NEWTOWN SQUARE—Saturday night brought together two very versatile and talented musicians from up north to Burlap and Bean. Opener and Brooklyn resident Alan Hampton has made a career as a bass playing side musician, having performed with the likes of Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Southern California, but for Saturday's show he put down the bass and picked up the guitar.
Headliner Chuck E. Costa, who normally performs solo, brought a full band with him to embrace his sentimental songs. The evening had a very personal intimate vibe with a lot of new material from both artists.
Although Hampton has made a living playing the bass, he believes he has a special connection with the guitar.
"If I am playing other people's music, I feel most comfortable playing the bass. I feel the most fluent and free, but if I'm singing I really like the way it feels to accompany myself with the guitar," Hampton explained. "There is something about the register of the guitar that is closer to the register of my voice. I hold the guitar close to my chest and I hear everything vibrate together. I also feel a little bit more matched."
Hampton has extensive professional training and education in the bass, but the guitar and vocal work is still evolving. Together they create a harmonious new mystery that he said intrigues him as a musician.
His latest album The Moving Sidewalk allowed Hampton to step into the spotlight a little, but as someone who has worked in the studio for some time, he had a keen eye for supporting details.
"It makes it much more pleasant when the bandleader is together and sympathetic to what everyone's role is and the organization leading up to the record," said Hampton. The recording process also helped address and acknowledge limitations and strength between himself and his musicians.
His slightly raspy, almost Sting-like, vocals paired well with his tin-tuned guitar. Each note was like a light solitary echo. While he played more subtle rock songs, his jazz and blues experience couldn't help but be noticed. His short set was filled with one clever and sweet song after another. His lyrics like, "I stand in the hallway and block the feng-shui," come across unique and fresh. Near the end of his set he let the audience know he couldn't wait to make his next album.
Hampton's act led up to Costa, who has been stopping by to play at Burlap and Bean for almost five of the six years he has been touring and recording full time. He picked up the guitar in high school and has been playing ever since. Costa has a degree in ancient philosophy, but he knew music was where he wanted to be.
Costa said he incorporates some elements of critical thinking and elements of philosophy in his poetic lyrics and his personal outlook. Costa has distinct perspectives in the roles he plays as a musician, but feels they are tightly connected.
"I like to think of my job as a performing songwriter as one role. Each of these roles: performer, musician, writer, informs the other and I find I'm constantly growing at each one. At this point they're so interconnected it's hard to tease them apart," shared Costa.
He continued, "I think they're all equally important in helping me communicate with an audience, which is my primary goal. And I've worked really hard to get to a place where I feel I have a strong balance of each those aspects."
The commitment to music is beyond just a performance or a new track. Costa is the official Connecticut State Troubadour. He works as an ambassador to the state promoting music and song as well as cultural literacy. He currently teaches songwriting workshops to children, in which the role allows him to do even more.
"It seemed like a great opportunity to further connect/integrate myself and my work into the arts community in Connecticut. Also, I think the arts in Connecticut, both in and out of the state, are underappreciated and this position is a great way for me to help bring attention to the thriving arts culture in our state," he said.
Balance is key to Costa's music. Even with two additional musicians, there was an emulsion of sound. Drumbeats did not merely support Costa–they accompanied them. He told the crowd he was glad to be at the Newtown Square coffeehouse, after recently doing several gigs he referred to as "boot camps at dive bars." Costa, who usually performs solo at Burlap at Bean, said that bringing his band for the first time was like bringing a girlfriend home to meet the parents.
The band consisting of Eric Dawson Tate on guitar and Colin Meyer on bass and guitar (sometimes at the same time) also work with Costa on their new project called Mon Monarch, and they played a few tracks from the debut album Waterproof Matches.
All of the songs had a soft, but driving momentum and certain tunes held a moment of silence for every fading note before the applause.
As the set closed, the audience begged for more and when the house lights didn't come up, it was clear Costa and crew were up for a few more.
"I have a personal mission statement to help guide me in my work, reminding people that they are not alone," said Costa. His constant commitment to music off the stage will warm audiences and budding musicians. While his music is important to him personally, he believes it is as much for the fans as it is for him.