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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — March 19, 2004


This note’s for you

O’Connor trio is truly hot


I love the Wood River Valley for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is the great musical entertainment that we get for a community this size and the chance to see big name musical acts in smaller and more intimate settings.

I thought last summer that my personal pinnacle had been reached when I saw my all-time musical hero, Bob Dylan, 20 feet away from the stage, but as it turned out the pinnacle was yet to come.

Last Saturday at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum, I caught Mark O’Connor and his Hot Swing Trio and I have to say it was the most extraordinary display of musicianship I have ever witnessed or heard in nearly 40 years of avid listening.

O’Connor is one of the most influential fiddle players around today, having collaborated with many of the world’s greatest musicians in genres ranging from folk and bluegrass to jazz and classical.

The program last weekend was in the swing jazz style of the Hot Club of France Quintet, a legendary group from the 1950’s which featured Django Reinhardt on guitar, and former mentor to O’Connor, Stephane Grappelli on violin. The group featured Frank Vignola on guitar and Jon Burr, who toured for 12 years with Grappelli, on bass.

Each of the players are masters of their instruments and each of them took my breath away time and again during solos that ranged from elegant to dazzling to flat out jaw dropping. But these guys weren't just technicians. They each had a deep sense of groove and imparted that critical emotional content into each note, which made the sum of their efforts even greater than the parts.

The set list consisted of some jazz standards but also original compositions by each of the band members.

Early in the set, the crowd was so overwhelmed that after the solos there would be thunderous applause. But then an interesting thing happened. The crowd began to realize that if they applauded for solos, there was a short period of time when they couldn't hear what the rest of the group was doing after the solo.

As the concert progressed, the applause during the songs began to get shorter so that an acknowledgement of a superior effort was made, but less of the overall song was missed. The same thing began to happen at the end of the songs. After the first couple of songs, the applause came crashing before the song was completely over.

By the third or fourth song, the crowd was completely silent, holding their collective breath until the last note hanging in the air died out completely, then the room would just go nuts I had hair raising up on the back of your neck feeling throughout the entire show.

A word about Frank Vignola. I have never seen or heard on record anyone play as fast and as accurately as he played, and that includes Tony Rice in his prime and Eddie Van Halen in his prime, for that matter. But he wasn't all about flash. There was one song that had a slow bluesy feel where at one point he just played three or four notes on his bass strings very slowly and it sounded just amazing. Kind of a B.B. King, less is more thing. On another song, in the middle of the solo he slowed way down and began to do a bass note--strum, bass note-strum kind of thing that was very simplistic straight ahead folk style with no embellishments and it too sounded incredible.

Of course, he worked his way out of that and took the solo into the stratosphere before ending, but it was those moments that prevented me from going home and busting up my guitar for kindling. In the midst of mind-blowing technique, he showed me where it all comes from, just some simple notes played cleanly and at the right time will do the trick.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.