Friday, October 19, 2007

Thomas Dolby and the Jazz Mafia Horns

Once again, an evening at the Birchmere brought back a familiar face or two. This time, it was keyboard auteur Thomas Dolby reprising several recent appearances (the last time, opening for BT in December, 2006) supported by the Jazz Mafia Horns, and featuring Baltimore transplant Joanne Juskus as the opening act.

Juskus, along with guitarist Adrian Bond, was outstanding. Her ethereal vocal style is reminiscent of Annie Haslam of Renaissance, and able to summon the keyboard chops of Sarah McLachlan or Kate Bush, Ms. Juskus also performs in Telesma, described as an "electro-acoustic psychedelic tribal world dance band." (Perhaps that description alone might compel me to seek them out!) They played selections from both of her albums, including Never Be The Same, Missing You, Rebel, and the title cut from the new recording, See Your Face, as well as a cover of Dolby's own Screen Kiss. She also told the crowd that during soundcheck, as they practiced the song, she looked up to see Dolby himself there grinning amiably, enthusiastically explaining to the audience that she would be sitting in rapt attention during his set, a rabid fan herself.

A note to our readers: Telesma will be performing along with Tryst and the Indra Lazul Bellydancers at the Metro Gallery, 1700 North Charles St., in Baltimore, Next Saturday, October 27 at 9 pm. Tickets for this all ages show are $8.

For his part, Dolby dazzled the audience with an array of his 80's hits, describing how many of the the songs came about. He mentioned his brief brush with Malcolm McLaren (best known for producing the Sex Pistols), who turned down a song Dolby had written for a project, which led him to write one of favorite pieces. His songs remained fresh and timely, with Budapest by Blimp, his funky collaboration with George Clinton Hot Sauce, his tongue in cheek, Valley Girl-esque take on modern non-culture, Airhead, and a stripped-down arrangement of Europa and the Pirate Twins all as good as remembered. Dolby tried out some new material as well, promising a new album in '08, his first in years.

The big difference between this show and his last visit here, when he opened for BT in December of '06, was the addition of the Jazz Mafia Horns. They added a fresh element to the set beyond Dolby's programs and effects, and the songs took on a livelier and more spontaneous feel. The Horns' (Adam Theis, Joe Cohen, and Rich Armstrong) contributions included saxophone, trumpet, and trombone, as well as various percussion effects and some solid harmonies, contrasting from and complimenting Dolby's delivery at the same time. Hyperactive, another Dolby classic, sounded better than ever with the inclusion of brass, as did a G rated rendition of The Keys to Her Ferrari, the Horns chiming in with an upbeat and punchy sound that has always reminded me of the theme music to a 60's TV private eye crime drama.

Dolby also told the story of how it was brought to his attention that his most famous tune, She Blinded Me With Science, had been lifted without his authorization by America's favorite single dad, Kevin Federline. Pulling up K Fed's site, Dolby heard his song being butchered, and tried to contact him. Joining myspace as one of Federline's online "friends" to get contact his information, Dolby dropped him a letter, not demanding royalties, just that he STOP. Unfortunately, the threat of legal action only applied to the pirated Dolby song.

Once again, a great and entertaining evening with the keyboard guru. I'll be looking out for that new album next year, as well as the live release by Dolby and the Jazz Mafia Horns "Live at SxSW," which was sold out before the show that night at the Birchmere's store or I might be listening to it right now...

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