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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

 

Best Movie Theater

Spectrum 8 Theatres

290 Delaware Ave., Albany

Since the Spectrum wins every year, we’re always glad to have something different to add: This year, it’s the new entranceway that allows for indoor lines (although we do still head into the old doors out of habit). We also like the improved utilization of the lobby art gallery. And as always, the concession stand with its real popcorn and yummy baked goods is just as much a reason to patronize this locally owned theater as its well-chosen mix of independent, foreign, documentary, and major-studio films.

Best Vintage Movie Theater

Crandell Theatre

46-48 Main St., Chatham

In the age of the multiscreen corporate megaplex, the Crandell Theatre is a gem, with a real “olde tyme cinema” atmosphere: one movie, one screen, in a vaudeville theater built in 1926. They’re the most reasonably priced cinema around—despite a recent increase in admission to four whole dollars. Plus, the Crandell Theatre is host to the Chatham Film Club, a not-for-profit organization that shows art, independent, and foreign films once a month, and runs the annual Film Columbia Film Festival.

Best Back-From-The-Dead Movie Theater

The Madison

1036 Madison Ave., Albany

What’s best about this beloved neighborhood theater is that it’s still here. Formerly the troubled Norma Jean, the Madison reopened after a close brush with conversion to a drugstore drive-through. It’s in need of some refurbishment, but most of the screening rooms are now playing, everything is in working order, and it’s cheaper and easier than the megaplexes.

Best Film Society

Saratoga Film Forum

320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

We wrote that Saratoga Film Forum came into their own last year, but we were wrong. They came into their own this year, with even more filmmaker events and regional film exclusives. They also cosponsored, with Skidmore College, the Saratoga Film Festival. Held last September, the SFF had as its theme, Haiti: Moving Images. We look forward to see what surprises they have in store for their upcoming fall season.

Best Old-School Avant-Garde Multimedia Collective

Time & Space Limited

434 Columbia St., Hudson

The tireless folks at Time & Space Limited have continued to promote an active, living culture in Hudson. And by “culture,” we mean both artistic culture and civic culture. On the arts side, they stage innovative theater productions, multimedia art exhibits and screen numerous indie film exclusives. (Between TSL and Saratoga Film Forum, we have a bounty of indie-flick offerings.) On the civic side, TSL is in the vanguard of small-scale, community-based political dialogue and activism. It’s home-grown activism at its best.

Best High-Profile Avant-Garde Multimedia Juggernaut

MASS MoCA

1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.

A giant “knitting machine” creates a huge flag over the July Fourth holiday. A downtown (as in New York City) musical ensemble re-creates an ambient-music classic in concert—for the first time. Classic films are screened with live, original scores. Oh, and internationally renowned artists present cutting-edge work in an industrial complex that’s impressive in itself. That’s what they do at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, where there’s something for everyone—from art lovers to film buffs to all those 9-year-olds out there who can appreciate “process.”

Best Classical Ensemble (Endurance)

Capitol Chamber Artists

Early-music favorites Capitol Chamber Artists give an audience their money’s worth. In their season at the First Congregational Church in Albany and the Community Hall in Benson, Vt., they begin each show with an hourlong “preconcert recital,” followed by the first half of the performance proper. Then, following a refreshing cake break, the four- to five-piece ensemble tear into an epic work, usually a symphony arranged for a chamber group. A feast for music lovers; a triumph of endurance for the players.

Best Audience-Friendly Orchestra

Albany Symphony Orchestra

Who loves ya, baby? The Albany Symphony Orchestra, that’s who. Their programming is a smart mix of new American works and favorites from the classical repertoire. Their conductor has won an armful of awards, and is a popular member of the local arts community. Best of all, the ASO meets the people halfway by performing in venues all over the area, including Albany (multiple locations), Troy, and Pittsfield, Mass. Give it up for them.

One man’s vision: the Tang’s Ian Berry.

Best Art Museum (Curatorial Vision)

Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery

Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs

Ian Berry has demonstrated over and over just how passionate he is for the quirky way he views art, and his years at the Tang have given him the opportunity to communicate that vision in myriad ways. From the lovingly assembled and documented “Opener” series on emerging artists to a coast-to-coast collaboration on a Richard Pettibone retrospective that just opened at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art (before coming to the Tang and then going to the Laguna Museum of Art), Berry is making his mark.

