Walter Tunis: 'Queen of the Blues' Shemekia Copeland earned the title

Contributing Music WriterMarch 7, 2013 

Shemekia Copeland is scheduled to perform Sunday at Natasha's Bistro & Bar.

SANDRINE LEE

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    Branford Marsalis Quartet at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond: One doesn't normally associate the dramatics and dynamics of a jazz artist, especially one as heralded as Branford Marsalis, with a stage move. But last week, the multi-Grammy-winning saxophonist and bandleader came up with one, whether he realized it or not, that was literally in step with the cool and wildly adventurous music conjured by his quartet.

    After completing a solo on soprano or tenor sax, he did an about-face and walked to the back of the bandstand. Admittedly, that's been a Marsalis performance trademark for decades. But here, with the quartet members situated in such close proximity to one another on a huge, starkly lit stage, Marsalis' exits gave the illusion of a disappearing act into darkness.

    That was a telling move, as every completed Marsalis solo simply shifted the focus to the quartet's other three titan members: pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jason Faulkner.

    For example, Calderazzo's show-opening The Mighty Sword, one of five compositions during the 95-minute concert pulled from the Marsalis Quartet's new album Four MFs Playin' Tunes, used a piano intro rich in Thelonious Monk-style fancy as a set-up for a darting soprano run by Marsalis. Then the saxophonist vanished, leaving the remaining trio to engage in a series of rugged rhythmic skirmishes before closing ranks around Marsalis, who strolled back out of the darkness at tune's end.

    Such playfulness was magnified when the group took on Monk music directly with a cover of the jazz legend's Teo that balanced Calderazzo's meaty, modal playing with Marsalis' tenor lead.

    But the killer was another Calderazzo tune, the sumptuous ballad As Summer Into Autumn Slips. Performed as a 20-minute suite of sorts, the piece began with ensemble exchanges that drifted between the atmospheric and the freely improvisational, with soprano sax playing off ripples of piano and percussion. Marsalis eventually did his disappearing act again only to reappear for a coda that shifted the focus entirely to a furious solo by Faulkner.

    An encore of Tiger Rag flipped on the New Orleans party lights. But the concert's truly enticing moments came when Marsalis disappeared into the darker recesses of his quartet's quite remarkable repertoire.

Shemekia Copeland, The Tallboys

8 p.m. March 10 at Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade. $25. (859) 259-2754. Beetnik.com.

When an artist proclaims to be the king or queen of anything, one can't help but be suspect. In so many instances, a title of royalty gets flaunted like so much promotional baggage. It becomes an inflated, self-important selling point employed when genuine artistic invention is in short supply.

Sure, Elvis Presley got away with being called a rock 'n' roll monarch. He was a commercial and artistic game changer. But other kings and queens in contemporary music are a rare commodity.

That brings us to Shemekia Copeland, known well to her fandom as the "Queen of the Blues." Let's check the credentials.

Born in Harlem, N.Y., Copeland certainly hails from royal blues heritage. Her father was Johnny Copeland, the renowned Texas blues/soul guitar slinger who enlisted his daughter as opening act during the '90s.

In subsequent years, the younger Copeland developed strong musical alliances by recording and touring with such disparate greats as Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Ruth Brown, Steve Cropper, John Medeski and Marc Ribot. Instilled with a love of all shades of the blues, from torchy laments to roots-driven rockers, Copeland's career has led to her newest Oliver Wood-produced album, 2012's 3313.

But what ultimately seals her claim as Queen of the Blues is a passage of royal succession. Seriously.

For decades, the title was given to the great Chicago blues belter Koko Taylor, an artist with whom Copeland regularly shared concert bills — including in Lexington at The Red Mile in 2004. After Taylor's death in 2009, Copeland was officially awarded royalty status by the late singer's daughter, Cookie Taylor.

So rest assured. When you take in Copeland's return performance at Natasha's on Sunday, you will truly be part of an audience with the Queen.

WOO who?

Bernie Worrell has spent the better part of six decades at the heart of ground-breaking funk music. He helped co-pilot the genre-busting '70s grooves of Parliament/Funkadelic before becoming one of the key contributors in an expanded '80s lineup of Talking Heads. That group's 1983 tour was chronicled in Jonathan Demme's sublime concert film, Stop Making Sense.

Since then, Worrell has pioneered a sort of musical philosophy he terms the World of Originality, or WOO. That has extended to various solo, band and collaborative projects that have emphasized a keyboard sound infatuated with groove yet still open enough to encompass jazzlike experimentation and orchestral-style textures.

Worrell is back in Lexington on Monday after a long absence to showcase the new Bernie Worrell Orchestra at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue. The nine-member ensemble has been covering P-Funk classics like Super Stupid and Dr. Funkenstein, and Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man. The latter also is covered on Standards, the orchestra's new album of jazz makeovers. (9 p.m. $10. (859) 309-9499. Cosmic-charlies.com.)

Night of the Waterboys

Just a reminder that the founder/frontman of the great British collective The Waterboys, Mike Scott, will make his Lexington debut at Monday's taping of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street. He will be accompanied by longtime Waterboys fiddler Steve Wickham. Scott speaks to us from Ireland this weekend on LexGo, among other topics, The Waterboys' new album, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats. (6:45 p.m. $10. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888. Woodsongs.com.)


THE WEEK THAT WAS

Branford Marsalis Quartet at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond: One doesn't normally associate the dramatics and dynamics of a jazz artist, especially one as heralded as Branford Marsalis, with a stage move. But last week, the multi-Grammy-winning saxophonist and bandleader came up with one, whether he realized it or not, that was literally in step with the cool and wildly adventurous music conjured by his quartet.

After completing a solo on soprano or tenor sax, he did an about-face and walked to the back of the bandstand. Admittedly, that's been a Marsalis performance trademark for decades. But here, with the quartet members situated in such close proximity to one another on a huge, starkly lit stage, Marsalis' exits gave the illusion of a disappearing act into darkness.

That was a telling move, as every completed Marsalis solo simply shifted the focus to the quartet's other three titan members: pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jason Faulkner.

For example, Calderazzo's show-opening The Mighty Sword, one of five compositions during the 95-minute concert pulled from the Marsalis Quartet's new album Four MFs Playin' Tunes, used a piano intro rich in Thelonious Monk-style fancy as a set-up for a darting soprano run by Marsalis. Then the saxophonist vanished, leaving the remaining trio to engage in a series of rugged rhythmic skirmishes before closing ranks around Marsalis, who strolled back out of the darkness at tune's end.

Such playfulness was magnified when the group took on Monk music directly with a cover of the jazz legend's Teo that balanced Calderazzo's meaty, modal playing with Marsalis' tenor lead.

But the killer was another Calderazzo tune, the sumptuous ballad As Summer Into Autumn Slips. Performed as a 20-minute suite of sorts, the piece began with ensemble exchanges that drifted between the atmospheric and the freely improvisational, with soprano sax playing off ripples of piano and percussion. Marsalis eventually did his disappearing act again only to reappear for a coda that shifted the focus entirely to a furious solo by Faulkner.

An encore of Tiger Rag flipped on the New Orleans party lights. But the concert's truly enticing moments came when Marsalis disappeared into the darker recesses of his quartet's quite remarkable repertoire.

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