Saturday, April 10, 2021

In first concert in renovated Madam Walker Theatre, Time for Three raises the roof

 Indianapolis remembers the trio best for its decade-long residency under the Indianapolis Symphony

Charles Yang (left), Ranaan Meyer,  Nick Kendall

Orchestra aegis, but along the way Time for Three built a national reputation that it seeks to sustain after relative inactivity during the pandemic.

Yet Charles Yang, Nick Kendall, and Ranaan Meyer have exploited Zoom to come up to the mark creatively, as they told a sizable audience Friday night at Madam Walker Legacy Center. The theater retains its majestic Egyptian decor, and its lighting looked splendid for this live-streamed presentation. It was a treat to encounter musicians in three well-lit dimensions.

With their classical backgrounds steadily expanding into other genres, these adept string instrumentalists have in recent years added vocals to their virtuosity.  Yang, holder of two Juilliard degrees in violin, is the principal singer, with solidly rooted backup vocals provided by Kendall and Meyer.

There was an abundance of precisely timed cat-and-mouse exchanges among the group in the first two numbers: the J.S.Bach-centered "Chaconne in Winter" and the original salute to Tf3's Curtis Institute genesis in "Philly Phunk." The first vocal showcase came with "Vertigo," a song by the trio's repertoire shaper, Steve Hackman. It was the first example what became too much emphasis on songs for the classical series of which Time for Three was a highly anticipated part. Not that anyone should expect anything strictly classical about this group, but more concentration on violin/contrabass excellence would have been welcome in a concert for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.

And the trio has long exhibited such excellence, from the time best known to me, when co-founder Zach De Pue had the position now filled with an extra measure of showmanship by Yang. "Banjo Love" displayed some of the classic Time for Three country-music roots, as the fiddling in one branch of that genre has long been second nature to the group's violinists.

There was a further classical tribute in a pastel arrangement of a Chopin prelude, stuck in between the original "Learn to Love" (with Yang on guitar) and the exuberant "Joy" (with some passing reminders of the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony).  Further adaptations of pop hits were dispatched with plenty of feeling in Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and Ben E. King's "Stand by Me." The sound system seemed adequate, but Yang's diction was much clearer when he spoke than when he sang. His falsetto was top-drawer, however.

There was another old hit, which is covered by everybody, it seems: an eloquent instrumental arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." One of the new pieces, indicating that Time for Three will never have to rely on such evergreen settings, is a Zoom-produced, self-described "loopy" joint creation called "Slim Jim Stinky Bee," which went over well as it concisely surveyed Time for Three's penchant for fun and pinpoint exuberance.



 



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