 

 

Best Art Museum (Scope of Vision)

MASS MoCA

North Adams, Mass.

There’s little disagreement that MASS MoCA challenges all viewers . . . and it does this by taking risks as huge as the space itself. While size alone rarely matters, MASS MoCA takes advantage of its excess of space by filling it with a range of international contemporary art that you’ll never see together anywhere else, and commissioning site-specific pieces by the edgiest artists around. They may push a few people’s buttons, but they sure do push the envelope, too.

Best Local Artist

Michael Oatman

Don’t take our word for it—take the word of the curators at the two hottest museums in the region, where Oatman currently has impressive displays of his genre-bending collages and installations on view. The Tang and MASS MoCA don’t normally showcase local artists, but Oatman is an international-class artist who just happens to be local. And that’s lucky for all of us.

Best Daredevil Art

Melee

Look, we’re sure that when you’re painting your self-portraits, you’re taking very serious risks. Opening yourself emotionally to the moment, and whatnot. We support that. But, dude, this Melee hung himself from ropes 11 stories above the night-time streets of North Albany to paint his tag in letters 10 feet high on an abandoned warehouse for the pleasure and astonishment of I-787 commuters. Now, while we don’t encourage anyone at all to do this themselves—it’s illegal and wicked dangerous—we tip our hats to the guy’s loopy commitment to making a big name for himself.

Best Museum Mile

Route 2

Williamstown to North Adams, Mass.

OK, it’s actually more like five miles, but with the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Williams College Museum of Art, and MASS MoCA along the route, we think this strip provides a pretty tough challenge to Fifth Avenue’s Guggenheim, Metropolitan and Frick.

Best Gallery Walk

Warren Street

Hudson

In a notoriously tough market that generally chews up and spits out small galleries in a matter of months, here’s a scene that has managed longevity and diversity as well as quantity and quality. Stalwarts Carrie Haddad, Deborah Davis, Richard Sena and A.D.D. have been joined by newcomers Trink and the Museum of the Imagination (among many others) to offer a big-city cultural feel without the stress. Nice!

That’s one sparkly moose: Razzle Dazzle.

Best Moose

Razzle Dazzle

Route 7A, Bennington, Vt.

And bedazzle the eye he does, especially when the sun hits his blue mosaic hide with its swirling patterns in acrylic and glass gems. Created by local artists Dana Rudolph and Rhonda Jeffer for the Bennington Moosefest, this life-size and delightfully reflective moose sculpture literally stops traffic from his stomping ground in front of the Harwood Hill Motel.

 


More than meets the eye: Maude Baum.

Best Regional Dance Company

Maude Baum and eba

Lark Street and Hudson Avenue, Albany

For sticking to business more than 30 years, for letting her dancers be who they are onstage, and for this year’s bold partnering with the Palace Theatre in new artistic and educational adventures.

 

 

 

Best Presenter of Dance

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Becket, Mass.

Step onto the grounds and, instantly, you feel refreshed: by the pastoral setting, the welcoming staff led by the sunshine-faced artistic director Ella Baff, the enlightening photo exhibits and archives, the free talks on dance history and choreographers and free open-air performances on a platform stage. All this, before you enter the historic Ted Shawn Theater or the Doris Duke Studio Theater to see an array of companies over a 10-week season, invited from Sweden to New Zealand. Hey, Mark Morris comes every year. So do we.

Best Booker of Dance Events

Peter Lesser, the Egg

Empire State Plaza, Albany

Getting better, more expansive and more risk-taking every year. Coming in 2005-06, a new series of Sunday afternoon Dance Up Close shows with chamber-size groups performing family-friendly programs in the smaller Swyer Theater.

Best Place to See Dance

Skidmore College Dance Theater

Saratoga Springs

The only school in the region with a theater devoted to dance. Less than 400 seats, all good, even on the sides. Kid-friendly, with a carpeted area in front of the stage that encourages the wigglers to sit on the floor and to turn their own cartwheels and jetes during intermission.

Best Theater Companies

StageWorks/Hudson; Adirondack Theatre Festival; Barrington Stage Company

Hudson; Glens Falls; Sheffield, Mass.

