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Disco and More on Pops' 70s Remix

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Nov 11, 2011 - 3:32:43 PM in reviews_2011

The New York Voices Back: Damon Meader, Lauren Kenhan, Front: Kim Nazarian, Peter Eldridge

(first published in the Cincinnati Enquirer Nov. 8, 2011)

A disco ball hung over the Music Hall stage for Sunday evening’s Cincinnati Pops’ “Remix” concert, “Sweet Sounds of the 70s,” led by Pops conductor John Morris Russell.

The emphasis was on “sweet,” with guest artists the New York Voices, a jazz-fusion vocal quartet with the prodigious ability to harmonize (very closely) and ornament just about anything.

There was music by some of the great singer/songwriters of the decade, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Carole King and Joni Mitchell, and bands such as Chicago, Earth, Wind and Fire, British rock band Queen and, of course, the Bee Gees.

The concert was the NYV’s Pops debut at Music Hall (they bowed in earlier at Riverbend).  It also marked the introduction of what has been a contentious issue for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops, video screens.  During the first half and part of the second, the audience could get a close up view of the performers, not just Russell and the guests, but the entire Pops, principals, section players and all.  The taping was done by CET with five cameras, three in the hall and two robotic cameras on stage.  It was quite appropriate for the “Remix” Series, a three-concert series created to give the Pops a new look and sound.  The orchestra dresses in black (no red blazers, though Russell wore a red tie) and amplification is freely employed.

There was a familiar rumble as Russell walked onstage to the opening bars of Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” (theme from “2001”).  This was followed by a rousing performance of the Overture to “Tommy,” the pop/rock opera by The Who’s Pete Townshend.  The powerhouse NYV – Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian – came on with a Chicago medley, beginning with “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”  “Think of “eight track tapes in your Ford Pinto,” said Meader, who arranged most of the music on the program.  Meader played a mean saxophone, too, in “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the early 70s R&B hit by Bill Withers.  This was followed by “That’s the Way of the World” from the 1975 R&B album by Earth, Wind and Fire.

Carole King was on tap in Meader/Eldridge’s arrangement of “It’s Too Late,” “So Far Away” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” from her best-selling album “Tapestry.”  At this point, you could almost feel the air vibrating around you.  The audience could relish that straight up in the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” performed as a quartet (without orchestra).  Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” with Nazarian as a vivacious lead, brought the first half to an end.

Russell and the Pops opened the second half with a lively, infectious Stevie Wonder medley, including “Superstition,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “I Wish,” “My Cherie Amour” and “Sir Duke.”  (Compliments to Pops’ guitarist Tim Berens not only for his notable contributions throughout the concert, but for his arrangement of this set.)  Eldridge played keyboard in Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion,” while Kinhan was a swinging soloist in Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.” 

The highlight of the concert was Freddie Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (arranged by Meader and Eldrige with orchestration by Jeff Tyzik).  New emotional chords were struck with each shift of the cryptic lyrics, and the cumulative effect was devastating.   A medley, “Guilty Pleasures,” had the disco ball turning, with numbers such as “Car Wash,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Rock the Boat” and “Disco Inferno.”   If there wasn’t dancing in the aisles, it was only because the lights came up in the hall too late.  Their encore was “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing” (Stevie Wonder).

Repeat is at 2 p.m. Nov. 20 at Music Hall.  Tickets at (513) 381-3300, or www.cincinnatipops.org.  Tickets begin at $25 ($20 for children).  Other Pops “Remix” concerts this season:  Feb. 26 (Chris Botti) and March 25 (music of Ray Charles, featuring Ellis Hall).