You like twisting, convoluted backstories? Lucky you!
The saga of NRBQ (New Rhythm & Blues Quartet) should make for some interesting bedtime reading… the long and short of it is this: Terry Adams, one of the original founders of the group in the 1970s, is touring with the latest incarnation, which honestly might equally be called “Terry Adams and three handpicked, much younger guys,” or TATHMYG, for short.
The expanded Terry Plays Monk and... Band at soundcheck
Story and photographs by Michael Hochanadel
“Terry, let me pull your coat.” Terry Adams sat beside me in the only coffee shop open in Brattleboro on Easter Sunday. I’d used jazz jargon advisedly: I’d been touring with NRBQ since Thursday in Burlington where Adams led both a special combo and NRBQ through “Terry Plays Monk and…” – a tribute to Thelonious Monk. As we waited for Billy Shaw to open Soundesign Studios where Adams and crew would record the Monk tunes they’d played at FlynnSpace in Burlington, I told Adams about the guy who sat next to me there. A greybeard about my age, he’d never heard of NRBQ: He’d come to hear Monk music. He’d seen Miles and ‘Trane live but never saw Monk play. After the show, he said it was the best live music he’d seen in 20 years.
Terry Adams' cross-handed piano technique
I didn’t know I’d be taking the ferry across Lake Champlain on Thursday until my bossy GPS said, “Get on the ferry,” a fitting start to witness a crossing Adams made from rock to jazz. He actually started this pilgrimage at 14 on falling in love with Monk’s music, and he’s played Monk tunes with NRBQ for decades. But he raised expectations and the pressure on himself by announcing a whole set of Monk songs, lamenting on taking this mission that he wouldn’t sleep for six weeks.
Driving through the Adironacks, I’d gotten more and more excited. The landscape gleamed: Snow lingered on peaks and ridges while gaps in the clouds let light fall onto lakes and ponds like bright coins onto a burnished table. The music plan promised big: Adams would lead a special jazz combo, including my brother Jim, through a set of Monk tunes, then tackle more Monk music with NRBQ, mixing in NRBQ songs.
Adams had to scramble to pull it all together. He finished mixing the new live NRBQ album “We Travel the Spaceways” just before rehearsing the Monk combo for three days in Northampton. That’s where I delivered a pedal steel guitar on Palm Sunday for my brother Jim Hoke to play, borrowing the steel and an amp from Kevin Maul in Cohoes. Still, the players were tense at FlynnSpace in Burlington (the black-box theatre under the Flynn Center) during sound check and a last rehearsal.
Madcap NRBQ keyboard pounder Terry Adams is back with yet another solo disc, and this time around he’s bringing ‘Q drummer Tommy Ardolino along for the ride. The Figgs’ Pete Donnelly sits this one out, so Scott Ligon rounds out Adams’ trio on guitar and bass, as well as some organ, too. An excellent album, it wallows in the usual ‘Q omni-pop sound. You get plenty of sweet, melodic pop (“Beautiful Lover,” “My Girl My Girl”), but you’ll also get a dose of vintage garage rockin’ (“Never Cop Out”), oddball covers (“Indian Love Call”? Oh yeah) and whatever else pops into Adams’ slightly unbalanced mind (a bouncy pop ode to “Feet” isn’t as fetishist as you might think). The mighty ‘Q are on hiatus, but these days Adams seems more prolific than ever, and if his solo albums continue to maintain this level of grin-inducing fun, the ‘Q’s absence may not be not quite as big a problem as it seems.
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