The King's English And River Oaks' too.
As events (as opposed to just plain shows) go, the well-heeled soiree surrounding local keyboardist Paul English's Stude Hall release party for his debut CD Beauty was a gem. The lobby of Rice U's Alice Pratt Brown music building is appropriately pale, grand, and shorn of all ornamental interest, allowing clean lines of sight to the collection of financially secure jazz fans, patrons d'art, comp-tickets regulars and the sort of people who get invitations to stuff at Rice because their trust fund helped buy the building or something. There were even several exquisite examples of the Texas Society Warhorse -- long assumed extinct by we of the cash-strapped strata who consider a night at Rockefeller's a twice-yearly extravagance -- but on the town in full big-haired, leather-skinned, gold-sequined finery this night. The weather was nice, the crowd dressed up, and it felt good to be alive.
Which is a nice feeling, but it don't always last. Though it's not what I usually choose to listen to, I like Paul English's music. I admire his talent, I respect the range of his musical interests and I find it downright stubborn that English continues to ply his trade here in Houston, to Houston's benefit, even though he has pretty well grown beyond our struggling jazz scene and into the West Coast majors. The release gala for Beauty seemed designed to prove just that last point, flaunting as it did Brooklyn's cocky bass virtuoso John Patitucci, Yellowjackets drummer William Kennedy and, most impressively, mega sax-star and former Houston homeboy Kirk Whalum.
Much was made in the program notes of the mutual-admiration society and good-will reunion of English and Whalum, who played together in English's group in '79 and '80, but I guess the good will didn't extend to Whalum's fee for the performance: the music started at 9:00 and I left at 10:30, having seen neither hide nor hair of Whalum. I can only assume that Whalum was simply too pricey to use for a full set, because for someone attending a reunion, he couldn't have been too anxious to get on the stage. I think I'm safe in guessing that the Warhorses stood as a bloc and cheered heartily when Whalum was finally trotted out for a doubtless crowd-pleasing turn on his horn.
But the majority of the show -- 'scuse me, event -- was spent in frustration at the obviously gargantuan talent on stage being confined to the volumatic and emotional range of wind blowing through the trees. Patitucci is simply too arrogant a player to have resisted a few awe-inspiring solo flights, and Kennedy also got a chance to step out early on, but saxman David Caceres didn't seem up to his surroundings quite often enough -- the energy remained, for the most part, tame. Part of that, of course, was by virtue of the fact that English played some numbers off Beauty, which is an album of ballads, but even the bop standards never caught fire. From gallery seats I could see a hall full of fancy dresses and snappy suits, and more than a few seemed to be slumping between bouts of obligatory applause. My date -- who, as usual, had quicker mental access to a pithy summation than I -- waited two songs before sighing sleepily: I feel like I'm at Whole Foods. The rest of the evening, as far as it went, was endurance.
You can take the guy out of the bar, but you can't make him go away... Even I, who have known Pete Selin for less time than most anyone else in town, was more than a little skeptical some months back when the former Bon Ton Room owner (and former Club Hey Hey proprietor) called to say he was leaving the music biz that done treated him so bad. He was closing the Bon Ton Room, concentrating on his Blues Burgers restaurant on Old Market Square and, he said at the time, converting the Bon Ton into a just-plain-bar. Since then, Emo's folk took over the Bon Ton and turned it into Emo's Live (a.k.a. the Shimmy Shack), and it started to look like Selin might really be getting out of the business.
Yeah, well, the phone rings the other day, and guess who. Selin and a partner, it turns out, have taken over a building on Kirby that I remember as the Crown and Serpent, and are busy turning it into the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club, a full-service bar to which is appended Yeah You Right Records, a specialty shop featuring blues-, roots-, Cajun- and zydeco-oriented records, collectibles and memorabilia. And yes, contrary to Pete's every well-intentioned promise, there'll be live music every Saturday night, featuring some people calling themselves Big Daddy Gumbeaux and the Big Easy Rhythm Rockers. And yes, Friday night music is a possibility too, and maybe Sunday afternoon zydeco, if things go the right way.
Selin's the first one to admit that the new venture is geared toward the aging demographic of blues and roots fans (now all you Marty Racine groupies know where to hang), and the tavern's proximity to Rice Village could be the stroke of logistic fortune the Bon Ton never enjoyed.
"Haven't heard a single gunshot," says Selin.
The Big Easy opens doors at 5731 Kirby on Saturday, February 19, with Nawlins pianist John King Cleary.
No local record releases again this week, but again, there's some damn ferners in town peddling their wares. They're from Dallas, and they're called Course of Empire, and the new album that's getting such a big push from Zoo Entertainment is called Initiation. Pretty palatable polished pop metal, with lyrics covering that existentially disaffected terrain that guarantees you're getting genuinely alternative music and not some icky commercial imitation. Hell, I can bob and sway to that. Saturday, February 19 at Abyss.
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