Carter’s first trip to what he affectionately calls “the RoRo.” This world-class saxophonist was part of the Don Pullen tribute concert that did a one-off at Jefferson Center in January 2012. He showed stunning musicality and chops on that show and in a matinee for the kids at Lucy Addison Middle School.
The late Pullen, a Roanoke native and onetime Lucy Addison student, went on to New York City and fame as a free jazz pianist who could also write and perform more down-to-earth melodies and groove with the very best of them.
“The first thing that came to mind was the fact that we were there paying tribute to a great man, a great pianist, composer, and the fact that it was full circle, you know, going to his home town … and his alma mater as well,” Carter said.
“As far as I’m concerned, jazz is the original swag, and when it’s done properly, it transcends all fads and figures and all that other good stuff.”
Carter brings his own original swag to Jefferson Center’s rehearsal hall, in the form of his organ trio. Carter’s fellow Detroit natives Gerard Gibbs (Hammond B-3) and Leonard “Dr. Prof.” King Jr., along with some other musical masters, swag with major swing and monster chops on the 2011 disc “At The Crossroads.”
Like the record, the live show won’t be a strictly instrumental experience, either. King is a singer, Carter said.
“For me, it’s been a heckuva run, continues to be a heckuva run — the most cohesive ensemble I’ve had, on and off stage,” he said of the 12-year-old band.
Hear a podcast with Carter, including streaming music from “At The Crossroads,” at blogs.roanoke.com/cutnscratch.
Gary Nicholson has made a big mark on the Nashville country music scene. Among his hits is “One More Last Chance,” which he co-wrote with Vince Gill, whose recording made the song famous. He has also made a mark as a touring guitarist, with a resume that includes Guy Clark and Delbert McClinton.
Nicholson, a Texas native, in recent years has combined those aspects of his life into his Whitey Johnson persona.
Johnson, in a white suit and tam, sings and plays some great original country blues. Blues songs that he co-wrote have made their way onto disc, as well, including Buddy Guy’s “Skin Deep” and “74 Years Young,” both of which Guy played at his November 2011 Jefferson Center concert.
Nicholson, who years ago took his songwriting and recording career to Los Angeles on the recommendation of the late Gram Parsons, has done well enough as a songwriter and producer — he has produced four of McClinton’s records — that he doesn’t really need to be on the road. But he likes it.
“There’s not, obviously, as much money in playing live, but it’s kind of become my expensive hobby, I guess,” Nicholson said. “I’m not making a living from playing live, but I think it keeps the songs alive. It keeps me writing, if I know the song I’m writing is going to be performed.
“It’s important to let the music be played.”
He brings his show to Blue 5 Restaurant, with a band that includes drummer Pete Ragusa (The Nighthawks).
Go to blogs.roanoke.com/cutnscratch to hear a podcast and streaming music from Nicholson. Or Johnson.
Tim Reynolds & TR3
Reynolds first came to national attention as Dave Matthews’ accompanist on Matthews’ solo gigs. But he was really more than that. He showed himself to be a guitar genius, able with either acoustic or electric guitar to summon up things that most players can’t even think of, much less execute.
For the past few years, he has been a member of Dave Matthews Band, providing incendiary guitar work when necessary. But a Tim Reynolds & TR3 show is where a listener can really get the idea of just what he can do with a guitar in his hands.
This is a classic power trio that also features two players Reynolds met and befriended when he moved to the Outer Banks of North Carolina — drummer Dan Martier and bassist Mick Vaughan. This band can utterly destroy it live.
Follow the live blog
I am going to try to hit every one of these shows, plus some other Down by Downtown offerings.
I’ll be live blogging about my experiences tonight, and you can follow my adventure — or misadventure — at blogs.roanoke.com/cutnscratch.
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