The Lucky Five and Underscore Orkestra at Club Helsinki

A great jazz musician and professor, Malcolm Cecil, once said to me that there are two elements vital to jazz: swing (meaning energy or bounce) and improvisation. The Lucky Five Jazz Band possesses both of these qualities, and front-man Kip Beacco is a scholar in his own right with extensive knowledge about the history of jazz. The Underscore Orkestra also possesses the qualities essential to jazz (although in addition to jazz the musicians also play a mix of swing, European folk tunes, and original material), and I had the immense pleasure of seeing the two bands play a co-bill at Club Helsinki last Saturday. Although The Lucky Five Jazz Band and The Underscore Orkestra each played a set, the musicians from each band also played together on and off throughout the entire show for what was a great night of music and dancing. Not wanting to miss out on the latter, when they weren’t busy playing many of the musicians even joined the dancers in front of the stage!

 

The Lucky Five is an ensemble of Hudson Valley- and Berkshires-based musicians that boast an impressive repertoire and have been delighting audiences with sweet swingin’ tunes for a few years now. Early on the band included saxophone and piano, but the current line-up is a little different. Those two instruments have been replaced by duo fiddles, and the band also added pedal steel guitar. In it’s entirety The Lucky Five now consists of Lukas Schwartz and Jonathan Talbott on fiddles, Pete Adams on pedal steel and vocals, Matt Downing on bass and vocals, and Kip Beacco on guitar, clarinet, and vocals. And the band is sounding better than ever. The musicians’ dedication to their craft, combined with  enthusiasm for the music, has created a tight group that balances beautiful orchestration with stellar improvisation. Playing tunes like “Bye, Bye, Blues,” “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” “Hesitation Blues,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” this band puts smiles on faces and inspires dancing.


The Underscore Orkestra is really a collective that has a rotating cast of musicians, although a few are constants (such as Jorge, the ringleader of sorts). I’ve seen the Orkestra with varying numbers, but at the Helsinki show the band was in full force like I’ve never seen it before with upright bass, electric bass, sousaphone, guitar, banjo uke, accordion, trumpet, fiddle, and percussion. The band plays a combination of original material as well as swing songs and old folk tunes from all over the world, and the musicians opened their set at Helsinki with a quietly beautiful tune from Turkey on accordion and guitar. Many of the tunes The Underscore Orkestra plays have compelling melodies and uneven time signatures (as many traditional Eastern European folk tunes do), and the songs the musicians did write are indistinguishable from those they did not. Evoking the tradition of gypsies both in music and lifestyle, The Underscore Orkestra travels the world in a caravan (okay, so it’s an old bus). They band technically even finished its latest album on the vehicle, because Jorge had to listen and discuss final adjustments with the engineer over the phone between gigs. That’s what you have to do when you play eight to ten months out of the year, as this group does. Like true troubadours the Orkestra brings joy, storytelling, and music filled with fiery spirit wherever they go.

  

 

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