We know he’s meant to be quite a bit more brilliant in concert than we saw the other night, but it seems as though a few things conspired to make Harry Connick‘s Shanghai show this past Sunday less great than it really should have been. For one, the role that the rest of the band played was way too small — it seems that we heard more from Bjork‘s brass section the week before! And when they were playing, you could barely hear them as the piano and voice were so much higher in the mix and the horns got drowned out. We fell asleep at the beginning of the show, with all the solo piano and mellow vocals happening. Then it was the same 2 or 3 players taking horn solos all night, and there was only one trumpet solo in the entire show! It makes you wonder what the heck was going on for this to happen, after all the hype about this great big band.
But then it dawned on us what the Ministry of Culture said in response to Bjork’s political outburst at her concert the week before, right at the end of the press release: “From now on, stricter controls will be placed on performances by foreign artists in China to prevent similar incidents from happening.” Bingo! Sure enough, players in Connick’s band told us that the government people showed up an hour before they were to play and went to town on their set list, crossing off a number of tunes they disapproved of (what was Harry thinking, trying to play all that counter-revolutionary garbage anyway?) and replacing them with “safer” tunes. Tunes, of course, which the band did not happen to have charts on hand for. Thus explains the extraordinary number of solo piano-with-vocals tunes heard throughout the show.
However, it doesn’t explain the lack of trombone sound coming out of the speakers when we could see they were obviously chugging away on their horns at times. Or does it? Maybe the Cultural Bureau had a representative sitting at the soundboard as a condition of letting the show go ahead. Somehow we doubt it though — from where we were sitting the sound guys all looked like Westerners.
Also slightly annoying were some lights onstage shining directly into our eyes for some tunes. We wouldn’t feel it a reasonable complaint if we’d bought the cheapest seats, but we were a notch up at 500 a pop.
We also can’t say we were particularly impressed with Lucien Barbarin‘s trombone playing on all those tunes where he was a featured soloist, but maybe we’re overly critical of trombonists after knowing and playing with Andy Hunter for such a long time.
But how about the Canadian guy he invited up on stage to chat with about food!? He sure didn’t do a very good job of representing China! He was also getting pretty touchy-feely right up there. Anyway, he lost the opportunity to easily win the “who eats weirder foods” contest as he didn’t even mention things like dog, snake, bees, all the various animal heads we eat here in China, etc. after Harry brought up things like chitlins, alligator and raccoon.
We were fortunate to have Jeff Bush, who plays trombone in Connick’s big band, join the JZ all-star big band last Saturday night though. He brought a solid and stable power into what is our local big band’s weakest section. We were disappointed that he didn’t get to improvise on any tunes at all for Harry Connick Jr’s show, since he sounded fine blowing on a couple tunes Saturday.
Cross-posted at Shanghaijazzscene.com