MUSIC REVIEW Apollo’s Fire @ BLU Jazz+ by Lisa DeBenedictis

On Saturday, January 7, Apollo’s Fire’s presented a performance at Akron’s BLU Jazz +, as part of their Baroque Bistro Series.

Music spanning from the 12th century to 19th century Appalachian folk music was performed on a dulcimer, lute, Baroque guitar and double bass, and the old Arabic stringed instrument, the oud (parent of the European lute). The performers are great storytellers. In the tradition of Apollo Fires’ great raconteur and founder Jeannette Sorrell, they do their homework and have stories to go along with their music that provide cultural and historic context.

Brian Kay provided most of the vocals, in addition to playing most of the guitar-like period instruments. His storytelling, delivered with panache and humor, enhanced the spirit of the evening.

The “Baroque-Folk Jam Session” began with the title song, “Drive the Cold Winter Away,” an appropriate beginning for a sold-out audience who just wanted to get out of the cold and listen to some music. The foot-tapping music inspired audience participation with clapping, stomping, singing and toe-tapping. The well-fed and watered patrons soaked up the music and repaid the performers with cheers. 

The unique trio, with Tina Bergmann on hammered dulcimer, Brian Kay on guitar and Bryan Thomas on double bass, opened with a 15th century Irish jig, which featured Kay on Baroque guitar. The trio then took its audience to France for “Leaping and Dancing,” before moving on to “Nottamon Town,” a piece that included a beautiful lute solo and vocals by Brian Kay. Kay is a versatile entertainer, using his lute as both a lyrical and percussive instrument.

The trio then moved to Spain, with Kay switching to an oud for “Quantas Sabedes” and “Como Poden.” Kay emphasized the multiculturalism of these songs, noting that the original manuscripts included illustrations portraying Jews, Muslims and Christians all performing together. Before taking a break, the trio switched back to America with a rousing version of “Cowhide Boots.” Virtuoso dulcimer player Tina Bergmann, and Bryan Thomas, who handled the unwieldy bass with the ease of a fiddler, along with Kay on guitar, made the odd transition jolly and seamless.  

After a 10-minute intermission the trio presented another series of songs. They began in the 13th century and continued through to “Pastimes in Good Company,” a song attributed to Henry VIII. The concert ended with “Breakin’ Up Christmas,” an energizing, enthusiastic performance harkening back to the Appalachian tradition of partying, dancing and music-making that ends up on January 6th, Old Christmas Day.

The dark days of January are always dispiriting, frequently dampening the Christmas Spirit. This concert left its audience uplifted and giddy. Blu Jazz and Apollo’s Fire should make this an annual post New Year’s tradition. I, for one, would always attend.

 [Written by Lisa DeBenedictis]


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