Sunday, July 13, 2008

Damon Albarn 'Presents' the Honest Jon's Revue in New York, 7.12.08

Damon Albarn has built a reputation for being one of the more eclectic musicians out there. From fronting Britpop legends Blur to voicing 2D, of the virtual band Gorillaz, he's managed to defy genres by associating himself with a variety of musical acts.

On Saturday night, Albarn took the stage at New York City's Avery Fisher Hall with an international group of musicians. The show titled, "Damon Albarn & The Honest Jon's Revue," was part of this year's Lincoln Center Festival and featured numerous acts affiliated with Honest Jon's, a London-based record label.

The stage — clogged with instruments, and draped with flags representing the United States, Canada, France, Mali, and more — was a perfect setting for the mishmosh of music we were treated to that night. The musicians included The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Afel Bocoum Band, and folk singer Victoria Williams. Renowned Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen and guitarist Simon Tong — who both collaborated with Albarn on last year's The Good The Bad and The Queen record — were also part of the lineup.

Albarn didn't actually take the spotlight until the show's conclusion. Instead, he played keyboards and the melodica as accompaniment to his fellow artists' music, occasionally laughing, dancing, and clapping in response to the talents that were on display. And Albarn wasn't alone in performing such antics — the members of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble whipped out their lighters and cell phones during vocalist/guitarist Simone White's quiet, yet quirky performance. Later on, after an enthusiastic performer impressed the crowd by playing the bass while holding it behind his head, an audience member actually got up to give him a high five.

The two-hour show consisted of a medley of soul, folk, jazz, and traditional African music (namely from Mali), providing the audience with an opportunity to hear some instruments that are rarely heard in this part of the world. I was personally really impressed to see Kokanko Sata — a female musician from Mali — play the kamelen n'goni, a three-stringed harp of sorts, which is typically an instrument only played by men.

The night came to an end with Albarn taking center stage for a ten-minute performance of "Sunset Coming On," a song featured on his 2002 collaborative project, Mali Music. This was the perfect closer for the night — starting out peacefully with Albarn's distinct, soothing vocals at the forefront and ending with a high-energy, percussion-driven climax that featured all the performers either dancing, singing or playing along with each other. Even audience members stood up to clap and dance to the music.

As soul singer Candi Stanton told the audience earlier in the night, "Music is the international language." And the Honest Jon's Revue, with its fusion of cultures and musical genres, really drove this point home by the time the show was over.

(You may also view this review here).

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