The Zal Gaz Grotto Club, it seems, never disappoints.
I had a grand evening watching a Fred Astaire classic and tapping my foot to some hot jazzy tunes played by local ensemble P.O.R.K. The movie was everything you could hope for in a theatrical 1930s musical–the dancing scenes alone were enough to bring this film great fame. The choreography was excellent, each pair a carbon copy of the others in their motions and timing. Elaborate, multi-textured costumes added infinite flair, the skirts on dresses in flight with dance. The love triangle that formed the major tension in the movie was enticing, all-encompassing, and the plane choreography was superb despite the physical constraints of the dancers. I was most shocked by how well the humor works today; I am woefully untickled by most old movies, given the difference in speech patterns and slang. The whole experience was vibrant enough to pull me right into the 1930s; inexplicably, I felt the urge to light a cigarette and dance in glamorous clothes, touching foreheads and moving every which way in the wild Carioca. Everyone seems impossibly beautiful, skin so smooth and clothing so stylish and perfectly suited for each character. And, I must say, Gene Raymond is built.
The live music portion of the evening furthered our education in America’s rich artistic past, bringing life into the antique. Had I come with a partner, I would have joined the dozen or so couples who got up to dance to the passionate music that snaked and drifted through the dimly-lit space. While the others got up to waltz and swing, I and the lady in the motorized wheelchair next to me sat and watched. She tells me that many in the band are university professors, and I’m surprised to find that they never rehearse, only playing together at gigs. Besides songs from the movie, they play a few old hits, like “Sleepy Time Down South.” All the instruments worked well together as one, though their individual solos were enjoyable. I was reminded then how mournful a dampened trumpet can sound, ripping through the air to cry directly to you.
My favorites were the ones that involved singing, as there are some great sets of pipes in the group. Bonnie channeled the exact energy of a time so long before her own, so that I could picture her in costume singing to the dancers of the Carioca. She is quite a strong alto, perfect for this style of song. Jean’s voice was soft, understanding of the mournful themes of his solos. Justin (or “America’s heartthrob,” as he was introduced) made a lovely contribution to one of the ending pieces, somewhat reminiscent of Bublé, and maybe even a touch of Sinatra. Most of all I thought of my favorite cartoon frog, George Washington. There are videos below if you’d like to compare for yourself.
They played for two hours with minimal breaks, which did seem unnecessarily long for both the audience and the dead tired band. I would suggest that in future evenings they cut a few songs from their sets, to reduce the likelihood of depleting the energy of everyone involved.
P.O.R.K. plays every first and third Sunday evening at the Grotto, so you have a chance to swing by soon. Their next performance will be December 8th.