Daria Raymore & Jason Clayborn. Image: Louisville Orchestra

The Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition Presents: American Soul

Featuring Daria Raymore and Jason Clayborn
Directed by Teddy Abrams

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

As Teddy Abrams addressed the virtual audience from his musical stand at Paristown Hall he shared that the evening’s performance was a gift to the Louisville Orchestra family and Louisville. This free program was geared to be an uplifting and positive experience, sure to put a smile on your face. The Louisville Orchestra is always wanting to bring joy and hope to its community. This evening’s performance certainly achieved that goal.

Just as the title of the program implies, the evening was filled with selections from some of America’s most iconic Soul performers and songwriters, such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin. Now, with a musical legacy like that, it is important to have artists that can do full justice to the music. 

I have written many times about the embarrassment of riches available in the Louisville vicinity. Teddy was able to secure vocalists and additional instrumentalists that were up to the challenge.

Jason Clayborn, whom we have heard in prior collaborations with the Louisville Orchestra, most recently in Gospel at the Symphony with his church, St. Stephen (which by the way, was stirring). Mr. Clayborn is a powerhouse to be sure and he was gracious enough to enlist the help of another lovely vocalist from St. Stephen, his sister, Daria Raymore.

Now, if you were wondering if Soul music transposes well to an orchestral framework, have no fear, it fits quite well. Many songs that we have grown up with for the past 50 plus years have deep and well-embellished annotations that lead to a rich musical expression. Teddy enlisted a great arranger, Gabriel Globus-Hoenich, who also proved he’s a heck of a drummer too.

To start the evening off, our small ensemble of strings shared a lovely piece from an artist new to me, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, and the Rondo of his Sinfonietta No. 1 for Strings. Perkinson, an African-American composer of the mid-20th Century was influenced by music as wide-ranging as Baroque to Samuel Barber. Mr. Abrams shared that he had even collaborated with Marvin Gaye, so it was rather appropriate to include him within this program.

I fear that in the beginning the sound feed may have not been mixed well as the cellos and bass often overtook the sound of the violins and only viola. However, when the mix came together, it was quite a lovely piece of music, especially in the cellos who had a sumptuous and sensual melody, to be later filled in by the other strings.

For the remainder of the evening, the audience was treated to pieces filled with vocal prowess. 

Beginning with “Cold Sweat”, you could absolutely hear where Mr. Clayborn was channeling James Brown’s unique vocal style, including the oft-heard ad-libbing within the instrumental segments. The drums were a marvelous filler for the sound as were the electric guitar and bass, played by Louisville’s own Craig Wagner and Derek Johnson, respectively. The only thing missing from this performance was Mr. Brown’s fancy footwork! The same can be said of his “This Is a Man’s World”, one of my favorite arrangements of the evening. It certainly had a Godfather of Soul feel to it and included a brilliant viola solo from John Mueller.

Daria Raymore was comfortable with the works of Aretha Franklin as she performed “Rock Steady” and Aretha’s version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Rock” had a fabulous electric bass hook and nice sound. As to “Woman”, beginning with a lovely single wood solo, the arrangement had the instrumentalists fill in for the commonly known background singers. It may have missed the vocal dynamic, but the orchestral fill was a close replication. In both songs, Ms. Raymore showed her chops.

Using the talents of keyboardist Gabe Evans, the brother and sister duo sang Lionel Ritchie’s “Endless Love”. While the notes were a little varied from the original score, it was not the strongest of the evening vocally, but it was still impactful. I liked what the video production team did in splitting the screen to show both of them as they were socially distanced on the floor of the performing hall.

Taking a little break, Mr. Abrams observed that the evening’s selections all had roots in various styles and genres of music: gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, Motown, Funk, and many others. The stories that are told through these songs represent a musical intersection.

The evening closed out with a few more songs, such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” and the siblings did a fine job of closing out the evening with the Ashford and Simpson classic, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. 

Earlier in the evening, Teddy said that this was a danceable program and he’d love for audience members to submit videos showing how the family was dancing to the music. 

Perhaps the most danceable song on the program was Stevie Wonder’s, “Sir Duke”. I’ve got to tell you, there’s no way that you can sit still through this piece, and our orchestra and Mr. Clayborn had me dancing in my seat throughout. If there is one thing that I’ll nitpick about Duke, it would be, where was the slide whistle or kazoo?

Again, my thanks to the hard-working crew of the Louisville Orchestra and Paristown Hall, the musicians, the staff, the video team and the guest artists. It was a magical gift that still has me humming along.

Bravi Tutti!!

The Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition Presents: American Soul

November 21, 2020


Louisville Orchestra

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.