BWW Review: Harkness, Koutrakos, and Simeone Bring the Thunder to STORMY MONDAY at The Cutting Room
It was only raining a little when Stormy Monday began last night at The Cutting Room, so there wasn't a lot of thunder and lightning outside. No, no... the thunder and lightning were reserved for inside the club.
After the recent Catherine Porter/Jim Vallance rock and roll show that played The Birdland Theater, feedback came in indicating that some patrons of the cabaret/concert scene seek to explore more rock-based music. Believing that a varied musical taste can only expand one's mind, this writer checked out what was happening at places like Rockwood Music Hall, City Winery and The Cutting Room, only to discover that singer-songwriter Alicia Witt was rocking out City Winery, Levi Kreis would play Rockwood Musical Hall, and cabaret artists Sean Harkness, Lina Koutrakos and Marcus Simeone were scheduled at The Cutting Room. Disappointingly, I was not able to do the Alicia Witt show, but the Cutting Room gig was completely do-able, so last night I went to see what was happening on the other side of the street from cabaret.
And, dudes, that place was rockin' last night.
It should be said, outright, The Cutting Room is not a cabaret room. Patrons looking for a singer and a piano, maybe a combo of some kind, will not find that at The Cutting Room. Fans of Clearly Now, the jazz combo that Harkness, Koutrakos, and Simeone have created to great success, will not find that act at STORMY MONDAY - though the threesome does do one or two of their numbers in the set. What Sean, Lina, and Marcus are doing at The Cutting Room is blues/rock and they are having the time of their lives.
Not artists to limit themselves, HK&S (it's just too long to write out every time) are more than just cabaret artists who like the casual, laid back intimacy of singing jazz at Pangea. These are multi-dimensional people with more than one interest, more than one talent, and (like Catherine Porter) they love rock and roll as much as they love The Great American Songbook; and every now and then singing jazz standards and show tunes can feel a bit twee, and these artists need to get their grit on, git down on it, and make music that comes less from the heart, the way cabaret does, and more from a place about two feet lower than the heart. The blues/rock music that HK&S played last night was definitely filled with emotion, but it was an all-encompassing experience that was felt in the heart, the head, the groin, the feet - this is music that envelopes the entire corporeal being, causing in a person an immediate reaction, both emotional and physical (indeed, the music last night was so driving and so good that some of the patrons left their seats and found a corner of the room in which to boogie to the beats). Stormy Monday is an evening of exciting and exquisite musical mastery, starting with Sean Harkness and those wonderous fingers of his. Watching Mr. Harkness play the guitar, any kind of guitar, is something every person should experience at least once. His fingers fly over those frets like Baryshnikov pirouettes, only faster and more furious. The string work is stunning and the sounds, especially from an electric guitar, are mind-blowing, particularly for people who listen to rock music, like this writer. Harkness leads the band with style, grace, strength, and drive, and his connection to Lina and Marcus is visible - all the months they have spent working together as Clearly Now have made given them a unity that artists dream of and that music lovers revere.
As for Lina and Marcus, it is fun to watch two singers at the top of their game, who croon so sweetly and purr so perfectly in the intimate rooms, get to open up and let loose. There has never been any question about their singing abilities, they are known for their excellence, but their time doing Stormy Monday gives them an opportunity to visit rooms inside of themselves that go unseen much of the time, and seeing artists bloom in this way is a beautiful thing, and an enjoyable one, too, for anyone who likes the blues.
It must be warned, though: if you do not listen to rock and roll music, if you do not like the blues, it is likely that this show is not for you. This is hard, driving, rock music with a lot of solos from the guitarists and the drummer. The sound system at The Cutting Room is VERY good... it is also VERY loud. The morning after, my tinnitus is on high alert and I wish I had had the earplugs I used during my circuit party days. The sound designer at The Cutting Room could conceivably dial it back a little with the levels (and the mixing, for that matter, since there were times when the instruments were in front of the vocals). It would be advisable to really consider whether or not this music is for you, and whether or not you should take some earplugs with you just in case.
These two cautions out in the open, though, Stormy Monday is a thoroughly great night for people who fit the criteria, because the show goes beyond HK&S and their contributions, don't you know. Each time they perform an installment of Stormy Monday, HK&S have special guests join them on the stage, and last night's guest artists rocked that joint just like their show hosts, rising to the occasion magnificently. Broadway-bound Sophia Ramos and respected guitarist/vocals Dave Fields were an extremely welcome addition to the evening's proceedings, especially during the finale when all the artists joined Harkness, drummer extraordinaire Clint de Ganon, dope bass player Michael O'Brien, and amazing keyboardist Etienne Stadwijk on the stage to bring it all home, in one final, bluesy, rollicking rock and roll number that made Stormy Monday a great way to make happy the guests who left, still dancing, passing through the doors of The Cutting Room and into the rainy night that awaited them outside.
Stormy Monday plays, randomly, at The Cutting Room. At this time their next appearance has not been announced. Please check The Cutting Room website.
Michael O'Brien and Etienne Stadwijk
Photos by Stephen Mosher