Berit Strong, Classical Guitar

Saturday, November 21 at 7 p.m., Eric Carle Museum, Amherst
$15 General Admission

Audiences and critics alike praise Berit Strong’s distinctive and thoughtful approach to classical music. The Boston Globe called her “a colorful and commanding interpreter,” and Soundboard magazine described her as “an intense and original musical personality.” Strong won a Top Prize in the Guitar Foundation of America International Competition in 1998, launching her international performing career, which now spans Europe and the US.

Angelica Sanchez and Omar Tamez perform at UMass

by Glenn Siegel

Three years ago, when pianist Angelica Sanchez and guitarist Omar Tamez inaugurated Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares with a concert at the Congregational Church in Holyoke, the considerable acoustics of Skinner Chapel allowed the notes to ring and linger. (Parts of that concert can be found on their recording, Dias del Sol.) At their Solos & Duos Series concert at Bezanson Recital Hall on November 18, the ring and linger was the result of Tamez’ deft manipulation of electronic sounds.

With very little gear, Tamez created sound worlds that eddied and flowed with full dynamic range. Sanchez’ unadorned piano sounded breathtaking next to it. Over the 70-minute concert, the duo mesmerized with an open-hearted performance of compositions by Chico Burque, Gustavo “Cuchi” Leguizamón, Mario Ruiz Armengol and the performers.

Speaking of open-hearted, Omar Tamez is one of the most humble, love-filled and accomplished people I have met. His easy smile and delicate mastery of the guitar are merely the most visible aspect of a brilliant, well-read, well-traveled musician. His fascination with electronics were fueled by studies with Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen; he has won classical guitar competitions all over the world; his photographic memory allows him to store vast amounts of information, including a deep knowledge of many types of music. As we lingered in Amherst after the workshop (a delicious lunch at Miss Saigon and a productive visit to Amherst Books), he was digesting “Virgin Island Suite,” an amazing, little-known Ellington recording from the mid-sixties.

His laser focus and generosity of spirit was on full display at a wonderful workshop he and Sanchez did for Jason Robinson’s Amherst College students the day after their UMass concert. Among other suggestions, Tamez recommended students should play their instruments for 24 hours straight, something he has done on multiple occasions in the wilderness of his home country of Mexico. “Your relationship to your instrument will change forever,” Tamez told students.

Some sixty years ago Whitney Balliett defined jazz as “the sound of surprise.” But with most music, the surprises happen within a pretty circumscribed area. Pianist Angelica Sanchez’ career, which includes long-term relationships with Wadada Leo Smith, Rob Mazurek, Tony Malaby and Harris Eisenstadt, takes Balliett’s definition to heart. The surprises at the core of her music are not meant to shock or confound expectations for its own sake, but result from her search for the essential in each musical experience. At every moment Sanchez eschews breezy virtuosity for an honest appraisal of what the music requires. Her clear-eyed career, which she currently balances with being a single mom and a graduate student, is worth attention. Her pursuit of a Masters degree in arranging from William Paterson College has brought her into closer contact with one of her heroes: Carla Bley, and she’s poised to delve deeper into the work of George Russell. Like Tamez, Sanchez is a seeker.

It is inspiring to be around musicians with such awesome facility, such vast knowledge of, and reverence for music, and a desire to spread joy through sound.

Billy Taylor Jazz Residency Artist: The Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet

Thursday, November 19 at 7:30 p.m., Bowker Auditorium
$25, $15; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $10

Composer and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (pronounced ah-kin-MOO-sir-ee) cut his jazz teeth playing professionally while still in high school. Inspired by legendary saxophonists Joe Henderson and Steve Coleman, he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and released his first album in 2007. Called “a thrilling trumpeter and astute bandleader [with a] unique spark in his playing” (The New Yorker), Akinmusire has moved to the front ranks of progressive jazzmen, leading his quartet and contributing his burnished tone to projects with the OSSO String Quartet and vocalists Becca Stevens and Theo Bleckmann.

Ambrose Akinmusire


Artists Website


Angelica Sanchez| Omar Tamez Duo

Wednesday, November 18 at 8:15 p.m., Bezanson Recital Hall
General Admission: $10; $5 students

“Angelica Sanchez is subtle,” writes David Adler, “tossing out gnarled chords, open almost elliptical phrasing, simple folk music-like melodies, and taut mid-speed solos.” For this duo, the acclaimed pianist is joined by Mexican guitarist Omar Tamez, who has performed in 144 countries with Wadada Leo Smith, Karl Berger and John Lindberg, among others.

Angelica Snachez and Omar Tamez Duo




Sounds of Korea: Percussion and Dance

Wednesday, November 18 at 7:30 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, Chamber Seating
$35, $30, $20; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $10

Celebrate the exquisite traditional performing arts of Korea from delicate court music to graceful ritual dances and rousing processional music. Sounds of Korea is the premier performance group of Korean traditional arts in the US, based at New York’s Korean Performing Arts Center. Exquisitely costumed dancers, musicians and singers perform theatrical masked dances, the popular vocal art of p’ansori (storytelling/folk opera), and rural percussion music.


