- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

Less than 24 hours before he’s scheduled to leave town, Kyle Andrews is enjoying lunch at his favorite Mexican restaurant in Nashville, Tenn. “I wanted to eat here before we all head out,” explains the songwriter, who is one of 10 Tennessee-based songwriters featured in the Ten Out of Tenn tour. Between bites, he wonders what life will be like on the bus, a 50-foot vehicle that will house all the musicians.

“I should be home packing,” he admits, noting that space will be tight. “I’m not really worried about that, though. I’m the kind of guy who can take a three-week trip around the world with just a backpack.”

Ten Out of Tenn takes its strength from road-seasoned troubadours like Mr. Andrews. Currently in its third year, the tour shuttles its crop of Southeastern musicians from city to city, traversing much of the Atlantic Seaboard in the process. The songwriters travel together, live together and play alongside one another onstage. Each player is allowed to showcase two individual songs, with the other musicians serving as an expanded backing band.

“There was a killer vibe during the rehearsals,” says Mikky Ekko, a Nashville native who will join the tour. “This isn’t a group of egocentric individuals, even though everyone is used to leading their own band. I appreciate how attentive all the other artists have been to other people’s music. Everybody wants to contribute.”

Mr. Ekko, whose own music embraces pop melodies and vocal harmonies, will serve as a backup vocalist for his Ten Out of Tenn colleagues. Mr. Andrews, on the other hand, has been enlisted to handle bass duties. Both musicians say that playing foreign material will be one of the most exciting parts of the tour.

“Every day, you come out of the rehearsals with a new favorite song,” Mr. Ekko says. “You also know that you’re going to be a part of that song during each concert, which is really nice.”

Mr. Andrews agrees. “Some artists, including myself, are used to controlling every aspect of their music,” he says. “This requires so much more. You have to let go and take part in the whole process. I almost feel like my own songs have almost become an afterthought as I prepare to play with other people. I want to be someone they can lean on, and I want to make their songs work.”

Joy Williams, Andrew Belle, Trent Dabbs, Ashley Monroe, Sarah Siskind, K.S. Rhoads, Jedd Hughes and Madi Diaz also will take part in the tour.

“We’re doing a special song at the end of each show where we come out into the audience,” Mr. Ekko dishes. “It’ll be an unplugged, acoustic, a cappella sort of thing. We plan on engaging the crowd and getting people to sing with us, but I can’t tell you what the song is. You’ll just have to come out.”

Ten Out of Tenn rolls into the Iota Club on Saturday. Tickets are $13, and the music starts at 9 p.m.

Return to Return

Chick Corea is one of the most celebrated pianists in jazz music, known as much for his explorative, eclectic approach to the genre as for his nimble fingers. Since the early 1960s, the musician has worked with such luminaries as Miles Davis, Bobby McFerrin and Bela Fleck, all the while pushing his own limits as a composer and instrumentalist.

Few musicians have explored new territory so avidly. Nonetheless, Mr. Corea recently chose to revisit something he knew quite well — his musical relationship with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White in the renowned jazz fusion group Return to Forever.

“Stanley, Lenny and I have a long and deep track together,” Mr. Corea says. “Stanley and I hooked up in Philly in ‘72; we were playing in Joe Henderson’s band, and the musical connection was immediate. He was there from the start of my new band, which later was named Return to Forever. After our first two years, we changed the sound of the band, and Lenny became an integral part.”

Although heralded as a pioneer of the fusion movement, the group disbanded in the late ‘70s. Return to Forever later reconvened in 2008 for a series of concerts, followed by a star-studded performance at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

“The kicker was my wife, Gayle, walking our friend Stevie Wonder onstage during ‘I Love You Porgy,’” Mr. Corea says of the Hollywood show. “It surprised us all! He played a killing chorus on ‘Porgy,’ then Chaka Kahn invited him to sing it out with her. It was a magical moment.”

Mr. Corea adds that the band’s recent performances — billed under the name Corea, Clarke, & White — have been a bit more intimate. “At the last minute,” he explains, “we decided to leave the electric instruments alone for this tour and concentrate on the more delicate timbres of the acoustic instruments, with Lenny playing a smaller drum kit. I’m really enjoying the atmosphere, and we’re trying out new material as we can get rehearsals in.”

During the trio’s early days, Return to Forever often would play shows at the Cellar Door in Georgetown. “I remember blowing that little club apart a few times,” Mr. Corea says with a laughs.

Corea, Clarke, & White will tackle a larger venue this month, when the trio visits the Birchmere on Monday. Tickets for the show are $75, and doors open at 7:30 p.m.

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