With two dozen instruments and a half-dozen musicians at her beck and call, pianist Lorie Line may have put on the most diverse Christmas concert of the season Friday night at the Capitol Theatre.
You want bluegrass? How about a harmonica, mandolin, guitar and string bass Christmas? African music? "Deck the Halls" and "Little Drummer Boy" done with rhythms Paul Simon would kill for? A Brazilian touch even showed up on "We Three Kings."Black gospel?
Bring on Robert Robinson, a tenor - maybe even a counter-tenor - with a sweet soaring voice on "O Holy Night," "Silent Night" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain." Robinson, in fact, may have been the real smash of the evening. In this altitude he had almost no breath to sustain him, but that didn't seem to matter. At 350 pounds or so he could very well be the reincarnation of both Mahalia Jackson and Paul Robeson.
With the simple stage setting - a back-drop of silver and white "snow drifts" and performers in understated attire - it could have been piano recital, as some had feared.
But it was a really celebration.
The genius of Lorie Line, in fact, may not be as a pianist at all. Oh, she's a Cracker-Jack keyboardist who has taken a basic "lounge piano" style and parlayed it into something high-octane. But where she shines is in her talent for surrounding herself with so many fine and distinctive musicians. In that setting, her piano work doesn't sound so much like the crashing waves of Liberace as much as the sturdy, melodic eye of a storm while the various tones and timbres swirl around her.
She took requests at one point, and though the numbers she selected from the shouting crowed were "Canon in D," "Unchained Melody," "Somewhere in Time" - pieces that every fern-bar "mood music" specialist is made to play three times a night - she gave them all her unique spin.
To spice the broth, Line stepped aside at one point to let a couple of fiddles duel it out on "Orange Blossom Special."
In all, those expecting a New Age night of fantasy and sentiment were shaken awake. As were those expecting a classical piano revue.
After a standing ovation, Line returned to hold a singing contest on "Jingle Bells" with Robinson serving as both conductor and judge. Usually such tricked-up novelty numbers come out flat (How often have you seen a band try to get the crowd clapping, for instance, and nothing seems to ignite?). But the "Jingle Bells" spot really got people moving and shaking - kind of like a Christmas revival.
In all, if you had to pick one Christmas concert this year that would be unique and memorable, this may have been the one. Glad you were there, or sorry you missed it.