Sounds of Korea



Spirit of India: Masala Orchestra

Sunday, November 8 at 2 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, Chamber Seating
$35, $30, $20; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $10

Contemporizing the ancient tradition of gypsy music and dance of India in a new and bold vision, the Spirit of India showcases the famed musician Rahis Bharti, and the Masala Orchestra and Dancers. Presenting a toe-tapping musical journey from the deserts of India to its urban cities, the performance spans the breadth of uniquely percussive rhythms and music of the tribal, bardic traditions to new Bollywood music.

Audience members are invited to participate in a Bollywood dance workshop in the FAC lobby at 12 p.m.

Spirit of India




Munich Symphony Orchestra

Philippe Entremont, Honorary Conductor
Pepe Romero, Guitar Soloist; The Romeros, Guitar Quartet     

Thursday, November 5 at 7:30 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, Chamber Seating
$50, $45, $20; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $15, $12, $10

Joining forces with renowned guitarist Pepe Romero and the timeless Romeros Quartet, the acclaimed Munich Symphony Orchestra returns to the US for the 2015-2016 tour season, conducted by Philippe Entremont. The New York Times described the Romeros as “the only classical guitar quartet of real stature in the world today.” With this superb quartet, the orchestra will perform a repertoire of Spanish and French music, including Bizet, Rodrigo and Massanet.

Audience members are invited to a pre-performance talk at 6:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall lobby.

Munich Symphony Orchestra



Quasar: Douglas R. Ewart, Matthew Shipp and Ni’ja Whitson land in Amherst

by Glenn Siegel

Douglas R. Ewart is old school. Lately, he’s been listening a lot to Charlie Parker’s live 1950 recording, Bird at St. Nick’s. (“There’s a version of ‘Out of Nowhere’ that is my favorite,” says the 69-year old reed master.) He reveres progenitors, values relationships, laughs easily and is a trickster.

Ewart was in western Massachusetts last week, performing with pianist Matthew Shipp and dancer Ni’ja Whitson as part of the UMass Fine Arts Center’s Solos & Duos Series. He is resourceful, a collector, a tinkerer in the best sense of the word, taking what’s available and turning it into art. Before the concert and his performance workshop for UMass and Hampshire College students, Ewart had me take him to three area thrift stores to look for trinkets he could transform into instruments and sculptures.

It’s hard to know what was more remarkable, Ewart’s hand-embroidered, buttoned-filled jacket, the variety of instruments at his disposal or the fact that Ewart and Shipp have never formally performed together. Of course, that is the magic skilled improvisers bring to bear: shaping sound, telling stories in real time without a script. “I had to pay so much attention,” Shipp said right after the hour-long concert.

There are plenty of musicians with higher profiles than Douglas Ewart, but few who have had the impact and influence he has. The music is sustained on the shoulders of people like him. A historian and past president of Chicago’s hugely influential AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Ewart had a large role in the mounting of exhibits at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the DuSable Museum celebrating the 50th anniversary of the organization. He is a world-class sculptor, instrument maker, teacher, poet and musician. He is the embodiment of the multi-disciplinary imperative of the AACM.

Ewart’s range was on full display on Thursday, Oct. 29. Ewart’s homage to the recently departed Ornette Coleman took the form of a poem filled with titles from Ornette’s songs and albums. He delivered the words with drama and impeccable timing. Ewart produced music using English Horn, sopranino saxophone, bamboo flutes, a digeridoo (specially designed with a slide), rainsticks, a painted crutch with bells, and a spinning top. All played at a high level with humor and pathos.

Matthew Shipp, a generation Ewart’s junior, is as well known as anyone in the so-called avant-garde. He has dozens of well-regarded recordings and continues to criss-cross the world sharing his music. His physical approach to the piano is unique. His arms, from the elbows down, pumping horizontally like pistons, his fingers hitting the keys with varied touch. His face contorted in concentration. Like his band mates, he relished the opportunity to expand his circle of musical friends.

“When you have the opportunity to share the stage with two jazz masters, I’m in completely. Completely,” wrote Whitson on Facebook after the gig. Whitson was in constant motion, taking exactly one, 30-second break all evening. Strong and evocative, Whitson never repeated movements, using the area between the piano and Ewart’s set-up to fill the space with beauty, power and pain. Whitson had been a graduate student at the Art Institute of Chicago, where Ewart has taught for many years.

The seed for this concert was planted at the memorial service for Yusef Lateef. I was greatly impressed that Douglas Ewart made the trip from his home in Minneapolis to be there. The conversation started that day. What an honor for me to be the catalyst for bringing three superb artists together to create something unbridled and profound for an appreciative audience.