Thanks to a tip from a reliable informant, I managed to catch a sneak preview of John Common's band last night as they "rehearsed" at a most unlikely venue: the Washington Park Grille. Common has assembled a top-notch ensemble for his latest outing, and it was great to hear the group working out the kinks before its big debut, which happens Friday, February 20, at the Oriental Theater. While most of the press for this show is focused on the debut of Common's People's Kazoo Orchestra, last night's show proves there's even more to be excited about.
Backed by staggeringly talented multi-instrumentalist Wes Michaels, gracefully restrained drummer Carl Sorensen, deft key-tickler Jon Wirtz, ubiquitous bassist Jimmy Stofer and smoldering vocalist Jess De Nicola, Common sounds better than ever. The band is able to groove on jazzy numbers, jam on rockers and twang out for country-flavored ditties, all while preserving the sense of sincerity and humor that characterize all of Common's live performances.
Though Common occasionally leans a little too far toward well-worn cliches of earnest heartache for my taste, when his well-calibrated songwriting bat really connects with the ball, he easily knocks it out of the park. I heard some great tunes last night -- honest, aching, beautiful, rousing songs, made even better by the sextet's solid arrangements and engaging performances. I'm very much looking forward to catching John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light on February 20, especially with Achille Lauro and Ellison Park opening.
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And, yes, there'll be kazoos, too.