StageWorks/Hudson, Adirondack Theatre Festival, and Barrington Stage Company create new works and real premieres, and, in the case of BSC this year, plays that head to New York City and succeed. What differentiates the three theaters from the others is their working-class roots, which is reflected in the best of their new works: these are plays about people who live and work. North, south, and east of Albany, these are your destinations for adventurous, eclectic, and electric new theater.

Best Local Theater Trend

New York State Theatre Institute’s Concert Series

Troy

New York State Theatre Institute’s Concert Series continues to create new productions of classic Broadway musicals focused on the singing and the acting, not the stagecraft bells and whistles. Man of La Mancha was revelatory this year. NYSTI’s Concert Series shows that you have your musical and hear it, too.

Best Children’s Theater

New York State Theatre Institute

Troy

NYSTI again, forever and always for kids, often by kids, entertaining kids, inspiring kids.

Best Musical Director

Julianne Boyd

Barrington Stage Company

Boyd has shown a particular devotion to producing full-scale musicals since she founded BSC. Her production of the little-seen Jerry Herman show, Mack and Mabel, was a rare treat; her production of Cabaret transferred to Boston and won awards; and BSC’s The Spelling Bee famously transferred to Broadway. But it is her stunning work with Sondheim’s difficult masterpiece, Follies, that shows her to be a consummate artist in this genre.

Best Theater Venue

The Unicorn Theatre at Berkshire Theatre Festival

Stockbridge, Mass.

With the sad demise of the Adams Memorial Theatre (home of the Williamstown Theatre Festival) and its smaller Nikos stage, the best place in the area to see exciting theater is the Unicorn. The intimate theater boasts comfortable stadium seating, excellent (unobstructed) sightlines, unobtrusively efficient climate control and flexible staging.

Best Change of Venue

Barrington Stage Company

The Berkshire Music Hall, Pittsfield, Mass.

Finally, Barrington Stage Company will have a home of its own in downtown Pittsfield, in an old theater house that the creative Julianne Boyd can renovate into a showplace for professional theater. Finally, underappreciated Pittsfield with its ideal central location in the Berkshires can have a true cultural arts attraction equal to its neighboring towns. Honorable mention: The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Free Theatre to the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. One of new artistic director Roger Rees’ best changes is to move the free theater from its various outdoor locations into an air-conditioned theater free of bugs, heat, rain, poor acoustics, picnic baskets, etc. No longer will the plebeians be treated as groundlings and the actors as second-class journeymen in need of deet.

Best Local Playwright

Ed. Lange

New York State Theatre Institute

Lange has just written and had produced (by NYSTI) his second play about Sherlock Holmes, and it is a dandy. His first was a swift mystery thriller that went on to be published by Samuel French (the largest publisher of plays in America and England). His newest, Sherlock’s Legacy, is a mature, thoughtful and ultimately touching work that stays true to its beloved subject while examining the question of a purposeful existence.

Best Reading Series

New York State Writers Institute

The biggest game in town, to be sure, but this long-running series didn’t become an institution for nothin’. This year’s schedule has been particularly notable for its inclusion of younger and local writers of promise: Thai Jones, author of Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family’s Century of Conscience; Edward Schwarzchild, author of the novel Responsible Men; and Tobias Seamon, author of The Magician’s Study: A Guided Tour of the Life, Times and Memorabilia of Robert “the Great”Rouncival, all are once or current residents of the Capital Region—and fresh and welcome additions to a schedule that also included such important names and disparate voices as Eric Bogosian, William Vollman, Angie Cruz, Pablo Medina and Shelley Jackson.

Best Emerging Author (Here and Now)

Edward Schwarzchild

To point out that Responsible Men is Edward Schwarzchild’s first novel is intended only to call attention to the promise of more—this is no apprentice work. The novel is remarkable in its restraint and subtlety. This story about a family of small-time conmen has drawn comparisons to both Arthur Miller and Phillip Russo, but is neither bleak nor quaintly comic. Instead, Schwarzchild presents a richly imagined and deeply humane study of immediately recognizable, engagingly flawed characters.

