It was an immense thrill to hear and see the Cangelosi Cards on Saturday, February 27, 2010, at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City on 22nd Street. That’s not an idle statement.
Before this, I had seen the Cards primarily at Banjo Jim’s, where the atmosphere was exuberant and loud. And for all their own exuberance, they are truly a subtle band, so I had to strain to hear them. But the Shambhala provided a large, quiet wood-floored space. True, an overhead fan clicks at the beginning of this performance, but that sound is swallowed up by the rhythm section. And (perhaps a small point?) the dancers were in back of me and the room was well-lit, so I was able to capture the Cards as they should be captured. Those dancers, by the way, included Eve Polich of “Avalon” and Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn. The whole delightful event was the idea of Paul Wegener, a fan of the Cards from way back, who had the inspired idea of bringing them to this wonderfully open, serene, receptive space.
This edition of the Cards included the regular brilliant musicians: Jake Sanders on banjo, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet and mandolin, Tamar Korn on vocals. And there were Debbie Kennedy on bass and Gordon Au on trumpet.
Here is the third performance of the night (after two jaunty warm-up songs): I SURRENDER, DEAR.
It’s a masterpiece of sorrowing intensity, supported throughout by the bring bring bring of Jake’s banjo and the melodic pulse of Debbie’s bass. Marcus and Dennis seem transported; Gordon takes his time, creating one sad, thoughtful phrase after another.
And Tamar. I told her during the set break that I thought she was growing as a dramatic actress, and her delicate face registers every nuance of the song. Not only in the first chorus, where she outlines the text, but in her return — becoming a muted trumpet for sixteen bars and then returning to the lyrics. She told me that she sings this song as an expression of penitence, which is undeniable, but I also hear barely controlled rage in the way she bites off the words “a spice to the wooing.”
I dedicate this lovely, deep exploration of music and lyrics to Bing Crosby, to Harry Barris, to Louis Armstrong, to the Mills Brothers, and to Sam Parkins, who told Tamar that her singing “got him right in the gizzard.” Truer words were never spoken, and they apply equally to the Cards as a whole.
Did I say it was a thrill to hear the Cards? No, an honor. A privilege.