By Ken Avis
August 5, 2011
Concert Review - Felicia Carter, Amy Shook, Jeff Antoniuk
Maryland Summer Jazz - opening concert at Bohemian Caverns, Washington DC
Survival as a musician is not unlike surviving the Albanian economy. In both cases you need three jobs and a scheme to have a hope. Baltimore jazz saxophonist, Jeff Antoniuk, understands this principle. In addition to his full time musician gig, he's also co-created and leads Maryland Summer Jazz, a two week series of jazz workshop and concerts in Rockville and DC which bring together the best of local and North American jazz musicians as faculty and performers. Now in its seventh year, the event provides a rare opportunity for amateur and semi pro musicians to rub shoulders and work with the best in the business.
The opening concert at Bohemian Caverns, one of a handful of DC Jazz venues with a longer history than most in DC's U Street “Jazz Corridor” gave a taste of what to expect at Maryland Summer Jazz. Entering the grotto-like space is a welcome sensory experience on a hot DC night. The intimate setting lends itself to Antoniuk and the bands engaging musical dialogue with the crowd.
Serious players by any measure, the band opens with rollicking instrumentals before inviting Baltimore vocalist/songwriter Felicia Carter to the stage. Combining the melancholy and artistry of Piaf and fellow Baltimore resident Billy Holiday, Carter takes a path similar to contemporary vocalists such as Madeleine Peyroux and Melody Gardot, performing quirky, classic sounding compositions from her recent album Nothing to Do, written and recorded with bassist Amy Shook. Antoniuk punctuates and supports the melodies with solos and breaks that flatter and underscore, adding power and authority. Witty and authoritative, Jeff's sax has something to say and it damn well says it, much to the delight of Carter and Shook, as the band develop an easy interplay throughout the set.
Songs such as “You Don't Have To Be Brilliant To Mesmerize Me” put Carter center stage as she updates a Marilyn Monroe persona to reflect on the disappointing, inverse proportionality of intellectual brilliance to seductive appeal. Antoniuk's intro adds a soaring jazz-blues, which winks at the audience and enhances the sense of vaudeville on this track. Alan Blackman on piano and Frank Russo, drums weave sensitivity and power through the interpretation of each song.
In the grotto-like Bohemian Caverns setting Amy Shook's bowed upright bass on “Broken Teeth Blues” takes on a particularly gothic eeriness. A superb bassist, Shook beams pure joy at her band-mates and the audience throughout the show. The band is clearly having a ball playing and improvising together. Here's a band of musical heavyweights with the ability to engage and communicate with the audience. Jazz with a smile on its face. Jazz with a drum case full of charisma.