Best Emerging Author (Once Upon a Time)

Tobias Seamon

As you might guess from its sprawling, boisterous title, The Magician’s Study: A Guided Tour of the Life, Times and Memorabilia of Robert “the Great” Rouncival, Tobias Seamon’s novel is an ambitious and idiosyncratic one: The slew of oddball and fanciful characters are imbued with a detailed and rude health; historical ambience is shot through with beguiling arcane—and, throughout, the author’s obvious joy of his work is evident and contagious.

Best Not Emerging Author

Trevanian

Somewhere in a private garret in the Basque region, Trevanian, the pseudonymous and press-shy author of a number of best-selling thrillers and the recent memoir of Albany slum life, The Crazyladies of Pearl Street, is laughing his ass off at William Kennedy’s expense. He’s a fine stylist and a facile parodist and an absolute genius of negative-space PR.

Best Author (non-Fiction)

Paul Grondahl

Grondahl’s features for the Times Union consistently bring to light interesting aspects of the capital city, past and present. And now he brings Albany history into the national arena with his second biography, I Rose Like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt. Expertly covering the future president’s pivotal years in the rough-and- tumble proving ground of Albany politics, the book is being described as vivid, insightful, compellingly readable, and “a sparkling portrait.”

Killing ’em softly: The Kamikaze Hearts.

Best Band

The Kamikaze Hearts We could call this category the local music equivalent of “most likely to succeed.” Or not, as some might consider that a curse. The Kamikaze Hearts have the potential to be big, and we mean that in a nine-point-review-on-Pitchfork, top-ranking-on-the-College Music Journal-charts sort of way. Locally, the Kamikaze Hearts have a devoted fan base: They sold out shows at Caffé Lena (admittedly a small place) and at the much larger Linda Norris Auditorium in the past year. But the Hearts also seem to easily attract new fans, including those who aren’t typically drawn to porch-sitting, mandolin-inflected indie rock. At a recent performance, the Hearts mesmerized everyone from punk rockers to metalheads with their addictive melodies, quirky four-part harmonies and the amazing way that they maintain such a loose, shambling vibe while somehow keeping it all perfectly together.

Best Rock Band

To Hell and Back

Just try to have a conversation over drinks while these guys are playing. Here is pure rock fury at a pernicious pace that leaves you limping toward the finish line with wuthering jowls, empty bowels and a thirst for Olde Frothingslosh. Impossible to ignore. We got an advance taste of the new CD and it’s a jaw- dropper.

Best Pop Band

Hector on Stilts

Pittsfield, Mass.-based cousins Clayton and Jeb Colwell, better known as pop team Hector on Stilts, have charisma, talent, and smoldering good looks, all of which are well-known prerequisites for a fabulous pop band. They possess lovely buttery voices and rock tight harmonies, and their quirky onstage banter adds to the appeal of an already great live show. The duo’s brand-spanking-new disc, Same Height Relation, is highly recommended.

Best New Band

Parwana

Up-and-coming local rock collective Parwana embody the youthful spirit of rock & roll, not caring about being broke as long as they can scrape together enough money to produce their own records and travel around the country in a van, sleeping on floors, playing basement gigs and dumpster diving for their dinner. The band’s youthful idealism, flailing energy and DIY ethic is much appreciated by the kids, who come out to revel in Parwana’s shouted exuberance and crazy, kinetic stage antics.

Best Hardcore Band

Last Call

This is always a toughie with so many bruisers coming out of Troy and surrounding environs, but Last Call’s latest split record with Boston’s Cheech is a powerful example of how far this band have come in the past few years. Workingmen’s hardcore with respectfully incorporated metal riffage does the Collar City justice.

Best Punk Band

Complicated Shirt

Perhaps not necessarily “punk” in the empirical sense, but the ’Shirt are snotty, abrasive, cocksure, at times apoplectic and dirty—good enough for us. Great songs, indelible, remorseless lyrics and the thick vein in Drew Benton’s neck as he spits them out make for one nasty live experience. If we had an award category for Best Band T-Shirt, well, they would win that too.

Best Metal Band

Great Day for Up

Call it stoner rock if you want, but Small Stone’s GDFU are as ironclad and ready to fight as any neck-snapping practitioner of the blackest art. Their soaring drop-tuned hooks come screaming up at you from the cavernous haze like some fire-fed phoenix, but with a yen and Zen that makes Buddha look like Uncle Bud.

