Out & About: Pair of top-tier, double-bill musical acts

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Portland Ovations has a pair of top-tier double-bill musical acts coming into town. The first will be Friday’s pairing of True Blues and the Campbell Brothers Band.

Then on March 31, Portland Ovations presents pipa virtuoso Wu Man plus the Shanghai String Quartet in a program titled “A Night in Ancient and New China.”

Two notable guitarists will be performing at different Portland venues this first full weekend of spring. First up will be Boston-based Johnny A., who will deliver an evening of blues, jazz and rock at One Longfellow Square on Friday.

The following evening, composer-guitarist Pete McCann will perform as the Portland Conservatory of Music continues its Dimensions in Jazz series.

True Blues & Campbell Brothers Band

A powerful evening of American roots music is the central concept that underlies a double-bill performance hosted by Portland Ovations this Friday. True Blues appears on the stage with the Campbell Brothers Band in a performance that illustrates the intimate connection between gospel music and blues.

Corey Harris is the best-known individual in the lineup. A proponent of African-American guitar blues and a 1991 graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, Harris has spent significant time in West Africa studying indigenous music. He has recorded many old songs of the blues tradition while also creating an original vision of the blues by adding influences from reggae, soul, rock and West African music. His growing discography currently lists 21 different titles, both as soloist and collaborator.

Harris currently performs in numerous combos. The team comprising himself, Guy Davis and Alvin Youngblood Hart goes by the moniker of True Blues, after a documentary film of the same name.

The Campbell Brothers Band comprises three siblings plus one son. They are proponents of the “sacred steel” musical tradition that was born in black churches in the 1930s and relies heavily on the steel guitar — a fret-less string instrument that is played horizontally. (It is also known as “lap steel” and “Hawaiian guitar.”)

A true double-bill, this performance promises to transport audiences from the rousing music of True Blues, found in Saturday night juke joints, straight into the Sunday morning gospel sound of the Campbell Brothers’ sacred steel. This concert will serve as a spirited reminder of all that is great about American roots music.

Portland Ovations presents True Blues plus the Campbell Brothers Band at 8 p.m. March 25 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Wu Man & the Shanghai String Quartet

Cross-cultural collaboration with a few twists is the name of the game when Portland Ovations presents “A Night in Ancient and New China,” performed March 31 by Wu Man plus the Shanghai String Quartet.

Wu Man is a virtuoso on the pipa, a four-stringed ancient Chinese instrument that strongly resembles a lute. Born in China and trained at a Beijing conservatory, Man has made a specialty of cross-cultural collaborations, most notably as a founding member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. She has also worked with numerous composers, both Chinese and Western. Her recording history is long and varied, and includes five Grammy nominations.

The Shanghai String Quartet was formed in 1983 in China but currently resides in New Jersey. Three of the four members are Chinese; the cellist is American. The quartet is one of the world’s leading chamber music ensembles, known for passionate musicality and dazzling technique. They too have a long history of cross-cultural collaborations with numerous composers and instrumentalists.

Five pieces are on the March 31 program. The first three are arrangements of Chinese songs, while the concluding work is Tan Dun’s Concerto for Pipa and String Quartet. Dun was born in China and earned his doctorate in music at Columbia University in New York, where he has also composed for the Metropolitan Opera. He is best known to popular audiences for his Academy Award-winning score for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” (It also won the Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack.)

There’s one traditional Western classical masterpiece on the program, Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, popularly known by the nickname “Serioso.”

Portland Ovations presents Wu Man and the Shanghai String Quartet in “A Night in Ancient and New China” on March 31 at 7:30 p.m. at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Johnny A.

There aren’t many guitarists who can boast of a signature instrument from the world’s leading manufacturer. But that’s the case with Johnny A., the Boston-based six-string virtuoso who’s playing in Portland this Friday.

Since 2003, the Johnny A. signature electric has been one of Gibson Guitar’s top-selling models. It’s named for a guitarist who has been a star of the Boston music scene since 1975, when the then 23-year-old formed his own band.

His most recent band is the Yardbirds, where he plays lead guitar. The Yardbirds are an iconic ensemble that was led in the past by other guitar legends such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Since 1999 he’s produced four solo albums, mostly playing his own compositions. He’s currently on tour, promoting his latest CD, “Driven,” which was released two years ago.

He was named “Blues Artist of the Year” at the 2010 Boston Music Awards, and in 2014 he was inducted in the Boston Music Hall of Fame.

Catch Johnny A. at 8 p.m. March 25 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Pete McCann

For the past 25 years, Pete McCann has been one of the most respected and industrious electric guitarists on the New York and international scene, popular both as sideman in innumerable jazz and jazz/rock line-ups as well as a composer and recording artist in his own right.

He and three colleagues will be appearing this Saturday in the Portland Conservatory of Music’s Dimensions in Jazz series. Most of their material will be drawn from McCann’s latest CD, titled “Range.”

Writing for All About Jazz, music critic Roger Farbey comments, “This is the fifth album as leader by NYC-based guitarist Pete McCann and demonstrates just what heights the jazz guitar is capable of reaching when placed in the hands of an expert who understands the meaning of balance and finesse.”

Catch Pete McCann and colleagues at 8 p.m. March 26 at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call 828-1310.

Pete McCann is a noted guitarist who will be performing Saturday, March 26, in the Portland Conservatory of Music’s Dimensions in Jazz series.

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