Alexa Tarantino Quartet (An Appreciation of Local Saugerties)

Written by on April 24, 2024

An Appreciation of The Local Saugerties (with a review of the Alexa Tarantino Quartet) – by J Hunter.

Normally, when your plate is full, you don’t try and stack even more on to see how high you can get the pile. For instance, I’ve usually got my hands full reviewing one band in one place; what you’re looking at is me reviewing the band AND the place. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Take Danny Melnick and Isabel Soffer, the masterminds behind Saugerties’ semi-new concert venue The Local. Danny’s the uber-promoter behind (among other fetes) Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, and he manages jazz’ biggest all-women supergroup Artemis; Isabel is a global music promoter who created – and is expanding – Lincoln Center’s international music celebration Globalfest. To be perfectly blunt, these people got shit to do!

So with all that, why would they put time and resources into doing something like this? At the end of the day, it was all about bringing something new and different to the town where they both live, as well as making a new space for the community to meet, work, and celebrate each other. They’ve already had several private events at the Local in addition to the wildly eclectic musical diaspora they’ve been showcasing since Fall of 2023, and Melnick & Soffer are happily looking for anyone who wants to start their lifelong journey together in a really peaceful space.

The Local has something in common with Grand Central Station, in that you can’t help but look up when you walk in the room. A 150-year-old chapel that had been used as a daycare center for 40 years, The Local’s beautiful windows and stunning beams were covered by a drop ceiling, and the wood floor covered with linoleum. All that went in the dumpster in short order, and Melnick & Sobel (and, no doubt, more than a few craftspeople) literally returned the space to its former glory.

Stained glass windows bring soft light in from the outside, combining with the excellent pre-show music to make The Local a marvelously convivial space. Normally it’s all just folding chairs, with couches up against he walls, but high-top tables and easy chairs gave the evening the feel of a house concert. Beer, wine and soda are available. No food, but Real Talk? If you can’t find something good to eat on Main Street or its side streets, you left your taste buds at home.

When it first opened, the Local had no stage, having bands perform on the floor, but a successful crowdfunding campaign brought in the raised platform where altoist Alexa Tarantino would be leading her quartet. I first encountered Alexa when Sherry Maricle’s all-female big band powerhouse DIVA Jazz Orchestra played Lake George Jazz Weekend; Tarantino’s gone on to put out a series of consistently great releases on Positone, and it was from those releases where Tarantino took her fire-breathing 75-minute set.

“Let’s do it, Saugerties,” Alexa called out as she led her band onstage. “Let’s DO IT!” And then counted the band into Wayne Shorter’s “This Is For Albert.” Tarantino does all the woodwinds in Artemis, but tonight it was all about the alto sax. We associate Shorter’s music (and rightly so) with the soprano sax, but Tarantino’s alto traveled the piece like it was made solely for that instrument. The ebullient reed wizard went from “Albert” to the mid-tempo cruiser “Daybreak” from her 2021 release Firefly.

Chemistry is always something you look for in jazz groups, but there were more connections with this group than most: Dive-bombing pianist Addison Frei (a leader in his own right, with a new release coming in the fall) attended Juilliard with Tarantino; steady-Eddie bassist Jennifer Vincent was a member of DIVA when Alexa joined the big band after relocating to NYC; and Tarantino & esteemed drummer Keita Ogawa were part of the band backing supervocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant on her Ghost Song tour. Jazz is allegedly all about history, but it was the history between the players that made these original compositions shine so brightly. The full house was on its feet at the end, and some of us were smiling as wide as the band itself, which had big fun while giving Tarantino’s music a great platform.

My preferred musical genre has appeared previously at The Local, and will again, but rather than being an anchor piece of the space’s overall output, it’s just one part in The Local’s stunning musical tapestry. In the next two months, concertgoers get to experience Ukranian folk-punk, South Indian dance & music, Persian Classical, and the sounds of the avant-pop group Penguin Café Orchestra. That’s in addition to an art-exhibit opening (Local artwork is displayed on The Local’s walls) and a lecture on the biology of addiction.

It’s kind of worrisome when a venue tries to be all things to all people, but when nobody else is doing a job you know how to do, all you can do is step up. Melnick and Soffer have definitely stepped up with The Local, kicking the Hudson Valley’s already-massive music scene up a couple of notches. But most importantly, they’ve created a community space with an air of peace & contentment, and that’s a rare thing to have anywhere.




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