Best Perennial-Favorite Band

Super 400

We thumbed through the Best Of archives and realized that these guys have been winners numerous times in several different categories over the years, and for good reason: No other local bands we can think of have done the same thing so well for so long. We easily could have picked these guys for Best Band or some variation thereof; instead we pay tribute to their consistency. Here’s to the next 10 years!

Best Band You Thought Had Broken Up

Rocky Velvet

Rocky Velvet charmed local crowds when they first emerged in the ’90s with their towering pompadours, youthful enthusiasm and dead- serious chops. But even early on they were something special, far from just another tattooed/greaser, image-oriented band flocking to the genre for its sense of style. This group of guys grew up together in our area, but recently it seemed like they were a scant presence on the scene, and sterling guitarist Graham Tichy was off doing national high-profile gigs with other artists. But a recent dynamic opening slot at Alive at Five (opening for Eddie Angel) was testament to the fact that they were still a vital unit. Leading up to that, they could also be seen burning it up for a capacity crowds at Savannah’s. Some of the pompadours may have thinned, but these are still young guys (in their late 20s) and lately they’re sounding the best they ever have.

Best Live Experience (Nerve Damage)

Brevator

Of course, we could complain that Brevator play too loudly. But that would be missing the point. Brevator just want to make you part of their dark world. With swirling guitars, incantory vocals, thundering percussion and, yes, skull-cracking volume, Brevator create a communal live experience that’s somewhere between a mosh pit and a tribal ritual, and erases the distance between audience and band. There’s no sitting on your ass impassively at a Brevator show: Get into it or get out.

Best Live Experience (Nerd Damage)

The Mathematicians

Some might criticize the band’s devotion to its nerd-rock shtick, but onstage, the Mathematicians live their nerd-rock personas. The conviction is infectious (to the extent that some fans have even been seen dressed in nerdwear out of allegiance to the band). Constant touring has honed the Mathematicians’ live performance, and at any given show, you’ll see a circle of fans gathered in front of the stage, bouncing along to the catchy tunes, completely won over by the band’s dedication to its songs about life vis-à-vis algebraic functions. On paper it may sound trite, but live, the Mathematicians experience is nothing short of a fun time.

Best Live Experience (Never the Same Twice)

Nouveau Chill

Close your eyes, and you’re transported to a Parisian café, where you sit, enjoying a late-night espresso and biscotti. . . . Now open your eyes again, and you realize you’re actually in the back room at the Lark Tavern, sipping a brew and listening to the sounds of Nouveau Chill, an event led by musician and DJ Michael Campion and saxophonist Brian Patneaude, who play a mix of jazz, trip-hop, funk, bossa nova and reggae to the late-night Tavern crowd every Thursday. The pair regularly bring in guest percussionists and other instrumentalists to give the jazz-fusion event a fresh vibe; when you go to check them out, be sure to bring your dancing shoes!

Best Local Reunion

The Neanderthals

Talk to anyone who was into local music in the ’80s, and—whether they were rockabilly nuts or not—most remember the jaw-dropping rock & roll shows that Johnny Rabb and guitar slinger Eddie Angel used to put on in their various incarnations (most prominently as the Rockin’ Dakotas). Angel has subsequently made a name for himself as a worldwide recognized guitar phenom with “America’s instrumentalists,” the Mexican-wrestling-mask-wearing Los Straitjackets. When Eddie came back to town for his “Guitar Party” show at Alive at Five recently, his blistering fretwork reminded us why he is one our greatest musical exports. More than that, his set with the caveman- outfitted Neanderthals reminded us of the chemistry between him and his pompadoured pal (and local legend) Rabb. The Neanderthals’ ’60s garage-frat-rock blend has lit up stages all over the country and in Europe. But here, on their native soil, it’s a meeting of old friends: a guy from Waterford with a golden set of pipes and grown-up kid from Rensselaer with a guitar on fire.

Best Teenage Bluegrass Band With Guerrilla Inclinations

The Upchuck Ramblers

A quintet of Greenwich and Cambridge 17- and 18-year-olds, the Upchuck Ramblers have the giddy enthusiasm of recent converts to acoustic music (a few of them had previously been in rock bands), and the emerging skills to pull it off. Their repertoire mixes obscure numbers from the hills with adaptations of songs by everyone from the Rolling Stones to moe. And they get bonus points for having been in Greenwich’s Whipple City Days parade last month. Not invited or prearranged, the band were hanging out on a front porch as the parade passed by and, spying a half-block long gap, they got on board, pleasing the townsfolk along the rest of the route with their merry singing and playing.

