Saturday, February 03, 2007

In Howard's Basement

Thursday night I went to the spectacular Allen Room to listen to Howard Fishman and his band perform some of the songs in Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes. I could have punched myself for not having caught him when he did the entire content of the tapes at Joe's Pub on Memorial Day. Because on Thursday, it felt like he could have gone on playing those arresting songs until he ran out of them.
I've been following Howard since he was playing American standards at Sardi's (never, under any circumstances eat at Sardi's, but do go for a pre-theater drink. It's an order).
I've seen Howard perform old standards, his own powerful, lovely compositions, and now this amazing music by Bob Dylan I knew nothing about. I've seen him at Pete's Candy Store, at Niagara, and more recently, and I'm so happy for him, at venues that will hopefully take him places, like Joe's Pub and Lincoln Center.
Well, it was a beautiful, delightful evening of musical education. I guess Howard is an anomaly: a talented young man with an absolutely exquisite taste for and a deep knowledge of the American songbook. He is intimately familiar with many of the currents of American popular music: jazz standards, blues, country, New Orleans jazz; influences which echo effortlessly through his interpretations. He is not polished and he is not slick (and thus, sadly, not as well known and appreciated as he deserves to be) yet he is nothing but a consummate, passionate musician.
Now, in the Dylan songs that they played, there were playful songs, and strange songs and wonderful songs. What a sheer delight to be surprised by these works, in such a great room, with perfect intimacy, and with a very endearing band.
There were two standout songs for me. Down in the Flood, about levies crashing, was eerily prescient of Katrina and it was arranged and performed in a haunting, powerful way that I haven't been able to shake off. And another song that was arranged as a New Orleans second line tune, and it was raucous and gloriously alive. Unfortunately, I don't have the name of that song with me, which is pretty sloppy reporting, I know.
Howard urged us all to go down to New Orleans, and I completely second that emotion. I'm just afraid to be too sad once I get there.

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