Out & About: PSO Pops! serves up Hot Sardines

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A symphony orchestra, a jazz combo, a blues band and a string quartet comprise the musical offerings coming up soon in southern Maine.

The biggest show by all measures will be the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s pair of Pops! programs this weekend, which will feature the Hot Sardines, a New York jazz combo.

James Montgomery’s Boston-based blues band will take the stage in Portland this Saturday.

The DaPonte String Quartet is currently in the middle of a seven-venue concert series, with Portland and Brunswick performances slated for March 21 and 24.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

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In 2007 Evan Palazzo, an underemployed jazz pianist, found Elizabeth Bougerol, a wannabe jazz singer. Finding harmony in their respective artistic styles and philosophies, together they founded the Hot Sardines, a wildly popular old-style jazz combo that took New York by storm and is now making waves around the world.

On Saturday and Sunday the Hot Sardines get together with the Portland Symphony Orchestra for a pair of Pops! concerts. Jayce Ogren will be guest conductor.

The Sardines represent a joyous, retro style that harks back to the 1920s – jazz the way Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan would have heard it, with maybe some cops chasing bootleggers in the background.

Sonically the eight Sardines are anchored by Palazzo’s stride piano, a hallmark style of early jazz, and Bougerol’s smooth, facile voice which seems to happily wrap itself around any lyric. They’re backed by winds, brass, bass and drums, and occasionally by Bougerol’s deft washboard.

They’ve played around the world at this point, and have adapted their show to sync with symphonic pops programs, the first of which debuted five years ago with the Boston Pops under Keith Lockhart and received enthusiastic reviews.

They play mostly standards of the pre-World War II period, but they feature at least one original, “Wake Up In Paris,” penned by Bougerol, who grew up in the City of Light and sings a few songs in French at most concerts.

Writing for the London Jazz News, reviewer Sebastian Scotney commented: “It’s a show, it’s slick. Bougerol is a characterful singer and genial host, and engages the audience well. The seven men of the band are suited, two wear fedoras, and pianist/bandleader Palazzo is dressed to walk straight into a tale by Damon Runyon.”

The Portland Symphony Orchestra and Hot Sardines play two concerts this weekend at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: March 16 at 7:30 p.m. and March 17 at 2:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

James Montgomery Band

I’ve always admired people who can take something tiny and make it big. In the world of music, there’s not much tinier than a harmonica, yet James Montgomery has parlayed his signature blues harp style into a successful career that’s been going strong for five decades.

In 1970, while studying at Boston University, Montgomery formed the James Montgomery Band. His inimitable harmonica playing combined with his incredibly energetic live shows catapulted him to the top of the New England music scene. Within two years, his band was among the hottest acts in the Hub, rivaling J. Geils and Aerosmith.

Capricorn Records soon offered a major recording contract, and Montgomery’s career went ballistic. It’s still flourishing. I attended one of his Portland shows a few years ago and I was extremely impressed by his musical skills and artistic aura.

Still based in Boston, Montgomery and bandmates maintain a busy touring schedule. The next Maine date will be Saturday, March 16, at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

DaPonte String Quartet

The Energizer Bunnies of Maine’s classical music scene, also known as the DaPonte String Quartet, are in the midst of their first seven-town 2019 concert series, which began last weekend in Georgetown. The two southern-most venues, Portland and Brunswick, are scheduled for March 21 and 24.

Ever since the invention of the string quartet genre during the 18th century, by Franz Joseph Haydn, composers have ventured into explorations of musical form. Haydn, Dmitri Shostakovich and Bela Bartok occasionally worked with cyclical ideas, writing music that ends just as it began after ranging far afield. This oddly satisfying literary and musical concept closely mirrors many ancient heroic epics, like the “Iliad” or “Beowulf,” and many children’s stories. The DaPonte Quartet presents three of the finest examples, drawn from the trio of composers above.

Catch the DaPonte String Quartet at the Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St. in Portland at 7:30 p.m. March 21 and at the Unitarian-Universalist Church, 1 Middle St. in Brunswick at 2 p.m. March 24. Call 529-4555.

The Hot Sardines, a New York jazz combo, will team up with the Portland Symphony Orchestra for a pair of Pops! concerts this weekend.

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