Best Solo Performer (Male)

Brian Bassett

Smartly crafted pop-rock tunes? Check. Clearly defined voice and playing style? Check. Strong, rehearsed performance? Check. Those things are about all we could ask of a candidate for Best Solo Performer, and Bassett has all three in spades. We haven’t seen him settle in with the right backing band just yet, but no matter: He’s doing just fine all by himself.

Best Solo Performer (Female)

Erin Harkes

Erin Harkes has developed an enviable stage presence over her past few years of performing. Armed with a commanding voice and catchy, soulful tunes, Harkes captures her audience’s attention and doesn’t let go until she decides to. We’ve watched as she’s built up and fleshed out a notable catalog of songs, and we love to see her perform them live.

Best Ambient Musician

Sara Ayers

Imagine a dark hollow in the woods. Detritus suggests that other people might have been there recently, and that their intentions might have been less than wholesome. You suspect they may be returning soon. The air is thick and humid, and large, unseen insects buzz in the canopy. You look to the ancient trees, and are struck by their grandeur and beauty. Then, in the corner of your eye, you see something rushing at you from the bushes. God will choose to soundtrack this moment in your life with a Sara Ayers CD.

Best Jason Martin

Jason Martin

He’s won this category several times in the past, and we’re glad to see him back on top. Thanks in part to his leading role in the seven-member, quasi-political monstrosity Evolution/Revolution, and his participation in the long-running performance-rock group Bunny Brains, Jason Martin has been very active—and very odd—again this year. He truly is one of a kind, and we’re glad to see he’s still doing what he does best, whatever that may be.

Best Songwriter

Stephen Gaylord

Stephen Gaylord, who performs solo as Gay Tastee and most frequently with his band the Wasted, is one of our area’s most creative songwriters, and we don’t just mean creative in his impressive use of alliterative curse words. Whether penning songs like “Myth of Creation,” rife with unexpected historical allusions, or songs like “Jihad vs McWorld” that brim with righteous, the-Man-ain’t-gonna-get-me-down anger, Gaylord’s got the most original lyrics in town and the gnarled melodies to go with them. Check out, for instance, this brilliant turn of phrase on “Son of Sam,” one of his best tracks: “I’ll be your only hope/I’ll be your perfect crime/I’ll be your rope-a-dope/Your favorite album side/I’ll be your Zeppelin IV/I’ll be your Grateful Dead/I’ll be the first time that you ever smoked a Marlboro Red.”

Best Acoustic Guitarist

Maria Zemantauski

While there’s no denying that Maria Zemantauski is the region’s preeminent flamenco guitarist, and is arguably one of the world’s finest practitioners of Spain’s most passionate music to boot, the thing that continues to blow our minds is how that doesn’t seem to be enough for her. In solo and a variety of ensemble performances over the past year, Zemantauski has continually pushed the boundaries of the possible with her trusty 6-string, blending genres that have little or no business appearing on the same bill, much less in the same song. It’s rarely less than electrifying to watch her do it.

Best Jazz Sceneleaders

Adrian Cohen and Brian Patneaude

There is a growing phalanx of jazz cats, from the youngest guns to the everlasting elder statesmen. In the middle of that generation gap are pianist Adrian Cohen and saxophonist Brian Patneaude, keeping the scene clicking and qualified to deliver with their instruments. Wherever you look, one of them has got their name on the bandstand—the big gig, the fundraiser, the weekly club show. They can both certainly play with anyone—guitarist George Muscatello, bassists Ryan Lukas and Michael DelPrete, and drummers Danny Whelchel and Pete Sweeney for instance—but they also can spread the word and their names better than anyone, keeping the scene alive and the community unified in growth and discovery.

Best Latin Jazz

TIE: Sensemaya and Mundo Nuevo

Who knew we even had a vibrant Latin jazz scene? Anyone who goes to Justin’s on weekday nights, that’s who. Sensemaya are a group of young upstarts led by Dave Gleason, whose interest in Latin rhythms and arrangements grew out of his master’s studies in ethnomusicology at Tufts University. The area ringer is veteran, real-deal player Walter Ramos, whose vocal and percussion work with both Mundo Nuevo and Sensemaya is the bedrock of our little scene.

