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July's world music and cabaret at Jazz Alley
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July's world music and cabaret at Jazz Alley

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

Last month, Jazz Alley presented distinctively different acts which reflected some of the best of their genres.

Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara blend traditional West African one-string fiddle music of Gambia with wailing, funky, contemporary blues and rock and roll on electric guitar, lively vocals, and vibrant percussion. They have been playing together for two years.

Their performances were one of the biggest hits of this year's Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and Seattle world music fans eagerly awaited their appearance several days later, July 22, at Jazz Alley.

Of all the bands who trace the heritage of American blues and rock and roll back to African roots, this duo illustrates this progression and history best, combining these musical styles into a trance-like, danceable mix, naturally flowing back and forth in improvisation.

Camara, from the Fula tribal lineage, is a Griot (a West African poet, praise singer and repository of oral tradition) from Gambia and has been singing and playing since he was 5 years old. He builds his own instruments, including the ritti, a one- stringed violin and West African ancestor to the contemporary violin, with which he magically bends and creates a variety of sounds, from a rich fiddle sound to a surprisingly uncanny sound like a harmonica or a flute. His singing is open, warm, robust and earthy. Adams, who appeared in the Seattle area once before at the 2001 Womad Festival in Marymoor Park, is an English blues rocker with incredible guitar chops and a great sense of humor. The two are accompanied by their regular percussionist, Englishman Salah Dawson Miller, who is educated in a variety of percussion styles and utilizes an eclectic group of drums and percussion instruments from around the world.

This was the trio's first appearance in Seattle, and they were terrific. They are touring in support of their new CD, Tell No Lies, a very engaging recording.

The next performers at Jazz Alley this past week, jazz guitarist, arranger and singer John Pizzarelli (son of legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli) and his wife, Broadway actress and cabaret vocalist Jessica Molaskey, illustrated the best of a blend of cabaret, jazz and love for the great American songbook.

Throughout their musical sets, they showed reverence to the composers by lovingly identifying each composition and composer, which was a great way to educate the audience and help develop a better understanding and appreciation of the music, its authors, and our American musical history. One of the most exciting things they did was blending two melodies into duets using songs that are imaginatively combined, including medleys of songs on specific themes, like happy songs ("Happy Talk" and "Happy Habit") and very funny co-dependent songs ("I Want to Be Happy" and "Come On Get Happy"). The pair works beautifully and very comfortably together, and have just celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary.

Pizzarelli is an animated, bouncy guitarist and singer, as entertaining as he is outgoing and funny, with a smooth and pleasing voice reminiscent of the late Chet Baker. Molaskey's presence is more concentrated, still and grounded, and she engages her lovely voice and acting background to facilitate poignant and meaningful interpretations of the songs and their lyrics in a quiet and riveting confidence. They were accompanied by their regular, fabulous trio, featuring former Seattleite Larry Fuller on piano, Martin Pizzarelli, John's brother, on acoustic bass, and Tony Tedesco on drums.

Molaskey and Pizzarelli can be heard regularly at cabaret rooms in New York City, including the Café Carlyle and Feinstein's, and have been nominees and winners of the Nightlife Awards for best cabaret duo, judged each year by major New York music and theatre critics.

For more information on upcoming events at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, visit www.jazzalley.com.

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