By MICHAEL LISI, Special to the Times Union
First published: Sunday, November 18, 2007
TROY — Remember “We Are The World,” the 1980s hit performed by a plethora of ’80s hitmakers that called themselves USA For Africa?
Or WOMAD, the ongoing world music tour inspired by Peter Gabriel?
That’s sort of what Songs of the Spirit concert series is like — without so many stars or any big hair. Sort of.
A celebration of unity through music, Songs of the Spirit is a spiritual melding of musical styles that seem to clash at first blush. I mean, who would ever think to mix spacey jazz with the chanting of Tibetan monks?
It certainly worked at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday night. The three-hour performance — featuring Odetta, Hugh Masekela, Klezmatics trumpeter Frank London and Persian/Suri trance rocker Haale among others — was eclectic, spiritual, surprising and pleasing all at the same time.
From trombonist Craig Harris and his band playing psychedelic jazz behind the monotone chanting of the Tibetan Monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery to the sheer joy of the traditional Yiddish folk performed by London accordionist/singer Lorin Sklamberg, Haale and others, Songs of the Sprit soared.
And that was just the first half of the show.
The second half featured the spirited cornet playing of South African horn great Hugh Masekela, who was upstaged — much to his delight — by folk icon Odetta, who sang with passion after being guided on stage in a wheelchair.
The show, broken into two 90-minute sets with a 20-minute intermission, was interesting and quite accessible; the focus was on the musical genres, not the music or even the performers. Folk, jazz, blues, rock, klezmer, gospel, chanting, trance, and pounding African rhythms were all incorporated into the performance, which was intriguing and entertaining from start to end.
It helped that the performances were as visual as they were musical; the Tibetan monks took the stage in traditional garb, while the Shangilia Youth Choir of Kenya were dressed in colorful African-style clothing. Musicians joined each other on songs throughout the night; it was always a pleasant surprise to see the likes of London and Haale or Masekela and Odetta playing together.
Odetta took the stage last, coming on just before 11 p.m. The wait was worth it; this woman still possesses the fire and soul that made her one of the folk/blues greats of the 20th century. She may be in a wheelchair, but Odetta wasn’t feeble by any means. She got herself comfortable and belted out about 15 minutes of solid blues, including the lovely “Something Inside So Strong” and the saucy “Alabama Bound.”
Masekela was amazing, his dulcet horn tones simply lovely in a South African love song he said was called “The Love Bird.” He danced and chanted, sharing the stage with the Shangilia Youth Choir of Kenya, which opened the second set with 10 minutes of stomping and dancing, all to thumping drum beat.
Songs of The Spirit lifted the spirit and made for a memorable night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday night.
Michael Lisi is a freelance music writer from Rotterdam and a frequent contributor to the Times Union.
SONGS OF THE SPIRIT with Hugh Masekela, Odetta, Craig Harris & Friends, Frank London & Lorin Sklamberg, Haale, Tracy Grammer, The Shangilia Youth Choir of Kenya, and The Tibetan Monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy
Length: Two 90-minute sets, with a 20-minute intermission.
The Crowd: A diverse, nicely dressed, enthusiastic crowd of about 500, which enjoyed the sampling of world music served up in Songs of the Spirit on Saturday night.