Best Blues (Elder)

Ernie Williams

There’s not much we can say about local legend Ernie Williams that hasn’t already been said—though we look forward, several years down the line, to that 100th Birthday Bash concert. In the Capital Region, as the saying goes on his Web site, “Ernie Williams is the blues.” He played Harlem clubs in the ’50s, making a name for himself, until the demands of work and family brought him north to Albany in the ’60s. Supposedly this was where his dream would be put on hold, but come the ’70s, Williams was building his own little scene in the grittiest bars in our area. By ’92, he had formed the Wildcats. Looking into his eighth decade, with national TV spots behind him and after having shared the stage with some of the biggest blues artists in the world, Williams still gets it done, and that dream is no longer just a dream.

Best Blues (Younger)

Jason Ladanye

It’s fitting that Ladanye shares the blues category with Ernie Williams, as Ladanye’s first big gig as a teen was with Williams’ Wildcats. Ladanye, still only in his early 20s, has traveled the world as a blues keyboardist since then, backing Shemekia Copeland and recording with Dr. John. Recently, he also released his solo debut, as Lil’ Jay and the Card Sharks—but surprisingly, he turned primarily to the guitar for this effort, and it turns out he has chops there too. Ladanye, as his band name would suggest, also happens to be an ace card handler. We look forward to seeing whatever he has up his sleeve for the future.

Best Club DJ

Ryan Kick

Of course Ryan Kick deserves props for his contributions to local music, as he has played a key role in revitalizing and raising awareness of the Capital Region’s electronic-music scene. But the local electronic-music impresario is also a kickass (sorry) DJ, spinning a high-energy blend of progressive house that keeps the crowds shaking it on the dance floor.

Best-Booked Club (Pitchfork Readers)

King’s Tavern

241 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs

Now that this Saratoga Springs lodge—equal parts Twin Peaks and Jockey Club—has a steady schedule of shows on weekends, we have to applaud the joint for the breadth of acts that have stopped off here to play the intimate stage and pet the club owner’s wandering dog. Kings has become one of the best places to go for eclectic bills of local bands, as well as to see the offbeat touring artists that are brought here by booker Bob Carlton (who fronts local band the Sixfifteens). So far this year, King’s has played host to everything from the piss-drinking, sword-standing antics of Portland’s the Big Bang Cirkus to the unexpectedly good dance-rock hybrid proffered by Philadelphia’s Run Away From the Humans.

Best-Booked Club (Rolling Stone Readers)

Northern Lights

1208 Route 146, Clifton Park

They’re not about to book some underground Danish noise-rock outfit or anything like that, but for established, mid-level touring acts (Ryan Adams, Cake, Rob Zombie) or the occasional rising star—the club recently had the Dresden Dolls on a night off from the band’s opening stint with nine inch nails—this strip-mall rock club is the place to be.

Best Club (Worth a Drive)

Pearl Street Nightclub

10 Pearl Street, Northampton, Mass.

Although the drive to Northampton can sometimes seem like a chore, Pearl Street’s steady schedule of A-list indie rock and underground hiphop acts can be hard to resist. And once there, this club nearly always offers a pleasant experience: The sound is good, the club’s workers are professional, crowds are polite, the multiple bars don’t get too backed up, and the ballroom stage can easily be seen from nearly any spot in the house. And, given the city’s noise curfew, you’re guaranteed to get home before the early-morning hours.

Best Club to See a Show

Revolution Hall

425 River St., Troy

This jewel of a live-music venue has it all over other clubs of its size. The sound is never too loud, and always crystal clear. There’s nary a bad sightline in the joint (unless you’re standing in the lobby). The bar is close enough that you can still watch the band while ordering a drink, but not so convenient that it’s a distraction. Our only complaint: The scheduling here is spottier than cell-phone reception in an elevator.

