Vocalist Patti Littlefield can belt a tune hard enough to rattle the glassware behind the bar, and then she can drop down into her lubricious lower register to raise your interest in the possibility of illicit pleasures. Woodwind master Arlen Asher, jazz scholar and gentleman, long ago
discovered the avenues that lead from the mouthpiece to the human heart, and he travels them with what appears to be effortless ease, stripping away an audience’s defenses with a gentle and elegant lyricism.
These two fine musicians have held one another in high regard for years, but except for a
couple of tunes in jam sessions, they’ve never had the opportunity to play together. This
Thursday at the Outpost, they’ll finally remedy that, with help from Brian Bennett on piano, Michael Olivola on bass, and John Trentacosta on drums. The concert will be recorded, so come on out and whoop it up.
A Shared Experience
Asher left it to Littlefield to pick the tunes for the evening, and she’s chosen a variety of songs that will weave a narrative. “It’s kind of like a tapestry—different colors, different textures,” she says. There is a common thread: “With me, it’s always about love. Base desires, and being
rejected, and falling into the abyss,” she jokes ruefully.
One of the tunes they’ll do is “Good Morning, Heartache.” Littlefield doesn’t do it very often, but she was compelled by an image that captured her imagination. “I saw myself on a fire escape with Arlen, and we were overlooking New York, and it’s the nighttime, and there are lights
everywhere, and he’s just playing like crazy.”
She chuckles at the recollection before confessing that the plaintive tune captures a desperate time in her own life, and an experience that, she suspects, many in the audience have shared. “I want to try to weave a story that makes sense to me,” she says, “and I want to share it with
Another song that they’ll feature is the serpent’s song from The Jungle Book, “Trust in Me.” “How many times have I heard that?” Littlefield asks rhetorically. “But that’s a part of love, too,
learning from that experience.”
“I Must Have That Man,” popularized by Billie Holiday, made it into the book when Littlefield got hooked on the line “I’m like an oven that’s crying for heat.” That will be followed by an obscure Shirley Horn tune, “Forget Me.”
Spotlight on Asher
One important criterion that governed Littlefield’s choice of material was her desire to find songs “that we can feature Arlen on,” she says. She seems as determined to turn the spotlight on him as he is, characteristically, to keep it focused on her.
Asked what special challenges the material presents for him, Asher answers without hesitation: “Finding the right notes.”
One challenge will be getting set up, as he’s planning to bring an arsenal of woodwinds: flute, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and soprano, alto, and baritone saxes.
Asher is looking at the concert as an early birthday present for himself: he turns 85 on May 7. He’s tickled to be playing with this group of musicians—and grateful that he can. “I just hope that I can play something worth listening to,” he says.
If the past is prelude to the future, neither he nor the audience need worry.
Patti Littlefield–Arlen Asher Quintet
Thursday, April 24, 7:30 p.m.
Weil Hall at the Outpost Performance Space
210 Yale SE, Albuquerque
Tickets: $20/$15 members and students
© 2014 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.