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World According to Garth

Garth Hudson & Friends at St.Ann's

by Tony Scherman

A review of a concert held by Garth Hudson & friends at St.Ann's church, Brooklyn Heights, NY. The review was published in Musician June 1990, where it was the Performance of the Month. The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute. Thanks to Serge Daniloff for sending us a copy of the original article.

Five minutes before showtime, the backstage area of St. Ann's, a gorgeous, crumbling 150-year-old church in Brooklyn Heights, is a swirl with Garth Hudson's 30-odd (some of 'em real odd) co-perpetrators. Hudson himself - surprisingly slight beneath that mighty, bulbous brow - wanders through the crowd, dreamily fingering a saxophone. My God, this shows got everything but jugglers, and no one knows if it's all gonna come off. But it does: a mix of the sublime, the whimsical and the underrehearsed, its common denominator Hudson, the self-effacing overgrown elf whose keyboards, accordion and sax once flowed like a happy river through the Band.

As the house lights dim a motley-looking aggregate takes the stage, a sort of world-music string band led by Hudson on accordion. They globetrot briskly from Romanian folk songs through British ballads to the lovely 'Feed the Birds' (Hudson's contribution to Stay Awake, producer Hal Willner's 1988 collection of Disney music).

Next it's jazz standards time: Hudson at the grand piano in a series of duets with his singing wife Maud, trumpeter Lew Soloff and Clifford Scott, a 61-year-old saxophonist from Texas whom Hudson, an ardent admirer, tracked down for this show. The revelation here is Hudson's jazz playing: I'd no idea he could toss off such knotty, Tatumesque/Garnerish runs. It's clearer than ever to what extent Hudson's talents and curiosity went untapped in the Band, despite all his contributions. lf any musician deserves his own album right now, its this fella.

Turning to his Roland A-8O, Hudson accampanics Soloff on the Appalachian hymn "When Jesus Christ Was Here on Earth" the evening's high point. Hitting a sustain switch, Hudson disappears... and re-emerges in the organ loft at the rear of the church, surrounded by a choir. Then Garth plays on alone, fosaking the sacred for the demonic, the spotlights shining eerie-blue, then hellish-red, on the organs huge bank of pipes. Garth gives a passing nod to "Chest Fever", dips lugubriously into "Shortin Bread" and finishes with a final, glorious blast.

After such splendors, the rest of the night is fun but anticilmactic; it's mostly the Mike Reilly Band, Hudsons sometime gigging buddies from LA romping through pure roadhouse blues with Garth on keyboards and a slomping, high-decibel horn section. The evening's final, typically oddball note: a video of the late, little-known lap guitarist Thumbs Carlisle, another hero of Hudson's, playing "Over the Rainbow."

Is an album brewing here? "Hopefully", says Willner, the concert's co-producer."This show was exactly the kind of record I try to make. It was wonderfully surreal, right up my tastes. I wish I could take credit but I can't. It was all Garth." And Hudson allows, in his deliberate, growly voice, that yes, he'd like to make a solo album with Willner producing. But don't hold your breath. As Janine Nichols, the other co-producer, said, "I've never seen someone more able, and less willing, to take the spotlight."

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