Best Club to Weed Out the Weak

Hudson Duster

40 Third Street, Troy

The extremely diverse and well-booked Duster imparts an unwritten mandate on its bands, and you had better be on point. The stage is essentially a mezzanine, girdled in iron, that hovers a good 15 feet above the bar, so the stage sound is blasted up into the considerable depth of the club, completely separated from the PA horns on the ground. Tight, aggressive acts have little problem with this aural anomaly, but sloppy, inexperienced bands fall like a house of cards. This setup also makes for absolutely devastating mosh pits, so do those burpees on your lunch break, fella.

Best Club to Get Your Jazz On

Justin’s

301 Lark St., Albany

Bandstands come and bandstands go, but for years, Justin’s has been a staple for quality, intimate jazz. With the tastefully upgraded, inviting space (thanks to new owner John DeJohn), settling in for a jazz performance has rarely been more appealing. Choice decorative and sonic changes to the room (including the recent addition of a piano) are benefits for the listener and the band. With two rooms, the social riff-raff and the jazz inhalers are generally isolated from one another, so Justin’s gets to groove well for both the talkative hipsters at the bar and the music-headed listeners in the Savoy dining area.

Best Concert Venue

Palace Theatre

19 Clinton Ave., Albany

This restored movie theater is a gem—a triumphant example of 20th-century showmanship—and we can’t wait until they start showing movies again. Primarily, however, the Palace is a terrific place to see rock, pop, jazz, country, blues or the symphony. The sightlines are good, the seats are comfy and the acoustics for amplified music are great.

Best-Booked Concert Venue

The Egg

Empire State Plaza, ALbany

The Egg has undertaken an ambitious music series with American Roots & Branches. Stalwart Americana acts, from aged national treasures (Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson) to top songsters of the Nashville baby-boom (Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Patty Loveless) to relative upstarts (the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and Marl Olson, Aimee Mann) have graced the Egg’s stages recently. And this is without even mentioning the host of other types of events that Peter Lesser brings to the our city. American Roots & Branches is just one reason that the Egg gets the nod. The venue consistently rolls out quality, critically acclaimed acts, steering clear of all of those package tours and ’70s-bands reunions.

Best Traveling Music Venue

Artie’s

Wherever He Ends Up Next

Before you go writing us nasty letters, we’re not picking on Artie Fredette here. We just find it a little amusing that he’s had such a hand in changing—and changing again, and again—the face of the live-music scene on the other side of the river. Having run three different venues in Troy and Lansingburgh within the last decade, Artie will bring his quest full circle with the opening of a new Positively 4th Street later this summer. Here’s hoping we need not resurrect this category in the near future.

Best Band Name

Organ Harvest

Thinking of making an anatomical gift? These awesome death-metal upstarts put the fun and profit back in postmortem. Well, maybe not the profit. Crushing drummer too: blast beats that could drop a stud bull at 100 paces.


Best Musician Web Site

www.bryanthomas.com

Bryan Thomas is one interactive artist. It’s quite the pleasant surprise when a musician has a readable, searchable, organized Web site. But Bryan Thomas’ Web site? Well, it’s just nuts! We’ve always been impressed by Bryan’s technological prowess, but watching his site evolve has been jaw-dropping. Just a few of the features that can be found at bryanthomas.com: a blog, in which he makes social and political commentary; the music video (and the making-of) for his song “Babylon”; poetry and short stories (what a writer!); tons of pictures (did we mention he’s quite the talented photographer?); links to local arts and music sites. . . . Oh, and you can buy his CDs and read his lyrics here, too. In short, ain’t nothin’ this cat can’t do.

Best Variety Show

Bing Bamboo Room

Valentine’s, 17 New Scotland Ave., Albany

OK, so it’s not only the best variety show in town, it’s the only variety show in town. But since its inception less than a year ago, the musically retro Bing Bamboo Room has become more polished—and more daring—by the month, featuring original skits that run the gamut from vaudevillian slapstick to performance art to an erotic fire- eating act, along with burlesque, magic, song, and poesy. And that’s not to mention the inimitably cheesy jocularity of Mark the MC.

Best Recording Microphone

1960 Neumann

Cat Trax Studios, 249 Green St., Schenectady

In a recording studio, the most important piece of gear is the microphone. Neumanns have always been top-shelf mics, but back in 1960, the German company used better materials: for example, 18K gold components instead of today’s 14K parts. As far as we know, no other recording studio in the Capital Region has a Neumann of this vintage, which gives Cat Trax a competitive edge.

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