[Dixielandjazz] "Country Jazz" and OKOM AT LINCOLN CENTER NYC, USA.

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 2 14:01:01 PST 2003

List mates:

Will wonders never cease?  OKOM at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center NYC.
And an OKOM review by The New York Times. And we said it would never
happen. That Lincoln Center would have real OKOM, performed by white
musicians, etc., etc.., etc.
Well, you doubters, read on.

This trio of O'Connor, Vignola, and Burr is currently touring. If they
appear anywhere near you, go see them. I was fortunate to have played
with him once and can tell you that Vignola is one of the premier
guitarists alive in the world today and this group is absolutely
astounding. They cut everybody else who has ever performed in this trio
fashion, including the originals. Yes, indeedy. this is a MONSTER jazz
group. Failing seeing them, buy the album.

Please also read this review carefully to absorb the music lessons from

Steve Barbone

March 2, 2003 - New York Times

A Country Fiddler Who Swings


        Mark O'Connor is the best-known country and bluegrass fiddler in
the world, give or take Alison Krauss. When he appeared at Alice Tully
Hall in February, though, he was playing jazz — and not just any old
jazz, either.

He has started a group, Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio, in which he
joins forces with the guitarist Frank Vignola and the bassist Jon Burr,
two of New York City's top sidemen, to perform in a style unabashedly
influenced by the music of Django Reinhardt, the great Gypsy jazz
guitarist of the 30's, and Stéphane Grappelli, Reinhardt's
violin-playing colleague. The three men have just released a CD, "In
Full Swing" (Odyssey/Sony Classical), which also features guest
performances by Wynton Marsalis and the popular jazz singer Jane
Monheit, and the trio are now barnstorming around the country.

The Hot Swing Trio, in short, is no one-night stand, but a major
commitment of time and energy on the part of a violinist-composer whose
time and energy are very much in demand these days. "Appalachia Waltz"
and "Appalachian Journey" (Sony Classical), Mr. O'Connor's folk-flavored
crossover collaborations with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the bassist Edgar
Meyer, sold so well that he is now in a position to do pretty much
whatever he wants, be it offbeat, self-indulgent or just plain weird. If
he felt moved to put together a big band that played Bulgarian folk
music with a dash of hip-hop, he could probably get it booked into most
concert halls in North America with no questions asked.

The surprising thing about the Hot Swing Trio is not that it exists, but
that it isn't a self-indulgence on the part of its eclectic leader. For
it turns out that the best-known country and bluegrass fiddler in the
world can also play jazz as if he had a patent on it. Mr. O'Connor, 41,
is a take-no-prisoners soloist who darts up and down the fingerboard of
his fiddle with staggering ease, tossing off chorus after inventive
chorus, all warmed by a lustrous tone rarely heard from more "authentic"
jazz violinists, most of whom sound a good deal more rough-hewn. Mr.
Marsalis sat in with the Hot Swing Trio at Alice Tully Hall, and once
Mr. O'Connor got going in earnest on "Tiger Rag," the trumpeter stepped
back, cocked his head and smiled in apparent bemusement, looking for all
the world like a young gun who had made the mistake of tangling with the
big boys at a jam session. As jazz
musicians say, he'd been cut — and by a Nashville cat, no less.

As it happens, more than a few Nashville cats have loved jazz and played
it after hours. (Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs recorded a smoking-hot
cover version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' "Farewell Blues" in 1951,
while Homer and Jethro, the country-music comedy duo, once released a
whole album of deft jazz instrumentals called, appropriately enough,
"Playing It Straight.") But their interest is almost always more in the
nature of a hobby than anything else. The language of jazz is too
demanding to allow for late vocations; if you don't start listening to
it at an early age, you'll always speak it with an accent. Classical
musicians who dabble in jazz in mid-career, like the violinist Itzhak
Perlman and the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, typically sound stilted and
unsure in the company of a hard-charging rhythm section.

For all these reasons, it should come as no surprise that Mr. O'Connor,
far from being an adult convert to jazz, has been up to his ears in it
since he was a teenager. He even toured with Grappelli two decades ago —
as a guitarist, to be sure, though the two men also played violin duets
and spent a great deal of time together off the bandstand. Mr. O'Connor
calls Grappelli "my biggest violin hero," and he regards the Hot Swing
Trio as an opportunity to pass on the lessons he learned from the French

"It's not competitive, not a matter of stealing someone else's energy,"
he said in an interview shortly after the Hot Swing Trio appeared at
Alice Tully Hall. "We're like a little club — a place where we can play
this special kind of music."

Yet the group is not simply a purveyor of jazz neoclassicism. Mr.
Vignola and Mr. Burr, though capable of playing in perfect 30's swing
style when circumstances warrant it, are no less comfortable with modern
jazz. It would never occur to either man to merely ape the distinctive
Reinhardt-Grappelli manner, and their playing and composing give the
group an unmistakably contemporary feel.

As for Mr. O'Connor, his horizons are even wider. Like so many of
today's most challenging popular musicians, he is a polystylist who
refuses to be tied down to any one genre, and there is nothing forced or
self-conscious about the way in which his playing and composing have
increasingly come to reflect the full spectrum of his interests.

"In a sense," he said, "all I've ever been doing is trying to develop an
interesting way to play the violin, a more flexible way to communicate
throughthis wooden box. It isn't like, well, I'm going to play jazz now,
or do the Nashville thing now. I always just wanted to get better, and
if a new musical experience would help, I never wanted to turn it away."

As a result, jazz came as naturally to Mr. O'Connor as did bluegrass,
country or Western swing — though he always brings his own distinctive
sense of musical order to everything he plays. "It's so obvious how
completely caught up all three of them are in the moment," said Sara
Watkins, who plays fiddle with Nickel Creek, the polystylistic bluegrass
group that has lately taken the world of acoustic music by storm. "But
it's not just the solos that are exciting. The arrangements — the lines
that lead in and out of the solos — give the pieces they play an even
more strongly defined form and character."

To talk to Mr. O'Connor about the Hot Swing Trio is to understand that
it is not a passing fancy on his part, but a major opportunity to tear
down yet another of the walls that separate the many kinds of music he
loves. "Frank and Jon are the most compatible musicians I've ever
performed with," he said. "And I've played in some pretty amazing bands,
you know. But outside of Yo-Yo Ma — and I consider him the greatest
string player of our time — they're the most responsive, the most
caring, the most dedicated. Every note they play is meaningful. I'm so
inspired by them. I could do this for a long time."  

Terry Teachout is the music critic of Commentary and the author of "The
Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken" (HarperCollins).

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