Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt | Maurer Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Classical | Chicago Reader
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Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt 

When: Fri., April 12, 8 p.m. 2013
Price: $24-$26
Juilliard-trained classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and self-taught, rootsy singer-songwriter Tift Merritt come from different worlds, but when Gramophone magazine enlisted the former to interview the latter a few years ago, the two of them discovered that they shared a lot of thoughts about music and artistic expression. They became friends and then collaborators, and on the stunning album Night (Sony Classical) they find fascinating ways to bridge the gap between their territories. When Merritt sings Schubert’s “Night and Dreams” over Dinnerstein’s elegant lines, she doesn’t pretend to be an opera singer; instead she brings the sleepy wispiness of a lullaby to the gorgeous melody, eventually blowing a few haunting notes of rustic harmonica. On the old British folk song “I Will Give My Love an Apple” Dinnerstein works inside the piano, plucking its strings to create austere sustained tones with a brittle, dulcimer-like attack; at the end she hangs on to a single repeated note, which seamlessly segues into the ringing single notes that trace the chord progression of Merritt’s beautiful “Colors.” Both artists push themselves outside their comfort zones: Merritt wrings harrowing desperation from Billie Holiday’s classic “Don’t Explain,” without sounding anything like Lady Day, and Dinnerstein plays “The Cohen Variations”—Daniel Felsenfeld’s treatment of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”—with restrained splendor. They both don’t play on everything, so we get a stunningly beautiful version of “Wayfaring Stranger” with just Merritt and her guitar, plus Dinnerstein’s translucent solo reading of Bach’s Prelude in B Minor from the Klavierbüchlein. The album feels like two good friends in a parlor session, and that intimacy is bound to come across even more powerfully when they play live. —Peter Margasak

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